Adobe Road Wnemaker hosts dinner at The Resort at Squaw Creek

Scorsone pours for Cathy Krauss,  my
wine writing assistant at Tahoe Weekly
When an enthusiastic young winemaker comes to a winemaker dinner that is well thought out, that’s the best! This was the case at a recent Six Peaks Grille winemaker dinner, part of an ongoing series hosted in this fine dining restaurant at The Resort at Squaw Creek. This winemaker was Michael Scorsone of Adobe Road Wines, a Sonoma winery that specializes in small lot, handcrafted wines.

Michael Scorsone brings a culinary background to his winemaking, and that means very food-friendly wines. His family is a deeply rooted Sicilian “food and wine family”, he noted. He is also a graduate of one of America’s top culinary schools, The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Adobe Road produces between 3000-4000 cases of wine yearly, depending on the harvest. Adobe Road’s 12 different wines are produced from local grapes, sourced through long-term leases with growers. The winemaking style is “very traditional”, according to Michael, “ and we like to show a lot of personality in the wine.” Winery owners Debra and Kevin Buckler apply the same attention to detail in their wines as was done in their other business, professional motorsports.

We began the dinner with the 2009 Adobe Road Dry Creek Green Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. “We pick our grapes riper than other Dry Creek wineries, in order to give us that unique texture, resulting in a food friendly wine. We also barrel age our Sauvignon Blanc, which is not often done in California,” Michael said. The result is a delicious wine that’s golden in color, and tastes reminiscent of a Gravenstein liquid apple pie. There’s caramel, vanilla, nectarine and peach tones, with a citrusy tint. Some spice and tropic fruit add to the flavor profile. 14.1 percent alcohol, $19 the bottle at retail, slightly more at Six Peaks’ tableside. Chef Chad Shrewsbury of Six Peaks Grille paired this wine with pan seared scallops with wild mushroom, cockle and carrot touches in this dish.

For the main course of this dinner, filet mignon, the beef practically called out for a Pinot Noir, and the Adobe Road 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir was a great choice. The grapes are sourced from the O’Neel Vineyards in Russian River, and this area is a pinot noir growing region that is among the warmest in California. Only 250 cases of this wine were produced. The wine was full-bodied with enticing aromas of red cherries, cedar and spice. Sadly, this vintage is now sold out, but the 2007, also sourced from the O’Neel Vineyards, also is yummy with aroma of strawberry jam, raspberry and allspice. Fine tannins give a silky mouthfeel. 14.1 percent alcohol in the 2007, $48 the bottle at retail, slightly more at Six Peaks’ tableside. You might consider this for your holiday wine.

The 2006 Adobe Road Knights Valley Bavarian Lion Vineyard Cabernet concluded the dinner, paired with a selection of California cheeses and seasonal fruits. This wine is made from grapes that are grown on the valley floor where the Bavarian Lion Vineyard is located, so the berries are small and the vines must struggle. The result is a concentrated flavor, and it is a rich and almost chewy Cabernet, very classic in style. Strawberry and chocolate flavors follow this wine from the front of the tongue to its long finish. Cedar, dark raspberries, a hint of anise, cloves and black olives make this a classic Cabernet. It was aged for 24 months in French and American Oak. 15.8 percent alcohol, $48 the bottle at retail, slightly more at Six Peaks’ tableside.

The Six Peaks Grille is located in The Resort at Squaw Creek, 400 Squaw Creek Road, Olympic Valley, CA (530) 583-6300 for reservations. More information on Adobe Road:

Orin Swift Wines: A Secret Love, Met Again at Plumpjack Squaw Valley

I’ve had a secret love with “the Prisoner”, a wonderful red wine from winemaker Orin Swift. I’ve been keeping it a secret for far too long, because, as you know, I rant about high alcohol wines. This is clearly a high alcohol wine, but I can’t help loving it. Ever since wine afficianado Lou Phillips poured some for me at a bistro dinner in Truckee a few years ago, I’ve been captivated. I can’t say the same for my dinner companion of that long-ago evening, but that is a whole other series of stories, this one tagged on the keyline, “Is that all there is?”

Thus, I couldn’t miss the PlumpJack Café winemaker dinner this autumn that featured wines from Orin Swift Cellars. A few years ago, the great winemaking palate behind the Orin Swift brand, Dave Phinney, sold two brands to Huneeus Vintners. One of the brands was The Prisoner. Why does this matter? Because even though Phinney sold the brands and inventory, Phinney remained as winemaker; he retains ownership of Orin Swift Cellars and its other wines. So that great palate is still blending this delicious red wine for all of us who love it. Kevin Fox, who was presenting the wines at the PlumpJack , is the assistant winemaker.

Prisoner pairs with Ahi
The 2009 Napa Valley red wine, “The Prisoner”, was paired by Plumpjack’s executive chef Ben “Wyatt” Dufresne with a Hawaiian Ahi served with bacon confit marble potatoes, truffle salt gel and a porcini-blueberry vinaigrette. The cherry, cassis and black fruit taste is dominant throughout from first sniff to first taste to finish, and the tannins are so well integrated in this wine that I experienced them as very soft. It’s a dark red wine. Add the velvet of American and French Oak, and you’ve got a great big lush wine with a massive entry. Plumpjack has a good program for these high alcohol wines (The Prisoner is 15+ percent alcohol ) by offering 3 ounce and 6 ounce glasses. The Prisoner is $7 for 3 ounces, $14 for 6 ounces.

Papillon & Filet
The 2008 Papillon Red Wine, Napa Valley, is a finely tuned Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with just a touch of Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The 2008 is their fourth vintage of Papillon, and features grapes sourced from Howell Mountain, Saint Helena, Rutherford, and Oakville. Chef Wyatt paired it with a Durham Ranch filet mignon, accompanied by Montgomery Cheddar Mac n’ cheese. The pairing was perfect, as this is a bit more of a serious wine with good cellaring potential too. Deep red in color, aroma is classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: cedar, rose petal, hints of soft French oak. A nice ripe raspberry and boysenberry flavor to begin, and as it opens up, there is cherry, plum and cassis. 15.5 percent alcohol. $10.50 for 3 ounces, $21 for 6 ounces.

To end on a sweet note, the cardamom opera cake with huckleberry sorbet was paired with the 2009 French wine from Orin Swift’s project there, the “D66” Grenache. The winery and vineyards in Maury, France are in the outer Roussillon very close to the Spanish border and nestled in the Pyrénées-Orientales. These vineyards were planted 60 years ago, and the blend of fruit (Grenache, Syrah, Carignan) results in a wine that is a dark opaque red color with aromas of toasted oak, ripe blueberry jam and dried rose petal. There’s a minerality and acidity that give this wine a nice long finish. 15.2 percent alcohol. $7 for 3 ounces, $14 for 6 ounces.
PlumpJack Café at the Squaw Valley Inn, 1920 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley CA, holds an outstanding series of winemaker dinners, and its wine list and regular menu are spectacular too. Reservations: (530) 583-1576 More information at

Antonini Wines Featured at West Shore Cafe: Wine Educator George Foote Presents!

There is absolutely no place on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe that is a beautiful and elegant as The West Shore Café in Homewood. Thus it’s appropriate that they launched their winemaker dinners with beautiful and elegant wines. The Antinori wines presented in the USA in partnership with Ste Michelle Wine Estates provided a wide range of tasting experience and the chance for West Shore’s Executive Chef William “Rusty” Johns to show off his art.

George Foote, the Maryland-based and well-known National Wine Educator, was there courtesy of Ste Michelle to share stories of these Antinori wines.

Marchese Piero Antinori, the 26th generation of his family to sell wine, took the reins of the company in 1966. Somewhat of a renegade, he challenged the Italian authorities on their categorization of wines, and forged ahead with production of highly consumable food-friendly wines at affordable price points. Wines from Tuscany boomed. Now, in this generation, the three daughters of Piero Antinori are continuing the tradition of consistent excellence. This is one of the 10 oldest wine families in the world!

The Sangiovese “Santa Cristina”, Antinori, Tuscany 2009 was originally introduced in 1946 as a Chianti Classico by Piero Antinori’s father. Technically, this wine is a Super Tuscan, although it is not marketed as such. Primarily Sangiovese, it is blended with 10 percent merlot, and new in the 2009 vintage, 5 percent Cabernet. It’s a modern style Tuscan red wine, ready to be consumed, and it is referred to as “italy’s Favorite Wine.” Ruby red in color, the aroma is intense with cherry and raspberry fruit, hints of violet and toast too. It’s a very smooth wine, with soft tannins that are controlled and delicious, and a nice finish. 13 percent alcohol. $12 the bottle. Local distributor Southern Wine & Spirits is a believer in this wine, so in addition to being available at West Shore Café, Dockside 700 in Tahoe City also sells it by-the-glass and bottle. Chef Rusty paired it with Cioppino. Perfect.

The Tignanello, Tuscany, Antinori, IGT, Tuscany 2007 is a legendary Super Tuscan. The winery has focused on Sangiovese clones for years to improve this variety, and lets the fruit express itself through careful blending practices. This is the wine that singled-handedly altered the Italian wine laws, courtesy of the stubbornness and wisdom of Piero Antinori, allowing special wines from all regions throughout Italy to be produced in the new category IGT. The Tignanello is 80 percent Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet, with 5% Cabernet Franc added for balance. It is an intense ruby red, with aroma of ripe fruit and spice, vanilla and toast. Richly textured, the structure is complex and flavors are long and persistent with hints of chocolate, huckleberry and black plum on the finish. Tannins are managed well with this wine, and it is truly elegant. 14% alcohol. $100 the bottle. Paired delightfully with Chef Rusty’s T-bone steak prepared Italian style.

The Marchese Antinori Vin Santo 2006, Tuscany, DOCG , comes only in 500 ml bottles. Made in Tuscany since the medieval times, it maybe have been used during Mass. Antinori Vin Santo uses Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes from the Antinori estates in the Chianti region. Air dried in a loft and then pressed after several months, a long slow fermentation takes place over three years. The result is a bright yellow amber-hued dessert wine, with hints of honey and dried fruit. 15-16 percent alcohol. $42 the 500 ml bottle. The dessert pairing was an apple/pear tart.

The West Shore Café & Inn is on the lakefront adjacent to Homewood Mountain Resort. Phone 530 525 5200 for reservations. More information at

Harvest Report: Oman in Arabia

Since it was near the end of the harvest in the Sierra Foothills, I decided to switch reporting locale and travel to Arabia – Oman, to be specific.

First, it is important to note that no wine grapes are harvested in Oman, nor are there any wineries. This is a Moslem country. But for the thirsty tourist, almost all hotels set aside Koranic law for us infidels and offer a wine list where you can get a vastly overpriced (and sometimes heat-cooked) bottle of French, Australian, Chilean or South African wine, or, for about 3 to 6 Omani Rial (at 2.6 US dollars to the OMR) a glass of a varietal called “red wine” or “white wine.” I seem to recall that the English have a term for these varietals, and it is “plonk”.

daily life in Muscat
This was a big eye-opener for me, fresh from the reports of great Zins and Syrahs that will result from the 2011 harvest in the Sierra Foothills. I was looking forward to some great Moscato. I mean, Muscat Oman must have something to do with Muscat or Moscato wines. You’d think.

Sadly, I informed my grown sons by email via the 1-rial-an-hour hotel business center computers that since wine was so expensive, I would not be buying any souvenirs, not even the frankincense for which Oman is famous, and would instead devote a ceramic made-to-look-old pot of OMR to the search for a decent glass of wine. This search continues.. but I have great weekend plans for the bar at the Al Bustan, the Ritz Carlton property in Muscat.

Actually, I think the best bet for a local winemaking industry in Oman would be for a date-based wine. Dates are everywhere here, with 35,000 hectares of land planted with date palms throughout the Sultanate, and there are 40-odd varieties grown in the Nizwa region of Oman alone and that’s just one growing area. There is even an historical date-crush process in place. A few hundred years ago when Omani mud-brick walled cities and forts were under siege, the protectors would rush to the date storage rooms, where bags of dates had been laid layer upon layer several meters high on three sides of the room, starting with a platform raised about 18 inches and slightly cantilevered toward the twoinside corners. Date juice would emanate naturally from the weight of the heaped dates, and be collected in ceramic pots strategically placed at those corners.

Nizwa Fort stairs
 This is where the Omanis made a grevious winemaking error. Instead of contacting Scott Labs, Lallemand, Chr.Hansen etc for the latest date-juice-fermenting yeast, they HEATED UP the date juice and poured it through slats in their fortress steps as invaders were rushing up the lower steps. Kind of like tarring and feathering, but without the feathers. It seems to have worked, since Oman stayed independent and continued its dhow building and trading even to modern times. Today most of the export trade is in oil, natural gas, copper and aluminium.

There’s a real opportunity to increase their balance of payments with a date wine industry, I think. Wake up, Your Majesty, the world awaits Omani date wine!

(Note to self, next time buy wine at duty free before getting on the plane to Muscat).

El Dorado Wineries and Big Band Jazz: Charity Event at Lake Tahoe

The autumn colors at Sugar Pine Point State park are spectacular right now, so don’t be shy: go. Pack a picnic, take a bottle of wine and some of those great plastic wine glasses, a blanket, and enjoy. If you need some wine suggestions, look for some of the wines noted below. They were contributed to a tasting event in late August, when the park featured a night of Big Band Jazz and wines from a number of El Dorado wineries. If you can’t find those wines in your nearby wine shop, remember that El Dorado wineries are a mere daytrip away from Tahoe in the Sierra Foothills.

