Grapelive Special Report

Grapelive Special Report: Fairchild 2007 Releases Preview Tasting at 750 Wines, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
By Kerry Winslow

April 19, 2010-Napa Valley

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fairchildkw.jpgThe Fairchild Estate is releasing their tiny production Cabernets from the 2007 vintage, two wines, one from Lawrence Fairchild’s hillside vineyard and home property, and the other from the famed Beckstoffer sites, mainly the George III Vineyard and some of the prized To Kalon Vineyard, both from selected blocks. Fairchild continues with Paul Hobbs as winemaker and consultant and again has made stunning and layered wines with the outstanding grape sources available to him. The is no question these wines are some of the most interesting, rich and compelling Cabernets I’ve come across, and I was massively impressed with this estate’s 2006 offerings, of which I wrote about a few months back, though the 2007’s look to be more complex and slightly deeper overall. It was a great pleasure to meet Lawrence Fairchild and get to know him and his vision, to understand what he was after in his wines and how he got started. I find it intriguing where people come from, how they became passionate about wine, and to get inside their heads a bit, and I must say Fairchild is as impressive as his wines, while being easy going, humble and engaging. He also is almost a one man show when it comes to his label, except that he gets great people to do what he can’t do, Paul Hobbs to make the wine and Jim Barbour to tend to the vines show his total commitment to making the best wine possible. Though, every detail is managed by Lawrence, and he oversees everything with great pleasure and intensity, he is the kind of guy that can read the data, understand the science, but also can feel the nature of the vineyard and enjoy it all on every level.
Fairchild says his main interest is being close to his vineyard and understanding the vines, he comes from a farm in Nebraska and grew up reading the crops and knowing what would come at harvest time. This makes him very aware and sensitive to the needs of the vines, so he has one of the best vineyard managers in Napa on call to make sure his vines give the best grapes possible, though this level of care doesn’t come cheap and Fairchild spares no expense to get the best out of his vines, even though they yield only about a ton and a quarter an acre of fruit, that is a tiny amount per plant, but it means total quality. I must say, for what those four barrels cost, you have to admire the passion and effort that he puts in, and the wines show it. Paul Hobbs, one of the premier winemakers and consultants, makes wines that show great richness and depth, but without severe tannins or overripe flavors, all of which led Fairchild to search Hobbs out in the first place, and reflect the style of wine he wanted. Lawrence spent time in the late eighties taking wine classes and tasting seminars in San Francisco learning about and trying Bordeaux and Burgundy wines and got hooked on them, fast becoming more and more interested in wine and vineyards.

He says his first big “Ah Ha” wine moment came when trying a 1990 Premier Cru Red Burgundy that was one of the wines that really put the bug in and pushed him to explore wine more completely. Lawrence also said at the time he had fun buying Chateau Palmer and other quality Bordeaux that at the time were very affordable and gave him a chance to develop his palate. When asked about his early experiences with California wines, he very interestingly said that he was into Zinfandel and mentioned Biale, and then later Outpost as wines he really enjoyed. He credits this time of his life to wanting to make elegant wines that show balance and never too much sugary sweetness or oakiness, as he had long admired the great Chateaux of Bordeaux. With Hobbs, Fairchild has succeeded and his wines are very true to his vision and he can be proud, as they are very much like the best vintage Bordeaux in quality and texture, even if they will not be mistaken for the French wines, they certainly have to class to compete against the world’s best.

fairchild07release1.jpgFairchild says he devotes about 30 to 40 percent of his time to his estate, where he lives and the vineyard that makes the estate Sigaro Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest of his time goes into his consulting and start up business, he went from a farm boy from Nebraska to an investment banker in San Francisco, where he ended up successfully helping companies develop and he has made a name for himself as a savvy investor. His current project is with a small company that is working with the University of Maryland, building a hub for information on the research and treatment of H.I.V globally, looking to create a worldwide database so that doctors and scientists can get the latest results and patient reactions within minutes. They want this global hub to be easily accessed and even easier to upload information to, in fact they are trying to make it so doctors even in remote villages in Africa can do so by using their cellular phones, as there is not much in the way of landlines or broadband in these poorer areas. This seems like an amazing project and one that can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people, and I am hoping he sees this become as successful as I feel he has achieved in his wines. Without a doubt Lawrence Fairchild is a remarkable guy, and has impressed me with his dedication and pursuit of quality in his life, you just have to admire the grit and energy he puts into everything. He also proves you can be a great success and still be real nice guy and have humility in your relations with people, maybe that is the quality I liked most after meeting him, well then, the wines were pretty darn good too.

fairchild07nv1.gifThe 2007 Fairchild Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a cuvee of 88% Beckstoffer George III and 12% Beckstoffer To Kalon, is almost a complete change from the 2006 Napa, as that wine had much more To Kalon and some Star Lane, but may just be all that much better for the switch to mostly George III, one of the most famous Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the valley. The wine certainly has more power and structure than the 2006 and will age like a champ, it shows intense fruit that is balanced by ripe, but firm tannins and while it will develop many more interesting layers given time, it all ready has complexity and depth that few 2007 show yet. I still think it would be best to put a few bottles away from 5 to 10 years; the wine would be great with food right now, tonight even. Everything is there to be a true classic, and the proof is in the details, a great vineyard, small production and a great winemaker, you can bank on this wine. The nose is showing hints of floral, mineral, smoke, red and black fruit, while the palate is alive with classic Napa Cab flavors, blackberry, blueberry, currant, crème de cassis, menthol and fresh tobacco leaf and cedar. Nothing is out of place here, the mouth-feel is full and lush, but still very dry and gripping, plus the flavors feel fresh and lifted with some gentle acidity. This serious wine will pump out layers of greatness for decades, of that I am confident, very much like fine Bordeaux, though more true to its own terroir.

fairchild07sigaro1.gifFairchild’s Signature wine is the estate Cab, the 2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley. This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. This wine is a gem, and pretty close to a masterpiece, I look forward to seeing this wine evolve and trying the next few vintages, as I suspect this tiny vineyard is going to keep producing better and better grapes over the years as it gets age. This vineyard located on the Eastern side of the Napa Valley is close to Lake Hennessy and near Howell Mountain up Conn Valley Road in an area that has good exposure and rocky soils, all of which Cabernet loves. The Sigaro also gets a small touch of Petit Verdot, something like 3% and while that is not much really, it does add a bit of color and gives a little something extra to the wine according to Hobbs and Fairchild, and I did notice the Sigaro looked a shade darker than the Napa Valley, and since they tasted the barrels to make the wine they must have thought it important to splash the Petit Verdot in the blend. This wine is so far my favorite 2007 Cabernet and is a fantastic Cabernet that will both age decades, and drink great whenever you decide to open a bottle, a hallmark of a great wine in my book, and this is the real deal.

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Mentions

*As these wonderful wines are extremely limited, both of which production was a mere 100 cases, or four barrels, I say thanks to Lawrence Fairchild for pouring them for me and a huge thank you to 750 Wines in St. Helena for continuing to invite me to taste such one of kind wines and introducing me to new wineries and great people that have a real passion for what they are doing. I feel very honored and hope my humble feedback helps them get insight into how these wines will be received when then get out on the market. David and Monica Stevens at 750 Wines are paving the way for a new age era wine merchant model and I think they are doing a terrific job and provide sublime service. If you are a wine lover and or collector you need to check them out when you are in Napa, you’ll be rewarded no doubt.

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750 Wines (Wine Merchants)
www.750wines.com

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Fairchild Estate (Winery)
www.fairchildwines.com

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Grapelive Latest: April 24

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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fairchild07sigaro.gif2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley.
This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. Only 100 cases made. ($150 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

www.fairchildwines.com

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Grapelive Special Report

Down by the River
By Kerry Winslow

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Russian River-April 18, 2010

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rrfarm.jpgThe Russian River Valley never ceases to amaze me and I find new hidden corners and gems each time I visit, plus I have habits that need feeding, so I swing by some of my usual suspects almost each time I get up that way. Now that I live in the backyard basically, it was an easy drive on a wondrous and warm spring day, and my mood for adventure has just that much brighter. Off Highway 101 at Healdsburg, resisting to strong pull to slip into town and hang out on the plaza, I lefted and headed into the wine country on Westside Road that is the line between Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley regions. Westside veers left about a mile down and you fast approach the fancy of my heart, Rochioli and the gateway to the wineries in the area though a series of twists and turns down the river itself at certain points along the way. For me, a long time fan of Rochioli, I just can’t pass the place, even to just stop and taste the current releases and see the winery cat, but alas Sweetpea wasn’t hanging around the busy tasting room on this day. Rochioli had only wines that I have reviewed and talked about at length just recently, so it was on to something new.

rocsign.jpgWith early green leaves sprouting and a hot and brilliant sun shining through the vines, it was truly a magical drive and still without the slowpoke summer travelers to hold me back. The vineyards are beautiful all year for me, but spring is a special time to see them, especially when they are framed by so much green, in the hills and trees and everything thing takes on a sharper dimension, bluer sky and greener leaves come more vibrantly into focus at this time. Passing these scenes just gives you a bigger smile, a feeling of well being, and may even make the wine taste that much better. I pulling off at the old Davis Bynum property, now called Thomas George Estates, these guys are new and I’ve not heard a word about them yet, so here was the chance to get my first impressions. I must say, they have done massive upgrading to the place and I was awed by the commitment they are putting into a small family winery, everything is new and well planned out, and they even dug a cave into the hillside, very rare for the Russian River, and no detail has been overlooked. They are new here and are still filling the cave up with their red wines, from the 2008 and 2009 vintages, while the 2009 whites are under the winery keeping cool. I got a great tour from Eric Demuth, an up and coming wine maker in his own right, who is helping out at Thomas George Estates. Eric’s dad used to have an Anderson Valley winery name Demuth, but has since sold out and retired, though still selling his older vintages out of his Mini Cooper. Eric’s label is Demuth Kemos, and has some limited Cabernets and a Chard available, and I will get back to you on them when I get chance to visit his own winery at a future date.

thomasgeorgepn.jpgBack to Thomas George, and their wines all of which are well made and the whiles were especially refreshing. I enjoyed their stainless steel fermented and aged Viognier and Chardonnay, then Eric showed me the 2007 Pinots, one from estate vineyards and a special bottling of an “Allen Vineyard”, those who know the famed Williams-Selyem and Gary Farrell would have heard of this top vineyard, similar to Rochioli “West Block”, and finally a tasty Dry Creek Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir selection was the highlight, and both showed great on this day, but that “Allen” really got my attention. I am looking forward to coming back here regularly to see how things progress, and hike up to the vineyards again, they put a path in that leads up a steep forest grade to a vineyard that overlooks much of the valley and helped give me my exercise for the day.

