Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Notes from Pinot Paradise

2007 Veranda Vineyard
Floral, rich cherry, good balance. Hint of liquorice on the finish.

Alfaro Family
2006 Lindsey Paige Vineyard
As always, a very structured wine; needs time for the fruit to show.
2007 'A' Estate
Blend of 3 vineyards. A deep, rich wine with flavours of liquorice and good tannins.

2006 Reserve
Earthy, mushroom nose. Lots of dark fruit and bold tannins.

2006 Bald Mountain
From the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA. Savoury, gamey nose. Sweet cherry fruit and a good finish.
2006 Trout Gulch Vineyard
This vineyard was planted in 1982 by the Winemaker Ryan's father, Jim Beauregard. Shows brighter fruit than the Bald Mountain, and a little heat. Good structure.

Big Basin
Bradley Brown produces 2000 cases a year. This is his 6th vintage.
2007 Branciforte Ridge
Good, bright fruit. Nice flavours of black cherry. Good acidity.
2007 Alfaro Family Vineyard
Rich and savoury. Young but showing bright fruit. Little tannic, but less so than the Alfaro wines. Very nice.

Black Ridge
2006 Estate
A big, rich wine with good balance.
2007 Estate
Nice earthy, herbal nose. Long, tannic finish. Needs a couple of years.

Burrell School
2005 Estate
Nose shows bright cherries and nutmeg. Earthy with a tannic finish.
2006 Estate
Some pear drops on the nose. Bright cherry fruit; decent acidity and tannins. Oak shows on the finish.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains
Good balance. Plenty of dark fruit. Finishes with a tarry, smoky note.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains
Earthy, with mushrooms backed by good cherry fruit.
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains
Not yet released. Fruity nose. Rich flavours of caramel, cherry and coffee.

Clos LaChance
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains
Nice cherry fruit; good balance
2005 Biagini Vineyard
Nice "funky" nose. Rich, concentrated fruit. Smooth finish.

Clos Tita
2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Cuvee
Barnyard on the nose. Rich and full. Earthy/loamy with hints of violets and peppery spice. Long finish.
2005 Estate
Lots of acidity. Flavours of black cherry and liquorice. Long, tannic finish.

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains barrel sample
Very primary. Notes of lavendar and violets. Medium bodied; good acidity
2007 Santa Cruz Mountains barrel sample
Clearly more evolved than the 08, but still showing bright acidity. A bit more structure and less fruit.
2006 Santa Cruz Mountains
Earthy, with notes of wild strawberries and cherries. Nice acidity.

2005 Terra Serena Vineyard
This Corralitos vineyard has gone by many names including Matteson, Ciardella and Woodruff.
Odd nose; hints of ginger and aldehyde. Full bodied; chocolate notes. Lot of tannin.
2006 Vista del Mare Vineyard
Pear drops on the nose. Full bodied with lush cherry fruit.

Heart O' The Mountain
2006 Estate
A big, rich, structured wine. Hints of barnyard, mushroom and loam. Good cherry fruit.

Hunter Hill
2007 Estate
Lots of oak on the nose. Smooth cherry flavours. What it lacks in acidity it makes up for in tannins.

King's Mountain
2005 Estate
A spicy nose with hints of nutmeg and clove. Rich and earthy with chocolate and cherry notes. Coffee on the finish.

Loma Prieta
2005 Saveria Vineyard
Deep colour. A tight, heavy wine with lots of tannin slowly revealing some nice cherry fruit.
2006 Saveria Vineyard
A much lighter colour than the 05. Lots of espresso coffee; fruit is in the background.

At under $30, the McHenrys makes some of the best value Pinot in the region.
2005 Estate
Bright, floral nose. Soft with rich fruit and a long finish.
2006 Estate "Swan Clone"
Similar, showing more dark fruit at this stage than the 05.

Mount Eden
What can you say about Mount Eden? Jeffrey Patterson consistently produces some of the best Pinots in the country.
2005 Estate
Beautiful perfumed nose. A rich, concentrated wine with lots of fruit.
2006 Estate
More barnyard 'funk' on the nose than the 05. Good structure and acidity. More earth, less fruit on the palate.

Earthy 'funk' on the nose with notes of cola. Sweet black fruit and a long finish.
Rich and full, with deep fruit flavours and cedar notes.

