Saturday, October 17, 2009

Occasio Winery in Livermore California

One of the great things about going through the enology program at Las Positas College is the opportunity to meet fellow wine geeks in a friendly and yet academic setting. Some students are there just to take a couple wine appreciation classes to learn more about their favorite beverage. Other students are already in the business and are there to improve their knowledge of wine making practices.

Then there are also some like John Kinney, owner of Occasio Winery in Livermore, who are retiring from one career and are starting a second career with a passion for making wine in their own winery. I first met John in class last Spring at Las Positas College and I recently heard through the grape vine on campus that he had opened his tasting room. So, last Saturday I decided to venture out to Livermore and drop in to see John and get a tour around his winery, discuss his vision and wine making methods and taste what this new winery has to offer.

One of John’s convictions about wine making is that one should actually make wine from the AVA in which the winery resides. This may sound odd, but not only are there are many Livermore wineries that sell wine made from Napa grapes but some even do not even make their own wine! Some wineries purchase bulk wine and then bottle it under their own label.

Here is a tip – if you visit a winery in Livermore (or anywhere else) without wine making equipment or most their grapes comes from some an AVA other than Livermore ask them if they MAKE their own wine! Also, check the label on the wine. If the label states the wine was “Cellared and Bottled By…” and does not state “Produced By…” the wine probably came from somewhere else. The phrase “Produced By” indicates that the named winery crushed, fermented and bottled a minimum of 75 percent of the wine in that particular bottling. The phrase, however, does not mean that the winery grew the grapes. The term “Made and Bottled By” means that a minimum of 10 percent of the wine was fermented at the winery-the other 90 percent could be from other sources. “Bottled By” alone on a label indicates that the only role the winery most likely played in the wine'’ production was to purchase and bottle wine made somewhere else.

There are many wineries around the world that own their vineyards and produce their wines from their grapes, these are indicated by the designation “Estate” on the label. However there are wineries that do not own their own vineyards but rather source their grapes by contracting with vineyards. Likewise, there are many vineyards that do not produce wine but rather focus their labor on producing high quality grapes for contracted local wineries.

All of John Kinney’s wines are “Produced and Bottled By” Occasio Winery, sourcing quality grapes from local Livermore vineyards from which he is able to selectively choose quality grapes.

Occasio Winery has a very limited production and on my visit the tasting room was serving three wines with a fourth to be released in November.

My first taste was the 2008 Occasio Pinot Gris Del Arroyo Vineyard, Livermore Valley. This wine was a Gold Medal Winner at the 2009 Indy International Wine Competition. This is a copper-pink dry, light crisp wine with fine acidity and aromas of pear, apple, and melon and sells for only $16 so I brought a bottle home.

My second wine was the 2008 Occasio Sauvignon Blanc Del Arroyo Vineyard, Livermore Valley. This wine was a Silver Medal Winner at the 2009 Indy International Wine Competition. The profile of Sauvignon Blanc can have a great deal of range depending on the terrior, on the nose and palate I picked up melon, citrus and a slight herbaceous quality. This is a very light wine that would pair well with seafood and sells for $18 a bottle

My third and final tasting was the 2007 Occasio Petite Sirah Livermore Valley. This wine was also Silver Medal Winner at the 2009 Indy International Wine Competition. This wine is deep Garnet in color and the first impression on the nose was very robust and fruit forward. As I continued to swirl the glass more pepper notes began to come through. The is s big, full-bodied wine with jammy qualities of black fruit and spice, subtle notes of new leather and toasty oak envelop the flavors through the finish, giving way to notes of caramel and vanilla on the back end and finish. A fine representative of the Livermore Valley, this wine sells for $28 a bottle so I brought one to add to my collection.

Soon to be released is the 2007 Occasio Merlot Thatcher Bay Vineyard, Livermore Valley ($32) which I hope taste on a return visit. John also informed me that he would soon be making a very limited production a dry Zinfandel Rosé to be released around Christmas.

If you visit Occasio Winery in Livermore tell them you heard about them from Erik Wait’s “Adventures in Wine tasting”!

For more information check out their web site: