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Vol. 6 No.1. Nov '98

Central Coast

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -

Journal and tasting notes from late Fall tour of the CA Central Coast wine country. Seems like we covered a vast amount of territory, yet we never left the "Central Coast" appellation. It's hard to comprehend that everything between Santa Barbara and Alameda is somehow considered to be in the same appellation, given the substantially different regions. Strange, but apparently true.

Tasting Notes and Scores: each wine was evaluated using the requisite sight, smell, and taste impressions, using an alpha-oriented rating system (I usually rate the nose and the taste separately, and then give the wine an overall rating). An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken. Starting with this issue, I've included the tasting notes following the winery write-up. Previous issues required the reader to refer to the tasting note database for the detailed notes on each wine. I should probably point out, since I tend to use these words quite freely, that my use of "fleshy," "stemmy", and "shoe polish" is usually meant in a positive light.

Fri, Nov 27, 1998

Having been a year-and-a-half since we'd last been to the Central Coast for some wine tasting (May '97), we were obviously looking forward to another visit. We planned to drive up Hwy 101, stopping first at Laetitia winery, then work our way north to Paso Robles, and then to Santa Cruz, and a finally to Alameda in the SF Bay Area. We left Orange County about 7:45am, and figured to arrive at our first stop at about 11:00am. Weather forecast was calling for some rain, so we were expecting to hit the front somewhere around Santa Barbara.


Arrived at Laetitia at 11:05 to be their first customers of the day. A couple of guys were staffing the place, with one tending to displays and setting up things, while the other worked the tasting bar. This is the former Maison Deutz winery, which was sold a few years back. They have now dispensed with the Champagne house type of operation [where you purchase a glass of sparkling wine, rather than taste various 1-oz selection]. While still keeping one or two sparklers on the menu, Laetitia has ramped-up its still wine production, and also includes the addition of the new proprietor's label, Barnwood. Laetitia retained winemaker Christian Roguenant, from Maison Deutz. We were offered a choice of 6 wines for $2 from the "regular" list. Or, 6 wines from the entire list, including the Vineyard Designated Reserve wines (VDR) for $4. We chose the former. There were a couple of Pinots on the VDR list that looked interesting, but I wanted to try a wider range of their wares. Browsed a bit and left. Out at 12:00.

Tasted at Laetitia:

1996 Laetitia Pinot Blanc Reserve - San Luis Obispo. $16.99

Nose of Viognier and Chardonnay, with a sweet floral smell. Viognier and Chardonnay mouthfeel. Dry mid and after-palate, with the fruit dropping off slightly through finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall B

N/V Laetitia Cremant de Noir - San Luis Obispo. $13.99

Light pink color. Yeasty and eggy nose. Nice and fruity mouthfeel, with yeasty bubbles overcoming fruit in the finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve - San Luis Obispo. $18.99

Purple ruby color. Nose of stems, cinnamon, and cola. Stemmy and chewy mouthfeel; very good fruit; medium-long finish. Good concentration; smooth, yet slightly chunky. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B

1996 Barnwood Merlot - Santa Barbara County. $13.99

Very light extraction. Very light nose, initially, but cherry fruit appears with time. Dry mouthfeel with hint of bittersweet fruit and some stemminess. Fruit falls away toward the end, allowing a dry stemmy finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Barnwood Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Barbara County. $14.99

Medium ruby color. Nose of cassis, sweet dark fruit, and pepper. Sweet fruit, though slightly astringent as well. Light body and mouthfeel with good flavors on this short-term wine. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Laetitia Syrah Reserve, Meridian Vnyd - Paso Robles. $16.99

Dark purple ruby color. Nose of big jammy raspberry and blackberry fruit, along with spice and pepper. Huge mouthfeel, tasting slightly stemmy and bitter. Big and young right now, this may smooth out with a little aging. 100% Syrah. Aroma: A-; Taste: B+; Overall: B+


Arrived at Dover Cyn at 12:40. This is the former JanKris Vnyds tasting room on Bethel Road, near Hwy 46 West. When the proprietors of JanKris decided to concentrate on their business as growers and get out of wine making, Dan Panico, former winemaker at Eberle, took over the wine production facility and tasting room and offered his small Dover Canyon label to a larger audience. The tasting room even has a new zip to it. Despite the fairly crowded room, our pourer was very quick, accurate, and patient. Tasting charge of $2 for 5 wines. Out at 1:10.

