Napa Valley rainy season off to a late start

The season’s first rain hit the valley yesterday with more rain expected tomorrow, but this shouldn’t adversely affect most vineyards since harvest is almost over. This year’s harvest came a little later than normal because of the unusually cool spring, summer, and fall weather. Many wineries were wrapping up the harvest this week. Early rainfall is feared each year around harvest time because it can be destructive to maturing grape clusters. Some Cabernet Sauvignon still remains on vine but it’s thick protective canopy of leaves and the drying effect of valley wind should protect it from moderate rain. It appears this year will be another good vintage for Napa Valley.

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Good Pinot from Paso?

El Paso De Roblas is a warm wine growing region in Central California. A bit inland, temperatures frequently get into the 100’s in the summer, making it an ideal location for many Rhone varietals and Zinfandel. But the calcareous Limestone soils in some areas have also lent themselves to the growing of Pinot Noir. Since 1963 the oldest Pinot vineyard in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties has been grown, and is offered by Adelaida Cellars.

Adelaida is located above the fog line on the western side of Paso Robles, but temperatures at their higher elevations are never too extreme, which allows for the making of a fine Pinot Noir. It’s the only Pinot Noir in the area that I have had, and although finicky, Adelaida has been able to mold this varietal into a great wine. If you ever have a chance to try the 2002 HMR Estate Pinot Noir, taste it up against some Pinot’s from the Santa Ynez Valley, very similar climates and orientation to the ocean, but a welcome difference in taste from the unique soils of both areas.

Or better yet, stop by and treat yourself to some of Adelaida’s other fine wines, like the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Viking Estate Reserve, a very fruity complex wine, with lots of good tannic muscle for aging. The staff is warm, welcoming and unpretentious, a welcome change over some other highly rated wineries in the area. When I was down for the Harvest Festival this year I was able to sneak into a private tasting of some of the reserve wines hosted by Paul Sowerby (pictured), National Sales Manager, who was very well spoken, easy to listen to, and knowledgeable. All of the wines were delicious, and all were cabs, a surprise for me since I haven’t had Cabernet Sauvignon I liked from Paso until trying these.

For more information on Adelaida Cellar’s, visit their website []

The Worlds Greatest Wine Estates Book Available Today

The latest version of Parker’s acclaimed look on the greatest wine in the world is available for order from Amazon today. It’s already made it into the top 6,000 in sales for the day.

Over the past twenty-five years, renowned critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., has visited both legendary and fledgling wineries all over the world and has tasted hundreds of thousands of wines. Only a fraction of those wines have earned his highest ratings and are considered by him to be truly legendary. In his latest book, Parker brings together what he calls “the best of the best,” taking readers on a personal tour of the wineries that have impressed him most with their dedication to quality, consistency, and excellence.

Abbondanza: The Life and Times of Robert Mondavi

Last night at 8:00 you may have caught the 1 hour documentary on Robert Mondavi on Channel 4 KRON if you live in the Bay Area. If you didn’t, well then you didn’t miss much according to Chronicle Staff Writer David Wilegand. Google Video shows us some screen shots and dialogue, but Video playback is currently unavailable.
I wasn’t able to view it last night, but I’ve got it recorded and an encore presentation will air at 8 p.m. Nov. 27. I’ll add my thoughts here after I watch it tonight.
Update: Actually, this was a great documentary. Yes there are some cheesy one liners in the program, but Mondavi was an innovator and a pioneer in the industry, and the filmmaker brought that out. I enjoyed hearing how his son, Michael, would take out the family car on Highway 29, get in front of traffic heading toward the winery and slow down to backup cars behind him. He would signal with his hand when turning, and glide into the wineries main driveway, getting a few cars to follow him.
Successfully building a winery into a thriving business wasn’t easy in those days, especially in a wine region with no track record, and no tourism.
I recommend watching this documentary if you get a chance. It’s well done and shows both the triumphs and the failures of Robert Mondavi and his legacy.

Read [SFgate]

#4: Columbia Crest

In continuation from last week, where the 5th most popular winery searched for on Wine Spectator was Silver Oak, we move this week to the 4th – Columbia Crest.

4. Columbia Crest “World Renowned. Washington Grown.” (Website)

Since it’s first vintage in 1984, this relatively new Washington winery continues to dazzle the palates of wine reviewers like Wine Spectator, earning high marks every year on many of it’s offerings. What began as a dominate white wine house under the thumb of winemaker Doug Gore, Columbia Crest has expanded to today’s 19 different labels, ranging from the Walter Clore Private Reserve, a Bordeaux-style red wine, to a Semillion Chardonnay blend. Since 1993, the wines have been made by Ray Einberger.
The winery has an impressive list of milestones, including 12 wines landing on Wine Spectator’s top 100 list since 1997.

