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Wednesday, 01 November 2017 11:34

Nearly Back to Normal

By Dan Clarke

Three weeks ago fire broke out in the wine country of Northern California. It wasn’t just one fire, but several fires and unusually high winds spread them quickly.

Lake Co Relief Auction Action PicmonkeyAuctioneer Fritz Hatton leads bidding on the event's 10 live auction lots. Photo: Nathan DeHartTASTE News Service March 22, 2016 – Lake, Napa and surrounding county residents joined #LakeCountyRising to raise more than $150,000 at the Charity Wine Auction on Sunday at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA.

More than 100 guests gathered for the Charity Wine Auction, among whom were Linda Reiff of Napa Valley Vintners, Cyril Chappellet of Chappellet Winery, and Clay Shannon, owner of Shannon Ridge Family of Wines. Proceeds from Sunday’s auction were generated from the event’s 10 live auction lots, 20 silent auction lots, ticket sales, and donations from attending guests and supporters.

Friday, 29 January 2016 16:54

Legendary Grapegrowers Give Away Grapes

Beckstoffer Lake Co Vnyd PicmonkeyBeckstoffer Amber Knolls Vineyard

TASTE News Service, January 29, 2016 – The Beckstoffer name is synonymous with the highest quality vineyards in Northern California wine growing regions including Napa Valley, Mendocino County and the Red Hills of Lake County. It's the latter where Andy and David Beckstoffer will offer ten experienced or aspiring winemakers the opportunity to receive grapes, free of charge, from the 2016, 2017 and 2018 harvests from their vineyards in the Red Hills AVA.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 14:05

Valley Fire Causes Losses to Lake County

Shedhorn Cellars wines PicmonkeyWines of now-lost Shedhorn CellarsTASTE News Service September 15, 2015 – We are saddened by the terrible fire and losses in the Lake County community. Our thoughts go out to all who have lost so much in the Valley Fire. We are grateful for the brave work being done by firefighters and all other first responders to keep our residents safe, and for the tireless efforts of the hundreds of volunteers helping to assist those displaced by the fire.

Many in the Lake County wine industry have been impacted by this disaster, some both personally and professionally. Michael and Adawn Wood of Shed Horn Cellars lost their home and winery in the fire. In a statement from the Woods, they said, “We are saddened about the loss of our beautiful county and our many friends that have lost their homes. We are blessed with the outpouring of kindness and thoughts of our personal friends and friends in the industry. We do have inventory in the warehouse to keep our orders filled and our tasting room stocked.”

Sunday, 07 June 2015 14:34

June 5, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Bodkin Cuvee Agincourt Picmonkey

Cuvée Agincourt (N/V)

 Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc


Bodkin Wines

North Coast

Alcohol: 11.5%

Suggested Retail: $23


“The thought of a sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes was intriguing. Your reviewer had never tasted one. Never even heard of one ‘til recently. Apparently, they’re not unknown in Australia and New Zealand, where winemaker Chris Christensen found inspiration to create such a wine in California. To our knowledge, Bodkin Wines’ Cuvée Agincourt is the only such wine made in America.

“In years past, almost any wine with bubbles was labeled ‘Champagne.’ However, most wineries outside France now eschew using the name ‘Champagne’ on their effervescent wines, not wanting to unfairly appropriate a place name for a similar product (which would be kind of like a winery in some other country producing a Cabernet Sauvignon and calling it ‘Napa Valley’). However, emulating the style of winemaking in the Champagne region of France isn’t a bad way to go if you want to produce a quality sparkler. Such style would include using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and—to a lesser extent—Pinot Meuneir, the traditional grapes of Champagne. California is turning out ever better efforts in this methode traditionelle.

“But who’s to say that’s the only way to make a good-tasting sparkling wine? Unfettered by tradition and regulation of their Gallic counterparts, California winemakers have always been innovative. Cuvée Agincourt is made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from Lake County and the Russian River area of Sonoma County. When first tasted, it was not clearly recognizable as Sauvignon Blanc, yet it wasn’t quite like Champagne or California sparklers either. There was that yeasty, toasty aspect reminiscent of Champagne (the French stuff), but predominant aromas and flavor came across to us in a more citrusy personality. The mid-palate was fairly rich and showed a roundness in the mouth. The wine finished dry and lingered a bit. Unsure about the whole idea when we first popped the cork, we warmed to this unique wine as we got used to a taste and style new to us. It’s an interesting concept, one we suspect will encourage similar experimentation by other California wineries.

“As the wine itself is intriguing, so is the story behind it. The name Bodkin, the Battle of Agincourt and the winery’s motto all tie together, but it’s too involved to get into here. We suggest you check out the winery website--or your books on European history and a copy of William Shakespeare’s Henry V.”

