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Perhaps credit for the planting of the major Rhone varietals in California goes to Joseph Phelps, who offered a varietal Syrah back in the mid 1970s.  

We think, however, even more credit goes to Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard.  Grahm began in his quixotic quest to master Pinot Noir.  He came to realize that California's climate was more suited to Mediterranean varieties than Burgundian.  He's brought attention to Grenache (the primary grape of French Rhone wines such as Côtes du Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Syrah (the noble red grape of the Northern Rhône, producing wines such as Hermitage and Côte-Rotie) and  Mourvèdre (also known as Mataro or Monastrell in Spain and the backbone of the robust reds of Provence called Bandol). 

A prominent Rhône Ranger winemaker sent a note saying Randall Grahm's interest in Syrah was piqued after his tasting a 1982 Syrah from Paso Robles made by Bob Lindquist (Mister Qupé).  Mr. Grahm told us he doesn't recall it that way.

Sometimes Randall Grahm had been the victim of his own success, losing out on buying the fruit he's brought attention to as other wineries have been willing to pay (higher) premium prices for these grapes! 

There was a legal entanglement some years ago over some grapevines originally said to be Roussanne.  It seems some people have paid money to Sonoma Grapevines for cuttings or Roussanne, planted these "sticks" in the ground and then, several years later, they're harvesting fruit.  Unfortunately these grapes were Viognier, not Roussanne.   Oops!  

What was Monsieur Grahm thinking, anyway?    He brought over what are cleverly dubbed "suitcase varieties" (grape cuttings stashed in luggage and brought over directly from Europe.  Mr. Graham claimed to have gotten the cuttings from a vineyard in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where Viognier is not especially prominent, but Roussanne is more widely cultivated.
He reportedly "gave" the cuttings to the nursery, while the owner of the nursery asserts he paid for the vines.  

One factor seems lost on many California producers of "Rhône-styled" wines.   European connoisseurs have historically turned to the Rhône Valley for wines when Bordeaux and Burgundy priced themselves out of reach.  It is still possible to buy glorious Rhône wines in the $15-$30 range.  

Many of the California Rhône Rangers' (as they're called) wines are in the $25-$100 category!  Frankly, we've tasted some mighty fine Rhône wines which cost a fraction of what the California wineries are asking.  Many local producers are banking on, apparently, scarcity as a factor in allowing them to seek these luxury prices before their wines have reached the same quality level.  Others are banking simply on the novelty of having a wine they hope will compare favorably to those being made in Europe.


Randall Grahm sold his Bonny Doon brand to some company that features labels geared towards marketing.  The company that now owns this historic brand, for example, offers a seltzer called "Bubble Butt."  Perhaps that tells us all we need to know???


Actually, though, there's a particular dynamic which is driving the ridiculous prices for a lot of the marginal wines.  

For many of the scads of producers in the Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo area, the wines are good enough to sell to tourists who are out for a weekend away from Los Angeles or San Francisco.   This is the same for Lodi, too.  Add Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Barbara to this list, too, why don't you?

Wineries with $40-$125 price tags are able to sell their precious bottles to folks who are just out for a day or two "on the road" and these expensive souvenirs cause vintners to expect others to pony up silly sums of cash for the same plonk.  

If you have an idea of the "value" of wine, then you might be unwilling to pay so much for so little.  If you're just out on the wine trail and collecting some souvenir bottles, well, knock yourself out.

We have good quality Côtes-du-Rhône wines in the shop at eleven to sixteen bucks.  And $20-$40 will get you some really good French bottles...

Not a lot of them have a great understanding of the wines they are trying to imitate.  One fellow recently stopped by with a Viognier, telling me "The wine from this vineyard doesn't taste right when it's bone dry."  I kept my big mouth shut (for once) as I was thinking "It doesn't taste right sweet, either!"  

He had a freshly-bottled Rosé.  Only 15% alcohol, too!  As for his Syrahs, none was likely to keep Rhône Valley winemakers awake at night knowing there's competition from California!  I asked him what Rhône winemakers he liked and he ran off a list of many good wineries.  Too bad his wines didn't taste as good to me as some of our well-priced Côtes du Rhônes.    (That winery went out of business, by the way.)

Another fellow made a Syrah Rosé of huge alcohol (he claimed it's around 19.0% alcohol and dry!) and asked $75 for a bottle.  He's no longer in business, we learned recently.  Wonder why???

We wonder if so many proponents of California's Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre and Viognier/Roussanne/Marsanne, etc. wines have even tasted good wines from France's Rhone Valley.  It seems as though most producers have no clue as to what makes top French Rhone wines "special."

In an edition (now some years ago) of Robert Parker's "Wine Advocate," many of the micro-production Syrah wines are evaluated.  Highly praised are wines which some consumers may find undrinkable.  The wines are picked at high levels of sugar and end up producing wines nearly as alcoholic as a martini!  We don't agree with this notion that bigger, more intense wine is necessarily better.  

Amazing is the fact that Mr. Parker wrote a book on the wines of the Rhône Valley.  He seems to have a good idea of what the wines from France, the benchmarks, ought to taste like.  Yet he is advising consumers to throw serious amounts of money at wines which are less-than-stellar, in our view.  (Look at some of Mr. Parker's reviews of Australian wines.  Yikes!)

Further, by heaping what we view as unwarranted praise on many of these wines, Mr. Parker is encouraging winemakers to make these behemoths since those are wines which get the highest numerical scores.    Winemakers will continue to pick at higher and higher levels of sugar and make wines more potent than Sherry!  

I spoke with one well-established winemaker whose wines get good reviews from Mr. Parker.  He said he felt a bit "sick" when reading Parker's Issue #154 from notes gathered over the summer of 2004.  "I thought about writing a letter to him suggesting that he's totally lost with respect to these wines.  But I don't want it to sound like 'sour grapes' since he does rate my wines.  And besides, such a letter might adversely impact the scores for my own wines."  

We poke fun at ourselves on our wine-tasting pages pointing out that our blind-tasting comparisons are for "sport" and they are not "rocket science."  The notion of scoring every wine with a numerical score on a 100 or 20 point scale seems silly, since these numbers really are a personal reaction to a particular wine.  And they are "valid" (if you wish to give them any credence) for the flight of wines in which they are tasted.  That is, a 90 point wine in one line-up, might merit only 85 points in another, while garnering 93 points amongst a weaker field of challengers.  

But to attain the lofty scores many winemakers seek, one is obliged to make "extreme" wines.  You have to have a wine with more color, more body, more intensity than other wines.  These wines, evaluated in the context of a "wine tasting", may show far differently than they do in the context of dinner-time wine "drinking."  

A "taster" has but a minute or two to evaluate a wine.  They don't "live" with the wine for an hour while dining.  We've found many of these huge monsters to be fatiguing and, frankly, uninteresting after the first glass.  

We admire the enthusiasm of some of the local winemakers, but think some might benefit from additional study in the realm of wine and how it pairs with food. 

It's, perhaps, fortunate that the old-time fashion of flambéing food tableside in restaurants is pass, since many of these wines might catch on fire and cause serious damage!  Some of the white wines are well over 15% alcohol!   These can burn a hole on your palate.

Some Wines We Like:




Winemaker Adam Tolmach owns this gem of a winery with his lovely wife Helen.  He had been an early pioneer in Santa Barbara wine history, having been a co-founder of the Au Bon Climat winery with Jim Clendenen.   Both fellows are graduates of the University of Zaca Mesa, another old Santa Barbara County winery.  (Bob Lindquist worked there, too, he of the now famous Qupé winery.)   

A-B-C specialized in Burgundian varieties and this was a much-heralded little brand in its early days.  The partnership eventually dissolved, as Adam sold his interest in ABC to Clendenen and devoted full attention to The Ojai Vineyard. 

Adam's grandfather has bought a property in Ventura County, just south of Santa Barbara.  There Gramps cultivated melons and corn and the old boy sold these at a roadside stand in the town of Oak View.

Tolmach made some striking wines in the early days.  He still makes striking wines, actually, but in those days his wines were seemingly bigger and deeper than most in the market.  (We were early fans of his Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnays, too.)

Adam hasn't changed much, although there have been constant refinements and enhancements in his vineyard work and cellar practices.  But these days, some of the wines being made in California seem to be pushed in a direction to maximize color, alcohol and intensity as these features help a wine stand out in a blind-tasting.  And, at one point, wine critics tasted wines "blind," so those elements allowed a wine to rise above the competition.

These days we're fairly certain most of the current crop of critics taste wines knowing what they are evaluating and there are certain preconceived notions muddying the murky waters of wine criticism.

So today's Ojai Vineyard Syrah wines are not the biggest or "baddest" wines on the table.  But they can be some of the most intriguing and interestingly complex wines on the dinner table.

Adam still makes a fair bit of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and, crazy fellow that he is, Riesling is now part of the Ojai portfolio.

Tolmach works diligently with a stable of growers to produce his remarkable wines.  In the early days he was buying grapes as most winemakers bought grapes, "by the ton."  But the grower, cultivating vineyards for tonnage is usually working at cross-purposes with a winemaker.  
So Adam was early on the bandwagon of buying fruit "by the acre."  This meant he would pay a grower the price he'd pay for so many tons per acre, but he would direct the farming to produce a smaller crop with the idea of increasing the quality of the grapes.

He's continued to refine his partnership with growers with whom he works.  As there has been a warming trend over the past few decades, Adam keeps an eagle eye on the various vineyards as the harvest season looms on his horizon and he's not at all interested in picking fruit with such high levels of sugar that the grapes are a bit dehydrated.   His other refinement is a reduction in new wood used for aging the wines.  When you make a number of single vineyard bottlings, you can make them taste quite similar by seasoning the wines with the impact of new barrels.  Tolmach now prefers to highlight the actual characteristics conferred on the wines by toning down the wood.  

We have one Ojai Syrah in the shop presently (along with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir).

We liked the 2018 Santa Barbara bottling from the Sebastiano Vineyard.  This comes from a Sta. Rita Hills vineyard that's quite breezy and rather cool.  In 2018 the grapes were picked in early November, meaning there was a lot of "hang time" allowing the fruit to develop additional character.  There are aromas and flavors we look for in Northern Rhône Syrahs from France, as those are benchmarks for this variety.

We often ask California vintners who show us wines labeled as Syrah what grape variety they use to make their wine.  They are likely thinking they're dealing with a moron (and maybe they are!), as the wine is clearly labeled "Syrah."
But if you sniff and taste many of these, the wines are merely red table wine and there's not much classic Syrah character.

In this 2018 from Ojai, it displays plenty of easily identifiable Syrah notes with dark fruit, a touch of a bacony, hickory smoke tone and some blackberryish fruit.  They use only a token percentage of new oak barrels, so the wood is a dash of salt & pepper and not an easily detectable feature of the wine.

We expect this will continue to blossom over the next five years and maybe even longer.




Currently available: 
2018 OJAI "John Sebastiano" Sta. Rita Hills SYRAH  $37.99






Susan Marks and Jonathan Lachs met while studying at UC Davis and they had careers outside of wine in order to generate enough cash to invest in their winemaking folly.

She worked in some biotech capacity and Jonathan was a Hewlett-Packard staffers back in the day.  I know they had some experience working in wineries in California's Central Coast and the fantasy world called Napa Valley.

They settled in the town of Fair Play which is located in El Dorado County.  Gold Country. Way up yonder in them thar' hills, if you know what I mean.

