Wednesday, June 27, 2012

July 14th: Potter Valley Becomes Party Valley

Guinness McFadden's been growing wine grapes organically (and certified even) in lovely laidback Potter Valley for 40 years - and this year he and his compadres will be celebrating their annual Wine Club Barbeque for members and friends Saturday, July 14th at the McFadden Farm.

Check out this previous post with photos of the Farm and Potter Valley - a hidden gem. 

Potter Valley - headwaters of the Russian River
Potter Valley is just northeast of Ukiah and northwest of Clear Lake, nestled in a special valley. The rest of the year, the winery offers tasting at its tasting room in Hopland. The Farm is only open this one day of the year.

Entertainments: Farm tours, wine, and good eats
Eats: Magruder local roasted pork and lamb (both from Potter Valley), salad, vegetable dishes, and desserts
Chef: Guinness' daughter, Chef Fontaine 
Dancing: Under the stars

Hours: Starts at 5 pm and goes "until we drop" (11 pm-ish - which is pretty late in Potter Valley). 

Pricing and reservations: 707.744.8463 (open daily during normal business hours)

Walking Tour with Guinness
McFadden's Farm is truly a special spot, growing nearly a dozen varieties across the property. And Potter Valley is a dream place. If you want off the beaten path, and urban detox, come and see.

And did I mention the wines? My favorite is the Brut (made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown on the property). 

McFadden is well known for their Riesling, too, supplying grapes to Dashe Cellars and Chateau Montelena. McFadden's Zinfandel grapes also go into a Beaujolais style Zin from Dashe Cellars. It's a treat to taste what McFadden's own winemaker does with the same grapes - and what McFadden sells for substantially less money than the vintners it sells to. 

2011 Feast
Worth a taste! And a trip.

McFadden's has also made arrangements with local accommodations (including Vichy Spring) for discounted pricing for those attending the wine club dinner. So give tasting room manager John a call to find out more about these great deals.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Photos: Killing Time at the Ferry Plaza Wine Shop

I had some time to kill before taking a ferry back to the East Bay last night, so I wandered into the wine shop there to see if they had any organically grown wines on hand. Although they number well under 5% of the wines in the store, the shop does have some fine selections. Here is a sampling of what I found, ranging in price from about $20-40.

Of course, it would be nice if the wine shop had a section of organically grown wines specifically showcased...perhaps it would help if you mentioned it to them if you visit the shop.

In the meantime, look for these fine wines wherever they're sold:

Porter Bass is a beautiful vineyard that makes only small lots. It's definitely on the list of the top 10 most scenic vineyard locations in the state. They also grow and sell grapes to other vintners, including Flowers.

Atrea is the unoaked wines made by Saracina, owned by the eldest of the Fetzer brothers, John. This white Rhone blend is popular on restaurant wine lists - it's affordable at $20 a bottle.

Yorkville Cellars' Semillon won a top prize at the annual Chronicle Wine Competition this year. 

Saracina's Chardonnay

This is one of the finest Cabernets you probably never heard of. I haven't yet visited these folks (famed organic viticulturists, they manage many Napa acreas) at their own place in Angwin

Jim Fetzer's Lake County winery (a beautiful destination) makes mostly (if not all) biodynamically grown wines. 

Porter Bass'  Zin is a treat.

My camera started doing strange things, but this bottle of Neal Family Zin is another great find. It looks normal on the shelf. My camera must have created its own "Cubist" or "David Hockney" setting. (Hear that, Instagram?)

Porter Bass isn't easily found in wine shops, so it's lovely to see all three of their wines here.
One of the best Zins going - a winner of a Top 100 Wine last year from the SF Chronicle.

One of my favorite, affordable, boutique wineries - Horse and Plow - is also rarely sold in wine shops, so again, another wine score here. The winery buys grapes from all the best organic (and only organic) growers. 

Another "Cubist" camera trick...but the wine is wonderful. This is Saracina's Malbec, a new offering this year.

Alternative Varietals: Just in Time?

A sneak peek of coverage from the panel on Alternative Varieties from last week's American Society for Enology and Viticulture panel on this topic last week.

From an environmental perspective, have we been growing all the wrong grapes? Mother Nature would tend to agree,

Instead of growing Mediterranean wine grapes, known the world over ince ancient times for their fabulous wines, our English wine writing and importing colleagues successfully imperialized "their" grapes - i.e. French varietals grown near to them, and which they previously owned during the Aquitaine-era - and their palette on generations of wine drinkers - and then wine growers - in the U.S.

The cost to us: aquifer depletion. Like growing an English garden in a desert, northern European varietals (Cabernet, Chardonnay, etc.) require water and climate that is not our natural state, so we've used tremendous resources (mostly water) to grow them.

Now viticultural scientists are taking a hard look at what it would take, what with climate change underway and all that, to get wine drinkers - and winemakers - to think about some of Europe's other great varieties - or perhaps some of our (California) own.

For more on this movement, read the U.C. Davis ppt here.

Read more about the panel sessions here in Wines and Vines.

I'll be talking more about this in upcoming posts.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Chiarito's Festa di San Giovanni: Magruder Pig from Potter Valley, Roasted by Scopa's Ari Rosen, Oven and Wine by John Chiarito

I'm happy to share with you my photos from Sunday's Festa di San Giovanni at Chiarito Vineyards, one of my favorite Mendocino (or anywhere) wineries.

John Chiarito, whose winery I've blogged about in previous posts, is nobly growing, mostly by hand - and dry farming - southern Italian varietals perfectly suited to our Mediterranean climate - namely Negroamaro and Nero d'Avola - along with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The first two are my favorites.

Want to try some? Join the wine club - as simple as committing to a certain quantity per year - and you could buy 6 bottles for 30% off at the Festa - an offer which you might still be able to avail yourself of. (If, like me, you don't like getting wine delivered and want to save money on shipping, you can pick it all up at one time when you're in the area.)

Chiarito's annual wine club feast is cause for culinary celebration as Scopa chef and friend Ari Rosen comes to roast a pig. This year's pig hailed from nearby Potter Valley, where it was raised on the fourth generation farm of Mac Magruder, whose pork graces tables from Chez Panisse to Oliveto.

The half wild, half domesticated pig we ate originally weighed 240 pounds at about 8 months old (in contrast to the typical commercially grown 6 month old pig fattened on corn feed).

Scopa's Rosen and Chiarito collaborated on constructing the brick oven where Chiarito makes pizza (when Rosen is not roasting the annual pig).

Of course, the wines were delicious, too - to the great delight of all who attended what must be one of the most unique wine club dinners in California.

I met some lovely people at the event - a woman who used to run Slow Food Nation in SF and now produces the annual Taste of Mendocino event for the county association, and April Cunningham, who shared with me a wonderfully inspiring story about receiving an organic produce donation from organic grower Julie Golden (of Golden Vineyards in Redwood Valley) to help feed the nearly 500 children fed by Headstart in the Ukiah area fresh, healthy vegetables.

And the accordion played on, celebrating life in all its delicious forms - including, most delightfully, the vinuous ones.

The walk to Chiarito Vineyard (and home)

The littlest Chiarito and mom

Such a congenial gathering...perfectly framed by the trellis

A spectacular first course of traditional southern Italian foods

Seeing a whole pig roasted, with crunchy skin and lined inside with garlic and herbs, was clearly the high point of the festa. The pig came from nearby Potter Valley, from Mac Magruder's famous (4th generation) farm. His pork goes to many fine restaurants including Chez Panisse and Oliveto.

Trying to show you the glorious view and countryside - a worthy setting for feasting on this noble creature.

Scopa chef Ari Rosen told me he'd lived in Tuscany for three years, where he learned about porcetta. He and John Chiarito built the brick oven onsite specifically for roasting a pig in this annual feast.

Another beauty shot of chef and porcetta

The festivities were festive due to the fine accordion playing

And of course, let us not forget the star attraction - the wine! Chiarito's best wines, in my humble opinion, are his Nero d"Avola, traditionally grown in Sicily. and his Negroamaro, another typical southern Italian varietal - both suited to growing in Mediterranean climates like ours (versus Cabernet and Chardonnay, which are not). Chiarito basically dry farms his vines.

Chiarito home - the site of great hospitality and fine views!

Coming Soon: More About My Latest Hopland/Ukiah Adventures

Stay tuned - pix coming soon from John Chiarito's blowout Festa di San Giovanni - with whole pig roast with Scopa chef, homegrown in Potter Valley by Mack Magruder...and an update on the latest news from Glenn McGourty's Alternative Varietals conference at the Conference on Enology and Viticultures - aka "Are we growing the right grapes in our Mediterranean climate?"...and a tour of the Mendo garden than kickstarted Wave 2 of the organic viticulture movement in California...all coming soon.

$6.50 a Bottle! Final Days of Barra's Father's Day Sale

Barra of Mendocino's putting on a sale that is offering the lowest prices on organically grown wine I have ever seen - just $79 for a case of Sangiovese and Zinfandel.

