Sunday, July 25, 2010
Maaaan, we discovered yet ANOTHER local vineyard that Kathy and I have never heard of! This is starting to get ridiculous.
Not only are there dozens and dozens of old-vine parcels everywhere we turn in Oakley, Antioch and Brentwood — none of which are identified by any signage indicating who owns, farms or sells to which wineries — but now we’ve come across one more winery that purchases Contra Costa County grapes from a single vineyard source near our house: a source whose name we’ve never seen on any of the CoCo labels of local wines we’ve already drunk as part of this project.
Kath and I moved from Seattle to Oakley, California almost one year ago. Oakley and surrounding cities and towns are studded with great plots of ancient, wizened, gnarly-headed century-old grapevines that have produced fruit for hundreds of wineries all over the state. Unfortunately, as distinctive as these old vines are, our ‘hood has no American Viticultural Area status, which I think is an absolute injustice. AVAs (think “Napa Valley” or “Russian River Valley”) are a federal distinction indicating that a particular growing region is different enough from another that its appearance on a label pinpoints wine specifics characteristic of the region.
Oakley’s official AVA designation is “San Francisco Bay,” which ludicrously includes portions of seven counties and the faraway city of San Fran itself, and which extends to the Pacific Ocean. It’s such a ridiculous designation that many winemakers don’t use it, instead just slapping “Contra Costa County,” which is not a real AVA, on the label. It, at least, attempts to give a real sense of place to the wine.
But, “Livermore Valley” is an honest-to-goodness legal AVA about 25 minutes south of us in Oakley, and it’s home to dozens of wineries, from established playahs such as Concannon and Wente to boutique outfits run by folks who’ve only just made the leap from home winemaking.
Longevity Wines, located in a tidy industrial park in Livermore, CA is just such a boutique operation. Owners Phil and Debra Long run a small-production facility, purchasing grapes from growers all over the region. Phil had been making wine at home for years, and when friends wanted to buy their juice, the Longs decided to jump through all the legal hoops; they went commercial in 2008.
A visit to Longevity in January was the highlight of that day’s tasting tour, and although they don’t own any of their own vineyards (“Yet!,” says Debra.), their grape contracts, sometimes on a handshake, combined with Phil’s deft touch at the tanks, yield some tasty results.
One of which just happens to be a CoCo 100% Syrah from a small vineyard site just a couple of miles from our house, near the border separating the city of Oakley from the small unincorporated town of Knightsen. The plot is variously referred to as the Newcomb Palidino Vineyard, the Newcomb Palatino Vineyard, and, in at least one printed Public Notice, Two Knights Vineyard. Whatever its name, we’ll try to track it down in time for our next post.
In the meantime, Kath and I enjoyed Debra and Phil’s 2006 Longevity Syrah Contra Costa County sourced from said patch o’dirt. Opaque purple in the glass, the 2006 demonstrates its unfiltered treatment, as well as its little bit of extra bottle maturity. Kath got whiffs of coffee and a touch of bacon on the nose. On the palate, there’s some rambunctious acidity and forward cherry/cranberry flavors with a slightly dusty, earthy finish. Kathy thought that this rowdy fruit-forwardness might be a sign of younger vines.
Lemmee do a bissel research; maybe we can get some answers next week.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Though, like a prayer, it’ll take you there. Had a nice telephone chat with Tadeo Borchardt, winemaker at Napa Valley’s St. Helena-based Neyers Vineyards winery. Tadeo took an unbelievable half-hour away from his Chardonnay bottling to talk with me.
Dude has paid his dues in New Zealand (at Hawkes Bay, no less), and ubër-cult Cali Copain. His first vintage at Neyers was 2004.
Winery owners Bruce and Barbara Neyers have had a cool, 10-year grape contract with Rich Pato since 1998. It’s recently expired, but Tadeo has hopes and plans for future bottlings using Oakley grapes, whether from the Pato plot or other local sources.
Now, for those of youse who have been following along with our posts, you know that Kathy and I don’t know a lot about our local vineyards (and even when we do glean some answers, it invariably raises more questions), but we DO know where grower Rich Pato tends his stuff. We have been drinking Rosenblum Pato Vineyard Zinfandel for a decade, and now we find that the Pato plot is a left turn, then another left, from our new house! As Mike says on HGTV's “Holmes on Homes,” ‘Un bee LEEVE able.”
A couple of the wines that Kath found include the 2006 Neyers Pato Vineyard Mourvedre, with an earthiness including dried cranberry and bacon fat; as well as a 2007 Neyers Pato Zin which was almost a meal in a glass, with its nose of jammy blueberry and mouthfeel of rich, super-long stone fruit.
According to Tadeo, he made a 2008 Pato Petite Sirah, too. We’re still trying to locate that one.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Dey pull me back in!” Man, do I know how Michael Corleone feels.
As noted last week, Kath and I got a couple of cool leads about Oakley vineyards from the sales don at Turley Wine Cellars, a high-end label specializing in Zinfandel.
Larry Turley and his team source premium fruit from all over California, and two of his vineyard designate Zins hail from spots in our ‘hood: Duarte and Salvador, two vineyards we’d never heard of, and which we have never seen on any other labels sourcing fruit from CoCo County.
See, this is the problem that Kathy and I keep running up against: Everywhere we go in Oakley and environs is another well-tended, ancient vineyard — dozens and dozens of ‘em. No signage, no clue who uses the fruit. But the crazy-making thing is that when we do talk to someone who knows where a particular vineyard is located, the directions are considerably shy of a real address. Jon Grant at Turley could tell us that the Salvador Vineyard was on Oakley Road, “across from the new housing development.” Unfortunately, the city of Oakley is almost nothing BUT new housing developments, and so, despite his best efforts, Jon wasn’t able to translate his intuitive mapping into specific cross streets for us. Kathy’s photo above is our best guess as to the location of Salvador.
And it certainly did not help that once we arrived at what we thought was Salvador Vineyard, the next few hundred feet of road revealed another half-dozen plots of old-vine acreage, across the municipal border into Antioch, that we’d never seen before.
We’re still searching for that vineyard Sherpa who can tell us where all the bodies are buried. And who owns the friggin’ shovels.
Hoping to celebrate our semi-quasi-sorta-kinda detective work, we just pulled the cork on Turley’s 2007 Salvador Vineyard Zinfandel. We tasted Turley’s Duarte last time, and the Salvador is distinctively different. It seems more typically Zin in character, with a color that Kathy described as that of cherry juice, and a nose of Santa Rosa plum and a touch of Bing cherry. I got some clove and pumpkin spice; Kath detected notes of pencil shaving and cedar. The acidity seemed a bit more pronounced than that of the Duarte, but a long finish provided for a wine just as satisfying.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Kathy’s research over the last few months had turned up a few locally sourced wines from Zin-meister Turley Wine Cellars out of St. Helena in the Napa Valley. In wine circles, the Turley name is akin to raisin royalty: Helen Turley is the winemaker behind such pricey cult classics such as Marcassin, Colgin and Bryant Family among other clients, past and present. Turley Wine Cellars is the label of her younger bro, Larry, who specializes in Zinfandel.
Kath had located a few Turley Zins made from grapes from vineyards in our ‘hood, and, naturally, bearing vineyard names which were mysteries to us. (True to the Turley Mystique, prices for these wines were all over the map; a wine that Kathy obtained for $40 was listed at one wine shop in Los Angeles for $125)
On a whim, Kath telephoned Turley’s tasting room, and, after explaining the purpose of our blog, was connected to Jon Grant, sales guru for Turley Wine Cellars.
Jon was a trove of information about the Duarte and Salvador vineyards in our city of Oakley (which just celebrated its 11th birthday on Canada Day), the names of which appear respectively on the Turley Zins Kathy obtained. Jon was even more passionate about just what the sun, soil and vine age of the Oakley locale bring to the Turley winemaking party.
That New Delhi Sandy Loam soil that these century-old gnarly vines drill through in search of water? It’s decomposed granite, which Turley prizes for the minerality that frequently manifests itself during fermentation — literally: The wind off the delta whips the sand into the tightly packed grape clusters, resulting in big piles of sand at the bottom of the fermentation tanks after racking!
Early on, Helen Turley lent a winemaking hand to Larry, and stressed a light hand on the usual Zin powerhouse. Bro has stepped up to the proverbial plate: The 2006 Turley Zinfandel, from Co Co’s Duarte Vineyard is an expression of elegant power, despite 15.8% alcohol. From a nose of smoke, brown sugar, glycerin and chutney spices, through to a perfect balance of weight, softness, acidity and tannin, here’s a Zin that’s more luxurious than a lot of Pinots out there.
But not after the last couple of weeks. The puu-puu platter of 90-degree weather, nice neighbors, fresh organic fruit and a long-neglected ice cream maker conspired to add a little avoirdupois to the frame. Not to mention the Rosé.
Seattle, whence we moved, would normally be beautiful this time of year. But here in the Northern California city of Oakley, I sit in my shortee PJs and read in the morning paper that Sea-town has been dealing with weeks of temps in the mid-60s, and showers. One year ago, we’d have been taking care of a few outdoor inspection items to complete the sale of the house, and getting ready to have the movers pack us up, while they tracked over the new living room carpet. Last year was sunny and warm; I’d be afraid to move this year.
A few weeks ago, our East Indian neighbor, Syed, phoned us up to say that he was whipping up a batch of curry, and to ask how spicy we wanted ours. Awesome! Soon, he and his girlfriend, Karen, were at the door with Tupperware enough to provide us several weekday meals.
Of course, Kathy, being raised right, was already worrying about what to put in the containers when we returned them. We had just received a shipment of fresh apricots in our weekly Community Supported Agriculture box, so I suggested a sorbet made using our long-dormant ice cream maker. Honestly guys, we have not used this machine in years, and when I consider, and regret, some of the prized stuff we virtually gave away at our Seattle moving sale, I’m surprised that we still had the Cuisinart ice cream machine. (We knew we wanted a fireplace in California, so I saved our fireplace poker/tool set and wood andiron grate; little did we know that almost all fireplaces here, including ours, are gas. I sold my cool BBQ tool set for pennies, and we actually have space here to grill.)
Anyway, we blew the dust off the ice cream machine, and now I’m afraid that we’re going to burn out the motor on the sucker! The CSA fruit comes in; Kath fires it up: Kiwi sorbet; strawberry, peach and plum ice creams, recipes for all found in the dog-eared, fruit-splattered pages of the Ben & Jerry’s recipe book we bought decades ago. (There’s even a recipe for Cherry Garcia; we made it last week, after doing cherry season’s final U-pick weekend, and the result is outrageous!)
And then, in this holiday weekend’s 90+-degree heat, there’s the wine needed to refresh and complement the celebrants. July 1 was Canada Day, and during our screening of “Strange Brew,” we sipped Bellinis made with peaches from our farm box. Today is July 4, and we’re just about to start our annual unspooling of “1776.”
I’m about to “refresh the missus” with another glass of Cline’s 2009 Mourvèdre Rosé from grapes grown on their Oakley property. There’s a great bright pink color (color-added farmed Atlantic salmon?), and a nice tangy tongue hit of cranberry and strawberry following in from the nose.
Siddown, John, and have another snootful, eh?