2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 3 – The Food by valleyfog

One of the best things about the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival is the food. The options at the technical conference lunch (pulled pork sandwiches), BBQ (paella) and the Grand Tasting (grilled lamb chops) were all good, but the real treats are at the winemaker dinners on Saturday night and during winery open houses on Sunday.

Drew and Greenwood Ridge wines at the Apple Farm, Philo, CA (photo by B. Mast)

After a day of being on our feet pouring, talking and serving others at the Grand Tasting, we always enjoy sitting down and getting served at a winemaker dinner.

Of the three or four different winemaker dinners scheduled for the festival, we bought our tickets early for the dinner at the Apple Farm, with Drew Wines and Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. The dinner started with appetizers and white wines in the courtyard at the Apple Farm, a relaxed haven for slow food. Here’s the menu in full from the evening:

Olive oil tart with sweet onion and thyme

First local salmon tartare

Greenwood Ridge 2008 Riesling

Drew 2010 Albarino, Wentzel Vineyard

A soup of two peas with mint

Greenwood Ridge 2009 Sauvignon Blanc

Drew 2009 Pinot Noir, Morning Dew

Grilled & roasted leg of lamb in a coffee chile rub, creamy braised leeks and favas

Drew 2008 Ornbaun Syrah

Greenwood Ridge 2007 Merlot

A simple salad with Meyer lemon

Cheese plate

Drew 2002 Vogelzang Cabernet Franc

Citrus almond torte with kumquats and cream

Greenwood 2006 late harvest Riesling

The dinner was as delicious as the menu reads and both winemakers, Jason Drew from Drew and Allan Green from Greenwood Ridge, devoted a lot of time to visiting each table to talk about the wines.

It’s hard to imagine that we would have any room left for all the food at the open houses on Sunday, but we were up for the challenge. At the open houses being held at the different wineries in Anderson Valley, library releases and magnums (1.5L bottles) are poured alongside a tempting array of pinot-friendly foods. And since we don’t have a tasting room in the valley, and frankly had too few wines in our inventory to pour at anyone else’s open house, Sunday is a day for us to relax and enjoy being a wine consumer.

After a quick fuel-up of coffee and pastries, we hit the trail, starting at Mary Elke’s. We were excited to see a sparkling wine open, as that is Jennifer’s favorite way to start a day of wine-tasting. The Mary Elke Brut (NV) was a perfect pairing with the savory chicken tacos being served from a taco stand from Alicia’s Restaurant that Mary had arranged. We also sniffed, swirled and spat our way through her chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir selections – all incredible wines.

We motored down to the Madrones, a new complex of tasting rooms, shops and lodging in Philo and made our way through Berridge Wines, Lula and Drew. Each were pouring wines from some vineyards and AVAs that are off the beaten path – places like Comptche (where we get fruit from Oppenlander Vineyard), Mendocino Ridge and Manchester Ridge.

Have tacos, will travel, at Elke Vineyards (photo by B. Mast)

Sundays at the open houses wouldn’t be the same without a stop at the “Barn” at Londer Vineyards. We’re making pinot noir with fruit from Londer Vineyards, so it was great to stop by and say hi to Larry and Shirlee, enjoy their wines and get a warm greeting from their dogs. David Rossi of Fulcrum Wines was also pouring at the barn as he is also purchasing fruit from the Londers. We took a detour up the hill to check on the vines and it looks like they are doing well, despite the threat of frost in early April.

We wrapped up our day of wine tasting at one of our favorite open houses up at Baxter Winery. After the long, winding drive up the hill to their homestead, we were greeted with smiles and glasses of pinot noir by Phil Baxter and his wife Claire. Other friends and family were there helping out as well, serving up the always tasty lamb sliders.

Phil Baxter in Baxter's Barrel Room (Photo: J. Waits)

After tucking in to the fine lunch and trying a few of the current releases, we escaped the somewhat blustery day by heading into the barrel room to taste some of the 2009s still finishing barrel aging. Phil ages all of his pinot noirs in neutral (no new barrels) oak and therefore the wine can (and usually needs) to stay in barrel longer. This, and other winemaking techniques, were the topic of discussion as we drifted into “shop talk” towards the end of our visit. The friendly atmosphere of Baxter was typical of what we love so much about Anderson Valley and was a great way to end the weekend before our trip back to San Francisco.

