Latest Event Updates

Kola Farms

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Literally walking out of a Japanese Restaurant at lunch in Murphy, California, I happened upon a “soft opening” of a winery called Kola Farms. Having tasted many wines in Calaveras County without “much happiness” I was reluctant to enter, yet I was still curious. 20170913_131330
Firstly, it was indeed a soft opening, but already a handful of folks were sipping the wines. The goal and objective of Kola Farms is to specialize in premium and limited production wines from Calaveras, Amador and El Dorado Counties. They were featuring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Grenache Rose, Barbera and Syrah varietals. I was stunned and shocked at the high quality of the wines tasted.

I started out skeptical but still inquisitive why a new winery would open up on the crowded Main Street in Murphy’s’. The first tasting was the Sauvignon Blanc which absolutely was shockingly great upon the reception of the nose and lots of soft citrus but still crisp on the palate.

The other two wines received the same ravening from this writer: The Barbera and Syrah. The Barbera had a rarely found complexity of soft tannins, wood and layering of a classic Barbera.
The Syrah was equally strong in quality with chocolate hints and a smooth but not a syrupy jammy quality.

One last comment on the Manager of the wine room, Lacy. She is knowledgeable, friendly and eager to answer any questions thrown her way.

The end goal of the wine tasting experience will be food, an indoor/outdoor downstairs porch and food/groceries being availability in the Kola Farms General Story. They still have work to do, but if the soft opening was any indicator of their longer terms goals, this is one solid addition to the crowded Main Street wineries – perhaps becoming one of the best!

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Pietro’s & LangeTwins, A Perfect Team

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Lodi just keeps getter better and better! I know a few folks are skeptical of this statement, as was I initially, but having some of the freshest and most authentic Italian foods and wines west of Milan, you too will becoming an advocate. Jim and Annette Murdaca served some of their best dishes, perfected with decades of experience and authenticity, even compared to the “well known Italian cities of NY & SF”. Add two of LangeTwins best wines, their Centennial Zinfandel and Midnight Reserve (Bordeaux Blend), and your palette is saturated with characteristics that are “heaven sent”.

This is the second food/wine pairing with Pietro’s and LangeTwins this year! The food from a fig enhanced “pizza” followed by Gnocchi con Piselli (pesto sauce & pine nuts—the gnocchi was as soft as a cloud) to the Fettuccini Piedmontese (pancetta, onion, garlic, peas, olive oil and an almost deadly black pepper) launches one into the Antipasti dish of Italian salami, cheeses and olives. Then to the Bruschetta (grilled Ciabatta with the freshest tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil) it is hard to determine which to savor first!

These were all tried with LangeTwins Sauvignon Blanc (light citrus and floral nose) and their Midnight Reserve a true Bordeaux with ripe berries and a hind of chocolate. The Midnight Reserve was just recently stockpiled in the wine cellar!

Then on to the main meal of NY Steak sliced and topped with fresh corti olive oil, sea salt, parsley and balsamic vinegar reduction. Both the LangeTwins 2011 Zinfandel (traditional not sweet) and 2013 Midnight Reserve paired like a long term love affair. The catch of the day was the Mediterranean sea bass, Branzino in Italian. It has a limited window and the flavor is buttery and mouthwatering.

Dessert was a “chocolate concoction topped with a pinwheel of fresh peaches” —- one slice was enough to burst the waist line!

Should you find yourself in Lodi, better yet, plan a visit to Lodi and treat yourself to the best one-two gastronomical punches you can imagine at Pietro’s and LangeTwins.

A special thanks to Mark & Candy Strubbe for the invitation.


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Ayrael Vieux

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The name is a “play on words” as they had a Border collie named Ayrael when they first bought the property. The dog was so entrenched in the grounds that it was originally named Ayrael Farms. Later they changed to it using the French word Vieux (view) to make it Ayrael Vieux (pronounced aerial view).


