petite sirah

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.

{ 0 comments }

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

{ 1 comment }

welcome to David Bruce Winery

welcome to David Bruce Winery

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 some reason, my browser won’t open their official site page, which is how I usually cobble together all the random facts that I throw into stories like this. Wikipedia is back and says fairly tersely that the place was founded by a dermatologist, David Bruce MD, in 1961, that they were one of the wineries to have a bottle of their chardonnay selected for the now famous French v. California wine tasting event in Paris in 1975 (it finished last), and that these days, they’re mostly known for pinot noir.

Well, that’s a bit dry, don’t you think?

David Bruce vineyard in winter

David Bruce vineyard in winter

We dared the treacherous mountain roads to visit David Bruce because we’ve had and enjoyed numerous bottles in the past. I’ve seen the wine at local grocery stores and our great friend, John, has even been given some as corporate gifts. (That’s fabulous, isn’t it?) So we like the stuff. Plus we’re fairly unfamiliar with the Santa Cruz Mountain winery scene, so starting with something familiar sounded like a good way to go.

The winery tasting room itself was pleasant if a bit non-descript. We arrived towards the end of the day, so had the place virtually to ourselves. Two very enjoyable staff, Blake Upton and Michael Beck (I wrote their names down when we were there) helped us. What seemed particularly unusual were the wines that got poured. These were old. I mean “old” in quotations I should clarify. None of them were from the latest vintages—usually 2009s at most places right now, with some 2010s and 2011s, especially whites, making an early showing.

David Bruce tasting room

David Bruce tasting room

The 2004 Estate Chardonnay was particularly surprising, and delightful. In fact, they were having a promotion on their older wines. Should you buy a half case of mixed pinot noirs or their syrah/petite sirah blends from three older vintages, they’d give it away at half price and throw in a matching half case of 2003 chardonnay. Many of the other wines were half off per case. That’s quite a sale and we were perplexed. It almost made me think that they wanted to dump the wine because it was junk, though when we tasted, we liked it a lot. Blake, or maybe Michael, told us that the winery was in the process of refocusing and wanted to reduce inventory and in future produce smaller volumes. Something like that.

So it’s a good time to visit David Bruce for their super deals on unusual and exciting wines. I’m constantly hearing about the pleasures of aged California wine, and here’s your opportunity to try it without the pain of cellaring the stuff yourselves for years on end.

some really aged David Bruce

some really aged David Bruce

2004 Estate Chardonnay: a golden yellow with a powerful nose of peach and apricot jam, the ample and rich yellow fruit were balanced with some mineral notes, a hint of butter and a long finish. This was an amazing wine.

2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: a beautiful ruby with strawberry notes, red fruit, particularly cherry, with hints of earth and tobacco, this was medium to full body.

2007 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: A deep red, almost purple color, we detected Spanish moss and forest floor with some red fruit. Fuller than the RRV with lots of red and purple stone fruit—think plum and cherry—it was a bit spicier with lots of mineral. Good.

2005 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido Vineyard: A rusty red with truffle, barnyard and mocha notes leading to strawberries, sour cherries, and caramel, this had brisk acidity and a long finish.

2002 Estate Syrah/Petite Sirah: Opaque purple with a cherry and leathery nose, this wine was nice and dense. Full bodied with red and purple stone fruit and graphite, it had a good finish and an almost creamy texture.

{ 1 comment }

Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited is a totally different kind of wine country excursion. Located on the Plaza in downtown Healdsburg, this is more like visiting a bar/shop than “wine country” per se. In that sense, it is less romantic and visually stunning than the typical weirdcombos tasting adventure. Nevertheless, this is a place worth checking out for the delicious wine and lively, cheery atmosphere.

welcome to Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

welcome to Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

Founded in 2004 by partners, Nancy Walker, Tony Stephen and Irv Bush, these folks make wines grown from grapes cultivated in vineyards across northern California. The Trust Wine site indicates they work with growers in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Monterey Counties. Nancy Walker is winemaker; Tony Stephen sounds like he works with grape growers and manages marketing. Oddly Irv Bush’s role in the company isn’t indicated. I e-mailed Nancy and Tony about that for clarification but have yet to hear more.