For part 1 of our pinot fest recap, focusing on the technical conference, click here. For part 2 on the Grand Tasting, click here. And keep an eye out for an upcoming post on our visit to Wentzel Vineyard.

Wine Tasting at Candia Vineyards in New Hampshire by Jennifer

Candia Vineyards

We’re not necessarily fans of the well-trodden paths in wine country, so whenever we travel we try to find out-of-the-way wineries in places that aren’t necessarily on the radar of most oenophile tourists.

Last summer the challenge was to find vineyards and wineries in Ireland, and against all odds we succeeded in tracking down a few, notably Lusca Vineyards in Lusk. This year we stuck closer to home for our summer vacation, traveling to New England to visit family. Although there are lots of wineries within driving distance of our home base there of Boston, we’d never ventured to any of them before.

So, on our trip back to Boston from a visit to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, we decided to stop in at a winery in southern New Hampshire. We selected Candia Vineyards because not only was it on our route, but also due to the fact that it is one of the few vineyards in the area that makes wine solely from grapes.

Vineyards at Candia

We arrived at the winery on the afternoon of Friday September 3rd, just as bits of the then-weakened Hurricane Earl were approaching New England. Skies were grey and the air was thick with humidity and it seemed to be the perfect time to escape underground. Owner and winemaker Bob Dabrowski met us in his cellar, where he not only makes his wine, but also does wine tastings with visitors pretty much daily (by appointment).

Bob first starting making wine in 1981 as a home winemaker and ramped things up by opening his commercial winery in 1999. He talked a lot about his passion for making wine from grapes (somewhat of a novelty in the area, where only 2 or 3 vineyards craft wine from 100% grapes) and mentioned that in New Hampshire they are blessed with rich, vigorous soil.

Part of the tasting lineup

Bob offered up tastes of 9 different wines, which included Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Chardonnay, Marquette, Noiret (he was the first to grow this grape in New Hampshire), Classic Cab, Gewurtztraminer, Diamond, and Black Ice. Visitors to the tasting room are invited to try tastes of any 6 open wines for $4 and are allowed to take the tasting glass home with them. Retail prices for his wines range from $12 to $29 a bottle.

It was a treat for us to try some varietals that we’d never sampled before (like the peppery Noiret) and we were particularly taken by the just-released Black Ice. Bob wouldn’t reveal the blend of grapes used in this delicious ice wine, but to our palates it had a lovely sweet fig taste which we can hardly wait to pair with the perfect dessert.

Thanks again to Bob for his hospitality. We look forward to our next visit to New England so that we can sample the wines at other local wineries. There are lots to choose from, as the New Hampshire Winery Association website lists 18 members, including vineyards, wineries, mead and cider producers, and distilleries. Another great resource for information about wine in New England is the The New England Wine Gazette. In the issue that we picked up, there were a range of articles about the winemaking scene on the East Coast, including maps and listings of wineries in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

New York Magazine Tour of Mendocino County: More Tips by valleyfog


Wentzel Vineyard in Philo, CA, Anderson Valley

New York Magazine‘s Adam Graham posted a great online tour of Mendocino County on Thursday and mentioned our ValleyFogBlog. Offering a more interesting, rugged alternative to Napa, the tour points out some great out-of-the-way places to visit throughout the county. Jennifer and I have been visiting Mendocino County for many years, our first romantic weekend getaway being up on the Mendocino coast. It was these travels and the many stops at Anderson Valley wineries that got us so enchanted with Pinot Noir and this region.

In addition to the excellent recommendations in the article, we also have some other personal faves in Mendocino County:

Commanding views at The Other Place, above Anderson Valley

Commanding views at The Other Place, above Anderson Valley

Lodging: Anderson Valley Inn in Philo (roomy, good rates), Boonville Hotel (great bungalows in addition the main rooms) and the Other Place (vacation rental with spectacular views, kitchen, living room, etc.). For larger houses or cottages to rent, check out Shoreline Vacation Rentals and other vacation rental services listed on

Restaurants: The Boonville Hotel and McCallum House are definitely our two favorites, but for Anderson Valley visitors, Lauren’s Cafe in Boonville and Libby’s Mexican restaurant in Philo provide tasty alternatives. Along the coast from Elk to Fort Bragg, there are a number of other great restaurants – too many to mention here. For breakfast in Ft. Bragg, though, Eggheads, with full-on Wizard of Oz motif, is a must.

