ValleyFogBlog


Waits-Mast Pouring at Pinot Days Chicago 2009 by valleyfog
October 11, 2009, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , ,

picture-008Pinot Days Chicago is coming up next month – Saturday, November 14th at Navy Pier in downtown Chicago – and Waits-Mast Family Cellars will be making the trip again this year, pouring our wines at the festival. We poured there last year and really enjoyed the Midwestern hospitality and the positive response we got for our wines. We’re really looking forward to returning and seeing some familiar faces and making new friends. It’s a great venue for Chicago-area pinot fans to try over 60 great producers of pinot noir, all in one place. While we love the SF version of Pinot Days, the Chicago edition is a smaller event (60 producers vs. 200+ in SF), so it gives us a chance to hang out with our Midwestern friends and enjoy the day.

Tickets are on sale now, so go to www.pinotdays.com to get yours now. We’ll be pouring our current releases and will be previewing our Winter release at the festival, so if you attend, you could be among the first to try this new release. The tables are usually in some sort of alphabetical order, so look for the “W”s to find us. For the rest of you that can’t make it, stay posted to this blog for more harvest updates and our Pinot Days recap in November.

Some of the "barflys" at our table last year at Pinot Days Chicago

Some of the "barflys" at our table last year at Pinot Days Chicago

Advertisements


Pinot Days San Francisco 2009 by valleyfog
Pinot Days San Francisco 2009

Pinot Days San Francisco 2009

Thousands of Pinot Noir lovers rallied on an unusually hot day in San Francisco yesterday to try over 400 different Pinot Noirs (yes, apparently that was the number of Pinots being poured) at the Grand Festival Public Tasting at Pinot Days San Francisco 2009.

The majority of these Pinot Noirs were from California, as well as Oregon producers and New World producers from New Zealand and Australia. As a small lot producer pouring for the first time at Pinot Days San Francisco (we poured at Pinot Days Chicago last year), we were the relative unknowns, but saw a steady stream of traffic and made some new friends. That’s the best thing about these tasting events: meeting new people and having free reign to talk about Pinot Noir for four hours straight.

Many people mentioned to us that they were drawn to our table because our label photography stood out to them. We were told that the foggy black and white photography was reminiscent of Ansel Adams and many seemed to get transported to another place just by looking at our label and poster. Most notably, one person said, “I don’t want to drink it, I just want to look at it.” Another said that they were attracted to our table “like a bee to a flower.” Being both intrigued and interested by a label is certainly the first step, so we were really happy to hear that design and imagery is helping to capture the romance of our wines.

Waits-Mast Signage

Waits-Mast Signage

Luckily those at Pinot Days seemed to dig not only the label, but also the wine inside the bottles. We poured two: our Waits-Mast 2006 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and the  Waits-Mast 2007 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills. The two wines are very different based on their vintage and appellation, so we knew that it would be a dramatic side-by-side tasting.

We poured the Hein first, and think that it’s really come into its own after two years in the bottle. Tasters seemed to like it too! We heard a lot of comments about the nose, including that it was “very aromatic,” “floral” and “perfumy.” In terms of the taste, we were excited when a non-Pinot lover (although she admitted that she was open enough to go to a 100% pinot noir event) told us, “I don’t normally like Pinot Noir, but I like this.” Others commented that the wine had “more earth, “silky tannins” and bracing acidity. One taster was intrigued by the wine’s complexity, noting that nose led him to expect one thing, but when he tasted the wine he was taken down a “different path,” one that was quite enjoyable.

Waits-Mast 2006 Hein Between Tastes

Waits-Mast 2006 Hein Between Tastes

Others (perhaps a 50/50 split), were taken by the La Encantada’s more powerful “spicy,” “coffee-like,” and “heavy toast” aromas. One person commented, “wow, this is really smoky.” They also spoke of the heavier, fruity taste with intense cherry (one called it a “sour cherry note”) and “sauvage” berry fruit on the palate. This wine inspired the most colorful praise, including remarks like: “It’s meaty,” “It’s really got some character,” and “It’s dirty.” Our former winemaker Scott Shapley said that he detected some nice herbal qualities too.

And then there were quite a few that liked them both (ourselves included). One taster who liked both said that that he’d drink a big glass of the La Encantada on a sunny day and that for the Hein he’d have “lots of friends over….and many glasses.” We were gratified to hear from several people that our wines were their favorites of the day, with one man boldly stating, “These are the best wines here.” Wow.

When the day was over, there were tired feet, broken wine glasses, and wine-stained literature; but hopefully also a few more Waits-Mast fans.



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



Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival 2009: Day 1 by valleyfog
BOONVILLE, CA — May 15, 2009. As we’ve mentioned before, Jennifer and I have been attending the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir festival for a number of years now. We have such an affinity for the valley because of the remoteness, the tight-knit community and of course, for the amazing wines, specifically Pinot Noir, made there. Now that we’re making Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, it is a thrill for us to actually pour our wines for the first time at the festival’s Grand Tasting this year.

Mendocino County Fairgrounds, home of the AV Pinot Fest Technical Conference

Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, home of the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival Technical Conference

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.

HPIM1325

The first tasting of the day - a clean tasting mat!

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.

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

My lunchmate Colin and local winemaker Mary Elke holding forth over lamb burgers

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.

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

Copious tasting notes for copious amounts of wine...

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.



Waits-Mast Pouring at Wine 2.0 Expo in San Francisco by Jennifer
April 1, 2009, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Events | Tags: , , ,

iphone-153If you’re in San Francisco this week for the Web 2.0 Expo, then you might want to check out the related event: Wine 2.0 Expo. It’s happening at Crushpad tomorrow (Thursday, April 2nd) from 7-10pm and there will be more than 60 wineries in attendance, as well as wine-related tech companies. Jennifer will be there pouring our single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2006 and 2007 vintages. She’ll also be keeping an ear glued to the speakers, hoping that some of her song suggestions (how can they resist Eartha Kitt’s “Lilac Wine”??) made it into the “user-generated” Rhapsody/Sonos playlist that’s being crafted for the event. With 1000 attendees expected, we’re not too sure that the music will be audible, but we’re sure going to try to tune in.

We hope to see you at Crushpad tomorrow for the Wine 2.0 Expo. It’s in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco at 2573 Third Street.



Pinot Days Chicago 2008 Trip – Day One by valleyfog

picture-008Pinot Days Chicago was a total blast! The event, on Saturday, November 15, 2008, was our first public tasting. We poured samples of three of our wines: 2006 Hein Vineyard (Anderson Valley) Pinot Noir, 2007 Wentzel Vineyard (Anderson Valley) Pinot Noir and 2007 La Encantada Vineyard (Santa Rita Hills) Pinot Noir and we were thrilled by the positive response. I think Jennifer and I were a bit anxious about hearing the feedback – we like these wines, but we really hoped that others did too. So, needless to say, when people started tasting and enjoying our wines, we were relieved. It started out slowly, though.

picture-001The trade tasting was from 11am-1pm and we were a little late getting our table set up (slept in due to our 2 year old not sleeping well the previous night). So after we got our bottles out & opened up, our 40×20 poster on an easel, and collateral carefully arranged on the table, we stood and awaited the masses. Our early “customers” included a couple of sales managers from Binny’s, my favorite high-volume wine/beverage store in the Chicago area. The Des Plaines location is conveniently on the way to my sister’s house from the airport, so I always stop in to pick out a few choice bottles (of Pinot, of course). Other buyers, wine bar owners and distributors came by and tasted as well. We definitely had interest from a few distributors for representation in the Chicago area, which we would love.

Brian pouring Pinot Noir for some brave souls

Brian pouring Pinot Noir for some brave souls

The public tasting opened up at 1pm and ran until 5pm. This is when things got really fun. We had a great time chatting with people about our wine, their wines and everything else in between. We looked around at other tables, though, and initially, it seemed that attendees were gravitating towards other wineries and not as many were coming to us. This is where a mix of design staging, salesmanship and PR come in. Design staging: we mounted a 40″ x 20″ poster of our label on foamcore and set it up behind us on an easel – the beautiful photograph was a beacon calling people to our table. Salesmanship: you’ve got to catch the attention of the people walking by at a distance and invite them in to your world of wine. PR: we had more than a few friends and family at the event that were chatting up Waits-Mast and sending people our way.

And then we got some momentum. There were a few people that were really struck by our wines. Notably Luke and his friend Bill. Luke described the aroma from our 2006 Hein Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley as “a perfume so lovely I wish my wife would wear it!” As he went through our flight of three wines, he wrapped up with our 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills and was beside himself about this wine. I believe he said, “I’ve died and gone to heaven.” He really wanted to know what was the “magic” that went into creating this “perfect symphony” (his words, I swear!) of a wine. I did my best to explain the science of making that wine, but the rest of it is pure art (and an expression of a great vineyard and grower).

Luke and some other new Waits-Mast "regulars" enjoying another round of La Encantada

Luke and some other new Waits-Mast "regulars" enjoying another round of La Encantada

 

Luke made his way around the rest of the show, but came back to us with new friends and others he had been directing towards our table. According to Luke, “the whole show was worth it just to meet the two of you.”

By the end of the day, we had some “regulars,” in addition to Luke, who kept returning to our table, helping us finish off the last few bottles. Mark Phillips, who has a PBS special and his own stemware line and is friends with our friends Lisa and Blair, was there with his friends too. It was also fun to meet a few wine bloggers, including Pinot Noir enthusiast Douglas Trapasso of Chicago Pinot and Bill Wilson from Wine for Newbies (be sure to see his wrap-up post about Pinot Days, which includes some great wine tasting etiquette tips).  The overwhelmingly positive feedback was more than we could have ever imagined. Tired, cold and hungry, we headed home for the evening still buzzing from the day’s festivities.

Waits-Mast collateral exhibiting the dripping damage of the day

Waits-Mast collateral exhibiting the dripping damage of the day