Thursday, December 31, 2009

Marilyn Remark Winery - premium Rhone-style wines in Monterey County

Winemaker Joel Burnstein and his partner Marilyn Remark have been producing Rhone-style wines under the Marilyn Remark label since 2003 at their winery just south of Salinas in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. Joel was a trader on the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco, a high-powered intense job that eventually called for a mid-life career change. As a cyclist who spent much time riding through the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, tasting wines during his travels, he felt that winemaking, were individuality and personal expression were still important values was his choice. Following Enology studies at Fresno State he interned at Sterling Vineyards and eventually became winemaker at Jekel and San Saba.

Marilyn is a Social Work Supervisor in Monterey County overseeing government programs that provide resources to the elderly.

A trip to France’s Rhone Valley in 2001 introduced them to some fine Rhone wines and they were very impressed by their vibrancy and character. They wanted to emulate these Rhone wines in California. Using world-class Monterey fruit and Rhone-style winemaking, Marilyn Remark Winery has succeeding in producing a variety of premium wines. Their philosophy in wine making is a two step process, “1. Get great grapes, 2. Don’t screw it up.”

The 2007 Viognier from Loma Pacific Vineyard in Monterey has true varietal character with aromas of rose petal, spice and peach with accents of green apples and vanilla. On the palate there are lush fruit flavors of peach, citrus and orange peel with many spices. It has balanced acidity and a long finish. This wine is stainless steel fermented and aged in French oak barrels for 6 months. This wine is ready to drink now and will pair well with a cream-sauce pasta or roasted fowl.

The 2008 Loma Pacific Marsanne has intense aromas of peach and citrus. On the palate the distinctive acidity combined with the same peach, citrus, apricot and green apple flavors mix with a touch of nutmeg and vanilla. This would pair well with Asian cuisine.

The 2006 Wild Horse Road Vineyard Grenache has an intense aroma of black fruits that is very attractive. The flavors are raspberry, dark fruits, black cherry and a touch of tobacco with spice. It has a rich long finish.

For more info: Marilyn Remark Winery
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Twomey Cellars - handcrafted Merlot and Pinot Noir

Ray Twomey Duncan and his four sons of Silver Oak Cellars wanted to expand to other varietals besides the Cabernet Sauvignon made famous at Silver Oak. In 1999 they purchased Soda Canyon Ranch in southeastern Napa Valley with the intention of planting more Cabernet Sauvignon. But they discovered that the Merlot grapes already growing there were of top quality. Their winemaker, Daniel Baron, had developed a passion for Merlot in his years in the Bordeaux region of France working in wineries in Pomerol and St. Emilion. This opportunity with the Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot grapes would give Daniel the opportunity to produce Merlot of the same quality he experienced in France.

Using Ray’s middle name (his mother’s maiden name); the Duncans formed Twomey Cellars in 2003, moving to its current home in Calistoga. As Twomey Cellars grew, additional varietals were added including Pinot Noir from the West Pin Vineyard in Russian River Valley. They now have four Pinot Noirs from Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Anderson Valley and Santa Barbara County. The Pinot Noir program is located in their Healdsburg winery along West River Road and is run by winemaker Ben Cane who joined the team in 2007. He has a passion for Pinot Noir and he crafts his wines to express the different terroir of the various appellations.

Thus, just as Ray did with his Cabernet Sauvignon wineries in Alexander Valley and Napa Valley, Twomey Cellars has two different wineries that specialize in the varietals of their area. The Healdsburg winery specializes in Pinot Noir, while the Calistoga winery focuses on Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

The 2005 Napa Valley Merlot is a balanced, rich wine that has 96% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc to add a bit of spice and pepper to the wine. The dark color is reminiscent of the fine Merlots of Pomerol. With aromas of black cherry and blackberry plus black pepper and spice, you are drawn in to taste the wine where you experience the same dark fruit flavors along with a soft velvety body and fine balanced tannins leading to a long delicious finish. This wine is great to drink now but will age well over the next 7 to 9 years.

Be sure to visit Twomey Cellars wineries in Healdsburg or Calistoga, and the Silver Oak wineries in Geyserville and Oakville to sample some of the best wines produced in these appellations.

For more information:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Silver Oak Cellars - focused on being the very best

Ray Twomey Duncan saw the potential of Napa and Sonoma in the late 1960s and was determined to make the best wine possible. He was soon purchasing orchards and pastures in Alexander Valley and Napa Valley for his vineyards and planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Ray and co-founder Justin Meyer had bold vision of a winery, focusing on this one varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon, rich and complex from the day it was released, yet with the age ability of the finest Cabs in the world.

Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley vineyards provided their first harvest in 1972, and by 1979 the first vintage came from the Napa Valley vineyards. These two wines, while different, are both excellent wines showing the best of their appellations. In 1994 Daniel Baron came on board as the new winemaker. Graduating from UC Davis in 1978, Daniel moved to France to work two vintages in Bordeaux, motherland for Cabernet Sauvignon. This provided Daniel his vision in producing world quality Cabs.

Ray firmly believes that dedication to quality is foremost in production of his Cabernet wines. He even has separate wineries dedicated to the production of these two wines. The Alexander Valley Estate winery is located in Geyserville in the northern end of Alexander Valley. The Napa Valley Estate, which was recently rebuilt, is located in Oakville, in the heart of the richest area of Napa Valley between Silverado Trail and Hwy 29 on Oakville Crossroad.

The 2005 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was released in August 2009. While 100% Cabernet, the grapes come from several carefully selected vineyards in Alexander Valley. It has a dark garnet color with aromas of dark fruit, in particular black cherry and currant with a clove and lavender. On the palate, the dark fruit continues to show through mixed with clove, cinnamon and licorice. The tannins are bold but round and balance, leading to a long rich finish. The bright fruit, balanced tannins and good acidity provides a wine that is fun to drink now but will age for the next 10-20 years.

The 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon includes 86% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit plus 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This blend results in a wine that is complex and elegant with a variety of fruits and spices backed up by soft velvety tannins and body. It has a deep ruby color and aromas of black plum, chocolate, rose, cedar and olive. This is absolutely a great wine for those special occasions and friends. The complexity, balance, velvety tannins and smooth finish makes this wine perfect to drink now but will only get better over the next 8 – 12 years.

For more info:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Francis Ford Coppola Bianco and Rosso wines

While the holidays might be the time you are thinking of that Napa Valley Cab for the boss, or a special Bordeaux to impress the in-laws, don’t forget about your everyday drinking wines that deliver a good fruity taste, with enough body and finish to make them a joy to drink either by themselves or with food.

An example is Bianco and Rosso wines from Coppola Winery. The 2008 Bianco is a Pinot Grigio with 6% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Chardonnay. The grapes come from the Pinnacles Bench in Monterey and Clarksburg along the Sacramento River near Lodi. This blend of cool Monterey fruit provides a crisp acidity and the warmer Clarksburg fruit delivers the ripeness of fruits resulting in a wine with citrus and passion fruit aromas followed by flavors of grapefruit, melon and pear. This wine would pair well with light seafood, and especially a crisp fruit salad. It is fermented and aged briefly in stainless steel tanks.

The 2007 Coppola Rosso is a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes come from vineyards in Lodi and Paso Robles. California winemakers have significant advantages over old world (France) winemakers in that they can produce blends that come from different regions and unrelated varietals. In France, regulations restrict what varietals can be blended. In California, blending a Rhone Syrah, a Bordeaux varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and a California Zinfandel can result in an interesting wine with a variety of flavors and aromas. In this case, the Zinfandel delivers juicy fruity flavors and aromas; the Syrah gives the wine its dark rich color and blackberry flavor, while the Cab provides the structure and red fruit flavors. The result is a wine with aromas and flavors of both red and black fruits including cherries, plums, blackberry and raspberries along with significant smoky oak flavors. It would be great with a simple hamburger.

The winemaker is Corey Beck. First experiencing the wine industry with his grandfather growing up in Sonoma, he graduated from UC Davis and has worked as cellar master at famous Chateau Montelena before joining Rubicon Estate and then on to leading the winemaking team at the new Francis Ford Coppola in Sonoma County.

Each of these wines cost only $10 and you will find them easy to drink. Coppola’s Bianco and Rosso labels harkens to the two significant influences in both California and Francis Ford Coppola. The central graphic reminds you of the California fruit crate labels that were popular in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Surrounding the graphic is a stage curtain, symbolic of our Hollywood history, pulled back to reveal the rich agriculture heritage of the state.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mitchell Katz Winery - a winemaker's dream in the most historic location in Livermore Valley

Mitchell Katz Winery is located in the original location of Ruby Hill Winery. Ruby Hill Winery building goes way back to 1887 when it was founded by John Crelin. The original structure survived over the years until the heavily timbered building met its demise on November 8, 1989 due to a suspicious fire. Only the walls remained standing, and remained there for another 12 years until it was demolished in 2002. The new Winery was rebuilt on the same spot in the same style as the original. The Mitchell Katz Winery is now located in the old building.

