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Wine with Stéphane Vivier

Stephane Vivier

Stéphane and Dana Vivier started their Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir label, Vivier, in 2009 with credit cards, and 30 cases of wine. By 2011, they jumped to 150 cases. Their wines draw on small lots from vineyards in Sonoma County, each of which Stéphane works with hands on. Originally from Burgundy, Stéphane has also served as winemaker for HdV for 12 years. I fell in love with Vivier Pinots last summer, and was lucky enough to meet with Stéphane multiple times to discuss his winemaking philosophy, which he describes as “being a lazy winemaker.” Following is a transcript of his story from our conversations.


“My wine, Dana, and I married in 2009. I was already with HdV but my wife suggested I make Pinot Noir. She thought I was missing something. I grew up in Burgundy on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. She said to me, “to be complete, there is something else you need here. You need to make Pinot Noir.” I asked her, “where will the money come from.” She told me, “don’t worry. This is America.”

“I grew up with rosé of Pinot Noir in Burgundy. I would come home and sit outside with my parents. My mom would bring in things from the garden, and my dad wine from the cellar. We would talk about the day, and most everyday have a bottle of rosé.

“I grew up with wine of perfume. The nose is very important. But it is important too to focus on the texture of the wine, really important. I like restrained, elegant wine that changes in the glass. I want it to change in the glass, and go with food. I like it when people have trouble describing, or deconstructing a wine. It’s a sign that the wine is complex. Wine is about pairing with food, about pleasure and enjoyment. Alcohol is a form of enjoyment. Wine is for making and consuming.

“Being a lazy winemaker is all about being patient, letting the place talk, and being gentle with the grapes. Making it simple. I like a long [slow] press, and a long, slow fermentation, not too long but clean, and long enough so the perfume develops. The idea of balance in wine is an extensive subject. It is about what is best from the site, letting the wine speak the site. There is a lot of feeling in winemaking, a lot of following what you learn.

“I spent time listening to old men and how they compare wine to old vintages, wines that are 14 or 15 years old. It puts everything in perspective. That wine is about being patient, and building a strong foundation.

“Acidity is the foundation of every wine, of good wine, just like the pyramids that have a broad base and so they lasted. If you want wine you can drink early, perfume is important. If you also want wines that can age, acidity.

“I have been at HdV for more than 10 years. People asked me in the last decade what my next job would be. I want to grow with a vineyard, to start young and grow up with the vines. Wine is like life. You start young, and the older you get, the wiser as well. It is the same with vineyards. I have a young daughter, and I can see it’s exactly the same. Some things you have to train for to get in certain ways, to learn how to do. With growing a vineyard too, there is a lot of training, and you can train in a way that is best for the site, and also for types of wine. It is important to know vineyards very well.

Stephane walking in one of his sections of Sonoma vineyards

Stéphane walking in the vineyard, Sonoma, July 2012

“It is difficult to be simple, [to make something that is simple, while also rich, and not boring. When you are able to make something simple,] it is a work of experience. Winemaking is a work of experience, vineyards, and age.

“Balance is very difficult to define. So is stability in wine. It is hard to say stability is an energy, but it is in a way.

“Wine gives you this ability to grow on the same roots, and not necessarily make the same wine, always trying to make better wine every year from whatever it is you have. That is why we are looking to start with young vineyards and to get older with the vineyards. I couldn’t do this in Burgundy. You can feel this in Australia. You can feel the history of vineyards there from the 1880s being established. You don’t get that sense of history in the United States. Most vineyards here are young.

“Making wine with the same vineyard again and again, it is like Monet painting churches. He went back and painted the same church at different points in the day for different points of light over two weeks. Each vintage is the light. You capture that moment in the vintage. But Monet was also commenting on tradition, asking, what can I contribute to it? His work in paint was a recognition of tradition and the importance of time both. Monet could go back and paint that spot any time, winter even. But the winemaker can only go back once in the same year. Still, there is always something to discover while always working with the same vines.

“I want to give myself to time. These are the constraints in which I operate, and make choices. Pre-deciding in advance what the wine, grapes, vine health should be sounds cool and innovative, but is actually deciding in advance what the wine should be. It is adapting the grapes to himself, instead of adapting himself to the grapes. But you can adapt yourself to the place, and then make the wine of what you are. This way, like Monet, you can have innovation from within tradition. That is why you want knowledge of established vineyards, or vineyard practices, and to grow in age with the vineyard. Terroir needs to be farmed, and needs to be respected. If you respect it, you are in that top 15%.”

Thank you to Stéphane and Dana Vivier.

Thank you to Dan Petroski.

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

Tasting Vivier Wines with Stéphane Vivier

I’m allergic to shellfish. The trouble is, I don’t know which shellfish I’m allergic to and when the allergy appears it’s threatening, and uncomfortable. So, by now I simply avoid all shellfish. Today, however, I was lucky enough to share lunch with Stéphane Vivier and two of his Pinot Noir based wines–a rosé, and a single vineyard red. We met at an excellent, ultra fresh oyster house to taste his wines outside, and after a while to share lunch. The wine project he’s started with his wife, Dana Sexton Vivier, carries with it a simple, elegant integrity I greatly appreciate–the wines taste with it too. So, when Stéphane asked if I’d like to start lunch with oysters. I honestly thought, you know, this whole meeting so far has been simple and lovely. If I have to die from shellfish, lord, let it be now (though I’d have to ask god to extra apologize to Stéphane for me if I did). This moment is so lovely, I figured, closing with it… what a way to celebrate life, you know?

Gratefully, I don’t seem to be allergic to oysters, and those were three of the best foods I’ve ever had. (Katherine, let’s come back here. We’ll bring our sisters with us.) Here’s the big truth though–I want to drink Vivier rosé as often as possible, and the Sun Chase Vineyards Pinot is some of the best California Pinot Noir I’ve ever had.

Write up to follow.


Stéphane, thank you for taking time to meet with me.

God, thank you for keeping me alive.

Dan Petroski, thank you for making the connection with Stéphane.

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


A Day with Tyler Thomas, Winemaker Star Lane + Dierberg

Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas, January 2014

Winemaker Tyler Thomas stepped into leadership of the wine program at Star Lane and Dierberg in Santa Barbara County during Summer 2013. Prior to his new position he headed winemaking at Donelan Wines in Santa Rosa, after having assisted winemaker Stéphane Vivier at HdV in Napa.

During his tenure at Donelan, Thomas and I were able to taste and interview on multiple occasions. I have been impressed by his thoughtfulness as a winemaker, and his attention to vine physiology as the root of his winemaking. His background in botany under girds his thinking. One of my interests, then, in visiting Santa Barbara County was in returning to Star Lane to see it under Thomas’s leadership, and to speak with Thomas about his work in the new-to-him vineyards and winery.

After tasting extensively through the cellar with Thomas and assistant winemaker, Jeff Connick, I am excited to keep following their development. Thomas spoke gratefully about his work with Connick. As Thomas explained, Connick’s knowledge of and attention to the wine program at Dierberg and Star Lane significantly advanced the process of getting to know the unique expression of the vineyards for Thomas as the new winemaker.

Thomas and I were also able to taste some older vintages of wines from the Dierberg and Star Lane vineyards. While the winemaking style was different from that expressed through the barrel tasting with Thomas and Connick, a distinctiveness and age-ability showed through. Thomas credits that sense of site expression with age worthiness as part of what convinced him there was something well-worth investing his time in at the Dierberg and Star Lane properties.

After touring the Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, and Star Lane Vineyard sites, we spent several hours in the cellar tasting through wines from both locations, as well as the Dierberg Santa Maria vineyard. Thomas and I spoke extensively about how he’s approaching his new position. Following is an excerpt from our conversation considering how Thomas thinks about and explores ideas of site expression in the context of various varieties, and also the controversial topic of ripeness levels.

Tyler Thomas

near the top of the mid-slope of Dierberg Sta Rita Hills, with Tyler Thomas discussing block expression, January 2014

“Part of our focus is on capturing opportunity by capturing variability. For example, how do we make a Cabernet Franc that is representative of Cabernet Franc of Star Lane, and then find a way to work with that. We work a little harder to capture variability in the vineyard so that we can add a little more nuance and complexity to the wine.” Thomas and Connick vinify small vineyard sections separately as a way of getting to know particular site expression. “We want to make Cabernet Franc as Cab Franc, rather than as the Cabernet Sauvignon version of Cab Franc so that we can see what Cab Franc from here is all about, while also recognizing it might later add to the complexity of our Cab Sauvignon. I don’t mind embracing ripe, rich flavors, but I don’t believe in doing it artificially by picking late and then adding water back.”

We taste through a wide range of Cabernet and Cab Franc from a range of picking times, and vineyard sections and then begin talking about what the unique character of Cabernet at Star Lane is about. “There are some ultra early picks on Cab from here that still don’t show pyrazines [green pepper notes], so I think the conversation, at least in this area, around Cab expression is on texture and mouthfeel rather than on pyrazine level.”

Thomas explains that we are tasting through the range of barrel samples around the cellar to show off the diversity of Star Lane that he is excited about. “This is all to show off the diversity of Star Lane. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a conversation you and I had before [referencing a conversation Thomas and I had previously about asking yourself what you want to love in your life through how you choose to spend your time].

“I’ve been thinking about how we can ask, what do you want to love in wine? There is a question of how elements play out in a wine, rather than if wines taste of terroir or not. There is a lot of conversation around how a wine best expresses terroir. The truth is, riper wines can still show terroir or site expression. Of course Chardonnay raisins and Cabernet raisins still taste like raisins so one must admit there is a limit. Conversely, underripe grapes all taste like green apples so you can pick too far that way too.

“I don’t know if I can elaborate on it more than that. Sometimes you’re standing in a site and you feel like trying something but you don’t know if it’s just because you think you can or if there is something about the site that asks you to. But other times you can taste something there in the wine that you can’t explain, but at the same time can’t deny.

“In thinking about overly ripe wine, just because something is veiled doesn’t mean you can’t know what it is. On a good site, a riper style winemaker can still show site expression, the winemaking won’t completely obscure the site, even if it veils it some. Sometimes things are more veiled in a wine than others. Sometimes our role as winemaker ends up being unveiling the terroir.

“To put it another way, if everyone was picking at the same level of ripeness shouldn’t site be the difference that shows? Ripeness doesn’t necessarily obscure site, it just changes our access to it. In the end, it becomes a matter of what we value, of what we want to love in wine.”


To read guest posts from Tyler Thomas that consider his winemaking philosophy, and views of wine further:

A Winemaking Philosophy: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas:

The Humanness of Winemaking: Faith, Hope, and Love: Guest Post by Tyler Thomas:


Thank you most especially to Tyler Thomas.

Thank you to Jeff Connick. Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to



Donelan Acquerello 2010 Syrah w Tyler Thomas & Gianpaolo Paterlini

“Talking to other winemakers helped me understand what it means to be a winemaker.” -Tyler Thomas

“It’s not about knowing the tricks of the trade, it’s about how you’re going to use them.” -Gianpaolo Paterlini

Donelan 201 Acquerello Syrah

click on comic to enlarge

The importance of knowing your context plays behind the history of success for both Tyler Thomas, winemaker of Donelan Family Wines, Sonoma County, and Gianpaolo Paterlini, Wine Director of Acquerello Restaurant, San Francisco.

Winemaking with Tyler Thomas

Tyler Thomas graduated with a Master’s from UC Davis’s Viticulture & Enology program after having already completed an advanced Masters in Botany. His roots in science run deep. After finishing his work at Davis, however, Thomas recognized the importance of grounding his knowledge in experience, and in 2004 started a job at HdV in Napa Valley, with an agreement to also integrate work elsewhere in that first year.

After the 2004 harvest with the winery, then, Thomas traveled for the reciprocal harvest that New Year in New Zealand, returning North to do research on Sylvaner vines in Germany. During his time in Geisenheim Reingau, Thomas was able to take trips throughout Europe, meeting with winemakers in Burgundy, and Alsace as well.

It was through his time in Germany, Thomas explains, that he really learned what it is to be a winemaker. Thomas would sit with others in the region and simply define terms. The winemakers would discuss together their differing cultural views of wine, terroir, technique, and quality. The experience made clear for Thomas how culturally embedded views of wine, and its foundational elements turn out to be. In recognizing the importance of context, the point that you always choose how to make your wine, or what counts as quality came clear. “Talking to other winemakers helped me understand what it means to be a winemaker,” he says.

His background in Botany, and training in viticulture provided ample tools for winemaking, but as Thomas clarifies, his time abroad “was formative in shaping my philosophy. When I returned, then, to HdV, I recognized it was not what you do, but how you think about wine that makes you a winemaker.” HdV winemaker Stephan Vivier further rooted such understanding in Thomas. Vivier originates from Burgundy. In traveling abroad, Thomas was able to recognize a kinship in Vivier with other winemakers in France. Thomas’s early training with grapes, then, came from Vivier’s French sensibilities working with California fruit. The experience established in Thomas an approach defined by both patience, and thoroughness. In his approach to making wine, you sit back and wait, letting the wine takes its time, but you also keep clear track of where it’s at, and make sure what can be done early is tended to up front.

Gianpaolo Paterlini Grows the Acquerello Wine Program

Gianpaolo Paterlini grew up in Acquerello, the restaurant his father, Giancarlo, helped establish. Paterlini’s early memories, then, include his father’s work with the then-smaller Italian restaurant established in a neighborhood of San Francisco that was truly neighborhood then for all its establishment now.

At the age of fourteen, Giancarlo let his son know there would be no more free spending money, but if he wanted a job to earn cash, there was one to be had. So, Gianpaolo began working as a bus boy on weekends. At the time he had no interest in continuing his career in the service industry. Then he went to college in Boston. In summers, Paterlini’s work experience expanded to include food service, leading him to a restaurant job in Boston during the school year.

In Boston, Paterlini began work at Blue Ginger where he came to recognize a huge potential in the industry he hadn’t noticed before. He also saw how much fun it could be. Eventually, his life took him back to the Bay Area where he connected with the famed Sommelier, Raj Parr. Parr showed Paterlini what a top quality wine program looked like–it wasn’t just a great wine list, it was a wine list with an investment in wine education. Additionally, Parr helped Paterlini gain harvest experience with winemaker Sashi Moorman in Santa Barbara County, working in the Lompoc wine ghetto, side by side with many of the best labels from that region. In Lompoc, Paterlini explains, he didn’t only help make wine, but with the mass of winemakers in close proximity, he also drank some of the great wines from throughout the world. Work days would end with bottles for tasting.

In 2007, Paterlini’s experiences came together to illuminate the value of Acquerello for him in a new way. It was a quality restaurant that had never had a dedicated Sommelier. So, with his father’s blessing, Gianpaolo returned to the family restaurant focusing first simply on the restaurant’s established wines. Within short order, wine sales of the establishment increased. As a result, Paterlini was able to legitimate the value of establishing a full fledged wine program, based in what is now a 90-plus page wine list and education program focused primarily, though not exclusively, on Italian wines.

The Birth of a Partnership: Donelan Acquerello Syrah

Donelan Acquerello at the end of lunch

Thomas and Paterlini met through the restaurant. Owner of Donelan wines, Joe Donelan, had been a long time customer of Acquerello, with a friendly connection to the Paterlini family.

In his interests to stay informed and current with wine, Gianpaolo regularly tastes through California wine country (traveling as well to Italy and elsewhere). Through repeat visits to Donelan winery, Paterlini and Thomas recognized a relationship with wine that spurred both their interests. Over time, the connection bred a conversation about developing a unique Syrah together.

The focus of Acquerello’s wine list is deeply Italian, with some Champagne pleasantries, and California highlights as well. The wines by the glass, then, focus on Italian offerings that pair well with the current menu. Together the wine director and chef work for weeks to create a menu that seamlessly couples seasonal flavors with interesting wine. Paterlini had worked with wineries for a few custom bottlings before. From Italy, Sottimano created a 2007 Langhe Nebbiolo for the restaurant that, as Paterlini put it, was chosen because it “blew my mind so I bought a lot for the restaurant.”

In California, Paterlini has been able to garner two different vintages from Dan Petroski of Massican, to create first an Acquerello Chardonnay, and then in 2012 a Sauvignon. Massican is known for creating white wines from California with clear Italian inspiration. In those cases too, Paterlini happened upon barrel lots of Massican wine he enjoyed.

Enjoying Wine with Lunch

In private conversation when Thomas had briefly stepped out, Paterlini took the occasion to tell me what he appreciated about working with Thomas, “I know no one makng better Syrah than Tyler,” he tells me. “But I knew too that in working with him we’d get the experience of talking through what component parts would bring to the blend.”

The Donelan project differs from previous Acquerello wine partnerships in that when the possibility first arose, Thomas emphasized the process of partnership. Where Sottimano and Massican wines were discovered already complete and chosen for how they work well with the restaurant, the Donelan conversation occurred before a wine was made. “I wanted to make sure that the whole thing made perfect sense for Acquerello.” Thomas explained. In his view, making wine for Acquerello was exciting, but it was also a high responsibility. There was no point in doing it unless it was something the restaurant was going to love. But creating a wine they both believed in depended too on making it with the Donelan philosophy. The goal, then, became to make an Acquerello wine in the Donelan style — distinctly Syrah, strongly food focused, developed patiently over time.

Making the Wine

In order to accomplish the Acquerello goal, Thomas set about developing an abbreviated version of the Donelan teams approach–a series of blending trials over the course of a year. The first step would be to identify the barrel that would serve as the core of the wine. Together Thomas and Paterlini located a lot from the Kobler Vineyard, a site that produces friendly Syrah on the ligher side with lots of acidity and smoother tannin, flavored with elegant notes of mountain blueberry carrying frost touched edges.

Once the core of the blend was identified, the goal became then to determine what little bits from other barrels were desired. Together Thomas and Paterlini tasted and talked through the gifts and elements of other lots of Syrah in the winery. Their discussion focused on how each barrel would impact the blend, what it would add, or, detract.

The Donelan team, met repeatedly with the team of Acquerello to hone in on the restaurant’s perfect wine. At its final stage, five possible assemblages were brought to the restaurant in San Francisco where the entire staff of Acquerello blind tasted the five selections side by side. Remarkably, in the end, they all agreed on one. “At the end of the day, it was my call what blend was picked,” Paterlini explains. “But, instead, we included all 10 people [the Acquerello staff]. We all happened to agree, but the point was to act like their opinion matters, because it does.”

After the blend was finalized, Thomas performed a final test. He took a sample bottle with him to the restaurant one afternoon and sat down with Paterlini. Together they blind tasted through the red wine portion of the wines by the glass (BTG) menu checking to see if the Acquerello blend suited the overall architecture of the restaurant’s BTG program. The goal in tasting was to identify a consistency of mouthfeel between the Donelan wine, and the Italians on the restaurant’s list. “Did we get the mouthfeel to a point where it can represent Acquerello well?” Thomas asked.

Paterlini nods, “mouthfeel is the most important thing when selling wine to customers. You need to give them a texture they can relate to.”

The Final Wine

The Donelan Acquerello Syrah has the flavor of Donelan but with a more breezy pleasure. The focus is on open juiciness, the wine giving a portico of freshness to welcome the midpalate. It’s a shape Donelan wines don’t tend to have, yet it drinks like its part of the Donelan portfolio’s extended family.

Thomas addresses the presentation of the final wine, “the wine tells both our stories.”

Paterlini agrees, “we did exactly what we wanted to do. We made the wine we wanted to make.”

As the two continue talking, the relationship expressed within the wine becomes clear. It’s the approach they took to making the wine–working together, incorporating the entirety of both teams to find agreement through discussion–that showcases Thomas’s winemaking style. He values steadiness and patience housed in a path of rigorous attention, coupled with discussion with his people along the way. The Acquerello Syrah is a Donelan wine because it follows the Donelan process–similar oak regime, similar blending trial process. It’s the texture, and architecture of the wine that belongs to Acquerello.


The Donelan Acquerello 2010 Sonoma Syrah is only available at Acquerello Italian Restaurant in San Francisco.

Other Donelan wines are available in the Bay area through Marathon Brokers, or by contacting Donelan Wines directly.

Thank you to Tyler Thomas, and Gianpaolo Paterlini.
Thank you to Emily Kaiden.

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



My apologies for the slow down in posts last week. Mid-week my laptop quit working and it took until the weekend to get it sorted out. i yi yi. Thankfully the fix wasn’t too expensive, as I wouldn’t have been able to replace my computer. This is just a tiny homespun blog, after all. I’m grateful to have it working again. There is a lot of writing to catch up on.

Hope you’re all doing well!


Developing a Pinot Noir Tasting

As I posted about a month and a half ago–Victoria, Australia reinspired my devotion for Pinot. The wines are so full of life and liveliness in Victoria that Pinot Noir often carries a wonderful vibrancy and tension, with freshness and just a touch of surprise that I appreciate.

Returning, then, to the United States, I decided to design a Pinot tasting with North American wines, focused on finding and sharing examples from here that offer such interest. The goal behind the group of 25 wines tasted, then, was to gather a range of wines banding around a focus on vibrancy, tension, and acidity. The selections were based either on previous experience with the wines, or recommendations, as well as availability. Many were provided by samples–the complete list of samples versus purchase appears at the bottom of this post. There are of course a wealth of other wines that could have also been included.

Tasting North to South

A couple weeks ago several of us got together to taste through the 25 Pinot Noir wines from the West Coast of North America. The other tasters were winemakers that work with Pinot. We did not taste blind out of an interest in considering the specifics of the wines’ vinification, soils, and climate.

Following are notes on the wines from the tasting. Each of the wines were tasted first with the group, then again the next day, and for a final time on the third day.

The top stand out wines from this tasting as a whole were the Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, followed closely by the Eyrie 2010 Estate. Three more stand outs were found in the Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown, and the Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills.

Okanagan, British Columbia

Black Cloud 2009 Pinot

Representing the Okanagan, we were unfortunately able to access only one wine. Okanagan is an area of growing interest that produces what some consider to be the top Pinot Noir of Canada. In June of this year, the Wine Blogger’s Conference will be hosted in the Okanagan, so expect to see a wealth of online traffic about the region later this summer.

Black Cloud 2009 Altostratus, Remuda Vineyard, 13.2%
The Black Cloud Altostratus comes in with a pomegranate and fig, lightly toasty, and ripe, pretty nose. The aroma moves back and forth between ripe scents, and underripe scents, a phenomenon that follows in the palate, as the wine drinks as though it came from both an early slightly-green pick and a later riper one. There are concentrated flavors of dried berries and musk here alongside more woody, and lightly medicinal ones. The wine brings a strong mid-palate focus, with slightly rough tannin, and good moderate acidity. I am interested in tasting further vintages of this wine, as the 2009 was a rather compressed vintage for the region, which may be showing as a challenge here.

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Oregon Pinots

The Willamette Valley was the big winner, with the group generally pleased by the overall quality of each of these wines. In each case, the Willamette wines also simply became more alive over the three day tasting period, with more lush and pleasing flavors and greater liveliness.

Cooper Mountain 2010 Reserve, 13.5%
The Cooper Mountain Reserve offers the nice tension of older vines alongside great acidity. The nose is floral and dance-y also showing both fresh and dried strawberry, and rhubarb, as well as a touch of funk. The palate comes in juicy and lean giving more elemental flavors starting with a rich opening, an ultra-light mid-palate, and a long finish. The wine was a bit simple upon opening but the flavors relaxed, becoming more lush with air, and drinking beautifully on day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Wirtz Vineyard, 13.1%
Big Table Farm‘s Wirtz Vineyard 2010 is a beautiful wine, and yummy. The aromatics are a nice blend of Italian herbs, berry, rhubarb and spice all lifting from the glass. On the palate a vibrant mix of green bean freshness and orange plus grapefruit zest accent red fruit and pink flowers. This wine is full of life and just kept getting more lively into day 3.

* Big Table Farm 2010 Resonance Vineyard, 12%
The Big Table Farm Resonance Vineyard started much more muted compared to their Wirtz, but techno-danced its way from the glass by day 3, full of vibrancy. The wine carries a wider nose focused on red berries, red flowers, and cardamom. The palate follows, offering a smooth, lush texture. While it opened less fresh on day 1, the aromas and flavors of this wine became more vibrant and complex as it stayed open. I’m impressed by its vibrancy with air.

* Eyrie 2010 Estate, 13.5%
The Eyrie Estate gives a wonderful combination of lean structure, and rich flavors making the wine feel both refreshing, and compelling. The nose gives more than just red berry and rhubarb, offering herbal notes and just enough vineyard sweat and garlic to bring intrigue. The wine has a pleasing sandwash silk texture, and a long lean-line finish. The sexiness on this wine just kept increasing into day 3. I am a fan.

** Eyrie 2010 Original Vines Reserve, 13.5%
The big winner of the tasting found itself in the complexity and focus of Eyrie’s Original Vines Reserve, drawing entirely from the original plantings from the mid-60s. The Reserve is vibrant and full of life in the glass, giving smooth tannin, a lean body, full of rich flavor, and a long finish. The nose comes in musky, and fresh at the same time, showing porcini reduction, grapefruit zest, red and pink flowers, pomegranate, and dried black cap raspberries, all beautifully integrated. On the palate the flavors follow with a pleasing spice and light menthol lift. This wine comes together through beautifully integrated elements, and a pleasing, well-knit complexity of flavors.

* Antica Terra 2010 Willamette Valley, 13.0%
The Antica Terra gives a great example of desirable focus with rough hewn edges. That is, this wine does well at showing a winemaker’s focus coupled with the willingness to let the wine be a touch feral and of its own mind. The nose gives scents of small berried, concentrated red fruits, with hints of greenery, and just a touch of fuminess. The palate carries a textural focus giving rhubarb, strawberry with light graphite, spice, and a little bit of pleasing stink. The Antica Terra has power without being overwhelming, though it does also present as just a touch hot in the mouth.

Northern California with Ant Hill Farms

Ant Hill Farm Pinots

For Northern California we tasted through the smallest bottlings from Ant Hill Farms 2011 Pinot Noirs. Ant Hill Farms focuses on small sites as well where they have hand’s on connection to the farming. What is common through the Ant Hill Farms wines is an enlivening mineral tension.

Ant Hill Farms Mendocino 2011 Comptche Ridge Vineyard, 13.2%
The Comptche Ridge bottling from Ant Hill Farms is an ultra lean wine with a focus on mineral tension, and a long finish. The nose brings together bay leaf, herbal earthiness, and a touch of aspirin lift, moving into lightly sweet red fruit, light cocoa, and notes of lime on the palate. The flavors here give ideas of sweet (but not sugar) fruit but with a lean focus and a long drying finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Demuth Vineyard, 13.1%
The Demuth Vineyard needs time to open, as the wine presents as closed right now. That said, there is a great juiciness and tension here that I believe will offer more flavor later. What the wine does give now includes red fruit, dark chocolate with stem chewiness, light brazil nut, and a refreshing methol lift rolling into a long fresh finish.

Ant Hill Farms Anderson Valley 2011 Abbey-Harris Vineyard, 13.4%
Where the Abbey-Harris Pinot from Ant Hill Farms starts as red methol and cherry, it opens into cardamom and bergamot, with leafy notes and hints of copper. The wine starts simple but offers more complexity with air showing graphite and red berries on the palate, chewy stemmy notes, and nice tension coming from an enlivening minerality, and long finish.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County Pinots

With the wealth of Pinot Noirs made in Sonoma County we focused on bringing together a few labels that connect through winemaking experience and site.

* Verse 2011 Pinot Noir Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros, 12.9%
The Verse 2011 gives spiced red fruit and a light tang on the nose, rolling into a juicy raspberry full plant expression–berries, pleasing seed crunch, and bramble with leaf. The flavors are lush, deepened with elements of white sage, pink flowers, and blueberry leaf, followed by a lightly briny finish. The texture here is smooth, giving a light graphite reduction, and a drying finish.

Vivier 2011 Sonoma Coast, 13.5%
Vivier‘s Sonoma Coast Pinot blend draws from fruit off of all three of his vineyard sites–the Terra di Promisio, Sun Chase, and Gap’s Crown. There are nice layers of fruit here but the palate comes in a bit wider than I prefer (and more so than on either his Sun Chase or Gap’s Crown single vineyard bottlings). The wine opens initially with a bit of funk on the nose that blows off to reveal strawberry, with blueberry leaf, and touches of aspirin. There is a broad mid-palate here, with a long breadth of flavors through the finish.

* Wind Gap 2011 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast, 12.8%
Carrying an herbal and earthy focus, the Wind Gap Pinot is all about minerality and leanness in a way I enjoy. The wine shifts away from fruit flavors instead bringing in raspberry leaf, with some red berry rolling through juicy, with accents of tomato leaf, cumin, and graphite on a long textural finish. There is a great enlivening tension here throughout that vibrates in with almost electrical-metallic accents I enjoy.

Boheme 2009 Stoeller Vineyard, 14.3%
Boheme Pinots are each made from vineyard sites managed through hand’s on farming by the winemaker. The Stoeller Vineyard sits at 1200 ft elevation ultra close to the coast showing focused fruit, and its coastal elevation influence. The wine offers a lovely experience of drinking Pinot pie–giving cooked fruit, baking spice, and pie dough all together along with sea air freshness, and a juicy tingling finish.

* Boheme 2009 Taylor Ridge Vineyard, 14.5%
The Taylor Ridge Vineyard was my favorite of the three Boheme Pinots, offering a pretty example of its style, also showing well over the three days. This wine is all about breadth, lightness, and a long finish, showing a little broader than the Stoeller, without being overly broad. The flavors include cooked fruit and spice, opening into more floral elements over the three days, with polished sand tannin and a lot of juiciness leading into a long finish.

Boheme 2009 English Hill Vineyard, 14.7%
The English Hill Vineyard is the furthest inland site for Boheme Pinot, giving a slightly warmer red fruit expression on the palate in comparison, and red fruit and flower on the nose. The wine has the widest palate presentation of the three, with ultra clean lines of flavor, and lean tannin. The finish brings in herbal and dried grass notes rolled through with cocoa.

The Central-Coastal Stretch

Central Coast Pinots

Calera 2009 Mt Harlan Ryan Vineyard, 14.1%
The Ryan Vineyard shows the incredible throat tension generated by a bit of limestone and elevation on the vines. The wine has an aromatic focus followed by a perfumed lift in the mouth. It comes out all fig and date mince meat with cocoa and nutmeg. The wine couples both a dryness and slippage in the mouth giving a sexy, lush texture leading into a drying lightly salty finish full of tight lines. This wine is a bit of a challenge while enticing at the same time, like going out with a New York woman after life in a small town for several years.

* Presqu’ile 2010 Rim Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo, 13.0%
One of the most intriguing of the wines in the tasting, the Presqu’ile Rim Rock gives a strong textural focus riding on a core of pliant, dark, round fruit that then moves with the flavors of the Southwestern United States–jalapeno on the nose, hatch chiles on the palate, dried black bean and mole–alongside orange oil, cocoa, red berries, and light caramel. It’s both yummy, and strange, not your typical Pinot Noir. I enjoyed it.

Nagy 2009 Santa Maria, 14.5%
The Nagy 2009 opens with a reductive funk that blows off and gives over to light red cherry, and light green pepper. The palate keeps some reductive elements accenting cocoa, cherry, and mint palmed by hot peppers and black tea on the finish, all touched through with fine cord textural tannin. Give this wine some time in the bottle, or some air to open up.

Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara County

Bien Nacido Pinots

Chanin 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.7%
The Chanin Bien Nacido gives sweet red fruit and a touch of funk on the nose, followed by a candied red fruit expression on the palate. The alcohol comes in as hot on this wine showing primarily in the finish on top of a core of tension. I would be interested in tasting other vintages from Chanin as the 2010 drinks like it was a challenging vintage that didn’t quite come together in bottle.

The Ojai Vineyard 2010 Bien Nacido, 13.0%
Offering kirsch accented by notes of rainwater, and lightly candied powder accent on the nose, the Ojai Bien Nacido carries into lightly dusty soil, cooked cherry, and light green chili on the finish. The wine has a singular focus throughout its presentation that remains consistent through the three day tasting period.

Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County

Santa Ynez Pinots

Pence Ranch 2010 Weslope, 14.5%
2010 marks the first vintage for brand new vines for Pence Ranch, its vineyards growing just outside the Eastern boundary of Sta Rita Hills AVA. The Weslope portion of the vineyard grows in Western facing sloped clay, taking the brunt of the ocean winds the Santa Ynez Valley is famous for. The wine offers a terra cotta spice and raspberry leaf focus with hints of smoke, white clay, and metallic elements, all coming through a lush texture, good juiciness, and a long finish with good tension.

Pence Ranch 2010 Uplands, 14.5%
Where the Weslope portion of Pence Ranch rests in deep clay, the Uplands grows in finer grained mixed loam, with protection from the wind. The vines of both sites are the same age, just coming online for harvest with the 2010 vintage. The Uplands bottling shows more leafy and peat aromatics giving a light smokey element with medicinal accents in the mouth. This wine is all about the acidity, and smooth while grip-able texture. It is a touch hot on the finish.

Pence Ranch 2010 Estate, 14.5%
The Estate bottling from Pence Ranch brings together a blend of both the Weslope and Uplands sites combining the clay and peat aspects of the two, alongside smoke and cherry, with spice notes. There is a juicy mid-palate here followed by a juicy, focused, lightly reductive finish and tight lines throughout. The Pence Ranch wines are worth watching over the next several years–they drink with the elements of young fruit that is perhaps less focused now and will likely show more complexity with age. Considering how new the vines and project are, the wines still seem to give a (albeit young) sense of genuine site character. I’ll be interested in seeing how future vintage releases taste.

* Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills, 14.7%
The Brewer-Clifton 2010 Sta Rita Hills was a crowd pleaser with its fresh ripe red berry focus touched by sweaty red tropical flowers, fresh sea water and air, touches of terra cotta, and hints of green chili heat. The wine had a nice long mineral line throughout with good stimulation, a pleasing balance of tongue pinching tannin and real juiciness and a lightly powder-touched finish. This wine shows off subtle, fresh complexity.


Black Cloud, Cooper Mountain, Eyrie, Ant Hill Farms, Verse, Wind Gap, Boheme, Chanin, The Ojai Vineyard, and Pence were all provided as samples.

Vivier, Calera, Nagy, Presqu’ile, and Brewer-Clifton were purchased.

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This summer I had the privilege of meeting winemaker Tyler Thomas. We talked for several hours about the intersections of science and faith, winemaking as art versus craft, as well as philosophy and what it means to be human. It’s a conversation I’ve returned to again and again in mind since. Tyler Thomas is head winemaker at Donelan Wines in Santa Rosa, California, producing high quality Rhone and Burgundy varieties from Sonoma County. Previously, he also served as assistant winemaker alongside Stéphane Vivier at HdV.

After continued conversations with Tyler about minerality and plant health, making Chardonnay, and the 2012 vintage, I asked if he would be willing to write a guest post to share here. I am grateful to share two. The first, is Tyler Thomas’s reflection on faith in winemaking; the second, tomorrow, elucidates his winemaking philosophy.


Tyler JN Pic (2)

Tyler Thomas (photo courtesy of Donelan Wines)

One of the elements of winemaking I enjoy is how its production employs our humanness.  This topic is difficult and very broad so I’ll try to remain on task.  We could start by discussing wine’s transcendence.  Wine transcends its original material.  It points to – no – engages the imbiber into an experience of enjoying flavors other than what would be expected from tasting its original components.  Cherry wine tastes like cherries, but grape wine doesn’t taste of grapes.  And while I think, just as NYU President John Sexton argues, that baseball implies a larger transcendence and the same could be said of wine, here we’ll leave that windy path for someone else to travel.  But there are plenty of other reasons beside wine’s transcendental nature that invoke our human experience, not the least of which is the way it draws our pleasure and gladness of heart.

Wine is incredibly complex yet simple, regal yet rustic, crushed for goodness, real and ethereal (at times), known and mysterious, physical and transformed.  Its purpose seems primarily set toward pleasure.  For me, wine is analog for life…and Life; and not only in wine’s final state but in its production too.  “Analog for life,” you might think, “did he just write that?”  Yes!  One of the reasons is because my worldview has led me to feel that faith, hope, and love are core elements of life.  And in wine production we exhibit elements of faith, hope, and love; and we do so frequently.  I’d like to examine how wine can help one gain an understanding of the faith elements of life.  To do this I’ll presume that faith, hope, and love are indeed integral to our humanness.  I’ll also assume winemakers care about wine, and just as we live life as if our decisions have meaning, we interact with our grapes with a similar passion and verve for their meaningful outcome: yummy vino.

Certainly faith has strong religious connotations.  So much so that many people consider the word faith synonymous with the qualifier blind faith.  Perhaps some have already stopped reading as a result!  I like this definition: a confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.  Do we employ faith when definitive explanations fail us and quality and artisan greatness beckon us?  Not blind faith, blind to historical experience and science, but real faith that incorporates experience and science.

For a winemaker like me the scientific knowledge we’ve gained over time is critical in that it gives us a confident trust in a specific cellar or vineyard practice.  However there is also an interesting narrative that leads many to refer to winegrowing as art, and us as artists.  Empirical knowledge provides confident trust, but there are also quite a few creative gut calls that I believe require faith, or the confidence in knowledge beyond ourselves.  Winemakers don’t often admit this but – here’s the news flash – we don’t know everything about producing inimitable wine, yet we hope our decisions have tremendous importance.

It’s true!  While we may not know things exhaustively, we can still “know” even amidst the mystery.  We strive to obtain more knowledge about winegrowing so we can use it to optimize our viticulture and enology and ensure we make the best wine possible each vintage.  But without a complete road map to how this flavor in that concentration responds to an 83 degree (not 86!) ferment with 3 punch downs a day and then bounces into another compound to produce a given sensory effect…you can see it gets complicated.  Without knowing all that definitively, producers often hope in their intuition and then examine the result asking: “do I like this?”  This often leads wine producers to rely more on faith developed over time.  Or can I say we employ a confident trust in the truth of a particular practice to give us the desired result?

OK skeptics call it intuition mixed with science if the word faith sends shivers down your spine and your eyes rolling.  But if you have an aversion to a word because it conjures too much religious context (which would be a guilt by association fallacy), I encourage you to take what you know from your production techniques and reexamine what it means to employ faith.  Can we admit we make decisions without full knowledge of how our desired outcome is achieved?  Can we admit that we deeply hope those decisions have meaning?  “No Tyler,” you might say, “you are talking about intuition.”  Fair enough.  I admit it is difficult to separate faith from intuition in the discussion of wine.  But I would maintain that there is something about the passion with which we pour ourselves into the process, something more personal and emotive about it, some part of our sincere desire for this decision to be right and true that takes these decisions beyond mere intuition.  Intuition is visceral and doesn’t involve the same hope.  Intuition is not as supremely pleased when right or devastated when wrong.  If we were to consult the Bible (don’t hate me for it!), it offers an alternative definition of faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen.  Do we not often feel assured in the hope we have that the decisions we make improve our wines?

When we are enjoying a wine 5 years removed from its production and pat ourselves on the back for handling a challenging situation for which we had yet to have a reference and glow in the pleasure of the sips.  When we do that, do we simply say “nice gut call”?  Isn’t there something more?  More of an expectation, more hope, more risk, more reward, more meaning?

Clearly my presumption is that faith and hope are core human elements.  Perhaps you disagree.  But if you grant me that presumption I think it difficult to deny that winemaking employs elements of our humanness and this should be recognized and embraced.  The challenge is to distill what is really true, what really worked, from an anecdote associated with success.  How do we wade through knowledge and embrace the mystery?  Is faith, the confident trust in the trust worthiness of a practice the answer?  The goal of any lifelong pursuer of peerless wine should be to find good answers.  And this takes time, effort, and…a little faith.  I submit that those who can embrace the science and the mystery will have the greatest opportunity to make the best wine.  Those who love and understand empirical knowledge and belief have – I believe – the best chance to discover something great and be a part of producing an inimitable wine.  It requires faith in certain actions that transcend your current understanding of the winemaking world to provide meaning to your final goal: a wine that produces a glad heart.


Thank you to Tyler Thomas.

To read more about Tyler’s work with Donelan Wines:

Donelan Wine Website:

Tomorrow will host another guest post by Tyler Thomas on his winemaking philosophy.


Opening to Receive by Giving Thanks

A friend told me recently that she believes the best way to prepare one self for receiving good is to reflect on all the good you’ve received before. What a lovely idea. Here are some of my grateful moments from 2012. There are so many more I could just keep posting.

A trip to LA and Malibu included a wealth of incredible wine

In the early part of the year I was lucky enough to spend time with friends drinking utterly incredible wines, a lot of them favorites from older vintages. In Malibu a friend and I got to open this 1996 Bea. It was in the midst of a 1995 Chinon, a 1975 Pepe (both remarkable wines), Selosse Brut (so brilliant), and others, but the Bea took my heart and never gave it back. His wines are brilliant aged. What a treasure.

In Fall 2012 I closed my teaching career in philosophy

Fall 2011 became my last semester teaching philosophy in Arizona. I resigned in October 2011, but the last day of my contract was January 6, 2012. I stepped into the new year, then, finishing my teaching obligations, turning towards a whole new path. As grateful as I am for my time there, I am also grateful to be done. The biggest blessing came in my classes that final term being among the best I ever facilitated. The two sections of Intro to Ethics both had excellent students that helped me learn the material at a deeper level. What a gift. In Sci-Fi and Society (the other class I taught that term) we were all required to show up dressed as ourselves in alternate universe and then to remain in character through the entire class. I arrived as a Sci-Fi Writer’s Muse, a presence that helped inspire parts of the noble series Dr. Who.

Our sweet Briland opened my heart far more than I ever expected

Rachel, aka. Jr., asked for a hamster in 2011. I was resistant to the idea not wanting another live-thing to take care of. But Rachel was brilliant at helping Briland, her hamster, get comfortable so that he spent lots of time out of his cage playing, and eating treats beside both of us. He softened my heart in a way I didn’t realize it could. Dear Briland spawned a whole comic series, became the mascot of the local veterinary hospital, and made me appreciate the importance of life, no matter how small, in a way I never imagined until I met him. He died in the middle of 2012. I still miss him everyday.

The Rapuzzi family shared an incredible lunch with us

April 2012 included an 8 day tour of Colli Orientali del Friuli. The Rapuzzi family had our COF2012 group for lunch, sharing an incredible selection of their older wines. Thanks to them the world still has Schioppettino–Dina and Paolo Rapuzzi had a big hand in helping to preserve many of the varieties indigenous to Friuli and are credited with rediscovering and then saving Schioppettino.

We spent the first week of April in Friuli

A vineyard in Friuli

Serena and Cristian poured their first Schioppetino vertical for us

Serena and Cristian of Ronco del Gnemiz had us for a vertical tasting of their Schioppettino, explaining it was the first time they’d done so. They’re best known for their white wines, but their Schioppettino is some of my favorite. I am so grateful for our time with them.

Angela and Jason Osborne poured her first full vertical of Grace

In June, I met Steven Morgan of Tribeca Grill during a visit to New York City. He toured me through the impressive cellars of the restaurant and then opened a Schioppettino for us to share while we talked. After conversation about education, comics, superheroes, wine, friendship, and travel, he suggested I reach out to Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace, saying he thought I’d like her and her wine. That very night I emailed her. A week later she had my friend Katherine and I over for dinner with Angela, her lovely husband Jason, and the first full vertical tasting of Grace they’d hosted. We stayed for hours. Steven was right. I loved her, and her wine.

I returned to Naknek after a decade away

At the end of June, after a decade away, I returned to the waters of Naknek, Alaska where I grew up commercial fishing with my family–the area of Bristol Bay hosts the largest wild salmon run in the world, and one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. As Rachel does every year, she spent her summer there visiting cousins, her Grammie and Bobba, and her Aunties and Uncles. This photo shows five cousins–Oliver, Mari, and Rachel on the shore, Ecola and Ceara, my Auntee’s daughters in the water.

I didn't die eating oysters with Stephan Vivier

A couple of years ago I discovered a shellfish allergy by having a bad reaction to prawns. I didn’t know what other seafood I was allergic to, however, and so dealt with it by avoiding shellfish entirely. The reaction was too uncomfortable to risk it. In July, I met with Stephane Vivier to taste his Pinot Noir wines. We had a lovely time visiting. I loved his rose’ and Pinot, and thoroughly enjoyed our time. When he asked if we should have lunch and start with oysters I decided to risk it. My thought was–this entire experience is so lovely, if I do die by shellfish, I’d be quite sorry for Stephane, but such a happy time would be the perfect way to go. And if I don’t, it couldn’t be a better time to find out I can still eat oysters. It turns out I can still eat oysters. Vivier wine, then, restored one of my favorite foods to me. The experience has inspired me to go on since and test other shellfish too–it turns out I can eat crab (thank god!), and also scallops (thank god again!).

