Category Oregon

Drinking Small Production Rhone Wines: Rhone Rangers 2014

The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste Rhone Rangers Seminar

This past weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted a panel of eight “Garagiste” winemakers each producing less than 3000 cases of wine for their individual label. Luke Sykora facilitated the discussion crossing a range of wine types and locales. What the wines, selected by the Rhone Rangers Education committee from membership submissions, shared was a well made, food friendly character.

The Rhone Rangers celebrates wines made from Rhone varieties within the United States. Though the largest concentration of winery membership arises from California, Oregon, Washington, and Virginia also join the organization. Membership offers the opportunity to support and select research on Rhone varieties, and participation in both local and national events. The recent Rhone Rangers weekend marked their largest annual event with the largest Rhone wine tasting in the country.

In circumscribing its domain, the Rhone Rangers include 22 grape varieties within their description of Rhone wine. The 22 varieties predominately arise from the Rhone region of France, and include not only the widely planted and better known reds and whites of the area, but also grapes historic to the Valley. Additionally, the group includes Petite Sirah among their allowable grapes. The variety originates as a cross between two Rhone grapes developed in France in the 1880s. Though the variety is not today seen in the Rhone Valley, because of its Rhone parentage, and history of planting with other Rhone grapes in California it is included.

The Rhone Valley has a strong history of blending and co-fermentation of varieties. With that in mind, the Rhone Rangers count wines that blend any of the 22 grapes, as well as wines made to be at least 75% from Rhone varieties.

Most of the 22 Rhone varieties are planted in very small number within the United States. The truth is that Rhone wines still represent a small portion of the overall wine market with far more plantings rooted in the popular varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, as two examples. As a result, Rhone varieties are generally planted to small acreage.

For larger producers such small plantings are often used as a sort of spice box accent within a larger blend, sometimes still named by its predominate variety. A Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, might be given extra heft by an accent of Petite Sirah. However, the fruit of lesser known varieties often sells for far less than the commonly known types. For smaller producers, it can be almost impossible to afford the cost of well-known grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. Small plantings of unusual grapes, then, offer a more affordable option, but also the chance to work with something new without the pressures of market expectation. The Garagiste winemaker, then, represents the unexpected freedom of experimentation given by a shoestring budget, and a glimpse into the still uncharted possibilities of quality wine.

The Wines of the Garagiste Rhone Rangers Panel

The Rhone Rangers Garagiste panel offered the chance to taste from the range of 22 varieties and their blending opportunities, including some of the lesser known of the Rhone grapes, as well as some of the classics. As mentioned, what the 8 wines selected shared was a well made, food friendly character. Pleasing juiciness was a common theme across the tasting. Following are notes on the 8 wines.

Acquiesce Winery, Lodi, 2013 Picpoul Blanc Estate
presented by Sue Tipton, 65 cases

Offering a 100% Picpoul for her 2013 bottling, Acquiesce Winery‘s Picpoul Blanc showcases the “lip sting” element definitive of the variety through tons of juiciness. However, the wine surpasses the singular acid focus often found with the grape, to give a vibrant lift through the palate with a softening finish. The 2013 brings a nice range of fruit characteristics including white and pink grapefruit peel with touches of pear blossom and a lightly floral musk finish. The flavors couple with the juiciness to tumble across the palate into a long finish.

Caliza Winery, Paso Robles, 2012 White Blend “Sidekick”
presented by Carl Bowker, Roussanne/Viognier, 125 cases

The Caliza Winery white blend comes from limestone and shale soils near the cooler Templeton Gap of Paso Robles. The wine offers floral chalk and dried floral aromatics and palate moving through a juicy mid-palate and into a long, increasingly juicy, cracked white and green pepper finish. There is nice tension through the palate here and a good balance of rounded flavors with long energetic lines.

* Stark Wines, Healdsburg, 2012 Viognier
presented by Christian Stark, 125 cases

Based in Healdsburg but sourcing fruit from the granite soils of the Sierra Foothills, Stark offers a nicely focused, well balanced expression of Viognier giving just a kiss of tropical flower Viognier is known for without any sweetness. The floral elements show in softened, clean presentation run through with a nerviness throughout, carrying into an ultra long juicy finish. There is a nice blend of elements here — great juiciness with a softened aromatic, and a light pinch of dryness on the finish.

* Two Shepherds, Santa Rosa, 2013 Grenache Gris Rosé
presented by William Allen, 35 cases

Drawing from 100+ year old, dry farmed vines in Mendocino, Two Shepherds delivers a pink-red fruit-and-floral spiced example of the uncommon variety. The wine offers delicate (without weakness) flavor complexity with a slippery mouthfeel and crunchy, lightly drying finish. The focus here is on clean fruit expression and juiciness with integrated natural fruit spice.

Ranchero Cellars, Paso Robles, 2010 Carignan, Columbini Vineyard
presented by Amy Butler, 150 cases

Based in Paso Robles, but sourcing Carignan from 90+ year old vines in Mendocino County, Ranchero Cellars delivers vibrant while dark aromatics with a body of earthy fruit and flower of wild rose and dark floral musk, touched by a faint mint lift. This is a super juicy wine with easy tannin grip and a moderately long drying finish.

Folin Cellars, Gold Hill, 2010 Red Blend “Misceo”
presented by Rob Folin, 40% Syrah 40% Mourvedre 20% Grenache, 225 cases

Celebrating Rhones in Southern Oregon, Folin Cellars gives a classic, well balanced Rhone red blend with a focus on dark fruit and floral accents, integrated through with natural fruit spice character and a moderately long cracked pepper finish. There is nice palate tension and texture on this wine. It’s offers a drying palate, juicy enough for movement, and clean fruit expression. This is a wine perfect for salumi.

