Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Madrona Vineyards Winemaker "Elaborates the Wines" in El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills, CALIFORNIA-

Balancing Life and Work While Elaborating the Wine

So much is now written about work/life balance, but it isn’t always do-able.  It takes effort, as winemaker Paul Bush of Madroña Vineyards in Camino, near Placerville in El Dorado County will frankly tell you.

Maggie and Paul Bush
 Paul reveres balance in both life and his work, which is wine.  “Together with my wife Maggie, we find that our greatest challenge is how to be business owners with all of those responsibilities while still growing the grapes, making the wines, doing what’s required for marketing the Madroña Vineyards brand, and at the same time raising two daughters,” he says.  “Any given day can be filled with attending to the vineyards at daybreak, measuring the progress of wines in the barrel in the wine before lunch, working in the tasting room in the afternoon – and then throw in a swim meet or school play for spice.”

Balance is something that Paul believes is crucial in wine too.  When you visit this winery you’ll understand how much he took to heart a statement from a winemaker friend in France:  “One does not make wine.  One elaborates wine!”  With great fruit from the extended family’s own Madroña, Enyé and Sumu Kaw vineyards, Paul is quite content to be the elaborator.  “Most often, I find that the wine knows best about how it should be made, and I’m just along for the ride,” he says modestly.

Lake Tahoe White Wine
on the Madrona bottling line
One nice tip of the hat to the Sierra Nevada is the Lake Tahoe White and Lake Tahoe Red wines, a special bottling in gift packs that wine tourists love.

But more than anything else, the Madroña Vineyards wines are meant to be at a table with food.  They are balanced and focused on the characteristics of the fruit.  Paul does not over-manipulate the wines, doesn’t like to add enzymes during fermentation, and strives to show the character of what his Foothills vineyards produce.  “The quality of a wine is determined predominately in the field,” Paul says.  “By the time the grapes get to the winery, it’s a lot of babysitting.  The mantra is:  don’t screw it up!”

Paul is fond of their Cabernet Franc, saying it has a “glorious nature in that it pairs with almost anything.”   He is equally enthusiastic about their Malbec, calling on serendipity as the force that led them to plant it at 2800 feet – with a result of intense fruit and color and weight with surprisingly soft tannins.

Madroña Vineyards
2560 High Hill Road
Camino, CA 95709
     530-644-5948 or 800-230-7662


     You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Madrona's Malbec in the soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   
      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

The Madrona Malbec pairs well with food,
but the book gives you a very special recipe
straight from the Winemaker family kitchen...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Vintage 2015 report from Sierra Starr Winery, Nevada County CA

I always enjoy getting the vintage report from Jackson Starr of Sierra Starr Winery.  

This is an enthusiastic grape-growing/wine-making family that is very characteristic of the Sierra Foothills wineries.  (You can read more about this region in my soon-to-be-published book,  Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   Want to be alerted when it publishes in January?  Sign up here:   www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com  )

Sierra Starr has been producing wines for more than 20 years, and takes great pride in their small-lot wines produced from estate grapes.  Their specialty is Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

And what a report - poetic and statistical all at once!

2015 Vintage Report: 
"The 2015 growing season has truly been one for the record books as far as Sierra Starr is concerned.  While wide spread reports of California grape yields being down as much as 50% in some cases, we enjoyed perhaps the most fruitful harvest in 20 years.   What follows are some details about what looks to be a very promising vintage for Sierra Starr Vineyards.
Our vines awoke from slumber with bud break occurring in our 37 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines on April 1st, which was 14 days ahead of 2014 and around 3.5 weeks ahead of average (whatever that is anymore). We have a later bud break date than most of California, so this year we avoided much of the spring thunderstorm and moisture issues that negatively affected bloom, and therefore vineyard yields, through out the state. 
A warm to hot summer followed allowing fruit set and maturation to progress extremely smoothly, without any issues.  Thanks to the help of a few brave souls, our vineyard was de-suckered and shoot thinned in a timely manner which allowed all the vines energy to focus on fruit maturation.  Because our wells have held up nicely (knock knock) during this record drought, our vines did not suffer any significant water stress and were able to bring our fruit to ideal ripeness. Thankfully we were spared experiencing any fire or smoke damage from the numerous wildfires occuring in Northern California this summer. 
Our harvest began earlier than usual, August 14th, with our Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit, picked at ideal ripeness over a 3 day period, attained a lovely balance of ripeness and acidity.  Our Zinfandel harvest began on September 8th, and although these wines have barely been put to barrel we are very pleased with the dark colors and spicy flavors.  The Cabernet Franc picking began on October 2, which is about average for this varietal here at Sierra Starr. We believe this varietal was not early this year due to the fact that it was hanging a considerably larger crop than normal, naturally delaying ripening a bit. We were immediately struck by the color and flavor intensity of this variety and were anxious to get it in the winery to see what we had. 
Looking more closely at our yields we saw our totals up a whopping 17% on average!  Our lowest increase being Zinfandel up around 9% and largest increase being Sauvignon Blanc, up around 20%.   We attribute this increase to three things, warm dry spring with no threats to bloom, dryer and warmer conditions in our lower lying vineyard blocks which are normally challenged with cold and frost, and extensive shoot thinning and green harvesting.  Let’s keep in mind that this increase will put our yields to about three tons per acre.     

As you can see we at Sierra Starr Vineyards are very pleased with the potential of the 2015 vintage and look forward to presenting our customers with outstanding quality, varietal clarity and a sense of place. 

Phil, Anne and Jackson Starr"

The Winery: 
 11179 Gibson Drive
             Grass Valley, CA 95945

Additional Tasting Room:
124 Main Street
            Grass Valley, CA 95945


Friday, November 27, 2015

Avanguardia Wines of Nevada County CA - Winemaker Rob Chrisman Moves Beyond Traditional Winemaking

Rob Chrisman  of Avanguardia Wines
The winding road to Avanguardia – Bitney Springs Road, bridge over Deer Creek, Newtown Road, Jones Bar, look for the sign – takes you to an in-winery tasting room that is charmingly set in the midst of cases of wine, bottling machines and winemaking equipment.   The sign that finally points in the direction of the purpose-built winery could say “varietal-free zone ahead” and that would tip you off that you are in for an other-worldly wine tasting experience.

Rob Chrisman is dedicated to making wines in his ultra-boutique winery that provide a maximum sensory pleasure to the wine drinker.  He refers to his style of winemaking as “hedonic blending”.  It doesn’t take long before you realize that he has a healthy disregard for the traditional California approach to winemaking, and is carving out a brave new world with his wines.

“I believed that Sierra Foothill wines could be as good as those from any area, and we planted vines in 2000 and 2001 on 3.5 acres here.”  Now, Avanguardia Wines produces proprietary blends using over twenty Italian, Georgian, Russian and French varietals and University of California-created crosses that he grows in his estate vineyards.  “Many of the grape varieties have been imported by the University especially for us and are available nowhere else, outside of Europe.”  To his own estate-grown grapes, he adds other Sierra Foothills fruit:  for example, Rob found an Eldorado vineyard that had excellent Dolcetto grapes. He started to produce cutting-edge blends, and they’ve found a loyal following.

“I call my winery a varietal-free zone because we don’t produce traditional chardonnay, zinfandel and so on.  Although several of my wines could be considered varietals because they sometimes contain enough of one varietal to be termed that, instead we chose to give them fanciful names,” he said.

Rob sincerely believes that blending is the way to go to get the best quality, tastiest wines.  Sometimes he uses as many as 6 different grapes in a blend.  “I do non-traditional blending, what I call “hedonic blending”, because I am looking for the maximum sensory pleasure out of the wine.  I want to produce wines that are extremely food friendly.”  His wines are not high alcohol, nor are they fruit-bombs.  Subtle oak and good acidity are key.   He produces 1000 cases of wine each year, and 90% of the grapes in those wines come from his estate vineyards in Nevada County.

Rob and Marilyn Chrisman
enjoy dinner with their Tri-T wine
 Avanguardia hopes to introduce many wine drinkers to these unique blends, and just in case you don’t feel like a twist-and-turn road-rally type adventure (that’s a  pity, since you’ll miss some astoundingly beautiful countryside, but I understand…), they’ve opened a tasting room in Grass Valley.

Avanguardia Winery                          
13028 Jones Bar Road                       
Nevada City, CA 95959                      

The winery makes 800-1000 cases of wine;  eight wines are currently offered and are proprietary blends of Teroldego, Tempranillo, Tannat, Peverella, Tocai Friulano, Forastera, Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Orange Muscat, Flora (a UC-patented variety), Dolcetto, Sangiovese, Refosco, Barbera, Brunello, and the patented UC Davis hybrid “Carmine”.

     You can read more about this winery and enjoy a recipe that pairs well with Avanguardia's Tri-T blend of Tannat, Tempranillo and Toroldego in the soon-to-be-published book, Wineries of the Sierra Foothills.   
      Sign up to get an alert when it's published via a simple process at the book's website,  www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com   There will be loads of ongoing features on Sierra Foothills wineries, and notification of book-signing events near you.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Setting High Standards for Sangiovese in California--and CHIANTI: Vino Noceto, Amador County

 When Jim and Suzy Gullett bought 21 acres in of land 1984 in Shenandoah Valley near Plymouth in Amador County to establish their Vino Noceto vineyard, they were not certain what their specialities might be.  Today the winery is known as a stellar producer of Sangiovese, and their traditional Chianti wines are gaining the attention of wine-drinkers too.

During a trip to Italy in 1985 with their two sons, then aged 2 and 4, the Gullett’s experienced food and wine that makes family meals in Italy so meaningful.  In particular they became interested in Chianti.  A trip to Tuscany in 1986 brought them in contact with the well-established Chianti and Brunello producers there.  It was a short hop from that experience to obtaining cuttings of Italian varietals to plant on their land.  By 1999, 21 acres were under their cultivation in the Shenandoah Valley.
Jim and Suzy Gullett

“Our goal has always been to make distinctive and varietally-accurate wine,” said Jim Gullett.  “We don’t want to blend to the point that our wines taste like something from Napa.  Our goal is to have our wine taste like a Sangiovese that you’d enjoy on a hillside in Italy.”   Today, the much-awarded Noceto Sangiovese is the standard against which all other US Sangiovese wines should be compared, say many wine critics.

Vino Noceto is also involved in an ongoing “experiment” to make a traditional Chianti wine.  Winemaker Rusty Folena is intrigued by this too. A Chianti-style wine as produced by Vino Noceto will undergo fermentation primarily in stainless steel, and some fermentation in large format barrels.  It will have the fruit characteristics preserved, and be able to be sold at a moderate price. 
Rusty Folena, Winemaker

“Historically, Chianti wines from the mid-19th century through most of the 20th century included at least 70% Sangiovese plus Canaiolo Nero and the white grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano,” explained winemaker Rusty Folena.  “Since 2000, Vino Noceto has experimented with varying percentages, finally settling on a field blend of about 10% white grapes (Malvasia and Trebbiano) and 90% red grapes (Sangiovese plus a little Canaiolo Nero).”

The first vintage of Vino Noceto wines in 1990, 110 cases, was made with the assistance of a consulting winemaker and neighboring wineries.  In 1999 the Gullets built their own winery and from that, 10,000 cases yearly are produced, and most of the fruit for those wines comes from their own vineyards.  They produce about 6,000 cases of seven different Sangiovese wines, and a fizzy Muscato, some Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Zinfandel and a few red blends make up the rest of production.

Of course you’ll want to stop in and see Doggie D ... but that’s another story!

Vino Noceto Winery
11011 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669


(You can read more about this winery and see Barbara and friends enjoying a recipe that pairs well with Vino Noceto's Sangiovese at a Lake Tahoe dinner party that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

History and Wine Served up Together at Sobon Wines, Amador County

At Sobon Wines,  you can take in a bit of history and at the same time taste good wines -- it is a double-win!  The Shenandoah Valley Museum located on the site of the old D’Agostini winery is fascinating.  You’ll learn about early agriculture and life in Amador County and early winemaking too.  There are tanks in the museum that over the years have contained hundreds of thousands of gallons of Zinfandel wine.  Many families from the area donated artifacts from their homesteads to the museum, which is dedicated to the homemakers, farmers, coopers, winemakers, and other craftsmen who migrated to California’s Shenandoah Valley in the 19th century.
Door to the historic winery at Sobon

In 1989 when they purchased the historic D’Agostini Winery, Leon and Shirley Sobon knew it was one of the oldest in the state of California.  The winery, founded in 1856, was designated as California State Historic Landmark #762.  The vineyards contained old vine Zinfandel and a lot of potential.  This was the acquisition that launched the Sobon Estate label, featuring the very best wines from their own grapes:  Rhone varietals, vineyard designated Zinfandels, and dessert wines you can only buy in the tasting room.

Sobon Estates is known as a premier Zinfandel producer in the area, and their fruit-forward, low-tannin wines are made with Sobon’s own sustainably grown grapes.  Their single vineyard Zins use some fruit from vineyards 70 and 100 years old and feature an earthy, peppery, spicy quality that is reminiscent of Old World wines.

Sobon Estate
14430 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

Shenandoah Vineyards
12300 Steiner Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

The winery makes 55,000 cases of wine and on average produces 13 wines under the Sobon Estate label, 3 under the Vicious Zin label, and 12 Shenandoah Vineyards wines annually, using the following varietals:  Zinfandel, Roussanne, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Tempranillo, Tannat, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Viognier

(You can read more about this winery and meet the family at a special meal that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Teena Wilkins keeps Spanish Traditions in Vina Castellano - Placer County

When the Abuelita blend of Spanish varietals from Viña Castellano was awarded a Best of California designation in the 2014 California State Fair, Teena Wilkins got emotional.  “All these years of hard work, family investment and involvement, risk taking and course corrections – all that was finally recognized and it felt so good.”

Teena is the co-owner of Viña Castellano Estate Vineyards and Winery in Auburn, which started in 1999 when she and her late father Gabe Mendez put in Tempranillo and Syrah.  The vineyard, now 10 acres, sits on land owned for 40 years by Teena’s forebears, the Mendez family.  From the beginning, it was a family venture.  When you visit today, you’re likely to see Mendez family siblings, grandchildren and friends all contributing to the work of the winery in some way.

Teena (Augustina) at entrance to the wine cave

Shared cultural traditions are what led Teena into this enterprise.  “I grew up with my grandmother Mercedes Maria-Mendez living next door;  she made 200 gallons of wine every year from the time she was a young girl until she was a very old woman,”  Teena recalls.  “Wine was part of our food life, and from a young age 
Sunday dinners introduced us to the taste of wine with food.”

By 2003, the vineyard yielded enough fruit for a first crush, which took place at a facility in Cloverdale near Auburn.  Work was underway to excavate a cave on their own property.  The construction of the cave, including lining it with large granite stones that had been removed when the vineyard was planted, took some years.  But by 2005, Viña Castellano began winemaking there.

Today the cave provides Teena and her winery consultant Derek Irwin with plenty of room to produce 2000 cases of estate wine.  There are now 10 planted acres, and another 15 plantable acres will be coming on stream in the future. Barrels take up a goodly portion of room in the cave; the old-world winemaking style for which Viña Castellano is known means that many of their wines are aged in the barrel for three or more years. This wine cave has a cozy European feel and space is shared with a charming tasting room.

The wine tasting experience in Viña Castellano’s cave is one that’s very convivial.  “You don’t have to be a connoisseur to enjoy our wines,” notes Teena.  “Our wines are approachable, fresh, yet complex.” 

Viña Castellano
4590 Bell Road
Auburn, CA 95602

The winery makes 1600-1800 cases yearly of estate wines from their 10 acres of vineyards, focusing on the varietals of Tempranillo, Syrah, Granacha, Monastrell, Cabernet Franc, and Verdejo.  Other Spanish varietals will be offered over time too! 

(You can read more about this winery and meet the family at a special meal that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Baiocchi Winemaker Abandoned the Safety Net and Seeks Tone and Balance in his El Dorado County Wines

Greg Baiocchi’s first passion in life was music.  As musicians do, he opened himself up to many styles and rhythms as he matured.  His second passion is wine.  Wine also has an appeal to his creative side, since making good wines involves both complexity and experimentation.  Fortunately his wife Sharon shares his passions.  “We abandoned our security blanket to follow our dreams.  We have ended up working harder every day than we ever did, but we have no regrets as we both feel that this is truly what we were meant to do. We created a brand and also a lifestyle that is founded in the earth and is real, kinesthetic and sustainable,” Greg wrote in his blog.

That’s the origin story of Baiocchi Wines, which has planted 12 acres of the 40 they own in the Fair Play AVA of El Dorado County,  Sierra Foothills region.  From their first vintage in 2009 until today, it’s been a path of taking risk, correcting the course, and forging ahead.  The result is elegant wines in the Southern Rhone tradition.

A few years ago Greg named some wines after his favorite classical pieces.  In talking about his limited-release “gminor” blend of Grenache-Syrah-Tempranillo, Greg waxes rhapsodic.  “Grenache is a pretty part of the blend… it consumes the senses and it is what captures you when first meeting the wine,” he says.  “The Syrah provides weight and curves and seduction.  It holds you on the mid palate long enough to allow some acidity to catch up with the fruit – and then, here comes the Tempranillo kick.  Tempranillo brings structure, complexity and length to the finish.  These blends are like great symphonies!”

Greg and Sharon enjoy Baiocchi Grenache
during an al fresco lunch at the vineyard

At Baiocchi Wines, Greg can be a risk-taker with his blends.  He likes to experiment, and he blends with the goal in mind of delivering purity and freshness of fruit, imparting a sense of place, and ultimately creates an experience that emanates from the vineyard and finds its way to the glass.

Baiocchi Wines Tasting Room                                              
82 Main Street                                                          
Sutter Creek, CA                                                        
209- 267-5523
Tasting Room open Thursday - Sunday from 11:00am – 5:00pm
Complimentary Tastings

Baiocchi Family Vineyard
2145 Hidden Ranch Road
Fair Play, CA 95684
This is a working farm and, as such, there are no public visiting hours.

The winery makes a total of 200 cases annually and releases 7-10 wines yearly.  Ten Library wines are also offered. Wines use Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tempranillo and Viognier varieties.

(You can read more about this winery and meet the family at a special meal that photographer Johan Martin photographed for my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ... www.wineriesofthesierrafoothills.com)