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Vol. 12 No.2 - May '04

Central Coast
Vineyards & Winery Visits

Santa Rita Hills Tour
Sanford & Benedict Vnyd
La Rinconada Vnyd
Melville Winery

San Luis Obispo County
Bassetti Vnyd
Tablas Creek

Part 2 of 2

Journal and tasting notes from visits to several California wineries and vineyards.

Thursday, May 20, 2004 - Edna Valley, Cambria, and Paso Robles

With a great trip through the Santa Rita Hills under our collective belts, it was time to move on to our final touring day before the HdR festivities. Many thanks to Bob Summers, who had volunteered to plan the day's itinerary and serve as tour guide for the dozen or so people scheduled for Thursday's activities, which included a lunch stop at Bassetti Vineyard where Bob had personally assembled a horizontal-vertical of Bassetti Vineyard Syrahs for us to try.

Up early the next day, we drove over to the Paso Robles Inn to pick up our carpool partners - Jonathan Lachs and Susan Marks of Cedarville Vineyard, for the day's outing. December's earthquake had caused an underground rupture in the local hot spring, right across the street in the City Hall parking lot. The gaping hole still hasn't been closed, so there was a nice twang of sulfur in the air as we headed south out of town.

Selected Tasting Notes:

...from bottle...

2003 Andrew Adam Pinot Gris. From Laetitia fruit. 17% new oak. very very tasty.

2003 Andrew Adam Pinot Gris. Also from Laetitia fruit. For this bottling, Andrew use 50% indigenous yeast and blocked ML. AKA "Goliath."

2002 Andrew Adam Pinot Gris - Edna Valley. No oak - all stainless steel. Crisper and shows more fruit that the previous wines. Nice stuff.

2002 Andrew Adam Syrah - DiFranzo/Domaine Alfred. Beautiful floral note in the nose, off-sweet mouthfeel - cool climate profile.

2001 Alban Roussanne - Edna Valley. Lots of toasted nuts to compliment the citron and lightly tropical notes.

...from barrel...

2003 Alban Viognier - Estate. Barrel fermented. Lots of floral notes, with a light peach and other stone fruits, and finishes up with an off-sweet pineapple cake.

2003 Alban Grenache. From a very ripe vintage (due to heat). Quite jammy in nose and mouth, surprising acid balance to the mouthfeel, though also very fruit-driven.

2003 Alban Reva Syrah. Plenty of coffee grounds accent the nose. Lots of grip to the mouthfeel - especially from front to mid palate, then smooths out briefly before gripping again through massively long finish. You're going to want this wine.

2003 Alban Lorraine Syrah. (gone through ML, but no sulfur as yet) What a major blast of fruit! Smooth, seductive and slightly reduced at present, with a obvious fine-grained tannins through the very long finish.

2003 Alban Seymour's Syrah. Light dusting of cocoa in the nose. Very smooth - almost silky on the palate. Surprising to me, this seems even smoother and silkier than the Lorraine.

2003 Alban Pandora. Blended from barrels, using 2/3 Grenache and 1/3 Seymour's. Beautiful fruit, with a compote of red and black berries, pomegranate and a touch of tar. Fairly tannic on back end, but mighty tasty.

2002 Alban Lorraine Syrah. Nice meaty nose of blackberry, tar and licorice. Silky gorgeous texture and balance.

2002 Alban Seymour's Syrah. Big dark fruit nose, lovely semi-sweet chocolate/mocha notes in both nose and mouth, but more so in the finish.

2002 Alban Pandora. Blend of 80% Grenache, 20% Syrah. Lots of dark raspberry evident in nose, rich and fruity on the palate, smooth and toasty mouthfeel, dark bitter-sweet chocolate note to long finish.

2003 Bonaccorsi Syrah - HdR Selection. 100% Syrah from Larner Vnyd. Nose of red and black fruit, with light touches of chocolate and licorice, Very smooth throughout.

