Hat Ranch Winery 2105 Dry Moscato

As has been mentioned, we received a whole case of different wines from the Idaho wine region and we have been slowly making our way through them. While there have been some very good wines and at least one really good one, we can’t say we’ve been impressed by all of them.

Case in point – the 2015 Hat Ranch Winery Dry Moscato. Moscato is actually just another word for muscat, a grape with such a strong, fruity flavor that even the least bit in a blend makes the whole wine taste like muscat. It’s usually a sweet wine (another black mark as far as Anne is concerned).

The Hat Ranch wine was not bad. It just tasted a little tart to Anne. Michael, on the other hand, noticed that the color was very light, to almost water color. The nose was also light – none of that heavy muscat smell. the mouthfeel was full and it wasn’t too cloying. There was some acidity (the tartness that Anne tasted) and a long finish.

In short, there really wasn’t that much to it except the above.

Coco Umiker and Clearwater Canyon Syrah

Coco Umiker

[As noted in an earlier post, we received a case of wine from the Idaho Wine Commission, and have been slowly, but surely, tasting our way through it. We haven’t liked everything, although they’re hoping they’ll get a few good reviews out of the venture.]

Coco Umiker, winemaker at Clearwater Canyon Cellars in western Idaho, works with her husband Karl.

“He’s the grape grower and I’m the assistant grape grower,” she said. “I’m the winemaker and he’s the assistant winemaker. We’re partners in crime in everything here, but one of us has to have the final say.”

Umiker said that one of her primary goals is to let people know about Idaho wine.

“That’s probably our first challenge,” she said. “To educate people.”

Her winery, in the Lewis Clark Valley AVA, is only 30 miles from one of Washington State’s prime wine growing areas and has a climate that’s very good for grapes, with mild winters, plenty of water, and long, dry summers.

“When you look at it, we have all the important things that it takes to grow great grapes,” Umiker said. “We’re empowered with that and we also have this amazing history.”

According to Umiker, 150 years ago, there was quite a bit of wine grape growing in the valley, thanks to the immigrants who settled there and brought their wine growing traditions with them. Unfortunately, in the early 20th Century, Prohibition came along and killed the industry there.

Because this is not as well-known a wine country, Umiker said that it can be both liberating and restricting at the same time.

“It allows us to jump out there and try some things,” she said, such as adding syrah to a red blend. “At the same time, to be taken seriously, you have to do some traditional things.”

We tried their 2014 Estate Syrah, which was really nice. Michael noted the deep red color, with fruit and oak on the nose, and tannins that were nice and smooth. We drank it with our favorite black olive and sausage pizza. The only problem we had with the wine was that it was really tight when we first opened it. Michael thought it was a bit young and would have cellared it for a year or two.

But that is exactly why Umiker said she chooses to release her wines when they’re still a little young. She pointed out that there are some people who prefer a brighter, younger wine. Others prefer a smoother, more aged wine, and are perfectly happy to hold onto a bottle for a year or more.

“If you release it sooner, then people can make that decision for themselves,” she said.

The Lastest on the Avila Adobe Old Vines Project

The 2016 Avila Adobe Wine Symposium (l-r) Deborah Hall, Dr. Thomas Pinney, Stuart Byles, Santo Riboli, Wes Hagen and Michael Holland

We’ve mentioned, but never really did a full post on the Avila Adobe Old Vines. And this being the second vintage with the things looking really good for vintage #3, well, it’s probably time.

The running gag around the Old Homestead here is that we make the things most sane people buy. One of those things is wine. Michael is the winemaker, and in his real life, he’s the archivist for the City of Los Angeles. That’s how he happened to talk to Chris Espinoza, director of the El Pueblo State Park in downtown L.A. about the grape vines on Olvera Street, the oldest street in the city. Michael specifically asked about the vines growing in the courtyard of the Avila Adobe, the oldest building still standing in the city.

Well, Chris said it was okay if Michael harvested the grapes on the vines to make wine. Michael did some research and found out that these are possibly the oldest vines currently growing in the state. In fact, they’re so old, that the University of California, Davis, did the DNA test on them for free, with the results being that the vines are a match for the old vine at Mission San Gabriel. Alas, we’re not sure of the date of that one, either. But we’re guessing the Avila Adobe vines are around 150 years old.

So, that’s how Michael came to make angelica, a local version of sherry, from the grapes he picked. In addition, last year, he organized and moderated a symposium on historic wines at the Adobe as the El Pueblo foundation’s first fundraiser. The silent auction even featured a few bottles of the first vintage of angelica – which was (and is) insanely tasty. At least, Anne thinks it is, and even accounting for bias, there is the reality that she hates stickies and really hates sherry.

This second vintage is coming along just as nicely, with bright fruit flavors and just enough tang to kill any cloying sweetness.

Better yet, the vines which Michael has been caring for, along with winemaker and friend Wes Hagen, are doing really well and it looks like we’ll get another good harvest this September.

If you happen to be in Los Angeles next Thursday, July 20, be sure to check out this year’s symposium, which will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of one of the oldest wineries still operating in the state, San Antonio Winery, which opened its doors in Los Angeles in 1917. The event will take place in the courtyard of the Avila adobe from 6pm to 8pm

Lori Reynolds, of Sonoita Vineyards, and the Mission Grape

Lori Reynolds, of Sonoita Vineyards

The trip to Arizona was supposed to be about vacation, time spent relaxing, visiting Michael’s family. So when we went to check out the state’s three main wine regions it was supposed to be for the fun of it.

So, naturally, we stumbled onto Sonoita Vineyards. It was the first winery in Arizona after Prohibition. They make a wine with one of the most unusual grapes out there, the Mission grape. And the winemaker is a woman.

Well, it took a while, but Anne finally connected with Lori Reynolds, the winemaker, who told us how Sonoita Vineyards was started by her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Duff.

“We had a thriving table grape industry here in the sixties and seventies,” Reynolds said.

However, she explained, competition from the California table grape industry was undercutting the Arizona grapes. So the governor went to the University of Arizona and met with a team there that included her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Dutt, a soil specialist who had been working with the table grape farmers.

“My grandfather said that if table grapes will grow in Arizona, then wine grapes will,” Reynolds said.

The winery was started in 1974 and opened in 1983. Reynolds came on as winemaker after she got her bachelor of science, then realized that she wasn’t as interested in becoming a veterinarian as she’d thought.

“I was having a hard time finding something to do,” she said.

But her grandfather insisted that she was born to make wine, so she studied winemaking through the U.C. Davis Extension, became the assistant winemaker, and in 2013, finally took over the job on her own. She works with her husband, Robi Reynolds, who took over as vineyard manager around the same time after an injury interrupted his plumbing career.

The vineyard grows grapes on 40 acres of the 60 acres they have, Lori Reynolds said. But the most interesting grape they have is a little-known variety that used to be widely planted across the Southwest – the Mission grape.

According to the experts we know, the Mission grape is a hybrid of a grape brought from Spain by Franciscan missionaries in the Eighteenth Century. And, actually, they were growing it in Arizona before it came to California.

We have an unusual connection to the grape via Deborah Hall and Michael’s project with the old vines in downtown Los Angeles. So to taste some of Reynolds’ wine was a treat, indeed. And it was quite tasty.

Reynolds doesn’t ferment her Mission wine to full dryness. Instead of letting the yeast eat up all the grapes’ sugar to make alcohol, she stops the fermentation leaving what’s called residual sugar behind.

“It’s very bitter and astringent without the residual sugar,” Reynolds said.

It can be a bit of a trick to get folks to try the wine until Reynolds explains what to expect.

“I always let [customers] know it’s not dry,” she said. “I also let them It’s not very deep in color. It’s always a ruby red. I let them know that it’s a lower acid, it’s got the sweetness and it depends on the vintage. The 2016, it smells a little like chili pepper. And my ’15 is very clove and cherry with some cranberry.”

 

What Oak Does for Wine

Some time ago, we got invited to a lunch and wine tasting featuring wines from Rioja, Spain. Not only were there some amazing wines, the winemaker was there and led us through a flight of the same red wine aged in different types of oak barrels.

Now, normally, Anne scoffs at tastings like this. Tasting wine based on what oak it was aged in is the sort of thing that wine snobs turn into exercises in precious without breathing hard. And they suck all the joy out of it in the process, too.

The other reason Anne scoffs is that the potential for groupthink in these situations is so high that whatever results you get are darned near pointless. What is groupthink? It’s what happens when people are in a group and someone says A, someone else agrees and the next thing you know, everyone is going along with it, us being the social critters that we are.

It’s how Riedel sells their variety-specific glasses. I don’t doubt their reps honestly believe that a type of wine actually tastes better in a specific glass. But I’ll bet they won’t let you do a tasting blind and/or by yourself, which we did. The wine works better in a specific glass because they keep telling you it will, and someone agrees and next thing you know, the whole room is going along with it.

