People were in a celebratory mood this past weekend in the Livermore Valley: was it the onset of football season, or the fact that the A’s might still have some stuffing left in them to go the distance? Or young parents celebrating the return of their kids to school after a summer of manic activity? Perhaps it was just the fact that Labor Day feels like that last hurrah of summer, akin to running full speed off the diving board without regard to form, or doing a somersault in the sand. Fleeting as summer may be, its memories linger long.
Everywhere we went during the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association annual Havest Wine Celebration, throngs of happy looking wine drinkers were enjoying the fabulous weather, the beautiful scenery and the mostly impressive wine selections being served. The crowds were steady and it seemed a 55-45 mix of people out tasting in general, along with those with harvest celebration Govino glasses. Most places I visited seemed to be doing a brisk business.
Anybody who offered live music, food and plenty of seating, reaped extra attendance and bottle sales. Kudos to those who chose to show their guests special hospitality and memorable wine, as they will reap the rewards downstream.
From a setting standpoint, it’s hard to best the country charm and wine country oasis of Rodrigue Molyneaux. Garry and Nancy have worked tirelessly to create an environment conducive to contemplative tasting and enjoyment of their commendable lineup of wines. The couple sacrificed their vegetable garden to create more seating. As a result, you can now enjoy a whole new display of Nancy’s well-crafted garden art, complete with fountain. If you haven’t been there in a while, you might put this place on your must-visit list.
Being nextdoor to a barn with horses makes for endless amusement while sipping on 2013 Il Segreto, a blend of Barbera, Sangiovese and Cabernet, a peppery wine that will appeal to lovers of Super Tuscans. My nod is towards the 2013 Il Pavone, brimming with juicy Barbera plumpness and acid, with a streak of dark licorice from the Petit Verdot.
Highly recommended is the newly released 2015 Nebbiolo, an impressive effort endowed with a profoundly interesting juxtaposition of strawberry jam, earth and basil, with pleasing dark fig notes, along with roasted chestnuts. Wonderful acids meet well-behaved tannins in this “baby Barolo” from Livermore. The 2015 Cabernet Franc sports aromas of rose petals and pine boughs, weaving sweet raspberry and roasted red pepper throughout the velvety mid-palate. A touch of cedar and pine incense caps off the lively finish. Love the 2013 Cabernet, too, with its intense cherry tobacco profile and excellent length.
With winemaker Meredith Sarboraria applying her considerable experience this harvest, we’re sure to taste the results when the 2018’s debut.
Unsurprisingly, a large crowd gathered outdoors at Mitchell Katz, captivated by the music, although the dogs along for the ride didn’t look quite so thrilled. Inside, the always upbeat and enthusiastic staff poured bubbles, the 2016 Gu Vineyard Chardonnay (classic California summer sunshine, oak-driven with creamy flavors of pear crème brulee), 2013 Wesley’s Blend (a well-made 50/50 combo of Cabernet and Petite Sirah that delivers a rush of cherry, blueberry and baking spice) and the 2015 For Play Zinfandel, so sweet and smooth it acts more like a late harvest.
We were also treated to two barrel samples of the 2015 Crackerbox Sangiovese: one from a neutral French barrel (Marchive), the other from a new Radoux barrel. Oddly enough, the neutral one tasted far oakier than the Radoux, which was utterly lovely and generous in flavor and texture, exuding pure red raspberry and strawberry joy. The finish was lovely, long and lithe.
Mitch, who had just returned from an exciting vacation on Hawaii during the hurricane (where he swam in the riled up ocean), reports that his sons are doing great. Jackson is back from New Zealand with his French girlfriend, and both are working in Napa (Omega Cellars and Round Pond), while sharing a house with former Livermore winemaker, Jaime Dowell, who is the head winemaker at Round Pond. Son Wesley, whose blend was made to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the winery this year, is at Chico State, contemplating a career as a fire fighter.
Murrieta’s Well has the feel of a perennial lawn party, a private event and a fancy by invitation only secret club. Perhaps it is all those things. The Club deck, with its shaded views is a pleasing place to enjoy a flight with some cheese and charcuterie, while the cool and welcoming cellar is more like a private pub, serving serious food in a convivial atmosphere. We were welcomed with a glass of The Whip, followed by a well-executed 2016 Tempranillo that got a little juicing up from Merlot and Petit Verdot. Smooth and red-fruited, it has a nice hint of cigar. This was followed by The Spur, which goes well with crowds. Party buses seemed naturally drawn to this setting.
Then it was off to Charles R, where music and vendors had a nice group of winelovers riveted. On our way up Greenville, we did notice considerable crowds at Caddis, McGrail, 3 Steves, Bent Creek, Big White House and John Evan Cellars. We also couldn’t help but notice the utterly dead-looking vineyard at White Crane. There should be a serious punishment for crimes against vineyards.
Dick and Bonnie at Charles R subscribe to the idea of pouring their best wines, so they shared their most excellent 2016 Chardonnay (Del Arroyo fruit), which was orchard fruit centric with a super creamy texture and a squirt of lemon and tangerine. My friend Julie, who despises Chardonnay, declared this the best she’d had in recent memory. Dick thinks it’s pretty good for $26. A friend of his belongs to Chateau Montelena’s wine club and bragged on the Chard he’d received in a recent shipment, so Dick told him to buy a case so he could share with his staff. “That’s a $50 bottle of wine,” he said, appreciatively. “I wanted my staff to taste some really good stuff, and I think ours is pretty dang good, too!”
While tasting the 2013 Charles R Zin from Sblendorio Vineyard, who should cruise by but Sblend himself. Dick told him that of all the Zin’s he’s made, this vineyard is the one that always comes out on top.
We then met the gregarious Greg McLeod, who had the pleasure of marrying Bonnie and Dick’s daughter, Karen, in June, at the Little Brown Church in Sunol, where Bonnie’s grandparents had been wed. The couple met at Randy Bartlett’s memorial service. Hard to believe that was 7 years ago already. Greg, a mechanical engineer, is partner in a Livermore-based consultancy called Adolph Consulting, specializing in helping companies take products from design to completion. One of their recent clients was GoPro. He’s a great resource if you know somebody looking to take an invention to the next level.
Speaking of next level, the 2013 Petite Sirah from Julio’s Casa de Vinas vineyard is hands down some of the best Petite on offer in the valley at the moment. Julie is also quite the Petite devotee, and declared this the best wine of the day. She had the biggest smile on her face as she left with a bottle of it, and a new pair of earrings, too.
At Darcie Kent, it’s easy to tell who’s playing for the hometeam. The preponderance of purple here is astonishing. It does make for an unforgettable statement. Darcie’s art so beautifully complements what Julian puts into the bottle. We particularly loved the 2016 Pistachio Lane Chardonnay, from an upper block of the DeMayo vineyard. Unoaked, it flows easily, with unmistakable Chardonnay flavors unburdened by wood. The Firepit red could not be more aptly named: one sip and you are transported to a state park, ready to make s’mores.
One last stop at Omega Cellars and we were ready to call it a day. Actually, the day flew by so quickly, I’d argue that four hours is just not enough for a day-long festival. True, many wineries also honored the glasses and wristbands on Monday. Alexandra and her Dad, Ken, had quite the lineup available. The 2015 Barbera from Mendocino County was hands-down the best of the lot, with a perfect pitch of racy red leading to blue fruits, and a considerable dollop of mouthwatering acid that kept it chugging along like a train bound for someplace exotic, with a great sunset and a fine dinner awaiting at the other end of it. Suddenly, the memory of a railroad journey from Rome to Florence popped into my head, followed by an unmistakable craving for meatballs.