It's a beautiful little property and they farm it with thought and care.
Organic farming practices have been in place for a number of years now.
We are saddened, though, by the passing of Susan in mid-2020 from a prolonged illness...Jonathan, though, says he will continue her legacy and grow grapes and make a little bit of wine.



Wine grower and winemakers Jonathan Lachs.

It's a small winery and most wines are produced in lots ranging in quantity from 75 to 300 cases.

The vineyards surrounding the house and residence are in the Fair Play appellation.  This is, by the way, California's highest elevation vineyards, with most of the acreage ranging from 2,000 to 3000 feet.    The soils are sandy loam and granite, with modest rainfall if we're not experiencing drought conditions.  The large swing between daytime and night-time can be dramatic, allowing the fruit to retain nice levels of acidity.

I suspect Lachs and Marks thought they'd be making primarily Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, but these days they're growing a number of Rhone varieties and with success.

We've had a few Rhone varietals from Cedarville.  

The Grenache is no longer least for the time being.

The 2020 Viognier comes from a north-facing slope, which is great in terms of challenging the vines to ripen their crop.  The problem can be , though, at such a high elevation, frosts can adversely impact the crop load when the vineyards are in the early stages of the Spring season.   

The soils are loamy and granitic which they say helps in producing a wine with a mildly stony quality along with its classic peach/apricot-like character.  To its credit, the wine can be identified in the glass as Viognier, unlike many of the "mystery whites" we encounter.

The 2017 Syrah comes from vines that are nearly two decades old, so they've got deep roots and this helps add to the quality of this lovely wine.  
Taking a page out of a winemaker's book from the Northern Rhone in France, Cedarville's Syrah is co-fermented with a small percentage of Viognier.  
The wine sports a nice dark berry sort of fragrance and it's medium-full on the palate without being especially astringent.  
They only make a few barrels of this wine, by the way.

We suspect the wine will blossom handsomely with sufficient bottle aging...though it is quite enjoyable in its youth, the wine seems to have enough stuffing to turn into quite a surprising bottle if left alone for five or ten years.  On the other hand, if there's a leg of lamb in the oven tonight, your bottle may be too tempting to allow it to develop.

Another feature of Cedarville wines is they are well-priced and afford consumers of not only good quality, but good value.


Currently in stock:  2018 CEDARVILLE   El Dorado   GRENACHE  Sold Out
2020 CEDARVILLE   El Dorado   VIOGNIER  $21.99
2017 CEDARVILLE   El Dorado   SYRAH  Sold Out




wpe1F.jpg (4034 bytes)John Alban is one of the leading lights in the Rhône Ranger contingent. His name seemed to first appear on various wine labels as the source of grapes such as Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne.  

Then he launched his own label, much like many people who grow grapes.  When you see how much money some winemakers ask for the wines from your own fruit, there's certainly the temptation to start making your own.

Early vintages were a bit inconsistent.  Some wines were pretty nice, while others were not to our taste.  Though the current crop of Alban offerings get good reviews from many critics, they are not wines of universal appeal, but the "basic" (if you want to call them that) offerings have been good as John seems to have the vineyard and cellar work 'dialed in.'

Alban makes a couple of Viognier wines, for example.  Most of the time we seem to prefer the basic, entry level "Central Coast" bottling.  It is typically more forward, lower in alcohol and simply "easier" than the Estate wine.  The 2016 has arrived recently and it's a medium-bodied, mildly peachy rendition.


Syrahs are, of course, a main attraction at Alban.  There are several.  

Patrina is a big, dark, teeth-staining red.  We are waiting for a new release.

Then there's one called Reva.  It's even bigger and blacker in color.  Nothing in stock presently..
We tasted one called Lorraine and another called Seymour's.  It is obligatory that one fasten one's seatbelt when tasting these.
They are absolutely inky, dark, full-throttle red showpieces.

I was at a dinner event with a winemaker from France and a bunch of Bay Area wine people.  Someone brought one of these whiz-bang bottles of Alban Syrah.  If you are impressed by how much a wine can stain your teeth more than you are by its character, then you will probably appreciate these latter two wines.  They are wines to admire for their power and strength, but drinking more than a sip may prove challenging to some.
Currently available:  2018 Central Coast Viognier $25.99
Patrina  2016 Syrah  Sale $49.99
REVA SYRAH :  Sold Out





Regular customers (or lurkers here on the web) at Weimax have often seen bottles of Bryan Harrington's wines in the shop.  His winery is located in an out-of-the-way spot in an industrial warehouse zone of San Francisco, hardly the bucolic Napa or Sonoma winery experience.

Harrington makes all sorts of tiny batches of interesting wines.  He began as a Pinot Noir winemaker and these days has broadened his horizons to all sorts of Italian varieties.  

In 2017 he was able to acquire some grapes from the McEvoy Ranch.  You might recognize that name from the world of olive oils.

They also grow some interesting grapes and have made a bit of wine under their own banner.

Harrington's Marin County Syrah is a baby and you might describe it as a wunderkind.  It's really showy and delicious already and it's going to continue to blossom over the next several years.

We like the dark plum fruit and there's a touch of spice to this with other dark fruit notes.  

We put a bottle in our little wine tasting room and the reaction to this has been most favorable...remarkable as Syrah is not usually appreciated by many California wine aficionados.  


Currently in stock:  2017 HARRINGTON McEvoy Ranch Marin County SYRAH  $32.99





Here's a cool wine company that seems to fly below the radar, despite making some exceptional wines.

It's the work of a husband & wife team, Peter Hunken and Amy Christine.  Peter had been working for the Stolpman winery for a number of years and then was a founding partner in the Piedrasassi winery.  She has experience as a sommelier and has worked for a Los Angeles wine importer.  She and Peter met in 2004 and they launched their Holus Bolus enterprise with the 2005 vintage.

She, by the way, represents Kermit Lynch Wine Imports in Southern California.  In 2013 she took "Master of Wine" honors and is one of 13 American women to hold such a title.

Peter and Amy

It seems clear to us that they enjoy Northern Rhône wines as their own Syrah bottlings have beautifully emulated these French offerings.  

Currently they have several labels of their "Black Sheep Finds" portfolio.  There's "The Joy Fantastic" wines from what is essentially an "estate" vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills.  They lease this site and perhaps one day they'll own this vineyard.  Holus Bolus is their label for Rhône varieties, focusing on Syrah.  And then there are the Black Sheep Finds bottlings with names such as Genuine Risk, Amy & Peter Made This, Cafe Society and Hocus Pocus.  

We currently have a remarkable Syrah from the Presqui'le Vineyard, a cool site some ten or eleven miles northeast of Vandenberg Air Force Base.  It's a sandy site and the winds blow off the Pacific Ocean there, forcing the grapes to struggle to achieve maturity.  They tend to have long "hang time" as a result.  So Amy and Peter are starting with an advantage right there.  But it still takes attention to detail to handle those grapes and make a wine of depth and complexity.

We currently have their 2021 Syrah from this Santa Maria Valley site.  They seem to rely on some whole clusters in the fermentation tank in making this wine. It's then matured in older, seasoned cooperage so the wood influence is minimal in terms of imparting oak fragrances and flavors.  This is what Syrah is (or should be) all about.  
So many California Syrahs are merely "red wines."  And this causes me to ask vintners "What grapes do you make your Syrah from?"
Of course, they think I'm a total rube (and maybe I am), missing the subtle jab over the character of their wine.

The 2021 is showing well, but it's just starting to strut its stuff.  If you're putting this on the dinner table in the near future, please give it an hour or two in a decanter to allow the wine to breathe a bit and blossom.  

This Holus Bolus wine is pure Syrah.  All at once.
No doubt.

Their wines, by the way, are made in an industrial park full of small winemaking enterprises called the Lompoc Wine Ghetto about an hour drive north of Santa Barbara.



Currently in stock:  2021 HOLUS BOLUS Santa Maria Valley  "Presqui'le Vineyard" SYRAH  $49.99




This brand started out as a little wine shop in San Francisco, operated by Gavin Newsom (later mayor of San Francisco and presently governor of the state of California) and his buddy, Gordon Getty.  

They chose to name their enterprise after a Shakespearian character, Sir John Falstaff, who was nicknamed Plumpjack.  They were able to purchase what had been, in the 1970s, the Villa Mt. Eden winery in Oakville.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the main wines and yet their Syrah is remarkable.

The Syrah comes from the Carneros region, a slightly cooler area where the grapes will take a bit longer to mature than farther north in Napa.  They do a couple of batches of this wine...approximately two-thirds of the fruit is de-stemmed and then the juice is cold-soaked and fermented with about 8 to 10 days of maceration.  The other third is whole-cluster fermented at a slightly lower temperature in hopes of retaining more fruit.  Then the wine is racked into French oak barrels with about three-quarters of the cooperage being brand new.

The resulting wine is remarkably showy and complex.  There is intense black fruit on the nose and palate.  We detect notes of black plums and blueberries and the wood gives a brown spice element to the wine.

The 2019 Syrah is beautifully drinkable now and should hold well for several years.  We have one customer who favors this with Indian cuisine as the wine dovetails beautifully with the brown spice notes in the cuisine.  But this can also be paired with grilled or roasted meats.

Currently in stock:  2019 PLUMPJACK Napa Valley $83.99






The Peay brothers, Nick & Andy and Nick's wife, winemaker Vanessa Wong, comprise the trio that run this nice little enterprise.

They scouted prospective vineyard sites up and down the west coast before settling on a wild patch of land (formerly devoted to an apple orchard and sheep-raising) a few miles inland from Sea Ranch.  This is situated, then, in a little pocket on the western edge of the northernmost portion of the Sonoma Coast appellation.  The Peays have a 51 acre site with about two-thirds of it devoted to shy-bearing Pinot Noir.  There's a modest couple of sites with Syrah, two plots of Chardonnay and a smattering of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne just for curiosity.

Nick Peay handles the vineyard work, having spent time in a previous life with affiliations at Schramsberg, La Jota, Newton and the very practical Storrs winery in Santa Cruz.  He also did a bit of industrial espionage at the nearby Flowers winery, before shipping out to Coldstream Hills in Australia one year.

Andy Peay is a Dartmouth graduate and spent time in the world of Wall Street high finance and UC Berkeley economics.  At one point he worked a harvest at Cain Vineyards and he was hooked.  Today he oversees the business side of the enterprise.

Nick's wife Vanessa-The-Winemaker-Wong has some nice names on her résumé.  After her university studies, she ventured to France and spent time at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux and Domaine Jean Gros in Burgundy.  She came home to California and was employed by the Franciscan winery before signing up with the Peter Michael Winery.  Then in 2001, the Peay adventure began and it seems to be sailing along rather nicely.

They make a modest quantity of Peay-labeled wine and have a second label called Cep for the declassified lots.   They hedge their bets financially by selling a small amount of fruit to two other top wineries:  Williams-Selyem and Failla.
The 2016 "La Bruma" is comprised of 5 clones of Syrah.  Something like 10% of the fruit was "whole cluster," while the rest was conventionally processed.  Twenty percent new oak gives a faintly sweet quality to the wine, which really captures elements of cool-climate Syrah as there is a fair bit of dark fruit and some of the olivey, tapenade-like character we look for in Syrah.
It's a really "serious" wine with a lot of character.

Currently in stock:  2016 PEAY Sonoma Coast "La Bruma" SYRAH  Sold Out




A couple of wine industry friends launched their winemaking enterprise back in 2004 and focused on making wines from grapes more commonly found on the Iberian Peninsula.

We're really delighted by another rendition of this "Whole Hog" red blend.  2021.  It's quite a mix of grapes and regions.

It's 60% Syrah with grapes coming from the Petaluma Wind Gap and another cool site in Sonoma County's Green Valley..  Then there's 10% Mourvedre in Dry Creek in Sonoma.  There's 20% of Grenache and 7% Carignane coming from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley.  Two percent Cinsault comes from a Lodi vineyard that's claimed to be well more than a hundred years old.  And the remaining one percent is Viognier.

Some of the fruit was left as whole clusters to obtain more berry-like notes in the wine.  And then they mature this in cooperage that's a bit larger than standard French or American oak barrels.  These are called "hogsheads" and so now you know why the wine is dubbed "Whole Hog" and the brand is called Cochon.

The wine is a delight and every time we taste it we encounter a new wrinkle or element.  There's dark berry fruit and some underbrush. Add to that some spice notes.  It's dry and there's a modest level of tannin, so the wine smooths out nicely in the company of lamb or well-seasoned beef.  Or how about a grilled pork chop to complete the "cochon" theme?

They don't make much of this and given its popularity with Weimax customers, one might rightly accuse us of "hogging" the production.
The 2021 vintage tallied to 300 cases, a nice increase from 200 for 2019.

Currently in stock:  2021 COCHON "Whole Hog" RED BLEND   SALE $21.99






You're probably wondering what the hell is a "shypoke"?  How did this winery get its name?

Well, in fact, "shypoke" is another name for a heron.  These birds were known as "shitepokes" and and, yes, the "shit" is attributed to the behavior of herons...a result of their propensity to defecate, so get your umbrella ready when you see some flying overhead.

The couple tending the Shypoke vines have a long heritage of grape-growing.  This is the work of Peter and Meg Heitz.  His great grandparents came to California from their homeland in France's Alsace and they settled in Napa in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

This brand of the Heitz family is not related to the famous family which started the prestigious Heitz Cellar winery in the 1960s.  But Peter Heitz told us they had sold grapes to the legendary Joe Heitz.

His great grandparents had established vineyards in the Calistoga area and his parents owned vineyards at the other end of the Napa Valley, in Carneros.

Peter studied biology at UC Santa Cruz and returned "home" to Napa where he worked for Beringer.  He told us he has a "day job" working for the Turnbull winery as its winemaker.  

"This allows us to make a small amount of wine under our Shypoke banner and we can produce wines we like to drink."

We tasted a unique blend which we all enjoyed.  It's called "Keep" as they got in the habit of putting that word on barrels of their estate-grown Grenache.  Peter explains they buy a small amount of Grenache from a grower in Mendocino which Peter claims is "the best," while his own Grenache is "maybe the second best in the world."  So he writes the word "Keep" on those barrels and he keeps them for blending into his proprietary red wine.

Shypoke, located in Calistoga, also grows a bit of the rare Charbono grape.  We have long been fans of that variety, having grown up drinking the Charbono of the Inglenook winery back in the 1970s.  For years we had Charbono featured in the shop from another Calistoga-area winery, Summers.  Jim Summers passed away in 2018 and his wife Beth closed the winery sadly.

Peter Heitz blends some of his Charbono with his estate Grenache, giving some blackberry-like fruit notes to the raspberryish Grenache.  Then he adds a bit of Petite Sirah and a dollop of Malbec.  The 2017 vintage is a seven barrel blend.  The cooperage is well-seasoned, so the wine doesn't show oak influence, allowing him to highlight the dark fruit notes of the Charbono, Petite Sirah and Malbec while incorporating the red fruit tones and touch of spice from the Grenache.

