Filed under: Events, Tasting notes, Tasting rooms | Tags: Anderson Valley, Baxter Winery, black kite cellars, Oppenlander Vineyard, Phillips Hill, Pinot Noir, Tastings
BOONVILLE, CA — May 17, 2009. Sunday is always Open House day at the Anderson Valley Pinot fest. For the tasting rooms that are open year-round, it’s fun to go because they often pour library selections and arrange special food and wine pairings. Places like Esterlina have a full-on BBQ — the view from that winery up in the hills is beautiful. For the other wineries that don’t have tasting rooms, they may hold an exclusive opportunity to visit the winery or the vineyards and also taste a broad selection of Pinot Noir offerings.
When Jennifer and I go to the festival, Open House is usually our day for tasting, as we historically never attend the grand tasting. It’s also a great day to hang out with the people in the community that we’ve gotten to know over the years. Our usual haunts are Londer, Roederer, Handely and Elke. But with Jennifer and our daughter not with me this weekend, I decided to explore some new wineries.
My friend Asim was also at the festival this weekend and had some suggestions of open houses that were off the beaten path and at wineries that are otherwise not open. They also happen to be some of the up-and-coming wineries and vineyards in Anderson Valley, so it was good to see what was happening on that edge of the spectrum. Our first stop was at Black Kite, which has 12 acres planted by the Green family and is run by Rebecca Green Birdsall and Tom Birdsall. They held the tasting under a small canopy in the middle of their gorgeous vineyard. Here is their description of the Kite’s Rest vineyard site and characteristics:
The Kite’s Rest Vineyard is situated on a 40 acre parcel that rises 400 feet from the Navarro River in Anderson Valley’s remote “Deep End” district, an area renowned for its cool climate Pinot Noir. Here, our Pinot Noir vines coexist with towering coastal Redwoods, known as “Monarchs of the Mist”. These are the tallest trees on earth and are found only in this unique coastal environment. The region’s cool maritime climate is enhanced by our vineyard’s north facing exposure, providing us with even greater hang time than is normal in Anderson Valley.
We tasted through a pretty long selection of their Pinot Noirs, from the Kite’s Rest blend, to the block-designate wines, “Stony Terrace,” “Redwood’s Edge,” and “River Turn.” Each reflected the varying characteristics of this sloping vineyard, and ranged from taut and lean with bright red fruit and subtle earth to more lush and opulent with some darker fruit and spicy notes.
Kite’s Rest is off of Greenwood-Elk Road, so we decided to continue up the ridge to Baxter Winery. Baxter is situated in an old farm near Elk. They source their fruit from many vineyards up and down the valley as well as from some newer sources outside of the Anderson Valley appellation. This was our favorite stop along the trail — it was a young and relaxed crew of winemakers just hanging out, pouring wines and barbequeing for their visitors. We tasted through their 06 and 07 single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. All of them reflect characteristics of each site, are not over-manipulated and are a result of native yeast fermentation. Each had great acidity, structure and balance. They ranged from lighter, leaner in style like the Toulouse vineyard to a more full-bodied, intense result from the Oppenlander Vineyard (my favorite).
I had heard about Oppenlander a few times this weekend and was intrigued. Oppenlander is situated on the Surprise Valley Ranch in the Comptche region, which is a bit more of the wild west of Pinot Noir in these parts. Oppenlander is roughly eight miles from the ocean and is owned by the Shandel family, a family that has been on this ranch for five generations. It gets more of the coastal fog and maintains a cooler overall climate than the valley floor of Anderson Valley.
All of the wines at Baxter were excellent and we ended up staying two hours, downing lamb sliders and chatting with the winemaker, Phil Baxter, Jr., and the rest of the staff, as well as the other visitors. For a wine geek, it is great to be able to stand around and taste wines and talk about the winemaking process ad infinitum. But alas, we needed to head down the hill and start our trek homeward.
We squeezed in one last stop at Phillips Hill, which has a new tasting room in Philo. Winemaker Toby Hill is also an artist and migrated West from the New York art scene to make Pinot Noir. Not classically trained in winemaking, he has picked up the skills along the way and is part of the new batch of upstarts (including Baxter and Drew) making Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.
At this point of the day, it was in the high 90s, and Pinot Noir became less attractive to taste, but I really enjoyed the selections at Phillips Hill, including their version of Oppenlander and the Marguerite Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Marguerite had completely different aromatics than anything else I had tasted that day: earthy, flinty with sour cherry. It was a wonderful wine and my last purchase of the day, making its way into the cooler for the long drive home.
