Uncorked Ventures Blog

Mark Aselstine
August 31, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

3 Steves Winery

After my experience with Cuda Ridge and their Semillon, I took a few extra days and tracked down a couple of industry insiders and asked for a few additional recomendations for wineries in and around Livermore. One of which is a local winemaker here in the East Bay, who sources some fruit from that direction and another is a distributor that handles wineries largely from the Sierra Foothills, but lives in Livermore.

One name that came up during all three conversations was 3 Steves.

So you'll notice a few things that are different about 3 Steves right off the bat.  First, yes there are literally 3 Steves, which is different than the standard family setup.  They also got to know each other during a failed winery project, something that's pretty common, but no one else ever wants to mention.  Lastly, the guys generally seem to have good senses of humor.  I came across a business card to one Steve that mentioned that yes, he does exist.

Evidently two of the three Steve's work full time at the winery, while the 3rd has a regular job.  I'm sure that regular job comes with both better pay, as well as less perks.

In any case, it's that slightly off beat persona at play here that helps to draw people in, but the wine that's keeping them coming back.  I had the opportunity to taste the Zinfandel which comes from a true old vine Zinfandel vineyard in Cienega Valley, which sits about 25 miles east of Monterey and given the Napa earthquake last week, at least bears a mention that is transversed by the San Andreas fault. That also bears a mention because stressed vines make better wine and having a constantly moving soil underneath you (reports are the region moves 2 inches per year on average) has a way of stressing people out and plants I'm sure as well.

The Zin is as you'd expect, big, bigger and bold.  With vines over 100 years old, the flavors are packed in and it's about as dense of a wine as you can imagine.  If the wine was made in the more well known Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma, they'd be charging something closer to $55 for it, rather than the $34 that it's priced at currently.

Reports are, folks within the industry feel like this is one of the best examples of a winery in Livermore taking a balanced and nuanced approach to wine and they are going to be rewarded for that in due time I am sure.  The Cabernet Franc is also suppose to be quite good, but as you might expect for a winery that's still in start up mode (that I can appreciate to be sure) but with a fully functioning tasting room, both the Zin and Cab Franc are sold out.

Mark Aselstine
August 31, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Davis Family Vineyards

Davis Family VineyardsDavis Family Vineyards

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Pinot Days in San Francisco.  While writing about some of the wines and wineries that I found during that beautiful afternoon in San Francisco has largely been pushed onto the back burner, there's a number of wineries that certainly deserve a mention in this space.

I decided to start with Davis Family Vineyards for two main reasons.  To start, the wine really stuck with me throughout the day.  Despite tasting at least fifty different versions of Pinot Noir throughout a three hour course through the grape's different manifestations from California and beyond, I thought the Davis Family Vineyards version offered the best combination of acidity and richness.  Quite simply it was a wine that I really enjoyed and think anyone, no matter their level of "wine geekyness" will enjoy.  Over at the Pinot File, the stature of these wines are summed up well enough indeed: "The perfect Pinot Noir hasn't been produced yet, but some of the ephemeral Pinot Noirs crafted by Guy Davis of Davis Family Vineyards have come darn close. Guy's style matches bright, complex aromas and flavors with silky textures and impeccable balance, while capturing the essence of Russian River Valley terroir."

Davis Family Vineyards has largely been created with two simple and concrete assumptions by the family.  First, wine is part of the good life that we've talked about for some time here as well.  Think about the last time you had good friends to your house for dinner, that's better with a great bottle of wine right? Secondly, the Davis Family will be stewards of their environment and the vineyards that they own.  As you can tell by only a few moments with any of the family, or just by visiting their website, this is a family operation all the way.  I think we can all agree that you are likely to treat the land and vines a bit better if you want your sons to be able to make world class wine from the property for years after you're gone, rather than looking to increase the sales price of your winery.

I should also mention that Davis happens to be a family name on my wife's side, so I absolutely had to stop and say hello when I realized that it wasn't a sales manager or tasting room employee manning their Pinot Days booth.  Mentioning the name to Judy Davis brought a laugh and shake of her head, she mentioned that I'm far from the first person to mention the connection.  Given that Ancestery.com has over 27 million records for the last name, that's not surprising (compare with about 900 for my own!) but Judy seemed to enjoy being able to talk about it and how it's

Mark Aselstine
August 29, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Malibu AVA

It's been a long time coming, but anyone who has ever taken the drive into Malibu from downtown LA would expect that an AVA would be approved eventually.  Finally, the Malibu AVA is here, but it isn't without complaints and issues, of course!



Hey, I'm Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures.

I think the most interesting thing that's come across in the last day or two is down in LA, the city of Malibu has started to outlaw new grape plantings. That makes them unique in a couple of ways.

First, Malibu actually just gained its own AVA status in 2014, so there's kind of a 46-mile stretch of coastline that runs just south of Camarillo [SP] down, you know, if you know LA at all, from Canoga Park if you go straight west. You know, from a kind of sense-of-place perspective, quite clearly, you know, the coast in LA and Southern California is dramatically different weather-wise than it is inland.

But you know, this is another off-shoot of the California drought. The wine growers are going to fight it. They're going to fight it tooth-and-nail, actually, because, in essence, you're allowed to plant any type of fruit or vegetable you want, water it as much as you want, but you can't even have a grape vine kind of growing on the side of the house if you like what it looks like.

So that's kind of what's happening in Malibu. It's kind of battle number 35 or whatever it is and kind of California drought issues, but I think that eventually over the long term, you'll see a Malibu AVA which is going to slightly take advantage of the fact if you were to poll people in the United States and probably elsewhere around the world, Malibu is a familiar name.

Mark Aselstine
August 28, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Line Shack Wines

I've mentioned it before, but one thing that makes me recoil in horror most of the time is when a neighbor or friend offers for me to try and taste a wine from a friend who is a winemaker, or from a winery that they just found during a trip.  Sure, there's been some huge successes like Vaughn Duffy and Dos Lagos, two of my favorite wineries and both introduced to me under those circumstances.  Usually though, it's not somthing quite as interesting (or good) and typically people expect me to love the wine as much as they do.  Don't get me wrong, I am told multiple times a week that a certain wine was, or wasn't good, but that's not a conversation that we're accustomed to having with friends right?  It's just a weird situation.

Last week I was introduced to a wine surprising enough, from San Antonio.  You probably did the same thing that I did, expecting a guy in a cowboy hat on the label, but in this case we're talking about the San Antonio Valley.  Well Line Shack Winery does have a name that recalls the Cowboy past of the west, since a line shack is a small building in an otherwise desolete, barren open cattle range.  What's different though is that the San Antonio I was told about was actually the San Antonio Valley, an AVA that I am slightly familiar with.

There's a dichotomy in the San Antonio AVA that bears a short explanation.  First, yes it is in California, specifically Monterey County.  Most of us think of Monterey County as a cool climate growing region and for the most part, it is.  That's where the San Antonio Valley comes in and another great example of an AVA that does in fact tell you, a ton about the wine that's in your glass.  The San Antonio Valley is a mountaineous valley within the Santa Lucia range and offers some of the warmer temperatures available anywhere in Monterey.  As an example, today  it's 75 degrees in the San Antonio Valley and only 64 degrees in Monterey.  In terms of wine, that's about the same difference in average temperature between Napa Valley and Temeciula, so big that's it hard to quantify.

Ok, so the bottle in question was a Syrah from Line Shack Wines.  Line Shack isn't beating around the bush with this Syrah-it's big, bold and intense.  I mean, there's plenty of good cool climate Syrah's being produced, but every so often don't we want something with more meat behind it? I certainly do and Line Shack delivered a wine that retails for under $20 that would allow wine drinkers of a number of different experience levels to be happy with the bottle that's on the table.

Mark Aselstine
August 27, 2014 | Mark Aselstine

Cuda Ridge

Every so often, a bottle rolls through the house, or the warehouse and it surprises me so much that it makes me rethink everything I know about a growing region.  It's happened to me with high end bottles from Atlas Peak and much of Santa Barbara County, this time it was Livermore.

Enter Cuda Ridge and their 2012 Semillon.

People who read this blog regularly know one thing about my white wine drinking habits, well maybe two. First, not too much of it goes on, that's one of the reasons that we only offer white wine in one of our three wine clubs.  Secondly, I generally speaking am not a huge fan of Chardonnay, so it seems I am always on the lookout for interesting white wines.

In any case, I have been on the search for an interesting Semillon and as luck would have it, someone close had stopped by the Cuda Ridge winery a few weeks ago (Livermore has become something of a shopping must stop for those of us in the East Bay because it's the closest outlet mall) and brought home a bottle to share with their neighbors.

The best Semillon's made anywhere in the world offer an interesting combination of acidity, freshness and yet still bring a full mouthfeel to the table.  Almost universally, those are made in France. All of those positive aspects come at a bit of a price though, the grape tilts quite often to being sweeter rather than dryer, which is a challenge both in my house as well as with many main stream wine drinkers in America.

The Cuda Ridge Semillon strikes a nice balance throughout and priced at under $20, makes it one of the better versions of the grape that I've run into in some time.

Owned by Larry and Margie Dino, Cuda Ridge crafts approximately two thousand cases of wine per year, making it a small production winery by every sense of the word. Larry comes from a high tech background like so many winery owners in and around the Bay Area, having been the director of engineering at BAE Systems before opening Cuda Ridge. Margie is a RN focused on helping to educate the next wave of medical professionals.

The story of Cuda Ridge, I think helps to explain the upcoming story of the Livermore Valley in general.  Cuda Ridge has begun to receive attention from the main stream wine press including Wine Enthusiast which has rated a vast seletion of their wines between 88 and 90 points.  That's an impressive feat for a winery just now releasing its fifth vintage for a winery from any AVA, but it is especially impressive with a winery coming from Livermore.

We can talk some psychology here and selectivity bias, but generally speaking if you're a wine critic and you see a Texas wine sitting in front of you or a first growth Burgundy, which do you think is going to be a better wine before tasting them?

That's certainly an extreme example, but I think it helps to highlight some of the struggle that's going to come up for Livermore vintners as they begin to take more market share from established regions, like Napa and Sonoma.  Most people don't realize it, but in the days before Prohibition blighted the wine industry in California, Livermore was at least Napa's equal in terms of quality.  It also enjoys almost all of the same advantages, like being about an hour from the city of San Francisco and existing in a warm inland valley, almost the perfect setting for a wine region.

How Livermore continues to improve the quality of both their farms and their winemaking processes over the coming decade wil help to decide exactly where the region falls into the quality map of California wine.  At current, it isn't entirely clear if there's another region poised to join Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara among the wine elite.  Good arguments can be made for Lake County, Mendocino, Lodi and even Temecula in addition to Livermore, but Cuda Ridge is a clear example that Livermore deserves more attention from both wine consumers, but also from this wine club.