Vol 3 No. 2.4 off to Dry Creek Valley

The thin ribbon of a canyon beside the Silverado Trail leads from Calistoga to the Alexander Valley. It is a pleasant drive that opens up past the canyon to more vineyards and wineries. Most notable is Silver Oak Cellars in Geyserville just off Highway 101. It was an offshoot from their Oakville winery that has produced many of the great cabernets. It was built by Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan but some years ago Justin sold his interest to Ray and his partners. I only point this out to show the breadth in the Alexander Valley, which I could have spent more time in if I wasn’t conducting interviews for my book project.

Also note that north of Geyserville is Cloverdale, from which you can go over the mountain towards the coast and descend into the Anderson Valley, which also has many good wineries including sparkling wine producer Roederer Estate, owned by the French Champagne producer, Louis Roederer which produces their top of the line Crystal. But as you drop down into the valley the first you come to is Meyer Family Cellars, opened by Justin Meyer after selling his interest in Silver Oak. We stumbled upon this winery and not knowing about it entered the tasting room where Justin was working alone. Sadly, a few years later he died but the winery continues under his wife Bonnie, son Matt and his wife. Again, I had wanted to go up there but time was too short but Justin will be part of the book project.

The car’s GPS brought me to a series of turns until I was headed west again (to the south is the town of Healdsburg and the normal way I enter the Dry Creek Valley), and not paying too much attention realized the road had gone up a small mountain and as it rode the crest I noticed Ridge Winery, a fav, to my left and realized that I had ended up on Lytton Springs Road. From there it gradually descends until it turns and ends up in the valley on West Dry Creek Road. You can follow the road around the entire valley which is just over a mile wide at the widest part, the center filled in with wineries, and a few bridges for shortcuts crossing the creek. To the west is Lake Sonoma which closes the valley.

I turned left and drove to Lambert Bridge. On the corner is the Dry Creek General Store and Bar, operating since 1881. It is a must stop for us, to get a coffee drink or pick up a lunch for an afternoon picnic. Don’t miss it. It has a colorful history and good food. It is now owned by Gena Gallo of the Gallo family who owns a respected winery just down the road. Last December, the bookkeeper was just convicted of embezzling $416,000 over the prior seven years. The bar is a locals hangout but is supposed to be a great ‘dive bar’.

Drinking my latte, I drove back west to Unti Vineyards, a must visit. I discovered it around 1998 when I purchased some of their syrah on line. The next trip there, we stopped and never miss the opportunity of visiting their tasting room. It is no nonsense but they are so friendly that you immediately feel at home. I met with Mick Unti, the son of George who planted the vineyards in 1990, although the family had owned the land for decades. I learned from Mick their close ties to their native Italy and how they had planted sangiovese, along with barbera, segromigno, verdicchio, as well as the syrah. All are well-made and can hold up well to their Italian counterparts due to the combination of soils and climate, with afternoon breezes coming off the lake. I thought I might be able to use Unti for the book project and came away convinced of it.

After that it was across the bridge to the first Dry Creek winery I ever tasted: A. Rafanelli. The first time I tried their zin I loved it. We were at the former Heritage House in Mendocino, and it was recommended. The next day in town I found a case of 375ml bottles and we have been buying and drinking it ever since. The founder Alberto came over from Italy in the early 1900’s. Prohibition came and went and they produced grapes which were sold to other wineries. Then in 1979, son Americo turned it into a winery and then passed to son, Dave. Dave has kept the style the same but made gradual improvements in the wine which has a cult following and is a great value in the $40-50 range as is their only other wine, a great cab.The fourth generation is now making wine with daughters Rasheel (Shelly) the winemaker, and Stacy the operations manager. The winery is open by appointment only and production is small so it sells out quickly, mainly to fans who have been on the mailing list for years. I always knew that the family would be in my book project and after taking our glasses of zin to the far corners of the caves to talk, I am convinced of it.

My last stop was to be Montemaggiore, built and founded by Lise and Vince Ciolino. Being first generation winemakers wouldn’t seem to qualify them for the book project since they only began the winery on a hilltop on the south side of the valley, but I tasted their syrah when I was down on the Central Coast and spent the next year trying to find them. When I did, I saw why. Both had careers in the technology industry, Lise in marketing and Vince in sales. When the company was sold they got married and immediately bought the land and planted the vineyard as well as a beautiful villa. Lise’s father was a collector and her first wine was at Hermitage where she fell in love with syrah. She makes the wine and he is the viticulturist. In addition, he planted olive trees and makes award winning olive oil. They make reds, whites, and a rosé, but syrah and a cab/syrah blend are at the top of the list. They have a son, Paolo, who is a teenager now and just recently had an offer they couldn’t refuse on the winery. It occurred to them that they had only had two vacations in sixteen years, and both related to wine. When I contacted them about the book project they informed me that the winery had just been sold – however, they retained the name and would continue to make wine on a smaller scale at a winery friends own. I expect the quality to continue.

So instead of meeting at the winery, we had lunch in Healdsburg, and caught up on all of our adventures over the past several years. Rather than disqualify them from the book they will remain a part of it as the exception to the rule.

After lunch, I drove back over the mountains past the Petrified Forest and Old Faithful Geyser to Calistoga where our friends joined us.

The next day, we had some free time in the morning and I thought of an old standby to visit: Chateau Montelena, not far away. It had been several years since our last visit and it had changed for the better. The tasting room had stand-up round tables where an associate would discuss the wines with you. All seemed eager and knowledgeable and as always the wines were great. The chateau was built by Albert Tubbs in 1888 as a barrel making facility and is built of stone. It is charming with a lake and a few islands for members to enjoy. Bo Barrett, who succeeded father George as CEO still runs the winery with Matt Crafton, winemaker. Wife, Heidi, is arguably the busiest winery consultant in the valley and also owns La Sirena, while together they make award-winning Barrett & Barrett cabernets which have a cult following. They are busy people and Heidi will only accept consulting jobs within 45 minutes of home, where she flies a helicopter to reach some of the far reaching clients, so she can also be an active mother.

That makes Napa Valley a rap. Hope you enjoyed the trip and maybe found some new wineries to visit.

TB

Vol 3 No 2.3 visiting some old Napa favorites

To those of you who dream of owning a chateau in Napa Valley try this and Dream.  Keep in mind what I said in the last blog about valley floor land going for $350-450,000 and acre. I saw this right after I posted and wanted it to share with you.

While Napa Valley was able to avoid the Santa Clarafication that Silicone Valley caused, it has developed its own problems of traffic and a cost of living that means workers must come from more than an hour away. Agricultural minimum-sized plots were 10 acres in 1969, when we could have bought land for $5,000 an acre (of course good wines from here were selling for around $5 a bottle). As the boom developed they raised the minimum to 20 acres which prevented the conversion to residential and commercial properties. Now, even one acre would eliminate the problem.

The original landmarks on the highway remain with few major changes in appearance: B.V., Louis Martini, Inglenook (now Francis Ford Coppola Winery). Beringer’s Rhine House, Christian Brothers Greystone, and some visible from the highway. These are interspersed with the new wineries. The Robert Mondavi Winery was the first to change the character which further changed with the OPUS joint venture with Rothschild. One that is missing is the little red shack on Hwy 29, that was for decades the Heitz tasting room. It has been replaced by a nice stone building with vine-covered trellises that blends in with the environment and provides surprises when you enter the tasting room.

Through friends, one of whom unbeknownst to me was related to Joe Heitz, a group of us,  made a pilgrimage to Napa Valley with me doing the planning. The year was 1978, and his nephew said his uncle had a small ‘mom and pop’ winery there. I said sure we can go there and shrugged it off. His uncle was Joe Heitz and on a beautiful Napa Valley morning I was surprised to find out that that was our destination. As we sat on the deck with Joe and his wife Alice, drinking a riesling and enjoying sausages with it, I abandoned my wine snobbery. There was something about this man and following a guided tour, I was hooked on Joe and his wines. So much so, that when I tried his 1974 Martha’s Vineyard Anniversary bottling, I purchased a case at $25 a bottle; the most I had ever paid at that time. Consider that most of the name brands were still well around $5 a bottle. It was also the most luscious cabernet I had ever had. Joe kept saying we didn’t have to buy anything but we wanted it that time and enjoyed it over the next several years – until I was down to the last bottle.

Whenever I visited the ‘little red shack’ and Joe was there he would smile and greet me with “hi, Bill”. Thus I had a strong relationship with him and his wines that lasted. Joe was a smart man with simple, sound values. He had learned under Andre Tchelistcheff, and then went to Fresno State College to set up a viticulture program, where later his son would graduate: they had classes but not a major. He was there for six years then bought the land for his winery. This is background for something he told me that day: “people think of wine as romantic but owning a vineyard is nothing more than agriculture…it’s farming.” That thought stuck with me all these years. One last thing about the tasting room: it is perhaps the last in the valley with no tasting fee. When some charge $25, $50, or even $100, that is amazing and they still make good wines.

I drove over to the Silverado Trail and up Taplin Lane to the winery and the old home. Going inside the building, Kathleen Heitz, Joe’s daughter and the business manager, sat down with me to discuss Joe and the winery. Her brother, David, is the winemaker, and she told me that her dad had been hospitalized when that ’74 was made and he guided David through the process and never failed to give him credit for the wine. That is some kind of a winemaker and man! It’s nice to return to a place and although it had physically changed, what you liked about it is still the same. The wine was named one of the top 10 wines of the century by the Wine Spectator, and President Reagan took it to a 1982 State dinner in Paris.

Just down the hill on the opposite side of the road is the Joseph Phelps Winery. I decided to visit it and while no one from the family was down I saw that much had changed of the winery which is perched on a hill overlooking the vineyards and the valley floor. The two Joe’s were good friends and while Heitz’s specialty was his cabernet’s, Phelps produced the first Bordeaux blend of cabernet in the Left Bank style, under the name Insignia.

My final stop of the day was with an old friend, George Hendry. George is the only ‘rocket scientist’ in the wine business. In fact, he had just completed consulting work on a cyclotron. His father was a professor at U.C. Berkeley and purchased the land on Redwood Road, just above Hwy 29, north of Napa. Originally they had farm animals and grapes which when George took over became all vineyards. We met at ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers at their annual tasting event in San Francisco when I was pouring for Lamborn Family Vineyards. Each year I would seek him out because I enjoyed talking with him but also because his zin’s appealed to my taste like no other besides the Lamborn.

I also visited the winery for tours and tastings with friends coming to the Valley. George conducts all the tours personally, and as for thoroughness, I recall standing in the hot sun for what seemed 20 minutes explaining the vineyard and its characteristics as well as his philosophy. The tastings were also unique as George would describe the wines with you and loved to use ‘experiment’s’ to make his points. These tours were always the highlight for friends I brought to the winery. No one ever had a bad wine at those tastings. All were beautifully made and very good examples of each varietal.

When George walked in for our meeting, he didn’t seem to have changed. His charm, humor, and the inevitable taste experiments, were still there. We discussed the longevity of the winery and he proudly said, “I never quit my day job.” He understood what many, especially those who only consume wine, don’t know: it is all about cashflow. He never brought in partners because their time horizon might be different than his and he wanted to make wine his way. He had watched many wineries fail or change hands because of a lack of understanding that stuff happens. When that happens, partnerships sour, banks call loans, and much more. Thus his conservative way of running the business has paid off. He also sells his excess fruit in some years, but whereas payment is usually made after the wine is made and sold, he requires a partial payment with the sale, which attests to the quality of the fruit he produces. It was George who told me about land prices around Yountville running from $350-$450,000 an acre. Such is the lure and lore of Napa Valley.

His advice to those who want to own a winery or be a winemaker is “forget about a 40 hour week,” and “the hours are not always when you want them to be.” He also said, what Joe Heitz told me over four decades ago, “wine making is farming.”

We finished tasting our wine and I drove home…into the traffic…and glad that I had visited him again. The drive back to Calistoga took 20 minutes longer than in the middle of the day but I had a lot to process during the drive. The only person I had wanted to visit was Mike Grgich, who was unavailable.

TB

 

 

 

Vol. 3 No 2.2 on the road to Napa

(Note: an apology for the delay in this post. The cold I had turned into an infection that has plagued me since. Finally, on my second course of medications, my body is winning the battle. Hopefully, I can get back on track to finish this story and tell of my most interesting vino experience that occurred last week. TB)

We drove up towards Napa taking Hwy 37 across to Sonoma and the heart of the Carneros Region. Carneros in Spanish means ‘rams’ (although it sounds like it would mean any animal such as cattle), and we were going to a winery on bay side Sonoma Raceway. I was familiar with the area because, besides taking a driving course at the track, a classmate from high school, Vicki Lott had married Sam Sebastiani and after a falling out with the family, they built Viansa Winery, a combining of both their names, here. It is like an Italian hill town and very charming. This, however, was not our destination but I mention it as this area is not on the radar for most Napa Valley visitors. We were headed for Ramsgate Winery, and when you reach the top of the hill it is situated on you are immediately stunned by the elegance of the winery. It is very modern but in an environmental way with an amazing use of blending wood with concrete. We were greeted in the atrium with two glasses of their pinot blanc to enjoy as we toured the winery with our guide. The wine was perfect and only added to the visual sensations.

Carneros is the best area in Napa Valley for pinot noir, and chardonnay, as it is not only the coolest region, but the proximity to San Pablo Bay provides cooling breezes even on the hottest summer days. That is not just my view but one that was expressed decades ago by great Andre Tchelistcheff, who was the inspiration for my book project. It took decades before the cooler climes of Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Barbara County would be found to have similar attributes.

A friend of mine and a few of his long time friends decided buy the land and create the winery, and they have done wonders. Looking out on the marshes of the bay with gentle sloping vineyards pointing the way they are planting mainly the two varietals, Andre said would prosper. In the meantime, they are sourcing fruit from some of the best North Coast vineyards and their acclaimed winemaker, Jeff Gaffner, is producing great wines.

A group of friends could really enjoy just walking through the winery and finding one of the comfortable niches to relax in, or walk down the slope to a table and chairs and enjoy the natural look of the vineyard with the contrasting, yet not out of place, winery in the background. Note that reservations are required and while the costs are not small, they are in line with other new wineries. The point is, you get a lot for your dollar, something I failed to see in some of the other similar (not architecturally) wineries in the Valley. While they don’t have a restaurant, due to local ordinance, they have excellent pairings with their wines in their spacious event room overlooking the bay. Highly recommended. For more information visit their website at: Ramsgate Winery, the pictures alone are worth clicking.

From there we drove north to the Napa/Sonoma Road where there are several other wineries to visit, or you can keep going into the heart of Sonoma County wineries, some of which will be discussed in this series.

Some of you are aware of the quality of Howell Mountain wines, which is attested to as it being made a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley ava, in 1983, the very first. This was because of distinct characteristics such as the soils (volcanic), altitude, as high as 800 feet above the valley floor, which makes the temperatures more moderate (10 degrees higher in winter and a like amount cooler in summer while catching the evening breezes that blow over the valley floor), and creating a distinct terroir.

We arrived at Lamborn Family Vineyards, atop the mountain, which produces exceptional cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel’s. Mike Lamborn sat with us on his deck overlooking the vineyards and the distant mountains to the east and south.

I met Mike when he was a neighbor in, not to distant, Orinda, California. About eight years later I learned that he and his dad, Bob, one of the most interesting people I have met in the industry. They had to ‘unload’ some inventory that was costing them money by taking up warehouse space due to a distributor not fully promoting the wines. At the time, zin was all they produced, and it was very good as one would expect with winemaker/family friend, Heidi Peterson Barrett producing it. That was the beginning of a great relationship that drew me into the wine industry by frequent visits to the vineyard, pouring wine at events, and stimulating my interest in wine, beyond just a beverage.

I love Howell Mountain wines, and find the zinfandel’s far above other appellations. That may just be a preference but I believe, and have generally had agreement by winemakers that the spectrum of flavors is probably more distinct than any varietal except pinot noir. There is none that I like more and only a few that I would put in the same tier. As for the cab’s, they have Heidi’s imprimatur, guaranteeing an excellent wine now and for years.

You won’t find Mike’s wine in stores, which is similar for most of the other wineries I visited on this trip. The internet has opened direct client marketing and that plus membership clubs, allows most or all to be sold direct, saving a 35% haircut which is even more significant for a small winery operation. He does have a few select restaurants that he allows to serve his wine, another common trait.

Even though the Lamborn’s bought their two parcels before the land boom, selling the wine through distributors would significantly reduce profits, and for those purchasing land in the valley today at prices of $350,00 an acre, direct selling  is imperative.

Visits to all Howell Mountain wineries are by appointment only. This is due to avoiding congestion in this rural area, and similar regions, so contacting a winery you are interested in directly is the answer. Speaking of the congestion, even though we were there in February, and in the wettest winter since 1935, there is always late afternoon traffic on Hwy 29, especially between Rutherford and Calistoga. This was primarily due to the level of local drivers. It is dreadful during the tourist season.

As along the Central Coast, I have never seen the valley so lush and beautiful. It has been years since this last occurred. After our visit, we drove to Calistoga, at the north end of the valley, for what was the nicest lodging I have found, on a par with the aforementioned Petit Soleil in San Luis Obispo (and no I do not receive anything for mentioning any lodging or restaurant, it is a service to make readers trips more enjoyable). It is the Cottage Grove Inn. This former small trailer park just past downtown Calistoga is truly unique. Each room is a separate building and all have every amenity you can imagine. Like Petit Soleil, the wine and cheese hour features good wines, cheeses and other surprises, and a wonderful buffet breakfast. Want to be in the wine region but also be alone, this is the place to let down. If you are planning to visit the adjoining Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, Anderson Valley, or Healdsburg or head back to Sonoma, this is an outstanding location.

When we first came to Napa Valley in 1969 there was only one place to stay other than the hotel in St. Helena or in downtown Napa. We have stayed at several, beginning with the first and only in the valley, La Bonita motel just out of town on Hwy 29 in St. Helena. It is a traditional motor court motel, but they have kept it up and it gets high reviews for a reasonably-priced place to stay in the valley and in a great location. I was surprised when we drove past it and even more  I heard it was more than it looked like, confirmed when I went to their website. Imagine what the value of the land is!

More Napa wineries next.

TB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vol 3 No 2.1 – to the home of the Rhone Ranger

After a great breakfast at Petit Soleil, it was off to Paso Robles (where I didn’t stop this time except to visit a friend in Templeton), then on to Santa Cruz – this is where it gets interesting.

The weather was threatening and all of you have by now heard of the horrendous rains in California. Leaving Paso, I was noticing the flooding in the vineyards, and in case you haven’t been to the Central Coast recently, it is virtually ALL vineyards from their to Kingsburg. Then I saw the first of two cars facing backwards on the center divider. Nope, not CHP trying to catch a speeder, but cars that had hydroplaned and spun into the divider, just moments before I passed. A mile further and there was another one on the opposite side of 101.

