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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Heart’s Fire Winery – a passion for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah

Heart’s Fire Winery is a boutique winery on the Campbell Wine Trail that reflects a passion for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The name reflects this passion and watching the two couples with their friends on a recent weekend processing and bottling their wines truly demonstrates this passion they have for their wine. Two couples, Brian and Kristin Link and Dan and Julie Scheve are partners in the adventure.

In 1997 the Scheve’s were making wine in their home and later their friends Brian and Kristin joined in this passion. As their skills, and the wine, improved they took that bold step to start their own winery. Starting in their garage, they soon moved to their current location at 165 Cristich Lane in Campbell.

Handcrafted wine is a term that truly depicts this winery. Stopping by the winery on a typical tasting day, first Sunday of each month, finds the owners at a simple table showing off their wines to the guests and informing them about what goes into production of such wines. When harvest season arrives, their friends and their children arrive to help out in the winery, whether it is crushing grapes one weekend or bottling wine the next. Without the support of these friends, Heart’s Fire would not be able to produce the wines that they love.

Heart’s Fire strives to find the best grapes for their wines from some of the quality vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino County, famous for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

The Heart’s Fire 2006 Zinfandel Price Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is an elegant wine with aromas of strawberry and plum with notes of cedar and pepper. On the palate, these same fruity flavors come forth with hints of smoke, rhubarb and vanilla. Price Vineyard is located near Healdsburg and is operated by viticulturalists Muriel and Steve Price.

The 2006 Zinfandel from Treborce Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley provides a different outlook on Zins with more blackberry and caramel on the nose carrying over on the palate to include coffee, cinnamon and clove on the palate leading to a rich long finish. The tannins are balanced and result in a wine that will only improve over the years.

Heart’s Fire 2006 Petite Sirah from Rhodes Vineyard comes from the Redwood Valley in Mendocino County near Ukiah. The wines produced from grapes from Rhodes Vineyard tend to be well-structured but not overly tannic like many Petite Sirah can be. The delightful blackberry, cherry and blueberry you expect in a Petite Sirah shine through mixed with toasted oak, smoke and nutty vanilla. The finish is long and lingering.

For more info:

McGrail Vineyards - fine Cabernet in Livermore Valley

McGrail Vineyards are well known for their estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Jim and Ginger McGrail purchased their ranch on Greenville Road in the 1990’s. Jim was a retired Alameda County deputy sheriff and had become a lawyer. They purchased the land because they wanted the country lifestyle. He was neither a grape grower nor a winemaker in the beginning. Steven Kent, a well known local winemaker, was purchasing his Cabernet fruit from a vineyard across the street from the McGrail land. When that vineyard, was sold, the contract Steven had with the original owner was voided. He needed additional Cabernet fruit and talked to Jim to see if he would plant Cabernet vines on his property. After all, it was directly across the street from Steven’s original vineyard and had the same soil structure. Jim agreed and suddenly became a winegrower. He planted his first vines in 1999.

By 2004 his grapes were in great demand by several winemakers as the premium Cabernet Sauvignon in Livermore Valley. Steven Kent formed a new partnership and required fewer of Jim’s grapes. So what do you do in that case? Phil Wente convinced him to start making his own wine which is what Jim and Ginger did in 2004. Thus the 2005 vintage you are tasting is one of their first. At first he was making his wines at the Wood Family Vineyards nearby with the help of Rhonda Wood and later at Wente.
By 2006 they had convince their daughter Heather to join the team to handle the sales and marketing. In 2008 they opened their new tasting room overlooking Livermore Valley at 5600 Greenville Road on the east side of Livermore.

The McGrail Vineyards 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a real treat. This is an example of the best Cab from Livermore Valley. Swirl this wine, and smell the aromas coming from this wine. You will detect dark cherries, toasty oak, ripe cassis and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth, you will taste a silky bold wine. The tannins are balanced and firm. It has a long finish leaving the berry taste on your tongue. This is drinkable now or over the next 4-5 years. The warm weather of 2005 produced a high brix (percentage of sugars) at harvest and an alcohol level of 15.1%. It pairs well with an aged sharp cheddar cheese. The firm tannins of the wine hold up well to this cheese.

They host many special events here including concerts and weddings. On Saturday, November 28th they will host an Art Show with Scott Cleek Studios and Patio Music by Boraccho Brothers.

