Friday, August 29, 2008

Post Sales Support

These days the interwebs are full of sites where you can find other peoples tasting notes on pretty much any wine that's out there. Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate have extensive online databases of their published scores and notes; collectors post comments on CellarTracker and Cork'd and discuss the wines in online forums (or is it fora?); consumers and retailers alike discuss the latest releases in their blogs.

But for any given wine, who opens the most bottles? Who knows the wine best? Obviously it's the people who made it. They are uniquely positioned to track the progress of a wine over the years; after all they've had it in ideal conditions since before it was even released.

The finest example in this regard is Penfolds of Australia. Every few years they hold a tasting of the entire library going back over 50 years and publish it on their website as "The Rewards Of Patience". For a collector, whether of the iconic Grange or the more affordable but still long-lived Bin series it's the ultimate resource.

Yet if you go to most other wineries web sites, 99% of the time the only thing you'll find information on is the latest and future releases. It's all about selling; where's the after sales support?

Recently Wes told me that a couple of years ago Jeff Emery had held a tasting and posted notes on the entire library of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard wines. Although I'd visited the site before I'd never noticed it because for some reason on my browser (Firefox) it shows up as black on black. But sure enough, the notes are there going back all the way to 1979, and they make interesting reading.

Take for example the rainy 1982 vintage; the Bates Ranch Cabernet is "Complex and soft, perhaps just past its peak. Drink now or last Tuesday" whereas the Estate Pinot Noir is "a HUGE wine that still needs time. Lots of tannin, but lots of deep fruit too. Hold until 2010 to 2015". Notes like these from the people who know the wines are a fantastic resource that will prevent you from opening a bottle too soon or keeping it too long, and I wish that more wineries would share them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

La Honda Winery

Silicon Valley is of course well known for its dot-com millionaires. Having made a fortune in the tech industry many of them purchase large properties in the Santa Cruz Mountains and, rather than maintain a huge garden, some of them have a vineyard installed. There are several local companies that specialise in installing and maintaining home vineyards; one of them is called Post and Trellis.

A former geologist, MBA and amateur winemaker, Ken Wornick has installed a number of vineyards from Woodside to Saratoga, including his own 2.5 acre Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese vineyard in La Honda. In 2001 the company purchased an industrial unit in Redwood City and began making private label wines for the vineyard clients. Ken also began making his own wines under the La Honda Winery label.

Skip forward to the present day. With around 25 vineyards being managed, 15 of which are over an acre in size, and a growing inventory of his own label wines La Honda Winery finally decided to emerge from stealth mode and release the wines to the general public. My friend Wes and I made an appointment with Ken for a private tour and tasting one Tuesday afternoon.

The winery is located in a largely residential part of Redwood City. What was once a fairly ordinary industrial unit has been greatly embellished with stonework and art over the course of several years. Trucks carrying fruit can drive through the winery to the crushpad at the rear. Fruit is destemmed, but not crushed, and the individual berries are fed onto a table where they are sorted by hand. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Ken aims to keep alcohol levels reasonably low; all the wines we tasted were a little over 13%. Despite the fact that the law permits a margin of up to 1.5% in the declared alcohol content, Ken insists on labelling the wines to two decimal places. The winery has the capacity to handle up to 5,000 cases, but currently is at around a third of that capacity, and plans to remain there.

For a new winery, La Honda certainly has a wide range of wines. The current release list includes three whites and six reds, four of which are sourced from local vineyards that he manages. An additional 4 or 5 reds are planned for release in Winter 2008; two from Chalk Hill AVA in Sonoma, the rest from local vineyards. Case production varies from less than 25 cases up to 235 cases. We tasted four wines; two from local vineyards and two from purchased fruit. Unfortunately I lost my notes, so this is from memory - for an alternate perspective check Wes's blog entry

2006 Syrah, Santa Cruz MountainsFruit for this Syrah is sourced from several vineyards, but the bulk of it comes from a vineyard in the Los Altos Hills. The nose is pretty subdued initially; plenty of tannin but not a huge amount of acidity. Spicy flavours of blackberry and liquorice, and a decent finish. Stylistically it's more like an Australian Shiraz than a Syrah. Decent value at $19 and drinkable but would certainly benefit from short-term cellaring. 58 cases.

2006 Pinot Noir "Black Capsule North", Santa Cruz Mountains Ken manages several Pinot Noir vineyards; this is a blend of fruit from four different vineyards at the northern end of the AVA, from Los Altos Hills to Woodside. It's matured in American oak. In contrast there's another blend called "Red Capsule South" (which we didn't taste) that comes from four vineyards between Los Altos Hills and Saratoga. Frankly if it didn't say Pinot Noir on the label I doubt that would have been my first guess; it has a rather dark colour and initially is very closed, showing mostly oak and tannin. With time in the glass I got flavours of blackcurrant, orange peel and some black cherry. Should really be cellared for at least 2-3 years. 93 cases. $34

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon "Naylor's Dry Hole", Chalone AVA Duncan Naylor has a 2 acre vineyard next to Brosseau Vineyard in the Chalone AVA. When planting the vineyard water was a problem; he dug several wells that came up dry before finally finding water. Consequently he named the vineyard Dry Hole. It's mostly planted to Pinot Noir, which goes to the Loring Wine Company.
Initially the nose has a lot of vanilla from the oak; my first thought was "ice-cream". On the palate it's a nice, soft, drink-me-now cab with good blackcurrant flavour. I preferred it to the Perrucci Family Cabernet that I tasted last weekend, and at $26 it's $7 cheaper. 72 cases.

