Monday, July 24, 2017

Lion Ranch

Kim Engelhardt and Kathleen
Santa Clara County has around 450 acres of white wine grapes planted, with most of them concentrated in a few large vineyards around the Pacheco Pass area. Those vines are pretty much all Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, destined for large producers. All over the valley small vineyards grow a dozen different varieties; from old vine Muscat, White Riesling, Semillon and Palomino to brand new plantings of Chenin Blanc - around a dozen different grapes make up the last 10%.

Thanks to the efforts of Robert Haas of Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles many of the more obscure Rhône varieties such as Grenache Blanc and Picpoul are now available in California, and an increasing number of producers are focusing on these grapes, which seem particularly well suited to the valley's climate.

Kim and Todd Engelhardt fell in love with the white wines of the Rhône, and particularly the Viognier of Condrieu, on a trip to France in 2009. They purchased a property close to Lion's Peak in Morgan Hill, Kim joined local producer Sarah's Vineyard as an apprentice and together they began the process of planting a vineyard and planning a winery.

The Engelhardts planted Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Picpoul on 5 acres in 2011; two years later they acquired a second property and planted another 5 acres, this time with red grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Counoise.

The tasting room opened in 2015 in the gardens of the second property. All the wines including the reds are bottled under screw cap and carry the Santa Clara Valley appellation.

2014 Estate Grenache Blanc
Light and floral nose, tangy, crisp and citrus. A great food wine. $28

2014 Estate Viognier
The nose was a little light for a Viognier, but it was a very hot day. On the palate there's great spicy fruit, particularly lychee. $23

2014 Lion's Share
A blend of their five white grapes with a floral, honeysuckle nose and a fat, creamy palate with some mineral notes. $24

2016 Lioness, Grenache Rosé.
Sweet, cotton candy nose, bright acidity. Not cold stabilized, so the bottle contains quite lot of harmless tartrate crystals. A perfect summer wine; we bought a bottle and drank it as we picnicked on various cheeses and fresh bread - it was an ideal pairing. $24

2015 Two Lions
60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. There's a bright berry/cherry nose  and a smooth, fruity palate with notes of raspberry. $36

Lion Ranch Vineyards & Winery
645 W San Martin Ave, San Martin, CA 95046
(408) 713-8501

Sunday, July 23, 2017


After studying viticulture at Davis, Ron Mosley's first job was to help Tom Mudd set up Cinnabar Vineyards in Saratoga. From clearing the land and planting the vines to making the wine, Ron quickly mastered the entire process.

He soon found a ready market for his talents beyond Cinnabar as many successful Silicon Valley engineers decided that they like the idea of drinking and sharing wine from their own estate vineyard but either didn't know how or didn't want to deal with all the issues of farming and winemaking. So in 1992 he set up his own vineyard and winemaking consultancy business called Vinescape. Now some 35 years since he graduated Ron manages around 80 small vineyards and makes countless private-label wines for his clients.

TASS is Ron's recently launched public label, and the third member of the Blended studio trifecta. TASS refers to Tradition, Art, Science and Style - four elements that Ron brings together in producing his excellent wines.

2015 TASS Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Sourced from two vineyards in Woodside and Saratoga, this is classic Santa Cruz Mountains with loads of spicy cherry and cinnamon. Quite tannic; it needs at least a couple of years to show its true potential.

2015 TASS Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Clara Valley.
74% Cabernet, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc sourced from Saratoga, Los Altos Hills and Morgan Hill. Tart cranberry nose, tangy acidity and silky tannins.

TASS Wines
3200 Dryden Avenue, Gilroy, CA 95020
(408) 858-1862

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Medeiros Family

Tammie and Ted Medeiros
In 2005 Ted Medeiros and Bill Holt took over the Sycamore Creek winery on Uvas Road in Morgan Hill. The winery had been established in the 1970s but after a promising start (the 1978 vintage was truly exceptional) it had passed through several owners and was producing mediocre wines - they had the only Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay blend I've ever seen. Together Bill and Ted turned Sycamore Creek around; great attention to detail, particularly in the farming, meant that their Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was highly prized by other local winemakers such as Stefania and Sensorium.

Around 2012 Ted and his wife Tammie decided to set up their own label, and Medeiros Family Wines was born. For the first couple of years the wines were hard to find, although well worth the search; I distinctly remember trying his 2012 Zinfandel and being impressed. Then in 2015 Medeiros joined La Vie Dansante at "Blended: A Winemaker's Studio" and now the winery has a permanent base and tasting room, open at weekends from 12-5.

All the wines are made by Ted from grapes that he farms on behalf of several small family-owned vineyards from San Jose to Gilroy and carry the Santa Clara Valley appellation.

2016 "Naked" Chardonnay
An un-oaked Chardonnay with a beautiful nose of fresh green apples. Creamy, with some tropical fruit and a good finish. $20

2014 Estate Merlot
There's quite a lot of oak on this, but the sweet, dense black fruit is a match for it. Shows lots of chocolate on the finish. Good now, but would repay cellaring. $28

Blended Tasting Room
2014 Estate Sangiovese
The smoky nose leads in to rich black cherry fruit, with smooth tannins. Blended with a little Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. $28

2014 Estate Saudade
Saudade is one of those words that describes a feeling and doesn't translate well into English. Here it means a rather tasty wine modeled on a right bank Bordeaux; predominantly Cabernet Franc and Merlot. There's great black fruit and lovely complexity, with the oak less apparent than the previous two reds. $30

2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Given Ted's reputation for growing great Cabernet Sauvignon it's not surprising that this was my favorite. It has plenty of beautiful eucalyptus, blackcurrant and blackberry, with a long lingering finish. Quite the bargain at $28.

Medeiros Family Wines
3200 Dryden Avenue, Gilroy, CA 95020
(408) 427-7536

Friday, July 21, 2017

La Vie Dansante

Jeffrey Fadness has led an interesting life. I'm not going to try to summarize it, he does a way better job than I can. But a couple of years ago he took over the old (and - let's be honest - somewhat dilapidated) Thomas Kruse winery in Gilroy and opened "Blended, a Winemaker's Studio". Since then he's transformed the old barn into a modern winemaking facility and built a new tasting room alongside it.

The space is shared with two other wineries, which I'll write about separately; here I'll focus on his own label, La Vie Dansante. The first vintage was made in 2013, with white grapes sourced from Mendocino and reds from the local Besson Vineyards. Since then the capacity and range has steadily increased; current production is around the 1200 case mark.

Jeff's primary interest in Rhône grapes; in fact his endeavor has its roots in a Santa Clara Valley Syrah from Jason/Stevens, which led to him spending time as an intern there for the 2009 harvest. Almost all the wines are Rhône-style blends, apart from a little Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel sourced from the former Kruse vineyard, now renamed Summers Ranch. The tasting room is open weekends from 12-5PM, and at other times by appointment. The wines are all very reasonably priced at under $30.

2015 Overture, Santa Clara Valley
This is Jeff's salute to Tablas Creek, one of the primary advocates of Rhône varieties in California, and the reason why so many of the more obscure varieties are now grown in California. A blend of Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul, there's an interesting soy component to the nose. On the palate there's rich stone fruit, smooth oak and some light acidity. Very nice.

2016 Rosé of Mourvèdre, Santa Clara Valley
A refreshingly crisp rose, with nice color and tart cherry flavors.

2014 Grenache Noir, Central Coast
Grenache from Monterey County is complimented by a hint of local Syrah adding a little extra depth. Lots of strawberry fruit on both the nose and palate; nice acidity with a hint of oak.

2014 Prelude, Central Coast 
The Prelude is a full-on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blend with a light, floral nose that's still remarkably easy drinking

2013 Rehearsal, Santa Clara Valley
An outstanding blend of old vine Syrah and Carignane from Besson Vineyard. It's dense and spicy with a soy component; there's plenty of structure that suggests it'll be even better in a couple of years.

It's great to see new wineries opening up in the area and shifting the focus away from the traditional Bordeaux and Chardonnay. The valley's climate seems very well suited to Rhône varieties, particularly the whites, and I can't wait to see what else Jeff has in store.

La Vie Dansante
3200 Dryden Avenue, Gilroy, CA 95020
(408) 852-0779