Latest Event Updates
Kick off party last night called “Pop & Pour” in Sacramento. 30+ wineries supporting River City Wine Week (www.rivercitywineweek.com) a week long event with various venues with wine, art, food and music. Benefits Well Space Health for medical assistance in 3 counties and St John’s Programs for mental health. Great participation & conversations by wineries and staff including Robin Gerber-Spotlight Brands, Michael Kahn MK Library, Kelly Bria Honig, Karen McGillivray Dono dal Cielo, Jana Harvey Scott Harvey Winery, Stephanie Simunovich Skinner Winery, Trevor Robinson Take Me With You, Jennifer Hunt Starfield Vineyards, Mackenzie Casino Mine Ranch and many more. Thanks Carrie Boyle for the invite!
Glasses waiting in anticipation! Appetizers by Bella Bru Café.
One of my newer favorites Maritana Vineyards was serving. (see article https://californiawinesandwineries.com/2018/12/06/maritana-vineyards-four-aces-on-the-first-vintage/ ) Also a light but refreshing Grenache by Skinner Vineyards.
Trevor Robinson has a new approach with wine called >Take Me With You Wine”. Scott Harvey provided a wonderful Reserve Zinfandel.
A wonderful food and wine pairing last week at Gardin’s. Wood Family Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay, Double Gold Winner two years in a row from SF Chronicle Wine Competition, 2018 & 2019. This wine burst with lemon and pear, followed by butterscotch and as Rhonda Wood states “crackerjack flavors”. Paired with a twist inch cut of Swordfish, cooked in capers, olive oil and garlic. Chicken and a tomato medley as sides. #wine #whitewine #chardonnay #woodfamily #rhondawood
From the cellar one of my all time favorites, 2006 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. On the eye medium viscosity, with deep crimson and purple hues evident. On the nose and palate, blackberries, mocha flavors and dark berries. This leaves a plush, opulent & elegant finish in the mouth. Tannins are perfectly matched for this 15.5% alcohol wine which is silky smooth. #mondaviwinery #napacabernetsauvignon #napavintners #mondaviwine #redwine #napavalleycabernet https://californiawinesandwineriescom
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!
For Wine Stories:
For Wine Reviews & Wine Blogs:
Casino Mine Ranch: https://www.casinomineranch.com/
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!
For Wine Stories:
For Wine Reviews & Wine Blogs:
Frog Tooth Vineyards: https://www.frogstooth.com
Yes a bit of a parody of Charles Dickens tale of Two Cities” (London and France) written in 1859. To recap his opening paragraph: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.
However this time it is not about war and politics as Dickens’ was referring to, but it is about the same grape from two different areas, France and California. What is Pinot Blanc? Why haven’t I heard about this grape? What is it like? Where is it grown? These questions will be addressed in this story.
So what is Pinot Blanc? The history of this grape is a bit tangled with mystery and misunderstanding. This white wine grape is essentially a mutation but sharing mostly the same DNA with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Pinot Blanc has a wide ranging descriptors: high in acidity, low in acidity, mix of fresh fruits, aromas (apple, citrus), pear, a little buttery, a bit creamy, hint of spiciness, dry, floral characteristics, honey, sweet, possessing stone fruit aromas, heavier minerality, cabbage odor, etc.
Alsace fronts the Rhine River in eastern France, and borders the countries of Germany and Switzerland (Map from Ontheworldmap.com)
Where is it grown? The main areas for this variety are Alsace (northeast France), the Alto Adige region in Italy and neighboring areas of Alsace in Germany & Austria. Pinot Blanc is also taking a hold in Canada’s Okanagan Valley as one of their signature wines. Others areas include Hungary, Croatia, Spain, Washington and Oregon. In France it is permissible to blend this varietal with other grapes in some quantities.
What other names does it go by? Warning: the list is a minefield for possible mispronunciations: Austria (Weissburgunder or Klevner), Hungary (Feher Burgundi); Spain & Italy (Pinot bianco), Czech Republic (Rulandske Bile), Slovakia (Rulandske Biele, and Croatia (Pinot bijeli or Burgundac bijeli). More recently it is starting to be develop in Uruguay and Argentina. In the Champagne region, Pinot Blanc is often called Blanc vrai. In the United States, besides Pinot Blanc, it is often referred to as a white ABC (anything but Chardonnay) or a step-child to Chardonnay. The truth of this varietal is very different!
I was made aware of Pinot Blanc from a recent video cast (Winephabet Street) and found a very limited number of commercial California Pinot Blancs. I was intrigued by this obscure wine due to unfamiliarity and sought out to taste it. No easy task. The number of acres planted of Pinot Blanc are a bit of a mystery, but estimated around 300 to 400 acres statewide. Upon tasting various ones, I was more than impressed with the aromas, flavors, textures and tastes of this varietal. What stood out was this wine was significantly different from France to California. Admittedly, I have not tasted this varietal in all the previous countries mentioned earlier. In France Pinot Blanc can actually add Auxerrois (from the town in Chablis region) but still labeled as Pinot Blanc. Auxerrois often has a “green vegetable quality” to it. When I first tasted it, I was so “un-impressed” by the taste. Turns out it often has a cabbage tinge. What are the differences between California and French Pinot Blanc? Apart from “terroir”, as mentioned the French often blend in Auxerrois and it has a distinct “green vegetable” on the palate. When I had a Sonoma Valley, Pinot Blanc I was taken back with a soft “cotton candy sweetness” verses “cabbage” on the palate and finish. And thus the impetus for this article!
In all, four California Pinot Blancs were tasted. Each having different coloring, aromas and flavor profiles. The first one tasted, 2014 Valley of the Moon, 100% Pinot Blanc from Sonoma, had a light golden color and medium viscosity on the eye. Aromas and tastes were complex with a sweetness of honeysuckle and green apples contrasting with a soft sweet vegetable characteristic of uncooked snow peas and a hint of citrus. A great summer patio wine!
Today, Valley of the Moon offers their 2016 of Pinot Blanc and Viognier. This bright wine produced in stainless steel tanks, allowed the fresh fruit and aromas of the grape to express the fullness of Pinot Blanc. Combined with the tropical fruits of Viognier, what came across immediately was fruit with tropical aromas. Their winemakers’ notes talk about “Aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle, with just a hint of spicy fresh ginger. Juicy white peach and nectarine fill the mouth and reveal hidden ripe pineapple and guava”. This is one wine that should be considered for your enjoyment. This wine received a Double Gold Medal Award at the Sonoma Harvest Fair.
The third tasted was a 2017 Saddleback Pinot Blanc from Napa. On the eye it was medium-heavy viscosity with a bright pale golden hue for color. On the nose & taste, earthiness, intense floral aromas, with a slightly tart finish of key lime pie and a sweet honeydew melon. The finish was full and multi-layered presence in the mouth especially going from chilled to warming up but always round and smooth. Truly a wonderful tasting experience.
The fourth California Pinot Blanc tasted was from Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards just outside St. Helena. This wine from the renowned Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc winery with extremely high ratings (97+), was their first attempt at Pinot Blanc. The grapes came from Yount Mill Vineyard in Yountville. Originally slated for a fortified wine experiment (something similar to Pineau des Charentes, a regional French aperitif) that will take 5 ½ years in the barrel, they had enough to produce 24 cases of unfiltered Pinot Blanc. This unfiltered wine possessed some distinguished characteristics as they stated, being on the “…rich, flavorful side”.
What foods pair well with California Pinot Blanc? Almost anything with subtle flavoring, so soft cheese (goat or sheep), salads with cheese dressings, or mild fish to taste this “more delicate varietal”. Conversely, if you want to highlight the meal and want a complimentary wine, you can serve California Pinot Blanc’s with Salmon, shrimp, scallops, far eastern chicken dishes, pizza, sushi & sashimi and even cured Italian prosciutto.
Generally speaking while having similar production characteristics as Chardonnay (oak barrel aging, stainless-steel aging), it is a wine generally not to be aged, but consumed early. The French can legally add the Auxerrois varietal which I believe distorts the pure Pinot Blanc experience. The quintessential take away is that California Pinot Blanc (be it stand alone or with Viognier) possess wide ranging characteristics and flavors. It is much more than your “ABC” wine and will provide you a new adventure and a great addition to your everyday whites.
For wine stories:
For wine reviews and Blogs:
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.
For wine stories:
For wine reviews and Blogs: