Posts Tagged ‘family winemakers of california’

Short Sips and Quick Trips

August 25, 2012

With harvest approaching, there’s still time before it gets crazy busy for a quick trip to wine country to check out new offerings and old favorites.

I’ve put together some  suggestions below for specific events in the next few weeks.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

A three-day slate of tastings and special events featuring Sonoma County’s best wines is on tap for the Labor Day weekend.

The main event of the 33rd annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend will be held Saturday (Sept. 1) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at MacMurray Ranch, the winery named after founder Fred MacMurray, the late actor.

More than 170 wineries will be pouring tastes for guests who will also be served by 60 local chefs. Tickets are $150 online.

Many of the wineries are hosting individual winemaker dinners and other events from Friday (Aug. 31) to Sunday (Sept. 2). Here’s a list of the full lineup of events.

Lastly, the long weekend concludes with a charity auction.

if you want to buy a treasured or rare bottle of wine, check out the 20th annual Sonoma County Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean pm Sunday (Sept. 2) from 1-7 p.m.

Winetasting, dinner and entertainment are included in the $500 ticket. Proceeds benefit local non-profits.

 Lake County Wineries Invade Treasure Island

On Saturday (Sept. 8), more than 100 wines will be poured at a tasting on Treasure Island sponsored by a group of more than 30 Lake County wineries.

The “Wines with Altitude” event will be held at The Winery SF from Noon to 3 p.m. Tickets are $60, but half-price admission is available online in advance.

Check out the Rhone-style wines made by one of my favorite Lake County producers, Gregory Graham, at this event.

 Family Winemakers of California

I’ll be attending the 21st annual Family Winemakers of California tasting on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Tickets are $65 in advance and $75 at the door.

Hundreds of large, medium, small and micro wineries from across the state will pour tastes of old and new wines from dozens of different type grapes.

The event began with a few dozen wineries pouring samples back in 1991. I find it to be one of the best big tastings of the year and a great chance to try a wide variety of wines in one afternoon.

Be sure to pace yourself. Drink water between tastings and don’t arrive on an empty stomach. There will be food available to help bring your taste buds back to life.

Please use a designated drive or public transit if you overindulge.

Atlas Peak Harvest Celebration

A group of mountain wineries from the Atlas Peak appellation in Napa County will be celebrating harvest with a special tasting in Yountville on Saturday (Sept. 8) from 1-4 p.m. at the V Wine Cellar.

There are at least 10 producing wineries in this area, which is located northeast of downtown Napa, east of Yountville and above the foothills of the Stags Leap District.. Several winegrowing-0nly operations in Atlas Peak also supply grapes to some of Napa’s most prestigious winemakers. About 1,500 acres are currently in cultivation.

Advance tickets are on sale for $25. Click here to order.

Short Sips

I’m learning to appreciate Viognier, the French grape that some call the poor man’s Chardonnay.

I recently enjoyed a terrific bottle of 2010 Loredona Viognier from Lodi, a region best known for big red Zinfandel wines.

I bought the wine off the list at Gecko Gecko Thai in Berkeley, a tasty spot for a quick dinner that’s just down the street from one of my favorite music venues, Freight and Salvage.

The grapes are from Loredona’s Clay Station Vineyard lies northeast of Lodi in the foothills of the Sierras. Warm days and cool nights which are typical in this region help ripen the grapes to maturity.

The wine tasted of peaches with a pleasant honeysuckle nose. This lighter-bodied white wine went well with a crispy rice salad spiked with ground pork.

The Loredona Viognier can be found at Whole Foods and Beverages and More stores on sale for less than $10 a bottle.

It’s a great summertime sipper at a great price!


Fruitful Family Affair

August 27, 2011

At big tasting events, like the Family Winemakers of California, I have an irrational fear that I won’t find anything worth writing about from the thousands of bottles being poured.

I’ve attended many FW events, including the first one back in 1999, when there were just a few dozen participants.

Last weekend, at the 21st annual tasting, there were 303 wineries on the list.

It’s not a competition, like the SF Chronicle tasting, where the wines are pre-judged by a panel of experts.

It’s not a themed tasting, like the ZAP festival which focused on zinfandel only.e

The Family Winemakers event is more like a church supper, where everybody brings something they like to share.

FW members poured 23 different white wines, 24 different red wines, plus various white and red blends, rose and dessert wines.

There was literally something for everybody’s tastes but I found some very special wines to recommend, mostly from Napa.

Andesite Vineyard

Andesite Vineyard’s 2007 Mervignon is a proprietary blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from Spring Mountain in Napa.

It’s the only wine produced by owners Charles and Jo Ann Howard with help from winemaker Kenn Vigoda.

Production is small (150 cases , $48/bottle) and quality is very high. The Mervignon showed an incredibly rich, red color with stunning mocha highlights surrounding black cherry and blackberry fruit.

Andesite, by the way, is a type of volcanic rock found on the estate’s property which sits 2,000 feet above sea level.

Bacio Divino Cellars

I like the fact that Bacio Divino literally means divine kiss in Italian. I like even better the taste of this Napa Valley winery’s namesake blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese plus petite sirah from 2007.

This marvelous $80 wine features cassis and berry flavors and it’s ready to drink today.

It’s a smooth, luscious and complex wine made by winemaker Kirk Venge for owners Claus and Diane Janzen.

Some of that complexity comes from the marriage of three different varietals, but also lending depth is the use of cabernet fruit from 18 different vineyards — including the hallowed To Kalon Vineyard, originally planted by Robert Mondavi.

Guarachi Family Wines

Alex Guarachi spent a quarter century in the wine importing business — focusing on introducing Americans to wines from around the world, including his family’s native Chile — before he became a producer. With noted winemaker Paul Hobbs at the helm, the Guarachi Family Wines label includes chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from Napa and Sonoma.

I liked the cabernet the best. The 2008 Napa cab ($75) was very, very nice and approachable with a medium dark red color that led to irresistible black cherry fruit.

It’s sourced from three Napa vineyards — Elkington-Setty, Lincoln, and Winfield Vineyard. The wine spent 1.5 years in French oak, yielding 1,700 cases and a 92 rating from Wine Enthusiast.

McManis Family Vineyards

I like three things about this Ripon-based grower and wine producer.

McManis Family Vineyards wines are in wide distribution. Prices are reasonable. Quality is predictably good.

At the FW tasting, I liked both current releases of California cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah ($12/bottle).

I appreciated even more the red blend called Jack Tone Vineyards poured from a 3-liter box. It’s the equivalent of four bottles for $19.99. A good, affordable party wine, this syrah/petit sirah blend is a mouthful of fresh, soft red fruit (creamy blackberry) that doesn’t see any oak.

Orin Swift Cellars

I got a double-barrel shot of goodness when I stopped by the Orin Swift Cellars table.

First, I found something new called D66 — a delightful blend that’s heavy on the grenache. The 2009  is the inaugural vintage from Orin Swift’s new winery and vineyards in France’s Roussillon region.

I actually licked my lips after the first taste of this $38  juicy red which includes a bit of carignane and syrah. Flavors are dominated by ripe cherry fruit tempered by mild tannins.

Second, I re-tasted the 2008 Papillon ($55), a red wine that’s mostly Napa cabernet with some petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc blended in for complexity.This is the fourth vintage, and it succeeds with high-toned cassis and cherry flavors plus some sweet cedar notes.

Robert Biale Vineyards

I got another one-two punch of great red wines from Robert Biale Vineyards, a red wine specialist from Napa.

I loved the sweet cherry attack of the 2009 Southern Trail, a blend of zinfandels from the south end of Napa. Biale has earned a high reputation for its zinfandel lineup and this $46 bottle is another winner.

Equally good is the Basic Black ($38), another blend based on petite sirah and zinfandel from the North Coast. This is a smooth-tasting, seamless red wine ready to open and enjoy tonight.

Staglin Family Vineyard

Staglin Family Vineyard has long been known as a top-quality producer of Napa Valley estate cabernet. I found something else to like when I tasted the 2007 Salus, Staglin’s second label cabernet.

A bottle of the 2007 Stalus is a relative bargain at $90 compared to the estate cab that retails for $250.

The Stalus showed some nice mulberry/cranberry flavors, finely integrated tannins, a touch of the famed Rutherford dust and a lingering finish that just wouldn’t quit.

The Salus (named after the Roman goddess of health) is the wine to drink while waiting for the 2006 Staglin estate — a majestic wine in its own right — to tame its tannic core.

Plus, all proceeds from Salus sales are donated to mental health research.

Family Wine Virtues

August 13, 2011

I like the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting because it’s like visiting a big, raucous, fun-loving family for a special holiday.

The big event is Sunday, Aug. 21, at Fort Mason in San Francisco where more than 300 mostly small and moderate-size wineries will be putting their best pours forward.

Admission is $65 in advance and $75  at the door. Details online at the Family Winemakers of California website.

The FWC event has been an annual affair for the last 20 years, serving as a tasting platform to expose smaller wine producers to wine consumers and the wine-selling trade.

I happened to attend the very first gathering  in 1991 at the Sheraton Palace Hotel where 46 member wineries presented their wines. The event has grown up in size and stature over the years.  Click here to read about last year’s FWC tasting.

With hundreds of wineries pouring several wines apiece, the only sure thing is there will be lots of interesting wine available for tasting. I’ll seek out the most interesting examples and report back on how it turned out.

Urban Wine Finds

It was hard to find a clinker at the Urban Wine Experience last weekend in Oakland. I enjoyed a wide sampling of good wines from the group, which includes more than 20 East Bay wineries.

Two white wines stood out from the crowd.

Urbano Cellars

I’d forgotten how good chenin blanc can be until Bob Rawson of Urbano Cellars shared a glass of his 2010 bottling from Green Valley (Solano County).

This $17 white wine, which took silver at the California State Fair,  is balanced with a refreshing crispness that’s true to the varietal’s form. I picked up some citrus  and peaches on the nose — along with a touch of minerality — to complete a nice package of flavors.

J.C. Cellars

I’m not usually a sucker for cute names, but First Date ($28) caught my eye when I saw the name on a bottle of 2009 blended white wine being poured by J.C. Cellars of Oakland.

The mix is Roussane and Marsanne, two grapes with French ancestry, that are relatively rate in the United States.

Together, they produced a luscious mouthful of ripe apricot delight. I loved the honeysuckle nose, too. Kudos to winemaker Jeff Cohn.

Tayerle Pinot

The 2008 old vine pinot noir from Tayerle Wines stood out as a best buy at the Urban Experience.

The wine, crafted by owner/winemaker/classically trained musician Loren Tayerle, is made from Central Coast fruit. It’s got a nice spicy approach, pleasing cherry flavors and a cherry nose.

I’d rate this a best buy and one of the better California pinots for less than $20 that I’ve tasted.

Ehrenberg Petite Sirah

My favorite red  wine at the tasting was the $30 petite sirah from Ehrenberg Cellars, a small producer operating at Alameda Point in the Rock Wall Wine Company compound.

The 2009 is made from Lodi fruit. The wine is an inky dark mouthful of chocolate mocha flavors, luscious and smooth. It’s $28 a bottle. Only 35 cases were produced.


Petite Sirah Preferences

August 5, 2011

This week I tasted the oldest petite sirah label in California and one of the newest.

Both wines were made in Alameda County from grapes grown in other areas — the Central Coast and Spring Mountain in Sonoma.

The Concannon Vineyard 2009 is the latest offering from the first winery in the country to free petite sirah from its role as a blending grape and bottle it as a varietal.

The Livermore winery, founded by Irishman James Concannon in 1883, first put petite sirah on the label 50 years ago. The winery has branched out, in the meantime, boosting production from its estate vineyards to include bottlings from the Central Coast.

The 2009, which I bought on sale at Lucky for $6.99, is a blend of grapes from various Central Coast vineyards.

It’s got the peppery bite that P.S. lovers adore and a good tannic structure that held up well against a broiled rib eye steak.

This wine isn’t all swagger. There’s some oak and a nice vein of blackberry fruit alongside those tannins.

Concannon makes a number of more sophisticated petite sirah wines, but if you’re looking for a low-cost red that meets a high quality mark, look no further.

The winery will be hosting a special 50th anniversary tasting of its petite sirah wines next weekend (Aug. 13-14).

Carica Wines

The 2008 is the first ever petite sirah from Carica Wines, a small family-run operation headed by Charlie Dollbaum, a physician from Oakland who makes his wines at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda.

Charlie and Helen Dollbaum

I met Dollbaum and his daughter, Helen, at a Rock Wall tasting earlier this week when they poured his petite sirah along with a syrah and a grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend plus a rose of grenache and two sauvignon blancs.

For me, the reds stood out.

The petite sirah ($36) from Kick Ranch in Sonoma was a sophisticated bruiser.

The color is dark ink with the characteristic pepperiness on the approach.

It’s a bit hesitant on the nose, spicy plum, but the blackberry fruit goes on and on and on for a full minute. Delightful!

I also enjoyed the 2008 blend, Siren, which is Carica’s take on a Rhone-style wine with a majority of the blend coming from three different syrah clones grown by Kick Ranch. The grenache is also from Kick but the mourvedre came from Lake County.

This is a harmonic mix of creamy crimson-hued goodness in a $32 bottle. The finish is smooth and juicy with a broad swath of plum fruit.

Carica Wines will be featured at the Urban Wine Experience, a gathering sponsored by the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance at Jack London Pavilion in Oakland on Saturday (Aug. 6) from 2-5 p.m..

Later this month, Carica wines will be poured alongside hundreds of other family made wines at the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting event at Fort Mason (Sunday, Aug. 21).

Sipping Through Santa Clara Valley

August 18, 2010

Before tech companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle took root, vineyards flourished in the Santa Clara Valley and produced some of the finest wines in California.

In fact, before Napa’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune back in the early 1970s, the Santa Clara Valley produced more premium wine than its northern counterpart.

Semiconductor companies and software developers reign supreme in today’s Silicon Valley, but pockets of winemaking excellence exist in places like Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin.

There are more than 20 Santa Clara Valley wineries, including the Emilio Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill.

Gene, George and Gary Guglielmo

Three brothers — George, Gene and Gary Guglielmo — grow grapes and make about 30,000-40,000 cases of wine per year from an 80-acre vineyard  just off Highway 101, about 30 minutes south of San Jose.

This is a family-run business. Gene handles sales, George is the winemaker, and Gary is general manager.

Their grandfather, Emilio, emigrated from Italy to New York in 1908 and arrived in San Francisco in 1910. He made wine from purchased grapes for friends and family before eventually buying the Morgan Hill property and starting the winery in 1925. In the 1940s, the winery was passed down to the boys’ father and mother, George W. and Madeline Guglielmo.

The quaint family home now houses the winery business office, which sits over a large basement filled with old redwood tanks used to store red wine.

Several outbuildings contain the main storage tanks, bottling line and winemaking equipment. There’s also a special events facility and tasting room alongside a brick plaza and fountain. Looking over the adjacent vineyard, with glass of wine in hand, you’d never know the high-tech revolution was humming along just a few miles away.

Old Style, New Age

The Guglielmos have come a long way from the 1950s and 1960s when the boys rode into San Francisco with their dad to deliver cases of one gallon jugs of “house red”  to homes, restaurants and bars in North Beach.

“The cost was $27.77, I remember that, for five cases,” George said in an interview at the winery. “We’d pick up the empties and re-use the bottles. We started doing recycling before it was popular.”

The business made a significant turn when the Guglielmos began bottling wines by varietal instead of the generic blends that had been the norm. Today, the winery produces 13 different varieties of wine.

Pursuing Petite Sirah

The first varietal wine bottled by Guglielmo was a 1969 petite sirah, which they continue to make from old vines next to the winery.

The latest release of petite sirah is a 2007 private reserve ($19 retail). This is a by-the-book rendition of the grape. It’s got a nice peppery back beat, strong but controlled tannins and great fruit. It’ll get even better with some short-term aging (6 months to 1 year).

I’m a big fan of zinfandel, and the Guglielmo’s private reserve zin is top-notch and fairly priced at $19/bottle for a bottle of wine that’s built to go with hearty pasta, grilled meats and interesting cheeses.

I also liked the 2007 cabernet sauvignon ($19), which is made from “backyard” estates around Morgan Hill, and a 2007 Santa Clara Valley syrah ($25) made from the San Felipe Vineyard southeast of Gilroy.

If you’re in the neighborhood, the winery hosts its annual harvest festival Saturday (Aug. 21) featuring grilled steaks, plenty of pasta and wine plus live music and a grape stomping contest. Tickets are $55 apiece, available from the winery in advance or at the door. Daily tastings are also available to winery visitors.

For more information on other Santa Clara Valley wineries, click here.

Free Tickets to Family Winemakers of California Tasting

This weekend there’s a great event going on at Fort Mason in San Francisco, where more than 300 family wineries will provide samples of their best wine as part of the annual tasting sponsored by the Family Winemakers of California. Tickets at the door cost $65, but we’re giving away free tickets to the event, which will be held Sunday from 3-6 p.m. For a chance to win tickets, click here for more information. I’ll  be covering the tasting, so please check back next week for a full report.

California Wine Served up Family Style

August 25, 2009

There were a few surprises, a few new faces and some old favorites at the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting, where more than 300 wineries showed off their current releases.

Cain Vineyard and Winery, located atop Spring Mountain, is one of the most reliable premium producers in the Napa Valley and the winery did  not disappoint with a trio of fine red wines poured at the tasting Sunday (Aug. 23) at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Cain Five

Cain Five

Cain Five (~$100) is a blend of fruit from both mountain and valley vineyards. The mix is similar to the Concept, described below, but this one is made for aging, if you can resist the pull of its luscious fruit and cocoa flavor profile.

Cain Concept ($50-$60) is a blend of grapes grown in the valley’s benchland vineyards. The winery uses the classic Bordeaux varieties — cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot — to produce this somewhat tannic wine that needs a few more years to develop completely.

Cain Cuvee is the “entry level” bottling ($30) with 49 percent merlot and 36 percent cabernet sauvignon along with cabernet franc and petit verdot. This is the most accessible wine in the bunch, thanks to the easy-drinking merlot. Cain blends lots from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages to produce this wine.

Prisoner and Papillon and Pahlmeyer

Another personal favorite, Orin Swift, poured two really good wines — 2006 Papillon ($55), a Bordeaux blend made chiefly from cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and 2007 Prisoner ($35), a uncommon blend of 50 percent zinfandel plus 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent syrah and lesser amounts of petite sirah, charbono and grenache. orinswiftpapillon500x367

I found the well-made Prisoner to be a tad lass approachable than previous vintages, but would not hesitate to recommend it to any red wine enthusiast who could wait another six months for the tastes to meld.

I also got a chance to sample the Pahlmeyer proprietary red blend, vintage 2006, which was excellent. This serious, deep purple wine — it’s 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot along with dollops of petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec — displayed a favorable “racy” profile that stimulated my tired tastebuds even after sampling close to 100 wines. The aftertaste lingered for what seemed like forever, a characteristic that noted critic Robert Parker also mentioned when he gave this $125 wine a 95 out of 100 rating.

Some Small Surprises

I’m not normally a fan of viognier, a white grape from France that is gaining traction in California, but the example poured by tiny Skipstone Wines in Santa Rosa really caught me by surprise.

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

It tasted full , round, and rich, like a good chardonnay, along with a floral nose that was completely enticing. The wine is available at finer restaurants for ~$75 but you can buy it at a discount directly from the winery, provided you are a member of the Skipstone Wine Club.

Respite Wines is another small Sonoma County producer that showed a very good 2006 cabernet sauvigion ($48) from Alexander Valley fruit.  The flavor profile combined ripe raspberry and cassis plus a tinge of smokiness that hung together well on the palate.

Sunset Cellars, which makes its wine at the Suisun Valley Co-Op (click here for a closer look at my recent blog about Suisun Valley wines), poured a killer 2005 syrah blended with regional zinfandel to produce a bargain bottle ($16) of easy-drinking red. This full, round wine tasted of red cherry fruit with a floral aroma (violets?) that was very approachable. Sunset also makse a Green Valley syrah in a bit leaner style that was also very good.

For a good overview of the Family Winemakers of California event, check out this Wine Country Insider video.