Friday, March 29, 2024

Can't Get Over La Paloma Pairing Dinner

La Paloma Cafe claims its menu celebrates the cuisine of the Californios, early Californian settlers who incorporated Spanish and Mexican influences into indigenous ingredients cooked over fire. So how better to honor such cuisine than with a Spirited Journey through Mexico, where the spirits start with natural ingredients and are also cooked over fire (or with steam). Fortunately at a fantastic paired dinner on March 20 La Paloma had Blake Landis, cofounder of Angelisco Tequila and brand ambassador for Mezcal Nuestra Soledad and Tepache Sazón serve as a funny, informative, generous guide into all things agave.

Landis took us back through the history of distilling agave, which, goes to the Missions. The padres, happy tipplers all, ran out of the brandy they brought with them to the New World, and as Landis put it, said, "Shit, I need a drink!" They saw the indigenous people drinking pulque--fermentation from the fresh sap of agave--and thought, "Let's try distilling that." Imperialism, trial and error, time--and voila, tequila. 

Landis's own history working and co-owning bars and restaurants led him to a shocking discovery about the tequila world today--the 1% rule. While that bottle of a good brand will no doubt say "100% blue agave," the law allows that no more than up to 1% of the overall volume can be additives. Those additives are things like glycerol, vanilla, agave flavor, and caramel coloring. As always, remember natural is a marketing term, not a legal one.   But Landis and his friends hoped to build a tequila brand that refused the 1% loophole. Eventually the discovered the Aceves Family in the highlands of Jalisco, with a 100 years of mescaleros experience. And Angelisco Tequila was born.

That's Landis counting the two things in his booze--blue weber agave and water. Angelisco also works on keeping its prices down for premium product by doing other things that are equally good for the earth, by using a minimalist, bar-friendly bottle, recycled paper label, and an eco-friendly screwcap.

Which means (you thought I was going to forget the food, didn't you?) Angelisco is clean, tasty, and ready to pair with equally bright and flavorful cuisine. That bigeye tuna aqua chile above was an amazing burst of fish, each perfect little tile fresh and fleshy and the ocean at a chomp. The cucumber cooled. the Serrano chile warmed, the exact right clip of red onion gave it all grip. And atop fish #3 that's a sour grass blossom, something we take as field-filling weed this time of year. Oxalis added vivid yellow contrast to the plate, tangy floral notes to the palate. And in one more way chef Jeremy Tummel got to tie theme directly to the land around us.

The second course mightn't be the most Instagramable, but it was delicious and had a great personality. Plus, it paired with Nuestra Soledad's San Luis del Rio Mezcal, clean and lean as a Concorde (I'm showing my age here, aren't?). The dish is a Manilla clam cocktail, or as Tummel billed it, a "Baja-style campechana," and you would want to lap up that sauce/salsa/soup by the bowlful if you didn't have more courses on the way. Pungently tomato-y even this early in the tomato season, rich with Lillies (garlic and onion or shallot?), cilantro, pepper, and the magic of some smoked trout roe, briny bubbles of saline delight. A dice of avocado, a splash of lemon oil. Wow.

Obviously any meal at La Paloma that didn't take advantage of its red oak grip would be a shame. Wednesday was not in the least shameful. Those are oak smoked baby back ribs, reminding me why I need to order ribs more. They also got everyone past the niceties--looking around at the jolly group (you sit at a communal large U of a table), and everyone dug in with their hands to bite off every last tender morsel of dark coffee barbecued meat. The white sage (more local herbal call out, of course) honey granola atop provided some crunchy contrast, and then the cheesy (Parm, evidently) white corn grits beneath hit the spot where comfort food gets elevated just enough to be classic yet contemporary. The pair here was with Angelica's tequila reposado, which, of all things, they age in used Elijah Craig barrels. Peppery, with vanilla from the bourbon oak, it paired with the ribs like they were created for each other.

