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  • California to Welcome Majestic Tall Ships

    Tall Ships Festival Logo 

    Port of Los Angeles April 17, 2014 - Tall Ships will sail into California waters from all over the Pacific Ocean this summer.

    From August 20-24, 2014, the Port of Los Angeles will be one of three West Coast ports welcoming these beautiful vessels to their shores, affording visitors the rare chance to catch a glimpse, step aboard, and even set sail on some of the grandest ships of yore. In addition, the historic Battleship Iowa and the Victory Ship, S.S. Lane Victory will also be open for tours.

    The festival will showcase domestic and international ships, including some of the most acclaimed worldwide, including the official Tall Ships of the City of Los Angeles: Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson, The Twin Brigantines.

    In addition to onboard tours visitors will have the opportunity to sail on the Pacific Ocean aboard the Schooner Freda B, Schooner Curlew and several others. Each vessel will sail several times daily beginning Thursday, August 21.

    Loads of entertainment will pack the port with diverse musical styles and a few Tall Ships' sails will even be used creatively as gigantic movie screens during the festival.

    Education and children's activities will also play a large part of the evens. Cannon demonstrations, authentic privateer encampment, real sword fighting with live steel, knot tying, weapon demonstrations and sail training with real tall ship rigging round out the festival's learning opportunities.

    L.A.'s regional food trucks will be on hand and California wines will be available for tasting. For beer lovers, San Pedro Brewing Company will provide a menu featuring the region's best brewers.

    For more information and ticket prices visit http://www.tallshipsfestivalla.com.

    Editor's note: If you're planning to visit LA this summer, check out the Los Angeles listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links the sites of area wineries and craft beer specialists.

  • Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives


    Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

    Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

    Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

    As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

    Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

    The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

    As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

    What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

    St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

    Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

    Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

    Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

    Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

    Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

    The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

    Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at www.lodinative.com. If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

  • Searching for Bliss in the Afternoon

    Shigoku oysters Picmonkey

    by Dan Clarke

    Accepted dogma used to be that Muscadet, a crisp white wine from the Loire, was the go-to wine for oysters. There's no doubt that's a fine pairing, but the time is long past when the rest of the world meekly submitted to all opinions French. We produce some wonderful oysters here in the US and some excellent wines, as well.

    Twenty years ago Taylor Shellfish Farms began the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, which seeks to identify each year's ten best West Coast wines to accompany oysters. Making the list assures a winery will get placement in some of the country's best restaurants. Last Wednesday I joined 10 other food and wine professionals in the Club Room of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in San Francisco to help determine this year's winners. Similar panels were convened in Los Angeles and Seattle. This judging of wines was intriguing because it was different. We were not to judge the quality of the wines, at least not on their own. The exercise was to find which wines tasted best while eating oysters. Competition organizer Jon Rowley asked us not to sniff, taste or analyze each wine in any way before we had an oyster in our mouth. After chewing and savoring the flavor of the oyster for a bit, then we were to take a sip of wine. We were to be judging the merger of these two delights.

    Plated oysters and wine glasses Picmonkey

    We are seated at tables and far enough away from each other to discourage conversation. In front of each of us are 20 empty glasses and a plate of a dozen oysters. Each glass is identified by a letter and the wines will be poured in flights—five glasses each time. Since analyzing each wine requires consuming at least one oyster, each of us will be downing dozens of these mollusks. Fortunately, they are small. After all, we're supposed to be judges, not gluttons.

    Shigoku oysters are the standard by which we will be judging. They are new to most of us. In past years the oyster of choice for this annual competition was the more familiar Kumamoto. As Jon Rowley explains to us, the Kumamotos were of inconsistent quality in early April of this year, so the change has been made to the Shigokus. These are “tumbled” oysters. Grown in mesh bags in Washington's Willapa and Samish Bays, they tumble several times a day due the action of incoming and outgoing tides. Rather than growing outward, they grow deeper in these circumstances and develop deeper shells.

    Well over 100 wines were originally submitted to this year's competition. Preliminary judging winnowed that number to just the 20 wines we and the panelists in the other two cities will be rating in the finals. We know nothing about the identity of these wines we're about to judge, save for the fact that they all come from the West Coast. Servers begin pouring from bottles shrouded by silvery foil bags.

    So I try my first Shigoku, chewing it a bit before taking a sip of the wine lettered “A.” Not bad, but not the “bliss factor” that Jon Rowley says is part of a really great pairing. I repeat this action for each of the five wines in the first flight. Our charge is to report our favorite 10 wines from the 20 we'll be tasting this afternoon. Wine C has a long finish I like. D finishes shorter, but has a very clean flavor. These two make the cut. I like three wines from the second sequence of pourings, two of them especially. And so it goes, flight after flight. The task is more difficult than in past years, as most of the wines we're tasting seem quite similar. Yes, this is work, but I wonder how many of my friends in big offices would happily change places with me today.

    Twenty wines judged, we adjourn to the back of the room where we enjoy a beer and some light snacks and catch up with what's new in our respective worlds. Jon Rowley provides a key with the names of the lettered wines we've just tasted. No Chardonnays this year, but, as expected, Sauvignon Blancs dominate the field we'll be judging with 11 entries. Six Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris are represented and one each from the varieties Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Albarino. My own top three are the 2012 Pinot Grigio from Hogue, a Washington winery, the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc of St. Supery (Napa) and the 2012 Kenwood Pinot Gris (Sonoma). There seems to be some buzz among my colleagues about wine S, which turns out to be the Sebastiani 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. I liked it, too, rating it number five. Mostly, though, we talk about how our children are doing and how the Giants are off to a fast start in the National League. It's been a good afternoon, performing my role in an interesting exercise and getting a chance to reconnect with some folks I haven't seen in years. The Seattle panel will convene tomorrow and nobody will know the overall results of the contest until Monday.


    The Final 2014 “Oyster Award” Winners

    as Announced Monday, April 14

    Acrobat 2012 Pinot Gris (OR)

    Chateau Ste Michelle 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)

    Foris 2012 Pinot Blanc (OR)

    Geyser Peak 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)

    Kenwood 2012 Pinot Gris (CA)

    Kenwood 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)

    Lost River 2013 Pinot Gris (WA)

    Revolution Wines 2013 Chenin Blanc (CA)

    Sebastiani 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)

    Van Duzer 2013 Pinot Gris (OR)

  • April 11, 2014 Beer Pick of the Week

    Primator Dark Label bottle  Picmonkey

    Primator Dark Lager


    Pivovar Náchod

    Czech Republc

    Style: Dark lager

    Alcohol: 4.8%

    IBUs: Unknown

    Serving style: 500 ml bottle (about 17 ounces)

    Availability: Internationally, year-round


    Appearance:  "Dark, of course. Almost opaque, but hold it up to the light and you can see a deep brown with a reddish-copper hue. Cream-colored head of fine bubbles.”

    Aroma:  “Caramel-centered chocolates, toffee.”

    Taste:  “Fairly good carbonation gives a certain liveliness that does much to balance an overall creamy sweetness. Finishes somewhat sweet.”

    Food Affinity:  “Brie cheese and slices of liverwurst with pistachios and some thinly-sliced pumpernickel. Or, if one wanted to have a beer with dessert, this would work with a crème caramel, or maybe even butter brickle ice cream and a ginger snap.”

    mug of Dan  Picmonkey


    Reviewed by Dan Clarke