Sequentis Reserve Merlot 2020

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In the vast tapestry of California’s wine country, the story of Daou Family Estates stands out as a unique and compelling chapter. Born from the dreams of brothers Daniel and Georges Daou, this family-owned winery in Paso Robles has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style wines.

The Daou journey begins with a twist of fate—Daniel and Georges, originally from war-torn Lebanon, found themselves in France before making their way to the United States to pursue education. After a successful stint in the tech industry, the brothers decided to embark on a new adventure, channeling their passion for wine into creating a winery that would redefine the possibilities of Paso Robles.

What sets Daou apart is not just their winemaking expertise but their audacious decision to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon in an area known for Rhône-style blends and zinfandel. Choosing the West Paso Robles region over Napa, the brothers identified French soils and a Napa-like climate as the perfect combination to cultivate what they believed could be some of the world’s best wine. Continue reading “Sequentis Reserve Merlot 2020”

Simon Creek Vineyards

Simon Creek VineyardsWisconsin native Thomas J. (Tim) Lawrie had a 26-year career in the U.S. Army, including two tours in Vietnam as a combat officer, and was awarded the Purple Heart. He served as an Army Infantry Airborne soldier before finally retiring with the rank of Colonel. After which, he was almost universally referred to as, “The Colonel,” a somewhat surprising affectation for a Northerner, I think. As with most military personnel, he had assignments throughout the country, including California, where he acquired an interest in wine and wine production.

After a second vocation in the Texas energy business, in 2002 he was presented with the opportunity to buy 120 acres in central Door County, 20 miles northeast of Sturgeon Bay where he had grown up as a boy. He decided this would be the perfect place for a winery, and bought it sight unseen.


Simon Creek Vineyards opened in May of 2003, and The Colonel operated it until his unexpected death at the age of 73 in August, 2017. The winery manager now and winemaker is the late Colonel’s son-in-law, Lance Nelson, a veteran of the packaged foods industry. He gets encouragement and support from consulting winemaker Tom Payette. With over 30 years of experience, Virginia-based Payette set the stage for the winery’s startup, and continues to work as Nelson’s teacher and mentor.

Early on, there were ambitions to grow grapes on the estate, but northern Wisconsin’s harsh winters soon put a stop to that, particularly for the varietals Nelson was interested in working with. Consequently, the winery imports juice for all of their production from California, particularly growers in Monterey county. With over 40,000 acres under vine in Salinas Valley, there is plenty to choose from.

The back labels of the wine bottles do rather disingenuously state, “Simon Creek Vineyard lies directly astride the 45° North Parallel; you couldn’t ask for a better winery site. Simon Creek’s location places it exactly midway between the equator and the North Pole.”  Well, yes, but it hardly matters with juice from another location.

There is an interesting legend associated with the winery’s site. The land was homesteaded by Chris and Martha Simon in the early 20th century.  During Prohibition, Al Capone was scouting around for a remote location suitable as a hideout.  His attorney, Herbert Humpkie, had a brother in Sturgeon Bay who was working as a veterinarian there.  He told Humpkie about the Simon place, who passed the information along to Capone. Thinking their farm would be ideal for his needs, Capone paid the Simons a little friendly visit to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.  But refuse they did. To honor their courage and integrity, the winery produces an Untouchable Red and an Untouchable White, but those are reviews for another day.

Simon Creek Cabernet Sauvignon NV

This wine shows transparent garnet in the glass, with a nose of bright fruit, especially blackberry and cherry and a slight hint of oak. Blackberry flavor continues on the palate, paired with notes of spice and tart cherry.  Appropriately, as Door County is famous for this fruit, although none is in this wine. (But, Simon Creek does make a sweet wine from the local cherries.) There are understated but balanced acid and tannins, with a little bitterness in the relatively short finish. Interestingly, this Cab drinks more like a Pinot Noir.

I suggest pairing this casual red with Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tomato Mint Chutney and Roasted Bell Pepper, Oven Baked Pasta with Classic Bolognese Sauce, or Roasted Chicken Mediterranean.

Simon Creek Merlot NV

This Merlot is rather more substantial than the Cabernet. It is a darker, transparent ruby, and features plum and blueberry aromas. On tasting, the blueberry is joined by raspberry and strawberry, with subtle hints of vanilla and oak. It ends with a moderately long finish.

Enjoy this Merlot with Polish Sausage with Sauerkraut and Skillet-fried Potatoes, Chicago-style Stuffed Spinach Pizza, or Roast Chicken with Shallots and Tarragon.

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Lockwood Vineyard

Lockwood Vineyard

Lockwood Vineyard was founded in 1989 by Paul Toeppen, Phil Johnson, and Butch Lindley as a single, contiguous, 1,850 acre vineyard (one of the largest premium estate vineyards in the world) located in southern Monterey County, not far from Monterey Bay. Lockwood exclusively produces “estate” wines. This means that all of their wines come from grapes grown in their own vineyards, and then fermented, matured, and bottled at the winery on-site.

Nestled at the base of the Santa Lucia mountains, the vineyard soil consists of “shaly loam,” a well-drained, calcareous “chalk-rock” found in only two small areas of Central California. Because the soil has a low nutrient and mineral content, the vines must work hard for survival. In the hands of a skilled winemaker, this struggle of the vines can result in some of the best and most interesting wines.

Such a winemaker is Thane Knutson, who was born and raised on the plains of Oklahoma. He took a degree in International Business from the University of Oklahoma, while he made wine in his dorm room closet and worked in the cellar of a local winery in Slaughterville, Oklahoma.

After college, Knutson moved out to Napa Valley and interned at Cakebread Cellars.  He then spent two years at Hess Collection Winery as the laboratory technician before joining Raymond Vineyards just two weeks before current Lockwood Vineyard owner Jean-Charles Boisset made his entrance.  At Boisset Collection, Knutson was promoted from Laboratory Technician, to Enologist, and finally to Lockwood Winemaker.

Knutson’s experience with Hess and Raymond inspired his passion for cool weather varietals and innovative winemaking.

Monterey Merlot 2002

Sideways notwithstanding, this wine shows that a well-made Merlot can be flavorful and satisfying. This one opens with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and cherry.  It features plenty of concentrated fruit supported by touches of  mint, spice, pepper, and soft tannins.  It is deep purple in color and has a moderately long finish.

Pair with not-too-spicy pork or poultry dishes.

Monterey Chardonnay 2004

Looks can be deceiving; although very pale in the glass, this wine greets you with aromas of green apple, citrus, and mineral notes.  It is extremely well balanced on the palate, with flavors of honeysuckle and passion fruit. That hint of initial sweetness quickly yields to a firm acidity and a restrained French oak backbone.

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Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek VineyardUp On Dry Creek

Dry Creek Vineyard founder David Stare arrived in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, California, in 1972, opening the first winery there since Prohibition. Years of neglect of the valley’s acreage had convinced locals that Dry Creek was no longer suitable for grape growing.

But Stare was undeterred. He had decided to fashion his wines by following the traditions, standards, and styles of the Loire Valley in France after extensive travels and tastings in the region.

In short order, Stare had overturned the conventional wisdom. The winery debuted with a characteristic Fumé Blanc (made with the Sauvignon Blanc grape), which met with immediate success and remains Dry Creek’s signature wine.

Dry Creek has since extensively diversified into reds as well as other whites, championing Zinfandel and Bordeaux blending techniques.

Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2007

This refreshing unoaked Fumé Blanc is pefect for when the weather turns nice. The dominant citrus notes are joined by green melon and just a hint of grass. Mineral and spice notes also emerge and linger to the very last.

Dry Creek Merlot 2005

This nicely balanced Merlot features flavors of ripe blackberry and currant, supported by a hint of vanilla. There is just enough oak and tannins to restrain the fruit and give it structure. The wine finishes relatively soft and with moderate length. The merlot in this Bordeaux-like blend is augmented by smaller quantities of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and malbec.

For a look at Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay:

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Bink Wines

Bink WinesCalifornia Girls

The unusually-named Bink Wines is owned and operated by two women, which is also rather unusual (but becoming less so).

Fourth-generation-Californian Cindy Paulson grows the grapes, while also maintaining her day job as an environmental engineer (she earned a doctorate in environmental engineering at Colorado University at Boulder). Her farming philosophy is deeply rooted in sustainable practices, coming from her environmental background and love of the outdoors.

Deb Schatzlein makes the wines. This Connecticut native is known as a fun-loving free spirit; her grandparents set the mold early, making gin in their bathtub during Prohibition. She has degrees in chemistry (with an early career as a chemical engineer) and biology, and has taken extensive coursework in viticulture and enology.

And that name? It’s a contraction of ‘black ink,’ the color characteristic of their red wines.

Bink Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvingon Blanc 2008

This all-stainless-steel 100% Sauvignon Blanc is unfiltered. Consequently, this pale-yellow wine can pour out cloudy, without the crystal-clear appearance most consumers expect. To avoid this, let the bottle rest upright for an hour or so, and decant carefully. Or, if you insist on transparency, you could pour it through a paper coffee filter; unorthodox, and it may strip out some of the flavor nuance, but it works.

This wine’s birthplace, the 13-acre Randle Hill Vineyard, is certified organic, and yielded a small production of 350 cases.

The wine opens with delicately sweet honeysuckle and mango flavors, which then lead to a body featuring grapefruit notes and a supportive minerality.

Serve with Red Chile-Honey Glazed Salmon, BBQ Marlin with Avocado Vinaigrette, or Rum-Brown Sugar-Glazed Shrimp with Lime and Cilantro.

Bink Hawks Butte Merlot 2006

The Hawks Butte vineyard is part of the Yorkville Highlands Appellation, and is located mid-way between the small California towns of Yorkville and Boonville. It is 1200 feet above sea level and 35 miles inland from the Pacific coast. The rocky soils and southern exposure of the vineyard make for high-quality but low-yield vines, providing only enough juice to make 150 cases of this wine.

It was aged for 22 months in 30%-new and 70%-old oak barrels.
As is to be expected of Bink, the color is deep garnet in the glass. The nicely full palate features black currant and stone fruits, supported by somewhat forward tannins and some spice. This Merlot is an excellent value.

Enjoy this substantial wine with Balsamic-Marinated Flank Steak, Asian-Spice Rubbed Pork Chops, or Burgers with Cheddar Cheese and Horseradish Mustard.

Bink Wine closed permanently in 2017.

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Gainey Vineyard

Gainey VineyardsGoing to California

Fifty-seven years ago, in 1962, Dan Gainey purchased 1800 acres in the Santa Ynez valley of California’s central coast region, directly west of Santa Barbara. After twenty-two years of farming and ranching, Gainey became convinced of the area’s potential [and profitability] as a vineyard.

After the Gaineys (three Dans are currently involved) opened their Spanish-style winery in 1984, the winery quickly became one of the most popular wineries to visit in the area, and it was named as “one of the best wineries to visit on California’s Central Coast” by Wine Spectator magazine.

Gainey Vineyard owns properties in both the warm, eastern end of the valley, where they concentrate on Bordeaux varieties, and the cool, western end of the valley, where they have planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah.

Gainey Merlot 2004

This muscular but lush Merlot features blackberry and cassis on the palate, supported by hints of oak, tobacco, and leather. Velvety mouthfeel, supple tannins, and a long finish round out this attractive wine.

Pair this expressive, cool-climate Merlot with grilled or rotisserie chicken, pork tenderloin, or simply prepared-beef dishes.

Gainey Riesling 2007

Gainey specializes in Riesling, and this wine shows why. If you normally avoid Rieslings, try this one. It is pale gold, completely dry, and has medium acidity. The traditional apricot and pear flavors are present, but the flowery overtones are held well in the background.

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