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Odonata Malbec 2015

Odonata Malbec 2015


 Uncorked Ventures Logo Get In Touch:

(510) 990-2903

3060 El Cerrito Plaza #113

El Cerrito, CA 94530


Winery: Odonata

Winemaker:Dennis Hoey

Type: Malbec

Region: Lodi

Vineyard: Silvaspoon

Why? Malbec is generally misunderstood and doesn’t fit our paradigm of needing cooler climate vineyards only.  Let’s work on those preconceptions.


Mark’s Video Intro for This Wine:

So the guy that owns the vineyard has done so for close to 40 years.  It’s also, VERY Lodi. He talks at length about how if you imagine the property, you can see why the Portuguese originally thought Lodi was the spot in California they wanted.  They could raise cattle and grow their grapes next to one another. Silvaspooon still does with a hare under 500 cattle still kicking around.

Let’s back up a smidge, I mentioned the Portuguese.  Yes, the vineyard does specialize in Portuguese varietals…so what the hell is this French varietal growing here for?

Let’s step back a stage or two.  Malbec has a long and convoluted history, which will help explain why someone in Lodi would think it was a good fit for their warmer climate.

Many French grapes have become the defacto international varieties, in large part because they grow well everywhere.  Cold climates? Sure, they mostly ripen. Warmer climates? They’ll ripen, maybe too early, but you don’t get a ruined vintage right?

Malbec isn’t like that.  When it’s cold, it rots. Like seriously rots.  Like the entire back end of the grape bunches ends up with fungus because they never dry out.  For generations, French vineyard owners tried to work out the problem. They tried different canopy structures.  They attempted only growing Malbec in trellis’. They attempted different spacing. Eventually, they in large part gave up.  Many grafted over to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or other Bordeaux blending grapes (Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot).

So Malbec became a blending grape.

The cuttings were also cheap.  So when Argentines were willing to try something new, in a much, much warmer climate.  They attempted a bit of Malbec.

All the rot didn’t make the trip to South America.  Plus, the wine seemed different. Instead of a flimsy red that people could almost see through, South American Malbec reminded most of Merlot.

Had there been some genetic mutation (grape vines mutate at many thousands of times faster than do more complex mammals like humans, meaning that Malbec and Pinot are many thousands of times more genetically diverse than you and I am from a Chimp)?

When people reverse engineered the process by bringing Argentinian Malbec back to France, the same thing happened.

Some joked, that the grape simply doesn’t like it’s ancestral home.  It’s like the kid who hates where he grew up and couldn’t wait to get away.

Sommelier’s HATE Merlot.  They’ve called Malbec, the working man’s Merlot.  Hardly a compliment. But, this is one of the few grapes more popular with consumers than with Som’s.  The best Malbec’s offer an enticing mix of acid and tannin and fruit. It doesn’t have to be complex, that’s ok for the average wine drinker.

Oh so yeah, Lodi’s pretty warm.  I have family in Peru and Argentina isn’t that different weather wise as long as you get outside of Lima….Lodi is pretty close to what people picture in much of South America.

It’s a natural fit for Malbec.  Although most would never, ever expect that.

There’s a whole story to be told in regard to Lodi and their wine region, but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, let’s focus on this, a Malbec that is in many people’s wheelhouses in terms of structure and acidity.  When a lot of people say they don’t like Malbec, I always wonder if it’s the flavor combinations (blueberry is normally much more transparent than it is in other grapes) or if it is actually the places people are planting Malbec.  In France, it’s too light for a lot of people. In South America, it can be more tannic than others like. When we find a middle ground growing region, what do we end up with exactly? Is this something people would buy if they tasted it? (people grabbing a bottle of Malbec is so far away to be inconsequential at this point).

In any case, I hope you enjoy this look into a grape, in some ways, that people are busy searching for a home.

Lastly, a word on Lodi.  When we first opened, we didn’t respect the region.  After all, it’s warm and I’m generally someone who would rather have a cooler climate for grapes.

What Lodi has done over the past decade is to plant grapes best suited for their warmer growing region.  That’s no small thing. This Malbec and other stuff that they grow well like Petite Sirah and Albarino aren’t easy sales.  You’ve got to work for them in ways that a cheap bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t require. But, it’s their best bet for the long term health of their region, to find grapes which fit.  I’ve seen some other warmer regions in California struggle or outright refuse to make that transition (looking at you, Temecula)

Free Wine?

Help my small business grow & drink for free. Please consider sharing this bottle and this newsletter with friends. If they choose to join a wine club, or if you give a wine club gift, I’ll ship you a month’s worth of wine, for free. Just drop me a note and let me know, or use the “order notes” section at checkout and mention this offer.

What’s Next?

I’m working on it.  Maybe a bit more slowly than some others might like.  But sometimes ecommerce when self funded takes a bit longer than some would like to admit.


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Last Summer Grenache 2016

How Many Ounces in a Bottle of Wine?


Uncorked Ventures Logo Get In Touch:

(510) 990-2903

3060 El Cerrito Plaza #113

El Cerrito, CA 94530


Winery: Last Summer

Winemaker:Jenifer Bartz

Type: Grenache

Region: Central Coast, more on this though

Why? Maybe the best old world style Grenache made in the new world


Mark’s Video Intro for This Wine: Read or Listen Here


So, this is one of those wines that I actually did ship last vintage as well.  The reception was strong, but that write up can be found at

That’s a good reminder that I should include a vintage when I post this stuff on the blog, in case I end up doing more than one vintage of a wine.

Ok, so off the top of my head I was going to talk about how Jen’s inaugural effort that I shipped last year, ended up 91 points from Wine Enthusiast or that this one ended up with 93 points from Wilfred Wong…..but then I noticed something interesting.

Every so often I see a winemaker or winery doing something that reminds me of slight of hand, trying to get people to understand a wine by changing the growing location a bit.  In this case, unlike some others, it’s just that, trying to get people to understand, but I think it’s worth a note.

So if you read anything written about this wine, it’ll say that this is a Central Coast wine.  Sure, fine….I mean, that’s a damn massive growing region of course, check out the Central Coast AVA:

So the Central Coast AVA begins in roughly, Santa Cruz and runs south of Santa Barbara.  It takes you, driving a bit better than the speed limit, about 4 hours to make that trek on the 101. There’s also, some area east that’s included, in one of the region’s largest AVA’s in terms of usable vineyard space.  After all, much of Southern Inland is so darn hot, even the craziest folks around wouldn’t grow grapes there. The San Joaquin Valley is known for cheap, bulk wine and little else. That doesn’t seem likely to change.

So the Central Coast in many ways stands alone in California as the only spot to get usable grapes while keeping pricing reasonable.

While winemakers naturally look to the region as a spot to gain some reasonably priced grapes, a few things have happened.  First, some of the warmer parts of the wider AVA have gained some notoriety. Namely places like Ballard Canyon and others around Los Olivos, but those have a marketing challenge these days because while people “know” that there are good grapes grown on the Central Coast, they are all thinking those grapes are Pinot Noir, largely because of the movie Sideways.

For a small winery, you can feed into that on some level.  After all, a Central Coast designation in consumer minds means quality and a certain type of wine.  While this is a Grenache, stylistically it may remind you more of a Pinot Noir than anything else. It’s that light.

But, the grapes are from a very specific part of the AVA that you probably haven’t heard of: San Luis Obispo County.

SLO is known as a small college town on the Central Coast, aside from a sibling(ish) rivalry with Santa Barbara, it doesn’t get talked much about. The wine region is a bit different than many of its neighbors on the coast.  First, it’s often colder, especially as you move closer to the coast. But, it’s also more sunny on average than many vineyards further south. It’s a strange dichotomy that causes more Rhone varietals like this Grenache to ripen, while at the same time.

The end result?  You get this Grenache. It’s dark in your glass, that’s due to the cold growing temperatures.  But, it’s also light on its feet and pretty acidic. That’s because it actually did ripen.

An interesting wine?  Of course. A standard California Grenache?  Not a chance. In the wine industry we all talk often incessantly about new world growing regions vs old world growing regions.  It’s often all hyperbole because all of France isn’t old world in the way we think about it, after all the Languedoc is warmer and sunnier than much of California.  

San Luis Obispo County like much of Santa Barbara was once considered a marginal growing region.  At best. These days? This is mainstream and while we will always continue the old world vs new world debates, some winemakers, especially young winemakers will simply quietly produce wines that would remind us of one region or the other, if we could only take away our own set of preconceived notions.

Finding them can be difficult in the current 3 tier system, if you live further away than realistic searching allows, but the folly of controlling alcohol via state by state law is a question for another day (I don’t begrudge the controlling, just that the playing field changes based on the political or personal beliefs of each state attorney general…for anyone, or any business that stuff is hard to predict).

In any case, if you’re in a red wine club….enjoy this one!

Free Wine?

Help my small business grow & drink for free. Please consider sharing this bottle and this newsletter with friends. If they choose to join a wine club, or if you give a wine club gift, I’ll ship you a month’s worth of wine, for free. Just drop me a note and let me know, or use the “order notes” section at checkout and mention this offer.

What’s Next?

At times, I feel like my to-do list is continual struggle between the here and now and the long term.

I think that’s consistent for most small business, especially when you’re trying to find some growth.

But, for the next 3-4 months, it’s head down….trying to get things handled in a more timely and efficient manner than before.

I’ll focus on the now and leave the future projects for the future. First up?

I’m working on bringing back our affiliate program.  More info on that as time goes by.


