Friday, June 26, 2009

Tenuta Vineyards in Livermore Valley

Tenuta Vineyards is more than your average Livermore Valley winery. Founded in 2002 by winemaker Nancy Tenuta, it has grown to be the third largest winery in Livermore Valley, producing over 25,000 cases of wine. Such growth is not only due to Nancy’s fine handcrafted wines but also her vision to offer custom crush facilities for smaller wineries in the area, barrel storage and vineyard maintenance services and a beautiful Tuscan style facility for events, parties, weddings and more!

As a custom crush facility, over 100 different labels are produced at Tenuta and it provides Nancy access to some excellent grapes from around California. Nancy and Rich Rollins, Operations Manager, invited me for a tour of their facilities and barrel tasting of their 2007 Petite Sirah from Woodland. Nancy discovered these fine grapes through one of their custom crush partners. She knew that the flavors and quality of these grapes would make a fine addition to Tenuta’s portfolio of wines. The rich dark fruit flavors really showed through and I look forward to experiencing this wine when it is released.

Their latest adventure is the chance for budding wine lovers to own a row of grapes. Yes, you can have your own little vineyard, even tending the vines, picking the grapes and learning why great wines start with well managed vines. Only 30 rows are available and five varietals are offered: Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, Primitive, Malbec and Nebbiolo. This “own a row of grapes” partnership is an example of the vision Nancy has for Tenuta Vineyards.

Nancy Tenuta is involved in all aspects of the operation and is usually available to greet weekend visitors. Her hands-on style includes meeting with visitors, making their Tenuta time a joy while learning more about their evaluation of her wines. As Nancy says, “Give us 30 minutes and we’ll be friends for life.”

Rich told me that, “Nancy built this facility on the principals of vision, fortitude and diversification to meet her goal of making Tenuta a memorable experience.”

Her 2003 Estate Pinot Noir is the epitome of her skills in producing quality handcrafted wine. Only 100 cases were produced of this fruit forward wine. On the nose the bright aromas of cherry and spice stand out. As you taste this wine, the cherry and spice flavors with a touch of vanilla come forward combined with a smooth mouth feel proceeding a long lingering finish.

The Tenuta 2005 Livermore Reserve Zinfandel is aged in French oak for 4 years and is rich in raspberry, blackberry and boysenberry flavors. The round tannins are a pleasure on the palate leading to a finish that seems to last forever. Only one barrel (approximately 25 cases) were produced and bottled early this year.

Tenuta Vineyards Tuscan style tasting room is open Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. They are easily accessible from around the Bay Area. From San Jose take the Highway 84 East exit just north of Sunol the then turn right at the first stoplight, Kalthoff Common. Follow that pleasant country road for about a quarter mile to Tenuta Vineyard on the right. Plan on spending some time there sampling a selection of their wines either in the expansive tasting room or the friendly outdoor patio. The knowledgeable tasting room staff will be glad to help you decide which wines you will enjoy!

For more info: Tenuta Vineyards

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Martin Ranch Winery - A Passion for Excellence

Dan and Therese Martin 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 focuses on the Therese Vineyards labeled wines and Dan concentrates on the J.D Hurley brand, named after his favorite great uncle. Dan’s wines deliver ripe, rich fruit and smooth easy on the mouth textures. Therese’s wines tend to be a bit more aggressive with great tannins and nice textures. But you will be very pleased with wines from either Dan or Therese.

J.D. Hurley 2005 Merlot from Santa Clara Valley is intensive on the nose with aromas of dark plum and blackberry and a hint of baker’s chocolate. These same flavors follow in the palate with a pleasing vanilla quality leading onto a rick long finish. I would serve this with pork or lamb.

J.D. Hurley 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of fruit from both the Martin Ranch vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains and fruit from the Santa Clara Valley. On both the nose and the palate you are immediately pleased with the flavors of dark cherry and plum. The tannins are balanced and round giving you a smooth drinking experience following by a pleasant finish. This would do well with a thick grilled steak.

J.D. Hurley 2006 Zinfandel from the Santa Cruz Mountains gives you intense aromas of blackberry and pepper. On the palate you have the feel of blackberry jam along with the pepper, spice and a touch of licorice. Try this next time you barbeque some steaks in the backyard.

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.

Therese Vineyards 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example of the best of Santa Cruz Mountains Cab. The intense nose of cherry and cassis leads on to the flavors of dark cherry, cassis, blackberry and mineral or earthy qualities you expect in a rich Cab. The tannins are complex and round and the long finish will have you ready to try the next taste. You should aerate this wine before pouring and it will be even better in a few years. Your mouth will be so pleased serving this with a steak.

Martin Ranch Winery, open for tastings every third weekend from noon to 4 p.m., is located at 6675 Redwood Retreat Road, off Watsonville Road. The winery is approximately 3.5 miles from the intersection of Redwood Retreat and Watsonville Road.

