PinotFile: 6.58 May 7, 2008
- The Boys of John Ash & Co.
- Kastania: Prime Pinot in Petaluma
- Pinot Czarina Crafts Royal Pinots
- Twin Oaks Cellars
- Small Sips of Pinot
- Pinot Briefs
- Pinot Events
- Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?
- The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part X
The Boys of John Ash & Co.
Over the past year I have spent considerable time snooping around the Russian
River Valley looking for those historical figures and places that have been seminal
to the evolution of California Pinot Noir as we know it today. The Santa Rosa restaurant,
John Ash & Co., was a recurring feature of recollections of those that I interviewed.
John Ash & Co. was known for spawning numerous innovative ideas that
have become commonplace in restaurants today. It was here
that restaurant wine-by-the-glass service originated in California,
and organized blind tastings of wines and creative
wine dinners emphasizing food-wine pairings were popularized.
John Ash & Co. was among the first restaurants to have a
wine bar and an associated wine retail store. The culture of
wine and food pairing flourished here as California wine took
its true place on the table as both a compliment to food and a
star in its own right. There was an emphasis on seasonality in
the menus and the procurement of foods from local artisans,
farmers and fisherman. Over the years, numerous exemployees
of the restaurant went on to become successful
winemakers, winegrowers, and key employees in various
I interviewed winemaker, wine educator, wine consultant, and wine writer, Don
Baumhefner, who was intimately involved in John Ash & Co. from its beginnings,
and sommelier and winery owner Dan Kosta, who fondly recalls the many years
he spent working at the restaurant. I have pieced together their comments to trace
the history of this Sonoma County institution.
The story begins with John T. Ash. Growing up in Colorado, his first exposure to
food was observing the cooking talents of his grandmother. Despite the impression
she made, he initially do not consider a career as a chef, attending college
instead and obtaining a degree in fine arts. He became employed by a New York
ad agency assisting with the development of new food products for Del Monte in
the 1970s. Stimulated by this work, he left for England and France to attend professional
cooking schools. It was here that he learned what was to become the
basis of his life-long cooking philosophy: fresh, local and seasonal. Upon his
return to the states, he worked as a chef in San Francisco before an opportunity
brought him to Sonoma County.
In 1976, Don and his wife Kay lived in the tiny town of Forestville, located in western Sonoma County
adjacent to Russian River Vineyards where Don worked. Russian River Vineyards had been founded
by Robert Lasdin in 1963, but by 1975, financial pressures forced Lasdin to sell the winery and 10 acres
of vineyards. Three owners in succession took over the property, all of whom turned out to be
“crooks” as Don recalls. In 1976, one of the subsequent owners wanted to revive the old restaurant,
winery and vineyards on the property. He approached the Baumhefners, suggesting Kay, who was a
chef, take over the restaurant, and Don who little about winemaking then, revive the winery. About
this same time, winemaker and former colleague of Don’s at University of California Berkeley, Merry
Edwards, was thinking about moving to Sonoma County.
At a New Year’s Eve dinner party at the end of 1975 at Mt Eden Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains,
the Baumhefners celebrated with Merry Edwards (she had been the winemaker here since 1974) and
her husband Bill, winemakers Joseph Swan and David Bruce, and others. As a result of discussions that
night, Merry Edwards became the winemaker at Russian River Vineyards with Don assisting. A search
was then conducted for a prominent chef and both John Ash and Mark Miller were interviewed. Don
and Kay decided to hire John because he had a “neat carrot made out of dough on his lapel at the interview”
(John’s wife made Christmas ornaments out of dough and the lapel ornament was her idea).
Mark Miller, of course, went on to become a nationally recognized authority on southwest cuisine. As
you reflect on the team that was assembled, it was clearly a recipe for success. The restaurant opened
to much acclaim, with local Sonoma wines served by the glass, and featured innovative California wine
country cuisine that brought many San Franciscans on an hour journey to the restaurant. Sadly, the
operation failed after a month when the owner failed to pay all those involved.
John Ash and Kay Baumhefner moved on to the Bodega Harbor Country Club, where John would cook,
Kay would help in the kitchen during the day, and then change clothes to receive customers in the
evening. Don, meanwhile was teaching at a Montesorri school and knew the children of Sandra Steiner
(now Sandra McKeever). She was looking for a winemaker and Don recommended Merry Edwards.
He told Sandra to send Merry abroad to learn winemaking and she did. Matanzas Creek was born and
the rest, as the say, is history.
The desire to have his own restaurant led John Ash in 1980 to Santa Rosa, where he recruited a few
doctor investors, gutted an old Chinese restaurant in Montgomery Village Shopping Center, and
started John Ash & Co. The phone number was 527-SOUP (7687), named in honor of the Chinese restaurant,
and is still the phone number of John Ash & Co. to this day.
The wine program at John Ash & Co., developed by Don Baumhefner, the wine manager, and initially
the only wine employee, is passé now, but was a first for California in 1980. The philosophy was to
give the customer the opportunity to taste many different wines. Twelve wines were offered by taste
(2 oz.) and by the glass (6 oz, ranging in price from $1.75 to $3.25). Examples of wines sold by the
glass included 1981 Kenwood Chenin Blanc ($1.95), 1980 Charles F. Shaw Beaujolais (yes, that Charles
Shaw, now known as “Two Buck Chuck” - $1.95), 1980 Sausal Chardonnay ($2.50), 1979 Chateau
Rieussec ($1.95 half-glass), and St. Francis Chardonnay ($3.25). In addition, patrons were offered the
opportunity to purchase any wine from the restaurant’s wine store at retail price plus a $2.00 corkage
fee (later raised to $3.00). An early example of the Pinot Noir stock list is on page 3.
Weekly tasting of wines, usually organized by variety, were highly popular, and sometimes eighty
people attended. The price ($8 for Big Zinfandels to $40 for Grand Champagnes) was attractive and
included at least eight wines with “kitchen treats to accompany the wines.” The theme for the inaugural
wine tasting at John Ash & Co was 1977 Pinot Noirs. Billed as “The finest collection of California
Pinot Noirs ever assembled,” the producers included, Joseph Swan, Firestone Reserve, Kenwood Jack
London Vineyards, Chalone Young Vines, Chalone, Carneros Creek, and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards.
A copy of a partial listing of the restaurant’s inaugural wine testing schedule is on page 4.
In 1980 there were only five or six good producers of Pinot Noir in California.
Winemakers were eager to try new things. Don refers to the time as “an age
of innocence, everything was young, fresh and new.” No one really knew or
talked about clones at the time. Tom Dehlinger had made his first vintage of
Pinot Noir at Joe Swan’s winery in 1975. Joel Peterson crafted his first wine at
Swan’s as well in 1976. Joe Swan and Ken Burnap of Santa Cruz Mountains
Vineyards would travel with Kermit Lynch to Burgundy every year to learn
how to make Pinot Noir. With Lynch translating for the trio, they were welcomed
into all of the great cellars and the French shared their secrets freely. In the early 1980s Don
reminisces about the time Ed Selyem approached him, asking him to sample a Pinot Noir labeled
Hacienda Del Rio from the 1977 or 1978 vintage (probably Rochioli old block grapes). Don thought it
was pretty good, bought 10 cases at $10 a bottle, and took it to San Francisco to sell. He now regrets
not “buying ten cases every year!”
Special wine dinners were also part of the program at John Ash & Co. from the beginning. In 1981, the
second dinner was held to honor Merry Edwards. Don noted in his newsletter that “While most of you
know that Merry produced what by consensus must be considered the best 1978 Chardonnay made in
California, many of you may not be familiar with her accomplishments while at Mt. Eden. In 1974, she
produced on of the very best Cabernet Sauvignons of that renowned vintage. In 1975, she crafted not
only the best California Chardonnay Don has ever tasted, but also the very best California sparkling
wine he has ever sipped. In 1976, she produced the only Zinfandel that Don has ever ranked above a
Joseph Swan Zinfandel.” The menu for the dinner was drawn from recipes of talented woman (whom
John Ash admired greatly), Simone Beck, best known for her co-authorship with Julia Child of the Mastering
The Art of French Cooking books. The wines included a never released 1979 Matanzas Creek
Sparkling Wine, and a 1975 Mount Eden Pinot Noir, called by wine critic Robert Finigan his “favorite
California Pinot Noir” at the time.
The late 1970s were a great period for wine enthusiasts because there was a plethora of inexpensive
good wine. Top premier cru Burgundies of the 1970s by Dujac and Grivot could be had for $10 to $15
a bottle. When Don talks about those days, his gaze drifts off and he mumbles, “those were wonderful
times.” At John Ash & Co. marvelous wine dinners featuring the 1959, 1961 and 1962 vintages were
offered at $125 per person. The 1959 French dinner lineup included: 1961 Gosset Brut Integral Millesime
Ancien. 1972 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet, 1959 Chateau Pontet-Canet, 1959 Carruades
de Lafite, 1959 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache, and 1959 Chateau Sudiraut.
As the consulting wine list engineer at John Ash & Co., Don had to meet frequently with wine representatives.
These encounters would be scheduled on one day from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM with each wine
salesman getting fifteen minutes of Don’s time. Don recalls when Steve Bixler of Kistler Vineyards
came in. Kistler required a purchase of 10-15 cases, an unheard of demand at the time, and the wine
was expensive. Don acquiesced and John Ash & Co. became the first commercial account for Kistler.
While Don (pictured right) was managing the wine program, his wife
Kay along with noted Sonoma chef Lisa Hemingway were making the
pastries for John Ash & Co.. Hemingway would eventually move on
and open her own restaurant. Kay currently is a chef at Della Fattoria
Restaurant in Petaluma. Don left John Ash & Co. in late 1982 to manage
a wine bar in San Francisco and become assistant winemaker at
Joseph Swan. Don likes to jokingly reminisce about the challenges of
setting up Joe Swan’s winery accounting on one of the first Apple
computers. Don worked closely with Joe Swan for many years until
his passing and continued to consult for John Ash & Co. He then became
the winemaker at Copeland Creek and today is the winemaker at Ridgeway in Petaluma.
In the mid 1980s, the cuisine at John Ash & Co. was quite inventive and
original for the time and along with the wine program, brought notoriety to
the restaurant. The attempt to sell wine retail at the restaurant wine bar
never really took off, but the restaurant was a success in all other respects.
In 1987, the Vintner’s Inn was built in Santa Rosa at 4350 Barnes Road, just
off River Road by retired scientist, John Duffy. He wanted to add a topname
restaurant to the Inn and brought John Ash & Co. to its current location
adjacent to the Inn. Between 1987 and 1990, John Ash was recruited by
Fetzer in Hopland, California to consult on their wine and food program.
Building on his experience and influenced by others such as Zelma Long at
Simi, an early proponent of wine and food pairing, John Ash became
widely respected as the originator and teacher of wine country cuisine.
In 1985, John Ash had been chosen as one of America’s
“Hot New Chefs” by Food & Wine magazine so it was no
surprise when Duffy chose his restaurant to provide a
prestigious aura to his new Inn. A sparkling review of
John Ash & Co. by Caroline Bates appeared in Gourmet
magazine in September, 1988. Bates remarked, “Sonoma
County, southern France, and Japan are the main currents
in Ash’s cooking… .Ash’s plates are artistic, featuring
sprays of flowers and sauces that look like brushstrokes…
.Throughout the year Ash uses as many as seventy-
five different edible flowers in his cooking… .There
are few places where the good earth produces so many
superlative things for the table - and attracts chefs worthy
of them - as here in the Sonoma and Napa valleys of
California’s northern wine country.” She pointed out that
the wine list was composed of primarily local Sonoma
County producers, some of which were walking distance
from the restaurant, and noted that John Ash & Co. was
one of the first restaurants in the United States to pay
attention to after-dinner wines.
In 1990, Dan Kosta began working at John Ash & Co. His
father, Tom Kosta, was partners with Steve Lorenzon and
Tom Bolger in a wine store in the railroad square area of downtown Santa Rosa. They were competitors
during the restaurant’s Montgomery Village years. Growing up, Dan was exposed to wine with every
meal and developed an appreciation for and interest in wine at an early age. At the tender age of 18,
Dan joined the staff at John Ash & Co as a busboy. From the start, he became immersed in the wine
and food culture that was prevalent among the staff at the restaurant. As Dan puts it, Ash was a “Petri
dish” for learning about fine wine and food. One day he met Michael Browne who had joined the staff
and recognizing Dan’s talent, suggested to him that he ask to be promoted. Dan quickly became a
waiter, then was promoted to management, and become the restaurant’s wine director at age 24. Age
was not a deterrent to success at the restaurant and Dan thrived on the continuous on-the-job training.
The restaurant’s wine budget was about $100,000 a year and over 500 wines (quite large for Sonoma at
the time) were on the wine list. Dan was able to taste most wines that were put onto the list and learn to match food and wine. The staff traveled to many local wineries to taste as well. In the mid-1990s, the
staff added a large number of Pinot Noirs to the wine list based on Pinot Noirs acknowledged affinity
for food.. Sales were slow, however, unless the wines were ‘hand-sold.” Burgundies were often the
safer choice because of their consistency, but the quality of Pinot Noir from Sonoma County was growing
and more and more of them were added to the wine list. The menu at John Ash & Co. was very
conducive to Pinot Noir and this was also factor in the decision to promote Pinot Noir.
By 1990, John Ash (pictured right) had become the culinary director of Fetzer
Vineyard’s Valley Oaks Food & Wine Center. He had a passion for food but was
happiest writing and talking about food and was not particularly enthusiastic
about the daily grid of working in a restaurant kitchen. Dan recalls that he was
very impressed by Ash’s coolness in the kitchen, never seeming to be flustered
or angered. He treated his employees very well, and encouraged their wine
and food education. In the late 1990s, chef Jeffrey Madura joined the cooking
staff at John Ash & Co and he would be the man behind the scenes keeping the
quality of cooking at a high level as John Ash became more and more involved
in outside projects. In 1999, Duffy retired and the Vintner’s Inn and John Ash &
Co restaurant were sold to Don and Rhonda Carano of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards
&Winery who continue as owners to this day.
John Ash left the restaurant in 2000 and Jeff Madura has continued the tradition of fine wine country
cuisine to the present. Beginning with Madaro’s reign, the food took on more Mediterranean influence,
more simplicity, and emphasized grilling more. In 2000, a re-creation of the very first wine tasting
held at John Ash & Co. was organized by Don Baumhefner. The Pinot Noirs from 1977 included Joseph
Swan, Chalone, Mt. Eden, and Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyard as well as two French burgundies.
According to Don, the California Pinot Noirs “were still solid,” and it was a thrill to relive this tasting.
The legacy of John Ash & Co. will be the popularization of seasonal and local wine country cuisine.
Working in a “hotbed” for food and wine, the employees had a tremendous exposure to wine on a
daily basis. Even as a busboy, Dan was offered samples of wine to try. After work, wines, wineries,
and wine styles were discussed in depth. The staff often stayed up all night discussing wines. In addition,
the staff had considerable admiration for the winemakers whose wine fervor was contagious. The
natural evolution was for members of the staff to leave the restaurant and produce their own wine. In
this fashion, John Ash & Co spawned many winemakers through the years.
During the years that Dan Kosta worked at John Ash & Co., Michael Browne came and went as a waiter
at the restaurant between breaks for schooling. The two developed a close and lasting friendship
founded on their shared enthusiasm for fine food and wine. In 1996, Dan was the wine director at John
Ash & Co., and Michael Browne had begun to seriously consider a career in winemaking. They talked
about a partnership over many dinners. Every night after work, each one would put $10 in tip money
into an envelope that Dan kept in his desk. After accumulating $1,300, they purchased one-half ton of
Eastside Road Pinot Noir, an old hand crank de-stemmer/crusher, old used barrels and “we were off.”
Two years later, while still working at John Ash & Co., the two launched Koste Browne with the inaugural
release of a 1999 Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County. They had hand-drawn the labels which remain
the same today except for the colors.
The first Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne came in the year 2000. The pair had contact with Sonoma growers
and some 2000 Cohn Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir grapes became
available to them. Michael had gained valuable experience working as a
winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Sonoma Valley. They continued to
develop contacts and several other prominent vineyards came on board such
as Kanzler and Koplen. Their initial goal was not to attempt to make or duplicate
Burgundy, but rather to create a delicious Northern California artisan beverage
with as much flavor and intensity as possible. Despite their background,
they did not have food and wine matching in mind when they created the Kosta Browne style of Pinot
Noir, but over time they have found that their wines perform beautifully at the table with appropriate
foods. Below - Michael left, Dan right. They have the perfect business relationship with Michael handling
the winemaking and Dan in charge of sales and marketing.
The list of prominent alumni of John Ash & Co. is lengthy but a few names should be mentioned. Matthew
Gustafson was a wine buyer and sommelier at John Ash & Co., later the wine buyer for Oakville
Grocery, and became an accomplished winemaker for Dutton Estate and his own label, Paul Matthew
Winery. Steve Galvan, a former sommelier at John Ash & Co., is now the General Manager at
Ramondin USA in Napa which produces tin capsules for wine bottles. Paul Sloan is a third generation
Sonoman who had his epiphany while working as a wine steward at John Ash & Co. Restaurant. During
a tasting of very expensive white burgundies, he tasted his first Le Montrachet. His interest in Burgundy
wines was ignited that day and along with encouragement from his wife, Kathryn McGrath-Sloan
who also was educated in wine, immersed himself in learning about wine. Together with Matt Gustafson,
he won the Greenwood Ridge California State Wine Tasting Championship, Professional Division.
He enrolled in the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College and obtained practical experience
under the guidance of Warren Dutton of Dutton Ranch. Spurred by the encouragement of Warren Dutton,
Paul and his wife started Small Vines Viticulture in 1998 specializing in the planning, installation
and precision viticulture of close-spaced vineyard estates in Sonoma County. His clients have included
Paul Hobbs, Sonoma Coast Vineyards, DuMol, and Red Car Wines. John Ash & Co. alumnus Markus
Wilson is the Key Account Specialist for Southern Wine & Spirits. In 2000, he placed second along with
partner Dan Kosta in the California Wine Tasting Championship, Professional Division.
John Ash continues to act as a consultant and give cooking classes at his eponymous restaurant (for a
schedule visit online at www.vintnersinn.com). The restaurant today has one of the finest wine lists in
Sonoma County with approximately 600 wines from the adjacent wine country and around the world.
The Fourth Annual Pinot Family Reunion will be held on Sunday, June 22 from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. A
three-course family style dinner will be paired with some of Sonoma County’s top Pinot varieties at
John Ash & Co. restaurant at 5:00 PM. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Breast Care Cancer
Center at Sutter Medical of Santa Rosa. Tickets are $80 in advance, or $95 at the door, including a wine
glass. The cost for both the Tasting and Dinner is $175 per person, all-inclusive.
John Ash currently has two excellent books in print: Cooking One on One: Private
Lessons in Simple Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher (2004) and From Earth
to Table: John Ash’s Wine Country Cuisine (co-author Sid Goldstein, 2007). John Ash
is also a partner in the winery, Sauvignon Republic.
There are a number of cookbooks available that are instructive
about on wine and food pairing. Two of my favorites
are: The Vintner’s Table Cookbook: Recipes from a Winery
Chef, by Mary Evely, written when she was the winery chef
at Simi, (2006, second edition), and Perfect Pairings - A Master Sommelier’s
Practical Advice for Pairing Wine with Food, by Evan Goldstein (2006).
Back in my files I have an quote (the source of which I have lost) that is apropos for the John Ash & Co
story. “Some wines really are better with some foods than other wines. Many meals can be improved
by the selection of just the right wines. While wine is truly an art form, it is not so in the same sense as
a painting or sculpture. It is a living entity that must be drunk preferably at its peak. A proper meal is
an attempt to marry truly great wines at their peak with compatible foods prepared to perfection. Such
an attempt is a celebration of the realization that wine, alone above beverages, is part of food, and neither
exists in even half its glory without the other.” Chefs like John Ash, sommeliers like Dan Kosta,
and vintners such as Don Baumhefner, Michael Browne, and Matt Gustafson and are an inspiration to
us all, and their ability to harmonize food and wine is proof that God loves to see us happy!