Wineries: Again, the article lists some of our favorites, but here are a few more in Anderson Valley: Elke, Baxter, Phillips Hill, Claudia Springs, Roederer Estate, Handley and Navarro. Any that aren’t mentioned here are also well worth visiting and exploring. Go to the Anderson Valley Winegrower’s site for a full listing of wineries in the Valley and those, like Waits-Mast, Roessler and others, that make wine from the region. Just up the road is Hopland, where there are a number of good wineries, including Milano Family Winery.

Mendo Bot Gardens

Serene coastal path at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens

Oddball Day: the article mentions some out-of-the way places in Mendocino County that visitors may not find in the guidebooks. When we’re not pouring at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival or poking around the village of Mendocino, we like to drive further up the coast. Our companion along the way is community radio station KZYX out of Philo. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the call-in swap show Trading Time – it is truly a slice of Mendocino, with locals unloading old beat-up trucks and other quirky items. We then may stop at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens and take a stroll out to the coast on a path that winds through coastal redwoods. We’ll then wind our way up to Fort Bragg and stop in at some of our favorite vintage shops, including the Ark Thrift Store (benefits the local humane society and often has pets roaming the place) and Mendocino Vintage which is full of great old books, records and kitchenware. If we’re in the mood for a little more wine tasting, we may go further north to one of the most scenic wineries around, Pacific Star Winery. Sheep roam the coastal property and the tasting room has great views of the dramatic North Coast.

Makes us want to hop in the car and take another visit! Enjoy Mendocino County and the Anderson Valley and if you want to try our wines from Anderson Valley, drop us a line or go to our website at

Wineries in Texas? Yes! Discovering Times Ten Cellars in Dallas by Jennifer

x10 Cellars in Dallas, TexasWhenever we travel out of town we’re on the lookout for wine bars and wineries, especially when visiting places not typically regarded as wine destinations.

Last week we found ourselves in Dallas, Texas with a few hours to kill on a Sunday afternoon and our first instinct was to track down a wine bar for a quick bite to eat. Serendipitously, the one wine bar that was open at 3pm on a Sunday also happened to be a functioning winery.

Times Ten Cellars operates a gorgeous tasting room out of a former post office location from the 1940s. It’s located in a residential neighborhood and its customers primarily draw from the surrounding area. In fact, the afternoon of our visit they were setting up for an event in their tasting room, as one of their regular customers was going to use the beautiful setting for their wedding.

Before the festivities began, we sampled some wines from both California and Texas and got the chance to tour x10 Cellars’ onsite winery. Design-wise, it was an amazing space; probably the most glamorous winery we’d ever seen. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling of the barrel room and from the tasting room one could look through large windows into the clearly labeled laboratory, barrel room, and tank room. Barrel Room at x10

At the tasting bar one can sample wines crafted by x10 Cellars, which at this stage primarily consists of wines made in Texas using grapes imported from California. As one of only four wineries in Dallas, x10 also makes wine from their own 7 acre vineyard.

Located in Alpine, Texas, Cathedral Mountain Vineyards was planted in 2004 with primarily Spanish and Rhone varietals, including Grenache, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mouvedre, and Petit Sirah and had its first crop in 2006. The vineyard was chosen for its high desert location at 4800 feet and for its volcanic soil.

We began our tasting with a sample of the only sparkling wine from Texas (and the only wine we tried that was not made by x10). With its winery located in Lubbock, Texas, La Diosa‘s sparkling wine is crafted with Chenin Blanc grapes and was a lovely start to our tasting as it was crisp and refreshing, with hints of apple.

In terms of the x10 wines, we sampled a wide range of reds and whites; all with different labels utilizing a chair motif. According to our host, “chairs, like wine, have a unique personality,” so specific chair imagery was chosen to identify each wine. For example, the 2008 Lake County (CA) Rose had a drawing of a french bistro chair on the label; whereas a 2007 Sonoma Pinot Noir featured the picture of a vintage arm chair.


Tasting the 2008 Times Ten Cellars Rose in Dallas

Everything we tried was quite tasty, from the yellow cake batter-scented 2008 Lake County Rose made from Syrah grapes, to the chocolate-kissed 2005 Petit Sirah from five old vine vineyards in Napa (only 4 cases left) that we couldn’t leave without.

We also really loved their 2007 Pinot Noir from Sonoma and a number of their other reds.

We particularly enjoyed the first wine crafted from their very own vineyard in Texas. The 2007 Cathedral Mountain Vineyard Vino de Tierra Alta Texas Red Wine is a blend of 5 grapes: mainly tempranillo, syrah and grenache with a splash of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. It was a wonderful wine and a nice reminder of what wine is all about – exploration and discovery, the sweetest discovery being the unexpected and the seemingly uncharted territory.

With x10’s first full harvest this year, it will be interesting to explore their full line up of Texas wines in the years to come.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival: Day 3 by valleyfog
Brian sampling Black Kite Pinot Noir in the middle of Kite's Rest Vineyard

Brian sampling Black Kite Pinot Noir in the middle of Kite's Rest Vineyard

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).

Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche (photo credit: Surprise Valley Ranch, Inc.)

Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche (photo credit: Surprise Valley Ranch, Inc.)

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.PH-Label-Marguerite-07

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!

NOTE: To see previous posts on this Festival, click on these links: Day 2, part I; Day 2, part II; Day 1

Central Coast Tastings: SLO & Arroyo Grande by valleyfog
Wrapping up our Labor Day vacation in the Central Coast, we decided to squeeze in a few more wine tastings. We focused on those close to San Luis Obispo, where we were staying. Returning to Talley was a must – we went there on our honeymoon and they are a great Pinot Noir producer. I wanted to check out Baileyana, as I’d never been there before and the winemaker, Burgundian native Christian Roguenant, has his imprint on a number of different labels (including Alma Rosa). And Jennifer was jonesing for some sparklers, so we capped off the day at Laetitia, the premier sparkling wine maker in the Central Coast.
Marya Figueroa)

Baileyana tasting room, the historic Independence Schoolhouse, on Orcutt Road in San Luis Obispo. (photo: Marya Figueroa)

We started at Baileyana in the mid-morning and luckily for us the place was empty – the calm before the storm (read: stretch SUV limos and drunkards!). The owners also have a white-wine focused effort called tangent, so both Baileyana and tangent are poured in the same tasting room. We tried one of the tangent wines – Ecclestone, a blend of different white varietals, including Viognier, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and others. It was very refreshing, had a nice medium weight on the palate with lovely apricot and tangerine notes. I was most focused on the Pinot Noir, so I zeroed in on the 2006 Baileyana Grand Firepeak Cuvee. As suspected, it had a more Burgundian profile. The nose had a touch of earth and the palate showed red cherry, dark cherry and some clove. Good structure – still tightly wound, but there was definitely a lot going on. This is a well-made Pinot and one that should do well in the cellar.

We ambled over to Talley Vineyards next. The tasting bar is huge, with four to five sides and at least four people behind the bar. This was good because the SUV limo rolled in right after we did, so there was plenty of room for all. Plus they had a basket of toys for our Miss B to play with – bonus points for any winery that offers toys. Talley offers a number of different wines to try, so the choices can be overwhelming. Luckily they made it easy on us, as this weekend they were releasing their latest Pinot Noirs and had a flight of five different Pinot Noirs to taste. They were all amazing, but our favorites (all 2006) were the Edna Valley, Stone Corral Vineyard and the Rincon Vineyard. The Rosemary’s Vineyard was also delicious but needed some time. The Stone Corral had a restrained bouquet, but on the palate displayed both earth and red fruits and had a great finish, where I detected a hint of coca (no, not a soupcon, just a hint). We also tasted and picked up a bottle of Mano Tinta, a Syrah blend where all the proceeds from the sale of the wine benefit a special fund for vineyard and farm workers. The Talleys have been in the Arroyo Grande community for a long time, so they do a great job of giving back to the community.

Laetitia also had a good lineup of Pinots – five in their current releases. They have even more sparkling wines. Laetitia was actually founded by Deutz, as that Champagne house was in search of one of the best sites to make Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in California. It was sold to Jean Claude Tardivat, who renamed the winery after his daughter. So given its sparkling wine heritage, Jennifer, a huge bubbly fan these days, was keen on trying them. She went for the sparkling flight, while I opted for, you guessed it, more Pinots! She really liked the 2005 Brut de Blancs, while I favored the 2006 Pinot Noir “777”, which had some good earth.

There are a ton more wineries to visit in the region, ranging from Edna Valley producers down to Santa Maria and beyond, but this was all we could squeeze in this time. A good sampling and some great bottles to pack in to our already overstuffed car.