* MacLaren Wine Co, Sonoma, 2010 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard
presented by Steve Law, 122 cases

With fruit from Bennett Valley, the MacLaren Wine Co offers a ton of yes!-ness in really a pretty, while hard to describe Syrah. The wine opens to pretty, round aromatics with menthol accents, then turns into a super juicy palate of dark rock and quartz mineral crunch, and savory earth elements brushed through with floral lines. The wine gives a surprising, clean, floral presentation with an earthy underbelly and integrated spice and herbal elements. I vote yes!

Kukkula, Paso Robles, 2012 Red Blend “Noir”
presented by Kevin Jussila, 86% Syrah 14% Counoise, 149 cases

From the Westside of Paso Robles, the Kukkula red blend presents dark cherry and alpine strawberry fruit candy aromatics moving into a juicy palate of dark plum with blossom, wild violet musk, and menthol with cracked pepper finish. The wine moves from floral aromatics into a musky juicy palate. There is just enough tannin grip for a pleasing mouthfeel but the focus is on juiciness and length.


Thank you to the Rhone Rangers and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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Tasting Grenache with the Rhone Rangers

West Coast Grenache Noir

This recent weekend the Rhone Rangers hosted their Spring event featuring the largest U.S. Rhone-focused tasting in the country, the induction of Tablas Creek founder Robert Haas into their Hall of Fame, and two educational seminars. The second seminar focused in specifically on West Coast North American iterations of Grenache Noir, looking at the work of eight winemakers from distinctive regions, and moderated by Luke Sykora of Wine and Spirits Magazine.

Grenache Noir Characteristicsclick on image to enlarge

In selecting Grenache as a focal point, the seminar turned its attention to characteristics of the world’s most planted Rhone variety. Depending on site and winemaking style, the grape offers a medium bodied wine ranging from bright red juiciness with supple tannin to more weighted fleshiness and darker red-to-purple flavors.

Though the variety is prone to dropping acid, it can offer a wash of flavor with lots of juicy flow when picked before acids drop. The tannin of the variety too tends towards the lighter side, analogous to Pinot Noir in tannin presence. Many winemakers take advantage of the characteristic to offer more delicate expression, but in good Southern Rhone tradition blending with even a touch of other varieties such as Syrah can increase the heft of the final wine.

In selecting the wines for the panel, the Rhone Rangers Educational Committee chose to pick wines from distinctive regions. Though Grenache proves to be the world’s most planted Rhone variety, its development in California and Oregon vinification is still in its earlier stages. As a result, a number of the wines shown represented the first vintage of working with the grape, even from experienced winemakers.

Bob Lindquist of Qupé opened the panel expressing his affection for the variety. He brings a wealth of experience with Rhone grapes from Santa Barbara County to the table. As example, because Grenache varieties are prone to oxidation their aging before bottling needs to be carefully considered. However, as Lindquist discussed, Grenache does better texturally with some slow oxygen exposure. With that in mind, it is rare to see Grenache aged in Stainless. Most winemakers choose oak, though some are also starting to use concrete, to allow for slow air exchange.

The delicacy of Grenache favors neutral oak. However, making the point about the importance of site, Chris Cameron of Broken Earth on the Eastside of Paso Robles explained that, with the warmer temperatures of their region, small portions of new oak help showcase more flavor complexity in the wine.

The Rhone Rangers Grenache Panel Wines

The panel showcased well-made examples of Grenache from a range of growing conditions. Half of the wines presented as still quite tight in their presentation currently due to age, thus wanting more time in bottle or more air before drinking. Following are notes for each of the wines.

Quady North, Jacksonville, Oregon, 2012 Grenache “Bomba”presented by Herb Quady (95% Grenache 5% Syrah)

From Southern Oregon, the Quady North Bomba offers a rocky rusticity with lots of palate tension moving through a long juicy finish. The wine is quite young right now wanting more time in bottle to open but showing structure that speaks well for its future expression. The aromatics give dark cherry musk moving into a brighter palate with the full range of cherry elements–red cherry, cherry blossom musk, branch and leaf oil–all accented by hints of pink grapefruit oil. The palate is tight right now but carries a pleasing tension, and good juicy length.

Mounts Family Winery, Healdsburg, CA, 2011 Grenache Estate
presented by David Mounts

Using fruit from Dry Creek Valley, the Mounts Estate steps out of the glass with a mixed red fruit carbonic lift moving into a darker fruit palate. The wine is still tight on the palate wanting more time in bottle. It moves from smashed red cherry and raspberry blossom into floral musk accents on a line of cracked pepper and a perfumed, lightly drying finish. The nose right now is rather singular and lightly cloying, but there is a nice textural element to the moderate tannin and good tension through the palate.

Campovida, Hopland, CA, 2012 Grenache, Dark Horse Vineyards
presented by Sebastian Donoso

Their first vintage working with Grenache from Mendocino, the Campovida Dark Horse Vineyard brings an integrated fruit-earth-floral aromatic forward into the palate. The wine offers both red cherry and blossom, with floral powder notes showing through a savory cracked pepper mid-palate and accents of pink grapefruit zest. The wine is still tightly focused in its presentation but gives a nice juiciness to tannin balance and good length.

Miner Family Wines, 2012 Grenache, Hudson Vineyards
presented by Maura Christoffers

The Miner Family showed their Grenache sourced from Hudson Vineyard in the cooler Napa region of Carneros, the first crop yield year for the fruit. The wine gives soft red cherry with wild pink rose through a spiced and mint lift aromatic carrying forward on the palate with a light cherry powder mid-palate and clay finish. The wine offers an easy acid-tannin balance, and long finish.

Baiocchi Wines, Fair Play, CA, 2010 Grenache, Sharon’s Vineyard
presented by Greg Baiocchi

With fruit from a small, high elevation planting in El Dorado county region of the Sierra Foothills, the Baiocchi Sharon’s Vineyard gives the nervy tension characteristic of granite slopes. The aromatics here offer feminine perfumed lift with accents of green chili. The palate offers a smooth powdered cherry blossom and cracked pepper mid-palate with powerful flavor, strong structural tension, and a round floral finish. There is a ton of presence to this wine, with textural tannin and plenty of juiciness to keep it moving through a long finish.

* McCay Cellars, Lodi, CA, 2011 Grenache
presented by Michael McCay

My favorite of the wines on the panel, the McCay Grenache offers a sense of completeness that makes it ready to drink now with a distinctiveness that stands out within a line-up of Grenache. Showing alpine strawberry and wild cherry throughout, on the palate the wine gives the suave tannin of a sandier site with nice juiciness. There is a beautiful flavor-to-feel balance, and nice palate contact-to-movement dance, that both carry through with lots of delicate (without being weak) prettiness.

* Qupe, Los Olivos, CA, 2011 Grenache, Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard
presented by Bob Lindquist

Growing their fruit in Edna Valley, Qupé‘s Sawyer-Linquist Vineyard offers nice complexity with ease and a great focus on grounded juiciness. This is a nicely made wine giving lifted perfume of red cherry tree, touches of strawberry, and menthol accents carrying forward into a light pleasing palate with ruby grapefruit peel and integrated fruit spice through a long juicy palate. This wine is full of mouthwatering flavor.

Broken Earth, Paso Robles, CA, 2012 Grenache Estate
presented by Chris Cameron

From the warmer side of Paso Robles, the Broken Earth Estate carries the most overt accessibility with a spiced finish of the wines on the panel. This Grenache focuses in on the pinker side of red fruit aroma and flavor carrying red berry candy powder elements through the mid-palate and accents of ginger powder with light clove touched by black pepper through the finish, all on a body of melting tannin and juicy length. I have to admit that this wine is not my style as its focus stays more on sweet (not sugary) pink-red fruit flavor but it is a well done example of its type.


Thank you to the Rhone Rangers, and Luke Sykora.

Thank you to William Allen.

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


The Eyrie 2000 Marguerite Pinot Noir: Wine to be grateful for

Drinking Eyrie 2000 Marguerite Pinot Noir

In the year 2000, one of the founders of a U.S. American wine region celebrated the birth of his first grandchild by creating a special cuvée of Pinot Noir from the best of his vineyards. He named the wine Marguerite, for his granddaughter.

A large part of my admiration for wine rests in the way heritage, creative expression, agricultural abundance, and dedication all coalesce, dancing together in one bottle–the glass poured, then, also bringing together the best of our senses with our intellect. In the most beautiful wines the power of such intersections shine lit from the glass–unspoken and alive on the palate, enlivening too the heart of the person enjoying.

The Eyrie Marguerite

click on illustration to enlarge

In the year 2000, in recognition of the birth of his first grandchild, Marguerite, David Lett reserved a special Pinot Noir cuvée from the best of his vineyards. This year, Jason Lett released the wine.

The Eyrie Vineyards Marguerite carries an elegant and beautiful nose atop a delicate palate. It’s a wine that rests in subtlety, that does not exert itself but instead opens over time, gaining richness and life over the second, and on into the third day.

The wine dances with homemade beef and mushroom broth, caramelized peaches, and spearmint coupled by accents of rose petal, blueberry bramble, and herbal lift on a frame of easy reverie. This is a wine that rests in this world and reflects easily into the next. It does not concern itself with tradition, yet arises from it. It knows itself too well to convince you. The love is already there. It was made from it.


Thank you to Jason Lett. This is one of the wines I give thanks for this holiday season.

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Willamette Valley’s Brooks Rieslings: A Tasting

Tasting Brooks with Janie Brooks Heuck

A couple of weeks ago Janie Brooks Heuck and Revel Wine hosted a Brooks Riesling tasting at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. The event brought together a small group of writers and wine industry folks to taste through four flights including two dry Riesling verticals, one 2012 horizontal showing soil variation, and one off-dry to sweet style flight.

The grape has been planted through the Willamette Valley since the early stages of their industry, however, initial styles were largely unsuccessful. Most early examples are today jokingly compared to Sprite. The future of Riesling in Willamette Valley became uncertain, then, when many early planters of the variety began pulling vines to shift attention to the more sale-able Chardonnay.

Jimi Brooks, however, saw potential in the Valley’s cool climate viticulture for the grape. He wished to preserve the heritage Riesling plantings in the region, with the idea that older vines would also produce higher quality fruit. He spent years hunting old vineyards, and convincing vineyard owners if they kept their vines, he’d buy their harvest. Some of the oldest Riesling vines in Willamette, then, continue today thanks partially to Jimi’s work. Brooks Wines now owns one of the oldest Riesling vineyard in the region, planted in 1974 on own roots.

Following are drawn notes, and brief information for each of the four flights tasted.

Tasting Dry Rieslings

Brooks Willamette Valleyclick on illustration to enlarge

Brooks’ winemaker, Chris Williams, ferments everything in small lots, then generating the best blend.

The Brooks’ Willamette Valley dry Riesling consists primarily of Brooks’ Estate fruit, with some grapes from sites further up Valley as well. The Willamette Valley blend flight began with the 2004 vintage, Chris’s first vintage as winemaker for Brooks. The second wine, 2007, was the coldest vintage on record at the time, later trumped for depth of chill first by 2010, and finally by 2011, the current coldest on record. 2009, on the other hand, was one of the Valley’s hottest vintages, with consistently higher yields and higher alcohols throughout Willamette. The first flight, then, shows a generous range of climate impact on the Willamette Valley blend, with lots of youth still throughout the four wines. The Willamette Valley blend is considered one of Brooks’ flagship whites. It reliably offers intense juiciness and linear character. I am a fan of its focus on mouth quencing acidity.

Brooks Araclick on illustration to enlarge

Another flagship white for Brooks, the Ara offers pretty floral notes alongside juicy length, countering the more linear character of the Willamette Valley blend. The five-year span on the Ara flight showed how beautifully the wine ages, with 2005 carrying a still youthful presentation.

