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General Interest

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.

 

winery

 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.

 

building-cropped

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

 

 

fireplace-web

One of four fireplaces in the entertainment center.

 

Dan-Panella-Chad-Joseph

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

 

tank-room

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All photos by Fred Swan except those provided by McCay Cellars. All rights reserved.

More Thoughts on Blind vs. Non-Blind Tasting

Another Reason for Tasting Blind

Girl with a glass of wineThere’s one reason I didn’t mention in my recent article that magazines taste blind: advertising. Wine newsletters, and most blogs, do not accept ads from wineries. Magazines depend on them. This creates considerable opportunity for conflict of interest. The same is true outside the wine industry too, be it music, consumer electronics or automobiles. [Newspapers reviewers don’t always taste blind, but winery ads are an infinitesimal portion of their revenue.]

Magazine publishers talk about “the separation of church and state,” essentially a firewall between the ad and edit sides of most magazines. By and large, this works. There are always advertisers here and there who complain to their ad reps about a bad review, lack of coverage, etc. The sales guys simply say that they don’t have any ability to sway coverage and that ends it. Sometimes a company will pull their ads, but that’s rare.

The potential for influence is there though. The practice of selling a winery ads in the same section in which a positive review or article about that winery appears leads to consumer and industry suspicion. Without blind tasting there would be even more concern about high scores being more likely for big advertisers.

That said, it seems wine reviewers are often held to a different standard than critics in other product segments. Reviews of CDs and concerts aren’t blind. The reviewer always knows who they’re listening too, who the publisher is and the music is received as a free sample, not purchased in a store. Likewise, restaurant reviewers know where they are going, who the chef is and who owns the restaurant. The same is true of reviews for movies, cars, etc.

Surprise Winners in Blind Tastings

Wine and restaurant reviewer Michael Cervin mentioned in a comment on my last article that, in judging situations, he’s sometimes seen people be surprised by the wines to which they’ve given good scores. I’ve noticed this as well. There’s no question that, sometimes, the engineered yumminess of an inexpensive wine wins people over in blind taste tests. Quality in high-volume wines gets better every year.

I’ve also noticed a certain amount of self-selection from wineries when it comes to contests vs. print/online reviews. Wineries which would never submit their product to a newsletter, or even a magazine, will enter into big blind-judging competitions. I can easily think of four different reasons for this.

  • Some producers are concerned their wine won’t make the first cut with reviewers.
  • It’s more cost effective to pay a small fee and send a few bottles to one contest than it is to ship dozens of individual bottles all over the country.
  • Contest results are non-points based. A gold medal is a gold medal, and even bronze sounds better than 84.
  • Medals and ribbons look impressive hanging from bottles in a tasting room.

The Difficulty of Judging Typicity in Fully Blind Tastings

I think knowing the variety while tasting is important. Otherwise, blind tastings can occasionally result in inappropriate ratings due to lack of information. If the goal is just to find tasty beverages or the best among unconventional blends, that’s one thing. But, if the wine is varietally labeled, it should be varietally correct to merit a high score. Varietal labels set expectations for consumers. It’s a reviewer’s job to determine whether or not the wine meets those expectations.

This may seem like an edge case, but non-varietally correct wines appear more frequently than you might imagine. Just the other day I was at a group tasting, blind, of Chardonnay from very reputable producers. One of the wines was enjoyable but did not smell at all like Chardonnay. It smelled and tasted of apricot and botrytis. There was a little residual sugar and fairly high acidity. Had we not known what it was supposed to be, we would have all thought it to be a good-quality Riesling.

 

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

What is Rutherford Dust?

Rutherford dust is a phrase very closely linked with the wines of the Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley. People often describe wines as having Rutherford Dust, or wines from neighboring St. Helena and Oakville lacking it. Rutherford’s association of growers and vintners even calls itself the Rutherford Dust Society. I have heard people identify Rutherford dust as a specific flavor, sometimes cocoa powder or chocolate, sometimes coffee. Others use it with regard to texture, the dusty feeling of tannins in a Rutherford AVA Cabernet Sauvignon. And I’ve seen books refer to it as a particular minerality. So, what does Rutherford dust actually mean?

Yesterday, at a media lunch hosted by the Rutherford Dust Society and Rubicon Estate, someone asked just that. It was the perfect occasion for the question. Among the Rutherford experts at the table were both Andy Beckstoffer and Joel Aiken. There is literally nobody better qualified to explain Rutherford dust than they.

Andy Beckstoffer first walked through the vineyards of Rutherford in the mid-1960’s. Working for Heublein in 1966, he convinced the company it needed to be buying vineyards in California and Napa Valley in particular. Beckstoffer believed that the future of premium American wine was there. Soon, Beckstoffer had helped Heublein acquire both Inglenook and Beaulieu Vineyards, among other properties. But, by 1973, Heublein’s business interests had shifted. Beckstoffer arranged to buy their Napa vineyard holdings for himself.

Andy-Beckstoffer
Andy Beckstoffer explains Rutherford dust at Rubicon on July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

In Rutherford, his company owns the Melrose Vineyard and the Beckstoffer George III Vineyard (formally Beaulieu Vineyard No. 3), more than 400 acres in all. He was a founder, and has served as president, of both the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association and the Rutherford Dust Society. He was the first grape grower inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame. And he knew André Tchelistcheff well, working closely with him in various ways for twenty years.

Tchelistcheff is the man most people credit with having originated the term “Rutherford dust.” He led the winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyards from 1938 until his retirement in 1973. Thereafter, he consulted for a variety of wineries, including Beaulieu Vineyards. Tchelistcheff used to say, “Wine begins in the vineyard and always, always, we must come back to the vineyard.” This, according to Beckstoffer, is what Tchelistcheff was talking about when he spoke of Rutherford dust.

When Tchelistcheff said, “The wines must have Rutherford dust in them,” he did not mean they had to taste of dust. “André meant they needed to taste like they came from Rutherford’s vineyards,” Beckstoffer explained. Tchelistcheff was talking about terroir.

Joel Aiken joined the winemaking team at Beaulieu Vineyards in 1982. He served as VP of Winemaking there from 1999 through 2009. He is also a founding director and past president of the Rutherford Dust Society. During his time at BV, Aiken worked side-by-side with Tchelistcheff on a number of projects.

Joel-Aiken
Winemaker Joel Aiken at the Rutherford Dust Tasting, Rubicon, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Joel Aiken confirmed that Tchelistcheff’s use of the phrase Rutherford dust wasn’t referring to a specific flavor or mouthfeel but to the combination of soils, aspects, climate and other environmental elements that make Rutherford unique. Aiken contributed another interesting tidbit though, “André Tchelistcheff told me that he didn’t originate the term Rutherford dust. He said it was Maynard Amerine.”

Amerine was a scientist and faculty member of the U.C. Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology from 1935 to 1974. Among his almost significant, and almost countless, contributions were papers on the suitability of various grape varietals for specific growing areas in California. He also did ground-breaking work in the sensory evaluation of wine.

Whether the first person to mention Rutherford dust in connection with wine was André Tchelistcheff or Maynard Amerine, it is very clear that both men placed great importance on how the character of good wine reflects the vineyard from which its grapes came. And, based on what Andy Beckstoffer and Joel Aiken have said, we can be confident that Rutherford dust means the terroir of Rutherford and the sense of place exhibited by its best wines.

Which wines do you think best exemplify Rutherford dust? Do you find Rutherford dust in its Sauvignon Blanc, or just the red wines?

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Updated: Antonio Galloni Identifies a New Generation of Cult Wineries

Update: The numbers in my own original analysis below omitted a number of wines Antonio Galloni reviewed, due to an issue with "search" on the WA site. After reviewing the reviews that I had missed, my general point with regard to the new wineries that he has identified remains correct. However, the ratio of new wineries to old is quite a bit lower than it had first appeared. The number of high scores he handed out is also substantially higher. The majority of them went to "the usual suspects," including Abreu, Kongsgaard, Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Dominus, Joseph Phelps, etc. I've updated some of the text below accordingly. To the list of "new" wineries that Galloni touts should be added Magie Rouge (winemaker Luc Morlet), Barrett & Barrett (joint project of Heidi and Bo Barrett), and James Johnson (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown), Cabaud Wines (winemaker Luc Morlet), Casa Piena (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown), Paratus (winemaker Massimo Monticelli), Pott Wine (winemaker Aaron Pott) and Seaver Family Vineyards (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown).

 

It’s been a big week for calculating point-spreads and over-unders. Will the home team come out on top? Or will they be relegated to second class by a powerful national ranking system?

After crunching the numbers and reviewing the film, W. Blake Gray and Alder Yarrow concluded that our local heroes, the Napa Vintners, will prevail. Antonio Galloni inspected the wines. He ranked them and published the results. There was no major re-ordering of Napa Valley’s established stars. Nor was there a wholesale rejection of the Big 12, or big wines in general.

The most notable differences between Galloni’s assessment and that of his hugely influential predecessor, Robert Parker, were

  • A bunching up of wines — fewer stratospheric scores but also an elevation from sub-90 for others resulting in a slightly higher average score
  • Better scores for Corison, long seen as an example of elegance and great wine under-scored by Parker

The general take-away is as Gray said, “much more is the same under Galloni than not.” Yarrow’s view is essentially the same, “Galloni's scores match Parker’s with an almost scary precision, except for the fact that Galloni seems to be a tougher grader.”

There was natural uncertainty as to what would happen with a new reviewer of California wines. And there was some concern, because Parker’s scores had done so much to promote the region and especially it’s more ripe and fleshy wines. Frankly, many wineries owe their continuing existence to sales driven by Parker scores. On the other hand, it would have made little sense for Parker to cede such a high-profile region — popular with consumers as well as collectors and Wine Advocate subscribers — to a person that would immediately contradict what had been published before.

antonio_galloniIn interviews with Galloni not long after the announcement, he didn’t talk about upsetting the apple cart. But he did note several times an interest in discovering new wineries. "I'm convinced there are a lot of young producers who are under the radar, and I'm looking to discover them," Galloni said. "Discovering lesser-known wineries is really where the excitement is.”

 

Two Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the 2009 vintage were rated at 95 and 94 points. These were the first ever reviews for Rivers-Marie by Wine Advocate. The label is new but the winemaker is no stranger to top WA scores. Rivers-Marie is the project of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and his wife Genevieve Marie Welsh. Brown also makes the wines for Schrader, Outpost, Black Sears and others. All have received excellent Parker scores in the past with Schrader having hit 100 six times.

The 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Gandona Vineyards also received 95 points. This was Gandona Vineyards’ first Wine Advocate listing as well. The wine, which is sold via a mailing list and retails for $190, is crafted from the Pritchard Hill grapes by star winemaker Phillipe Melka.

At 94 points, there are familiar names such as Crocker and Starr, Behrens and Hitchcock and Bryant Family. There are also two “new” names. Carte Blanche received 94 points for both a 2009 and a 2008, their first vintage. Carte Blanche is owned by Nicholas Allen, great-grandson of Clarence Dillon who long owned Chateau Haut-Brion and whose family later took on La Mission Haut-Brion. Luc Morlet makes the wine for Carte Blanche. He has received high WA scores in the past while at Peter Michael Winery and Staglin.

Another name with a 94 next to it is Derenoncourt for a 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot. Only one wine from the Derenoncourt label had been previously reviewed at WA. That was their first offering, a $27 red table wine. The Merlot along with the 93-point Coombsville Cabernet Franc and 92-point California Cabernet Sauvignon are the first of Stephane Derenoncourt’s high-end wines with published reviews in WA. However, Derenoncourt is also no stranger to Robert Parker reviews. He is a famous flying winemaker who first grabbed attention at Chateau Pavie Macquin and then La Mondotte, both in Bordeaux. His bio says he now consults for more than 60 wineries around the world, one of which has been Rubicon Estate.

Other new wineries at 92 points or better included Brand Estate (winemaker Phillipe Melka), Moone-Tsai (winemaker Phillipe Melka) and Harbison (winemaker Russell Bevan). Galloni has made good on his promise of identifying hot new wineries.

On the other hand, every single one of the new wineries Galloni heralds have uber-famous winemakers and have been designed from the ground up to produce the scores they are getting. There are no surprise appearances from “little guys” or unknown winemakers. To get back to football analogies, these highly-rated new wineries are like the 49ers under Harbaugh. They couldn’t be considered underdogs. Their success in making well-reviewed wine was almost assumed. Only the speed and scale of that success might be a surprise.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

It's Not Too Late! Downloadable Gifts for Wine Lovers

It’s the day before Christmas and officially time to panic if you’re still short on gifts for the wine lovers in your life. Mail order won’t get the job done in time. A trip to the mall or downtown shopping district means parking blues, hordes of Cinnabon-fueled zombies and lengthy lines at the register.

What you need are downloadable gifts. Here are some great digital doodads for wine lovers:

The World Atlas of Wine - 7th Edition by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson
atlas of wineThe most recent update of this venerable guide to wine was just released in October. While the hardcover book is lovely and looks good on a coffee table, I opted for the Apple iBooks version, $14.99 The 400-page resource is weightless on my iPad, the photos still vivid, and it includes video which you just can't get in print.

The book isn't perfect. Today's world of wine is a big place and, when single regions such as California or Argentina are worthy of 500 pages themselves, a book such as this one can’t cover any topic exhaustively. There is also a minor formatting problem, at least on my iPad Mini, which cuts off a bit of text here and there.

Those quibbles aside, the book is an excellent resource and wonderful to have in hip pocket or purse at all times. Maps are a primary element of any atlas. Here, there’s a “tap to zoom” feature which makes detailed maps, such as the complete vineyard-level layout of Gevrey-Chambertin, very easy to navigate and read. Likewise, a single tap provides larger-than-life renderings of wine labels. The hyperlinked table of contents and search functions are fast and effective. Pop-up regional sidebars offer info on climate, viticultural hazards and principal grape varieties.

The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste by Jon Bonné
91ldTo5opKL. SL1500 Hot off the press, but also available for Kindle, is this book by the SF Chronicle’s wine editor. It provides a great overview of California wine from the beginning to now. Wine recommendations are organized by varietal, perfect for people who don’t know producer names but want to find a killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, etc.

Jon Bonné has a point of view which becomes obvious as one gets to the latter stages of the book. The book is best for people who share his tastes or who gave up on California wine years ago due to a perceived lack of nuance, minerality and acidity. If your intended recipient loves mouth-filling, fruit-forward wines and isn’t afraid of alcohol, or needs a compleat compendium of regions and wineries, this book may not be for them. But, for a fresh look at California wine, a guide to domestic bottles with Old World flair and an overview of the most controversial topics in wine, this is your tome.

My full review is here. The Kindle edition is currently selling for $13.29, 62% off the hardcover price.

Wine Cellar Management Software
I’ve tried at least a dozen software packages designed for cataloging and managing a large wine collection. Most of them are horrible. You-couldn’t-pay-me-to-use-the-horrible. There are two very good options though.

The Personal Wine Curator 3.0 ($49.99, PC or Mac) is a purpose-built, standalone application that is powerful but easy-to-use, flexible but doesn’t require configuration, and speeds data entry with both a wine database and “duplicate entry” function. The program suggests drink by dates as well as food pairings. It can manage multiple cellars and supports printing and scanning of bar codes. There is also an add-on mobile option ($29.99/yr.) that will both back up your data to their server and allow you to access your database via smart phone.

wine curator

The second good option is a two-tool solution, CellarTracker plus Cor.kz. Most people know CellarTracker as a crowd-sourced repository of wine reviews. However, it has a cellar management tool and currently boasts an online hoard of 46.5 million user bottles. The CellarTracker cellar manager is focused on basic inventory, prices and scores and is much less feature rich than The Personal Wine Curator. It doesn’t offer wine maturity tracking or wine pairing. But you can use CellarTracker for free, though they request a voluntary payment and require at least $36/year for automatic valuations and access to some of the “pro” wine scores.

Cor.kz is an iPhone/iPad/Android app that connects with CellarTracker over the internet. It costs $1.99 and lets users access their CellarTracker inventory as well as the full database of reviews. It is integrated with Facebook and Twitter, so users can easily share comments on what they're drinking.

For a full-featured cellar manager, go with The Personal Wine Curator. If your wine-loving friend just needs an inventory of what they have, is interested in comparing their notes to user reviews or likes to share comments on wine via social media, try CellarTracker.

Happy Holidays!

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013. Cover art and screenshots are the property of their respective holders. All rights reserved.