Thursday, April 29, 2010

Do you know about H.R. 5034?

If you haven't read about HR 5034, also known as the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2010, you should. It's a bill that would have a profound impact on consumers and wineries, leading to increased prices and winery closures. Although there is widespread opposition to the bill it's also gaining support.

I'm not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, and I didn't sleep at a Holiday inn last night. So I urge you to get the facts and make your own minds up, but here is my understanding.

The problem goes back to the repeal of Prohibition and the passing of the 21st amendment. Unlike most legal stuff it was brief and plainly worded. It says:
  • Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
  • Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.
Following this, various states set up alcohol distribution systems that were either owned by or regulated by the states. The 3 tier system was born: producers sold to wholesalers, wholesalers sold to retailers, retailers sold to customers and everyone got to make a profit (except the customer). For a long time nobody really cared too much; there was relief that prohibition was over and most people purchased their beer, wine and spirits from their local stores. Since the distributors controlled the flow of alcohol they got to become rich and powerful, and effectively stifled competition by merging and lobbying.

The recent winery boom began to challenge this. Small wineries like to interact directly with their customers; the profit margins are higher and the customer establishes a connection that goes beyond mere brand loyalty. If there's a problem with the wine due to flaws or bad shipping the winery can deal with it personally. It's good for the winery and the customer.

But not the wholesaler. They see this as a challenge. Despite the fact that it's a tiny fraction of the overall market, it's their market and they want to keep that fraction. The problem eventually reached the Supreme Court in the case of Granholm V Heald which effectively said that the 21st amendment did not give a state the right to treat wineries within the state differently from those based in other states.

HR 5034 (which was drafted by the National Beer Wholesalers' Association, or NAMBLA) would effectively overturn the Granholm V Heald ruling, granting each state the right to regulate alcohol however they see fit, regardless of the commerce clause. It also amends the 1890 Wilson act, which states "that all fermented, distilled or other intoxicating liquors or liquids transported into any state or territory" are subject to the same rules as alcohol produced within the state. This would greatly strengthen the wholesalers' position and allow the states to prevent wineries from shipping to customers.

Laws designed to limit alcohol shipping are often claimed to have the aim of preventing minors from accessing alcohol. But how many minors buy alcohol over the internet? HR 5034 would allow states to make it illegal for wineries and retailers to ship alcohol to adults. Meanwhile firearms collectors and dealers are still allowed to ship guns. Tobacco retailers can ship cigarettes and cigars. Pharmaceutical companies can ship prescription drugs. Does that make sense? You could buy a Smith and Wesson, but not a Smith-Madrone? Viagra but not Varner? Montecristos but not Montallegro?

HR 5034 is a terrible bill that would be disastrous for small wineries such as those in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but don't just take my word for it. Rep Mike Thompson (D-CA), co-chairman of the Congressional Wine Caucus says it would "devastate California’s and other states’ wine industries, stunt economic growth, and harm consumers by allowing discriminatory law and regulation to be passed and go unchallenged."

What can you do? Write to your Representative, asking them to oppose the bill.
Free The Grapes has a Write Your Congressperson web page that lets you do this automatically.
Send a fax to the office of the House Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy at (202) 225-3673.
Become a fan of the STOPHR5034 page on Facebook

What's your view on HR 5034? Have you heard back from your Congressperson on whether they will oppose it? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Mountain Winery

Paul Masson (1859-1943) is to this day one of the world's most well-known winemakers. He left his native Burgundy at the age of 19 and came to California, where he worked at the Almaden winery and vineyards, founded by Etienne Thee. In 1888 he married Charles Lefranc's daughter, and the business was retitled the Lefranc-Masson Wine Company.

Masson set out to demonstrate that his vineyards could produce a domestic Champagne that was the equal of the French. Before long his wines were winning awards, including a gold medal at the Paris Expo of 1900. With his new found fame and fortune he decided to build a new winery that he named La Cresta, on an ideal southerly slope of Table Mountain in Saratoga.

The winery's reputation was such that even with the passing of Prohibition, the Paul Masson Champagne Company was granted a limited exemption to produce champagne 'for medicinal purposes'. When Repeal eventually came Masson was in his 70s, and was eventually persuaded, cajoled or tricked (depending on who is telling the story) into selling La Cresta. It was purchased by Martin Ray who operated the winery until 1942, when it was sold to Seagrams. Ray subsequently purchased another property nearby on the same mountain and established what eventually became Mount Eden.

Under Seagrams ownership the Paul Masson brand became a mass-produced label, featuring gimmicks such as 1 litre screw-topped carafes, and famously advertised by Orson Welles. Wine production at La Cresta ceased in 1950 and though the vineyards remained they were somewhat run-down, producing less than half a ton per acre.

In the late 1950s a small ampitheater was built and the first summer concert series was held there, launching an annual tradition that continued for 30 years. Eventually the vines were dug up and what was once considered one of the greatest vineyards in the country became a car park.

In 1989 the facility was sold to a developer for $5.3M. Seagrams retained the "Paul Masson" name, so the name was changed the name to The Mountain Winery. Over the next few years the facility had a number of owners and went through bankruptcy before being purchased in 1999 by four partners including a developer, a founder of Hotmail and a former Intel exec. Together they have overseen the rebuilding and expansion of the ampitheater and the replanting of 9 acres of estate vineyards. The vineyards were installed and are managed by Jeffrey Patterson.

The winery opens for tasting most weekends, from 12-5 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are two flights available, the 'Reserve' wines which are made from purchased fruit and the two 'Estate' wines. Each flight costs $10, or $18 to try both. The reserve wines are priced in the mid $20s, with the Estates priced at $39 and $45. Given those prices the tasting fees do seem somewhat excessive. All the wines are made by Jeffrey Patterson at his Mount Eden facility, which allows the Santa Cruz Mountains wines to use the Estate designation.

2007 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose shows cider, oak and peach. Rich apple and lemon flavours. Lightly oaked, with firm acidity. 90 $39

2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
The nose is complex, with smoke, black cherry, raspberry and spice. On the palate it's a little austere and tannic. There's good cherry fruit and nice tannins. Needs a couple of years. 91 $45

2007 Reserve Chardonnay, Monterey County
Light lemon and lime nose, with some vanilla. Tart citrus flavours, nice acidity and minerality. Pleasant, though not particularly complex. 87 $26

2006 Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County
A big nose with smoke, black plum and brambles. Smooth and oaky with some tart black fruit. Dusty, bitter tannins on the finish 86 $22

2007 Reserve Syrah, Napa Valley
Lovely nose. Heavily floral with black fruit and soy sauce. In the mouth there's lots of good savoury fruit. Overall it lacks the structure for ageing but is very tasty now. 89 $22

2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Smoky oak hides the brambly fruit on the nose. The palate has plenty of sweet blackcurrant fruit and an oaky finish. 87 $27

Have you tried the Mountain Winery wines? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Looking back at the wines I've tasted for this blog, almost all of them were rated above average. This might not seem logical until you consider the millions of gallons of mass produced plonk out there. Bronco, makers of Charles Shaw, farm 100 times as many acres as are planted in the whole of Santa Cruz County.

Of course there are the exceptions. Take for example the 2007 Picchetti Viognier, Still Water Vineyard, Paso Robles. Viognier typically makes light, crisp, floral wines, but in this instance it's been pummeled with oak and malolactic fermentation to the point that it resembles a generic over-manipulated Chardonnay. Loads of vanilla and buttered toast masking the fruit apart from some honey notes. 75

Then there's the NV Fortino Mirabella, Central Coast. Now this time I had fair warning; non-vintage, generic appellation and no vineyard or grape varieties listed. It's just a few left-over barrels blended together, and it tastes as you'd expect; a simple, sweet fruit cocktail, without much structure. It's a wine for people who don't like wine - which is fair enough, but the $16 asking price is unreasonable for what you're getting. 75

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Neely is good enough

Dr Kirk Neely is the owner of several acres in Portola Valley, just north of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. In 1980 Jim and Bob Varner began planting vines on the south-easterly slope of the delightfully named Bozzo Gulch, and Spring Ridge Vineyards was born. Initially the vineyard was planted with Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, much of it on its own roots. The Varners farmed the land effectively organically with the fruit being sold to Thomas Fogarty and Bargetto.

After working at Fogarty for some years the brothers decided to open their own winery, and the Varner label was launched with the 1996 vintage. The following year they planted the "Hidden Block" Pinot Noir and more recently grafted the "Picnic Block" Gewurztraminer over to 777 clone Pinot Noir.

Three Chardonnays carry the Varner label, each produced from a different block in the vineyard. The Home block was the first to be planted and is own-rooted, as is the Ampitheater block; the Bee block is grafted. In addition a fourth wine is produced; a blend of barrels sourced from each of the three blocks. This is released under the Neely label in tribute to the vineyard's owner.

All the wines are produced in the same way - no pesticides except for sulphur to control mildew, no irrigation, no added yeasts - so the differences between the wines are purely down to the individual vines and microclimates.

2004 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Chardonnay
Soapy nose with pear, lewmon and oak. On the palate there's rich, concentrated fruit - pear, peach, kiwi, lanolin and brine. A slightly oaky bite on the finish - still needs time. 94

2006 Neely "Holly's Cuvee" Chardonnay
Nose shows vanilla, pineapple, guava and some spiciness (botrytis? surely not). Rich, sweet tropical fruit, lime and mineral notes, with oak showing on the long finish. This is delicious. 94

2007 Varner "Home Block" Chardonnay
Nose seemed reductive; not showing much at this stage. Compared to the two Neelys it's lighter in weight with flavours of mineral, lemon, pear and melon and a medium finish. 89+

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2010 SCMWA South Bay Trade Tasting

This year's SCMWA spring trade tasting was held at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell. Around 40 wineries crammed into two small conference rooms pouring a wide array of wines. As usual I managed to hit around half of the wineries in the three short hours allocated, making an effort to reach those I've missed at previous tastings. And as usual, my apologies to those that I missed.

Because the focus of these tastings is on trade customers several of the wineries choose to pour blends aimed at restaurants with by-the-glass programmes, so some of these wines may be hard to find at retail. Wines are Santa Cruz Mountains unless stated otherwise.

Some of the standouts were the Torrontés from Downhill, Sauvignon Blancs from Kathryn Kennedy and Martin Ranch, and Chardonnays from Beauregard and Odonata.
In the reds I particularly enjoyed Odonata's Grenache, Pleasant Valley's Pinot Noirs and all of Kennedy's range.


2007 Pinot Grigio, California
The nose is nice, with floral notes and stone fruit. But on the palate it's simple and bland with low acidity and some residual sugar. 80
2007 Chardonnay
Good nose; smoky lemon and stone. Sweet tropical fruit, melon and vanilla, with a nice finish. 87
2007 Zinfandel, Lodi
Oak and raspberry on the nose. Sweet raspberry syrup and oak on the palate. 84
2007 Merlot
Now we're talking. Nose is on the lighters ide with smoky plum notes, but on the palate it's rather concentrated with good tannin, good fruit and a long finish. Needs time. 89+
2004 "La Vita"
A blend of 60% Dolcetto, 24% Refosco and 16% Nebbiolo.
Gamey, smoky and oaky nose. Lots of tannin and camp fire with some black fruit underneath. Still needs a few years in the cellar to show well. 89+


2006 Chardonnay
Nose shows lemon, cereal, vanilla and some smoke. Concentrated flavours of stone fruit, lemon and lime. Long finish. 91 $25
2007 Pinot Noir, Estate
A light nose evoking walnuts and cranberry. Rich cherry flavours with some spicy oak. 88

Big Basin

2007 Syrah (no AVA stated)
A blend of Santa Cruz and Monterey County fruit.
Tasted last so unfortunately this was rather rushed, which is a shame because I rather liked it.
Smoky, black fruit on the nose; rich, smooth black fruit on the palate. 90++

Dancing Creek

2008 Pinot Noir, Regan Vineyard
An atypical Pinot Noir with a nose of black cherry, menthol and eucalyptus. These come over on the palate too, adding some cassis. Interesting. 89 $26
2008 Reserve Merlot
Light and fruity 'Starburst' nose. Full bodied with good structure and flavours of sweet plum and tobacco. 88


2009 Torrontés
Powerful floral, citrus nose. Light weight and refreshing with great citrus flavours and a crisp mineral finish. Terrific value, and even better than the excellent 2008. Highly recommended. 91 $16
2008 Pinot Noir, Carneros
Earthy nose. Good cherry fruit and an earthy, tannic finish. Fairly priced at $18. 87
2007 Barbera, California
A blend of El Dorado and Amador fruit. Has a meaty nose, followed by sweet black fruit. A little on the flabby side. 87
2007 Cabernet sauvignon, Andersen Vineyard
Smoky, brambly nose. Soft and rich on the palate, with smooth black fruit and an oaky, tannic finish. Good value at $22. 88

Heart o' the Mountain

2006 Pinot Noir, Estate
Rich cherry nose with some oak evident. Lovely spicy cherry fruit; drinking really well right now. 91
2007 Pinot Noir, Estate
Nose has pear drops and smoke. Rich black cherry, plenty of tannin and a longish finish. Needs time. 90

Kathryn Kennedy

2009 Sauvignon Blanc, California
Blend of three organic vineyards. The nose is lively; citrus and stone fruit just pour out. On the palate there's great acidity and loads of fruit - citrus, guava, melon and more - and a long finish. Outstanding, my favourite white of the day. 93
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate
Nose shows that gorgeous soft Saratoga fruit with some smoke. This carries on to the palate; it's huge with rich black fruits; brambles, blackcurrants and blueberries. The finish goes on and on. 94
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate
Almost an anticlimax after the 2003; the nose is in the same vein but much lighter. On the palate there's lots of tannin, blackcurrant and berry with a smoky tannic finish. Needs plenty of cellar time. 91+
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, "Small Lot"
An earthy, funky nose. Rich blackcurrant fruit, intense tannins and a long finish. Another wine offering great value for money. 92+
2005 Syrah, Reserve. Maridon Vineyard
Nose shows black fruit and underbrush. It's deep black fruit on the palate too, with lots of tannin. Another candidate for long cellar time. 92+

King's Mountain

2007 Chardonnay, Estate
Smoky lemon and wet stone. Rich and buttery, with creamy stone fruit. There's good acidity and a long, oaky finish. Needs some time for that oak to integrate properly. 88
2006 Pinot Noir, Estate
Nice spicy, black cherry nose. Rich, smooth fruit, well balanced. 89
2005 Meritage
Barnyard nose with hints of black fruit. Good blackcurrant and brambly fruit flavours with a medium length finish. 90

La Rusticana d'Orso

A 4 acre vineyard in Los Gatos planted with all 5 Bordeaux grapes and producing just 200 cases a year of one wine. The winemaker is Jeffrey Patterson at Mount Eden. The bottles are unusually long and thus fail my cellar test.
2005 La Rusticana d'Orso, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is earthy, with violets and nice black fruits. Rich, sweet fruit; blackcurrants and brambles, with soft tannins. 89 $50
2006 La Rusticana d'Orso, Santa Cruz Mountains
Mint and black fruits on the nose. Flavours of blueberry, blackberry and coffee. Compared to the 2005 it shows better balance and structure, with nice tannins. Medium finish. 90
2007 La Rusticana d'Orso, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose shows spicy, brambly fruit and toasty oak. Flavours of smoky black fruits. Initially seems more concentrated than the 2006, but the finish is quicker. Perhaps needs time to show well. 89+

Martin Ranch

2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Clara Valley
Nose has grass, lychee and gooseberry notes. Bright grapefruit and citrus flavours with a good, crisp finish. 90


2006 Chardonnay
Nose shows oak, buttered toast and apricots. Smooth flavours of apricot and citrus, with some butterscotch and an oaky finish. The oak needs to integrate better 87+
2005 Merlot
Smoky plum nose with a hint of pear drops. Rich smooth fruit - tangy brambles and plum, soft tannins and a good finish. 89


2008 Chardonnay, Peter Martin Ray vineyard
Some straw and pear notes on the nose. Good apple and pear fruit, with a salty mineral finish. Nice use of oak. 90+
2008 Grenache, Alta Mesa
The Alta Mesa AVA is located within the Lodi AVA.
This is a fascinating wine. Tasted blind, I'd have sworn this was Pinot Noir; it had lovely spicy cherry on the nose. Flavours of dried, sweet cherry and baking spice, with a long finish. Delicious. 93
2007 Malbec, St. Olof Vineyard, North Coast
Aromas of tangerine and blackberry jam. Black fruit flavours with bright acidity. Tannins seem a little angular at this stage; give it a year or two. 90+
2007 Durif, McDowell Valley Vineyard, Mendocino
Smoky black fruit on the nose and palate. Tannins are pronounced, though not by the grape's usual standards. 91+

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

2007 "Brittany Morgan" Chardonnay, Estate
Didn't seem up to the usual standard. Nose showed apple and aldehyde notes; the aldehyde showed on the palate too. Bright acidity, notes of pastry and mineral, and a sour finish. 84
2008 "Erika Anna" Viognier, Hansen Vineyards, Paso Robles
Barrel fermented. Lovely honeysuckle nose. Rich, rounded mouthfeel. Flavours of honey, grapefruit, guava and spice. Acidity is on the light side. 90
2006 "Dylan David" Pinot Noir, Estate
Lovely fragrant spicy cherry fruit. Rich cherry and cinnamon flavours, nicely integrated oak, long finish. Drinking very well now, but will improve over the next few years. 92
2008 "Dylan David" Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards, Thelma Henrietta Block
Made from Dijon Clone #115. Earthy with raisin/dried cherry notes. Lively, sweet black cherry and strawberry, some liquorice on the finish. 91+
2007 "Sean Boyle" Syrah, Lester Family Vineyards
Lots of oak on the nose which rather masks the underlying fruit. Gamey and smoky with flavours of blueberry and fresh 'flame' grapes. Tannic finish. 89+
2007 "Casey Alexander" Merlot, Edsell Vineyard
Nose has plum and smoke, with perhaps a touch of VA. Smooth plum fruit, bright acidity and an oaky finish. 86+
2007 "Abby Madison" Cabernet Sauvignon, Martin Ranch
Good brambly, blackcurrant fruit. Rich, smooth black fruit, good balance, nice fine tannins. 90

Poetic Cellars

2007 Chardonnay, Chestnut Hill Vineyard
Green apple, lemon, vanilla and floral notes. Lightweight, with good acidity and light use of oak. Nice apple and lemon flavours. Touch of bitterness on the medium length finish. 89
2006 Mourvedre, Muse Vineyard, Livermore Valley
Musty and gamey on the nose, with some black fruit. Balanced and smooth with soft tannins and dark fruit flavours. 88
2006 Petite Sirah, Pentameter Vineyard, Livermore Valley
Faint nose shows just a little dark fruit. Smooth with fine tannins and some black fruit. 87
2006 Syrah, Stanza Vineyard, Livermore Valley
Smoky black fruit, toasty oak on the nose and palate. Nice acidity, fine tannins. 88

Roudon Smith

2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County
Nose has grapefruit and gooseberry. Light acidity; the fruit is pleasant but it finishes rather quickly. 86
2007 Chardonnay
Cider/aldehyde notes on the nose. Rounded, smooth apple flavours and a quick finish. 86
2007 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
Nice nose of lemon and vanilla ice cream. Rich and creamy with good tropical fruit flavours. Lightly oaked. 88
2007 Pinot Noir
Rich chocolate and cherry nose. Good ripe cherry flavours, some floral and herbal notes, nice tannins. Good value at $30. 90+
NV Claret
Blend of 2005 and 2006 vintages, including Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot. Brick red colour suggests it's older than it really is. Light, citrus-y nose, soft red fruit and a hint of leather on the finish. Nice acidity. 87
2006 Cabernet Franc, Monterey
Earthy, barnyard nose. Flavours of tobacco and black fruit; good tannins, particularly on the finish. 89
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles
Nose is light, with dusty blackcurrant. Medium bodied with good blackcurrant/blackberry fruit and a little oak on the finish. Well structured; I wouldn't have guessed it was from Paso Robles. Good value at $24. 90

Monday, April 5, 2010

2008 Sones "Cancion Del Mar", California

One minor downside to living in a region known for great Chardonnay is a dearth of alternatives. There are roughly 5 acres in total of other white varieties planted in all of Santa Cruz County. As a result most local wineries don't make any other whites, which is frustrating; much as I love a good Chardonnay it's nice to have a change. So this year I've made a conscious effort to find some good alternatives.

Sones make an interesting white blend, formerly known as La Sirena, now called "Cancion del Mar". The 2008 vintage is based on Viognier and Torrontés sourced from Lodi along with Sauvignon Blanc from Monterey and some Pinot Gris sourced locally from the Dettamanti Vineyard.

2008 Sones "Cancion del Mar", California
The nose is lively and floral, with grapefruit and lychee. It's lively in the mouth too, with good acidity and lovely flavours of tropical and stone fruits. 89 $21

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2008 J Lohr "Riverstone" Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco

My local supermarket has been carrying this Chardonnay for several months, priced at $9 if you buy any mixed six. I've bought it a few times, but it doesn't appear that I've ever written up any notes on it; time to rectify that.

With annual sales around one million cases, J Lohr is one of the largest wineries in the USA. Their brands range from downright mediocre plonk to some excellent vineyard designate wines, with fruit sourced from Napa, Paso Robles and Arroyo Seco, though sadly not from the Santa Clara Valley.

The Riverstone Chardonnay comes from Monterey's Arroyo Seco AVA. Unlike altogether too much Monterey fruit it doesn't get excessive oak treatment, so the result is a wine that still shows plenty of Chardonnay character. The 2008 won a gold medal at the most recent SF Chronicle tasting.

2008 J Lohr "Riverstone" Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco
Nose shows pear and melon, with notes of lemon thyme and a subtle use of smoky oak. On the palate it's creamy and rounded with plenty of tropical fruit. The acidity is on the light side, but that's to be expected given the target market. Overall it offers very good value at under $10. 88

1979 Sycamore Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County

Thanks to the tough economic conditions pretty much everyone is cutting back on their purchases. As Paul Romero noted in his current blog entry, people are in the market for wines at a lower price point than they previously paid.

One good place to pick up bargains is in the secondary market. Cellar storage isn't free; not for wineries or for customers, so if tastes have changed and people have wines they don't plan to drink it may make more sense to cut their losses and sell them off. In many cases it's possible to buy mature, well cellared examples of wines for less than the price of current releases.

I spotted a couple of vintages of Sycamore Creek at auction recently. One was the excellent 1978 which I've written about previously and also the 1979. A weaker vintage to be sure, but I put in a low opening bid and won.

Unlike the 1978 which carried the Central Coast label, the 1979 was made with fruit from San Luis Obispo County. (The winery had replanted in 1977 and the young vines were not yet producing.)

1979 Sycamore Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County
Fill level on the bottle was good; base of the neck. Removing the foil showed a little mould on the cork but no obvious seepage. The cork came out easily, unlike the 1978s; it was stained almost entirely and the sides were moist, with some tartrate crystals in the void spaces.
The wine had a russet colour, with a clear meniscus. The nose was a little musty and slightly sherryish, with aromas of beef jerky. On the palate it was fully mature - flavours of leather and cedar and a little dill. There was still plenty of tannin and acidity, and some dried berry fruit, but not much. Some mustiness on the finish. But when served with food the tannins were diminished and the sweet dried fruit came to the fore. 86
Although it's by no means a classic the wine has held up remarkably well, especially considering it's from a weaker vintage. Well worth the $10 I paid for it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

2010 Wine Blog Awards

Chris Watkins at Ridge has drawn my attention to the fact that the niminations are open for the 2010 Wine Blog Awards. Frankly I haven't paid much attention to this in previous years; it seems that the people who are most interested in it are the ones whose blogs carry advertisements. That said, since my reason for writing this blog is to raise interest in and awareness of the region, a bit of shameless self-promotion would presumably help. So if you enjoy what you read here please consider nominating or voting for it; I'd suggest the Single Subject Wine Blog category. I'd also encourage you to consider Ridge, Stefania, Martin Ranch and Clos LaChance in the Best Winery Blog category.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Local winemaker in TTB feud

A prominent local winemaker is locked in a bitter feud with the BATF over the labelling of his Gobbin wine. In 2006 Rolf Paoli, owner of Spurious Cellars in Aptos, discovered a small vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Overgrown and forgotten for decads, he painstakingly restored the vines.

Identifying the grape was difficult; initially it was thought to be Primitivo Bianco, but researchers at UC Davis eventually concluded that the grape was a little known French variery called Gobbin, also known as Poisson d'Avril. Once prevalent in the region south-east of Languedoc in France, in the late 19th century the grape became unfashionable and all but died out. This is believed to be the only surviving planting in the continental USA. The grape is an exceptionally early ripener but produces very small clusters and is difficult to work with.

In 2008 Paoli teamed with with reknowned winemaker Sizdah Bedar and together they produced just 100 cases of wine. However neither Gobbin nor Poisson d'Avril currently appear on the TTB's list of approved wine grapes, and as a result the TTB are preventing its release.

2008 Rolf Paoli "Gobbin"
Harvested in early August at 32 brix, the wine is refreshingly light at less than 13% alcohol. Unoaked; there's just a touch of residual sugar and a strong note of dihydrogen monoxide on the finish which may evaporate with time. 95+