Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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!

The Rhone Rangers Ride into Los Angeles

reported by Xochitl Maiman

Rhone Rangers – American Rhone wines take center stage at the Skirball Cultural Center – Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Rhone Rangerswine tasting Los Angeles Rhone Rangers are a group of 150 wineries dedicated to making wines from the 22 grape varieties originally made famous in France’s Rhone Valley. These varieties range from the better-known Syrah and Viognier to the lesser known Grenache, Mourvèdre and Roussanne, to the more obscure, but equally intriguing grapes like Counoise and Picpoul.

This summer The Rhone Rangers will hold their Grand Tasting  as part of a full day of events, including a seminar, luncheon and silent auction featuring rare and unique wine and lifestyle lots. The seminar, moderated by Wine & Spirits writer Patrick Comiskey, will focus on Rhone blends and a panel of winemakers will weigh in on the art of blending Rhone wine varietals.

Participants include:
Kale Wines – Kale Anderson, owner/winemaker
Larner Vineyard – Michael Larner, winemaker/general manager
Qupé – Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker
Ridge Vineyards – David Gates, vice president of vineyard operations
Tablas Creek Vineyard – Jason Haas, partner/general manager
Tercero Wines – Larry Schaffer, owner/winemaker
Two Shepherds – William Allen, owner/winemaker

The winemaker luncheon will showcase a variety of rosé and white wines paired with a sumptuous buffet served on the patio overlooking the beautifully landscaped Skirball grounds.

The event continues with the grand tasting and will feature over 40 wineries. This walk around tasting will provide the unique opportunity to meet the winemakers and winery owners and begin to understand their passion for making wines with Rhone varietals. New this year in the grand tasting is a VIP lounge with seating, food and specially selected wines to sample.

Ticket Options
Saturday Pass: Winemaker seminar, luncheon and VIP grand tasting – $150
VIP Pass: Early admission to the grand tasting and the VIP area – $85
Grand tasting: General Admission to the grand tasting. 2:30 – 5:30pm – $65
All Los Angeles events are taking place at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 North Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90049. Parking is complimentary.

Tickets are available online.

Look to your favorite Rhone producing winery for ticket promotions.

At the time of this posting the following wineries were scheduled to pour:

Adelaida Cellars – Andrew Murray Vineyard – Beckmen Vineyards – Bernat – Bonny Doon – Broken Earth Winery – Calcareous Vineyard – Cass Winery – Chacewater – Clayhoue Wines – CONSILIENCE WINES – Derby WIne Estates – Ecluse WInes – Epoch Estate Wines – Fess Parker & Epiphany – Four Brix Winery – Halter Ranch Vineyard – Hearst Ranch Winery – Jaffurs Wine Cellars – Kaena Wine – Kale Wines – Kaleidos – Kenneth Volk Vineyards – Larner Vineyard & Winery – Leverage – Lone Madrone – Martian Ranch & Vineyard – Morgan Winery – Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery – Qupe – Record Family Wines – Ridge Vineyards – Rock Wall Wine Company – Sculpterra Winery – Stolpman Vineyards – Tablas Creek Vineyard – Tercero Wines – The Withers Winery – Treana & Hope Family Wines – Two Shepherds – Villa Creek Cellars – Vina Robles – Zinke Wines



Summer 2016 Wine Tasting in Los Angeles

by Xochitl Maiman – July 4, 2016

It’s summer 2016 and Southern California wine enthusiasts have three great reasons to plan a visit to Los Angeles!

Three of the year’s best wine tasting events are headed to the Los Angeles area to be held at three of the city’s most iconic and diverse venues. The Garagiste Festival, celebrating  the small production artisan winemaker, rolls into LA on July 9th and will be held at the Art Deco masterpiece that is The Wiltern. Pinot-files will be delighted with the Stars of Pinot on July 20th at the famed Sofitel LA in Beverly Hills. On August 6th, enjoy the wines of the Rhone Rangers, winemakers producing wines from the 22 grapes of the Rhone wine growing region of France. This event will be held at the Skirball Cultural Center, with it’s distinct modern architectural design serving as the backdrop for an afternoon of sublime wine tasting.

wine tasting Los Angeles Garagiste FestivalThe Garagiste Wine Festivals are the first and only wine festivals dedicated to the undiscovered and under-recognized artisan ‘garagiste’ producers who are making some of the best, most exciting, handcrafted small-lot production wines in California. Most of these wineries do not have tasting rooms and do not sell their wine in stores. These festivals provide a unique opportunity for the wine consumer to get acquainted with over 60 of these winemakers under one roof and taste their wines and feel their passion for their craft. If it’s variety you’re looking for, the wines poured at the Garagiste Festival represent all your favorite varietals and many you’ve probably never heard of.

Get up close and personal with the garagiste winemakers on Saturday, July 9th at the 2nd Annual Garagiste Festival – Urban Exposure in Los Angeles at the historical and gorgeous Wiltern Theater. This day’s events include a winemaker seminar, Rare and Reserve tasting and Grand Tasting. To preserve an intimate experience for consumers with one-on-one interaction with winemakers, tickets are very limited for the Garagiste Festivals and always sell out.

Details and ticket information.

wine tasting Los Angeles Stars of Pinot 2016

If you are obsessed with Pinot Noir, like I am, then, yes, Los Angeles has something for you too! The Stars of Pinot returns to the Sofitel Hotel on July 20th, and will feature over 200 wines from 60 of the world’s top producers.

Details and ticket information.

wine tasting Los Angeles Rhone RangersHave you heard of Viognier, Marsanne, Counoise or Mourvedre? These are just 4 of the 22 wine grape varietals of the Rhone wine region of France. Perhaps you’ve heard of the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, but maybe you’re just not sure what grapes are in those bottlings? The Rhone Rangers are a group of 150 wineries dedicated to making wines from the grape varieties of the Rhone and many of these wineries are riding into Los Angeles on August 6th to share their spectacular expressions of these grapes with you. Learn from the winemakers themselves why they love to work with these grapes. Find out what really is in a GSM blend. Taste the difference between cool weather Syrah and the Syrah from the hotter growing regions like Paso Robles.

Join over 50 of the Rhone Ranger wineries at the Skirball Cultural Center on Augustus 6, 2016. The day’s events feature a winemaker seminar and luncheon beginning at 11am and a Grand Tasting beginning at 2:30 pm, with VIP access at 1:30pm.

Details and ticket information.


Artisan Uprising

by Xochitl Maiman – January 30, 2015

Before the popular Garagiste Festival brought about awareness of the artisan winemaker movement in the Central Coast, two brothers from Reseda, California were beginning their own “artisan uprising”.

The Vondrasek Brothers-Aritsan Uprising

David and William Vondrasek had been following a decades old family tradition started by their grandfather, of making wine for family enjoyment. Their first home vintage was in 2001, but it wasn’t long before they were producing more wine than they could drink, so….well, you know the story….one thing leads to another and in 2012 they celebrated the release of their officially licensed first vintage of Artisan Uprising.

Artisan Uprising wine Paso Robles

“Art is what you do with the science”

Having already developed a winemaking style that they felt was unique, David and William also wanted their branding to convey their message and their desire to build up the artisan winemaking movement. While their wine, made from fruit sourced from two premium Paso Robles vineyards, clearly reflects their artisan touches, the label on the bottle serves as the gateway to the concept. Created by one of the Vondrasek sisters, the label depicts an artist “leaving everything behind him except the tools he needs to create his art.”

These dedicated “artisans” shared their wines with a small group of wine writers yesterday, presented with the divine culinary stylings of Executive Chef Laura Scollan, of WEST Restaurant and Lounge at the top of the Hotel Angeleno. (Note: I’ve attended wine tastings in some very interesting and often historic venues in Los Angeles. Oddly enough, having lived in L.A. my entire life, I had never been inside the iconic round hotel located just off the infamous “405” freeway at the Sunset Blvd. offramp. While previously owned by the Holiday Inn chain of hotels, it is  now privately owned and completely renovated, feeling very much like a boutique hotel)

Our wine pairing luncheon was served in a private suite one floor below the restaurant, (views were spectacular in every direction!) and closely supervised by the hotel’s food and beverage director, Steffen Mrowczynski. Each course was presented by the Chef and served by an excellent wait staff.

Course 1: 2014 Rosé of Merlot (24 Cases) – Gorgeous salmon color, dry, rich mouth feel, tiny bit of watermelon jolly rancher in finish – beautiful rosé.

Cider Glazed Scallop - Artisan Uprising Tasting

Cider Glazed Scallop – Tri-colore Cauliflower, Truffled Parsnip Purée

Course 2: 2012 Merlot (124 cases) – Unfiltered, earthy nose, rustic, yet “silky-smooth”, beautifully balanced and integrated. Touch of dark chocolate in long finish. Just loved this Merlot!

Chicken Roulade – Wild Mushroom Mousse, Prosciutto

Chicken Roulade - Artisan Uprising

Course 3: 2012 Malbec (37 cases) – This malbec with 5% merlot to “open it up”, reins in the alcohol at just 13.8%. Good fruit and acidity – long finish.

