(Not Too) Spicy Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salad Greens

If you don’t like fish, this is the fish recipe for you.  If you do like fish, especially  tuna, this is definitely the recipe for you.  It was published by the great Pierre Franey (1921 – 1996) in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune in August of 1992.  It may well be the greatest tuna recipe ever written.  (Yes, Rob, even better than canned-tuna noodle casserole.)  I have made it many times over the years, something I rarely do.  Hell, I almost never make anything more than once.

Photo: Nancy Young

Spicy Grilled Tuna Steaks

Serves 4

1/4 cup sesame seeds (toasted is better, but not necessary)
1 Tbls curry powder
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp anise seeds
Salt to taste
4 tuna steaks, about 1″ thick, 1-1/2 lbs. total, the fresher the better
olive oil

    1.  Preheat a grill, or oven broiler.  Mix sesame seeds, curry powder, black pepper, anise seeds, and salt in a small bowl.
    2.  Lightly oil tuna with olive oil.  Sprinkle  steaks evenly on both sides with sesame mixture, and press down so mixture adheres well to steaks.  Cover and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature.
    3.  Meanwhile, prepare Mixed Salad, below.
    4.  Place steaks on hot grill or under broiler for two minutes per side for rare.  (For greater doneness, you can cook a little longer, particularly if you are grilling outside in the winter, but otherwise I don’t recommend it.  Trust me on this.)

Mixed Salad with Vinaigrette

6 cups mixed salad greens (readily available preboxed, for convenience)
2 Tbls each: Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar
2 tsp minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 Tbls olive oil

    1. Wash and dry greens thoroughly in a salad spinner.  If large, tear leaves with your hands; if you buy them in a bag or box they will probably be small enough that you can leave them whole.
    2.  Put mustard, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Stir well.  Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until well blended.  Adjust vinegar to taste (I like my dressing with a little more zip).
    3. Add greens and toss well with vinaigrette.

To serve, place dressed mixed green salad in center of plate.  Cut tuna into  slices on the bias and place slices on top of greens.

Since the grill is already on, if you’d like more food, this goes really well with mixed vegetable kabobs (zucchini, onion, red bell pepper, mushroom, etc).  Double the vinaigrette, and use half to marinate the veggies.  They will need about five minutes per side to cook, so start them before the tuna.  Alternatively, a side of plain white rice would work, also.

Serve with one of these Pinot Noirs.  Yes, a red, not a white.  Unless it is a sparkler.

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Juslyn Vineyards Perry’s Blend

Perry and Carolyn Butler emigrated from England to California sometime during the mid-1980s. Butler was a trained  chef in England, and dabbled with his wife in the emerging high-tech business there as well. It was their growing interest in technology that drew them to Silicon Valley.  Once there, they  purchased Global Dynamics, a struggling IT company that provided IT staffing for American Airlines in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Once their company was well-established, the Butler’s were able to indulge in weekend trips to nearby Napa Valley. It was there that they soon developed a passion for wine and the wine country lifestyle that Napa Valley offered.

In 1997, the couple sold their quite profitable IT business and relocated to Spring Mountain. They bought a picturesque 42-acre property that was once a small parcel of the 540 acres that California wine pioneer Charles Krug originally acquired as the dowry of Caroline Bale, who he married in 1860.  The Butlers set about having a villa and gardens built, along with a winery facility, which Butler named Juslyn, for daughter Justine and wife Carolyn.

The vineyard on the property was replanted to a field blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon plus small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, reflecting the English preference for those Bordeaux blends they call Claret.

Early on, the Butlers became friends with legendary wine critic Robert Parker, who utilized their villa for many of his Napa Valley wine tasting and rating sessions. Parker was a big fan of Juslyn Vineyards’ early wines, and  awarded them high ratings on several occasions.  I’m sure having access to the villa didn’t influence his assessments in any way.

Without any real experience in the wine industry, the Butlers have relied on the work of their grape and wine specialists.

For the vines, Juslyn takes advice from the Renteria Vineyard management team, led by Salvador and Oscar Renteria. This father-son duo has produced grapes for many prestigious Napa Valley wineries.

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The winemaker is Angelina Mondavi.  She began her career at the age of 10 by assisting the lab manager at Charles Krug.  (She had an in.  Her grandfather Peter Mondavi (who was Robert Mondavi’s brother) owned the place.)  After graduating from Villanova University, majoring in chemistry, she worked lab and harvest positions in Napa Valley and Barossa Valley. While in Australia, she earned a Master’s Degree in Oenology from the University of Adelaide.  Following graduation, she gained experience with stints at Pine Ridge Vineyards and One True Vine where she was responsible for Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie, and Layer Cake to name a few.

Juslyn’s estate vineyard consists of some eight acres on rocky hillside soils with excellent drainage, where the vines are now over 20 years old.  The winery is able to annually extract some three tons of fruit per acre.

Juslyn Vineyards Perry’s Blend 2016

The name “Perry’s Blend” (the wine was originally called Proprietary Red) was conferred by Robert Parker during one of his tasting sessions, and the Butlers took to the designation.

Perry’s is a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot, entirely from the Juslyn Spring Mountain Estate.  The wine was aged for 24 months in French oak, 85% of which was new.

It is a fairly transparent but nonetheless dark purple  The nose offers plenty of dark fruit aromas with a bit of cedar.  These continue on the palate, especially black cherry, black currant, and black raspberry, with the addition of cocoa.  There is medium acidity, paired with zoomin’ and boomin’ tannins.  To be clear, I like my reds young, and I’m not afraid of tannins.  But to temper those here, the wine should be decanted for a couple of hours.  And really, another three to five years of bottle aging would be worthwhile.  If you have the patience, the wine should drink well at least through 2030.  As another reviewer noted, “An odd but awesome juxtaposition of a young California Cab mated with a first production old-world Bordeaux.”   ABV is 14.5% and 480 cases were produced.

https://juslynvineyards.com/

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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Born in San Francisco and raised in Santa Rosa, Richard Arrowood started his winemaking career in 1965 at Korbel Champagne Cellars, after earning a degree in organic chemistry at California State University, Sacramento, and completing graduate work in enology at California State University, Fresno.

From Korbel he moved on, first to United Vintners, then Sonoma Vineyards, and in 1974 was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first employee and winemaker.

In 1981 Arrowood met Alis Demers at the first California Wine Experience in San Francisco. They started dating and were married in 1985. They soon began plans for building Arrowood Vineyards & Winery, which opened later that same year.  For the first three years, Alis ran the winery while Arrowood fulfilled his ongoing obligations as executive vice president/winemaster at Chateau St. Jean. In April 1990 he joined Alis to devote himself full-time to Arrowood Winery.

Robert Mondavi Corp. purchased Arrowood in 2000.  Constellation Brands purchased Mondavi in 2004 and subsequently sold Arrowood in 2005 to the Legacy Estate Group, which filed for bankruptcy just a year later, in 2006.  At that point, Arrowood Vineyards, along with Legacy’s two other operations, Freemark Abbey and Byron Vineyard and Winery, were sold to Kendall Jackson.

The peripatetic Arrowood moved on in 2010; he opened his newest winery, Amapola Creek, in June of that year. The 120-acre ranch (purchased in 2001) that is home to Amapola Creek is situated on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, which rise between and separate the Sonoma and Napa valleys. Although Alis envisioned the site as the place for a peaceful retirement, Richard had other ideas, and immediately set about selecting the best 20 acres of the property for use as the foundation for Amapola Creek Winery.

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Arrowood claims he’s “saved the best for last.” Perhaps he’s right; after making quality wine for over 45 years, he says his quest now is to make his greatest wines ever.

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In early December 2019, Richard Arrowood announced his retirement.

https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/10427340-181/richard-arrowood-sonoma-wine-business

Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

The organically-farmed estate vineyard for this Cabernet is a high-elevation site featuring mineral-rich volcanic soils and cooling breezes from San Pablo Bay. The grapes were hand-picked and pressed.  After fermentation the wine was aged for 24 months in new and seasoned French and American oak. It is neither fined nor filtered.

This release marks Arrowood’s 50th vintage.  It is composed of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot.  The wine is is classic deep garnet-purple in color, and gives up somewhat closed notes of blackberries, black plums, and cassis with touches of pencil shavings, and cedar chest. The palate is full-bodied, and continues with blackberries and  black cherry.  It has a solid frame of firm, grippy tannins, and finishes long with a minted lift.

https://www.amapolacreek.com/

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Brutocao Cellars

Irv Bliss’ early years as a farmer were occupied with growing pears, prunes, walnuts, and a large family garden just outside of Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, California. Although successful, for years Bliss nursed the vision of planting a vineyard in Mendocino, which he believed to be one of the best places around to grow grapes. In 1943, he purchased a plot of land in southern Mendocino County, and immediately planted the vineyard of his dreams. In the early days, in addition to growing grapes on the property, Bliss farmed figs and raised sheep and cattle. At some point in the 1970s, all 100 acres of the land was converted to grape production, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.

When Leonard met Martha

In 1910, the Brutocao (pronounced brew’ tuh coe) family emigrated from Treviso, Italy (a small town near Venice), at first settling in Canada. Son Leonard Brutocao was born in 1935 in Fort Erie, Canada and, after the family moved to the U.S., was raised in Covina, Calif.  He met Irv Bliss’ daughter Martha while attending the University of California, Berkeley. After Leonard and Martha married, the families joined forces, and continued to farm grapes which they sold to well-known Sonoma and Napa wineries. Irv and Leonard worked together for over 35 years until Irv’s retirement in 1969, at which point the new ownership was split between Lenonard and Lenonard’s brother Albert (who co-founded with Leonard the Brutoco Engineering and Construction company in southern California which  the Brutocao clan also owned and continued to operate, as well as a number of other entrepreneurial ventures).

For several years, most of the family’s grapes were sold to local area wineries, including Beringer and Mondavi.  Leonard and Albert were interested in more than just farming however, and saw the potential for producing a handcrafted Mendocino wine. Acting on this vision, the Brutocao family released their first wine with the 1980 vintage. Shortly thereafter, they chose as their symbol of family tradition and quality a version of the Lion of St. Mark, the lion on top of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy,  (But they flipped the way it faces, for whatever reason.)
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In 1991, the original winery was built, and the first estate vintage was produced. Around the same time, Leonard’s three sons, David, Len Jr., and Steve, joined the family business. (Forth son Dan and daughter Renee Ortiz also share ownership of the winery, but have limited involvement.)  David is Director of Winemaking Operations, and works side by side with Brutocao winemaker Hoss Milone to produce their estate wines. Len Jr., as Director of Vineyard Operations, oversees the cultivation of the land from new plantings to grape harvest.  Following the death of his father in 2010, Steve assumed the role of CEO  after many years of experience in wine marketing and sales.

Brutocao outgrew the first winery by 2003, when a new facility was built, and it was expanded in 2009. The original building has now become an onsite wine storage warehouse.  The more visitor-friendly tasting room is about a mile and a half due west, in Hopland, California.
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The Legacy Continues

The Brutocao operation is now in its fourth generation. Ryan, Director of Custom Label Sales, is tasked with distribution as well as coordinating with Brutocao’s non-profit partner, Wine to Water.  Kevin, a jack of all trades, does a bit of everything, from pouring wines in the Hopland tasting room to managing the winery’s online presence. He also creates many of the designs for marketing materials.

The Winemaker

Hoss Milone became the winemaker for Brutocao in 2009 after spending 18 years toiling for Ferrari-Carano.  Hoss is a fourth-generation winemaker who grew up in his family’s vineyards, and watched his grandfather and father produce their own Mendocino wines. Milone is also a trained cooper, aka barrel maker.  At some point it was discovered that Milone’s grandfather tilled the land for Irv Bliss in the original vineyard. Quite a coincidence.

The Vineyards

The Bliss Vineyard, also known as the Home Ranch, is the original property purchased in 1943 by Irv Bliss. The vineyard is 400 acres, with 177 acres planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Merlot, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Dolcetto.

The Feliz Vineyard was purchased in 1994. It is 583 acres in size, with 114 acres planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Barbera, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir.

The 251-acre Contento Vineyard was purchased in 1997, but not planted until 1999. 90 acres are now under vine, growing Cabernet Sauvignon and Primitivo*. Contento is the site of an old cattle ranch, where purebred Brangus cattle were raised. Some of the ranch was used for research and development of new tractor equipment, resulting in very well-worked soils.  Contento is also the site of an abandoned gold mine.

Brutocao Chardonnay 2019

Made by Brutocao since the mid-1980s, this  pale-straw colored Chardonnay comes entirely from Bliss Vineyard, the original property purchased by Irv Bliss in 1943.  The wine was 100% barrel fermented and sur lies aged for nine months in French oak, 30% of which was new.   Some of the grapes were “whole cluster pressed” for maximum flavor extraction.  It underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, which in this case lead to citrus rather than the more typical buttery notes.

The wine opens with aromas of honeysuckle, pear, and mango.  These  evolve into a full-bodied palate of tropical fruit with just a hint of butterscotch on the finish.  Serve moderately chilled at about 60° F.  ABV is 13.5%, and  3000 cases were produced.

Brutocao Quadriga Red Blend 2017

A quadriga is a chariot pulled by four horses, harnessed side by side, and is an ancient Italian symbol of triumph. This selection, on offer since the early 2000s,  is a proprietary blend of 43% Primitivo*, 31% Sangiovese, 19% Barbera, 6% Dolcetto, and a 1% topping of Syrah, which is reminiscent of traditional Italian field blends.  “Field blending” is the custom of planting different grape varieties together in the same vineyard, harvesting them all together, co-fermenting, and making a wine from the mixture. However, Milone was careful to point out that Brutocao’s varietals are kept separate in their vineyards, and he makes individual wines from each of the grape types before he begins the blending process.  This offers him much greater control over the flavor profile of the wine than the traditional field blend approach would.  The fruit was sourced from the Bliss, Feliz, and Contento vineyards.  After fermentation, it was aged for 18 months in 90% French oak and 10% American oak, of which 25% was new.

This wine is a totally transparent medium purple, but is more boisterous than its color suggests.  The nose features aromas of red berries and cinnamon stick.  These continue on the palate, with additional flavors of blueberries and caramel, complemented by a rich, smooth mouthfeel.  Decant for an hour or two before serving.  The ABV is 14.5%, and 500 cases were made.

www.brutocaocellars.com/

www.goldmedalwineclub.com

*There is ongoing debate about whether or not Primitivo and Zinfandel are the same grape.   However, it is agreed that at the least they both share a Croatian forebear.  Primitivo is mostly planted in Italy, while Zinfandel is almost exclusively American.  Winemaker Hoss Milone insists that Brutocao’s Primitivo can be sourced back to mother vines in Italy.  He also believes Primitivo prefers French oak aging, while Zinfandel is more suited to American oak.

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Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

HISTORY

There is a long-extinct volcano that is part of the Mayacamas Mountains called Mt. Veeder, named for a Dutch Presbyterian pastor, Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa during the Civil War era and enjoyed hiking on the mountain, where the Douglas firs and Knobcone pines reminded him of the forests of home.

