The Golden Gate Club, a former enlisted men’s retreat at the Presidio, a decommissioned military post that for two centuries stood sentry at San Francisco’s front door, has been the venue for countless celebrations: from full-dress, formal military galas to hundreds of weddings. But last Tuesday it was all business as 58 wineries traveled 100 miles from Mendocino County to pour exclusively for retail wine buyers and wine writers.
This was the second annual “Taste of Mendocino,” hosted by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission which represents 84 wineries and nearly 350 vineyard operators. The northernmost of California’s principal appellations, its Commission is on a mission to get Mendocino County on the proverbial map. . .and top of mind with its two most important audiences that have the greatest potential to influence sales of its substantial wine and grape production.
I had two reasons for making the trip. Discovering new wine for Carpe Vino is always a priority of any Vintage Highway junket, so I was ready to purchase any gems I encountered. Also, I brought along Carpe Vino’s webmaster, Chris Tandoc, to help me shoot a video covering the event as the basis for a concept for posting on this blog. . .and perhaps others in the future. My goal was to find out how wine buyers and wine writers view Mendocino. . .what specifically appeals to them about the wine and the region.
Quickly it became evident that my two goals were in direct conflict. It is very difficult to concentrate on tasting wine when you are seeking out perfect strangers to interview. None-the-less, I was able sift through the tables to sniff out two new wines that I am convinced will be major hits at Carpe Vino. And, as it turns out, the three hours allotted for the tasting was time enough to shoot interviews with a couple dozen winemakers, writers and retail wine buyers. And I chatted with Dave Batt, the Commission’s newly minted president and a long-time friend of mine from Chicago.
Meeting & Greeting:
After going through the entire event catalog when I returned home, I was surprised that we have done business with a third of the wineries at the tasting. It was great to bump into folks like Matt Meyer and Tony Poer from Meyer Family Cellars; Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel of Handley Cellars greeted me with a hug; and Walt Dreyer, who owns four brands, including Seabiscuit Ranch and Solitude Wines.
Although we’ve represented their brand, I’d never met Larry and Shirlee Londer of Londer Vineyards, but now I can finally check that box. I also met McNab Winery owner Reed Rinehart whose Fred’s Red blend has been a huge seller at Carpe Vino. He tasted me on a new wine, Zinister, a 16% alcohol zinfandel, of which only 238 cases were produced in 2007. It’s freakin’ huge and though the alcohol is monstrous, it seemed nicely balanced with big berry flavors, subtle spices and a sinister finish. It retails for $20 and we can cut customers a nice discount for larger purchases, so I ordered three cases for delivery next week.
My big score, however, was meeting Joe Webb and Kristy Charles, a young couple who, along with Kristy’s parents, Bill and Nancy Charles, own Foursight Wines in Anderson Valley’s Boonville. It’s called Foursight because Kristy’s family has been working the land for four generations, though winemaking is a rather new addition.
Bill and Nancy planted 15 acres of vines in 2001—pinot, sauvignon blanc and semillon. Joe, who studied wine business at Sonoma State University and now works for Londer Vineyards, produced the first Foursight vintage, a pinot noir in 2006. I tasted it and struck a deal on the spot to purchase at least 10 cases for the Carpe Vino Wine Club. At $46 it is kind of pricey, but it scored big right out of the box: 91 points from Wine Spectator and a double gold medal at the Chronicle competition. It is 100% estate fruit and just 425 cases of delicious wine were produced. . .perfect!
After speaking with a random group of retail wine buyers and wine writers, three things were abundantly clear: Mendocino has a great reputation for producing flavorful, approachable wine made by down-to-earth people who are committed to their craft. There is also substantial emphasis placed on the value proposition. . .you can source great wines from the regionan that are still affordable for the general consumer.
Finally, the people with whom I spoke were consistent in commenting that if the region suffers any liability, it is a weakness in telling its story—getting the word out and more aggressively marketing the AVA in a very competitive business.
Clearly, an event such as a Taste of Mendocino is a giant step along the path of gaining share of mind.
Next Week: Look for a download of our first video based on the Mendo tasting.
We take the long way to get a “Taste of Mendocino,” through the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio near San Francisco
I’m sitting in the lounge of what was the Officer’s Club of the Presidio, a former U.S. Army post decommissioned in 1994 after having served three nations as a strategic military garrison protecting the entrance to San Francisco Bay, centuries before the first gigantic concrete caissons were poured for the Golden Gate Bridge. One wall has been cut away to expose the original adobe construction, later encased in brick and finally restored in 1934 as part of a New Deal public works project.
This is one of just two San Francisco structures surviving from the Spanish colonial period dating to 1776, and it was constructed with the help of Native Americans. I’m sitting in this truly historic space accidentally, having stumbled across it looking for a dry, warm spot to work until the “Taste of Mendocino” opens a few hours from now at 1 p.m. in the Golden Gate Club, the former enlisted man’s club of the Presidio.
This event is sponsored by the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, an organization representing the 84 wineries and nearly 350 vineyards of California’s far northern appellation. An old friend from my Chicago days, Dave Batt, is the new president of the organization, and I’m here to shoot some video that may end up on his website. Dave likes my “Vintage Highway” concept, so I’m putting together a piece on the tasting, which is limited to trade and media. If you aren’t a retail wine buyer or a wine writer, you won’t make it through the front door.
Chris Tandoc, webmaster for Carpe Vino—my wine shop, wine bar and restaurant in Old Town Auburn—drove up with me yesterday afternoon. We experimented shooting video in my truck in an attempt to perfect “Moosecam,” video footage that someday will be credited to my one-year-old Italian greyhound. I’ll be taking my pup along with me on future Vintage Highway forays into wine country, and he will have a non-speaking role as “camera jockey”.
We could have easily driven up this morning in plenty of time for the tasting, but I’m determined to stick with the Vintage Highway concept of pulling my Airstream to a venue and then staying overnight to really get a sense of the place. I’m done with hit-and-run visits; I’m willing to spend the extra time it takes to see and hear and taste.
And we did all of that last night. This is a confusing place to navigate, with a tangle of lanes that connect former military warehouses and administration buildings to rows of latter-day officers billets and enlisted barracks. We eventually located the Presidio Social Club, the lone fine dining spot on the post. . .and it was packed on a Monday might. I brought along a bottle of ’07 The Terraces Zinfandel which we consumed at the marble-surfaced bar, matching it with simple comfort food.
We passed the evening in a parking lot overlooking the Golden Gate Club, a very quiet hideaway principally because it is adjacent to the San Francisco National Cemetery, the final resting place for some 34,000 war casualties and veterans. We pulled up after dark, and when I stepped out of the truck, row after undulating row of white crosses covered a hillside.
It didn’t take long before we received our anticipated “official” welcome from the Presidio Police, an employee of the federal government since this tip of the peninsula is independent of the city and county of San Francisco. As soon as I turned on lights in the trailer, we attracted the patrol car we observed parked above us near the Presidio’s Main Post Chapel. I explained our mission and the officer cheerfully permitted us to stay. Though the propane furnace is the only non-functioning appliance on the trailer, my silver cocoon was quite warm and comfortable.
In just a couple of hours we’ll be tasting our way through some of Mendocino’s finest offerings from wineries such as Handley Cellars, Londer Vineyards, Goldeneye, McNab Ridge, Meyer Family Cellars and Roederer Estate. Mendo is a huge AVA, with wineries concentrated principally in the Andersen Valley along twisty Rte. 128 and all along Hwy. 101 through Hopland and Ukiah. Some 16,000 acres of vines are planted in 12 sub-appellations. You really do need a program to keep everything straight.
Check back on Wednesday for my post about the Mendo tasting. . .we’ll have our first video post up soon.
One Final Note:
I received the eamil below while sitting at the bar in the Presidio Social Club. . .nice:
Hello there! I love all things Airstream and saw you tonight on 101 driving into San Francisco. I took a picture of your Airstream and will send it to you if you would like it! (I had to prove to the boyfriend “I really saw an Airstream in SF!!) It was a beautiful sight and gave me a big smile during my commute home! All the best~ Barbara
PS: I will look forward to checking out your blog
Vintage trailers, pre-1916 motorcycles are Vince’s specialties; is there a classic trailer show in Old Town’s future?
After purchasing my borderline vintage Airstream—it’s a 1972 model, so technically it isn’t old enough to be considered a classic—I located four books about old trailers. One name was prominent in each: Vince Martinico. Photos of his meticulously restored trailers appeared in all of the books, and he was acknowledged as one of America’s leading authorities on vintage trailers. His expertise is not limited to Airstreams. . .it extends to all pre-WWII brands and types. . .Bolus, canned hams, housecars, streamline cars, trucks—you name it, he’s the man.
The cool thing is Vince lives right here in Placer County, just outside of Auburn, and he manages his collection in Newcastle. I finally met Vince earlier this week, after Carpe Vino Wine Club members Gary and Jo Rust put me in touch with him. The four of us met in the wine bar to talk about the potential for hosting a vintage trailer show in Old Town Auburn in the fall.
Vince and I chatted for three hours, and we could have gone on longer, but after we drained a bottle of the 2006 Bjorn Cabernet Sauvignon, I figured it was sensible to wrap up the conversation. It was long enough of a visit to know this is one remarkable fellow who starting collecting when he was in grammar school.
He started out modestly, hording cigar wrappers, stamps, door knobs and the colorful labels of fireworks wrappers. “I liked putting things in rows,” he told me. These days, the rows consist of, in addition to vintage trailers, pre-1916 motorcycles, race bikes and memorabilia of all genres.
What is his favorite collectible? “Anything I can buy that is under its appraised value,” he responded. That’s because he makes his living trading in objects, and the deeper the patina of age, the better. He travels the country seeking out new finds at swap meets and through his huge network of contacts, making him a high-end picker.
In fact, he is long-time friends with both Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, antique foragers chronicled in the History Channel’s wildly popular “American Pickers,” cable series. Vince says he has been friends with both for 18 years, and has Mike on his speed dial. He trades frequently with the duo.
All pickers seem to have an issue with hoarding. They are driven to collect but hate to part with anything. In fact, Vince’s business card reads: “Always buying—Sometimes Selling.” The trick, Vince says, is to constantly seek to “trade up” his collections.
Rare motorcycles are one of Vince’s many specialties. His 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer won four top awards—including Best of Show—at the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance in Half Moon Bay. This show is widely regarded as the motorcycle equivalent of the Pebble Beach event for classic motorcars. (Go to Motorcyle.com for full story.)
Both Vince and the Rusts are eager to participate in putting together a modest vintage trailer show to be held later in the fall. After getting approval from the Old Town Business Association, the City, et. al., my hope is we get assemble up to 25 beautiful trailers for a show. It would be a great event and a nice way to encourage people to visit Old Town.
And, I’m hoping to get to Newcastle sometime soon to see Vince’s assemblage of classic rolling stock.
In this second and final installment about Vintage Highway’s visit to Rutherford, learn how to make balsamic vinegar. . .if you have 25 years to invest
(Scroll down to read Part I.)
Our last stop on Timm Crull’s estate tour was to taste his balsamic vinegar, stored in a converted root cellar that he estimates was built sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. Although there are many olive oil makers in Napa, as far as I can tell The Terraces is the only balsamic producer. And the reason is likely because it is such a time-consuming, complex and expensive process.
Ah, one of those “wouldn’t it be cool” inspirations; a casual thought that once acted upon can cost unimaginable amounts of money and tons of time. I know, because Carpe Vino was my compulsive “wouldn’t-it-be-cool” brain fart that has dominated my life for the past eight years.
That trip was pushing 15 years ago, and Timm’s first batch of vinegar is finally ready to drizzle with extra virgin olive oil over romaine, but it is still very much like a young wine. This taken from The Terraces’ web site: “. . .as the Italians say, “we make it for our grandchildren,’ for it won’t truly be exceptional until it has aged for a quarter century.”
Now there’s a commitment that will last longer than most marriages these days.
Timm walked me through the process of making balsamic vinegar, but that’s a 5,000-word treatise. The short story is you start with 300 gallons of crushed grapes which are cooked down to 150 gallons of mosto cotto, or “cooked must.” This concoction eventually hits 45 brix before a special yeast is added to induce fermentation. This yeast survives the incredibly high sugar levels but dies when alcohol hits 10%. The juice is then stored in neutral barrels and each year up to 15% is lost through evaporation.
Eventually, the juice goes into the balsamic cellar, which contains neat rows of six barrels—called “batteries”—each made from a different species of wood to impart specific flavors. Juice is transferred from one barrel to another, picking up the nuances of the wood: acacia, chestnut, cherry, ash, oak and mulberry. These are hard-to-source mini-barrels, each costing upwards of $1,100 each. Timm has four batteries working in his cellar, so do the math (6 x $1,100 x 4 = major bucks). The flip side is the barrels have a useful life expectancy of 100 years.
Add to this the cost of refurbishing the cellar. The deteriorated floor was lowered two feet and new concrete was poured. The roof was retrofitted and Timm built the gorgeous barrel racks himself.
Using a glass pipe—basically a “balsamic thief”—Timm extracted samples from barrels and released droplets of his homebrewed elixir on the back of my hand for me to lick off—that’s the way they do it in Italy, I suspect. Even this fraction of a pour carpet bombed my tongue with sweetness and acid, exploding across my tasted buds, releasing a holocaust of flavors. Shit’s amazing.
I wish I could tell you to go online and purchase this magnificent fluid, but it isn’t for sale. And, it is unlikely that you will be among the privileged few invited to one of the Crull’s summer gatherings where he presents a six-course lunch with balsamic vinegars paired to each. One of his favorite finales is a peach balsamic sorbet. . .oh, my God, can you imagine?
“I love bringing people together and having great food, wine and talk,” he said. Sign me up for that.
Meet Timm and Sharon Crull at Carpe Viino
Actually, there is one other way you can enjoy the full bounty of The Terraces. Timm and Sharon will be featured at the next Carpe Vino winemaker dinner on May 15th when Chef Alexander will pair his menu with Timm’s wines and balsamic vinegars. This is sure to be one of the most unique events we’ve ever hosted. Cost will be announced soon, and we’ll start accepting reservations late in April. Stay tuned!