Alban Vineyard

We arrived about one hour later at the Alban facility in Edna Valley, for what should have been a 40-45 minute trip. (We'd been doing a lot of chatting, so despite the fact that (a) I already knew the way, and (b) Bob had equipped everyone with a packet of maps, points of interest, and specific directions, and (c) I had a GPS system in the car - we still managed to miss our exit, driving all the way down 101 to Arroyo Grande before heading inland. The passengers were happy though - afterall, it was a beautiful day. As it turned out, this wasn't to be our only departure from the "established route" during the day.)

Paul Wilkins, pulling a barrel sample

We joined our group, including Peter Cargasacchi and Brian Loring - already tasting a Pinot Gris, made by assistant winemaker Andrew Adam for his own label. After tasting through Andrew's four wines, General Manager Paul Wilkins poured us the '01 Alban Roussanne, before leading us through several barrels of the '03s, and a couple of '02s.

Tasting at Alban is always a pleasure. But, considering the miniscule yields that led to very low production levels for both '02 (three-fifths ton/acre) and '03 (three-tenths ton/acre), we were fortunate to be tasting any wine at all. In fact, we were lucky Paul didn't ask us to bring the wine! Up and down the aisles we followed Paul, getting a thimble-full of this and 1/4-teaspoon of that (okay, it was more than that, but for drama's sake....). Another cool thing about tasting at Alban - well spitting at Alban, is there's none of that spitting in the drain thing. Nope. They have these rocks - maybe sandstone...maybe something they've dug up from Seymour's ...but anyway, they've placed a bunch of stones in half-barrels, and you just let it fly at the rocks. I recall seeing this barrel of rocks for the first time, and figured the spatter would splash back at me causing a major polkadot-effect. Nope. The rocks just say 'thanks' and lay there, soaking it up. Tough life, being a rock.

Brian Loring (l), John Alban
Pinot Man vs. Syrah King
One of the Alban Spitbuckets

Finishing up the '03 barrels, Paul offered us a taste of the '02 Lorraine and '02 Seymour's - both due to be bottled in 2-3 months. Well, if we have to...okay, we'll give it a try. Hey, what about the '02 Pandora, one of us asked (probably me). Well sure, Paul said, as he went thieving from the appropriate barrels enough to make up a 2/3 Grenache, 1/3 Syrah blended sample in his plastic beaker. Hmm, I wondered what else we could have him to blend up for us. But, that would've been stalling for time and trying to lengthen things out - merely postponing the inevitable end to our visit.

Finally, when it looked like we had run out of things to taste, Paul suggested we try this one particular barrel. This was the '03 Bonaccorsi Syrah HdR auction lot that John Alban had finished up for the late Michael Bonaccorsi. This turned out to be a very fitting way to end our Alban visit - toasting Michael Bonaccorsi.

As we followed Paul back over to the sink to rinse our stemware, John Alban emerged from the back room. Everybody likes to see John, and he enjoys greeting all of his Rhone fans whenever he can. But, I hear that Pinot Noir producers get downright giddy and are especially interested in schmoozing with him - so much so...well... it's no wonder California Pinot seems so much like California Syrah (just kidding - this is a pot I love to stir).

Bassetti Vineyard

With Peter Cargasacchi and Augie Hug in the lead, we take a little walk up the "Knoll" in the Bassetti Vineyard

Above : Augie Hug checks out berry set on his Bassetti block
Right : cracks in the elastic clay loam
Middle Right  : Bob Summers
Far Right : Ellis Bassetti (l), Augie Hug

We had a Noon rendezvous scheduled with Ellis Bassetti at Bassetti Vineyard, so we departed Edna Valley and headed for the coast. Driving through San Luis Obispo and over to the coast, we headed north up Hwy 1 toward Cambria. Turning east on Hwy 46, we drove up the Hwy just a mile or so and arrived at our Green Valley turnoff. From here, it was just a couple of miles back into the canyon to Ellis and Susan Bassetti's place.

Selected Tasting Notes:

...from bottle...

2001 Edmunds St. John Syrah - Bassetti. Spicy red and black fruit, with a nice touch of anise and sage. Beautiful structure.

2000 Garretson HdR Cuvee Syrah - Bassetti. Smooth - lots of licorice and dusted mocha flavors. Beautifully smooth from front to mid-palate, slighly tannic thereafter.

2001 Garretson Mon Amie Syrah - Bassetti. Rich, slightly sweet and very seductive, with lots of clove scents, and a smooth finely grained finish.

2000 Hug Syrah - Bassetti. Meaty, with a light touch of herbs in the nose. Lots of meat juices combine with dark fruit on the palate, and give this wine a almost a venison touch.

2002 Hug Syrah - Bassetti. Smooth and seductive, with slightly sweet fruit, and touches of tar and licorice. Beautiful ripeness and mouthfeel.

2000 Bassetti Madolyn Syrah - Bassetti. Meaty, spicy and earthy, with touches of boot wax and anise. Full and chewy, with a nice similarity to the '00 Hug.

2001 Bassetti Tillie Syrah - Bassetti. Spicy and lightly sweet, the wine bears some resemblance to the '01 Garretson, but with a bit more spice and zing.

2001 Bassetti Madolyn Syrah - Bassetti. Meaty nose and mouthfeel, with lighter spices and an interesting eucalyptus note.

2002 Bassetti Madolyn Syrah - Bassetti. Young and bit tight, with dense dark fruit and a light Parmigiano-Reggiano scent. Very nice weight on the palate, but this one needs some age.

Bob and I had first met Ellis Bassetti during last November's trip to Paso. We had a great time just checking out the vineyard and chatting with Ellis. In planning his itinerary for this trip, Bob approached Ellis about having a dozen wine folks descend upon him, and predictably, Ellis was more than happy to host our group. Bob had assembled a vertical of known Bassetti Vineyard Syrahs for us have along with some sandwiches of smoked duck breast with Tomme du Levezou Cheese on Olive Bread he was going to prepare, and everyone was looking forward to tasting the wines right in their "home" vineyard. And speaking of "home," this has been the Bassetti home for generations. In fact, Ellis grew up just down the road.

Peter Cargasacchi (l) supervises Ken Zinns and Al Osterheld, while Alan Garretson keeps a safe distance.

Wanna see the vineyards, Ellis asked. Sure do, most of us said. It was Fall, the last time I was here, so I was interested in at least seeing some greenery, if not fruit. So, as several of us got back into the cars for a quick tour around the Bassetti Vineyard, Bob and a few others prepared food and set out the stemware. (Actually, what Bob had wasn't really "stemware." He had been able to borrow Mat Garretson's Riedel "O" tasting room glasses - sort of bowls without stems. This gave everyone nine glasses - and the lack of a stem probably reduced our chances of breakage. Of course, the glasses did have to be home by curfew.

This is a unique site. The cool-climate Syrah grown here produces very small berries, and isn't always successful in fully ripening. But, what is produced here is quite special. The soil is fascinating, with big wide cracks running all over the place. As part of an old seabed, there is a combination of clay, loam, and rocks, just the right stuff for Syrah to 'be all it can be' - ironically, because Ellis originally wanted to plant his favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. But, through some lucky intervention by John Alban, Ellis was persuaded to plant Syrah - about 13 acres of it by 2000.

Ellis and Augie led the way around the perimeter, and we piled out of the cars at each of three different blocks to get the low down - this is Augie's...this is Mat's...this is Steve's.., about 4-5 acres each. Here's where our little vineyard tour became really interesting. Having growers and producers like Peter, Jonathan and Susan, Augie, and Brian among us to ask all the right questions, the rest of us simply had to listen.

When we returned from our vineyard visit, the sandwiches were made, the wines were poured and everything was ready to go. We sipped through three wines from 2000, four from 2001, and two from 2002. All were delicious. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Here was a case where having an established itinerary quickly become our taskmaster. Needing to leave for that "next stop" means having to say goodbye to friends, not to mention having to put the glass down. On the other hand, when you're part of a moveable feast, you can look forward to the whatever's around the corner, because you're moving right along with the feast. From here, Augie headed back into Paso, and the rest of us took off for Tablas Creek.

Short Cut to a View

With a 3:00 appointment at Tablas Creek, we needed to hit the road. Heading back out to Hwy 46 we turned east toward Paso Robles. How long until we get there, someone asked. Well let's see, I said plugging the Tablas' Adelaida Road address into the GPS. I was distracted by the GPS directions. Hey look, Bob's directions say to go down to Vineyard Drive and turn left, but the GPS suggests we turn left on Santa Rosa Rd. We're coming up on Santa Rosa Road now, wanna try it, I offered. Mixed reactions from the passengers. Sure...I dunno...why not. Okay, let's do it, I said, and we turned left onto Santa Rosa Creek Road.

Initially, it looked like just another scenic Paso backroad, gently weaving along between the oaks and brush. A few more miles later the GPS indicated a right turn onto Cypress Mtn Rd, and we turned. Shortly up this road, the asphalt turned to dirt. Ahh, some excitement. Then, a little further up, the road turned rutty, and stayed rutty. A few switchback later we were still climbing in altitude. Whoa! Look at that stunning view! Looking to the west, we could see the ocean. This was just as good as the view from Hearst's Castle. We continued past a forestry fire station up near a ridge. A mile or so more, we crested the top of a ridge, and goodbye great view. Right on Klau Mine Rd in 14 miles, suggests the GPS. Hey, you're the boss - we can't turn back now. I'm just hoping we don't get to a "Road ends 500 Feet" sign.

Finally, we see the Klau Mine, but still no people. It's been miles since we'd seen another car. I'm remembering a Twilight Zone episode of people blindly following the dictates of a fortune-telling machine in a diner. "Duelling Banjos" was starting to play in my head - will we ever get to Tablas Creek. Donner Party of four, you're table is ready.

The road smooths out a bit, and turns to asphalt - temporarily. A few more miles down the road becomes asphalt again - permanently, this time. We pass a Boy Scout Camp... Civilization!! And then along a little further... look, it's Adelaida Road - all is well. Finally, we arrived at Tablas Creek. The car was wearing a thick blanket of dust. Bottom line: it's not really a short cut - in fact, it's actually "...the long way home."

Tablas Creek

Ryan Hebert, Tablas Creek

I've been coming to Tablas Creek during HdR week for the last few years now. Unfortunately, I appear to have developed a pattern of arriving late for visits, and this visit seemed to continue my streak (see sidebar). Not to make excuses, but often this is a result of too many stops, not enough time, or someone wants to have you try just one more barrel. But, never has it been due to "taking a short cut." I started to think up excuses I could use for bungling the arrival time on an easy trip from Cambria to Paso.

Maybe we can sneak in and no one will notice, I thought aloud. Hey, maybe the rest of them aren't even here yet, I added. Naw, I'm sure we're late. We pulled into the parking lot, amid several recognizable cars. As we approached the front door I saw Bernie Roth's wife, Sammie sitting outside. Hi, they're waiting for you inside, she said. Hi Sammie; yep, we're a little late. You see, there was this huge nest of rattlesnakes....

We wandered in past the tasting bar where Bernie and Howard Sherry were finishing up, and they joined us as we headed back into the winery to join the rest of the group. We're a little late...sorry, I said, apologizing to Ryan Hebert from Tablas Creek. I tried to explain... we decided to try a short cut, and turned onto Santa Rosa Creek Road. Oh, you came over the mountain, he said in an admiring tone. He continued: It's not the shortest route, but I often do that myself - just for the great view. Well, what do you know - we're not foolishly late, we're just fashionably late.


Selected Tasting Notes:

...from bottle...

2002 Tablas Creek Vermintino. Citrusy nose and mouthfeel, nice lemon-lime flavors, crisp finish. Something like Sauv Blanc meets Roussanne.

2003 Tablas Creek Viognier. Nice floral with lighter peach notes. Lightly plush in mouthfeel, though crisp throughout.

2003 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc. Beautiful aromatics -citrus, with hints of pekoe tea, orange zest, and anisette. Crisp full mouthfeel. Beautiful.

2003 Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc. Light lemon-lime and floral notes in nose, crisp mouthfeel, with almost a flavored tonic water flavor. Interesting stuff.

2002 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel. Nice warm chocolate mocha edged dark fruit. Excellent balance, long finish.

...from barrel...

2003 Tablas Creek Syrah. co-fermented w/ 6% Roussanne. Sweet ripe mnose and mouth. Smooth, yet tannic latter palate and finish. The Roussanne seemed to punch up the aromatics a bit, and I think it added to the sense of sweetness.

2003 Tablas Creek Syrah. Okay, the straight Syrah convinces me that the Roussanne had a big effect on the previous wine. This one was much darker in fruit, with more obvious tar and licorice notes.

2002 Tablas Creek - Glenrose Vnyd. Sweet succulent nose. Beautifully balanced front and mid palate, gets a bit soft on latter palate. There wasn't anything I could directly compare this to in the TC lineup, but I'd be interested in knowing if the softer latter palate was a result of location.

2002 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille. Blend of Viognier (50%), Mourvedre (25%),and Grenache Blanc (25%). This is a slightly soft and delicate dessert wine made by drying the fruit on a bed of straw for several months, to concentrate the sugars. They're making both a red and white version. It's balance similar to Ice Wine, with a fragrant floral nose, and flavors of apricot and sweet grapefruit.

(l to r) Ken Zinns, Charlie Chadwick, Bob Davis, Mike Mooney, Jeffrey Howard, Susan Marks

Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Neil Collins popped in and out, while Ryan Hebert (the assistant winemaker and assistant vineyard manager) led us through our tasting. Many of us have taken the vineyard/nursery tour here, so Bob had asked if we could focus on some interesting varietals and just chat. Ryan was certainly up for that, starting us off with a Vermintino and working toward a Picpou Blanc. Besides, Tablas has apparently ceased its nursery operations, having now partnered with NovaVine of Sonoma to produce the Tablas Clone grafted vines. This made me all the more glad to have toured the nursery while it was here (link to '02 visit).

The Tablas Creek wines are getting better with each vintage. And, there are some different things going on in the winery now. In addition to vinifying some unusual varieties, an interesting trial is the Glenrose experiment: Tablas clone fruit grown in another Paso vineyard, then vinified at Tablas Creek using the same techniques as with their own fruit. Purpose: to see the effects of grower methods and terroir compared to Estate-grown fruit. Maybe there's been a change of focus or approach, or maybe eliminating the nursery allowed them to concentrate more on the wine - either way, it's exciting, and this was a very worthwhile visit.

From here, we headed back into Paso to drop off our passengers, then over to check in with Augie at the Garretson facility. Augie was pouring his Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah, and Shawn Mitchell was pouring his Palm Cellars Zinfandel. Spitting class was over - it was time to re-lax. We also had a glimpse of Augie's new facility, still under construction right next door.


Our winery visits finished for the day, we headed back into Paso to get ready for dinner at Alloro. This was going to be a bittersweet moment. Our dinner at Alloro was sort of a "Last Supper" with owner Fabrizio Ianucci, as the restaurant was closing its doors after this weekend. (Actually, I'd heard that Fabrizio had intended to close nearly a month earlier, but upon hearing that the new owners wouldn't be set up in time for Hospice du Rhone, Fab decided to stay open longer to accomodate the crowds during HdR. Very classy. Both Fabrizio and his Alloro restaurant will be sorely missed.)


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