(These wines normally sell for $18 a bottle).

I have enjoyed this wine and so have many of my friends. The lowest price I've seen to date was $99 a case and I thought that was incredible, so I bought three cases in December at that time.

Now it's dropped even lower - $79 a case is about $6.50 a bottle, or about $1.10 a glass. This is a great every day wine - perfect with pizza, meat, tomato-based dishes and more. If you're having any BBQ parties, it's also a perfect wine for those occasions.

My advice: call now and get in on the last few cases of this incredible deal. Here's the number: 707.485.0322.

The remaining sale cases won't last long.

(Sale is not advertised on the web site, but they will honor orders placed on the phone.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dashe Cellars: 25% Off Sale - Discount Code "Summer 25"

Use the discount code "Summer25" to get 25% off all Dashe Cellars through June 19!

The winery usually has a summer BBQ and offers this discount. This year they've had to skip the event, but are still offering the promotional pricing.

Organically grown options from Dashe are from several top Mendo growers:

McFadden's grapes fuel two of my favorite Dashe selections:

A dry Riesling ($20 - $15 on sale).
A Beaujolais style wine (light and young) made from Zinfandel ($24 - $18 on sale)

Heart Arrow Ranch
Heart Arrow Ranch, a paragon of biodynamic-ness, sells their Zinfandel grapes to Dashe, who makes them into another on-the-light-side Zinfandel ($24).

If you wanted to have a bit of fun, you could also try a tasting of the McFadden-sourced Dashe wines with McFadden's own wines made from the same grapes. You can order them online here.

Learn more about their Riesling here ($18).

(They usually sell their own traditional Zin but it doesn't appear on the web site at this time. They do have a higher end Zin blend called Coro Mendocino).

Napa Valley Winery Exchange: Two out of 12 Top Summer Picks are Organically Grown

One of my favorite boutique wine shops in SF - Napa Valley Winery Exchange - sent out its summer mailer this week with 12 top picks for the season, all from top California vintners.
Two of my favorite organically grown wines made their list:

1. Horse and Plow Syrah
Grist Vineyard Dry Creek
$25.95 or $22 for wine club members

Only 100 cases made.

2. Patianna Sauvignon Blanc
$17.95 or $15 for wine club members

3,000 cases made.

Napa Valley Winery Exchange features many half bottles of wines, as well, so you can explore more wines without making a major investment.

I also like the fact that their flyer calls out which wines are organically grown. Many wine marketing materials do not.

Both of these producers use only 100% certified organically grown grapes, so you can feel free to buy any of their wares.

Horse and Plow is a rising star. Their rose made the Chronicle's top 100 list last year. They purchase grapes from a variety of fabulous growers in northern California. All of their wines are featured in my forthcoming app.

Patianna is the winery of Patty Fetzer; her biodynamic practices regularly produce healthy, beautiful grapes each year, while other neighboring vineyards have lost their crop to natural causes. Growing in sync with nature's ways has enabled her plants to develop larger root systems and be healthier, enabling them to withstand challenges when they arise.

But mostly, her Sauvignon Blanc just tastes good!

Note: The Pinot Blanc from Skylark grown at Orsi, also on the list, is dry farmed and probably organically grown but is not certified organic.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Heat: Rose On My Mind

Hot weather this week has put me in a rose state of mind and I've been sampling my way through the Pink section of my cellar.

That's led me to Horse and Plow's rare rose (the 2010 won high praise from the Chronicle) which is a whisper of a rose, and to Beckmen's 2010 Grenache rose, which is at the other end of the flavor intensity spectrum - i.e. a more rounded out rose. There's definitely a there there. It's got a backbone, for a rose, and would stand up perhaps to some BBQ even...

But I think my current favorite is the one in the middle - the brand new rose (of Pinot Noir) from up north in Oregon - Cooper Mountain's first ever rose. AND, it's nice to like the one with the lowest price (for once).

Cooper Mountain's biodynamically grown rose sells for $15 a bottle but there's a 20% discount when you buy it by the case - getting the price per bottle down to $12 per bottle. Plus they seem to have an insanely low shipping and handling.

Total for a case shipped to California is $158.44.

But don't take my word for it - try the Beckmen ($18 list/online for $16) as well. (The Horse and Plow is sold out for this year) and see what you think.

Here are a few others I would check out as well:

Atrea - Skid Rose (mostly Malbec) (not widely distributed)
Naughty Boy - Rose ($14) (From Pinot Noir) (not widely distributed)
Verdad Rose ($18/ list/$164/case online retailers) (from Grenache) - one of my all time favorites - order a case online