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CALIFORNIA PINOT NOIRS

 

 

BENOVIA
We've had this winery on our radar for a number of years now, as they've been making good Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

The winery is owned by a married couple who made their fortune in the health insurance industry.  Joe Anderson ran Schaller Anderson (now under the Aetna insurance umbrella), while his wife Mary Dewane was with the Office of Medicaid Managed Care.

The winery is named after their fathers, Ben Dewane and Novian Anderson.  

They own 3 vineyard sites, two in the Russian River Valley and one on the Sonoma Coast.

Pinot Noir is their claim to fame, though they also cultivate a bit of Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

The winemaker is a Sonoma-born fellow named Mike Sullivan, who made wine for the Hartford Court brand for a number of vintages.

Grapes from the Cohn Vineyard used to be sold to Kosta Browne and Williams Selyem.   The Martaella Vineyard, (named after their mothers) is a Russian River Valley vineyard once owned by the DeLoach family.   Tilton Hill is a cool Sonoma Coast site near the town of Freestone.

We're fans of their 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.  It's a blend of four different vineyard sites (all three of their estate properties, plus some fruit from the nearby Martinelli vineyard).  There are at least seven clones of Pinot Noir in the mix, several of those being propagated from sources such as Mount Eden, Calera, Joseph Swan and Chalone.

The wine displays a beautiful red fruit character, hinting at raspberry and cherry and it's got a wonderfully woodsy frame of French oak.  This can be opened immediately and enjoyed tonight, if you like, though it should do well with a few more years of bottle aging.

Currently in stock:   2019 BENOVIA Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR  SALE $44.99

 

BENCH

Bench is a label we've had from the Enos Vineyards in Sonoma.  Jason Enos runs this operation and they seem to focus on well-priced wines of good quality.

The winery is located in Sebastopol and they've had a medium-bodied, mildly cherryish Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage.  It's a Sonoma Coast appellation wine.  Nothing fancy, frankly, but it does smell and taste like Pinot Noir which gives consumers their money's worth at its $20 price.  

We're told it sees French oak and there is a hint of wood here.  The tannin level is low, making this immediately drinkable.

Currently in stock:  2018 BENCH Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR  Sale $19.99

 

 

 

 
 
 


 
 
 

CALERA  WINE COMPANY
wpe61.jpg (5027 bytes)Calera is the work of the flamboyant Josh Jensen and it specializes in Pinot Noirs, Chardonnay and Viognier.  The climate is rather warm in San Benito County, hotter than Burgundy, for example.  Jensen chose this site as the soil is similar to Burgundian soils.  They make a Central Coast bottling of Pinot Noir from purchased fruit and they offer several single, estate vineyards. 

We have found the wines to often display vegetal notes, rather than the ripe cherry or strawberry character of many Pinot Noir wines.   In any case, the wines reflect some of the flamboyant personality of proprietor Josh Jensen.  Whether or not they're to your taste, we cannot predict.  


Calera's wine has achieved "cult status" in Japan.  It seems a Japanese "adult comic book" (called a 'manga') features a crime-fighting sommelier.   In one episode, the hero is given a couple of wines to taste and has concluded that it must be a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wine, only to remember at the last second that there is only one other wine of similar character and quality:  Calera's "Jensen Vineyard" Pinot Noir from California!  Propelled by this little boost, Calera sells thousands of cases of wine annually in Japan!   I even noticed a Japanese web site, while spelling the Calera name correctly in their editorial text, had the web page named "Carela."  I don't make up this stuff.







We have found some of the Calera Pinots to often have a vegetal tone and some vintages combine that with a somewhat raisined note.  



We currently have their Selleck Vineyard Pinot in stock...2016


There's also a relatively new vineyard called Ryan (Jim Ryan is the Calera vineyard manager)...vines planted in 1998 and 2001...rhubarb and hints of a woodsy note.  

Currently available:
2016 CALERA "Selleck" Pinot Noir $95.99



That's an old lime-kiln, "Calera" in Spanish




CASTALIA WINES

Terry Bering has been in charge of the cellar at the Russian River Valley winery called Rochioli.  You'll see wines from Rochioli here and there and the name appears on numerous Pinot Noirs, as they sell a bit of fruit to other winemakers.

Bering is privileged to purchase a small quantity and he makes his own wine called Castalia.   

The wines have routinely been good...the 2017 is a cut above normal, showing beautiful fruit and a nice sweet wood spice from the oak.

Currently in stock:  2017 CASTALIA Rochioli Vineyard PINOT NOIR  $59.99

 

 

 


 


Dr. David Bruce   1931-2021
 

DAVID BRUCE WINERY
wpe8.jpg (4974 bytes)This small Santa Cruz Mountains winery was established in the mid-1960s by Dr. David Bruce, a former dermatologist.  

