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Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall is in the Air!

October 26th Photos

Grapes in at Field Stone Winery, Alexander Valley

White Oak Vyds, Alexander Valley

Dry Creek Valley

Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley

Two Stops: Dry Creek and Matrix

Along Westside Road

Dry Creek Vineyards

Dry Creek has been around for a long time and has always been known for Zinfandel (as anyone in Dry Creek Valley should be). David Stare started the winery about 35 years ago and was well respected for his wines. His daughter is running the place now.

I counted 19 wines open in their tasting room! They are one of the few that still make a Chenin Blanc. The grapes are from Clarksburg (towards Sacramento). For some reason Chenin grows well there. If you haven't tried an American Chenin Blanc try this one.

The reason for stopping by was the night before I'd opened a 2001 Dry Creek reserve Zinfandel that was corked so I took it back to exchange.

I sampled the 2006 version that I got as a replacement plus three vineyard-designated Zinfandels. The Somers and Beeson Ranch Zins were outstanding (and $35). The '06 reserve I picked up to replace my '01 will need some time.


They are part of the Wilson family of wineries--they own about five now and seem to be doing well. Matrix started with Meritage wines (Bordeaux-style blends) I believe, so I was surprised to find five Pinot Noirs on their tasting menu. The tasting room hostess said the Wilson family thought they should be making Pinots as the winery is in the Russian River Valley (just barely) -- an area well-known for Pinot Noir.

I liked all the Pinots and wound up taking the 2006 Nunes Reserve (Russian River Valley). Their wines are in the $30 to $45 range.

A bit of fall color at Matrix Winery

The Bottle Barn

And for what it's worth I made a stop at the local wine shop and picked up a couple $25 Pinots from Siduri and Melville plus a Zinfandel from Armida (Maple Lane, Tina's Block).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's a beautiful day in the vineyards

Oct 16 Sonoma Valley

Top down cruisin' weather as things dry out and warm back up.

Oct 17 northern Napa County

Some varietals have pulled through last week's rains OK. This is Cabernet, I think.

More rain coming tomorrow though then warm and dry for the foreseeable future. The grapes need not only to dry, but to build their sugars back up to ripeness.

If you've never seen vineyards in their fall colors you should sometime. Main color season is early November, but it's well underway now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh, oh, it's raining

The Growing Season in a Mediterranean Climate

The great thing about grape growing in CA is the dry weather during the growing season. But you can't always trust mother nature. Every year there seems to be something to annoy the farmers.

We had significant rain on October 13th in a relatively warm storm (think warm, moist rotting grapes). The next day was humid, but mostly dry. Here we are on the morning of the 15th and it's raining again.

Not all Grapes are Created Equal

Some grapes stand up better to dampness.
Cabernet is generally the last grape to come in, but also the skins and grape bunches dry out better.

The thinnest skinned grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are the earliest to be picked so are less likely to get rained on. (Isn't Mother Nature smart). Cabernet is usually the last to be picked.
Luckily, it has thick skins and relatively loose bunches--so less damage from bad weather and easier to dry out.

Another grape still hanging out there that's near-and-dear to the hearts of Sonoma County is Zinfandel. Zin doesn't do so well with the wetness. It ripens unevenly and tends to rot. Even in good time you'll find a bit of rot on the bunches.

In 2006 when we had some September rains some Zin never quite got ripe.
This year I know of one winery known for Zin that will remain nameless here that is probably losing a large percentage of their Zinfandel (they have Zin and Cab still hanging). The only good news is that the crop is much larger than last year so the total tonnage may be about the same as last -- though still below average.

So, pray for low humidity's and wind to dry out the grapes still hanging.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2009

An annual three-day tasting for medal winners of grapes grown in Sonoma County. A huge number of medals were given out; almost every wine won something, but that's a subject for another time.
I don't have good descriptions because, well, it's kind of a madhouse and difficult to write down anything while standing and trying to hold on to your glass, awards booklet and a pen. I probably sampled 100 wines out of the hundreds available. All reds; no whites for me!
By mid-afternoon there's no room left to walk in the aisles.

Complete results are here.

The Good

Bordeaux-type Blends
Overall I was impressed with the quality of these. Easy to drink, but complex and interesting.

Trentadue 2005 Alexander Vly La Storia Meritage, $22
Their La Storia line are always excellent wines and a good deal

Murphy-Goode 2005 Alexander Vly Claret All In, $45
Best of the Bordeaux-type blends I tried
De La Montanya 2006 Sonoma Co Tres Amour, $58

Pinot Noir
I love good Pinot, even more when I can find one for under $35. There was nothing here that I have to rush out and buy.  I sampled more Pinots than any other variety.

De Loach 2007 Russian River Maboroshi Vyd, $45
The best of the Pinots I tried, but I was disappointed overall with the Pinots  vs. their price.

Leveroni 2007 Sonoma Vly Seven Oaks Vyd, $18
A very drinkable one for the price

Ashton 2006 Sonoma Vly, $55
Great backbone, spices. Should age a bit.

I generally love Californian Rhones. Usually very nice for the price.

Jus Soli 2007 Sonoma Co Roots Red, $20
A big, rich, excellent wine at a nice price.
I tried a couple other wines from Jus Soli. Never heard of them, but all were very good.

A misunderstood variety, Made to stand up to spicy / acidic foods.

Viansa 2005 Sonoma Vly Thaila, $45
The best Sangi I've ever had, also the most expensive.

A very nice job overall with "the other beef wine."

Davis Family 2007 Russian River Guyzer Block, $38
Needs some time yet
Loxton 2006 Russian River Archer Vyd $30

Pena Ridge 2006 Dry Creek Piccetti Vyd, $44
Nice fruit

Longboard 2006 Russian River Dakine Vyd, $45
I've had and liked this one before and it stood up well here against others

Palmeri 2005 Alexander Vly Van Ness Vyd, $53

Sonoma's own

Armida 2005 Dry Creek Maple Vyd Tina's Block, $48 (a price drop from previous years)
A stand-out. Great balance, flavors, and a smoothness rather than heat like many Zins.

DH Gustafson 2007 Dry Creek Mountain Vyd, $36
If you like 'em big and ageable rather than fruit bombs, then lay down this one. It's a big boy. 

Fannucchi 2005 Russian River Old Vine, $40
A really well-done Zin. Probably my 2nd favorite Zin of the weekend behind the Armida Maple Vyds Tina's Block.

Stryker 2006 Knights Vly Speedy Creek Vyd, $34
Another great wine from Stryker. This one is a little rough on the finish so needs a bit more time.

Other Reds / Generics
Loved these blends too

Wilson 2007 Dry Creek Family Red Estate, $30
Another outstanding red from Wilson. Well worth the price.

Here's where it got interesting. Two other gold medal winners in this category were from Ravenswood and Ty Caton. What they have in common is they both retail for $75. The Ty Caton was very well done.
Then there was a Wellington gold medal-winning red called The Duke retailing for $8. This one is the QPR of the year for me. Wow, amazing for the price.

Petite Sirah
Sonoma's old time killer red. More manly than Syrah even.

Miro 2006 and 2007 Dry Creek, $23
Had these two vintages back-to-back and they do a nice job at a decent price.

Overall impressions

I really liked the Bordeaux-type blends and some of the varietals--Cab Franc and Malbec. Also, they're doing a good job with Syrah.

Favorites from the three day event:

-- Armida Maple Vyd Tina's Block Zinfandel
-- De Loach Russian River Maboroshi Vyd Pinot
-- Jus Soli Sonoma Co Roots Red
-- Murphy-Goode Alexander Vly Claret All In
-- Viansa Sonoma Vly Thaila Sangiovese
-- Wellington Sonoma Vly The Duke at $8!

The Bad

Overall the Pinot Noirs had lousy quality for the prices. It didn't really matter if it was a $18 Pinot (those are hard to find) or $60 (easier to find). I've felt this way about the Pinots I've had at this event for the last couple years or so. The main element of some Pinots and Syrahs was heat. And a few Zinfandels were this way too, but that's almost to be expected these days.

The Ugly

In order to enter a wine in this judging there has to be a certain level of availability so if someone wants to actually buy a medal winner they have the opportunity. Well, Adler Fels Winery took a chance; won big, then lost big. They won the red wine sweepstakes (best red wine) for a Pinot and then it turns out they were nearly out of that vintage. They tried pouring the next year's wine instead hoping nobody would notice.  The fair board stripped them of their medal. Well, they got a lot of local publicity, at least.

These are my notes from the 2009 Harvest Fair.   Go here for notes on 2010.