Did not taste

Pelican Ranch
Did not taste

Pleasant Valley
2006 sees the launch of two additional Pinots from the nearby Lester Family (formerly Deer Park) Vineyard. The wines are from two distinct blocks within the vineyard, which are planted with different Pinot clones, and were vinified and bottled separately (though you have to look closely as the labels are very similar). Initially just 75 cases were produced, increasing to 250 cases in 2008.
2005 Dylan David Estate
Complex, floral nose. Rich, concentrated cherry fruit and a long finish
2006 Dylan David Lester Family Vineyard, Willa Louise's Block
Dijon 667 clone. Bright strawberry nose. Sweet cherry fruit on the palate.
2006 Dylan David Lester Family Vineyard, Thelma Henrietta’s Block
Dijon 115 clone. Savoury nose. Rich, with a long, tannic finish.
It was interesting to compare these side by side. These are the best young wines I've tasted from Deer Park.

Tasted; no note.

Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard
Since taking over at SCMV, Jeff Emery has introduced a subtle stylistic change. He's trying to make the wines more accessible when young; less tannic and acidic, but hopefully without sacrificing their ageworthiness. As a result his 2005 Branciforte was named one of the SF Chronicle's top 100m wines last year.
2005 Branciforte Creek
A big, earthy, spicy wine. Nicely balanced with good acidity. Tastes good now, will get better.
2005 Bailey's
Earthy with big cherry fruit flavours and a great finish.

Sarah's Vineyard
Did not taste.

Silver Mountain
2005 Miller Hill
Berry/strawberry notes. Good acidity; mineral finish.
2006 Miller Hill
Alison loved this. Soft and fruity - she described it as "Cherry, cherry and cherry". Notes of pepper on the finish.
2006 Muns Vineyard
Much more structured and darker cherry/fruit flavours.

2006 Muns Vineyard
Lots of tannin. Good acidity, nice mouthfeel, but needs time to unwind.
2007 Muns Vineyard
Showed more cherry fruit at this stage than the 06 did. Hints of nutmeg, still plenty of tannin.

2007 Saveria Vineyard
A rich, full, fruity wine. Decent structure and a long finish with cedar notes.

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains
Very spicy and peppery. Nice cherry flavours and good acidity.
2006 Wildcat Ridge
Again, spicy with rich fruiot flavours, notes of cedar and cola. Good finish.

Thomas Fogarty
Did not taste

Trout Gulch
Did Not Taste

Vine Hill
Did not taste

Windy Oaks
2006 Wild Yeast
Elusive but beautiful nose. Cherry fruit with violet, lavender and earthy notes. Great structure. One of my favourites.
2006 Diane's Block
Tasted; no note.

2005 Estate
Savoury, meaty nose. Deep, rich and concentrated flavours, with a long finish showing hints of truffle.
2006 Estate
Much more forward than the 2005. Lots of sweet cherry fruit.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pinot Paradise 2009

Last Sunday was the 5th annual Pinot Paradise, the opportunity to sample almost every Pinot Noir producer in the Santa Cruz Mountains. (Though while it might be possible to try all of them in theory, I've yet to manage it.)

The event is held at Villa Ragusa in downtown Campbell. It's a nice, big venue, easy to reach and ample parking nearby. It doesn't get too crowded, though the $20 extra for the VIP session from 1:00-2:00 is money well spent even if you don't do the official tasting tour, since you get free run of the place.

I'll raise my minor complaints first to get them out of the way; there's not enough space in the program to write tasting notes, though granted most people who are serious about taking notes will have brought their own notebook. There weren't enough spittoons , which meant that you were constantly having to squeeze past people. Last year I thought that plastic Dixie cups were provided, which helped. And finally there really needs to be water jugs (not iced) on each of the pouring tables.

On to the tasting. Lots of people pouring multiple vintages, which gives a good opportunity to compare. Generally the 2006 vintages seems to be showing more fruit at this stage; the 2005s more structure. The 2007s mostly seemed young and tight.

Big Basin was the only new winery from last year. Testarossa were not listed and I didn't find Trout Gulch or Vine Hill. I'll post the tasting notes later in the week once I've had chance to write them up.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Passport Day at Jason/Stephens

Another winery that recently opened to the public is Jason/Stephens. It's one of a cluster of wineries located off Watsonville Road. Having tried some of their wines recently at Bella Mia I was curious to see what else they were making.

Being Passport day for Santa Clara Valley the place was buzzing; there was live jazz and a barbecue buffet, as well as the wines. The majority of the visitors seemed to be young women (marketers and single guys take note).

2007 Chardonnay $21
Good nose of lemon, apple and pear. Lively flavours of creamy lemon and vanilla with a chalky minerality.

2006 Merlot $24
Scents of chocolate and smoke. shows good blueberry and cherry fruit, nice acidity and soft tannins.

Castillo's Hillside Shire Winery

Every winery starts with a dream, but it's not always the same dream. In 2000 Jess Castillo just wanted to build his family's dream house on the outskirts of Morgan Hill, but his planning applications were being denied. Eventually he learned that under the Williamson Act he wouldn't be allowed to construct anything over 2500 square feet because the land wasn't being used for agriculture.

The solution was clear; if he farmed 70% of his land he'd be allowed to do what he wanted with the remainder. Planting grapes to sell seemed an ideal way out, so Jess spoke to local winery Guglielmo and took advice on what to plant. In 2001 he installed 7,000 Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah vines on the hillside, and built his home.

But when the first crop arrived in 2006 Jess decided to have a go at winemaking. The response from friends was so positive that he began to receive offers from neighbours to farm their vineyards on a sharecropping basis.

The winery opened to the public for the first time this month, pouring their 2007 vintage. All the wines are from the Santa Clara Valley, and are matured in new French oak. The whimsical labels were designed by the Castillo's youngest daughter.

2007 Syrah $30
The colour is a hazy purple; the wines are unfined and unfiltered. It reminds me of a home-made Loganberry wine I tried recently, with light tannins and a sweet and sour "Starburst" character.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $40
A light nose of blackberries is followed by bright raspberry/blackberry fruit and a smooth finish. It's low in tannins and acidity, and was proving popular among other vistors.

2007 Merlot $32
Another bright nose, also showing a little smoke. Nice plum fruit, with more acidity and tannin than the two previous wines.

2007 Red Table Wine $22
100% Malbec, though not labeled as such. There's an offputting musty nose like an old wet dishrag, but that doesn't transfer to the palate; the fruit shows well and there's decent acidity.

2007 Estate Petite Sirah $42
Castillo's house style of low tannins works well with this tricky grape. It's a big, bold wine with good dark fruit and spicy pepper notes. There's chocolate on the finish from the 14 months in oak. My favourite of the range.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $75 $72
Nose of coffee, with hints of sage and mint. Good blackcurrant fruit and a nice, balanced finish. But it's by far the most expensive Santa Clara Valley wine I've ever tasted, and I'm not convinced that the market will bear it.

2008 Chardonnay (Barrel sample)
This is being matured in a barrel that previously held red wine, which has imparted a curious pink tint. The nose shows pear drops; on the palate it shows residual sugar and some odd notes of char (burned paper?) and oxidation.

2008 Sangiovese (Barrel sample)
A deep, glass-staining purple colour. A big, concentrated wine with sweet, spicy fruit and a good finish.

The wines are currently only available from the winery. They are currently trying to sign up a distributor; with 3,000 case of the 2008 vintage in the pipeline this will be crucial to the winery's survival.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Laurie Daniel on Santa Clara wines

I met Laurie Daniel, wine writer for the San Jose Mercury News at last week's Santa Clara tasting. Her review of the event is now available on the Mercury News Website.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Black Ridge Vineyards

On a slope overlooking Lexington Reservoir sits the 70 acre Black Ridge estate. Grapes were grown on the site before Prohibition; it later became a prune farm and more recently grew Christmas trees.

The site has great views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and downtown San Jose. Several impressive buildings have been erected, including one which may house the winery that is still under construction.

Beginning in 2000 owners Fred Faltersack and Jim Landes began planting vines. Around 22 acres are planted, with 11 different varieties. The first vintage was produced in 2005 by Jeffrey Patterson of Mount Eden Vineyards; subsequent vintages have been made by Bill Brosseau at Testarossa. All wines use 100% estate fruit

2007 Viognier
The only white currently produced, it has a lovely fresh fruity/floral nose, with apricots and canteloupe. Flavour soft pear and vanilla with a rich, creamy mouthfeel and a crisp, oaky finish.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoky, brambly nose. Plenty of acidity and tannin, but the fruit seemed a bit muted.

2006 San Andreas Red
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Bright, fruity nose showing redcurrant. Good balance, with plum and blackberry flavours. Tannins on the finish seemed a little harsh.

2006 Cabernet Franc
Nice tobacco and cedar notes backed by blackcurrant and blueberries. Rich, well structured. Dry, tannic finish.

Also on offer were barrel samples of a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, made by assistant winemaker Ashley DuBois. A sample from neutral oak showed bright, pure brambly fruit with a rich, smooth finish. The sample from new French oak added notes of caramel and coffee, while the fruit remained pure and focused. This looks like being an excellent debut release for Ashley.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Downhill Winery

The Santa Cruz Mountains has many winemakers who are enjoying a second successful career. Unlike most of them, Frank Ashton isn't a high-tech refugee. Instead he ran a specialty retail business for over 20 years before selling the company and taking on the role of general manager and winemaker at Byington Winery.

Not content with that, Frank has launched a side project of his own: Downhill Winery. The wines are made in Byington's facility and are occasionally available to taste there. I got a notification of two new releases, so went over to try them.

2008 Torrontés, California
The fruit is sourced from a small vineyard in Lodi whose owner has an interest in unusual varietals. Torrontés is a grape that is popular in Argentina and is believed to be related to Malvasia and to a similarly named grape found in Galicia, in Spain.
On first impression it resembles Viognier, having a fresh, floral nose with hints of peach. But on the palate it's closer to a Sauvignon Blanc, or possibly Gewurztraminer, with clean, fresh fruit and a hint of spice. The use of neutral oak rather than steel has given a rounded mouthfeel.

2008 Rosé of Barbera, California
A light, crisp summer rosé. Nose of wild strawberries. Bone dry, with flavours of fresh dough and a nutty finish.

2007 Chardonnay, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
A remarkably fresh Chardonnay, made with only 20% new oak and 50% malolactic. A crisp wine with good mouthfeel and nice apple and tropical fruit flavours. Great value; wines from Sleepy Hollow typically retail for at least $10 more.

2007 "Alessia" Barbera
While I'm not ordinarily that keen on Italian varietals, this is a nice wine. The earthy nose also shows smoked meats; the rich palate has currant fruit and more smoke with a round finish. Good acidity, light tannins.

2006 Pinot Noir, Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
The Peter Martin Ray vineyard used to be part of "Rusty" Ray's property. While most of the estate (considered by some to be one of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards outside Burgundy) is now Mount Eden, the family retained a small parcel.
Light in colour it appeared to be already showing some bricking (though the lighting didn't help). A beautiful perfumed nose, hinting at roses and cinnamon. Rich mouthfeel with good cherry flavours and a good, longish finish.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Giuliani Vineyard, Yountville, Napa Valley
Good fruity nose, with some traces of tobacco and mint. Nice blackcurrant flavours and a touch of coffee. A wine that can easily stand up to more expensive Napa brands.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jacob Kauffman, RIP

It's been reported that Winemaker Jason Kauffman died suddenly last week, aged just 34. A former Cellarmaster and Assistant Winemaker at David Bruce, he had been the winemaker at Muccigrosso Vineyards since 2001, crafting award winning wines including a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, two Zinfandels and a Syrah/Sangiovese blend called Table Two. His 2005 "Stan's Zin" from the Moniz Vineyard in Santa Clara Valley received a gold at the recent Chronicle awards.

There is an official announcement on the Muccigrosso Vineyards web site and an obituary on WineBusiness.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Santa Clara Valley tasting, Bella Mia, 18th March

Between them, Santa Clara Valley wineries garnered 45 medals at the Chronicle wine competition this year. To celebrate and raise public awareness, Jason Goelz of Jason/Stephens Winery organised a tasting in downtown San Jose. In all, 9 wineries participated. It was a very pleasant event; enough time to visit all the wineries without feeling rushed.

Many of the wineries are only open to the public on the 3rd weekend of the month. Here are my brief notes from the event.

2006 Mercury Rising (SILVER)
A good value blend of bordeaux varietals sourced from several regions; Napa, sonoma, Lodi and Paso Robles. Meaty, smoky nose; balanced with nice berry fruit.
2007 Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands (GOLD)
Nice expression of Pinot from this well known vineyard in Monterey County. Rich chocolate and cherry fruit with a lingering finish.

Clos LaChance
2007 "Glittering-Throated Emerald" Chardonnay (GOLD)
This unoaked Chardonnay shows mango and other tropical fruit dlavours. Nice clean, crisp finish. Always a bargain; watch out for it on offer in Safeway and stock up.
2006 "Black Chinned" Syrah (SILVER)
A nice fruity nose leads into good fruit and spice flavours; hints of nutmeg and white pepper. Good oak and tannins.
2006 "Buff-Bellied" Zinfandel (BRONZE)
Light nose; good raspberry fruit. Tart cherries on the finish.
2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (GOLD)
The Estate series is generally available direct from the winery. It spends over 2 years in new French oak. There's big blackcurrant fruit together with espresso and a hint of mint. It's still very young and needs time for the oak and tannins to soften.

Creekview Vineyards
2005 was the first vintage for Creekview, based in San Martin.
2007 Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco (GOLD)
Lemony nose; butter and vanilla on the palate. This is your textbook Californian oak-and-butter Chardonnay.
2006 Syrah (DOUBLE GOLD)
Sourced mainly from the Dorcich vineyard, it also contains 6% Mourvèdre and 3% Négrette.
Dark fruit and a little smoke on the nose, rich sweet fruit on the palate. A real crowd pleaser that's ready to drink.