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Barter and Trade Volume 2

Barter and Trade Volume 2


Get In Touch:

(510) 990-2903

3060 El Cerrito Plaza #113

El Cerrito, CA 94530


Winery: Barter and Trade

Winemaker: Andrew Jones

Type: Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Washington


Outstanding, entry level look into Washington wine. Vol 1 was highly received, here’s vol 2!


Mark’s Video Intro for This Wine:


Ok, so yeah…..this is an interesting combination.

So first, the winemaker is Andrew Jones, who is perhaps best known down in Paso Robles for making Field Recordings, but he has a few other labels that he makes as well.

Winemakers will sometimes offer second, or even third, fourth etc labels to keep product categories separate.  Some find it easier to sell wine that way.

So Field Recordings is the wider brand name, although certain groups of wines don’t get specifically labeled with that name.  One such example, Barter and Trade.

So what’s Barter and Trade?

Barter and Trade is Jones’ label for fruit grown in Washington State.  It’s a sign of the times so to speak. There’s a few things that go into making outstanding wine.  First, you need fruit. Second, you need facilities. Last, you need winemaking talent.

Given the history of winemaking and grape growing in California and Washington respectively, we’re at different points in the winemaking cycle.  California has expensive fruit that’s hard to access because of a number of factors and cheap fruit that you can buy tomorrow, many built out vineyard locations, but outstanding facilities and a bevy of winemaking talent being provided through educational opportunities, as well as, mentorship.

Washington has cheaper fruit, easy access to it, facilities that are only now coming online and winemaking talent that is readily available.

Really, there’s a lot to be said for a logical transfer of some Washington fruit to California custom crush and facilities.  After all, there’s a ton of fruit in Washington and in spots like Paso Robles, there’s an opportunity to do some work there.

Plus, when you open this wine, what do you find?  I have a bit of a theory on where Washington wine is headed.  At the beginning, many folks in Washington or the wider wine industry thought that Washington would settle into being America’s foremost spot for Merlot.  They’d be a bit player to California and Oregon, but it would create jobs and that would be fine. Then people noticed that the Syrah they were growing was AWFULLY good.  Maybe they’d focus on Syrah and be a bit player compared to California and Oregon. History tells us though, that being a bit player doesn’t often happen. Oregon might be one in terms of production, but they sell their wine for a lot more than does California on average.  Here’s some of what I’m talking about.

Production for the 3 states I cover for Uncorked Ventures:

Here’s the other part of this equation though:

So there you go.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to build your state wide wine business, by focusing on higher priced fruit.  Higher prices per bottle are better than lower ones and those higher prices allow you to put in the investment into facilities, which for winemaking can be outrageously expensive.

What Washington did, instead of following common advice, was to follow what they saw Oregon doing well.  Don’t fight California on the lower end of the price spectrum and really, don’t worry about fighting for the absolute top end sales either. Instead, where’s the sweet spot?

Interestingly, for many red wine sales, it’s about $20 to maximize profit margin.  That’s the point where a winemaker can sell these either directly to consumers, or into the wine trade without the epic cost of middlemen etc.

In many ways, moving Washington fruit that’s literally made for this type of wine project, into established facilities may be one of the smarter business moves I’ve seen in some time. Plus, if Washington logically follows Oregon’s model, they aren’t going to be growing more Merlot and Syrah, they’re going to look into middle of the road (in terms of pricing) Cabernet Sauvignon.

So why is this working for Washington? People like the Cabernet they grow.  It’s generally, middle of the pack in terms of both tannins and acidity. It’s more acidic than much of what’s grown in California, yet not as much as what comes from France. It’s more tannic than France, but not nearly as tannic as what comes north from Chile.

It just generally fits and it’s cool to see a Paso Robles based winemaker getting into this so early in the process.  It’s something to watch, especially as we see some Napa based wineries looking at vineyard purchases in Washington State. There’s also something to be said for Paso Robles joining a more established set of winemaking regions, that’s a topic for another day though.

Free Wine?

Help my small business grow & drink for free. Please consider sharing this bottle and this newsletter with friends. If they choose to join a wine club, or if you give a wine club gift, I’ll ship you a month’s worth of wine, for free. Just drop me a note and let me know, or use the “order notes” section at checkout and mention this offer.

What’s Next?

I’m considering a Kickstarter.

Growth can be hard, impossible even.  There’s some stuff I can do better and being self funded has a wide range of drawbacks.

It would be nice to speed up the process a bit.


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Field Recordings Cabernet Franc 2016

Field Recordings Cabernet Franc 2016


Get In Touch:

(510) 990-2903

3060 El Cerrito Plaza #113

El Cerrito, CA 94530


Winery: Field Recordings


Type: Cabernet Franc

Region: Paso Robles

Why? What’s not to like? Cool climate Cabernet Franc from California.


Mark’s Video Intro for This Wine: Cabernet Franc Intro Video

Ok, so welcome back to what is probably my favorite varietal. Cabernet Franc.

