Pride Mountain Vineyards: Tasting and Picnic

Lulu chilling in the Pride Mountain tasting room.

Lulu’s weekend of wineries concluded with a visit to Pride Mountain Vineyards. Pride sits on the ridge between Sonoma and Napa counties; actually the county line runs through the vineyards and winery. This makes for some painful logistics, having to keep track of which county which grapes come from, and having to do paperwork if grapes and/or juice is transferred from one county to the other. Also, while it’s a winding road up the mountain to Pride (which is at about 2100 feet elevation), if you haven’t been completely turned around, it seems that the counties are on the wrong sides of the line, with Napa on the west and Sonoma on the east. It’s just that the county line is not even close to straight, so it is backwards up there. (I wonder what the history of that line-drawing is, and if it’s documented anywhere.)

Pride Mountain Vineyard tasting room.

We did an initial tasting in their tasting room. Most of the grapes are grown right there, the exception being the Chardonnay, grown in the Carneros region. Lori and I both thought their Viognier was excellent: not too flowery a nose, good acid and fruit, nice body. One of the best that we’ve had. Left there with a bottle of that. They also make a dessert Viognier by just fortifying the Viognier juice. This makes a dessert wine that is not too high in alcohol (less than 14%), not too sweet, not too syrupy. We also left with a bottle of that, and we don’t ever (well hardly ever) get dessert wines. Not that we don’t like dessert wines, just that we don’t usually drink them, so we don’t buy them. We also tried the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which were excellent. And there was a 2001 Merlot open! This one had aged quite nicely; yes we brought home some of the current release Merlot.

Winemaker Sally Johnson-Blum gave us a tour of their cellars.

We then took a tour of their caves with the winemaker, Sally Johnson-Blum. They have about 20,000 square feet of cave space for barrels. As we went through, we stopped at some of the interesting barrels for tastes: Cabernet Franc from two different vineyard blocks, Merlot from different vineyard blocks, Cabernet Sauvignon field blend, and a couple more. A lot of fun tasting with the winemaker and getting her perspective on the different vineyards and varietals, what she likes about each, what she thinks about when she’s blending either the straight varietals or the Bordeaux style blend.

View from the Pride Mountain Vineyard picnic area.

Last, we had a picnic. They’ve got a few picnic tables essentially at the top of their vineyards. Tremendous view, and we had an excellent lunch of quiche, lox, salami, cheeses and fruit, together with one of those Merlots. Beautiful.

No veraison yet (July 30th) in the Pride Mountain vineyards.

By the way, grapes grow differently in different microclimates, different AVAs. Of course we knew this, but here was direct evidence. The previous day we were in the Dry Creek Valley and veraison had started; the grapes had started turning red. Not so at Pride. Sally mentioned that their harvest typically runs a couple of weeks later than that for wineries on the valley floors.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Dutton-Goldfield: Lulu’s First Winery

Lulu taking a break from wine tasting at Dutton-Goldfield

We got a puppy last week. Not just any puppy, but “Lulu”, at that time an 8-week old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, and we got her from the Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). CCI works to provide service dogs to those in need, for whatever reasons. They function by having volunteers (suckers like us) do the basic rearing and training of the dogs, which takes 18-20 months, at which point the dogs are returned to the CCI for final training for their end-owner. So we’ve got probably around 20 months with Lulu, then we hand her back to the CCI. The training is actually pretty demanding, much more so than what we’ve done in the past for our pets.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery tasting room entrance

One of the key parts of training is fully socializing the dog by taking them everywhere with you. So on Lulu’s first weekend, we were off wine tasting. Dutton-Goldfield Winery was Lulu’s first tasting room. We sat in the patio, next to the fountain, which seemed pretty comfortable for Lulu. Actually, after one plus weeks with her, she rarely seems uncomfortable in public.

Lulu napping with her toy

Tasting at Dutton-Goldfield is a great experience, first because of the great staff, and second because of the great wines. Dan Goldfield is an acknowledged expert winemaker for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and those wines did not disappoint. What is not so well known is that Dutton-Goldfield makes a great Zinfandel. The Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard, a cold climate Zinfandel vineyard in the Russian River Valley, has consistently turned out grapes that Dan has made into outstanding Zins.

Sitting outside in the patio, relaxing with the puppy, drinking excellent wines: what a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Zinfandel Experience with Winemaker B and Armida

If you’re a lover of Zinfandel, the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers organization) Zinfandel Experience Grand Tasting this Saturday February 25th is for you. Over 75 Zinfandel producers pouring their wines in one place, Pier 27, San Francisco.

It’s been about 7 years since I last went to the ZAP Grand Tasting. It was amazing then, but for various reasons I haven’t made it back. This time I’m not going so that I can taste. Instead, I’m going to be behind the Armida Winery table with Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides, winemaker at Armida), pouring and schmoozing and selling Armida’s world class Zinfandels.

I’ve poured Armida’s wines before

Larry pouring Antidote and PoiZin at an electronics industry event.

and I’ve worked with Brandon before at harvest at Armida

Winemaker B and Father working the Armida sorting table.

but we’ve never worked a large event together. Could be a lot of fun. Listen for the table with the consistent laughter, and you’ll find us at the event.

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Brandon’s going to be bringing their flagship PoiZin, as well as an assortment of Armida’s single vineyard Zinfandels. There’s actually quite a taste range in Armida’s Zins, since they’re sourcing grapes from traditional warmer climates in Dry Creek Valley down to cooler Sonoma County vineyards right next to the Carneros region. Brandon might also bring a limited amount of their estate grown Il Campo, a field blend of mostly Zinfandel (around 70% in typical years) plus Petite Sirah.

Zinfandel grapes in the foreground, and Petite Sirah grapes in the back, waiting to be crushed into the Armida estate wine Il Campo, a field blend of the two grapes.

Stop by to taste and talk, about wines, grapes, Zinfandel aging, and anything else that comes to mind. I’m looking forward to seeing you at ZAP!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Maui Brewing Company

December – April is humpback whale season in Maui

Lori and I took some time off last week and went to Maui. Really took time off: I think I responded to two emails over a span of 6 business days. Maui is, of course, great at any time of the year, but it’s especially nice in the December – April period when the humpback whales are around. We saw whales every day we were there, whether from the shore or from a boat as in the photo above from a snorkeling boat trip.

About 30 turtles were hauled up on the beach on the north shore of Maui. Awkward on land; amazingly graceful in the water: we saw one while snorkeling.

While in Maui we stayed for 3 nights with a friend in Kihea, then went and stayed 3 nights at a hotel in Kaanapali. We went whale watching, snorkeling, hiked through a bamboo forest to a “hidden” waterfall and swam in the pool below, saw an ocean blow hole that shot water 75 feet in the air, went to the beach and body surfed, saw turtles (about 30) hauled out on a beach resting, and spent a day at the hotel pool and beach just relaxing.

The bar and beer menu at the Maui Brewing Company tasting room

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the Maui Brewing Company (MBC) brewery and tasting room in Kihei. They had about 20 of their own brews, plus about another half dozen guest brews on tap. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the MBC beer. Lori had a pint of their Pineapple Mana wheat beer, which while not my cup of tea (speaking of brews and mixing metaphors), was very well executed. Lori loved it. I had a sampler, which included the

Bikini Blonde: Standard lager, easily my least favorite beer I tasted there, but very popular in the island restaurants (probably because of the name).

Pali Hana Pilsner: Well done Czech style pilsner.

Pueo Pale Ale: West coast style pale ale, not too bitter, really nice, probably my favorite of the ones I tasted.

Big Swell IPA: I liked it at the brewery, and had it twice more at restaurants/bars on the trip. Consistently a very good IPA, with good balance, a characteristic of MBC beers.

Lahaina Town Brown: Most breweries don’t make a brown ale, and of the ones that do, most shouldn’t. This was a good brown ale though, well balanced.

Haleakala Sunryes IPA: Adding rye to ales has been trendy in craft breweries for the past year or two. Up until now, I’ve approached this as a fad, with minimal substance. This brew changed my mind. My favorite from that evening, and now I’ll keep looking for other good beers that incorporate rye. Nicely balanced IPA, not too bitter, not too hoppy, with some tang from the rye.

Sampler of Maui Brewing Company brews

It would have been nice if they served food at the tap room, but there was a food truck on the street there. Unfortunately, it was cold food only. Some fresh fish tacos would have been great. They did have a guy on acoustic guitar there, and he (Johnny Ringo) was pretty good. They also have games there – jenga, trivial pursuit, full size connects, … – and people were sitting and playing. Actually, the place had every table occupied when we arrived; we ended up sharing a table with a family from Minnesota. The table, in the outside patio, had a nice view of the ocean. Unfortunately, the outside patio is open to the elements, a feature that became apparent when it started to rain and the wind blew the rain into the patio. (Saved the beer; got wet myself. Priorities.)

Fish tacos at Rock & Brews, Paia, Maui, with a pint of Maui Brewing’s Big Swell IPA

One of the places I had the MBC Big Swell IPA was at Rock & Brews in Paia. I did get my fish tacos there, with a great mango salsa and some black beans. Great meal.

By the way, there’s a winery and a distillery on Maui. We weren’t brave enough to try the winery, and the distillery makes only vodka, which neither Lori nor I are passionate enough about to go visit. But Maui Brewing Company is worth a visit for a fun night and some beer good enough to be competitive with any of the Northern California craft breweries.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Robledo Riesling and Chicken Tortilla Soup

On a cold Winter night, what better than soup as the anchor to your meal? We did this recently with some family over for dinner, with chicken tortilla soup plus ham and cheese (Havarti) croissants and a salad. OK, sounds like a nice Winter dinner; wish you could have joined us. But what wine to have, especially with soup?

Flags flying at Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma Valley

About a year ago, coming through Sonoma Valley, we stopped at Robledo Family Winery. Robledo’s is the first tasting room in the U.S. established by a former Mexican vineyard worker. It’s a little bit off the normal beaten path in Sonoma Valley, as it’s in the Southwest corner of the valley, but worth the visit. We really enjoyed tasting there, just the people and the atmosphere, but we also really enjoyed their wines. We bought, and have since consumed, their Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The comfortable tasting room at Robledo Family Winery

For the soup dinner, though, we opened up the 2012 Robledo Riesling, from Lake County grapes. Rieslings aren’t often found in California, and when found, they’re often not that good. But this one was quite nice, finished dry (no sweetness), with good fruit on the entry, medium weight body and smooth finish. It went quite well with the soup and croissants. Regarding the soup, we made it relatively mild, with garnishments including roasted jalapeños, spicy sour cream, cilantro, and more to spice it up.

A couple more thoughts about pairing with soups. First, Riesling is often cited as being a good wine to pair with spicy foods, including Asian cuisine. I agree with this, in general. Second, when pairing with soups, consider the base of the soup – beef, chicken, etc. – and the weight of the soup. A red wine would go nicely with a beef and barley soup, for example.

Seems about time to head back to Robledo to restock, and also time to make another pot of soup for dinner.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Seven of Hearts is Your Lucky Card in Carlton

The simple storefront for the Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room in Carlton.

In our admittedly limited experience in Oregon, most of the wineries have their tasting room at the winery. Seven of Hearts is different, with their tasting room in a store front in “downtown” Carlton. Carlton consists of maybe two stoplights and another few stop signs, so downtown might be stretching it just a bit.

Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills tasting room shares space with Honest Chocolates.

Walking into the shop is interesting. It seems slightly unorganized inside, with a tasting bar, a desk, some displays and more stuff scattered about. But at the same time you’re taking in the visual, you’re getting the nose. You’re getting the smell of whatever they’ve been pouring that day, and you’re also getting a whiff of the chocolate that is not only being sold, but also being made, at the back of the shop. Byron Dooley is the proprietor of Seven of Hearts, and his wife is the proprietor Honest Chocolates. (That’s really sad: a relationship based on wine and chocolate. Whatever the sacrifices they’ve had to make, it’s working for them. Sarcasm, folks.)

Byron buys most of his grapes from various Willamette Valley vineyards, but a few years back he purchased a small vineyard, now called Luminous Hills, where he grows Pinot Noir and bottles it under his Luminous Hills label. The majority of his wines are sold under his Seven of Hearts label. Here’s a quick summary of what we tasted:

Byron’s style for Chardonnay is fairly understated. The 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay underwent no malolactic (ML) fermentation, but saw some new oak, while the 2014 Gran Moraine Vineyard Chardonnay had ML, but only neutral oak. We really liked the Gran Moraine; a few bottles of that came home with us.

His Pinot Noirs were also tended toward an understated style. It was interesting though that the 3 PNs we tasted from Seven of Hearts, all blends from various vineyards, were good, but not great. However, the 2014 Luminous Hill Pinot Noir was very good, one of the best we tasted on our trip, and a very good value.

He also makes a GSM (Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah) blend, and a Bordeaux blend. We tasted both the 2014 GSM and the 2014 Tradition. We liked them both – the GSM especially was nicely balanced and would probably lay down for a few years, comparing nicely to a good California GSM – but we were in Oregon for the Pinot Noir, so neither of those made the cut to be brought home. The Tradition tasting is served with a bit of the Salted Currant Ganache from Honest Chocolates. Byron also makes a Pinot Noir port, and pairs it with Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee Bark for tasting. I didn’t try the port, but the chocolate was delicious.

By the way, for all the feeling of clutter in the tasting room, Mackenzie and Eric provided us with a great tasting environment. Not rushing us, answering all our questions, even those we hadn’t yet asked. Very knowledgeable and nice.

We tried another of the chocolates from the back, and walked out with a dozen truffles for us, and more to take home as gifts. Quite good!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Elk Cove Vineyards: An Oregon Pioneer

Elk Cove Vineyards (ECV) crushed their first grapes in 1974, planted their first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1975, and now makes about 45,000 cases each year. Of that, about 1/3 is Pinot Noir, another third is Pinot Gris, and the rest is split between Reisling, Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir. Their early start qualifies them as a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, while their quality, longevity and volume make them one of the current leaders.

The original vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1975.


Elk Cove Vineyards

We weren’t sure what to expect with ECV. We turned a corner and came through a line of pine trees, and there were vineyards (their original 1975 vineyard) right there in front of us, and the winery down at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful. As we pulled up to the tasting room, we noticed the flower gardens, also beautiful. And the vineyards come up to the edge of the deck off the tasting room, so you feel like you’re in some sort of Eden-ic spot.

The vineyards come right up to the deck at the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room.

Out of the car, and it’s obvious that they’ve just “finished” harvest. Finishing harvest has a different definition for winemakers and lay people. For us lay people, we think of finishing harvest in a literal sense, that all the grapes have been harvested. The winemaker and his/her team think of harvest as extending through to when they’ve got the last wine out of the fermentation tanks and into the barrels. While there’s still wine in tanks, the winemaking team has to be there every day, a few times each day, to make sure that the fermentation process is proceeding according to plan. When they get the last wine into barrels, the 2+ months of being at the winery every day is over; harvest is over for the winemaking team, and they can see their families again. One of the first tasks after finishing harvest is cleaning out the skins from the tanks, and from the smell that was the task they were getting on with that morning.

