Traveling To Wine Regions While Staying in Place. Today, Lavender Ridge Vineyard in Murphys, California (in the Sierra Foothills).
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-eight 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.
The Tasting Room
They run a rather unique tasting room as 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. Their second tasting room Coppermine features Bordeaux varietals. (Click on https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2016/06/27/coppermine-winery/ ). 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 including local artisan soaps from the iconic and sought after Copper Soap Works (https://coppersoapworks.com). 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 and Erin Nagle. Usually four wines and cheeses are available to compare and contrast.
The Wine Offerings
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. Having tasted two of his “prized wines”, his Grenache is done in “concrete eggs” for minerality and keeping the lees naturally moving, and his Mourvèdre they both were “light colored”. Having to dismiss any 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” with such aromas and tastes.
Tonight’s Wine –2016 Roussanne
It was powerful with floral aromatics, with hints of peaches, pears and with a rich and silky smooth mouthful texture almost creamy. Roussanne most times is blended with the Marsanne varietal but in this case it was 100% Roussanne. This retails for $28. Roussanne brings more acidity, elegance and aromatic complexities to the wine. His 2016 Roussanne won Double Gold at the 2018 Sierra Foothills Wine Competition. His 2016 and subsequent releases are now a standard fixture in the wine cellar!
The Wine Pairing
Tonight was a fresh Petrale sole dish. Cooked in butter with seasonings consisting of purple onion, Himalayan sea salt, pepper corns, capers, lemon, garlic and a dash of ginger. Then topped with crushed Pistachio nuts. Served with a fresh California artichoke. The flavors conjoined with the wine, made a fabulous meal.
Traveling To Wine Regions While Staying in Place. Today, Wood Family Vineyards in Livermore, California
More behind the curtain at Wood Family Vineyards, especially Rhonda Wood! From high in the sky to down to earth wines!! Yes Rhonda Wood, winemaker/owner of Wood Family Vineyards used to fly planes (US Airways) but now can be found in the vineyards tending vines. She and husband Michael (with their two sons), have a winery in eastern Livermore. Rhonda started making wine in 1996. Besides sourcing wine on their property (Merlot), they have 17 specific vineyards which are manicured to their specifications throughout Livermore’s ideal climate.
Rhonda and the family winery are small in comparison to some of the Livermore’s popular known name wineries, but have been regarded for years as one of the top quality wine producers. For example, just recently they received the following accolades with many more coming:
• 2017 Petit Verdot – 93 points Wine Enthusiast + Editors’ Choice
• 2017 GSM – 93 points Wine Enthusiast + Editors’ Choice
• 2017 Malbec – 93 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2016 Petite Sirah – 92 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Especial’ – 92 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Viva’ – 92 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2017 Merlot – 92 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2017 Red Blend ‘The Captain’ – 91 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2017 Chardonnay ‘Para Mas Amigas’ – 90 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2017 Red Blend ‘El Loco Rojo’ – 90 points Wine Enthusiast
• 2017 Malbec – Best of Show – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 ‘Big Wood’ Zinfandel – Double Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 ‘El Loco Rojo’ – Double Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 Petit Verdot – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2018 Chardonnay – Gold – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 LVVC Vintners Collective – Silver SF – Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 ‘The Captain’ – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2016 Petite Sirah – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 Merlot – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 GSM – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
• 2017 Cabernet Franc – Silver – Silver – SF Chronicle Wine Competition 2020
2018 Chardonnay – While Rhonda may state her favorite wines are her Petite Syrah, Zinfandel “Big Wood Zin” or her Merlot, personally I have enjoyed for at least 15 years her Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Her Chardonnay, a regular for summer time crowds, is call “Para Mas Amigas” meaning “for more girlfriends”. This was not on purpose, but some rusty Spanish made it thus! She was trying to say “for my girlfriends”. She has made many friends, of both sexes, all enjoying her Chardonnay. It has lingering tropical fruits, peach and pear in the palate. A portion under goes 100% secondary malolactic fermentation, but allows a final mix, to allow old world and new world Chardonnay to coexist in harmony. In a recent conversation, she has blended her Chardonnay from both “tightly grained barrels and loosely grained barrels” into the final production wine.
2017 “El Loco Rojo” – This wine is a “Bordeaux style” wine incorporating all local grapes grown in Livermore. They include 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec. Only 150 cases were produced. The name is for a red-headed man as “El Loco Rojo”. This man is the life of the party. Rhonda describes it as “bringing a smile to your face, regardless of your mood. His love is boundless and his attitude is contagious”. Having a just a few sips of this “big wine” will bring a smile to your face from first sip to the never ending finish. Her wines are extracted and deep in color. Fresh earth, clove and campfire smoke provides the background with the foreground provides all the aroma’s and tastes from this five “Bordeaux” grapes. Raspberries, Blackberries, oak and licorice abound with each sip. An excellent expression of her Livermore blend of varietals.
2017 Petite Sirah “Casa de Vinas”. Again a deep extracted color from a vineyard near her residence. On the eyes a deep almost black/purple wine. On the nose blackberry and cherry are dominant. On the palate, floral, black cherry and in Rhonda’s words “rustic tannin” round out the mouthful experience of this wine. This wine had a long finish with a hint of sweetness.
The Food Pairings
The Chardonnay was paired with a stir fried garlic chicken with mushrooms, peppers and onions over a cauliflower rice. The “El Loco Rojo” (Bordeaux blend) was served over a slow cooked eight hour seasoned pot roast with Yukon Gold potatoes and a fresh garden salad. The Petite Sirah was enjoyed by itself with no food as a follow up to a dinner. It was hearty and sumptuous by itself!!
Besides the above three wines discussed, Rhonda makes another 12 or 13 wonderful wines. Her Cabernet Sauvignon and the Against the Grain (red blend with Bourbon barrels) are two of my favorites and are stocked in my cellar.
As their motto states, “It’s all good at Wood” and I certainly can attest to that statement!
Traveling To Wine Regions While Staying in Place. Today 2014 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero d’Avola from Sicily.
Dr. Antonio Moretti besides owning Feudo Maccari in Sicily, also has Tenuta Sette Ponti near Arezzo and Poderi Orma in Bolgheri. Dr. Moretti and his daughter purchased several small properties in Sicily near the town of Noto, southeastern portion of the island. These older vineyards are located about 1 mile from the sea which provides cooling breezes, which mitigates the searing heat in southern Sicily. The vines are “alberello” (literally meaning tree-like) and are head pruned. The estate produces Nero d’Avola, Grillo as well as two reserve wines Saia from d’Avola and Maharis from Syrah.
This 2014 Saia is opaque deep cherry red in color. It is a light viscosity, but do not be fooled as to its depth! On the nose and palate, a combination of red cherry, spices and oak are the first hints of what is to develop. Plum, blueberries and pepper are balanced with an underlying minerality from the volcanic and limestone soil. The finish was long and “woody” with smooth tannins and a crisp acidity. This wine has received 93 points from both Suckling and Parker which is remarkable for a $30-32 wine! The wine is aged 12-14 in oak and 6 months in the bottle before release.
The Food Pairing
The wine was served with a Bucatini pasta with a red tomato based meat sauce topped with parmesan shredded cheese, accompanied with a garden salad. The acidity in the wine was spot on for tomato based sauce. Our SIP (Stay in Place) adventure continue while experiencing wines from around the world.
Traveling Wine Regions While Staying Place. Today 2016 YoungInglewood Cabernet Franc from St Helena, California
Still the best label on any wine bottle and one of the top ten Cabernet Franc’s coming out of Napa Valley. The label is so simple with no wording but speaks volumes regarding their wine. He a tightrope walker balancing on a rope (hard to see in the picture) with the balancing pole. Here is a definition and use of a balancing pole: “An increased moment of inertia helps withstand external sources of torque, such as sudden gusts of wind. The heavy weights allow the tightrope walker to exert torque by simply rotating the pole slightly, which moves his/her center of mass the other way, helping re-center him- or herself directly over the tightrope”. So now think of the tightrope walker as the winemaker striving to balance a vintage of wine with fruit and acidity, sweetness and dryness, smooth finish and quality tannins, etc. One powerful “little figure” with no wording, provides the insight and vision of the Young Family in their quest in making excellent wine. Jim, Jacky and Scott Young have a keen insight on how to produce excellent wines year after year.
The 2016 Young Inglewood Estate Cabernet Franc has a deep and dark brick red color and with a ting of Royal Purple. It has a medium viscosity on the eyes. On the nose you get blueberry, cherry, cranberry and a hint of plum and lavender. Also on the nose, you can get a waffle of red licorice, sage and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate, raspberries, caramel, vanilla and new soft leather. This wine has the key benchmark of mild pyrazine with herbal and vegetal aromas of red bell pepper and peppercorns. This just adds some classical complexity to the wine. Medium acidity and sweetness but tannins that stir up the senses to be awakened but not be overpowered. The finish is like the tightrope walker, making it to the other side with confidence and completing the task assigned successfully. No wonder why their Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, have made my list of the yearly Best Wines! The grapes were hand sorted and the wine spent 21 months in neutral French oak. Only 24 cases of Cabernet Franc were produced. Current list price is $110.
The Food Pairing
Tonight’s meal was a shish kabob barbequed filet mignon, red & orange bell peppers, purple onions and Portobello mushrooms. Two filet mignon were cubed and placed in a closed metal basket and layered with each of the ingredients sliced or slivered. The flavors of the vegetables over low heat on the BBQ waffled into the lightly seasoned meat. The peppers provided a complementary flavor profile to the wine. Served over a bed of cauliflower rice and accompanied with a fresh garden salad.
The COVID-19 is something between Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and living in Toffler’s Future Shock for most of us today. That said being sheltered in place (SIP) or self-quarantined the human spirit is being squashed. Why? We are social beings with a sense of purpose with family, friends and community. We are all cut off and the resulting isolation is unsettling. Even of historical magnitudes and pervasiveness not seen since World War II affecting literally everyone, we will get through this with unwavering enthusiasm and hope, nonetheless a bit scarred but not beaten.
I am writing this today to bring attention to the fact that many small artisan and handcrafted wineries unfortunately may not be as fortunate. They are often single person, husband/wife and family operations of less than five individuals. They have invested their family monies to provide some unique and quality wines for our enjoyment. The financial impact of not holding tastings may strangle the life blood out of a few. Some small wineries have wine clubs and a solid local following. Some have just “opened their doors”. Nevertheless, all are going to be hurting financially shortly as the impact of their marketing and sales is squashed by having the tasting rooms closed.
I just went thru the last four months of these small wineries that I have written about and would encourage you to call the wineries (most are open but not for tastings) and place an order. This will help them immensely as you are helping them make a car payment, mortgage or put food on the table. I personally believe this is money well spent verses picking up a bottle of wine at the supermarket. Even if for one or two bottles the impact will be felt. The larger wineries will be fine in the long run, but these smaller boutique wineries may be pushed to the brink of extinction.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a wonderful bottle(s) of wine and support your neighbors in the wine business. All these wineries are in California. Many more can be found on my website or blog dating back more than four months. I have listed only a few of the varietals they make and clicking the website will give you a complete listing as well as their phone number.
Zuidema Wine Company – Grenache https://zuidemawines.com/
Stringer Cellars – Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon https://www.stringercellars.com/
Mountain Tides – Petite Sirah https://www.mountaintideswine.com/
Cuda Ridge Wines – Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot https://cudaridgewines.com/
Cellar 13 – Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon https://www.cellar13winery.com/
YoungInglewood – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, blends http://younginglewood.com/
Gossamer Cellars – Unique red & white wines (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, etc.) http://restless-frog.com/about
Acquiesce – Roussanne, Picpoul, Bourboulenc https://www.acquiescevineyards.com/
Lavender Ridge – Roussanne, Rhone varietals https://lavenderridgevineyard.com/
Prie Vineyard – Barbera, Dornfelder https://www.priewinery.com/
Tenbrink Winery – Petite Sirah, Chardonnay http://tenbrinkvineyards.com/
Tolenas Vineyards – Gamay, Rose, blends http://tolenaswinery.com/
Casino Mine Ranch – Vermentino, Tempranillo, Mourvedre https://www.casinomineranch.com/
Hunter Glenn Wines – Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Syrah https://hunterglenn.com/
Bodega Del Sur Winery – Tempranillo, Spanish varietals https://bodegadelsur.com/
Arroyo Cellars – Chardonnay, Zinfandel https://www.arroyocellars.com/
3 Steves – Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere – https://3steveswinery.com/
Allegorie & Val du Vino – Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Blends https://www.valduvinowinery.com/allegorie-wines
Dusty Nabor Wines – Syrah, Grenache, Viognier http://dustynaborwines.com/
Dracaena Wines – Cabernet Franc, Rose https://dracaenawines.com/
Jazz Cellars – Syrah, Sangiovese, Roussanne/Marsanne https://www.jazzcellars.com/
Laura Michael – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel https://www.lauramichaelwines.com/
Vinoce – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc https://www.vinoce.com/
Detert Vineyards – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc https://www.detert.com/
Shale Canyon Winery – Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo https://www.shalecanyonwines.com/
Tate Wine – Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon http://www.tatewine.com/
Frog’s Tooth Winery – Chardonnay, Syrah, Petite Sirah https://www.frogstooth.com/
Porch Wines – Sauvignon Blanc, GSM https://www.porch-wine.com/
Wood Family Vineyards – Malbec, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon https://woodfamilyvineyards.com/
McKahn Family Cellars – Syrah, Grenache, Viognier https://mckahnfamilycellars.com/
Steven Kent Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, blends http://www.stevenkent.com/
2016 Zuidema Grenache from Napa Valley. This is his third release of Grenache which combines delicate finesse with the subtle power of Grenache. Rudy describes it as “the aromas are made up of white pepper, bright rhubarb, strawberry and blood orange peel. The bright acidity in the mid palate bursts with mixed berries, holiday spice and layers of anise and tarragon”. Even the finish gives a hint of the Old World with it being “rustic and not perfectly polished”. At a recent tasting with friends, most agreeing with the color being ruby to brick red, with cranberry fruit, having a spicy oak flavoring, yet showing the minerality of dry farming. Paired with stir-fried Udon noodles with Teriyaki chicken and broccoli. See more details on a previous story on Zuidema Wines at:
Tonight a 2017 Stringer Chardonnay from Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara area. A single Vineyard designated wine. Paired with shrimp, two different pork sausages (pineapple & cheese) and fettuccine with mushrooms and broccoli. 20% new French oak barrels for 12 months and then 5 months in stainless steel. The wine is a golden straw color on the eyes with a medium viscosity. On the nose and palate, a strong bent of a citrus element of meyer lemon and green apple. The finish presents a pear tinge and a smooth finish. Retail price of $35. #chardonnaywine #stringerwines #stringerwinery #centralcoastwines https://californiawinesandwineries.com