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John On Wine – Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting

 

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, August 7, 2014
Written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

 

Last weekend, I visited a dozen winery tasting rooms in the Anderson Valley during their successful Second annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. This barrel tasting weekend is held later than is typical for other areas, but lets the Pinot Noir made in Anderson Valley by most producers show a little better — worked for me. With oaks on one side and redwoods on the other, the vineyards of Anderson Valley are well framed by nature. Throughout the rest of this column, if I write Pinot then you may assume I meant Pinot Noir.

• Foursight – Joe Webb poured me his 2013 “Zero” Pinot that will be bottle late in August, held in oak 2-7 years (zero new oak), with about a third whole cluster fermentation, it was delightful with bright fruit notes and showed well. Next, he poured his 2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot, the same in all other respects, but with one-third new oak barrels, a firmer wine that paired well with salumi. Finally, Joe poured his 2013 Foursight Clone ’05, a Pinot using Pommard ’05 clone on 50% percent new oak; I loved this wine, showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

• Philo Ridge – 2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot was woody, cherry fruit, pretty straightforward, good acidity. 2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Barrel sample could be wine now, close to finish. Drinking great. Winery chef K.C. McClure prepared a watermelon gazpacho that paired brilliantly with the bolder flavors of a 2013 Testa Primitivo. K.C.’s mushroom tartlets were delicious with the poured Pinot.

• Seebass – Newcomers to the Anderson Valley, Seebass grows grapes near Talmage on their own 100-acre farm. Tasting room manager Jill poured a sample of Mysteriös , a blend being bottled as we speak, and due out this November. The wine may be a blend of vintages, 2011 and 2013, and varietals, possibly Zinfandel, Merlot, Grenache, and Syrah, lush, juicy, bright, yummy, and fun.

• Lichen – Owner Doug Stewart produces a Solera, a multi vintage wine, and the sample of one due in September was gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, herb, twenty kinds of yum. In addition to great Pinot, some of my favorite in the valley, I bought a sparkling wine, bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious; and tasted a blend white, lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

• Balo – I tasted finished wines, no barrel samples, and all were good, but my focus was barrel samples, so I left – but not before tasting a slice of pizza fresh from the oven, made simply with San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and basil on a crust so delicious it could be served undressed as artisan bread. Balo does stand out for hospitality and thoughtfulness, offering free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet-friendly fenced poop-pen for dogs – an enjoyable place to visit!

EDITED TO ADD: Okay, I wrote for the newspaper column that Balo was not pouring barrel samples, but I was wrong. I only visited the tasting room, and didn’t check out the obvious place for barrel samples: the barrel room in the adjacent winery building, down slope from the tasting room.. Oops.

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

The lovely lavendar gardens at Balo Vineyards

• Greenwood Ridge Vineyards – I was fortunate to have Buzz pour for me, he was knowledgeable, passionate, and enthusiastic. Owner Allan Green deserves credit for the best named wine I tasted: 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir. Buzz told me that, “Allan makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit,” and, “2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were ready then.”

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

The bridge at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

• Handley Cellars – Travis Scott poured two barrel samples; 2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit and 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite. Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member. Travis also poured 2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red, light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5 percent alc.

• Phillips Hill – Buildings are an old apple drying facility. The 2013 Oppenlander Pinot was spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle March/April 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield acid integration, and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced. At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food. I loved all tastes.

• The Apple Farm – Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

• Edmeades – 2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice; 2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder; 2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit. Food included a ground lamb slider and pasta salad of orzu, basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, zucchini, hazel nut, and sherry olive oil.

• Gowan’s Oak Tree – I bought a mixed bag with four different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. Water is always good on a 100-degree day when tasting wine.

• Toulouse Vineyards – Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable. He poured me his 2013 Pommard ’04 clone Pinot; deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

Pinot Noir grapes growing at Toulouse Vineyards

• Baxter Winery – Owners Claire and Phil Baxter poured their 2013 Vlenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, a note of brown sugar, light in mouth, soft; 2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, 30 percent whole cluster fermentation, more red than purple color, expressive fruit while elegantly light, candied cherry and rose petal; and 2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley, cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry, lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit, well integrated. These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Baxter is making elegant wine I enjoyed.

• Elke Vineyards – 2013 Boonville Barter, simple, direct, bright cherry noted. 2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35 percent new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. I loved this wine. Hard candy cherry fruit.

 

I spent the last weekend barrel tasting at some Anderson Valley winery tasting rooms, a guest of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. By Friday, I will have taken the VERY RAW notes below and, with a little polish and serious editing, will turn in something tighter to run in Thursday, August 7’s Ukiah Daily Journal as a finished wine column.

I’ll provide all of the pictures below and let my editor use what she prefers. I’ll delete use of the F-bomb, still quite intact below, and try to paint a mini portrait of each place I visited. I would love to return and write some single winery spotlight columns.

Anyway, I thought I would give my online readers a glimpse into how a column is created, with a before (these notes, cut and pasted directly from my tablet) and after (the column I’ll post after it is published).

Cheers!

Foursight

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2013 ZERO New Oak Pinot delightful! bright notes! fruit showing well.

33-35 whole cluster, 13.3-13.5 alc, 2-7 year barrel. Bottle 27 and 28 of August.

12, 13, 14 all easy to make, un memorable because of no challenges.

2013 Charles Vineyard Pinot – Same wine but with 33% new oak

Little higher tannin with 2/6 barrels new, makes acid (brightness) less perceptible. Oak offers or brings out a smoky note. Firmer. Paired with Salumi straightens this right out, demonstrating once again the incredible food pairing magic found with Pinot. Instant yum.

2013 Foursight Clone 05 – Pommard 05 on 50% new oak.

Showing the herbal undertones that make for a memorable sinuous vinous Pinot.

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Kristy Charles, Joe Webb.

Anderson Valley, where oaks meet redwoods, with grapes providing the bridge.

Philo Ridge

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2012 Marguerite Vineyard Pinot woody, green (in a good way) cherry fruit, pretty straightforward. Dry farmed above the Holmes Ranch, good acidity.

2013 Estate Pinot (AV) – Could be wine, close to finish. Drinking great.

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Watermelon Gazpacho is fanfuckingtastic, but mushroom and Pinot are the better pairing.

2013 Testa Primativo Philo Ridge’s first Primitivo. Stands up nicely to the intensely spicy gazpacho. Recipe in pic.

K.C. Is the caterer. McClure Fred and heather’ winery Chef.

Seebass

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TR Mgr Jill initially overwhelmed by tasters. Carboy samples of the Mysteriös are being bottled as we speak and released Nov. Greg made, NV, 2011 and 2013. Zin, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah blend. Lush, juicy, bright, yummy, fun. $45

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Lichen

slope sandy loam nutrient poor, nutrient added through irrigation. Incredibly low vigor, crappy land, so we plant incredibly densely, per vine yield is super low, but high skin to pulp, 4000 vines per acre, yield ends up good, and flavors are ideal. 1000 case per year. Moving forward, all the sparkling will be estate. Bubbly is done right here

Dan: 60 Noir 40 Gris white blend. 2013 is so similar to 2012, 2011 was miserable. Lush juicy stone, pear, grapefruit, lovely acid to fruit.

Bubbly, williamette Valley. Bright mineral steely fruit, clean crisp, refreshingly delicious.

Two vintage Solera with three vintage due September. 2011-2013 Solera is gorgeous. Rich, ready, cherry berry fruit, layers of flavor, Herb, twenty kinds of yum.

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Doug Stewart, founder and previous owner of Breggo

I work for a place that makes the best bubbly in the county, and I have tons at home, and I don’t have a winemaker’s salary but a Hopland tasting room manager’s salary, so finding myself buying a bottle of Lichen’s Bubbly tells you all you need to know about how good if is.

