Who else has the COVID blues? I’m sure some have it worse than I do. My symptoms are a general melancholy, restlessness, and boredom. One would think that with all the extra time on my hands with shelter-in-place, I’d have more time to devote to this blog, and my social media platforms. However, contributing to my COVID blues is the inability to get out and explore, which results in a lack of content and creativity. How many times can you post a picture of a bottle of wine in the same dining room or boring backyard?
Fortunately, not long ago I received an email from Darby Higgs, offering me a complimentary copy of his new book, What Varietal is That? (Also fortunately, we recently moved – yes, mid-COVID – and our new house has a much nicer, park-like backyard, perfect for relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.)
The following book was provided by the author as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are my own. I received no additional compensation.
What Varietal is That? is an informative and educational book detailing 86 major wine grapes from around the world. It’s a fairly short read, only 127 pages in all, but those pages pack a punch! Darby’s subtitle for the book is “A Beginner’s Guide to the Most Important Wine Grape Varieties”, but don’t let that fool you, or dissuade you if you don’t consider yourself a “beginner.” There are a lot of varieties listed that I’d never heard of! And I’m a proud member of the Wine Century Club, with well over 140 different varieties under my belt…or more accurately, in my belly!
After a brief introduction, in which he takes on one of the most controversial topics in wine: “varietal” versus “variety”, along with some history and a dabbling into science, Darby gets to the heart of the matter. Starting with white grapes, the author details the country of origin, typical aromas and flavors, and food pairings, along with a description of the wines produced and the history of each grape. Conveniently organized in alphabetical order, the book is a worthwhile reference for wine students of any level.
What Varietal is That? is available in digital format at Smashwords for just $6.99. You can also order a paper copy from Amazon.
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.
This is a repost of a project I published in 2017, in collaboration with Bri’s Glass of Wine. Sadly, I recently discovered that Bri has taken her site down. So I am posting this now on our site, because, frankly, I refer to it in a couple of subsequent blog posts, here and here. Plus, I happen to think it’s a pretty good post! Please enjoy!
Nestled in the heart of Sierra Foothills wine country lie what are reportedly America’s oldest producing Zinfandel vines. The Original Grandpère Vineyard (OGP for short) can trace its roots to the California Gold Rush era, with documentation dating back to 1869, and vines predating even that year. In keeping with Wild West tradition, the story of these vines is mixed with history, intrigue, and conflict.
Located in the beautiful, rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, historical records identify the original owners of the vineyard as the Upton family. Over the years, ownership changed hands, Prohibition came and went, and White Zinfandel happened. In the 1970’s and early ’80s, the grapes produced in the vineyard were largely sold to make White Zin. In 1984, Scott and Terri Harvey purchased the land. At the time, Scott worked for Renwood winery. He named the vineyard Grandpere in honor of its age – Grand-père is French for Grandfather.
While working at Renwood, Scott Harvey produced wine from his Grandpère Vineyard for the Renwood label. Meanwhile, Renwood Winery trademarked the name “Grandpère”, and using cuttings from the original vineyard, started producing Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel from their own vines in a different vineyard. Through a series of events, including disputes, lawsuits, settlements, and divorce, Scott Harvey and Renwood parted ways; the use of the name “Grandpère” is legally protected and limited; and Terri Harvey owns the 1869 vineyard on her own. That Gold Rush era vineyard, with its 1869 heritage, is now known as the Original Grandpère Vineyard. The terms of a settlement agreement require that vintners using these grapes must use that entire name, or nothing at all.
Fast forward to 2017, and the few producers who are fortunate enough to source fruit from the Original Grandpère Vineyard are making some outstanding, elegantly restrained, nearly 150-year-old, Old Vine Zinfandel wines. I recently attended a Small Plates & Vertical Tastings event, accompanied by my daughter and her friend, that was hosted by three of those wineries making Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel: Vino Noceto, Andis Wines, and Scott Harvey Wines. By no small coincidence…OK, no coincidence at all…Zinfandel is one of my favorite grape varieties. According to my Vivino stats, Zin is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as my favorite varietal wine.
Each of the wineries poured a number of their OGP Zinfandel wines, paired with small bites to complement each vintage. We started at Vino Noceto…
Our host, Bret, set us up at a cozy high-top bistro table, and got us started with the yet-to-be-released 2013 vintage, followed by the 2012 and 2008. The small bites for pairing included Genoa Salami with Sundried Tomato-Rosemary Fromage on Crostini (with the 2013), a Black Forest Ham and Cranberry Cream Cheese Spirals with Thyme Zinfandel Glazed Sweet Onions (with the 2012), and Dates Stuffed with Whipped Chevre & Cocoa Nibs (with the 2008).
The bites were perfect pairings for each wine; drawing out the nuances of the tannins, acids, and flavors in the wines.
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2013 ($32 retail)
Violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry and soft oak on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry, with notes of spice and black pepper. Bright acidity with full, firm tannins. Long finish with dark berry, black pepper, and cherry notes.
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2012 ($32 retail)
Ruby color with brick colored rim. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and ripe strawberry. Very soft tannins with light acidity. Medium finish with red berry and spice notes. (It was very interesting to notice the contrast one year makes; from 2013 black fruit and firm tannins, to 2012 red fruit and soft tannins.)
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2008 ($49 retail)
Brick red color. Nose of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of oak. Flavors of bing cherry, ripe raspberry, and spice. Tannins are soft and silky, balanced with bright acidity. Long, zesty finish with red fruit and spice.
Next we traveled all the way across the road to Andis Wines. Here, we were seated at a large table in a private room with other guests, and treated to a detailed history lesson by our host, Art. He confirmed my earlier research, outlined above, and then poured us two samples and distributed the matching small bites to complement the wines. At Andis, we enjoyed the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Art explained that the 2012 vintage was made entirely by the original Andis winemaker, Mark McKenna; however, the 2013 was started by McKenna, but completed by Napa winemaker Doug Hackett. McKenna used non-traditional methods; fermenting in stainless steel, then adding oak chips and dust to introduce the oak influences. Hackett is more traditional, aging in oak barrels. The contrast in winemaking styles was definitely apparent. With the 2012, we enjoyed a Crostini with Whipped Chevre and Rose-Raspberry Jelly. With the 2013, the pairing was Artisan Bread with Aged Gouda and Dried Cherry Tapenade. Again, the pairings were excellent.
Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 ($37.99 retail)
Ruby color. Nose of fresh raspberry and cherry, with a hint of soft oak. Flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry. Bright acidity with smooth tannins and a medium finish of red fruit flavors. My overall impression of this wine was “soft.”
Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 ($37.99 retail)
Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and toasty oak. Medium acidity with firm tannins and a long, spicy finish. My overall impression of this one was “bright.”
To finish out the day, we traveled the few hundred yards down the road to Scott Harvey Wines. Here, host Kelsey greeted us at the tasting bar as set up our tasting and small plates. Scott Harvey presented their vertical in the reverse of the traditional order, starting with 2011 and moving forward through 2014. Scott Harvey wines are aged in neutral French oak. The tastes included Potato Chips with Point Reyes Blue Cheese-Zin Glazed Onion Dip (2011), Sopressata & Gouda Palmier (2012), Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas (2013, and Chard Pesto with Whipped Cream Cheese and Crostini (2014.)
As an added bonus, Scott Harvey Wines compiled a “This Year in History” handout to highlight some other historical events that occurred in 1869. Did you know the Suez Canal opened the same year that the Original Grandpère Vineyard was recorded? Neither did I!
Given that Scott Harvey was in the middle of the multiple lawsuits surrounding the Grandpère name, he has abandoned the name entirely, and has dubbed his wines “Vineyard 1869.”
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2011 ($55 retail)
Bright ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, blackberry, and spice. Soft tannins with smooth acid, and a long finish with red fruit, spice, and black pepper.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2012 ($55 retail)
Bended with 6% Barbera. Ruby color. Bing cherry, raspberry, and stewed strawberry. Medium acidity and light, soft tannins. Long finish with red fruit flavors.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2013 ($50 retail)
Bright ruby color. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, and white pepper. Bright, lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish with red fruit and black pepper.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2014 ($48 retail)
Brick red color. Blackberry and black pepper on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and baking spice. Lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish of red fruit and spice.
This was a fun, educational event, exploring the history and evolution of winemaking in the Sierra Foothills. The event weekend starts on Friday and includes a Prix-Fixe dinner with wine pairings, and a walking tour of the Original Grandpère Vineyard on Saturday afternoon. I was only able to attend the Small Plates and Vertical Tasting on Sunday, but I hope to go again next year to participate more fully. This is an annual event, so if you are in Northern California in January, look into getting tickets and enjoy a taste of California winemaking history.
This past spring, Robyn and I fell in love with Livermore Valley Wine Country when we attended the Barrel Tasting Weekend there. (You can read our two-part series about our adventures here and here.) So we were very excited when we received the email from the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association announcing the upcoming Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration! The celebration is held on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, and this year promises to be a fantastic event!
This summer has been hot in Northern California. Hotter than ever? Apparently not. We humans have very short memories. Last year’s Livermore Valley Harvest Wine Celebration was canceled – the first time in 36 years – because of excessive heat. So maybe this summer hasn’t been so bad afterall!
With more than 35 wineries participating, the Harvest Wine Celebration is a great opportunity to experience the best that Livermore Valley has to offer. Not only wine – as if that’s not enough – but also food, art, crafts and music at the various wineries. The press release describes some of the special events at participating wineries:
Embodied Wines, Livermore Valley’s newest winery, will give guests a sneak peek at their 5,000-square-foot tasting room that will open this fall. Embodied Wines is the latest addition to the cluster of “urban wineries” on Vasco Road in Livermore—there are currently eight wine tasting rooms, two distilleries and a brewery within a block of each other.
Wente Vineyards will serve up barrel samples with a food pairing at the Estate Tasting Room on Tesla Road
el Sol Winery will present beekeeping demonstrations throughout the day
Participating wineries include: 3 Steve’s Winery, Bent Creek Winery, Big White House, Boa Ventura de Caires Winery, Caddis Winery, Cedar Mountain Winery, Charles R Vineyards, Concannon Vineyard, Crooked Vine Winery, Cuda Ridge Wines, Darcie Kent Vineyards, Eagle Ridge Vineyard, Embodied Wines, Eckert Estate Winery, Ehrenberg Cellars, el Sol Winery, Garre´ Vineyard & Winery, Fenestra Winery, Leisure Street Winery, Longevity Wines, McKahn Family Cellars, Mitchell Katz Winery, Murrieta’s Well, Nella Terra Cellars, Nottingham Cellars, Omega Road Winery, Occasio Winery, Page Mill Winery, Retzlaff Estate Winery, Rios-Lovell Winery, Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery, The Singing Winemaker, The Steven Kent Winery, Vasco Urbano Wine Co., Wente Vineyards, Winemakers Studio and Wood Family Vineyards.
Here are some photos from previous years’ events:
What a great line up, and all for $40 advance purchase or $45 on the day of the event. But wait, there’s more! Many participating wineries will help to make this a two-day event; by waiving tasting fees on Labor Day Monday to any guest with an event wristband. You can buy tickets online by following this link…
Another amazing benefit of visiting a smaller wine region, is the collaboration between wineries and other local businesses. Follow these links to make your Harvest Wine Celebration weekend extra memorable with help from Livermore Valley area hotels, transportation operators, and restaurants.
If you are looking for an amazing event to fill your Labor Day Weekend, point your car in the direction of Livermore Valley, and come experience the 2018 Harvest Wine Celebration!