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09.06.2009

California's Best Boutique Wines: Tasting Family Winemakers 2009

family_winemakers09.jpgFor those unfamiliar, Family Winemakers is a marketing association that represents family owned wineries throughout California. By virtue of its focus, this means that the membership consists of many of California's boutique wine producers. The annual tasting put on by the association every year claims (with reasonable credibility) to be the single largest tasting of California wines in the world each year, and remains one of my favorite wine tasting events.

This tasting has become a victim of its own success, however, and has grown to a simply unmanageable size. Unmanageable, that is, for anyone looking to thoroughly explore the wines on offer. Even spread over two days, the selection of wineries and their wines wines remains far too large. Until the organizers come to their senses and figure out a way to break it up, by far the largest challenge facing any attendee will be figuring out exactly what to taste.

This year, I decided to try and visit every table that had a "New!" sticker on it -- signifying that the winery was newly a member of the association. I think I managed to make it to 98% of these new members, and only got distracted by one or two producers that I see there every year, and a couple of other folks whose wines I have been wanting to try.

The tasting seemed somewhat sedate this year. Interestingly, there were a number of wineries in attendance who would ordinarily never have poured their wines at such a large public tasting such as this. The fact that these $120+ Napa Cabernet producers were in attendance directly demonstrates the softness of demand for such wines in these tough economic times.

My experience at the event yielded several new wineries for me to watch, In particular Katin Cellars, Cavus, and Calluna.

Enjoy.

PINK WINES
2006 Demuth Rose of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. $22. Score: between 8.5 and 9.
2008 James Family Cellars Rose, Sonoma Coast. $18. Score: around 7.


WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2008 Katin Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles. $32.
2007 Littorai Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. $65. Where to buy?
2007 Littorai Thieriot Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast. $65. Where to buy?
2007 Lone Madrone Points West Roussanne, Paso Robles. $32. Where to buy?
2006 Staglin Family Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, Napa. $75. Where to buy?

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2008 Anada Albariño , Edna Valley. $32
2007 J.C. Cellars Preston Vineyard Marsane, Dry Creek Valley. $32
2007 Katin Viognier, Paso Robles. $32
2008 Lone Madrone La Mescla White Wine, Paso Robles. $25
2007 Staglin Family Vineyards Salus Chardonnay, Napa. $48

WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Deep Sea Viognier, Central Coast. $15
2006 Derby White Rhone White Blend, Paso Robles. $24
2008 Jaxon Keyes McGlasten Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino. $14
2008 Jemrose Egret Pond Viognier, Bennett Valley. $32
2008 Open Range Savignon Blanc, Capay Valley. $15
2008 Orin Swift Cellars Veladora Sauvignon Blanc, Napa. $25
2007 Skipstone Makena's Vineyard Viognier, Alexander Valley. $40

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2007 Foppoli Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. $44
2007 La Czar Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Mountain. $20
2008 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley. $18

WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2007 Foppoli 1470 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley. $30

WHITE WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2007 Lange Twins Sauvignon Blanc, Lodi. $13

WHITE WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7 AND 7.5
2006 Coquelicot Riesling, Santa Ynez Valley. $20


RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2004 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $70
2007 T-Vine Grenache, Napa. $30. Where to buy?

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2007 Branham Zinfandel, Rockpile. $30.
2005 Cavus Proprietary Red, Napa. $80. Where to buy?
2005 Hestan Vineyards Meyer Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $45. Where to buy?
2007 L'Aventure Estate Cuvee Red Blend, Paso Robles. $85. Where to buy?
2006 Lone Madrone Old Hat Zinfandel + Petite Sirah, Paso Robles. $45. Where to buy?
2006 Orin Swift Cellars Papillon Proprietary Red, Napa. $55. Where to buy?
2006 Orin Swift Cellars Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $75. Where to buy?
2006 Staglin Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $175.
2007 Valdez Zinfandel, Rockpile. $42.
2006 Yates Family Cheval Cabernet Franc, Napa. $40.

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2006 Althair Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. $36
2007 Calluna Red Wine, Chalk Hill. $30
2007 Calluna Merlot, Chalk Hill. $40
2007 Calluna Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill. $40
2006 Garric Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $85
2006 Gemstone Ten Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $150
2007 Herman Story Wines White Hawk Syrah, Santa Barbara. $36
2005 Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $100
2007 Jemrose Foggy Knoll Vineyard Grenache, Bennett Valley. $38
2007 Jemrose Cardiac Hill Syrah, Bennett Valley. $38
2007 Jemrose Gloria's Gem Proprietary Blend, Sonoma. $65
2005 Katin Michaud Vineyard Syrah, Chalone. $45
2007 Katin Glenrose Vineyard Syran, Paso Robles. $45
2007 L'Aventure Cote a Cote Red Blend, Paso Robles. $85
2007 Littorai May's Canyon Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. $65
2006 Littorai The Haven Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. $75
2007 Orin Swift Cellars The Prisoner Proprietary Red, Napa. $35
2006 Staglin Family Vineyards Salus Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $90
2006 T-Vine Zinfandel, Napa. $32
2006 T-Vine T Red Blend, Napa. $40
2006 Terra Savia Meritage,. $22
2002 Terra Savia Hoplander Red Wine,. $50
2005 Yates Family Fleur de Veeder Merlot, Mount Veeder. $35
2005 Yates Family Alden Perry Reserve Bordeaux Blend, Mount Veeder. $42

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2002 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Red Blend, Templeton Gap. $34
2007 Branham Señal Red Wine, Rockpile. $30
2004 Elements of Sonoma Red Wine, Sonoma. $42
2007 Elizabeth Spencer Grenache, Mendocino. $30
2006 Elizabeth Spencer Syrah, Mendocino. $35
2006 Gemstone Facets Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $75
2007 Herman Story Wines Nuts and Bolts Red Wine, California. $36
2005 Hestan Vineyards Stephanie Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $60
2006 J.C. Cellars Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah, Mendocino. $45
2007 Katin Del Rio Syrah, Oregon. $45
2005 Kelleher Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville. $82
2008 Littorai Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. $38
2007 Littorai Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. $60
2005 Lone Madrone Tannat, Paso Robles. $50
2007 Mara Wines Laughlin Road Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley. $40
2005 Mara Wines Livisi Zinfandel, Napa. $30
2007 Orin Swift Cellars Saldo Zinfandel, California. $28
2005 Picazo Merlot, Livermore Valley. $80
2005 Portfolio Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $125
2006 Quivira Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. $20
2006 Respite Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Anderson Valley. $48
2007 Rosa d'Oro Dolcetto, Lake County. $18
2005 Skipstone Oliver's Blend Bordeaux Blend, Alexander Valley. $95
2005 Solovino Cabernet Sauvignon,. $38
2006 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma. $75
2006 T-Vine Petite Sirah, Napa. $36
2005 Yates Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $48

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2006 Black Sears Zinfandel, Howell Mountain. $42
2004 Bodegas Paso Robles Viva Yo Red Blend , Templeton Gap. $28
2006 Del Carlo Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. $32
2006 Derby Red Rhine Red Blend, Paso Robles. $28
2004 Elements of Sonoma Malbec, Sonoma. $42
2007 Hammer Sky Party of Four Bordeaux Blend, Paso Robles. $59
2007 Hammer Sky Open Invitation Zinfandel Blend, Paso Robles. $42
2007 Herman Story Wines On the Road Grenache, California. $36
2007 J.C. Cellars Fess Parker Syrah, Santa Barbara. $30
2006 La Czar Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. $36
2007 Open Range Red Blend, Capay Valley. $22
2005 Rancho Arroyo Grande Rhone Blend, Arroyo Grande Valley. $18
2007 Vihuela Incendio Red Blend,. $30
2005 Wedell Cellars Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley. $125
2006 X Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $24

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2006 Cabot Vineyards Kimberly's Syrah, Humboldt County. $28
2002 Castello di Amarosa Il Brigante Bordeaux Blend, Napa. $24
2006 Coquelicot Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley. $30
2004 Demuth Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. $40
2005 Demuth Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley. $40
2007 J.C. Cellars The Impostor Red Wine, California. $32
NV Jettlyn Winery Mon Couer Red Wine, Paso Robles. $50
2005 Lange Twins Midnight Reserve Red Wine, Lodi. $70
2006 Mara Wines Syrage Red Wine,. $15
2005 Merriam Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley. $45
2005 Merriam Cabernet Franc, Dry Creek Valley. $45
2007 Rock Wall Zinfandel, Sonoma. $25
2008 Rosa d'Oro Barbera, Lake County. $18
2005 Vihuela Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon,. $30

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2005 Robbins Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa. $18
2007 Sierra Madre Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley. $42

RED WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2007 James Family Cellars Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. $35
2007 Jaxon Keyes Mae's Block Zinfandel, Mendocino. $18
2005 Leo Joseph Cabernet Sauvignon,. $50
2006 Mara Wines Dolinsek Ranch Zinfandel, Russian River Valley. $40
2006 Ripkin Tempranillo, Lodi. $22
2005 Vihuela Syrah,. $25

RED WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5
NV Jettlyn Winery Opulent Red Wine, Paso Robles. $45

RED WINES SCORING AROUND 7
2006 Clavo Reckless Moment Syrah, Paso Robles. $25

Comments (8)

09.07.09 at 7:40 AM

Alder,
Thanks for the write up. Very comprehensive indeed! Looks like you were a bit more favorable than other reviews I've read of the event, which is great to see.

A lot of people certainly spend a lot of time putting these wines together, and it's nice that someone like you spends the time to search out all the 'new' producers to try these wines!

Quick question - do you know how many of these 'new' producers make their wines at CrushPad or the like? Just curious . . .

Cheers!

douglas wrote:
09.07.09 at 8:50 AM

Alder,

Thanks for those very kind words!!

Douglas

Alder wrote:
09.07.09 at 9:14 AM

Larry,

It's important to note that the designation "new" means only that these folks are new members of Family Winemakers. In some cases the wineries have been around for years, even decades.

I have no idea how many of these producers are Crushpad products, but I don't think many of them are.

tom merle wrote:
09.07.09 at 9:25 AM

Just a small nit to pick. FWC was set up and continues as an advocacy organization attempting to influence State policy affecting smaller wineries in California. The founding members, such Jess Jackson with a small winery in Lake Co., Patrick Campbell, Brice Jones, broke off from Wine Institute when they concluded that Gallo and the other Big Boys wielded too much power. The tasting was a kind of fringe benefit for members. It seems to have taken a front seat, though as you say a seat much too crowded.

09.07.09 at 12:32 PM

Great review. Your ability to segment and deal with such a large tasting is terrific. Thanks for your comments on our wines.

Dylan wrote:
09.07.09 at 5:29 PM

Tom brought up an interesting point. Not all family-owned wineries are boutique sized.

Alder wrote:
09.07.09 at 6:08 PM

Oh no, of course not. This tasting also includes some very large wine corporations, no doubt about it. The organization doesn't call itself "boutique winemakers" for a reason (though interestingly, the association was originally called "Premium Winemakers of America").

I think technically even wineries that aren't owned and run by families can be members.

09.07.09 at 11:57 PM

What a good idea! There are so many boutique seized family wineries in our region (south-west of Germany). We should try that, too. But unfortunately selling wines is a kind of economic competition and all colleagues are also business rivals.

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