How bad was it? Well, the car’s GPS had HUGE red ‘X’s in rows from the time I passed the cutoff to Cambria and the famed Hearst Castle. I have driven this route literally hundreds of times in my life but had put Bonny Doon’s location in Santa Cruz in the GPS only to estimate my arrival time – didn’t want to be late for my meeting with Randall Grahm!

But when I got to the Santa Cruz turnoff, the GPS directed me to the next offramp – huh? About a mile down that road it told me to turn left at the intersection??? From there I literally zig-zagged to Santa Crux due to numerous landslides  resulting in closures including the main road, Highway 17! Never saw that before.

Frustrated but on time I arrived for my meeting with Randall. When I met him I was totally surprised by his warmth and friendliness…like he was greeting an old friend. But if you meet him, be prepared to talk wine…not just wine, but the ‘proper’ wine. He then led me into his office for an engaging discussion on his latest project, and a huge one it is.

Have you ever visited a famous cathedral in Europe and wondered at how much faith the builders had in a project they would never see finished…nor would their children or maybe even their grandchildren? Of course the were mainly serfs who built churches and fortifications during the dormant winter season.

But nothing Randall does is wasting time: there are his wines, his creative and fun newsletters, and now his project to find the true California grape. Not far from the Santa Cruz turnoff is the little town of San Juan Bautista, that my older friends know at least from the classic Hitchcock film, Vertigo, with the scenes of the mission there and the eucalyptus-lined Highway 101. It has always been one of our favorite stops in the area. Where else can you stand on the edge of the San Andreas Fault and look beyond at the hills and the Carizzo plain? Why not drive down now and see it in all its splendor, a bed of green with the wildflowers soon to show off?

His project, which caused him to sell off his low end but extremely well-made and popular Pacific Rim Riesling and Big House Red, now available in the box, is a sacred Indian site called Popelouchum, best described by the man himself:

“Join me on a journey of discovery to change the way we grow grapes, to change the way we think about vineyards, to perhaps discover an entirely new vinous expression, and to maybe even get a unique grape variety named after yourself!” – Randall Grahm

Make no mistake, Randall Grahm like TB is a firm believer in ‘terroir’ – a sense of place that helps one identify the tasted of a wine and is burned into your memory. Note this does not apply to all wines, only a select few: the best Burgundy’s; a few great Bordeaux, even fewer California Cabs, Chateauneuf du Pape, hopefully you get the picture.

Ironically, there is a new book out, not worthy of mention in either Randall’s or my opinion, by a since-retired professor at UC Davis School of Enology. A heretic in the words of Grahm and myself, as he says there is no such thing as terroir. Hope he enjoys his retirement as that is where he rightfully belongs.

Grahm grew up not far from TB in West Los Angeles with ‘enologically-challenged’ parents, but he stumbled into Beverly Hills’ Wine Merchant, one of the premier wine shops in the area and was hired. This was both a blessing and a curse because with virtually no knowledge of wine he was introduced to some of the great wines of the world with no point of reference.

He, like so many great winemakers, was bitten by the bug from which there is no cure. He attended UC Santa Cruz then UC Davis where he received a degree in Plant Sciences. With his family’s help he bought land in Santa Cruz (Bonny Doon), and was determined to make a great Pinot Noir. This was his biggest disappointment because he had picked the wrong place to grow that regal grape but after meeting Kermit Lynch and Alice Waters, as did Bob Lindquist, he fell in love with Rhone style wines which he felt were best suited to the area from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz…and how right he was! He humbly gives credit to Gary Eberle for being the first to plant Syrah in the Central Coast but was named the first ‘Rhone Ranger’ in a magazine article and cover. Today that applies to all those who are disciples of wines from around the 42nd parallel.

Despite his laid-back demeanor, he is a serious winemaker and recognized as one of the most influential winemakers in California and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was the first American winemaker to see for himself if the Aussies and Kiwi’s were right about screw-caps (more properly Stelvin capsules), and the first to shun corks entirely, proving that they have a place in top quality winemaking. You will have to wait for the book for more on his philosophy and the interview.

In the tasting room, he is very proud of his wines but let’s you decide for yourself. As always his Cigare Volant exceeded my expectation and the Cigare Volant Blanc, captured me as only a white grenache can. Then he completes the trilogy with a Vin Gris de Cigare -an excellent example of  what a rosé from the region can be (note that in 2016, for the first time, rosés were the fastest growing segment of the wine spectrum, finally overcoming the ‘sweet’ stigma that early California winemakers had imposed on it.  Also, don’t miss his ‘Proper’ series of more affordable wines, a Proper Claret, Proper Pink, and others. His quiver doesn’t stop there however, with his Old Telegram (not a knock-off but a tribute to Vieux Telégraphe, which Kermit Lynch introduced him to years ago).

Sadly, the meeting had to end as he had to pick up his daughter, but I bought several of my favorites of his wines…the Cigare Volant Blanc, did not make it home. As we would approve, it was quaffed with friends over a nice dinner at Artisan Bistro in Lafayette, California, while celebrating my wife, Marybeth’s birthday…3o something! Her birthday was a movable feast also celebrated in Napa Valley, Seattle (our son, Greg flew out to surprise her), and then in Bend and Portland, Oregon.

Before I left, Randall asked where I was headed, and when I said Oakland, he shook his head and said, “good luck.” As it turned out the drive up the coast was absolutely beautiful and when I turned inland for the San Mateo bridge the traffic was light until I neared the bridge but despite it only being around 4:30pm, the opposing traffic headed home to Santa Cruz the only way available was bumper to bumper and at a crawl. I felt very sorry for them.

We had a great weekend in the Bay Area seeing many of our old friends before heading north to Napa Valley on Monday morning…many great visits there to be reported in the next edition.

TB

 

 

Vol 3 No 2 – A tale of three states

Hello, wine amigos and amigas! I am back in two ways:

  1. Returned nearly two weeks ago from a 3-1/2 week trip to California, Oregon, and Washington, tasting wine but mainly conducting interviews for my book project on passion of winemakers. Each state will have a blog, perhaps two for the big state, although Washington was about…well, you know…coffee! More on that later.
  2. The night before flying home from Portland I developed a monster head cold (note not an assistant cold but THE HEAD cold. Still shaking it but finally able to think and write at the same time (some of you my disagree on this point).

It was a trip to remember, including trips to new wineries, and visits with old friends, both personal and people I have grown to respect in the world of wines over the past 48 years!

On February 7th, I flew to the OC to visit our oldest friends, and originally we were just going to travel to the Central Coast and the Bay Area, but then…they made a surprising offer: would we care (my wife was not with me due to a change in plans as she was visiting a dear friend who was ill in the Bay Area), to drive their new Volvo XC90 to Seattle where we could visit their daughter and son-in-law and our goddaughter, and then drive back to Portland with them and they would drive home along the Oregon Coast. It took us less than thirty seconds to absorb the idea and then said, “yeah, sure, if you say so.”

Two days later I headed up to Santa Maria where I visited my old friends Jim Clendenon and Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat and Qupé (pronounced ABC and Q-pay respectively), not to mention their own family wines.

Know what I hate about L.A.? The traffic. It would have been no issue had my wife, Mb, been with me but alone meant no HOV lane. Soooo…leaving at 7:30am for a noon lunch at the combined wineries, it took me two hours to get to Sepulveda Pass (by the Getty Museum), a total distance of 30 miles…i.e. 15 miles an hour!!! I then however, was able to drive the limit…or a little above and arrived at the winery at 12:02, just as the staff was sitting down to lunch as they do every day.

Jim and Bob assumed their places at opposite sides of the center of the table fashioned from a vertically cut redwood trunk, with me seated next to Bob and facing an imposing row of eight (8) bottles of their wine…or was it 10? Dunno. The cardinal rule is this: everyone has to try each of the wines…and god forbid you lose your place or you have to start all over again (in fairness this is not a drunken bacchanalia as they give you a cup so you can taste and then tastefully spit). Since I had more driving to do, that was a life saver! Just when I thought I had a chance at owning a winery! This was my second time at the winery for lunch but Jim and Bob were out of town at the closing of one of the East Bay’s most venerable restaurants, Baywolf, on my previous visit.

I have known the two friends for over thirty years, having been seated at Jim’s table at one of the first Central Coast Classic wine events showcasing the local wines. They were more or less unknowns at the time and everyone was dying to sit at Chalone’s table. Jim quickly won us over and began swapping wines with Bob and even with Chalone. We had the best table of the evening and friendships were born…not to mention a solid respect for Jim’s Burgundian style Pinot’s and Chardonnay’s. Rhone Ranger?

Make no mistake, these guys are dedicated to making European style wines with Bob being the Rhone Ranger of the two. In addition, to their two well-known labels, they also produce Sawyer Lindquist wines, Verdad, and Clendenon Family wines. What a tour de force!

After purchasing about a dozen of their fine wines, I drove to the nearby town of Los Alamos (not the one of nuclear fame), to meet with Will Henry, and two of our old Santa Maria friends, at a new and popular tasting site with small plates, Pico. Will is also a pioneer in canned wine, his is called Nuclear: that wouldn’t have to do with the Los Alamos name would it?

Readers will recall that Will is the scion of the Henry Wine Group, which was recently sold, and is partner with another old friend (when I say old I mean long time, not ancient), Lane Tanner, in Lumen Wines, noted for her Pinot Noir’s and Will poured us his Grenache Blanc, which we all enjoyed.

I spent the night in San Luis Obispo at Petit Soleil. THIS is the country inn you have looked for in France and likely never found. How French is it? They answer the phone, “Bonjour, Petit Soleil”. The wine and cheese offerings include three red and white wines, all decidedly French and very good which isn’t always the case at B&B’s, along with some very nice cheeses – French, of course! I invited my friends to join me and at first they were reluctant given the quality of wines you sometimes get at B&B’s. They were very good.

As for my room, it was deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say. We stayed here once before and walking into my room it was a total flashback. Beautifully appointed rooms of French motif and elegantly done. The only place we will ever stay in the area! The staff is friendly and fun and you can’t help but feel at home.

Later, we dined at the Oyster Loft, a new restaurant at the end of town in Pismo Beach, with beautiful views of the ocean. Another good find. Following a good night’s sleep and a wonderful breakfast included, I left for Santa Cruz and my meeting with Rhone Ranger, Randall Grahm…stay tuned.

TB

 

Chateau Montelena Classic Napa Cabernet

A refereshing blog!

foodwineclick

Old World Approach + Napa Sun
My palate leans decidedly to the old world. I’m more impressed by elegance than overwhelming power and richness, so I’m pretty choosy about Napa Valley wines. Chateau Montelena fits the bill perfectly.

Classic Napa sun & classic approach yields a Cabernet Sauvignon an old world fan can enjoy.

Chateau Montelena – A Bit of Napa History
Chateau Montelena
traces their history back to at least 1888 when their Gothic style winery was built as part of the A.L.Tubbs winery. Three to twelve foot thick walls and built into a hillside, the winery needs no additional cooling. Even the Chateau Montelena (a contraction of Mt. St. Helena) precedes the modern era, being christened in 1940 by a descendent of the original owner.

Spring ahead to the early 1970’s, and Jim Barrett purchased the property, cleared and replanted the vineyards, and starting making wine again in 1972…

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