Pushing on South in direction I made my way to one of the long time old school wineries of the region, after leaving Westside Road, twisting east on River Road, I exited up Laguna Road and tucked away about a mile is Joseph Swan Vineyards, close to Forestville and one of the pioneers of the region. I used to have Swan often by in the eighties and nineties, though have not followed them that closely in recent years, so it was fun to go here and see how the wines taste now. Joseph Swan is still very old school, and the wines are packed with tannins and acidity, making drinking young wines next to impossible, except for the Chardonnay.

jspn061.jpgThese wines take me back, though I must say, they seem very had and out of date when compared to what is available of great quality on the market from the region. The contrast is dramatic, but I’m sure those who put a few bottles away, or like to cellar their wines will be rewarded by stocking away some of the 2007 Joseph Swan Pinots, especial the powerful and tight “Great Oak Vineyard” wine. The Chard was very clean and ripe, the 2006 Cuvee de Trois Pinot was almost ready to drink and quite enjoyable, the monster Hermitage like 2005 “Great Oak Vineyard” almost ripped my palate to shreds, you might give this one another decade, then there was an odd ball, the 2006 Tannat “Matthew’s Station Vineyard” that was very raisiny and had a Port like character, not to my taste at all, but it seems to sell well and have homes to go home to, though it is nothing like a good Madiran (a Tannat wine from South West France). Swan also does lots of Zinfandel, and I tried the 2005 “Mancini Ranch” and again thought it would be best to give it more time as it was too tight and spicy still. No question, if you want to taste some throwback wines, that really are for the cellar, Joseph Swan is your must visit place when you get up here, they continue to produce wines in their iconic and classic style, true to their heart.

After Swan, I was interested in seeing the most modern and extreme example of Russian River wines would taste, so I continued East now on River Road to Martinelli Winery, a modern classic if you like. Under the guidance of the famed Helen Turley, Martinelli has become the stuff of legends, making big fruit driven wines that go down well with all the critics. These ripe high alcohol wines sometimes are too much for me, especially the Zinfandels and Syrahs, but as mentioned they have an almost cult like following and get big scores. I must admit, I really do like the Pinot Noirs and even covet their Chardonnay at times, and I must say the Martinelli’s are great people, down to earth and very friendly, so it would be hard not to love their wines.

kwgeorgemartinelli1.jpgToday was made even better than I could even imagine, it was their private customer wine pick up day, and they had a special event going where they were pouring some very rare releases and even some 2009 Pinot and Syrah from the barrel! Of course, they would let me in off the street, right? Well, they didn’t call the cops and in fact everyone was amazingly friendly and I got to taste all the wines, both in the tasting room and at the special pouring near the crush pad out back. I must be lucky sometimes, this I know and am grateful, and today was working out perfectly with no problems or even a wrinkle, so I even was able to taste through the Martinelli line up with George Martinelli, a tall charming man that heads up the farming side for the family winery. He took me through all the wine and even pulled wine from barrels for me, again I must thank my lucky stars and thank George as well, as he made an all ready good day great and it was great to hear about the vineyards and vines from someone that is so close to them and knows them all. I was sadly only a taste and spit guy today, which caused some interesting looks from the faithful, though the Martinelli’s understood perfectly, though spitting into a drain on the floor doesn’t look pretty! But, we are professionals here and some of these wines were pushing 17% alcohol, so regardless of not looking cool, it had to be done. That all said, and in good humor, these wines had wonderful depth and flavors that did make me wish I had brought that designated driver everyone talks about.

Martinelli is losing Helen Turley after this year, but don’t worry about a thing the same guy that was making the wine under her is staying, Bryan Kvamme, and he is the real deal and will keep Martinelli at the top of their game for years to come. Bryan was there today as well, holding down the Zinfandel table and pouring the fabled “Jackass Vineyard” to great fanfare I must add, that was a very popular spot today. martinellipn.jpgThe wines that really stood out for me, as good as all of them were, had to be the 2006 Three Sisters Chardonnay, the 2007 Bondi Pinot, the really amazing 2007 Moonshine Ranch, the 2008 Bondi Pinot and the 2009 Zio Tony Pinot from barrel. Before everyone screams at me, I will say the Jackass Zin and Giuseppe & Luisa Zin both showed very well too, though the only Syrah that jumped out to me was the 2009 barrel sample. It was interesting to hear that they plan to expand the Syrah line up and that they are looking to it to be their driving force red in the future. Certainly, they know what their customers want and even if they are not to my taste, these wines are very well made and receive lots of great press. And as I said, I really liked the 2009 from barrel, so be your own judge and try them yourselves. There is no doubt about it Martinelli Winery and the Martinelli family, starting here in Sonoma back in 1860, are a class act and it was with great respect and even greater pleasure to see them and taste their wonderful wines.

It is hard to beat the wine county in springtime, and the Russian River Valley is one of my very favorite places to be, and days like today will keep me coming back even more. The people and the region are special treasures and it is an honor for me to call them neighbors now and get to know them on a new and more personal level. It is a joy to have guys like Eric Demuth and George Martinelli enlightening me to the insider ways of the Russian River and to learn about what is next for the areas wines. This place is special and I have high expectations for the future up here, with old and modern ways, old and new clone vines, and good stewards of the land, you can have it all and it tastes sublime.