J. Lohr
Based in San Jose, J Lohr produces over 1 million cases annually from their 3000 farmed acres, mostly in Monterey and Paso Robles. Known mainly for their Estate series found in supermarkets everywhere they also have several high end labels.
2007 Sauvignon Blanc "Carol's Vineyard", Napa Valley (SILVER)
Very aromatic, crisp nose. Peach and gooseberry flavours, with less acidity than I expected. Nice finish.
2007 Pinot Noir "Fog's Reach Vineyard", Arroyo Seco (GOLD)
Notes of sweet cherry and toffee, both on the nose and palate. Fine tannins show on the long finish.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon "Hilltop Vineyard", Paso Robles (GOLD)
Concentrated flavours of blackcurrant and coffee, with big tannins. Surprisingly good value at $35

First vintage for this partnership of winemaker Jason Goelz and veteran grower Stephen Dorcich.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (BRONZE)
Bottled under screw cap and targeted at the restaurant 'by the glass' market, this is an easy drinking, balanced Cabernet. Nice fruit; lightly oaked.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dorcich Estate (BRONZE)
Sourced from the same vineyard, the Estate sees more oak, which shows on the nose. There's also a lot more tannin, but there's decent fruit and nice acidity. Needs another year or so for the oak to integrate.
2006 Syrah (SILVER)
Earthy, smoky, rustic nose. Great fruit, good balance, long tannic finish.

Monte Verde
2006 was the first vintage from this husband and wife team in Morgan Hill. The estate is planted with Spanish varietals Tempranillo and Verdejo.
2006 "Villa Palma" Merlot (BRONZE)
Nose reminiscent of dried lavender. On the palate it's got nice plum fruit, if a little 1 dimensional. Soft tannins on the finish.
2006 "Muritabo" Syrah (SILVER)
A bright nose of red apples. On the palate there's black cherries and coffee, with quite a long finish.

Sarah's Vineyard
2007 Estate Chardonnay (SILVER)
The more I try this wine, the more I like it. There's a nose of green apples and pears; on the palate today it was showing a creamy caramel fudge quality. Very nice.
2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains (SILVER)
Similar in style to the Estate, but with more lemon on the nose and more acidity on the palate. Long, rich finish. Two excellent Chardonnays.
2007 Estate Pinot Noir (GOLD)
Spicy nose showing cinnamon and oak; rich cherry fruit with a long finish
2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains (BEST IN CLASS)
Very perfumed nose; it's the Estate and more besides, with the oak showing a little too much at this stage. Give it cellar time.
2005 Syrah, Besson Vineyard (BEST IN CLASS)
For some reason the nose on this reminded me of tinned sweetcorn. A big wine, lots of ripe fruit and a long finish. A nice wine, but a touch too ripe for my personal tastes.

Satori Cellars
Another newcomer; 2006 is their first vintage. Bright, eye catching labels and a real sense of fun.
2006 "Halelujah" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington (GOLD)
I haven't had many cabs from Washington, but what I've tasted so far has been good. Interesting nose of Vimto and smoke. Good rich, sweet fruit; blackcurrants on toast. Soft, crisp finish.
2006 Estate Zinfandel (NOT ENTERED)
Big, bold raspberry flavours are only hinted at by the light nose. The tannins are firm on the finish.
2006 "Ta Da" Syrah (BRONZE)
A bright nose of blueberries. Soft fruit on the palate and a fairly quick finish
2006 "Ha Ha" Petite Sirah (BRONZE)
It's hard to make a Petite Sirah that isn't a tannic monster, and this is no exception. Smoky, oaky nose and a hint of liquorice on the finish. There's some fruit there but it's mostly obscured by the tannins.

Sycamore Creek
Taken over in 2005 by Bill Holt and Ted Medeiros, of Uvas Creek Vineyard.
2006 Chardonnay, Vanumanutagi Vineyard (GOLD)
Nose of oak and butterscotch. On the palate it shows rich, creamy fruit, particularly honeydew melon.
2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Uvas Creek Vineyard (BRONZE)
Floral nose; violets from the Petite Verdot and some oak. Lush fruit; blackcurrant and brambles. Soft tannins on the finish.
2007 Zinfandel (DOUBLE GOLD)
Sourced from a 1 acre domestic vineyard in Coyote Valley. Bright fruity nose; raspberry and brambly, which follows through to the palate. Very nice acidity and balanced; no heat from the 15% alcohol.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Chateau, or Clos Stupidity

According to a report on Wines And Vines the EU have changed the labelling regulations to prohibit the use of certain terms by non-EU members. Those terms apparently include "chateau", "vintage" and "clos".

Now I'm 100% behind protecting specific regional terms that get abused in America, such as Champagne or Burgundy (and Cheddar for that matter), but we are talking about some generally accepted terms. The word Château is abused by the French as much as anyone; the majestic château on the label of Léoville-Barton is in fact the Château Langoa Barton. And Clos simply means a walled or enclosed vineyard.

In the end it's probably just another bargaining chip for the EU in trade negotiations; doubtless an agreement will eventually be thrashed out. With luck it'll end the "grandfathering" abuse of the terms above and we can all forget about it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The changing face of Santa Clara Valley

Santa Clara Valley has a rich history of grape growing and wine making. When the first Spanish settlers came they found grapes growing wild; the area became known as Cañada de las Uvas, now Uvas Canyon. Soon after, Etienne Thee and Charles Le Franc established the Almaden winery, which was later owned by Paul Masson. At one time the names Paul Masson and Almaden were synonymous with quality; a far cry from the wines that bear their names today.

By 1980, the Santa Cruz Mountains had taken over the quality mantle; the valley languished and became known for a cluster of small family wineries clustered around the Hecker Pass area. Despite the presence of some quality producers such as Sycamore Creek (the 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon is sublime) and Sarah's Vineyard, when the boundaries of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA were drawn the valley was carefully excluded, while including other low elevation producers such as Kathryn Kennedy.

But in recent years a change has been brewing. Driven by the high cost and low availability of suitable vineyard land in the Santa Cruz Mountains, growers have started to take another look at the valley. The most obvious sign is the 150 acre Clos LaChance estate vineyard in San Martin, but others are more subtle.

Bill Holt and Ted Medeiros began growing grapes at the Uvas Creek vineyard, located along the creek that marks the border between the AVAs, in 1998. Since then they have quietly built up a reputation for growing some of the finest Cabernet in the state. Stefania's 2005 Uvas Creek Cabernet was recently featured in the DC Examiner as one of California's undiscovered "Wine Nuggets", though perhaps undiscovered isn't the right term to use for a wine that has a waiting list to purchase. In 2007 Bill purchased Sycamore Creek. Since the 1980s the property had been owned by a member of the Morita family, who own Sony, and the wine had been almost exclusively exported and poured at corporate functions. The 2007 Sycamore Creek Zinfandel recently won double Gold at the SF Chronicle wine festival.

Sarah's Vineyard was purchased by Tim Slater in 2001. Since then there has been significant investment in the property, both in terms of winemaking facilities and in the vineyards. New vineyards have been planted, while the old ones have been renovated, including replacing the old trellising and in some cases changing the orientation of the vines. The efforts have paid off, with two Best Of Class awards, as well as Gold for the estate Pinot and Silver for the estate Chardonnay.

Buying an established winery is one thing; building a new one is a different matter. Santa Clara Valley now has two new wineries; Jason-Stephens is a joint venture between winemaker Jason Goelz and grower Stephen Dorcich, based in a brand new facility in Dorcich's 79 acre Uvas Canyon vineyard. The first releases, a brace of 2006 Cabernets, each scored Bronze in the Chronicle competition. The vineyard certainly has potential; the 2006 Creekview Vineyard Syrah was sourced from here and it scored double Gold. It will take time to replace the old sprawling trellising, but this is one to watch.

The other new winery that I mentioned is Castillo's Hillside Shire. Located in Morgan Hill they just released their 2007 vintage. As yet I haven't had the opportunity to taste the wines, but they will be open for the Santa Clara Valley passport event later in the month.

Most of the above mentioned wines, and many more, will be poured at the Santa Clara Valley tasting event at Bella Mia on Wednesday.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


As noted in the previous post, Travieso shares the facilities at Pinder Winery. Like Pinder, they source fruit from various AVAs. The Pinder tasting includes one Travieso wine.

2005 El Chupacabras, Santa Barbara County. Travieso's labels are themed around characters and monsters from Mexican folklore. The El Chupacabras is a Rhone blend of 79% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre and 4% Viognier. On the nose there are blueberries and oak; on the palate as its name suggests it's a bit of a monster - hugely extracted, concentrated fruit and lots of tannins. Fans of powerhouse Australian Shiraz like Marquis Philips will appreciate this style and I'm sure the critics would rate it in the 90s, but it's not to my taste. $33

Not to be outdone, the bottle is also a monster. Standing next to the Pinder wines it looks more like a 1L bottle, yet contains a standard 750ml. It seems there is yet another target in my campaign against unnecessarily large bottles.

