Contests contests contests!

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So here I was, minding my own business, when two very attractive emails came my way regarding contests which promote specific wine regions by attractive prizes like trips.  I don’t often post contests, but these two were things I actually entered myself, so against my better judgement, I’m going to share them with you! The first is sponsored by Vacations in Austria, the Official Travel Guide.  This sweepstakes is offering a 7-day trip for you and a traveling companion to Austria, with one of it’s themed trips.  The options include an outdoor adventure, art & history, or…Wine & Food!  That’s right dear readers, you can win a 7 day vacation to Austria that focuses on wine! Now, I have been to parts of Austria, and really enjoyed my time in the land of Mozart and The Sound of Music.  This could be an amazing adventure for some lucky winos.  To enter, you must fan them up on Facebook and be sure to read the official rules. You can increase your chances of winning by tweeting about the contest with the hashtag #itsgottobeaustria, once you fan them up. This contest ends January 15, 2010. I also came acorss this great offer from the Vibrant Rioja people.  If you join thier e-newsletter, you will be entered to win things like a case of Rioja, a wine party at your home, tickets to NYC Fashion Week, or – a trip to Rioja! The Vibrant Rioja site is a visually stunning informational resource that I highly recommend you take a look at if you’re interested in learning more.  I really want to go to Spain, so here’s hoping. Good luck and think of me if you win!

The Benziger Blogger Follies!

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Benziger Family Vineyards sits inside an eruption cauldron, part of Sonoma Mountain, in Glen Ellen.  One beautiful early fall day, they took on a group of bloggers and showed us the VIP treatment and gave us a nice education and tasting lesson behind the scenes. Here at Benziger, the practice of biodynamics builds up the biological capital every year.  Building a closed ecosystem, the winery has created its own terroir through the careful management of the land, and the balance of nature and farming.  Eliminating the use of synthetic chemicals and starting more natural methods like crop rotation, composting, and natural insect and pest control changed the ecosystem. We started our day taking a tram tour around the property, where we had several stops where Mike Benziger, Kathy Benziger, and Next, we wandered down to the insectary, where Colby explained how the introduction of beneficial insects helps keep the farm in balance.  While in the insectary, we sipped on some 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc Paradiso de Maria, Sonoma Mountain while a Praying Mantis came to sit atop our bottle.  I tasted lemons, cream, grapefruit, with a whiff of petrol on the nose, as well as chalk and hay.  It had a great acidify and was lively with granny smith apple flavors.  500 cases of this wine were produces from a one acre block that was dry farmed with minimal intervention.  The wine was fermented on native yeast, which I always enjoy because I think it provides such a unique factor to every barrel.  It was fermented in 100% stainless steel barrels sur lie and was delicious! After the gardens, we moved on to the compost pile.  Yes, the compost pile.  Unfortunately, i didnt’ have any wine with me at the time, but luckily enough, it did NOT smell like my kitchen bucket.  Mike Benziger explained to us that there are no magic tricks when making great wine.  Benziger vines havfe very deep root growth on the property, which in part is caused by a change in the irrigation strategy.  Deep roots allow for more stability int he vines.  According to Mike, biodynamics is the best fine tuning system for nature, to make the best wine.  The compost piles are actually kept separate for each block, and they are put back on the land where they came from.  This adds to the closed ecosystem and prevents any cross contamination from occurring. Our next stop was the water treatment facility, which is a series of ponds that are aerated at the back of the property.  This is a man made wetland, which acts as a natural filter and helps to recycles and resue 2-4 million gallons (yes kids that’s a LOT of water!) annually. Before we moved in to the cave to taste smoe with, we stopped by the crushpad to see their new sorting table. As it was in the middle of crush, we saw the line in action.  this new vibrating sorting table allows the workers to sort out the duds, so they are […]

