Category Archives: sonoma county

Winemaker B and Armida Rock the 90s

No, this is not an article about rock ’n’ roll in the
90s.  This is about
Winemaker B (aka
Brandon Lapides), of
, nailing a few 90+ scores from Wine Spectator.  So let’s just lay it out here: 


2011 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Zinfandel     91

2011 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel           90

2010 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Zinfandel     90


Armida:  Looking
past 2013’s empty grape bins toward the Dry Creek Valley. 


Now the bad news – good news story.  The bad news is that you can’t buy
these wines, unless you luck out somehow. 
Both 2010 and 2011 harvests were lower than normal, and these vineyards
were no different. Not that much wine was made either year, especially the
vineyard designated wines, and it’s tough to find now.  The good news is that both 2012 and
2013 had excellent harvests, from a quantity perspective.  And the better news is that both 2012
and 2013 seem better right now than 2010 and 2011, from a quality


One interesting note is that these vineyards, Maple and
Parmelee-Hill, produce completely different grapes.  Not surprising, since they’re in completely different
locations.  Maple Vineyards is the
classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel vineyard, with head-trained vines, including
some blocks that were planted nearly 100 years ago.  It’s all about the fruit as it enters your mouth, and it’s wonderful.  Parmelee-Hill is a Sonoma Coast
vineyard, actually closer to the Carneros region.  Armida gets some Pinot Noir grapes from that vineyard also, so
you know it has to be in a cooler microclimate.  Parmelee_Hill Zinfandels, at least as made by Winemaker B,
have more complexity than usually seen in Zinfandels, and more subtle fruit
flavors.  In my experience it’s
relatively unusual for a winery and winemaker to excel at both styles of



Harvest is drawing to a close for Armida, leaves are turning
colors.  All the grapes were in
about 10 days ago.  There’s still
wine fermenting, and Winemaker B likes to call the end of harvest when they’re
through with primary fermentations and those tanks get emptied.  I think a more practical definition of
end of harvest is when he gets his first day completely off:  not one trip to the winery.  Once again this year, he’s worked every
day from the Tuesday after Labor Day to probably the weekend after
Halloween.  (That’s 9 weeks straight
without a day off, but who’s counting? 
Besides his wife and kids, that is.) 



We went to Armida a week ago to help with grandkids, and
check on the 2013 harvest. 
Beautiful day, and we spent a few hours there tasting, picnicing and trying
to tire out the grandkids.  (They
won that battle.)  Above, future
winemaker Elli was helping behind the tasting room bar, while below, future
winemaker Eden gets to relax with his father. 





Larry Lapides


Harvest 2013: Initial Update

We spoke with Winemaker B last week, as harvest was just starting.  This is now his 4th harvest at Armida Winery; amazing how time goes by!  For his first harvest at Armida, his first child was about 3 months old, and for this harvest, his second is about the same age.  But 2010 was a tough harvest from the winery perspective as well:  first harvest as head winemaker, first harvest at Armida, and the grapes were just good, but not great, throughout the region. 

2011 was not a great vintage either in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys, where Armida gets most of their grapes.  2012 had incredible quantity, and pretty good quality, as far as we can tell so far.  So what to expect in 2013?

Well, the initial report from Winemaker B is that this could be an excellent year for Armida.  No real weather problems during the growing season, no spikes near harvest, just a consistent warmth for the grapes.  Add to that some better technique in the vineyards, and more knowledge on the part of Winemaker B as to what each vineyards’ characteristics are and how to optimize the quality from each vineyard, and it could add up to an outstanding year for Winemaker B and Armida. 

Armida has always been known for its Zinfandels, and this year could be a lot of fun.  Winemaker B has always had a feel for Zinfandel, dating back to the early part of his career at Peachy Canyon Winery.  In his first harvest at Armida he got the Parmelee-Hill Zinfandel, which should still be sitting in the bottle and getting better.  2011 was the year for the Maple Vineyards Zinfandel to shine.  He’s still not sure about the best from 2012, although the Goldmine Vineyard Zinfandel is the early favorite.  This year, the betting money (even before bringing in the grapes) seems to be on Tina’s Block from Maple Vineyard producing the top Zinfandel.  And, of course, there’s always the Poizin Reserve, in the coffin. 

More updates to come, probably focusing on the white wines next time. 



Russian River + Turning 50 = Fantastic Day

Last week I took my friend Chris who had just celebrated her 50th birthday up to the Russian River in Sonoma County.  A few days prior we were at her house to celebrate with her family and friends, but I wanted to take her out for a “special day”, something she would remember for a long time.

We left the Dublin area around 11:30 and arrived in Sebastopol for lunch around 1:00.  We were given the suggestion of K & L Bistro on South Main street, downtown.  A very cute place, not too large, but quant with dark woods and art placed around.  It felt very Parisian.  I ordered their “Stimulus Lunch” (the special of the day), which included a cold cucumber gazpacho soup and salmon served with vegetables and red baby potatoes.  Chris ordered their Spring Risotto, which is described as having in it – Meyer lemon, asparagus, tomato confit and goat cheese.  Both of us enjoyed our lunches very much.  Neither of us had wine with lunch as we knew that wine was in our near future.

Next we went to Dutton Goldfield, where Brandon a.k.a. WinemakerB, is the assistant winemaker.  They share their tasting room with Balletto Vineyards.  So you can taste two for the price of one!  We tasted and compared chardonnays, had some D.G. Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah.  Brandon took Chris and I for a quick tour of the winery.  They were cleaning out a lot of the barrels, letting them dry, then sterilizing them and plugging them shut.  After those steps they get racked again and wait for the harvest.  Balletto was getting ready to bottle yet another wine that is ready.  

After Dutton Goldfield we went to Gary Farrell Winery.  They are on Westside Road in Healdsburg, but not very close to town.  Gary Farrell is known for its Pinot Noir.  Their tasting price is $10 for the premier and $15 for the limited release.  We tried their ’07 Sauvignon Blanc, Redwood Ranch*, ’06 Chardonnay, Russian River Selection, ’06 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection, ’07 Chardonnay*, Westside Farms, ’06 Pinot Noir, Ramal Vineyard, ’06 Pinot Noir, Starr Ridge Vineyard* and the ’06 Pinot Noir, Rochioli Vineyards*.  The ones mentioned that have an “ * ” were my favorites.

The views from the tasting room were incredible!  They are up about 1,000 feet or so, nearly the top of tree line.  All you see are trees, blue sky and the hawks swaying in the wind.  

Our next stop was at Porter Creek Vineyards.  They are also on Westside Road but much closer to the town of Healdsburg.  They are a certified organic winery. 

Their tasting room is in what used to be a single car garage and is now a historic structure.  It’s decorated with local artwork.  The winery is up the road a bit, not visible.  But what is visible is some of the many acres of vineyards they have.  Jonathan was there pouring for us and we tried their ’07 Viognier, Timbervine Ranch*, ’06 Pinot Noir, Estate Point, ’06 Pinot Noir, Fiona Hill Vineyard, ’07 Carignane “Old Vines”, Mendocino County, ’06 Syrah, Timbervine Ranch*, ’06 Zinfandel “Old Vine”*.  I really enjoyed my tasting experience there.  We closed them down for the day but didn’t feel any pressure to leave.

We then drove to downtown Healdsburg, (one of my favorite wine towns).  We parked, grabbed our Giants folding chairs, walked to the town square and placed our chairs in a great spot awaiting the upcoming “Jazz on the Square” they have every Tuesday night during summer.  We took a walk all around the square, which was having its Farmers Market.  Chris bought a couple nectarines and I bought last of the season cherries.  We peaked in some of the art boutiques and unique shops around the square.  Luckily most of them were closed.  We had to stop into my favorite candy/gelato shop, Powells Sweet Shoppe.  There we treated ourselves to a kid’s size scoop of chocolate peanut butter gelato.  We also bought some candies for later.  We then made our way to the Oakville Grocery market, which is known for its deli with meats and cheeses, they also have different bread choices, condiments plus much more.  While we were there they had two huge chioppino pans, about 3 feet in  

diameter.  The chef was making two differenty types of chioppino.  One pan had chicken, sausage,vegetables and rice (foreground).  The other pan had seafood with different cut up fish and huge prawns on top with vegetables and rice.  Had I known about this in advance I would have waiting the extra 20 minutes, but we ordered sandwiches instead.  Chris had their curried chicken sandwich with mango chutney mayonnaise, and leaf lettuce on a Dutch crunch roll.  I had (to keep with the French theme) an apple wood smoked ham & brie sandwich with whole grain mustard, leaf lettuce and red onion on a Dutch crunch roll.  We got a bag of chips and drinks.  Just as we got to our chairs we had enough time to take out our sandwiches from the paper wrapping and then the music started.  The band was great and the people watching perfect.  There were people of all ages from babies/toddlers to the very experienced folks.  They had an area set aside for those who wanted to dance, and there were plenty!  We stayed for 1-½ hours and headed back to the car to drive our 1 ½ hour drive home.  

Yes, this was a long day (10 hours), but it couldn’t have been more perfect!   Three wineries, one tour, two meals, good friends having a great time and plenty of beautiful scenery along the way!