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.

For more information:

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