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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Art of Wine at C.G. DiArie in Amador County

Gregarious Chaim Gur-Arieh enjoys telling about his food science career that includes Cap’n Crunch cereal.  Power Bars.  Pudding Cups.  Space meals for astronauts.  And more.   But as a winemaker at C.G. DiArie since 2000, he is happiest talking about wine.  Co-owner Elisheva Gur-Arieh often joins him as they introduce wine lovers to their wines.
Welcome to the winery!

Chaim’s winemaking style features a fusion between New World and Old World wines.  New World wines he believes are quite fruit-forward and have distinct varietal characteristic.  Old World wines express their terroir strongly.  New World wines, he says, are very drinkable when they are young.  Old World wines are more elegant, not highly alcoholic, and oak plays an important role but is very much in the background.

Winemaking represents everything Chaim loves best, and his wines show that love.  “I find winemaking very challenging.  I can use my intuition and creativity, and I can showcase my knowledge and my hands-on food science know-how,”  explains Chaim.

Chaim expresses his wine creativity in a state-of-the-art 12,000 square foot winemaking facility.  It was built to use the natural slope of the terrain to facilitate gravity feed as part of the winemaking process.  The facility also has sufficient room for two art galleries that display the Gur-Arieh’s collection of California art.  Elisheva herself is a nationally exhibiting artist.  The tasting room at the winery is filled with wonderful art, and sculptures ornament the patio where wine lovers can sit to look out over the vineyards.

C. G. di Arie Winery and Tasting Room
5200 Di Arie Road
Mount Aukum, CA 95656
Tasting Room in Amador County
19919 Shenandoah School Road
Plymouth, CA 95669

The winery makes between 10,000-15,000 cases of wine yearly.  Varieties featured include Zinfandel, Barbera, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional, Grenache, Petit Verdot.

(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 15, 2015

Solune’s Winemaker helps a Start-Up Winery in Grass Valley (Nevada County-Sierra Foothills)

Jacques Mercier is winemaker and co-owner of Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley, Nevada County in the Sierra Foothills.  He is one of those who worked their way “back to the vineyard,” and he’s happy to share his knowledge with start-up wineries in Nevada County.

Currently he is mentoring Riki Pollock, a native Maori from New Zealand.  Riki has named his new Grass Valley winery Katoa Cellars. 

Riki Pollock, right, shares time in Solune's lab

Jacques’ love of wine began in his native Quebec. He built an impressive wine resume in a series of self-managed steps.  He’d been lured to a tasting seminar in Ontario, and became so curious about good wine that he took an intensive program to get his wine sommelier diploma.  He did a bit of consulting with restaurants, started home winemaking, and then moved to Texas with his day-job.  When he won the "Best-of-Show" award and a handful of gold and silver medals at the prestigious American Wine Society Annual Competition in 1995,  that was the turning point.  He started thinking about winemaking as a second career.  He continued to learn more about wine, and graduated from the 3-year wine judge program of the American Wine Society.  He was hooked, and over the years expanded his judging to include international venues.

In 2001, he and his partner Andrea Hamer purchased a property in Nevada County after explorations during ski trips to Tahoe.

 “We decided to name our winery Solune, which is a combination of the French words for sun (soleil) and moon (lune),” explained Jacques.   “We appreciate the growing advantage we have to produce premium grapes in this beautiful Northern California Sierra Foothills area, and in particular, we’ve sought to work with varieties that do well with the large temperature difference between our warm days and our cool nights.”

Initially, Jacque planted 24 varieties, creating what was essentially a big laboratory.  Now, after his first decade, he has 11 reliable varieties.  He uses double pruning, monitors water closely, and continues to pick the brains of other winemakers and grape growers.

At 1000 cases now, which is a self-imposed upward limit in order to keep quality high, Jacques is looking forward to a 50/50 ratio of juice from his own estate vineyards and grapes that he buys in from selected Foothill growers.   As he achieves that goal, the emphasis will continue to be on quality.

He is happy to share his experience with Katoa, and Katoa should have their own high quality wines available to taste soon.   At Katoa, Riki Pollock is making Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay wines in a system he calls “The Yin Yang Project.”   This is “an experimental approach to wine production that serves as a learning tool for Katoa visitors.  Katoa cellars is making at least two wines each year that will highlight the effect different techniques and approaches can have on wine production,” says Riki. 

Solune Winery
16303 Jewett Lane (Colfax Hwy)
Grass Valley, CA 95945

Katoa Cellars
14556 Powerline Road
Grass Valley, CA  95945

(You can read more about Solune WineGrowers and meet the winemaker  via photos by Johan Martin in my forthcoming book...sign up to get updates/alert on publication date ...

Monday, October 12, 2015

In Yuba County, Clos Saron Winemaker Aims to Produce Wines that Will Enhance your Life

Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock,  winemaker and co-owner of this unique North Yuba County winery with wife Saron Rice, has done something not very usual in California winemaking.  A good summary of Gideon’s experience is that he has had the opportunity to take vineyards in the North Yuba AVA from big to medium to small, and now, on his own property at Clos Saron, smaller.

The result is a track record of increasingly better wines.  He is known for producing a Pinot Noir that displays the true character of the grape with a minimalist touch.  “What has brought me to all of this is my passion for wine, and its ability to really express the terroir,” he said.

Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron

Gideon began his Yuba County winemaking experience with Renaissance Winery located not far from Clos Saron .  Owned by the Fellowship of Friends, a group that follows the beliefs of philosophers Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,  the followers had planted 365 acres of vines between 1975 and 1982.  The vines were planted  according to aesthetic principles instead of viticultural wisdom.  Although beautiful, by the time Gideon signed on as apprentice winemaker in 1992, parts of the vineyard were producing at very low yields and the wines were austere in taste.  It took about 7 years to regraft, introduce Rhone and other varieties that would do well in the various microclimates, and finally, as Gideon said colorfully, “to turn the Queen Mary around in the bathtub.”  The 45 best acres survived.

Good things came from this experience, and although there are now no ties between Renaissance and Clos Saron, it was a great education on the terroir and unique microclimates of the area. 

On the winery website, Gideon has posted what could be called a mission statement.  “Since 1999 Saron and I have accumulated decades of experience in viticulture, wine “making”, and all sorts of farming. . We have decided to take on this dubious financial challenge/adventure out of many other-than-commercial reasons: love of wine (especially Pinot Noir, but really all good wine), love of outdoors work (especially viticulture), and our wish to do something productive in our lives. Farming and living close to nature may be challenging in many ways, but it is equally life giving and inspiring. Wine is for us an integral part of our lives, a source of joy, learning, and an endlessly expanding horizon to explore. We hope our wines will enhance your life in similar ways.”

You’ll need to plan your visit to Clos Saron in advance.
  It is a Foothills wine experience you should not miss.  While you are there, let Gideon and Saron educate you a bit about living with the land, enjoying fine wine, and how patience can repay you handsomely.
Clos Saron
9269 Collin House Drive
Oregon House, CA  95962

Winery visits and tastings ONLY by appointment

(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 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 ...