Tag Archives: rose

Highlights from the 2nd Annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure”

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Last weekend, some of the finest local, small production wine making talent around gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building in Solvang, CA for the 2nd annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure“.

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

This year, a Grand Tasting was held on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with a different lineup each day.  With 60 wineries pouring over the course of two days, and only a limited amount of time, I feel like I only scratched the surface.

While I had a hard time choosing favorites among all the incredible wines I did get to taste, I managed to narrow my list down to a few stand-outs.   If you can get your hands on any of the wines below, I highly recommend you do…

Archium Cellars
Garagistes Zach Jarosz and Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars poured their 1st vintage at the festival, which included a delicious portfolio of Rhone varietals.  I particularly liked the Provencal-style ’13 Grenache Rosé and the juicy ’12 “Haven” Grenache.

Zach Jarosz & Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars

Zach Jarosz & Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars

Delicious '13 Grenache Rose from Archium Cellars

Delicious ’13 Grenache Rose from Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars

 

Press Gang Cellars
Press Gang Cellars is winemaker Kyle Knapp and his wife, Savanna’s labor of love and true passion.  The Press Gang Cellars portfolio included some outstanding Rhone varietals, including a ’10 Grenache and a crisp ’13 Grenache Rosé “Savanna Rhea”.

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Kyle & Savanna Knapp of Press Gang Cellars

Kyle & Savanna Knapp of Press Gang Cellars

 

Roark Wine Company
Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company takes a minimal approach to wine making and truly lets the grapes speak for themselves.  I liked his multilayered, unfiltered ’13 Sauvignon Blanc and his modestly priced ($15/bottle), non-vintage red wine blend he calls “Craigslist Cuvee #2″.

As Ryan puts it, “where do you go when you are looking for a deal?  Craigslist!  What do they have on Craigslist?  Everything!  This wine is a blend of loose ends, things that didn’t have a home but that together tasted awesome.”

Roark Wine Company

Roark Wine Company

Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company

Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company

Roark Wine Company's "Craigslist Cuvee" Red Wine Blend

Roark Wine Company’s “Craigslist Cuvee #2″ Red Wine Blend

 

Liquid Farm
I’m a long-time fan of Liquid Farm’s Chardonnay and Rosé, so I couldn’t resist stopping to try the latest vintage (which of course, was as good as ever).  The ’13 Mourvedre Rosé was dry, crisp, and just heavenly.

Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm's Winemaker, James Sparks

Liquid Farm’s Winemaker, James Sparks

 

C. Nagy Wines
It was difficult to pick favorites from Clarissa Nagy of C. Nagy Wines’ current portfolio.  I particularly liked her ’11 Pinot Blanc Bien Nacido Vineyard and ’12 Viognier White Hawk Vineyard – both a little taste of summer in a glass.  I also liked her ’10 Garey Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, which had an elegant balance of vibrant fruit and spice.

C Nagy Wines

C. Nagy Wines

C Nagy Wines

C. Nagy Wines

 

a-non-ah-mus
Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus released the label’s first vintage in 2007 and he’s been producing impeccably crafted Rhone varietals ever since.  I really enjoyed the ’12 Viognier which had a beautiful, crisp acidity and the tart, juicy ’10 Alisos Vineyard Grenache.

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus

Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus

 

Weatherborne Wine Corp.
Winemaker Chris Carter of Weatherborne Wine Corp. was pouring his first vintage (2012) of the one & only varietal he produces (a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir).  That being said, it was probably one of the best Pinot’s I’ve tasted – the perfect balance of juicy fruit and a hint of spice.  I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Weatherborne…

Chris Carter of Weatherborne

Chris Carter of Weatherborne Wine Corp.

 

ONX Wines
I had the opportunity to try ONX Wines at the last Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles.  Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the unique blends ONX produces – particularly their Tempranillo based “Praetorian”.  When I found out they were debuting a ’13 Rosé of Tempranillo called “Indie”, I had to try it.

Just like all the other wines ONX produces, I can’t recommend the ’13 Indie Rosé enough.  Delicious.

Jeff Strekas of ONX Wines

Jeff Strekas of ONX Wines

The '13 "Indie" Rosé of Tempranillo by ONX Wines

The ’13 “Indie” Rosé of Tempranillo by ONX Wines

Once again, “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure” provided an invaluable opportunity to taste some outstanding, yet-to-be-discovered wines and to talk to the friendly, passionate artisans who make them.  I hope to see everyone at the next one… Cheers!