We suppose since he was interested in winemaking as well as dermatology that he would give the fermenting juice a bit of "skin contact."  We recall he made an early "White Zinfandel," giving the wine a brief period of skin contact.  His wine ended up with a brassy, golden color rather than healthy, youthful pink.  And it fermented to total dryness, unlike the wine made by the Trinchero family in Napa at the Sutter Home winery.  
(Theirs did not finish fermenting and the small amount of sweetness turned out to be quite popular, essentially hitting the jackpot for the Trincheros.)

Dr. Bruce also made some Riesling and Black Muscat wines...these did attract a bit of attention as they were distinctive and a bit quirky, much like David Bruce himself.  He made Grenache, Gewurztraminer and some Zinfandels, including a late-harvest Zin.

A few wines were rather nice, but the batting average was low, even if the prices were high.  

Many people did not question the quality of David Bruce wines, for if they were as costly as they were, "then they have to be good."

At one point someone called us asking if we needed to buy some of their wines.

We had not tasted much of interesting quality in a while and asked if they had entertained the notion of actually hiring a trained enologist to be their winemaker.
We sensed the caller, likely a family member, was a bit offended by the comment.

And yet when a capable winemaker was hired, instantly the wines gained traction in the Bay Area wine market (and beyond).


Dr. Bruce did make some nice wines, having a measure of success with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
We liked a number of vintages of Chardonnay, but for some reason they could not manage to find a lucrative market for them.

Pinot Noir ended up being a different story and they did hang their hat on that grape as the 21st Century cranked on.

 


The wines are perfectly okay and each seems to be "fortified" with something other than Pinot Noir.  We suspect the wines are blended with something such as Petite Sirah, given their color and impact on the palate.

The last bottling we had was a 2017 vintage of Pinot Noir.  

There had been a national marketing company offering the David Bruce wines but that relationship seems to have dissolved.

As of late summer in 2022 the winery is still in operation, thankfully!
But with the wildfires, they made nothing in the 2020 vintage and a winery representative told us "Our wines need some time in barrel, so we're waiting for the 2021s to arrive at a stage where we can bottle them."

Stay tuned.



Currently available: 2017 DAVID BRUCE Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR (List $50)  Sold Out




The tasting room at the David Bruce Winery...

 


DEHLINGER

We first met Tom Dehlinger in the mid-1970s at his little winery in Sebastopol.  His father, a dentist (I think), had helped him get established.  

The vineyard consisted of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.  I can't recall if the Zinfandels Tom made were home-grown or made from purchased fruit.

Dehlinger always made good wines.  Friends in Italy were incensed when they learned Cabernet Sauvignon was no longer the focus at Dehlinger.  Tom, I suspect, was a fan of the wines of his legendary neighbor, an old codger named Joe Swan.  

Over the years, the Dehlinger wines slowly caught on.  But Tom is such a low key fellow, he never was one for the "show business" of the wine industry.  I know he preferred hanging out at home to attending "Meet The Geek" events.  As a result, it took a long time to become an "overnight success."  

Today the wines are sold, predominantly, to those on his mailing list.  We're fortunate to have a few bottles of Dehlinger Pinot and we remain fans of the wines.

I have found Dehlinger's Pinots to actually have a solid "center" and be capable of aging handsomely.  The wines are not made with the palates of various wine writers in mind and I don't think Dehlinger is bothered by the critics.  
 


In mid-2007 I brought a 12 year old bottle of Dehlinger Pinot to dinner with a friend who makes good wines in Alsace.  This winemaker is a fan of Pinot Noir and I think he was surprised (shocked, more likely) to find the wine still needed a bit of time to soften and blossom.  

A friend has a nice cellar with older vintages of Dehlinger Pinots...and the wines are thoroughly delicious whether young or with ten years of aging...this is an elite producer in California.

Anyway, we like the Pinots from this estate.  They're really good examples of Russian River Valley fruit and they are made without the idea of providing instant gratification.  Chardonnay, by the way, is also made with great care here...

Currently in stock:  2017 DEHLINGER Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR  "ALTAMONT$54.99


Tom Dehlinger on the tractor.


Carmen Dehlinger, one of Tom's daughters, in the vineyard.

 


Carmen and her Pop, Tom Dehlinger

(If you made wines of Dehlinger Quality, you'd be smiling, too!)


Their vineyards have two soil types, so they make two different Pinots, both being in the category of "delicious."


Carmen with the world famous German wine aficionado, Claus Bonifer.

 

 





 

DONUM ESTATE

The story of this smallish winery begins with Anne Moller-Racke who emigrated to the US from her native Germany with her husband Marcus, whose family owned a wine company called Racke.

The Racke company had purchased Sonoma's Buena Vista in the late 1970s and the couple had come to California to run the enterprise.

Things didn't go some smoothly on a variety of levels and Buena Vista was sold a couple of times.  These days it's owned by Jean Charles Boisset whose main interest seems to be marketing, with winemaking taking a backseat.

Anne Moller-Racke was able to retain a portion of the vineyards she had worked while involved in the Buena Vista project.  From there she launched the Donum label.  These days she's still involved though the brand is owned by some Danish friends who are both wine and art lovers.

They like to compare the project to a Burgundian "grand cru" caliber endeavor.  We appreciate their lofty goals but can't honestly compare the Donum wines to upper echelon Burgundy.  Yet.

The wines routinely get good critical acclaim, so we confess to not quite being on the same wavelength.  
 

We tasted through a number of Donum wines and selected the 2018 Carneros bottling.   It's a five clone blend featuring their own clone, plus Pommard, Mount Eden, #667 and Calera.
The wine is matured in French oak from several cooperages.  It's matured in a high percentage of new French oak. 
You'll find this to be a medium-bodied Pinot with mild cherry notes...


Currently in stock:  2018 DONUM "Carneros" PINOT NOIR  Sale $69.99

 

 

 

 
 
DUCKHORN'S "GOLDENEYE"
Our friends Paul and Sandy Obester started this estate in Mendocino's Anderson Valley, having decided to invest in vineyard property.  They had their original winery, of course, on Highway 92 along the road to Half Moon Bay here in San Mateo County.
They worked tirelessly making Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc and, eventually, they thought about Pinot Noir.  Mendocino's Anderson Valley was an ideal spot at the time for a couple of reasons:  land cost less than it did in Napa and Sonoma.  And the Anderson Valley is a cooler climate region, so it allowed for longer hang-time for Pinot Noir.


The Anderson Valley is a cool climate region and Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer seem to be ideal for this location.  One of the Obester's two sons was wine-interested and graduated from U.C. Davis with a degree in enology.  But he soon realized winemaking is "work" and this soured him for assuming the reigns of one of their two cellars.

Eventually they sold the property to the Duckhorns, Merlot specialists from St. Helena.  Dan Duckhorn realized the Anderson Valley provides a potentially wonderful microclimate for Pinot Noir.  The original site is called "Confluence" and they've added several other small vineyards to the roster.  

They have done a good job in growing this brand and its production without damaging the quality of the wines.

The 2017 Goldeneye comes from vineyards near the winery where it's viewed as a "warm" site with fruit from what locals call the "deep end" of Anderson Valley closer to the Pacific which is a cooler area.  The harvest began in early September and ran through early October, a bit later (and more normal) than the preceding vintage.

Sixteen months aging in small French oak, with about 60% of the barrels being brand new...they use wood from three forests.  This gives a nice wood spice tone to the wine and its very charming presently.  As the acidity is not especially high, we view this as a wine for immediate drinking and short term cellaring.   It's a medium+ bodied Pinot and we like the dark fruit notes here.


Currently in stock: 2017 GOLDENEYE PINOT NOIR SALE $49.99

 




 
 

EASKOOT
Ellen suggests they've named this Marin County Pinot Noir "Easkoot" because it sounds like someone saying "It's Good!"
 
But that's not quite right.  Easkoot is a family name and it's the name of the first land surveyor in Marin County.  Alfred Derby Easkoot was his name and he came from the East Coast in 1851.  He settled in the area of what is now Bolinas and Stinson Beach where he built a home for he and Mrs. Easkoot, though in them thar days it was known as Willows Camp.

The Easkoot brand, though, is the work of some wine lovers who've invested with a local couple who import wines from Europe.  The locals are Marinites, he being born in Austria and she being "local."

The grapes are grown by a fellow named Mark Pasternak...you might not know his name, but foodies will certainly have seen the "Devil's Gulch" name on many a local restaurant menu...you might find their products (pork, quail, rabbit or lamb) on your dinner table.

So this group, having a European sensibility towards wine, looks to make a Pinot Noir of modest alcohol and something capable of pairing well with food, without it being a "cocktail" or requiring one of the drinks umbrellas in the glass.
 
The grapes are transported to a custom crush facility in Santa Rosa about an hour from the vineyard.  

Winemaker Matt Duffy did a fine job in producing this wine.  It's not a dark-colored, big, robust red, fortified with some other grape variety to give color and body.  It's a pure expression of Pinot Noir and despite its youth (2015 vintage!), the wine is showing handsomely at present.

