Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Close Out Deal of the Week: Martian Ranch and Vineyards Case Sale - $90/Case

Some of the best deals come from case close-out sales. How can that be?

Wineries just want to clear it all out.

Martian Ranch, a favorite of mine, making what you might call "naturalista" wines, is offering Grenache Blanc (2012 and 2013) along with a 2012 Mourvedre (it NEEDS to be aged this long at least, in general) and Grenache (2012). 

These 2012 wines were made with minimal intervention and on native yeasts with loving care by Mike Roth, a Chronicle "Winemaker to Watch" in 2015. The 2013s were made by Greg Tatomer, a winemaker known for his great finesse.

You could be down at Bi-Rite market in the Mission paying $24 a bottle for the current Martian Ranch releases. Or you could call up the winery and order these in.

Shipping from Martian has been $20 (in state) in the past...making these a very good deal indeed.

And they have cool corks, to boot.

Rhone Rangers Swarm Oakland: That Saturday Tasting

The North Coast Rhone Rangers event took place Saturday at Campovida's spacious tasting room in Oakland, and there was a very good turnout, with hundreds of people attending.

More than 15 wineries poured Syrah, Grenache and all other manner of southern France varietals in the beautiful, historic brick building.

Campovida's tasting room is adjacent to The Dock at Linden Street and Linden Street Brewery - both hipster hangouts - and the crowd that came on Saturday was not the crowd you see at the big Rhone Rangers tasting event. There were a lot of younger people and millennials.

From an organic perspective, there was just one winery pouring wines from certified vines and luckily, it's a standout winery, making what I think are by far the best wines from Mendocino's inland areas, bar none. And that's the host of the event itself - Campovida.

About five years ago, Campovida was not the winery it is today. Chilean born winemaker Sebastian Donoso has evolved the wines into standouts both for their quality and freshness. He's also taken the extra step of seeking out organic or Biodynamically grown fruit and making small lots of precious liquids.

Sebastian Donoso, Campovida winemaker, serving forth

It was therefore a great treat to find he was pouring new wines at the event. While I get all woozy over my favorite Campovida offering - the Grenache from Dark Horse Ranch (BD grown on Paul Dolan's family vineyard), I found some new bottles to adore.

First was his rosé - an outstanding wine that makes you take notice and slow down. It's such a beautiful wine, your senses tell you to relax so you can more truly savor it. It's from a grower who Donoso has gotten to at least practice organic farming; let's hope this grower will decide it's something to stick with and get certified so I can put this on the official list.

A note about Donoso's wines: all the reds are made on native yeasts. But most amazingly, all are made on free run juice alone, giving them a fresh, lively, vibrant quality. Of course, it costs more. But the wines are the better for it. 

The Campo di Blanca comes from a vineyard planted to Rhones that's on its way to Demeter Biodynamic certification. A lovely white Rhone blend.

Then a new wine for the Campovida brand - a late harvest Viognier - Innamorarsi. Honeysuckle - yes. And so much more than words could ever say. It comes from the Campovida estate in Hopland, about 2 hours north of Oakland on Highway 101.

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All in all, the wine flowed, with more labels in the back room, and Ridge Wines pouring outside on the welcoming front porch. I hope the wineries were happy - the crowds looked pleased. I heard only one complaint and that was the kind a vintner might like to hear: a lovely Indian couple I sat next to over nibbles of cheese and crackers lamented, "why can't we BUY the wines here?"

Of course, I told them, for Campovida, you could. And they were off.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

VIDEO: Wine Tasting with a Sense of Humor

A breath of fresh air on "How to Taste Wine", courtesy of Full Pull wine shop in Seattle:


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Biodynamic Wine Seminar with Adriano Zago Aug. 5-6 at Montinore Estate

Italian Biodynamic wine expert Adriano Zago will be teaching two days of classes in Biodynamics at Montinore Estate, located in Forest Grove, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. One is for a general audience (Sat.) and one day is for a more targeted industry audience.

The Friday class, aimed at the slightly more technical audience will cover many aspects of Biodynamics including Zago's path from viticulturist to agriculturist. He will talk about the BD preps, cover crops, canopy management, composting and more in the Friday morning session.

