Monday, June 30, 2008

A few brief notes from Pinot Days

Yesterday saw the fourth Pinot Days event at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This very well organised event seemed larger than last year - the full list of participating wineries is here. There were a lot of new wineries that I'd never heard of before. However the number of participating wineries from the Santa Cruz Mountains was way down; several well known names were missing, such as Windy Oaks and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. Overall nothing really excited me; there were very few "wow" wines and no real revelations. Here are a few brief notes from the event - I would be interested to hear what you thought if you were there.

Richard Alfaro was pouring four 2006 wines from Martin Alfaro and Alfaro Family.
The Deer Park vineyard shows good fruit with earthy notes.
The Garys' vineyard was very rich, as is typical from that property.
The Schultze vineyard was delicious, my favourite of the line-up.
The Lindsay Paige is very structured; lots of tannin and acidity. Needs at least 3-5 years to really show.

Cathy and Craig Handley of Pleasant Valley Vineyards were pouring the 2005 and were previewing the unreleased 2006 Dylan David. The 2005 is light with an earthy finish. The 2006 was also light, showing much more fruit. The 06 seems good to go (though it won't be released until September); the 05 probably needs a year or two.

Craig informs me that for 2007 they also sourced fruit from the nearby Deer Park vineyard. They will have about 125 cases available, and it will be priced somewhat lower than the Estate, probably around $60. If all goes well they hope to make 250 cases in 2008.

Silver Mountain had the 2004 Miller Hill vineyard. This is from the land next to the winery and technically meets the criteria to be classified as Estate. It had a nice raspberry flavour to it, with good acidity. They were also pouring the 2005 Tondre's Grapefield (which I tasted but neglected to make a note) and the 2005 Muns Vineyard. This highly structured wine comes from the highest Pinot vineyard in the appellation at 2600 ft above sea level. It needs 5 years in the cellar to really show.

In contrast, at the next table Tony Craig was pouring his Sonnet 2006 Muns Vineyard. This is somewhat richer than the Silver Mountain and was generating something of a buzz - at least four other people asked me whether I'd tried it. Give it another year to let the oak integrate properly.

Sonnet also had three other Pinots from other regions, but unfortunately I neglected to taste them. Close by, Savannah-Chanelle were also pouring a couple of their wines, but neither was from the Santa Cruz Mountains and I neglected to take notes.

Brandon Brassfield was pouring the 2005 and 2006 Heart O' The Mountain releases.
The 2005 is excellent as I've said before, though it seemed more tannic than the last time I tasted it at the Vintners Festival. There are around 20 of the 180 cases left. The 2006 is scheduled to be released in September. It's a little softer than the 2005, but still very good. 500 cases were made. So far only half of the six acres are producing; there are two more acres suitable for planting, but the rest of the 150 acre estate is canyons and wilderness. They expect to be producing around 1200 cases in a few years.

Thomas Fogarty were pouring three wines:
The 2006 Corda vineyard from Marin County showed distinct notes of cherry cola.
The 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains is a blend from 5 vineyards of which 2 are part of the Fogarty estate. Very good value at $25, it had plenty of fruit and nice acidity.
In contrast the 2005 Michaud Vineyard had lots of tannin and not as much fruit.

Hallcrest were pouring a pair from 2004.
The 2004 Belle Farms has good dark berry, bing cherry and cranberry flavours. The fruit is sourced from a small family farmk in Watsonville.
The 2004 Barrel Select is a blend of 5 different vineyards. Though it has plenty of tannin it's rich and surprisingly easy drinking.

The sole representative of the Santa Clara valley was Sarah's Vineyard. Tim O'Kelley was pouring the 2005 Estate and Reserve. Both are rather good, with spicy cherry flavours. They also will be producing a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot soon, from purchased fruit.

As I noted earlier, there were many others from outside the region, too many to name. David Dain Smith continues to produce beautiful wines on the Dain label. Freeman and Kanzler were both pouring great stuff. And Flying Goat had a very nice estate Pinot that was new to me.

If you're on a tight budget, there wasn't much for you, but I did enjoy 42 Degrees South from Tasmania that was being poured by The Jug Shop, and the 2006 Carmel Road from Monterey - both under $17.

Overall a very good event. Mark your calendar for next year.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Martin Fire Latest

With over 900 fire personnel on the scene the fire is now 90% contained. The damage estimate has again been revised down, to 520 acres. Mild winds helped prevent the fire from spreading since it was initially reported. 3 residences and 8 outbuildings are confirmed destroyed, with a further three buildings listed as damaged. Martin Road remains closed between Ice Cream Grade and Pine Flat Road, but is expected to reopen today. Most of the residents who were evacuated have been allowed to return.

Officially the cause of the fire remains under investigation and Fire officials have released a sketch of a man they would like to interview in connection. Local residents suspect that it was accidentally started by hikers in the Moon Rocks area of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Martin Fire Update

CDF have revised their estimates on the extent of the damage. They are now reporting that the fire covers 600 acres and the preliminary assessment is that 10 houses have been destroyed; so far just two are confirmed destroyed. As of Friday evening the fire is 65% contained.
This evening the winds have blown the smoke over the valley; Paul Romero sent me this photo from his vineyard in San Jose. However unlike the Summit Fire there's no smell of smoke (yet?)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Martin Fire: Here we go again

Another big fire is raging in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Unlike the Summit Fire, this one is in a populated area close to the community of Bonny Doon and just over a mile from the Bonny Doon Vineyard tasting room. The fire began on wednesday afternoon, around 3PM.

Around 1500 people are reported to have been evacuated from Ice Cream Grade Road, Martin Road, Moon Rock Road, Smith Grade and Pine Flat Road. Over 1000 houses and other buildings are threatened. Latest estimates are that 700 acres have burned (with the fire only 5% contained) and the acreage is expected to be at least twice that before it's extinguished. The Governor has declared a State of Emergency for Santa Cruz County.

Paul Romero's blog has a post on the fire - he manages a small vineyard very close to the perimeter. McHenry and Beauregard are also nearby.

There are some photos of the fire (or, more accurately, the smoke from it) on Flickr by "Soaked In Sin". My thanks to her for allowing me to use her photos in this post.

UPDATE: Bonny Doon Vineyard is reporting that their tasting room is out of immediate danger and will re-open once the restrictions are lifted.

Map of the affected area

News reports:
Mercury News
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Notes from the Vintners Festival

On Saturday afternoon I went over to Santa Cruz for the Vintners Festival. Here are a few notes from the trip.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard were pouring out of their new premises on Ingalls Street in Santa Cruz, alongside Pelican Ranch and Beauregard. The permits finally came through last Thursday, just in time. Right now the unit is completely empty, but the equipment will be moved in soon. The unit will be shared by Dragonfly Cellars, the own label of Jeff's assistant winemaker, Denis Hoey. SCMW were pouring five wines; a dry Grenache Rose, a Tinto Cao from San Antonio AVA (which I didn't much care for), two excellent Pinots from Brancifore and Bailey's vineyards and the Durif from Mendocino.

Sones Cellars were also pouring in the same location; they plan to move into the unit next door once everything is done. See seperate post.

Although not officially part of the vintners festival, Vino Tabi were pouring out of their unit in the same block. They were offering a Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and two Central Coast Bordeaux blends, both made at Silver Mountain by Jerold O'Brien. Vino Tabi aims to be a kind of custom crush wine club, where people will be able to take part in the winemaking process and buy a barrel or shares in one, rather like Crushpad in San Francisco. The idea sounds like a lot of fun, though if you hope is to end up with some inexpensive wine at the end you may need to rethink; the sample wines on offer were priced around the $24-$26 mark and while they are decent quality there is certainly plenty of juice that's as good or available at a lower price.

Over in Soquel at Michael's On Main there were six local wineries competing for our attention. Cordon Creek concentrate on Bordeaux varietals from El Dorado and the Sierra Foothills, and are as just as good as they sound.

Clos Tita had their Cuvee and the very nice Estate Pinots, as well as a Bordeaux blend called Gironde and an unusual Syrah/Merlot blend.

Naumann were pouring a decent 2006 Chardonnay and some rather meaty Merlots; 2002, 2004 and barrel samples of the 2006 which was offered for sale on futures by the case.

Heart O' The Mountain had their excellent 2005 Pinot and a sample of the unreleased 2006, which is just as good. They too had a futures offering: 10% discount if you pre-order six bottles. Not a huge discount, but better than none and at least it covers the sales tax.

La Honda were pouring a nice Sauvignon Blanc and a Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah. Unfortunately the restaurant was closing at 4PM for a wedding so I didn't get to try the Syrah or the wines that Delmonico were pouring.

Sones Cellars

Michael Sones is the winemaker for Bargetto. In his spare time he launched his own label, Sones Cellars. This has proven so successful that they have now moved into their own premises in downtown Santa Cruz.

Sones sources much of their fruit from the Wiedeman Vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley.

2007 La Sirena White Table Wine This is a blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc from three different vineyards. Although the 2006 vintage carried the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, for 2007 some different sources were used and as a result it carries the California designation. A light, crisp, fruity wine that's ideal for summer.

2005 Wiedeman Vineyard Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley. Despite the 15.9% alcohol content this isn't a fruit bomb; it's a softer, medium weight wine with good flavours and no real heat evident. The vines are over 25 years old.

2004 Petite Sirah, Monterey County. As I've noted in previous posts, I'm not a huge fan of Petite Sirah; they tend to be tannic monsters that are hard to pair with food. Sones has tamed the beast by pressing earlier; the wine still has plenty of fruit and colour, but it's much more approachable than most Petites.

2004 Wiedeman Vineyard Syrah, Santa Clara Valley. From the same vineyard as the Zinfandel this is a pleasant, easy drinking wine.


What's the smallest commercial winery in the world? It's not a quiz as I don't know the answer, but with an annual production of just 44 cases Equinox must be a leading candidate.

Winemaker Barry Jackson began making a couple of barrels of premium sparkling wine in 1989. He uses only Chardonnay grapes and styles the wine Blanc de Blancs. The bottles must be riddled by hand. The wine was released in 1992 and quickly sold out, mostly to other local vintners.

Barry continued to make the wine, but with very little in the way of promotion it became a local secret. It was on sale in some Bay Area restaurants - I first discovered it in Emile's in San Jose - and occasionally showed up in The Wine Club or K&L. The wine was made at Storrs in Santa Cruz.

Equinox recently moved into new premises down in Santa Cruz alongside several other local winemakers. He's launched a second label called Bartolo, made mainly with fruit from Mike Mann's vineyard in Gilroy. The wines carry the Central Coast designation, though I believe the vineyard is in the Santa Clara Valley AVA.

1997 Equinox Blanc de Blancs This wine spent nine years on the lees - three times the length required for vintage Champagne. The result is a powerfully intense wine - lots of toast and richness while still showing some of the characteristics of the Trout Gulch vineyard from which the fruit was sourced. At $50 a bottle it's not cheap, but it's arguably the best sparkling wine in California and can certainly hold its own against more expensive offerings from France.

Bartolo Rose I neglected to make a proper note of exactly what this was; it was a light, off-dry rose. Pleasant enough, but not my thing. $12

2006 Bartolo Cioppino Rosso This is a blend of small lots; although it's a red wine it contains Chardonnay and Riesling among others. It's an inexpensive, fruity "spaghetti red" that was proving very popular with the other customers - at least 3 cases were sold while I was tasting. $14

2005 Bartolo Syrah A smooth, medium weight Syrah that's intended for drinking now. $16

2005 Bartolo Merlot A rich, heavy Merlot. Very drinkable indeed. $25

Also pouring in the Equinox facility was Trout Gulch. As well as their current releases (which I've covered in the past) they had two interesting library wines - 1992 and 1999 Pinot Noirs. Both were very good; the 99 had more of the primary cherry fruit while the 92 had more complexity and secondary flavours. Of the two we gave the nod just to the 99; it still has plenty of tannin and could continue to improve a little while longer.