Balo

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Washed glass with water…2012 Pinot Noir Blanc. Still white from Noir. Floral perfume, surprisingly sharper edge in mouth than nose suggests, crisp, pear apple .

2012 Pinot Gris grapes from Mary Elke. Spice, mellow, round. A touch of funk nose and finish.

2013 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Dry. Lovely salmon color, same funk.

Jerry Garcia and Dawg mandolin David Grisman’s Shady Grove playing. Pizza tapes?

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Pizza is from San Marzano. Salt, tomato, cheese, crust. Delicious enough it doesn’t need meat, but a touch salty. The crust was great, even without topping, similar to a air pocket blessed sourdough or pretzel, this was an artisanal bread all by itself.

Didn’t find any barrel action.

Free bottles water, immaculate bocce courts, lavender, pet friendly fenced poop pen for dogs, really just super enjoyable place to visit.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

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2012 hundred point Pinot Noir – same as 2012 GRV estate below, but with 7 months longer in new French oak. “Allen makes his Pinot more in the traditional manner, less fruit.” – Buzz  (Best name ever.)

2012 was good, but 2013 was perfect. We picked early because the grapes were just ready then.

2013 GRV Pinot Noir bottle sample of barrel pull, lovely vibrant burgundy color. Dry cherry, pepper spice. No idea when will be bottled…”in the next year, I suppose” – TR Gal

2012 GRV Pinot Noir green, mildly astringent, herbal, firm tart cherry.

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Hurray for Buzz, the great TR guy at GRV, who called me on my inland Mendo focus, not enough love for 128. I told him about my mission statement from early on, to write about the area Wine Spectator ignores. He nodded his assent that a Wine Spectator cover for Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is greater than a focus on inland Mendo in an inland Mendo newspaper. I’m just been trying to cast a light on an area that otherwise gets no press.

Handley Cellars

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Barrel Samples poured by Travis Scott

2013 Vittorio Vineyard Primitivo, Redwood Valley perfume, fruit,

2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah, remarkably soft, light for a Petite.

2010 Vittorio’s Selected Red Table Red (finished wine example)

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Vittorio is an early generation Testa family member.

Light, super easy to drink, herb garden and berry patch, 13.5% alc.

All French Oak Barrels at Handley. About $1,400 each.

Exclusive Tasting Menu

Chocolates that pair with reds

Barbeque on the patio

Sausages.

Many happy people in them lovely, cool, comfortable tasting room.

Phillips Hill – Must Return for a feature!

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Buildings are an old apple drying facility

2013 Oppenlander (Comptche – 10 miles east of Mendocino) Pinot Noir – spectacularly drinkable right now, if a tiny bit green. Cherry, spice, herb, will be bottle Mar/Apr 2014. The extra time in barrel will yield: Acid and brightness will integrate and structure will become more silky. Aromatics will become more pronounced.

1,400 cases all in.

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At Phillips Hill, they pick at lower Brix, have higher acid, the fruit is there, but the alcohol is lower; instead of a higher alcohol wine that overpowers food, this wine – the 13.5% alc 2011 Oppenlander still has earthy floral tobacco notes, plenty of character. Completely unfair, because it is finished, not a barrel sample, but best wine of the day.?

Toby was welcoming. Pointed out how lovely the open air tasting was, the breeze making moot the 100 degree temps everywhere else.

Margot Federkiel, asst winemaker was my pourer and a wealth of helpful info and passion.

The Apple Farm

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>>>>Travis Scott at Handley sent me on to Phillips Hill where I tasted my day’s favorite wine and where I asked Toby if I could come back for a more comprehensive tasting. Margot at Phillips Hill sent me on to The Apple Farm where I bought a case of Bates & Schmitt organic apple juice. That’s how you do it!

Edmeades

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2013 Zinfandel, Peril Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – more integrated. The Gianoli is good, but I like this better. Edges have been softened. Rounder, but less distinct.

2013 Zinfandel, Gianoli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge – fruit slightly muted in nose, but nice weight coming on, depth, roundness, dark as opposed to bright, brambly raspberry, spice

2013 Syrah, Perli – black pepper, first and foremost, then vegetal and herbaceous undertone supporting dark fruit.

Lamb burger – way yummy. Thank you!

Pasta salad – basil, sun dried tomato, goat cheese, orzo, zucchini, hazel nut, , sherry olive oil.

2010 Perli Zin – perfume, lighter styled, not over powering, almost delicate.

2011 Champ de Reves Pinot Noir 14.5 certainly lighter than the Zins and beastly Syrah, brighter balanced candied cherry, light herb…at least that is what I’m getting after the fully flavorful lamb slider.

Shyla poured barrel samples and brought out food. Best, most engaging member of the staff.

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Beautifully manicured property, one of my favorite winery views anywhere, terrific food, interesting wines.

Gowan’s Oak Tree

I bought a mixed bag with 4 different squash, a dozen ears of white corn, a bag of mixed fruit, plots, plums, peaches, and apples, and a bottle of water. The water is always good on a 100 degree day tasting wine.

Toulouse Vineyards

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What a comfortable tasting room, wine barrel stools and tables, everyone can sit and relax. Thoughtful.

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2013 Pommard 04 (heat sterilized version of the 05). Oh, I get why my favorite Pinot at last year’s Mendo Wine Comp was from Toulouse. Deep, gnarly, cheery fruit with a sexy hint of green, herbal, loamy, a beautiful Pinot in the barrel.

Vern knows the Pommard is showing great, but having separate lot Pinots makes for separate open bottles for tastings and isn’t ideal for a smaller winery…but he might bottle a barrel of this. Look for it.

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Vern Boltz, owner, winemaker, was as cordial as his tasting room was comfortable.

Baxter Winery

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2013 Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, 4 miles from coast, 12.5% $48 the brown sugar on your breakfast oatmeal. Light, light, light in mouth, soft, not quite enough fruit or depth today.

2013 Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $48 30% whole cluster fermentation leading to redder than the previous wine’s more purple color. Okay, liking this one more, better more expressive fruit while still elegantly light. Candied cherry and rose petal.

2013 Langley Vineyard, Anderson Valley $48

These three will be bottled later in 2014 and ship May 2015. Cranberry, strawberry, and finally cherry…lighter end of the spectrum fruit flavors, but a nice little basket of mixed fruit, a little herb and floral and earth in support of fruit. Well integrated.

Claire and Phil Baxter doing the pouring.

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BricChickXan was here, we talked about our love of more elegant wines. Baxter is making them. Turns out, we both enjoyed some 2011 vintage treats amidst the cries of Hugely Overextracted Overoaked Oversugared High Alcohol Fruit Jam Bomb fans.

Elke Vineyards

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2013 Boonville Barter, more CA styled, $20 everyday wine – ready to drink in Oct or Nov after Sep bottling, simple, direct, bright cherry noted.

2012 Boonville Barter bottled deeper with age, and a teeny bit of funk…or that could be the sweat of the people in this little hot box of a tasting room. A surprising depth and complexity, considering the straightforward simplicity of the 2013.

2013 Blue Diamond picked two weeks earlier, more Burgundian, focused more on dirt than fruit. 35% new oak, 11 months on oak. 2 years in bottle before release. Loved this. One of the nicest wines of the weekend. Hard candy cherry fruit

2011 Blue Diamond – Holy fuck, this has a dose of that funk that Pinot is known for. I have tasted, by and large, some pretty funk free wines over the weekend, but I’m finishing on one with tons of unapologetic edge. No apologies needed, this is some seriously flavorful juice, with a showing of slightly more vinous tinged cherry and strawberry fruit.

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Great Gris packaging, boxless bag, greener and possibly avoid the stigma.

The Second Annual Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend is so big that it isn’t just Anderson Valley wineries involved.

The wineries along Hwy 128, from Yorkville Highlands up through the Anderson Valley, will be having a Barrel Tasting weekend this Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27 from 11-4 each day.

