Monthly Archives: June 2013


An Intensive in the Santa Lucia Highlands

Our third and final day touring focused entirely on the Santa Lucia Highlands.The AVA rest along the benchland above the Salinas Valley reaching up to as high as 1200 ft elevation. The region primarily grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with some other cooler climate grapes also growing such as Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Syrah.

Visiting Mer Soieil

Visiting Mer Soleil


tasting with the winemakers in the Mer Soleil Vineyards

Tasting Mer Soleil and Silver Vineyard side

Visiting Double-L Vineyard and Morgan Winery

Morgan Pinot clone tasting

vineyard side Pinot clone tasting

Morgan Winemaker

with the Morgan winemaker


Touring McIntyre Vineyard Steve McIntyre

investigating the Santa Lucia Highland soils with Steve McIntyre



Climbing to the top of Hahn Vineyards

View from the top of Hahn

looking across at the Hahn winery from the top of their Smith Vineyard


view from the top of Smith Vineyard

Touring the Pisoni Vineyards with the Pisoni brothers

Pisoni Vineyards

Mark Pisoni

talking farming in the vines with Mark Pisoni

Cassandra and Mark Pisoni

walking to Gary’s Vineyard, the Pisoni-Fransconi project

Budding over lesson with Mark Pisoni

talking budding new grape vines with Mark Pisoni

View from the top of Pisoni Vineyards

tasting in the new vineyard with Jeff Pisoni

Approaching the Pisoni compound

approaching the Pisoni compound

Pinot Tasting at Pisoni

wines from the Pisoni vineyards

Tasting at Tondre Grapefields with Joe Alarid

Joe Alarid, Tondre Grapefields

Joe Alarid, owner Tondre Grapefields Vineyard

Pinots at Tondre Grapefields

wines of the Tondre Grapefields Vineyards


enjoying the grass


Huge thanks to the winegrowers of Santa Lucia Highlands. It was a huge, really well organized day.

Thank you to David Vogels, Phil Vogels, and Randy Caparoso.

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Exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains: Corralitos Region & Pleasant Valley

We continued our exploration of the Santa Cruz Mountains, focusing this morning on the Southern portions around Corralitos and Pleasant Valley, before then continuing South into Chalone AVA, and Arroyo Seco AVA.

Visiting Windy Oaks

standing at the crest of Windy Oaks Vineyard

tasting Pinot Noir at the ridge of Windy Oaks Vineyard

looking through the rows of Jim's block

looking West through the rows of Jim’s block

the view West from the top of Windy Oaks

the view West from Jim’s block, Windy Oaks Vineyard

Windy Oaks Pinot Noir

Windy Oaks Pinot Noir

Lunch & Tasting at Lester Family Vineyards, Corralitos & Pleasant Valley

Prudy Foxx

Prudy Foxx, Lester Family Vineyard viticulturist

Lester Family Vineyards

Lester Family Vineyards

Visiting and Tasting Chalone AVA

Jon Brosseau

Jon Brosseau, viticulturist

Bill Brosseau

Bill Brosseau, winemaker Brosseau Wines

Looking across Brosseau Vineyard

Brosseau Vineyard

Brosseau Vineyard

own rooted Chardonnay, Brosseau Vineyard

Chris Cottrell, Bedrock Wines

Chris Cottrell, Bedrock Wines

Copain Chardonnays

Copain Chardonnays 2009-2011

Tour of, Tasting, and Dinner at Arroyo Seco

old vines Arroyo Seco

looking through old vines, Arroyo Seco

Jeff Meier, J. Lohr

Jeff Meier, J. Lohr Wines

Griva Vineyard

Griva Vineyard

Describing Arroyo Seco

discussing the Arroyo Seco AVA

Rick Smith, Paraiso Springs Vineyards

the barn

tasting at the old barn

Bruce Sterten

Bruce Sterten, Ventana Wines

Chesbro wines

the Chesbros, Chesbro Wines

Roger and Luis

Luis Zabala, viticulturist, and Roger Moitoso, winemaker Scott Wines

Tom Stutz

Tom Stutz, winemaker La Rochelle Wines

tasting in the barn


Thank you to Megan Metz, and the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.

Thank you to the Brosseau Family, and the winemakers of the Chalone AVA.

Thank you to the winegrowers and winemakers of the Arroyo Seco AVA.

Thank you to David Vogels, Phil Vogels, and Randy Caparoso.

All the best to Justin.

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Sommelier Journal hosts an annual Terroir Experience tour of a wine region. Currently a few of us are deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains on their 2013 trip. Following are photos of Day 1, touring the Santa Cruz Mountain AVA. The appellation is defined by its presence above the fog line (all above 800 ft), and its mountain topography. At its inception in 1981, it was one of the first US appellations to be defined by mountain geography. It is also known for being sparsely populated. We toured Monday in full fog, it lifting a couple times for partial view.

