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Both Liquid and Actual Gold in the Sierra Nevada Foothills — Calaveras County

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So where exactly is Calaveras County? Calaveras County is located 40 miles east of Stockton. Calaveras County terrain ranges from just above sea level to 8,000 where it abuts to the Sierra Nevada’s. Calaveras County is well known for its part during the Gold Rush of 1849. Many historical figures also traveled about Calaveras County including Mark Twain. In fact Angels Camp (the only incorporated city in the County), still holds its annual Frog Jumping Contest during the Calaveras County Fair in May made famous by “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” a short story by Mark Twain. The area is rich in history with Big Trees State Park; Moaning Caves; gold, silver and copper rushes; beautiful lakes and top rated championship golf courses like Saddle Creek Golf Resort. Today there is a “wine rush” in Calaveras County. Picture below is the largest gold nugget on display at Ironstone Vineyards weighing in at 44 pounds!


(picture from Ironstone Vineyards used with written permission)
With that quick overview perspective, today there is a “wine rush”. Currently in the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance (a non-profit organization run by the energetic Shelby French), there 34 wineries in the county. Murphys about 9 miles east of Angels Camp up state highway 4, is home of 25 tasting rooms which allows visitors from around the world to sip on the locally produced wines. This wine rush with both locally produced wines, as well as wineries bringing in grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Central Coast, etc., allows visitors to taste the gambit from locally produced wines to some of the more well-known varietals around California.


(picture used by permission from Calaveras Winegrape Alliance)
While grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Viognier, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, etc., are grown worldwide with each AVA having it’s own “unique twist”. Some have even developed and use non-traditional clones to withstand certain environmental conditions. For example, John Locke of Locke Vineyards (see story at: ) , uses a thicker skin Cabernet Sauvignon clone 338 verses 337 (more commonly found in California) due to the warmer days and nights during the growing season. Calaveras County vineyard elevations range from Valley Springs (669’) to Copperopolis (997’) to Arnold (3999’) to West Point (2769’) and many places in between. But for these “typical varietals” many areas are more recognized for their wines, for example Napa Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon due to the geographic and geology.



(picture used by permission from Calaveras Winegrape Alliance)

The growing climate (heat and diurnal temperature swings) are more akin in Calaveras County to Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. If you think of those areas (not next to the seaside), you will find some impressive varietals being made into excellent wine. At the recent San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition voting on 6,800 wines, Calaveras County garnered 45 wine winners! Many were also highlighted at the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition last April and will be submitted again this April. The larger Gold Medal winners this year were ( Black Sheep Winery (, Ironstone Vineyards, Jazz Cellars (see story at ) , Milliaire Vineyard Selection, Renegade, Villa Vallecito Vineyards and Vina Moda Winery. The Gold varietal winners were: Zinfandel, Sagrantino, Barbera, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many wineries due to their artisan and smaller production did not even submit wines to be judged.

Key here are the wine varietals that that are grown and made into wine in Calaveras County:
• Spanish: Albarino, Godello, Graciano, Tempranillo, Treixadura, Verdejo
• Portuguese: Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional
• Italian: Barbera, Brunello, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Negroamaro, Pinot Grigio, Rolle, Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Teroldego, Vermentino
• French: Carignane, Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Grenache, Marsanne, Mourvedre, Muscat, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Semillon, Viognier
Some of my personal favorite varietals from Calaveras County Wine producers are Tempranillo (Allegorie see BLOG at, Montepulciano (Ayreal Vieux see story at, Roussanne (Lavender Ridge) and Nebbiolo, Teroldego & Negroamaro (Gossamer Cellars see story at There are many more which are still to be tasted!

One of the local wineries has on their chalkboard in the wine tasting room “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you”- Anonymous. Get beyond your everyday Cabernet’s and Chardonnay’s. By thinking of Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian food dishes while sipping some Calaveras County wines, you will find some real “gold nuggets”, albeit not as big as the one at Ironstone, but valuable and a value to drink.