From the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting website:

Final AV Barrel Tasting Poster 2014 optimized

Enjoy unprecedented access to winery cellars, taste yet-to-be-released wines, and purchase futures of your favorites at a special barrel tasting weekend price! Explore the area, discover new wineries, and enjoy a beautiful summer weekend in Mendocino’s Pinot country!

Participating wineries will feature previews of new wines, from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel, along with current releases. Attendees will receive a logo glass and a wristband, which grants access to the events for both Saturday and Sunday.

Participating wineries for 2014 include: Balo Vineyards, Baxter, Bink, Brutocao Cellars, Edmeades, Elke, Foursight Wines, Goldeneye Winery, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Harmonique, Husch, Knez, Lichen, Lula Cellars, Meyer Family, Maple Creek, Philo Ridge Vineyards, Phillips Hill, Witching Stick and Yorkville Cellars.

Check out their special offers HERE.

We encourage you to taste responsibly and to book your trip with one of the transportation companies listed below. Designated drivers are welcome to attend the event, free of charge.

You are also encouraged to bring a picnic lunch with you – participating wineries will have limited food, and what better way to enjoy the scenery at one of our beautiful wineries and tasting rooms than to eat alfresco? You can pick up a prepared lunch at one of the cafes listed below.

TRANSPORTATION COMPANIES
Riley Cab Company
Vintage Vine Tours
Mendocino Wine Tours

LUNCH/CAFES

Boontberry Farms (707) 895-3576
Mosswood Market
The Boonville General Store
Lemon’s Philo Market

Why a summer barrel tasting? Aren’t most held in the spring?
The majority of our wineries produce high-end Pinot Noir, and Pinot really tastes best right before bottling time. By holding a barrel tasting in the summer, attendees will be able to evaluate the wines in a nearly finished state, instead of young wines that will change dramatically during the aging process.

So, when you buy futures, you know exactly what you’ll be receiving the next year!

Map of Anderson Valley
Okay, the folks over in the Anderson Valley said it well, but let me say that the wines, the Pinot Noir in particular, produced there is spectacular. Barrel tasting events are an interesting experience for folks new to the format, and a terrific opportunity to take advantage of sizable sales offered on purchases of futures, wines before release, based on tastes at these events for seasoned tasters.

$20 is a more than fair price, especially considering that all of Hwy 128’s winery areas are represented and that each winery is  doing something special.

Here are the specials to be found at each participating winery, with purchase of a $20 ticket:

Purchase yours Here!

ANGEL CAMP – Please join us inside the Balo Winery to taste barrel samples of our 2013 Angel Camp Estate Pinot Noir and our new release, 2013 Les Amoureuses Estate Pinot Noir. We will be offering 20% off and free shipping for case purchase of 2012 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 futures.

BALO – Come sample our 2013 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 Suitcase 828 Pinot Noir from the barrel, which is proving to be a stellar vintage. Enjoy a picnic with pizzas from our wood fired oven and play a game of Bocce. Enjoy 20% savings on your wine purchase and sign up for our futures program and Wine Club

BAXTER  – Meet winemaker Phillip Baxter as he personally guides you through barrel samples of his 2013 Pinot Noirs. Compare the vineyards directly with the current vintage and sign up for futures with complimentary shipping. Our stylish tasting room is on the West side of 128 in downtown Philo. 707 895 3173.

BINK is offering barrel samples of 3 different Pinot Noir clones and a daily raffle for a bottle of Reserve Thomas Vineyard Pinot Noir.  There will be summer wine specials as well.  Join the Wine Club and receive 25% off.

BRUTOCAO invites you to “be a king for the day”. All tickets holders will receive a 25% discount. Taste 2013 Primitivo from the barrel and purchase futures at a special price.

EDMEADES invites you to sample two of our 2013 vineyard-designate Zinfandels from the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  We will be pouring wines from both the Perli and Gianoli vineyards paired with small bites.

ELKE – TBD

FOURSIGHT will offer a special preview of the fantastic 2013 estate Pinot Noirs out of barrel, alongside current releases and small bites.Futures of the 2013 Pinots will be available at a special barrel tasting price.

GOLDENEYE WINERY will be offering the following discounts: 10% off 6 packs and 15% off 12 packs!

GREENWOOD RIDGE – In addition to 2013 barrel samples, we will pouring our 2012 Hundred Point Pinot Noir along with local cheeses.

HANDLEY CELLARS will be offering barrel samples, an exclusive tasting menu as well as Barbeque on the patio.

HARMONIQUE – Meet Winemaker Bob Klindt and owner Moira Conzelman. Preview 2013 Vintage Pinot Noirs and taste the newly released 2009 un-oaked Chardonnay.Karina Lyons of Heritage Oak Barrels will also be on hand to discuss the art of the barrel. Finger foods served

HUSCH VINEYARDSis excited to debut a barrel sample of 2013 Old Vine Heritage. Be among the first to try this special wine and purchase futures at a 20% discount. A barrel sample of our Estate 2013 Pinot Noir will also be offered. Enjoy complimentary tasting from our collection of award-winning wines paired with home-made hummus on the back deck. Relax at one of our picnic tables amongst the vineyard and winery.

KNEZ will offer 2013 Barrel Samples of Cerise and Demuth and discounts of 15% off 11 bottles or fewer, 20% off 12 bottles or more!

LAZY CREEK –  TBD

LICHEN ESTATE will be offering up to 20% savings plus free shipping (on full case purchases) on 2013 Pinot Noir from the barrel.

LULA will be offering futures on 2013 Pinot Noir, a contest each day to win a magnum of our 2012 Pinot Noir, food and fun!

MAPLE CREEK will be sampling out of barrel our 2013 Pinot Noir’s (Weir Vineyard, Yorkville and Anderson Valley vineyard) and our 2013 Estate Chardonnay along with various library wines. We will offer a 20% discount on all wines to the ticket holders and we will have some artisan cheeses to sample as well.

MEYER FAMILY CELLARS invites you to sample our latest barrels of Cabernet and Syrah. On Saturday we’ll have wood-fired pizzas from our earthen oven and on Sunday, local gourmet food-pairings in the tasting room.  Enjoy our grapevine shaded picnic tables, green grass lawn and bocce court.  15% discount.

PHILLIPS HILL – Join the winemaker for a tasting of 2013 barrel samples and current releases paired with some amuse bouche. Futures of 2013 Pinot Noir will be offered at a special price

PHILO RIDGE will offer 2012 Pinot Noir from the barrel with food pairings of Pennyroyal goat cheese, crostini and mushroom cream cheese spread.  Futures pricing on the 2012.

SEEBASS – TBD

YORKVILLE CELLARS will be offering futures and tasting barrel samples our 2012 Richard the Lion-Heart, a unique blend we put together of the six Noble Red Grapes of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere and Cabernet Franc). You can also taste each of those wines as a separate varietal and be treated as a club member for the day enjoying special savings. Our Wine Club members will receive additional discounts. Organic vineyard tours available.

Did I mention that you get a collectable logo glass for the event at check in? This is another “must do” event brought to you by the folks at the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

John On Wine ­ – Events, future and past

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 8, 2014
Written by John Cesano

Mother’s Day Brunch ­ I wish my mom was alive. I would love to get her a corsage and take her to a lovely Mother’s Day Brunch; my son with us and grandson and grandmother spending time together; a glass or two or three of bubbly, or bubbly mixed with orange juice. I really miss my mom.

If you have the opportunity to take your mother or grandmother – or best of all, both – out for brunch this Mother’s Day Sunday, May 11th, consider Barra of Mendocino at 7051 North State Street in Redwood Valley, just minutes north of Ukiah. Enjoy a lovely brunch from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., with a glass of wine while a three piece jazz ensemble plays, and then take pictures together in Barra’s colorful gardens bursting in bloom.

