Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2005 Woodside Estate Zinfandel

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Yes, two 2005 Woodside wines in the same week. Sue me. I felt like a Zinfandel and there aren't that many local wineries who make it, which is a shame.
The nose is earthy with brambles and coffee. On the palate there's lots of rich sweet black fruit and an oaky, tannic finish. The oak has softened significantly since I last tasted it , I'm pleased to note, but I think it's still a year away from its prime. 89. Sold out at the winery, but the 2007 is now available on futures at $22.50 a bottle and I think that's a great value.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2005 Sycamore Creek Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

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Sycamore Creek is a winery with an uneven history. Since 2005 it's been owned by Bill Holt, who also owns the nearby Uvas Creek vineyard. This was their first vintage, with fruit from the old head-pruned Cabernet vines. Those vines were torn out this year and the vineyard is being replanted; the new vines will be properly trained but won't be producing for a few years.

This didn't taste as good as the last time I had it. Decanted and poured immediately. Nose of black fruits, vanilla and smoke. While there's plenty of good black fruit, this time it seemed overpowered by chewy oak and didn't seem to improve over the course of the evening. A big wine if you're an oak lover, but on this showing I couldn't give it more than 86. $28

2005 Woodside Estate Pinot Noir

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Woodside Vineyards farm around 20 small domestic vineyards around the Woodside area. The 2005 Estate Pinot Noir was sourced from just two vineyards, one of which was planted by Bob Mullen at his home on Kings Mountain Road.

This is a really earthy Pinot. On the nose there's lots of funk and spice which carries through onto the palate; notes of mushrooms and wet leaves. Good acidity and tannin. Fruit was very much in the background on this occasion. 92 $36 at the winery - there's still some available. Recommended

2007 Windy Oaks "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir

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I was a big fan of the 2006 Windy Oaks "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir; on the occasions that I tasted them side by side I preferred it over the 2006 "Reserve". The 2007 vintage was released this fall; since I've been very impressed by the 2007 vintage generally but haven't had chance to visit the winery yet I decided to open a bottle from my latest wine club shipment.

Just four barrels were made - all fermented with native wild yeasts - and aged for 17 months in 75% new French oak.

Decanted about 1 hour, in a wide-based decanter. Light coloured, as is typical for Windy Oaks. Nose of strawberries, roses and allspice. On the palate there's baking spice, red fruits - strawberries and cherries - and citrus pith on the finish. It started out fairly lightweight, but showed increasing weight and depth over the 2 hours it was open. 93 now, could easily gain 2-3 points with time. $55 Recommended

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2007 Woodside Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains

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Last week I visited Woodside Vineyards for their barrel tasting. If you read my write-up you'll know that this wine was being poured close to a smoky wood fire where chestnuts were being roasted. It seemed unfair to rate it based on a flawed tasting, so I brought one home.

The nose is nice, with lemon, vanilla ice-cream and a minerality, like a fresh mountain stream (that might sound pretentious, but I can't think of a better descriptor). However on the palate it's like chewing oak staves. There's no smoke, but the wood is if anything stronger than it seemed last time, probably because my palate was trying to compensate. The nice lemon and lime component in the background is overpowered by the wood that really bites on the finish. It's not your typical mellow buttery oak that mars so many generic Californian Chardonnays, it's a harsh wood which gives me hope that given time it'll soften and let the fruit show. 82 $25

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Owning Information

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Getting basic information about local wineries can be remarkably difficult. While larger companies can afford to employ marketing and PR professionals, most of the small producers are family operations run by people with full time day jobs. When I've contacted wineries for more details I've frequently not had my calls returned, or the questions have been treated with suspicion. Why is this guy asking me questions about how many acres I have planted?

At the same time, a growing number of bloggers are writing about wine. In the absence of verifiable facts people may quote whatever sources they can find. Even the official statistics are far from accurate, as I've pointed out in the past. And with a dearth of usable label and logo artwork available we simply make our own, taking snapshots of bottles.

The team at Cruvee.com led by Evan Cover think they have a solution to this. Their system is called OwnIT and aims to provide a common repository for all wineries to publish information about their wines and wineries. Application developers will be able to access the database via an API and bloggers will be able to reference it via hyperlinks. They are also working with other databases such as CellarTracker and Vinfolio.

The system will be free to both wineries and consumers of the data - Cruvee hope that this will raise awareness and increase subscription to their social media monitoring service.

Now all this sounds great, but until it reaches a critical mass it won't be particularly useful. It's clearly attractive to larger wineries who want to protect their brand image, but for smaller wineries who care less about branding and more about getting the wine to their regular customers it's likely to be way down the priority list. Hopefully the various local trade associations will help out here.

The system will be opened to the public early next year. At that time we'll see whether it's achieved sufficient traction to be a useful tool or whether it's just another good idea in theory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2006 Spring Ridge Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

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The Spring Ridge Vineyard in Portola Valley was planted in 1980 by Jim & Bob Varner. Over the years the Varners have established a reputation for consistent top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Pinot Days they were pouring the 2005 "Neely" and 2007 "Hidden Block" Pinots; when I asked about the 2006 I was told that they still hadn't decided what was going to happen to it, as it hadn't lived up to their standards. Well now we know; they've released it under the "Spring Ridge" label. So far I've only seen this at K&L Wines.

The label itself is simple and while it's similar in style to the Varner and Neely labels, nowhere does it actually say Varner; the foil is plain black and the cork is stamped with "Neely Spring Ridge".

The wine is light in colour by California's standards, as Varner Pinots typically are. There's a nice nose of cherry, raspberry and allspice, which became more strawberry with time. At first it seemed lightweight, with cherry and cranberry fruit, and pepper on the finish, but it put on weight with air time and became more spicy. It would have benefited from being decanted for an hour; I'll know next time. This is the best under $20 Pinot Noir I've had in a while. 90

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Barrel tasting at Woodside

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Woodside Vineyards is a small 2000 case winery located on Kings Mountain Road in Woodside. Bonded in 1963, it's one of the wineries that helped define the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Each year Woodside vineyards offers futures on their estate Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and opens the winery for barrel samples. It was expected that this year's tasting would be in the new facility, but progress has been slow on that front, so we got one more chance to taste at the old facility. Forgive the image quality; I left my camera at home, so took these with my phone.

First, a white to try. I was standing very close to a smoky wood fire while tasting this, which affected my perception, hence the lack of a point score.

2007 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose of lemon and wet stone. Oak seemed very pronounced, good lemon & lime flavours, Crisp finish. No rating, but I bought some to try again later.

Winemaker Brian Caselden poured three barrel samples in the barrel room. The 2008 Pinot Noir will remain in barrel for a few months more; the 2007 Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon have already been bottled - these barrels were held back for the tasting.

The futures offering gives a 25% discount over the list price, with half payable now and the remainder (including the sales tax) payable on delivery, a year from now. Minimum purchase is 12 bottles.

2008 Pinot Noir barrel sample
Sourced from four different vineyards, with new, 1 year and 2 year old French oak barrels. 8 out of 12 barrels made the blend.
Quite dark colour (though it was fairly dark in the room).
Oak and chocolate on the nose, a little smoke, not much fruit on nose at this stage.
Earthy, with liquorice root, red berry and black cherry. Oak prominent on the finish. 88-90 $36 list, $27 futures.

2007 Zinfandel barrel sample
Smoky, with raspberry and blackberry.
Rich, spicy raspberry fruit with a hint of cinnamon; peppery on the finish. Great value. 90-92 $30 list, $22.50 futures.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample
The Estate Cabernet is the bigger brother to the softer King's Mountain Cab (which isn't offered on futures) and typically requires some cellar time.
Nose shows blackcurrant and blackberry, with espresso notes. Plenty of acidity and fine tannins. At this stage the fruit is restrained and the finish soft. 88-90 $40 list, $30 futures.

Finally Brian offered their newly released port:

2005 Port
Made from Zinfandel. As I've said before, I'm not much of a fan of port-style wines unless they are made from the traditional port grapes; I'd sooner have the genuine article.
Lightly oxidised, bright raspberry nose and sweet, spicy raspberry flavours. Well made, but not my thing. 84, but that's just me. $30 for 500ml

Update: See Wes Barton's take on the tastings too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2005 Clos LaChance "Honduran Emerald" Meritage

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I'm a big fan of the Clos LaChance 'Hummingbird' series - they are great day-to-day value wines, and are readily available in many local supermarkets, often at very attractive prices.

Each year since 2004 the winery has paired with the Hummingbird Society and released a special release Meritage, with a portion of the profits going to help preserve endangered species. As with most of the wineries offerings the label carries the generic Central Coast AVA, though the fruit is all estate Santa Clara Valley.

2005 Clos LaChance "Honduran Emerald" Meritage, Centra Coast
Gamey/meaty/smoky nose with blackcurrant fruit. On the palate there's brambles and oak, with some grapefruit on the finish. Over time the oak and tannins became more pronounced. 87. Not a bad wine, but for $25 you could buy a bottle of the "Black Chinned" Syrah, send $5 to the Hummingbird Society and still have change left over.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Big Dog Vineyards

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To the west of the Santa Clara Valley lies the Diablo Range. In contrast to the verdant farmland and urban sprawl of Silicon Valley the mountain range is sparsely inhabited, and covered with dry brown grass and a few trees for most of the year. It doesn't look much like farmland, let alone vineyards. Yet just 3 miles west of Milpitas, hidden away at the top of a hill is Big Dog Vineyards.

Mark and Sandy Capalongan own a 40 acre ranch and home with lovely views of the bay. Long time friends of Woodside Vineyards' Brian Caselden, he was convinced the area was suitable for Cabernet grapes and encouraged them to plant a vineyard. "He said that it could all be done for the cost of a car. I didn't realize he was talking about a Maserati" jokes Mark. In 1997 they planted two blocks, totalling 6 acres, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

While most wineries worry about birds and frost, Big Dog's pests include deer, wild boars, gophers, wild turkeys and ground squirrels. A deer fence protects against the larger predators and an electric fence at the base of the vines deters the rodents.

The winery was built later as a multi-purpose building that also includes a 3 car garage and a combined barrel and tasting room. The first commercial vintage was made in 2005 and the winery opened its doors for tasting earlier this year.


2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
A rather deep purple colour. Nose shows blueberry syrup and vanilla. Initially dry and tannic, the fruit emerges on the mid-palate. Nice finish. 90 $28

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
A much more red-brick colour. The nose is very different too; animal notes (big dog perhaps?) On the palate it's got lots of tannin and oak, but not showing much in the way of fruit. Maybe it just needs time, but for now it's an 85. $28.50

2005 Syrah, Napa
The nose is floral, with violet and lavender. It's got brambly fruit and green pepper, with a slightly spicy, peppery finish. 87 $28

2006 Cabernet Franc, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
A gamey, blackberry nose. Very good brambly fruit, meaty and oaky, with a medium finish. 89 $29.50

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinq Chevaux Vineyard, San Francisco Bay AVA
Cinq Chevaux is the name given to the block further from the house; it's still classified as estate fruit.
Smoky oak nose. Nice blackcurrant fruit with a hint of mint. Tannins show on the finish. 88 $26

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
There's a little more fruit on the nose than the Cinq Chevaux, and the oak is less evident. On the palate it seems a touch richer and more concentrated. 89 $28

Big Dog also makes a range of dessert wines, in the ruby port style with limited oak aging. The winery is open weekends in December until Christmas. Tasting is free, and for this month only there's an $8 per bottle discount if you buy 3 or more.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2008 Dahlia Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County

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For those who don't recognise the label, Dahlia is Beverages & More's own brand. The wines are made by local producers - the last one I saw was by Bargetto and this one is by Testarossa. Apologies for the poor quality image.

This bottle was brought to a social function that I attended. Now I'm not a big stemware snob, but it has to be said that conical plastic tumblers are hopeless when it comes to assessing a wine's potential. The nose seemed interesting but on the faint side. On the palate it had pleasant ripe cherry and a touch of chocolate with a good finish. Smooth, and light on the oak, acidity and tannins. I guessed that it would be priced in the $15-$20 range and tentatively scored it an 88.

When I got home I checked the BevMo web site and was surprised to find that its retail price is actually $30 (which is crazy; you can get Testarossa's Palazzio for less than that) but with a ClubBev card the price currently comes down to a more reasonable $20. If you like Testarossa's style and have a ClubBev card it's worth trying.

The range also includes a similarly priced Reserve Chardonnay as well as a non-Reserve Pinot Noir for $20 ($15 with ClubBev card), though I don't yet know whether those are produced by Testarossa or not - check the rear label if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Upcoming events: Barrel tasting at Woodside and Open House at Big Dog Winery

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There are a lot of events on at the weekends; it would be a full time job trying to keeping up with them. However one that I look forward to is the annual barrel tasting at Woodside.

As you probably know, the property at 340 Kings Mountain Road has been sold and the winery is moving to an industrial unit off Willow Road. However that move isn't complete yet so this year's tasting will be held at the old winery one last time.

Unlike previous years the tastings will be hourly, starting at 5PM, 6PM and 7PM on Fridays (4th and 11th) and 1PM, 2PM, 3PM and 4PM on Saturdays (5th and 12th) and Sundays (6th and 13th). Barrel samples of 2007 Estate Cabernet and Zinfandel, and 2008 Pinot Noir will be poured with the opportunity to buy on futures. Traditionally I believe the futures discount has been 20%, plus you only have to pay half the cost up front, with the balance due on delivery.

Over in Milpitas, Big Dog Winery is open from 12-5PM on Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas. I have yet to taste their wines so I'll try to head over and report back. If you're interested they are at 4545 Felter Road in Milpitas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sub-terroir Rhônesick Blues

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I'm indebted to Rob Moss for pointing this out to me. Bonny Doon's parody-loving Randall Grahm takes on Bob Dylan and the wine world. Excellent.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2006 La Honda Pinot Noir "Black Capsule North"

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This isn't your typical chocolate-and-cherries Pinot. Sourced from a number of small domestic vineyards at the northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the nose begins earthy, like a damp forest floor, before developing floral notes that reminded me of dryer sheets. On the palate it's structured and earthy with cherry notes that develop with air. Should probably have been left for at least a couple more years before drinking. 87

Generosa

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As I noted recently, Generosa winery has been sold and will close permanently at the end of the year so I thought I'd take the opportunity to visit. The winery is located on Summit Road about 2.5 miles from Burrell School towards Highway 17. The property is on the north-east side of the road and enjoys great views across the hillside.

Parking is at the bottom of a steep drive, next to the old winery. Steps lead up to the tasting room which is surrounded by ancient redwood trees.

I re-tasted the wines and was surprised by the variation since last time. The Pinot Noir showed less acidity and more fruit, whereas the Sangiovese didn't show the oxidation that marred the last tasting.

Part of this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the wines being poured in the tasting room had been decanted for around an hour, but an additional factor to consider is batch variation.

When wines are to be bottled the usual approach is to blend the individual barrels in a settling tank, but at Generosa the wines were bottled by hand straight from the barrel.

There was one additional wine, not previously tasted:
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Brambles and pepper on the nose followed through on the palate but the weak finish lets it down. 86

Regale

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One of the wineries participating in the aforementioned Christmas Tree Wine Trail promotion is Regale (rhymes with prevail). This is a major new development on Summit Road, next door to Burrell School. It's been under construction for about 3 years; this summer it opened to guests by appointment only and is now open to the public at weekends.

Regale is the dream of real estate developer Larry Schaadt. Assisted by his brother Greg he made a couple of trial vintages in Carmel Valley before deciding to go commercial. He purchased a little over 10 acres on Summit Road and planted a 4.5 acre vineyard with Pinot Noir plus a small amount of Chardonnay. The winery was designed in the style of a tuscan villa and the grounds are landscaped with herb gardens, olive groves and lemon trees. No expense has been spared; from the marble floors to the roof which is covered in century old hand made clay tiles, recovered from abandoned villages in the Amazon.

The tasting area is outdoors, under a balcony, and features a seating area and a wood fired pizza oven. While we were tasting, the staff brought out a continual stream of delicious complimentary pizzas, made by hand from scratch with paper-thin crusts. There was also rustic bread to go with the winery's own olive oil. The tasting area faces west, so as the sun goes down it gets very bright for the servers, but the sunset was beautiful.

The winery has a wide range of wines with fruit sourced from various different AVAs. Two flights are offered, five wines for $10 and six for $15, with the first two wines common to both flights. Total production is under 4,000 cases.

