Grace, Hope, Charity, Faith

Maybe those are the Four Graces.  I’m not quite up on my religious mythology, but I do know that The Four Graces Winery in the Willamette Valley region of Oregon shares the winemaking talents of Laurent Montalieu with Solena Estate.  You can read more about that HERE and HERE, but to refresh your memory, Laurent hails from Bordeaux, which is not exactly known for it’s Pinot Noir making prowess.  Enter Laurnet, who shook things up and moved to Oregon to make Pinot Noir, and a star was born.

Since I know that I adore Solena’s vineyard selection Pinot Noirs, as well as their blends and Pinot Gris, I was exited to receive this bottle of Four Graces in my sample bin.  Last night, I sat down to taste it.  Ok drink it.

The 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is subtle, and a bit muted in the glass.  It has a lot of Oregon terroir, what I consider it anyway, and tastes of sticks and earth, with mushroom undertones.  It’s a smoothly elegant wine, with well integrated oak that adds class and doesn’t take away from the dark red fruit of the wine.  The longer this wine sits in the glass, the juicer the red berries in it become.  Tons of strawberry, raspberry and bright red cherry fruit are layered with cinnamon, wood smoke, and even a touch of rhubarb pie.   This wine is really growing on me as an example of Oregon Pinot that is easily approachable.  For $29, I’d definitely BUY this as a great entry point example to Oregon wine.  the soft corners make it approachable and plush.  the low 13.75 ABV make it easy to sip the whole bottle!

If you’re looking to learn about Oregon Pinot Noir, I’d try to find this wine as one of your educational experiments.  It’s just a ncie sipper for after work, before dinner, or relaxing at a picnic.

The Grace-ful people at The four Graces generously sent me this wine to sample.  I’m glad they did because the bottle is almost empty!

E is for Elk!

Somewhere along the way of my Alphabet Challenge, I lost my path and started speaking  in tongues, which made my order slightly questionable.  Well, I’m back, from outer space, and am restarting with the letter E.

E is for Elk Cove Pinot Noir, from the Willamette Valley appellation in Oregon.  Now, i am new to the world of Oregon Pinot Noir, and i find it very much hit or miss.  for the most part, I enjoy the subtle earthy spice that Oregon Pinot displays, but sometimes it can be over the top.  The Elk Cove Willamette Pinot Noir is a blend of several vineyard sites, and aims to show the best of their style off.

Elk Cove Vineyards was founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, which marks it as one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards.  They specialize in Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir, and has several single  vineyard Pinot Noirs in addition to the Willamette Valley blend.  This blend was an interesting beast, because when I first tasted it there were overwhelming notes of earth, musty leaves, mushrooms, bark, smoke, and dark raspberry.  I wasn’t that impressed, but enjoyed the hidden pomegranate and nutmeg flavors.  I found it a bit too nutty for me however, until i put it down for 30 minutes to enjoy letter G (you’ll have to wait to see that one).  After opening up in the glass, the overwhelming bark had blown off to reveal rich cherry and raspberry flavors, with a touch of dark cocoa.  Considering the ~$20 price tag, this is a


very affordable example of Oregon Pinot Noir.  I definitely recommend that you BUY it, and would encourage you to decant it for maximum enjoyment.



Arrested Development

After our adventure barrel tasting at Cartograph, we were lucky enough (ok fine, Alan knows people) to be treated to a very special private tasting at Arista Winery.  I’ve been to Arista before, and have always enjoyed their Pinot Noirs, but this was realy a treat a we were able to taste 7 older vintages of rare wines. Mark McWilliams met us outside with a plethora of older vintages and we were wowed by some of the Pinot Noirs from Arista.

Arista Winery was founded by the McWilliams family in 2002, with the intention of creating world class elegant Pinot Noirs from the Russian River valley.  Creating wines in the vineyard with sustainable practices and small lots, each wine is an expression on the local terroir.  OK yes, fluff and bother but true all the same.

We started with a Longbow vertical.  Longbow is known for it’s blend of the best barrels, and for creating a more powerful style.  As a general rule, it is unfined and unfiltered, and uses the racking process as a natural filter.  the Longbow series is minimally invasive, which allows the fruit to really show throguh.  Named for the midevel weapon that is very difficult to master, the Longbow series really shows the best of the bunch with Pinot Noirs that are difficult to master.

Megan is working very hard on her Pinot!

The 2004 Longbow Pinot Noir was dark and rich, with powerful black cherry and raspberry flavors.  2004 was a warmer year, and more new French Oak (60%)  was used to counterbalanced the strong fruit.  This is a blend of the Manoni and Taboni vineyards, and the vibrant cherries were followed by a chewy and rich flavor of stewed tomato, caramel, and balsamic strawberries.

the 2005 Longbow Pinot is slightly lighter than the 04, and showed more muddy earth flavors of allspice, nutmeg and black pepper.  I tasted forest floor and mushrooms, with bark and cedar followed by cola and hints of red fruit.

The 2006 was very aromatic and had strong rose petal aromas, with orange blossom notes.  It is primarily clone 113, and was very herbaceous with herbs de Provence, meaty earth, and less pronounced fruit.  there was a strong sense of smoke and sandlewood, which dark plums lingering.  It was quite smooth and velvety, but a bit too smoky for my taste.  Don’t get me wrong, I really liked all of the wines, but this was my least favorite of the batch.

2007 was too young, and the finish fell a bit short.  there was a lot of vanilla and cherry, but I also found tomatoes and soy sauce.  The wood was a bit too pronounced and needs more time to integrate.

I actually really loved all of the Longbow wines, and they are all very different.  My favorite was the 2004.

Mark McWilliams - Arista

Next we moved on to some barrel samples with the 2009 Two birds Swan Vineyard.  this was a HUGE wine, and I referred to it as my hunka hunka burning love.  The 2009 Two Birds Calera Selection was a completely different wine, with acidic zippy cherries and raspberries and bright red fruit.  It had a lot of spice and slightly muted earth.

After tasting both of these wines, we had some fun making our own blends, and I found that about 33% Swan and 66% Calera made for a beautiful wine with the dark red fruit, and zippiness of bright cherries.  I hope the final blend will be something like that1

Special thanks to Alan & Mark for yet another great day out at Arista!

On the birth of a winery

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that I’ve ingratiated myself  become friends with the Cellar Rat (@cellarrat), Alan Baker, and his partner Serene Lourie (@slourie), who have launched their new brand, Cartograph Wines.  Morphing out of Alan’s previous project, Cellar Rat Cellars, which was some damn fine Pinot Noir & Syrah, Cartograph is truly a labor of love – and it shows.  (You can read my previous review of Cellar Rat here)

This was my third time tasting the wines in barrel, and it is a joy to watch them grow and develop over the course of the past 9 months.  Much like a new baby, these wines change and grow, becoming something special as they integrate in to the finished product.

The first wine we tried was the Gewurztraminer.  I have a growing love affair with this dry & racy white wine, and this had flavors of lychee, grapefruit, tropical fruit, hay and subtle guava notes.  I also tasted Tuscan melon.  .  The wine is made from the first harvest of the planting, and is fermented in stainless steel.  It had just a hint of spiciness and was a great alternative to other whites for the warmer summer months.

Next, we tasted the 2009 Perli Vineyard Pinot, from Mendocino Ridge.  This AVA is known as the “islands in the sky” since it is the only AVA that is non-contiguous land.  Instead, the AVA dictates that the land must lie above 1200 feet, which is the vertical fog line.  This is one of my favorite Pinots, and I tasted creamy strawberries, cloves, nutmegs and rhubarb with a smattering of black cherry and Dr. Pepper.

From here, we moved on to some of the different clone and barrel selections, and we tasted through to help decide what the blend should be.  I lost track of what was what, but it was fascinating to taste the difference between barrels, particularly when we got to the point where barrels of of the same wine, made from wood from different forests, but made by the same cooper from the same area.  I do know that I did find that the 777 clone in 25% new oak was my favorite, with black cherry and spicy cloves finishing with rich black raspberry.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the Cartograph line is the label design.  you can see from the front label, that there are five points on Alan & Serena’s journey in to wine, From France, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. to San Francisco and Healdsburg.  The back label design shows you the wine making process, and allows you the consumer to take part in the experience. The five points in the wine making process mirror the five points on the front, as you go from budbreak through bottling.  Bottling incidentally for the 2009s starts any day now, so I can’t wait to restock my cellar with smoe brand spanknig new wine!

If you’re in Healdsburg, give them a shout.  You won’t be sorry!  If you like Pinot, and you like small handcrafted wines, run out and buy some today.  While you’re at it, grab some of the Gewertz.  You will be happy you did, and your tastebuds will thank you!

Soléna Soléna Soléna!

I first found out about Soléna Estate wines from my blogger friend Ryan Reichert, (@oenoblog)when he moved to Oregon to start his new career in the wine industry.  Through Ryan, I was introduced to Lynnette Shaw, the tasting room manager at Soléna.  When Lynnette was in San Francisco for the Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting, we got to talking about all things social media and how Twitter, Facebook, and blogging can increase exposure to your brand and introduce your wines to new audiences.  I’ve talked a lot about changing perceptions and increasing your market share through exposure, and this was another opportunity for me to share my passion for new media.

Fortunately for me, Lynnette left me with samples of Soléna’s current releases to sample and share, and knowing that I was a pinotphile (thanks Ryan!) I was excited to explore a bit of Oregon.  Being a California girl, with some much world class wine available at the source an hour away from my house, I find myself occasionally getting stuck – although I am not complaining about my love of the Cellar Rat, Cartograph, Holdredge, and MacPhail, in the well trodden track between my house and Sonoma County.  I suppose stuck isnt’ exactly the right word, since i don’t really find myself that motivated to climb out of the so called ditch, but exploring other regions reignites my passion for wine, and allows me to refresh my palate with new wines.

Soléna’s Estate was started by Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus-Montalieu, and the name is derived from the French word Solene, and the Spanish Solana, for the sun & moon.  the first vintage was the 2003 Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, from Domaine Danielle Laurent vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton appellation.  Low yields in the source vineyards and various vineyard techniques including biodynamics produce high quality fruit and some amazing wines of distinction.

2007 Pinot Noir – Hyland VineyardSome funk on nose, which I expected from Oregon, with rose petals, lots of mushrooms, forest floor and wet river rock.  What I didn’t expect was that this was a BIG pinot, with dark ripe raspberry, blueberry, baking spice, and a touch of jalepeno.  While it did seem a touch hot to me, I did really enjoy this wine.  If you should find it, BUY it.  It is a great example of an unfined and unfiltered pinot from a different region.

2008 Grand Cuvee Pinot Noiris the entry level Pinot from Soléna, and can be found more readily in major markets.  Once again, I found lots of forest floor and mushroom, but this blend had more ripe cherry, red berry, and rhubarb flavors followed by cranberry and strawberry.  This has the softest body, and a plush finish.  The Cuvee is a blend made from a selection of grapes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the blending process allows the winemaker to select the best of each vineyard to create a masterpiece.  It’s a bit like a full symphony versus a single stanza, and while it was indicative of Oregon, I found it very much like a Russian River pinot in the cherry berry cola flavor profile.  This wine retails for $25, and is a MUST BUY for the high QPR.

The final Pinot Noir that I tasted from Soléna was teh 2006 Domaine Danielle Laurent. With a small production of 573 caes, this single vineyard designate from Yamhill-Carlton has black cherries and clove, which you immediately feel on the tip of your tongue.  This wine cries for food, and the dark earth and spice would be perfect for a pork roast or brown sugar glazed salmon.  At $45, it’s a splurge but worth it if you are exploring the Oregon pinot regions.

I enjoyed my meander through the Oregon wine country, and I suggest anyone who is a Pinot Prince or Princess to do the same.  I am guilty of being blinded by the amazing wines right in front of me in Russian River, carneros, and Anderson valley, and I forget that slightly farther to the north, there is a world class region waiting to be explored.  For this California palate, I was a bit wary of breaking the glass door between California and Oregon, since in the past I have been less than enthused with some examples, but I am happy to report that my taste buds have grown up and gone to Pinot heaven.

Special thanks to Lynnette Shaw and Soléna Estates for providing this samples and being a great dinner companiona s I rambled on about social media and the wine writing revolution!

Pontificate your passion!

Passion for pinot that is.  As a judge for the 8th Annual Pinot Noir Summit, on Feburary 27th, I am able to offer you my dear readers a 20% discount off of the ticket price. click me

I hope you will take advantae of this offer, and join me in San Rafael in two weeks for a day of Pinot Passion!

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The Benziger Blogger Follies!

Benziger Family Vineyards sits inside an eruption cauldron, part of Sonoma Mountain, in Glen Ellen.  One beautiful early fall day, they took on a group of bloggers and showed us the VIP treatment and gave us a nice education and tasting lesson behind the scenes.

Here at Benziger, the practice of biodynamics builds up the biological capital every year.  Building a closed ecosystem, the winery has created its own terroir through the careful management of the land, and the balance of nature and farming.  Eliminating the use of synthetic chemicals and starting more natural methods like crop rotation, composting, and natural insect and pest control changed the ecosystem.

We started our day taking a tram tour around the property, where we had several stops where Mike Benziger, Kathy Benziger, and


Next, we wandered down to the insectary, where Colby explained how the introduction of beneficial insects helps keep the farm in balance.  While in the insectary, we sipped on some 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc Paradiso de Maria, Sonoma Mountain while a Praying Mantis came to sit atop our bottle.  I tasted lemons, cream, grapefruit, with a whiff of petrol on the nose, as well as chalk and hay.  It had a great acidify and was lively with granny smith apple flavors.  500 cases of this wine were produces from a one acre block that was dry farmed with minimal intervention.  The wine was fermented on native yeast, which I always enjoy because I think it provides such a unique factor to every barrel.  It was fermented in 100% stainless steel barrels sur lie and was delicious!

After the gardens, we moved on to the compost pile.  Yes, the compost pile.  Unfortunately, i didnt’ have any wine with me at the time, but luckily enough, it did NOT smell like my kitchen bucket.  Mike Benziger explained to us that there are no magic tricks when making great wine.  Benziger vines havfe very deep root growth on the property, which in part is caused by a change in the irrigation strategy.  Deep roots allow for more stability int he vines.  According to Mike, biodynamics is the best fine tuning system for nature, to make the best wine.  The compost piles are actually kept separate for each block, and they are put back on the land where they came from.  This adds to the closed ecosystem and prevents any cross contamination from occurring.

Mike Benziger

Mike Benziger

Our next stop was the water treatment facility, which is a series of ponds that are aerated at the back of the property.  This is a man made wetland, which acts as a natural filter and helps to recycles and resue 2-4 million gallons (yes kids that’s a LOT of water!) annually.

Before we moved in to the cave to taste smoe with, we stopped by the crushpad to see their new sorting table. As it was in the middle of crush, we saw the line in action.  this new vibrating sorting table allows the workers to sort out the duds, so they are only having to pull out the obviosuly flawed items.  The stems and unripened berries are shaken off the table automatically.

At this point I was getting pretty thirsty so I was excited to go in to cave to meet Rodrigo Soto, the newest member of the team, and the winemaker for the Signaterra line.  He is also the force behidn the new sustainableity program called Farmign for Flavors, which Rodrigo envisions as a single philosphi[phy of growing for all Benziger growers.  This program allows a Benziger farming philosphphy to permiate all their growing family members, and produce wine of consistant quality in a sustainable way.

Inside the cave, we were met by Rodrigo, where we tasted some of the new Signaterra lineup.  Signaterra is the new flagship line from Benziger, whose mision it is to make the best wines possible from vineyards that are fully managed by Benziger.  These wines are built to reflect each property, which are farmed with different philosphies, depending on the land, but inclde organic practices, biodynamics and sustainable growing.

We started with the Signaterra Shore Farm Savignon Blanc. This RRV wine was grassy and green on the nose, witkh lemon grass.  I tasted grapefruit, grass, meyer lemon, and a touch of honeysuckle with floral notes.  It was zesty with a slight spritz of lime., gren apple and gree pear.  We also tasted the 2007 Pinot Noir, Bella Luna Vineyard.  This has  spicy plum, black cherry and Dr. Pepper on the nose, followed by black cherry, figs, bleu and black fruit and dark rich vanilla on the palate.  It was a BIG pinot and i really enjoyed it.  On the long finish, I tasetd nutmeg,and white pepper.  I have reviewed this wine previously at the all pinto event, and it’s fun to see both the similariites and differences in my impressions.

As we moved in to the beautiful special events room, we stopped to sip the Tribute, 3 Blocks and de Coelo pinots but I will need to decypher my notes to tell you about those.  My suggestion is, go see for yourself!  Kathy, Mike, Colby, Rodrigo and Jessica outdid themselves.  On this, my 2nd visit this year, and 2nd visit in over 10 years, I remain impressed and delighted by the wines.

Head up to Glen Ellen, enjoy a tour and a bottle!

