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5 Amusing Uses for Old Wine Corks

If you open as many wine bottles as I do, you may find yourself with two problems: sommelier elbow and a vast surplus of corks. You can make your elbow feel better by drinking some of the wine. But what do you do with all of those corks. Here are a few inspiring examples of what other forks with too many corks — and plenty of time on their hands — have done. Enjoy!

"Cork in the Road" by Steven Leslie; check out his site for other creations. He has other designs and sells his creations as well.

It took more than 300,000 wine corks to create this huge mosaic.

The shading the artist gets is impressive. Imagine sorting all of those corks!

The artist, Saimir Strati, not only uses different colors of cork, but different lengths to create depth. Don't try this at home if you've been drinking the wine! (via TheContaminated)

Wine cork "art" can be practical and doesn't have to be hard to make yourself. Craftynest has instructions for making your own wine cork bath mat.

On the other hand, the creations that are difficult to create and epic in size can be pretty amazing. This cork cow can be seen at the Charles Creek Vineyard tasting room on the square in Sonoma. Photo: Charles Creek Vineyard

After a hard day of building cork cows, you'll want to sit back and relax. So build yourself a chair too!

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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.

Lodi Zinfandel Goes Native

lodi native

Lodi is well-known for Zinfandel. Of particular note are its many acres of old vines. Thick-trunked and twisted after all these years, they look more like short trees than grape vines.

The fruit these centenarians bear is full of character, but their unique traits are sometimes masked by new oak and other winemaking choices intended to please contemporary wine lovers. So, unlike Pinot Noir vineyard-designates often made with a minimum of intervention to expose distinct terroir, even super-premium Zinfandel wines don’t necessarily reveal all the unique characteristics of particular old vine plots. This makes it hard to know exactly how excited we should really be about those vineyards.

The Lodi Native project addresses that problem directly. It presents single-vineyards of distinction from Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA in wines that are skillfully made, but not “crafted.” I tasted the project’s first 6 wines. The differences between each were dramatic. The wines are beautiful. They compelled me to open my wallet, a much harder task these days than it used to be.

What is Lodi Native?

Lodi Native is a serious effort by six winemakers to let heritage vineyards speak clearly through “sensible viticulture and minimalist winemaking”. Each man was responsible for his own wine but also worked with the others from the outset to define a winemaking credo. As wine production moved forward, they consulted with each other on challenges and critiqued all the wines to drive quality and transparency of terroir. Each agreed to forego personal and brand-styles in favor of that transparency.

Here are some of the restrictions on Lodi Native wines:

• 100% Zinfandel from single-contiguous vineyard
  (except when a particular vineyard has a long, recognized history for mixed blacks)
• Native-yeast fermentation for primary and malolactic fermentation
• No new oak or inner staves
• No oak substitutes such as chips or powder
• No addition of water or subtraction of alcohol
• No addition or reduction of acid
• No added tannins
• No added color or concentrates, including Mega-Purple
• No fining or filtration
• No must concentration, Flash Détante or similar extraction measures

This was a risky project. The winemakers couldn’t use commonly accepted measures to counteract issues with the grapes or production. Some winemakers hadn’t relied solely on native fermentation before, so they didn’t know what surprises the peculiar strains in their vineyard and winery would bring. There was no oak “spice box” to cover minor flaws.

In fact, there were originally seven winemakers in the project. One voluntarily withdrew because an issue with harvest resulted in his grapes coming in with too much sugar. He wouldn’t be able to ferment the grapes dry or have a balanced wine while adhering to the protocols.

The Lodi Native Wines

The first vintage for Lodi Native Zinfandel was 2012. A limited number of six-bottle sets packaged in attractive wood boxes are available from the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center for $180. If there are extra single bottles, those will be available from the wineries for about $35.

2012 Maley Brothers Lodi Native Zinfandel Wegat Vineyard
Winemaker: Chad Joseph — Grower: Todd Maley

Wegat Vineyard is on Lodi’s west side, an area noted for Zinfandel with spicy characteristics. Its 21 acres hold head-trained Zinfandel on St. George rootstock planted in 1958. The vines here are noted for producing unusually open clusters with small berries. Some whole clusters were used in making the Lodi Native wine to enhance complexity.

The dark ruby wine is a study in cherries. The vivid nose shows red cherries and black, canned cherries, fresh cherries, macerated cherries, dried cherries and tart cherries. The cherrypalooza is decorated with fresh sage, garrigue and array of spice. The palate is intense, focused and quite long with flavors of red cherry, blueberry and a touch of sweet herb. The body is medium+ with notable freshness and just enough fine-grained tannins. 14.9% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2012 m2 Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Soucie Vineyard
Winemaker: Layne Montgomery — Grower: Kevin Soucie

Soucie Vineyard is the furthest west of all the Lodi Native sites, very near both I–5 and the Delta. Kevin Soucie’s meticulous care results not just in great fruit but a vineyard that looks like a massive Zen garden, hundreds of bonsai vines in a vast field of sand that’s smooth as a U.S. Open sand trap. The particular block used in this wine was planted in 1916 and features deep, sandy soil that’s so fine as to be nearly powdery. The vineyard is noted for a unique earthy character that ranges from mushroom to dairy yard notes.

The grapes for this wine were picked at two different ripeness levels, the first 50% at just 22 brix, to foster complexity, acidity and ensure that the wine would ferment dry. The nose features spicy, slightly resinous, forest floor, mushroom and a whiff of dill with plenty of sweet-tart berry fruit. The creamy, nearly full-bodied palate is intensely flavored with spicy berry fruit. The moderate tannins are fine-grained, the finish long. 14.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2012 McCay Cellars Lodi Native Zinfandel TruLux Vineyard
Winemaker: Michael McCay — Grower: Keith Watts

The TruLux Vineyard is also on the west side, roughly located between the Michael David and Van Ruiten wineries. Its exceptionally tall vines were planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock. It’s wines are said to lean toward loamy flavors.

Medium+ ruby in the glass, this wine offers aromas of earth, spicy dark plum and carob. In the mouth there’s medium+ body, moderate, fine-grained tannins and marked acidity that provides juiciness throughout the lengthy finish. Flavors include tart and ripe blackberries, dry earth and spice. 14.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2012 St. Amant Lodi Native Zinfandel Marian’s Vineyard
Winemaker: Stuart Spencer — Growers: Jerry & Bruce Fry

Marian’s Vineyard is an 8.3 acre plot within the expansive Mohr-Fry Ranch southwest of Lodi. All of the fruit from the 113-year old vines go to St. Amant winery.

This deep ruby wine is softly aromatic, showing dry earth, gentle brown spice and introverted dark fruit. Silky tannins add interest on the creamy, full-bodied palate. Rich flavors of cocoa, savory herb, sweet yet tangy dark fruit and blackberry jam. 14.7% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2010 Fields Family Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Century Block Vineyard
Winemaker: Ryan Sherman

The vines in this 3-acre vineyard in the far to the AVA’s eastern side are own-rooted. They were planted in 1905 on the quick-draining sandy soil of talcum-powdery fineness. This was the first time its fruit was used in a vineyard-designate wine.

According to sommelier/writer/Lodi wine expert Randy Caparoso, Lodi’s east side is associated with Zinfandel of “red berry perfume and higher acidity.” That’s certainly evident in this feminine, Pinot-esque wine. Its attractive nose expresses three aspects of cherry: the red fruit, the blossoms and the leaves. The palate is also more delicate than the west side wines with medium+ body and prominent acidity balanced by very fine, delicate tannins. Flavors include red cherry, sweet spice and sweet herb. 13.9% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2012 Macchia Wines Lodi Native Zinfandel Noma Ranch
Winemaker: Tim Holdener — Grower: Leland Noma

The portion of Noma Ranch Zinfandel that goes to Macchia comes from own-rooted, head-trained vines that are unusually low to the ground. More than 100 years old, they are dry-farmed and yield tiny bunches and berries with yields as low as one ton to the acre, resulting in very concentrated wines.

The darkest of the six Lodi Native Zins, this Macchia effort is opaque with a ruby-purple hue. Subtle aromas of dark berries, dark spice and ripe black cherry peak from the glass. The palate is much more outgoing: full-bodied with moderate, very fine tannins framing heady flavors of ripe black cherry, plum, spice, cocoa and oak char. (No new oak is allowed in Lodi Native, but once and twice used barrels can still yield flavors.) 15.0% alcohol. Highly Recommended


The Lodi Native project has achieved its primary goal in the very first vintage. The wines very clearly show the differences between some of Lodi’s most-prized heritage vineyards. And, despite a commitment to sacrificing ideal balance and maximum deliciousness to achieve that aim, the resulting wines are very, very good. They show that, when taken from fine, lovingly-farmed vineyards and made with care, Zinfandel needn’t be sweet, thick in the mouth or dressed in new barrels to captivate. Bravo!

For more on the project and wines, including her signature drawings, see Elaine Brown's article at Wakawaka Wine Reviews.

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.