Visiting Mt Eden Vineyard and Winery with Jeffrey Patterson

Jeffrey Patterson

Jeffrey Patterson, winemaker Mt Eden

Looking into Mt Eden Chardonnay

looking into the chardonnay and fog, Mt Eden

The group gathering in the Mt Eden Vineyards

the group gathering on the edge of the vineyards

Listening to Jeffrey Patterson on the deck at Mt Eden

on the deck listening to Jeffrey Patterson discuss the AVA and vineyard

Starting to taste Mt Eden

getting ready to taste

Mt Eden wines

Mt Eden wines

Visiting Ridge Monte Bello with Eric Baugher

Eric Baugher

arriving at the Ridge Monte Bello Winery with winemaker Eric Baugher

barrel samples with Eric Baugher

barrel tasting the 2012 Ridge Monte Bello

barrel tasting with Eric Baugher

barrel tasting the 2012 Ridge Geyserville

Tasting Ridge Monte Bello

Tasting Ridge

Lunch at House Family Vineyards, and tasting with other wineries

entering House Family Vineyards

entering House Family Vineyards

looking through the Cabernet vines, House Family Vineyard

looking through the Cabernet vines, House Family Vineyards

Cabernet, House Family Vineyard

House Family VIneyards

lunch with Michael Martella

sitting with Michael Martella of Fogarty Vineyards

lunch with Eric Baugher

sitting with Eric Baugher, Ridge Vineyards

Kathryn Kennedy 1997 Cabernet

Kathryn Kennedy 1997 Cabernet

Jerold O'Brien, Silver Mountain

Jerold O’Brien with his 2010 Silver Mountain Chardonnay

Visiting Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards

Tommie Fogarty, Nathan Kandler

Tommie Fogarty, proprieter, and Nathan Kendler, winemaker, Thomas Fogarty

Clone 4 Chardonnay, Thomas Fogarty

clone 4 Chardonnay, Thomas Fogarty Vineyards

Nathan Kandler telling us about the vineyard terroir

listening to Nathan Kandler describe the Thomas Fogarty terroir

Looking up at the Thomas Fogarty winery

looking up at the Thomas Fogarty winery buildings

Through the Damiana Vineyard

looking through the Damiana Vineyard Chardonnay, Thomas Fogarty

Opening the Chardonnay

Marshall opening the Portola Springs Vineyard Chardonnay

Thank you to the Santa Cruz Winemaker Association.

Thank you to David Vogels, Phil Vogels and Randy Caparoso.

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Drinking Wine from Mt Ararat

Zorah 2011 Areni Noir

click on comic to enlarge

On the slopes of Mt Ararat in Armenia at an elevation of 4600 ft/1400 m grow Areni Noir vines established 12 years ago. Though the land was undeveloped at the start of the Zorah project, local village knowledge traces the site to old vineyards back at least to the 19th century. Zorik Gharibian began the project after first searching several years for land, also studying the climate and soil conditions through two Italian viticultural universities.

Gharibian’s family originates in Armenia. However, during the Soviet Union they migrated into Iran, where Gharibian was born. After the disposal of the Shah, Gharibian moved to Venice completing his education at an Armenian boarding school there. Growing up with an Armenian education, Gharibian’s dream had been to visit his ancestral country. In 1998, with the fall of the Soviet Union he finally got the chance. There he fell in love with the culture and countryside and began a business that would bring him back regularly for years. His hope became too to find land. As he describes it, Gharibian has long been a wine lover. His time in Armenia led him to great appreciation for the richness of Armenian wine culture and quality as well.

The Search for Land

After the demise of the Soviet Union’s control over Armenia, the country’s land was distributed among residents producing a collection of small parcels. Homes and land in the villages, then, belong to its residents. Though the property ownership system is admirable, it proved difficult for Gharibian who wanted to invest to his family’s homeland. The creation of a vineyard would depend on having a more sizeable parcel but to purchase enough for planting would mean buying land from people that would then be uprooted without homes. Gharibian was unwilling to take such a route. Instead, he kept searching for other possibilities. Eventually, Gharibian found that in the area he’d already been looking was a larger size parcel that was owned by the village as a whole, rather than any one person, and had been dormant for decades. The land proved invaluable for vineyard development as well, full of rocky soils and bands of limestone with a 20 degree Celcius/68 Farenheit diurnal shift, and enough dryness to avoid issues of mildew. He was able, then, to buy the property from the village and invest in its development. As he’s grown he’s invested in organic practices as well.

Because of his commitment to Armenian wine and culture, Gharibian has chosen to develop the Zorah project using only indigenous grapes. Working with Alberto Antonini as the oenologist, and Stefano Bartolomei as the viticulturalist, Gharibian has worked by planting small experimental parcels to determine the best planting style and grape types for the site. As they’ve gathered insight they’ve then expanded the plantings. With phylloxera never arriving in the Yeghegnadzor region in which Zorah grows, the vines are established on own roots.

Considering their Method

Currently, Zorah focuses centrally on the Areni Noir grape, the country’s signature variety believed to originate in the Southern regions of Armenia thousands of years ago. Gharibian tells me the team is developing a white wine project as well, but only slowly. The slower pace, he explains, arises from a commitment to creating only the highest quality, but it also comes from the remoteness of their location. “There are no examples here to draw from. So, we do trials and try things.” He explains, “We cannot ask our neighbors what they did. We have to start from scratch. I do not want to rush because I started this from passion.”

The oldest known wineries in the world have been found in Armenia dating back over 6100 years. Gharibian explains that in studying the ancient winemaking methods of the region, “Zorah is using an updated version of the same techniques.” The wine is primarily made in karasi, with a third being put in French and Armenian oak. Gharibian’s view is that the karasi concentrate the expression of the fruit, allowing a greater focus on site, a view shared by Italian winemaker, Elisabetta Foradori in her use of Spanish clay tinajas. Recently, the Zorah team has begun experimenting with fermentation in cement tanks as well.

