Month: March 2022
Background on CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers)
In order to understand the winery, it is essential to understand what organic farming and certification is all about. A very brief explanation, when Charlie Barra started the winery almost 40 years ago, he undertook a Herculean task of making it organic on his terms. In his words “Yes it’s more work (annual audits/certifications, paperwork, labor requirements), more risk (crop devastation from pests) and not necessarily a bigger payout, buts essential to the well-being of this planet”.
The BARRA of Mendocino has been CCOF for over 20 years and took 3 years of inspections prior to become complete. Charlie’s favorite saying is that he had been farming organically for over 55 years! Organic certification requires the vineyards are maintained without conventional pesticides or herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Crop covers, of bell beans, red clover and peas are planted between the rows of vines and when flowering are then turned back into the soil for nutrients for the vineyards/grapes. The micro-organisms in the soil allow the vines to utilize the nutrients efficiently.
History of the Winery
Charlie followed his father and maternal grandfather who migrated to Mendocino County from Piedmont, Italy in 1906. Charlie began farming grapes in the mid 1940’s and in 1954 purchased Redwood Valley Vineyards. He worked vigorously with Karl Wente, Robert Mondavi and others to be one of the first growers of many varietals planted on the North Coast. Today the ranch grows organically Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Muscat Canelli. Besides the BARRA of Mendocino label, they have two other labels, Girasole Vineyards and CORO Mendocino. Charlie passed in 2019 and his wife of Martha who worked with him for almost 40 years, is heading the family winery which now stands at 350 acres and a 2.8 million gallon custom crush facility. They launched the BARRA of Mendocino Brand in 1997 and the Girasole Brand in 2003. Their son and daughter also have major responsibilities to keep the “family farm” running.
The Wine, 2019 BARRA Petite Sirah
These grapes are picked from their 27 acre hillside vineyard, Bella Collina, at 925 feet elevation. This vineyard is “deficit irrigated” requiring it to work hard and producing depth of color and tannins. The wine consists of 89% Petite Sirah and 11% Zinfandel. It is aged 18 months in 25% new French oak barrels and the balance being neutral. Only 391 cases were produced.
First on the eyes, it is a dark unique ruby/royal purple in color and medium viscosity. On the nose, aromas of blackberry and pipe tobacco. On the mouth, the palate is awakened to a hearty and luscious full body wine, consisting of earthiness and black plum. The finish is drawn out due to surprisingly firm but not too sharp tannins and medium toasted oak, a bit unique in Petite Sirah, but all so enjoyable. It currently is listed at $26/bottle which is a steal for a wine of this quality and pedigree.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Last night, while having increment weather, a comfort food of warm spaghetti and meat sauce was prepared. The wine with the tannins and fruit provided the appropriate welcome to the dish. Such a hearty wine of character and earthiness was a perfect juxtaposition.
Looking forward to trying one of the other BARRA of Mendocino wines in the coming days.
Not a typical way to start a wine tasting experience for sure. To start with the owners coming out of the hospitality and travel industry, opened their doors in Yountville in 2015. Their goal was to feature handcrafted artisan wines specifically showcasing Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and a Napa Valley red blend. They are producing approximately 3,500 cases in total per year. They hired Kari Auringer as the winemaker. Kari worked for ten years under the noted Celia Welch (Scarecrow and many more). One of the primary goals of the winery was to feature richly layered wines with complexity and depth. All the grapes are handpicked as well as their staff.
A Tasting Home verses a Tasting Room
They set out to create a comfortable environment where customers felt relaxed, like being at home. Through various past connections with Ralph Lauren Home Collection, artists and galleries, essentially all the items in the “home” are available for purchase. This includes furniture, floor coverings, artwork, glasses and serving trays.
The feeling enjoyed while going through a tasting is intimate, warm and beautifully appointed living room, dining room or library. Upstairs they also have a loft for private events. So, no tasting bar, no rush and no standing on your feet while proceeding down the wine lineup.
For today’s event we were hosted in the Library with the theme of “heroes and heartthrobs”. Many pictures brought back some fond and funny memories of these icons.
