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Cloud View
Eden Canyon
Flying Goat
Halter Ranch
Kosta Browne
La Crema

Lava Cap
Lost Canyon
Merry Edwards

Patz & Hall

Red Car
Robinson Family
Shadow Canyon
Spencer Roloson

Report on the 7th annual trade tasting presented by the Family Winemakers of California, Tuesday, March 21, 2006. 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. Fortunately, the event was four hours long and I managed to get to 38 of the wineries represented, tasting about 93 wines in the process.

The tasting notes below give a brief description of the wine's attributes and/or qualities, or my own impressions. The wines poured are generally the current releases by 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

2002 Cloud View Cabernet
2002 MacLean Cabernet
2003 O'Shaughnessy
2003 Reverie Reserve Cabernet
2002 Summers Merlot

2002 Fiddlehead "Lollapalooza"
2004 Freeman - RRV
2004 La Crema - RRV
2004 Lost Canyon - Sara Lee
2003 Mahoney - Las Brisas
2003 Merry Edwards - Klopp Ranch

2003 Shadow Canyon Larner Syrah
2004 Lost Canyon Son. Coast Syrah

2004 Inman Pinot Grigio - RRV
2001 Rockledge Primitivo

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.

Alright, on to the wines. Recently, 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 MacLean, with a remarkable Cabernet; Merry Edwards with a gorgeous Pinot Noir; Shadow Caynon and Lost Canyon with some well-made delicious Syrahs; and Inman with a fantastic Pinot Grigio.

Probably the biggest surprise was finding so many excellent Pinot Noirs in the room, including those from Flying Goat and Mahoney, among others. Also, while I've come to expect to find many fine Cabernets, there were a singular disappointment. Mayacamas, a long-time name in Napa Cabernet showed a rather poor offering. Hopefully, they'll get back on track at some point soon.

Selected Tasting Notes

2005 Rose of Syrah - Napa Valley. Stainlesssteel fermented and neutral oak really let the fruit shine through.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Big, dark and ripe - not flashy, but plenty of body, nice flavors and balance.

2002 "OPC" - Napa Valley. A blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, and Malbec. A bit grippy on the palate, this “Ol’ Pa’s Claret” ably satisfies claret niche.

2003 Syrah - Napa Valley. Slight floral quality to the tarry aroma and flavors.

Comments: the hook here, is that four brothers established this winery in 1999. The division of labor seems to work, and the wines are nice.


2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Packed with fruit, nice complexity of aromas and flavors, this liable to be very food-friendly with its excellent balance, and nice long finish.

CLOUD VIEW - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Well, this is a definite wow! Loads of smooth cassis and light toasty aromas and flavors, with long seductive finish.

EDEN CANYON - Central Coast

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. Very nice balance of flavors here, lots of cassis and dried cherry fruit, with touches of toasted herb. (Premier vintage - purchased fruit)

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate. Slightly riper than the '02, and a bit more lush on the palate, with a nice hit of bittersweet chocolate on the finish.

Comments: the story here, is the family moving to the far eastern side of Paso Robles (Creston, actually), and planting 9 acres of Cabernet because "grapes seem to doing well in the area."

FIDDLEHEAD - Central Coast

2001 Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley. Very nice off-sweet dark cherry fruit, with just a touch of sappiness and earth.

2002 "Lollapalooza" Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. Bigger than the Oregon bottling, with plenty of nearly chewy dark fruit, excellent balance, and very long seamless finish.

FLOWERS - Sonoma Coast

2004 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast. Nice cherry and bing cherry fruit, with just a touch of wild strawberry. Very good balance and finish.

2003 Pinot Noir - Andreen-Gale Cuvee. Somewhat softer in mouthfeel than the SC version, this cuvee is slightly sweeter in taste, with a balanced long finish.

FLYING GOAT - Central Coast

2004 Pinot Noir - Dierberg. Nice warm cherry fruit, with plenty of acid structure to earmark this as a food wine, with some cellar time needed.

2004 Pinot Noir - Rio Vista, clone 2A. Beautiful meaty nose, big mouthfeel, packed with chewy fruit, and a long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Rio Vista, Dijon clones. Subtle nose, very juicy mouthfeel, lots of fruit, and lovely finish.

Comments: here's something you don't see every day - two clonal bottling - labeled as such, from the same vineyard. But, kudos to Norm Yost for putting these out delicious offerings.

FREEMAN - Sonoma County

2004 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast. Spiced cherry and black cherry, with a slightly softened mouthfeel, excellent balance and long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Absolutely killer nose of wild strawberry and cherry, with just a touch of sappiness. Beautiful balance and lingering finish.

Comments: Ed Kurtzman (August West) makes these wines, and his hand with Sonoma County fruit is quite deft. Both of these wines are very nice, but the RRV is ...Wow!

HALTER RANCH - Paso Robles

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. Nice ripeness on this westside Cab, with ample aromas of currant and a touch of herb, and a trace of heat on the finish.

2003 "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. Bigger, more concentrated, and slightly riper than the regular version. I did prefer this over the other bottling.

2003 Syrah - Paso Robles. Initially subtle, but opens up with lots of dark berry, and touches of herb through the huge long finish.

HUG CELLARS - Paso Robles

2005 Casa Mireles "Romanze" Rose - Paso Robles. This very nice dry rose of Syrah has just a splash of Pinot in it, which see to lift the wine a little on the palate. Think shellfish.

2004 Syrah - Central Coast. Nicely ripened aromas of dark berry and pomegranate, with just a touch of spicy herb and earth. Full mouthfeel, and chewy long finish.

INMAN FAMILY - Russian River

2004 Pinot Gris - Russian River. Lovely nose of lemony citrus with a hint of citron. Fantastic mouthfeel and balance, with ample acids to cut through any cream sauce imaginable. Wonderful taste and finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Stelvin bottled, and I'm sure that my imagination played trick with me here by making the wine seem more directly fruity.

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Cork bottled. This was more to my liking, and seemed a bit less "edgy" to me than the Stelvin bottling. Nice fruit!

Comments: interesting idea - bottle the same wine with two different closures. Time will be the obvious judge here.

KOSTA BROWNE - Sonoma County

2005 Rose of Pinot Noir. Lovely strawberry and charry nose, plenty of flavor and body, with excellent balance and finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast. Nice - almost restrained in style, with ample cherry and black cherry fruit, excellent balance and long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Somewhat riper and bigger in both nose and mouth, with tons of fruit, excellent balance and long chewy finish.

Comments: what can be said about KB that hasn't already been said. They're all about big (yet balanced) Pinots from some micro vineyard sources in Sonoma County, and they are on a roll!

LA CREMA - Sonoma County

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Rich, juicy and spicy - if you want an RRV Pinot that is drinking so well now that you can't put it down, your Pinot has arrived.

LAVA CAP - Sierra Foothills

2002 "American Red" - Sierra Foothills. A vintage red wine that sells for $12, and is NOT named "Chuck"? Here's your ticket. This Bordeaux blend has a very nice nose , and is flavorful and balanced.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon "Reserve" - El Dorado County. Slightly riper cassis aromas, with just a bit of herb and olive. Nice concentration, balance and finish


2004 Pinot Noir - Sara Lee. Immediate gratification, with lots of red and black fruit, chewy mouthfeel and very long finish. Delicious!

2004 Pinot Noir - Dutton, Morelli Lane. Wow! Big, but refined, with nice little elements of flint and earth mixing with the dark cherry fruit. Big long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Carneros. From the Sonoma side, this bottling has nice sweet ripe dark cherry fruit, seems somewhat subtle in mouthfeel, and finishes a bit softer than the other two bottlings.

2004 Syrah - Sonoma Coast. Smoky, spicy a roasted aromas and flavors. Very Cote Rotie in style. Real nice!

2004 Syrah - Russian River. Fascinating mint and clove accent the decicious black fruit, throughout the lingering finish.

Comments: kind of a reunion of sorts - I'd stopped at the LC table the very first time they were here - in '03, and managed to speak with winery partner Bob Riskin both times. It was nice to catch up - and they've been getting some very nice reviews from the media - deservedly so!

MACLEAN - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Lovely cassis and soft earthen tones accent this very well-balanced, wonderful mouthful of wine. Soft tannins predominate through the very long flavorful finish.

Comments: Craig MacLean, the former winemaker with Kelham-MacLean, was there in his kilt, to pour a very nice Cab

MAHONEY - Carneros

2005 Vermentino - Las Brisas Vnyd. Crisp and floral nose, with the barest hint of citrus. Delightfully crisp on the palate, with a lightly sweet streak - though completely dry.

2004 Chardonnay - Gavin Vnyd, Carneros. Terrific crisp aromas. Not at all plodding on the palate, with wonderful balance and flavors, and long tasty finish.

2002 Pinot Noir - Carneros. Textbook Carneros fruit, with a strawberry/cola/cake spice quality, very nice balance and finish.

2003 Pinot Noir - Las Brisas Vnyd. Bigger and richer in mouthfeel than the "Carneros" bottling, with a meatiness throughout, and very long flavorful finish. Very nice!

Comments: "oh, please try the Vermintino," the sales rep encouraged. And, she was right, it was indeed delicious.

MAYACAMAS - Napa Valley

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Disappointing! With a decent nose, but largely tart, acidic and harsh on the palate, this was not a rousing endorsement for one of California's older statesmen of Cabernet.

