It seems that as Amador County wine country receives more exposure and accolades, new wineries are popping up like spring wildflowers. We say this in a good way – since this means more variety and more opportunity to taste some fantastic wines from our favorite day-trip wine region. One such new winery is La Mesa Vineyards, with a recently opened tasting room perched atop a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by its estate vineyards. We’d driven past La Mesa a number of times on our way to another winery where we are members, but with reservations required at most wineries during the pandemic, timing had not worked out to enable us to stop in. Until a warm, spring-like day in February a couple of weeks ago.
Many visitors to Amador County may not have the opportunity to experience La Mesa, and that is a shame. Like many areas, the Shenandoah Valley has developed something of a “central” area along Shenandoah Road, where the more established, sometimes trendy “destination” wineries are located. Many visitors stop there, unaware of what awaits them around the next bend in the road. La Mesa is a couple of miles beyond that area; you have to keep driving to be rewarded with the stunning views, amazing hospitality, and delicious wines.
Originally from Montreal, Quebec, vigniron Côme Laguë comes from a long lineage of agriculture; 10 generations to be specific. However, this enterprising French Canadian pursued a career in tech. Still, throughout the evolution of his career, he never lost the passion for wine that he had developed early on. He and his family often traveled through Amador county on their way to camp in the Sierras, and eventually he resolved to purchase land here. When the time came, he found just the right spot; a former walnut farm. As an added bonus, the property also had an established vineyard planted to Primitivo. Rather than rip out the vineyard, Côme decided to try his hand at winemaking. A neighbor helped with the first vintage, a single barrel of wine. That was all it took. Côme was hooked, and after a few more years at the craft, opened La Mesa Vineyards.
The tasting room at La Mesa is a modern, striking building, featuring sweeping views from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, or the generous patio outside. Much of the wine is produced from estate fruit, with some sourced from nearby vineyards. The estate vineyards surround the tasting room, adding to the allure of tasting a wine that was produced from grapes that grew just yards away.
It was surprisingly quiet when we pulled in; only a handful of other guests enjoying wine on the patio. As a result, we had the tasting room staff practically to ourselves. They continued to be quite attentive even as more people arrived and filled the patio tables. The standard tasting flight consists of five select wines, with an option of whites and rosés, or reds. You can also customize your flight. La Mesa produces a wide variety of whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling, so it can be hard to select just five. Fortunately, being wine tasting veterans, we knew the drill: We ordered one flight of the whites and rosés, and one of the reds, and shared them.
Our server particularly recommended the Chardonnay, which was included in the whites and rosés flight. She explained that Côme prefers to make his wines in a more Old World style, meaning his Chardonnay saw no oak, and no malolactic fermentation. It is made in the style of a Chablis which, as we don’t prefer the heavily oaked style, was music to our ears! We enjoyed it so much, we bought a bottle to take home.
We also were surprised by the Muscat Canelli, which was aromatic and refreshing, but not cloyingly sweet, as some can be. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the whites was the Barbera Blanc. Several years ago, Kent purchased a “White Barbera” from a different winery, and reminiscent of White Zinfandel, that one was sickenly, syrupy sweet. The La Mesa Barbera Blanc, however, was fresh, bright, and refreshing, with zesty acidity. This wine is made from the same Barbera grapes used in the traditional red wine, but the skins are removed immediately after press, so the wine derives none of the red color. We ended up bringing one of these home, too!
All of the reds were excellent. The two standouts for us were the Primitivo and the Petite Sirah, which was also recommended by our server. The Primitivo was lively and vibrant, while the Petite Sirah was dark and brooding. Kent is rather particular about his Petite Sirah, and this one got the seal of approval. Despite the fact that we only needed to purchase two bottles to waive each of our $15 tasting fees, we left with a few more than that.
In recent weeks, taking advantage of the unseasonably springlike weather, we’ve done a bit of wine tasting on day trips around our area. We’d begun to notice that at many of the small wineries we were visiting, we would like two or three of the wines, but others we didn’t care for at all. This was not the case at La Mesa. Each and every wine we tasted was tasty and high-quality, including the bonus pours of the Library Primitivo 2014, and La Notte, their fortified Port-style wine.
We will definitely plan to stop in at La Mesa Vineyards again. If you are in the Amador area, do yourself a favor. Venture just a bit further up the road, around that bend, and up the hill to this wonderful tasting room with a view.
By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds (except where noted and credited.)
We like to explore the world through wine, eagerly trying wines from various countries, at various price points. Some wines we wouldn’t drink again, others go on the rotation list, and some are really impressive. Here is our favorite wine of this past week.
With the post-holiday COVID-19 curve finally tapering off and the regional stay-at-home orders lifted, we ventured out for the first time in months. On a beautiful, warm January afternoon, we took the short walk from home to our favorite local wine bar, Platinum Wine Lounge, for some al fresco wine and nibbles.
As we sat on the patio, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, we perused the wine list. Platinum features many local wines, from the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. We decided on the m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, and we were not disappointed.
If you’ve ever been wine tasting in Lodi and driven down Peltier Road between I-5 and Highway 99, you’ve seen m2 Wine’s distinctive steel winery and tasting room. We have always enjoyed m2’s wines, and their Old Vines Zinfandel is among our favorites in their portfolio. The Old Vines Zinfandel 2017 is a single-vineyard wine, from the Soucie Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were planted in 1916. While there’s no legal definition for “Old Vines”, I’d say 101 years meets the generally accepted definition.
m2 Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, Soucie Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA
Clear dark ruby color. On the nose, aromas of bing cherry, cranberry, blackberry, and smoke. These notes continue on the palate, with flavors of cherry, plum, blackberry, and cranberry, with white pepper and vanilla. Medium-plus body, with soft, supple tannins and medium acidity. Very nicely balanced, with a long finish of red fruit and baking spice.
We have been big fans of Amador County wines for a long time. Awhile back, we connected on Instagram (@appetite_for_wine) with @casinomineranch, a relative newcomer in the wine landscape of the Sierra Foothills. During our early online chatter, we expressed an interest in visiting. We learned that visits to Casino Mine Ranch are by appointment only. Alas, our frequent trips to the area are often spontaneous, so, embarrassingly, we went several months without scheduling a visit.
Thankfully, that negligence came to an end earlier this month. We were planning a trip to Amador County wine country, and Kent remembered Casino Mine Ranch. After a quick DM on Instagram, Chief of Staff Mackenzie Cecchi confirmed our reservation.
It was a lovely November day when we arrived at Casino Mine Ranch. Rather spring-like weather, in fact. (Sorry, not sorry to our East Coast family and friends.) Up a winding, nondescript driveway (even with GPS, we missed it and had to turn around), past Lola’s vineyard, until we saw Casey’s tree fort, and we knew we had arrived.
Mackenzie greeted us as we entered the house. Yes, house. Casino Mine Ranch’s current location is the owners’ second home. Mackenzie said they are in the planning stages of a tasting room down the road near some other tasting rooms, but for now, welcome to this beautiful home!
Mackenzie poured us our first taste. There would be eight total during the hour-long tour and tasting. The 2017 Vermentino. Simply stellar! Plenty of pineapple and citrus, with bracing acidity. Just the way we like it. If the Vermentino was any indication, we were in for a very special, and tasty hour. (Spoiler alert: the Vermentino was definitely an indication!)
All of the wines in Casino Mine Ranch’s portfolio are 100% estate fruit. The ranch is 60 acres, but currently there are only 14 acres under vine. However, they are planning to plant more vineyards so they can increase production.
The second tasting on the tour was the 2017 Grenache Blanc. Mackenzie said the 2016 wasn’t quite what they’d hoped for, and asked our opinion of the 2017. Ironically, Kent had taken a wine survey just the day before, and had to respond in the negative to the question: have you tasted a Grenache Blanc in the past six months. Timing, people. Timing is everything! And so is this Grenache Blanc. Straw color, aged in 30% new French oak, with flavors of apricot and peach, with hints of butter and caramel. Exquisite.
As we moved outside, and prepared to enter the mine, Mackenzie provided a history lesson. Casino Ranch Mine was founded in 1936 by Simone Shaw. Simone was born in Belgium, and with her family escaped the 1914 German invasion. Her father had a mining operation in Alaska, where Simone spent time in her younger days. Always stylish and worldly, Simone caught the eye of many a suitor. The family eventually moved to New York City, where Simone met Sam Shaw, Jr., hotelier and art patron. It was a match made in heaven, and the two were soon married.
As socialites, the Shaws spent time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Somehow, they found their way to what was then the middle of nowhere…Amador County. (Let’s be real, Amador County may not be the middle of nowhere today, but it’s only just outside the border! We love it that way.) Simone bought the property, with the intention of mining for gold. Always the realist, she felt that striking it rich in gold mining was a gamble, hence the name: Casino Mine Ranch.
Simone’s instincts were right. Nothing more than a modicum of gold was discovered in their mine. However, what they did find was as precious as gold in the remote Sierra Foothills: water. Under the lava caps on the property were reserves of water. The Shaw’s excavated and dammed the springs, and even today they are used for irrigation on the ranch.
Into the mine we went. The water was located only a few yards beyond the entrance, so the tour does not go deep into the mine. Here, we tasted the 2018 Rosé, a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre. Another exquisite wine. Three-for-three! Pale pink color, with flavors of strawberry and raspberry. Bone dry and zesty.
From the mine, we went back through the house, and downstairs to a beautiful cellar room. Here we tasted the 2017 Grenache Noir; 100% Grenache, aged in 30% new French oak. This wine recently received a score of 90 points from Wine Spectator magazine. A luscious, spicy wine, with bold red fruit and licorice notes. There was an ashtray on the counter, crafted from a bear claw. (Not the pastry, but an actual claw from an actual bear!) Mackenzie said legend has it, that Simone herself shot that bear!
Venturing outside through the back of the house, we made our way to the pool house. Pool house? Pool house. Not too many wineries have a pool and a pool house! But this was just the beginning. The two-story pool house is a home unto itself, complete with kitchen and entertainment. Upstairs there is a full-scale shuffleboard table, and down the spiral staircase to the lower level, you will find a pinball machine, video arcade game, and an air hockey table. In case you were wondering, as we were, the answer is yes. At wine club events, members have the opportunity to use these games!
Back outside and down a grassy hill, Mackenzie continued the family tale. Shortly after World War II, Sam passed away. Sam’s brother, Hollis Shaw, came to stay on the property to help the widow with the ranch. Hollis initially lived in one of the small mining shacks on the property. However, after some time, he moved into the main house. Not long after, Simone and Hollis were married.
During the 1960’s and 70’s, Simone’s grand-nephews, Rich, Jim, and Steve Marryman, would come to the ranch for visits. They were intrigued by their aunt, living in such a remote area but still being so glamorous, serving the children their meals off fine china, and dressing for dinner. In 1999, Rich Merryman bought Casino MIne Ranch.
In 2011, Rich called brother Jim to tell him he is going to plant a vineyard on the property and wanted to make wine. Jim thought Rich was crazy, though he eventually joined the venture. They hired winemaker Andy Erickson, and in 2015, produced their first vintage.
Mackenzie escorted us to a large, metal building at the bottom of the hill. She referred to it as the “midlife crisis building.” This, she said, was to be the Casino Mine Ranch winery production facility. However, their winemaking team is in Napa, and they didn’t want to have to come all the way out, almost to the border of nowhere, to produce the wine. With construction started, what is one to do with a massive building that now has no purpose? Turn it into an NBA regulation basketball court, of course!
Several NBA stars have visited the ranch to play on the court. In addition, college flags adorned the back wall. These are the alma mater of wine club members. Joining the club earns one the right to display their school’s flag. Guests on tour are invited to go downstairs onto the court to shoot some hoops, but we decided to stay topside and just watch.
Back up the hill to the house, and onto the patio with breathtaking views, where we enjoyed the rest of the wines. Next on the list was the 2017 Mourvèdre. Another 100% varietal wine, this medium bodied red has spicy red fruit, raspberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice and a long finish.
The 2016 Simone, obviously named in honor Great Aunt Simone, is a blend of 52% Grenache and 48% Mourvèdre. This is a big, powerhouse of a wine, with red fruit and spice on the nose, and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, baking spice, and mineral notes. Big, chewy tannins and bright acidity lead to a very long finish.
Next was the 2016 Tempranillo, one of only two non-Rhône style wines in the portfolio. This wine pours inky purple, and has flavors of blueberry, spice, and a bit of raspberry. The tannins are very soft and smooth, balanced with medium acidity.
The final wine on the tour was the 2016 Marcel. Wait, we sense another story here. Marcel Tiquet moved to Casino Mine Ranch after World War II. He was just 19 years old at the time. Marcel and his wife didn’t intend on staying long, but raised their family there and they loved the place so much, they just never moved away. Making a life here, Marcel became the heart and soul of Casino Mine Ranch. Sadly, Marcel passed away in September 2018, at the age of 93.
The wine in his honor is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Teroldego. Here is another big, bold red wine, worthy of such a man as Marcel. Inky purple color, with aromas and flavors of blueberry, raspberry, baking spice, and white pepper on the finish. Big, firm, chewy tannins mingle with medium acidity, leading to a long finish. This is a wine that wants a rib-eye or grilled lamb.
Alas, the tour was over. Nevertheless, we were so impressed with the wines, the story, and the property, that we decided to join the wine club. So, as they say…we’ll be back!
If you’d like to visit Casino Mine Ranch, and you know you do, you’ll need to make a reservation. You can do this on their website. They are open for guests Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with appointment times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. When you go, tell them Robyn and Kent sent you!
Full disclosure: Kent has been a big fan of Andis Wines, in Amador County, Sierra Foothills, for nearly 10 years. Their then-winemaker hosted a tasting at the local Total Wine & More store, and Andis quickly became one of Kent’s favorite wineries. Not just in the Foothills, but anywhere! We finally became members of Club Andis about a year and a half ago.
Membership, as they say, has its privileges. Like complimentary admission to the monthly Block to Bottle Vineyard Tour. (Psst, it’s only $10 for non-members!) The tour starts just outside the tasting room, where Nick Pilatti, the Cellar Master himself, leads the group through the vineyards, tasting the wines produced from the vines right at your feet.
Joining us on the excursion this fine, spring day, was co-founder, Janis Akuna. The name, Andis, is an amalgamation of the first names of the founders: Andy Friedlander and Janis Akuna. Clever, eh?
Andy and Janis founded Andis Wines in 2009. The pair had lived part time in the Napa Valley in the 1990’s. While working in high-pressure careers, they had a vision of a winery as a new challenge, in a quieter setting. However, upon returning to Napa after several years away, they found it busier and more crowded than they had remembered. A friend invited them to Amador County, and they found the home for their winery.
Andis Wines is situated on approximately 25 acres, of which 21 are farmed. There are nine different grape varieties planted, including Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Barbera, and Sauvignon Blanc. Other than irrigation for newly planted vines, Andis practices dry farming, as well as sustainable practices. They also source fruit from other vineyards in the area, including Semillon, and Zinfandel from the Original Grandpère Vineyard; planted in 1869, it is the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States! (Read our blogs about the OGP Vineyard here, and here.) Andis Wines is one of only a small handful wineries with access to these grapes.
In 2010, their modern, state-of-the-art winery was completed and opened to the public. A striking, modern edifice, perched atop a hill with an amazing view, the winery is like no other we’ve seen. When you get closer, you see that the front of the building is covered with grey barrel staves, engraved with the names of club members. (Ours will be up there soon!) The Andis winery is unpretentious and inviting, with an open, airy tasting room with plenty of windows to drink in the view as much as the wines.
On a sunny Sunday in late March, 2019, we gathered in the Andis Wines tasting room. The previous day had been cold and rainy, so there was much relief that this day dawned bright, clear, and warm. At noon, on the dot, Nick and his assistant, Vanessa, greeted us to begin the tour. As mentioned, Janis herself was to join in as well!
The first stop was the Sauvignon Blanc block. Vanessa poured each of us a taste of the 2018 vintage, and we sipped among the very vines from which the juice had come. One of our favorite domestic Sauvignon Blancs, it is crisp and fresh, with citrus, stone fruit, and honeysuckle. This is a great wine for sipping all summer.Next we moved to the Grenache block. We have a particular fondness for Grenache, so we were excited to try this one. The 2016 Akuna Block Grenache is the first vintage from this vineyard block, which was planted in 2012. Elegant and restrained, this is everything we hope for in a quality Grenache; lighter bodied, with cherry, strawberry, and cranberry, bright acidity and grippy tannins. Nick suggests this wine as an alternative to Pinot Noir.
Moving up the hill, off in the distance, we spotted the next stop: the Barbera block, where Andis grows the grapes for their Barbera d’Amador wine. Our favorite Barbera’s come from Amador County, and Andis’ selections are always at the top of our list. We tasted the 2016, the grapes harvested from vines planted in 2012. A lighter-bodied Barbera, this wine is bursting with fresh cherry and cranberry. It’d be so good with pizza or pasta!
As we headed to our next tasting sample, we passed by another block that has really piqued our interest. All along the way thus far, all the vines had been pruned in preparation for the new season of growth. This block still had last year’s shoots. Nothing more than timing, Nick said. These would be pruned the following week. The interesting part is the variety of grape these vines produce: Schioppettino. Never heard of it? Neither had we! If you have read Appetite for Wine very long, you know Kent’s quest for unusual and obscure grape varieties. (He’s a proud member of the Century Wine Club, having tasted more than 100 different varieties!)
Nick explained that Schioppettino is an obscure red grape, native to northwestern Italy. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are fruit forward and spicy. The first vintage is in barrel, not expected to be bottled for awhile. No, sadly there was no barrel tasting on this tour. Rest assured, however, when it is released and we get our hands on a bottle, we’ll be sure to tell you about it!
From there, we circled down the far side of the property, into one of the Zinfandel Blocks. Like the Barbera, Andis Wines Estate Zinfandel is always one of our favorites. The 2015 that we tasted this day is no exception. Rich, blackberry and black cherry fruit flavors, with chocolate, baking spice, and black pepper.
Making our way to the winery, we stopped on the crush pad for our final tour taste. Painted Fields is Andis Wines’ signature red blend. It is a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, with a bit of Zinfandel and Mourvèdre to round it out. Velvety smooth, with bold fruit and soft oak influences, it is at home at a barbecue or fine dining table. This wine is a perennial crowd favorite.
Our last stop was the barrel room (seriously, can you ever see too many barrel rooms? We think not!) before we returned to the tasting room where we started. After sampling a few more of Andis Wines portfolio, including their exquisite Semillon, Rosé of Barbera, Primitivo, and more, we made our selections and headed out.
This was a fun and educational day at one of our all-time favorite wineries. We highly recommend the Block to Bottle Vineyard Walk. You can get more information or make reservations on the Andis Wines website.
While the East Coast is being blasted by yet another major winter storm, and the Pacific Northwest is experiencing record snowfall, here in Northern California, it’s, well, pouring rain. But I mean really pouring! We’re expecting 3-6 inches of rain in the next 48 hours. The winds are also howling, up to 40 mph. And it’s cold…by NorCal standards. Overnight lows in the 30’s, and highs only in the 50’s. Brrr. By NorCal standards.
So in light of winter’s harsh punch to the Northern Hemisphere, what better way to stay warm than to enjoy some big, bold, warming red wines on these cold winter nights? This is the first of a four-part mini-series, featuring reds from around the world that were provided as media samples.
The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
What better place to start this journey than South America? Afterall, there, it’s summer! From the Maule Valley in Chile, comes the Erasmo Barbera-Grenache 2016, a unique and delicious blend of 60% Barbera, 30% Grenache, and 10% Carignan. Using all organic grapes and wild yeast for fermentation, this wine captures the essence of the Maule Valley terroir.
The original cellar at what is now Erasmo winery was built at the end of the 19th century. The mud-wall construction provided excellent insulation for maintaining a proper wine cellar temperature. In 2005, after years of neglect and inactivity, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano set out to restore this historic building. Now complete, and filled with modern winemaking equipment, “La Reserva de Caliboro” lives on, and is the home to high quality, organic wines.
On one particularly cold and stormy night, we paired this delightful, warming wine with a seared Garlic-Butter Brazilian Skirt Steak and Garden Salad. (You can’t forego your greens just because it’s cold out!) What an amazing pairing! Sheer perfection!
Deep purple color with brick rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and clove. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice, cedar, and vanilla notes. Tannins are firm but balanced, with lively acidity and a long finish of black and red fruit and white pepper.
Vivino Average Price: $22.99
Stay tuned for the next in this Warming Reds for Cold Nights series. In the meantime, tell us, in the comments below, what you are enjoying to stay warm during these cold winter nights.
By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds
It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.
Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.
To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!
Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!
We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!
Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?
We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:
Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:
Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.
Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!
Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:
River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.
Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.
One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?
Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:
Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.
Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!
The Major Award:
Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.
This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.
The Lovely Parting Gifts:
MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.
There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?
The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!
The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.
But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:
It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.
Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.
We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!
Nestled on the southwestern slopes of the Haleakala volcano, just past a stretch of white-knuckle switchbacks, near the community of Ulupalakua, lies an oasis. A wine oasis. Yes, a wine oasis in Paradise!
We had been planning a trip to Hawaii, to include a few days on Oahu, then a week on Maui. Knowing that there are now wineries in all 50 states, we turned to Google to find out where might be the Hawaiian wineries. As luck would have it, right there on Maui, there is MauiWine. We contacted them in advance to arrange a tour and tasting, and General Manager Joe Hegele graciously offered to be our personal tour guide.
MauiWine’s story is rich in history and culture. The winery lies on a property formerly owned by Captain Makee, a whaling captain in the mid-1800’s. The story goes that Captain Makee spotted the land while passing by the south side of Maui on the way to Oahu. He committed to himself that one day he would live there.
Prior to Captain Makee owning the land, however, King Kamehameha III leased it to a rancher, L.L. Torbet, who established a plantation and ranch. Torbet raised potatoes, and during the California Gold Rush, bought a boat to carry his crop to hungry gold miners on the mainland. Unfortunately, his boat sank, and he lost everything.
Meanwhile, Captain Makee was having his own challenges. A crewman aboard ship, upset at being denied leave, snuck into Captain Makee’s cabin at night, and attacked him with a hatchet. The attack failed, the crewman escaped, and Captain Makee decided it was time to retire. After settling in Honolulu, he eventually followed through on his commitment to settle on the land he had seen on Maui. In January 1856, he purchased the Torbetsville plantation, establishing a home and cattle ranch.
Having survived the attempt on his life, Captain Makee came to understand that life is a gift, and devoted his days to celebrating life. He loved the local roses, Lokelani, and dubbed the property Rose Ranch. He soon became known for his hospitality and day’s long parties. Dignitaries, including Hawaiian King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani would visit for hula dancing, poker games, and relaxation.
Even today, the property is considered sacred ground. As you enter, in front of the King’s Cottage, you pass a hula circle, carved from cypress trees planted in the 1870’s for King Kalakaua, known as “the Merrie Monarch”, who would sit and watch hula dancers on that spot. The cypress trees stood for nearly 150 years, until a storm in 2012 brought two of them down. Local artist Tim Garcia, was brought in to carve the remaining trunks into representations of King Kalakaua, hula dancers, and vessels. Joe said that even to this day, ōlapa (hula dancers) from around the world will visit the MauiWine Hula Circle to perform their dances.
Joe has a long-standing connection to Rose Ranch. He was raised here from the age of five. Though he did head to the mainland to attend college and gain some work experience, he returned to Rose Ranch five years ago to manage winery operations.
Once known only for their pineapple wines, under Joe’s direction, MauiWine has undergone renaming, rebranding, and the expansion of their grape wine program. Though they do source juice from the mainland, their 16 acre vineyard is planted to several varieties, including Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.
Unlike most vineyards, where sun exposure is paramount to encourage ripening, the MauiWine vineyards biggest threat is fruit rot. With the humid climate in Hawaii, the vines and grape clusters here are pruned to encourage air flow. This includes a canopy management program focused on leafing, rather than shade, and fruit drop to open up the clusters. From flower to fruit set, they have about a 40% conversion rate. They have also been experimenting with grape shattering, which further reduces rot risk. All of the vineyards are harvested, then field sorted to ensure only the best fruit comes in. No sorting tables are used in the winery.
At about 2,000 feet elevation, and relatively short sun exposure; just 11 to 12 hours per day, despite to the tropical location, MauiWine is considered a cool climate vineyard, with average temperatures in the mid-70’s. The grape growing season on Maui runs from about January through August. The early season helps to avoid hurricanes, which could – and have – damaged crops.
On August 8, 2014, Hurricane Iselle made landfall on Maui. Harvest had begun, but the entire 6 acre Syrah crop remained in the vine. Winds from the hurricane blew the vines over and there was fear the crop would be lost. However, MauiWine put out a call on Social Media, and volunteers arrived to help. The harvest came in, and production went on as normal. It turned out the the vines were not severely damaged, and they continue to produce today.
When most people think of wine from Hawaii, they think of pineapple wine. And they’re not necessarily wrong. Pineapple is a year-round crop, which enables MauiWIne to run it’s production year-round as well. More than 84,000 pounds of Maui Gold pineapple is processed at MauiWine each month, and turned into three different styles of wine.
This may come as a surprise, MauiWine pineapple wine is NOT the syrupy sweet wine you may be expecting!We had the opportunity to sample all three pineapple wines offerings:
Hula o Maui – Pineapple Sparkling Wine
A brut sparkling wine made entirely of Maui Gold pineapple. Pale straw color, with vigorous streams of bubbles. Dry and fruity, and quite tasty. Produced in the traditional champagne method, this is a serious bottle of bubbles, that also doubles as a playful mixer for mimosas!
Maui Blanc – Off-dry Still Wine
Here’s a wine sure to please the Mosacto lovers in your party. Semi-dry but with plenty of character and depth. Also produced from 100% Maui Gold pineapple, this wine would pair nicely with spicy foods. This was the first wine produced by MauiWine, back in 1977, while waiting for their grape vineyards to mature. Don’t miss this one of a kind wine!
Maui Splash – Pineapple Wine infused with Passion Fruit
The sweetest of the trio, and perhaps the most popular. It retains the pineapple character, but adds a splash of tropical sweetness on the palate and finish. It’s like a day at the beach, in a glass. Great on it’s own, or add a splash of soda for a refreshing spritzer. In production since 1992.
As good, and intriguing, as the pineapple wines were, the real treat of our visit was the personal tasting of the Rose Ranch Wine and Estate Wine lines. MauiWine is proud of their pineapple wine, and as we learned, there is good reason for that. Still, the vineyard is the passion project, and the one that intrigued us most. Joe hosted us in The Old Jail; an historic building on the property that was once, well, the local jail. MauiWine has updated the space nicely – no dank cells and bread & water here – this is as upscale a tasting venue as we’ve ever visited. While most guests enjoy tastings in the King’s Cottage tasting rooms, club members and others looking for a deeper experience may reserve personalized tastings in the Old Jail. Here, Joe poured us samples of the best that MauiWine has to offer.
No. 001 – Traditional Method Sparkling Wine
From the Estate Collection. A crisp, delicious wine, made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The juice is sourced from California, from a well known Napa producer (but who cannot be named for proprietary reasons.) Vigorous streams of fine bubbles rise in the glass. Flavors of almond, yeast, and fresh-baked bread, with apple and pear, and a nutty finish. If I didn’t know this was a MauiWIne, I’d swear it was from Champagne!
LoKelani – Sparkling Rosé
A Rose Ranch Wine Collection wine. A brut sparkling wine made from Syrah and Pinot Noir. Very pale pink. Honestly, neither of us would have known it was a Rosé if Joe hadn’t said so before pouring. Flavors of strawberry, cranberry, and some citrus notes. Quite a delight!
2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier
Another from the Estate Wines collection. We are big fans of well-made Viognier. And we’re now big fans of the Ulupalakua Vineyards Viognier! Dry, with floral aromas and flavors of apricot, citrus, and mineral notes, with a spicy finish.
2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Rosé
Estate Collection. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache, and an interesting blend it is. The Syrah from Block 2 is farmed specifically to be vinified into Rosé, in the maceration method; harvested early to preserve acidity, and left on the skins after harvest for a very short time, just to add some color. Meanwhile, the Grenache portion is made in the Saignée method, in which the grapes are pressed for red wine production, and a small portion is bled off (saignée in French) to intensify the color of the red wine. The bled off portion is then made into a Rosé wine, and in this case, added to the Syrah Rosé. The result is a delightful, dry, crisp Rosé wine with flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry, and tropical fruit.
2017 Ulupalakua Vineyards Grenache
Estate Collection. You might think of Grenache as a full-throttle, big red. In this case, you couldn’t be more wrong. This Grenache is as elegant and restrained as we have ever had. Pale ruby color; crystal clear (look at that color in the photo!) But don’t let the pale color fool you. This beauty is bursting with flavors of black cherry, plum, licorice, and earthy notes. It is bone dry, with zippy acidity and a spicy finish. Joe recommends serving slightly chilled, and since that is how he served it to us, we absolutely agree!
2016 Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah
Estate Collection. This is the big, bold, meaty red you’ve been looking for! Inky purple color. Big flavors of crushed blackberry, chocolate-covered cherry, licorice, and earth. Big, chewy tannins balanced with medium acidity, On the finish there is kirsch and mineral. A stunning wine, indeed!
After we wrapped up our Old Jail tasting, Joe escorted us on a walking tour of the winery production area. MauiWine is a study in contrast; the vintage, plantation-style buildings housing the facility and cellar are juxtaposed with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. Joe pointed out their new bottling line; a shiny stainless steel workhorse that has the capability to seal bottles with all four major wine closures: traditional cork, screwcap, crown caps (part of the sparkling wine production, for secondary fermentation), and the familiar sparkling wine cork, secured with a wire cage. The facility, view, and surroundings are all very impressive, and well worth a visit! Tours are complimentary, so come on up!
Before delivering us into the capable hands of the tasting room staff, Joe had one more surprise for us. We followed him a couple of miles back up the road to the vineyards. Joe mentioned to us that the vineyard is greatly protected and generally reserved for staff and family. The views here are spectacular, and the photos we took simply cannot do them justice! On the slope of Haleakala, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Kaho’olawe island, and the U-shaped volcanic crater that is Molokini, the views literally took our breath away. Rather than try to describe it, just enjoy the photos.
With Hurricane Lane approaching, we asked Joe if any special precautions were necessary. Not very many vineyards or wineries have to contend with hurricanes! Joe said that all of this years’ harvest is in, so there is no worry about the fruit. The only concern is loss of power from winds and falling trees.
After we returned to the King’s Cottage tasting room, Joe introduced us to Denae and Tamara, two of the friendly and knowledgeable staff members. There, we sampled Pineapple Wines (described above), the rest of the Rose Ranch Collection, and a taste of the 2012 Syrah – the hurricane wine!
Kula – White Blend
An enticing and delicious blend of 44% Sauvignon Blanc, 44% Viognier, and 12% Muscat. Lots of citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Dry, yet fruity with zesty acidity.
Mele – Red Blend
Racy and delicious, this is a blend of 40% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 10% Sangiovese. Medium body with smooth tannins, flavors of blackberry, raspberry, and cherry, with hints of green bell pepper and black pepper spice.
Sway & Stride Blend
An Aussie style blend with 80% Syrah (or Shiraz, if you prefer!) and 20% Viognier. Nicely balanced and delicious, with blackberry, cherry, and spice.
Ulupalakua Vineyards GSMV
Not your typical GSM! Grenache, Syrah, Malbec, and Viognier. Big and bold, yet elegant, with violet, blackberry, cranberry, and tobacco notes.
2014Ulupalakua Vineyards Syrah
The hurricane wine! Very few bottles remain, and are available only in the tasting room. This is an amazing wine of deep character and flavor. RIpe blackberry and plum, earth and tobacco. Big, bold tannins, with a long, satisfying finish.
We were honored that Joe hosted us as guests of MauiWine. Relatively small in production, with about 30,000 total cases annually, and their estate wine releases range from about 100 to 400 cases each, they are mighty and impressive. Although available for purchase online, they are well worth a visit if you happen to be in Hawaii.
In conclusion, Robyn would like to share her personal impressions:
As we planned for our trip to Maui and our visit to MauiWine, I envisioned that it would be beautiful and unlike any winery I had experienced thus far. I had no idea how understated my vision was. I may be back on the mainland, but I can assure you that my experience has left a lasting impression. The rich legacy of culture, the majestic grounds, the sense of value for close relationships with staff and customers, and the passion behind how MauiWine came to be, is a hidden treasure. When Joe explained how the climate is unlike any other traditional grape growing region and that even all the “experts” truly can’t predict the outcome of a crop, I said, “it’s like a big experiment every year?” To which he replied, “exactly”, with a smile on his face! Like a biography, Joe described the triumph, heartbreak, and thrill, that is MauiWine. The common thread connecting all of them is passion!
By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
Photo Credits, unless otherwise noted: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
Though Saturday was overcast, cool, and even a little drizzly, Sunday was a new day. We awoke to glorious sunshine, crystal clear skies, and warmer temperatures. This was going to be a great day for some Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting!
In case you missed it, this is the second of two installments on our first-ever visit to Livermore Valley wine country, to attend the annual Barrel Tasting weekend. We were guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. You can read about our Saturday experience here. Suffice it to say, we were very impressed with the Valley, the wines, and the people.
The question of the morning on Sunday was, would it continue? Would the people on Day 2 be as hospitable? Would we spend hours on end at each winery? Would we get to visit more than three? Read on, to find out.
On Sunday, we were on a mission. We were determined to visit as many wineries as possible. With 35 of them participating, we had to be selective, and took some recommendations from the ever hospitable hotel clerk. We plotted our route on the map, and started the car. But wait. The Barrel Tasting event opened up each day at noon. Our first destination was a mere 10-15 minute drive away. We checked out of our hotel at around 10 a.m. What to do? BRUNCH!
We headed down to central Livermore to check it out in the daylight. Wandering around, we spotted some people on what appeared to be a rooftop bar or restaurant. Now on a quest, we entered what turned out to be an office building. Discouraged, we spotted a sandwich-board sign outside the elevator that confirmed we were on the right track, the Aviation Rooftop Bar & Kitchen was just upstairs. The elevator opened into the bar and small dining room, and just beyond was the spectacular rooftop. Brunch was delicious, the server…well, amazingly friendly and hospitable…and just check out this view!
Sufficiently nourished, we got back in the car and drove to our first stop, the renowned estate, Concannon Vineyards. This was one of what would be eight wineries we visited that day! Like I said, we were on a mission!
I’d like to pause here to assure you that there was much swishing, spitting, and dumping this weekend. Please drink responsibly, and do not drive while impaired!
We were some of the first guests at Concannon on Sunday, so it was not as crowded as we had feared it might. Here, the friendly hosts poured us several tastes of Concannon’s signature wine, Petite Sirah. From the barrel, and from finished and aged bottles, the wines were delicious. Show of hands here: How many of you had your first taste of Petite Sirah from a Concannon bottle? Concannon has a long history of winemaking in California, and even continued during Prohibition by making Sacramental wine for the church.
Our next stop was Murietta’s Well. I’ve read a lot about Murietta’s Well from many of my fellow bloggers, so I wanted to be sure an stop in. Here we enjoyed samples of several wines, including barrel samples of their 2016 Spur; a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. As good as this was out of the barrel, it will be spectacular in a few years when it is released!
Next up was Steven Kent Winery. Here we tasted some spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and met winemaker Craig Ploof. Though the tasting room was busy, Craig took the time to talk with us one-on-one, and share a bit of his story and passion. Craig told us how the unique east-west alignment of the Livermore Valley and the varied micro-climates help create wines of character and distinction. He isn’t wrong.
Next, we went to Wente. (See what I did there?) Wente Vineyards is perhaps more well-known than Concannon; their claim to fame being the development of many Chardonnay clones that are now planted around the world. In their barrel room, we sampled Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their red blend, Artisan Red. Once again, the hosts amazed us with their easy-going, friendly demeanor, and genuine hospitality.
Moving on, we ended up at something of a strip mall for wine. A beautiful stucco building housing at least five winery tasting rooms! First we stopped in at Nottingham Cellars. I’d had a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner the night before, and wanted to sample their other wines. Their simplistic but artistic tasting room is charming, and their wines are just as impressive. (By this point , several hours into the day, my note-taking was becoming, well, sketchy, so I don’t recall the barrel samples we had.)
Walking next door, we entered Longevity Wines. We were immediately taken with the gitchy, eclectic décor; there’s a barn façade inside the tasting room! As we started our barrel tasting; Grenache and a Rhone-style blend called “Deb-Ru-Vee”, the live musical duet was setting up nearby. In addition, winemaker and founder Phil Long was there, and engaged with us and other attendees. Phil is a big guy, but he’s just as friendly, warm, and hospitable as anybody we met that weekend. Upon hearing we were bloggers, he told his staff to treat us well, and he set us up with a full library tasting. (If you read about Saturday’s adventures, you may be noticing a pattern.) The name of the wine, Deb-Ru-Vee, is homage to Phil’s wife, Debra. The quality of the wine is a reflection of Phil’s love and commitment. It’s truly spectacular! As you can imagine, we spent quite a lot of time here. It’s hard to walk away from that welcoming feeling of family and new friends. Yet, eventually, we had to move on. If for nothing else, to make room for other guests!
Around the corner in an unassuming warehouse building…it looked like an auto body shop…was Wood Family Wines. Winemaker Rhonda Wood was on hand to host the tasting, which included pairing with locally handmade English Toffee. Oh, yum! Once again, we connected with Rhonda and were treated to a complimentary flight in the tasting room, after finishing the barrel tasting. A friendly and engaging staff made us feel welcome, and made sure we were well cared for.
With palate fatigue setting in, we made our way to our final stop: McGrail Vineyards and Winery. The good folks at McGrail had started following me on Instagram just that morning, so it only seemed right to pay them a visit in person to say thank you. In addition, on their Instagram post, they touted an Aroma Bar.
They doctored eight glasses of wine with aromas common in red wine. The challenge was to identify each of the elements in each glass. While I only got six right, it was enough to win a complementary tasting next time we’re in town!
And so it was time to go. We’d had an amazing weekend, meeting fantastic people, making new friends, and finding new favorite wines. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Livermore Valley, thank you. We’ll definitely be back!
By Kent Reynolds,
With creative content and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
If we had to describe our experience at the Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend in one word, without a doubt, that word would be: Hospitality.
This was our first trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country. We were invited as guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, and were very eager to attend. In preparation for the event, we did a little studying and learned a great deal about the incredible and influential history of this wine region. You can read about what we learned in our previous post by clicking here.
As the name suggests, the Barrel Tasting Weekend is a two-day event, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. There are more than 40 wineries in the Livermore Valley, and roughly 35 of them were participating in the weekend. Clearly, we had a daunting task ahead of us, trying to make it to as many of these as possible. Yes folks, Wine Blogging has its own, unique challenges and stresses. This is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, we are willing to do it. For you, dear readers.
As luck would have it, to add to the challenge, we got a late start on the nearly two-hour drive to the Valley, and didn’t arrive Saturday until around 2 p.m. Having missed out on two entire hours of tasting, our mission looked dire. Like many events of this type, during registration we selected a winery to start our journey, where we would pick up our glasses and wrist bands. Scoping the lay of the land, we decided to start at one of the furthest locations from Livermore, the city, and work our way in. So it was that we found ourselves at the charming venue that is Cedar Mountain Winery & Port Works. There, General Manager Cindy Burnett greeted us with wine thief in hand. She was offering barrel samples of their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as tasted of their finished and bottled 2015. Next to her was owner Earl Ault, with barrel tastes of their recent NV Tortuga Royale, a fortified, Port-style wine made from Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, co-fermented with 70% Cocoa Powder. Truly one of the most unique flavor experiences we have had in our years of wine tasting! After sampling the very chocolaty barrel sample, which we thought tasted like adult chocolate milk, we got to try the current release from the bottle. Here, the bold chocolate flavors had softened and melded into the wine, creating a smooth, bold, delicious finished product. Really, folks, if you haven’t been barrel tasting, this would be a great place to start! This wine really showcased the differences between barrel and bottle!
So friendly were Cindy and Earl, and the rest of the staff at Cedar Mountain that they invited us to stay for a complimentary tasting of their entire library at the tasting bar. Never ones to be rude, we agreed. Though we didn’t taste the entire library…they have more than 20 table and dessert wines…we did work through many of them, including our first White Port experiences; a Viognier Port, Chardonnay Port, and an Oak Fermented Chardonnay Port! Long story short…we were there for over an hour. So much for our itinerary!
On to the next stop, we sauntered up the road to Eagle Ridge Vineyard. There we were greeted by Ron, an outgoing Philly transplant with a gruff, East Coast exterior but a great sense of wit and humor. He thieved us tastes of 2014 Petite Sirah and 2015 Zinfandel. Both presented nicely out of the barrel, and will really shine when bottled in a few months. After the barrel tasting, Ron invited us to taste a few more wines from their library. We were beginning to detect a theme here in Livermore Valley! As we tasted, Ron veered off to help some other newcomers, and we were further entertained by another of the amazing Eagle Ridge staff, Bill. Bill continued to pour, describe the wines…many of which are award winners…and generally entertain us with friendly conversation. Finally, it was time to go. There was less than an hour left in Saturday’s event, and we had more wineries to visit.
Down the hill a short distance and we came to what would be our final winery stop of the day, BoaVentura de Caires Winery. Housed in a quaint country barn, adjacent to a century-old farmhouse, BoaVentura specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. If you clicked on the link at the beginning of this post, and read our preview article, you know that the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon you know and love actually originated in Livermore Valley. (If you didn’t read our preview, you can do so now. We’ll wait.) BoaVentura Batista de Caires is the grandfather of proprietor, Brett Caires. BoaVentura emigrated from Portugal in 1915, bringing with him, and passing down, a great love for wine. Brett purchased the vineyard land upon which BoaVentura winery sits in 1999. The influences of the unique micro-climates of this hilltop property produce distinctly different profiles in each vineyard. Many of the Cabernets are single vineyard, and the differences are self-evident with each taste.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Although specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, the barrel taste of choice this day was the 2016 Petite Sirah; another impressive barrel sample that will shine after bottling. Brett was also pouring samples of their bottled Green Label Cabernet; a luscious and amazing wine! When we mentioned to Brett that we were there for our first visit, as guests of the winegrowers association, he told us to make ourselves at home in the tasting room, and to tell the staff there to “take good care” of us.
Always the obedient types, at least when it comes to wine, we ventured into the eclectic tasting room where we met Daniel. Daniel is Brett’s nephew, and actually works in the town where we live (did we mention it’s about a 2 hour drive?) Even more, he lives in the foothills beyond our town. No, he doesn’t commute to Livermore Valley every day; just once in a while and for special events. At any rate, we hit it off with Daniel and he was quite generous with the tastings. We tasted the entire flight, up to and including the spectacular Maroon Label. Now, I (Kent) have tasted some cult Napa Cabs before… (remember this amazing day?) I would put the Maroon Label up against a $200+ cult Napa Cab any day, and it’s a fraction of the cost, at just $79!
Clearly we were impressed by the wines at BoaVentura. But what about that Livermore Valley hospitality with which we started this piece? Well, the event officially ended at 4:30 p.m. At 5 p.m. we were still tasting, and making friends with some of the wine club members who had gathered for a post-event event. By 5:15 these same wine club members had started a fire in the fire pit. We left our glasses on the tasting bar and meandered out to warm ourselves by the fire for a few minutes on our way to the car. A couple of minutes later, Brett Caries came out of the barn and walked over. He noticed that we had no wine glasses in our hands. We explained that we left them on the bar on our way out. He said, “well go back in there, grab some glasses, and make sure they pour you whatever you want.” And so it was that we finally left close to 7 p.m., after enjoying wine, laughs, and new friends.
A side note if you get hungry. Everywhere we went, when we asked for dinner recommendations, to a person, the response was “Zephyr Grill & Bar.” So we went. Robyn had the Eggplant Parmesean; ½ inch thick slabs of eggplant cooked to delicate perfection and served with sinfully delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Kent had the Duck Confit, which was also perfect; not greasy and not dry. Perfect! We’re not food bloggers so we didn’t think to take pictures, (We only managed to snap this shot of the wine glass) but the dishes were definitely worth writing home about. Service was exquisite, local wines aplenty, and we went back to our hotel completely satisfied. Check it out when you visit!
Thus ends day one. Stay tuned for more Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend Adventures in Part 2: Sunday!
When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!
Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!
Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.
With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.
Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.
Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!
In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.
If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!
Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!
For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.
Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!