Brooks 2012click on illustration to enlarge

In order to showcase the soil variation expressed through Riesling, Janie and Chris selected a 2012 horizontal of their three dry wines. The Yamhill grows from sedimentary soils giving a complex, multi-fruit focused presentation consistently showing peach and green apple through vintages. The Estate fruit, however, grows from volcanic soils and moves to a more floral and citrus focus. The Ara offers a blend of both soil types bringing the advantages of each with plush fruit character, lifted floral aromatics, and long juicy lines.

Tasting Off-dry and Sweet Rieslings

Brooks Off-Dry Sweetclick on illustration to enlarge

Today, Brooks produces nine different Riesling labels ranging through each step of the dry-to-sweet range. Though the overall tasting was focused primarily on dry wines, the final flight offered insight into their medium-dry and sweet styles.

Chris likes to entertain the sweet-to-juicy balance, letting the acidity focus wash the residual sugar from the palate. Though my preference falls strongly in the dry category of Rieslings, Brooks off dry, off sweet, and sweet wines have consistently proven pleasant to drink. With the winemaker’s focus on keeping acidity up, and Willamette’s cooler climate supporting that goal, their wines with residual sugar move through the palate with lots of palate stimulation and juicy length. The final flight, as well as the dry flights, showed again the quality of Brooks’ Rieslings. I am a fan.

Thank you to Janie Brooks Heuck, Chris Williams, and Dan Fredman.

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Food Pairing Willamette Valley Pinot Blanc at Serious Eats

The every-other-week wine and food pairing illustration is up today over at Serious Eats.

Serious Eats Pinot Blanc

Check it out here:


Raising Big Table Farm: Photos from a Visit

The Big Table Farm Barn Effort

This summer Big Table Farm will begin building a new barn to serve as their on site winery. They’ve been using a shared space since getting started in 2006.

To make the effort easier, they’ve created a Barn Raising Founders’ Offering that gives people the opportunity to support the cost of the barn building and receive 6 magnums of wine as well.

To read more about the Big Table Farm Barn Raising, check out Clare’s blog here:

I’ll post on their current portfolio of wines soon but in the meantime I wanted to share photos of our visit from last summer.

Beautiful Big Table Farm, Gaston, Oregon

Here are the photos of their beautiful home.

Approaching Big Table Farm

approaching Big Table Farm

Last summer I was lucky enough to spend a month in Willamette Valley, welcomed by a host of wonderful people into local life. The region celebrates an incredible down-to-earth sense of community. The feeling of it echos through the calm of the residents, and in their stories of sharing equipment, technique tips, and meals. It’s a place for which I hold strong affection.

The Front Door

Artist Clare Carver and Winemaker Brian Marcy, the husband-and-wife team behind Big Table Farm Wines, invited Rusty Gaffney, aka The Prince of Pinot, and his wife, Patricia, and me for dinner one night. What a hoot! The entire dinner was made from Brian and Clare’s farm (with a bit of cheese from down the road), and their wines (along with an excellent old Burgundy plus a Sonoma Coast Pinot).

Looking Across the Living Room into Clare's Studio

looking across the living room into Clare’s art studio

Big Table Farm makes great Pinot Noir in Oregon, and one of my favorite domestic Rieslings (from the Brooks Vineyard) as well. In a recent North to South West Coast N. America Pinot Noir tasting theirs were among the top contenders. Their Riesling was a hit at last years Summer of Riesling party here in Napa Valley too.

Art on the Walls

Establishing the roots of his viticulture and oenology training at UC Davis, Brian Marcy moved to Napa Valley in 1996 working for the likes of Neyers Vineyards, Turley Wine Cellars, and Marcassin, mixing a stint in Australia with Trevor Jones Fine Wines in the middle.

The 2011 Rose'

the 2011 Pinot Noir rosé to start (Clare hand draws, then letterpress prints the labels. Each is hand cut and placed on the bottle. They also change each vintage while keeping a recognizable theme from their farm–more of their labels follow below.)

Clare Carver’s career, on the other hand, took her through art school all the way into Napa Valley, showcasing her fine art along the way in California and Oregon, and leading into a wine label design business as well. The couple met in California.

Clare with the Prince and Princess of Pinot and her two workhorses

we started with a tour of the farm–Clare’s work horses, they plow the garden

In 2006, however, they moved North to Willamette Valley, Oregon, recognizing the insurmountable nature of the Napa real estate market. In moving, they were able to establish their label, Big Table Farm, and their home on 70 acres in Gaston, Oregon.

the goat

“We always knew we had more in us than just mowing the lawn.” Marcy explains. “We just didn’t know it was all this.” The couple’s Big Table Farm site includes two flocks of chickens–some for meat, some for eggs–at least two pigs (again for meat), meat cattle, gardens, and bees, all tended by the two themselves and their two work horses.

Clare and the Laughing Pigs

the laughing pigs, Petunia and Rose

“We’ve done a lot of research since moving here,” Clare explains. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma gave us a lot of inspiration. We got our chickens a bus, instead of a coop. They roam all over.” The name of their endeavor arises from the creative, full investment approach they take to their home. “The best food is fresher, and when it comes from your own work, it’s just a little bit sweeter. We love to eat and drink. The big table aspect encompasses the whole picture, the art and the food.”

Looking out across the farm

getting ready for dinner. Brian cooked a fantastic meal including homemade bread, fresh vegetables, and meat cooked in an egg smoker.

The farm approach also arises out of Carver’s own love for animals. “I brought home animals faster than Brian could build fences,” she says. Still, the animals are not simply pets but help to maintain the longevity of the situation with chickens, cattle, and pigs seeing regular turn over for meat. Carver explained that their first year harvesting animals was hardest. Now the day of slaughter is still a challenge but they have found a way of showing respect to the animals and at the same time getting it done quickly that frames the experience more readily.

