Tag Archives: Soquel Vineyards

Last Wines at the Old House

Yes, we’ve moved, from our old house near the Livermore Valley wine region to our new house a bit further north in Sonoma County. One of the many issues with the move was moving the wine collection. The easiest way to deal with the problem was to reduce the number of bottles we had to move. We still had a couple hundred bottles left to move, but we did have fun drinking those last bottles. Here’s the lineup over the last days at the old house:

Armida Winery, 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley
Donkey and Goat, 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado County
Pessagno, 2011 Zinfandel, Idyll Times Vineyard, San Benito County
Soquel Vineyards, 2012 Trinity (red blend), California
Tobin James, 2010 Ballistic Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Yes, we drink a lot of Zinfandel. It’s a good value wine, both at the low end (price-wise) and the high end (high end of the Zinfandel range). It’s also a grape that lends itself to different styles, from big bold fruity wines to more complex layered wines, all of which can be very tasty.

The Il Campo is an excellent Zinfandel blend from Winemaker B at Armida. It’s a field blend, so it’s a bit difficult to say how much of what went in, but likely it’s somewhere around 75 – 80% Zinfandel.

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat is relatively new to us, with our first and only visit there 2 years ago. A Berkeley winery, sourcing grapes from all over Northern California, this Grenache was very good, surprisingly good. Actually, you’ll see Grenache (or Garnacha from Spain) mentioned in a couple of future posts. Grenache, while one of the big three Rhone grapes — Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre — is rarely made as a single varietal, especially in California. Syrah, yes, but not Grenache, nor Mouvedre. When Grenache is grown well and made well, it’s a really nice treat. Not too big a wine, not too big body, really good with food.

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

The Pessagno is a bit more in the understated style for Zinfandel, and this has been outstanding from our first taste at the winery to the two bottles we’ve opened. (I’m kicking myself now for not buying more when we were there. But of course, then we’d have had to move those bottles, so probably just as well.)

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

The Soquel Trinity is consistently, year after year, one of the best low end red blends, now matter what grapes they’re using. Soquel Vineyards is either number 1 or 2 on our Santa Cruz Mountains wineries hit list. They’ve been building great wines, and providing a great tasting experience, for a couple of decades now, longer than most in that area. We’ve talked about their wines and tasting room a few times in this blog; just search on Soquel to find those posts.

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel "Ballistic", Paso Robles

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel “Ballistic”, Paso Robles

The Ballistic Zin is the flagship for Tobin James, a classic big juicy jammy Zinfandel from the East side of Paso Robles. They’re almost the last winery heading east on Hwy 46, but worth the extra couple of miles to visit the tasting room.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Santa Cruz Thanksgiving

Lori and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Aptos, a little town just south of Santa Cruz (actually it’s east of Santa Cruz, but you have to go “south” on Highway 1 to get there), in our vacation house just a 10 minute walk from the beach (Seacliff State Park). It was a great week from a weather point of view, with only one day of rain. There were great sunsets, as you see above, and great ocean views.

We were joined there for the holiday, and a couple of days on either side of it, by Winemaker B and his family. This meant some interesting wines for the meals, from his cellar and ours. Here’s a quick rundown:

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Crosshatch (Carr Vineyards & Winery) 2010 white blend, Santa Ynez Valley
Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi

This doesn’t include the wines for the Thanksgiving meal, which won’t be talked about here. (We opened a vertical of Syrah from a single winery, and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nice to have opened the bottles, and they were quite nice with the turkey, but not a highlight to spend time on.)

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead Pinot Noir: This is a small winery in the Russian River Valley (RRV), specializing in Pinot Noir. We did an interview with Zina Bower, the co-owner, in the early days of the ViciVino.com website. This bottle was what I like to think the RRV does best, Pinot Noir with some restraint, delicacy and subtlety. After 10 years this wine was all we expected, balanced from nose through entry through mid-mouth through finish. Not real heavy bodied, it went great with a shrimp stir fry we cooked on the barbeque. We have consistently liked their Pinot Noir; unfortunately this was our last bottle. Time to go up and buy a few more.

cross_hatch_white_blend

Crosshatch: This is the brand name for some interesting blends from Carr Vineyards & Winery in Santa Barbara. We enjoyed our visit to their tasting room this past summer, and really loved how they handle Rhone varietals. The reds we bought — Syrah and Grenache — will sit for another few years, but this white was ready now. The Crosshatch white blend is 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and was delicious. Definitely ready to drink.

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards: We’ve mentioned Soquel Vineyards a few times before in blogs, including writing about the 2004 vintage of this same Zinfandel. Soquel consistently produces excellent wines, and their tasting room is a great experience. The 2006 Zinfandel was lovely, sort of the “Mama Bear” wine: Not too big, not too soft, aged just right for drinking over the holiday.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Soquel Vineyards on a Saturday Afternoon

No, not “Saturday in the Park,” for those of you old enough to remember the song by Chicago, but a Saturday afternoon spent at Soquel Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Lori and I started really spending time in the Santa Cruz Mountains area about 2001, and Soquel Vineyards was our first “find”. Small winery, and it takes a bit of an effort to get there, but worth it. Excellent wine, great people, great setting and view.

View of Monterey Bay from Soquel Vineyards

View of Monterey Bay from Soquel Vineyards

We hadn’t been to Soquel Vineyards in a few years, but we’ve been drinking some of our older Soquel wines lately. (Read our posts on The Business of Blends and When Should You Open That Bottle.) And since we’re almost out of Soquel wines, and had a free afternoon, there we went, up the winding road, and found ourselves there on a simply beautiful day. When we first visited many years ago, they only had a small tasting bar inside. They have since added an outside patio, and have different inside and outside tasting menus. We got one of each tasting menu, and they were nice enough to serve us both outside on the patio. (Thanks to Kelsey for taking great care of us!)