Wine, tour, and lunch were provided by Benziger.  No bloggers were hurt in the writing of this article, except maybe David H’s pride by this lovely Brokeback Vineyards pose.  Cheers!




Over the river and in to the Pinot

Davis Bynum
has quite a history to live up to, as the first winery to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley.  Now, three decades later, the winery was sold to the Rodney Strong family of wineries, through Klein family, who has farmed here for 4 generations.

One of the things that strikes me about this winery is that the focus is on nature, and how they can best make world class wine with a minimal impact.  Additionally, the careful management of the vineyards pull out the local qualities in the grapes without homogenizing the fruit to a generic style.

The 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir is a blend of several vineyards, which gives the winemaker the ability to create the best concoction.  It was a big pinot, which is somewhat indicative of the RRV these days.  I found it bold, dark and full of black cherries and strawberry jam, followed by dusty bark, dried cherries and craisnes on the palate.  After leaving it open for a while, I started to taste rose hips, hibiscus and rhubarb with those bright berry flavors that are so yummy.  The juicy finish on this wine lasts a long time, and I found just a touch too much oak make the end a little bitter.  The very last note I tasted was a Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda, which is pretty high praise since when I was a kid and we got to go tot he Holey Bagel, it was my sweet treat in a Coke-Free household.

For $35, I feel it is just a little overpriced but still tasty.  I would also say that if you did buy this, hold on to it for another year as I think it will settle downand become amazing, and therefore well worth the price point.

This wine was a sample provided by David Bynum winery.


I smell a Rat!

Alan Baker and David Horowitz

A Cellar Rat!  When I first met Alan Baker, aka @thecellarrat, I was in my first year of making a mess wine at Crushpad.  What I didn’t know, or rather, the connection I failed to make, is that he was the same Alan Baker who was the voice behind this crazy podcast that I had become addicted to over at  Mind you, this was before I was a wine blogger, before I was the “glue that holds the twitter wine universe together”, and before I was Wine Biz Radio’s #1 fan.  Ahhh the olden days.

The months past, and I would see Alan every now and then around Crushpad, like a mad scientist on a mission to create the world’s best wine for himself, and other clients at the same time.  Enter Cellar Rat wines.  I first tasted the Cellar Rat syrah at one of Crushapd’s infamous tasting events parties, where Alan was pouring a touch of pinot and a smattering of syrah.  WOW!  I was blown away by this wine.  Both the pinot and the syrah were outstanding, and somehow, I was lucky enough to get a door prize (thanks Alan!) in a bottle of syrah that I took home and squirreled away for safekeeping and later drinking.

Fast forward 3 years, and Alan is now working with Arista Winery where he can both hone his winemaking craft and work on his social media and broadcasting skills.  I somehow convinced, cajoled, and begged him to let us come up and taste his pinot noir in progress, and so a blogger’s binge was born.
On a recent cool and foggy day, we met up at the picnic grounds of Arista, off of Westside Road in Healdsburg to talk wine, blogging, and fun.  Amongst the hoards were Patrick Llenra (@oenophilus), Marcy Gordon (@marcygordon), Hardy Wallace (@dirtysouthwine ), Ashley Routson (@thebeerwench), Shana Ray (@sharayray), Paige Granback (@thesnarkhunter), Danica Sattui (@danicasattui), and of course Alan & Serena.  Cool and foggy but happy, we set out to taste the latest and greatest.

Patrick Llerna, the birthday boy!

Patrick Llerna, the birthday boy!

First, we started out with a barrel sample of the 2008 Two Pisces Vineyard.  This vineyard is located just west of Petaluma, and has a wide variety of soil types, giving it a lot of diversity.  With 5 clones planted, I tasted sour cherries in this rich and spicy pinot, with bright raspberry flavors and classic Russian River Valley character, with cranberries and cinnamon.  33% new French Oak gives the wine just enough structure and spicy without going overboard.  Though I rather enjoyed this wine, Alan says he’ll definitely add some bigger fruit pinot in to the final blend, since it already seems to be falling off a  bit.  Tasty tidbit about this vineyard:  This is where our Bus 4 Cellars 2009 Sparkling Wine is coming from!  I’m excited about hte potential in this pinot, and what it means for my fledgling bubble enterprise.

The 2008 Split Rock (also known as Gap’s Crown, but they don’t like us to say that) is in the Sonoma Coast AVA, near Petaluma.  The cool growing region helps develop concentrated flavors that aren’t overripe.  Some of my favorite northern California pinots are from here, like Humanitas and Stomping Girl.  In the Cellar Rat, I found sweet cherry cola, strawberries (Shana’s favorite!), white pepper, and nutmeg.  This tasted of rich dark red fruit.  Yum!

Finally, we had the finished product in the  2006 Wentzle Vineyard Pinot from Anderson Valley.  This is the pinot I tasted at the Crushpad party, and it was even better than I remembered.  This wine was held in a combination of barrels, most notably one new barrel, one zebra barrel, and two neutral barrels, and then blended to created the finished product.  Now if you don’t know what a zebra barrel is, it’s a mad coopers experiment in fermentation where you basically deconstruct one used and one new barrel, stick it back together with every other stave being from one or the other.  You know what I mean, one new french, one used, one new one used, etc.  This is one way to accomplish x% of new oak, without actually using separate barrels and is quite effective for the small winemaker.

This finished wine was lighter in style, and true to what I would expect in the Anderson valley, with black raspberries and earthy mushroom characteristics with just a touch of Dr. Pepper.  The nice thing bout this wine is that it has the bold flavors that I’ve come to love in a California pinot, but its’ very subtle and not overpowering by some of the Syr-Pinots or Pino-syrahs I’ve had from parts south.  The Pinot 2.0 was crushed wtih about 7% whole clusters remaining, and these whole clusters were fermented with native years.  The rest of the juice was inoculated with yeast, and when blended with the whole clusters and the combination of the different oak barrels, it makes for a truly stunning pinot.