It ought to continue to grow a bit and develop in bottle, but don't feel guilty about opening one tonight!
It's a bright, cherryish Pinot...not much in the way of oak, either...they allow the grapes to take center stage.  Charming in its youth...

I brought a bottle to dinner with a visiting sommelier from Italy and this was a big hit.  The somm appreciated having, finally, a California wine of good acidity and not so high alcohol.  Plus, they said "It tastes really good."
 
Currently in stock: 2015 EASKOOT Marin County PINOT NOIR $38.99



 

 

 

 

EN ROUTE

En Route is a relatively obscure label made by the family that founded Napa's Far Niente winery.

They now have three vineyard sites in Sonoma's Russian River Valley appellation and have been making En Route Pinot for a number of years.  

While Far Niente started out as a "good" quality wine with a steep price tag, En Route started out at close to top-of-the-market pricing but with "Damned Good" quality.
(I think today's Far Niente wines come close to justifying their lofty prices and the wines are actually rather impressive.)

Much of the fruit comes from vineyards in the "Green Valley" area of the Russian River.

The winery fact sheet will put you to sleep unless you're seriously geeky and keeping track of the precise clones of Pinot Noir as well as the type of root-stock.  

Does knowing those bits of minutiae lead to greater appreciation or enjoyment of this wine?  (I routinely nod off when marketing people or winemakers start telling me they're using "clone 115, 667 and 777" like I'm going to remember this or be impressed.)

I'm more impressed by the quality and complexity of the wine, however.

The 2018, like most of the previous vintages, is a medium-full Pinot.  It's got deep garnet color in the glass.  The fragrances are of dark red fruits:  cherries, raspberry and maybe a hint of plums.  There's a really polished oak element to this wine. The wine sees about 30% brand new wood.
And you can tell the wine saw a modest amount of new wood, but it's really nicely woven into the wine.  I'd peg this as medium+ bodied.  It's quite drinkable now and it ought to continue to develop for another three to five years.


Currently in stock:  2018 EN ROUTE Russian River "Les Pommiers" PINOT NOIR     Sold Out

 

 

 

 




FAILLA
 
Winemaker Ehren Jordan found the initials E & J were taken by some other vintner and the Jordan name was being used by some little Alexander Valley enterprise, so he and Mrs. Jordan chose to use her family name, Failla.

 

 

The Original label...which got them sued by Jordan...
the winery, not the country.
Ehren Jordan, as a kid, had a job in a wine shop and from there was further exposed to wine with a restaurant job.  He eventually came to California and was affiliated with the Joseph Phelps winery before heading to France's Rhone Valley.  

When he came back to California, Jordan's old friend from Phelps, Bruce Neyers, enlisted Ehren to be winemaker at Neyers Vineyards.  One thing led to another and he was soon assisting winemaker Helen Turley at her little cellar...she introduced him to her brother (are you following this?), Larry Turley and soon Jordan was the winemaker for Dr. Turley.  

What's especially amazing is Jordan's ability to create such a broad spectrum of wine styles.

With Turley, the wines are big, "gobs of fruit bombs."  With Neyers, you'll find a tremendous range (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Syrahs and other assorted Rhone varietals along with Zinfandel).  And then we have the Failla wines.
 


We've tasted numerous vintages of Failla and if you had no clue about Turley and Failla, you couldn't possibly imagine the various, diverse bottlings actually have the same fingerprints on them.

And that's to Ehren Jordan's credit.

We have the 2021 Sonoma Coast Pinot in stock.  It's from an impressive roster of vineyards:  Hirsch, Floodgate, Keefer Ranch, Sonoma Stage, Whistler and Failla's own estate vineyard.  Jordan does a five day cold soak, followed by a short, vigorous fermentation using indigenous yeasts. Twenty-percent whole clusters help retain intense cherry-like fruit of the Pinot Noir.
Some of the wine then goes into barrel (only 15% new oak) and it spends but a few months in wood. 

The result is a bright, fruity Pinot Noir with lots of cherry notes.  It's dry, fairly smooth and ready to drink.  We like this served at cool cellar temp...roasted chicken, grilled lamb that's mildly seasoned, duck, pork, etc.
 

Currently in stock:  2021 FAILLA Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR   $39.99

 

 

 



 


FLOWERS
Joan and Walt Flowers started this place, buying an amazing piece of Sonoma Coast property as a retreat from their east coast nursery business.  Now they've sold an interest in their winery enterprise to Augustin Huneeus, the Napa vintner who ran Franciscan for some years and who, today, owns the Quintessa property and a South American brand called Veramonte.

The couple had been kept busy, years ago,  with their Pennsylvania-based enterprise, but they had a hankerin' to see about growing grapes.  After searching, they bought a chunk of land near Cazadero. 

They've planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in rather rugged terrain.  One feature of their vineyards is they're above the fog line.  The sun shines for much of the day, but temperatures tend to be cooler than neighboring vineyards that are less than a mile farther inland!   As a result, Flowers' wines tend to be the product of grapes which have had a lot of "hang time."

We have a couple of Pinot Noir wines presently.

Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a blend of various vineyards, including some from their Sea View Ridge Vineyard. The wine matured exclusively in French oak, about one-sixth of the cooperage being new barrels (less than they used to have).  This is a supple, yet nicely structured wine.  It's got modest acidity, so I suspect it will cellar for a few years if you don't drink it tonight.




Currently in stock:  2021 FLOWERS Sonoma Coast PINOT NOIR  Sale $54.99
 FLOWERS "Camp Meeting Ridge" PINOT NOIR Sale $89.99
 
 
 

 


FEL

The FEL brand is a new one and it comes from Napa's Cliff Lede winery.  Mr. Lede purchased the Breggo Cellars winery (and brand name) of Mendocino and he also bought the Savoy Vineyard in the Anderson Valley.

Maybe you've seen these names previously?

The Breggo label, then, has been abandoned in favor of the FEL label.  The initials for FEL are those of Cliff Lede's mother, Florence Elsie Lede.

The FEL label features Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and, happily, Pinot Noir.  

They make some single vineyard Pinot Noirs which we can special order for you, if you like.  Those go for $60-$70 a bottle.

But if we're spending a buck on a $40 Pinot Noir, this one is a good choice. 

The juice was cold-soaked with the grape skins for a brief spell prior to the fermentation.  The wine also spent a short time on the skins following the fermentation, which was done using indigenous yeasts.  

Some wine people won't buy wines which have been fermented using cultured yeasts.  We've heard wine sales people moan about some buyers for stores or restaurants taking this position and sometimes missing out on some really good wines.  We suggest to the reps that when asked they should pour the wine and say "You're the expert...taste it and you tell me!"

The FEL Pinot is then matured for a bit more than a year in small French oak barrels.  Slightly more than one-third of the cooperage is brand new.  We like the contribution the oak makes to this wine...not enough to overwhelm the fruit, but enough so you can sniff the wood spice notes.

The fruit comes through with classic Pinot tones...cherry, a touch of pomegranate and maybe a bit of a cola note.  Coke, not Pepsi.  ;)

It's very nice now...2016 vintage.  Probably best in its youth.  

 
Currently in stock:  2016 FEL Anderson Valley PINOT NOIR  Sold Out Presently


 

 


 
 
 

GARY FARRELL
Gary Farrell was a political science back in the 1970s at Sonoma State University.  With the Russian River Valley in the vicinity, Farrell got sidetracked thanks to fellows such as Tom Dehlinger, Davis Bynum and Robert Stemmler.  After a number of years of being a cellar rat, Gary took an official job as winemaker for the Davis Bynum winery.  In the ensuing years, he also launched his own label, trading winemaking work for grapes.

His Pinot Noirs were much sought-after and the wines were of good quality.  He made Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Pinot was the highlight of the range of Gary Farrell wines.
 
 
 


In the early 2000s, Farrell sold his name and winery to the Allied Domecq company.  Quality remained good, though.  The Allied-Domecq firm morphed into Fortune Brands.  The winery was under the roof of "Beam Wine Estates" (as in Jim Beam).  They recently sold off a number of their wineries, including Gary Farrell, to Constellation (the humungous firm that purchased Robert Mondavi's little winery a while ago).  These days it's in the hands of an investment company called Vincraft.  

The 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir comes from seven vineyards, with Rochioli and Hallberg being the most famed.  It's a nicely drinkable, medium-bodied Pinot.  Ten months in oak...35% new barrels contribute a mildly wood spice to the wine.   It doesn't really need any further cellaring and we suspect it's probably at its best now and over the next year, or so.  It has the typical strawberry and cherry notes of Russian River Pinot Noir.  There's a light touch of wood to the wine.  
 
Currently in stock:  2018 GARY FARRELL Russian River Valley PINOT NOIR  Sale $44.99 (750ml)  



 
 
 


WALTER HANSEL
The Hansel name if well-known to Sonoma County residents, as the family owns a car dealership.  Walter Hansel invested some of his profits in vineyard land and his son Stephen was seriously bitten by the wine 'bug."

Vineyards are near Sebastopol.  The first wines were made in 1996 and these were truly "garage" wines.  We found early vintages to demonstrate Hansel had good vineyards, but the winemaking was a bit too "natural" and the wines had too much sediment early on.  

Over the past few years, there's been a good learning curve and the wines today are usually pretty damned good.  