To Bordeaux or not to Bordeaux, that is the question

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I used to think I hated French wine.  And then came my blog, and the opportunity to taste things that I wouldn’t necessarily buy for myself.  First, it started with Robert Skalli and Fortant, which opened my eyes to the world of French wine beyond Rhone (which I have always enjoyed), and the snobbery of Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Now, I was off to the races to taste some 25 Bordeaux wines, which were from Graves, Haut-Medoc, St. Emillion, Pomeral and beyond. France, and Bordeaux in particular has always confused me.  Being the American that I am, I like having the region and the grape clearly visible on my bottle.  At least I can make some assumptions about how it SHOULD taste.  But Bordeaux is different.  Given that there are 10,000 producers of Bordeaux wine, and 13,000 growers, the way they make their mark on the bottle of wine can be downright consternating. There are currently 57 appellations for Bordeaux wine.  Are there even 57 appellations in California?  When you’re speaking of a region roughly the size of Sonoma county, that’s a lot of micro AVAs to differentiate. Adding to the complexity, the wines MST be made from some combination of and ONLY from some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec, as well as the older Malbec and Carmenere bits.  Now let’s add in this left bank, right bank layer, where those on right are primarily Merlot, and those on the left are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon.  Well mostly.  Maybe.  Sometimes.  How one knows left from right is fairly simple in theory, as Gironde River divides the region.  I need a secret decoder ring but at least it’s fairly well documented.   Here is what I found out after tasting my way left right and sideways. I tend to prefer those wines from the right bank region, which include those from Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.  While I did not take detailed tasting notes, I do know that my two favorite wines of the night were the 2005 Chateau Jean Faux, a Bordeaux Superieur, and the 2004 Bolaire Bordeaux Superieur.  These wines were $18.99 and $10.99 respectively, and at that price can and should be enjoyed frequently.  The Bolaire with a Truffled Beef slider was simply divine! The lesson here is that even a California girl with a very New World palate can enjoy those finer things from other parts of the world.  I have been trying to drink my way around the world lately to open my eyes to new tastes and new experiences.  Another lesson learned is that while many European wines, and particularly French wines, are made to be enjoyed with food, many of them can be enjoyed on their own.  to my mind, this is a more American way to enjoy wine, as we have a glass for the cocktail hour, or when out in friends, even if you are not having a meal.  Finally, I learned that you can enjoy Bordeaux and not go broke. […]

Rockaway baby, in my wine glass

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Who can forget, the Rockaway Scandel of 2008, where bloggers around the country were courted sent bottles of the Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon by Rodney Strong.  Now, I wasn’t part of the original Rockaway 10, or however many it was, but some of you might recall that the big bruhaha was becuase of a misunderstood condition that all bloggers must write something in return for the sample bottle of wine.  Again, I wasn’t participating at that time, but I do think that a huge mountain was made out of a molehill.  Yes kids, that’s my opinion, please don’t string me up for it.  Fast forward to 2009, when I have become one of the cool kids and was asked to play kickball at recess, in the form of my very own bottle of 2006 Rockaway Cabernet!  To be clear, no one asked me, cajoled me, or otherwise insisted that I write this piece. This luxury cab comes from Alexander Valley in Northern Sonoma country, where there is an interesting mix of old school zins and high end cabs planted.  I was really excited to try this wine after all the conversation, and opened it up.  The 2006 Rodney Strong Rockaway cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyardis 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% malbec, and 1% Petite Verdot, which spent 22 months in 47% new French oak barrels.  Rockaway is planeted primarily to Cab and Merlot, but includes all af the major Bordeaux varietals.  The vineyard is belanted between 250-750 feet, which provides a variety of microclimates. to further my experience, I also decided to take advantage of an Eisch Breatheable glass that was sent to me as a press sample.  The Eisch Breatheable Glass claims that with it’s patented breathable technology that you will have the same effect leaving the wine in their glass for 2-4 minutes, as you would in a decanter for 1-2 hours.  Now, I was skeptical, but what the heck.  To control the experiment, I also used a Riedel Bordeaux glass, as well as a “standard” glass, aka a regular tasting room glass. The first sip was in the Eisch, and I found dark cherries, leather, and notes of ceder on the nose.  on the Palate I tasted mocha, chocolate, coffee, molasses, smoke, and it was rich and elegant.  The first impression was that it was a bit young, but that’s not surprising given that it’s only a 2006.  The tannins were very mellow, and this was smooth.  It was elegantly bold with firm backbone, and the dried cherries from teh aroma made their way in to the palate with a finish of bittersweet chocolate.  There was a touch of soy sauce in there as well, with big blackberry pie flavors.  I really enjoyed this wine right out of the glass, with no decanting. In the Riedel Bordeaux glass, I had a hard time getting the nose.  Again, this wine did not decant, and was only in the glass about 4 minutes before I tasted it.  At first, I got a slight whiff of alcohol, followed by […]