If you can bribe Alan, I HIGHLY suggest you get your hands on some of this, because it’s AMAZING and the $42 price tag is worth every penny.  I have great hopes for the future Cellar Rat (or whatever he names it) projects to come, and can’t wait to taste the barrel samples along the way.

Thank Alan for having us up and check back for my notes on the Arista Pinot-Thon soon!

Samples were provided by Alan Baker of Cellar Rat.  No actual rats were harmed in the tasting of this wine.


A Plethora of Pinot


Early in September, my friend and fellow blogger, Chris Oggenfuss of Vintuba and also Benziger Family Winery tweeted something about a day of pinot up at the farm (winery).  Far be it for me to miss a pinot party, so off I went to Glen Ellen to visit Benziger, something I hadn’t done in many year  s.I must say, in the past I had been somewhat disappointed in their winemaking efforts, being one of the stops I’d always take out of town visitors.  Sure, the tram tour was cool adn the garden was delightful, but there was something just off about the wine.  Fast forward 10 years and WOW!  I had NO idea that they were up to some awfully good tricks up on that hill past Jack London State Park!

The Spotlighton Pinot Event focused on 5 premier offerings of pinot from Benziger, paired with some simply divine cheeses.  Chris generously comped me my tasting tickets, and the staff were gracious and welcoming and poured and poured and poured!

The star of the event was Signaterra, Benziger’s new project headed by Rodrigo Soto, a Chilean import who is working wonders. Signaterra wines are the next step for Benziger’s farming philosophy (more on that in another post) and new journeys in wine from premier Sonoma-appellation vineyards.  Signaterra’s magna carta is about integrating the right resources of the Earth, the inescapable forces of Nature, and the attentiveness of Man into a distinctive wine.

2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir – The cool climate of the Sonoma Coast and Carneros vineyards kept sugars low and complexity high, while a long growing season stretched the harvest over three months.  The net yields were lower, with more concentrated flavors of bright juicy raspberry, dark spicy notes of cola bark and spicy earth with stewed figs.  There were also lovely flavors of deep dark cherry.  I also felt a slight spritz that needs to mellow slightly, and it looked like it was unfiltered.  I really enjoyed this wine and for $26 it has fabulous QPR and is an absolute BUY.

2007 Signaterra Giusti Ranch Pinot Noir
– is from the Russian River Valley, and earned my #1 spot in this tasting.  It was rich and luxurious, with dark figs and black fruit, followed by black cherries, black raspberries and cola syrup.  The rich fruit had a back note of cinnamon, and a hint of mushroominess forest floor.  It was $49, but wroth every penny and is a STRONG BUY.

2007 San Remo Vineyard Pinot Noir – is another Russian River example.  This vineyard is in the heart of the Russian River region, and this area is known for it’s bold and elegant pinots, and the cool climate is perfect for Pinot.  The granite soils offer excellent drainage, and is currently practicing sustainable farming techniques.  The winds that sweep through the valley reduce the vigor of the vines, and keep the yield low, producing intense clusters.  This wine had a lot of bright cherry, earthy mushrooms, bright red fruit, and nutmeg, with a tinge of rhubarb and cranberries.  It was a big pinot but still delicate, and a slightly bitter finish of nutmeg.  This wine was completely different than the Sonoma Coast Pinot, and it was my 3rd place wine.  If you are feeling a splurge, go BUY this at $49.

2007 Bella luna Vineyard Pinot Noir – is a classically cool climate pinot.  It had bright raspberry fruit, a dusty layer of spice, and an earthy finish.  Bella Luna is in the redwoods, and is a cool region.  It’s on the extreme Sonoma Coast, less than 10 miles from the pacific, which keeps the acids in check adn guards against the high temperature swings inland.  This wasn’t my favorite, but you should try it for your self.

2007 De Coelo Terra Neuma Pinot Noir – more of a classically Burgundian wine, this was the last of the pinots I tasted.  It was quite a departure from the bold cherry juice of the Signaterra, and the bright raspberry spice fo the Sonoma Coast, and is Benziger’s flagship reserve wine.  The rocky soils that are spitting distance from Bodega Bay are idea for Pinot Noir, which loves the cool foggy temperatures.  in the Terra Neuma, i tasted sweet Bing cherries, a touch of rosemary, nutmeg and bright red fruit all with a subtle earthiness and mroe restrained flavors.  this wine is a splurge, but if you’re upf rot eh $69, it would be a great wine with cranberry sauce at your Thanksgiving Table.  BUY

The lesson here of course, is have an open mind – go back and visit a winery you haven’t been to in a while.  Try the wines again.  Things change, things mature.  The focus on the Benziger efforts after the sale of the Glen Ellen label, have produced outstanding results.  I can’t wait to go try some of the other wines and this will be a regular stop (avoiding the busses of course!)

Thanks again to Chris and Benziger for a fun filled Pinotlicious day!  For more on Benziger, Signaterra, and thier wines, stay tuned for The Benziger Blogger Follies!


A smattering of tastings – WBC Day 1

Where does the time go?  The Second Annual Winebloggers Conference has already come and gone, and I am left wondering “what the heck was that bus that rolled over me  “.As one of the voices behind the curtain of the WBC Scholarship, and as a huge cheerleader, proponent and fan of the WBC, I am pleased, shocked, elated, bummed, and catching my breath after the weekend.

On our first day, the rag tag Twisted Crew (@sonadora, @thebeerwench, @winehiker, @eljefetwisted, @ryanopaz, @gabriellaopaz, @houstonwino, @winewonkette) and I pulled up to the Flamingo after fighting what seemed to be an eternity in Central Valley and Infinion drag racing traffic followed by the usual Friday flow in to Santa Rosa.  Arriving at 12:30 or so, I didn’t spend much time with the sponsors, something which I regret doing.  Partially because many of them were familiar to me, partially because I was just plain exhausted due to unfortunate events the day before, I found my fellow people and sat down to eat some lunch.

I was excited to see so many of my friends, both those that I know in person and those that I knew only online, as new recruits tot he WBC posse.  After catching up, albeit breifly, with some regulars, I was circulating the room trying to spy new faces while inspecting their name tags without looking like I was completely crazy.  Fortunately, I caught up with a few new regulars.

After lunch, we attempted to do the speed tasting sessions, but well for reasons so many have discussed, it failed.  Miserably.  Like died on the operating table failed.  In its stead, we heard about the Wine Blogger Awards.  Unfortunately, I had purposely planned to skip this male dominated prom king style popularity contest, and moving it up unfortunately resulting in people not being there to accept thier awards.  Eventually the wireless supposedly turned back on but as I tried to tweet my tasting notes, the wireless only stayed up for 10 seconds at a time, I gave up and just enjoyed the wines.  Sorry folks, no tasting notes from me.

After the speed tasting, we beat a hasty retreat to our short but sweet annual Anti-Conference BYOB session in the small space at the front of the hotel.  We did get to enjoy a large plethora of wines from attendees, and I really look forward to this time to meet new folks, try new wines, and just have a good time in an unstructured way.

Not wanting to miss a beat, we then made our way out to the pool for a very crowded very crazy Sonoma Grand Tasting.  Not wanting to get crushed in the milee I pretty much avoided this, and found a spot at a table with Wine Biz Radio’s Randy Hall, his wife Jen and her amazing goat cheese, as well as some fellow bloggers.  There, we shared some wine, I opened some wine,

Showing off my Zinpatico with Jen's goat cheese!

Chritophe (@cork_dork) from Titus opened some wine, and we made our own tasting.  PS for next year, PLEASE do no try to squeeze 250 people in to a space meant for 50, it just doesn’t’ work.  I am sorry I missed many great wines, but I count myself lucky that I have tasted many before so didn’t really feel like I was losing out.  It was just too much of a mosh pit to really enjoy your self and so instead, I opted to find an empty poolside table and sit with my buds catching up.  Jen, Randy Hall’s wife, had brought some of her homemade goat cheese to share and with some wine to sip on, we snacked and chatted the afternoon away.

Oh – I forgot to mention.  During all portions of the Speed Tasting and Sonoma Grand, I was readily accosted for my unusual jewelry of Wie BLogger Bling.  It looks like my ribbons and charms were a hit, yet again!  Yes, t

his was the idea, and I am pleased that so many of you enjoyed the camradierie of being a Naughty Wine Minx or saying tot he world Screw It!  More WIne!  That was the intention behind the blogger bling, as there were so many people I didn’t know and knew I wouldn’t get a chance to meet; I was pleased that it afforded me the opportunity to have random strangers become aquaintances via a common love of all thing wine and silly.

After the Grand Tasting, we made our way in to the dinner session, where I had a tizzy of a time finding not only a seat, but a seat at a table where I at least recognized one face.  I know i know, I was going to mingle,  but even this cowgirl gets the “I’m shy” blues and wanted a friendly face.  I sat down with my favorite Cellar Rat Alan Baker, and we had a great time trying our wines and catching up, while I went table hopping to poach different wines.  The table layout was that most tables were hosted by a winery, and we had a few of their wines plus others on our tables.  Since I wanted a variety, I found Brad Cooper’s table (@bradinator) and poured a nice big taste of his Black Cloud Pinot Noir.  WOW!  Who knew such beauty came out of of British Columbia in a bottle! (Hey, @winebard stop throwing things at me).

Even though I was operating at 45% sanity, both physically and mentally, after dinner I wandered in tot he after hours tasting hosted by Russian River Winegrowers.  I was please to see many wineries I knew here, and was able to taste some more treats, and chat with the locals on what was new.  In there, I met up with Julie from Windsor Oaks, whom I’ve written about before here.  Julie is a pioneer in the industry and is working hard to make sure that she is in tune with not only bloggers, but with what her customers want and need.  I was so pleased to get a gift of their Unoaked Chard, which is just a lovely treat.  Anyone in the area, MUST stop by and try their wines!  They will welcome you as one of their own, and the wine is pretty good too ;-).

I tried and tried to stay up for the after after after party but I just couldn’t do it.  My body and my brain gave out.  I’m sure I missed out on a lot and I’m bummed, but well, Saturday was another day!

(How long til WBC 10?)

Pinot pinot pinot!

A while back, I expressed my frustration at the lack of a Press & Trade portion of the Annual Pinot Days Celebration in San Francisco, coming up on June 28th.  I am happy to be able to eat my words, sort of.  Even thought they producers of the event were not willing to participate in an additional session, the event organizers were able to convince the some odd wineries pouring that the trade should be allowed to attend gratis.

Thankfully, I will be attending Pinot Days this year, cost or not cost – so I am happy to be able to feel good about announcement it again.

Pinot Days San Francisco Assembles Hundreds of Pinot Noir producers, and even more wine, for an exclusive wine tasting experience in
San Francisco.  Over 600 pinot noirs will be poured at the 5th Annual Pinot Days, a four day event that takes place from June 25th to June 28th.

Kicking off the week of festivities will be a tasting at The Jug Shop, focusing on Sonoma and beyond.  The Tour de California will showcases pinots from some of my favorite producers, including Eno Wines, Fort Ross, Kendric and Olsen Ogden.  This tasting is $10, and is from  6-8 on Tuesday, June 23rd.  The Jug Shop is also offering 10% off Pinot Days Grand Tasting tickets, which is a great deal if you can get it.  Just enter promo code JUGSHOP for your discount when buying tickets.