Mitchell Katz had a dream to make fine wines that began while he was helping his grandfather, Reginald Lord, make wines. Mitchell Katz Winery has been a family affair from the beginning. His wife Alicia helps in the production of his wines and they dedicate their wines to his Grandfather. They create a wide variety of wines that are indicative of the quality available from Livermore Valley at a price that is affordable. The tasting room in the historic Ruby Hill location is expansive with tile floors and a large granite tasting bar.

Mitchell Katz 2006 Livermore Valley Zinfandel, Alicia’s Elixir is from Ruby Hill Vineyards. This is wine is almost port-like in its qualities but not in its production methods. This wine has the taste of dark berries, plum, jamminess you expect from a Zinfandel. This Zin has a higher alcohol, 16%, and some residual sugar and the abundance of ripe fruit that gives it a sweetness quality. It pairs well with Gouda cheese. Gouda has a mild, nutty cream cheese flavor and pairs nicely with light fruity wines like this Zinfandel. It is made from cow’s milk.

In addition to the Alicia’s Elixir Zinfandel, Mitchell Katz makes a wide variety of wines but is most famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese in addition to their Zinfandels. The 2005 Fat Boy Cabernet Sauvignon has won many awards and the grapes are from the McGrail Vineyard in Livermore Valley, home of some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the valley. It is Mitch’s pride and joy and called Fat Boy after the famous Atomic Bomb because Mitch feels it will “blow you away”.

Mitchell Katz 2007 Sangiovese has won multiple awards and is a joy to drink with its robustness and dark fruit qualities. On the nose there is an abundance of black cherry, wood and spice with a note of chocolate and vanilla. These same flavors continue on the palate leading to a nice medium length finish.

A visit to Mitchell Katz is a step back in history of the old Ruby Hill winery, but also a modern trip through the quality of grapes and winemaking you can find in the Livermore Valley. His winery is at 1188 Vineyard Ave, near the current Ruby Hill location. You will be impressed driving up to the vineyard along the palm lined drive.

For more info: Mitchell Katz Winery

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Calistoga becomes the newest AVA


Map courtesy of the Napa Valley Vintners

Calistoga has become the latest AVA (American Viticultural Area) after a long battle. The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Treasury Bureau (TTB) approved the establishment of this AVA on December 3.

The five-year battle was mainly held up because two wineries, Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estates, which are not based in the new AVA. In fact, Calistoga Cellars is in Mendocino County and Calistoga Estates is in Sonoma. Under the existing rules of the TTB, if a wine uses the name of an AVA on the label, then 75% of the grapes used to produce that wine, must come from that AVA. The two wineries do not use that 75% minimum in the production of their wines so they were faced with changing their brands. The TTB is giving Calistoga Cellars and Calistoga Estates three years to phase out the use of the word “Calistoga” in their brand.

Representative Mike Thompson who says, “I am extremely pleased to announce that Calistoga has finally been designated as an American Viticultural Area, a long overdue and much deserved distinction. I look forward to celebrating this tremendous victory with the wine supporters here in the Napa Valley and across the globe who have worked tirelessly to recognize one of world’s premier growing regions.

“I especially thank the Calistoga growers and the Napa Valley Vintners for their leadership and determination over the past six years. It has been a long road, but like the incredible wines made in Calistoga, we will savor this wonderful news. This announcement is a testament to the decades of hard work Napa Valley grape growers and winemakers have put into making their wines the envy of the world. We should all raise a glass to the new Calistoga AVA.”

Calistoga is the 15th sub-appellation in the Napa Valley

Friday, December 4, 2009

Deer Ridge Winery - a winery estate and gathering place in Livermore


Deer Ridge Vineyards calls themselves a winery estate and gathering place. This is a new winery built upon some of the most historic land in Livermore Valley. The Deer Ridge winery and visitor center are on a portion of the old Wetmore Ranch, historic home of the old Cresta Blanca Winery founded by Charles Wetmore and later run by his brother Clarence Wetmore.

Carl and Cherie Lyle, owners of Deer Ridge, were first introduced to winemaking by friends in Calistoga. At the time Carl was a venture capitalist specializing in high tech startups, and Cherie was a master gardener with administrative and event planning background. Deer Ridge was originally a venture capitalist investment, but Carl fell in love with winemaking so he walked away from the venture capitalist world and invest his time in a more creative venture and winemaking was that dream.

He searched around California looking for the ideal spot to start his winery. He found the 30 acre dream vineyard at the corner of Wetmore and Arroyo. This same land was the same land that Charles Wetmore grew wine that won the 1889 Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition, the first California winery to win such an award, almost 100 years before the Judgment of Paris featured in the movie “Bottleshock”.

Carl and Cherie planted their vineyards in 2000. The first crush was in 202 and the Cabernet Sauvignon that year won a double gold medal and the awards continued since. The new tasting room and event center opened in 2007. The beautiful Tuscan style facility is a very popular place for weddings and other events. It houses a large hall and both indoor and outdoor facilities for weddings.

Deer Ridge 2007 Private Reserve Chardonnay is the blending of three differently styled Chardonnay wines from the Deer Ridge vineyards, crafting a mid-weight, bright, fruit-forward and delicious wine. This wine pairs well with sweet salads, chicken, salmon and cheese-based pasta dishes. Taste it along with a Fiscallini Bandaged Wrapped mild Cheddar cheese. The fruitiness and acidity of the wine goes well with this cheese.

The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown is a rich wine with dark berries bouquet, following by black cherry, currant and spice in the mouth with a full body texture leading to a long fruity finish. This is a great food wine in addition to a joy to drink after a long day. Try it with a grilled steak or prime rib. It has won many awards.

In addition to the Reserve Chardonnay Deer Ridge offers a variety of excellent wines at their tasting room, including Barbera, Zinfandel, Syrah (including a Syrah Rose), a Bordeaux blend called Moonstruck and a Chardonnay Port. All of the wines are from Livermore fruit.

Be sure to visit Deer Ridge beautiful tasting room at 1828 Wetmore Road near Arroyo. They always have great wines to sample while you roam through the facility viewing the wonderful art work displayed in the building.

For more info: Deer Ridge Winery

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mann Cellars - a family winery and vineyard in Gilroy


Mike Mann wanted to get away from the city life and raise his kids in the country. In 1978 Mike and Ruth Mann purchased a 20 acre prune orchard on the east side of Gilroy at the base of the Diablo range. In 1978 this was definitely country. Mike had a fondness for wine and wanted to grow some grapes. He planted his first vineyard in 1982 while these Santa Clara University graduates were working in Silicon Valley. Their weekends were busy working the vineyard along with a stubborn obstinate 1915 Caterpillar tractor.

By 1994 the Mann family was harvesting their first Merlot block at Mannstand Vineyards with the help of friends and family, all along learning the art of viticulture in a hands-on fashion. Their first customers were a few local wineries and home winemakers. Soon these wineries and home winemakers were winning gold medals with grapes from Mannstand Vineyards. Of course, the next step was to see if he also could make award-winning wines from his own grapes.

Over the years Mike has added more varietals to his vineyards including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Johannisberg Riesling, Syrah and more. He now produces a fine selection of wines all made with estate-grown fruit.

A particular favorite of many customers is the 2006 Mann Syrah. It has a deep ruby color and a bouquet of berry, oak and toffee. This wine delivers abundant fruit flavors of rich berry plus spices and white pepper with a sumptuous mouth-feel and notes of oak and cedar on the finish.

Mann 2006 Malbec has a deep red color with a bouquet of blackberry and blueberry. Flavors include dark fruits, rich blueberry, coconut and spice with an earthy texture and a long oak finish.

The Mann Cellars 2005 Merlot delivers a fruit forward nose of blackberry and cherry and adds in black currant, cocoa and spice on the palate. It has a long berry filled finish with a touch of oak.

The Mann Port is a special experience perfectly paired with a chocolate brownie. This port is a blend of Merlot and Malbec and has a deep ruby color and a bouquet of pomegranate, vanilla and raspberry. On the palate these same fruity flavors greet you along with rich currant, fig, honey and rum leading to a long finish.

Mann Cellars does not have a tasting room, but you can find their wines in many wine shops in the South Bay area.

For more info: Mann Cellars