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NorCal Wine Blog

'Tis the Season to be Zinful

During this season, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, my thoughts often segue to Zinfandel. The soft and jammy berry fruit, welcoming spice and touch of sweetness goes wonderfully with holiday smorgasbords. Zinfandel gets the party started and is perfect for mulling.

It’s hard to satiate my tastebuds once they’ve gotten into that Zinfandel mood, so I take them to the Zinfandel Experience in late January. Over the course of four days, I can taste horizontally, vertically and regionally, paired with food, paired with friends and paired with engaging winemakers. What better way to cheer oneself from the post-holiday blahs?

The 2015 Zinfandel Experience will once again include five separate, equally enjoyable events. For tickets and/or more information, check out the Zinfandel Experience website.


Media & Trade Tasting — Wednesday, January 28 from 1pm to 5pm at Rock Wall in Alameda
The annual sneak preview for wine pros begins with a one-hour invitation-only seminar. That’s followed by a three-hour sippy stroll through Rock Wall’s Zinfandel hangar with some of California’s best juice makers and a stunning view of San Francisco across the bay. This event is an excellent way to get a great overview of where Zinfandel is today.

Epicuria — Thursday, January 29 from 6pm to 8:30pm at the Golden Gate Club in SF’s Presidio
Great small bite. Great Zinfandel. Together! So get your tickets here. This is always a wonderful event. The range of foods with which Zinfandel pairs well is very long. And, with more than 30 winery/restaurant combos on hand, you’ll taste plenty. This evening will offer everything from wild boar chili to chocolate pepper cupcakes with Zinfandel-infused bacon, shrimp cocktail to duck tacos with molé sauce. There goes my diet…

Flights! Forums of Flavor — Friday, January 30 from 10:30am to 1pm at the Four Seasons Hotel in SF
Flights is a seated tasting seminar featuring 15 wines and their makers. This year’s theme is historic regions. Three flights of five wines will explore Contra Costa County, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley through single-vineyard bottlings. This event always sells out early, so get your tickets soon.

Winemakers’ Dinner, Reception and Auction — Friday, January 30 from 5:30pm to 10pm at the Four Seasons Hotel
The reception will feature 28 magnums and reserve wines with hors d’oeuvres. At dinner, you’ll be seated with a winemaker and will enjoy Colorado Lamb Rack and Baked Alaska. And more Zinfandel. This is another event that sells out quickly, so don’t hesitate.

The Tasting — Saturday, January 31 from 11am to 5pm at The Presidio
Nearly 120 wineries will pour. Somms and winemakers will lead seminars on terroir. Holders of VIP and All-Day tickets will also get to try barrel samples and reserve wines.

Get your tickets at the Zinfandel Experience website

This article is original to Copyright 2015. Photos courtesy of ZAP. All rights reserved.

New Tasting Rooms & a Grand Opening in Lodi

I’ve written numerous times about the increasing quality of wine coming out of Lodi. What I haven’t said much about is how the tasting room scene has been improving. My bad.

There have been a number of really positive developments on that front. Below are three of the most exciting. Each is well worth your visit.


McCay Cellars

One of California’s leading providers of elegant Zinfandel, McCay Cellars, now has a dedicated tasting room in Lodi. It’s located in a small industrial park, but has plenty of personality. McCay previously offered tastings through a downtown tasting room that served multiple labels.


In addition to wine, the new site has a cooler with meats, cheeses and non-alcoholic beverages for sale. So, it’s a great stop if you love excellent wine and especially if you’re on your way to a picnic.


mccay pano

McCay Cellars tasting room



mccay bins

Linda Larson McCay and Michael McCay in front of the tasting rooms graffiti art-decorated macro bins.


McCay Cellars – 1370 E. Turner Road, Lodi 95240 – 209.368.WINE

Open Thursday through Monday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment.



m2 Wines

m2 Wines is another one of Lodi’s star Zinfandel producers. For years, m2 operated out of the same industrial park that McCay Cellars just moved into. Owner/winemaker Layne Montgomery needed more space for making the wine to entertain the growning number of m2 fans.


His vision has delivered a striking, statement winery. It’s minimalism meets Prairie Architecture meets industrial chic. And it stands alone in its field. Literally.


The long, low, rectangular structure is divided into three connected sections. On the right is the tasting room with ceiling height sliding door panels. The panels let in filtered light when closed but can also open up to wide vineyard views. The middle section is an open breezeway equipped with picnic tables, a cooling breeze and views that seem to extend for ever across the fields. The leftmost section is the winery itself, complete with tanks, barrels and, importantly for a tasting room, nice washrooms.



