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Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

Review: Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

We do love Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we don’t know too many people who don’t. It’s the King of Grapes for a reason. So popular, so food friendly, so ageworthy and collectable, and so…expensive! 

Not necessarily. If you’re shopping for Napa Cabernet, maybe. But what if we told you about a high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, from a California appellation, that you could enjoy for a mere $22 per bottle?

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Recently, we received a bottle of Three Finger Jack East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. Where is the East Side RIdge? We wondered the same thing. It is located on the East Side (obviously) of Lodi! Now, we don’t normally think of Lodi when we are craving a Cabernet, and we bet you don’t either. This bottle has surely changed our way of thinking! 

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Yes, that is an interesting, rather squat bottle.

Most of the Lodi region has deep, loamy soil, good for Rhone varieties. However, up on the East Side, the soil is more rocky, with cobblestones and soil low in nutrients. You know how Cabernet shines brightest when it struggles! 

Next you may be asking, who is this “Three Finger Jack?” The name comes from a legendary outlaw from the Gold Rush era, who sought his fortune in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Little is known about the mysterious man; nobody really knows how he lost his fingers, but his legend lives on in the Lodi area.

As for the wine that bears his name, the Three Finger Jack East Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is rugged and structured, as a famed outlaw should be. 

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We actually held onto this for awhile, waiting for suitable weather for a big, bold red. The summers in NorCal can be hot; calling more for crisp whites and rosés. Finally, an unseasonably cool (well, not hot) weekend arrived when we felt we could best enjoy this wine. Certainly a BBQ wine, which would pair well with steak, ribs, or brats, we opted to pair this with marinated lamb chops. The pairing did not disappoint.

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Inky purple with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, and vanilla. In the palate, boysenberry, blackberry, and cassis, with vanilla and caramel notes. Tannins are very soft with mild acidity. Smooth, full bodied, with a medium finish of dark berry and spice. 

Honestly, we don’t typically think of Lodi for Cabernet. This one is nicely balanced with good flavor and soft tannins.

Though summer is waning, it’s not too late to track down some Three Finger Jack and pair it with your favorite grilled beast. A fantastic value from a region not often considered for Cabernet Sauvignon; lesson learned – think outside the box and you will be rewarded. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Big, Bold Reds from De Angelis Wines

Paso Robles has come into its own as a wine region. It wasn’t too many years ago that hardly anybody had heard of this area. Now, the wines from “Paso” have gained notoriety and prestige. Recently, we were offered samples of some small batch, boutique red wines from De Angelis Wines. Naturally, we said YES!

The De Angelis Wines story began in 1999, when owners Jerry and Marsha De Angelis planted a small vineyard on their property. It started as a private venture, just to make wines to enjoy with family and friends. As their winemaking skill improved, a neighbor, who had a 30 acre vineyard, asked them to become his winemakers. So in 2004, Jerry and Marsha found themselves employed as full time winemakers.

In 2006, Jerry and Marsha participated in establishing, designing, and building a co-op winery. Once it opened, they were recruited as the chief winemakers, making wines for several growers. During that same year, they decided to launch their own brand, and De Angelis Wines, the label, was born. Even with all their success, Jerry and Marsha remain committed to hand-crafting very small lots each year. They have slowly increased production over the years, but will never make more than 1,200 cases per year.

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The De Angelis Wines portfolio includes some whites; Chardonnay and Viognier, but is predominantly red. We received samples of their 2007 Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, 2009 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County, and the 2012 Elena Catherine, San Luis Obispo County, a red blend.

The Elena Catherine is homage to the family matriarch, to celebrate her 100th birthday! Here’s how Jerry and Marsha tell the story on the website:

“Who is Elena Catherine? Elena is our Mom, and this wine was developed for her 100th birthday.  (She passed away at 102 Years old!) We wanted a wine that reflects the feisty, peppery, Italian Mom that she was!  The 2012 Elena Catherine is a 13.6% alcohol wine blend containing 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. All of these wines are Estate fruit harvested from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA.”

The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

2007 Pinot Noir

 

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Brick red color. The nose is bursting with bright cherry notes, with raspberry and smoke present, also. We decanted for several hours, as suggested by a colleague. Upon pouring, there are flavors of black cherry, and ripe raspberry, with clove, baking spice, and earth. Hints of mushroom and forest floor round out the complex profile of this wine. Soft tannins and bright, lively acidity. Rich flavors and medium body, with a bold finish of red fruit, smoke, and spice. Paired well with grilled pork sausage.

2008 Syrah

 

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Inky nearly black color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and black plum, with hints of oak. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, with vanilla, tobacco, smoke, cedar, and oak, with baking spice and black pepper on the finish. Big, bold, and full bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice, with tertiary notes of worn leather, earth, and smoke. Drinking well now, and will continue to soften and improve for at least another 5 years. This wine would pair well with game and savory dishes.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Rich, inky purple color, with a brick rim. On the nose there is ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum, and clove. The aromas are rich, full, and inviting. Taking a sip, flavors of blackberry, black cherry, big cassis, and chocolate, with baking spice, tobacco smoke, and black pepper. The tannins are big, but soft, and soften even more with air. There is medium acidity. The finish is long with blackberry and mocha notes. Pick your meat; beef, lamb, pork…this one goes with all.

2012 Elena Catherine Red Blend

 

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Deep, brick red color. Aromas of ripe raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. On the palate, bright blueberry, cherry, blackberry, cassis, cedar, and tobacco. Huge tannins! Even after an hour in the decanter, but balanced and approachable. This wine deserves a slab of Prime Rib now, and could lay down for 10 more years. Medium acidity and a long, long finish of black and red fruit, cedar, and white pepper.

De Angelis Wines has discontinued online sales, but if these beauties sound like your kind of wine, drop Jerry and Marsha an email. As long as you are in a state to which they can ship, they’ll hook you up!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Review: Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

For a lot of people, Cabernet Sauvignon means Napa. Yet, as many people know, when you buy Napa, much of your dollar goes toward the name. There are many other regions producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon at a fraction of the price of Napa. Recently, when we were offered a sample of the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, from Santa Barbara County, we jumped at the chance!

 

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Lucas & Lewellen started as a partnership between Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen in 1975. Mr. Lucas was a third generation grape grower. Mr. Lewellen was a Superior Court Judge. The two met through the Santa Maria Wine & Food Society. The two men shared a passion for fine wine and the Santa Barbara wine industry. Through their partnership, Lucas & Lewellen has established itself as a highly respected winery, with more than 400 acres of estate vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

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We were not disappointed with this Cabernet Sauvignon! With a SRP of $27, this Santa Barbara wine is a QPR champion. We’d expect to pay as much as 3x this much for a comparable Napa Cabernet. Readers, let this serve as notice that Santa Barbara County produces stand-alone Cabernet Sauvignon, beyond comparison.

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Deep, inky color. Aromas of blackberry, black currant, and vanilla notes. On he palate, big, bold flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black cherry, black plum, vanilla, and hints of smoke and spice. Tannins are big and chewy, and the acidity is well balanced. The finish is long, with black fruit and pepper. Drinking very well now, and the tannin structure would allow this wine to cellar for another 10 years. Paired with New York steak, grilled asparagus, and caprese salad, it was pure perfection.

 

Next time you are looking for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that will “wow” your friends, neighbors, or dinner guests, consider Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard View Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. We are convinced that everyone will be impressed!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Odfjell Vineyards Organic Wines

What do a Norwegian ship owner, a verdant Chilean valley, and sustainable farming  have in common?

Wine!

What did you think we were going to say? This is a wine blog, afterall.

More than 25 years ago, Norwegian Armador (that’s “ship owner” in case you were wondering) Dan Odfjell discovered the Maipo Valley in Chile. Well, not discovered in the Viking explorer sense; he found it for himself. Dan fell in love with this little corner of the planet, far from home both in distance and climate. He settled in the valley, and began pursuing his passion for wine.

Today, sons Laurence and Dan Jr. are at the helm, managing 284 acres of 100% certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in the heart of the Chilean wine country. They carry on the family mission of  producing unique quality wines in a sustainable way.

Recently, we were given the opportunity to experience their craft. Odfjell Premium Organic Wines are offered in three different tiers, with labels representing Land, Water, and Fire. We were fortunate to receive samples of each.  

The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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I really don’t know what happened to our photos. Sorry, but it’s your loss. The marinated flat iron steak was delicious with this Cabernet!

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $15)

From the website: In the bygone days of sailing ships, wine was the drink of choice on long voyages. Today Dan Odfjell, a Norwegian shipowner, perpetuates his legacy by making wines to sail from Chile across the seven seas.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Ruby-red in color with a hint of violet. Red-fruit aromas recall strawberries and plums, along with notes of licorice and anise. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing nish.

Here’s what we thought:

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, and cassis. On the palate, there are flavors of ripe blackberry, raspberry, bramble, black currant, and cherry, with oak, cedar, tobacco, and black pepper, with earthy notes mid-palate. Tannins are firm and chewy, balanced with bright acidity. Full bodied with a long, spicy finish of black fruit, earth, and smoke. Outstanding paired with balsamic marinated flat iron steak.