Brunch tickets are $35 each, although Barra Wine Club members get a $25 price, and children 12 and under are $12; and you can secure your tickets today, or by noon tomorrow, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322. Tell Katrina that John sent you.

Love your mom, and enjoy your Sunday!

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The Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is coming up quickly on Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17, and tickets for several dinners are sold out; while the remaining dinners, technical conference, and the grand public tasting event are nearly sold out. If you love Pinot Noir, then go to http://www.avvwines.com for more information and to get your tickets before you can’t.

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CigarBQ 2014 ­ I attended the first CigarBQ back in 1998, which makes the 2014 edition the 17th annual event. CBQ is the premiere cigar, wine and golf fundraiser in the Sonoma County wine country and the main event ­ the mouth watering barbecue – will be held at Robert Young Estate Winery in Geyserville from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, August 16th. This year, 10 cigar brands will be on-site along with more than 40 of Sonoma County’s best wineries, beer, food, music, and friends.

Guests will enjoy an afternoon of cigars provided by Davidoff, Camacho, and Cusano, premium wines, Lagunitas Brewing, music, and friends; all while raising money for the Council On Aging and Meals on Wheels. A $150 ticket price includes barbecue, wine, cigars, and a limited edition wine glass. Buy your tickets at http://www.cbqwinecountry.org.

Golfers will enjoy taking part in the CBQ tournament the day before, on Friday, August 15, with a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. The cost is $79 per golfer. Contact hans@cbqwinecountry.org for more information, or to get your golf tickets.

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Hopland Passport ­ Another successful Hopland Passport is finished and in the books. This is the one event that I have to work and do not get to attend. I know that the folks who did attend, and visited us had a great time. Every now and again, I use the column to throw out a thank you or two, or 10. The rest of the column will give you a glimpse nto what goes into putting on an event like Hopland Passport as I spread thanks.

Thanks to all my Hopland winery neighbors, owners and workers alike; together, we make Hopland Passport happen, we shape what it is that our guests experience. Thanks to the folks up at the farm, from Shana and Andrea in the office, who keep track of my requests and make sure my expenses and revenue are accurately tracked; to Jose, Ernesto, Benny, and everyone else who does the hard work, the farming of all that I am able to offer in our farm stand & tasting room. With Guinness driving a huge truck and a team of workers, you move a shipping container worth of items from the farm in Potter Valley to the shop in Hopland, and then make it all disappear again. There aren’t thanks enough for me to give to adequately express my appreciation and gratitude for what you do.

In the back yard, we cook the organic grass-fed beef from our farm, and make up our wild rice and artichoke heart salad, plus toss a green salad, and our two contract chefs did a terrific job. I love knowing food is being taken care of, because I can’t leave the tasting room bar. We received a ton of compliments on perfectly cooked medium rare beef. Thanks to my son Charlie and his longtime friend Grey. We missed Mark, and look forward to his return if he is free in the future. Of course, we couldn’t cook unless someone went shopping. Thanks to Judith for picking up everything we needed for the weekend, and for having an eye for making things look better, more attractive, and making us all better.

In the tasting room, I lost my right hand gal, Ann, who attended Passport after working the last six beside me. Ann did come in early Saturday morning, before Passport to help set the tasting room, and I thank her. I looked to my staff to step up and be the team that makes losing Ann for the weekend a less than catastrophic loss. Thank you Juana for not only working your scheduled shift, but for shouldering more of the responsibility for our success, for ensuring our guests had an enjoyable time.

I also had two first time behind our bar helpers, Kellie and Tina, who poured for the many tasters and kept our ship afloat. Thank you to both of you. Thanks to Guinness for providing me the opportunity to do what I do, what we all do. Thanks for chatting with visitors, for signing their bottles, for all this and so much more. Finally, thanks to the folks who came to Hopland Passport, a week after Dry Creek Passport and while the Beerfest in Boonville was going on. Your support makes what we do possible, and I can’t thank you enough. Let’s do it all again this fall, on Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October 19. See you then!

 

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John On Wine – Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on February 27, 2014 by John Cesano

Destination Hopland, the non-profit group charged with promoting tourism for the Hopland area wineries, is sponsoring a new event on Saturday, April 5 and invited participation from sparkling wine producers from throughout Mendocino County. A “Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wines” will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Terra Savia, 14160 Mountain House Road, Hopland. Eleven local producers will come together at Terra Sávia winery in Hopland to showcase their finest offerings. Great and classic food pairing treats for sparkling wines will be served, like smoked salmon, local oysters, pate, canapés, fresh strawberries, artisan breads and, for dessert, delicious lavender infused sponge cake. Classical guitarist Joel DiMauro will be performing. Participating wineries include:

Graziano Family of Wines

Handley Cellars

McFadden Vineyard

Nelson Family Vineyards

Paul Dolan Vineyards

Rack & Riddle

Ray’s Station

Roederer Estate

Scharffenberger Cellars

Signal Ridge

Terra Savia

Tickets are $55 and available online at mendocinosparkling.brownpapertickets.com.

The folks at Wine Enthusiast magazine taste a lot of wine, well over 10,000 wines each year, I am sure. Last December they announced their Top 100 wines of 2013, and the #1 wine of the year was the 2004 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage. The 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with 5,825 wines entered, was the largest judging of American wines in the world. The only winery in the nation to win two Double Gold Medals (unanimous Gold from the judges) for sparkling wines was McFadden Vineyard for the NV McFadden Sparkling Brut and the 2009 McFadden Reserve Sparkling Brut.

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Bubbly in Mendocino County is spectacularly good, the quality high, while the prices are remarkably affordable. Far too many people open a bottle of sparkling wine only to celebrate a special event, when a good quality bubbly is an absolute delight when enjoyed as a before-dinner cocktail, or when paired with a host of foods from oysters to salmon bagels and poached eggs with caviar to chicken breasts in a citrus glaze.

Some sparkling wines that will be poured have notes of green apple and grapefruit, unapologetically crisp, while others will showcase a bready, yeasty, brioche character. Lemon, hazelnut, and toffee are notes you might taste in a sparkling wine, or rose petal and strawberry notes from a sparkling rosé.

Cuveé is a word that you will see on more than one label. Cuveé means blend, and a sparkling wine with a cuvee designation is likely a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, with perhaps a small amount of Pinot Meunier.

You will also see NV on a bottle or three, and this is also a blend, but a blend of different vintages. NV means non-vintage. The folks who produce sparkling wines in Mendocino County scrupulously refer to our bubblies as sparkling wines and never Champagnes. Practically the same thing, but we respect that real Champagne comes from Champagne, France. That said, most of us understand and do not mind when our customers use the terms sparkling wine and Champagne interchangeably.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch into how sparkling wine is made: Grapes for sparkling wine are picked earlier than for still wine, at lower sugar, usually in August. Chardonnay is picked for a Blanc de Blanc, Pinot Noir is picked for a Blanc de Noir, and a blend of the two is often picked for a Brut or Brut Rosé. After crushing the grapes for juice, the wine is made in the bottle, rather than an oak barrel or stainless steel tank.

A little active yeast in the bottle feeds the sugar – this is fermentation and where the alcohol comes from. The fruit notes come from the grapes. The wine spends time with unspent yeast, and spent yeast, also known as lees and picks up some yeasty or bready notes.

By tilting the bottle toward a neck down position, and giving the bottle little turns, the yeast and lees collect at the neck end of the bottle. This process is known as racking and riddling. The neck end of the bottle is submerged in a below zero freeze bath so a solid plug of yeast and lees can be formed and removed.

A second fermentation happens when a small dose of sugar, or dosage, is added to the wine and the cork and cage are affixed to the bottle. A small amount of unspent yeast remains in the bottle and eats the dosage, resulting in carbon dioxide, the bubbles that make sparkling wines so fun. This is how good bubbly is made. I hope you’ll get a ticket to the inaugural Mendo Bubbly Fest; If you do, then I’ll definitely see you there. Cheers!

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John Cesano pouring one of two Double Gold Medal awarded McFadden Sparkling Brut wines.

 

Some movies are shot with more than one ending so that only the director knows the real ending, helping to thwart those who seem intent on spoiling the plot, twists, and ending of the movie. Often, these alternate movie endings end up on the movie’s DVD release.

The stones collected from the vineyards are put to good use at Sonoma-Cutrer

In writing about yesterday’s visit to Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, I was torn between three introductions. I have decided to present all three introductions as a bonus formatted recap and review piece. Enjoy!

Intro 1) I am a red wine lover, but don’t have anything against Chardonnay. That said, many years ago, my understanding of what Chardonnay could be was changed when I tasted a 1994 Sonoma Coast Kistler Chardonnay. I wondered how it was possible to fit 1.5 liters of flavor into a 750 milliliter bottle, without the wine being overblown, while actually being elegant.  How can one winery make Chardonnay that tastes so much better than most other offerings?

Intro 2) I am lucky to be invited to many wine tastings and events, and to receive many sample wine shipments to consider for review. I would love to write about inexpensive wines that taste great with food and are easily available, but too often I taste wines of very limited quantity and very big price tag; the wines taste great, but I really wonder if writing about these wines has any real value to anyone.

The wines I tasted at Sonoma-Cutrer, without having looked at prices, tasted like more uber expensive wines – they tasted great. Seeing how much handcrafting went into every bottle reinforced my expectation that the prices had climbed into the stratosphere in the years since I tasted Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay for the first time. What a treat to find the wines poured cost a fraction of what I expected. I hope a number of my readers have the opportunity to taste today’s reviewed wines.

Intro 3) In the late 80’s, younger, much better looking, and very single, I dated often. Grab some French bread, salami, cheese and a bottle of wine and head to the coast, or a quick run to the store for a pasta with wine at home. Wine was always part of a date day or date night. I managed a local restaurant and put together the wine list, and my “go-to” white wine was my favorite from our wine list, Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay.

Almost three weeks ago, the invitation came; Maggie Peak, princess of PR for the California wine and Champagne brands of Brown-Forman, kindly invited me to tour the home vineyard of Sonoma-Cutrer, preview the new tasting room, and share in a lunch with Sonoma-Cutrer’s winemaking team. The quickness of my affirmative reply nearly broke the internets.

I set the address of Sonoma-Cutrer, 4401 Slusser Road, Windsor, CA 95492, into my phone, using Google maps, and asked for directions. Google maps tries to direct visitors to a point about 3/4ths of a mile north of the winery, up Slusser Road. Be warned, and adjust as necessary.

4401 Slusser Road in Windsor (Kind of, sorta)

Arriving 40 minutes early, I took a few pictures of the winery. From the road, beautiful flowers are maintained by gardeners, a broad lane leads you to the vineyards and winery, runway lighting (parallel to the nearby airport runways) flank the final winery drive, and vast lawns perfect for practicing golf pitches lead to a pair of remarkable croquet fields.

I wanted to pull out my pitching wedge and get some practice in

Beyond the parking lot for guests a lovely shaded picnic spot and lake afford visitors additional serenely beautiful views.

Shady picnic spot

A “Green” lake, where water is reclaimed and reused

The winery grounds feature an enormous number of stones, bordering roads, surrounding greens, and making up walls.

Shall we put in 20 Bocce courts or 2 Croquet fields?

The winery itself enjoys interesting architectural elements, angles, colors, and doorway shapes that echo the brand’s label design elements.

The door openings have the signature Sonoma-Cutrer label shape

I was thrilled to be met by Maggie Peak, who flew out from Louisville, KY with Brittnay Gilbert. As I took in my first views of the tasting room, we chatted comfortably about what was becoming a beautiful day, cooler than Ukiah where I came from, and much warmer than San Francisco where Brittnay, unprepared, nearly froze to death during Summer.

The tasting room is rich, but the real beauty is inside the glass

Soon, we were joined by Winemaking Director Mick Schroeter, Assistant Winemaker – Pinot Noir Michelle McClendon, Tour and Hospitality Host Supreme Michelle Wing, and Wine Journalist/Sommelier Christopher Sawyer. Leaving behind empty glasses begging to convey wine from bottle to mouth, we left the winery for a vineyard tour.

Aboard a giant golf cart, Michelle Wing drove Mick, Michelle, Christopher and I all over the home vineyard, known simply as Cutrer. Originally founded by Brice Cutrer Jones in the 1970’s, the rolling hills of the first vineyards were ignored and only the flat vineyard land was planted – to Cabernet Sauvignon. The result was a typically vegetative Russian River Valley Cab. Jones went to UC Davis, learned, and came back to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At first, Jones sold the grapes grown, then began to make wines with his grapes. The first Chardonnay vintage was 1981, and the first Pinot Noir vintage was 2002.

Burgundian row spacing at 4 feet

Sonoma-Cutrer tries to be Grand Cru-esque, marrying the best vineyard and winery practices of Burgundy and California to produce the best hand crafted wines possible.

Morning side of the rows, leafed, grape bunches on display

The blend of Burgundy and California is visually evident with the row spacing, combining 4 foot rows (the European norm) that require walking for every vine need and 8 foot rows that allow a vehicle to squeeze between the rows.

American 8 foot row spacing alternating with 4 foot rows

The vineyards looked vigorous, and leafing had taken place on the morning side of vines while the afternoon side was unleafed allowing some protection from the longer, hotter effects of the sun. This year, there is uneven grape set, looser clusters in the vineyard, but that is allowing greater airflow this cooler, wetter year and naturally fighting possible mold.

Except in Arizona, where work is done by magic, French food and French style wine is helped by Mexican Americans

Some vines are drip watered on demand, as need is determined by probes in the ground rather than arbitrary clocks and calendars, while the flat and fertile land is dry farmed.

Mick is from Australia and given to entertaining phrases that British and Australians use, but Americans don’t, “Chalk and Cheese,” as an example to suggest unlike things, and Austalian viticultural terms like “Hen and Chicken” to describe big and little grapes in the same bunch. Mick worked at Geyser Peak for 17 years before coming to Sonoma-Cutrer.

Mick pointed out Hen and Chicken grape bunches, and Michelle McClendon held her hand under a bunch while patting the top of the bunch. I asked her what she was doing and Michelle showed me tiny wasted dried up flower bits that fell into her hand, representing grapes that did not form due to shatter owing to sudden temperature fluctuations, rains, or winds.

Michelle McClendon checking for shatter

The Cutrer home vineyard has soil made from ancient seabeds, clumps of fused rock, shell, and sand. Other Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards are Kent, Shiloh, Owsley, Vine Hill, and Les Pierres, each with a different set of soil and geographic uniqueness. Vine Hill has very sandy soil, while Les Pierres offers up a host of large rocks in the Earth.

Michelle McClendon’s Pinot Noir winemaking takes place in out buildings among the vineyards, away from the main – Chardonnay – winery; a small winery within a winery, built on the same philosophy that makes Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay stand out, a dedication to marrying the best vineyard and winemaking practices of Burgundy and California. Creating a Grand Crufornia.

The main cellar was created when a natural hill was excavated, the cellar built, and then the Earth was returned atop the cellar 6-15 feet deep. The result is a naturally cool, and humid environment.

The chilling tunnel, where at Sonoma-Cutrer, it is cool to be a grape

The treatment of the grapes destined for the bottle impressed me at every turn. After the grapes are hand picked from the vine, they are put in smaller than ordinary bins and sent on a 45 minute ride through a blast chilling tunnel that lowers the grape temperature 20°. Grapes then make their way to sorting tables, where hand sorting assures only the best grapes move forward. The hand picked, chilled, hand sorted grapes then move on to be pressed in top of the line Bucher presses that gently press the grapes allowing a clearer, more similar to free run, juice than other presses. The juice then moves from the press to tanks, and from the tanks to barrels.

The sorting tables, where all grapes are hand sorted before press

The barrel rooms were marvels of organization, and I am told that new folks to the winemaking team are asked about experience with Excel (Can you create a functional pivot table?). The racking is just 3 barrels high with a large amount of room between for breathing, allowing for a much more consistent heat transfer than many other barrel jammed spaced cellars afford.

One of the numerous barrel rooms

Once the barrels are filled, everything is done with the barrels in place. There are over 200 batches of Chardonnay, identified by vineyard and block, in the barrels, some new, others used once.

The barrels are almost entirely French, although Sonoma-Cutrer experiments with American and Hungarian oak. All of the wood is seasoned and aged, by a stave mill and coopers, over 3 years. Sonoma-Cutrer utilizes Rousseau and Remond, two Burgundy coopers.

All Chardonnays sit in barrel 6-8 months before bottling, but two of the Chardonnays, The Cutrer and Les Pierres, are blended and barreled another 7-8 months. The goal of the blending and additional aging is to achieve a wine of distinctive Terroir.

Along the way, these babied wines are cold stabilized to precipitate and remove excess tartaric crystals from the wine.

Mick removed some future wines, 2009 vintage, from barrels with a glass wine thief, and we barrel sampled the Les Pierres and The Cutrer. The Les Pierres showed zesty mineral, lemon-lime, wet pebble, great fruit, light oak, with a lean tightness. With none of this wine seeing new oak, greater subtlety can be showcased. The wine was delicious, lean, and elegant.

The Cutrer barrel sample showed greater oak due to a portion of the wine being held in new oak, was more full and round, more ripe fruit, less tart. Bigger, rounder, creamier.

These 2009s are due out of the barrel and into a bottle early next year.

I have never experienced this level of care and craft in making wine, from vineyard to bottle. I was impressed, and know how some wines taste special – they are, thanks to a lot of work.

We passed the wine lab, where we were asked to refrain from knocking on the glass or offering food to the workers. Mick brought out an amazing rock from the home vineyard chock full of shell fossils.

Our tour ended where it began, as we returned to the new tasting room. We were joined by Terry Adams, Sonoma-Cutrer’s retiring winemaker of 29 years. A table was set for eight, each place with 4 Chardonnay glasses and 1 Pinot Noir glass.

Terry Adams, Christopher Sawyer, Brittnay Gilbert, Michelle McClendon, Michelle Wing, Mick Schroeter, Maggie Peak

Sonoma-Cutrer plans to offer three seated tastings each day, at 10:00 am, noon, and 3:00 pm for $10 per person, with a limit of 20 total persons per tasting. Additionally, 8 people can take part in the golf cart vineyard and walking winery tour. Tours are at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. Tour and tasting together is $25 per person. The tasting or tour and tasting fee will be credited toward any wine purchase you make.

Saturday, July 10, 2010, Sonoma-Cutrer will be opening the doors to the public for the Grand Opening/Open House, but RSVPs are required. If you live within driving distance of the winery, and many of my readers do live within 15 minutes of the winery, pick up your phone and call (707) 528-1181 right now for details. In addition to unbelievable wines, there will be live music, food and wine pairings, and croquet play.

If you miss the big grand opening celebration, the winery will be open for tastings and tours by appointment, same phone number above, Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday).

The Tasting (prices may reflect wine club membership discount):

2008 Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast, Estate Bottled, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $21 – Stylistically in the same vein as The Cutrer, but with a larger intended retail presence. 3rd vintage produced. Lovely, rich, big and round. Delicious baked apple pie kind of sweet apple, butter, oak, nice acidity, lots of fruit, well balanced. This may be the least expensive wine, but nothing is held back; I love it.

2008 Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches, Estate Bottled, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $23 – 8-15% of the vintage’s grapes were lost to frost damage, the remaining grapes got the extra nourishment their lost cluster-mates would have received, the result: flavor. A more elegant, refined style. Buttery smooth, light acidic zing reinforced by lemon lime and tropical fruit. Gravenstein apple. Lean, crisp, yet round.

2006 The Cutrer, Sonoma-Cutrer, Estate Bottled, Russian River Valley Chardonnay $35 – Much smaller release, single vineyard, home ranch, best blocks and barrels. Holy elegant Batman! Creamy round honeyed oaken apple, lemon, lime and baking spice. Shudder.

2006 Les Pierres, Sonoma-Cutrer, Estate Bottled, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay $32 – Wow. Minerality. Notably Burgundian in style. Complex, bright, clean, subtle, tarter style Granny Smith apple, lemon, light cream, light oak. Elegant.

2007 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $34 – If the Les Pierres is Wow, then this is Effin’ Wow! Cherry, multi note from dark black cherry to candied cherry, floral, earthen, spicy, licorice and leaf. Delicious.

With lunch, we had some older wines from Sonoma-Cutrer, including the 1994 The Cutrer (only 12 bottles remain), 2001 Les Pierres, and 2005 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir.

Three from the vault

Joining us at lunch was Assistant Winemaker Chardonnay Cara Morrison. Over lunch, Christopher and I explained how we came to write about wine, and far more interestingly, our four winemakers told us how they came to be at Sonoma-Cutrer.

Background: Two Michelles; foreground: 2007 Pinot Noir, 2005 Pinot Noir, 2001 Les Pierres, 1994 The Cutrer

Lunch was provided by Park Avenue Catering in Cotati.

FIRST COURSE: Romaine & field Greens, Laura Chenel Goat Cheese, Glazed Walnuts, Daikon Sprouts. The salad was dressed with a lemony-creamy dressing that paired so well with the Chardonnays. Brilliant match.

The salad was a great choice for Chardonnay pairing

MAIN COURSE: Grilled Pork Tenderloins, Pinot Noir Plum Sauce, Scalloped Potatoes, Grilled Summer Vegetables, French Epi Bread. Pork tenderloin doesn’t have a lot of (any) fat and can be too dry, but that wasn’t the case here. Beautifully prepared, moist and tender pork, with a delicious Pinot plum sauce, almost a glaze. Everything worked, but the Pinot is so big and rich and full of flavor, don’t be shy pairing it with bigger meats like lamb or venison.

Pork with Pinot sauce goes pretty good with Pinot Noir

DESSERT COURSE: Vanilla Panna Cotta, Caramelized Fig Sauce, Chocolate Coupe-with Coffee-Molasses Ganache, and French Press Coffee. The figs were absolutely delicious. The vanilla panna cotta was great. I don’t eat much chocolate, so the intensity of flavor contained in the chocolate coupe was startling, but certainly welcome, the coffee molasses ganache was amazingly delicious. The coffee was fresh and delicious, the perfect end to the perfect lunch.

Pictured: Vanilla Panna Cotta with Caramel and Fig; in my belly: Chocolate with life altering Ganache

I tasted and sold a lot of great ’94 Chardonnays, and remember the vintage very well. It was a treat tasting a great wine from the vintage, it made me wonder how others had fared over the years. This 1994 The Cutrer was definitely age effected, but was still showing crisp acidity, citrus zing, and apple fruit. The 2001 Les Pierres was more intact and highlighted the lean Burgundian style noted in the current vintage. The 2005 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir made me write bad words in my wine notebook, but that is a good thing because I save the big bad words for the very best wines. Absolutely delicious.

That’s it, I’m wrung out, I hope you enjoy the recap of the events of the day, and the reviews of the wine, and food, tasted at Sonoma-Cutrer.

Jovey Becerra (not pictured), captain of the Sonoma-Cutrer croquet team, can give lessons by appointment

Here is what I would do if I were you: Call Sonoma-Cutrer, (707) 528-1181, make an appointment for you and your friends to both tour and taste at Sonoma-Cutrer, just $25 per person for the best vineyard and winery tour I have ever experienced, plus a seated tasting of wines that taste like they should cost $60-125, and then buy a bottle or two and the $25 you spent will go toward your wine purchase (you may find yourself buying a mixed case, or joining the wine club to get a discount). Sonoma County beautiful, and after decades of not being open to the public, Sonoma-Cutrer has put together a hospitality program worthy of their wines.

