Chateau Minuty M Rosé 2021

Click here for tasting notes.

Provence in the south of France is the nation’s oldest wine-producing region, dating back more than 2,600 years.  It is synonymous with rosé (90% of the region’s production), and one of the leading producers is Chateau Minuty. 

Minuty began in the mid-1800s. The estate was originally built during the reign of Napoleon III, as was the small chapel that gave its name to the Cuvée de l’Oratoire, which was the house’s emblematic bottling for a long time.

Things really got going in 1936 when the 170 hectares [420 acres] property was acquired by Gabriel Farnet, whose family has owned and operated it ever since.

Farnet already owned Domaine de Châteauneuf in Vidauban, so he came with winemaking experience. (That physical château still exists, but the vines are long gone.) He began renovations by replanting the entire estate.  The effort paid off; in 1955, Minuty was one of the 23 properties to be distinguished as a classified growth (Cru Classé) of the Côtes de Provence (or 14, or 18, or 19; accounts vary, oddly).

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Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s a maxim Sosie Wines lives by. “Sosie” [so-zee] is French for twin or doppelganger, and as it says right on the bottle, “We are inspired by the wines of France. So we employ an Old World approach to wine growing that favors restraint over ripeness, finesse over flamboyance. Our aim is to craft wines that show a kinship with France’s benchmark regions. Wines that are their sosie.”

Sosie Wines also pays homage to the French tradition of location, or terroir, believing that the vineyard site is perhaps the most important component of a bottle of wine.

Sosie Wines co-owner Regina Bustamante was introduced to wine at an early age, one of the first being Chateauneuf du Pape. “I remember the shape of those bottles and the crossed-keys of the papal crest. It was a symbol you could trust, my mom used to say. I never forgot that, and as a young adult one of the first places I had to visit in France was Chateauneuf. To this day I still love those wines.”

On a quest to cement that fascination, in 2006 she and partner  Scott MacFiggen took a trip to the Loire in western France, and then in 2008 they spent 10 days traveling the Côte de Nuits, walking the vineyards and tasting the wines. In 2016 they visited both northern and southern Rhone, working their way down from Côte-Rôtie to St. Joseph. Continue reading “Sosie Rosé of Syrah Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma 2021”

Schug Carneros Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019

Walter Schug was born in 1935, and grew up in Assmannshausen, Germany, on the only Pinot Noir estate in the Rheingau region,  which was originally planted in the 12th century. Although Schug’s father was its manager, Walter never formally worked there. He did work for six years in viticulture and winemaking in Germany and England, and earned a diploma from the Geisenheim institute, Germany’s premier college for the wine industry, in 1954. He was then invited to serve an internship in Delano, Calif., south of Fresno. After five years of that, He returned to Germany in 1961 to marry his sweetheart, Gertrud, who also came from a winemaking family, and a month later they and their Volkswagen Beetle, with skis attached, were on a boat to New York. From there, they drove to California, where Walter had been offered full-time work by winemakers who had visited him and his father in Germany. After toiling for five years for a bulk wine processor in the Central Valley, he was hired by E. & J. Gallo,  Based in St. Helena with his wife and three children, Schug was responsible for managing Gallo’s numerous North Coast grapegrowers. Although the late Julio Gallo is widely credited with discovering great North Coast grapes for Gallo’s wines, Schug was the grower-relations representative, wheeling and dealing, and always looking for new fruit sources.

In the six years Schug worked with Gallo, “He learned all the good spots to plant grapes, and the not so good,” said his son, Axel, now Schug Carneros Estate’s managing partner. Colorado construction executive, entrepreneur, and aspiring vintner Joe Phelps (who died in 2015 at 87) wanted that knowledge when he hired Dad in 1972. Dad would check out the land or vines, tell Joe he wanted it, and Mr. Phelps would write the check. They trusted each other.” Schug selected the site for Joseph Phelps Vineyards and helped plant their first vineyard in St. Helena.

The first wine Schug made for Phelps was a Riesling. Phelps soon allowed Schug to add Pinot Noir, but the U.S. market wasn’t yet ready for it, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards abandoned the varietal after the 1979 vintage. “Joe couldn’t sell the Pinot, so I said, ‘Let me see what I can do,’” Schug recalled. “He said yes and didn’t charge me a cent. So in 1980, I began purchasing the same Pinot Noir grapes that had gone into the Phelps wines.”

As the Phelps winemaker, Schug also bottled the first varietally-labeled Syrah in California, and Napa Valley’s first Late Harvest dessert wines (Gewürztraminer, Riesling. and Schuerbe) that were incredibly popular in his native Germany. In 1974, he produced California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-style blend, Insignia. He also made the legendary vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignons from Phelps’ Backus Vineyard and Eisele Vineyard years before such types of wines were common.

Schug worked at Phelps through the 1983 harvest, moonlighting as the winemaker of his own brand, which launched in 1980. “I never planned to leave Phelps, but the winery needed the cellar space I was using for my own wines,” he explained. After a couple of false starts, he moved production to the Sonoma side of Carneros where he bought land, planted grapes, and built his own facility in 1989. “You get a certain feeling in your body of what Pinot Noir needs, where it wants to grow, where it needs more fog,” he said. “I felt that in Carneros.”

The Schugs’ mutual love of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir led to this decision from which they never looked back. The pair of Burgundian varietals have remained at the forefront of Schug’s wine portfolio. They come from 42 acres of estate grapes as well as purchased fruit, and the winery also works with Sonoma-grown Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, a full-bodied yet dry sparkling Rouge de Noirs, and a late-harvest Riesling from Lake County grapes. However, it’s Pinot Noir that commanded Schug’s keenest attention and accounts for 60 percent of the winery’s annual production, which has grown from 2,000 to 30,000 cases a year, according to the company’s website.

At Phelps and later at Schug, German-made equipment was Schug’s choice, a guarantee, he said, that things would work as expected. “All this equipment, it comes from Germany,” Schug once explained. The presses, the pumps, the fermentation tanks, the 669-gallon wood oval casks for the aging of wine — all were manufactured in Germany and shipped to Schug when he began building the winery and planting grapes. “The equipment used in California back then was shit,” he once recalled.

David Graves, who worked for Schug at Phelps in 1979 before co-founding Saintsbury winery in Carneros, watched the man work for years. “There [was] a very sweet side to Walter, an analytical side, a serious side, and a knee-slapping sense of humor. He [was] very proud of his children and grandchildren,” Graves said. “He was well-trained at Geisenheim, and that European perspective informed his entire American winemaking career.” Graves also shared, “Walter pioneered the popular Meritage, and was among the first to recognize the Carneros region. He also was known for his late-harvest wines in addition to Pinot Noir.”

Walter Schug late in life.

After a long and storied career in the California wine industry, Walter Schug died in 2015 from complications of a stroke at the age of 80.

Son Axel as Managing Partner now runs the business side of Schug Carneros Estate; his sister Claudia is also a Partner. “[My father] was a Pinot Noir niche person long before the movie ‘Sideways’ came along and everybody was demanding it,” Claudia said. “He didn’t jump on a bandwagon. He was pushing it from the very start.”

Today. the winemaker is Johannes Scheid. Raised on a small family winery in the Mosel Valley of Germany, Scheid developed a passion for the European style of winemaking from working in the family business as well as summer trips with his parents and sister through the continent’s wine regions. Like Walter Schug, he studied Viticulture and Winemaking at Geisenheim University. In fact, Johannes first met Walter after an annual presentation at Geisenheim, and, after inquiring about the possibility of a harvest internship, was hired for a 2009 position at Schug, and again two years later.

In the summer of 2012 he returned to Germany where he worked in some of Germany’s top wineries, and he traveled around Europe’s wine regions as well. Then he ventured to the Nelson region of New Zealand for harvest jobs. and traveled to Australia and Thailand before returning to California in late 2013.

Scheid accepted a position as Production Manager with Benziger in 2015. In 2016 he became Schug’s Assistant Winemaker, returning to the winery where his California winemaking career began and where he felt most connected. Now, as Winemaker, Scheid is dedicated to preserving Walter Schug’s legacy of terroir-driven and European-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Schug Carneros Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019

First off, this wine is sealed with a relatively low-quality plastic cork.  While I am not a priori opposed to synthetic or reconstituted corks, I do like them to be better than this one.

