Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Guys, you have got to check out this brilliant site:
April Richmond is a former colleague of Kathy’s, and April (her, not the month) has set in motion a whirlwind of shindigs, parties, special events and, I wouldn’t be surprised, TempranilloWare parties. It’s everything that I hoped we could do; she did it.
Kinda gave us a flashback to Cali’s Vision Cellars, one of the, perhaps the first, African-American vintners to showcase their wares. Kathy and I first encountered Vision when the owner was pouring at McMinnville, Oregon’s International Pinot Noir Celebration. The Sunday tasting, outdoors, at IPNC was crazy; they had to take a break to bring the second squad onto the field. Nothing based on merit: they just had a big lineup.
Ms. Richmond ushered us into the San Francisco Vintner’s Market the other day. Motto? “Try it. Buy it.”
So, we motor to San Francisco’s Fort Mason, a decommissioned naval-slash-commercial base, that has become the home to many, many small biz. It’s also a facility to which Kath and I took the bus to attend the ZAP Zinfandel bacchanal when we lived there, several lives ago.
FYI, City of SF: Stop having your parking lots spout tix if there are no spots available. Nice revenue stream, but it reinforces why folks live in the burbs.
But enough about CoCo’s Oakley ‘hood.
April treated us to a wonderful afternoon of artisan producers (we heard, repeatedly, the phrase “we do 300 cases”), bad fashion amongst the patrons and amazingly unique wines. A vineyard manager who wanted to grab a few blocks and maybe see if he could possibly go into biz for himself. Some one who lived abroad, fell in love with the native grape, and wanted to do it her way. And the folks who do an outrageous Fume Blanc, neutral oak, but a sop to the people who visit their tasting room in Murphys Gold County. Small production, nicely done.
Here’s what we bought: a Frog’s Tooth Fume Blanc, barrel fermented because their clientele wanted a Chard (with oak). Their riff is “If wine has legs, frogs have teeth.” It’s homage to Mark Twain’s Calaveras story, and their price point is akin to what Mr. Clemens’ juice would have sold for.
We scooped up a couple of Pinot Noirs from vineyard managers who have the hook up. Kathy and I love this groove: Dude knows the blocks, oversees what to prune and crop. Who better to approach the owner and offer to buy a ton when the market tightens? Sweetness. Encanto from Carneros fruit, and farther north, Fogline with stuffing from Russian River, really do the do.
And then we get to chat with Allison at Edelweiss. Her Riesling, based on a single block at Napa/Carneros is luscious. I may say, again, “sweet,” but it is dry, with layers of stone and fig. Suddenly, I know why 1) Winemakers abandoned the Riesling grape, and 2) Winemakers had to add “Dry” to the Riesling label.
Dude, it’s like Chardonnay: Belly up to the bar and get a by-the-glass pour that has you chewing on lumber, or an unoaked thang that people send back.
One stop is Simple Math, a tiny producer who sources grapes up and down the West Coast, including Cabernet from Washington state. He was overwhelmed, props to Ms. April Richmond.
Our final stop is a sparkling label, BHLV. It stands for Beverly Hills Las Vegas, and the reps behind the stick could not tell us what the grapes in the blend were. Lindsay Lohan, welcome back: Your reps are calling. Assuming that you have any reps. Guys, this was so wrong; obviously a brand without anybody to tell us what was in the blend.
Marketing v. Making. You tell me.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Napa. Yeah, we’ve been there, both literally and figuratively. But it’s always best when you get a treat.
Kathy and I are now members of the Hess wine club, based on the fact that they have a line stringing to Frank Evangelho vineyard stretching to our CoCo ‘hood.
That was the impetus for our jaunt this weekend to the Napa Valley. It’s a different kind of “weird’ for us. We’ve lately steered clear; a tasting room may be open, but at what cost for said tasting?
We were armed with a bit of 2-for-1 Internet scrip, but were still skeptically inquiring (props to The Amazing Randi).
Funny how the first blush of romance gives way to mere tolerance, eh? As members of Hess, we can taste, tour and traverse the art gallery that Donald Hess has put on permanent display.
That was Kathy’s plan: Mourvèdre, Carignane, Stella, Rauschenberg. At the least, two of them are grape varieties.
We love the experience at Hess, but this time, befitting my comment a couple of lines ago, we wished that we had settled in a different location along the tasting bar. Did I ever mention our diss up in Washington state? Man, we had just endured the hammer to join this particular wine club when, on our next visit AS MEMBERS! were made eye-contact with, and professionally ignored. The pourers obviously had their “section” and even when someone on adjoining real estate had an empty glass, not only could the pourer not cross that imaginary line, they had to avert their gaze to deny your existence.
