May 30, 2013
Spotlight Winery: Seebass Family Wines
Originally published May, 22, 2013 in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper
On a sunny and warm, bordering on hot, weekend day, I pointed my car east on Talmage Road from Ukiah, turned right at the City of 10,000 Buddhas onto Old River Road, and pulled in when I reached the mailbox with 3300 on it. I was at Seebass Family Wines. Easier than finding a house number is spotting the Seebass family crest, a Bavarian family crest dating back to 1386.
Do not do what I did, which was just show up without an appointment; Seebass is open by appointment, please call (707) 467-9463 to arrange a visit.
Kindly, Michelle took a break from weekend weeding of the organic garden to open the tasting room and pour a couple of wines for me. Son Aidan was dispatched to invite Scott to take a break from tiling the guest house to join us for the tasting.
Husband and wife owners of Seebass, Michelle and Scott Willoughby, and son Aidan, were as welcoming as they could be, and before I could start feeling too guilty about interrupting their physical labors, a bicyclist pulled off the road looking for water but joined us for the impromptu wine tasting.
The wines of Seebass are Estate grown wines, meaning the grapes come from the family’s vineyards surrounding the tasting room.
Michelle’s mother, Brigette Seebass (pronounced “say bass,” the name is derivative of Sebastian, and not the fish) escaped east Germany three weeks before war started and then came from Germany to the United States in 1966, eventually establishing the 104 acre Seebass Vineyard near Talmage roughly 25 years ago.
Seebass Vineyards grow Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Old Vine Zinfandel, and Merlot. Peter Chevalier is the vineyard manager and Scott said Peter “was a Magician with our 2011 fruit.”
Currently, Seebass Family Wines produces two wines, Chardonnay and Syrah. I tasted both.
The 2011 Seebass Family Wines Grand Reserve Chardonnay, Mendocino is made from grapes grown on a two acre strip of Dijon clone vines. These vines produce less, but higher quality, fruit.
Owing to a friendship between Brigette Seebass and Aubert de Villaine, some of the Seebass Family Wines are made, custom crush, at Hyde de Villaine (HdV) winery in Napa by Stéphane Vivier. As co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), Aubert knows vines and wines better than most of the wine world ever could, and brilliant winemaking using terrific fruit are reasons behind the quality of the Seebass wines I tasted.
Hand sorted and destemmed, whole cluster fermented, slow and cold fermentation, all French oak – a blend of 20% new and 80% more neutral, sur lies (wine held on yeast and lees), the wine was made as gently as winemaking allows.
Aromas of light delicate oak and apple give way to a beautifully integrated, very French in style, like a white Burgundy, Chardonnay where the green apple flavor is met by pear and lemon zest. Graceful, this Chardonnay is many noted, and displays wonderful balance between fruit and acid.
The Chardonnay retails at $39 and only 217 cases were produced.
The 2011 Seebass Family Wines Syrah, Mendocino, again also an Estate grown wine, was 14.5% alcohol and was also made at HdV in Napa by Stéphane Vivier.
Bottled just three weeks before I tasted it, the Syrah will continue to develop with a bit more bottle age. Young though it might be, I enjoyed it immensely from the first aroma. There is lovely candy fruit note, not an over ripe or over blown wine, but showing lovely bursting feminine perfume of rose and a light but meaty dry cherry, with the flavor echoing the cherry but mixed with black berry, plum, and light spice, all wrapped up in a light approachable tannin kiss.
The Syrah is expected to be released officially in September at a price around $45.
Future varietal wines will include both an Old Vine Zinfandel (currently there are three lots; one from 2011 and two from 2012) and a Grenache, with highly acclaimed local winemaker Greg Graziano making these wine, and a 2012 Merlot made by HdV. The first of these unreleased wines, the 2011 Seebass Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel , made with fruit from Century vines, or Zinfandel vines over 100 years old, is scheduled to be released later this year as well. Scott and Michelle also teased the details of a future blend, Mysteriös, being made by Greg, something I look forward to returning to taste when released next year.
Wine for me is about the people, as much as it is about land, the vines, the barrels, and the yeasts. The wines were very good, and I would have enjoyed them in other circumstance I’m sure, but tasting them with Michelle, Scott and their son Aidan present, the whole Willoughby family, made the wines taste even better.
