Friday, August 26, 2016

Organic Outliers in the Central Valley: Madera's Wine Trail's Fäsi Winery - Where A Swiss German Makes Syrah That Surprises

I am sure many people driving down Highway 41 to Yosemite's southern entrance near Oakhurst wonder why they see a winery tasting room rising from the dry, golden hills in this hot, dusty part of California.

But then, maybe they just don't know about the Madera Wine Trail.

I traveled the trail earlier this summer, a day before going to Fresno State's Grape Day, to see just who in Madera was growing organic wine grapes.

This summer I've become intrigued by the people who have organic vineyards in the Central Valley, where the vast swathes of grapes (interspersed between the monoculture almond and walnut,plantations) are grown for California bulk wine. Surely, anyone growing organically out here must be special to be outliers in this no-mans-land of chemically farmed vineyards.

To put this in perspective, Madera County has 36,696 acres of wine grapes. Just 626 acres of that, according to the county ag commissioner's office, are certified organic.

The other folks use 88,000 pounds of glyphosate - that's more than twice as much per acre as in many other regions of the state. And they apply imidacloprid, the bee and bird toxin banned in Europe, on 27,590 acres. Boscalid, another bee and bird toxin, is applied to 12,271 acres. And that's just a partial list.

From the CCOF directory, I discovered that a guy named Ralph P. Fäsi had 42 acres of vineyards in Madera. Who was he? And what was he doing with a vineyard here? A vineyard he has wine made from?

It turns out to be quite a tale.

A large cork tree has been planted (left) in the yard

In case you haven't driven there lately, it is necessary to have a fully working air conditioned vehicle to visit Madera and Highway 41 in the heat of summer. My antique, collectible 1991 Miata is not yet equipped with full strength cooling (and is not fixable according to my mechanic, due to its age, as we ascertained upon closer inspection this week), so I was overjoyed to reach the Fäsi tasting room in Friant, where the air conditioning was working at warp speed.

One enters into the dimly lit tasting room after parking in a lot near three acres of vines planted by the previous winery (not organic - at least not yet) and walking by a graceful water fountain and several large black and white cow sculptures, a symbol of Mr. Fäsi's Swiss German heritage.

How did they and Mr. Fäsi come to be here, in central California? A very good question.

It all started, like so many things in life, with a trip to Yosemite. In 1983, Mr. Fäsi and his wife, Yvonne, also Swiss German, came from Switzerland to see Yosemite. On their journey, they had a car accident, which necessitated a stay in Madera for recuperation. During their time there, they became enamored of the area and decided to live here.

In 1992, the couple found riverfront property along the San Joaquin River, purchasing a vineyard planted to Thompson seedless grapes, a mainstay of Central Valley grape growing, and Grenache.

Together with their family friend, Professor Cesare Fabietti (who taught Italian at nearby Fresno State), they made some homemade wines, which were not sufficient to satisfy their palates.

Fäsi decided to get serious and decided to see what it would take to make first class wines from his estate. He wanted to show the world what Madera could do, if it was freed from the goal of producing in quantity and instead focused on quality.

He engaged the best local talent, hiring Fresno State viticulture and enology professor Robert Wample to assess the soils. After extensive testing, Wample recommended Syrah as the best grape for the site. The site is cooled by the river, which lowers the temperature about 10 degrees in comparison to surrounding sites.

In terms of financial return on investment, Wample recommended - surprisingly, for this area - becoming organic, as the grapes would sell for a higher price than other grapes from Madera.

(There are very few organic vines in Madera County, even to this day).

So Fäsi and company ripped out all the old vines and planted anew - a new state of the art vineyard, a la 1999, based on the best advice from Wample. Three years later, when the grapes were harvested, the Fasi's held back the grapes from 2 acres, selling the rest to a buyer.

Fäsi entrusted the winemaking to Claude Bobba of Wente Vineyards in Livermore, trucking the grapes to the winery in Contra Costa county. The 2003 was the first vintage.