Tasted at Dover Cyn:

1996 Dover Canyon Rhone Reserve - San Luis Obispo. $19.00

Very honeyed nose and flavors apparent in this white Rhone blend of 75% Viognier and 25% Roussane. The Viognier nose and thick-feeling flavors are unmistakable. But, the Roussane helps to add some acidity to the palate. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Dover Canyon Merlot - Paso Robles. $17.00

Medium ruby color. Big and lush nose of stems and fleshy fruit. Slightly less forward in taste, the acids seem to predominate, and the fruit has a little difficulty shining through. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Dover Canyon Zinfandel, Templeton Gap - Paso Robles. $18.00

Medium ruby color. Large nose of boysenberry, raspberry, spice, and pepper. Slightly coarse on the palate, hopefully due to youth. Delicious, without being overripe. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Cooke Cellars Sangiovese - Paso Robles. $18.00

Very light extraction. Spicy, warm and a bit singed smelling, the nose seems to have a brandied quality. Nice fruit and mouthfeel, with smoky and sweet flavors and long smooth finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B

1996 Dover Canyon Menage - Paso Robles. $28.00

Purple garnet color. Stemmy cassis and strawberry fruit, and the barest hint of bell pepper. Nice mouthfeel. Sweet ripe juicy and chewy fruit. 53% CS, 26% Merlot, 21% CF. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+



Arrived at Dark Star at 1:15. Located just across Hwy 46 from Dover Cyn, the tasting room is located right in the barn/winemaking facility. Lots of customers, and some very jovial personnel doing the pouring. Did red wines only; N/C tasting. This was a "check your attitude at the door" place, as we overheard one of the staff report that the owner/winemaker Norm Benson had said on at least one occasion. Kind of kitschy looking, with lots of odd or unusual clocks adorning the walls, in addition to the Oakland Raider memorabilia. Out at 1:35.

Tasted at Dark Star:

1996 Dark Star Merlot - Paso Robles. $18.00

Lightly extracted. Very nice and fleshy nose of ample fruit. Tart and fleshy in mouthfeel, yet the strawberry and pomegranate fruit seems a bit lighter on the palate than it should. Long finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1995 Dark Star Merlot - Paso Robles. $19.00

Garnet purple color, light extraction. Nose very similar to the '96, but slightly riper and more concentrated. Tart and acidic mouthfeel. Has an obvious core of fruit. but seems over-acidified. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Dark Star Cabernet Sauvignon, Cougar Ridge and Chavez Vnyds - Paso Robles. $19.00

Garnet purple color. Decent cassis and cherry nose. Tart and a bit Kool Aidy in mouthfeel, the cherry fruit seems a bit short on substance. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Dark Star Ricordati - Paso Robles. $20.00

Garnet purple color. Nose of cassis and raspberry with hint of veggie. Light fruit on the palate, and a bit too acidic in mouthfeel. 64% Cab Sauv, 26% Merlot; 10% Cab Franc. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B



Arrived at Midnight Cellars at 1:35. Located immediately next door, this place has set up in a house/tasting room. The winery seems to be garnering some recognition for a few of their wines. Fairly crowded, but we managed to find a place at the bar rather quickly. Arriving just after us was a four-some of tasters we'd encountered at the previous winery. They seemed to be having a good time - maybe too good. We overheard one of the members of the group ask another to lower her voice because she was talking too loudly. "Are you saying I've had too much to drink?" came her retort. Ahhh, the serenity of wine tasting. Funny, I'd sooner have expected all this to happen at Dark Star, given the ambiance and Raider decor. Cheerful personnel pouring 7-8 wines. Did red wines only; N/C tasting. Out at 2:10.

Tasted at Midnight Cellars:

1995 Midnight Cellars Cabernet Franc - Paso Robles. $16.00

Warm nose of sweet raspberry jam, anise, and olive. Good presence on palate, if somewhat light fruit. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Midnight Cellars Zinfandel, Dusi Ranch - Paso Robles. $18.00

Nose of raspberry fruit and anise. Smoky and slightly tart mouthfeel, ripe fruit. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1995 Midnight Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, "Nocturn" - Paso Robles. $16.00

Ripe cassis nose, with a bit of earthy or veggie as well. Good mouthfeel; lightly chewy sweet fruit. Has bright acids, but a sweet finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1997 Midnight Cellars Dessert Zinfandel, "Millennium" - Paso Robles. $19.00

Tawny port colored. Fresh and fruity nose; very LH Riesling-like. Nice refreshing mouthfeel, very long and smooth finish. Blend of Zin, LH Zin, and Zin Port, and was served slightly chilled. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+



Arrived at Dunning Vnyds at 2:15. Back into the rolling hills of west Paso Robles, we found Dunning Vineyards off on its own in an idyllic and pastoral setting. This place should be called Deer Valley, because there were nearly a dozen Bambis all over the place. Proprietor and winemaker, Robert Dunning, welcomed us to his small tasting room just off the Victorian main house, The tasting room looked new, but the house was obviously older. We had the room to ourselves for almost the entire visit, with another couple arriving just before we departed. Nice fellow. N/C tasting. Out at 2:50.

Tasted at Dunning Vnyds:

1997 Dunning Chardonnay - Paso Robles. $15.00

Moderate yellow color. Lovely nose of fruit and citrus, along with a bit of grass. Not the least bit overoaked or plodding. Good mouthfeel, and very nice citrus, apple, and grass flavors. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Dunning Merlot - Paso Robles. $18.00

Nose of strawberry and raspberry fruit. Very fleshy and stemmy. Nice mouthfeel and fruit. A bit lean on the finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Dunning Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $15.00

Nice nose of ripe cassis, with just a hint of veggie that seems to blow off. Full body and mouthfeel, with good fruit. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+


Arrived at Norman at 3:15. Located on Vineyard Rd just north of Peachy Cyn Rd, this former grape grower has also been making wine for the last several years now. Fortuitously, each vintage has surpassed the previous, and Art Norman is now making a name for himself. Often, some of his best wine is made from the grapes of others, as with the Pinot Noir from Cain Vnyds. The spacious tasting room is upstairs over the winery and storage areas. Outfitted with a piano and fireplace, the place feels like you've settled into a mountain cabin. The room was fairly crowded when we arrived, and the smallish tasting bar really ought to be enlarged or expanded. I suppose Art was hoping that people would mill about or seat themselves in one of the many chairs scattered about the room. But, on days like this, when everyone just hangs out at the bar, it's tough to find room at the inn. Cheerful personnel, including Art and Lei Norman pouring. Did red wines only; N/C tasting. On the way up, we'd noticed several bins of Cab Franc fruit out in front that were recently harvested. Looks like everyone had a late harvest. Out at 4:05.

Tasted at Norman:

1995 Norman Pinot Noir, Cain Vnyd - Paso Robles. $18.00

Light-medium ruby color. Nearly effusive nose of strawberry, candied apple, and cola. Fleshy and stemmy mouthfeel; slightly off-sweet fruit; good balance. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1995 Norman Zinfandel, "Classic" - Paso Robles. $12.00

Medium garnet ruby color. Big raspberry nose; not quite jammy, but still quite fruity. Substantial mouthfeel of soft fleshy fruit. A touch acidic on the finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Norman Cabernet Franc - Paso Robles. $15.00

Big ripe nose of black cherry, raspberry, and Port. Young, yet smooth mouthfeel of ripe fruit. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Norman, "No Nonsense Red" - Paso Robles. $15.00

Floral and cassis nose. Good mouthfeel, slightly soft and a bit stemmy. 66% CS, 21% CF, 13% Merlot. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1995 Norman Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate - Paso Robles. $17.00

Medium dark ruby color. Big nose of cassis and shoe polish. Approaches a slight Zinny quality, and a bit overripe. Sweet fruit, nice balance. Fruit trails off very smoothly through long finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1993 Norman Cabernet Sauvignon Library Reserve - Paso Robles. $25.00

Dark ruby color. Nose of cassis, major shoe polish, sawdust, and a hint of asparagus. Big and nearly overripe smelling. Ripe sweetness in the mouth initially, but dusty bitterness and tannins finish out the wine. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1997 Norman Late Harvest Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $16.00 375ml.

Purple ruby color. Massive raspberry and boysenberry, with a hint of dill in the nose. Sweet mouthfeel of ripe blackberry fruit. Touch of acids on the long ripe and jammy finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+


Arrived at Eberle at 4:25. Always pouring a multitude of wines, Eberle, along with Meridian, are arguably the main drawing cards for the Paso Robles area. Gary Eberle was once winemaker and part owner of the now defunct Estrella River Winery. Although the Estrella name was taken on by others as a low price label, and the winery itself became part of the Meridian property, the place had quite a reputation for excellent value wines in the late '70s.

Meanwhile, Eberle has made quite a name for itself. The wines are generally very dependable, and some of the vineyard-designated bottlings of Zin, Cab , and Syrah have done well in several competitions. Eberle put in a storage cave back in '95, and construction is now underway on a 2nd cave. This cave-thing has started to spring up all over, but this appears to be the first one in the Paso Robles area. What seems mostly gimmicky, turns out to be quite useful in adding storage to a winery's production. And, since Eberle is starting to really crank out the juice, the idea of caves became much more utilitarian. The tasting room is usually crowded, but the staff is always superlative. We've found that Eberle makes the perfect last stop of the day. The crowds have largely disappated, the limos have long since departed, and the staff is finally starting to wind down - even getting a bit giddy. In the past, they've offered to make our dinner reservations. But, this time they even offered to join us! Of course when we played along and called their bluff, it was a different story. Never kid a kidder. They have a massive selection of wines to pour, and always with no tasting charge. We did red wines only. Out at 5:15.

Tasted at Eberle:

1996 Eberle Cote du Robles - Paso Robles. $13.00

Light extraction. Nose of fruity, sweet strawberry and raspberry aromas. Fleshy and warm mouthfeel, with a variety of fruity flavors. Light and somewhat simple, this could still do some nice shell fish duty. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1997 Eberle Sangiovese - Paso Robles. $16.00

Light strawberry color. Sharp and slightly fruity nose. Good strawberry fruit on the palate, with a long crisp finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1997 Eberle Sangiovese, Filipponi Vnyd - Paso Robles. $16.00

Light strawberry color. Sharp and slightly fruity nose. Good strawberry fruit on the palate, with a long crisp finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1997 Eberle Grenache, Lauridsen Vnyd - Paso Robles. $15.00

Light-medium ruby color. Very fruity and floral; nearly Muscat spicy. Very nice mouthfeel, spicy and fleshy, with good acids. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Eberle Syrah, Steinbeck Vnyd - Paso Robles. $18.00

Medium ruby color. Raspberry and boysenberry nose. Fleshy off-sweet raspberry fruit, and long fleshy finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Eberle Syrah, Fralich Vnyd - Paso Robles. $18.00

Raspberry and blueberry nose, with leather and wood aromas. Slightly tart, but very mouthfilling. Long finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah - Paso Robles. $18.00

Very nice floral, candy, and fruit aromas. More Syrah than Cab in mouthfeel, and more acids than fruit. Initially very big and mouthfilling, followed by slightly tart and fleshy fruit. Aroma: A-; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $20.00

Cassis and shoe polish nose, with an obvious veggie quality. Good mouthfeel and fruit. Slightly hot finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B

1996 Eberle Zinfandel, Steinbeck Vnyd - Paso Robles. $15.00

Lightly Zinny nose, without being either Porty or effusive. Lighter style of Zin, with medium mouthfeel and fruit. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1997 Eberle Counoise Rosé, Lauridsen Vnyd - Paso Robles. $11.00

Light strawberry nose. Slightly fleshy and fruity, with a bit of pine pungency at finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

Dinner at McPhee's in Templeton. Arrived at our overnight in Paso Robles at 6:55.Totals for the day: 7 wineries, 38 wines.


Sat, Nov 28, 1998

Raining as we left Paso Robles about 7:30 for our scheduled appointment at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards. But, rain stopped shortly after we left PR. This was to be the day where we would learn the Santa Cruz Mountain area's motto: "you can't get there from here."


Arrived at Santa Cruz Mtn Vnyds at 10:00. Located a bit off the beaten track up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, it takes a little patience to reach this winery. But, in my opinion, the journey's well worth it. We were welcomed by proprietor Ken Burnap and winemaker Jeff Emery as we arrived during the final processing of their '98 Pinot. (They're open by appointment and are happy to see visitors, as long as you call a few days ahead.) Just before our visit, they had finished final fermentation on the Pinot. Now, enlisting some help from a local distillery owner named Dan, they were just starting to press out the skins. Jeff was doing some repairs on the press, explaining that in this business, you've got to be a jack of all trades.

This year set a record for SCMV by being the latest harvest they'd ever had. Looking at the structure from the "loading area" (barely big enough for 3 cars and a truck), Ken explained the wisdom of the gravity layout of the winery that he built in 1974, then led us through most of the facility. We started at the top level where the crushing and fermentation are done, then moved down through the bottle library, and into the cellar/barrel room. Back up topside, we watched as Dan climbed into one of the tanks to shovel out the skins into a large bucket. Ken and Jeff would then pack it into the press for a final squeeze. Apparently, Dan's assignment inside the tank is right in the thick of things. I can only imagine the vapors of fermented skins filling the air inside that tank. "Dan, can you feel your toes?" "Don't make me come in there, Dan." When this first of three press-loads was finished, Ken and Jeff shoveled the pulp out to a concrete pad complete with a home-made conveyor that finally deposited the stuff into the back of a truck, where it would be hauled out to the vineyards as mulch.

Finishing the tour, Ken's "...let's taste some wine...," was music to our ears. Climbing back upstairs from the cellar, we settled into the large room above. This room functions as their home away from home, complete with kitchen and beds (during crush, they just "camp" out on the premises, as I'm sure many smaller wineries do during that time of year). Ken selected a '96 Merlot and '93 Cab for our tasting. Pouring us each some wine, Ken kept up the conversation with wine anecdotes and general Americana. He mentioned that it was people like the legendary Martin Ray that made him want to become a winemaker. And, he told us about the time some guy brought a semi-trailer up the road to the winery, despite being told not to try it (they had to really maneuver the thing around to get it back out.). He soon broke out some cheese and pate, and crackers and bread, as Jeff and Dan joined us for lunch. Every so often during our visit Jeff would step out into the tank room to make an adjustment on the press or just see how things were going, or to stuff more skins into the press. A couple of times Ken would excuse himself to go and help Jeff and Dan. "Here, help yourself," he offered, passing one of the opened bottles to us as he left the table. I can't begin to tell you what a fabulous time we had chatting with them; it was as though we were just two of the guys (and unstained guys, at that!). Out at 12:35.

Tasted at Santa Cruz Mtn Vnyds:

1996 Santa Cruz Mtn Vnyd Merlot - San Ysidro. $19.00

Huge floral and fleshy nose. Very mouthfilling, with black cherry, and rose petal flavors. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1993 Santa Cruz Mtn Vnyd Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Cruz. $19.00

Very dense purple ruby color. Nose is a mass of cassis, shoe polish, anise, and jam. Barest hint of veggie, but this blows off. Very young mouthfeel, but not the least bit harsh. Soft tannins, and incredibly jammy and concentrated. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-


Arrived at Ridge Vnyds at 1:25. Located up a long winding road just outside of Cupertino, this winery offers some of California's most famous bottlings of Cab and Zin. Actually, the view from the parking lot alone is worth the drive. In fact, it appears to be a major bicycling route, with a ton of cyclists leaving from the base of the mountain. Tasting is weekends only, and the tasting room is large.

Two staff in attendance, but only one was doing the pouring, and she was having a time of it. In addition to cutting up chunks of bread, answering questions, and pouring wine, she was apparently supposed to police up the outside drop-off point for used tasting glasses. Once, while doing so, two of the room's impatient tasters decided to pour their own wines. Well, one of them got "busted," when the pourer arrived back at her appointed station and frantically admonished me to stop, as Ridge could "...lose their license" under such circumstances. Good thing I didn't mess with the PC sitting on a side table and "tuned" to the Ridge Website. Plastered across the front was a message stating something like "...not for any use other than to access Ridge Website." Darn, I should've set it to my site.

Ridge was pouring 6 wines, but we opted for just the reds. I've always imagined this to be an absolute "must" stop for all wine buffs. But, I'm afraid that this may have built my expectations to too high a level. I felt the place was all right, but nothing special. And, I was surprised that they never attempted to discuss or encourage membership in their Advance Tasting Program (ATP). Given the crowd (and who knows, maybe they were short staffed), they probably didn't have the time to do so. But, since they're only open on weekends, I'm not so certain that they ever have the time to chat with visitors. The other staff member was quite busy at the cash register, selling bottles to people intending to picnic on the grounds. Out at 2:10.

Tasted at Ridge Vnyds:

1991 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Jimsomare - Santa Cruz. $30.00

Nice cassis, black olive nose. Just a hint of asparagus. Fleshy mouthfeel, with a bit of stemmy quality. Fruit is seamless through finish, showing very soft tannins and a bit of thinness on the palate. Aroma: A-; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1993 Ridge Petite Sirah, York Creek - Santa Cruz. $24.00

Fairly light extract. Lightly stemmy nose of blackberries. Big mouthfeel of somewhat dry fruit, long finish. The pourer cautioned us that this was not one of their more highly extracted efforts. At $24, it's not much of a deal either. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1995 Ridge Zinfandel , Dusi Ranch - San Luis Obispo. $22.50

Medium extraction. Very zinny and even porty nose. Quite ripe, in the SLO tradition. Sweet fruit and smooth mouthfeel. Flavors of raspberries and brandied cherries. Soft tannins and nice finish. 14.9% alcohol. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1992 Ridge Zinfandel, Lytton Springs - Dry Creek. $30.00

Nose of raspberry, hamburger, toast, spices and pepper. Lovely raspberry fruit and cinnamon flavors and nice mouthfeel. Tasty finish. Addition of 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Alicante Bouchet. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-


Arrived at Rosenblum Cellars at 3:15. Located near the Naval base in Alameda, this winery has one of the more unique settings in CA, right on the SF Bay. The tasting bar is upstairs on a loft inside the warehouse-style winery. Along with Ridge and Ravenswood, Rosenblum is one of the more prolific makers of Zinfandels in CA. These three wineries, often referred to as "the three 'R's'," turn out some of the best, if not THE best, Zin to be found anywhere. As with the other two, Rosenblum also makes some Cabs, Merlots, and a whole slew of other things as well.

Cheerful pair of staff pouring everything that was open. Kent Rosenblum arrived a little later and chatted a bit with everyone. Nice fellow. One of the other tasters had ordered futures on the Ballentine, so Kent had the staff crack open one from the tasting room so everyone could try it out. Generally, I felt the wines were a lot more acidic that I prefer, and more than I remember from previous tasting of Rosenblum wines. Maybe it's the vintage; maybe the wines were just too young. No matter. The longer I stood at the tasting bar, the more I thought the view out the window of the Bay bridges and sailboats with spinnakers flying was just a stunner. Out at 4:15.

Tasted at Rosenblum Cellars:

NV Rosenblum Zinfandel, Vintner's Cuvee XVII - California. $9.50

Nose of strawberry and raspberry. Pungent and slightly bitter fruit in the mouth, with a tart or acidic finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Rosenblum Zinfandel - Contra Costa County. $10.00

Nose of raspberry, blueberry, hint of vanilla. Off-sweet fruit, with raspberry/blueberry flavors. Smooth mouthfeel, with just a bit of harshness and lingering acids on the quick finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1996 Rosenblum Zinfandel, Rockpile Vnyd - Dry Creek. $18.00

Nose of raspberry, vanilla, floral aromas, and mint. Medium body of raspberry/strawberry fruit that seems to last and last. Astringent and young in feel, the wine should come around nicely. 15.2% alcohol. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Rosenblum Zinfandel, Harris-Kratka Vnyd - Alexander Valley. $22.00

Nose of raspberry, strawberry, vanilla, and black cherry. Very smooth and somewhat fat mouthfeel. Ripe fruit, but not at all overripe. Some harshness on very long finish. 14.6% alcohol. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1996 Rosenblum Zinfandel, Annette's Reserve, Rhodes Vnyd - Redwood Valley. $22.00

Floral nose with raspberry and cherry aromas. Young mouthfeel, good acids, lovely fruit and long smooth finish. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-

1996 Rosenblum Zinfandel, Ballentine Vnyd - Napa Valley. $19.00

Quite stemmy and fleshy smelling; very Merlot-like nose. Full, candied mouthfeel, good body, flavors of tea and raspberry, long finish. 14.8% alcohol. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-

1997 Rosenblum Merlot - Napa Valley. $12.00

Very light nose of fruit and stems, with a floral aspect - more like a weak Cab Franc. Very light fruit in the mouth, with an almost watery and acidic mouthfeel. A $12 Napa Merlot? Guess that should've told me something. Aroma: B; Taste: B-; Overall: B

1996 Rosenblum Merlot, Lone Oak Vnyd - Russian River. $21.00

Lightly fleshy and stemmy nose of cherry fruit. Young mouthfeel, but fruit has plenty of presence. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

1995 Rosenblum Cabernet Sauvignon, Mitchell Vnyd - Napa Valley. $25.00

Fragrant and meaty aromas. Young mouthfeel, long astringent finish. Seems to have enough mouthfeel, but it's a bit weak on fruit. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B

1995 Rosenblum Holbrook Mitchell Trio, Mitchell Vnyd - Napa Valley. $35.00

Nose of cassis, pomegranate, and shoe polish. Fleshy mouthfeel, medium weight on palate, and fruit a bit wanting. Full acidic bent, with soft tannins and sharp finish. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B+

Arrived back at our overnight in Scott's Valley at 5:30. Took an anonymous recommendation and ate at Tony & Alba's Pizza. Nothing to brag about. Totals for the day: 3 wineries, 16 wines (thanks mostly to Rosenblum).


Sun, Nov 29, 1998

Raining as we left Scott's Valley about 8:30, and it continued until somewhere around Gilroy. Great weather from there onward, although it was quite windy most of the way.


Arrived at Meridian at 10:45. Located on the eastern outskirts of Paso Robles, this is one of the more corporate-appearing wineries in the area. As one of the Beringer properties, volume and value is important. But, luckily so is the production of quality wines. Despite its large production, Meridian has always done a good to very good job with most of its wines, and sometimes even brings home a real winner.

Arrived to some departing tasters and an empty room (gotta love these Sundays of Thanksgiving weekend - no crowds). Some interesting signs have been placed along the garden paths leading to the tasting room: "Watch for Rattlesnakes." I don't know if this is whimsy or somebody's clever idea of how to keep people out of the gardens. But, it probably made for some fast-stepping patrons heading back to their cars. Two fellows manning the room and pouring everything on the list. N/C for tasting. Our pourer seemed interested in the "score cards" we use to maintain our tasting notes. Hey, get your own! Out at 12:00.

Tasted at Meridian:

1997 Meridian Sauvignon Blanc - California. $9.00

Grassy nose , with hay and citrus aromas. Thick and even chewy mouthfeel. Citrusy and grassy flavors, but a bit too heavy on the residual sugar. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1997 Meridian Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $10.00

Very sour nose, grassy, with a bit of newspaper and alcohol to boot. Sweet citrusy mouthfeel, toasty fruit and finish. Pleasant pineapple quality to the fruit, very good balance, and not too plodding. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B

1997 Meridian Chardonnay Reserve - Edna Valley. $16.00

Light aromas of grass, hay, oil, and smoke. Sweet, mildly citrus fruit. Easy, crisp finish, with no overriding residual sugar probs. Trace of heat to long finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B+; Overall: B

1997 Meridian Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara County. $15.50

Slightly porty and spicy, with traces of pepper. Smells like a blend of Zin, Grenache, and brandied cherries. Nice, but that's not what it says on the label. Neutral entry on the palate, soft and easy mouthfeel, and smooth, if fruitless finish. Aroma: B; Taste: B-; Overall: B

1996 Meridian Pinot Noir, Reserve - Santa Barbara County. $20.00

Nose of strawberry, rhubarb, and black cherry. Fleshy and stemmy. Very good mouthfeel initially, with lots of juicy fruit. But a somewhat watery presence takes over about midway through. Decent finish. 75% Riverbench Vnyd. Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B+

1996 Meridian Syrah - Paso Robles. $18.00

Purple-ruby color. Massive nose of jammy and sweet raspberry and boysenberry. Very fleshy and chewy mouthfeel. The fruit is off-sweet, but quite nice. Aroma: A-; Taste: B+; Overall: A-

1996 Meridian Merlot - California. $13.00

Stemmy and slightly veggie nose of black cherry and cinnamon. Fleshy and sweet fruit. Pushing the envelope on sweet and syrupy. Good body and mouthfeel, but too cloying on palate. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1995 Meridian Cabernet Sauvignon - Paso Robles. $15.00

A floral nose of bubble gum, strawberry, and touch of celery. Strangely Merlot-like in mouthfeel and taste. Largely vapid and sweet on the palate. Who's making this stuff - the Candy man? Aroma: B; Taste: B-; Overall: B

1994 Meridian Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - California. $25.00

Medium ruby color. Perfumed nose of cassis, raspberry, blueberry, toast and anise. Good mouthfeel. Toasty cassis and raspberry jellied fruit; toasty and fruity finish. Interesting stuff. 60% Alexander Valley, 20% Napa Valley , 20% Lake County. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-


Arrived at Bedford Thompson at 1:20. Located on Alisos Cyn Rd south of Santa Maria, this winery is quietly making a name for itself with some nice reds, something that's not easily done in this neck of the woods. Generally, these guys (Stephen Bedford and David Thompson) have also made some of the most heavily extracted wines I've seen from this area, especially the Cab Franc. Of course, that being said, the Syrah seemed a bit on the light side this time around, probably due to the horrible weather they had in '95. On past visits, we've often had one of the proprietors doing the pouring, but it looks like they've hired some additional help. Pleasant fellow chatted with us while we sampled the two reds on the program. N/C for tasting. Out at 1:40.

Tasted at Bedford Thompson:

1995 Bedford Thompson Syrah - Santa Barbara County. $20.00

Medium ruby color. Spicy blackberry nose. Oaky and spicy in mouthfeel, but the fruit seems a bit light - especially compared to the '94. Aroma: B; Taste: B; Overall: B

1995 Bedford Thompson Cabernet Franc - Santa Barbara County. $20.00

Medium-dark ruby color. Nose of shoe polish, raspberry, boysenberry, and a bit of earthiness. Big and beefy taste and mouthfeel. Chewy, with moderate tannins and long finish. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-


Arrived at Longoria at 1:50. This new tasting room, located in Los Olivos, has a charming old fashioned parlor atmosphere about it. Our pourer, none other than Richard Longoria, was very gracious and obviously quite knowledgeable about the wines (duh!). I would describe his wines as styled something on the order of delicate and/or refined. This fact seemed to make them stand in some contrast to the bigger wines of Bedford Thompson. Longoria was the former winemaker at Gainey, and he's acquired a great sense of the valley terrior over the years. He's recently purchased a few pieces of property west of Hwy 101, close to the Sanford/Benedict Vnyd and out near Lompoc, that should provide him with additional sources of fruit down the road. Pouring 4 wines for $4 tasting fee & keep the glass. Generally, I don't take the glass (I mean, how many do I need?). But, this glass was a little different than most, thankfully. Richard seemed intently interested in our tasting cards, so we laid a couple on him with the admonition that we'd better not see them come up for sale anywhere. Out at 2:35.

Tasted at Longoria:

1996 Longoria Chardonnay, Santa Rita Cuvee - Santa Ynez Valley. $25.00

Light yellow color. Buttery citrus-oriented fruit in the nose. Medium-light body and very nice mouthfeel. Flavors of fruit and toast, with a good toasty and fruit-laden finish. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-

1997 Longoria Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vnyd "G-Block" - Santa Barbara County. $18.00

Very light extraction. Nose of fresh raspberries, a fleshy stemminess, and even a candied aspect. Medium-light body, with slightly sweet strawberry fruit, and a nice stemmy finish. The flavors make up for the lighter body and presence. Aroma: A-; Taste: A-; Overall: A-

1996 Longoria Cabernet Franc, Blues Cuvee - Santa Ynez Valley. $21.00

Purple ruby color. Nose of perfume, rose petal, cassis, and raspberry. Nice entry of oak and fleshy fruit, but the body is only of moderate weight. Fruit is from 4 different vnyds.Aroma: B+; Taste: B; Overall: B+

1996 Longoria Merlot - Santa Ynez Valley. $23.00

Light ruby garnet color. Fleshy black cherry, strawberry, and floral nuances in the nose. Seemingly good fruit becomes a bit steely, oaky, and somewhat thin in taste and mouthfeel. 14% Cab Franc. Aroma: B+; Taste: B+; Overall: B+

Wrap up: Back in Orange County at 5:45. Totals for the day: 3 wineries, 15 wines. Stats on the trip: 3 days, 13 wineries, 70 wines.
It turns out that trying to cover the Santa Cruz area deserves a multi-day effort. Certainly, not the least of our trouble was the fact that we'd decided to absolutely make sure we didn't leave the area without visiting Ridge and Rosenblum. Had we not had to drive to the the "other side of the mountain," and then up to the Bay area, we'd have definitely been able to cover more of the Santa Cruz appellation. On the other hand, now we have something to look forward to for future trips. We were able to spend some quality time with a few winemakers, and it was a fabulous trip. Please, Sir, may I go again?

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