2005 Viognier, Napa Valley Most of Ken's wines have a story behind them. This fruit came from three rows that were surplus to requirements and so hadn't been picked. The resulting wine is still around 13% but has 3.8% residual sugar; though not sweet enough to be a dessert wine it would make an excellent aperitif. The nose is typical Viognier; sweet and floral. On the palate there are concentrated flavours of peaches, pears and canteloupe with just enough acidity to counter the sweetness. $24 - 235 cases.

La Honda Winery seems to be doing all the right things. Ken is clearly doing something that he enjoys and the wines I've tasted have all been well made and reasonably priced. I'm looking forward to following his progress.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2005 Perrucci Family Cabernet Sauvignon

Perrucci Family Vineyards is a small producer based in Los Gatos. Andy and Greg Perrucci come from a family of Italian fruit growers, but instead chose to pursue high-tech careers. In the late 1990s they planted Sangiovese on their father's estate. The first vintage was in 2003; they also purchase fruit from other Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards as well as Paicines.

This Cabernet Sauvignon includes fruit sourced from both AVAs, though the ratio isn't listed. As a result it's entitled to use the Central Coast Appellation, though I didn't see one listed. It's blended with around 15% Merlot and aged for 2 years in American oak.

This was from a newly opened bottle. The nose was enticing, with black fruits and coffee. This was matched by similar flavours on the palate; lots and lots of blackcurrant and chocolate and soft tannins. Not a lot of acidity. However it faded a bit on the finish, where there was a hint of green tannins. Would probably benefit from a year or so in the bottle; I'd appreciate the chance to try it again from a bottle that's had some air.

Overall then a decent effort. What lets it down is the price; at $33 it's about $10 more than most of the immediate competition, such as Mount Eden Saratoga Cuvee or Woodside Kings Mountain, and lacks some of the structure of similarly priced Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernets.

Monday, August 18, 2008

On medals and scores

I finally got round to reading the press release from the SCMWA on the winners of the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Commercial Wine Competition.

First off, congratulations to the winners. Woodside Vineyards not only got best SCM red wine for their 2005 King's Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (I reviewed the 2004 just last month and was very impressed) but also got gold for their Estate Cabernet and silvers for their 2005 estate Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Beauregard got best SCM White for their 2006 Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay, as well as three other silver medals, all for Chardonnays.

The two top wines were a bit of a surprise. Best In Show went to a white port from Picchetti Winery called Angelica. Now personally I find port to be over-rated; I'm more of a Sauternes fan. I'll withhold judgement until I've tried it. But the highest score of all went to a Soquel Vineyards Zinfandel from Lodi!? What's the world coming to?

I was a bit surprised by the number of medals that were handed out; there were more gold medals awarded than Michael Phelps got. It turns out that rather than divide the wines into classes and award first, second and third place within each class all the wines receive a score out of 100 (I'll put aside my views on the 100 point system for now). Anything scoring over 90 points gets a gold, anything over 85 gets a silver and anything over 80 gets a bronze. Out of almost 150 wines only five of them failed to get any kind of medal. It reminded me of the scene from Meet the Fockers where DeNiro says "I didn't know they make 9th place ribbons" and Hoffman replies "Oh, they've got them all the way up to 10th place."

All that aside there were some interesting results, including Golds for Black Ridge (I've been saying that they were worth keeping an eye on) and - of all things - a 2007 Pelican Ranch Lodi Pinotage.

Nice to see several wines from Santa Clara Valley getting decent scores, including Muccigrosso Vineyards "Lynzin" (90, Gold) and "Stanzin" (89, Silver), Sarah's Vineyard 2005 Estate Pinot Noir (89, Silver), Martin Ranch 2004 JD Hurley Cabernet Sauvignon (89, Silver) and Clos LaChance 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (88, Silver).

The medal winners will be on display during the Santa Cruz County Fair, which runs from September 9th-14th. The SCMWA is organising a tasting event for that weekend.

The official results table is here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Scotts Valley Art & Wine Festival

It's the Scotts Valley Art & Wine festival this weekend. Several local wineries will be pouring;
Bargetto, Domenico, Glenwood Oaks, Hallcrest, Heart O' The Mountain, Hunter Hill, Naumann, Pelican Ranch, Roudon-Smith and Sones. Additionally, Heart O' The Mountain's sister winery High Valley Vineyard from Lake County will be there.

The event is on Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 6PM on Kings Village Road in Scotts Valley. Wine glass plus two tastings costs $15. For more info see the festival web site.