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2017 Odfjell Orzada Carignan (SRP $23)

From the website: When the Norwegian shipowner Dan Odfjell founded our winery, he embarked upon adventure filled with challenge and promise. Orzada is a nautical term for sailing up against the wind before setting a direction. Our Orzada wines reflect our staking a course in pursuit of a beautiful and memorable wine.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Dark red in color. Intense and complex on the nose, with spices and ripe red fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and plums mixed with aromas of blackberries and anise. The palate is juicy and powerful with velvety-soft tannins and a long finish.

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Now we’re talking!

Here’s what we thought:

Deep purple color with a brick rim. Aromas of fresh-picked cherry, oak wood, and spice. On the palate there are flavors of raspberry, boysenberry, tart cherry, licorice, cedar, and black pepper. Soft tannins, medium body, and bright, lively acidity. The finish is long, with red and black fruit, oak, and spice. We paired this with grilled, chili-rubbed pork chops and it really complemented the meal nicely.

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2013 Odfjell Aliara (SRP $44)

From the website: In the age of sail ships, safe and healthy provisions were crucial for the success of the adventure. A “liara” was a tin cup measurement for the crew´s daily ration of wine. Our Aliara is an assemblage made in small and precios quantitites as a tribute to this tradition.

Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive and intense with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including nuts such as hazelnuts, dates, and dried figs, as well as floral notes recalling jasmine and roses. The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy and complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins. An unforgettable experience.

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That’s some dark, inky wine.

Here’s what we thought:

A blend of 65% Carignan, 20% Syrah, and 5% Malbec. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry bramble and plum. On the palate, flavors of blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and plum, with white pepper and cedar. Tannins are big and chewy. Medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper. Outstanding with spice-rubbed grilled steak tacos.

​The Odfjell is doing some remarkable things with organic, biodynamic wines in Chile. If you get the opportunity to try these wines, don’t let it pass you by!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Creative Inspiration by Robyn Raphael

Kent & Robyn’s First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party

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!

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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:

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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:

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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.

Wine No. 3 – The Value Pinot:

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Angeline Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Mendocino County. TMW Retail: $17.49.

Though some called out how young it is, everyone enjoyed it.

Wine No. 4 – The Controversial One:

Inconspicuous (by Truett-Hurst) Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016. TWM Retail: $19.99.

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:

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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:

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Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.

This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.

The Lovely Parting Gifts:

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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.

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Hey, wine tasting is serious business! 

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Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!

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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:

  1. 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!
  2. There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
  3. 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!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits: Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
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Review: Toccata Classico 2015

I first learned about Toccata wines several years ago, when one of their sales reps was hosting a tasting at a wine bar near my home. I happened in, by happy coincidence, and was immediately impressed by the quality, complexity, and character of the wines. Alas, the wines are not widely distributed, so Toccata was difficult to find and enjoy regularly.

The Toccata label is owned by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, a family owned estate in Santa Barbara County. I’m fairly certain the Toccata tasting all those years ago was the first Santa Barbara wine I had experienced. Lucas & Lewellen is fairly well known to travellers along Highway 101 south of Paso Robles, as their large estate vineyards are adjacent to the highway, and are well marked with signs identifying ownership and often the variety of grape.

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Photo Credit: llwine.com

Years after that original Toccata tasting, my son started college at U.C. Santa Barbara; another happy coincidence. During the hours-long drives from Northern California to visit, as I passed the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards, I was reminded of the Toccata wines I had enjoyed. When I discovered that Toccata has a tasting room, just a few miles off Highway 101 in the quaint village of Solvang, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy these wines again while also enjoying time with my son, and the beauty of Santa Barbara. Still, once he graduated, and my regular trips to Santa Barbara came to an end, so did my ready access to Toccata.

To my sheer delight, I was recently offered a sample of the Toccata Classico 2015. There was no hesitation in my affirmative response to the offer!  

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Toccata wines are all Italian varieties and styles. Toccata Classico is a red blend made in the Super Tuscan style. The fruit comes from two estate vineyards; Los Alamos Vineyard in the Santa Barbara AVA and Valley View Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The 2015 is composed of 50% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Freisa, and Petit Verdot. Here’s what we thought of it:

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

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Rich, deep purple with ruby rim. Initial nose is vanilla, with ripe red berry. On the palate, flavors of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and cassis, with baking spice, vanilla, tobacco, white pepper, and toasty oak. Firm, chewy tannins, with medium acidity. Rich and full bodied. The finish is long with red and black fruit, oak, and black pepper.

SRP $29.00 per bottle

Perfect for Italian cuisine, and also fantastic with other genres of food, too. We loved it with Pan Seared Filet Steaks with Gorgonzola and Caramelized Onions. Sheer delight! img_2349

If you are in the Santa Barbara area, be sure to take a detour out to Solvang and visit the Toccata tasting room. It’s well worth the trip!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photo credit, except where noted, and inspiration by Robyn Raphael

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