Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Family Winemakers returns to San Francisco for 25th Anniversary

The Family Winemakers Tasting has been one of the largest wine tasting events in the Bay Area and this year they celebrated their 25th Anniversary, returning to downtown San Francisco at the Palace Hotel.  This is the primary event for smaller family run wineries to showcase their wines for media, trade and discerning consumers. 

Over 125 California wineries, including several who have been participating all 25 years, were exhibiting hundreds of wines for visitors to enjoy. This event showcased the variety of wine varietals available in California from over 20 California appellations.

It was impossible to sample through all wines so here are some highlights:

J. Rickards Winery
This is a hands-on, family-run operation of both wine grape growing and wine production at the northern end of Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.  Jim and Eliza Rickards personally care for 45 acres of vines on their 60-acre ranch and make a limited amount of wines under the J. Rickards label.  Jim originally purchased the land to operate a cattle ranch which helps you understand the cattle brand label, The Rickards obviously have a passion for their land and their wines.   Their 2012 Five Sisters Blend Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of the five sisters of Bordeaux with 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot. It has a complex, yet balanced, aromas and flavors of dark fruit including black cherry, black raspberry, blackberry with an overlay of spice and a touch of chocolate. 
The 2013 Muscat Blanc delivers aromas and flavors of white peach, lemon, pear and a great balance of acidity, fruit and minerality.  Their booth was across the aisle from a cheese table and Jim suggested that I pair this Muscat Blanc with a blue cheese on the table and he was right, it was a great pairing bringing out some addition boost of fruit and minerality.

Bob Balentine of Line Shack
Bob and Daphne Balentine, the owners and winemakers for Line Shack Winery in Monterey County shared a number of their fine wines with us.  The name “Line Shack” comes from a term referring to a small cabin built in the open range where cowboys could take shelter from Mother Nature while working away from the home ranch.  When the Balentine family purchased a small ranch in southern Monterey County they discovered one of
Shaker Tails Fruit Wine from Line Shack
these old Line Shacks on the property.  The Line Shack Chardonnay from Santa Lucia Highlands has a nice crisp acidity and aromas and flavors of citrus, pear and tropical fruit leading to a balanced long finish.  The Line Shack Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a rich elegant wine with dark fruit including black cherry, currant, cassis and plus and a touch of coffee and leather.  For $26 you cannot beat the value for this fine Cab.

Heartfelt Wines
Heartfelt Wines is a boutique family-owned winery producing award winning premium wines on Treasure Island in the heart of San Francisco Bay. Owner/Winemaker Dan Morgan focusses on producing exemplary wines and his passion for winemaking shows in his wall full of awards including Best of Class and Double Gold awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition,   The 2011 Petite Sirah is a beautiful wine with a deep dark ruby color leading to aromas and flavors of dark plum, blackberry and black cherry balanced with nice spice and vanilla leading to a long finish with the tannins you expect from a Petite Sirah.

Mi Sueno Winery
Mi Sueno means “my dream” in Spanish and the story of Mi Sueno Winery is a dream come true. Owner/winemaker Rolando Herrera is living his dream, starting as a dishwasher in Auberge du Soleil to owner and winemaker for his own highly regarded boutique winery in Napa Valley.   The 2011 Mi Sueno Pinot Noir is from Carneros with lively red fruit flavors including cherry and strawberry with a complex structure adding in spices such as clove and allspice and white pepper.

Family Winemakers of California is the political and policy voice for small family-owned wineries. We lobbied water issues, fees and taxes, warning labels, farmer’s market tastings and farming regulations this year at the State Capitol and regulatory agencies. Continuing Pierce’s Disease and Red Blotch research remain at the top of our advocacy list. Consumers enjoy greater choice in California wines across the U.S. because of their advocacy. Artistry and passion are the hallmark of Family Winemakers of California wineries at these tastings and you will taste it in the glass.

All Family Winemakers tasting events focus on wineries that are small (under 5000 cases), have limited marketing outreach, and will be represented by family members.

More Wines of Danger

As covered in a previous article, Wines of Danger is a group of small family operated wineries who are spreading their wines in this often dangerous pursuit of their passion to make great wine.  Can they achieve success both from a winemaking aspect as well as a business aspect?  After talking to several of these wineries, this reporter believes that this group of winemakers is making a good start.

At the Wines of Danger tasting at the Mission Rock Resort last week, I met 22 hardworking individuals who have set their goals in achieving their dream as a winemaker.   They are also showing the world more about their wines and their passion.  Whether it is the varieties they choose, the appellations, winery name, wine brand name, promotion, or the right representative, each of these winemakers are taking the steps towards making their wines stand out!

Big Sur Vineyards
Most people in the Bay Area have visited the Big Sur area and are amazed by the beauty of this place.  Images appear in your mind of redwood forests, steep seaside cliffs, pounding surf, soaring condors and winding road hugging the coast.    Such images are what drew owner Lenora Carey and her family from San Francisco to Big Sur via Santa Lucia Highlands.  In Santa Lucia Highlands they started with a small grove of olive trees and essential oil garden of lavender and citrus with which them made soaps.  Loving their land they started planting grapes including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on their land.  Winemaking began as a hobby but, like many, this hobby grew into a passion.  By 2011 they hired Ryan Kobza as their winemaker and Big Sur Vineyards was born.  Today they live in Big Sur and commute to their tasting room in Carmel.  Each day they are still amazed of the beauty along this commute and have incorporated it into their labels.  These wines definite stand out on the shelf.  The 2013 Big Sur Red Blend includes Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah with nice aromas and flavors of dark berries, earthiness, and a touch of chocolate and vanilla.  The 2013 Pinot Noir from Monterey has nice silky tannins tied to aromas and flavors of strawberry and red cherry with a note of earthiness and vanilla.

Bruce Devlin of Three Clicks Wines
One of the first questions asked of Three Clicks is, “What is the meaning of the name?”  Harry Allen Smith, a famous journalist and humorist in the thirties was the first American to legally consume alcohol after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment ending Prohibition.  He claimed to have bribed a telegraph operator to send a “three-click” advance warning just before sending out the message that Prohibition had been repealed.  With this notice, he was able to take that first legal drink.  The name Three Clicks Wine was named as an honor of his ingenuity.  Bruce and Danielle Devlin are heavily involved in the wine industry with Bruce the winemaker at Ballentine and Danielle the winemaker at St. Clement across the street.  In addition Bruce is also the winemaker for Stars & Freckles Wines.  About 10 years after they both started as winemakers in Napa Valley they decide to start their own venture with Three Clicks Wine.  They wanted to make the best wine possible from some of the premium vineyards in Napa.  They also decided that they are “giving tradition a new twist” in that all of their wines will have screw cap closures.  The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc has a nice combination of aromas and flavors including tropical fruit and citrus and floral.  The 2013 Petite Sirah is a dark wine with velvety tannins, blackberries, black currants, blueberries and notes of brown spices and vanilla.

Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery
Ser is Spanish for “To Be” meaning to have an intrinsic quality, expressing identity or origin.  Owner/Winemaker Nicole Walsh wants her wines to express the variety and the terroir of their birth place.  Nicole was born in Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Horticulture with an emphasis on Viticulture and Enology.  She worked for wineries in Michigan and New Zealand and in 2001 started working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard where she is the vineyard manager for the San Juan Bautista vineyard and winemaker at his Santa Cruz winery.  Picking up marketing knowledge from Randall Grahm, Pinot Noir winemaking experience in New Zealand and grower contacts in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Nicole took that step towards her next goal by forming her own wine brand, Ser.  Nicole states that, “I am dedicated to preserving this trueness of varietal character and allowing the wine to express where it comes from.”   The 2014 Coastview Vineyard Chardonnay comes from the 2300 foot vineyard high in the Gabilan Mountain Range overlooking Salinas Valley.  This wine truly reflects the aromas and flavors of the grape with peach, apricot and plum and a nice minerality.  The 2014 Rockhollow Vineyard Cabernet Franc Rosé is a dry old-world style Rosé with flavors of pomegranate and strawberry and a nice minerality.

Onesta Wines
Onesta in Italian means truth, honesty and virtue.  Owner/winemaker Jillian Johnson believes strongly in capturing the truth and honesty of each vintage.  She started college at UC Davis in neurobiology but after a course in winemaking she switched to major in Viticulture and Enology.  She interned at Bonny Doon and worked for three years in the Southern Hemisphere for harvest season in Australia and South Africa.  She now works full time as an Enologist and Technical Sales Rep for Laffort, supplying Enology tools to wineries.  In 2012 she took that next step opening Onesta Wines.  Her wines are from Lodi, sourcing from some of the premium vineyards for her unique wines.  She discovered the great Cinsault grapes from the Bechthold Vineyards and Viognier from Bokisch Ranch.  The 2013 Bokisch Ranch Viognier is a beautiful Rhone style white wine with aromas and flavors of orange blossom, floral perfumes and excellent acidity with a nice tartness leading to a light fresh finish.  The 2013 Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault Rosé is a special wine, bone-dry and an abundance of fruit including strawberry and blood orange with a touch of earthiness that you might not expect in a Rosé.

Waxwing Wine Cellars
Waxwing is the creation and one-man operation with Scott Sisemore in charge.  Scott has over 20 years of experience in Northern California winemaking working at Ravenswood, Rosenblum and others, most recently at Pelligrini Family Vineyards.  In 2006 he left his commercial winemaking job to stay home with his newborn son.  This was his chance to develop hand-crafted ultra-small-lot wines and he established Waxwing Wine Cellars.  He focuses on Pinot and Syrah, mostly from the Sonoma Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains.  His winery is in an industrial building in Belmont and he spends many nights and mornings during harvest season bring grapes down to his winery.  The 2013 Spring Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Petaluma Gap in Sonoma Coast has a nice dark color and aromas and flavors of red cherry, red raspberry and plum with a nice note of spices and earthiness.  The 2014 Tondre Grapefield Riesling from Santa Lucia Highlands has great acidity and minerality with the aromas and flavors of citrus and stone fruit.

For more information:  Wines of Danger

Wines of Danger are Dangerously Good

While enrolled in a course at Sonoma State University, this reporter participated in a case study involving the start-up of a winery.  We would analyze the various costs involved in producing a fine wine from the cost of the grapes, to the production costs, bottling costs, marketing costs and commissions.  We varied many of the factors to try to achieve a financially viable result and found it difficult to make the grade.  We soon realized that, while winemaking might be a romantic passion, it is also wrought with danger if your goal is to make a living in this business.

The winemakers in the “Wines of Danger” realize that hazards they are facing but are willing to face the danger to achieve their passion.  In many cases the winemakers already are winemakers for other larger wineries, or they have a “real” job where they make money so they can then spend their weekends and evenings crafting their wines, or they have an understanding working spouse to help put food on the table while they pursue their passion.  But in several cases they are succeeding and the winery is their sole source of income as the try to grow their business while meeting their financial requirements.

At the Wines of Danger tasting at the Mission Rock Resort last week, I met 22 hardworking individuals who have set their goals in achieving their dream as a winemaker. Over the years, this reporter has run into many winemakers who have the passion but lack the marketing sense that achieving this goal requires people to actually purchase your wine.  And here in California, particularly Northern California, the competition is huge.  There are 4,285 wineries in California as of the end of 2014 according to the Wine Institute.  How do you make your wines stand out from the other wineries?  The winemakers of the Wines of Danger are impressive in that they do realize what is necessary to meet that challenge.  Whether it is the varieties they choose, the appellations, winery name, wine brand name, promotion, or the right representative, each of these winemakers are taking the steps towards making their wines stand out!

Eclectic Wines
With a name like Eclectic you expect to find interesting unique wines and at Eclectic Wines you will not be disappointed.  This is a moonlighting project of Mike and Wendy Trotta.  Mike grew up making wine in his uncle’s basement and has been the winemaker at Elyse Winery in Napa since 2001.  Wendy has had experiences at several wineries including Cain Vineyard & Winery.  At Eclectic you will not find your standard Chardonnay or Cabernet.  Their goal is to craft small amounts of refined, idiosyncratic wines from obscure varietals.  Their wines are food-friendly and ready to enjoy now or after years of cellaring.  They are minimalists and let the fruit speak for itself.  At this tasting we enjoyed a really nice 2013 Pinot Noir Blanc from Carneros, a 2013 Charbono from Suisun Valley and a 2011 Tempranillo from the Sierra Foothills.  Each wine was unique and delicious, definitely showing the joys of these fruits.

Buona Vita Cellars
Joe Healy grew up in Southern California without a wine background, but when he discovered it, he jumped into this newfound passion with both feet.  He went back to college at Fresno State to learn all about wine.  After graduation he went on to become the winemaker at Bella Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley.  But while he was crafting the great Zins, Pinots and Syrahs of this region he dreamed of working with the classic Italian noble grape, Nebbiolo.  He loved the strength and complexity of the great Italian Barbarescos and Barolos and felt that in California, the Nebbiolo can also be great.  So Joe and his wife Kathleen started a new chapter in their life forming Buona Vita, the “Good Life” in Italian, focusing only on Nebbiolo.  His first vintage was 2007 and at the Wines of Danger tasting visitors got to sample the 2009 and 2010 Nebbiolo.  This is a beautiful, strong wine that takes special handling to bring out the dark fruit characteristics and the leathery background expected.  Joe uses an extra year in puncheons to achieve this. Is it exactly like an Italian Barbaresco?  No, but it is the closest this reporter has seen in the U.S.

Melody Meckfessel and Cristen Mann of Stars & Freckles
This is a delightful family owned and operated winery founded in 2010.  The family has a long history in farming, both in Northern California and their original family homeland in Ireland.  Stars and Freckles is inspired by owner Melody Meckfessel’s grandmothers and their long history of family farming.  Melody is an amazing renaissance woman.  During the day she is developing much of the developer tools at Google, thus, making Google work.  Nights and weekends are spent managing the full operation of Stars & Freckles managing everything from the fields to the bottle.  In addition she is an active mom and runner.  She must have somehow developed a 40-hour day!  Other members of her team at the event were Cristen Mann handling the sales and marketing and Bruce Devlin, winemaker.  As with other Wines of Dangers, Stars & Freckles know the importance of standing out.  Stars & Freckles is a name you will not forget and it brings together their star bound hopes and goals with the down home friendliness and hospitality that is evident from the team members.  Stars& Freckles focusses on premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Carneros.  The Chardonnay exhibits a bright acidity with aromas and flavors of citrus, apple and tropical fruits.  The natural flavors of the Chardonnay shine through and run on to a long balanced finish.  The Pinot Noir has a nice spicy character to its rich fruit of red cherry, strawberry and raspberry with a nice long finish.

Sabrine Rodems of Scratch Wines
Scratch is the project of winemaker Sabrine Rodems.  Sabrine is another winemaker who developed her passion later in life.  After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Theater from UCLA she spent many years working tine the film and theater industry prior to deciding to return to college to earn her Masters of Science in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.  For the last ten years she has been working in Monterey County, most recently as winemaker for Wrath Wines.  But she has always had the itch to also start her own winery and that itch was fulfilled with Scratch.  Her work in Monterey has gotten her access to some of the best vineyards in the world for Pinot Noir, Riesling and Grenache.  Sabrine is also the driving force behind Wines of Dangers, drawing this collection of wineries together to promote their wines.  The 2013 Scratch Riesling from Arroyo Seco is very balanced with great acidity and minerality combined with aromas and flavors of grapefruit and lemon.  The 2013 Scratch Grenache is an excellent wine with bright fruits of black cherry, black berry, plum and spice.  The 2014 Rosé is a bold Rose of Pinot Noir reminiscent of a Rosé of Provence in France, dry and fruity and perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

Other members of Wines of Danger include Betwixt, Big Sur, Blair Estate, Calstar Cellars, Collier Falls, Comanche Cellars, Cuvee Wine Cellars, Dane Cellars, Georg Rafael Wines, Halcon, Idle Hour Winery, Onesta, People’s Wine Revolution, Post and Vine, Ser, Three Clicks Wines, Vinemark and Waxwing.

For more information:  Wines of Danger

Jericho Canyon Vineyard tucked in northeast Napa Valley

In the 1980s Marla and Dale Bleecher were ready to leave the stress of the city and find a place in the country where they could raise their kids and enjoy their dream of making wine.  They came across a small ad in the newspaper about a piece of property outside of Calistoga for sale by owner along Jericho Creek.  This 140 acre cattle ranch was going to require a lot of work to turn it into their dream vineyard and winery.  The land was along the Old Lawley Toll Road, the route to the Silverado Mine made famous by Robert Lewis Stevenson in his “Silverado Squatters.”

Years of work in the dirt, terracing the vineyards up the steep canyon walls on both side of the creek, constructing a 6,000 square foot wine cave, constructing a state of the art redwood 2000 cases winery housing stainless steel tanks, press and other equipment resulted in a high quality winery and 40 acres of
Cab, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.  They also built their new home on the other side of the canyon while they spent as much time as possible the intricacies of growing grapes and making wine.

For many years Jericho Canyon fruit went to Ramey Wine Cellars who produced a vineyard designates Jericho Canyon wine.  Winemaker David Ramey also produced an ultra-premium wine with the Jericho Canyon Vineyard label.  By 2006 harvest the Bleechers were ready for that big step towards making their own wine.  They completed the wine caves and winery building and produced their first vintage.  A few years later in 2011 their son Nicolas earned his BS in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis to come on board to manage the operation.  Aaron Pott, the 2012 Food and Wine Winemaker of the Year and the legendary Bordeaux blending consultant, Michel Rolland, came along to help Jericho Canyon Vineyards to produce powerful wines that reflect their rugged hillside terroir.

Jericho Canyon Vineyard is Napa Certified Green, Certified Fish Friendly, and California Sustainable using sustainable agricultural practices to ensure that the vineyard and land remain healthy and productive for generations.  They do not use pesticides or spray to control insects, relying upon Mother Nature with her bluebirds to control insects.

The Jericho Canyon Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is sur lie aged in 50/50 Stainless Steel and neutral oak barrels.  The result is a silky wine with nice crisp acids and a touch of grapefruit married with tropical flavors including pineapple and lychee.  The price is $40 per bottle.

The 2014 Rose is mostly a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  It is a fresh light summer wine with a very light color and great acid and fruit flavors of strawberries and watermelon.  The price is $40 per barrel

The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon has an intense nose of dark fruit and black cherry.  On the palate you will enjoy the dark fruit flavors, spice, tobacco and floral qualities with a toasty note leading to a nice velvety long finish. The price is $110 per bottle.

The flagship 2012 Chimera is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  It is a nicely balanced wine showing off nice tannins, full body, exquisite aromas and flavors of dark fruit, spice, chocolate and tobacco.  It has a nice smooth long lasting finish.  The price is $110 per bottle.

For more information: Jericho Canyon Vineyard

Phifer Pavitt Wine in Calistoga, a date night comes true

Suzanne Phifer Pavitt is a country girl, growing up on a farm outside of Ringgold Georgia.  Shane Pavitt is a city boy from Southern California.  After they married in 1998 they set a tradition of a date night with wine.  Living in Marin County with jobs in high-tech sales (Suzanne) and finance (Shane) they dreamed of their own winery in the country with all the images that normally surround that dream.  They found a 24-acre unplanted place on the hillside outside of Calistoga and started work on making their dream come true.

They built a home at the top of the hill and started learning about winemaking and producing their own wine at the Temple Family Vineyard in Pope Valley.  In 2005 they started taking the steps towards building a winery on their site in Calistoga.  Their winery started as a 19th century barn they found in nearby Franz Valley and moved it to the site and added a board-and-batten façade and metal roof.  The Pavitt’s eco-friendly style incorporated recycled blue jean insulation and recycled Wyoming snow-fencing paneling for the walls.

Inside the barn looks like it has been there for a hundred years.  The 1946 Farm All tractor out front adds to that image.  Light fixtures inside and outside reflect Suzanne’s creative style being made from barbed wire.  Sliding blackboard doors on the inside include cowgirl images.  Upstairs, the tasting room looks like a country barn ready for the evening barn dance with burlap covered hay bales and cushions made from burlap bags.  At the end of the room facing a large window overlooking the Napa Valley you will find a beautiful slab of fallen black walnut wood with jagged edges that is actually suspended in mid-air by medal straps from the ceiling. Suzanne’s southern hospitality shines in this beautiful tasting room, making visitors feel welcome as they check out the Phifer Pavitt wines.

The winery itself utilizes gravity feed as much as possible with the raised crush pad behind the building leading down to the lower level.  Phifer Pavitt winemakers are Ted Osborne for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Gary Warburton for the Sauvignon Blanc.  The Cab grapes come from the Temple Family Vineyards in Pope Valley in Napa Valley.  This year they added another Pope Valley Cab source from the Napa Valley floor north of Yountville.  The Sauvignon Blanc grapes come from the Juliana Vineyards in Pope Valley. 

The Phifer Pavitt labels feature Moxie, a cowgirl who takes us to the country and Southern hospitality that exudes from this winery.  Their wines are called Date Night (as is the URL) because all major decisions at Phifer Pavitt have been made on Suzanne and Shane’s regular Date Night. 

The Phifer Pavitt 2014 Date Night Sauvignon Blanc is a lively Bordeaux style wine with lively and intense acidity and aromas and flavors of pineapple, key lime pie, grapefruit and lemon zest.  This is a beautiful summer wine and I can imagine sitting on the porch enjoying a glass at the end of a day.  They produce 580 cases of the Sauvignon Blanc.  The price is $30 per bottle.

The 2011 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon has 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot.  It is aged for 18 months in French oak and 18 months in the bottle.  This wine has a very intense nose of black fruit including plum and black cherry and spice.  On the palate you will enjoy the red and black cherry, plum, cinnamon, clove,
allspice and a touch of caramel and creamy chocolate.  It has a nice warm mouthfeel and leads to a long, balanced yet complex finish.  The price is $80 per bottle.

For more information:  Phifer Pavitt Wine

VML Winery invites you to come for the wine and enjoy the gardens

VML Winery is the dream of Virginia Marie Lambrix.  Located along Westside Road in the northern reaches of the Russian River Valley, you will come for the great wines, but stay and enjoy the gardens. 

While she was the winemaker at Truett Hurst she saw the capabilities of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and developed a desire to study this varietal further and explore what the wine can do.  Her team joined with another longtime Russian River Valley grape grower, Bill Hambrecht, to form VML winery in 2011.  Virginia was fascinated by how Pinot Noir showed the characteristic of the Terroir and developed her Single Vineyard series of wines. 
In addition they have added a selection of other wines including Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Zinfandel and Sparkling.

Guests visiting VML Winery are treated to open hospitality, beautiful grounds with fruits and herbs and often food pairings. The garden grounds of VML Winery truly make this a must-visit destination.  As you walk up the steps from the parking lot, you will enjoy the greenery and flowers in every direction, even between steps of the stairway to the tasting room.  Depending on the season you will the fruit trees in blossom or bearing beautiful fresh fruit.  The staff is very informative and invites you to enjoy the patio while you enjoy the wine and admire the gardens. 
VML Winery often has live music on the weekends and even yoga some mornings. 

The 2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay has an amazing complexity of flavors including citrus, spice and floral leading to a long refreshing finish with great acidity and balance.

The 2014 VML Rose of Pinot delivers aromas and flavors of candied watermelon, strawberry and floral with a touch of citrus.

As a representative of the VML Single Vineyard series, the 2013 VML Floodgate Pinot Noir welcomes you with great aromas and flavors of red and black fruit, licorice and a warm earthiness quality.

The 2012 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel sources grapes from Dry Creek Valley.  You will enjoy the blackberry, black raspberry and spices on the nose and the palate and this carries on to its elegant finish.

For more information:  VML Winery

Viszlay Vineyards where family makes it work

Viszlay Vineyards is a small family owned and operated boutique winery in the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley.  John Viszlay was in Shopping Center Management in Chicago and had a dream to move to warmer California and open his own winery.  He purchased this 10 acre vineyard south of Healdsburg in 2010 and his daughter Abby and son Tony soon joined him.  The vineyard, originally planted in 1997, has 12 different varietals planted including the only Prosecco in Sonoma County. 

John quickly became a winemaker after he moved in and now produces about 1200 cases a year of a wide variety of wines.  He has a 1300 square foot winery building that can hold 150 barrels, plus large open topped fermenting tanks.  An indoor tasting room is included in the building and there is a very comfortable patio out back overlooking the vineyard and a wonderful place to relax, sample the wine and enjoy the outdoors as you look across the vineyard to the hills in the background.

John and Abby will greet you as you enter and offer you a taste of their wine.  The hospitality of Viszlay Vineyards is outstanding and makes you feel very comfortable as you enjoy the wines.  Everyone who was there when this reporter visited was certainly having a good time.

The 2010 Estate Chardonnay is a blend of two clones of Chardonnay.  It is a nicely balanced wine with an intense nose of apple and citrus.  It has excellent acidity and pairs well with a variety of foods.

The 2013 “The 809” Estate Chardonnay is made exclusively with the Clone 809 Chardonnay.  It is aged Sur Lies for 10 months in 1 year old French barrels.   It has an intense aroma and flavors of green apple and a touch of citrus, plus vanilla and caramel leading to a long balanced finish.

Viszlay’s 2013 Estate Pinot Noir has a light ruby color, an intense nose of red fruit and spice and flavors of strawberry and red fruit with a touch of earthiness leading to a long smooth finish. 

The 2010 Five Vines Estate Meritage is a blend of five Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec.   It has an intense nose and bright flavors of dark fruit, black cherry, cassis, and a touch of leather and coffee.

For more information:  Viszlay Vineyards

Russian River Vineyards is a destination for food and wine lovers

Russian River Vineyards was first planted in 1963 and has become one the premier organic and sustainably farmed vineyards in California.  It is a unique destination winery in the Russian River Valley, offering not only fine well-crafted wines, but also fine dining at the Corks, love music on the patio on the weekends or simply strolling through the country farm property.  And, if you choose to visit their second tasting room in downtown Sebastopol you will find it in the lobby of the Mainstage West Theater, a local non-profit theater.  Here you can enjoy a glass of wine while lounging in comfortable seats, playing board games or swapping stories with other guests.  And take the time to stay around and enjoy the theater performance in the evening.  Russian River Vineyards focusses
on hospitality whether in the country at the Forestville Tasting Room or in downtown.

They offer an opportunity to sample award-winning Chardonnay or Pinot Noir on the patio overlooking the vineyards.  You can meet up with friends to share a bottle of wine and enjoy a bean bag toss game on the patio.  Russian River Vineyards also offers two special tastings.  The Private Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tour includes a private tasting with a member of the staff who will guide you through the flight and will share the rich history of the region as you tour the Pinot Noir vineyards.  They also have the Food and Wine Experience on the patio of the hop kiln winery building enjoying a flight of Russian River Vineyards wine served with small plates from Corks.

And, speaking of Corks, be sure to stay around for a fabulous dinner at this farm to table restaurant, the only winery based restaurant in the Russian River Valley.  Based in the historic 1890s farmhouse, Corks has been winning awards for years.  The Farm at Russian River Vineyards is a working vegetable and flower farm growing over 45 different types of vegetables that are served daily at Corks. 

During the recent Passport Weekend visitors had the opportunity to enjoy barrel samples of the 2013 D&D Pinot Noir and the 2013 Syrah from Owl’s Watch Vineyard. 

The 2014 Gewurztraminer is an off-dry wine that pairs excellently with salads and Asian dishes.  It has a fresh delightful palate with floral notes and bright lychee fruit.  The price is $29.

The 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay has tropical fruit aromas and flavors such as mango and pineapple with notes of pear.  It has a nice medium full body and good acidity making it work well with food.  The price is $35.

The 2013 Fratti Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir is sourced from fruit from a small vineyard on a ridgetop in Green Valley.  It has a complex aroma and flavor structure of red fruits, floral and a touch of spice.  It is balanced with good acidity leading to a long finish.  The price is $65.

You will enjoy your visit to this country winery outside of Forestville along Highway 116.

For more information:  Russian River Vineyards

Lauterbach Cellars on doctor’s orders

Lauterbach Cellars is a small, family owned, award-winning boutique winery in the heart of the Russian River Valley outside of Santa Rosa.  Both Stew and Barbara love the outdoors as a break from their stressful lives as an emergency room physician (Stew) and Director of Legal Services (Barbara) and their quiet vineyard in the heart of one of California’s premier wine regions gives them the chance to enjoy the agricultural lifestyle away from their stressful jobs.

his small winery on 11 acres (7.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 3.5 acres of Syrah) has produced an amazing collection of award winning wines.  Part of this is due to the highly experienced team they have pulled together to make it all work.  Their next door neighbor and vineyard manager is Lee Martinelli, Jr. is part of an agricultural family that has been farming grapes in the Russian River Valley since the 1880’s.  Lee's experience and his love of the land shows in his meticulous care of the vineyards at Lauterbach.  The consulting winemakers are Dan Goldfield, Pax Mahle and Rod Berglund.  Dan is the owner/winemaker at Dutton-Goldfield winery.  Pax is the owner/winemaker at Pax Mahle Wines where they specialize in producing fine Syrah wines in addition to others.  Rod is the winemaker at the venerable Joseph Swan Winery.    

In addition to this experienced viticulture and enology team, the Lauterbachs have many friends and wine club members anxious to help them out.  The winery is small, as is the tasting room, which appears to double as the lab and processing area.  Visitors are naturally drawn to this very friendly winery, enjoying talking to Barb and Stew while enjoying their fine collection of wines.

The 2012 Syrah Rosé is a light fruity wine with a nice texture and aromas and flavors that still retain the Syrah quality

The Lauterbach 2012 Estate Pinot Noir is very tasty with intense aromas and flavors of raspberry and a touch of strawberry.

The 2009 Estate Syrah has a nice rich color and flavors of red and black fruit and spice.  The finish is long and balanced.

For more information:  Lauterbach Cellars

Inman Family Wines is quality from grape to glass

Kathleen Inman grew up in Napa Valley. It was while she was in college that she took a wine tasting class in college and she learned what Napa met to this industry.  She fell in love with wine and during summer break from college she started work in a tasting room of a new winery in Napa Valley.  Her first customer of that day was a young man with a British accent who was visiting the area.  Kathleen mentioned that she was hoping to visit London the following year as an exchange student.  While he was only there for a short time, Simon was very enamored by Kathleen, but he had forgotten to get her name when he was there.  When he returned home he wrote the winery a letter begging to put him in contact with her.

The two became pen pals and when she did get to London for her studies they started dating and now have been married over 30 years.  While the romance got its start in a tasting room, Kathleen’s winemaking dream was put on hold as “life” took over and she took on a practical career in accounting and finance, growing in her occupation and raising their two daughters.    

Kathleen and Simon’s love of wine was important to them while in England as they developed their cellar and their tastes.  They regularly traveled so some of the great wine growing regions of Europe. Fate again returned as the family was visiting Napa in the late 90s and were drawn to the beauty and variety of wines
in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino.  The decided it was time to live the dream and made the big move to Sonoma County.  With no formal training or experience in winemaking but full of passion for this life, they started searching for the right place to start.  They found it at a 10.75 acre vineyard and farmhouse along Olivet Road near Santa Rosa in the late 90s.  Their first vintage was 2002.

As they began construction on their winemaking dream, both Kathleen and Simon were set on an eco-friendly adventure.  The winery/tasting room building was constructed with a focus on efficiency and sustainability using recycled materials such as structural steel made from recycled cars.  All waste water is recaptured by below ground tanks and used to irrigate the vineyard.  Roof-mounted solar panels produce electricity for the building and they have the first privately owned public charging station for electric vehicles in the county.  The building could be LEEDS certified but they would rather spend the money on the winery than obtaining the certificate. 

All packaging material is 100% bio-degradable and they only utilize recycled paper, glass and plastic.  The wine bottles are the lightest possible that will still accept a Stelvin closure (rather than using corks).  Labels are made of recycled materials and water or soy-based inks.

In their Olivet Grange Vineyard this eco-friendly philosophy continues with sustainable and organic viticulture practices.  Fermentation is started with native yeasts and as a rule, no other water or acid is added.  They pick the fruit earlier than others to maintain the natural acidity of the fruit.  Only organic fertilizers and fungicides are used.

A visit to Inman Family Wines is by appointment only.  A private tasting and vineyard tour with the winemaker/owner is also available by appointment. 

The 2014 Endless Crush Rosé is made in the same French style as the Rosé is made in Provence where Kathleen and Simon sampled their first dry Rosé.  The first vintage of Endless Crush was on their 20th anniversary.  This wine has a light delicate pink color and the aromas and flavors of strawberry, guava, watermelon and a touch of citrus wrapped up in a nice acidity and minerality.  The price is $25.

The Inman Family 2012 Thorn Ridge Ranch Pinot Noir has a very intense nose of red and black berries and spice.  On the nose you will enjoy the flavors of blackberry, strawberry, red and black cherry, herbs and tea leading to a nice smooth well-balanced finish.  The price is $68.

The 2011 OGV Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is from the Olivet Grange Vineyard out the back door of the winery.  It delivers the aromas and flavors of red cherry, red raspberry, herbs and spice.  The price is $68.

For more information: Inman Family Wines

Hartford Family Winery is a surprise hidden in the forest

Hartford Family Winery is a family-owned winery hidden in forests above Forestville in Russian River Valley.  As you cruise along Martinelli Road between River Road and Highway 116 watch for the signs for Hartford Family Winery and as you turn down the driveway you will be surprised and amazed to see a large beautiful mansion pop out from the pines.

This winery is a dream that came true for Don and Jennifer Hartford.  Don grew up on a strawberry farm in Massachusetts and has always loved the farm life.  But as a high powered lawyer in San Francisco and around the world, life on the farm was a long ways off.  In the early 90s he started making wine at his winery in Forestville and soon was winning awards and accolades.  His wine was even served in the White House.  He loves the land and farming and can often be found working the vineyards, busy in the winery and involved in hospitality and sales. 

Hartford Family Winery is located only 15 miles from the cool Pacific Coast, and sources their grapes from a wide range of estate vineyards from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County to Carneros in Napa County and many sites around Sonoma County.  At each vineyard they utilize the least invasive farming practices available including some which are organic and biodynamic.  Each vineyard offers its own terroir characteristics that Hartford’s winemaker Jeff Stewart strives to maintain in the finished wine.

Hartford Family Winery has two tasting rooms, one located in the magnificent winery in Forestville and one in downtown Healdsburg.  Both offer a variety of tasting experiences indoors
and outdoors, including some where they will provide a box lunch to pair with the wine.  At the recent Russian River Valley passport event they offered several newly released wines for visitors to enjoy.

The 2012 Hartford Court Fog Dance Chardonnay provides aromas and flavors of citrus, mint and floral along with a nice acidity and minerality.  The 2011 vintage got 92 points from Robert Parker.  The price is $65.

The 2012 Hartford Court MacLean’s Block Pinot Noir uses grapes from a vineyard nestled in an area surrounded by redwoods near Occidental overlooking the Russian River Valley.  The wine has intense aromas of dark fruit and earthiness carrying these same characteristics onto the palate leading to a nice pleasant long finish.  The price is $65.

The 2012 Hartford Court Jennifer’s Pinot Noir is a powerful wine rich in aromas and flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, leather, lavender and spice.  Previous vintages regularly won 91 or 92 points from Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer.  The price is $70.

The 2014 Hartford Highwire Vineyard Zinfandel (barrel sample for Passport weekend) comes from a 100 year old vineyard in Russian River Valley that utilizes an unusually high wire strung between each vine.  The wine has aromas and flavors of dark fruit, licorice and spice.  This wine also has seen many awards in previous vintages. The price will be $55.

For more information:  Hartford Family Winery