Monday, May 30, 2011

House Wine - a Silicon Valley legacy

House Family Wines is only the latest adventure of David House, who has been a leader in many of the companies that made Silicon Valley.  Dave joined Intel Corporation in 1974 and by 1978 was the General Manager of the company’s Microcomputer Components Division, and later launched Intel’s Server Products Division.  In fact Dave was mentioned as Andy Grove’s successor at one time.  In 1996, after 22 years at Intel, he took the helm of Bay Networks and as they merged with Nortel he became president of Nortel Networks.  He has since been Chairman of Credence Systems and Brocade Communication Systems. 

On his 73 acre family compound above Saratoga he planted his Old Oak Vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Many of his grapes are used at Mount Eden Vineyards, but Mount Eden winemaker Jeffrey Patterson also assists Dave House in producing the House Family Vineyards wines.  Jeff firmly believes that wines should depict the terroir of the vineyards where the grapes are grown.
Recently this author had the opportunity to sample two of House Family latest releases, the 2008 Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Only about 50 cases were made of the House Family 2008 Chardonnay from the House Family Mt. Eden Vineyard in Saratoga.  It was a great aroma of lime zest, chalk and apple with a certain amount of earthiness.  On the palate you will enjoy texture and fine acidity with lime, apple, peach and pear flavors with a bit of earthiness and chalk continuing through, leading on to a finish of highlights of peach and apple.  The price is only $34 per bottle

The 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice complex Cab that includes 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petite Verdot.  You will enjoy the aromas and flavors of dark fruits including plum and currants with notes of chocolate and cedar.  It is still a bit young so I would suggest opening it up early and decanting it to let it breathe.  This is a rich Santa Cruz Mountains Cab and sells for $36 per bottle.

Mello Cielo rolls out at Ruby Hill Winery in Livermore Valley

Ruby Hill Winery is introducing Mello Cielo, their new unique tour bus that is sure to be a hit among wine lovers in Livermore Valley.   It has already drawn the attention of Livermore Valley residents, who enjoy watching the brightly decorated bus driving around town.  “It’s become our ‘blimp’, noted Mike Callahan, one of the winery’s partners.  “We get a ton of calls asking us what the bus is all about, and we’re happy to tell them.”

The bus is customized like no other in the world.  The interior seats 14 passengers, with each seat crafted from an aged wine barrel.  Two poles in the center are gilded in one-of-a-kind iron work of sculpted grape clusters and vines.  The exterior shows off the wine theme splendidly with its bright burgundy color and lime green paint.  The brightly decorated grill of grape clusters and vines is beautiful.  Two wine barrels mounted on the roof add to the dramatic effect, with a third barrel attached to the back that also functions as a barbecue grill.   
The Mello Cielo (named for one of Ruby Hill’s club wines, Cielo Viola) 90-minute tour starts at the Tasting Room and proceeds through the 150 acres of grape vines in the extensive Ruby Hill estate.  The tour guide tells you about the various vineyards as we pass.  This tour demonstrates the unique complexity of Livermore Valley as you ride past acres of vineyards on one side, while on the other you are passing the million dollar homes of the Ruby Hills community that surrounds a golf course.  In Livermore, planners have gone to great lengths to incorporate agriculture among the housing areas.

Riding past Peacock Patch, home of the grapes that will go into Ruby Hill’s Zinfandel, we spot the roaming peacocks that gave this vineyard its name.  In fact the Mello Cielo has a musical horn that includes a peacock call to attract the beautiful birds.  One, hiding in the bushes alongside the road perks up its head in response to the peacock call.  At Peacock Patch we get another chance to leave the bus and walk among the vines as the tour guide points out the new budding fruit. 