That really happened to Kath and me at a relatively newly built, well-reviewed winery in Woodinville (And based on his fawning reviews for this joint, Harvey Steiman from Wine Spectator apparently gets the VIP treatment at this winery: no stinking tasting bar for him).
OK, so it was a bit disconcerting at Hess to not get the pourer that you see on the other side. Ad nauseum, I say that, the person behind the stick determines whether or not that is YOUR winery. But hey, tasting was free. And the burning typewriter up in the gallery was still consuming that QWERTY vibe. And probably making Pacific Gas & Electric a packet.
We soon hooked up with our cool pourer, Kerry, at Cornerstone and Steppingstone Cellars on Washington Street in beautiful, bountiful downtown Yountville. We’ve written about Washington Street before, having redeemed an Internet coupon chez Cornerstone last fall. But I have to say that this little avenue is no secret to wine limousines. Of course, The French Laundry, Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty might have something to do with that. Never mind that there are something like 10+ tasting rooms within the 3-block downtown.
Kath and I were, uncharacteristically, heading north in the Napa Valley. We had a coupon for Girard (more in a sec) situated just before our turn back onto the 29 main drag. But, as many cool tasting room folk do, Kerry asked where we were heading next; we mentioned Girard up the street, and she told us about Beau Vigne directly behind them.
Beau Vigne’s wines were superb. Oscar was pouring four selections from their small production, but I wonder if it was Kerry’s biz card that allowed us to escape the $20 (that’s why we’re afraid of Napa!) tasting fee. As it was, we loved a $55 Chardonnay; can you imagine being levied a $20 tasting fee atop, even if you bought? That’s what scares us Napa v. Sonoma.
So we mosey and meander (I the latter, Kath the former) to the street front tasting room of Girard. Now, most of the guides, maps and other wine lit say that Girard is Appointment Only. I had phoned the day before, and Kevin told me that they are indeed open and that “we’ll see you tomorrow.” Sweetness. We walk in the next day, and would you believe it, Kevin turns out to be the first staffer we meet.
Dig this, y’all: It’s the day before Easter, an early April Saturday in Napa Valley’s Yountville, CA; Kathy and I are sitting outside a winery tasting room under a sunny, cloudless sky. We are watching limos, bicyclists and other tasters in our same periphery. All on one little street. We’re tasting a delicate Chard, a restrained Sauv Blanc, before moving on to the reds. But, let me get to punchline first: We had a 2-for-1 printout, but were not charged for the “1” part. In fact, we were poured a couple of selections off the list. Lovin’ it!
“Awesome” is a crazy word that gets bandied about, but when you taste a wine that embodies the root word, “awe,” you think about that stuff. For me, I’ve long had a beef with the term “field blend” ascribed to a wine whose label explains the exact percentages of each grape variety. Hello? The very nature of a field blend is that you don’t know how much of anything is in the mix: You picked the ripe stuff that was in the field, and then you made wine from it.
Welcome to Girard’s “Mixed Blacks.” It’s a deliciously funky-fresh amalgam of 100-year+ Napa Valley vine produce comprising Zin, Syrah, Petite, Grenache and a couple of strains that even University of Cali at Davis couldn’t pinpoint.
Does it get any closer to the Valley than this?
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
A little late for St. Patrick’s Day, a bit tardy for the advance of spring. But our neighboring city of Brentwood has advanced the opening date of the Farmers Market to the last day of March.
Man, these Contra Costa County burgs have gots the hook-up. Century-plus-year-old grape vines in our city of Oakley, and an equally venerable agricultural tradition in Brentwood, Byron, Antioch and Knightsen: first of the season, first in our hearts.
So, Kathy gets her hair cut at this groovy salon in downtown Brentwood, mere steps from the Saturday market. I’m not sure which was cuter: her haircut or the slender stalks of fresh asparagus. (I’m kidding, y’all. I kid because I love.)
Now, we’ve had a very dry winter (I’m sure that you’re all boo-hooing for me). Yeah, 65-degree temps in January, not a cloud in the blue sky, but no rain.
But here it is April, in like a baby cougar and out like a sheepie.
Lots of precipitation, but still not goofily so. Just meant that I could turn off the automatic irrigation thang. (Since we turned the drip thing to “2 Zones, v. 5 Zones with the previous pop-up sprinkler heads, I have been conflicted.)
BUT! Here we are with our April bounty: fresh, green peas as a side last night. And fava beans that rival that stuff at the Farmers Market. And we pulled baby’s first carrot from seed.
FYI: The peas were absolutely delicious.
The other green is completely outrageous.