Annual Barbera Festival in Amador County - Always a Sold Out Event

I'm so glad I jumped on the opportunity to get a ticket to the 4th Annual Barbera Festival, scheduled for Saturday, June 14 at Cooper Ranch in Plymouth, California (Amador County).

Ticket went on sale March 1st, and similar to the situation in 2013, sold out quickly.  In 2013, the event raised over $20,000 in net proceeds for the non-profit Amador County Foundation, the event’s fiscal sponsor, and 2014 should follow apace.

Here's a bit more info from the press release:
This summer’s outdoor event,will host more than 80 wineries from the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake County, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ventura County, Lodi and the Bay Area. Food enthusiasts will also be treated to some of the region’s top restaurants and chefs, including multiple, award-winning Taste Restaurant. Brian Miller notes that, “There will be something for everyone, from gourmet dishes to authentic wood-fired pizza.”

Cooper Ranch in Shenandoah Valley will again host the Barbera Festival among its vineyards and rolling hills. The scenic venue makes sense as Dick Cooper, of Cooper Ranch, is known in the wine industry as the “Godfather of Barbera” and supplies numerous vintners with barbera grapes.

In keeping with the tradition of “promoting new talent,” the festival will feature BlissesB, an up and coming band from San Francisco. In addition, Cooper Winery’s winemaker, Mike Roser, will take to the stage with his rock’n’roll band Wasted Space.

Barbera originated in the Piemonte region of northern Italy. In California, about 7,000 acres of Barbera are planted. Louis Martini, a legend in California wine history with a prestigious winery in St. Helena, California, was the first to produce a post-prohibition varietal Barbera in 1954. Today, nearly 200 California wineries produce Barbera wines.

Barbera is known for its generous acid structure. There are differing styles of Barbera ranging from brighter versions with flavors of tart cherry, raspberry, and spice, to riper styles with flavors of black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, and vanilla.

The Barbera Festival is a Green Event and has taken measures to minimize the environmental impact of the festivities, including using biodegradable/compostable bags, cups, plates, napkins and cutlery, as well as giving attendees the opportunity to add $1 to their ticket price to help offset the carbon footprint of the event (100% of these contributions will go to purchase carbon offsets with offset retailer Terrapass).

      The organizers, Brian Miller and Deirdre Mueller, are long time wine enthusiasts and advocates. They currently own and operate Amador360, a multi-winery tasting room in Plymouth focusing on wines from small, hard-to-find Amador producers.

For more information about the event, a list of participating wineries, map and directions, along with local lodging and tasting tips; see the official website at

Santa Lucia Highland Wines: Full-flavored and Intense

The Santa Lucia mountain range overlooks the Salinas River Valley.  Near enough to Monterey Bay to get its fog and ocean breezes, the vines enjoy morning sunshine and grapes have a long, gentle ripening.  The result is full flavored wines with intense flavors.  This AVA has a reputation for intensely flavored Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and other Burgundy varieties. Here are some of the highlights from a recent Santa Lucia Highlands tasting in San Francisco.  These wines, worth searching for,  are all available direct from the winery.

Jeff Pisoni poured
for Pisoni Estates
It’s almost impossible to talk about this region without mentioning the Pisoni family.  Grapes from their vineyards – Pisoni, Gary’s, Soberanes – are found in many fine wines.  The family makes some spectacular wines too.   Pisoni Estate’s 2013 Rose of Pinot Noir, “Lucy” Santa Lucia Highlands is pink, young and drinkable now.  It has flavor of strawberry, spice, sour cherry, and a touch of floral.  I enjoyed the citrus, peachy and melon flavors too.  14.1 percent alcohol.  $18 the 375 ml bottle.  One dollar from each bottle sold goes to breast cancer research.

A.J. Kemp, co-founder
Hawks View Cellars
Hawks View Cellars featured its 2011 Syrah, Cellar Series – Gary’s Vineyard.    Although the winery is located in Oregon, grapes for this premium syrah are picked at 6 a.m. in Santa Lucia Highlands’ famous Gary’s vineyard, and trucked to Oregon for crushing before dinnertime there.  Co-founder A. J. Kemp is proud of the product. The wine is a dense inky red in color, and aroma of crushed blueberries and raspberries predominates.  This Syrah is lush, intense, with soft fruit, fine tannins, a velvet texture in the mouth and a long finish.  Only 180 cases were made.   14.5 percent alcohol.  $45 the bottle.

Chris Weidemann, Proprietor
and Winemaker, Pelerin
Pelerin’s 2010 Viognier/Roussanne blend, “Les Tournesols”   (French for “Sunflowers”) has flavor of mango and asian pear, a hint of honey and a dash of licorice.  It is well balanced, rich, and from the Viognier portion (58 percent) there is a component of fresh cut white peach.  14.3 percent alcohol.  $30 the bottle.

Mike Pramuk, Wine
Educator, poured Mer Soleil
Mer Soleil’s 2006 “late” dessert Wine is primarily Viognier, and has the concentrated, nectar-like sweetness we love so much in a dessert wine.  Surprisingly, it is only 10.4 percent alcohol.  $30 the 375 ml bottle.

Rebecca Green Birdsall,
Proprietor, Black Kite
For Black Kite’s 2012 Chardonnay, “Soberanes Vineyard”, the winery obtained grapes from Soberanes, a Pisoni vineyard. My first aroma and flavor impression was of apricot, but there is also honeydew melon, apple and toasted marshmallow too.  It has a rich finish, nice acidity and a hint of minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol.  $45 the bottle.

Rosé from Provence - After the Local Tasting, I want to Go THERE

To misquote Gertrude Stein, “A Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé”, except of course when it is a Rosé from Provence in which event it is an exceptionally drinkable and well-priced Rosé.  That was my recent experience tasting Rosés from Provence at a tasting in San Francisco where 21 producers showcased their wines.  Rarely do Provence Rosés exceed 13 percent alcohol, or $25 retail.  Provence is the world’s largest wine region specializing in Rosé wines.

Emilie Perananda of
Chateu de Saint-Martin
The 2013 Grande Reserve Cru Classe Rosé from Chateau de Saint-Martin is produced from a blend of  Grenache, Tibouren, Cinsault, Carignan and Syrah.  It’s a bright peach-lychee color and has an intense aroma of dried flowers and fruitiness. The taste is delicate and silky with peach and pomegranate prevailing.  This winery has been in the same family since 1740, and has always been managed by women, with the ownership passing from countess to countess.  12.5 percent alcohol.  Suggested retail price is $22.00 the bottle.  Only 10,000 bottles are available in the US.

Jana Manfredi pours for
Domaine de la Fouquette
The 2013 Rosée D’Aurore from Domaine de la Fouquette is a blend of 65% Grenache, 30% Cinsault and 5% Rolle.  The intense citrus aroma of this wine leads to a taste that is fruity and fresh, with notes of honeysuckle to enhance the experience.  This small production vineyard is in the heart of the Côtes de Provence appellation.  12 percent alcohol.  $17.99/bottle suggested retail price.

Liz Comte-Monk for
Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez
Maitres Vignerons de Saint Tropez is a large volume producer and you may easily find their 2013 Saint Roch Les Vignes Rosé in the market.  This yummy blend of Grenache and Cinsault has a beautiful salmon-colored hue, and an aroma that is dominated by floral and herbal tones  It is fresh tasting with a grapefruit highlight.  13 percent alcohol.  $15/bottle suggested retail price.


Sophie Estrada of Prospect
pours i Pink
Chateau de L’Escarelle is another large volume producer, and I PINK is their aperitif style Rosé blended from 50 % Cinsault and 50% Grenache grapes.  It is light pink in color, and the aroma of grapefruit leads you to a taste of peach and exotic fruits.  This light and floral wine is 12.5 percent alcohol, and retail price will be around $10.

Eric Kurver, Owner/Winemaker
at Aix, Saint Aix
AIX Rosé is produced from an old vine 73-hectare vineyard in the appellation Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence.  It is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault and is fresh tasting with bright fruit flavors, floral notes and nice minerality. More than 150,000 bottles are earmarked for the USA, so you might find it easily.  13 percent alcohol, suggested retail price is $18-20 dollars per bottle.
The USa, surpassed only by France, ranks second in the world in Rosé consumption with 13% of total consumption in 2011.  2011 global consumption was 22.4 million hectoliters.  The US market has grown at double-digit rates in each of the last 10 years… and from nov 2012 to nov 2013, exports of Rosé from Provence to the US jumped 40% on both volume and value.  
The most common Rosé grapes in Provence are Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tibouren, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Appellations in Provence, and their percentage production of Provence Rosé:
Cotes de Provence = 75%
Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence = 15%
Coteaux Varois en Provence = 10%
Of all wine produced in Provence, Rosé = 88.5% of total production; reds = 8%, and whites = 3.5%
I loved visiting the websites of the producers, and hope to travel there someday!

The New Hot Wine Brands - Picked by Wine Business Monthly Magazine


Each year, a leading wine industry magazine, Wine Business Monthly, recognizes ten wine brands from across the nation for “doing something special, innovative, curious, adventurous and, of course, delicious.”  It’s worth searching for a bottle of these wines.  I tasted them at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium in Sacramento and they are truly delicious.    

Rusty Folena, winemaker, (l),
 and Bobby Gullett of Vino Noceto
Vino Noceto, located in the Sierra Foothills region of Amador County, has had a pioneering role in establishing the noble Tuscan varietal, Sangiovese, in California. For 27 years, the owners of Noceto have worked this notoriously finicky varietal and produced consistently delicious results. Try the Noceto Sangiovese. It is medium-bodied, fruit-packed, easy-drinking and well-balanced and a highly versatile wine with food.  One of my favorites. 14.2 percent alcohol. $18 the bottle.

Rotie Cellars,  Walla Walla, WA, prides itself in making old world wines from new world vines.  Their 2011 Southern Blend features 65 percent Grenache, 23 percent Mourvedre, 6 percent Syrah and 6 percent Cinsault.  Winemaker Sean Boyd says of this blend:  notes of white pepper, black currant, and raspberry on the nose. Being Grenache dominant, bright red fruits with rhubarb and cranberry prevail on the mid-palate, following through to anise and pepper in a long, smooth finish.” 14 percent alcohol.  $40 the bottle.

Penny Gadd-Coster,
winemaker, Rack & Riddle
The sparkling Blanc de Noirs from Rack & Riddle, Sonoma County, is a tribute to winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster.  This scrumptious North Coast bubbly is produced from 100 percent Pinot Noir, and features flavors of Brioche and a hint of berry, with bright citrus in the aromas.  Fine bubbles enhance these flavors in the mouth, and there is a lingering finish of citrus.  12.5 percent alcohol.  $22 the bottle.

Frogtown Cellars, Dahlonega, GA, was lauded for its 2009 Petit Verdot, but sadly, no more seems to be available!  Based on the terroir, if you want to try a wine from this winery, I’d suggest the Frogtown Applause.  This is primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Touriga Nacional. “Dark fruit aromas and tastes of blackberry and cassis are bound together with a hint of vanilla and tobacco. This is a very supple wine. It is delicate and complex and easy to drink,” says the winemaker. $21.99 the bottle.

Lake Sonoma Winery featured its 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel.       The classic ripe and jammy aromas have nice toasted oak notes, and rich black fruit flavors. It’s a tannic wine, but has nicely balanced acidity.  15.3 percent alcohol.  $35 the bottle.
Molly Drew of
Drew Family Cellars
Drew Family Cellars produced its 2011 Syrah from grapes grown in the Valenti Vineyard on top of Greenwood Ridge, in the Mendocino Ridge AVA which is a challenging place to grow winegrapes. Daily maritime winds and cooler temperatures give notable results, as this wine also was declared a Top 100 Wine of the Year 2013 by Wines & Spirits Magazine. There are flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, white pepper and dark chocolate in this wine, with a pleasant minerality. Firm and velvety tannins lead the way to a long finish. Yummy. 12.8 percent alcohol. $40 the bottle.

Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, Applegate Valley, Oregon, produces the 2012 Spiral 36, a blend of 50% Viognier, 305 Marsanne and 20% Roussanne.  The tropical and citrus fruit flavors persist on the palate and this wine is great for sipping alone or with full-flavored dishes and strong cheeses. 13.5 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.
Steve Matthiasson, Winemaker,
Matthiasson’s 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard, is a small-production wine crafted lovingly by Steve Matthiasson.  Only 1200 cases were produced.   It is juicy with notes of Bartlett pear, green apple, white peach and Crenshaw melon, with a touch of lemon.  Nice and bright with minerality and acidity that are beautifully balanced.   13.5 percent alcohol.  $25 the bottle.
Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards showcased its 2012 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s hard not to love Lodi wines, particularly the jammy Zinfandel grown there, and this Lodi Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely delicious and very affordable.   I liked the bright aroma of lemon that makes it refreshing, and the melon hints add to that impression.  Crisp and clean citrus notes and a tropical touch too make this mouth-watering and with a nice acid bite.  13.2 percent alcohol.  $15 the bottle.
Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, Santa Maria, CA, produced a 2011 Estate Pinot Noir that is a great representative of Santa Barbara County’s Pinot Noir.  2011 presented cool temperatures throughout the fall in Santa Barbara County, and the low yields meant complex grape flavors.  This is a full=bodied Pinot Noir that’s deep purple, with juicy flavors of strawberry, raspberry and a touch of smoke and clove.  13.7 percent alcohol.  $28 the bottle.
These notes appeared in the February 13 and February 27 issues of my column "Wine Time", written for The Tahoe Weekly.   For on-line versions, go to  and 

Tennessee Valley Winery uses Natural Cork for its Muscadine Wines

Tennessee Valley Winery values both Tradition and Experimentation; Uses Natural Cork from ACI Cork USA

New Wines from Healthful Native Varietals and Sweeter Wines
Keep the Familiar “POP” with Natural Cork

 The oldest operating winery in Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Winery, upholds tradition while experimenting at the same time.  Winemaker John Smook likes to hear the “pop” when he opens a bottle that was closed with natural cork from ACI Cork USA, and those bottles are increasingly filled with heart-healthy Muscadine-based wine.
Muscadine is a Native American grape that has proven to have high antioxidant properties, testing at more than double the desirable phytochemicals found in pomegranate juice, for example.  Consumer trends toward foods with antioxidant properties have boosted interest in Tennessee Valley Winery’s White Muscadine, Red Muscadine, and Pink Muscadine wines.  The sweetness of  Muscadine wines appeals to many Midwestern,  Southern and East Coast palates.  Tennessee Valley Winery vinifies other wines trending toward sweet, like a 100% Concord grape wine called Country Red,  a blend of Vidal and Chambourcin called Mountain Blush, and Vidal Blanc.  
From its 12 acre vineyard in Loudon, TN, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee Valley Winery produces an average of 35,000 gallons of wine a year.  Of this, all 4000 cases of the winery’s Muscadine are topped with ACI Cork USA’s AC-4 natural cork, a popular choice of many winemakers.   ACI Cork USA offers natural cork in a range of sizes and qualities to fit the operating and marketing needs of North American wineries.
“We plan our production at least one and a half years in advance,”  said winemaker-owner John Smook.  “It’s good to know we can get reliable deliveries from ACI Cork USA on a timely basis.”

For more information on Tennessee Valley Winery, contact John Smook or Paulette Pierotti at 865-986-5147.

ACI Cork USA, celebrating its 10th Anniversary in the United States, is located at 2870 Cordelia Road, Suite 150, Fairfield CA 94534. Telephone: (707) 426-3566.         Contact

Note:  the author of this blog provides communications services to ACI Cork USA

Right click to download this High Resolution image, 2.5 MB

Tennessee Valley Winery uses Natural Cork from ACI Cork USA for its Muscadine Wines

Zinning in Summer and in Winter too

For lovers of Zinfandel from California, there are two important functions on the “must do” list.  Zinfest, sponsored by the Lodi Wine Commission ( is generally a May event in Lodi.  The Zinfandel Experience, usually held in San Francisco in January, is sponsored by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (  Between these two events, you can taste some marvelous wines and learn about the variety of Zinfandel styles from our California vineyards and winemakers.  I’m focusing here on Lodi Zinfandels to encourage you to go to Zinfest.

Some of my favorite Zinfandels are designed “Old Vine.”  Those are wines made from vines planted pre-prohibition, before 1930.  Some old vine roots go as deep as 25 feet so there is consistent access to moisture regardless of whether the year is wet or dry.  Roots which reach through several layers of soil yield special fruit and this is reflected in the wines.

Macchia’s 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel “Michievous” comes from five different old vine vineyards near the winery in Acampo, Lodi AVA.  This wine has the classic fruit-forward characteristic of Lodi Zinfandel, and is a lovely deep-hued wine.  There are rich ripe berry flavors and a hint of soft vanilla. 15.5 percent alcohol.  $20 the bottle.

McCay Cellars 2009 Truluck’s Jupiter comes from a vineyard on the west side of Lodi with 80 year old vines inter-planted with 40 year old vines.  The resulting wine is beautifully structured with layers of flavors like blackberry, black cherry and cola.  It is both spicy and fruity, and round on the palate. This well balanced Zinfandel has soft tannins, a nice acidity, and a long finish. 14.6 percent alcohol.  $32 the bottle.

d'art Winery, located in Lodi, is known for its hand crafted wines.  Dave Dart, an artist who is also the winemaker at d’Art, sourced fruit from vines 85 to 125 years old for his 2011 Zinfandel. It is a peppery, fruity Zinfandel that spent 18 months in American oak barrels.  16 per cent alcohol.  $24 the bottle.

Toasted Toad Cellars fruit for its 2010 Zinfandel came from the Clements Hills area of Lodi, near the Mokelumne River  This yummy Zinfandel is bursting with ripe berry flavor, vanilla and spice, and has a deep red color and lasting finish.   Despite the high alcohol (17.2 per cent), which winemaker Jeff Werter purposely decided to not water back to a lower rate, this wine is perfectly balanced. $24 the bottle.

Zinfandel can be a blending grape too.  Harney Lane Winery, Lodi, does a nice job with its 2012 Dry Rose, using Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.  Warm weather is not far away.  Grab some of this.  13.9 percent alcohol. $17 the bottle.
What could be more perfect than tasting these wines in Lodi in the summer?   Note to self: hats and suntan lotion a must!

Placer County Wineries, including a New One, pour in Tahoe

One of the best ways to experience a variety of Sierra Foothill wines is to attend an event which features them. The recent Passport to Dining, which benefits the North Tahoe Business Association and the Community House, focused on wines from nearby Placer County wineries.

Jeff Evans and Mike Waljer
of Bear River Winery
The newest winery, Bear River Winery, is located in Meadow Vista, CA. I went straight for the 2010 Barbera, which uses grapes sourced from Viani Vineyards in the Pilot Hill area of Placer County. Jeff Evans, Proprietor, notes that this Barbera has rich fruit-forward flavors of red cherry and raspberry. The aroma is fruity, and matches taste. It has a nicely balanced acidity. The winemakers suggest pairing it with pasta, pizza or anything Italian. 14.6 percent alcohol. $24/bottle. The winery also sources grapes from the Clavey Vineyards near Chicago Park, for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah.

Raquel Mostajo of Dono dal Cielo
Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Newcastle, CA, presented its 2009 Daven Port 6100. This port-like wine is a late harvest Zinfandel, and has a ruby-jewel appearance and strong ripe black-cherry aroma. It is a nicely soft wine, with a hint of warmed currant, and is rich on the palate. I think a port should be in everyone’s wine rack, and this is a good one at a reasonable price! 16.5 percent alcohol. $25 for the 375 ml bottle.

Denise Bellacera, wine educator
of Wise Villa Winery
I’ve tasted wines before from Wise Villa Winery, located in Lincoln, CA. Dr. Grover Lee, winemaker, has a philosophy that I appreciate: “We believe that great wines come from ultra-premium grapes, hand picked and crafted one barrel at a time. Our premium wines are aged in French oak barrels and enriched by the mineral, loam, soil of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Foothills in Lincoln, California.”At the benefit, they poured a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the 2011 Wisdom of Wise best of all. This wine is a blend of Merlot (54 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (26 percent), and Cabernet Franc (18 percent). It’s made in the Bordeaux style (think claret, etc). Taste is of bright fruit, a fair amount of spiciness, and it has a lovely medium body. 13.5 percent alcohol. $30/bottle.

Lori and Mark Bonitata
of Bonitata Boutique Wines
Bonitata Boutique Wines is located in Auburn in the original Bernhard Winery founded in 1874. This is part of the Bernhard Museum on Folsom Road in Auburn. Bonitata poured its 2009 Barbera, made from fruit sourced from the Boa Vista vineyards in El Dorado County. This Barbera is a classic one, made from those great El Dorado grapes. Rich, fruit, medium body. 14.5 percent alcohol, $24/bottle.

The North Tahoe Business Association was founded in 1979 and is a non-profit organization that strives to improve and enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the communities of North lake Tahoe.