Wine Pairing with Potato Chips?
Yes that is correct! Different, yes. Unique, yes. Odd, yes. Did it work – yes! It started out as an “aha moment” when one of the owners was served wine and potato chips on a flight. He enjoyed the textual crunch and salt with his wine. So before the next visit to Yountville he asked his staff to seek out potato chips from around the world! Then when all were gathered in Yountville, six of them proceeded through wine and potato chips to develop the pairing available today. They call this event the Potato Chip Extravaganza tasting.
While I have been to hundreds of wine tasting and pairings, this was a first for me! Truth be told, I was both excited and skeptical as to how this would unfold and taste. We were greeted in the foyer with a pouring of Rosé of Pinot Noir. Then escorted to the library where it was paired with Zapp’s Cajun Crawtators potato chips. Astonishment and delight were the first impressions. The pairing seemed “other worldly” as it transcended typical common sense and reasoning, yet the symbiotic relationship was solid. A smile on our face with this first tasting must blow away the working staff. We continued the afternoon through the various selection of wines and chips with dark chocolate in the end to round out a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have a Potato Chip Extravaganza Tasting Package and video for your home use.
Now with this opulent setting and unique food pairing, one could mistakenly draw the conclusion that this was all show to mask sub-standard wines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not a single wine was lacking all the grace and characteristics of the varietal. While four wines stood out, I am going to talk about two of the favorites. First was the their Symphony no.9, a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc paired with Route 11 sour cream and chives potato chips. First on the eyes a light straw color. On the nose, pineapple, mango wafted into the senses. Then stone fruit opened up on the palate, specifically peach. Floral notes continued to develop as the wine gently warmed. Secondary flavors of soft lemon grass and stone fruits made for a unique Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was not your typical citrusy or sharp Sauvignon Blanc. It also possessed a medium heavy viscosity. It was mentioned that the wine during fermentation on the lees was stirred daily. This wine has broad ramifications as to wonderful and new food pairing to be explored. I gladly purchased a couple of bottles.
The second wine was their 2019 Pinot Noir called the Benevolent Dictator. For only the second time in ten years, I rated this wine on the bouquet alone as being a top scoring wine! Upon tasting it after 5 or 6 breaths of this enticing aroma, it was absolutely confirmed as being a wine worthy of making my yearly Best Wines Tasted (comes out in December each year). This was beautiful crimson red on the eyes and had a translucent character. On the nose aromas of cherry, strawberries, cola and cinnamon were present. When tasting, black cherries, eucalyptus and black tea were the prominent tastes. The finish was long lasting and velvety with soft mineral highlights coupled with vanilla. The grapes come from the famous Dutton Ranch on the Russian River and they extracted this beautiful fruit into an exquisite wine. Unfortunately they were sold out of the 2019 that was tasted but had the 2017 and 2018 available for purchase but not tasting. Took a slight gamble that these two years would be “similar in quality” and bought a bottle of each.
A few footnotes to the story. First the best wine and potato chip pairing was their proprietary blend call Playing with Fire (62% Merlot, 19% Malbec and 19% Cabernet Sauvignon from Georges III Vineyard) with Zapp’s Voodoo potato chips. The next footnote is the naming of wines and stories behind them. For example, their Cabernet Sauvignon is called Twenty Seven Fathoms named for the depth of the Panama Canal (original depth, updated since then) as the owner passed through it many times while in the cruise business.
The last footnote is the quality of their wines, especially the two I previously mentioned as was their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with depth and silky tannins.
For a winery never visited nor tasted their wines, this was a “home run” or to be more precise a Grand Slam. The Hospitality Manager Beth Bowlin was extremely knowledge and informative which helped make this visit so enjoyable. While the uniqueness of the potato chip tasting may get you in the front door, you will leave with the appreciation of the great wines of Silver Trident.
2011 was not a great year for Cabernet Sauvignon’s in Napa Valley, or at least many believe it to be true. This wine bucks the trend from the Coombsville sub-AVA in Napa Valley. It has been two years since I last opened a 2011 Shadybrook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Its transformation continues as it has been resting in the cellar. Obviously when purchased it was very good, but some eight years laying down has made this wine continue to impress. When originally released, winemaker Rudy Zuidema used descriptors as “lush, opulent and finely structure” to open his winemakers notes. This wine used a combination of Clones 337 and 7 of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Clone 7 per Rudy was “added density to the nose and palate with black fruit, mocha and a bit of chocolate”. The equal part of Clone 337 contributed “elegance and aromatics lure of the wine with notes of spice, red fruit and cedar”. 6% of Malbec was added to provide background flavors of Asian spices per Rudy.
This evening on the eyes, a very dark red with just a hint of purple on the edges. The viscosity was medium heavy giving a clue as to what is to come. The bouquet on the nose raspberries was the predominant aroma and with mountain flowers. On the palate a cacophony of black fruit, chocolate, red fruit and gentle oak leaped about in the mouth. The finish was tiered and long lasting with a slight “soft and allusive” sweetness. The structure was strong and the tannins silky smooth with no obvious edges.
Just upon the first sip, I once again bestowed high marks on the wine. This will make my best wines tasted in 2022. Having recently tasted the 2016 Shadybrook Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a wine to buy for your cellar or to enjoy right away. Retail is $125 and is generally allocated.
Other stories on Rudy Zuidema & Shadybrook Estate:
Brett Keller and his wife Andrea own Mineral Wines in Murphys, California. Brett started out in Hospitality Management but eventually went back to school earning his degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2003. When Brett and Andrea moved back to Angels Camp (Calaveras County), Brett took over management of Andrea’s family 4 acre Cherokee Creek Vineyard. Initially this property grew exclusively Merlot, but subsequently Brett grafted three acres of vineyard to Roussanne, Viognier and Petite Sirah. These are the main stay and define Mineral Wines today. In addition, they produce a Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, and various Meritage blends, Barbera, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their tasting room is located at 419 B Main St. Murphys, CA.
I met Brett through the 2nd Annual Cabernet Franc Celebration in late 2020. However due to Covid and various other commitments, just recently have I had the chance to taste a lot of his wines. His Cabernet Franc won Silver Medals from both the Professional Judges and People’s Choice Judges with his first entry. Recently he was awarded a Double Gold for his 2016 Meritage from the Calaveras Foothill Wine Competition. The 2017 Zinfandel won a Gold Medal at the Orange County Wine Competition. His wines continue to be impressive with his Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec all being winners for my taste buds!
The Wine -2018 Syrah
Brett makes his Syrah in the French style as he states, “great complexity, structure and complex cherry and lavender aromas followed by rich berry flavors”. The grapes come from their winery in Angels Camp. First on the eyes, a deep and robust color and medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, berries, leather and spices are the predominate aromas that waft into your senses. But on the palate is where robust, dense and lively blackberry and blueberry flavors engulf the mouth. On the finish, velvety texture and very subtle tannins caress the back of the mouth to provide a long lasting enjoyable tasting.
The Wine and Food Pairing
Having an unusual hot spell, decided to BBQ a nice filet mignon steak. Now our customary wine to pair is a Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc, decided to try something “different” this evening. Pulled out the 2018 Mineral Wines Syrah and it was an excellent pairing. Besides the filet mignon seared and grilled to medium rare, Yukon smashed potatoes and broccoli were served. With the filet mignon spiced the fruit forward (but sweet) Syrah made a delicious food pairing.
This is now only the second wine that I have written about from Mineral Wines but looking forward to try some of his additional wines in the near future.
Unti Vineyards is located in the Sonoma Valley, specifically in the Dry Creek Valley. The Unti Vineyards is owned and operated by Mick, Danae, George and Linda Unti. Mick manages all the winemaking, sales and marketing for the winery. Jason Valenti performs the winemaking tasks. The vineyards were planted in 1990 and the winery opened in 1997. Today they produce approximately 8,000 to 9,000 cases annually from their estate of 60 acres. The vineyards are planted with 35 acres of Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Montepulciano, Lacrima, Fiano, Verdicchio, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Vermentino. The Benchland property is 25 acres and planted with Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese, Aglianico, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir.
With such a broad offering of Mediterranean style wines, each small batch is handcrafted to bring forth a sense of place. They use a combination of stainless steel, concrete tanks, large French oak ovals and small French oak barrels. Truly an artisan winery.
The 2017 Syrah uses three blocks in the vineyard for their production release. Combining the three allows more “cool-climate aromas and flavors (blueberry, olive) reminiscent of the Northern Rhône wines Crozes-Hermitage and St. Joseph” per their website. First on the eyes, a dark radiant and iridescent purple/violet coloring in the glass with medium heavy viscosity. On the nose, blackberry and blueberry aromas waft into the senses. Once sipped, jammy fruit and lightly toasted oak fill the mouth with secondary flavors of cranberry and plum. The finish completes the tasting with multi-layers of freshness, coupled with structure and pointed, but not sharp tannins. The fruit with the most welcomed tannins came from a portion of the wine which received a whole-cluster fermentation. The wine was aged in only French oak, 35% being new for 13 months. Current release is the 2018 which 470 cases were produced and shows on their website at $38/bottle.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Dinner with this wine was a beef teriyaki with green snow peas and green onions. Choices were either Grenache or Syrah. Pulled this Syrah which was purchased some time ago and had only tasted at a wine event. The dinner consisted of sliced flank steak, teriyaki sauce, trimmed snow peas, veal stock, Mirin, ground Asian red chili pepper, sliced shitake mushrooms, minced garlic cloves, grated ginger root and sliced green onions. The dish was served over a bed of white rice. The fruit from the wine was strong enough to handle the teriyaki sauce and the ginger and tannins enhanced and enveloped the flank steak to perfection. One of the more memorable food pairings in the last six month. This wine received one of my highest scores ever given to a Syrah! It will definitely make my “Best Wines Tasted This Year” (comes out each December).
I have not visited or tasted any of the other Unti Vineyards wines, but look forward to trying their Aglianico, Petit Sirah and Picpoul Blanc. A visit is surely on my near term calendar!
I was recently introduced to a new winery by my friend Tom Bender at a wine tasting event in Modesto. The event was featuring award winning wines from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Knew a few wines on the list, by this Chardonnay from Diora was unfamiliar. Upon smelling the boutique and having my first sip, this was an absolute show stopper! When I was told it won Double Gold at the 2022 SF Chronicle Wine Competition, it made perfect sense and what a delightful and wonderful treat it turned out to be.
The Winery & Winemaker
James Ewart is the winemaker who came to Monterey, specifically San Bernabe Vineyard from Australia. James background is varied but tied in nicely. He grew up making wine with his father, then went on to get an undergraduate degree in geology and chemistry. He learned at an early age the necessity of having the right location to achieve award winning wines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Over thirty years’ experience with the family owned estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands, with cooling ocean breezes allowing the skins to thicken and provide a mouth filling flavor on the palate. This has led to his distinct Chardonnay wines.
The Wine, 2019 Diora Chardonnay, La Spendeur Du Soleil
It is named for the golden hills of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range which frames the family owned San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey. First on the eyes, a beautiful golden color and medium viscosity. On the nose, tropical aroma, s of pineapple, lightly toasted oak, crème brûlée and pear waft into the sense. On the palate, soft and mellow lime and almonds provide an exquisite Chardonnay. The finish was equally impressive with a fullness not typically found in Chardonnays. This wine was barrel fermented for nine months with approximately 45% new French oak. After this aging, the wine was racked and put back into oak barrels for another five months. His choices of yeasts were hand selected to impart soft characteristics of guava, passionfruit, grapefruit, honey, hazelnut and vanilla. For winning Double Gold in the $18 to $19.99 category, this is the real deal.
The Food and Wine Pairing
Opened this wine for a food pairing of large shrimp with a red sauce, lightly infused with wasabi and fresh spinach. The sauce provided a stark contrast to this elegant wine, but the shrimp danced with excitement embracing every bite and sip of the wine. This is surely a wine that can be paired with many dishes or enjoyed solo.
Hindsight Wines grapes are from around Napa Valley as well as Estate grown. Their wines range from Carneros to Howell Mountain to Calistoga. For more details on their well-known Cabernet Sauvignon’s (as well as their Sauvignon Blanc) see a previous written story:
The 2019 Chardonnay
Pulled a 2019 Hindsight Chardonnay from Napa Valley from the cellar to enjoy with dinner. This wine is growing quickly on me to be a real contender for Best Wines tasted in 2022 (comes out in December). First on the eyes a light straw color and medium viscosity. On the nose it was very aromatic with very soft floral notes of jasmine and honeysuckle. On the palate is where some strong flavors of pear and green apple prevailed with a hint of vanilla. On the finish, minerality and a very soft embracing acidity were evident. The words that come to mind while enjoying this lovely Chardonnay are crisp, refreshing, clean, defined and stately opulence. This Chardonnay is sourced from both Carneros and Oak Knoll AVA’s. It is fermented in stainless steel, then aged 3 months on the lees in neutral French oak. It does not have that “buttery finish” and seemed more “old world” in its flavor profile of great European Chardonnays. The wine is listed on their website at $32/a bottle, check out their website for amazing deals!
The Food and Wine Pairing
Paired last night with chicken breasts with mushrooms, white onions and topped with cheddar cheese. Accompanied by a Yukon Gold potato. The meal was light and with the Hindsight wine, delicately refreshing and pleasing.
No matter which wine you chose from Hindsight wines, your Hindsight will ask you “why didn’t I discover these wines sooner”. As they say Hindsight is always 20/20!
Just finished the judging portion of the 2022 Foothill Wine Festival event. To recap the Foothill Wine Festival, put on by the Greater Folsom Partnership is combination of the Folsom Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Bureau and their Economic Development Agency. Coleen Schwietert was hired to lead the charge to create the Wine Festival. Mike Owen, acting as the Wine Matter Expert and advisor helping arranging judges and the judging sub-culture. Mike is the owner/winemaker at Crystal Basin Cellars and this event was something he created.
The goal of the Folsom Partners is to:
- Raise awareness of wines from grapes from foothill juice
- Create a platform where outstanding wines could be identified
- Create active visits by wine lovers to Sierra foothills wineries
- Enhance visibility of Folsom as the Gateway to Sierra wine country.
In just two years they are well on their way to accomplish these goals and many others.
The first portion is the blind wine competition, followed up with a tasting from most of the participant wineries. Here is a photo from last year’s event held outdoors with food and music included.
This year’s event is being held April 2nd at the Palladio Shopping center. One can secure tickets at https://www.etix.com/ticket/p/4568178/foothill-wine-fes-folsom-palladio-lifestyle-center-palladio-parkway
Last night a scrumptious dinner at the Plank Craft Kitchen & Bar in downtown Folsom of seared Ahi tuna.
Today was judging day and did we have our work cut out for us. Here is a picture of the wines before they were brought to the back room a few days before our arrival.
I am always fascinated by the number of glasses used in these events. Here is less than half of them.
We were served six wines each time on beautifully handcrafted trays. They were labeled and identified only with a code number and for example as White Blend, Dry Rose, Red Blend, Sangiovese, Other Italian Blends, etc. Here are pictures of the Dry Rose and Red Blend trays:
Here is a group picture of the esteemed judges and there was an equal number of volunteers (but no photo) who made the event run flawlessly.
Each table of three or four judges rated each wine in their assigned categories. Once all six were scored individually, the table “verbally arm wrestled” with insight, experience, Socratic discourse and their trained palates, to come to a group rating. The moderator then recorded each score to be turned in to the “man on the computer” to be recorded. Here was our table with Judges Mike Dunne (wine judge czar & writer), Guy Tucker (writer for foothillswino.com), Moderator & Task Master Madeline Owen and I.
Results of the event should be forthcoming for the public in the next few days. Some very good wines were tasted, enjoyed and should be sought after for their acclaim. Stay tuned.