Kastania: Prime Pinot in Petaluma
Kastania Vineyard and Winery is nestled adjacent to
the western shoulder of Highway 101 as it meanders
through Petaluma. The land here has been owned by
the Smith family since the 1860s. Originally it was a
sprawling ranch extending east of the Petaluma River,
but was gradually sold off. The plot that remains is
lovingly maintained by Hoot and Linda Smith and is
quite beautiful, studded with majestic oak trees that
are a few hundred years old. Overlooking the eastern
portion of the Petaluma Gap and the Petaluma River,
the Smith’s Pinot Noir vineyard sits on a knoll welcoming
northerly travelers to southern Sonoma County
Hoot planted his 5+-acre vineyard in 1995 primarily to Pinot Noir including clones Pommard 4, 115,
667 and Calera. The Calera clone never performed well here and has been replaced with a Rochioli
Vineyard selection. For the first eight years, Kastania Vineyard supplied grapes for a vineyard designate
Pinot Noir made by Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood. Beginning with the 2005 vintage, Hoot has
kept the grapes for his own label, Kastania. Kastania means “chestnut” in Italian. Hoot said it just didn’t
seem right to name the winery “Smith.” The winemaker is Leslie Cisneros, who is also the winemaker
at Arista in the Russian River Valley.
A newer winery and tasting room sit at the top of the
property. The inviting tasting room is decorated with
owl-themed memorabilia that Linda has collected over
the years. Linda likes to joke that she collected owls
long before she met her husband, and she “ended up
marrying a ‘hoot’”. A golden owl is prominently featured
on the Kastania label.
I had the opportunity to taste through both the 2005
and 2006 vintages of Kastania Pinot Noir. I previously
reviewed the 2005 bottlings (Volume 6, Issue 12), so
this was a chance to see how the wines were progressing.
The vineyard is now well established and the resulting
wines are showing the complexity that comes from aged vines.
2006 Kastania Vineyards Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 351 cases, $35.
Both 2006 bottlings are light garnet
in color. The aromas of wild berries, especially strawberries
draw you in and there is a little barnyard for interest.
Tasty red berry including cranberry flavors with lively acidity
and a razor sharp finish. Medium-weighted with reigned-in
oak and gossamer tannins.
2006 Kastania Vineyards Sonoma Coast Estate Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 393 cases, $45.
The aromas are slightly more penetrating and persistent
here with again, plenty of fresh wild berries and a little good funk. Similar flavor profile with a little
more cherry notes and a more luxurious, plush mouth feel. The clean finish exhibits tangy acidity. A true
reserve wine that justifies the added price and a love letter from the vineyard. Both of the 2006 bottlings
are beautifully scaled and show a woman’s touch in the winemaking.
2005 Kastania Vineyards Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 139 cases, $35.
cork looked fine, this wine seemed to be a tad oxidized. The aromatics were typical of an aged wine, with
a little good funkiness, raisin, cigar box and sherry notes. The flavors of raisin, sherry and marzipan carried
over . The balance was fine and the finish clean.
2005 Kastania Vineyards Sonoma Coast Estate Proprietor’s Reserve
14.5% alc., 205 cases, $45.
The nose is reserved but charming with deep, dark fruits, grilled meat and oak char. Full-bodied and
fresh black cherry and black current flavors are accompanied by powdery tannins and an appealing soft
texture. This wine is just beginning to emerge, although it is quite a treat to drink now.
Kastania Vineyards is located at 4415 Kastania Road (entrance just south of gas station), Petaluma.
The winery’s tasting room is open by appointment (707-763-6348). The winery’s website is
Pinot Czarina Crafts Royal Pinots
Lane Tanner is also a “hoot,” and that is because she is a jokester and a
special, fun-loving winemaker. Her nom de plume is “Pinot Czarina,” a
name she assumed based on her experience with Andre Tchelistcheff.
While working on the bottling line at Konocti Winery in Lake County,
California in the mid 1970s, her employer found out she had a degree
in chemistry and put her in the winery’s lab. The first day she was in
the lab, she was introduced as the new enologist to the winery’s consultant,
Andre Tchelistcheff. The only problem was that Lane had no
clue what an enologist did. Andre kept telling the winemaker, “Have
Lane test this, have Lane test that.” Fortunately, Andre took a liking to
Lane’s spunk, and her future career in winemaking was born.
Lane later worked at Firestone Winery and Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa
Barbara County before starting her own label, Lane Tanner Winery, in
1984. This was quite novel at the time for women winemakers were few
and far between at the time. Victor Geraci, writing in Salud! The Rise of Santa Barbara’s Wine Industry,
noted, “Lane Tanner proved that a woman could also achieve status as an independent winemaker.
Tanner specialized in Pinot Noir and claimed to be ’a real old traditionalist.’ She believed that technology
was good up to a point and that ’winemaking is a simple process that machines can only refine so
much.’ She did everything herself and believed that her Pinot Noir was the most feminine, finicky,
fickle, and incredibly responsive of all grapes. She said that ’grapes want to become wine,’ and she
accepted the responsibility of being ’the keeper of the grapes.’”
Lane was one of the first winemakers to acquire a contract for Pinot Noir grapes from the now famed
Bien Nacido Vineyard. At one point, she was married to Frank Ostini, the owner of the Hitching Post
Restaurant in Buellton. She made the house wine for that restaurant which more recently was made
famous in the movie Sideways.
Lane now produces about 1,500 cases of Pinot Noir from purchased Santa Barbara County grapes at
Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. Her style of winemaking is distinctive. She strives for
elegance and avoids high and intrusive alcohol at all costs. Often she picks her grapes in advance of
other winemakers. Oak treatment is understated. She is a one-woman show, performing every task
required to craft her wines. You won’t find her wines prominently promoted, but lovers of Central
Coast Pinot Noir know to buy everything she makes every year. After more than twenty vintages using
many of the same grape sources, you have to think she has perfected her craft. One anomaly persists
however. Her wines are quite restrained, elegant and serious. But Lane, herself, always seems to have
a mischievous glimmer in her eyes and is quite a “hoot.” Like her back label reads, “Laugh More-Flirt
I recently tasted through the Pinot Czarina’s 2006 offerings. These are among the best wines I have
ever sampled from Lane. Very harmonious and as always, sensibly priced. There is a weight and style
here for everyone. All of the wines were aged in 35% new Francois Freres French oak for 11 months.
Sulfite levels are very low, since Lane is allergic to sulfites.
2006 Lane Tanner Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
13.6% alc., 556 cases, $26. This is Lane’s
“flagship or working girl wine.”
Bright red cherry and strawberry fruits featured in the aromas and flavors.
Light, refreshing, clean and pure. Unadulterated Pinot flavor in an easily drinkable style ready for
the table tonight. Believe me, you won’t find a better California Pinot Noir at this price anywhere.
2006 Lane Tanner Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., 460 cases, $33.
Sourced from Bien Nacido N Block, Martini clones on their own roots planted in 1973.
scents showing darker fruits and a little pepper. Plenty of lush dark Pinot fruits complimented by a touch
of oak char and nicely balanced with fine tannins and reserved acidity. A memorable black raspberry kiss
persists on the finish for more than ten seconds. Old vines, an accomplished winemaker and the result is
pure Pinot pleasure. This one will be fine over the long haul.
2006 Lane Tanner Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc.460 cases, $36. This vineyard is located three miles due east of
the Bien Nacido Vineyard and Lane’s block is planted to the Martin Ray
clone of Pinot Noir.
Dark crimson in color. Aromas of earth-dusted fruit,
grilled meat and toasted oak lead to an attack of plush dark stone fruits which
are earth-kissed. Layers of flavor interest with mushrooms, herbs and cola..
Dense on the palate but still silky in texture with a healthy tannic core that is
not intrusive. This one will appeal to those who like the more sauvage style of
Pinot Noir. Like Lane says, “ like the haunting other woman - rather scary.”
Lane Tanner Winery wines are available through limited retail channels and from the winery website
at www.lanetanner.com. The Pinot Czarina Wine Club offers attractive discounts.
Twin Oaks Cellars
I can remember clearly when I first ran into Mark Weiner two years ago at Pinot Days in San Francisco.
He was at the CrushPad booth, handed me his card, and said he was starting to craft small amounts of
Pinot Noir from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. He had no wine to taste but he
appeared extremely wide-eyed and eager. Mark developed his passion for Pinot Noir as a harvest
volunteer at Testarossa Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He evolved, as many do, into a home
winemaker and then a commercial vintner. He founded Twin Oaks Cellars in 2005 with his inaugural
vintage from Amber Ridge Vineyards and has since produced Pinot Noirs from the Santa Lucia Highlands
and Santa Rita Hills as well. I have talked with him over the past year at several Pinot Noir events
and never tire of his smile and enthusiasm. I reviewed his inaugural 2005 Amber Ridge Vineyard Pinot
Noir in a previous PinotFile and re-tasted it again a few months ago at the Pinot Shootout in San Francisco.
The wine has evolved beautifully and is just now hitting its stride. Mark graciously asked me to
taste his two 2006 Pinot Noir offerings and I came away very impressed.
2006 Twin Oaks Cellars Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $42. His goal with this wine
was to “craft a more Burgundian-style wine versus a “syrah-style” Pinot, and manage the acids to enable
the wine to be approachable earlier, yet retain its food-friendliness.
Lighter ruby in color. I like
the nose for its confected bright cherry aromas. The flavor profile is layered and complex featuring Bing
cherry, herbs, vanilla, and subtle spices including cardamom.. Light and soft, very clean and invigorating.
Not a “hulkster” wine by any means, rather more demure. Very easy to cozy up to and it shows off Pinot’s
best side. It will continue to drink well for several years.
2006 Twin Oaks Cellars Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., $49. Mark has had experience with this vineyard while working at Testarossa. The goal here was to
highlight the smoky, earthy qualities of this vineyard using yeasts, barrels and fermentation methods
to draw those characteristics out.
The aromas were quite funky initially like a barnyard covered with rotting
leaves. With air time, attractive dark red fruits emerged highlighted by herbs, forest floor and
smoke. The core of red fruits were quite silky and the wine, although quite understated at first, picked up
power in the glass. The velvety texture was a turn-on and the finish was very clean. This will definitely be
more giving with additional time in the bottle.
Twin Oaks Cellars wines are sold through a mailing list and on the website. Consult the website at
www.twinoakcellars.com. The website lists several winemakers who have been inspirations to Mark.
Small Sips of Pinot
Santa Cruz Mountains
Dave and Anne Moulton lovingly craft small amounts of Pinot Noir and other varieties from their winery
located high (1,600 feet) in the Santa Cruz Mountains adjacent to the historic Burrell School building
which dates to 1854. An inviting tasting room is located in the original Burrell School Carriage
House and overlooks the estate vineyards. It is in close proximity to the San Andreas Fault but Dave
promises that the only earth quaking thing you will experience here are his wines.
2005 Burrell School Veranda Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Showy aromas of hi-tone black cherry and black raspberry fruit with plenty of
smoky oak, a hint of barnyard and maybe even a touch of good Brett. Dusty fruit with a hint
of spice and wood, but with a chemical note to the finish. Light, elegant and nicely balanced.
2005 Burrell School Estate Reserve Principal’s Choice Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., 720 cases.
Starts off with alluring bright dark stone fruit aromas with a
hint of mushroom. Very tasty and impressive black cherry and blackberry core with powdery
tannins and a tangy finish. The silky texture is pure Pinot. Balance is spot on. This is a
terrific wine which will only get better over the next couple of years.
2004 Hallcrest Vineyards Barrel Select Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $35
of three top vineyards. Mahogany tinged color. Drinks like an aged Pinot Noir. Aromas of blackberry,
raisin, allspice and leather. Tasty subtle darker fruits with spice and brown sugar. Soft, smooth, and light
on its feet, the wine is showing nice mature features.
2005 Silver Mountain Vineyards Muns Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $38. Ed Muns and Mary Lindsay farm this challenging site at 2,600
feet characterized by crumbling slate soil from a former sea bottom.
featuring strawberry, raspberry, fresh hay, rhubarb, iodine and a touch of funk. Soft,
light and gentle with a good acidic tang. Nothing really stands out on the palate, and
there is a lack of punch, but the wine drinks fine.
2005 Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
15.3% alc., $36.
Very dark reddish-purple in color.
Opulent aromas of dark berries and damp earth. A big mouthful of dark fruit framed by very strong tannins.
Atypical for a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, the wine is lacking acidity and brightness of fruit.
Russian River Valley
2005 Scherrer Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $39. Primarily from
fruit grown in Goldridge soils. New label.
Lovely scents of red fruits, vanilla, root
beer and a subtle touch of alcohol. Wood-kissed, the wine offers racy red stone fruits,
a little earthiness, a solid acid core, and fine-grain tannins which hold everything together.
Fred Scherrer knows Pinot and his wines are as reliable as you can find.
2005 Russian Hill Estate Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., $27. Composed of
favorite lots of winemaker Patrick Melley.
Brooding black cherry scent followed by interesting black
cherry, raisin and nutmeg flavors highlighted with oak . Plenty of fruit intensity and a persistent finish. In essence, a reserve wine only in the sense that it is bigger and more intense
than the next wine (described below) which I preferred.
2005 Russian Hill Tara Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., $37. The Tara Vineyard surrounds the Russian Hill winery and is named
for the stately home that sits on the property.
Lovely strawberry and Bing
cherry fruit aromas with a hint of cola, herbs and smoke. Very tasty black cherry and black raspberry
core with notable char and grilled meat overtones. The fruit is bright and clean and is framed by gossamer
tannins. A nice acid lift on the finish makes you reach for another sip. About all you can ask for in a
Ryan Zepaltas is one of the new, young hounds making Pinot Noir in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.