And here Chryss got a pescatarian sub that earned its many envious glances from other diners. Thanks, La Paloma, for being so accommodating. Indeed, overall the service was top-notch, even navigating around the large single table in the back patio. 

There might have been a bonus Por Siempre Sotol. I won't tell. 

Dessert brought out the refreshing pineapple piloncillo brûlée you see above, topped with a vanilla beanie cream scoop and drizzled with dulce de leche. Plus there's a bit of crumble on the plate and some finger lime for acid and balance and bubble-popping fun (and a call back to the roe, no?). Sweet, but far from too. The drink pairing went for the same-same rule this time, to stunning effect--we got to enjoy Tepache Sazón, a traditional Mexican fizzy fermented drink often made of pineapple, as it is in this case. Think kombucha without tea or scabby or yoga pants. Clocks in at 7%. The effervescence keeps reviving your mouth for more dessert. And isn't that what we all want?

Well, one might also want to attend the next La Paloma pairing dinner, especially since it will feature SB's now Ian Cutler and his distillery's terrific booze. It's booked for Friday, April 26th, and you can learn more and reserve on line.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Silvers Goes for the Gold


When you hear the too-common story of a Santa Barbara restaurant taking 30 months to open, you assume it will be a tale of permit hell and financial woe. But for Lennon Silvers Lee, whose big gambit Silvers Omakase finally debuted on February 6, that long wait was a secret blessing. “I had two and a half years to work on my dream restaurant,” he asserts. “I went all-out.”

Lee certainly has had help going all-out. His partners in Silvers Omakase are venture capitalists Mitchell and Lisa Green, who befriended him when he opened Sushi|Bar in Montecito with his brother Phillip Frankland Lee (the Top Chef alum who was behind The Monarch and Silver Bough in Montecito and still heads the Scratch Restaurants empire). When older brother Phillip pulled the plug on every regional business but Sushi|Bar in October 2019, hoping to spin the sushi omakase concept into more locations, Lennon decided it was time to move out on his own. “I’m just a young kid with a 4-year-old,” he admitted during a long, recent interview sitting at his sushi bar. “It was a big leap to leave my brother and do something of this caliber.”

Care to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

A Review of "The World According to Joan Didion" by Evelyn McDonnell


You know you’re in great authorial hands when on page two of this book Evelyn McDonnell insists about her subject Joan Didion, “Narrative was her expertise and her enemy.” Not just a great insight, that line connects the dots between these two powerful women. McDonnell skillfully offers all the lessons she’s learned from years of reading, considering, and teaching (currently journalism at Loyola Marymount University) Didion. So both can wield a rapier thrust of a declarative, quick last sentence of a paragraph. For as McDonnell closes one graph, “For Didion, words were earned, not spent.” Indeed. 

 McDonnell, editor of Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé, Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl, is not attempting biography with The World According to Joan Didion, or even a literary biography, but something more attuned to her fascinating subject. It’s an examination of where Didion met the world on the page, read through a series of Didion totems that function as chapter titles, such as Gold, Notebook, Stingray, Jogger, Morgue, Orchid. For what better way to honor Didion than with a collection of essays?

Care to read the rest then so at the California Review of Books.

Burger Week 2024--Yellow Belly and The Brewhouse


It's time for the Independent's 2024 Burger Week. I got to preview and write-up two, at Yellow Belly Tap and The Brewhouse Santa Barbara. Read the whole thing at the Indy's site, go support local businesses. Eat well!

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Girl Grape Power

You know you're at the right event when you overhear other folks discussing compound butters. That's just one small way to suggest what a big event--part of an even bigger event--can embody. For the 2024 Women Winemakers and Culinarians Celebration that just occurred March 6-10, with a Grand Tasting on March 9 at boutique vineyard event space 27 Vines in Santa Ynez, was, as usual, an incredible community treasure. International Women's Day has no better home than Santa Barbara. 

