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:  )

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,   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 ...