This Rosé of Pinot Noir is crafted in the German style of a Weissherbst or white harvest, a delicate rosé wine made from red grapes. It was hand harvested at night, and then pressed cold with minimal skin contact,  It is a nice, pale pink, and has a light aroma of rose petals on the nose.  The palate reveals flavors of strawberry, lemon, and grapefruit, backed up by vibrant acidity.   The ABV is 13%

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Walla Walla Vintners Rosé 2020

Walla Walla Vintners was founded in 1995 in the shadow of the Blue Mountains by pioneering winemakers Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson, and was just the AVA‘s eighth winery.  Even though there are now more than 140 wineries in Walla Walla Valley, in 2016, Walla Walla Vintners was named “Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year” by Wine Press Northwest.

Anderson retired early in 2017. Venneri worked with the new co-owners, Scott and Nici Haladay, for several months before he also retired.  Scott came from a technology background (as does his father Jay, who is a silent partner) and Nici is a licensed nurse, but both Haladays are longtime wine lovers,

Scott Haladay
(Photo courtesy of Scott Haladay)
Derrek Vipond

Derrek Vipond took over as winemaker at Walla Walla Vintners in January, 2019, succeeding winemaker William vonMetzger who held the position for over a decade. Vipond grew up in Puyallup, Wash., with deep roots in the Walla Walla wine community. He began his formal wine education at Walla Walla Community College in the Enology and Viticulture program, and took a degree from Oregon State University in Fermentation Science.  After graduation, Vipond followed harvests around the world, eventually settling back in Washington.

“I look at Walla Walla Vintners as a legacy brand for Washington state, and Myles and Gordy are legends in the Washington wine industry,” Vipond commented. “They were among the original people out there beating the drum for Walla Walla to the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to carrying on that legacy.”

Walla Walla Vintners Estate Winery

Walla Walla Vintners 2020 Rosé of Sangiovese

This wine is 100% Sangiovese, made from fruit grown by the pioneering Seven Hills Winery of Walla Walla, which is Certified Sustainable and Salmon Safe.   Planted  in the early 1980s, the Seven Hills Vineyard is comprised of deep, silt loam soils over flood sediments at an elevation of 1,000 feet.

This Rosé is salmon-colored and lightly aromatic.  It offers a nose and flavors of strawberry and a bit of grapefruit, with a soft mouthfeel.  It is a very approachable, easy summer sipper.  450 cases were produced, and the alcohol is 13.4%.

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Dragonette Rosé 2020

The brothers Dragonette (John, the elder, and Steve, the younger) and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis, after having met and worked together at Wally’s, a renowned wine shop in Los Angeles, founded Dragonette Cellars in 2005. They did so in the climatic and soil diversity of the wild, windy, and remote northern Santa Barbara County.

“We all came from different business backgrounds,” Sparks-Gillis recalled. “John was a lawyer taking a wine hiatus from his career, and Steve was working as a computer engineer. I was a geology major in college, but I had already turned to the wine business and had worked in various capacities for some significant wineries both in California and abroad.”

The trio’s plan was quite simple: Establish a winery that would use prime Santa Barbara County grapes and hand-produce the finest wines possible. They figured they had something of a leg up since they knew plenty about winemaking, albeit as an adjunct to their then primary careers. John had studied wine independently for ten years, and had apprenticed at renowned Fiddlehead Cellars. He had also worked for three years for one of the area’s top vineyard management companies, and had developed relationships with a number of the leading growers in the area. Sparks-Gillis’ experience included Manfred Krankl’s cultish Sine Qua Non Winery and the highly-rated Torbreck Vintners of the Barossa Valley in Australia.

The proprietors. Two are related.  One is not. 

The designation ‘Dragonette’ was selected for the winery because the partners believed it carried a certain panache of mystery and uniqueness, and of course was the brothers’ name, regardless. Their ancestors, the Dragonetti family, emigrated from Italy to the United States in the 1930s, and like many others promptly adopted a more Anglicized moniker.  (They missed the chance to go with Dragnet and get a jump on Jack Webb.)

The Dragonette logo is an old symbol used by alchemists for the ‘elixir of life’ or ‘drinkable gold.’ During medieval times, it was believed that gold contained certain medicinal properties, and the alchemists sought a process by which gold could be dissolved into a liquid that could then be ingested to obtain healing properties. And now, centuries later, the partners are turning a liquid into gold.  Neat trick.

Dragonette’s first release was a mere 200 cases in 2006. But success came quickly, and the winery has prospered and will produce about 5,000 cases this year at their smallish winery in Buellton, California.  The tasting room is located nearby in Los Olivos.

The Dragonette tasting room in Los Olivos, California.

Dragonette Rosé 2020

2020 marks Dragonette’s 14th vintage of producing their highly sought-after Rosé, a wine that tends to sell out quickly each year.  This wine was sourced from Two Wolves Vineyard (56%) and Vogelzang Vineyard (44%), both in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, located in Santa Barbara County.  The AVA covers over 76,000 acres, and is part of the larger Central Coast AVA. The Santa Ynez Valley also contains two smaller AVAs, Sta. Rita Hills (known for quality Pinot Noirs), and Happy Canyon (mostly home to Cabernet Sauvignon).

This wine is a blend of 91% Grenache and 9% Graciano, fermented using native yeasts in a variety of neutral oak and stainless steel vessels, and a concrete egg. It was aged for five months on the lees in neutral (used) barrels, and there was no malolactic fermentation.  It shows a lovely pink color, as so many Rosés do.  The nose offers up delicate aromas of strawberry and  raspberry.  This flows onto the palate, aided by melon and a bit of tart cherry.  It’s all complemented by refreshing acidity and a smooth mouthfeel.  600 cases were produced, and the alcohol is 13%.

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Scheid Family Wines

Today is Earth Day, first held on April 22, 1970.  An ideal moment to examine Scheid Family Wines, a producer deeply committed to earth-friendly practices (an enthusiasm shared by more and more winemakers every year, fortunately).

Scheid Family Wines got their start in 1972 when Al Scheid first purchased property in Monterey County and wine grape growing there was in its infancy. Scheid was drawn to the region for what he considered its untapped potential, for making money as well as farming.  Scheid was running his own investment company at the time.  A graduate of Harvard Business School and an investment banker, he realized that vineyards could make an excellent tax shelter, with their usual heavy investment on the front end and no income until at least five years later.  Originally named Monterey Farming Corporation, the enterprise he founded was a limited partnership; the tax laws at that time allowed investors to offset losses in one business against regular income from another one elsewhere.  And even before one acre was planted, Scheid, shrewd operator that he was, had found a customer for 100% of the grape production he anticipated (although, I’m guessing, not allowing revenue to outpace expenses, for a few years at least).

A hard-nosed origin story, for sure.  But Scheid was a firm believer in Mark Twain’s quote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So the truth is what it is.

Scheid brought his eldest son, Scott, who had been working on Wall Street as an options trader, into the expanding business in 1986.  (He is now CEO.)  In 1988, Kurt Gollnick, an admired viticulturist who had previously farmed for Bien Nacido Vineyards, was brought on as General Manager of Vineyard Operations.  A few years later, Scheid’s daughter Heidi, who had been working as a business valuation consultant after earning her MBA, also joined the operation.

Initial plantings were heavy on Colombard, Chenin Blanc, and Ruby Cabernet, but by the early ’90s the market was calling for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and, due to the 60 Minutes broadcast of The French Paradox, Merlot.  In addition, during these first 20 years or so, quite a bit of knowledge about farming wine grapes in Monterey County had been accumulated. Countering these positive developments, the vineyard scourge called phylloxera was killing vines in a large portion of the Scheid vineyards.  Other challenges, such as improvements to the irrigation system, were also involved.

A businessman first and foremost, Scheid bought out all of the initial outside investors so that operations could be streamlined and decisions made more expeditiously.  In short order, almost every single vineyard acre was redeveloped;  a new vineyard was acquired and planted to Pinot Noir; the number of customers was expanded from two to 20; and the company was rechristened Scheid Family Wines.