MEDLOCK-AMES - Alexander Valley

2001 Merlot - Alexander Valley. Nice acid backbone will win many food-paring fans, but those looking for luch fruit may be disappointed. Correct, and nice enough - just a bit austere.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Alexander Valley. Somewhat vegetal and a bit overripe in nose and mouth, with a wheaty/oaty quality that would be more expected in an older wine.

Comments: don't know much about this producer, though they have a gorgeous and informative website, and seemingly excellent vineyards. The wines, however....

MERRY EDWARDS - Sonoma County

2004 Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast. Floral accents to the red cherry nose, with very nice balance, and slightly soft textures through the long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Russian River. Bigger and more concentrated than the SC version, with plenty of red and bing cherry, and a nearly chewy mouthfeel, with long delicious finish.

2003 Pinot Noir - Klopp. Gorgeous nose, with lots of spicy, floral dark cherry and wild strawberry fruit. Seamless fruit-laden palate, with a light touch of pink grapefruit rind on the long silky finish. Kudos on this!

2004 Pinot Noir - Olivet Grange. Darker in tone, this bottling is more to the black cherry side, with more cinnamon and nutmeg throughout, and long velvety finish.

Comments: always one of my favorite Pinot producers, I'd like to single them out as very willing to pour some of their better offerings for events such as these. Oh, and the wines are no slouch, either.

MONTICELLO - Napa Valley

2004 Pinot Noir - Estate. Intriguing nose dark cherry and rose bush. Nice mouthfeel, a touch stemmy in flavor, with good balance and moderately long finish.

Comments: been a long time sine I tried this producer, but I recall some excellent Cabs from the mid-to-late '80s. They had several wines here, and I was interested in tasting their full lineup. Unfortunately, I happened on their table at the wrong time. Crowds weren't the issue - but the pourer seemed more intent on making conversation with a friend, rather than pouring wine.


2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - Howell Mtn. Well, another wow for me. Seductive dark fruit, with a beautiful toasty streak of toast, vanilla, and dusty spice. Fine-grained tannins mingle with the fruit and fill the mouth. Beautiful balance and smoothly textured finish.

Comments: no, this is not your grandfather's Cabernet - this is 21st century Cab! And, as much as I like rusticity, this is pure unadulterated pleasure.

PAGE - Napa Valley

2002 "Le Petite Page" Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. The light minty/clove quality accents the nice cassis fruit in this claret-style wine.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Bigger and more concentrated than the previous wine, this offering seems more prototypical "Napa" in its style. Still carrying some mint (where does that come from) in the profile, this wine is well balanced, with nice long finish.

PARADIGM - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Definitely a 'wow' nose, with light cake spice accenting the abundant cassis/currant fruit, and light toast. Impeccably balanced, and slightly soft and pliable on the palate, I would expect this to gain some weight over the next few years, though the vintage wasn't as even across the board.

Comments: as a postscript to this tasting, I had the fortunate opportunity to recently taste a '96 Paradigm. All I can say is OMG! If this is indicative of what to expect from this producer (winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett), then you may want to stock up on Paradigm.

PATZ & HALL - Various AVAs

2004 Pinot Noir - Hyde Vnyd. In something of a 'Hirsch meets Kost Browne' style, this wine seems to embody the best of both worlds - balance and concentrated fruit.

PRIDE - Napa Valley

2003 Merlot - Sonoma County. Always a pleasure, the Pride Merlot would make Miles (of 'Sideways' fame) blush at how good the grape comes off in the right hands. OTOH, Miles was a wuse, and probably not capable of appreciating something like this. Fruit-filled and delicious.


RED CAR - Russian River

2005 "Think Pink" Rose of Syrah - California. Nice, almost meaty quality to the fruit, with plenty of "chew" on the palate, delicious flavors, and nicely crisp finish.

2004 "Amour Fou" Pinot Noir - RRV. Unlike previous versions, the '04 has more acid structure to the abundant fruit. Very nice balance and long tasty finish.

2005 Pinot Noir - Zio Tony Vnyd. Rich and plush, the dark fruit here is quite chewy, very flavorful, and the balance and finish works very well.

2004 "Box Car" Syrah - California. Built along the lines of a Central Coast Syrah, this shows some nice fruit and structure, softening up a bit through the finish.

Comments: formerly Central-Coast centric in its fruit sources, Red Car is now almost entirely Russian River centric. This, coupled with winemaking changes, and we've got a brand new road in front of us with Red Car.

REVANA - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Touch of sweet herb in the nose and mouth of this wine, accents the beautiful cassis fruit, excellent balance and long finish.

Comments: another Heidi Barrett effort, and it shows. Makes me want to put together a Heidi Barret tasting.

REVERIE - Napa Valley

2002 "ASKiken" Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Still one of the smoking deals in Cabernet, this bottling always represents lterrific balance, moderate complexity, tons of fruit, and a real pleasure-drinking wine.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Similar in aroma and flavor to the ASK, but the concentration is up another notch. Lots of chewy delicious fruit, and long finish.