Fast forward 12 years to 2015. A Forbes writer ranked the 2010 Syrah as one of her top ten wines of the year, calling it, "rich and complex." By then the 2010 vintage was long gone, but the review brought TV crews and many local visitors. See this local TV coverage.

"We had no idea how the Forbes writer got a bottle of the wine, or that she was going to put it on her list," said Erica Margarian, the general manager for Fäsi Wines. "And by the time she wrote about it, it was already several vintages behind our current release."

Today the winery is serving the 2013 vintage ($29), and it's quite impressive. You get the point - that Madera can make great wines.

In fact, Fasi has been experimenting with many different approaches to its estate wines. It has four different wines made by three different winemakers.

The estate Syrah has been entrusted to Claude Bobba of Wente in Livermore since its inaugural release. "We've won gold medals for every vintage," says Margarian.

Bobba is also responsible for making the port style Syrah that's a sweet wine.

Winemaker John Schumacher of Hallcrest Vineyards in Felton wanted to make a no-added-sulfite, USDA Organic Wine from Fasi's grapes and his 2012 is the current release.

In addition, the local team of John Giannini, who was a Fresno State connection, makes a rosé wine from the vines.

Fairly amazing for a winery that only makes 400 cases from the Syrah vineyard (out of 1,000 cases total). But what a story about believing in Madera and a vision of fine wine.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Paso Comes to Oakland, Part 1: The Tasting

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance came to Oakland last month, putting on a wine seminar and a tasting that brought in several hundred of the winerati, who are more normally oriented more in the North Coast direction, to explore the fruits of its vines.

It's a region that, despite its age, still feels like a group of a few adults mixed up with a bunch of teenagers. There are great wineries and there are crazy, naive wineries. There are accomplished growers and winemakers pouring gorgeous expressions of Rhone grapes and then there are wild-eyed madmen coming up with Cab-Syrah-Zin-whatever bathtub blends. And there are noted winemakers playing up unconventional combo blends, too. It seems to be a place where anything goes.

The USDA handed out quite a bit of funding to the Paso folks this year to promote their wine region - $312,000 - but that was just to publicize it in the state of Texas, not the state of Oakland. Hopefully Texas drinkers will appreciate that sense of grand experimentation going on in Paso blends. Presumably, these great and the not-so-great blends all go well with steak. (Don't take this as Texas bashing; I was born in Texas although I left when I was four, just old enough to have petted Trigger and Buttermilk while I was there.)

Anything goes in Paso - except perhaps lowering the water table (read: Justin and others) and cutting down hundreds of old oak trees - not once but twice (read: Justin).

The seminar leader, Chris Taranto, communications director for the alliance, promised to tell us more about all the new appellations in Paso. In 2014, it created 11 new sub appellations, and I think a large part of the audience had arrived that day hoping to hear more about them, trying to understand what makes Paso's different regions unique. What were we to make of Adelaida District AVA and El Pomar District AVA? No time for that. Four winemakers had us taste through their wines individually and then time was up. (Don't you think they paid handsomely for this privilege?)

Part of the event's success, however, was simply having the gathering in Oakland at the historic Scottish Rite temple. The setting was superb, situated near the lake and with it own parking lot. It's a gorgeous historic venue. More like this, please.

Some 30 vintners were on hand to display their wines. 

The two of note for me were Tablas Creek, with its full complement of estate grown, organically farmed Rhone blends. It has four main blends - a red and a white Cotes de Tablas and a red and a white Esprit de Tablas, each built around a different varietal. The red Cotes is based on Grenache, while the white Cotes is centered on Viognier. The red Esprit is focused on Mourvedre, while the white Esprit is mainly Roussanne. 

Since I'm more of a red wine fan than a white wine fan, the red Cotes and the red Esprit were the wines I gravitated toward. The red 2014 Cotes tastes of black cherries and blackberries - bright fruits - with spices. 

The deeper yet still medium bodied 2013 Esprit, with its Mourvedre core, is tempered by the Syrah, Grenache, and Counoise. The last adds peppery notes to the bright fruits. 

