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

Grapelive Latest: Wine of the Week

papapietro07.gif2007 Papapietro-Perry Pinot Noir “Peter’s Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
This is a fantastic wine, and a remarkable Pinot Noir that stands out in what is all ready an amazing vintage. Without question this winery has reached new heights and with this vintage may have equaled Rocchioli and other top wineries in the region, well to be honest they might have surpassed them in this vintage. I was floored by the precision and balance achieved on this complex and smooth Pinot, and the freshness of the fruit and acidity that lifts the flavors. This wine is near perfect with raspberry, black plum, rich cherry fruits with hints of cola, currant, smoke, sweet tea spice and warm vanilla. This wine is long and lush, but still lively and as exciting as a Grand Cru, but Californian all the while. ($55 Est.) 95-96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive Latest: Staglin Family & Felsina Berardenga

Grapelive Latest: Staglin & Felsina

By Kerry Winslow,

staglinkw.jpgIt is always a great day when the best in the world of wine comes to you and asks if you want to taste their wine, and today was like that with top Napa producer Staglin and premier Tuscan producer Felsina dropped in on me in Carmel and showed their wonderful line ups of wine.  It is always a pleasure to see Garen Staglin, of Staglin Family Vineyard and to taste his wines, the Stalin’s are an elite family no question, but they have really given back and deserve lots of gratitude for all they have done for the wine community and their charity. As of today the Stalin’s have raised close to or more than $90 Million for mental health, in support of mental illness care and awareness, which is amazing and truly fantastic. Garen and Sherri Staglin also have a second label “Salus Estate” where all the profits go to mental health research, which is more than most small estates can do for good causes, further still, they put on a great party every year as well for the same cause. Next year they are they will be putting on the 16th Annual event, the Napa Valley Music Festival for Mental Health at the Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford on September 11, 2010 that will feature Dwight Yoakam and close to a hundred premium wineries pouring their wines as well.staglinchard.jpg Staglin employs David Abreu to oversee their vineyard and the famed Michel Rolland to direct the winemaking, so there is good reason to get excited about this estate and their cave is amazing to visit, let alone tasting to wine itself, which is always rated as one of the great wines of the world, not just one of the top wines of Napa Valley. Staglin has received praise from new world and old world press as well as the likes of Robert Parker, James Laube and Jancis Robinson, three of the best wine writers and critics, so it is great to get a chance to try it myself and relate and revisit my own views on the Staglin Family Vineyard.

I have been blessed to have been able to try most of the famed vintages in the past and have been on a tour of the cave and estate, all of which have impressed me greatly and I must say, even as jaded as I any wine buyer or wine writer can get, I am always delighted to try these wines. Staglin is most known for their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also make a world class Chardonnay and even a little bit of Sangiovese. Then they also make the Salus Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from 100% estate grown grapes.

staglincab.jpgThe 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Estate, Napa Valley is the new release and I must say it is a great wine and really enjoyed the beautiful nose and elegant texture is has all ready, without a doubt this wine competes with the heavy weights of Bordeaux for class and style. The 2007 Staglin Family Vineyard Chardonnay Rutherford Estate, Napa Valley is modeled after the Grand Cru Burgundies of Montrachet and it shows good depth and character with pretty pear and white peach layers.While the Chardonnay is a nice and refined wine, it really is the Cabernet that steals the show and makes the grade even in this price level. At $175, the Staglin still manages to compete well as a value as weird as that might sound! But, it does, when you look at Harlan at $500-650, Opus One at $225, Joseph Phelps Insignia at $200 and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at $300-750 all make the Staglin look like a steal! Especially when you look at the critical scoring of these wines since 1995 to now and prices, it shows the Staglin is not only a great wine, but also one that ranks with the best..

Felsina Berardenga

felsinawines.jpgWhen you think of Tuscany and Chianti Classico you can’t not help, but consider Felsina, the iconic prestige Chianti Classico producer, recently named winery of the year for Italy and a winery that has been turning out amazing wines of late. I had some experience with this estate while a wine buyer, and got to enjoy their 1997 releases and well as a few 1995’s as well, then have enjoyed a few more modern vintages over the following years. In 2002 I travelled through Tuscany on vacation and I have a certain fondness for this region and know the Chianti Classico area from a personal perspective, which has made me a fan for life.Felsina Berardenga winery sits on the southern most border of Chianti Classico near Castelnuovo, closer to Siena rather than Florence if you are mentally looking at a map of Tuscany. Felsina focuses on Chianti Classico and the grape of native Tuscany the Sangiovese, and I must say it would be very hard to find a better Chianti Classico or Sangiovese than what Felsina makes. Beyond the Classico, Felsina also makes an IGT Rosso, or all Sangiovese “Super Tuscan”, though I consider the term “Super Tuscan” as a traditionalist, in that it means a wine made in Tuscany including international varietals, so an all-native Sangiovese wine from a non-classified area would be an IGT Rosso. Their other Sangiovese is called Fontalloro and is their flagship wine made from grapes on the estate that are outside the Classico region, and it is from a special terroir that has perfect exposure and soil to get the best out of Sangiovese and it has been proven to great success in many, many vintages. Fontalloro is a massive and glorious wine that deserves every accolade and I was very impressed by the latest release as well as all of the Felsina reds I was shown recently by Caterina Mazzocolin of Felsina.

felsinacaterinakw.jpgCaterina explained that Felsina has great vineyards in Chianti Classico, 11 parcels of which they use for different wines, with all eleven going into the basic Chianti Classico, then a selection of up to seven for their Chianti Classico Riserva, then the single cru site “Rancia” for the Rancia Chianti Classico Riserva that is their top Chianti and a sublime wine that has finesse and richness not usually found in Chianti and I would compare it to a top Bordeaux in a sense, though it is pure to its grape and region. Felsina Berardenga makes extraordinary wines that deliver layers of flavors that are focused and lively making the most of Sangiovese. The basic 2007 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico aged in neutral big ovals (oak) has bright and young fruit, though rich in flavor and a gem with food. Next up is the 2006 Felsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva which is aged longer and is both a vineyard and barrel selection, that does show a big difference and makes for a darker, deeper and more perfumed wine. This wine is magic and sends me straight to Tuscany in my mind with lush berry fruit and lovely balance, if you like Sangiovese and Chianti, you must try this wine. Felsina’s other Classico Riserva is the cru, 2005 Felsina Berardenga “Rancia” Chianti Classico Riserva that is more edgy and tannic, much more like a young Bordeaux and with the French oak almost tastes like one at first with smoke and pencil lead, before opening up and giving classic Sangiovese character. While more intense than the regular, this wine is a joy for any serious wine lover and a wine that will age gracefully and worth keeping your hands off for a few years in the cellar. This wine is on the same level as a Brunello and worth every penny if you can find it, and I suggest a little extra effort and time to find this wine, it will prove rewarding I swear!

fontallaro05.gifThen there is the aforementioned 2005 Felsina Berardenga Fontalloro, a wonderfully textured and bold Sangiovese that explodes on the palate that is more modern in style than the “Rancia” and fills out in the mouth with sweet red berry fruit, though returns to more classic Sangiovese on the finish, again rivaling top Brunellos for richness and depth. As much as I taste wine and am lucky enough to try many interesting wines, this line up hit me and left me wanting more, Felsina is a winery to watch and look for if you haven’t tried any and a winery that is worth searching hard for. I also intend to pay a visit to this place when I return to Tuscany!

Grapelive Latest: Food & Wine Harvest Farm-to-Table Fest 2009

Food & Wine Harvest Farm-to-Table Fest 2009
By Kerry Winslow

harvest2.jpgThis new event that was based on the Tomato Fest has taken things to a new level with great seminars from top chefs and even a Riedel glassware class that showed class and commitment to excellence. A big kudos goes out to Dave Bernahl and Robert Weakly, the same duo behind the Pebble Beach Food & Wine, as they worked tirelessly to put this show on. This year they had Tomatoes yes, but they also tied the farms themselves and wine growers into the mix with some great chefs and restaurants from the central coast and beyond. I had worried about parking and traffic, which in the past had been horrible here at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, but these guys nailed it, and it was a breeze with super managed care. Once inside, you get the warmth of a country fair, though there was some lounge areas to unwind as well, in fact they even had a special Champagne and Hip Hop area that while not really my thing was entertaining the thongs non the less. Being the same time of year as the famed Munich Oktoberfest, they had thought of having a good-sized beer hall tent as well, now that got a lot of play too. There was a good sized crowd when I was there and I can only see things getting better for this event, especially when it gets out how many great wineries were pouring and the talented chefs that had some amazing bites on offer, all in all it was a perfect day.

harvest1.jpgWith chefs galore and a glorious day the Food & Wine Harvest has proven a success to me, even before getting some tasty wine in me! The roll call of cooking talents included and vast selection of stars local and not so local, but all put on some great stuff. There was a select group that I enjoyed best, even though I missed the headliner of the main event Tyler Florence, they included; Cal Stamenov of Marinus, and who had my favorite bite of the day, the baby octopus over a zesty puree, Craig Von Foerster, Sierra Mar, Christophe Grosjean, Aubergine, Jason Balestreri, Cantinetta Luca, Christopher Kostow, Meadowood Napa Valley, Keiko Takahashi, El Paseo Restaurant and Phillip Wojtowicz of the Big Sur Bakery. Please forgive me, as I have left off mention of some stunningly talented people and couldn’t begin to try everything at this awesome event, so I hope people come back next year and that anyone who reads this comes too!

harvest5.jpgThen it was on the taste the wines being poured at the Food & Wine Harvest, which was something that I’m much more qualified to report on anyway! As I was really doing this even for my own enjoyment and mainly as a social thing, I didn’t get down to note taking or geeking out too much, but I can say there was lots of beautiful wines being served and some rare and much sought after bottles here, very unique for an outdoor free flowing show! More power to these guys, it is not often you see bottles of cult wine or top producers pour big glasses of their best stuff, but here they did, I even saw Joseph Phelps Insignia being filled up on more than one pass by. Plus if you looked hard enough you could find some really special wines, and I did, a few that stood out were; L’Aventure Estate Cuvee, Donum Estate Chardonnay, Morlet (Luc Morlet, formally of Peter Michael) Chardonnay and Vision Cellars Pinot Noir from the Rosella’s Vineyard. These four wines seemed to show best for me on this day, but all are fantastic wines, and no question would all rank high on anyone’s list. That said there was lots of super wines to be tried here and others that made me stop and take mental notes were wines by; Tudor, Tantara, Figge, Parsonage, Maia-Lynn and Chock Rock, though like the foodie side, I could not begin to taste all the wines at the Harvest and I’m sure I missed plenty of outstanding wines.

I really hope the Food & Wine Harvest Farm-to-Table Fest continues for many years to come, it was a wonder event that was a huge boost for the whole community and I must say that it also raised awareness of good local and international charities. There was one organization I found very appealing and one that I did drop some cash with as well, and it was Freedom Fields USA. ( Freedom Fields continues the late Princess Diana’s main cause of removing landmines. Right now Freedom Fields is digging up thousands of explosives in Cambodia. They say there about a million landmines buried in border region between Thailand and Cambodia, and they only serve to kill innocents, mostly women and children.  It is estimated that there are 60 million landmines abandoned and waiting to cause harm to animals, farmers, mothers and kids around the world, in fact 5,000 to 10, 000 people are killed or injured each year and these are overwhelmingly in countries in which there is no current war going on. This is a very sobering issue and I hope that a few people will see this and help them out making people safe around the world.

Moving around the booths at the Harvest, I found many friends and characters, most of which poured great wine to me! In my photos, I have included a few familiar faces that have made some excellent wine.
harvest6.jpgThomas Perez, a local sommelier at the famed Aubergine in Carmel, and a classically trained winemaker that learned his trade in Rioja, Spain, has released his first series of wines under his Maia-Lynn label. With the help of Jeff Fink and Tantara Winery Thomas got some great fruit from top vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills region and he put out his 2006 wines this last spring. This weekend I retried some of his premier vintage Pinot, with the 2006 Maia-Lynn Pinot Noir “Rio Vista Vineyard” Ste. Rita Hills showing very nice on the day. Thomas only made a few hundred cases total and they are selling well, which is great news as Thomas is a really good guy that makes everyone around him feel special and providing lots a smiles along the way.

harvest7.jpgI was happy to see Mac from Vision Cellars as well, and though he was very popular and I wasn’t able to interact with him personally this time, I was able to savor his very pretty 2006 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands which is really becoming an attractive and interesting wine with good depth and balance. Vision Cellars has been getting good reviews for many years and looks to keep getting positive press for a long time to come. Mac in his trademark overalls and farmer’s hat is charming and very talented; it was a pleasure to watch him work the crowd.

harvest4.jpgA surprise find at the Harvest was Donum Estate, Anna Moller-Racke’s tiny vineyard estate in Carneros, that is one of the hottest Pinot Noir houses in the state. I was very impressed with the new Pinot Noirs and was blown away with the estate Chardonnay that comes from almost 30 year old vines that are old Wente clone of which only a tiny amount is made. I want to thank Dorothe Moller-Racke, second generation, in the US, wine grower for pouring me the 2007 Donum Estate Chardonnay Carneros. Dorothe took the time to give me all the details and explain the winemaking on this remarkable white and I hope Chardonnay lovers take note, as this wine was in a superior league, making it in my mind on par with some Grand Cru Burgundies. I would put it up there with my very favorite Chardonnay wines, including some fine Corton-Charlemagne!

Carmel Valley, California is a perfect place for this kind of event and enjoys all the terroir and history for foodies and wine lovers as well as organic farmers. With beautiful fall weather Carmel Valley has proven itself as the perfect host venue for the Harvest Fest and I look forward to this event next year all ready!

Grapelive Latest: Brandy’s Back in Italy

“Life Between Nature and Culture”–Prosecco Day with Isabella Spagnolo of Iris Vigneti
By Brandy Falconer,

iris_brgrapes.jpgThis week I traveled from Naples to Venice by plane to visit the heart of Prosecco country, and in particular the Iris Vigneti Winery (  For the last 10 years, husband and wife owners Isabella (Spagnolo) and Loris  (hence, the combined name of I-ris) have been realizing their dream of producing and selling high-quality Prosecco in the luxury market.  I emphasize high-quality here because in the last bunch of years there has been an influx of inexpensive, medium grade Prosecco which, like in the ‘70s with basket-bottle Chianti, makes it difficult for quality producers to distinguish themselves and sell at prices they merit.  Isabella tells me that to combat this, the area where Prosecco is produced is working hard to make funds available to producers to market and export their product, which in her case means constantly traveling the world to show her line of bubbly.  In a sense, Prosecco is the valiant hero of the people of this region, the “Zorro” representing these dreamers, and fighting for a fair share in the global market.

Prosecco, sparkling wine from this particular region in Italy is made from Prosecco grapes using the Charmat method, rather than Méthode Champenoise which means the fermentation occurs in the stainless steel tanks rather than the bottles; and without the processes of riddling, or turning the bottles, and disgorging the sediment as with champagne, these bubbles usually cost considerably less than champagne.  For those of us who like to celebrate just about anything, this is one nice advantage!  Another is the fresh, crisp fruit flavors (without sweetness) rather than the more complex yeast and cheese flavors found in most traditional champagne.

iris_grapesbottles.jpgAt Marco Polo airport in Venice, Isabella picked me up and we drove straight to the seat of Prosecco country, Valdobbiadene, which you have probably seen on labels of Prosecco with DOC designation.  This area is a sharp contrast from the Venice we know and love, with its rolling green hills and more area dedicated to grapevines than to houses and towns.  Out of this green wilderness, order takes shape as small parcels of rows of vines  appear like puzzle pieces fitting nicely together.  Vineyards are rolling up and over hills, around houses and groves of trees, and though the grapes have already been picked, the  vines are beautiful as the leaves start to change color.  Valdobbiadene has signs for the “strada del vino” or wine-road throughout the town pointing Prosecco pilgrims to the different wineries which helps make this a tourist-friendly experience not always found in other famous wine regions.  The calm and tranquility of this town offer a nice contrast to the spirit of celebrations of every kind that merit popping open a bottle of bubbly, and this gives me a sense that this is a treasure, understated, and worth the effort of discovery.

iris_tastingtable.jpgBack at the winery, a beautiful and modern complex which houses the offices, tasting area and production facility, I start to learn the history and the source of the passion behind Iris Vigneti.  Awards cover the walls of the offices, from shows in New York, London and Valdobbiadene, and after tasting the collection, it is easy to see why.  The tasting area is upstairs at an incredibly long table that seats 30.  As I look around, admiring the open space and light, Isabella tells me that this part of the building is inspired by her love of Kenya, and the lodges found there.

iris_oderzo1.jpgThat night and the next morning, I had the pleasure of visiting the nearby town of Oderzo, an old Roman town that has aged gracefully and welcomes visitors with beautiful architecture, frescoes and a river that winds through it.  I will surely return to this town, because I found everything here: relaxed atmosphere, beautiful cafes and stores, and friendly people, and in addition, the first question at the restaurants and cafes is “a glass of Prosecco?”  My hosts at the Postumia Hotel Design will definitely see me again, as they offered all the comforts of a sophisticated American boutique hotel (not easily found in Italy), in a 33-room package, steps from the city center, with a restaurant serving delicious Venetian specialties along the riverbank; perfect.

iris_ibgrapes.jpgBefore leaving for the airport, I would have the opportunity to see the harvest and production in action.  The press is filled with grapes picked that morning, and Loris starts the machine, extracting the first juice to become Prosecco, and little Alessandro, their son, looks on from the seat of the forklift, pretending to direct the action.  Inside, Isabella shares with me her “wine book” which expresses in beautiful fashion what compels her to follow her dreams of producing these beautiful, shining bottles of bubbly, and this for me adds something to the experience of tasting the collection of Prosecco, because I know that it is produced with passion and attention to detail.  And when choosing the right bubbly with which to really celebrate something, in the true sense of the word, isn’t this a great reason?

(Dedicated to Daniel Barduzzi, a generous friend and a life worthy of grand celebration)

Brandy Falconer 

Wine Writer & Guest Columnist for

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