excursions

My aunt Mary Ann, came for a short visit last week. She lives in New Hampshire and has been overwhelmed by the brutal winter they’re having back East this year. Blizzard after blizzard would make anyone long for sunny California.

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

my aunt and I on the back porch at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

She’s only about 13 months older than me, so really we grew up together, almost like brother and sister. Unfortunately until last week, we hadn’t seen one another for about eight years. So this visit was a real treat. Since she had never been to the West Coast, there was a lot to do. In her four day visit we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods, touched the waters of the Pacific, admired the view from Sausalito, wandered through Chinatown, lunched in North Beach, dined at The Slanted Door and many other things. Of course a visit to Napa for wine tasting was de rigueur.

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

a winery worker pruning the dormant grapevines

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

winemaking apparatus at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

We started out at Artesa mainly for its gorgeous modern appeal. Then by chance drove by Michael Mondavi Family Estate, just down the road. The Estate has been there since its founding in 2004. Michael is the famous brother of the famous, now deceased, Robert Mondavi.

I tried learning more about the winery part of the Estate but had some trouble finding specifics. It sounds like it is a family run enterprise with Michael, his wife, Isabel, and two adult children, Rob Jr. and Dina. Aside from wine production, the family operates Folio Fine Wine Partners, an international wine importing concern (follow this link for an interview with Michael and Rob Jr. about Folio)and various members seem to offer winemaking consultation. Again, I’m a bit confused by it all so if any of you readers know more, please write in!

They produce an affordable line called Spellbound which I’ve seen locally in various supermarkets and wine shops, plus various more boutique labels.

do they still use this thing or is it only for show

do they still use this thing or is it only for show?

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

various wines produced by the Michael Mondavi clan

The winery itself is small and comfortable. We sat inside though they’ve a stunning back porch overlooking one of their estate pinot vineyards. We had perfect weather that day, so it might have been fun, but the porch had a large and somewhat rowdy crowd already. Two different tastings were offered: the Heritage Selection and the Gallery Selection. We tried one of each and shared them all.

Both of us really liked these wines. We impulsively joined two of their wine clubs on the spot, which is always a fun way to remember wine country.

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2011

Isabel Mondavi Carneros Chardonnay 2001: This had a golden color with some oak on the nose. We detected some fruit and vanilla with a mildly buttery finish.

Isabel Mondavi Estate Pinot Noir 2009: This was a gorgeous red color with some red fruit and exciting earthy notes. It was smooth with a lovely almost bitter finish. Very different from the more fruity Russian River Valley pinots, I particularly enjoyed this wine.

Emblem Oso Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: The grapes for this wine come from Howell Mountain in Napa. In a word, delish. This dark wine was rich and lush, with lovely fruit, and a supple texture. Mmmmm.

Oberon Hillside Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2008: I understand that this is blended from grapes grown at three nearby vineyards. It had an intense cedar forest floor nose with refined tannins.

Spellbound Petite Sirah Reserve 2007: This is a Napa wine. The nose was rootbeer. It was very tannic and clearly needs a lot more time in bottle. Nevertheless, it too was quite enjoyable.

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

tasting the white wine at Michael Mondavi Family Estate

Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2012: Pale with a citrus nose, it was crisp and good.

Spellbound Chardonnay 2010: Also quite pale with lovely yellow fruit.

Oberon Napa Valley Merlot 2009: Red with blueberry and chocolate, this was supple and very drinkable.

Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: I only wrote “fruit, tannins, chocolate, bitter” in my notes. You get the idea.

Spellbound Petite Sirah 2010: A deep color with a blueberry nose, it tastes like sweet ripe blueberries, too.

Needless to write, we had a great time here. No appoint necessary. If you have the chance to visit Michael Mondavi Family Estate sometime, I would definitely go.

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Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma County

by Stevie on October 17, 2012

beautiful reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

beautiful Hanzell reproduction of a building in the Clos Vougeot in Burgundy

I’ve been longing to visit Hanzell for ages! Really after I read Matt Kramer’s fabulous, New California Wine. He describes Hanzell as “Aesthetically, …one of the most elegant wineries in the state” and concludes his mini-history of the place:

It is difficult to over-praise Hanzell, as it has stood the test of making great wines continuously for decades. Few California wineries have so lustrous a track record and fewer still deserve to be called a true grand cru. But that’s what Hanzell really is, California’s first authentic and proven grand cru.

After all that fanfare, how could anyone wonder that a trip to Hanzell was a high priority?

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

view across the valley from the first Hanzell estate vineyard

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

a lone cluster of Hanzell chardonnay grapes on the vine

modern art on the Hanzell property

modern art on the Hanzell property

Located in the Mayacamas Range on the Sonoma side, the site truly is marvelous to behold. We were in awe by the sheer natural beauty of the place. We had a super-individualized tour: just Hegui and me. Ryan Hortum was our Estate Educator. He was really pleasant and seemed genuinely to adore Hanzell and its wines. I thought it was awesome that we got to ride in a Land Rover to visit some of the more far-flung vineyards. I’d never done that before.

Hanzell produces mainly chardonnay and pinot noir though it sounds like in the past, they grew some cabernet sauvignon and recently they’ve replanted some more. There’s a smaller-scale though still quite grand reproduction of a building from the Clos Vougeot that the first Hanzell owner, James Zellerbach, found particularly captivating on a tour of Burgundy.

The name, Hanzell, derives from Zellerbach’s wife’s name, Hana. The winery has a long history that you can enjoy learning about on your tour or at their site, linked above, or in Kramer’s book. Strangely, there didn’t seem to be that many wines to try— only two chardonnays and a pinot. Somehow I had thought with all of the different vineyards, that they’d have individually designated wines to showcase the different micro-climates, but not so. These are blended estate wines. We preferred the chardonnays over the red here, which is odd for us.

Hanzell wine cave interior

Hanzell wine cave interior

modern winemaking facility

modern winemaking facility

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

amazing valley view from the balcony of the original Hanzell winery

a selection of Hanzell library wines

a selection of Hanzell library wines

ready to taste some yummy wine

ready to taste some yummy wine

The 2011 Sebella was crisp bordering on sharp, though pleasant. I liked the 2010 estate chardonnay as it seemed more well-rounded with the right balance of fruit and mineral notes. The 2009 estate pinot noir didn’t have much fruit though showed a lot of exotic spices with a lovely long finish.

Visiting Hanzell was great fun. This is the kind of romantic destination perfect for people in love and for dreamers of all ages.

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Quixote Winery, Napa County

by Stevie on October 10, 2012

I’ve wanted to tour Quixote ever since I saw a pic of their gorgeous and eccentric winemaking facility in Wine Spectator about a year or so ago. The place is incredible looking, isn’t it?

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

close up of one of Quixote's exterior walls

Claudio and me at Quixote

Claudio and me at Quixote

see Quixote's golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden

see Quixote’s golden dome peeking over the lush grassy garden?

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

harvest was just starting during our visit to Quixote so we got to see the ripe grapes hanging on the vine

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

every detail was considered for the design, including the floor tiles

Designed by the Viennese architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, we learned on the delightful tour that this is the only building created be this colorful artist who didn’t believe in “straight lines.” Sadly he died shortly after the completion of the project, so never got to truly enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Not so with us.

They pronounce Quixote the Spanish way, rather than the American (“kwix-it”) or Portuguese (“qui-sho-tee.”) You must have a reservation for the tour and tasting. They’re very small, so it makes sense to call ahead. The entrance is past Shafer on a lovely country road that is extremely easy to miss from Silverado Trail. A map is essential.

We were thrilled when we got to the winery entrance and began to see the copper colored dome rising from the gently sloping hills. Our tour guide: was his name René or perhaps Andre? I believe he said that he was Swiss. I’ve misplaced my notes by now and Hegui and I couldn’t quite recall. Let’s call him Mr. X here. Or perhaps, for simplicity, merely X. Well, X was affable and very chatty. He regaled us with a long and charming (I almost wrote “colorful” again. This place really brings out that adjective) history of wine and grape cultivation from the most ancient times to the present in California.

X had lots of stimulating ideas regarding the lesser importance of the ancient Romans in the development of Burgundy (it was the Phoenicians who brought the grape that became pinot noir), was delighted with obscure genetic facts linking zinfandel to the Italian primitivo and an obscure grape from Eastern Europe (I also forgot that name), and how Americans simply drink wine wrong. Yeah, I know, we’re Americans on a tour of an American winery yet some European guy is telling us we don’t know how to truly appreciate wine. Not good for sales, but what a provocative conversation!

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

statuettes of Don Quixote and sidekick, Panza

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

tasting some Quixote cabernet with Mr X

beautiful Quixote garden patio

beautiful Quixote garden patio

X’s idea was the old saw that “wine should be drunk with food” with his added complaint that we frequently drink it on its own in place of cocktails, aperitifs and digestifs. Thus we’re particularly fond of powerful fruity wines and have no sense of the subtleties. He completely dismissed pinot noir from the Russian River Valley with “who wants to drink raspberries and strawberries all the time?” Afterward Hegui and I talked about these interrelated ideas for over several days. It is true that American wines can be fruity and bold. But what’s the problem with that really?

It seems so natural to take a defensive posture against this Euro-superior view but I’ve decided that’s the wrong approach. It’s X’s basic assumptions about wine that I challenge. Is this a beverage that has a particular scripted role for all time or, as in my view, is it in fact a drink to enjoy in a variety of ways? For example, it can be had with food or alone, be bold or subtle, fruity or well, what’s the opposite for fruity in wine anyway, and why would you seek out such a wine? I reject the uptight traditionalist chauvinism in favor of a more liberal interpretation. X is charming but misguided to my way of thinking.

Anyway, enough politics!

some Quixote petite sirah

some Quixote petite sirah

We tried cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. Strangely, as this is the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, Quixote’s focus is on the later varietal. Unfortunately I misplaced my notes by the time I was ready to write my story, so I can’t be very specific. The cab tasted alright if a bit thin. Both the petite sirah vintages were powerful and rich with ample fruit, full body, with lovely spice and earthy notes. The older one, as X suggested, is more tamed (though I’m doubtful how much better it would “go with food” compared to the more recent vintage). After the tour we sat on a lovely garden patio behind the winery sipping and snacking on elegant cheeses and crackers.

A visit to Quixote will stimulate your intellect as well as all of your senses.

a perfect day in Napa Valley

a perfect day in Napa Valley

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This was a first: we went to a Williams Selyem pick up event and it didn’t rain. It wasn’t cold either. In fact, it was so sunny and warm that I wore shorts and sandals comfortably. The car said that the ambient temperature at the winery was 91 degrees. Ah, miracle! I love Indian summer.

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses

Jasmine standing at the vineyard's edge with two empty Williams Selyem wine glasses--it's almost too sad--empty glasses!

If you’ve been following us at all, then you know that I’m a little pinot noir crazy, at least in the past few years. Strangely, I didn’t really enjoy the stuff before. It seemed so watered down and sharp compared to hearty zinfandels, syrahs or even cabs. I guess I’ve changed. So often I feel overwhelmed by powerful zins and cabs these days. Don’t get me wrong. They’re fun to drink, sort of like having a big slice of cherry pie à la mode. But I can’t eat big desserts too often and, in any event, they don’t usually work as a side dish to the main course. Pinot noir shines with food, and they’re even tasty all by themselves.

Jasmine and I went last Friday. It was way less crowded than the usual Saturday scene. The volunteer staff kept remarking how “Friday’s the day” and urged us to come on future Fridays. One even said while he poured us some of the vin gris that Wms Selyem has trouble getting volunteers for Saturdays due to the throngs of thirsty people.

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Williams Selyem estate vineyard with mountains in the background

Like previous visits, several current releases were available for tasting. Plus there were a number of local vendors of other artisanal food products on hand, offering tastes and things for purchase. Since Hegui couldn’t come (he worked instead—poor thing!), I got a bottle of Dry Creek olive oil for him, as he really enjoys it. After we sampled the wines once or twice, Jasmine selected a lovely sour dough round which we had with cheese in the shade. We talked, sipped a bit more wine, and really enjoyed the marvelous sunny warm day in wine country. What could be better than that?

Wine Spectator poo-pooed the 2010 pinot vintage and it’s true that these wines were less “wow” compared to last year. Nevertheless, we enjoyed them all and a few, like the Central Coast and Westside Road Neighbors pinots were memorable. Jasmine is particularly creative in her wine descriptions, which made tasting even more delightful.

we saw several of these warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

we saw several of these absurdly unwelcoming warning poison oak rattlesanke signs thorughout the winery

2010 unoaked chardonnay: a transparent yellow diamond color with a nose of dried apricot and tropical fruit that led to more apricot with a citrusy finish.

2011 vin gris: this is a rosé of pinot noir. A transparent salmon pink with aromatic strawberries and Maraschino cherry, it tasted of sour cherry and mineral with a lovely pink grapefruit finish. Mmmm!

2010 Central Coast pinot noir: ruby with plum, smoked bacon, and eucalyptus leading to rich, plum filled peppery flavors. Jasmine says, “Kinda elegant.”

2010 Sonoma County pinot noir: a darker ruby with raspberries and blackberries and was that a hint of sage? It was fruity but less focused than the Central Coast. The finish was long and creamy. Comparing the two, we preferred the Central Coast overall. J: “It was drama all the way. If it was a woman, she’d have long black hair and be very dramatic.”

2010 Sonoma Coast pinot noir: ruby with some earth and fruit—sort of like “straw with berries underneath.” Full bodied with red fruit, Jasmine thought it was “very good like grape juice.” “It’s a party wine,” not too complicated but fun.

enjoying the Friday crowd at Williams Selyem

enjoying the Friday "crowd" at Williams Selyem

2010 Russian River Valley pinot noir: deep ruby with a subtle nose of berries, floral and smoky notes. Richer still, smooth and with more depth, this full bodied wine has ample red fruit, lots of pepper, hints of caramel and a nice finish.

2010 Westside Road Neighbors pinot noir: ruby with rich fruit and floral notes, some eucalyptus and a bit of vanilla. This was delicious! It grabs hold of your mouth and won’t let go. We detected red and blue fruit esp. sour cherry and plum, with a great mineral earthy component.

2009 Forchini Vineyard “South Knoll” zinfandel: opaque reddish purple. The nose was blackberry and fruit compote. This was “over the top jammy” “something that you’d put on waffles.” It overwhelms your senses before you even take a sip. Fat, it was so full and rich, with loads of fruit and a mild peppery finish. This was a “stand alone” wine, perhaps best suited for grilled beef or maybe breakfast.

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Clos du Val, Napa Valley

by Stevie on April 11, 2012

the Three Graces

the Three Graces

We’ve been to Clos du Val in Napa Valley many times over the years and always had fun. Most recently we had a lovely wine tasting and picnic event with some marvelous fellow bloggers from the Bay Area and Sacramento. Actually, Hegui selected this place for our picnic as we have such fond memories.

The facility is gorgeous Napa. A huge ivy covered building surrounded by vineyards with the romantic mountain range in the background boasting stunning rocky escarpments. This visit I had time to really look at the display vineyard in front where they demonstrate numerous styles of vine training: spur, head, cane and cordon spur all with various spacing. It was quite interesting though I wonder how one actually decides which training style works for their vineyard? With so many options available, it must be an art.

Inside the tasting room is spacious and elegant. We had called ahead so had a large table in the adjoining “Pinot Room,” at least I think that’s what our charming host, Linden, called the place.

The winery has what for Napa is a long and prestigious history. Founded in 1970 by John Portet, they had a bottle of their 1972 cabernet sauvignon (their first wine ever released) selected for what became that famous Paris Tasting in 1976. The web site is splashy and to me at least seemed a bit over-the-top with the various oversized fonts, blinking images and statements with all the intense bullet points. Certainly it doesn’t reflect how I feel about Clos du Val, which is more elegant and almost homey. That is if my family lived in an opulent mansion in wine country. Here’s an example of what I mean from their “vision” page:

It has been said that we at Clos Du Val ‘march to the beat of our own drum’, and if our founding principles of individuality, independence and expressionism are a bad thing, we respectfully disagree.

To someone like me visiting this winery, who is not an expert on cabernet of any stripe, identifying the “individuality, independence and expressionism” is tough, as the place seems like grand old-school Napa to my naïve eyes. But ultimately I have to agree with them, that’s not “a bad thing.”

a lovely garden wraps around the trellis demonstration at Clos du Val

a lovely garden wraps around the trellis demonstration at Clos du Val

Clos du Val trellis demonstration

Clos du Val trellis demonstration guide

the grand vine-covered tasting room

the grand vine-covered tasting room

We tried two tastings, a mix of reds and whites and another red-only reserve tasting. Overall the group really liked these wines. I bought a couple bottles and even impulsively joined their club when Linden gave me a discount and waived all of our tasting fees. Since I liked the wines, it seemed to make sense at the time.

another group of three graces

another group of three graces

2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: Very pale yellow with a citrusy nose, esp. grapefruit. It was crisp, had good body and as expected lovely citrus and even some tropical flavors.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay: A transparent golden color with green apple leading to lovely yellow fruit and mineral notes with a good finish.

2009 Pinot Noir, Carneros: Ruby red with rich spices leading to red fruit, loam and minerals, well balanced with good body and finish. This is quite different from the Russian River Valley, but delightful just the same.

2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, Carneros: This one spent 14 months in oak. Also ruby with vanilla, spice, red fruit. This is smooth, with medium body and a long finish. If I understand correctly, this wine is not made every year.

2009 Merlot, Napa Valley: Black color with rich red fruit, good body and finish, everyone enjoyed it.

2008 Three Graces: A Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), Merlot (6%) and the rest split between petit verdot and cabernet franc. Linden claimed that it is his favorite in the line-up. These three daughters of Zeus are sort of the mascots for the winery and appear on all their labels. They’re supposed to represent independence of mind, body and spirit.

The wine itself was a dark red with a rich nose of red stone fruit, tobacco, forest floor, and toffee. It had ample fruit and exciting spicy notes on the good finish. Only 10 barrels were produced.

2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District: This is 94% cab with the rest, merlot. This was my favorite. An almost black color with lots of dark fruit, vanilla and spice with supple tannins and bursting with flavor on the long finish, it doesn’t get any better than this.

2007 Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: 88% cab, the rest, merlot and is it cabernet franc? This one was offered to get a sense of how the wines age. It was black in color. The nose had green bell pepper, dirt and tobacco, spice and perhaps that V-8 juice quality that I sometimes detect. This led to red fruit, full body with supple texture and a long finish.

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon: this is 100% cab. Red to black in color, Hegui thought that it smelled of “dirty socks.” Certainly it did have that green pepper and earth nose. The fruit’s still detectable with a good finish. The wine had an interesting mineral/metallic flavor we enjoyed.

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The Pivot vineyard was pivotal for the establishment of Littorai in this spot

The Pivot vineyard was pivotal for the establishment of Littorai in this spot

Littorai barrel room

Littorai barrel room

We’ve been talking about taking the tour of Littorai for months. Really ever since we went last fall for their members event. Now that we’ve done it, it is funny to think about how naïve I’ve been. For example, I didn’t actually know that Littorai embraced organic and biodynamic practices as part of their wine production philosophy.

I took a mini-break just now from writing to look at the labels on a bottle of the 2009 Littorai Les Larmes Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. It doesn’t mention biodynamics. So perhaps it isn’t that odd that I didn’t know about it until the tour, though probably I shouldn’t have been surprised as biodynamics has received a lot of traction and, though sometimes mixed, generally positive press in recent years.

On the day of our visit it was overcast and threatening rain. Margie Truter was our delightful, well-informed guide. We arrived about 20 minutes early but were greeted cheerfully just the same. It was only the two of us for the tour, which made me feel like we were celebrities or something. I liked it.

We started in front of the wine production facility but quickly turned toward the newly installed organic gardens near The Pivot vineyard. (It’s called The Pivot, English accent please, because this is the hill that convinced Heidi and Ted Lemon to buy the property. This “pivotal” hill with its proximity to the Ocean and its southern exposure apparently enchanted the couple with its winemaking potential.)

flowers were everywhere

flowers were everywhere

I like the purple ones a lot

I like the purple ones a lot

dandelion flowers are cultivated for their health benefits for the vines

dandelion flowers are cultivated for their health benefits for the vines

the chamomile flowers were marvelously aromatic

the chamomile flowers were marvelously aromatic

The garden had flowering chamomile and dandelion, stinging nettle and some other plants (or in some cases things that my mother would probably call “weeds”) that are either composted with manure from organic cows, chipped grapevine cuttings and other plants from the grounds; or are dried and put into huge sacks which get used as giant “tea bags.” Sometimes the plants are put into pots and buried for a year or so, then added to the rest. This Littorai-made compost gets spread in the various vineyards and the “dandelion tea” is sprayed at various times on the vines. They believe that these plants contain various essential minerals and nutrients that aid in grapevine development and health.

here Margie is telling us about the various minerals and nutrients to be found in the garden plants

here Margie is telling us about the various minerals and nutrients to be found in the garden plants

Littorai uses the cane method of pruning their vines

Littorai uses the cane method of pruning their vines

the red trees seemed so cheery and welcoming on this overcast day

these red trees seemed so cheery and welcoming on this overcast day

Down the hill lie a small creek and a wood. Unfortunately we didn’t see these. Apparently there are certain reeds, I think they’re called horsetail, that the staff use as a natural fungicide.

We did troop through part of The Pivot vineyard and saw several small hills of organic compost in a meadow nearby. Margie referred to them by their year of production (2010 or 2011) just like vintage wine. I suppose there might be something to that. It seems that they allow these hills to sit for a year or two to fully develop. I picked up a sample of the 2010 which seemed more like a rich soil than poo. (Of course I washed up afterward!) They turn it only once, so it isn’t that much work once you’ve gotten started. They’ve this cool window onto the 2011 pile that allows you to see how the compost changes over time.

chamomile on a drying rack

chamomile on a drying rack

rock samples from The Haven vineyard

rock samples from The Haven vineyard

they use these large sacks of stinging nettle like tea bags to fertalize the vineyards organically

they use these large sacks of stinging nettle like tea bags to fertalize the vineyards organically

carpenter bee hives

carpenter bee hives

These folks recycle their own water in reed filled lakes near the old building where they dry the nutritive plants. We saw numerous lovely free range chickens and some adorable ducks there. They had some geese until quite recently but eliminated them after they started getting aggressive. The team actively cultivates honey and, is it carpenter? bees, as they’re both very productive pollinators. Some of the flowering plants like the French lavender are there to keep the bees happy year round.

The idea of biodynamics is that everything on earth and in the universe is interrelated in a literal as well as a mystical or spiritual sense. That second part is where you start to lose some people. In our post-modern age, there’s frank hostility to most stuff that science, or perhaps social media, cannot explain.

Personally, I’m of two minds on the matter. Preserving the environment makes perfect sense, which in an agricultural setting translates into exactly what you find at Littorai: reduction of waste, composting and recycling, avoiding toxic chemicals, and eschewing monoculture. And there’s no reason to disbelieve that plants contain essential nutrients. Think vitamin C in citrus fruits for example, or for you real diehards, “medicinal marihuana.” As to the more um… abstract parts, well, to each his or her own. Personally, I think that it is rude to find fault with others’ spiritual practices, don’t you?

rock samples from Hirsch vineyard

rock samples from Hirsch vineyard

side view of Littorai winemaking facility

side view of Littorai winemaking facility

a happy stain on this barrel

a happy stain on this barrel

Biodynamics does raise some interesting questions beyond the metaphysical. First off, before the rise of mass automated agriculture in the late 19th and Twentieth Centuries, wasn’t this more or less how everyone farmed? I do wonder about biodynamic grape and wine production in the context of Northern California merely because we’re talking pinot noir, a plant from Europe. And for that matter, are chamomile, stinging nettle, etc. native? In that sense biodynamics and the locavore movement are not related, despite getting blurred together at times.

2010 Littorai Sonoma Coast and The Pivot pinots noir

2010 Littorai Sonoma Coast and The Pivot pinots noir

In any event, the farming practices at Littorai sound like they are minimally harmful, which is a good thing. Certainly the wines that the Lemons produce following them are marvelous. We tasted several that day: the 2010 Thieriot chardonnay, the 2010 Hirsch and The Pivot pinots, 2009 Cerise and Savoy pinots, and the 2010 Sonoma Coast pinot blend. Sadly I forgot my pen in the car, so didn’t write down our tasting notes to share here. The chardonnay was wound tight with lots of fruit and mineral notes, and as always the pinots were all delicious yet each beguilingly different from one another. I splurged a bit that day as you might imagine. I suppose that we’ll just have to return to Littorai soon to share our tasting with you, our faithful readers.

Hegui and I in the Pivot vineyard

Hegui and I in The Pivot vineyard at Littorai

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I adore the wines from Carlisle. Aside from my delight with the name (see previous Carlisle post here for more info on that) I like how their wines taste—and I have to admit that I’m a bit tickled to finally be on their purchasing list after waiting what seemed like, well, a while. I’m sure that there’s a story there somewhere. Perhaps more to come on that…

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

2010 Carlisle Sierra Mar Vnd Syrah

The mailing list pick-up event is held in Santa Rosa at the facility where Mike Officer creates these luscious wines. So it’s not exactly easy-on-the-eyes. Think industrial park here, but not one of those downtown Manhattan-style places with tons of glitz. Mainly this place is functional. Even so, and this is only our second visit so it’s hard to generalize, the event is an extremely nice experience. We went in sometimes heavy rain last Saturday, so the crowds that we noticed the first time were largely absent. I suppose that they’re hoping that next Saturday will be sunnier. Already that was pleasant for us, as we didn’t get jostled around that much by the many other also-excited Carlisle patrons.

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

a cold and rainy day at the Carlisle winemaking facility in Santa Rosa

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home

the less-than-optimal weather seemed to keep people at home: we liked it

We’re always greeted in a very friendly way by the folks who run the event. They offer gourmet pizza gratis as part of it, also nibbles of dark chocolate. These go well with the lovely syrah and zinfandels that we were able to taste on the premises. Two were in bottle and two were barrel samples. The latter were both extremely exciting though not nearly as polished as the bottled wines, much as you’d expect.

2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Sierra Mar Vineyard Syrah: This was a purple black color with aromas of blue fruit that carried over to the rich taste with mineral, some spice with a long finish and very refined tannins.

2010 Sonoma Valley Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel: Deep red with cherry and moss on the nose, this had ample red fruit and full body. It seemed more accessible now compared to the syrah, but that’s no surprise.

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

daffodils and chocolate surely mean springtime at Carlisle

2011 Russian River Valley Montafi Ranch Zinfandel barrel sample: This was purple black in color. Hegui thought it had “an astringent smell of a barrel” but he was quick to add “the taste is good.” I liked it too. Certainly there’s a lot happening here: loads of fruit, spice, some lovely acidic sourness and some chalky flavors makes us think that this is a wine to look forward to sometime down the road.

2011 Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel barrel sample: If I understood right, this is a new source of grapes for the winemaker. I looked just now on their web site but it does not seem to have been updated yet.

Similar color to the Montafi Ranch, it had a more “twizzler” nose and could this one be even more rich? It was loaded with red and black fruit, and almost fizzed in our glass. Very exciting!

We can’t wait to come back this fall for more!

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Vino Vino, San Jose

by Stevie on February 22, 2012

Vino Vino is an amazing find in San Pedro Square Market in downtown San Jose. This tiny, unpretentious wine bar should be the model for the locavore wine lover. I’ve lived in the Bay Area coming up on nine years now and I cannot ever recall encountering a wine list that had more labels from Morgan Hill than Sonoma; or Livermore than Napa. That is until we arrived here. This is a revolution in the meaning of terroir.

welcome to Vino Vino, San Jose

welcome to Vino Vino, San Jose

Vino Vino interior with the gorgeous wine on tap to the left

Vino Vino interior with the gorgeous wine on tap to the left

The place is tiny and cozy. It does have a sort of “wine dive bar” vibe, just like General Manager Morgan Klee was quoted in the Mercury News, though in a good way. They’ve a full menu of mainly bistro fare. We loved their huge wine on tap selection but were sold on their elegantly spare ideal: drink locally. Vino Vino is worth a look.

opening our tasty  bottle of 2009 Nicholson Zinfandel, Santa Clara County

opening our tasty bottle of 2009 Nicholson Zinfandel, Santa Clara County

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David Bruce Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains

February 15, 2012

David Bruce is sort of a mystery winery, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains between San Jose and, you guessed it, Santa Cruz. I write “mystery” even though the WC tasting crew recently enjoyed a lovely afternoon there simply because I’m struggling to learn more about the winery and its practices for this post. For […]

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Robert Young Estate Winery, Sonoma County

December 21, 2011

We were originally turned onto Robert Young by our good friend, Ben. We went for a wine country excursion there about six or seven years ago. He recommended them as it was our first trip ever to Healdsburg and Anderson Valley and we didn’t know what to expect. Robert Young really made an impression. Sadly, […]

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