Pinder Winery

Campbell is home to four small wineries, who share an industrial unit close to the Camden exit from Highway 17. The name above the door is Pinder Winery, which was bonded in 2001 by former home winemakers John and Marie Pinder. They produce small lots of 50 to 100 cases with fruit sourced from vineyards all over the state; currently the only SCM wine is a 2006 Finley Vineyard Viognier. The small tasting room is open on weekends from 11-4. A fee of $5 is credited towards any purchase.

Pinder's facility also hosts Stroth-Hall Cellars, Travieso and Heart's Fire Winery under the banner of Campbell Winemakers Studio.

2004 Mourvedre, Contra Costa County. An oaky, smoky nose is followed by rich, gamey, meaty flavours and some good berry fruit. Surprisingly soft tannins. $22
2004 Syrah, Fairview Road Ranch, Santa Lucia Highlands Earthy, funky nose. Flavours of blueberries and white pepper. Good acidity. $26
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Gallaway Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. A citrusy nose that for some reason reminds me of Pilsner Urquell. On the palate there's good fruit with a hint of volatile acidity and dusty tannins on the finish. $27

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bonny Doon opts for Full Disclosure

As first reported by Dr Vino, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon has taken the initiative to put a full ingredients list on the back of his labels. In particular he notes the finings used (which may be of interest to certain strict vegans who prefer to avoid products fined with isinglass or eggwhite) and the concentrations of sulfites. This latter issue has long been a controversial one; some people have allergic reactions to sulfites, but a far greater number mistakenly think that they do. Until now all that people had for reference was the fact that wine labelled as "contains sulfites" typically contained anything from 10mg to 350mg (the maximum the FDA allows) per litre, and that anything not so labelled contained less than 10mg (since sulfites are naturally occurring products it's impossible for a wine to contain none at all). Note: Please see discussion under comments for more on this.

It's perhaps too much to hope that this becomes a legal requirement, but I hope that it takes off as a concept and other wineries follow suit. After all, the best winemakers ought to have nothing to hide. Plus of course it's also good to see a Santa Cruz Mountains winery taking the lead on this.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Latest on Woodside Vineyards sale

The February edition of the Woodside Vineyards newsletter confirms that Bob Mullen has all but completed the sale of his share of the company to Buff Giurlani and Dick Burns, owners of AutoVino, a custom car and wine storage facility based on Constitution Drive in Menlo Park. Brian Caselden will continue as a partner and as winemaker; Bob will continue to be active as a consultant.

The new winery is expected to be completed in good time for the 2009 harvest, and will be open to the public on the Memorial day weekend. The Kings Mountain property had already been sold to a different owner last year, though it is understood that Woodside will continue to manage and make wine from those vineyards.

30% discount at Clos LaChance

Clos LaChance is having a 30% off sale on their entire inventory today through Sunday 15th. You can order online at www.clos.com and enter coupon code CLCFNF0309 at the checkout.

Or since it's such nice weather if you feel like taking a trip down to the winery then print off this 30% off coupon and this 2 for 1 tasting coupon and take them with you.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

2008 Ridge Monte Bello varietal components tasting


Ridge Monte Bello is considered by some to be the finest Cabernet blend made in the USA. Though others may point to high-priced, high scoring cult wines such as Screaming Eagle or Levy & McLelland the simple fact is that for over 40 years Ridge has quietly been making elegant, balanced, ageworthy wines at a reasonable price. In fact if you place a futures order you can get half a case for less than the release price of some cults.

Though the first vintages were 100% Cabernet, since the mid 1970s it's been blended with Merlot and sometimes Cabernet Franc and/or Petit Verdot. The winemakers sample each lot blind several times to determine whether it's right for Monte Bello or not. Lots that don't make the cut will typically end up in the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling, though small lots may be released as part of the ATP wine club.

Every year in early March, Ridge hosts a tasting of barrel samples from the latest vintage. For me it's one of the highlights of the tasting year. It's a backstage pass to Monte Bello land; you get to see the dress rehearsal followed by the real thing.

The 2008 vintage was a second drought year in a row. The dry weather led to some large wildfires, both in the Santa Cruz Mountains and elsewhere. Frost followed by heatwaves resulted in a very small crop; Ridge estimate that they picked around 1.25 tons per acre. However the small crop has turned out to be of very good quality.

Merlot sample. Bright garnet in colour. Nose of Parma violets and plums. The samples were rather cold; my first impression was of a wall of tannin with very little fruit. Later I resampled it; after it warmed up the fruit began to show, but it's still hard to assess at this stage.

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Cabernet Franc sample. Much darker in colour than the Merlot. Nose of blackberries and tea. On the palate there's less tannin and lots of black fruit. The finish is quite long, but there's a green streak. This has not made the first assemblage.

100% Cabernet Sauvignon sample. Nose of espresso and blackcurrant. On the palate there's beautiful sweet fruit. The tannins are a little harsh at this stage. Nice finish.

Petit Verdot sample. Last year the Petit Verdot was stunning all by itself. This year it suffered badly from the frost, and ripened unevenly. It still has a rather pretty floral nose. Although rich there's less fruit than last year and there's a herbaceous character to it that Ridge are hoping will dissipate. This has not made the first assemblage.

2008 Monte Bello Barrel Sample: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot. Colour is dark purple. Nose of coffee, graphite and black fruits. Nice balance and structure, good, layered fruit and a long finish. Certainly has the potential to be a great wine.

See also Wes Barton's tasting notes

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bedrock Wine Co. article on Barrel Selection

If you've ever tasted the same wine from different barrels (and if you haven't then Del Dotto winery in Napa Valley is a good place to start) then you'll know what a huge difference the various types of barrel can make. Barrels are a winemaker's spice rack; they each add different qualities to the wine. I don't normally "reblog" other people's stuff, since if you don't have anything to add there's very little point, but I thought this article on barrel selection was worth noting.

Santa Clara Wineries embrace social networking

If you're reading this and you haven't heard all about social networking, then I can only assume that you found a printed copy on a train or something. Even so, I was still a little surprised to see how many of the Santa Clara Valley wineries were participating.

If you're a twitter user you can follow the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley organisation at @WineriesofSCV, or Clos LaChance winery at @ClosLaChance

If you prefer Facebook then you can throw a sheep at any of these:

Santa Clara Valley Wineries

Casa de Fruta
Castillo's Hillside Shire Winery
Clos LaChance Winery (Group)
Clos LaChance Winery (User)
Creekview Vineyards
Emilio Guglielmo Winery
Fortino Winery & Event Center
Jason-Stephens Winery
Kirigin Cellars
Martin Ranch Winery
Sarah's Vineyard
Solis Winery
Stefania Wine
Thomas Kruse Winery

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Triple Booked

Looking at my calendar it seems that everything is happening at once. The last weekend of March has three major local events going on at the same time. Couldn't you people talk to each other and work something out?

Ridge has the Monte Bello Futures Tasting. This event is open to the public; there's a similar event coming up this weekend for Monte Bello collectors only. It's your first chance to taste the 2008 Monte Bello, and to get an idea of how the 2008 vintage might be overall.

As I posted recently it's also Pinot Paradise, in Campbell.

And finally it's also the Santa Clara Valley Passport weekend. The wineries of Santa Clara Valley have followed the example set by the SCMWA and are opening a few times a year. The passport costs $25, never expires, and can be purchased at any of the participating wineries.

2005 Clos LaChance "Black Chinned" Syrah

There was an interesting article on Decanter.com yesterday about the lack of representation of Californian wines in UK merchants. According to one independent wine merchant, California has few mid-range wines and does not offer good value for money.

Well I'm not sure what exactly they define "mid range" to be, but I can think of at least one larger sized Californian producer that offers good value for money: Clos LaChance. Their "Hummingbird" range is readily available in many supermarkets round here. The official retail prices are in the $15-$20 range, but they can often be found for less, particularly in supermarkets. I recently noticed a promotion in my local Safeway on the 2005 Syrah - reduced from $20 to $10, with an additional 10% off for mixed half cases. At that price who can refuse?

This is a lovely, dark, new world Syrah. On the nose we noticed oak and eucalyptus; on the palate lots of black fruits and a hint of coffee. As time went by the tannins became more pronounced. At $9 a bottle this is a screaming bargain; the promotion lasts until March 11th at larger stores.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Santa Clara Wineries Tasting, San Jose, March 18th

In order to spread the word about the 45 medals they won at the SF Chronicle wine competition, several Santa Clara Valley wineries are hosting a tasting event. It's at Bella Mia restaurant at 58 South First Street in San Jose, on Wednesday March 18th, from 6:30 to 8:30. Admission is $20, according to Bella Mia's web site. Admission is $15, according to the organizers.

From the flyer (PDF) nine wineries will be pouring: Cinnabar, Clos LaChance, Creekview, J. Lohr, Jason-Stephens, Monte Verde, Sarah’s Vineyard, Satori Cellars and Sycamore Creek.

I'm looking forward to attending, as there are several wineries on this list that I haven't managed to visit yet. Hope to see you there.