Friday, September 24, 2010

Exploring Chatom Vineyards in Calaveras County's Gold Country

A few weeks ago I was up in the Sierra foothills and dropped in on a few wineries, the first was Irish Vineyards which I have been to many times (great wines!) and the second was Chatom Vineyards. The winery and tasting room are just two miles west of historic Murphys, off of Highway 4 and just up the road from Irish Vineyards. 

Although all their wines come from their estate vineyards, the vines are not located at the winery. The vineyard is in the breathtaking Esmeralda Valley of Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California. 

The vineyard of Chatom Vineyards are owned by Gay Callan, who purchased the property in 1980. Her first varietals planted in 1981 were Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and today she has 13 varietals planted on 65 acres including Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Sangiovese as well as Portuguese varietals including Tinta Cão, Souzão, Alvarelhão and Touriga Nacional.

All of their wines were fine and I especially enjoyed the 2007 Semillon ($16) which I bought and had with dinner the following evening with some friends. It has distinct floral aromas with lemon and honeysuckle, crisp acidity and a chalky minerality.

I also enjoyed the 2007 Touriga Nacional ($24), the 2006 Zinfandel ($19) and I tasted side by side the 2005 Syrah ($23) which was barrel aged for 18 months and the 2005 Esmeralda Syrah ($34) barrel aged for 24 months.

For more information check out their web site ( or call them at: (800) 435-8852

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Beauty of Ironstone Vineyards and Winery - Murphys California

After camping near lake Pinecrest in the Sierras a couple weeks ago, I made a trip to one of the most beautiful wineries in California - Ironstone Vineyards and Winery in Murphys in the heart of California’s scenic Gold Rush Country.

Founded by John Kautz and his wife Gail in 1988, the visually stunning winery is also home to a Gold Rush Museum, a Horse Shoe shaped amphitheatre where they host large concerts, and beautiful gardens which makes it a great tourist destination for the entire family. Adjacent to the tasting room they have Gourmet Delicatessen as well as The Heritage Museum which features forty-four pound Crystalline Gold Leaf Specimen - the largest in the world.

Completed in 1998, the Ironstone Amphitheatre features a five-tier, horseshoe-shaped outdoor amphitheatre where every summer they host the Ironstone Summer Concert Series the annual Concours d'Elegance car and club show in September, as well as several other events throughout the year.

Ironstone Vineyards and Winery is definitely a beautiful winery, and there wines are “affordable” and moderately priced, but not all that impressive.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Great Cabs at Cuda Ridge Wines - Livermore Valley California


Over the past decade the Livermore Valley Wine country has steadily grown from about 18 wineries in 2000 to over 50 by 2010. I have been to most of the wineries in the valley but every now and then another pops up that I haven’t found time to visit or it is tucked away somewhere and I somehow just miss it if it isn’t near other wineries or I haven’t checked for updates on the Livermore Valley web site ( ).

A couple weeks ago I was traveling down first street when low and behold I noticed a winery that I had not been to yet, Cuda Ridge Wines, so I popped in to do some tasting, meet the owners Larry & Margie Dino and came away pleasantly surprised at the quality of wines made from local Livermore grapes and brought home a couple bottles.

I tasted the 2009 Livermore Valley Semillon ($18), the 2008 Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc ($28), the 2008 Livermore Valley Malbec ($26) and the 2008 Livermore Valley Petit Verdot ($32). All of these were exceptional wines but I was most impressed with their Cabernets.

I first tasted the 2008 Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which is actually more of a Bordeaux style blend (80% Galles Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Triska Crane Ridge Merlot, 2% Mel's Ranch Cabernet Franc, 5% Ghielmetti Malbec, and 5% Smith Ranch Petit Verdot). It is an awesome Cab with black currant, plum, black licorice, and vanilla. Only 71 cases were produced and it sells for $30 a bottle.

I tasted the 2008 Livermore Valley Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon (87% White Cat Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Galles Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon), this is a HUGE bold “in your face” wine with loads of black currant, plum, black licorice, and vanilla. It may be a little too “over the top” for some people but I really enjoyed it and brought a bottle home and shared it with some friends a couple days later. Only 37 cases of this wine were produced and it sells for $32 a bottle.

The second Cab I tasted was the 2007 Livermore Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon which is also a Bordeaux style blend (75% Galles Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Triska Crane Ridge Vineyard Merlot, 2% Mels Ranch Cabernet Franc, 15% Smith Ranch Petit Verdot ) which spent more time in the barrel (31 months) so while it has loads of black currant, plum, black licorice like the ’08 it has a lot more vanilla on the back end of the palate. There were only 24 cases of this wine produced, it sells for $38 a bottle and I brought one home.

For more information, check out their web site ( ) and if you visit tell them you heard about them from Erik Wait at California Wine Tasting Adventures!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves


After visiting Peju Province Winery in Rutherford on Saturday I then drove up to St. Helena to visit the new Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves.

Several years ago I visited their sister winery, the Del Dotto Caves Historic Winery on Atlas Peak Road in Napa. These are 350 foot rustic caves that were hand dug in 1885 by Chinese laborers with picks and shovels. In 1997, the Del Dottos restored the original winery and began aging their red wines in the caves. When I visited the historic caves I did a personal one on one tasting with one of the tour guides and it was a great experience as I was able to discuss the wines as we went through the dark tunnel, tasting wines from the various barrels.
 Visually there is a huge contrast between the historic wine caves and the new Caves which are lined with Italian marble and ancient tiles. As you walk into the show room above you as you are Venetian chandeliers and beneath your feet are mosaic marble floors. 
 However, while I was impressed with the scenery and the wines, the experience wasn’t quite as pleasant. The 6+ foot tour guide who boasted of having worked for the Del Dotto’s for five years told crude jokes, frequently used the “F _ _ _” word and seemed to be more concerned with getting intoxicated as drank (not tasted) along with the tour group. In the hundreds of wineries I have visited throughout California over the past 10+ years, I have never seen such unprofessional behavior at a winery in my entire life. There is a huge difference between “wine tasting” and “wine DRINKING” at a winery. The former is designed to sample wines in order to evaluate them, the latter is for the sole purpose of getting drunk.
If you visit the winery be sure to eat before you go and don’t drink any wine before you arrive and don’t plan on visiting another winery after you leave because they will pour you an insane amount of wine and it is difficult to find a place to pour out what you don’t want to consume. It is customary for a wine tasting room to give you a 2 ounce sample. This tour guide was pouring easily more than 5 ounces and while I appreciate the generosity it clearly encourages intoxication. And frankly the wines are SO huge that after the fourth sample my palate was already suffering from fatigue so I wish some drinking water would have been made available as well.

My overall impression of this winey is…. this is where people come to party and practice bacchanalia. 

Although I kept track of the wines we tasted, it was too dark and things were too rushed to take any detailed notes. So, without comment here are the wines we were served:

The 2008 Cinghiale Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

The 2008 Vineyard 887 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Missouri U-Stave American Oak Connoisseurs Series)

The 2008 Vineyard 887 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Centre Saury French Oak Connoisseurs Series)

The 2008 Vineyard 887 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon (Sasse French Oak Connoisseurs Series)

The 2008 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (MO/FO Blend Connoisseurs Series)

The 2008 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (Centre Saury French Oak Connoisseurs Series)

The 2008 Lot R F15 Colbert French Oak Cabernet Sauvignon (Summer/Fall Release)

One of the problems was (and a few other people on the tour said the same thing) that it was too dark to view the wines and because most of them were all such HUGE Cabernets after the first few it became difficult to distinguish one from another. While touring the caves may be fun and very different from just standing around a wine bar, as one usually does in a tasting room, the environment of the in cave made it extremely difficult to do any sort of sensory analysis of the wines.

If you decide to try these wines, I suggest tasting them at the bar outside of the caves where you can see what you are tasting and bring your own bottle of water.

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peju Province Winery - My 100th Wine Tasting in the Napa Valley!

After taking a number of photos Robert Mondavi Winery, I traveled a mile north on Highway 29 to Peju Province Winery. I’ve been wine tasting in the Napa Valley for ten years, since the Spring of 2000, and keeping track of which and how many wineries I have visited. It turns out, this was my 100th winery visit in the Napa Valley.
Most wineries I have visited throughout California have a wine bar where you walk up, pays nominal fee and then a server pours you a number of wines to sample. Some wineries offer tours in which you tasting wine as you walk around the winery, perhaps the wine caves (such as Beringer Vineyards Baldacci Family Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa, Del Dotto Vineyards, Rutherford Hill Winery) and receive an education about the history and wine making process of the particular winery. Occasionally you might find a winery that offers “sit down” tasting at a table (such as Quintessa winery, Duckhorn Vineyards) which I prefer as it allows you to relax as you examine the wines. Peju Province Winery is a little different, they have you stand around in their lobby for 10 to 15 minutes until a server has set up a station at a corner wine bar somewhere in the winery. As I stood there, I asked one of the employees, “Excuse me, am I being ignored?”

Then a host escorts you to that particular table and should you wish to stop and take a picture along the way the escort will be sure to get annoyed that you didn’t follow her like a mother duck to your destination. This arrangement seems rather odd and it made me feel rather unwelcome. As I stood waiting I almost walked out. Then I found that I was forced to be with a particular group of people that I was not traveling with and was treated as if I was with them. To be honest, the ladies I was tasting with her a group of friends who seemed to be traveling the valley together and the fact that they had this stranger being huddled into their group, forced to stand at the end of the little wine bar, didn’t seem to fair to them either.

After making our wine through through a few rooms which were reminiscent of the interior of a church with stained glass windows and a beautiful spiraling staircase we then found ourselves standing at typical wine bar, with a server who politely described the wines as he poured them.

So, all the waiting and escorting results in standing in front of  a typical wine bar that you find at any other winery, except they don’t have the fuss. I later asked to a friend of mine who is a fan of Peju’s wines, particularly their Cabernet Franc (which we didn’t taste), and he said that he too found the coordination of the tasting room to be awkward as it puts the visitor in an uncomfortable situation. While the wines we sampled were all fine, I would suggest that they re-think their tasting room procedures.

The white wines were all way too cold as the glass frosted as soon as the wine was poured. So, I cupped the wine in my hands, warming the glass as I swirled it in order to get it to open up. 

Our first was the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc – Napa Valley. This is not your grassy herbal type of Sauv Blanc like those that come from New Zealand as it leans more on the citrus and tropical fruit side, which is actually what I prefer. It is a fairly decent wine for $22.
Our second white wine was the 2009 Estate Chardonnay – Napa Valley. This wine is whole-cluster pressed, barrel aged in 100% French oak and spent six months on its lees. The grapes come from Persephone Ranch vineyard, it is 100% Chardonnay and they only 30% new oak. The best thing about this Chard is that it is well balanced. It isn’t too oaky or too buttery as it maintains both the crisp fruit qualities of a fine Chardonnay (apple, apricot, pears) and yet it also has some great secondary characteristics such as toasted nuts, butterscotch, candied ginger with a subtle creamy finish. If this is what you are looking for in a Chardonnay, it’s a nice wine for $28.

Our third wine was Provence, a California Red and White Blend. This is like a rosé, but not one made in the traditional manner. Usually a blush or rosé is made from red-skinned grapes that crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for two or three days. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation as with red wine making. Provence however looks and tastes somewhat like a rosé but it is actually a blend of finished red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel) with finished white wines (Chardonnay and French Colombard) from Napa and Mendocino counties. Like other rosés, this wine has notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and with delicate floral notes. It’s a nice summer wine and sells for $22 a bottle.

Our first red wine was the 2007 Estate Zinfandel – Napa Valley. This wine 100% Estate grown Zinfandel that comes from their Persephone Ranch Vineyard located on the backside of Howell Mountain. The alcohol on this wine is 15.7% which may seem a little high, but it is a well balanced wine so there is no “heat” on the back end, unlike many Lodi zins I have sampled. It is a big red wine with layers of cherry, plum jam, cola, berry pie, with hints of pepper and spice with plenty of backbone and nice tannins. A really nice wine for $28.

Our second red wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are organically grown from their Rutherford Vineyard, barrel aged for 26 months in 85% new French Oak. This deep red wine is rich and concentrated on the palate with layers of black currant, plum cheery with a hint of cocoa with soft tannins. A nice wine but a bit steep at $45 a bottle as there are plenty of similar wines of this caliber for a lot less money in the $20-$30 range.

Our third red wine was from their library, the 2005 Fifty/Fifty (50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) which comes from 100% Estate Napa Valley fruit. This wine was nice but seemed a bit too soft after tasting the Zin and Cabernet Sauvignon. I would suggest re-arranging the order of the tastings and try this one before the Zinfandel and the Cabernet.

Our fourth red wine was the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Napa Valley This is an exceptional wine that was the be3st of the lineup. It is made of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Merlot. The fruit was sourced from their organically grown Rutherford Vineyard and it is a great representative of Napa Valley Cabernet, but there plenty of others of similar quality for a lot less that $105!

Our final tasting was the the 2006 Estate Celicias, Estate Zinfandel Port – Napa Valley ($50) It is a very nice port-styled fortified dessert wine (how can you call a wine a “port’ when it isn’t even made from the traditional port grapes such as Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional?) that isn’t syrupy or too gooey. A nice wine but the bottle is only 375 ml and it sells for $50! There are MANY similar wines (in fact better ones made from Port grapes), available in Lodi, Amador County and elsewhere for a lot less money.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Peju but I didn't bring anything home.

To see more pictures of Peju Province Wines, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at: