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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.

Marin County Wine Celebration
7th Annual Tasting – June 11, 2011

Report on the 7th annual wine tasting presented by the Marin County Winegrowers Association, on Saturday, June 11th, 2011, at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur, California. The event is a benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and DG Educational Services, and focuses on wines from the Marin County AVA.

The Marin County Winegrowers Association promotes wines from the county, and supports cooperation among growers and wineries. It helps to raise awareness of Marin’s wine history as well as of its current wineries and wines.

The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) is a non-profit organization formed in 1980 by local ranchers and environmentalists, dedicated to preserving Marin farmlands for agricultural use. MALT works with landowners to acquire agricultural easements to prevent the spread of non-agricultural development on the area’s farmlands. MALT also works to support public policy that preserves agriculture in Marin. MALT conservation easements now total over 40,000 acres, on over 65 family farms and ranches, and this farmland produces some of the Bay Area’s best-known organic produce, dairy products, and wines.

DG Educational Services provides educational programs on nature and agriculture, both locally and around the world. The goal of their programs is to “develop the skills to produce food and to live sustainably while building an understanding of our interconnectivity with nature.”

Overall impressions:
The annual Marin wine tasting, organized by Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch, is an excellent opportunity to try many wines sourced from Marin County fruit.The wineries themselves were from a number of places, not just located in Marin, while the vineyards are in various parts of the county. Previous tastings have been solely for Marin Pinot Noir, and the name change of this year’s event – from “Pinot Noir Celebration” to “Wine Celebration” – highlights the tasting’s new inclusion of all wines from Marin. While the wines at the event were still predominantly Pinots, other wines being poured included Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Some Favorites

Bailiwick 2009 “Borderline” Pinot Noir
Couloir 2009 Chileno Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir
DeLoach 2009 Marin County Pinot Noir
Dutton-Goldfield 2009 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Kendric 2008 Marin County Pinot Noir
Pey-Marin 2010 “The Shell Mound” Riesling
Vision 2008 Chileno Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir

A total of 14 wineries poured at the tasting, held on the upper level of the old Escalle Winery building. It was built by Frenchman Jean Escalle in the late 19th Century, and once had 23 acres of vineyards on the adjacent hillside. Sadly, the winery did not survive Prohibition. The space features photos of historic Larkspur on many of the beautifully-carved wood paneled walls.

The old winery building continues to be a fine venue for this event, and fortunately the weather was cooler than last year’s scorcher, making the space much more comfortable throughout the afternoon. The attendance seemed roughly the same as last year, and the layout of the winery tables allowed plenty of space to circulate. The tables themselves were generously-sized, so there was not much problem with tasters crowding in front of them. A small but welcome improvement over last year was having larger dump buckets at the tables. Overall, the event was well-organized and ran smoothly.

As always, the food at the event was delicious and was all provided by artisan food purveyors from Marin County, including Dehasa foods, Point Reyes Vineyard Inn, Il Fornaio Bakery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and Cowgirl Creamery. The food included a country pâté of rabbit studded with pistachio nuts, served with local breads and cheeses. They were also grilling pork and rabbit sausages, venison with a plum sauce as well as venison with a dry spice rub (this was exceptional!). A chef who makes his own salumi dropped by with some samples of his bacon, coppa, and a couple of other products.

Al Osterheld made the rounds at the tasting early on, while I arrived toward the end of the event, having been tied up with another commitment that afternoon, so we each tasted separately on this occasion. Between us, I believe we tasted all but one of the wines being poured, though we both somehow missed the only sparkling wine of the event – a Blanc de Noir from Point Reyes Vineyard. Al was able to taste some wines that I did not have a chance to try later in the day, and his notes are designated with an “(AO)” at the end of the note. He also contributed some of the winery comments and other impressions of the event (especially of the food).

Some producers poured one or two of the same wines as last year, though all of them featured their latest releases. There were also a couple of older wines and some previews of upcoming releases. I’d tried wines from most of these producers at last year’s tasting, but there were also some promising newcomers to the event – Bailiwick, Couloir, and Easkoot all produced notable Pinot Noirs. I’ve found that Kendric, Pey-Marin, and Vision have been among the most consistent producers of Marin County wines over the past few years, and by and large, they continued that trend this year. A handful of other wines were just a notch below those listed as “Favorites,” including Pinots from Easkoot, Sean Thackrey, and Skywalker Ranch’s Viandante del Cielo label.

I thought the overall quality of wines at the event was very good, though there were a few that both Al and I felt showed some flaws. But aside from those exceptions, I felt that the standout wines of this year’s tasting were as good or better than those from the past couple of years. It was good to see some newer producers taking on Marin County fruit and looking at it from a fresh perspective. And some more established Marin producers like Kendric continue to experiment – using more whole-cluster fruit in fermentations, extended macerations, etc. – so there are always some new paths to explore with these wines.

Once again, the Pinot Noirs in particular from Marin distinguished themselves – bright red fruits, sometimes floral, and usually lighter in color and body than many from California. It’s an intriguing growing area that I think is deserving of greater attention, and the wines at this year’s Marin County Wine Celebration showcased both the best of the current releases as well as the promise of the future.

Selected Tasting Notes

Bailiwick Wines

Bailiwick 2009 “Borderline” Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium ruby color, aromas of black cherry and raspberry, earth, tea leaf, and spice. Medium-bodied, with very nice texture and structure, and some tannic grip on the finish. Tasty now and has the stuffing to age well, nice.

Bailiwick 2010 “Borderline” Pinot Noir, Marin County (barrel sample). A bit darker color than the ’09, not surprisingly this was more primary, with red fruits and some spice dominating the nose. Though it doesn’t yet have quite the interest or depth of the bottled ’09 wine, it shares a similar structure in the mouth, and looks to have a promising future.

Comments: The ’09 is the first release from brothers Bryan and Paul Vais, and it’s a good start for them. The fruit for both vintages was sourced from Chileno Valley and Kendric Vineyards.

Burning Bench Cellars

Burning Bench 2006 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard, Marin County. Lighter color, with earthy cherry and some spice on the nose, and perhaps a bit of elevated acidity. Fairly straightforward, but with grippy tannins on the finish.

Burning Bench 2007 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard, Marin County. Medium garnet color, this showed riper, high-toned aromas of tangy black cherry, plum, vanilla, and hints of dill. Fairly full-bodied, this finished with some surprisingly big tannins.

Burning Bench 2008 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard, Marin County. Medium color, with a funky barnyard note along with tart cherry and lots of spice. Another bigger-bodied Pinot, this one also had a noticeable tannic bite on the finish.

Comments: The fruit from Moon Hill Vineyard formerly went into the bottlings from Brookside Cellars.

Couloir Wines

Couloir 2009 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. About 33% whole-cluster fermentation, 50% new French oak. Lighter color, with pretty floral aromatics along with black cherry and raspberry, herbs, and touches of spice and oak. Some mildly green notes from the whole cluster should disappear with some bottle age. Very nice texture on the palate, with good structure and a long and lively finish, nice.

Comments: A newcomer to the Marin tasting, Jon Grant’s Couloir Pinot was one of the standouts of the event.

DeLoach Vineyards

DeLoach 2009 Chardonnay, Stubbs Vineyard, Marin County. Aged in about 40% new French oak. Light yellow color, displaying somewhat shy aromas of pear and citrus, lees, spice, and vanilla/oak. Moderately rich mouthfeel with a smooth finish.

DeLoach 2009 Pinot Noir, Stubbs Vineyard, Marin County.
Medium-light ruby color, very spicy red fruits on the nose, with some dried herb and oak undertones. Medium-bodied, the finishing tannins were a bit rough and could use some time to smooth out.

DeLoach 2009 Pinot Noir, Marin County.
Sourced from Stubbs, Corda, Skyview, and Azaya Vineyards. Medium-light color, this featured plum, black cherry, spice, and earth aromas, framed with some well-integrated sweet oak. Medium-bodied and lively in the mouth, this had a smoother and longer finish than the Stubbs bottling, nice.

DeLoach 2009 Pinot Noir, Skyview Vineyard, Marin County.
A bit darker color than the first two Pinots, this had bigger spice and earth components as well as raspberry and plum fruit, supported by a dash of vanilla/oak. Richer texture on the palate with moderate tannins on the finish.

: Made by Dan Goldfield, the DeLoach wines were all good, with the Pinot blended from multiple vineyard sources being my favorite.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery

Dutton-Goldfield 2008 Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County. Medium color, with bright and somewhat minerally cherry, spice, and mild touches of earth and leather on the nose. Medium-bodied, with very lively acidity in the mouth, and a mild tannic bite on the finish.

Dutton-Goldfield 2009 Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County.
A preview of this wine, to be released this fall. Medium ruby color, with more forward strawberry and cherry fruit than the ’08, along with spice, dried herb, and undertones of sweet oak. Another middleweight Pinot, this showed very good structure. Though clearly a youngster, this seemed to have all the parts in place to develop very nicely.

: Dutton-Goldfield and Sean Thackrey are the only wineries to get Pinot Noir fruit from Mark Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch Vineyard. Both wines were good, but I thought the ’09 may turn out to be the better of the two given some time in the cellar.

Easkoot Cellars

Easkoot 2009 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Sourced from Corda Vineyard. Lighter color, floral cranberry and cherry fruit, herbs, and a hint of oak on the nose, medium-light bodied on the palate with good acidity and a little tannic bite on the finish.

Comments: “Corda” and “Chileno Valley” seem to be interchangeable names for the same vineyard. Nice first release for this producer. Easkoot owners Stephan Schindler and Emily Schindler Weissman also own Winemonger, an import business. (Disclosure – I helped bottle this wine).

Kendric Vineyards

Kendric 2007 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium-light color, showing black cherry, raspberry, spice, and a touch of sweet oak. Medium-bodied and round in the mouth, a bit bigger than most Kendric Pinots have tended to be, but still with good acidity and balance.

Kendric 2008 Pinot Noir, Marin County.
A preview of this wine, to be released late this year. About 75% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium-light color, a touch lighter than the ’07, with very pretty floral notes leading to cherry, earth, and spice components, and not overtly stemmy given the amount of whole cluster inclusion. A bit lighter and livelier on the palate than the ’07, with nice structure and a tasty finish, very nice.

Kendric 2009 Pinot Noir, Marin County (barrel sample).
A bit tight, red cherry and raspberry fruit, showing more tannins than the other vintages, a nicely balanced wine that needs a year or two to come together. (AO)

Kendric 2010 Pinot Noir, Marin County (barrel sample).
Pressed after two weeks on the skins, deeply colored with forward nose of primary cherry and blueberry fruit, very fruit-driven at present, with crisp acidity. (AO)

Kendric 2010 Pinot Noir, Marin County (extended maceration barrel sample).
Spent roughly 5 weeks on the skins, red fruit, less primary and precocious but more layered than the other 2010 barrel sample, with a broader mid-palate, finished with slightly elevated acidity. (AO)

: Stewart Johnson was once again on hand to pour his wines, all made from estate fruit. He is currently moving his winemaking operations to a facility on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, where he may open a tasting room in the future. Stewart mentioned that as he learns what works well with his fruit, he’s moving to higher percentages of whole cluster and longer macerations.

Pacheco Ranch Winery

Pacheco Ranch 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Marin County. Medium-dark color, with herbal blueberry and currant aromas plus earth and spice. Medium-bodied and lively, it finished with moderate tannins.

Pacheco Ranch 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Marin County.
Medium-dark purple, this opened with a touch of funk, but it blew off to reveal brighter and spicier plum and red fruits and less of an herbal component than the ’04. A bit lighter-bodied than the ’04, with a vibrant mouthfeel and refined tannins.

Pacheco Ranch 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Marin County.
A preview of this wine to be released later this year. Medium-dark color, displaying a darker fruit profile, dried herbs and tobacco, and earth. Medium-full bodied, it showed good depth and a slightly chalky texture, finishing with bigger tannins.

: The oldest winery in Marin, started in 1973, Pacheco Ranch specializes in estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are aged three years in barrel and another two in bottle before release. A nice trio of wines, a bit rustic and in a lighter style than most California Cabs.

Pey-Marin Vineyards

Pey-Marin 2010 “The Shell Mound” Riesling, Marin County. A dry Riesling made entirely in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation. Very light straw color, with floral aromas up front, followed by white peach, citrus, minerals, and lees. Vibrant and textured on the palate, this had a long, crisp finish, very nice.

Pey-Marin 2008 “Trois Filles” Pinot Noir, Marin County.
Sourced from two West Marin vineyards, aged in about 35% new French oak. Medium-light color, this showed red fruits, spice, and a touch of smoke on the nose. Medium weight with good acidity in the mouth, finishing with some lingering smoky notes and enough tannic grip to recommend some bottle age to smooth it out. 

: Pey-Marin’s Riesling continues to be one of the most distinctive and best in California.

Point Reyes Vineyards

Point Reyes 2007 Pinot Noir, Estate, Marin County. High-toned nose of red cherry and raspberry, earthy with a touch of dill. (AO)

Point Reyes 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Quail Hill Vineyard, Marin County
. From an estate vineyard in Terra Linda planted in the 1960s, somewhat funky nose of green pepper and currants, herbaceous, with some cedar notes on finish. (AO)

: Point Reyes’ estate Pinot vineyard is probably the westernmost in Marin, less than a mile from the shore of Tomales Bay.

Sean Thackrey

Sean Thackrey 2008 “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County. Medium color, showing leathery/funky notes in the foreground along with raspberry, herb, and earth aromas. Moderately rich in the mouth with good acidity, this had mild tannins on the fairly smooth finish.

Sean Thackrey 2006 “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County.
Medium garnet color, this displayed brighter red fruits along with spice, dried herb, earth, and mineral notes. More structured than the ’08, this had a tasty finish with a bigger tannic grip. This looks to be developing nicely in the bottle.

: Sean Thackrey’s Pinots are always quite distinctive, and the ’06 bottling has been a favorite.

Skywalker Vineyards

Viandante del Cielo 2010 Pinot Noir Rosé, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County. Light pink-salmon color, fresh watermelon aromas with a touch of herbs. Moderate acidity with a smooth finish. Pleasant but fairly straightforward Rosé.

Skywalker 2008 Chardonnay, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County.
Barrel-fermented in about 30% new French oak. Very light yellow-gold color, showing apple and pear fruit along with spices, a buttery note, and a well-integrated oak component. Medium-full bodied with a smooth finish.

Viandante del Cielo 2009 Pinot Noir, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County.
Medium color, with strong floral, strawberry, and cherry aromatics, along with touches of earth and baking spices. Lighter-bodied, with lively acidity and very mild tannins, quite tasty.

Skywalker 2009 Pinot Noir, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County.
Slightly darker color, displaying deeper fruit, more spice, and more oak on the nose. Richer and more textured on the palate, this also finished with some firm tannins. Probably the “biggest” Pinot of the event, it seemed quite young and tightly-wound, and in need of some cellar age to show its best.

: The Viandante del Cielo (essentially Skywalker in Italian) label is for the more basic wines from Skywalker Ranch, while the reserve wines are bottled under the Skywalker label. The two ’09 Pinots were strikingly different, with the Viandante del Cielo being in a more “feminine” style and the Skywalker more bold and “masculine.”

Vision Cellars

Vision 2006 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. Well-developed nose of dark cherry, blueberry, and forest floor, somewhat large-framed with nice secondary development. (AO)

Vision 2008 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County.
Medium garnet color, with bright but slightly tart cherry fruit, earth, baking spices, and an interesting savory, grilled meat component. Medium-light bodied and lively on the palate, this showed very good structure and should reward some bottle age, nice.

: Vision’s Mac McDonald was on hand to pour his wines, in his trademark overalls and straw hat. Mac has had a significant role in putting Marin Pinot Noir on the map, and he continues to produce one of the best.

Willowbrook Cellars

Willowbrook 2009 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. Medium-light color, spicy and earthy red fruits, and oak aromas. Medium-bodied, with good acidity and a lingering finish.

Willowbrook 2008 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County.
Medium-light color, more fruit forward than the ’09, with plum and raspberry, along with touches of dried herbs and spicy oak. Bright mouthfeel with some mild tannins.

Comments: Willowbrook uses both French and Polish oak for aging their Pinots.



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