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Chardonnay Reigns on Kumeu River

Kumea River Chardonnay Reigns on Kumeu River We began our New Zealand adventure in Auckland, staying at the Hilton Auckland, sitting right on the wharf where, of all things, Princess Cruises’ ships dock. (The ship, when docked, was less than half of a football field from the balcony of our

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New Zealand’s King of Pinot, Tim Bourne

The name is Bourne. (No, not Jason Bourne.) It’s Tim Bourne of New Zealand’s Escarpment Winery on the North Island in Martinborough.  Winemaker Tim Bourne Terry and I recently returned from an exciting trip to New Zealand. We took advantage of some great fares from Delta for an unplanned adventure.

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Women Finding Success in Wine

In my last column, I extoled the virtues that Barbara Widmer, winemaker, brings to the Tuscan classic, Brancaia. She’s taken a family venture and morphed it into a world-class winery. Following up on that theme, today we will explore what three more women are bringing to wine culture. Stories about

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Tasting Brancaia’s Wines

Brancaia Wines Italy Now that you’ve been properly introduced to Brancaia and its winemaker, Barbara Widmer, let’s talk about their wines. Giuditta, our delightful hostess whom I mentioned in my first column, provided us with a masterful presentation of nine of Brancaia’s offerings. We started with the 2022 rosé (100%

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The Delectable Wines of Casanova di Neri

The delectable wines of Casanova di Neri Italy I promised in my last column to tell you about our experience sampling the wines from Casanova di Neri. Well, to get quickly to the point, they were phenomenal. They were so awesome that my brother, Ward, who doesn’t like wine and

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Casanova di Neri History and Operations

Gianlorenzo Neri met us at his family’s Montalcino winery (Casanova di Neri) on a beautiful June morning in the heart of Tuscany. Now Tuscany is everything that you’ve read and seen, only better because you are actually there. The rolling hillsides, the grapes ripening on the vine, quaint towns hundreds

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Italy, Brunello and Casanova di Neri

Italy, Brunello and Casanova di Neri Wineries and winemakers amaze me. They work from late-fall pruning their vines to early-spring thinning leaves and from late-summer to mid- or late-October harvesting their crops. And this is just the work in the vineyard itself. The work inside the winery continues year-round. Those

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Our Italian Sojourn, Part 2

Our Italian Sojourn, Part 2 As I opined in my last column, don’t go to Florence in June, July, or August if you can go any other time. I had been before in December, and it was magnificent. Florence has so much to offer, from Michelangelo’s “David,” to its awe-inspiring

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Our Italian Sojourn, Part 1

Our Italian Sojourn, Part 1 So, we’ve just returned from a sometimes enchanting and sometimes frustrating tour of Italy. We began our journey in Milan. Our first objective was to get a 15-minute visit with Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” an exquisite work that challenges the finest preservationists to

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Fulldraw: A Paso up-and-comer

Fulldraw A Paso up-and-comer Following a grand day at Epoch, the Hansens, Terry, and I went to Fulldraw Vineyard, likely not a winery you know since it only makes 1,500 cases annually, a minuscule production — in comparison, Booker, its next-door neighbor, does an estimated 45,000 cases each year. But

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Epoch’s Wines in its Tasting Room

After Jordan Fiorentini’s intriguing and intoxicating tour of the inner workings of Epoch, Terry, Pat, Jim, and I retired to Epoch’s welcoming tasting room, where we were plied with seven offerings, mostly new releases, with a couple of older vintages so that we can see how Jordan’s wines matured Tasting

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A Tour of Epoch’s Inner Sanctum

Over the years, Terry and I have been blessed by several wineries who have responded enthusiastically to our requests to host a tasting for the Santa Clarita Valley Boys and Girls Club. These have been so successful and the wineries so generous that the tastings cumulatively have raised over $300,000

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Inside the World of Pinot Noir

Inside the World of Pinot Noir If you’ve been reading my columns for very long, then you know that I am a big fan of wine festivals and fairs They are a wonderful opportunity to sample dozens if not hundreds of bottles (although hundreds may be pushing it — not

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Hospice du Rhone, From the French Perspective

Many wine tasting events say that there will be “wineries from around the world pouring.” Often, that translates into one or two importers offering samples from a few minor wineries. Not so Hospice du Rhone. The French luminaries included Château de Beaucastel, Chateau Juvenal, Château Pesquié, Chene Bleu, Domaine la Barroche,

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Hospice du Rhone: An Embarrassment of Riches

If you’re new to wine or just want to see several producers all at once and not have to buy dozens of bottles, then I prescribe you going to a wine festival. There are several different types. For instance, coming in early March annually is the World of Pinot Noir

