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08.24.2005

California's Best Artisan Wines: A Report From Family Winemakers' 2005

family_winemakers_05.jpgMy teeth hurt every time I brush, but I don't expect any sympathy from anyone for spending 5 hours on Monday tasting through more than 200 wines at the Family Winemakers 2005 Tasting here in San Francisco. Family Winemakers is a marketing association dedicated to promoting wines made by small and family run wineries throughout the state. Each year they hold what ends up being the largest tasting of California wines anywhere in the world. Because of their focus on family producers, this also ends up being a collection of often the best of what California has to offer. Only the most cynical and eccentric of my wine tasting and wine making friends can walk away from this tasting without raving about something.

The tasting is huge. Did I mention that? Really, really, really big. 350ish wineries pouring between 2 and 8 wines apiece makes for a LOT of wine to taste.

This year, my rhythm must have been off or something, but I got way behind in my tasting. I looked down at my watch to see that there were only 2 hours left and I was just about a third of the way through the list of wineries I wanted to visit, and had to cover as many as possible in a dead "sprint" of tasting for the last couple of hours. Consequently, I also plum forgot to take any pictures of the event.

I think next year I'm going to have to break down and split my tasting over the two days of the event, rather than try to get it all done in one 5 hour stretch.

I had some tremendous wines this year. The 2003 vintage seems to have been kind to many vintners up and down California and there are fabulous wines to be had at all price points. I also think I detect a bit of a backing off the tendency towards really heavy, fruity extraction that marked many wines in 2002 and 2001. Perhaps this is just wishful thinking on my part, however. Regardless, there are literally hundreds of wines I found myself wanting to add to my cellar. Hopefully you'll find a few of these interesting yourself.

I've omitted most of the wines that scored below an 8.5.

WHITE WINES
2004 Saxon-Brown Semillon, Sonoma. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $20.

2003 Tandem "Ritchie Vineyard" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $42.
2004 Lewis Chardonnay, Sonoma. Score: 9.5. Cost: $40.
2003 Paul Hobbs "Richard Dinner" Chardonnay. Score: 9.5. Cost: $55.
2004 Vinum Cellars "Vio" Viognier, Pinnacles. Score: 9.5. Cost: $25.

2003 Tandem "Sangiacomo Vineyard" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2004 Vision Cellars "White Wine." Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $18.
2004 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Chardonnay. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $23.
2003 Ramey Chardonnay, Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Ramey Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Mount Eden Chardonnay, Edna Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $17.
2002 Mi Sueño Chardonnay, Carneros. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.

2003 Graff Family Vineyards Pinot Blanc, Chalone. Score: 9. Cost: $17.
2003 White Oak Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $15.
2002 Varner "Amphitheater Block" Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2003 Varner "Bee Block" Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $32.
2002 Tandem "Porter Bass Vineyard" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $48.
2002 Calera Chardonnay, Central Coast. Score: 9. Cost: $14.
2002 Calera Chardonnay, Mount Harlan. Score: 9. Cost: $?.
2003 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2004 Staglin Family Vineyards "Salus" Chardonnay. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2004 Spencer-Roloson Viognier, Knights Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $23.
2004 Inman Family Pinot Gris. Score: 9. Cost: $24.
2003 Saddleback Cellars Viognier. Score: 9. Cost: $20.
2002 Mount Eden Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2003 Owl Ridge "Sweeney" Chardonnay, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $28.
2003 Ramey Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $??.

2002 White Oak Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $20.
2001 Godspeed Chardonnay, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $19.
2003 Graff Family Vineyards Viognier, Chalone. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $17.
2003 Saddleback Cellars Pinot Blanc. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.

2003 Fritz Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Williamson Estate Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $28.
2004 Three Families Chardonnay, Mendocino. Score: 8.5. Cost: $12.
2004 Work Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2003 Ruston Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Ruston Vineyards Semillion, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $20.
2004 Londer Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $21.

2002 Spann Vineyards Chardonnay/Viognier Blend. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $??.


PINK WINES
2004 Vision Cellars Rose. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $15.
2004 Inman Family Rose. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Ramian Grenache Rose. Score: 8.5. Cost: $20.
2003 York Creek "Touriga National" Rose, Napa. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $14.


RED WINES:
2002 Ruston Vineyards "La Maestra" Red Blend. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $50.
2002 Ruston Vineyards "Stagecoach Vineyard" Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $50.
2003 Ramey "Jericho Canyon Vineyard" Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $??.
2003 Ramey Cabernet, Diamond Mountain, Napa. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $??.
2002 Paul Hobbs "Tokalon" Cabernet. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $265.
2003 Lewis "Masons" Cabernet. Score: 9.5/10. Cost: $56.

