Thursday, August 28, 2014

Happy Cabernet Day

Today is the 5th Annual International Cabernet Day, a day to celebrate and enjoy any Cabernet based wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet blends and more.  What is your favorite cab?

Here are a few favorite Cabs:

Silver Oak 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Silver Oak is world famous in their Cabernet Sauvignon.  I happen to enjoy their Alexander Valley Cab since it is friendly and open when drinking it by itself, but still is a great wine to serve with food.  It has the deep garnet color you expect from a fine Cab and a very enjoyable nose of cassis, blueberry, blackberry, dark fruits, tobacco and coffee.  Many of these aromas carry on to the palate and so enjoyable when combined with the full body of the wine leading onto a long complex finish.

McGrail Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – McGrail Vineyards in Livermore Valley has developed an art in making Cabernet Sauvignon.  A couple years ago the Reserve Cab won the Best Red Wine award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  This wine has a deep purple color.  The nose is a true delight with a blend of dark cherry, cassis, plum and spice.  You will detect a nice smoky element and a touch of earthiness.  The tannins are full and complex and it has a long balanced finish.

Cuda Ridge 2012 Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc – This is one of the top wines at Cuda Ridge, with a very fragrant nose of raspberry and blackberry, cedar and vanilla.  It has a warm full mouth feel and good tannin structure throughout the wine. 

Corte Riva 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – This has been an excellent year for the Corte Riva Cab, with beautiful, complex aromas and flavors of blackberries, black cherry, cassis, and forest floor.  You will love the nice minerality and complex tannins that make this wine a joy to drink from its first whiff on the nose to that long finish.

Whatever Cab you like, take some time today to enjoy it, by itself or with dinner.

Historic Wineries of Santa Clara Valley - Thomas Kruse and Fortino Wineries

In the last article you learned about some of the history of wine making in Santa Clara Valley, a history dating back since the missionaries and including such famous names in wine history as Almaden Winery, Paul Masson, Mirassou and more.  You also learned that even today in Santa Clara County South Valley there are several wineries with a long history that shows the importance of Santa Clara Valley in California’s wine tradition.

When Thomas Kruse came to California in his early 20s, he missed some of the memories from his family’s farm in Wisconsin and wanted to make cider.  His friends convinced him to try to make wine instead.  He quickly got that winemaking bug and wanted to share his passion with others, opening a Wine Art Store for home winemakers.  By 1971 he had quit his day job and opened the Thomas Kruse Winery on Hecker Pass Road. 

Thomas was passionate about his craft and created dry roses from such varietals as Carignane and Grignolino and even Thompson Seedless grapes.  He also started to experiment in making champagne in the traditional method.

By 1997 he and his wife purchased a larger 20-acre property across the valley and planted his own 12-acre vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay.  The winery grew to its current size of 2500 cases of wine per year.  The new winery building opened in 2003.  Thomas believes strongly in his wines and strives to perfect his craft, saying that bigger is not always better.  Even today, he concentrates on handcrafting a small quantity of wine and pleasing his loyal following  
of friends, volunteers and customers.

When it comes time to harvest the grapes he will put out the call to his list of volunteers.  He always gets more volunteers than needed so he selects the ones he needs for that year and they are rewarded with six bottles of his Tourniquet Red symbolizing the pain and wounds from a day of physically demanding harvest.  But those volunteers will be coming back year after year.

Thomas Kruse is proud of the fact that he is the oldest sole proprietorship winery in the USA.  You will see that much of the equipment used in his winery is from a forgotten era of durability and quality rather than simply “high tech”.  Thomas is familiar with each and every vine on his property, pruning them carefully each year to produce the quality of grapes he demands.  You know when you taste Thomas Kruse wines that you are getting something personally made by Thomas.

He continues to dabble in making Champagne and he is allowed to keep the Champagne name rather than the newer “Sparkling Wine” label because he has been involved in this production since before the new rules were adopted.  Again, every bottle of this Champagne is hand produced from riddling to the dosage by Thomas.  He will even make special versions for long time customers and he has many long term customers.

Thomas also has the reputation of always willing to help other small vineyards and wineries that have started up in Santa Clara Valley over the years.

In addition to his Champagne, Thomas Kruse makes Chardonnay, Rose, Gilroy Red blend, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  He keeps his prices affordable to make these wines a good deal for all.  The Thomas Kruse Winery is located at 3200 Dryden Avenue in Gilroy, directly east of the Gilroy Outlets.

Fortino Winery was established in 1970 by Ernest and Marie Fortino when they purchased the Cassa Brothers winery that had been in operation since the 40s.  Ernest wanted this property since it   In 1995 Ernest passed on the responsibility for running the winery to his son Gino and daughter Teri.  They have continued to expand the vineyards to 50 acres of which half are still dry-farmed as the original vineyards were managed. 
reminded him so much of his home in Calabria in Italy.
Gino has guided the growth of the winery to include not only the production of a variety of fine wines, but to develop an event and wedding center that is known throughout the county.  The event center includes a beautiful outdoor facility overlooking the vineyards and a full function kitchen that can cater to the needs of the event.  This writer was very pleased when his daughter was married at this winery, an exciting event that will long be remembered.

Fortino has a large tasting room with friendly staff ready to serve.  It has been voted the Best Wine Tasting for several years in a row by the Gilroy Dispatch.  Yelp continues to have good reviews on the winery and wedding events.

They will usually have several wines on the tasting menu during your visit.  Some particular standouts include the Charbono (absolutely delicious) and the Cask140, a blend of Charbono and Cabernet Sauvignon.  But I am sure you will also enjoy the Merlot, Zinfandel, Carignane and Maribella blend on th  And, of course, everyone enjoys their Extra-Dry Champagne and Almond Champagne for the weddings.  Stop by their tasting room at 4525 Hecker Pass Highway in Gilroy to check out the wines and gift items.
e red wine side and the Chardonnay, Riesling and Black Muscat Blush on the white wine/Rose side.

Be sure to take the photo tour of Thomas Kruse and Fortino wineries via the attached photos.  Stay tuned for the next article covering the historic Kirigin winery, and the previous article describing Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Winery.

For more information:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Historic Wineries of Santa Clara Valley - Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Cellars

Santa Clara Valley is proud of its long and rich history in winemaking.  Mission Santa Clara was producing wine by 1802 and by 1823 Antonio Maria Sunol was making and retailing wine in San Jose.  By the 1850s the concentration of French in the South Bay and the large influx of new people in California due to the Gold Rush also saw a growth in grape plantings in the area, changing the winemaking from use of the native Mission grapes to the Vitis vinifera grapes from New England.  In this period San Jose had the largest concentration of nurseries in the state.  By 1860’s Charles LeFranc’s New Almaden Vineyard was producing 100,000 gallons of award-winning wines.

Grape planting continued at a strong pace for the rest of the century with new names appearing in the area including Paul Masson, Picchetti, Miirassou and others.  But by 1900 the phylloxera disease that had decimated the French grape industry was taking hold in the northern Santa Clara county and winemakers searching for phylloxera-free areas started planting in the south county area, starting in Morgan Hill and San Martin.  The wine industry continued to grow dramatically until Prohibition was passed in 1920.  While winegrowers strived to survive during prohibition through various means, by 1932 there were only 6,500 acres of wine grapes remaining.

As with most of the American wine industry it took decades for the wine industry to return to its former glory following Prohibition.  And, by that time, Silicon Valley was coming into focus and agriculture was forced out of north county and growing in south county.  Almaden and Mirassou vineyards were converted to homes and factories.  But small family run operations that had been in operation in the south county were growing. 

Emilio Guglielmo arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1909.  He worked his way to the west coast and established himself in San Francisco before sending for his sweetheart, Emilia, to join him.  By 1925 they had saved their earnings to purchase fifteen acres in Morgan Hill and founded Emilio Guglielmo Winery, producing wine in the basement of their home.   Guglielmo developed quite a reputation with the Italian families of Santa Clara County, delivering wine from his horse drawn wagon while picking up the used bottles to reuse at the winery.

In 1945 the winery was passed on to Emilio’s son George W. Guglielmo and his wife Madeline when George W. returned from World War II.  At this time the winery was changed to Emilio Guglielmo and Son.  The father and son worked together to expand the estate vineyards and distribution channels.  New ideas flowed into the winery including the introduction of refrigerated stainless steel fermentation tanks, small oak cooperage to replace the older redwood casks and production of the winery’s first premium varietal wine. 

Today the third generation, brothers George E., Gene and Gary retain the family tradition of producing award-winning wine from the 100 acres of Santa Clara Valley estate vineyards as well as other vineyards around the county and California.

Guglielmo makes a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbono, Fiano, Grignolino, Merlot, Pinot Blanc Pinot Grigio Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel under their Reserve Guglielmo label.  Plus they have several wines under their second label, TRE, and their Heritage Table Red and Table While under the Emile’s label.  In addition they produce several private label wines for others. 

The tasting room is really a step back into history offering a wide variety of goods and wines much like a country store.  They will be glad to give you a tour of the facility.  They also host many weddings on the property in their spacious outdoor facility.  Guglielmo Winery is located at 1480 East Main Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Morgan Hill Cellars history dates back to 1913 when it started as Colombano Winery using Barbera rootstock brought from Italy by immigrant Camillo Colombano.  In 1945 the Pedrizzetti family purchased the winery and changed the name to Pedrizzetti Winery.  In 2006 Mike and Maryclaire Sampognaro purchased the winery and renamed it Morgan Hill Cellars.  The Sampognaro’s moved to Morgan Hill when they were searching for a way to have their daughter and grandkids remain close to the family while still coping with the growing costs of housing in Silicon Valley.  Now Mike and Maryclaire live in one home on the property while his daughter and her family live in another home on the property.

In addition to their own wines, Morgan Hill Cellars also produces wines under other labels, ranging from bottles to jugs to bag-in-a-box.  Most of their production is outside of the Morgan Hill brand.  They have a wide selection of White (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Johannisberg Riesling) and Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and more).  In addition they produce a variety of fruit wines and vinegars.

As you pull into the parking lot at Morgan Hill you are surrounded by history.  On the left is the old Pedrizzetti home and to the right are the winemaking facilities. You can tell from the walls where the winery has grown over the
years.  The tasting room in the center is rather new for this 100 year old winery; the original room was destroyed by fire in 1996 and rebuilt.  The new La Fenice (the phoenix arising from the flames) Tasting Room and Gift Gallery is a real delight with Italian-Mediterranean architecture featuring gold and terra cotta walls, tiled floors, and redwood wine bars for tasting the fine wines.  The Gift Gallery is a perfect place to stroll with your wine, checking out the pottery, wine racks and other gift items.  There is a lovely patio out the back for relaxed tasting.

Morgan Hill Cellars also has a location for weddings and events.  They are located at 1645 San Pedro Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Be sure to take the photo tour of Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Cellars via the attached photos.  Stay tuned for the next article covering the historic Thomas Kruse, Fortino and Kirigin wineries.

For more information:

What is Happening at the Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration

Individual wineries throughout Liver more Valley are planning special events for the Harvest Wine Celebration on August 31.  

For the 2014 festival, 37 wineries will host festivities at their tasting rooms across Livermore Valley, and seven more wineries will be pouring at either Concannon Vineyard or Wente Vineyards on Tesla Road. All locations will offer wine tasting, fresh food vendors, local artisans and festive music. Wineries are open only to ticket holders with event wristbands.

Here is a list of some of the specific events planned.  It looks like it will be a fabulous day in Livermore Valley.

  • Charles R Vineyards – Enjoy a rockin’ afternoon with music by “The Hurricane Band”
  • Concannon Vineyard – music and wine poured from Bodegas Aguirre, Concannon Vineyard, McGrail Vineyards & Winery and Nella Terra Cellars
  • Cuda Ridge Winery – Tasting of the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Merlot, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Cabernet Franc and 2012 Petit Verdot.  Posada’s Contemporary South Western cuisine will include a great selection of tapas
  • Eagle Ridge Vineyard – Tasting the 2012 Pinot Grigio, 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Zinfandel and 2009 Petite Sirah.  Enjoy Spanky’s Hot Dogs and several craft vendors
  • Eckert Estate Winery – Enjoy live music from Jeff and Friends, a 6-piece smooth jazz ensemble and several craft vendors
  • Longevity Wines - Ken’s Wood Fired Pizza and the smooth sounds of Joey T and Friends
  • Murrieta’s Well Winery – Tasting of The Whip and The Spur plus special reserve flights.  Barrel tasting available plus music and vendors
  • Occasio Winery – Check out the live music and foo plus fine wines
  • Wente Vineyards – music and wine poured from Wente, Elliston Vineyards, Les Chenes Estate Vineyards, Little Valley Winery and Murrieta’s Well
  • Wood Family Vineyards – “Patty and Abigail” will be rocking away at the vineyards.  El Charro will have their brand spanking new taco truck there.  Craft vendors will have their wares for sale.

The 2014 admission price of $45 includes commemorative Livermore Valley wine glass, admission and tastings of at least two wine varietals at each of more than 40 participating wineries, parking and official event program. Attendees can save 10% when buying 10 or more tickets together. Designated driver tickets for guests over age 15 are $10 at the event only. Tickets are available at participating wineries, Bay Area Safeway stores, The Wine Steward in Pleasanton, First Street Wine Company in Livermore and online at

For more information about the Harvest Wine Celebration: