P.S. I love you: Ursa features its Petit Sirah’s at Lake Tahoe tasting

What wines pair magnificently with that great All-American favorite food, Pizza? There are many, and if you’d like the experience of tasting what-goes-with-what first hand, you should head to Lakeside Pizza, located at 850 North Lake Blvd. behind Safeway in Tahoe City any Wednesday at 7 p.m. to find out the answer to this question for yourself.

I went to the tasting of the many interesting wines from Ursa Vineyards, a collaborative effort between a husband and wife team - Greg Stokes and Deborah Elissagaray. The small Sierra Foothills winery, located at 2700 feet elevation outside Placerville on 40 acres in Pleasant Valley, produces no more than 2500 cases annually. This artisanal small-production approach allows exceptional attention to be paid in both the vineyard and the cellar. Their focus is petite sirah from various vineyards in California, but they also produce merlot, syrah and a unique varietal from the Pyrenees, tannat.

Winemaker Greg Stokes is an advocate of petit sirah, which he believes is a varietal that’s been neglected by the winemaking world. “Better sirahs can be made than have been made in America in the past,” he says. “Petit sirah is underrepresented” In their winemaking, Ursa is trying different yeasts, experiments with tannin and other strokes of the winemaking art to produce a flavorful and unique group of petit sirahs.

Ursa’s Petit Sirah 2005 is a classic sirah, using fruit sourced from two high-elevation vineyards in the Sierra Foothills. The mountain fruit gives an elegant aroma of violets and blackberries, and on the palate, there is ripe robustness from the use of European oak that lends flavors from spice and toast, to ripe cherry and wild blackberry fruit. Only 250 cases were produced. 14.7% alcohol. $22/bottle.

The 2006 Vineyard-Blend Petit Sirah is a combination of grapes from five selected vineyards in 3 AVA’s -- Alta Mesa, Sierra Foothills, and Central Coast. Greg has worked hard to tame the tannins in this wine while it is fermenting; only 450 cases were made. Alcohol content is 13.3%. $16 /bottle.

The Tannat 2005 is a wine near and dear to Deborah Elissagaray’s heart. She comes from a Basque background, and this is a classic grape of that region. Their website notes that “Tannat is a varietal not so commonly found in the United States. It’s grown primarily in the Pyrenees and South America and is used as the base of many Basque wines. Ours comes from Silvaspoons Vineyards in Lodi, one of the few vineyards in California growing this intriguing grape.” On the nose, this wine has smoky, dusty qualities that are reminiscent of cabernet layered with classic cherry and ripe plum fruit. Its substantial palate shows deep red ripe fruit flavors, well integrated tannin and hints of French oak. It paired well with Lakeside’s Greek pizza. 200 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol, $18/bottle

Ursa’s Major Red 2006 is a delightful blend of 45% cab sauvignon and 45% syrah (fruit from Sierra Foothills) and 10% zinfandel (fruit from Lodi). It has soft tannins with a hint of pepper and plum. Only 300 cases were produced. It paired perfectly with Lakeside’s popular sausage pizza. 13.5% alcohol, $12/bottle.

The Vigonier 2008, of which 200 cases was produced with fruit from Hidden mesa Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, had a taste that was apricotty and peachy, and somewhat sweet. A nice surprise for a vigonier! The wine was stainless steel fermented to about 10 brix, and then moved into 5 yr old French barrel for that light kiss of oak. 14.5 % alcohol. $16/bottle. It was successfully paired with cheese pizza, and cheese and mushroom pizza. You might also try it with spicy or Asian fusion styled foods.

The every-Wednesday winetastings at Lakeside Pizza begin around Memorial Day and continue through the end of August. The cuisine is informal: pizza, wings, sandwiches, salad bar. The wine list changes weekly. If you don’t find the URSA wines on the current Lakeside Pizza list, you can source them from the winery’s website: http://www.ursavineyards.com/index.html

To see Lakeside’s complete wine tasting schedule, go to their website at http://www.lakesidetahoecity.com/ or you can drop an email to wine (at) lakesidetahoecity.com and ask. Or call 530-583-2000. The small tasting fee is generally donated to The Humane Society.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.


Not so Fast There with Those High Alcohol Wines!

"Which came first: the consumer’s taste for sweeter, full throttled flavors that the critics played into, or the consumer as lemming, hanging on to every 90-point score? Aren’t winemakers, for better or worse, simply producing a style the majority of wine drinkers demand?"

The Debate Rages On

(This is excerpted, with his permission, from Bruce Nichol's July 2009 A Nichols Worth of Wine column from his Naples Wine News website)

To the angst of many in the industry, and thanks in large part to an ever expanding wine blogosphere, high alcohol levels in wine is a subject that just refuses to go away. The issues are many and I have a few; some from a slightly different angle than the most talked about.

I’ve made my position on high-alcohol wines well known. I don’t like them. I find most to be one-dimensional - all fruit, no character. I find many can be overpowering and incompatible with the dining experience. I want to enjoy that second, and occasionally, third glass of wine over the span of a meal without the need for a nap between courses.

There’s also the concern of increased DUI enforcement. Many variables determine BAC (blood alcohol concentrations) currently set at .08%. Even factoring in the metrics of body weight, gender, time, and food intake, two glasses of wine can push you close to or beyond this legal threshold. Don’t believe it? Try blowing into a breathalyzer after 10-12 ounces of your favorite varietal.

I have been trying to document the parallel between wines with higher alcohol levels and BAC, but in speaking with faculty from UC Davis’s Viticulture and Enology department, no formal studies have been done on the subject. Apparently there are so many variables, conclusive analysis would be difficult at best. But personal experience has taught me that a two-point swing in a wine from 12.5% to 14.5% can have a significant effect on acuity and I find it makes wines less compatible with food.

Much of what wine consumers and industry followers hear from the media lately is the supposed influence a few iconic critics have over winemaking decisions. Assertions of vintners pushing hang time to the extremes to achieve ultra-ripe fruit just to please the critics' palates, and in turn garner higher ratings, are hotly debated.

But I wonder if this isn’t a classic version of the chicken and the egg story? Which came first: the consumer’s taste for sweeter, full throttled flavors that the critics played into, or the consumer as lemming, hanging on to every 90-point score? Aren’t winemakers, for better or worse, simply producing a style the majority of wine drinkers demand?

These hyper-extracted wines come from ultra-ripe fruit with high sugars, which in turn raise the alcohol level. To combat this problem, many wineries resort to “dealcoholization,” literally reducing alcohol from the wine either through reverse osmosis or high-tech filtering. This in turn can require adding back in up to 15% water. The controversy between the purists and practitioners over this approach rages on.

Economics can also play a role in how winemakers deal with alcohol levels. Wines over 14% are taxed at a higher level. If you’re a small artisan producer making a few hundred cases a year the additional cost may be insignificant, but if you’re producing serious quantities of wine every vintage, employing whatever technology available to bring alcohol levels down may be deemed a financial necessity.

The volleying back and forth between winemakers, critics, bloggers and buyers on the high alcohol issue is escalating.

Proponents, many of them winemakers, would argue the problem (assuming you consider it a problem) is the card Mother Nature has dealt them. Read that as climate change has lead to riper fruit, requiring adjustments in the winemaking process. The industry is quick to contend that as long as a wine’s components, acidity, tannins and flavors, are all in balance, then the higher alcohol levels are justifiable. To a large degree, this is true, but that does not address the DUI issue, or that these wines tend to overpower many foods.

Opponents contend this manipulation robs the wine of its character and structure and the wine’s terroir, or sense of place. This “natural, less-is-better” camp argues that while the average alcohol level of wine in many growing regions jumped more than two points (from 12.5% to 14.8%) between 1978 and 2001, UC Davis studies presented at a Napa Valley Grapegrowers Association seminar in 2007 showed that the mean average temperature in Northern California decreased by one degree in a recent 18 year period.

And the consumer? Well, my sense is that outside a small group of wine bloggers, the average consumer really only cares whether they like the wine or not, and whether it offers value to suit their palate and purse.

So who’s right? I doubt this issue has an immediate answer.

Critics continue to assign numerical ratings...

Winemakers will (hopefully) continue making the best wines possible, albeit with an eye to market forces...

So it is you and me, the consumers, who will ultimately shape the future on how much alcohol is in our wines.

The good news is that all the cyber-chatter is raising our awareness of this issue and there is now talk of a trend to more “reasonable” alcohol levels.

The question I keep coming back to is: If wines can be “made’ with alcohol levels in the 13% range that manage to retain their identity and flavor profile, as in many wine regions of the world, why aren’t we seeing more of them? I’m still searching for that answer.

In the meantime, we consumers do have options. Many of them.
Just check out the mandatory posting of the percentage of alcohol listed on every label before your next wine purchase. There are many wines under 14%, although choices are fewer with California brands than the imports... for now.


About Bruce Nichols:

Based in Naples, FL, Bruce has a Wine Consultant firm providing professional wine cellar management, wine brokering for buyers and sellers, sommelier services, wine education and wine event planning. From hospitality industry jobs as a teenager, to culinary and management positions in popular chain and upscale San Francisco bay-area restaurants, Bruce forged increasing ties to the burgeoning Napa and Sonoma wine scene. In the 1980's, as Director of Restaurants for Sheraton Hotels, Bruce served as wine buyer, conducted wine education programs and hosted California winery owners and winemakers, and worked with syndicated wine writers. He went on to open new food and beverage operations for Sheraton and Hilton Hotels across the USA, and then managed the corporate food service program for a global financial company while consulting on wine programs for independent restaurants and developing and conducting wine education classes. Shortly after he retired in 2004 to Naples, FL, Naples Wine News was born.

Contact information:
Bruce Nichols
Naples Wine News
PO Box 2604
Naples, Florida 34106-2604

(239) 262-4875


49 Kudos for 49 Wines: Former Investment Banker creates Warm Welcomes in his Downieville CA Shop

I simply can’t say enough wonderful things about 49 Wines, Will Clark’s shop in Downieville where he makes each customer feel so very welcome. The motto of the shop is “Taste the Gold in the Mother Lode”. The wine selection is terrific, with a lot of value-priced nuggets to choose from, but the real gold is Will.

Will Clark readily admits that his passion in life is California Foothill wines. He retired from investment banking in the early 1990’s, and with wife Jeanne, opened up his shop at 200 Main Street in Downieville. Jeanne runs the antiques and collectibles shop next door.

“We came here to do what we really wanted to do,” said Will. “People don’t expect us to be here. But really, Downieville is the first town north of Nevada City where you can find good food, lodging – and major historical lore about the area.” It all comes together in a mountain setting at the confluence of two rivers, with an enormous amount of Gold Country history. Will boasts a stock of around 50 wines. Here are some of my favorites from the tasting:

2006 Hatcher Cabernet Sauvignon, Sierra Foothills. Will believes this is his current best value in a Cabernet Sauvignon. The Hatcher winery is located in Murphys, Calaveras County, and they source most of their fruit from vineyards near Angels Camp. The fruit for this wine was sourced from the vineyard of Lori Kautz. Winemaker Matthew Hatcher has crafted this wine to have aromas of tropical fruit, volcanic minerality, anise and other exotic spices. Flavor is lush and ripe with flavors of melon, ginger, and spice, ending in a clean finish. Enjoy with spicy Asian foods, BBQ, lamb. 14.6% alcohol. $17.50/bottle at 49 Wines.

Perfecta Arroyo Seco red wine is a blend of 62% Grenache and 38% syrah. A Rhone-style wine, it won a Gold in the 2009 SF Chronicle Wine Competition. It is elegant and structured, and Perfecta winery takes pride in the fact that they use grapes from sustainable-method farms. 14.3% alcohol, $14.00/bottle.

Foxglove 2008 Chardonnay San Luis Obispo County , bottled by Varner, was called by one wine reviewer “outrageously delicious”. Indeed, its pear and apple taste is scrumptious, and tropical fruit and tangerine tones add to its marvelous flavor. It has a nice acidity, medium body, and is complex, reminding us of a crisp Chablis. 14.4% alcohol. $15/bottle at 49 Wines.
James Creek Vineyards, located in Pope Valley (Napa), produces a yummy 2005 Zinfandel. James Creek Vineyards is a small family run boutique winery, and its vineyards are ideal for the production of Zinfandel, as they are above the fog line with extreme temperature fluctuations between the day and night. Scott Brown, owner and winemaker, planted his first vines on site in 1972. The Zinfandel features exotic aroma of fruit and spices, and tasting reveals a smoothness with blackberry flavor that is not at all jammy. A touch of vanilla on the finish. 16.5% alcohol. $18/bottle at 49 Wines.

The 2005 Cooper Vineyards Primitivo is the proud result of grape farming in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County for five generations. Fruit for this wine is sourced from this valley, and Cooper wines continue to win many awards. Primitivo is an Italian varietal, reminiscent of Zinfandel with which it shares much DNA . This wine has notes of plum and spice, but with a structure that’s Old World. You’ll find it earthy, rustic, fruit-forward, yet spicy. 14.4% alcohol. $22/bottle at 49 Wines.

49 Wines is open at 200 Main Street, Downieville from 10-6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays. (530) 289-2782.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.


BACCHUS AND VENUS: Falling in Love with Wine

I’m in love with a one-year-old – and that’s the Bacchus and Venus Wine Bar in historic downtown Truckee. Athough this classy and beautiful wine bar opened only a year ago, the operation is smooth and the selection of wines to sample by the glass or buy by the bottle is very good. It is the second location for this wine bar; the first started in Sausalito seven years ago. Their concept fits with the Tahoe area perfectly!

When you walk in, you see a beautiful long curved cedar bar, with a modern fireplace nearby to take the chill off during snowy months. The wine country art that’s displayed on the walls is stylish and interesting.

Perhaps the décor is one reason that winemaker John Ross Storey felt so comfortable pouring his wines at one of the Bacchus & Venus Friday night winemaker events. Storey was a well known photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle since the mid-1970’s. Recently he turned his talents to producing an interesting selection of Rhone varietal wines. He is a self-taught winemaker who believes that, as with fine cuisine, you can craft fine wine through diligence and attention. He produces wine that is meant to go with food. Learn more about his wines at http://www.jrstoreywinery.com/.

Winemaker John Storey is a long-time friend of Bacchus & Venus. Jessica Norris, retail manager in at the wine bar in Truckee, confided that they have difficulty keeping his popular wines on their shelves as sell quickly. For this tasting, three wines were featured.

Fruit for the 2006 J.R. Storey Viognier originated in the Fralich Vineyard, Paso Robles. This is a petite vineyard farmed by Harry Fralich, “ a happy man in his 70’s who loves what he does,” said John Storey. “The grapes, which have great intensity and flavor, reflect that!” Grapes for this viognier were harvested in October 2006. The wine emerged from barrel fermentation with a somewhat tropical nuance, giving off layers of flavor – citrus, apricot, melon, pear. Storey recommends pairing it with oysters. 14.5% alcohol. $24/bottle

The 2007 Tempranillo has fruit from the Cielo Grande Vineyard, Paso Robles, as its basis. This vineyard, located in the little town of San Miguel, is a small three-acre block farmed by Norm & Karyn Grencius. The grapes contribute to an earthy old-world style wine, with an aroma of berries, and a softness on the palate. It was held in new and used French oak barrels for 9 months before bottling. Only 250 cases were produced. This wine is very food friendly and will not overtake the meal; suggested pairing is with pasta, mushrooms, barbeque. 13.5% alcohol. $20/bottle.

The 2006 Grenache originated in the Arroyo Grande vineyard which is located due east of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County, near the Pacific Ocean. This vineyard is a very tiny block of 238 vines of Grenache that are dry farmed, and the fruit it produces has great depth and character. This wine demonstrates the essence of its terroir -- the Arroyo Grande soil is composed of fossilized oysters, gravel, sand, and limestone. The result on the nose is an intensity of blueberries and spice. After a cool two week fermentation, the wine was aged in 70% old and 30% new French oak barrels. 15.9% alcohol, $35/bottle.

John Storey is just one of the interesting winemakers and unique wines that are featured at Friday tastings by Bacchus & Venus, located at 10118 Donner Pass Road, Truckee. Their events schedule is posed at http://www.bacchusandvenus.com/, or phone 530 550 9800. It’s worth a visit anytime, however, as their highly interesting wine tasting menu changes daily.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.


Tahoe Yacht Club Features Wines from Around the World

Ship ahoy for fine wines! The Tahoe Yacht Club might seem an unlikely venue for tasting and learning about wines, but under the direction of Vice Commodore Andy Wagner, who has taken on the voluntary role of the club’s wine-wizard, over the last 5 years the Tahoe Yacht Club has become known for its monthly wine tastings in an informal yet yacht-clubby environment.

(Photo: Irma Robinson & Andy Wagner in the Tahoe Yacht Club)

A recent tasting event, featured as a “South American Wine Tour” featured wines of Argentina and the Patagonia region from the portfolio of TasteVino. TasteVino, based in Napa, CA, was founded by Irma Robinson and her chef husband Morgan Robinson after they went to Buenos Aires to look at the cuisine and discovered the wonderful wines. These “foodies” from the Napa Valley have created a portfolio of wines that is worth experiencing.

In the spirit of the evening, members of the Tahoe Yacht Club brought South American appetizers and tapas to round out the event. You might want to consider joining this fun group, and through July 31, new initiation fees are discounted by 50%. Call general manager Darren Kramer at 530 581 4700 to inquire. The club is located at 700 N. Lake Blvd in Tahoe City, near the Boatworks Mall.

The wines presented by TasteVino are selected not only for great quality and diversity, but also with an eye to value-for-money. The wines of Cinco Sentidos in Argentina are gently produced by this family-owned, third-generation winery. Their vineyards are located towards the west of the Argentinean territory, in the province of Mendoza, at a location that’s 850 meters above sea level.
The winery features varietals which bring out the best attributes these terroirs can offer.

We started our tasting with a 2007 Cinco Sentidos Torrontes, made from fruit sourced from Salta, one of Argentina's largest provinces that is bordered by Chile, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The province is characterized by vastly diverse terrain. The resulting wine is quite aromatic, with notes of citris and flowers, and the taste is crisp. It will pair well with sushi, thai food, seafood of all kinds. 13.8% alcohol. $15 for the bottle.

The 2006 Cinco Sentidos Chardonnay is made with grapes from the Mendoza province of the Cuyo area, the site of most of Argentina’s wine grape production. This is an unoaked wine, with pear-apple-pineapple flavors, a touch of vanilla. It will pair well with salmon, pasta, fresh fruit, and even such everyday snacks as popcorn, due to the malolactic fermentation used to produce this wine. 13.5% alcohol, $15/bottle.

The 2005 Cinco Sentidos Malbec is also made from Mendoza fruit, but has aroma and taste of plum, cherry, and a touch of leather. It will pair beautifully with rib-eye steak, grilled sausage or lamb. 13.9% alcohol. $15/bottle.

Moving to the Argentine Patagonia in our South American tasting adventure, we are welcomed by the wines of Familia Schroeder. Many of their wines emanate from San Patricio del Chañar, a relatively new area in the winemaking region that features light stony soils, intense sunlight, and temperature differences and other features that are similar to Washington/Oregon.

We started with a sparkling wine, the 2007 Deseado, a lovely and elegant beverage that’s fruit-forward with flower, citrus and peach overtones. $19/bottle.

Lastly, we tasted the 2007 Saurus Pinot Noir. The Saurus label is an entry level brand for this winery. The 2007 is a medium bodied pinot with a fruit-forward aroma and taste, sweet tannins and nice acidity. Pairs well with pasta with mushrooms, halibut. 14.0% alcohol. $19/bottle.

The Tahoe Yacht Club features many different wines and regions in its monthly tastings, and holds two winemaker dinners a year as well. For more information on joining the club or coming to an event as a guest, contact general manager Darren Kramer at 530 581 4700. The club is located at 700 N. Lake Blvd in Tahoe City, CA, 96145. For visitors to Tahoe City, this location is best known as "near the Boatworks Mall."


© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article, written by me, appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.


Using New Technologies for the Greater Good

Received over the weekend, a joke I just can't resist passing on. It certainly has significance for farmers, and perhaps for info gurus...

A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in California when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, Will you give me a calf?"

Bud looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure, Why not?" The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.

The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg , Germany . Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database thro ugh an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves." "That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves," says Bud.

He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with amusement as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car. Then Bud says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?" The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?" "You're a Congressman for the U.S. Government", says Bud. "Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about how working people make a living - or about cows, for that matter. This is a herd of sheep. ...

Now give me back my dog."


Your Daily Three

If you are still not sure that the path to resolving your winery’s administrative and marketing woes is Technology (with a capital T), then you should be at the Wine Industry Technology Symposium. The two-day gangbuster of what’s new in info tech and social media is finishing up today at the Napa Marriot, so there is still time to get your questions answered. I got one question answered yesterday: what’s the optimal number of Twitters (Tweets?) to do in order to continuously promote your winery. Three. Three a Day.

It’s a full time job to manage a social media function at a winery. Jennifer Rolander is the Direct Sales Manager for Quivara Winery, Healdsburg CA. Her days consist of time at the computer and more time at the computer. She’s pretty creative and has a kind of friendly focus that might have come from her background in clinical psychology. Grinding out Tweets and managing other social media tools for Quivara is mentally challenging. And then there is the immediacy issue.

“Answering a consumer question in two days just doesn’t do it,” Jennifer said. “Customers want answers NOW.”

That is the dirty little secret of social media management. It’s demanding. Someone must be tasked with the responsibility to pay attention to what’s going on with the chatter, every single minute. It is just not a matter of setting up a page on Facebook and encouraging your wine club members to become your followers. That is just the start. It’s called viral marketing because it is like a virus – the news, good OR bad, spreads from person to person. And as “Bos”, aka Andrew Bosworth, a senior engineering manager for Facebook, said in the session on Embracing Social Media and Commerce , you’ve got to take the risk of giving up complete control of your brand.

This is a tall order when a winery has taken time to build a carefully crafted image. Lots of folks in that conference room want to get into the social media game because it is, after all, free. Isn’t it?


Charity Wine Events Help Build Awareness of Small Wineries

You don't need to be a big well-funded and profitable mega-winery in order to make a meaningful contribution to important charities in your community. I know that small wineries, in particular, feel nibbled-to-death-by-ducks, with the number of requests that they get for a case of wine here, a case of wine there. So it is with the average citizen with the requests from police leagues, museums, performing arts groups, high schools, etc. The wise contributor -- citizen and company alike -- assesses what organizations do in fact reach the most worthwhile groups in our society, and consolidates their giving.

One example of putting this thinking into action is the group of wineries that participated in a worthy annual event in the Lake Tahoe area -- and that is the Soroptimist Wine Tasting held in the Truckee-Donner area recently. I was amazed at the huge turnout and camaraderie at the annual fundraiser for Soroptimist International. This event is usually held in May or June, and if you travel to, or live in and around Lake Tahoe at this time of year, you too should attend.

“Sip, Savor, and Smile” was the theme of this 35th annual event. Wineries participating were Bantam Cellars, Benziger Wine, Fenton Herriott Vineyards, Karly Winery, Lone Buffalo Vineyards, Nevada City Winery, Renaissance Vineyard & Winery, Secret Ravine, Steele Wines, Truckee River Winery, and Vina Castellano Vineyard & Winery. You can order most of these wines directly from the wineries via their websites, and I believe that many bottles and cases were sold that way after the event. (Pictured above are the Vina Castellano folks pouring their wines).

Below are just a few of my favorites from the tasting:

Secret Ravine (Loomis, CA) poured its 2005 Rose and the 2004 Zinfandel. Located in the Sierra foothills, this winery specializes in wines made from locally grown grapes. The 2005 Rosè is a light dry wine. The bright red color and taste that includes hints of strawberry, vanilla, plum and peach make it an ideal summer wine. 15% alcohol. $12/bottle. The 2004 Zinfandel is just as full of spice and fruit as a good zin should be! 15.8% alcohol. $14/bottle. http://www.secretravine.com/

Steele Wines (Kelseyville, CA) has a red wine in their Shooting Star labeled wines named “Black Bubbles”. It is a sparkling syrah which is a sweet, great summer wine. Sparkling shiraz is a great Aussie tradition; you must try it. 13.5% alcohol. $16/bottle. http://www.steelewines.com/

Lone Buffalo Vineyards (Auburn, CA) makes food-friendly, Rhône-style estate produced wines; I particularly enjoyed their 2008 “Buffalo Rose” , made from their 2nd vintage of our estate grown Sangiovese grapes. It has a fruity strawberry character, nicely dry, and is a perfect summer picnic wine. Only 50 cases were made, so contact them now! $14/bottle. The Thunder Beast Zinfandel 2007 is a classic Foothill Zin. Beautifully balanced, with a big and bold raspberry aroma. Only 60 cases produced. 15.9% alcohol. $20/bottle. And of course there is the Where the Buffalo Roam, a blend of 73% syrah, 23% Grenache and 4% Mourvedre; this Rhône-style red blend has lively fruit, a hint of spice, and is easy to drink. $18/bottle. http://www.lonebuffalovineyards.com/.

Viña Castellano (Auburn, CA) featured its 2005 Tempranillo, which won a Gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle compeittion. I found it really yummy, with lots of fruit, spicy, medium tannin, juicy, and nicely balanced. $26/bottle. http://www.vinacastellano.com/

Renaissance Vineyard & Winery (Oregon House, CA) is a small production winery that uses only its own estate grown, hand-harvested grapes to make distinctive terroir wines in limited quantities. Assistant winemaker Shawn poured its 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon which was a lovely fruit-forward cab, with cherry aroma and taste. This vintage has retained its fruit, and will be quite palatable for another 5 years. $30/bottle. http://www.renaissancewinery.com/

All of these great wines (and many more were poured!) were accompanied by tastes of the specialties from local restaurants including Baxters, Coffee and Cottonwood, Coyote Moon, Dragonfly, Drooling Dog BBQ, Moody’s, Ron Allen Catering, Runway Café, Squeeze In, Thai Delicacy, Truckee Sourdough, Twin Peaks Catering, Village Pizzeria and Wild cherries.

Soroptimist International began in 1921 in Oakland with 80 professional women. Today it is the world’s largest service organization for professional and executive businesswomen, with programs in the areas of economic and social development, education, environment, health, human rights & status of women, and international goodwill and understanding.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. Much of this information above appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.



Value-Wine Finds from Indy Intl Competition: Recommendations by Guest Blogger Steve Somermeyer

This post was written by guest-blogger Steve Somermeyer, assistant winemaker at Chateau Thomas Winery, Indianapolis, Indiana.

The FLIWC (Finger Lakes International Wine Competition) just keeps getting bigger and better.  This year there were almost 3300 commercial entries from 22 countries, 5 Canadian Providences, and all 50 states (for the 3rd year in a row I believe).  This places it in the top 3-4 competitions in the country when commercial entry totals are compared and clearly the largest ice wine competition in the world.  I was one of the 64 judges which made for a fairly crowded judging room.  Judges represented 15 countries which made for interesting chats over meals and in the evenings.  The FLIWC benefits Camp Good Days and Special Moments, a camp located on one of the Finger Lakes dedicated to providing a great camp experience for kids fighting cancer.  All of the backroom staff are volunteers and are dedicated to the camp.  A number of the judges, myself included, donate their travel expenses to the camp.  The organizers - Peter, David, Ron, Chris, and many others - go out of their way to make the judges feel very welcome and take very good care of us. 

If you want to see the detailed results for yourself the website for the FLIWC 2012 results is:  http://www.fliwc.com/results/2012results.asp

Every year at FLIWC I make new friends and my new panel members quickly became friends.  Aaron Mandel, an attorney from St. Louis, Fred Stabins, a certified AWS judge (like Aaron) from Rochester, and Shari Mogk-Edwards, Vice-President, Merchandising and Vintages, LCBO (Liquor Control Board for Ontario).  We enjoyed the competition and learned new insights from each other.  We had 15-20 minutes to work through a flight of 8 wines and enjoyed 12-13 flights per day.  That's plenty of sniffing and spitting for each day.  For the judges that can stay, the organizers take us on a bus ride to the Fingers Lakes on Monday.  One of the things that makes it special is that they don't pick the wineries to visit until after the competition so that wineries that do well are selected.  Usually the bus - 2 this year because of the large number of judges - stops at Camp Good Days so we get a sense of what the camp is.   It's a great day to unwind from judging with time to chat with fellow judges and some award winning winemakers.

