Monthly Archives: June 2018

Wine Review: Wood Family Vineyards, Anaba Wines and Inkblot Wines

 “It’s All Good at Wood

Wine Review of Wood Family Vineyards, Livermore, California – 2015 Cabernet Franc

Rhonda Wood is both the owner and winemaker for Wood Family Vineyards in Livermore California. This year was produced from 73% from the Sacchau Vineyard and blended with 27% from the Ghielmetti Vineyard, both 100% Cabernet Franc.  This wine is a deep, deep garnet color. On the nose you get the earthiness, a hint of sweetness. On the palate, both red and black fruits develop nicely in the mouth. Recently, Rhonda’s Cabernet Franc won Best of Show at the 2018 Tri Valley Conservancy Uncorked Wine Competition and scored 91 points by Wine Enthusiast in 2018.  This wine will age nicely for 5-7 years.  Only 149 cases were produced. The price is $30 and the wine club receives a generous discount. Her slogan of “It’s all good at Wood” is exemplified in this delicious wine.

The Beauty of the Wind

Wine Review of Anaba 2014 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast—Sonoma, California

Their name originates from the cool and upward flowing coastal winds that envelop their Carneros Estate Vineyards. The cool winds from both the coast and San Francisco Bay, slow down the ripening process to allow the vineyards to provide robust and distinct characteristics to the grapes. A little known fact about Anaba Winery is that they were the first winery in Northern California to utilize wind power. First tasting this wine at a conference, I immediately felt this was an excellent wine. Its nose provides aromas of bright citrus and brown sugar. The body is medium to medium full and provides a rich and satisfying experience with fruit and lemon tart in a delightful presence. Their awards include Best of Show White in the 2017 North Coast Wine Challenge and received 92 points from Antonio Galloni/Vinous.  This wine retails for $36. They have various levels of wine clubs each offering different discounts. Before the next wind blows, secure a bottle or two for the summer months.

On the Edge?  Try Inkblot Cabernet Franc!

Wine Review of Inkblot 2014 Cabernet Franc, David Michael Winery – Lodi, California

Inkblot is one of the many labels by David Michael, perhaps best known for their “7 Deadly Zins”, they have expanded in several new labels. Some of those are Freakshow, Earthquake and Inkblot. The Inkblot family of wines have both Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The Phillip family has been making wine in Lodi for 150 plus years. This is both a intensely serious wine production facility as well as having a fun time atmosphere. Inkblot while a serious tool for a psychaiatrist, this wine is for the sane Cabernet Franc drinker and maybe those on the edge :<)   The vineyard is only 9 acres compared to the rest of their Zinfandel vineyards. The name Inkblot hails from looking at a dark inkwell. The 2014 is so dark, almost black and has a indistinguishable purple hue to it. The wine on the nose provides “dark berry, chocolate, tobacco and red cherry traits”. The long lasting finish is outstanding for this Cabernet Franc. High in alcohol at 15.4 percentage, this is no junior Cabernet Franc. The wine pairs  nicely with almost any type of steak. The current release is $35 and Wine Club benefits include substantial discounts.

By Michael Kelly,


Wine Review: Jessie’s Grove Vineyards, Wood Family Vineyards, and Lavender Ridge Vineyards

An Old Vineyard Producing a Great Spanish/French Varietal

Wine Review of Jessie’s Grove Vineyards, Lodi California – 2015 Carignane

This wine comes from their 118 years old vines! This is perhaps the fullest and most worthy tasting of Carignane in the New World. Carignane originated in Spain and is commonly found in French wine. Historically used in blending due to high volume per acre at 11 tons and its agreeable personality. Their 2015, 100% Carignane provided an excellent nose and on the palate a rich fruit spice and even a tad hint of “earthiness”. I found no blemish. Not “advertised” in writing in the tasting room, but told after tasting this wine, it had just won Double Gold at the 2018 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition. The wine goes for $32.00 and is discounted considerable for Club Members. This is a unique wine to share with friends.

A Mistake Gone Right!

Wine Review of Wood Family Vineyards, Livermore California – 2016 Para Mas Amigas Chardonnay

Rhonda Wood is the owner and winemaker for Wood Family Vineyards. Perhaps one of her most noteworthy varietal is her Chardonnay. She originally produced it and wanted a wine for her girlfriends to enjoy. She named it thinking it was “for my girlfriends” but as she admits her high school Spanish only took her so far! So the translation really comes is “for more girlfriends”. Not only did she succeed in making more girlfriends (and boyfriends), she produced an excellent wine. Her winemakers notes best describe the wine “soft ripe pear and delicately scented cotton blossom ……decandent butterscotch is offset by a hint of fresh herb….the palate is plush with lemon curd and melted butterscotch……..the finish is long yet binary with tart fruit and nutty cracker jacks”. If that doesn’t make you rush out and try this delicious wine perhaps this will:  Price is $28 and it won a Double Gold at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Club Members receive a nice discount. Personally I have known Rhonda for 20+ years and this is her absolutely best Chardonnay. I can’t keep enough in my cellar.

How Does Purple Become Gold?


Wine Review of Lavender Ridge Vineyard, Murphy’s California – 2016 Roussanne

Lavender Ridge Vineyards is a small boutique winery located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the town of Murphy’s.  This area is about 2300 foot elevation and provides some unique varietals to the consumer. Lavender Ridge tasting room is “decked out” with purple lavender hanging from the wall and all also sells artisan cheese to this small community. They are known for their Rhone varietal wines.

Rich Gilpin the owner/winemaker made a spectacular 2016 Roussanne.  Roussanne is a white wine grape and hails originally from the Rhone region in France. Roussanne and Marsanne are often blended together. Recently in May, they were awarded Double Gold at the Sierra Foothills Wine Competition (Blind tasting) held in Angels Camp. I happen to be one of the judges as we “rated” this wine. It was from our judging group one of the unanimous choices for Double Gold. It showed a thick and full viscosity and intense aromatics of floral & herbal notes. On the palate, pear and soft melon presented themselves. So if you want to convert purple to gold, pick up a bottle of Lavender Ridge 2015 Roussanne. The price is $28.00 and a wine club discount is available.


By Michael Kelly

Chappellet Vineyards: Pioneers on Pritchard Hill Inspired by More than 50 Years of Family Legacy

For five decades, the Chappellet family has been crafting world-class wines from the steep, rocky slopes of Napa Valley’s renowned Pritchard Hill.  As one of the first wineries to pioneer high-elevation hillside planting, and one of the few remaining great family-owned Napa Valley wineries, Chappellet Vineyard has influenced generations of vintners and is known as one of the top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the chance to talk with Cyril Chappellet, the Chairman of the Board of Chappellet Vineyards, and he talked about how his parents set the tone of the winery and its mission.  His father, Donn Chappellet, who was instrumental in pioneering high-elevation vineyard planting, he describes as an introvert.  Prior to the winery, Donn co-founded Interstate United Corporation, a food service business that distributed the first vending machines to make coffee from grounds, and became a publicly-traded company.  Donn first traveled to Napa with his wife, Molly, from Los Angeles and decided to start a new life there with the winery as the center of the family business.

He described his mother, Molly, as the extrovert – an artist, a published author, a mom of six and the aesthetic “czarina” of all things Pritchard Hill, the site of the winery.  From his description, she moves 1,000 miles a minute, knows every inch of vineyard topography and is currently masterminding several projects including writing the book for the winery’s 50-year anniversary, which debuts in 2017.

They chose Pritchard Hill where they fell in love with the view and had the notion that the God Bacchus would be generous to the hills.  This was further validated by Andre Tchelistcheff, one of the valley’s early wine pioneers.  The love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon was born, which led to the second generation of family members dedicated to growing the best grapes, sustaining the land and continuing the legacy started by their parents.  I was also struck by the extended family of long-time employees, Winemaker Phillip Carallo-Titus and Vineyard Manager Dave Pirio, who have solid relationships with growers in the business and have secured legendary grapes from some of the best names in the industry based on those relationships.

In fact, Phillip was instrumental in Cyril’s decision to acquire Sonoma-Loeb.  In 1973, Ambassador John Loeb Jr began growing grapes and hired Titus to make the wines.  After two centuries, the Ambassador approached the Chappellet family and they jumped at the opportunity to buy the property thanks to Titus’ amazing work with some of Sonoma county’s top growers including the Dutton and Sangiacomo families.

I want to comment on the unique view of collaboration within Chappellet and how forward thinking it is.  Cyril told me about how a close-knit group of winemakers work together to double blind taste wines that can cost three times the price of the Chappellet wines.  Cyril believes that understanding the nuances of the regions, wines, terroir and flavor profile makes their wines better.

When I had a chance to tour the estate with a group of friends, Joshua Arroyo, was our fabulous host and easily kept up with the group’s sarcasm and spirit of fun.

We started out with a tour of the new hospitality areas and the original winemaking facility that started producing wine in 1969.  Joshua told us how he had been with the Chappellet family for the last two years (72 hours after he unpacked his moving truck to be exact) after falling in love with wine.

We began with a 2015 Molly’s Chenin Blanc, which showcased Molly Chappellet’s sense of style with the super unique bottle.  Chappellet is one of four producers in the area that still make Chenin Blanc and it was delicious with a pretty floral nose and crisp minerality.

We toured the barn where it was fun to see the handprints of the six Chappellet children who are now adults and work with the winery.  Cyril and Carissa Chappellet oversee the day-to-day operations of the winery and Jon-Mark, Dominic, Lygia and Alexa Chappellet serve on the board.  Today there are nine grandchildren who play in the vineyards, just like their parents did.

As we walked through the property, from the solar panels to the organic farming methods used, it was evident that this is a family who believes and cultivates in the land.  We laughed, we walked the grounds, we took pictures (thanks Joshua for making the photos at this site so much better than usual), we tasted wine in their amazing facility and we even visited the gorgeous picnic grounds on our way out.

Recently a marketing consultant gave the winery the sage advice that they are charging too little.  Cyril didn’t jump to raise prices.  He talked about over delivering on quality and the legacy that he wants to leave to the next generation – turn over a better business; and the coolest thing, turn over the land in better shape than he found it meaning sustainability, farming and improving the quality of the vineyard operation.  And of course, the wines – they need to continue to be worthy of the Chappellet legacy.

How Is the Wine

And the wines – oh the wines – other than the Chenin Blanc, we tasted the 2013 Signature Chardonnay, the 2012 Napa Valley Las Piedras, the 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch, the 2008 Signature Cabernet and the 2009 Signature Cabernet.  I am certain that I ordered everything we tried.  Most importantly, we experienced what it felt like to be a part of Chappellet’s extended family.

I’m also going to give my tasting notes for the wines that I tried with Cyril when he visited Dallas since I took better notes in Dallas.

  • 2013 Signature Chenin Blanc – Cyril referred to this as “mom’s wine.”  It includes her signature, label and bottle choice.  It was very crisp and delicious – with notes of peach, orange blossom, lemongrass, floral notes and minerality.
  • 2013 Chappellet Napa Valley Chardonnay —  sourced by grapes outside of the family vineyard, this Old-World style wine had notes of lemon, tropical fruits with spice, caramel and orange blossom.  This was a great Chardonnay.
  • 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Envoy Chardonnay – this was more of a traditional California chardonnay with butterscotch, nectarine, almond and cinnamon.
  • 2013 Sonoma-Loeb Russian River Pinot Noir – this was an awesome iteration of a Russian River Valley Pinot at a fraction of the price – especially for the quality of the block where it originates.  It had notes of black cherry, earth, chocolate and spice.
  • 2013 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon – this is the flagship wine and the wine that put the family on the map showing the beautiful fruit and bounty for the Hillside vineyards.  This was a fantastic, elegant and a wine made for aging, yet drinkable today.  Big notes of chocolate, cassis, spice, mocha, spice, blackberry and sandalwood.  The quality and price ratio of as this wine as compared to those sold for three times the cost on the same hill is amazing.


It’s all about hospitality.  From the jackets our group was provided in the cellar and outside so we wouldn’t freeze (what a great idea) to the pictures that Josh took of our group and for my blog (he’s such a better photographer than me), we immediately felt part of the Chappellet extended family.

Pricing and Availability

The wines that are available for purchase (note many of these are hard to get and highly allocated) range from $35 to $68.  All tastings are by prior appointment only.  Hours are Monday to Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm.

Cellar Tasting

Enjoy a tasting in the winery barrel room of five of current release selections.
60 minutes. Price: $40.00 per person.

Estate Tour & Tasting

 Begin with a glass of one of Chappellet’s Signature white wines in the winery followed by a walk through the Pritchard Hill vineyards with stunning vistas of Napa Valley’s Lake Hennessey. Conclude with a tasting of current release selections in the barrel room.
90 minutes. Price: $50.00 per person.

