The dirt on Willamette Valley terroir

With all of this wine tasting all over the Willamette Valley that I did before, during, and after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I thought we should visit the different AVAs as well as the soil types.  Since the combination of these two plus a little magic creates a terroir, it is important to note what variables can impact the wines that you love.

Now I am no geologist, or an enologist, but I do know something about soil and the mechanics of it.  That said, this is just my opinion.  You should go out and form your own but tasting wines from all over the Willamette!  Using Pinot Noir as my baseline, since it seems to show the characteristics of the terroir the most clearly, here is a bit of dirt from the Willamette.

Coming from a state that has over 100 distinct AVAs, many of which are widely known for their Pinot Noirs (Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Carneros, Anderson Valley to name a few), I have acquired a particular taste for elegant, earthy, austere wines.  The Willamette Valley while offering a wide variety ina  small region, offers several different and distinct regions, all of which have an overwhelming style of wine that is produced in each.

First, the Willamette Valley has six sub-AVAs within the greater Willamette Valley AVA.  The larger AVA was established in 1984, while the first vineyards were planted around 1965.  The rebels that really started the Willamette trend planted in the mid 1970s.  Each of the 6 sub-AVA has a primary soil type, which can produce vastly different results when combined with the weather patterns.  The sub-AVAs today, with more proposed (roughly North to South) are:

Chehalem Mountains – the newest AVA, was established in 2006 and is the closest to the metro area of Portland.  The mountains were formed when the seabeds were uplifted, filling with lava beds and overblown with silt.  This gives the area quite a diverse soil base.

Dundee Hills – the most well known, with the largest amount of wineries.  Established in 2004, it is the oldest AVA geologically, they were formed 15 million years ago when lava flows from eastern Washington flowed down the Willamette.  Then, earthquakes and tectonic shifts created the Coast Range, and further shaking created the Dundee Hills.  During the Missoula Floods, when the glaciers melted in weather patterns over thousands of years, layers of sediment were repeatedly poured over the area creating rich sedimentary layers.  The deeper underlying Jory soils poke up through the hills above the flood plain.

Ribbon Ridge – is a short ridgeline that contains mostly ocean sediment, created from tectonic uplift.  With finer and more uniform sedimentary soils, it is unique enough to warrant their own AVA, established in 2005, it is a smaller AVA contained within the Chehalem Mountains.

McMinnville – Also established in 2005, the McMinnville AVA rises from 200 to 1000 feet in elevation.  When the Coast Range was created, fingers of lava flowed in to McMinnville, leaving basalt fingers, that are oddballs in the area of mostly marine sediment.  McMinnville also benefits from the cool Van Duzer winds, which flow through from the coast, that cool down the vineyards and help dry the vines, preventing mildew during humid summer days.

Yamhill-Carlton – Established in 2004 addition, this AVA ranges from 200 to 1000 feet in elevation, and is in the rain shadow of the Coast Range.  A horseshoe shape, the rural landscape hides most of the wine making activity here.  Coarser grained marine sediment soils are some of the oldest in the region, and they provide excellent drainage, perfect for vines.  The vines here tend to ripen earlier and more completely thanks in part to this excellent drainage.

Eola-Amity – the furthest south, Eola-Amity was created in 2006, and stretches from the hamlet of Amity in the north, to the city of Salem in the south.  The Van Duzer winds are steady, which cools the summer temperatures.  Eola-Amity sits on a basalt plateau, which is on top of the marine sediment layer.  The plateau has been rippled and wrinkled thanks to tectonic activity, and the Eola-Amity hills are part of this wrinkle pattern.

Now that we have the lay of the land, we can start to look at what soil types are in each region.  Soil types impact growth patterns and drainage, which in turn impact ripening patterns and base flavor profiles.

Jory is the primary soil type in the Dundee Hills.  A volcanic soil that is mostly basalt, Jory is found in most vineyards in Dundee Hills.  Filled with iron and clay, it is lush and full of nutrients.  Jory is also a wet soil, and it will stick together if you compact it in your hand.  Formed when massive lava flows covered most of Washington and Oregon with a layer of basalt, Jory grown Pinot Noirs tend to have a classic cherry and red fruit profile, with a strong minerality component.  Jory is found in the Dundee Hills, and produces classic cherry, red fruit and spicy Pinot Noirs.

Willakenzie – a sedimentary soil, formed when western Oregon was once 8000 feet under the sea.  When the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains were formed by tectonic shifts, the seabed was exposed, leaving Willakenzie soils made of marine sediment.  In some places, this exposed seabed is covered by a layer of volcanic soil.  The dry and brittle soil forces vines to reach deep in to the crust, which creates dark wines with structured spice and cola flavors.  More black than red fruit, Willakenzie is found in McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carolton.

Loess (Laurelwood) – is a silty loam soil, and is a very thin layer, unlike the Jory or Willakenzie which form a more substantial layer of soil.  With Loess, there is always another soil type underneath the thin layer, as it is primarily windblown.  A dusty sedimentary soil, it is fertile and drains well.  Pinot Noirs from Loess tend to be bright red fruit, with an underlying earthy flavor, and a sprinkling of white pepper.  Loess is particularly found in Chehalam Mountains.

Soil types, weather, style, and seasons all impact the terroir of a wine growing region.  Many of these factors are said to be similar to Burgundy.  I am not particularly well versed in the wines of France, so I can’t say for sure, but I do know that there is something very special about Oregon, and Oregon Pinot Noir in particular.

While every winemaker has their hand in creating every wine, and a house style, the terroir of a vineyard creates the baseline for these wines.  My personal taste has shown me that I am a big fan of the 2007 vintage, with 2010 comign hot on the hells.  2008 is turnign out to be a very interesting vinetage as well, alhtough I find it bigger and bolder than the 2007s or 2010s.  2009 on the other hand?  The jury is still out.  I also know that I love the bright fruit and tangy earth from the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge, and that I’m not a fan of the wines from Eola-Amity, which are bigger, bolder, and dark.

There were a few wines I just plain didn’t care for, but overwhelmingly, the wines from the Willamette Valley, Pinot Noirs, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and further south, Syrah, as well as renegade wines produced in the middle of Pinot heaven are showcases of the region.  With the average winery in Willamette producing less than 1000 cases, it’s rare to find a producer that has a homogeneous style that they try to repeat year over year.  Even the larger producers, such as Willamette Valley Vineyards, strive for uniqueness and terroir driven wines.  This makes it a very special place indeed.

I’m looking forward to tasting more and seeing what happens in Oregon in the coming years!

Where the wind blows Winderlea…

On top of the rolling hills of the Dundee AVA in Oregon, Winderlea Vineyard and Winery sits on top of the world.  Looking out at the rolling vineyards below, through  the glass wall of the tasting room overlooking the estate vineyards, I felt like I was sitting in the vines.

Named for the original property and it’s owners, the name Winderlea is thought to come from the German word that means “Wind in the Meadow”.  That is exactly what it feels like when you are sitting there.  Too hot to sit outside on this particular day, I can imagine how, in the early fall, how the tasting room would be with the glass wall of doors rolled back and the outside melding with the inside.

Winderlea was recommended by several friends, and as we were in the area, we decided to stop by, and i’m so glad we did.  Sitting in the nice air conditioned tasting room (phew it was hot!) sipping delicious wines, what could get better?

Bill Sweat and Donna Morris always had a passion for wine.  Leaving their previous careers behind in Boston, they moved to Oregon to pursue their combined passion for wine, and specifically Pinot Noir.  Why Oregon you might ask?  Like many of the current crop of vintners and winery owners in the Willamette that I met, Sweat and Morris were drawn to the unique climate and soils, along with the drive to make small batches of amazing wine.  Newcomers are welcomed and tutored, and the wine community is inclusive of new members.  I heard this story over and over again with different places in Oregon, and many of my tech compatriots have left Southern California and Silicon Valley for vineyards in Oregon.

Winderlea is a luxury boutique winery specializing in the limited production of Pinot noir and Chardonnay from Oregon.  Crafting elegant, sensuous and age worthy wines for those who view the pairing of wine and food essential to their lifestyle and well being is what Winderlea is all about. Our focus is on making small lots of Pinot noir and Chardonnay that show the best characteristics of each vineyard. Hand crafted with minimal intervention and the modest use of new French oak barrels, our food friendly wines are classic in style.

Ensuring that the vineyards are LIVE certified as well as Salmon Safe, the team at Winderlea cultivates the land in a way that leaves the soil in tact for many future vintages to come.  This is a common theme here in Oregon; unlike California, the word sustainable is used extensively.  Much less so than Organic or fully Biodynamically certified, sustainable vineyards are a practice that can be maintained over the long haul, while using the best of all farming practices to produce the best results.

Augmenting this sustainable philosophy, Winderlea believes that the vineyard workers should be sustainable as well.  To support this, the $15 tasting fee (which is well worth it regardless) is donated to ¡Salud!, an alliance between Oregon winemakers, and local healthcare agencies to provide education and access to services for Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers and their families.  Similar to San Francisco’s healthy restaurant tax, this enables vineyard workers to support their families and their employers year round.

Warning:  The tasting caused me to join their wine club!  Read at your own risk.  The 2010s are just being released, so expect more to hit the shelves soon.

2009 Chardonnay – Creamed honey, with apricot, spiced pear and baking spice.  Lovely nutmeg finish.

2010 Dundee Cuvée Pinot Noir – the 2010s are shaping up to be a fantastic vintage.  Bright, with a fun and funky nose that gives way to coffee, stewed fruit and cherries, this wine screams Willamette.  The bright raspberries almost have a beet like note to them, with that earthy texture and mincemeat spice.

2010 Crawford Beck Pinot Noir – Crawford Beck breaks from the Dundee Hills AVA and goes further south, in to the Eola-Amity AVA.  The climate in the Eola-Amity area is influenced by the Van Duzer gap, which allows in cool coastal breezes.  This marine cooling trend taht happens every afternoon cools down the vineyards and tend to create more natural acidity in the Pinot Noir.  This wine had dusty plum with cocoa powder, slight sandlewood notes, and hints of walnut.  It is a young and fresher style of pinot.

2010 Ana Vineyard Pinot Noir – Back in the Dundee Hills AVA, the Ana Vineyard also has some of the oldest Pinot Noir in Oregon.  With mostly Pommard and 777 clones, the vineyard sits on the ridge top at 450 feet, sloping down to 350 feet.  Sitting in a bowl, the afternoon sun heats up the vineyard and creates bolder, fruitier fruit.  This was a clear and bold wine, with classic cherry flavors, bordering on sweet.  The acidity came out after the first taste, and I would call it craisen with raspberry juice.

With many more wines in the library Winderlea is worth a stop on even the shortest of visits to the Willamette Valley.



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!

This is no shrinking violet!

Belle Glos Pinot Noir are wines made for Cabernet lovers.  While each of the three vineyards used to make these wines is coastal, they all produce very different wines.  The Wagner family is well known for their contributions to thee wine industry in Napa, through their efforts at Caymus Vineyards.  Going back to the 1800s, the family has deep California roots.

The family has been making wine in California since 1972, when Caymus was founded.  Now, while the family seat is at Caymus in Napa, the additions of Mer Soleil Chardonnay, run by son Charlie Wagner, Belle Glos run by son Joseph Wagner, and Conundrum, a blend mastered by longtime employee, and new places for daughters Jenny and Erin to learn the business, the family of wine has grown.

There is a history of experimentation and creativity, which led Belle Glos to break the traditional mold of California Pinot Noir.  Joseph’s passion for farming and viticulture is well known.  His early experiences with this Italian Grandmother helps guide his future as he expanding the success of the Belle Glos line, that he has managed since 2002.  Belle Glos, featuring single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties was named for Joseph’s grandmother, he has selected three of the coolest growing regions for the Pinot Noir.  farmed in small lots, the grapes are left to hang longer than normal, to create intense and complex flavors.  In this manner, they are creating bold, flavor packed Pinots that are setting Belle Glos apart from more traditional styles.

There are three single vineyard Pinots from Belle Glos:  Clark & Telephone, Taylor Lane and Las Alturas.  Each one is slightly different, but all three are made in a big, bold style.  A Pinot meant for a Cabernet lover!

Clark & Telephone Vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley, which is cooled by the wind and fog blowing in from the Pacific Ocean along the Santa Maria River inland.  Planted on its own roostock, the vineyard is planted to 100% Martini clone, something that is rarely seen today.  This wine was a mix of sweet ripe red fruit and spicy notes, with a nice acid balance.  It was my favorite of the three, and had a lot of cinnamon, baking spice, and ripe blackberry notes.

The Taylor Lane Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast, is less than 6 miles from the ocean.  Known for the heavy fog, it’s a particularly good place for classic Pinot due to the cool climate, but harder if you are trying to ripen the fruti for a stylistic change.  The Dijon clones in this vineyard held a lot of cedar and cola, with Bing cherries and a hefty 60% new French oak treatment.  This would have been my pick but because of the oak it was just too overblown for me.

Finally, the Las Alturas Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  Located in a world famous Pinot Noir growing region in the Central Coast area, each slope of the vineyard was planted in a different clone.  This dense, dark and chewy wine had a lot of earthy notes, tons of vanilla, and cherry pie filling.  The key note was a slightly artificial hint, in that canned filling that we all know (and don’t always love).

ALl in all, these were interesting wines; however, they were, to me, over extracted and manipulated.  I prefer a less extracted, less oaked, more subtle wine.  These are solid, well made wines that are in a bigger style.  I think that the Santa Maria would be a great entree in to the world of Pinot for someone who is used to the larger fruit profile of a Napa Cab or a Sonoima Zinfandel.  If you enjoy a big, bold, dynamic and cherry driven Pinot Noir, check these out.  They might surprise you!

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Wagner Familiy, with Grandma in the center


It isn’t often when I taste several wines from a winery and like each one more than the last.  When I do, I get excited and I know that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  Archery Summit, located in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon, is one such winery that gets me revved up.  I recently tasting three of their wines, and fell madly in love.  Yes, I was already a Pinot Noir lover, and particularly Oregon Pinots, but in this case, these were some of the few 2010s that I have tasted.  I also had the opportunity to taste a particularly wonderful Rosé.  With the weather warming up, and the rare sunny summer day in San Francisco, I was in heaven.

Archery Summit is located in the Dundee sub-appelation of the Willamette Valley AVA on a mineral rich alluvial fan created when the Ice Age receded and meltwater created giant fresh water oceans.    This reesulting in a rich mineral soil, which is amazing for growing Pinot Noir.  The cool growing regions of Oregon are very similar to Northern France, and create world class Pinot.

Archery Summit focuses on a small lot, hand crafted, approach to winemaking.  From the modern gravity flow winery which helps create Pinot Noir without bruising the fragile ego of the delicate Pinot Noir grapes, to the small bins of harvested grapes that are and hand sorted, every step is purposeful and careful.  A unique aspect to winery operations, each member of the vineyard staff is actually assigned to a specific vineyard.  Giving the vineyard crew autonomy and ownership of their area allows them to become expert vignerons of a small parcel, where their familiarity becomes intimate and intense.  Some staff members have been working in plots from the birth of the parcel (planting in 1994), giving them a full lifecycle view of what works, what doesn’t, and what might be going off road.  With such dedication to knowing the land and the vines results in some pretty amazing juice.

2011 Vireton Rosé – Love at first sip!  This delicate Rosé of Pinto Noir is full of tropical fruit,

watermelon and Hood River strawberries.  I absolutely loved this wine.  The bright fresh raspberry juice was clean and crisp, and is a perfect summer sipper.

While I typically prefer a purpose made Rose, this Saignee (juice bled from the red wine tanks during fermentation), I am impressed by the delicacy and flavor profile of the Rose.  Fermented in neutral oak and stainless steel, there is no skin contact.  The delicate pale pink color is the natural color of the juice from the bleed off.  This vintage is a blend of juice from each of the estate vineyards, from Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge.

The first Pinot Noir we had was the 2010 Premier Cuvee.  Created by blending  a bit of every vineyard, it is primarily Arcus Estate, and includes a bit of every Dijon clone planted on the property.  It has a fresh cranberry and pomegranate acid edge, which I love, followed by earthy notes of root beer, baking spice, and cherry notes.  With a touch of floral violets on the finish, it’s bright and rich at the same time, with mineral notes on the finish.  Fermented in 35% new French oak, the wine has the subtle touch of the oak without being overpowered.

The last wine we tasted was the 2010 Arcus Estate Pinot Noir.  This single vineyard offering was bolder, with more depth and strength than the Cuvee.  With soft leather, cola, and nutmeg, this is a crowd pleaser.  The classic juicy cherry flavor profile is combined with a rich boysenberry and cocoa blend.  This is a rich Pinot Noir, opening up nicely after an hour or so.  With 50% new French oak, the toasty spice and marzipan really come through but it’s well balanced and integrated.

I am very impressed iwth the 2010 Oregon offerings I’ve tasted so far; typically, the Willamette is known for odd numbered years, but I am much more pelased with the 10s this year than the 09s.  These wines could easily cellar for 5 years, but they are ready to drink now if you can’t wait (like me).

Thank you Archery Summit for providing these wines for my enjoyment, and I look forward to tasting some of the other wines with you in August at the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Happy Earth Day!


It’s Earth Day again, that one day when we’re supposed to stop to smell the roses, and celebrate Gaia.  I try to be kind to my planet every day, by taking care of her and recycling, reducing and reusing – since it’s clear to me that she is one pissed off mama.

Today, I’m sipping on some green wines, in partnership with Sip Certified.  Sip Certified has spent the last 15 years working with growers and wineries rethink their strategy about sustainability.  Pretty cool stuff!

To become Sip Certified, you msut address the entire farm ecosystem, from soil to vine, from bottle to cork. you can learn more HERE.
But today, I’m sipping on Riverbench Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley.

Riverbench Vineyard began in 1973, when it was planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Now, over 30 years later, they are a leading fruit source for the Santa maria Valley.  In 2004 the property was purchased, and the new owners embarked on their own wine adventure, reserving some of the fruit for their own estate wines.

The 2010 Estate Pinot  starts out with some bold red fruit on the nose, with ripe strawberries and raspberries on the palate.  Surprisingly, there is some great acidity in this wine; I am constantly looking for more acid in my pinots, and it’s nice to find a southern Central Coast example that has some bright cranberry and bright red fruit along with the rich ripe berry.  There is also a nice spice box hiding in there that gives the wine a kick on the finish.  I am enjoying the allspice and pepper kick.

One of the hallmarks of this wine is the silky mouth feel and smooth palate, due to the 96% neutral oak.  with only 4% new French Oak, the flavor of the fruit shine through wihtout being overpowered.

At a budget friendly !~$25, this is a Santa Maria wine I will keep my eye on!


This wine was provided by Sip Certified, to celebrate Earth Day.

Getting Vertical

Vertical:  To be upright.

Wine does a lot of things to people.  It evokes joy, it livens your tastebuds, it might even make you melancholy.  It can also make you a little Sideways.  When last we saw erstwhile Miles and sidekick Jack in the novel Sideways (and the subsequent movie which while it’s one of my favorite wine movies ever, is not exactly true to the book…ok most movies aren’t but still.  If you haven’t read the book READ THE BOOK!)  Jack was married (perhaps ill advisedly) and Miles was reconnecting with The One – Maya.

Now, several years have passed, and Vertical explores Miles’ life after Santa Barbara.  If you remember Sideways, you know that Miles has a troubled relationship with his mother.  Now aging and unwell, Miles has the unwelcome task of caring for her, and helping her move to another state so she can spend her final days with her estranged sister.

Miles has tried and failed, and tried again, quit drinking, and is attempting to ride out the success of his now published novel, without much luck.  The demands of his publishes and commitments for press engagements are pushing him in  to a hole as deep as the one he was in when the book wasn’t publishable at all.

Bring in Jack, who’s philandering ways and hard drinking habits have now landed him in hot water woith his now ex-wife.

Both a buddy road trip story and a bittersweet look at the life of two middle aged best friends, Vertical explores the relationships of two friends, for good or bad, as they muddle through the difficulties of every day life, love, alcohol abuse and aging parents.

Vertical is tragically sad in places, and hilariously funny in others, in a way sideways was not.  I find it much more real, honest, and open in looking at the realities of life.

I can’t recommend this follow up enough, particularly if you read the book Sideways, and didn’t just watch the movie.  Vertical follow it up with the realities of fame, the perils of life, and how you balance the two.

I’m thrilled to announce that Rex will be speaking in person at the 10th Annual Pinot Summit on February 25th in San Francisco.  After hosting a #winechat twitter session a few weeks ago, I find him engaging, self deprecating, humorous and absolutely delightful.  You can follow him on Twitter as well.

I hope you can join us for this one of a kind event!  Tickets are $130 for a full day of Pinot tasting, educational seminars, and the Grand Awards.  Alternatively, you can opt for the Grand Awards tasting only.

I am trying to do more book reviews now.  I read like someone from Freaks & Geeks, and occasionally I get press copies for review.  This one however, I bought for myself.

Happy reading!


The spark within – WBW 73

Ahh, Wine Blogging Wednesday.  Once upon a time, WBW was a monthly spark for wine bloggers to collective think about a particular topic, and form the gestalt of the blog.

The sum of the many is the one.