The FLIWC doesn't award a single Best-of-Show trophy but it does award nice trophies for Best Ice Wine, Best Riesling, Best Chardonnay, and Best Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winners:

Best Ice Wine - 2008 A Capella Ice Wine from Black Star Farm near Traverse City, MI
Best Riesling - Also from Michigan and the Leeanau Peninsula, Chateau Fontaine with their 2011 Dry White Riesling
Best Chardonnay - Merryvale Vineyards from Napa Valley, 2010 Chardonnay
Best Cabernet Sauvignon - Washington's Chateau St. Michelle with their 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

I've always felt that wines judged in the first flight of a competition suffer from being the first wines to be judged - judges are getting breakfast tastes out of their palates, working to get calibrated to fellow panel judges, and getting into the pace or rhythm of the competition.  With our panel for instance, Shari is used to evaluating many wines in a very short time frame to make purchasing decisions for the LCBO and Fred is a very deliberate judge searching for every nuance while Aaron and I fell somewhere in between.  Because of our Midwestern judging experiences, Aaron and I also had more experience with fruit wines so we had a number of amicable discussions as we worked through the wide assortment of wines.  It took us several flights to adjust our pace to each other.  As mentioned previously I always worry about the results of the first flight of wines so I was very surprised, pleasantly so, when our panel discussed our impressions of the flight of Pinot Gris/Grigio wines and we not only awarded a gold medal to a Michigan Pinot Gris but also a double gold to a Pinto Gris from the Slovak Republic.  So much for my pre-conceived notion!

Another pleasant surprise for our panel was a double gold Frontenac blend from Quebec, 2010 Mystere Rouge from Vignoble d'Oka.  We had a nice flight of Cabernet Franc's with 4 silvers and 2 gold medals - 2010 from Six Mile Creek Vineyard in Ithaca, NY, and non-vintage blend Americus from LaBelle Winery in New Hampshire.  An unfamiliar grape to all of us, Roesler, yielded another double gold medal with 2009 Roesler Reserve from Schachl Harlad in Austria - truly this was an international competition.  Our flights of Riesling didn't let us down with a double gold going to the 2010 Riesling from Sandbanks Estates Winery in Ontario and a gold medal to Gallo's 2010 Polka Dot Riesling - a 'value' wine. 

Some of the new vintage white wines suffered because of the timing of this competition as many had just recently been bottled and the sulfur aroma that is quite common in newly bottled wines was evident and a distraction.  As I reviewed my judging score sheets, there was generally a SO2 comment on each flight of whites.

We also had a nice flight of Syrah/Shiraz with a double gold going to 2009 Stymie Syrah from Steele Wines in Lake County, CA, and a gold going to 2009 Syrah Reserve from Tulip Winery in Israel. 
The flight of Cabernet Sauvignon produced a double gold - Kenneth Volk Vineyards 2008 (Volk founded Wild Horse Vineyards in Paso Robles, sold it to Beam, and now has started this winery) and 2 gold medals - J. Lohr Hilltop 2008 and Domaine Napa Wine's 2010 Forest Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, another 'value'.  Our Red Bordeaux Blend flight yielded a double gold from Sandbanks Estate Winery in Ontario with their 2009 Shoreline Red plus golds from Paltine Hills Estate Winery in Ontario and Santa Julia Magna from Bodega Santa Julia in Mendoza, Argentina.   We also found a double gold in the Merlot class from Cardella Winery in California near Fresno with their 2008 and a gold with 2008 Dvoracke Merlot Barriqu by Vinarstvi Dvoracek in the Czech Republic.

Switching to fruit wines we found 2 double golds in our flight of Blackberry wines - Tomasello Winery in New Jersey and Lagoda Ridge Winery in Missouri.   btw, Lagoda Ridge also won gold medals for 2 other fruit wines: a Peach and a flavored Cherry wine, Chococherry Kiss.

Our flight of Ice Wines yielded a double gold from Quebec, Vignoble Riviere du Chene's 2009 Mondo Ice Wine.  It also contained a pair of gold medal wines from the same winery - rose-colored Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc from Royal DeMaria Wines in Ontario.  Our last flight of the competition was a flight of artificially frozen 'ice wines' /late harvest wines and we ended up with a bang  with two double golds.  One was a 2010 Pear from Georgian Hills Vineyard in Ontario and the other was a 2003 Traminette Steyer Vaneja by Steyer Vina in Slovenia.

All in all, we had some excellent wines along with a few stinkers.  We awarded 14 double golds which was quite a bit above the average but felt lucky as numerous friends from other tables complained about the 'average' wines they judged.  At least one panel didn't find a single double gold among the 200+ wines they judged.  I've judged with several from that panel and certainly didn't feel that they were hyper critical when I judged with them.

One can find excellent wine everywhere these days.  If you look at the list of the double gold medal winners on the website, you will find winners from 18 states, 3 Candian providences, and 3 other countries.  Extending the search to include gold medals would increase these numbers. 

Let's look at the results and highlight the wineries that did very well:

A favorite of mine from previous Indy Internationals, Maryhill Winery at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, took a double gold with their 2008 Barbara and golds with
 2009 Proprietor's Reserve Zinfandel and 2010 Pinot Gris.

Previously mentioned Lagoda Ridge in Missouri and their fruit wines (see above)

Bending Branch Winery in Texas took a double gold with their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and golds with their 2009 Tannat and 2009 Souzao.

Trump (Yes, that Trump) Winery in Virginia got 2 double golds with their 2009 Red Bordeaux Blend New World Red and their sparkling 2008 Blanc de Blanc

 Indiana's own Oliver Winery entered quite a few wines and received 2 double golds - 2010 Creekbend Chambourcin and a new label for them 2010 Vintage Sun Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza (?) plus a gold medal for their 2011 Creekbend Vidal Blanc.