Winemaking on Mount Veeder was first recorded in 1864 when Captain Stelham Wing presented the first Mount Veeder bottling at the Napa County Fair, a wine hailing from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard.

Commercial scale production arrived on Mount Veeder in 1900 when Theodore Geir, a colorful and flamboyant German-born Oakland liquor dealer, bought the property that would later become the Christian Brothers’ Mont La Salle Winery (today’s Hess Collection Winery). By that time, there were some 20 vineyards and six wineries on the slopes of Mount Veeder.

The Modern Era

The modern post-Prohibition era began with the planting of the Mayacamas Vineyards in 1951 and the Bernstein Vineyards in 1965. Once the site of an old prune farm, San Francisco attorney Mike Bernstein and his wife, Arlene, purchased the property in 1963 to use as a weekend retreat, and planted a few vines two years later in the most casual way possible. A farmhand who lived on the property gave the Bernsteins a bundle of cast-off grapevine cuttings. As legend has it, Bernstein stuck the unrooted cuttings into the ground and promptly ignored them. Miraculously, of the 60 cuttings planted, 58 lived. In 1969, the Bernsteins purchased another farm a half mile up the road, which was turned into a five-acre vineyard planted to the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. Next came an actual winery, which produced 375 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973. By 1977, Mount. Veeder’s other Bordeaux varietals were ready for blending with the winery’s Cabernet; the 1977 Mount Veeder Cabernet was the first California Cabernet to be composed of a blend of all the classic Bordeaux grape varieties.  The Bernsteins were also the first in the state to produce a Meritage-style wine using all five grapes, like the great chateaux of Bordeaux

In 1982, the Bernsteins sold the operation to  Henry and Lisille Matheson, formerly of Miami, Florida, where Matheson’s family was very active in real estate. (His great-grandfather once owned the entire island of Key Biscayne!) A year earlier in 1981, the winery had retained a new winemaker, Peter Franus, who had worked previously at Chalone and Chateau St. Jean.

Unfortunately, Matheson was more adept at real estate than winemaking, and in 1989 the winery was sold again, this time to Agustin Huneeus of Franciscan Estate Selections, which owns Franciscan Oakville Estate, Estancia, and an estate in Chile known as Veramonte.  Huneeus and his team immediately set about making many improvements, such as retrellising the vineyards, providing drip irrigation so that the vines would not be over-watered, and installing a computerized press for the grapes. Changes were made in teh winemaking style to soften the aggressively tannic nature of the Mount Veeder fruit, and new barrels were brought into the winery.  Darice Spinelli became winemaker in 1993 after working for three years under Greg Upton, the senior winemaker who oversaw all the Franciscan Estates properties.

At the time of the sale Mount Veeder had about forty acres planted to vine, and Huneeus increased that by another fifty acres (called the North Ranch).  Production now centers on  four Cabernet Sauvignons, and two red blends. Total annual output is about 12,500 cases.

The whole operation is rather secretive.  Janet Myers is the current winemaker, but Mount Veeder provides no biographical information on her.  There is no tasting room (they used to pour at Franciscan, but that tasting room is permanently closed), and although the winery is now located in Rutherford, Calif., no address is available.

The Mount Veeder district was granted AVA status in 1990.  The boundaries of this appellation include 25 sq mi (64.7 sq  km) with 1,000 acres (400 ha) planted on thin volcanic soil. Many vineyards are found on the steep mountain face some as steep as 30°. The steepness of the angle gives the vineyards benefits of more direct sunlight and better drainage.

Philosophy

The philosophy at Mount Veeder Winery is that each  wine has its own way of expressing the mountain soil from which it was born. Mount Veeder asserts that great wines are a reflection of their terroir—the combination of soil, topography, microclimate, and people—and  that excellent grapes handled with minimal processing have the potential to produce the greatest wines.

The Vineyards

“The mountain is unforgiving, but only an environment this demanding offers the potential to cultivate such exceptional fruit. My mission is to be a true steward of this land, and to have that care come through in every glass of wine.”  — Matt Ashby, Vineyard Manager

Resembling a giant staircase, Mount Veeder’s vines are planted on wide terraces of earth cut into steep slopes. At elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet, the microclimate is very different from the Napa Valley floor. Above the fog bank, exposed to the gentle morning sun and protected from the afternoon heat by the surrounding mountains, grapes on these vines ripen slowly and evenly.

Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

This Cabernet is classic deep ruby in color.  A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot, it spent 20 months in French oak barrels. The nose is moderately aromatic, offering up ripe berries and black cherries, complemented by hints of cedar and dried sage.  The well-structured palate presents black cherry, leather, cassis, plum puree, and a bit of dust and cocoa.  It’s all supported with snappy tannins and just the right amount of acid.  ABV is 14.5% and 60,000 cases were produced.

https://www.mtveeder.com/

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Austin Hope Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Chuck Hope and his wife Marlyn came to Paso Robles (which roughly means “passageway of oaks”) in California’s Central Coast in 1978 to farm, and eventually to start what would become Hope Family Wines. This early arrival put them on the forefront of the Central Coast becoming a world-class viticultural region. Initially, the Hopes planted apples and grapes in this then sparsely-populated area. Seeing the property’s potential for grape growing, Hope eventually replanted the apple orchards with grapes. Vine density was increased, and each vine was pruned to limit yield for better-quality fruit.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Hope family grew grapes for various wine producers. In the 1980s, the Wagner family, owners of Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards, turned to the Hope family to source Cabernet Sauvignon fruit for their Liberty School label. Thus began a long-lasting partnership between the two families.

Since that beginning, in Paso Robles specifically and throughout the region generally, Hope Family Wines has built long-standing relationships with over 50 growers. They coordinate with farmers to carefully limit crop yields to ensure concentrated flavors.

In 1995, the Hopes acquired Liberty School from the Wagners. In 1996, they launched Treana Winery with Chris Phelps serving as winemaker.

At about this same time, while studying fruit science at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, the Hope’s son Austin spent some time working in Napa Valley under Caymus winemaker Chuck Wagner. This opportunity solidified his decision to pursue winemaking for his family. He became the head winemaker in 1998, and has held the position ever since. Since taking the lead as president and winemaker, Hope has helped Hope Family Wines grow from producing around 20,000 cases per year to over 300,000 cases per year. Austin’s wife Celeste, a professional photographer, produces all winery-related photography.

Hope shared, “At Hope Family Wines, we believe that it is our job to demystify wine and make it approachable. As a beverage that often accompanies food, we need to get away from the rules and intimidation, and trust our individual preferences. I am excited to see the wine industry becoming more dynamic and approachable as younger generations embrace education through online sources that are right at our fingertips.”

In 2000, the family started a limited-production label, Austin Hope (surprise!), focused exclusively on Rhone varietals grown on the family’s estate vineyard, based on the calcareous loam, marine sediment, and dense clay soil  of the Templeton Gap, which has the coolest microclimate in Paso Robles. It closely matches the climate of the Rhône Valley in France, as well as Napa’s acclaimed Rutherford district. The winery’s now-mature vineyards produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvedre, and Grenache.

In 2008, the winery introduced Candor Wines, a multi-vintage label focusing on Zinfandel and Merlot wines with fruit sourced from family-owned vineyards in Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Lodi. It introduced its second multi-vintage blend, named Troublemaker, in 2010.

The winery.

The tasting room.

Hope Family Wines is committed to sustainable growing practices that promote vine health, improve wine quality, and ensure that growers remain profitable. Spraying is only done when necessary, and never after August first. The number of tractor passes is kept to a minimum, protecting the integrity of the root structures and avoiding compacting the soil. The winery works actively to promote best practices in the vineyards of the growers they partner with. They use the self-assessment tools put together by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers to gauge progress and identify areas for improvement over time.

Austin Hope Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

The 2017 is just the third iteration of this wine, and is 100% sourced from Paso Robles.  This luxurious wine is inky purple in the glass.  There is a super-rich nose with an abundance of dark fruit, such as blueberry, black currant, and hints of cherry.  The full-bodied palate is full of lush fruit, especially blackberry, supported by vanilla and subtle oak.  The polished tannins and fresh acidity are just right, and in excellent balance.  It all wraps up in a nice long smooth finish.  ABV is 15%.

https://www.hopefamilywines.com/

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Momokawa Pearl Saké

Momokawa PearlSaké is often called rice wine, but this is a misnomer.  While it is an alcoholic beverage made by fermentation, the production process more closely resembles that of beer, and it is made from grain (rice, of course), not fruit.  To make saké, the starch of freshly steamed glutinous rice is converted to sugar and then fermented to alcohol.  Once fermented, the liquid is filtered, heated, and placed in casks for maturing.  Sakés can range from dry to sweet, but even the driest retain a hint of sweetness.

This saké is a domestic product from SakéOne saké brewery in Forest Grove, Oregon.  The company began as a saké importer in 1992, and in 1997 they expanded the operation and began brewing saké.

In premium saké, water composition matters a great deal. SakéOne’s founder chose Oregon because he believed that the best-quality water for saké brewing is in the Northwest.

The other crucial component is rice, and SakéOne sources its Calrose rice from the Sacramento Valley. Calrose is derived from Japanese saké rice and has several qualities that produce saké with more body, higher viscosity, and a long finish.


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SakéOne’s modest tasting room.

Momokawa Pearl Saké

Pearl is a rich, full-bodied Junmail* Ginjo** Nigori*** saké that opens with vanilla and pineapple on the nose.  It is quite sweet as far as I’m concerned, with banana, coconut, and marshmallow on the palate.  The producer suggests pairing this with spicy cuisine, but I would personally reserve it for desserts, especially those featuring tropical fruits.

Nigori is an acquired taste, in my opinion.  If allowed to settle, there will be about an inch and a half of very fine-grained solids in the bottle.  If mixed with the saké as intended, the solids create a chalky mouthfeel, which I am not a fan of.  YMMV.  The ABV is 14.8%, and the SMV**** is -10. The rice has a polish of 58%, so 42% of the rice has been removed.  Serve chilled.

NOTE:  SakeOne offers a three-tiered monthly saké club (but not all three tiers are available in every state, due to local liquor laws).  Club membership offers attractive discounts and access to limited production sakés.  Unfortunately, SakeOne marks up the actual shipping charges by 30% to 50%, making those discounts in reality rather less attractive.  I for one would prefer that the discounts be less, if necessary, and the shipping costs accurate.

https://sakeone.com/

*Junmai is pure rice wine, with no added alcohol). Until recently, at least 30% of the rice used for Junmai sake had to be milled away, but Junmai no longer requires a specified milling rate.

**Ginjo designates that at least 40% of the rice has been polished away. If a bottle is labeled just Ginjo, distilled alcohol was added; if it is labeled Junmai Ginjo, no alcohol was added.

***The Nigori designation translates roughly to cloudy because of its appearance. All sakés are usually filtered to remove grain solids left behind after fermentation. However, Nigori sake is filtered using a broader mesh, resulting in the inclusion of fine rice particles and a far cloudier drink.

****The SMV (Saké Meter Value) measures the density of saké relative to water, and is the method for gauging the dryness or sweetness of saké. The higher the SMV, the drier the saké. The median value of SMV is +3

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Lost Eden Red Blend 2018

Georgia, oh Georgia
No, no, no, no, no peace I find
Just an old sweet song
Keeps Georgia on my mind

Of course, that old Hoagy Carmichael tune was about the US state of Georgia.   But this selection is from Georgia the country, in the Caucasus region of Eurasia.  Specifically, Lost Eden is produced at the Vaziani Winery, located in Telavi, Georgia

Little known to most Americans, Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys and protective slopes of the Transcaucasia, which spans the southern portion of the Caucasus Mountains and their lowlands, straddles the border between the continents of Europe and Asia.  Here grapevine cultivation and neolithic wine production began at least 8000 years ago. The very word “wine” is believed to have been derived from the ancient Georgian word “Gvino” which means something that “rises, boils or ferments.” Due to these many millennia of wine history in Georgia, and its prominent economic role, the traditions of wine are considered entwined with and inseparable from the national identity.

When Christianity and the Eucharist came to Georgia in the 4th century AD, wine gained further importance in the nation’s culture.  According to tradition, Saint Nino, who preached Christianity in Kartli, bore a cross made from vine wood.  Another old legend tells of how soldiers prepared for battle by weaving a piece of grapevine into the breastplate of their armor. If they fell in battle, a vine would rise not just from their bodies but from their very hearts.

In 1950, vineyards in Georgia occupied 143,000 acres, but in 1985 that had grown to 316,000 acres, primarily due to increasing demand in what was then the USSR.  However, following the dissolution of that alliance and the end of the Cold War, the relationship between Georgia and Russia has often been rocky, if not outright hostile (including a war with Russia in 2008), and production saw  a subsequent decline. Even so, a recent trade agreement with the European Union has brought renewed optimism to Georgian producers.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2009 Georgia exported about .9 million cases of wine to 45 countries.  By 2019, production and  exports had increased significantly, with total exports of 7.8 million cases to 53 countries.   During those ten years, exports to the US, although still modest,  increased 48%, to 56,512 cases.  The wine is produced by thousands of small farmers (using primarily traditional techniques of winemaking), as well as some monasteries and modern wineries.  In 2006 there were roughly 80 registered wineries, but by 2018, the number had ballooned to 961.

Growing conditions

Extremes of weather in Georgia are unusual: summers tend to be mild and sunny, and winters frost-free. Natural springs abound, and the many streams of the Caucasian Mountains drain mineral-rich water into the valleys. The moist, moderate climate, influenced by the Black Sea, provides excellent conditions for vine cultivating. In many regions of the country the grapevines are trained to grow up the trunks of fruit trees in terraced orchards, a method of cultivation called maglari.

Georgian grape varieties

Perhaps not surprisingly, traditional Georgian grape varieties have been little known in the New World. However, with increasing international awareness of the wines of Eastern and Central Europe, grapes from this region are gaining a higher profile. Although somewhere between 400 and 500 exist, only 38 varieties are officially grown for commercial viticulture, in 21 distinct wine-producing regions (a.k.a. PDO – Protected Designation of Origin).

Traditionally, much like French regional wines such as Bordeaux or Burgundy, Georgian wines carry the name of the source region, district, or village.  They are usually a blend of two or more grapes, and are classified as sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified, and sparkling. The semi-sweet varieties are the most popular in the domestic market.

The Winemaker
Lado Uzunashvili is an 11th generation winemaker.  He was raised in Mukuzani, in the largest wine-producing region in Georgia.  He learned oenology in Moscow, France, and Australia.
“When making the Lost Eden Red Blend, it was important to showcase Georgia as the birthplace of wine. To do this I found the perfect balance between modern and traditional Georgian winemaking practices to illustrate the quality and evolution of wine produced in my country. We believe wine is better with less human intervention,” Uzunashvili explained.

Lost Eden Saperavi Red Blend

Lost Eden is a new product, launched in September of 2020.  The producer states, “In partnership with the Georgian Ministry of Agriculture and Partnership Fund, Lost Eden was crafted to build ties with the West and forever pivot Georgia, the birthplace of wine, away from Russian dominance.”