Lava Cap, located near Placerville, contributed a 2009 Reserve Chardonnay. This lovely rich and creamy chardonnay has aroma of toasty oak, apple and vanilla. The velvet mouth feel comes from Burgundy aging techniques and barrel fermentation in separate lots which were then blended. Winemaker Tom Jones handcrafts this wine. It’s won several awards. 14.9 per cent alcohol, $18 bottle.

The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Boeger Winery, near Placerville, is an estate wine produced from grapes in their own vineyards. It is a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with a lingering finish and yet is delicate on the palate. Aroma of grapefruit, peach and nectarine. 14.5 per cent alcohol. $14 bottle.

Latcham’s El Dorado Gold Rush White is a nicely blended table wine that hails from their winery in the Fair Play/Mt Aukum area of El Dorado County. This is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Blanc that has both a refreshing crisp fruit flavor and a hint of sweetness. $12.50 bottle.

Jazz Band at Twilight, Lake Tahoe
shoreline at Sugar Pine Point State Park 

Holly’s Hill 2009 Patriarche Blanc is a blend of 50% Roussane, 25% Grenache, and 25% Viognier. “A beautiful floral perfume of orange zest with lemon/lime and melon. In the mouth the wine has a great viscous mouthfeel with a long finish,” notes the winemaker. Holly’s Hill Winery, located just south of Placerville at 2700 feet elevation in the Pleasant Valley region, is a small family winery that produces only Rhone varietals. $25 bottle.

Mount Aukum Winery, located in Somerset, contributed its Petite Syrah 2007 Fair Play. With grapes grown in its own 2615-foot elevation vineyards as well as grapes sourced from other vineyards nearby, winemaker Michel Prod’hon is a great fan of Rhone varietals. This Petite Syrah has aroma of vanilla and exotic spices. “This wine is rich and bold with flavors of blackberry, pepper, and hint of toasted nuts. Drink it now with a hearty meal, or lay it down for several years and let the tannins soften,” says the winemaker’s notes It has won many gold medals, including one in the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle winetasting. 15.5 per cent alcohol, $35 bottle.

Perry Creek, located in the Fair Play AVA of El Dorado county, contributed its 2008 Zinfandel, the Zinman. “ZINMAN is one of Perry Creek’s most recognized and highly successful signature series wines. It is rated among the top 15 best-value Zinfandels by Wine Spectator in 2010 and its popularity continues to grow year by year. What makes it so special is the unique combination of spice and elegance in its flavors which stems from being produced in one of the best vineyards in the El Dorado County AVA,” notes the website. 14.9 per cent alcohol, $14 bottle. More information at

These civic-minded wineries contributed other wines from their production; all were outstanding Sierra Foothill wines. The Big Band event was a fundraiser to benefit the West Shore Association. In addition to the wineries, other contributors to this event were the California State Parks, the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, and the Tahoe City Public Utilities District.

copyright 2011 Barbara Keck

Barbara writes the Wine Adventures column about the wine business for The Tahoe Weekly newspaper.   She is currently gathering information for iphone app on  Sierra Foothills Wineries, to be available in late Spring 2012 through the Sutro World offerings on itunes/Apple app store.

Latin-American Winemaker Sotelo Supports Charity Event

It couldn't have been a better party -- La Catrina: Keeping the Spirits Alive -- was "the" event of the Halloween weekend in San Francisco.  This Day of the Dead-themed party benefited the Mexican Museum, a San Francisco treasure nationally-renowned for showcasing the richness of Mexican and Mexican American, Chicano and Latino art and culture.

Alex Sotelo and "La Catrina" Sofia Keck

Alex Sotelo
, Winemaker at Alex Sotelo Cellars, Napa Valley, danced and ate and imbibed with the hundreds of guests who participated in this centuries-old celebration of life and death.  He was joined by  La Catrina, the flirtatious skeleton always dressed in her finery and whose smile invites us to seize the moment. La Catrina represents the joy of life in the face of our inevitable death. In another life, La Catrina is Sofia Keck, founder of Sell It in Spanish, a bilingual and bicultural full-service marketing firm.

Pastries from La Victoria
The Concourse Exhibition Center was transformed into a colorful village environment with vendors such as Tacos San Buena and Don Ramon's Mexican Restaurant offering traditional food from Mexico and La Victoria Bakery and Kitchen topping off the cuisine with wonderful pastries.

There were many traditional altars created by local artists to remember departed loved ones. As noted in the Mexican Museum explanations, private altars such as these are traditionally decorated not only with the deceased loved ones’ favorite foods and drinks, but also with a glass of water so they may quench their thirst after the long journey. Marigolds are also part of the celebration, and the aroma of these colorful flowers fill the air, creating a path for the souls to find their way home.

The music was great, and very much enjoyed by the living souls at the event!  An all-woman Mariachi Band, Mariachi Femenil Orgullo Mexicano, performed throughout the event, and on the main stage, cumbia and salsa sounds of Grupo Los Ejecutivos provided very danceable music.
Band: Grupo Los Ejecutivos
This fundraising event was named in honor of the iconic figure of La Catrina. "La Catrina is an integral part of Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico and throughout the United States. On Día de los Muertos it is believed that the souls of those who have died return to visit the living. It is a Mexican holiday that has been celebrated for centuries, tracing back to a similar ritual observed by the Aztecs. It is now celebrated in certain parts of the United States on Nov. 1 and 2. The underlying theme for this holiday is that it is a time of great celebration, not mourning," noted the museum.

Wine Touring in the Sierra Foothills: Avanguardia, Nevada City: "Hedonic Wines"

The winding road to Avanguardia – Bitney Springs Road, bridge over Deer Creek, Newtown Road, to Jones Bar Road, look for the sign – takes you to an in-winery tasting room that is charmingly set in the midst of cases of wine, bottling machines and winemaking equipment. The sign that finally points in the direction of this purpose-built winery near Nevada City could say “varietal-free zone ahead” and that would tip you off that you are in for an other-worldly wine tasting experience.

Rob Chrisman is dedicated to making wines that provide a maximum sensory pleasure to the wine drinker. He refers to his style of winemaking as “hedonic blending”. Rob has a healthy disregard for the traditional California approach to winemaking, and is carving out a brave new world with his wines. His scrumptious wines have fanciful names, and are handcrafted with an avant-garde flair, You are in for a new taste experience!

Rob’s path to his winemaking philosophy began when he was a computer programmer in Los Angeles. Like many of us, he began his wine drinking career by trying to get bottles of wine on the cheap, and he refined his palate that way. In 1977, he visited the Foundation Plant Materials Service group at University of California – Davis. This independent arm of the university protects, preserves and distributes disease-free plant material, particularly grapes. From the list of 60 or 80 wine varieties available, Rob selected 29 varieties for his experimental vineyard in Tulare.

After many years as a grape grower of the experimental kind, and an avid home winemaker, Rob moved his family to Nevada County in 1990. He had a hunch he could grow grapes quite well on his site at 2500-foot elevation.

“I believed that Sierra Foothill wines could be as good as those from any area, and we planted vines in 2000 and 2001 on 3 ½ acres here.” Now, Avanguardia Wines blends over twenty Italian, Russian, French and University of California-created crosses grown in its estate vineyards. “Many of the grape varieties have been imported by the University especially for us and are available nowhere else, outside of Europe.” To his own estate-grown grapes, he adds other Sierra Foothills fruit. He started to produce cutting-edge blends, and they’ve found a loyal following.

“I call my winery a varietal-free zone because we don’t produce traditional chardonnay, zinfandel and so on. Although several of my wines could be considered varietals because they contain enough of one varietal to be termed that, instead we chose to give them fanciful names,” he said.

Rob sincerely believes that blending is the way to go to get the best quality, tastiest wines. “I do non-traditional blending, what I call “hedonic blending”, because I am looking for the maximum sensory pleasure out of the wine. I want to produce wines that are extremely food friendly.” His wines are not high alcohol, nor are they fruit-bombs. Subtle oak and good acidity are key. He produces 1000 cases of wine each year, and 90% of the grapes in those wines come from his estate vineyards in Nevada County.

A chat about the names of his wines is informative and entertaining. Premiato means “prizewinner”. Sanginet is a 14th century archaic name for Sangiovese. Ampio means ample, generous; Cristallo means crystal. Selvatico is actually an adjective about an Italian wine characteristic that is used to describe a wild berry or undomesticated flavor. Due Fiori…two flowers.

Looking for a daytrip to Sierra Foothill wine county? Head to Avanguardia’s winery at 13028 Jones Bar Road, Nevada City, CA 95959, open Saturday and Sunday 12-5. There’s also a tasting room in Grass Valley at 209 W. Main Street that’s open daily 12-5. More information?

Copyright 2011 Barbara Keck

Barbara Keck is now working on iPhone and Droid apps on Wineries of the Sierra Foothills

Harvest time in the Sierra Foothills, time for visits! Suggestion: Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley

“The reward for a daytrip to Sierra Foothill wineries is intense flavorful wines from passionate winemakers” ~ Barbara Keck

Andrea & Jacques Mercier
It’s Harvest Time in the Sierra Foothills, and if you’ve been following my Harvest Report blogs on the MountainHighWines blogpages, you know that the late spring and cool summer are manifesting in a later harvest than usual. It’s a good time right now to take a trip to some of those wineries you’ve been wanting to visit. Suggestion: Solune WineGrowers in Grass Valley (Nevada County).

Not every winemaker has the advantage of bringing the world’s “best practices” to his winemaking. Jacques Mercier of Solune Winegrowers has done that, thanks to an extensive background as a trained sommelier and an esteemed wine judge. From tasting and judging wines around the world – Spain, the Douro, Mendoza, Switzerland, France – he’s gathered wisdom from observation and from other wine judges who are winemakers. The result: award winning wines from his own vineyard and winery.

Jacques and wife Andrea bought their property in Grass Valley in 2001: 15 acres with a house, barn, a 3 acre vineyard in place and another 7 acres that could be planted to vines. “We decided to name our winery Solune, which is a combination of the French words for sun (soleil) ad moon (lune),” explained Jacques.

At 2600 foot elevations where many of his vines grow, he knows that every little valley has its own microclimate. Initially, Jacques planted 24 varieties and at the end of his first decade, he has 11 reliable varieties.

Jacques’ winemaking style is very hands-on. He has an East Coast palate, and fine tunes every wine he makes. “I pay careful attention to the acidity,” he says. “I think that a lot of California wine is too flabby. I make careful decisions about when to harvest; I pick my grapes to give my wines a smooth yet rich quality.”

At 1500 cases now, he wants to keep small in order to keep quality high. Jacques is looking forward to a 50/50 ratio of juice from his own estate vineyards and grapes that he buys in from selected Foothill growers. “If I don’t like my own wines, I’ll throw it out. I can’t hype anything. Solune will produce good wine, smooth wine, great food wine,” he said.

What to taste? Last season when I was tasting at Solune, I had a wonderful Port. I don’t see it for sale on their website now, but ask about it. Try these:

The 2008 Barbera, Sierra Foothills, has intense red berry flavors and aromas, great balance, silky texture, long finish, and this vintage is unoaked, with a hint of smokiness due to the 2008 forest fires. $25 the bottle.

The 2007 Fleur de Lune, Sierra Foothills, is an off-dry blend that combines Muscat Blanc, Orange Muscat and Gewurztraminer. I like the touch of sweetness, which Jacques notes is perfectly balanced by a vibrant acidity, providing a refreshing finish. $20 the bottle.

The 2006 Cinq Etoiles, Sierra Foothills, is a classic five-varietal Bordeaux blend. The website has a great description: Cabernet Sauvignon leads the flavor profile with black currant and plum, Petit Verdot adds color and structure, and the Merlot smooths the texture and brings spicy flavors and a hint of tobacco leaf. Cabernet Franc brightens the nose with a whiff of flowers and the Malbec helps to fill the mid-palate with a fruity lushness. $20 the bottle.

Solune is located at 16303 Jewett Lane (Colfax Hwy), Grass Valley. Open for tastings Saturday & Sunday from 12 to 5. If you want to visit during the week, call 530-271-0990 and perhaps they can arrange a time.

Sierra Foothill Wine Region- Hotbed of Wine Experimentation

Walking amongst the 14 El Dorado winery tasting stands in South Lake Tahoe, I hailed my friend and mentor, John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery, Placerville. Under a canopy on Ski Run Way in the early September sun, he poured his fine wines, wife Barbara at his side. Yes, he admitted modestly, he had a role in encouraging this first-ever "Sample the Sierra" event. But of course, that is typical of John, who after all was one of the pioneers of winemaking in the Sierra foothills.

You can read about John on other of my blogposts, but he deserves accolades for another great vintage of fine wines. The 2010 Viognier has a medium straw color with lovely fragrances of honeysuckle, rose petals and citrus blossoms. Tastes of peaches and apricots are balanced with a rich texture and a bright level of acidity. 13.7 per cent alcohol, $18 the bottle.

The Sierra foothill wine region is a hotbed of wine experimentation. For example, Brian Bumgarner of Bumgarner Winery, Camino, poured wonderful Barbera sourced from Placerville’s Stone Vineyard from a tap in a wooden box. Normally I am an all-natural cork gal, but I was surprised at how fresh this wine tasted. Because of the packaging format, however, you can only taste the Barbera in his tasting room on his Silver Fork label and packaged in a refillable 750 ml wine bottle. “Bring your clean bottles back and get a credit on your next purchase. This is sustainable wine making in practice at your local winery! “ Brian noted. Brian poured other nice wines, and these you can buy by the bottle. The Bumgarner 2008 Pinot Noir has an aroma of strawberry and rose petal, s nose redolent of strawberry with subtle rose petal. You can also get a bit of smokiness from this wine; remember those forest fires that put some haze in the region in 2008? 14.1 per cent alcohol, $27 the bottle.

Always a pleasure to meet a female winemaker, and Debbie Knutzon of Synapse Wines, Placerville, is a molecular biologist by background. This accounts for the Synapse Wines logo: a junction of two nerve cells – a metaphor for family and friends coming together. Debbie learned winemaking by shadowing an experienced local winemaker, none other than John MacCready! She poured what she notes is their flagship wine, the 2006 Kspace Resonance Syrah, a deep rich syrah with mild blackberry and spice flavors. It’s won many Gold Medal awards! 14.5 per cent alcohol, $28 the bottle.

Lava Cap, Placerville, poured its 2007 Merlot Reserve, which recently won the Best of Class award in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It’s a medium-tannin wine, with structured ripe cherry notes, green apple, chocolate, and a nice clean balance to it. 14.8 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Shadow Ranch Winery, Fair Play, poured its 2008 Zinfandel. With a deep ruby color, and aroma of raspberry and cherry, this wine has a medium-full body, a nice tangy acidity and good depth. The finish has a hint of spice and a nice tannic structure. 14.5 per cent alcohol, $20 the bottle.

Jodar Vineyards & Winery, Placerville, poured its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Aroma of black cherry and plum with toasty oak, vanilla and spice. Brown spice of clove, colarm, cedar on the finish. 13.7% alcohol, $22 the bottle.

Other El Dorado wineries pouring were Crystal Basin Cellars, Colibri Ridge Winery & Vineyard, Latcham Vineyards, Gold Hill Winery, DK Cellars, David Girard Vineyards, Madrona Vineyards, and Auriga Wine.

A great event, and I plan to go every year! Watch for it at or

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in September 2011.

Research in Process for Book on : "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Art and Wine Go Together

Andy Skaff at Wolfdale's,
enjoying wine, showing
his plein air works
Art and wine just seem to go together. I see art in tasting rooms and wine festivals everywhere. My son Martin is the proud curator of an original Andy Skaff, and so naturally we attended the reception for plein air painter Andy Skaff at Wolfdale’s Restaurant in Tahoe City recently. While there, I tasted through Wolfdale’s nice wine-by-the-glass offerings, and asked Skaff why he thought art and wine were so integrally linked.

Andy paints outdoors
in his Tahoma studio
at Lake Tahoe
“There’s clearly a lifestyle connection ,” he said. “Consumers who appreciate a glass of wine also are consumers who appreciate the arts. I like to show my paintings in an atmosphere of fine wine and food, because just like wines are flavorful and nuanced, my paintings are pungent and saturated with color.” He paints with intent and concentration every day, and often has a glass of wine at 5 o’clock. “If I’m still painting then, it’s fine. If I am drinking a glass of hearty red wine, it will put me in a winter or fall frame of mind. If a pinot grigio, then I think of a hot summer day.”

High August Clouds

For Andy, the Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiandene DOCG Italy, brings to mind his work “High August Clouds.” “ A warm summer day, a nice bubbly wine, a good day doing hiking or painting or whatever you love to do … this is a wine I’d enjoy then,” he said. This Prosecco is a light sparkler, an extra dry wine from the Veneto region of northeast Italy. Prosecco grapes are blended with a small amount of Perera, Verdiso and Bianchetta grapes, all indigenous to the Veneto region. Straw yellow in color, bright flavors of pear, nectarine, vanilla and almond. A long satisfying finish. $9 a glass.

Late Summer Start
(Barbara Keck's fav!)
 The Campagrande 2010 Orvieto Classico DOC Italy matches the mood of Skaff’s “Late Summer Start”. In this work, there are yellow tones in the emergent leaves and the nearby meadow. “I remember a fresh green scent as I did this painting,” said Skaff. The wine itself is yellowish with green highlights, and aromas recall flowers, pineapple, banana. Fresh and fragrant, savory and soft, pleasurable and easy to drink. 12 percent alcohol. $8 a glass.

The best-selling red wines on Wolfdale’s wine by the glass list are two fruit-forward California wines.

River Blues III
Skaff’s work “River Blues III”, one of his favorite works of the last three months, is a perfect pairing with the Steven Vincent 2009 Pinot Noir. “This is a Pinot Noir painting. I use considerable deep burgundy in this work, and the reflections in the water on this part of the Truckee near River Ranch during late afternoon in the summer show high summer colors.” This Pinot Noir is a beautiful dark ruby color, with tastes of blackberry, clove, cinnamon. Beautifully balanced with 50/50 grapes from Sonoma and the Central Coast, resulting in soft tannins. 14.2 percent alcohol, $9 the glass.

October Morning Light
An all time favorite for many, The Prisoner from winemaker Orin Swift, has a predominance of Zinfandel. The taste and aroma bring to mind a winter theme, says Skaff, and so his “October Morning Light” work is evoked.

“This painting is the richest painting I have on display at Wolfdale’s; it is very pungent, back lit and intense.” The Prisoner is a deep ruby-hued wine, almost opaque, with aroma and taste of black current, cherry, cassis and dark blackberry. It’s a massive wine on so many scales…at 15.2 percent alcohol, this yummy blend is deceptively easy to drink, so go slow. $15 the glass.

Through January 2012, Andy Skaff’s art is on display (and for sale) at Wolfdale’s, 640 North Lake Boulevard, Tahoe City. (530) 583-5700. You can also see Skaff’s work on his website at

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in September 2011.

Varied and Wonderful Choices at Wine on The Water at Incline's Hyatt Regency

Sineaan Wines
The Wine on the Water event at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe benefitted the Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe and gave the opportunity to taste wonderful wines and nibble on hallmark foods from some of Lake Tahoe’s best chefs. But I missed the effervescent presence of Hyatt’s renowned sommelier Kristi Snyder, who just arrived back from Pinot Camp in Oregon, so I guess I’ll hear about that some other time. The list of winery participants was a who’s who in great wines. So many lovely choices!

It was a sunny day and moderately hot there on the lawn near the Hyatt’s great Lone Eagle Grill restaurant, so starting with a sparkling wine was a good choice. The Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut is easy drinking. Some might call it an entry level sparkler, but it’s very flavorful and neither too dry nor too sweet. Aroma of apple and citrus, and citrus comes through in terms of flavor with a light toasty finish. Ste. Michelle is perhaps most famous for its Rieslings, but they have been making sparkling wine since the late 1970’s. This Brut clicks in at 11.5 percent alcohol, and retails for between $10-13 per bottle.

Keenan Winery from St. Helena is both solar powered and sustainably farmed, and in their last seven vintages, 38 of their wines were rated between 90-97 points by Robert Parker. Reilly Keenen, third generation, was spending his summer vacation from University of Oregon as the classic cellar-rat, which is the bottom of the rung in any winery and pretty much your best place to learn about winemaking from the ground up. He was happily pouring the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This nicely balanced wine was redolent of black fruit, and medium tannin on the finish. 14.3 percent alcohol $45/bottle. The 2009 Chardonnay sourced primarilyfrom Spring Mountain District vineyards had aroma of citrus, ripe pear and green apple, and taste of lush white peach with oak character. I enjoyed its crisp acidity and medium body. 1.39 percent alcohol, between $28-32/bottle.

The 2009 L’Ingenue from Elyse sources its fruit from Naggiar vineyards near Grass Valley in the Sierra Foothills. This is an exquisite white Rhone blend of 40% Roussane, 34% Marsanne, 20% Viognier and 6% Grenache Blanc. “Aromas of honeysuckle, lycee nuts, peaches and a hint of orange zest. Explosive fruit flavors,” notes the winemaker. 14.6 percent alcohol. $28/bottle.

Another lovely Rhone blend from Elyse is the 2007 C’Est Si Bon, also sourced from Naggiar vineyards. This red blend is a fruit, berry-flavored wine, with low tannin and, I confess, very much my favorite style in a Rhone blend. The blend is 46% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, 4% Counoise and 1% Viognier. I am a pushover for Châteauneuf-du-Pape lookalikes, and the Counoise grape is the grape is a key component of many of these wines. Legend has it that Counoise was introduced from Spain into France and it was offered it Pope Urban V when the papacy was based in Avignon in the mid-14th century. This yummy wine from Elyse is 14.4 percent alcohol, $28/bottle.

Sineaan poured its 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir, sourced from 6 different famous Oregon pinot vineyards: Resonance, Able, Yates Conwill, Maresh, Wyeast and Schindler. This is a spicy, rich and very delicious Pinot Noir, dark, aromatic and with great natural acidity. 13.6 percent alcohol, $30/bottle.

Laird’s Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was the perfect end to a summer tasting, with its lovely pineapple flavor at the end of the palate. Aroma of apple, citrus and tropical fruits, and a hint of spearmint in the flavor too. 13.8 percent alcohol, $17/bottle.

The Hyatt Regency at Incline Village is located at 111 Country Club Drive, Incline Village, NV.  All proceeds from this event are donated to the Boys & Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in September 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Manzanita at Ritz Carlton Northstar- top of the Wine Adventure List!

The wine experience at Manzanita, the fine dining restaurant at Ritz-Carlton in Northstar, is one of the highlights of wine adventures in the Lake Tahoe area. The enthusiasm of sommelier Gail Oversteg is contagious, and the expertise of chef Joseph Ramos in preparing dishes that enhance the wine experience is almost unbeatable.

At a recent tasting hosted by Steven Holt, market director-public relations for the Ritz Carlton Hotels of Northern California, I was simply in awe of the expertise of both Gail and Joseph. I think that you will be too.

We began with a toast of champagne, specifically the Laurent-Perrier Brut, Tours-Sur-Marne. Champagne is always a great way to begin any celebration, and its relatively low alcohol content (in this case, 12 percent) leaves room for more sipping and dining without that overly buzzed feeling. This champagne offers a fresh and delicate nose, hints of citrus and white fruit. Chardonnay is the predominant grape. Based in the picturesque village of Tours-sur-Marne, this champagne house is ideally located at the intersection between Champagne’s three foremost sub-regions: Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs. $24/glass, $95/bottle. Go ahead and celebrate! Oh by the way, it WAS my birthday.

A Portuguese Vinho Verde, Grinalda, is a white wine that paired perfectly with chef’s Dungeness Crab stuffed in squash blossoms topping a golden tomato gazpacho. Refreshing and light, this wine features taste of white peaches and pears, and is rich and crisp.11.5 percent alcohol, $9/glass, $36/bottle.

Hats off to the 2009 Penner-Ash Riesling from the Willamette Valley of Oregon. I loved its gentle acidity, aroma of tropical fruit, spicy and all about green apple tartness. A perfect pairing with scallop cerviche. 11.5 alcohol, $10/glass, $40/bottle.

For the vegetarians among you, I don’t think you can beat the 2009 Erste & Neue St. Magdalener "Grobnerhof" Sudtirol Alto Adige. It has a lot of spice, very peppery in fact and yet a light tannic structure. Grape varieties used to produce this dark ruby red wine are Vernatsch and Lagrein. notes that the St. Magdalener 'Gröbnerhof' goes very well with light Mediterranean dishes and also with spicy Asian dishes. 13 percent alcohol, $9/glass, $26/bottle.

For you lovers of BIG California Chardonnay, try the 2009 Four Hearts, Hartford Court Chardonnay , Russian River Valley. “It has an opulent Burgundian style,” explained Gail as she poured it, “with layers of flavor, and a balancee acidity.” This winery sources grapes from four vineyards, thus the “Four Hearts” designation, and it is rich, weighty and mineral-driven.14.4 percent alcohol, $18/glass, $70/bottle.

Tasting this chardonnay engendered a discussion with Gail about the pendulum-swing of style preference in wine. She believes, and so do I, that the French style of wine-making, often referred to as Old World, is coming back in consumer preference. Less and less as I sit at various wine bars for an evening with friends do I see people ordering those big oakey showy California/New World style whites. Bravo!

But enough about dinner and appetizer wines; let’s go directly to desserts. After all, it was my birthday! Thank you Gail for pouring the 2009 Brachetto d’Acqui, Piemonte. At 5.5 percent alcohol, I could have the whole bottle! It was so tasty with the housemade coconut ice cream, that I was tempted. $14/glass, $32/375-ml bottle.

To finish, bread pudding, my personal favorite, was served with a glass of Porto, Niepoort Colheita 1995. Didn’t even ask about the alcohol. Birthday. $22/glass.

Manzanita is located in the Ritz Carlton Northstar, 13031 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee, California 96161 USA Phone (530) 562-3000 for reservations or reserve on

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in August/September 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Wine Awards and Good Sommeliers at Wild Goose Restaurant on Lake TAhoe

The Wild Goose, an open-to-the-public venue of the Tahoe Mountain Club, has an award-winning wine list and unbelievably wonderful food. Lou Phillips, an experienced sommelier with a great palate, recently joined wine expert Patrick Hedderman’s team at the Wild Goose.

“I’ve rarely had the opportunity to work with a wine list that is as deep and mature as this one at the Wild Goose,” Lou said as he poured us a glass of Prosecco Nino Franco “Rustico” NV Valdobbiadene, which is a perfect anytime sparkler of an off-dry prosecco in a true Brut style and well priced at $9 a glass. “At the same time, we’re not afraid to serve our guests wines from up-and-coming regions like the Sierra Foothills.”

In August, The Wine Spectator magazine recognized Wild Goose with its Award of Excellence, bestowed on restaurants that offer interesting wine selections that are appropriate to its cuisine and appeal to all wine lovers. Over 340 wines to select from at the Wild Goose and 4800 bottles on site, the list is divided between a regular and a reserve wine list. We tasted from the regular list, and primarily those in the wine-by-the-glass section.

A true gem is the 2003 Reisling from Dr. PaulyBergweiler Kabinett, which hails from the region of Mosel that could be termed a Golden Triangle. It has a classic aroma with a minerality which some liken to a petrol aroma, and on the back palate a mild white flower taste and honeydew and peach tones. A Kabinett is a high quality German Riesling made from fully ripened grapes, nice and light, semi-sweet with crisp acidity. If you have been drinking German Rieslings for a while, you might recognize this as a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Due to a change in wine labeling laws in Germany, it’s now just referred to by the overall Mosel term. Regardless of this quibbling, this wine paired well with Wild Goose’s house-made pretzels served with a mornay sauce, their very good Mac and Cheese, and dayboat scallops. $11 a glass.

The 2010 “Lucy” Rose of Pinot Noir from Lucia Vineyards, Santa Lucia Highlands, California, is a wine that is hand-crafted by the Pisoni family which produces small lots of exceptional wines in this cool-climate growing region of California. This rose offers a fresh acidity on the palate, and its light taste matches the light rose color. Wild Goose pairs it with a butter lettuce and strawberry salad, perfect for a soft summer evening. $10 a glass.

The Perry Creek “Altitude 2401” is a Sierra Foothills Zinfandel from El Dorado County. It is a plummy fruit-forward zinfandel with ripe, earthy, jammy flavor. Winemaker Stefan Tscheppe produced this reserve wine in an old-world style. Named after Perry Creek’s Fair Play Farms Vineyard's that have an average elevation of 2401 feet, only 1000 cases were made. Tasting notes from the website echo my experience: “Exotic papaya and guava play with lively acidity and rich berry, spice and chocolate flavors. Exotic spices and cherries in the long and smooth finish. “ 14.9% alcohol. $35 the bottle at Wild Goose.

The 2009 Broadley Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, has aroma of raspberry and taste of black cherry with a lot of spice on the palate. It paired well with a scampi linguini containing capers and forest mushrooms, $14 the glass. And finally a Nigl Grüner Veltliner Eiswein 2003 Kremstal, an Austrian ice wine that is absolutely delicious. $15 the glass.

Wild Goose restaurant and bar is located at 7320 North Lake Blvd, Tahoe Vista, CA 96148. Open six evenings a week through mid-October, closed Tuesdays. Make reservations for dining via OpenTable or call (530) 546-3640.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in August 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Sierra Vintners Pull it All Together at Nevada City Tasting Event

As a big booster of wines from the Sierra and its Foothills. I was delighted to go to the recent Sierra Vintners event held in Nevada City. Almost twenty wineries from Nevada and Placer County participated. Tasting tables were set up in a number of retail shops, hotels and restaurants – all within a short walk of one another. Brilliant. I suggest you get on the mailing list for an alert for future events: go to

Marilyn Szabo pours Primitivo
 First stop was the tasting of Szabo wines. The 2008 Syrah is produced from estate grown grapes from their 40-acre vineyard at 2100 feet elevation that sits almost exactly halfway between Grass Valley and Nevada City, with views that include the Pacific Coastal Range and the Sutter and Sierra Buttes. The wine has taste and aroma of raspberry, vanilla and black tea. The tannins to my taste were relatively high, which is not unusual for Syrah. There’s a bit of smokiness or teriyaki on the back palate too. $23/bottle, 14.6 percent alcohol.

Frankly, I thought that the Szabo Primitivo was one of the best Foothill wines I’ve tasted in a long time. Primitivo and Zinfandel are closely related; in fact the two varieties have identical isozyme fingerprints. This 2008 Primitivo is redolent of plum, chili and allspice. $19/ bottle, 14.3 percent alcohol. Winery owners Marilyn and Sandor Szabo have done a great job; their first vintage was just in 2006.

There’s some thought that Primitivo is a Croatian grape relative, but there’s not enough room in this column to go into that. However, this leads me to talk a bit about the intriguing wines of Rob and Marilyn Chrisman, owners of Avanguardia, on Jones Bar Road in Nevada City. Avanguardia specializes in hand-crafted artisan blends. Over 20 Italian, Russian, and French grapes and University of California varietal crosses are estate grown, many of which rootstocks were imported especially for them. They poured their Cristallo, a white wine blend where the dominant grape is the Georgian Rkatsiteli, a grape of high quality that is widely planted in eastern Europe but wines made from Rkatsiteli are seldom exported. At Avanguardia, it’s combined ( at about 70-90%) with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Melon de Bourgogne. Melon is the sole variety in the Loire wine known as Muscadet, sometimes referred to as the quintessential “oyster wine”. This is a delicious wine, dry, crisp, taut, and relatively full-bodied; and the fruit flavors are of apples and pears. $14/bottle. 12.5 percent alcohol.

If you want an interesting discussion about the history of wine along with some lovely wines to taste, then you will want to go visit Sierra Knolls Vineyards just south of Grass Valley near Lake of the Pines. and chat with John Chase, one of the owners. John is an interesting guy, also keen on alternative energy topics, and Sierra Knolls was one of the first 100% solar powered wineries in the Foothills. They are guided in their winemaking by Mike Foster from Nevada City Winery, and feature handcrafted small lot wines. Their 2006 Sangiovese is a terrific Italian varietal, with a nice spiciness. At $16 a bottle, 13.5 percent alcohol, you might want to stock up.

Bent Metal's Scott Brown
pours his great Viognier

David Winn of Coufos Cellars
pours Buffo Blanc, Rhone blend

Other notable wines
I tasted:

  • Naggiar Vineyards 2009 Mistero, a blend of 60% zinfandel, 30% sangiovese, 10% syrah, nicely fruit-forward. $22/bottle, 14.5 percent alcohol.

  • Coufos Cellars Buffo Blanc 2008, a white Rhone varietal blend of 40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne and 20% Viognier. Tropical fruits, spice at the end. $17/bottle, 14.5 percent alcohol.

  • Bent Metal Winery’s 2009 Viognier, fruit forward with a great mouthfeel and smooth finish. $21/bottle, 15.2 percent alcohol.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in August 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Skinner Vineyards in Fair Play-El Dorado County is Worth a Visit

The Fair Play AVA is unbelievably beautiful right now, and an afternoon at Skinner Vineyards is a perfect way to experience these delights. The new Tasting Room at this new winery in the Fair Play AVA of El Dorado County features a state-of-the-art GreenTech winery, as well. The Skinner heritage in the wine business goes back to 1861 in El Dorado County.

Winemaker Chris Pittenger (left) and
Tasting Room Manager Ryan Skinner

The Skinner family has both a passion for winemaking in the Foothills and a dedication to continuing the Skinner winemaking tradition there. The new winery was designed with care to encompass many forward-thinking eco features. Winemaker Chris Pittenger often escorts visitors through the winery and vineyard manager Bryan Rahn has created a first-class vineyard, the Stoney Creek Vineyard, and you may have an opportunity to walk through there, too.

Skinner Vineyard’s winery is primarily solar powered; they installed a 55 kW PV system. They also situated the building so the sun side (south) maximizes the solar-power generating potential, and the solar panels line up to give the largest potential area for sun exposure.

In the winery, they strategically situated the barrel rooms on the north, more-shady side, of the building for better energy efficiency. Each of the four barrel rooms and the main cellar were built with temperature-controlled sensors, which allows for cooling to be supplied by the cool outside air.

All of the fermentation tanks are located within the winery, rather than being isolated outside. This simple design reduces energy costs significantly. The result is the use of much less electricity in order to keep the must and wines at a stable temperature in the tanks. The trellising systems optimize fruit temperatures, and the rows are run up and down the hills to minimize soil disturbance during development, preserving the topsoil and improving erosion control.

Skinner’s flagship wine is its Eighteen Sixty-One. This is a Rhône-style blend, a red wine made in the style of a Châteauneuf-du-Pap.

The vineyard’s warm days and cool nights, coupled with its well-draining granitic soils, provide the ideal growing conditions for Rhône varietals. Skinner Vineyards' current collection includes 10 Rhône grape varieties, in addition to several legacy grapes grown by James Skinner himself. The first releases included a 2007 Viognier and 2007 Syrah, both made with fruit sourced from the Skinner family’s Stoney Creek Vineyard, and also a 2008 Grenache and 2008 Grenache-based Rosé from El Dorado. Skinner Vineyards offers another Rhône-style blend – the Seven Generations white wine, a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier.

Mike Skinner, co-owner with wife Carey Skinner, has inherited his ancestor’s passion for growing high-quality grapes and producing premium wines that reflect the unique spirit and heritage of the Sierra Foothills. The Skinner family set out to reestablish the family legacy by planting vines just a short drive from the original vineyard location. In keeping with the spirit of the original ranch and distillery, Mike and Carey designed the new winery in Fair Play by using a drawing dating back to 1885 and the old sepia photographs as their inspiration. The adjoining tasting room, situated at 2,700’, has a breathtaking 360-degree view of the majestic foothill landscape; perfect for enjoying a glass of wine while viewing the snow-peaked Sierra during winter or the rolling acres of green vines during spring and summer. For more information and tasting room hours, call (530) 620-2220 or visit

Disclosure:  I assisted Skinner Vineyards with marketing communications for their grand opening in May 2011.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in August 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Vins du Languedoc: Great Tastes, Fabulous Values

One of the best wine tasting events I’ve been to all year was the one featuring Languedoc AOC wines, where I tasted wines made from grapes that were unfamiliar to me and learned about the fascinating history of this wine region.

Below is a look at just a few of the 31 wines that were poured.  I was impressed with the aroma, taste and food-friendliness of all that I tasted.

Chateau du Donjon’s 2010 Rosé comes from a vineyard situated in Minervois, one of the oldest wine-producing areas in Languedoc.  Owned by the same family for 500 years, winemaker Jean Panis produced a ripe, soft and aromatic wine composed of 30% Syrah, 30% Cinsault, 40% Grenache.  A lovely pink-salmon color, the aroma is a fruit bowl of strawberries, red cherries and red plums.  The flavor is intense and echoes the fruit aroma, and the finish is dry and well balanced.  12.5 percent alcohol.  Average internet price ( is $14.

Domaine la Croix Chaptal
, Les Terrasses Rouge, 2007 is produced on an estate that formerly belonged to Gellone Abbey, founded in 804. Winemaker Charles Pacaud’s red wine combines Grenace and Carignan with a touch of Syrah. The taste is of dark fruits that follow the aroma of cherry and perhaps coffee. It is spicy and fresh, and representative of the Terrasses du Larzac area wines. This growing area is in the western part of the rural district of Saint Andre de Sangonis, about 20 miles northwest of Montpellier, a popular tourist destination due to old abbeys and natural caves. Alcohol is low: 13 percent “because we have an especial terroir which expresses the grapes and so we have flavor at lower alcohol,” according to Pacaud. Price around $20 a bottle. Distributed by or call (415) 331-4906 to find out where to buy it; it’s worth the hunt.

Piquepoul is a wine grape with which I wasn’t familiar before this tasting. About 3,000 acres of the light-skinned Piquepoul blanc are cultivated in France, and it is one of the oldest domestic grape varieties in Languedoc. Although the name means “lip stinger” because these grapes have high acidity, I enjoyed the Domaine Felines Jourdan, Blanc 2009, Grand Vins du Languedoc. Aroma of white flower, a bit frizzante and a clear crisp taste. Delightful. 13 percent alcohol. $11 the bottle. You can find it at several California wine shops via

Chateau des Karantes, Blanc, 2009, AOC Languedoc, is a blend of 54 percent Bourboulenc, 14 percent vermentino, 16 percent Roussane and 16 percent Grenache Blanc. The result is a wine with aroma and taste of honey, lemon, fruit tones of apricot, a long finish and a nice balance between the fruit and acidity. Again, a new grape experience for me: Bourboulenc. Korbrand’s Web site notes that “Bourboulenc is an extremely old grape variety which is thought to have originated in Greece where it was known as the Asprokondoura. A late-ripening variety, it tends toward leanness and neutrality, but when picked at optimum maturity it retains high natural acidity and shows fresh citrus qualities with floral notes.” 13 percent alcohol. $30 by the bottle. Imported by Eagle Eye Imports at or call (248) 396-3589.

For more information about the Languedoc region, visit

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
© 2011 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 "Wine Adventures" in August 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Languedoc, located in the South of France, is the world‘s largest wine growing region and one of the oldest wine growing regions in France. “Today’s Languedoc is France’s wine frontier,” notes the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc, which sponsored the tasting. “Pioneering producers are employing both time-honored traditions and new techniques to craft wines of remarkable style and character, as well as excellent value.”