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.

Brumaire – Third Annual Grand Tasting
March 11, 2018

Report on the Third Brumaire Grand Tasting, held on Sunday March 11th, 2018, at Starline Social Club in Oakland. The event showcases natural wines, mostly from the United States and Europe.

The Brumaire event is organized by Bradford Taylor of the Oakland wine shop / wine bar Ordinaire, along with Josh Eubank, Matt Coelho and Quinn Kimsey-White. Brumaire presents one of the largest showings of natural wines on the West Coast each year, and the ticket price of only $25 – unheard of these days for a wine tasting event such as this one – meant that it was sold out well in advance.

General Impressions

Once again this year, the event organizers did a fine job of attracting a good cross-section of producers to Brumaire, and having the winemaker (rather than an importer or other representative) behind the table at the tasting was a big plus. There were over 50 wineries pouring this year, an increase from last year and well over double the number from the first Brumaire tasting in 2016 – clearly interest in this event is growing! One of the things I enjoy the most about Brumaire is that it attracts lots of vintners from other countries. For the first time this year, there were several producers from Georgia pouring their wines, joining a number from France and Spain, as well as from Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Mexico. And the US producers were not just from California – there were some based in Oregon, Vermont, and Utah as well. I was a little disappointed that some past favorites were not pouring this year, but I got the sense that the Brumaire organizers want to keep it fresh by bringing in new producers each year, even if that means leaving out some familiar faces due to the limited space available.

The Starline Social Club once again proved to be a fine venue for the event – the only real issue with the space is that it does tend to get hot later in the afternoon with the large crowd during the tasting. As was the case last year, some producers poured in a smaller downstairs room while most were in the main upstairs space. Food was available for purchase this year, and although I didn’t take advantage of that myself, it certainly looked good.

Although there is no strict definition of what constitutes “natural” wine, there were a few basic requirements for the wines poured for Brumaire. Farming of the vines had to be organic at minimum – essentially limited to organic and biodynamic farming, though not necessarily certified as such. It was also required that all wines have no additions – generally understood to include yeast, malolactic bacteria, acid, water, enzymes, nutrients, etc. – except for sulfites. These criteria are fairly standard for natural wines, and increasingly so for many smaller “minimal intervention” producers who are not usually grouped into the natural category. What set the wines presented at Brumaire apart – even from many other natural wines – was the tight limit of total SO2 in the wines, 20ppm for reds and 30ppm for whites. These are very low numbers, so the wines at Brumaire went beyond many natural wines on the market in having very little or no added SO2. For this reason, this tasting showcases some of the edgier natural wines out there – many natural wines, including some from producers who poured at Brumaire, aren't as low in SO2.

I've noted before that tasting natural wines can require a bit of recalibrating one's palate if these are not the types of wines that you're used to tasting. There can be aromas and flavors that you don’t find too often in more conventional wines. They won’t be to everyone’s liking, and producers of natural wine understand this. While there were some wines at Brumaire that I felt showed unpleasant levels of brettanomyces by-products or had other issues, in many cases if there was some funkiness, I thought it was an interesting funk that contributed in a positive way to the wine. Despite what some critics of these wines may imply, it’s definitely not a given that natural wines are bretty or overly funky – and in any case I’ve had more than my share of more conventionally-produced wines that were unpleasantly bretty or funky as well. Natural wines can achieve some very impressive highs but they can also risk some lower lows – by design these wines will not have the consistency seen from many more conventional vintners.

With so many producers pouring this year, it was not possible to taste at all of the tables, but I did make it to 25 of them. There were others I would have liked to check out but in some cases, their tables were so continually jam-packed that I couldn’t get close, and in a couple of others, the producers’ wines were already poured out by the time I got to their tables. And even with the generous five hours of the event, I just ran out of time to taste everything I’d hoped to. As I’ve done before, I tried to get a sampling from wineries I was already familiar with as well as those that were new to me. In the interest of time, I didn’t taste every wine at every table I visited, but I felt that I got a fairly good sense of each producer’s offerings and style. Many of the wines poured at Brumaire underwent relatively short aging prior to bottling, so a large percentage of them were from the 2016 and 2017 vintages. And with so little SO2 in these wines, most of them may be best consumed sooner rather than later although there certainly will be exceptions to that.

As with last year’s tasting, I found something to like at nearly all of the producers’ tables that I visited, and as I found last year, the overall quality of wine was quite good, though some producers were more hit-and-miss than others. There were quite a few producers whose wines I had little or no experience with previously, and many of these were among my favorites, including Andi Knauss, Domaine du Haut-Planty, Frank Cornelissen, Frenchtown Farms, Iago Bitarishvili, Matassa, Pheasant’s Tears, and Tiago Teles. In addition, nearly all of the producers I’ve found to be favorites in the past delivered the goods once again this year. The highlight wines listed below are by no means the only wines I tasted, but they were my favorites of the event.

Diversity is a big part of natural wines. Critics sometimes try to lump them all into one homogeneous category, but the Brumaire tasting demonstrated again how misguided that view is. There was a great variation in styles and in winemaking techniques on display. I’ve noted before that making good wine with little to no added sulfur is not easy, and although not all the wines I tasted were successful in my view, overall they were a testament to the skill of the vintners who poured at Brumaire. These wines are still a relatively small niche market in the overall wine world, but they certainly have their place. Not all wine consumers have easy access to some of these wines, but if you can find them, it’s well worth checking them out, particularly as many of them are not that expensive. I really enjoyed the many distinctive wines at the Third Brumaire, and I’m excited about returning again next year – it’s become one of the most fun and interesting annual tastings in the Bay Area.

Selected Tasting Impressions

Andi Knauss

This was the lone producer from Germany at Brumaire, from the Württemberg region in the southern part of the country. Several reds were standouts, in particular the 2016 Trollinger – the grape variety known as Schiava in northern Italy – this was a bright and juicy lighter-bodied red with a savory touch and mild tannins. Both the 2016 Lemberger and 2016 Zweigelt were noteworthy as well – more intense, spicy, and with grippier tannic finishes yet still bright and fresh.

Bichi Wines

The wines from Baja California’s Bichi label have been a little hit-and-miss for me the past couple of years, but I did enjoy their refreshing 2016 “Pét Mex” pét-nat – vintner Noel Téllez explained that the fruit comes from old dry-farmed vines of unknown grape variety. The red version from the same vines, 2016 “No Sapiens,” was also nice, displaying darker red fruit, earth, and herbs.

Broc Cellars

Berkeley’s Broc Cellars always pours a solid line-up at Brumaire and this year was no exception. Chris Brockway was on hand, and wine highlights included the 2017 Grenache Gris, from old vines in Mendocino County, which featured fresh strawberry aromas and a clean mouthfeel and finish. The 2017 Trousseau from Green Valley in Solano County was quite good, with earthy red fruit, spice, and pepper notes. Also noteworthy was the 2017 Cabernet Franc, from Santa Barbara County – bright, herbal, and a bit floral.

Clos Lentiscus

Clos Lentiscus is from the Penedès region of Catalonia, and this was my first experience with their wines. I preferred their sparkling wines to the still wines I tasted, with the standout being their earthy yet fresh 2013 Rosé No. 41 Brut Nature, made from Carignan.

Clos Saron

From California’s northern Sierra Foothills, Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock has been a longtime proponent of natural winemaking. A white and a red were my two favorites of his line-up. The 2016 “Carte Blanche” blend of Albariño and Verdelho had intriguing spice and earth notes along with pear and stone fruit aromas and medium weight on the palate, while the 2014 “Stone Soup” Syrah (co-fermented with about 7% Viognier) featured dark fruit, herbs, and earth with a touch of flowers on the nose and a grippy tannic finish. The 1995 “Once Upon A Time” Cabernet Sauvignon, from magnum, showed beautiful development and can still go for years.

Domaine du Haut-Planty

This producer hails from the Loire Valley, and specializes in Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne). All of the wines they poured were very good, with the 2015 “Gwin Evan” being one of the highlights – made with no skin contact, this was light and breezy, with plenty of upfront stone fruit and a fresh finish. They poured two vintages of their “Yonnieres” – the 2015 and 2016 – and I preferred the more recent vintage. This had a stony mineral character with a bit more fruit than the 2015 and a medium-bodied, slightly chalky texture. Domaine du Haut-Planty was one of the finds of the tasting for me.

Donkey & Goat

Donkey & Goat make their wines in Berkeley, but their fruit these days comes from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills and from Mendocino County. My favorites at their table were both from El Dorado. The Clairette-based 2016 “Eliza” blend had medium-light weight, with floral and stone fruit aromas and a clean texture. The 2015 “The Bear” is mostly Counoise, and showed raspberry, earth, and a floral touch, with moderate tannins. Also good was the 2016 Hard Press Ramato Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley – 5 days on the skins, with floral aromas and nice texture and tannin.


From Catalonia, Escoda-Sanahuja has been a regular at Brumaire. Although I didn’t find this year’s line-up as compelling as earlier ones, there were still a couple of highlights. The 2016 “Els Bassotets” is a Chenin Blanc blend that spent four days on the skins – earthy and a bit funky on the nose, with intriguing depth and texture. The 2009 “Coll del Sabater” is made from Cabernet Franc – showing some attractive bottle-aged qualities but still vibrant, earthy, and herbal.

Fausse Piste

A specialist in wines from Rhône grape varieties, this was the first appearance of Oregon’s Fausse Piste at Brumaire. I found several of their bottlings to be standouts. The 2017 “Fish Sauce” Muscat pét-nat had distinctive but fairly toned-down floral Muscat aromas and a fresh, clean texture and finish. The 2015 “Vegetable Lamb” Pinot Noir featured lots of spice aromas along with bright red fruit and earth, and a lively mouthfeel. The bolder 2016 “Super MSG!” (actually an MCSG, with 24% Counoise), made with whole clusters and partial carbonic fermentation, showed earthy aromas plus dark fruit and a savory herbal component, with a grippy tannic finish.

Frank Cornelissen

Not surprisingly, this table was one of the most continually crowded ones of the afternoon, as Frank Cornelissen’s wines are among the world’s most sought-after natural wines, and he was on hand to pour at the event. Originally from Belgium, his vineyards and winery are on Mount Etna in Sicily. The 2016 “Contadino” is the entry-level Cornelissen red, made mostly from Nerello Mascalese, and this was bright, earthy, a bit floral, and surprisingly grippy. Next came five different 2015 “MunJebel Rosso” bottlings – all from 100% Nerello Mascalese – three of which I found to be particularly noteworthy. The basic 2015 “MunJebel Rosso” had beautiful floral aromatics along with earth and spice, the 2015 “MunJebel Rosso VA” displayed a brighter texture along with more earth and spice notes, and the 2015 “MunJebel Rosso FM” featured tart and darker tones with firm tannins. Finishing up was the 2015 “Magma”, showing even more depth and structure, with dark fruit, earth, leather, and spice.

Frenchtown Farms

This is a new producer, with wines from the northern Sierra Foothills made by Aaron & Cara Mockrish – they’ve worked with Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock and make their wine at his facility. Their wines were one of the day’s discoveries for me, with several highlights. The 2016 “The Pearl Thief” is a Viognier/Sauvignon Blanc blend – an unconventional combination but the floral and herbal elements of each variety worked well together. The 2016 “Cotillion” is a Carignan/Zinfandel blend – the earthy darker-fruited character of the Carignan seemed dominant and this was a pleasant mid-weight red. The 2015 “19 Harts” is whole-cluster Syrah with 15% co-fermented Roussanne, and it was bright, herbal, and spicy, with dark berry fruit and a floral note, with a firm tannic finish.


From Portugal, this was the first time for Humus at Brumaire. The NV “Solera” Rosé, made from Touriga Nacional and Castelão, was bigger and earthier than most rosé wines, but intriguing nonetheless. My favorite of the Humus wines was their “V2” white blend (unfortunately I didn’t note the grape varieties!), with stone fruit, citrus, and earth aromas and a lively texture.

Iago Bitarishvili

One of several first-time Georgian producers at Brumaire this year, Iago Bitarishvili poured three standout wines at the tasting. Both of these wines were made in the traditional Georgian qvevri – sort of like an oversized amphora buried in the ground. Iago has become particularly noted for his work with Chinuri, one of the region’s noted white grape varieties. The 2016 Chinuri “No-Skin” had clean melon and stone fruit aromas, while the 2017 Chinuri that Iago poured spent six months on the skins – this had more spice, a hint of fresh herbs, and great texture and structure. The 2015 Mtsvane is under the Mandili label, and is a project of Iago’s wife Marina Kurtanidze. This was also on the skins for six months, and featured very floral, Muscat-like aromatics along with spice and fine structure.

J. Brix

J. Brix is one of a handful of producers helping to make a name for wine in San Diego County, though not all of their fruit comes from there. I enjoyed the 2017 “Nomine Amoris,” a ramato-style Pinot Gris, with fruit from Santa Maria Valley. Skin-fermented for 14 days, this was earthy, with floral and citrus notes and a medium-light texture. The 2016 “La Belle Rêveuse” is a Syrah from the cool coastal part of San Luis Obispo County, and fermented entirely with whole clusters. This was a standout, with black olive and herb aromas along with dark fruit, earth, and floral notes, with plenty of structure and a grippy finish.

La Clarine Farm

From El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills, La Clarine Farm produces a number of distinctive varietals and blends from fruit grown in their area. Several wines at their table were noteworthy. The 2016 “Alors!” Rosé, from Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, is bottle-aged for about a year prior to release. Bright citrus and watermelon aromas with a slight saline note and fresh finish – my favorite of La Clarine’s recent vintages of rosé. The NV El Dorado Syrah is a new bottling, a blend from different vineyards from the 2015 and 2016 vintages. Earthy dark berry aromas along with dried herbs and a savory, meaty note. Finally, there was a magnum of 2012 “Cedarville” Mourvèdre, which showed beautiful stony mineral character along with iron, earth, and still-bright fruit – developing very nicely.

Martha Stoumen

I’ve tasted Martha’s wines a couple of times in the past year and they’ve impressed me, and her new releases didn’t disappoint. A favorite was the 2017 “Post Flirtation White” – a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne from Contra Costa County, made with some skin contact, and only 10% alcohol. Light and fresh stone fruit aromas with intriguing herbal and floral notes, very “glou-glou”. The 2017 “Post-Flirtation Red” – a Zin/Carignan blend – has potential but needs a little time to come together. The 2017 Nero d’Avola Rosato was also noteworthy, with earthy red fruit and a bright, clean texture, finishing with fairly grippy tannins.


Domaine Matassa is located in the Roussillon region of southern France, and Tom Lubbe – a native of New Zealand who spent many years in South Africa – is the proprietor. The 2016 “Cuvée Margherite,” a blend of Macabeu and two Muscat varieties, displayed appropriately floral aromatics with medium-light body. The “Matassa Blanc,” mostly Grenache Blanc plus Macabeu, showed an earthier side, with a bit of grip on the finish. The 2016 “Romanissa” – Grenache plus a little Carignan – had plenty of red and black fruit aromas along with spice and earth, and a fairly tannic finish. The 2016 “Romanissa Casot” was a fascinating field blend dominated by Grenache Gris – this displayed red fruit along with touches of flowers, earth, and stony minerals.


From the Terra Alta region of Catalonia, Mendall has been a regular at Brumaire. Proprietor Laureano Serres was away from the table when I stopped by, so I don’t have much information about the wines, but both of the ones I tasted there were good. The 2017 “BB’m” (most likely the BB is for Bernatxa Blanc – Catalan for Garnacha Blanca – but this wine may be a blend) was earthy, spicy, and minerally, while the 2017 Espartal BP (I believe this is Garnaxta) had great floral aromatics along with darker fruit and a bright, lively mouthfeel.

Methode Sauvage

Chad Hinds’ Methode Sauvage label shares space in Richmond, California with Martha Stoumen and Purity Wines. My two favorites of his new wines both were sourced from Matthew Rorick’s vineyard in Calaveras County. The 2017 Rorick Heritage Chardonnay showed stony mineral notes along with citrus and pear fruit and a lively texture, while the 2017 Rorick Heritage Trousseau – with super-light color – featured floral and spice aromas with red fruit and pepper notes, and moderate tannins. The 2017 “Bloom Phase” blend (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Trousseau, Syrah) was also nice, a light red with earthy and spicy red fruit aromas and mild tannins.

Oriol Artigas

Catalonia’s Oriol Artigas was one of the finds of the tasting for me last year, and his wines this year also had several highlights, especially the whites. The 2016 “La Rumbera” is from 100% Pansa Blanca (also known as Xarel·lo), made with a little skin contact – medium-light weight with citrus, floral, and saline notes, and a refreshing finish. A contrast was the 2016 “La Bella”, also Pansa Blanca but made with 11 days of skin contact – similar but toned-down aromatics with more depth and texture. The 2016 “La Prats” is a field blend of around 30 varieties, with many vines over 100 years old – this was bright and juicy, with citrus, herb, and stony mineral elements and a medium-light, lively texture.

Pheasant’s Tears

One of several Georgian producers on hand at this year’s Brumaire, Pheasant’s Tears is the project of American John Wurdeman and Georgian Gela Patalishvili. All of their wines are fermented and aged in qvevri. I tasted two wines at their table, and both were standouts. The 2016 Rkatsiteli, fermented on the skins, featured bright melon and fig fruit along with spice and earth notes, and noticeable tannins on the finish. The 2016 Saperavi was a tasty, earthy, and dark-fruited red, reminiscent of Carignan and with grippy tannins.

Purity Wines

Noel Diaz makes his Purity wines in Richmond, California, and gets much of his fruit from the Sierra Foothills. The 2017 Viognier, from Calaveras County, was made by direct press, and combined bright citrus fruit and floral aromatics, with a juicy mouthfeel and finish. Noel poured three Syrahs with contrasting character – the rustic, earthy raspberry fruit and lots of spiceof the 2016 Calaveras County Syrah and the darker, more herbal and olive notes of the 2015 Sonoma Mountain Syrah were my favorites of the trio.

Ruth Lewandowski

Evan Lewandowski sources his fruit from Mendocino County, though his base of operations is in Salt Lake City. He once again poured several noteworthy wines at Brumaire. The 2016 “Naomi” is old-vine Grenache Gris from Gibson Ranch, which displayed very bright stone fruit aromas with herbal undertones. The Rosé “Cuvée Zero” is made from Touriga Nacional and Souzão, and showed stony mineral character along with red fruit and earth, finishing with mildly grippy tannins. Even more intriguing was the “Feints Cuvée Zero” – from Arneis, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto, made by partial carbonic fermentation – minerally raspberry and black cherry fruit, earth, spice, and a lively, medium-weight mouthfeel.


Ryan Stirm’s Rieslings have been standouts at each year’s tasting. From a vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Los Alamos Valley, the 2016 Kick-On Ranch Riesling spent a day on the skins and was made entirely in stainless steel – bright citrus aromas with a bit of petrol and medium-light weight. The 2016 Wirz Vineyard Riesling, from older vines on limestone soil in San Benito County’s Cienega Valley, showed more richness and structure, with some petrol notes along with stone fruit and citrus. Another favorite was the 2016 “Los Chuchaquis” Mataro (Mourvèdre) from San Benito County – a field blend that also includes a little Carignan and Alicante Bouschet. Dark and earthy, with stony mineral, herb, and spice aromas and a fairly big, grippy finish.


Although I didn’t get to the Swick table at Brumaire, I did have the opportunity to taste their 2017 “Only Zuul” a few days afterwards at minimo wine shop in Oakland. A blend of skin-fermented Pinot Gris from Oregon and Gewürztraminer from Washington, this was very distinctive, with the Gewürztraminer citrus and spice aromatics dominating, leading to a medium-weight mouthfeel and long finish.

Tiago Teles

This was my first experience with the wines of Tiago Teles, from the Bairrada region of Portugal, and I found two noteworthy wines at his table. The 2016 “RAIZ Blanco” is made from Loureiro, with about two days of skin contact prior to fermentation, then aged in concrete tanks – this was very aromatic, with bright and fresh stone fruit, touches of flowers and herbs, and a medium-light texture. The 2016 “Maria da Graça,” from the Alfrocheiro grape variety, was another aromatic wine, with fresh black cherry fruit, spice, and earth, and a lively mouthfeel.


Home | Wine Reviews | Wine Journals | Updates

Copyright © 1993 - 2018, Ken Zinns - All rights reserved
No original material may be reproduced without written consent
Mail & Comments
- Grape-Nutz
Updated 3.28.18