For more info: Martin Ranch Winery.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thomas Coyne Winery

Livermore Valley was once home to a wide assortment of wineries, farms and ranches. A visit to the Thomas Coyne Winery in South Livermore Valley takes you back to those days. Drive down the long gravel road, past the Detjens farm house and park next to an old barn that appears to have been there for 100 years. You spy a small garden and jackrabbits searching for a tasty meal. Walk up the hill to the century old tasting room pass the shady trees along the road. Bring your picnic lunch and purchase a bottle of fine Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon at the tasting room because you will want to extend your day here and enjoy the moment. Move out to the picnic table on the bluff overlooking an active sheep ranch with views extending to the orchards in the distance. You are taken away from Silicon Valley and back to an era when life was simpler. Sip your wine and admire the view as the tranquility it offers seems to make time stand still.

Thomas Coyne was not the first winery on this spot. French engineer Alexander Duvall built the “Chateau Bellevue Winery” here in 1881 and it was an active winery until it closed in 1912. Thomas Coyne has been in the winemaking business since 1969, starting in New York. During the 1980’s he was at Rosenblum where he sharpened his skills with California grapes. In 1989 he started producing wine under his own label and in 1994 he reopened Chateau Bellevue as Thomas Coyne Winery.

Here Thomas produces award-winning Rhone and Bordeaux varietal wines. Usually on one weekend they will serve a selection of Rhone varietals and the next weekend it will be Bordeaux. Usually Tom or Emilie Coyne are there to greet their visitors, and I found all of the tasting room staff very friendly and helpful. If you are a Penn State fan you will be especially welcomed! Nittany Lions do rule here.

Their selection of Rhone varietals is vast. Start with the 2007 Viognier and experience its good acid, and peach and honeysuckle character. The nose presents the floral qualities you would expect from this fine wine.

A favorite of all is their Rhone blend called Quest containing Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Petite Sirah. The Southern Rhone valley in France is famous for such blends and Thomas Coyne has shown that this same style works well with California grapes.

Estate wines grown here on the Detjens Farms include Syrah and Petite Sirah. The 2002 Syrah is a medal-winning wine full of blackberry and earthy flavors with a white pepper quality. The 2005 Chateau Bellevue Syrah Estate Reserve, named after the original winery on the property, is a limited production wine full of blackberry and dark fruit flavors, a touch of chocolate and pepper.

Both their Livermore Valley and El Dorado County Petite Sirah’s are hand-crafted, full-bodied wines rich in berry and plum flavors. Finish off your Thomas Coyne tasting experience with his interesting White Chardonnay Port “Sweet Emilie”.

Thomas Coyne Winery is open weekends at 51 East Vallecitos Road in Livermore. They also have a tasting room at Blacksmith Square in downtown Livermore.

For more info: Thomas Coyne Winery

What is "Corked" Wine?

A “Corked” wine is a wine that has been affected by a cork that is contaminated with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). Wines that have been affected by a tainted cork will smell musty like wet cardboard. The longer the wine is exposed to the air, the more intense the odor and the wine usually taste rather nasty and lacking of fruit as well. Some people can detect TCA in quantities as small as 5 parts per trillion while others have trouble detecting it even at very high levels. Even if the TCA is not evident in the smell, small quantities can subdue the aromas and flavors of the wine and make it undesirable.

TCA is not a health risk, it just imparts objectionable aromas and flavors. It is estimated that the incidence of this sort of taint ranges from 2 to 5% of all bottles using corks. The rather high incidence of corked wines has led many producers to use alternative closures such as synthetic corks or screw caps. Cork producers and suppliers are also taking steps to reduce the occurrence of tainted corks through the modernization of facilities and process refinements.

If you get a “corked” wine, you should return it to the retailer where it was purchased or refuse it in a restaurant. Wineries stand behind their product and work towards customer satisfaction. Check the bottle when opened and before it is poured around the table since the retailer is less likely to accept back an empty bottle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Satori Cellars Summer Solstice Celebration

Satori Cellars hosts their Summer “Soul”stice Celebration and Wine Tasting this coming Saturday and Sunday, June 20-21, Noon to 6 p.m. both days. Summer solstice is one of the special turning points of the year, when the days are long and life abounds with the promises of the days ahead. Satori holds the solstice in special regard and invites their friends to join them in the celebration of life.

Of course, the best reason to visit Satori Cellars this weekend is to taste the great wines handcrafted by winemaker Tom Moller at this boutique winery in Santa Clara Valley. Sample their Chardonnay of the Pink Ray with the crisp flavor of apples and pears; or the Cabernet Sauvignon of the Blue Hand, an estate wine bursting with black fruit flavors; or ZenZin with black currant and white pepper flavors. And, they are offering special discounts this weekend to their guests!

While you are sampling these great wines and partaking of the tempting edibles you can have a rocking good time on Saturday listening to the Classic Rock band “Rock Solid”. This local band brings you classic rock and blues sounds that we all enjoy in this summer of love. They will be playing Saturday from 3 – 6 p.m. to keep you dancing!

On Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. Satori takes you back to the old county with music from Celtic Soul who play traditional Celtic songs from Ireland and Scotland including drinking and folk songs, airs, jigs and reels as well as acoustic rock from bands like U2 and the Cranberries.

And, as usual, Satori has other surprises around the estate this weekend, including face painting, henna tattoos and more. At Satori, they celebrate the joy of life and aim to deepen your awareness of your own light within and connecting to who you are. As part of this lifestyle, on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. they invite you to a Satsang and on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. you can take part in a fun circle dance followed by the release of white doves.

Satori is always family friendly and kids are welcome and I am sure they will enjoy the entertainment while you enjoy the wines!

So, if you enjoy wine, food, music, outdoors, wine discounts and a really good time, visit Satori this weekend!

All this joy and excitement is available for $10 which is credited toward any wine purchase. Satori Cellars is located at 2100 Buena Vista Avenue in Gilroy. From San Jose take Highway 101 south to Masten Ave. Go left on Masten just over the highway, to the first right turn which is N. Name Uno (this parallels Hwy 101). At the first stop light (1.4 miles) turn left onto Buena Vista Ave. You will see Satori Cellars on the right after about 1.5 miles. I am sure you won’t miss the colorful entrance!

Photos from Satori Cellars

Some photos of Satori Cellars in Gilroy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Satori Cellars - a taste of enlightenment in Santa Clara Valley

Satori is not just wine, it is a transcendental experience.

Satori Cellars is a family-owned winery located in California’s beautiful Santa Clara Valley Wine Country. The name Satori was inspired by the family owners, Sandy and Tom Moller, and their five-year-old son Riley. Satori is also a Zen term meaning “sudden unbidden moments of absolute stillness and peace in which time stops and the perfection and beauty of creation shine forth” and “a taste of enlightenment”.

Sandy tells us, “We are a community of friends and family having fun, playing, and nurturing fifteen acres of happy, pampered, premium varietal grapes that thrive in our estate vineyard. The fruits of our labor are truly handcrafted heart-infused wines that awaken not only your taste buds but also your experience of life and your connectedness to the world around you. Fittingly, Satori Cellars is a divine retreat where senses are awakened and life is abundant and good. The sun shines all day, the wind flows in the afternoon, and there is an oasis-like feeling amid the vines.”

A few of their wines of enlightenment follow.

Chardonnay of the Pink Ray, 2007, Monterey County - A touch (0.5%) of Petite Sirah is added to this Chardonnay to provide the pink color because “Pink is the vibrational Ray of Love – the most powerful Energy of the Universe.” No oak is used on this stainless steel aged wine and the Petite Sirah softens the acidity normally found in steel-tanked Chardonnay. The palate presents you bright refreshing flavors of gravenstein apples and pears.

As with each bottle from this unique winery, a ritual is suggested to add to the pleasure of your tasting enjoyment. In the case of Chardonnay of the Pink Ray, you should find something pink, pour the Pink Ray into at least two clear glasses for a rose colored light, savor the charms of this wine and gather someone and give them the Kiss of life!

Estate Cabernet Sauvignon of the Blue Hand, 2006, Santa Clara Valley - This Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from grapes in Riley’s Vineyard on Satori’s acrage. And is bursting with lively fruit flavors of black currant and cherry with a finish of tobacco leading on to a long finish.

Blue Hand, according to the Mayans, represents Earth and Heart, so take this bottle (Earth) into your left hand (Heart) and pour every glass with a sense of love and deep communion.

Estate Petite Sirah Ha-Ha, 2006, Santa Clara Valley - Using 100% Petite Sirah from the Estate Sandy’s Vineyard, this dark, black delicacy is big and bold as you would expect a Petite Sirah. Full of spices, dark cherries, expresso and earthy aromas, this wine will be a pleasure to Petite Sirah lovers with a long ripe finish. Raise your glass to the sun, sip and say “Ha-Ha!”, nothing can stop you.

Ta-Da Syrah, 2006, Santa Clara Valley - A deep, inky-plum joy in the glass, full of jamy, juicy flavors of blueberries and blackberries with a touch of white pepper and spices. The full-body and long smoky finish lasts all the way to Nirvana, capital of satori!

Friends of Satori find a fun-loving, supportive community atmosphere conducive to relaxation, reflection, and celebration of life experiences. Opportunities abound and involvement is welcome and encouraged. Tom invites you to, “Savor our estate wines, stroll through the vineyards, and walk the Labyrinth of Peace and Prosperity.”

Satori Cellars is open for tasting and sales the third weekend of every month. Special events are always held on the Equinox and Solstice so stay tuned for information about their Summer Solstice Celebration on June 20-21

Friday, June 12, 2009

TAPAS Grand Tasting Fort Mason, June 14th, Spanish and Portuguese Wine Varietals

We all have had our share of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other classic wines. But have you tried the rich berry and earthy/leathery flavors of a Tempranillo, or the black currant and blackberry flavors of a fruity Garnacha, or the beautiful aromatic Albarino with the taste of apples, citrus and flowers on the palate? All too often wine lovers are concentrating on the popular classical varieties produced by most winemakers and miss out on the special joy that can be found in the lesser known varieties.

TAPAS – Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society – is dedicated to the grape varietals indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, and now grown in North America. These varietals include Tempranillo, Albarino, Alvarelhao, Garnacha, Graciano, Monastrell, Touriga, Verdeljo and many more, Growers and winemakers in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas have found that these Spanish and Portuguese varietals offer a lot to the wine consumer and they have developed a following of those who appreciate these wines.

On Sunday, June 14th from 2:00 to 4:30 pm, TAPAS is hosting their annual Grand Tasting at the Fort Mason Conference Center in San Francisco. This is a unique opportunity to sample wines from almost 40 participating wineries, many of which are small boutique wineries with wines hard to find in many wine outlets. The winemakers will be there to talk to the wine lovers about their wines as you enjoy a delightful walk-around setting. Wines available will range from crisp whites to full-bodied reds to elegant port style wines.

TAPAS President Jeff Stai says “We’re excited to be able to create an event where consumers can branch out beyond the common varietals and discover a new world of flavors. Come join us and have a Spanish Inspiration!”

There will also be a silent auction of special wines and winery tours. Proceeds from the auction benefit the Schmahl Science Workshop that provides science education for grades K-12 in the bay area.

Tickets are $35 in advance or $45 at the door. They can be ordered online at their website.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ceja Vineyards

In celebration of Mexican heritage in the United States, I proudly introduce you to Ceja Vineyards, a story of how a family from Mexico pursued their dreams in the wine industry.

After many years in the brasero work program, Pablo Ceja, his wife Juanita and their six children said goodbye to their friends and family in their small village in Mexico in 1967 and immigrated to America to work in the vineyards of Napa Valley. As the family worked and grew in Napa Valley, Juanita constantly encouraged her children to follow their dreams and go to college. Their sons, Pedro and Armando pursued their dreams, Pedro in engineering and Armando in enology and viticulture.

Pedro married his love Amelia Moran Fuentes in 1980. As they began their own family, they were also focused on the common family goal to buy land and grow grapes in Napa Valley. In 1983 Pedro and Amelia, Armando, and Pablo and Juanita pooled their resources and purchase 15 acres in Carneros.

Pedro and Armando inherited their parents’ strong work ethic and love of the land. Armando became a respected vineyard manager in the valley but never lost sight of the family plan. With their first harvest of Pinot Noir from their Carneros property in 1988, they celebrated with family and friends

The Ceja Vineyards wine label came on the scene in 2001. The Ceja family now has 113 acres of rich vineyard land, produces over 10,000 cases, and the second and third generations of the family are active in leadership of the enterprise. Amelia Ceja is President of Ceja Vineyards, the first Mexican-American woman to be President of a wine company in the history of New World wines. “The success of Ceja Vineyards is due to my family’s collective effort,” says Amelia.

Ariel Ceja, son of Pedro and Amelia and General Manager of Ceja Vineyard has inherited the work ethic and drive of his parents and grandparents, adding his own touch to the family enterprise, whether it is salsa dancing at the tasting room Saturday nights, new Web 2.0 technologies to reach a growing young market, or the soon to be introduced online, bicultural cooking show.

Ariel states, “We focus on wines we enjoy. Food and wine are important to my family. My mom’s cooking skills are famous and my uncle handcrafts wines that will pair well with her cuisine. Ceja wines have moderate levels of alcohol, none are over 14%, and pair well with foods, bringing out the flavors of the food and the wine without being overbearing.”

Armando and his team match vines to the Terroir, growing each variety in the areas where it does best. The fruit is handled gently to create a collection of handcrafted wines. This drive for excellence is reflected in the trademark of Ceja Vineyards vinum, cantus, amor – wine, song love.

2006 Ceja Vino de Casa White Blend – this is a blend of Pinot Grigio, Semillon and Viognier from Napa Valley that has the aroma of honeydew melon, almond and baked apple pie that leads to flavors on the palate of citrus blossom with mineral and flinty characteristics.

2007 Ceja Sauvignon Blanc from the Sonoma Coast – ruby grapefruit and key lime aromas are powerful on the nose. On the palate the tartness of citrus and tropical fruits leap into your mouth.

2006 Ceja Pinot Noir – you will enjoy the fresh floral aroma mixed with ripe red plum and black cherry blossoms. The balanced mixture of soft tannins with layers of textures emphasizes the medley of dark berry, herb and spice flavors in the mouth

For more info: Ceja Vineyards

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bridlewood Winery in Santa Ynez Valley

While the thoroughbreds are racing at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby is not far from the hearts of those around Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez Valley. Here in California, wine country and horse country are perfectly merged. Bridlewood Winery was originally an Arabian horse ranch and in the 1980’s was Santa Barbara County’s premier equine rehabilitation center. In 1998 the beautiful mission-style ranch was converted into a modern state-of-the-art winery. Forty acres of the lushly landscaped 105-acre estate were planted in Syrah and Viognier.

Bridlewood continues to be a working horse ranch. The original mission-style architecture, horse paddocks, and lakes encircled by a race track give Bridlewood its unique character grounded in Santa Ynez Valley wine and horse country culture. Visitors can tour the estate in a horse-drawn carriage, picnic beside their courtyard fountain and sip wine on the terrace overlooking the active training track.

The original 28,000 square-foot barn has retained its Spanish mission-style exterior, but enter through those barn-style doors and you arrive at a world-class winery brimming with modern winemaking equipment and talent. Winemaker David Hopkins has a passion for Syrah. With 25 years of winemaking experience in California, David knows what it takes to make great wine. With this experience, David states, “Along the way I learned that great wine begins in the vineyard and that the Central Coast is hands-down the best place to grow Syrah”. David makes the kind of wine made famous by the great winemakers of the Rhone River Valley in France, with depth and complexity with lots of color, flavor and body.

Bridlewood Estate Syrah absolutely shows the beauty of the Estate’s terrior and is David’s proud baby. Each grape is harvested under winemaker’s David Hopkins’ direction and de-stemmed without crushing. The wine is gently pressed using a basket press, and after settling for 72 hours, the wine is racked to a mixture of French oak barrels and allowed to age for 24 months. The result is a wine that slowly emerges with hints of vanilla and cocoa that gives way to dark floral accents. This wine should be decanted and allowed to breathe before drinking. The dark fruity flavors including black cherry, cassis and licorice flavors with a touch of mocha and dark chocolate provide a deep, mouth filling experience.

Bridlewood Reserve Viognier is a result of blending from six vineyards around the Central Coast that were specifically selected by David for their own unique terroir. Aromas of honeysuckle, orange blossom and tropical fruits draw you on to flavors that are a blend o mango, peach and grapefruit. The moderate acidity and full fruit flavors make this a perfect wine to pair with seafood.

For more info: Bridlewood Estate Winery

Syrah, or is it Shiraz?

The Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia) grape may have received its name from the Persian city of Shiraz in Iran, where some believe the process of winemaking originated 7,000 years ago. But a UC Davis study concluded the grape variety, in its modern cultivated form, originated in the vicinity of the Northern Rh├┤ne valley of France, resulting from a cross between the Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche grape varieties.

France and Australia are responsible for most of the Syrah/Shiraz acreage in the world. A newcomer to the California wine scene, Syrah has gained popularity only in the last decade, with the state’s wineries shipping over 1.2 million cases throughout the U.S.

Characteristics of Syrah
The Syrah grape primarily expresses its characteristics through fruit and spice. Simple Syrah wines focus on the fruit, exhibiting dark berry flavors, such as blackberries and loganberries. Complex Syrah wines evolve into layers of flavor, expressing wood smoke, spice, cassis and black pepper
Syrah is a powerful, full-bodied wine that transforms itself as it ages. While it may begin as a supple, fruit-driven wine, time in the bottle converts Syrah into an intense, complex wine with a rich conglomeration of spices.

Viticulture and Vinification Climate
The Syrah varietal has a low tolerance for temperatures that are too hot or too cold. Bud break occurs later than most varietals, and Syrah ripens early to mid-season. It is a grape that is naturally resistant to disease, but gray rot and bunch rot can cause problems.

Syrah is interesting in that it can do well in both cool and hot climates. In France Syrah is found in both the cooler Northern Rhone and the warmer Southern Rhone. Many who are use to Shiraz from Australia recognize the bigger, richer, jammy fruit forward aspects of warm climate Syrah. The cool climate Syrah is more restrained and very aromatic and feature floral notes of lavender or violet, leather, tobacco and smoked meats.

In the Vineyard
Considered relatively easy to grow, Syrah performs best in warm climates when yields are kept low.

In the Cellar
Syrah is one of the most tannic grape varieties to achieve commercial success. Because it demands a warm growing region, the tannins are typically soft, ripe and pleasing on the palate. Syrah thrives during a long, cool fermentation period and requires oak aging to mask its blatant fruitiness and reveal its powerful aromas and flavors. Syrah is a noble grape variety with the ability to produce intense, long-lived red wines.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ryan Cellars Pinot Noir, David Noyes Zinfandel and MoniClaire Petite Sirah reflect the unique terrior of Sonoma County. Terrior is a French term used to indicate the special characteristics that geography bestow upon wine. It can loosely be translated as "a sense of place". Some the the factors that effect terrior include soils, climate, exposure to the sun and more. Sonoma County, a major winemaking area in Northern California, is home to many small family-run wineries that produce fine wines expressive of the unique terrior of Sonoma County. Recently I had the opportunity to sample several red wines from Sonoma.

Marguerite Ryan Cellars – 2006 Pinot Noir, Van der Kamp Vineyards, Sonoma Mountain

Focusing entirely on single vineyard Pinot Noirs, winemaker Peggy Ryan partners with select growers determined to grow great Pinot Noir. Her goal is to produce unique Pinot Noirs indicative of there specific terrior and offer lushness without over-intensity, showing balance and supple texture.

Peggy produced only 127 cases of this premium Pinot Noir from Sonoma Mountain. With a soft nose of cherries, spice and sandalwood and gives a supple-textured but concentrated mouthful of cherries, blackberries, sarsaparilla and rose petals, finishing with a hint of fine grained tannins and a lingering echo of long lasting flavors. This wine is ready to drink now or over the next 4-6 years. This Pinot Noir pairs well with poultry, lamb, port, creamy sauces and spicy seasonings

David Noyes Wines – 2006 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Winemaker David Noyes strongly believes in producing wines that are a tangible expression of the terrior of the vineyard. His winemaking style minimizes the handling and maximizes the individuality of each lot that pair well with food.

This 2006 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley has a complex nose of wild berries, forest herbs, caramel toast and a touch of cured ham. Full and spicy in the mouth, the flavors expand to include blackberry preserve, candied cherry and sweet oak. It is ready to drink now and over the next 5-10 years. It pairs well with roasted chicken flavored with rosemary and garlic

David Noyes learned a lot about Zinfandel while working at Ridge Vineyards, especially about the grapes from Dry Creek Valley. His Zinfandel is a blend of 80% Zinfandel, 13% Carignane and 7% Petite Sirah. The Petite Sirah adds depth and tannin while the old vine Carignane melds the flavors together with a herbal or spicy component.

MoniClaire Vineyards – 2006 Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley

Winemaking has been in the blood of winemaker Peter Smiderle’s family for over 100 years, starting with his Italian grandfather. Peter’s winemaking goal is to create hand crafted wines expressing the characteristics of the terrior. The winery, located along the bench land of the Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, is named after Peter and Mary Beth’s two daughters, Monica and Claire.

The dark, black purple color offers a forward bouquet of blueberries and blackberries mingled with signature MoniClaire chocolate. On the palate it offers a velvety mouth feel and a lengthy and complex finish. It is ready to drink now or over the next 3-5 years. Sample this Petite Sirah yourself this summer with a grilled rib eye steak and other grilled meats.

Sonoma Wine Country

California’s Sonoma County is home to world-class wines and wineries, great restaurants, and many small family-run surrounded by stunning natural beauty. This important wine growing region has over a million total acres of vines, 190+ wineries, a rich history spanning for over 150 years in winemaking and 13 diverse winegrowing regions with every varietal of grape grown in California.

Key appellations within Sonoma County include:

Los Carneros is at the southern end of Sonoma County and straddles the borders of Napa and Sonoma. Cool winds, thin soils and little rainfall combined with a warm daytime climate moderated and cooled by the fog from San Pablo Bay makes Carneros ideal for Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay for both still and sparkling wines.

Sonoma Valley is the birthplace of the California wine industry. The Valley of the Moon is home to some of the earliest vineyards and wineries in the state starting with the vineyards of the Sonoma mission in 1823 and progressing in 1857 when Count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of the California wine industry established Buena Vista Winery, launching the commercial wine industry. The Sonoma Mountains block off the Pacific cooling influence but cool air does penetrate from the south, off the San Pablo Bay.

Russian River Valley is the largest area in Sonoma County, encompassing one sixth of Sonoma County’s vineyard acreage. This area has grown tremendously in the past 20 years as old apple orchards are replaced by grapevines. The cool climate yields highly expressive Pinot Noir and lean, restrained Chardonnay.

Sonoma Coast – with over 500,000 acres of which only 7, 000 are planted in grapes, Sonoma Coast has a cool climate and heavy rainfall. These factors contribute to slow grape maturation with optimum ripeness near the end of the growing season.

Dry Creek Valley, located north of Santa Rosa, still remains a rural setting with many family wineries along both sides of the river. Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc are important here with acreage in Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah growing.