“The Georgian people have suffered many years of Russian oppression and a number of crippling embargoes that have negatively impacted both our current wine industry and our 8,000 year winemaking tradition. To break free from Russia’s grasp, we partnered with an incredible team to create Lost Eden for the United States wine market. This visionary wine project will not only introduce Americans to an exquisite Georgian wine, but also will help us build back a strong, free wine market in Georgia,” said Irakli Cholobargia, of the National Wine Agency, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.

The Vaziani Winery

Lost Eden harvests grapes
from arguably the oldest vines on earth.  They use the ancient clay pots called qvevris (pronounced kwevr-ees for fermentation and aging.  They are always buried in the ground, and are usually coated on the inside with beeswax, a natural sealant designed to keep undesirable bacteria from seeping through the walls.

The qvevris are buried in the winery floor.

Saperavi, grown in some areas of the Kakheti region, is one of Georgia’s most important indigenous varietals.  It produces substantial, deep-red wines that are suitable for extended aging of up to fifty years.  It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is used extensively for blending with other, lesser varieties.

The bottle of this unoaked blend features a glass stopper, which is rather stubborn to remove, instead of a cork, and the “veins” molded into it invoke the maglari cultivation method.  Although 100% Saperavi, it is considered a blend because a portion of the wine came from the traditional qvevris and a portion from stainless steel.   And, grapes were sourced from several vineyards.

Lost Eden pours a crystal-clear ruby in the glass.  The nose offers light to medium aromas of red and black cherries and mulberries.  These continue on the smooth palate, joined by cassis and some cocoa.  This is a semi-dry wine, with moderate but pleasant acidity, low tannins, and a somewhat short finish.  ABV is 13%, and 4,500 cases were made.

https://losteden.com/

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Kenwood Vineyards

Kenwood

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Author Jack London (1876 – 1916) was an American novelist, journalist, and social activist. A pioneer of unabashedly commercial fiction in both novels and  magazines, he was one of the first American authors to become an international celebrity and earn a large fortune from writing. His most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set during the Klondike Gold Rush.

In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acre property in Glen Ellen, California, on the western slope of Sonoma Valley which he named Beauty Ranch. He wrote, “Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me. I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.”

Working with famous botanist Luther Burbank, he educated himself about caring for the land through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. They conceived of a system of farming that today would be considered “sustainable,” and hoped to adapt the techniques of Asian agricultural practices to the United States as well.

London intended the ranch as a commercial enterprise, but due to a number of factors, including London’s total lack of business acumen, it was an economic failure.  (Indeed, the property was originally up for sale because the owners believed that the land was “played out.”)   London’s workers laughed at his efforts to play serious rancher, and considered the operation a rich man’s hobby.

Although the vineyards have always been, and remain, owned by London’s heirs, today the the forested parts of the ranch are a National Historic Landmark and are part of Jack London State Historic Park. 

Kenwood Vineyards

The financial success that eluded London has been captured by Kenwood Vineyards, which has been the exclusive producer of wines from the vineyards on this historic property since 1976.  Kenwood was established in 1970 when John Sheela and his brothers-in-law, Mike and Marty Lee, bought the former Pagani Brothers Winery, which was built in 1906.  They converted what was a “bring your own jug” wine facility into a modern winery; this was long before the region’s AVAs were created.

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In 1978, local artist David Lance Goines was commissioned to create original artwork to be used for the label of the 1975 reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the first release of Kenwood’s Artist Series.

In 1996, F. Korbel & Bros., Inc. acquired a 50 percent stake in the winery. In 1999, Korbel acquired the remaining 50 percent and bought out the founders.  Under Korbel’s management, the operation nearly doubled in size, from less than 300,000 cases (still substantial) to more than 500,000 cases.

In 1999, Korbel sold Kenwood to New York-based Banfi Vintners, the makers of Riunite.  Korbel owner and president Gary Heck explained at the time that the rationale for the sale was to prioritize the company’s sparkling wine business, an operation that was eventually completely abandoned.  So much for the best-laid plans, eh?

In 2014, Kenwood ownership was transferred to Pernod Ricard Winemakers.

The Winemaker

Zeke Neeley grew up in Daly City, south of San Francisco.  He studied biochemistry at U.C. Davis, and later worked in the biotech industry as a cancer researcher.  However, during this first career he kept dreaming of making something physical, and was more and more drawn to wine.  To that end, he took an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology, and subsequently worked at wineries in Santa Cruz, Carneros, and Napa.  He joined Kenwood as chief winemaker in 2017.

Neeley shared, “When walking a vineyard near harvest it feels like a conversation between me, the vineyard, and the wild forces of nature, discussing what personality [a] wine will have, and then I do my best to reach that ideal.”

Neeley works with Winemaking Assistant Rachel Gondouin and Enologist Lois Mateer,

The Jack London Estate Vineyards

The 2,400-foot Sonoma Mountain range rises above the town of Glen Ellen at the western edge of the Valley of the Moon. The 130-acre Jack London estate vineyards sit here at 920 feet, with an eastern exposure that catches the fog-free morning sun. The vineyards’ soil is a unique red volcanic type composed  of Spreckles loam and goulding clay loam.