Over the river and in to the Pinot

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Davis Bynum has quite a history to live up to, as the first winery to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley.  Now, three decades later, the winery was sold to the Rodney Strong family of wineries, through Klein family, who has farmed here for 4 generations. One of the things that strikes me about this winery is that the focus is on nature, and how they can best make world class wine with a minimal impact.  Additionally, the careful management of the vineyards pull out the local qualities in the grapes without homogenizing the fruit to a generic style. The 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir is a blend of several vineyards, which gives the winemaker the ability to create the best concoction.  It was a big pinot, which is somewhat indicative of the RRV these days.  I found it bold, dark and full of black cherries and strawberry jam, followed by dusty bark, dried cherries and craisnes on the palate.  After leaving it open for a while, I started to taste rose hips, hibiscus and rhubarb with those bright berry flavors that are so yummy.  The juicy finish on this wine lasts a long time, and I found just a touch too much oak make the end a little bitter.  The very last note I tasted was a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda, which is pretty high praise since when I was a kid and we got to go tot he Holey Bagel, it was my sweet treat in a Coke-Free household. For $35, I feel it is just a little overpriced but still tasty.  I would also say that if you did buy this, hold on to it for another year as I think it will settle downand become amazing, and therefore well worth the price point. This wine was a sample provided by David Bynum winery. Google

A great Chance!

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Shhh!  A little Hummingbird told me that Clos La Chance is having a secret sale. That’s right, these lovely wines are having a holiday HALF OFF sale!  That means that if you haven’t had the Chance to try the Clos, now is a great opportunity.  I have had several of the Hummingbird series of wines, which are a great value for some lovely wine.  I’ll probably buy a mixed case to have on hand, because $16 for Santa Cruz Mtn pinot is an offer you just can’t pass up. Here is a full list of what is on sale with the full price first, and the sale price after.  These are the winery notes, since I haven’t tasted most of these before but with added commentary for your reading pleasure. The sales starts FRIDAY the 13th – appropriately enough, and you can buy online or at thier San Martin tasting room until Sunday 11/15. 2006 Violet Crowded Merlot Aromas of black plum and black cherry fruit with elements of smoke and vanilla along with violets and red licorice. Balanced flavors of raspberry and plum fruit combined with dried sage and sweet herb. Finishes with notes of wild cherry and tobacco. $18/9 2006 Late Harvest Semillon – Nectar 375mL (half bottle) This would be an amazing wine to have at your Thanksgiving table with dessert. A beautiful yellow gold color that will darken with bottle age. Made in the Sauternesstyle with botrytized grapes. Rich aromas of orange peels, honey, almonds and apricots. The flavors of dried peach, apricot, honey and toasty almonds are perfectly balanced with a natural sweetness and acidity. $19/8 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Aromas of sweet, scented pear and ripe Granny Smith apples. hints of tropical fruit with a touch of baking spices, hazelnut, and graham crackers. A faint floral aroma along with a touch of wet stones. The rich flavors of ripe white peaches dominates the mouth, along with a hint of juicy pear and tropical fruits that linger mid-palate. The finish is smooth, with traces of nutmeg and vanilla. $22/11 2005 Honduran-Emerald Meritage Aromas of warm blackberry cobbler with currant, black plum, resh earth, herb, cedar and a hint of anise. Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, mocha, spice and mineral with rips, firm tannin on the finish.  I have had the sister of this wine, the 2007 Crimson Topaz Meritage, and if this wine is any where near as good, it will be excellent with a killer QPR.  $25/12.50 2006 Late Harvest Zinfandel Dark ruby-purple color with a rich viscosity when swirled around in my glass. Aromas of dried cranberries, powdered cocoa, strawberry syrup, vanilla and a hint of mint. A slight floral component−lavender. Flavors of vanilla and caramel open up to dark fruits. Plums and blackberries. Nuts and Zinfandel pepper on the finish.  $25/12.50 NV Zinfandel Port Dark and rich. Aromas of dark chocolate, cherries, figs, brown sugar and baking spices. A slight floral note. Stewed cherries and milky chocolate, vanilla and jammy plum flavors. […]

On a mountain top

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Haber Family Vineyards, which sits high atop Howell Mountain, near the village of Angwin, was founded in 2004 by Ron and Sue Marie Haber, a couple of summer refugees from the East Coast. My blogging friend Melissa Dobson, of Melissa Dobson PR & Marketing, was kind enough to arrange a bloggers tasting day up on the mountain.  Sue Marie and Ron were gracious and welcoming, and the usual suspects (Randy, Michael, Marcy, and Ashley) made our way out of the Napa Valley for an unforgettable experience. The estate on Howell Mountain is a lean 5.5 acres, which was painstakingly developed 1 acre at a time due to local zoning laws at the time.  My personal opinion is that slow and steady wins the race however, and this turned out to be worth the slow development.  The Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation in Napa Valley to be officially recognized, and is known for it’s Cabernets.  The rocky red volcanic soil sits above the valley fog, which creates long mellow growing days.  The estate vineyard is between 1550 and 1650 ft, which is smack dab in the middle of the Howell Mountain vertical AVA. While the fruit grew, and the estate developed, the 2006 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon was released earlier this year . This bottle was decanted the night before our visit, and it was simply stunning.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t like the typical overblown overdone overextracted Napa Cab, and this wine was the elegant, silky antithesis of that.  I tasted chocolate, smoke and salami in the wine.  Or was that the nibbles I was chowing down?  Sue Marie put on an amazing spread for us.  The wine continued with pepper and subtle blackberry, with juicy plum notes.  As the wine opened up further in the glass, and as we ate lunch and drank more, the rich mocha flavors came out to play and evergreen notes teased me.  At one point I had an overwhelming aroma of Earl Grey tea, which was followed by fig, black cherry and root beer.  I really enjoyed this wine, and for $80 it is worth it.  I would certainly buy another bottle to hold for a special (or not so special) wine drinking occasion. If you have an opportunity, try to catch Sue Marie and Ron while they are in town and make it a point to taste their beautiful wine.  The Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet will be released next year, and I look forward to going back and tasting that offering as well. Happy drinking! Google

Friday Follies

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No, I’m not offering to put you up for the weekend, but my friends at Bottlenotes are giving away a pretty awesome trip to the good life.  If you win, Bottlenotes’ founder and Chief Wineaux, Alyssa Rapp, will meet you and three friends in Napa to sample some of the best of the valley for a fun filled weekend.  This is a great chance to get to some difficult to get in to places, and also enjoy a chillaxing day up valley. The current itenerary includes: Cakebread Cellars Meet one of the founding fathers of the Napa Valley, Jack Cakebread. Tasting appointment includes a VIP tour and tasting, along with a private lunch with Jack Cakebread, founder of Cakebread Cellars and an iconic figure in Napa. Arietta Spend an hour with Fritz Hatton, owner of the boutique winery Arietta and former Head of Christie’s Wine Department, at his beautiful Victorian home in St. Helena. Tasting appointment includes a rare tasting of all five new releases of this cult wine. Spring Mountain Vineyards Yes the one Falcon Crest was filmed at!  Enjoy an unforgettable mountain adventure at this beautiful private estate, the largest single contiguous property in the Napa Valley (850 acres!). Enjoy an exclusive mountain tour of Spring Mountain Vineyards by Jeep, followed by a tasting of library vintages of estate-bottled Cabernet Sauvignon with the winemaker. Charles Krug Explore your senses with industry icon, Peter Mondavi Jr. This visit includes a wine blending session with Pete Mondavi Jr., himself, who will teach you the secrets to making great wine. You’ll complete your visit with a grill-your-own-steak lunch with Pete and your newly blended wine, plus a selection of Charles Krug wines. Now, there are three ways you can enter to win the fun fest. First, if you are a Daily Sip subscriber, you’re in like Flynn. Second, you should head over HERE to complete the online form. And finally, refer a few friends to the Daily Sip for some extra credit entries. All the vital stats can be found over here at Bottlenotes Contest page, and the official contest dates are November 4th through December 14th.

Under the Madrone tree…

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One scorching hot Saturday, I was invited to take a Napa mountain adventure, up past St. Helena, past Spring Mountain’s Falcon Crest set, to Smith-Madrone Winery high atop Spring Mountain road.  As I drove, and drove, and drove, and worried that my car was overheating (or just plain flipping out in protest) as I climbed the hill, Shana pulled up behind me to ask where the heck we were. We arrived, after a couple of wrong turns and iPhone reception-less, at Smith-Madrone Winery, high atop Spring Mountain.  Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, the enologist, and is run by Stuart and Charles Smith, the winemaker.  All of the wine is made from estate fruit, which is planted between 1300 and 2000 feet.  The mountain soil is on steep hillsides, on the highest point in the Spring Mountain AVA, with different exposures for each varietal. this interesting geography and (hrmm what is the science of exposure called anyway?) creates some distinctly delicious wines and they treated us to a lovely tour and tasting on the property. The property was 100% dry farmed until they had to replant, at which point they irrigated to make sure the new vines too hold.  Up here on Spring Mountain, it’s unusual to have chardonnay, so it was nice to find people doing it their own way.  Smith-Madrone is not organically farmed, but they strive to be as sustainable as possible while still being successful.  The land on this estate has been farmed for somewhere around 500 years, so clearly someone is doing it right.  Along with the chardonnay, Smith-Madrone was actually the first California winery to be awarded a European award for their Riesling.  This is pretty big stuff considering they were up against some of the German big boys. After a dusty tour of the 200 acre estate vineyard, including the big Madrone tree, we came back down to the winery to taste.33 2007 Chardonnay – the first wine we had was full of scents of vanilla and sandlewood.  The flavors were quite citrusy, with lemon curd and meyer lemon.  For a French Oak aged Chard, this was still crisp and refreshing with vanilla bean and green apple flavors that I really enjoyed.  I also had a touch of Asian pear and ginger ale.  I was really surprised I liked this so much, since I prefer an unoaked chard, but I give this a STRONG BUY at $30 for it’s unique sense of place and wonderful flavors. 2008 Chardonnay – This new release had tons of vanilla and custard, followed by egg nog.  Not just the nutmeg, but the eggs and the nog!  I tasted ginger spiced pears, and while this was interesting I wasn’t thrilled.  $30 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – Overwhelming aromas and flavors of olives, wood, and dried cherries, figs and chocolate.  Quite tannic and woody.  I didn’t like this one as much because it represents what I don’t enjoy in cab and was too funky for my taste.  $45 […]

Getting in to the Spirit

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Espiritu de Argentina was launched in 2008, as a partnership with Monte Real Winery and Espiritu de Chile.  During the week that the Wines of Argentina tour hit San Francisco, we were invited to taste these new wines at Destino, a modern South American restaurant here in town. Each course was made to pair with these wines, and while there weren’t always the best match in my opinion, they were certainly inspired dishes and I can’t wait to go back to Destino to try more of Chef James Schenk’s talented cooking. After a starter of Chandon Sparkling Pinot Noir, we moved in to the restaurant for some Rose of Malbec.  this little baby snuck it’s way on the place, and wasn’t on our official tasting list but i found honey, tangerines, and slightly sweetened strawberry soda.  This malbec is picked early in the morning in April – remember, they are on an opposite schedule int he southern hemisphere – and has about 2 hours of skin contact.  It is then tank fermented.  It was an interesting start to the evening, but I admit, not my favorite. The 2008 Classic Torrontés is from the Los Campamentos district of Mendoza, which has a temperate climate.  Torrontés is a truly Argentinian grape, and it’s widely thought to be a descendant of Muscat of Alexandria.  Additional research has shown that it is related to the Malvasian grape, which is used to make Maderia.  It arrived with Day Boat scallops, with jasmine oil and a little kick at the end.  Torrontés is one of my favorite “other” white wines.  This had a nose of lemons, spice, orange zest and nutmeg.  On the palate, I found lychee, tropical fruit and melons with creamy pineapple and banana, with a spicy finish.  It was quite aromatic and just lovely.  As I’ve said before for a few great values, RUN OUT AND BUY THIS WINE as soon as you can find it!  Don’t wait, do it NOW!   This wine is actually harvested twice, once in February, and again in March.  this allows the floral flavors to combine with the tropical notes, resulting in this flavor extravaganza. The 2008 Classic Chardnonay from the Tupungato and Medrano regions of Mendoza, was served with a Roasted Apple Quinoa salad.  It smelled like spiced pears and apple pie, adn tasted of mince meat and vanilla custard.  I thought it was a bit flabby, and I didn’t like it.  I’d give it an AVOID but if you’re interested in trying a different wine, for $10, it’s a good experiment. Next, we had a 2007 Classic Shiraz with a spicy Chicken Chorizo.  Why Shiraz you say?  Mostly because it’s a southern hemisphere naming convention, but yes this is a syrah.  This smelled of smoked meat and black pepper, and had cherries, figs, and plums on the palate.  Shiraz is best produced in the dry desert regions of Argentina, where there is less than 120mm of rain a year.  The geography in these regions is unique, since […]

I smell a Rat!

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A Cellar Rat!  When I first met Alan Baker, aka @thecellarrat, I was in my first year of making a mess wine at Crushpad.  What I didn’t know, or rather, the connection I failed to make, is that he was the same Alan Baker who was the voice behind this crazy podcast that I had become addicted to over at Cellarrat.org.  Mind you, this was before I was a wine blogger, before I was the “glue that holds the twitter wine universe together”, and before I was Wine Biz Radio’s #1 fan.  Ahhh the olden days. The months past, and I would see Alan every now and then around Crushpad, like a mad scientist on a mission to create the world’s best wine for himself, and other clients at the same time.  Enter Cellar Rat wines.  I first tasted the Cellar Rat syrah at one of Crushapd’s infamous tasting events parties, where Alan was pouring a touch of pinot and a smattering of syrah.  WOW!  I was blown away by this wine.  Both the pinot and the syrah were outstanding, and somehow, I was lucky enough to get a door prize (thanks Alan!) in a bottle of syrah that I took home and squirreled away for safekeeping and later drinking. Fast forward 3 years, and Alan is now working with Arista Winery where he can both hone his winemaking craft and work on his social media and broadcasting skills.  I somehow convinced, cajoled, and begged him to let us come up and taste his pinot noir in progress, and so a blogger’s binge was born. On a recent cool and foggy day, we met up at the picnic grounds of Arista, off of Westside Road in Healdsburg to talk wine, blogging, and fun.  Amongst the hoards were Patrick Llenra (@oenophilus), Marcy Gordon (@marcygordon), Hardy Wallace (@dirtysouthwine ), Ashley Routson (@thebeerwench), Shana Ray (@sharayray), Paige Granback (@thesnarkhunter), Danica Sattui (@danicasattui), and of course Alan & Serena.  Cool and foggy but happy, we set out to taste the latest and greatest. First, we started out with a barrel sample of the 2008 Two Pisces Vineyard.  This vineyard is located just west of Petaluma, and has a wide variety of soil types, giving it a lot of diversity.  With 5 clones planted, I tasted sour cherries in this rich and spicy pinot, with bright raspberry flavors and classic Russian River Valley character, with cranberries and cinnamon.  33% new French Oak gives the wine just enough structure and spicy without going overboard.  Though I rather enjoyed this wine, Alan says he’ll definitely add some bigger fruit pinot in to the final blend, since it already seems to be falling off a  bit.  Tasty tidbit about this vineyard:  This is where our Bus 4 Cellars 2009 Sparkling Wine is coming from!  I’m excited about hte potential in this pinot, and what it means for my fledgling bubble enterprise. The 2008 Split Rock (also known as Gap’s Crown, but they don’t like us to say that) […]