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Frog’s Tooth Vineyards – A Big Jump!

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This story is about a small artesian winery called Frog’s Tooth Vineyards in Murphys, California. But unlike most stories, this is about a change or metamorphosis from “another store front winery” to “an award winning winery”. Now that may seem a bit harsh, which I am not accustomed to giving such negative publicity, but it is noteworthy in as how far, in my opinion, they have come up. The winery always has had a great motto “If wine has legs, then frogs can have teeth”.
To regress, about three years ago I moved up to Calaveras County and was interested to learn more in depth about the wineries and wine associated within the County, specifically Murphys, the mecca of Calaveras County Wines. I was introduced to them from several folks residing within the community including the local Wine Society. Upon my visit/interview with them, some communications went awry and I did not get a chance to speak with the ownership. I was able to meet with the winemaker and taste many of the wines. I was less than impressed across the spectrum of varietals. I don’t do “negative stories”, so with that nothing was ever written.

Now three years later, I heard many rumblings of their improved wines from many sources. So I set up a tasting and interview with Larry Aderman, the managing Partner of Frog’s Tooth Vineyards. Somewhat hesitant to taste, but still trying to be open, I partook in tasting six or seven wines this one afternoon. I truly marveled with the wine quality and sources of their grapes. To my amazement and pleasure were three standout wines of quality and distinction.
The first wine was the 2016 Pinot Noir from Russian River, specifically the Desmond Vineyards. This light and delicate strawberry bombshell of a wine, was remarkable. These grapes come from the Russian River Valley. This is a big Pinot Noir with a 15.2% alcohol level. It recently won a Silver Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2019. Sunset Magazine rated it 94 points and awarded it a Double Gold. They also won Gold at the West Coast Wine Competition (formerly East Meets West Competition). That is some monumental climb in the last three years! I recently served this at a dinner party, and to a person, each was impressed.
The second wine was their 2017 Chardonnay, again from Russian River Valley. This wine possessed a mouthwatering butter and soft lemon aromas and taste. Again a quantum leap from three years ago.

The third wine was their 2016 Sangiovese from the Matagrano Vineyard located in El Dorado County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. A fairly high alcohol level of 15.3%, but the fruit and mouth feel provided an extremely “heavier wine”. A combination of earthiness, rustic and fruit all prevail on the palate. This wine won Gold at the Sierra Foothill Wine Competition.

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy wines, which I haven’t tasted but just ordered is their 2016 Syrah which just won Double Gold at the California State Fair Wine Competition. If that was not enough it also rated 99 points, and Best in Class!! These grapes come from the Renner Vineyard in Vallecito, not far from Murphys. Again a heavy alcohol level of 15.2%, but obviously a winner from one of the tougher wine competitions.
So my hats off to the Larry Aderman, Managing Partner and Will SavoieHoule, the winemaker. You have moved three or four wines from my tough rating of “average” to award winning (major wine competitions) and delicious wines in three years. No small feat on so many levels. Congratulations and keep up the great work.

(A couple out front of their tasting room enjoying the daily selections)
In conclusion, if you once tried Frog’s Tooth Vineyards wines in the past and rated them “so-so or average”, I think you will be surprised, impressed and appreciative of their progress in making quality wines. I am a hard person to please, and they turned me around!

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A Tale of Two Grapes — Pinot Blanc From France and California

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Yes a bit of a parody of Charles Dickens tale of Two Cities” (London and France) written in 1859. To recap his opening paragraph: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

However this time it is not about war and politics as Dickens’ was referring to, but it is about the same grape from two different areas, France and California. What is Pinot Blanc? Why haven’t I heard about this grape? What is it like? Where is it grown? These questions will be addressed in this story.

So what is Pinot Blanc? The history of this grape is a bit tangled with mystery and misunderstanding. This white wine grape is essentially a mutation but sharing mostly the same DNA with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Pinot Blanc has a wide ranging descriptors: high in acidity, low in acidity, mix of fresh fruits, aromas (apple, citrus), pear, a little buttery, a bit creamy, hint of spiciness, dry, floral characteristics, honey, sweet, possessing stone fruit aromas, heavier minerality, cabbage odor, etc.



Alsace fronts the Rhine River in eastern France, and borders the countries of Germany and Switzerland (Map from


Where is it grown? The main areas for this variety are Alsace (northeast France), the Alto Adige region in Italy and neighboring areas of Alsace in Germany & Austria. Pinot Blanc is also taking a hold in Canada’s Okanagan Valley as one of their signature wines. Others areas include Hungary, Croatia, Spain, Washington and Oregon. In France it is permissible to blend this varietal with other grapes in some quantities.


What other names does it go by? Warning: the list is a minefield for possible mispronunciations: Austria (Weissburgunder or Klevner), Hungary (Feher Burgundi); Spain & Italy (Pinot bianco), Czech Republic (Rulandske Bile), Slovakia (Rulandske Biele, and Croatia (Pinot bijeli or Burgundac bijeli). More recently it is starting to be develop in Uruguay and Argentina. In the Champagne region, Pinot Blanc is often called Blanc vrai. In the United States, besides Pinot Blanc, it is often referred to as a white ABC (anything but Chardonnay) or a step-child to Chardonnay. The truth of this varietal is very different!

I was made aware of Pinot Blanc from a recent video cast (Winephabet Street) and found a very limited number of commercial California Pinot Blancs. I was intrigued by this obscure wine due to unfamiliarity and sought out to taste it. No easy task. The number of acres planted of Pinot Blanc are a bit of a mystery, but estimated around 300 to 400 acres statewide. Upon tasting various ones, I was more than impressed with the aromas, flavors, textures and tastes of this varietal. What stood out was this wine was significantly different from France to California. Admittedly, I have not tasted this varietal in all the previous countries mentioned earlier. In France Pinot Blanc can actually add Auxerrois (from the town in Chablis region) but still labeled as Pinot Blanc. Auxerrois often has a “green vegetable quality” to it. When I first tasted it, I was so “un-impressed” by the taste. Turns out it often has a cabbage tinge. What are the differences between California and French Pinot Blanc? Apart from “terroir”, as mentioned the French often blend in Auxerrois and it has a distinct “green vegetable” on the palate. When I had a Sonoma Valley, Pinot Blanc I was taken back with a soft “cotton candy sweetness” verses “cabbage” on the palate and finish. And thus the impetus for this article!


In all, four California Pinot Blancs were tasted. Each having different coloring, aromas and flavor profiles. The first one tasted, 2014 Valley of the Moon, 100% Pinot Blanc from Sonoma, had a light golden color and medium viscosity on the eye. Aromas and tastes were complex with a sweetness of honeysuckle and green apples contrasting with a soft sweet vegetable characteristic of uncooked snow peas and a hint of citrus. A great summer patio wine!


Today, Valley of the Moon offers their 2016 of Pinot Blanc and Viognier. This bright wine produced in stainless steel tanks, allowed the fresh fruit and aromas of the grape to express the fullness of Pinot Blanc. Combined with the tropical fruits of Viognier, what came across immediately was fruit with tropical aromas. Their winemakers’ notes talk about “Aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle, with just a hint of spicy fresh ginger. Juicy white peach and nectarine fill the mouth and reveal hidden ripe pineapple and guava”. This is one wine that should be considered for your enjoyment. This wine received a Double Gold Medal Award at the Sonoma Harvest Fair.




The third tasted was a 2017 Saddleback Pinot Blanc from Napa. On the eye it was medium-heavy viscosity with a bright pale golden hue for color. On the nose & taste, earthiness, intense floral aromas, with a slightly tart finish of key lime pie and a sweet honeydew melon. The finish was full and multi-layered presence in the mouth especially going from chilled to warming up but always round and smooth. Truly a wonderful tasting experience.


The fourth California Pinot Blanc tasted was from Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards just outside St. Helena. This wine from the renowned Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc winery with extremely high ratings (97+), was their first attempt at Pinot Blanc. The grapes came from Yount Mill Vineyard in Yountville. Originally slated for a fortified wine experiment (something similar to Pineau des Charentes, a regional French aperitif) that will take 5 ½ years in the barrel, they had enough to produce 24 cases of unfiltered Pinot Blanc. This unfiltered wine possessed some distinguished characteristics as they stated, being on the “…rich, flavorful side”.

What foods pair well with California Pinot Blanc? Almost anything with subtle flavoring, so soft cheese (goat or sheep), salads with cheese dressings, or mild fish to taste this “more delicate varietal”. Conversely, if you want to highlight the meal and want a complimentary wine, you can serve California Pinot Blanc’s with Salmon, shrimp, scallops, far eastern chicken dishes, pizza, sushi & sashimi and even cured Italian prosciutto.
Generally speaking while having similar production characteristics as Chardonnay (oak barrel aging, stainless-steel aging), it is a wine generally not to be aged, but consumed early. The French can legally add the Auxerrois varietal which I believe distorts the pure Pinot Blanc experience. The quintessential take away is that California Pinot Blanc (be it stand alone or with Viognier) possess wide ranging characteristics and flavors. It is much more than your “ABC” wine and will provide you a new adventure and a great addition to your everyday whites.



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Lavender Ridge Vineyard – You get to pick the title of this article!!!

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Yes, I understand this is not the way to start off an article, as you normally have to engage with a snappy title of an article. So let me explain, that with Lavender Ridge Vineyard there were simply too many titles one could use to “catch your interest and attention”. So I will be using “possible titles” and you, the readers, get to call out your favorite title for this article!

Possible Title #1 – The Winemaker & Owners
Here we have Rich and Siri Gilpin who started the business in 2000, planted a vineyard in 2003 and started selling wine on Main Street in Murphys in 2005. The first years, when there was only 3 wineries on Main Street as opposed to twenty-five or so today, so they were one of the first. Rich grew up on the San Francisco peninsula and Siri in Winnetka, Illinois. Rich study enology and viticulture at UC Davis and was fortunate enough to also work in “an experimental field” passing his classrooms knowledge thru his toiling hands in the field to making wine. The best of both a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge – theory and practical experience. One of his first jobs finishing at UC Davis was in Sonoma. Siri, after leaving Winnetka, Illinois, attended and graduated UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Sociology. She then pursued doctorate studies in Marriage and Family Counseling at Sonoma State University. It was there where she met Rich, who got the job working as an Assistant Winemaker in 1993. Later, they spent 10 years in El Dorado County at Wind Walker but always wanted to move to Calaveras County where Rich had spent some time at a family property. In 2000 they purchased the property and within three years had it planted with vines. Those vines provided their first estate release in 2006. The tasting room on Main Street opened in 2005 with wines from grapes gathering from various vineyards. Today they get 70% of the fruit from Calaveras County and the remainder mostly from the Sierra Foothills. The name Lavender Ridge, came from some health challenges of their children and the positive effect that Lavender (and other herbs) played in strengthening their immune systems, ultimately helping them get well.
(One of their favorite paintings from France of lavender in back tasting room)

Possible Title #2 – The Tasting Room, More Than You Think
While not discussing this in detail during our interview, they run a rather unique tasting room. It is truly three businesses in one. First is obviously the rustic tasting room for walk in traffic. Here is where you can simply walk in and taste typically six of their current wine releases. In the back, is their Rhone Room where you can make reservations to small groups or several individuals up to 20 people. Here they are focused on presenting Rhone varietals. It is here where they have a Lavender boutique of various products. Their second tasting room Coppermine features Bordeaux varietals. (Click on ). The second thing you notice is the Artisan Cheese Market they display in the walk-in tasting room. They also have an entire wall decorated with items for sale. The third aspect of the business is their profound use of pairing their wines with artisan cheese. During the year they hold many events focused on the two. Topics of the ones coming include: Romance of France, Sheep Chevre, Best of Cheddars, etc. These are held via reservations and presented by Judy Creighton a certified cheese professional. Usually four wines and cheeses to compare and contrast. Personally, I have been buying from their specialized cheeses for two years but did not know they offered these classes/events. You will be seeing me signed up shortly as the cost is nominal.

Possible Title #3 – Wine Which Show Creativity and Pushing the Limits


So in discussing Rich’s winemaking capabilities, the first question was his style or what he is trying to provide via his wine making skills. His answer was simply perfect, he wants to show the expression of the varietals. He does not do blends or add 5% or 10% of this or that to present a preconceived notion of how a varietal should look like by “artificially adding a darker varietal”. Simple and truthful. To this end he uses only natural native yeasts so as not to upset the expression. To quote Rich this makes his wines “fruit forward and easy to drink”. He does work to balance acidity and tannins to make his wines rounder and fuller flavored. This results in his words, “rounder and fuller” wines. Having tasted two of his “prized wines”, his Grenache done in “concrete eggs” for minerality and keeping the lees naturally moving, and his Mourvèdre they were “light colored”. Having to dismiss my preconceived ideas of coloring, the floral aroma of both were “other worldly” wonderful. He mentioned some consumers come in and summarily dismiss his wines due to the “lighter coloring”. Just a thought that if they provided blacked out tasting glasses he would sell out in half the time! By the way, his wines generally sell out despite the “lighter coloring.
The wines are fabulous including his 2016 Lavender Ridge Roussanne, Double Gold Winner in Sierra Foothills Competition. This paired with pan seared scallops, with porcini mushroom risotto with sautéed spinach and lemon beurre blanc. An excellent pairing and a real treat!