The climate is unique in the Columbia Valley, wherein the vineyards are sheltered from heavy rainfall by the Cascade Mountians, a welcome change from much of Washington States ‘normal’ weather. Phylloxera, the root louse that can wipe out regions of vineyards, is not present in the area. That has allowed the winery to keep the native rootstock from each vine, with no need to graft phylloxera resistant stock to their plants.

The wines are all very reasonably priced and most very drinkable. I’ve taken a bottle of the Grand Estates Chardonnay to an under $10 Chardonnay tasting and had it come out on top.

The company is under the umbrella of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates which also includes Chateau Ste. Michelle, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Snoqualmie, Col Solare, NorthStar, Stimson Estate Cellars and Red Diamond, and from Napa – Conn Creek and Villa Mt. Eden.

I personally recommend the Reserve Merlot, at around $30 USD, it’s a great value, and a very respectful effort.

A self-guided tour of the winery and complimentary tastings are available seven days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

P 509.875.2061 Hwy 221, Columbia Crest Drive Paterson, Washington 99345 (Map)

Are we seeing a theme yet between Silver Oak and Columbia Crest? Why are their wines so searched for? They both offer tours, have had 2 different wine makers, have very nice websites, and make a lot of wine. Nothings jumping out at me yet.
We’ll keep going next week and take a look at Lewis, I’m sure we’ll discovery the thread between these 5 wineries before we get to Caymus.

Do You Know Where That Bottle Has Been?

A few years ago, a grey haired, plump, wine wholesaler got lucky. There had been a fire at a large storage facility for wine, destroying much of the inventory. However, some of the bottles weren’t near the main fire, suffering only a minor rise in temperature and smoke damage. This man knew he could capitalize on the situation, but one thing would have to go right to make it worth his while. So at auction day, he made a bid, for all of it, penny’s on the dollar, and he won. His only stipulation? Disclose this wine as being near a fire with a temperature increase before selling it. He looked over his inventory smiling inside, Silver Oak, Caymus, Opus One, all with labels in tact, and no requirement to take them off (the thing that had to go right). So he went to work, restaurants, hotels, showing the bottles off. “Fire damaged? Here, allow me to offer you a taste from one of the bottles from the lot, how about this Silver Oak.”
Needless to say, he sold the entire inventory and made a huge profit.

Right now, similar wholesalers are getting ready to bid on a huge lot of wine from New Orleans, the bitter effects of Hurricane Katrina. No flood damage, just a power outage that rendered temperature control systems helpless.

Soon, the wine from the fire in Vallejo may be sold off, and the bottles may be just fine, as a little heat for a short period of time may not be bad. However, considerable heat could render the inventory completely lost. Authorities will decide. If it is deemed palatable, would you be willing to buy some of this wine?

The Chronicle’s Blake Grey dives into the subject.
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The hunt is on!

As arson has been confirmed as the cause of the large fire in a Vallejo wine storage facility last week Wednesday that destroyed 100 million USD in wine, victims and investigators are left asking the question, why? What was the motive behind such a horrible crime? Government officials and investigators continue to peace the story together, but one thing has been clear since day one, it wasn’t chance that caught fire to a wine storage facility with 3 foot thick concrete walls.
Effected wineries include my personal friends Ron Lehrer and Jeff Tamayo, of Lehrer Family and Cana Vineyards respectively. Others from as far as Paso Robles and Napa Valley choose to store their wine in a facility that was thought to be impregnable to such a travesty, and include Whitehall Lane, Thackery Vineyards, Frazier, Long Meadow Ranch, Signerello, Justin, Von Strasser, ZD, Saintsbury, Trey Sabore, Coho Wines, Livingston-Moffett, Domaine La Due, GoldRidge Pinot, and Givich Vineyards. In all, some 90 wineries and 40 collectors were storing wine at Wines Central. These wineries have already placed announcements on their home pages stating that whole allocations have been lost, like this one Givich Vineyards homepage:

We are sorry to announce that due to a fire in our warehouse we are, until further notice, not able to sell any wine. Therefore we also disabled part of our website. Please check back in a couple of weeks to see the status.

So the hunt is on. The disgruntled employee, jealous competitor, insurance scammer, or just down right evil person will be hunted down and brought to justice. Until then, try and support some of the wineries who have been hit, you just may be buying a bottle from a year of limited supply that may transpose into a collectors edition.

Castle Wine

Strolling through Hearst Castle this weekend in San Simeon, I stumbled across a few rooms my wife and I hadn’t seen before. The kitchen for one, was large and stocked with quality wines that were accessible without having to delve into the cellar. 1925 Chateau Margaux? No Problem! Grab a glass and enjoy. (click either for a larger view)

A Little History on Phylloxera

The Book, The “Botanist and the Vintner” tells the tale of the worst scourge ever to hit the wine industry. In the late 19th Century, vintners were interested in seeing how native American vines planted in the old country would respond. The result was catastrophic, bankrupting many growers and wineries, nearly wiping our the industry in many areas. Blake Grey read the book over the summer, and although it contains some dull moments, recommends the book for any one interested in the history of wine.

Read [SFGate]