I attended Affairs of the Vine’s 8th Passion for Pinot Noir Summit on Saturday, February 27, 2010, arriving at a bit before 12:00 noon and staying through nearly all of the festivities until 8:00 pm. Barbara Drady, Affairs of the Vine CEO offered a full day ticket in a contest which I won.

Barbara Drady, Chief Wine Evangelist & Affairs of the Vine CEO

Held at the first floor of the beautiful multi floor Osher Marin Jewish Community Center, I was welcomed with an event badge bearing my name and the names of the workshops I had signed up for.  Waiting for the summit to officially begin, I mingled with other attendees, chatting with other wine writers I have met at previous wine tasting events and finding a number of people that I have worked with at wineries to play the “whatever happened to” game of catch up with.

Dave Rogers, left, and Thea Dwelle, Wine writer Luscious Lushes, center

We were ushered into a ballroom with tables set up in to create a “U” shape. On the tables were 40 different Pinot Noir. Each of the bottles was completely covered in tape secured aluminum foil, labeled with different color names running from Aqua Marine to Yellow.

Pinot Noir prepared for 3 1/2 hours of blind tasting

Prior to the actual summit, 40 judges tasted many more Pinot Noir that had been submitted to be considered for inclusion at the summit. Tasting flights of eight wines at a time, and no more than 32 wines at a sitting, scores from the judges were totaled and the top 40 Pinot Noir were now available to be tasted by the summit attendees.

Wine bloggers and twitterers were well represented, and the following is a transcript of relevant tweets from my tweeps using the hash tag #PinotSummit:

LarryTheWineGuy Arrived at the #PinotSummit. Now for 8 hours of drinking Pinot. Where to begin?

elizabethdehoff After a quick stop at Whole Foods to pick up gluten-free crackers, I’m at the #PinotSummit! Still can’t believe I did this. :D

elizabethdehoff Just ran into @LarryTheWineGuy. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Interesting aromas from the cafe near the #pinotsummit. Pinot and matzo ball soup?

LarryTheWineGuy thirsty crowd at the #pinotsummit. let us in already. mmmm pinot.

JohnOnWine At #PinotSummit recognizing folks from previous tastings, taken pictures, ready to blind taste and make notes.

elizabethdehoff Small world: One of today’s winemakers is Eric Luse, an AP photog I sat next to randomly on a HNL-SFO flight 3 years ago. #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff One down, 40 to go… #pinotsummit

StevePaulo At #PinotSummit! (@ Osher Marin JCC) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

SFDoug At the #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @brandyea) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

elizabethdehoff No reviews yet — this tasting is blind. Plenty to come after the big reveal! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Half way thru tasting 40 Pinots at #pinotsummit. Very high level of quality. Wouldn’t kick these out of bed.

elizabethdehoff @LarryTheWineGuy Wow, you are way ahead of me! #pinotsummit

brandyea RT @elizabethdehoff: Oh man. I don’t know what cheese they’re serving with the blind tasting but it’s really good! #pinotsummit << Agreed!

elizabethdehoff GOD, I love Pinot Noir! #pinotsummit

brandyea Some at #pinotsummit blind tasting pondering whether wines assigned colors like gold and burgundy have leg up on pumpkin and lime green.

LarryTheWineGuy Slowly progress is made at the #pinotsummit 24 down, 16 to go. All good. some great. Arguing over which is which.

StevePaulo @elizabethdehoff @brandyea And wedgewood? Wedgewood is a color? #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @stevepaulo @brandyea I think it’s the color of the Wedgwood china or something? #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine 27 tasted, 13 left to taste at #PinotSummit.

elizabethdehoff @JohnOnWine I think I’ve tasted 13 and have 27 to go! Ack. #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine @elizabethdehoff clearly you have to drink faster, grab a 2nd glass and stop spitting! #PinotSummit

StevePaulo 28 Pinot Noirs. Stick a fork in this guy. #pinotsummit (and for this who think I’m insane… yes, of course I spit)

brandyea @stevepaulo @elizabethdehoff Yeah, Wedgewood’s a little lost on me, too! #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE. (Note: We had been tasting for over 2 hours, not everyone was spitting, and these three colors were not actual wines to be tasted)

brandyea Heard a guy compare one of the wines to Bob Ross, the guy w/ the crazy hair on PBS’ Joy of Painting. Not sure what that means. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Approaching the final stretch at the #pinotsummit Only one clunker so far. This is Pinot heaven.

brandyea Nice try! >> RT @JohnOnWine #PinotSummit OMG, the INDIGO Pinot is the best, followed by VIOLET, then AUBERGINE.

elizabethdehoff OK, the Pinot labeled as “deep purple” is my favorite so far. #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy @johnonwine #pinotsummit You had me going there for a minute. Shuffling thru my notes!

demilove @randyhall – At the #Pinotsummit in san rafael; want a report on it for @Winebizradio?

elizabethdehoff 10 Pinots to go. I’ve given up taking detailed notes, am just writing “Yum!” or “Eh” to simplify, will revisit “Yum!” wines. #pinotsummit

ShaRayRay Still gonna make it to the #pinotsummit!

vintuba At #pinotsummit tasting and taking notes. Some good, some bad, and some ugly

elizabethdehoff I got through 39 Pinots (can’t find the 40th). Lots of spitting! #pinotsummit

LarryTheWineGuy Q: Can one have too many Pinots? A: No. Just finished tasting 40 Pinots. Now ready for more. #pinotsummit

brandyea Made it through all 40. Only poured wine from bottle into spit cup instead of wineglass twice! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit

JohnOnWine RT @educatedpalates: Discovering new stars at #Pinotsummit <- All the new stars are at my table!

ShaRayRay Finally made it to #PinotSummit (@ Osher Marin JCC w/ @sfdoug) http://4sq.com/4AU8c2

ShaRayRay http://twitpic.com/15q6k7 – Discovering New Stars in Pinot Noir #pinotsummit

StevePaulo Umm who farted in here! #pinotsummit /via @winebratsf Stay classy, Brat ;D

ShaRayRay Hi @jamiebakas. You look like you need a glass of wine!! #pinotsummit

educatedpalates Wine and food pairing at #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff Attending seminar on global perspectives on Pinot. Burgundy, CA, NZ. #pinotsummit

philular Getting set up @osherjcc for #pinotsummit grand tasting! #hahnwines

elizabethdehoff Burgundy, je t’aime! #pinotsummit

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf really good so far. Which one did you end up in? #pinotsummit

demilove Enjoying the lectures at #Pinotsummit!

JohnOnWine Most important thing learned at #PinotSummit was that my palate is the best. LOL.

ShaRayRay @philular I already left! :( Sorry to have missed the finale of the #pinotsummit

JohnOnWine Thrilled that one of my top 3 #PinotSummit wines is from a vineyard that had not impressed me before. #BlindTastingRocks

brandyea Dark gray = Hahn SLH Estate and turquoise = Lucienne Doctor’s Vineyard. Both 2007. #hahnwines #pinotsummit

brandyea Some faves from the #pinotsummit: Pacific Coast Vineyards 2007 Babcock Estate (gray), Claiborne & Churchill 2007 Edna Valley (tan).

JohnOnWine OMG! #PinotSummit just gave me a best taster trophy! Nah, not really.

JohnOnWine @winebratsf Real #PinotSummit faves: Purple, 08 Left Edge Sonoma Coast, Gray 07 Pac Coast Babcock Vnyd, Dp Purp 07 Deaver Sierra Foothills

brandyea Two last picks from #pinotsummit: Vine Hill 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains and Exhuberance 2007 Sonoma Valley. Nice discoveries.

AnoushBotanical Enjoyed participating in Blind Tastings plus Wine Making & Organic / Sustainable Workshops at #PinotSummit thanks to @myvinespace

LarryTheWineGuy My favorites from the #PinotSummit Elk Cove, Perception, Sonoma Coast, Left Edge, Nicholson Ranch, Artesa. The others were really good too.

LarryTheWineGuy Champagne Pommery had a delicious new cuvee at the #PinotSummit 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier. I like Champagne. A lot.

elizabethdehoff My favorite in the blind tasting at #PinotSummit: Deaver Vineyards Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir (2007, I think). http://bit.ly/cTOTJL

elizabethdehoff @winebratsf Yes! I was stunned that it came from the Sierra Foothills. Heard lots of others liked it too. #PinotSummit

The initial event was the blind tasting of 40 Pinot Noir in a comfortable 3 1/2 hours. I secured a table with Dave Rogers, a friend I worked with years before at Windsor Vineyards, and we would venture forth, find an untasted wine, bring it backk to the table, taste, write notes with a score, spit and dump the remainder into a large plastic cup, and venture forth affair. Conveniently, our table was under great lighting allowing a judgement of each wine’s color and clarity.

Dave Rogers, right, with a high school friend

Each attendee was asked to note their top three wines on a ballot, and the results of the totaled scores, broken down by gender, will be posted no later than March 15, 2010  right here.

Barbara Drady, foreground, Elizabeth DeHoff and Thea Dwelle, background

After the blind tasting, attendees split into groups to attend the workshops they signed up for.

Amy Cleary, twitter @educatedpalates

I attended Discovering New Stars – “An Introduction and tasting of wines from young wineries producing fabulous Pinot Noir,” moderated by C. Jason Mancebo of http://www.20dollarwineblog.com/ fame. The new stars were Mark Ray of Perception Wines, Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards and Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company. Tables were set with placemats prepared with three wines to be tasted.

Jason Mancebo, $20 Dollar Wine Blog

Mark Ray poured a 2007 Perception Wines Pinot Noir Orsi Vineyard. I try to find and write about delicious inexpensive easily obtainable wines, that is my wine writing goal. Having said that, this is a wine few will taste, and I have to confess a thrill hearing that production is only 48 cases (website says 43), the cost is $53 (website says $52), and the alcohol is 13.8 (website says 13.9). Remembering exact numbers aren’t important, taste is; and this beautiful Pinot Noir tasted delicious, the grapes coming from the Russian River Valley, from vineyards just across the river from William Selyem and Rochioli. It was interesting to hear Ray say he used a clone (114) that is neither his nor the consumer’s favorite when it comes to Pinot Noir, but that the varietal is so site specific that the grapes planted in Bernard Orsi’s loamy and very rocky vineyard just shine. It was a treat to taste a 2007 Russian River Valley from a single vineyard, single clone, only two barrels, and about 45 cases only.

Mark Ray, Perception Wines

Bradley Brown poured a 2008 Big Basin Pinot Noir, Woodruff Family Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountain. The grapes come from clones older than 20 years, planted where regular fog allows harvest a full month later than most other areas, and yields of only 1 ton per acre. The not yet released wine will sell in the low $40’s and runs 14.6% alcohol.

Bradley Brown, Big Basin Vineyards

Finally, Ken Post of Mariposa Wine Company talked about his 2008 CRU Pinot Noir, Santa Maria $35, about grapes from the Derbyshire  Vineyard near San Simeon yielding only 600 pounds per acre, and about grapes coming in at 29° Brix in 2008. I imagined miniscule clusters of sugar bomb raisins. At least one wine was watered back (thank you for having the balls to openly admit to what many do) to a manageable 14.7% alcohol.

Ken Post, Mariposa Wine Company

I found the seminar more interesting for the different paths to great Pinot Noir these three winemakers took, having started with significantly different starting places. Great wine is made in the vineyard, and it was interesting to hear how each of these three worked with grapes they had.

While the rooms from the first workshop were reset for the afternoon’s second workshop, attendees enjoyed a Cheese Intermezzo with bubbly in the ballroom.

The second workshop I attended was the Food and Wine Pairing – “An exploration of Pinot Noir pairings, what works with what Pinot Noir? Taste for yourself,” moderated by Rick Bakas, Director of social media at St. Supery Winery.

Rick Bakas, St. Supery Winery

The wines were a 2007 Lionheart Wines Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, a 2006 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County, and a 2008 Mariposa wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards. The foods were salmon with pickled ginger, pheasant pate with sweet chutney, and Manchego cheese. Our room wasn’t really set, and the event was a bit of a clusterfuck. Fifteen minutes into the workshop, Dave Rogers asserted some measure of control, moving up to the front table, grabbing the three wines, and announcing what we were going to be tasting. Eventually, everyone had the three wines and a too small morsel of each food to be tasted with the three wines, and tasting and note taking ensued.

Bakas then asked each table about their food and wine experiences. I found it interesting that some people could be so completely wrong. What I really found is that some people can’t break free of limitations and rules they have read or heard, while others can imagine new, possibly superior, pairings inspired by these pairings. Some could not taste the Pinot Noir for the sweetness of the chutney, while others allowed the chutney’s sweetness to compliment the Pinot Noir and create a more complete whole flavor profile. Some complained that the ginger spoiled the salmon and the Pinot Noir, while others, perhaps more used to pairing Pinot Noir with Asian cuisine, managed the whole quite well.

Second workshops finished, the summit attendees reentered the ballroom that had been reset for the Pinot Noir reception. The wine identities of the wines blind tasted at the summit’s start were revealed, medals were given out to participating wineries, tasty hors d’oeuvre were generously sampled, wineries poured their Pinot Noir and other offerings, notes were compared.

Pinot Noir Reception and Award Ceremony festivities

My top 10 Pinot Noir from the blind tasting were:

9.5/10 points – PURPLE – 2008 Left Edge Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast,

9.0/10 points – GRAY – 2007 Pacific Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyards Santa Rita Hills,

9.0/10 points – DEEP PURPLE – 2007 Deaver Vineyards Pinot Noir Sierra Foothills,

9.0/10 points – BLUE – 2007 Mariposa Wine Company CRU Pinot Noir Vineyard Montage Central Coast,

8.5/10 points – AQUA MARINE – 2007 Kendric Vineyards Pinot Noir Marin County,

8.5/10 points – DUSTY ROSE – 2008 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Williamette Valley (OR) Mount Richmond,

8.5/10 points – LIGHT BLUE – 2006 Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyards,

8.5/10 points – TAN – 2007 Claiborne & Churchill Vintners Pinot Noir Edna Valley,

8.5/10 points – WEDGEWOOD – 2007 Vine Hill Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains, and

8.5/10 points – YELLOW – 2007 David Bruce Winery Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.

No wine pours itself, or sells itself. The best winery representative at the summit was Megan Schachern of Row Eleven Wine Company.

I tasted and enjoyed the 2006 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Santa Maria, the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Row Eleven Pinot Noir 100 Barrel Reserve Santa Maria (J. Torres Vineyard,  Bien Nacido Vineyard, and Sierra Madre Vineyard). All three wines were delicious, but I would like to visit Row Eleven in San Rafael and taste again at the beginning of the day instead of the end. Megan shared a wonderful note on the winemaker; Richard de los Reyes puts his phone number on every cork that goes into a bottle of Row Eleven wine.

In addition to Dave Rogers, I ran into former Windsor Vineyards team mates Gordon Harsaghy and Linda Verdone. It was a genuine pleasure reminiscing with old friends.

Linda Verdone receives a kiss from Gordon Harsaghy

My thanks go out to Barbara and John Drady, and all of the volunteers from wineries and Affairs of the Vine, the judges, panelists, and everyone else who contributed to help make this a stellar wine event.

DISCLOSURE: I attended this wine event after winning a full day ticket in an online contest.

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