2002 Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet. Score: 9.5. Cost: $125.
2001 Farella Park Merlot, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $24.
2003 Lewis "Alex" Bordeaux Blend. Score: 9.5. Cost: $50.
2002 Lynch Syrah, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $65.
2003 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $34.
2001 Medlock Ames Merlot, Alexander Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $38.
2002 Mi Sueño Pinot Noir, Carneros. Score: 9.5. Cost: $35.
2003 Outpost Petite Sirah, Howell Mountain. Score: 9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Paul Hobbs "Hyde Vineyard" Pinot Noir. Score: 9.5. Cost: $70.
2003 Roar "Pisoni Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9.5. Cost: $49.
2002 Revana Family Vineyards Cabernet, St. Helena, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $90.
2002 Ruston Vineyards "Stagecoach Vineyard" Cabernet Franc, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $42.
2002 Terra Valentine Estate Cabernet, Spring Mountain District, Napa. Score: 9.5. Cost: $TBD.
2002 Surh Luchtel "Sacrashe Vineyard" Cabernet. Score: 9.5. Cost: $48
2002 CrauforD "Tattoo" Cabernet. Score: 9.5. Cost: $38.
2003 CrauforD "Brown Vineyard" Zinfandel. Score: 9.5. Cost: $28.
2002 Ancien "Sonoma Mountain" Pinot Noir, Sonoma. Score: 9.5. Cost: $42.
2002 Calera Pinot Noir, Central Coast. Score: 9.5. Cost: $32.
2002 Calera "Ryan Vineyard" Pinot Noir. Score: 9.5. Cost: $40.
2002 Blue Rock Cabernet, Alexander Valley. Score: 9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 L'Aventure "Optimus" Red Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9.5. Cost: $65.

2002 Ramian "La Morra" Dolcetto / Nebbiolo Blend. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $36.
2001 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Cabernet. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Woodenhead "Wiley Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Woodenhead "Humboldt" Pinot Noir, Humboldt County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $32.
2001 Farella Park Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Lehrer Syrah, Contra Costa County. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $36.
2002 L'Aventure Syrah, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Londer "Paraboll" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $48.
2002 Mi Sueño Syrah, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $40.
2002 Mi Sueño "El Llano" Red Blend. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Nickel & Nickel "Sullenger" Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $75.
2003 Outpost Zinfandel, Howell Mountain, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 Paloma Merlot, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $51.
2002 Ruston Vineyards "Cuvee Simone" Red Blend, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Silver Pines Syrah, Sonoma Mountain. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $55.
2002 Vino Noceto Reserve Sangiovese. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Spencer-Roloson "La Herradura" Syrah. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $38.
2001 Terra Valentine "Wurtele Vineyard" Cabernet, Spring Mountain District, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $50.
2003 Dare (Viader) Cabernet Franc, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $41.
2004 Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc, Larkspur. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $10.
2001 Ruston Vineyards Cabernet, Oakville, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Ramey Claret, Napa. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2003 L'Aventure "Estate Cuvee" Red Blend, Paso Robles. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $??.
2002 Acorn / Alegria Vineyards "Medley" Red Blend, Russian River Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $.
2001 Saxon-Brown Zinfandel, Sonoma. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2003 Roar "Garys' Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $45.
2003 Mojon's Bench Merlot, Alexander Valley. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $25.
2001 Mount Eden Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Mantra "Revelations" Cabernet. Score: 9/9.5. Cost: $30.

2001 Mount Eden Cabernet, Santa Cruz Mountains. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2002 Mojon's Bench Cabernet Franc, Alexander Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2002 Nord "Trio" Merlot, Yountville, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2002 Nord "Red Cuvee" Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2001 Piña Cellars Cabernet, Howell Mountain. Score: 9. Cost: $54.
2002 Saxon-Brown Syrah, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2002 Skewis "Demuth Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2001 Saddleback Cellars Merlot. Score: 9. Cost: $36.
2001 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet, Oakville, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $45.
2002 Owl Ridge "Brigden Vineyard" Cabernet, Sonoma. Score: 9. Cost: $32.
2002 Nickel & Nickel "Dragonfly" Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $90.
2002 Ramian "Chapter 2002" Bordeaux Blend. Score: 9. Cost: $49.
2002 Graff Family Vineyards "Consensus" Rhone Blend, Chalone. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 Woodenhead "Buena Tierra" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $46.
2003 Vinum Cellars "White Elephant." Score: 9. Cost: $15.
2001 White Oak Syrah, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $24.
2002 Viader Bordeaux Blend, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $90.
2003 Veraison "Mountain" Merlot. Score: 9. Cost: $48.
2002 Spann Vineyards "MoJo" Red Blend. Score: 9. Cost: $??.
2003 Spencer Roloson Madder Lake Vineyard" Tempranillo, Lake County. Score: 9. Cost: $20.
2004 Vino Noceto Rosato di Sangiovese. Score: 9. Cost: $13.
2002 Surh Luchtel Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $38.
2004 Terremoto Cellars Viognier, Suisun Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $28.
2001 Terra Valentine Estate Cabernet, Spring Mountain District, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2003 Tandem "Keefer Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2003 Tandem Peloton Red Blend. Score: 9. Cost: $25.
2003 Vino Noceto Sangiovese. Score: 9. Cost: $22.
2001 Solis Winery Syrah, Santa Clara. Score: 9. Cost: $18.
2002 Mi Sueño Cabernet. Score: 9. Cost: $60.
2002 Medlock Amers Cabernet, Alexander Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2002 MacLean Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $50.
2003 Londer "Keefer" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 9. Cost: $42.
2002 Lehrer Syrah, Contra Costa County. Score: 9. Cost: $34.
2002 Koves Newlan Cabernet Franc, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $30.
2001 Koves Newlan Cabernet, Napa. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2003 Fontinos Pinot Noir, Carneros. Score: 9. Cost: $35.
2002 Acorn / Alegria Vineyards "Axiom" Syrah. Score: 9. Cost: $28.
2002 Veraison "Synchrony" Bordeaux Blend. Score: 9. Cost: $65.
2002 Vino Noceto "OGP" Zinfandel. Score: 9. Cost: $30.

2003 Williamson Cabernet, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2004 Vinum Cellars "Pets" Petite Sirah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $11.
2003 Vinum Cellars "Red Dirt Red" Rhone Blend. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2003 Dare (Viader) Tempranillo, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $41.
2002 York Creek Merlot, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $36.
2002 Veraison Syrah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $48.
2003 Varner "Hidden Block" Pinot Noir. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.
2002 Topel Syrah "Cuvee Donnis," Monterey. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2002 Topel "Hidden Vineyard" Cabernet, Monterey. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2003 Toad Hall "Lavender Hill" Pinot Noir, Carneros. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2002 Swanson Merlot, Oakville, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $34.
2002 Surh Luchtel Zinfandel, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $25.
2002 Vino Noceto Sangiovese. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $15.
2002 Spann Vineyards Sangiovese. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Spann Vineyards Syrah. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2002 Skewis "Montgomery Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35.
2003 Skewis "Bush Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2003 Skewis "Floodgate Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $45.
2003 Nord Cabernet, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $42.
2003 Nickel & Nickel "Darian Vineyard" Syrah, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2003 Mantra Cabernet, Alexander Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $18.
2003 Mantra Zinfandel, Alexander Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $30.
2003 Inman Family Pinot Noir. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $40.
2001 Hill Family Estate "Origin" Blend, Napa. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $??.
2003 Fritz Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $24.
2002 Blue Rock Syrah, Alexander Valley. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $32.


2003 Toad Hall "Lavender Hill Reserve" Pinot Noir, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $40.
2002 Toad Hall "Bodacious" Bordeaux Blend. Score: 8.5. Cost: $30.
2004 Swanson Pinot Gris, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $22.
2002 Swanson "Alexis" Bordeaux Blend, Oakville, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $59.
2003 Surh Luchtel "Gary's Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands. Score: 8.5. Cost: $42.
2003 Three Families "Dogwood" Zinfandel. Score: 8.5. Cost: $28.
2002 Spann Vineyards Cabernet. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2001 Solis Winery Cabernet, Santa Clara. Score: 8.5. Cost: $34.
2003 Skewis "Salzgaeber-Chan Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $38.
2002 Owl Ridge Cabernet, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Score: 8.5. Cost: $32.
2002 Nickel & Nickel Merlot, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $40.
2002 Medlock Ames Merlot, Alexander Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $38.
2003 Outpost Grenache, Howell Mountain, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $35.
2002 Lynch Cabernet, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $60.
2003 Londer Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Londer Syrah, Anderson Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $30.
2002 Lail Cabernet, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $90.
2003 Fritz Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2002 Hill Family Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros. Score: 8.5. Cost: $??.
2004 Halleck Pinot Noir. Score: 8.5. Cost: $38
2001 White Oak Merlot, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2001 White Oak Cabernet, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $25.
2002 Graff Family Vineyards Mourvedre, Chalone. Score: 8.5. Cost: $17.
2003 Graff Family Vineyards 2002 York Creek Cabernet Franc, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $36.
2003 Woodenhead Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $32.
2003 Williamson "Cuvee" Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley. Score: 8.5. Cost: $40.
2003 York Creek Tempranillo, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $24.
2002 Veraison Cabernet, Napa. Score: 8.5. Cost: $48.

2003 Spencer-Roloson "Madder Lake Vineyard" Zinfandel, Lake County. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Londer "Immigrante Sergio" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $30.
2003 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, Sonoma. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $20.
2003 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir, Marin. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $20.
2001 A Frame Vineyards Cabernet, Chalone. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $35.
2002 York Creek Petite Verdot, Napa. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $30.
2003 York Creek "MXB - Mixed Black," Napa. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $24.
2002 Vinum Cellars Cabernet Franc, Sierra Foothills. Score: 8/8.5. Cost: $22.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.