Sunday, September 26, 2010
Well, another mystery solved! A while back, Kath and I had posted some tasting notes on a pair of vineyard designated Zinfandels from the Turley label, one of which was sourced from the Duarte Vineyard. Jesse’s Vineyard, a smaller plot located within the borders of the Duarte site has, for years, provided fruit to Rosenblum and now, the Rosenblum founder’s new venture, Rock Wall Wine Co. But we never could pinpoint the location of the Duarte site.
Until a couple of weeks ago, when I ran into Tom Del Barba during harvest at one of his own neighboring properties, and had the site confirmed by Rock Wall winemaker, Shauna Rosenblum. Turns out that we’d been driving past two big old-vine vineyards on busy Laurel Road for almost a year: One is Tom’s; he told me that the eastern one is Duarte.
The Duarte Vineyard story is one that’s being retold a lot in Oakley. According to Tom Del Barba, Joe Duarte had been farming the land for years, when local developer Seeno Homes offered him big dough for the vineyard, intending to rip out the vines and build McMansions (there’s a big development already built just behind the vineyard). Well, the housing collapse put the boots to that plan, so rather than let the land sit fallow, Seeno leases the (currently) intact Duarte/Jesse’s vineyard site out to a local grower and county land commissioner named Dwight Meadows. Dwight has vine interests in several parcels countywide (In fact, Shauna Rosenblum’s oh-so-tasty Montepulciano mentioned here months ago sources from younger vines planted in neighboring Brentwood and managed by Dwight Meadows). Completing the small-town vibe is the fact that Dwight is married to the former Carla Cutino, whose family ran the eponymous tire shop in town, and whose given name graces Carla’s Vineyard, located beside the Kmart. “Carla’s” is yet another of Rosenblum Cellars’ vineyard designates.
Jane! Stop this craaaaazzzzy thiiiiiiing!
Tom Del Barba professed to being a little mystified as to why, when Seeno abandoned immediate plans to build, Joe Duarte didn’t step up to reclaim growing rights via a lease. Over the years, Joe has worked as a real estate agent and owner of a mobile home community. Could be that, after years of farming the land, and a nice payout, he saw his future.
And, perhaps, heaven help us, the future of Oakley’s old vines.
Hey, the Duarte name lives on, thanks to some committed winemakers who love the fruit, and keep slapping the designation on the label. Kath and I have, in the cellar, a 2008 Turley Duarte Zin, as well as Zins from the main property’s Jesse’s Vineyard block by boutiques Rock Wall and Virgo Cellars. Notes to come. Duarte fruit figures in a wine we had the other night.
“Saldo” 2008 California Zinfandel is made by Dave Phinney of Napa’s Orin Swift Cellars, from fruit sourced, as the appellation (and Iberian name: “saldo” can mean anything from “what’s on hand” to “from here and there”) implies, from sites all over the state. Here, Duarte and Evangelho vineyards are representin’ CoCo. It’s a deep, dark, almost opaque plum color, with a dark, earthy nose of bacon and black stone fruit. On the palate, it’s pretty weighty, with a tight coil of black pepper spiciness and tannin. There’s 8% Syrah and half-again Petite Sirah. Give it 15 minutes in the glass before it starts to strut.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
As mentioned earlier, harvest in das ‘hood is in full ring-a-ding-ding. I’ve been toolin’ around Oakley and neighboring Antioch — just call me Jimmy Olsen, Cub Reporter — hoping to snap some pix of crews rocking the fruit.
We posted last week about meeting Tom Del Barba supervising a Zin harvest for The Wine Group’s Cardinal Zin; the other day I saw industrial-size bins, laden with purple gold (way to mix lexicon, colors and metaphors, Tone), by the side of Main Street at Cline’s Big Break Vineyard.
Also last week, I drove into that industrial park cul-de-sac that, all along, I thought was Frank Evangelho’s vyd. As they say in the wine biz, “Mea Gulpa.” It made perfect sense that the site of an empty industrial park beside an ancient vineyard would have been the locus of a municipal eminent domain battle to widen a road and rip out some vines. We were actually off by two blocks — city blocks, not vineyard blocks. As usual with this thang, we got one answer, which raised two questions.