I like the name of the winery and how they’ve gotten the lettering to look: sort of like an old fashioned bank bond or something. Very cool. I don’t quite understand what the name’s supposed to mean exactly, though whatever it is, to me, it suggests confidence in their products. In the section of their web site on the Healdsburg tasting room, they suggest that you go and “taste our cult wines.” That sounds a bit funny bordering on pretentious, though they are pretty good, so perhaps the trio are planning for the future.

One last note before describing the numerous wines that we tried: I’ve a feeling that we’d be soul-mates with Nancy, Tony, et al. after reading their recipes for Grilled Bruschetta with Rosemary-White Bean Puree & Heirloom Tomatoes and Tapenade. Those with red wine are right up the weirdcombos alley.

some to the tasting crew chlling at Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

some to the tasting crew chlling at Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited

some Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited zinfandels

some Stephen & Walker Trust Winery Limited zinfandels

2008 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: A reddish purple with a nose of cherry and other red fruit as well as tobacco. Hegui thought it was “a good smell.” It followed through on red fruit and some pepper. I thought it just okay though the other three all admired it.

2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: As above, a reddish purple with some green pepper, smoke, and hints of lemon verbena led to red fruit and a peppery finish.

2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley: Purple black in color with lots of earthy mineral notes with red fruit, mineral and a peppery finish on a medium frame.

2009 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley: Purple black with a barnyard-like nose with some banana, this had a lovely creamy texture full of fruit and mineral flavors.

2010 Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley: Purple to black with pomegranate, lettuce and leather notes with chewy tannins, red fruit and some peppery heat.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley: A deep purple with blue fruit and forest floor, this was smooth with supple tannins and a long finish. We all enjoyed this one.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley: Purple black with a greener smell and a more luscious and creamy texture. Here the tannins bit harder.

2004 Portentous California: This wine with the fun name is a California version of Port. Purple in color with a nose of ultra ripe stone fruit and spice box, this tasted of jammy fruit, vanilla and chocolate. Yum.

2009 Patrona, Muscat Canelli, Alexander Valley: A transparent wine with a nose of sweet ripe peach, it was sweet, rich with yellow stone fruit and a hint of mineral. We thought of it as “summer cool-aid” for adults.

2010 Chardonnay, Botrytis, Mendocino Ridge: A pale golden yellow with sweet over ripe fruit.

{ 1 comment }

Clos Pegase, Napa County

by Stevie on June 15, 2011

welcome to Clos Pegase

welcome to Clos Pegase

I’ve been agonizing for weeks over what to write about Clos Pegase. Finally, I realized my struggle derives from the most obvious of things: there really isn’t much to criticize about this remarkable winery. Located in the northern end of Napa Valley, right across from Sterling, it makes a wine country excursion with sex-appeal.

The love-child of Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, (Jan made his fortune in publishing in Japan, where he met Mitsuko), this place offers high quality wine in a setting of magnificent art and architecture. The winery site says that Jan, in collaboration with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, held a competition to design the winery and the couple’s home on the large property as a “temple to wine and art.” In that, the architect, Michael Graves, succeeded brilliantly.

There are many large contemporary sculptures scattered around the winery and along the edges of vineyards. Inside the building itself are many thrilling paintings. Some of these end up on the colorful labels of select Clos Pegase bottlings. All of the art comes from the Shrem private collections.

hello from Clos Pegase

hello from Clos Pegase

is it called red

is it called red?

modern art meets managed nature at Clos Pegase

modern art meets managed nature at Clos Pegase

Ah, that is the life, don’t you think? Rich, happy in love, owning a fabulous art collection and an entire winery. Where do I sign up? Actually, I already have item two… but you know what I mean.

We tried several wines, all of which were good to very good. This place is worth a return trip.

yes, there really is wine here, too

yes, there really is wine here, too

2009 Sauvignon Blanc: This is transparent pale yellow with lots of exciting peach, pear and grapefruit notes on an almost creamy body.

2007 Hommage Chardonnay: A transparent honey yellow, much more creamy than the first, with lots of yellow fruit and not over-done.

2007 Syrah: Opaque purple with a nose of tobacco, spice box leading to a fruity core with supple tannins.

2007 Pegaso: This is a blend of zinfandel, syrah and petite sirah. This was an opaque red to purple with creamy texture, red and black stone fruit, full bodied wine.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% cab, this dark opaque wine was rich in fruit without being overbearing, had hints of forest floor, with medium to full body, supple tannins and a decent finish.

We decided “it’s the new old world here” after enjoying these restrained expressions of California terroir. See for yourselves. You won’t be sorry.

thumbs up for Clos Pegase

thumbs up for Clos Pegase

this is so cool!

this is so cool!

{ 6 comments }

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 13, 2011

Caliza is one of the lucky few Paso Robles wineries to be mentioned with high praise recently in the pages of Wine Spectator. The magazine referred to the winemakers/owners, Pam and Carl Bowker, as the “new kids on the block.” Pam alluded to that on our recent tasting visit. Comfortably past childhood (husband Carl is 53 according to the magazine. Of course I’d never ask a lady her age, but WS is shameless and published hers. You’ll have to look for the article, as I remain a gentleman.) Pam quipped that “old kids” might be more like it.

welcome to Caliza

welcome to Caliza

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day


We trooped over to Caliza after our picnic lunch at Booker. They’re quite nearby and we walked comfortably, even with little Jake in tow.

Pam says that, like Booker, the glowing review has significantly increased traffic to their tasting room. Certainly it had an exciting hum that day. (It happened to be Zinfandel weekend, too.)

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

Caliza, which means “limestone” in Spanish, practices sustainable agriculture. The web site gives a host of interesting details for true wine geeks about the soil types, various clones of syrah, Grenache, roussanne, etc. as well as info on the climate and area of West Paso. I loved the details.

Pam was wonderfully charming and chatty. We were so lucky to meet and taste wine with her.

The wines were really good, just like they said in the article. If you haven’t gone for a visit already, then you definitely should consider one on your next Central Coast excursion.

2008 Kissin’ Cousins: This is a blend of viognier, Grenache blanc and roussanne. It was a super pale transparent yellow with exciting crisp green apple, green grape, musk, white pepper notes with a long finish.

2007 Azimuth: We asked Pam about the name. She gave us three definitions: 1. the most direct route from A to B, 2. to deviate from the horizon (which has personal meaning for the Bowkers as they left their previous careers to pursue winemaking) and 3. ascend to heaven.

Caliza 2007 Azimuth

yummy Caliza 2007 Azimuth

This is a blend of Grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

This opaque purple red wine full of fresh berries, warm baking spices, red fruit, pepper with a balancing acidity lived up to its name. We were transported.

2006 Azimuth: Also a blend, with more syrah than Grenache, mourvedre, tannat and alicante bouchet. This was darker than the 2007, more fruit-forward and easier drinking than the first.

2008 Cohort: The day that we tasted this was its first day of release. This blend that includes Primitivo, a cousin to Zinfandel, seemed very appropriate for the festival theme.

Mostly Syrah, it has Grenache, Primitivo and Petite Sirah: so this is a California blend if there ever was one.

Unsurprisingly this was an opaque purple to black with red fruit, chewy tannins and bitter earthiness that made it quite interesting.

2007 Companion: This is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Opaque purple, supple and smooth with medium to full body, we enjoyed the dried herbs, red fruit and spicy finish. This screamed “Paso Robles” to us.

We did try a few more wines from other vintages but I can’t interpret my notes. I think that I was having too much fun that day. You will too, so get to Caliza ASAP.

{ 3 comments }

Hegui and I decided to go to Chouinard as part of our recent Livermore Valley wine tasting meet-up. They got an excellent review on ChowHound and they produce Rhône varieties, which we adore.

charming Chouinard Vineyards

charming Chouinard Vineyards


welcome to Chouinard Vineyards

welcome to Chouinard Vineyards

Even though we’ve been, I still don’t quite know how to situate them on the map. Many of their grapes are grown in other locations, like Paso Robles, Lodi or Monterey. Is Chouinard part of Livermore Valley, the San Francisco Bay or what?

