Tag Archives: Armida Winery

Quick Harvest Update from Armida

I’ve been on the sorting table three days now at Armida, helping with Tina’s Block (Maple Vineyards) “Zinfandel”, Maple Vineyards Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and Pamelee Hill Vineyards Zinfandel. Tina’s Block Zinfandel is in quotes, because the 110 year old vines in Tina’s Block (in contrast to the 90+ year old vines in the rest of Maple Vineyards) are an interesting field blend of mostly Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petit Sirah and some vines that remain unknown even after DNA testing at UC Davis. Harvest looks great at this point, with Armida having brought in about 95% of their grapes. I can’t remember ever seeing such a high percentage of great grapes: minimal rot, and most everything ripened optimally.

It was all hands on deck for harvest at Armida.

Brandon had one stretch of 13 straight days of getting grapes in. It was all hands on deck for that stretch, and Brandon even asked Dr. Doolittle for help, and the egret answered the call. The grandkids even came up, and while they didn’t “help”, spraying each other with water on the crush pad could be seen as helping to clean up. At least it kept them busy, until it was time for them to reflect on the harvest.

Contemplating the harvest.

I’m looking forward to tasting these wines in the barrel in a few months, then in bottle in a couple of years.

L’Chaim,

Larry

2018 Harvest Sneak Peak

Elli checking the vineyard. Are the grapes ready yet?

The 2018 harvest has started, and the early returns are … delicious. At least so says our granddaughter Elli, shown above while helping her father Brandon (Winemaker B at Armida) check the Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes at Parmalee Hill Vineyard in Sonoma County.

Brandon gave a quick summary of the harvest expectations the other night over dinner.

Summer weather was good. No prolonged hot spells, especially near the end of summer, that can throw off the ripening of the grapes. Also, no hot spells in sight for the next couple of weeks. This is producing a slower start to the harvest, as some of the varietals, especially the early ripening varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are taking longer to ripen. Interestingly, the early Sauvignon Blanc came in at about the same dates as last year, and seems really good. We’ve tasted the juice, and agree: wonderful!

The slower ripening means longer hang time (total time on the vine), and this can result in enhanced flavors in the grapes.

Brandon is cautiously optimistic, although he did say something like this could end up being the best vintage of the decade, especially for the big reds like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Of course, this is just his opinion, and he’s focused on Sonoma County and Dry Creek Valley specifically, so we’ll see how things go over the next 8-10 weeks.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Lamb and Zinfandel, A Classic Pairing Updated

I bought a new cookbook a few months ago, but haven’t had the chance to do anything with it (aside from reading and drooling) because of the kitchen remodel. My favorite cuisine: Middle Eastern. Thanks here to my brother and his family, because while waiting to meet Lori in downtown Santa Rosa, we all went into the Barnes & Noble bookstore. I wouldn’t have found the cookbook (Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) without the old-school wander through the aisles.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, showing the Braised Eggs and Lamb on the cover.

But the kitchen is done now, so no more excuses. And friends were going to come over for dinner, and cousin Diego was in town. We cooked up the recipe shown on the cover of the cookbook, Braised Eggs with Lamb. At least we got it looking pretty close to the cookbook picture! Actually it tasted pretty darn good. This is the sort of recipe that I really like making. Essentially a one pot meal, nothing especially fancy about it, just good ingredients and flavorful spices. Cumin, sumac, pine nuts and pistachios are the flavor anchors for this dish.

Braised Eggs and Lamb on our stove.

With the lamb and the unique flavors, we needed a special wine to go with this. We pulled out a 2010 Armida Winery Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard. This vineyard is nearer to the cool Carneros region than to the warm Dry Creek Valley, where Armida and so many other wineries get so much Zinfandel. As a cool climate Zinfandel, it’s got different characteristics than a typical Zin; less fruit forward, a bit more body, more layers to the flavors. This sort of Zinfandel ages well, and at 8 years this wine is just hitting peak. The subtleties of the wine matched well the complexities of the flavors in the lamb dish. An excellent pairing.

2010 Armida Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard.

We decided ahead of time to decant the wine. Also, I had stood the wine up for about 24 hours ahead of decanting, to allow sediment to go to the bottom of the bottle. We did this based on experience with older Zinfandels, and for show (always nice to serve from a decanter). As we saw when we finished decanting, the bottle did have some sediment left in it.

If you look carefully behind the Armida label you can see the sediment left behind in the bottle.

Lamb and Zinfandel: always a good combination.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Armida Zinfandel and the ZAP Grand Tasting 2018

Brandon (right) and Larry Lapides at ZAP 2018

The first major wine tasting event of the year is the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) weekend in January in San Francisco. This year held on the third weekend of the month, it included a Thursday evening dinner with winemakers, Friday seminars and dinner, and the Saturday Grand Tasting. Last year I went with son Brandon, and poured his #Armida wines. I had so much fun that I volunteered to stand for 7 hours again talking and pouring.

View of Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge from Pier 27

The setting for ZAP is tremendous: the Pier 27 conference hall in San Francisco. It has windows on all sides, letting in light, with views of the San Francisco Bay (water, bridges, islands, boats) and the city skyline. Not much time to contemplate the beauty around, though, as we were talking about the beauty in the bottle.

San Francisco skyline from inside Pier 27 at ZAP

The tasting starts with a couple of hours for VIPs and #ZAP patrons only, then opens to the general public. Many years ago, the general public was allowed in for the whole tasting, and the admission price wasn’t much, so there used to be a lot of drunk “Zinfandel fans” by the end of the tasting. ZAP changed their format and price a while back, and moved to this new Pier 27 location, and it’s a great tasting.

The crowd at ZAP 2018.

For the VIPs, we were pouring the 2013 Armida “Tina’s Block” Zinfandel, from the Dry Creek Valley, and the 2013 Armida “Maple Vineyards” Zinfandel. Tina’s Block is the original 2 acre block of Maple Vineyards, planted in 1910. That’s old vine Zinfandel. The rest of Maple Vineyards was planted over the next 20 or so years, so it’s no spring chicken either. And all of Maple Vineyards is dry farmed, because these vines are old enough to have thrown down roots to the center of the earth. While Tina’s Block was originally planted to Zinfandel, over the years as individual vines died some were replaced with blending grapes such as Petit Sirah, Alicante Bouchet and Carignane. And some of the replacements have yet to be identified, even with DNA fingerprinting by U.C. Davis. This unique field blend gives the Tina’s Block Zin a unique taste, a complexity and subtlety and elegance that is rarely found in Zinfandel.

For the general public part of the tasting, we poured the Armida flagship wine, PoiZin, plus the 2015 Maple Vineyards and the 2015 “Il Campo”. PoiZin is a very nice $20+ bottle of Zinfandel, made from grapes from 5 different vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. Great name, great label, great value. The Maple Vineyards Zin (both the 2013 and the 2015) are very nice single vineyard Zinfandels, the most popular single vineyard Zin in the Armida lineup. The Il Campo (“the field” in Italian) is a field blend of the Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (typically around 20% of the blend, depending on the year) grown at the Armida Winery site. Bigger, badder and bolder than the other Zinfandels, it showed well at the end of the tasting, when everyone’s taste buds are slightly blown out. But it’s really good any time.

About terroir and Zinfandel: While Pinot Noir is commonly talked about as enabling the terroir, the area where the grapes are grown, to shine through, good Zinfandel does that too. Both the Maple Vineyards and Tina’s Block wines bring with them their unique soil, topology and microclimate, and the Armida “Parmalee Hill Vineyards” Zinfandel, grown in an area between the Carneros region and the city of Sonoma, reflects that colder climate in its delicious profile.

By the end of the day, my voice was pretty much gone. Too much talking, because my pouring partner, Winemaker Brandon, had been elected to the ZAP board of directors last year, and was off talking to the press, chatting up special guests, hobnobbing with other winemakers and generally schmoozing. I’m a glutton for punishment though, so I’ll be back next year.

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

Armida Harvest 2016

Maple Vineyards, Maggie's Block, Zinfandel grapes

Maple Vineyards, Maggie’s Block, Zinfandel grapes

Now that I’m living up in the wine country, it seems appropriate that I spend some time helping our older son – Brandon, aka Winemaker B – with harvest. So last week found me spending a few hours sorting grapes at Armida Winery. They received that day about 8 tons of grapes from the “Maggie’s Block” of Maple Vineyards. Maple is one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, with the original blocks, such as Tina’s Block, going back 85 years or so. Armida typically makes both a Tina’s Block Zinfandel and a generic Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, provided the yield from Tina’s Block gives enough juice and the quality is high.

When we’re sorting the grapes, we’re removing bunches with any mold on them, but otherwise letting most grapes through, even some that have gone a bit raisiny. From the sorting table, the grapes are moved mechanically into the de-stemmer, and from there are pumped into a tank. The grape skins will break during this process, and yield most of their juice. Initial fermentation then takes place in the tank, with juice and skins together, for around 10-14 days. At that time the skins are pressed to get out the rest of the juice/wine, and the liquid is moved from the tank into barrels to complete the fermentation and initial aging process.

I’ve helped with sorting once or twice before, but it had been a few years, and I’d forgotten that this is real work. Fun though, to be part of the process this year.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Some quick harvest notes:

Winemaker B says that the quantity and quality of grapes that they’ve gotten in so far is pretty normal; looks like a good year. Although he did comment that the Maggie’s Block grapes that we sorted looked the best he’s ever seen. Also, sugar levels have been more consistent than usual in the Zinfandel, which should lead to some really nice wines.

I smelled the tanks for the Tina’s Block Zinfandel, and the Armida Il Campo (their estate grown field blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). The Il Campo, as always, smelled big and bold, like a classic Dry Creek Valley Zin blend. The Tina’s Block smelled completely different. It already has some complexity in the nose, some subtleties, that bode well for a beautiful Zinfandel with many layers, needing some years to age and get to its full potential. We’ll see how these turn out in 12 months or so.

L’Chaim,

Larry

First Day of Harvest 2015

First day of kindergarten; first day of harvest 2015

First day of kindergarten; first day of harvest 2015

I don’t think Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides) will soon forget the first day of harvest this year. In one of those interesting coincidences, the first day of harvest for Armida Winery (Pinto Gris brought in) was also the first day of kindergarten for his first-born, Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana. Wednesday August 19th was a big day for everyone in the family.

Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana

Winemaker-in-Waiting Elliana

Winemaker B and WiW Elli were out in the vineyards yesterday morning checking sugar levels. The first Zinfandel was supposed to come in today; likely Sauvignon Blanc later in the week.

Winemaker B is cautiously optimistic about harvest this year. Yes, harvest is early, but the growing season started early, so the grapes got the right amount of hang time. Couple that with no sustained heat spikes, and the grape quality should be good this year. Balancing that is a reduced yield, due primarily to the drought. Still trying to figure out how much the drop in volume will be. So cautious optimism for now, but we’ll check in with him in September to see how the harvest is shaping up.

L’Chaim,

Larry

The Business of Blends

The business of wine is interesting and unique in many ways, but in other ways the same as any other business in that the basic questions need to be answered: What is the product mix? Who are the target customers? What value is being provided?

On the product mix side, many wineries choose to make not only high end single vineyard wines, but also blends. These blends allow winemakers and wineries to place with different parameters: different vineyards, different varietals, different vintages, different price points. For example, many wineries make lower price blends, meant to be consumed immediately and made primarily for cash flow reasons. Not that these are low quality wines, just that they are lower priced wines, made for lower cost with less winemaker effort. Lori and I often buy these as our every day table wines. Peachy Canyon Incredible Red (a blend of primarily Zinfandel from multiple vineyards) is a good example of this, running about $10-12 per bottle.

Soquel Vineyards 2003 Trinity

Soquel Vineyards 2003 Trinity

Another example of a winery making lower priced wines is Soquel Vineyards. For years they have made their Trinity wines, initially just the red but recently a white blend also. About 10 years ago, after tasting it at the winery, we picked up half a case of the 2003 Trinity, which that year was a Bordeaux varietal blend. We had a bottle not too long after purchasing, and enjoyed it then, and again not too long after that. Both times we remarked how this was a really nice wine, well balanced, and might actually age well. So we didn’t open another bottle for another couple of years, and sure enough, that one was pretty good too.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and we opened bottle number 5. Darn good bottle, especially with the steak we put on the barbeque. But about at its end; it’s not going to get any better with any more time. So number 6 will be opened soon. Soquel Vineyards has long been one of our favorite wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains area. Very good wine from top to bottom, and very nice people. And in this case, they got lucky with blending some grapes with better than expected quality. The result was a great wine, or at least a great value wine.

Sokol Blosser:  Evolution White label

Sokol Blosser: Evolution White label

We had another example of a lower priced blend at a restaurant last night: the Sokol Blosser “Evolution” white blend. Evolution White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, White Riesling, Semillon, Muscat Canelli, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sylvaner grapes. So, is this just a blend of leftovers, or is it done deliberately? Sokol Blosser won’t say, but they play up this aspect with “Luck versus Intention” on the label. My best guess is that it’s a little of both intention and leftovers. In any case, this was a nice white to go with the blackened fish tacos I had, and the grilled shrimp salad that Lori had.

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Another blend strategy is executed by Armida Winery. They have taken their blend and made it into a real brand: Poizin. There is not just one Poizin, but three different blends, at three different price points and quality levels. There’s the lower end Poizin, available through various retail chains. There’s the mid-range Poizin, at about a $20 price point. Finally there’s the Poizin Reserve, packaged in a coffin-shaped box. “Poizin, the wine to die for.” I just had a glass of the mid-range 2012 Poizin to wash down my chopped liver sandwich. Delicious! Plus, they’ve expanded the brand to include “Antidote”, a white blend.

Blends are an interesting topic, given the breadth of blends. From high end Bordeaux style blends to mid-range Rhone style “GSM” blends to the lower priced wines discussed above, from field blends of different varietals from one vineyard to carefully mixing and matching vineyards and varietal clones, to even more variations on the parameters, there’s a lot that can be done with blends. I’ll spend more time on blends in upcoming posts.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Top 100 Wines and Restaurants; Christmas and Kinky Boots

I don’t usually pay too much attention to serious top 10 or top 100 lists, especially for wine and food. However, the lists that I do look forward to each year are those from the San Francisco Chronicle. I’ve found over the years that my tastes are usually pretty well in line with these critics; it’s pretty rare that I’ve had a sub-par experience going off one of these lists.

On Christmas we were invited to a friend’s house to join their family and friends celebration, and we brought a bottle of Winemaker B’s Armida 2012 Chardonnay, Stuhlmuller Vineyard, Alexander Valley. I had last tasted this in the barrel nearly 2 years ago, and had been waiting to taste this from the bottle, since another winery’s Chardonnay – same vineyard, same year – had made this year’s Chronicle top 100 wine list. Well, I haven’t tried that Chardonnay, but I can tell you that the Armida Chardonnay was delicious. And the Christmas party was great fun, with some great food. And wine.

The next day Lori and I went into San Francisco to see a matinee showing of the musical Kinky Boots. We love live theater, we had enjoyed the movie when it first came out 8 or so years ago, and the musical (by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper) had won multiple Tony awards. It was a lot of fun, with the audience even clapping along to a couple of the songs.

Afterwards we wandered around wasting time before our dinner reservation, and found a wine bar and shop, Arlequin, where we could sit outside and have a glass. Lori had a Sangiovese blend from Tuscany (La Mozza, Morellino de Scansano, 2012), while I had a Melon de Bourgogne (Luneau-Papin, Loire 2012). When I think of white wine from the Loire region, I’m thinking of Sauvignon Blanc, but this is not anything like that. Melon de Bourgogne is the grape varietal used to make Muscadet wines. (Interesting side note: Muscadet is the only wine made in France that is neither called by its region nor by its grape varietal.) I found it to be closer to white Rhone wines, like Viognier, than to Sauvignon Blanc, but with a less floral nose and more acid. Quite nice actually. Lori seemed to enjoy her wine as well, which was a blend of 85% Sangiovese with Syrah and Alicante, with a few percent of others thrown in. Very much a Sangiovese to be sipped while sitting on the sidewalk and watching the world go by.

For dinner we had reservations at Lers Ros, a Chronicle top 100 restaurant that does Thai food. Wow. We like Thai food, and there are a few good restaurants in our area. But nothing like this. The soup, the prawns and asparagus, the green papaya salad took this cuisine to a new level for us.

L’Chaim,

Larry

2014 Harvest Wrap-Up

We went up to the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley area in late October to see the kids and grandkids, and check on the 2014 harvest. That weekend was the end of harvest for Winemaker B, and he was taking a few days off. We went to Armida anyway, to show my cousin the winery and taste some of the wines. It was a beautiful day, as you can see from the photos below. We also went to Arista, as we were invited by Kim, wife of Winemaker B and manager of Arista’s “A-List”, to their pick-up party. While we weren’t picking up any pre-purchased wine, we did come away with a few bottles of the 2012 Arista Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Two Birds Vineyard, which was our favorite from the day.

Here are the key points from the harvest:

Start early, end early. Harvest started early this year, as previously mentioned in our Harvest Update post. It’s not surprising then that harvest ended early too. From the winemaker’s perspective harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the last tank is emptied, and the wine moved to barrels. From the winemaker’s wife’s perspective, harvest starts when the first grapes come in, and ends when the winemaker gets his first day off. In between, the “harvest widow” gets to deal with the winemaker leaving the house by 6am and getting home around 8pm (if lucky), for about 9 weeks in the case of Winemaker B and family.

The drought had minimal effect. A lot of the vineyards are “dry-farmed”, not irrigated, and those handled the drought just fine, with a slight decrease in quantity. Irrigated vineyards also had a slight decrease in quantity, as water cutbacks were required in most areas. However, quantities were going to be down a bit no matter what, as the 2012 and 2013 harvests were near record volumes.

The grapes/juice/wine are tasting excellent. Throughout the process, from harvesting the grapes to the initial juice to the initial post-fermentation wine, everything is tasting great. We’ll see how things taste in a few months, when the first whites like Sauvignon Blanc will be bottled, but right now Winemaker B reports that everything is going great. He is in the medium high maintenance mode on the wines, not quite working on every wine every day, but the wines don’t go unattended for long. Those wines that are getting a malolactic (ML) secondary fermentation are starting that process, some doing it on their own and some with help and tight control from the winemaker. The ML fermentation on these wines, which takes a lot longer than the primary fermentation, should be done by about the same time as those first wines (which don’t go through ML) are bottled, so early next year is the next major checkpoint for the 2014 wines.

As to where the 2014 vintage will sit compared with recent vintages, it’s too early to say. We’re still not sure about the 2012 and 2013 vintages, although they seem so far to be quite good. In the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys, probably the best recent vintage was 2009, with 2007 close behind.

Since we were up there seeing kids and grandkids, we brought up a couple of bottles to share with the family. We opened up a Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Proprietor’s Reserve, Schultze Family Vineyards, and a Failla 2009 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Keefer Vineyard. The Failla justified the general feeling that 2009 was an outstanding vintage in the Russian River area. The Windy Oaks was our second to last bottle of that wine. We have opened bottles for family and friends, and even for business associates. (There was one interesting dinner with an associate from France, who I didn’t realize was a Burgundy aficionado and had a 1,000+ bottle cellar. He thought the Windy Oaks would stand up nicely to some of his best Burgundies.) This has been a great wine every time we’ve opened a bottle, and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful.

L’Chaim,

Larry