See more about Livermore Valley Wines

For more info: McGrail Vineyards

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Big White House Winery, were winemaking is an art

Big White House Winery is a family adventure and the Marion family is a very creative family. John the Elder has been a diamond expert for over 32 years and you will see much of his diamond rings set in gold or platinum for sale at their Blacksmith Square. He started as a home winemaker in 1992 in his big white house along Greenville Road in the eastern side of Livermore. And he opened his commercial winery in the late 90’s. He began winemaking to learn more about wine and share his love for wine and considers winemaking an art.

His son, John Evan Marion, head winemaker for almost 10 years, launched his own label called John Evan. He literally hand-crafts his wines with processes customized for each varietal focusing on the vintages unique qualities. All of the wines are barrel aged, and like said by Orson Welles many years past; they take seriously the cliché, of “No Wine before Its Time”, often holding onto the big reds for 4-5 years before releasing them for sale. He studied Chemistry at Cal Poly and in his spare time works on web development, construction and is even working on a patent!

The rest of this creative family includes John Evan’s mom, Diana, a local artist and teacher, who established the Bothwell Art Center, Livermore’s own art center, and assisted in the formation of the not for profit art association, the Tri Valley Artist’s Guild. John Evan’s younger sister, Laura, a trained actor, singer and performer; provides all of John Evan’s labels as original oil paintings.

The 2008 Viognier from Ripken Vineyard in Lodi has a complex nose of perfumed tropical fruit, honey and pear. On the palate you experience a rich nectar of pear, honey, guava, and lychee leading on to a crisp finish. The acidity helps this wine go well with a variety of foods.

In addition to this Viognier they have also produced a 2007 Late Harvest Viognier called Liquid Amber, a botrytised desert wine with a rich amber color and pronounced pear, honey, apricot and butterscotch aromas and flavors.

An unusual delight is the Big White House 2006 Dolcetto from Clement Hills in Lodi. This Italian varietal has intense bing cherry aromas with plum, violet, licorice and almonds. The palate continues to deliver these intense fruit flavors leading to a great finish.

The Peche Mignon Peach Sparkling Wine is infused with Peach juice after fermentation. It exhibits a nose of lot of Peach flavor with a bit of jasmine on the palate with a creamy mouth feel and crisp dry finish. .

Big White House and John Evan have a wide variety of wines. The John Evan is their premium wines. They have a tasting room at Blacksmiths Square in downtown Livermore as well as at the winery at 6800 Greenville Road.

For more info: Big White House Winery and John Evan Cellars

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon for the holidays

Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine for the holiday season, working well with a variety of full rich foods that are served at this time of the year. Cabs area also dependable candidates for aging, more often developing into truly great wines than wines from any other single varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon wines have a distinctive black currant aroma and over time, can also develop bouquet nuances of cedar, violets, leather, and cigar box while the wine’s tannic edge typically softens considerably.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted and significant grape among the five dominant varieties in France's Bordeaux region, as well as the most successful red wine grape produced in California.

Genetic studies at U.C. Davis have determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the hybrid offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small and spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. This toughness makes the grapes fairly resistant to disease and spoilage and able to withstand autumn rains with little damage. It is also a mid- to late- season ripener. These hearty growing characteristics, along with its flavor appeal, have made Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular varietals worldwide.

The best growing sites for Cabernet Sauvignon are moderately warm, semi-arid regions with well-drained, not-too-fertile soils that have a long growing season. Napa Valley is the most famous area in California for growing this varietal along with Sonoma and Paso Robles. Washington State also produces some very fine “Cabs.”

Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or weediness, varying in intensity based on climatic conditions, viticultural practices, and vinification techniques.

Tannins contribute color, flavor and structure to Cabernet Sauvignon wines. They come from several sources, including the grape skins, seeds, stems and the oak from the barrels used in the aging process. It can take several years for these tannins to “soften,” another good reason for aging these types of wines.

Pey-Marin Vineyards 2007 “Textbook” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is a complex wine with a mix of dark fruit, spice, plum and mineral qualities. The tannins have a dry astringency with a palate full of blackberries, black cherries, plum, cranberry and currants with a touch of clove and vanilla. Only 620 cases were made of this fine wine. As a 2007 it is still a little tight, so be sure to open it a couple hours before pouring. This wine should age well over the next 4-6 years.

Downing Family Vineyards, another Napa Valley winery from the Rutherford area, has the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon that is a wonderful, diverse, rich wine with an intense bouquet of dark fruit and spices. The palate has loads of black cherry, black currant, plum, cranberry and clove. The classic earthy Rutherford dust notes also shine through. The complex tannins give it firm structure and a long desired finish. Only 420 cases were made. The wine was aged for 24 months in both French and American oak and then bottle aged for 10 more months before release.

Satori Cellars 2006 “Hallelujah” Cabernet Sauvignon has rich ruby-plum color with scents of black currant, dark cherry, cassis and cedar. On the palate, these same aromas appear along with chocolate and a bit of toasty oak. This wine is smooth with balanced acids and tannins that continues to deliver all the way through to a fine finish. Satori Cellars is in Gilroy, but the grapes for this Cab come from Walla Walla, Washington. They produced 590 cases.

For more info:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Meet the new generation of California winemakers

The California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Wine Institute brought together 20 “new generation” vintners and growers from throughout California to Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito on November 17 to share their perspectives on California wine trends.

“The next generation of the California wine community is building on our great growing and winemaking traditions, combining it with their own perspective and talents,” said Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. “It is fun and exciting to see so many dynamic younger people taking the reins. With their enthusiasm and new ideas, California growers and vintners will continue to set trends and be a global influence for generations to come.”

Four dialogue sessions featuring these young winemakers and growers focused on those key points that make this group special. In the first session, “Next Generation: Passing the Torch,” focused on the family nature of the California wine industry, highlighting that a majority of the state’s wineries are family-owned with half of them producing fewer than 5,000 cases. All the speakers were from multigenerational wineries such as fifth generation winemaker Karl Wente of Wente Winery in Livermore Valley and sixth-generation farmer, Mike Heringer of Heringer Estates Vineyards and Winery in Clarksburg. They were joined by second generation winemaker Jason Smith of Paraiso Vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands, Kathy Benziger of Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma Valley and Warren Bogle of Bogle Vineyards in Clarksburg. These winemakers not only represent their generation of winemakers but also the previous generations, winemaking is truly in their blood. As stated by Warren Bogle, “Bogle is a brand to most people but to us it is our name.”

In the session, “Evolving California Wine Styles” young winemakers from all around the state discussed the different evolving winemaking styles that reflect the different wine regions in this great state. From the Central Coast area came Nick de Luca of Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Josh Baker of Edna Valley Vineyards in San Luis Obispo and Andrew Murray of Andrew Murray Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley. The North Coast was represented by Alan Viader of Viader Wine in Napa Valley, Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Family Winery in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County and Sarah Cahn-Bennett of Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino County. Each winemaker knows intimately the terroir of their region and how best to develop a wine style that will bring out all that the terroir has to offer while still maintaining the unique style of their particular winery.

“Eco-Friendly Growing and Winemaking” are very important to this generation of winemakers as the wineries “go green” and sustainable farming practices protect the land that, in many cases, have been under the family responsibility for generations. Chris Pisani of ZD Wines in Napa Valley knows that as stewards of the land, organic farming and sustainable business practices enhance their special relationship with Mother Nature. He was joined by Paul Clifton of Hahn Estates Winery, the first winery certified green by the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program; Chris Leamy of Terra d’ Oro/Montevina Winery in Amador County, Kim Ledbetter Bronson of Vino Farms, and Aaron Lange of LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards in Lodi. The new Lange Twins winery has implemented many energy efficient programs that are not only good for the winery, but good for the wine!

The final session was “Hip and Trendy Marketing” where these young winemakers highlighted the new marketing tools involving social media, blogs, content-rich web sites, video, radio, and live events to spread the word about their wines to both existing customers and those new to their wines. Cane Vanderhoof of Miramonte Winery in Temecula Valley uses his blog to not only inform his readers about his wines, but also the trials and tribulations of farming and business in California. Cheryl Murphy Durzy of Clos LaChance Winery works at retaining customers as part of their family, through active social media such as Facebook and Twitter, blogs, and turning their winery into a destination for local customers with music events and more. Judd Finkelstein of Judd’s Hill in Napa Valley uses his website to share his popular comic videos and ukulele concerts! And Nicholas Miller of Bien Nacido Vineyards reaches out to the “millennials” via their Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to establish the Bien Nacido brand.

