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by Ken Zinns

After taking a few wine courses through UC Extension in the early '90s, Bay Area architect Ken Zinns developed a serious interest wine. Ken has been touring and tasting wines for nearly 20 years, and has come to love not only the wines, but also the people behind them. Ken's interest in wine is more than passive, and he's been working at several urban East Bay wineries since 2001, and is the assistant winemaker for both Eno Wines in Berkeley and Harrington Wine in San Francisco.

Family Winemakers of California - 2010
20th Annual San Francisco Wine Tasting

Report on the 20th annual wine tasting presented by the Family Winemakers of California (FWC), on Sunday, August 22nd and Monday, August 23rd, 2010, at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The event focuses on current releases and soon-to-be-released wines from FWC members. The two-day event included a brief trade/media tasting followed by a public tasting on Sunday afternoon, and a trade/media tasting on Monday afternoon.

The Family Winemakers of California organization is a statewide trade association that was founded in 1991. Their stated goal is "to advocate the rights and interests of its members to freely produce, market and sell their products, and…preserving the broad diversity of California wine." The organization works to influence public policy affecting small producers in the state – they have been particularly active in trying to reform direct shipping laws. There are currently over 625 FWC members, most of which are smaller, family-owned wineries. FWC hosts two annual wine-tasting events, one in San Francisco and one in the Los Angeles area.

Overall impressions:
The San Francisco FWC tasting is an enormous event – with nearly 350 wineries represented in 2010, this is probably the largest annual tasting of California wines anywhere. About 50 of these wineries were pouring at this event for the first time. A few barrel sample and library wines were poured in addition to the current releases and previews of soon-to-be-released wines. The amazing breadth of producers participating here makes this the best all-around wine event in the San Francisco Bay Area. Not only do consumers get a chance to taste wines from all over the state and from dozens of grape varieties as well as interesting blends, but a number of top-notch producers who routinely pour at the FWC tasting are rarely seen at other public events – Littorai, Pahlmeyer, Paloma, and Spring Mountain just to name a few.



Clos Pepe 2008 Chardonnay
Core 2006 b.core
Grey Stack 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
Hanzell 2007 Estate Chardonnay
Littorai 2008 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay
Lynmar 2007 Chardonnay
Lynmar 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir
Mount Eden 2007 Estate Chardonnay
Stage Left 2008 “The Go Getter”
Truchard 2008 Chardonnay


Axis Mundi 2008 Syrah (from Clos Pepe)
Benovia 2008 "La Pommeraie” Pinot Noir
Calluna 2008 “Calluna Vineyards Cuvée”
Coastview 2007 “North Block” Syrah
Diamond Terrace 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
Dragonette 2007 Syrah
DuNah 2007 Estate Pinot Noir
Grey Stack 2007 “The Narcissist”
Ispiri 2007 “Maylena”
Ladd Cellars 2007 Moore Ranch Pinot Noir
Lagier Meredith 2008 Syrah
Mount Eden 2008 Estate Pinot Noir
Paloma 2007 Merlot
Roessler 2007 “Ridges” Pinot Noir
Santa Cruz Mountain 2007 Branciforte Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
Sol Rouge 2007 Mourvèdre
Spring Mountain 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Stephanie 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (from Hestan)

This year I was able to attend both days of the event. Naturally, the crowds were larger on Sunday, when the public tasting took place, and the large pavilion at Fort Mason was crowded although it was not nearly as packed as it sometimes can be. But with the tremendous number of wineries pouring, it was not difficult to step right up to most tables, and only a small number of producers generated big crowds. Monday’s trade/media only tasting was less crowded but still drew a good number of people. Food was limited to a few tables spread out through the hall offering bread, crackers, and simple cubes of cheese. But overall this is a very well-run event and things seemed to go smoothly throughout. Of special note was the excellent job by volunteer helpers to empty dump buckets frequently at each table. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s a big help to those like me who spit into these buckets – there’s less “splashback” when the buckets are emptied regularly.

I decided to abandon the effort to taste whites and Rosés separately from reds this year. I found that it just got too cumbersome to do that in the past, and despite going between reds and whites this time, I thought it was a more efficient use of the limited time. Even with two days of five-hour long tastings, it was still not possible to stop at every winery table I’d hoped to visit. I tried to get to a number of wineries that were new to me or that I’d not tried in some time, and I got several good tips from people at the event about tables that were generating some buzz with their wines. Even with producers whose wines I’d tasted recently, I tried to focus on their bottlings that I’d not tried in awhile, though inevitably there were a few that were repeats of wines I’d tried at other times in the past year.

A note on wine labels: A number of producers make wines under more than one label. I’ve grouped these wines together under their producers’ headings  – unless noted otherwise, the wines noted are the main winery label under which they’re listed. The highlights listed here are limited to current and upcoming releases, though there were some library wines – the older Calera Mills Pinots in particular – that were outstanding.

In general, I the wines I tasted were very good, probably a notch above the ones at the last FWC tasting that I attended. I can’t say that I detected any particular trends emerging – there were wines of all styles on display. There is simply no better single event than this one for tasting the breadth of wines that California has to offer, and I look forward to next year’s tasting.

Selected Tasting Notes -

Aubin Cellars / Verve Wines
2008 Pinot Noir, Laetitia Vineyard, Arroyo Grande. From older 2A and Martini clones plus some newer 667. Medium color, a fairly fruit-forward style featuring slightly herbal black cherry and spice. Good acidity and structure on the palate with a long, lively finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Medium ruby color, displaying fairly ripe red fruits and forest floor on the nose, with smooth mouthfeel and finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Sourced from Emeritus Vineyard. Medium color, with ripe black cherry along with spicy oak overtones. More full-bodied than the other two bottlings, with more lushness in the mouth.
Comments: All of the winery’s offerings are under the Verve label.

Benovia Winery
2008 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Medium-light yellow color, showing ripe apple, spice, lees, and oak. Moderately rich with nice balance and clean finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. 115, 667, and Pommard clones from two vineyards. Medium ruby color, earthy black cherry with an underlay of spicy oak. Fairly rich in the mouth but with good acidity and moderate tannins.
2008 Pinot Noir, "La Pommeraie," Russian River Valley. 777 & 828 clones from a single vineyard on Laguna Ridge. Medium color, great aromatics of black cherry, cola, and spice, medium-bodied with lively acidity and good structure, long flavorful finish, very nice. As fine an example of RRV Pinot as I found at the tasting.
2008 Zinfandel, Sonoma County. Medium-dark color, displaying bright, spicy boysenberry fruit. Concentrated but not jammy and showing good acidity in the mouth and a tangy finish.
Comments: Very strong line-up across the board from Benovia, highlighted by an exceptional Russian River Valley Pinot.

Bokisch Vineyards
2009 Garnacha Blanca, Vista Luna Vineyard, Borden Ranch-Lodi. Very light straw color, ripe apple, spice, and lees aromas, medium-rich mouthfeel with a lively finish that could use a little bottle age to smooth out a bit more.
2007 Graciano, Mokelumne River-Lodi. Dark color, intense aromatics of ripe plum, earth, and lots of spice, big and mouthfilling texture with bright acidity and nice balance, with medium-big tannins on the finish.
Comments: Bokisch continues to produce some of the best Spanish-varietal wines in California.

Calera Wine Company
2008 Pinot Noir, Central Coast. 50% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium color, easily the most fruit-forward of the current Calera Pinots, with red and black fruits, spice, and mineral notes. Medium-bodied, with moderate tannins.
2007 Pinot Noir, de Villiers Vineyard, Mount Harlan. No whole-cluster. Medium-light ruby color, showing red fruits, spice, and earth, plus a chalky mineral component that’s evident in the mouth. Very structured and tannic, this shows great promise but is years from drinkability.
2007 Pinot Noir, Ryan Vineyard, Mount Harlan. Medium-light color, very spicy and stemmy aromas along with red fruits and some oak. As expected, this has loads of tannin and is built for the long haul.
2007 Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard, Mount Harlan. Slightly darker color, this also had a darker fruit profile than the Ryan, more black cherry and plum along with youthfully stemmy character and some earth and oak spice. Big, structured and tannic with years to go before it will start to show its best.
2000 Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard, Mount Harlan. Medium reddish-ruby color, very pretty floral and spice aromas together with red fruits, plus mineral and earth notes. Still tannic, but they’re less pronounced than on the ’07 bottling. Very nice, showing what patience can do with these wines.
1997 Pinot Noir, Mills Vineyard, Mount Harlan. A bit lighter in color with more bricking around the edges, this shows even more spice than the ’00 bottling, along with cherry, a touch of forest floor character, and a bit of leather. Drinking beautifully right now, the core of acidity and tannin will keep this wine going for years more.
Comments: I’ll admit that I have a tough time judging Calera’s Pinots when young, but it’s always a treat to taste the older vintages that Josh Jensen pours at this event.The de Villiers is Calera’s newest single-vineyard Pinot bottling, from a block planted in 1997, and unlike the other single-vineyard Pinots (which use 100% whole-cluster fermentation) this one uses no whole cluster.

Calluna Vineyards
2008 “Calluna Vineyards Cuvée,” Chalk Hill. 44% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Dark color, peppery plum and black cherry with a big spice component and a touch of smoky oak. Well-balanced with good acidity and medium tannins on the long finish, very nice.
2008 Merlot “Aux Raynauds,” Chalk Hill. 96% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc. Medium-dark color, showing brighter cherry aromas, spice, and a strong mineral note. A bit more lively in the mouth than the Cuvée bottling while the tannins are a little smoother.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon “The Colonel’s Vineyard,” Chalk Hill. Dark color, displaying darker fruit along with spice and chocolate notes, plus a streak of minerality. The oak is in evidence but it’s nicely-integrated. Bigger structure on the palate with more chewy tannins on the finish, this should age well.
2008 “Calluna Estate,” Chalk Hill. 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 18% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Dark color, riper plum and darker fruit aromas, showing bigger vanilla/oak and spice components. Noticeably more rich and dense in the mouth, with big but refined tannins.
Comments: The “Calluna Estate” bottling is made in a more fruit-forward “California” style than the other bottlings. Very impressive group of wines from a producer that was new to me.

Clos Pepe
2008 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills. Made in stainless steel and aged on the lees. Light color, bright citrus aromas with a slight leesy note, crisp acidity in the mouth with a clean finish, nice.
2006 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills. Medium ruby color, black cherry and plum with undertones of earth and spice, lively mouthfeel, smooth finish with mild tannins.
2007 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills. Medium color, not as aromatic as the ’06 bottling but with more of a mineral component. Bright acidity and good structure on the palate, slightly more tannic finish than the ’06, should age well.
Axis Mundi 2008 Syrah, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. Medium-dark color, very aromatic herbal blackberry, white pepper, and earth, with just a hint of spicy oak in the background. Lively mouthfeel and medium tannins, very nice.
Comments: Winery owner Steve Pepe was on hand to pour his wines. The Syrah is the first wine released under Clos Pepe’s new second label of Axis Mundi, and it’s an impressive debut – quintessential SLH Syrah character and a very good value.

Coastview Vineyard
2008 Chardonnay, “Terraces,” Monterey County. Fermented with native yeast and unfiltered. Light color, bright citrus fruit with a somewhat leesy character. Medium-bodied with a crisp, clean finish.
Le P'tit Paysan 2009 Rosé, “Pierre’s Pirouette,” Monterey County. Made with saignée from various grape varieties. Light salmon-pink color, red berry and spice flavors, smooth texture with moderate acidity.
2007 Syrah, “North Block,” Monterey County. Dark color, dark berry fruit with distinct herbal notes, much like an SLH Syrah. Very good acidity and structure, bright mouthfeel and medium tannins on the finish, nice.
2008 Syrah, “Terraces,” Monterey County. Bottled shortly before the tasting. Dark color, blackberry and coffee aromas, a bolder and richer wine than the North Block bottling, with more density and grippier tannins.
Comments: New venture from winemaker Ian Brand. Le P'tit Paysan is a second label.

Core Wine Company
2006 “b.core,” Santa Ynez Valley. 73% Roussanne, 27% Marsanne. Medium yellow color, showing stone fruit, pear, and orangepeel aromas, along with a distinct mineral quality and a touch of spice. Fairly rich texture with a long, tasty finish, nice.
2007 “Hard Core,” Santa Barbara County. 37% Mourvèdre, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 4% Grenache. Medium-dark color, dark berries, spice, and tobacco on the nose, medium-rich on the palate with moderate tannins.
2007 “Mister Moreved,” California. 93% Mourvèdre, 7% Grenache, with 20% whole-cluster fermentation. Dark color with earthy black fruits, loads of spice, and undertones of herbs, white pepper, and oak. Fairly dense mouthfeel with great structure and tannic finish. This should age quite well.

Diamond Terrace Vineyards
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. Very dark color, ripe currant and blueberry aromas along with herb and vanilla/oak notes, smooth and mouthfilling texture, elegant style with refined tannins.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Very dark color, showing somewhat leaner fruit along with earth and mineral notes, a touch of coffee, plus a well-integrated oak component. Not as rich on the palate as the Diamond Mountain bottling but livelier mouthfeel, with more structure and bigger tannins on the finish, nice.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Very dark color, with higher-toned fruit profile than the ’07 bottling, along with more pronounced spice and coffee elements. A similar mouthfeel to the ’07, with big, grippy tannins.
Comments: Great distinctiveness between the two ’07 Cabs. Thomas Brown is the winemaker.

Dragonette Cellars
2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley. Very light straw color, slightly grassy/herbal nose with citrus fruit. Medium acidity with smooth mouthfeel and finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills. Medium color, plum and black cherry with spicy oak undertones. Medium-bodied with good acidity and structure.
2007 Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley. Sourced mostly from Demetria Vineyard. Dark color, dark berry fruit with mocha, spice, earth and a notable savory streak. Rich and mouthfilling with medium tannins, nice.
2007 “MJM,” California. 96% Syrah, 3% Grenache, 1% Viognier, sourced mostly from Shadow Canyon Vineyard. Dark color, pretty aromatics with intense ripe black fruits, coffee, and spicy oak. Bigger and more structured than the Syrah and more tannic on the finish.

DuNah Vineyard & Winery
2007 Estate Chardonnay, DeDee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Medium-light color, citrus and spice on the nose along with some tropical fruit and oak notes, this had a smooth, creamy texture on the palate, with very good balance and a long finish.
2006 Gewürztraminer, Blucher Hill, Russian River Valley. Light color, this dry Gewürz displayed intense lychee and spice aromas, a fairly smooth mouthfeel and clean finish.
2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. From Pommard, 115, and 667 clones. Medium ruby color, this had a slight funk at first but it blew off quickly. Intense cherry and other red fruits, spice, earth, cola, and oak on the nose, medium weight in the mouth with a fairly smooth finish, nice.
2006 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Medium-light color, more earthy aromas along with plum and black cherry and a touch of oak, bigger structure on the palate with a bit more tannic bite than the RRV bottling.
2004 "Montre,” Mendocino. A blend of mostly Syrah and Sangiovese, a little Carignane, and a splash of Gewürztraminer. Medium-dark purple color, with black fruits, spice, mocha, and more apparent oak on the nose, a mouthfilling texture and moderately grippy tannins on the finish.

Eden Canyon Vineyards
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Paso Robles. Dark color, ripe currant and plum aromas with some herbal notes, and an overlay of vanilla/oak. Rich mouthfeel with a fairly smooth finish.
2006 “Jolie,” Paso Robles. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot. Medium-dark color, the fruit is not as ripe as the ’07 Cab, with a more of an herb/tobacco component. More structured in the mouth, with grippier tannins. Good value.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Paso Robles. Medium-dark purple color, similar to the “Jolie” but with more pronounced herb/tobacco and a mocha note, along with well-integrated oak. On the palate and finish, this combined the richness of the ’07 Cab with the bigger structure and tannins of the ’06 “Jolie.”

Fenestra Winery
2009 Verdelho, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Light straw color, ripe apricot / stone fruit aromas with a smooth yet lively mouthfeel and a tasty finish.
2006 Alvarelhão, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Medium purple color, with plum and earth along with spicy oak on the nose, medium weight on the palate with moderate tannins.
2008 Graciano, Bokisch Vineyard, Lodi. Not yet released. Medium-dark color, showing darker fruits along with a savory note and undertones of spice and oak. More full-bodied but nicely balanced, it finished with chewy youthful tannins.
2007 Touriga, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi. Medium-dark color, ripe blackberry and herbs along with some spice and vanilla/oak notes, this had a mouthfilling texture with big structure and a fairly tannic finish.
Comments: Although Fenestra was pouring a fairly wide variety of wines, I decided to focus on their wines made from Iberian varieties, which I’ve liked quite a bit over the years. The Graciano is a new variety in their line-up and was quite nice.

Field Recordings Wines
2008 Chenin Blanc, Jurassic Park Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley. Light color, with citrus and green apple aromas, moderate acidity with a smooth finish.
2008 “Fiction,” California. 50% Zinfandel, 30% Petite Sirah, 20% Tempranillo. Medium-dark color, with earthy sour cherry and plum, along with a dash of spice on the nose, fairly rich and smooth on the palate with medium tannins.
2008 “Chorus Effect,” Koligian Vineyard, Paso Robles. A blend of mainly Bordeaux varieties and Tannat. Medium-dark color, showing herbal black cherry, a touch of pepper, and some spicy oak. Medium weight in the mouth with some bigger tannins on the finish, a nice blend.
Comments: The winery used mason jars as decanters at their table. The “Fiction” blend will change from year to year.

Graziano Family of Wines
Enotria 2009 Arneis, Mendocino County. Sourced from three vineyards, barrel-fermented. Very light straw color, citrus, orangepeel, and spice on the nose, moderately rich texture and smooth finish.
Monte Volpe 2007 “Primo Rosso,” Mendocino County. A blend of various Italian varieties plus Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Medium color, spicy plum aromas, medium-bodied with a somewhat tangy finish.
Enotria 2006 Barbera, Mendocino County. Medium-dark purple color, earthy dark berry fruit with some herb and spice undertones. Lively mouthfeel with very grippy tannins.
Comments: Greg Graziano’s line-up of wines includes the Enotria, Monte Volpe, Saint Gregory, and Graziano labels.

Grey Stack Cellars
2009 Sauvignon Blanc, “Rosemary’s Block,” Dry Stack Vineyard, Bennett Valley. Light straw color, very aromatic with lots of grapefruit/citrus and a touch of fresh-cut grass. Great balance with a fine core of acidity that lingers on the clean finish, very nice.
2009 Chardonnay, “Four Brothers,” Bennett Valley. To be released in 2011. Barrel-fermented. Medium-light yellow color, fairly oaky apply fruit on the nose, and moderately rich mouthfeel with good balancing acidity. Very young right now and needs some bottle age to mellow a bit.
2007 Syrah, “The Narcissist,” Dry Stack Vineyard, Bennett Valley. To be released in 2011. Medium-dark purple color, intense blackberry aromas with a meaty/savory component along with mineral and pepper notes. Bright and lively on the palate, with medium-big tannins on the finish, nice.
Comments: The Grey Stack Sauvignon Blanc was a standout, and has become one of California’s best wines of that variety. “The Narcissist” was noteworthy as well.

Hanzell Vineyards
Sebella 2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley. Light yellow color, with citrus, green apple, and lees aromas. A viscous texture, with a mineral note that comes out in the mouth. Fairly bright and long finish, nice.
2007 Chardonnay, Estate, Sonoma Valley. Medium-light yellow color, this had a complex nose of apple, pear, lees, spice, and oak. A moderately rich texture with beautiful balance – the acidity kept the mouthfeel from being heavy and continued into the lively and long finish. Outstanding Chardonnay.
2007 Pinot Noir, Estate, Sonoma Valley. Medium ruby color, with red fruits, earth and mineral notes on the nose. Great balance and structure, with a lingering tangy finish, this should age quite well.
Comments: Sebella is a new companion label to Hanzell’s estate bottlings. The Estate Chardonnay was the finest Chard of the tasting and perhaps the best I’ve tried this year.

Hestan Vineyards
2007 Chardonnay, San Francisco Bay. Medium-light color, lemon/citrus aromas along with a big oak component. Rich and rather oaky in the mouth but not too heavy, smooth finish.
Stephanie 2006 Merlot, Napa Valley. 79% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. Medium color, showing black cherry, spice, and vanilla/oak on the nose, medium-bodied with moderate tannins.
Stephanie 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 4% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Medium-dark purple color, displaying more complex aromas than the Merlot, with plum and darker berry fruit, herb/tobacco, spicy oak, and a touch of earth. Bigger on the palate with more grippy tannins, this had the structure and balance to age well, quite nice.
Comments: Hestan Vineyards produces three separate labels, Hestan, Stephanie, and Meyer. The Chardonnay listed here was under the Hestan label.

Hitching Post Wines
2009 Dry Rosé, Central Coast. 79% Valdigue, 21% Pinot Noir. Light pink color, strawberry and a touch of spice, lighter-bodied, smooth and refreshing.
2008 Pinot Noir, “Hometown,” Santa Barbara County. Medium-light ruby color, very aromatic and fruit-forward, with black cherry leading the way. Fairly smooth mouthfeel and not tannic. A lot of Sta. Rita Hills character to this wine, a good basic Pinot for the price.
2007 Pinot Noir, “Highliner,” Santa Barbara County. Medium color, this shows more Santa Maria Valley character to the fruit, with brighter cherry and plum fruit along with an earthy note. Moderately rich texture and smooth finish.
2007 Syrah, “Big Circle,” Santa Barbara County. Dark color, with lots of blackberry and spice plus a savory note. Bright and lively in the mouth with moderate tannins, nice.
Comments: Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini were on hand to pour their wines. The “Hometown” bottling is replacing the “Cork Dancer” as HP’s entry-level Pinot, while the new “Cork Dancer” wines will take a step up on the quality ladder.

Ispiri Wines
2007 “Maylena,” Alexander Valley. 88% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. From a higher-elevation vineyard in Alexander Valley. Medium-dark color, with plum and black cherry fruit along with tobacco, spice, black pepper, and undertones of sweet oak. Nice balance and texture on the palate with a lively finish, very nice.
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot. A bit darker color, featuring more herb/tobacco notes along with darker fruits, richer and more dense in the mouth, with chewy tannins, this has lots of potential but needs more time to show its best.
2009 Pinot Noir, Corona Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Just bottled a week ago, from 115 clone. Medium color, this shows some pretty floral notes along with black cherry fruit, not surprisingly a bit muted from the recent bottling. Medium-bodied with good acidity, given time this should develop nicely in bottle.
Comments: Ispiri is a new project from Arista winemaker Leslie Sisneros. The “Maylena” blend is named for her two daughters.

Ladd Cellars
2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Medium-light color, pretty nose of bright red cherry and earth, lively acidity, showing just a hint of tartness on the long finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Medium-light color, black cherry aromas and more spice than the Russian River bottling, a bit more weight on the palate, but showing a clean, refreshing finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Moore Ranch, Russian River Valley. Medium-light color, similar character to the Russian River but more intensity of fruit, a noticeable spice component, and more body and structure in the mouth. A particularly long, bright finish, very nice.
2007 Pinot Noir, “Cuvée Abigail,” Sonoma Coast. Medium-light color, with plum and black cherry fruit along with an earthy element. A bit more density in the mouth and bigger tannins on the finish that suggest some bottle age or decanting will bring out the best in this wine.
Comments: Very nice line-up of elegant Pinots, and the Moore Ranch was one of the best Russian River Pinots I tasted at the event.

Lagier Meredith Vineyard
Chester’s Anvil 2009 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. Sourced from two vineyards, one of them on the far Sonoma Coast near Annapolis. Medium-light color, showing ripe apple, spice, and a leesy note in the nose. Medium-bodied with a long finish.
Chester’s Anvil 2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Sourced from Gap’s Crown Vineyard. Medium color, lots of spice along with black cherry and a hint of earth. Bright acidity that carries through on the clean finish, nice.
Chester’s Anvil 2008 “Hattori Hanzo,” Napa Valley. 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot, 24% Syrah, 4% Malbec. Dark color, with dark berry fruit plus a herbal-tobacco component and a touches of smoke and anise. Rich but not heavy, with good structure for aging.
2008 Syrah, Mount Veeder. Bottled eight weeks prior to the tasting. Dark color, loads of intense pure blackberry fruit with pepper and some spice. Very lively mouthfeel with moderate tannins and a long finish. Still showing youthful and somewhat primary, this has all the signs of another excellent Syrah, and it deserves plenty of bottle age.
Comments: Steve Lagier & Carole Meredith were pouring their Chester’s Anvil wines (a collaboration with their neighbors Aaron & Claire Pott of Pott Wine) along with their Lagier Meredith Syrah. Steve & Carole were each wearing what was by far the best winery t-shirt of the event – the back read “Get hammered on Chester’s Anvil.”

Littorai Wines
2008 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. A new Chardonnay bottling for Littorai. Light color, with apple, pear, and spice aromas, combines a rich mouthfeel and finish with lively acidity.
2008 Chardonnay, Charles Heintz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Light color, more citrus character on the nose, along with spice, lees, and a stony minerality. Medium-bodied with a brighter mouthfeel than the Sonoma Coast bottling, and a long, tasty finish, very nice.
2007 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. Medium-light ruby color, tart cherry along with some earthy notes and a light touch of oak. Lighter-bodied with a medium finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Medium-light color, showing cranberry and cherry fruit, plus a more herbal, forest floor character. Leaner and more structured on the palate, this is built for aging.
2007 Pinot Noir, The Haven Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Medium color, displaying black cherry and plum, earth, and spicy oak on the nose, along with a deeper, richer mouthfeel and bigger structure. Like the Savoy, this will need some bottle age to show its best.
Comments: Littorai continues to produce some excellent and ageworthy Chardonnays and Pinots.

Lone Madrone
2008 “La Mezcla,” Paso Robles. 80% Grenache Blanc, 20% Albariño. Very light color, upfront citrus and stone fruit aromas, clean and bright mouthfeel and finish.
2009 “La Mezcla Roja,” Paso Robles. Blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Counoise, Nebbiolo, and Zinfandel – mostly from saignéed juice along with carbonic-maceration Grenache. Medium-light purple color, showing bright and fresh berry fruit along with a touch of spice. With mild tannins, this would be refreshing to serve slightly chilled.
2007 “The Will,” Paso Robles. 41% Grenache, 40% Petite Sirah, 19% Zinfandel, from dry-farmed, head-trained vines. Dark color, the Petite Sirah component dominates the nose with blueberry and black pepper, along with a brambly element. Big and dense in the mouth, with grippy tannins.

Lynmar Estate
2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Light salmon-pink color, very intense fresh strawberry aromas, with some spice that shows up in the mouth. Brisk acidity and very refreshing finish, very nice.
2007 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Light color, with pear, spiced apple, and touches of lees and oak on the nose, medium-bodied on the palate with very good balance, lively finish, nice.
2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. A blend from five vineyards. Medium ruby color, showing black cherry fruit, clove and other spices, and touches of earth and oak in the background. Smooth, round mouthfeel and long finish.
2007 Pinot Noir, Quail Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. From 14 different Pinot clones. Slightly darker color, similar character to the RRV bottling but with more intense fruit and a dash more oak that’s well-integrated into the package. More structure apparent in the mouth, with a bit more tannin on the finish, this should be a candidate for some cellar time.
Comments: A solid line-up of wines, with my favorite Rosé of the tasting and very good Pinots and Chard.

Mount Eden Vineyards
2007 Chardonnay, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains. Light color, minerally citrus aromas with touches of lees, spice, and pepper. Medium-bodied and fairly rich but not heavy on the palate, long finish, nice.
2008 Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-light ruby color, pretty floral aromas plus red fruits, earth, and spice. Mineral and more spice show up in the mouth, very lively with great structure, very nice.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-dark color, showing plum and darker fruits along with herb/tobacco notes. A leaner style of Cab as you’d expect from mountain fruit, with loads of structure and fairly grippy tannins.
Comments: A very strong trio of estate wines from Mount Eden.

2006 “Proprietary Red,” Napa Valley. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec, from three vineyards. Dark color, displaying bright plum and currant fruit with vanilla/oak notes along with a mineral streak, medium-bodied with good structure and moderate tannins.
2007 Merlot, Napa Valley. 89% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, from two vineyards. Medium-dark color, very spicy plum, black cherry, and smoke aromas, fairly rich mouthfeel with medium tannins.

Paloma Vineyard
2007 Merlot, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. About 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% new oak. Medium-dark color, ripe black cherry with floral and herbal notes, along with pepper, spice, and well-integrated oak, beautiful depth, balance, and structure, with refined tannins and a long, tasty finish, a beautiful Merlot.
Comments: Year after year, this is among the best California Merlots produced, always wonderfully complex and balanced.  Winery owner Barbara Richards and son Sheldon were behind the table, and it was certainly a treat to taste their wine.

Pisoni Vineyards & Winery
Lucia 2008 Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. Medium-dark color, ripe black cherry fruit and spice, very good SLH typicity, medium-bodied with very good acidity, lively finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Estate, Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. A bit darker color, darker and riper fruit profile, richer mouthfeel but still good balancing acidity, moderate tannins.

Roessler Cellars
2008 Chardonnay, “Big Bend,” Estate, Carneros. Light color, featuring lemon, spice, and lees aromas. Moderate richness in the mouth and a fairly smooth finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, “Blue Jay,” Anderson Valley. Sourced from Savoy and Hein vineyards. Medium-light color, with red fruits, spice, and forest floor. A lighter-style Pinot on the palate, with a touch of smoke on the finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, “Peregrine,” Sta. Rita Hills. Sourced from Clos Pepe and La Encantada vineyards. Medium ruby color, ripe plum and darker berry fruit on the nose, with a lively acidity in the mouth and clean, tasty finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Medium color, more spicy red fruit aromatics, bigger, richer mouthfeel with a hint of smoke on the finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills. Medium ruby color, slightly tart darker fruits with a touch of mineral character, lots of structure in the mouth with more tannins on the finish, nice.
2007 Pinot Noir, “Ridges,” Ollie & Hazel’s Block, Estate, Sonoma Coast. Medium ruby-purple color, displaying aromas of black cherry, pepper, and earth with an underlay of spicy oak. Great acidity on the palate combined with a rich texture, well balanced with a lively finish, very nice. Fine cool-climate character in this Pinot.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard / Quinta Cruz
2007 Pinot Noir, Branciforte Creek Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-light color, black cherry, earth/leather, and spice, with a mineral component and very good balance, bright and lively on the palate with a lingering finish, very nice.
2006 Bailey's Branciforte Ridge Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Medium-light color, higher-toned and riper red cherry, bigger and richer mouthfeel with more structure and a bigger tannic bite.
2007 Grenache, McDowell Valley Vineyard, Mendocino County. Medium-light color, strawberry and spice on the nose, lots of structure in the mouth with grippy tannins.
Quinta Cruz 2008 Graciano, Bokisch Vineyard, Mokelumne River. Medium purple color, bright berry fruit, a touch of earth, and a spicy note that came out more in the mouth. Bright and clean with medium-big tannins.
Quinta Cruz 2006 “Rabelo,” Pierce Ranch, San Antonio Valley. A Port-style wine made from traditional Portuguese varieties. Medium ruby color, dried fruits, pecans, and brown sugar on the nose, smooth mouthfeel with a long, sweet finish, nice.
Comments: For those who don’t care for oaky Pinot Noirs, the oak on these two was so restrained that it was almost undetectable. Winemaker Jeff Emery was also pouring wines from sister label Quinta Cruz, which focuses on wines from Iberian-variety grapes.

Siduri Wines
2008 Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. Medium-light color, bright ripe black cherry fruit with some spice notes. Smooth yet lively in the mouth, long finish. Very good SLH Pinot character.

Sol Rouge Vineyard
2007 Mourvèdre, Lake County. 100% Mourvèdre. Medium purple color, earthy plum aromas with some spice and herb notes, medium-bodied with restrained tannins on the finish, nice.
2006 “The Gypsy,” Lake County. 84% Grenache, 13% Mourvèdre, 3% Syrah & Petite Sirah. Medium color, bright cherry and raspberry on the nose along with lots of spice, medium weight and good acidity in the mouth with moderate tannins.
2007 Syrah, Lake County. From 877, 1, Alban, and Noir clones, 3% co-fermented Viognier. Medium purple color, bright aromatics of blueberry and blackberry with some earth and spice notes, fairly rich mouthfeel with good structure and a clean finish.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lake County. From vineyard sites up to 2,600 ft. elevation. Medium-dark color, herbal plum and currant aromas with some spice and oak in the background. A medium-weight Cab but with plenty of structure for aging.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Reserve,” Mayacamas Mountains. The fruit was sourced from about 50% each Lake and Napa Counties. Dark color, more intense dark fruits with less noticeable herbal aromas than the Lake County bottling, along with a bigger component of spicy oak. A richer texture on the palate along with grippier tannins that will take more time to resolve.
Comments: This label from VIE winemaker Bryan Kane features Lake County fruit. Nice line-up with the Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Reserve Cab being my favorites. (Disclosure – I did some work during the ’09 crush for Sol Rouge and VIE wineries).

Spring Mountain Vineyard
2005 “Elivette,” Estate, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot. Dark color, higher-toned cassis with earth, tobacco and oak notes. Good balance and structure, medium-rich mouthfeel with moderate tannins.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Dark color, more bold and ripe fruit along with spice, oak, and an intriguing streak of minerality, more full-bodied on the palate with a big, chewy tannic finish, nice.
2006 Syrah, Estate, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 100% Syrah. Very dark color, meaty blackberry aromas with smoke and vanilla/oak overtones, mouthfilling texture with very grippy tannins.

Stage Left Cellars
2008 “The Go Getter,” Central Coast. 63% Viognier, 32% Grenache Blanc, 5% Roussanne. Medium-light yellow color, distinctly floral Viognier aromatics along with citrus and stone fruit notes, medium-bodied with a long, tasty finish, nice.
2007 “The Go Getter,” Central Coast. 80% Viognier, 20% Roussanne. Medium-light color, with more subdued Viognier character on the nose but a more noticeable waxy Roussanne component. A bit more weight and less brightness in the mouth than the ’08 bottling.
2007 “The Scenic Route,” Del Rio Vineyard, Rogue Valley, Oregon. 100% Syrah, 25% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium-dark color, some pretty floral notes as well as spicy/stemmy whole-cluster aromas, along with plum and blueberry fruit. Medium-bodied with relatively mild tannins.
2006 Grenache, Nielson Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. 92% Grenache, 8% Mourvèdre. Medium-dark color, higher-toned red fruit with lots of cinnamon/spice and some earth/leather. Fairly lively on the palate with a grippy tannic finish.
2005 Grenache, Nielson Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. Blended with about 10% Mourvèdre. Medium-dark color, brighter and fresher fruit aromas than the ’06, with less of an earthy component, bigger and richer mouthfeel with medium-big tannins but a smoother finish.
2006 “The Breadwinner,” Central Coast. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah. Medium purple color, dark fruits, chocolate, and a touches of earth and pepper, big and dense in the mouth with chewy tannins.
2006 Petite Sirah, Russell Family Vineyard, Paso Robles. Very dark color, black fruits, chocolate, and spice, very rich yet lively mouthfeel with big tannins.
Comments: Stage Left is a fairly recent addition to the urban East Bay winery scene, with fruit sources mainly from the Central Coast.

Staglin Family Vineyard
Salus 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Dark color, showing ripe dark fruits, vanilla, and coffee, rich mouthfeel with some chewy tannins on the finish.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Rutherford, Napa Valley. Dark color, deeper fruit than the Salus, with mocha, spice, and vanilla/oak overtones, more full-bodied on the palate with big but refined tannins, nice.
Comments: A rare opportunity to taste the Staglin Estate Cabernet, one of Napa’s most highly-acclaimed.

Thomas George Estates
2009 Viognier, Catie’s Corner Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Light color, bright aromatics of slightly floral citrus fruit with a slight leesy note, light-medium texture on the palate and a lively, fresh finish.
2008 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. About 20% new oak, around 15% malolactic fermentation. Light gold color, with tropical fruit and spicy oak. Medium-bodied, with fairly good acidity and a pleasant finish.
2008 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Medium color, very aromatic and fruit-forward, showing spicy red fruits and some oak. Fairly basic and primary at this point though it may develop with some bottle age.
2008 Pinot Noir, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Medium ruby color, more complex nose with cherry, plum, cola, and spicy oak. More body and structure in the mouth with some more noticeable tannins on the finish, nice.

Truchard Vineyards
2008 Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley. Light yellow color, apple with citrus and spice notes, fairly rich mouthfeel but lively and well-balanced, long and tasty finish, very nice.
2007 Pinot Noir, Carneros, Napa Valley. Medium ruby color, somewhat high-toned red fruits with earthy undertones, lots of acidity and good structure, this should age well.
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Carneros, Napa Valley. Includes about 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. Medium-dark color, plum with tobacco/herb and smoke aromas, well-integrated oak, big and structured in the mouth with ample tannins.
2007 Zinfandel, Carneros, Napa Valley. Medium color, tart berry fruit with lots of white pepper, lively and intense on the palate, with a fairly grippy tannic finish.
Comments: The Truchard wines are all from estate-grown fruit, and they make one of the very few Carneros Zinfandels to be found. Although they were not pouring them at this event, I’ve tasted some very fine Roussanne, Syrah and Tempranillo from Truchard in recent months.

Valdez Family Winery
2008 Chardonnay, Silver Eagle Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Light color, bright apply fruit with spicy oak undertones, medium-bodied and smooth in the mouth, still seems quite young and could use a bit more bottle age.
2006 Pinot Noir, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Medium color, ripe black cherry and plum fruit with cola and spice notes. Fairly rich on the palate with bright acidity and good structure for aging, moderate tannins on the finish.
2007 Zinfandel, Landry Vineyard, Russian River Valley. Dark color, brambly fresh boysenberry and pepper on the nose, mouthfilling texture, lively acidity with a big tannic bite on the end.
2007 Zinfandel, Quinn Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. Dark color, riper and jammier fruit than the Landry Vineyard bottling, big and rich on the palate with very grippy tannins.
Comments: From noted grower Ulises Valdez and his family.

Westerhold Family Vineyards
2008 Syrah, Bennett Valley (barrel sample). This will be bottled soon. Very dark color, intense nose of blackberries, spice, and vanilla/oak, big and rich in the mouth but with plenty of balancing acidity. Lively finish with moderate tannins. 
2009 Syrah, Bennett Valley (barrel sample). Slightly lighter color, more primary blueberry/blackberry fruit that’s a bit less ripe than the ’08, less apparent oak, and more bright acidity on the palate. Quite promising, and should be interesting to see how this develops.
Comments: Made by Russell Bevan, the ’07 release of this wine was the winner of this year’s “Syrah Shootout” at Hospice du Rhône. As I’d tasted that very good ’07 recently at HdR, I decided just to taste the two barrel samples of upcoming releases.

[Additional Reviews & Journals from Ken Zinns]


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