I spent my summer visiting some of the people I admire

I count myself deeply lucky. I have gotten to spend my time with some of the people I admire most in wine. Here from left: me, holding Ryan and Megan Glaab’s baby boy, Randall Grahm, George Vare, Abe Schoener

I lived for a month below the oldest vines in Willamette Valley

In July, I traveled to Willamette Valley, Oregon and was lucky enough to live for a month at the base of the oldest vines growing in the Willamette–Eyrie Vineyards South Block.

My sister charmed Jacques Lardiere

My sister traveled south to attend IPNC too and while there charmed Jacques Lardiere, the just-retired winemaker of Jadot. What a treat to meet him, and to concentrate hard enough to understand his talk on biodynamics.

My sister and I spent time tasting with Maggie Harrison

With Melanie flying from Alaska to attend IPNC I did what I could to schedule time after for us to also meet two of her favorite winemakers. We were able to have time with Maggie Harrison, of Antica Terra, and also Jason Lett, of Eyrie. Melanie told me after those two are like rock stars for her. I agree.

Fulgencio was generous enough to tell me his story

Someone asked me to pick the single most important event I lived this last year. That sort of question is a kind of metaphysical quandry I find almost impossible to answer. That said, the most moving experience I had was meeting Fulgencio, a vineyard worker in Oregon and then to have him trust me enough to share part of his life story with me. The experience was overwhelming. Then, as if listening to him hadn’t been moving enough, at the end he thanked me it, explaining it healed him to be able to share his story. To share in that kind of intimacy with someone, and to have it marked as life changing by both people… I can only explain the importance of such an experience by saying plainly it’s why I believe any of us are here. Such connections, in my experience, are the meaning of human life.

I spent the year following Ribolla from Friuli through California

One of the lucky projects of 2012 turned out to be following RIbolla Gialla from Friuli all the way back to California, its unlikely North American home. I love this grape. Following its story has also introduced me to a wealth of incredible people–George Vare, Dan Petroski, Steve Matthiasson, Ryan Glaab, Abe Schoener, Matthew Rorick, Robbie Meyers, Nathan Roberts, Chris Bowland, and others. Here the Vare Vineyard is being harvested by a crew directed by Steve Matthiasson.

Paul Draper took time to meet with me

Somehow this year included a wealth of visits with icons of wine, including a number of people that truly helped make American wine what it is today. Among them is Paul Draper. In September, Paul took the time to share several hours with me talking through his history and views of wine, as well as tasting the current wines for Ridge. I often joke that my parents are such intimidating people I am rarely intimidated. Paul Draper stands as such an important presence in the history of California wine, I have to admit I was utterly intimidated to go meet with him. That said, he is known for being down to earth, and quite generous in his willingness to share information and insight with people.

His dog is adorable

And he has an adorable dog.

Scientist Legend Carole Meredith, and her equally brilliant husband Stephen Lagier met with me

My final wine interview of 2012 was with two people I hold deep respect for. Carole Meredith is a genuine legend of science. Thanks to her we know the parent grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay, and many others. She helped find the origin and originary plant of Zinfandel and Primitivo, thus also helping to boost the local economy of Croatia due to their increase in tourism since (I kid you not–Zinfandel originates from Croatia). Stephen Lagier, her husband, is equally brilliant with a history of having researched chemical changes in vines due to vineyard practices, then going on to a long career in winemaking. Together they now live on Mt Veeder where they grow and make their Lagier-Meredith wines.

I spent the holidays with family

Jr and I closed the year in Alaska. We were able to spend the Christmas holiday in Anchorage, where my parents, and the families of all three of their girls were together at Christmas for the first time since 2006. Christmas Eve we spent with our closest family friends, the Meyers. Here from left: me, my sister Paula, my sister Melanie, and Robyn Meyer–she grew up with us like a sister. Jr and I now spend the New Year holiday in Juneau with Melanie’s family.

Lots of love to everyone! I am so grateful for all that 2012 brought (including all the stuff that felt like total bullshit–hardships hold sometimes the deepest blessings), and more grateful we can now turn in to 2013. May we all be blessed. Amen.

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


Visiting Sun Chase and Gap’s Crown Vineyards with Stéphane and Dana Vivier, Sonoma Coast

view from the top-Sun Chase Vineyards sit at 1100 feet at the Northern end of the Petaluma Gap, thereby receiving a Marine influence. Vivier Wines produce a Sonoma Coast blend of Pinot Noir, but also are developing a close relationship with several vineyards through which they are producing Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs. Sun Chase is the first of these, Gap’s Crown the second, and third will be Spring Hill, it’s first harvest this year.

there is very little soil on this portion of the Sun Chase Vineyard site, and the vines are young, it’s first vintage in 2009.

the Pinot clusters have “hens and chicks”–both large and small berries. The effect is to provide a mix of concentrated flavors from the smaller fruit (more skin to juice) and the juice to make the wine from the larger clusters. On clone types that tend to have hens and chicks the goal is the right balance of these two elements so you have enough juice to make your wine, and with more interesting flavors. Stéphane Vivier’s goal is to make a Pinot with a good integration of spice with fruit.

veraison had started on the Pinot Noir fruit just before our arrival.

in tending to the plant, the goal is to make no clusters touching

Dana and Lucille (21 months) Vivier. Lucille likes eating the just-purple berries.

some of the clusters have sun burn. The canopy is used to minimize sun burn on the fruit, but high exposure vineyards also tend to have some, and, additionally, the fruit needs some direct sun for proper ripeness. Seriously burned berries will be removed. On red wines burned fruit present a distinct flavoral problem in the wine, which is more manageable in white wines. Additionally, severe sun burn can create cracks that allow pests access to the inside of the fruit. The sun burned fruit will be left until just before ripeness fully takes hold. By leaving the extra berries the vine is pushed harder. But if not removed before full ripeness the burn will be hard to see against the redness of the berries.

looking towards the Petaluma Gap–a lower stretch of the coastal ranges to the North of San Francisco Bay. Wind moves from the cooler Pacific, East into the warmer inland areas, cooling the surface temperatures, and drying the fruit. Sun Chase Vineyard is near the Northern most reaches of the Gap’s wind effect. Gap’s Crown Vineyard is at the Northern most end.

Stéphane Vivier

view from the top–Gap’s Crown Vineyard, at 840 feet elevation, the Northern end of the Petaluma Gap, and the Southern most portion of the Sonoma Coast AVA, an intersection zone.

again, very rocky ground

picking berries

Thank you to Stéphane, and Dana Vivier. Such a nice afternoon.

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