Monthly Archives: November 2009

Grapelive Latest: Nov. 30

Grapelive Daily Review

By Kerry Winslow


seasmoke07s.gif2007 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir “Southing” Santa Rita Hills, Estate.
Sea Smoke looks to find its style now, without Kris Curran and the 2007 vintage does mark a big difference, Curran’s big up front wines are sure to get more attention, but this Pinot is much more subtle and lower in alcohol. It is hard to tell if maybe this vintage is better than earlier efforts, but it is more balanced and refined, and it is a much more fresh than the 2006 was, for sure. In time the Southing might fill out and get more interesting, though it is nice and complete now, so I’d put it away for another year or so. At this point, drink the much richer and complex 2004 and 2005 Sea Smokes if you still have any! The 2007 Sea Smoke Southing shows pretty fruit, leaning on red cherry, raspberry, cranberry and tart plum, all silky on the palate, with Asian spices, hints of tomato compote, cola, and lush vanilla. This wine seems to have everything to become a very fine wine, good fruit, acidity, smooth body and very nice smoky sweet oak shadings, it just doesn’t show the “Wow” factor, though it might just surprise given enough time to develop, we’ll have to wait and see. ($50-120 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from Grapelive
By Kerry Winslow

kwnov09.jpgThe start of the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving here in the States, and it is a holiday we celebrate the gifts of nature and humanity. We give thanks for food and drink and cherish our family and friends; we relish it all and show gratitude for this bounty. It is also a time to reflect on the year’s harvest and all the hardships that made it possible, and we focus on the joys that have come as a result.

Wine can play an important role in these pleasures and moments of happiness, and I can assure you I will be doing so myself. I found over this last year some wonderful wines that I think would make great additions to your Thanksgiving table and celebrations. I will give my list of wines that will match up with most Thanksgiving menus, be it turkey, goose, ham or even tofu. Most holiday foods should have friendly and fresh wines that don’t take away from the enjoyment of the food itself, this will also make points with your mother-in-law, and you should avoid trophy wines and wines with aggressive tannins as they will clash with the meal and steal the show.

My picks are serious wines, but not overly oaked or bold in flavors, and should make everyone happy all the same. Wines that are really food friendly are wines with good fruit and good acidity that will refresh the palate which will allow you to eat as much as you like and not strip your ability to taste your whole meal as it was meant to taste. For red wine, I’d pick Pinot Noir, Gamay, lighter Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Barbera or Grenache based wines, while for white I kind of go traditional with some minor exceptions, choosing; Gewurztraminer (dry), Riesling (semi-dry), Pinot Gris, Vermentino, Chablis and one of my favorites Viognier.

Margerum M5 Rhone Style RedIn case you feel like something special and extravagant then go for Champagne, you can drink it with food or by itself, so go for it! You can never go wrong with bubbles and you have lots of fantastic choices and styles of this perfect holiday wine. Sparkling wines make everyone smile and it also goes with all foods, in fact it is almost impossible to go wrong picking one, no matter what, as simple Prosecco to the very best vintage Champagne always fits the bill and will be enjoyable. The style of sparkler also doesn’t makes much difference when it comes to the meal; brut, extra dry, rose, blanc de noirs, blanc de blanc or even extra brut all work, Cheers!

I hope you have fun and experiment with your wines, but here are my five or six sure fire winners Thanksgiving wines of this year.

2008 Melville Viognier Santa Barbara County. ($23-26 Est.), 2007 Margerum M5 Rhone Style Red, Santa Ynez Valley. ($28 Est.), 2008 M. Lapierre Morgon (Gamay) Red Beaujolais Cru, France. ($25 Est.), 2007 Kuenz-Bas Gewurztraminer Tradition, Alsace, France. ($25 Est.), and either the 2007 Lucia (by Pisoni) Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. ($40 Est.) Or the 2007 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Santa Cruz Mountains. ($35 Est.)

* Support your local wine merchant and ask for these wines or contact the winery directly. Please note the French wines are both available through Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, CA.

Grapelive Latest: Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Nouveau!

