“The Professor Has Been Drinking (Not Me),”

Democratic Assembly Member Wesley Chesbro ( his wiki), of California’s 2nd district (which is basically from the Oregon border all the way to the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge), is about to get a huge boost in student support. That is, if his proposed assembly bill No. 1989 passes. The bill proposes that students between the ages 18 and 21 can taste wine and beer in class!!!

Now, before you underagers head in to English 101 and crack open a PBR, or whatever it is the youths of today are drinking (King Cobra, perhaps?)….there are some strict stipulations. First, you have to be enrolled in a “qualified academic institution,” secondly, you must be a qualified student and lastly, and this is the stickler, you can only “taste.” The official name of the assembly bill is: Underage Drinkers: students in winemaking and brewery science programs.

Wesley Chesbro

Wesley Chesbro (smiling at the camera) looks on at Track Seven Brewing Co. in Sacramento as Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB 647, a bill by Chesbro that clarifies state law so that craft breweries may refill customers’ “growlers” – photo courtesy Chesbro’s office….so he seems to be pro common sense for the drinks industry!

Below are the actual definitions extracted from the bill:

A qualified student may taste an alcoholic beverage, and both the student and the qualified academic institution in which the student is enrolled shall not be subject to criminal prosecution under subdivision (a) of Section 25658 and subdivision (a) of Section 25662, if all of the following criteria are met:

  • The qualified student tastes the alcoholic beverage while enrolled in a qualified academic institution.
  • The qualified academic institution has established an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree program in enology or brewing that is designed to train industry professionals in the production of wine or beer.
  • The qualified student tastes the alcoholic beverage for educational purposes as part of the instruction in a course required for an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree.
  • The alcoholic beverage remains in the control of an authorized instructor of the qualified academic institution who is at least 21 years of age.
  • Nothing in this section shall be construed to allow a student under 21 years of age to receive an alcoholic beverage unless it is delivered as part of the student’s curriculum requirements.
  • “Qualified academic institution” means a public college or university accredited by a commission recognized by the United States Department of Education.
  • “Qualified student” means a student enrolled in a qualified academic institution who is at least 18 years of age.
  • “Taste” means to draw an alcoholic beverage into the mouth, but does not include swallowing or otherwise consuming the alcoholic beverage.

I wonder if they’ll have a “proper spitting method” in the curriculum as well.

However, and class room humor aside, this could actually be a huge boost to the winemaking education system in California. About a year ago I tried all of Cal Poly’s wine, there was a student from the program there (not pouring) and he explained how he hadn’t tried any of the wines as he was under age.

“WHAT?!?” I cried, “You haven’t tasted your own wine?”
He sheepishly shook his head.

sensory evaluation

What sensory evaluation might look like….

Obviously, I found that a tad absurd…a student who is learning to make wine (or beer for that matter) can’t actually taste the product they’re making, and even worse have any point of reference of what styles they might or might not prefer.

Hypothetically, a winemaking student could get through a large portion of their studies, finally get to taste at 21, and hate the stuff! What then lawmakers?! This bill could possible prevent hundreds of students wasting precious loan money and years in college to only find out they like vodka better.

The bill will be heard by the committee in the State’s capital on March 23rd. I believe it’ll be heard one more time after that before there’s a vote.

I hope the wine industry gets behind this one as it can have a real positive impact on our state’s future winemakers.

I’ll be posting updates as I find them.

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Ever Considered Being A Tosser?

best caesar app, tyson carly

Of course I had to download The Best Caesar – what an appealing name for an app! I am always trying to perfect my dressing… extra pinch of salt here, another anchovy there …

Caesar Salad is named after Caesar Cardini (not that emperor guy), a 1900s Italian immigrant whose hotel is still on the Avenida Revolución in Tijuana. The app, however, was created by Tyson Caly and is an ode to his father, who taught him how to make the dressing. Over the years, Mr. Caly has perfected his recipe and made the app to display those efforts.  The photos are really what makes this one-trick-pony really work … I dare anyone not to jump into the kitchen and start whisking away once viewing the individual ingredients so enticingly captured within. In fact, the photos are so good you’ll be excused if you start thinking you’re actually making the salad rather than swiping through the steps.

Dinner tonight? Well, first you’ll have to download the app….then get tossing.

Free on iTunes


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A Trip To The Vintners Market

I went to the Vintners Market event a while back on a rare, sunny, SF November day.

A few wineries stood out from the crowd:

Deux Punks Wine

Deux Punx – a partnership of two, ahem, punks Dan Schaaf (le punx above) and Aaron Olson. First off, I love the labels. As for the wine:

2012 Pinot Blanc (label with dapperly dressed gentlemen, with a reel-camera as his head) – super concentrated and rich, almond and marmalade. This was my fav wine of the bunch, grapes sourced from Russian River. $22
2012 Viognier (cat label) – crazy tangerine flavors, a crisp note of acidity, unlike any Viognier I’ve tried, in a good way. From Scribner Bend Vineyard in Clarksburg. $18(!)
2011 Pinot Noir (the tree label) – Cherry pip, quite crisp too with some elegance. Grapes are sourced high off the 101 in Humboldt County from a vineyard called Elk Prarie. $36
2011 Grenache (owl label) – Savoury black olive and ripe blackberry. From Tejada Vineyard in Northern Lake County. $22

Thralls Wine

Thralls Family Cellars
2008 Alder Springs Vyd Syrah, Mendocino County – $34
There’s great depth to this wine. Rich blackberry, and a whole bowl of blueberries; crunch spicy fruit with a hit of minerality too. Ed, the man himself, makes this on the side of his marketing job at Flowers. He wants to concentrate on Pinot…too bad because his Syrah is pretty f’in awesome.

Wesley Ashley Wines

Wesley Ashley Wines
This is a pretty small project with only a few hundred cases a year and the grapes are sourced from that huge vineyard in what is best known as Santa Barbara highlands, a massive vineyard up near the Los Padres.
2011 Intelligent Designs – Santa Barbara County Cuvée
Rich blackberry and cherry, some licorice but quite herby and juicy.

Larner Vineyards

Larner Vineyards
This quite dapper fellow is Michael Larner, patriarch of the vineyard (and hopefully own estate winery) of the same name. Michael was one of the main drivers of the newly appointed Ballard Canyon AVA….he is also on the front of the line battle against the SB County planning commission to get his winery approved….it’s been a few years.
Regardless, the Rhône varietals grown on his property have fast become one of the more sought after in the county.
2009 Larner, Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley – soft berry jam fruit, quite an easy drinker but full, $38

As massive consumer tastings go, I quite liked this one. Apparently, the wineries are separated in tiers, with the first part of the hall being the less expensive ticket, and two supposedly more exclusive tiers after that…. oddly and slightly surprisingly a gorilla-like bouncer stopped me from entering the top-tier, maybe it was my unshaven, disheveled look, or just the fact that I had a press pass….I will never know.

The next one is on April 12th and 13th — it’s worth a go.

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Escape To New World


At home I’m on this huge French kick at the mo, so it’s not too often that I delve into the New Worlds of the wine rack. Early in the week was a Chilean Clos de Fous (a huge blend of 40% Malbec, 25% Carmenere, 14% Syrah, 10% Pais, 6% Carignan). Clos is French term used for walled in vineyards….and fous is crazy…..so there you have Clos des Fous. The grapes are sourced from around the town of Cauquenes in the region of Maule. For a $30 blend, this wine is pretty killer…lots of tart red berry fruit, sour cherries and dried cranberry. The accompanying tech sheet says the vines have an average age of 80 years, and we like them old vines! I had it opened for two days and admittedly it stood up better and had a lot more going on the second day. All in all though a great find. Oh and it went great with local fav delivery pizza, Escape from New York Pizza.

The other pizza, which was made by the in-house chef, went with the organically grown, and naturally made Ambyth Estate , “El Rancho de Juan Fiesta” Syrah, probably my favorite Paso Robles winery. I think Ambyth is making all their wines from estate grapes now, so not sure if they’re still going with this Syrah….and too bad for all of you as this was such true varietal characteristic of the grape. Spicy with hints of blueberries, multi-layered dense fruit flavors. This is one of the better natural wineries around and a great representative of the (supposedly) controversial style. Welsh winemaker Phil Hart goes all the way when it comes to the unwritten rules of natural winemaking, and this place will be soon be a California benchmark of the style.

2011 Clos des Fous Cauquenina, Ambyth Estate Syrah, De Su Propia Cosecha Albarino

Towards the end of the week we opened up an Albariño from a super tiny production made by Santa Barbara winery De Su Propia Cosecha. Sadly this is another wine that is not only out of stock, but the vineyard where the grapes were sourced, in San Luis Obispo, has been sold and the allocation has changed hands. Regardless, this wine proves the natural talent from winemaker Chris King. Such a precise, lean, pure wine. Lemon sherbert with hints of macadamia on the nose while it tastes of apricot and lime, and a healthy dose of chalk-like minerality. You can find DSP in Lompoc’s wine ghetto….seek them out! 1501 E. Chestnut Ct,  Lompoc, CA 93436

One last little thing: if you want expand your palate, you have to taste nearly everything you come across. One easy way to do this is to buy whatever new fruit or veg you come across in the supermarket. While in Cal-mart the other day I saw these mini Forelle Pears and mini Lady Apples. The pears had a particularly delicate and pure pear flavor, while the apples tasted of a blend of apple sauce and pear. Then there was the Tohato Caramel Corn I found at Daiso, the dollar store in Japan Town, they tasted like caramelised Cap’n Crunch….awesome!
Just another goofy thing I do…..out.Lady Apples Forelle Pears

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Dragonette Cellars and Lo-Fi

Stopped by Buellton the other day to check out Dragonette Cellars’ new(ish) digs. They’ve moved their wine making facilities into what was once Sanford’s first winery….so kinda historic! I tasted through some barrels with winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis. I first came across Dragonette for research on the Happy Canyon AVA in Edible, and quite liked the sauvignon blanc they’re making from the hottest sub-region of Santa Barbara.

Dragonette Cellars

Our tasting table and the two tanks of what is sure to be pretty insane grenache!

This time however, it was the soon to be released grenache that interested me most… unexpectedly from Santa Rita Hills, a region known mostly for Burgundian varietals, Pinot and Chard.
The 2012 John Sebastiano Vineyard Grenache (in Santa Rita Hills) as well as the Thompson Vineyard (which is in fact in Los Alamos Hills) are usually blended by Dragonette, but this time they are seriously thinking about bottling them individually, which personally I think is the way to go. Dragonette has a tasting room in Los Olivos – 2445 Alamo Pintado Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441 805-693-0077

By the way, I hadn’t realized the guys at Dragonette had been consulting and making Liquid Farm’s wines for the past few vintages. So, should probably get some deserved praise for all those high scores and mentions…..I think they’ve taken a considerable step back now that Liquid Farm has its own rented place next door.

Brandon Sparks-Gillis (L) and Mike Roth (R)

Brandon Sparks-Gillis (L) and Mike Roth (R)

The whole reason why I went to Dragonette was because another winemaker Mike Roth had invited me down. Mike has recently left his post at Martian Vineyards and is going solo under his own label Lo-Fi, he’s renting a corner of Dragonette’s winery.  If you’ve tasted any of Mike’s wines or spent even a minute chatting with him you’ll know he draws a lot of his inspiration from Beaujolais and the natural side of winemaking…and that will be his focus with Lo-Fi.

He will soon be releasing a Cab Franc and with what could be called one of the most awesome label’s I’ve come across. It’ll retail at $25. Lo-Fi Winery Mike Roth

 Just a note – Buellton is fast becoming an urban wine destination in it’s own right, although places like Lucas & Lewellen have always been there, other wineries like Dragonette, Margerum and Roark are posting stakes.

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Brangerosé is mighty fine…but the best in the world…?

As most of you have probably heard, Wine Spectator have not only placed Chateau Miraval (Brangelina’s wine from Provence) in their top 100 wines of the year but they have gone as far as saying it’s the best rosé in the world!

So why have Spectator done this? My only guess is they’re hoping the power duo will show up at the awards dinner….and to be quite honest, if I were in the position to get Angelina Jolie at my shindig, hell yeah I’d say she (and that other guy) made the best rosé ever!!!

To be honest the wine is actually very nice. Below is a tasting I did from my summer rose reviews….I seem to remember it having a caramel/toffee like flavor as well. I think I would include it in my top 10 rosé’s of the year in fact, but not #1, c’mon….that’s just silly.

2012 Miraval, Côtes de Provence: around $23, widely available.
If you have not yet heard of Château Miraval, you soon will: This is the Brangelina wine, made at their winery in Provence with help from the family of famous Rhône winemakers, Perrin. The presentation here is exquisite, the bottle itself is almost as memorable as that now-famous Jolie Oscar leg shot. The wine too is very nice indeed, soft fruit flavors and despite the initial hype is now widely available. Have it with a showing of Mr. & Mrs. Smith — without that movie, this wine would not exist.

Chateau Miraval Angelina Jolie Brad Pitt Rose

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Wine Bar Wanderer: William Cross Wine Merchant

Strolling along Polk Street the other day we ducked into local favorite William Cross Wine Merchant.  From the front WC looks like a shop, but if you head past the bottle racks you’ll find a full bar area with stools, tables, and a couple of beer taps to boot.

William Cross is such an unpretentious laid back setting. To be honest, I thought I might feel a bit self conscious or exposed having a quick taste in the shop, but when I was finally sat there, glass in hand, I realized that’s not the case at all: it’s a very relaxed and even rather lively spot.

William Cross Wine Merchant San Francisco Polk Street

There are wines by the glass or flights (changed weekly), and of course you can buy any bottle from the shop and add $5 for corkage. The flights are usually between $10 and $15 and you get to try three (generously poured) different wines. We tried the Italian and the ‘Strange’ flight, both of which were excellently chosen.

Of all the six, my favorite was the Birichino Cinsault from the cult vineyard Bechthold in Lodi. The back label states these Cinsault vines might be the oldest on earth! A claim that might not be far off as the vineyard was planted in 1886 (let us not forget that most of Europe’s vines died in the great phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century). An odd little side not here – I first met the co-owner of Birichino, Alex Krause, about 8 years ago at a random, tiny wine tasting of Bonny Doon in the back room of a pub in deepest darkest Sussex County, England. Alex is the current export sales director of Grahm’s wine and was regularly in the UK, flogging the good stuff.

William Cross Wine Merchant San Francisco Polk Street

Italian flight on top,
Strange flight on the bottom

This wine had a multilayered depth to it not usually found in Cinsault and the fact that is was on Cross’ tasting list shows the wide variety at this bar. It’s a good spot for a date, a jolly afternoon with wine-appreciating pals. or even a drink by yourself. In fact there is a huge library of wine books all around the place, so why not catch up on the odd region while you try the wine (that’s exactly what we did with the Cour-Cheverny we had).

They don’t mind if you bring food to eat at one of the tables, and it’s also a perfect place to wait for a table at one of the many restaurants nearby. A serious but unpretentious wine bar for even the geekiest of fans. I can’t wait to go back, and maybe check out one of the Wednesday night tastings next time.
William Cross

2253 Polk Street (at Green)
San Francisco, CA 94109

Phone: (415) 346 1314

Wino events worth a tipple

Open House in Santa Rosa

Two Shepherds is having an open house this coming Saturday – November 2nd from Noon to 6pm! I met William Allen (ex-blogger now winemaker) about a year ago and have tried his Sonoma Rhônes a few times.

Two Shepherds Grenache<br /> Blanc

Most impressive are his whites, but his straight grenache is nothing to scoff at either. Recently I tried his (rare) straight 2012 Marsanne from Saralee’s Vineyard just south of Santa Rosa. It was one of the most pure and minerally wines I’ve come across, lots of almondy flavor and an amazing (almost addictive) waxy texture. It’s about $30 and available only to club members……so join up!!

harvest party

His tasting room(mates) will also be pouring their wares. The event is free and you’ll get 10% off if you register below:

Tickets and Info here: https://novreleaseparty.eventbrite.com

3rd Annual Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles

November is also the time for the third annual Garagiste Festival, one of the only good things coming out of Paso, hahahahhaa. Sadly I cant make it this year but I must admit the last two have been quite impressive. One of my favorite California wineries (who happens to be in Paso, of all places) Ambyth Estate will be in attendance. They are one of the few natural/biodynamic in our great state.

2013 Garagiste<br /> Festival Paso Robles

Also in attendance are Ranchero Cellars, who make a very nice Carignan sourced from giant vines in Mendocino. Casa Dumetz with
the ever amiable winemaker and owner Sonja Magdevski (I interviewed her celeb fiancée, Emilio, for wine-seacher, great guy!). Also
Paix-sur-terre who are making some nice Rhônes style wines out of Paso, I met them last year.

New to the Garagiste this year are Harrison-Clarke.  A winery located deep in the (newly designated) AVA Ballard Canyon. I’ve walked
their vineyard and was so impressed with the estate grenache…I am sure it will be poured, and it is awesome! My buddy Lee Tomkow
(who hosts great walking vineyard tours in Santa Barbara County) has a great tasting for their estate syrah, click on his photo:

Harrison Clarke Syrah

The 3rd Annual Garagiste Festival takes place in Paso Robles at Windfall Farms, November 7-10th, 2013

All ticket information is on the site

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Finding Berkeley’s Urban Wineries – easy as A, B, C

Urban winemaking is nothing new, and the scene is definitely growing. I took a couple of hours this past Saturday to check out (in fact re-check) some wineries in Berkeley. If you live in the bay area, nothing beats going to the actual regions of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, et al. but if you fancy your quick winery fix, there is all you want a few minutes away. I80 North (or South) get off at Gilman St and a few blocks away are three working wineries.

Berekeley Map 1

Broc Cellars – 1300 5th Street Berkeley, CA 94710

Chris Brocway has been on the scene for a while now, and recently moved to his new digs, directly on the corner of Gilman and 5th. Broc Cellars is a natural wine producer (he adds SO2 just before bottling), I first came across his wares at a Sonoma rosé tasting and was surprised to hear he sourced the grapes from a Spiltwine buddy, Mike Roth of Martian Vineyards. Some wines to look out for at Broc are the Zinfandel (with something crazy like 13.5% alc) and the Carignan – made by carbonic maceration (which is how it’s made in the Languedoc), real light and Beaujolais in style.  The geekiest wine at Broc might just be the skin contact Roussane, basically an orange wine.  Apparently the one we tried was from 2009….and therefore even darker in color and overall complexity, current vintage is the ’11. He sources grapes from all over the state, even Oregon! Oh, and that little cement thing next to the bottle is a sample model of Broc’s egg cement tank, awesome for convection during fermentation – here’s some extra reading on cement and egg-shaped tanks. (I’m a fan, btw)

Broc Cellars 2011 Rousanne

Donkey & Goat – 1340 5th Street Berkeley, CA 94710

I’d been hearing murmurings of this winery even when I was down in Santa Barbara. Owners Tracey & Jared Brandt are full on natural winemakers, and just a few hop, skip and jumps from Broc on 5th Street. My first excuse to pop by the TR was for a Carignan story I was working on….well their Carignan was very impressive! Full of crunchy bramble and blackberry fruit. They source from all over the state and my fav are the Carignan (or course) as well as the Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah, which I later found out received a 97(!!)
in Wine Enthusiast – here’s the review. This high score is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, is the Wine Enthusiast making a stand that they are willing to give such high scores to wines of this style (ie low alcohol, natural in style), or is this just a one time thing? And secondly will the Wine Enthusiast be the voice (and therefore give more of these higher scores) to the polar opposite views of Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate?  Time will only tell, but when I chatted to Jared about this he too was just as surprised, and made a note that D&G don’t really send wines out to be scored, Wine Enthusiast had contacted them……The Fenaughty is nearly out, so get it quick! They also have some –
bursting with ripe berry flavor – Grenache (and also the best movie poster, in the bogs).

2010 Donkey & Goat Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah (El Dorado)

Lusu Cellars – 805 Camellia St. Berkeley, CA

Another couple of steps from D&G this time on Camelia Street is Lusu Cellars (it’s in fact where Broc used to be). I have never heard of Lusu and was pleasantly surprised with the wine. David Teixeira is the owner/winemaker and guy pouring the wine in the cellar, basically the tasting room is in construction and you will be sniffing and swirling amongst the barrels and tanks, about as authentic as it comes. David (that’s him with the beard, below) grew up on the Delta and his Portuguese family have been making wine since he can remember, mostly Zinfandel.  It was also his Zinfandel that I liked best, a light style (again a 13.5% alcohol level) with soft plum, white pepper and fresh raspberries. All the wines are available at the winery. In the barrels he’s got some port ageing as well as Madiera (!?), I don’t think I’ve ever had a Madiera style wine made in Cali, David’s Portuguese roots stem from the little island…will definitely be going back to see his progress with both of those fortified wines.

Lusu Cellars Zinfandel

There you have it, three very good wineries, all a stones throw away…..more to come on the Bay Area’s urban wine scene….stay tuned!

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