Related Posts:
2nd Annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure” Returns to Solvang…

Exploring the Lompoc Wine Ghetto – Part 1

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

I’ve known about the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for ages, but for some reason, I never had a strong desire to visit. I had a preconceived notion that it was an easy access, multiple tasting room destination that catered to those who prefer quantity over quality. After visiting for the first time this weekend, I could not have been more wrong.

Tucked away in an industrial park in Lompoc, the Wine Ghetto is home to nearly 20 tasting rooms. It isn’t as visually appealing as some of the picturesque wineries in the area, but that’s what I loved about it. It actually deters large groups traveling in wine tour buses and limos. After all, it’s not exactly a place where you’d want to have your bachelorette party photos taken.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is very serious about wine. In the casual and inviting tasting rooms, passionate wine makers are pouring some incredible, super low production wines for their equally passionate fans.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

Considering the number of tasting rooms in the Ghetto, I decided to try two during this visit and will continue my exploration over the weeks to come. My first stop was Jalama Wines.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

When I pulled up to the Jalama Wines tasting room, I was very happy to see one of the resident winery dogs napping on the sidewalk outside. I discovered that almost all the tasting rooms in the Wine Ghetto allow dogs as long as they’re leashed and well-behaved. It made my desire to explore the area even stronger.

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Winery dog Oscar relaxing in the Jalama tasting room

Winery dog Oscar relaxing in the Jalama tasting room

Once inside the tasting room, I was greeted by Mark Cargasacchi – the winemaker at Jalama who was guiding tasters through his portfolio of small lot, handmade Pinot Noirs, Grenaches and Syrahs.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

A nice cheese & cracker plate to accompany the line up of Jalama Wines

A nice cheese & cracker plate to accompany the line up of Jalama Wines

The tasting at Jalama consisted of six wines, all of which were seriously good – complex, well-balanced and obviously crafted with care. I took home bottles of of tart 2011 Mourvedre ($36) and full-bodied, multi-layered 2009 “El Capitan” red blend ($36). I also loved the 2011 “Clementina” white blend ($26), which was full of mouthwatering tropical fruit, and the 2010 “Carg” Pinot Noir ($46).

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

For my next stop, I decided to try Zotovich Cellars.

Zotovich Cellars

Zotovich Cellars

Booker joined me in the tasting room and immediately made himself comfortable on the cold stone floor while tasting room manager Chelsea poured my first taste.

Tasting menu at Zotovich Cellars

Tasting menu at Zotovich Cellars

Booker made himself comfy on the cool tasting room floor

Booker made himself comfy on the cool tasting room floor

The tasting at Zotovich Cellars consisted of four wines (with a bonus taste of insanely good, wine club exclusive Viognier). Honestly, I was blown away by all the wines at Zotovich. The Chardonnay was beautifully balanced, the Rosé was like a glass of summertime with lots of strawberry and a nice crispness, the Pinot Noir rivaled some of my absolute favorites from the area, and the Syrah was complex with a blend of dark berries and spice.

Chelsea guiding tasters through the Zotovich Cellars portfolio

Chelsea guiding tasters through the Zotovich Cellars portfolio

If I didn’t already have several bottles of Pinot Noir in my collection, it would have been a no-brainer to take some home. Instead, I bought a few bottles of the 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22) which will be perfect for warm summer days.

Delicious Zotovich Cellars 2010 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Delicious Zotovich Cellars 2010 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Zotovich Cellars

Zotovich Cellars

If you’re looking to join a wine club, the club at Zotovich Cellars was one of the most flexible I’ve seen with the option to do a yearly shipment of 3, 6, or 12 bottles AND the ability to choose your wines. I’m sure I’ll end up a member sooner than later.

Overall, my first visit to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto was such a great experience that far surpassed my expectations. If the rest of the wineries in the Ghetto are anything like Jalama Wines and Zotovich Cellars, I’m in for a serious treat…

Click here to visit the Jalama Wines website.
Click here to visit the Zotovich Cellars website.
Click here to visit the Lompoc Wine Ghetto website.

JALAMA WINES
308 N. 9th Street, Unit C
Lompoc, CA 93436
Phone: (805) 735-8937
Tasting room hours: 12PM – 5PM Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment

ZOTOVICH CELLARS
1500 E. Chestnut Court, Suite D
Lompoc, CA 93436
Phone: (805) 736-1600
Email: chelsea@zotovichcellars.com
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment

Sparkling Wines for the New Year – Vertuze & Louis Bouillot Sparkling Rosé

With all the celebrating that goes on at this time of year, I find myself enjoying a lot more sparkling wine and champagne than I usually do.