Our “Evangelho” vyd, on the one side of the driving range, is actually owned by the Gonsalves family, growers/owners of many plots around CoCo. Frank’s parcel is on the other side of the golf range. I guess that’s what’s so weird: I admit that I didn’t survey his vyd, but I couldn’t see any evidence of concrete or asphalt encroaching on his vines.
Now, the (formerly-thought-by-us-to-be-Frank’s) Gonsalves property on the other side of the links, is just plain problematic: It is a dead end; it was indeed developed to house heretofore nonexistent businesses; as said dead end, it is the perfect dumping ground for all your large-scale garage sale items that a handwritten “FREE!” sign won’t take care of.
Which brings me to the coolest needle to this whole funky thread. I was invited a couple of days ago to a meeting of the Contra Costa Wine, Grape and Olive Growers Association. It’s a cool, if loose-knit, casual gang of wine aficionados, industry honchos and retailers dedicated to bringing the love to CoCo.
At the meeting, I struck up a conversation with Mike Parker, a wine broker with many years in das biz, and just as many stories. Mike specializes in bringing together growers who find themselves with extra fruit, and winemakers big and small who need a ton here to round out a blend, or a row there for their home winemaking hobby. Mike said that it’s a real sign of the times when established growers are courting home winemakers, and a lot of garagistes lost out this year when some Napa growers pruned back the leaf canopy on the vines to promote ripening, only to have the clusters fry when we had a hot spell. Hobbyists who usually buy Napa fruit had to come up with a Plan B: Hello, Oakley!
Mike happened to be at the Gonsalves property minutes after I was, and he brokered a monster grape sale one day later. He did have to laugh when I told him that that cul-de-sac was a notorious dumping ground: That day workers were picking for Bonny Doon’s “Contra” blend, whose label actually showcases a derelict couch tossed at the end of the road. It’s the dominant feature of the Contra label: a ratty sofa surrounded by old vines.
And, two doors down, they’re laughin’ and drinkin’ and havin’ a party. Or getting ready to, anyway: See Evangelho photo above, the site for Parkmon’s 2007 Evangelho Zinfandel, which Kath and I tried a while back
Tons of blackberry juice and cane fruit, like it came straight off the vine.
It’s big on the nose, but full of bramble berries, alcohol and cracked pepper. You’ll worry that you’re going to catch a tastebud on a thorn. It’s rich, yet elegantly subdued on the finish. Very tasty.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Well, here it is the week after Labor Day. Kathy and I have been physically in the Oakley homestead for one year, and all over the ‘hood, some vineyards are starting to be harvested. I can’t believe that we missed any of the telltale signs of harvest last year. You know, little things like swarms of workers in the vineyard, forklifts and grape bins by the side of the road, and huge long trucks being filled up with grape clusters. Maybe moving in to the new joint blinded us to all the activity. Hell, we were the ones who, when we finally noticed the grapes at the side of the road, thought that they were Concord or Thompson Seedless table snacks.
Last week, I saw a big crew cutting bunches in a vineyard a few blocks south of the house, and when I stopped to inquire who owned or leased the parcel, the Spanish/Inglès language barrier was too much to overcome.
So this week, with Kath unavailable for midweek photo chores, I grabbed the camera and toured some area vineyards in the hope of being able to snap an action photo or two of harvest in play.
The guys weren’t out at last week’s stop, and nothing was shakin’ at Stan Planchon’s or Rich Pato’s plots. But when I turned to head home along busy (and vine bordered) Laurel Road, I came across bins, a forklift and one long honkin’ truck being filled with big blue clusters.
I pulled over to take pix of this crazy, but efficient operation. On one side of this two-lane, 40-miles-per-hour thoroughfare was the vineyard, where workers were harvesting the grapes; on the other, just outside the fence surrounding the municipal playfield, was the forklift and the cargo truck in which the grapes would be transported. A tractor pulling three bins full of grapes would navigate across Laurel, release the bins beside the truck, reload with three empty bins, then cross the road to do it again. Rinse, repeat.
I introduced myself to a gent in baseball cap and shades, who just happened to be Tom Del Barba, the latest generation of Oakley grape growers who’ve been farming the family old-vine estates for decades. And he turned out to be both welcoming and informative when it came to describing the ins and outs of the grape-growing biz.
Although a Del Barba vineyard designation rarely graces a label, estate fruit has been a key component in several bottlings over the years. Cline, Bonny Doon, our pal Matt Cline at Three Wine Company, and most recently winemaker Tadeo Borchardt at Neyers are among Del Barba Vineyards clients past and present.
The stuff being picked today at the Laurel property was a prime ingredient in Bonny Doon’s Cardinal Zin, and the relationship with CZ’s new owners, The Wine Group, continues the love. In fact, Bonny Doon founder/winemaker, Randall Grahm is a big fan of the Del Barba Mourvèdre, having used it for his Old Telegram and Le Cigare Volant projects.
Tom popped a random grape from one of the Zin bins into his refractometer and invited me to sample the wares as I checked the sugar reading. Hovering around 26.5 to 27 brix, the reading did not belie the sweet ripeness in the mouth.
Tom was also a wealth of information and lore about some of the crazy-quilt vineyards we were trying to identify. Turns out that Duarte is located a few blocks over, also on Laurel, the other Del Barba parcels are situated all along Rose Avenue, and — wonder of wonders — because of the way Main Street curves, that post office plot of Alicante and Mataro is actually the back part of Del Barba! And that that post office plot is one of Randall Grahm’s faves! No further questions your honor.
Oh, and do you remember Mabel, that feisty, wrestling-loving 87-year-old who lives around the corner from us? We posted about her back in early May: She’s the one who lives beside the untended old vineyard that had been owned by her late sister. Turns out that Tom Del Barba contracted to farm the property for the sister’s heirs, but when a housing developer offered them a boatload of dough, the heirs tried to break the contract. Things got ugly, but were resolved somewhat when Tom was paid to walk away. Then the housing bubble burst, development fell through, and now the land sits neglected. But Tom did get to know Mabel, and, man, does he have a great story:
Seems that a fly-by-night paving crew stopped by to ask if Mabel would like her driveway done, not realizing that they had just finished scamming her son a few blocks over, promising a thick coat, then skimping on the amount of asphalt. Octogenarian Mabel lit into them with a string of F-bombs that’d have Jason Mewes going, ‘Whoa, too much, Bee-yotch!”
Kath spotted a pizza delivery vehicle at her house the other night; guess there was no F’in way she was gonna miss an F’in’ second of Smackdown to F around in the F’in kitchen. We love her.
Also back in May, we promised (threatened?) y’all notes from our tasting of the Jade Mountain 2006 Mourvèdre from the Evangelho Vineyard in nearby Antioch. I swung by Frank’s vineyard the other day, and it sure looks like harvest is ramping up. So, in keeping with the harvest theme this post …
The wine has a bit of a Beaujolais look to it: light plum, cherry highlights. There’s some distinctive soft dustiness on the nose hints of cinnamon and clove. In the mouth, there’s big acidity that has you anticipating the next sip. Tannins add some weight to an enticingly tart, reasonably long finish.
Parting shot: Before I took my leave of Tom Del Barba to let him get back to the TCB of harvest, he asked me, “Hey Tony, do wineries read your blog?”
Somewhat immodestly, and perhaps mendaciously, I replied, “Oh, yeah!”
“Well tell ‘em I’ve got an extra ton of Zin for sale.”
Ripe, Old-vine Oakley Zinfandel from a Classic Del Barba Vineyard Property
Nice Brix, Nice Price
Ask for Tom
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Well, our success rate at identifying specific vineyards pictured in Kathy’s photos is pretty low. It’s dawning on us that any local vineyard designation appearing on a wine label is either made up, meant to honor the family that originally owned it but no longer does, corporate-owned, family-owned, leased, left to rot, or any possible permutation of said.