 The new m2 winery and tasting room


m2 Wines – 2900 East Peltier Road, Acampo 95220 – 209.339.1971

Open Thursday through Monday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment



Oak Farm Vineyards

The newest destination winery in Lodi is Oak Farm Vineyards. Located on the historic Devries ranch, the property features original, restored buildings, a brand new winery, a beautiful entertainment building, a lake, 60 acres of vines and more.

The scale of the property and buildings makes it an excellent choice for large, private events. In addition the the 2,500 square foot tasting room, and a courtyard more than twice that size, there’s a 900 square foot conference room. However, the whole place has comfortable feel that’s welcoming to casual tasters. 


Oak Farm Vineyards is holding a grand opening next weekend October 25–26. It runs from 11am to 5pm both days. There is a $5 fee for a five-glass tasting. Club members and up to three guests taste for free. Light bites and music will be free for everyone at this event. I highly recommend you swing by if possible. You can confirm details and RSVP here.



 The new entertainment center and winery at Oak Farm Vineyards. It's bigger than it looks.




One of four fireplaces in the entertainment center.



Oak Farm Vineyards managing partner Dan Panella and winemaker Chad Joseph.



The new tank room at Oak Farm.


Oak Farm Vineyards – 23627 Devries Road, Lodi 95242 – 209.365.6565

Regular tasting hours are Friday through Monday, 11am to 5pm.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All photos by Fred Swan except those provided by McCay Cellars. All rights reserved.

Cinsault Good


Cinsault doesn’t get a lot of respect. In Chateauneuf-du-Pape it’s just one of many red blending grapes, never a star. Cinsault and Pinot Noir are the parents of Pinotage. But, due to an old South African predilection for calling Cinsault “Hermitage,” the grape doesn’t get obvious credit. Besides, Pinotage?


Finally, in the past few years, Cinsault is striking out on it’s own and earning a reputation for excellence. All the variety had to do was move to Lodi and wait 120+ years. Suddenly Cinsault is cool. It’s an “overnight sensation.”


In Lodi’s Bechtold Vineyard, gnarly vines planted in 1886 stand patiently but proudly in deep, sandy soil. The vineyard, owned by Wanda Woock Bechtold1, has been leased and tended by Phillips Farms since 2008. They farm it organically and irrigate just once a year, after harvest. Some of the fruit goes to their own Michael David Winery. The rest is sold to quality-focused producers such as Turley and Onesta.


There’s a good reason, beyond Cinsault’s typical anonymity, that this particular Cinsault took so long to make a name for itself. It used an alias. When the cuttings were first purchased, back in 1885, they were identified as Black Malvoisie. 


Here’s something to know about Black Malvoisie. There’s really no such thing. That name seems to have been used solely in California for misidentifying Cinsault. (There are a few variations of Malvasia Nera in southern Italy, but they have nothing in common with Cinsault nor do they have any relevance in the US or France—Cinsault hails from Languedoc-Roussillon.) The Bechtold Cinsault’s secret identity was revealed through genetic research by Kay Bogart and Andy Walker of U.C. Davis in 2003. 


Bogart immediately contacted Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who became the first modern champion of these particular vines. Bonny Doon seems a natural place for a lonely Rhone to range. Grahm has long been a proponent of authentically, even anachronistically, grown and made wines inspired by those from the Rhone Valley.


The grapes immediately found their way into Bonny Doon’s delicious Chateauneuf-du-Papish blends. Lately though, vintners are letting this Cinsault solo. Red wines and rosés show its gentle, yet complex, personality. There are berries, red and black, earth, dry herbs, flowers and gorgeous spices.


These Cinsault are not wines for aging. They are wines for drinking: drinking by the glass, by the bottle, with a meal and without. Moderate in alcohol, moderate in tannin and moderate in acidity, they can be wholly immoderate in pretty.


Take for example, the 2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard with its beautiful nose of meaty and exotic spices, dried dark flowers and dried berries. Drink most of the bottle, then dab the rest behind your ear. The wine is medium in body with fine grained tannins and alcohol of just 13.0%. It politely requests an invitation to lunch at your favorite sidewalk cafe.


The 2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard is beefier, literally. It offers drying herb, earth, meaty spice and rare beef with medium-plus body. The acidity and fine-grained tannins remain moderate though. Here’s a wine which will hold up some months in the cellar or hold its own during an evening at the steakhouse.


Winemakers tend to respond in kind to this Cinsault’s gentle nature. The aforementioned Turley is surprisingly laid-back relative to that company’s powerhouse Zinfandels. So too the 2013 Michael David Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard. The uber-successful family winery, behind bold labels such as Earthquake, Lust, Rage and Seven Deadly Zins, used a delicate hand to produce their balanced and graceful vineyard designate.


That wine is red and black berry pie on the nose and palate—something Michael David knows well—with a soft kiss of oak and chocolate. Again, body is medium, the sophisticated tannins moderate and acidity just enough for food. Speaking of which, you’ll want a thick hamburger, medium rare on toasted focaccia; no ketchup, mustard, mayo, onions, bacon or cheese to confuse things.


Another winning wine is the 2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard. Its aromas and flavors are of earthy red and black berries, spice and dry herb. Again, the body is just north of medium and the tannins moderate and very fine. Take it on a picnic with charcuterie or chicken ( grilled or fried).


2013 Turley Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi 

13.0% alcohol. About $25, Highly Recommended


2011 Onesta Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi  

14.5% alcohol. $29, Highly Recommended


2013 Michael David Ancient Vine Cinsault, Lodi 

14.5% alcohol. $25, Recommended


2012 Estate Crush Cinsault Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi

13.8% alcohol. $26 , Recommended



1 Wanda Woock Bechtold also owns Jessie’s Grove Winery with her son, winemaker Greg Burns


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. Photo courtesy of All rights reserved.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

It’s been easy for some people from outside the immediate area to make jokes about “free run juice” and “air-lifts of water crackers,” but last week’s earthquake in southern Napa devastated many homes and businesses. There are still people in great need of assistance.

Tinacci 060926 0643-540x
Give Napa Valley residents and business a hand this week.
(Photo: Jason Tinacci / Napa Valley Vintners)

Many in Napa and Sonoma will say that one of the best things you can do for them is indulge yourself and buy their wines or spend time (and money) in the area as a tourist. But there are also a number of charitable funds to which you can contribute. Some come with benefits for you beyond the warm-hearted feeling that comes from helping others. I’ve collected information on many of those here for your convenience.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund of the Napa Valley Community Fund (NVCF)

This fund will allocate money to projects it feels will best help in Napa’s recovery. You can donate directly. See their dedicated web page for details.

If you prefer, or in addition, you can donate through a purchase of Matthiasson Quake Cuvée. 100% of the after-tax profits will go to NVCF. This limited release wine, made by SF Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Steve Matthiasson, will ship in Spring, 2015. This opportunity is limited in duration since there’s only so much wine available.

You may also donate through the Bank of Napa Earthquake Relief Fund. Donations via the bank can be made in person at the bank or by mail to Bank of Napa, 2007 Redwood Road, Suite 101, Napa, Calif., 94558. Make checks payable to Bank of Napa. The monies will be forwarded to NVCF.


Napa winemaker Jason Moore founded NapaStrong at gofundme. The fund stands at about $13,000 right now with a target of $30,000. The money will support people working on the dangerous winery cleanup projects by providing lunches, childcare, etc. Any remaining funds will go to other residents and businesses in need. You can contribute directly at this page.

Alternatively, you can contribute through Rocca Wines. Buy some Rocca wine here, and they will give you a 10% discount and they will contribute 10–20% (depending on how many bottles you buy) of the net proceeds to NapaStrong.

Community Action Napa Valley

CANV is a non-profit that has been providing relief to needy Napa Valley residents since 1965. Their support includes emergency shelter, housing, food, coaching and financial assistance. To donate money, a vehicle or learn how to volunteer visit this page.

If you donate $50 or more to CANV in September, provide proof to Doug Wilder of purely domestic wine report. If you’ve not a subscriber, you’ll get 12 months of free online access to the reports. (If you are a subscriber, I suspect Doug would entertain allow you to gift the 12 month access to a friend.)

Foundation SAVE Cards
Napa City firefighters and the California Fire Foundation are collaborating to provide $100 SAVE cards to people needing emergency assistance. Every dollar counts for someone who has just lost their home in an earthquake or fire. You can donate to the California Fire Foundation here. They’ll allocate to your money to SAVE, or one of their other aid programs for Californian’s effected by fires or natural disasters.

Other Options

My friend Elaine Brown of, who spent a lot of time helping in the community during the aftermath, also suggests these agencies for your donations:
Aldea Children & Family Services
Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, please visit the Napa Valley Vintners excellent listing of community resources here.

If you know of other means of contributing, please provide details in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor are affiliated in any way with the people or entities listed above. I don’t endorse any one of these over the others, nor do I have any control over how or when your donations might be allocated by these parties. I, like you, am trusting that it will be done appropriately.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

On a Vertical Tasting of Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection

Grgich-Hills hosted a vertical tasting of their Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon this week. The fruit comes from a vineyard near Hopper Creek that was planted in 1959, coincidentally just one year after Mike Grgich first arrived in Napa Valley. The vineyard lies across a dirt road from DominusNapanook vineyard, the site of Napa’s very first wine grapes planted by George Yount, and features “Inglenook Clone” Cabernet Sauvignon on the long-lived, Phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock. Mike Grgich bought the vineyard in 1984 and lived in its Victorian house for 20 years thereafter. Grgich-Hills believes the vineyard to be the second-oldest productive Cabernet Sauvignon plot in Napa Valley.

The first vintage Grgich-Hills offered a Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon was 1991. I and fellow writers tasted that ’91 alongside 1994, 1997, 2004, 2007 and 2010. It wasn’t until 2002 that such a wine was released every year. The only wine released in the ’90’s we didn’t get to try was 1995.

Photo: Fred Swan

It probably won’t surprise you that the wines of the early 1990’s are moderate in alcohol and framed by acidity while the later wines are richer, mouth-filling and rely primarily on tannins for structure. What caught me off guard, and likely will you, is that the fruit for those lean, energetic wines was picked later than that for the recent vintages.

Revitalizing a Vineyard

How does fan leaf-virused, 50-something-year old vines yield riper, richer Cabernet grapes earlier in the year than those same vines did 20 years prior? Or, for that matter, how a winery can even get reasonable yields from half-century Cabernet vines with rust-colored leaves?

It’s about old-school farming. In 1991, the vines seemed to be at the end of their productive lives. Yields were low. To eke out as much ripeness as possible, harvests were delayed until the very last moment. Then, Grgich-Hills transitioned away from “modern” viticulture with commercial fertilizers and pesticides. They instituted organic agriculture that encourages healthy soil full of happy microorganisms. These microbes are essential to vine health as they convert nutrients in the soil into forms which roots can absorb and utilize. Years of pesticide use and reliance on artificial fertilizers deplete these microorganisms. Gradually, the soil recovered the naturally and dry-farmed vines became healthier and more fruitful.

Wine Styles

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. There was a clear divide between the older wines and the younger with respect to acidity, tannic strength, alcohol level and palate richness. Many attendees were passionate about the juicy oldsters, full of energy and demanding food. I’m sympathetic to that and very much enjoyed those wines, though my ratings this time skew slightly in favor of the more exuberant, chewy, fruity young pups. The Grigich-Hills philosophy is that wine ought to be built for food. Even the “intoxicating” 2010 has freshness and will be a lovely dinner companion.

Notes on Six Vintages of Grgich-Hills Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon

1991 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby with a hint of garnet at the rim. Deep aromas of drying—yet somehow fresh—black currant, spice, moist cedar, dried leaves, coffee and tobacco. Medium to medium-plus body in the mouth with brisk acidity, moderate alcohol and just a hint of very fine, thoroughly integrated tannins. Flavors include tart black fruit, spice, lemon, drying leaves and potting soil. This wine evolved steadily in the glass, gradually building richness. It’s fully-developed but will hold for a good many years. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.3% alcohol. Highly Recommended

1994 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby with very slight garnet at the rim. The nose features spice, dry forest floor, cocoa and mushroom. Over time, a Worcestershire sauce aroma emerged. After the savory nose, the forward flavors of tart red and black currants, accompanied by spice and moist forest floor, came as a surprise. The body is solidly medium-plus but the very fine tannins are nearly subliminal. This wine is framed by acidity, but less racy than the ’91. Further developed than the 1991 or 1997, the 1994 is drinking well and was a favorite of many writers in attendance. I’d get to it fairly soon though. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Recommended +

1997 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep garnet in color with a nose of moist, dusty wood, baked currants, dry mint, spice, violets, sandalwood and dried rose petals. It’s nearly full-bodied in the mouth with fine, chalky tannins slightly dominating acidity. Long-lasting flavors of moist forest floor, tart black currant, black cherry, earth and lemon. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2004 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Dark ruby core with a thin garnet rim. Beautifully fruity aromas of stewed black currant, macerated red cherry and red ropes with chocolate and dry leaves. Full-bodied in the mouth with a bounty of fine, chalky tannins. Tart blackberry, red cherry, licorice, dark chocolate and spice linger on the palate. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

2007 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep ruby and redolent of black cherries and chocolate with enticing accents of vanilla bean, butterscotch and baking spices. Full-bodied with fine-grained and chalky tannins. Juicy black cherries with licorice, chocolate and spice go on and on. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.7% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Grgich-Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection
Deep ruby and loaded with mocha, spice, black currant and red cherry aromatics. Full-bodied with fine-grained tannins in the mouth. Flavors include mocha, chocolate, macerated red and black cherries and an intriguing amount of earth. A sudden, late-season heat spike in the otherwise cool 2010 gave sugars a surprising boost and resulted in lower acidity and higher alcohol in this wine than is characteristic for Grgich-Hills or might otherwise be expected for the vintage. This is a delicious wine nonetheless. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Franc (Carneros), 2.5% Petite Verdot. 15.1% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

To learn more about Grgich-Hills Yountville Vineyard, watch this video presentation by their VP of Vineyards & Production, Ivo Jeramaz.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.