5-spice duck - Artisan Uprising

5-Spiced Duck Breast on Buckwheat Soba Noodles with Micro Greens – Duck Confit Spring Roll

Course 4: 2012 Petite Sirah (39 cases) – Thick and deep berry red. Bit of anise in the finish. Wonderful now, but has great potential for aging. 

Braised Short Rib on Sunchoke-Okinawan Purple Mash, Baby Spinach

Braised Short Rib - Artisan Uprising

Interestingly, I found that while the food pairings were spot on, I enjoyed these wines more on their own without food. Their complex flavor profiles would be enjoyed immensely served with great conversation, a good  movie, or …….. a spectacular view!

View from Hotel Angeleno - Artisan Uprising tasting

Whatever the occasion, check these guys out. The case production was small on their 2012’s, so try them soon while they last. Good news, though, the 2013’s, which we also tasted, show great promise and they are expecting their case production to grow to a whopping 375 cases with that vintage!


Angelino Heights – Guardian of Los Angeles’ Past

Tomorrow Prince William and his new bride Catherine Middleton, the future of the English Monarchy,  will arrive in California with stops in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. And once again the stately Victorian homes perched atop a hill in Angelino Heights will bear witness to another historical moment in time. These ornate homes, modeled after the architectural styles popular in England during Queen Victoria’s reign and based largely on Baroque and Gothic styles,  were located about a mile northwest of the city center, offering stunning views and convenient transportation. Only a few of these precious homes remain and are burdened with the responsibility of telling their story…..

Because of streetcar transportation to the nearby downtown business district, “The Hill” quickly became an affluent neighborhood of bankers, merchants and real estate developers in the late 1880’s. Many of these new residents from the East coast brought with them their taste for the Victorian and began to build their massive Queen Anne and Eastlake style homes . Exemplified by lavish ornamentation, vibrant colors, multiple stories, wraparound porches, bay windows and towers or turrets, these homes embraced eclecticism and grandeur at the same time. Detail and nuance were the focus of great labor with features such as intricate woodwork, colored art glass, lace curtains, and ornate lighting fixtures.

While so many of these beautiful homes were destroyed in the name of progress and expansion, the 1300 block of Carroll Avenue formed the Carroll Avenue Restoration Foundation to help preserve and restore these precious gems and today boasts the highest concentration of Victorian homes in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Conservancy offers a 2 hour walking tour where you are guided back in time to visit this historical area, view the homes, step inside and experience the splendor of an era gone by. An era where craftsmanship and beauty prevailed…where the creak of a floorboard was comforting – where the hydrangeas bloomed beneath the shade of  massive fig trees, and where the soft glow of the 3-globe Llewellyns lit your way home….

The Phillips House - Built in 1887

The Phillips House - Built in 1887

This home’s first owner was Aaron Phillips, an Iowa hardware merchant who came to LA in 1887 with his wife and daughter, Grace. She lived in the home until 1942 when it was subsequently sold to the Morales family, members of which still live there today.

3 globel Llewellyn street light

3 globe Llewellyn street light

An interior balustrade

An interior balustrade

The Foy House

The Foy House

Dating from 1872, this house is the oldest in Angelino Heights. Originally located downtown at the corner of Seventh and Figueroa Streets, this was home to Mary Foy, Los Angeles’ first female chief librarian, a founder of the Native Daughters of the Golden West, and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. This home was the design of Ezra Kysor, architect of the former Cathedral of St Vibiana, today being used as an event venue. (Also a beautiful place to visit)

The Haskins House

The Haskins House

Constructed in 1894 for real estate developer Charles C. Haskins, this was the last Victorian built on Carroll Avenue. Notice the unusual balustrade used on the porch and the very ornate spindle columns.

After our walk and as our minds were still mired in the cobwebs of the past, we headed downtown, just a 5 minute drive to an area nicknamed “the nickel” by the skid row residents near Main and 5th Streets. On Main, just a couple of blocks from the Vibiana is a new restaurant paying homage to the past. “The Nickel Diner”, offers delicious versions of diner food including fresh baked goods including their famous bacon crumble dipped glazed doughnuts. You really just need to try this – it’s crazy different. Even though the line outside looks like the line outside Dupar’s on a Sunday morning, the wait was just a few minutes, prices are right, and the food is homey and inventive with a lean towards the south with bacon and cornmeal showing up in multiple forms. All good!

Wall mural inside the Nickel Diner

Wall mural inside the Nickel Diner

New twists on old favorites from the Nickel Diner

New twists on old favorites from the Nickel Diner

Red Velvet Cake with a Chocolate crunch filling, S’Mores Cake, Peanut Butter Crunch Cake – just to name of few of the incredible dessert offerings at the Nickel Diner.

Pinot Days Grand Tasting – Los Angeles, 2011

This last Saturday was the second annual Pinot Days event held at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica. The Grand Tasting featured over 90 producers from Pinot Noir regions from California, Washington and Oregon. More than 300 wines were available for tasting representing a wide range of styles. It never ceases to amaze me that in a hanger full of wine all made from just one varietal, that there can be so many different styles and flavor profiles. Something for everyone’s taste – that’s why I love wine!

Lisa Rigisich, Pinot Days event founder

Lisa Rigisich, (center), Pinot Days event founder

This year I had the opportunity to take one of the “regional tours” conducted by a winemaker from each region. I chose the Santa Maria Valley AVA and our tour guide was James Ontiveros of Native 9 Wines. A small group of us gathered as James drew a map and explained all about mountain ranges, coastal climate, rainfall, growing season and alluvial soils that make this AVA good for growing the temperamental Pinot Noir grape. James is a ninth generation Californian, and he and his family have been working the land of Santa Barbara County for a very long time.

James Ontiveros of Native9 Wines

James Ontiveros of Native9 Wines

So with much enthusiasm James then escorted us off to our first stop on the “tour”. We would visit 6 wineries/tables in the next hour and a half, meet with their winemakers and taste their Pinot. Our tour took us to Riverbench, practicing sustainable farming, where I liked all three of their offerings, then on to Native 9 where we also tasted his Alta Maria label. The Alta Maria had more of a fruit forward profile, while the Native 9, which is whole cluster fermented, had a more intriguing and very unique profile with smoke coming through on the finish.  At the Hitching Post table we met Gray Hartley, who is co-owner along with Hitching Post restaurant owner Frank Ostini. Gray talked a lot about barrel influence on wine, which I found to be very interesting, and I enjoyed both of the vineyard designates he poured for us.

Gray Hartley of Hitching Post Wines

Gray Hartley of Hitching Post Wines

Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines has been in the wine business for 34 years. To quote his website, “Most of my career has been spent pursuing the elusive traits that make great Pinot Noir”. Seems to me he has found them. This man knows his winemaking and the two elegant Pinots we tried that day are testament to that fact.

Ken Brown at Pinot Days

Ken Brown at Pinot Days

Ken Brown wine

Ken Brown wine

Josh Klapper of La Fenetre hardly seems to need any introduction at all. His name and wine pop up at all the tastings, and write-ups abound. And for good reason. This very likable young winemaker has been recognized for quite some time in the food and wine scene and now is  is making some wonderful wine, negociant style, and in small  case production.  As we tasted through 3 vintages of Pinot, the ’05 and ’08 being my favorites, he spoke about how he loves the 2010 vintage, stating that it was great “stem vintage”. Josh was one of the winemakers at this event whose enthusiasm about what he does was surpassed only by his desire to share his wine with others.

Josh Klapper of La Fenetre Wines

Josh Klapper of La Fenetre Wines

Our last stop was with Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines to taste  his Clark and Telephone Vineyard Pinot, 2008. This big wine with great concentration of fruit and very soft tannins, offered brown spices like nutmeg and cloves with a bit of vanilla right into the finish.

Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines

Joe Wagner of Belle Glos Wines

Our Santa Maria tour was over but the day certainly wasn’t. There were many more tables to visit. Londer Vineyards from the Anderson Valley in Mendocino, an area I also like very much for their Alsatian whites, came through with a couple of elegant Pinots with plenty of soft fruit. Enjoyed meeting and talking at length with Rosalind Manoogian and her husband James of Fog Crest Vineyard and I tasted both of her Russian River Valley offerings including Fog Crest’s  inaugural vintage of their Estate Bottled Pinot. This small production Pinot, (75 cases), had lots of bing cherry and blackberry in the nose, cola and spice nuances and medium tannins.

James and Rosalind Manoogian of Fog Crest Vineyard

James and Rosalind Manoogian of Fog Crest Vineyard

I especially loved listening to Greg La Follette of La Follette . Talk about enthusiasm! He was making the ins and outs of wild fermentation seem fascinating. His offerings from Sonoma and Mendocino were very interesting to me with complicated, yet well balanced flavors including bacon and smoke, which he attributed to the wild fermentation. A lot of information in a very short period of time left me hoping to have more time some day in the future to speak further with this knowledgeable winemaker.

Greg La Follette

Greg La Follette

La Follette Pinot Noir

La Follette Pinot Noir

So much Pinot, so many styles, wonderful group of winemakers – it all makes for a great way to spend a few hours. Thanks to the producers of Pinot Days for bringing us this opportunity to learn, taste and compare. Cheers!