Tag Archives: California

The Upshot of Rodney Strong

Northern Sonoma County, especially Knights Valley and Alexander Valley, produce some of the best dark berry fruit for wines. Both winegrower Ryan Decker and winemaker Justin Seidenfeld have created Upshot, a Rodney Strong red blend at a reasonable price of $28. The label is a circular calendar highlighting the back story in the making of this wine, and the tagline, “Life Simply Does Not Blend Itself” is playful and approachable to wine novices and oenophiles.

Speaking of back story, the Rodney Strong story published on their website is quite interesting:

“Our story begins over 55 years ago, when a celebrated American dancer named Rod Strong settled in Sonoma County to pursue a second lifelong creative passion: winemaking. Rodney Strong Vineyards was the 13th winery bonded in the newly discovered Sonoma County wine industry. A trio of winemaking paths crossed when Rick Sayre joined the team as Winemaker in 1979, and again when the Klein Family, 4th generation California farmers, purchased the winery in 1989 and initiated a renewed commitment of modern artisan winemaking. Through the years, Rodney Strong Vineyards has earned the reputation for critically acclaimed Single Vineyard and Reserve wines, stand out Estate releases and best-in-class Sonoma County varietal wines.”

Upshot actually means, “the final or eventual positive outcome or conclusion of a discussion, action, or series of events” — and this red blend is a collaboration of the winemaking process from the 2015 harvest to the 2017 release.

Five grapes were involved in this blend: zinfandel, merlot, malbec, petit verdot and …wait for it….riesling! Says winemaker Justin Seidenfeld,

“The Upshot of blending these varietals is a wine that was made to underscore my passion for blending wine, a place that I love, and my enjoyment for this amazing life I get to live.”

I found this wine enjoyable without being pretentious… simply a good table wine priced at a great value. Just as taste sensations change in different contexts and situations, it’s interesting to note that there are white wine characteristics that come through within the deep blackberry and dark cherry burst of flavor, especially on the nose, as well as in the light tannin structure. And I enjoyed this with a variety of popcorn snacks and a turkey burger!

Visit https://www.rodneystrong.com/wines/upshot/ for more information.

3 Tastes at Limerick Lane Cellars

I once met a friend in Healdsburg. She arrived at Limerick Lane Cellars with 7 family members and was late. She was set to run a Sunday race, so picked up her pace and met me at a winery she hadn’t planned.

While I sat in wait, I sipped on a Hungarian blended white wine poured from a German-styled bottle, shaped slim and tall, with green tinted glass. I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bottle or two, but my friend will later sip on her purchased bottles to tell the tale.

OK, so enough of the limerick-ish fodder. Limerick Lane Cellars was off the beaten path from the cute little downtown square in Healdsburg, but only a 5-minute worthwhile drive down a country road of vineyards. I actually had to stop in the middle of the road to allow a segway tour group time to motor to the other lane.

The zinfandel was elegant, missing the spice I love, but balanced and quite a lovely craft of Russian River Valley grapes. Finally, the blend of syrah-grenache was a nice change of pace, as were the other two tastes, making a trip to this obscure winery worth the drive.

Following our excursion, lunch downtown at HBG (Healdsburg Bar & Grill) was inexpensive and delicious. Might I suggest the burger or cubano with a cold Lagunitas?

History of Limerick Lane Cellars, as told on the website:

Once known as The Boreen, an old Irish word meaning a small, unpaved country road, Limerick Lane has been home to small farms and vineyards for more than a century.

The Del Fava family planted our oldest currently producing vineyard in 1910. Without the benefit of modern scientific methods now used to determine the best soils and sites, the Del Favas were the first to recognize the rare potential of this small, enclosed microclimate just south of Healdsburg.

In the mid-1970’s, the Del Fava family sold to brothers Michael and Tom Collins. Like the Del Favas, the Collins brothers saw the potential inherent at Limerick Lane. They brought tremendous passion and enthusiasm to the property, overseeing the planting of twenty-five acres of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache–the iconic Collins Vineyard. In addition the Collins brothers replanted and improved the existing vineyards, creating demand for their grapes at preeminent wineries De Loach, Chateau Souverain, Ravenswood, Davis Bynum and Gary Farrell.

By 2009, Mike Collins was ready to sell, but was unwilling to see the beautiful old vines and all his hard work absorbed into a corporation or fall into the hands of investors just out to make a quick buck. Instead, he approached Jake Bilbro and asked if Jake would like to buy Limerick Lane Cellars and the Collins Vineyard. Jake, a member of a family renowned for principled vineyard stewardship and sustainable winemaking, grew up in the business at Marietta Cellars, founded by his father Chris in 1978. The chance to own Limerick Lane–a place from which his father, among others, had sourced exceptional fruit–was so exciting Jake spent two years pitching nearly every bank in California. One day before harvest began in 2011, a local bank in Healdsburg finally agreed to give him the loan.

Only the third owner in the estate’s 106-year history, Jake brings modern farming and winemaking techniques to the inimitable fruit that only the historic Collins Vineyard can produce and creates wines that live up to the heritage that preceded him–wines noted not only for their exceptional balance and elegance, but with a specific sense of history and place as well.

Santa Cruz and the pinotage grape


The smell of redwood permeates the crisp cool and foggy morning air of Santa Cruz, where spring weather is almost year round, and summer falls during the months most areas in the U.S. experience autumn. The temperature fluctuation of cool mornings and warmer days is a recipe for good grape growing, so it’s no surprise the area is filled with vineyards.

In fact, outside of Napa Valley, Santa Cruz considers itself to be its own wine country. Just ask Attorney Paul Kemp, who built his winery a year ago along the Sea Wine Trail. Loma Prieta Winery is sited uphill on a steep slope on the Mount Loma Prieta. It is here where the largest vineyard of pinotage grapes grow, thanks to Kemp, a trial lawyer who took his big earnings from a winning case and decided to build a chateau next to his home, naming it Loma Prieta Winery. Loma Prieta is open to visitors on weekends to enjoy a picnic on the premises, if not enjoy a game of bocce ball on the newly built court, or play checkers or chess with life-size figures.

Because there are no large producers of the pinotage grape, Loma Prieta Winery has little competition. So, a bottle of this South African grape wine sells for $45 a bottle. You may be asking yourself, “Why pinotage?” Well, Kemp had pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes in his vineyard, but he wanted to make an obscure wine. In 2008, he received two barrels of pinotage from a winery in Lodi, California, and this is when he fell in love with the grape. By 2010, he had grafted pinotage vines onto 500 of his existing cabernet sauvignon and merlot plants in his vineyard of approximately three acres. His next step would be to graft pinotage onto his existing pinot noir vines, making his vineyard the only one in the Santa Cruz Mountains an appellation to grow only pinotage grapes.

Kemp sources his pinotage grapes from his estate vineyard, as well as in Lodi at Amorosa Vineyard and Karma Vineyard, and Sierra Ridge Vineyard in Sutterville, California. His 2008 pinotage won several gold medals, including a double gold, and his 2009 won gold and platinum metals as well as a Best of Class at the 2011 Indy International Wine Competition. His 2010 Amorosa Pinotage won a platinum medal and 10 gold medals.

Says Kemp, “It was also selected in the Food and Beverage World’s Wine Competition as the third best wine in the other red wine category.”

His 2010 Karma Vineyard Pinotage has won two gold medals to date.

By now, if you’re wondering what this pinotage grape actually is, here’s your answer:

Pinotage is a grape that was developed in South Africa around 1925. A pinot noir was cross-pollinated with cinsaut (also known as hermitage), and obviously got its current name from its parents. Pinotage was not commercially produced until 1961. Due to the terrible problems with Apartheid, there was an international boycott against most South African wines until the 1990s.

Kemp’s fascination of pinotage grapes brought him to South Africa during the summer of 2011.

“I was treated like royalty by the South African Pinotage Society, primarily by Beyers Truter, the chairman of that organization,” says Kemp.

In 2012, Loma Prieta Winery received 25 tons of pinotage grapes from the three vineyards aside from his own estate, making him the largest purchaser of pinotage grapes in North America. That same year, 25 cases of 2011 Estate Pinotage, with its smooth, puckery tannins, was bottled — and sold out immediately.

Loma Prieta Winery stakes the claim to offering the one Pinotage Only Wine Club, and membership, says Kemp, is growing quite rapidly; therefore, selling out rapidly. Due to the increased sales, members of the Pinotage Only Wine Club are limited to two shipments a year.

On weekends, Kemp’s winery tasting room offers pinotage at the end of the tastings, while at the same time explains the history of the wine.

He says, “The vast majority of the people who come to our winery have neither heard of Pinotage, nor tasted it. The fun part for me is to get people to try it.”

With a sample of triple cream blue cheese from France, the 2012 Estate Pinotage is tasted straight from the barrel and proves to be earthy and full-bodied, with flavors of dark chocolate and aroma of tobacco. It would pair well with lamb or wild pork/game.

Due to its obscurity and the curiosity factor, it’s no surprise that Loma Prieta Winery’s pinotage wine, aged in Missouri oak barrels, has been their best seller, despite the fact that it also produces several other gold medal wines (merlot, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir).

In fact, their 2010 Petite Sirah won Best of Show at the 2013 Florida State Fair International Wine and Grape Juice Competition.


You can find Loma Prieta pinotage in Katsu, a Japanese restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif., and Bella Mia in San Jose. You’ll know the bottle by its label, created especially for Loma Prieta Winery by New Orleans artist Martin LaBorde, who incorporates his signature magician, Bodo, in much of his work. It’s a view of Mount Loma Prieta from the winery with a jagged red and orange line underneath, representative of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Visit www.lomaprietawinery.com for more information.

Rockin’ the reds


Debbie Juergenson, winemaker at Red Rock Winery in California, knows how to lure women to drink her red wines. Just take a look at the website: www.RedRockWinery.com and you’ll see a picture of a woman in a bathtub sipping red wine from a glass. I’m in.

So, with four bottles in tow, over the next few weeks, I sipped — and shared.

Beginning with 2011 vintages, I first opened the Red Rock California Merlot, with grapes mainly from Paso Robles. Some petite sirah is blended in, which adds to the wine’s structure, supporting the fruity balance. It paired well with a traditional meal of garlic roasted chicken with broccoli, celery root and mashed potatoes. Merlot is known to work with chocolate, so a dessert of dark chocolate cake worked quite well. The next evening, a chicken parmesan sandwich worked with a glass of this merlot quite well. It’s all good. And priced at $13.99, as our all the bottles I’ll be writing about.

Next, the Red Rock 2011 Winemaker’s Blend is a concoction of petite sirah, syrah and zinfandel grapes from vineyards in Lodi, Sonoma and the Central Coast of California. The syrah gives this wine a lot of spicy goodness, and the blend of these grapes is perfection. I love blends when they’re done well, and this wine fits the bill.

Ready for 2012 wines?

First, I put a chicken pot pie in the oven with a whole potato to bake. Comfort food, right? Well, Red Rock 2012 Pinot Noir gave me comfort in a taste that brings me home. The jammy red raspberry flavors get me every time, and the slightest vanilla and caramel from the oak barrels takes the cake. For the next night’s dinner, I enjoyed this wine with butternut squash and braised chestnut ravioli. Works for me.

Last, but definitely not least is Red Rock 2012 Mendoza Malbec, which I had served with roasted turkey and the stuff of Thanksgiving sides. I love the richness of the Argentine signature grape, and this wine did not disappoint. Made with 100 percent Malbec grape, even the zondas of Mendoza (that would be wind) didn’t stop this grape’s worthiness. It may have stopped the volume, however, so you may want to grab this bottle when you see one, or two.

Are you ready for that bath now? I know I am. Enjoy!

In the company of good friends on a chilly Sunday afternoon, the tables on my deck were filled with plates of cheeses, tomato drizzled with olive oil, mozzarella and basil leaves, and dip and chips to munch on, as well as three wine glasses filled with Mirassou 2011 California Merlot. The oaky flavors and smoky aroma felt right in keeping with the cool weather. One guest went so far as to rate it “85” points, which I can only assume referred to Parker points. Flavors from this merlot are red cherry, raspberry and vanilla.

Made with grapes from the Central and North Coast of California, it’s no surprise this young wine offered such deep, wonderful concentrated flavors. Two glasses were saved for dinner of charcuterie and red sauce over pappardelle pasta — it worked.

Next, I opened a bottle of Mirassou 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine, my deck friends stated, had “impressive legs” and a fruity, hearty bouquet. It was a smooth wine with a full-body and perfect finish. The grapes of this wine hail from California’s Central Coast, Lodi and several North Coast regions. The longer growing season results in the more expressive flavors.

Now for the Mirassou California 2011 Pinot Noir, made by David Mirassou, sixth-generation winemaker whose great-great-great grandparents, Pierre and Henrietta Pellier traveled from France to California to find gold — and in a way they did — but in the form of vineyard potential. From France, they preserved their pinot noir cuttings in potatoes they purchased on-board the ship, and due to this creative thinking, the first pinot noir grapes entered California. The process in growing and harvesting pinot noir grapes is delicate and intricate, so this is a wine to be appreciated if not for its fruit-driven flavor profile of cherries, strawberries and red currant, but by the process to create such a wonderful wine.

Follow Mirassou on Facebook: www.facebook.com/mirassouwinery or visit www.mirassou.com for more information.

Each of these three wines retails for approximately $12 a bottle.Image