The operation now includes eight brands: Scheid Vineyards, Sunny with a Chance of Flowers, Ryder Estate, District 7, Ranch 32, Metz Road, VDR, and Stokes’ Ghost. Scheid Family Wines also produces many regionally distributed brands for individual clients and distributors.


100% drip irrigation is used in the vineyards, with technology that senses soil moisture and monitors plant stress to minimize water usage. A variety of cover crops between vineyard rows improves soil health , prevents erosion, controls vine vigor, discourages weeds, and promotes the sustainable health of the vineyard.  Beneficial insects control pests whenever possible.   Herbal-based preparations are applied to the soil to promote soil vitality through increased microbiologic activity and diversity. Over 250 owl boxes among the vineyards host barn owls to control rodents that prey on grapevines, such as gophers and field mice.  1500 acres of the estate vineyards are currently being farmed organically, with a goal of 100% organic practices in all of the vineyards by 2025.


Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) is a statewide certification program that provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices. Scheid achieved certification of their estate vineyards in 2014.

Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified helps farmers and winemakers demonstrate their dedication to preserving and protecting natural and human resources.  Scheid Family Wines began working with SIP in 2017 and now has five certified vineyards.

Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) Certification is an internationally recognized system that sets standards to ensure safe and sustainable agriculture and ensure product safety, environmental responsibility and the health, safety, and welfare of workers. Scheid became the first Global G.A.P. certified vineyards in the USA in 2015.

The Vineyards

Nestled between the Gabilan mountain range to the east and the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west, the Salinas Valley enjoys a cool coastal climate due to the influence of Monterey Bay.  Here, grapes can ripen more slowly and evenly, resulting in a growing season which can be up to two months longer than other wine growing regions in California.  Scheid currently farms about 4,000 acres spread over 12 estate vineyards located along a 70-mile stretch of the Salinas Valley.

The first property Scheid acquired was a 10-acre parcel located on the edge of the town of Greenfield.  He was guided by Professor A.J. Winkler, a viticultural authority at the University of California at Davis, who had published a report in 1960 classifying grape growing regions by climate. He equated Monterey County to Napa, Sonoma, Burgundy, and Bordeaux, with the potential to be one of the most climatically suitable regions in the state for growing high-quality wine grapes.

He soon bought other unplanted parcels in the area – land that turned into the present-day Elm, Hacienda, Viento, and Baja Viento Vineyards.  These were followed by other estate properties, all in the Monterey AVA, culminating in the current 12.

The Winery

Looming over the Scheid estate vineyard is a wind turbine, installed in July 2017.  It generates 4.65 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year, enough to provide 100% of the power needed to run the winery and bottling operations, plus power for an additional 125 local homes.  Just this one turbine offsets over 3,600 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

The winery itself was designed to reduce energy usage and cut waste. for instance by the extensive use of skylights.  Artificial lighting is controlled by automatic sensors that turn on and off as needed.  Fermentation tanks feature insulating jackets that reduce heating and cooling energy needs.  100% of the grape pomace, stems, and seeds are composted and spread back into the vineyards.  100% of the wastewater the winery generates is cycled through irrigation ponds and eventually finds its way back to the vineyards.

The rather daunting winery in Greenfield.

The more welcoming tasting room in Carmel.

A Few of the Wines

District 7 Chardonnay 2017

The name refers to Scheid’s official regional designation within California.  The fruit was sourced from their cooler estate vineyards in Monterey.  The juice was fermented for 14 months in 75% stainless steel and 25% new French oak.

The wine is a medium-gold color.  There are moderate aromas of grapefruit, apple, and melon on the nose.  That grapefruit explodes on the palate, with plenty of bracing acidity and a medium body.   The vanilla and oak notes are subtle, at best, which is predictable with so much of the wine having been made in stainless steel.  ABV is 13.5%.

Scheid Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2020

After harvest, the juice was fermented in 100% stainless steel, followed by four more months in cold stainless for aging.  This wine is nearly colorless in the glass, a very pale yellow.  It is moderately aromatic, smelling of honeydew and a hint of grass, so typical of Sauvignon Blanc but nicely restrained here.  The honeydew continues on the palate, with cascading flavors of just a bit o’ honey sweetness, followed by zippy acidity, and it all wraps up with some pleasant lime bitterness.  ABV is 13.5%.

Ryder Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2020

The fruit for this wine is grown in Scheid’s Ryder Estate vineyard in California’s Central Coast.  It saw eight hours of skin contact to extract the very pale salmon color, followed by cool fermentation in stainless steel.  This easy-drinking Rosé is quite aromatic, predominately of strawberries with a bit of melon.  That flavor continues on the palate, abetted by tart cherry and a hint of grapefruit.  The acidity is just right for a refreshing quaff.  ABV is 13%.

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Rescue Dog Wines

Founded in 2017 by Blair and Laura Lott, Rescue Dog Wines has an unusual and commendable mission: a generous 50% of their profits go to rescue dog organizations across the country. The Lotts explained that they started planning a new life in wine country around 2015. “We knew that we wanted to embrace sustainable growing practices and create a new, more rewarding lifestyle for ourselves. In addition, we knew that we wanted enough land to grow wine grapes and foster dogs. In addition, we knew that we wanted to create high quality, premium wines. During this period of exploration throughout many of California’s wine regions it dawned on us that we could combine our two passions and Rescue Dog Wines was born,” they reminisced.

As Rescue Dog Wines have been presented at rescue dog charity events around the country, the Lotts have felt an enormous wave of enthusiasm and interest. “The feedback we receive is phenomenal and heart-warming. We love meeting our customers and future customers and discussing our combined love of dogs and wine,” Blair explained. “People are initially drawn in by our mission, but end up leaving impressed with the wines,” he added. Blair and Laura also are ardent supporters of the Lodi growing region.

Laura Lott was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, and she grew up across the U.S. as part of an Air Force family. In the summers she visited her family in Brittany, on the northwest coast of France. Her grandfather was a pastry chef in St. Malo, and Laura has fond memories of spending time in the bakery. She would also visit cousins who were farmers; she remembers dinners being interrupted by having to run outside to take care of squealing pigs. She’d garden with her grandmother, and she would help her make jam from the raspberries she grew. She graduated from Trinity University in Texas with a degree in French literature, and also completed a master’s degree from the Thunderbird  School of Global Management, a part of Arizona State. Her first career path was as an HR specialist for large organizations, including Motorola, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sears.

As a young adult, Laura adopted her first rescue dog, a boxer, Daisy, from an animal rescue operation in Atlanta. The experience of visiting the animal shelter made an enormous impression on her; she determined after that visit to make rescue dogs a cause in her life.

Georgia native Blair Lott worked with his father on their 20-acre farm during his upbringing, continuing a tradition passed down by several generations. The family grew vegetables and raised livestock. There were lots of dogs in his life, mostly boxers and Boston terriers. At 17, Lott embarked on a musical career when he formed an alternative rock band. He continued working in the music world, writing and performing in Athens, Georgia, Nashville, and as far afield as Melbourne, Australia. Eventually he transitioned into working as a digital media consultant. During his three years in Australia, he became immersed in the wine and food scene there, and became intrigued with the idea of making wine his vocation. After returning to the U.S. and marrying Laura, they moved to northern California with the intention of pursuing a life in wine.

The couple traveled to wine regions regularly, including a trip they took for a landmark birthday. They spent three weeks traveling through vineyards in France and Spain, further cementing the idea of owning their own vineyard and producing wine.

“We looked everywhere from Paso Robles to Napa Valley for vineyard and winery properties to buy,” said Blair, “and someone suggested, have you considered Lodi?  Check it out, it’s fantastic.” That tip lead them to buy a 19.5-acre property in 2016, complete with a house and old vines (since pulled out and replaced with new, trellised vines planted to to Grenache, Sangiovese, and Mourvedre) on Acampo Road. The winery also sources grapes from around the Lodi growing region which are grown according to Lodi Rules and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance sustainability protocols.

