Langtry Brut Rosé

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The Guenoc Valley in California is east of San Francisco, and just south of the far eastern edge of the East Bay.  Situated in Lake County, grapes were planted there in 1854, and as soon as 1884 it hosted 600 acres under vine.  Its fertile fields attracted a number of individuals who dabbled in wine to a greater or lesser extent, including the legendary actress Lillie Langtry.

The 23,000 acre (9,300 ha) Guenoc Valley is a small inland alluvial fan of Arroyo Seco and Conejo loam soils which are isolated from surrounding areas by rocky ridges. Hot days are common in the region and over-ripening is a constant concern. The area also has very cool nights, making it a Climate Region III.  The Guenoc Valley AVA was approved in 1981.

Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton in 1853 to William Le Breton, a Church of England minister and his wife, Emilie Davis Martin Le Breton.  Lillie was the only daughter in the family of six sons. Her father was a very handsome and cultured man; her mother as beautiful as her daughter would become. They lived on the on the Isle of Jersey, one of the islands that lie in the English Channel . Continue reading “Langtry Brut Rosé”

Chateau Minuty M Rosé 2021

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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).

Continue reading “Chateau Minuty M Rosé 2021”

H. Billiot Brut Rosé

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Ambonnay, one of the top five Grand Crus in Champagne, is located in the heart of the Côte des Noirs, on the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims. Its hillsides are renowned for the richness of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two essential Champagne grapes.

In 1896  Eugene Billiot, a miller by profession in Ambonnay, purchased five acres of land and planted vines. The grapes were sold to major Champagne brands throughout the region.  Today, the grape varieties of the vines are around 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.

Champagne Billiot was established in 1937 by Louis Billiot as more of a side hustle than a real Champagne house.  But after the war, his son Henri founded Champagne H.Billiot & Fils at 1 place de la Fontaine in the center of the village to realize his dream of becoming a winemaker rather than just a grower.  Henri was succeeded by his son Serge, and now fifth-generation Laetitia runs the operation.

Current production is about 32,000 bottles a year, with all of the work being done by the family. Continue reading “H. Billiot Brut Rosé”

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”

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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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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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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Bartinura Sparkling Moscato Rosé

Bartenura Sparkling Moscato RoséThis estate-bottled Bartinura Sparkling Moscato Rosé is a light refreshing bubbly that maintains a nice balance between the sweetness and the acidity. Perfect to drink while watching the sunset on a summer night, it will also accompany seafood, lighter grilled meats and veggies, and pair especially well with fruits (try grilled peaches or nectarines!) and dessert. Great for parties, too. On warmer days, enjoy it with hors d’ oeuvres on the patio or sipping ice-cold poolside. It has been flash pasteurized for mevushal certification.

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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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