Tuning Into Antonio Galloni's Palate

”You should spend one day of every week listening to music you don’t like.” That was advice from one of Antonio Galloni’s instructors at the Berklee College of Music. Galloni acted on the advice musically and learned to enjoy new genres. It also influenced his approach to wine.

On October 16, I sat front row center in the EcoLab Theater at the CIA’s Greystone Campus. Winemakers and proprietors from scores of California’s top wineries filled the room around me. We had each paid a lot of money to taste the twelve California Syrah before us and, especially, to learn why Antonio Galloni selected them.

The 8th Annual Wine Advocate Seminar and Tasting at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena was the most important for local vintners in several years. Most of the past events featured Robert Parker. Tasting with Parker is an excellent opportunity, but he and his preferences have long been well-known in California. Last year’s tasting was with Galloni, but the focus was Barolo. He has written about those wines for years and, while interesting, his opinions on them have no impact on wineries here.

antonio_galloniThis year’s tasting was different. Galloni remains mysterious to California vintners. They are still trying to figure him out and wanting to know if he understands them.

By far the youngest among the top echelon of critics, Antonio Galloni is positioned to be the most influential taste-maker for California wines over the next three decades. He matters. Learning his taste in Syrah and his thoughts on its incarnations here is important. Vintners also hoped e seminar would provide insight on his approach to California wines overall. It did.

Here’s my quick summary of his tastes, based both on his comments and the character of the twelve Syrah which he said were among his favorites:

  • Antonio Galloni favors red wine that is full-bodied and red wine that isn’t.
  • He likes a wine that is fruit-forward or savory or floral.
  • He appreciates the ripe fruit of warm climates, the herb and peppery spice of cool ones. 
  • He loves purity of fruit but a little barnyard is okay.
  • He asks about process but doesn’t pre-judge accordingly.
  • Prices don’t have to be high, production volume doesn’t have to be extremely low.

It’s said Robert Parker favors a particular style of wine. Many wineries tuned their efforts to please Parker’s palate, leading to homogenization of wine styles in his regions of focus. Antonio Galloni doesn’t appear to have “a style” when it comes to rating wines.

Asked by Tor Kenward about inclusion of whole clusters, Galloni said, “I’m totally agnostic. I have no view. It just depends on the wine. I taste the wine, is it in balance? I don’t really have a view on whole clusters, new oak or anything that’s technical. I’m not an enologist. I don’t ever want to have a strong view on anything like that, stylistic choices. I taste every wine with an open mind. If the wine is beautiful, it can be zero or 100% whole cluster and it’s fine by me.”

Winemakers and proprietors tell me that his approach at tastings is serious and business-like. He wants to understand the wines, vineyards and processes but isn’t looking to swap jokes or make friends. Some proprietors say that will change over time. I’m not so sure.

In his post last Sunday at On the Wine Trail in Italy, Alphonse Cevola says, “Galloni has re-invigorated the Wine Advocate brand in Italy with his fierce impartiality.” In the same article, a Tuscan winemaker compares Galloni to James Suckling. “Galloni is the best, [but] he’s untouchable.” Galloni has been publishing reviews on Italian wines for eight years, long enough to have become "flexible" if he were so inclined.

So, he doesn’t have a style and appears to be above outside influence. What is Antonio Galloni’s approach to to tasting and scoring wines? “I’m generally an optimistic person,” he told us at the seminar. “When I taste wines, I’m looking for things to like, not things not to like. Unless it’s obvious. The things to not like are very obvious if it’s a flaw. You don’t have to look for it. It hits you right in the face. I’m trying to understand each wine for what its attributes are. I’m really looking for balance, where nothing really sticks out.”

”A hallmark of greatness in a wine [is that it] captivates [you]. It holds your attention. It’s always changing in the glass. It has layers of flavor. Every time you taste it, you discover something new. A new flavor, dimension or texture.”

He also said that he combines the European and American approaches to evaluating and characterizing wines. In Europe, he said, there is an emphasis on the texture of wines, acidity and tannins. In the United States we are flavor centric. He tries to encompass both.

Galloni said this California Syrah tasting presented “a Burgundian approach to terroir,” celebrating the uniqueness of small vineyards up and down the state. “Most people’s concept of Napa Valley [for example] is Highway 29 and Silverado Trail and the vineyards you can see while you’re going north to south... But Napa Valley is also these enclaves — vineyards like Sloan, Snowden, Diamond Creek, Pritchard Hill, Harlan — in the middle of nowhere. I can’t say these wines reflect my expectations of Napa Valley [as a whole], but they reflect my expectation of their sites.