Bottle Shock review

I was reading the Chronicle's review of the movie Bottle Shock. From the trailer it looks like a fun movie, and in my view anything with Alan Rickman in it is worth watching.

One line in the review annoyed me though. People in the Bay Area had known for decades that the wine coming out of Napa and Sonoma was good stuff Excuse me? Sonoma? Nine out of the twelve US wines at the event were from Napa, the other three came from the Central Coast - two from the Santa Cruz Mountains and one from Monterey County. Precisely zero came from Sonoma. Guess the movie isn't as factual as I'd hoped.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

2006 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay

Chaine d'Or (Golden Chain) is the nickname given to the Santa Cruz Mountains by Paul Masson. It's also the name of a small winery nestled in the hills above Woodside. For the past 20 years they have produced around 400 cases a year of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from their small estate vineyard.

The 2006 vintage was the last to be made by founding winemaker Anne Anderson. It's a nice, light, fruity Chardonnay. It's buttery, but not overly so, and it's lightly oaked. When first opened there was an aroma of pears; as it warmed up the vanilla of the oak became more evident. On the palate it's very fruity, with hints of apple, pear and pineapple. The finish is mouthwatering, showing the acidity and a hint of oak. Good value at $18.

Sadly there won't be a 2007 vintage - the fruit was all sold to Clos LaChance. However the new winemaker, Paul Romero, plans to resume production with the 2008 vintage.

Wine Spectator Pinot Noir Report

UpdateThis post was based on an article on However the publishers seems to have pulled the article from their site; it's no longer available at the original URL. Sorry.

Wine Spectator magazine has published a round-up of over 600 of the current Pinot Noir releases. It focuses mainly on the 2006 vintage, which overall they rate fairly poorly. Of the 400+ wines from the vintage just 31 rated in the 91-94 range, and none rated 95-100

There aren't many local wineries on the list. Here's a round-up; for the complete listing see the web site or the September 30th issue of Wine Spectator magazine.

Bargetto 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains scored just 81.

David Bruce has six wines rated. The highest score went to the 2005 Santa Cruz Mountains which got 90. The lowest went to another Santa Cruz Mountains wine, the $75 2004 Estate Bottled which got 78.

Mount Eden got 90 points for the 2004 and 88 for the 2005. Note that the web site shows the wrong price for the 2005 Pinot - it's actually $60 at the winery, though can be found for less. The 2005 Saratoga Cuvée only rated 82.

Rhys had three wines rated, plus three of the sister label, Alesia, made from fruit sourced from other AVAs. All were 2006 vintage; the Swan Terrace got 89 and the Alpine Hillside got 91 but the Alpine Vineyard only got 82. Good luck getting any though; the Rhys mailing list has a fairly long waiting list.

Sonnet had 5 wines rated, two of which were the Muns Vineyard. 2005 scored 83 and 2006 scored 81. I was particularly surprised by this as it's one of the few wines reviewed that I have actually tried. It was being poured at Pinot Days right next to Silver Mountain's 2005 Muns Vineyard (which is made in the same facility by a different winemaker) and of the two I preferred the 06 Sonnet.

Testarossa had no less than 13 wines reviewed, none of which are made from local fruit. Most of their scores were in the 87-90 range. The 2006 Palazzio, which is a blend including some Santa Cruz Mountains fruit scored 87.

Vine Hill 2006 Gatos Locos scored 82. That's about in line with my impression from the Pinot Paradise tasting last April.

New (to me) Wineries

I've spent the evening recompiling a whole bunch of code and cleaning up the errors. At the same time I decided to go through and review the winery database.

I'd heard of a couple of new wineries recently and wanted to ensure my lists were up-to-date. Sure enough, several wineries that were marked as simply "Registered" last time I checked (way too long ago I admit) now have web sites and in most cases are selling wines. I'll try to dig out more information on them and hopefully get hold of some bottles to taste. But here's a few new names to look for.

GBH Vineyard is a tiny producer based in Woodside. The winery makes about 100 cases of estate Pinot which retails for around $21. GBH apparently stands for Great Blue Heron, though I suspect that part of the name is fellow British ex-pat Paul Smith's private joke. The 2006 vintage is available now; the 2007 will be released some time soon.

Regale Vineyards is another Pinot producer. Based in Los Gatos they also claim to produce a range of unspecified wines from other appellations. Their waiting list is currently open, but no indication of when the first release will be.

Big Dog Vineyards is based in Milpitas and is producing estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, together with a sweet wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon. They are also sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from Napa Valley. All are priced around $32 except the sweet wine which is $22 for a 375. The current releases are all from the 2005 vintage.

Satori Cellars from Gilroy has two 2006 Estate Zinfandels carrying the Santa Clara Valley appellation priced at $25 and $28 as well as a 2006 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon at $30. Total production appears to be around 400-500 cases.

Monte Verde Vineyards are producing estate Merlot in Morgan Hill carrying the Central Coast appellation. There's also a second Merlot and a Syrah, as well as a red blend called Tres Amigos. All of these are 2006 vintage, but the web site is "under construction" and there's no prices or release date posted.