Getting ready for dinner

Big Table Farm Pinots, a 1999 Burgundy, and a Sonoma Pinot

The couple have not yet planted vines on their own property. As Marcy explains, “When we plant grapes it will be well thought out and researched. We’re still finding out what the climate in this little canyon is.” In the meantime, they’ve been buying grapes since beginning their label. To focus on quality, they source fruit from vineyards in which they are able to establish long-term relationships with growers, and also buy grapes by the acre, not the ton. The approach is risky in Willamette’s vintage-by-vintage varied climate, but it gives them closer understanding of the fruit. Their goal in building an on site winery is to extend that closer contact even further into the wine.

Dinner with friends

from left: Clare Carver, Brian Marcy, Rusty and Patricia Gaffney

Wakawaka and the Prince

Clare titled this: Wakawaka Meets the Prince


Clementine, one of their two honey dogs.

To feed the Farm’s pigs and chickens Clare developed an organic non-corn, non-soy grain blend and then started a grain cooperative to share the mix with others through the area.

Sweet peas

Clare tells me that bees bump a person three times before they sting. They don’t want to sting since it would kill them, after all. Her suggestion is that the best thing to do when encountering a bee is to take a deep breath (with your mouth closed?) and back away slowly. (Sounds like a bear.)

Clare's label design

a quick glance at some of Clare’s label design work

One of the impressive aspects of Clare’s label portfolio is how varied the styles are. If you line the labels up side by side you can’t recognize the same person designed each of them. She says she loves “the process of helping a winery find their story through their label.” In asking her about the variation through the portfolio she comments, “it’s not my story. It’s their story.” Each design is meant to express them.


To read more about Big Table Farm:

More on their Barn Raising Effort:

The Prince of Pinot’s Account of the Winery & their Wines:

Forbes Collection of this year’s coolest wine labels:


Best of luck to Clare and Brian as they make this next leap forward. I am rooting for you.

Thank you to Clare and Brian for having me.

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

Photos from Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2013

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

One of the great annual food and wine extravaganzas on the West Coast United States occurs each Spring in Pebble Beach. The town becomes host to the best chefs, wines, and sommeliers from all over the world, as well as the folks that want to be there to drink in their offerings.

Here are photos surveying some of the activities I was lucky enough to attend over three of the four days (it begins Thursday but I arrived Friday).

Friday:The Grand Tour: European Continental Cuisine Lunch, featuring Wines of Portugal

Pebble Beach

Garden lunch reception begins at Pebble Beach

Salmon Cavier Popsicles

appetizers are served on the lawn, Chef Roland Passot’s Salmon Lollipop, w Quinta da Raza, Raza 2011 Vinho Verde

Cassolette des Fruits des Mer Printaniere

Inside for a seated lunch: Chef Johan Bjorklund’s Cassolette, w Companhia das Quintas, Quinta da Romeira 2011

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes by Chef Michael Ginor, w Esparao Reserva 2008

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Wines of Portugal

Portuguese wines from lunch

Ruinart Private Dinner

The Ruinart Table

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis discuss final dinner preparations


welcome with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

Ruinart Dinner Setting

Ragout of spring vegetables

Ragout of spring vegetables, seared foie gras, truffle vegetable nage, served w Dom Ruinart Rosé 1998

the brilliantly improvised skatewing and uni course

beautifully improvised dish of Skatewing w fresh Sea Urchin, Sourdough Bread, paealla, open clams, and fresh peas, served w Dom Ruinart 2002, and 1998

Dom Ruinart Rose 1990 and 1996

Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 and 1996

Chef Morimoto Master Cooking Demonstration w Ruinart Champagne

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Frederic Panaiotis preparing for the demonstration

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis prepare before the demonstration

The preparations

the view before hand in the demonstration mirror

Chef and Chef de Caves

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

The demonstration tent

Panaiotis discussing food pairings as Morimoto preps

the event begins. Frédéric Panaiotis introduces Ruinart Champagne

The crowd

Offering sushi

Chef Morimoto gives sushi for Chef de Caves Panaiotis some final touches

Fans with Morimoto

the audience excited for pictures after the demonstration

Fans for Morimoto

Ridge Monte Bello Panel at Spanish Bay

View from Spanish Bay

the view at Spanish Bay

Flowers seaside

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Nine vintage vertical of Monte Bello–1984, 1995, 2006-2012

The Ridge Panel

The Ridge Discussion Panel preparing

Ridge Monte Bello Barrel Samples

2011 and 2012 are still in barrel

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Battle of the Coasts: WEST Dinner

Starting dinner with Dom

beginning with Dom Perignon 2003

Opening Course

Uni by Chef Dominique Crenn, served w Grieve Family Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Black Cioppino

Black Cioppino by Chef Thomas McNaughton, served w Clendenen Family Chardonnay “Le Bon Climat” 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake by Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson, served w Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2003

The Grand Tasting

Food at the Grand Tasting

Grand Tasting

Pouring Wind Gap

Pax Mahle pouring Wind Gap Wines

Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Brooks Wines

Brooks Riesling

Brooks, Willamette Valley Riesling and Pinot Noir

Chef preparing food

Chef projector

The Lindt Chef Projector (This image talked about the chocolate while the real her was standing 5-ft away talking about the chocolate. It was a trip.)

Pouring Palmina

Steve Clifton pouring Palmina Wines

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque, and Frederic Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

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Tasting Origins: Original Vine Pinot Gris, Eyrie Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon

In 1965 David Lett planted what would be the first Pinot Gris vineyard in North America, 160 cuttings placed in the ground on their own roots in the Willamette Valley. Today those vines still give fruit, and serve as the source material for all of Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris vines.

Jason Lett and I spoke recently about these grapes in particular. “Dad had done cuvée from the original vines, and they were delicious” but Eyrie had never sold such bottlings separately. Jason had wanted to find a way to pay homage to these original vines, however, and so in 2008 started playing with the fruit. He’s produced two different styles of wine with bunches from the original vines. One, a Ramato style, with the fruit fermented on skins for an extended period, then left for extended élevage as well. The other a sans soufre bottling meant to keep the wine as close to the juice of the vineyard as possible. Yesterday, I opened a sample bottle of the 2011 sans soufre.

Drinking the Eyrie Vineyards 2011 Original Vines Pinot Gris

Eyrie Original Vine Pinot Gris 2011

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The wine evolves in the glass. At first opening it offers the tang of carrots and tomato leaf fresh from the garden, an herbal lifted nose and palate. The wine uncurls over the course of the day–lofted, fresh aromas, apricot and plum, just cut button roses, bread with light honey lifting from the glass. The palate moves as well. There is a stimulating vitamin buzz through the mouth carrying into a long soil and saline finish. The flavors offer lilies with their greens, fresh bread and grain with hints of butter, and the groundedness of coffee. The overall presentation is fresh, delicate while lively. I admire this wine both for its history and for its interest.


Thank you to Jason Lett for extending this wine to me.

The Original Vines Pinot Gris bottlings from Eyrie Vineyards will be released later this Spring. (I have a bottle of the 2009 Ramato as well and have been reluctant to open it, the gift of irreplaceable treasure. Though I can’t wait to view its copper color.)

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Oregon and California Chardonnay for Fall, for Katherine

Chardonnays from Northern California and Willamette Valley Oregon

Katherine asked if we could feature Chardonnays for Fall. So, several of us got together and tasted through a range of examples from Oregon and California. The goal was to taste wines from a mix of price points, that avoided oak bomb problems, while still showing a range of styles and generally up acidity, with each known to be a good example of the style in which they’re made. Part of the intention was also to bring together wines from Oregon with wines from California. The resulting collection drew from 7 Willamette Valley, Oregon wines, and 5 from Napa and Sonoma counties in California, plus 1 from the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Following are descriptions for each of the wines.

Along with Katherine’s request, the Antica Terra Aurata was the bottle that inspired this tasting. My sister and I were lucky enough to meet with Maggie Harrison earlier this summer and taste the earlier presentation of this same wine. Knowing the Aurata was about to be released I decided the best way to share it with friends was by showing it alongside other well-made Chardonnays. The opportunity to enjoy multiple wines side by side affords a different style of insight into the wine than simply drinking one on its own does (I drank more of these on their own later).


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Willamette Valley, Oregon Chardonnay

Antica Terra Aurata 2010 $75. The Aurata is vibrant, clean and stimulating. Its presentation is well-tuned, offering a feminine while racy mouthfeel that gives simultaneously a polished textural element and a bunch of mouth stimulation. This wine offers presence in the mouth. It avoids dominating your palate, while at the same time pulling you to attention with interest. What this wine does well is bring together rich flavors with swift structural movement and nice textural mouthfeel, all together avoiding any sense of heaviness or overwhelm. There are elements of caramel and citrus blossom, light candy powder, white and pink grapefruit, and meyer lemon. 12.9% alcohol. Vibrant acidity. Long finish.

Brick House 2009 $30. Though Brick House red wines are often well thought of and appreciated, the 2009 Chardonnay does not show the same advantages. The 2009 drank chunky and disjointed with a heavy blanket of reductive funk on the nose that marred the fruit characteristics lingering in the background, then the finish bottomed out and disappeared. Decanting or air does not help here. The wine simply drinks like it is trying to be something it isn’t. From what I know of Brick House wines and have read of this one in particular I am wanting to believe the effect might be bottle variation. Still, for this price I have to be honest and warn, be careful. 13.6% alcohol.

Cooper Mountain Reserve 2009 $15. The Cooper Mountain Reserve wins the value challenge. The Reserve takes fruit entirely from the Cooper Mountain estate, blending fruit from vines planted in 1978, 1982, and 1999, after fermentation and aging through a mix of stainless and old oak. The presentation you get here is well balanced with a rich while delicate, well-integrated range of flavors on a hardy backbone of structure. You get caramel and light spice on the nose coming through with citrus blossom, light beeswax, and hints of toast. These carry into the palate culminating in a great zing finish, and a mouth tightening after finish. 13% alcohol, medium acidity, medium-long finish. Cooper Mountain grows both organic and biodynamic certified fruit.

Cooper Mountain Old Vines 2010 $30. Cooper Mountain’s Old Vine bottling draws only from the fruit of the 1978 plantings of Estate Chardonnay, grown via organic and biodynamic certified farming. Even at the higher price this wine offers value. It is one of the most pleasing of all the wines tasted offering a smooth mouthfeel, and clean presentation. The nose offers citrus blossom with light melon undertones, chamomile and orange blossom, with hints of graphite. There are elements of butter cream pastry and meyer lemon plus lime blossom here with a pleasing bergamot finish. 13% alcohol.

Domaine Drouhin Arthur 2010 $28. The Arthur was split into two lots with half fermented in French oak barrels (30% new), and the other in Stainless Steel, then blended after to create a wine with rich flavors and a more delicate body. Domaine Drouhin consistently offers well made wines, and this chardonnay drinks as though it is made by someone that knows precisely how to work with the grape. It offers a clean presentation with good acidity and a breadth of flavor. There is a light cedar and nut touch to the nose with floral and orchard fruit elements, a smooth mouthfeel and lingering finish. 13.9% alcohol.

Evesham Wood 2011 $18. The value on this wine is impressive. You get a lot for your money here. The nose offers citrus and lily flowers, carrying over into the palate with nutskin, and dried sage alongside notes of mace and light wax. The Evesham Wood offers a smooth mouthfeel with medium alcohol (12.5%), medium+ acidity, and a medium finish. Erin Nuccio, and his wife Jordan, have recently taken over the Evesham Wood project, after producing Haden Fig at the location since its beginning. Erin’s wines are worth keeping an eye on as they show good quality, while doing well at maintaining value.

St Innocent Freedom Hill Vineyard 2010 $24. The scent of movie house and microwave popcorn–the butter and salt of it–stood out most for me on this wine. It lessened with air, but was there still when I revisited the wine again later that first day, and again on the second day. There is a citrus blossom finish with a zing to the after finish. The wine was made in older oak, with full malolactic fermentation. 14% alcohol.

Northern California Chardonnay

Donelan Nancie 2011 $45. The fruit from Donelan’s 2011 Nancie comes from a blend of three vineyards offering a mix of older vines, and some elevation plantings. There is a rich and smooth mouthfeel here with a good mouthwatering stimulation of movement. The wine presents a vibrant nose of citrus blossom, very light butter, faint hints of leather and mushroom, all carrying forward into the palate with a tingling finish. The wine is barrel fermented and goes through partial malolactic fermentation. This wine though still young, drinks with sprightly complexity now. 13.7% alcohol.

J. Rochioli South River Vineyard 2009 $75. The South River Vineyard Chardonnay from Rochioli Vineyards offers 100% Hanzell selection fruit. Rochioli is one of the few vineyards outside Hanzell itself that has this particular clone, regarded as a heritage clone of the plant. The South River Vineyard chardonnay represents a very small production site specific wine from Rochioli Estate, one of the practices the winery is known for. This particular chardonnay represents the wine with the most apparent oak flavor influence in this tasting. In that way, it is the richest flavor profile offered, while avoiding any issues of ‘oak bomb.’ The nose offers chamomile, hints of cut grass, meyer lemon, orange blossom and light butter. On the palate there is a showing of integrated light butterscotch and butter with a touch of scotch whisky alongside chamomile and orange blossom. 14.5% alcohol.

Massican Gemina 2011 $45. The Massican Chardonnay uses all Hyde Vineyard fruit, and gives the most focused presentation and most fragrant nose of the tasting. The wine is also a rush of vibrancy in the mouth, with ultra clean flavors. Its flavors and nose are tropical, and floral without being cloying or sweet. The layers open as the wine warms giving tropical and white grapefruit with lychee notes. The wine offers a zingy round and textural finish. The Massican offers the most distinctive acid focus of the wines tasted. I like the vibrancy of this wine now and want to taste it again in a few years when the acidity has calmed some. No malolactic fermentation occurred here. Only 85 cases produced. 13.6 % alcohol.

Matthiasson 2011 $25. Another example of impressive value, the Matthiasson Chardonnay is a stand out for what it offers at the price. It utilizes all clone 4 fruit from an old riverbed vineyard in Napa Valley–the result is a well-focused wine with a smooth mouthfeel offering vibrant floral and spice elements alongside orchard and citrus blossom, and dried white sage notes. There is also a very light caramel toast here. The wine offers medium+ acidity with a medium-long finish, and 13.5% alcohol. I like the feel and flavor of this wine now, and also look forward to tasting it again with the complexity offered from more time in the bottle. This wine is a stand-out.

Ridge Estate 2010 $30. Ridge Estate, from the famed Monte Bello property, offers a glimpse at classic California chardonnay style–before the oak bomb stereotype became a norm. There is a richness of flavor here riding a spine of acidic focus. You get vibrancy and breadth of flavor both. The wine brings together round, lush flavors focused on citrus and hints of pear, with touches of butter, and a zippy finish of mineral salt. 14.2% alcohol with tingling acidity, and a medium-long finish. Ridge is known for allowing natural, wild-yeast fermentation and malolactic fermentation in barrel. 10% new oak.

Rochioli Estate 2010 $50. The Rochioli Estate chardonnay offers a rich presentation with the juiciness to carry the flavors forward. The nose shows toasted brioche with light nut, orange and pear blossom, hints of pear, and bergamot. The fruit and floral qualities carry over in the palate with the sense of toasted brioche and light caramel alongside. Rochioli integrates the most apparent sense of oak flavor elements from the wines tasted, and shows how to do so in an integrated overall presentation with balance. This is a rich wine, but has the movement to carry the flavor. It will also do well with additional age allowing the brioche and caramel elements to deepen further. 14.5% alcohol.


The Antica Terra, Cooper Mountain, Donelan, Massican, Matthiasson, and Rochioli wines were provided as samples.

Thank you to Katherine for requesting a chardonnay focus.

Thank you to Tyler, Joe, Davis, and William for tasting the wines with me.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews–accept no substitute.

Tasting the Visual, Sharing Influence: Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wine, Shape Tasting

Patrick Reuter’s Shape Tasting

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Studying aspects of wine or viticulture at UC Davis, it was standard practice for students to participate in regular wine tastings, taking notes on flavor and structure while tasting. Over time, substantial catalogs of wine notes were recorded, each student with their own notebook listing aspects of a wine experience.

During his studies, Patrick Reuter, co-owner and wine maker of Dominio IV Wines in Oregon, developed his own log listing characteristics of wines from weekly in depth tastings. Over time, however, he recognized that when he reviewed this information he’d recorded, he had no clear recollection of the wines themselves. The lists began to look remarkably the same–standard wine notes naming fruit, acid and tannin made no genuine impression on his memory.

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Reuter began experimenting with what impressions from wine did make sense to him, and found himself sketching notes of wine rather than listing attributes. What he found was that when he recorded the visual experience he had of a wine’s flavors, the memory of the wine remained. Looking back over his drawings of a wine experience, Reuter could more readily recall the wine he’d tasted, even long after.

close up of Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, by Patrick Reuter

Eventually Reuter realized he could use his wine sketching as a tool for his wine making. One of the challenges with listed tasting notes is in how they treat wine as a static snapshot in time, as if all flavors and the structure present simultaneously. That is, tasting notes generally offer only a limited description of a wine, they do not show how the presentation changes in your mouth. But, by incorporating a sense of time and duration into his drawings, Reuter could record and then analyze a sense of the structure and layout of the wine as a whole. He could draw for himself an image of the wines presentation–whether it was all fruit up front; how full or not the mid-palate was; how long the finish carried and whether different flavors arose there. In doing so, he could then also see where a particular wine might be deficient, or overly powerful.

When it came to blending, he could draw the presentation of different barrels and then go back over the images to see where different barrels might best complement each other to produce a better blend. As Reuter explains, “you might have a barrel that is fruity up front, but then there is a gap [where the flavors fall away]. Visually you can see the gap. But another barrel, it might fill that gap. In the drawings, you can see that, and then use it for blending.”

Dominio IV 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah. Click on image to enlarge.

Moving from left to right shows the development of the wine over time. The width of the image from bottom to top shows how full the wine presents on the palate, and where the flavors and structure offer the most concentration.

Developing Shape Tasting

Dominio IV 2006 Tempranillo.

An early shape tasting image by Patrick Reuter

The image still shows the wine over time, with the large circles representing the late mid-palate, but Reuter had not yet incorporated text, or more subtle drawing elements into his tasting notes. As Reuter describes the experience of this tasting image–”The wine starts and you are rolling in texture. You come to the mid-palate and it’s so big you don’t know if you are going to come out the end of it. Then, suddenly it’s all finish.”

In recognizing his own interest in presenting wine visually, Reuter began reading more about synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway, like taste, triggers a response in another sensory pathway, like vision. The experience of synesthesia is such that people will do things like see flavors, or recognize certain letters with a particular color. Studies have shown that synesthesia is incredibly common in children, and that with acculturation the experience lessens for most people into adulthood. However, for some people, some synesthetic experience remains into adulthood. It also appears possible that such experiences can be cultivated.

A Shape Tasting Workshop for Wine Distributors led by Patrick Reuter. Photo by Patrick Reuter.

After developing a clearer sense of his own Shape Tasting method–an image shows wine presentation over time, left to right; rounder shapes represent fruits; colors purposefully reflect flavors; lines are acidity; x’s and checks are tannin and texture–Reuter was encouraged to share the process with others.

Recently, a visit from wine distributors getting familiar with Oregon wine was planned, and a visit to taste with Dominio IV was included for them. Reuter decided the best way to make his wines memorable for the visitors was to help them go more deeply into the experience, rather than just focus on a typical high speed tasting style. He prepared, then, to have them perform their own Shape Tasting process. After briefly tasting each of the wines, Reuter asked each person to select the wine that spoke to them most strongly, then to receive another pour of that wine and spend more time with it. He guided them through the Shape Tasting process and then everyone took half an hour to draw their experience of the wine, leaving then, with their own graphical representation of their favorite Dominio IV wine.

Dominio IV 2006 “Song” Syrah

In talking through Shape Tasting with Reuter, something amazing happens.

I’ve been asking him to walk me through how his experience of visually tasting wine works, and then too to tell me the steps he went through in developing his tasting images. The most recent ones (like the 2008 Syrah that opens this post through several close-ups, and the 2011 Viognier that follows next) I find so beautiful.

He tells me about work he did with Skip Walter in Seattle to get clearer on thinking of his Shape Tasting drawings as a kind of artistic graph. It is this combination of careful precision to drawing an accurate image of the wine’s duration and fullness of presentation, with the artistic expression of that, that fascinates me. Because of the determination to graph the process of tasting wine, the drawings offer a sort of mathematics of experience.

But then, unexpectedly, he pulls out the 2006 “Song” drawing (above) and points to the words incorporated into the image (the earlier images, like that for the 2006 Tempranillo, shown earlier above, notice have no text), and says, “that’s when I found your website.” I am stunned. And then he tells me how seeing my wine comics made him realize he could further develop his Shape Tasting images to be both more accessible, or readable to people in general in how they show others the experience of the wine, and to do so by offering something to both visual and textual learners. What he’s developed through this incorporation since is a pleasing aesthetic balance in the images. These drawings look to me at home in themselves.

I have been fascinated from the beginning by Reuter’s idea of Shape Tasting. I am generally interested in how others experience what they love (and the truth is, I don’t just get a list of flavors and attributes when I taste wine either). But, the drawings he has done most recently, I find the most beautiful both for how they integrate drawings with text, but also for how at ease with themselves they read to me. The 2011 “Still Life” Viognier drawing, shown below, and the 2008 “In the Valley of Angels” Syrah, at the top above, both understand what they’re doing in a way that makes the presence of the wine accessible as well. The same comfortable, while dynamic presence I recognize in these most recent drawings I also find consistently in Reuter’s Dominio IV wines. They offer a union of simplicity with richness I consistently find appealing.

Dominio IV 2011 “Still Life” Viognier (not yet colored).

Reuter shows me his Shape Tasting image for the 2011 Viognier we have just tasted, then describes how Viognier, for him, offers a kind of dual personality. It opens with so much fruit, you could almost think it was Chardonnay at first, he explains. But then it changes, and the second half of the wine is more like Riesling, all lines of acidity and motion. Reuter’s drawing beautifully captures that two sided, while coherent nature. I am convinced.


Dominio IV Wines are biodynamically farmed, and family owned in Oregon by Patrick Reuter, and Leigh Bartholomew. Their winery is located in Willamette Valley, and they also own The Three Sleeps biodynamically farmed vineyard in Columbia Gorge. Additionally, they source some sustainably farmed fruit from Southern Oregon.

Dominio IV Wines are available through their website in both:

Wine Shop:


Wine Club:

To hear more on Shape Tasting from Patrick himself, check out this series of videos of Patrick Reuter walking Jeff Weissler of Conscious Wine through the process:

Thank you to Patrick Reuter for taking the time to meet with me and share his Shape Tasting with me.

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