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive

Beaujolais NouveauLet the celebration begin, the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau is legal to drink and the party has started around the world as the first of the 2009 vintage is being drunk. The vintage will be one of the best ever in France by all accounts, and we here in California are hopeful as well for the quality, and from what I’ve seen in tanks it will be fantastic. In a year that has brought so much pain for the wine industry and for many millions of others it is nice to be able to put that aside for a little while and enjoy a moment, a small early thanksgiving with a sample of this new wine. Sometimes searching for something to be grateful for comes hard, especially in these tough and scary times and the days ahead look even more uncertain, but I must take pause to count my blessings, for my friends and family that have been there for me, held me up, and supported me, as I’m sure they have for everyone who is reading this. So I’ll toast all of them and you with a fresh glass of grapey Gamay and try to smile, and hope for a great future for all.



Beaujolais Nouveau 20092009 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau, (Gamay), France.
The first wine of the vintage and an early sign post to the quality of the years wine, especially giving an insight on what will follow from the region, most notably Burgundy, Beaujolais Nouveau is a party and celebration in itself, with huge crowds around the world lining up in the cold until the clock ticks to the third Thursday of November and no sooner to get some of this fresh purple juice! This wine from Domaine Dupeuble is one of the best Nouveau(s) I’ve ever had, of course the vintage must be great, but I am sure Kermit Lynch has found a fantastic family producer that does everything for quality. This wine has bright and fresh flavors that jump from the glass and continue on the palate with violets, blueberry and plum that explode in the mouth before a core of strawberry and cranberry layers take over. There is dark currant, verbena, red citrus and hints of sour cherry candy all adding to the soft goodness. I’m hooked all ready, and I can’t wait to see the regular Beaujolais and Cru Beaujolais from this vintage and Domaine when the come out next summer and fall! This is a fantastic wine, and a perfect Thanksgiving quaffer! ($17-20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Direct from Kermit Lynch

*Also available for a limited time at

Rancho Cellars


Grapelive Breaking News

Anderson Pleads Guilty to Arson in Wines Central Blaze
$100 Million in Premium Wines Destroyed in Attempt to Elude Debtors
By Bradley Gray – Special Report to Grapelive

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Four years and one month later, Mark Anderson of Sausalito pleads guilty to setting the fire at Wines Central, a 240,000 square foot wine storage facility that housed the cellar inventory for about 100 Napa Valley premium wineries. Anderson’s fire destroyed an estimated $100 million dollars worth of wine.

Why did he do it? Apparently to cover up for embezzling his clients out of wine he was storing for them and erase $290,000 he owed in taxes.

Wines CentralOn November 16th, Anderson entered a guilty plea to all 19 charges in an indictment that included one count of arson, four counts of interstate transportation of fraudulently obtained property, nine counts of mail fraud, one count of use of a fictitious name, and four counts of tax evasion.

As a result of his plea bargain, Anderson expects to serve just over 15 years in prison. A sentencing hearing will be held on January 26, 2010.


Just days after the 2005 blaze, Bradley Gray took these amazing and exclusive photographs of the devastation inside wines central. At the time of these pictures, no other photographers had entered the building, as it was a crime scene. ( His article appeared in the Sonoma Valley Sun, which appears below:


Wines CentralArson Suspected in Wines Central Blaze

(originally printed October 24, 2005)
By Bradley Gray

The eight alarm fire that ripped through a Vallejo wine storage facility made headlines last week, as over $100 million dollars worth of wine went up in smoke.

Now, a couple of weeks later, details are emerging and the scenario is getting pretty kinky.

The facility that burned was a company called Wines Central.  They stored wine for about 80 wineries and 40 collectors, and the company was housed in a former military building on Mare Island.

wines-central1.jpgThe building was a virtual fortress, with three-foot thick cement walls and heavy-duty steel doors.  The Navy used the building to store atomic bomb parts and torpedoes over 50 years ago.

In other words, this place wasn’t a fire hazard. Wines Central’s website boasts “state of the art security, fire and temperature monitoring systems.”

Because of the building’s immense stature, fire officials had difficulty gaining access to the blaze. Vallejo FD arrived on the scene minutes after the fire started, but by the time firemen cut through the heavy-duty steel door, the fire had grown to a point where it was too hot to enter.

Wines Central is owned by several partners, who have been fighting internal legal battles (ownership disputes) for a number of years.

Recently, Wines Central petitioned the court to allow investors to get involved, but the court denied the motion because of these internal legal problems. The company has reportedly been taking huge financial losses for some time.

wines-central2.jpgOne of Wines Central’s customers was Mark Anderson of Sausalito Cellars.  Anderson’s company stored rare wines for collectors.  Anderson is a City Parks and Recreation commissioner for Marin.

And who would have guessed it? Anderson is currently being charged with 10 counts of embezzlement.  It seems that when Anderson’s customers came looking to retrieve their rare wines, they couldn’t be found.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marin officials said that Anderson was always very generous about donating wines to city events.

From what I understand, Wines Central gave Anderson the boot, and told him to clear out his client’s wine.  So, Wines Central general manager Debbie Polverino allowed Anderson access to his wine the day of the fire.

wines-central3.jpgSo, there was Anderson, on the scene, minutes before the blaze erupted.  Two forklift operators employed by Wines Central were also on the property.

And now, authorities have announced that the cause of the $100 million dollar blaze was–you guessed it–ARSON!

I visited the fire scene last week, and found nearly a dozen panic-stricken vintners standing in the parking lot awaiting word on the fate of their wines.  Additionally, ATF officials, attorneys, insurance adjusters and independent fire investigators were on the scene.

From the outside, the building showed hardly any evidence of fire.

Wines Central allowed me to tour the inside of the building, along with some fire investigators.  I signed the waivers, donned my hardhat and went in.

As soon as I entered the fire scene, my jaw hit the ground.  What I witnessed was a wine holocaust of epic proportions.  Destroyed wines in all directions, as far as the eye could see.  Everything was black, and the fire stench was haunting.  Broken glass still rained from windows above, and melted and broken bottles were strewn everywhere.

wines-central4.jpgI spent about an hour inside the building, and was surprised that I was allowed free access to roam through the wreckage.  One thing I was looking for was wine from Sonoma Valley, of which I found none.  I know there must have been some, though, because of the size of the facility.

Some of the more eye-popping sights were cases of Screamin’ Eagle, where the glass had melted but the labels were still in tact, magnums of Signorello Padrone (meirtage) that were charred beyond recognition, palettes stacked 15 high of rare “reserve” wines that had toppled and burned.

Fire and ATF authorities are being quiet about information gathered to date, but the Sonoma Sun was able to confirm that the fire was started with chemical accelerants, and that Anderson is the primary suspect.

“They found of box of rags in his (Anderson’s) space,” said Polverino.  “There was definitely something on them, but it could have been WD40 for all I know.”

It is unconfirmed whether the rags were used to start the blaze.

I asked Polverino when there might be further announcements.

“We probably won’t say anything until we have Anderson in handcuffs,” she told the Sun.

Authorities have searched Anderson’s house and vehicle in Marin, but aren’t sharing what they found.

Some of the rare wines that were destroyed cannot be easily replaced.

wines-central5.jpg“We had our whole library there,” commented a dejected David Graves, co-founder of Saintsbury Winery in Carneros.  “This is our 25th vintage, and we were planning on hosting some amazing tastings, a lot from large-format bottles.  But now it’s not to happen.  The fact that they’ve determined that the cause was arson is really hard to accept.  Someone’s twisted idea of doing something like this for personal gain is really very upsetting.”

Many Wines Central clients were not insured.

I’m not insured,” said Jeff Tamayo of Cana Vineyards.  “Why would I need insurance in a building like this? I have no idea why somebody would do something like this.”  Tamayo fears that he has lost the 5,300 cases of wine he had stored in the facility.

“It was our whole life,” commented Joy Caldwell of Caldwell Napa.  Her father, winery founder Jack Caldwell, was beyond words.

wines-central6.jpg“They were all in there.  Everything from 1998 on.  Our ’03 was in there, and it hasn’t been released yet.”  Caldwell was unsure of his insurance position.

Wine doesn’t have to be burnt to affect quality. Even moderate amounts of heat are enough to destroy wines.

Jack Krystal, chief partner in Wines Central, told the Sonoma Sun that he felt that some of the wines could be salvaged.

“We’re just trying to do what we can. Right now we don’t know for sure, but it looks like some of the wine is still OK. “

wines-central7.jpgThe impact of this fire will reverberate through the wine industry for years.  In some cases, wineries lost several years of production.  Sure, the insurance companies might pay off, but they will lose years of brand building and momentum.  These wineries will lose their spots on restaurant wine lists and in distributor’s books.  A loss of this size is potentially devastating to a brand.

Wineries who were known to have stored wines at Wines Central could be potentially blacklisted for a long time, as retailers might not want to speculate on whether or not wine was compromised in the fire.

The good news is that no one was seriously hurt.  One firefighter was hospitalized for heat exhaustion.


To see bigger images of the fire

<Click Here>


glbradimage.jpgBradley Gray is a Sonoma, CA based wine journalist. His work has appeared in The Sonoma Index Tribune, Sonoma Magazine, The Sonoma Valley Sun, Wine Spectator, Marin Scope Newspapers, FineLife Magazine, Appellation America,, Grapevine Magazine and others. He can be reached at

Grapelive Latest: Wine of the Week

herm00.gif2000 Delas Hermitage “Marquis de la Tourette” Rhone Red, France. (Syrah)
Elegant and mature like a fine Burgundy with still fresh acidity and brightness, after air it really becomes classic and pure with dried herb, violets, cherry pie, mushrooms and blueberry flavors, before a dry finish with hints of savory game and spices. This wine shows you what nice cellaring adds to Syrah; give this rewarding wine a try! With question it shows some age, but these older wine notes are as they should be and unlock flavors that are hidden in a young wine, especially Hermitage or any Syrah, so keep an open mind and relish this gem. Subtle and dry at first, then gaining sweet plumy fruit and a fuller and rounder mouth feel, finishing long and with hints of caramel and mocha. ($60 at release, though it is a bargain at auction or online at under $45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive


*Rancho Cellars have this wine on special for $35!

Grapelive Latest: Big Sur

Grapelive Latest: Big Sur Food and Wine Festival

Nov. 6th & 7th 2009


Right now there is a great wine festival going on in the amazingly beautiful and cool Big Sur, this event is debuting this year and I think it will continue for many years to come and hope it succeeds out of the gate. I am going to sit in on a panel on Rhone style wine this Saturday and I’m am so looking forward to tasting some wonderful wines and learning from some of the masters of these fine wines, including John Alban of Alban Vineyards. Plus other fantastic Rhone style wineries are presenting wines and are included in this seminar, with Linne Calodo, Beckmen, Tablas Creek, Antiqvs2 (Miura) and one of my favorites L’Aventure Winery of Paso Robles. I am somewhat disappointed to be missing Friday’s big Pinot Noir panel with Calera, Pisoni, Au Bon Climat, Talbott, Miura and Gary Franscioni of Roar, because it is sold out.

n75511428894_4747.jpgBig Sur is going all out and all the great resorts and restaurants there are putting on wine events and wine dinners, including the famed Esalen Institute is doing a wine dinner and soak in their mineral & sulfur hot baths that overlook the cliffs of Big Sur. So if you are not going this year, plan on it for next year for sure. Great nights are happening at: Big Sur River Inn, Post Ranch, Big Sur Roadhouse, Fernwood, The Lodge at Pfeiffer State Park, Big Sur Bakery, Deetjen’s and the fabled Nepenthe that are hosting the big party with our local “Rock Star’s” Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni who’ll pour their fantastic Pinot Noir from the great vineyards of the Santa Lucia Highlands; Rosella’s, Garys’ and the Pisoni Vineyard. Did I mention that Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards is pouring? Well, he is! And he is doing a lot more, giving his time, and donating a special 6-liter of his Monte Bello, one of the greatest wines in the world, to the auction to support the event. Draper will pour selected vintages of Monte Bello at star tasting with Bernardus, Justin, Chappellet and of course his Ridge Vineyards, as well as doing a special dinner at the Ventana Inn along with another local hero Robb Talbott of Talbott Vineyards and others.

The man behind this special event is Toby Rowland-Jones, a local legend, a sommelier, investor in green industries and lovable Brit ex-pat that loves Big Sur like it flows in his blood, which I’m sure it does. Toby wants to raise the profile of wine, food and the environment by showcasing sustainable produce, wine growing, and the benefits of a low carbon-footprint. All with the idea that we need to change our ways and look forward, to protect nature’s gifts to all mankind, and especial this place, Big Sur, which is a national and local treasure that should be cherished for all time. Toby will give some of the proceeds to local causes and non-profits that will help youth in the area and also help the community recover from the scarring left behind from last summer’s massive “Basin Complex” fire. His staff, that have worked their tails off are all wonderful people that have volunteered their time to make this a great event and have tirelessly done a professional job of putting on a show to remember with energy and love, they all should be proud.

Big Sur Food & Wine Festival

Call them at: 831-667-0800

Big Sur Food & Wine Festival