The afternoon session on Friday will focus on vineyard soil sampling and how to optimize labor and time for Biodynamic practices. Zago will also cover the cellar program for Biodynamic wines.

The Saturday session is aimed at a more general audience.

On both days, lunch is included; it features Biodynamically grown garden produce from Soter Vineyards.

For more information, a detailed agenda, and registration, click here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

California State Fair Winners

The California State Fair wine competition announced the winners of its 2016 wine competition earlier this week. More than 2,800 wines were submitted from 750+ California wineries.

A total of 55 judges tasted the wines (with the help of 170 volunteers), awarding 115 Double Gold medals ands 230 Gold medals.

The oldest wine competition in the U.S., the event dates back to 1854.

The state fair continues through July 24. Some of the wines will be available for sale at the fair. And wine slushies ($5) will be served.

For a list of all the competition results, click here.

Here are some of the top wines from organic vines that took home medals:

Cucamonga Valley, South Coast

One of my favorite wineries, this Riverside County wonder has 300+ acres of old vines, including some that date back to the 1920's. Its history runs deeps, and it's one of the few wineries left that makes sweet wines - like port and sherry - of distinction. Along with Zinfandel.

Zinfandel, 98 pts., Double Gold ($35)

Port (NV), Best of California, Fortified Dessert Wine

Ancient Angelica, 91 pts., Silver ($33)

Sonoma County, North Coast

The Biodynamic pioneer in Sonoma has some amazing terroir - estate vineyards on Sonoma Mountain and out in Freestone - which is reflected in these Biodynamic Wines, made without additives of any kind (save for sulfites to preserve the wine). You're tasting the actual grapes!

Tribute, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($80)

Pinot Noir-Terra Neuma, Gold ($75)

Cooper Garrod
Santa Cruz Mountains, Central Coast

A Saratoga horse ranch and a winery, created on a former apricot farm, the Cooper Garrod's family winemaking hobby turned into a commercial enterprise - and a medal-winning one at that.

Test Pilot, 2010, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($39)

Syrah, 2012, 95 pts., Best of Class of Region ($33)

McFadden Vineyards
Potter Valley, Mendocino AVA, North Coast

A perennial favorite. From one of my favorite wineries, their best wine.

Brut, 95 pts., Gold, Best of Class of Region ($25)

Friday, July 15, 2016

New Scientific Study Shows Vineyards Adversely Affect Soil Biology

When you plant a vineyard, you look for the right kind of soils. But then, in planting and cultivating that land, you change the microbial life of that soil. So says a new study from University of British Columbia soil scientist Miranda Hart published in Applied Soil Ecology. Hart is associate professor of biology at UBC.

Her study looked at three communities: bacteria, fungi and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.

The three year research project found that bacteria increased in vineyards, stimulated by changes in soil pH. Fungi decreased in response to the lack of biodiversity. Mycorrhizal fungi populations in vineyards were smaller compared uncultivated areas.

Hart's been studying "wild soils" deep in the British Columbia forests for decades. She's begun to work with grape growers in the region, where vineyards are rapidly expanding.

As climate change threatens to warm the North Coast of California and the Willamette Valley of Oregon, many look to British Columbia for the future. In addition, vineyards are proving to be an economic plus for rural BC.

In the span of 25 years, British Columbia has gone from 1,476 acres of vines to 10,260, according to the British Columbia Wine Institute. By comparison, Oregon has 20,000 acres in vines. So BC is now about half the size of Oregon's wine industry in terms of land impact. The region grew from 17 wineries in 1990 to 257 this year.

Hart's concerned about the use of chemicals in vineyards. Farmers have been adding exotic microbes to enhance the soils; these exotic microbes are simply doing what the original soil microbes did.

You can read more about her latest research here.


Monday, July 11, 2016

This Saturday: Oakland's Second Annual Oakland Wine Festival

Bay Area Wine Lovers: no need to drive to Napa and Sonoma this weekend. Dozens of the North Coast's best wineries are coming to Oakland where they'll be pouring at the Oakland Wine Festival.

Organized by Melody Fuller, the festival is now in its second year. I met Melody when we both attended the 2014 Napa Wine Writers Symposium, where she got to blind taste with Robert Parker and impressed the living daylights out of everyone with her ability to blind taste with him. It will be a treat to see how this festival has grown from last year, which was its inaugural year.

The venue is the Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland.

You can attend the festival at a number of different levels of participation:

Saturday Events 

Choose a full day pass that includes everything for $150 or select from a la carte passes for admission to individual events. See the web site for details on ticket prices ($25-55-75-150).

9-Noon - Brunch and Blind Tasting

There will be a blind wine tasting (accompanied by a brunch from 9 am to noon that includes biscuits and bacon) of more than 100 wines for winemakers and attendees.

1 - 3 pm - Intimate Winemaker Luncheon

At noon, you will be able to attend an intimate winemaker luncheon, enjoying a four course lunch paired with wines from the winemaker seated at your table.

4 - 6 pm - Grand Tasting

The Grand Tasting takes place from 4-6 pm and includes dozens of wineries.

7 pm - Winemaker Dinners

Three wineries will offer an intimate winemaker dinner experience at three different venues in Oakland.


There will be morning and afternoon seminars. Napa's rocks will be the topic of a morning session. In the afternoon Sonoma takes the stage.


If you want to make sure to visit (and support) wineries that farm their vineyards organically (we recommend it), check out these wineries and their wines:

100% Organic Estate Wineries

• Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

Everything from this 39 acre St. Helena estate, specializing in Bordeaux wines (Cabernet, mostly) is superlative. The current vintages of red wines are all from vines that were certified Biodynamic.

• Grgich Hills Estate, Rutherford

A historic winery with more than 300 acres of certified vines in 5 locations throughout Napa Valley, this powerhouse carries on making widely distributed Napa Valley wines, including Chardonnay and Cabernet and more.

• Oakville Ranch, Oakville

A tiny winery on a big estate with grand views, this one is perched high on the hills on the east side of Napa's Oakville appellation. Stunning Cabernet and more - the winery won double golds for three of its wines at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. It only makes four wines. And in small lots. This is a must try stop.

• Storybook Vineyards, Calistoga

Nestled in the western side of Napa's northern reaches, this is one special spot. Here, Zinfandel is the object of worship and adoration. Since this varietal is not usually as expensive as Cabernet, you'd be smart to pick up wines of great finesse for less than the cost of their expensive Bordeaux born cousins (i.e. Napa cabs).

Wineries with Some Organically Grown Wines

All of these wineries have organic estates, but many of the wines they make are from growers who are not organic. Ask.

• Chappellet Vineyards, St. Helena/Pritchard Hill

Famous for their Pritchard Hill estate, high above Napa Valley, this "blue blood" of Napa wineries has 97 acres of certified organic estate vines. Look for the Signature Cabernet ($60), which is made mostly from estate vines. (I don't think they'll be pouring their very finest - the Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet - since it's $180 a bottle. But one can hope.)

• Domaine Carneros, Napa

Descended from Champagne's Taittinger winery, this formerly certified organic Carneros estate (332 acres of vines) still has plenty of current release wines from organic vines. Ask to taste them, if you can.

• Laurel Glen, Glen Ellen (Sonoma)

We will be lucky indeed if we get to taste their best Cabernet, which is sourced solely from their Sonoma Mountain estate, which the current owners have brought back to life.

Organic and Biodynamic Viticultural Expert Appointed to Superintendent at Hopland UCCE Station

In 1994, the Fetzer family in Mendocino hired a young plant pathologist just out of grad school to convert their 170+ acres of organic vineyards to Biodynamic certification.

Dave Koball, a U.C. Davis grad with a master's degree in plant pathology from Cornell University, took on that challenge, and stayed with those vines (and more) for more than 22 years.
Dave Koball

These were the grapes that, to a great degree, kickstarted the early era of Biodynamics in California (and later Oregon) vineyards. Jim Fetzer's pioneering work in Biodynamics with Alan York was one of the first steps in that story.

Later Mike Benziger started buying fruit from these vines. He was so bowled over by their quality that he hired York to come and work for him at Benziger.

The Hopland vineyard, with 300+ acres of certified Biodynamic vines, is still today the largest Biodynamic vineyard in the U.S. (a title that is expected to pass to Oregon's King Estate later this year, sit certifies 471 acres of vines).

Last month the Hopland Cooperative Extension Research, part of the University of California, announced that Koball will be joining its team as the Superintendent of HCER. 

Koball managed the 900+ acres of organic vineyards (including those 300+ acres of Biodynamic vineyards) for Fetzer's Bonterra brand throughout three eras. The first was under the Fetzer Family, the second was during the time when the liquor company Brown-Forman owned the winery (1992-2010), and the third is the current era of Vina Concha y Toro S.A. ownership which began in 2010.

Under the Chilean company's ownership Bonterra's wine sales have increased 15 percent, year over year.

During Koball's tenure, the vineyards were studied in various university sponsored research projects on organic and Biodynamic methods including the use of Biodynamic preps in composting (Washington State University) and a new cost study on the comparative costs of growing wine grapes Biodynamically (U.C. Davis). 

HCER has a 5,000 ranch in Hopland where it conducts research on agriculture and wildlife.

In the university's announcement about Koball's new job, Koball says, "I am thrilled and honored to become a member of the knowledgeable, dedicated and enthusiastic team at the University of California Hopland REC. It is my hope that my background in research from earlier in my career and more recent winegrape industry experience will help me to increase the visibility and usability of this gem of a resource that we have here in our backyard."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Soil Not Oil Conference: Aug. 5-6 in Richmond

The second annual Soil Not Oil conference takes place Aug. 5-6 in Richmond bringing together food, climate and ag activists from around the world. The overarching goal is to reduce reliance on chemical, fossil fueled monocultures and increase sustainable farming systems.

Featured this year:

• Vandana Shiva, seed champion
• Bill McKibben, 350.org found and climate activist
• David Montgomery, soil expert and historian, and author of the book, The Hidden Half of Nature.

For more info, see the conference web site at soilnotoilcoalition.org.

For a sample of last year's conference, see Fritjof Capra's 2015 presentation:

The Soil Not Oil YouTube channel has more presentations to view including:

2016 Conference Invite

Soil Not Oil YouTube channel

Vandana Shiva 2015 keynote

Friday, July 8, 2016

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper: Fairyfly to the Rescue

How do you get rid of an invasive leafhopper that destroys acres of vineyards?

In Hopland yesterday, growers in Mendo, Lake and other counties met to hear the latest recommendations from U.C.'s Cooperative Extension researchers studying and learning how to combat invasions of the non-native Virginia Creeper Leafhoffer, a bug that has been plaguing North Coast vineyards.

This leafhopper has been particularly devastating to organic growers, a number of whom have abandonned organic practices in order to stay in the vineyard business, according to UCCE Farm Advisor, Glenn McGourty, who serves in the Mendocino and Lake county region. But, as the latest research shows, there's hope they could return to organic wine grape growing.

At the July 7th tailgate event in the vineyard, Berkeley Post-Doctoral Researcher Houston Wilson presented the latest findings on improved methods on combatting the Virginia Creeper Leafhopper (Erythroneura ziczac).

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper
Credit: Mike Poe, UC ANR Communications
Researchers found a parasitoid, Anagrus daanei, a member of the fairyfly family, one of the tiniest flying insects. A particular strain that exists in the Sacramento Valley is effective in keeping Virginia Creeper Leafhopper populations in the North Coast in check.

The parasitoid also lives in Mendocino, but local specimens have not been going after the Mendocino Virginia Creeper Leafhoppers, which only recently invaded the area.

Virginia Creeper Leafhopper eggs parasitized by the Anagrus daanei
A 2015 pilot program, conducted with the initial support of the American Vineyards Foundation and Fetzer, was successful enough to win funding from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation's Pest Management Alliance grants program for the purposes of rolling out significant numbers of Anagrus daanei to a larger number of vineyard growers.

"We started our initial releases in July 2015 with 2,000 Anagrus daanei, and they spread into the vineyard blocks," Wilson said. Now in 2016, his group has started a much larger release program, with four vineyards in Mendocino and one in Lake County. "And we're looking for new targets," he added.

Houston Wilson
The release program has continued with one release per month at each site. "We've done 13 releases so far," Wilson said. Researchers have been breeding Anagrus daanei in the lab to provide releases of more of the fairyflies.

Wilson said the fairyflies reproduce up about 10 times per season, faster than the leafhoppers.

Use of the parasitoids to control the Virginia Creeper Leafhopper will reduce the amount of pesticides used in fighting the invasive non-native species as well as reduce pesticide costs for both conventional and organic growers.

For more information, or to find out how to participate in the program, visit the project's web site at http://ucanr.edu/sites/vclh/.

Rhone Rangers Mini Tasting in Oakland - July 23

Campovida's Taste of Place Oakland tasting room (near Jack London Square) will host a North Coast Rhone Rangers wine tasting event Saturday afternoon, July 23, from 12-4. (The 12-1 slot is for VIPs). Tickets are $20 in advance or $30 at the door and can be purchased online. If you want to taste during the less crowded 12-1 time slot, add $10 for a VIP ticket.

If you haven't visited this tasting room, it's housed in a historic brick building on what was once Oakland's waterfront.

Who's Pouring

There are 12 featured wineries who will be pouring. The organically grown wines among them include:


Winemaker Sebastian Donoso is my favorite Mendocino winemaker.

Don't miss his Grenache from Dark Horse Ranch's Biodynamic grapes ($42) - a perennial standout and one of my personal favorites.

Also available: 2014 estate Viognier from the certified organic Campo dos Robles vineyard.

In addition, Campovida also has a 2014 Riesling from McFadden Vineyards, a vineyard known for its outstanding Rieslings, which are also made by Napa's Chateau Montelena as well as by McFadden itself.

Ridge Vineyards

This Zin and Rhone powerhouse winery has just converted all of its 200 acres of Sonoma old vine vineyards to organic certification, thanks to many years of effort by vineyard manager David Gates and his team.

Look for its Zin from newly certified organic vines: the 2014 East Bench Zinfandel.

Field Family Cellars 

This Lodi winery certified its Syrah a few years back and may have an organically grown estate Syrah on offer. Check with the winery.


Check out the pleasures of visiting Jack London Square (half a mile away) - for an urban adventure follow the railroad tracks, which used to be the Oakland waterfront.

Or check out the neighbors: the infamous and popular Linden Street Brewery (hipster heaven) and, after 5:30, The Dock restaurant, a casual dining establishment run by Oakland's only Michelin rated chef.

You can also run over to Dashe Cellars, also nearby, and taste some more wines from McFadden vineyard's grapes. Dashe makes a Riesling and a Zin (medium bodied; not a heavy tannic monster) from these vines.

For more information or to buy a ticket, click here.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

So South, My Friends, Go South! Part 3: Testarossa - Three Single Vineyard Wines from Organic Vines

Shame on me for taking so many years to finally head to the South Bay and explore some wineries that have been on my "to visit list" for such a long time. But I was redeemed this past Saturday, when, fortuitously, I escaped the wine country hordes ascending on Napa and Sonoma and instead headed South to Saratoga and Los Gatos, covering two wineries with organic vines and one historic vineyard in the span of one very easy, traffic free day.

My third stop was at Testarossa, a 20,000 case winery in Los Gatos, housed in the 1888 building that was formerly the Novitiate Winery, an historic winery run by monks making altar wine. The winery has been occupied by Testarossa since the late 1990s.

It's not every winery that puts out the welcome mat with a cross or two.

Today the historic structure houses Testarossa Winery, a winery that owns no estate vines, but sources grapes, primarily for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from more than 15 vineyards along the Central Coast.

This historic property first became a winery in 1888.

Displays in the entry hall give visitors a good look at the original views of the property, when the land around it had not yet been built on.

I was interested in tasting the three wines Testarossa makes from organic vines. Two of the three come from the Brosseau Vineyard owned by Testarossa winemaker Bill Brosseau's family, which is located in the Chalone AVA, a remote windy area (near Pinnacles National Monument) famous for its limestone and granite soils.

Winemakers treasure it for its minerality and for its resemblance to the French soils, especially in Burgundy. Burgundy wine freak and genius winemaker Josh Jensen, founder of Calera, was smitten with similar soils in San Benito County.

Brosseau's grapes are sought after by California's creme de la creme of terroirist winemakers, a list that includes Wine Gap, Donkey and Goat and Copain.

So I was looking forward to seeing what Brousseau did with his own vineyard fruit at his day job as winemaker at Testarossa.

The takeaway: nothing is subtle - yet. And his motto is not "live for today." These are age worthy wines, designed to be cellared and then savored.
The 2014 Brosseau Chardonnay, grown on the Chalone vineyard's
limestone and granite soils, was full in youthful flavors.
I look forward to giving it a few years to age.
The 2014 Brousseau Vineyard Pinot Noir was a preview of
what's to come. This wine will be released in Oct. It's a big,
burly Pinot at this stage of its life and made for laying down.
(If you drink it in the next year or two, decant it first.)
I'll look forward to seeing it soften over time in the
bottle, although the tannins are already pretty well integrated.
Winemaker Bill Brosseau clearly had something many years
down the line in mind when he made this wine. 
My favorite wine was the 2014 La Encantada Pinot Noir, from
a Sta. Rita Hills vineyard established and formerly
owned by Richard Sanford, of Alma Rosa, who famously
pioneered Pinot Noir in the region. This was a delicate, drink
now Pinot, which just got 94 pts. from my pals over
at Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wines - and
deservedly so.

Aside from the wines, one of the nicest aspects of Testarossa are the picnicking area
(bring your own or buy a few sundries inside) and the onsite outdoor wine bar (pictured here) with food.
It's cool, green and, on weekends, features live (mellow) music - the perfect place to
lounge the day away in an unhurried atmosphere. So much more relaxed than Napa, where
food cannot be served (or even brought in, in most cases, due to county restrictions) and where
big crowds and high turnover rates make this slow pace a rarity. Go south, my friends, go south!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Napa Winegrape Growers Organic Conference To Feature Three Organic Vineyards and Growers

Growers and vintners: mark your calendars. Napa Valley Grapegrowers' Organic Winegrowing Conference, which happens only every other year, is July 21, will kickoff at Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.

The registration fee is $300. (This is not an event for consumers).

This year's event features Renata Brillinger of CalCAN (California Agriculture and Climate Network) as the keynote speaker (at 8 am).  Her topic is Climate Policy: Trends and Opportunities for the Wine Industry.

(You can see some of CalCAN's videos on climate change and ag on their website here.)

Following her remarks, the attendees will split up into three groups; each group will spend time at each of the three vineyards. Hosts and vineyards include:

1. Steve Matthiason, Matthiason Vineyards, Oak Knoll District AVA

Matthiason will cover vineyard practices that promote biodiversity and weed control equipment. Robin Gerber of Spotlight Brands will provide sommelier perspective on marketing organically farmed wines.

Matthiasson, a vintner as well as a prominent vineyard management consultant, has extensive experience in tending organic and Biodynamic vineyards, including Araujo Estate (now Eisele Vineyard).

2. Ivo Jeramaz, Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley

Jeramaz, who directs vineyards and productions at Grgich Hills, oversees 366 acres of organic wine grapes (in 5 AVAs), which are the sole source of Grgich Hills Estate wines. It's the winery with by far the most acreage in Napa and the second largest in that category in California.

(Napa Wine Co. in Napa has 557 acres of organic vines, but sells most of its grapes to area vintners; Bonterra is the winery with the most number of estate acres - 911 - followed by Grgich Hills.)

The Grgich Hills tour will take place at their Yountville Vineyard, a site famous for its very old Cabernet vines, a rare Inglenook clone planted back in 1959, and which today produces their Yountville Selection Cab ($185).

Here's a video about the vineyard:

In the 1990's, the vines started to be overtaken by virus and experts advised that the vines be pulled out. In a famous moment in the estate's history, Jeramaz consulted experts who recommended Biodynamic practices that enhanced the vines' health, so that the plants could co-exist with - but not be overwhelmed by - the viruses.

This group will focus on the benefits of organic farming in promoting vineyard longevity along with the economics of organic wine growing and carbon sequestration as one of the many benefits of dry farming.

3.  Macy Stubstad (vineyard manager) and Frederick Ammons (winegrower, winemaker), Rudd Oakville Estate, Rutherford AVA

Rudd Oakville Estate's presentation with Macy Stubstad (vineyard manager) and Frederick Ammons (winegrower, winemaker) will focus on transitioning to organic viticulture in both new and existing vineyards. The duo will discuss what organic standards certification requires, replanting, and geology and terroir.

Currently Rudd has 47 acres of estate vines which it began getting certified in 2015. If all goes well, its estate will be certified in 2017. Stubstad already oversees organic certification on Rudd's Edge Hill vineyard. Rudd is also considering whether to certify its 17 acre Mt. Veeder estate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go South, My Friends, Go South! Part 2: A Trip Down Memory Lane at Pioneering Kathryn Kennedy's Historic Saratoga Vineyard

Shame on me for taking so many years to finally head to the South Bay and explore some wineries that have been on my "to visit list" for such a long time. But I was redeemed this past Saturday, when, fortuitously, I escaped the wine country hordes ascending on Napa and Sonoma and instead headed South to Saratoga and Los Gatos, covering two wineries with organic vines and one historic vineyard in the span of one very easy, traffic free day.

My second stop was at Kathryn Kennedy's vineyard, a one acre remnant of her original eight acres in the heart of what is now suburban Saratoga, where the surrounding houses fetch as much as $2.5 to 5 million. (The site is located at 13180 Pierce Road in Saratoga; it shows up in Google maps searches.)

At the time Kennedy planted the vineyard, in 1973, she had two reasons for doing so. One, as a single mom with four children, she said she had to have a way to hold onto her land and make the land pay for itself. Another reason, she said, was that she was protesting the massive development of the surrounding land that was then taking place, when suburban homes for Silicon Valley workers displaced the longstanding traditional agriculture - apricot and plum orchards, along with vineyards. 

What remains of her original vision today is due to her son, Marty Mathis, who has persistently preserved this one acre viticultural outpost. You cannot "visit" the premises, as there is no tasting room, but you can drive by, park on the side of the road, and reminisce about the past.

Marty Mathis with his mother, Kathryn Kennedy, in 2007
Mathis continues to make world-class Cabernet from the vineyard as well as an organically grown Bordeaux blend (under the Lateral brand) made from Napa's finest vines.

Like the Cooper Garrod family up the road, Kennedy was inspired by the high caliber of the winegrowers and winemakers in the region which included Martin Ray, Mt. Eden Vineyards, Ridge (Montebello), David Bruce and others. (Both David Bruce and Ridge Vineyards were among the wineries that bested French wines in the famous Judgment of Paris competition in 1976). 

She moved to Saratoga as a mom, with her first child - to the property the vines grow on - in 1949. It was tasting a Martin Ray cabernet (from the neighboring winery) in the 1950's that got her into wine. (George Cooper of Cooper Garrod may have been similarly inspired). She also credits watching the vineyard workers tending a Cabernet vineyard across the road with her interest in growing grapes and making wine.

Kathryn Kennedy in 1949, on the land she later planted as a vineyard
In 1973 she planted her first vines, which were own-rooted Cabernet, from cuttings she got from David Bruce. It was a bold move. Few new vineyards were being established in the region, as the action had moved to Napa and Sonoma.

She prepared for developing her vineyard by attending viticulture classes at U.C. Davis, a move that was unusual for a woman at the time.

She planted 3,300 Cabernet vines with the help of her family and friends.

When the vines were mature enough to harvest, she sold two vintages of grapes to Mt. Eden Vineyards (up the road).  In 1979, she released her own first vintage.

The winery continued to operate under her direction from 1979-1988. 

Later, her son Marty began to take a more active role, and in 2007, under his guidance, the vines were certified organic by CCOF.

Kathryn Kennedy died in 2009, from cancer, at the age of 82. But her wines live on. As does her vineyard.

Enjoy these photos, from my Saturday outing.

The good news is you can still drink this wine.

Look for the 2010 and the latest vintages of Kathryn Kennedy's Cabernet Sauvignon ($99/bottle) online at the winery web site (sold by the case only) or via wine-searcher, K&L wine merchants, totalwine.com and more. 

The 2010 vintage received a 90 pt. rating from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. 

Go South, My Friends, Go South! Part 1: Historic Cooper Garrod Vineyards Preserves Santa Clara County's Agricultural Legacy

Shame on me for taking so many years to finally head to the South Bay and explore some wineries that have been on my "to visit list" for such a long time. But I was redeemed this Saturday, when, fortuitously, I escaped the wine country hordes ascending on Napa and Sonoma and instead headed South to Saratoga and Los Gatos, covering three wineries that make wines from organic vines in the span of one very easy, traffic free day.

My first stop was at Cooper Garrod Vineyards, a 2,200 case winery in tony Saratoga, housed on the 1893 ranch established by the Garrod family that later became the Cooper-Garrod Ranch and Cooper-Garrod Vineyards.

This charming old property, just off the road to Mt. Eden (Martin Ray's historic winery), is that great Silicon Valley rarity - a farm straight out of Santa Clara County's great fruit era when the area was filled with apricots and plum orchards. In those days, "cutting 'cots' (apricots) was the big activity. 

Today there are no more orchards, but the family has adapted to the changing economic times.
The Cooper-Garrod clan survived the demise of the region's fruit industry at first by becoming a horse ranch. Today, the 120 acre property is surrounded by some of Silicon Valley's most expensive homes (average price: $3-4 million, give or take), and borders, riders and riding students from the surrounding area flock here for equestrian pleasures.      

Today 28 acres are planted to vines and the boutique winery makes 2,000-2,200 cases of 10+ estate wines each year, including 100% varietal wines from French wine grapes (Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; Burgundy varietals - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; and Rhone varietals - Syrah and Viognier.) 
My favorite wine, by far, was the superb Cabernet made from George's Vineyard, from the Martin Ray cuttings, planted in the 1970's. Alas this wine was sold out; sold primarily to the wine club, it's more difficult to find.

Cooper Garrod Vineyards also makes four blended wines from its organic estate vines, which it brands under the Test Pilot label. The name refers to the illustrious flying career of winery founder George Cooper, who took up home winemaking when he retired from a career as a pilot and later a NASA researcher in 1973. 

In his lifetime, George Cooper flew more than 140 different aircraft, including many of the fastest planes of his day. The World War 2 pilot also flew on D-Day.

Bitten by the wine bug after he retired, he planted vines from cuttings he got from Martin Ray, whose famous estate vineyard was just up the road. George made wine for the family for 20 years before the family decided to go pro and became a commercial, bonded winery in 1994. George lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labors, passing away this spring - just one month short of his 100th birthday.

Today George's son Bill Cooper is the winemaker; his wife Doris Cooper is responsible for the winery's marketing. The two retired from careers in the Foreign Service before taking over the winery reins. The next generation - Bill Cooper's nephew and George Cooper's grandson, Ben Cooper - is now assuming more winery responsibilities.

The vines were certified organic, vineyard by vineyard, starting in 2009 to 2012 (and continue to be today). All are dry farmed.

The winery itself was also certified organic in 2012. Subsequent vintages are bottle labeled "Made with Organic Grapes."

The first Saturday of every month, the down home winery opens its doors and offer a free vineyard and winery walk and talk tour with the winemaker (at 11 am) which is what finally got me down there this fine weekend. They also offer quarterly eco-tours, highlighting their sustainability activities.

On Sundays, the winery offers free, live music from 1 to 4 pm. It's an opportunity to bring a picnic (the tasting room sells no food), buy a bottle of wine, and enjoy. (No outside beverages permitted).

You can also arrange to go for a trail ride (one hour, $65) for an additional fee. Wine tasting is $10. Wine prices range from $29-45.

Enjoy these photos.

Cooper Garrod vineyards and winery are located down the road from the old
Martin Ray Estate (today Mt. Eden Vineyards).

The 1922 vintage Fruit House today serves as the tasting room.
The Saturday "Walk with the Winemaker" Tour
The first vines were certified organic in 2009
Winemaker Bill Cooper leading the Saturday tour
Touring the barrel room
Wine samples
The tasting room
The tasting room was once a warehouse for fruit storage
George Cooper in his pilot days
Pilot memorabilia
All the aircraft George flew

The horse facilities; the Cooper Garrod ranch offers hourlong trail rides
(as well as boarding services and riding lessons)
The gorgeous views from one of the riding rings
The shaded picnic area