For more information, visit seebassvineyards.com or call (707) 467-9463 to make an appointment to taste.
John Cesano can often shoot a round of golf in under double par…with a cart.
May 24, 2013
JOHN ON WINE – Winery Spotlight: Campovida
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on May 23, 2013
I have visited Campovida, just about a mile east of Highway 101 on Old River Road in Hopland, often since Gary Breen and Anna Beuselinck opened their gates for the spring 2010 Hopland Passport, after the former Fetzer Valley Oaks property had been chained and neglected for the previous five years.
Originally, Gary and Anna allowed four labels under one larger umbrella wine brand, Magnanimus, to be poured at Campovida. Some of the wines were quite good while others were just okay, but the draw for me was never the wines but the property itself.
That said, Cesar Toxqui made a delicious gold medal winning Viognier for Gary and Anna’s new Campovida labeled wines.
The biggest news on the Campovida wine front is that Gary and Anna have hired Sebastian Donoso from his assistant winemaker position under Alex MacGregor at Saracina to be the winemaker for Campovida.
With 14 wine varietals in a beautiful new barrel room, Sebastian is expected to produce 17-22 different small lot release wines under the new and growing Campovida label.
I tasted through a number of wines with Taste of Place manager, Meagan McNabola, earlier this year. Taste of Place, the tasting room for Campovida, is open daily from 11 a.m. 5 p.m.
My favorite wine of the day was the 2011 Campovida Viognier $36. Round, 100 percent malolactic fermentation, many noted, light butter, oak, smooth, herbal, lightly floral, hay, and lots of fruit. The San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition liked it too, giving it a silver medal this year.
We also tasted older Magnanimus wines under the Mendocino Farm label, and they are holding up well but I am honestly much more excited about the wines Sebastian will make in the future.
It feels odd giving the wines such scant attention, but there is more that happens at Campovida that deserves sharing.
Ken Boek, master gardener, first for Fetzer and now for Campovida, has brought the amazing gardens back with a lot of volunteer help and on Saturdays leads wonderful tours.
Organic vegetables, fruits and herbs grow in one garden that leaves me longing for a basket and permission to pick a little with every visit; fruit orchards, a cultivated rose garden, a lake, and of course, vineyards provide an abundance of sensory stimulus. The gorgeous colors, the rich scents, the sounds of birds and insects, the feel of different plants – all of it enjoyed with the taste of a delicious wine. I have spent hours walking alone, taking it all in, feeling tensions erased as calm settles over me, becoming a little in tune with nature. It is all so beautiful, powerfully beautiful, and breathtakingly so.
Many estate vegetables end up offered for purchase in Campovida’s Taste of Place, along with estate olive oil and honey made from Campovida’s hives. The taste of farm fresh food, still warm from the sun, picked just minutes before, is nearly religious in the power to move you.
The buildings at Campovida have also been restored, and the facility is often rented whole for weddings and events, with the rose gardens the site of a wedding and rooms on-site used for overnight stays by the folks after the event.
To handle overflow demand for rooms, Gary and Anna purchased the old Lawson Station on Highway 101 in Hopland and transformed it into the Piazza de Campovida.
Piazza de Campovida offers additional lodging for Campovida weddings and events, or for visitors to Hopland, and has another seven rooms, or suites, available. The Piazza also offers up pints of several hand crafted brews, bringing the hops back to Hopland, and their menu has grown from delicious wood oven fired artisanal pizzas to include sharable small plates, delicious salads, and larger rustic plate specials like venison stew.
Chef Adam’s menu at Piazza de Campovida constantly changes as only the freshest local and seasonal ingredients are sourced with an emphasis on organic growing. The food is spectacular and on a recent visit with a friend we sampled a pizza, salad, and a few small plates, sharing it all and having some yummy leftovers to take home afterward.
Especially nice: Piazza de Campovida waives corkage on any wine bottle purchased that day from a Hopland tasting room. I bought and brought a bottle of the 2010 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel: a lighter Zin, that paired perfectly with every menu item we ordered.
The Piazza is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, closed only Tuesday.
John Cesano loves his job, but thinks working at Campovida – outside as much as nature allows – would rock.
May 23, 2013
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: A Taste of Redwood Valley
, Barra of Mendocino
, Cole Bailey Vineyards
, Deanna Starr
, Destination Hopland
, Frey Vineyards
, Girasole Vineyards
, Giuseppe Wines
, Graziano Family of Wines
, Milano Family Winery
, Oster Wine Cellars
, Silversmith Vineyards
, Ted Starr
, Testa Vineyards
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Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on May 16, 2013
A few months ago when launching this column, I said I would try to limit my use of the words love and adore, because with the way I feel about the area’s wines and people I could easily overuse both.
Well, I have been sparing enough that I hope you’ll forgive me now. I absolutely adore Deanna Starr.
Deanna and her husband Ted own Milano Family Winery at the south end of Highway 101 in the big old hop kiln. Deanna is also the winemaker at Milano.
I worked with Deanna when we were on the board of Destination Hopland together. Deanna is intelligent, funny, patient, thoughtful, and a joy to work with. Deanna is also a gracious hostess; last year, I attended a group meal Deanna hosted at Milano for tasting room folks from a number of local wineries in the middle of Hopland Passport after the first full day of pouring.
Milano Family Winery can’t be missed. Although it sits back off Highway 101, it’s the only big wooden hop kiln building with the word “WINERY” in giant letters posted on the side facing the road.
After parking, you can climb the stairs to the tasting room, or take in the menagerie on the south side of the winery.
I always visit the animals first. On my last visit, I saw chickens, turtles, ducks, pygmy goats, geese, sheep, and a llama. There are probably more, but I especially like seeing the giant turtles. Seeing them doesn’t make the wine taste better objectively but, since it always puts me in a good mood, the turtles may make the wines taste better subjectively for me.
The first thing you notice after climbing the stairs to the second floor and entering the tasting room is how well it is stocked with fun wine themed merchandise. After tasting wines at McFadden, I often send our guests who ask about particular wine accessories onward to Milano because of the incredible range of products offered.
There were 22 wines on the list when I visited. There is a modest tasting fee which Dawn, my tasting room host, waived for me. I tasted six wines. Here’s my notes:
2009 Chardonnay $16 Caramel notes from oak, butter from malolactic fermentation, nice light apple fruit.
2009 Sangiovese, Palisades Vineyard $24 Enjoyably drinkable. Cassis, plum, cedar. Approachable, not the spiced tannin edge of some Sangiovese. Nicely balanced with just enough acidity to provide structure for the fruit.
2006 Carignane, Hidden Hawk Vineyard $22 Nice, rich, forward fruit notes of cherry, raspberry, and strawberry.
2006 Neese Merlot $24 Sherry like vanilla and sweet fig, sweet tart cherry, tannin, tapering finish.
2006 Echo, Bells Echo Vineyard $37 – I (forgive me) love (there, I said it) this wine. Didn’t want to spit. Blackberry, cherry. Great mouth feel. Long lingering finish.
2006 Orange Muscat $29 This was Dawn’s favorite. Honeyed apricot meets lovely citrus, wonderfully balanced. 15.2 percent alcohol.
Deanna holds her wines longer than many local winemakers, so you will find older vintages available at Milano Family Winery than at most – if not all – other local winery tasting rooms. The extra time gives her wines a chance to fully age, both in barrel and in the bottle. You have undoubtedly heard of people laying wines down, cellaring them, aging them; Deanna and Milano Family Winery do that for you so the wines you purchase are how Deanna would like you to taste them.
In addition to the varietal reserve, premium, and dessert wines available for tasting, Milano Family Winery produces some wine bottles that are blends with fun names such as Sunshine, Mistero, Big Ass Red, and Disaster Relief Red.
Wines are sold by the bottle, but Milano Family Winery also sells wines by the glass, which is perfect if you want to head back outside and enjoy a picnic lunch (BYOP: bring your own picnic) with wine at a wooden picnic table under a grape arbor next to the animals. Milano has a terrific spot for picnics.
The Milano Family Winery tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. 5 p.m.