Private Estate Tour and Tasting

 Enjoy an unforgettable private tour of the Chappellet winery and Pritchard Hill vineyards followed by a tasting of five current release selections.
90 minutes. Price: $75.00 per person.

 Signature Tasting and Estate Tour

An estate host takes you for a private tour of the Chappellet winery and vineyards followed by a tasting of Chappellet’s Signature series wines, including the acclaimed Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.
90 minutes. Price: $95.00 per person.

1581 Sage Canyon Rd,

St Helena, CA 94574

(707) 286-4219

Wine Clubs:

Two wine clubs are available – All Wines and Red Wines Only.  The All Wines Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 13 total bottles per year (yes 13).  The Red Wine Selection is a commitment to 4 shipments of 10 total bottles per year.

 Both clubs receive access to limited production wines and the following benefits:

Preferred Wine Pricing: 15% savings on wine purchases for non-allocated current release wines and 20% savings on reorders within one month of shipments.

 Library Vintages and Large Format Wines: Seasonally, select library wines and large format bottles are offered to club members.

 Complimentary Visits to Chappellet: After the first wine club shipment, six complimentary tastings per visit are available for use towards our Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.

 Send Your Friends: Members are welcome to arrange a complimentary Cellar Tasting or Estate Tour and Tasting for friends or family for up to four guests. Advanced reservations are required, subject to availability.

 Invitation to Exclusive Events: Chappellet family members host events both on ‘The Hill’ and across the country throughout the year.

 Preferred Pricing: Preferred pricing and special offers from some of the Valley’s most exclusive hotels, resorts and inns.

 Sonoma-Loeb: Enjoy high-quality, limited-production Sonoma County wines at our Sonoma-Loeb tasting room located just off the Sonoma Plaza. Chappellet member benefits apply.

Handley from the Heart

Mendocino County is a wonderful wine growing region that doesn’t get as much attention as its neighbors, Sonoma and Napa County. I’ve been drinking Mendocino wines for a number of years and Handley Cellars is an old favorite of mine. Like many wineries in Mendocino, they focus on Pinot Noir. I also learned they’ve recently expanded into producing sparkling wine too. At Taste of Mendocino, I was able to try four of their current releases.

2017 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé

I’ve had previous vintages of this wine and I’ve always enjoyed it. I personally believe that Pinot Noir is one of the best suited varietals for rosé wines. This wine has a nose of peach with a wonderful taste of a pink lady apples. This could pair with a number of food items well, but I’d probably eat it with a goat cheese salad. This retails for $25 and there are 300 cases for this vintage.

2015 Blanc de Blancs

Starting in 2013 Handley Cellars began producing a sparkling wine. Although it isn’t offered every year, I got to try the 2015 vintage at Taste of Mendocino. It was stunning, with a wonderful nose of freshly baked croissants. The taste was perfectly dry. I could probably pair this wine with anything. Rumor has it they are planning a rosé sparkling wine in the future. This retails for $52 and there are 300 cases for this vintage.

2015 Pinot Noir

Handley Cellars considers this its flagship wine and produces more of it than any of their other wines. It was first produced in 1986 and is meant to represent Pinot Noir across the valley. Its nose is tobacco plum and its flavor is balanced, while leaning on the tannic heavy side. This wine would pair wonderfully with roasted salmon. This wine is not an estate offering (so you can find it at several different retailers). This retails for $32 and there are 2500 cases for this vintage.

2015 RSM Pinot Noir

This single vineyard Pinot Noir has earth notes and a unique flavor reminiscent of raspberries. The vineyard is very special to the Handley family as it is named for Milla’s late husband, Rex Scott McClellan. I’d recommend pairing this with braised lamb shanks. This retails for $52 and there are 225 cases for this vintage.

Handley Cellar’s tasting room is open year-round, seven days a week and offers a variety of tours and tastings. I look forward to visiting them in person soon.



A Reason to Visit Yolo County – Berryessa Gap Vineyards Wine

Berryessa Gap Vineyards was founded in 2000 by the Martinez family, fourth-generation Spanish farmers. Their estate vineyards are called “The Coble Ranch” in Winters, California, which is a part of Yolo County. This area of Yolo county is known as the Berryessa Gap (hence the name of their winery. Because Yolo County is warmer than other climates and because of their Spanish heritage, they focus on Spanish varietals, however they also produce other varietals as well. The wines I’ve written about below are all estate grown by them.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc

All their wines do great justice to the applicable varietal, but you can also taste the winemaker’s personality and passion in them. This light and perfectly crisp Sauvignon Blanc’s nose reminded me of Dreamsicles, those wonderful orange and cream dessert bars. The taste however was more citrus and less vanilla. I’d recommend pairing this with butter poached cod or shrimp scampi. At $23 this small lot and sustainable wine is a steal. There are 480 cases for this vintage.

