Thursday, May 26, 2016

Primitivo of Joy from Eastern Madera County's Westbrook Wine Farm

"Not a wine for those who practice flavor avoidance," notes Ray Krause in his latest note to me. Frankly, I love his notes as they are always so informative.
Primitivo vineyard
At Westbrook Wine Farm in Madera County just on the doorstep of Yosemite, Ray raises the flag for winemaking and wine growing in this part of the Sierra Foothills.
This note about his Primitivo is worth a read:

"Introducing Primitivo di gioia 2012 by Westbrook Wine Farm....
The ancient Primitivo grape is Italy’s genetic twin to our California red Zinfandel which both originated over 2000 years ago in Croatia before the Roman Empire.
Unsupported legend has it that Primitivo may have been the red wine served at the Last Supper. Its deep red color with twinkling ruby highlights prepares the fortunate taster for layers of juicy, full flavored blackberry, anise and wood spice without a trace of bitterness. Di gioia simply means “of joy”, so please enjoy!
I think it was around the late 1960s when a new wave of California winemakers, eager to set themselves apart, began producing red Zinfandels to mimic Cabernet Sauvignon.  The low acid, tannic, late harvest, alcohol laden, fruit forward style all but obliterated the true characteristics if the grape with excesses.
We were still in the midst of the “white/cold wine boom” and “white Zin” was yet to be marketed. Before DNA analysis, Zinfandel was known as California’s own grape because it was not known to other parts of the globe by that name. We had heard about Primitivo di Gioia from Italy but did not make any organoleptic or physiological connection.
We now know that Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetic twins. It was the most widely planted red grape in California at that time. Cabernet Sauvignon, however, was (and still is) red king of California.
While big banks and insurance companies hurried to plant more Cabernet vineyards, Zinfandel would become the temporary surrogate as consumers swayed back into increased red wine consumption. However stylistically well crafted, it never tasted like a red Bordeaux. In our opinion, produced properly it probably has more in common with a rich Burgundy or southern Rhone.

Primitivo at Westbrook Wine Farm….we offer you the past in its authentic form.In this, our first crafting of an old school style California Primitivo at Westbrook Wine Farm, we offer you the past in its authentic form."

Westbrook Wine Farm
49610 House Ranch Road
O'Neals, California 93645

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More Than 50 Years of History in Every Glass of Barbera from California

Barbera fans have an important opportunity on June 11 to congregate and enjoy many tastes of this classic food-friendly wine. At the Barbera Festival, held at Terra d'Oro/Montevina Vineyard in Plymouth, Amador County, more than 70 wineries will pour glass after glass of a wine that boasts a compelling story in the history of California wines.

Darrell Corti
“The story begins at Montevina in 1974,” states Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers, a Sacramento-based wine merchant. Mr. Corti is internationally known as a wine and food expert. “Both in 1943 and 1960, viticulturists from U.C. Davis had recommended Barbera as a compatible grape for California. In the Sierra Foothills, Cary Gott, owner of Montevina in Amador County, planted Barbera in 1972.”

In 1976, Italian oenologist Giacomo Tachis came to California from Tuscany, Italy, for the first time. Over dinner at a restaurant in Sonoma, Corti served him the 1974 Montevina Barbera, which had been bottled in Spring 1976. Tachis was astounded at the high quality of the Montevina Barbera. The rest is history. Barbera from Amador and other Sierra Foothill counties continues to please wine drinkers.

There are more producers of Barbera in the Sierra Foothills than anywhere outside of Italy, but the 70-plus wineries pouring at the Barbera Festival include wines from other California regions and some wines imported from Italy too.  

The Barbera Festival takes place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.Sat., June 11, 2016. Tickets $50 ($40 for designated drivers). Tickets include admittance, wine tasting, live music and a commemorative wine glass. Food, provided by top restaurants and caterers, is sold separately, and parking is free. All proceeds go to support the Amador Community Foundation, supporting local nonprofits and community-enhancing endeavors. For more information, go to

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Loving Barbera, from Italy to Amador County and Beyond

Barbera Festival, now in its sixth year, is a testament to the love of barbera wine. With roots in Italy, barbera is a wine grape now grown by at least 100 producers in Calif. The Barbera Festival, June 11, is a chance for more than 80 Calif. wineries and a few Italian importers to share their love for this variety. 

Photo caption:  “The Barbera Festival’s Italian-American poster guy, Pete, makes room on his motorcycle to take a few bottles of Barbera to dinner with his friends.  You might spot him at The Barbera Festival, June 11 in Amador County.”

Amore for Barbera, from the Piedmont region of Italy to the hundred producers in California’s Sierra Foothills, epitomizes the love affair that wine drinkers have for this zesty, mouth-filling, low-tannin, flavorful and food-friendly red wine.

However you parse it, the affection for Barbera will be much in evidence at the Barbera Festival June 11 in Amador County. Originating as it did 800 years ago in the clay loam and lime-rich soil of Piedmont in the mountainous region of northwest Italy, the California Barbera phenomenon started in the 1970s with cuttings from the Terra d’Oro/Monteviña vineyard near Plymouth, Amador County. Terra d’Oro/Monteviña is hosting the 2016 Barbera Festival.

Barbera is grown in many California locations, and wine lovers can taste Barbera from over 80 different wineries at the Barbera Festival, including 35 Amador County wineries, 15 El Dorado County wineries, five Calaveras County wineries, and five Sonoma County wineries. Italian importers of Barbera will also be pouring tastes at the Festival.

About the Barbera Festival:
 The Barbera Festival was founded in 2011 to celebrate the barbera variety. The event quickly garnered attention throughout the West and in 2015 moved to the beautiful grounds of Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards, the original home of barbera in Amador County. The festival, which also helped launch the immensely successful Amador Four Fires festival, features more than 80 wineries from across California, fine local cuisine, live music and regional artists. Terra d’Oro Winery/Montevina Vineyards is located at 20680 Shenandoah School Road in Plymouth. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Amador Community Foundation. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to

Monday, May 9, 2016

From Highbrow to Down-Home, Amador Barbera Pairs Perfectly with a Variety of Cuisine

In anticipation of Barbera Festival, June 11, three participating wineries share their favorite Barbera-friendly recipes – a wine known as a food wine and for its versatility with a variety of cuisine. 

Gourmands, backyard barbecue masters, and spur of the moment hosts are already fans of barbera’s versatility as a “food” wine. Blessed with a generous acid structure and smooth tannins, Barbera is unique in its ability to pair with a wide variety of cooking styles, from pizza to haute cuisine.

Taking up the challenge of Barbera versatility, three wineries participating in the sixth annual Barbera Festival chose a favorite Barbera-paired recipe to share. Each dish represents one of three dining experiences: formal, last-minute gathering, and the backyard gathering.

These wineries, among the 80 from all over California that will gather June 11 to pour their interpretation of this Italian varietal, appreciate Barbera’s signature characteristics: a dark pigment with lots of berry flavor that can range from bright with tart cherry, raspberry and spice flavors to riper, deeper wines with black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and vanilla flavors. It is exactly these traits that make it such a food-loving wine.

Terra d’Oro Barbera Portabella Burgers
Terra d’Oro winemaker Chris Leamy prefers the laidback style of Amador, opting for casual backyard dining. His recipe is reminiscent of Memorial Day or Fourth of July gatherings:

4 large portabella mushrooms, stems removed
½ cup Italian dressing
¼ cup Terra d’Oro Barbera
½ cup roasted garlic
1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
4 onion or ciabatta rolls
8 leaves of romaine or bibb lettuce
4 3-inch wide strips of roasted red peppers
Thinly sliced lightly grilled red onion
2 tablespoons of homemade pesto
Mayonnaise, if desired

Place mushrooms stem side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with dressing, wine and roasted garlic. Let stand for 45 minutes to marinate. Turn to coat both sides with dressing, then broil mushrooms five minutes on each side, or place on a hot grill and cook five minutes on each side. Turn stem side up and top with cheese. Grill for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together mayonnaise and pesto in a small bowl. Spread a heaping tablespoon on the bottom half of each roll. Top each with a cooked mushroom. Add lettuce, roasted peppers, onion slices and cover with top half of roll. Serves four.

Rubino Estates Winery Italian Meatball Sliders with Barberanara Sauce
Rubino Estates appreciates impromptu gatherings where friends come together at a moment’s notice to share conversation, delicious food and a wonderful glass of Barbera:

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 ½ tablespoons minced fresh basil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 teaspoon onion powder
25 ounces ground beef and/or pork/lamb

2 jars of marinara sauce
1 large chopped sweet onion (1 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
8 ounces of coffee (prepared)
½ bottle of Rubino Estates barbera

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Open two bottles of Barbera and allow to breathe.
Place all ingredients for the sauce in a large pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is cooking, gently combine meatball ingredients in a large bowl being careful not to over mix. Divide meat mixture into 12 equal portions. Arrange in a glass baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
Pour Barberanara sauce over meatballs and continue baking until hot and gray in center, about 25 minutes more.
(An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should read 160 degrees F.)
Top with shredded mozzarella and broil for two minutes or until melted. 
Place each meatball in a bun, top with Barberanara sauce and basil leaf.

Enjoy with the remaining 1½ bottles of Barbera.

Fiddletown Cellars Blackberry Lamb Chops Sweet Tart
Joe Shebl, Fiddletown Cellar’s winemaker, laughs when he puts “Fiddletown” and “upscale” in the same sentence, but this small hamlet in the Sierra Foothills has serious wine connoisseurs taking notice. And the food? Being married to a professionally-trained chef tends to lead to dinners verging on divine. Planning a special meal? Pull up a chair…and open up a bottle or two of Barbera!

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¼ cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blackberries
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon blackberry liqueur, such as Chambord
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
4 (4-to5-ounce) lamb rib chops, cut 1 inch thick, or 8 (3-ounce) lamb loin chops, cut 1 inch thick

Heat the broiler with a broiler pan in it.

In a large skillet set over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Add the green onions, syrup, and cloves. Add ½ cup of blackberries. Cook for about 4 minutes or until the berries have disintegrated and the sauce is just slightly thickened. Stir in the vinegar, liqueur, and the remaining ½ cup berries. Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the allspice, salt and pepper and sprinkle evenly over the chops. Broil chops in the heated pan, turning once halfway through the cooking, for 12 minutes or until barely pink in the center.

Transfer the lamb to the skillet with the sauce and spoon some of the sauce over the lamb. Let the lamb rest in the sauce for 10 minutes before serving.

To sample Barbera, there’s no better opportunity than attending the Barbera Festival, which takes place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sat., June 11, 2016. Tickets cost $50 ($40 for designated drivers). Tickets include admittance, wine tasting—Barbera poured by over 80 wineries from all over California, live music from bluegrass band Carolyn Sills Combo, and a commemorative wine glass. Food, provided by top restaurants and caterers, is sold separately, and parking is free. For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cooking with Barbera - What could be more Wonderful?

We appreciate a man who can cook, and when it is iconic winemaker Scott Harvey, you know that he'll be doing that well.

Scott recently whipped up a batch of Mushroom and Barbera Rissoto on a TV show.  Jana Harvey (who has her own winery as well) sent along the recipe:

Wild mushrooms and barbera risotto
Serves 6

5 1/2  C chicken Stock
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt & ground pepper
1 1/2C Arborio rice
½ C Barbera
2T unsalted butter
1# mixed wild mushrooms
Salt & fresh-ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
½ C freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 T chopped fresh parsley

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer.

2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add the barbera and cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed.  Add 1 C of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding the stock ½ C at a time, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.  Continue adding the stock ½ C at a time, stirring, until it is nearly absorbed between additions.  The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and a thick creamy sauce.  (About 20 minutes)  Season with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter.  Add the mushrooms and shallot, season with S&P and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, about 10 minutes.  Scrape the mushrooms into the risotto and stir in the cheese and parsley.

