Home | Wine Reviews | Wine Journals | Updates

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
9th Annual Tasting – May 11, 2013

Report on the 9th annual wine tasting presented by the Marin County Winegrowers Association, on Saturday, May 11th, 2013, 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 45,000 acres on over 70 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 a unique opportunity to try so many wines sourced from Marin County vineyards. The wineries themselves were from a number of places, not just located in Marin, while the vineyards are in various parts of the county. Up until a couple of years ago, these tastings were solely for Marin Pinot Noir, but now all wines from Marin are welcome at the event. While the wines remain predominantly Pinots, other wines being poured included Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Noir Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Another wine – not poured at the event and to be released later this year – will be a blend that includes Syrah, Montepulciano, and other red varieties.

A total of 15 wineries poured at this year’s 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.

Some Favorites

Whites and Rosés

DeLoach 2011 Stubbs Vineyard Chardonnay
Kendric 2012 Marin County Viognier
Pey-Marin 2012 “The Shell Mound” Riesling
Viandante del Cielo 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir (Skywalker)


Bailiwick 2009 “Borderline” Pinot Noir
Couloir 2009 Chileno Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir
DeLoach 2010 Marin County Pinot Noir
Dutton-Goldfield 2010 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir
Kendric 2008 Marin County Pinot Noir
Pacheco Ranch 2007 Estate “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon
Pey-Marin 2010 “Trois Filles” Pinot Noir
Point Reyes 2005 Chileno Valley Vineyard Merlot
Skywalker 2010 Skywalker Ranch Pinot Noir

The old winery building continues to be a fine venue for this event. Although the space can become uncomfortably warm when the weather is hot, the temperature during this year’s event was moderate, so it was pleasant inside the room. The event includes a trade/media tasting followed by a longer public tasting, and as I had another engagement that afternoon, I had to leave just as the public portion of the event was getting underway, so I couldn’t tell how the overall attendance was compared with previous years. But as always, the layout of the winery tables inside the space allowed plenty of room to circulate. Many wineries pour at the same spots in the room every year, so it was easy to find everyone. The event ran very smoothly once again this year.

Since I was a bit rushed this year, I didn’t have much time to partake of the wonderful food that’s always a big part of this event. The food was provided by artisan food purveyors from Marin County, including Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Dehesa Foods Artisan Sausage & Charcuterie, and Point Reyes Vineyard Inn. The big, ripe strawberries were a hit, as were the tasty pork and rabbit sausages being grilled outside.

I made the rounds of the winery tables, and I believe I tasted just about all of the wines being poured (I may have missed one or two). As I’ve found in past years, there were some wines that were the same ones poured at previous tastings, though fewer than was the case last year. In large part, I think there are a fair number of repeat wines because there are so few wines made from Marin County fruit, and producers often bring out an older vintage or two so they have more of their wines to pour for tasters. Most of the current-release wines were from the 2010-2011 vintages for Pinots, 2005-2007 for Bordeaux varieties, and 2011-2012 for the few whites and Rosés. In general I thought the 2010 Marin Pinots on display showed very well, while many of the 2011s (and a couple of the 2010s) seemed like they will need more time in bottle to show their best. The whites and Rosés were strong across the board – I’d like to see more of them coming from Marin in the future.

Overall, this was the strongest line-up of wines yet at the Marin County Wine Celebration. Some of the wines I haven’t cared for as much in past years were not being poured at this year’s tasting, while three newcomers to the event – Department C, McEvoy Ranch, and West Wind – proved to be solid additions to the group of producers there. Bailiwick, Couloir, DeLoach, Dutton-Goldfield, Kendric, Pacheco Ranch, Pey-Marin, and Skywalker all poured particularly fine wines, as reflected on the list of my favorites at the tasting. There were a handful of other wines that nearly made the Favorites list, and as noted above, some of the newest Pinot Noirs showed promise but really need more bottle age – these included the 2010 Kendric and 2011s from Bailiwick, Couloir, Department C, and Easkoot.

The Marin County Wine Celebration keeps getting better each year. Marin, with its very cool climate for most vineyard sites, produces fruit that translates into lighter-style wines with great acidity. Pinot Noir has led the way for wines made from Marin County fruit, but it was clear from this most recent tasting that other grape varieties hold promise there as well. Though it’s a tiny growing region in comparison to neighboring Sonoma, Marin shows the potential to approach or even match the high quality of wines from the cooler parts of the Sonoma Coast area. The Marin County Wine Celebration continues to showcase the steady progress that these wines are making, and it’s an event that fans of cool-climate California wines should not miss.

Selected Tasting Notes

Bailiwick Wines

Bailiwick 2009 “Borderline” Pinot Noir, Marin County. From mostly Swan, Pommard, and Dijon clones, about 44% new oak. Medium-light color, with ripe red fruits, tea leaf, and earth on the nose. Medium-light bodied, this had a lively and slightly minerally mouthfeel with milder tannins on the finish, nice.

Bailiwick 2010 Pinot Noir, “Borderline,” Marin County. From 115 and 777 clones, 50% new oak. Medium-light color, this featured raspberry and black cherry fruit, a touch of black pepper, earth, and vanilla/oak aromas. Fairly bright mouthfeel but with a slightly richer texture and finish than the 2009.

Bailiwick 2011 “Borderline” Pinot Noir, Marin County. From 667 clone from Chileno Valley and 777 from Kendric vineyards, about 20% whole cluster with a 28-day maceration. Medium-light color, less fruit-forward than the first two wines, with cherry and raspberry fruit, spice and earth notes, and a dash of sweet oak. Bright and lively on the palate, with good structure and a moderately tannic finish. This still needs time to come together but shows promise.

Comments: The fruit for the 2009 and 2011 vintages was sourced from both Chileno Valley and Kendric Vineyards, while the 2010 came solely from Kendric Vineyard. The 2009 was the first release from brothers Bryan and Paul Vais, who also make several nice Pinots from other appellations. The 2011 Marin Pinot will be released later this year.

Burning Bench Cellars

Burning Bench 2009 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard, Marin County. 100% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium color, with slightly high-toned ripe raspberry, tea leaf, earth, and spice aromas. Big and structured, with a chewy tannic finish.

Burning Bench 2010 Pinot Noir, Moon Hill Vineyard, Marin County. About 30% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium ruby color, this showed more vanilla/oak on the nose, along with red fruits, dried herbs and forest floor notes. Medium-bodied, with a smoother texture and moderate tannins.

Comments: The fruit from the estate Moon Hill Vineyard, planted about ten years ago with 115, 667, 777, and 828 Pinot clones, formerly went into the bottlings from Brookside Cellars. The vineyard is located in the hills between San Geronimo and Nicasio. I’ve found the Burning Bench wines to be a noticeable step up from the old Brookside Cellars ones.

Couloir Wines

Couloir 2009 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. About 33% whole-cluster fermentation, 50% new French oak. Medium-light color, with strawberry and cherry fruit, tea leaf, earth, and a savory streak. Medium-light weight on the palate and quite lively, with moderate tannins. The whole-cluster component of this wine has been integrating nicely since the last time I tasted it.

Couloir 2011 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. 50% whole-cluster fermentation, 50% new French oak. Vibrant ruby color, this showed brighter fruit than the 2009, along with spice, dried herbs, black pepper, and undertones of sweet oak. Somewhat bigger mouthfeel than the previous wine, with good structure and a grippier finish. A few years in the cellar will help to bring all the parts of this promising young wine together.

Comments: Jon Grant’s Couloir wines continue to be solid, and their fairly intense whole-cluster style sets them apart from most Marin Pinots.The 2009 Pinot was a limited library release.

DeLoach Vineyards

DeLoach 2011 Chardonnay, Stubbs Vineyard, Marin County. From Chardonnay clones 4 and 76. Light straw color, with pear, earth, spice, and a touch of vanilla on the nose. Medium-light weight with great acidity and a long, lively finish, nice.

DeLoach 2010 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Sourced from Stubbs, Azaya, Chileno Valley, and one additional vineyard, aged in 33% new French oak. Medium-light garnet color, showing herbs, earth, plus strawberry and rhubarb and undertones of sweet oak. Medium-bodied with a bright texture and good structure, this had refined tannins and a long finish, nice.

Comments: Dan Goldfield has been working with DeLoach to make their Marin County wines. This was the strongest showing yet for the Marin wines from DeLoach – both were standouts.

Department C Wines

Department C 2011 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. From 115 clone, aged in 25% new oak. Medium-light color, showing a big herb/stem component along with red fruits, spice, and a slight floral note on the nose. Medium-bodied with a relatively smooth texture and moderately grippy tannins on the finish. This needs time to develop but has potential.

Comments: Winery manager Ian Bunje was on hand to pour the Department C Pinot. Stephen Silva is the winemaker.


Dutton-Goldfield Winery

Dutton-Goldfield 2010 Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County. Aged in 45% new French oak. Medium color, with tea leaf, strawberry, spice, along with some floral notes and a dash of background oak. Medium-light bodied with vibrant acidity and refined tannins on the long finish, nice. 

Comments: Last year Dutton-Goldfield poured a 2011 Riesling from Chileno Valley Vineyard, but they were not able to get that fruit in 2012. Dan Goldfield’s Pinots from Devil’s Gulch Ranch have helped put Marin County wines on the map, and his 2010 bottling may be the strongest vintage I’ve tasted yet.

Easkoot Cellars

Easkoot 2011 Pinot Noir, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. From three Pinot clones, made with about 20% whole-cluster fermentation and aged in 20% new French oak. Medium-light color, with strawberry, tea leaf, earth, and mildly floral notes. Bright and minerally on the palate, with a moderately grippy finish. This still needs time but is a promising youngster.

Comments: The fruit in 2011 was sourced partially from the older vineyard block at Chileno Valley Vineyard. Easkoot owners Stephan Schindler and Emily Schindler Weissman also own Winemonger, an import business. The 2009 vintage was the first release of Marin Pinot from Easkoot.

Kendric Vineyards

Kendric 2012 Viognier, Marin County. Made entirely in stainless steel. Very light color, displaying peach and apricot aromas with undertones of flowers and herbs. Mildly creamy texture along with good acidity and a long, lively finish, nice.

Kendric 2010 Pinot Noir, Marin County. About 67% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium-light garnet color, this showed ripe strawberry fruit, a savory/herbal component, along with slightly floral notes and a touch of vanilla/oak. Medium-bodied with good structure, this had a slightly grippy finish. This will need a couple of years to show its best but should develop nicely.

Kendric 2009 Pinot Noir, Marin County. About 65% whole-cluster fermentation. Slightly darker color, with slightly higher-toned red fruits, earth, and some sweet oak notes. Bright and well-structured in the mouth, with moderate tannins on the finish. I’ve liked this wine better on other occasions when I’ve tasted it, so it may just be in one of those phases that young Pinots often go through.

Kendric 2008 Pinot Noir, Marin County. About 75% whole-cluster fermentation. Medium-light color, this featured a less fruit-forward and more savory character, with tea leaf, minerals, and spice along with cherry fruit. Very lively mouthfeel with moderate tannins and a long finish, nice.

Kendric 2005 Pinot Noir, Marin County. Medium color, riper red fruit aromas along with earth and baking spices. Richer on the palate with a somewhat smoother finish.

Comments: Stewart Johnson’s estate vineyard, on the northern edge of Marin, is planted mostly to seven clones of Pinot Noir. In recent vintages, Stewart has worked with more whole-cluster fermentations and longer macerations. He always brings some older vintages of his Pinot to compare with the current release. The new Kendric Viognier, bottled shortly before the tasting, is the first of that variety released from Marin. The fruit came from a small part of the vineyard grafted to Viognier in 2011.

McEvoy Ranch Winery

McEvoy Ranch 2010 Pinot Noir, “Evening Standard,” Estate, Marin County. Medium ruby color, this had lots of bright raspberry fruit, dried herbs, and a touch of vanilla/oak. Lively mouthfeel with moderate but refined tannins.

McEvoy Ranch 2007 Pinot Noir, North Coast. Medium color, with a darker and earthier character than the 2010 release. More texture and body on the palate, this was a bit rougher on the finish.

Comments: Long-known for their fine olive oil, McEvoy Ranch planted seven acres of their land in 2006 with Pinot Noir, Syrah, Montepulciano, Grenache, Viognier, Alicante Bouschet, and Refosco. The 2010 “Evening Standard” Pinot will be their first release, with two more (“Red Piano” red blend and “Rosebud” Pinot Rosé) coming soon. They also poured a non-commercial Pinot from 2007 (sourced from several vineyards including Kendric). Margaret Koski-Kent heads up the winemaking team at McEvoy Ranch and was on hand to pour their Pinot.

Pacheco Ranch Winery

Pacheco Ranch 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Marin County. Medium purple color, featuring upfront olive and herb aromas, with currant and plum fruit, and hints of black pepper and spice. Medium weight in the mouth with plenty of structure, this finished with fairly big but refined tannins, nice.

Pacheco Ranch 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Marin County. Slightly lighter color, this had more earth and spice character with fruit taking a supporting role. Lively mouthfeel with a grippy tannic finish.

Pacheco Ranch 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Reserve,” Estate, Marin County. Sourced from specific vineyard blocks, aged 18 months in 50% each French and American oak. More fruit-forward, with more spice and vanilla/oak notes. Richer mouthfeel than the regular 2006 bottling but with lively acidity and more refined tannins.

Pacheco Ranch 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Reserve,” Estate, Marin County. Aged 20 months in new and second-year barrels. Slightly lighter color, this displayed more subtle plum and currant fruit along with black pepper, spice, and a better-integrated oak component. Medium-bodied and nicely-balanced with good structure and moderate tannins, nice.

Comments: Founded in 1973, Pacheco Ranch is the oldest winery in Marin. They’re located in the warmer eastern side of the county near Novato, and specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon from their dry-farmed estate vineyard. The wines are aged three years in barrel and another two in bottle – the 2007 is their latest release. The Cabs are a bit rustic and in a lighter style than most from California.

Pey-Marin Vineyards

Pey-Marin 2012 “The Shell Mound” Riesling, Marin County. A dry Riesling cold-fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation. Very light color, displaying stone fruit and citrus, spice, and lees aromas. Medium-bodied with bright acidity and a long, clean finish, nice.

Pey-Marin 2010 “Trois Filles” Pinot Noir, Marin County. Aged in 25% new French oak. Medium ruby color, with a big herb/tea leaf component, black cherry fruit, spice, and a backdrop of sweet oak. Medium-light weight in the mouth with a minerally feel and a lively finish, nice.

Comments: Pey-Marin’s Riesling has consistently been a favorite, a very fine and distinctive California Riesling that’s as dry as they come. Their Marin Pinot is not always sourced from the same vineyards, and the 2010 fruit came from three West Marin locations, using a number of Dijon clones and California “heritage” selections. Both Pey-Marin wines showed particularly well at this tasting.

Point Reyes Vineyards

Point Reyes 2005 Merlot, Chileno Valley Vineyard, Marin County. Medium purple color, this had reserved aromas that opened up after a couple of minutes in the glass, showing black cherry and plum fruit, black olive, earth, and herb notes. Medium-bodied and fairly lively on the palate, with moderately grippy tannins, nice.

Point Reyes 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, Quail Hill Vineyard, Marin County. Medium-dark color, this featured brighter fruit, earth, spice, and a touch of black pepper on the nose. Medium weight in the mouth, with fairly chewy tannins.

Point Reyes 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Quail Hill Vineyard, Marin County. Slightly darker purple color, displaying riper currant and plum fruit, spice, and vanilla/oak. Richer mouthfeel and more structured, this had a grippy tannic finish.

Comments: Point Reyes’ estate Pinot vineyard is less than a mile from the shore of Tomales Bay, while their Quail Hill Vineyard near Terra Linda in the eastern part of Marin was planted in the 1960s. The Merlot vines from cool-climate Chileno Valley Vineyard were grafted over to Pinot Noir after the 2006 vintage, so the Point Reyes bottling is one of the last ones made from that fruit.

Sean Thackrey

Sean Thackrey 2008 “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Ranch, Marin County. From Dijon and Martini clones, about 25-30% new oak. Medium color, with earth and leather notes upfront, along with plum and spice aromas. Medium-bodied, this had a fairly lively texture with moderate tannins on the finish.

Comments: Sean Thackrey and Dutton-Goldfield are the only wineries to make Pinot Noir from Mark Pasternak’s Devil’s Gulch Vineyard.

Skywalker Vineyards

Viandante del Cielo 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County. From 23 and 828 clones. Medium-light pink color, this displayed bright red fruits and herbs along with a slight floral note on the nose. Vibrant mouthfeel and a clean, refreshing finish, nice.

Viandante del Cielo 2010 Pinot Noir, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County. From clones 115, 667, 777, and 828, aged in 30% new oak. Medium color, showing black cherry and plum fruit, lots of spice, and a touch of vanilla/oak. Medium weight on the palate, this had milder tannins and a pleasant finish.

Skywalker 2010 Pinot Noir, Skywalker Ranch, Marin County. From clones 115, 667, 777, and 828, aged in 30% new oak. Slightly darker ruby color, featuring ripe black cherry, spice, earth, and sweet oak aromas. Richer mouthfeel with good structure and a moderately tannic finish. A bolder style than most Marin Pinots but nicely-made.

Comments: Beginning in 2003, 26 acres of estate Chardonnay & Pinot Noir vines were planted in the hills just west of Nicasio. 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. Scott McLeod is the winemaker.Skywalker Ranch also now produces olive oil.

West Wind Wines

West Wind 2006 Cabernet Franc, Marin County. Medium color, with aromas of fresh herbs, earth, baking spice, and plummy fruit. Lighter-bodied, with milder tannins.

West Wind 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Marin County. Medium purple color, this was more fruit-forward, showing plum and currant fruit, spice, a touch of black pepper, and undertones of vanilla/oak. Nicely-balanced in a lighter style, this had more structure and tannin than the Cab Franc.

Comments: The winery and estate vineyard are in the Nicasio area, quite a cool-climate area for Bordeaux grape varieties. West Wind has a wine cave, the first constructed in Marin County. 100% of the winery profits are donated to Gilead House, a transitional home for single mothers in Marin. West Wind produces a small amount of olive oil in addition to their wine.


Home | Wine Reviews | Wine Journals | Updates

Copyright © 1993 - 2013, Ken Zinns - All rights reserved
No original material may be reproduced without written consent
Mail & Comments
- Grape-Nutz
Updated 5.27.13