We have been here on Limerick Lane at the northern end of the Russian River Valley for three weeks. Our stay is over and we have witnessed an amazing frenzy of harvest activity the first ten days of our stay. Several days of over 100 degree weather ripened grapes, especially Zinfandel, almost all at once.
We have been to all the great wine towns in California including Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Los Olivos, and others, but Healdsburg remains are favorite wine town by a wide margin. In the Russian River wine region, all roads lead to the town of Healdsburg.
There were 400 wineries represented at the Family Winemakers event held on August 23 and 24 at Fort Mason in San Francisco. On Sunday the media and trade were allowed into the pavilion from 12:30 to 2:00. It was nice and quiet during that time period and then at 2:00 pm came the masses. The public paid $45 to get into this event and they surely wanted to get their money’s worth.
Continuing to taste the organic wines I purchased at Whole Foods in their “Eco Friendly”wine section, we paired a Frey Vineyards Sangiovese and a Parducci Sustainable Red with herb roasted chicken with a pasta and vegetables. The Frey Vineyard Sangiovese is labeled an “Organic Wine”because it was made from certified organic grapes and no sulfites were added in the winemaking process. The Parducci was also made from organically certified vineyards but to better preserve the wine, sulfites were added. For this reason, the term “Organic Wine”cannot be placed on the label. However, it is allowable to put “Made from Organically Grown Grapes” on the label.
After attending the Commonwealth Meeting in San Francisco on “Wine: Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic – What Does it All Mean?,” we purchased several bottles made by Frey Vineyards and Parducci Winery. Jonathan Frey of Frey Vineyards and Paul Dolan of Parducci were featured speakers at this Commonwealth Meeting.
We found the wines at Whole Foods in San Mateo on a shelf marked: “Eco Friendly Wines.” The first wine we tasted was the Frey Petite Sirah. We paired this wine with a pork tenderloin prepared with a spice rub and grilled on the BBQ. The Frey Petite Sirah was labeled “Organic Wine.” This means that the grapes were farmed organically and no sulfites were added to the wine. We like the big bold flavors of Petite Sirah. This wine was a little lighter than most Petite Sirahs. What we noticed most was a distinct aftertaste. It is hard to describe but it is definitely there and is a taste that I did not care for. I wonder if this aftertaste is common to “Organic Wines.” I also purchased the Frey Sangiovese, an organic wine as well, and I will try that next. We rate the Frey Vineyards Petite Sirah a 3.25 on our 5 point rating system.
Last night we had the opportunity be present at the Commonwealth Club meeting in San Francisco to hear winemakers Paul Dolan, Jonathan Frey, and Phil Larocca enlightened us on this very popular and important topic in the wine industry today. Each of these three individuals is considered to be a pioneer in the field of “green”practices in farming vineyards and making wine.
Paul Dolan is one of the most influential leaders in the field of sustainable and organic farming. Paul spent 27 years at Fetzer Vineyards and under his vision, Fetzer moved to organic and sustainable farming practices. Paul is currently one of the principal partners of the Parducci Winery and the Mendocino Wine Company. Parducci is the first and only winery to be designated as “Carbon Neutral.”
Jonathan Frey and his family own Frey Vineyards also in Mendocino. They are the first winery in California to practice organic and Biodynamic farming. Frey Vineyards is one of the few wineries that are able to use “Organic Wine”on their label.
Phil Larocca is the owner and winemaker of Larocca Vineyards in Sutter County. Phil’s approach to his winemaking is to make wines that are healthy for the individual. This means the Larocca wines do not contain preservatives or chemical residues.
One thing is clear about each of these individuals. They care deeply about the environment and are very passionate about promoting their ideas to the wine community.
Some of the key points of the program:
Organically Certified and Biodynamic certified to carry the most stringent of regulations. Any winery that has achieved this designation must meet strict requirements and must be inspected annually.
Sustainability does not have a certification board and is a less-defined term. In general, the term means to farm so as not to deplete the soil and to sustain the land for future generations. Sustainable practices include the use of solar energy, biodiesel fuels, and organic farming. It also includes “green”packaging of the wine from the bottle to the box. Sustainable practices include the use of heavy composting. Composting gives back to the soil.
These three winemakers believe that farming organically provides better flavors in the grape, more nutritional value. and greater grape yields.
Frey Vineyards and Larocca Vineyards do not add any sulfites to their wines. Parducci farms the vineyards organically but adds sulfites in the winemaking process.
Less than 1 percent of the wineries in the world practice organic and sustainable farming. However, there is a growing awareness among the industry that these methods are important for the environment and it is the “right thing to do.”
The following day after this very informative program, we shopped at our local Whole Foods store. On a shelf in the wine section labeled “eco-friendly wines,” we found several of the wines from Parducci and Frey Vineyards. We purchased a few bottles of each and will try them out over the next couple of weeks.
If you would like to hear the entire program, the Commonwealth Club provides a podcast of this event. You can find it at the Commonwealth Web site.
Paso Robles Wine Country, August 19 to 21, 2003
The Paso Robles wine country is truly exciting. It is a vast wine region divided by Highway 101, with several different microclimates and grape growing regions that enable wineries to produce many different varietals of wine. We have visited the Paso Robles wine country several times and are always impressed as well as surprised by the quality of wines, restaurants, and places to stay.
We make a reservation at the Adelaida Inn in Paso Robles for two nights. The rooms are large, clean, and very comfortable. With discounts and mid-week prices our room charges are $66 per night. It’s a great deal considering that several nearby hotels are over $100 per night. There are also several very nice Bed & Breakfast spots in this wine region starting at about $150 or more per night.
We arrive in Paso Robles around noon and immediately head for the main part of town to purchase our deli lunch. Our deli stop is the Odyssey World Café that serves very nice European style sandwiches for lunch. We pack our lunch and head for Highway 46 West. The exit off Highway 101 is about a mile south of Spring St., the main thoroughfare in Paso Robles.
Our first winery stop is Castoro Cellars, on Bethel Road, which runs into Highway 46 on the left. Castoro is an excellent winery producing several different varieties. Castoro is celebrating its 20th year of producing fine wines. We like all their wines very much. We especially liked the Syrah, Petite Syrah, and a special anniversary bottling called “Diciannove Annui.” We also like the picnic area and decide to eat our lunch there. There are some very good wine values at Castoro.
Just a few yards from Castoro Cellars is the Jan Kris Winery. We pay a $3.00 fee to taste their wines. None of their wines make a big impression on us. They do serve lunch at the winery and many locals rave about their lunch.
Our next stop is relatively new to Paso Robles but not to winemaking. Turley Wine cellars is based in Napa but recently purchased the old Pesenti Winery and their vineyards. Turley makes high-end wines and sells wines through its mailing list or at the winery. The wines are in such demand that there is a two-year wait just to get on their mailing list. We do a comparison between a Pesenti Zinfandel and a Turley Zinfandel made from the same vineyard. What a remarkable difference! The Turley Zin is fabulous and smooth with complex flavors. Turley is located at 2900 Vineyard Drive.
We continue on Vineyard Drive crossing Highway 46. The next stop is another new winery called Opolo. The tasting room is housed in the wine barrel storage and wine production area. We are the only ones in the tasting room this afternoon and our server gives us lots of attention, filling us in on the winery and each of the wines. The Zins and Syrah are very good. The Pinot Noir is much heavier, with a unique fruity taste not found in any other Pinot Noirs that we have tasted. This is a small production winery and several of their wines were sold out. However, the next morning, at the Paso Robles Albertson’s we found all the Opolo wines that were not available at the winery.
Our final stop for the day is the Norman Winery. Our favorite wine here is the Vino Rosado, a very dry Grenache wine. It is excellent. We are also impressed with the rest of their wines. The winery has a very nice picnic area and one that we will have to take advantage of on a future trip.
For dinner, we first stop at the Villa Creek Restaurant Bar on Pine St., across from the City Park. This is one of our favorite spots. We have a glass of wine and order the shrimp appetizer. It is so good! We ask our waiter for the recipe and to our surprise, a few minutes later he brings us a computer printout of the recipe. We rate the Villa Creek 5.0 on our “Five Point Rating Scale” for the delicious appetizer, the atmosphere, and the friendly waiter who gave us the shrimp recipe.
We stroll over to Spring St. and have dinner at the Café Alloro. This is a very reasonably priced Italian restaurant serving up some great dinners. The wine list is good and priced appropriately. We rate the Alloro a 4.0 on our 5 point scale.
We stop for coffee and pastries at the Café Vio on Riverside Ave, near the town square. We relax with a good cup of coffee and plan our day of wine tasting. Before we set out for tasting, we want to find another good deli and check out the local Albertson’s. We find that there are really not too many good delicatessens in Paso Robles. Interestingly, we find three delis under construction and they indicate they will be open for business in September or October. We look forward to trying these out on our next visit.
The local Albertson’s has a terrific inventory of local wines at prices less than at the wineries. Again, we found wines that were sold out at some of the wineries we visited.
On our second day of wine tasting, we head out again on Highway 46 West. One of the first wineries on Highway 46 is the Zenaida Cellars. This is a small family owned winery producing some very nice varietals. All of their wines are estate bottled, produced from 65 acres of vines that surround the winery. Zenaida also doubles as a great lodging establishment. The loft, as they call it, is above the tasting room and accommodates up to six.
We continue on Highway 46 West about another mile to the Grey Wolf Cellars. The tasting room is a charming 60-year-old farmhouse. The winery is family owned and produces only a small amount of wines each year. We find the wines are good but none that we can rave about.
Our next stop is the Adelaida Cellars on Adelaida Road. We take some beautiful backcountry roads to make our way to this winery. The tasting room is located in the main wine facility and it can be noisy but fun. They are completed sold out of all their white wines so there was no chance to judge these wines. They had plenty of reds to taste. We liked the Zinfandels and the Pinot Noir the best. We were ready for our picnic lunch and fortunately the only picnic table at Adelaida Cellars was available. We were hoping for a glass of chilled white wine on this hot summer day but since no whites were available we settled for a glass of Zinfandel.
Our final stop of the day was the Tobin James Cellars. The winery is located on the opposite side to Highway 101, off Highway 46 East. It is about 8 miles east of Paso Robles. The tasting room décor is that of an old style cowboy saloon. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed. Tobin James makes several wines and all the ones we tasted were very good. We particularly like the Syrah and the Cabernet. Our server is very knowledgeable and informative.
That is enough wine tasting for the day and we head back to the Adelaida Inn for some poolside rest and relaxation.
For dinner, we choose another Italian restaurant, Buona Tavola. It has been open for about a year. This is their second restaurant. The original restaurant is in the nearby city of San Luis Obispo and is a favorite among the locals. They have a great menu with a terrific wine list. We rate the restaurant a 4.0 on our “Five Point Rating Scale.”
Next morning, we have our coffee and goodies at the Brewed Behavior. It is a very nice comfortable coffee shop. We take our time and then head for home.