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Adobe Road

Collier Falls
Croze / Smith Wooton
Davis Family
Domaine Alfred

Fort Ross
Lehrer Family
Merry Edwards
Nord Estate

Report on the 6th annual trade tasting presented by the Family Winemakers of California, Tuesday, March 29, 2005. This annual event focuses on wines grown and/or produced by FWC members from current releases or soon-to-be-released vintages.

The FWC was founded in 1991 to represent the small, family-owned winery before the California Legislature and state regulatory agencies. Annual tastings are presented twice each year, once in Northern California and once in Southern California. The attendance at this year's event was large - about 185 labels were present, pouring nearly 600 wines. Thankfully, the event was four hours long, and I managed to get to 35 of the wineries represented, tasting about 93 wines.

The tasting notes below give a brief description of the wine's attributes and/or qualities. These wines are generally the current releases for each winery, although some wineries may substitute samples from yet-to-be-released vintages if current supplies are sold out or otherwise unavailable.

Some Favorites

2001 Audelssa Cabernet
2001 Barlow "Barrouge"
2002 Chappellet Cabernet
2002 Lynch Cabernet

2000 Arcadian - Pisoni
2002 Davis Family - RRV
2001 Fiddlehead Lollapaloza
2002 Merry Edwards - Klopp Ranch

2002 Falcor Syrah
2003 Smith-Wooton Syrah

2003 Derbes Chardonnay - RRV

Overall impressions: in the six years FWC has held a Southern California tasting, the earlier rotating venues have included the L.A. Hilton (hot), the Skirball Center (hot, spread out), the Santa Monica Air Museum (imagine jet fuel vapors filling the air), and the Pasadena Convention Center. These were diverse venues, to say the least. But finally, it looks as though the FWC has settled on a single setting for its Southern California event, as the events have been held at the Pasadena Convention Center the last three years. There also have a very nice selection of cheese, crackers and breads available.

Okay, on to the wines. I've tried to use this particular series of tastings to cover a lot of wineries whose names were new to me, or that I hadn't visited before. Often, smaller or newer wineries that just haven't received much press can have some undiscovered gems. As a side benefit, the tables usually aren't quite as crowded, either. Among the "finds" at this tasting were wines from Audelssa, pouring Cabernet and Syrah; Lynch, with a remarkable Cabernet; Davis Family with a gorgeous Pinot Noir; Falcor and Smith-Wooton with some well-made delicious Syrahs; and Derbes with a trio of fantastic Chardonnays. Probably the biggest surprise was finding out that Pinotage was being grown on the Sonoma Coast. Fort Ross winery brought several along for tasting, and they were definitely some of the better versions of this variety I've tasted.

Selected Tasting Notes
ADOBE ROAD - Sonoma County

2002 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast. Very ripe black cherry nose; tons of fruit in the mouth and very nice finish.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon . Nice clove-scented nose; a bit thin in mouthfeel.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon- Alexander Vly. Very nice cassis and toast in the nose; full, and rich mouthfeel, nice long finish.

Comments: a relatively new winery by race car driver Kevin Buckler. Certainly better off to a better start than Andretti. The Pinot held the most interest.

ALLORA - Napa Valley

2000 Cabernet Blend - Napa. Nice, well-balanced claret-style of Cab.

2001 Cabernet Blend - Napa. Much fuller than the '00, with plenty of cassis and spice-scented fruit in the nose and substance on the palate.

Comments: founded in 1997 by Terry and Nancy Klein, Allora planted an Estate Vnyd in 1998 in St. Helena. Nice '01 Cab.


2002 Chardonnay - Napa. Smells big, with lots of fruit, coffee and a bit of oak. Full on the palate, nice flavors, but a brief finish.

2002 Pinot Noir - Mendocino. Quite ripe in the nose, with lots of black cherry and black raspberry flavors throughout.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon- Napa. Nice cassis nose, nicely balanced in a claret sort of way.

Comments: Nice job on the Pinot. The Cab seemed a little underfilled.

ARCADIAN - Central Coast

2000 Pinot Noir - Pisoni. Very nice dark cherry with a touch of earth in the nose. Full on the palate, nice balance and finish.

Comments: another nice Arcadian! One of the other tasters thought it corked. No way!

ARCHIPEL - Sonoma County

2001 Bordeaux Blend. Beautiful espresso-scented nose of cassis and black cherry. Full, rich mouthfeel, long finish.

Comments: apparently this is the only wine they make, and it's a beauty. On the flip side, they do have a wildly over-engineered website.

ATALON - Napa Valley

2002 Merlot - Napa. Very nice sweet black cherry and dark plum, with a hint of chocolate. Delicious mouthfeel, well-balanced, smooth long finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa. Slightly restrained cassis nose. rich mouthfeel, with finely grained tannins that cling to the palate through the long finish.

Comments: one of my favorite "inexpensive" lineups (I hate the "value" moniker). consistently good Merlot and Cab at everyday prices.


2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma Mtn. Lovely cassis, black raspberry, and a touch of herbs in the nose. Rich and plush on the palate, excellent balance, long smooth finish.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma Mtn. (recently bottled) Slightly herbaceous nose of cassis and dark berry. Rich mouthfeel, long finish.

2002 Syrah - Sonoma Mtn. Nose of blackberry, blueberry and tar. Well-balanced, with much more of a dark and brooding mouthfeel. Nice - sort of atypical.

Comments: a relatively new venture for proprietor Gloria Schaefer, who was also pouring these wines. Richard Arrowood is the winemaker.

BANNISTER - Sonoma County

2002 Pinot Noir - Salzgeber, RRV. Nose of black cherry with a nice earthy touch. Excellent body and balance, very tasty.

Comments: this wonderful Pinot took me completely by surprise! Nice fruit sources and very good winemaking.

BARLOW - Napa Valley

2002 Merlot. Lots of clove-scented black cherry and dark plum. Fleshy mouthfeel, delicious flavors, long finish.

2002 "Barrouge". An 80/20 blend of Cab and Merlot. Loaded with dark fruit in the nose. Full and rich on the palate, with anice long finish.

Comments: the Barrouge delicious, but the Merlot was beautiful!

BELLA - Sonoma County

2002 Zinfandel - Alexander Vly. Nice berry nose, if a bit less "Zinny" than most. Good mouthfeel, and at 14% Petite Sirah it also has plenty of concentration and chew.

2002 Zinfandel - Dry Creek Vly. Slightly burnished nose, nice lively mouthfeel with a bit of sweetness and touch of heat as well. 5% Petite Sirah.

Comments: hadn't tried this producer before. Good winemaking, and these Zins are good examples of a pre-Turley style.


2002 Garnacha. Nice raspberry nose and flavor, good grip on the palate, with medium grained tannins and long finish.

2002 Tempranillo. Smoke-infused nose, lots of flavor, nice fullness to body and finish. 5% Graciano.

2002 Graciano. Big, inky and dark, with almost a one-dimensional quality in nose and mouth. 5% Tempranillo.

Comments: another producer new to me - this one with a full assortment of Spanish varietals. The Graciano was an odd choice for a varietal bottling - like Trousseau.

BOURASSA - Napa Valley

2002 "Harmony 3 Blend". Nice cassis with an herbal quality in this blend of Cab, Cab Franc, and Merlot. Full on the palate, good balance and finish.

2001 Cabernet Franc. Nose of sage and underbrush seems to mask the fruit underneath. Somewhat bitter and sour in mouthfeel, with a weedy taste through the long finish.

Comments: the Harmony is a nice wine. The CF must have been an "off" bottle.

BRAVANTE - Napa Valley

2001 Merlot. Nice cassis and plum nose, with medium body, fleshy mouthfeel and long finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit funky in the nose, but plenty of cassis, with a bit of vanilla and toast. Gripping on the palate, with plenty of finely grained unresolved tannins,and a very nice finish.

Comments: from 6 yr-old vnyd planted on property that previously belonged to the Lail family.

BROMAN - Napa Valley

1999 Merlot. Nose plummy nose, with just a bit of dried herb and leaf. Lots of fleshy fruit, good balance, long finish.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon. Nose of cassis, herbs and cassis. Full bodied, nice texture, long finish.

2000 Syrah . Nice blackberry nose with just a hint of clove and vanilla. Plenty of fruit on the palate, very good balance, long finish.

Comments: Both the Merlot and Cab were nice, but the winner for me was the Syrah.

CA'NA - Contra Costa County

2001 "Celebration". Nice nose of black and red fruit, and some spice. Medium-full mouthfeel, very nice flavors, long finish. Blend of Cab & Syrah.

2001 Syrah . Odd nose - off, funky, or closed. Dark fruit, bittersweet chocolate flavors, soft mouthfeel with moderate body, and long finish.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. Odd nose - off, funky, or closed. Very nice mouthfeel, good flavor profile, long finish.

Comments: aside from the "Celebration," the common thread of these wines seemed to be the odd nose.


2002 Syrah - North Coast. Briary and bright in the nose. Light smoky quality to the black fruit.

2002 Syrah - Napa. Slightly fatter in nose, with a big mouthfeel and chewy long finish.

2001 Petite Sirah - Napa. Dense dark nose, lightly sweet and very smooth on the palate.

Comments: definitely an underrated producer, Jeff Popick likes to work with many varieties, and seems to succeed with all of them.

CHAPPELLET - Napa Valley

2002 "Mountain Cuvee". This claret-style wine is actually bigger than some Cabs. full and rich, with lovely flavor profile.

2002 Merlot. Nice plummy nose with a bit of leaf and spice. Chewy mouthfeel, very light tannins, lots of fruit, lovely finish.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon "Signature". Big nose of cassis and cocoa powder. Huge mouthfeel, lots of clinging tannins,and very long finish.

2002 Cabernet Franc "Signature". Nose of cassis, loamy earth and chocolate. Plenty of fruit, though just a bit soft on the palate, with a medium-long finish.

Comments: this producer continues to make the kind of wine I like to drink. Lots of values here too, at least until you get to the Signature bottlings.


2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Made in more of claret style (typical for many DCV Cabs), the mouthfeel and flavors seem a bit soft.

2001 Zinfandel. Seems a tad underfilled, yet still correct and flavorful.

2002 Zinfandel. Brighter than the '01, with a lightly gripping mouthfeel, yet still wanting for a little more stuffing.

Comments: winemaker Cecile Derbes (see below) gives these wines a decided European bent. Balanced though generally lighterin body, they're sure to be excellent food matches.

COOPER-GARROD - Santa Cruz Mtns

2002 Chardonnay. Mostly lemon-lime with some coffee scents in the background. nicely balanced, pleasant fruit, and moderately long finish.

2003 Viognier. Crisp white peach and pear aromas and flavors. Nice!

2001 "Claret". A bit too earthy in the nose, with some green pepper weaving through the cassis. Moderately full body, long finish.

2001 Cabernet Franc. A bit closed in the nose, yet none of the earthiness found in the Claret. Nice mouthfeel and flavors, touch of heat on the long finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Nicely balanced, more a claret style of Cab, with medium body, plenty of flavors and long finish.

2002 Syrah. Nose of clove and blackberry, with a full mouthfeel, very nice balance and long smoky and spicy finish.

Comments: this property is often overlooked when wines of the Santa Cruz Mtns are discussed. Always dependable Cabernets, and the Syrah and Viognier were nice finds.


2004 Croze Cabernet Rose. Yeasty and toasty with nice fruit and balance, it's like a rose bubbly - without the bubbles.

2001 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon. Cassis, clove and spice dominate the nose and mouthfeel of this medium-bodied wine.

2001 Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc - Napa Vly. Nice dark fruit nose, full and rich on the palate, balanced to the acid side of things.

2003 Smith Wooton Syrah - Calaveras Co. Gorgeous floral, woodsy, lightly smoky nose. Excellent balance, plenty of fruit, long finish.

Comments: Gary Wooton is the winemaker for both of these labels. Each of these wines were nice, but the show stopper for me was the Syrah.

D-CUBED - Napa Valley

2002 Zinfandel - Napa Vly. Very nice, plenty of spicy boysenberry, fat on the palate, nice balanced long finish.

2002 Zinfandel - Howell Mtn. Big briary nose, brawnier in mouthfeel than the Napa, lightly sweet long finish.

Comments: Textbook stuff.

DAVIS FAMILY - Sonoma County

2002 Pinot Noir - RRV. Lovely nose of lightly spiced cherry/strawberry with a touch of cola. Rich and seamless mouthfeel, long smooth finish.

Comments: excellent Pinot!

DERBES - Sonoma County

2001 Chardonnay - Carneros. Lots of crisp aromas and flavors of lemon and lime accented by touches of pear and apple.

2002 Chardonnay - Carneros. Similar to the '01 with more of an earthier tone throughout.

2002 Chardonnay - RRV. Fuller and richer in mouthfeel than the Carneros bottlings, with just a touch of crisp celery and an intriguing "freshness" in the nose.

2002 "Les Pinots". About a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir co-fermented with Pinot Meunier brings out a nice fleshiness in nose and mouth. Nice balance through mid-palate, with a touch of sweetness on the finish.

Comments: winemaker Cecile Derbes shows a deft hand with these 'very French' styled Chards. And the Pinot blend is also delightful.


2002 "Cinqasept". Mostly Grenache, blended with some Syrah creates a nice floral and fruity nose, and full-bodied and well-balanced impression on the palate.

Comments: the Califa Pinot and Chard, as well as the Syrah are always dependable, so I tried the newest member of the stable.

FALCOR - Napa Valley

2001 Chardonnay. Toasty and a bit yeasty in the nose - like an older bubbly. Crisp, big mouthfeel and nice almost meaty finish.

2001 Merlot . Lots of fleshy plum and cassis in the nose. More like a Cab in texture, with plenty of body and smooth cassis flavors.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon . Very nice claret-style of Cab, with very good balance and flavors and long finish.

2002 Syrah. Co-fermented with an astonishing 9% Viognier, though it's not nearly that obvious. Light floral scent to the blackberry fruit. Good mouthfeel, plenty of fruit, and smooth finish.

Comments: some pretty nice wines from this 10-yr-old winery. Having Ray Coursen (Elyse) as winemaker can't hurt, either.


FIDDLEHEAD - Santa Rita Hills

2002 Pinot Noir "728". Nose of light loamy earth, black cherry and a touch of herbs.

2001 Pinot Noir "Lollapalooza". Nose of spicy dark cherry, touch of bing cherry and earth. Light sweet-sour grip to the mouthfeel, excellent balance and long finish.

2000 Pinot Noir "Oldsville Reserve" - Willamette Valley. Plenty of herb, earth and forest scents in the nose, with light and dark cherry background. Smooth and silky on the palate, long finish.

Comments: the Fiddlestix Vineyard continues to be probably the most frequently sourced sites in the Santa Rita Hills. The "home winery's" versions are often the most compelling.

FORT ROSS - Sonoma Coast

2002 Vin Gris Rose. Has a small percent of Pinotage added, which gives the wine much more substance and meat in the mouthfeel.

2001 Chardonnay. Mostly crisp aromas and flavors of apple, pear and a touch of citrus. Nice body and mouthfeel, and long finish.

2001 Pinotage. Fascinating nose of dark fruit, clove, mint, and leaf. Almost chewy mouthfeel, lightly sweet throughout long finish.

2001 Pinotage "Reserve". This bottling dials up more of the fruit, and less of the animale. Full bodied and chewy, with a smooth long finish.

2001 Pinot Noir. Nice red and black cherry in the nose and mouth, with very good balance and long finish.

2001 Pinot Noir "Reserve". Much more backbone and depth shows up in this bottling. Plenty of dark cherry, bit of earthiness and herbs and very long succulent finish.

Comments: I had no idea that this vineyard from one of the premier locations on the Sonoma Coast for Pinot Noir, would in fact also offer Pinotage. And frankly, if all Pinotage smelled and tasted like this, the variety would get more respect.

HALLECK - Sonoma County

2004 Sauvignon Blanc. Bracing nose and mouthfeel, with lots of lemon-lime citrus and touch of gooseberry. Lightly spiced mouthfeel, crisp and clean, long on flavors.

2004 Gewurztraminer . Big blast of floral aromas followed by sweet spices in the nose. Surprisingly dry in mouthfeel, lightly spicy, with nice long finish.

2003 Pinot Noir "3 Sons Cuvee". Very much in the RRV mode, with cherry and light strawberry aromas and flavors, and just a touch of spice. Moderate mouthfeel, perfect balance, long finish.

Comments: debuting with a gorgeous '02 Pinot Noir, Halleck Vineyards is now also producing a couple of delicious whites.

JUSLYN - Napa Valley

2001 Sauvignon Blanc. Nose of gooseberry and lemon rind, with just a pinch of alfalfa. Moderately full on the palate, nice flavors, balance and finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Their "restaurant' label, this wine is a little more to the claret side of Cab. Nice cassis and spice nose, moderately chewy mouthfeel and long finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon "Estate". Definitely a step up from the previous bottling, this wine has very nice cassis fruit and vanilla in the nose, with a chewy mouthfeel, excellent balance and long finish.

Comments: established in 1998 on Spring Mtn, so the real estate is prime. The Estate Cab and Sauvignon Blanc are quite nice.

LARKMEAD - Napa Valley

2002 Merlot . Creamy nose and texture, packed with lots of plush fruit, with light bittersweet chocolate notes in the nose, excellent mouthfeel, and very long finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of cassis and black cherry, with light cocoa powder and spices accenting the nose. Rich on the palate, excellent balance, long finely grained finish.

Comments: always one of my favorite producers of Cab and Merlot.


2002 Syrah. Nose of blackberry, blueberry, a touch of licorice and sweet tar. Full and rich in mouthfeel, but not at all overly-stuffed. Very nice berry flavors, excellent balance, long finish.

Comments: pouring just one wine, but it was a beauty - plus, they were pouring it from a grogeous decanter. Made by Dennis Johns (former St. Clement; now White Cottage)

LYNCH - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon. Beautiful cassis nose with lighter scents of toast and cocoa. Finely grained tannins smooth out this wine from front to back, and the dark fruit is constantly on the palate.

2002 Sangiovese. Lightly spiced dried cherry aromas and flavors. Very nice rendition, smooth with excellent balance, and rich finish.

Comments: established in 1998, this small producer only makes about 300-400 cases from a 5-acre vineyard on Spring Mtn. These wines were made by Heidi Peterson Barrett; current winemaker is Gary Galeron.

MERRY EDWARDS - Sonoma County

2002 Pinot Noir "Sonoma Coast". Very nice spiced cherry scent, with an equally nice fresh cherry flavor, and smooth long finish.

2002 Pinot Noir "Russian River". Even spicer than the SC bottling, with a more pronounced strawberry and touch of cola. Full on the palate, excellent balance, and tasty long finish.

2002 Pinot Noir "Klopp Ranch". Very nice earthy scents add to the wild strawberry fruit. Lots of structure to this wine, with excellent balance, and lots of dark fruit throughout.

Comments: beautiful wines, and a nice cross-section of Sonoma County.

NORD ESTATE - Napa Valley

2003 Pinot Noir. From the Green Island Vnyds in the lower flood plain of the Napa River. Lovely dark cherry aroma and flavor, nice balance and long finish.

2002 "Red Wine Cuvee". From the Trio Vnyd in Yountville. Made in a claret style, with ample cassis, plum and a touch of blackberry.

2001 Syrah. Page-Nord Vnyd. Dark and rich, with plenty of blackberry, and just a touch of anise.

Comments: I've had the Novy (Siduri) version of the Syrah, but this was my first opportunity to try the lineup.

SNOWDEN - Napa Valley

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon "Lost Vnyd". Nice cassis and light toast in the nose. Medium-full body - almost a claret-style, yet with a little more texture and finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Slightly reclusive nose of cassis and toast. Full and rich on the palate, excellent balance and very long finish.

Comments: the Estate Cab seemed more like a wine in the "classic" tradition of Napa Cabs. No manipulation apparent here, with very food-friendly balance, and a long finish.

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