Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Wrath's San Saba Vineyard

By Fred Swan

Wrath’s San Saba estate vineyard is not in the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s darned close though. The vineyard is located at the junction of Foothill Road and River Road, but on the wrong side of Foothill to be within the AVA. The boundary isn’t arbitrary in this case. There is a difference in altitude with San Saba being lower, not on the “highlands.” But soils are essentially the same gravelly loams. For the most part, the climate is also identical, which includes a daily double onslaught of thick maritime fog followed by relentless afternoon winds.

Like the vineyards and wineries which are within the AVA, Wrath specializes in Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. Wrath offers a variety of styles, including oaked and unoaked versions of whites and reds. They also offer vineyard-designate wines from sites within the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

The cool yet sunny and mostly rain-free climate creates a long growing season. Wrath’s winemaking is fairly hands-off: ambient yeasts, restrained use of oak and minimal filtration. So, the wines can be dark and potent but still present a sweeping range of flavors. There is fruit and some oak, but often a lot of intriguing savory and herbal notes.
Wrath has two tasting rooms. One is in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s a nice room and very convenient to Carmel’s other amenities (which are numerous). I really recommend you visit the estate tasting room at San Saba though. That’s the way to really get a sense for the region. Consider taking a glass outside and taking a seat on one of their comfortable Adirondack chairs. Soak up the views.

Here notes on the Wrath wines I’ve tasted most recently:
2014 Wrath Sauvignon Blanc Ex Anime Monterey County

2013 Wrath Chardonnay Fermata Monterey County

2013 Wrath Pinot Noir Pommard 4/777 Monterey County

2013 Wrath Pinot Noir San Saba Vineyard Monterey County

2013 Wrath Syrah San Saba Vineyard Monterey County

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Kathleen Inman


Often referred to as “the barometer of Russian River Valley” as she is one of the earliest to harvest her grapes, owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman is quietly making natural wines that feel alive on the palate. This self-proclaimed “grape groper” picks by taste and feel, not by brix, the accumulation of sugar in the grapes. She adds no sulfur, enzymes, water or cultured yeasts during winemaking, and the fruit from her estate is certified organic.

Her specialty is elegant, European-style Pinot Noir, including a rare single vineyard sparkling wine, and her light and very dry Chardonnay and Pinot Gris also reflect the European sense of restraint.

Read our reviews of Inman Family Wines here:
2013 Inman Family Pinot Noir Pratt Vine Hill Russian River Valley

2013 Inman Family Pinot Noir Sexton Road Ranch Sonoma Coast

2012 Inman Family Estate Pinot Noir OGV Russian River Valley

2013 Inman Family Estate Pinot Noir OGV Russian River Valley

2014 Inman Family Pinot Gris Russian River Valley

2013 Inman Family Chardonnay Russian River Valley

2012 Inman Family Estate Blanc de Noir Brut Nature OGV Russian River Valley

Monday, May 9, 2016


                       The Vineyard Relais & Châteaux Hotel, UK and artist Gary Myatt
By Fred Swan
In 1976, a competitive tasting of French and American wines was held in France. Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant based in Paris created the event, now known as The Judgement of Paris, to highlight progress made with French grape varieties in the United States. To everyone’s great surprise, the French judges voted California wines best among both the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
That was a watershed event for California wine, proof it had the potential to be every bit as good as, if still different than, French wines. But the tasting was just one example of the way in which the history of wine in France, America and England have been intertwined for centuries.
This week, Steven Spurrier, now among the world’s most respected authorities on wine, is coming to San Francisco to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris. This is not another competition, nor will the wines be restricted to Cabernet and Chardonnay. It is a celebration of the achievements of all three countries in wine and a
recognition of the influence each has had on the other. And there will be sparkling wine and Pinot Noir and a Rhone variety too.
The events in San Francisco, a lunch and a dinner, are truly unique opportunities. We will not see their like for the 50th anniversary of the tasting. This is a chance to meet Steven Spurrier, hear his thoughts on the state of Californian and French wine then and now. You can hear the story of the Judgement of Paris directly from him. You’ll taste wines that take us decades back, but also wines that show what’s new and exciting today. If you have a copy of George Taber’s book, The Judgement of Paris, Steven will be happy to sign it too.
The dinner, on Thursday, May 12 will feature nine wines paired with a four-course dinner. Further details and tickets are available here. The lunch, at noon on Friday, May 13, will include sparkling wine, a commemorative Chardonnay from Grgich and a 2000 Ridge Monte Bello. For more information and tickets for the lunch, see this Eventbrite page.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Bien Nacido Vineyards Credit Fred SwanSolomon Hills Pinot Noir Credit Fred SwanBien Nacido Chardonnay Credit Fred Swan
by Fred Swan

In Burgundy, vineyards which have proved to be the very best over an extended period of time are designated Grand Cru. They also have distinct personalities, making it possible for experts to identify their wines when tasting blind. The United States doesn’t have any official designation of quality for vineyards.

If we did start nominating vineyards for Grand Cru recognition, the Miller family’s Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley would undoubtedly be among the first. Bien Nacido is now in its fifth decade of providing succulent, expressive grapes. Many vines remain from the original planting, quite a few of those own-rooted. Top California wineries were producing vineyard-designate wines from Bien Nacido before vineyard designates became “a thing.”

Bien Nacido is extensive—more than 800 planted acres—with a variety of soils (15!), slopes, facings and varieties (at least 15!) ranging from Pinot Blanc to Nebbiolo. Best-known, though, are its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. These are so consistent and ubiquitous that many people take their character to represent the Santa Maria Valley AVA as a whole.

But, while wines based on Bien Nacido fruit do demonstrate the general character of the AVA with its long, cool growing season, they really express that particular vineyard or its individual blocks. Differences can be easily discerned while tasting Bien Nacido wines next to those from father south or west in the valley. Another Miller family vineyard, Solomon Hills provides an excellent counterpoint. Exceptional itself, Solomon Hills is several miles west of Bien Nacido and closer to the chilly Pacific than any other vineyard in the AVA.

Bien Nacido Vineyards wines can be distinctly savory. The reds, in particular, are film noir in a glass. They involve us in complex, undulating stories with a brooding, tough-guy hero fighting for justice in a world of ambivalent wines. They are page-turners. Glass emptiers.

Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to visitors, but they have an estate wines tasting room in adorable, historic downtown Los Olivos. Made by Trey Fletcher,  they are superlative. Try Solomon Hills side-by-side with Bien Nacido. You’ll easily see how distinct the two sites are and how important the Pacific Ocean is as factor in the terroir of California vineyards.

Read our reviews here: