There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.


Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655



McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site.

In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there!

When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below.


Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese…


With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.


It’s so good – Elyse Vineyards

Elyse Winery Logo

Elyse Winery started in 1987, with a classic California varietal – Zinfandel.  Over the last 25 years, they have grown, but have remained focused on creating vineyard driven wines that pair with food.  While you may think that a Napa winery can’t make quality Rhone varietals, but with the help of some great fruit from the Sierra Foothills, Elyse is making it’s mark with two red blends and a white blend.

The 2009 C’est si Bon is a red blend with 5 Rhone reds and a touch of Viognier.  The powerful Grenache and Mourvedre bases give it a rich and bold foundation, peppered with black pepper, spice, and blue fruit.  I love the addition of the Viognier, since it adds a brightness and aromatic tone that you wouldn’t otherwise get.  Chewy leather and meat combine with cloves, gingerbread and earthy notes with plums, cherries and a bright burst of citrus.  The C’est si Bon is a great example of the power of Chateaunuef de Pape and how it can be transformed in the Sierra Foothills.

On the white side, the 2011 L’Ingeneue – Naggiar Vineyard would have you believe she is an innocent or unsophisticated young woman (the definition of inginue).  However, there is nothing innocent or unsophisticated about this white Rhone blend!  Comprised of 52% Roussanne, 32% Marsanne, 11% Viognier, and 5% Grenache Blanc, this elegant white blend evokes grilled pineapple, ruby red grapefruit, nectarines, and sweet cream.  The dominant Roussanne gives it a bold body and rich creamy each base, with honey suckle, honey, and juicy pear following.  The long, silky finish is a nightclub act in 1932 Paris.

Elyse is a winery to watch!

These wines were provided by the winery for consideration.  All options are my own.



Bubble, bubble, toil and Trouble-maker!

What’s better on a dark and storm haunted Halloween than a bold red wine with a name like The Troublemaker?  With all of the goofy holiday wines out there, the Troublemaker brings you a solid wine at a great price.  And it’s fun!

The Troublemaker, a zesty little blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel from Hope Family Wines should do just the trick.  Or is that a treat?

The non vintage blend is mostly from 2011, with the bulk of the blend being the workhorse syrah.  The fun of this budget friendly $20 bottle is that the rest of the blend is from multiple varietals from the 2010 vintage.

I love the easy drinking style of this wine, with bold spicy notes, and dark blackberry powering through the dark chocolate.  I can imagine this being a fantastic base for those witches brews you might be concocting for your Halloween hauntings!

 Thank you to the kind PR folk for providing me the yummy – I am going to go make some bubble bubble toil and trouble now!  Happy haunting!





It's Dark, it's delicious, it's divine!

As I write this letter,

Send my love to you,

Remember that I’ll always,

Be in love with you…

In the words of the immortal McCartney and Lennon, yes- Petite Sirah – I DO love you!
The 7th Annual celebration of Petite Sirah, Dark & Delicious, will be held at Rockwall Winery in Alameda on February 22nd.  At this annual festival off all things Petite and food, over 30 restaurants will pair their dishes with Petite Sirah producers from all over California.  Some of them will be pouring some spectacular older vintages, and this is a not to be missed event!

As you might know by now, any wine blogger worth their salt is a poarkatarian.  Fortunately, the the National Pork Board is a major sponsor of D&D, which means…that’s right kids, lots and lots of bacon and other porky goodness!

Here are just some of the wineries that will be pouring their Petite Sirahs – in no particular order.  Ok fine they are in order, of my faves!


Wineries Wineries
Aver Family Vineyards Berryessa Gap Vineyards
Carica Wines Cedar Creek Ranch & Vineyards
Clayhouse Wines Concannon Vineyard
Crooked Vine & Stony Ridge Winery David Fulton
Delectus Winery Diamond Ridge Vineyards
Don Sebastiani & Sons Estrella Creek Wines
F. Teldeschi Fenestra Winery
Field Stone Winery Foppiano Vineyard
Grizzly Republic Gustafson Family Vineyard
Mounts Family Winery Ridge Vineyards
Robert Biale Winery Rock Wall Wine Company

And because you can’t live on inky Petite alone…some of my top picks for food pairings:

Eat Le Truc Healdsburg Toffee Company
Il Posto Trattoria Lungomare
Mama Tina’s Raviol Sweet Things Bakery
Venga Paella

Tickets are $63.00 per person and worth it – if you like to eat.  However, I have been authorized to let my favorite winos in!  Please see below for your chance to win a VIP experience!  (More on that later…but it includes 2 tickets to the event and a special surprise before!)

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Concannon Vineyards – history in a glass

The terroir at Concannon Vineyards in Livermore Valley hides a rich history.  When the winery was built in 1883, it was one of the first in California and the first in the area.  Now, four generations later, John Concannon’s namesake great grandson leads the way in Petite Sirah, sustainability, and modern winery operations.

Concannon is notable both for it’s place in history but also because it is a winery founded by Irish immigrants.  Founder James Concannon was born in the Aran Islands, left Ireland for America in 1874.  Travelling across the country to reach San Francisco, James was drawn to the idea of creating Rhone and Bordeaux style wines in California.  At the time, Livermore was nearly undiscovered, and James became a wine pioneer.

Second generation Captain Joe Concannon helped to lead Concannon Vineywards successfully through Prohibition, producing sacramental wines for the Archbishop of San Francisco.  After serving in World War I, where he created wines for then General Pershing and Lieutenant Patton (later General Patton), he hired the first professional female winemaker.  Captain Joe was also instrumental in replacing vines that were lost to phylloxera.

Third generation James (Jim) took over winemaking at the vineyard and brought the first named Petite Sirah to the American market n 1961.  Selling the winery when finances were tight, Jim remained as winemaker and continued to represent the family and winery to the public.  He is still active ein the winery business and in Livermore culture.

Jump forward to the 4th generation, John Concannon left his career in the medical device filed to region the family business.  Born and raised on the winery property, John III has worked at every job in the winery, and currently seves as the 4th generation vintner.  Ever the rebel, this join is constantly looking and new and innoative ways to incorporate technology in the vineyard and production.

Additionally, the current John has spearheaded Concannon’s sustainable practices in environmental conservancy.  Most of the property is owned by a land conservancy and can never be developed.  With a huge price tag attached to any said sale, this is a major investment in keeping the LIvermore Valley’s agricultural history in tact.  This Conservancy lends it’s name to a series of wines made from the grapes grown in the land trust.

We sat down with John to taste some of the winerys wines, as well as explore the Underdog Wine Bar, which is situated on site and offers up delicious morsels as well as several other wines for sipping.

Concannon has something to offer everyone and offers you a great look at history in the Livermore Valley, someplace with a long legacy in wine but that is still slightly off the beaten path.

Wines tasted:

2010 Conservancy Chardonnay $14 – A bigger chard than I care fore, this wine had lots of buttered popcorn and a slight sandlewood finish.

2010 Reserve Chardonnay $30 – This wine went through additional malolactic fermentation and is quite tropical, green apple, citrus and minerality.  It has great acid and kiwi notes that were bracingly refreshing.

2008 Conservancy Merlot $18 – Spicy plum, mincemeat.  Velvety plush but a nice backbone.  Dark raspberry.  This is a great BBQ wine!

2008 Conservancy Petite Sirah $18 – Concannon is widely known for it’is Petite Sirah.  This is an exceptional offering and shows chewy blackberry, chocolate and cedar.

2007 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah $36 – Captain Joe Concannon was the son of founder James Concannon, and helped the winery to survive Prohibition.  Surviving World War I, he took over the winery.  In tribute, this wine was crated by 4th generation winemaker John Concannon, using the exact blending recipe that Captain Joe used to serve to General Pershing and Lieutenant Patton (before he was a general).  Plum and blackberry mingle together with smoky leather and dense dark fruit layered over violets and meat.

2010 Conservancy Crimson and Clover $18 – This is a lively blend of Livermore varitals, showcasing what the valley can produce.  Containing primarily Petite Sirah, there is alos Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.  A spicy smokey crowd pleaser, this is a fun wine that should be served with every burger.

If you are in Livermore, be sure to stop by Concannon for a history lesson as well as some tasty wines!