Michael Kelly


3 Steves Winery – The Livermore Valley, California & Cachapoal Valley, Chile Wine Connection

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This article will show how a local Livermore winery made a connection in Chile to import a spectacular wine Carménère. 3 Steves Winery has been around since 2010. They originally made wine at a custom crush facility in Livermore and sold their wine in a small shop in town. In 2013 they purchased a winery of their own in Livermore, California. I visited the first week they opened and met one of the 3 Steve’s, Steve Burman. He is the principal winemaker with the other two Steve’s handling marketing, sales, administration, assisting in winemaking, etc., Steve Melander & Steve Zigant. Upon ending high school, Steve Burman enlisted in the Army. After completing his service, Steve earned his Electrical Engineering degree at Temple University and later received his Master’s in Manufacturing Systems at Stanford. After a stint with Ford Motor Company and Sun Microsystems, he then found work in Silicon Valley with various startups. For fun he planted some grape vines around his house and in the garage he launched his winemaking skills! He and the other two Steves met in 2006 as they all invested in a winery. 2010 is when they officially launched 3 Steves Winery.

(shown above are the 3 Steve’s, L to R, are Steve Zigant, Steve Burman and Steve Melander) photo by 3 Steve’s and used with permission.
In 2014, their Zinfandel was voted Best Red Wine of Show at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. They have never looked back! The vineyard where the Zinfandel was grown is owned by a person who owns a winery in Chile. Over the past 5 years, Steve Burman and the two other Steve’s have been traveling to Chile where they produce and bottle their South American wines.

Located in Livermore, they produce many varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, “Three Red Heads” Blend (Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Brut Sparkling wine. They also offer a couple of blends from Chili and make two varietal wines from Chili, Malbec and Carménère. The focus of this article is on their Carménère as it is exquisite and worthy to be sought after! Not to take away from the 3 Steves other wines which should also be sought after and enjoyed but is not the focus of this story!

(Photo by Alchemy Winery and used with permission)
Now to find out more about Carménère (one of the lost Bordeaux varietals) and it’s Phoenix rise from the ashes, a quick history can be found at Wine Folly . Suffice it to say, it was transported from Bordeaux to Chile in the 1800’s as Merlot but was only recognized in 1994 as actually being Carménère. This vineyard is located in the famous Cachapoal Valley know to produce the best of the best Carménère.
What makes the pedigree of this wine so outstanding is that it is “handmade” by the local village people in Chile. No automated equipment or optical sorters, only manual labor removing each berry from the cluster by hand and destemming by hand. This allows each bin brought into the winery to be “perfect” with no leaves, stems, MOG (material other than grapes) of any kind contaminating the wine. The results are silky and full of fruit. They also using “water bladders” to gently increase pressure during the press operation. This insures a long but high end extraction of a clean and gentle press to get bottled. The net of both of these intense manual labor processes allow one of the most flavorful Carménère wines I have tasted.
The wine is a deep red color, with medium viscosity on the eye. Bold fruit notes of black cherry and raspberry abound in each sip. Key to the taste beyond the typical Carménère flavors of bell pepper is as Steve describes it as having “mild spicy components, smoked paprika and hints of cinnamon”. It is slightly oaked with round & gentle tannins and a strong lingering finish.
I can tell you today, this will make my Best Wines $50 or less in 2019 and that is why it is my cellar! When they started out to make wine, 3 Steves developed a tag line, which is “3 friends striving to make the perfect wine”. I feel they have achieved their goal with their 2014 Carménère! More information on a previous article on 3 Steves and their wines at .


Gossamer Cellars – A Unique Find

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What makes Gossamer unique today is Gary Grant’s mission to make as many wine varietals as possible. In today’s quest for deep knowledge on a specific topic or discipline, Gary is striving to go “wide” as opposed to “deep”. This is not to state in any manner that his quality or robust wines have suffered. Just the opposite. Gary meticulously strives to get the best grapes for new varietals often waiting years to find them. Once he has them, he seeks out wise counsel, both local friends and UC Davis, where he had enrolled for his winemaking skills.


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In the tasting room in the quaint village in the Sierra Foothills, Murphys, he is keeping a list of the wine varietals he has produced and soliciting customers as to what they would like to see him produce. You can see the ones he has checked off on the wall called De Long Wine Grape Varietal Table. As of this writing, Gossamer is offering Torrontes, Nebbiolo, Teroldego, Negroamaro, Alicante, etc., just to name of few. His passion to bring forth different grapes to beautiful wines, has set Gossamer apart from the street lined with wineries. Their total production is less than eight hundred cases over all the varietals.


Today, Gary and his wife Sue, have “done it all” in the winemaking field – from hand planting 7500 root stocks, to opening two wineries, started up tasting rooms, etc. Located on Main Street in Murphys today, his shop (a mere 10’ by 50’) is warm and inviting mostly due to Sue Grant (wife and self-proclaimed Cellar Rat-it states that on her business card!). Today their goal is to acquaint wine tasters to new varietals and “taste outside the box”. You will not find your everyday Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon listed on the non-pretentious chalk board! You will find this quotation on the chalkboard “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you“- Anonymous. Gary can lead your wine palate on a new adventure if you so desire. For example his Nebbiolo, upon first smell and taste, will transport you back to the hillsides of Piedmont, Italy in an instant.

The etymology of the word gossamer originated in Middle English as “goose summer” or “gos mer”, late summer warmth, when the geese where in prime condition to be eaten! Over time it we have morphed it into an adjective “gossamer” meaning “light, delicate or tenuous” like a butterfly wings. Thus on the bottle of Gossamer Cellars a delicate butterfly or fairy is depicted. To this end, it is appropriately named as Gary “flitters from varietal to varietal” making unique, high quality and lesser known wines for those open to experience the vast world of wine!


SF Chronicle Wine Competition

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The results are in from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which is the largest competition of American Wines in the World. This year 6,800 wines from over 1,132 wineries were entered. That said many, many wines and wineries did not enter. I do however want to congratulate those listed below as I have done a website story, BLOG, wine review or other media acknowledgement of their California pedigree.

3 Steves Winery 1 Gold, 2 Silver
Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze
Anaba Wines 1 Gold, 3 Silver
Bell 1 Double Gold, 1 Gold, 6 Silver
Black Sheep Winery 1 Gold, 3 Bronze
Bokisch Vineyards 1 Double Gold, 1 Silver 2 Bronze
Capiaux Cellars 1 Silver
Dante Robere Vineyards 2 Gold, 3 Silver, 6 Bronze
deLorimier Winery 3 Double Gold, 2 Gold, 5 Silver
Dracaena Wines 2 Gold
Fog Crest Vineyards 4 Gold
Gracianna 3 Silver, 3 Bronze
Hanna 2 Double Gold, 1 Bronze
Jazz Cellars 1 Silver, 3 Bronze
Jeff Runquist 4 Double Gold, 8 Gold, 12 Silver
Jessies Grove Winery 1 Gold, 2 Silver
LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards 1 Double Gold, 2 Gold, 4 Silver, 1 Bronze
Las Positas Vineyards 1 Red Sweepstakes, 1 Double Gold, 5 Gold, 11 Silver, 2 Bronze
Ledson 1 Gold, 2 Silver
McKahn Family Cellars 1 Double Gold, 5 Silver
Oak Farm Vineyards 5 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze
Paskett Winery 1 Gold, 2 Silver
Pedroncelli 1 Double Gold, 2 Gold, 3 Silver, 4 Bronze
Prie Winery 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze
Shadybrook Estate 1 Gold, 1 Silver
The Federalist 3 Silver
The Steven Kent Winery 2 Silver, 1 Bronze
Theopolis Vineyards 1 Gold, 2 Silver
Wente Vineyards 4 Silver
William Harrison 3 Silver
Wood Family Vineyards 1 Best of Class,1 Double Gold, 1 Gold, 4 Silver

For more future award winning and excellent wines see:



Best California Wines of 2018

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Best California Wines in 2018

In 2018 I was fortunate enough to taste and appreciate over 1600+ wines. I am only recommending about 3% of those wines. This is my yearly summation/recommendations with a link to each winery by clicking on the winery name. I believe whole heartily and stand by these picks, as I not only tasted each, but now all of those wines, from each of the categories are in my cellar.

No matter which category, each wine listed will enhance your tasting experience.

Only 29 wines are listed in the $51 and Above Group. And 21 wines made the $50 and Less Group. These wines represent some of best quality for California wines. Again most can be purchased at the winery only and are based upon availability.

New this year based upon feedback are the Best Imported Wines. These wines are markedly above average, unique in specific characteristics and should be tried. Additionally most of these would  only be sold at your local high end retail store. I have also listed The Wine Steward and they would be happy to procure these for you.

During the year I have kept meticulous notes on each wine tasted and hope you enjoy these selections in the coming year. Wishing you a wonderful New Year and that 2019 be prosperous, meaningful and find you in good health.


Michael Kelly

Please provide any feedback on tasting of these wines to


Best California Wines of 2018 ($51 and more)
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2014 Alyris Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon The Audition $85
2014 Carnal Wine Company Cabernet Sauvignon Mt George, Napa Valley $100
2015 Crocker & Starr Malbec & Cab Franc Casili 8 $90
2015 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place $110
2016 Hanna Winery Chardonnay Elias $55
2015 Hanna Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Bismark $69
2016 Lail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Blueprint $80
2015 Larkmead Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solari $200
2015 LaRue Wines Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard $60
2014 Ledson Winery Chardonnay Russian River Reserve $52
2014 Ledson Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley Reserve $52
2013 Ledson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach, Napa Valley $120
2014 Ledson Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn Reserve $100
2017 Maritana Vineyards Chardonnay La Riviere $55
2017 Maritana Vineyards Pinot Noir Le Russe $55
2013 Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon Lex $100
2015 O’Shaughnessy Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mtn $100
2015 O’Shaughnessy Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder $135
2015 Outpost Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $95
2015 Outpost Wines Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard $135
2015 Revana Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Estate $165
2014 Secret Door Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 1X $170
2014 ShadyBrook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville $125
2015 Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Premier $100
2014 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Peterson Family Vineyards $95
2016 Tate Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Jack’s Vineyard, Howell Mt $110
2015 Trespass Vineyards Cabernet Franc St Helena $110
2014 Viader Winery Cab Franc and Cabernet Blend “V” $215
2016 Wood Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon “Especial” $55
2015 YoungInglewood Cabernet Franc St Helena $95

Best California Wines of 2018 ($50 and less)
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2017 Acquiesce Winery Picpoul Blanc Club members only n/a
2016 Allegorie Tempranillo Calaveras County $30
2015 Alyris Chardonnay Audition $45
2015 Anaba Wine Chardonnay Dutton Ranch $42
2017 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc St Helena $34
2015 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc Napa Valley Blend $50
2014 deLorimier Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Preston Ranch $42
2016 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc Paso Robles $34
2012 Jazz Cellars Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyards $44
2015 Jessie’s Grove Winery Carignane 118 Year Vines $32
2013 Lange Twins Family Winery Teroldego Wine Club Only $50
2014 Lange Twins Family Winery Bordeaux blend Midnight Reserve $30
2015 Lange Twins Family Winery Nero d’ Avola Exclusive $35
2016 Lavender Ridge Roussanne Calaveras County $28
2013 Ledson Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $28
2016 Mer Soleil Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve $32
2017 O’Shaughnessy Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $38
2016 Tate Wine Merlot Spring Street $50
2017 Tate Wine Chardonnary Spring Street $34
2017 Wood Family Vineyards Chardonnay Para Mas Amigas $30
2015 Zuidema Wines Grenache McGah Vineyard $42

Best Imported Wines of 2018
Vintage – Winery – Varietal – Description – Price
2014 Alaya Tierra Granacha Tintorera $40
2015 Chateau de la Gardine Chateauneuf-du-Pape $67
2015 Domaine Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Vielles Vignes $130
2016 Finaca Sobreno Tinta de Toro $40
2014 Garcia + Schwaderer Pais + Carignane Blend $70
2016 Governors Bay Sauvignon Blanc $13
2013 Marina Cvetic Montepulicano d’ Abruzzo $33
2017 Matua Sauvignon Blanc $8
2014 Mendel Finca Remota Malbec blend $52
2014 SAIA Nero d’ Avola $24
2013 Tres Picos Borsao Granacha $18
2014 Vatan Tinto de Toro $43
*Available at: The Wine Steward

Maritana Vineyards – Four Ace’s On the First Vintage!!

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If you have not read the article on Secret Door Winery, take a quick peak and peruse which gives some background on Donald Patz and his history. Now after understanding his commitment to the wine business (35 years+) of making exceptional wines, his first release which only two are available today have already made a mark in the wine industry. Very few (in fact none that I can remember, coming out the gate) with 4 Ace’s all scoring in the middle 90’s!!! This is a testament to the selection of vineyards, clones and Donald’s sparing no expense with barrel selection and procurement.
Recently I had the opportunity to try these four spectacular wines. Let’s start with the two that are available today and the other two will be released in early 2019. The first wine that I tasted (actually drank!) was the 2017 Maritana Chardonnay Sonoma County Russian River La Riviere. While Donald had many years ago produced Chardonnay’s but has been an industry leader for his Pinot Noir’s. I was expecting a good solid wine, but what my palate tasted was “total astonishment”. This wine was of another spectrum of quality found only in wines twice this price. First on the eyes, the clarity and brightness was ethereal straw yellow. It was a refined and delicate Chardonnay with soft lemon custard and a Red Delicious apple, mildly sweet. As the wine settle in the back of mouth, a minerality of a babbling brook or creek came to mind. This wine reminded me of the higher end Kistler Chardonnay and Peter Michael Chardonnay, specifically La Carriere. I was so impressed I immediate sent Donald off a note of appreciation of this quality wine. About two weeks later, lo and behold, James Suckling, immediately gives this wine a score of 95 points. For an “inaugural release”, this wine is immediately in the Big Leagues of Chardonnay’s!
Donald’s second wine, the 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “Le Russe”. This wine come from Jayda Hill Vineyard, Goff Vineyard and Monte Cristo Vineyard’s all using similar and different clones to create an extraordinary wine. It was absolutely delicious and shows Donald’s long and close familiarity with this varietal. The bouquet was immediately floral with strawberries and cherry cola. The color was pure Pinot Noir with a distinguished dark hue. In the glass this was medium body and in the mouth, a full express of redwood fern forest abounded with the fruit. James Suckling gave it a 92 score and it will surely change over the course of five plus years. Donald believes it will continue to evolve up to ten years. The Pinot Noir pedigree is etching in Donald’s heart!

More on the other two later, suffice it to say, they are vineyard designated Chardonnay’s. One is the “Dutton Ranch Hansen Hill Vineyard” and the other “Dutton Ranch Shop Block 1967”. Again, both will be released in early 2019 and have already received scores of 93 and 94 respectively. They are both fine and amazing Chardonnay’s—–keep a watch out for them!

So for a “new adventure” with a “seasoned professional” winemaker, getting 4 Ace’s on the first score is amazing and yet, the quality is nothing less than expected from Donald. Enjoy the first two now.


International Cabernet Franc Day Blind Tasting Event

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For this prestigious day, thanks to Michael & Lori Budd who originated this day for Cabernet Franc, we held a private tasting event last evening. Each participant brought an appetizer and a bottle of Cabernet Franc of their choice. Each wine arrived covered and no hint of what wine was being served. In the advance paperwork, a listing of cheeses, meats and other items were offered as complimentary to this varietal and brought by those attending. I also provided a few bottles from the cellar. This was a pseudo-serious event with tasting lasting approximately two hours. Each person (or couple) would provide input based upon an outlined scoresheet, information, etc., sent in advance. The summary at the bottom of the page was set up to arrive at an “Objective Rating” which represented the profile of this noble grape. Additionally each participant would provide a “Subjective Rating” based on their preferred taste.

Wines range from far and wide when revealed. They hailed from Argentina, California —-Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, San Benito County, Livermore Valley, Calaveras County, Amador County, Napa Valley and Washington. In the end no two bottles were from the same winery. The years ranged from 2012 to 2017. Not necessarily a far comparison by vintage, but no requirements were given.


The top four wines that were deemed “objectively” to be in line with the varietal profile were:
#1 – 2016 Monteagrelo, from Mendoza, Argentina. This wine retails for $28.99 and available at The Wine Steward, Pleasanton, Calif.
#2 tied – 2014 Titus Vineyards, from Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $54.00 for their current release.
#2 tied – 2015 Crocker & Starr, from St Helena, Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $90.00 for their current release.
#3 – 2012 Leal Vineyards, Dos Almas Vineyard, from Hollister, San Benito County, California. The wine retails for $52.00.
Note: by .05 points, the 2016 Wood Family Vineyard’s at $32 placed behind Leal Vineyards.


The top four wines that were deemed “subjectively” to be in line with each raters taste profiles were:
#1 – 2015 Crocker & Starr, from St Helena, Napa Valley, California. This wine retails for $90.00 for their current release.
#2 – 2016 Dracaena Wines, from Paso Robles, California. This wine retails for $34.00.
#3 –2013 Val du Vino, from Murphys, Calaveras County, California. This varietal is currently not offered.
#4 — 2016 Monteagrelo, from Mendoza, Argentina. This wine retails for $28.99 and available at The Wine Steward, Pleasanton, Calif.


In total eleven wines were tasted and rated this last evening. The tasting portion was paired with various appetizers, deserts and chocolates. The pre-event reading and paperwork was fairly extensive, requiring diligence and a key discernment of each wine tasted. I thank those who participated and believe all who did enjoy their time and conversations.

Note: If you would like your wine to be included in next years’ event, please contact me at