2003 "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Wow nose, with tons of seductive fruit and spice. Huge mouthfeel, excellent balance and structure, and very long tasty finish.


2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Drop-dead gorgeous nose of cassis, vanilla, and lightly toasted herb. Slightly subtle mouthfeel - more about refinement and balance, rather than in-your-face style or fruit. Seamless and balanced finish.

ROCKLEDGE - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. A big wine - especially for the vintage. Lots of dark fruit, chewy body, seamless textures and finish.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Similar to the '02, but the hallmark here is smoothness. Very nice balance, and fine-grained finish. Lovely!

2001 Primitivo - Napa Valley. Huge dark brambly fruit - kind of Zin-like, but obviously more refined. Lots of dark berry, smooth on the palate, and very long smooth finish.

2002 Zinfandel - Napa Valley. Certainly more Calif Zin-like than the Primitivo, with added brambly, slight herbal qualities,and a certain sweet rustic quality.

Comments: as I've noted before, the Primitivo has been pulled - regrettably. I expect the Zin might be next, as Napa real estate demands much more return on the planted investment. Nevertheless, this will always be one of the best, if not the best, Primitivo's I have ever had.

SHADOW CANYON - Central Coast

2004 Rose of Syrah. Lovely rose, with nice fruity flavors excellent balance and long finish. Gorgeous bottling, too!

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Shadow Cyn. The last Cab fruit from the "estate" vineyard, this wine shows lots of concentration and essence of cassis fruit, very good balance, and long finish.

2003 Syrah - Larner. Smoky dark fruit, lots of spicy peppery earthy qualities, with touches of tar, leather and tobacco.

2003 Syrah - Shadow Cyn. Lots of currant and spice, with just a touch of toasted herb. Good grip on the palate, juicy acids, fine-grained texture, and very long finish.

Comments: want to get on a "hot" mailing list? Shadow Canyon is located in the York Mtn sub-AVA of Paso Robles, and is much more suited for growing Rhone varieties than for Bordeaux varieties. I profiled this winery after a visit in August '05. This was the fruit source for SQN's early Syrahs, and it remains a fantastic source for good fruit.


2003 Viognier - Lodi. Quite ripe, but still nicely done. Somewhat thick in texture, with citrusy flavors, nice balance and finish. Almost Chardonnay-like.

2003 Syrah. Smoky, with nice fruit, balance and finish.

2002 "Palaterra" Rhone Blend. Lots of lightly spicy fruit, with a meaty warm fruit quality, and touches of herb.

STELTZNER - Napa Valley

2002 Merlot - Napa Valley. Lush and fruit-driven, with plenty of chewy and moderate complexity. Very nice balance and finish.

2003 Claret - Napa Valley. Obviously Cabernet-based, this bottling is exceedingly well-balanced and delivers plenty of fruit for the $$.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Lovely aroma and flavors, with plenty of classic Napa fruit,and that light cocoa-dusted Stag's Leap quality.

2002 "Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Lovely cassis and toast scents. Nice chewy body, very nice flavors. Beautiful balance and long lingering finish.

Comments: probably one of the better "values" still under the radar in the Stag's Leap area of Napa Valley. Consistent and very reliable, the pricing is always very accessible.

STONEFLY - Napa Valley

2002 Cabernet Franc - Napa Valley. Nice toasted herb quality to the abundant cassis/currant fruit. Somewhat sweet mouthfeel, excellent balance and finish.

SUMMERS - Napa Valley

2003 Merlot - Knight's Valley. Terrific plummy/cassis nose, with fleshy textures, beautiful balance and long finish.An excellent merlot by any standard.

2003 "Adrianna's Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Very nice fruit and mouthfeel, great balance and finish.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley. Lovely, dusty cassis fruit in nose and mouth. Terrific textures in mouthfeel, beautiful balance and finish.

Comments: another "sleeper" winery in Napa Valley. If you're a Cab lover - seek them out.

VIADER - Napa Valley

2003 "Dare" Cabernet Franc - Napa Valley. Beautiful fruit here, with dusty, herb-infused currant, and some earthy tones. Rich mouthfeel, very nicely balanced and long seamless finish.

VISION - Sonoma County

2004 Pinot Noir - Sonoma County. Nice strawberry and cherry fruit, very good balance and long finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Marin County. Spicier than the SC offering, yet a bit more understated as well.

2004 Pinot Noir - Rosella's Vnyd. Slightly riper than the Sonoma County bottlings, but still restrained (a good thing), with nice fruit, balance and finish.

2004 Pinot Noir - Garys' Vnyd. Darker in fruit profile, with similar ripeness and thickness on thepalate as with the Rosella's.


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