Zappa_16011977_01_300I asked Antonio Galloni how his musical background has impacted his evaluation of wine. He referred to Frank Zappa who, he said, was agnostic to the style of music, but enjoyed excellence in all styles.1 Galloni then described his own varied tastes and experiences in music. 

”As a teenager, I played in heavy metal bands. I had a ponytail, earrings, played really loud rock and roll. I played for three years in a jazz big band, music of the 30’s and 40’s. Going to music school, I was very influenced by Pat Metheny and I did a lot of improvisational music. And I studied classical music. Later, I learned that I could sing. So went to Milan for three years and studied opera with someone from La Scala. Don’t worry... I sucked. [laughter] When I was in college, I played in a country band for two years. I played mandolin and guitar and electric guitar. And that’s the most fun music to play, country music. I love all of that.”

”There may be some people who only want to listen to one kind of music and they can’t tell or don’t care about the difference between outstanding, excellent, good and mediocre. I would rather listen to great from all those things. I’m agnostic to the style of music, I’m into the excellence of the musician. Is the voice beautiful? Are they talented instrumentalists?”

”That’s why I can give a top score to someone like Randy Dunn and to a Colgin. They can co-exist. It’s the extent to which that wine has maximized its potential expressiveness. It’s about excellence.”

If Antonio Galloni does have a bias in wine, it’s for “wines made by real people: handmade, artisan wines.”

Here’s my advice to wineries that want high scores from Antonio Galloni. Be polite and friendly, but don’t bother trying to become his pal. And forget about tuning wines to his palate. Put all your energy into growing the best grapes and making the best wine you possibly can. Make wine that’s beautiful and balanced and genuine and speaks eloquently about its variety and/or vineyard.

For consumers, there is good news and bad. The good news: we should see increasing diversity among high-scoring wines. The bad news: you will need to do more homework. A score alone is going to mean even less about a wine’s style than it used to. You won’t be able to say you always love/hate the type of wines Galloni rates highly. And you will to have to read the whole review to know if the wine is rich or lean, fruity or mineral. Even better, take Frank Zappa’s cue and enjoy excellence regardless of style.

See which twelve California Syrah Antonio Galloni selected, along with my tasting notes and his commentary.


1"Since I didn't have any kind of formal training, it didn't make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin' Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels ... , or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music." —Frank Zappa, 1989, from a discussion with Peter Occhiogrosso published in The Real Frank Zappa Book, p. 34

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 Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Frank Zappa photo by Helge Overas licensed via Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved.

Breaking News: Ken & Diane Wilson Buy Pezzi King

PKV_color_logo_150Ken Wilson and his wife Diane Wilson have purchased Pezzi King Winery of Dry Creek Valley. With this deal, effective today, Tuesday, March 13, but not formally announced, the Wilsons gain control the entire Pezzi King operation. That includes the vineyard land, on-site winery and house, inventory, brand and the company’s leased office space at Roma Station.

Ken Wilson declined to disclose the deal’s terms. The seller, James Rowe Sr. has been unavailable for immediate comment but his son, James Rowe Jr., confirmed the purchase for me. Sotheby’s International Realty had the real estate listed for $11,250,000. A Press Democrat article from February, 2010 indicates the winery had been on the block since the Summer of 2009. Rowe is in his late 70s and ready to retire.

The Pezzi King vineyard and winery of Dry Creek Valley

Rowe founded Pezzi King in 1993 with his Jane (deceased, 2001). The winery was named for their mothers’ maiden names. The vineyard sits on 137 acres of benchland on West Dry Creek Road in rural Healdsburg. 65 acres are under vine. The majority of those vines are split evenly between Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel with most of the rest planted to Sauvignon Blanc. It is farmed without chemicals, using what Pezzi King calls “all-natural farming techniques.”

NKen-_-Diane-Wilson-2009ow, Pezzi King is one of seven wineries owned by Ken and Diane Wilson. Their first was the eponymous Wilson Winery, a luxury Zinfandel specialist located on Dry Creek Road. Originally the Chris Fredson Winery, they purchased it in 1993 and Diane Wilson took over as winemaker. The Wilsons’ investment in Dry Creek Valley vineyards began even earlier though, with the purchase of 220 acres in 1982. They added vines to that property in 1988.

Other wineries in the Wilson Artisan Wineries portfolio include:

  • de Lorimier (Alexander Valley) which emphasizes vineyard-designate Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Jaxon Keys (Hopland, Mendocino County) producing a range of varietal wines plus alambic brandy
  • Matrix Winery (Russian River Valley) offering primarily single-vineyard Pinot Noir
  • Mazzocco Sonoma (upper Dry Creek Valley) with a huge array of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah
  • Soda Rock (Alexander Valley) featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc

I asked Ken Wilson what spurred him to make today’s purchase. “It’s really getting a great brand and the vineyards,” he replied, displaying remnants of an accent from his native Ontario, Canada. “The vineyards are spectacular and the fruit they produce is really the key to the whole project.” Wilson doesn’t anticipate big adjustments in the vineyard either. “It’s an older vineyard so there’s always replacement of an acre or two here or there, or vine replacement, but I think it’s been kept up very well.” Nor does he see much opportunity to increase acreage under vine within the existing Pezzi King parcel. The Wilsons’ total land under vine now exceeds 450 acres.

With regard to the Pezzi King operations overall, he added, “It’s a fairly good match for the style of business that we’re in in that they depend on personal relationships with their clientele as we do.” Both companies are predominantly direct-to-consumer, relying on tasting room and wine club sales rather than wholesale.

I asked if there were plans to increase Pezzi-King’s 8,000 case annual production, or make other adjustments “Everybody’s staying put,” Ken Wilson told me. “Everything is operating and we’re not changing it to fix anything.” As to the likelihood of other acquisitions in the near term, Wilson said, “I’m quite happy with where we are and am not too interested in doing too much more for a little bit.”

Related Articles:

The Wilson Collection: Northern Sonoma couple has modest plans for growing portfolio by Paul Franson, May 2009 Issue of Wines & Vines

Wilson Artisan Wineries slowly becoming a winery powerhouse – Soda Rock Opens by Joe Becerra,

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 Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos and logo property of Wilson Artisan Wineries. All rights reserved.

Charles Banks Acquires Historic Qupé Winery In the Santa Maria Valley Appellation

Banks becomes majority stake holder, with legendary winemaker, Bob Lindquist, remaining on board as partner  

Santa Barbara County, CA- Charles Banks and Terroir Selections have acquired a majority stake in Santa Maria Valley’s iconic Qupé winery, long considered one of America’s finest Syrah producers. Founder and winemaker, Bob Lindquist, will assume the role of partner, while Louisa Sawyer Lindquist will continue to assist with sales. Moving forward, both parties are committed to improving quality at Qupé.

“I am thrilled to work alongside a gifted winemaker and legend like Bob Lindquist,” says Banks. He continues, “Bob has been a steadfast visionary of Syrah for decades. Few have done as much as Bob to advance awareness for Syrah in the United States. I love Syrah and have wanted to work on a meaningful Syrah project for a number of years now. With an infusion of capital from Terroir Selections, Bob and I are both confident that we can strengthen Qupé’s future allowing it to remain the benchmark in American Rhone-inspired wines.”  

CharlesBanks BobLindquist ByJeremyBall
Bob Lindquist and Charles Banks. Photo: Jeremy Ball

Lindquist has long been considered one of Santa Barbara wine country’s visionaries. While a tour guide in the late ‘70’s at Zaca Mesa, Lindquist learned to make wine from his co-workers and friends; Jim Clendenen, who at the time was assistant winemaker, Ken Brown, who was winemaker, and Adam Tolmach, who was the enologist. All three, who became successful winery owners themselves, worked at Zaca Mesa during Santa Barbara wine country’s nascent era.  

Founded in 1982, Qupé will continue to share a winery with Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat on the esteemed Bien Nacido vineyard; an agreement that was made between Lindquist and Clenenden in1989, when they brought their winery projects together under one roof.  Lindquist and Clendenen continue to mentor a new generation of winemakers, including Paul Lato, Gavin Chanin, Gary Burk, Josh Klapper and Rajat Parr, among many others.  

Banks adds, “My wife, Ali, and I have been in Santa Barbara County for 13 years, and we’ve set down some roots here, first with Jonata, and later with Sandhi and Mattei’s Tavern (a four-way partnership between Ali and Charles Banks, and Emily Perry Wilson and Chef Robbie Wilson) and now with Qupé.   Qupé Winery will join Banks’ Terroir Selections portfolio, which includes Sandhi (Sta. Rita Hills, with celebrated sommelier-turned-winemaker, Rajat Parr), Mayacamas and Leviathan (Napa Valley), Wind Gap (vineyard designates throughout California), Mulderbosch, Fable and Marvelous Range (South Africa); Maison L’ Oree (France), and Cultivate, a philanthropically-minded brand sourcing fruit from around the world.

The text above is unedited from the press release by Sao Anash of Muse Management (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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.