In my last article, I listed the Top 75 French Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking . In this article I look at the “non-dump bucket” list for wines from California. This proved to be a different task. First, very few wineries have a long track record of making great wine. Secondly, while California is diverse, it does not have the diversity of climates and terroir and grape varietals of France. Still, it does produce some of the best wines in the world and any wine lover should make it a point to try as many of them as they can. Here is my list: 1. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – It’s hard to pick the first wine. This one is a great wine in every vintage and has been for a long time. Expensive but still possible to afford and made in large enough quantities to be found in grocery stores. Every lover of Cabernet should try this once.
Bien Nacido is not only the most well-known and respected vineyard on California’s Central Coast, but is has the distinction of being one of the major viticultural nurseries in California for certified, varietal budwood. In addition to Bien Nacido, the Millers operate two other vineyard sites, French Camp east of San Luis Obispo, and Solomon Hills in Santa Maria, with well over 2,500 combines acres, as well as two custom crush facilities in Santa Maria and Paso Robles. Bien Nacido was called on of the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine, and Food & Wine Magazine called them one of the ten best vineyards. The Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast routinely award over 90 point scores to wines made from Bien Nacido fruit. Bien Nacido is the most widely sourced vineyard on the California Central Coast. Certainly with 800 planted acres it produces a lot of grapes, but beyond that, why is Bien Nacido so sought after? Bien Nacido seems to have that magical formula of making wines with a sense of place. Long term customers, such as Jim Clendenon of Au Bon Climat say they can pick a Bien Nacido Pinot Noir out of a blind tasting. Whether it’s cool climate Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or another varietal, our winery customers enjoy receiving product that is uniquely Bien Nacido.
Jerry Lohr is considered one of the pioneers of California Central Coast wines. In the late 1960s, he began investigating grape growing regions while searching for the ideal location for a vineyard. Raised on a South Dakota farm, his research led him to the Central Coast. He originally planted 280 acres in Monterey County in 1972 and unveiled his San Jose winery the following year. In 1987, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other red varietals in San Luis Obispo County’s then little-known Paso Robles region. Today, in addition to over 1,300 acres in Monterey County, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines farms 2,300 acres of estate vineyards in Paso Robles, and 35 acres in the Napa Valley, and has tasting rooms in Paso Robles and San Jose. J. Lohr wines are available throughout the United States and in over 30 countries globally. In 2007, U.C. Davis honored Jerry with its Award of Distinction, and in 2008 he was named Wine Industry Person of the Year by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. There are over 6,000 bonded wineries in the U.S. from every state in the nation (not to mention fierce competition from abroad). Is the U.S. wine business currently saturated? I am very supportive of evermore wineries. More wineries mean more locations where people can have a wine experience. People always take pride in their local wine. Wine tourism has the best multiplier effect of any agricultural product. Anyone having a good wine experience then passes it on to friends. Word of mouth is great.
With more than 30 years of winemaking experience behind him behind him, David Hopkins still visits vineyards and winegrowers every week to taste grapes and begin to formulate his blends, something he has become well known for. An avid surfer and scuba diver, Hopkins oversees the 105 acre estate at Bridlewood Winery crafting blends and wines from the California Central Coast with fruit from Santa Barbara to Monterey County. What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career? If not winemaking, what path would you have chosen and where do you think you would be right now? I happened upon winemaking somewhat accidentally. One Friday afternoon at Fresno State, my microbiology class ended early and my lab partner asked me if I wanted to help him rack wine barrels at the student winery. Four hours later, I emerged from the winery completely enthralled with the experience I just had. Monday morning, I was standing in front of the Enology department’s chairman asking him how to get a job in the wine industry. I think it was the unique combination of agriculture, food science and the art of wine tasting that really drew me into the world of wine, and I haven’t looked back since. If I had not agreed to help my lab partner that day, I would have likely pursued a career in floriculture, specifically in studying tissue culture for orchid production.
Wines to Go Buy This Week: An "Italian-fusion" California Red by Bargetto and Tahbilk Marsanne, a deliciously rare single varietal white. This past weekend we filmed the latest round of IntoWineTV videos (the first video will be live in about a week, we're moving away from wine reviews to wine discussions. Sort of a wine version of The View if you will). As is typical when we film IntoWineTV, the cast and crew had the luxury of indulging in many fantastic wines. Heck these shoots have almost become an excuse for everyone involved to share their latest wine faves. Over the course of the weekend I discovered two wines that made me do a double take and which are the basis for this week's "Wines to Go Buy This Week": La Vita, Bargetto Family Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2006 - This wine arrived in a recent California Wine Club Signature Series shipment (and kudos to CWC as yet again they delivered a hit. I love the Signature Series.). La Vita is an unusual California red blend in that it is made from the traditionally Italian varietals of Dolcetto, Refosco, and Nebbiolo. Traditionalists may scoff at the notion of a California producer making its version of an Italian red -I'm just waiting for someone to complain that this wine has "no sense of place" - but the end result is a delicious wine that reflects qualities of both California and Italy. If this were a restaurant this wine would be labeled "Italian fusion". No it's not authentic or traditional but it is delicious, unique, and well worth a try (though at $60 a bottle, it's hardly a value buy). Buy Bargetto La Vita
Tom Lane began his winemaking career at Navarro Vineyards in 1985, then moved to winemaker position at Concannon Vineyard in 1992 where it was twice cited as “Winery of the Year,” before he joined the family-owned Bianchi Winery in Paso Robles. While at Concannon, Tom helped the winery earn hundreds of accolades, including Wine and Spirits Magazine Winery of the Year in 1995 and 1997. Tom’s educational background includes Bachelors degrees in Biology and Chemistry from Chico State University, a Master's degree in Biology (Plant Taxonomy) from Kansas State University, and further graduate studies in Botany at Ohio State University.
IntoWine recently caught up with Pisoni Vineyard's winemaker Jeff Pisoni to discuss wine making and his thoughts on current trends in the wine industry. What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career? Both my brother and I were fortunate to grow up around it. We were both very young when our father was already making wine and started planting vineyards. When only a few years old, Mark and I would “make wine” in mason jars and stomp grapes in old redwood fermentors that belonged to our great-grandparents. Seeing all this at a young age gave us an appreciation for winemaking and a desire to work with the family. I had always been very driven to the winemaking side, whereas my brother felt closer to the farming side. Now Dad watches over things but leaves the winemaking up to me and the viticulture to Mark.
IntoWine recently caught up with winemaker -and frequent IntoWine contributing writer- Ben Spencer to discuss his wine brand, Leojami, and his foray into producing the first single-vineyard, 100% Marselan wine. Thanks to Ben for chatting. What inspired the name Leojami? Leojami (pronounced LAY - OHJ - AH - MEE) is a portmanteau of my wife’s first name LEOnarda and mine benJAMIn. The label is a project of passions – her passion for food and my passion for wine. She is a cookbook editor.
IntoWine recently caught up with Sunset Ridge Vineyards Co-Founder Linda Stinson to discuss winemaking: What inspired the name Sunset Ridge Vineyards? The view next to our vineyard has a ridge and the sunsets here in Paso Robles are inspiring. How did your foray into winemaking come about? It all...
For some people wine is just another beverage. For others it is an expression of life, something some might describe as art in a bottle. Malcolm Nicholls has taken it one step further by putting art ON – as well as in- the bottle. His eponymous Santa Barbara wine label, Nicholls Wine, creates fine wine as a platform for showcasing emerging contemporary artists. Each varietal and vintage release features new work by an exciting young artist. IntoWine recently caught up with Malcolm Nicholls to discuss the vision and goals for Nicholls Wine.