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Benziger Family Winery
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Harvest Season is a wonderful time of year to visit Napa Valley! Looking to get an inside look into "crush"? Check out our list of upcoming harvest events around Napa Valley
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Here's a quick overview of a few of the tasting rooms located off the 101 corridor and west toward the Peninsula off of Highway 1 and around Carmel Valley Village. It is too big of an area to squeeze into one day. Wine tasting is best done by selecting four to six places to visit; allowing time to become acquainted with the wine, and making sure you learn a thing or two (and of course bring home a few bottles your new discoveries). Plan your itinerary based upon a varietal, similar terroir, winemaking styles, or even just appeal.
As you approach the turnoff for the Monterey Peninsula on Highway 1, consider an easy stop at Ventana Vineyards, located close to the intersections of Highways 68 & 218. One of the pioneering stars of the area, Ventana's wines are estate grown, offering high quality and excellent value. There are a wide variety of whites, reds and dessert choices to enjoy. Check out the spectacular Super Tuscan Sangiovese blend Due Amici, a recent "Best of Class" winner. You will also find some excellent Meador Estate Wines here.
As summer ends it final month, and the dog days bark in with a lazy yowl, wine country begins to take on a particular texture. The heat, in the long afternoons of blazing sun, works on the vines, producing the big push toward complete ripeness in the fruit. It also works on visitors, pushing them toward cool bodies of water and stretches of time filled with do-nothing schedules and refreshing sips of chilled chardonnay.
Though the famous valleys are still packed with wine-appreciating visitors, still other regions are enjoying a less populated pace. For my money, one of the best escapes is above the valley floor, and into the foothills of the Sierra.
Press Release: Kenwood, CA, --Following a sold out event in May, Kunde Estate has scheduled a second dog-friendly hike on Saturday, October 18th, 2008. The hike offers a chance for animal lovers to enjoy wine country with their dogs while raising funds for Canine Companions and the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County (HSSC). Both non-profit organizations provide vital services to people and animals in the region.
October's Dog-Friendly Hike consists of a three mile trek through the Kunde family's 1,850 acre estate, led by fourth generation winegrower Jeff Kunde. The hike is $45 per person and dog and concludes with a wine country gourmet picnic and wine tasting, with treats and a "water tasting" for dogs.
By Robert Farmer
I-live-in-a-cave-types who need further convincing that Oregon's wine
scene is not just full-grown but thriving, need only look at the hard evidence.
Or, in this case, brick-and-mortar evidence.
Recent news that the Oregon Wine Services & Storage company--a temperature-controlled storage space and distribution center--embarked on a $3.5 million dollar expansion to increase its 110,000-square-foot capacity by 60,000 square feet was certainly no surprise. It's a function of necessity. In a report this year from Silicon Valley Bank about the state of the wine industry, it was predicted that the wine industry as a whole, and in particular Oregon, will continue its record expansion.
Most people rightly associate Wine Country - no matter which region you're talking about -- with the country. It's hard not to think about with Wine Country experience and not think about the bucolic countryside. It's the most common setting when one thinks about wineries and vineyards. But there is a growing trend in cities around the nation that is shaking that perception by its rootstock. The Urban Winery Phenomenon has recently been making more noise in the wine industry than a traffic jam in the heart of Market Street. And not only is it changing the way people taste wine, it's changing the entire concept of what constitutes a winery.
I've long suspected that there might be an upside - at least a temporary one - to global warming when it comes to wine production in some parts of the world. Marginal climates, after all, yield some of the world's most sought-after wines (think Champagne, Bordeaux and much of Germany), but these areas are also known for their penchant for producing lackluster wines in years when the weather doesn't get warm enough to make decent juice.
As reported in Decanter, Château Margaux general director Paul Pontallier recently spoke to this phenomenon when he announced, "We are so fortunate with global warming. Look at the number of great vintages we have had [in Bordeaux] in the last 12 or 13 years. It is absolutely amazing." Counterintuitive though it may sound, Pontallier's statement speaks to the benefits of warming temperatures in spots like Bordeaux, where vintners often struggle to obtain fully ripe fruit each year. However, a far more chilling effect of global warming was proposed by renowned viticulturalist Richard Smart at a recent climate change workshop in Spain, where he asked attendees, "Have you thought about the fact that in Bordeaux, we may have already seen the best vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon?"
Chilling, indeed. Not to mention the implications of this news for wine regions on our own shores, many of which have warmer average temperatures than their European counterparts. We'd love to hear from vintners stateside about the onslaught of global warming and how it's changing their wines and making practices. Could there be - as the Bordelais suggest - an upside to our own battle with the phenomenon? Or is the future of wine in our own backyard at serious - and imminent - risk? We hope you'll take a moment to comment.
You've read in this space about my efforts to espouse the benefits of living "green" whenever possible. And when that can include drinking green, all the better. The wine industry has noisily been getting into the act, cleaning up their vineyards to reduce environmental impact, and putting wine in bottles that are being called "organic" or otherwise good for the environment.
In Ukiah, Parducci Winery is not just talking the talk; they are walking the walk - in a big way, apparently. The winery, which has long been a leader in biodiversity and organic grape farming, announced recently that they have become "carbon neutral" in their wine production process--the first U.S. winery to achieve the status. That's very impressive, in my view, and not easy to do, from what I know of it. To get "neutral," Parducci worked closely with the California Climate Action Registry, which enabled the winery to calculate greenhouse gas emission helped them take step to offset or mitigate that harmful output. It took three years to accomplish and included such arduous steps as increased use of solar power, use of bio-diesel in farm equipment, and simple steps like switching to compact fluorescent lights in the winery.
But the results have been impressive and I commend Parducci on the effort to set higher standards for the wine industry. Perhaps I'll toast to the effort with a biodegradable paper cup full of their always-zippy Signature zinfandel--one of my personal favorites.
Okay first things first. In light of recent news about books being published by authors who simply make things up and claim them as real, I'll admit: I've never been wine tasting in Georgia. But I'll also admit, the Wine Highway Weekend they've got scheduled for March 29 and 30 sounds like something I need to do. Yes, wine tasting in Georgia. And what better way to discover the wines of the Peach State than during an official event designed to garner awareness for the region's burgeoning wine industry?
Like California's, Georgia's wine industry has its roots in the 1800s, before being crushed by Prohibition. But its favorable grape-growing climate, with steep, well-drained hillsides, excellent soil qualities, and warm summers, remained. It wasn't long before grape growers returned and got vines in the ground and by the 1980s, the industry began to blossom again. Today, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia counts ten member wineries, located along the Wine Highway, north and west of Atlanta. During the special event weekend, member wineries and affiliate members will each feature open houses, including barrel tastings, food pairings, and live music.
It may be time to start thinking about heading south for Spring. For information, visit www.georgiawine.com.
With its cultish following and flare for colorful tasting parties (think Prohibition-themed romps, elf-themed holiday fêtes and rowdy wine club shindigs in spots like New Orleans and Memphis), we're pretty sure Gundlach Bundschu's (gunbun.com) upcoming "Deed Day" celebration to commemorate the Sonoma winery's 150th anniversary will be an unforgettable affair.
Festivities get underway at California's oldest family-owned and -operated winery at 11:00am on March 12, with a special ceremony slated from 11:30am to noon to pay tribute to the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the signing of the original deed to the property in 1858. Special tastings and tours will follow, and discounts on wine purchases will be available throughout the day. And although "Deed Day" is scheduled to wrap up at 4:30pm, fans are invited to continue celebrating with the family throughout the year, since the 12th marks the kick-off to what they promise will be a yearlong anniversary celebration.
Given that it's "Gun Bun," we'd expect nothing less.
What is it about Zinfandel that makes people nuts? The feverish following the grape enjoys is bordering on obsessive. I'm willing to dismiss the argument that it's because zins typically have a higher alcohol content than other varietals, in favor of the more logical approach that the wine simply speaks to its advocates on a visceral level. Zins are not shy. They are not given to nuance. They tend to be bold and matter-of-fact, and that transparency, I think, is why so many people count the grape as their favorite. Hence, Zin Fests, held throughout the world in various zin-producing regions, are eagerly anticipated and widely (and wildly) attended.The 16th annual event in Paso Robles is no exception. The weekend-long celebration of Paso Zins, held March 14-16, features nearly 100 wineries hosting themed-events and activities and of course, spotlighting their signature zins. Among the attractions are winemaker dinners, live and silent auctions, zinfandel seminars, and winery open houses allowing guests to discuss their passion with those who create it. The anchor event for the weekend is the Festival on the 15th, a one-stop shop at the Paso Robles Event Center during which the intrepid zin fan can sample wine and food in copious quantity and variety. It's a popular event that typically sells out, so get your tickets soon and start brushing up on your Zinspeak. www.pasowine.com
Ceja (pronounced SAY-ha), is an excellent local story to begin with - a Latino family-owned winery founded by Amelia, Pedro, Armando and Martha Ceja, who are first generation Mexican-American winegrowers in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Today, the winery produces more than 10,000 cases of premium-quality wines that include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as such individual specialties as Vino de Casa Blanco, Vino de Casa Tinto, Dulce Beso Late Harvest White Wine, and a soon-to-be-released Bella Rosa dry Rosé .
The Ceja family of wines can now be enjoyed with the familiar Ceja Family hospitality at their new downtown tasting room, which places guests within arm's reach of their great library of wines, and within an easy walk to the growing list of area attractions that already includes Copia, the beautifully restored Opera House, the River Walk, and the recently opened Oxbow Public Market. There are also several great restaurants and hotels downtown, making Ceja's decision to open a tasting room here as close to a sure bet for success as one can get.
By Robert Farmer
February is a great time to be on the Monterey Peninsula. Okay, so pretty much any time is great to find yourself on this part of the California Coast, with its rugged natural beauty and refined city life that attracts all walks of life - from romance-minded tourists to nature lovers to golf nuts and, of course, wine lovers. Golf lovers, Yours Truly among them, head toward the Peninsula in February to mingle among the celebs and the pros during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, held this year February 4-10. I'll be there to take part in the fun and to try and get pointers from the pros on golf, and from the celebs on how not to work for a living.
The news that a winery would soon open in San Francisco's Presidio hit home for me quite literally. Or at least, close to home. My residence happens to be within an easy walk to the Presidio, that gorgeous former military base that is now a national park. And it's a frequent haunt of Yours Truly - ideal for Sunday afternoon walks with the family beneath the towering forest of Eucalyptus trees and among the array of historic structures that one by one seem to be getting new life. One such structure will be the home of the proposed new winery at Crissy Field. >
Foggy Bridge Winery would be the first winery every in a US National Park. It's the idea of Daryl Groom, former winemaker at Geyser Peak Winery to open a boutique, 8,000-case working winery and tasting room inside a 37,000-square-foot former Army machine shop. Plans also call for a 120-seat restaurant to be built into a former airplane hangar. While there are of course no vineyards surrounding the planned winery, that won't prevent Foggy Bridge from its plans of being a working winery. Grapes will be hauled over from Livermore vineyards to the facility and guests will be able to watch the full process during crush time. I for one can't wait to see the plan ripen into reality. The ongoing development and improvement of the Presidio makes one of my favorite spots in the City more attractive all the time. And the idea of a winery within walking distance from home and within eyeshot of the Golden Gate Bridge is something I can easily support. I'll keep you all up to date as plans develop.
by Courtney Cochran
Journey to Japan
When I poured the 2005 Koshu Yamanashi Cuvée Denis Dubourdieu for a group of creative executives the other day, one wryly remarked that he sensed “a soupçon of Samurai sword” in his glass. Jokes aside, this pioneering effort in traditional winemaking from Japan is dry, low in alcohol (just 10%) and offers tasty notes of lime rind and other citrus fruits before a crisp, food-friendly finish. Koshu is one of the first vinifera grapes (the species to which Chardonnay and Merlot belong) successfully grown in Japan, and we should expect to see more of it on adventurous wine lists in the not-too-distant future.
by Courtney Cochran
Voyage deep into the heart of Argentine Patagonia and you’ll find stunning Bodegas Familia Schroeder, a winery on the scale of the most ambitious in Napa. The five-story, gravity-flow winery encompasses a white tablecloth restaurant in addition to its well-appointed visitor center and special “cave” showcasing the fossilized remains of a dinosaur found on-site during construction. The Schroeder “SAURUS” (the name is a reference to the dinosaur) Patagonia Extra Brut Non-vintage sparkling wine is a sophisticated bubbly offering notes of white flowers, lemon zest and steely minerality before a crisp finish. Pick number three to be announced Friday!
by Courtney Cochran
Whoever said wine is a stodgy industry offering few surprises is sorely mistaken. With three exciting wines from breakout regions as proof, I’m here to say that there’s lots of change afoot in the wine world, as new areas previously assumed unfit for wine production step into the spotlight, just in time for sampling in the new year.
Georgia On My Mind
The rolling hills of north Georgia are home to Persimmon Creek Vineyards, a labor of love founded in 2000 when physician Sonny Hardman and his wife, Mary Ann, purchased 101acres along meandering Persimmon Creek and planted a vineyard. The rocky soils and cool nights found there are ideal for grape growing, and their 2005 Persimmon Creek Cabernet Franc is a promising early effort, offering compelling notes of smoke and baking spices alongside firm structure and ripe red-black fruits.
Look for my other picks later this week...
The Dry Creek Appellation of Sonoma County, California produces outstanding Zinfandel worth seeking out. Take a tour of some regional favorites from this picturesque Northern California wine growing region.
If any grape could truly be called Californian, it is the bold and wily Zinfandel. Though its roots harken back to sunny Italy (say most, though its heritage remains a bit murky), Zinfandel has become synonymous with the bright, fruit-forward, come-as-you-are attitude of many California wines.
Friday dawned crisp and cold in the Russian River, where I was staying with Kenny and his family. Although Kenny had left for the winery before 6 to supervise early morning harvest-related activities, I'd been given the go-ahead to sleep in and catch up on a few emails before heading out to meet him. I wondered briefly if the folks back home would call me a fair-weather-crusher for sleeping in, then got over it: I wasn't on payroll here, after all.
Besides, the dreary weather wasn't exactly welcoming at the crack of dawn. It registered to me at that moment that you have to seriously love what you're doing to work until 10, then rise again at five to head out and do more of the same - in icky weather, at that.
By Courtney Cochran
The dating life is tough. Take, for example, an unfortunate coincidence that came up between two good friends of mine not long ago. Both ladies were living in Manhattan, working hard by day and - unbeknownst to each other - enjoying romantic dates with same dashing bachelor by night.
Both believed her relationship was "getting more serious," when in reality the guy was more interested in dating most of Manhattan than moving closer to any sort of commitment. It wasn't until said gentleman went on vacation to Brazil and sent both women flirtatious text messages signed, "Kisses from Rio" that they made the connection.
As you might imagine, they then promptly made a disconnection from the guy who became known infamously in our circle as "Kisses from Rio."
A region springs to lifeby Courtney Cochran
Sonoma County's westerly Russian River Valley is like no other place in Northern California's storied wine country.
One need only drive down winding, pine tree-dotted Highway 116 hugging the Russian River to feel transported to another place. The towering redwoods and river-side clapboard cottages seem to belong to another time as well, a time when lazy days spent dangling your feet in the cool river while sipping a glass of one of the region's award-winning Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs were commonplace.
This small AVA is only 16 miles long and two miles wide - that's measured ridge to ridge, however, the actual valley growing zone is much narrower. There are more than 9,000 acres planted at this time and even though zinfandels are well known here, it is second in acreage to cabernet sauvignon.
The marriage of Syrah and California has one of the hottest trend lines in wine. Ten years ago, the state had 800 acres of the grape about 2% of the acreage held by Cabernet Sauvignon. Today it's on its way to 16,000 acres and growing faster than any other major grape, red or white. It's easy to see why. Syrah comes from a region in the south of France known for sun and wind which California has in even greater abundance. It's easy to grow and easy to make into wine. And its flavor profile fits California's Mediterranean-style dining trends like a lock and key.
A friend strolled onto the front porch last weekend with a bottle of white wine in his hand and one of those swallowed-the-canary smiles on his face. I learned years ago that when this smile shows up, its owner will be carrying a bottle with a little test attached for the wine writer of his or her acquaintance. Usually I find a way out of the test, but this time I was the host and everyone else had already arrived.
Got some of the wine in a glass and took a sniff. Oaked Chardonnay was clearly one component, but the diesel notes were more like real automotive fuel than Riesling. I didn’t think my friend was trying to kill me, and I saw the cork pulled, so apparently it was a blend of Chard and Riesling and who knew what else.
Years ago the owner of the Sushi Ran restaurant in Sausalito, California correctly guessed the components of a blend of Riesling and Viognier that I brought back from a trip to Arizona (that’s another story), so I knew that weird combos are out there everywhere. But I wasn’t going to guess without a clue, so I asked for one, and got it: “Forty-fourth parallel.”
Forty-four degrees of latitude is a great address for wine on this planet, running through the Rhone valley and Tuscany and cruising past important vineyard regions from one end of North America (Niagara) to the other (Oregon). Was this mystery wine Canadian, perhaps from Nova Scotia? It wasn’t made in any style I knew from this continent, so I went back to Europe in my head.
The 44th parallel was too far south for Hungary, too far north for Lebanon or Israel. Piero Antinori once told me he was helping a friend plant a vineyard at 6,000 feet of elevation on Kyrgyzstan, but that was also too far south. Time to ask for another clue.
How much did the wine cost? “One dollar.”
I headed inside to look at the atlas. The 44th parallel goes all around the northern hemisphere, so at some point it pretty much has to run through China -- the only place where $1 for a bottle of wine makes sense. But where?
Xinjiang Province, surrounded by Mongolia, Tibet, and Kahakhstan. I kid you not. The vineyard is on the Yili River, according to the bottle. I could not find it in my atlas at first, so of course I went online. There I found a Chinese blogger who posted pictures of the river and advised visitors to the arid region thusly: “Maybe reasoning the hot and passion, I like the grapery there most. You can feel a kind of special breath. Grape what growing in this area seems alive and have nimbus. Well, you must not believe me. So, you'd better go to see it by yourself.”
After that, the wine made a lot more sense. It may have been only 11.5% alcohol, and the oak treatment might have lacked a certain finesse, but all that special breath and nimbus for only $1? Tell that to the terroirists!
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.
At Anderson Valley’s recent Pinot Noir Festival, residents were joking about how little recognition this Mendocino valley has relative to other top Pinot Noir regions in California.
The day before the festival, in fact, the Napa Register published a long piece in which writer Charles Neeve put the entire county of Mendocino into the “Lost Coast,” jumbled Anderson Valley up with Yorkville Highlands, and stated authoritatively that “much of this land is part of the Alexander Valley region.”
For the record, Alexander Valley is a completely different appellation in Sonoma County; the Lost Coast is a section of California coastline that’s mostly in Humboldt County; and Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands are about as different as two adjoining appellations can be. (Valley. Highlands. Get it?)
“When the universe revolves around you, you don’t need geography,” laughed one lady, referring of course to Napa’s position in the U.S. wine world.
“That’s good,” rejoined her companion. “We don’t want more people coming in here than we have already!”
The laughter didn’t last long, however, because the reality is that people are coming into Anderson Valley at a fairly brisk rate. Some are coming to live in a beautiful, pastoral, pristine place. The others are coming to make Pinot Noir.
At the festival’s Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 20th, I encountered Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs from half a dozen new labels, including Baxter, Black Kite, Breggo Cellars, Harrington, Standish, and Zina Hyde Cunningham. Existing labels including MacPhail and Saintsbury also unveiled new programs. These push the known number of valley Pinots past the mid-century mark, with more to come. If all the programs in barrel come to market as planned, there will be more than 60 different Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs a year from now.
To put this into perspective, most people consider Russian River Valley the benchmark region for California Pinot Noir. As Charlie Olken of The Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine taught me long ago, regional reputations are made when high-quality wines are made in sufficient quantity that many people can experience them, and Russian River certainly has passed that test. There are a lot of Russian River Pinot Noirs, and a fairly high percentage of them are outstanding.
But here’s an interesting thing. If you count up the Russian River Pinots from the last vintage that’s completely in the market (2003) you get into the mid-60s – not that much more than Anderson Valley. And if you count up the Pinots from the other important Pinot areas (Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills) you find that Anderson Valley has more Pinots than any of them.
The recent surge in distinct bottlings is due largely to urban garagistes who are making small-batch, site-specific wines of exceptional quality from Anderson Valley vineyards – just as they do from good vineyards in Russian River, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Rita Hills. This trend is also evident among wineries that are based in Anderson Valley – they’re making more vineyard-designated wines alongside their appellation-based wines.
So at least the artisanal winemakers (and rich relocators) know where Anderson Valley is. Do you?
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.
It looks to me like there are two kinds of wine regions: those that raise their hands overhead in victory or clap them in self-congratulation (Napa, sometimes Sonoma, and lately Lodi), and those that wring their hands in concern or scourge themselves (long list).
One of the hand-wringing areas that caught my attention was Mendocino County, mostly because I used to visit a lot for the scenic beauty, fly fishing, and, every now and then, wine. The lament I heard all the time was the same: “We don’t get no respect.”
It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but I finally got it clear in my mind. The growers in Mendocino did one of three things each fall: (1) ship their fruit in trucks to one of those hand-clapping, back-slapping places such as Napa or Sonoma where it got buried in a wine with a Napa or Sonoma appellation on the label, (2) sell their fruit to Fetzer, which made good mid-priced wine with Mendocino on the label, or (3) make their own wine that sold for a low price or mid-price no matter how good it was.
And no matter which route they took, they didn’t like it.
Now that Fetzer’s cutting back on production or putting more wine into brands based in Paso Robles and “California,” there’s less of option 2 for people in Mendocino to wring their hands over, which means more of options 1 and 3.
Here’s the bad news: option 1 isn’t going way anytime soon. The marketing people like to say that Napa and Sonoma have more “brand equity” than Mendocino and therefore the “highest and best use” of Mendocino’s grapes is to go into the other counties’ wines. The truth is that Napa and Sonoma have ten to twenty times as many wineries as Mendocino, those wineries have hundreds to thousands times more customers, and they therefore have an insatiable thirst for cheap, good fruit – Mendocino’s specialty.
Here’s the good news: option 3 is looking pretty darn good these days. I have recently run some benchmark, whole-appellation tastings in Mendocino County, staffed by winemakers, wine buyers, wine writers, even some of those clever marketing people. The best thing about these tastings has been the astonished, relieved looks on the judges’ faces.
WineCountry.Com Food Editor Heather Irwin attended a couple of these tastings, and didn’t hide the fact that she was expecting “a train wreck” from the latest one. (She wasn’t the only one who had that apprehension, just one of the few to cop to it. Remember, a lot of these people are hand-wringers from way back.)
But the fact is, the wines rocked.
It used to be that if you got a couple of dozen Mendocino wines together on the table, you could count on a handful that made you snicker, a handful that made you say, “Well, not bad,” and a bunch that you forgot an hour later. Sometimes the same winery would have a wine or two in all three categories. It was that random.
Not any more. One tasting I did in December had 38 Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs from 2003: no corked wines, no cooked wines, no cock-eyed wines. And a whole bunch of really sleek, elegantly powerful wines, the kind you wish you had a case of. (And which you could conceivably have a case of, because they’re not overpriced and oversubscribed yet.)
Another tasting, with 32 Yorkville Highlands wines, just a few couple week ago, included reds, whites, and rosés. Chardonnays, Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs. Not a dud in the bunch. Just one good wine after another, including some eye-openers from rare white grapes.
They’re going to be releasing the third vintage of Mendo-only “Coro” red blends from all over the county in June, and I can tell you from crawling all over the first two vintages that these wines are not just really well made, they’re a whole ton of fun to drink.
So lately I’ve started wondering when the growers and winemakers in Mendocino are going to stop their sobbin’ and start shoutin’ out a little. They’ve got the fruit, they’ve got the wine, and they’ve still got all that scenery. (And all those rivers with all those fish!) They really need to update their attitude, and I’m feeling like it’s only a matter of time at this point.
Before they do that, though, the rest of us should drink up hearty while prices are still low and the wine’s still easy to get. Got to make the “highest and best use” of our wine-buying dollars, right?
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.
Not too much in the wine business makes my jaw drop anymore, but it almost hit the table the other day in Ukiah. I was there getting an update on the progess of Mendocino County’s Wine Commission, which could potentially work the same magic on Mendo’s reputation that the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission did on Lodi’s.
Well actually, Lodi didn’t have a reputation before, so the magic would be different. Because Mendocino County certainly has a reputation for something other than wine. Something as leafy as a grape vine, and that is harvested in the same season, but which is generally consumed drier and hotter (and sooner). If you’re already lost, please click over to another blog. If not, read on.
So I sit down with Tim Thornhill and Paul Dolan, who are partners in Mendocino Wine Company. They both own vineyards in the county, and they’re also co-owners of Parducci Wine Cellars and a number of other brands. They would dearly love to see Mendocino’s reputation rise, because it would satisfy them emotionally, psychologically, and, oh yes, way financially.
Dolan sets down a bottle of their new Italian-style red blend, called Tusk ‘N Red. (Pronounce it “Tuscan.”) Nice package, evocative of Chianti labels but with a whimsically placed elephant in the Italianate scene. A nice wine, too, blended from Sangiovese, Carignano, and other grapes favored by Mendocino’s Italian immigrants in centuries past.
Then Thornhill puts down a bottle of their new Zinfandel, called Zig Zag Zin.
Now, if you’re of a certain age or subscribe to a certain joie de vivre, you are probably already forming a mental image of a slender cardboard package with the folded filmy papers inside. The lettering is faintly exotic in style, the corners are decorated with little curves, and there is some kind of dervishy-looking guy winking out at you from the label.
For those of you who are not forming this image, Zig Zag is the most popular brand of, um, cigarette rolling papers. And these guys have created a wine label that looks for all the world like a Zig Zag rolling paper package. Same shape. Same size. Same curved corner cuts. Same lettering. Same bright color. Unbelievable. I stared at the label, then at Dolan and Thornhill. They shrugged back, as if to say that they are as surprised as I am.
Turns out they were surprised. “We expected to get rejected,” Thornhill tells me, “but apparently none of the regulators in Washington right now lived through the Sixties or Seventies in California.”
Of course, Zig Zag Zin is not a wine for morally righteous bureaucrats in Washington. It’s a fun, friendly Zin for the rest of us. So naming it after an icon of the counter-culture makes sense – especially when you’re coming from a county in a region known as the “Emerald Triangle.” If you want to build up Mendocino’s reputation, why not start with something it’s already known for?
I did get a good update on the Wine Commission thing (state legislation has passed and the county's winegrowers vote their approval next month). But I'm still amazed at that bottle on my desk. Heck if it doesn't give me the munchies just lookin' at it.
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.
So I got this email from an editor way back east asking for a story about a brand new AVA in Mendocino, called “Dos Rios.” He wanted a description of the whole area and all the wineries in it, and suggested it could be a launching point for a story about the whole county. I read and re-read the message, wondering if he was pulling my leg.
The thing is, Dos Rios is a tiny town in white-water rafting country, rugged lumberjack country, ain’t-no-one-out-here-but-us-critters country. It’s beautiful, but has got to be one of the last places in California you would put a wine region. Wineries there would be well north of any others I’ve seen in Mendocino. Or California for that matter.
But hey – if there are a bunch of winery estates somewhere that I’ve never heard of, with a shiny new appellation that captures their commonality, let me at ‘em.
An hour later, I put down the phone after a conversation with Steve DeTevis, co-owner (with his wife Carol) of Vin DeTevis: the one and only vineyard and winery in the Dos Rios appellation. Solamente uno, amigos.
I had already looked at the application that wine regions have to make to the federal bureaucracy in order to get an appellation approved, and knew that the DeTevises' names were not on it. So for my first question, I asked Steve if he was involved in the new AVA anyway.
“Oh heck no!” he laughed. “The guy who applied for Covelo [a small valley in northern Mendocino] did Dos Rios at the same time.” I asked why. Another laugh. “Beats me.”
I asked if the appellation approval was going to be a boon for Vin DeTevis. A chuckle this time. “I doubt it. We’re just up here by ourselves, having fun.” Wouldn’t a flood of visitors to his tasting room be a good thing? Another laugh. (I wish all interviewees found me so amusing.) “It’s not like we’re doing this for money!”
Turns out the Steve and Carol found a patch of paradise at the junction of the Eel River and its Middle fork, where the water moderates the temperature and the hillsides catch the afternoon sun. They grow mostly reds and some Chardonnay. They taught themselves the wine business, and do pretty much all the vineyard and winery work themselves. “We wave at the kayakers,” Steve said, “but they don’t stop in to taste. One rafting outfit did put us on its website, though.”
I felt myself falling in love. Then I went to the Vin DeTevis website (www.vindetevis.com) and looked at the wine lineup. My heart jumped up in my chest. Cabernet Sauvignon for $15. Zinfandel for $12. Chardonnay for $8. Pinot Noir for $8. Eight bucks! I challenge you to find Pinot Noir by the glass for that price!
I remembered that Steve had called the DeTevis Cabernet Franc “killer,” and I was fully prepared to believe it from someone so genuine. It was priced at $15 for the 2000 vintage, which means it probably has enough bottle age to hit Cab Franc’s late-arriving sweet spot. Next time I’m in Dos Rios (or anywhere within 20 miles of it), I’m stopping in.
So my hat’s off to that cagey, ear-to-the-rail editor way back east. Goes to show you that your next winery discovery can come from just about anywhere --- and be just about anywhere.
- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.