Friday, January 5, 2018

Moving On Up (The Central Coast): Verdad and Qupé's New Arroyo Grande Tasting Room Rings in the New Year

 Sally Dalke and Janae Shaper-Brolin

Used to be that Los Olives was a sleepy little town. That was back in the days before the movie Sideways made Santa Barbara County the place to go for Central Coast wine tasting. But no more. Today Los Olivos is as precious as St. Helena in Napa County or Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

Qupé and Verdad used to have a tasting room in Los Olivos, until they took on an investor who promised to, among other things, give them the hottest spot in town - inside Mattei's Tavern. That was until Charles Banks IV, the new owner, was convicted of wire fraud in 2016 and lost his fortune and his reputation. He also lost the tavern, For Qupé, it was time to regroup, rethink and relocate.

The result is a fabulous new tasting room in the uncrowded town of Arroyo Grande, 15 miles south of San Luis Obispo, 45 miles south of Paso Robles, and 45 miles north of Los Olivos. That makes it accessible to wine tourists going to Paso or the Solvang-Los Olivos area. The new location in Arroyo Grande is also right on the well trafficked road to Pismo and Avila Beach.

The tasting room site is also much closer to Qupé's estate vines - the Biodynamically farmed Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard - in nearby Edna Valley. Here the coastal influences cool the site enough to produce what Eric Asimov of the New York Times calls "the best Syrah in America."

I would add that in addition to the Qupé Rhone estate wines, the Sawyer Lindquist Pinot Noir, also from the estate, should not to be missed. I served it (among 4 different Pinots) at Thanksgiving, and put it on my list of top bottles of 2017.

For those who don't know Verdad and Qupé, the wineries were created and run by the Lindquist family.

Qupé is one of the great California producers with deep roots in the Central Coast wine region and has a longstanding commitment to sourcing its wine from organic and Biodynamic vines as essential elements in creating the best quality wines.

Little known fact: on the winemaking side, the Qupé estate wines are also notable (in my mind) for being  certified "Biodynamic Wine," which means that no additives (except for a small amount of sulfite) can be added. This approach relies heavily on the pure flavors of the grape. You can count on one hand the number of great California estate producers who are willing to bet the quality of their wines on their grapes to this extent.

Vintner Bob Lindquist was one of the original Rhone Rangers. He saw the potential for great Syrahs in California, before that was "a thing," founding Qupé in 1982. In 2015, The Rhone Rangers honored him with a lifetime achievement award.

Louisa Sawyer Lindquist started in the wine business on the East Coast where she worked for the first winery on Long Island. Later she became involved in wine selling at Lauber Imports in New York, Julliard Alpha Wine and Spirits and at Southern Wine & Spirits in San Francisco before meeting Bob Lindquist. She began selling Qupé wines, but later launched her own label, Verdad, devoted to Spanish varietals (Albarino, Grenache and Tempranillo).

For many years her Biodynamic rosé was my absolute favorite (and I used to buy cases and cases of it). Sadly this wine is no longer made solely from Biodynamic estate grapes, following Charles Banks' investment in Qupé.

The Lindquists acquired their Edna Valley vineyard in 2002. The vineyard was farmed Biodynamically from the beginning. It was originally planted by Philippe Armenier and, since 2013,  has been owned and managed by Brook Williams who brought in Philippe Coderey as the Biodynamic vineyard consultant.

Here in the Arroyo Grande tasting room, for a mere $10, you can sip and savor all of these great wines, plus their Pinot, with a view of this charming small town that feels more like a community, and less like a tourist trap.

The wines themselves will continue to be in the location of your dreams - in a dramatic setting in the Santa Maria Valley. The winery will be open twice a year for special sales just as it has been for the past several decades.

There's a turntable in the tasting room with a bunch of vintage tunes - check out their collection. Bob is also a great Dodgers fan and there's a wine club trip to see a Dodgers game each and every year.

Here's to a happy - and prosperous - new year for Verdad and Qupé in their new home.

Louisa and Bob Lindquist

Celebrate Napa's Newest Organically Certified Vines From Matthiasson Wines

For many years, Steve Matthiasson has been a leading viticultural light in Napa (and sometimes Sonoma), where he's tended some of the most famous organic vineyards. His clients at Premiere Viticultural Services (which he founded with his business partner Garrett Buckland) include a who's who list of top tier Napa clients. Among them are Eisele Vineyard (formerly Araujo Estate), Acumen (a new label from Atlas Peak I'll be writing more about soon) and Spottswoode.

On the winemaking front, he's been one of the "cool kids" of Napa for wine-buying hipsters from the Mission and the main man sought out by somms for the delicate flavors he strives for in his wines.

On top of that, the Matthiasons also represent the dream of the hardworking young couple able to find a tiny corner of Napa to buy a vineyard and a house in and then - wowsa - make it in the wine business (without having a family fortune tucked in their back pocket already).

When the Matthiasson were starting their winery, Steve and his wife Jill Klein Matthiasson got the property certified organic. But they made a simple mistake, and lost their CCOF certification. Now after a hiatus of several years, they've come full circle on their Oak Knoll Matthiasson Vineyards property - going back to organic certification (through Stellar Organic Certifications, the organic side of Demeter USA) for the vines that they tend and make into wine under their Matthiasson Wines label.

There, on their home vines, they explore lesser known varietals - Refosco, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Schiopettino - as well as familiar faces - Cabernet France, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

But the Matthiasons have gone further than their own vines, sourcing grapes selectively from some of the other, fine organic sites in Napa. Count Harms Vineyard (a Biodynamic vineyard that Matthiasson now farms) and Yount Mill (certified organic since the early 1990s) among them. Altogether, they use fruit from a total of 10 vineyards - of which 5 are certified organic and 2 are in transition to organic certification.

Check out this list of the wines from certified vines below. (And note that since organic certification takes three years to achieve, you can count on 2015 and 2016 vintages to have been farmed organically as well as the 2017 vintages.)

Certified Grapes

• Cabernet Franc (2017)

• Cabernet Sauvignon - "Dead Fred" (2017)

• Chardonnay - Harms Vineyard (all vintages)

• Chardonnay - Linda Vista (2017)

• Pinot Meunier - Yount Mill (all vintages)*

• Refosca (2017)

• Ribolla Gialla (2017)

• Schioppettino (2017)

• Semillon - Yount Mill (all vintages)*

• Sweet Vermouth (sold out)

The process of getting certified isn't that much thank you to Steve and Jill and all the other people who worked on this for making the extra effort.

Can't wait to try them all!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

dosa by DOSA: Oakland's Hot New South Indian Restaurant Debuts with Horse & Plow Wine on the Drinks Menu

dosa by Dosa, the new Oakland offshoot of San Francisco's South Indian restaurant opened this month in Oakland and is attracting quite a good lunch crowd, as I've observed today while enjoying a banana turmeric lassi (a combination that's new to me but could be addictive) this morning and watching the place fill up.

The South Indian inspired menu features some dishes not found at its big sister in SF - a breakfast menu with egg dosa or ham and egg dosa, and, on the regular menu, a habanero mango dosa. You'll also find a chennai fried chicken, as well as tandoori chicken (excellent) on the small plates menu. (Both were, to my taste, quite spicy. If you like things a little less spicy, they are able to accommodate. Next time.) Delicious.

A shout out to the wine director for selecting two organically grown wines (out of a wine list of 11 wines by the glass or bottle). That's a ratio of nearly 20%. Wouldn't it be nice to see that more often everywhere you go?

The wines from organic vines are the Horse and Plow Chardonnay and The Gardener's Sonoma County Pinot Noir, both of which are made in Sebastopol. (You can read more about Horse and Plow and The Gardener here.)

Check out the restaurant online or follow them on Instagram.

Dosa by Dosa is located at 2301 Broadway, in what is fast becoming the hippest part of downtown Oakland - the neighborhood around Impact Hub. With all the Millennials in downtown Oakland's new apartments, I'd expect them to do a rip-roaring business for takeout - online ordering for pickup is available through the web site. And there are enough menu options to keep you coming back for more - it would take weeks to work your way through all the salads, small plates, dosas, wraps, and rice bowls.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Flash Sale! $99 A Case for Organically Grown Bokisch Albarino

Bokisch is putting on a Flash Sale on its 2015 estate Albarinos. Sale ends Jan. 8. Hurry!

This wine normally sells for $18 a bottle. The sale price is $8 a bottle for an estate grown, organically farmed beautiful white wine. This is a wine that regularly receives Best of Class awards in various wine competitions. I kid you not.

Monday, January 1, 2018

8 Things I Learned about Los Angeles Wine History from Reading Thomas Pinney's Fabulous New Book The City of Vines

Thomas Pinney's new book The City of Vines: A History of Wine in Los Angeles is the first, definitive guide to what happened - mostly in the 1800's - in Los Angeles, the first city of wine in California - a chapter of history that has escaped notice by most of us today.

Two years ago, on what was meant to be a quick trip to LA, I decided to spend two days in the Cucamonga Valley, visiting wine history sites including Galleano winery (certified organic vines) and Rancho de Philo (not organic but equally historic) - both of which I consider to be national wine history treasures. (If this was the East Coast, they'd be treated with the same reverence as Sturbridge Village.)

Two days turned into two weeks - the whole area and its wine history was entrancing.

I traveled to Mission San Gabriel and several other Missions and photographed Ramona, the mother vine. I went to Galleano, near Riverside, three times. I wandered on foot next to freeways, looking at 100 year old dry farmed vines, certified organic, that went into ethereal $20 Zinfandels that no one has ever heard of.

Galleano's historic Jose Lopez Vineyard: the vines by the freeway are nearly 100
years old and made delicious wines. Certified organic and dry farmed, they grow
to just 18 inches high. 
I developed my taste for sherry, and learned about the pleasures of Rancho de Philo and Galleano's award-winning sweet wines and this year purchased a case of the Rancho de Philo. I'm getting an order ready for the Mary Margaret from Galleano now. Both have won international awards in London and elsewhere around the globe.

Rancho de Philo sherry

Here was a forgotten river of history...New World winemaking from Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Native Americans, Englishmen and the French dating back to the 1830s. And who knew about it? Not my big wine writing friends at the LA Times. Not Food & Wine magazine. Not my wine loving friends in Santa Monica and Venice.

Union Station was built over what used to be vineyards.

full-size image
Los Angeles was mostly vineyards as you can see in this 1848 map
On that trip, I bought a beautiful map by Michael Hart, the former vice president and general manager of the Sunny Slope Water Company in Pasadena, who, when he retired in 2008, spent three years researching and making maps of the early days of the region. A few of his works are on display at Mission San Gabriel.

An understanding of water sources was critical to the history of the winemaking.

So it was a great pleasure to read Pinney's book, which is a way into this world for the average reader who doesn't wish to devote two weeks of driving around the greater LA area in search of history (although I recommend that and would be happy to guide anyone who was interested on such a trip, for a small fee).

Here are 8 things I learned from Pinney's book.

1. LA Had a Grape Arbor a Quarter of a Mile Long

Bordeaux native Jean Louis Vignes, early LA's most famous and venerable winemaker, had never intended to come to Los Angeles nor to pursue winemaking in the New World, but instead had spent five years in Hawaii.

By 1833, he owned 104 acres in the heart of the city. His great vineyard was called El Aliso, after the giant, 400 year old sycamore on his site.

Pinney writes that El Aliso featured, "an arbor covered in vines that ran a quarter of a mile down to the river through the vineyard. This was one of the public attractions of the town..."

2. Bird Control = Slingshot + Stones

Keeping birds from eating the grapes was a tedious job. As Pinney tells us in a quote from Captain Phelps, who visited in 1842, "I observed...a scaffolding on which an Indian boy is stationed in the morning and remains throughout the day with a hat full of stones and a sling, with which he keeps away the crows and blackbirds who would otherwise destroy half the crop."

In addition, Angelenos had to fend off wolves, foxes and squirrels from their grapes.

3. California's Role as the Nation's Supplier of Wines Was Well Underway in the mid 1800s

By 1858, Kohler and Frohling (who later occupied the Glen Ellen estate of Jack London before the famous writer bought it) had already begun to make inroads into selling in major cities on the East coast.

4. Prohibition = Record Prosperity for Wine Grape Growers with Sales Doubling

Before Prohibition, commercial wineries made 55 million gallons of wine a year. During Prohibition, commercial growers sold enough grapes for home winemakers to make more than double that amount - 111 million gallons.

That number grew exponentially during Prohibition. Pinney writes, "In 1920, the first year of Prohibition, 26,000 cars of fresh grapes left California; by 1927, the peak year the count was 72,000 cars."

Not only that, but prices went up. "The prices paid for these grapes was the highest growers had ever received - up to $185 a ton..."

Grape acreage grew in California from 300,000 acres in 1920 to nearly double that amount - 577,000 acres - by 1926. (Today, acreage is around 550,000.)

Pinney writes, "twice as much wine was made at home as had been made commercially...As one wit put it, America might have become a wine drinking country if Prohibition had lasted long enough."

5. Prohibition Led to the Growth of the Central Valley as a Wine Growing Region

The boom in grape growing mostly took place in the Central Valley, where, Pinney writes, "new vineyards were limited only by the availability of water."

6. Prohibition Led to Quantity Over Quality

Hence, Alicante Bousquet gained in popularity, as it produced grapes in abundance.

7. Italians Dominated the Industry Only After Prohibition

No one knows why.

8. Whiskey Production Limitations During WW2 Led Distillers to Buy Wineries and Market Wine Through Advertising

Pinney: "Historically the distillers had no interest in the winemakers. That suddenly changed when the government directed that all whiskey production would cease on Nov. 1, 1942, and the distilling capacity of the whiskey firms devoted to producing industrial alcohol...By 1943, the distillers were the biggest players in the California wine game."

"After the war, the distillers got out of the wine business rather quickly," but they created the expensive advertising that promoted California wine, an enduring legacy. "They had money and used it to promote wine as no one in California had yet done, by print, outdoor, and radio advertising. Americans, even in those many regions essentially unacquainted with wine, now had wine thrust upon them."

I've touched upon only a few moments in the book, which is filled with revelations that will surprise and delight. Resolve to read it in 2018.

Postscript: I should also mention that Pinney is the author of UC Press book A History of Wine in America, another definitive history of wine. The second volume of that book won a prestigious award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals as the best book on wine, beer and spirits.

In addition, The City of Vines received a best book award from the California Historical Society

And, of course, throughout most of this history, pesticides were not used (until after about 1945).