Soquel Vineyards tasting room

Soquel Vineyards tasting room

We really enjoyed the following wines (i.e. we bought a mixed case of these):

2013 Chardonnay, Lester Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
2013 Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
2012 Trinity Rosso, blend of Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo

(As an aside, we opened a bottle of the Trinity Rosso a few days ago, and it was perfect for dinner with Lori’s meat loaf.)

After finishing our tasting, we wandered inside, and caught up with Peter Bargetto. On every visit we’ve made to Soquel, either Peter or his twin brother Paul – two of the three partners in the winery – have been there talking with the guests and helping with the tastings, usually providing some select barrel tastings at the end. Today was no different, and Peter treated us to tastes of the 2013 and 2014 Intreccio, and new Bordeaux blend that Soquel will be releasing soon. Each year the blend changes a bit, depending on the quality and taste of the grapes. We were impressed with both vintages, and can’t wait to see them in bottles and released to customers. We also tasted a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Coombsville District, which was still really young; hard to get a read on. Although based on the Soquel track record, it’s going to be great.

To our view, Soquel embodies and exemplifies what is great about the Santa Cruz Mountain wineries: small family wineries, producing outstanding wine with a lot of passion and care, in a great area, and taking great care of their customers. In particular, their longevity and consistency make them a must visit winery in the area.

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

When Should You Open That Bottle?

One of the biggest questions with wine is How long to let the wine age? There are some rules of thumb, or maybe they’re more in the realm of urban legend. Such as drinking whites right away, and letting most red wines age for a couple of years, and letting Cabernet Sauvignon age for at least 10 years.

What happens when wine ages? From a technical perspective, a bit of oxygen sneaks in through the cork, and then CHEMISTRY happens. From a taste perspective, this can have the effect of softening some of the bolder, fruit flavors that are more typical of a younger wine. In the best cases, when this really works, softening the big fruit flavors allows more subtlety, more complexity to express itself in the wine. In other cases, that complexity is not there to begin with, and and when the fruit flavors soften the wine just tastes a bit flat. And even with the wines that will age, there does come a point when it’s aged too much, and the wine loses its balance between fruit, acid, aroma etc.

Also, to be clear, there are a lot of wines, probably the majority of wines made, that are meant to be consumed within the first couple of years after harvest and bottling. Moreover, screw cap closures are helping wines maintain that fresh, fruity, just-bottled taste by not letting any oxygen into the bottle, so chemistry is not happening with those bottles.

For those wines that you’re thinking about buying and aging, the advice from the wine industry is to buy a case and drink a bottle every so often – every year, or two years, or whatever seems to make sense – so that you can understand how the wine is aging and make sure to drink as much of the case as possible as near to the peak of the wine as possible. Well, that simply isn’t practical for most of us, including Lori and I. The cost, and the storage capacity, just aren’t reasonable.

My first rule of thumb is never buy wine to age from a winery that I’m not familiar with. You could view this as a chicken and egg problem: how to figure out if their wine ages well if you can’t buy a bottle? Typically wineries make a variety of wines, and not all of them are meant to age. If you like the style of the winery/winemaker, go ahead and take a chance on some wine to lay down for a few years. Second, taste the wine you’re interested in investing in. If you don’t like it now, it’s unlikely to taste that much better to you to justify your investment.

As to when to open a bottle, if you can buy more than one, you could get some idea of how it’s aging as you go. However, if you’re making an investment in this wine, the thing to do is to open it for either a special occasion, or with friends and family that will appreciate the wine. Hopefully those two conditions have significant overlap. We’ve had that happen recently, and have opened some older bottles. Here are some tasting notes:

Peachy Canyon 2004 Old School House Zinfandel in the decanter.

Peachy Canyon 2004 Old School House Zinfandel in the decanter.

2004 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel, Old School House Vineyard, Paso Robles: One thing that happens with older wines is that they can collect sediment; various things coming together and crystallizing in the wine. More oxygen also helps the wine. And decanters make serving the wine more elegant. So decant your older wines. As far as Zinfandel not aging well, it’s a good rule of thumb, as most Zins aren’t built to age well. This one was built that way, and was delicious at the 10 year point. Probably doesn’t have much longer to age. But excellent a few weeks ago.

2004 Soquel Vineyards Zinfandel, Schmierer Vineyard, California: The winery is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but these grapes are from a vineyard in Lodi, and this vineyard is more than 100 years old. Normally I wouldn’t expect a Lodi Zin to age well – Lodi Zins can be great when young – but in the hands of a really good winemaker, this wine has done just as well as the Peachy Canyon Zin.

2001 Archery Summit Winery Pinot Noir, Archery Summit Estate Cuvée, Oregon: Good Pinot Noir, like good French Burgandy, does age well. This bottle was a bit over the hill; not bad, but not what we hoped for.

2004 Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: Very nice bottle of wine, with still a lot of fruit flavor up front. Will at least hold on for another few years at this level, and maybe get a bit better.

2010 Armida Winery Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley: Sauvignon Blanc is usually built to drink now. However, some of the best Sauvignon Blanc – French white Bordeaux, or wines from the Loire region – will age nicely. This wine started its life as an excellent Sauvignon Blanc, with big fruit flavors, crisp texture from good acids, great nose. We’ve opened a couple of bottles in the last few months, and it’s even better now. The big fruit has been toned down, the balance of the wine is better, and the real quality of the grapes is coming through. I wouldn’t recommend aging most Sauvignon Blanc, and really this was not done purposefully on our part (too many other Sauv Blancs to drink kept these from being opened), but what a great accident!

L’Chaim,

Larry