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Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
www.rochioliwinery.com
6192 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448-8319
(707) 433-2305

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Thomas George Estates (Winery)

www.thomasgeorgeestates.com
8075 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, Sonoma County, CA 95448
1(707)431-8031

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Joseph Swan Vineyards (Winery)
www.swanwinery.com
2916 Laguna Road
Forestville, CA 95436-3729
(707) 573-3747

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Martinelli Winery
www.martinelliwinery.com
3360 River Road.
Windsor, CA 95492
(800) 346-1627

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Grapelive Latest: Weekend Pick

Grapelive Weekend Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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bcsrhchard08.gif2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills.
White flowers, lemon curd, fig and kiwi all going nicely with core peach and pear fruit. Bright, perfumed, tangy with citrus notes, subtle oak and mineral. I was quick to rate this wine, and after going back to it, I might be well served to raise the score, this is a very pretty and complex wine that is only going to fill out in the next year…. Note to self, revisit soon… Brewer-Clifton started the Sta. Rita Hills series last year, and these wines are their banner wines and are made from the top lots of each of the Cru vineyard sites! They are a great value and are not seconds or lesser barrels, these wines are everything the single vineyard wines are, as they are a cuvee of all of them put together.

($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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Grapelive Latest: April 16

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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orion08.gif2008 Sean Thackrey Orion Rossi Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
This is one of the most sought after reds in California by a select group of wine groupies! And collectors of course…. Thackrey makes truly unique and one of a kind wines that reflect terroir, and imaginative winemaking in an extreme location, he lives almost on the edge of the world in Bolinas, on the West Marin coast, and this also adds to the flavor of the wine. The Orion is his creative masterpiece and signature wine, and the fruit comes from old vines of which we know includes Syrah, but many other grapes are in there, right? I don’t think anyone ever thinks of the type grape when tasting any of Thackrey’s wines, as they go beyond classification and are totally beyond normal description, but then that is what makes them special and intriguing. This vintage of Orion is amazing and I find it complex and wild, though not as funky as the last couple of vintages, with fresher and more vivid flavors. The nose has a briny, earthy quality per normal, but it also has clean fruit notes and is not as gamey or reduced as it can be. Don’t get me wrong here the last few vintages have been stellar wines, it is just that they took much longer to open up and come alive, while the 2008 is more forward and no less complex or deep in layers. The palate has wild plums, blueberry, currants, tangy blackberry fruits and mixed compote with fennel, lavender and dried herbs and grilled meat. Hints of smoke, pepper and crème de cassis are subtle in the background. The finish on this wine is sweet and savory, lasting a long time; again this is a truly fine and interesting wine that is worth finding if you can.
($90 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

If you are interested in this or one of the wines reviewed on grapelive.com feel free to email me, and I’ll try to help you get it.

kerry@grapelive.com

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Grapelive Latest: April 15

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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full_thumbnail.jpg2007 Calera Pinot Noir DeVilliers Vineyard, Mt. Harlan. (Central Coast)
This new single vineyard Pinot from Calera is fantastic and in my mind the best young Calera Pinot Noir I’ve ever had! While Calera Pinot always seem to become outstanding wines with age, they rarely taste this good on release and I think the vintage may have helped, but I am very impressed by this vineyard and recommend Pinot lovers rush out and grab it by the case at the release price! The nose is full of fruit and flowers and the flavors explode on the palate, even though most people compare Calera to great Burgundy, I think Burgundy would be very flattered to be talked of in the same breath! This is the real deal and a remarkable Pinot Noir with depth, style, vibrant flavors and layers of complexities, plus it is still young and will only get richer and more vivid! Roses, violets, black currant, cherry, plum and mixed berries all come flowing out on the nose and palate. The mouth feel is wonderful and ripe with a background of savory spice, lavender and smoky sweet oak notes with everything balanced to near perfection.
($38 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

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If you are interested in this wine, just email me and I’ll help you get it

kerry@grapelive.com

Grapelive Latest: April 14

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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bcsrhchard081.gif2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sweeney Canyon” Sta. Rita Hills.
Okay, right off the bat, I’ll tell you this Chardonnay is not for the Rombauer crowd, it is more for a select few of enthusiasts that go for Chards that don’t really taste like run of mill Chards. This vintage is like Chablis Grand Cru meets Riesling from Alsace! It sounds crazy and geeky, but this wine is cool and seductive, I could not get enough of it and look forward to trying it again! Steve Clifton told me that there was a trace amount of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc in this vineyard and all the grapes are picked like a field blend, which is why it is so unique, even though there is at least 90-92% Chardonnay in the final wine. Steely with honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot, pear, mineral spices. Edgy and bright though opens up with time to reveal apple and lemon, with brioche and quince. I love this wine, might just be my personal favorite, I could easily rate it a few points higher..

($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

*If you are interested in Brewer-Clifton wines drop me an email, and I’ll help you get them!

kerry@grapelive.com

Or Visit:

www.brewerclifton.com

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Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton Release Lunch

Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton 2008 Releases
By Kerry Winslow

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Brewer-Clifton Wine Lunch at Spruce, in San Francisco, April 12, 2010

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bc4.jpgIt doesn’t get much better than this, sitting next to Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton Winery, the hot and highly prized Santa Rita Hills Pinot and Chard producers, and having his wines with an amazing lunch at Spruce Restaurant in the City, I mean these are the kind of food and wine events you dream about. I had never been to Spruce, though I had heard great things, and it lived up and surpassed the high praise it receives, no question. As for the wines, well, let’s just say they were near perfect and the word fantastic comes to mind. Plus, the bonus was that the staff at Spruce was warm and professional, they deserve to be mentioned in the highest regard for their quality and manner. The food was beautiful and tasted out of this world, so if you haven’t been to Spruce in San Francisco, go, and there is no doubt in my mind you’ll love the food, the place and the people. Sometimes we get jaded, I mean, I get to a lot of wine lunches, tasting and dinners, more than my fair share I’m sure, it though sometimes gets to be all the same and it is hard to not get burnt out on them once in a while, but I am so glad I braved the pouring rain and traffic to attend this lunch. Not only was it a lovely and interesting selection of wine and terrific food pairings, I really learned a lot and time just flew by.