On Wednesday, June 24th, Ed Kurtzman will be spotlighted in a producer tasting at Ft Mason from 7-9pm.  The cost for this is $100.

Also on Wednesday, 16 16 Young Turks of the pinot world will show of their hard work at the Golden Gateway Room in Ft. Mason.
Come hear their stories and enjoy the fruits of their labor. You will taste 16 different pinots in flights of four, and you will taste them blind. This is a rare chance to discover the next great pinots, and to spend time with these winemakers as they ascend to great heights.

On Thursday, June 25th, there is a Winemakers Table Hop Dinner at Pres a Vi, where over 20 producers will be pouring Pinots paired with Chef Kelly Degala’s  wine-friendly cuisine, infusing each dish he creates with flavors and from around the world, including Spanish, Filipino, French, Italian and Latin American influences. The table hop dinner is $150.

On Friday, June 26th, C. Donatiello Winery in Dry Creek Valley is hosting a Pinot Days Summer Concert at their winery. They specialize in premium single vineyard pinot noir, and you can enjoy a day of exquisite pinot along Westside Road, culminating in a concert, tasting and barbeque. Your bus tour will include special tastings at Arista, John Tyler, Gary Farrell, and the new Thomas George (at the spectacularly remodeled Davis Bynum Winery). You will then enjoy a special tour and tasting at C. Donatiello Winery, followed by a barbeque and concert. During the barbeque you will enjoy the wines of three additional Westside Road wineries: Black Kite Cellars, Hop Kiln and Matrix Winery. The concert is $110.

To purchase tickets for any of these events, or to see details, check out Pinot Days on line!


I’m a mom!

Hahn SLHOk well, no not really, but I made you look right?  Seriously though, I have my own baby!  My own little baby itty bitty delicious not yet fruit bearing vine!

At the graciousness of Hahn Family Wines, a group of bloggers got together and planted The Bloggers Block, at Hahn Family Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  The good folks at Hahn dedicated 1.5 acres of prime Santa Lucia Highlands land to the Bloggers Block, proving themselves as a shining light in the dark path of new media adoption in the wine business.

Soledad is about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, so I got myself up  nice and early on a Saturday and heaviliy caffinated myself.  I stopped by to pick up a Winehiker (no no not a HITCHhiker!) and we hightailed it down 101, through the rolling hills of San Benito County, and through the lettuce fields of Salinas.  As we drove through the flatlands of the Salinas valley, I was struck with how litlte it has changed since East of Eden.

The cool foggy overcast was driving inland, and I wasn’t entirely convinced we’d have sunshine for our day in the vineyards.  Finally, as we popped in to the Santa Lucia Highlands, the sun came out.  Past veggie farms and up to the west side of the valley, we found the Hahn driveway and slowly drove up the hill.  Every few feet I had to stop and say “ohhh lookie!” because it was so stunning.  Finally, at the top of the hill, we found a little yellow house at the top of a vineyard, which is now the tasting room.  Being the first to arrive, we stopped to breathe the fresh air and look at the view before being enthusiastically greeted by Philip Woodrow, Hahn Family Wines Director of Marketing and Communications.

Philip has only been in this role for a few months, but he has taken it on with a gusto and has made blogger a welcome and integral part of the Hahn family.  Once inside the tasting room, Philip pointed out our snack of Huntington Sauvignon Blanc, one of my personal faves, and  Hahn SLH Chardonay, paired with some lovely cheese and nibbles.  We waited for our posse to arrive, Russ and I chatted with Andy Mitchell (Director Vineyard Operations) and Paul Clifton (adorable winemaker at Hahn Estates), as well as Philip.

From there, we went down to the Bloggers Block, which is at 720 feet, and we were planting some delicious Pinot Noir, clone 828.  We even got the exact location of the block, so we can keep track of it on Google Earth!  Yes, we are geeks.  You can keep track too, with the flyover file here.  In the dirt, the vineyard manager explained to us that the vines we were planting were on 3309C rootstock.  We were given specific instructions to dig our holes 12 inches deep, where we would then drop a nutrient teabag in the bottom, and stick our vines in – with about 4 fingers left above ground.  Luckily for us, the nice boys had pre-dug our holes, so we really didn’t have to work that hard ;-).

After we filled the holes back in, we had to protect our babies from critters, birds, and other elements, by covered it with what looks like a fancy milk carton, which we twist tied to the stakes to hold them down.  Once all the vines were planted, the drip irrigation turned on, and we could see the vines relax in to their new homes.

After we played gardner, we gathered for a lunch under the trees near the tasting room, and enjoyed the full lineup of Hahn wines.  I’d have to say, th

e 2006 SLH Syrah was amazing, as were the Lucienne Pinot Noirs.  Given the price point for all of these wines, they really are excellent QPR.  At lunch, we

had the chance to talk to other bloggers, and pick the brains of the Hahn folks about the wines and our block in particular. After lunch, we headed up to the winery itself to take a tour and learn about the winemaking process.  There, we got to taste some barrel samples of the finished Lucienne that were able to drink with our lunch.

All in all, a totally awesome day!  In a nutshell, Hahn gets it.  They understand the importance of bloggers and how they can make themselves stand out from the crowd.  In the words of Hahn’s President William Leigon,

I believe that the blogging community is a vital part of the future of the industry.  In the many debates of what is or isn’t ethical in regards to the winery/wine blogger relationship what seems clear to me is that the best, most ethical thing we as a winery can do is provide the blogging community with quality products, quality information and quality wine experiences regardless of race, sex, color, creed or brand of wine.  We are using our vineyards because that’s who we are.  I believe that the more the blogging community learns about wine, the better it is for all of us.