But what made this Rioja tasting different is that the winemaker wasn’t trying to sell us on any one wine. He was merely trying to explain why he used different types of oak barrels to age his wine in.

Now, here’s the thing about oak. Once upon a time, all wine was aged in oak barrels. Or wood barrels, but since oakwood was particularly good for making barrels, that’s what folks used. And because steel was insanely expensive and difficult to manipulate, it was put to better use as swords and other stuff. Even after the Industrial Revolution made big-ass metal containers easier to make and cheaper to sell, oak kind of hung on in the winery because old habits die hard and there wasn’t a clear benefit to using big-ass metal containers, at least, not right away, there wasn’t. That the wine picked up flavors from the wood, well, that was part of the flavor of wine.

Eventually, however, stainless steel tanks started showing up in wineries and winemakers realized that they could make white wines, in particular, taste really good without all that woody flavor. The red wines, not so much.

What oak barrels do is add a certain creaminess (lactic acid) to wine. In addition, because they are not completely air-tight, a tiny bit of the wine evaporates and the wine left inside is left with more intense flavor.

The interesting thing about oak is that it’s actually a plant and it’s affected by the same things that grape vines are. So oak from different places in the world adds slightly different flavors to the wine that’s aged in it.

It’s not a huge difference. It’s pretty subtle, in fact. You’re not going to taste a wine blind and know that it was aged in Hungarian rather than French oak. That’s the precious nonsense that makes Anne so crazy. But if you taste a wine that was aged in American barrels side by side with the same wine aged in French and/or Hungarian barrels, you can taste a slight difference. That’s kind of fun.

Julia Iantosca Blending and Pioneering

For winemaker Julia Iantosca, it’s all about the blending. So when her bosses, John and Nancy Lasseter hired her to work at their newish winery, Lasseter Family Wines, it was their preference for blends that got her on board.

“My interest in blending dovetailed with theirs,” Iantosca said. “It’s been wonderful… Certainly for the style of wine I want to make.”

It’s an interesting fact that European wines (which are known primarily by their place names) are almost all blends. Burgundy is the big exception to the rule, being made almost exclusively out of the pinot noir grape, with whites made out of chardonnay. Iantosca said that the Lasseters came into wine drinking in Europe, which was how they got interested in drinking wines that are blends of grapes.

“As a winemaker, [blending] allows you a fair amount of latitude in honing a wine to an ideal,” Iantosca said. “And by working with the grapes, you can really steer the direction and the personality of the wine. And that’s a really enticing way to personalize your style.”

Iantosca came into winemaking at a time when women winemakers were pretty rare. She was mentored by Merry Edwards, who was a pioneer among women winemakers in California.

Iantosca said that many of these early women got their start working in winery laboratories.

“Merry came at it from the cellar side,” Iantosca said, adding that a lot of men didn’t think women were up to the heavy work of moving barrels and other such tasks. “You just have to work smarter. There’s a reason that forklifts were invented, for example.”
She added that there are a lot more women working as winemakers than there used to be.

“There are certainly far more opportunities for women coming into the wine business than when I started,” Iantosca said. “It was just such a male-dominated industry. The idea of being in charge didn’t seem all that possible. It’s just taken time and a lot of women who have a lot of talent and determination to keep putting their head down and moving forward and having the quality of their work.”

But while there are a lot more women in the business, Iantosca pointed out that there are also a lot more wineries. Still, the business does remain male-dominated. Iantosca said that she noticed something when went to some large wine-business functions recently.

“It’s the only time when the line for the men’s restroom is longer than the line for the women’s,” she said.

By the way, if the name John Lasseter sounds familiar, he is best known for his day job – running Pixar Studios and Disney Animation.

Idaho Wine? Really?

From the Idaho Wine Commsission

[Please note that we received the below wines in exchange for honest reviews – something the sender may eventually regret… ;-)]

With the spring and summer travel season coming up, wouldn’t Idaho be fun? It’s well known as a great destination for fishing, camping, hiking and…wine. Yeah, wine.

The Idaho Wine Commission recently offered us a mixed case of Idaho’s wines mainly from the Snake River AVA. That’s actually on the border near Washington State, and the area has a similar desert climate to Washington’s.

Since we don’t have plans involving Idaho this year, we accepted the case and we’ll be tasting through the various wines and bringing you our short tasting notes and, hopefully, some winemaker stories.