As we proceed down from Peacock Patch we head towards the Ruby Hill Winery.  The group debarks to tour the winery and taste some barrel samples, including the 2010 Chardonnay and a 2008 Barbera.  The consensus is that these will be excellent wines when they are released.  The guide informs his group of the innovative efforts employed by Ruby Hill to deliver their quality wines.  We are invited into the water tower to enjoy a food and wine pairing of four wines with meats and cheeses.  Winemaker Chris Graves joined us as we paired a 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Livermore Estate Sangiovese, 2007 Merlot Reserve and 2007 Livermore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Chris walked us through the pairing as he told us more about Ruby Hill wines. Returning to our wine chariot we proceeded back to the tasting room where we enjoyed a private tasting of a Ruby Hill port. 

The Mello Cielo tours are by appointment only and are available daily.  The tour fee is $25 per person, and only $15 for Ruby Hill Winery Gem Society club members.  To schedule a tour, call 925-931-9463.  Mello Cielo is also a valuable fundraising tool for area non-profits.  Local philanthropists have donated Mello Cielo tours for auctions to help their favorite charities raise money for worthwhile causes.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Livermore Valley wine country hosts Amgen Tour

A new focus on one of California's oldest wine regions happens this month as the sixth Amgen Tour of California begins Stage 4 of its demanding course in Livermore's wine country on May 18.  Last year supporters came out in droves to view the world's most elite cyclists as they passed through Livermore, helping the city win coveted selection as one of 15 host cities for this year's race.

Cyclists will start in downtown Livermore then ride through wine country roads before ascending the grueling grades of the Diablo Mountains on their way to San Jose to finish Stage 4 of this Tour-de-France-style road race.

"A magnet for cycling clubs throughout the golden state, Livermore is a destination that promises a variety of exciting viewing spots," said Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena. The event is expected to draw cycling enthusiasts to Livermore on race day and well beyond, including amateur cyclists who enjoy the challenge of riding the same course as the pros they admire. Locals and visitors alike are encouraged to ride their bikes into town for "Bike Night" sponsored by Downtown Livermore on May 17. The City of Livermore will also host a VIP tent the morning of the race, featuring wines exclusively from Concannon Vineyard, one of the first wineries founded in Livermore in 1883 and proudly celebrating 50 years as America's First Petite Sirah.

“The Tour” – Commemorative wine for Livermore Amgen Bike Tour

In celebration of the Amgen Tour, First Street Wine Company in Livermore has teamed up with Cuda Ridge Wines to produce and distribute a commemorative wine for the Livermore Stage of the Amgen Tour.  They thought it would be fun to make a wine in celebration of the tour coming to Livermore.  Linda Allen of First Street Wine Company named the wine, “The Tour”, and designed the label using the Livermore Amgen poster image for the front label.  “The Tour” is a St. Emilion Bordeaux style which represents this important wine region in France in which the primary grape varietals grown are Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  “The Tour” blend consists of 49% Merlot, 49% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot.  It is a 2009 vintage using 100% Livermore Valley fruit and was barrel aged for 17 months in French Oak.  Winemaker Larry Dino describes this wine as, “a perfect melding of the Cabernet Franc that has soft fruit characteristics with spice and earthiness; and the Merlot that has rich fruit characteristics.  These two varietals complement each other very well to provide a well-balanced, complex blend with well-structured tannins and a bold long lasting finish.” 
First Street Wine Company is the sole retail store selling this Special Edition Wine, and the wine can also be purchased at Cuda Ridge Winery.  “The Tour” is $26.00 at either location.

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Devilish good time at California Café 5 Bites Friday with Travieso Wines

Palo Alto’s California Café 5 Bites Friday recently featured Campbell’s Travieso Winery.  For the very reasonable price of $20 each, guests sample five Travieso wines that were paired by the chefs at California Café with five small plates while the winery representatives tell you about the wines.

Travieso wines have received 90+ point ratings by Robert Parker as well as winning Gold medals and Double Gold medals at other competitions.  It is a hidden gem right here in Campbell in Silicon Valley.  Fans not only remember their intriguing labels and names, but the wonderful wine held within. 

Both founders Ray Sliter and Mats Hagstrom were there to share their wine with the diners at California Café.  Travieso was started in Ray’s living room in 2000. Ray is a marine geologist and Mats is a doctor. By 2003 they teamed up with John Pinder at his small winery in Campbell and by 2005 Travieso was a fully bonded winery. They work closely with premium vineyards around California and focus on quality wine production using 30 to 50 percent new French Oak barrels to age the wine for 2 – 3 years.

At California Café the 1st bite was a grilled mango salad with pickled radish/lime and mizuna.  It was paired with Travieso’s 2009 “La Llorona” white blend from Sonoma Coast that consists of 45% Viognier, 45% Chardonnay and 10% Roussanne.  The acidity of the wine worked well with the salad, with the radish and mango flavors helping the fruit of the wine shine.  The mizuna was a bit bitter for the wine, but still was tasty. 

The 2nd bite consisted of shrimp Carpaccio with sliced red onion and lemongrass oil.  It was paired with the 2007 Travieso “The Other Program” Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese.  This Sangiovese delivers lots of bold fruit and spice, including dark cherry and raspberry.  The dish helped soften some of the spice of the wine, but making them bolder. 

On the 3rd bite we were treated to a crispy pork belly with a pineapple-Thai chili and wine soaked apples.  They paired this dish with the 2009 “Traviesito” red wine. Traviesito, “Little Trouble”, a 2009 blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  It has an intense nose of smoke, jam and black fruit.  On the palate you will enjoy the flavors of blackberry, blueberry, plum and a variety of spices.  The tannins lead to a pleasant finish.  In this pairing the chili added to the boldness and length of the wine.  In particular, the bacon flavor of the pork belly boosted the finish and length of the wine.

With the 4th bite we were served a bacon blackened salmon with grilled asparagus and avocado chermoula.  Travieso provided their 2007 “El Chupacabras” red wine from Santa Barbara County.  It is a blend of Syrah from two vineyards plus Grenache and Viognier.  El Chupacabras delivers great aromas and flavors of dark ripe fruit including black cherry and blueberry with a medley of spices such as pepper, clove and cinnamon.  The nose has a very pleasant smokiness that is evident of the French Oak that blended all those spices and flavors into such a well-balanced wine.  This salmon dish really brings out the fruit in the wine.  It was surprising how the avocado chermoula really enhanced the flavors of the wine.  

The final 5th bite was delicious with wild blackberries in a chocolate-coffee pudding sauce.  It was paired with Travieso’s 2007 “El Rey” Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is a rich quality Cab loaded with smoky cedar, dark fruits, cassis, cranberry and spice.  The wine really opens after some time in the glass, delivering the same dark fruit with cinnamon, clove and all spice.  The wine is aged for 24 months in 50% new French oak resulting in a great California wine with quality you can expect from a fine Bordeaux wine.  In addition to the 24 months of aging, four barrels received extended aging for an additional 12 months.  This was a particularly delicious pairing and a perfect finish with the ripe blackberries, chocolate and coffee enhancing the spices and flavors of the wine, especially boosting the cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and chocolate qualities of the wine.

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ZinFest shows off the best of Lodi

Over 6,000 wine lovers attended the Lodi ZinFest held at Lodi Lake on May 14, tasting through wines offered by 43 Lodi winemakers.  This year’s ZinFest attracted a record breaking number of attendees from around the state and around the country.  The cool weather saw more jackets and fewer shorts than normal for this time of the year, but the visitors’ warmth for Lodi wines kept smiles on their faces.   In fact, this reporter felt that the cooler 60-65 degree weather made the full-bodied, rich Lodi reds especially tasty this year. 

As if tasting a wide selection of white and red wines was not enough, eleven local restaurants were serving plenty of delicious food, including paella, burritas, lamb tacos, pulled-port sandwiches, kabobs, gyros and more.  The weather even helped preserve the chocolate covered strawberries from melting in your hand.

The ZinFest Cooking School tent was packed with foodies looking forward to that special tip from one of the northern California chefs offering lessons all day long.  If cooking was not your thing, then you could join the crowd at the ZinFest Wine School tent next door.  There you could learn more about the wide range of wines available in this unique wine region, including Portuguese and Spanish varietals.  

If you needed to take a break from the wine tasting and food events, you could always site down for a few at the Piano Bar and listen to Joe Spraker while sipping on wine by the glass.  The Main Stage featured David Lunning’s sounds of folk/Americana, The World Record and the Bump City Tower of Power Tribute Band.

The winemakers of Lodi really showed the best at ZinFest.  Some examples are:
M2 Wines
  • 2008 ‘Artist Series’ Zinfandel – Made from three different vineyards in Lodi delivers some great fruit, acid and tannins with a well-balanced structure
  • 2009 Tempranillo – Delicious ripe fruit with strawberry and raspberry, long warm finish
Harmony Wynelands
  • 2009 Chardonnay – crisp acidity balances the aromas and flavors of pineapple and green apple
  • Zinsation Dessert Wine – dark red jammy fruit with touch of caramel
Peltier Station
  • 2006 Petite Sirah – earthiness, pepper, smoke, oak, coffee and cocoa, all you are looking for in a Petite Sirah
Fields Family Winery – this winery is only a year old
  • 2009 Big Red – nice dark multilayered fruit balanced with crisp acid and round tannins
  • 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel – jammy black cherry, blackberry, soft textures, smoke and spice
Bokisch Vineyards
  • 2007 Graciano – a fantastic wine with inky color and abundant aromas and flavors of toast, blackberry, cedar, sage, figs and earthiness, delivering complexity and a balance from beginning to end
Lodi is only 1-2 hours away from most of the Bay Area and is home to a growing number of family run boutique wineries producing high quality wine for a very reasonable price.  Many of the winemakers here are descended from a long line of local farmers, loving their wine and nurturing their fruit into full rich wines.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Livermore Valley Winegrowers Wine Auction contributes $225,000+ to local chariti

The Livermore Valley Winegrowers are dedicated to the Livermore community and this dedication was evident at the 17th Annual Livermore Valley Wine Auction held on Saturday May 7 at the Wente Vineyards.  Wente Vineyards were very gracious this year to donate the use of their massive Barrel Room for this event.  This is an event that the Livermore area looks forward to every year raising funds benefitting:
Over the years, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Foundationhas raised over $3.5 million dollars for these programs and more serving the children of the area. The foundation members, staff, sponsors, volunteers and wineries spend countless hours planning and staging this exciting event.  
During a break in the Live Auction, guests were invited to help a special fund for the Open Heart Kitchen.  The bidding cards were flying high as guests raised over $61,000 within minutes for this worthy charity.  This was significantly higher than last year.

The event opened with guests bidding on various items available in the Silent Auction, ranging from wine selections to sports memorabilia.  Local winemakers were there serving a great selection of fine Livermore Valley wines.  Wineries represented included Picazo Vineyards, Page Mill Winery, Cuda Ridge, Murrieta’s Well, Tamas Estates, Fenestra Winery, Garre Vineyards, Les Chenes Estate Vineyards, Little Valley Winery, Steven Kent, La Rochelle, El Sol Winery, Concannon Vineyards, Darcie Kent Vineyard, Rodrique Molyneaux and Retzlaff Vineyards. 

Following the Silent Auction everyone gathered in the Barrel Room for a sit-down dinner catered by Wente Vineyards while auctioneer Damon Casatico started the exciting Live Auction.  The bids were flowing on great selection of auction lots ranging from a collection of Livermore Valley library vintages to winemaker dinners for your friends at several local wineries.  One couple was very excited with their successful bid for a seven-night “Best of Croatia” cruise, while another captured a four-night stay at Four Seasons Resort at Wailea on Maui.  The very talented Darcie Kent offered one of her paintings “A View from Picazo Vineyards”, that drew an excited crowd of bidders.  One of the final bids for the evening was for a San Francisco Giant’s commemorative home plate autographed by the world champion team. 

The top Live Lots were:
  • Four nights at the Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea with round trip first-class Alaska Airlines raised $7600
  • Murrieta’s Well dinner and ballroom dancing for 10 was high on the list of several bidders.  In the end the Wente Family generously donated this lot to three separate bidders at $6,000 apiece
  • Five separate lots raised $5,000 apiece:
  • Azamara Club Cruise along Croatia Coast on the Azamara Quest
  • Livermore Valley Progressive Dinner for 10 with Les Chenes Estate, Occasio Winery, Nottingham Cellars and Bodegas Aguirre Vineyards
  • Darcie Kent’s Painting “A View from Picazo Vineyards”
  • Napa Wine Country Adventure for 5 couples with two nights at the Vineyard Country Inn and tours/tasting at Miner Family Vineyards and Gargiulo Vineyards
  • Concannon Vineyards special 50 years of Petite Sirah event for 12 couples, including a blending session, dinner in the library where a member of the Concannon family will dig into the vault and share Petite Sirah from across the decades, plus a case of wine
Teri Serowoky, Foundation President said, “On behalf of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Foundation, our wineries and beneficiaries, thanks for your support and community spirit!  Together, our efforts will have a prevailing effect on the lives of these children.”

Cambria Estate Winery pairs up with 5 Bites Friday

Palo Alto’s California Café 5 Bites Friday on April 22 featured Cambria Estate Winery from Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County.   5 Bites is a very nice way to spend a Friday evening.  For the very reasonable price of $20 each, guests sample five wines that have been paired by the chefs at California Café with five small plates while the winery representatives tell you about the wines.

Cambria Estate Winery is located on benchland in Santa Maria Valley where they have been growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah for over 20 years.  Owner Barbara Banke, a lawyer from Los Angeles, purchased the Tepusquet Vineyard in 1986 and dedicated her life to managing all facets of Cambria Estate including farming, winemaking, sales and marketing.  Winemaker Denise Shurtleff has been with Cambria since 1999 and loves the grandeur of Cambria Estate with acres of vineyards stretching along the Sisquoc River. 

On April 22 at California Café the 1st bite was a Thai curried chicken dish paired with a 2009 White Blend from Conundrum Wines.  It is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine has a nice full body and a good amount of acid, floral qualities and flavors of citrus, peach and melon.  In this particular case the curry appeared to be much too spicy for this wine.  While the dish was delicious, as was the wine, together they did not work as well as expected.

The 2nd bite consisted of a dandelion salad consisting of dandelion greens, strawberries, goat cheese almonds and a poppy seed vinaigrette.  This was paired with Cambria’s Gaga Rose.  As the winemaker states, “You will go gaga for this wine”.  It includes 85% Pinot Noir along with Malbec and Merlot.  It has deep red fruit flavors of strawberry and raspberry with a bit of candy overtones.  This paired nicely with the dandelion salad.  The rustic flavors of the dandelion really pumped up the fruit flavors of the wine.

On the 3rd bite we were treated to a grilled shrimp wonton with pineapple and jicama slaw that was paired with Cambria Estate Winery 2007 Santa Maria Valley “Katherine’s Vineyard” Chardonnay.   This Chardonnay was aged for 8 ½ months in 87% French oak.  You will love the aromas and flavors of pineapple, green apple, lemon, peach and pear with delightful vanilla quality.  It has good acid and a lingering finish that grows during the finish.  The roundness of the Chardonnay stands up well to the shrimp wonton and forms a very nice pairing. 

With the 4th bite we were served a strawberry glazed salmon with an asparagus, brie and lemon scented sorrel.  The wine was a Cambria 2006 Santa Maria Valley “Tepusquet Vineyard” Syrah.  This is a great cool-climate Syrah aged in 97% French Oak.  It has deep rich flavors of dark fruit, black raspberry, pepper, smoke and a bit of an earthy nutty flavor.  The finish peaks in the middle and then lingers on.  The pairing was interesting with the sauce in particular drawing out the earthy, forest floor flavors of the wine while keeping the bright rich fruits.

The final 5th bite was a Meyer lemon semifreddo with stewed strawberries paired with a Kenwood Yulupa sparkling wine. 

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