Category Archives: Winery

Winning Big at Casino Mine Ranch

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. 

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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! 

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Loder Vineyards

In Western Placer County, near where the suburban housing tracts meet the rural farms and ranches, the Loder family has a small parcel of wine grapes. Ron and Kathy Loder are long-time wine lovers. When they were raising their children, they had grassy fields for the kids to play and practice football. Once the kids were grown, Ron and Kathy decided to plant grapes and make their own wine.

Getting started wasn’t as simple as just planting some vines and waiting for them to produce fruit. Ron was serious about wanting to make good wine, so he contacted U.C. Davis; renown for their viticulture program; and asked for help. Ron and Kathy really, really wanted to grow Cabernet Sauvignon – their favorite varietal wines. However, the experts told them that their microclimate and soil were not suitable. Instead, they were advised to grow grapes more suited to the Mediterranean climate here – Barbera and Tempranillo, and interestingly, Cab Sauv’s parent, Cabernet Franc. In all they have about ¾ of an acre of Estate vines, and they also source other varieties from vineyards around Northern California.

A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to visit and experience Ron and Kathy’s production. The group started with appetizers and wine in the Loder family home, and then Ron escorted us out to the vineyard for an educational tour. One of first things I noticed about Ron is his passion for wine growing and winemaking. Ron enthusiastically talked us through the process, from initial plantings, to waiting the three years before the vines produce wine-quality grapes, to harvest, crush, and production. While in the vineyard, he brought out his refractometer, the instrument used to determine the brix (sugar level) in the grape juice, and allowed each of us to have a look.

Ron is also a humble man, relating the story of his efforts to cheat the process and make wine with grapes from two years old vines. It was a complete failure, and they marked the bottles with an “F”. They still have a few bottles, just as a reminder.

After the vineyard tour, we moved on to the fermentation room and cellar. Robyn even had the chance to punch down some recently harvested grapes that were in the fermentation tank! Then, of course, we got to sample more wine.

Loder Vineyards is not a commercial production, but with the quality of their wines, they should be. Touted as “no headache wine”, Ron uses a minimalist approach, with microscopic amounts of sulfites used, and little other intervention. All of the wines spend nearly two years in oak before bottling. Just a few weekends before our visit, they had just bottled their 2016 vintage.

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A true “friends and family” production, the Saturday following our visit, they would host their annual harvest and crush party. We were invited, but already had plans to be out of town.

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Ron’s vocational background is in commercial building construction. As such, when they first started bottling wine, they used blue painter’s tape as labels; having an ample supply on hand. This tradition continues today, and Ron says if he ever does enter commercial production, his labels will be designed in similar fashion.   

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All of the wines we tasted were well made and complex. Fruit forward without being jammy, with smooth tannins and balanced acidity and oak influences. We tasted Estate Barbera and Tempranillo, some interesting blends such as Tempranillo-Cabernet Franc (Kent’s favorite) and a Barbera-Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Ron and Kathy have made connections in the wine world, and source Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, so they can make and drink their beloved favorite. We barrel tasted the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is already coming along, with promise to be a fantastic wine!

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We were honored to be invited to this event, and consider Ron and Kathy, and all of the other’s there that evening, to be new wine friends.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Pulling the Cork on WBC17

It was a dark and stormy night.

Snoopy

That seems an appropriate way to open a story about a trip to Santa Rosa, home to the Charles Shultz museum. Charles Shultz, of course, was the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, and everybody’s favorite beagle, Snoopy.

Our “easy” drive to Santa Rosa was hampered by the first significant rain storm of the season. The roads were slick, and glare from oncoming headlights was blinding, so everyone was driving extra cautiously. And slow. But we made it, and spent the last three days enjoying the activities and adventures of the 10th Annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, #WBC17.

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It was our first time attending WBC, but it will not be our last! It was a fun, informative, and engaging event. This post will be a general overview of events, with more detailed posts of the highlights in coming days and weeks.

Our first event was an excursion to Hanna Winery. Located on a hilltop with gorgeous, sweeping views of the valley, Hanna Winery has been in operation since 1985. We were greeted by our host, Christine Hanna, who gave us some history, and then winemaker Jeff Hinchcliffe took us down to the barrel room for some tasting. Following this, we enjoyed an amazing lunch, paired with several Hanna wines. Welcome to Sonoma County, indeed!

Upon our return to Santa Rosa, we participated in a Wine Discovery Session with Mark Beringer, Chief Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. He led us through a tasting of their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, starting with four of the single vineyard wines that go into the final blend. Once we had established the baseline, we “worked” our way through a decade vertical tasting of the Private Reserve wines, starting with 2014 and travelling back in time to the 2004, 1994, and finishing with the 1984 vintage. The evolution of these powerhouse wines was amazing to behold.

Later in the day, we journeyed around the world with A Study of Pinot Noir. Our tour guide was Senior Winemaker John Priest, from Etude Winery. He took us from Sonoma County, north to the Willamette Valley, then all the way south to New Zealand in our exploration of this incredibly versatile grape. It was a wonderful trip!

The wine education sessions were followed by an opening reception, where we met many of the bloggers we have been following, as well as new friends. Thus ended day one!

The following day, we attended educational seminars covering writing tips, legal and ethical issues, wine vocabulary, and developing relationships with wine companies. Lunch was hosted by El Dorado Wines. Nearly 30 El Dorado County winemakers lined the back of the conference room, and then poured samples of their wines.

After lunch we enjoyed a Wine Education Seminar, presented by Lyn Farmer, about the “Region to Watch,” DOP Cariñena in Spain. We were immediately enamored with the region, and have added DOP Cariñena to our list of “Must Visit” destinations. We tasted through an amazing flight of Garnacha, with one Cariñena varietal wine (you may know it as Carignan) mixed in for interest. These are some amazing, affordable wines. You’ll want to try some as soon as possible!

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Following a captivating keynote address by Doug Frost, we participated in our first Live Wine Blogging event. Wineries get five minutes at each table to pour tastes, and we blogged, Tweeted, or Instagrammed our impressions of the wines. It was kind of like speed dating, but with wine! A high-energy and raucous time, we tasted some amazing wines! The Friday speed-tasting was whites and rosés.

Friday ended with what was the absolute highlight: a Wine Cave Dinner at the Thomas George Estate. It was a first class affair! It was an amazing, “check-it-off-the-bucket-list” adventure. We’ll write more about this later, but suffice it to say this was among best meals we have ever had!

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Saturday opened with more educational sessions, including Social Media tips, photography and video, and panel discussions covering relations with PR firms, and ideas for monetizing a wine blog. (If you’re into that whole, making money doing what you love thing.) We also attended a presentation about the devastating wild fires that ravaged the area only one month earlier. The destruction was unprecedented, but the recovery and rebuilding has begun, and Wine Country is open for business.

Following lunch, we returned to Spain with our host, Lyn Farmer, to explore DO Rías Baixas, and the spectacular Albariño wines being produced there. We tasted through 10 (yes, ten!) different expressions of this amazing white wine. I can’t say enough about Lyn Farmer and his friendly, comfortable teaching style and encyclopedic knowledge of Spanish wines.

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After another round of Live Wine Blogging, AKA speed-tasting, this time with red wines, the conference concluded with a banquet hosted by NakedWines.com. As you probably know, I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com, so it was fun to see many of the winemakers and staff I have come to know over the years.

Even with all the fun and wine (did I mention we had wine?) the biggest take-away for us is the comradery, support, and encouragement that exists in the wine blogging community. From big name bloggers and writers, who have thousands of followers and are making a living writing about wine, to brand new members who have yet to post their first blog, we were warmly welcomed and embraced as part of the family.

Finally, the dates and location for next year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference were announced. Walla Walla, here we come! We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

 

A Visit to LangeTwins

What do you think of when you hear about a family owned winery? If you are like me, you envision a small, mom-and-pop operation, with a quaint, small tasting room, producing perhaps a few hundred cases of wine per year. What you probably don’t expect is a massive winery operation on the scale of LangeTwins. What? Never heard of LangeTwins? That may be because producing their own private label wine is just a portion of what they do here.

I recently visited LangeTwins Winery, located in Lodi, California, with friends Robyn, Anthony, and Kim. Despite living only about an hour from Lodi for 14 years, and being something of a wine guy (as suggested by this blog), this was my first tasting trip to Lodi. Yes, I am ashamed of myself and have no valid excuses. Anyway, as I rounded the bend and the facility came into view, I thought perhaps I had missed my turn and was arriving at a Gallo or Mondovi facility. Yet the monument sign that greeted us confirmed we were at the right place.
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We had arranged a winery tour with winemaker David Akiyoshi, who Anthony and I know though our mutual affiliation with NakedWines.com. In addition to his responsibilities and LangeTwins, David also produces wines under his own label that are sold by NakedWines.com. David has worked in the wine industry for more than 30 years. His tenure includes 25 years at Woodbridge. An interesting fact that David shared is that as children, during World War II, his parents were both sent to internment camps. As an adult, David’s father rose to success in the wine industry, including oenology research at U.C. Davis. David later followed his father in a wine career. David is a personable and engaging guide. He is clearly passionate about what he does, and gets great enjoyment in sharing his passion with guests. As a result, what was supposed to be a one-hour tour, stretched into nearly three hours!

The Lange family has been growing grapes in the Lodi area for five generations. In 2006, Brad and Randy Lange – the “Twins” of LangeTwins – started the winery operation. They brought David Akiyoshi in as winemaker and together, they built a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. The Langes gave David virtually free-reign in designing and constructing the operation. As David explained, when he asked for equipment or supplies, the Langes only wanted assurance that they were the best available for the production; they never asked about cost. The result is an impressive, sustainable, and continually expanding winery with the latest in technology and production equipment. The crush pad is topped with bifacial photovoltaic solar panels, capturing both direct sunlight and reflected light from below, while providing shade for workers below. They generate enough electricity to fully power their operation, and provide surplus energy back to the grid.

In addition to their own wines, LangeTwins offers a variety of services to other producers in the region. These include vineyard management, grape sales, winemaking, and bottling. They recently installed the most up-to-date bottling line, capable of churning out 120 bottles per minute, and provide bottling and labeling services to several wineries that you would readily recognize. (For proprietary reasons, those names could not be revealed, and photography in the bottling area is prohibited.)

David showed us around the grape hoppers (originally designed for pickling cucumbers but better suited for grapes); conveyers; four massive crushers; fermentation tanks ranging from small-lot to some of the largest, custom built tanks I’ve ever seen; and the barrel room, where we had some fun with barrel thieving.  

After the tour, David delivered us to the capable hands of the LangeTwins tasting room staff, where we enjoyed samples of the finished product. LangeTwins makes a large variety of wines, from light and lively whites, to a crisp, zesty Sangiovese Rosé, to big, bold red blends and varietal wines. Everything we tasted was exceptional. So much so that we decided to join the wine club, thus ensuring return visits, at least quarterly, for the foreseeable future.

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No trip to Lodi is complete without a stop at LangeTwins Winery. If you are in the area, I encourage you to stop in for a tasting. If time allows, click here to schedule a private tasting and winery tour. If you happen to run into David Akiyoshi while you’re there, tell him I said “hi.”