Blogging Live from Santa Rosa, CA

Well, here we are. A whole bunch of bloggers, usually glued to their screen, pretty much alone in their office (or kitchen, or television room), writing for people from often far away, are gathered for the weekend in Santa Rosa, at the heart of Sonoma. We’ll still be glued to our screens, but all together (and there are vineyard walks in the program, mind you…)

It’s time for the Wine Bloggers Conference, the first of its kind in North America, and only the second in the world, after the European Wine Bloggers Conference held late August in Spain. Both conferences have been exceeding expectations, if only in terms of attendance. Both got booked to capacity – and beyond.

Over 160 people are attending the conference at the Flamingo Resort, and a waiting list of dozens remained on the sidelines. Just to show how much steam the online wine world has been gathering.

The first official activity of the event is the Live Wine Blogging Event, where we’ll be tasting wines in a speed dating pattern and giving the results as we go. It’s starting right now, and I’ll update as we go and taste the stuff from different winemakers.

Bonterra

First off is Bonterra, with the McNabb Vineyard 2004 (60% merlot, 26% cabernet sauvignon, 14% petite syrah, 14.1%). 25 months in French oak. All from a single vineyard, farmed biodynamically. The petite syrah gives some tannin structure to the wine, which has nice red fruit character, good concentration and a good dose of wood. Works pretty well, overall. “Avoids fruitbombing”, comments Doug Cook from Ablegrape.

Bink

Bink 2005 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir in the Yorkville Highlands. Nice black cherry aromas, lovely color, not too extracted, toasted notes on the nose. Nice mouthfeel, tannins a little edgy, which a little more aging should calm down. Beautiful fruit, spicy elements, even a little violet. Very interesting. The vineyards are dry farmed, and you can feel it in the concentration and depth of the wine.

Clos La Chance

Third up, back to cabernet, with a 100% cabernet sauvignon, the 2005 Estate Cab. Round and rich, ripe flavors, lots of tannin on the finish showing a fair bit of wood. Blackberries and blackcurrant, spicy… Characteristic California cab, with a fair bit of heat showing through, but not going overboard. From the Santa Cruz area. Imported by Roucet in Quebec (the La Chance family is originally from Quebec, after a generation in Massachussetts, interestingly).

Sean Minor – Four Bears

Winemaker showcasing his credentials (including Beaulieu Vineyards). All the wines are priced under 20$ wines, including the 2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon being poured here. Very sweet, with something flowery, if not soapy on the nose. Alcohol feels a little hot (even though it clocks in at 13.5% – explains the residual sugar), color is relatively light. I’ve had more character, even at this price point.

Boho Vineyards – Bag-in-box

They’re selling the ecological advantage of bag-in-box strongly, up front. I’m all for the packaging, especially because it keeps well (they say six weeks. But we have to see what’s inside, don’t we. This is 2006 chardonnay from the central coast. Wondering if it’s not on the reductive side of things. A little butter on the nose. Lactic character, points out Doug. It’s not heavy, but it lacks fruit, in my opinion. For 6 bucks a bottle, I guess it’s OK, but I’m still searching for the really interesting bag-in-box.

James David Cellars

We’re getting something different here. A dry, barrel-fermented 2007 muscat from Paso Robles. Only 105 cases produced, minus one for this tasting. Very nice, characteristic muscat nose, with a little orange going on. Nice price point at 18$. The mouth feels just a little too creamy for my own personal taste, but it’s really dry, refreshing, aromatic. No malolactic fermentation, which preserves the acidity. Very nice job, overall, especially for a first vintage. I could drink this regularly.

(While we get a second’s break: Interesting to see the different approaches from wineries, some focusing on vines and winemaking, others spending more time on marketing issues).

Twisted Oak Winery

The Spaniard, 2006 Tempranillo blend (with graciano and garnacha) from a very original (and tall) winemaker from Calaveras County, in the Sierra Foothills, way inland. Orange peel and anise on the nose, nice garnet-ruby color, well-integrated wood and a little nutmeg (maybe – this is live, remember!). Mouthfeel is interesting, not rich, but intense, with edgy tannins. Challenging and different. Could almost be Spanish. I’d love to come back to it.

Dark Horse Winery

2006 Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley. The guy pouring (or rather, having us pour it ourselves…) says this is a wine for cowboys. Let’s see. The nose is compact, doesn’t give out much. Relatively sweet on the palate, nice zinfandel character with a little tar, good tannins. And we’re already off to the next one… (Retasted the wine left in the glass – black forest cake popped up on the nose).

Small Vines Wines

A 2006 pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast from this young winery, planted high-density and now farmed biodynamically. 150 cases produced. The winery produces a total of 525 cases. 14.5% alcohol in this pinot noir with an interesting nose. Spicy, red fruit, fair bit of oaky character. Garnet colored, not too dark. So far so good. Mouthfeel is a little tougher – wood is a bit too forward, an the heat from the alcohol shows through. Not all Sonoma Coast pinots feel like they’re from a cool climate…

Cupcake Vineyards – Underdog Wine Merchants

The cupcake is the guiding light for the winemaking, apparently. The nose on this 2007 Central Coast chardonnay is very much on the pastry – even the glazing. Peachy fruit and vanilla, hanging behind the glazing. Mouth is better, with a bit of mineral, some buttery elements… Dry, not too high on the alcohol (13.5%). Not fully convincing.

Kanzler

Sebastopol-based winery showing us a pre-release of a small (120 cases) 2007 pinot noir to be released in March 2009. This guy is going for long hang-time – which is really not my thing. Lots of sugar (it’s young, but still), even though the fruit is nice and focused. Rich style that will please some – I don’t find it unpleasant, despite my stylistic misgivings. Intense and aromatic, no doubt. Great and well-made, if you like that approach.

(We have a slight lull, which is welcome. This is a bit of a marathon, but more interesting than the 57-wines in a morning runs I’ve had sometimes. It’s certainly a question of first impressions. With some wines begging for a second impression.)

Lionheart Wines

2007 McGinley Vineyard Roussanne from Santa Barbara County, clocking in at 14,47% alcohol. Nice peachy, exotic aromas, with a touch of almonds. Nice mouthful, with decent acidity holding it together well. Little bitterness on the back end – from the maceration on the skins, says the winemaker. I like it. 10 months in French Oak. I’ve found many California Roussannes to go overboard, but this holds itself together well, and I think it could even age for a few years, like the best from the Rhône. Well-done.

Endnotes

Very interesting experience, though a bit haphazard. I believe we should have seen 14 wineries, but we only had 12. All that in less than 100 minutes. I’d do it again, though. Not much time to second-guess yourself.

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2 Comments

  1. Dave
    Posted December 7, 2008 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi – My wife and i would like to connect with club of wine enthusiasts in Santa Rosa. Do you know of any? We are about 50 yrs old and would like to explore wines in a social setting.
    thanks
    Dave

  2. winecase
    Posted December 7, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dave,

    I was actually in Santa Rosa only for the Conference at the Flamingo, so I don’t really know any wine clubs there.

    One suggestion is to connect with the Open Wine Consortium. There are over 2,300 members from the wine world, and a lot from California. If you post your query there, it’s likely that someone will be able to help you.

    Best,

    Rémy

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