Food Affinity: “We enjoyed Cuvée Agincourt with grilled chicken breasts that had been marinated in lime juice, Tequila and cilantro. You might try this wine with brunch-time egg dishes or smoked salmon.

Shannon Ridge sheep and dog PicmonkeySheep graze in the early winter vineyard

TASTE News Service October 14, 2014 - Taverna Sofia in Healdsburg, California has won the gold medal in the annual 2014 Sonoma County Harvest Fair Restaurant Competition for Best Entrée, serving Shannon Ranch lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce.

"I think it is great," says Clay Shannon, owner of Shannon Ridge Family of Wines and Shannon Ranch. "Not many ranchers can say that their employees taste so good that they win gold medals!"

Shannon Ridge Family of Wines has a unique workforce. This Lake County operation is the largest scale vineyard in the United States using domestic sheep to weed, mow, sucker, and fertilize their vineyards. Shannon coined the term "Ovis Cycle" to describe this practice. "Ovis" is the Latin word for sheep. They herd 1,000+ head of sheep into 800+ acres of vineyards. Shannon Ranch lambs are raised hormone-and antibiotic-free. The lamb is vineyard-grazed and never corn-or feed-lot fed. The wool is sold for use in textiles and knitting.

"Sustainability has become a buzz-word," says Shannon, "but the Ovis Cycle is truly sustainable because, in the end, the sheep are providing us with food and wool. We also eliminate the need for pesticides and herbicides in our vineyards. I know that when our lamb is served at a restaurant that we are truly partners in a sustainable future. "

As part of the "Ovis Cycle," Shannon Ranch sells 1,400 grass-fed lambs each year to some of the top restaurants around the country, including numerous restaurants in California, such as Farmstead and Press in St. Helena, Bottega in Yountville, and Taverna Sofia in Healdsburg.

About Shannon Ridge Since 2002, Shannon Ridge Family of Wines has been making a variety of wines from their sustainably farmed vineyards in Lake County. The Shannon family is committed to preserving their land, not only for the great vineyard sites but also for the bear, elk, mountain lions, eagles and other creatures which live there. Of their approximately 2,300 acres, only about 800 acres have been converted to vineyards. The balance of the land has been preserved for the wildlife which wanders through the property.

Editor's note: If you're thinking of visiting the emerging wine country of Lake County, check out the Resource Directory of Taste California Travel. In the North Coast section you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to Lodging and Dining options. There's even a section of links to craft beer purveyors.

Saturday, 02 November 2013 12:14

November 1, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Rosa dOro Primitivo bottle Picmonkey

2011 Primitivo


Producer: Rosa d'Oro Vineyards

Appellation: Lake County

Alcohol: 14.4%

Suggested retail: $24


“Here's another grape variety native to southern Italy, but as grown in Lake County by Rosa d'Oro. Primitivo is either identical or not-quite-identical to Zinfandel, depending on how technical you want to get. For our tastes, this Primitivo is an appealing wine, evocative of good California Zinfandels of 20-30 years ago (before too many of them became 'fruit bombs').

“Aromas of dried flowers and a little lavender. The flavor shows bright fruit—raspberries, against a background of ground black pepper. There is just a touch of sweetness on the finish, but overall we find this a sprightly wine that will reward the Zin fan who might appreciate nuance and subtlety.”

Food Affinity: “A slab of Grana Padano cheese, spaghetti puttanesca, or just the simplicity of a good burger grilled to medium-rare.” 

Sunday, 27 October 2013 15:43

October 25, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Sagrantino bottle shot Picmonkey

 2010 Sagrantino


Producer: Rosa d'Oro Vineyards

Appellation: Tracy Hills

Alcohol: 14.4%

Suggested Retail: $24


“Sagrantino is a grape variety native to the area near Montefalco in Umbria. It isn't widely planted in Italy and is truly obscure in California. This week's 'Pick' is from Rosa d'Oro Vineyards, which does produce other varieties, but seems to specialize in Italian themes (they also make wines of Sangiovese, Aglianico, Montepulciano and Primitivo grapes). Though Rosa d'Oro is located in Kelseyville (Lake County), their Sagrantino grapes come from the Oso Vista Vineyards in California's Tracy Hills appellation.

“We confess to limited familiarity with the dark and tannic Sagrantino di Montefalco wines, but find this California treatment of the variety to be lively and appealing. Its color is actually fairly light compared to the inky blackness of its Italian cousin. The nose shows aromas of strawberries and stewed dark fruit. The richness of crushed blackberries comes through on first taste. The wine seems 'jammy,' but without the sweetness and viscosity that too often accompany this descriptor. In the background is a dusty or peppery quality that gives an intriguing complexity. The 'pepperiness' isn't hot or like cracked black pepper, but is more subtle as with finely ground black pepper of even white pepper. It's a quality akin to the fabled “Rutherford Dust” common to Cabernet Sauvignon grown in that part of the Napa Valley.”

