Journal and tasting notes from a week-long visit to several California wineries and vineyards. Brad Harrington and I had made several appointments in Napa and Sonoma as well as various wineries on the Central Coast. Our plans were to spend most of the week up north (including the WCWN barrel tasting in Sebastapol), then leave the North Coast late Thursday for Santa Barbara. We would then visit some wineries on Friday in the Santa Ynez Valley, and attend the Santa Barbara Futures Tasting on Saturday, followed by the off-line Saturday night, and back to SoCal on Sunday. All in all, a nice busy week.
Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included in the winery write-up. The alpha scores are expressed in Aroma/Taste format, and may be compared to numerical scores by referencing the conversion chart. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.
Barrel Tasting: a few words about barrel sampling are probably in order. Although this is one of the most enjoyable and enlightening of tasting processes, it is also one that causes more than a little angst among winemakers. The fact of the matter is that the wine hasn't finished developing as yet - it's still going through growth and maturation in the barrel, and is a work in progress. Therefore, winemakers are often reluctant to show off their creations - concerned the wines may be misunderstood or unappreciated by the taster. The tasting notes in this report are mostly of barrel samples. And, my impressions are just that - my impressions of the wine at its current stage of development.
Sunday, March 10, 2002
We had a big week planned. Leaving SoCal about 7:00am Sunday, we were hoping to arrive in Paso Robles about Noon. With very little traffic, the trip was a breeze, and we were actually running ahead of time. Stopping off in Atascadero at The Wine Outlet, we browsed a bit and picked up a few interesting bottles. The store has moved to a larger location in this little outlet center, and the selection of wines is even better that before.
Arrived at Garretson Wine Company off Hwy 46 East about Noon to find Amie and Mat Garretson just opening up the tasting room. While Mat excused himself to run a few errands and get the paint off his hands (he'd been doing a little painting at home - hopefully, the wall got most of it), Amie poured us through the current offerings, while we chatted about what a hectic journey it's been for their new winery. Mat arrived back in time to do some barrel tasting with us.
The quality of the fruit available to Garretson seems to be at an all-time high, and both the in-progress wines and the finished products really show it. We were particularly struck by a fabulous Syrah from the Rozet Vnyd. This impressive vineyard was planted on Paso's Westside in '98 under the watchful eye of John Alban as consultant. It currently consists of about 30 acres of Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Counoise.
Another of Mat's impressive Syrahs came from the Bassetti Vnyd, out in the Cambria area. With John Alban as consultant (there's that name again), this 5 acre Syrah vineyard is ideally situated near ocean breezes to allow a longer growing time, which will undoubtedly turn out some fine cool-climate Syrah.
Finally, Mat also has a Winchester Vineyard Syrah bottling that rivals both the Bassetti and the Rozet vineyards. This appears to be yet another of Paso's Westside sources that will be a property to watch. Can you guess who the consultant is?
Yes, things appear to be going just fine with Garretson Wine Company, with Mat and Amie now up to about 4,300 cases annually.
Took a drive over to visit with Robert Nadeau at Nadeau Family Vintners. Robert and wife Patrice own Nadeau, and in addition to handling the winemaking chores for Norman Vnyds, Robert consults for several other area wineries.
The winery is located out in the Westside's rolling hills on Peachy Cyn Rd. Housed in a former barn that was used for walnut processing, the Nadeau's have added a small lab/tasting room right next to the barrel room. The tasting room room is decorated with photos,
wine lore and wine labels from earlier California wine days. Robert seems to be doing an excellent job with Zins and Rhône varietals. Presently up to about 2,000 cases annually, the Nadeau's have 6 acres of their own planted to Zin, with some Grenache and Petit Sirah, and control over another 9 acres of Paso vineyards. Current fruit sources include the Sauret, and Dusi vineyards.
Arrived at Windward Vineyard and chatted a bit with proprietor Marc Goldberg about his Pinots. Windward has 15 acres of Pinot Noir, and only Pinot Noir. Debuting with their '93 vintage, Marc and co-proprietor Maggie D'Ambrosia produce from 750-1200 cases annually.
as it may seem (only because of the high temperatures during Summer),
Pinot does have a past history in Paso Robles. Apparently, André
Tchelistcheff was a consultant to HMR's Dr. Stan Hoffman in the late 60s,
and based on the limestone soil his recommendation was Pinot Noir. I never
tried a 70s era Pinot from here, but by most accounts they were quite
nice. It was nice to be able to taste through a vertical of four vintages.
Area newcomer Stephan Asseo has been making wines here under the L'Aventure and Stephan Ridge labels, until his own facility is finished. Although currently buying fruit from other sources, Asseo and partner have 127 acres on Paso's Westside that has been planted to Cabernet, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Verdot, Roussanne, and Viognier. Definitely a winemaker and property to watch.
Leaving the Paso Robles area, we headed up Hwy 101. We didn't have an overnight reservation anywhere; our goal was to get as close as possible to the Saratoga area for Monday's visit with Marty Mathis at Kathryn Kennedy Vineyards. With that in mind, Santa Cruz seemed like a good destination. I hadn't been to Santa Cruz before - usually just skirting the area on the way to wineries. Nice place. Had a great seafood dinner out on the wharf.
Excuse Me, Do You Have A Ticket
After stopping at one of the local Starbuck's, we hit the road about 10:00am for Saratoga, the Beverly Hills/Brentwood of the Silicon Valley. From Santa Cruz, the most direct way to the Silicon Valley is over the Santa Cruz Mtns on Hwy 17. This 4-lane road is kind of crazy (fast and curvy), but it's also scenic as all getout. We were breezing along in the fast lane, some distance behind a Ford pickup. After a while, the pickup pulled over into the slower lane for no apparent reason. He couldn't think I was trying to get by him, I thought, so why'd he move over. I supposed he was just tired of leading, and wanted to let me by. So, I took the lead, figuring he'd pull back into the fast lane behind me. He didn't. Less than 30 seconds later I crested a hill that also swung to the right. Doh!! There, over on the side of the road was a CHP motor officer hiding in plain sight, and he was pointing something at me. RADAR! I was caught like a deer in the headlights.
It's funny what goes through your mind when something like this happens: Com'on car, slow down so I don't have to hit the brakes. I wonder if I can outrun him. Hey, look at me, I'm invisible! Maybe the radar malfunctioned. I'll bet I wasn't going that fast. Perhaps he doesn't realize who I am. Uh-oh, here he comes. Maybe he's after somebody else. If I'm nice, he'll take pity on me. I wonder if I can outrun him. Oh, crap, I'm getting a ticket. But officer, I haven't had a ticket in 12 years. Wanna try some Garretson Rozet Syrah? Maybe he'll recognize Brad. Oh, crap, I'm getting a ticket.
Speaking of Brad, he was quite supportive. Don't worry - probably only cost you 300 bucks, he says. 300 BUCKS, I screamed - what happened to the $45 ticket? That's me, living in the past again. I tried to reconstruct the events in my head that led me to this point (don't try to reason with me, I ALWAYS do this). Let's see, the guy in the truck moved over...I sped up...I got caught speeding.... ah-ha! It was all a conspiracy! Obviously, I'd been setup. The guy in the truck was really a CHP officer, leading yet another unsuspecting lamb to the slaughter. Or-r-r-r...maybe it's just possible that the guy in the truck had driven this road more than a few times, and knew what was waiting around the bend. As it turns out, Hwy 17 at the Lexington Reservoir is a fairly well-known speed trap in the area. But I digress.
We met winemaker and family member Marty Mathis at Kathryn Kennedy Vineyards at about 11:00. Located in Saratoga, Kathryn Kennedy Vineyards is something of an anachronism - a vineyard and winery situated in a substantially urban setting (in fact, the pool in the back yard provided a nice contrast). From the small vineyard in the front yard to the 7-acre parcel in the back yard, the KKV property is a real delight. Unfortunately, some of this land is due to be sold by the family to developers. City zoning and stratospheric land prices have conspired to the point where KK needs to sell off 5 acres (for 7 residential parcels), which will take a great big chunk out of the vineyard.
Marty is Kathryn Kennedy's son, and his stewardship of the property as both vineyardist and winemaker really shows. The Cab was planted in '73 from original cuttings. Since then, each block has been treated differently, and fermented separately. Getting about 1.5 tons/acre, KK produced 400 cases in '92, and are up to 4,000 cases currently. Marty has some Nebbiolo, and did have some Tempranillo as well - until the Blue-Green Sharpshooter got to it. Keeping the yields down, Marty is pulling 1.5 tons/acre on the Estate fruit. And, he's also been steadily backing off on the new oak, now down to about 20% new barrels. To compensate for the upcoming reduced acreage, Marty has started sourcing fruit from several other small vineyards in the area.
Marty gave us a barrel sample of the '00 Estate Cab, and then a pour of the '99 Estate Cab as we headed out to walk the property. Standing there and looking around at the surrounding hilltops, you realize that to some extent, this is ground zero for a lot of pioneering winemaking in California. Within eyesight, or at least very close by, legendary names like Paul Masson and Martin Ray began to exert their respective influence on the California wine industry. The Kathryn Kennedy property was included in the Santa Cruz Mtn appellation in 1981. Saratoga is quite warm in the summer, and the KK property is probably the warmest location in the appellation, with summer temperatures pushing 100 degrees - similar to Oakville.
As we were returning from the back vineyard, Marty grabbed the open bottle of '99 Estate Cab and a bottle of the new Maridon Vnyd Syrah, and we headed for the picnic table in front of the winery to relax. It was a nice warm Spring day, and we could have stayed there 'till the sun went down. Unfortunately, all good things must end. We thanked Marty for his time and generosity, and he sent us away with the rest of the unfinished wine. Great guy, great place, and our trip was getting better and better.
Moving Right Along
After departing Kathryn Kennedy, we decided to grab some lunch and make a few stops on the way up through the Bay area. First stop, Beltramo's, a large and very well appointed wine store in Menlo Park. We browsed a bit (lots of interesting stuff here), then stopped at a local market to get sandwiches as well as some ice for Brad's cooler (which was quickly getting filled with wine). The third stop was going to be North Berkeley Imports. But time was passing quickly and we were getting concerned that we'd get stuck in traffic while trying to get to the Occidental area (Sonoma Coast) by 4:00pm. So, we decided to forgo the stop at North Berkeley, and continued on through town and over the Golden Gate bridge. Driving through Santa Rosa and Sebastapol, we started into the beautiful areas of Graton and Occidental which form a nice patchwork quilt of forested areas interlaced with vineyards. Apparently, this area was a hot bed of pot-growing activity back in the '60s.
We arrived in Occidental right on schedule, and took up residence at the Marsh's guest house, where we were to spend the next three nights. Great hosts and a beautiful place. Fabulous view, too, looking across the 1.25 acre Pinot Noir vineyard toward Bodega Bay. The next couple of days were a little fog-shrouded. But, Thursday morning was clear as a bell (see photo at right). We had previously arranged to visit Al and Virginia Rago's Que Syrah Vnyd late that afternoon. This is one of the coolest-climate Syrah vineyards in California, and the source of Ehren Jordan's Failla-Jordan Syrah. Al is harvesting 1.5-1.75 tons/acre on his property. Planted in 1994, the first crop went to La Crema, with all subsequent vintages going to Ehren Jordan.
On arriving, Al suggested we get out to the vineyard before dusk. So, we jumped into their BMW X-5 and shot down the narrow dirt road to the front of the property. We got out and walked some of the 2-plus acres of Syrah, with Al pointing out the poison oak here and there. Al recalled how he got into the stuff accidentally, and ended up with quite a rash. I found myself humming, "You're gonna need an ocean...of Calamine lotion. "We then headed over to see the house his son Vincent was building and the vineyard he'd planted. With the weather outside getting very cold and windy, we headed back to Al and Virginia's fascinating retro-Paladian house for conversation and wine. While working through a Failla-Jordan Viognier and a Flowers Pinot Munier, Virginia asked what other places we'd arranged to visit during the week. We named a few places, and at the mention of Lagier Meredith, she brightened. Oh, you'll love it up there; it's a great place with beautiful views. What are you driving - you'll need a 4-wheel drive to get up there. Acura MDX I told her. Real 4-wheel drive, she asked. Well, kind of, I replied. We looked out the door at the Acura. I don't know about that clearance, she though aloud. Me neither, I agreed, looking at all that suspension hanging down. I mentioned that Steve Lagier offered to pick us up at the bottom of the road up to their place. Virginia recalled, "Al drove us up there in the X-5 recently, and I was so angry at him! There were huge rocks, holes and ruts all over the road." Suddenly, Steve Lagier's original offer to pick us up seemed like a very good idea. "I wouldn't drive your car up there. If they'll pick you up...do it," Virginia said. I think Al was out of earshot for some of this conversation, but he kind of downplayed the road's condition (as guys often do). Just how muy macho was I, I wondered to myself. Yep, the more I thought about it, the more I thought hitching a ride up with Steve sounded like a real good idea.
We had a great time with Al and Virginia, drinking through several nice wines ('94 Kistler CMR, '99 Cedarville Grenache, '99 Alban Lorraine) while talking and dining. Al & Virginia were super hosts, and we couldn't thank them enough for the invitation and for their company. In fact, they eventually had to retire for the evening, so that we could finally go home.
Tuesday, March 12, 2002
Arrived about 1:00 at Copain, and met up with Wells Guthrie at the small industrial park in Santa Rosa that currently serves as the winery. After introducing us to his partner, Kevin McQuown, we chatted about how well things have been going for Copain, and what's been happening locally with contracting for fruit (handshake deals are becoming a little more rare). Afterward, Wells graciously took us through most of what he had in barrel - and there was a lot of wine in barrels. As with most others' we've tasted, Copain's 2001 vintage is fabulous.
Wells is making 4 Pinots and 4 Syrahs for '01, and each of them are going to be excellent wines. Although all of the vineyards that Wells is using are fabulous, of particular interest (at least to me) was the very nice Syrah made from the Corinelle & Coccinelle Vnyds, in Walla Walla. These vineyards were planted by Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards, and have some real outstanding qualities.
We were later joined by Roger Roessler, who has been having Wells make the wines for his Seasons restaurant chain. The Roessler wines were quite nice - even slightly more approachable, which makes plenty of sense for the restaurant trade. Roger has started investing in vineyards of his own (13 acres in the Russian River appellation), and he and the Copain partners are also looking to build a winery elsewhere in the county.
Wells brings his previous experience working with Chapoutier and Turley to his own label, and the results are excellent. Copain has a fabulous stable of wines, and is up to about 2,000 cases.
With the WCWN barrel tasting set for Tuesday evening, Brad wanted to get a leg-up on the event as well as discuss some winemaking issues with Greg. We arrived in the late afternoon at Greg LaFollette's custom crush facility in Sebastapol. On the way there, we drove by place after place and warehouse after warehouse that had wine barrels stacked outside around them. It appeared that almost everybody around this industrial-looking area had a crush facility, or were making wine. It looked as if Sebastapol was the Sonoma County capitol for crushing grapes. Some time ago, this area used to be a bastion of apple orchards and packing plants, so most of the industry catered to this business (hence the name of streets like Gravenstein Hwy). However, things seem to have changed significantly!
We arrived late in the afternoon, and as Brad huddled upstairs with Greg on some business stuff, I watched (or, maybe got in the way) as Rick Davis, Luke Bass (Porter Bass), and Tim Olson (Tarius wines) went through their paces on some of the other wines made at the facility, including Sapphire Hill, Tarius, and Tandem (Greg's own label).
Once the other WCWN'ers arrived (Marco DeFreitas, Brian and Lisa Gros, Ric Clanin) everybody grabbed a glass and followed Greg out into the forest of barrels. Greg handed out about 8 graduated flasks, beakers, and the like, and we started tasting through the WCWN vino. Crawling up, down, in, and out of stacked barrels, Greg would thief some wine for each of us. As we'd chat about it, Greg would take notes of our impressions, and then he'd ask for one of the flasks, heading back to the barrel fill it up with the needed amount. Afterward, he'd emerge from the stacks and we'd start all over again.
Aside from their varietal differences, each of the wines we tried had different types or shades of oak. Some kind of fun - almost like playing winemaker. I hadn't attended a previous WCWN barrel tasting held last year. But, by all accounts, several of the wines had improved tremendously while in barrel - notably the sangiovese. But, the bottom line is that this is some really good stuff!
When we were all finished pulling and tasting individual lots, we headed upstairs to the conference room to do a little blending. All along, Greg had been measuring the wine he was putting into the flasks, making on-the-spot blends from the wines we had tasted from barrel. Each of us poured approximate percentages from the flasks to our glasses, made some notes and talked about what we liked or disliked, and voted for our favorites. Greg then told us the contents of each flask, and we all nodded in recognition and approval - you know, just like those bobble-head dolls in the back of car windows. My favorite was the 70 Sangio/30 Syrah; while the group favorite was the 70/15/15 (my #2).
When all the wine festivities were over, Greg took everybody over to a local pizza place for a late supper. It was all very cool, and we had a great time! Since each of were "invested," as it were (having purchased futures), this tasting and blending trial gave us a glimpse of how the wines were doing, and what we might expect from them when they're finally bottled.
Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Arrived about 10:35 to meet with winemaker Gary Galleron at the Perelli-Minetti winery, where he also makes his own label, Galleron Wines.
Gary welcomed us into his small office in the back of the winery, seating us at a small table in the back room and pouring each of us a big pour of '99 Branham-Rockpile Zin (the glasses were big too - some custom thing made of Pyrex that Gary had commissioned). I thought to myself, wel-l-l-l-l okay now, let's forget all about this tasting and spitting business and settle down to some serious drinking! Oh wait a minute, we have an agenda, I reminded myself. Putting down my notepad, juggling my camera, and reaching for a dumpbucket in the center of the table, I managed to tip over my glass of Zin. Really nice move. We chatted a little more, and then headed over to the barrels to do some sampling.
Each time, Gary would empty the wine thief into our glasses, he'd also put in a few drops of copper sulfate to knock down the reduced nose of any sulphuring. It did improve it a bit, although I'm not so sure I noticed anything unusual in the first place.
Galleron is up to about 2,000 cases currently on his own label, and makes another 8,000 cases of Perelli-Minetti and Harrison wines.
Driving over to Hwy 29, we stopped at Dean & Deluca so I could see what all the fuss was about (nope, strange as it may seem, I'd never been there). Okay, now I get it! I don't think I've ever seen so much cheese in one place before (well, except for maybe that Velveeta factory tour). What a stunning place. Excellent selection of just about everything, including wine. I got a pre-made sandwich; Brad ordered slices of all sorts of things ala-carte and made himself a sandwich.
Departing the valley floor and heading for Lagier Meredith in the Mount Veeder District, we checked in with Steve Lagier to let him know we'd decided not to drive the road up to their place. He said to give him a call when we got to the "driveway," a partially paved road that led to the top of the mountain. Leaving the Napa Valley floor, we started up West over the Oakville Grade, and then South onto Dry Creek Rd for several miles. Parking off to the side at an intersection of mailboxes, we gave Steve Lagier a call to "come on down." A scant five minutes later, Steve pulled up in his 4-Runner. After Steve checked the mail box, we all hopped aboard the 4-Runner and took off for Lagier Meredith Vineyard. Ah-ha! Now I see now why Virginia Rago had cautioned us about the dirt road. My God, I've never seen such ruts and holes on a road before. I'm sure the Indiana Jones ride is a whole lot smoother than this road. As Steve was moving along briskly - almost skipping over the bigger ruts and holes, but still bouncing quite a bit - I was thinking about my recent lunch. Steve stopped for a moment at a bend in the road to show us an old growth redwood tree that was still standing down in a gully (they'd apparently clear-cut this forest in the late 1800s - but somehow missed this one tree). It was huge, and just beautiful. Just as my lunch stopped jumping around, we sped off again on the hill climb. Somewhere, between bouncing up and down and wondering just how steep the hillsides were, I was reassuring myself: yep, I'm glad I didn't bring my car up this road. Yet somehow, Steve made it all sound so simple: you just have to make up your mind that you're going to do it. He went on to say that Carol drives this road up and down all the time to get to UC Davis. Big trucks come up here all the time. Heck, even the FedEx guy comes up here. In fact, the realtor lady drove us up here in her big Cadillac. Okay, okay, I got the point - I was starting to feel wimpy.
Arriving at Steve and Carole's house, we were close to the top of the ridge and the vista seemed to go on for miles in all directions. We went inside to meet Carole, who was suffering a bit with a cold, then we all wandered out onto the patio deck. Steve pointed out various landmarks across the valley while we took in the breathtaking view. Not to take anything away from the Richards' view at Paloma, but this was at least an even match. Steve offered us some '97 Wing Canyon Cab Franc, made by neighbors Bill Jenkins and Kathy Dennett. Then, with glasses in hand, we strolled down into the vineyards to the East, in the front of their house. At 1,300 feet altitude, even the view from the vineyard is gorgeous. As we walked (climbed) up one of the slopes to the South and came around the back of the property on the West side, we'd see an occasional deer. Steve's thinking about replanting the original vineyard - he's not as happy with its location, and the crop has been starting to decline.
Steve and Carole purchased the 84-acre property in 1986, planting 4 acres of Syrah in the sandstone and shale soil 8 years later. First commercial release was the 1998 Syrah, all 74 cases of it. Production on the current '99 vintage is 178 cases. Steve's been making wine for nearly 20 years, including a stint at Mondavi. He makes the L-M wines at Monticello Winery in Napa, and consults for Rocking Horse as well. Carole is a UC Davis Professor of Viticulture and Enology - convenient, huh. In fact, we owe the recent information about the origins of Zinfandel to Caroles research on DNA typing. Very friendly and outgoing, Brad and I asked if they were interested in adopting a couple of grown kids - us!
Unfortunately, it was time to be moving on. So, we headed back to Sonoma County - trading in one beautiful place for another. We picked up Pete back in Occidental, then went for dinner at Sassafras in Santa Rosa. With dinner, we had a '99 Lagier Meredith Syrah and '99 Karl Lawrence Cab. Both were stunning.
Thursday, March 14, 2002
It was time to pack up and depart our lovely guesthouse accommodations at Marsh Vineyard. We'd mentioned to Pete that we'd be seeing Michael Hirby, the assistant winemaker at Behrens & Hitchcock. Pete excused himself for a minute and came back with an empty 375ml bottle with a Relic label on it. He explained that this was Michael's own label (very small production) and although he'd obviously gotten this from Michael, we were to mention that we'd found this particular bottle at the Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa. So, we carried the inside joke with us to our next stop.
Arrived at Behrens & Hitchcock about 10:05. Located on Spring Mountain, B & H's first vintage was 175 cases in 1993. Now up to about 2,500 cases, Les Behrens & Bob Hitchcock have hit their stride with some very fine and very sought-after wines.
We met assistant winemaker Michael Hirby, and promptly sprung the "...hey, we found this bottle..." joke on him. We told him right away it was a joke - don't want to tick off the guy who you've come to visit, pleading for wine. Michael first led us back to the barrel room to sample some Pinot he's made under his own Relic label. From there, we went into one of the"cut & cover" caves to sample some B&H barrels. This cut-and-cover cave construction is becoming very popular. Rather than bore a tunnel into the hillside, they basically dig a big ditch, put in some lightweight overhead structure, gunnite the ceiling and walls, pour a concrete floor, and cover it all up by backfilling it. Although my description is longer than the word "bore," cut-and-cover is significantly quicker and far less costly than tunneling. So easy in fact, that rumor has it there might be some of these around that were built... ah, very quietly, shall we say.
After tasting the Cab Franc with a bit of Petite Verdot blended in, I asked if B & H had some straight PV to taste from barrel. Michael was only to happy to indulge our curiosity. This varietal's profile seems to be all over the map, smelling and tasting of blueberry or chocolate. Very interesting stuff, but seems destined to stay a blending varietal.
While we were barrel tasting inside the cave, Jim Richards of Paloma dropped by to return a spectrograph he'd borrowed. "ATF," he called out, as he came into the cave. Winery Humor - it's infectious, no?
Arrived about 11:55 at Pride. Since we were in the Spring Mtn neighborhood, we stopped by Pride so Brad to pick up his order. Also figured while we're here, we might as well taste a few things.
Hey, how about some of that Pride Syrah? You're what? You're sold out? Yeah, but it's me! Well how come Brad got some? Phone call? No, I forgot to make the phone call. Never mind, I'll just try to find it at my local retailer (more winery humor).
In the absence of a Cab or Syrah on the menu, I was going to have to make do with 2 whites and a Merlot. A skeptic might have been daunted, but I'm happy to report that each one of these wines was fabulous.
Arrived at Rochioli about 1:30. Paula and Victoria were working the tasting room, and poured us through the current selections. Brad asked if Tom Rochioli was around, mentioning that he'd spoken to Tom and told him he'd be stopping by. The staff said that he had been out for a birthday lunch in his honor (congratulations, Tom), but was expected back soon. So, we finished our pours and chatted with the ladies for awhile. We were just about ready to mosey on, when Tom arrived back at the winery. Tom was happy to say "hi" and spent a little time with us chatting about his wines, the fabulous '01 vintage, and how there's just barely enough Rochioli to go around. Not surprisingly, the fact that the wines are so popular also makes it likely that the winery will run into more than a few unreasonable customers. One of the hazards of the business, Tom sighed. It was some quality time from a nice guy whose winery really doesn't need the press.
While at Rochioli, we decided to take a shot at stopping by Gary Farrell's new facility to finish off the touring day. Paula mentioned that Farrell was only open until 3:00, and would we like her to call ahead. Beautiful! Yep, Farrell would take us on their next tour at 2:30 (in 5 minutes). So, racing down River Road - no wait! Make that - driving the speed limit down River Road we arrived at Gary Farrell about 2:30, and checked in with Greg Bowers for a tour and tasting.
Apparently, the folks who'd originally set up the tour were no-shows. So, after waiting a few more minutes, Greg led us on the fairly standard tour - out onto the huge crush pad, then into the fermentation room (twenty-eight 1500-2000 gal stainless steel tanks) and barrel storage area, and finally back to the beautiful tasting room for some bottle samples.
Finished in 2000, the winery is just beautiful; it's very large with a nice natural look to all of the wood and stone construction. The new facility processes fruit from both Estate and contracted vineyards. Farrell's 65 acres of Pinot, with some Chard and Merlot were planted in 1996. The winery is up to about 14,000 cases annually.
We met Adam Lee about 3:30 at Siduri/Novy winery, located in a small industrial area in Santa Rosa - very near Wells Guthrie's facility as well as the Bottle Barn. Adam's managed to cram a lot of barrels, wine, and equipment into a small space. He must've tasted us through nearly everything in the place. I have to say that I've never seen such diversity in barrel - 9 separate Pinots, often with 2 or 3 different clones or barrels on some vineyards, for a total of 6,000 cases of Pinot in the '01 vintage.
The Novy label is used for all Rhone and Bordeaux blends. Adam has hit a nice stride with this label, and the Syrahs have a lot of potential. I expect much more development from these wines, because the Novy vintages have thus far been excellent from bottle.
Departing wine country, we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. We hadn't made any reservations, because we weren't sure how far we'd get. As it turns out, we got pretty far. Adam's suggestion about cutting through San Francisco seemed like a crazy idea. But, he said he uses it all the time, and it worked marvelously, getting us quickly out of the Bay Area even during rush hour. After going over the Golden Gate Bridge, we swung right, and skimmed down 19th street all the way to the 85, then to the 280 and the 101. A scant 4 hours after we'd left Adam, we were dining in style at a Pollo Loco in Salinas. Back on the road, we decided that either Santa Maria or Buellton would be the night's stop. We made Buellton shortly after 11:00pm.
Friday, March 15, 2002
Arrived at Melville Vineyards about 9:00 to meet with Ron Melville. Gracious host as always, Ron showed us around his fabulous place. Full kitchen, several sleeping quarters upstairs, a beautiful tasting room, and a spotless winery. Melville's winemaker, "Spotless" Greg Brewer, was due back in town later in the day, in time for Saturday's Futures Tasting at the Wine Cask. But, without Greg in attendance this morning, Ron didn't want to play around with the barrels, and we didn't blame him. Too bad, it would have been fun. After Ron gave us the VIP tour of the winery, we headed for the tasting room to sample some of the past, present, and future Melville selections. Ron introduced us to Barbara, Melville's tasting room manager, who poured us through several current releases.
For some background info on Melville, you can see my Nov '00 in-depth visit notes. But, to bring you up-to-date, the winery, the wines, and the winemaker have each become quite well-known since then, being written up recently by Parker, the Spectator, and probably Tanzer by the time this is written. Suffice to say, Melville is doing a fabulous job with all of their wines. And, (here's a big secret) their prices are insanely reasonable. Were this not enough for Brewer, Greg is getting accolades for his own Brewer-Clifton label as well.
Melville's up to about 10,000 cases now, and Ron's added additional acreage out in the Cat Cyn area (just to the North, near Los Alamos). Once planted, Melville's vineyards will be close to 105 acres.
Arrived about Noon at Rusack to meet with winemaker John Falcone. I'd met John at a recent SB County on-the-road tasting and was impressed with his zeal for the planned make-over of Rusack Vnyds. His decision to take on a complete rebuilding program for this Santa Ynez Valley winery told me that he had some vision about what could be done here. Apparently it was enough of a vision to convince proprietor Geoff Rusack as well, because he's committed to this huge rebuilding project.
Rusack winery currently sits on 40 acres on Ballard Cyn Rd (the old Ballard Cyn winery). In addition, Geoff has purchased another 300 acres across the street, and close to his neighbor Tom Stolpman. Using the services of Jeff Newton and Larry Finkle of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates to site and plant these new vineyards is further evidence of the commitment Rusack is making.
John had worked with several wineries prior to Rusack, leaving Atlas Peak to take up roots here in June of 2001. Actually, he literally took up roots here. Under his direction, they've pulled up all of the previous vineyards and are completely replanting. It was kind of startling to see all that bare land. In fact, I missed the driveway to the tasting room, because it just didn't look like a vineyard.
We started out in the very nice, slightly rustic tasting room, trying a few bottle samples of currently available wines. The room itself has been remodeled a few times, and has a nice adjacent patio area on one side, and windows to the barrel room on the other side.
Among the many barrel samples that John graciously took us through, we were fortunate enough to be able to taste the very last of the old Syrah vines (leaf roll virus) that were next to the winery. Among the vineyards being sourced are Stolpman, Lucas (about 4-5 yrs old), and Joseph (as in Kathy Joseph, Fiddlehead winery). Production is currently at 5,000 cases annually.
Arrived about 2:00 at Beckmen. We'd heard that Steve Beckmen was going to be on the road, so we'd arranged for an appointment with Mikael to take us through the current Beckmen lineup. Unfortunately, Steve had a serious family emergency and had to drop everything to come home. Thankfully, things turned out okay for the Beckmen family. With Steve staying close to home, however, it meant that Mikael needed to substitute for him on the road. Mikael and other winery personnel tried to contact us via email, but since we were off gallivanting around various wineries and not checking email, we didn't get the message, showing up at the winery as promised. No harm, no foul, and April took us through the current selections.
I've chronicled Beckmen Vineyards several times before. But, it bears repeating that the Beckmen family turned a previously weak-performing winery (Houtz) into something of a powerhouse for Rhone varietals in the Santa Ynez Valley. Their Purisima Mtn Vineyard bottlings are usually the benchmarks for the area, with the Syrah and Grenache being standouts. Beckmen produced their 1st crop of Roussanne this year, and will be bottling a Grenache Rose next week.
Saturday, March 16, 2002
Arrived about 9:30 at Jaffurs. Met Craig Jaffurs at his new digs in a light industrial are of downtown Santa Barbara. Craig opened up his own facility in September '01, after making the wines at a custom crush facility in Santa Maria since his first vintage. He's also leasing out space to Chris Whitcraft, who will make his Pinot and Chards here.
Craig's methods include fermenting sub lots of fruit with full berry fermentation and different yeasts to establish complexities. He also believes in experimenting with different barrels, including French and American, in order to define each wine's defining qualities. Jaffurs is up to 3,400 cases annually.
When we arrived, Craig was catching up on phone calls and emails after a recent road trip. With the SB Futures tasting less than 3-hrs away, Craig still needed to entertain us, answer a bunch of our questions, return some emails, and answer some more questions, as well as get his barrel samples bottled and ready for the tasting. Would we like to help? He must've been kidding. Up and down the rows were went, tasting a little here and there and handing him magums to fill for the tasting (Craig prefers to pour from magnums). After a little labeling, he was ready to go - with about 25 minutes left to get to the SB Futures Tasting at the Wine Cask.
Wrap up: What a great trip: 17 wineries, 161 wines. Probably the single-most enlightening thing we discovered was just how impressive the 2001 vintage is going to be. We want to thank all of the proprietors and winemakers who graciously indulged our interest and curiosity for their wines. Many of these folks went out of their way to meet us, greet us, or treat us. We owe the Marshes, our host and hostess while in Sonoma and Napa, a special thanks. I can't imagine a more beautiful and tranquil location for exploring wine country. And, from dining with Al and Virginia Rago, to walking the vineyards with Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith, the time spent in Northern California's wine country was very special. Hanging out with Brad? Well, that was special too - kind of a different special though (just kiddin' with ya Brad).