This event was a wonderful peek at the future of the California wine industry with this new generation of vintners and growers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

California Woman Winemakers - Part 4

Women winemakers are not only found in the famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions. You can find some excellent women winemakers in other regions including Livermore and Santa Cruz Mountains. In this part of “California Women Winemakers” we focus on some women winemakers in these up and coming wine regions.

Follow the woman in winemaking series

Therese Martin and her husband Dan of Martin Ranch Winery have a passion for wine and a passion for their grapes, and this passion will provide you with a truly memorable tasting experience. As with many winemakers, their passion for wine tasting and wine buying drove them to experience the wine making process for themselves. Their wonderful 17 acre estate along Redwood Retreat Road at the foot of Mt. Madonna is at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation and on the border of the Santa Clara Valley appellation.

As Dan and Therese moved along their journey from wine drinkers to vineyard owners to winemakers they learned a lot about Terroir and management of the vines before diving into the creative world of making wine. When they first planted Therese Vineyards in 1993 they started with Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals that were proving to find an excellent home in Santa Cruz Mountains. They began making wine in 1997 and had their first commercial crush in 2002. They changed the name to Martin Ranch to highlight the move to wine production.

They are truly a team of winemakers, each with their own style. Therese is the winemaker for the Therese Vineyards labeled wines and Dan concentrated on the J.D Hurley brand. Therese’s wines tend to be a bit aggressive with great tannins and nice textures.

Therese Vineyards 2005 Syrah is 100% Syrah from two vineyards in Santa Clara Valley and winner of 2 Gold and 6 Silver medals and 88 points from Wine Enthusiast. It delivers wonderful typical Syrah aromas and flavors of black currant and anise with a rich mixture of black and white pepper, cinnamon, clove and other spices. The excellent use of French and Hungarian oak resulted in an extremely well balanced wine with a very pleasing long finish. Serve this up with your best beef or lamb dish.

In Livermore Valley, Wood Family Vineyards is a family run winery amidst many acres of lush vineyards, surrounded by many of the premium wineries of Livermore. Winemaker Rhonda Wood is a firm believer in the quality of Livermore Valley terroir and the high quality grapes produced in Livermore. At her small winery just a few steps from the front door of her home, she hand-crafts wines using Livermore Valley fruit.

Rhonda has always had a passion for wine. Rhonda and Michael’s first home overlooked Weibel Vineyards in Fremont, and they dreamed of someday retiring to Wine Country. They even planted 18 vines in their backyard. But before those few vines reached maturity they discovered Livermore Valley and Crane Ridge Vineyards. Rhonda said, “Why wait till we retire before living in Wine Country?” They purchased their Merlot vineyard at Crane Ridge in 1996 and suddenly found that instead of 18 vines, they now had 8,037! They built their beautiful dream overlooking beautiful acres and acres of lush vineyards. And then they started to work on their winery.

The winery was bonded in 2000. On September 1, 2001 Rhonda, a pilot for US Airways, took a leave of absence to work on the 2001 harvest. Ten days later on 9/11 the world of an airline pilot changed. As the airline needed to cut back on flights and pilots, Rhonda took advantage extended furloughs offered to pilots to work harder on her winemaking. Eventually, as US Airways went bankrupt and took the pension plans with it, Rhonda decided that winemaking was her future and became a fulltime winemaker.

Rhonda has established long term commitments with various premium growers in order to ensure consistency in quality with the grapes they use. Gentle processing of the grapes begins with the hand harvesting in early morning hours and the grapes are brought to the winery and kept cool until crush. The grapes are hand sorted by Rhonda and her friends with the thought, if it doesn’t look like a grape you would eat; it doesn’t go into the crusher/destemmer.

Wood Family Vineyards 2006 Syrah is an excellent Syrah from nearby Madden Ranch. Yes this is John Madden’s own vineyard in Livermore Valley and no, the grapes are not Silver and Black! The Syrah grapes from this hillside in Madden Vineyards are only shared between Wood Family Vineyards and Winter Olympic Gold Medalist Peggy Fleming at Fleming-Jenkins Winery in Los Gatos. You will detect on the nose and the palate, dark roasted fruits including black cherry, mission figs and black plums. They are intermixed with a number of spices and earth qualities. There is a touch of tobacco and fennel in the flavors. It is balanced with rustic tannins and has a lingering finish.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ruby Hill Winery - History and great wine in Livermore

Ruby Hill Winery history goes way back to 1887 when it was founded by John Crelin. The original solid brick building stood out as a gem of the Livermore Valley. The area was named Ruby Hill for its bright red soil. John Crelin constantly produced the finest wines in the area. The winery has gone through many owners in the last 140 years. John Crelin’s son Charles took over after John died and sold the winery to Ernest Ferrario n 1921. In the 1970’s it was sold to Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1975 Stony Ridge Winery was established in the building. 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 Ruby Hill Winery was rebuilt on the same spot in the same style as the original. In 2008 Ruby Hill Tasting Room moved into their new location on the corner of Isabel and Vineyard next to the Casa Real Event Center. The Mitchell Katz Winery is now located in the old building.

The philosophy of Ruby Hill Winery is to produce world-class wines of the highest caliber from Livermore Valley and surrounding California coastal regions. The wines are hand-crafted in small lots. As winemaker Chris Graves says, “Although I may try to maintain a particular style from vintage to vintage, I treat every wine differently with respect to its own personality, and treat it with tender loving care.”

Winemaker Chris Graves grew up in the Sierra Foothills and knew at an early age of 16 that winemaking was his future. He eventually went to U.C. Davis and earned his degree in enology. After graduation he went to work for Wente winery moving up to assistant winemaker and later winemaker at Tamas Estates, a brand owned by Wente. He then moved on to be the winemaker at Ruby Hill Estates in 2007. His experiences and education has taught him about the quality of the terroir in Livermore and the production of quality hand-crafted wines.

Ruby Hill’s 2007 Grapeful Red is a celebration of all things enjoyable. It is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera, all barrel aged for 18 months prior to bottling to soften the wine. On the nose you will find intense fruity aromas of dark cherry and blackberry jam, with hints of violets and vanilla. In the mouth you get that same dark fruit of cherry, plum and black raspberry. During a visit to the tasting room you will see the staff wearing their tie-dyed shirts announcing Grapeful Red! This wine pairs beautifully with an aged Manchego cheese. Manchego is named for the Spanish region of La Mancha, home of Don Quixote. It is produced from sheep’s milk and has a black gray or buff colored rind with crosshatch pattern. The aroma of the cheese suggests lanolin and roast lamb and the flavor is a mild, slightly briny and nutty flavor.

The 2007 Dolce Amore (Sweet Love) Petite Sirah/Barbera Port Blend is aged one year in oak casks to allow the wine to soften, while maintaining the fruity character. The winemaker made this a pure bliss; the flavors are reminiscent of black cherry, plum and cocoa. It pairs well with a creamy blue cheese or a rich chocolate dessert.

Other wines that particularly stand out are the 2007 Livermore Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Rosato Livermore Cabernet, 2007 Livermore Sangiovese, 2007 Grapeful Red blend of Zin, Petite Sirah and Barbera and the 2007 Livermore Chardonnay Reserve. Stop by their beautiful new tasting room at the corner of Isabel and Vineyard, surrounded by their vineyards.

For more info: Ruby Hill Winery

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Firestone Discoveries - Ignite your Senses

Firestone Vineyard was founded by Leonard Firestone, son of Harvey Firestone, the legendary tire innovator. When Leonard originally established the family ranch in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley he believed in the great potential of the region’s climate and soils for growing wine grapes for the vintners in Northern California. By 1972 he and his son Brooks took their winemaking to the next level, establishing the first winery in Santa Barbara County. Firestone Vineyards developed a reputation for fine wines from this new California wine region.

In 2007, Brooks decided to sell Firestone Vineyards to concentrate on their growing beer business and the smaller Curtis Winery. They found a buyer who had the same love for the San Ynez Valley’s potential for wine, Bill Foley of Foley Estates Vineyard.

This historic winery has just launched a new and innovative brand – Firestone Discoveries. This new brand appeals to young wine drinkers seeking new experiences in wine, cuisine and travel. The tag line, “Ignite the Senses” emphasizes how Firestone Discoveries can enhance life experiences. These wines focus on the young, natural, casual California lifestyle, actively promoted via the social network outlets of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, reaching out and listening to their consumer and seeking their active participation.

John Calmeyer, Vice President of Marketing for Firestone Vineyard says, “One of the most compelling components of our Firestone Discoveries line is that throughout the year, consumers will have the opportunity to actively participate with the brand, as in the case with our inaugural consumer promotion and hiring of a Firestone Discoveries Pathfinder.” Check out the Firestone Discoveries site to learn more and apply to be a Pathfinder. The winner will receive an all expenses paid trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and file reports about pairing Firestone wines with various dishes they try on the trip.

Firestone Discoveries wines include a Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 California Chardonnay has a straw yellow color and a bouquet of apple, lemon, orange peel and green apple with a touch of spice. On the palate, these same flavors shine through with moderate acidity and creamy notes of pears, melons, citrus and caramel. The acidity and balance of this wine will pair well with grilled seafood and pasta with cream sauces.

The 2007 California Merlot was a particular joy on the nose with aromas of cherry, cola, and pepper, almost a cherry cola bouquet. The palate presents cherry and vanilla flavors in a medium to light body and soft finish. This will pair well with roast lamb or even with turkey.

Firestone’s 2007 California Cabernet Sauvignon has a smoky meat aroma with hints of clove and tobacco. As you swirl this wine in your mouth it will explode with cassis, raspberry and cherry flavors with cinnamon and nutmeg. I would try this with steak, Stilton cheese and dark chocolate.
Each of these wines sells for approximately $9.99. They deliver some great taste for the price and will pair well with various cuisines.

“At Firestone Vineyard, we believe wine is all about the experience,” according to John Calmeyer. “Imagine – great wines, incredible food and Machu Picchu looming in the background – this is what Firestone Discoveries is all about!”

For more info: Firestone Discoveries

Monday, November 2, 2009

MoniClaire Vineyards - a family-run boutique winery in Dry Creek Valley

MoniClaire Vineyards is a family affair in Dry Creek Valley. Peter and Mary Beth Smiderle are dedicated to producing the rich full bodied wines you expect from this area in Sonoma County. Family is important in the history and future of this winery. Peter’s grandfather was a winemaker in Italy and Peter learned the art of grape growing and winemaking at the side of his father, an accomplished winemaker in Southern California. And Peter and Mary Beth’s young daughters, Monica and Claire, (namesakes of MoniClaire Vineyards) already have shown an interest in this family affair.

The Smiderle’s started by planting some Chardonnay grapes in their backyard in Los Gatos Hills in 1986. With this taste of hands-on winemaking, they began their search for property in one of California’s premier grape growing regions. They were lucky to find property along Lytton Springs Road in Dry Creek Valley.

This boutique winery produces only a few hundred cases of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc each year. This writer had the opportunity to taste both the 2005 and 2006 Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.

Moniclaire 2005 Zinfandel has an intense bouquet exploding in raspberry, blueberry and plum aromas. On the palate these same flavors are a delight with the added joy of rich baker’s chocolate. These are all aromas and flavors that are indicative of the terroir of the Lytton Springs bench.

The 2006 Zinfandel is a big, bold wine with powerful flavors of blackberries and plum and a smoky chocolate with a hint of vanilla and toast. These flavors are a meal in itself and a joy to partake. It has the tannins, structure and acidity to allow it to age for many years as additional flavors unfold.

Petite Sirah could never be considered a petite mild-mannered wine and with the Petite Sirah from MoniClaire you get what you expect from this great varietal. The 2005 Petite Sirah has a deep dark purple color that entices you with check out the bouquet of blueberry, violets, olive and blackberry with hints of oak. This Petite Sirah is amazing in that this full bodied, rich, complex wine is not overbearing in tannins, but rather, it is very approachable and tasty. This is the style that will make you a Petite Sirah lover.

The 2006 Petite Sirah has the same dark purple color of its older sister. It has a bit more earthy quality than the 2005 vintage but continues to be well balanced with a blend of blackberry, blueberry and violets with a good quantity of cocoa and vanilla. Again the tannins, while a bit sharper than the older vintage are still approachable and will provide the components necessary for this wine to age well. This wine is drinkable now and over the next 6-9 years.

MoniClaire has tasting by appointment and its wine is available at various locations around the Bay Area. They will be pouring on November 4, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at UNWINED in San Jose where they will be pairing three Petite Sirah vintages, 2005, 2006 and 2007 with Claudia’s hand-made chocolates. The strong chocolaty component of the MoniClaire Petite Sirah should go great with these fine chocolates!

For more info: MoniClaire Vineyards

Saturday, October 31, 2009

California Women Winemakers, Part 3

As seen in the two previous editions of this article, California Women Winemakers have successfully made their mark on the wine industry in California. As with all winemakers, the women contingent has come into this profession by a variety of methods, some via the professional training at UC Davis and others via their “on-the-job” training using their own initiative making their distinct mark on winemaking in California.

Winemaker Anna Monticelli of Esca Winery earned her degree from UC Davis and then headed off to Bordeaux, France for her first harvest in 2000. During her undergraduate years she spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris and took summer courses in Rome and Cracow. Upon her return to California she was Assistant Winemaker at Seavey Vineyard and then Assistant Winemaker for cult cabernet winery, Bryant Family Vineyard, before moving on to the top Winemaker position at Pina Napa Valley. Wine is important in her family with her position at Pina and her husband, Mario, working as the Winemaker of Trinchero Napa Reserve.

During their spare time, Anna and Mario formed Esca Wines of Napa Valley. “Esca”, Italian for Allurement, is an expression of their winemaking style. They believe life is to be enjoyed on a daily basis and a civilized life is enjoying fine food and great wine with good friends around the dinner table. The Esca 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is elegant and focused. The nose reveals blackberry, blueberry and currant flavors with underlying floral tones. The hints of tobacco, leather and coffee combined with the long finish makes this an elegant wine by itself or with food. The tannins are surprisingly smooth. In addition to the Napa Valley Cabernet, this wine includes 8% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. It goes well with prime rib or lamb chops.

Alexia Johnson of Monte Verde Vineyards in Morgan Hill was born and raised in Spain and developed a taste for Spanish varietals at an early age. Alexia Johnson and her husband Todd were avid home winemakers. They started with 300 Merlot vines planted in 2000; growing to a hobby in 2003; and on to a passion in 2006 as they continued planting over 1300 vines, adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo; and culminating as a award-winning bonded winery in 2008. The first release was only a little over a year ago and they only produce 300 cases per year. Yet, they already are winning awards for their wines. Not too bad for a backyard (albeit big backyard) operation! Alexia continued her education in winemaking via the Wine Production for Distance Learners from UC Davis Extension.

The Monte Verde 2007 Merlot from Villa Palma Vineyards in Santa Clara Valley is a dark medium bodied wine is bursting with dark cherry and blackberry flavors with medium levels of tannin and a touch of spice, including clove and cinnamon. It is a very versatile wine that can be paired with a range of foods including flank steak, roast chicken or even a bacon cheeseburger. As you can expect for a winery this size, every wine is truly hand-crafted. The grapes are specially selected and fermented in small lots based on vineyard designation. Only French oak is use, producing wines with balance and great quality.

For more info:

California Women Winemakers, Part 2

As seen in California Women Winemakers, Part 1, we learned that there are many women winemakers producing some of the top quality wines in the state. In the last 15-20 years a new breed of women winemakers has come on the winemaking scene. Two of these winemakers were covered in part 1; this article covers a few more of these superlative women winemakers.

A trailblazer in the industry is Pam Starr. She says that there are over 25 notable young women to watch in Napa Valley winemaking and that women get the best of both worlds: the breakthroughs of women winemakers who emerged in the 1990’s and the new winemaking techniques. Pam has a passion for winemaking. After graduating from UC Davis she began to hone her techniques at several wineries throughout California before joining Spottswoode Estate winery in 1991. At Spottswoode she came to appreciate the winery customers and that winemakers are working for the customer and they need to appreciate the customer’s needs. While at Spottswoode, as she was searching for the right Sauvignon Blanc grapes she came across some vineyards at the old Crocker estate at St. Helena. Joining forces with Charlie Crocker they formed the Crocker & Starr label to resurrect the old winery on the estate. Today they are producing 2400 cases a years of fine Napa Valley wines. In 2004 the Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc was names the No. 12 wine in the world on Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list!

In addition to Crocker & Starr, Pam is a busy consulting winemaker for several other wineries in the valley, such as Adastra, and has joined forces with winemaker Drew Nieman to create a red wine blend called “Bridesmaid”.2004 Bridesmaid Red Blend explodes with flavors and aromas of dark berry fruits, currant, coffee, chocolate and integrated oak tannins. The texture is creamy polished, classy and plush. It pairs wonderfully with grilled meats and game, sharp cheeses, nuts and chocolate. This is a combination of several wines picked up from different wineries after their blends are complete. The

Winemaker Morgan Clendenen came to winemaking from a different direction. She graduated with a Psychology degree but soon developed a passion for wine, attending as many tasting events as she could in her native North Carolina. She eventually landed a position in sales with an Italian wine importer and then on to a boutique wine importer. A move to California brought her to a sales/marketing position Robert Sinskey Vineyards where she met her future husband Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Barbara County. Her desire to produce her own wine continued to grow, but she lacked skills needed. When Au Bon Climat was offered some Viognier grapes, rather unknown grape in the area at the time, she saw this as an opportunity to be an innovator with this grape. People told her that the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard where the grapes were grown was too cold for Viognier and it would never ripen properly, but Morgan is one who thinks outside the box and felt that this Viognier was special. Taking a line from a William Butler Yeats poem, she named her new winery, Cold Heaven.

Morgan has focused on Viognier and Cold Heaven now produces Viognier from several different vineyards in Santa Barbara County, along with some Syrah. She tries to dispel the misunderstandings about Viognier and makes a wine with the acidity works with a variety of cuisines. Acidity is like salt to food, and you have to have enough of it to bring out the other flavors. Cold Heaven has a minimalist oak philosophy using neutral oak, 5-10 year old French barrels. The Cold Heaven 2008 Viognier from Vogelzang Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley is full of lush tropical fruits and exotic white flowers overlaying an invigorating acidity, keeping the wine fresh and lively. Care at harvesting insures that the wine has that sleekness you expect in a fine Viognier. This wine is great for Thanksgiving dinner pairing well with turkey and pumpkin pie. It also goes very well with Asian foods and curry dishes.

For more info:

California Women Winemakers, Part 1

Women make up 52 percent of the adult population and purchase 57 percent of the wine consumed in the United States. They represent a huge market that was often overlooked until recently. Studies have shown that in general, women have more taste buds than men, and that more women are supertasters.

The first woman winemaker in California was Josephine Tychson when she founded her winery in 1886 after the death of her husband. Kate Warfield was a leading vineyardist at Ten Oaks Vineyard in 1877. Maryann Graf was the first woman winemaker to graduate in enology in the 1960’s.

According to a study by the Wine Institute, 10 percent of California’s winemakers were women in 1890. In 1990 that figure was again about 10 percent, but today 15-20% of the winemakers are women. A new breed of women winemakers emerged in the mid 1990’s as the high tech boom spurred on demand for high-end products.

In Napa Valley you will often find that behind that $150 bottle of Cabernet is a woman winemaker. Sally Johnson is the winemaker for Pride Mountain winery and she says, “It is a great time for women in this industry because there are no barriers to being successful!”

Let’s take a look at a couple California Women Winemakers: Kristi Koford is the winemaker at Elizabeth Rose Wines in Napa Valley. Kristi started as a Senior Enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery and moved on to become the Assistant Winemaker at St Supery and then to Alderbrook Vineyards and Winery where she was the winemaker producing 50,000 cases annually of a wide variety of wines. Kristi’s 2008 Elizabeth Rose Sauvignon Blanc comes from 100% certified organic grapes from Yountville area of Napa Valley. It exhibits multiple layers of fresh tropical aromas and flavors, along with guava, gooseberry, guava and kiwi fruit. Minerality lingers in the finish.

Celia Welch was born and raised in Oregon as the daughter of an avid wine collector and home winemaker. Combining her fascination with flavors and aromas with her scientific knowledge, she went to UC Davis to study Enology. After graduation she expanded her knowledge working at wineries around the world including Australia, New Zealand, the East Coast and the Northwest. She returned to California to join Silverado Vineyards, then moving on to Robert Pepi Winery and Staglin Family Vineyard. Then she moved on to be a consultant for a selection of ultra-premium Napa Valley wineries. She is a member of the Winemaker’s Hall of Fame of the Women for Winesense.

At Hollywood and Vine Cellars Celia has developed their “2480” 2006 Chardonnay using fruit from Atlas Peak, one of the premium winegrape growing area in Napa. This Chardonnay displays sweet floral aromas of pear blossoms, apricot and jasmine along with sweet apple cider aromas. On the palate the texture is rich, soft and fully ripe. You will detect soft yeasty notes and sweet fruit flavors with a finish of tropical fruit and a touch of lemon zest.

For more info: