Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ridge 2009 Monte Bello final assemblage tasting

Another trip up Monte Bello Road on a beautiful spring Sunday morning, albeit unseasonably chilly thanks to some cold Alaskan air that has been visiting us recently. The vines are flowering, as are the California poppies, and the air was clear giving great views all across the valley.

But we didn't just come here to admire the views. Last weekend was the final assemblage tasting for the 2009 Monte Bello, as well as an opportunity to taste a few older vintages.

2008 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Citrus, vanilla, mineral and some fig on the nose. Nice rounded mouthfeel; creamy lemon and wet stone with a toasty finish. I still say this needs 3-5 years. 91+

1990 Monte Bello
Poured from a 375ml bottle. The colour was brick red; the nose was much more mature than I'd have expected from such a strong vintage - mushrooms, leather and a little dried fruit. On the palate it had tart berry flavours, earthy leather and a hint of dill pickle. I'd consider it past its peak. 88

1992 Monte Bello
Also poured from a 375ml bottle. Quite a contrast to the 1990; the nose had plenty of smooth red berry fruit and fresh earth. On the palate everything was integrated; still some good tannins, plenty of fruit, with leather, tart cranberry and herbal notes. Drinking well, but will continue to develop. 92

1995 Monte Bello
This was poured from a 750ml bottle. Lots of black fruit and some eucalyptus on the nose. In the mouth there's loads of rich fruit and bags of tannin; it's still very youthful. Pleasant now, but some way from its zenith. 93

2009 Monte Bello, barrel sample
The final blend is 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot.
The colour is a deep red/black. The Petit Verdot seems to dominate the nose with its floral, violet notes, and some fresh bread. Stacks of rich sweet fruit; bramble, currant, graphite, with a dry herbal finish. Lots of potential; another clear winner. 94-96

Down in the tasting room they were pouring the current releases:

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains
The nose has a nice balance of herbal and fruit notes. Good fruit - tart black cherry, brambles and blackcurrant with a herbal finish. Good value. 92+

2006 Monte Bello
I've had this a few times recently; it never disappoints. The nose is enticing with lots of smoky black fruit; on the palate it's rich and rather concentrated, with loads of blackcurrant and brambly fruit, and a good long finish. 94

We then had a picnic and opened some interesting older bottles:

1987 Geyserville
Mature nose, leather and musty. Still has good fruit; raspberry, cranberry, lots of leather. 91

1994 Lytton Estate
Tart berry and light leather notes. Rich sweet raspberry candy, tobacco and wood. 91

1986 Monte Bello
Mature vegetal, rather stinky nose. But on the palate there's sweet fruit and plenty of it, along with earth and leather. 92

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Relyea-Wood Vineyards

Noël Relyea and Bill Wood are retired biochemists who own a beautiful property off Monte Bello Road. The property is located half a mile up a narrow dirt track close to the old Montebello school. It is situated on a ridge at around 1900 feet, with an incredible view west across the whole valley. The winery is in an annex separate from the main house, replete with shiny new steel tanks and a crusher/destemmer powered by solar panels on the roof.

In 2005 they worked with with Ron Mosley, the vineyard manager at Cinnabar, to install a picturesque vineyard on a half-acre of hillside behind their home. Unlike many small vineyard owners who have wine produced by sharecrop or custom crush facilities they decided to established their own bonded winery and do everything themselves. After all, as experienced biochemists they were already familiar with the principles.

2008 they saw their first harvest which yielded just 35 cases. To augment the estate fruit they also purchased Syrah from Santa Clara Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sacramento Delta. The latter wines were released in May 2010 and almost instantly sold out. The 2008 estate Cabernet Sauvignon is scheduled to be be released next year.

The couple are also keen astronomers; the winery even has its own observatory dome. In keeping with this the screen-printed bottle designs each incorporate a diagram of a constellation - the Syrah carries Ursa Major, while the estate Cabernet Sauvignon carries Orion - accompanied by a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.

For 2008 the total production for all three wines was less than 100 cases. For 2009 the winery purchased Cabernet Sauvignon from Mount Veeder in Napa and a neighbouring vineyard as well as the Santa Clara Valley Syrah, so the total production should be around 150-200 cases. The target production for the winery is a scant 200 cases a year; although the winery could theoretically handle more the barrel room is rather tiny, and that's as much as Noël and Bill currently feel comfortable with.

2008 "Summertime" Red Table Wine, California
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the Tamayo Family Vineyard in Brentwood. As the name suggests it's a lighter styled wine, with a dusty, bramble jelly nose. On the palate there's plenty of smooth blackcurrant fruit with some floral notes and just a little oak. Very reasonably priced at $12. Only 32 cases made. 88

2008 Syrah, Mosley Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
The fruit comes from vineyard manager Ron Mosley's own vineyard in Morgan Hill. Primary and malolactic fermentation took place in tanks before being pressed and transferred to the barrel room downstairs, where it rested in new French oak for 11 months. Dark in colour with plum and spice on the nose. Quite intense; concentrated sweet fruit backed by white pepper and plenty of tannin. Perhaps a little riper than I would prefer, but an excellent first effort and very well priced at $30. I plan to revisit this in 6 months or so. Only 14 cases made. 92+

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Camalie Vineyard, Mt. Veeder, barrel sample.
Lots of black fruit - brambles and blackcurrant, without pushing the ripeness the way the 2008 Syrah does. There's good balance; as you'd expect from a barrel sample it finishes a little weakly, but that should develop. I definitely look forward to trying the Santa Cruz Cabernets. 3 barrels made, which should yield around 75 cases. Target price is $30-$40. 92-94

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Woodside Vineyards' new home among the ... Ferraris?

In 1960 Bob Mullen produced a batch of home-made wine from some abandoned vines in Woodside. Further research revealed that those vines were all that remained of Emmett Rixford's award winning La Questa vineyard, planted in the 19th century. Soon after Bob purchased a property on Kings Mountain Road in Woodside, planted vineyards of his own and founded Woodside Vineyards. The winery established a great reputation for their excellent red wines, all produced from small vineyards all over Woodside.

Eventually Bob retired from winemaking and was succeeded by his business partner Brian Caselden. In 2008 Bob decided to sell his home, so the winery needed to find new premises. They partnered with Buff Giurlani and Dick Burns, owners of Auto Vino in Menlo Park, a company specialising in the storage of fine wines and rare cars. Now after almost half a century on Kings Mountain Road, Woodside Vineyards has finally completed their move.

The new facility is at 205 Constitution Drive, just off 84 between Marsh and Willow, close to the Dumbarton Bridge. From the outside there are no signs that it's anything other than another business unit, but drive to the rear and you'll see the tell-tale discarded barrels.

Inside there's a mixture of high-tech and history. The main showroom is home to a dozen or so pristine vehicles from former race cars to classic Ferraris. Alongside them are winery relics including a century old corker, the hand crusher that Bob used until the mid 1970s, and Duane Cronin's old basket press. At one side there's an honour bar where club members can buy wine at any time, while at the other side there's a tasting area made from old champagne riddling racks propped up on barrels. Behind that through a window you can see the wine barrels stacked 5 high. In addition to guarding these pieces of automotive history AutoVino also rents out temperature controlled wine storage lockers (a 27 case unit costs $54 per month, if you were wondering).

The new facility will allow Brian and Bob to gradually increase production from the current 2,000 cases to a target of around 3,500 cases. The Woodside Vineyards wines will continue to be made only with estate grapes from the Woodside area, but there are plans to eventually introduce a second label made with fruit sourced from elsewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains. There is also space for future expansion including a catering option.

Brian is currently preparing for the official relaunch, on Memorial day weekend. The winery will be open from 1-5PM on May 29th, 30th and 31st as well as on Sunday June 6th. Additionally the winery will open for the Vintners Festival on June 12th and 13th from 11AM-5PM the following weekend.

Friday, May 21, 2010

HR 5034 update

I wrote recently about HR5034, a bill being discussed in Congress that would allow states to prohibit the shipping of alcohol outside of the distributors. This is a bill that could be devastating for many small wineries (as well as being terrible for consumers). It would mean that you could purchase things like guns, knives, cigarettes, prescription drugs and pornography from out of state, but not wine.

Around 100 Representatives have signed up to support the bill. The current list includes: Bobby Bright [D-AL2] Harry Mitchell [D-AZ5] Edward Pastor [D-AZ4] Bob Filner [D-CA51] Gary Miller [R-CA42] Laura Richardson [D-CA37] Vern Buchanan [R-FL13] Ted Deutch [D-FL19] Lincoln Diaz-Balart [R-FL21] Mario Diaz-Balart [R-FL25] Alcee Hastings [D-FL23] Connie Mack [R-FL14] John Mica [R-FL7] Bill Posey [R-FL15] Adam Putnam [R-FL12] Thomas Rooney [R-FL16] Clifford Stearns [R-FL6] Debbie Wasserman Schultz [D-FL20] John Barrow [D-GA12] Paul Broun [R-GA10] David Scott [D-GA13] Lynn Westmoreland [R-GA3] Bruce Braley [D-IA1] Michael Simpson [R-ID2] Danny Davis [D-IL7] Bill Foster [D-IL14] Phil Hare [D-IL17] Jesse Jackson [D-IL2] Mike Quigley [D-IL5] Bobby Rush [D-IL1] Aaron Schock [R-IL18] André Carson [D-IN7] Joe Donnelly [D-IN2] Brad Ellsworth [D-IN8] Peter Visclosky [D-IN1] Michael Capuano [D-MA8] Frank Kratovil [D-MD1] John Dingell [D-MI15] Dale Kildee [D-MI5] Thaddeus McCotter [R-MI11] Gary Peters [D-MI9] Mark Schauer [D-MI7] Timothy Walz [D-MN1] Travis Childers [D-MS1] Gene Taylor [D-MS4] Bennie Thompson [D-MS2] Dennis Rehberg [R-MT] Howard Coble [R-NC6] Walter Jones [R-NC3] Patrick McHenry [R-NC10] Heath Shuler [D-NC11] Earl Pomeroy [D-ND] Paul Hodes [D-NH2] Robert Andrews Rush Holt [D-NJ12] Frank LoBiondo [R-NJ2] Frank Pallone [D-NJ6] William Pascrell [D-NJ8] Harry Teague [D-NM2] Shelley Berkley [D-NV1] Timothy Bishop [D-NY1] Michael McMahon [D-NY13] Edolphus Towns [D-NY10] Steve Driehaus [D-OH1] Timothy Ryan [D-OH17] Zachary Space [D-OH18] Betty Sutton [D-OH13] Charles Wilson [D-OH6] Robert Brady [D-PA1] Christopher Carney [D-PA10] Chaka Fattah [D-PA2] Patrick Murphy [D-PA8] Tim Murphy [R-PA18] William Shuster [R-PA9] Glenn Thompson [R-PA5] Henry Brown [R-SC1] Addison Wilson [R-SC2] Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [D-SD] Lincoln Davis [D-TN4] Henry Cuellar [D-TX28] Charles Gonzalez [D-TX20] Raymond Green [D-TX29] Rubén Hinojosa [D-TX15] Eddie Johnson [D-TX30] Randy Neugebauer [R-TX19] Solomon Ortiz [D-TX27] Ted Poe [R-TX2] Silvestre Reyes [D-TX16] Ciro Rodriguez [D-TX23] Lamar Smith [R-TX21] William Thornberry [R-TX13] Jason Chaffetz [R-UT3] Gerald Connolly [D-VA11] Glenn Nye [D-VA2] Ronald Kind [D-WI3] Shelley Capito [R-WV2] Alan Mollohan [D-WV1] Cynthia Lummis [R-WY]

You can view them on a Google Map at

The good news is that despite all this support there is wide opposition in Congress, including from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who herself owns a vineyard and understands very well the implications of this bill); additionally there is so far no support for it in the Senate, so overall it would appear unlikely to succeed.

However if you haven't already written to your Representative then please do so. HR5034 is bad for wineries, customers and business generally; it's only good for the wholesalers who want to protect their monopoly.

Keep up to date on the campaign at or on Facebook at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

West Coast Wine Competition - 2010 Results

Congratulations to Sycamore Creek, who got Best Red Wine/Double Gold for the 2007 Mosaico as well as a Double Gold for their 2007 Uvas Valley Cabernet at the 2010 West Coast Wine competition. Out of 1400 wines only 14 Double Golds were awarded, so to win two of them is a remarkable achievement.

Full results are here. Other local winners include:

Clos LaChance:
Silver - 2007 Merlot, Central Coast
Silver - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast
Bronze - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast
Bronze - 2006 Syrah, Central Coast

Dancing Creek:
Silver - 2008 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bronze - 2008 Merlot, Santa Cruz Mountains

Martin Ranch:
Silver - 2006 JD Hurley Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Silver - 2007 Therese Vineyards Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains
Silver - 2006 Therese Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bronze - 2009 JD Hurley Sauvignon Blanc, Arroyo Seco
Bronze - 2007 JD Hurley Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley
Bronze - 2006 Therese Vineyards Syrah, Santa Clara Valley

Silver - 2006 Dorcich Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Clara Valley
Silver - 2006 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bronze - 2006 Syrah, Santa Clara Valley
Bronze - 2006 Merlot, Santa Clara Valley

Kings Mountain Vineyard
Bronze - 2005 Meritage, Santa Cruz Mountains

La Rusticana d'Orsa:
Bronze - 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains

Loma Prieta:
Bronze - 2008 Pinot Noir, Saveria Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bronze - 2008 Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains

Pietra Santa:
Gold - 2005 Vache Red Blend, Cienega Valley
Silver - 2008 Pinot Grigio, Cienega Valley
Silver - 2008 Chardonnay, Dunne Ranch, Pacheco Pass
Silver - 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cienega Valley
Bronze - 2007 Chardonnay Signature Collection, Cienega Valley
Bronze - 2006 Sangiovese, Cienega Valley
Bronze - 2007 zinfandel, Central Coast
Bronze - NV Sacred Stone, Central Coast

Poetic Cellars:
Silver - 2005 Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley
Bronze - 2007 Ballad, Livermore Valley

Sycamore Creek
Best Red, Double Gold - 2007 Mosaico, Santa Clara Valley
Double Gold - 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Uvas Valley Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Silver - 2007 Syrah, Santa Clara Valley
Silver - 2007 Cabernet Franc, Santa Clara Valley
Silver - 2007 Malbec, Santa Clara Valley
Bronze - 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey

Vine Hill:
Gold - 2007 Cumbre Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Silver - 2007 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

Windy Oaks:
Bronze - 2007 Pinot Noir 'Diane's Block', Santa Cruz Mountains

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tourist guide part 4: Skyline Boulevard to Boulder Creek

Open Daily/Weekends: Ahlgren, Burrell School, Byington, David Bruce, Regale, Silver Mountain
Appointment/Passport: Big Basin, Downhill, Loma Prieta, Muccigrosso, Muns, PM Staiger, Sonnet, Zayante
Unknown: Forest, Forty Stump, JM Barranti, Redwood Ridge, Windhover

Skyline Boulevard is aptly named since it runs along the top of the mountains, from Highway 84 to 17. South of 17 it eventually connects to Highway 152 (Hecker Pass Road), though a significant stretch of that is dirt track for which 4 wheel drive is advisable.

East of 17 there is a cluster of wineries. Burrell School is open daily from Thursday to Sunday from 11-5PM. Right next door is Regale, whose tasting room is open weekends from Noon-5:30PM. Further down the road Loma Prieta is open on Passport days and by appointment. Muns Vineyard is open by appointment only; for Passport events they typically pour at an alternate location.

5 minutes south of Summit Road is Silver Mountain. Currently open on Passport days and by appointment, the winery recently got approval to open on Saturday afternoons. As of May 2010 that approval is currently on hold pending appeal, so call first. The winery is also home to Sonnet who also pour on passport days. Nearby, the status of Barranti Vineyards is unknown. They were a small Pinot Noir producer from 2003 onwards, but nothing has been heard in the past 2 years.

West of 17 there isn't much until you get to Bear Creek Road. There you'll find David Bruce open daily from 12-5 and 11-5 at weekends. Close by, Byington is also open daily from 11-5PM. Byington is also home to Downhill Winery, who pours there on passport events and occasionally by appointment. Muccigrosso are also located nearby, but they typically pour for SCMWA events at alternate locations.

4 miles south of Highway 35 is Zayante Vineyards. They open for passport events and by appointment.

Further west in the Boulder Creek area you'll find Ahlgren open on Saturdays from Noon-4PM. P & M Staiger are SCMWA members who typically pour at an alternate location for passport events. Big Basin is open by appointment as well as passport events and certain open days through the year.

There are a few other wineries in the area whose status is currently unclear. Forty Stump and Windhover seem to be not yet open. Redwood Ridge is a wedding facility with its own vineyard.

Your help needed: Silver Mountain Tasting Room

Update Samantha Haschert's email address was incorrect. The right address is is

Silver Mountain winery is located in a quiet part of the Santa Cruz Mountains around 10 minutes drive from Highway 17. The winery has a tasting room that's open by appointment and for SCMWA events. After years of trying at a hearing in March the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission zoning administrator granted a permit allowing the tasting room to be open Saturday afternoons.

Unfortunately the permit is currently on hold pending an appeal from some residents, who claim that being open to the public for five hours a week rather than by appointment would generate unsafe traffic and nuisance noise. If this appeal succeeds then it sets a precedent that could have a significant impact on other wineries who are applying to be open other than by appointment; it could also result in the revocation of existing permits.

There is a Planning Commission Hearing to discuss the future of Silver Mountain's Winery Tasting Room at 9AM on Wednesday May 26th in Santa Cruz. If you can attend in person the hearing is in the Supervisors chambers in the County Building on Ocean Street. But if you can't then please take a moment to contact the Santa Cruz County project planner Samantha Haschert either by phone at (831) 454 3214 or by email at

Messages of support can also be sent to the winery at

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tourist guide part 3: Los Gatos and Campbell

Open daily: Fleming Jenkins, Testarossa
Open weekends: Pinder, Black Ridge
Appointment Only: Heart's Fire, Perrucci Family, Sensorium, Stroth-Hall, Travieso

Testarossa are open daily from 11-5PM in the old Novitiate winery in Los Gatos. They also make wines under the Novitiate label. Fleming Jenkins have a tasting room nearby in downtown Los Gatos, open daily except Mondays from noon-6PM. To the south just off Highway 17 Black Ridge are open from 11-5PM on the third weekend of the month, and at other times by appointment. Sensorium Wines and Perrucci Family are also located in Los Gatos; I believe both are available by appointment but I've never visited either of them. Neither are participating SCMWA members.

In Campbell four wineries share an industrial unit close to the junction of San Tomas and Highway 17 under the banner of Campbell Winemakers' Studio.
Pinder and Travieso pour their wines every Saturday between 11AM and 4PM. Heart's Fire are open between 1-4PM on the first Sunday of each month. Stroth-Hall are only open by appointment.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tourist guide part 2: Cupertino and Saratoga

Open daily/weekends: Cinnabar, Cooper Garrod, Mountain Winery, Picchetti, Ridge, Savannah-Chanelle
Open by appointment: Naumann, Mount Eden
Not Open: Fellom Ranch, Kathryn Kennedy, R&W Vineyards, Vidovich

If there's one winery on almost everyone's list to visit, it's Ridge. The views are as stunning as the wines, as the photo at the top of my blog demonstrates. The winery's tasting room is open every weekend from 11AM to 5PM (4PM in winter); midweek visits can be arranged by appointment. At the bottom of the hill you'll find Picchetti, which is open daily from 11-5PM.

Monte Bello Road is also home to several other wineries. Naumann Vineyards is open for SCMWA events and occasionally by appointment. Fellom Ranch is also a SCMWA member, but is being renovated and has not been open to the public for some time. Vidovich is not open to the public. Finally R&W Vineyards are a brand new, tiny winery producing just a few cases. They are about to open for the first time; I hope to be there and will report back.

Further south, Cinnabar have a tasting room in downtown Saratoga that's open daily from 11-5PM.
West of Saratoga on Highway 9 you'll find Savannah Chanelle open daily from 11-5.
There are three wineries located off Pierce Road. Cooper-Garrod is open daily from 12-5 and 11-5 at weekends. Mountain Winery is open at weekends from 12-5 (though hours may vary if there's an event on). Finally it's well worth making an appointment to visit Mount Eden.. Both Montallegro and Kathryn Kennedy are based in Saratoga, but neither are open for visitors.

It's easy to visit Cooper Garrod, Mountain Winery, Cinnabar and Savannah-Chanelle in any order. If you want to visit Ridge and Pichetti too that's possible, though you may be a little rushed with only 45 minutes at each stop. I recommend starting at Ridge, then Picchetti, then Cooper-Garrod.

If you manage to get an appointment at Mount Eden be warned that it's at least a two mile drive up a narrow dirt track to the winery. Expect to spend at least an hour or two there.

As always, try to arrange a designated driver as some of the roads are tricky at the best of times. When tasting it's a good idea to spit even if you aren't driving.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tourist guide part 1: North

Open Daily: Barterra, Domenico, La Nebbia, Thomas Fogarty
Open by appointment: Chaine d'Or/Stefania, Great Blue Heron, La Honda, Varner
Not Open: Clos de la Tech, King's Mountain, Martella, Orchard Hills, Rhys/Alesia, Waxwing, Woodside

The northern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains is known for Emmet Rixford's winery and La Questa vineyard. It's the coolest part of the AVA and is the source of some excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

If you happen to be in Half Moon Bay there are two tasting rooms close by. Barterra is located in the town centre and La Nebbia is on Highway 92 to the east. But if you aren't in the city anyway it's difficult to justify making a special trip.

On the eastern side of the mountains Domenico in Redwood City is open from 12-5PM daily.
Thomas Fogarty on Skyline (Highway 35) is open Wed-Sat 11AM-5PM and Sunday 1-5PM.
La Honda Winery is located in Redwood City and is open by appointment. They are SCMWA members and often host other wineries on passport or Vintners' Festival weekends.
Varner are open midweek, by appointment only. The Spring Ridge Vineyard is located in Portola Valley.
Great Blue Heron is a tiny winery producing a few barrels of estate Pinot Noir from the owner's garage. Tasting is by appointment at weekends.
Chaine d'Or is located close to the junction of Highways 84 and 35. It's now managed by Paul and Stef Romero of Stefania Wine and takes visitors by appointment.

Varner, GBH, Chaine d'Or and Fogarty are all located within a half hour drive of each other. My recommendation would be to try to start at Varner or GBH, then go to Chaine d'Or and Fogarty. From Fogarty you can then go to La Honda and (if there's time) Domenico's. To get from Fogarty to La Honda the quickest way is via the 84, which takes you through Woodside. You can stop off at Roberts Market - they generally have an excellent selection of local wines. Alternatively you can head south on Skyline to Page Mill Road - that drive is around 20-30 minutes longer, but it's more scenic and fun.

Other wineries in the area:
Woodside Vineyards recently moved from their home of almost 50 years to a new facility in Menlo Park. Though one of the founders of SCMWA they don't pour on passport weekends and traditionally only open for events a few times a year, but the new premises may make appointments possible. Watch this space.
Kings Mountain are located in Woodside. Though the vineyards are visible from the road, the wine is made elsewhere. They are members of SCMWA and typically pour on passport weekends at other local wineries, such as La Honda or Domenico.
Rhys are based out of an industrial unit close to Domenico. They open a couple of times a year to allow mailing list members to pick up their wines, and they also organise a few vineyard tours in the summertime which get booked up well in advance. They are building a new facility off Skyline which is expected to open later in 2010.
Clos de la Tech are also building a facility off Skyline; the opening date hasn't been announced. In the meantime the wines are made at Domenico's facility; any tastings are by personal invitation from the owners. Domenico is also home to a number of other small producers, including Waxwing who have been known to pour on rare occasions.
Michael Martella is the winemaker at Thomas Fogarty. Occasionally one or more of his wines will be available in the tasting room. Martella is a SCMWA member and normally pours for their events at an alternate location, not at Fogarty.
Orchard Hills is based out of Atherton, though the wines are actually made in Paso Robles. The vineyards are visible from the road, but the city's rules prohibit any visitors or sales. If you want to taste the wines your best bet is Vino Locale in Palo Alto.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tourist guide introduction

I frequently get asked for advice on which wineries to visit. It's a question that's difficult to give a simple answer to, as a lot depends on what you expect to get from the visit.

If you're looking to hit a few tasting rooms and have a picnic then a good place to look is Wine Questers. Jim Preston is building a database of winery tasting rooms all over the state, with details such as whether they are kid and pet friendly. There's even an iPhone app that you can download.

But if you're looking for a more personal visit, where you get to meet the owner, vineyard manager and winemaker (quite often it's the same person) then that usually takes a little more planning. Typically you'll have to make appointments. Also it can be a long drive from one winery to another, and some mapping software doesn't take into account just how bad the roads can be; in a few places they are quite literally dirt tracks that really requite a 4X4. So I thought I'd write up a brief tourist guide to visiting the wineries. Stay tuned for part 1.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Two older Santa Clara labels

Here's a couple of interesting older labels from the Santa Clara Valley. They were opened at a recent party by Wes Barton, who has a great knack for finding interesting local wines. I didn't get the chance to take proper notes, but I managed to rescue the empty bottles and remove the labels.

Congress Springs was founded in the 1970s by Daniel Gers. He discovered a derelict vineyard in Saratoga with head pruned Zinfandel vines dating back to before prohibition. Together with his wife Robin they restored the vineyards and launched a successful winery. Around 1990 Daniel sold the winery and it became Savannah-Chanelle winery. The head-pruned Zinfandel vines are still producing today.

Congress Springs was well known for their San Ysidro Chardonnay, which often gained 90+ ratings from Spectator. The wine was still in very good shape despite its age; an amber colour and nice mature flavours.

Fortino was established in 1970 in Santa Clara's Hecker Pass, and is still going 40 years later. They make around 15,000 cases, mainly sold from the tasting rooms and local stores and restaurants.

Ruby Cabernet is a cross developed at UC Davis in the 1930s. The aim was to to produce a vine combining the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heat and drought tolerance of Carignan. An acre was planted at Ridge in the 1950s, and the winery produced a series of rather good Monte Bello Ruby Cabernets from the late 1960s through the mid 1980s, but overall it wasn't a great success and is now mainly planted in the central valley, where around 6,000 acres are grown as a blending grape for bulk wines.

So a 30 year old wine made from an unremarkable grape by an unremarkable winery? It turned out to be surprisingly pleasant, still having a fair amount of fruit left as well as a little tannin. The colour was a nice red brown.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2006 Big Dog Cabernet Sauvignon

Look east from San Jose and you'll see the barren savannah foothills of the Diablo Range. In contrast to the urban sprawl of Silicon Valley the hillsides appear largely untouched by man.

In the 19th Century the area was farmland, but in response to increasing demand for water from the growing cities much of it was purchased by the Spring Valley Water Company. Today over 150km² are owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. There are some cattle and horse ranches in the area, but at present there is only one winery.

2006 Big Dog Cabernet Sauvignon, San Francisco Bay AVA
There's lots of oak on the nose, which isn't surprising given that it saw 28 months of new wood - it's like someone's dropped a bottle of blackcurrant cordial in Home Depot. In the mouth there's concentrated blackcurrant, blueberry and brambly fruit that just about manages to overcome all that oak. Drink now. 88 $28

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2007 Woodside Chardonnay

Looking through my cellar I discovered a bottle of Woodside Chardonnay that I'd forgotten about. Although Woodside makes some really good reds I don't normally care for their Chardonnay and at first I wasn't sure why I'd bought it.

Then I remembered that at the last visit they were roasting chestnuts on a smoky wood fire. All I could smell and taste was the fire, not the wine, so I'd bought a bottle to try later. Turns out it wasn't anything to do with the fire after all.

2007 Woodside Chardonnay, Estate
The nose shows oak, with some pear and apple notes. On the palate there's oak. That's it, just masses of oak. No Chardonnay character whatsoever and no acidity to speak of. As far as I could tell it wasn't technically flawed (oxidised, corked etc.) so by the terms of the 100 point scale it earns 70 points, but no more.