Winemaking Families Strut Their Stuff

Fisher Vineyards was an established winery when the Family Winemakers of California kicked off its first tasting event two decades ago.

The Napa winery was pouring its top wines again, this time at the 20th annual FWC tasting last weekend at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This event featured 340 wineries — a far cry from the group’s inaugural tasting, which I attended back in 1990, when there were only about 40 participants.

In addition to Fisher, nine other family wineries from the inaugural event returned for the 20th reunion.

Family Winemakers Tasting

They include Chateau Montelena, Fritz Winery, Hanzell Vineyards, Kendall-Jackson Winery, Lava Cap Winery, Macauley Vineyard, Justin Vineyards and Winery, Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, and Swanson Vineyards & Winery.

The group represents a full spectrum of styles and varietals from every major winegrowing region in the state.

Click here for a KTVU video from the Family Winemakers  event.

Wines by Fisher

Cameron Fisher

The Fisher wines come from a family that was first known for auto body design work in Detroit (Body by Fisher). Fred Fisher, who founded the winery in 1973, is the patriarch. His daughter, Whitney, is the resident winemaker. Her sister, Cameron, handles sales and marketing.

Grapes for their wines are grown on the Fisher’s Napa estate in the Mayacamas Mountain range and from the family’s Sonoma estate on Spring Mountain.

I particularly enjoyed Fisher’s 2007 “Coach Insignia” ($75), a blend of cabernet sauvignon (90%), malbec (7%) and cabernet franc (3%) that sees nearly two years in oak before bottling .

This is a full-throttle, deep purple wine with a long life ahead of it. It features seamless tannins and an aftertaste that kept revealing more and more nuances of blackberries, cedar and vanilla. Noted critic Robert Parker rated it 91 points out of 100 and I’d probably push that up a notch or two.

Tale of Two Chardonnays

I was impressed by the relatively low-cost chardonnay poured by Adastra Winery, an organic producer from the Carneros region. The 2009 N’Oak chardonnay ($20) is fermented in stainless steel to produce a crisp white wine with nice citrus notes and a smooth finish.

I first wrote about this winery after meeting owner Chris Thorpe at Pinot Days in June. Thorpe, a retired physician, also produces a more serious chardonnay under the Adastra label, which includes offerings of merlot, pinot noir and a blend called Ed’s Red. Pam Starr is the winemaker.

The 2008 Pommeraie chardonnay ($48) from Benovia Winery was the best white wine I sampled at the tasting. It featured a solid apple core with a streak of citrus that came alive on the palate. The grapes for Pommeraie (it means apple orchard in French) were sourced from the Frei Road vineyard, site of a former apple orchard in the Russian River Valley. The vineyard is owned and cultivated by Martinelli Winery, another family winery that I profiled last month. (Martinelli — A Sonoma Success Story)

For a peek back in time, check out the Martinelli Winery tasting room (3360 River Road, Windsor, CA), which has just been moved into a renovated hop barn. The barn is a throwback to the early 20th century when the fertile fields produced hops — a key ingredient in brewing another pleasurable beverage, beer.

Macauley Cabernet

When I tasted this wine, Macauley Vineyard’s 2007 Napa cabernet, I didn’t realize that it came from one of the 10 “20th reunion” wineries that poured at the very first Family Winemakers of California events. This is a really nice wine with a rich price tag ($125/bottle). It paired well with a tidbit of smoked gouda atop a slice of baguette from Bakers of Paris.

There’s just a touch of eucalyptus on the nose and tongue, a taste of lovely blackberry fruit with a mint accent. This is a very smooth mouthful of gorgeous red wine.

The wine is made from purchased grapes grown on the Beckstoffer To Kalon vineyard near the historic Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. This vineyard produced some classic Napa cabernets, even before vineyard owner/manager/impressario Andy Beckstoffer bought a share of the property in 1993.

“Dreamy” Mi Sueno

I really like the two cabernets from Mi Sueno, a Napa winery with a Mexican heritage. As a teenager, owner/winemaker Rolando Herrera began working as a dishwasher at upscale wine country restaurants. Then he got a job as a laborer at a winery. That led to bigger and better jobs in the industry, culminating in the creation of his own winery. The winery’s name, Mi Sueno, means”my dream” in Spanish.

Mi Sueno’s premium wines, bottled under the Herrera label, are led by a 2007 Napa Valley cabernet ($65) made in a contemporary California style. This wine is a juicy combination of rich red fruit and integrated tannins with just a touch of what some call “Rutherford dust” — a flavor component that shows up in some wines grown in the Rutherford district.

Mi Sueno’s El  Llano (named for the owner’s Mexican hometown) is a 65/35 blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah from assorted Napa vineyards. It’s a dark, delicious $40 wine with blackberry fruit flavors and baking spice highlights that demand a second sip.


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