Of course, Tablas Creek is well known as one of the great vineyards and wineries of the Paso region and one (among others) that really helped to put it on the map. It's an enterprise that brings together two great wine families. On the one side - the Perrins, of Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhone, one of the most famous Rhone wineries in a region known for Chateauneuf du Pape wines. On the other side is the Robert Haas family. Robert Haas is a very successful wine merchant in the U.S., who imports the Perrins' wines. His son Jason Haas, is the general manager at Tablas Creek today. The combination of the two families' expertise has made Tablas Creek flourish and wine lovers rejoice.

Another winery I track in the Paso region is tiny, by comparison, but noble in its aspirations and references - Giornata. It is a lover of limestone, like Tablas Creek, but in a different way - to express its Italian dimensions.

Making wine from the fruit of Luna Matta's organic vines, Stephy and Brian Terrizi produce Aglianico, Fiano, and Nebbiolo. Italian somms may scoff, but former San Francisco Chronicle wine critic Jon Bonné called their Nebbiolo "the most successful Nebbiolo yet in the state."

I hope to have a chance to tour the vineyard sometime and see for myself if it's got the fog that makes Nebbiolo legendary. The 2013 ($45) still needs time in the bottle for its bright yet complex strawberry flavors to develop. It's a reminder that some of Paso Robles' experiments yield beautiful fruits of the vine, pleasures worth waiting for.

Postscript: One question for Paso remains - why so few organic vineyards? You can count the vintners with organic estate vines on one hand - Castoro Cellars (350 acres) and Tablas Creek (125 acres) - and then there's just one tiny (but important) Biodynamic winery - AmByth Cellars (20 acres). There are a few dedicated growers - Luna Matta and Pine Hawk (60 acres)- but that's it. That comes to around 550 acres all told, with most from just two wineries.

With 29,000 acres in vine, let's hope the good folks of Paso get more interested in organic viticulture. Right now they're batting just 1.8%. I look forward to the day when they do more. (For comparison's sake, Napa's at 7 percent certified organic vineyards out of 40,000 acres.) What can consumers do to help you grow your organic side, Paso?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tasting and Touring in the Sierra Foothills AVA, Part 2: Milliaire's Clockspring Zinfandel - Bottling History

Organic vineyards are rare in the Sierra Foothills, and although I have not had a chance to visit it (at least not yet) the name Clockspring comes up often. This vineyard, formerly 400 acres in size, was tended to by grower Frank Alviso, who planted the vines here in 1973.

Its history lives on in the bottle.

Alviso farmed the Amador County vineyard - the largest Zinfandel grower in the county (a county devoted to Zinfandel) - for four decades. It was certified organic in 2000; most of the grapes went to Bonterra, until 2011. In 2013, Frank decided to retire, and sold off most of the vineyard, keeping 65 acres.

Over the years many vintners discovered Clockspring's charms, including Todd Taylor (who has a tasting room in Clarksburg), Amador Foothill Winery, Mountain View - and Milliaire, a boutique winery in downtown Murphys, which had the longest lasting relationship with the vineyard.

I had a chance to visit Milliaire on a recent trip to Murphys and check out its tasting room, housed in a gas station that has been so charmingly renovated you might not notice its history. When it first opened, locals called it "Roadside Chateau." (That was before Murphys was wall to wall art galleries, chic shops and winery tasting rooms.)

Milliaire is owned and run by Steve Miller, whose day job is being head winemaker at the giant Ironstone Winery in Murphys (200,000 case production). Like many winemakers, he just had to have his own winery label and Milliaire is it. Case production here is around 2,300 cases, or about one percent of what he makes for Ironstone.

Miller worked at David Bruce winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains before coming to the Sierra Foothills town of Murphys where he made the very first vintage of Ironstone wines, back in 1990. He's made every vintage there since then.

But before that chapter of his life started, Miller, as far back as 1978, had started working with Alviso and his Clockspring Vineyard grapes.

In 1986 he made his first Clockspring Zinfandel under his Milliaire label - a Christmas Cuvee White Zinfandel - back when he was still living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. At that time, the vines were just 13 years old. By 2013, the last vintage, they were 40 years old.

Alviso started Clockspring with his business partner John Hahn. The two met at Stanford where they were college roommates. The vines were planted in 1973 and were head trained, in the traditional

Today you can still taste the 2012 Clockspring Zinfandel ($26) and the 2011 Clockspring Zinfandel Port ($32) - both current releases - at Milliaire's tasting room. Pepper and fruit - the hallmarks of a great Zin - that's what you get. The fruit is bright, yet mellowed, from the old vines.

The port is fortified with brandy. Do I recommend it? You bet.

So if you find yourself in Murphys, or hankering for a road trip exploring organically grown wines grown in the Sierra Foothills, this is one stop you'll want to make. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lodi Native: Missing Half the Story When It Comes to Old Vine Glory

Attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi last week, I was happy to learn more about Lodi's old vine Zinfandels.

Over the past three years, I've been intrigued and enchanted by the Historic Vineyard Society's annual tours. This year the HVS tour of Russian River vines, including Limerick Lane, was incredibly special. So was the one in Napa Valley two years ago. It's also been a pleasure to take the old vine tour at Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County and hang out in Grgich Hills historic Cabernet vineyard.

My all time favorite is Galleano Winery, which has old vines, down in Cucamonga Valley. About 300 acres of old vine Zin grow gracefully in total desert conditions, dry farmed and organic.

The magic of those old, gnarled vines casts a spell that that inspires and engages us. And the wines that come from them speak softly, subtly, beautifully.

Watching my fellow wine bloggers conference in Lodi last week discover Lodi's ancient vines was a sight to behold - comrades in arms. They snap-snap-snapped photos, tweeted on Twitter and blogged away about these Lodi treasures. They were as enamored of them as I was - well, except that maybe I was and then maybe I wasn't.

Lodi's old vine vintners are now making a play to showcase these old vine wines in a new way. Lodi Wine has just announced the new Lodi Native project - a regional effort to make old vines wines that are vinified in a similar manner in the cellar - using only minimal interventionist ways and vinifying only on native yeast. Hey - native yeast. It's trendy. And it's authentic. It's hard to imagine wine being made when these vines were first planted - as far back as the 1880's - with added yeast. No, back then, people trusted the grapes and they had plenty of healthy yeasts because of the way they farmed those vines. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. No sirree.

So Lodi's on to something - but oddly, it's only paying attention to the second half of the story - the part where the grapes come to the winery. What about the first half of the story - the way the vines are farmed?

Bechtold Vineyard, the oldest vines in Lodi, date back to the 1880's
Photo: Lodi Wine
If you really want to honor these ancient vines - and they are unique in all the world - might I suggest it would be a sign of veneration to start farming them organically, as they would have been back in the day?

And what about watering? Though most are dry farmed, I've heard of one famous old vine vineyard, dating back well before 1900, that is being flood irrigated on occasion. Really?

These beautiful old vines are planted far enough apart and old enough to have very deep root systems, and, if left to their own devices, strong immune systems.

Two of our most prestigious old vine producers - Turley and Ridge - who have built quite a reputation for old vine wines -  farm their old vine vineyards around the state organically. Ridge has just certified all of its old vines. Turley certified all the vineyards they own years ago. (They say they can't certify all of them because they lease land from some owners who would prefer not to be certified, though Turley says the vines they lease are farmed organically. At least they are doing what they can wherever they can.)

Of the six vineyards currently enrolled in Lodi Native, none is certified organic. So, please, Lodi Native winemakers, think this through. If you want us to pay attention to your gorgeous old vines, don't put herbicides, fungicides and insecticides on the ancient ones. Reconsider what it means to get back to your roots (pun intended). Get back to real, organically farmed wine grapes - that's historically authentic. And by their sheer existence, these vines have shown that they've got what it takes to stay rooted and thrive.

I'm happy to say there's one Lodi vintner who is on the right path. That would be Lucas Winery, which has three acres of vines dating back to the 1930's. They make a beautiful ZinStar wine from those vines ($50).

I'll raise a glass to those vines - and hope that Lodi Native will see beyond the cellar door and back to the vineyard. Microbes made this magic happen - yielding the fruit of your old vines. Feed that magic.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Glyphosate: The Battle Royal in France

Politico has released a story about the battle over glyphosate in France that details the inner conflict inside the French government where two key ministers have been battling it out over whether or not the Roundup, the herbicide that contains glyphosate and which has been deemed carcinogenic by the UN's primary cancer researchers, should be used in France.

Royal and Foll
According to the news report, the minister of the environment, Segolene Royal (who is the mother of French President Hollande's four children) has prevailed, with Hollande voting on her side of the debate, to ban the sale of glyphosate in the future. According to Politico, Hollande believes the support from green voters is larger than the support from farmers.

Agriculture minister Stephene La Foll, a Socialist, has opposed the ban on behalf of French farmers.

France has also passed a permanent ban on neonics, the bee and bird killing toxin (widely use in the U.S. on vineyards) that will take effect in 2018.

In large measure, support for the ban shifted after a French television station aired a documentary showing the impact that vineyard chemicals were having on workers and children. (See the earlier post on this topic here.) Here is the documentary:

According to Politico's coverage, other European countries are passing stronger laws governing farmers' use of chemicals - Germany and the Czech Republic are passing new legislation to place stricter controls on these pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.

Meanwhile in California, Monsanto has held up EPA regulations to label Roundup as a carcinogen by filing a lawsuit against the EPA.

In April, San Francisco, ABC television station, Channel 7, covered the story of glyphosate in two news segments. Here's the first one:

The second can be seen here.

Best bits: the interviews in each segment with Dr. Michael Antoniou from University College in London.

What would happen in the U.S. if 60 Minutes took up the subject?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tasting and Touring in the Sierra Foothills AVA: Part 1 - Estate Wineries - Lavender Ridge Vineyards Offers #Organic Gold in Wine Country

My, my how Murphys has grown up!

When I last visited, which could have been a decade ago, it was a laid-back Gold Rush town Americans went to see for its historic appeal. Today it's a chic, boutique-filled destination site, much frequented by European tourists, as well as Americans, who delight in strolling through its tiny, family-owned winery tasting rooms, clothing shops, and art galleries.

One such winery that's been on my bucket list for years is Lavender Ridge Vineyards, which is one of the very few in the area to have an organic estate vineyard. Its Murphys tasting room is housed in a delightful, 1859 stone structure that originally served as the town's grocery and later as its bakery and it's just a few steps away from the iconic Murphys hotel - Murphys Inn.

Lavender Ridge is owned and run by the Gilpins, who settled here in 2001, and who have an 8 acre certified organic vineyard about 20 miles south of town where they grow Rhone varietals. Their vines sit on a 42 acre property at 1,200 feet of elevation, overlooking a scenic schoolhouse (that was used in the TV series Little House on the Prairie).

The shop is filled with lavender, as well as
an excellent assortment of cheese, in addition
to their lovely wines
It was a delight to wander down to their Murphys tasting room with my new friend Gwendolyn Alley (we met at the Wine Bloggers Conference - her blog is here), a poetry professor from Ventura, who specializes in food and wine pairing, since Lavender Ridge Vineyards sells cheese and offers wine and cheese pairings.

Gwendolyn Alley tasting at Lavender
Ridge with our tasting room host
Lavender Ridge Vineyards makes two wines from their estate vines, in a normal year - a Cotes du Calaveras Blanc and a Cotes du Calaveras Rouge. Unfortunately due to the last three years of drought, the 2015 white wine was blended with other vineyards's grapes, so an all estate wine wasn't available to taste.(Of course, I tasted it anyway and recommend it as a way to continue to support organic growers). The red Cotes was 90 percent from estate vines.

The 2013 Cotes du Calaveras (Rouge) ($24) is a beautiful wine, translucent and light in weight, as it's a Grenache-based blend. (The exact blend is 42% Grenache, 29% Syrah and 29% Mourvedre). It boasts tart cherries notes, which our tasting room server told us are unique to this region. (Cases made: 285.) Gilpin uses native yeast on all the wines.

The wine was paired with a delicious Black Diamond Old Cheddar from Canada topped with a sour cherry compote made from Armenian cherries. Our server told us the sour cherry was selected because it paired well with the tart cherries in the wine - and it did. The lightness of the wine was also a perfect complement to the richness of this creamy cheese, a cheese I was happy to discover. (I left with two jars of the compote).

On weekends, the winery can get a lot busier
and opens a back room for flights.
But Lavender Ridge has more to offer - its lavender theme carries through to the decor as well as bags and bouquets of lavender for sale. It also carries the lavender theme into its wines which have lavender colored screw tops.

The back wall of the tasting room is filled with lavender bunches.
A most elegant dump bucket
It's nice to see that the Gold Rush regions are finding they can make a living by becoming "wine country." And while I don't think Murphys is quite "the next Napa," as some of its promoters say, it's a fun little town to explore. And Lavender Ridge has something to offer for all kinds of tourists (unless you don't like cheese or wine).

We also visited Ironstone Winery, with its unique historic attraction (hint, hint). And I tasted at a little winery down the street that makes an organically Zinfandel. More on that later.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Barbara County: Where the List of Biodynamic Pinot Noirs Grows and Grows

Biodynamic vineyards are growing by leaps and bounds in Santa Barbara County's prime Pinot Noir spots. By the end of the year, BD acreage is set to quadruple when Sea Smoke Cellars passes its final Demeter certification, anticipated later this year.

The Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wine producer, which Wine Spectator writer James Laube once called one of Santa Barbara County's "grand cru vineyards," is about to add 150-170 acres to the list of certified vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills. But even more are expected in the future.

Sea Smoke announced that it has just purchased the neighboring Rita's Crown vineyard - which will add another 65 acres that the winery plans to farm and certify organic and Biodynamic.

Fans of the movie Sideways might remember that the film's director, Alexander Payne, was a wine club member at Sea Smoke before he made the film that made Pinot Noir famous.

Sea Smoke Cellars GM Victor Gallegos, quoted in Wine Spectator, says that having the second property will also protect the certification of its current vines by adding a significant buffer, since the two vineyards are adjacent.

"Also, longer term, prime vineyard land in Sta. Rita Hills is only going up in price," he added, in the Wine Spectator article.

Sea Smoke is located right across the street from Richard Sanford's original Sanford and Benedict vineyard. Rita's Crown is above Sea Smoke.

West of Sea Smoke, just outside the boundaries of the Sta. Rita Hills, lies Duvarita Vineyard, formerly Presidio Vineyard. Many of the best boutique winemakers in the region - including Dragonette, Storm Wines and Tatomer - make single vineyard designates from Duvarita's 16 acres of Pinot vines.

A little closer to Lompoc, but on the same road, Ampelos Vineyards, the first in the region to be Biodynamic, has 25 acres in vine, including approximately 20 acres of Pinot Noir. (Movie star Kurt Russell makes a wine from these vines.)

With the Sea Smoke vines on track to be certified this year, acreage will go from around 36 acres of BD grown Pinot to 200+ acres. When Rita's Crown is added in (it will take three years for certification), the total could climb to as much as 260 acres.

Total Acres of Pinot Noir in Sta. Rita Hills

Ampelos Vineyard
20 acres of Pinot Noir (out of 25 acres)

Duvarita Vineyard
16 acres of Pinot Noir (out of 26 acres)

Sea Smoke
Approximately 160 acres of Pinot Noir

Rita's Crown
Approximately 61 acres of Pinot Noir

Oregon Vineyards

Sta. Rita Hills AVA's growth only begins to approach Oregon's Biodynamic vines. The large Willamette Valley region is home to Maysara, Montinore, Cooper Mountain, Brooks, Johan and Rick House Vineyards. Collectively those Pinot producers have more than 600 acres of Biodynamic Pinot Noir vines.

Though Sta. Rita Hills' overall size is tiny in comparison to the Willamette Valley's, both are premiere Pinot regions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

IN PHOTOS: Oakland Wine Festival - Tater Tots, Bacon, Millennials and Vino

Was it like a prom day for wines? A day to luxuriate at the elegant Sequoyah Country Club? A perfect moment to take selfies with your friends, as you drink wine? Or a place to get some decent biscuits and a whole lotta bacon? 

The Oakland Wine Festival was all that and more. Ultimately it about wine - and about gathering in a new way.

Most of all it was a full day to take in a variety of wine experiences, starting with brunch at 9 am with a buffet breakfast of bacon, biscuits and tater tots.

Personally I was amazed at well the festival was run. It was my first experience of a festival that was run by a black community of wine lovers, and the differences were illuminating.

For one thing, the volunteers were the nicest and friendliest and most helpful of any wine event I have ever been to - showing off Oakland style hospitality at its finest.

The moneyed, older, white people of Oakland did not turn out for this event (was it aimed at them? I don't know) but the black community came in strength, along with white, Asian and other wine lovers. Within the back community there was a lot of diversity and range of wine lovers. Some were new to wine; some were pros who'd been to many wineries up north. That's part of what makes Oakland so special. While Napa has one black-owned winery, Brown Estate up in Chiles Valley, and at least one black somm, at Hall, in St. Helena, there are few opportunities to be among such a racially diverse crowd of wine lovers who bring their own unique style to the party.

This festival was the picture of the good life - with the country club pool setting, fancy pillars and golf course. And indoors was a very elegant venue for the day's events.

After the brunch, the festival progressed to the Judgement of Oakland, a blind wine tasting of 100 wines which everyone was supposed to vote on. (The results will be published this fall).

Personally I am not a fan of mass blind wine tastings, and most people did not take it that seriously, being more interested in socializing with their friends as they tasted. But it was an engaging way to get people involved.

Later on there were intimate luncheons with winemakers (I chose the one of only two with organic vines - Storybook Mountain Vineyards from Napa, a favorite!) and a grand tasting. That was followed by winemaker dinners. Again it was great to get a spot at Chappellet's table - another great winery with organic estate vines.

The Judgement of Oakland tasting
This menu was made for millenials, who gave the festival high points for serving Tater tots for brunch
Brunch was served by the pool

The elegant setting
Everyone received a free Oakland Wine Festival Reidel glass
A number of Napa wines contributed bottles for a silent auction
to support the festival. Pictured here are some of the
organically grown bottles.

Is it a selfie if someone else is taking the photo? Pictured in the middle
is Melody Fuller, festival organizer
Intimate winemaker luncheons let you spend time
with the winemakers; I grabbed a seat at the Storybook
Mountain Vineyards table
It was a pleasure to have an hour to talk with Jerry Seps
and the other diners; they had plenty of questions for him. 
Evan Goldstine gave a rock star performance after lunch on how to pair wine and food, distilling
what seems so complicated to simple and sound essentials - and he did it in 15 minutes flat.

In the evening, there were winemaker dinners, at various restaurants in downtown Oakland.
I joined the Chappellet dinner, hosted by winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus at Pican
(a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 restaurant) where French born chef Jerome Fressinier
cooked up a surprising menu, pairing Chappellet wines with a variety of dishes,
including a unique take on fried oysters and meltingly delicious lamb.

A native of New Orleans, Pican restaurant owner Michael LeBlanc, left, stopped by to visit us and chat with Chappellet winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus (right). LeBlanc is a former Polaroid executive who then became an entrepreneur, starting the first black-owned beer company. He wanted Pican to be a place where fine fried chicken could be served with
sparkling wine. (Apologies for the poor photo quality - it was the end of a long day!)
By day's end, the festival, in its second year, seemed to have been a sweet success.
The organizer, Melody Fuller, has plenty of future events planned, too, including a
wine boot camp in the fall.