Well, whatever it is, they’re worth a look.

Compared to Concannon, the place we visited after this, Chouinard is tiny and sort of mom-and-pop style. Only about five or six miles off Interstate 580 in Castro Valley, nevertheless, it seems like light-years from the Bay Area. They’re nestled in a charming little valley between several mountains. There’s even a little creek running through the property. The drive itself from the freeway to the winery is full of stunning mountain views, corkscrew turns and adventure. That may be a liability after the tasting on your drive out, so use caution.

We tried the sparkling, the whites, the apple wine, and reds but couldn’t drink more when it came to the sweet wines and their versions of port. The tasting room was small, informal and friendly. The wines are all quite affordable and many were very good.

tiny creek running through Chouinard Vineyards

tiny creek running through Chouinard Vineyards

Unfortunately, the Chouinard wine price list didn’t always indicate the vintage, if any, or the region from which the grapes were harvested. I asked but my notes are inconsistent.

California Champagne: This is from chardonnay grown on the estate. It was pale yellow with the aroma of green apple. It tasted apple-y and refreshing.

2009 Chardonnay, Livermore: Pale yellow with mineral on the nose, not that much fruit. Not too oaky, it was more creamy than buttery with mineral notes and tropical fruit.

Viognier (is this 2009?), from Lodi: This was quite pale with lovely floral and pear on the nose. It had a subtle flavor with some mineral hints and an earthy finish. We both liked. It would be especially welcome on a hot day.

2009 Chenin Blanc, Monterey: Very pale yellow with hints of rose, papaya, butterscotch, and apricot with some sour cherry. It seemed mildly sweet. Pleasant.

NV Granny Smith Apple wine, from Hog Canyon Orchard: This is a novelty! It was a transparent pale yellow that smelled of apple pie and rust. It tasted very apple-y but didn’t shock like cider might. It had 10% alcohol.

Chouinard red: This is a blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Translucent pale purple with hints of tar, cedar, hot embers and clay. We detected red fruit with tar and mineral. It had crisp acidity and a long finish.

2006 Alicante Bouchet, Lodi: This was an inky dark red with a nose of wood chips, freshly cut trees, garrigue, cedar, vanilla and V-8 juice. It opened slowly but became exuberant with lots of earthy flavors, black coffee, bitter notes, nail polish and fresh blood.

2009 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi: This was brownish red with a nose of cigarettes and tobacco, red fruit and honey. Surprisingly it tasted of plum. Medium body.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Francisco Bay, Palomares Canyon Vineyard: This was a dark purple red with a nose of freshly turned dirt, forest floor and wet moss. A medium body supported by supple tannins revealed mineral and some fruit.

2005 Petite Sirah, Livermore: This was an opaque black with scents reminiscent of stewed tomatoes and metal. It had noticeable chewy tannins that made it thick. This one needs a bit more time. We felt it was the most French in style.

2007 Malbec, Paso Robles: Purple to black in color, we detected spice box, Mexican cinnamon, green pepper. It started out powerfully then tapered off to a smooth vanilla and oaky finish. This was less forceful than an Argentine malbec. Good.

Chouinard Vineyards has won lots of medals and ribbons for their wines

Chouinard Vineyards has won lots of medals and ribbons for their wines

{ 10 comments }

Concannon may be familiar to you from supermarket shelves. I know that I was beguiled by them for years whenever I browsed my local Safeway. Strangely, I’d never considered trying to visit until our good friend, Kristen B, suggested a day-trip to Livermore Valley. She was pulling together a group and had a friend, Jennifer, who works in the tasting room, but who is also a successful realtor in Oakdale, CA. Land and wine do fit hand-in-glove, don’t you think?

Concannon Vineyard with a snow-capped peak in the background

Concannon Vineyard with a snow-capped peak in the background


chillin' with friends at Concannon

chillin' with friends at Concannon

The Concannon story is pretty awesome. Apparently great-grandfather James Concannon immigrated to California from Ireland, where he founded the winery in 1883. That’s old, especially for a California winery. Today Concannon is well known for Petite Sirah, of which they claim to be the first producers in the U.S. At more than fifty years, it is worth tasting on any visit. Here’s a link to a great video of James Concannon (not the Irish guy, but a descendent) talking about the first petite sirah vintage and the Livermore terroir.

