Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Jumping Frog leads to Good Wine and Good Food at Frog's Tooth in Calaveras County

Frog’s Tooth Vineyards and Winery in Calaveras County of the Sierra Foothills region of California has a fanciful name but a serious intent. 

The fanciful name is a combined reference to Mark Twain’s Calaveras County jumping frog story and the frog colony inhabiting the vineyard’s spring-fed pond.  The serious intent is to fine-tune its offerings and build the brand for sustainable quality.

“Flavors are different in the Sierra,” owner Larry Aderman comments, explaining his narrowing focus on the grapes that present a unique reflection of the local terroir. “Fruit sets the tone for the flavor of the wine, and we want our wine to pair very easily with food.” For Frog’s Tooth, that means an emphasis on fruit-forwardness and avoiding an overpowering tannic finish. These targets are met by “dropping” fruit so the yield is about three tons per acre (compared to a natural yield of seven to 10 tons per acre), and using high quality French and American barrels to avoid an oak-heavy taste.

The current vineyard plantings of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, and Petite Sirah will be supplemented with Syrah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Larry’s favorite, Pinot Grigio, now being made with purchased grapes. The Tawny Toad Dessert Wine, a blend of four Portuguese varietals, was one of the multiple Frog’s Tooth vintages to medal at this year’s Calaveras County Fair.   Using primarily grapes from their own estate vineyards and other vineyards in the Sierra Foothills AVA, the winery makes 3000 cases of wine.
Amy Aderman fixes Beer Can Chicken

As with many family businesses, everyone gets involved during a crunch.  Or crush, as the case might be.  Son Nick and daughter-in-law Amy were on hand during harvest, whipping up a meal on the BBQ frill set up near the winery.  Beer Can Chicken – it does take a lot of beer to make good wine, after all.

This is also a perfect dish for football season, so those nice folks at Frog’s Tooth are sharing it with you, below.

Frog's Tooth Vineyards and Winery

Tasting Room
380 Main Street, Suite 5
Murphys, CA 95247

209 728 2700

(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 ...



(An empty beer can is crucial, and usually found in the wine-making crew’s hand at the end of the day)
1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs
4 cloves of garlic
Bottle of Frog’s Tooth Viognier
2 quarters of butter, soft
¼ C each of rosemary, parsley and thyme (chopped fresh, or if using dried- 1/8 c each)

Fire up the barbeque. Set it on medium-high
From the whole fresh chicken’s cavity, remove the neck and giblets and discard those.
Rinse chicken inside and out, and pat the outside dry with paper towels; discard towels.
Make a mixture of the softened butter and herbs and rub the chicken with that mixture.
Size up the chicken:  if it’s big, get a tall beer can. If smaller, a regular 12 oz beer can will do.
Rinse the beer out of the empty beer can, and open the top with a can opener.
Crush the garlic cloves, and put them in the can.
Fill the can to the 2/3 mark with Viognier.
Put the chicken cavity over the beer can, so the chicken legs and the beer can form a tripod.
Put a piece of aluminum foil or a short-sided aluminum pan on the heated grill, in the middle of the grate. (This will save you a lot of clean-up later.)
Transfer the bird-on-a-can to the aluminum and balance the bird upright.
Use indirect heat (no coals or burners on directly under the bird). Lower the grill’s cover.
Cooking time is approximately 1 ¾ hours. Internal temperature should be 165 F in the breast area and 180 F in the thigh. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, then stab the thigh with a sharp knife and if the thigh juice runs clear it’s likely done.
Remove from the barbeque, and let it sit for 10 minutes before you carve it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lone Buffalo Winemaker Passes Philosophy to Daughter who is Making Wine in Placer County too

At Lone Buffalo Vineyards in Placer County, Phil Maddux and his wife Jill and daughter Jocelyn are contributing to the vigorous new life for wine in this part of the Sierra Foothills. Their new winery in Auburn is capable of producing 2000 cases a year, and ultimately 65% of the grapes that go into their wines will be estate grown.  Little by little, the Maddux family has increased its winery presence, as the Placer County wine scene has also become more robust.

The newest brand at the winery is the “jbrand”, a series of wines produced by Jocelyn and targeted at a younger audience that is just starting to appreciate wine.  These wines are very fruit-forward and light in body, and they are stampeding out the door.  Jocelyn’s small production wine blends and varietals include Just Grenache, Just Pinot Gris, Just Syrah, Just Cuz, and Not Just Syrah,

Jocelyn Maddux pours jbrand
at the Lone Buffalo Vineyards tasting room

 “I grew up with my Dad’s home winemaking hobby, and watched as it evolved to his own winery.  Wherever we moved during my childhood, it was always to a place where there was enough land for a home vineyard,” Jocelyn said.

In 2001, a parcel of 6 acres in Auburn became the family’s new home.  The house had room for a winery, which Phil and Jill built, and they bonded the winery in 2007.  “Where the Buffalo Roam,” the winery’s landmark wine, a Rhone-style red blend, was born.

Phil and Jill purchased a new bigger property on Wise Road in Auburn in 2012 and, after a lot of work, the winery moved there in 2013.  The caravan of barrels, trucks, friends and wine club members inching their way up the Foothill roads was an example of Lone Buffalo’s practical and friendly approach to their business.  “We made a conscious decision to grown our winery slowlyhased in 2012 and the winery moved there in 2013.  The caravan of barrels, trucks and frie and to cherish our customers.” 

Jocelyn is continuing that orientation of cherishing her customers.  That attitude is paying off, as her wines are selling rapidly.  

Lone Buffalo Vineyards
7505 Wise Road
Auburn, CA  95603
    530 823 1159

(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 ...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Andy and Mark team up at Andis in Amador and Sauvignon Blanc Returns!

He's clever, that Andy Friedlander.  He's managed to sell out his yummy Sauvignon Blanc, much of which goes to First-Class flyers on Hawaiin Airlines.  Could be that he lobbied personally when he and wife Janis were on one of their frequent flights from Sutter Creek to Hawaii, but nonetheless his fans here on the mainland have been disappointed.

Well, no more disappointment!  By December there will be a new vintage available, and I will be waiting on line to get some.  It is SO good.

A bit of history on this spectacular Amador winery.  When owners Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna determined that Amador County was the right spot for Andis Wines, in 2009 they began by purchasing a property in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley planted predominantly with 30-year-old Zinfandel grapes, with about 25 acres already under vine. Immediately they set to work applying a favorite business principle: “surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find, and use their strengths to make everything better.” 

Andy’s keen eye for talent led him to the right team to get the winery underway: forward-thinking winemaker Mark McKenna, a creative architecture firm, and a contractor who truly understood the land. Together they designed and built a striking, modern 17,000-square-foot facility in which to produce great wine.

Andy Friedlander and Mark McKenna

Staying close to growers is a hallmark of the winery. The vineyard doesn’t have the room to grow every varietal that Andis uses in its wines, so Andis purchases much of its fruit. The growers, in nearby Amador and El Dorado counties, are a select group, each specializing in a particular variety. “You can’t make great wine out of bad fruit,” notes Andy, proud to imprint the sourcing vineyard on his labels. 
Today, annual winery production is roughly 7,000 cases. The Andis vineyard is primarily Zinfandel, with a few acres recently replanted to Barbera, Grenache, and Malbec. Wines produced range from Estate Zinfandel to Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc, Mourvedre, Primitivo, Semillon, Rose, Chenin Blanc, Petite Sirah, Meritage, and Cabernet Franc.

Andis Wines
11000 Shenandoah Road
Plymouth, CA  95669
     (209) 245-6177

(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 ...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

MENTORS are hard to find, but John MacCready is a great one

In my many discussions with winemakers as I prepared material for my soon-to-be-published book on Wineries of the Sierra Foothills, the name John MacCready kept coming up.  John not only spent hours with me at the onset of my research in 2007, but he has been a mentor to many wineries here in the foothills.

John, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering, started “fooling around” with homemade wine while in graduate school at the University of Missouri.  He continued home-winemaking while living and working for NCR in Ohio.  While on visits to his sister in Pleasant Valley, he took some wine seminars, and his passion for winemaking grew.  Soon he was looking at land parcels in El Dorado County.

In late 1972, he and Barbara packed their two little girls, their dog, and a 15 gallon drum of fermenting wine in their Chevy and drove from Dayton, OH, to Placerville CA.  John found a job teaching in Sacramento and in his free time he worked hard with Barbara to establish the vineyard.  By 1974, they’d planted their first vines – cabernet sauvignon – on its own roots, pioneering the rebirth of mountain viticulture in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

In 1977, Sierra Vista had its first crush, using grapes purchased from nearby vineyards.  The winery produced 1200 cases of wine in that first vintage. Production is now 5000 cases, and most are estate-grown Rhone wines.

Wines offered include Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc (vinified Loire style with no oak influence), Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Rose, “Lynelle” – a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend with a touch of Cinsault, Merlot, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier Doux – a dessert wine.  A newly introduced “Tiger Lily” label honors the Tiger Lily Winery which was opened in 1850 and lasted until Prohibition days, located on Sierra Vista’s land.
Sierra Vista Winery
4560 Cabernet Way
Placerville, CA 95667
    530-622-7221 or 800-946-3916

(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 ...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hand-holding the Grapes at Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County

It’s a family endeavor at Shake Ridge Vineyards in Amador County.  When we visited, we met a slew of family members who come to help with all the tasks, and so it was nice to hear from Susan Kraemer, sister of Ann Kraemer, that the Butte Fire left them relatively unscathed.

“We feel so fortunate here at Shake Ridge. Our hearts go out to all those who've lost their homes and businesses.” Susan wrote. “The winds were in our favor and the vineyard was in no danger from the fire itself. However we were inundated with smoke and many of the winemakers to whom we supply grapes were anxious to have us bring in their grapes as soon as possible.”

The grapes from Shake Ridge are well taken care of. Each vine on the 46 acres of grapes she nurtures gets “visited by hand” at least 12 times during the year—from pruning until it’s time to pick.  “You can’t get bored in this business,” is the way Ann Kraemer explains the appeal of her role as the vineyard manager and public face of the family-owned Yorba Wines.

Just a bit about the history of this remarkable vineyard.  Ann Kraemer spent 20 years scouring wine-growing regions for the right spot, finally, in 2001, settling on 220 acres off Shake Ridge Road, about five miles up the hill from the town of Sutter Creek. Mulling over why it took such a long time, she lists her challenging search criteria: “It had to be a place I wanted to live in, where I could grow good grapes, and—the big caveat--something I could afford.”

Without neighbors to provide helpful tips on growing conditions, Ann carefully assessed each of the myriad microclimates herself before making “educated guesses” about how and what to plant. The varietals she wanted to keep cool went in on north and eastern slopes; others that can handle heat, like Mourvèdre, were planted in the warmer blocks facing west and south. After a year of soil preparation, terracing, and the installation of irrigation systems, the vineyards were planted in the spring of 2003. First harvest occurred in 2005.

These well-tended vineyards provide many tons of fruit to prestigious winemakers.  Yorba wines are made from Shake Ridge grapes too, and today 2000 cases are produced.

Yorba Wines Tasting Room
51 Hanford Street, Sutter Creek CA 95685
     209 267 8190   

(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 ...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Italian Varietal Dolcetto returns to Montoliva, Nevada County of Sierra Foothills

Mark Henry is exuberant about his Dolcetto and looks forward to adding it to the 2015 vintage of Montoliva Wines. Located in Chicago Park, Nevada County, Mark started with 1.5 acres in 2000 with an esate vineyard dedicated to the varieties that would allow him to produce “Tuscan-Inspired Quality Wines”-- Sangiovese, Aglianico and Moscato.

Mark has been a champion of growing Italian varietals in this part of the Sierra Foothills. He was one of the first to plant two important varietals here: the much-lauded clones of Sangiovese that were introduced to the USA by Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo in 2001, and Aglianico, an important grape from southern Italy. These were wise choices, as Chicago Park is at 2200 feet elevation on the western slope of the Sierra Foothills, with warm summers, cool evenings and soils of decomposed granite. This is a perfect home for these Italian varieties.

Now, with the Dolcetto in his hands, he will be making a wine he’s not offered for more than 5 years. As you can see, he’s very happy about that!

Mark Henry and his Dolcetto !


The grapes come from the Musso Family Vineyard in Georgetown (located in the northeastern part of El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills).

Mark says, “This is probably the most celebrated Dolcetto vineyard in California. Ken Musso, who owns Due Vigne Winery, doesn't generally sell his Dolcetto but agreed to sell me a ton this year. The Dolcetto from this vineyard always comes out the vineyard looking kind of raggety, and always makes a wine that is stellar in its depth.

“Of all the grapes I work with, and all the wine I make, this is the one that scares me the most. The best I can do is not screw it up. (Oh, please God, don't let me screw this up!).”

I’m sure Mark will do a fine job with this wine, as he does with all his wines.

Montoliva Vineyard & Winery
15629 Mt Olive Road
Chicago Park, CA
     Tel 540 346 6577
     Tasting room open Saturdays and Sundays, noon- 5.   This is a winery that’s grown from a true garagiste winery to 1500 cases of 11 wines using primarily Italian varietals, since its inception in

(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 ...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Calaveras Winery Survived Butte Fire with a Little Help from its Friends: Story of Bodega del Sur

Evelyn and Victor Reyes-Umana have been worried to the core about their winery in Mountain Ranch, Calaveras County. That area was truly under siege from the fire, and road blocks meant they could not get through. But that Foothills spirit came into play and it looks like they did pull through.

"We have nothing but the utmost gratitude for Calfire and all of the firefighters and law enforcement from around California who are up here pulling crazy long 24 hour shifts to fight the Butte fire. They have seriously done some amazing work over the past week," they said in a Facebook post

(Facebook was one of the most important ways that wineries in the path of the fire communicated the latest news with family, friends, and fans.)

That's not a shadow behind that crispy-looking tree;
that's charred earth.

Hmmm, let's think about this for a minute.
You've picked and crushed your grapes.  They
are in the tanks in the winery.  The electric goes out...
'way out!
One success story is the way CalFire fought the fire at the winery. Victor writes: "I am relieved to see that they managed to save several buildings that were threatened by brush fires just tens of feet away!  There is a lot of damage in the area, but we are very grateful for the amazing work they have done, and for allowing us to still stay in business!"

CalFire saved the winery!

"We also want to thank Nanette Tanner of Tanner vineyards and the Tanner family for letting us use a generator ... We needed electricity so badly at the Bodega del Sur Winery in order to keep our winemaking going."

     "Thanks, from the Reyes-Umana Family"

And now, the good better best news!   Bodega del Sur sends this photo and this note:  “Murphys is back in business. It is a truly beautiful day in the foothills. After surviving the fire scare, people are happy to get back to normality. Please come and see us. And yes, it is totally safe. No smoke in the air.”

Bodega del Sur Tasting Room
457 South Algiers Street
Murphys, CA 
   tel:  209 728 9030

(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 ...