I left Anderson Valley excited about the wines being made there and feeling fortunate that we have been able to source some really amazing grapes from this valley. The quality of the wines and the kinship that we have with the winemaking community also reinforced our commitment to making Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. We’ll be working on our fifth vintage this year and four out of the five vintages have included an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. I talked with a few growers over the weekend about available Pinot Noir fruit sources as we would really like to anchor our program with Anderson Valley wines over the long term. Stay posted!
Filed under: Events | Tags: Anderson Valley, Copain, Crushpad, Roessler, Toulouse Vineyards, Wells Guthrie, Wentzel Vineyard, Woodenhead
BOONVILLE, CA — May 16, 2009. The Grand Tasting at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is one of the festival’s event that we’ve never attended in the past. We tend to not go to large tastings. They can be a mixed bag: you get to try wines from lots of different makers, all under one roof, but it also can be a madhouse and palate-fatigue can kick in pretty quickly. So, it’s ironic that this is the first year we went to the Grand Tasting and it was standing on the other side of the table.
Sadly, I was on my own today as Jennifer could not join us due to a death in the family. It didn’t seem right to be up in Anderson Valley without Jennifer as this is where our mutual passion for Pinot Noir really bore fruit. But, as they say, the show must go on.
I arrived dutifully at 9:30 to set up my station. Postcards: check. Business cards: check. Spec sheets: check. Wine: check. Thirsty masses: arriving soon. We were officially the “newbies.” First of all, I had tons of questions and probably did lots of things wrong (like not bringing dark linens to mask all my wine spills). Second of all, not many attendees knew our label: “is this your first year pouring?” – we got that question a lot. The AV Pinot festival has many repeat customers – people that have been coming here for years (including ourselves), so they know when a newbie enters the scene. Luckily, we are familiar faces and the attendees also want to sniff out an up-and-comer, so we had lots of new friends and fans.
Also fortunate for us was that our table was situated just inside the entry to the tent, so at the minimum, I got a lot of looks. Then people started tasting and enjoying the wines. Eventually, I had people coming back for seconds. And, just like Pinot Days Chicago, there were a few regulars hanging around the last half hour of the tasting. Here is a sample of the comments we got from a selection of tasters:
“I tried all the wines today and yours was the best”
“Somebody said I should come over and try your wines”
“You definitely made it on to my short list”
“This wine has great acidity – what’s the pH?”
The last comment was from a noted sparkling winemaker from the valley, so it’s also nice to have some of the professionals enjoy your wine. That is what is so indicative of the valley – it’s a small community of winemakers and growers that look out for each other and take an interest in their fellow wineries. The nice folks at Toulouse, the table next to me, took over my station for a few minutes so I could get food. Bob Nye, GM of Goldeneye Winery, brought a bottle of our wine over to some of the visiting press to make sure they tried our wine. I mean, how awesome is that?
So despite the 95+ degree weather, I kept the wines chilled and everybody had a great time. Thanks to our friend Richard and his entourage, I was able to zip away from the table while they poured. This allowed me to get some food (which I barely had time to eat) and try some of the other wines today. I only tried a handful, wines from Black Kite, Toulouse, Copain, Navarro (three different barrel from Allier forest), Claudia Springs and MacPhail.
Speaking of MacPhail, it is interesting to see that an increasing number of well-regarded non-Anderson Valley wineries (Roessler, Copain, MacPhail, Littorai, Woodenhead, etc.) have a presence here. There is a small, but growing trend towards the more balanced style of Pinot Noirs and Anderson Valley provides the right climate for this style. I overheard that the folks up in Willamette Valley in Oregon call Anderson Valley “Baja Oregon.”
In addition to pouring and tasting, the festival hosted a silent auction. With a little help from our friends at Crushpad, we donated a “San Francisco Urban Winemaker Experience” to join others in raising funds for the Anderson Valley Health Center and the Anderson Valley Education Foundation. The auction folks paired the barrel tastings and winery tour we were offering with San Francisco restaurant and hotel gift certificates. I believe each of the packages went for over $350 each, so were happy to help out.
All in all, it was a great day. Lots of interesting people – from the true Pinot geeks to interested parties flying in from all parts, including Kansas City and Minneapolis. After all the Pinot pouring and the hot weather, I was ready for a thirst-quenching soda. I stopped by the local market, grabbed a bottle of Squirt from the coldcase and proceeded to my room at the Anderson Valley Inn, whereby I kicked off my shoes and enjoyed a cold glass of soda and toasted myself.
NOTE: To see previous posts on this Festival, click on these links: Day 1
Filed under: Events, Tasting notes, Wine travel | Tags: Anderson Valley, Claudia Springs, Esterlina, Events, Foursight Winery, Goldeneye Winery, Greenwood Ridge, Handley Cellars, Mary Elke, Mendocino Ridge, Pinot Noir, Tastings, Wentzel Vineyard, Winemaking
There are many events at the festival, which runs from May 15 – May 17. Day one kicks off with a technical conference at the Mendocino Fairgrounds for winemakers, grapegrowers, industry folk and the wine geek in all of us consumers. It is something we attended years ago as a lark (okay, we’re kind of geeky that way), and we really enjoyed it, even though we may not understand everything being discussed. The agenda is usually a selection of presentations on oenology and viticulture, some wine tasting and a presentation on marketing to consumers. This year, the growing and winemaking themes were on water use, native fermentations and native microflora and clonal selections in Burgundy. The tastings focused on different appellations and vineyards in and around Anderson Valley.
The first tasting was focused on Greenwood Ridge. Greenwood Ridge actually overlaps between the Anderson Valley appellation and the Mendocino Ridge appellation. The Mendocino Ridge appellation is further west and runs along the coast. To be appellation-designate, vineyards must be above 1200 feet, which is necessary to stay above the fogline and get enough sunlight and warmth for the grapes to gain full ripeness. The conditions are probably similar to the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch Vineyard. While it would seem that the temperature would be cooler closer to the coast, the grapes in Mendocino Ridge get more hours of sunshine because they are above the fogline, while the valley floor gets fog rolling in early in the evening, making for shorter days of sun. I tried two Pinot Noirs from Greenwood Ridge and one from Ferrari-Carano and they all had good structure – medium tannins, with the F-C exhibiting darker fruit characteristics than the Greenwood Ridge wines.
We broke for “A Very Good Lunch,” which was indeed very good: huge lamb burgers on delicious ciabatta bread. This paired well with the BYOB selection of Pinot Noirs available at the gazebo on the grounds. I brought two bottles of our 2007 Wentzel Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley to share with any takers and both were quickly consumed with lots of nice compliments like “great depth and complexity,” “long finish,” and “great mouthfeel.” Remember, this is a tough crowd – local growers and winemakers.
Lunch was followed by a flight of Goldeneye vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from up and down the valley. Winemaker Zach Rasmussen walked us through the climate variations that along the valley, from Boonville to the “deep end”, the area adjacent to the redwoods that separate it from the coast. The group tasted Goldeneye wines from the Confluence, Gowan Creek and Narrows vineyards. They were all lush, yet showing good structure and owner Dan Duckhorn made no apologies for the more forward (yet restrained by California standards) style of Pinot Noir they make.
Later in the afternoon, photographers Andrea Johnson and Bob Holmes walked through some of their photos from their recently released book, Passion for Pinot, co-authored by Jordan Mackay. Jennifer actually poured our wines at a Passion for Pinot book event at Omnivore in San Francisco, an event which I was unable to attend. So it was nice to introduce myself to Bob and Andrea and hear their stories about traversing the West coast and meeting the growers and winemakers behind some of the best Pinot Noirs in America.
The last tasting of the day was led by a Master Sommelier from the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Joe Phillips led a tasting of three different Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs to demonstrate how a sommelier will describe these to customers at restaurants like Michael Mina in the Bellagio. Phillips noted that the Bellagio has 11 fine dining establishments, in addition to 20 other food and beverage outposts and buys over $40 million of wine every year. As he described it, “the Bellagio is like a village.” In the tasting, he pointed out the distinct elements of Claudia Springs, Handley and Foursight wines. He described the Foursight wine as “Flintstones Vitamins” and that apparently was a good thing. The wine showed different fruit flavors that you would find in those vitamins (cherry, lime, orange, etc.) and had the minerality you would get such daily supplements. After hearing that description, I could totally see the parallel. When I was a child, I almost had to get my stomach pumped from eating too many Flintstones vitamins in one sitting, so that description may not be the most positive one for me.
After consuming copious amounts of information and wine, I wrapped the day with the BBQ social at Husch Winery. Jennifer and I had never been to this event in the past, so it was fun to hang out with the locals and visitors and down some good pulled pork sandwiches and Pinot Noir. At a certain point, a few of us were ready to diverge from Pinot and try some of the other wines at the BYOB table. I had a glass of the Cole Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Esterlina and it was excellent: lush, rich blackberry and blueberry fruit with wonderful toasty vanilla and cocoa. Finally, the few of us hanging at the outdoor bar decided it was time to go and rest our palates for the big grand tasting the next day.
Keeping up with the San Francisco restaurant scene is not as easy as it used to be before we had a child. But, we try to get out and try as many new places as we can, as well as return to old favorites. So for Jennifer’s birthday last week, we decided to try out the Moss Room at the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Restaurants in parks, if done right (for example, North Pond in Chicago’s Lincoln Park), are a great escape from everyday urban life.
Adding to the appeal the Moss Room for us, was its association with San Francisco chef Loretta Keller of COCO500 (her partner in the restaurants at the Academy of Sciences, Charles Phan of Slanted Door, oversees the AcademyCafe). While finding the front door to the restaurant at 7:30pm on a Friday night was a slight challenge, after some circumnavigation (including a trip on a freight elevator with other lost guests), we descended into the spacious cavern underneath the museum. I won’t go into attempts at architectural descriptions, but suffice it to say, the place is pretty cool. The one thing I noticed about it is that it is not that large of a restaurant and that you feel a certain intimacy within the room, despite the high ceilings and the aquarium lining one side. Jennifer couldn’t stop staring at the illuminated “living wall,” covered with fern, moss, and stone and accented by reflections from the water beneath it.
Okay, so let’s talk food and wine. The first thing that we noticed about the menu, was the wine list. The by-the-glass selections were broken down into 3 categories that might seem unusual: Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic. We thought this was an interesting way to both emphasize their organic leanings (even when it comes to wine) and also get customers thinking about broader categories of wine beyond just the standard white or red.
We both began with Champagne: the Gonet-Medeville “Brut”, Bisseuil, France, NV for Jennifer and the Roger Pouillon “Brut Rosé”, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, France, NV for me. Both paired very well with our starters. We shared the beer-battered squash blossoms and the Star Route Farms baby beet salad. The Champagnes cut through the richness of the squash dish and complimented the crispness of the beet, chicory and hazelnut combination in the salad. The highlight of the salad was a caramelized goat cheese: a thin layer of goat cheese goodness whimsically placed atop the salad. It doesn’t look like goat cheese, but the taste is undeniable. I believe the refrain from all at our table, including our server, was “you can’t go wrong with melted cheese.”
For the entree, Jennifer enjoyed the Bellwether Farms Ricotta Cavatelli with a poached farm egg, local asparagus, wild mushrooms, and pecorino pepato, while I savored the Liberty Farms duck breast with green garlic risotto, crispy artichokes, and ver jus. Choosing a wine varietal that would sing with both of these dishes was not a challenge: Pinot Noir was the clear choice. Selecting the bottle, though, is not always easy. Part of the fun of going out to dinner is to try different wines. While we could have taken a stab at one of the many Pinot Noirs on the list, we often like to get the guidance of a wine director or sommelier and discover something new. We quickly overlooked the Burgundy page because of the prices (I love Burgundy wines, but they’re too expensive to “try out,” especially with the restaurant markup) and inquired about California Pinots. Failla Sonoma Coast was tempting, as was the Lynmar Russian River (our winemaker Chris Nelson worked there previously) and the Clos Saron, a Pinot Noir from the Sierra Foothills (we’re very intrigued about this wine region). But having read a few articles about David Hirsch and his extraordinary vineyard in the Sonoma Coast (located just three miles from the ocean, at a 1500 feet elevation), I was keen on trying more Hirsch wines when I had the chance. Zack, who was helping us with the wine choices, recommended we try the “Moss Room Blend,” a small production (50 cases) Pinot Noir from Hirsch Vineyard blended by the Moss Room’s beverage director. Apparently only five other restaurants or retailers got the opportunity to make their own blend with Hirsch’s grapes.
So, given all that information and the fact that Hirsch farms his vineyard in 60 different blocks because of the varying soil characteristics and climate conditions in this wild location along the coast, we had to try it. It was a 2007, but with decanting it didn’t take long to open up. The color was a transparent ruby red, with a touch of crimson. The nose had a nice floral and strawberry high note, with a hint of earth. The palate showed fresh raspberries up front with a sour cherry finish on the back. Good acidity and fine, yet forgiving tannins gave it the right structure to complement our dishes. Between the mushrooms in Jennifer’s dish and the duck in mine, we had a lot of earthy flavors going on, so the wine balanced them out beautifully.
We savored the wine and lingered at our table while other couples came and went. It was impossible to ignore the fantastic dessert menu. Jennifer loved her creme fraiche panna cotta with farmer’s market organic strawberries. Brian had the dark chocolate hazelnut cake and deemed it delicious as well. We were happy to have finally checked out the Moss Room and hope to return soon.