Compounding the frustration is that, with very few exceptions (Frank Evangelho’s eponymous vineyard, for instance), one very rarely sees the same vineyard name appear on multiple wineries’ labels: another frustrating thing about Oakley’s lethargy toward branding this area as a wine destination. Of course, with the city’s police department proudly touting its stats as the burg with the county’s highest number of DUI arrests, any wine tourism advocates probably shouldn’t hold their breathalyzer.
Another dead end for our Mystery Machine has been the preponderance of family names on everything from tow trucks to tire shops. Cutino Tires hails from the maiden surname of Carla Cutino, she of Rosenblum’s “Carla’s Vineyard” beside the Kmart. We blogged earlier about a Massoni Vyd., whence the Grenache for Cline Cellars’ “Cashmere” blend comes; at the Brentwood Farmers’ Market a few weeks ago, Kath and I bought some produce at the Massoni Farms stall — blank stares when asked about Massoni Vyd: no relation.
Which is why we didn’t bother pulling over to the Spinelli Trucking big-rig that had been parked near the Oakley/Brentwood main drag for weeks.
“Spinelli” is one of the Oakley vineyard designates that Kath has been running into for months. Both Three Wine Co. and Trinitas have been giving the love to this formerly family-owned, now contracted-out, parcel.
Who ya gonna call to get to das bottom of this? The usual suspects!
Keyser Sőze ain’t got nothing on Matt Cline.
Matt, formerly of Cline Cellars with brother Fred, lately of Trinitas with wife Erin, and most recently of his and Erin’s Three Wine Company, called me back to clarify Kathy’s photos of vineyards in weird spots around our hamlet. Between his decades at his various projects, this cat definitely knows who’s doing the do. I asked him to clarify the Spinelli Vyd. location.
“Matt, nice to hear from you; how are you?”
“Up to my elbows in grapes.”
At least, I think that’s the body part he referred to. We have two Spinelli Vyd wines in the cellar, and I suspect that Keyser, uh, Matt, has his fingerprints all over both.
There’s the Three Co 2007 Spinelli Mataro (his, for all kinda reasons, not the least of which is his insistence on eschewing the varietal synonym “Mourvèdre”), but also a 2005 Trinitas “Spinelli Live Oak” Zinfandel, with the new owners’ signature on the bottle. Since Matt and Erin sold Trinitas on Christmas of 2006, with no vyd contracts as part of the deal, I’m surmising that the sale included some inventory from the previous vintage, made by Matt, and that when the time came for Trinitas’ new owners to bottle the 2005, they were able to put their names, as proprietors, on the bottle.
Between Matt’s long-term relationship with the Spinelli growers, and the little historical blurb on the Trinitas label, we were able to solve the Great Spinelli Caper, leavened with a little extra Matt Cline insider flavah.
Assuming the history to be accurate, the current property was planted over 100 years ago by Portuguese settlers named Azevedo. In 1955, a Gustavo Spinelli and his family began managing the vineyard for the Azevedos, purchasing the 18-acre property outright in 1970. Apparently a mere 5 acres of vines remain, and Matt now leases vineyard acreage at Spinelli from a corporate owner.
Matt was indeed able to pinpoint the vineyard location for me, as one that Kathy had photographed months ago, when we were marveling at the juxtaposition of ancient vines and modern buildings. Few were more jarring than the west side of Highway 4 at Live Oak Avenue, and confirmation of corporate ownership came when Matt colorfully hipped me to the fact that smack dab in the middle “of some of the greatest Zin in” CoCo, some developer erected an absolute “monstrosity” of an apartment building. He also told me that the shopping center at the west end of Big Break Road (the eastern side featuring a venerable Cline Cellars property), anchored by a Raley’s supermarket and our veterinary clinic, was formerly the site of a great Mataro vineyard.
Three wine Company’s 2007 Spinelli Mataro is blended with 6% Petite, 2% Carignane and 8% of an old-skool blender, Black Malvoisie. It exhibits a youthful tinge of blue on the rim of translucent plum, and a nose of violet, rose petal and cinnamon or clove. In the mouth, it’s all acidic fruit: cranberry, blueberry and the like, with a nice tannic grip. It’d be great with food.
I have a call in to the folks at Trinitas; when we get the scoop, we’ll taste some of their juice!