Drinking the Wine

2010 marked the first vintage release for Zorah’s Karasi. The wine was initially released in Britain, with the 2011 just now arriving in the United States. I was thrilled to receive the bottle for sample, and even more pleased to enjoy the wine itself. The 2011 Karasi gives a smooth, lush presentation with a feel of refined wildness. The wine has poise and shares its passionate roots as well. Areni Noir offers a beautiful light side of medium weight (comparable to the presence of the grape Blaufrankisch), moving the flavors through an open mid-palate and long finish. The focus is on a lightly-feral red fruit melange, carrying with it spice, and the freshness of tomato leaf. I’ll admit I’d like to try this same wine without the oak, as the vibrancy of the fruit is intoxicating. However, that is not to say I dislike the wine as it is now. More oak would be too much. The oak spice does show here lightly but layers in complexity, and richness. I am especially pleased by the plush texture in the mouth. The wine rolls through with juicy acidity on a body of fine cord, smooth tannin. This is a wine of good quality.


Vine Street Imports has just begun importing Zorah to the United States. The pallets just arrived. Be excited.

Thank you to Zorik Gharibian for taking the time to talk with me. I enjoyed it very much.

Thank you to Ronnie Sanders.


To see more on the Zorah project find them on Facebook:

and also:

To read more on the oldest known wine press and winery found in the Areni-1 Cave Complex (BECAUSE IT IS SO OHMYGOD COOL):

Zorah Wines at Vine Street Imports:

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

Thank you to Eric Asimov for recommending this post in the Friday, June 21, 2013 edition of The New York Times Diner’s Journal “What We’re Reading.”


The History of Smith-Madrone

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, March 2013

Stu Smith inspecting Chardonnay, April 2013

Smith-Madrone began on a Santa Monica beach at the end of the 1960s, where two brothers, Charles and Stu Smith, grew up. It was a time when an otherwise middle class family could afford vineyard land in Napa Valley, and start a winery fresh becoming owners that produce their own wine, a phenomenon rare in the region today.

Stu Smith worked as a summer lifeguard while completing a degree in Economics at SF State. His brother, Charles, earned his undergraduate at the same institution with a focus on English Literature, also taking a lot of Philosophy classes.

In the midst of his undergrad, Stu developed the idea of studying viticulture, and buying land in the Napa Valley to grow wine. While defending swimmers, he got to know a beach regular that expressed interest in the vineyard idea, offering to help with the purchase. Though the man ultimately had no connection to the future of Smith-Madrone, never paying for any property, the suggestion of a potential investor gave Smith the gumption to move north and begin looking.

In Fall of 1970, then, Stu Smith began the Masters program at UC Davis, while also seriously looking for land. Charles had an interest in wine as well, and so began commuting to Davis, sitting in on Stu’s courses. Though Charles was never enrolled in the program, he completed a portion of the training alongside his brother.

Spring Mountain was largely undeveloped in the early 1970s. As Stu describes it, the hillside was covered in trees, mainly Douglas Fir at least 2 1/2 feet in diameter. “The land was completely over grown, but it had lots of good aspects for sun, and obviously had good soils.” Stony Hill Winery had established itself a little down the mountain from what is now Smith-Madrone, so he had a sense the region could support vines. Then, while hiking the forested property he looked down and found old grape stakes there on the forest floor. The hill had once been planted to vineyard. Though the original investor fell through, in 1971, Stu gathered support from a small group of family and friends to purchase and start what would become 38 vineyard acres.

Cook's Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone

2007 Cook’s Flat Reserve, Smith-Madrone’s inaugural reserve wine

The brothers now know their hillside property had been planted entirely in vines in the 1880s. The original deed, signed under then president Chester A. Arthur, establishes George Cook as owner on December 5, 1884. Prohibition would later end the life of the Cook Vineyard, but on December 5, 1933, the anniversary of Cook’s purchase, the Volstead Act would overturn Prohibition. In the midst of Prohibition, however, the property returned to forest until Smith-Madrone began. Though Stu instigated the project, thanks to its size and mutual interest, Charles became part of it within a year. Today, as the brothers describe, Stu manages everything outside, while Charles takes care of everything inside. The two are the sole full-time employees of their 5000 case winery.

Touring the 1200-2000 ft elevation site, the landscape reads as a history of Stu’s genuine curiosity and drive for experimentation. Its hillsides weave a range of planting styles, and rows at differing angles to sun. Asking Stu to talk me through the changes, we begin at one corner where own-rooted Chardonnay planted in 1972 has just been pulled. “In the early 1970s,” he explains, “heat treated, certified virus free plants were just coming out. We had the opportunity to get the certified vines, but we couldn’t get appropriate rootstock so we planted on own roots. We brought in non-vineyard equipment [to lessen the chance of phylloxera], and we got 40 years out of those vines.”

Moving across the different plots, Stu shares a history of viticultural knowledge. The age of the vines matches the viticultural insights of their birth year expressed through their planting style. Between plots, vines change spacing, and height, training styles, and angle to sun, all in an attempt to learn what best suits the needs of the site. After traveling the 40 years of site development, we go inside to Charles for lunch and wine.