Sadly, WBW all but disappeared over the past few years.  Formed in 2004, WBW is having a resurgence thanks to a new committee and new life behind it. I for one, am grateful to have a guided post every month, as I struggle to be inspired and write posts that are both thoughtful, but also interesting to my readers.  This month, as we kick off a new year, January’s theme reminds us to think about what make us start blogging int he first place.  The Corkdork asks us what sparked our interest in wine, but more why we decided we needed to write about it.

For me, I actually have to thank my wine loving friend, and fellow blogger Liza Swift of the Brix Chicks for challenging me to put my money where my mouth was.  There was never one wine, or a specific experience that made me put pen to paper.  I had always been involved int he wine community one way or another.  But Liza, whom I encouraged to blog before I even started my own, asked me why I wasn’t writing when she was.

Good point!  Wine fascinates me.  the fact that it is alive, and forever changing, inspires me.  I have been drinking wine since before I was 21, and I have been entrenched in wine, while maintaining a techie career, for the better part of (*gasp*) 17 years.  I felt compelled to share my favorite wine discoveries with friends via word of mouth, but then in a newsletter.  That newsletter, which was filled with wines that I had consumed and fallen in love with, as well as tips on events that were up and coming in the Bay Area, and stories of my adventures in wine, are what sparked this blog.

Why do I write?  To write puts thoughts on paper – or on the internet – and shares them with your audience, however selective that might be.  To share the joy that I have experienced drives me.  My tastes have changed from zinfandel to pinot, and further more to the complex wines of the Rhone.  Starting out with my so called newsletter, I had the overwhelming feeling that to keep such knowledge to myself would be indulgent and selfish.  Beyond that, writing is cathartic, regardless of whether it’s in a personal journal or in a public format.  This blog, Facebook, and Twitter act as a life coach, therapist and best friend.

Wine is alive.  Wine changes.  Both time and place can turn the same wine in to very different beasts.  What happens when you taste a wine 5 years after the initial release?  Is it better?  Is ti worse?  Is my taste just different?  All of these are true, all of these are not.  Wine also changes in the glass.  What other tangible and consumable object has this much life to it.  It sound like I am quoting Maya from Sideways, but it’s true.  Wine lives, and wine is alive.

What sparked me?   My gateway wine was definitely zin.  Having worked for and with ZAP for over 10 years, I was exposed to over 200 wineries that had a wide variety of zinfandel to offer.  Is it the brambly jammy blackberry from Dry Creek?  Or perhpas the spicy mincemeat raisin from Sierra Foothills?  Dig a little deeper and try the rose petals and somewhat lighter style from Russian River.  I still love zin, and while my everyday tastes have changed somewhat, there is nothing better on a cold rainy night.

Today, my passion is for learning about and discovering pinot.  Why are pinots so fickle?  What are they so different?  How can I possibly love a pinot from Willamette Valley but also love one from the vast and strange Sonoma Coast?  While keeping my love affair with pinot alive, I am ever the explorer.  My latest quest.  Grenache!  Where fort art thou!  One of the essentially Rhone grapes, you can get Grenache for days in the Rhone Valley and also in somewhat rougher, inexpensive Spanish Garnacha.  But what about in the New World?  Where can I find that meaty, spicy, unique in a way that only Grenache can produce, flavor here int he new world?  Apart from a few favorites that I can’t seem to keep in my cellar, I am always on a quest to meet the winemaker who has taken on the bold new world of the Rhone, Spanish, interesting varietal.  Beyond the Grenache, what of the misunderstood, misplaced, lost and lonely Mouvedre/Monastrell/Mataro?

It’s a bold new world out there, and wine is waiting.

Red, ruby, Garnet!

Garnet: -A semi precious mineral gemstone, often mistaken for a ruby.
-A middle English word meaning dark red.
-A wine producer that specializes in Pinot Nor from Carneros.
Recently, I was tretaed to a dinner featuring the wines of Garnet, hosted by winemaker Alison Crowe.
Once a lower brow brand of large California fighting varietal house Saintsbury, Garnet was sold to the grape supplier Silverado Winegrowers in 2011.
With over 11,000 acres of California vineyards, Silverado has been a longtime supplier of premium grapes to several brands. With the purchase of Garnet, they now focus on production of higher-end wines.
Creating wines that retail between $11 – $30, you can bet there is something in there for everyone. I was delighted by the quality of the lower price point Monterey Pinot Noir, which typically can be a bit off putting to me.  I just don’t personally care for the Monterey terroir in my pinot.
While most Garnet wines are sold at restaurants, they recently announced a partnership with Safeway to sell the Monterey pinot in stores, which means you can get a inexpensive wine for a steal.  The Garnet label has been around since 1983; in the mid nineties, the production swelled to 15,000 cases, which, while I don’t know for sure, probably lead to some degredation in quality.
Alison cut her winemaking teeth at Chalone, one one of the great family houses in Central California (ok that’s another story). From there, she move don to work with Randall Graham, and really honed her style with some of the world’s best renegade wine makers.  Now, she has the opportunity to build a brand in to one of Carneros’ finest.  It is her goal to ensure that each wine is a true expression of the terroir, and by selecting specific sights in the vineyard portfolio for each bottle, she can do this.
Before dinner, we were greeted by the 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonany.  Now, you know that I’m not the world’s biggest chard lover but this was a nice departure from the overly cloying, butter bombs that are typical of the region.  Filled with bright lemon and citrus, there was a lemon curd sprinkled with nutmeg hiding in there.  I loved the brightness with a hidden agenda.  The fruit is 75% Carneros and 25% Green Valley (Russian River).  It’s my personal opinion that the Green Valley fog brings an acidity and zip to this wine that you wouldn’t otherwise find in a Carneros chard.  The other quality that has promise in this is that it is 100% stainless steel fermented and is just kissed by oak barrels when the wine is finished, so you get very little of the oaky  butter bomb effect.  For $15, this is a great wine for your white wine sipping ladies on the porch.  A-

The 2009 Monterey Pinot was a sleeper hit.  As I mentioned, I don’t care for the flavor profiles I often find in Monterey Pinot.  There is an oddness in there, and something that doesn’t sit well with me, in the form of green sticks and odd leaves.  But this example has dusty dried cherries and strawberries, and while it was a bit tight at first, opened up to white pepper with a lot of floral influence.  Again for $15 it’s a crowd pleaser.  Solid B.

The 2010 Carneros Pinot was, as is expected, big and jammy with bright raspberry.  I personally thought it was a little hot, and bold but silky.  Even though it was big and jammy, the body was lighter, which was somewhat surprising for a Carneros wine.  There was a lot of darker fruit hiding in there.  Not my fave.  C+

My personal favorite glass was the 2010 Rodgers Creek Pinot.  This single vineyard designate is the only wine that is finished with cork and showed Earthy mellow mushroom, bark, sarsaparilla and spicy gingerbread.  In a way it reminded me of a Coca Cola cake (it’s a southern thing).  The foggy terrain of Rodgers Creek gives this a stunning baking spice palate that I just love.  I couldn’t quite believe that this was only $30, and it definitely gets n A in my book.

The moral of this story is that it pays to dig a bit under those big brands.  They often hide premium wines under their hats that you might not otherwise approach.  Since I prefer to dig under the vines for smaller, less well known wines, I am appreciative to find a larger production winery that is focusing on quality, even when quantity makes the bankers happy.

Thanks to Alison and Laura from The Barn Group for a lovely evening!

No shrinking violet

I have a love hate relationship with New Zealand wines.  Sometimes I love them, sometimes I hate them.  There really is no in between there for me.

Some of the pinots are too earthy and full of dirt and sod.  Some of the sav blancs are enamel stripping gooseberry piss that I can’t swallow.

Luckily, there is a sweet spot in the middle, where this wine falls neatly.  The first whiff brings out method and wintergreen, and the first sip is a bright raspberry crush.

Aged in 100% new French oak barriques, the larger barrels allow for less immediate contact to the barrel, which gives it just a kiss and not a smack of oak flavors.  There is a touch of baking spice on the back end that rounds it out nicely.

For $15, this is a great budget wine, and if you’re looking for a pinot, is a good option for the under $20 crowd.  It falls a bit flat at the end however, so I wouldn’t race out to buy it, but I would pick it up if I were going to a party.

Happy sipping!

This wine was provided as a PR sample.  And yes, I have to say that, the feds make me!


Feast on THIS!

I first found out about Cana’s Feast Winery when touring around the WIllamette Valley last fall.  I didn’t pay it much attention, as we drove by on our way to a Pinot Pit Stop, primarily because they made other wines that weren’t on my hit list.  Bu also because I was overwhelmed with other deliciousness.  I finally woke up when my friend and fellow wine blogger started working there.  Well!  Fortunately for me, Tamara was able to send me samples as part of her marketing job, and I received a bottle of the 2008 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir.


I wasn’t very happy with this wine at first, because it was very woody, and suffered from a bitter quinine aftertaste that just didn’t sit right with me for an Oregon Pinot.  There was some burnt sugar and earth, and it was overwhelmed with dusty baking spice.  Where was the fruit?  Where was the PINOT in this Pinot?

Well, far be it for me to throw away wine.  It’s just not in my making to dump Pinot!  So I left it, for about an hour, corked but not completely closed.  When I came back to it, it was beginning to wake up but there really wasn’t any THERE there if you know what I mean.  Oh well.  Fortunately, the next night, since I already had two open bottles of Pinot, both from Willamette, I was able to re-taste it.  What a different a day makes!  Now, I tasted bright cherries, pomegranate, cranberry.  There was my red fruit!  There was my acid!   It really opened up nicely, and turned in to a wine that I very much enjoyed.  The lesson here is DECANT DECANT DECANT!  It needs some serious air to show her true colors.  I’d also cellar this for at LEAST 2 years to get the full benefit.

Which brings up an interesting point.  When I was poking around in September, I really didn’t like the 08 Pinots coming out of Willamette. They were just too ripe, too big, too Russian River, bordering on Sta Rita Hills.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!  That wasn’t what Oregon was supposed to be!  WHere was my Burgundy?  Where was my restrained style and light body?  I was sadly disappointed.  That said, here were are 6 months later; I’ve been tasting several of the 08s, as they are the current release for the most part.  My my my what a little bottle age will do!  They are improving, slowly but surely.  I think 2008 might not be such a bad year after all…

This bottle of Oregon Crack was supplied by my dealer at Cana’s Fest.  Thanks guys!


Clang clang clang went the…

Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell.

The iconic sounds of Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis.
Ah the images of a red trolly, rambling down the street.  we’re lucky here in San Francisco, we have vintage streetcars from around the world on parade.  We’re also lucky because we live so close to Red Car Winery.   Red Car Winery was founded by Carroll Kemp and Mark Estrin way back in 2000, with only 50 cases of syrah.  Now, 11 years later, there are four Red Car wines, and two other labels – Trolley and Reserve.

With a flair for the dramatic, Hollywood producer Carroll and screenwriter Mark bring us great grapes and great wine.  Today I opened the 2009 Trolly Pinot Noir.  2009 was an interesting year, and I was a little aprehensive when I opened the bottle.  That said, several of my

blogging friends (NorCal Wine) have been up to the winery or to a winemaker dinner (yes YOU Dallas Wine Chick Melly!) and they were all  h the wines.  i must say, I am really enjoying this pinot myself.

Bright and bold without being over extracted, this Pinot Noir is great on it’s own or with food.  Tons of bright cherry and cranberry, with a hint of raspberry, and strawberry on the back end, the spice box nutmeg and tannins also fill out the back of the palate.  There is a touch fo brown sugar with tons of spice as well.  This is my kind of Pinot Noir!  The grapes are sourced from the cool coastal vineyards, and they show the high acidity of the Sonoma Coast fruit.  That balances out nicely with huge black Cherry flavors, followed by floral notes of rose petals.  An hour after opening, it is really developing nicely in the glass and the earthy mushroom characteristics come otu to play.  This is clearly a Sonoma Pinot Noir, with rich cherry and dark red fruit, as well as plum flavors; it’s rich but not overblown, and I really like it!

At $48, it’s not exactly budget, but it’s a lovely wine and if you should see it on the market, you should BUY it.

Happy Tasting!


These wines were brought to be on a bus by Malm Communications.  I think we need to get Mia a trolley!

Pinot – how do I love thee, let me count the ways!

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and that means, roses, chocolate, and – yes!  Pinot Noir!  What better way to say I love you than to share the heartbreak grape with your sweetie.

Personally, Pinot Noir is the wine that excites me the most, because of its mystery, and allure.  There are so many different styles and flavors in a Pinot Noir, and it’s a world in your glass!@

Do you want to learn MORE about Pinot Noir?

On Saturday, February 26th, 300 lucky Pinotphiles will be able to attend the Pinot NOir Summit in San Francisco.  If you are thinking about attending, and you should be, I have a secret deal for you  just because you actually read my blog.  This deal is SO amazing, SO huge, SO fabulous, that you just can’t pass it up!

Because it’s so amazing, i can only offer this deal to two of my readers – well really it’s four – because  here’s the deal..

You can get 2 tickets to the ALL DAY SUMMIT for the price of one!  That’s a $250 value for $125.

Now, I know that seems like a lot of money to spend on wine, but look at what you get:

A full day of Pinot Noir!  Starting with a blind tasting of the top rated juice from a long and arduous process (yeah well I was a judge, such hard work), test your buds against pros, panels, and pinotphiles.  Vote for your faves!  We will find out what women liked, what men liked, and what the judges liked at the end of the day.

You also get your choice of two Pinot Noir workshops.  This year we have:

Session One
New World Pinot Noir
A Question of Style
Discovering New Stars

Session Two

Oak and Pinot Noir…Getting it Just Right

Pinot Noir, the Most Versatile Wine on the Planet

Winemaking 101

But wait!  You thought I was done?  Nope.  You ALSO get a Sparkling Wine Reception, to see how Pinot Noir behaves under pressure.

And then, the GRAND finale – the 9th Annual Pinot Noir Shootout Grand Awards Tasting with top Pinot Noir winemakers showcasing their wines. Includes a pinot-friendly selection of light hors d’oeuvres.

SO if you want to take advantage of this deal, post a comment here and let me know WHY you really want to go and should get this half of deal.  HURRY though!  I only have two to offer and I know it’ll be popular!
I can’t wait to hear your comments!

A little vertical

I walked by the TWELVE Wines tasting room in McMinnville, OR last Labor Day weekend, but didn’t get the chance to pop by since we were on our way to meet my dear friends from Republic of Jam, Lynnette & Amy.

As luck would have it, I was contacted by their PR rep, and received samples of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Pinot Noir 144 to taste.  Yay!  Twelve Wines is a family owned winery in the Yamhill-Carlton area of the Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon, where they have 11 acres of Pinot Noir planted.

First up, I opened the 2005 Pinot Noir 144 after a long day of spring cleaning.  Sipping away in a long bubble bath while reading about Spain, I really enjoyed the boldness of the wine on a cold San Francisco day.  the trick with bold Pinots is that they don’t really evote a Pinot Noir feeling however.  This wine is 50% Pommard clone, 17% Wadenswil clone, and 33% 115 clone.  It was 100% destemmed, and fermented in 50% new French Oak for just shy of a year.  This was a big Pinot, with flavors of cranberry, dark strawberry and rich raspberry with some strawberry jam, with huge cherry pie filling.  I detected a bit of cola nut as well as some strong dark plum characteristics.  I’d TRY this if you’;re curious about the area, but you might save your money for the later vintages.  I enjoyed this wine, but prefer my wines from Oregon to be a bit more Burgundian in style, and not so much Santa lucia highlands.  there was an unexpected smoke to this, and it was way to full bodied for my expectation of Oregon.

In contrast, the 2006 has a much higher acidity and a lot more zing.  This is somewhat surprising given that 2006 was quite a warm year in the willammette and the ABV is over 14%.  There were a lot of bright cranberry, hibiscus, and raspberry flavors, followed by a touch of violets and spice rack, with some root beer and bark, and a touch of vanilla.  It was much lighter than the 2005, but stil had a medicum body with crisp acidity.  I think it was great with food and would BUY it if i found it on the shelf.

As luck would have the wines kept getting better and better.  nowing that, for hte most post, Oregon is known to have the best vintages in odd years, I was looking forward to the 2007. I certainly was not dissapoitned as this was my favorite of the three by far.  It was was classically burgundain, iwth lovely acidity and bright red fruit.  The spice notes were earthy and forest floor, and it was simploy a lovely example of what I love about Oregon wines.  big bright red cherries and a touch of nutmeg were clearly present, but it almost tasted older than an 07, in the very best way.  this is a MUST BUY for me and is still affordable for this quality of wine.  This is a wine that you MUST BUY if you are in the area and are a Pinotphile!

I fully expect great things to continue to come from TWELVE Wines, and really look forward to seeing what else they come up with.  They also make a Pinot Gris, and I look forward to tasting that when i thaw out.

Happy drinking, and I look forward to bringing you more pinot nori from the 2011 Pinot Noir Summit in Feburary!

No people were harmed in my desire to run to the nearest Pinot Noir, but these wines were provided as samples.

Back on the wagon?

photo provided by Chow Studios

Holy cow!  Where has the time gone?  I’m not quite sure how this happened, but it’s almost Halloween, and I find myself struggling for words.  I know I know, it’s a shocking turn of events for this Gemini gal, who basically blogs because she likes to talk.  Truth be told, between work, events, friends, breaking my first bone, catching the crud in the hospital when said bone was being fixed, and feeling overwhelmed, I haven’t been blogging like I used to.  I apologize for that, but I have lost my mojo.  I havent’ stopped drinking however, since I frankly find Pinot NOir a better pain killer than vicodin and since the combination of those two might permanently delay my wine adventures, I choose Pinot noir.

So here goes:  My medication, as found in Oregon, over Labor Day weekend at Lemelson Vineyards.  Naturally, I wanted to go to Lemelson because they made a wine especially for me, Thea’s Selection!  Lemelson Vineyards produces Pinot Noir (as well as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay) from 7 estate vineyards, which are all Certified Organic.  the winery’s location just east of Carlton, Oregon in the Willamette valley AVA is on a meandering country road which combines rural farm agriculture with vineyards, making it a diverse and beautiful area to explore.

First and foremost, let’s talk about my wine.  The 2007 Thea’s Selection Pinot Noir is the benchmark blend for the vintage, and is made of a combination of six mature vineyards.  It had a dark ruby red color, and flavors of black cherry, rhubarb, and black pepper as well as bright cherry, and blackberry followed by earthy spice.  It really opened up after a few minutes in the glass, and the majority of the bold fruit blows off, leaving a clearly Burgundian style wine with earth & spice.  This is MUST BY, particularly since I got a case of the 07 during and end of vintage sale.  And to show off my name on a wine bottle obviously!

The follow up vintage of Thea’s Selection, 2008, was very similar but brighter than the 07.  The first impression was bright cherry, earth, and freshly ground cinnamon.  it was clearly a forest floor influence with mushrooms and dusty spices, but it wasn’t funky.  the dark plums and dark red fruit were more present than in the 07, with a lot of cherry pie and baking spice.  This is a STRONG BUY, especially fi you try the vintages side by side.

The 2008 Six vineyards was designed to be a restaurant wine, particularly for a by the glass program; this was an easy drinking, smooth and mellow wine.  I enjoyed it but found it a big pedestrian if I were to buy a bottle.  It’s made from six mature vineyards, and is a light translucent ruby red.  It was very light, and had cranberry, rhubarb, and dusty nutmeg flavors.  It’s a great VALUE so i would TRY this if you are looking for an everyday wine ~$20.

2007 Meyer Pinot Noir shows as quite acidic, with leaner, stronger red fruit flavors.  The 07 vintage had strage weather in Oregon, and early rains caused some challenges.  This had flavors of wild strawberry, raspberries and baking spices with some cola.  It was lean and quite austere, with a luscious and bright with a long clean finish.  There was a lot of minerality on the finish, and it was very different than the others.  This is also a STRONG BUY.

The 2008 Meyer was an ideal vintage.  It was hotter, so this wine is more reminiscent of a Russian River wine to me; I found a caramel chocolate finish, with big bold root beer and cola notes surrounded the cherry and strawberry jam base.  It finished dry with dusty nutmeg.  The bold fruit forward style gave way to a classic Oregon wine, which I would BUY again if I found it.

2007 Stermer Vineyard Pinot was very bright and light.  The raspberreis and cherries showed first, with rose petals and cranberry right behind.  There was just a hint of earthy spice and red apple lingering.  TRY this wine for variety.  While I liked the 07, I did NOT enjoy the 2008 Stermer and I would AVOID that one.

The 2007 Cuvee X Pinot Noir is a blend made up of 99% Meyer Vineyard.  It comes from the highest elevation of the vineyard, and was picked before the rain in 07, and aged in 100% new French oak, which, in my opinion, overwhelmed the wine.  I didn’t like it and if you are not an oak monster, I’d AVOID it.

2008 Jerome Reserve Pinot is a blend of the six mature vineyards, where the most age worthy selections of wines are hand selected for blending and aging.  This was an interesting wine, and I’d HOLD on to it for a fe years to see how the sarsaparilla and root beer flavors give way to the black cheery spice.  It’s a baby, but I can see a lot of potential.

All in all, I really enjoyed my visit to Lemelson, and can’t wait to open up my case of wine!

Have you had these wines?  What did YOU think?

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