A Taste Of Redwood Valley will be hosting a winemaker dinner Friday, June 14, followed by their 21st annual special weekend of wine tasting on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16. Participating wineries include Barra of Mendocino/Girasole Vineyards, Cole Bailey Vineyards, Frey Vineyards, Germain-Robin, Giuseppe Wines, Graziano Family of Wines, Oster Wine Cellars, Silversmith Vineyards, and Testa Vineyards. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com
John Cesano is twice the man he was in high school. Literally, John weighs exactly twice what he once did many years ago.
May 21, 2013
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Brutocao
, Claudia Springs
, Coro Mendocino
, Little River Inn
, McNab Ridge
, Philo Ridge
, Ray's Station
Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on May 9, 2013
One of the biggest differences between winemaking in Europe and the United States is that wine made in Europe is made following a protocol established by and for the geographically identifiable area the wine is made in, while wine made in the United States is made with near complete freedom.
A Mendocino County wine might be Chardonnay or Malbec. Napa Valley is likely to contain Cabernet Sauvignon, but could instead contain Sangiovese. Russian River Valley wine bottles could be Pinot Noir or Semillion. In the United States, we have to label our wines with the grape varietal, because there is no rule, rhyme, or reason about what each area can put into the bottle.
When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the wine shop, you know which grapes the wine can be made from based on long established historical protocol, and you can have a solid expectation of style, based on every other Bordeaux wine you have ever purchased. Same for Burgundy, Tuscany, and Chianti.
Identified DOCG in Italy Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), AOC in France, – appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), or other assurance of area protocol control, when you pick up a European wine, your expectations are based on where the wine came from.
In the United States, there is no similar geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol – almost.
Unique in the entire United States is the Coro Mendocino program, established by a collaborative group of winemakers known as the Consortium Mendocino.
Every time you hold a Coro Mendocino wine, from any vintage, from any winery, you are holding something with connections to every other Coro Mendocino wine ever made.
Every Coro Mendocino wine is made from 100 percent Mendocino County grapes, by a Mendocino County winery, in the county, and contains Zinfandel first and foremost, between 40 percent and 70 percent, with no single blending grape varietal exceeding the percentage of Zinfandel used. Blending grapes come from a list of varietals historically grown in Mendocino County alongside Zinfandel, and are typically either Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo, or Rhone varietals – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache.
Each winery is also allowed up to 10 percent free play, where a single unlisted varietal may be added to the blend. In the last 10 years, I can think of two wines that took advantage of the “free play” to add some Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chemistry limits (sugar, acid and pH), use of oak barrels, and both barrel and bottle aging are also addressed by the protocol to assure a somewhat uniform expectation of style within the Coro Mendocino program.
Each Coro Mendocino wine undergoes rigorous quality tasting trials. Initially, the wines are tasted up to four times by the participating winemakers who make and share notes of constructive criticism in an effort to see each wine reflect the high quality standards embodied by Consortium expectations.
A Selection Panel of five members of Consortium Mendocino – at least three being participating winemakers – conducts a pass/fail qualifying selection tasting. Pass, and you get to label your wine Coro Mendocino and sell it proudly beside every other Coro Mendocino made at $37. Fail and you’ve got nothing. You don’t have Coro and, without the minimum 75 percent needed, you don’t have Zinfandel. John Cesano’s “Random Red” wouldn’t likely sell for $37 or have the cachet a wine labeled Coro Mendocino has.
On Saturday, June 22, Consortium Mendocino will release the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines at a 10th Anniversary Release Party at the Little River Inn. The 2010 vintage was produced by 10 wineries: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station.
A five course meal prepared by chef Marc Dym begins with a passed appetizer course, paired with a white or sparkling wines from each Coro winery, the remaining courses are seated; the three middle courses each feature three or four of the Coro Mendocino wines, grouped by weight, lighter, medium, and heavier, and paired with gourmet dishes. The final course is dessert and paired with your favorite of the 10 tasted Coro Mendocino wines.
Tickets are for couples, include the five course meal and the first tastes of each of the 2010 vintage wines, and a full set of all ten Coro Mendocino wines. The cost is $500 for a couple ticket and, with the 10 bottles of wine plus a five course dinner with wine for two, is a bargain. I attended last year, and wrote quite favorably about the experience.