Smith-Madrone’s Evolution in Wine

Charles Smith

Charles Smith tasting a 1983 Smith-Madrone Riesling

We turn to discussion of Smith-Madrone’s wine history from its first vintage in 1977. Today they are known for Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon but they have played with their winemaking. From 1977 to 1985 Smith-Madrone also produced Pinot Noir. “The best wines we ever made were Pinot Noir.” Charles tells me, “but the worst wines we ever made were too. Our 1980 was one of the best Pinots ever made in the United States. We just couldn’t do it again.” The grape is often referred to as a heart breaker for the challenges presented in vineyard. Finally, the brothers decided to pull their Pinot and focus on the other grapes instead.

Stu nods. “The reason we did it was to experiment. We wanted to try making Pinot Noir. If you only ever do the same thing, you get stuck in a rut, and don’t improve.” What is consistent in Smith-Madrone is the intention Stu calls “get the best of the vintage into bottle.” Their focus is less on style and more on responding to the conditions given that year.

In their view, it is Chardonnay that most readily shows the effects of such an approach. The structure and flavors shift year to year, from the ultra fresh, citrus and saline presence of the 2010, to the slightly more candied, chalky, lean-lined body of the 2011, as examples.

Charles clarifies further, “we do pay attention to style on Riesling because style in Riesling is largely determined by sugar level.” Smith-Madrone makes theirs dry. “You can’t bounce around on sugar level with Riesling or no one knows what you’re making.” Even within their dry Riesling, however, the brothers have explored the best approach. A particularly busy vintage in 1984 led to their Riesling getting left overnight on skins. “It was a blistering hot harvest,” Charles explains. “We just kept processing grapes like crazy, just the two of us. If we told our harvest guys to leave, we didn’t know when we’d get them back so we just kept going. We did 127 hours in one week, the entire harvest in one week.” As a result, they simply couldn’t process all the fruit fast enough, and some Riesling got left overnight in the bin. After vinification they liked the increased aromatics and mouthfeel of the wine, and stuck to the practice through the rest of the 1980s. However, after about 8 years they realized something.

Excited by the conversation Charles has run downstairs to grab a 1985 Smith-Madrone Riesling so we can see how it’s drinking. Stu continues to tell the story. “We did overnight skin contact on our Riesling from the mid-80s. The flavor held up well with age but the color changed after 8 years or so. The wine turned orange.” When Charles arrives again with the bottle I’m thrilled to see its darker color and can’t wait to taste it but Stu is unimpressed. The wine tastes wonderful, a fresh juicy palate with concentrated while clean flavors, drinking far younger than its 18 years. Charles and I are agreeing on the virtues of Riesling and its ability to go on forever while Stu is still facing his discomfort with the color. “If I close my eyes and pretend it isn’t orange than I agree it’s a good wine,” he finally tells us.

lunch with Charles and Stu

part of the aftermath of our lunch together

After 41 years of winemaking, to inaugurate the anniversary of the original Cook’s purchase, and the repeal of Prohibition, the Smith brothers released their first Reserve wine on December 5, 2012. We’re drinking the first Cook’s Flat Reserve vintage, the 2007, along side its sister 2009.

In 2008, smoke from wildfires in Mendocino settled into the valley North of Spring Mountain and covered the grapes in smoke taint. Going straight to press, the whites were unaffected, but fermenting on skins the reds never did lose the smoke flavor. The brothers decided, then, to sell the 2008 reds off in bulk and release only whites from that year.

Short of knowing it took 41 years before they launched the Cook’s Flat Reserve, the wine itself would answer the question of why make a reserve wine–both vintages offer the dignity and graceful presence genuinely deserving of the title. Where the 2007 offers lithe masculine presence, the 2009 flows in feminine exquisiteness. The ’07 gives impressive structure and darker earthier flavors, to the core of tension and mid-palate lushness of the 2009. Keeping to their best of vintage commitment, what changes the shape of the 2007 versus the 2009 on the palate is the success of the fruit each year. Both wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blends, but the proportions changed.

In an industry where reserve wines are common (made even within the first few years of a new winery’s inception), I ask the brothers both what made them wait so long, and why now. They explain that they started studying the reserve market and tasting through wines at different price points to make sure they understood what was available. They only wanted to make the wine if “we could do this and still give value,” Stu says.

After several years of consideration, Charles tells me, they were clear. “We resolved we could” make a wine truly distinct from their Estate Cabernet while still Smith-Madrone. To describe the intention behind their Reserve, the brothers compare it to their Estate. The Estate pays heed to old school, California mountain Cabernet relying entirely on American oak. The Reserve, on the other hand, is a nod to Bordeaux pulling only from a particular section of their property that they’ve always felt gave distinctive fruit, then aged in French oak.

The Romance of Wine

The romance of Smith-Madrone

a gift from a friend in the winery

The conversation turns finally to the change in the wine business from when Smith-Madrone began. The Smith brothers represent the last generation of winemakers in the region that could also own their own vines. Today, by contrast, getting into the industry, Stu explains, looks more like a sacrifice. “If you want to go into winemaking now and be pure, you have to give up something.” He says. Most people end up making wine for someone else because it’s such an expensive industry.