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Following London’s inspiration, sustainability is the order of the day at Kenwood. Farming techniques are employed that utilize as little of the valuable water resources as possible. The biodiversity program supports endangered fish such as Coho and Steelhead salmon by creating habitats along low flow areas. Bird and bat boxes made from reclaimed pallets are placed throughout the vineyards to attract these creatures as they in turn eat pests. The vineyards are entirely worked by hand, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, as their layout and slopes make mechanization impossible.

The vineyards are Sonoma Sustainable Certified, with the goal of preserving natural resources, improving  air and water quality, and protecting ecosystems and wildlife habitats.  In fact, through the efforts of the Sonoma County Sustainability Program, 99% of Sonoma’s grape farmers have met the criteria, a remarkable achievement attained within just six years.

The Jack London Wines

With a combined total of just 6,833 cases, these four selections from the Jack London Vineyards represent only a small portion of Kenwood’s current annual output of 300,000 cases.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Red Blend 2016

This red blend is made of Zinfandel (62%), Merlot (21%), and Syrah 17%), and saw 18 months in oak barrels, of which 65% were new.   (The blend can and does vary each year.)  It is a completely transparent but dark garnet in the glass.  The nose offers subtle aromas of dark fruit, especially plums, which continue on the lush palate, with hints of toasted oak, plus a bit of pepper from the Zinfandel. The medium tannins and acidity are in excellent balance.  If you are a fan of Pinot Noir, this is a red blend for you.  ABV is 14.8% and 833 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

A blend* of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, and 6% Syrah, this wine saw 26 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 31% of which were new.  It is a dense, dark purple, with a nose of plums and a hint of sweet Bing cherries.  The plums are on the full-bodied palate as well, plus a hint of mint from the eucalyptus trees that surround the vineyards, and a suggestion of cocoa.  The grippy tannins are balanced by good acidity.  ABV is 15.2% and 5,000 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Dry Farmed** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

In order to meet California’s strict “dry farmed” classification, the fruit for this wine comes from a single block in the vineyard, and must be carefully segregated from bud break to bottle.  The wine saw 17 months of aging after fermentation in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 60% of which were new. This age-worthy 100% Cabernet is a deep, dark purple, with a nose of brooding blackberry.  The palate is super dry, with recessive dark fruit, particularly dried blueberry, paired with flavors of earth and bay leaf.   Jack London himself can be seen on the label, admiring his Beauty Ranch in 1913.   ABV is 14.1% and 500 cases were produced.

Kenwood Vineyards Jack London Wild Ferment*** Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Zeke Neeley makes this wine “whenever his ulcer will permit.”  Although he claims to be a “control freak,” relying exclusively on wild yeast to ferment a wine is about as risky as it gets.  Visually identical to the Dry Farmed, the barrel regimen was also similar: 17 months of aging in a combination of French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels, 54% of which were new.  The nose presents aromas of raspberries and blackberries.   The soft, rich palate offers that same raspberry, with black cherry and a bit of dust and leather.  The tannins and acidity of this hedonistic wine are in excellent balance.  On the bottle, Jack London can be seen on horseback riding through the ranch in 1915.   ABV is 14.9% and 500 cases were produced.

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https://kenwoodvineyards.com/

* The US Government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau mandates that in order for a wine to be labeled as a varietal, i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon, a minimum of 75% of that grape must be used. 

** Dry farming, also called dryland farming, is the cultivation of crops, in this case grapes, without irrigation in regions of low precipitation. Dry farming depends on efficient storage of the limited moisture available in the soil. Tilling the land shortly after harvest, keeping it free from weeds, and prevention of runoff are typically done.

*** A wild-fermented wine uses only native yeasts that are found on the fruit and in the winery, rather than commercial yeasts. For winemakers looking to showcase an individual vineyard and vintage, using wild yeasts for fermentation is the most honest reflection of what’s going on at that site, and is another component of terroir.

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Frisco Pisco

As any resident of San Francisco will tell you, “Don’t call it Frisco!” But we’re talking spirits here, not the city, so I think we’re OK.

Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored brandy first produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile around the turn of the 17th century. It is made by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit, as all brandies and cognacs are. It must be aged for a minimum of three months in vessels of “glass, stainless steel, or any other material which does not alter its physical, chemical or organic properties,” so wood barrels, which are used to age most other brandies, are off limits.  It was developed by Spanish settlers as an alternative to orujo, a pomace brandy that was being imported from Spain at the time. It had the advantage of being produced from abundant domestically-grown fruit.

San Francisco was the North American city that first embraced pisco, and residents drank a lot of it from the Gold Rush to Prohibition.  Frísco’s (here pronounced ‘frees-koh,’ so the pun isn’t quite right) founder Charles O’Connell had an abiding love for pisco, and his goal of creating a sustainable, pisco-inspired, American-made spirit was realized in May of 2017.  It is created from sustainably-farmed Muscat grapes from California, which are made into wine, double distilled in copper, rested in stainless steel instead of oak barrels, and then finished with unique charcoal mellowing – a technique rarely used on this type of spirit.

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Frísco has a clean, full-bodied, yet delicately smooth taste with floral overtones, suggestions of tropical fruit, and just a hint of sweetness.  45% ABV.

Listen to my podcast about brandy, Cognac, and Armagnac here.

https://friscobrandy.com/

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