2005 Chardonnay, Central Coast
Sourced from the 122 acre San Felipe Vineyard in the Pacheco Pass AVA. A typical 'oak and butter' style Chardonnay with a creamy mouthfeel and a mineral finish. 86 $35

2007 Pinot Noir, O'Neel Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Starts with a lovely perfumed, cherry nose. On the palate it's dry with tart cherry flavours and a hint of pine. The finish is rather quick without a great deal of tannin or oak evident. 87 $55

2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
The first vintage from 3 year old vines. Only 45 cases made. Has a darker colour than the RRV. Intriguing nose of candied fruit and raspberry, with a hint of menthol. Full bodied with good bramble and black cherry flavours. Surprisingly intense from such young vines. 92 $65 (Club members only)

2007 Sangiovese, Napa Valley
From a private vineyard in the Stag's Leap District. Bright fruity nose with white pepper and black olive notes. Smooth with, redcurrant and blood orange flavours. 89 $42

2006 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley
Has a great raspberry and cigar box nose. Elegant & balanced, with berry and herb flavours, but the finish is a little quick. 90 $45

2006 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
Also from the Stags Leap District, the nose shows nice blackberry and tobacco that follow through to the palate, with some herbal notes. Good balance. 91 $48

2007 Barbera, El Dorado County
Big, bramble jelly nose. Fruity and smooth, with some white pepper and liquorice on the finish. Nice acidity, light tannins. 89 $40

2005 Ovation, Carmel Valley
A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Nose has smoke, graphite and blackcurrants. Elegant, balanced and smooth with hints of violets. Reminds me of Ridge. 93 $75

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Bright blackcurrant nose, with a touch of green pepper. Lots of currant fruit, plenty of oak, dry tannic finish. Still very young. 91+ $N/A

With the Real Estate market timing and location are critical; the same may be true of wineries. While Regale has an excellent location it has certainly picked a difficult time to launch - the market for high-priced wines has been hit hard in the recession, as a recent report in Decanter confirms. While Regale is certainly worth a visit it will be interesting to see whether the region can support a Napa style winery with Napa style prices.

Christmas Tree Wine Trail

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I had no idea that there were so many Christmas tree farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I suppose I never stopped to wonder just how many trees get sold at this time of year and where they all must come from.

Some of the local businesses have got together to promote a Christmas Tree Wine Trail - come up into the mountains and cut your own tree at a tree farm, taste some local wines and dine at a local restaurant.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1999 Fellom Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley

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Fellom Ranch is situated on Monte Bello Road, at a similar elevation to Ridge. The estate is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon; they also source Zinfandel from a vineyard in Saratoga and Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. The wines have become increasingly difficult to find; Beverages & More used to carry them, but these days they seem to be available only direct from the winery.

A friend opened this 1999 Zinfandel at thanksgiving. It hadn't been stored properly; the colour was light brick red with an amber meniscus. The nose showed dried fruit and some oxidation, though less than the Solis or Generosa that I've tried recently. The palate had some nice dried raspberry flavours with good acidity but not much tannin, and a touch of oxidation on the finish. No rating due to the poor storage, but we had no difficulty in finishing the bottle.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2004 Solis Estate Sangiovese

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I opened this thinking that it would be a light and fruity accompaniment to a pasta dish - I was in for a bit of a surprise. The first clue was on the nose; it was hot, ripe, oaky and slightly port-like. The palate was surprisingly sweet, with raisin notes and more oxidation. There was decent acidity and tannin, but overall it came across as too port-like. Drank half, kept the rest to cook with. Not rated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The most expensive vineyard in the world?

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What would you say was the most expensive vineyard in the world? It's difficult to tell, as the most valuable land is rarely - if ever - sold and prices tend not to be discussed openly. In the Napa Valley, where land can go for $200,000 or more per acre, the Screaming Eagle estate was recently sold for a rumoured price of $30 million. This included 60 acres, plus the brand and inventory. The wine sells for $750 a bottle on release, rising to thousands on the open market.

Surely the first growths of Bordeaux must be among the top contenders. Perhaps Lafite or Yquem, who respectively hold the titles for the most expensive bottles of red and white wine ever sold.

In Burgundy the arcane legal system means that land is even harder to get and surely no vineyard can be more expensive than Romanée Conti. Less than 5 acres in size, it hasn't changed hands in over 140 years. Individual bottles of the wine costs thousands of dollars on release and are snapped up almost instantly.

And then of course there's the Atherton vineyard.

Atherton's 94027 ZIP code is one of the most expensive in the nation. Though prices have declined by almost a quarter and it gave up the top spot to 07620 (Alpine, NJ), the median home sale price is still a massive $3.85 million according to a recent article on Forbes.com. So the idea of a vineyard in Atherton may seem ridiculous, but to Ann Ramsay - whose family have owned the property since the 1920s - the land is part of the family. In 1994 she planted 2.5 acres with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is made in small quantities yet is surprisingly inexpensive; it retails for up to $20, rising to $35-$40 in restaurants. The vineyard is north of the Santa Clara Valley AVA boundary and below the elevation of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, so falls under the San Francisco Bay appellation.

2007 Orchard Hills Atherton Vineyard Pinot Noir, San Francisco Bay AVA
Light garnet colour. Some initial burnt match funk soon blew off, revealing light cherry and cranberry. With time caramel notes emerged. Light bodied with good cherry fruit and bright acidity, and a good medium-length finish. Developed nicely in the glass. 89 Value. $20 at Vino Locale in Palo Alto.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Equinox / Bartolo

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The Santa Cruz Mountains has a long tradition of sparkling wines; Paul Masson's rose "Oeil de Perdrix" (Eye of the Partridge) won many accolades and he was even granted a licence to continue production "for medicinal purposes" during Prohibition.

Barry Jackson has been making sparkling wine under the Equinox label for 20 years. The wine has traditionally been a 100% Chardonnay "Blanc de Blancs" style, and is kept on the lees for much longer than average; the current release is from the 1997 vintage. He has recently added a second release called "Harmony Cuvee", which includes 29% Pinot Noir. As with previous releases all the fruit comes from the Trout Gulch vineyard, and though no vintage is listed it's from the 2001 vintage.

NV Equinox Harmony Cuvee
Lovely mousse, light straw colour. Nose shows dough, earth and apple. Fresh flavours of green apple backed by minerals and a rich, toasty finish. The addition of Pinot Noir results in a more rounded flavour. Lovely stuff. 92

Recently Barry introduced a sister label, Bartolo, making red wines primarily from the Mann vineyard in Santa Clara Valley.

2007 Cioppino Rosso, Santa Clara Valley
A blend of 61% Syrah 20% Chardonnay and 19% Mourvèdre.
Dark, brooding fruit on the nose follows through onto the palate. Despite being a minority component the gamey Mourvèdre shows well. 89

2006 Syrah, Santa Clara Valley
Fragrant with herbal notes and good black fruit. Smooth and fruity; easy drinking. 88

2006 Merlot, Santa Clara Valley
Smoky with bright fruit. Palate shows ripe fruit and chocolate, with a quickish finish. 88

Generosa: Last call

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Generosa is Italian for generous; it's also the maiden name of winemaker Chris Gemignani's grandmother, and the name of the winery that Chris founded. He built a lovely property on Summit Road, with winery, tasting room and a guest house named Villa Generosa. Sadly Chris died in 2007.

Following his death the family were left with a significant stock of wines, both bottled and in barrel, and attempted to sell the winery as a going concern. However the poor economic situation meant a buyer could not be found, so earlier this year the family engaged the services of local wine writer and marketer Laura Ness to help complete the necessary legal paperwork and sell off the remaining stocks.

The tasting room and guest house has now been sold and since the new owners have no interest in wine this is the last chance to purchase these wines. The property will be open at weekends from Noon-5PM from now until Christmas for tasting, and after that any remaining stocks will be sold off to a wholesaler. All the wines are $30, with discounts available for half and mixed cases.

2005 Pinot Noir, Veranda Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
There's some 'Pinot funk' on the nose along with wild strawberry. On the palate it's fairly typical of the Veranda Vineyard; lean and earthy with light body and bright acidity. 87

2005 Sangiovese, Alegria Vineyard, Napa Valley
There are notes of oxidation and maturity on the nose. It has good acidity with some pleasant cherry notes and a fairly nice rounded finish where the oxidation shows again. 81

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Great nose showing liquorice, ash and hints of eucalyptus. It's got plenty of smooth blackcurrant fruit with some herbal notes. Medium weight with a good finish. 90

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Ridge, Santa Cruz Mountains
Late picked; allegedly from Ridge's Monte Bello vineyard. It shows lots of sweet raisin fruit, both on the nose and the palate. Lacks acidity and the finish tails away somewhat. Should perhaps have been blended with the Sangiovese. 83

2003 'Tuscan Wedding', Central Coast
Given Chris's Tuscan hertitage, it's not surprisingly that his signature wine was a "Super Tuscan" blend of French and Italian grapes. This example includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot.
Earthy nose, showing a little barnyard at first. A rich blend, with the Syrah showing well. Notes of white pepper and redcurrant. 89

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The sad state of California chardonnay?

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I've had my head down with work and family recently, so I'm grateful to Christopher Watkins over on Ridge's 4488 blog for drawing my attention to Laurie Daniel's piece on California Chardonnay. I found it a little odd that while writing for the San Jose Mercury she managed to cite examples of good Chardonnay from all over the state with the exception of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hardly anyone here is making the "cookie cutter" buttered toast style she was complaining about, and most of them are very reasonably priced.

Now obviously the region boasts two of the finest producers in the world in Mount Eden and Ridge. In the $30-$40 range I'll put Varner and Windy Oaks up against anything else the state can produce. Sarah's Vineyard have two nice examples, one from the Santa Cruz Mountains and another from Santa Clara Valley. Storrs, Fogarty and Beauregard make a range of interesting Chardonnays in the $20-$35 range. Cooper Garrod's Gravel Ridge can often be found around the $16 mark. My local Safeway currently has J Lohr's Riverstone for $9 and Clos LaChance's unoaked Emerald Throated Hummingbird for a little over $6. And all that is just off the top of my head.

So is Californian Chardonnay in a sad state? Not as far as I can see. Maybe you're just tasting the wrong wines.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2008 Stefania Chardonnay, Chaine d'Or Vineyard

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Having opened two of the recent Stefania releases you knew it was only a matter of time before I got to the last one, the Chaine d'Or vineyard Chardonnay.

Chaine d'Or vineyard, pictured above, is located off Highway 84 in Woodside, to the east of Skyline Drive. It's a little over an acre on a cool southerly slope. The vines were planted a little over 20 years ago by Jerry and Anne Anderson in the grounds of their home. The Andersons made wine under the Chaine d'Or label for many years, but have now retired and the vineyard and winery is now managed by Paul and Stef Romero. The old Chaine d'Or label has largely been discontinued in favour of the Stefania label, though a few cases are still marked the old way for some older restaurant clients.

I don't normally decant white wines, but I did with this as it's so young and I wanted to see what the air did to it. Initially the nose was quite floral; with time it showed more of a lime character. On the palate it had lots of chalky minerality, flavours of green apple, hints of butterscotch and a creamy mouthfeel. I'm assured that it sees 75% new oak, but you wouldn't think so from the way it tastes. It continues to remind me of Cooper Garrod's Gravel Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, and to a degree of Clos LaChance's Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. While it's probably my least favourite of the Stefania range, it's a nice example of a Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, and a pleasant change from the butterball style. 89

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pinder 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Gallaway Vineyard

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I had this earlier in the year and wasn't particularly knocked out by it - I'm afraid it hasn't got any better since. The nose shows pear drops and a vegetal note. There isn't much fruit, just some tart redcurrant with a touch of oxidation. Tannins are still there on the finish. The sink enjoyed it more than I did. No rating.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Famous Last Words

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You know how I finished my last post on Stefania saying I'm definitely going to try to hold on to the 2007s for a little longer? That may prove to be harder than I thought. I collected my latest shipment a little over a week ago and have already got through three bottles of the 2007 "Haut Tubbe". On the nose it's slightly funky, with notes of lavender, brambles and pine. With air some eucalyptus showed. On the palate the tannins first appear soft, though on the final glass they were firming up. There's plenty of acidity and a complex blend of fruit dominated by blackcurrant and with hints of mint. Just kept getting better. My guess is that this blend has a larger proportion of Cabernet than the 2006, which I think was predominantly Syrah. Terrific value at $20, and I believe there's still a little left if you haven't already got your order in. 90. Recommended

Then there's the 2007 Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which exemplifies the kind of quality wines the Santa Clara Valley is capable of producing, and is drinking really well with an hour or so in the decanter. The nose has brambles, oak, caramel and a hint of toasted coconut. It's got bags of lush blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with enough structure backing it up. On first opening there's a hint of citrus-pith bitterness on the finish which recedes with air. Should continue to develop nicely if only I can keep my hands off it. 92 Recommended

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Attention Bargain Hunters

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Clos LaChance are having another big sale this weekend. Unlike the last couple of sales, the wines on offer this time are all their own label. There is a 50% discount on about 15 different wines, as well as a massive case discount to $8.25 on the Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. The sale starts on Thursday for wine club members, Friday for the general public. For more details see their website.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A first look at 2009

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The Chaine d'Or winery is maybe 30 minutes from where I work, so when Paul Romero told me he'd be bringing in the last of his grapes I took a long lunch break to go up and see. By the time I arrived the heavy work was done and it was down to what may be the most important part of winemaking - cleaning up. Jerry was hosing down everything in sight (including the dog) while Stef was doing punch downs on the Syrah and estate Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as lab tests on the latest delivery.

Much of the wine is now through primary fermentation and is in the barrel undergoing the secondary malo-lactic fermentation. Since 2007 Paul has relied on wild yeasts with good results.

I got to taste my first barrel sample of the 2009 vintage - a Cabernet Sauvignon from the "Crimson Clover" vineyard. So far everything I've heard about the 2009 vintage has been positive; it was an easy year and has resulted in a larger than average crop of very good quality. The downpour in late October doesn't seem to have caused too many problems. Pretty much every winemaker I've spoken to has had good things to say about it, and before the cynics say "well they would, wouldn't they" bear in mind that they still have plenty of wine from previous vintages to sell.
The cab was a lovely dark purple colour; loads of fruit and some nice young, firm tannins - it tastes good now!

Crimson Clover is a 1.5 acre vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley near Morgan Hill. It's not too far from the Uvas Creek vineyard, from which Paul & Stef sourced some excellent fruit for their first vintages. Uvas Creek's owners now also own the Sycamore Creek winery and are using all the fruit themselves, so this will be the winery's Santa Clara Valley Cabernet from next year.

The winery has just released their fall offering; 2007 Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 "Haut Tubbe" and 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay. I'll post notes once I open them, but I'm particularly keen to try the Cabernet again, as the last time I had it, it was showing very well indeed. The Chardonnay is completely sold out; there may be some of the others left.

The "Haut Tubbe" is a blend of various small lots including Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Because it's sourced from both the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley AVAs it has to carry the "California" appellation. I recently opened a bottle of the 2006 Haut Tubbe (my last as it turned out thanks to an out-of-date cellar listing, bad planning that). It had good fruit backed by lots of tannin; we had a glass each and put the stoppered bottle in the fridge. On the second day the tannins had softened considerably and the dry, brambly fruit was showing nicely. On the nose it was savoury, with grilled meat, menthol and figs. Clearly this is a wine that deserves cellar time. I'm definitely going to try to hold on to the 2007s for a little longer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two new releases from Cinnabar (and one older one)

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This review marks a milestone for the blog; it's the first time that a winery has contacted me to submit wines for review.

The first wine is Cinnabar 'Lot 310 Philosophers stone' As I've noted before, non-vintage wines and wines with a 'California' appellation can be something of a hard sell. The Philosopher Stone is such a wine; it's a blend of 67% 2006 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley, and 33% 2004 Teroldego from the Mistral Vineyard in the San Ysidro District.

I decanted and served it immediately. In the glass it had a clear, deep garnet colour. The nose jumped out with black fruits, oak and white pepper; with a little air more perfume emerged. On the palate it was spicy and peppery, with lots of raspberry fruit and an oaky finish. It was nicely balanced; the acid seemed a little on the light side and the tannins were soft. It didn't seem to change significantly over the course of the hour or two that it was open; I think it's probably as good as it's going to get but can hold. Overall it's a delicious wine and at $32 I'd definitely buy this; it's comparable in quality to a Ridge Zin. 92 Recommended.

The Teroldego intrigued me; apparently it's a grape from northern Italy. It's not a variety I'm familiar with, though it's name rang a bell. On checking my cellar I discovered that I had a bottle of 2004 Cinnabar Teroldego, Central Coast, so the following day I opened that as a comparison.

The nose was very different; savoury, with notes of grilled steak, earth/compost, tar and smoke. While there were flavours of sour raspberry and blackberry there was lots of earth and tannin, and as the evening went on that came to dominate the fruit. I'm not sure what that says for its ageing potential; could well be that the tannins will outlast the fruit. Although it's compared by some to Zinfandel I thought it had more in common with Petite Sirah. An interesting wine, but not as good as the blend, and at $35 it's a touch more expensive. 89

The other wine in the package was 2007 Cinnabar Merlot, Paso Robles.

The fruit for this was sourced from two distinct vineyards in the Paso Robles AVA and includes 5% Petit Verdot.

The nose shows black fruit, dust and a little heat from the whopping 15.9% alcohol. On the palate it's fairly flat; there's some nice fruit, soft, ripe tannins which become more prominent on the finish and a fair degree of acidity. I know some Merlot fans who would enjoy this, but for my tastes it's not a particularly interesting wine; I greatly prefer their Mercury Rising blend. $21 86

Loma Fire update

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CalFire reports that the fire is just 485 acres, down from earlier estimates, and is currently at 75% containment, with full containment expected today (October 27th).
Over 1700 personnel are fighting the blaze. There have been 4 reported injuries and three outbuildings or trailers destroyed. All road closures and evacuations have now been lifted.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Updated: Loma Fire

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The Loma Fire has grown to 800+ acres. A couple of outbuildings have been destroyed and around 160 are threatened. Containment is reported at 20%. It appears to be in an area south east of Muns Vineyard and Loma Prieta; there are a few domestic vineyards around there but no wineries. No word on the cause as yet. More info may be available on the CDF website

Report of the fire on Mercury News. At least one fire fighter has been injured in the blaze.

Search for real time updates on Twitter using the hashtag #LomaFire

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2004 Ahlgren 'Bates Ranch' Merlot

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Despite the 16.2% alcohol, there's very little heat apparent. Instead the nose is rather floral, with notes of brambles and coffee.
On the palate there's lots of sweet fruit and soft tannins. There's decent acidity too and a lightly spicy finish. A nice wine, but a little on the ripe side for my taste. 88

2005 Naumann Vineyards Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains

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There was some obvious alcohol on the nose at first, but this blew off to reveal cinnamon, leather and dusty oak. With more time an earthy note emerged.
There was a lot of acidity and tannin initially; I should probably have decanted it for an hour or so. Underneath there was nice fruit - plum and cassis - and a good finish. 90. I think it was $24 at the winery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New blog: Friends of the Winemakers

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Friends of the Winemakers is a local non-profit organisation whose purpose is to preserve the history of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains. They recently launched a blog of their own and my friend Paul Romero of Stefania Wine asked me if I'd be an occasional contributor.

I don't intend to cross-post articles to both blogs, but this will remain my primary focus. News and tasting notes will only appear here; articles for the FoW blog will probably be general or historical. My first piece is now up; it's another look at the larger vineyards of the Santa Clara Valley.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir

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There's an old saying that you can make a small fortune in the wine business, provided you start with a large fortune. As the founder of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., TJ Rodgers started with a fortune larger than most.

In 1994 Dr Rodgers planted a 1 acre 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Vineyard in the grounds of his home in Woodside, with the aim of making "the best Pinot Noir in the New World". He emulated some of the practices of his favourite Burgundy producers with tight vine spacing and manually treading the grapes, as well as sourcing the same barrels used by Romanee Conti. Following a couple of unsuccessful vintages that he termed "cycles of learning" the first commercial release of Clos De La Tech was in 2001 from the 1999 vintage. It was sold exclusively to his friends, primarily other Silicon Valley CEOs.

That year the winery began their expansion plans, first planting a 3 acre 'Domaine Valeta' vineyard to the east of Skyline Boulevard in Los Gatos. This was followed by the purchase of a 160 acre plot of land off Langley Hill Road, close to Fogarty winery, with the aim of installing one of the largest and certainly the most high-tech vineyards and wineries in the mountains. Despite opposition from local residents three large caves have been blasted into the hillside. Millions of dollars have been spent preparing the rugged hillside for viticulture, including the design of a custom 'tractor' that can traverse steep slopes at an angle.

As of yet, Clos de la Tech does not have a permit for a winery on the site, so the wines are all made on a custom crush basis at Domenico's winery in San Carlos. Just 100 cases are made each year of the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers', and less than 50 cases of the 'Domaine Valeta'. The most recent release of both wines is from the 2003 vintage. While I've yet to see a review from any of the major publications the wines got positive reviews by Rusty Gaffney on his Pinot File site.

When the 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' was first launched it caused something of a stir on the internet discussion groups with its price tag of $101.50; this made it one of the most expensive wines in the AVA behind Ridge Monte Bello and Kathryn Kennedy, and by far the most expensive Pinot Noir. Similarly the debut release of 'Domaine Valeta' was priced at $81.50. While we are used to seeing high priced first releases, these typically are Napa Cabernets from 'rock star' winemakers and vineyard managers; flashy, concentrated and heavily oaked wines that inevitably garner high scores from the critics. Domestic Pinot Noir on the other hand has generally resisted price inflation with only a handful of producers commanding triple-digit prices. In fact while there are several semi-cult releases that can fetch large sums on the auction market most of those are priced under $100 on release (and have long waiting lists).

I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of the 2001 release on closeout at K&L for the far less eye-watering price of $30, and finally broke it out last weekend for the benefit of some fellow local wine enthusiasts. The presentation is striking; the neck of each bottle contains a real silicon chip embedded in the wax (the chip changes with each vintage), the foil has the winery name printed around it in the style of Romanee Conti, and each bottle is individually numbered.

2001 Clos de la Tech 'Domaine de Docteur Rodgers' Pinot Noir
Quite dark in colour for a wine that aspires to emulate a Burgundy. On the nose there's cherry and star anise, with caramel showing more as the wine opened.
There is good cherry fruit; fairly low acidity and the tannins are soft. A slight 'green' hint and a longish peppery finish. 90. Worth what I paid, but I can't imagine anyone who stumped up the original release price being too happy with the value.

Notwithstanding the deep pockets - not to mention the hubris and enthusiasm - of its owner it will be very interesting to see whether the winery can yet live up to its own hype and produce truly world class wines from this already world class region.

Friday, October 2, 2009

2007 Foxglove Zinfandel, Paso Robles

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Foxglove is the second label of Varner, makers of some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Initially there was just one Foxglove offering, a Chardonnay from Edna Valley that was priced in the $10-$15 range and has always offered excellent value for money. This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, and now a third has joined the range; a Zinfandel also from Paso Robles that's blended with 14% Petite Sirah.

The nose shows raspberry, pepper and spicy oak. There's a good balance of fruit and acidity, with nice black pepper particularly on the finish. Enough tannin that the wine doesn't appear flabby, but there's absolutely no reason to cellar this as it can't possibly get any better with time. Buy it by the case and enjoy it now. 89. $12 at K&L

Sunday, September 27, 2009

2006 Guglielmo Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley

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After being reasonably impressed by a Petite Sirah I had high hopes for this Zinfandel, but was sadly disappointed. There's a nose of raisins and tea; simple, sweet fruit and not much in the way of a finish. 79 $18

Friday, September 25, 2009

2005 Martin Ranch "J.D. Hurley" Merlot, Santa Clara Valley

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The Redwood Retreat Valley is in the south west corner of the Santa Clara Valley AVA on the border of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA; while the appellation boundaries generally follow the 600' contour at this point it dips to include the valley into the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Dan & Thérèse Martin planted Cabernet Sauvignon in 1993 and began making small amounts of wine in 1997. Initially the grapes were sold to Ahlgren, River Run and SCMV under the name Harvest Moon Vineyard; they later bonded as Martin Ranch Winery. Their first commercial release was in 2002 with the introduction of labels J.D. Hurley and Thérèse Vineyards wines. Dan is the primary winemaker for the J.D Hurley label.

The 2005 Merlot opens with an earthy, forest floor nose, with some floral and cocoa notes. On the palate there's initially a lot of acidity, but looking beyond that there is good black fruit, chocolate and a little smoke. The tannins are soft, with a medium length finish. Grows on you. 87. Listed at $20, the winery has it on closeout this month for $120 per case.

2006 Monte Verde Merlot, Villa Palma Vineyard

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Monte Verde Vineyards is a small, new winery in Santa Clara Valley. They planted a few vines at their home in Morgan Hill and began making wine in 2003. Encouraged by the results they decided to get bonded; the first commercial release was from the 2006 vintage. Though the fruit is sourced from within the Santa Clara Valley AVA the wines all carry the Central Coast appellation. The winery is open for tasting on the 3rd Saturday of the month.

The 2006 Villa Palma Vineyard Merlot opens with shiitake mushrooms, earth, black fruit and leather. This continues onto the palate, adding orange pith and liquorice, particularly on the finish. The tannins are a little bitter at this stage. 85 $18

A decent effort for their first release; I look forward to following their progress.

2005 Casa de Fruta Merlot, Zanger Vineyards, Pacheco Pass AVA

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Casa de Fruta is located in the southwestern corner of the Santa Clara Valley. This family owned business was established over 100 years ago as a fruit orchard. In the 1940s they began selling fruit at a roadside stand which over the years grew into a major retail outlet.

In addition to the orchards the family planted a few acres of vineyards, including Merlot, Zinfandel, Black Muscat and Cabernet Sauvignon, and began producing a selection of wines from both grapes and other fruits. In the early 1980s the Zanger family petitioned for appellation status, and in 1984 the Pacheco Pass AVA was established. Its 3200 acres straddles the border with San Benito and encompasses the Casa de Fruta ranch, the nearby San Felipe vineyard and a portion of the Dunne Ranch vineyard.

Initially rather herbal, with a little air it showed some dried cranberry, redcurrant and glacé cherry. A soft and fruity wine; not much in the way of structure or finish. Fairly one-dimensional. Expensive for what you get. 83 $18

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2006 Zayante Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains

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Regular followers may have noticed that I haven't been drinking much Merlot. This is partially due to the impending arrival of a family member who loves Merlot, so I've been saving them up for her. However I probably won't be offering this one to anyone. In fact I was in two minds whether to post this, not because it's a poor review but because I couldn't decide whether the wine was flawed or not.

The initial nose was rather vegetal/herbal, with red bell pepper, rosemary, smoked meat and some heat (it's 14.2% acohol). On the palate there wasn't much in the way of fruit; a little plum and sour redcurrant. Possibly slightly corked; we couldn't decide, so no score.

Should you wish to try your luck it's available at Whole Foods for $12; if you do then please let me know whether or not your experience matches mine or not.

2006 Storrs Zinfandel, Central Coast

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Storrs are perhaps best known for their excellent Chardonnays, but they also make some great Zinfandels. Sourced from some old vineyards in the Santa Clara Valley, the Rusty Ridge and Lion Oaks are typically intense, concentrated and delicious.

Recently I happened to be in Whole Foods and spotted their 2006 Central Coast at $20. As I understand it, the fruit is sourced from a number of young, domestic vineyards in Santa Clara Valley.

It pops out of the glass with a savoury nose of raspberry and oak. Lots of raspberry/brambly flavours and peppery spice. Although it's only 14.2% it showed some heat, though in its defence this was perhaps exacerbated by being served a little on the warm side. There's fair acidity but not a great deal of tannin so drink it now. At $20 it's reasonable value but not a stunning bargain, though the 10% half-case discount does help. 87

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Coterie Cellars

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Coterie Cellars is a small, new winery based in an industrial estate in Willow Glen. Founder and winemaker Kyle Loudon got some experience as a cellar worker at Eno Wines and Harrington Wines in the East Bay. After taking some courses in viticulture and enology at Davis he and his wife Shala entered the business with the 2007 vintage. The winery concentrates on Pinot Noir and Rhone varieties sourced from vineyards in Russian River, San Lucia Highlands and Fiddletown.

2007 Roussanne, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Saralee's Vineyard is a 275 acre property planted with 6 red and 10 white varieties, as well as an array of table grapes. The grapes are sold to 45 different clients around the state.

Very pale colour. The nose is faint, slightly floral with biscuit notes. On the palate it's dry and crisp with flavours of gooseberry and grapefruit, and a creamy mouthfeel. Quickish citrus finish. Seems like it should have been blended with something; doesn't particularly impress on its own. 84 $26

2008 Viognier, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
More colour than the 07 Roussanne - a pale greenish straw - and a much bigger nose; very inviting and floral with honeysuckle & lychee. Rich, creamy mouthfeel with quince, lemon curd and vanilla wafers. Some bitter, green tannins showing on the medium length finish, but these may diminish with time; this is fairly new in bottle. An interesting wine; would like to try it again in a few months. 89+ $28

2007 Rose of Syrah, Casatierra Vineyard, Fiddletown AVA
Casatierra is a Syrah specialist near the Shenandoah Valley. They grow 7 different clones of Syrah.

Pale pink with a light nose of red currant and fresh turned earth. Light bodied, with not much acidity. Tastes like it's lost it's freshness - was probably better on release. 84 $18

2007 Pinot Noir, Fairview Road Ranch, Santa Lucia Highlands
Big spicy nose; coriander and dried cherry. Seemed a little extracted; the tannins were quite evident up front. Good cherry and cranberry fruit, good acidity, hint of bitterness and raisin on the finish. Give it a couple of years. 90+ $35

2007 Pinot Noir, Saralee's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Not as intense or spicy as the fairview; cherry and oak on the nose and on the palate. A hint of mint on the finish. Less going on entirely. 87 $38

2008 Syrah, Casatierra Vineyard, Fiddletown AVA
Blended (not co-fermented) with 4% Viognier. Inky purple in the glass with white pepper, tart redcurrant and cranberry dominating. Flavours of blueberry and pepper, plenty of tannin but acidity is on the low side. Newly bottled, needs time to come together, hard to rate at this early stage so I'll hedge my bets with 87-90 $28

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

RIP Kathryn Kennedy

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I just read that Kathryn Kennedy died last month, aged 82. There's an obituary in the New York Times (no login needed).

Although I never met her I have great admiration for her achievements and her wines. I met her son and winemaker Marty Mathis at an industry tasting earlier this year; a really nice chap. One of these days I'd love to visit the winery.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Beauregard Vineyards

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Last weekend I took the kids to Felton, to rider on the the Roaring Camp railway. On the way home I wanted to show them where the Lockheed fire had burned, but that whole area seems to be shut off behind security fences; one of the reasons that the fire covered such a large area was because it's pretty much inaccessible wilderness.

Since we were in the Bonny Doon area I decided to call in on Beauregard Vineyards. About a year ago they took over Randall Grahm's old Bonny Doon tasting room and winery on Pine Flat Road and I hadn't been there yet.

Although the Beauregard label has only existed for around 10 years, the family has 60 years of viticultural experience. Amos Beauregard first planted vineyards in 1949. The family petitioned for the establishment of the Ben Lomond AVA, and Jim Beauregard used to own the Felton Empire winery, which is now Hallcrest. His son, winemaker Ryan Beauregard represents the fourth generation. The winery is renowned for their Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, though they also produce several other wines including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The tasting fee is $5 and covers five wines.

2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County
Regular readers will know I'm not a great fan of Californian Sauvignon Blanc. This is a reasonable example; a pleasant floral nose with, gooseberry, citrus and pear. On the palate it shows lime sorbet & gooseberry; there's crisp acidity yet a rounded mouthfeel. 87 I'd find it hard to justify the $17 asking price given what's coming in from New Zealand for less, but this month it's on sale for $100 a case and at that price it's very tempting.

2006 Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
The Trout Gulch vineyard was owned by Bernie Turgeon, founder of Turgeon & Lohr, which became J. Lohr after he sold his share. In 1988 Bernie and his son Gerry re-entered the business and made some very nice Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this 25 acre ranch near Aptos. Bernie has now retired, and while Gerry continues the Trout Gulch label, the vineyard is now leased by Beauregard.
Toasty, with lemon zest and red apples on the nose. flavours of tart lemon, vanilla and a touch of honey, with a long, mineral (baking powder) finish. 90 $35

2006 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
A blend of fruit from Trout Gulch Vineyard and Bald Mountain Vineyard.
The nose shows lemon, vanilla ice-cream and wet stones. Flavours of creamy lemon and green apple; similar minerality on the finish to the previous wine. 89 $22 a bottle, but on sale for $180 a case - a very good price. Value

2006 Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose shows caramel, cranberry, cherry and smoke. On the palate there's plenty of rich fruit - cherry and raspberry - and oak. Notes of sour cherry on the finish. 90 and drinking nicely now. $45

2006 Pinot Noir, Bald Mountain Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
There's a really earthy / forest floor component to the nose, with lots of dried cherries. Overall there is so much more complexity; lots of rich fruit and cola, with a mineral finish. 91 with room to improve. $45

2006 Le P'tit Paysan Syrah, Russian River Valley

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Le P'tit Paysan (the "little redneck") is Ian Brand's own label. I mentioned recently that he gave me a couple of bottles after our dinner in Los Altos; this was the second one.

The nose shows some lovely blueberry fruit as well as lavender and sandalwood notes. The palate has spicy chili and lots of berry fruit. It's smooth and balanced with enough structure to indicate that it would benefit from 2-3 years of cellaring.

It was much more to my taste than the Coastview Syrah that we drank at the dinner; it reminded me in some ways of the Stefania Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah although it seemed less concentrated. I'm not sure what the price is; assuming that it's around the $25 mark (which is in line with the Meritage) then it's a definite buy. 89, with potential. Recommended

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dealing with the green meanies

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Sometimes a wine needs the right food pairing to show well. A light bodied wine that tastes thin and acidic alone might match well with a tomato pasta dish, and a full bodied, tannic red is a great match for a thick juicy steak.

Last weekend we had some friends over for dinner. I'd been to Costco and picked up some of their USDA Prime steaks; season them with salt and pepper, put them on the barbecue and eat them in the garden under the stars with a nice red wine, grilled vegetables and fresh bread. A perfect summer evening.

We'd had a spectacular 1990 Penfolds Bin 389 with the steaks, and followed that with a rather nice 2006 Stefania Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. It was still early, so I went to open something else, and pulled out a bottle of 2005 Fortino Santa Clara Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

The nose had lots of sweet blackcurrant with a whiff of nail varnish in the background, but on the palate it was tart and tannic, with flavours of sour blackcurrant, oak and a 'green' streak that I didn't care for. We decided on reflection that we'd drunk enough for the night so I recorked it and put it in the fridge, thinking I'd probably cook with it.

The following night Alison had a tennis match, so while she was out I made a curry. I love hot, spicy Indian food with loads of methi (fenugreek) and fresh dhania (coriander/cilantro) but pairing it with wine is always problematic as the food tends to overwhelm them. Some people recommend spicy off-dry whites like Riesling or Gewurztraminer, but I'm not a huge fan of off-dry whites - I'll usually just have a beer or water.

Anyway, I spotted the opened bottle of Fortino Cabernet and thought 'why not?'. Surprisingly it worked; the green streak was masked by the herbs and the tomato and vinegar took care of the tartness. The blackcurrant fruit showed through quite nicely.

So the moral is, if you happen to open a bottle of wine and it's not to your taste, you don't have to decide between suffer it, throw it away or cook with it; with a bit of imagination the right food can make all the difference.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

2007 Sycamore Creek Zinfandel

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I first tasted this Zinfandel 6 months ago at the Bella Mia tasting in San Jose. The fruit comes from a small domestic vineyard in Coyote Valley; I don't believe that the vines are particularly old.

The nose is showing lots of espresso coffee, "red vines" and strawberry. The oak is showing more than I remember, as is the heat. On the palate it's rich and concentrated; spicy in a chili pepper way. There's a lot of raspberry and some black pepper too. The tannins are smooth, not overpowering and it has a good long finish.

It's been sold out at the winery for months but I'll certainly be looking out for future vintages. 91

Updated: Another Summit fire

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The Santa Cruz Sentinel is reporting that the fire department successfully contained the two wildfires on Summit Road in Corralitos. They were first reported at 12:48PM, a little over a mile from Windy Oaks, to the east of the area that was devastated by last year's Summit Fire.

Summit Road was closed for a while to traffic from its southern end, at the junction with Mount Madonna Road. One of the fires was contained at two acres, the other at five. No information on the cause, but the area has been experiencing record high temperatures this weekend (it was 99F in Santa Clara today).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two non-vintage wines

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Some people think I'm a wine snob. And maybe I am; I just don't see any point in drinking things that don't taste good. By that token I'm a whisky snob, a beer snob - even a pop snob. If the only beer on offer is Coors Light, I'll have a Coke, and if it's Diet Caffeine Free Vanilla Cherry Coke then sod it, I'll just drink water.

That's not to say I won't experiment. I've had cheap wines that surprised me, and expensive wines that were undrinkable. I try not to assume anything from the label; after all you never know until you try it. But there are a few warning signs that can make me approach the bottle with the reticence of a four-year-old faced with an unfamiliar green vegetable.

California AVA I've had several really good wines that carry the California appellation. Stefania Haut Tubbe for example is a blend of Santa Clara valley and Santa Cruz Mountains fruit. Kathryn Kennedy's Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best Californian examples I've tasted - it's sourced from vineyards in three different counties. Fogarty's Skyline and Cinnabar's Mercury Rising are good examples of decent value blends that carry the generic appellation. But overall those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and they come from winemakers that I already know and respect. On the other hand, the supermarket shelves are full of generic California crap, blended from bulk purchases and perked up with residual sugar, oak powder and Mega Purple.

Non-vintage is fine for Champagnes and fortified wines, but is rarely a good sign on table wines. There are of course exceptions; for example ZD Abacus is produced using the Solera system and thus can't carry a vintage date, but overall it's a bad sign.

French AOCs on labels, such as "Californian Champagne", "Mountain Chablis" or "Burgundy Select". It's the wine equivalent of buying a "Rolex" watch from a street trader. The exception to this rule is of course Claret; I can't understand why the EU decided to make this a protected term, especially considering that it's British not French in origin.

Rapazzini Burgundy Select managed to hit all three trigger points at once. A non-vintage blend of un-named grapes - is there any Pinot Noir in there at all I wonder? - it's a light, soft, fruity wine; the sort that comes in litre carafes in Italian restaurants.

Kirigin Estate Red, Santa Clara Valley is honest about what it is and where it comes from. At a guess it's a blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, possibly others, with a fair amount of oak influence and a little more character than the "Burgundy Select".

There's nothing wrong with either of these wines; then again there's nothing particularly right with them either. They are drinkable, but not memorable, and not something I would consider buying again. In the $10-$15 price range there are plenty of better options, particularly from South America or Australia.

2008 Coastview Vineyard Estate Chardonnay, Monterey County

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A few local wine enthusiasts got together recently for dinner in Los Altos. One of the guests was Ian Brand; a former assistant winemaker at Big Basin and now consulting for several local wineries including Nicholson in Corralitos and Coastview in Monterey. He brought several of the wines he's been making (my notes were brief due to the dinner and a lack of power in my iPhone), including a 2008 Albariño from Pierce Ranch (Floral and fruity, but unfortunately served a bit too warm), a 2008 Nicholson Arroyo Seco Viognier (Light floral nose, with briny and biscuit/ice-cream wafer notes), a 2007 Coastview Syrah
(Meaty, savoury, smoky bacon on the nose. Good currant fruit, nice acidity and his personal label, a 2005 Le P'tit Paysan Meritage (Nose of roast meat, elderberry, smoke. Tight berry fruit - cranberry and boysenberry. Smooth tannins.)

As we left he handed me a couple of wines that we didn't get around to. One of them was an as yet unreleased Chardonnay from Coastview Vineyard. Coastview is located in the Gavilan Mountains at an elevation of 2300-2600 feet, possibly the highest vineyard in Monterey County and as high as Muns in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Coastview has similar limestone and granite soils as the Chalone AVA, but with a cooler microclimate.

The wine shows a lot of tropical fruit, both on the nose and the palate; particularly mango, nectarine and pear. Although it's smooth and rounded there's very little oak influence. (The wine sees only 20% new French oak, 80% neutral.) It reminded me of Michaud, which I haven't had in a while. The finish is long and rich. Since it's so young I had planned to save some to try the following day, but before I knew it the bottle was empty.

The release date is unconfirmed, as is the price, but it'll probably be in the same range as Michaud. 91 Recommended

Lockheed Fire: 100% Contained

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The CDF is reporting the fire as 100% contained. That doesn't mean it's extinguished; there's still a way to go to extinguish burning stumps and brush, and there is still a lot of smoke as a result. It blew into the south bay again yesterday afternoon.

As often happens, residents have put up home made signs to thank the brave firefighters who risked their lives on long, difficult shifts tackling the fire. Local resident Todd Hoff has a collection of photos on FriendFeed; the photo above is one of his. Once the majority of fire crews leave I plan to head over to take some photos too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mount Eden

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I doubt that there's a winery anywhere in the country with as interesting a history as Mount Eden. Its history goes back to the 1940s, when Martin "Rusty" Ray sold Paul Masson's old Mountain Winery to Seagrams and purchased Table Mountain to the north west. In April 1960, Ray incorporated "Mount Eden Vineyards" and sold a handful of shares at $10,000 each. A few years later there was a legal action led by one shareholder who had purchased a number of shares. This led to a legal battle, which Ray lost. The story - or a version of it at least - is told in the book "Vineyards In The Sky". Martin Ray died a few years later, in 1976.

Mount Eden had a series of winemakers in the 1970s. Dick Graff, founder of Chalone Vineyards was the first. He brought on Meredith "Merry" Edwards, who in turn was succeeded by Fred Peterson.

In 1981 Peterson recruited a young graduate from Davis named Jeffrey Patterson as assistant winemaker. Just two harvests later Peterson left and Jeffrey Patterson took over as head winemaker. He has since become the majority shareholder in Mount Eden Vineyards and lives in the house that Ray built.

The drive up the mountain is ... interesting. The road is unpaved; in fact 'road' is far too grand a word for what is little more than a dirt track. When it rains Jeffrey re-grades the surface but in the dry season it's two and a half miles of rutted, compacted dust.

But once you reach the top the views are spectacular, particularly on a relatively clear day. You are looking down from 2000 feet on an unbroken panorama from Mount Umunhum in the south to Mount Diablo in the north, encompassing the whole south bay - that's what the Pattersons wake up to every morning.

At 45 planted acres, Mount Eden is currently the second largest vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, slightly larger than Bargetto's Regan Vineyard. It has gradually been replanted over the years, with the last of Rusty Ray's original vines being removed in the late 1990s and replaced with new rootstock grafted with the small berried Mount Eden clones. At the lowest elevation lies the 5 acre Peter Martin Ray vineyard; still owned by Rusty's adopted stepson. The contrast between the viticulture is startling; the old vines are head pruned and basket caned, with leaves trailing across the floor. The fruit is not purchased by Mount Eden; instead it's sold to other local wineries including Downhill and Bargetto.

The estate has recently been expanded further by the purchase of Cinnabar's old vineyards in Saratoga. The 13 planted acres are being renovated, with all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines being grafted over to Pinot Noir.

2005 Estate Chardonnay
Deep yellow colour. (I rarely comment on the colour of wines unless it's unusual)
Nose shows caramel/butterscotch and lemon zest, with creamy, floral notes. A richly concentrated wine; creamy with red apple and lime, good acidity. The oak is reasonably balanced for a young Mount Eden. There's a chalky, mineral note on the finish. 94

2002 Estate Chardonnay
By contrast the 2002 has a lighter nose; cream soda, apple and lime. Not so much of the caramel, it's more creamy, smooth and rich but less concentrated than the 2005. 93

2003 Estate Pinot Noir
Great nose; cherry, oak and earth. Good structure, with nice, spicy fruit; notes of citrus pith on the front of the tongue and a long, lingering finish 92

2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Also contains 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc
Nose shows vanilla and coffee, with lots of savoury blackcurrant. The tannins are fine, with good blackcurrant fruit, mint and a hint of eucalyptus. Good structure and a nice, medium length, tannic finish. 92

Lockheed Fire: weekend update

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It looks like the fire is almost entirely controlled. The latest CDF report estimates 98% containment, with 100% expected later today. The affected area is now over 7800 acres; although no homes were affected, at least 14 'outbuildings' such as seasonal cabins have been either damaged or`destroyed. The cost has exceeded $25 million, and 10 injuries are reported.

One thing that has been very different about the Lockheed Fire as compared to the Summit Fire of last year is the potential to affect vines. There aren't that many vineyards in the Bonny Doon area; the sandy soil and cool microclimate are considered less than ideal for grapes (though McHenry does very well there). The smoke and ash from the Summit Fire blew all over the south bay; we could smell the fires almost every day. Most days the smoke from the Lockheed fire seems to have blown to the west, toward the sea and thus away from the majority of vines.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Santa Clara Valley links

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There's a nice article on the Santa Clara Valley wineries by Alan Goldfarb over on Appellation America. For those who don't subscribe, John Aver has it reprinted on his website.

Speaking of Aver Family, their Petite Sirah gets praised by Laurie Daniel in her weekly piece for the Mercury News.

Lockheed Fire Latest: Thursday

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The fire remains at 80% containment and has spread to 7,364 acres. Almost 2,000 personnel are still involved, and costs have topped $18m, with 8 injuries. The good news is that the threat to homes has been addressed and all evacuations and road closures have been lifted; residents with identification are being allowed to return. The CDF is still on target to have full containment by the weekend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Tuesday Update

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CDF reports 80% containment. The affected area has increased by just over 100 acres. Almost all the evacuation restrictions have now been lifted, except for a handful of houses still under threat on Warnella Road. A sixth firefighter has been reported as injured. Costs have been estimated at around $15m. Still no information on the cause of the blaze.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Monday update

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CDF now reports 65% containment. The damage has now passed the 7,000 acre mark and the costs have risen to just under $10m. A fifth injury has been reported.

The good news is that the evacuation order for Bonny Doon has been temporarily lifted and residents are being allowed to return, though it remains in place for Swanton.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Sunday update

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The CDF is now reporting 50% containment on the Lockheed fire, with almost 7,000 acres destroyed. The weather conditions have improved, but it may be another week before the fire is fully contained. Estimated cost has exceeded $6 million.

Four firefighters have been reported as injured, but thankfully there have been no fatalities and no reports of houses being damaged. Linda McHenry reported that the fire is between 1 and 2 miles away from the vineyard; firefighters are concentrating their efforts to defend inhabited areas, and favourable winds are helping.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lockheed Fire Update

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The fire department is reporting over 5,000 acres destroyed, with 15% containment.
Update: The figures have now been revised to 6800 acres, 30% containment.

There's a map showing the fire's perimeter created by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It shows the perimeter as less than a mile from the McHenry Vineyard. Firefighters are working to protect the villages of Bonny Doon and Swanton; although evacuation orders are in place, many Bonny Doon residents are staying and trying to defend their properties.

Costs have risen to an estimated $2.6m and there are now over 1500 personnel on the scene. Still no injuries reported, but smoke and ash is reported up to 50 miles away, and the area in the south bay smells of smoke today. The cause of the fire is still unconfirmed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fire season again: Lockheed Fire

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Yes, it's fire season again. The Lockheed Fire is burning close to Bonny Doon, around 3 miles from last year's Martin fire. So far over 4,000 acres have been destroyed and a couple of buildings, but no homes yet. Around 2,000 people have been evacuate. There are news reports on the web sites of local TV stations such as KTVU and there's more information on the CDF web site and on the CalFire blog. It doesn't look like any wineries or vineyards are in the area; the closest appears to be McHenry, which lies to the south.

Update from Ryan Beauregard, in Bonny Doon: The winds have just picked up, and it is all blowing right towards me and Bacchus at the lost weekend, we will be leaving shortly... Helicopters are circling, fire bombers are going by. It is very surreal. At a moments notice, me and Bacchus can be told to leave. Then, we can only hope that the sprinklers on the roof can do something to help. Or, the 20,000 gallons of stored water can come in handy for the firemen. Even though I have put our roughly 10,000 gallons of water through the seven sprinklers, I still know it will do nothing to help. As of now, we will be closed for an estimated four days.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The internet brings everything together

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There are two internet resources that every wine lover ought to know about.

Wine Searcher is a database of retailers from around the world. Their spiders download the latest price lists from every retailer, allowing you to quickly search for wines by any criteria. The basic service is free, and is supported by participating retailers; a $30 "pro" subscription gives you access to the entire database; depending on your budget and shopping habits it can easily pay for itself the first time you use it.

Cellar Tracker is a database of wines. It allows you to keep track of your wine collection, including purchases and consumption, view tasting notes from other users (the database just passed the 1,000,000 tasting notes mark) and lots more besides. Although there are other alternatives, it has become the dominant player. The service is free; a voluntary donation unlocks some additional features. The main criticism of Cellar Tracker is in its user interface; it's not very "Web 2.0" if you'll forgive the horrible buzzword, but this is due to be addressed in an update planned for later in the year. Another thing that is promised is a web API, which really could be interesting.

One of the first significant players to recognise the value of Cellar Tracker was Stephen Tanzer. He allows Cellar Tracker to publish the scores for the wines he reviews; furthermore his subscribers also see the full reviews.

As yet the two other main wine critics (in the US at least) - Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate - aren't integrated with Cellar Tracker. They each have their reasons; whether I agree with those reasons is irrelevant, but I for one have vowed not to subscribe to their online services until I can access them via Cellar Tracker, so they have lost at least one sale as a result.

Now one of the latest ideas to hit the internet is Vinfolio Marketplace. This is a reverse auction service, whereby users who have wines that they are willing to sell can list them and field offers from interested customers. There have been plenty of sites that allowed users to sell or trade their wines; many such as WineBid or Brentwood act as licenced brokers and charge significant commissions to both buyers and sellers; Wine Commune offers lower commissions but operates in a legal grey area where neither the buyer or seller might have a licence to sell or ship alcohol.

Despite the fact that Vinfolio offers a cellar tracking service, they quickly teamed up with Cellar Tracker to allow users to easily list wines in Cellar Tracker in the Marketplace. They are also negotiating with Wine Searcher on the best way to list wines offered for sale on the site; this is complicated because the wines in the market place are only 'available' - it's up to the buyer to negotiate a satisfactory price. But the point is that they are working together to resolve this.

What I'd like to see is a single portal that combines everything. From one site you could see your cellar contents, reviews from all the critics to which you subscribe, both professional and amateur, current retail prices and recent auction prices, winery details such as that provided by Wine Questers or the ill-fated Appellation America.

As I mentioned earlier, Cellar Tracker is taking about publishing an API. This would allow people to write tools that work with it, in the way that people have written applications that work with Google, Facebook or Twitter. At which point Cellar Tracker may become the definitive online encyclopaedia of wine. It will be interesting to see how long the critics feel they can can ignore that.