“Part of why I got into the wine business,” Stu continues, “was Hugh Johnson and his book talking about the romance and magic and business of wine.” Charles is quietly nodding. “And you know,” Stu continues, “Hugh Johnson would eat his heart out to be here today.” He’s referring to our conversation over wine with lunch. We’ve tasted through multiple vintages of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling at this point and fallen into as much discussion of my life in Alaska as their life in wine. The whole day all I’ve felt is happy.

We’re sitting at a table in the winery tasting wines with lunch and talking. Beside Charles hangs a placard that reads, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” He explains that a friend bought it off the wall of a bar in St. Louis then sent it to the brothers as a gift. Charles painted several coats of shellac over the saying written in chalk and hung it in the winery. The quotation reflects a feeling about wine that got the brothers into their profession. “As far as I’m concerned,” Charles remarks, “this is what wine is all about. It’s not all business. You sit down, enjoy conversation, and eat food.”

Thank you to Charles and Stu Smith for sharing so much time with me.

Thank you to Julie Ann Kodmur.

For Michael Alberty, Steven Morgan, and Fredric Koppel.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Tasting an early bottle of Forlorn Hope’s 2012 St Laurent

Forlorn Hope St Laurent 2012

click on comic to enlarge

Last September 2012, I was lucky enough to witness the harvest of 90 St Laurent vines from a vineyard in Carneros. Several years ago, Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines had convinced the vineyard owner to keep the few clusters intact to be made as one of Rorick’s unusual creatures. He has since managed to expand the collection to include a few more vines in the same location. I’m excited to see how the 2013 harvest goes as a result.

In the meantime, Rorick’s 2012 St Laurent is still in the aging process before release. However, he recently pulled a bottle and shared a preview with a few of us. I was able to take the bottle home and enjoy it over the two days following.

Forlorn Hope’s 2012 St Laurent (aka. Ost-Intrigen) begins all plush sheered-velvet across the palate, a textural pleasure bringing pert red fruit and flower-spice integrated with dried herbs and orange zest. The acidity pulses vibrancy ushering in a long finish. As the wine uncurls with air, the flavors deepen. The fruit stays primarily red with back beats of blackberry seed spice, accents of saffron and smoke, and a move from orange zest to mandarin. By the end, the wine takes on all the appeal of fresh picked cherries pitted and served in fresh baked pie. The crust is crisp. The fruit is tart but deepened from the baking. To make the pie, the cherry has been squeezed over with lemon juice first–the lemon itself does not show in the final flavor, but brightens the cherry in the final pie. The finish is long on this wine with a stimulating zing, full of igneous rock minerality.

To put it simply, 2012 turned out lovely plush fruit for Rorick’s rare creature. I’m excited to drink this wine again. I love pie. It’s my favorite.

Thank you to Matthew Rorick for sharing the early bottle of his St Laurent.

Forlorn Hope Wines:

To see photos of the 2012 St Laurent harvest:

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to

The Vineyard by Heron Lake, Wild Horse Valley

David Mahaffey

David Mahaffey, standing at 1300 ft in Wild Horse Valley

Between 1200 & 1400 ft elevation, only 3 1/2 miles East from downtown Napa (as the crow flies), grow 11 planted acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the rocky volcanic ground of Wild Horse Valley. The vines bud just above Heron Lake. At the last of the 1970s, John Newmeyer started 24 acres on Riesling and Gewurtztraminer. In 1980, David Mahaffey became partners with Newmeyer, working the vineyard to make its wine, also budding over the established vines to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Over years of working with the vineyard the pair slowly honed in on the healthiest portions, thus reducing the size to the current 11 acres. It is now also managed entirely through organic practices.

looking over the vineyard

looking into the Pinot Noir rows, above Heron Lake

Wild Horse Valley is an upland valley formation that isn’t clearly visible until the top of the range. From that vantage point, looking Northeast you can see a long scoop that comes out of the peak of the mountains. In 1988, Mahaffey applied for and successfully established the Wild Horse Valley AVA. Its boundaries ride the intersection of Napa and Solano Counties. What defines the appellation is volcanic ground chunked full of large rock, the diurnal shift of high elevation, and the cooling effect of the air moving East from the Bay and the Ocean. Mahaffey laughs as he tells me it’s also a migratory path for innumerable birds. The site has to be netted or all the fruit would go to feeding the North to South flight. Newmeyer’s and Mahaffey’s Heron Lake Vineyard ushers in the Western, and coolest portion of the appellation with the air coming up from Carneros through a 1000 ft chill-effect into the bowl at the Western side. Mahaffey explains too that several hundred meters away, just on the other side of Heron Lake, had been planted to Zinfandel in the late 1800s, those grapes brought back down the hill to blend into the wines of Napa Valley.

John Lockwood, David Mahaffey

John Lockwood and David Mahaffey checking out the Chardonnay

John Lockwood began working with Mahaffey in 2004, and credits that time as really establishing Lockwood’s commitment to wine. The two met by chance over a mutual interest in hand-built guitars. Lockwood built instruments for Ervin Somogyi in Oakland. Mahaffey was constructing his own guitar, and traveled to East Bay for advice from Somogyi, thus also meeting Lockwood. The two struck up conversation, and eventually Lockwood visited the Heron Lake Vineyard. That year he stepped into harvest with Mahaffey, living up in Wild Horse Valley to help him make wine in 2004, 05, and 06. The bug took Lockwood then to work for Littorai in 2007, into Argentina in 2008, and to cellar work full-time at Failla from 2008 until recently. In 2010, Lockwood and Mahaffey started talking about Lockwood beginning to make his own wine with some of the site’s Chardonnay. The plan fell through due to weather, but in 2011 Lockwood secured the fruit for his label, Enfield.

John Lockwood, David Mahaffey

talking through the history of the vineyard

Mahaffey bottles both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the site under his label, Olivia Brion. His winemaking methods depend on his own ingenuity. Mahaffey’s winery could be called gravity fed, as the vineyard is uphill from a flat spot where the wines start fermentation in bins under tent. Beneath the flat spot Mahaffey dug a small cave, large enough ultimately to hold 4000 cases, though he does not produce that much. The Chardonnay is gravity fed from the tent site to barrels in the cave below. The Pinot Noir moves sideways instead to a converted barrel room next door. Tasting the 2010 Chardonnay now two different times with Mahaffey, the wine offers the varied blessings of Chardonnay in triplicate–a floral lift subtly releases from the glass over a crisp midsection of nuttiness, and an underbelly of citrus oils. In the mouth the experience follows into juicy acidity, rich flavors, and a long lined finish. Mahaffey laughs as he tastes the wine with us. “In life, the ultimate goal is to find good, fast, and cheap, but you’re lucky if you can get two.” He’s being cheeky as he says it. “In wine, the hunt is for acidity, richness, and length.” His 2010 hits that intersection.


Miss Olivia, Olivia Brion’s namesake

Mahaffey hand tends the vineyard, walking through the vines a row at a time to track their progress, pull leaves, and break off unwanted tendrils or laterals. It’s an attention that Lockwood describes as basic to quality vineyards. Lockwood just opened his own label, Enfield Wine Co., the first release a 2010 Syrah from Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, a site closely maintained by Fernando Delgado. Delgado manages Haynes Vineyard living on site to work with the vines daily. Lockwood explains that he selects his vineyard sites partially by who manages the location. Vineyard practices such as organics or biodynamics are valuable, he tells me, but the practice that makes the biggest difference is attention, an insight Lockwood first learned through Mahaffey.

John Lockwood

John Lockwood standing beside Heron Lake

This summer, Lockwood will release an Enfield 2011 Wild Horse Valley Chardonnay. It’s a wine that carries flavoral resemblance to Mahaffey’s 2010, with a leaner, more-acidity focus due to the cooler 2011 vintage. Thinking of it my mouth starts to water. I’ll be buying a bottle later today.

At the vineyard, we also taste through Mahaffey’s Pinot Noir–the 2010 in bottle, and then from barrel. It’s a wine that celebrates bright tension, and small berried fruit. The 2010 has just started to show orange peel and bergamot, a note Lockwood and Mahaffey agree is site signature, as it consistently shows up with a bit of age through vintages. The two start laughing as Lockwood tells me his dream is to get some Pinot from Mahaffey’s vineyard. The laughing comes from the joke that Mahaffey would have to die first. Mahaffey quickly turns the moment into a reflection of his trust for Lockwood. “It’s understood,” Mahaffey tells me, “that if I do suddenly go, John has to bottle the Pinot for me.”

Driving down from 1300 ft, looking over Coombsville

driving back down from 1300 ft, looking over Coombsville


Thank you to John Lockwood and David Mahaffey for bringing me to Heron Lake and your Wild Horse Valley Vineyard.

More to follow on both Enfield Wine Co, and Olivia Brion.

Uva Buena’s write-up on Enfield Wine Co.’s release:

Enfield Wines are available here:

For Olivia Brion Wines:

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In October 2012 while visiting Arizona, I met Brittania, a young woman that a former professional colleague of mine knew well. Her family story struck me at the time as one that was important to listen to within the climate of Arizona’s series of anti-immigration reform bills, including but not limited to SB 1070.

Arizona SB 1070 makes it legal, during law enforcement stops (which need not be documented), for a law enforcement officer to demand papers from an individual “suspected to be an illegal alien” to prove that that person has a right to be within the United States. Failure to have adequate papers immediately counts as a misdemeanor, thereby forcing the individual to court, where further lack of proof could lead to arrest and deportation.

I did not share Brittania’s story in October 2012. However, with the recent protest on the US-Mexico border reuniting families that have been separated by deportation, as well as the discussion on immigration reform that has begun this week, I decided now was an appropriate time to share it.

The question of immigration is also relevant to wine country, and the U.S. agricultural industry more broadly (one of the top forces of the U.S. economy), as the legal and political climates surrounding the issue impact the available work force within wine country, and agricultural regions more broadly. California wine regions, in particular, have suffered increased challenges with finding adequate work forces to harvest when desired. The Napa Valley Vintners recently made a formal statement in support of Immigration Reform in the United States.

Though aspects of Brittania’s story may appear particular to Arizona, it highlights the reality of concern for families dealing with immigration issues more generally. While Arizona has received a lot of media attention on immigration issues in the last several years, California went through serious changes immediately prior and during, and numerous other states throughout the nation have as well. In other words, it is a national reality.

The following is a transcript of parts of my conversation with Brittania.


