Month: July 2019

Casino Mine Ranch – A Tale of Family & Friends

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Jim & Rich Merryman grew up on this Amador property on weekends and vacations with their parents. The property was originally their Great Aunt Simone’s which she bought it in 1936 and was convinced “gold was still in the hills”. She and her workers dug mines in the hillside anxiously wanting to strike gold, as she had previously done so successfully in Alaska. It was a big gamble but no gold was found. Thus the name Casino Mine Ranch. Over the years Jim & Rich purchased the property from their parents (who inherited it from Simone).


This 60 acre site currently has 14 acres planted. While not striking gold, they did find an underground creek, which by today’s standard is almost as valuable as gold. This underground creek runs directly below their planted vineyard.

Now as fate would have it, Casino Mine Ranch was a hillside property with the abandoned mining caves, when Rich invited his friend Andy Erickson to visit. They spent many weekends shooting skeet and apparently imbibing in Bud Light. During one weekend, Rich suggested he would plant grapes, if Andy agreed to be the winemaker. Fast forward 11 years and Rich had planted Teroldego, Grenache, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre and Vermentino varietals on the property. He then got ahold of Andy, who today is one of the top 5 winemakers in Napa with a resume of making wines for Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Staglin Family Vineyards, and Mayacamas Vineyards. These are recognized as the elite pedigree of wines that Napa has to offer. Andy, true to his word, is the Consulting winemaker and Jessica Tarpy Shasheen is the winemaker under Andy’s direction. They make their wine at a custom crush house in Napa so both Andy & Jessica can be hands-on without driving to Amador County.


I met with Mackenzie Cecchi whose title is “Chief of Staff” in July to tour and get some background information on the development of Casino Mine Ranch. They do not have a tasting room today, but have by word of mouth, developed a sizable wine club membership consisting of close to 350 members. All the purchases are done online. The morning I was there, they officially applied for a tasting room permit which should be granted by the end of August.

I have since had the opportunity to taste three of the wines at home. The first was the 2016 Tempranillo. This wine on eye is medium body with both purple and red hues. This Tempranillo from Amador County presents aromas of violets and dark chocolate. Dark fruits were prevalent and tannins smooth and relaxed.


Another wine was their 2018 Rosé, which is a 50/50 blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache. Great peach/copper color and floral bouquet on the nose. Whole cluster soak provides some spice to mango & peach aromas. Admittedly not a big Rosé fan, but this was excellent served chilled, especially on a 95 degree day while sitting on the patio!!


This was by far the best Vermentino I have tasted out of the Sierra foothills! As a footnote, I am generally “a sucker” for whole cluster pressing, which imparts such character into the wine. This was fermented in stainless steel but the layers of citrus (lemon/honeysuckle) and tropical flavors of mango and grapefruit were outstanding. The floral nose was refreshing and beckoned one to partake of the juice.


Additionally, three other wines are produced. A 2016 Marcel (80% Tempranillo/20% Teroldego) a 2017 Grenache Noir and a 2016 Simone (52% Mourvèdre/48% Grenache). I have yet to taste them but did buy for the cellar!


Future plans. Once they get the tasting room permit, they will use portions of the existing home and various outbuildings (including the caves) for tastings and special events. On the drawing board is another parcel, recently purchased, down the road closer to Plymouth, which will be their main tasting room. Estimates are by the end of 2020. The artist renditions I was able to preview, show a large indoor/outdoor tasting room overlooking a large pond. The area also has a spacious lawn which will be able to accommodate weddings and special functions. Today they are running around 2500 cases/year and this will allow them growth to 5,000 cases/year.

So, in summary, Jim and Rich, have a wonderful piece of land (originally from their family), a premier consulting winemaker Andy Erickson and a well-seasoned winemaker Jessica Tarpy Shasheen who has made wines in Italy, South Africa, etc. (friends). With Family and Friends, they are destined for success. Thus the moral of the story: Family and Friends is what life is about. Add some excellent wines and you have a tremendous bonus!




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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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