Category Archives: wineries

Sweetzer Cellars tasting room Lompoc

California’s New Urban Tasting Rooms

by Xochitl Maiman  August 8, 2017

California wineries are taking their tasting room experience out of the vineyard.

California is home to some of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, boasting over 600,000 acres of wine grape vineyards. A winery’s vineyard is often an integral part of their tasting room experience, providing the backdrop for tasting, touring, dining and entertainment.

Sweetzer Cellars tasting room LompocBut there is a new tasting room experience emerging in California, with nary a vineyard in sight. The garagiste movement, having taken a strong hold in the state, especially in the Central Coast regions of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, created the need to come up with new ways to attract wine tasters without the lure of the vineyard setting, as many of these small production wineries do not actually own any vineyard acreage. Now communities of tasting rooms, some in industrial park settings, are providing the inquisitive wine consumer with the unique opportunity to taste these limited production wines, most often with the winemakers themselves, in tasting room settings that often reflect their own unique personalities.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Santa Barbara County, home to Sta. Rita Hills and 5 other prestigious wine grape growing regions, now has a quickly growing community of tasting rooms in Lompoc, just a 20 minute drive west of Buellton, off the 101 freeway. With over 2 dozen tasting rooms to choose from, there is no shortage of exceptional wines to be tasted.

3 to visit:

Artisan Uprising – David and William Vondrasek, two brothers from Reseda, California, began making wine “for family enjoyment” in 2001. Their passion evolved and the 2012 vintage became their first official bottling under the Artisan Uprising label. In 2016 they moved into the Wine Ghetto where they have created an intimate, inviting and laid-back environment in which to enjoy their wines and their company. You can generally find both brothers on the weekends pouring wine and chatting up guests while inviting them to pick out their favorite vintage vinyl to play on the turn table. Whether it’s Cat Stevens, the Beatles or the Monkees you choose, don’t miss out on their chocolate and wine pairing featuring truffles from Ethel M.

Wines: Rosé of Malbec, Merlot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Petit Sirah

Case production: 700-800 annually

Artisan Uprising Lompoc Tasting Room

Sweetzer Cellars – Lisa and Michael hail from the neighborhood where I grew up, West Sweetzer Cellars tasting room LompocHollywood, California, where they began to make wine in their white-carpeted apartment in 2008. By 2013 they had turned their hobby into “what they do”, producing uniquely styled wines using grapes sourced from the Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Paso Robles. Lisa’s exuberant personality shines through as she presents each wine in the two tasting flights offered.

Wines: Chardonnay, Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir, including a number of single vineyard bottlings.

Case production: Approximately 1000 cases annually

Ampelos Cellars – Peter and Rebecca Work named their winery after the Greek word for vine – a tribute to the vineyard and their close ties to Greece, where they were married. Their Sip-Certified vineyard is maintained through organic and biodynamic farming methods, exemplifying  the Work’s respect for the environment and their desire to produce wines that reflect the terroir from which they come. This environmental respect is also evident in their comfortable tasting room which features many “up-cycled” design elements.

Wines: Viognier, Rosé of Syrah, Syrah, Grenache, Pinot Noir

Case production: Approximately 5,000 cases annually

Ampelos tasting room Lompoc

Tin City in Paso Robles

Tin City Paso Robles Tasting Room

In the last three years, this urban hub of tasting rooms has become home to over 20 small local producers of wine, hard cider, beer and spirits. Names that are quickly becoming synonymous with artisan quality like ONX, Clos Solene, Cordant/Nelle, Brian Benson and Nicora, just to name a few. Many of these tasting rooms are open only on the weekends or by appointment, so check ahead – it’s definitely worth the extra bit of effort. Tin City is located just east of the 101 Highway, just a few minutes from Downtown Paso Robles.

Downtown Paso Robles Wineries

Asuncion Ridge Wines Paso RoblesThe charming and historic Downtown area is the place to go for shopping and dining, with restaurants featuring just about any kind of food you’re craving after a full day of wine tasting. The area is also a wine tasting destination in and of itself. Just park your car and stroll the area stopping in at any of the over 20 tasting rooms, each with its own unique atmosphere and friendly tasting room hosts, often the winemakers themselves. Taste the diversity of wine Paso Robles has to offer – Spanish, Italian, Rhone and Bordeaux varietals – everything from Albariño to Zinfandel.

Music plays a big part in the Downtown tasting scene, with many of the tasting rooms offering live performances by local talent on the weekends. In fact, if you’re a musician as well as a wine enthusiast, don’t miss the vintage guitars at Gary Kramer Guitar Cellars, the movie music memorabilia at D’Anbino Cellars, or a tasting with musician turned winemaker, Denis Degher, at Domaine Degher.

If historic buildings are your thing, visit Derby Wine Estates in the circa 1922 “Almond Growers Building”, or Anglim located in the train station.

Frolicking Frog Cellars is located in a jewelers shop in case you’re looking for a little something shiny and special to take home along with your wine. Seven Oxen is located just inside the entrance to Thomas Hill Organics, one of the area’s most popular restaurants.

So next time you plan a wine tasting trip to California’s Central Coast, day trip or extended vacation, leave some room in your agenda to visit and experience these urban tasting areas. I’m sure you’ll come home with a trunk full of new favorites – I always do.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Wine Tasting in Downtown Paso Robles

by Xochitl Maiman – January 7, 2017

Downtown Paso Robles offers a comprehensive wine tasting experience that’s still a secret to many touring and tasting visitors to the area.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesThe Paso Robles wine region of Central California is no longer the secret of locals and wine writers on the lookout for the next best thing. Nope, Paso Robles is now a major player in the California wine scene, in fact, it was named “Wine Region of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2013.

The region, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and named for its oak studded rolling hills on either side of the 101 freeway, boasts over 200 bonded wineries, many of them with tasting rooms along various wine trails zig zagging through the hills. Visitors can literally spend days touring and tasting on the various “wine trails”.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesWhat is still somewhat of a secret is that there are over a dozen tasting rooms located in the charming and historic downtown area, offering myriad wine varietals and styles for every palate. These tasting rooms generally represent smaller boutique wineries that aren’t equipped with an “on site” tasting room facility to receive guests, or are just too far off the wine trails to be easily found.  Most of the wineries belong to the Paso Robles Downtown Wineries Association, and each offers a unique tasting experience. Many also offer live music performances in the late afternoon and evenings on weekends.

Strolling Downtown Paso Robles

The trick is to actually plan to spend a few hours downtown – simply park your car and stroll the streets surrounding the downtown park, stopping  to taste wine, have lunch, and shop at any of the wonderful stores boasting food goods, clothing, home décor, antiques and collectibles. Alternatively, you could spend a few hours tasting, then relax with some music in one of the tasting rooms  before heading to dinner with your new favorite wine in hand.

If you’re planning a trip to Paso Robles, you might consider planning to be there when the Downtown Tasting Rooms have one of their “wine strolls”, usually once during each season. This is the perfect opportunity to meet many of the winemakers/owners themselves, and each tasting room generally offers a food pairing to showcase one of their wines. Many also offer music and wine specials during these events.  The group also does similar walk-around events to benefit various charities, like Zoo to You and Wine 4 Paws.

I haven’t visited all the downtown tasting rooms yet, and more have opened recently, but here are a few standouts I would suggest.

D'Anbino Cellars - Downtown Paso RoblesLocated in the historic train depot, just a couple of blocks from the Downtown Paso Robles Park, are Anglim Winery, producing wines primarily from Rhone varietals, and the very unique tasting room of D’Anbino Cellars.  Co-owners John D’ Andrea and Carmine Rubino, come from the music industry and their tasting room is like a TV and film music museum with much of their music memorabilia on display. The tasting room bar is made of piano sound boards and the whole place doubles as a much sought after music venue featuring some of the finest musicians in California, with concerts 2-3 times a week.  Their annual “Italian-night” is a ton of fun.

LXV Wines - Downtown Paso Robles

Photo Credit: LXV Wines

LXV is one of the most unique tasting rooms you will probably ever experience. Here your senses are aroused by the color of the walls, the texture of the fabrics of the couches, the smell of spice, and, of course, the taste of their beautifully crafted wines with labels inspired by the 64 arts of Kamasutra.

For most unique building, Derby Wine Estates, located  in an iconic Downtown Paso Robles landmark, is the place to visit. Erected in 1922, the building was a processing plant for the Almond Growers Association for the period of time when almonds were the area’s prime agricultural commodity. The building went through a number of incarnations before being purchased and meticulously renovated by the Derby’s in 2010. Call ahead for a “reserve  tasting” in their lofty “Almond Room” with stunning views of the surrounding hills.

Derby Wine Estates - Downtown Paso Robles

Photo Credit: Derby Wine Estates Facebook page

Frolicking Frog  also boasts a unique location as it shares space with a jewelry store, fitting as owner/winemaker Stu Goldman is also a jeweler. The “jewels” of his winemaking include rich, lush wines made from zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and other red varietals.

Parrish Family Vineyard not only offers wonderful wines, both red and white, but their family history is deeply rooted in the Paso Robles area. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day when David Parrish or his daughter, Cecily, is there, do ask for the family story while you sip one of their delicious zinfandels or Cabernets. Don’t miss the “Silken” blends, both white and red versions.

Downtown Paso Robles WineriesTo learn more about the Paso Robles Downtown Wineries visit their website or follow their Facebook page

Download and print tasting guide and map of Downtown Paso Robles Wineries tasting rooms.

 

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Spending the Day With the Rhone Rangers

by Don Sonderling – August 13, 2016

The Rhone Rangers Tour Comes to Los Angeles

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

With a flourish The Rhone Rangers rode into town on Saturday, August 6th hosting a grand tasting event at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  The day’s program started in the morning with a winemaker seminar (Red & White Rhone Blends), followed by a winemaker luncheon, giving attendees the opportunity to chat with winemakers while tasting a variety of rosé and white wines produced from Rhone varietals.  The Grand Tasting followed in the afternoon.  Over 40 California Rhone wine producers poured a diverse assortment of wines for a thirsty, enthusiastic crowd of about 600 Rhone wine devotees.

This  event offers wine enthusiasts the chance to sample wines from small, boutique wineries, to familiarize themselves with different styles, blends and individual varietals, and in many cases, talk with the winemakers themselves.

Jason DiFrancesco, owner/winemaker of LEVERAGE Wines, from Paso Robles, was especially excited to present his initial release of Rhone wines, which included a rosé, a Grenache/Syrah blend (Acceleration) and a GSM (Trajectory).  About the event Jason commented, “Events like the Rhone Rangers afford new boutique brands like mine to have personal interaction with those enjoying our wines.  For now, that’s our best way to have Rhone style Paso wine enthusiasts try these limited production wines.  Folks in Paso, Orange County, and Phoenix can visit our website and request a tasting appointment at our partner wine locations until we hopefully grow into a tasting room in the future”.

Rhone Rangers-Four Brix Winery
Four Brix Winery from Ventura California poured five different wines, including a 2011 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre and 2012 Rhondezvous-Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Counoise, both from Paso Robles, giving the taster an opportunity to compare two similar, but slightly different and most interesting wines.

 

The Santa Barbara region was well represented by such standouts as Larner Vineyard and Winery (with the affable Michael Larner pouring), Beckman Vineyards, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Kaena Wine Company, and several others.

Sculpterra Winery at Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Paso Robles, well recognized for their Rhones, was represented by wineries such as Sculpterra Winery, Epoch (pouring their always standout Block B Syrah), Calcareous, Derby Wine Estates, Pomar Junction, Cass, Villa Creek and more than a dozen others.

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles Tasting 2016

Not to be left out, the Northern part of the state was represented by wineries such as Bonny Doon, Chacewater, Kale Wines and Ridge Vineyards, to name but a few.

Bringing together such a varied assortment of wineries in one location provides the opportunity to taste and compare wines made from the same grapes, but from a variety of geographic “terroirs”, and experience and evaluate their differences or similarities.   In addition to contrasting how terroir and weather influences the flavor characteristics of the varietal, perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of a varietal specific tasting is the opportunity to try varieties of (Rhone) grapes that are uncommon.  The Rhone varietal family consists of 22 grapes, and tasters at the event were able to sample lesser known varieties such as Picpoul, Ugni Blanc, Cinsault and Counoise.

For this writer, personally, perhaps one of the most exciting parts of attending events like this is the opportunity to re-visit wineries I haven’t been able to get to for several years.  Suddenly you take a sip and say to yourself:  OH My!  I’ve got to get back up there!  Many of us (myself included) get in the habit of visiting comfortable favorites and old friends, so attending the Rhone Rangers and similar tasting events helps to break you out of your comfort level, and expose you to entirely new and exciting wine encounters.

For more information on the Rhone Rangers, what they do, and upcoming events, visit their website

Cheers – hope to see YOU at a Rhone Rangers event soon.

I’ll Drink to That!

A Taste of the Sta. Rita Hills

by Donald Sonderling – May 2016

Fess Parker Winery - Sta. Rita Hills

Sta. Rita Hills: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and “Pinks” for Good Measure

The Sta. Rita Hills AVA, located about two hours north of Los Angeles in the stunning wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, produces world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the picturesque Central Coast area of California. With a total area of 30,720 acres, the area is home to over 59 vineyards, totaling 2,700 hundred acres planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and 18 other cool climate wine grape varieties.

Last month the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance  hosted their annual “road trip” at the Wine House in West Los Angeles, providing a unique “under one roof” opportunity to taste and compare a vast selection of wines from many of the areas wineries.  Each of the wines were reflective of the myriad terroir and micro climates, and of course the individual expressions of the winemaker.  James Suckling’s comment on the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Pinot Noir couldn’t be more apt:  “I am in love with Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  They are bold and rich wines, yet balanced and refined with wonderful freshness and length.”  (Tasting Report:  California’s Sta. Rita Hills).

Hitching Post "Pinks" - Sta. Rita Hills Pinot NoirAlthough Pinots and Chardonnays were the main focus of this event, Hitching Post was pouring their 2015 “Pinks,” a fun, vibrant dry rose blend of 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Valdiguie.  As Hitching Post’s Gray Hartley describes this wine, “this Pinks exemplifies our attitude that we take our fun seriously.”  Indeed, this is a fun, happy wine to pop open, especially on a warm spring or summer afternoon – it will put a smile on your face.

Several of the wineries represented are well known, such as Foxen Canyon, Fess Parker and Hitching Post.  However, also represented was a significant number of small, boutique wineries, including:  Kessler-Haak, Pali Wines, Flying Goat, Longoria, Clos Pepe, The Hilt, Crawford Family Wines, Montemar.

The wineries with tasting rooms are  primarily located in Santa Barbara, Buelton, Los Olivos and in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Los Olivos, over the past several years has grown into a vibrant “Tasting Room Town” and is a wonderful way to easily explore over 40 different wineries from the area.  The same can be said of Lompoc and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which is a unique industrial park with close to 20 tasting rooms.  Having the opportunity to try so many wines from so many producers, (many of these wineries either have no tasting room, or their hours are very limited), made this a very special event.

A visit to any of these areas and wineries is a must for the wine enthusiast looking to experience wine that is truly an expression of place.  A Taste of the Santa Rita Hills gave those in attendance an opportunity to do just that.  A special “Thank You” to the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance and The Wine House  for hosting this event.