Listening to Brittania


“My mom moved here when she was 20 years old with my dad. They have 3 kids. We were all born here. I am the oldest. I have two younger brothers. One is in high school, the other is 10. On September 26, my mom was stopped by a cop. She was driving to work. On the way there she looked back to double check on my brother.

“Every day my 10-year old brother bikes to school, so my mom goes the same route to check on him. She turned to look at my brother on his bike and a cop pulled her over. He said she was going too slow. She was going 40 in a 45. But the ticket doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say why he pulled her over. There is no violation claim, only that she has no Arizona ID.

“He started asking a lot of questions–where she lived, what she was doing here. He asked a lot of questions, but none about traffic. She has an Oregon license. We lived there. It is valid, and she has insurance. The ticket has no charge. It only says she has no valid Arizona license, and that she has one month to go to court and get one. She can’t get an Arizona license because of how the law works here. But if she doesn’t get one she could be deported.

“I am trying to help. My mom has raised us. She raises my brothers. I am in college. My youngest brother is 10. My parents were divorced last year. My dad lives in Utah. I talked to lawyers. They said she can be held and detained, or she could be let go. Here they don’t know. But she could be detained. There is no one else to take care of my brothers.

“My mom has been in the country continuously for 20 years. She works in customer service. She has been in the same job for the last 5 years. We were in Oregon, but we moved to Arizona when I was a freshman in high school. My parents came into California 20 years ago. My dad had family here in the US. They all got Amnesty. They are all citizens, so my parents came too. But Amnesty ended and my parents didn’t get it.

“When I was 6 my dad started a residency case, trying to be legal for the whole family. He would go to court every year, show his kids were in school and had good grades, that he had a business. It took more than 10 years for him to get residency, but it didn’t go to my mom.

“My dad is a resident. All three of her kids are citizens. In a year I will be 21, then I can open a case for my mom. But now because she was pulled over, my mom is forced to open a case on her own. We’re trying to figure out what to do. My mom has never committed any crime. She’s been here 20 years. She has always worked, and paid her taxes. She has 3 kids. She raises them. But a family petition may not work. She might not have all the requirements. I am trying to do what I can to help.

“When I graduated from high school, I told my mom I wasn’t going to move for school because I wanted to stay and help with my brothers, but she told me no, that now I was supposed to go to college. She told me I’m supposed to go to college.

“My mom does everything for us. My brother is a Junior in high school, and a football player. The team had a trip planned to go to Ireland to play football. She wanted him to be able to go. So she worked extra for 2 years to save money so they could afford for him to go. She talked to local businesses and they helped raise money for him too. She worked for more than 2 years to save $4000 so they could afford for him to go to Ireland in his Junior year for a one-week trip.

“She gives all her money for her kids, and tries to help my brothers get what they need to feel like they fit in. My mom is always in positive attitude to keep the kids up beat. She maintains herself for the sake of her kids. She calls her mom back in Mexico. It’s the only time my mom will cry. I think she is the nicest person, so respectful, always looking out for others, and now she needs all the support she can get. I am just trying to do whatever I can here.”


From the NY Times: “According to a recent study by Colorlines, a news Web site focusing on racial issues, about 205,000 people who were deported between 2010 and 2012 had children who were American citizens and living in this country. There are no solid estimates of the number of deportees’ children who are not citizens.

When we met, Brittania was a sophomore in college majoring in Special Education, with a focus on Elementary Education. In her Freshman year she took a Seminar course on immigration in the United States, visited a detention center, and attended a conference on immigration. The experience changed her views of the issue, and made her realize the difficulties of her family situation. Since, she has chosen to do organizing work to raise awareness of immigration issues in Arizona. Outside her own classes, she also volunteers in elementary schools, working in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms helping students that need assistance with reading, or homework, and also assisting teachers.

Prior to her mother’s deadline, an immigration lawyer was able to help change the ruling so that Brittania’s mother did not have to appear in court. The reality of Arizona law, however, is that if her mother is ever met by another law enforcement officer, she could find herself in the same situation again, facing deportation.


A debate on overhauling current U.S. immigration legislation has just begun in Washington. Obama spoke this week in support of the overhaul. To read more:

To read more on the recent US-Mexico border protest:

To read more on the role of immigration on the U.S. workforce, and economy:

* Unions’ views:

The question of immigration is foundational to U.S. wine country, and agricultural work more generally. To read more:

The Washington Post on Immigration and the Economy:

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The Architecture of the Everyday

Lyeta Elaine

It was summer on Montmarte. The cobbled streets felt cool and round in the heat. I appreciated the texture of walking the artists’ neighborhood of the 18th arrondissement of Paris. The hillside was dotted with little boutiques–a woman that hand-painted textiles, then cut them into baguette shaped handbags; a twosome that hammered pastel leather shoes hunched over a pointed toe wooden foot; another woman that had worked for Yves Saint Laurent’s design team then quit in order to create clothing made from antique silk neck ties she lifted from friends’ closets around town. The expressions of these people fascinated me.

I’d arrived in Paris on a student scholarship. During my undergraduate degree I focused on poetry writing, while also studying philosophy and literature. That year I won entry into two summer programs working with poet-teachers for writing, alongside studying literature of the regions–one in St Petersburg, the other in Prague. My scholarships covered the cost of me getting to Europe, the programs’ fees and housing, both of which included breakfast. For the two months I was abroad, breakfast was most of what I’d eat.