This year, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Coro Mendocino, there will also be an exclusive V.I.P. tasting of Coro 1.5L magnums, on the night before the release party. Limited to the first 30 release party guests that reserve a spot at $75 per person, Coro wines from the last 10 years, and by producers current and past, will be opened and enjoyed from 4:30 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21.
To secure your seats at the release party dinner, and possibly the magnum tasting too, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.
John Cesano works for McFadden, one of the ten 2010 vintage Coro producers. John, in his role as a local wine writer, has written about the Coro Mendocino program frequently, not because he works for a producer but because he he feels the program can be a critically important introduction to what, at their best, Mendocino County’s wines are about.
May 15, 2013
Posted by John Cesano under Uncategorized
| Tags: Amphora Winery
, Anne Aldrette
, Benito Dusi
, Bonny Doon
, Cesar Toxqui
, Chateau d'Yquem
, Collier Falls Vineyard
, Dashe Cellars
, DaVero Farms & Winery
, Destination Hopland
, Hardy Wallace
, Hopland Passport
, Jenny Candelaria
, Kachina Vineyards
, Karen Mishler Torgrimson
, Lori Malm
, Malm Cellars
, McFadden Vineyard
, Melissa McAvoy
, Mike Dashe
, Passport to Dry Creek Valley
, Paul Dolan
, Poor Man's Butter
, Randall grahm
, Ridge Vineyards
, Seghesio Family Vineyards
, Serena Alexi
, Tomales Bay Oyster Girls
, Truett Hurst
, Unti Vineyards
, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley
When you have to eat your words, use a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel to wash them down.
Recently, I wrote that while the Passport to Dry Creek Valley is the big daddy of wine events, Hopland Passport is the better value.
I’m a little jaded, I work for what I think is the best tasting room in Hopland; the wines we pour and the food we serve with them are unmatched in quality, so I allowed my pride for what we do half an hour north of Healdsburg with our wine and food at our event to color my writing.
I write about wine while running a tasting room; and in the past I used to sit on the board of, and then did marketing for, Destination Hopland – the folks who put on Hopland Passport. Perhaps, I was a touch biased in my piece for the local paper.
I received a media invite to Passport to Dry Creek Valley from Anne Alderette and Melissa McAvoy, two superstars of media outreach hired by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV) to make magic happen.
Passport to Dry Creek Valley
I have shared my opinion, long held, that Hopland Passport is the better event value for some time now, and in email exchanges I included a past piece where I wrote as much along with several other wine event recap pieces when corresponding with Anne and Melissa before Passport to Dry Creek Valley.
On the last Saturday in April, I drove to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg proper, and was allowed to check in a little early. I am glad that media check in was at Seghesio because the food and wine served up set the tone for much of what would follow.
Seghesio Gamberi e Fregola
Gambero e Fregola (the most deliciously fried shrimp ever, covered in a romesco, served on a bed of lemon zest cous cous), Penne Bolognese, and homemade Seghesio Italian Sausage were paired up with reds of wonderful body and flavor. With a terrific band laying down great electric jazz jams, I enjoyed one perfect Italian varietal wine after another, with my favorite two being the 2010 Sangiovese and the 2010 San Lorenzo Estate wines.
Next great stop: Amphora Winery, where my high school classmate Karen Mishler Torgrimson works. Amphora is one of over a half dozen wineries that operate in a winery complex just off of Dry Creek Road. Previously, I had focused on Amphora’s Zinfandel, after all, when in Rome and all of that. This time, I tasted Chardonnay to pair with both fresh shucked oysters and a tuna croquette. The oysters were delicious, and the tuna croquette tasted exactly like a good tuna melt tastes – which is a compliment because I love tuna melts on toast. The Chardonnay pushed the limits of tropicality (yeah, I make up words when they don’t but should exist), also a good thing. I also tasted a 2007 Amphora Cabernet Franc, Pedroni Vineyard that showed great fruit and body.
In the same complex of wineries as Amphora is Dashe. Mike Dashe buys grapes from my boss for his wines (and gets huge acclaim), so I always look in when I’m in the area. Dashe shares a tasting room with Collier Falls and it was actually Collier Falls that was on the passport for this tasting room, although all of the family wineries were pouring.
Collier Falls at Family Wineries
One of our wine club members, Jenny Candeleria, was greeting folks at Collier Falls and she pointed me to some wines to taste and made sure I got a plate of food. Lots of red and white country western check and hay bales, and the Steve Pile Band laying down bluesy country music. I enjoyed Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel and a country cover I heard cowboy Bob Weir also cover countless times in concert. The food was simple hearty fare with a terrific sandwich of pulled bbq smoked meat and slaw and the chocolatiest chocolate brownie anywhere.
Truett Hurst. I do not know what caused me to stop in, but I am so glad I did. Preston has been my longtime favorite place to spend an afternoon in the dry creek Valley, with their great wines, arbor shaded picnic tables, and bocce courts. Before my visit to Truett Hurst was done, I had a new favorite Dry Creek Valley stop, or a tie between two favorites, one old, one new.
Me at Truett Hurst
I was greeted at the door by a lovely schoolteacher from Ukiah, where I live, who works some weekends at the winery. Upon check in, she told me that after getting some wine, I needed to head out back for some food and then, if I could make the time for a short walk, I had to go sit in a chair beside the river. Best advice all weekend!
Herb gardens at Truett Hurst
The tasting room building is comfortable, well laid out, features two tasting bars, upright refrigerators filled with yummy picnic provisions, and spectacular photographic art that let me know immediately: I was in a winery with biodynamic wines. The animal photos told of wines made from grapes grown in a biodiverse and organic manner, with a touch of ritualistic magic on the side.
The River at Truett Hurst
The tasting room staff at Truett Hurst Winery confirmed that they had recently received their Demeter Biodynamic Certification, a many year process, and then listing the owner partners they surprised me: Paul Dolan, iconic Mendocino County grower, winemaker, and a past guest at our Wine Club Dinner, was one of the owners. I like Paul Dolan a ton, and was now, perhaps, predisposed to like Truett Hurst.
Okay, a quick review of biodynamic growing practices: start with organic growing; no synthetic pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers – No Monsanto RoundUp! Next, grow beneficial cover crops to fix nitrogen, attract beneficial insects, and possibly provide some food (fava beans do go great with a nice Chianti). Now bring in some happy animals; chickens to eat less than beneficial insects, sheep to mow the covercrops down, and of course the animals leave behind a natural and unmanipulated fertilizer for the grapevines. Okay, now comes the magic: take a cow horn, fill it with cow poo, and bury it by the light of the moon on one solstice. Near six months later, unbury the cow poo filled cow horn on the next solstice and place it in a barrel full of collected rainwater, or virgin tears, to steep, making a cow poo horn tea. Do not drink the tea, but instead use the liquid preparation to spray the vines. Seriously, you have to do this if you want Demeter Certification. I don’t know if the ritual magic has any real benefit, but I know that time spent in the vineyard with the grapevines is never bad, so while maybe not any better than simply growing organically with maybe some biodiversity in the mix, it isn’t a bad thing. Heck, maybe the magic does great things, I don’t know, but I do know the practice has passionate adherents, like Paul Dolan. Cesar Toxqui, another winemaker from my area is another true believer and he, like Paul, makes great juice.
Anyway, back to the juice. I tasted the 2011 Red Rooster Old Vine Zinfandel, a solid offering made even more solid when I stepped into the large back yard and found three delicious treats to pair it with served up by Peter Brown, the chef at the Jimtown Store: Pork Rillettes (think phenomenally flavorful pork pate), deliciously light slaw with lots of nice acid and herb, and possibly the weekend’s best bite, a mascarpone and pistachio stuffed date. The pourers were generous with pours, and I took a decent 4 oz of the 2011 White sheep Pinot Noir with me as I walked through flower and herb gardens, planted to attract beneficial insects but also offering up the most intensely pungent natural perfume, and on a short distance to where I found groupings of red Adirondack chairs arranged under tree shade on the bank of a calming babbling river – it looked more like a creek, but why quibble?
The peacefulness, sitting comfortably in a chair, glass of delicious Pinot Noir at hand, the lovely earthy dried cherry aromas and flavors, everything at Truett Hurst made me happy.
Who has the biggest balls in wine country? The folks at Malm Cellars, that’s who. Enormous cajones, I tell you. Words I thought I would never write: “and I poured out the Chateau d’Yquem,” but the folks at Malm had me writing it before I was done visiting them.
I had friends in the Dry Creek Valley, tasting wines, but had no idea where they were; my phone and mobile internet coverage were non-existent for most of the day throughout the valley. At one point, I headed back to Hwy 101, for a wi-fi connect, and in checking out #dcvpassport tweets, I got into an exchange with Lori Malm, no relation, about Malm Cellars, and decided to visit them.
Hardest to find winery of Passport to Dry Creek Valley may go to Malm Cellars. Like many of my favorite adult juice makers, Malm makes their wines in an industrial park. Down a dead end (W. North) street, behind a row of buildings, I found them at last.
The food was flavorful, from butter drenched scampi shrimp to simple but perfectly executed bbq, and the wines were delicious from a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc through a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but if I had any criticism it would be that the food flavors were a bit intense, overpowering the wines a bit. I just took them separately, along with lots of water in between.
A major highlight of the entire Passport to Dry Creek Valley weekend event came when I tasted, side by side, a 2005 Chateau d’Yquem (rated 97 points by Wine enthusiast, 97 points by Wine Spectator, and 92 points by Robert Parker’s wine advocate) at $429 for a 375 ml half bottle up against a 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc at $97 for a 375 ml half bottle.
At $429 for a half bottle, I do not taste a lot of Chateau d’Yquem, a late harvest, botrytis blessed Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, usually 80%/20%. This was a terrific wine, as you would expect, but I liked the 2010 Malm Cellars Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc more. It wasn’t even close.
I will forever be impressed with Malm’s courage to compare themselves with the best, and prove they are better.
I will also be picking up a bottle to pair with foie gras, ordered in from outside the state, because a wine this good demands a pairing this great. Malm Cellars is located at 119 W. North Street near Moore Lane in Healdsburg.
I finished day one on Westside Road, near West Dry Creek Road, at DaVero Farms & Winery, but I would recommend starting there instead of finishing there. It was hot Saturday afternoon, and most of DaVero’s offerings were arrayed outdoors among the organic and Biodynamic fields, where shade was short.
Salmon at DaVero
A welcome bite of skewered salmon, with a very little farm olive oil, lemon, and salt, reminded me why I consider salmon a perfect food. Paired with Malvasia Bianca, a varietal I first fell in love with years ago when Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm was introducing many of America’s wine lovers to it, I was pretty happy. The DaVero Sagrantino, a rose berry Italian red varietal, went great with bites of grilled lamb and rustic pizza slices.
One of the things that impressed me about Passport to Dry Creek Valley was that each of the participating wineries had a 5 gallon thermos cooler for water, each with a matching “hydration station” sign. I took advantage of the offered water at every stop, consuming far more water than the amount of wine I tasted. Kudos to the folks at WDCV for the thoughtful and caring touch. Hey, Destination Hopland, I’m looking at you, follow suit, okay?
Meyer Lemonade at DaVero
DaVero went one step further. In addition to the hydration station water, DaVero provided Meyer lemonade. Thank you, thank you, thank you. In the heat of the afternoon, this was a most appreciated touch. You are the bomb!
Day two, I was joined by my good friend Serena Alexi. Serena has joined me for other tastings, and has helped me by making sure I get the good picture, or taste the yummy wine, or pick up my notebook when I leave. That, and she knows more folks in Sonoma County’s wine industry than I do these days.
Serena Alexi at Passport to Dry Creek Valley
Our first great stop was Ridge Vineyards. Everything, as expected, tasted great, but my favorite was the 2011 Zinfandel, made from Benito Dusi’s grapes in Paso Robles. Paired with the Sonoma duck mole and corn spoon bread prepared by feast catering, this was a great start to our day.
Under the shade at Ridge
Kachina Vineyards is off Dry Creek Road about as far as any winery has ever been off any road. It is way the hell back off the road, a decent drive. The location is worth the travel. Remote, quiet, and bucolic, Kachina welcomed guests with a quiet and relaxed greeting…and homemade corn nuts. Kachina is off the grid, relying on solar energy to power their endeavors. The sun was out and Serena and I found a couple of comfortable wooden chairs at a table in the shade and set up base camp, leaving only to try a new wine and quickly return to the comfort of our camp.
A paper bowl of yum at Kachina
I found myself favoring a Sangiovese Rose at Kachina, and a terrific simple rustic grilled meat, onion, potato and tomato dish.
Back to the road, we made our way next to Unti Vineyards. I think Unti Vineyards was the favorite stop on day two for both Serena and me.
Everything Unti did at Passport, and they did a lot, worked effortlessly. Okay, that isn’t fair, there was obviously a lot of work that went into everything, but it was presented so well as to seem effortless.
Oysters at Unti, fresh from Tomales Bay
The wines, from a 2012 Rose, through Grenache, Segromigno, Montepulciano, and Zinfandel were all excellent. The food, from the best guacamole ever (www.poormansbutter.com) and the tastiest oysters from the famed Tomales Bay Oyster girls (you’ve got to try the sassy pink horseradish sauce) outdoors, to the indoor food: truffled duck liver terrina with grilled bread and truffled salt, meatballs “dabe glace” with roasted red pepper salad, and eggplant caponata bruschetta, was varied and uniformly outstanding. The music, when we were visiting, was provided by the local high school’s jazz combo, and they were great.
Proof for the existence of a loving God: Truffled Duck Liver at Unti
The reds at Unti Vineyards were excellent, but Sunday was a scorcher, hotter than Saturday, which made me really appreciate the 2012 Rose, a Grenache/Mourvedre blend, so juicy crushed berry over ice yummy, and the 2012 Cuvee Blanc, a blend of Vermiento, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul, that paired perfectly with the oysters.
Because, I was so impressed with Truett Hurst the day before, I returned to share my find with Serena. We have often visited Preston before, and she could see easily why I loved this spot as much. Serena also liked the wines, the herb and flower gardens, the food from Jimtown store, and the comfy chairs by the river.
The final stop for this year’s Passport to Dry Creek Valley was at Michel-Schlumberger. I decided to visit, finally, because the winery fields two teams that I golf against each year in a wine country invitational tournament at the nearby Windsor Golf Course each year, and because they put up fellow wine blogger Hardy Wallace as he transitioned from a Really Goode Job to a great one.
The courtyard at Michel-Schlumberger
What a lovely spot, again a bit of a drive off a main road, off West Dry Creek and up Wine Country Road, Michel-Schlumberger offered up a gorgeous courtyard, shaded places to sit and enjoy their wines and food offerings, and a very skilled Spanish flamenco styled guitarist.
I had a delightful Pinot Blanc paired with a cucumber and grape gazpacho, served in the cool cellar, that made me glad we were finishing our weekend at Michel-Schlumberger, a perfect last taste on a hot day.
I wrote, perhaps foolishly that, at $45, Hopland Passport was a better value than the $120 Passport to Dry Creek Valley. I visited the same number of wineries that participate at Hopland Passport, 17, and wrote up the 9 I loved when visiting Dry Creek Valley. I expect the experiences would be the same at either event, visit 8-9 each day, and absolutely love a little over half.
That said, next year, I could visit a completely different 17 wineries at Dry Creek Valley, and a completely different 17 the year after. With a greater number of tickets sold, and at the higher price, participating wineries can spend more and offer more, knowing they will see substantial reimbursement checks. Every Dry Creek Valley winery treats folks like McFadden does in Hopland -or better, with the crazy large reimbursement money to do it. The signage, the hydration station water coolers, comfort stations, spectacular food, live music, the appreciation of marketing, the emphasis on quality media outreach; we in Hopland could learn a lot more from our friends to the south.
Passport to Dry Creek Valley rocked my socks off, and is the undisputed heavyweight wine weekend event champion of the world. The preceding words were washed down with a glass of 2010 Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel from a bottle I bought shortly after checking in.