Truth be told, it’s taking us a while to get through the case. That’s twelve bottles and to taste them thoughtfully with appropriate food doesn’t happen overnight. Also, truth be told, while the wines are mostly pretty darned good, we haven’t been that impressed with everything we’ve tasted so far.

But in terms of the early results, we’re discovering that Idaho isn’t just about the potatoes. There’s some darned good wine there, too.

Leslie Sisneros on Murderously Good Pinot Noir

Leslie Sisneros of Murder Ridge Winery

We met Leslie Sisneros at the 2016 Family Winemakers of California Grand Tasting (in the interests of full disclosure, we got into this paid event for free in the hopes that we’d get around to writing something about it or the presenting winemakers sooner than we did). This is a great event, by the way, especially if you’re new to wine. The $75 for the ticket might seem like a lot, but we’ve seen smaller tastings that cost a lot more, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a greater breadth of wines. Plus, you’ve already paid for them all, so you might as well try even the ones you don’t think you like.

But back to Ms. Sisneros, of Murder Ridge Winery. She’s been making wine for over 20 years, but actually fell into making pinot noir.

“It wasn’t my choice,” she explained. “Because I started out at Kendall Jackson and I was assigned the variety. Actually, zin’s pretty hard, too. I guess it’s good when you start out with the hardest wine to make. But I’m always up for a challenge, so I just took it in stride.”

Pinot noir is a notoriously finicky grape and can be very hard to make well.

“There’s all kinds of different pinots,” Sisneros said. “It can go from the lowest priced ones to the premium ones. You’re looking for something that’s fruity and not overly tannic.”

But when you hear people wax eloquent about pinot noir, you’ll often hear them going on about the clone of the grape.

“There’s more people who talk about pinot in terms of clones than any other variety,” Sisneros said. Many grape varieties have their own specific clones, but it’s more of an issue with pinot noir. “It really does make a difference in what clones you plant and where you plant them. It determines the winemaker’s fingerprint.”

She explained that cloning is sort of like taking the natural process of evolution the next few steps further.

“In nature, everything generally mutates so the strongest survive,” Sisneros said. “What the people do is they’ll select a particular plant or several plants in a vineyard. They’ll take a bud culture and they will keep making it genetically the same and it will take generations and generations.”

She said that after individual clone, the other thing that really makes a difference in a pinot noir is where it’s grown.

“You can certainly tell a Russian River pinot noir,” she said. “To me, they’re like night and day. Mendocino pinot is more delicate. Russian River is dark and moody.”

Murder Ridge Winery is in Mendocino County, in a largely wilderness area known as Mendocino Ridge. The winery gets its name from the infamous murder of Joseph Cooper in 1911. Sisneros partnered with wine grower Steve Alden to form the label after having worked with his grapes for several other wineries for whom she’s worked as a consulting winemaker.

 

Deborah Hall, of Gypsy Canyon, Shows off Her Vines

Deborah Hall is the owner and winemaker for Gypsy Canyon. She’s not only a super nice lady, she makes some amazing wines, in particular, her Old Vines Angelica. This is a sherry-type wine that was made by the mission fathers throughout the southern parts of California. In fact, Angelica was supposedly named for the city of Los Angeles. 

Check out the video below and she tells about how she found the old vines of Mission grapes on her property. BTW, head-trained grapes are ones that are not put up on trellises. More about Deborah and how we got to know her below the video.

We got to know Deborah Hall when Michael started his own little ancient vines project here in Los Angeles. Michael got permission to harvest the grapes off of two vines at the oldest building still standing in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street. We’re pretty sure the vines were planted when the adobe was built in 1818, but there’s no way of knowing. The vines are well over 100 years old and are quite possibly the oldest vines in the state.

Once Michael found out that he was dealing with Mission grapes – a variety grown here by the Franciscans who built the California missions, he contacted Deborah Hall to get some pointers on how to make Angelica. Deborah was not only kind enough to share her recipe, she invited us up to lunch at her home and winery. She not only fed us and poured us her incredible wines, she took us out to see the grapes she’d found while clearing brush on her property. Anne had the video camera and we had a blast talking about old vines.

Wine Vending Machines – A Peek Inside

Ever wonder what’s inside one of those machines that sell wine by the glass? We did, and back in August 2015, we had a chance to see the inside of one at a restaurant show. And then promptly forgot about the pictures.

So, just for the fun of it – here they are: