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Ledson Winery – An Opulent Castle Only Overshadowed by the Wine

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(This picture by Ledson Winery)

The story begins in England in 1896 and is detailed out on the website . It is a tale of hard work, family ties and a desire to do more for the community. Steve Ledson’s history is both unique and common—unique with background and successful venture and common with family ties. His demeanor and casual manner bespeaks volumes. A couple of years ago, I had a friend come down from Oregon and had Assistant Winemaker Jerry Padilla conduct the private tasting. On the way out, Steve walked in with jeans and tee shirt having worked some aspect of the vineyard only to greet us, genuinely happy that our tasting went well.
The Castle is the official tasting room of Ledson and the architecture and construction alone are worth the visit! Ledson Winery is offers the largest premium wine portfolio of any family owned winery in the United States. Today their offering numbers more than 70 wines annually!

My dealings with Ledson Winery go back almost twenty years as a club member and writer. Steve Ledson and Jerry Padilla are a great team offering customers and visitors a unique perspective into the wine business – and yes they make GREAT wines!

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At a recent visit, summer of 2018, I was once again transformed into a “wine enchantment” of the Castle, hosted by Jerry Padilla. Jerry knew my palate / wine desires, so he prepared an assortment of wines for the afternoon along with a charcuterie plate. During the process, we discussed many aspects of the winery, wine education and tastes of wines. Jerry was extremely flexible and diverted some choices to new and interesting wines. All the wines tasted and enjoyed where fit for royalty and many earned a spot in the cellar.

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I am mentioning two wines in this article which is difficult with so many excellent choices. The first is the current 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. In my Yearly Picks of the Exceptional Wines of 2016 (only 5 named), I listed Ledson’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc at $34. Most of the others were listed at $175. It was no mistake and again this vintage reconfirmed their rank at the end of 2018 once again.


For the red’s, my choice was not as simple with so many superb wines to select. The top contenders were: 2013 Alexander Valley “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon (Gold Medal 2017 Sunset International Wine Competition); 2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach” Cabernet Sauvignon; 2014 Alexander Valley Reserve “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon; 2015 Sonoma Valley “Estate” Barbera; Howell Mountain “Old Vine” Zinfandel and the 2014 Sonoma Valley “Estate” Cepage (Bordeaux blend). The winner and our dinner wine that evening was the 2013 Napa Valley “Stagecoach Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon.


The winemakers’ notes best sum up this wine as a “powerful wine that boasts gorgeous deep purple hues and aromatics of blackberry, blackcurrant, and cherry. Boysenberry, blackberry, and amazingly rich chocolate blend on the palate with intensity, opulence, and voluptuous textures. Bold tannins intertwine with wild berries and an intriguing note of black olive on an irresistible finish”. Easy to see why this was chosen to accompany our evening meal.

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Over the years I have recommended to friends and visitors going to Sonoma to make a stop at Ledson Winery. Obviously from their current wine list, they do offer a bit of everything for the casual wine taster to the wine aficionados’, be it Millennials to Baby Boomers, you will find the wine that envelops your palate and is sized to your pocketbook.



Jazz Cellars

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The origin of the word “jazz” is a varied as the music being played today call jazz. Perhaps the best origin is from the slang “jasm” from around 1860 which meant “energy, vitality, and spirit”. That seems to capture the essential of music referred to as jazz. That is how the two owners of Jazz Cellars have composed their wines. On a recent visit based on a friend’s recommendation to visit Murphy’s, I ventured to taste two recommendations: their 2012 Rhapsody, a Marsanne/Roussanne blend and their 2012 Pinot Noir.

First a quick background on the two owners/composers of Jazz Cellars. Bob Smith and Joe Lazzara are both neighbors, musicians and high tech folks who shared a vision of producing great wine. They started and are still headquartered in Foster City. They use a well know facility in the Dogpatch area of San Francisco to create their master pieces. The tasting room is located in Murphy’s California in the lower Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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The unique aspect of Jazz Cellars is that they search and find the “right terroir” in order to produce award winning wines. At last count they had accumulated over 100 awards in a very short period of time, without a dedicated vineyard! No small feat.

So while in Murphy’s (Calaveras AVA), I stopped by to taste the wines. They are located 100 feet down a side alley off Main Street. The wines being served that day did not include any “Calaveras County” grapes which at first was an oddity being located in Murphy’s. This is when Jessica in the Tasting Room, provided some background on how they “go to market”. I sampled four of the five wines being offered that day and was continually impressed with each varietal.

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The first one I want to introduce you to is their 2012 Rhapsody which is a 50/50 Marsanne/Roussanne blend of exquisite tastes and aromas. The grapes come from the Russian River AVA and is a well-orchestrated duet of two wonderful Rhone varietals. In their words it “is highlighted by honey-melon and apricot notes with layers of almonds and hazelnuts…” It is a mouthful experience with notes of oak on the finish.

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The second wine was their 2012 Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard, from the Santa Lucia Highlands on the Central Coast of California. It is bright and dark crimson that radiates in the glass and provides a full body and tasty, almost spicy finish on the palate. It has won a Gold Medal at the California State Fair 2017 with a rating of 95 points. It also won a Silver Medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition in 2016. Both wines should be sought out quickly!

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Several things I found while visiting the tasting room include weekly summer jazz on the patio from 2pm to 5 pm on Saturday’s. You can get the current schedule of performances on their website. I would also recommend tasting their 2012 Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard, from Sonoma, Dry Creek which produced a mouthwatering desire to keep consuming it! Dark purple with oak notes and Bing ripe cherry on the nose. This also receive a Gold Medal and is rated at 92 points.

So if you want to taste some of the best wines in the State of California and only want to drive to one location, a leisurely trip to the lower foothills will allow you to taste the regions of the Central Coast, Carneros, Sonoma and many other AVA’s. I can attest that their wines do embody “energy, vitality, and spirit”. After visiting the tasting room you too might boogie woogie your way home with a few bottles.


Per FTC disclosure, any wines purchased, were offered at industry discount.

Jessie’s Grove Winery and Vineyards

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The unassuming single lane road leading to the vineyard and tasting room, provides the demeanor of what you are about to experience—understated, homey and it brings one back to the “casual family element” of the winery.

Jessie’s Grove is the site for the oldest producing Zinfandel in the Lodi Appellation. It is named for Jessie Spenker, daughter of Joseph and Anna Spenker, who founded the ranch and land in 1868. The property is 320 acres with 265 acres planted in vineyards. The Zinfandel vines were planted in 1888 and is still producing an incredible ancient Zinfandel wine.

Here on the plot of land between highway 5 and highway 99 on West Turner Road is the home of a host of varietals- some unique, some traditional but all exceptional. As with most wineries, for myself, only a certain number of wines appeal to my tastes. Here I was overcome with glee and excitement being wooed over to all the wines offered, including a few from the backroom.

My stated purpose in visiting them was to taste their 2015 Carignane. This wine comes from their 118 years old vines! This is perhaps the fullest and most worthy tasting of Carignane in the New World. Carignane originated in Spain and is commonly found in French wine. Historically used in blending due to high volume per acre at 11 tons and its agreeable personality. Their 2015, 100% Carignane provided an excellent nose and on the palate a rich fruit spice and even a tad hint of “earthiness”. I found no blemish. Not “advertised” in writing in the tasting room, but told after tasting this wine, it had just won Double Gold at the 2018 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition.

The next wine was their 2016 Pinot Noir which personally shocked my sensibilities that a Pinot Noir this “precise and delicate” could be estate grown in Lodi. This too was a Double Gold winner at the 2018 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition. Their descriptive fits perfectly as “a medium bodied red with black cherry aromas. It opens with bright fruit and rolls into mature, soft-aged, velvety tannins.


The third wine I would like to into detail is their 2014 Royal Tee, Ancient Vine Zinfandel. This comes from their 129 year old vines. Zin’s come in a very broad range from “fruit bombs” to “arid dry”. This Zinfandel has a particularly ruby color, targeted dark fruit on the nose and a full embrace in the mouth, followed by a smooth and lingering finish.

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The three previous wines mentioned were moderated priced (and if you can read between the lines, rush to get some quickly!). Also, beyond the three, Jessie’s Grove produces two different Chardonnay’s (steel and oak fermented), a sparkling wine, two Old Vine Zinfandels and a few others. One of note is their dessert wines — some aged up to 15 years prior to being released. The other excellent wine that found a home in my personal cellar was their Cinsault planted in 1886.

I was hosted by Lisa Brand, GM who not only provided the history and background on every facet of the winery and the staff also that day was taking care of a 2 week old goat whose mother abandoned him.


While this goat was not only extremely cute and friendly, but he still came in second to their amazing line up of delicious wines.

This is a must visit winery, vineyard, experience and maybe even “petting zoo” in Lodi!!


Per FTC disclosure, any wines purchased, were offered at industry discount.


Allora Vineyards

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Let’s get plastered!!! Now that may not the smoothest introduction to a wine article, but let me explain. Terry and Nancy Klein established a very successful plastering business in the SF Bay Area but had always wanted to work and own a vineyard. In 1998 they bought a 15 acre parcel in most northern area of St Helena and planted 10 acres of grapes. This consists of 8 of Cabernet Sauvignon and the other 2 acres are Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah.

20180407_093057A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Terry (on the left) and his wine maker Mike McPherson to taste and discuss the vineyard and direction. Terry is an engaging owner with a smile and demeanor big enough to fill his wine cellar! Each bottle of wine has a unique name and story. Rudy Zuidema is the consulting winemaker and guiding mentor to the overall development of the winery.
The first wine tasted was their 2016 Chardonnay which is from Carneros region which was smooth and light bodied. The following vintage was I was able to barrel taste was from a local vineyard “red shoulder estate” and has a bursting Old World crispness, yet inviting to the palate. This wine will be a “gold medal” contender in my opinion.

Beyond the tasting of the wine Terry presented it in a glass which they distribute from Austria called Vino O2. It is difficult to see in the picture, but a “thumb size” is indented into the glass. What this causes while swirling the glass, is for the aromas to be risen up the glass and into your nose. Tasting the wine just poured into the glass verses after a few swirls is remarkably different and does enhance the experience.

The tasting room is located in the “basement/cellar” of their beautiful house on this secluded vineyard. It is spacious enough for 6-10 people and very intimate and does takes one back to Italy. The word Allora by the way, translates, to “whatever”. I think it really translates to “whatever is good”!

The first red tasted was a 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had a deep purple hue on sight and was medium body with aroma notes of blackberry and is fruit forward. On the finish it possessed a lingering “soft sweetness”.

Another red wine enjoyed during this tasting was their Lusso Cabernet Sauvignon. It is made from Clone 15 grapes and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon based. Only three barrels are made. Rudy Zuidema describes it as “highly extracted and decadent wine that indulges your entire pallet in pure luxury”. When sipping this wine, you get ripe berries and hints of dark chocolate. It is aged 24 months in French barrels. By the way, the label of the three women on the bottle has a fascinating story behind it, but that will be for the Klein’s to share on your visit.

So while starting the article with “let’s get plastered” you really need to slowly experience this exquisite wine.


FTC disclosure: All wine purchased was at full retail rate.


Shadybrook Estate, Rapp Ranch & Zuidema Wines Paired up at Saddle Creek Golf Resort

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On the evening of March 8th at Saddle Creek Golf Resort the Wine Society was treated to several outstanding wines by winemaker Rudy Zuidema and a culinary feast by Chef Nigel Thorne.



The first course consisted of a unique and tasteful poached pear salad with Grand Cru, cranberries, roasted pistachios with a cranberry-pear vinaigrette. This was paired with a 2014 Shadybrook Estate Platine Blanc. This wine was a pale straw yellow with hints of meringue and key lime. Immediately following was were aromas of pear, mandarin and honey with a long and clean finish.


The second course was a sea bass over goat cheese risotto with a savory peach sauce. The tastes and textures were complementary as well as diverse! This was served with a 2014 Rapp Ranch Chardonnay. The coloring was a golden yellow with aromas of poached pear, grilled pineapples to entice the nose. Tropical fruits and creamy caramel ran down the palate.
The next course was tender veal served with a roasted sweet potato and carrot puree & cherry demi. Many thought this was the highlight dish of the evening. This was served with a big and hearty 2014 Rapp Ranch Cutters Reserve Red Bordeaux blend. Unique was the 45% Petit Verdot which produced a deep purple hue on viewing. The nose was greeted by blueberry, licorice and rhubarb. With so much Petit Verdot it was still balanced and produced a long finish.


The next dish was the a powerful coffee spiced filet mignon with Oyster mushrooms, green beans and a serpentine puff pastry. This was served with the 2014 Shadybrook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This was big, bold and encompassed the entire mouth like a fireworks display! The bouquet as Rudy states, “black cherry, toasted caramel, brown sugar & pipe tobacco entice your senses with subtle secondary of earthly aromas of forest floor, tarragon & kirsch. Full of juicy plum, blackberry, mocha, chocolate & maple notes”. What more could you ask for in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon??
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The final was an artful dessert presentation of salted caramel & white chocolate. This was paired with a 2014 Zuidema Grenache. It was a 100% Grenache from Napa Valley and Rudy’s first vintage showing the blending of old world and new world Grenache. Strawberry and rustic tannins were evident from nose to mouth.
On the whole, the evening and pairings were sensational, exquisite and a delight to the senses and palate. Rudy’s award winning wines should absolutely be sought after (Shadybrook, Rapp Ranch, Zuidema, Red Cap, Alyris, Kent Price, Allora, etc.) and Saddle Creek Golf Resort gets an A++ on creativity, excellent food, presentation and flawless wait staff (Chef Nigel, Tammy and crew).
We all are eagerly awaiting the next event in the fall.


Gianelli Vineyards

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I was looking for a “local Grenache” for a Wine Society meeting and found one in Tuolumne County located in Jamestown, California. The big surprise was understanding their history and passion for Italian wines. It started in the late 1800’s with Giovani Rocca, who married into the Gianelli family. It was a good size plot of land outside of Jamestown which was used for cattle, a gold mining camp and a major stagecoach stop. Fast forward to 1980 and Ron Gianelli purchased the 53 acres of this 1427 foot elevation land from a relative and began thinking about how to farm it.


Ron researched endlessly how wine is produced in Italy. Armed with that knowledge, in 2003 he planted the first vineyard. This is where a typical winery and the Gianelli Vineyards go in a markedly different direction. Ron and Lorie Gianelli wanted to make their winery authentically Italian. So off to Verona to seek out equipment for farming, production techniques, rootstocks to filtration systems, etc. No detail was overlooked. The entire winery is set up like stepping back into Italy and so are the wines!
The wines in production and sale today are: 2014 Montepulciano Reserva, 2015 Petite Sirah, 2012 Nebbiolo, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Primitivo, 2014 Nino, 2012 Sangiovese Grosso, 2014 Bella Rosato and 2012 La Porta Del Paradisio. I want to mention 3 outstanding wines tasted during my visit – 2012 Nebbiolo, 2012 Primitivo and 2014 Montepulciano. All of these were tasted and presented at the historic tasting room on Main St in Jamestown.

The first was the 2012 Nebbiolo from northern Italy, my favorite Piedmonte wines. It had a unique cinnamon spice, with black cherry and strawberry. It was medium weight and very well balanced. The alcohol was 14.7%.
The second wine was the 2014 Montepulciano Reserva. This brought me back to Tuscany with its pointed cherry aromas, soft tannins and yet full body viscosity and flavors. This is the wine to have with a pasta dish and a red sauce. Alcohol was 13.9%. Oh and by the way, it won a Silver Medal at the SF Chronicle Wine Tasting in January 2018.


Lastly the 2015 Petite Sirah which was aged two years in old French oak barrels. This allow as they state to give it “inherently jammy notes of black cherry, dried red cherry, violets and plum while retaining a velvety structure”. The alcohol was 15%. While not one to collect Petite Sirah’s, this one will be going into my cellar shortly!

These three got my highest marks for completeness to their varietal heritage and taste. Every wine tasted was above average, but these stood out! The price range for these three wines were modestly price from $26 to $35. This might start another rush but instead of gold it will be a wine rush to Jamestown! Do not delay!


Per the FTC, any wine purchased from Gianelli Vineyards, was given an industry discount.



Authentic Italian Food & Wine on the Big Island

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It had been two years since we ate at Pueo’s Osteria in Waikoloa Village. It was excellent then and now hit new heights of cuisine and wine list presentation. Teddy Moku Lyau, the General Manager and Sommelier who I have kept in contact with for two years has pulled together an excellent wine list to compliment the authentic Italian food offered. Key is similar to the mainland with the Farm to table concept.

First dish this evening was special freshly caught Blue Fin Tuna sashimi with local onions and mangos called Pesce Crudo. This simply melted in your mouth! This was served with a glass of a smooth and flavorful but not overpowering Montepulciano, Masciarelli, from Abruzzo.

Next up in the work up was the Bresaola Carpaccio with truffle roasted hamakua & cremini mushroom and heart of palm. This dish was tasty, fresh cheese and served with multi-colored local tomatoes. We switched to a glass of Nero D’ Avola, Saia, from Sicily. This was a deep color and hearty to the nose, but easy going down! This coupled with the freshly baked bread proved to be another winner.


Now the entrée for the night was a freshly caught Swordfish with a tomato racy sauce. Absolutely the moistest and freshest Swordfish consumed. The Nero D’ Avola with the tomato reduction complimented and brought out all the flavors of the fish.

Now if you were expecting to see a post of the desert and perhaps a Port – we failed to complete the mission as we were “stuffed to the gills”. I would recommend Pueo’s Osteria for anyone visiting the Big Island. Their logo far exceeded the motto “Food, Wine & Fun”.
Teddy is to be commended for his exquisite wine selections and Jane was an engaging, thoughtful and responsive server.
So while Mahlo or Aloha might be appropriate in Hawaii, eccellente is more spot on.

Per FTC Rules: All food and wine were purchased at list price.