Posts Tagged ‘vinify wine services’

Part 2: The Prince

June 17, 2011

In a setting fit for a prince with a green thumb, Ferrari Carano’s Villa Fiore is a must-see Sonoma wine destination.

Rear Fountain, Ferrari Carano

After spending last Saturday tasting at Vinify, a custom crush facility in a Santa Rosa warehouse that hosted a showcase of 18 small wineries, some friends took me along to Ferrari Carano to pick up their latest wine club selections.

The contrast was striking.

I went from tasting at folding tables set up in a business park warehouse full of winemaking equipment to experiencing a lushly landscaped temple to wine in the natural splendor of the Dry Creek Valley. Here’s a link to a KTVU video tour of the gorgeous Ferrari Carano estate.

Once we entered the winery proper, a hostess realized we were royalty (well, there were wine club members present!), and we were whisked downstairs for a special tasting in an underground salon adjacent to the barrel room.

There’s no clicking tourist cameras. No yelling children. No pushing or shoving.

Just a tranquil spot flanked by marble columns and a polished wood bar — all designed to enhance every sip in hopes of making a sale, renewing a relationship or just exploring the next vintage.

Chardonnay Rules

They make an excellent lineup of chardonnay at Ferrari Carano. The winery shows restraint that allows subtleties of the vintage and terroir to emerge in the special bottlings while pushing the fruit profile a bit higher in the larger production wines that carry the Sonoma County appellation.

My two favorites from the salon tasting were the Dominique and Fiorella. Both are made from estate vineyards along the Russian River, but there are subtle differences.


This 2009 vintage chardonnay is grown in a single vineyard that flanks a curve in the river.

I heard the server explain that the location and prevailing winds worked together to keep the site cool, which helps promote longer hang time that allows the grape to develop secondary flavors and minerality. In this vintage, the grapes were not harvested until near Halloween.

There was nothing spooky about this $36 wine. It delivered a fabulous fistful of fresh flavors.

What I smelled in the glass was a fresh golden apple with a bit of nutmeg.

What I tasted was a mix of light citrus and pears with a soft, creamy edge that finished with just the right, light touch of oak.


This 2008 vintage of Fiorella offers more citrus and feels a bit crisper on the tongue when tasted alongside the Dominque.

There is a bit of orange plus a dash of lemon zest for a great citrus combo.

Some nice acids give this $32 wine a fresh approach and the barest whisper of oak holds the flavor package together for a nice finish.


Get Crushed Here

May 28, 2010

For many aspiring winemakers, a custom crush facility like Vinify in Santa Rosa is a place where they can get their feet wet without getting in over their heads.

Vinify provides the structure — and all of the equipment — of a working winery without the overhead and other headaches involved in becoming an independent producer. The model is being repeated across California’s wine country where the dream of making wine permeates.

I’ve written in the past about Crushpad, another custom winemaking facility that started in a San Francisco warehouse and is now moving operations to Napa.

The dream of independence can also be strong, but it requires major investments in plant and property to become reality.

Just ask the owners of Urban Legend, a husband-and-wife team that opened a small winery near Oakland’s Jack London Square in April. They’re losing money on every bottle until they can boost production past a couple thousand cases.

Custom Vinification

Back at Vinify, Hillary and Justin Lattanzio have set up a production facility  in a row of warehouses just off 101 in Santa Rosa that more than 20 winemakers turn out a wide variety of wines under one roof. Production can run to hundreds of cases of each wine, depending on the winemaker’s whimsy, financial backing and access to high-quality grapes.

In today’s wine market, prices are down across the board, not just for finished wines, but also for the raw product — grapes. Even small producers, it seems, are finding supplies of really good grapes to help them make higher quality wines.

I was impressed by the overall quality of the wines produced at Vinify. They ranged from triple-digit priced, high-grade Napa cabernet to everday rose’ for less than $10. Most wines encountered at a Vinify tasting last weekend ran $30-$50.

Bevan Cellars

The most expensive wine came from Bevan Cellars, another husband and wife team (Russell Bevan and Victoria Decrescenzo) that migrated to Wine Country from Minnesota. Their $150 cabernet sauvignon (vintage 2007) is sourced from thehighly-regarded Showket Vineyard in Oakville, right off the Silverado Trail. It’s everything a Napa cab should be and has the high rankings from both Wine Spectator (96) Robert Parker (95+) to rank it alongside some of the great wines of the valley.

But it was Bevan’s sauvignon blanc (Maria’s Cuvee) that really made my mouth water. This white wine ($28) is unfiltered so it’s not crystal clear in the glass, but it tastes great. It’s refreshing with a citrus twist and a mouthful of other exotic flavors that keep piling on. There’s no residual sugar, so it’s the sublime fruit (from  Sonoma’s Kick Ranch) that makes it taste so good.

Marvelous Marsanne

I liked another white, a marsanne, from Olson Ogden, for different reasons. This marsanne ($35), made from a grape with origins in France’s Rhone Valley, is rich in texture and tastes of peaches within a nice oak framework. The grapes come from Napa’s Stagecoach Vineyard, from which Olson Ogden also makes a very good syrah ($52, 2007). I also admired the winery’s touch with pinot noir, especially the 2007 Sonoma Coast  bottling — a class act, starting from the rich red color through to the classic cherry fruit profile.

Bargain Bottles

At a lower price point, it would be hard to find fault with the 2006 Whitehawk Vineyard syrah made by Cinque Insieme. This $20 wine — sourced from fruit grown in Santa Barbara — is an inky-dark bargain with overtones of blackberries and pepper. By the way the name of the winery (a collaboration of five friends) means “five together” in Italian.

For hot-weather sipping, stock up on the Bjornstad Cellars 2008 rose’ at $7.50/bottle or $90 case. This bargain of a pink wine, made from pinot noir, is available online through the winery. Bjornstad also makes a fine lineup of of highly rated red pinot noirs and some chardonnays that are worth checking out, too.

One If By Land and Two If By Sea

May 13, 2010

After receiving the famous signal that the invaders were coming by boat, Paul Revere began his historic ride in 1775 to warn his countrymen about the approaching British forces who would eventually be defeated in the American Revolution.

The signal, shown from the top of the bell tower at Boston’s Old North Church, was to be two lanterns if the solders were coming by boat and one lantern if the were coming overland.

When Revere, watching from across the river, saw two lights, he raced on horseback through the countryside with the now-famous cry, “The British are coming. The British are coming.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured the scene in his riveting poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride“.

That poem popped into my head when I visited a new winery in Oakland called Urban Legend Cellars. It’s most definitely approachable by land and sea. The Jack London Square ferry terminal is just a few blocks away and the BART tracks, running to Oakland’s 12th Street Station, are visible from the winery’s front door.

Steve Shaffer inside a tank at Urban Legend

Owners Steve and Marilee Shaffer opened Urban Legend last month in a warehouse on a commercial block of Fourth Street. The  couple — who emigrated from the East Coast to the Bay Area — caught the winemaking bug by experimenting in their garage before turning professional. Their lineup includes five different wines at prices from $18-$28 a bottle.

There is no formal tasting room. Tastes are poured for free at a table near the entrance to the winery, with tanks, hoses and other winemaking gear in the background. Steve and Marilee said they did most of the work themselves, with lots of help from friends.

You won’t find one drop of cabernet or chardonnay here. Four-fifths of the five-wine lineup is made from Italian varietals in a food-friendly style.

The best of the bunch is the 2008 barbera. This grape can be ponderous in the wrong hands and high acids can also be a problem. Not here. This tasty red wine is round and sensual and delicious. I can imagine drinking it with a thin-crusted pizza scattered with grilled garden vegetables and tomato sauce.

Of course, there are no vineyards anywhere nearby. In fact, the barbera is grown by Heringer Estates in Clarksburg — about 90 miles away in Yolo County.

The winery is open to the public on weekends and the wines are available in a few retail shops including Rainbow Co-Op in San Francisco and the Alameda Wine Co. They’re also available on the list at Encuentro wine bar and Chop Bar — both in Oakland.

There was a tie for my second favorite Urban Legend wine. I really enjoyed the Ironworks blend for its bright cherry-cranberry taste. The wine is 80 percent nebblio and 20 percent sangiovese, both Italian varietals grown in Lake County. I also was intrigued by the uniqueness of the Teroldego, a medium-bodied red wine. also with Italian roots, that’s quite rare in California.

Sonoma Passport Event

The annual Passport to Sonoma Valley weekend will be in full swing Saturday and Sunday when 51 wineries open their doors for a mass tasting of new and old wines punctuated by a wide selection of catered foods from local providers across the valley. Tickets are $50 for a two-day pass, $40 for Saturday-only visitors.

Stuck in Lodi, Again

I’ll be attending the yearly Zinfest celebration in Lodi on Saturday. Fifty regional wineries are pouring new releases. Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. On Sunday, there will be series of open houses at wineries in and around Lodi (no ticket required).

Jessie’s Grove Winery, one of the Zinfest participants, also sponsors an outdoor summer concert series that’s worth the drive to Lodi on its own merits. Roots/blues musician Shane Dwight will be performing at the next concert on May 29. Come early to check out the wine-tasting and stay late for a concert under the stars. Tickets are $22 apiece.  Here’s the rest of the summer concert schedule.

Sonoma – Smaller Focus

The emphasis is on smaller wine producers on May 23 at Vinify Wine Services/Collective in Santa Rosa.  There are 16 wineries pouring more than 40 wines made from 12 varietals at Vinify, which is located in an non-descript business park off Highway 101. Tickets are $20 for the event, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call Hilary Lattanzio at 707-495-4959 for more information or contact her via e-mail at

Just across the complex from Vinify is Carol Shelton Wines, a premium producer best known for her award-winning zinfandels. The winery is open by appointment only, but if you are in the neighborhood, see if you can get a taste of their newest offering — a mystery white wine to be released later this year.

My favorite from Carol’s stable is a rich, rewarding zin from the Cucamonga Valley in Southern Calfiornia. Her Monga zin is made from ancient vines that are nearly a century old. This spicy mouthful of zesty zinfandel retails for $21-$24 a bottle.

Santa Cruz Wine Express

You can leave the driving to the train engineer if you attend the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Express tasting on May 23. The event is staged from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton where visitors can ride a vintage steam train and taste wines from 70 Santa Cruz wineries. For more information, check with the Santa Cruz Mountains WineGrowers Association.