Sampling English Wine at London’s Wine Pantry by Jennifer

ImageLast month during a family vacation, we spent a few days in London and as we tend to do when we’re traveling, we made a point to seek out some interesting wine. Oftentimes that includes searching for local wines – even in the most unlikely places, like across the pond in Ireland. No matter where you are, there seem to be more vineyards and wineries popping up. England is no stranger to wine, as over 400 vineyards exist in the country and its wine industry is quite respected.

After perusing a random travel brochure from the hotel, we found a mention of the Wine Pantry, a shop/tasting room that focuses exclusively on English wines. Located in Borough Market, a foodie-filled zone packed with produce shops, artisan bakers, and chocolate purveyors, the Wine Pantry occupies a tiny sliver of a space on Stoney Street. Its shelves are piled high with English wine and visitors are invited to taste samples in the shop. Some customers spill out onto the the few seats available on the adjacent sidewalk. According to its website, it’s “the only exclusively English wine shop” and it is devoted to spreading the gospel of English wine.


We visited on a January evening and were invited to sample a selection of wines that were being offered from their wine dispensing machine. They started us off by opening up an English sparkling wine, which we savored while chatting a bit with our hosts, two young and accommodating English oenophiles. So accommodating that they entertained our 6-year old while being peppered with questions from us and other wine geeks.

The sparkling wines were very approachable with apple and pear flavors. Sparkling wines are definitely a forté for the English winemakers. After the sparklers, we tried two different rosés, one very pale salmon in color, and the other a very light strawberry color. Both were great representations of the different styles you can conjure from rosé wines. We tried two or three bacchus-based wines side by side to see the differences and did the same sort of comparison with English pinot noir (including a Three Choirs Pinot Noir). One Pinot (we forget the name) was a little lighter in style with some nice strawberry flavors while the Three Choirs had a little more depth to it and was showing some more oak.

Wine Pantry UK

Wineglass chandelier at the Wine Pantry UK

All of the wines were a delicious introduction to English wine and we had a hard time deciding on the perfect bottle to take home. We ended up with a bottle of 2006 Breaky Bottom Cuvée Reservée Brut made from seyval blanc. It was highly recommended by Julia, one of the hosts, and we knew that when we bust this one out at a dinner party that just by name it would instantly be recognized as an English wine.

After quenching our thirst – on a fairly chilly evening – we were ready to have a warm meal. Julia recommended a nice local restaurant nearby, Elliot’s Cafe in the Borough Market. Once we stepped in we felt instantly at home – this could have been a small farm-to-fork restaurant in San Francisco, just with different local ingredients. The food and the people were equally welcoming. We ended up chatting with a family sitting next to us, the father being the designer of the restaurant. We even got a quick tour of the kitchen downstairs, where there were a couple of pig’s heads sitting in brine. We wish we had found this neighborhood earlier in our trip. Alas, it was our last night, so we ended the trip on a high note!

Our trip to Borough Market got us out of the tourist zones of London and provided a great opportunity to try a range of wines from the growing English wine scene and get a feel for the neighborhood restaurant action. Perhaps on our next visit we’ll get the chance to travel outside of London in order to visit one of the hundreds of vineyards in the U.K. Until then, we have our bottle of Breaky Bottom.

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.

Open That Bottle Night 2011: Table for Two by valleyfog
Open That Bottle Night 2011

The wines: Fleury Champagne and Vynfields Pinot Noir

It was dinner for two this year for us on Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) 2011. In the past, we have gathered friends together and shared multiple bottles of wine, but this year it was just Ms. Waits and Mr. Mast enjoying some good wine together. It had been a busy beginning of the year and we had just had Brian’s teenage nieces visiting for a week, so we didn’t have our act together this time around. Alas, there’s always each other and it was nice to sit down to a delicious meal, open some great wines and debrief on our week.

