Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Santa Clara Valley Wines Passport Weekend - Oct 3-4

The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley welcome you to visit the many different wineries in this region on October 3-4, to celebrate Passport Weekend. This is an excellent opportunity to experience up to 23 wineries in this exciting region, just outside your front door. Each winery will be presenting special events for Passport, including barrel tastings, art and music, plus food and wine pairings. Some of these wineries are only open selected weekends during the year so take advantage of this opportunity.

Special events include (click on name for more details):

  • Clos LaChance Winery – wine, food and music – a perfect combination for a fun weekend, Come listen to the music group Aural Assault.
  • Creekview Vineyards – come listen to live music by Johnny Fingers on the 3rd and Hand Picked on the 4th while sampling BBQ tri-tip paired with Creekview wines. Plus, truffle tasting by Gela’s Garden!
  • Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards – Winemaker-led vineyard and winery tours and a special complimentary tasting of their Proprietor’s Reserve.
  • Heart's Fire Winery - tasting of their Zins and Petite Sirah
  • Kirigin Cellars – wine tasting and Vino de Mocca Ice Cream Sundaes, plus an agility demonstration presented by the Santa Clara Dog Training Club.
  • Martin Ranch Winery – See harvest in full swing and sample delicious wines from Therese and Dan Martin.
  • Morgan Hill Cellars/Pedrizzetti Winery – food and wine while being entertained by Carlos Padilla, guitarist/songwriter
  • Satori Cellars – special food and wine tastings and entertainment
  • Solis Winery – stop by for great wine and food
  • Sycamore Creek Vineyards – sample fine wines and barrel taste an unreleased wine while listening to Flamenco and classical guitarist Paul Renslow on Saturday and Sax player Mark Russo on Sunday.

Other Santa Clara Valley wineries include:

Passports are $25 each and entitle you to a commemorative glass and tastings at all participating wineries on Passport Weekend. Passports can be purchased at any participating winery. Check out the Morgan Hill Times, Gilroy Dispatch, Vine Times (Sept/Oct Issue), Out & About Magazine for a $5 off coupon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cedar Mountain Winery - artistry in action in Livermore Valley

Cedar Mountain Winery is an exquisite winery in Livermore Valley where the quality of the soil and grapes combined with the artistry of the winemaker makes for wine that is a joy full of aroma and excellent taste. Earl and Linda Ault, the owners of Cedar Mountain Winery, found that winemaking combines their creative interests in food, wine and art. Earl is the winemaker and an accomplished sculptor, watercolorist and large format photographer. Linda is a highly recognized amateur chef and has studied at the Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi along with Julia Child, Mark Miller, Martha Stewart and more.

Earl became interested in the wine industry when he was working as a physicist with the Pacific National Labs in eastern Washington in the mid 1970’s. He had an opportunity to move to one of the other National Labs and choose Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since Livermore Valley offered him the chance to expand his winemaking dreams. Linda also was trained in Physics and Computer Science but her avocation was for wine and food. She also has the farmer background growing up on a dairy farm. After moving to Livermore they began to search for a location for their future vineyards. They purchased a 20-acre farm already planted with Chenin Blanc and soon were grafting the vineyard in Chardonnay and Cabernet. Later they added more varietals.

At first the Aults were selling to local winemakers and their reputation grew for producing premium quality fruit. By 1990 they started Cedar Mountain Winery and now they not only use all the fruit from their own vineyards but purchase fruit from others as well. By 1993 Earl was developing a strong interest in fortified wines and developed his skills in producing fine quality fortified Vintage Port wines. By 1998 he also added in fortified white wines including a Chardonnay del Sol and Viognier Port. When Earl retired from Lawrence Livermore he dedicated himself full time to Cedar Mountain Winery.

Their wines have won several gold medals in wine competitions. Earl and Linda believe that fine wine begins in the vineyard. And they believe strongly in Livermore grown and produced wine.

The Cedar Mountain 2008 Pinot Grigio from Del Arroyo Vineyard in Livermore Valley is the only locally grown Pinot Grigio in Livermore Valley. It has a straw-yellow color with a bright and flowery fragrance. The firm acidity gives Pinot Grigio a mouth watering appeal. And it has a short clean finish. Like many Pinot Grigio, it is met to drink young.

The Thatcher Bay 2006 Merlot from Cedar Mountain comes from some of the best Merlot in the valley. It has a full rich smoky flavor aroma of plums and cherries. This same aroma is duplicated on the palate with rich plum, cherry and red fruit, nicely balanced with good acidity and firm tannins that gives this wine a long finish and good age ability.

The Cedar Mountain Tortuga Royale is a port produced by co-fermenting Blanches Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with Shaffenberger 70% cacao powder and fortified with a fine Eau De Vie Brandy. The result is a fantastic rich port with chocolate flavors.

Cedar Mountain Winery has many events at their spaceous winery so check out their events schedule to learn more about their events. They are located at 7000 Tesla Road on the east side of Livermore.

For more info: Cedar Mountain Winery

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Page Mill Winery - Excellence for three decades

Page Mill is one of the newest wineries in Livermore Valley, yet they have been producing wines for 3 decades. Winemaker Dick Stark and his wife Ome started making wine in 1976 along Page Mill Road in Los Altos Hills at the base of Santa Cruz Mountains. He even excavated a large cellar under his home and planted vines in his yard. In 1992 his son Dane joined the team. Since a private home in Los Altos Hills was not the best place to grow a commercial winery, in 2004 Page Mill moved to their new location in Livermore Valley. Two years later they opened their tasting room at the winery.

Page Mill believes that great wines start with great grapes. Each vineyard Page Mill winery works with has dedicated a portion of the vineyard to Page Mill so that the grapes come from the same vines each year. Dane makes the decision as to when to pick and personally supervises each harvest. He trucks the grapes in small lug boxes so that the grapes are completely whole when crushed at the winery.

Page Mill has been producing Cabernet Sauvignon since the beginning. Some of the Cabs are from Napa and some from Alexander Valley in Sonoma. With a reputation of high quality Cabs, Page Mill wanted to continue that tradition with Livermore Valley fruit. After searching various premium vineyards in Livermore, they found a selection of Livermore vineyards that met their high standards and this wine is the result.

The Page Mill 2006 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has an intense nose full of dark fruit and spice. As you taste this wine, you should detect black cherry, Cassis, dark currents, licorice and spice. While many Cabs have huge heavy tannins, this Page Mill Cab is built with finesse with an eye towards complexity. The finish is long with flavors peeking at the end.

The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc is clean and well balanced with a touch of honey and floral on the nose and a little grassiness. It has nice acidity and goes well with foods.

Page Mill 2006 Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley is a very special wine from this cool climate area of Santa Barbara County where the fog layer burns off by noon creating the ideal climate for Pinot Noir. The bright fruit of strawberry and a bit of raspberry has overtones of earthiness reminiscent of old world Pinot Noir.

The winery is located on Livermore Road near the corner of Concannon and Livermore to the east of downtown Livermore. Pulling into the winery on its gravel driveway you feel like you are arriving at a private home. But then you see the vines and the large stone Barrel Room that at one time served as an auto repair shop. In the front portion of the Barrel Room is the quaint, friendly tasting room, surrounded by velvet curtains, dusty old bottles of wine, and a comfortable couch. You will usually find Gary Brink behind the tasting bar greeting the visitors and offering a selection of wines.

For more info: Page Mill Winery

Little Valley Winery – follow the White Rabbit to Pleasanton

Little Valley Winery, located in downtown Pleasanton, is home of the White Rabbit labeled wines and as they say, “Follow the White Rabbit to Downtown Pleasanton”. Founders Sandi Bohner and Bill Webster have been involved in small businesses for many years. Sandi has been an outside sales manager for an espresso roasting firm, has started several small cafes in the area and has been an events and wedding coordinator for a winery in Livermore Valley. Bill has been the vice president of business development and engineering for a number of Bay Area technology firms.

They got into the winemaking business in 2003 when they opened the Little Valley Vineyard Espresso Bar and Tasting Room across the street from the Sunol station, where Jazz Sandwich Shop now sits. Here they served up a selection of wines including a California Sparkling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel in addition to espresso, coffees, smoothies, muffins and scones. Every Saturday night they provided their customers with music including top notch blues and folk groups. And working with local artists and artisans they displayed their work in the shop.

At the same time they were running the shop in Sunol they were operating their small winery in Livermore. Recently they moved to their new location in downtown Pleasanton. Pleasanton has a great little downtown with foot traffic for the local eateries, shops and bars. They recently finished their new outdoor seating area and celebrated their grand opening!

In addition to winemaking, Sandi and Bill are owners of Rancho Alegre Lavender. Their three acre farm is home to over 4000 English lavenders and popular hybrids, Provence for culinary use and Grosso which is used for essential oils and a wide range of natural home, spa and pet products. A couple years ago, they visited Rancho Alegre to purchase some soaps and sachets for their shop and ended up buying the whole business.

Little Valley Winery California Raspberry Sparkling Wine is infused with Raspberry juice after fermentation. It exhibits a nose of lots of Raspberry flavor with a bit of jasmine on the palate. It pairs great with a Humboldt Fog cheese and is just a great summer evening drinking wine.

Their California Chardonnay is a unoaked Chardonnay where you get to taste the fruit instead of the oak; it is fruit forward with great acidity and the citrus and sour apple flavors you expect. It has a nice smooth finish and will pair well with Tuna, Halibut, Shrimp or a crisp salad.

Little Valley 2005 Livermore Valley Petite Sirah is a very special wine with an intense nose of bright dark fruit with earthy overtones. As you taste this wine you get a mouthful of ripe fruit and plum and spice with the earthiness you expect from a Petite Sirah

Be sure to stop by their shop at 739 Main Street in Pleasanton. This is a great shop to visit, not only for the delicious wines, but check out their Lavender products and other gift items. They can also arrange private tastings, catering, wedding and anniversary parties and more.

For more info: Little Valley Winery Website

Thursday, September 10, 2009

California Central Coast Pinot Noirs - Aiena, Tondre and Roessler wineries

As Miles, in the 2004 movie Sideways, explains his fascination about Pinot Noir to Maya, he states, “It's a hard grape to grow, as you know. It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, tucked away corners of the world. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”

Pinot Noir is one of the oldest wine grape varietals in the world; it was vinified by ancient Romans in the first century A.D. It is recognized worldwide as a classic wine grape and is grown in almost all wine growing countries. However, the area where Pinot Noir has been outstanding and has achieved its ultimate performance is in Burgundy, especially in the 2-mile wide, 30-mile long stretch of hills known as Cote d’Or.

What is special about this area? Is it the gentle eastern facing slopes that expose the grape to warming morning sun, but shades it from intense afternoon sun? Is it the chalky, calcareous soil that offers good drainage and thus a higher average soil temperature? Pinot Noir has an ability to reflect the terroir more than most grapes, thus making site selection very critical.

In California there are several great Pinot Noir regions, most of which also are good for the other Burgundian grape, Chardonnay. Russian River Valley, Carneros, Anderson Valley and particularly the Central California coast including Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Barbara County all have some excellent Pinot Noirs from several winemakers.

Aiena Wines, formerly know as Foghorn Winery, has a 2007 Pinot Noir from Monterey County. This wine is a combination of red and black fruits in both aroma and flavor. The bright red color has a bright vibrancy on the palate that reflects its cool climate and low yields.

The grapes come from two vineyards: Mission Ranch, near the junction of Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations, and Silacci, just outside the northern end of Santa Lucia Highlands, and one of the coolest sites in the county. In the winemaking process the wines receive a moderate use of oak to bring out the true flavors of the grapes. It is ready to drink now or over the next few years. I will pair well with various poultry dishes from chicken to pheasant. The price is $25.

Tondre’ 2006 Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County has ripe fruit qualities on the nose with a spicy character. On the palate are great amounts of black cherry fruit, layered with tart bing cherries and subtle integrated oak characters of vanilla and nutmeg. The finish has supple velvety tanninis and balanced acidity. The grapes are 100% destemmed and open top fermented using a gentle pulsair method of cap management. It is aged in 33% new Hungarian oak. This wine will pair well with lean meats such as turkey, rabbit and game bird, or filets of beer. Price is approximately $33.00.

The Roessler Cellars 2006 La Encantada Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara has a nose rich in dark fruit with a touch of smoked meat and herbs. The palate reflects similar character with dusty earth tones and a variety of herbs and light oak. The good bright acid and tannic structure gives the wine staying power. These grapes come from the western-most portion of the Santa Rita Hills from La Encantada vineyards owned by Richard Sanford who have been farming Pinot Noir in the area since the 1970’s. Roessler Cellars focuses on Single Vineyard Pinot Noir. This will be particularly tasty with smoked or wood-roasted braised meats and has a price of about $33.00.

For more info: