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Yes, I understand this is not the way to start off an article, as you normally have to engage with a snappy title of an article. So let me explain, that with Lavender Ridge Vineyard there were simply too many titles one could use to “catch your interest and attention”. So I will be using “possible titles” and you, the readers, get to call out your favorite title for this article!
Possible Title #1 – 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-five 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.
(One of their favorite paintings from France of lavender in back tasting room)
Possible Title #2 – The Tasting Room, More Than You Think
While not discussing this in detail during our interview, they run a rather unique tasting room. 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. It is here where they have a Lavender boutique of various products. 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. 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. Usually four wines and cheeses to compare and contrast. Personally, I have been buying from their specialized cheeses for two years but did not know they offered these classes/events. You will be seeing me signed up shortly as the cost is nominal.
Possible Title #3 – Wine Which Show Creativity and Pushing the Limits
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. This results in his words, “rounder and fuller” wines. Having tasted two of his “prized wines”, his Grenache done in “concrete eggs” for minerality and keeping the lees naturally moving, and his Mourvèdre they were “light colored”. Having to dismiss my 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.
The wines are fabulous including his 2016 Lavender Ridge Roussanne, Double Gold Winner in Sierra Foothills Competition. This paired with pan seared scallops, with porcini mushroom risotto with sautéed spinach and lemon beurre blanc. An excellent pairing and a real treat!
One other wine enjoyed while talking with Rich and Siri, one was their newly released Grenache Rose. The boutique was heavenly, fresh with a unique shade of pink. A perfect warm weather, patio wine!
Possible Title #4 – Leading Technologist in Calaveras
Rich has constantly re-invested back into the winery with state of the art equipment. He was the first in the county to purchase and use a cross flow filter. A portion of business is also acting as a custom crush house for various wineries. Here I believe is a remarkable story. He, like so many winemakers in the state of California, have been fighting “smoke taint” for the last few years. He had received some grapes / juice that had a distinct smoke taint characteristic. Rather than jeopardize his reputation and quality, he simply poured his juice down the drain. At his “custom crush” operation, a winery came to him with similar smoke tainted grapes/juice. He asked and received the same advice from Rich to simple pour out the wine but with a caveat. Like any solid winemaker in the state of California with constant and inevitable forest fires, sadly smoke taint is a yearly occurrence. He offered to spend his time and money with this juice working on reverse osmosis and a newly discovered way of treating smoke taint with enzymes. This was to take away free and bonded particles out of the wine, especially from the sugar compound. This was provided the wine would not see any consumer, but be a noble wine experiment. It is underway and his results will know later this year.
Possible Title #5 – The Future of the Wine Industry
We spent some time talking about how to transition from Baby Boomers to Millennials/Gen-X/Gen-Y with the tasting room, varietals, etc. How tasting rooms have transitioned to “wine bars” instead of an opportunity to taste what the winemaker has produced by a varietal. This portion of the discussion was unfortunately cut short as we already spent over twice the allocated time. We will have an opportunity later to follow up and stay tuned for an upcoming article on the subject.
Conclusion: So I have only touched briefly on five far ranging subjects on Lavender Ridge Vineyard and their wines, products and overall business. Thus as I stated in the opening salvo, a title of this story was going to be too limiting and not show the vastness of their operation, offering and character. So you the reader can name the article, but at some point, to fully appreciate Lavender Ridge Vineyard, you will need to visit and taste some remarkable wines.
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Kate Boyle and Craig MacDonald have combined two distinct areas to produce some spectacular wines from both the Napa Valley AVA and several of the Sierra Foothill counties & AVA. They have taken their family vineyard located on Mt George area of Napa Valley and produce stand alone Cabernet Sauvignon’s at Boyle MacDonald. Not content to simply be another “Napa winery”, they have also combined some of their favorite varietals from El Dorado, Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties to blend with their Napa Wines.
Kate Boyle, winemaker at Ayrael Vieux Winery (click to read a previous story), along with her husband have just recently opened a tasting room in Murphys, California. Located at 448-B Main Street on the 2nd floor. This newly renovated tasting room has some magnificent handmade tables. Additionally, besides their intimate indoor tasting room complete with “bar & cart trolley” and plenty of intimate seating, they have a relaxing outdoor roof patio.
They offer many wines so let me break this down to three simple categories. The first is their Blue Label series of wines. These include their Zinfandel (“balanced flavors of wild berry, clove, cinnamon, and vanilla”), Petite Sirah and younger released Cabernet. The Petite Sirah (“Dark ruby in color with notes of plum, blackberry and sage”) comes from El Dorado County and the Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot from the Sierra Foothill Counties of Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties. The younger released Cabernet Sauvignon comes from their family estate in Napa with less time being bottle aged. Prices range from $22 to $36.
The second label is their Cock Au Vin series. Here they are currently offering two wines. The first being their Red Blend which consists of 61% Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Sangiovese and 18% Zinfandel, both from Calaveras County. The winemaker’s notes sum it up nicely “black cherry and tobacco notes round to an easy finish”. This is made for everyday enjoyment and can be served with just about any food. The second offering in the Cock Au Vin series, a Sierra foothills Rosé was just released in time for the beginning of the warm summer season. It is 73% Sangiovese, 17.5% Zinfandel and 7.5% Merlot. It is a dry Rosé, with fruit forward aromas of cherries, strawberries and soft citrus. This is a refreshing summer wine capable of serving on the patio, again and again. These wines range from $16 to $22.
The third label is the Premium Estate Wines. Starting with their 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Napa Valley Cabernet Franc). This wine is aged 30 months in the barrel. In addition they offer their 2012 and 2011 vintages. The 2011 is also aged in the bottle for 18 months! These wines are robust, with mouth watering flavorings of blackberries, licorice and lavender. They also have a 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Tuolumne blend called the Red Blend. Here they have taken 56% of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and 34% Sierra foothills Merlot and 10% Sierra foothills Zinfandel. These wines range from $28 to $60.
The fun fact remains that Kate likes to feature both the pure Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon varietal along with blending unique and quality produced Sierra foothills vineyard varietals like Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and Merlot to make refreshing and layered wines! You will need to seek out Boyle MacDonald as they are “upstairs, around the corner” but you and your palate will be amply rewarded.
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Perhaps the quote from Jerzy Kosinski sums up the response from viewing 1849 Wine bottles “The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke”. I posted this picture with a simple question to Millennials, Gen-X and Gen-Y wine buyers on various blogs, “Do these labels have an appeal to you?” The response and answers were strong, far reaching, positive, negative, insightful and curt to list a few of the responses. So yes it did evoke one of the strongest reactions on any post I have done!
The label artwork was done by Los Angeles urban street artist, Saber. Each bottle has a name which encapsulates the spirit of the wine.
So let’s break this down in some digestible bites, starting with the reaction, the wine and a possible conclusion. So the reaction on the positive side were comments like:
• “I really don’t care about the label design if I buy wine for me, but sometimes it’s fun to give away something that looks different (given that the wine is good as well)” – Ace Rajchapuckdee
• “I’m a millennial, and I like the labels. There not what I personally would choose, but I do like them more than the fancy-French-words-in-script-on-white-paper labels that a lot of other wines use” – Seth Eli Barlow
• “I like them, although I’d prefer them just a tad more intelligible” – Mitul Kanji
• “They are cool, sure. Actually pretty awesome to keep after drinking. BUT. Enticing me to buy them because of the label…negative” – Anthony Morocco
• “I’m a Gen-Xer and I have personally purchased several of these bottles JUST because I love the labels. There’s absolutely no shame in my game. Sometimes I just like the labels….” Stacy Brooks
• “I’ve been seeing this label all over the place. It’s a cool design” – John Goins
So these folks (and many others) were noting some unique marketing / labeling characteristics of this wine. Notable was the easily recognized labels, liking the labels as artwork, standing out on the wine shelf, etc. To this end I think 1849 Wines hit the mark for marketing and brand recognition.
Now let’s look at the flip side of the comments, the negative:
• “Gen-X uph graffiti. No appeal.” – Eve Vuillemainroy
• “Maybe for some but not for me.” – anonymous
• “…..Message is a bit irreverent but let’s be fair…if the wine isn’t satisfying I wouldn’t buy again” –Barb Wilder
• “I personally don’t like it. I don’t get a sense of anything except vandalism. I like updated and modern labels with a sense of origin and history. This conveys very little.” – Andrew Sutalo
• “It looks artistic, but not enough to buy a bottle. If someone reliable told me this wine is worth buying, I would. Some young people would try such a “cool” wine maybe…..” – Gerhild Magerl
The overwhelming sentiment seemed to be judging the label as art. It comes down to individual taste in “art” as labels. Here 1849 Wines loses many with the label right away as being “graffiti or vandalism as art”.
The conclusion on the label: is that the message may have gotten distorted by the medium selected; it is well recognized on the wine shelf; it appeals to some and is repugnant to others; it is unique for wine labels, etc. So P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”. A lot of people are talking about the label be it good or non-appealing.
But we haven’t talked yet about the wine!! So is this 1849 Wine’s strategy? To evoke all this response and forget about the contents? Are they hiding poor wine behind the unique label?
So let’s talk about two wines which I objectively tasted and rated. First is the 2017 Chardonnay, called Au Jus from Monterey County. Wine Enthusiast rated it 89 and a Bronze Medal winner at San Francisco Chronicle 2018. It is an oaked Chardonnay, that is creamy and just the right amount of “butter”, with stone fruit. At $25, this is a worthy buy for a solid Chardonnay.
This Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with a pork belly appetizer at Saddle Creek’s Copper Grill. It is called Declaration. Robert Parker gave it 91 points. A dark purple wine with blackberries and blueberries on the nose and fruit forward on the palate with sweet chocolate hints. The finish was soft and round with hardly any tannins. A made to drink now Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine comes from various vineyards both on the valley floor and hillsides. I also wanted to show the backside as each bottle does provide a level of detail which is not immediately noticeable from the artistic front. At $80, the art work says Millennials, Gen-X and Gen-Y, but the price point says Baby boomers. A possible conflicting messages here but still an enjoyable and highly rated wine no matter your age.
So to sum up 1849 Wines: they are non-traditionalist for sure, they make very good wine and are not hiding the quality with art, but despite the art not appealing to some, they should be taken seriously. So whether you like the art which comes down to individual tastes (as with wine), the bottles do evoke a response. Be fair and let the wine evoke your real palate response no matter your demographic. They are rebels with a cause to provide very good wine with a different but highly recognized label.
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The results are in from the 38th Sierra Foothill Wine Competition. This event is open to the counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California. Those include Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Tuolumne and Alpine Counties. It was a blind tasting using the “Danish System” for the rating and tasting of the wines. This was Tom Benders’ 37th year presiding as Judging Coordinator for the event. Several prestigious and notable judges, writers and winemakers participated including Brad Alderson, Dan Berger, Greg Burns, Mark Chandler, Patrick Dodd, Mike Dunne, etc.
The wine industry in the Sierra Foothills dates back to 1851 and includes many varietals grown in Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. Those include Barbera, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Nebbiolo, Grenache, Graciano, Albarino, Marsanne, Roussanne, Verdelho, Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to name just a few.
The Calaveras best-in-show, Double Gold, and Gold Medal winning wines will be on display at the Calaveras County Fair in the Wine Pavilion May 16th to May 19th.
The 2019 Winners:
Best of Show White: Went to Ironstone Vineyards, 2017 Symphony “Obsession”. The Symphony varietal is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. I noted while tasting it that the color was clear, had a floral nose and just a hint of sweetness. After the event I saw the winemaker’s notes which state “captivating aromas of gardenia, honeysuckle and star jasmine”. Personally I was surprised at the Symphony’s placement, but really enjoyed the wine.
Best of Show White for Calaveras County: Black Sheep Winery Semillon 2017.
Best of Show Blush: Was awarded to Milliaire Winery for their 2018 White Zinfandel. Again a surprise but deserving award. Color was +, nose + and taste was ++ from my notes.
Best of Show Red: No surprise here as it went to Jeff Runquist Wines (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2017/05/09/jeff-runquist-wines/ ) for his 2016 Sangiovese “The Hill”. My notes were dark coloring, solid nose and complex finish.
Best of Show Red for Calaveras County: Mineral Winery 2016 Barbera
Winner of the Zin Challenge: Shenandoah Vineyards 2016 “Paul’s Vineyard”. My notes were color+, nose + and soft & rounded tannins, creating a smooth wine.
Winner of Best of Show Dessert Wine: Jeff Runquist 2018 Muscat Canelli.
Winner of the most Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals went to Jeff Runquist for a variety of wines including additionally winning Best of Show Red and Best of Show Desert. 26 medals in total!! You can see a previous article that I had written on Jeff Runquist wine at: https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2017/05/09/jeff-runquist-wines/ . Recently I was again at Jeff Runquist Wines tasting many of his wines and all were stellar to the varietal and taste.
Other notable awards some from previous written articles and tasted, but not tasted at our judging table for this event:
• Frog’s Tooth Winery 2016 Sangiovese – Gold
• Gianelli Vineyards 2017 Pinot Grigio – Gold (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/03/07/gianelli-vineyards/)
• Gossamer Cellars 2016 Alicante Bouschet – Gold (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/?s=gossamer+cellars )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2018 Chardonnay – Double Gold (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2019/04/18/inner-sanctum-cellars-went-inside-and-what-i-saw/ )
• Inner Sanctum Cellars 2014 Vintage Port – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist Tannat 2016 – Gold (https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2017/05/09/jeff-runquist-wines/ )
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Carignane – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2017 Touriga – Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Petit Sirah – Double Gold
• Jeff Runquist 2016 Charbono – Gold
• Lavender Ridge 2018 Grenache – Double Gold
Wines that won that I had not tasted prior to the Competition but now are on the radar include:
• Aloria Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Renner” – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Farmhouse Red” blend – Double Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 Montepulciano – Gold
• Amador Cellars 2016 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Chatom 2015 Barbera – Gold
• Clavey 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold
• Convergence Vineyards 2017 Tempranillo – Gold
• Drytown Cellars 2015 Primitivo – Gold
• Hatcher Winery 2014 “Reserve” Zinfandel – Gold
• Ironstone Vineyards 2017 Sauvignon Blanc – Gold
• Ironstone 2017 “Red Obsession” blend – Gold
• Milliaire Winery 2015 “Ghirardelli” Zinfandel – Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Barbera Double Gold
• Mineral Wines 2016 Merlot – Gold
• Noceto Vineyards 2015 Sangiovese “Reserve” – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Roussanne – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Petite Sirah – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2016 Reserve Zinfandel – Gold
• Sobon Estate 2017 Fiddletown Zinfandel – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard 2017 Zingiovese blend –Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyard “Angelica” dessert – Gold
• Shenandoah Vineyards 2015 Tempranillo – Gold
• Stevenot Winery 2016 “Danza” blend – Gold
• Ten by Ten Wines 2016 Primitivo – Gold
Upon the revealing of the “brown bags at the end” of the competition, some of my personal favorites were:
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Shake Ridge Ranch” Tempranillo
• Chatom’s 2014 Malbec. Color+, Nose++ and taste++
• Jeff Runquist 2016 “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon.
I am thankful to have been a judge at this event two years in a row and believe the Sierra Foothill Wineries are making some excellent and notable wines for wine aficionados all around the globe! Well done to those wineries who participated and showed their esteemed wine making abilities.
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For a complete listing of varietal winners see: https://www.frogtown.org/professional-wine-results
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.
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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!