As mentioned previously Kenneth Volk Vineyards received a double gold from our panel for their Cabernet Sauvignon and also one for their 2008 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir plus a gold medal for their 2009 Touriga.

E & J Gallo entered a number of their national brands and their Barefoot wines did very well.  Hard to beat in the 'value' (quality:price ratio), Barefoot won golds for Pinot Grigio, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Moscato plus one for the 2010 Alamos Red Blend from Mendoza, the Poka Dot Riesling (from our panel), and the Naked Grape Pinot Grigio.  They also won 28 silver medals.

Sandbanks Estate Winery in Ontario won double golds from our panel with their Shoreline Red plus their 2010 Riesling.

Merryvale Vineyards from Napa not only won the best Chardonnay trophy but also got double golds with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Starmont Sauvignon Blanc.  Chris O'Gormon, who is their Marketing head and judges at FLIWC every year is a great guy and I enjoy interacting with him.

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in California won 3 gold medals for

If you'd like to learn more about the FLIWC and Camp Good Days, visit the website to see how you can get involved/help.  It's a great cause and it's attracted great people.  I'm priviledged to be one of the wine competition judges.   http://www.fliwc.com/aboutus.asp


LUCCHESI WINERY & VINEYARD: “View Forever” Produces Luscious, Happy Wine

The directions to Lucchesi Winery & Vineyard are easy and found on their terrific website: turn here, turn there, don’t be startled by the climbing dirt road, and you’ll soon be facing a vineyard vista that’s appropriately called “View Forever.” That's the rewards of making your way to 19698 View Forever Lane in Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills of California, not far from Lake Tahoe.

This small family-owned vineyard and winery is the pride and joy of Mario and Linda Clough. It’s a hands-on working operation: many days you’ll see Mario himself driving the tractor, which he’s done since the first vines were planted in 1999.

Lucchesi (pronounced loo kay see) lucked out when they identified a bright young winemaker and hired her almost three years ago. Kristen Vartan gained experience not only in California wineries (Robert Mondavi, Oakville; Frank Family, Calistoga) but in New Zealand too, where she earned her degree in enology and viticulture. Kristen is fervent about her craft, and the wines reflect that. She is committed to making world-class wines with personality that exhibit regional characteristics unique to Sierra Foothill fruit.

“Although not well recognized, there is great potential for the wines up in the foothills,” she said. “Our vineyard at 2600 feet is pretty high up. But mountain grown fruit is more concentrated because the vine has to struggle to thrive and produce. So I work with grapes where the flavors are very well developed; this climate really ripens the fruit to that ideal that winemakers pray for. And the grapes are happy here. They have beautiful views.”

You’ll find that Lucchesi wines are tasty and unique, and they benefit from Kristen’s non-interventionist winemaking philosophy to let the grapes and terroir express themselves.

You too can sample wines while looking at a view that goes forever…

2007 Chardonnay, a vineyard-designate wine with all fruit from the View Forever vineyard, won a double-gold award at the San Francisco Chronicle competition. Only 450 cases were produced. The creamy flavor is due in part to the fermentation in 30% new oak barrels. Aroma of peaches, apple, a touch of hazelnut, finishes with a hint of caramel. 14.4 % alcohol. $21/bottle.

The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc contains fruit was sourced from Lucchesi vineyards and also Penn Valley vineyards. The wine was crafted to retain all of its vibrant fruit characteristics. On the palate, it is clean, crisp, with not too much citrus. A hint of herbs, maybe some tarragon? Only 294 cases; fermented in stainless steel, a great summertime wine. 14.3% alcohol. $16/bottle.

The 2006 Cabernet Franc is made entirely of fruit from View Forever vineyard. A fairly rich wine, fruit-forward, with heavy yet supple tannins from aging in 30% new French oak barrels. A bit of merlot softens the tannin. It is very food friendly (think barbeque, short ribs!), with a pleasant long finish. Only 278 cases produced. 14.8% alcohol. $24/bottle.

The 2006 Syrah will be a fast seller, as it won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. Only 342 cases produced, all from Sierra Foothills grapes. It was co-fermented with 5% Viognier in small lots, matured in 35% new French oak barrels for 16 months. Tastes of black cherries, a bit of spice but not too black-peppery. Very food friendly with a firm tannin and long finish! 14.9 % alcohol $23/bottle.

The winery at 19698 View Forever Lane, Grass Valley, is generally open by appointment only. Call 530 273 1596. The wine club holds several events there during the year (5-course lunches on the lawns near View Forever Vineyard, open air star-lit movie nights to see Bottleshock and other fun wine-related films). If you are anxious to taste the wines immediately, go to the tasting room at 167 Mill Street in Grass Valley; it is open daily from 11 til late. 530 274 2164. You can also directly purchase wines at the website: http://www.lucchesivineyards.com/.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.