2017 Verdelho

Verdelho is a wine varietal you don’t hear much about. Originally from the Iberian Peninsula, their version has a very vanilla nose with a buttery taste. Although all their wines pair well with food, this one seems the best suited for the largest range of foods including oysters, roasted potatoes, Cornish hen, and more. At $19 a bottle this is also an incredible value. There are 275 cases for this vintage.

2015 Zinfandel

I truly believe that everyone should drink Zinfandel from a wide range of regions, because the terroir subtly affects the aromas and flavors. Winters has unique microclimates and soil that create exceptional wines. This Zinfandel had a nose of chocolate but with a wonderful flavor of red vines, bursting with a dry bright red berry taste. It is absolutely true to the varietal.  I’d pair it with baby back ribs slathered in BBQ sauce. This wine is $22 and there are 500 cases for this vintage.

2015 Tempranillo

To me this wine had a wonderful nose of charred flowers. The taste was gamey, and it made me want to eat it with venison-preferably medium rare. This wine, like all the wines I’ve written about here, shows the care and craftsmanship that goes into its production. And like all their wines I recommend really savoring the first sip and the last as it develops and opens. This wine is $26 and there are 600 cases for this vintage.

As a whole, the wines were quite approachable and ready to drink now. All the wines that I’ve discussed can be purchased directly from Berryessa Gap Vineyard (via their website or tasting room) and at a few select retailers including Cost Plus World Market, Alba Ray’s, Nugget Markets and more. I’m really looking forward to taking a road trip up to Yolo County to visit their winery and learn even more about the unique region that is Yolo County for wine growing and of course, to try more of their wine.

Tercero Winery: Boutique Charm, No Snobbery Allowed, Yet, Serious Wines

Tercero Winery is not your average wine experience.  In the small, but high energy, tasting room, you will encounter a winemaker, Larry Schaffer, who is more interested in giving consumers a wine they are going to like based on their personal tastes vs. telling people what they should be drinking.  And how refreshing is that?

Larry is a bit of a mad scientist meets educator who completely takes the snobbery out of wine and openly mocks anyone who takes themselves too seriously.  After a career of doing many things including being an Enologist for Fess Parker Winery, Larry decided that he wanted to start buying grapes and making his own wine.   Larry thinks consumers and with the variety of red and white Rhone varietals that he makes, Tercero is full of well-made choices for everyone.

The wines are sourced from five vineyards in Santa Barbara – Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley; Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos; Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos; Thompson Vineyard in Los Alamos and Watch Hill Vineyard also in Los Alamos.

How Is the Wine

The wines are a variety of red and white Rhone varietals that showcase the depth and variety of what can be grown well in Santa Barbara and this region.  There truly is something for everyone.

I really like the style of Tercero’s wines, but Larry makes many so I’m going to focus on the ones that I shipped home when I visited in February 2018.

2016 Tercero Mourvedre Rose – Larry serves this Rose at room temperature so you can understand the depth of this wine.  I know it sounds cliché, but this truly smells like Summer in a glass – fresh berries, earthiness, raspberries, watermelon and cherry blossoms.

2014 Tercero Verbiage Blanc is a white Rhône blend made from 64% Roussanne, 24% Viognier, and 12% Grenache Blanc.  I tasted notes of stone fruit, flowers, pie crust, baked apple and a creamy texture.

2011 Tercero The Climb – a 50 percent blend of Syrah and a 50 percent blend of Petite Sirah is big and bold, but elegant and smooth.  I loved the black fruit, the chocolate, the spice, the meat, the peppercorn.  This is a wine that I will cellar for a while as I can’t wait for its evolution.

2011 Tercero Cuvee Loco – another blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah, which has notes of black fruit, eucalyptus, black cherry, leather and dried fig.

2016 Tercero Aberration — another wine that Larry recommends to be served chilled.  This is a 100 percent Cabernet Franc wine with notes of red ripe strawberries, raspberries, cranberry, cassis and herbs. Super drinkable and bottled in clear glass so you can keep your friends guessing.


You will not find a more authentic person than Winemaker Larry Schaffer …. like it or not.  If you leave your pretention at the door, you are in for a great experience and someone who is genuinely interested in finding wines that you like to drink.  And, he is a master baker. If you are lucky enough to be there when bread or cookies are in the tasting room, check your diet at the door.

The Tercero tasting room is in Los Olivos, CA, in the Santa Ynez Valley, 30 miles north of Santa Barbara right off the main street.  As you look around the room, you’ll see Larry’s love for science with the glassware showcasing the ‘alchemy’ aspect of winemaking. You will not find one tasting note because what you taste is individual.

Five wines are poured and the tasting fee is $15.  The fee is waived with the purchase of a few bottles or if you join the wine club.

Hours are Thursday through Monday from noon to 5 pm, or by appointment.

Pricing and Availability

The wines range from $25 to $50 and are very value priced for what they deliver.

Wine Club

It’s a no obligation wine club with no auto shipments without confirmation. There are wine club shipments three to four times a year, and each shipment will contain two bottles of two different wines. That said, with each shipment, you’ll have at least four different options to choose from – all reds, all whites, a ‘standard’ package (whatever it might be), and at least one ‘upgrade’ option whereby shipping will be included.  Perks include free tastings for you and up to 3 guests at the tasting room, 20% discounts on all purchases and invites to members-only events.


A Calm Before This Storm: Santa Barbara’s Best Kept Secret

In the middle of a land of much larger and more impressive wine properties, there sits a non-descript barn.  In this barn, in Santa Barbara wine country, is the site of some of the most impressive wines we found during our trip.  Welcome to Storm Wines with Winemaker Ernst Storm, a quiet South African with a passion for making organic Rosé, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.  The winery, which has a production of about 2,000 cases is for now, the best kept secret that you will thank me for revealing.

Ernst told me during our discussion, “I love nature and believe the less you do to impact the environment, the better.  It is all about respect.”

Ernst grew up in South Africa and went to school at the Elsenburg Agricultural School in Stellenbosch and worked as a winemaker in South Africa.  He came to California to learn how to work in a warmer client and eventually saw similarities with the soils and microclimates between the Western Cape and Santa Barbara County.  He worked at Firestone Winery (during the days of the Bachelor filming, and no he was never on camera) and started Storm with 6 barrels in 2006.  In 2008, Ernst became involved in the winemaking at Curtis Winery.  At the end of 2013, he left Curtis to focus on Storm.

Fun fact — Ernst’s brother, Hannes, launched Storm Wines-South Africa in 2012.  His focus is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

How Is the Wine

This was a favorite of our group on the trip and we shipped several cases home buying just about anything we could get our hands on.  The Rosé started at $24 and the Syrah and single vineyard Pinot Noirs were priced around $55, but these wines were stand-outs and worth every penny.

Since we bought everything we sampled, I went to the site and listed what was currently available of what we sampled as of this posting.

2016 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc – sourced from three different Santa Ynez Valley vineyards, I tasted lots of grapefruit, melon, tropical fruit and guava.

2017 Santa Ynez Valley Demetria Vineyard Grenache Rosé – this was the perfect way to usher in the Summer with notes of melon, jasmine, strawberry and watermelon made it easy to sip, but it had a complexity that made you want to keep coming back to see what would unveil next in the glass.

2016 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir – the terroir in this wine shone through along with the red and black cherry and spice.

2015 Santa Maria Valley Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir — notes of Asian spice, tea, flowers, red cherry and spice make this a wine that you want to keep sipping just to see what happens as it develops in your glass.

2015 Sta. Rita Hills John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted notes of cranberry, black cherry, terroir, herbs, juicy berry and mushroom.

 2015 Santa Barbara County Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir – I tasted blue fruit, funk, earth, spice, dark fruit and earth.  I loved this wine.

2016 Edna Valley Slide Hall Vineyard Syrah – notes of black fruit, herbs, black pepper and spice make this a soulful and deep wine that begs to be enjoyed with friends, food and time.


If you want to be pampered, this is not your place.  We stood around a barrel in the barn and enjoyed authentic, one-on-one time with the winemaker.  What is better than that?  This is a place that you need to make an appointment as there really is no tasting room set up.  Ernst serves every role at the winery and will need to be there as he’s the sole full-time staff member.

Pricing and Availability

The wines range from $24 to $55 and completely over deliver.  No wine club, no frills, no problem.  Just enjoy the wines if you can find them.

The Wines of Youngberg Hill in the Willamette

Youngberg Hill is in McMinnville, 25 miles from the ocean (some say these are the most Western vines in the Willamette). The first vineyards on the property were planted in 1989 by Ken Wright, one of the “gurus” of Oregon wine. In 2003, Wayne Bailey came in, bought the property, and has been farming grapes for close to 15 years there. Currently there are 20 acres planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, all dry farmed organically and biodynamically.

*This tasting was comped due to my industry affiliation.

Bailey Pinot Blanc 2016 $25
These are sourced grapes.  Stainless steel fermentation and aged in neutral oak. Aromas and flavors include: stone fruit (peach/apricot), citrus (lime peel and Meyer lemon). A great food-friendly acidity. This wine would pair well with a spinach salad with stone fruit and perhaps a citrus-based dressing.

Natasha Pinot Noir 2014 $50
Grown on marine sedimentary soil with clay, this wine shows: white pepper and red/blk cherry. It’s showing a bit tight at the moment, but this wine should age 20+ years in the bottle. This wine would pair well with a grilled piece of salmon.

Jordan Pinot Noir 2013 $50
This vineyard has the highest elevation onsite. The wine is earthier than the others and shows more fruit concentration, with darker fruit than Natasha. Currently the ’14 and ’15 vintages are available. This wine could hold up to simply grilled red meat.

*Wines are 15-25% off with wine club membership, depending on the level.

I highly recommend a visit to Youngberg Hill if you want to have an authentic wine country experience. Also, if you love animals (like I do!) this is the place for you! This is lovely place to spend an afternoon or even an entire weekend. The wines are crowd-pleasers and reasonably priced between $25-$75 per bottle, with the bulk being $50 or under.


Biodynamics at Youngberg Hill in the Willamette

Last November I enjoyed my FIRST trip to the Willamette in Oregon. I’ve got a handful of family that live in Central Oregon, including my sister in Redmond, and my Aunt/Uncle in Bend. Fresh from my visit with them, I decided to tack on a side-trip to the Willamette and brought the family along! This was a comped visit/tasting due to my industry affiliation.

The Willamette Valley is a vast wine region located between Portland and Eugene. It’s 150 miles long from top to bottom! The region boasts over 550 wineries with 20,000 acres under vine. Approximately 75% of that acreage is planted to Pinot Noir, its most well-known grape.

The Willamette is a “newer” region in the wine world, with vineyards first planted in the mid-60s. There are 6 sub AVAs in the region: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.

The Willamette is situated between the Coast Range to the west, with an average height of 1500 ft and the Cascades to the east, which have peaks over 14,000 ft. This sandwich of mountain ranges gives the region a mild continental climate though with strong maritime influences, as the Coast Range is not quite high enough to mitigate the ocean influences. The Willamette has a finicky climate with a good amount of cloud cover and precipitation. And a finicky climate calls for a finicky grape: Pinot Noir.

Most recently, Wine Enthusiast named the Willamette Valley 2016 Wine Region of the Year. And after my trip, I can see why! Read more HERE.

We spent a good part of our first day at Youngberg Hill in McMinnville, 25 miles from the ocean (some say these are the most Western vines in the Willamette). The first vineyards on the property were planted in 1989 by Ken Wright, one of the “gurus” of Oregon wine. In 2003, Wayne Bailey came in, bought the property, and has been farming grapes for close to 15 years there. Currently there are 20 acres planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, all dry farmed organically and biodynamically.

General Winery Information

The tasting room is open 7 days a week from 10am-4pm. There are 3 tasting options. A general tasting at $15 per person. That fee is waived with a $100 purchase OR if you sign up for the wine club. There is a seated 1-hour tasting available for $30 Friday-Monday (a maximum of 12ppl). That fee is also waived with a $100 purchase OR if you sign up for the wine club. There is also a winemakers tasting (2 hours in length) that is $100. Advance reservations are required for the seated tasting and the winemakers tasting.

Wines range from $25-$75 per bottle.


The first thing you notice at Youngberg Hill is the presence of animals. Upon arrival, a couple dogs greet you. The dogs are used for security (I found this hard to believe, as they were sweet as sugar) and to maintain pest control. There are frogs in the ponds and honeybees onsite. Most noticeably they have a small group of Scottish Highland Cattle (and a Black Angus!) that I wanted to take home with me.

Wayne describes the Youngberg Hill philosophy, “It’s all about balance and being in concert with nature,” he explains. “Anything that man does will inhibit nature. We try to do anything we can do to stay out of the way. As an example, plant life, insect life, animal life … if we throw any of that off, we’re going to throw the balance off. It’s common sense.” The biodynamic “debate” is still a hot one. Some fail to see how burying a horn with dung in the vineyard has anything to do with the quality of the grapes grown. However, Bailey states, “Back in Iowa (where he grew up), we planted potatoes according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And that’s biodynamic farming.”

The sprawling property also features a quaint 11-room inn. Rates start at $199/night and go up to $399/night. They also have a new events center to host weddings and other social events. Total case production for this entire operation is (approx) 2,500 cases per year.

The Wine

 Youngberg Hill specializes in Pinot Noir, but they also produce: Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

I highly recommend a visit to Youngberg Hill if you want to have an authentic wine country experience. Also, if you love animals (like I do!) this is the place for you! This is lovely place to spend an afternoon or even an entire weekend.

Wine Review: Gianelli Vineyards, Zuidema Grenach, Allora Vineyards

Italian varietals in the California Sierra Foothills

Wine Review of Gianelli Vineyards, Tuolumme County – 2012 Primitivo

One of their most intriguing wines is the 2012 Primitivo.  With significant earthy and blacky cherry mixed with medium oak, this wine also produces a short lasting mineral note on the palate. Aged almost 2 years, this allow for a more “mellow tannic” affect. Alcohol is a bold 15.5%. This wine would appeal to both Millenials and X-Gen drinkers. That stated it does provide enough “umph” to be a solid everyday wine for even Baby Boomers or any Italian varietal afficionados!

The pairing for this Primitivo would be fairly consistent with any tomato based dishes. Be it the mid-week pizza or a Sunday sausage and pasta dish, both would be winners.

At $26 this is a “steal”. If you join their wine club and take 6 bottles, it allows a 15% discount. Go for a smooth dozen and the discount is 25%. This wine has limited availability as only a limited number of cases are produced.

Old World Grenache in Napa Valley?

Wine Review of Zuidema Grenach, Napa Valley, Rutherford – 2014 Grenache

Rudy Zuidema used Clone 515 Grenache from the famed Chateauneuf du Pape heritage and married it to the noble St George rootstock. This allowed his Grenache to be dry farmed in an Old World manner. No trellis, no wires, simply head trained soaking in the richness of the Rutherford soil. The label with the roots seeking minerals and nourishment, is more than an artist logo, it is his vineyard management style in full swing.

His inaugural release of this 2014 Grenache combines delicate finesse with the subtle power of Grenache. Rudy describes it as “the aromas are made up of white pepper, bright rhubarb, strawberry and blood orange peel. The bright acidity in the mid palate bursts with mixed berries, holiday spice and layers of anise and tarragon”. Even the finish gives a hint of the Old World with it being “rustic and not perfectly polished”. At a recent tasting with friends, most agreeing with the color being ruby to brick red, with cranberry fruit, having a spicy oak flavoring, yet showing the minerality of dry farming.

This pairs great with anything as it is not overpowering and suggestion: lamb, pork, pasta dishes and even a grilled fish. We had it recently with a BBQ mesquite chicken.

Also at the same tasting, all agreed to a medium body, they also believed it was close to a $50 wine. Zuidema website shows $42. This is indeed an excellent showing for an inaugural wine release!  Only 99 cases were made and it will go fast appealing to both experienced and intermediate wine buyers. Only available via their website:

Serious wine for your cellar!

Wine Review of Allora Vineyards, Napa Valley, St Helena – 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Just tasted their Lusso 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. It is made from Clone 15 grapes and is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon based. Only three barrels are made. The winemaker describes it as “highly extracted and decadent wine that indulges your entire pallet in pure luxury”. When sipping this wine, you get ripe berries and hints of dark chocolate. It is aged 24 months in French barrels. By the way, the label of the three women on the bottle has a fascinating story behind it, but that will be for the Klein family to share with you!

This is a serious wine for collectors with ageing and a peak of up to 20+ years! Save this one for a hearty NY steak, rib eye or filet mignon. The price point is $150 and club membership is available.


By Michael Kelly,