The tasting experience was also nice because of the person behind the bar. Joe worked for about 30 years at Intel (maybe the largest employer in Oregon) as a software engineer. Having retired a year ago, he’s now serving wine, and playing classic rock in the tasting room. Eagles, Heart, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, … My high school and college sound track.

The La Boheme Vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1985.

Well, I’m about 400 words and 5 photos into this blog and have yet to say anything about their wine. Lori got one tasting flight, and I got the other, so that we could maximize the number of wines we tasted. Looking back at my notes, we didn’t taste the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay and rosé we tasted left no memorable impression on me. The 2015 Estate Reisling, which is made off-dry with less than 1% residual sugar, was nice to taste.

On to the Pinot Noirs. We tasted

2014 Willametter Valley Pinot Noir: Cuvée (blend) made from grapes from all six of their vineyards.

2014 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir: This vineyard is near Yamhill, and this was Lori’s favorite.

2014 Clay Court Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their smallest vineyard, volcanic soil, Parrett Mountain area, and home to the ECV founders. My favorite.

2014 La Bohème Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 1985 on the other side of the winery from the original vineyard.

2014 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir: Not our style.

2014 Goodrich Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their newest vineyard.

All together – the setting, the tasting room atmosphere, the quality of wines – this was a great wine tasting experience.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Brigadoon: A Magical Oregon Winery

On our last day of wine tasting in Oregon, we ventured south of Corvalis. Though this is 75 miles south of McMinnville and our previous two days of wineries, this is still the Willamette Valley. After going to one of the larger, well known wineries, we visited Brigadoon as the last winery on our trip.

Brigadoon tasting room.

You might know of the musical Brigadoon, with the basic set up that Brigadoon is a magical spot that appears in the Scottish Highlands for one day out of every 100 years. The winery Brigadoon is, fortunately, there every day of the year. It’s a small winery; only about 1,000 cases per year of the three Pinots (Gris, Blanc, Noir) plus Reisling. The Pinot Blanc was interesting and different than the others we tasted on this trip, as it was done with no malolactic (ML) fermentation. It was good, best we had in Oregon, although I still am not a huge fan of this varietal.

Their Pinot Noir was quite good, and at $23 per bottle, the best value we found on our trip. Just when I thought I had bought all the wine I was going to for the trip, here was one I couldn’t pass up. So I had some shipped direct to the house. (The other wine purchased on the trip came home with me, as Alaska Airlines, and maybe some of the others, will let you check one case of wine at no charge flying out of Portland Airport.)

The picnic area at Brigadoon.

Some other interesting points about Brigadoon. It’s kid-friendly, with some toys in the small tasting room to help keep the little ones occupied while you’re enjoying the wine. They’ve got a nice picnic table there, which we took advantage of, having brought sandwiches. (We also bought a bottle there to have with our lunch.) They have a nice, friendly dog, Gracie, at Brigadoon. At least friendly to humans; not sure about other dogs.

It probably says something about our priorities that the dog is mentioned before the people. Chris Shown, proprietor and vineyard manager, was behind the bar when we were there. He grew up in Napa Valley, but moved to the Willamette Valley for his own vineyards and winery. In addition to talking about his wine, he’s still a fan of the SF Giants, and as the season had just ended for the Giants that was as much a topic as the wine.

Root vines at Brigadoon.

Also, they grow root stock there, not just their own grapes. You are probably aware that most grape vines start with a relatively generic root stock, with the actual wine grape varietal grafted onto the root stock about one year after planting. Brigadoon works with nurseries in Oregon as a root stock provider, and so you see a few fields of untrained, untrellissed vines there, which was an interesting sight.

This was a great tasting experience, and I hope to get back there (or at least keep buying their wines).

L’Chaim,

Larry

Torii Mor Winery

Lori and I recently spent a week going from Seattle to McMinnville (Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to Corvalis (wineries, breweries, and a California v Oregon State football game that did not end in the Cal Bears favor). Torii Mor was the first winery we visited. A great way to start.

The architecture of the winery and tasting room, and even the landscape architecture, has a slightly Asian feel. This might be the place to discover the zen of Pinot Noir. It’s a very calm place, but that belies the intensity of the effort going into the wines. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

We started with their whites, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris had really nice nose, more substantial body than we’re used to seeing in a Pinot Gris, and nicely balanced flavors. It reminded us a bit of a good Sauvignon Blanc, with enough acids to work well with a range of foods. Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir, except now a green grape (white wine). This really didn’t do anything for me, but in fairness to Torii Mor, we didn’t taste even one Pinot Blanc in Oregon that we were at all interested in taking home.

On to the Pinot Noirs. I’ve had Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs in the past, and enjoyed them, but with living in California I’ve been drinking Pinots from the Russian River Valley, Carneros region, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey) and Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara) for the last 20 or more years, with hardly a bottle of any other Pinot (Burgandy, Oregon, New Zealand) thrown in. This was my first visit to the area, and my first time ever really focusing on Oregon Pinot Noir. The climate there, a bit cooler than in California, leads to Pinot Noir grapes with less sugar at full ripeness and therefore less alcohol. Lighter body seems also a regular characteristic, as does less bold fruit flavors. Yet these characteristics do not diminish from the quality of the wine, it just makes them different, and interesting. And when they’re well made, very enjoyable.

With Torii Mor, we found a range of Pinot Noirs, depending on which vineyards from which AVAs they were sourcing the grapes. One of our favorites was the 2014 Yamhill Carlton Select Pinot Noir, which surprised us with the complexity of the wine with such a light body. We brought a bottle of that home with us, and opened it our first night back, tasting it against an Armida 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. They were both easily identifiable as Pinot Noir from the flavors, but completely different wines, both excellent.

By the way, Torii Mor has a couple of winery cats that hang out around the tasting room. And if Eddie is behind the tasting room bar, you’ll get a nice description of the wines and vineyards, without him telling you what you’re going to taste in advance.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to the Willamette Valley, but I’m already looking forward to the next trip.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Wine Pairing with Vegetarian Meals

What wine to drink with a vegetarian meal? All those rules about red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc. don’t seem to apply if there’s no meat in the dish.

First, rules are meant to be broken. Second, the rules-which-are-not-rules that I use have as much to do with the preparation of the dish, who you’re eating with, and what bottle is sitting there calling your name when you open the wine fridge, as with the nature of the meat itself. From that perspective, those rules would apply to vegetarian dishes as well. Heavier dishes get a red wine, lighter get a white wine, have fun, and open an interesting bottle.

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

We tried a new restaurant in the Russian River Valley a few weeks ago: Backyard in Forestville. It was great sitting outside on a warm evening and enjoying a very nice meal. For me, while I am not a vegetarian, occasionally that’s the dish on the menu that appeals to me. We had brought a bottle of Gustafson Family Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Heritage Tree Vineyard, not because we knew what people were having for dinner, but because it was about time to drink this bottle, and we had some family joining us that would appreciate this wine.

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

The vegetarian cassoulet (a French meat and bean casserole), with mushrooms providing the flavor and texture instead of meat, had big flavors, and larger pieces/texture from the normal cassoulet ingredients. It turned out that the Zinfandel, which from 2009 was a very good vintage from a very good winery, went perfectly with this dish. The best 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels (and the Gustafson is one of them) have a softness – well, maybe not softness, but not the big body that is usual in Dry Creek Valley Zins – and complexity that also paired nicely with Lori’s chicken dish that night.

By the way, we picked up this bottle on a visit to Gustafson a few years back. It’s the most distant (Northern) of the Dry Creek Valley wineries, but the drive is worth it, both for the scenery of the drive, and for the people and the wine at Gustafson.

I’m not sure if that helps with the discussion about wine pairing in general, and pairing with vegetarian dishes specifically, but at least it’s a data point for future reference.

L’Chaim,

Larry