Norton Safeweb

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sonoma Valley Open House, Nov 27

The Heart of Sonoma Valley association sponsors a holiday open house after Thanksgiving. There were 22 participating wineries; I sampled at the following. They are ranked in order of my preference, favorite to least.

Audelssa - They have been a favorite since my first stop there about 1-1/2 years ago. Great blends 

Deerfield Ranch caves
Image from
 and Cabs from mountain fruit. The Tephra $28 blend of four varietals is a good deal.

Enkidu - The Petite Sirah was soooo good I still have just a bit of enamel left on my teeth! :)

Deerfiled Ranch - More subtle, maybe more French style in their balance. Some good Cabs and Syrahs.

Landmark - A standard of Chard and Pinot.  They did the minimum to participate in this event. (It's supposed to be a food & wine event guys).

Loxton - Good Syrah and Zinfandel at reasonable prices.

Paradise Ridge - Rockpile and Russian River reds. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be interested in pouring the RRV wines while I was there--too busy talking amongst themselves.

VJB - Going for Italian style wines.

Eric Ross - Unusual varietals with sometimes good results.

Wellington - "Funky" is my best description. Not for me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy 100th Mr. Foppiano

Lou Foppiano turned 100 years old November 25th.   Yeah, you could call him a fixture in Sonoma County farming as he spent about 80 years in the vineyards and cellar.

Foppiano Winery has been around a very long time as it was Lou's grandfather who started the winery after arriving from Italy.  The family is now in its fifth generation of managing the winery.

What does Lou attribute his long life to?  One glass of wine a day, no more.  Others would say it's his hard work up until just a few years ago.

Foppiano wines aren't at the forefront of trendy wines.   I mean, they specialize in Petite Sirah for crize sakes!   And it's not exactly an approachable wine when young.  I going to guess Robert Parker never gave a 95 to anything from Foppiano.

Lou's legacy though, may be in his helping to organize the first local winery association to help market their part of Sonoma County.

Read more about Lou Foppiano turning 100 in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Selling wine to China

Everybody wants a piece of the new consumer economy in China--can't let General Motors have all the fun.

Even though U.S. exports of wine overall have dropped with the tough economy exports to China (and Hong Kong) have increased substantially in the last few years.

Chinese investors recently bought Silenus Vintners and their vineyards in Napa Valley.   But it's not just California as Chinese have bought interests in Australian wineries and even French.   Foreign investments in California wines is nothing new, but in the past it's been primarily the French and Australians.

Does China have its own wineries?   They do but apparently the quality has a long way to go before the wines can be considered premium.   Maybe the Chinese hope to learn that from the French, Australians and Americans.   Bordeaux's Chateau Lafite is helping the Chinese develop a vineyard in the Shandong Province, already home to Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc vineyards.  Shandong has been called "China's Bordeaux."

The French have been importing wine into China for a long time and own nearly half of the import market.  The U.S. is only five percent.    China, of course, has a billion potential customers.  Many are very poor, some are part of the growing middle class, other are nouveau riche.  There is no wine culture in China, but that used to be said about the U.S.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's going on at Foster's wine division?

Foster's renamed their wine division to Treasury Wine Estates a few months ago.   Previous to this there had been some reorganizations and realignment leading to speculation that maybe Foster's was setting up their wine brands for a sell-off.  At the time of the renaming Foster's said they would "spin off" the wine group so that group could have a dedicated focus on wine.  Yeah, it sounds like a lot of corporate mumbo-jumbo to me, too.

Locally Treasury owns Beringer, Stags Leap, Souverain, and Chateau St. Jean.  Also Penfolds and Rosemount plus some others.   It's quite a line-up.

They have a headquarters in Napa.   Why do I ask what the hell is going on?    Because they are hiring for every corporate-type position imaginable.  Looking at one of the wine job sites I see 17 current openings.  Here's a few examples:

Regional Chain Manager
Packaging Manager
Industrial Technology & Systems Specialist
Logistics Business Analyst
Studio Project Manager
Strategic Pricing Manager

 Huh?   I have no idea how the small guys do it without all this.   So what's going on?    I see two possibilities:
  1. They are  being run by people with a manufacturing background who don't know a f**king thing about wine.
  2. They are building up to sell out.   Maybe the more employees the more the business is worth?   That seems counter-intuitive to me.

This is a lot of overhead and is probably only the tip of the iceberg.  I guess their margins can support this.  It seems pretty wacky to me.   Maybe I'm missing something.

So what are the plans for Treasury Estates now?  Foster's has said a 2011 spin-off will happen though they've had at least one offer to sell, but was rejected because it wasn't enough money.  

Foster's said they are starting to see cost savings with the new division--must be because they're hiring all these middle-managers and analysts.   Also they want to increase profits by, um, raising prices at Beringer--probably to be able to pay all the new middle-managers and analysts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November Sonoma Valley Photos

Autumn is in full swing in the vineyards.
November 15, 2010 in the north end of Sonoma Valley (Kenwood vicinity).

Click on any photo to enlarge

Chateau St Jean

From Kenwood Vyds looking south into Kunde property

Kunde Winery

Cave entrance at Kunde


St Francis Winery

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sonoma Wineries: A few old-timers

If you're looking for big, jammy, expensive fruit-bombs then this post isn't for you.  This is about some of the guys that have been around for decades and still making their wines the same way, for better or worse, depending on your tastes.

I sampled mostly red wines.

PEDRONCELLI since 1927
Image from

First thing that hit me were the prices with most wines in the $15-$18 range.  The Friends Red, a blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Merlot, is a steal at $10.   The Mother Clone Zinfandel is an old vine Zin with typical Dry Creek brambly characteristics, and another steal at $15.

These aren't big, lush wines, but they are excellent food wines and can stand a bit of ageing.

PRESTON since 1975

Exquisite balance. Not too tannic, good fruit, but not jammy or alcoholic.   Folks who like the Turley-esque fruit bomb wine should try Preston's Zinfandel.  You can have nice fruit without 16% alcohol (they don't go over 14.5% on their wines).

Higher-priced with most in the mid-$30s.  Besides the Zinfandel, the LPreston Rhone-style blend and Syrah-Sirah blend were excellent.   Some really great wines.


Semi-nice, but not Preston nice though at Preston prices.  I tried their three available Zinfandels (you know you're in Dry Creek when you can taste three Zins at one stop) and preferred the Beeson Ranch at $34.   I have been a fan of Dry Creek for a long time, but a bit disappointing this time.

FOPPIANO since 1896

It's all about the Petite Sirah.  They have an Estate Petite (I tried) and a Reserve Petite (I didn't).  The Estate Petite Sirah had a nice spicy, peppery note to it that you don't often find though it also had some of the tannins you often do. This is what you'd call a manly wine--it ain't for sissies!  Don't drink this wine tonight; wait a few years.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dry Creek Vly Vineyard Photos

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California.  November 8, 2010.
Not quite at peak autumn color yet.

Click on any photo to enlarge

Mid-valley looking east near the Family Wineries

Mid-valley looking west

At Mauritson Vyds. Fruit cut and left to rot on the ground
because it had raisined

North valley from Yoakim Road looking west

Looking south towards Wilson Winery

From same location as previous photo but looking west

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sangiovese: Not popular in the US, never will be

Okay, if I'm wrong on this prediction in 50 years you can sue me!  

It's quite popular in Italy, of course, but Americans think it's yucky.   Why is that?

One, it's kind of hard to pronounce, but so are other varieties.  I tell folks if you "talk with your arms" Italian-style while saying "san-jee-oh-VAY-zee" it just rolls off the tongue.

The biggest problem is the acidity of the wine.   All wines have it, but many of the most popular are soft (low acid) wines.   That's why Chardonnay sells more than Sauvignon Blanc.   The high acid in Sangiovese can come across as "bright," "tart," or "bitter."   It depends on the wine and it depends on the individual.   Some people seem to be more sensitive to the acid.

Why do the Italians seem to love it then?    Because they eat a lot of high acid tomato-based foods.    Pastas, pizza, grilled meat with BBQ sauces, and the like are great matches for Sangiovese.   Of course, people will sample their first Sangiovese in a tasting room or at home without food first and will go, "Yuck, where's the Merlot?"

Sangi is one of those grapes that works well in blends as the Italians make it.   California has a hard time with blending, but that's a subject for another time.   If Sangiovese is to catch on in this country it'll be because it's blended.   Italian Chianti is mostly Sangi with a couple other obscure (to us) grapes blended in.   Super Tuscans are a fairly new idea of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.   It seems Sangi might be a natural for blending with Zinfandel, but you never see it (at least I haven't).

In California, Sangiovese grows well in parts of Sonoma and Napa, but seems to do best in the Sierra Foothills such as in Amador County.    I believe CA is still trying to figure out where and how to grow Sangi.

Sangiovese also makes a nice dry rosé wine usually called Rosato di Sangiovese.

Ferrari-Carano's Siena and Viansa's Thalia, both blends, are a couple you might want to look for.  If you want a nice, cheap one try Pedroncelli. From Napa I love the Benessere Sangiovese. Remember to have it with a hearty meal!