Food Affinity: “We think the Sagrantino would accompany many dishes which include the acidity of tomatoes, so many southern Italian dishes would work. However, there's a certain feral quality to this wine and more exotic fare might be a treat. Roast pork—wild boar if you have access to it—and many dishes with truffles would pair well if you're privileged to have any on hand this season." 

Chef Sophie Uong of Pican Rest PicmonkeyChef Uong plates the lamb riblets.Lake County, CA – Shannon Ranch natural grass-fed lamb received the People's Choice Award at the American Lamb Board's 4th Annual San Francisco Lamb Jam, held at the Golden Gate Club. Chef Sophie Uong of Pican Restaurant in Oakland created the winning dish of Smoked Lamb Breast with Collard Greens and Lamb Riblets, featuring Shannon Ranch natural grass-fed lamb. "The lamb from Lake County's Shannon Ranch is simply stellar," said Chef Sophie. "The lamb is consistent in size, flavor and is absolutely delicious."Shannon Ridge Family of Wines currently runs about 1,100 head of breeding ewes in the vineyards. Each season, approximately 1,500 lambs are born on the property and begin life with a natural diet of mother's milk and grass. As they grow, they enter the vineyards and graze on grape shoots, clover and other grasses and herbs. As a result, the meat is naturally lean, tender and extremely flavorful. It is also sustainably and humanely raised without any hormones or antibiotics.Lamb Riblets PicmonkeyLamb riblets as presented.Grass-fed lamb is recommended by the American Heart Association as part of a heart-healthy diet. Research shows it is lower in calories and contains larger amounts of vitamin E, beta-carotene and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Shannon Ranch grass-fed lamb is available locally in farm-to-table, artisan restaurants, at the tasting room, and on the Shannon Ridge website.About Shannon Ridge Family of WinesThe Shannons are committed to preserving their land, not only for the great vineyard sites but also for the bear, elk, mountain lions, eagles and other creatures which live there. Of their approximately 1,850 acres, only about 35% have been converted to vineyards. The balance of the land has been preserved for the wildlife which wanders through the property from the expansive wilderness areas adjoining the ranches. The vineyards were carefully planned out, leaving corridors open to migrating animals and protecting sensitive nesting areas.

Saturday, 08 June 2013 22:49

Tasting in Classic Circumstances

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes I have to work on the weekends. Sometimes this is not such a bad thing.

Editing a publication that covers both wines and cars, I couldn't pass up Wine, Tunes & Classics. The wineries of Lake County had put together this event, which was to be held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento. The museum is open year-round and has a fine permanent collection of cars. They also feature rotating exhibits and on this day they were to be celebrating the opening of Elegance in Motion: Cars of the Golden Age. Lake County wineries would be pouring. There would be some food and a live band, too. I had not visited a vineyard or winery in Lake County in a couple of years and it had been even longer since I'd been to the museum. It was time.Cad V16 nose iewCadillac elegance on a massive scale.

Entering the museum I hear music coming from an adjacent room. The band isn't playing the music of the age of elegance defined by the automobiles featured, but it s playing music I remember—tunes from the 50s and 60s. Happy music.

Winery pouring tables are arrayed against the walls of the main hall around the centerpiece exhibit, the roped-off display of these gorgeous cars that were joining the museum's ongoing collection through October 13th. When I get to the rope I am nose-to-nose with a Cadillac. It is a blue four-door convertible, a 1939 model, I think. It seems as big as a float in the Rose Parade. Years earlier when I acquired a pre-owned Coupe de Ville with a 500-cubic inch V8 engine, I thought I was really styling. This blue beauty is a V16 and way cooler.

Pierce Arrow front PicmonkeyArcher on radiator cap and headlamps springing from fenders are distinctive Pierce Arrow features.Inside the ropes there are other examples of this Golden Age of motoring, many whose names might be unfamiliar these days: Stutz, Deusenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Cord, Auburn, La Salle, Pierce Arrow, Packard—they might not be in motion, but they are undeniably elegant.

Driving down to this event I was thinking about Lake County. My first awareness of the wines was probably the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay that made such a spectacular debut 30 years ago. In those days the winery was in Lakeport. K-J has since become hugely successful, moved to Sonoma County and now sources grapes from all over the state. A few years later I was attending a dinner at the Buena Vista . Their Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful. Winemaker Jill Davis said that the grapes came not from the winery's own estate in Sonoma, but from Lake County. The wine had a purer expression of fruit than I had ever experienced with this variety. So I began paying more attention to Lake County.

When compared to the wine experience in neighboring Napa and Sonoma, Lake County has always been sort of a stepchild. It doesn't have the cachet of these regions, but important things are going on there. If those bent on making a lifestyle statements aren't developing vineyards and wineries in Lake County, savvy professionals in the wine business are.

I thought of Lake County people I had met over the years. I knew that some, like the late Bob Romougiere, wouldn't be in attendance. Orville and Karen McGoon had sold their Guenoc property a few years ago and presumably were living in happy retirement. The Holdenreids of Wildhurst Winery were among the first Lake County vintners I had met years ago. Might they be here? How about Jerry Brassfield and Kaj Ahlmann? They own neighboring properties (Brassfield Estates and Six Sigma) and Don Neal, another writer, and I had enjoyed an overhead tour of their vineyards in Jerry's helicopter a few years ago. As it turns out, many of the people in my Lake County memories aren't at this tasting. But most are still alive, at least, and still in the wine business. If I won't be renewing old acquaintances, I'll enjoy making new ones.

I see a name I recognize, if not a face. The sign says Rosa d'Oro Vineyards and I remember that they had sent wine samples for review a few years ago. The recollection is less than vivid, but I'm pretty sure that I liked their wines. I meet owner Nick Buttitta, who is pouring several of his wines, one of which is a Barbera, a variety that appeals to both of us. After some talk about farming and food-friendly wines, we realize that we'll both be at the upcoming Barbera Festival in Amador County and decide to continue our conversation there.

Jed Steele is likely the longest-serving and best-known Lake County winemaker. One of the bottles on the table under the sign reading Steele Wines is a Zinfandel labeled “Writer's Block.” Of course I want to know more, but Jed isn't here and the women pouring, while very attractive, are considerably less knowledgeable than he is. The wine is tasty, but since it takes me two weeks to begin this article, a sip of Writer's Block doesn't appear to be an antidote for the condition.

At the Alienor table I meet owners Bonnie and David Weiss. David explains that they are involved primarily in the grape farming part of the operation. They are pouring a nice Sauvignon Blanc and their 2008 Grand Vin, an excellent proprietary blend, which seems very right bankish to me. Bonnie seems pleased that I have noticed and says that it is mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc and that a St. Emilion style is the intention of the winemaker.Tasters at Obsidian Ridge tableTasters get perspective from Clark Smith of Diamond Ridge.

In the two to three hours available to me I try to hit every one of the 19 winery tables. This would be difficult enough to accomplish, even without the distractions of the band and all those beautiful cars. As I appear in front of one table, the pourer and I do double takes, both thinking something like, “Don't I know you?” We share similar handles, his a first name and mine a surname. Clark Smith is a triple-threat performer in the wine game—a winemaker, an adjunct professor and an author (his Postmodern Winemaking is being published this summer) . We talk about the Diamond Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc and the composition of the 2008 “Aspects” he is pouring and the advantages of Lake County vineyards. He's damned knowledgeable about the winemaking process and often looks at issues in ways that fascinate me, yet seem to be just slightly beyond my ability to fully understand. Sometimes I feel that if I have one more glass of wine, I'll get it. On the other hand, maybe one less would clear the path to my enlightenment.

At another table I make the acquaintance of Bill Brunetti, and though he doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the winery for which he is pouring, he really knows about vineyards and wineries in the area and knows most of the people I mention having met from earlier visits. Turns out he is a Member of the Board of the Lake County Wine Grape Commission.

Couple Tasting by DeusenbergEven if it's not Jay and Daisy, the Deusenberg sets a Gatsbyesque toneBullion Creek Vineyards is another operation unfamiliar to me, but at their table I meet proprietor Richard Brand. He and his wife Gail grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the north side of Mount St. Helena in the Middletown area. He pours me a taste of their estate-bottled Cab and we spend some time discussing grape growing. Since his property is in the southern part of the county and not too far from Guenoc, I ask if he knew Orville and Karen, the former owners. He did and says to the best of his knowledge they are fully retired and living in Hawaii. Richard concurs when I say they were nice people. He tells me that in addition to their public involvement in ways civic and philanthropic, Orville contributed anonymously to many families in the area when they were in need.

Part of me thinks it would be just fine to stick around. The winery folks are convivial people and the tasters are becoming ever more so as the afternoon moves into evening. The band still sounds good. The finger food served to pair with some of the wines has been excellent and there may yet be some more of it. A few of the docents from the museum are here and could answer my questions about the cars. But timing an exit can be tricky business. I decide to leave on a high note and know that I'll return to both the California Automobile Museum and to the wine country of Lake County.

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