Alexander Valley in the far northern region of Sonoma County covers an area east of the Russian River, consisting mostly of alluvial soils. The area has some of the highest daytime temperatures but a wide swing of nighttime temperatures. The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The soils tend to impart a rich chocolate note to the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The fabulous Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association’s 2009 Vintners’ Festival starts this weekend. This event occurs over the following two weekends. June 6 and 7 feature the wineries from the Western (Santa Cruz) side of the mountains, and June 13 and 14 feature wineries from the Eastern (San Jose) side of the mountains. This is an excellent opportunity to not only visit many wineries not normally open to the public, but also partake of regional delicacies, barrel tastings, meeting the winemakers and enjoying live music and vineyard tours.

The winemakers of this world-class winegrowing region go all out to host this event and promise the visitors an exciting time. Prices are only $30 in advance or $35 at the door. This cost covers both weekends so you really get twice the value over normal passport adventures. And you walk away with a commemorative glass to remember your weekend! If you are planning to participate on the first weekend you can still purchase tickets in advance and pick up your ticket at the first winery you visit. For ticket information check the Santa Cruz Mountains website

June 6th and 7th – Western side (Santa Cruz County side of the mountains)

Thirty six wineries at 30 locations in Santa Cruz County will be serving premium wines with special attractions including winery tours, barrel tastings, local chefs and more. Check out this list of first weekend participants and start making your plans to visit some of these wineries on the cool side of the appellation.

June 13th and 14th – Eastern side (Santa Clara and San Mateo counties)

Wineries from the summit and Los Gatos and from Gilroy to San Carlos will be participating this weekend, inviting wine lovers to join them in celebration of Santa Cruz Mountains wines. Check this list of second week participants to see which wineries are participating the second weekend.

Several restaurants will also be part of the Vintners’ Festival, many of them hosting various wineries that do not have tasting rooms. The restaurants will close at 4:00 p.m. The wineries are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. all four days.

The Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowing region, or appellation, has over 70 small family-owned and operated wineries. It is famous for its Burgundian style grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the cooler western side but the warmer lower elevation wineries on the eastern side are known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

For more info: Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association 2009 Vintners' Festival

ADEA Wines 2005 "Ann Sigrid" Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley

Oregon Pinot Noir is enticing in many ways; it is special to those who savor its fine qualities and evidently enticing to those who desire to produce it, including ADEA Wines! In 1984 the Fisher family moved to Yamhill County in Oregon. Steel fabricator Dean Fisher found steady work, particularly producing steel equipment for wineries in the area. Like many others working around wineries, he got the bug to try to produce wine. In 1990 with the help of his friend Mike Etzel he produced his first batch of wine at the Ponzi winery. Then came the interest in growing the wine grapes and he planted 1.5 acres of Pinot Noir. Between 1995 and 1998 they produced four vintages of Pinot Noir at the Medici Winery. In 1998 the Fisher family formed ADEA Wine Company; the name is a combination of the first names of the family members, Ann, Dean, Erica and Adam.

The 2005 “Ann Sigrid” Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley is a medium bodied Pinot Noir with floral notes leading to a special ginger and spice flavor. On the palate you enjoy rich dark cherry and strawberry flavors with soft tannins and leading to a balanced, long finish. Only 300 cases were produced of this Pinot Noir. The wine is ready to drink now or over the next 2-4 years. I would suggest trying this wine with light meats, pork or fowl.

In addition to a wide selection of handcrafted Pinot Noir wines, ADEA also produces a selection of Chardonnay and a Rose made from Pinot Noir

Oh, and Dean, the steel fabricator, still builds much of the machinery used at the ADEA facility and for other wineries as well. The entire family is active in various aspects of the winery.

For more info: ADEA Wine Company

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Folin Cellars 2006 Viognier from Rogue Valley in Oregon

Folin Cellars is a family owned and operated winery in Rogue Valley focusing on producing 100% estate grown varietals such as Viognier, Tempranillo and Syrah that are prevalent in this Southern Oregon appellation. The hot summer days and cool nights of this region are ideal for these wines. Quality and care are of utmost importance to winemaker Ron Folin. His winery is designed for gravity feed handling rather than the harsher pumping methods. This quality also shows in that all of their wines are sealed using the innovative Vino Seal closure to ensure that the wines are as the winemaker intended them to be.

The 2006 Viognier Estate has a light lemon-gold color and presents all the best of both the varietal and the terroir. The explosive aromatics demonstrate floral, melon, citrus and orange blossom. On the palate you can taste exotic tropical fruits, citrus, pear, honeysuckle, and floral. The balanced acidity provides a bright, lush and round long finish. This tasty wine will be perfect paired with Columbia Valley salmon, seafood and Asian foods.

Not only is the Rogue Valley the closest Oregon appellation to California but it is also one of the most interesting in terms of the varieties of wines that are available. This area is distinctly warmer than the north part of the state and is loaded with a multitude of microclimates. The primary wine growing regions here are the Applegate Valley, Illinois Valley and the main Rogue Valley.

This wine can be found locally at UNWINED Wine Shop in San Jose.

For more info: Folin Cellars

Carabella Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon

Carabella Vineyard is a 49 acre vineyard in the southeast side of Parrett Mountain in the new Chehalem Mountains AVA in the North Willamette Valley. Winemaker and geologist Mike Hallock picked this area because he believe the climate and well-drained volcanic soil of this region was perfect for producing great Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard is farmed sustainably using no herbicides and pesticides.

Mike’s 2006 Chardonnay uses the Dijon 76 clone Chardonnay grape that is known to produce wines of elegant complexity. This wine has a lemon gold color. The nose presents a tropical fruit aroma. At the first taste of the wine you will discover tropical fruit overtones, minerality, citrus, and a hint of hazelnut. The crisp minerality provides a “Burgundian” quality. It is ready to drink now or over the next couple years. I would suggest serving this wine with salmon or trout, but it will also go well with most seafood.

In addition to the Chardonnay, Mike Hallock also produces a crisp Pinot Gris and a selection of Pinot Noir. He also have a late harvest Pinot Gris.

For more info: Carabella Vineyards

Kathken Vineyards 2006 Pinot Gris from Oregon

Ken and Kathy Slusser were originally in the custom home construction business in Northern California and Kauai but in 1995 they fell in love with winemaking and purchased their 51 acre vineyard in the fir covered Eola Hills near Salem, Oregon. Converting the vineyard into a successful operation required lots of hard work. They grafted most of the existing vines over to Pinot Noir and planted additional acreage of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. After seven years selling grapes to other winemakers, Ken and Kathy decided they needed to get into the wine production side of the business. Their first release was a 2000 Pinot Gris and then a 2001 Pinot Noir.

While they mostly produce Pinot Noir, they also produce a great Pinot Gris that is 94% Pinot Gris and 6% Chardonnay. Their 2006 Kathken Vineyards Pinot Gris is 100% stainless steel fermented. It has a clear color with a up-front nose of grapefruit and citrus. The palate presents a round mouthfeel with balanced acidity and grapefruit, pear and tropical fruit flavors. It has a pleasing mouthfeel that gives way to balanced acidity. This wine is very Alsatian in quality with rich structure and minerality. This wine is stainless steel fermented and aged in 100% French oak barrels. The wine is ready to drink now and for the next 1-2 years.

This wine is met to be enjoyed with pasta, salads and seafood. The tasty fruit up front and balanced acidity on the finish makes it a wine to be enjoyed by all.

This wine won a Bronze medal at the 2007 NorthWest Wine Summit. Previous vintages are regular award winners. Other wines available form Kathken Vineyards are a selection of Pinot Noir and a new blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah called “The Remedy”. They also have a late harvest Pinot Gris called Dolce de Daneen (their daughter is Daneen), a Rose from Pinot Noir and a port-style Pinot Noir called Jolie’s Juice.

This wine can be found locally at UNWINED Wine Shop in San Jose.

For more info: Kathken Vineyards

Oregon Wines

Oregon, our neighbor to the north, is the fourth largest producer of wine in the United States. But many know more about wines from Australia than they do of wines from our neighbor.

Many believe that winemaking began in the 1960’s with the start of the Hillcrest Vineyards in Southern Oregon. But before grape wine was produced, winemakers in Oregon were producing flavorful wines made from fruits.

Families of winemakers found a bountiful harvest of great wines in Oregon, and by the end of the 1970’s many vineyards were producing some fine wines. But Oregon Pinot Noir entered the international world of wine in 1979 when an Oregon Pinot won top honors against France’s best labels. In just 40 years Oregon evolved into a world-class wine growing state with 15 approved winegrowing regions.

As winemakers know, terroir, a sense of place, is key to producing fine wines. Oregon is blessed with one of the most diverse geo-climates in the world. Vintners can successfully grow superb cool and warm climate varietals.

Oregon is not home to many large volume wineries. While it is fourth in total production, it is third in the number of wineries. Most wineries are small, producing less than 5,000 cases a year. Keeping the wine production small ensures that the winemakers have the time and energy to nurture each and every vine, cluster and barrel into wines of superior flavor and concentration.

Key wine regions are mostly concentrated between the coastal range and the Cascades, including the famous Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley and Southern Oregon. The Columbia River Valley is also home to many wineries just across the river from the major Washington State wine growing areas.

Prominent grape varietals in Oregon include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Gew├╝rztraminer, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo.

For more info: Oregon Wine Board