Sometimes, smaller is better

Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better.  Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful.  It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.

My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.

Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently.  Here, several smaller wineries – including Inspiration, were pouring their wares.  I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.

First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of  Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara.  The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper.  We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body.  This is no wimpy wine!  Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.

Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.

YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.

This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds.  William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.

So far so good I’d say!  It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is.  Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills.  Kudos to a successful launch!

I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness.  Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness.  The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish.  I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!

Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly.  The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.

There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre).  The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area.  The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.

This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit.  If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.

The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre.  The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load.  It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.

You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge.  Click here for details.

The moral of this story?  Seek out those small producers.  They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine.  Have fun discovering them.  The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.

Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously!  I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.

Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:

  • Winery Collective – San Francisco
  • The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
  • The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.

Explore your town!  There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street.  Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.

Support your local winemaker!  You won’t be sorry!

 

Crushing it in Dogpatch


Oh no you say!  Not another “do it yourself” urban winery!  Ok, I’d have to agree – that was my first reaction when I got the press release about Dogpatch Wine Works.  Since Crushpad abandoned their urban winery projects and effectively dumped its consumer based wine program after its move to Napa (and subsequent move to Sonoma Valley), I’ve had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for community crush projects.

But, Dave Gifford’s email intrigued me.  A Crushpad alum, Dave knows first hand how to (and frankly, how NOT to) do an urban custom crush operation.  Moving in a scant block down from Crushpad’s former headquarters on 3rd Street in San Francisco, Dogpatch now operates a 15,000 square foot urban winery with a missing “to enable wine enthusiasts to realize their passion for all things wine”.  I’m hoping that this enthusiasm is somewhat more friendly than Crushpad’s seeming lackadaisical consumer program.  As a former Crushpad customer, I got to know them well as I wandered through three winemaking projects with a group of wineaux.  If you’re super nice I might let you come over for a tasting of the zin, cab blend, and freshly minted BeezleBubblez!  I got to know the team well, and in fact, and pleased to see former head winemaker Mike Zitzlaff joining the Dogpatch crew.

While I fully understand the economics of operating a micro winery and custom crush, a good business plan requires you to commit and focus on your core audience.  A business bill yourself as a “community based winery”, then you need to be…well, community based. Crushpad’s failing was that they lost focus and weren’t interested in pursing the consumer base.  The primary goal was to be a custom crush and attract premier winery partners.  That’s fine, but please don’t tell me you care about me and send me an email halfway through the full winemaking cycle that says “oh hey yeah we moved to Napa”.   Please note these opinons are NOT AT ALL reflective of any experience with DPWW, simply my observatoins as a disgruntled Crushpad customer.

Anyway…back to Dogpatch Wine Works.  Taking a note from Crushpad’s premium vineyard plans, DPWW allows you to choose from terrific grapes including – I’m very happy to report – Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir. Hey Julie, you ROCK!  As a big fan of Windsor Oaks fruit, this could yield some interesting stuff.  Add in the requisite equipment, a bonded winery, and expertise (yeah well ok so I didn’t go to Davis and chemistry isn’t my strong suit so Mike, i NEED you!), you hopefully have – a winery in a box, in a fun urban environment.  Some additional vineyard offerings are Sonoma Coast Pinot, Atlas Peak Cab, and Anderson Valley Pinot.  Ohh AV pinot?  Count me in!

All of these seems familiar, and I get a buzz of excitement that the beast is alive.  The goal of community based wineries is to allow you, for a fee (well yeah they need to make money) to participate from head to toe in the winemaking process.  Theoretically, you will learn a lot, have fun, and get purple with it.  Oh, and you get wine when you’re done!~  Yay!

One feature that Crushpad was missing whilst in the city was a tasting room, where we could actually TASTE some examples of wine they produced.  While in Napa, they did indeed have a microwinery tasting room, but well, it was in Napa.  This alone will add a unique feature which will be a draw; while there is a wine bar in Dogpatch (Yield) a tasting room is going to add interest and attract visitors.