Since I have less time to travel to wine country over the holidays, I’ve been exploring the world of sparkling wine at home with friends and family. I recently tried a couple of bottles of sparkling Rosé that I thought were excellent and deserving of attention right before we ring in the New Year.

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rose

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé

The first bottle I tried was a brut sparkling Rosé by Vertuze. It is produced in the Arroyo Grande Valley in California’s Central Coast from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. Made in the traditional French méthode champenoise, the Vertuze Rosé had a very pale pink hue and a nice touch of sweetness.

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé

For those who are unfamiliar, the méthode champenoise is the oldest and most traditional way of making sparkling wine. It involves a long, detailed process which includes blending wine (typically some combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir) followed by a fermentation period that requires a secondary in-bottle fermentation that can last up to 6 years.

True Champagne comes exclusively from the Champagne region of France while bubbly from anywhere else in the world is referred to as sparkling wine.

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé

Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé

Back to Vertuze. Though I typically enjoy a drier sparkling wine, the Vertuze sparkling Rosé was nicely balanced, very easy to drink, and easy on the wallet at about $19 per bottle. I could see this being a hit for sparkling wine drinkers with a wide variety of palates.

The second bottle I tried was a brut Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé called “Perle d’Aurore” by Louis Bouillot. Cremant de Bourgogne is the appellation (or defined geographical area) for the Rosé and white sparkling wines of Burgundy in France.

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé "Perle d'Aurore"

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé “Perle d’Aurore”

The Louis Bouillot “Perle d’Aurore” Rosé is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. On the palate, it started with lots of strawberry, but finished drier than the Vertuze with a slightly finer effervescence and a nice minerality. I could see this appealing to sparkling wine drinkers who prefer less sweetness. Also crafted in the méthode champenoise, the Louis Bouillot Cremant du Bourgone “Perle d’Aurore” Rosé was a steal at $14.

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé "Perle d'Aurore"

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé “Perle d’Aurore”

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé "Perle d'Aurore"

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Sparkling Rosé “Perle d’Aurore”

Grab a bottle (or several bottles) of Vertuze Brut Sparkling Rosé and Louis Bouillot “Perle d’Aurore” Sparkling Rosé for your next holiday party. I guarantee either sparkler will be a hit. Cheers & Happy New Year!

2nd Annual Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles

By definition, the term “garagistes” refers to a group of innovative, renegade wine makers from the Bordeaux region who refuse to follow the strict French rules and instead, produce “Vins de garage” or “Garage wine”.

For the second year in a row, Paso Robles has celebrated the spirit of the garagiste movement by holding a festival focused solely on small production wines. Local artisan wine makers – some familiar and some unknown – gather together for a long weekend, giving wine lovers from all over an opportunity to taste the fruits of their labor.

The Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast – Per Cazo Cellars

This year was my first experience at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival and I was thrilled to be part of it. On this particular trip, we stayed at the Creekside Bed & Breakfast at Per Cazo Cellars. I honestly can’t recommend Creekside B&B enough. From the comfy bed to host Lynn Teckman’s delicious gourmet breakfasts that were delivered to our room each morning, the entire stay was perfect. Creekside B&B was also very dog-friendly which made it extra convenient and comfortable.

The cozy Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

The cozy Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

The Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

Amazing breakfast #1: Egg & sausage scramble with fresh mixed fruit, fresh squeezed juice, and warm muffin

Amazing breakfast #2: French toast, thick bacon, and fresh berries

The Garagiste Festival opened on Thursday with a dinner at Thomas Hill Organics featuring the cuisine of celeb chef Ludo Lefevbre. Unfortunately I did not attend the dinner, but having experienced Ludo’s pop-up restaurant LudoBites in Los Angeles, I’m sure diners had an unforgettable experience.

Windfall Farms – Paso Robles

We attended the Garagiste Festival on Saturday, which was the day of the big Grand Tasting. We walked into the beautiful Stallion Barn at Windfall Farms where 48 independent and passionate wine makers were set up for tastings in the horse stalls.

Inside the Stallion Barn at Windfall Farms

It was difficult to decide where to begin, but I decided to head over to Liquid Farm. On a rare occasion, I’ve seen Liquid Farm Chardonnay and Rose on menus at some of the finer restaurants in LA, but I had yet to actually try the wine. Owners Nikki and Jeff Nelson took us through a tasting of two Chardonnays – both of which were unique and wonderfully balanced – as well as one Rose. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Liquid Farm, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Nikki & Jeff Nelson of Liquid Farm

After Liquid Farm, we headed to Nicora Wine where winemaker Nick Elliot took us through some outstanding Rhones. Right now, Nicora wines can be tasted by appointment only, but I highly recommend trying them next time you’re in Paso Robles. I can’t wait to see what else Nick comes up with in the future.

Nick Elliott of Nicora Wine

From Nicora, we headed over to Cloak & Dagger where Ray Schofield walked us through his portfolio of exceptional wines – all of which are “handcrafted in secret”. We were unsuccessful at uncovering any of the secrets of Cloak & Dagger wines, but we were very impressed with what we tasted. We tried two Pinot Noirs, as well as a delicious 2010 Illuminatus Sangiovese and a 2010 Skull & Bones Zinfandel.

Ray Schofield of Cloak & Dagger Wines

After Cloak & Dagger, we headed to Red Zeppelin Winery where the eccentric Stillman Brown introduced us to a couple really good Central Coast red wine blends. Finally, we ended our tasting with the latest offerings from our friends Lynn and Dave Teckman at Per Cazo Cellars. The 2010 Epi Telos and 2010 Zing were so good that I had to take home a couple of bottles when we checked out of the Creekside B&B.

Stillman Brown of Red Zeppelin Winery

Overall, I loved being part of the 2nd Annual Paso Robles’ Garagiste Festival and feel like there were so many more amazing wines to try. The wine makers who I met continue to inspire me and deepen my love for wine. It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to taste new wines with the passionate people who are hand-crafting them. I look forward to next year…

Presqu’ile Winery | Los Olivos, CA

Presqu’ile Wine – Los Olivos, CA

Every time I head up to Los Olivos, CA, I feel like the town just gets better and better. With every trip, I seem to uncover an incredible new wine or a fun, new place to grab a bite. This past weekend was certainly no exception.

Presqu’ile Wine – Los Olivos, CA

Presqu’ile Wine – Los Olivos, CA

I decided to try the wines of Presqu’ile and instantly fell in love. The Presqu’ile Wine tasting room is located a couple of doors down from the recently opened Sides Hardware & Shoes restaurant. The restaurant had a 45 minute wait, so we put down our names and headed to Presqu’ile.

Anna Murphy in the Presqu’ile Wine Tasting Room

We walked in the front door and I couldn’t help notice the incredibly cool decor. The room was painted in a deep charcoal that was warmed with splashes of color, interesting art, and great lighting. It was refreshing to see a tasting room with such a unique and contemporary design.

Proper pronunciation of Presqu’ile cleverly written on the tasting room wall

Colorful art on the wall at Presqu’ile

Presqu’ile Wine Tasting Room

I was also thrilled to see a doggy water bowl on the front porch when we arrived. Our dog Booker was welcomed inside and instantly made friends with the tasting room dog, Hazel.

Booker and his new friend Hazel having a blast

While the dogs played, we sat at the bar and started our tasting. They offer a Presqu’ile Flight for $10 which includes a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Rose and a Pinot Noir. They also offer a tasting flight of 3 Pinot Noirs for $15, or you can taste all 6 wines for $20.

Wine wall at Presqu’ile

Presqu’ile Wine Tasting Menu

We opted for the “taste them all” option, and tasting room manager Anna Murphy took us through the line up while she told us about the history of the winery.

We learned that the Murphy Family owns Presqu’ile and that the name means “almost an island” – an homage to a very special piece of land in the Gulf Coast that belonged to her family and was lost during Hurricane Katrina. The family is working on a permanent Santa Maria winery/tasting room that will open Summer 2013.

Chandelier in the Presqu’ile tasting room

Back to the wine. I thought the entire line up was pretty incredible and had a difficult time picking favorites. Winemaker Dieter Cronje handcrafts the wines in a perfectly balanced, elegant, food friendly style which I really enjoyed – especially in an area with so many super-juicy Pinot Noirs and buttery Chardonnays.

Photo of winemaker Dieter Cronje

Presqu’ile Wine Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Wine Tasting Room

The hot day helped me narrow down my purchases to a 2010 Presqu’ile Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley ($35) and a 2011 Presqu’ile Rose of Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley ($18). I will definitely be back for several bottles of Pinot Noir on my next visit.

Overall, I was so happy we visited Presqu’ile. Anna was such a pleasure to chat with, the vibe of the tasting room was so welcoming and fresh, Booker got a great workout playing with Hazel, and the wines were fantastic. I can’t wait for my next visit.

Click here to visit the Presqu’ile Winery website.

PRESQU’ILE WINERY – TASTING ROOM
2369 Alamo Pintado Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Phone: (805) 688-2022
Email: info@presquilewine.com
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 5PM Thursday through Monday

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines – *CLOSED*

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

* UPDATE 8/13: CLOSED. The tasting room is now owned by J Dusi Wines

I’ve wanted to try Edward Sellers’ wines for years. It was always on my list, however because the tasting room was located in downtown Paso Robles, it usually ended up at the bottom as a last place to visit before dinner. Unfortunately after a day of wine tasting outside of town, we usually skipped more wine and focused on food.

Now Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines has a gorgeous tasting room on the Westside of Paso and during my last visit, I made it the first stop of the day.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Driving down Highway 46 West, it’s easy to miss the entrance to Edward Sellers. Although the tasting room is not far off the highway, once you turn down the unpaved drive and head onto the vine-covered grounds of the winery, you feel miles away from everything.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

The tasting room at Edward Sellers is modern, yet it fits in perfectly with the natural beauty around it. There is plenty of sunny outside seating that overlooks the acres of vineyards. We got out of our car and were greeted by two friendly winery dogs who quickly made friends with our dog, Booker.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Outside seating at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Outside seating at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines with a picture-perfect view

After soaking up some sunshine, we headed inside – Booker included – to try some wine. The inside of the Edward Sellers tasting room is just as lovely as the outside with dark stone floors, a bright green accent wall, and big window behind the bar that allows you to peek inside the barrel room.

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Our tasting included two whites followed by a series of reds. Similar to other wineries in Paso Robles, Edward Sellers specializes in hand crafted American Rhone style wines. However, what I think sets them apart is the fact that most of Edward Sellers’ wines were perfectly balanced and surprisingly food-friendly. They had the classic, big Paso Rhone style that I love without being too big and bold to complement a meal.

Booker enjoying the cool stone floor at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

All the wines we tried were consistently good which made it difficult to pick our favorites. We decided to leave with a couple of bottles of 2011 Grenache Rose – a juicy, strawberry-filled rose that is perfect for summer. We also took home a bottle of 2007 Vertigo (71% Grenache, 16% Mourvèdre & 13% Syrah) which was slightly tart with a nice hint of smoke.

I’m so glad we finally tried Edward Sellers. It is one of our new favorites and will be a regular stop on our visits to Paso Robles.

Click here to visit the Edward Sellers Vineyards website.

EDWARD SELLERS VINEYARDS & WINES
1401 West Highway 46
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 239-8915
Email: info@edwardsellers.com
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 5PM Daily

Carhartt Vineyard & Winery

Carhartt Vineyard

Along Grand Avenue in the quaint little town of Los Olivos, CA, there are enough tasting rooms to easily fill an entire weekend. On a recent trip to the area, I decided to stop in town and try the wines of Carhartt Vineyard.

A view of Grand Avenue in Los Olivos

Grand Avenue is lined with tasting room after tasting room, each representing a winery or vineyard that is located in the surrounding area. And the thing that makes the Carhartt Vineyard tasting room unique is that if you’re not paying attention as you drive along the avenue, you may just miss it.

Carhartt Vineyard Tasting Room

The Carhartt Vineyard tasting room is really, REALLY tiny. In fact, the owners refer to it as the “World’s Smallest Tasting Room”. On the day I visited, the place was packed and there were probably only 8 of us in the room. There was also a small outdoor patio in back that fit another handful of tasters.

Inside the cozy little Carhartt Vineyard tasting room

Even with a crowd in the tasting room, Carhartt had a wonderful, cozy feeling about it. The entire Carhartt Vineyards tasting shack was constructed mostly of warm, rustic wood with select merchandise, pieces of artwork, and family photos covering the walls inside. The front door was being guarded by a huge, intricately crafted fish sculpture that fit the whole environment perfectly.

Fish sculpture guarding the Carhartt Vineyard tasting room

Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by a friendly tasting room staff member who provided me with my first taste. She told me that the owners & wine makers – Mike and Brooke Carhartt – were on a long-overdue vacation, but that their son Chase was managing the tasting room for the day.

Chase Carhartt explaining the wines his family hand-crafts

The Carhartt Vineyard tasting room menu

It was instantly clear that Carhartt Vineyard is a family affair. I learned that Brooke Carhartt is the very talented winemaker, her husband Mike meticulously tends to the vineyard, and they all play their part in pouring wine for their guests at the tasting room.

Chase obviously shares his parent’s passion for wine. Even though he was probably in his early 20’s, Chase explained each wine with such enthusiasm and knowledge, it seemed as though he crafted each one with his own two hands. Everyone in the tasting room gave him unwavering attention as he talked us through each pour.

I tasted six wines for a $10 fee, which was gladly waived with the purchase of two bottles. Carhartt Vineyard produces each wine in such small production and with such attention to detail that some of the varietals sell out to the wine club – before the general public even gets to try a sip.

Tasting notes from the Carhartt Vineyard menu

While I thought all the wines I tasted were pretty incredible, there were a couple that stood out from the rest. The ’09 “Chase The Blues Away” Rose ($18) had just the right amount of dryness coupled with lots of juicy strawberry, watermelon and a touch of tartness. The grapes for the Rose were harvested from the 10 acre Carhartt family vineyard.

Carhartt Vineyard ’07 Estate Grown Merlot

The ’07 Merlot ($30) – also from the Carhartt family vineyard – was unique and complex with lots of plum and dark cherry with a subtle hint of smoke. I took these two bottles home, but would have loved to purchase one of each bottle on the tasting list.

Be sure to stop in and say hello to the Carhartt family next time you’re visiting the Los Olivos area. The wines of Carhartt Vineyard are not to be missed…

Click here to visit the Carhartt Vineyard website.

Carhartt Vineyard – Tasting Room
2990-A Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Phone: (805) 693-5100
Fax: (805) 688-3004
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 5PM Daily

Woodinville, WA Wine Country

Last weekend, we left sunny southern California and headed up to Seattle to explore the wine country in Woodinville, Washington.

A rare sunny day in Seattle

Woodinville is an easy 30 minute drive from downtown Seattle along lush forests and over long, floating bridges. I had never been outside the city and was blown away by how beautiful the area was. When we arrived in the picture-perfect little town of Woodinville, it was foggy and misting which only made the colors on the changing trees more vibrant. After what has been a really strange year weather-wise in Los Angeles, it FINALLY felt like fall.

Fall colors in Woodinville, WA

We decided to begin our day with breakfast at a local restaurant called Barking Frog. The name comes from “the Native American storytellers use of the Frog as a symbol of wealth or abundance. When the frogs are barking, it is a sign of peace and harmony in nature.”

This cozy, rustic restaurant features both a chef (Chef Bobby) who was once invited to cook at the historic James Beard House in New York City and a wine list that has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence five years in a row. Even more importantly, the restaurant had an incredible casual warmth to it and the food was absolutely delicious. We watched the restaurant’s resident peacock roam the grounds as we enjoyed our food. It was a great and highly recommended way to start a day of wine tasting – especially considering Barking Frog’s convenient location at the beginning of the wine country “loop”.

The beautiful grounds outside Barking Frog

Barking Frog’s resident peacock entertaining diners

After breakfast, we were ready to begin our day of wine tasting. Woodinville Wine Country is arranged in a loop composed of tasting rooms representing over 50 Washington wineries, ranging from one of the biggest wineries in the state to several small production boutiques. Almost all Woodinville wineries grow their grapes in the warm, arid climate of Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley which shares similar latitudes to the great wine regions of Northern Europe.

Woodinville Wine Country tasting map

We decided to start with the biggest and most well-known – Chateau Ste. Michelle – which was a quick 5 minute drive from the Barking Frog. The Woodinville wine industry actually began with the establishment of Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1976 and the industry has been growing and flourishing ever since.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Map of Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle was a truly impressive winery with beautifully landscaped grounds, a large tasting room and a wine-focused gift shop. Visitors can also take a tour of the facilities to learn more about the wine making process. We each decided to do a tasting where we sampled 4 of the 8 wines they were pouring for a $10 fee. Some of these wines can be found at major grocery stores while others can only be purchased at the Chateau.

Tasting selection at Chateau Ste. Michelle

I decided to try an ’08 Pinot Gris, ’05 Chenin Blanc, ’07 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and an ’05 Petit Verdot. While I thought they were all quite good and nicely balanced, the Cabernet Sauvignon was a clear stand out for me.

Chateau Ste. Michelle tasting menu

After our tasting, we continued along the loop and stopped at Novelty Hill/Januik. Novelty Hill and Januik are two independent wineries that share a tasting room and production facility in Woodinville. Acclaimed winemaker Mike Januik makes the wine for both labels, working with leading Columbia Valley vineyards, including the wineries’ own estate vineyard Stillwater Creek.

Novelty Hill/Januik Winery

The Novelty Hill/Januik winery is a modern architectural masterpiece with a design that works in perfect balance with the natural environment. Dominant use of cold gray concrete mirroring the often overcast Washington sky is warmed by rich woods, splashes of colored artwork, vibrant green gardens, an outdoor fire pit, an open cellar/barrel room, and lots of natural light coming in through the many glass features.

Entrance to Novelty Hill/Januik

Tasting room at Novelty Hill/Januik Winery

Novelty Hill and Januik are both committed to delivering consistent high quality wines using nurturing and innovative artisanal winemaking processes. Visitors are able to taste wines from both labels, with 3 different tasting options. The Colombia Valley Tasting allows for 4 wine samples from a combination of Novelty Hill and Januik for $5. The “King Cab” Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting features 4 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes for $10, and the Single Vineyard & Reserve Tasting is a mix and match of 4 single vineyard and reserve wines for $10 (Friday through Sunday only).

I wanted to familiarize myself with wines from the different single vineyards in the Columbia Valley, so I opted for the Single Vineyard/Reserve tasting and found several of the Cabernet Sauvignon’s to be exceptional, rivaling some of the great Cabs of Napa Valley. Novelty Hill/Januik is a definite “must see” for anyone visiting the area.

Artwork in the tasting room…

Barrels of wine aging in the open cellar at Novelty Hill/Januik

Filling barrels in the open cellar at Novelty Hill/Januik

We purchased a couple of bottles at Novelty Hill/Januik and headed on to Efeste. Efeste is the northernmost winery along the Woodinville wine country loop, but it’s well worth the visit. Stand outs here included a 2009 Babbitt Rosé Syrah made from 100% Syrah grapes, an ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Final Final, and a 2007 Big Papa made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Efeste also had a gratis cheese and cracker plate that complemented our tasting perfectly.

At this point, we were running out of time so we headed to one more winery – Mark Ryan. Mark Ryan McNeilly is an artisan winemaker with a rock and roll edge whose wines have received several rave reviews from Wine Spectator.

Mark Ryan Winery

The tasting room at Mark Ryan was one of the coolest we saw on our tasting trip. The walls were decorated with colorful rock and roll posters, restored vintage motorcycles were on display, and the tasting menu was written on a chalkboard above a wonderfully aged yellow credenza.

Mark Ryan tasting room

Mark Ryan tasting room

Tasting menu at the Mark Ryan Winery

Mark hand crafts all his wines in a garage in Bellevue, Washington and aims to create wines that are expressive of the region where the grapes are grown. He lets his grapes ripen quite a bit resulting in wines that are big, flavorful, and juicy, but also very nicely balanced.

Mark Ryan tasting room

Most of the wines we tasted at Mark Ryan were Bordeaux blends (Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon), some with Syrah or Petit Verdot added which gave the wines bold body and unique personality. I liked all the wines we tasted here, but my favorite was the ’08 The Dissident ($32). We bought a bottle and brought it back to Seattle to enjoy at dinner.

I very much enjoyed our trip to Woodinville Wine Country and felt like we really only scratched the wine tasting surface in this beautiful area. The wines we tasted were consistently very, very good. Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to shine here, along with Merlot and Syrah. In fact, I felt the Cabernet we tried was on par with some of the best I’ve tasted out of Napa. I look forward to getting back to Woodinville to explore it further. It is well worth a visit and recommend to anyone who has an appreciation for the natural beauty of the Northwest and a passion for great wine… all within a short drive from Seattle.

Click here to visit the Barking Frog website.
Click here to visit the Chateau Ste. Michelle website.
Click here to visit the Novelty Hill Winery website.
Click here to visit the Januik Winery website.
Click here to visit the Efeste Winery website.
Click here to visit the Mark Ryan Winery website.
Click here to visit the Woodinville Wine Country website.

L’Aventure Winery….

L’Aventure Winery

During the last weekend in February, I had the honor of attending L’Aventure Winery’s unveiling of the 2008 vintage. I joined Club L’Aventure last year on my birthday and have developed such a passion for these wines, I was waiting to taste the new vintage like a little kid waiting for Santa to arrive. I wasn’t going to let torrential downpours and hurricane-like winds stop me from getting up to Paso Robles. More on that later.

L’Aventure is very near and dear to my heart. The Optimus blend is the single wine that turned me from a casual wine drinker to someone who truly appreciates and understands incredible wine. Flash back to very early 2005. I was at a wine tasting in Los Angeles called “The Best Wines for $20 or Less”. As I meandered my way from table to table, tasting a lot of better than average, relatively inexpensive wines, I came across a man who poured me the wine that changed my life.

L’Aventure Winery

He actually wasn’t even representing L’Aventure. In fact, I don’t really recall which winery he was representing, but I tasted his wines and they were pretty good. Nothing special, but not bad. We started chatting about my favorite wines of the night, etc, etc and then…he reached into a bag behind him and said “you really need to try this. Just keep it quiet… it’s from my personal collection.” My new friend pulled out a bottle of 2002 L’Aventure Optimus and poured a little into my tasting glass. I smelled it (wow…incredible. So much more complex than any wine I’d experienced). I tasted it (unreal). I literally stood there and savored every little bit of berry, spice, cassis and minerality I was tasting. This wine was unlike anything I’d ever tried.

I pulled out my tasting note brochure I got for the evening and scratched in pen “L’Aventure Optimus. DELICIOUS!!”. I thanked my friend for opening my eyes to a whole new wine world, tasted a few more wines – none of which could stand up to what I just experienced – and I left the tasting event with a whole new perspective.

Winemaker Stephan Asseo at the L’Aventure Winery

I’ve been following L’Aventure ever since and have been equally impressed by each and every vintage. Winemaker and owner Stephan Asseo has been making wine since 1982. Since then, he has “developed into an artisan winemaker of fastidious craftsmanship, and gained a reputation as a maverick vigneron”. Stephan’s passion for winemaking and his desire to raise the bar for other wine makers in his league is evident in each and every bottle he produces.

The estate vineyards at L’Aventure

I’m particularly drawn to the fact that Stephan is truly a trailblazer in his craft. He grew tired of the strict AOC laws in his native France and decided to venture out on a quest – a great adventure – to find the perfect terroir to craft his remarkable wines. After traveling the world from South Africa to Argentina to Napa Valley, Stephan fell in love with Paso Robles and has been there ever since.

Artwork on the wall at L’Aventure

So, back to that weekend in February. I first visited the L’Aventure tasting room 4 years ago and have made a yearly pilgrimage to Paso every year since, just to taste the latest vintage. But this weekend was my first visit as a wine club member. The winery was closed to the public so this was our exclusive opportunity to see what 2008 was tasting like. Unfortunately Mother Nature wasn’t sure if she wanted us to make the trip.

We left Los Angeles on Friday evening, fully aware of the fact that it might rain. When we got in the car, things were dry as could be and we though we may have dodged the storm. Unfortunately half way up to Pismo Beach (where we were spending the night), it started raining. Really, REALLY hard. There were a few moments where I wasn’t sure if we should press on or pull over.

L’Aventure Winery

Fortunately we made it to Pismo Beach and checked into our lovely hotel room at the SeaCrest Resort. This hotel was recently renovated and is highly recommended. The attention to detail throughout the hotel and the gorgeous seaside location are unsurpassed for a relatively inexpensive hotel. After a night of more rain and wind that nearly convinced us there was a hurricane blowing outside, we woke up to clearing skies and were excited for our day of wine tasting.

SeaCrest Resort after the storm…

We left Pismo Beach and were in Paso Robles in less than 30 minutes. We drove down the beautiful gravel road toward L’Aventure, parked, and quickly made our way towards the tasting area. Before we could enter the winery, we were stopped by a voice declaring “wait a minute… you have to see me first”. At a small table near the door to the winery was the artist himself. Stephan was pouring his ’09 Estate Rose and personally greeting his visitors.

The entry gate to L’Aventure Winery and Estate Vineyard

The vineyards at L’Aventure…

My moment with master winemaker Stephan Asseo

After chatting with Stephan about his newest releases, this past growing season, and about what he has up his sleeve for the next year at L’Aventure, we headed inside to taste the rest of the wines. I honestly can’t say which were my favorites. They were all poured directly from the barrels so they were all perfectly “open” and so delicious.

View from inside the tasting at L’Aventure Winery

The ’09 Estate Rose was an incredible start. We decided to purchase 3 bottles right off the bat. The ’08 Optimus was perhaps one of the best to date. The ’08 Le Grand Verdot – a new release for members only and inky purple in color with just the right amount of tartness on the palate – was another stand out. The Estate Cuvee and Cote a Cote are always favorites and this vintage certainly didn’t disappoint.

Freshly bottled ’08 Le Grand Verdot…delicious!

’08 Estate Cuvee…

We got home and placed our order for a mixed case without hesitation. L’Aventure wines are a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it if you appreciate quality wine. We’ve already received our shipment and finished off 2 bottles of Rose which were just as delicious as when Stephan handed me my first taste. If you’re in the Paso Robles area, L’Aventure is an absolute must see. I can’t wait for our next visit…

Click here to visit the L’Aventure Winery website.

L’AVENTURE WINERY
2815 Live Oak Rd.
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 227-1588
Fax: (805) 227-6988
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 4PM Thursday through Sunday. Monday through Wednesday by appointment.