Complete listing of the winery members of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

An Afternoon of Tasting at Hahn Family Wines

by Xochitl Maiman – March 6, 2016

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Hahn Family Wines exemplifies the quality of premium wine being produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA of California.

When viewed from above, like from an airplane, the patchwork quilt-like patterns in which agricultural areas are laid out have always interested me. I love the color variations, the vastness of the open space, and the precisely marked out parcels that seem to stretch on forever.view of the Salinas Valley from Hahn Family Wines

So it makes sense that I have viewed many a map of the vineyard locations of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA , 6,100 acres overlooking the Salinas Valley, with fascination and awe. There they are, 50 vineyards sewn in to the hillside’s topography – vineyards like Gary’s, Boekenoogen, Manzoni, Mer Soleil, Pisoni and Doctor’s – where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes flourish and find beautiful expression due to the fog and cooling breezes coming off Monterey Bay.  Last October, I was finally able to visit the region, and the beauty of the mountainside vineyards and the fertile valley below was truly breathtaking!

As part of a group of wine journalists and bloggers, I had been invited to visit the area’s Hahn Family Wines for a tour of the estate vineyards and wine pairing luncheon. With the gorgeous valley as a backdrop, we were first given a show and tell overview of the region by Andy Mitchell, Hahn’s Director of Viticulture, and a member of the Hahn team since 1998.  He also explained the history of Hahn Family Wines beginning with founder, Nicolaus ‘Nicky’ Hahn’s vision over 30 years ago, of the potential of the area to support world-class vineyards.

Andy Mitchell, Director of Viticulture, Hahn Family Wines

Today, son, Philip Hahn, oversees the four estate vineyards in the area and an additional two in Arroyo Seco , from which are created wines for their three labels: Hahn, Hahn SLH and Lucienne.

ATV tour of Hahn Family Wines estate vineyardsAfter our pictorial overview, it was time to get up close and personal with the estate’s vineyards…and view. To my utter delight and excitement, we were escorted to ATV’s for the ride up..and up…and up to about 900’ in elevation.  An exhilarating ride – so much fun!  The reward for a little blown out hair, ( I refused the branded baseball cap offered – vanity, you know),  was a view not only of the valley, but also of the estate’s vineyards, which cover an expansive 650 acres. Basically, beauty every which way you turned.

 

vineyard view from Hahn Family Wines

LA Wine Writers at Hahn Family Wines

duck confit tacos at Hahn Family Wines

After the obligatory picture taking frenzy, we then gathered in a pavilion to enjoy duck confit tacos with a cherry reduction sauce presented by Executive Chef Dyon Foster, paired with a line-up of their Lucienne label single vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaker, Greg Freeman, took us through the wines, explaining the differences in vineyards, elevation and the 4 major contributing factors to differences in the wines: fog, sun, wind and clones. Indeed, each wine was quite different, but all were elegantly styled with great acidity, earthy aromas and bright fruit.

Lucienne Pinot Noir at Hahn Family Wines

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Another thrilling ATV ride down the hill brought us back to the viewing deck where luncheon tables had been laid.  The menu looked promising and it would end up being an incredible display of culinary deliciousness!

Hahn Family wines Pinot Gris

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3730

Wild Caught Sablefish, Risotto, Beurre Noisette – just amazing!

Hahn Family Wines - SLH Chardonnay

IMG_3731

Pork Medallion, Cranberry and Corn Polenta

IMG_3733 IMG_3734 IMG_3737

Turns out making wonderful wine isn’t Greg’s only talent…..IMG_3745

Suffice it to say that a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey County would not be complete without a visit to Hahn Family Vineyards.  Pack a picnic, arrange a walking or ATV tour, and get acquainted with the wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Hahn Family Wines - Santa Lucia Highlands

I’LL DRINK TO THAT! – I would like to express my gratitude to our hosts at Hahn Family Wines for their gracious hospitality and for providing us with a complete, informative and delicious experience while visiting their beautiful estate. 

Related story: Carmel-by-the-Sea: A Weekend Food and Wine Getaway

 

 

Putting in a Good Word for California Pinot Noir

Xochitl Maiman – November 10, 2015

If you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir.

I’m often asked what my favorite wine is.  My usual answer is, “depends on what I’m cooking”.  With that said, my “go to” wine is Syrah, simply because it goes well with many of the foods I like to cook. Hearty pastas, risotto, braised or roasted meats all compel me to reach for a syrah or syrah blend.

However…if you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir. My experience with these wines was rather limited until about 10 years ago when I attended my first Pinot Days event in Los Angeles. Spread out before me was an entire airplane hangar full of nothing but pinot noir from many of the best pinot producing regions of the world. After a couple of hours tasting there, and a pinot noir pairing dinner the night before, it became apparent to me that the stylistic differences from region to region, vineyard to vineyard and winemaker to winemaker,were vast. Nuanced expressions ranged from light, earthy and elegant, to lush, full and fruit forward, and much in between. There began my fascination with pinot noir and my quest to taste new pinots at every opportunity. At this point in my pinot “education”, the wines with the earthy, peppery qualities seem to be my favorite. But I also enjoy the brighter, fruitier styles – again, it depends on the way I will be drinking it and with what food, if any. Great acidity in these wines makes many of them a perfect pairing for myriad foods, including the eclectic collection of tastes and textures that is the Thanksgiving table.

While I have a long way to go in my quest to taste the Pinots of the world, what I have discovered for sure is that there is beautiful pinot noir for every palate being produced in  a number of American wine regions with tremendous success. So it was with some offense that I read David Lynch’s recent statement in Bon Appetit Magazine (Everybody Wants Some – November 2015), “Look to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the best American Pinot terroir.” I admit, I’m not fully versed on the Pinots from the Willamette Valley and I know there is wonderful wine bring produced there. But I felt this statement was too exclusive. What about California??

So in all fairness, I’d like to give a shout out to three California wine regions that are turning out stellar pinot noir, and I hope you’ll consider exploring them a bit, experiencing the different terroir, pairing with your favorite foods, and coming to your own conclusions. (Tough challenge, right?)

Three California Pinot Noirs to Try

California Pinot Noir

Santa Lucia Highlands – The esteemed vineyards of this area are located on the hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. They are cooled by the fog and breezes coming off the Monterey Bay, making this an ideal area for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

One to try: Lucienne 2013 – Hook Vineyard – $50.00 – During my initial tasting of this wine, I was intrigued by its complex tannins and look forward to tasting again on its own and paired with food.  Wine spent 14 months in French Oak, (40% new) (Hahn Family Wines)  –  221 cases produced

Sta. Rita Hills – Located on California’s Central Coast in Santa Barbara County between the Santa Rosa Hills and the Purisima Hills – the east-west coastal valley vineyards of this area are cooled by the breezes coming off the Pacific ocean. Poor marine-based soils limit vine vigor and crop yield, intensifying grape flavors.

One to try: Weatherborne 2012 – $35.00 – (grapes sourced from the John Sebastiano and Melville Vineyards) – 225 cases produced .  When I first tasted this wine, early summer 2015, owner/winemaker, Cris Carter, was also pouring his 2013 vintage. Among the tasters I was with, it was pretty much split down the middle on which vintage they preferred. I found the 2012 a bit lighter and earthier and the 2013 brighter and fruitier. Both were well made and quite delicious in their own way, and I look forward to future endeavors from this label.

Russian River Valley – Sonoma County  – Morning fog coming through the Petaluma Gap from the Pacific Ocean cools the vineyards, but burns off during the day creating a large diurnal temperature variation.

“There are very few common Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley. Certainly, given the number of producers (in the hundreds), the level of quality is extraordinarily high…” – Steve Heimoff

One to try: Fog Crest Vineyard – 2012 – Estate Bottled – $55.00 – This wine blends the elegance and earthiness qualities I enjoy with beautifully integrated dark fruit, cola and spice.                 600 cases produced.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to taste the pinot noir of the United States and of the world, and with so many choices, this could take a while. A great place to start would be the upcoming Pinot Days event being held in Los Angeles November 21st. (other cities hosting event in 2016)

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

The Garagiste Festival – Celebrating the Artisan Winemaker

Xochitl Maiman – August 2015

The Garagiste Festival offers wine enthusiasts endless adventures in wine discovery.

The Garagiste Festival

As their website describes it… “Garagiste, a place for the underground, the different, and the cutting edge of small production winemaking with no rules.” The Garagiste Festivals, now at three per year, embody this definition and showcase the artisan winemakers of California, all with production under 1500 cases of ultra-premium, hard-to-find wines. Indeed, many of the wineries have no tasting room and their production is so small you won’t find their wines on store shelves. So, the only way to explore and experience these wines and the artisans that create them, is at one of the 3 annual festivals.

The first Garagiste Festival was held in November of 2011 in Paso Robles as a way to showcase the garagiste movement which had clearly taken a hold in that wine producing region. The event also served to raise funds for the Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture Program, which provides future winemakers with an education in all aspects of the wine business from the vineyard to the table. The Festival continues to support this program and its young winemakers of the future. With the movement growing throughout the California wine producing regions, and interest and awareness growing on the part of the wine consumer, the annual event schedule has grown to accommodate 3 festivals – adding festivals held in the Santa Ynez wine growing region of Santa Barbara County and in Los Angeles.

Garagiste Festival Paso Robles 2015Traditionally, the Santa Ynez Garagiste Festival, named “Southern Exposure” is held in the spring, the Los Angeles Garagiste Festival, “Urban Exposure” in the summer, and the Paso Robles festival in the fall.  So with just one more event left for 2015, now’s the time to save the date for November 7th. Actually, the November Festival has been expanded to include events over a 3-day period, beginning with a “5th Anniversary Dinner” at the Carlton Hotel in nearby Atascadero on Thursday, November 5th.  A “winemaker mixer” follows on Friday, with a series of events scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, including seminars, the Grand Tasting and an after-party.

With all the wine tasting events held every year, the Garagiste Festivals are my favorite, providing a fun and unique opportunity to taste wine while meeting and chatting with the actual winemaker. Hearing from them personally, as opposed to distributors or reps, takes the tasting experience to a much higher, memorable and more meaningful level.

While I have made friends of many of these winemakers over the years and enjoy visiting with them and tasting their new releases, I also always look forward to meeting the “new guys” or first-timers to the festival. Dozens of varietals and blends means there is something for every palette. From Albarino to Viognier, this is one tasting event you won’t want to miss.

Garagiste Festival at Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles 2015Here are some of my favorites from this year’s Southern Exposure and Urban Exposure Garagiste Festivals:

Alta Colina Vineyards – Paso Robles – Consulting winemaker: Jeff Cohn  Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Grenache Blanc
  • 2011 GSM

Archium Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemakers: Zack Jarosz & Ian Sergy  Cases per vintage: 300

  • 2013 “Haven” Grenache

Ascension Cellars at Garagiste Festival 2015Ascension Cellars – Paso Robles   Winemaker: Erick Allen   Cases per vintage:1000                         Fruit sourced from the CASS Vineyard.

  • 2013 Halo Viognier
  • 2013 Gossamer Wings White Rhone Blend

Artisan Uprising – Paso Robles – Winemakers: William & David Vondrasek   Cases per vintage:275

  • 2012 Merlot
  • 2012 Malbec

Diablo Paso – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Enrique Torres   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2014 Albarino – Edna Valley
  • 2013 Tempranillo

Larner Winery – Santa Barbara –  Winemaker: Michael Larner   Cases per vintage: 800

  • 2014 Malvasia Bianca
  • 2010 Elemental GSM

MCV Wines – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Matt Villard   Cases per vintage: 500

  • 2014 Viognier

Shai Cellars Garagiste Festival 2015Shai Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Shawn Shai Halahmy  Cases per vintage: 350

  • 2009 Adome (65% Syrah/35% Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2009 Grenache

Stanger Vineyards – Paso Robles – Winemaker: JP French   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2008 Syrah, Library Reserve
  • 2010 Master (55% Cabernet Sauvignon/36% Syrah/9% Tempranillo)

Tercero Wines – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Larry Schaffer  Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2010 The Climb (Syrah/Petite Sirah)

The Farm Winery – Paso Robles  – Winemaker: Santiago Achaval   Cases per vintage: 650

  • 2011 Touchy-Felly (Grenache/Syrah)
  • 2011 The Big Game (Cab/Petit Verdot/Syrah)

Vines on the Marycrest – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Victor Abascal   Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Summertime Rosé

Weatherborne Pinot Noir Garagiste Festival 2015Weatherborne – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Cris Carter   Cases per vintage: 400

  • 2012 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

The Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles, is scheduled for November 5-7, 2015. The fall is a beautiful, and popular, time to visit wine country. Plan your visit early by booking your lodging and ordering your Festival tickets as soon as possible.  For more information on The Garagiste Festival events, participating wineries, and to purchase tickets, visit The Garagiste Festival website.

Wine is an adventure, with every bottle offering a new experience. Thank you to the passionate and talented garagiste winemakers for your perseverance, dedication and for sharing your art. Thank you also to the outstanding team at The Garagiste Festival for bringing all these fine winemakers together under one roof where we can meet and celebrate them and their wines. Happy 5th Anniversary!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Wine Pairing Dinner in California’s Gold Country – The Independent Restaurant & Bar

by Xochitl Maiman – July 2015

The sun was setting in spectacular fashion over the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado County, which meant it would soon be time to head over to the evening’s scheduled wine-paired dinner at The Independent Restaurant & Bar in Placerville.

Sunset over El Dorado Wine Country, California

Day 1 of a recent trip to El Dorado’s Wine Country in the Sierra Foothills of California ended, also in spectacular fashion, with a wine-paired dinner that showcased half a dozen of the beautifully crafted Rhone wines of the area, from three different wineries.  The winery owners/winemakers were present at the dinner, which gave us, (a small group of wine writers), an opportunity to learn more about their stories as their wines were poured. The location was The Independent Restaurant and Bar in Placerville, expertly managed by Ben Carter, who was our gracious and doting host for the evening.  The food was “white tablecloth”, but the atmosphere of The Independent is comfortable in a chic, rustic, neighborhood favorite sort of way – a “go to” restaurant for any occasion.

Our winery hosts for the evening were Josh Bendick of Holly’s Hill Vineyards, Carey Skinner of Skinner Vineyards and Winery and David Girard and his wife Sandy Raney of David Girard Vineyards. I was especially happy to meet Josh as I had tasted his Rhone varietal wines a number of years ago and have been an ardent fan ever since. In fact, all the wines that evening were of Rhone varietals, which thrive in this area – all elegantly crafted with great varietal characteristics. After introductions all around, we sat down to our first course and wine pairing…..

Winemaker dinner menu at The Independent Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

First Pairing: Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2013 Grenache Blanc

Holly's Hill Vineyards Grenache Blanc

Eggplant Bruschetta - The Independent Restaurant and Bar Eggplant Bruschetta: Chinese Eggplant, Cherry Tomato, Shallot, Basil

Notes: Holly’s Hill has 11 Rhone varieties planted and produces between 4000-5000 cases per year. The Grenache Blanc vineyard is 6 years old. 2013 Grenache Blanc has a full mouthfeel, opening up to good acidity with some baking spice in the finish.

Second Pairing: 2013 Skinner Vineyards & Winery – Seven Generations Walnut Prawn Salad - The Independent Restaurant and Bar

Walnut Prawn Salad: White Tiger Prawn, Mixed Greens, Avocado, Candied Walnuts, Orange Wedge, Walnut Vinaigrette

Notes: With vineyards as 1400 feet and 2200 feet elevation, each with different soil composition, Skinner’s Rhone varietal wines take on unique characteristics indicative of “place”. The “Seven Generations” is made from 52% Grenache Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne, 9% Viognier, 2% Picpoul Blanc. Full, luscious mouthfeel, balanced with minerality and acidity.

Third Pairing – 2013 Holly’s Hill Viognier Steamers at The Independence Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

Steamers – Manila Clams, Mussels, White Wine Garlic Shallot Broth

Notes: This ripe, crisp Viognier was just lovely with this dish – ‘nuf said.

Fourth Pairing: 2011 David Girard Coda Rouge – 46% Mourvedre/36% Syrah/15% Grenache/3% Counoise

Notes: Most of David Girard’s 36 acres of granite vineyards, planted in 1998, are dedicated to Rhone varieties.  This red blend was light on the palatte, but with great fruit and a bit of baking spice on the finish.

Salmon and Risotto at The Independence Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

Honey Almond KIng Salmon – Grana Padano & Leek Risotto

Fifth Pairing – 2012 Skinner Mourvedre

Filet Mignon at The Independence Restaurant and Bar in Placerville, CA

Certified Hereford Filet MIgnon – Grilled Asparagus, Peppercorn Demi Glace

Sixth Pairing – 2010 David Girard Syrah

Chocolate Cheesecake with David Girard Syrah at The Independence Restaurant and Bar Placerville Ca

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Needless to say, the evening was enjoyed by all – each course a culinary delight, and another great opportunity to focus taste the wines from the El Dorado wine producing region – a region offering tremendous diversity, (50 grape varieties planted) and worthy of further exploration. With over 70 wineries in the region, this could take some time….

Special shout out to The Independent’s culinary team: Ryan Montgomery, George Fechter, Andrew Starr and Michael Moreno for an outstanding menu!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Wine Country Beef Stew is a Dusi of a Recipe!

by Xochitl Maiman – May 17, 2015

Paso Robles Wine Country Cooking for a Crowd – Dusi Family Beef Stew

Wine night happens pretty regularly around our house. And for those of you who know me and are saying, “Isn’t that every night?”, well, yes could be the answer. But, I’m referring this time to gatherings of thirsty wine-loving friends that happen every couple of months, ranging in size from 6 people to more than 40. But whatever the size, one of the challenges is figuring out what to feed my guests that is delicious, satisfying, wine friendly and can be prepared in a large quantity and ahead of time.

East this with Paso Robles wine - cookbook cover

In my quest this year to cook my way through my friend, Lisa Pretty’s cookbooks, “eat this with Paso Robles Wine”, volumes 1 and 2, I came across a recipe for Beef Stew… with a provenance.

Sylvester and Caterina Dusi immigrated to the United States from Northen Italy in the 1920’s, settling in Paso Robles. In 1945, along with their three sons, Guido, Dante, and Benito, they purchased land on the west side of Paso and planted Zinfandel. It is on this estate and in this esteemed vineyard that Janell Dusi was raised with the vines and today makes wine under the label of J. Dusi Wines. The highly sought after fruit from the the Dusi Vineyard is also used by other Paso Robles wineries such as Turley, Tobin James, Brochelle and Cypher.

Janell Dusi

Last year I had the opportunity to tour the Dusi Vineyard, meet Janell and taste a number of wines from different producers using Dusi Zinfandel. While nuances varied from wine to wine, the common denominator was rich, ripe, bold wines with layers of flavors. All would pair nicely with a hearty beef stew. (Visit my Dusi Vineyard Tour photo album)

Stew and polenta has been a Dusi family favorite for generations, and Janell shared her family’s recipe with Lisa for publication in Volume 2. Like most cooks, I couldn’t resist “tweaking” the recipe a bit, but the result was probably the best beef stew I ever made. Of course, Zinfandel is wonderful with this stew, but other red wines pair nicely too, making it the perfect dish to serve when many different wines are being tasted. While I didn’t have any of Janell’s wines on hand, I did have a bottle of Parrish Family Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel (not Dusi fruit) that I was anxious to try and turned out to be a delicious choice.

So gather some friends, open some bottles of zinfandel, get out your stock pot and give this recipe a try, The recipe below is my version for a crowd, but can easily be cut in half. Please, also check out the original recipe in Lisa’s book, along with all the other Paso Robles wine country recipes to share with family and friends at “wine night” at your house.

DUSI BEEF STEW WITH POLENTA – Serves 16

Dusi Beef Stew

Stew:

4 lbs cubed lean stew meat

3/4 cup flour mixed with 2 tsp instant espresso powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning, salt and pepper

Olive Oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

Parrish Family Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles

1 1/2 cups celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal

10 large carrots (rainbow if possible) sliced on the diagonal

2 large leeks, dark green parts removed, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced

2 lbs of baby white fingerlings, scrubbed and sliced in half lenthwise

8 cups of beef broth

1 bottle of dry red wine (I used Primitivo)

2 Tablespoons anise flavored liquor ( I used Jagermeister)

1 Tbsp each dried oregano and basil

1/2 cup of coffee

1 sm can tomato paste

2 ozs dried wild mushrooms (re-hydrated in boiling water for 20 minutes – then drain, and coarsely chop. RESERVE LIQUID

1 cup sweet baby peas

For the Stew: Toss the cubed beef in the flour mixture. Heat 3 T. olive oil in large skillet – Working in batches, add meat to pan (do not overcrowd) and brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed.

In each of two dutch ovens, heat 3 T. olive oil. Add half the onions to each pot, cooking on med-low for a few minutes. To each pot add half the garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and potatoes. Stir and cook for 3 minutes over med high heat. Add the beef broth, wine, liquor, coffee and herbs, half to each pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer while preparing mushrooms.

In skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook till beginning to soften. Add all but 1 T. of the can of tomato paste to the pan. Stir to cook paste. Add reserved mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to retain any sediment. Cook mushroom mixture a couple of minutes then stir into stew pots. Cover pots and simmer stew on low 2-3 hours till meat and vegetables are tender. If stew is too thin, remove cover and cook till desired consistency. Five minutes before serving, add the peas.

Polenta: 

1 stick of unsalted butter

1/4 c olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

3 c. chicken stock

2 c half-and-half

2 c whole milk

2 c polenta

1 container mascarpone cheese

1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Fried onions (like Durkee)

Crumbled gorgonzola

For the Polenta: Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly sprinkle the polenta into the hot liquid, stirring constantly with a whisk. (Grandma Dusi said to always stir in one direction) Cook, stirring constantly until polenta thickens and bubbles. Stir in mascarpone and parmesan cheeses and continue to cook, gently, stirring, until polenta is tender ( 5-10 min). Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper if desired.

To Serve:

Place 1/2-3/4 cup of polenta in pasta bowl. Ladle stew over polenta. Top with fried onions and crumbled gorgonzola.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

 

 

 

 

The Wines of El Dorado County – Part 1 Skinner Vineyards

by Xochitl Maiman – April 13, 2015

Skinner Vineyards – Where the past is the driving force for the future.

On a recent visit to El Dorado Wine Country in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California, it became apparent that the new “treasure” of this historic “gold country” is wine. The choices of tasting experiences are abundant and diverse – the area has more than 2,000 acres planted, producing 50 grape varieties for more than 70 wineries. With so much to cover, this post will be the first in a series, each looking at the area from a slightly different perspective or focusing on a specific winery.

The “gold rush country” of  California is rich with history and so it makes sense that many of the wineries in the region have deep historic roots. Such is the case with Skinner Vineyards and Winery

After a series of serendipitous events led to the discovery of  family ties, dating back to winemaking in the Sierra Foothills in 1861, Mike and Carey Skinner began to acquire property near where they learned the original Skinner Winery site had been.  In 2006, compelled and inspired by the story of Mike’s great-great-great grandfather, James Skinner, Mike and Carey began to build their “state of the art” winery in Somerset, near the area’s hub city of Placerville, and reclaim their family legacy. The winery was built with respect for the environment and the land that connected the generations to one another, and the family plans on taking their sustainable farming practices to 100% organic by 2016.

In addition to Rhone varietals, the Skinners have planted some of the heirloom varietals known in James’ time, but long forgotten, in hopes of bringing their past into the present to carry forward into the future. Their wines are testament to the fact that the region is perfectly suited for growing Rhone varietals. With their vineyards at different elevations, winemaker, Chris Pittenger, has myriad choices of the same varietal to craft the wines, creating nuances in the palate that make them exciting to pair with different foods.

Skinner Vineyards

1861 – an homage to Skinner HIstory

Shortly after my return from El Dorado, I attended an LA Wine Writers luncheon at the West RestaurantHotel Angeleno, which featured Skinner Vineyards wines, wonderfully paired with dishes created by executive chef, Laura Scollan.

mussels and risotto

White Wine Steamed Mussels – Curried Risotto – Spring Peas – Paired with 2013 Seven Generations White Blend

Skinner Vineyards Grenache

Seared Ahi Tuna – Vegetable Sushi with Beurre Blanc – Tempura Asparagus – Paired with 2012 Grenache

Duck Breast

Crispy Duck Breast, Marinated in Allspice/Orange Sauce – Coconut Bamboo Rice – Ginger-Honey Glazed Baby Carrots with lemon,honey, rosemary and thyme – Paired with 2010 and 2012 Eighteen Sixty-One Red Blend

Teres Major with Skinner Vineyards Wine

Teres Major – Truffled Potato Gratin with garlic, cream,rosemary and parmesan – Roasted Romanesco – Paired with 2012 Mourvedre and 2010 Syrah

Learn more about Skinner Vineyards and their wine region of El Dorado by following their Facebook page.

Wineries of El Dorado video

Watch Wineries of El Dorado County – video

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!