Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

President's Day in the RRV and DCV.

Original post by Richard Foxall, Feb 21, 2012.

I generally avoid wine clubs of any sort, even at my favorite wineries--I'm too promiscuous to sign up to drink 12 or 24 botles of someone's wine in a year--but I am a member of Mauritson's Rockpile list, because there's no longer any way to get the Cemetery Zinfandel and good luck getting any of the others, either.  Since I have in-laws up that way, I generally go to the winery and pick up my allotment and combine it with a trip to see my grand-nephews or my brother and sister in law.  This weekend, other considerations made visiting them impractical, so my wife--how'd I get so lucky?--suggested that she would stay home with the kids and my friend Chuck and I could make the trip.  "Take the whole day, or as much as you need, and do some tasting."  Lincoln and Washington never got a birthday present so good.

We left Monday morning at 9 a.m.--Chuck wanted to be back early to take his son to a basketball game--and there was hardly any traffic, so Chuck, the mind reader, said, "Let's go through Sebastopol and up through the RRV."  Chuck likes pinot, albeit not as much as Zin, and he used to do some wine journalism in Sonoma, so he knows the landscape and he knows what I like. 

First stop was Hartford Court on Martinelli Road.  It's a big building, lovely and warm.  Inside, there were throngs of young German tourists.  Turns out there was a connection between one of the Hartford interns and the young people.  They parted way for us and we went to the far end of the tasting bar.  I managed to eavesdrop a little and realized they were having to convert acres to hectares--a conversion I know because I reinforced it here--thanks, dmcker.  Sadly, even Americans in the tasting rooms don't know it.  I didn't interject because they were handling it fine, and mein Deutsch ist ein bischen rustig. 

We started on a single vineyard pinot, MacLean's Block.  The nose was amazing, fruits, forest floor, and layers of ever-changing fruits.  Truffley, then floral.  I spent a good minute just sticking my nose in the glass.  Finally a slurping sip... and just a little letdown.  Good, but the nose promised so much more.  This is pricey juice, too, so the bar is set high.  We talked some more with our pourer.  (Two pourers, one just pouring for us, the other for the Germans, who were being really patient.)  Then sip two, hey, it's early in the day, maybe with a little air...  Sip Three, this is good!  Just a few minutes in the glass, a little extra swirling, and it was putting on weight and complexity.  Cherries, a little banana (weird and good, usually a sign of carbonic, right?  Which it didn't go through...), spices...  NOT a cherry coke wine--really free of that cola that plagues some Sonoma PN.

Next up, the Lands Edge Pinot.  A good nose, more earthy smells, not quite in that MacLean category, but still the kind of aroma that you want from your pinot--ethereal, constantly shifting.  The first sip was much more evenly matched to the nose--but the expectations of this blend of two vineyards was lower.  MacLean's block is actually closer to the ocean than the Far Coast vineyard, so this was a little weightier, a little warmer. 

Then some Zin. My preference in Zin is DCV, and my preference in the RRV is pinot.  So, with those prejudices, it was good, but not great.  Light and agile, balanced, probably a good call with food.  Chuck had been a fan of their zins in the past, but he was clearly more impressed with the MacLean--he was still raving about it. 

We convinced our pourer--it wasn't that hard--to open up a Syrah.  This wine isn't even mentioned on their website.  Outer Limits is the handle.  Now this was impressive.  I am starting to think that a lot of these cool weather sites in "true" Sonoma Coast are actually better suited to Syrah than to Pinot.  (The Pinots from Santa Lucia in Monterey routinely outscored the Sonomas in the Spectator last fall--even as the articles talked about Sonoma.) I had been drinking a Sonoma Syrah the night before--one Chuck and his partner gave me for my birthday--and pontificating on it in the car.  This was my idea of paradigmatic N. Rhone style Syrah--a stiff backbone, sufficient acids to age well and pair with fruit, and a bomb of savory tastes--meat, mushroom, forest floor, more roasted meat, pepper--chased by improbable dark plums and violets.  Afterwards, Chuck went back to the MacLean's Block Pinot.  I could see where that was headed.

I forgot to mention that the tasting fee was a very reasonable $5--refunded when Chuck bought the MacLean PN and I bought the Syrah.  Now if I can keep my hands off it for a while... and Chuck promised not to drink the PN until our annual NYE get together this year.

Onward, to Porter Creek, up on Westside Road, which connects the RRV to DCV.  The opposite:  a small, homey lean-to/cottage of a tasting room, staffed by a guy who lived in NY and really wanted a job at Chambers Street and knew a ton more about wine than I did at his age.  No tasting fee that I am aware of.  Another reco of Chuck's--I have always missed it for time reasons in the past.  Really reminded me of Amity up in Oregon, minus Myron Redford's unmistakable imprint.  (Never met him, but you can't miss his influence and presence in the wines and the winery.) First up was the "standard" Fiona Hill PN.  I liked it a lot, but thought it was, like a lot of PN, a bit pricey at $36 for what was basically a Friday night with roasted chicken wine, and not a special occasion wine.  (When I run out of reasonably priced PN, there's always Cotes du Rhone...) We also tasted the "reserve" PN, which was from a section of the vineyard a bit higher on the hill, apparently justifying the $60 price.  Nice, but not as good, IMO, as the standard bottling.  While having a nice conversation about natural wine--and French cooperage, which seems not that natural in California--the wines were heading the wrong way.  Then we tried a Carignane from grapes from Mendocino.  Bright, fruity, with about as much acid as I can handle, this screamed for a couple of different dishes, including the barbecued meatballs with Zinfandel sauce we had later at Yoakim Bridge.  At $24, a pretty reasonable bottle.  I bought one, but not till after we had tried the Syrah from the Timbervine vineyard.  A few folks source this cool-weather vineyard, and this one is co-fermented with Viognier in true Rhone style.  Great nose, right up there with the Hartford's, but the flavor was not quite as deep and the focus was missing just a bit.  Chuck, who likes Syrah but is not the fanatic I am, bought a bottle. 

Two stops, two bottles, and Mauritson still a good piece up the road.

We stopped at Lambert Bridge, which wanted $15 for a tasting and no refund if we bought a bottle.  I get that they are allocated about 100%, but the general lack of welcoming attitude was a little much, considering they have a sign out saying they are open for tasting.  We left without tasting.  No knock on the wines, and, if their model is to sell $90 wine and never replenish their customer base, more power to 'em.  It was a totally unplanned stop.

Before we had even gotten off the highway, I had called Michael Talty at Talty Winery--yes, Snooth winery of the year.  Accolades notwithstanding, and he's had plenty of them before this, too, Michael called me back and said he was going to be in the tasting room around noon, but he could open it earlier if we wanted.  No, we had enough to occupy our time, noon was going to be fine.  So we headed north on West Dry Creek Road.  We past bunches of wineries till we reached Yoakim Bridge, which is both a road and a winery, right next to Talty.  Talty is a small operation, but Yoakim is basically a couple who own 40 acres and do everything.  The tasting room is officially open Sat and Sunday, but we pulled up and there was the owner, working on the books and tending some meatballs.  We drank the Zin--good, definitely in the DCV mold, but not amazing.  Still, progress was being made.  We moved on to a merlot.  Yep, merlot, in the DCV, my least favorite noble grape, probably.  But maybe it just needs to be made like this.  The opposite of flabby, this had taut acidity, red currants, I could see the value in aging.  This was an '07, and pretty good.  David, the owner, said he had 4 bottles of the '06 left--not enough to have out for tasting.  But it was just coming around and had the better aging potential.  Did we want a taste?  Oh, yes, we did.  So he had a bottle he'd opened, and it was definitely the ager of the two.  More of that acidity, tannins that are still coming into alignment but showing lots of promise, more of the currant flavor.  Chuck bought the 2007, I bought the 2006.  Can you say mini-vertical?  We tried a Petite Sirah, which had typicity, but didn't really blow my mind, and a Napa Cab that David said was unlikely to be repeated--it was good, but he didn't think he'd be able to get the grapes again.  If you like your zins dry farmed rich, but a little more restrained, get on the mailing list. At $25 a bottle through the list, your going to be happy.  And if you like low key wineries, this is the ultimate in low key--David was really welcoming, but he does almost no advertising, relying on his location for good grapes and traffic. 

It was 12:30 or so and time to go up the driveway and right back down Michael Talty's driveway.  We got to the door to the tasting room and there was the printed page from Snooth announcing the award.  And there was Michael Talty, ready with two glasses on the barrelhead.  We shook hands, got re-acquainted, and got down to tasting.  First, the new Dwight Family Zin.  Without being a pinot, this has the lightness, freshness, agility, and sophistication of a pinot.  You could have it with your roasted chicken for a different experience.  We talked winemaking--Michael pretended to not have heard of the "natural wine" movement, or maybe he wasn't pretending.  He's consulting on a project out of another facility and they're freaking out at his technique, or maybe lack of said.  Michael isn't totally afraid of volatile acidity, since his grapes produce such big flavors and he makes them for a bit more aging than most.  but the Dwight is lighter, not just in color.

Then the Filice Connolly.  This is a vineyard in Napa, only one other winemaker has the grapes and calls it something else.  This is like a mature woman in a silk dress.  Somewhere between Kristin Scott Thomas and Helen Mirren at Oscar time.  Elegant, classy, and knows how to make things happen.  As Chuck said, "Your wine comes out at special occasions."  Michael: "That's all I can ask." The Filice takes about a year longer than the Estate to really show--it puts on a little voluptuousness that's sometimes missing if you catch it a bit too young.  Michael claims not to like high alcohol wines--but his wines routinely carry 15% and more with no hint of heat. 

We hit the Estate next.  This was the 2008, and just making its bones.  This is why we came to DCV--and why "Winery of the Year" is so deserved.  The wine has a little Carignane and a little Petite Sirah--a la Ridge, but that's probably also just because they really do something for the Zin.  It's all from the vineyard right outside the door, which was planted before Talty bought the land, for the most part.  He's done amazing things with dry farming (like Yoakim Bridge) but he pays the price in tough years.  There won't be a ton of wine from the 2010 vintage and Michael will really scrutinize what he puts out there.  Balancing stress is the key to flavor, but don't be fooled by the colors:  Talty wines don't always appear the darkest, but you'd have a time finding anything more complex.  Michael commented that he doesn't get a lot of the labels--old vine, natural winemaking--he just makes wine he likes and can't get behind calling it reserve: He wouldn't sell it if it was less than what he wanted, and he's not going to jack the price up to $65 and call it reserve. 

We drank some of Steve Law's MacLaren Syrah, which he makes at Talty, and heard his story--how he followed Michael around for almost two years to learn about winemaking, then threw himself into Syrah and put out a 90 pointer in his second vintage.  Unfortunately, Steve was out of town--we'll have a glass with him some other time, I hope.  We also learned that Michael limits the numbers of bottles of any one Talty wine you can buy so that more people can try it.  Steve talked him into breaking the rule, and that's how the relationship began. 

Chuck bought four bottles of Talty Zin, two of Filice and two Estate.  I still have some in the cellar, so I got two Estates and two of Steve's new, long-ager Syrahs--the acids on those need a little time, but they have a lot of promise.  Then Michael said, "I want you guys to share this, it proves that these wines can age for 7 years or more and be in their prime," and handed us a bottle of 2005 Estate, gratis. 

Highlight of the trip, for sure. 

After a quick lunch at Dry Creek Grocery, off to Mauritson, where we picked up our allotment.  We didn't spend a lot of time there, but we tasted the new Rockpile Ridge Zin that was coming home with us.  Chuck looked at me and said, "Now I remember why we like Talty and Mauritson so much more than the others."  Okay, I'd toss Bella in there, maybe a few others, but this was the other end of Zin--not jammy, balanced, but where Michael's starts nimble and then deepens, it's right into the diving pool with Clay Mauritson's Rockpiles.  The Mauritsons own the biggest chunk of Rockpile, by far, and have gradually been turning the AVA into a brand, which is lucky since they also own the name as a wine brand.  (The only comparable dominance I can think of with an AVA is the monopoles of DRC, but Rockpile is bigger.  There are a couple small patches that they don't own, but Clay's family have been on that land for a long time, and lost more than they have now when Lake Sonoma was created by damming the valley.  Chuck covered that story back at the time.)  Clay was not in the tasting room, but his wife and other family members, including his dogs, were there.  We also picked up our bottles of Syrah from Madrone Springs vineyard in Rockpile as part of the shipment, but there's not a lot around, so we put off the tasting till we open it.... which I promised not to rush.  Chuck bought an extra bottle of Cab Sauv from Rockpile, even though he's got a bottle or two in his basement now. 

Long post, but thought some of you would be interested in how things are in the RRV and DCV--nothing better than a jaunt through here on an uncrowded day.

prev 1 2

Replies

429
1942
Reply by EMark, Feb 25, 2012.

Dm, you're right in that I thought you were saying that Santa Paula was a winery destination as opposed to an route to Ojai.  There is a winery, Geisinger, in either Santa Paula or Fillmore but, again I've never stopped there.

I agree that a day trip to Ojai would be fun.  I will put that on the "things to do relatively soon" list.  I have greatly enjoyed the Ojai Vineyards Syrah over the years, but I have never visited.  I do want to go up to SLO in the next few months.  So, maybe a route through Ojai would be a good start.

20
5811
Reply by dmcker, Feb 25, 2012.

Wine near SLO, or something else? Swimming with the seals?  ;-)

429
1942
Reply by EMark, Feb 25, 2012.

Visit friends, visit some wineries, and, if my wife has a say here, look for a new place (she likes Cambria) to live.  In all honesty, that last goal comes with several hurdles that I have not yet figured out.

20
5811
Reply by dmcker, Feb 25, 2012.

Sounds good--what wineries?

Family also used to have land on the water just north of Cayucos. Came within a few inches of building a 'retirement' home there at one point. Nice area. You have Cambria and the trees, or Estero Bay and all that ocean. Definitely can swim with the seals there....

75
2247
Reply by JonDerry, Feb 26, 2012.

I'd agree, Cayucos is underrated. Good proximity to all good things central coast, and of course, the coast itself.

429
1942
Reply by EMark, Feb 27, 2012.

Major FUBAR with the DB internet provider, yesterday.

I want to visit Talley.  Their PNs have been getting some good recognition, lately.  I'll also want to go back to Wolff.  A few weeks ago I opened a Syrah that I bought at the winery a few years ago.  It was very good and, quite importantly, priced very attractively.

20
2478
Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 27, 2012.

dmcker, that Ojai itinerary sounds great and deserves a thread of its own--maybe I'll fly down to Southern Cal and drive in that way sometime just to see the old family place and get that perspective.  Ojai and its history of theosophists is pretty interesting--Orcas Island in the San Juans also has a theosophist retreat.  I've visited a bunch of those old utopian communities in the area, or what's left of them.  The wines from Ojai Vineyard are almost always quite good, but I haven't purchased any in a while.

 

20
2478
Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 27, 2012.

Emark, the owner of WineMine up here in Oakland was just down in Temecular recently (he has a son at UC Riverside) and had good things to say about the wines he tasted.  Also lots of good things to say about Ojai Vineyard.  Unfortunately, the Temecula wines are not well distributed.

429
1942
Reply by EMark, Feb 27, 2012.

I agree about the distribution of Temecula wines.  They are not easy to find here--a one hour drive.

I will have to make a point of going down there in the near future, although in all likelihood it won't be before April and May is more likely.

As I mentioned to Shsim in a conversation she started, I want to go to Hart in Temecula.  We met Joe Hart at a dinner at Cal Poly many years ago, and found him to be a terrific, humble person.  The wines were good, and I expect that they still are.  I believe he has handed the reins of the winery over to his son, now.

75
2247
Reply by JonDerry, Feb 28, 2012.

That's a good point about Temecula wines, the distribution. The trouble is, to get distribution, you need demand, which they don't have. You don't even here of ANY of their winds as standing out, or that hey, you need to try this. My guess is that they're just up against stiff competition in CA. If this same region and these same wines were from New York, they'd be a little more hyped.

Fox, a drive down to Ojai on your way to LA in April sounds like a good idea...

prev 1 2


Back to Categories

Top Contributors This Month

324443 Snooth User: outthere
324443outthere
147 posts
125836 Snooth User: dmcker
125836dmcker
102 posts
680446 Snooth User: JonDerry
680446JonDerry
95 posts

Categories

View All





Snooth Media Network