Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Drinking the Regions in the Business of Wine

There is probably no single group that drinks more wine than those who are in the business of wine.  If you don't believe that, then you need to spend a Wednesday on the exhibition floor at the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento.  This is the day that one of the favorite events of the whole 3 days is held -- the Regional Tasting.  The price is always right -- pick up a glass, always generously supplied by one of the manifold glass companies who sell to the industry, and walk to the edge of the exhibiton center hall.  What's not to love about that?

No one misses this opportunity for states and regions that are perhaps a bit less well-known to pour for an inquisitive group with usually good palates.  For the region, it's a chance to strut their stuff to the hundreds of visitors to the trade show.  Three Sierra Foothill regions took advantage of the promotional benefits this year.  Great wines!   Better put it on your calendar for next year.

Calaveras Winegrape Alliance
 The Calaveras group poured the following wines:

  • Chatom Vineyards, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Frog's Tooth Vineyard, 2010 Torrontes
  • Hatcher Winery, 2009 Viognier
  • Renner Winery, 2009 Viognier
  • Tanner Vineyards, 2009 Vermintino Viognier

  • Black Sheep Winery, 2009 Calaveras Zinfandel
  • Frogs's Tooth Vineyard, 2009 Barbera
  • Milliaire Winery, 2009 Ghiradelli Zinfandel
  • Newsome-Harlow Winery, 2009 Calaveras Zinfandel
  • Renner Winery, 2009 Zinfandel
  • Tanner Vineyards, 2008 Syrah
  • Twisted Oak Winery, 2009 Tempranillo

    Amador Vintners Association
The Amador group poured many good wines.  Among the wineries that contributed wines were:
  • Deaver
  • Drytown
  • Helwig
  • J. Foster Mitchell
  • Dobra Zemlya
  • Renwood
  • Feist
  • Vino Noceto
  • Sobon

El Dorado Winery Association
The Eldorado Group also poured many good wines, among which were:

David Girard (Roussane)
Madrona (2010 Dry Riesling)
Mount Aukum (2008 Marsanne El Dorado)
Sierra Oaks...
and ....
and also....

Well, folks, sorry to be less than complete with the list, but the crowds were pressing in, my wine glass was getting tippy (or is that tipsy?), and I decided that it would be in my best interest to taste....

Monday, January 30, 2012

You can't expect an industry association to do it all

My editor from The Tahoe Weekly sent this online article to me.  Katherine Hill, one of the brightest young journalists I know, is always on the lookout for news that affects her reporting region, and she knew I'd appreciate this alert.

The writer suggests that the PR firm working for the El Dorado Winery Association fell down on its job, and that's why the El Dorado Barrel Tasting event (January 28-29) was not well attended. It put me  "On the Defense" regarding the lackluster turnout of El Dorado Barrel Tasting.

I have quite a different take on this situation, and want to share my comment with you:
The long-and-short of it is:

You really need to read the article for yourself first:

...and my comment below...

"I'm what you might call a "volunteer advocate" for Sierra Foothill wineries, and I know many of the wineries, winery owners and winemakers in the region.  I also write the WineTime column for The Tahoe Weekly ... so I go to a lot of industry events and talk to scads of people in the winebiz.
   Actually, the event was quite well publicized.  I received notification quite a while ago.  But sadly, it went head-to-head against the big ZAP tasting in San Francisco -- and that Zinfandel event drew almost 10,000 consumers.
  The ZAP tasting is always the same time every year:  the last weekend of January.  If there was a flaw in the planning of this event, then it was in not considering what a huge draw ZAP is.
  Yes, the 2011 vintage was challenging, but many winemakers who attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento -- also the last week of January every year -- know how to make the best use of their grapes.  Some say the 2011 vintage will be among the best in a long time. Yes, the vineyard owners are fretting about the lack of water so far this year.  Thank goodness there are substantial water rights in place for many of them! 
   Perhaps next year the event could be moved to mid-February. That would give the winemakers and wineries time to unpack from Sacramento, clean the tablecloths from ZAP, and put out that last-minute PR blitz of their own to their wineclubs and friends-and-family lists. 
   You can't expect an industry association to do it all. 
   As for wine lovers, how about cheering on the Sierra Foothill wine region yourself?  I taste thousands of wines a year, and the Sierra Foothill wines are among the best that California has to offer.  Intense flavor. Balance. Expressive of terroir. Good aging potential.
   For starters, become friends of the wineries on their Facebook pages.  Go one level deeper in social media and add them to your Twitter feed.  Here are the "handles" for several El Dorado wineries:
@FoothillWino    (Baiocchi Wines)

(And oh yes, follow my blogposts in http://sierrafoothillswineries.blogspot.com/)
An event to calendar, by the way:  The Barbera Festival in Amador, June 9.  Save your pennies for the ticket, and don't miss it.

You can't expect an industry association to do it all.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why Zinfandel? Answers from Sierra Foothill Wineries

I dragged my photographer friend Nicole out of bed on a lazy Saturday morning and hauled her over to be a second set of eyes and ears at the ZAP tasting in San Francisco.  She's a novice wine taster, and her big question was, "Why Zinfandel?" 

Obliging Sierra Foothill winemakers and winery owners left her agog at their passion for this grape, and the overwhelming answer was:  Nobody does it better than Sierra Foothill wineries!

But don't take my word for it.  Here are the answers, pretty much verbatim from persons close to the situation (as they say in the Wall Street Journal), with thanks to the 18 Sierra Foothill wineries that participated in the ZAP 2012 festival.

"Celebrating the Goofiness of the Grape..."

Scott & Jana Harvey
 We were lucky to start by talking to Scott Harvey, of Scott Harvey Wines.   He was pouring his 2009 Zinfandel and also his 1869 Zinfandel. “Let me tell you a little about our Amador family history,”  he said.  “Our 1869 Vineyard is probably the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the area; it’s off Steiner Road in the Shenandoah Valley.  We know the vineyard was planted in 1861 and horses were used for cultivation then.  We bought it in 1984. Then there is the grandfather’s vineyard.  DeMille planted it during prohibition.  I guess you’d have to say he was a bootlegger;  I have his “still” yet today.  Actually, the acreage in Amador increased during prohibition.  The jobbers like Mondavi shipped grapes in lugs to the east coast for the ethnic markets out there.  I’ve heard that the Basques paid $35 a ton for grapes then.  We get close to $1200 a ton now.”

Scott continued:  “Actually, I think that the best variety for Amador is Barbera, but I certainly believe in Zinfandel.  I was one of the founders of ZAP.  I grew up in Diamond Springs (El Dorado County) and went as a high school exchange student to the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany.  That’s where I learned about Zinfandel and other wines too.”

Joan Kautz, Ironstone
Joan Kautz of Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys, Calaveras County,  replied to the Why Zin question with a forthright, “It’s California.  We sell our wine in 50 countries worldwide – international sales is my responsibility at the winery – and when I got out on the road, California and Zinfandel are hand-in-hand.   The Sierra Foothill area is absolutely Zinfandel Country.”

Beth Jones, Lava Cap
“Zinfandel is the most robust, well-balanced of all California wines,” said Beth Jones of Lava Cap located near Placerville in El Dorado County.  “It has more history and more character than many other wines, and goes with food for every occasion.”

Bill Easton, Terre Rouge/Easton
 Bill Easton of Terre Rouge and Easton Wines,  Amador County,   noted that Zinfandel “has shown itself to be a great variety here in the Sierra Foothills;  it’s been 150 years in the region.  Zinfandel has proved itself to make great complex wines with aging potential.”  

Bill McGillivray,
Dono Dal Cielo
 “I’ll tell you the short story of how I came to be involved with Zinfandel,”  said Bill McGillivray of Dono Dal Cielo, Newcastle, Placer County.   “I’m an engineer by education, but I’ve had a passion for wine since the 1960’s.  Spent a lot of time in Napa, but went back and forth to Lake Tahoe too.  Finally I found 30 acres on the way to Tahoe, and bought it.  All of our Zinfandels are estate wines now.”

Bill’s personal favorite is their 2006 Zinfandel.  “I call it a single-serving wine, because with a plate of pasta, I can probably enjoy most of a bottle all by myself.   I’m a big pasta fan, and this wine delivers a lot of flavor.   I was a Cabernet person for a long time, but 20 years ago I got a taste of Zinfandel, and that was it.  The best place to grow Zinfandel is in the Sierra Foothills, because of the granitic soils.”  

Jonathan Lachs,

Jonathan Lachs of Cedarville Vineyards, El Dorado County, proclaimed that “Zinfandel   has an almost ancestral link to California; it is a variety that expresses place so beautifully.  We love it more now than when we planted it beginning in 1993, because it is truly unique.  What can I say?  It is really the magic of it.” 

Chaim & Elisheva Gur-Arieh,
CG Di Arie.

“You get the best Zinfandel in California from the Sierra Foothills,” agrees Chaim Gur-Arieh,  Ph.D., winemaker and owner of C. G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery in Mount Aukum, El Dorado County.  “Zinfandel grows so well here.  The weather is conducive, normally glorious!  In 2011 we had some difficulty to get the sugar up, but this will be a good vintage for us.  Zinfandel is one of the three wines I consider my Flagship Wines.” 
Rusty Folena, Vino Noceto
and my photographer Nicole
Vino Noceto’s winemaker Rusty Folena confessed that Zinfandel is one of his favorite varietals.  “I’ve been working in it since high school.   Yes, at Vino Noceto, our flagship wine is Sangiovese.  But I like Zin:  it’s vineyard-driven, and I like that is has a kind of chewy character that goes well with almost any meal.  I’ve had people come into the winery and say “it smells like coffee in here” and that’s the aroma that’s coming out of the fermentation … a nice spiciness.”  
Chris Leamy, Terra D' Oro
Chris Leamy, winemaker for Terra d’ Oro,  part of the Trinchero Family Estates group,  gave a short answer to the Why Zin question:  “Because I am in Amador County, and that’s where it grows,”  Chris said.  “I ended up in Amador because I personally love Zinfandel.  You understand that Zin makers are a slightly different group.  We celebrate the goofiness of this grape, and we have a good time doing it!”


Jon Affonso, assistant winemaker at Renwood, poured
their 2009 Old Vine Zin.

Jana Nadler, Milliarie

Miraflores Winery

Camille Sobon, 3rd
generation, Sobon Estate

Sera Final Cellars
Mount Aukum

Scott Harvey Wines:
The 1869 Zinfandel is ruby-red in color, with black fruit aroma of raspberries and black cherries.  It has a complex flavor profile: raspberry, cherry, blackberry, a hint of allspice and black pepper.  The finish is long and a real palate pleaser. 14.5% alcohol. Retail price of $45 per bottle.

The 2009 Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel is sourced from his grandfather’s vineyard, and is an old-world style zinfandel.  “It expresses the Amador Zinfandel terroir with good balance of fruit, French Oak, structural tannins and medium alcohol,” Scott says.  “ A briary varietal Zinfandel, with flavors of deep raspberry, allspice, cloves and peppermint”

14.5% alcohol.  $32 the bottle.

Ironstone Vineyards

Joan Kautz was pouring their Ironstone 2008 Amador “Deaver Vineyard” Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel.  The grapes are sourced from a 90 year old vineyard located at 1,100 feet.  Pepper and spice are integrated into this wine, which is big and rich, with flavors of raspberries and cranberries as well as hints of chocolate and cherries.  15 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.

Lava Cap
Beth Jones was pouring the 2009 Lava Cap El Dorado Reserve Zinfandel, estate bottled.   This wine has plenty of lush blackberry and plum flavors and balanced tannins with a spicy pepper finish,”  she said. “Lava Cap is regarded as one of the premier zinfandel producers in the region. This estate grown fruit was hand picked over a period of three days and has lush berry flavors.”   15.1 percent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Terre Rouge and Easton Wines

Bill Easton was pouring the 2010 Amador County Zinfandel that will be released in a few weeks.  It is a balanced Zin with the spiciness that you expect in a great zin, but the flavor is not overly jammy.  It has nice acidity.  14.5 percent alcohol.  $17 the bottle.

Dono dal Cielo
“The 2006 Dono dal Cielo Zinfandel is a classic Zinfandel, reminiscent of the great Zinfandels from the late 70′s and 80′s. Not your typical heavy, high alcohol, over-extracted Zinfandel, it highlights brighter fruit notes with aromas and flavors of cinnamon, allspice and anise,” explains Dono del Cielo’s winemaker Derek Irwin, “Fruit component is raspberry and cherry. Good acidity and balance with light to moderate tannin.”   14% alcohol.  $28 the bottle.

Cedarville Vineyards
Jonathan Lachs was pouring his 2009 Estate Zinfandel, El Dorado.  Website notes: “This vintage is big, thick, and textural, yet its integrated tannins and overall balance keep it in bounds. Its brooding blackberry aromas and long finish stand out this vintage. The final blend includes our four estate Zinfandel vineyard blocks, with 8% Petite Sirah added for depth. It's a classic!”     14.9 percent alcohol, $22 the bottle.   We also got a sneak preview of the 2010, as he had some barrel samples at the ZAP tasting.
C. G. Di Arie Vineyard & Winery
Chaim Gur-Arieh’s personal favorite of the Zins he poured at ZAP is the 2006 Zinfandel, Shenandoah Valley.  “It’s an elegant, well-balanced wine, but with good structure.  It’s got a little muscle.”   14.6 percent alcohol, $25 the bottle.   He also poured his 2009 Interlude, Shenandoah Valley, a blend of Zinfandel and Syrah, noting that this is the most successful wine he has ever introduced…”a fusion of New World and Old World wines.”
 Terra d’ Oro
Among other wines, Chris Leamy was pouring a Zinfandel Port.  “We use the traditional Portuguese port-making techniques, but we use Zinfandel.  That makes it a bit lighter in flavor, and we want to encourage that raisiny character.”    19 percent alcohol, $24 the bottle.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Historic Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills Wine Region

Photo courtesy of Scherrer Vineyard/HVS website

Hats off to Jon Bonne, the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine editor, who in his January 19, 2012 column, “5 things about wine to focus on in 2012”, brought about some much needed awareness about the old historic vineyards that have provided so much wonderful wine over the years.
Bonne wrote: “How about due praise for long-proven plantings that are getting respect beyond the usual "old vines" claptrap? Take a look through the list of sites cataloged by the Historic Vineyard Society (historicvine yardsociety.org) - parcels that have stood the test of time. … these sites provide base material for enterprising winemakers who value the long view. Many have survived decades of neglect to finally earn decent farming and consideration as the treasures they are. Amid a pioneering spirit, it's worth taking a page or two from the past.”
Read the whole article

So exactly what is an historic vineyard? According to the Historic Vineyard Society, in order to be verified as an historic vineyards and included in their official registry, the vineyard must meet these criteria:

• A currently producing California wine vineyard
• Original planting date no later than 1960
• At least 1/3 of existing producing vines can be traced back to original planting date

From The HVS (Historic Vineyard Society) itself is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of California’s historic vineyards. HVS’s Mission is accomplished through educating the wine-drinking public on the very special nature of this precious and depleting state, national and global resource. Its 501 C-3 status is pending. You can learn more on its website. If you
click HERE, you'll go to the registry list for the whole state.

I've culled through the list so you can see where the historic vineyards in the Sierra Foothills are located. I know that there are many more not yet on the site... for example, I think that Skinner Vineyards might have a few that qualify... but here is the list so far.

I really like the site because it notes the vineyard, the AVA, who is currently producing wine from that vineyard, and the decade in which the vineyard was established. A full listing can be seen for those vineyards which have been through the registration process (which is pretty simple,
click HERE to see the form) is really very interesting, even for a somewhat-viticulturally-uninformed-person such as myself. Those vineyards who have jumped through the hoops of registration to date are Deaver Vineyard (Mission), Deaver Vineyard (Zinfandel) and Rinaldi Vineyard; all are in Amador County.

The listing below is alphabetical by the name of the Vineyard.

Aparicio Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Rosenblum ~ Decade:1930's

Baldinelli (Dickson) ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Easton, Terre Rouge ~ Decade:1920's

Boeger Vineyard ~ AVA: El Dorado ~ Current Producers: Boeger ~ Decade: (not listed)

Dal Porto Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: (not listed) ~ Decade:1920's

Deaver Vineyard (Mission) ~ AVA: Amador, Shenandoah Valley ~ Current Producers: Swanson ~ Decade:1850's

Deaver Vineyard (Zinfandel) ~ AVA: Amador, Shenandoah Valley ~ Current Producers: Bogle, Deaver ~ Decade:1920's

Esola Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Amador Foothill, Ridge ~ Decade:1910's

Fox Creek ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Jack Rabbit Flat/Renwood, Windwalker ~ Decade:1930's

Ghiradelli Vineyard ~ AVA: Calaveras ~ Current Producers: Millaire ~ Decade:1900's

Grandpere ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: CG DiAire, Macchia, Vino Noceto ~ Decade:1900's

Lubenko Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Shenandoah, Sobon ~ Decade:1910's

Massoni Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Runquist ~ Decade:1910's

Picnic Hill ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Story, Turley ~ Decade:1910's

Rinaldi Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador, Fiddletown ~ Current Producers: Renwood, Terre Rouge/Easton , Rombauer ~ Decade:1870's

Story “Mission” Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Story ~ Decade:1910's

T. C. Vineyard ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: (not listed) ~ Decade:1910's

Upton ~ AVA: Amador ~ Current Producers: Karly ~ Decade:1920's

I took a look at the
detailed listing for Rinaldi and loved the additional information:Rinaldi VineyardCounty: Amador County
AVA: Fiddletown, California
Current Owner: Gino Rinaldi
Name of grower who first planted vines (if known): Cox

Vineyard Location (nearest major road intersection): Ostrom and Jibbom Street, Fiddletown (20751 Ostrom Road, Fiddletown, California 95629)

Which wineries produce from the pre-1950s section of the vineyard today: Rombauer and Easton Wines

Historical producers and dates (if known): Ridge, Santino/Renwood, Karly, Amador Foothill

Taste characteristics: Full flavor, spice, great acidity and balance. Finesse.
Block: Original
Year Planted: 1865
Variety Composition (Variety by approximate %): 95% Zinfandel; also Mission, White Muscat, Black Muscat, etc
Acres: 38 remaining
Spacing: 10 x 10
Soil Composition (Geology if known): Sierra Series (decomposed granite)
Elevation (feet): 1600- 1800 feet

Notes and interesting facts on vineyard blocks (block-specific producers, etc.): Vineyard was revitalized in 2000. there are various blocks at different ages since the 1950’s. 1865 planting might still have an acre of living vines. South- facing vineyard. Remaining vines in the 38 acre original block are 100 plus years old. The total vineyard and ranch parcel is 82 acres. The grapes are contracted to two clients; Rombauer and Terre Rouge & Easton Wines. Head-trained; largely dry-farmed. Replanting was done with selections from existing vines.

NOTE FROM BARBARA:  If you are the owner of an historical vineyard, do register it. This is a great resource to the wine lover who wants to reach beyond the bottle and enjoy the full wine region experience! To register your vineyard,
click HERE to see the form.