One other wine enjoyed while talking with Rich and Siri, one was their newly released Grenache Rose. The boutique was heavenly, fresh with a unique shade of pink. A perfect warm weather, patio wine!

Possible Title #4 – Leading Technologist in Calaveras
Rich has constantly re-invested back into the winery with state of the art equipment. He was the first in the county to purchase and use a cross flow filter. A portion of business is also acting as a custom crush house for various wineries. Here I believe is a remarkable story. He, like so many winemakers in the state of California, have been fighting “smoke taint” for the last few years. He had received some grapes / juice that had a distinct smoke taint characteristic. Rather than jeopardize his reputation and quality, he simply poured his juice down the drain. At his “custom crush” operation, a winery came to him with similar smoke tainted grapes/juice. He asked and received the same advice from Rich to simple pour out the wine but with a caveat. Like any solid winemaker in the state of California with constant and inevitable forest fires, sadly smoke taint is a yearly occurrence. He offered to spend his time and money with this juice working on reverse osmosis and a newly discovered way of treating smoke taint with enzymes. This was to take away free and bonded particles out of the wine, especially from the sugar compound. This was provided the wine would not see any consumer, but be a noble wine experiment. It is underway and his results will know later this year.

Possible Title #5 – The Future of the Wine Industry

We spent some time talking about how to transition from Baby Boomers to Millennials/Gen-X/Gen-Y with the tasting room, varietals, etc. How tasting rooms have transitioned to “wine bars” instead of an opportunity to taste what the winemaker has produced by a varietal. This portion of the discussion was unfortunately cut short as we already spent over twice the allocated time. We will have an opportunity later to follow up and stay tuned for an upcoming article on the subject.

Conclusion: So I have only touched briefly on five far ranging subjects on Lavender Ridge Vineyard and their wines, products and overall business. Thus as I stated in the opening salvo, a title of this story was going to be too limiting and not show the vastness of their operation, offering and character. So you the reader can name the article, but at some point, to fully appreciate Lavender Ridge Vineyard, you will need to visit and taste some remarkable wines.


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Boyle MacDonald Wines: A Blending of Two Wine Regions

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Kate Boyle and Craig MacDonald have combined two distinct areas to produce some spectacular wines from both the Napa Valley AVA and several of the Sierra Foothill counties & AVA. They have taken their family vineyard located on Mt George area of Napa Valley and produce stand alone Cabernet Sauvignon’s at Boyle MacDonald. Not content to simply be another “Napa winery”, they have also combined some of their favorite varietals from El Dorado, Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties to blend with their Napa Wines.


Kate Boyle, winemaker at Ayrael Vieux Winery (click to read a previous story), along with her husband have just recently opened a tasting room in Murphys, California. Located at 448-B Main Street on the 2nd floor. This newly renovated tasting room has some magnificent handmade tables. Additionally, besides their intimate indoor tasting room complete with “bar & cart trolley” and plenty of intimate seating, they have a relaxing outdoor roof patio.


They offer many wines so let me break this down to three simple categories. The first is their Blue Label series of wines. These include their Zinfandel (“balanced flavors of wild berry, clove, cinnamon, and vanilla”), Petite Sirah and younger released Cabernet. The Petite Sirah (“Dark ruby in color with notes of plum, blackberry and sage”) comes from El Dorado County and the Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot from the Sierra Foothill Counties of Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties. The younger released Cabernet Sauvignon comes from their family estate in Napa with less time being bottle aged. Prices range from $22 to $36.



The second label is their Cock Au Vin series. Here they are currently offering two wines. The first being their Red Blend which consists of 61% Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Sangiovese and 18% Zinfandel, both from Calaveras County. The winemaker’s notes sum it up nicely “black cherry and tobacco notes round to an easy finish”. This is made for everyday enjoyment and can be served with just about any food. The second offering in the Cock Au Vin series, a Sierra foothills Rosé was just released in time for the beginning of the warm summer season. It is 73% Sangiovese, 17.5% Zinfandel and 7.5% Merlot. It is a dry Rosé, with fruit forward aromas of cherries, strawberries and soft citrus. This is a refreshing summer wine capable of serving on the patio, again and again. These wines range from $16 to $22.


The third label is the Premium Estate Wines. Starting with their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Napa Valley Cabernet Franc). This wine is aged 30 months in the barrel. In addition they offer their 2012 and 2011 vintages. The 2011 is also aged in the bottle for 18 months! These wines are robust, with mouth watering flavorings of blackberries, licorice and lavender. They also have a 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Tuolumne blend called the Red Blend. Here they have taken 56% of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Sierra foothills Merlot and 10% Sierra foothills Zinfandel. These wines range from $28 to $60.


The fun fact remains that Kate likes to feature both the pure Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon varietal along with blending unique and quality produced Sierra foothills vineyard varietals like Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and Merlot to make refreshing and layered wines! You will need to seek out Boyle MacDonald as they are “upstairs, around the corner” but you and your palate will be amply rewarded.





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1849 Wines: On the Cutting Edge or On an Edge That Cuts Both Ways?

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Perhaps the quote from Jerzy Kosinski sums up the response from viewing 1849 Wine bottles “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”. I posted this picture with a simple question to Millennials, Gen-X and Gen-Y wine buyers on various blogs, “Do these labels have an appeal to you?” The response and answers were strong, far reaching, positive, negative, insightful and curt to list a few of the responses. So yes it did evoke one of the strongest reactions on any post I have done!

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The label artwork was done by Los Angeles urban street artist, Saber. Each bottle has a name which encapsulates the spirit of the wine.

So let’s break this down in some digestible bites, starting with the reaction, the wine and a possible conclusion. So the reaction on the positive side were comments like:
• “I really don’t care about the label design if I buy wine for me, but sometimes it’s fun to give away something that looks different (given that the wine is good as well)” – Ace Rajchapuckdee
• “I’m a millennial, and I like the labels. There not what I personally would choose, but I do like them more than the fancy-French-words-in-script-on-white-paper labels that a lot of other wines use” – Seth Eli Barlow
• “I like them, although I’d prefer them just a tad more intelligible” – Mitul Kanji
• “They are cool, sure. Actually pretty awesome to keep after drinking. BUT. Enticing me to buy them because of the label…negative” – Anthony Morocco
• “I’m a Gen-Xer and I have personally purchased several of these bottles JUST because I love the labels. There’s absolutely no shame in my game. Sometimes I just like the labels….” Stacy Brooks
• “I’ve been seeing this label all over the place. It’s a cool design” – John Goins
So these folks (and many others) were noting some unique marketing / labeling characteristics of this wine. Notable was the easily recognized labels, liking the labels as artwork, standing out on the wine shelf, etc. To this end I think 1849 Wines hit the mark for marketing and brand recognition.
Now let’s look at the flip side of the comments, the negative:
• “Gen-X uph graffiti. No appeal.” – Eve Vuillemainroy
• “Maybe for some but not for me.” – anonymous
• “…..Message is a bit irreverent but let’s be fair…if the wine isn’t satisfying I wouldn’t buy again” –Barb Wilder
• “I personally don’t like it. I don’t get a sense of anything except vandalism. I like updated and modern labels with a sense of origin and history. This conveys very little.” – Andrew Sutalo
• “It looks artistic, but not enough to buy a bottle. If someone reliable told me this wine is worth buying, I would. Some young people would try such a “cool” wine maybe…..” – Gerhild Magerl
The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be judging the label as art. It comes down to individual taste in “art” as labels. Here 1849 Wines loses many with the label right away as being “graffiti or vandalism as art”.

The conclusion on the label: is that the message may have gotten distorted by the medium selected; it is well recognized on the wine shelf; it appeals to some and is repugnant to others; it is unique for wine labels, etc. So P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. A lot of people are talking about the label be it good or non-appealing.

But we haven’t talked yet about the wine!! So is this 1849 Wine’s strategy? To evoke all this response and forget about the contents? Are they hiding poor wine behind the unique label?

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So let’s talk about two wines which I objectively tasted and rated. First is the 2017 Chardonnay, called Au Jus from Monterey County. Wine Enthusiast rated it 89 and a Bronze Medal winner at San Francisco Chronicle 2018. It is an oaked Chardonnay, that is creamy and just the right amount of “butter”, with stone fruit. At $25, this is a worthy buy for a solid Chardonnay.


This Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with a pork belly appetizer at Saddle Creek’s Copper Grill. It is called Declaration. Robert Parker gave it 91 points. A dark purple wine with blackberries and blueberries on the nose and fruit forward on the palate with sweet chocolate hints. The finish was soft and round with hardly any tannins. A made to drink now Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine comes from various vineyards both on the valley floor and hillsides. I also wanted to show the backside as each bottle does provide a level of detail which is not immediately noticeable from the artistic front. At $80, the art work says Millennials, Gen-X and Gen-Y, but the price point says Baby boomers. A possible conflicting messages here but still an enjoyable and highly rated wine no matter your age.

So to sum up 1849 Wines: they are non-traditionalist for sure, they make very good wine and are not hiding the quality with art, but despite the art not appealing to some, they should be taken seriously. So whether you like the art which comes down to individual tastes (as with wine), the bottles do evoke a response. Be fair and let the wine evoke your real palate response no matter your demographic. They are rebels with a cause to provide very good wine with a different but highly recognized label.


Michael Kelly

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Results of the 38th Sierra Foothill Wine Competition

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The results are in from the 38th Sierra Foothill Wine Competition. This event is open to the counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. Those include Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Alpine Counties. It was a blind tasting using the “Danish System” for the rating and tasting of the wines. This was Tom Benders’ 37th year presiding as Judging Coordinator for the event. Several prestigious and notable judges, writers and winemakers participated including Brad Alderson, Dan Berger, Greg Burns, Mark Chandler, Patrick Dodd, Mike Dunne, etc.

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The wine industry in the Sierra Foothills dates back to 1851 and includes many varietals grown in Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. Those include Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Albarino, Marsanne, Roussanne, Verdelho, Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to name just a few.

The Calaveras best-in-show, Double Gold, and Gold Medal winning wines will be on display at the Calaveras County Fair in the Wine Pavilion May 16th to May 19th.

The 2019 Winners:
Best of Show White: Went to Ironstone Vineyards, 2017 Symphony “Obsession”. The Symphony varietal is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. I noted while tasting it that the color was clear, had a floral nose and just a hint of sweetness. After the event I saw the winemaker’s notes which state “captivating aromas of gardenia, honeysuckle and star jasmine”. Personally I was surprised at the Symphony’s placement, but really enjoyed the wine.

Best of Show White for Calaveras County: Black Sheep Winery Semillon 2017.

Best of Show Blush: Was awarded to Milliaire Winery for their 2018 White Zinfandel. Again a surprise but deserving award. Color was +, nose + and taste was ++ from my notes.

Best of Show Red: No surprise here as it went to Jeff Runquist Wines ( ) for his 2016 Sangiovese “The Hill”. My notes were dark coloring, solid nose and complex finish.

Best of Show Red for Calaveras County: Mineral Winery 2016 Barbera

Winner of the Zin Challenge: Shenandoah Vineyards 2016 “Paul’s Vineyard”. My notes were color+, nose + and soft & rounded tannins, creating a smooth wine.

Winner of Best of Show Dessert Wine: Jeff Runquist 2018 Muscat Canelli.

Winner of the most Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals went to Jeff Runquist for a variety of wines including additionally winning Best of Show Red and Best of Show Desert. 26 medals in total!! You can see a previous article that I had written on Jeff Runquist wine at: . Recently I was again at Jeff Runquist Wines tasting many of his wines and all were stellar to the varietal and taste.

Other notable awards some from previous written articles and tasted, but not tasted at our judging table for this event:
• Frog’s Tooth Winery 2016 Sangiovese – Gold
• Gianelli Vineyards 2017 Pinot Grigio – Gold (
• Gossamer Cellars 2016 Alicante Bouschet – Gold ( )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2018 Chardonnay – Double Gold ( )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2014 Vintage Port – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist Tannat 2016 – Gold ( )
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Carignane – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Touriga – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Petit Sirah – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Charbono – Gold
• Lavender Ridge 2018 Grenache – Double Gold

Wines that won that I had not tasted prior to the Competition but now are on the radar include:
• Aloria Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Renner” – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Farmhouse Red” blend – Double Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 Montepulciano – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Chatom 2015 Barbera – Gold
• Clavey 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo – Gold
• Drytown Cellars 2015 Primitivo – Gold
• Hatcher Winery 2014 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Ironstone Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc – Gold
• Ironstone 2017 “Red Obsession” blend – Gold
• Milliaire Winery 2015 “Ghirardelli” Zinfandel – Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Barbera Double Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Merlot – Gold
• Noceto Vineyards 2015 Sangiovese “Reserve” – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Roussanne – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Petite Sirah – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Reserve Zinfandel – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Fiddletown Zinfandel – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard 2017 Zingiovese blend –Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard “Angelica” dessert – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyards 2015 Tempranillo – Gold
• Stevenot Winery 2016 “Danza” blend – Gold
• Ten by Ten Wines 2016 Primitivo – Gold

Upon the revealing of the “brown bags at the end” of the competition, some of my personal favorites were:
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Shake Ridge Ranch” Tempranillo
• Chatom’s 2014 Malbec. Color+, Nose++ and taste++
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon.

I am thankful to have been a judge at this event two years in a row and believe the Sierra Foothill Wineries are making some excellent and notable wines for wine aficionados all around the globe! Well done to those wineries who participated and showed their esteemed wine making abilities.


Michael Kelly
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Inner Sanctum Cellars – Went inside and What I Saw!!!

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The meaning of the words Inner Sanctum means “a private or secret place to which few other people are admitted”. While a couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to step into the Inner Sanctum with some trepidation. The phrase Inner Sanctum conjures up all kinds of thoughts. This winery was new to me, so I peeked in the doorway and what did I behold? A small boutique winery with more ribbons than Secretariat! I was met with extreme friendliness by the staff, especially Rick Watts, General Manager. Their labels on the wine bottles were spectacular and further into the story, you can see them as well hear about the wines. The “Inner Sanctum” turned out not to be scary at all.

What I learned is that Pete and Karen Mariano-Luckhardt, founders and owners, set out to make some distinguished wines in Jamestown in Tuolumne County. Their goal was to bring to market many Spanish varietals – both known in the US and those unknown by most. The formed Inner Sanctum in 2010 and have never looked back. In fact they have even opened a second tasting room in Columbia, just outside Sonora. At this facility they have a floral & wares store and do weddings around a rustic barn. One of their quotes which is on the brochures and bantered about is “The only thing we take seriously are the wines, everything else is about having fun and enjoying good wine”. Obviously this is a great motto and they run their business accordingly.



My favorite wine of the tasting was the 2017 Verdejo from Tuolumne grapes. This wine called Mateo the Matador won Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January 2019. This is a unique wine, with low levels of fruit and little sweetness. What stands out is the acidity of lime, grapefruit and hints of minerality. So little is planted in the US it is hard to even construct acreage with just a few vineyards in the Sierra foothills, Lodi and Clarksburg. Two days later I paired this with some fresh calamari appetizer and fresh scallops that made a wonderful meal at the Copper Grill.


Another one of their award winning wine is the 2015 Chardonnay called Dwell in Joy. Here a mild and rounded Chardonnay made via “old school” with barrel aging was powerful and graceful. Hues of light yellow and gold glisten in the glass. Currently they are offering the 2018 from El Dorado and is aged 8 months in the barrel. The 2017 version of Dwell in Joy won Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in January 2019. It is currently being offered and poured at the tasting rooms.


These two wines, Torro 6, a Reserve Tempranillo, and La Mera Dona “Boss Lady”, Tempranillo, provided some unique characteristics and tastes are my number two and three picks at Inner Sanctum. A previous version (2014) won Double Gold and Best in Class at the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017. The La Mera Dona just won Silver this year at San Francisco Chronicle.


Not to be swayed by the gorgeous art work on the bottles, it was only a precursor of what was to follow. These labels as “art” hang in the Jamestown tasting room wall. In other words, the lovely labels were not hiding any “poor wine” but just the opposite. Zack at Utilitarian Graphics along with Pete & Karen have created mesmerizing and unique labels for their wines. Their wine typically sells out with only 2,000 cases being produced. So if you want to take advantage of some award winning wines, get to one of the two tasting rooms quickly.


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