The Winemakers

Susana Vasquez
The winemakers are Susana Rodriguez Vasquez and Eric Donaldson. “We started with about a barrel of red wine (adding up to just 25 cases),” Blair recalled, “and then we had 10,000 people asking for it. So we asked Susy (Peltier Winery winemaker Susana Vasquez) to help us duplicate the quality with two pallets (over 100 cases), which also flew out the window.” Vasquez next created Rescue Dog Sauvignon Blanc, and then added a dry rosé made from Pinot Noir.  Vasquez got her wine education at the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Bolivia and UC Davis.   This was followed by about five years each at beverage giants E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands,

Eric Donaldson
“Laura likes sparkling rosé,” said Blair, “and we got Eric (LVVR Sparkling Cellars owner/winemaker Eric Donaldson) to produce a demi-sec [sweet] style sparkler for people who don’t like dry.”  After graduting from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. Eric began his wine career in Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Next came jobs in Sonoma County and for Gruet in New Mexico.  He worked on a lot of sparkling wine there, and the experience offered insight into warmer climates and how they impact sparkling wines.  Unfortunately, none of Donaldson’s wines were available for this review.  Maybe next time.

“Both Susy and Eric are great to work with,” continued Blair. “Susy especially will spend any amount of time with you, making sure you get exactly what you want. When she says, ‘I’m your winemaker,’ she really means that.”

Rescue Dog Wines is still very much a boutique operation. “We sold over 200 cases last year [2019],” noted Blair, “and we’ll double that this year. If our roll-out in markets in other states goes according to plan, I’m projecting 8,000 cases in a few more years. Truth be told, we’re not yet profitable, but we’re still keeping our commitment by donating half our revenue to several animal organizations. We’re doing it by not paying ourselves. Someday, though, I hope we’ll be able to donate 100%.”  There are plans for a tasting room in Lodi sometime in the future.

Rescue Dog Predominantly Poodle Lodi Sauvignon Blanc NV

This “”Poodle” pours a very pale, indeed nearly colorless, yellow into the glass.  The nose greets you with aromas of mangoes and coconut.  These flavors continue on the dry palate, aided by green apple, brioche, a good mouthfeel, and well-structured acidity. There is only a touch of grassiness, which is fine with me because I think it mars too many Sauvignon Blancs. Adds winemaker Susana Vasquez, “Stainless steel fermented, skin contact before fermentation, blended with Vermentino.”  ABV is 12.50%.

Rescue Dog Lodi Rosé 2018

This pretty pale pink Rosé features aromas of rose petals and melons.  There is zippy citrus on the palate, especially lemon. and a suggestion of mango, all supported by good acidity.  According to Vasquez, this wine was made entirely from Pinot Noir, and pressed specifically to become a Rosé.  There was no saignée [say-NAY], i.e., it was not made by a partial draw-off of pigmented juice from the ferment, but rather allowed to complete fermentation on its own.  ABV is an approachable 11%.

Rescue Dog Beloved Mixed Red Wine Blend NV

This easy-drinking red is a surprisingly inky, dark purple.  It displays a delicate nose of cherry and strawberry, followed by flavors of blueberry, sweet plum,  and a hint of pepper, The tannins are nicely supportive, paired with well-balanced acidity on the medium body.  From Susana Vasquez’s notes: “Jammy fruit qualities with not too much oak (10% of the blend saw no oak), blending Zinfandel, Teroldego, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.”  ABV is 14.3%.

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Waipapa Bay Rosé

Waipapa BayIn 1819 English missionaries first brought vines to New Zealand. For the next 150 years or so, most of the wine produced there was for local consumption. That began to change in 1973, when Sauvignon Blanc was planted in Marlborough. Within the next decade, the wines and the region became New Zealand’s most famous.

Althogh the nation is, surprisingly, made up of around 600 islands, there are two primary ones, the aptly named North and South Islands. Predictably, most of its regions have a maritime climate. The country is divided along its length by a spine of mountains, which causes a rain shadow that keeps things fairly dry on the eastern side, where almost all of the grape growing is done, while it’s quite rainy on the west.

In 1987 Brent and Shirley Rawstron started farming 7.5 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the banks of the Halswell River in Canterbury, New Zealand. They soon re-planted to almost all Pinot Noir, which they found to be much more suited to the property. Eventually the estate expanded to 15 acres, all on north-facing slopes. In 2004, they pressed into Marlborough in search of additional desirable vineyard sites, and the couple now owns 100 acres of vineyards there, planted to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. Like 98% of New Zealand’s production, their grapes are sustainably grown.

Marlborough offers a special combination of climatic features that create the ideal site for bright, ripe, balanced fruit: plentiful sunshine, long, warm summer days, and cool nights that keep acidity in the grapes. These conditions particularly suit Sauvignon Blanc. Soils vary considerably in the region, allowing subtle differences between and even within vineyards. These are divided into blocks according to soil and aspect, and are harvested and vinified separately.

The name Waipapa Bay comes from a spot on the Pacific Ocean known for surfing and marine life. It is located halfway between the Canterbury home of the Rawstrons (native New Zealanders) and their vineyards in Rapaura.

The Waipapa Bay line is imported by Broadland Drinks, a 50-year-old international wine business with a British heritage. It has also been co-owner of the brand since 2012.

Waipapa Bay Pinot Noir Rosé

This 100-percent Pinot Noir hails from the Rawston’s estate in Canterbury. To produce the wine’s pale salmon hue, the skins are in contact with the wine for the first 24 hours. This rosé has aromas of strawberries and summer fruits, with a dash of spice. Carried by a medium body, on the palate there are plenty of red fruit flavors, especially raspberries and strawberries, which linger on the long finish. These come with a grapefruit-like zippy acidity. Serve lightly chilled. The ABV is 13%.

Note: In 2001, a small group of winemakers created The Screwcap Initiative, and the closure has become ubiquitous there, with 99% of New Zealand’s wines now released under screwcap.  The closure has gained major acceptance from Australian producers as well.

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Midnight Black Rosé

Midnight Black RoseTo say that the Taub family is an international wine and spirits powerhouse is, frankly, quite an understatement.  It all started on December 6th, 1933, when Martin Taub and his brothers started making brandy in Jersey City. After World War II, Taub started a distributorship in New York because long-time clients Ernest and Julio Gallo needed a partner on the East Coast.

Martin’s son David started his career working at the distribution company, but in 1977, he struck out on his own (with his father’s help, of course), founding  Palm Bay Imports. Soave was a big seller at the time, so David headed to Italy’s Trentino region to locate a new Italian wine for the U.S.  And find one he did: Pinot Grigio. He formed a partnership with the Cantina Viticoltori del Trentino, Ca’Vit for short, which Taub changed to Cavit for the American market (TV personality Dick Cavett was an early pitchman). The Taubs’ distribution muscle sent Cavit across America, and people lapped it up.  Italian acreage of Pinot Grigio doubled between 1990 and 2000 alone. (The success wasn’t just due to Taub’s Cavit, though. The Terlato family’s Paterno Imports, no small operation itself, started bringing in another Pinot Girgio that would go on to become a big seller, Santa Margherita, in 1979.)

In 1990 Taub started what would become an aggressive expansion program by adding two more Italian estates.  In 1998, he partnered with Olive Garden, and today Palm Bay is the supplier for their wine program, including the chain’s house wines, produced by Cavit. And there are plenty of other wines to chose from as well.  Palm Bay Imports was rechristened Palm Bay International in 2007 when the company added domestic wineries to their portfolio, which now numbers 103 producers of both wines and spirits in 17 countries. And as if that weren’t enough, in 2016 the “fine wine” labels, including Chateau LaFite Rothschild, Légende, and Los Vascos, were spun off as Taub Family Selections, with 83 brands of their own.  See?  International powerhouse, and one you’ve probably never heard of.  The operation is now into the third generation, with David’s son Marc ascending to CEO after his father’s death in 2012.

Midnight Black Rosé

This pink is 100% Lagrein from Trentino, where it is mostly grown.  It’s marketed as a wine for strong independent women.  “You know who you are and that’s for sure not a girly-girl. You are fierce, always stand up for
what you believe in, and never apologize. You believe that life is more fun when you take risks and veer outside the lines,” states the sales flyer.  Whatevs.  I’m a manly-man and I drink Rosé without apology dammit (especially when it’s ripping hot outside, as it is right now.)  Fermentation was on the seeds and skins (aka must) for the first two days to induce the color, which is a nice pink/orange.  After fermentation was complete, the wine aged for  several months in stainless steel tanks.  This full-bodied, bone-dry Rosé offers aromas and flavors  of apricot, melon, and grapefruit, with a bit of Seville oranges at the finish. There is a balanced acidity, and the ABV is 12.5%.

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Riley’s Rows

Riley's Rows


There’s an old witticism in the wine business that goes, “If you want to make a million dollars by producing wine, the first thing you need to do is spend a million dollars.” For a young and ambitious vintner to be able to skip that first step would be quite a blessing. Such is the case with Riley Flanagan. She is the eldest daughter of Eric Flanagan, a boutique winemaker and grape supplier in Sonoma, California. Through his Flanagan Wines operation, her father shares the tasting room, winemaking facility, and some of the fruit for his daughter’s own wine label.

Riley Flanagan

Riley Flanagan literally grew up in the vineyard. She was born in 1999, the year that her father bought his first piece of land, which at the time had not yet seen any cultivation. At the age of three, she helped plant their first vines in that first family vineyard, located in Bennett Valley. The site sits at 1200 feet up on the south and southwest slopes of Bennett Ridge at the confluence of San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap. The soil is rocky, volcanic cobbles with excellent drainage. Having a warm micro-climate in a cool region means that bud break here is early, but harvest is late. The extra hang time for the grapes, along with the low yields and the hillside site, can deliver intense, complex fruit.

Isabelle MortIsabelle Mort

She helped bring in the harvest of Flanagan’s first wine (it was just one barrel, released in 2004). As she grew older, she began to work in the cellar of the winery, being mentored by Flanagan’s winemaker, Isabelle Mort (among others along the way), and who is now her winemaker as well. With this kind of background, Riley, although as of this writing just twenty-years-old, is way ahead of the game. (I find it’s rather ironically amusing that Riley is old enough to legally oversee a wine operation in California, but not to drink its products.) Her stated goal is to “create a wine for everyone; great wines, made with integrity, at an accessible price. I want [people] to experience all of the beauty [wine] has to offer.”  To fill her idle hours, Riley is currently a full-time student in chemistry, a field she has also been interested in since childhood, at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Riley Flanagan


The name “Riley’s Rows” refers to the vines she planted with her father twenty years ago, and her current releases are bottlings made from those very same plants. About that early beginning, Riley shared, “From that day on, I was in love. I gave up my aspirations of being a princess and committed to becoming a wine maker.” The drawings of grape vines on the labels are by Riley herself, made when she was four years old.

Flanagan clan

The Flanagan clan.

4CsA portion of Riley’s Rows retail sales are donated to 4Cs, a nonprofit organization that operates 11 state-funded preschools, and provides affordable, quality childcare in the Sonoma area.

4Cs Sonoma


The neck of the bottle of this and all of the Riley’s Rows selections have no foil capsule, by intent.  Riley shared, “I don’t use foils because I don’t like them. I just prefer the look of not having them and I can’t stand cutting them!”

Riley’s Rows Sauvignon Blanc. 2019

This wine was made from just the second crop harvested from the Redwood Valley Grape Ranch in Mendocino County, way up north.  It was fermented in 60% stainless steel and 40% barrels.  It is nearly colorless, with merely a suggestion of yellow.  It has a delicate nose of papaya and honeydew, and a nice smooth mouthfeel.  The subtle flavors are lemon and grapefruit, with absolutely no grassiness.  Although relatively common in this varietal,  I prefer my Sauvignon Blancs without it.  The finish is clean but somewhat short.  ABV is 12.8%, and 1,024 cases were released.

Riley’s Rows Rosé of Syrah 2019

This super refreshing rose began life in a small Syrah vineyard in Sonoma’s Bennett Valley.  The goal was to mimic the pink wines of Provence.  It is a lovely light salmon color in the glass.  You are greeted with aromas of mouthwatering ripe fruits, particularly nectarines and strawberries.  The soft plush mouthfeel and medium body is paired with flavors of grapefruit, blood orange, and stone fruits.  The delicate tannins and vibrant acidity lead to a medium finish.  The dry fermentation was in 60% stainless steel and 40% neutral barrels (hence those subtle tannins).  ABV is 12.8%, and 540 cases were produced.

Riley’s Rows 3×3 Red Blend 2017

Made from 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah, and 29% Merlot from a number of north-coast Sonoma vineyards, including the Flanagan’s Brandt Ranch. It was in French oak barrels, 20% new and the remainder once-used, for 14 months.  This blend opens with a nose full of dark fruits and a hint of cocoa.  Next come flavors of plums, blackberry, and more cocoa, complemented by good acidity.  But what really stands out here are the big, grippy tannins.  Now, this is fine with me, but may not be for everyone.  It ends in a long finish with, predictably, plenty of black tea notes.   The ABV is 14.2% and 355 cases were made.

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Ser Winery

Ser Winery


In the tradition-bound world of wine, winemaking has, predictably, been dominated by men. For example, there are about 4,800 wineries in California, but only 10 percent have female lead winemakers. (When it comes to winery ownership, the number does jump up to about 19 percent, according to Woman Owned Wineries, a nationwide directory of female wine entrepreneurs.)

Encouragingly, however, greater educational opportunities (as opposed to the historically more usual inheriting a wine operation) have been opening the possibility of becoming a winemaker to more and more women. One of these is Nicole Walsh of Ser Winery in Aptos, California, due east of Santa Cruz.

The winemaker

Over the course of her 19-year career (so far), Walsh has held just about every position in the wine industry, including associate winemaker, winemaker, vineyard manager, grower-relations manager, and owner. She was born in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1975. An early interest in wine drew her to Michigan State University, graduating with honors in 1998. At the time, the undergraduate department of Viticulture and Enology there was, remarkably, comprised of just two students. This provided a highly unusual opportunity to be immersively mentored by Horticulture professors in grape growing and winemaking. As part of her last semester at MSU, she attended a sustainable agriculture university, EARTH, in Costa Rica. While there, Walsh became proficient in Spanish, and she solidified her commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Nicole Walsh

Nicole Walsh    Photo:

After graduation, she worked for four years on the Leelanau peninsula in northern Michigan. This small AVA (one of five in Michigan) is home to 27 wineries, and has diverse microclimates uniquely suited to cool-climate wine grapes, particularly Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. During her time there, she managed vineyards and honed her winemakeing skills.

In early 2001, she married Kevin Walsh, and together they moved to Santa Cruz, California. Shortly thereafter, in February, she started working with Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard.

Walsh took a sabbatical from Bonny Doon in 2008, when she moved with her husband and young son to Marlborough, New Zealand. After a year, she returned to Santa Cruz to develop Bonny Doon’s newest property in San Juan Bautista. She continues to manage that property as well as make wine at Bonny Doon’s Santa Cruz winery.

In 2012, reflecting on her New Zealand experience, especially with Pinot Noir, Walsh decided to start her own wine brand as well, which she christened Ser, which is Spanish for “expressing identity or origin; having the intrinsic quality of.”

“I was inspired for the name after reading an article by Andrew Jefford, ‘Wine and Astonishment’. It was in that writing that the notion of the ‘being’ of wine truly resonated with me. Being is different than existing. It is true, wine exists; you can touch it, smell it, drink it. To quote Jefford, ‘Being, by contrast, is the ‘isness’ inside.’ In other words, the natural essence of the grapes unique to each specific growing area. I am dedicated to preserving the ‘isness’ of wine, to allow its true varietal expression and the place and time of its origins,” shared Walsh. Clearly, this thinking closely aligns with the traditional concept of terroir.

She continued, “Jefford also talks of that first moment of insight, that moment when some people decide to devote their professional life to wine. He says,’It gives the lucky few who choose to ‘grow wine’ the chance to use craft to embody, reflect, and echo nature itself.’ I am privileged to be one of those ‘lucky few.'”

Ser Winery Tasting Room

Ser Winery Tasting Room in Aptos, California

Once the winery was underway, she began working with local Santa Cruz Mountain growers to purchase fruit from a number of interesting vineyards with distinct microclimates in the appellation. In symbiotic partnership with those farmers, she started experimenting with several varieties, such as Riesling and Chardonnay (both of which she had worked with on Leelanau), Syrah, Mourvedre, and a much less-known variety, Cabernet Pfeffer. She is committed to preserving and enhancing the unique character of the varietals used in her wine.

Ser’s label, designed by local artist and teacher Jenny Angelacos, was inspired by an ocean wave and Walsh’s love of surfing. It is intended to convey the unifying thread that connects the diverse places from which she sources her grapes.

The wines

Nicole Walsh hard at work; winemaking doesn’t get more hands-on than this.

Ser Dry Riesling Wirz Vineyard 2017

OK, I’m going to be honest about this up-front: although Riesling is, by all accounts, one of the world’s greatest white-wine grapes, and makes classic food-friendly wines in a range of styles from quite dry to very sweet, I’ve never been much of a fan.  But I enjoyed this expression, so kudos to Ms Walsh.

The fruit came from the Wirz Vineyard, located in San Benito County’s Cienega Valley, in the foothills of the Gabilan Mountain Range at about 1100 feet above sea level and 25 miles or so from the Pacific Ocean. It is composed of granite and limestone soil. Owner Pat Wirz employs head training, dry farming and organic techniques on the over 90-year-old Cabernet Pfeffer and 60-year-old Riesling vines.

In “head training,” vines are tied to a wooden stake positioned at each one. The stake generally stands three to four feet above the soil surface. When used conservatively, this system is ideally suited to production of low to moderate quantities of high-quality grapes.

To make this wine, Walsh pressed whole grape clusters in stainless steel, which was also used for fermentation. She used an indigenous yeast, and the wine was bottled prior to malolactic fermentation to lend softness without stripping the acidity.  It is medium yellow in the glass, with a nose of olive oil and delicate floral notes.  These are followed by mostly tart citrus on the palate, particularly lime, with subtle hints of pear and apple. It’s balanced out by that good acidity, and wraps up with a medium finish. The ABV is 13% and 160 cases were made.

Ser Vermentino Cedar Lake Vineyard 2019

Cedar Lane vineyard is located in the Arroyo Seco appellation of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County. Soils are well drained, river bed gravelly loam.

After arriving at the winery, the grapes were whole-cluster pressed into stainless steel tank to begin primary fermentation. The wine was transferred mid-way through fermentation to neutral French oak puncheons (500L). There was partial malolactic fermentation, followed by eight months of aging in barrel prior to bottling.

This very pale wine has almost no nose.  On the palate you will find delicate citrus, lychee, and a hint of honey.  It offers crisp acidity and a short finish.  The ABV is 13% and 175 cases were made.

Ser Dry Orange Muscat 2020

Before opening the bottle, I thought this might be an “orange” wine, that is, a white wine made by leaving the skins on white grapes during fermentation, also known as skin-contact wine.  This results in an amber or orange hue in the finished product.  But no.  Orange Muscat is a relatively obscure grape variety, a cross between two more widely-known parents: Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains and Chasselas.

There are many other subcategories of Muscat as well, and these are often vinified into sweet or fortified wines.  However, this one is bone dry and is pale gold, much like any other white.  Whole grape clusters were pressed to stainless steel, followed by a cool fermentation for 20 days.  The wine was bottled without malolactic fermentation after four months on the lees.  Unusual for a Muscat, it is only slightly aromatic, with apricot and mango on the nose.  These flavors continue in the mouth, but are masked somewhat by the bracing citrus-laced acidity.  There’s even a hint of pepper.  ABV is 13%, and 87 cases were made.

Ser Rosé of Grenache Loma Del Rio Vineyard 2020

The Loma del Rio vineyard is located on the west side of the Salinas Valley at the foot of the Santa Lucia Highlands just south of King City. Walsh declares it, “one of my favorite sites for Grenache.”

This wine was whole-cluster pressed to stainless steel. The juice was clarified with a centrifuge to help mitigate smoke taint due to the wildfires in the region at time of harvest.  Happily, none is evident. It was bottled without malolactic fermentation after four months on the lees.

This wine is a delicate pink salmon, with an unassuming aroma to match, one that is primarily rose petal.  The palate offers strawberry and guava. There is plenty of juicy grapefruit-laced acidity, and a medium finish.  This is a wine that benefits from not being numbed.  After being on the counter for a while, and it came up from the refrigerator temperature of 36° F to about 50° F, the nose didn’t change much, but the flavors became much more apparent.  Walsh made 100 cases, and the ABV is 13%.

Ser Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield 2016

This is the first time I have encountered a vineyard referred to as a “grapefield.”  It was planted in 1997 on six and half acres in the heart of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation. It now has seven blocks in 104 acres, 81 of which are planted with  Pinot Noir. Tondre Grapefield is SIP Certified.

Composition is 100% Pinot Noir, all from the Tondre Grapefield, and harvested from 10-year-old Pommard clone vines. (The Pommard clone was originally sourced from the Château de Pommard in Burgundy by Dr. Harold Olmo of the UC Davis’ Department of Viticulture and Enology in the early 1970s.)

Walsh created this Pinot Noir by starting with five days of cold soak. Indigenous yeast was used for the eight days of primary fermentation. This was followed by four days of maceration before being pressed into neutral French puncheons (large oak barrels that usually hold 80 to 133 gallons) for 14 months of malolactic ageing.

This shows Pinot Noir’s classic clear, bright red in the glass. The nose offers aromas of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and roast plum.  The palate is dominated by tart cherry and zippy acidity.  The wine has excellent balance, and it all wraps up with a long finish.  ABV is 13.5%. Just 80 cases were produced.

Ser Cabernet Pfeffer Central Coast 2016

Cabernet Pfeffer is an extremely rare variety with less than 12 acres grown in California, most of them located in San Benito, a wine region at the southern end of the Santa Cruz mountains. It was once thought to be a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and another, unknown variety, and to have been bred in Los Altos Hills, California, in the late 19th century by farmer and winemaker William Pfeffer. However, a recent ampelography ( the field of botany concerned with the identification and classification of grapevines) study by UC Davis on the Wirz vines discovered they are are in fact Mourtaou, a  French variety from the Bordeaux region. Whether the variety was named after the farmer or for its spicy characteristics (Pfeffer is German for pepper) is a mystery.

Ser’s Central Coast Cabernet Pffefer began with five days of cold soak with a small addition of sulphur . Indigenous yeast was used for the ten days of fermentation. This was followed by ten days of maceration before being pressed into barrels, of which 50% were neutral and 50% were new French oak. After three months, the wine was transferred  to neutral oak for 14 months of barrel ageing. The blend is 76% Cabernet Pfeffer and 24% Cabernet Franc.

The wine starts with a bright, clear red cherry color in the glass, much like the Pinot Noir.  But then we move on.  The nose shows plenty of juicy fruit, like cherry Starburst candy (seriously) and hints of violets.  Then come flavors of those same juicy cherries.  Also, since  Cab Pffefer is known for its spice and pepper, I was surprised on first trying it that those were subtle, at best.  But after about two hours of air, it’s “Hello pepper!” settling on the back of the tongue.  It is supported by good acidity, fine tannins that resemble those of Cabernet Sauvignon, and a medium, slightly bitter finish. The alcohol is 13.3%, and  220 cases were produced.

Ser Wirtz and Silletto Vineyards Cabernet Pfeffer 2015

As noted above, this varietal is quite rare in California, so it is remarkable that Walsh makes a second expression.

This wine was sourced 64% from the Wirz Vineyard and 36% from the Siletto Vineyard, both in San Benito County.

The Wirz vineyard is located in the CIenega Valley of the Gabilan Mountain range. The 95-year old-vines are dry farmed using organic methods in decomposed granite and limestone soils. The Siletto vineyard is located just East of the Wirz vineyard near Paicines in San Benito County. These 25-year-old vines live on gravelly-loam soil.

After harvest, the grapes were cold soaked for four days prior to primary fermentation. They saw five days of maceration post fermentation, then were pressed to neutral French oak puncheons, where they aged for 14 months prior to bottling.

Like the Central Coast offering, the wine starts with a bright, clear red cherry color in the glass, with a hint of brick.  The moderate aroma is predominantly cola.  This is followed by flavors of dark fruit, baked plum, tart cherry, and some more of that cola.  Unlike the Central Coast wine, the pepper was quite subtle.  There is good acidity and delicate but well-integrated tannins . The alcohol is 14%, and  230 cases were produced.

Ser Graciano Bokisch Vineyard 2018

This wine is all Graciano (aka Morrestel in France), a red-wine grape traditionally hailing from the Rioja and Navarra regions of Spain.  The fruit was sourced from the Terra Alta vineyard farmed by Bokisch Vineyards, a winery and grape grower located in the Clement Hills subdistrict of the Lodi AVA.  Grown on Redding gravelly clay loam, the vines are roughly 19 years old.  Markus Bokisch named this property “Terra Alta” because it reminded him of  the wine region near his home town in the Catalunya region of Spain.  The vineyard is Certified Organic by CCOF and  Certified Green by the Lodi Rules Program

After fermentation  in one-ton bins, the wine was pressed to neutral French oak puncheons and aged for 16 months.  It pours a transparent purple, with mouth-watering aromas of red and black fruit.  On the palate, this is predominately cherries and red berries, with a bit of white pepper spice.  It has a medium body, not unlike a Pinot Noir.  It is supported by good tannins that offer up just a hint of bitterness.  Walsh made 70 cases, and the ABV is 13.4%.

Other Ser wines

Although I haven’t tried them, in addition to these selections Ser Winery also offers Rosé of Cinsaut (a red-wine grape from Languedoc-Roussillon, usually characterized by a light body, high acidity, and low tannins), Sparkling Riesling, a second Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, and yet a third (!) Cabernet Pfeffer.  There is a wine club with three shipment options, the easiest and most reliable way to obtain these limited-production wines.

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Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé

Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé is produced and bottled by Vignobles Jérôme Quiot, a privately-held family company that has been making wine in the south of France since 1748.

This wine comes to us from Aix-en-Provence, which is just north of Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast, the area known as Côtes de Provence (coast of Provence). The Mediterraneans have elevated summertime living to an art form, of course, and this wine is very much in that spirit.

Aurélien Houchart (1840 – 1918) studied at school in Aix, where Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola were among his fellow students.

Houchart was interested in agricultural problems as well as art. Toward the end of the 19th century he replanted the family’s vineyard at Puyloubier, which had been destroyed by phylloxera. He also had a winemaking cellar constructed there in 1890. This estate would much later become Domaine Houchart.

Aurélien’s son Hilaire (1885 -1939) served with honor in the French army during World War I.  Following the Armistice, he then dedicated the remainder of  his life to the upkeep of the family’s wine estates. Hilaire had two daughters, one of which was the mother of Geneviève who married Jérôme Quiot.

In 1984, Geneviève acquired the vineyard that had been owned by the Houchart family from 1896 to 1941, and named it after her great grandfather: Domaine Houchart.

In 2002, Domaine Houchart was combined with the Quiot’s Domaine de Verlaqueinto, both located at the foot of Mont Sainte Victoire.  Writing about the property in 1938 a journalist noted, “[It] consists of 60 hectares of which 56 are planted with vines. The vineyard is tended well and is composed of Carignan, Grand Noir, Grenache, white Ugni and Clairette grapes. Large, old cellars that have been transformed in order to adapt to modern winemaking equipment. Very good mechanical equipment, leading to high yields with the use of less manpower.”

Mont Sainte Victoire  Photo: A.M.H.

Once the domaines were joined, an extensive rehabilitation and updating of both the vineyard and winery soon followed.

The Quiots have two children, Jean-Baptiste and Florence. Today, they are the fifth generation of the family to work on the estate.

The Quiot family also owns and manages Domaine du Vieux Lazaret, Domaine Duclaux, Combes d’Arnevels,  and Château du Trignon along with Domaine Houchart.

Domaine Houchart Provence Tradition Rosé  2006

The vines for this wine grow in rough-textured clay and limestone soils formed from the decomposition of the mother rock from the surrounding mountains.

This rosé is a blend of 35% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% other grape varieties. The wine has a very appealing light salmon color. It is fairly dry, with just a hint of sweetness. This is a perfect summer wine: light, uncomplicated, and highly approachable. The red berry and strawberry flavors are complimented by a clean but short finish. A white and a red are also available as part of the Provence Tradition line.

Enjoy this wine on its own as an aperitif before dinner, or pair it with sushi (beer and sake are certainly not the only options), seafoods such as shrimp with saffron rice, or mild cheeses after dinner.

Domaine Houchart Rosé

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Cline Cellars

Cline CellarsEverything Old is New Again

As you enter Sonoma county from the south on California 121, one of the first wineries you encounter is Cline Cellars, and there could hardly be a better introduction to the Carneros AVA.

Even as a young teenager, Fred Cline learned to make wine from his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, he of the hydrotherapy tub, as well as many other innovations). With a $9000 inheritance from Valeriano, in 1981 Cline founded the eponymous Cline Cellars in Oakley, California.

The winery was relocated to its current location in 1991. The property is the original site of the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the 21st and final of the historic California missions. Although the mission was moved in 1823, the Cline tasting room is located in a rustic 1850s farmhouse that is original to the property, surrounded by spring-fed ponds and thousands of rose bushes. The vineyards also reflect this history, with vines ranging from 80 to 120 years old.
Cline is one of the first of the pioneering Rhone Rangers, a group dedicated to wines from the grapes of the Côtes du Rhône in France (ironic for a boy with an Italian grandfather, no?)

Cline also has been a pioneer in sustainable farming. It is the second-largest completely solar-powered winery in California. Natural cover crops are used to nourish the soils, sheep and goats roam freely as they graze on weeds, and compost teas are used as fertilizer. “We’d be considered ‘organic’ if we wanted to follow the rules of the government,“ said Cline. “We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules.“ He calls his methods “beyond organic.”

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Mourvèdre Rosé 2017

C’mon! Don’t be afraid! Summer’s here, and what could be better than rosé? There are all kinds of dry, crisp expressions available, absolutely none like the dreaded cloying White Zinfandel of days gone by. This selection is an excellent place to start.

Fresh herb and strawberry aromas are followed by tart watermelon and just a hint of lemon peel and thyme flavors in this medium-bodied, smooth, and rather soft-textured wine.

Excellent as a well-chilled aperitif, or pair it with raw oysters, lobster Newburg, or planked salmon.

Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2017

The grapes for this Zin were planted by Italian and Portuguese immigrants in the sandy, phylloxera-resistant soils of Oakley, California, more than 100 years ago. Ancient, indeed. This dusty-ruby colored wine is lively and supple, with raspberry and baked stone fruit aromas. Tart cherry predominates on the medium-full body, complemented by medium tannins, moderate vanilla oak, and just a hint of pepper.

Serve this up with venison sausage and smoked gouda pizza, Kentucky burgoo, or barbequed duck.

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Smoking Loon Steelbird Rosé

Smoking LoonSamuele SebastianiIn 1895, Samuele Sebastiani left his native Tuscany for America. Eventually arriving in Sonoma, California, he worked hauling paving stones for a local quarry that were used to build the streets of San Francisco. Perhaps looking for less demanding work, in 1904 he purchased winemaking equipment and made his first 500 gallons of wine. Just five years later, he had enough financial success to purchase the Sonoma Mission vineyard (planted in 1825 for sacramental wines), the site the Sebastiani winery occupies to this day.

Sebastiani was the only winery in Sonoma County to continue operations during Prohibition by making a small amount of sacramental and medicinal wines. This and fruit growing were the only ways wineries were able to survive. Nearly ten years after Prohibition was enacted, the Great Depression added to the struggle. Sebastiani initiated major projects at the winery to help keep people employed by canning peaches, nectarines, and pears. When there weren’t enough jobs at the winery, he built a skating rink, theater, motel, and meeting hall at the Catholic Church.


Samuele Sebastiani

Following the repeal of the scourge of Prohibition, Samuele’s youngest son, August, joined the family business as winemaker. August purchased the winery from his late father’s estate in 1944. He expanded the business and began to sell name-branded wines.

In 1980, with August’s death the winery was passed down to his three children. The oldest, Sam, became CEO and President, and began to shift production from lower-cost products to upscale varietals. He left the company in 1986 to start his own business, and August’s youngest son, Don, ascended to control. During his first ten years, he increased production by 300%. In 2001 he established Don Sebastiani & Sons, a beverage holding company that includes wine, spirits, and water. Ironically, the portfolio does not include the original business, Sebastiani Vineyards, which was sold to the Foley Wine Group in 2008, which also owns Firestone Vineyards in Santa Barbara, Merus in Napa, and Three Rivers Winery in Washington state.

Smoking Loon Steelbird Rosé 2018

Smoking Loon, however, is one of the Don Sebastiani & Sons brands.  The blend is 60% Barbera, 27% Syrah, and 13% Grenache, with an ABV of 12%.  It is a petal pink color in the glass, and opens with fragrant aromas of strawberry, plum and cantaloupe.  The palate features a lovely watermelon flavor, followed by tart rhubarb and finally juicy, fruit flavors of apricot, and strawberry. This well-balanced wine has good acidity and a fresh, crisp finish.

Smoking Loon claims “the label activates PINK when [the] wine is a perfectly chilled 50ºF.” but I didn’t see it.

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Sanford Winery

Sanford WinerySanford Winery, the first such operation in Santa Barbara wine country, was established when the Sanford & Benedict vineyard was planted in 1971. Botanist Michael Benedict and his friend Richard Sanford were committed to finding a cool-climate location with just enough heat accumulation to ripen, but not over ripen, wine grapes. A place where they could plant and grow grapes and craft wines, where they hoped the quality might equal the best of Europe.

Benedict began researching and touring the cool coastal regions of California in search of a site that would suit this mission. His pursuit took him to a unique part of the Santa Ynez Valley, to the property that would ultimately become the Sanford & Benedict vineyard. The area owes its magic to an unusual east-west mountain valley that runs from the vineyards to the Pacific Ocean. This passage allows a meteorological ebb-and-flow of air temperature between the mountains and the sea that is ideal for cool-climate varietals.( It was also this vineyard that supplied the cuttings for many of the surrounding vineyards that sprang up in the wake of its success.)

The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was named one of the five most important and iconic vineyards in California by Wine Enthusiast. It is known for both its historical significance and the continued quality of the fruit it produces. Sanford farms 51 acres of vines from the original planting, the oldest in the region. These vines were planted on their own root stock (vitis vinifera), and these “own rooted” vines have flourished for more than 45 years. The vineyard features calcium-rich clay loam soils with fractured shale and chert (a hard, dark, opaque rock composed of silica (chalcedony) with an amorphous or microscopically fine-grained texture), a result of the sloughing off of the top half of this mountain over one million years ago. Primarily planted to Pinot Noir, the Sanford & Benedict vineyard features more than 20 individual blocks and 11 different clones.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

The La Rinconada Vineyard was planted in 1997, and is adjacent to Sanford & Benedict. It is home to 20 vineyard blocks and 12 clones. The same soil and climate conditions make both areas ideal sources for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The individual blocks of these two estate vineyards are farmed and harvested to make the most of their subtle variations in soils and microclimates.

La Rinconada Vineyard

La Rinconada Vineyard

The property in total is comprised of nearly 1,200 acres, with approximately 262 acres planted to vine. Much of the property remains undeveloped natural land, including a 127-acre conservation easement pledged to the Santa Barbara Land Trust. It is this balance of farmed versus unfarmed land on the ranches which helps in creating and maintaining a balanced ecosystem and an ideal growing environment.

Irrigation systems are fully modernized and variable across the estate to dramatically decrease water usage and increase water conservation. Cover crops and composting are utilized to support and promote microbiotic soil health, which in turn promotes the sustainability of the vineyards and the overall health of the vines. Mechanical tilling and cutting of weeds dramatically reduces the use of herbicides in the vineyard. Owl and raptor boxes have been installed and maintained around the periphery of the vineyards to create nesting sanctuaries for indigenous predatory birds that control vineyard pests in a natural and eco-friendly way.

These two estate vineyards are now part of the Santa Rita Hills AVA, which was designated in 2001.

The winery itself is located at Rancho La Rinconada. It was completed in 2001 and was inspired by traditional California mission architecture. The walls are constructed of adobe blocks handmade on site. The insulating quality of this material makes it ideal for a winery. With adobe walls thirty inches thick, there is no need for either heating or air conditioning. The cellar interior is 55º to 65º year-round, with no energy use.


Sanford Winery

The Sanford Winery

Sanford Celler

The Sanford Cellar

The lumber for the winery was acquired by recycling timbers from a turn of the 19th century sawmill building originally located in Washington State. After this building was purchased and disassembled, its 500,000 board feet of first-growth Douglas Fir was transported to Sanford. Along with the wood came the sawmill itself, which was utilized on-site to re-mill the timbers to meet construction needs.

The winery uses a unique and gentle system to move wine through the facility: a gravity racking system. Four 3600-gallon wine tanks are positioned on hydraulic lifts. The winery crew can move a 14-ton tank of wine below ground or 20 feet in the air. The crew then uses gravity to move wine from tank to barrel (or bottling) without disruptive pumping and agitation of the wine.


Winemaker and General Manager Trey Fletcher leads a veteran winemaking team at Sanford. He spent eight years at Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria, as Winemaker and General Manager, and has also held winemaking roles with Littorai Wines in Sebastopol. Next is Laura Roach, Assistant Winemaker, who joined Sanford in 2012. Her career began at Schramsberg Vineyards in 2008 as a Laboratory Intern. Two years later, she gained her Bachelors of Science in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, and was awarded the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin Scholarship to work abroad in Burgundy, France, in 2010. Through this exposure, she gained an appreciation for terroir and honed her skills for producing quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Cellar Master Auggie Rodriguez has been a part of Sanford Winery from the very beginning. (Rodriguez’s father was one of Sanford Winery’s first employees hired to help plant the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. He worked on the estate for the next 20 years, retiring in 1991.) Rodriguez started working for Sanford in 1986 at the age of 16. While still in high school, he worked summers and weekends at the winery. Auggie attended the Culinary & Hotel School at Santa Barbara City College while continuing to be part of the production team and managing the cellar for Sanford. Erik Mallea, Vineyard Manager, comes from a northwestern Minnesota farming family. He majored in Biology and Geology at Oberlin College before heading west to start working in vineyards and wineries. Mallea worked for producers in Oregon, New Zealand, and California’s Central Valley before coming to Santa Barbara County. He started working with the Sanford estate vineyards in 2009 while completing his M.S. in Viticulture and Enology.

Alex Rodriguez

Cellarmaster-to-be Auggie Rodriguez (right) and family at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1972

Today, the estate is owned, farmed, and overseen by the Terlato family wine empire. The Terlato family has been involved in the US wine industry for over 70 years with, the motto “Quality Endures.”

Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Nior 2017

The 2017 Sanford Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir is a blend of fruit from the two estate vineyards: Sanford and Benedict (88%) and La Rinconada (12%). The vines were stressed in the midst of the sixth year of a severe drought. Fruit was selected from eight blocks of different soil types. The wine was then fermented in French oak barrels (25% new) for 15 months.

The wine is a deep, but transparent, violet red in the glass, with a nose of black cherry and cola. The dominant tart cherry notes and dusty berry flavors continue on to the palate; they are complemented by plenty of acid and supple tannins. It wraps up with a medium-long finish.

Serve this wine with Sauteed Duck Breast with Pinot Noir Sauce (just don’t squander this Pinot Noir on the sauce), or Salmon en Papillote.

Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills Rosé of Pinot Nior 2018

This Rosé is a lovely pale salmon pink. Perhaps predictably, it is a more subtle version of the Pinot Noir above, plus aromas of cranberry and rose petal. The tart cherry flavor is backed up by strawberry. Shows very crisp acidity and good minerality. Fermented in stainless steel, followed by aging in a combination of neutral barrels and stainless steel tanks before bottling.

Drink this with Cider-Marinated Bluefish with Spicy Sliced Tomatoes, Grilled Tuna with Fresh Peach and Onion Relish, or Oak Planked Salmon Charmoula.

Sanford Winery Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2017

The color is pale gold, with a subtle nose of lemon and crème brûlée.

This makes the intensity of this racy wine on the palate all the more surprising; plenty of bright lemon and grapefruit notes supported by “just enough” oak, a bit of floral character, and that zippy acidity.

I suggest you pair this Chard with Chicken Breast with Artichokes and Mustard Sauce, Smoked Turkey and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwiches, or Seared Scallops with Fruit Salsa.

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