Brewer-Clifton started in 1996, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, friends, winemakers and partners found a way on a shoestring budget to form a new winery and craft some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot on the Central Coast. From the start they shared a vision and made a plan to focus on the region, which would become known as the Santa Rita Hills, or Sta. Rita hills if you want to obey copyright laws! With the help of the Santa Barbara Futures program through the famed Wine Cask Restaurant and Wine Shop in Santa Barbara, Greg and Steve were able to showcase their talents and build their brand, and getting the money up front helped secure them as a viable operation, in fact as Steve tells it, they had to sell their wine on futures from the barrel, because they had no money for labels, corks or for grapes! And that is why they did the wax capsules and still do, they couldn’t afford the set up costs.

bc3.jpgVery quickly, word of mouth and restaurants had Brewer-Clifton rolling and these two stars were born and the area soon was the rage and everyone was buzzing about the Santa Barbara and especially the new Santa Rita Hills region. Before these guys, there was a few names that got press and nice reviews, these included Sanford, Byron and Ojai, now only Ojai is in the quality league as both Byron and Sanford got taken over by big wine companies that just wanted them as labels. This was before the movie “Sideways” made the Santa Rita Hills the most sought after wine area in the world, but of course the extra hype after “Sideways” was icing on the cake for Brewer-Clifton and they have never looked back.

Greg Brewer also is the head winemaker at Melville Winery and Vineyards where his talents again have made them almost as famous, and maybe even more, While Steve and his wife Crystal have their own project making some of the best Italian style wines in the States under their Palmina label. But it is the Brewer-Clifton wines that is the core of their passions and the region that holds them true, they now source only from the top sites in the area and have a bigger say in the farming, which really shows in the latest wines and gives them more security for the future.
I met Steve and Crystal about ten years ago, and have been luck to have had most every vintage of Brewer-Clifton since 2000, when they were able to release enough, wine not bought in futures, to get them out on the market. They as people, Greg, Steve and Crystal, and as winemakers have always impressed me, with the Brewer-Clifton label ranking right up there with Rochioli in my personal favorite wines.

bcpic1.jpgAround the 2000 vintage, they got the stunning endorsement of famed wine critic Robert Parker and have regularly seen 90-95 Point rating from him, making them very exclusive wines to find and help push them to the top of their field. None of their overwhelming success has gone to their head(s), in fact they all seem even more down to earth and playful than ever, and are very easy to talk to and eager to learn about their own wines and how everyone sees them. Steve and Greg have changed next to nothing about how they make the Brewer-Clifton in the last 10 years or so, except a tweak of yeast and going from 25% new oak to zero new oak in the barrel regime, it has really been focus on the vineyard that has been where they have done the most. I guess you’d call them traditional in their approach, and certainly it is far from modern to not use new oak, and in most cases the kiss of death in the ratings game where lots of sweet toasty new oak gets more attention and better reviews. But, sticking to their core values and wanting to show the fruit over oak and terroir over the latest craze has worked for these guys. Now they have been modern in terms of high alcohol, in fact they have had Chardonnays topping out in port like range, at well over 16%, though with their new found control of the growing side of these the percentage of alcohol has been dropping by a big margin, with the latest wines closer to 14%, and I am loving the wines even more. This crop management has done wonders, allowing better overall ripeness of the grapes and stems, plus balancing the naturally high acidity from this very cool climate region, and I believe this will take Brewer-Clifton to the next level and lead them to even greater things in the future.

bcpic2.jpgBrewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel vineyard is the ace up their sleeve, it is a top site and it is all their own, they are the only ones that get fruit from here and they control the whole thing. This “Monopole” is the wineries showcase, like Kistler Vineyard, Maracassin Vineyard, or Pisoni Vineyard (even though Pisoni sells some of his fruit of course), these vineyards are like the American Grand Cru super sites, producing top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir together. In Burgundy, there are only two Grand Cru vineyards that give both Grand Cru white and red, Musigny and Corton, so it is rare for a single vineyard to produce such high quality of both the grapes, even though Pinot Noir and Chardonnay enjoy the same climate and soils, and most often grown close to each other, but we are talking about the best of the best here. Mount Carmel is a challenging place for growing grapes and gives a few hair-pulling moments, according to Clifton, but it really gives fantastic fruit and I can attest to the sublime and deep flavors the wine shows year after year. I can say I have tasted many Mount Carmel Chardonnays that rivaled or reminded me of Batard-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay vineyards on earth. This for sure is a special vineyard, and I find the Pinot Noir almost as exciting as I do the Chardonnay from Brewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel. The combination of exposure, soils, which include limestone and botella clay, steep slopes and unique clones all play a part in making Mount Carmel the magical spot it is.

bcduck.gifThe 2008 vintage seems to be somewhat overlooked so far and underrated, but in most cases, in the best areas, I am finding them even better than the stellar 2007’s with more perfume, deeper complexities and more vibrant flavors. This goes especially true in the case of Chardonnay, as the 2007 seem fat or sweet, somewhat dull when compared to the 2008 vintage. Maybe the 2008’s didn’t show well in the barrel? I can only tell you they are coming on strong now and the Brewer-Clifton wines across the board are all, in my opinion, much more interesting than the last two or three vintages and I firmly believe will just get better over time. Both Steve and Greg (who was not present at Spruce) echo this on their own and Steve thinks 2008 was his best year and line up to date, even though he is sentimental for his early efforts, as anyone can well understand. Overall 2007 was excellent with big rich wines, I’m not knocking it, I have plenty stored away myself, but I am a big fan of the 2008 vintage for Pinot Noir on the Central Coast, from the Santa Lucia Highlands to the Santa Rita Hills, while their was some fire problems in the North and customers will have to really be careful of some areas like Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, no such worries for Brewer-Clifton that is for sure.

bcspuce.gifBrewer-Clifton also has two sublime value wines available, a cuvee of selected vineyards for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both were taken from their finished single vineyard selections and blended, these coming from the best lots, nothing from seconds or barrels that didn’t go into the single vineyard wines. These under $40 wines are as good as anything they do, though they maybe lack a bit of the unique quality of the single site terroir, but that said I bet most people would like these as well if not more in most cases. So far Brewer-Clifton has released a select few of their 2008’s, and what I tried today (April 12, 2010) were the spring release: 2008 Santa Rita Hills Chard & Pinot, 2008 Sea Smoke Chard, 2008 Sweeney Canyon Chard, 2008 Mount Carmel Chard, 2008 Ampelos Pinot, 2008 Mount Carmel Pinot and the 2008 Melville Pinot. All of which topped 90 Points in my notes. It was hard to pick a favorite wine of the day, but I narrowed it down to three wines from the 2008 vintage: The Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay, the Mount Carmel Pinot and the Melville Pinot. That was tough, as all the wines were amazing and who knows, I may end up rating them different the next time I try them! When all is said and done, the vintage was a huge success for Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, with stunning and pure wines and an even better future to look forward to in the coming years, these guys aren’t going anywhere but up.

Quick Wine Notes

2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills.
White flowers, lemon curd, fig and kiwi all going nicely with core peach and pear fruit. Bright, perfumed, tangy with citrus notes, subtle oak and mineral. I was quick to rate this wine, and after going back to it, I might be well served to raise the score, this is a very pretty and complex wine that is only going to fill out in the next year…. Note to self, revisit soon…
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sea Smoke” Sta. Rita Hills.
smoky, with nice oak notes, hazelnuts, rich apple and pear fruits, lemon cream, full-bodied, nice mineral edge and some fig. Needs time to show all that is here…. Maybe I should give it a better score?
($53 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.

Lemon, verbena, lime tree, white peach, pear and apple with touches of clove, spice, mineral. Rich and full, but vibrant and racy. I can’t wait to try this beauty in the years to come, it should get lots better still, but it is so good now…

($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sweeney Canyon” Sta. Rita Hills.
steely with honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot, pear, mineral spices. Edgy and bright though opens up with time to reveal apple and lemon, with brioche and quince. I love this wine, might just be my personal favorite, I could easily rate it a few points higher..

($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills.
whole cluster spicy with grenadine and rose petals, black cherry, red plum and berry fruit, silky and round with long finish. Will great potential to get better!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Ampelos” Sta. Rita Hills.
Biodynamic, sweet and funky to start, but opens up nicely with lovely texture with pomegranate, currant, plum and raspberry plus a red cherry fruit core. Some Asian spices, and a long lingering finish. 828 clone, unique and intriguing.
($53 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.
A perfected mix of clones gives real depth and complexities, floral perfume, rich body, pretty color, hints at violets, roses, black cherry, plum with bright lively flavors, all vibrant with hints of apple skin, spices. Long fruit sweet finish.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Melville” Sta. Rita Hills.
bold, intense, young and layered with black and dark fruit all through, rich palate, great depth, plum, cherry, currant, black fig, firm structure, but very long on the finish. Wind swept site planted to 114 and 115 clones, long hang-time adds complexities and the wine seems darker in color.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

***

*On a side note, I want to thank Spruce and its staff for the extra care and personal service, it just added to the wonderful food that dazzled us at the tasting, and a thank you to Steve and Crystal Clifton for their time and effort in presenting the Brewer-Clifton wines. They also opened three library wines from their own stash, a 2000 Marcella’s Chardonnay (93-94), a 2002 Mount Carmel Chardonnay (94) and a 2004 Cargasschi Pinot Noir (95), all showed well, great in fact. I am most grateful.

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 Brewer-Clifton

www.brewerclifton.com

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Spruce
www.sprucesf.com
3640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 931-5100

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Full notes and ratings to follow

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

 Grapelive Special Report From Vinitaly 2010

vinentry.jpg

“What’s old is new again!” (A View of Southern Italy)
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive guest columnist

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mastro_grecov.jpgThis year marks the 44th edition of Vinitaly, the largest wine expo in the world with over 4,200 exhibitors here to present their wines. Here in Verona, the weather is beautiful and sunny, a welcome change from the typical rainy 5-day event. Perhaps the change in weather is a symbol for the change in attitude of the winemakers from “how to survive the crisis” to “looking toward the future.” Yes, there are a lot of smaller wineries up for sale here and around the world at the moment, but others with their eyes forward are planning their futures, strategically.

With a more precise plan of attack this year, and armed with a newly acquired press pass, the event from the outside looked much more manageable this year.  That was, until I left the blue sky and sunshine and stepped through the door of the first pavilion.  The instant change left me feeling like Alice in Wonderland, so I got my bearings and quickly made my way to the stand of Iris Vignetti where I was met with the friendliest of greetings and a glass of bubbly from my friend Isabella Spagnolo. Her beautifully presented line of Prosecco is the perfect start to fun and adventure.  Let the tastings begin!

Just like discovering the centuries-old treasures of Italian cities, like the famous Roman arena at the heart of Verona, Southern Italian wineries are presenting and releasing some treasures that many would believe had been lost to time. The news that peaked my interest first about this year’s Vinitaly is the presentation of older wines from Sicily and Campania. Reading this in California, you may wonder why it is such a big deal to talk about, say, 10 year old wines. Well, it’s not if you are talking about a barrique-aged Taurasi from Campania, commonly referred to as the Barolo of the South. But when you are talking about 10-year-old white wines, or when you are talking about the much hotter climate in Sicily for example, this is big news. What it means is that the wineries are making great wine, with healthy grapes, properly using and expressing the terroir, or territorio as they call it here. This is a great sign for those who are tired of the all-too-common comments of wine critics who think southern Italian wineries do not produce with enough consistency yet to be competitors in the worldwide market. It is also great news for those looking to discover a new favorite in an agreeable price bracket.

treehugger.jpgMy first official stop was Mastroberardino, where they are excitedly launching their newest line, “Vintage” and an Aglianico Cru made from clones of 100+ year-old vines. The new Vintage line is a very exciting project for many reasons. The wines being presented are a 2002 Greco di Tufo DOC, one of Campania’s great whites, and a 1998 Aglianico IGT. Before even tasting the wines it is important to recognize that only a winery which takes great interest in the territorio, and takes great care of the grapes, both on and off the vine can produce a wine that is fresh and enjoyable after eight or ten years in the bottle, especially when made with the intention of drinking as opposed to ageing. The 2002 Greco di Tufo is an eyebrow-raiser when mentioned to restaurateurs, and the first sip brings a smile of amazement. That is because this eight-year-old white wine, aged only in stainless steel, not oak, is still fresh, layered, and with a complexity that reveals everything about the land where the grapes are grown. The presence of minerality and a balance of acidity make this wine one to enjoy with complex and savory fish dishes where a simple white might get lost or fall flat.
Coming from California, I wondered what was really the big deal about a 12-year-old Aglianico, but what I learned is that this wine was made as an every-day wine, as opposed to a Taurasi; simply as an aglianico, not aged for years in barriques, but only 12 months in larger barrels. The result is a complex, flavorful wine with aromas of tobacco and cherries soaked in spirits. Not an aged wine that needs excuses, this vintage Aglianico is ready to drink and enjoy; the flavor is still fresh with ripe cherries and I can imagine enjoying it sip by sip with roast lamb and rosemary potatoes on a long cold evening.

vinredimore.jpgSwitching from older wines to older vines, I am introduced to the new Aglianico Cru crafted from a new biotype of Campania’s flagship red grape. What’s old is the biotype: vines that survived the phylloxera attack in the late 1800’s because the soil and locality were not ideal environments for the pest to thrive, as agronomist Antonio Dente explained. It is important to know that the wine is produced not from the ancient vines themselves, but from the clone of this older biotype, planted in idyllic Aglianico territorio at the estate in Mirabella Eclano. This is where history meets innovation: the result is the 2008 Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC, with its playful label showing a king on a horse with a chalice in hand. I was surprised taking my first sip of this wine because I am used to the strong tannins of the Taurasis, but Massimo Di Renzo, the winemaker at Mastroberardino explained that this particular type of Aglianico was used 100 years ago by the local population to make an every-day drinking wine. This explains the lovely roundness of the wine, balanced and flavorful, which I found to be a very enjoyable expression of the grape. For those of you who have shied away from bold Taurasi in the past, this single-vineyard cru is worth trying.

degust2.jpgFrom Mastroberardino, I headed off to the conference rooms for a much-anticipated tasting, “Sicilian Wines Challenging Time, Vintage 2000.” The organizer, Chronache di Gusto, was very enthusiastic about the top producers of Sicily presenting their 10-year-old vintages and shared his hopes of the wines becoming ambassadors of the beauty of Sicily. As mentioned previously, these wines were not necessarily produced for ageing, so it is big news to share them with press and critics. Most of the 180 tasting stations were filled which is a good sign that more people are watching the work being done in Southern Italy, as I believe they should be. Of the twelve wines, one was white, eight were red and three were Marsala and passito dessert wines.

We started off with Planeta’s Chardonnay, and the winemaker Alessio Planeta commented about the need to make durable wines, and in fact had written in his notes that this wine would age for six to eight years, so he was pleased to see it drink so well at ten. With aromas of tobacco and cooked pineapple, the optimum pairing for a wine like this would be a rich saffron or truffle risotto. My two favorites of the reds were the Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC from Ragusa, an area called the “Mesopotamia of the Romans” and the Bordeaux-style Ceuso Custera from Trapani.  Avide’s Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from 60% Nero d’Avola, the flagship red grape of Sicily, and 40% Frapatto for structure, with its deep blood red color is normally sold 6 years after harvest, so it was probably the most prepared for this tasting. With earthy-woody aromas and flavors of pomegranate and blackberry, this wine will best complement tasty, savory courses.

degust1a.jpgThe Ceuso Custera, presented by Ceuso Azienda Agricola is made from an international blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and 20% Merlot for smoothness. This was the freshest tasting of all the wines presented, which wasn’t surprising considering the use of Cabernet and the ageing that takes place before the bottle leaves the winery; first in cement casks, then wood, then in the bottle. The aroma and taste is of ripe cherries and black currants and maybe I have been away from California for too long because I am longing for steak.