Jennifer has been very much on the sparkling wine track these days, so we knew that one of the wines would be Champagne. Jennifer’s choice was a NV Blanc de Noir Brut from Fleury, a smaller grower in Courteron, France in the Champagne region. Given that we are pinot noir lovers, we were excited that this was an all-pinot sparkler. This was a recent acquisition and Jennifer was eager to try it out. It was given to her by someone who was listening to her radio show (Jennifer’s alter-ego is a DJ at a local college/community radio station here in the Bay Area) when Jennifer was playing an old vinyl wine instruction record from winemaker/wine educator/UC Davis graduate Bern Ramey. We’ve written in the past here about the parallels and overlaps of wine and music, so this was just another example of that interplay.

Vintage Instructional Wine Record- "Bern Ramey on Wine"

Brian’s choice was a 2002 pinot noir from Vynfields, a small winery in Martinborough, New Zealand. We had visited Martinborough and stayed at Vynfields’ guest house when we were touring New Zealand in 2004. The Victorian guest house – not on the winery property itself – had a wonderful garden in the back with fresh fava beans, herbs and other produce and flowers growing in the back. We remember foraging for dinner fixings one afternoon and there was nothing more relaxing than shelling freshly picked fava beans for that night’s dinner.

We were also inspired by the owners – John Bell and Kaye McAulay – and their transition from previous careers to winemakers and winery owners. Little did we know that a year later, we would start our own winemaking venture. The Vynfields bottle was one of eight bottles we managed to smuggle back into the States from this trip (the limit is 1 liter). We’re not sure if they export to this country, so it was definitely special and waiting in the wings to be opened.

The meal: cocoa-dusted pork tenderloin

Wine must be paired with food, though, so on the menu was a cocoa-coffee-spice dusted pork tenderloin, served with a farro-bacon-arugula salad and green beans (yeah, just green beans…lost the creativity at that point.) As dinner was being prepared, we cracked open the Fleury. It had a wonderful nose – yeasty and toasty – and a brisk palate with hints of pear and light cherry fruit. It was a nice foil for the farro salad with its acidic and nutty components.

The Vynfields pinot noir, after the sediment settled once it was right-sided, was surprisingly transparent. Also surprising was its tartness and acidity. The nose was earthy and herbal and showed such New Zealand typicity with its aridn notes. The palate was brisk with light cherry and strawberry. This pinot has lots of layers and was enormously satisfying after all these years. Yes, we know, an 02 isn’t that old, but with new world wines, you never know. Its earthiness matched well with the warm spices of the seared pork tenderloin.

So why were we not drinking a Waits-Mast wine on OTBN? That is a question we often ask about other winemakers – don’t they drink their own wine all the time? Yes, when they’re being interviewed by Food & Wine magazine they say they had their latest vintage (hey, if we ever get interviewed by F&W we’d do the same!), but we all want to keep exploring and enjoying lots of different wines. And yes, we drink our own wines pretty regularly, but part of being a good winemaker is exploring the spectrum of senses to inform our ever-evolving palates. That, and we have a boat-load of wine in our basement and somebody’s got to drink it!

Thanks to Dorothy Gaither and John Brecher for coming up with the idea of OTBN, giving us an annual (if not more often) excuse to finally open that bottle we’ve always been meaning to. Remember, wine is for drinking, not saving forever. So, drink up and enjoy your bottles (and hopefully they include one of ours!)

2004: Brian foraging for dinner at Vynfields "villa," Martinborough, NZ

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.

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 4 – Winery Open Houses by valleyfog

The welcoming committee at the Londer Vineyards Open House. Photo by Jennifer Waits

The one part of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival that we have participated in consistently year after year is the winery open houses at the festival’s conclusion. This year’s event took place on Sunday, May16th at various wineries throughout Anderson Valley .

Since Waits-Mast doesn’t have a tasting room in the valley (or anywhere), we take the opportunity to enjoy the day and visit with our friends at the wineries.

Wineries don’t charge tasting fees that day, they open up library selections and always roll out special food pairings to enhance the enjoyment of all that great wine. Some wineries that don’t have a formal tasting room will open up their doors just for the day, so it can be a rare opportunity to visit the winery and meet with the winemaker and their staff (which often includes family members).

After fortifying ourselves with breakfast at the Boonville General Store (tip: get there early when it’s a busy weekend and be prepared to wait), we felt it was appropriate to start our Sunday with sparkling wine. So off to Roederer we went, where they poured a variety of sparkling and still wines. They always pour a standard bottle and a magnum of the same wine side-by-side so that tasters can compare the two; this year we were able to compare and contrast their sparkling rose NV. After getting all weak in the knees about the 2002 L’Ermitage that was poured the night before, we had to try that again, and of course acquire a bottle for the cellar (filled w/pinots, but not so many sparklers).

Londer Vineyards. Photo by Jennifer Waits

After Roederer, we went to Londer’s open house at “The Barn,” which is on their property off Monte Bloyd Road. The Londers just opened up a tasting room last Fall, but also wanted to continue with their Pinot Festival tradition of doing an intimate tasting in the barn.

There was a bit of a lull when we arrived, so we were able to chat with owners Larry and Shirlee Londer as well as their winemaker Rick Davis while enjoying their wines. Shirlee had the usual delectable array of cheeses, fruits and crackers laid out for us (and for their hovering dogs, when food fell to the floor) to enjoy.

The two Londer chardonnays from Corby and Kent Ritchie (RRV) vineyards were excellent, the Ritchie showing more tropical fruit flavors and more balance despite a slightly higher oak percentage. All of their pinot noirs were incredible, with the 2007 Estate being one of our favorites. It is just being released and is dominated by darker fruits – blackberry, dark cherry – and has firm tannins, an earthy nose and a balanced finish.

Foggy afternoon view from Baxter. Photo by Jennifer Waits

One of Brian’s favorite open houses from last year’s festival was at Baxter Winery, so he was excited to take Jennifer and his sister there this year. So after Londer, we continued on up Elk-Greenwood Road to drive up to the Baxter property, which is typically not open to the public. Winemaker Phil Baxter was ready and waiting with a long lineup of wines to taste. We focused on the pinots, which included four from 2006 and three from 2007.

Since it was nearing lunchtime, we were pleased to find a delicious meal waiting for us on tables set with Provencal-like linens, overlooking the hills. While we enjoyed lamb sliders and orzo salad, Phil’s wife Claire joined us and shared one of her favorite poems, Heaven, by Rupert Brooke. She had seen one of our poetry selections at our table during the grand tasting, and loved the connection of wine and poetry.

Jennifer along with Brian's sister Cece enjoy the afternoon at Baxter Winery. Photo by Brian Mast

The day was beautiful and we just lingered with the wonderful wine, food and company at Baxter for the rest of the afternoon.

All of their single vineyard pinots are amazing. Each one is different, representing the terroir of the vineyards they are sourcing from in Anderson Valley and Comptche.

Baxter is actually where we first heard of and tasted a wine from Oppenlander vineyard, a site in Comptche from which we later sourced fruit for one of our 2009 Waits-Mast Pinot Noirs. Located in Mendocino County outside of Anderson Valley, Comptche is situated between the valley and the coast.  Both of Baxter’s 2006 and 2007 Pinots from Oppenlander vineyard had great length, a mix of red and dark fruit, a nice earthy nose and a hint of cocoa on the finish.

While we wanted to explore other open houses — Elke, Esterlina and Foursight were tempting, among others — the visit to Baxter was so satisfying that we decided to quit while we were ahead and head back to San Francisco before nightfall.

We’ll look forward to next year’s festival and will definitely be up in Anderson Valley again this year as we source fruit for our 2010 vintage.

To catch up on the rest of the weekend, see our posts on Part 1 (Technical Conference and BBQ), Part 2 (Grand Tasting), and Part 3 (Winemaker Dinner).

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Recap: Part 1- Technical Conference and BBQ by Jennifer

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2010 Begins

Wow. What a great weekend we had in Anderson Valley for the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.

We’ve been going to the festival off and on since 2002. The first three years that we went, we attended the Technical Conference, winemaker dinners, and the Sunday winery Open Houses.

The Technical Conference has always been a highlight for us, as we learned more and more every year about the science of winemaking and grape growing, wine marketing, and food pairing. You can see Brian’s recap of the 2009 Technical Conference here.

This year, for the first time since 2005, both of us were able to attend not only the Technical conference, but also a winemaker dinner, the grand tasting, and open houses. It was an amazing immersion into the world of Pinot Noir and it’s always fun to see friends at the festival, both winemakers and wine drinkers.

The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference on Friday, May 14, was organized a bit differently, as they opened up the afternoon sessions to consumers, with a line-up of speakers that was less technical than in the morning. The entire event was MC’d by wine writer Jordan Mackay, author of Passion for Pinot.

Getting Technical in the A.M.

Held at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, the conference began early in the morning with a presentation by Tony Linegar of the Mendocino County Agricultural Commission about the European Grapevine Moth.

Tony provided the attendees with breaking news about this damaging, grape eating pest, which was found just a few weeks prior in North Ukiah Valley near a winery. He said that more than 1200 traps have been placed throughout Mendocino County and said that he was confident that the traps work. He expressed concern about Anderson Valley, but stated that so far no months have been found and that the county is not part of any quarantine yet.

Tony speculated that the moth may have arrived in Ukiah on fruit from Napa County and warned that any fruit and vineyard equipment coming from outside of Mendocino County should be scrutinized for evidence of the moth or larvae. Although he said that he was worried about Anderson Valley, he pointed out that “your strength is your isolation.” He also addressed rumors about how the grapevine moth came into the United States (it was first detected in September 2009) and said that there’s no answer yet, although there is an ongoing investigation, with rumors pointing to equipment from Italy or illegally imported cuttings brought in by a grower in Napa. He said that because of the arrival of this moth, every vineyard in the state of California is being trapped and quarantines are in effect for fruit leaving affected areas. Vineyards are advised to inspect fruit coming in from outside of their regions and are asked to power wash or steam clean harvesting equipment to remove all plant material.

The remaining morning presentations focused on the physiology of fruit maturation and on how terroir, clones and winery techniques work to affect mouthfeel in a wine. Things got pretty technical in both presentations, but I appreciated winemaker Greg LaFolette’s insertion of humor into his talk, with quips about “scrotal berries,” “Samsonite selections,” and his remark on disease prevention: “We just don’t want to be bringing the clap into our neck of the woods.”

2009 Barrel Samples

Before lunch we tasted some Pinot Noir barrel samples from the 2009 vintage in order to discuss some of the concepts that we covered in the final presentation before lunch.

Then, the assembled participants (as well as consumers arriving for the afternoon) were invited outside for a lunch of pulled pork sandwiches and accompaniments. It’s the tradition to bring along a bottle of wine to share at lunch and this year people were encouraged to share Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from 2008. We brought a bottle of our 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard and plopped it in the Gazebo along with the other offerings.

After lunch Jim Klein of Navarro Vineyards led a tasting of older wines, including Navarro Pinot Noir from 1991, 1994, and 2000. Although the crowd seemed to enjoy these older wines, Jim said that he tends to be more focused on what he’s currently working on as opposed to wines of the past, saying that to him older wines are “like an octogenarian actress” trotted out and propped up at an awards show. He added, “Most of us don’t age gracefully…it’s sort of like elder porn.” The wines from Navarro, as well as the next set of wines were also matched with an appropriate food pairing.

Pulled Pork Lunch with Gazebo Action in Background

Up next was a tasting focused on the wines made from Rich Savoy’s famed Savoy Vineyard. Along with Rich Savoy, panelists included Eric Sussman from Radio-Coteau, Mike Sullivan from Benovia and Scott Shapley (our former winemaker!) from Roessler.

As we tasting through 2006 and 2007 Pinot Noirs from Savoy Vineyards, the panelists talked about the characteristics of the vineyard and the resulting wines.

Eric said that he appreciated that the vineyard has “a lot of different clonal material to work with” and Scott pointed out that it’s “the most complex site” that he’s worked with when making wines for Roessler, since there are a variety of blocks with different characteristics.

Rich also spoke a little about his other vineyard, Deer Meadows, which is one of the vineyards that we sourced from in 2009. Located up at 1600 feet (compared with the Savoy Vineyard located just off highway 128), Deer Meadows will be used in a few vineyard designate wines this year.

What's in Those Glasses?

The next presentation featured Dan Sogg (formerly of The Wine Spectator) talking about the merits and drawbacks of the 100 point scale for wine ratings.

He pointed out that even though he has some “ambivalence” about the scale, it is “THE industry standard” and “everyone understands it.” He explained that the 100 point system is “brilliant wine marketing” in that it “touches our desire for control.”

He also suggested that everyone participate in a blind wine tasting in which wines are scored and then bottles are rearranged and scored again. Dan explained that the order in which we taste can have a profound effect on how we rate a wine and demonstrated by having the audience taste 2 juices. Half of the room tried orange juice first and the other half tried grapefruit first. In this unscientific test, we saw that those who tried grapefruit juice first were more likely to prefer it and those who tried orange juice first were more likely to prefer the orange juice. He argued that a wine’s position in a tasting matters, just as the position of the fruit juice had an effect on the conference attendees.

Dan also argued that since people are “hard-wired” to notice “change,” bigger, richer wines tend to stand out more in tastings and that subtle wines don’t tend to do as well. The downside of this is that high scoring wines aren’t always the best wines for the long haul. Dan said that these wines often age badly and that “Many of the highest scoring wines don’t play well with others…and hog the table” due to their bold style.

Small Bottles from DeLoach

He added that that trying 70 different wines in one day and judging them isn’t “very useful” and argued that very few people can “make consistent judgments” when trying that many wines in a day. Dan also said that when wines are judged by a group panel (vs. by a single taster), the ensuing ratings are flawed like a “horse designed by committee.”

The final session of the day was an overview of a new service that launched on May 3rd called Through this company, small 50ml sample bottles of wine can be produced as both a marketing tool and a method for sharing samples with potential customers. These small bottles can also be bundled into boxed tasting kits containing a handful of bottles. Interestingly, this is quite similar to the previously launched Crushpad service TinyBottles.

After a full day of information and imbibing, we headed over to Standish for the post-conference BBQ. We caught up with some friends who we see every year at the festival, ate some delicious food, and again sampled from the bottles brought to the event by the attendees. It was a great start to the festival.

Jennifer soaks up the sun at the BBQ after a day of geeking out at the technical conference

2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Tickets Now on Sale by valleyfog

May 14-16, 2010

Tickets for the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival go on sale today. The festival runs Friday, May 14 through Sunday May 16, 2010 in Mendocino County, with most of the events happening in Boonville and Philo and all along Highway 128. Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be pouring its Anderson Valley pinot noirs, including our 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir, at the Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 15 from 11am – 3pm at Goldeneye Winery.

One of our favorite parts of the festival is the technical conference, which runs most of the day on Friday. It is a great opportunity to “geek out” on winegrowing and winemaking and also taste some great wines. This year the festival is adding a Consumer Tasting Seminar to the technical conference in the afternoon. This is ideal for attendees not interested in the more technical sessions or those unable to make it up for the 8am start of the conference.

There are also four winemaker dinners worth checking out, featuring wineries like Handley, Phillips Hill, Roederer Estate, MacPhail, Goldeneye and others. These are a real treat because they are small, intimate and often feature library wines. At every table there is a winemaker that you can chat with, so it’s a great way to get to know the people that make these wonderful wines.

Hein Family Vineyard in Anderson Valley, near Philo, CA.

Get your tickets earlier than later because many of the events, especially the technical conference and the winemaker dinners, sell out early.

The Grand Tasting usually limits the number of attendees to around 650 or so, to keep it from getting too crazy. Also plan to spend most of the day on Sunday in the valley because the open houses, which are free, are fantastic. They often feature library wines and great food and wine pairings. Some of our favorite stops include Londer, Mary Elke, Baxter and Esterlina. In other words, take Monday off to recover! We’ll see you up there in May!

Irish Wine Travel, Part 1: Our Visit to Lusca Vineyards in Ireland by Jennifer

Lusca Vineyards in Ireland

This Sunday we’ll be celebrating our Irish heritage at the event, When Irish Wines are Smiling, up in Rutherford.

Although it’s billed as an Irish wine tasting, the wine being poured is from U.S. winemakers of Irish descent.

There’s a long tradition of Irish emigrants (known as “wine geese“) starting up wine making ventures all over the world, and subsequently wineries with a distinct Irish heritage can be found from France (Chateau Lynch Bages) to Napa (Sullivan Vineyards) to Australia (Jas Hennessy & Co.).

As we gear up for that event, we figured it was time to taste some of the REAL Irish wine that we brought back with us from the Emerald Isle. When Brian and I were planning our trip to Ireland last summer, I became obsessed with tracking down wineries, vineyards, and winemakers. I’d heard rumors that there were a few brave souls attempting to grow grapes in Ireland’s hostile climate (rain, clouds, cold, little sun) and I made it my mission to find them.

Armed with the handy reference guide, The Wines of Britain and Ireland, I tried to make contact with the owners of the 5 vineyards listed. We managed to visit 2 of them (it’s unclear if the others even exist anymore), bringing back wine from both.

David Llewellyn at Lusca Vineyards

Last weekend we tasted 2 selections from David Llewellyn’s Lusca Vineyard, located in the countryside of Lusk, just north of Dublin.

David started working with vineyards 10 years ago and was originally “bitten by the bug” while working with a vine grower in Germany.

In Spring 2003 he planted vines and apples on his current property in Lusk. Although he has some traditional, open-air vines which are “not very productive,” the majority of David’s vineyards are housed in tunnels. Some of the challenges he faces include grapes that rarely ripen (in open air) and crop-destroying wasps that will decimate the vineyard if they discover ripening fruit. The first commercial release from Lusca Vineyard was the 2005 vintage.

Although his wine making venture is notable, it’s a tiny fraction of David’s overall farming business, as he has quite a reputation for his apples, apple juice and cider. Last year he only made several hundred bottles of wine, which he sells at Farmer’s Markets, in a few restaurants, and directly to customers. In the near future one will also be able to purchase Lusca wines from David’s soon-to-be-launched website Fruit and Vine.

Grapes on the Vine at Lusca Vineyards, Ireland

It was amazing for us to see the sheer numbers of grape varietals that he squeezed into his tunnels in Lusk.

David is growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Schoenburger, New York Muscat, Pinot Noir, and Dunkelfelder under cover. According to David, these vines are “summer-protected with over-row polythene cloche.”

His open-air vines include Rondo, Regent, Phoenix, and Madeleine Angevine grapes and David has successfully produced wine from these vineyards as well (a 2006 red wine).

The wines of his that we sampled last weekend were a refreshing, lemony 2006 Lusca Sauvignon Blanc and a 2007 Lusca Cabernet/Merlot. Both were produced from grapes grown under cover and they were very limited production (80 bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc and 250 bottles of the Cabernet/Merlot were made). They were both pleasant to drink and we even enjoyed the chilled Sauvignon Blanc a day later, which Brian described as crisp and acidic, with light pear flavors.

We were so impressed by David’s passion for winemaking and he’s truly a renegade in Ireland. Since he isn’t part of a winemaking community and is making such small quantities of wine, he has to be creative about ways to save on labor and expense. For example, he has one wine label and simply hand-writes the name of the wine and vintage on each bottle. He has his own crusher and press, but doesn’t make enough wine to justify using barrels (so he uses glass or plastic containers for storage and adds oak chips to his red wines).

Lusca Irish Wine

David prided himself on the fact his grapes are grown organically and are disease-free without the use of fungicides. He also doesn’t filter his wines. He recognizes that there are nay-sayers who critique his method of growing, but he pointed out that every winemaker makes choices and he questioned whether or not using fungicide could also be considered “cheating.”

Since we’re focused entirely on Pinot Noir in our own winemaking endeavors, I asked him a bit about his efforts with that grape. He told us that he just has a few Pinot Noir vines, currently not enough to make wine from. His plan is to plant more Pinot Noir and is anticipating a harvest in 2011 for wine in 2012.

To get some more perspective on winemaking in Ireland, I talked to Stephen Skelton, author of The Wines of Britain and Ireland and UK Vineyards Guide 2010. According to Stephen, there are only 3 Irish vineyards listed in his current guide. He explained that some of the older vineyards in Ireland (rumor has it that some date to the 1950s) were just not productive enough. According to Stephen, “Basically Ireland is too cool and wet. They can grow some apples there, but its mainly Bramleys which are cookers and do not require that much sugar, and growing grapes outside would be difficult.”

He added that, “Tunnels are legitimate and there is nothing in the law that says wine grapes have to be grown outside. One of the best UK reds – Beenleigh – is made from Cab and Merlot grown in tunnels.”

Kudos to David Llellewyn for his commitment to making wine in Ireland. Although most people think it’s crazy to even try, I admire his perseverance and I’m always one to champion the underdog. I’m reminded of a comment that I read about Tool front man Maynard James Keenan’s Arizona wine making project (chronicled in the film “Blood into Wine”). Someone quipped, “why doesn’t he just make wine in Napa.” Well….isn’t that the point?

Winter/Spring 2010 Wine Tasting Events Calendar by valleyfog

We’ve got a busy Winter and Spring line up of wine tasting events coming up, so we wanted to share with you with the latest calendar listings. We’ll update this as we add more events for the Summer and Fall.

Tasting Events:

February 18, 2010, 4:30 – 7:30 pm
Local Winemakers’ Tasting, Canyon Market. Waits-Mast will be pouring its gold-medal winning 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir along with other Glen Park winemakers. Cost is only $1 per pour.
Location: Canyon Market, 2815 Diamond Street, San Francisco

February 20, 2010, 2:00 – 5:00pm
Public Tasting of the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Try our gold-medal winning wine, the 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, along with other medal winners from the competition.
Location: the Festival Pavilion in Fort Mason, San Francisco.

March 14, 2010

March 14, 2010, 2:00 – 5:00pm
When Irish Wines Are Smiling. An Irish Themed Wine & Food tasting featuring wines from Irish owned, named and ancestry wineries served alongside freshly prepared traditional Irish Dishes & Irish Cheeses. Waits-Mast has close and deep roots in Ireland, as Brian’s mother was born and raised in Co. Louth and Brian has visited Ireland many times. Cost is $25 per person in advance, $30 at the door.
Location: Rutherford Grange Hall, Rutherford, CA

May 14 – 16, 2010
13th Annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. This is the event that really got us fired up about pinot noir. Taste Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from more than 40 wineries, geek out on Pinot Noir at the technical conference on Friday (includes lunch) and dine with the winemakers at Saturday evening dinners held in Anderson Valley and on the Mendocino coast. On Sunday, visit the wineries during their open houses for special tastings, seminars, food pairings, and more. We’d love to see you up in beautiful Anderson Valley – road trip!
Tickets go on sale on March 15, 2010.

Wentzel Vineyard in Philo, CA, Anderson Valley

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