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 www.perrycreek.com

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? http://www.avanguardiawines.com/

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.