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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Vidovich Vineyards

2012 Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
While driving up to Ridge this past weekend I was surprised to see signs indicating that Vidovich Vineyards was open for tasting. I first discovered Vidovich and their Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon around 10 years ago. It was on the wine list at Habana Cuba, a great Cuban restaurant in San Jose (try the ox tail, it's superb). It was a rather heavily oaked wine; lots of coffee and chocolate, quite tannic but with a good fruit core. The 2001 vintage was unremarkable; rustic with chewy tannins and not much fruit, but the 2002 certainly showed a lot of promise. I managed to obtain a few cases and for a while it was my standard midweek drinker.

In 2008 I was at a trade tasting where it was being poured and finally got some background on the winery. The vines were still very young, having been planted in the late 1990s, and 2001 was the first proper harvest. Initial vintages were made by Fetzer; the winery was completed in 2004 and local wine consultant Nancy Freire, whose resume includes Kirigin, Fortino and Morgan Hill Cellars, was hired as winemaker. The winery had been in a state of flux following the death of its founder, but the family had plans to continue, had apparently secured a distributor and were confident about the future.

Ideen and Pat run the tasting room
After that, I would occasionally see wines from Picchetti or Jason-Stephens made with the fruit, but I didn't see Vidovich on sale anywhere. So I was very interested to find out what was happening at the winery.

Vidovich Vineyards is right at the top of Monte Bello Road, a mile beyond Ridge. It's an impressive property with a panoramic view across Silicon Valley. But if the 20 minute drive to the summit doesn't discourage the casual visitor then the $25 tasting fee (not refunded with purchase) might. The newly opened tasting room is currently pouring 3 wines, all Cabernet Sauvignons; two vintages of the Monte Bello Road and one of Lake Vineyard. The latter is sourced from a second property in Los Altos Hills.

2012 Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, $55

Rich and tannic, with notes of blackcurrant and coffee. Quite intense; it really needs around 3-5 years to soften, but has good potential

2008 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon $90

Very tannic indeed, with not much fruit evident. Seems rather flat and one-dimensional. One can only hope that it will improve with time.

2007 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon $110

A beautiful nose, with lots of blackberry and coffee. Unlike the 2008 the fruit is lush and sweet, lots of bramble and currant, and the tannins are smooth and silky. It's really quite delicious. 

Panoramic view of Silicon Valley
The winery also produce small quantities of Zinfandel from fruit grown on the Monte Bello property, though I've never seen it on sale anywhere; it's mostly kept for friends and family. 

While I'm pleased to see that Vidovich is still around and wish them every success I'm somewhat confused and disappointed by the excessive tasting fee as well as the 4X price increase over the 2006 vintage.

Vidovich Vineyards
18101 Monte Bello Road, Cupertino CA 95014
Open: Sundays only, 11AM to 5PM

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2016 Ridge Monte Bello Assemblage

Library wines in large formats
A visit to Ridge is always fun, particularly when it's for the Monte Bello tasting. Ridge hosts three tastings in March, April and May where we get the chance to try barrel sample of the latest vintage of Monte Bello; if you've never been to one of these events, you've definitely missed out.

Alongside the official tastings many collectors bring gems from their cellars to enjoy with friends or to share with other enthusiasts, and there are occasionally older library wines available to taste and even purchase.

Ridge Winemaker Eric Baugher
2016 looks to be another stunning vintage for Ridge. At the March event, where they pour samples from each of the four components, the Merlot was outstanding; fragrant and floral on the nose, with beautiful berry fruit and already some cocoa from the oak. The 2016 Monte Bello first assemblage shows all the signs of being another long-lived vintage, and the 2014 that's just been released is a fine example of what the Santa Cruz Mountains has to offer; powerful fruit, with eucalyptus, minerals and great structure. Buy it for your kids.
Two stunning new releases

Alongside the 2014 Monte Bello, Ridge were pouring the Estate Cabernet and their 2014 'Historic Vineyard' series. From this vintage they have released a Klein Cabernet Sauvignon and a Perrone Merlot. The Klein was taut and chewy, showing harsh tannins and hiding its fruit; no doubt it'll come around with time but on the day I didn't care for it, whereas the 2014 Perrone Merlot was luscious and rich, with velvety tannins. It's a beautiful wine, and I just wish that it wasn't $75 a bottle. The Estate Cabernet is as good and consistent as ever; it's normally the wine to buy and enjoy while your Monte Bello have a ten year nap.

I say normally, because Ridge were also pouring the 2015 Geyserville, and it's a stunning wine. Quite possibly the best young Geyserville I've ever tasted. At $40 it's a great value for a wine that, while delicious now, will only improve with time. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ridge expanding on Monte Bello Road

Ridge finally announces expansion plans in association with the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. 32 more acres of Monte Bello land to be planted over the next two decades. Details on 4488, the official Ridge blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MJA Vineyards

Can America's best coffee grower also be a top winemaker? Marin Artukovich thinks so. He established the Koa Plantation on Hawai'i over 20 years ago and soon established a reputation for quality; so much so that Forbes selected them as the coffee grower in an article on 50 of America's Best.

Around 2007 he sold a majority stake in the plantation and relocated to California, buying an 18 acre parcel just north of Lake Hennessy and established the label Serene Cellars. Early releases were from purchased Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc; the first estate release was from 2008.

However having lived in Hawai'i for so long, he found that Napa's ambiance didn't quite suit him, so he purchased a new property high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not far from Burrell School. The tasting room in Napa was closed, and two new ones were opened; the one on Highland Road is part of the Summit Wineries group while the other in Santa Cruz is part of the Surf City Vintners on Ingalls Street.

The winery still uses the Serene Cellars brand for its Napa wines; all others are sold under the name DaVine cellars. There is an extensive range of varieties from all over, including several sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley.

The tasting room in Santa Cruz is open daily and is a light-hearted affair. Most of the wines have nicknames such as Classy, Macho and Happy Ending. The staff offer you chocolate-covered coffee beans to taste alongside the wines, and the tasting room even has it's regular visitor, with her name affixed to her place at the bar. There are several flights available; each comprises 6 wines and costs $10 except for the reserve tasting which costs $20, and the fee is comped with purchase.

Since I was driving I concentrated on the local wines, which are all in the DaVine Cellars range.

2012 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
A first sample seemed somewhat oxidized, so a fresh bottle was opened. The nose showed lots of butterscotch and vanilla, and flavors of sweet apple pie with not much acidity. It seemed rather too sweet for my taste, and quite mature for a 2012. $32

2013Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains 
Again quite sweet. Showed less of the butterscotch than the 2012; instead had some crisp stone fruit on the nose and peach flavors. $32

2012 'Sweet Thang' Merlot, Regan Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains The nose is ripe and hot - almost port-like (it was a little warm, and the ABV is almost 15%). On the palate there's lots of sweet, jammy fruit and a tannic finish. $54

2013 Pinot Noir, Fog's Edge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains  Possessing the funky barnyard nose that you often get from Pinot. On the palate it's rich with flavors of soy and cooked cherry and lots of tannin.

2013 Sangiovese, Solis Vineyard, Santa Clara County
Interesting nose, reminiscent of a highland malt whisky; notes of heather among the oak.  Ripe and fruity, with flavors of preserved cherry and again plenty of tannin. $36

My companions tried some of the Serene Cellars wines, including a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc called "Hot Flash" that was sweet and citrus, and slightly effervescent due to the injection of a small amount of CO2 gas ($24), and a silky soft, sweet 2009 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon called "Dos Hombres" that was in barrel for over 4 years. ($85)

Overall MJA Vineyards' style emphasizes sweet fruit over structure; approachability over ageability. And while there's nothing wrong with that - I can think of plenty of successful wineries that have taken that approach - I found the prices to be significantly higher than I would be prepared to pay.