Holman Ranch: A step back in time


Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

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While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

Live Blogging: J Vineyards PInot Gris

J Vineyards is a women owned and operated winery in the Russian River area of Sonoma, specializing in sparkling wine but also Pinot Gris and Pinot noir.

The 2013 Gris is stainless steel fermented, with no malo, and is sourced from all over the state of California.  Retailing for $14, this is a wonderful example of the grape, that is expressive and unique.  Pears, Asian pear, Meyer lemon, grilled pineapple and savory spices all blend together to create a wonderfully creamy full bodied white.

Seven of Hearts she stole my taste buds!

I don’t know about you, but those of us who live in the Bay Area understand this peculiar thing called Indian Summer.  It was the last day of September and finally, it’s got hot!  This called for some delicious white wine.  (Mind you it’s been raining, hailing and freezing for the last week, now that it’s November but…)

So I went to my trusty top shelf of my refrigerator  where I keep whites and rose for ready consumption  and found the Seven of Hearts 2011 Pinot Gris in my fridge, ripe for the opening.  I also happened to find a 2010 that was buried in there from a long ago visit!  WOOHOOO!  Vertical!

Pinot Gris is a bit of a dark hourse, being a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir.  Not white or red exactly, it literally is…gris (grey).  This Pinot Gris comes from a site in north eastern Oregon that typically has warm days and cool nights.  With the longer growing season of 2011, it was perfect for Pinot Gris.

Created from four lots, each one was fermented separately  three in neutral oak which allows the wine to really develop a personality.  The fourth lot was fermented in stainless steel, which gives the crisp brightness that lights up the wine.  This is a dry, delicious wonder that was bright and citrus driven, with lovely mineral notes followed by rich pears, stone fruit and ripe luscious peaches.  At only $18 a bottle, this is a no brainier

The 2011’s older sister, 2010, had been hiding in the back of my fridge.  When I found it I was excited to do a side by side.  The older vintage was a deep golden color, with rich peach flavors and spiced pear and tropical fruits, including kumquat.  The bottle age definitely made a difference, but the oak was more present, and baking spice, apple and vanilla were showing through.

These two sisters were a delightful summer reprieve and I was happy to enjoy them on a warm day.  I look forward to visiting Byron again soon!

Teh 2011 was provided as a sample, but I earned that 2010 all on my own!


Youngberg Hill Winery

Driving up to the inn & winery, past the rolling hills south of McMinnville, through the farmlands, you feel like you are on top of the world.  Turning in to the driveway of the winery, and you realize why the current owners, Wayne Bailey and family choose to purchase this particular spot.

in 2003, the Baileys purchased the property, and proceeded to radically change the way the vineyards and winery were managed.  The vineyard was moved to organically farmed grapes, and they are still lint he process of being more biodynamically farmed as we speak.  Today, Youngberg Hill is a small, family owned winery that produces Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris (as well as a renegade Pinot Blanc).  Today, an inn operates on the vineyard property, offering luxurious accommodations with sweeping views of the McMinnville hills.

The winery sits on 50 acres, on top of a hill, surrounded by the estate vineyards.  It’s easy to have Wayne’s infectious enthusiasm rub off on you, and I sat on the deck of the inn, nibbling on a light lunch, tasting the delicious wines.  Wayne’s dream was to create a winery that produced distinctive wines, while respecting the environment and local climate accordingly.  For 22 years, the vineyard has been producing these lovely wines, while maintaining a green philosophy that is so dominant in Willamette’s wine making industry.

With 20 acres planted to 3 blocks of Pinot Noir and one block of Pinot Gris, each block is unarmed for one of the Baily daughters – Natasha, Jordon and Aspen, as  well as the Camelot block that was planeted in 2008.  Natasha is 7 acres, and is the largest of the Pinot blocks.  At 600 feet, it sits on marine sediment from the sea that once covered this area.  Jordan is 4 acres, and is on a steeper slope that is volcanic soil, at 800 feet.  Both of these blocks are planted with 60% Pommard and 40% Wadenswil, from the original vineyard planting in 1989.  The third pinot block, Camelot, is smaller at 3 acres and sits between the two sisters, with a blend of volcanic and marine sediment.  This is planted to 777, and was a more recent addition in 2008.  The Aspen Pinot Gris is dry farmed, and is between 525 and 600 feet.

The vineyards are all hand harvested and field sorted before the secondary table sorting begins.  Youngberg Hill does not use whole cluster fermentation, and all of the fruit is destemmed.  Traditionally, they use a native yeast fermentation, but as most wineries do, there is an emergency box with commercial yeast, to assist when things get stuck.  The importance of native yeast cannot be stressed enough – since it’s a complex blend that comes in from the vineyards, as well as the house style in the cellar.  Replacing that with a single staring with do a disservice to to the wine, and as Youngberg is striving to be sustainable, organic and local, they shy away from those practices.

Some of the other sustainable practices in place today include reducing soil erosion with cover crops, a primary focus of biodynamcis.  The winery also uses alternative pesticides such as biodegradable oils, soaps, and plant extracts, and is aggressively pursuing the goal of 100% sustainability in its vineyard.  In 2005, they earned their LIVE and Salmon Safe certifications, two key sustainable organizations in Oregon.  In 2010, Youngberg Hill was certified by the Oregon Wine Board as sustainable.  The latest goal is to be biodynamically certified.

It was a beautiful afternoon and I can’t wait to go back and visit!  The inn is on the isolated hilltop, and is the perfect place to bring a book or three, and disconnect for the weekend.  The staff will be sure to take excellent care of you as you sip on the wines below, gazing out at the stunning views below.  I know I will be planning a weekend as soon as I can!

2011 Aspen Block Pinot Gris – The 800 foot elevation gives this Pinot Gris a brilliant and bracing citrus acidity that is well balanced and delicious.  Lots of grapefruit and Granny Smith apple.  This is a beautiful porch pounder for your early fall sipping!

2011 Pinot Blanc – The Pinot Blanc is the only non estate wine in the line up, and is from the Larkins Vineyard in the Eola Hills.  The nose has bright grapefruit and lime citrus, with luscious stone fruit and cream on the palate.

2009 Estate Pinot Noir – this is a blend of the 2 older blocks of Pinot, Natasha and Jordon.  It has an earthy dust, mushroom notes and flavors of the forest floor, with a nice acid profile with bright cherries and spicebox.  A hint of minerality with cinnamon dusted plum to finish.

2009 Natasha Block Pinot Noir – This is the 24th leaf of the block.  There are richer cherry cola notes, and lots of Dr. Pepper, prune, and rhubarb notes.  A darker one but wonderful.

2008 Jordan Block Pinot Noir – This is the upper block, on volcanic soils.  It producer more intense black cherry, brambleberry, and fig notes.  There was a lot of root beer, with nice earth and bark finish.  The Jordan uses 20+25% new oak, that gives it a great balance.

Thank you Wayne for hosting, and I look forward to visiting again soon!

Anderson Family Vineyards – Oregon wines of distinction

Before the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference began earlier this month, I took some extra time to explore the different AVAs of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.  One winery that came up in conversation over and over again was Anderson Family Vineyards.  Recommended by several friends, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about.

Sitting on top of a hill, the sweeping views of the Dundee Hills AVA are breathtaking.  Just below the estate vineyards, a hazelnut orchard sits on the flats.  Set up an armchair, and I could sit there for days!  The Anderson family started off as growers of premium Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, selling these grapes for over 20 years.  After a while, they wondered why they weren’t’ using some of the amazing fruit for themselves, and the winery was born.  Currently, Anderson Family sells 1/3 of their grapes to area wineries, and uses the remainder for their own label.

Cliff Anderson began his search in the 1980s for land that would produce grapes that would rival the great wines of Burgundy.  His belief that vines that struggle and need to reach for water, becoming deeply rooted, become amazing wines led him to the heart of Oregon wine country – the Dundee Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley.  Situated in the rolling countryside outside of Newberg, they found a property with steep hillsides full of broken stones and basalt.  In 1992, the vineyard was planted.

Organically farmed, the Anderson Family creates wines in small lots with native yeast, in a gravity flow winery.  Carefully taken care of each small batch of wines, they move a little slower here.  While many larger operations have already released the 2010 vintage, Anderson Family is holding back; there will be no wine before it’s time!

We had the opportunity to taste through the current releases with assistant winemaker Jonathan Riekert, a rising star of the area who is passionate about Pinot Noir as well as the Oregon terroir.

2009 Pinot Gris – There is something special about Oregon Pinot Gris.  I can’t quite describe it, but it combines the creamy nature of Gris with the crisp acidity of a Pinot Blanc in a beautiful swirl.

2009 was a warmer vintage for Oregon, but it was peppered with cool nights, as well as a few cooler days which helped keep the acidity in this wine.  With no malolactic fermentation, and 100% stainless steel fermentation, there are beautiful green apple, grapefruit and Asian pear notes.  With a dusting of nutmeg and a nutty finish, this is what I love about Pinot Gris.

This wine was a bit of accident, as the vineyard was thought to be planted to chardonnay, I am glad they found this hidden gem!

Next, we tasted a vertical of Chardonnay.  Much more European in style, these are lean and racy.  Just what I like!

2007 Chardonnay – 2007 had a longer growing season than some other years, which gave the grapes time to develop on the vine.  Unpredictable rains and a mellow season produced balanced flavors and bright fruit.

A blend of 50% barrel fermented and 50% stainless steel, with 60% malolactic fermentation, it is full of hazelnuts, lemon curd and apple flavors.  It’s a richer chard, but not buttery and has a lovely minerality with a pear finish.

2008 Chardonnay – 2008 had a cool season with late blooms, with warmer days in October.  This leads to a longer hangtime, which brings bigger, fuller flavors to the wine.  In the case of chardonnay, it means big ripe flavors, but maintaining a bracing acidity.  This year had a brighter citrus base, with a touch of butterscotch and meyer lemon, with more spice.

2009 Chardonnay – 2009 was a very hot year.  With a series of unpredictable heat spikes dotted with cooler days and nights, the fruit was very ripe, with a touch less acidity than 2008.  This developed in to a clear citrus, blood orange, and higher acid wine with a long wet river rock finish.

Finally, the core of any Oregon wineries line up – Pinot Noir.  With a classic style full of spice and earth, the Anderson Family Pinot Noir’s did not disappoint.

I was thrilled when the 2007 was still available; widely panned by critics at the time of release, it’s always been one of my faovrite years for Oregon Pinot Noir.  Now, of course, the critics are back peddling and saying how nicely it’s developed in teh bottle  Whatever, it’s simply delectable!

2007 Pinot Noir – The big deal about 2007 is that it was a cool, wet year.  This made a wine with bright acid, clean fruti notes, and earthy underpinnings.  Classic flavors of cola, baking spice and red fruit with a lighter body are the makings of a great year in this bloggers mouth.  mind.  I found notes of dried berries, rhubarb, and spices, especially cloves.  It was classically 2007 with mushrooms and earth, followed by a mineral rub.

Left in the barrel for longer than normal, this wine has intense aromas with tons of baking spice.  The 115, 667, 777, Pommard and Wadenswil clones in the final blend give it the powerful fruit base of the Pommard with the spice and earth of the 115 and 117.  Yum!

2008 Pinot Noir – A bigger vintage in general, there is more dark fruit than red fruit.  The hot season needs time to simmer down.  The late summer forced longer hangtime of the fruit, which I think gives it a bolder feel.

2009 Pinot Noir – While 2009 set a new record for warm days, the summer was finicky with hot days and cool days.  There was a narrow window when the fruit ripened; I currently prefer the 09s to the 08s, because the cool days provide some lovely acidity along with the big red and black fruit.

It’s a deeper bolder Pinot than the 07, but not as big as the 08.  I found lots of pomegranate, bright berry and classic cherry fruit, followed by baking spice.  Less earthy overall, this will be a crowd pleaser.

Thank you Jonothan and Cliff for taking the time to show me the wines!  If you are in Newberg, please be sure to call Anderson Family Vineyards for a visti you will not soon forget.  I brought home the Pinot Gris and 2 of the 07 Pinot Noirs.  I can’t wait to revisit them!

Oregon's OTHER pinot!

We’ve had a bit of a false spring here in the Bay Area.  Well, until recently that is.  Brr!  Today it’s dark and rainy, and this week has been chilly.  But, when the weather heats up, or it’s just warm enough to enjoy something other than a red wine, I reach for white wines with a slant.  As a card carrying member of the ABC Club (Anything But overoaked buttery Chardonnay), one of my favorite alternative whites is Pinot Gris.  As my friend (wineaux in training) put it, “it’s got all the flavor of that Sauvignon Blanc but not all the acid!”  As she has been imbibing on the NZ Savvy, this is the ultimate swing away from the typically high acid and grassy wines of NZ.

Oregon is well known for it’s Pinot Noir.  In fact, I plan to go a bit crazy in August when I’m visiting for the Wine Bloggers Conference this summer.  That said, they do make more than Pinot Noir, and one of the other famous wines is Pinot Gris.

Pinot Gris  is believed to be a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape.  The name gris means grey in French, and grape can range from gray-blue to white, but it all produces lovely white juice.  Yes, this is the same grape that is used to make Pinot Grigio but my oh my is Pinot Gris different!

The good people from the Oregon Pinot Gris marketing association sent me some samples, and so far, I’ve enjoyed three.  As soon as the weather warms up, I aim to enjoy the rest!

First up:

2008 Oak Knoll Pinot Gris which was filled with buttery lemon curd,  nectarines and preserved lemons.  There was a hint of tropical mango and pineapple, followed by sandlewood.  While this wine was fermented in stainless steel, I found a touch of sandlewood and wood flavors, which aren’t my favorite.  Still, well worth trying at the low low price of $12.  TRY

Next, we have the 2009 Arlie Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley.  This is a pre-release sample, but it was my favorite of the three that I tried in the first tasting batch.  This won had  tons of fresh peach and apple flavors, with a touch of minerality to finish.  The nose had some terrific floral aromas, though not as strong as a viognier.  The viscosity of the wine coats your mouth and the flavors linger, while the acid cuts through the richness.  Fermented in stainless steel, this gives this wine a crispness that oak aged Pinot Gris doensn’t have.   I was a bit sad to see the last of this bottle in my glass!  RUN OUT AND BUY A CASE with excellent QPR at $14

And rounding up this trio I tasted the 2010 David Hill Pinot Gris.  This was a bit higher in acid, with more citruis fruit, but also lovely.  I tasted asian pear, Granny Smith apple, and meyer lemon.  This wine is also stainless steel fermented, which lends a nice crispness.  Here here for stainless steel!  TRY another great QPR wine at $16

Did I mention that these wines are all naturally low in alcohol?  Averaging about 13%, it’s a refreshing change from some higher ABV whites.

The next time you are in the mood for some white wine, try an Oregon Pinot Gris!



Speed tasting 10: Pinot gris agrees with me!

Jefferson Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris sells for $19 is made about 70% stainless, and produces a lovely wine that smacks of pears.  A litle Riesling is blending in there as well and just a touch of secondary gives it a touch of fizz.  There is also a smattering of Viognier for fun.

I  love pinot gris and this is really a classic pinot gris that I would buy.  The pear component gives way to peaches and other stone fruit, and this tastes like dessert in a glass!


Gris, Grigio, Good Grief!

So Summer hasn’t quite arrived here in San Francisco, but I decided that I needed a little white wine.  I know I know, you’re thinking “Bratty!  What have you done!”  Those of you who have followed my antics over the years probably realize that I have an abnormal appreciation (er obsession with all things pinot (noir), so today I decided to stick with the pinot theme and taste some Pinot Grigio.  I mean Gris.

Normally, I run away and scream in horror when I see the words pinot and grigio together as they evoke a certain…Real Housewives of Nowhere  bad $5 wine swilling horror.  But, I’m happy to say that two wines from the Robert Oatley family are actually a lovely departure from the cheap Italian varietal.  Yes, I know there is good Pinot Grigio, but it’s just attacked and tortured by the bad.

So, starting with the 2009 Tic Tok Pinot Grigio, which retails for anywhere from $10-13, I found a light tropical touch on the nose, lemon and mango in the body, and a light refreshing texture.  The edge of baking spice rounds it out nicely.  There was a lot of grapefruit, lychee and nectarine fruit flavors and it had a nice weight without  being heavy.  It’s a lovely summer white, though  not a terribly complex wine, but at $10 average, it’s a great summer sipper for patio parties and BBQs.

After the Tik Tock, the 2009 Robert Oatley Pinot Gris, Adelaide Hills is a deeper golden hue, as it sits on the skins for longer to give depth of flavor and color.  This wine is richer than the Tic Tok and has pear and spice notes.  It’s a great sipper to replace your chardonnay!

Robert Oatley has been making wine in Australia for over 40 years, and the family has been around since convict days.  Pretty good for a prisoner, no?

I love a good pinot gris, especially as the weather heats up.  I challenge you to go out and find a great pinot gris to bring to you next party!

Thanks to Robert Oatley for providing me with this slurpalicious whites!






G is for Pinot Blanc!

Graff Family 2007, from the Chalone appelation to be precise.
Graff Familiy is from Sonoma, but these grape hail from teh Chalone region in Monterey County.  The Chalone AVA has some of the oldest producing vines in California wine country, and is composed of limestone, granite and clay.  The wide diurnal temperature swings are great for Chardonnay and other white wines

The Pinot Gris is fermented in French Oak, and tasted of honey, peaches and honeysuckle flowers with pear notes.  It had a very creamy texture with low acidity and was nicely balanced, with a hint of wet river rock and minerality.  I really enjoyed it and if I were to encounter is again I would certainly BUY it.  Pinot Gris is becoming a go to white for me, with it’s mellow smooth flavor profile and softer approach than it’s sister Pinot Grigio; try it as your new summer sipper!