They tend to displays lots of red fruit notes.  I find hints of pomegranate and red cherry to the wines.  They're easy to identify as Pinot Noir and show Russian River or Sonoma County terroir as well.

We have a delicious 2019 in stock.

It's teeming with cherry fruit notes and an undertone of vanilla from the oak.  The fruit dominates, however.  There's a beautiful sweet fruit character to this wine with some dark cherry notes...

We suspect this is best in its youth...how can one resist?  

Currently in stock:  2019 WALTER HANSEL Russian River Valley  PINOT NOIR  $44.99



 

 



HITCHING POST  (HARTLEY OSTINI)

For many people in the environs of Santa Barbara County, the Hitching Post was long known as a steakhouse which was located in Casmalia near the Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Now there's a second dining spot, that one located in Buellton.  

Owned for years by the Ostini Family, a winery came into being back in the 1980s when Frank Ostini teamed with his buddy Gray Hartley to make a little bit of wine.  

Things really took off for them when the Hitching Post restaurant was featured in the movie Sideways.  


Actress Virginia Madsen with non-actor Frank Ostini

The winery has since grown thanks to all the publicity from the movie and we have periodically had some Hitching Post Pinot Noir in the shop.

Currently we have their 2018 Hometown bottling.  It's an entry-level Pinot Noir and this vintage it carries a Central Coast appellation as we suspect they purchased some wine vinified outside their hometown area of Santa Barbara.  It's a simple, good quality, light Pinot Noir which is well-priced and represents good value.  

 

Currently in stock:  HITCHING POST 2018 "Central Coast" PINOT NOIR  Sold Out Presently

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



THE OJAI VINEYARD
Adam Tolmach used to be in partnership with "The Mind Behind" at Au Bon Climat.  Adam sold his share of the winery to Jim Clendenen and now concentrates on his own winery in the Ventura County town of Oakview near Ojai.  His wines have been in the realm of "very good" to "excellent" and we've featured Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir since the winery's inception. 

Adam is a real fanatic when it comes to making wines.  He pays attention to the quality of the fruit people are attempting to grow,  working diligently to create the world's best wines.  Since he's been making wine for so long, I suppose he's a graybeard alongside the furry-faced "kids" who seem to catch the attention of wine geeks.  People, of course, want to be amongst the first to "discover" new wines.  

I can tell you we've tasted a lot of these "new" producers who may be enthusiastic in making and marketing their wines, but whose products are not quite to the level of quality needed to compete in this fierce market.


Adam, by the way, doesn't "augment" his Pinot Noirs with the addition of Syrah.  So many producers seem to beef up their Pinots with a bit of some stronger red variety...here you'll taste "Pinot Noir."
 
 

Currently available:  
2021 THE OJAI VINEYARD "Santa Barbara County"  PINOT NOIR   $34.99

 

 

 


 



 
 

 



 

MOUNT EDEN VINEYARD
Mount Eden Vineyard remains a gem of an estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation.  It's situated about 2000 feet above sea level within the zip code of Saratoga.

While so many people have the idea that California's wine history centers on the Napa Valley, in fact, there are many fascinating stories from other regions.  The Santa Cruz Mountains has a colorful history and names such as Paul Masson, Charles LeFranc and Martin Ray are early pioneers in this area.

Martin Ray was a real character.  He had been a stock-broker before turning to real estate.  As a budding wine geek, he purchased a winery from the  Paul Masson, a fellow of Burgundian heritage.  Masson had imported vine cuttings from his old buddy, Louis Latour in Burgundy.  Ray eventually sold the Paul Masson winery and brand to the whiskey company, the House of Seagram back in 1942.

Ray, though, had other extensive vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, cultivating about a hundred acres.  He enlisted the help of investors and, apparently, this was his undoing.  I gather he was not an especially easy-going character and he felt his were the only wines in California worth premium prices.  He apparently charged serious money for his wines and many were, in fact, highly regarded by experts back in the day.

Ray's conglomerate fell apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s and in 1972 "Mount Eden Vineyards" was born, splintering from the Martin Ray Winery.  Ray's step-son, Peter Martin Ray, made wine for a while, but eventually the brand was sold to Courtney Benham and the wines made using the Martin Ray label today are a far cry from those old time wines.

Mount Eden's winemaker was a young lady named Merry Edwards.  She made superb wines in tiny quantities starting with the 1972 vintage.  We purchased her wines back in those days and the quality was very fine.  Merry worked there until shortly before the 1978 vintage when she went to work at Matanzas Creek in Sonoma.  A fellow named Bill Anderson took over and in 1981, Jeffrey Patterson assumed the reins.

Patterson continues to make some exceptional wines at Mount Eden (not to be confused with Napa's "Villa Mt. Eden" winery).  

He cultivates about seven acres of Pinot Noir and the yield of these vines is quite low.  I believe they produce a mere one ton to a ton-and-a-half per acre.  Patterson does minimal cellar treatment on the wine, trying to guide as much character of Pinot Noir and terroir into the bottle as possible.  

The wines tend to age quite nicely, having higher acidity than most California Pinots.   We opened a 1990 and a 1994 at a dinner in the Fall of 2008.  The 1990 was a delightfully Burgundian-styled Pinot--loads of cherry fruit and a touch of forest floor...the 1994 was a more ripe, big wine.  It was difficult to imagine the two were related, but that illustrates how much the character of a wine can change based upon the growing season.

They recently purchased a neighbor's vineyard, a property about a mile away from Mount Eden's home base.  Unfortunately, there's not a direct road and you have to go out to Pierce Road and then along Highway 9 to access the new vineyard site. 

They call it Domaine Eden and the label, as you can see here, looks like a knock off of the Mount Eden Vineyard label.  And the wine tastes like a relative of the Mount Eden Pinot!



The 2018 vintage of Mount Eden Pinot produced two tons per acre and the fruit was picked in early September.  This was matured in small French oak for about a year with 50% of the barrels being new.  It's showing well now and is a nicely cherryish Pinot with a touch of pomegranate...nice acidity, too, so it should age well.  



Currently in stock:  2018 MOUNT EDEN Santa Cruz Mountains PINOT NOIR  $59.99

 

 

 

NAUGHTY BOY
The Naughty Boy label is from Emjay & Jim Scott, a couple of old hippies who escaped The City for the sunnier climes of Mendocino's Potter Valley.

Here we've been selling this nice little "bad boy" for more than a year now and, despite the funny name for the wine, it's become one of our most popular Pinot Noirs.  Good fruit, organically-farmed, by the way, and a sensible price are proving to be a winning combination.
 
The wine comes from the Scott's 6 acre vineyard in the Potter Valley, northeast of Ukiah.  The valley floor is at an elevation of roughly 1000 feet.  Temperatures can be rather warm during the day, with a major drop in the thermometer at night.  This is ideal for Pinot Noir.

The labels always depict one of the canines...the early vintage we had showed their Boxer, "Little Ricky."  We don't know what the name of the current pooch is...

Naughty Boy Pinot is vinified under the watchful eye of winemaker Greg Graziano.  

Greg has been making wine in Mendocino and environs for decades (since we were both young fellers...now we're both old coots!).  He prefers "old school" wines to big, flashy, fruit bomb renditions and so you will find the 2019 Naughty Boy smells and tastes like un-fussed-with Pinot Noir.  No blending in Syrah or Petite Sirah to give the wine darker color.  No adding unfermented juice or concentrate to make a wine with a bit of residual sugar.  No oaking the wine to a fare-thee-well.  Just good, "bare bones" Pinot Noir from an interesting terroir.
 
We like this served at cool cellar temp.  It may age nicely, but we suspect most bottles are taken home and opened immediately rather than stashed in a wine rack to become dusty and old.
 
Currently in stock:  2019 NAUGHTY BOY Potter Valley PINOT NOIR  $24.99
 




             

PAPAPIETRO PERRY
Here's a new winery started by a couple of home winemakers who made wines in their garages in San Francisco, as well as "volunteering" (this is a polite term for "cellar slaves") during the harvest at a little winery called Williams-Selyem in Sonoma.  

Both Ben Papapietro and Bruce Perry worked as slaves anyway, working for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency (SF Chronicle).  That's where they met winemaker Burt Williams, whom was a pressman for the newspaper.  "He's a real pioneer." proclaimed Ben Papapietro of the now-retired Williams.

Ben Papapietro told us they want to remain rather small in the quantity of production so they don't lose the quality.  "We've seen some producers get too big and that's when it's difficult to maintain the quality of the wines."

Currently in stock is a Pinot Noir from a handful of vineyard sites.  

Papapietro matures the wine for nearly a year in barrels from the famous François Frères cooperage.  About one-third of the barrels are brand new giving the wine a lovely sweet fragrance.  Minimal cellar treatment is employed, so the wine is not fined and not filtered.  

It's a delight right now, in its youth.  Limited production.  
Currently in stock:  2018 PAPAPIETRO PERRY Russian River PINOT NOIR  Sale $59.99

 
 
 
 
 
 



 
 

RADIO COTEAU

Winemaker Eric Sussman hails from New York state and he got bitten by the wine bug while studying agriculture at Cornell University.