Winemaker for Seagrape Karen Steinwachs (in the middle of the photo above, with chef Brooke Stockwell on the left and County Supervisor Joan Hartmann on the right--of the photo, that is), one of the events founders and organizers, let on, "There are 250 guests but 70 of us winemakers and culinarians." That's a 3.57 "faculty-student" ratio that you'd be amazed to find at even the toniest of prep schools. But in this case the "faculty" makes much of the best wine and food Santa Barbara County has to offer. There's a belief that SB has the highest ratio of women winemakers, one of those stats that makes sense when you look at photos like the one that leads this post, but is hard to prove definitively (like, if Cole Ranch, which is an AVA that's a single vineyard, was owned by a woman, that would be 100%...). Most importantly, the fest exists to give back to the community, and this year's beneficiary was She Raised Her Hand, which provides opportunities for 2 million women veterans to find community, purpose, and strength.

One of the tricky things writing about this event is that it's spectacular annually, so coming up with witty insights about it gets harder and harder. Last year I thrilled to find two of our county's best winemakers, period, Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace and Jessica Gasca of Story of Soil sharing a table--well, look at that photo above from this year. Once again both poured stunning wines--Osborne offering brand new releases from large format bottles--we all need to be talking about her Grenache Blanc more, you know--while Gasca's just disgorged 2023 Pet Nat made from Gruner was a perfect working-on-being-spring afternoon quencher. Hooray for brand new releases that confirm our region's deliciousness.

Speaking of deliciousness, there was plenty, like the scarfable ahi poke lettuce wraps from Erica Velasquez at Ramen Kotori. Heck, Joy Reinhardt from Ellie's Tap & Vine made me like bread pudding (usually not my favorite texture), by making sure the edges were crisped and crunchy. Brooke Stockwell from Los Olivos Cafe spoiled us with the unctuousness of butternut uni crostini. Jane Darrah from Good Witch Farm (what a perfect name for the event, no?) showered a chicken liver mousse crostini with gorgeous, delicious micro greens and edible flowers. 

While I didn't get enough photos of the food as I don't want to show pictures of me contentedly chewing, here's one of the view. The site was something, with plenty of space so things never felt crowded. We got to have lots of lovely conversations, which is part of the point of such an event. In particular a long chat with Sonja Magdevski--while tasting wonderful pours like her concrete egg-aged Roussanne and a wine cider that's 2/3 Mourvèdre Rosé and 1/3 pippin apples--is slowly phasing out the Casa Dumetz name so all her wines will be Clementine Carter. A scoop, of sorts.

In the news to me, you decide if it's a scoop to you category--SBC is truly rocking Gamay right now. The carbonic one above from Dreamcôte was beautiful, made whole cluster from Donnachadh Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hill's grapes that only winemaker Brit Zotovich, Ernst Storm, and the vineyard owners got to play with. Another Gamay winner comes from The Joy Fantastic, from Amy Christine and Peter Hunken's own SRH vineyard. I'd love to crack open bottles of each to taste side-by-side someday and drown in pomegranate and mineral goodness.

As for out and out new winery finds, I was most excited by another pair of table neighbors. I nicked the label image from the deeply pleasing Grenache from Cote of Paint to make clear they've got senses of both humor and marketing. Couple Kristin Harris Luis and Nick Luis both have connections with the ever-impressive Dragonette, so have learned from the best. Their creation story joke is, “We don’t want to change how wine is made, we just want to throw on a coat of paint,” but they paint deliciously. And they don't even fussily mess with the diacritical mark on the o in cote, which is mighty kind. Next to them was Amber Rose Wine, and Amber also honors a terrific mentor, in this case Pinot legend Ken Brown. Her 2018 Riverbench Vineyard SMV Pinot Noir is elegant yet speaks of the Santa Maria Valley with its salinity. Although a small operation, Amber Rose also insists on every employee being a woman in her business. Hard to beat that as a way to qualify for the occasion. 

And I wanted to end here, as it encapsulates the joy of the day. I'd laugh a lot, too, if I were as talented as Jessica Foster, who came up with the brilliant, sweet-salty bite: s'mores pecan bananas foster. Beyond the Foster/foster joke, I could have stood at this table all afternoon, gulping them down. Between lots of laughs.

Friday, March 8, 2024

World of Pinot Noir 2024: New Finds

Welcome back to hearing about me ramble around a giant Bacara ballroom in search of vinous pleasure at 2024's World of Pinot Noir Friday Grand Tasting. I will suffer the red-stained maw for you all. I've already posted about Old Friends, so this post we turn to New Finds...even if I cheat a bit with the first two.

Old friend Phil was kind enough to pour me the 2021 LaBarge Pinot at the Santa Barbara Vintners table. LaBarge produces up to 2K cases a year from the farthest western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills, where everything is under the direction of Pierre LaBarge IV (a name made for wine, no?). The Pinot, which I called "chewy, in a good way," loves the number 32, as that's both the percentage of new oak and percentage of whole cluster. Definitely a wine now on my radar, and I'm eager to taste their Albariño, Grenache, and Syrah soon.

I'm always eager to taste what Greg Brewer is doing, and even if he was traveling and not at his WOPN table, I had to drop in anyway, especially for a taste of his Machado Vineyard Pinot--there's no greater, strange uncle Old Friend than that multi-dimensional wine. Brewer-Clifton gets a spot on New Finds thanks to the latest edition to his line-up, the 2021 Perilune Vineyard Pinot, and it's fortunate I had a sip at WOPN as it's already sold out--and not yet released! The 120 acre Sta. Rita Hills site is above Melville at a slightly higher elevation, and lends itself to a bit crunchier, wilder, more herbal expression of Pinot. Brewer just never stops wowing.

I feel a tad funny including a winery that's been around since the year Bill Clinton appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg* to the Supreme Court as a New Find, but I will anyway. (Here's hoping admitting to your own ignorance is a winning personality trait, Dunning-Kruger be damned.) Talisman is all about Pinot, although it may be a rosé or a Pinot Blanc. Although they started teensy, they've only grown to still pretty tiny--3600 cases a year. But that's characterized by a passion-driven, an outsider might suggest whimsical, approach--they now typically craft 16-18 wines annually from 12 diverse and unique vineyard sites, from Carneros to Anderson Valley. Marta Rich, "proprietress," as her card puts it, was pouring herself, and happy to yank special bottles from under the table. A sure way to win a wine-lover's heart.

That bottle above is a 2017 Adara Vineyard Méthode Ancienne - RC Selection. So while Adara is a vineyard they often source in the Napa side of Carneros, this was a 1.5 barrel production, 100% whole cluster, foot stomped. Truly a creamy, spicy, exotic delight. How rewarding to see folks not just make wine that seems focus-grouped into existence.

A very different kind of passion project is Sonoma's Wren Hop. This is a winery for people who like big, BIG Pinot but still spit out Meiomi. We're talking 100% New French Oak. And lines from their website--and indeed, one of the principals has a marketing career (but can we imprecate a soul for that?)--like, "Structured wines showcasing muscle and grace with a touch of egomania." Or this description of the buxom pleasures of the 2021 Night Bulletin, and I quote en toto as I love it so much: "News that arrives in the middle of the night is never good. Godzilla was known for nuclear fueled, fire breathing midnight attacks on Yokohama. How unsportsmanlike. Our announcement is on the quieter side. This wine was havested in the calm of night when only the sound of pillow punching is audible. Night harvest leads to cold clusters with arrested sugar development and big flavor. That's bulletin worthy. This is a brooding strawberry rhubarb monster. Look for aromas of hibiscus tea and cinnamon stick, followed by ripe red berries, vanilla bean and toasted cedar. You are free to shriek now."

What's cooler is each blend of well-chosen Sonoma fruit gets is vintage-specific name, never to be used again. Shoulder Devil and Double Clutch will not return. To stress the narrative they hope each bottling suggests, the evocative labels are meant to mimic book covers--there are even "spines" as part off the art work. What's wrong with wine that's fun, and perhaps a tad slutty?

A different kind of novelty caught my attention at Norris--the location on their sign read "Ribbon Ridge." I had to ask. Turns out it's the smallest AVA in Oregon, 3.5 by 1.75 miles, in the Willamette Valley. (My ignorance this time doesn't feel too mighty.) In addition to Pinot, they specialize in Riesling, so you have to respect that. The Pinots are the complete flip side from Wren Hop, all about the diaphanous veils of cherry and currant and earth and mushroom doing a delicate dance. What's more, they were pouring a 2022 White Pinot Noir, too. While not unusual for Oregon producers, it's still rarely seen in CA, so its elegant grippiness always entrances me.

So it seems we've moved to the white wine section our program. Not that Madson doesn't make Pinot Noir, but the pourer at their table claimed "I think this is the best wine we've ever made," so who am I to disagree? Plus I found much to love in that 2022 Ascona Vineyard Chardonnay (with 5% Aligote). The 2,500 foot elevation Santa Cruz Mountains site provides minerality and tension and saline, but the lemon drop and quince fruit shines, too. Plus, they suggest it "pairs well with roasted poultry and New Yorker cartoons." I'm all for Roz Chast-onnay. Madson makes a great argument that natural wines can be clean and brilliant. And their website devotes an entire page to Carbon Offset, so let's toast to not roasting the planet along the way.

And my last winery to highlight, Oceano, even offers a non-alcoholic wine, but we'll leave ∅ for another time (although I did hunt down the HTML code for that, so please, some props). Oceano, in SLO, farms Spanish Springs Vineyard--the closest vineyard to the Pacific in all of California. Yep, there's some marine influence. Co-founder and co-winemaker Rachel Martin leans into all the cool climate attributes of the fruit, so the 2021 Chardonnay is lithe and lovely (no malo, of course), picking up all sorts more tropical notes, from kiwi to lemongrass, along with a more typical lemon-lime chardonnay profile, not that it goes Viognier on you or anything. It does goes to show the range of what we know can grow with every sip.

*And Mitch McConnell, just for Amy Coney Barrett, can rot in hell. Nothing to do with wine, but can't help myself.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

World of Pinot Noir 2024: Old Friends

I'm a horrible hypocrite, dear reader. While I suggested in my preview post that you MUST HAVE A PLAN to attack World of Pinot Noir grand tastings or you might get lost in crazy clonal seas, what I did on March 1st was anything but. I started just on walkabout. I stopped at tables with people I liked, as interested in chatting as tasting. I drank at tables without "customers," both feeling sorry for the pourer gazing out hoping to lure someone in with eye contact and simply to have plenty of room to stand. The wineries were arranged in alpha order, so I couldn't focus on regions too easily, and didn't bother. And then I was sure to hit someone every so often with some sparkling, just to Scrubbing Bubbles my palate a bit. (Much fancy water in retro-futuristic aluminum cans was consumed, too.)

I did do some math--well after I got done tasting, as wine breaks brain computational function--to discover I averaged a new taste of wine every 3 minutes and 15 seconds. So no matter how any particular pour invited me to linger, I moved on faster than a cad in a romance novel. Just so you know. 

I'm also going to lean on my favorite organizational method for tackling a Grand Tasting, breaking things down into Old Friends and New Finds (that is, new to me, far from a cutting edge sharpener). 

Phil Carpenter is far from old, but he's a dear friend, and no one has a job better suited for him. The man loves wine and adores the ones from SB in particular, and then got hired as the Director of Operations for Santa Barbara Vintners. Score! He got to pour SB wines from folks who didn't pony up for their own tables this year, and that meant stunning wines like a Barden 2020 Radian Vineyard. Of course Doug Margerum knows the region's wine as well as anyone after his years at Wine Cask and running futures, but he seems get just better and better making wine, too. This Radian sang with the forlorn vineyard's wildness. His Barden 2020 Sanford & Benedict was equally the epitome of its vineyard. There are far worse old friends than Phil and Doug, indeed. 

If you've read my wine scribbles you know I have an affinity for Anderson Valley wines, that sweet spot of coastal influence in Mendocino County. (It's also a great off-the-beaten track place to visit, free from crowds and national brands.) As I haven't had a chance to get up that way in a while, it's convenient when they come to me at WOPN. I was sure to taste at the Maggy Hawk table, and was rewarded by a 2018 Afleet they led me to write the note, "Jay-sus!" So if you care for a holy experience, look no further than this winery that likes naming things after racehorses. I can't do better than their own notes (even if this verbiage is for the 2020 vintage): "Wonderful breadth, depth, and personality in spades. Afleet incorporates four distinct blocks from the vineyard and incorporates 60% whole cluster fermentation to craft a wine with a variety of aromatics. Mandarin, stargazer lily, guava and saffron aromas mingle and develop over time. Stem tannin circles the outer edges on the texture and leaves the mid-palate fresh and juicy." OK, I probably couldn't tell apart the scent of a stargazer lily from Lily Gladstone, but I'll take their word for it.

I get a transition handed to me because Maggy Hawk's winemaker Sarah Wuethrich previous worked at Copain, the next winery I want to mention. Although physically situated in Sonoma, Copain has long worked with Anderson Valley grapes, and they nailed it with a 2022 Les Voisins Rosé. My notes say the grapes are from Yorkville Highlands, a slightly warmer AV spot, and while the wine is a pale pink, it's far from bashful on the palate, not anemic in any way. I also adored the 2020 Sealift Pinot from Sonoma County just below the Mendo County line. But at 1200 feet. Pomegranate and raspberry bursts out of the glass, so much fruit, but then the acid hits you like a velvet hammer--I mean that in the best of ways. Somehow all that flavor sits in a 12.5% ABV package. 

Speaking of places I don't get to nearly enough, France. So this WOPN I had to make my annual pilgrimage to the thoughtful men of Louis Latour. You own the most extensive Grand Cru acreage in Burgundy, you just might know what you're doing, especially when you've been working that land since four years after the guillotine came down on Marie Antoinette. It's a vivid education in Old World vs. New Pinot styles, tasting their three wines. They make you think about flowers and stones as much as cherry or plum. Each also got a bit more complex and fuller, ending with a 2020 Corton Grand Cru "Clos de la Vigne au Saint" that you would want to spend a week or two studying. It's wine for contemplation, and thoughtfulness does not throw shade on delight. At a suggested retail price of $190, I am happy for my sips.

Circling back to the almost local, one of last year's New Finds gets to be an old friend, now--I even was sure to taste it in the media room. A mere 1.5 miles from the Pacific near Avila Beach, the family-owned, organically farmed Topotero Vineyard is where Haliotide grows Pinot for their 2020 Extra Brut Rosé. Sparkling wine is their passion--it's all they do--and that focus shines in every bottle. If you could turn shortbread, strawberries, white peaches, and cream into a wine, it would be this--salt and yeastiness, fruit and richness.

Monday, March 4, 2024

California Crows a Cru

Look out Chambertin, Corton, Échezeaux, Montrachet, and Romanée-Conti, for Sanford & Benedict, Bien Nacido, Pisoni, Gap's Crown, and Savoy are coming for you. That was the mild boast in Friday morning's World of Pinot Noir seminar "The New 'Grand Cru' of California," even if chipper moderator David Glancy admitted right off, "There's no such thing, we're making it up." That didn't stop Glancy, however, from saying, as the fun and fact filled two hours came to a conclusion, "If there can be thirty-three Grand Cru in Burgundy, which is much smaller, why not two hundred Grand Cru along the much larger California coast?" Certainly the evidence in the 10 glasses the audience got to taste would suggest he could be right.

Obviously anyone attending an event like WOPN in a place like the coast-hugging splendor of the Bacara might be a tad prejudicial about the value of California grape juice. (Writer meekly raises his hand.) But the very nature of even suggesting a Grand Cru designation means you'll encounter a veritable greatest hits--this session wasn't as much about surprise as affirmation. (The market also implies worthiness--almost all the wines retail for a hefty $90.) The ten wines/sites were split evenly mid-state:

Central Coast
Sanford 2019 Block 6, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
Bien Nacido 2021 Estate, Santa Maria Valley
Talley 2021 Rosemary's Vineyard, Arroyo Grande Valley
Pisoni 2021 Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands
Mount Eden 2019 Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains 

North Coast
Hyde 2019 Estate, Carneros, Napa
Three Sticks 2021 Gap's Crown, Sonoma Coast
Merry Edwards 2021 Meredith Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Red Car 2021 Estate, Fort Ross-Seaview
Walt 2017 Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley

This write-up would be nearly as long as the seminar itself if I took you through the tasting and comments about each of the wines, which feature a talented and well-spoken panel of winemakers, GMs, and farm managers. But here are some the highlights:

*Yep, whenever anyone talks about why Santa Barbara County is a great place for grapes, the free space on the SB Bingo Card has to be "transverse mountain range." Not only did Laura Hughes from Sanford mention it right off, Anthony Avila from Bien Nacido also refered to this key topography. And then other locations tried to explain that, while they lacked the atypical east-west ranges that allow for cooling ocean air to help lengthen SB grape hang times, they had something else that was analogous: Santa Lucia Hills has a north-south wind route off Monterey Bay, according to Mark Pisoni; Ryan Prichard of Three Sticks noted Gap's Crown had the Petaluma Gap working as "Sonoma County's air conditioner."

*As with the French Grand Cru, almost of all the suggested California Grand Cru sites sell grapes to various winemakers, so it's fascinating to see how prized grapes can have different expressions through different techniques. Alison Frichtl of Walt Wines was perhaps luckiest of all--while for the panel she discussed Anderson Valley's Savoy Vineyard, she also has the opportunity to work with fruit from several of the other sites, too, including Gap's Crown and the Sta. Rita Hills. (Note: It's good to have a billionaire couple own your wine company.)

*Wine folks love to talk dirty. By that I mean soil is super important to them, which is no surprise. Terroir might refer to all the environmental factors one grows grapes in, but the root of the French word refers to lands. Pinot Noir evidently likes less hospitable dirt, and the new word of the day for me was chert, an oxidized silica that you can torture vines in, just enough, in the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. 

*If vineyards aren't organic already, everyone seems to be headed that way. Win, planet Earth!

*Disasters are the mother of invention. (Therefore Frank Zappa = Disaster) Sonoma's devastating fires of 2020 led to many wineries dumping their smoke-infused grapes. At Merry Edwards winemaker Heidi von der Meyden opted to pick early instead, a full 2 Brix lower than she usually would at the Meredith Estate Vineyard. Turned out it was a beautiful wine. So that's when she picks that vineyard ever since.

* Whether we care to bandy about the term Grand Cru or not, Pinot is here to stay. In 1960, California had 531 acres of the grape. In 2022, that number was over 47,000 acres. 

*You can have pretty much any background to end up sitting on a panel at WOPN as a vinous expert. Some folks got into the business the old fashioned way--family. (Thanks, dad!) Some entered through the world of hospitality, getting the bug while serving and drinking wine. Some were scientists wanting to do something non-theoretical. Often travel was involved. Sure, many of them wound up at Cal Poly or UC Davis to study wine, but a degree wasn't a be all, end all.

*The range of deliciousness is great for Grand Cru Pinot. Sometimes there's more saline, sometimes more earth. Sometimes more cranberry, sometimes sarsaparilla. Sometimes a nervous energy, sometimes a plush elegance. Sometimes a hint of mint, sometimes a pop of black pepper. 

All of the time, though, these California Pinots delighted. So call them whatever you want, just be sure to have me over if you pop any of their corks.