Giving Crushpad it’s due, some of my favorite brands were launched there.  I just wish they had been clear about their goals from the start.

I salute you Dave, for being willing to revisit a space that Crushpad  screwed up abandoned, and taking on the challenge with a renewed focus.  This a huge space and one that I see a lot of potential in; avid wine lovers want to learn and experience the full lifecycle.  This is how we can do it.  Please check out Dogpatch Wine Works if you’re in the city – I know I will be!  I am starting to think I might need to make some more wine…Pinot anyone?

Cheers!

 

**Wordpress ate my homework**  I’m sorry to say that 2 of my best paragraphs ran away.  arrrgh!  I will repost if I remember them.  Yes, yes, I know.  Write in Word, archive, paste.  Bugger.

 

 

Yargh, there is Treasure on that thar Island!

As I mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, there is a boom in urban wine making.  This past weekend, I found some new gems in my never ending search for tasty delights within the city limits.

This small collective is located on Treasure Island, the former Naval base in the middle of San Francisco Bay.  Luckily for me, it is in the San Francisco limits, which means no bridge toll!  To be able to re-purpose the warehouse space on this local, um, treasure, makes the wine even that much sweeter.

The first stop in this adventure was VIE Winery.  VIE makes very limited production Rhone varietals, and we tasted through a Rousanne, 2 Syrahs, and a Mouvedre blend.  VIE comes from the French word for “invite”, which is exactly what Bryan did for us – he invited us in to taste and explore the wines that he was creating with his partners. Vie comes from the French word meaning “life”, which is appropriate since wine is best enjoyed with friends, in celebration of the good life.

The first wine at VIE was the 2007 Lake County Rousanne.  It had grapefruit and lychee on the nose, and had a toasty flavor profile with a nutty note.  I tasted marzipan and toasted bread, with some grilled pineapple and must melon.  I enjoyed talking the guys from VIE as they explained that they used to make Roussanne from Paso Robles, another well known Rhone region in California, but that the climate just wasn’t quite right for this particular wine.  That said, they gave Lake County a shot where the soil and the climate seem to be right and created a really lovely white.

Next, I tried the Les Amours Santa Barbara Syrah.  Now, I love Syrah and this baby was no exception.  It was made to be a component in their GSM (Grenanche / Syrah / Mouvedre) program, but is lovely on its own.  I tasted strawberry jame, cherries, and smoked meats, with a touch of plum.

We also tried the 2006 Alder Springs Syrah, from Mendocino County.  This was really interesting, as it was famred in a high density vineyard profile, where vines are placed very closely together, and the focus is on growing smaller yeilds.  Because this is quite an expensive undertaking, this is only done by about a dozen folks here in the U.S.  This syrah is co-fermented with Viognier, and results in a very aromatic wine with juicy cherry berry characteristics.

The last VIE wine we tried was the 2006 L’Intruse Mouvedre, which has a touch of syrah and grenache blended in.  I found tons of blueberry on the nose, with a lot of blue & black fruit on hte palate, and spicy end notes.  Yum!

Sol Rouge Winery is something I was introduced to by The Wine Spies, when I ordered their Delicious Tom  Feeny Zinfandel.  Sol Rouge means “red earth” which is taken from the appellation name, high above the Napa Valley.    They also produce Rhone varietals, but also Bordeaux influenced wines.

Here, we tasted the 2007 Gypsy Blanc, a blend or Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier.  This had a floral nose with flavors of Cantaloupe, tropical fruit and apples.  Next, we tried the Gypsy Red, which is a classic Rhone blend of Grenache, Mouvdere, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  I tasted Strawberry jam and tons of juicy red fruit.  This was a fun and light red that I recommend for spring sipping.  Finally, we tasted the Tom Feeny Zin.  This wine is made from several blocks of vineyards on and around Tom Feeny Ranch, a well known source in Russian River Valley for zinfandel.  I stated dusty blackberries, black raspberries and other bright red fruit.

If you get the opportunity, I encourage you to try VIE and Sol Rouge!  You won’t regret it!

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