He then came to the West Coast and found himself working for a small producer in Washington State.  From there he traveled to the Old World and took a job working in Bordeaux.  After that, he ventured to Burgundy and studied winemaking at Comte Armand in Pommard and Jacques Prieur in Meursault.  

Returning to the US, Eric was ensconced at Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz before enrolling at The University of Dehlinger in Sebastopol.  Working with Professor Tom Dehlinger, Sussman really got his bearings and after four years of "schooling," he launched his Radio Coteau project in 2002.

The term Radio Coteau is some sort of French expression Sussman heard while working in Burgundy and it refers to the notion of "word of mouth."  Those French!

His wines found an early audience as they were really good, beautifully balanced and oh-so-drinkable!  And he continues making that sort of wine today.  

We often have his La Neblina Pinot Noir in the shop.  It's a Sonoma Coast wine, based on fruit grown by the Hallberg Vineyard.  It's a five clone mix of Pinots and sees a nice amount of new French oak which adds complexity to the snappy red cherry and pomegranate-like fruit.  It makes for a nice comparison to Dehlinger's Pinots, too...you can see a bit of resemblance.  

The 2018 La Neblina is presently in stock.   Very nice.  

Currently in stock:  2018 RADIO COTEAU "La Neblina" PINOT NOIR  $49.99

 

STEPHEN ROSS WINERY
This little enterprise is the work of Stephen Ross Dooley and his wife Paula.

Stephen was the winemaker at the Edna Valley Vineyards winery in the late 1980s when it was a prestigious producer of Chardonnay as part of the Chalone wine group.  He had experiences in South Africa and Australia early in his career as well as a stint in Napa at the Louis Martini winery.   Both the Edna Valley brand and Louis Martini are today owned by the wine giant, Gallo.

He's been making good wines for close to 40 years and you'll find Stephen's wines to be balanced and well-made.  On top of that, the price for his wines is attractive for consumers.

He's quite an expert in clonal variations of Pinot Noir and selected a few he found to be his favorites.

We have a 2019 San Luis Obispo County bottling which is a four clone assemblage.  There's some of the Wadenswil "Clone 2a" along with Dijon clones (115, 667 and 777. 
 
 The fruit was picked at night and entirely de-stemmed, going into open-top, temperature-controlled, stainless steel fermentation tanks.  He has a particular yeast culture he likes to employ for the fermentation.    These tanks are punched down by hand.  
 
 
After being pressed, the wine then goes into seasoned French oak barrels, with nothing older than 4 years.  

There's a hint of dark cherry and other red fruit notes here along with a floral tone.  It's a surprisingly good wine, all the more so since most people expect Pinot Noir to be from Santa Barbara or Monterey, but not San Luis Obispo!  
San Luis is typically thought to be too hot for Pinot Noir, but then you have a fellow who's dedicated to his craft and he knows how to deal with this.

It's a light to medium light-bodied wine.  We've enjoyed a bottle served at cool cellar temp, lightly chilled as it's a reasonable smooth, dry red.

You'll want to enjoy this in its youth.

Currently in stock:  STEPHEN ROSS 2019 San Luis Obispo County PINOT NOIR  $23.99
 



 

 




 

TALLEY VINEYARDS
The Talley's have been growing terrific produce in California's Central Coast since the late 1940s.  The family took note of new vineyards being planted in nearby Santa Barbara and Edna Valley regions and decided to test the waters with some of their own vineyards.  The results were, to put it mildly, rather positive and now things are really out of hand!

We first met Brian Talley, if memory serves, in the late 1980s or early 1990s.  It's been quite a few years that we've had his Chardonnay featured in the shop.  Some of our Santa Barbara area pals buy fruit from the Talley's, one remarking "You know, it's one of the few vineyards I get fruit from that I don't have to tell them how to grow the grapes so I can make a high quality wine."  

Pinot Noirs from this estate can be quite good.  The Talley's seem to prefer showcasing the "fruit" character of their Pinot Noir, rather than the artistry of the barrel builder.  As a result you'll find more the "beet root" and black cherry than wood, though they do use a bit of new French oak.  I find the wood tends to be more in the background with Talley's Pinot Noirs.  

The 2013 Estate is a blend of fruit from their Rosemary's and Rincon vineyards with a few drops of Las Ventanas Vineyard fruit.  This vintage is superb...a really stellar example of Talley Pinot Noir!  It's drinkable now and it ought to cellar well for another three to six years, maybe longer.  Remarkably intense fruit and the wine is beautifully balanced.

We sometimes have their single vineyard wines.   A few bottles periodically make it to the shop...Rosemary's Pinot is available presently...
 
Currently in stock: TALLEY 2013 Estate PINOT NOIR Sold Out





 
 

 
 



 




 
 

 

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