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A Look at Roar’s Burgundian Wine

A look at Roar’s Burgundian wine This is my second column based on my meeting with Nick and Adam Franscioni during Hospice du Rhone. A word on that outstanding event If you enjoy any of the Rhone wines (e.g., syrah, grenache, viognier, etc.), then you need to make the 2023

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ROAR Wines and the Santa Lucia Highlands

ROAR Wines and the Santa Lucia Highlands In western Monterey County, the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA sits about an hour and a half south of San Jose. Naturally (as the name would suggest), this AVA is in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, nestled between those mountains and Highway

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Lee and Chavez Ruminate on The Future of Wine

Lee and Chavez ruminate on the future of wine  As you will recall from my last column about Adam Lee, I met up with Adam and his general manager for Clarice, Morét Brealynn Chavez, at World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara in early March.  Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok (and,

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The Irrepressible and Indefatigable Adam Lee

Adam Lee, founder and former owner of Siduri Winery, is not an imposing figure. But he makes new friends and maintains his sizeable contingent of old ones with his infectious (and often self-deprecating) sense of humor and genuine willingness to help out however he can. That’s how he gained his

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Alban’s Wine Philosophy and the Winery’s Future

Alban’s Wine Philosophy and the Winery’s Future John Alban and I concluded my extended visit at his winery in Arroyo Grande delving into topics suggested by Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch’s acclaimed winemaker.   Initially, John was certain that Jordan wanted me to investigate his strong “bromance” for Jordan’s husband, Manu. (He

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John Alban – California’s Rhone Godfather Part II

John Alban – California’s Rhone Godfather Part II As a prelude to attending Hospice du Rhone, John Alban invited me to visit him at his vineyard in Arroyo Grande. Now, John’s proud of many things, like his family, his vineyard (located where no one thought it could succeed), and his

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John Alban – California’s Rhone Godfather

John Alban – California’s Rhone Godfather You talk to any successful Rhone wine producer in California, and they all reference John Alban as a major influence. Justin Smith, owner and winemaker at Saxum, credits John for coming to the Saxum vineyard in the 1980s and convincing Justin’s father to plant

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How David Hejl of Domaine Della Became a Winemaker

How David Hejl of Domaine Della Became a Winemaker Last month in Santa Barbara at World of Pinot Noir, I met up with David Hejl, whose pinots feature what Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate describes as “wonderfully ripe, spicy red fruit.”  From a family of 11 brothers and sisters, David took

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The Drama that is Daou Vineyards

The Drama that is Daou Vineyards Perched at 2,200 feet Daou Vineyards sits perched at 2,200 feet in such an ideal location that it is rumored that the local eagles go there to get a bird’s eye view. You need to visit Daou not just for its wine but also

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Pisoni’s Vision for Vineyard Management

Pisoni’s Vision for Vineyard Management Back in August, after visiting with Justin Smith at Saxum, Scott Hawley at Torrin, and the staff at Daou (which will be the subject of my next column), and indulging in the unique dining experience offered by Ian Adamo at Somm’s in Paso Robles, Terry

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The Conclusion to a Memorable Meal in Paso Robles

Second half to our lunch at Somm’s Kitchen in Paso Robles: Remember that this is an intimate dining experience, just 14 guests in total. Somm’s Kitchen Paso Robles And while you may scoff at coughing up $150/person for a meal prepared by someone who denies being a chef, Ian Adamo

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Tasty Food and Wine at Somm’s Kitchen

TASTY FOOD AND OUTSTANDING WINE IN PASO ROBLES So, for $125 to $200/person (occasionally higher), you and your companion join 12 other folks for a lunch or dinner at a nondescript location on a busy street in Paso Robles for a meal prepared by someone who denies being a professional chef.  At first

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Tasting Torrin and Lagom with Scott Hawley

Following up on our August visit at Torrin Winery with owner Scott Hawley and David Newell, his director of sales and hospitality: Despite its virtual cult reputation, Torrin and its sister label, Lagom, produce a minuscule 3,000 cases annually.  So, it’s gained its status not by flooding the market but by the quality of its

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How Scott Hawley Has Evolved into a Celebrated Winemaker

On Aug. 6, Terry and I had the excellent opportunity to sit with Scott Hawley of both Torrin and Lagom Wineries, along with David Newell, his director of sales and hospitality. Winemaker Scott Hawley In a few short years, Scott has gained wide acclaim for his Rhone and Burgundy creations.  Jeb Dunnuck, formerly one of Robert

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The Family and Wines of Saxum’s Justin Smith

The Family and Wines of Saxum’s Justin Smith Justin Smith, Saxum’s proprietor and wildly successful winemaker, is, first and foremost, a family man.  This comes across in so many ways.   For instance, his dad’s mother’s maiden name is Stone. This inspired him to call his winery, Saxum, which is Latin

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Tales of Sampling a Cult Wine, Saxum No. 2

Tales of Sampling a Cult Wine, Saxum No. 2 So, yeah, we spent some time with Justin Smith (of Saxum) and drank some of his wine. We’ll discuss what we did when we left Saxum in a later column. End of story?  NO, not hardly. In my last column I talked about what

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Justin Smith & Saxum

Justin Smith & Saxum There are arguably three Kings of Rhone varietals in the New World (which essentially means every place but France). All three reside and make their wines in California. They are (and I know that my selection will be severely challenged by others), alphabetically, John Alban of

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Epoch in the time of a pandemic

As some of you may remember, I’ve written three times about Epoch Winery and its esteemed winemaker, Jordan Fiorentini. So, once more into the breach. In August 2020, my wife, Terry, and I met up with one of my sisters, June, to be specific, at Epoch in an effort to

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David Phinney and His Next Act

So, you’ve sold two of your wine labels for a reported $40 million at a wizened old age of 37. Next? Enjoy life, raise your kids, travel?  If you’re Dave Phinney, the answer is a big, “NO WAY!”  In 2010, Phinney sold two labels (The Prisoner, an otherworldly zinfandel blended with other grapes that aren’t

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Playboy, Cattle and Wine

This is the story of how a rancher became one of the preeminent wine merchants in California. Wine Merchant Clyde Beffa Clyde Beffa (pronounced Bef faw) owes his wine celebrity to Playboy magazine.  While on his honeymoon in 1971, Clyde’s wife, Kay, was reading “Love Story” on the plane, so, naturally, Clyde turned to

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Anthony Yount and Denner

Growing up in the wine capital of the world — St. Louis — Anthony Yount realized at a young age that he wanted to make wine his life because, “It’s a great way to meet girls!” Well, wife Hillary, and two kids later, he’s succeeded in meeting girls (one very

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Reminiscing About Some Fine Days With Wine

COVID-19 sucks, big time! I sorely miss dining indoors, hugging my friends, going wine tasting, and just generally being normal.  I try to quell my anxiety by remembering what life used to be like.  What follows is a memory of how glorious life can be and what we can pray will be

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Mark Pisoni is Carrying on a Pinot Tradition

Yes, it’s been a while. This whole pandemic has significantly impacted wine tourism while having minimal effect on the wine industry otherwise. This column is about the last interview I had at a wine event almost a year ago.  Hopefully, with things improving, we’ll get back to more wine events and tastings. Meanwhile, here’s a

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Don Schroeder and Sea Smoke — A Pinot Discussion

Ah, Sea Smoke, that most evocative of winery names. It conjures up images of ocean breezes, coastal morning dew, and the fires for toasting the barrels. And, it has a reputation to go with its famous name. Started in 1999, with almost 110 acres in Santa Barbara County, its wine

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Meet James Hall, Pinot Master Craftsman

Ah, before the days and ravages of COVID-19 Back when you could gather hundreds or even thousands of folks (WITHOUT MASKS!! — can you believe it?), standing than 6 feet apart and actually pushing and shoving, all without a worry about contracting a potentially fatal disease. That’s what wine tastings

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The World of Pinot Noir

Rebecca Work is the owner of Ampelos Wines. There were two estates or winemakers that stood out for me: Ampelos (who also does much of the work in creating GoGi wines, Kurt Russell’s winery) and Blue Farms from Sonoma As they say in their web site, “​In 1999 we purchased

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Epoch’s Epic Wine-tasting for the Boys & Girls Club

Epoch’s Epic Wine-tasting for the Boys & Girls Club If you missed Epoch’s spectacular wine tasting at Salt Creek Grille, then you missed an epic event. Fabulous wine, delicious food and strong community support for an important local resource for the Santa Clarita Valley’s youth, namely the Boys & Girls

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The Test — Does Bordeaux Age Gracefully?

The Bordeaux region, a lovely area of southwest France, boasts annual wine production of 700 million bottles over an area of almost 300,000 acres. Bordeaux wines run the gamut of some of the most expensive (Wally’s in West Los Angeles offers a bottle of 2009 Ch. Petrus for $5,000, that’s

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Wines From Parker’s Napa

Following up on my last column about the Wine Advocate’s Matter of Taste held in Napa, let’s talk about some of the amazing wines poured. The Debate Winery offered three takes on cabernet franc (not often a highlight at a tasting) from three prestigious vineyards from three acclaimed AVAs (American

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Matter of Taste Held in Napa

Following up on my last column about the Wine Advocate’s Matter of Taste held in Napa Let’s talk about some of the amazing wines poured. Wine Advocate Matter of Taste The Debate Winery offered three takes on cabernet franc (not often a highlight at a tasting) from three prestigious vineyards

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The Wine Tasting of a Lifetime

For my 50th birthday (which was ___ years ago), my loving sister, Becky, gave Terry and I tickets to Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour, held that year in Los Angeles. Now, we’d never been to a major wine tasting event before. As we walked into the ballroom at the Century Plaza

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Booker – Its Wine And Its Story

So, how is the “Force of Nature,” Eric Jensen of Paso Robles’ Booker Wines, at making wines? Well, if you’re to believe what other wine critics say about him, not too shabby. Robert Parker wrote about Booker in 2008, “The red wines are nearly off the chart in terms of

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A Force Of Nature — Paso’s Eric Jensen

Some winemakers I interview are introverted or so focused on the viticulture or oenology that they can’t reach far beyond that in polite social conversation. Well, I’m here to tell you, that ain’t Eric Jensen of Booker Wines. Nope, don’t go to a tasting with Eric anticipating a leisurely exploration

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France’s Loss Is The United States’ Gain

You must pity Guillaume Fabre of Paso Robles’ acclaimed Clos Solene. His obvious handicaps might hamper his rise in the competitive wine industry. After all, he’s merely fluent in three languages, has a lengthy heritage of French winemakers in his family, is charming as a snake, and is so handsome

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Epoch Part 2: The Vino

While we were being charmed by Jordan Fiorentini of Paso Robles’ Epoch Estate Wines, she also plied us with her bottled creations. And, yes, they definitely influenced our impressions. Like many wineries in the Paso region, Rhone varietals predominate the production. Syrah, grenache and mourvedre for the reds; grenache blanc,

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Epoch’s Creative Genius

For the Fourth of July weekend, Terry and I went to Paso Robles to visit family and to meet and taste with three of the most highly acclaimed winemakers from the Paso American Viticultural Area, Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines, Eric Jensen of Booker Wines and Guillaume Fabre of

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Eliot Ness Sure Left Us A Mess

Carl Kanowsky Eliot Ness sure left us a mess. Both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner portrayed Eliot Ness, the epitome of the federal agent from the “Prohibition era.”  Ness famously battled gangster Al Capone in an effort to shut down Capone’s racketeering and bootlegging operations. Bootlegging, of course, refers to

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The Tasty Offerings Of The 7% Solution

You know how I am always exhorting you to get over to a well-organized and diverse wine-tasting to further the education of your palate, to break out of the rut of always having a Kendall-Jackson chardonnay — simply, to try something new? Well, we just came from such an event.

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Tasting And Drinking At Wine On The Roof … Or Inside A Store

From left, Amy Daniels, Executive Director, WiSH Education Foundation, Co-Host Marlee Lauffer, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation, Eve Bushman, Event Creator and Co-Host and Steve Lemley of Pulchella Winery toast the Wine on the Roof…Dine on the Roof event presented by The WiSH Education Foundation and held at the Westfield

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Experiencing Loire Valley Wines

April 11 marked my first somewhat intensive sampling of wine from the Loire Valley. You remember my last column — about the fact that I toured the Loire Valley years ago — focused on castles and not the world-class grape varietals that have made that area famous, along with the

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The 2016 Bordeaux UGC Wine Tasting

I’ve told you before how much I respect the operation at K & L Wines, the retailer from the Bay Area that opened a Hollywood branch quite a while ago. We’ve enjoyed great tastings there, especially the Champagne extravaganza they host annually. In addition to their yearly events, K &

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Santa Barbara Beckons Angelenos

Santa Barbara Beckons Angelenos So, this is the third in my series of, “why would you live anywhere else?” The first featured Rideau, the historic home of a guest ranch serving weary stagecoach travelers near Solvang. Now, it’s where a transplanted French-Canadian man gambles that his love of Rhone grapes

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New But Experienced Sonoma Wine

I was talking to Adam Lee (you know, the transplanted Texan who makes those yummy Pinots), discussing an upcoming trip to Sonoma. I asked him if he could recommend any new wineries to visit. Without a pause, “You’ve gotta see Jake Bilbro at Limerick Lane.” Adam provided an introduction, and

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