We Have Color: Harvest 2017 Looms by Jennifer

Over the past few days, a major heatwave brought 100+ degree temperatures all over the San Francisco Bay Area and up north into Mendocino County. San Francisco reached a record high of 106 degrees and friends in Anderson Valley reported that the mercury topped out at more than 110 degrees. During our visits to all four of our Waits-Mast Family Cellars vineyard sources in Mendocino County a week ago, the weather was already hot, even at our traditionally cooler sites.

Anderson Valley on August 25, 2017. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast

Anderson Valley on August 25, 2017. Photo: J. Waits/Waits-Mast

Continue reading

Adventures in Urban Winemaking: A Tale of Two Bins by Jennifer
October 1, 2012, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Winemaking | Tags: , , ,
Two bins nestled inside a rented cargo van

Two bins nestled inside a rented cargo van

We love making wine in the city, but sometimes there are challenges inherent to being several hours away from the vineyards. People might think we’re kind of crazy, choosing to make wine in San Francisco, from some of the furthest Pinot Noir vineyards from the city. Clearly, our love for Anderson Valley and Mendocino County fruit drives us to extremes. But we love it nonetheless.

This time of year, though, logistics are incredibly tricky. With long, windy roads and last-minute picks being juggled with busy work and life schedules, it takes a village to get our fruit into the winery and processed. Luckily we work with incredible vineyard owners who typically deliver their fruit to us, even though it can be a 3-hour drive from Mendocino County to San Francisco.

Our appreciation for this generosity has skyrocketed after this weekend. We had a few pick bins that we needed to take back to Anderson Valley and we figured it would be pretty straight-forward to rent a truck for this purpose. After extensive research, Brian found the ideal truck from U-Haul and reserved it online. We arrived at a San Francisco U-Haul location at 9am on Saturday, waited in line for 20 minutes, and then learned that the reserved truck would have to be returned by 1pm, even though Brian had reserved a 24-hour rental.

Exasperated, we returned home and hit the phones in order to procure another truck. Brian was elated when he found an even cheaper rental with no mileage restrictions. After booking it, we drove 45 minutes south to Palo Alto to pick up the truck. Ironically, as we traveled along Arastradero Road in Palo Alto en route to the car rental place, we spotted vineyards that I’d never seen before. I felt like they were taunting us.

As we pulled into the lot at Alamo in Palo Alto, Brian got a call on his cell phone telling him that they didn’t have trucks at that location. At this point I started getting flashbacks to a bad Ikea parking lot incident that brought out the dark side of mild-manner Brian. Sensing his frustration, the folks at Alamo suggested that Brian rent a large cargo van instead. After taking some measurements, Brian opted for the van.

By 2pm he was nearly on his way, but determined that he could only fit 2 bins in the van, even though we had 4 bins total to return. Guess those other 2 bins will have to wait….Brian finally made it up to Anderson Valley before sundown. Because of his late arrival, he accepted a kind offer from a vineyard owner to spend the night. Our daughter’s depiction of that happy arrival is pictured below.

Vineyard drawing

Brian makes it to the vineyard with his cargo van (Drawing by B. Waits-Mast)

Spending the night proved to be a good thing, as it meant that Brian could do vineyard checks on Sunday. Anderson Valley (and the entire Bay Area) experienced a heat spike both Sunday and today, so it was an excellent chance to see how imminent harvest would be.It looks like our next round of fruit will arrive tomorrow, with more to follow this week.

2010 Vineyard Profile: Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County by Jennifer

Being Guided to the Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche. Photo by J. Waits

After crafting such a delicious wine with Oppenlander Vineyard fruit in 2009, we feel very lucky to be working with them again this year. Brian first got turned on to the vineyard last year, after tasting pinot noir crafted by Phillips Hill and Baxter from Oppenlander fruit.

Owned by the Shandel family, Oppenlander Vineyard is way off the beaten path in Mendocino County outside of the town of Comptche. It’s about 8 and a half miles from the Pacific Ocean as the crow flies at an elevation of 250 feet.

Touring Oppenlander Vineyard. October 2010.

We visited the vineyard on October 10th, just a few days before our fruit was harvested. Owner Bill Shandel showed us around the family vineyard that he owns with his brother Norman and talked to us not only about the fruit, but also about the history of the land. They are 5th generation owners of the property, which was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by their ancestors from Denmark (via the Gold Rush in Australia). The site of the vineyard was originally a meadow amid the woods. Bill told us that his great-grandfather Charles Oppenlander bought the land and then sent for his girlfriend to join him by traveling across the Isthmus of Panama.

Vintage Truck at Surprise Valley Ranch

As we looked out across this hidden vineyard amid the woods outside of the town of Comptche, it was hard to not reflect on its history and on how remote the location must have been in the 1860s, as it’s still quite remote.

The property is now known as Surprise Valley Ranch and the Shandels produce their own Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir from the vineyards, which they originally planted in 1997 (after a test plot in 1985). We’re sourcing our fruit (114 clone) for our single-vineyard Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from a section of the vineyard that was planted in 1999.

On the property we also saw lots of brambly berry bushes, from which the Shandels create wild Himalayan blackberry jam. Bill gave us a couple of jars of it after we wrapped up our vineyard tour, so we’re looking forward to sharing it with our family on Thanksgiving. Vineyard-owner crafted jam has become a holiday tradition for us ever since we first got a hold of Shirlee Londer’s raspberry jam. It’s an interesting coincidence that jam-making operations seem to go hand-in-hand with many of the vineyards that we are sourcing from this year; so we are eagerly anticipating our family’s Londer vs. Oppenlander jam tasting at the Thanksgiving table in a few weeks. In the meantime, watch this space for our next post, which will delve into the details of the Oppenlander harvest and crush.

“Bangin’ Juice” at Pinot Days Chicago 2009 by Jennifer
Pinot Days Chicago 2009

Pinot Days Chicago 2009

After a busy harvest at the winery focused on sorting, crushing and pressing, we were ready to get out and pour our wines. It reminds us of why we do this – to see the smiles on people’s faces and enjoy the festive atmosphere at our table when people try our wine.

So this weekend, we traveled out for the 3rd annual Pinot Days Chicago to launch new wines and meet up with old friends. It was our second time pouring at the event, and once again it served up lots of happy Chicagoans and colorful compliments.

The event began with a tasting just for the wine, food and hospitality trade from 11 am to 1pm. It was a nice way to meet potential customers from wine shops, restaurants, bars and distributors.

But, since it was relatively mellow, it also was a great warm-up for the big public event and an opportunity for us to get out from behind our table to catch up with friends and try some wines before things got too busy.

The Calm Before the Storm

The Calm Before the Storm

The throngs headed in for the public tasting at 1pm and that’s when the fun really began. We met a bunch of really interesting folks and even saw some fans of our wine who we’d first met at the 2008 event.

We poured our 2007 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from La Encantada Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills) and also debuted our 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard (Anderson Valley). We were particularly curious to hear feedback about our latest release as this was the first time that we’d poured it for the masses.

The feedback that we heard about our wines was beyond our expectations and we were delighted to have a bunch of return visitors to our table throughout the day. Like last year, our number one fan Luke ushered tasters over to us, rhapsodizing about our wines.  Thanks, Luke!

Grab a Glass

Grab a Glass

Despite all of the kind words and happy tasters, you never know what people will think and remember about the event after the buzz of the tasting fades. As we feverishly searched Twitter after the event for any mention of us, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we spotted that a food blogger from Chicago Food Whores deemed our 2007 La Encantada her top choice for the entire event.

And she wasn’t the only one enamored with the 2007 La Encantada. Another taster said that it was one of his three favorites at Pinot Days Chicago and a professed non-Pinot Noir lover was also a fan. People said that “it does a lot in your mouth” and “is a symphony on my palate.” We heard taste descriptions mentioning “spice” and “pepper” and a number of people mentioned that they struggled to find words to describe the nose. One guy detected a fungus smell, adding, “I could smell that all day.” Another said it was a “Burgundian nose.”

The Scene at Waits-Mast

The Scene at Waits-Mast

In terms of our new baby, the 2008 Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard; we got equally glowing reports.

Someone pronounced that it was “by far my favorite” of Pinot Days Chicago. Many mentioned its earthy qualities, saying that “it explodes earth,” is “woody,” “dirty earth,” and “has a lot of pine.” Some detected a hint of cinnamon, calling it “spicy” with a “nice finish.” Like the La Encantada, we also heard that it “smells Burgundian.” Some Anderson Valley fans noted some similarities to Navarro’s Deep End Blend and also mentioned that they were pleased that we didn’t “overdo the oak” and allowed the Anderson Valley fruit to shine. We acknowledged that we were pouring a wine young and one taster respectfully characterized it as “young and rambunctious.”

But, perhaps Brian’s favorite compliment of the day (in regards to our wines overall) was “bangin’ juice!” Right on, Rich! Kind of reminds us of a trip to Napa when a young guy behind the bar proclaimed, “the chard’s the bomb!”

Beyond the love fest (we do have egos after all), we really enjoyed meeting a variety of folks and talking about our wines. More so than last year, we seemed to learn about a number of cool ventures related to wine. Andrew Stiles of Reel Pour is a Cinema Sommelier and Jennifer was intrigued to hear about his series of podcasts focused on pairing wines with films. Additionally, we got a visit from The Broke Wino‘s Samuel Klingberg. His website focuses on wine recommendations for young people and he seemed to have a really fresh, approachable take on wine.

At the end of the day we left Pinot Days with purple hands, a ball-bearing-less pour spout, wine-stained clothing, and a mailing list full of new names. Oh, and a lot of smiles – both ours and everyone else’s. All in all, it was a satisfying day in Chicago.

Fall Release: 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir by valleyfog

Introducing the 2008 Waits Mast Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir

In honor of our trip out to Chicago to pour our wines at Pinot Days Chicago, we are launching our fall release wine, the 2008 Waits-Mast Pinot Noir from Hein Vineyard in Anderson Valley. The Hein Family Vineyard is located in the “deep end” of this valley in Mendocino County, about 3 hours North of San Francisco. In the deep end, the cooling influence of the fog extends flavor development and results in a balance of fruit and earth. A co-ferment of Dijon 115 and Pommard clones, this Pinot exhibits some similar characteristics of our 2007 Wentzel Vineyard from Anderson Valley (which has recently sold out).

The aroma is earthy, mushroom-y and has a smoky/woodsy note. On the palate, you’ll find a tart cherry and cranberry that finishes smooth and juicy. An acidic core keeps it bright and structured. All in all, it’s what we crave from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Good acidity and subtle tannins provide structure and backbone to make this an enjoyable, food-friendly wine.

Availability: the 2008 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir will be available on our webstore starting on Friday, November 13. For SF locals, we’ll be getting the Hein on the shelves of our favorite local market, Canyon Market, next week.


Clones: 115/Pommard
Alcohol content: 14.0% by volume
Fruit: 100% whole berry (no stems)
Yeast: RC212
Barrel aging: 11 months in French oak, 33% new (Francois Freres, MT)
Bottled: August, 2009
Production: 25 cases
Drink now through 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $44/bottle (750ml)
Release date: November, 2009

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

Crush 2009: Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County by valleyfog
Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche (photo credit: Surprise Valley Ranch, Inc.)

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

Our journey in winemaking is all about learning and trying new things — and making pinot noir that represents a sense of place. This year we have been fortunate to try out some new vineyards and expand our portfolio of vineyard-designate pinot noir wines. In addition to the up-and-coming vineyards that are available through Crushpad, this year we have sourced fruit from other top vineyards. Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche, Mendocino County, is one of those vineyards. It is well-known among a small circle of Mendocino County pinot noir fans, but is otherwise on the fringe both geographically and in the collective pinot noir consciousness.

Brian first had an opportunity to try Oppenlander pinot noir when he was at the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival in May of this year. During the open house day, Sunday, he visited Baxter and Phillips Hill wineries, each of which makes pinot noir with Oppenlander fruit. He was struck by the depth and complexity of the wine and it was one of the most memorable pinot noirs he had that weekend. So when we decided that we wanted to explore additional vineyards for our 2009 vintage, Brian approached the folks from Oppenlander at the San Francisco Pinot Days back in June. Nothing was available at the time, in fact there was a list of folks wanting to get fruit from Oppenlander, but he passed on our business card just in case. As his mother used to say, “it never hurts to ask.” We asked and lo and behold, in September, we found out that we could get a small amount of 114 clone pinot noir from the nice folks at Oppenlander.

Those nice folks are John Pepe and Bill and Norm Shandel. The Shandels planted Dijon Pinot Noir clones in this old homestead and timberland in Comptche, California and Pepe is their winemaker. Comptche is in Mendocino County and is located much closer to the coast than is Anderson Valley. Located about 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it experiences some similar climatology as the true Sonoma Coast vineyards like Hirsch.  It manages to still get enough sun and warmth during the day and benefit from the coastal fog to temper rigor and build great flavor development over time. It is still such a small and growing region that it does not have its own AVA (American Viticulture Area) to designate its site-specific qualities.

Beautiful small pinot noir clusters from Oppenlander Vineyard, 2009

Beautiful small pinot noir clusters from Oppenlander Vineyard, 2009

When the grapes came in on October 2, we had an easy time sorting the lot. This year’s harvest brought in small clusters (think mini-hand grenades) and small berries. Great acidity when tasting the berries. After a good cold soak of 5 days and a moderated fermentation, we pressed the wine on the 15th.

Making a total of two barrels, we filled the neutral oak barrel with 100% free run juice, and then filled the new Remond barrel 2/3 full. The color was the first thing that struck us. Looking down into the bin after the grapes were dumped into the press, we saw a wonderful deep burgundy color with hot pink edges. I can’t wait to see what this looks like in the glass – I’m guessing it will be a very pretty wine.

The first taste of the free run was full of tart cherry goodness, proving that this wine will have a good amount of acidity. After pressing it in .2 bar increments, we got some earthtones and herbal tea on the nose, and raspberry, plum and dark cherry on a smoother palate. Pressing to 1.35 bars it was still tasting great and we fill the rest of the barrel with this juice. We then pressed it a little harder for our topping tank.

Great color from Oppenlander free run juice left over in the bin

Great color from Oppenlander free run juice left over in the bin

All in all, the Oppenlander in 2009 is delivering on its reputation, from beautiful fruit to a beautiful wine. We’re totally psyched to see how our new venture evolves. In the meantime, sounds like we need to take a trip to Comptche!