This place was buzzing when we arrived the Sunday of Presidents Day weekend. Fortunately the weather was excellent after about a week of cold rain. We met Kristen, her friends, including Jennifer and Susan behind the counter, and the lovely Joann and Roger P. (Good luck on your upcoming operation, Joann! We’re rooting for you.)

The tasting room is housed in a large complex of buildings, all surrounded by vineyards. Amazingly, there was snow on some of the distant peaks, a rare sight indeed for this part of the State. The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds, there was a gentle cool breeze and everything felt right in the universe.

We didn’t take a tour (I didn’t even find out if that was a possibility.) Instead we went right to work with wine tasting. After that, our large group all gathered in the back for a late lunch and more wine in Concannon’s modern restaurant/lounge, Underdog Wine Bar. It was so much fun catching up, meeting new people and enjoying a bottle of the 2000 Heritage Petite Sirah. Ah…

2000 Concannon Heritage Petite Sirah

2000 Concannon Heritage Petite Sirah

The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds the day we went to Concannon

The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds the day we went to Concannon

Afterward, Whit and I went browsing through their wine library. They had some older vintages and an exciting array of large format bottles. I always go for the “big bottle” when I can, so you’ll understand that I was dismayed to learn that the one guy that had the key to the cellar was off buying cheese for the party the next day. They wouldn’t sell without him. Too bad! Though it is probably just as well. How often is a Nebuchadnezzar really called for?

Jennifer and Susan at Concannon

Jennifer and Susan at Concannon

2009 Viognier Reserve, Livermore Valley: This wine was so pale that it appeared colorless. It had a lovely floral nose with notes of pear, apricot and mineral. We liked it.

2009 Chardonnay Reserve, Livermore Valley: This was an extremely pale yellow. It had notes of coffee, tobacco and salami. This one spent about six months in oak though it wasn’t buttery at all. Rather it was creamy and rich full of tropical fruit and some toasted oak notes with medium heft.

2008 Pinot Noir Reserve, San Luis Obispo County, Haimes Valley: This was a transparent cherry red with red fruit and hints of horse pooh. Light to medium bodied with pepper, cranberry and blueberry flavors.

2007 Syrah Reserve, Livermore Valley: This has 8% petite sirah added. It was an opaque purple with enticing aromas of tobacco and coffee with red and purple fruit and a minerally finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This has 6% petite sirah and 2% petite verdot. It was a translucent red to purple color with a nose of cedar and forest floor. It had supple tannin with pleasing hints of blueberry, blackberry, and vanilla. This had a good finish.

2006 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This was dark, opaque purple. We detected mouthwatering spice box, forest floor, camphor with lots of black pepper, red fruit, blueberry and ample tannin.

2006 Petite Sirah, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This, too, was opaque purple. It had an unusual aroma: rotten veggies and “fart.” This was tannin-rich, more round and full than the Captain Joe’s. We detected loads of blue- and blackberries. It was really good.

Petite Sirah Port: This was dark black. It smelled like dark molasses and caramel. The taste was sweet without being overbearing, loaded with red fruit and pepper.

2000 Petite Sirah Heritage: This is the Concannon flagship wine. It was an opaque black with full body and rich brooding dark fruit with a long finish. It was very good.

welcome to Concannon

welcome to Concannon

{ 2 comments }

Unti Vineyards, Sonoma County

August 30, 2010

I’ve been wanting to try the wines at Unti for ages now! We finally got our chance the other day while visiting Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg in Sonoma County. It was worth the wait, as this is a must go-to for fine wine. Turns out, you’re supposed to have an appointment for the tasting. […]

Read the full article →

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, Sonoma County

February 11, 2010

Ferrari-Carano is at the northern end of Dry Creek Valley, quite near the dam. We went there after visiting Sbragia on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We wanted to taste their wines and have a picnic lunch. Unfortunately they don’t have covered picnic tables at this majestic chateau-like winery and it was too wet to sit […]

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Read the full article →