What you cannot see from the sky is an extremely lovely manicured vineyard of 1 ½ acres producing the grapes for all their wines— a very limited amount of approximately 400 cases. Bob Eisenman believes this size is optimal for producing handcrafted and artisan wines. This seems also to fit with his other passion the Bob Eisenman Jazz Group which has a few “gigs” coming up this summer.


The tasting room is warm, rustic and definitely a country theme. They are located in Douglas Flat just off Hwy 4. Ollie the vineyard dog (and on the back of the bottles) will most likely greet you upon entering the vineyard. Don’t be fooled, the grounds are like a well-groomed garden! Here you are invited to sit and enjoy your purchase or taste indoors at “the counter”.


The wine which stood out the afternoon of our tasting and conversation were the 2014 Montepulciano and 2010 Zinfandel. First the Montepulciano was smooth with dark berries and brought you back to memories of Italy in an instant! This was definitely one of the better wines I have tasted in Calaveras County. Only 38 cases were produced.

The second wine which stood out was their 2010 Zinfandel which only 149 cases produced. Raspberry, blackberry and rose petal were the dominate aromas and it produced a full initial and lasting impression on the palate. It was more a classical Zin than many “fruit booms” from the foothills.


Both of these wines are now residing in my cellar—nice job Bob!


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Jeff Runquist Wines

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The winemaker/owner can be called a man of “many vineyards”. Jeff’s career history is via Paul Masson Sherry Cellars (Madera) as an intern while studying enology at UC Davis. Upon graduating, he worked at Montevia (Amador) and was subsequently promoted to winemaker in 1982. He then spent 3 years at the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery, followed by J. Lohr winery in San Jose. Then in 1996-1997 made wine at Sycamore Creek Winery (Morgan Hill) followed by 12 years at McManis Family Vineyard (Ripon).  With this history, Jeff and his wife Margie, opened their winery in 2011, Jeff Runquist Wines in Amador.


During his sojourn, Jeff understood the “terroir” of each vineyard and decided to arrange contracts with no less than six wines from the Sierra Foothills, three from the Napa Valley, and two from Paso Robles. With this diversity in vineyards he has been able to produce a portfolio of a wide range of wines. I believe this provides Jeff a challenge with each varietal. The offerings are numerous but highlighted by Tempranillo, Cab Franc, Barbara, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel “Z”, etc.  He has conquered all them as evidenced by 28 Gold Medals and 80 Silver Medals in 2012 alone! And his awards have continued.



His varietal offerings are impressive. The two which stood out were the 2015 Mataró (which will be released shortly) and the 2015 Petite Sirah. His Mataró or Mourvèdre a Rhône varietal, was exceptional with blueberry, blackberry fruit with a ting of black pepper and a hint of smoke. The tannins were medium. This particular vintage will last in your cellar, as it will in mine once released!


The next wine was his Petite Sirah. This wine was almost perfect with a high viscosity, bold fruit forward aromas and high tannins (but not too harsh). Coupled with the mild acidity, this will enhance just about any bold entre presented with this wine. An excellent job! This one is aging in my cellar!

Again experience, melded with various vineyards in multiply AVA’s, Jeff has managed to produce a real gem in Amador.


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Alyris Vineyards

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What does a CEO of a gold mining operation and one of the top winemakers in Napa have in common? They both are extracting a rare commodity from the earth. Ewan Downie, CEO of Premier Gold Mines LTD, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada purposes to finding and exploring land to find buried gold. Rudy Zuidema, is a vineyard manager, viticulturist and superb winemaker, is taking what the earth and terroir offer and converting this into “liquid gold”.  Nothing shows this remarkable partnership like their 2014 Audition Chardonnay which won Double Gold at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.


Up on the backside of Mount George, to the northeast of Napa, at 1200 foot elevation is the Alyris Vineyard which produces a wonderful, hearty and smooth Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Zinfandel and Chardonnay are sourced from the Carneros region.  One of the keys to all their wines is the “cave aging process” for all their wines. The Cabernet in 100% French oak is aged 22 months in 60% new oak. The Chardonnay is aged 10 months in 100% French oak in new barrels and the Zin cave aged 17 months in French and Hungarian oak with 40% being new.


This “mining adventure” has struck three great finds. The Zinfandel, is a smooth peppery Napa Valley style Zinfandel. This wine is a must for those liking Zin’s and a great treat for those wanting a more traditional non-fruit bomb Zinfandel. As Wine Enthusiastic in their 92 point rating stated “Peppery, brambly, integrated and balanced, this impressively layered and complex 100% varietal wine highlights the grape’s ability to be fruity, spicy and soft all at the same time.” Only 140 cases were produced.


The Chardonnay is from Carneros region and is in the old world style.  Alyris winemakers’ notes are spot on as it possess “Aromas of white nectarine, cereal grains, and honeysuckle are the greeting to this wine. Core flavors of peach, ripe fig, and fresh lavender are held together with a rich and smooth structure that lasts through the finish of minerals, nutmeg and allspice.” This is one of my favorite “non-buttery Chardonnays in Burgundian style. The secondary malolactic fermentation is held at around 30%. Only 170 cases were produced.



The Cabernet Sauvignon is a delightfully smooth with lingering tannins. It is 100% Cabernet with no melding or manipulation of adding other varietals. Rudy describes it in the winemakers’ notes as “The 2013 vintage is expected to be one of Napa’s best, with impressive wines displaying excellent structure and having substantial longevity. The 2013 Audition cabernet is dense and concentrated with cassis, violets, and dark chocolate notes on the nose. The firm tannins are kept juicy with rich black currant, Bing cherry, and toasty brown sugar. The finish is long and fresh with rose pedal, pipe tobacco, and a lint of wet forest floor all wrapped in an envelope of creamy French oak.”  Only 160 cases were produced.

All three wine varietals are tucked away today in my cellar. If you want to find “liquid gold”, look no further and simply shout out “Eureka” (Latin for I found it!) at Alyris Vineyards.


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Lange Twins Family Winery & Vineyards

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Lange Twins Winery strikes twice in one night! Not the “twins” but their wines coupled with Pietro’s Trattoria excellent culinary presentation. Last Friday, Randy Lange, partnered with Pietro’s Trattoria (closed for remodeling) to do an Italian night in the barrel room at the winery. An event that rated 5 stars for so many reasons: decorations, music, appetizers, barrel tasting, real Italian food, great wine pairings, people, etc. So together, a sixth generation wine producer, coupled with a third generation restaurateur (Pete Murdaca), made a magnificent evening. Pete Murdaca is a phenomenal chef and only 28 years old!  His parents, Jim and Annette, have raised a gastronomical prodigy.


I have attached a couple of pictures of the atmosphere to get your mouth watering when Pietro’s reopens in June! The wines selected (Randy/Pete) were paired so nicely with the meal. The two highlights for the food/wine pairing were:

Cavatelli Alla Vaccinara, Oxtail ragu with Cavatelli Pasta. This was paired with Lange Twins 2014 Nero D’Avola. This hearty wine as stated on the menu “opens with an earthy and rustic aromas, a hint of dark fruit is also present. On the palate the dark fruit comes across as black cherry which carries through to the finish”. These two paired like a Taoist “Yin and Yang” philosophy with equal yet opposing forces that complement and complete each other.

20170324_194614 Bistecca Silna, charred Ribeye with fingerling potatoes in a Balsamic reduction. This single barrel Teroldego with its strong aromas of “cherry and blueberry on the palate, give way to the palate melding with flavors of chocolate, blackberry and sweet tones of vanilla spice”.  These two paired like a Monet painting of spring flowers—intense, inviting and dynamic.


Both wines are straight out winners as well as were the two courses of food!

Should you get a chance to visit Lange Twins Family Winery or partake in a meal at Pietro’s Trattoria when they re-open, you will walk away with cases of wine and a glow on your face after consuming the food.


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Sherwin Family Vineyards

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Steve & Linda Sherwin purchased 30 acres on top of Spring Mountain in 1996. In late 1999, Sherwin Family Vineyards released its first wine. Shortly after September 11th, 2001, the infamous terrorist attacks, a wine auction was arranged in Lake Garda, Italy. The proceeds of the auction benefited the families of the Windows of the World employees who had been lost. Many wineries from Napa and Italy donated magnums of wine to the commemorative event.

Steve & Linda created a special designed bottle for the occasion, a hand etched, hand painted bottle feature the American flag with the words “In God We Trust” and “United We Stand”. On the back of the bottle it also stated it was created “in remembrance of those lost September 11th, 2001”. It along with the famous 1985 Sassacaia, were among the top lots in the entire auction. 20170227_131901

They wanted to donate more of these attractive bottles to raise additional money for the cause. But due to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms they needed label approval. A little know fact is that the Wine Institute told them that the “government would not approve the image of the American flag on alcohol or tobacco products”. Steve still sent a bottle along and to everyone’s amazement, it was stamped approved!


Since then the Sherwin Family Vineyards produces a limited number of the commemorative American flag bottles for various charitable events.  Thus how they received their motto – Home of the Patriotic Pour!

Now about the wines. Recently, visiting the hilltop winery, we tasted three wines: The Chardonnay, The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their irreverent “Cellar Scraps” (a blend). I want to focus on two of them. The 2015 Chardonnay is from Carneros region and had a distinct citrus flavor imparted to this bright and fresh Chardonnay. They only produced 250 cases but it a fine wine worthy of purchase.


The next wine was their 2013 Estate Cabernet that was 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  This wine was smooth with soft & round tannins to drink now or hold for 5 years. They produced 800 cases and the Spring Mountain fruit is robust and full. Wine Spectator rated it 94 points and it was at underrated in my opinion. They also produce their “Cellar Scraps” (worthy of tasting and anything but “left overs”!), a Rose and their 2013 Estate Cabernet Reserve.

The Home of the Patriotic Pour is a fascinating story and their heartfelt wines are even more enjoyable.


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Art and winemaking have many of the same traits or DNA. The land (terroir) combined with a specific year of heat, rain, fog, temperature variations provide an infinite palate in which the winemaker can formula a creative vintage. So like art and winemaking, exists a unique, colorful and highly energetic winery call THE GRADE Cellars in Calistoga. More about the creative angle later in the story.

The two Proprietor’s, Thomas Thornton and Brenda Mixson, combined with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown to maximize their vineyard. Tom who is an architect and Brenda who is involved in commercial real estate financing, have managed to combine their right and left cerebral cortexes with just the right amount of analytic and creative percentages in their drive to produce an exquisite wine.

The Winfield Vineyard sits just above the top of northern Napa Valley’s floor in Calistoga. Their end product is a rarity, similar to precious art. Only two varietals are produced: a Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They called themselves a producer of “handcrafted wines and know their customers on a first name basis”.

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Their now sold out 2013 Winfield Vineyard Cabernet received a 96 point from Antonio Galloni. They are about to release the 2014 Cabernet which only 550 cases were produced. They typically produce approximately 100 cases for their Reserve Cabernet. In tasting the 2014 Estate Cabernet, it possessed a dark and opulent deep red hue with round tannins and a lasting finish.  Robert Parker quote on it was that was “as dark as a moonless night”.


In addition, having a “barrel sample” of their 2015, it held the promise of an exceptional wine. It was made with heavy toasted 100% new French oak barrels. This is the one which got my peak my interest and caught my undivided attention. This is similar to watching the brushstrokes of a gifted artist, knowing the end result will be spectacular.

Tom, when preparing his wine lot for Premiere Napa Valley in 2016, was required to write about the wine to be auctioned. Here is where his creative side kicked in and submitted a sonnet or quatorzain (14 lines) to describe his offering and aligns with the 2014 vintage. In Tom’s words, The specific references include the location of Clone 337 in Block 5 in our estate vineyard, a severe drought requiring more frequent irrigations than usual, early seasonal maturation and harvest that required farming “workarounds”, our winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown who considers great wine to be made in the vineyard, and “Kingly Project” which is the name of our Reserve wine from that block.  That label’s name, as well as our other names, are borrowed from the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson who honeymooned in an abandoned mining bunkhouse above our vineyard and chronicled that experience in “The Silverado Squatters”. Apropos to my sonnet, he wrote that ‘wine is bottled poetry’.”


When you consider how the sunlight’s spent

O’er regal rows of three three seven’s leaves,

How into blue clay earth the rootstock weaves,

A season’s destiny is justly meant!


Consider droughts, too, our wells circumvent,

Nursing the ripeness each cluster achieves.

So dense and complex, the critic believes

Good farming allays what nature has sent!


Motionless while the stride of Mister Brown

Brushes against sprawled canopies, then gone,

Vines whisper sweetly, in sync and singly!


The twelve and thirteen are now cradled down.

Fourteen stands peerless, conclusions are drawn.

We bow to our earth’s project so kingly!


So in full circle, creativity in wine is limitless, yet specific in timeliness. I know you will enjoy THE GRADE Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and it will be included in my wine room. Should you get a chance to meet with Tom or Brenda when is Calistoga, their personalities are as embracing as the wine.


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Vatan – The Dark Bull of Tempranillos’

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Wines from Toro, located in Northwest Spain and their noted Tempranillo wines,  are especially known for coloration and boldness. The literally translation is “dark bull” – meaning this Tempranillo is not for the faint of heart!

The name Tempranillo comes from the Spanish word temprano (meaning early), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most other Spanish red grapes. That said most Tempranillos’ exhibit a big blackberry, leathery and a slight smoky aroma – an earthiness character.


For the 2013 Vatan Tinta de Toro, a large portion of  grapes come from a vineyard planted in 1943 with some coming from their renown 1910 vineyard. After fermentation the wine is aged in new French oak barrels for 22 months. What comes out on the other side is a mouthful of wonderment! The 2013 vintage also came out at 15.5% alcohol adding to the robustness of this vintage.

Antonio Galloni stated it best in his review stating it is a “Dark purple. Fresh black and blue fruits, pipe tobacco and candied violet on the highly perfumed, smoke-accented nose. Fleshy, seamless and broad in the mouth, offering intense blueberry and cherry-vanilla flavors and an exotic touch of Indian spices. The spicy quality carries strongly through the finish, which clings with excellent tenacity and smooth, building tannins.”


Here is an excellent picture of the almost black Tempranillo grapes on the vine in Toro. Photo by Fabio Ingrosso.

Most California Tempranillos’ do not come close to this intensity. So if you are looking for a “different big red” without the stark tannins, pick up a bottle of Tinta de Toro for a big, bold  and exotic wine.


Available at

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Foretell Wines

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As the name implies, it is the art of telling beforehand, what is to come. Very appropriate for a winemaker of Sam Baxter’s pedigree, both from experience and knowledge. To walk about the vineyards and be able to prognosticate the future quality of the wine is as much intellectual training as it is intuitive from years of experience.


The label on the wine is also provides a clue as to the pedigree of this wine with the Latin phase “respice, adspice, prospice” meaning “look, look, look!” letting you know something good is in the bottle! With the other phrase “Ab Actu Ad Posse Valet Illatio” meaning “from the past one can infer the future”.  And so Sam provides his calculated prophesy of an excellent experience.

Sam and Angela Baxter used a woodcut from Jost Amman, an astonishing craftsman, noted for his detail in his art from the 16th century, for their unique signature label. This label stands out and doesn’t need a bright color or a gimmick to be remembered. Simply classy.

Now on to the wine. Sam makes both a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is a mix of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine was aged 27 months in 50% new oak fine grained barrels. The coloration is dark and purple with a thick viscosity showing the deep black fruit. The taste of blackberries, dark caramel and cocoa open on the mouth. While excellent today, it will blossom over the next 3-5 years and Sam states it will hold for 18 years.

As of this writing, I have only tried the Cabernet but anxious to try the Pinot. If it is as good as the Cabernet Sauvignon it will foretell of a great wine to be enjoyed.


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