Though there are opposing views about looking to the past to see the future, I believe the Sicily and Mastroberardino tastings proved that if we look at what these southern Italian wineries were doing ten years ago, we can be sure of a bright and delicious future and more treasures to come. These wineries have definite plans and are crafting wines for the competitive international market. My definite plan after the tasting was to find a quick panino which to me can never be considered simply fast food because the bread is so artisan-delicious and the prosciutto is always just-cut fresh. Then to the Foreign Trade VIP lounge to discretely brush my teeth and lose that purple tinge. The secret? Brushing with baking soda leaves your mouth clean and with the mineral-salt finish, ready to enjoy the next wine. I should send that one in to Martha…tips for the all-day wine taster.

Salute! From Verona.

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Brandy lives and teaches in Italy, writing and studying about wine along the way. Based in Naples, she covers the Southern Italian wine scene and has been interviewed many times in the Italian media and presented stories to selected publications and TV.

Grapelive Travel

Grapelive Day Trip: Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast
By Kerry Winslow

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andersonvalley.jpgAfter moving to Sonoma County about a month ago now, I decided it was time to explore further and headed north and the drive to Mendocino to take in the sights and a few wines in Anderson Valley. The beautiful spring day encouraged me and I found the long drive very pleasant and inspiring as I flashed by green hills, rolling vineyard landscapes, redwood groves, rock strewn meadows, babbling creeks and much, much later the intensely blue Pacific Ocean, I mean this is why I live on Northern California’s rugged coast now. I had been out this way only once before, in the pouring rain and in the middle of a dark winter, so this was pure heaven, and even better was the lack of traffic as I twisted and turned my way to Boonville and Philo in the Yorkville Highlands AVA in the Anderson Valley.

Finding friendly and easy going wineries with picturesque settings is not too difficult here and I recommend getting up this way, especially if you like mostly organic and cool climate wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way for reds and Chardonnay for the whites, though I always find the Gewurztraminer to my favorite from the region. This trip found me at Yorkville Cellars, in a slightly warmer area of the valley, where they do elegantly styled Bordeaux varietal wines. I enjoyed their Semillon, Cabernet Franc and a special meritage that included the original six Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the rare Carmenere that is now mainly found in Chile. Yorkville Cellars offers a peaceful place to stop and the wines are solid and easy to drink, defiantly worth the stop and free tasting.

yorkvilleview.jpgMoving on down the winding road, I ended up at Londer Vineyards tasting room and was lucky to find Shirley Londer herself running the tasting bar and pouring some of the wineries finest wines. I had met the Londer’s while visiting Pisoni Vineyards many years ago, and had remembered their enthusiasm and warm nature. Londer started producing wines in 2001 with the help of ex-Flowers wine guru Greg La Follette and they have been rolling ever since with outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the aforementioned Gewurztraminer. Shirley and Larry Londer still have a talented winemaker in Rick Davis, and were thrilled when Wine Spectator gave them the highest score they have ever given for an Anderson Valley last year for their “Corby Vineyard” Chardonnay, which got an impressive 95 Points. I must say, for me, it was the dry Gewurz that made me smile most! That said, I was very happy with the Ritchie Chard, and the stylish 2007 Pinots, the Ferrington and the Parabol, of which I rated the Parabol the highest for the potential it shows and the long silky finish.

navarro.jpgNo trip to Anderson Valley or Mendocino can be done without dropping in on Navarro Vineyards, a tiny winery that normally only sells direct or at selected restaurants. Navarro does a nice selection of small production wines that are of great quality and sell them at equally great prices! This place is beautiful with lots of charm and friendly staff, as well as a small herd of sheep to keep the weeds down near the vineyard that make for good photo ops and give small children something to take in while the grown ups taste the wines and or picnic on the scenic deck area. This time I tried a couple of wines that I hadn’t tried here before, a crisp and surprising Chenin Blanc and a bright and fresh Mourvedre that tasted like a cross between Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, and I mean that in a good way. I also enjoyed their Alsace white blend called Edelzwicker, a cuvee of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris that on this warm sunny day really hit the spot, plus I had to try the famous “Methode A L’Ancienne” Pinot Noir from the 2007 vintage, another fine and elegant example of this grape. Navarro also sells some of the area’s cheeses and munchies to be sampled there or taken on the road, but I suggest carrying away as much wine as you!

sonomacoast1.jpgLeaving Anderson Valley and hitting the rugged Sonoma Coast takes you through old growth redwoods and amazing vistas along West 128 to Highway 1, and from there you can quickly get to Mendocino or Fort Bragg. I did a quick spin around the parts, before taking the long way home down the coast, hitting small coastal hamlets and State Parks along the way. If you’ve been to Big Sur then you’d get an idea of this stretch of coastline, though it is more varied and in some areas even more dramatic, if a bit lonely and more remote. I was blessed with a lack of RV’s and only a slight breeze to deal with as I stopped many times to marvel at the majestic and breathtaking scenes. High cliffs, cypress and redwoods on steep hillsides, windswept coastal meadows, old seaside farms and ranches, some long abandoned others still in use, and rocky coast vistas that words could never due justice in describing here. I did this 250 trek in an afternoon, but it was a crime not to take a bit more time and explore the area much more in depth, and I suggest a full weekend or a week even, as there is some much to see and experience here. I can’t wait to take my someone special up this way and really share it all and soak it all in again.

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Yorkville Cellars
Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville
www.yorkvillecellars.com

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Londer Vineyards
14051 Highway 128,
located in downtown Boonville across from the Boonville Hotel
(open Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
www.londervineyards.com

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Navarro Vineyards
5601 Hwy 128 · Philo, CA
www.navarrowine.com

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Plus don’t miss:

Breggo Cellars, Roederer Estate and Goldeneye while in Anderson Valley!