Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bunting Wines - Tasty Rhones in Calaveras County

Strolling around Murphys last weekend, I wandered into the tasting room for Bunting Wines.  I hadn’t been to Murphys for a while, and needed a refresher on the Calaveras County wine scene.


Bunting is a welcome addition to the cluster of tasting rooms in Murphys on and near Main Street, and I thoroughly enjoyed tasting through a few wines with Garrett Neeley, the young and amiable tasting room manager.


Bunting specializes in Rhone varietals and their offerings are all the classics you’d expect:  Grenache, Marsanne, Syrah, and a GSM blend.  A 2009 Muscat Canelli is their first dessert wine Garrett noted that their most consumer-popular wine was their Syrah, and it is a nice not-so-tannic wine,  and is at the upper end of their price range at $42 a bottle.


My favorite was their 2012 Red Blend GSM, which they call a Cuvee’ Rouge.  The grapes are sourced from Vallecito (not far from Murphys) and the blen is 44% Grenache, 44% Mouvedre and 12% Syrah.   It is really yummy, and at $32 the bottle, it is a good value in my estimation.  Alcohol is 14.2%

Garrett Neeley
Tasting Room Manager

Bunting uses primarily grapes from the nearby Sierra Foothills vineyards in and around Calaveras, in particular their own Pyshon Vineyard which is just over 6.5 acres in Vallecito.  Mourvedre, Grenache, Marsanne, and Roussanne vines were planted in 2004, using French ENTAV clones.  Grapes for the Syrah come from Flicker Oaks Vineyard in Mokelumne Hill,  Calaveras County, managed by Steve Collum.


Rich Gilpin, owner of Lavender Ridge Vineyard in Calaveras County, has served as a consulting winemaker.  I personally love it when that happens … it is so much a part of the sharing-expertise tradition of Sierra Foothills wineries, and a wonderful attribute of wineries in this California wine region.


The Bunting Winery tasting room is located at 397 Main Street.  Open seven days a week from 11am until 5pm.   They also offer wine by the glass on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5pm-7pm.


For more information, go to

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nevada County (California) - 2014 Vintage Report from Sierra Starr Vineyards

Anne Starr in the Grass Valley
tasting room of
Sierra Starr Vineyards

Jackson Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyards, Vineyard Manager and Assistant Winemaker, sends along this very informative 2014 Vintage Report.    Sierra Starr Vineyards is located in Grass Valley, CA, and is part of the growing number of quality vineyards in Nevada County, CA.  You can learn more about them on their website (click here)



2014 was an exciting and extremely busy vintage here at Sierra Starr Vineyards.  The vintage began nicely with warm and dry conditions in month of April.  Although we certainly would have liked to see more rain during the rainy season, here in Grass Valley we did see 36+ inches of rain.  The cool, wet weather retreated to a warm dry spring and we saw bud break 7 days earlier than normal (what ever normal is anymore) on April 14th with the Sauvignon Blanc being the first variety to push.  Diligent canopy management began quickly after bud break to focus energy and promote growth. Soil nutrient tests were conducted on different vineyard blocks, pre bud break, to asses current soil nutrient attributes and deficiencies.  From these findings a very specific fertigation and irrigation program was designed and implemented to maximizing vine performance while still adhering to our gentle farming practices.  We escaped late spring without any frost incidents (knock, knock), and bloom began first in the Sauvingon Blanc on May 22, again keeping this season’s growing trends about 1 week ahead of average.  The Zinfandel followed on May 25th and the Cabernet Franc the week of June 1st.



With verasion beginning the second week of July we knew harvest would certainly be commencing quicker than anticipated.  And we were not disappointed.



Harvest began August 19th with the first of two Sauvignon Blanc picks.  Our First Zinfandel pick of the vintage fell on September 9th, which is 2 days ahead of last year and about 3 weeks ahead of the old normal.  On September 24th with rain looming, the Starr family, Phil, Jack, and Anne picked 3 ton of Petite Sirah (by themselves) in a 13 hour marathon, but hey, we got it in before the rain!  The Cabernet Franc, our last variety to harvest, was picked on October 3rd to immediate accolades by both Phil and Jack due to the intense development of color and flavor.   



The 2014 vintage yielded wines with intensity and freshness. These aspects are emphasized by the balance of sugars and firm acidity achieved in the winery.  We feel this is truly a symptom of our very intense farming and our vineyard site, blessed with dry days, lots of warm sun, and cool nights.   



It is also worth noting that our estate vineyards expanded during the 2014 vintage.  With the addition of 900+ new vines (about half of our new hillside), we certainly feel the expression of our vineyard site is worth exploring and expanding.  In doing so we took on two new varieties including Semillon and Riesling.  Also expanding our holdings with varieties that have showed promise for us, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet. 

We at Sierra Starr are extremely excited and proud of the wines produced from the 2014 vintage and wait anxiously for their development in cask and tank before bottling down the road. 



The Starr Family

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Placer County Wineries, Including a New One, Pour at Lake Tahoe

One of the best ways to experience a variety of Sierra Foothill wines is to attend an event which features them. The recent Passport to Dining, which benefits the North Tahoe Business Association and the Community House, focused on wines from nearby Placer County wineries.

Jeff Evans and Mike Walker
of Bear River Winery
The newest winery, Bear River Winery, is located in Meadow Vista, CA.  I went straight for the 2010 Barbera, which uses grapes sourced from Viani Vineyards in the Pilot Hill area of Placer County.  Jeff Evans, Proprietor, notes that this Barbera has rich fruit-forward flavors of red cherry and raspberry. The aroma is fruity, and matches taste.  It has a nicely balanced acidity. The winemakers suggest pairing it with pasta, pizza or anything Italian.  14.6 percent alcohol.  $24/bottle. The winery also sources grapes from the Clavey Vineyards near Chicago Park, for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah.  . 

Raquel Mostajo of Dono dal Cielo
Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Newcastle, CA, presented its 2009 Daven Port 6100.  This port-like wine is  a late harvest Zinfandel, and has a ruby-jewel appearance and strong ripe black-cherry aroma.  It is a nicely soft wine, with a hint of warmed currant, and is rich on the palate.  I think a port should be in everyone’s wine rack, and this is a good one at a reasonable price!   16.5 percent alcohol.  $25 for the 375 ml bottle.

Denise Bellacera, wine educator
of Wise Villa Winery
I’ve tasted wines before from Wise Villa Winery, located in Lincoln, CA.    Dr. Grover Lee, winemaker, has a philosophy that I appreciate:  “We believe that great wines come from ultra-premium grapes, hand picked and crafted one barrel at a time. Our premium wines are aged in French oak barrels and enriched by the mineral, loam, soil of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Foothills in Lincoln, California.”At the benefit, they poured a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  I liked the 2011 Wisdom of Wise best of all.  This wine is a blend of Merlot (54 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (26 percent), and Cabernet Franc (18 percent).  It’s made in the Bordeaux style (think claret, etc).   Taste is of bright fruit, a fair amount of spiciness, and it has a lovely medium body.  13.5 percent alcohol.  $30/bottle.  

Lori and Mark Bonitata
of Bonitata Boutique Wines
Bonitata  Boutique Wines is located in Auburn in the original Bernhard Winery founded in 1874.  This is part of the Bernhard Museum on Folsom Road in Auburn.  Bonitata poured its 2009 Barbera, made from fruit sourced from the Boa Vista vineyards in El Dorado County.  This Barbera is a classic one, made from those great El Dorado grapes.  Rich, fruit, medium body.  14.5 percent alcohol, $24/bottle. 

The North Tahoe Business Association was founded in 1979 and is a non-profit organization that strives to improve and enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the communities of North lake Tahoe.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kickstarter Campaign Rolls out in Nevada for a new Vineyard & Winery

There's some debate about whether the Washoe County/Reno area qualifies as part of the Sierra Nevada, but I've always thought that it does.  And so, I'm proud to be the first participant in the Kickstarter campaign to create a vineyard and winery promoting Nevada Vines & Wines; read about it here..

The intro email: "Here we are, Ryan and Danny sitting in the winery, asking you to take a look at our proposal. CABNR and Nevada Vines &Wines have struck a deal to build a vineyard in Reno. You are invited. If you like our plan, help out with a tax free donation or some supporting comments.

The best way to create excitement about a new project according to Kickstarter is to generate some funding right away. So, if you intend to support Nevada Vines & Wines with a year end tax deductible donation, please do so right away."

Through my Wine Time column in The Tahoe Weekly, I keep an eye on Nevada's developing wine industry. This is a great step in the right direction!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Analyze a Harvest Report

Harvest reports are flooding the wine industry media now. If you are a buyer of grapes or a winemaker already, you know how to view these reports. But for the “others” among us, the comments below from Elizabeth Standeven, who is the current President of the El Dorado Wine Grape Growers Association, give some perspectives that are useful and will enhance your appreciation of grower concerns at harvest time.

Elizabeth says, “One thing many growers (and wineries) tend to track pretty closely is Brix (a measure of how much sugar and therefore potential alcohol of the finished wine). Other things they should e tracking, but not all do, is TA (total acidity) and pH.

“These 3 measures (Brix, TA, pH) plus favors in the grapes are generally what growers and wineries try to optimize at harvest........that said, the optimal range of each measure isn't always met, so that is where winemakers earn their pay.

“In an ideal situation the grower and winemaker work together to decide exactly when to pick based on what these ripening criteria suggest would be ideal for the type or style of wine they want to make. Each winemaker has his/her own style and "tricks" they use to adjust the grape-must before's a matter of stylistic preference.

“Other things growers are looking at this time of year:

· Crop load....not exactly cluster appearance...more of a broad brush how much crop is out there and whether it is ripening uniformly or not.

· Bunch rot- lots of different kinds can also show up this time of year as the grapes soften just before final ripeness... these include several different kinds of molds and mildews that can attack, especially tight clusters or clusters that get rained on.

· Labor - another issue this time of year...a limited pool and if many varietals ripen at once...not enough hands to go around

· Tank space - while not exactly a grower issue, if a given winery takes in too much of varietal A and runs out of tank space for varietal B the grower could get a call saying the winery will take less than previously discussed

· Weather - too much excessive heat or rain this time of year can ruin certain grapes.

· Logistics - always an issue...getting the winery, picking crew, and equipment ready to go at the same time

· Birds and other critters eating your grapes - this year we are experiencing extra bird and turkey pressure on the Shaker Ridge, we had to put out more bird nets, borrow the neighbor's dog to chase turkeys and we have our annual visitations from the neighborhood bear(s).

· Hang time - for us, hang time isn't a concern usually....the grapes are ripe when they are ripe....if it takes too long to ripen (like in a cool year) then you run a greater risk of running out of good weather to fully ripen the grapes. At higher elevations and some later ripening varietals have more issues here.

I am sure there are other concerns out there, but this is what was on my mind today!

Shaker Ridge Barbera,
to be harvested soon

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What is "Bottle Shock"?

With kudos to the folks at Bodega Del Sur winery, in Murphys, Calaveras County, I am re-printing the excellent piece from their latest newsletter, written by winemaker Brett Keller.  It's a great explanation of this phenomenon!

"Recently, Bodega Del Sur bottled some new wines for your enjoyment! During bottling, one of our crew asked, "What is Bottle Shock?" Well, there is a lot more to it than a clever movie showing California's dominance over French wine...!

"Bottle Shock" is the term we use to describe the tumultuous journey of wine from the barrel to the bottle. After staying stationary for up to thirty months in oak barrels the wine is suddenly taken from its slumber, moved to a tank, filtered, and pumped gently to the bottling line where it falls with gravity into the bottle. It's kind of like being rudely awaken from a good sound sleep and being thrown into a lake!

During the process of bottling we are also adding sulfites as a preservative to prevent spoilage and amend sulfur dioxides that naturally occur in wine. As we bottle the wines we treat them as gently as possible with slow movement of the wine, minimal use of sulfites, and almost compete lack of contact with oxygen, which can oxidize the wine too quickly. Despite our best efforts, all the components of the wines that came together over the last couple of years tend to be a bit shaken, and they temporarily become a bit disjointed... When the wines make the bottle we use inert gas and a vacuum sealer to cork the bottle to protect it. Once the bottle is corked it is almost an impermable vessel, other than the slow movement of tiny amounts of oxygen that passes through the cork.
Bottles ready for tasting and buying
at their Murphys tasting room
"Bottle Shock" will generally last for a period of three to six weeks, after which time the wine tends to recompose itself and once again prepare for its long cellar sleep, until you, our valued customers, have a chance to taste our efforts. We release our wines after the period of "Bottle Shock" has run it course, during which time we are frequently checking its progress towards readiness.

Until then, watch the movie 'Bottle Shock' with Alan Rickman. It is an entertaining rendition of what makes a small winery in the early seventies Napa Valley 'shock' the world with its sojourn into the annals of winemaking history...

Until next time, Brett Keller, Winemaker" 

For more info on their fine wines, go to

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tasting the Gold of El Dorado Wineries at South Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation Event

Madrona Winery gets in the mood
with its Lake Tahoe-themed wine
One of my favorite Tahoe-area summer wine events is the “Taste of Gold,” which benefits the Lake Tahoe Community College Foundation.  Why the name?  Well, it’s all about wines from El Dorado, that California county over there on the South side of Lake Tahoe. The term El Dorado, meaning “the golden one” was coined by Spanish explorers in the mid 1500’s as they sought a city of gold believed to lie in the heart of the Amazon jungle.  To find your “gold” in terms of good wine from the Sierra Foothills, simply attend the event, held each year on campus.  Top wineries from El Dorado County offer many wines to taste.


Jen Tomei pours Boeger Wines
Boeger Winery, Placerville, 2012 Pinot Gris.  It has aromas of honey, peach and green apple. On the palate, I like the hint of spice and the fact that it is light and delicate makes it a great summer wine. Grapes are sourced from Boeger’s own Pinot Grande vineyard.  $15 the bottle.  13.5 percent alcohol.
Tina & Charlie Bruess
pour for Crystal Basin

Crystal Basin Cellars, Camino, 2010 Petite Sirah. A warm black cherry aroma leads to two distinct layers of flavor featuring, on the one hand, blueberries and on the other, soft tannins.    $27 the bottle. 15.8 percent alcohol.

Connie Varvais & friend
pour for Holly's Hill
Holly’s Hill Vineyards, Placerville, 2007 Patriarche.  This is a delicious blend of Rhone wines:  63 percent Mourvedre, 19 percent Syrah, 13 percent Grenache Noir, 5 percent Counoise.  Aroma and taste of strawberries, dark berries and plum with complex spices.  This wine has a nice earthiness, good acidity and smooth tannins.  I love this blend.  $30 the bottle. 14.4 percent alcohol.

Perry Creek Winery, Fair Play, 2011 Zinman Rose.  Aroma of strawberry and hints of flowers, and a taste that come in layers of all the fruits of summer.  This is a light, dry and delightful Rose that is easy to drink. $12 the bottle.14.2 percent alcohol.

Carolyn Silan pours
for Colibri Ridge
Colibri Ridge Winery, Fair Play, 2007 Barbera Fair Play.  Wow, a whopper of a wine at 16.1 percent alcohol but tannin-lovers will find this delicious with berry aroma that leads to a mouthful of lush tasting blackberry, cherry, raspberry and blueberries.   $21.50  the bottle.

Nello Olivo pours his wines for
Sarah Deliniere
 Nello Olivo Winery, Placerville, 2009 Merlot.  Try this wine if you’ve become jaded about Merlot.  It’s quite a bold Merlot, made in the Bordeaux style.  $39.50 the bottle.   13.7 percent alcohol.

Other El Dorado wineries pouring were Lava Cap and Madrona, both located near Placerville.

Lake Tahoe Community College is located in South Lake Tahoe; more at   Attendees enjoyed the event featuring El Dorado wines and the cuisine of Lake Tahoe, held on the Ledbetter Terrace and Demonstration Gardens at the College.

 If you missed this event, I suggest a visit to the tasting rooms of these wineries.  There are dozens of great visits you can make in a day from Lake Tahoe.  Check the El Dorado Wine Association map at

This review appeared in my Wine Time column, The Tahoe Weekly, on August 8, 2013