Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting (March 28)

Craneway Pavilion, on the waterfront in Point Richmond, with
magnificent Bay views, was the venue for the Rhone Rangers
this year, for the second year in a row
A silent auction in the center of things raised money for a
Rhone Rangers scholarship fund
Sebastian Donoso, winemaker for Hopland-based
Campovida winery, with two of his wines
from organic vines - the estate Viognier
and a Grenache from the Dolan family's
nearby Biodynamic vineyard - Dark Horse Ranch 
Lasseter Family Winery poured their Rosé and Chemin de Fer, a GSM blend 
Ridge Vineyards poured its beauties from Lytton Springs; pictured here
are David Gates, vineyard manager, and John Olney,
Ridge's Lytton Springs winemaker
Bob Lindquist of Qupé had more than a dozen wines to try, including
his beautiful Syrahs from the Sawyer Lindquist estate.
 He's never shy about wearing his Dodgers attire in the Bay Area.
Friday night, he won the Rhone Rangers' Lifetime Achievement
Award. Hurray!
Sondra Bernstein, proprietess of Sonoma classic
The Girl and the Fig, serving forth a stemaing
heap of French Rhone goodness in the form
of a cassoulet
Her cassoulet is a perennial favorite at the Rhone Rangers
Cassoulet looks like it's ready for its closeup...hmmm...
better reach for a nice bottle of an American Rhone wine...

IN PHOTOS: Demeter's Oregon Short Course: Biodynamic Wine Grape Growing and Winemaking

Demeter launched its 2015 Biodynamic Wine Short Course with a daylong event March 23 at Maysara Winery in McMinnville, Oregon, with a lineup of both California and Oregon experts in Biodynamic grape growing and winemaking.

Enjoy these photos of the day, photographed by Max Marriott.

Moe Momtazi of Maysara welcomed the audience
and delivered a keynote focusing on the commonality
of traditional farming practices across different cultures.
The spacious winery was the perfect setting for the day long class.
Paul Dolan, founder of Bonterra, Paul Dolan Vineyards
and other ventures, delivered a basic introduction
to Biodynamics. Dolan wrote the first book on
the wine industry and sustainability (True to Our Roots)
back in 2003 and was Chairman of the Wine Institute in
2006. He currently serves as the President of Demeter
USA's Board of Directors)
The morning panel on wine grape growing featured four local experts: Nadine
Basile of Soter Vineyards (far right), Clay Wesson of Brooks Wine (center right),
Jessica Cortell, Ph.D. of Chemetka Community College (center left) and Vitis Terra
and Rudy Marchesi (far left) of Montinore Estate. Also featured were Glenn
McGourty, Ph.D., U.C. Farm Advisor (center) and Pam Strayer as moderator

Elizabeth Candelario, co-director of Demeter USA, provided an overview of
the Biodynamic marketplace, briefing the group on the growing demand from
Whole Foods for Biodynamic food products and new Biodynamic product launches
from Annie's and other big brands
Jim Fulmer, Demeter USA co-director, briefed the
audience on Bioydnamic certification details

The afternoon winemaker panel featured (from left to right) Tahmiene Momtazi
of Maysara Winery, Ben Thomas of Montinore Estate, Gilles de Domingo of
Cooper Mountain Vineyards, moderator Pam Strayer, and Dan Rinke of
Johan Vineyards in a spirited discussion on practical as well as little known

Following the seminar, participants enjoyed a Biodynamic wine tasting, featuring more than 25 wines from Oregon and Washington producers including Willamette Valley producers Brooks Wines, Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Johan Vineyards, Maysara and Montinore Estate, and Washington vintners Hedges Family Estate (from Red Mountain AVA) and Wilridge Winery (from Naches Heights AVA). Click here for photos of the wine tasting.

Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day - Santana Sings, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Honored in Napa - New Statues Unveiled

Check out the whole story here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wins Rhone Rangers' Lifetime Achievement Award

The Rhone Rangers' Friday gala brought together fans of Rhone wines for a celebration and feast, honoring Qupé founder and winemaker Bob Lindquist with the organization's third Lifetime Achievement Award.

Vintners Robert Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyards and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards won in previous years.

Wine writer Patrick Comiskey, whose forthcoming book American Rhone (UC Press) tells the story of the rise Rhone wines in America, introduced Lindquist, and was followed by a tribute video featuring friends and family. 

Following the awards ceremony, the Rhone Rangers auction raised money for its scholarship fund, with vintner contributed special lots fetching thousands of dollars for the cause.

Enjoy these photos:

Bob Lindquist winning the Rhone Rangers Lifetime
Achievement Award
Bob Lindquist and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist with friends at the head table
Feasting on duck, a perfect pairing with Rhone wines.
Louisa Sawyer Lindquist pouring Qupé's
wines during the reception before
the dinner
The video honoring Lindquist featured a memorable Kinks
concert that got Lindquist fired from his job in a wine shop
and hired at Zaca Mesa, on the path to becoming a winemaker 
Lindquist's mom was also featured in the video; Qupé's
best Syrah is named for her
Sonnie Lindquist sharing the moment with her son Bob;
she's the Sonnie Qupé's reserve Syrah is named for 
The Rhone Rangers event also featured a spirited auction
to raise money for a scholarship fund for future winemakers
and got started with the Qupé lot.
Robert Haas, a proprietor and founder of Tablas
Creek Vineyards introduced Lot #2. Haas
won the Rhone Rangers Lifetime Award
 (as the second recipient) in 2014.
Randall Grahm, introducing his Lot #3. Grahm
was the first recipient of the Rhone Rangers'
Lifetime Achievement Award.
Note: Qupé's estate wines come from Biodynamic vines and are made and labeled as "Biodynamic Wine" which means they contain no additives, other than a limited amount of sulfites to preserve the wine.

It's worth noting that the two previous recipients of the Rhone Rangers award both were both either organic or Biodynamic leaders. 

IN PHOTOS: IPOB Tasting: March 10

The In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) movement, started by the husband and wife team of Raj Parr (somm) and Jasmine Hirsch (grower/vintner), is sometimes a bit mysterious to outsiders, but it's very much, as Jay McInerny once wrote, "a cool kids" event. Staged three times each year - once in LA, NYC and SF - it's dedicated to countering the California trend of making overly fruity or alcoholic Pinot Noir and Chard by featuring a self- and peer-selected group of vintners who follow a lower alcohol path.

It's for California vintners only, which in my mind, makes it slightly idiosyncratic. Oregonians tend to make wines that are in better balance, due to their cooler climate, so I guess the original IPOB gang didn't think those producers needed any help communicating their "IPOB-ness." Basically the IPOB club wanted to escape the bad rap that overly ripe California wines from Burgundian vines were getting and thus separated themselves from the pack. It's a marketing move.

As a group, in contrast to the Rhone Rangers or the Oregon Pinot gang, fewer of these producers are growing organically or Biodynamically. Why Oregonians - with a lot more wet weather than California - can grow Pinot without using pesticides or fungicides more than Californians is a bit of a mystery to me. Or perhaps most of the organic/Biodynamic producers (Alma Rosa, Ampelos, Benziger, Porter Creek, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, and more) don't seem to gravitate to IPOB. Whatever.

The tasting was well attended by a powerhouse bunch of buyers, wine merchants and press.

Enjoy these photos from the IPOB tasting in SF.

UPDATE: Since this post was published, Ron Washam, the savagely humorous Hosemaster of Wine, has weighed in on the IPOB movement. Don't miss his coverage here.

There was plenty of time to socialize before the
tasting as the seminars were late in letting out.
Calera, one of California's greatest wineries
focused on Burgundian varietals, makes
7,000 cases from its organic estate vines.
Calera's unique terroir - on limestone soild in San Benito County - is
haunting and remote, and a great place to visit.
Pouring Littorai's Mays Canyon (grown at the Demeter certified
Porter Bass vineyard on Mays Canyon Road)
Tasting the Brosseau Chard at Copain
Like Calera, Brosseau's organic vines are located on limestone rich
soils, but in the Chalone AVA
Somms wanted to let attendees know they were alive and well,
despite reports of their disappearance from SF restaurants,
an assertion Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle wine writer,
made in a recent column. Locals disagreed and let the crowd know.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rhone Rangers Riding into Town Saturday

The annual Rhone Rangers grand tasting takes place this Saturday at the lovely Craneway hall on the water in Point Richmond.

This year the vintners association honors Bob Lindquist of Qupé with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a Friday night dinner. Come to the Saturday tasting to sample his wine along with those of many other Rhone wine producers.

Rhones are the most climate appropriate grape to be growing over much of California - and they are among the best wines California wineries make.

The grand tasting takes place at 3 pm. For more information, click here.

Here are some of the great wines to look for (from certified vines):

This tiny Mendocino winery sources a few wines from organic or Biodynamic wines. It's Grenache and Viogner are not to be missed. These wines are real standouts.

Chacewater (Certified "Made with Organic Grapes")
An up and coming Lake County producer whose wines I haven't tried in several years, its owners have some vineyards in the Sierra Foothills where they grow a $21 Syrah from organic vines. It's great to have some affordable, go to wines from organic vines. The winery has won a number of very prestigious awards in the past few years.

Ridge Vineyards
One of the grand hommes of Rhones, this esteemed winery sources Rhone wines from a number of locations through the state, from Paso Robles to Sonoma. Most of the grapes come from historic, dry farmed, old vines. Its Geyserville and East Bench Zinfandels (2012) are from certified organic vineyards. The Lytton Ridge Syrah is on older vintage (2010) that is from its "in transition to certification" vines.

Quivira Vineyards & Winery (Certified "Made with Biodynamic Grapes")*
A Rhone star from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley AVA, this producer makes roughly a third of its wine from its Biodynamic vines. Its relatively new rosé is very lively and aromatic - a wine that makes you stop in your tracks and remember to pay attention to rosé. (It's not just pink for picnics.) Quivira also makes great Petite Sirah and two Zins from its estate vines.

Qupé (Certified "Biodynamic Wine")*
Producing wines both at the highest levels of winemaking, and at the highest and hardest certification type, Qupé makes, in the words of New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, the best Syrah in America. Look for the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard designates, which proprietor and winemaker Bob Lindquist planted in Edna Valley. There's a regular Syrah and a reserve Syrah along with a Grenache. Compare the cost of these wines to a bad Cab from Napa and you'll find the world class Syrah is probably less. Buy some Syrah.

Tablas Creek Vineyards*
California's "other" great Rhone producer, it's the offspring of two great wine families - Haas and Perrin from the Rhone region in France. All of the wines are from organic vines (except for its Patelin table wines) though none are labeled. A beautiful producer with many traditional blends to sample - you're in for a treat at this tasting. Again, fantastic quality.

* = Best Wine Clubs for Rhone Wine Lovers

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

IN PHOTOS: Biodynamic Wine Tasting at Demeter Short Course

What a pleasure it was to moderate the Demeter Short Course on Biodynamic Wine Monday at Maysara Winery in McMinnville, Oregon. One of the best parts of the day was the wine tasting at the end of the program, which featured an awesome lineup of Pinot Noir and (amazing) new releases from each winery.

The awe-inspring Maysara Winery, built on a grand
scale from oak and stone from the site along
with barrel staves, was a breathtaking setting.
Winemaker Chris Williams with his 2012 Pinot
Noir  Rastaban - Brooks' old vines (in this
bottle) were planted 1974-77 and
are among the oldest in Oregon.
Cooper Mountain Vineyards vintner Barbara Gross poured
Pinot Noir from the winery's Meadowlark vineyard and old vines.

Maysara winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi poured a selection of
her Pinots
Montinore Estate red wine winemaker Ben
Thomas poured the estate's Reserve Pinot Noir
Dan Rinke from Johan Vineyards poured some
new releases that hit a home run including
a natural sparkling wine and a skin fermented
Pinot Gris (an orange wine)
Washington winemaker Paul Beveridge of Wilridge
Winery poured his exotically diverse wines including
Nebbiolo and Zweigelt
Sarah Hedges Goedhart, winemaker at Hedges
Family Estate in Washington's Red Mountain AVA
displays her first certified Biodynamic Wine -
a 100% Cab called Le Haut Cuvee

The outside of Maysara - as grand as the inside
Oregon in March...and three weeks ahead of normal bud break