The 28-year-old Zepaltas is the assistant winemaker for Adam Lee at Siduri, where together they craft
artisan wines in a converted warehouse in Santa Rosa. Recently featured in Wines & Spirits (April,
2008), Zepaltas is a former skateboarder from Wisconsin who, not surprisingly, is a Green Bay Packer
fan. His small production of 500 cases includes a Suacci Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($49) and a
La Cruz Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($47) in addition to the wine reviewed below. He said in
the article that “I’m an acid freak. I like things that are angular and hard to get at.” I think the wine
reviewed below exemplifies this philosophy.
2006 Zepaltas W.E. Bottoms Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $45.
Light red in color. Bright aromatics that change constantly in
the glass and exhibit cherries, strawberries, smoke, oak, and herbs. Lighterweighted,
the wine has lacy, delicate cherry and raspberry fruit with slippery
tannins and bright acidity. An outstanding food wine and highly recommended
for those who appreciate a restrained and “angular” Pinot Noir.
Note: Last year I tasted two Pinot Noirs released by Zepaltas in the 2005 vintage and honestly I could
not recommend either and did not feature them in the PinotFile. I was quite happy to see the improvement
with this vintage with more emphasis on restraint and layering of flavors. The wines are distributed
through retail channels as the website becomes developed.
2006 L’Angevin Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
15.1% alc., 400 cases,
Sweet dark berry fruit with a little bubble gum note. Heavy oak char from start to
finish. Impressive essence of Bing cherry fruit, plenty of tannin and a short finish.
Copious power and oak here without much finesse. The alcohol is well integrated.
May benefit from more time in the bottle.
2006 L’Angevin Sonoma Stage Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
alc., 400 cases,
Similar to the Russian River Valley bottling, but more structure
and density Aromas of oak char, barnyard and alcohol predominate. Chewy, dark fruits with earthy
overtones. Dense in structure like a powerful Syrah. Generous drying tannins.
Note: I am a fan of L’Angevin Chardonnays, particularly the Ritchie Vineyard bottling. I had tried the
initial L’Angevin Pinot Noir release a couple of years ago and was disappointed, so I revisited this vintage.
The 2006 Pinot Noirs will have fans who like a big, extracted-style wine heavy on oak. I can appreciate
the winemaking here as the wines have good balance and appealing smooth textures, but I
personally can’t warm up to the overall style.
2004 Fort Ross Sea Slopes Signature Reserve Fort Ross Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., 73 cases, $50. A limited release reserve wine
sold by retailer, Bounty Hunter, in Napa.
The nose is rich with black cherry fruit.
Lovely, hi-tone cherry and raspberry flavors accompanied by a meatiness and
some sauvage with notable drying tannins. The berry fruit on the finish persists for
many seconds. The mouth feel is silky. Classical Pommard in character, this wine
was drinking beautifully the next day from a re-corked bottle. A keeper.
2006 Del Dotto Vineyards Cinghiale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $75.
Cinghiale is Italian for wild bore.
Deep reddish-purple robe. Mysterious nose of dark
stone fruits and sweet oak. Rich dark fruits on the palate which are very luscious but are
currently overpowered by tannins. This is a big-boy Pinot that drinks like a Cabernet Franc.
Packed and stacked, time is needed for the tannins to soften and the fruit to emerge. If you
drink it now, decant and serve with a good steak.
2006 B. Kosuge Wines The Shop Carneros Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $30. “Named
after the farm equipment workshop located next to vineyards in honor of hands on
work of growing wine grapes and the people who do it.” Byron Kosuge is the former
winemaker at Saintsbury and also consults for Kingston Family in Chile.
scents of cherry pie, black raspberries, black current and a little barnyard. Red
and blue fruits on the attack finishing with frisky acidity and moderate tannins. Not
overblown with fruit and very drinkable.
2005 Mayro-Murdick Carneros Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., 662 cases, $36. A blend of 80% Iund Vineyard
and 20% Sangiacomo Tailgrass Vineyard.
Dark strawberry red in color. A deep
aromatic profile of black cherries and fresh sawn oak. The heart of the wine is cherries
with an adept touch of oak and toast running through. Smooth, simple, and easy to drink.
2006 Whitehall Lane Winery & Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc. $35. This
is not a misprint. Whitehall Lane has a stellar reputation for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon
from the Napa Valley. They began releasing a Carneros Pinot Noir with the 2005 vintage.
dominates the aromatics with a little funk and green notes. There is a solid core of red Pinot fruits with
toasted oak in the background. The tannins are quite nimble and soft. The finish is a bit sour. The overriding
theme of this wine is oak.
2006 Praxis Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $16. A reader has been a
fan of this wine and asked me my opinion. Praxis Cellars, owned by Bill Arbios
who also is the winemaker, produces multiple varieties from purchased fruit
throughout California. The winery is based in Sebastopol, Sonoma County. This is
the sixth vintage of Praxis Pinot Noir, the first variety bottled under the Praxis label..
Appealing and alluring aromas of wild strawberries, crème de cassis, herbs and
new mown hay. Decent core of redder fruits with some herbs in tow. A bit of citrus note on the finish
which is clean and bright. An easy drinker and although the wine is often placed on the lower shelves of
supermarkets, it is a respectable and user-friendly Pinot Noir ideal for everyday use.
2005 Bianchi Signature Selection Encell Vineyard Paso Robles Pinot Noir
13.6% alc. $27. I recently
reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed the Bianchi Garey Vineyard Pinot Noir. This wine, however,
is a horse (Pinot) of a different color.
The nose shows off beautiful crushed black raspberries, but alcohol
spoils the experience. The wine is a bit tight and flat now and noticeably astringent on the back end.
The dark fruits, such as black current, are appealing, and the tannin structure is admirable, but the wine
is just not offering a lot of pleasure now. Maybe time will help some, but I fear the balance is off.
2006 Hunterdon Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., $16. From Mayro-
Very light in color, close to some rosés. A light, simple wine featuring
red fruits, particularly wild strawberries, and enhanced by fresh herb flavors. Basically a
full-bodied Pinot Noir rosé. The wine is not as substantial as the 2005 version, but would
be perfectly fine serve slightly chilled with grilled salmon.
Costa de Oro Winery was founded by Gary Burk, a former musician whose father planted the 30-acre
Costa de Oro Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Gary was lured into winemaker after an epiphanic
dinner with Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon in
Meursault, France. In 1994, he joined the harvest at Au Bon Climat and remained until 2002 when he
left to run Costa de Oro full time. He began modestly in 1994 making small amounts of Pinot Noir and
now crafts 4,5000 cases of wine at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. Noted Central Coast
Pinot Noir winemaker Paul Lato is assisting.
2006 Costa De Oro Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Moderately dark reddish-purple color. The nose offers darker stone fruits,
spice, wet oak and pepper. Very fruity and very attractive. The wine has an alluring
plush and creamy palate with rich dark fruits, soft tannins, and a tangy acidic edge.
A solid effort that every pinotphile would find enticing
2005 Talley Vineyards Stone Corral Vineyard Edna Valley Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 2328 cases, $55.
The 27-acre vineyard was planted in 2001 and is a partnership between Talley Vineyards, Kynsi, and
Dark violet in color. Capricious and juicy black cherry attack on the nose and in the
mouth. Terrific grip and deft use of oak. An outstanding and harmonious wine in every way that needs
some time to fully develop.
2005 EQ Chile Pinot Noir
14.5% alc.. The EQ stands for Equilibro, the
Spanish word for balance. American Ken Bernards (Ancien) is the advising
winemaker. The wine is made at Matetic Vineyards and imported by F.P.D.
Inc., Carson, CA.
Dark ruby in color. The aromas are a little stinky and stony
overlying wild dark berry fruit. There is a hint of lacquer in the background.
Rich, earthy blackberry and plum flavors with a sidecar of oak. A little prune
note peeks out. Rich in texture with powdery tannins. A decent, yet curious, Pinot Noir
2001 Can Rafols del Caus “Ad Fines” Penedes Spain Pinot Noir
13.0% alc.. The label states
that this is a Mediterranean interpretation of Pinot Noir. Imported by Steve Miles Selections Inc., Denver,
The nose features barnyard, black fruits, char and some minerality. Grapey in flavor, there are
some woodsy highlights, a citrus tang to the dry finish, and a mild harshness to the texture. Not anything
resembling the North American Pinot Noirs that we have become accustomed.
2004 August Kessler Spätburgunder Rheingau Germany Pinot Noir
13.5% alc.. Imported by
Presser Wine Co, Richmond, CA.
Aromas of new-mown hay, farmyard and grass. Very light raspberry
and strawberry flavors with an edible flower overtone. A bit woody, sour and tart with an astringent finish.
An acquired taste!
Hamilton Russell wines are among South Africa’s most prestigious. The winery is located in Hermanus,
and is one of the most southerly in South Africa. It specializes in the cool-climate varieties, Chardonnay
and Pinot Noir. In 2003, the Pinot Noir was awarded the trophy for the best Pinot Noir at the International
Wine and Spirit Competition in London. Located on Walker Bay, the vineyards are in close
proximity to the south Atlantic Ocean and are protected from the fierce summer winds by steep cliffs.
The vineyards are planted on slopes heavy with stony, clay soils. Owner Hamilton Russell developed
the site from scratch in the 1970s and has now turned the estate over to his son, Anthony, who works
with winemaker Kevin Grant. The wines are estate grown and bottled. Imported by Vineyard Brands
Inc., Birmingham, ALA.
2006 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir South Africa
14.0% alc., $28.
Deep reddish-purple in
color. The nose exhibits dark raspberry fruit, smoke, char and a hint of sulfur. Generous woody and
green flavors accompany a core of dark and chewy soil-dusted Pinot fruits. Fine-grain tannins create a
silky texture. A Nuits-St.-Georges-inspired wine with plenty of mother earth influence.
Frost Threatens Wine Grapes in California I leave the country and all hell breaks out in
Northern California. The worst frost season in thirty years struck Sonoma County in April. The estimated
countywide damage is 10-15 percent of the crop, but is higher for certain vineyards. Dennis De
La Montanya said that his large Petaluma vineyard lost practically all of its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
vines.. Some vintners used up the water in their collection ponds to prevent frost damage, leaving
them with no water for irrigation later in the season. The flow of the Russian River was noticeably reduced.
The frosts also hit Mendocino, Lake, and Napa counties in Northern California and parts of the
Central Coast of California. Pinot Noir is particularly susceptible to the damaging effects of frost since
it is an early flowering variety.
Paradise Ridge Winery Re-Opens Paradise Ridge Winery is celebrating
its grand re-opening and 14th anniversary with a celebration on May
18 at the winery. The fete marks the completion of an extensive contemporary
renovation of the property and the opening of a sculpture exhibit at
Marijke’s Grove titled “Encore” on Sunday, May 19. With one of the most spectacular views of any
winery in Sonoma County and a portfolio of outstanding wines, Paradise Ridge has plenty to celebrate.
The winery’s Pinot Noirs of late are highly recommendable.
Green Truck Becomes Road 31 I loved Kent Fortner’s Green Truck
theme for his Pinot Noir label and the story of his aged green truck. His Pinot
Noir inside the bottle was memorable as well. With the current 2006 vintage,
Kent has changed the name of his wine to Road 31 Wine Co.. It seems that
there were just too many colored vehicles on wine bottles, so when visiting
his family in Kansas last fall, he saw a sign that read, “Road 31,” heralding a
gravel road which runs past his grandparents’ homesteads in Kansas. The truck still adorns the label
and the wine is the same inside. The 2006 vintage of Napa Valley Pinot Noir has been released and I
will be reviewing the wine in a coming issue. Visit www.road31.com.
Vinquire Local Wine Search The free internet search site for wine now has a “local wine
search” feature. When you are seeking a special bottle and need the bottle soon, you can enter your
zip code and the wine name and quickly find a source in your neighborhood. You can even find driving
directions to the retail source of the wine. I find the site extremely useful and it is updated constantly.
Winemaker Changes Winemakers are similar to chefs in that they frequently change jobs, many
times to gain new experience or move in another direction. Tony Rynders has departed Domaine
Serene and the search for a new winemaker is ongoing. Christina Pallmann has been hired as the
winemaker for Twomey Cellars (Calistoga and Healdsburg). She had previously been at Fritz Winery
in Cloverdale. Greg La Follette is now less involved with De Loach in the Russian River Valley, focusing
on his own label, Tandem, and a new project in the Anderson Valley financed by Chicago attorney
Jim Ball. Ball is building a new winery and two vineyard sites are being developed by biodynamic
viticulturalist Ginny Lambrix.
De Villaine Bourgogne Aubert de Villaine (owner of Domaine de la Romainee-Conti) planted
Pinot Noir on a steep hillside property in the Cote Challonaise a few years ago. The 2005 vintage is
the first release of Domaine A. et P. de Villaine La Digoine Bourgogne ($32). The wine is imported by
Kermit Lynch (www.kermitlynch.com). Available also at www.storytellerwine.com in Oregon.
Full Scoop on Davis Bynum Winery Retailer Paul Root is currently
selling some recent close-out stock of Davis Bynum Pinot Noirs.
Paul is a noted historian of the Russian River Valley and he related the
full story of the sale of Davis Bynum Winery (photo right) recently in his
online newsletter. Davis Bynum was a home winemaker in Berkeley and
worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper in the
early 1950s. In 1965, he started a small winery in a warehouse in Albany, in the East Bay Area and
crafted his first commercial wine here. In 1973, Bynum purchased 84 acres of land in the Russian River
Valley and started Davis Bynum Wines. His winemaker was Gary Farrell who also made his own wines
for many years at Davis Bynum. The label from Davis Bynum 1978 Westside Road Pinot Noir (made
primarily from Rochioli Vineyard grapes) is pictured below. In 2000, Farrell left to start his own winery,
and David Georges took over the winemaking duties. The Davis Bynum winery and vineyards
were purchased in March of this year by the Baker family of Canada. Jeremy Baker will continue to
produce wines from the property under a different name. The Klein family purchased the Davis
Bynum brand and inventory in August of 2007. The Bynum wines will take on a new label and packaging
and will be produced at a new small winery on Westside Road by Gary Patzwald (formerly Conn
Creek in Napa. Paul Root is offering a mixed case of both the 2004 and 2005 vintages at a drastically
(less than half) price. Phone Paul at Root’s Cellar, 707-433-4937.
New Restaurant Guide Steve Pietnicki has published a dining guide by Opinionated
About Fine Dining titled The 100 Best Restaurants in North America and Europe. Like
the Zagat guide, it is compiled from diners and includes a numerical rating, a short description
of the restaurant, quotes from survey participants and two to three special
dishes. Unlike the Zagat guides, this book rates each restaurant’s wine list and describes
the BYOB policy. The guide (a steal at $6.95) is available through retail channels or
online at www.opinionatedabout.com.
Wine Certification Course Noted wine educator, Kevin Zraly (Windows of the World Complete
Wine Course) and Robert Parker, Jr., offer a Wine Certification Course to subscribers at
www.eRobertParker.com. Beginning next year, the course will be offered to the general public as
well. The current major wine certifications (Master of Wine, Master Sommelier and Society of Wine
Educators) are for the trade but this course is intended for the consumer. There are three levels, each
level having a test to achieve certification. Think of it as a wine SAT or wine aptitude test. The highest
level (not yet available) will include a blind wine tasting and an oral exam with Kevin Zraly and/or
Robert Parker, Jr..
Carneros Heritage Fest
The 3rd Annual Carneros Heritage Fest will be held on May 31 from 12:00 to 4:00 PM at the Donum
Estate, 24520 Ramal Road in Sonoma, Carneros. The Fest will feature a Carneros Lamb BBQ, tasting of
Carneros Wine Alliance Member wines, a young chef competition, musical entertainment, sheepherding
and falconry demonstrations, vineyard tours, and sustainable agriculture exhibits. Participating
wineries include: Acacia, Artesa, Bouchaine, Buena Vista Carneros, Ceja Vineyards, Clos Du Val.
Cuvaison Estate Wines, Etude, Gloria Ferrar Caves and Vineyards, Havens Wine Cellars, Madonna
Estate, MacRostie Winery, Merryvale Vineyards, Nicholson Ranch, Patz & Hall, Ravenswood, Donum/
Robert Stemmler, Saintsbury, Schug Carneros Estate Wines, Talisman Wines, and Toad Hall Cellars.
Tickets are $75 per person and are available from the Carneros Wine Alliance website,
Feast of Devil’s Gulch
This event on May 24 is a fundraiser for Papermill Creek Children’s Corner and is limited to 20 people.
Double Delight is the theme with 2004 Devil’s Gulch Marin Pinot Noir from both Sean Thackrey and
Dutton-Goldfield, 2005 Merlot from both Mt. Tamalpais Vineyards and Stubbs Vineyards, and Marin
Riesling from both Pey-Marin Vineyards and Willowbrook Cellars. A multi-course dinner will feature
meats and produce from Devil’s Gulch Ranch prepared by Daniel and Margaret from Manka’s Restaurant
in Inverness. For tickets, contact Mark at 707-953-0923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration
The 4th Annual Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration, a benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust
(MALT), will be held at the historic Escalle Winery, 771 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur, on Saturday, June 14,
2008, from 2:00 to 7:00 PM. Local artisan foods will be served and Marin County wines will be featured.
Wineries participating include Corda Winery, Dutton-Goldfield Winery, Kendric Vineyards,
Orogeny Winery, Pey-Marin Vineyards, Sean Thackrey, Stubbs Vineyard, Thomas Fogerty, Vergari,
Vision Cellars and Willowbrook. Tickets are $50 and include valet parking. For tickets, phone 707-
953-0923 or online at www.brownpapertickets.com.
Sta. Rita Hills Open House Weekend
The Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance will be holding an Open House June 21 and 22. The weekend
will include Saturday morning vineyard walks, Open Houses at wineries on Saturday with an emphasis
on the 2007 vintage, and a Gala Reception at the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard from 4:00-6:00 PM on
Saturday where members of the Alliance will be pouring their latest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay releases.
Winerower Dinners at Clos Pepe Estate and Pali Wine Co. will be offered Saturday night. On
Sunday, there will be additional Open Houses at wineries focusing on library wines and current releases.
The legendary Fiddlefest will be on Sunday as well at Fiddlestix Vineyard (for tickets to this
event, visit www.fiddleheadcellars.com
). A two-day passport is $75 per person. Visit
Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?
A research paper was published in the April, 2008 edition
of the American Association of Wine Economists
Journal titled, “Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?
Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings.” The
authors (Robin Goldstein, Johan Almenberg, et al.)
found that individuals who are unaware of the price do
not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine.
In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, the correlation
between price and overall rating was small and
negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy
more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals
with wine training, however, there were indications of a
positive, or at any rate non-negative, correlation. The
results of the study indicate that both the prices of wine
and wine recommendations by experts may be poor
guides for non-expert wine consumers.
The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part X
I awoke after our previous night’s revelry at Domaine Bertagna and decided to walk off the Pinot lovely hangover.
I started to think that I had died and gone to heaven. Many would remark, “give me a break, it’s only a
bottle of wine.” Right, and a Ferrari is only a car and the Rolling Stones are just a rock band. Some things just
become the standard by which all else is measured, and I realize for Pinot Noir, that standard is Burgundy. Although
California Pinot Noir compares favorably in many cases with Burgundian wines, many are to Burgundy
what the World Wrestling Federation is to athletics. This is not to say that we should spend needless energy on
comparing North American Pinot Noir to Burgundy. They should both be enjoyed for the qualities that they exhibit,
and to suggest they are comparable is a disservice to both.
A visit to Burgundy is magical. The rich simplicity of each Domaine’s houses and the purity of line of the stone
enclosures surrounding the vineyards clings to my memory. The history, tradition, and intimacy of the beautiful
farm-based countryside make the wines seem even more magical. Some people call Burgundy “liquid silk,”
others say it is as close as you can get to a romantic interlude with your clothes on. In either case, fine Burgundy
is a kaleidoscope of flavors and heady aromas that will spin your head around, set your pulse racing, and
leave your totally at peace with the world, if not a bit breathless.
Every dedicated pinotphile seems to have begun their journey of discovery after tasting a remarkable Burgundy.
I am no exception and my travel to the “motherland” only reinforced my epiphany.
As I flew home from Paris, I was reminded by what Louis Trebuchet had remarked after our group polished off
thirty-four bottles of fine white Burgundy at a luncheon at Domaine Chartron et Trebuchet in Puligny-
Montrachet: “Bordeaux makes women say things they shouldn’t say; Burgundy makes women do things they
shouldn’t do.” I glanced over at my wife longingly, eager to return to home in California. To be continued… ...