Between locations I was on my own for nine days. It turned out the price of getting from Russia to Prague was actually cheaper routed through Paris, so I’d chosen my break be spent there, nine days on the side of Montmarte. I arrived having pre-paid for a dorm style hostel that fed me coffee and baguette in the morning. For nine days I walked the city unable to afford the metro.

To visit Paris was such a gift in the midst of everything I didn’t mind how poor it also felt. My daughter and I barely covered our expenses through my three years of undergrad, so to find myself in Europe was stunning. I couldn’t believe I’d made my way to Paris in the midst of time in Russia (my childhood dream country. At the age of 9, my long term goal had been to make it to the Soviet Union someday.) and Czech Republic. Day 7 the feeling changed. I’d walk 9 hours a day tearing off baguette a little at a time as I went. For the week I had 5 Euro to spend.

Walking up Montmarte my body felt bedraggled. I’d woken up depressed, and spent the morning berating my attitude. To go without food in Paris in the midst of a summer of poetry was too symbolically perfect not to laugh. I was angry for feeling sucked into the negative feeling of the moment. Part of me kept saying I just needed a chocolate bar, a double chocolate ice cream bar sold from a little cart below the Sacré Cœur–the Sacred Heart Cathedral at the top of the hill. The thought was ridiculous though as the treat cost $4.25 and buying one would mean most of my money for the week. After several hours I finally gave in, gave my money away for chocolate. The seduction of suffering was too strong to convince myself I should be saving my money. I was to get another small student payment after arriving in Prague.

Half way into the ice cream I caught myself beaming as I walked. I was happy again. I was in Paris, on Montmarte, my favorite part of town, and the woman with neck ties had created a new vest from the stash she found in her boyfriend’s closet. She let me try it on. A bit down the road a local bartender offered me a glass of wine if I would fill a seat at the bar.

That evening I returned to my dorm and a new roommate had appeared. We’d actually met my first night but she’d moved out for a time, then come back. Her travels took her all the way from Australia, where she’d worked two jobs for two years, one at a pizza joint in Perth, to save money for half a years travels. She asked if I’d like to make dinner with her. My money gone, she took me across the street and bought a jar of tomato sauce, some dried noodles, and a bottle of red wine that cost two Euro. We boiled water, drank wine, and ate. The next day she took me across town to a poetry reading along the Seine. Another roommate had given her a handful of extra Metro tickets before he left Paris.

The day after that I flew to Prague. She sent me emails about getting lost on a hillside in Corsica at dark, finally sleeping in bushes till sunrise rather than hurt herself stumbling down hill. She WWOOFed in Southern France to subsidize her travels. I walked Prague, and sweated through concentration camp side trips I could barely handle visiting.

Six years later, she visited me in Arizona. It was absurdly cold that week and I gave her wool hat and gloves to travel with. We made homemade noodles and sauce in my home, and walked all over my little town. She cooked me vegetarian meals. I introduced her to new white wines. (She’s allergic now to red.)

We’d kept in contact emailing an update every few months for six years. I watched as she completed an undergraduate degree, fell in love and moved East across Australia, then closed that relationship and started a new career. She saw me advance from my undergrad, into grad school, move to Canada, and then back again to the United States, and through pictures watched Jr grow.

I’ve spent time with her in person only twice. Most of the nine days in Paris, and another ten in Arizona. Still, there is a camaraderie we share that overlaps into similar perspectives on curiosity, passion, and compassion. We’ve shared insight on friendship, spirituality, and personal growth. She’s taught me about developing community sustainability programs through her work. Even from the Southern hemisphere, she’s part of the architecture of my life. It’s a friendship made possible by a chance meeting at a hostel in Montmarte.

It didn’t occur to me in advance, but wine blogging turns out to carry a similar treasure. People like Dan Fredman, Alfonso Cevola, and Jeremy Parzen reached out and in differing ways encouraged me to keep writing. Their blogs served too as differing insights into how people engage with wine, and the way wine enriches the larger aspects of their lives–family, friends, travel, the everyday.

Fredric Koppel, Ron Washam, Christopher Watkins appeared as enthusiasts, again with outrageously different approaches but each talented and sincere in their style. Gwendolyn Alley bolsters my enthusiasm through her own. Lisa Shara Hall, and Amy Cleary (writers and professionals in other avenues that happen to also blog) I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with. I’ve been lucky enough too to connect with other blog-writers, and to learn from them about the craft of writing, the value of the everyday, and yes, too, wine. Writers that also blog, like Janice Cable, and Alice Feiring deepen the threads of information.

(All of this to speak only of other blog keepers, not to even mention the blog readers, and the people I write about that have been met and befriended along the way.)

Connecting to people through their stories online has enriched the decor on that same architecture of my life. These are a few examples of connections made through this weird practice of blogging while following other bloggers.

The experience is a lot like that Montmarte hostel. By chance, we all ended up in the same metaphorical dorm room, and now choose to keep in touch. We ended up there because we’re broke, or cheap, or just looking to meet more people. But through noodles and a bottle of wine we just might share our life.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Awards. I’m so grateful to have been included among the finalists, and so happy for each of the winners.


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