What sucks about having Cabernet Franc as a favorite variety? There’s not much of it:

Red Wine Grape Plantings in California

I know what you’re thinking, hey that’s not so bad….I mean, there’s enough to make the chart right?  Here’s the issue, Cabernet Franc is thought of as a simple blending grape.

When you open this wine, you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon and if you don’t mind a male/female comparison, it’s generally thought of as Cabernet Sauvignon’s mother, because it’s lighter in body and more acidic.

So winemakers and vineyard owners will often plant a few rows of it, just in case they need a blending grape.

I talked in my intro video a bit about how Cabernet Franc is finding a home in large part due to a combo of changing consumer preference toward more acidic wine, as well as. vineyards being pretty well planted out in standard regions, leading to more marginal sites being explored.  These days, those marginal sites are the cooler ones.

In Paso, it’s a sign of the times.

When Alta Colina was busy planting their estate vineyard, they rented out space in the corner of another winery.  These days, those type of setups are increasingly rare as tourists have found Paso Robles and have descended onto the wine region, bringing their dollars and yes, their wine purchases with them. More expensive vineyard locations has driven new plantings to the fringes and newer winemakers to the fringes as well.

Field Recordings is based out of Tin City in Paso Robles. It’s an interesting section of the neighborhood, largely because it’s new, but it’s not only wine.  It’s a collection of newer wineries and winemakers, distilleries, a brewery or two and now, a restaurant.  In Berkeley, we’d end up calling it a Drinks District. It’s also slightly east of the freeway, not exactly a high rent district, but one with affordable warehouse space which is a huge issue for new wineries.  

Lastly, Field Recordings is a fun winery on a few levels.  Andrew’s pretty fun, at least as much as someone who went to SLO on a football scholarship can be (I went to Santa Barbara and the two schools have some acrimony for each other, in terms of culture and well, some rivalries almost have to exist….there’s no other major universities for a hundred miles in either direction).

What I think I respect most about Andrew is his inherent willingness to be in the car.  Finding lesser known vineyards isn’t easy work. Most use maps from libraries and old topographical maps when they’re available.  Andrew? Sounds like he spends an awful lot of time in his car. Part of that is simply because the Central Coast is pretty spread out, but really when you’re a newer winemaker without any huge investors…..that’s what you do to find good vineyard sites and good grapes with which to make wine.

This Cabernet Franc is a good one, it’s a staple in our house and I hope you enjoy it.

Free Wine?

Help my small business grow & drink for free. Please consider sharing this bottle and this newsletter with friends. If they choose to join a wine club, or if you give a wine club gift, I’ll ship you a month’s worth of wine, for free. Just drop me a note and let me know, or use the “order notes” section at checkout and mention this offer.

It’s baseball season and spring has arrived.  Both are equally as exciting in our house.

The wines coming in the coming months will likely match those trends, we’re close to 80 degrees as I write this next to San Francisco Bay. The good weather is coming….finally.


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Union Sacre Gewurztraminer Santa Lucia Highlands 2016

Union Sacre Gewurztraminer

So there’s a few things that I think you’ll find interesting, the varietal, the location of the vineyard(s) and the folks behind the label. This is a Union Sacre Gewurztraminer Santa Lucia Highlands 2016

Let’s start with the most basic: Gewurztraminer.

If you buy all your own wine, this is likely a new varietal.  It isn’t new internationally and it’s been around since wine grapes have, in that small section of northern Italy that actually speaks German first and Italian second. Having spent the better part of a college summer in Italy, much like Milan perhaps, it’s a strange part of Italy.  The grape follows that IMO. The namesake of grapes, the Traminer’s offer a ton of different choices, largely because their genome is considered unstable.  In the animal kingdom, that would be a death knell, but in an agricultural product it’s something of a unicorn.  This is a strange part of the old world when it comes to wine.  Italian varietals can’t grow here because of the altitude.  There’s some ancient Swiss stuff that grows well, is hearty, but that no one likes.  So if you’re planting a vineyard, wouldn’t you put in some of the stuff that just might change enough over the course of a generation to produce something good for your site?  

I sure as hell would.

Not surprisingly, others have as well.  It seems like a number of the crosses, according to a friend who teaches Italian at UC Berkeley, as well as a friend who teaches at a German immersion preschool next door, are considered different grapes in Italian, but synonymous in German.  I think that’s partially because in German, these are pretty similar, but in terms of style of wine produced, what’s here is dramatically different than what happens in the rest of Italy.

So what should you do here?

First, spin your bottle around.  There’s no back label, but there is a design on the back of the front label.  That’s a long neglected spot of advertising space.  The back story is that when you have a wine bottled, there’s a constant need to control costs.  Adding an extra dimension to the printing of the label is relatively cheap, it adds maybe 5 cents to every bottle.  Adding a back label, though might add something closer to another quarter.  Before you think that’s a tiny sum, wouldn’t you try to avoid it if you could, if it cost you a few thousand dollars per year?

Secondly, before you drink any of this Gewurztraminer, take a second to smell what’s in your glass.  In the years of all the genetic changes, one thing happened and seems to have stuck with the grape.  Aromatically, it’s about as good as it gets.

Another interesting aspect, this is actually a Rose.  I think in 6 years shipping wine, I’ve never even come across a Gewurztraminer that is made into a Rose.  Most of the time, Rose is made from red wine.

Quite a few times, I’ve had customers tell me that they only don’t drink two wines: Pinot Noir and Rose.  For those of us living in Northern California though, those two options are normally made from the same grape.  So really, do you not like Rose, or do you not like Pinot in any of its forms? Hey, it happens.  My in laws entire family, simply won’t drink a Malbec if its the last wine on earth.

Next, the Santa Lucia Highlands.  I get it, keeping track of AVA’s in California is almost a full time job.  The Highlands cut a fairly long swatch, across the central coast.  They’re located just east of the town of Monterey (yes, the one with the aquarium) and sit high on the hillside that separates the cold coast, from the inland valley of Salinas that likely provided the last five vegetables that you ate, almost all the salad you ate this year and probably the last good organic strawberries you ever had.  The valley floor on the other sides of the hill, are easy places to grow stuff.

The highlands are graced with some of the most powerful and cold winds, year around of anywhere in California.  I live about a mile from San Francisco Bay.  A block up from the house, you get a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge, so we get as much fog as does the city of San Francisco, that’s pretty famous for it. But, compare our average temperature to that of Monterey and the highlands that surround it-we’re almost always 10 degrees warmer year around.  The reason? The Bay has an average depth of about 8 feet, which we always try and remind friends when they’re nervous about riding BART to SF under the bay…it’s just not that deep.  While that depth of water doesn’t warm in the sun, it doesn’t provide much of a cooling influence either.

But in Monterey there’s a quirk of geography that cools everything down.  Called the Monterey Trench, it’s basically the Grand Canyon, but underwater and with a vertical wall to the east instead of a steady falling. I’d go deeper into it here, but in large part I think it suffices to say, there’s a quirk or two that have led to a diversity of life, like Vampire Squid’s long the favorite of every Kindergartner I know, but also to a darn cold section of California.  For grape growers, those differences are important, really important.

I felt like I had to bring that all up because Rose is made in one of two ways.  First, some extra juice is removed from red wine.  Second, grapes are intentionally planted in a spot where they won’t ripen all the way.  That’s the case here-which seems incredibly odd for Gewurztraminer, but the coldest of the site comes into play.

In any case, I know this is a different one.  I think I’ve only seen one or two other Gewurztraminer Rose’s attempted in California.

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Barter and Trade Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2014

Paso Robles on the Road

This month, I give my Explorations wine club members a Barter and Trade Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2014

A couple of notes.

First, have you ever wondered why there isn’t a standard way of reporting the name of a wine? Seems strange right?  As an example, both of these names would be completely fine for the wine in your glass:

Barter and Trade Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2014

Barter and Trade 2014 Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

Folks within the industry have a devil of a time agreeing on anything really and having state and federal oversight that sometimes conflicts with best practices, doesn’t help either.  So we’re largely left to our own devices and the result is something like this.  No standard way of writing the name of a wine, which really isn’t a name at all, but a way to identify what’s in your glass.

That’s actually why I write the name the way I do.  When Matt and I first started Uncorked Ventures, we wanted to be consistent with this stuff, I don’t recall any longer where he stood exactly, but his opinion and my own I don’t believe were the same.  This is one of those though, where reasonable people can come to different conclusions.

I tend to write mine the way I do, because I believe the name of the winery is the most important. They’re making the stuff after all.  Then I write the rest of the information in descending order of importance IMO, to what’s in your glass.  First is the trade name of the wine, or the varietal type.  Next is the AVA or vineyard source for the grapes.  Lastly, the vintage.

Ok, so now onto what’s in your glass.  I did a Barter and Trade Merlot a month or two ago, not everyone received it, but I think that’s a good thing to mention here. Same winery and same concept, Washington fruit being made in Paso Robles.  California has top notch winemaking facilities that are expensive and time consuming to make, so it makes sense some California wineries would be bringing in grapes from outside the state.  Washington is the first and perhaps most obvious target.  Plus, it increases the likelihood that someone makes a wine labeled as “United States” for geography, which I think is fun (that would happen if you blended fruit from say Washington and Paso).

About that vintage, 2014.  I’ve talked incessantly about the drought here in California, hell for a time it was all anyone wanted to talk about.  Things change though. In Washington, the weather was warm.  The vintage was called warm and abundant by one Seattle paper. I mean, the vineyard operations staff at St. Michelle said that the growing season was flat out “pleasurable”.  I’ve heard the wine industry called many things, but for someone in the vineyard to consider growing grapes pleasurable, was a first.  Normally, they’d say that growing grapes is hell.  Walking through the vineyard on a warm summer day is pleasurable of course. Maybe an entire season becomes pleasurable when there’s been nothing but warm summer days. Plus, 2013 had something along the lines of the worst rain storm in the state’s history right around harvest which mucked up the entire thing, so maybe 2014 just kind of felt better by comparison.

Warm vintages also give us extra grapes which helps projects like this. It gives everyone some extra fruit to work with.

Lastly, I’ve talked about it at least 10+ times.  What’s in your glass is what keeps California winery marketing folks up at night.  Washington Cabernet is a real thing and the land is damn cheap by comparison, so the resulting wine tends to end up reasonably priced.

Perhaps making some of that themselves here in California mitigates some of that risk.  It’s happening in terms of California wineries buying Oregon Pinot Noir vineyards, this is likely no different and simply just a matter of time.

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Aselstine Family Cellars Carignan

Aselstine Family Cellars Carignan

I hadn’t considered doing another Aselstine Family Cellars wine, but sometimes this stuff comes up and saying no doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In essence, it’s a similar idea to the last Aselstine Family Cellars wine that I created-a winemaker with some extra juice unloaded it onto me, by the barrel.

It’s funny looking back, I was so damn excited last time.  I think this might actually be a better wine, more on that in a moment, this time it was a little less dramatic.  I’ve been working on something of a side project called and the day that this Carignan was bottled, we were filming for that.  The idea is simple, put winemakers on tv, even if its only the internet to begin, to tell their stories.  Text is cool after all, but 75% of bandwidth is now used to stream online video in America and that share is only set to increase. Anyway we were on the bottling wine, filming some of what happens for what’s called b-roll (the stuff you show as people are talking, in lieu of looking at their face the entire time) and then it hit me, this is another one that I’m putting my name on-so it’s in some ways more important than other bottles I ship and in many ways, less.

This Carignan comes from a single vineyard up in Mendocino County.  Mendocino roughly begins where Sonoma ends.  It’s kind of a wild place to be honest.  I have a few friends who grew up in various spots around Mendocino, certainly some had a suburban upbringing like I did, others though grew up shooting at cans on a few hundred acres.  Country living isn’t something that many folks picture when they think of California, but this is one spot where you can still find it.

Really though, I think one of the important things to note is that a wine like this might only be possible from Mendocino. Carignan if you aren’t familiar, can be spelled with a trailing “e” or without, as I tend to do so.  Simplicity maybe.  Sometimes I’ll tack it on without realizing because attention to detail might not be a strong suit.

For most vineyard owners, in the 80’s when the first huge run up happened to grape prices in Napa Valley and Sonoma (if you can remember back that far, Merlot and Chardonnay were the clear winners) if you had a field of Carignan, you probably pulled it out entirely, or grafted it over to Merlot if you had picked a winning rootstock.

Carignan is an interesting grape. It actually might be the most maligned grape in wine.  It’s been responsible for the French “wine lake” as well as huge overproduction in Spain.  If you aren’t familiar with the wine lake, vintners in France got a little over confident in the industry about a decade ago.  Since French law puts severe restrictions in most growing regions that you’ve heard of in terms of amounts of production and the grapes that can be produced, they responded by planting literally hundreds of miles of vineyards in Southern France as the climate and geography get warmer.  The result there was the same as it has been in California’s Central Valley and in Spain, MASSIVE amounts of wine.  There are times when Carignan can produce 10 tons per acre of land, consistently year in and year out.  All it needs is abundant sun and water.  The wine lake almost tanked international wine prices and it got bad enough in France that the government had to start paying farmers to pull out their crops.

So how do I think this is a serious wine?

Aselstine Family Cellars Carignan Back LabelGetting back to Mendocino, these vines never got pulled out.  If you’ve learned anything from being in one of my wine clubs, I hope that it’ll be this: literally the best indication of the quality of a wine is the amount of grapes produced per acre.  Less grapes = better wine.

Older vines produce less grapes.  Less grapes makes for a more densely flavorful wine in your glass.  It’s funny I talk to winemakers and these old vineyards are something of a fascination for certain types of winemakers.  The little guys, the guys making a thousand or so cases per year that are paying for everything out of pocket etc.  A few of them have these old maps, generally from the St. Helena public library which is truly an outstanding and lesser known wine resource, they open them and try and compare where plantings once existed to what’s been built.  Sometimes a housing development left some of vines around, mostly not, but it only takes a few.  Sometimes they’re in a significant enough state of disrepair to make the fruit cheap enough to warrant a long term lease and then plenty of time literally reteaching a farmer, how to farm wine grapes.

Anyway, I’ve come to think of Carignan increasingly as a grape that many in California might substitute for Cabernet Sauvignon every so often, if they only knew it existed.


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Fausse Piste Vegetable Lamb Pinot Noir 2014

Fauste Piste Pinot Noir

Yeah, yeah I know.  Weird label.  Weird name.

So some background, I’ve hit on wines from this vineyard before, the Momtazi Vineyard (there’s also some fruit from a smaller, lesser known site called Johan). Both are farmed biodynamically and organically, which is something we should spend a few moments on.

I think most consumers these days are pretty accustomed to the rules governing organic farming.  Some major regions like Sonoma have stayed away from chasing the designation, in large part because it can tie your hands a bit.  There are times when powdery mildew creeps in, or when a certain pest becomes overwhelming that a grower might want to make damn sure they’ve taken care of the problem.  Rightly or wrongly, although they often argue the point, vineyards aren’t as ecologically diverse as a forest and that type of monoculture is ripe for pests (they’ll better than corn fields though).

In terms of biodynamic farming, there are some theories which seem spot on according to basically everyone I speak with.  Burying cow horns and letting them partially ferment in the ground, then digging them up and spreading the resulting compost…..seems like a next step in the evolution of a self serving system.  Other stuff is taking away winemaker control though according to many, such as picking on a specific day.  Winemakers basically rage against that concept, yet are happy enough to schedule a crew a day or two after their intended pick date if no other alternative exists.

Winemaker Jesse Skiles is an interesting guy.  He calls himself a cook first, winemaker second.  He’s also a millennial.  That’s something I notice in large part because of my own age.  I started my business when I was about 30.  Signed the final permits in the hospital when my son was born after a 6 month process with alcohol-beverage-control (yes my wife is as supportive as she sounds).  All told, I’m right on the border of being a millennial or not.  I hope I can take some of the positive aspects of the culture and add in some of my own.  Yes, work life balance is important. I bring all that up because, there aren’t that many people a handful of years younger than me sitting in the winemaking chair for their own brand yet.  That’s changing because I’m getting older, but also the industry is beginning to skew a bit younger on the winemaking side of the ledger as well.  It’s a good thing, newer perspectives are always a positive in an artistic endeavor.

So Fausse Piste means something along the lines of red herring, or even the lack of success in its native French.  Skiles sees himself as much more than a standard American winemaker, in many ways he sees the Rhone Valley as his natural spot and a natural accompaniment for what he’s trying to accomplish.  A wild ride of restaurant careers led him to the Culinary Institute in New York, back to Oregon and then to Washington before he eventually had a winery and restaurant sharing a 2,800 square foot space in Portland.  I’ve seen a lot of small spaces over the years, but this might take 2nd place (Tom Rees makes Pine and Brown in downtown Napa out of a converted 1 car garage, a setup no one should ever enter into).

Fauste Piste Pinot Back LabelSkiles heart still stays with the Rhone’s.  But, I do so damn many of those and at times, people want something more expected.  Enter an Oregon Pinot Noir.  He’ll tell you, this is a more food friendly wine. In part I agree, but I also think it’s important to note how darn acidic this thing is.  That’s partially winemaker choices, it’s partially simply Oregon Pinot, but it’s also farming practices.  We know a few things about different farming practices and how they help control what happens in the winery.  Using native yeast as an example, lowers alcohol content given equal amounts of sugar.  In this case, organic and biodynamic farming tend to increase acidity, compared to conventional counterparts in the same regions. While people that spend a lot more time with wine grapes than I do, can argue over why at length, I think there’s one fairly certain conclusion. A well managed, organic or biodynamic vineyard often leads to healthier plants overall than does a conventionally farmed one. Healthier plants tend to have berries with both, more liquid inside of them as well as higher sugar content (think of a sweeter strawberry as an example). Those things added up, should produce a more acidic wine.  Really, the acidity that we all taste is the ratio of tannin (skin) to acid (juice).  Some berries have thicker skins.  Some berries are smaller (this is largely dependent on location, mountain berries are dramatically smaller).  But vineyard practices might move the needle 10-15% in one direction or another.  If you’re encouraging acid, you can let grapes hang longer on the vine, perhaps creating more easily distinguishable tastes.

Last: This is being included in a couple of wine clubs in the coming months.  It’s a fun, good wine.

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Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013

Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013

Patricia Green Pinot Noir Durant Vineyard 2013Yup, another Oregon Pinot Noir.  Pairs well with the holidays.

93pts Vinuous (if you aren’t familiar, that’s Antonio Galloni, who at one point was slated to take over for Robert Parker, but had a falling out of sorts with the new ownership of Wine Advocate, only to create his own imminently helpful online property).

I can’t move forward without noting the major story here:Patricia Green, or Patty as literally everyone called her, passed away at the beginning of November, after I had planned to ship this wine. She lived in an isolated cabin and there aren’t many explanations for her tragic death at 62, other than the fact that it doesn’t seem to be related to foul play. To her family and friends: I’m sorry for your loss.

Ok, so some more information about what’s in your glass and how a winery moves forward when their namesake passes on: The winery carries her name, but it’ll continue because it really was a joint project between Patty and winemaker Jim Anderson.

The winery owns 52 acres in the Rabbit Ridge Appelation.  The Rabbit Ridge AVA is totally contained within the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Yes, the Chehalem Mountain AVA is also completely contained within the Willamette Valley AVA.

What makes Rabbit Ridge different than its neighbors?  To start, the AVA is basically defined by the placing of old ocean flow on the mountaintop. Secondly, there’s some elevation at play as well.

I think the main and most interesting part of the story in this case, is the Durant Vineyard.  David Lett was affectionately titled Papa Pinot.  Only a few years after Lett planted up on Rabbit Ridge, the Durant family did the same.  You can tell that it was a simpler time by one main difference in the Durant Vineyard from any new vineyard.  It’s planted facing south.  These days, everyone plants facing west.  Facing west, as many folks near the coast can tell you, gets you every last few bits of sunlight.  South is probably second best, but it says something about the Durant’s that they were willing to even take the risk given that back in the 70’s (they planted in 73) nobody was quite sure if Oregon would ripen Pinot Noir.  Heck, they wondered if Sonoma could east of the freeway as well.

In many ways, though the Durant Vineyard is like 2 vineyards in one.  First, you have their Bishop’s Block which is the original plantings from back in 1973.  There was an addition planted back in 2000, which creates an entirely different type of wine.  They used clone 115 for that one-showing again that Oregon and it’s clone wars are never ending.

What’s in your glass is a combination of the two. Last, this is going into our red wine club shipments this month.

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Bethel Heights Estate Chardonnay 2012

Bethel Heights Chardonnay

I’m working on a rather lengthy piece on Oregon Chardonnay, both the history of as well as the future.  I thought given my current writings, as well as a few tastings over the summer when I spent some time in the Willamette Valley, shipping an Oregon Chardonnay made a lot of sense.

Ok so then the question became, which one?

Bethel Heights Chardonnay Back LabelTo start, Oregon Chard can be expensive and to get something that I really, really liked, I was having trouble finding someone relevant to pair it with.  I knew I needed to make the pricing work….so a half bottle.  If it’s too annoying, let me know and I can replace it.  I’ve done this in the past, interestingly from Oregon, without incident so I hope you all are cool with it.

So there’s a couple of things that I’ve learned about Oregon Chardonnay. In the industry winemakers OBSESS over clones, consumers even the most ardent, can’t really tell the difference beyond other factors

But, in Oregon the clones being used for Chardonnay really do seem to have mattered.  The grape didn’t really jump off in the state until Dijon clones made their way to Oregon.  

Dijon is a region of France, that’s cold and wet. Oregon’s pretty cold and wet (by comparison, by comparison).  Before that, they took the clones that were easiest to get and most available….stuff from California.  Say what you want about the state in which I live, cold and wet isn’t how it’s normally described.  Also, they attempted the Wente clone more than others.

Wente is a winery in Livermore.  While Livermore once challenged Napa Valley for preeminence among Northern California grape growing regions, no longer is that up for debate. The reason? The region is about an hour east of San Francisco.  It’s a warm, inland valley.  It’s the type of spot where you know that the grapes are going to ripen.  Back a hundred or so years ago, that was more important than it is today, at least for many folks.

Anyway, a warmer climate grape clone  in Oregon? Yeah, what could go wrong?

Good for vintners in the region for adjusting to what the market would bear (increasingly more acidity is a good thing) as well as realizing what might be constraining sales of Oregon Chardonnay in the first place.

Don’t take my word for it: 90pts Wine & Spirits Magazine: The aroma on this wine brings to mind warm apples in the sun, the fragrance touched by oak and finely integrated on the palate. The salinity of its texture gives it energy, grip and precision, with enough detail to merit pairing with coq au vin blanc. We’re offering this as part of an Explorations Wine Club shipment (it’s our cheap club)

Lastly, what about Bethel Heights? The winery opened in 1977, largely funded by twin brothers. Now, they have 11 investors and have grown from their initial 14 acre investment, into a 75 acre parcel.  Until the late 90’s they sold fruit to many different wineries, but over the years, they grew their own brand enough to handle all of the wine themselves.  Plus, two of the original owners kids are now intimately involved in the business.  One makes the wine, the other functions as the general manager.

Originally I heard about Bethel Heights from a history book, but also from Randall Grahm.  Randall started Bonny Doon Vineyard and back in the 80’s, he was producing a huge range of wines, including an Oregon Pinot Gris from Bethel Heights.  He still has good things to say about these folks, which only came up the last time I ran into him because I was set to take a family road trip (yes, partially for work) through Oregon and Washington.