It is a vital connection; just like the winery/wine writer connection; the winery/wine buyer connection; and of course the winery/consumer connection.  It does us no good to create great wines if no one knows about it.  I just can’t drink that much.  The wine business is a relationship business.  We must create an emotional connection to our consumers.  We do that through many means and I believe Social Media is a major part of creating that connection.

The internet and Social Media allow you to do that only it accelerates the number of people you can reach to a degree that I can’t even comprehend.  It allows me to establish a relationship and an emotional connection to someone in Germany that I have never met face to face.  It allows me to create connections with multiple people in multiple countries simultaneously and in a very personal way.


As you can see, Liza and I were very happy campers.




A pinot that doesn’t fail!

I first found MacPhail Wines at a tasting held at San Francisco Wine Trading Company last year, at the recommendation of my friend.  Since i know he is a bigger wino than I am – NO!  It’s true Alex you are! – I couldn’t miss it, and I knew that I would be blown away.  BOY was I not wrong!  At the time, I was pinching the employment pennies and only walked out with one bottle of the Sonoma Coast which I am treasuring like a pot of gold.

Recently, my wino friends Jim, Shana, Vicki and Lil and I snuck in an impromptu visit with James and his dog, Zuni.  I am in love.  Pure, magical, pinot love.  One was better than the last, and the last was better than the first!

MacPhail Family Vineyards was founded in 2002, with a directive to create passionate Pinot Noir from the best Sonoma and Mendocino County sources.  To that end, here are my yumyumyummy notes from our visit!

2008 Rose of Pinot Noir was a deep rose hue, and smelled of rose petals, hibiscus and cranberry.  I tasted the cranberry and hibiscus as well, along with  red ziner, rich red fruit, and grapefruit.

2007 Sonoma Coast is a blend of two vineyards, the Pratt Vineyard and the Goodin Vineyards, both of which are located in Sebastapol.  These wines were vinified separately, and then hand picked for the single vineyard wines.  The remainder was blended in to this treat, which showed spicy clove, dusty cherry, black cherry, even a touch of blackberry, followed by Dr. Pepper,  and dark rich intense flavors.

2007 Anderson Valley Toulouse Vinyeard is a combination of a the Dijon clones 115, 667, 777, and 2A.  MacPhail is one of the premier examples of a Toulouse pinot, and one of the first.  This is a big pinot for Anderson valley, and was full of bright strawberries, salty creamy berries, lots of earthy bark and cinnamon.  It had a lighter body and color and was zippy.

2007 Sonoma Coast Goodin Vinyard had a rich, deeper color.  I loved the rich, spicy earth flavors.  Lots of Dr. Pepper and black cherry.  Dark delicious ruit.

2007 Anderson Valley Vagon Rouge was a very special wine indeed!   Only 8 barrels were made, and it had wild strawberry, rich intense fruit and bright red berries with a nice balance.

Strictly speaking, I loved ALL of these wines.  I left with 3 bottles to add to my 1 at home, and I will remember my visit for a long time.  I look forward to coming back and tasting again next year!



A Grape Stomp!

I first met Uzi Cohen, and his wife Kathryn, at at event at Crushpad about a year ago.  After spending some time talking about the wines we were drinking,DSC_6663 I came to learn that he actually made wine himself.  Lo and behold after much planning and anticipation, I finally got to do some barrel tasting of his amazing pinot noirs!


After meandering my way through Berkeley, I finally found their tasting room, or rather their beautifully furnished basement.  We were warmly welcomed by our hosts, and we proceeded to taste through some of the best Pinot Noir I’ve had.  Sadly, two of the tasty delights were Uzi & Kathryn’s personal homemade wine, so they are not for sale, but if these are any indication of their talents, I see a brilliant future in wine!

The two commercially  produced wines under the Stomping Girl label are from two vastly different regions in California:  Santa Lucia Highlands, and Sonoma Coast.  This gives the taster an excellent opportunity to taste two different terroirs side by side.  Both of these pinots are single vineyard selections.  Both of these wines will be released early next year, so I have to be patient!
The 2008 Lone Oak Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir comes from the Lone Oak Vineyard, which is in the northern part of the larger SLH appellation.   The location of the vineyard provides a great foundation for Pinot Noir, where the soil is rocky and the fog is cool.  The Lone Oak fruit was hand sorted, something I myself have done – and the source of great amusement to my friends – and then cold soaked and punched down several times a day.  It was aged in a mixture of new and used FrenDSC_6676ch oak, which gives it the depth of character of oak aging without overwhelming the delicate fruit.  This wine showed flavors of bright cherry cider, spices, juicy strawberries and raspberries with nice earthy undertones of mushrooms and bark.
The 2008 Split Rock Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from the Gaps Crown vineyard, in the southern Sonoma Coast appelation. Again, this area has the cooling influences of ocean fog, but the Sonoma Coast appelation provides a different flavor structure.  The Split Rock section of the vineyard is planted between 300-800 feet, in rocky soils.  Another personal favorite from , and i plan on doing a side by side when the Stomping Girl gets released!  I found this pinot earthly, with tons of sour cherry and Dr. Pepper flavors.The 2008 Split Rock Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir comes from the Gaps Crown vineyard, in the southern Sonoma Coast appelation. Again, this area has the cooling influences of ocean fog, but the Sonoma Coast appelation provides a different flavor structure.  The Split Rock section of the vineyard is planted between 300-800 feet, in rocky soils.  Another personal favorite from Gaps Crown is the Humanitas Gaps’ Crown Pinot, and i plan on doing a side by side when the Stomping Girl gets released!  I found this pinot earthly, with tons of sour cherry and Dr. Pepper flavors.

I hope you’ll get the chance to taste these great wines, and get to know these lovely people!  Enjoy!

Pictures by Maureen Sullivan
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