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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.
Follow also quick wine reviews at: https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaWinesAndWineries/
The Saddle Creek Wine Society had an amazing dinner and wine experience last evening. Rhonda Wood, owner & winemaker, along with Harrison Wood (her son), teamed up with new Executive Chef Chris Cox and Sous Chef Janet Weissbeck of Saddle Creek Golf Resort to make a memorable evening.
We were treated to six wines paired with an “over the top” culinary edibles which were presented with artistic charm and beauty. The first course of the evening was a seared jumbo scallop, fried prosciutto with a fig Gastrigue. This was paired with Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay, Double Gold Winner from the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The “butterscotch and cracker jack” flavors engulfed each bite perfectly.
The second course served was a salad of organic greens, apple, plum, Bleu cheese with pear vinaigrette. This was paired with a 2016 Merlot, which won Silver at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition this year. The Merlot aromas of “plum and apple” set this in harmonious balance.
Just before the third course was served, the inclement weather just passed and we were left with this beautiful sunset view from our seats facing Gopher Ridge to the west.
The third course was one of the highlights last evening, a crispy pork belly with a spicy barbeque sauce and jalapeno polenta cake. This was paired with two wines this evening. The first being the 2016 Zinfandel “Big Wood” and a 2016 GSM. These wines possessed strawberry jam, silky tannins and exotic spices to round out the paired food.
The fourth course was the entrée for the evening, a grilled beef filet with mushroom risotto, Brussel sprouts and a Cabernet demi-glace. The wine chosen was Wood Family Vineyards 2015 “Especial” Cabernet Sauvignon which won Best of Class Reds at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. These two paired beautifully as the floral aromas of “exotic orchids & plumeria” as Rhonda described it. Black fruits and sculptured tannins created a delightful dance on the palate.
And for the finale, the dessert which was a triple chocolate mousse. This was almost a three dimensional art piece as opposed to food. Wines are always difficult to pair with dessert but the 2015 Petit Sirah, a Tri-County Gold Winner in 2018 was an uncontested home run! The Petit Sirah with blueberries and sweet black cherries was a perfect compliment.
All guests left the Grandview room astonished by the food preparation of Chris Cox with only two weeks under his belt at Saddle Creek Resort, his performance was simply impeccable. Janet Weissbeck as a very talented dessert specialist, was spectacular again as in previous winemaker events. A special note of thanks to Tammie Littlefield, Food & Beverage Manager, whose creative talents decorated the tables and coordinated a lot of the preparations for a festive evening. Besides being impressed with those three and of course Rhonda and Harrison Wood with their detailed information and descriptions of the wines, humor, stories, etc., all the Saddle Creek Wine Society Members who attended felt treated to a “very special meal paired with extraordinary wines” and eager for the next one!
Saddle Creek Golf Resort: http://www.saddlcreek.com
Wood Family Vineyards: http://woodfamilyvineyards.com
The world of philosophic thinking is vast, complex and without final definition. Thus the intent is not to justify or argue Plato vs Descartes vs Wittgenstein in this article. The purpose is to enlighten how ones preconceived cognitive and reasoning facilities have an impact on the wine choices. Really? Yes, really.
If you look at the philosophical thought through the ages, there are many schools of thought and identified disciplines. I would like to focus on three:
• Rationalism – a theory which states that the human mind has principles or a priori knowledge, independent of experience.
• Empiricism: a doctrine which stipulates that all knowledge comes from experience.
• Existentialism: theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will, moment by moment.
Rationalism, the thinking epitomized by Rene Descartes Cogito Ero Sum (“I think, therefore I am”) and Gottfried Leibniz calculemus (“Let us calculate”), theorizes that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge. Winemakers and wineries have grabbled with this thinking either overtly or subliminally for years. They believe they could get to “truth” by logic and “facts” in producing great wines. If you the consumer have preconceived tendencies being a Rationalist, you will most likely make your wine buying and wine choices, based upon Wine Ratings (Parker, Suckling), Wine Scores (Wine Competitions, for example SF Chronicle, Orange County Fair, etc.), Wine Reviews by trusted authors, Bloggers, Wine Influences, etc. Or when valuing a wine, knowing that the bottle cost a dollar, label, cork & foil another dollar and allowing somewhere between $3 to $12 dollars for the juice, you cannot possible comprehend why a wine could possible cost $100 or more, another stake in the ground that you are most likely a Rationalist. So when walking down the aisle of your local wine merchant, wine discount market, if you as a consumer are drawn to a “rating, score or a sentence by an author” and price again, you most likely are a rationalist. The signals are “objective truth” and light your way to your “wine salvation”.
This group believes no one but their own experience leads to knowledge. John Locke’s great quote sums up this perspective “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience”. Similarly David Hume’s statement “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”. Reading a wine review or recommendation is like rapping to a deaf person! They neither have the ability to hear nor pick up on the beat! Until they try it at a wine bar, a friend’s house, winery, restaurant or other opportunity, the wine is summarily dismissed as a non sequitur in their formation of truth being experiential. No insight or knowledge in gained a priori for the Empiricists. When shopping for a wine, if your thought process is akin to the Empiricists, you will want to “experience” the wine or perhaps the label on the wine bottle for intrinsic feel and determine the “quality of the bottle” or as mentioned tasting previously.
Here this groups lives “moment to moment” starting with pre-Socratic thinking from Heraclitus to Kierkegaard. The statement by Heraclitus that “you cannot step twice into the same rivers; for other water are eve: flowing around you” as the river is constantly changing. The correlation to the fundamental “terroir” (soil, weather, place, temperature, etc.) of a vineyard is a paradox for this consumer because “terroir” is always changing and is in play for the existentialist. Thus this consumer / wine buyer is affected by both rationalists and empiricist thinking mostly in the opposite corollary. They are distrusting of “hard core rational logic & thought” (rationalist) and previous life experience (empiricists) with the only reality/validity is with the wine at the moment (in time and space). The idea that one who once had for example, a Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot in 2000 will still like it in 2019 is not fit for the Existentialist as it must be tasted “presently”. Another example would be enjoying the aesthetic label on a wine bottle and choosing it simply for it at the time.
So summing up this quick analysis, which I have contemplated for some time, the current 2019 wine buyer is drawn to one of the three coordinates of thought. Looking back on some 2500 plus years of historical and documented thought process of philosophical thinking, perhaps today’s wine aficionado is best served by utilizing all three in making their wine selections. Recognizing your preconceived or proclivity for a type of thinking, has it short comings or drawbacks but you first must identify them and try to break out of “your conventional thinking”.
When thinking about X-Gen, Millennials and Baby Boomer purchasing decisions, the demographics may extend beyond year of birth, and be more influenced by each individuals thinking synapses, self- awareness and the ability to transcend their own limitations.
To fully appreciate the wine world of the 21st Century, taking account of your thought process and breaking the “chains that bound” to enjoy some amazing wines you may not have tried (failure of empiricism), break away from authoritative ratings (failure of Rationalism) and allowing one to revisit wines and wineries from the past (shortcoming of Existentialism).
Happy wine hunting and enjoyment!
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: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/10/23/locke-vineyards-handcrafted-wines-farmhouse/ ) , 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 (http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/news/article_928adc3c-1f65-11e9-9e7a-df9feb66a34a.html) Black Sheep Winery (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10213046849181658&set=a.10205892916097802&type=3&theatere), Ironstone Vineyards, Jazz Cellars (see story at https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/06/07/jazz-cellars/ ) , 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 https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaWinesAndWineries/photos/a.1725143831114413/1953116708317123/?type=3&theater), Montepulciano (Ayreal Vieux see story at https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2017/06/20/ayrael-vieux/), Roussanne (Lavender Ridge) and Nebbiolo, Teroldego & Negroamaro (Gossamer Cellars see story at https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/01/18/gossamer-cellars-a-unique-find/). 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.
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 https://winefolly.com/tutorial/10-cool-things-to-know-about-carmenere-wine/ . 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 https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2016/03/03/3-steves-winery/ .
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.
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!
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: