Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Russian River Valley Neighborhoods: No SUBstitutions

Got Dirt? 

Four Wine Guys, a Critic, and a Dog Walk into a Bar....

This past Saturday I attended a seminar on Russian River Valley Neighborhoods to learn about the characteristics and defining qualities of the wine region in which I live. The seminar was presented by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association as part of Pinot Classic weekend.

The Neighborhoods seminar took attendees on a guided tour through the Russian River Valley “sub” region vineyards of Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge and Green Valley via our olfactory senses and palates. The Green Valley appellation is a big one so it makes sense it might be a prime candidate for some slice and dice, but creating new AVA’s can be quite a political and thorny issue for everyone involved. And apparently there is no such thing as a “sub” appellation, so the areas discussed were called neighborhoods, which is the very clunky and clandestine way to say “sub” AVA. 

"It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood." -- Mr. Rogers

Mike Sullivan of Benovia moderated the panel with Mark McWilliams of Arista representing Middle Reach; Michael Browne of Kosta Brown representing Green Valley, and Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan representing Laguna Ridge.

Also on the panel, Steve Heimoff, who penned a definitive book on the region: A Wine Journey along the Russian River; and although the handout said he was from Wine Enthusiast, Heimoff is currently working for Kendall-Jackson. The final member of the panel was Heimoff’s little dog Gus. Gus did not say much, he was certainly cute, but looked to me like his name should be Schnapps.

Dirt and Fog

As with any wine region weather is a crucial element and fog in particular is a big deal for Pinot. I can vouch for the distinct fog patterns that are unique to the RRV area and how it changes with the seasons. I marvel at how clearly defined the band of fog is that enters from Petaluma Gap to the south of the Sebastopol Hills vs. the slow hang and creep of the Middle Reach fog banks as compared to the “fill and drain” of the fog in the Laguna Ridge basin.

Despite varying winemaking protocols terroir trumps all and our goal was to see if we could detect the varying degrees of silt, sand, and clay soil characteristics of each neighborhood in the wines. The Russian River Valley Winegrowers are creating a searchable knowledgebase of the region to establish a baseline and common language to track and determine patterns of the neighborhoods and define what characteristics of terroir are expressed in a given region.

Green Valley – Higher acid and bright red fruit, soils defined by silt and loam.
Middle ReachRich, powerful, fruit driven, deepest soils.
Laguna Ridge -- Earth and spice, mix of silt, sand, and some clay.

“Great wine drinks great at all ages.”– Mark McWilliams

Taste Blind Smell the Love

We were presented with nine Pinots to blind taste-- three each from vineyards in Green Valley, Middle Reach and Laguna Ridge. There were also jars of Franciscan, Alluvial, and Goldridge soils. The Alluvial and Goldridge smelled amazing, both emitting deep dark and complex aromas, but my jar of Fransican had barely any scent at all.

The Alluvial soil smelled so good, I suggested to Virginie Boone, seated next to me, that we add some water to the sample jar and do mud pack facials while we tasted through the rest of the wine samples. She wisely declined.

Tasting blind really helped me to focus in on the characteristics of each neighborhood rather than the style of the producer. I was able to guess a few of the wines, such as Kosta Browne and Arista, but I based those assumptions mainly on the vineyard name and location, which were big giveaways.

I also correctly guessed the Laguna Ridge wine from Goldridge soil. The moment I smelled the wine I had a hunch it was Dehlinger. A taste confirmed it in my mind. It was revealed at the end of the session to indeed be Dehlinger. {This rarely happens to me, so chalk one up for my blind tasting abilities!} No other Pinot I’ve ever had tastes or smells or drinks quite like Dehlinger.

Here are a few of the quick notes and impressions I jotted down for each wine:

Middle Reach Vineyards (all 2012)
Little Hill/Rochioli: Distinctive nose of chalk, rich earth and powdery rose with bright fruits and good acidity.
Harper’s Rest/Arista: Deep rich flavor and brambly notes with firm tannins.
Allen Vineyard/Williams Selyem: Subtle, elusive nose, with chalky, dusty earth and bright intense fruit with long dry finish.

Laguna Ridge Vineyards: (all 2011)
Trenton Estate/ Joseph Swan: Full black berry and red fruit flavors with great acidity.
Goldridge/ Dehlinger: Soft and approachable with a slightly dusty floral nose. Distinct bright red fruit flavors and a lush full mouth feel. Complex and harmonious an expressive poem of Pinot.
Soul Patch/Davis Family Vineyards: Spicy and tense with good balance

Green Valley Vineyards: (all 2012)
Emerald Ridge/Dutton Goldfield: Floral nose with intense black and blueberry flavors –spicy mid palate and firm tannins
Keefer Ranch/Kosta Browne: Bright and delicious red fruit, medium tannins and nice level of acidity surfs a long wave of flavor to very pleasing finish.
Fog Dance/Hartford Court: Bright bold bowl of spicy cherries with a hint of sage, and eucalyptus notes with a long finish.

More information:
Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tinhorn Creek Wines Coming to a Glass Near You

For many visitors a trip to wine country in British Columbia often results in the common refrain: “Where can I get BC wines in the states?” Previously the answer was: “Pretty much nowhere.”

When I visit the Okanagan, I’m faced with the dilemma of take nothing, or schlep a case or two of wine through customs on my own. For me the choice is easy-- I gladly take on the role of pack mule to get the wines home. But now things are about to get much easier for U.S. wine lovers. Tinhorn Creek wines are now available for direct delivery to your doorstep. Hallelujah!

It’s almost as exciting as it use to be getting the new phonebooks, and when the wine arrived this morning I felt like Navin... The Tinhorn Creek is here! The Tinhorn Creek is here! Things are going to start happening now. Oh Yes!

I’ve raved about Tinhorn Creek in many past posts see here, here and here.  And despite the hassle I always purchased wine and carried it home. Then once I got my precious stash home I’d be very protective of it. Hoarding some might say, but honestly if you went through all the effort to hand carry a case or two home, I dare say you’d be protective to the point of hoarding too.

But I’m feeling very generous with my wine now, knowing more Tinhorn Creek is just a phone call away. Heck, I may just have to invite Richard Jennings over so he can experience a bit of what he missed at WBC13 in Penticton. Come on over Richard. If you like, after you try the wine, maybe we can go harass some concierges for their lack of wine knowledge, you know, just for the fun of it. (Richard, you know I say this in jest, but offer to taste is legit.)

As part of the launch for the new shipping program I was sent samples of the following Tinhorn Creek wines that have been chosen to showcase the region’s distinct winemaking style and terroir:

2013 Pinot Gris  – a great summer sipper that’s just been released, bursting with aromas of citrus and tropical fruit with underlying notes of honeysuckle.

2013 Gewurztraminer – 100% Gew├╝rztraminer with subtle aromas of rose petals, lychee, pink grapefruit and spice.

2013 Oldfield Series 2Bench White – premier blend of five different whites, crisp and clean with pear and stone fruit aromas on the nose, and a citrus and apple palate

2011 Cabernet Franc – textbook Cabernet Franc from the Okanagan with lovely fresh red fruits, minty herbs, sage, black currants and spice. ( I’d marry this Cab Franc if it was allowed in my state)

2010 Oldfield Series Merlot – artfully crafted merlot, smooth and luscious, with flavours suggesting cherry and raspberry coated in dark chocolate.

2010 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red – a traditional Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot with lots of rich, crowd-pleasing berry and plum fruit.

Consumers in the US can visit http:/ shop directly from Tinhorn Creek’s website in US dollars, a minimum of 12 bottles per order is required and consumers may order ‘A Taste of Tinhorn’ mixed case with two of each of six select wines currently available, or make up their own preferred mix. A delivery fee of $29.95USD is applicable, however there are no additional tariffs, fees or customs duties to pay, it’s all included.

For more order information and pricing call 1-888-484-6467 or visit the website at

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

7% Solution -- 100% Later

One of the best tasting events, in my opinion, is coming up again this week-- The 7% Solution.

The 7% Solution tasting is dedicated to lesser know wines made in California from just 7% of the acreage planted, as opposed to the other 93% of vineyards that are planted with mainstream varieties.

This is my kind of tasting: small, obscure, and focused. Sort of how I might describe myself.

Anyway, last year I attended the tasting at Bergamot Alley, but never got to write up my post as other obligations (read: paying gigs) got in the way of blog time. So here are my impressions of 7% Solution, 100% after the fact.

17 Winemakers poured last year. I can barely decipher my notes as my handwriting has gone on a bender of late, but my sense memory is still intact and I have not forgotten the following wines.

Faves ( in alpha order):
Arnot-Roberts --Yowza! The 2102 Ros├ę, Clear Lake, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao -- Dry and light as parchment with an honest and unpretentious flavor of strawberry and spice.

Forlon Hope -- Loved Everything! These wines are major characters-- vibrant and fresh much like winemaker Matthew Rorick.  The 2012 “Trou Grit” Trousseau Gris, Susina Valley practically bounced in the glass. 2011 “Que Saudade” Verdelho-- alive with minerality and crisp citrus notes that make you wanna cry.

Massican -- 2012 Annia-- 46% Ribolla Gialla, 36% Tocai Friulano, 18% Chardonnay, Napa Valley-- I arrived at the table to get the last taste of the last bottle and it was good to the last drop indeed.

Stark -- Buy. Drink. Repeat. I’m already a huge fan of Christian Stark and his 2011 Grenache Blanc, Sarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez and 2011 Viognier, Daiano Vineyard Sierra Foothills. These two lovely wines are approachable but never predictable.

Two Shepherds -- 2011 Grenache Blanc, Sarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez  has achieved a cult following and for a good reason. Crisp, light, and balanced with a lingering thought provoking finish. The primary thought being --“I need more of this, now!"

Wind Gap -- 2006 Nebbiolo, Paso Robles -- I love Nebbiolo and this California grown classic is reminiscent of it’s Italian roots with dark intense fruit and a touch of briny sea air.

Head Scratchers:
Dirty & Rowdy - I was excited to try Hardy’s wine and I must admit I was expecting a lot from this label based on the buzz alone. But unfortunately by the time I was able to get to their table the wine temperatures were not ideal. The Semillon was flat and hot and chalky. The Mourvedre was very restrained and subtle, too subtle for my palate. Dang!

But that was all last year-- back to the future now-- if you can nab a ticket to the 2014 7% Solution Tasting, do it. I wholeheartedly encourage you to go to either the SF or Healdsburg tasting-- see details below.

Side note: Loved the little tasting guide notebook they provided last year with room for notes and nifty pocket to hold business cards.


SAN FRANCISCO / THURSDAY, MAY 8, 2014 / 5pm-8pm
FOLSOM ST. FOUNDRY, 1425 Folsom Street, San Francisco / 415-795-3644

HEALDSBURG / SATURDAY, MAY 10, 2014 / 1pm-4pm
BERGAMOT ALLEY, 328A Healdsburg Avenue / 707-433-8720


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