California’s Most Interesting Wines: Tasting the 7% Solution

One of the “worst” mistakes any wine lover can make involves the wine drinking equivalent of getting stuck in a rut. Lots of people know what they like, and choose to stick with it, always opting for the Merlot, or the Pinot Noir, or the buttery Chardonnay because they want something they’ll enjoy and they don’t want to have to think too much about it. There’s nothing wrong with this inherently, but those who always drink the same thing and never explore anything else are robbing themselves of an immense amount of pleasure. Variety being the spice of life, the wine world offers more of that particular seasoning than just about any other arena of enjoyment.

In part, that’s the impetus behind one of the most interesting wine tasting events held each year in San Francisco and Healdsburg. According to the organizers of the 7% Solution Tasting, 93% of the vineyards in the North Coast appellation (which includes all of Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties) are planted to just 8 grapes. The hundreds of other grape varieties grown in California make up the other seven percent. (The name also happens to be a clever allusion to a Sherlock Holmes story).

The tasting was conceived by Kevin Wardell and Sarah Johnson, the co-proprietors of a little wine bar and store named Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, California. Their immensely popular little bar has the distinction of not stocking or serving any domestic wines. This fact, of course makes it immensely popular with everyone in the wine industry locally, who have a known predilection for spending their off hours drinking things as different as possible from those they spend their working hours making.

However, this focus on all things European means that other than slaking the thirst of locals, Wardell and Johnson weren’t having much impact on their local wine industry. So in an effort to give a little more back, they dreamed up the idea of focusing on the California grapes that no one else focuses on, and the Seven Percent Solution tasting was born.


The tasting has been held for the past four years, and seems perfectly timed to match the explosion in diversity that we see not only on wine lists in this country, but also in the drinking habits of many wine consumers.

In short, the wines on offer at this tasting are some of the most interesting and exciting being made in California at the moment. They are exciting not for just what they offer to curious palates, but also because in many cases they represent efforts by winemakers and growers to rescue (or in some cases, resurrect) some of the grape varieties that have a long history in California, yet are almost nowhere to be found today.

Despite the phenomenal quality of California wines, a certain amount of tedium can set in after too many Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs or Napa Cabernets, no matter how good they are. When your palate needs a wake up call, or you feel like an adventure, why not reach for a Gamay, a Trousseau, a Cunoise, or a Fiano. You’ll be amazed what a little Verdelho, Corvina, or Riesling can do for your outlook on life.

Here’s what I managed to taste a couple of weeks ago when the event was held in San Francisco.


White Wines

2014 Arnot Roberts “Vare Vineyard” Ribolla Gialla, Napa Valley, Napa. Gorgeous, bright, herbal, citrus, pollen, pear skin, mineral. $40. click to buy.

2014 Arnot Roberts “Old Vine White Wine – Heinstein Vineyard” White Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma. Floral, citrus, lychee, rose petals, pollen, mineral. An unusual blend of Sylvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Green Hungarian. $35. click to buy.

2015 Wind Gap “Fannuchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Peaches, berries, juicy, bright, citrus, mineral. Wowza. $26. click to buy.

2014 Donkey and Goat “Stone Crusher” Roussanne, El Dorado County. Rainer cherry, citrus peel, juicy, yum. Skin contact. $32. click to buy.

2014 Ferdinand “Vista Luna Vineyard” Albariño, California. Bright steely, citrusy lime and pith. $20. click to buy.

2015 Jolie-Laide “Rorick Heritage Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Calaveras County, Sierra Foothills. Gorgeous floral, berry citrus, and actually pink in color. Fantastic. $28. click to buy.

2015 Jolie-Laide “Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Floral, berry, saline, mineral, light citrus, tannins. Gorgeous. $30.

2014 Ryme “‘His’ – Las Brisas Vineyard” Vermentino, Carneros, Sonoma. Light orange, wet leaves, Rainer cherry, orange peel, gorgeous citrus, long, lightly tannic. Skin fermented yum. $32. click to buy.

2015 Ryme “Hers’ – Las Brisas Vineyard” Vermentino, Carneros, Sonoma. Bright chalky, herbal, unripe apple and Asian pear . $24. click to buy.

2014 Tatomer “Kick-on Ranch” Riesling, Santa Barbara County. Bright stony, honeysuckle, citrus, loooooong. Killer stuff. $35. click to buy.

2014 The Scholium Project “VLV” Verdelho, Lodi, Central Valley. Killer mineral apple and melon brightness. My favorite Scholium Project wine ever?. $36.

2014 The Scholium Project “Steverjan” Pinot Gris, Sonoma County. 100% whole cluster macerated for a month on the skins. Dried flowers wet leaves, waxy, juicy, cherry. $36. click to buy.

2015 The Scholium Project “FTP” Pinot Gris, Lodi, Central Valley. Pale pink, open top fermented with 20% whole cluster. Dried flowers, mineral citrus peels, long, juicy, hint of waxiness. Killer stuff. $36.

2015 Unti Vineyards Fiano, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Bright citrus, mineral, unripe apple, chalky. $28. click to buy.

2015 Unti Vineyards Vermentino, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Mineral, lemon, lemongrass, gorgeous, grapefruit pith. $26.

2015 Unti Vineyards White Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Floral, fruity, apple, pear, mineral, long. $28.

2015 Wind Gap “Buddha’s Dharma Vineyard” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County. Bright quince, mineral, citrus, classic profile. Excellent. $36.

2015 Donkey and Goat “Gadabout” White Blend, California. White blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vermentino – citrusy, yumminess. $20.

2015 Edmunds St. John “Heart of Gold – Fenaughty Vineyard” White Blend, El Dorado County. Bright, juicy, apple and pear, citrus pith and wet stones. A blend of 53% Vermentino and 47% Grenache Blanc. $22. click to buy.

2015 Harrington Riesling, Arroyo Seco, Central Coast. Faintly sweet, pear and mandarin honeysuckle. $25. click to buy.

2015 Idlewild “The Bee, Flora & Fauna White” White Blend, North Coast. Citrus, pollen, bright, juicy, great acid. A blend of Muscat, Friulano, Arneis and Cortese. $24. click to buy.

2015 Idlewild “Fox Hill Vineyard” Arneis, Mendocino. Bright, juicy, citrus, grapefruit. $28. click to buy.

2013 Ryme “Vare Vineyard” Ribolla Gialla, Napa Valley, Napa. 6 months on the skins. Tannic, waxy, wet leaves, herbal, dried citrus peel. $42. click to buy.

2014 Tatomer “Vandenberg” Riesling, Santa Barbara County. Bright green apple, asian pear, hint of mandarin, scent of honey. $28. click to buy.

2015 Tatomer “Meeresboden” Grüner Veltliner, Santa Barbara County. Honey, dry wheat, citrus, herbs. $28. click to buy.

2015 Unti Vineyards Grenache Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Tight, chalky, floral, melony. $30. click to buy.

2014 Bedrock “Compagni Portis Heritage White ” White Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma. Lychee, orange peel, roses. A blend of Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Roter Veltliner, Chardonnay and Riesling. $30.

2014 Dirty and Rowdy “Antle Vineyard Skin Fermented” Melon, Chalone. 40 days on skins. Mellow creamsicle, melon and light tannins. $34.

2015 Donkey and Goat “Blanca” Pinot Gris, California Citrusy, pear and pear skin, floral. $26.

2015 Donkey and Goat “Ramato – Filigreen Farm” Pinot Gris, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. Waxy, wet leaves, berry, citrus. Skin contact. $26.

2015 La Clarine “Rorick Heritage Vineyard” Albariño, , Sierra Foothills. Chalky, lemon-lime, steely, saline. $20.

2014 Preston Grenache Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Lemony melon, bright and juicy with and herbal finish. $27.

2015 The Scholium Project “Blowout Blanc” White Blend, Lodi, Central Valley. Sparkling, what Abe calls “method futuriste” – Stinky socks and cheese give way to Rainer cherry and melon, juicy citrus. A blend of Loureiro, Verdelho and Gruner Veltliner. $23.

2013 Two Shepherds “Centime” Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. Citrus peel, pear, pear skin, wet leaves. Skin fermented. $30.

2014 Two Shepherds “Fanucchi Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. A bit stinky on the nose but juicy tangy citrus and berry on the palate. $28 .

2015 Calder “Rossi Vineyard” Riesling, Rutherford, Napa. Mineral, lime, mandarin and pear with a chalky finish . $22.

2015 Calder “Galleron Vineyard” Chenin Blanc, Rutherford, Napa. Mineral, lemony quince and pear skin. $22.

2015 Dirty and Rowdy “Familiar Blanc
” White Blend, California. Juicy, citrus, pear and apple. An unusual blend of Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Melon, Roussanne, Viognier. $30.

2014 La Clarine “Fenaughty Vineyard” Petit Manseng, , Sierra Foothills. Citrus, peachy. $26.

2015 Ser “Rosa Vineyard – Big Valley District” Orange Muscat, , Lake County. Rose petals and orange peel all the way home. $16.

2013 Two Shepherds “‘Tribute to Saralee’ — Catie’s Corner” Grenache Blanc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Unripe apples, citrus, comes across as soft in the mouth. Missing some zip. $28.

Pink Wines

2015 Unti Vineyards Rosé, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Killer, mineral, watermelon rind, berry, stony, citrus finish. A blend of 55% Grenache and 45% Mourvedre. Consistently one of the best rosés in California. $26. click to buy.

2015 Arnot Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé, North Coast. Watermelon rind, mineral, rose hip, juicy as all get out. $23. click to buy.

2015 Edmunds St. John “Bone-Jolly” Rosé of Gamay, El Dorado County. Juicy citrusy, berry, citrus explosion. Excellent. $22. click to buy.

2015 Idlewild “The Flower, Flora & Fauna Rose” Rosé, Mendocino. Super juicy, mouthwatering citrus, pithy, berry. A blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera . $24. click to buy.

2015 Bebame Ros&eacute, California. Juicy, faintly sweet, very, hibiscus, bright. $20.

2015 Bedrock “Ode To Lulu – Old Vine” Rosé, California. Juicy, bright, lightly tannic, citrus, berry, melon rind. A blend of Mataro, Carignan and Grenache. $24.

2015 Calder “Ricetti Vineyard” Ros&eacut; of Carignan, Redwood Valley, Mendocino. Mineral, berry, bright. $18. click to buy.

2015 Ser “Olof Vineyard – Kelsey Bench” Nebbiolo, , Lake County. Bright, tight, tannic, citrus. $20.


Red Wines

2014 Arnot Roberts Trousseau, North Coast. Berry, herbal, velvety, and a hint of salty sea air. $30. $35. click to buy.

2014 Bedrock “Evangelho Heritage” Red Blend, , Contra Costa County. Fantastic berry, cola, incredible acidity and length. A blend of Carignan, Mourvedere, Zinfandel, Alicante Bouchet, Mission, and Palomino. $35. click to buy.

2015 Idlewild “The Bird, Flora & Fauna Red” Red Blend, Mendocino. Bright berry, floral, great acid, balance. A blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera . $24. click to buy.

2014 RPM (Arnot+Roberts) Gamay, El Dorado County. Berry, herbal, stemmy, floral, with lots of sap and tang. Delicious. $30. click to buy.

2014 Bedrock “Nervo Heritage Wine” Red Blend, Alexander Valley, Sonoma. Tannic, blueberry, blackberry. A dizzying and unusual blend of Abouriou, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel Valdigue, Trousseau Noir, Trousseau Gris, Cardinal, Burger, Colombard, and Sauvignon Blanc. $45. click to buy.

2014 Dirty and Rowdy “Skinner White Oak Flats” Mourvèdre, El Dorado County. Bright juicy, leathery, herbal, floral, very tannic. $??

2015 Dirty and Rowdy “Familiar” Mourvèdre, California. Floral, bright, berry, herbal. Very light on its feet. Killer. $30. click to buy.

2015 Dirty and Rowdy “Antle Vineyard” Mourvèdre, Chalone. Crushed stone, mulberry, leather, floral, earth. $45. click to buy.

2014 Edmunds St. John “Rocks And Gravel – Unti Vineyard” Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Floral, grapey, fine tannins, juicy, great acidity. A blend of 43% Mourvedre, 43% Grenache and 14% Syrah. $29. click to buy.

2013 Ferdinand “Shake Ridge Vineyard” Tempranillo, Amador County, Sierra Foothills. Excellent, bright, cherry, earth, floral. $30. click to buy.

2015 Harrington “Heirloom Ranch” Corvina, Lodi, Central Valley. Floral, herbal, juicy, light tannic structure, strawberry. $25. click to buy.

2013 Idlewild “Fox Hill Vineyard” Nebbiolo, Mendocino. Tannic tight, floral, earthy, cherry. $40. click to buy.

2015 Jolie-Laide “Barsotti Vineyard” Gamay, El Dorado County. Berry, tangy, herbal, woody. Tasty. $30. click to buy.

2013 Preston Cinsault, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Cola, bright mulberry, cocoa powder. $36.

2012 Ryme “Luna Matta Vineyard” Aglianico, Paso Robles, Central Coast. Incredibly aromatic. Inky purple, spicy, exotic woods, cassis, and berries. Wow. Real deal. $42. click to buy.

2013 Two Shepherds “Saralee’s Vineyard” Grenache, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Tight tannins, citrus kick. $40. click to buy.

2014 Two Shepherds “Trimble Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County. Mulberry, cola, floral. $30. click to buy.

2013 Unti Vineyards Red Blend, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Juicy, strawberry, faint tannins, herbal, earth. A blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. $35.

2014 Westwood Red Blend, Sonoma County. Bright, juicy, floral, long. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise. $38. click to buy.

2014 Calder “Colombini Vineyards” Carignan, Mendocino. Mulberry, cherry, floral, bright and long. $28.

2015 Donkey and Goat Grenache, El Dorado County. Tangy juicy, strawberry, herbs. $28.

2014 Edmunds St. John “Bone-Jolly – Barsotti Ranch” Gamay, El Dorado, Sierra Foothills. Very floral, juicy. $22.

2010 Ferdinand “Old Vines – Testa Vineyard” Red Blend, Mendocino. A bit woody, cherry and strawberry. A blend of Grenache and Carignan. $35.

2014 Harrington “Pelletiere Vineyard” Lagrein, Paso Robles, Central Coast. Sweetish blackberry and black cherry. $40.

2015 Harrington “Somers Vineyard” Mission, Lodi, Central Valley. Berry and earthy and surprisingly light bodied. $25.

2015 Harrington “Siletto Vineyard” Trousseau, San Benito County. Tight berry, briars, floral. Recently bottled and perhaps not showing its best . $40.

2014 Jolie-Laide “Rossi Ranch Vineyard” Red Blend, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma. Thick, tannic, berry, dark, herbal. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Viognier and Muscat ‘d Alexandria. $42.

2014 Living Wines Collective “Elizia – Venturi Vineyard” Carignan, Mendocino County. Bright, berry, floral, tannic, leathery. $28.

2015 Living Wines Collective “Populis ‘Reversée’ – Poor Ranch” Carignan, , Mendocino County. Juicy, tangy, bright, berry, long. $20.

2013 Nico “il Cannonau – Provisor Vineyard” Grenache, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Bright strawberry and herbs. Woody. $38.

2014 Preston Barbera, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Citrusy with a hint of oak, raspberry and cherry. $33.

2013 Ryme “Crackling Carignane – Testa Vineyard” Carignan, , Mendocino County. Pet nat sparkling with juicy berry flavors and a chalky tannic aspect. Unusual. $??.

2014 The Scholium Project “1MN” Cinsault, Lodi, Central Valley. Creamy, mulberry and blackberry, juicy, herbal, tangy. $45.

2012 Two Shepherds “Pastoral Rouge” Red Blend, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. 50% whole cluster. A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. Berry and herbal. $32.

2014 Unti Vineyards Barbera, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Hint of struck match, tannic, herbal, earthy, cherry, citrus. $30.

2014 Westwood Grenache, Sonoma County. Cedar and strawberry. $46.

2014 Westwood Counoise, Sonoma County. Juicy, bright, berry, grapey, cola . $48.

2015 Wind Gap “Soif Old-Vine Red” Red Blend, North Coast. Juicy, lightly tannic, grapey, herbal, yummy pizza wine. An unusual blend of Valdeguie, Petit Sirah, Negroamaro, Dolcetto, Zinfandel, and Mourvedre. $29.

2014 Bebame “Barsotti Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, El Dorado. Earthy herbal, floral, cherry and nutty. 97% Cabernet Franc and 3% Gamay Noir . $20.

2013 Calder Charbono, Napa Valley, Napa. A bit oaky, cherry and and grapey. $28.

2013 Calder “Leeds-Pesch Vineyard” Petite Sirah, Rutherford, Napa. Violets, herbal, woody, cassis, grapey, licorice. $38.

2014 Dirty and Rowdy “Fred and Dora’s” Petite Sirah, Mendocino. Thick, muscular and tannic, dark fruit, licorice, floral. $37.

2013 Harrington “Terrane – Luna Matta Vineyard & Berardo Vineyard” Nebbiolo, Paso Robles, Central Coast. Floral, berry, earthy . $40.

2014 Harrington “Corvo – Sumu Kaw Vineyard” Red Blend, El Dorado County. Grapey, leathery, floral. A blend of Touriga Nacional & Alvarelhao. $40.

2015 La Clarine “Jambalaia Rouge – Camino Alto Vineyard” Red Blend, Sierra Foothills. Fruity, chalky, earthy. A blend of Mourvedre, Marsanne and Grenache . $20.

2014 Nico “Venturi Vineyard” Sangiovese, Mendocino County. $30.

2013 Preston Carignan, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Grapey, cherry, mulberry. $36.

2013 Unti Vineyards Montepulciano, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma. Thick tannins, bright grapey, great acidity. $35.

2014 Westwood Mourvèdre, Sonoma County. Nice balance. Blueberry, leather and cherry. $48.

2014 Westwood “Legend” Red Blend, Sonoma County. Earthy, tight. A Tannat, Syrah and Counoise blend. $64.

2014 La Clarine “Piedi Grandi – Sumu Kaw Vineyard” Red Blend, Sierra Foothills. Fruity and bright. A bend of Nebbiolo and Mourvedre . $26.

2014 Ryme “Alegria Vineyard” Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley, Sonoma. Light bodied, woody, herbal, tannic. Somewhat narrow. $32.

2014 Living Wines Collective “Ama – Fox Hill Vineyard” Nero d’Avola, , Mendocino County. Funky nose, a little sparkling on palate. Odd. $28.

2014 Ser “Wirz Vineyard – Cienega Valley” Cabernet Pfeffer, Cienega Valley. . $45.