Scott Harvey Wines will be pouring at two upcoming festivals:  Amador FourFires on Saturday May 7, and the Barbera Festival on Saturday June 11

Scott Harvey Wines is located at 10861 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth CA 95669
Call 209 245-3670 for hours
Or visit the website

Monday, May 2, 2016

Road Warrior for Lava Cap - Kevin Jones, third generation, wears many hats

I spoke to Kevin when he was pouring at the Lava Cap station during Zinfest.  He's on the road for the winery a fair amount, as Lava Cap does many outside events.  But this is one busy guy, and I thought I'd let him talk for himself:

"Well, my position is mostly here at the winery. I complete a lot of the marketing projects, from day-to-day scheduling of events and wine club events to schlepping tables and chairs for weekend groups.

Really what it comes down to, though, I think for many family farm businesses and wineries is the need to be a swiss army knife. Some days I'm sitting at a computer and another day I may be operating a spray rig in the vineyard. I think interacting with the wine consumers at events such as ZAP, however, is extremely important.

Wine is one of the few products where you drink a story. Everyone has a story, but without experiencing the story from someone writing it, it is just another story, or just another winery in this instance.

We are very proud of our farm and our product, so we are excited to participate in events; generally we do 30-40 outside events a year. We have several employees that have great enthusiasm for our story that help out with these events, but if the cards line up right and the family tries to stay involved in these offsite events as much as possible.

We actually have quite a lot of new exciting things at Lava Cap. Starting August 2013, we hired a new wine maker, Joe Norman whose past experiences include Heitz Cellars. The level of quality and consistency of his wine making should be a stepping stone for a future of amazing wines.

 Lastly, and something I think is very exciting for me, is our bird is coming back to the Lava Cap label and we are introducing that label this summer and fall.  I'm happy to share the story of our new endeavors!"

Lava Cap is located at 2221 Fruitridge Road, Placerville CA 95667
Call them for tasting room hours at 530-621-0175
or visit their website: 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Where the Vines Meet the Pines: May 14 begins Wine Trail Adventures with Sierra Vintners

“No crowds.  No pretense.  Simply Amazing Wines!”

That’s the introduction to the message on the website for Sierra Vintners, a group of wineries that includes those in and near the Gold Rush towns of Auburn, Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Marysville.

Teena Wilkins at the door of
Vina Castellano's tasting room
On May 14, the Sierra Vintners inaugurates its 2016 wine trail program.  I’ll be at the tasting room of Viña Castellano in Auburn to greet visitors and sign books, but visitors to this first wine trail will want to check the offerings at the other wineries featured that day.  You can get tickets at the association website:  click here 

The Sierra Vintners has one of the best descriptions of the foothills wine adventure of any I’ve seen.  So I am quoting the website below.

“Experience wine country the way it was meant to be – along country roads through foothill towns where you can still feel the Old West.  Continue into the rolling hills and vineyards, where friendly vintners welcome you to the classic California wine tasting experience.

“The Sierra Vintners wine region is relaxed and rich in history, nestled within the beauty of the mountains.  Drive past ranches to hillside vineyards – or walk from tasting room to tasting room within a few downtown blocks.  All roads lead you to award-winning wines and an eclectic mix of winemakers who talk about wine without the “wine speak.”  There’s no pretense here, just smiles, hospitality and loads of enthusiasm for their vineyards and their wines.  And they love sharing it all with their new friends.”

Here are the wineries featured on the May 14th wine trail:

Amour Privé, 9630 Miracle Dr., Auburn CA 95602

Bear River Winery, 2751 Combie Rd., Meadow Vista CA 95722

Bonitata Boutique Wine, 291 Auburn-Folsom Rd., Auburn CA  95603

Fawnridge Winery, 5560 Fawnridge Rd., Auburn CA  95602

Lone Buffalo Vineyards, 7505 Wise Rd., Auburn CA  95603

Mt. Vernon Winery, 10850 Mt Vernon Rd., Auburn  CA 95603

Naggiar Vineyards, 18125 Rosemary Lane, Grass Valley CA 95949

Sierra Knolls Vineyard & Winery, 19635 Kingwood Ct., Grass Valley CA 95949

Viña Castellano, 4590 Bell Rd., Auburn CA 95603

Sierra Vintners region map

Three of these wineries (Lone Buffalo, Mt. Vernon, Viña Castellano) have chapters about their origin, history and risks they took to be in the wine business in my book, Wineries of The Sierra Foothills.