Seven barrels, so there's not a lot of this wine to be had.  It's $40 a bottle at the cellar door.  We are delighted to feature it for $34.99.  We view this as a wine that's ready to drink...not sure this will blossom into something greater with cellaring, so plan on enjoying it over the next few years.

Currently in stock:  SHYPOKE 2017 Napa Valley "KEEP"  Red Blend   Sold Out


Getting his start in the retail end of the wine biz, Steve Edmunds makes small lots of wines in rented space in the East Bay, a far cry from some idyllic site along the Rhone Valley!

His wines have often been quite good, demonstrating his eye for good fruit and then capturing the grape in the bottle.  Steve says he's not out to woo The Critics.  

"Our wines may or may not receive the highest numerical ratings bestowed by the most popular wine journals. At the moment when the wine is in the glass, and the glass is placed before the taster, the numbers are meaningless; if I can offer someone a wine that is thrilling to smell, that is unforgettable to taste, that taster, being only human, cannot help but respond. If that response is forthcoming, I will have done my job."

So Steve's wines are, to a certain degree, not for the wine drinker who's looking for a ton of new oak.  You won't find his wines to be manipulated to suit the current taste of the market.  Edmunds enjoys the sense of "place" one finds in many European wines;  the element the French call "terroir."  

"It is our goal to produce wines of the highest level of quality, integrity, and authenticity, the hallmarks of which are balance, nuance, and elegance, wines that express their origins in place and time, wines through which "the earth speaks" in a clear and strong voice."
He made, for many years, a lovely blend called Rocks and Gravel and it was somewhat akin to a good Southern Rhône wine.

We currently have a red blend called El Jaleo.  2017 Vintage.  It's a Spanish/Rhône themed red...Mourvèdre, Grenache, Tempranillo and Graciano.  It's a berryish red with an underlying spice note.   

The Edmunds St. John labels used to read: "Produced and Bottled by Intuition and Blind-Luck."  We didn't believe him.
A recent vintage was labeled: "Cellared and Bottled by Wayward Pilgrims Of The Vine."  The new 2010 Rocks & Gravel was"bottled by the skin of our teeth."

The newest red we have from Steve is Bottled by Thumbnail Moonlight!
Currently available: 2017 EDMUNDS ST JOHN  "EL JALEO"  SALE  $26.99





Though most people identify the famous "Pisoni" name with Pinot Noir, this family is also making a small quantity of Syrah.  They use the "Lucia" name for their wines from various Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County vineyards.

Gary Pisoni is not a fellow one would consider "normal."  He's a really enthusiastic wine "geek" and embarked on a quest to grow Pinot Noir that's as good as (or better than) the benchmark estates in France's Burgundy region. 

His name appears on a dozen or so different winery brands, all of whom pay him amazingly large sums of money for fruit from his precious vineyards.  

Now that his two sons are finished with their college studies, they've joined the family enterprise.  One has a "B.S." degree in enology (most people will tell you there's a lot of BS in the wine business!), while the other is schooled in finance and business.  

While many vintners view Syrah as a hot-climate grape variety,   Yet some of the best Syrah wines come from vineyards where it's significantly cooler, challenging the vine to mature its fruit before the growing season comes to an end.  As a result, the Sonoma Coast and Monterey appellations, more famous for Pinot Noir, seem to be good locales for Syrah as well.

The Pisoni's Syrah fruit comes from one of three vineyards.  
There's the Garys' Vineyard, a site owned jointly by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni (ROAR winery).  This is right in the middle of the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation.
There's a sort of second "Garys' Vineyard" site near the first "Gary's Vineyard."
This is called Soberanes.


The 2018 Gary's Vineyard Syrah is a beautifully robust red and there are elements which may remind you of some Northern Rhône wines.  Winemaker Jeff Pisoni leaves a significant percentage of "whole clusters" in fermenting this wine.  Indigenous yeasts, too.  The wine goes into French oak for about 15 months.  Fifty percent of the barrels are brand new.

We like the spice notes and dark berry fruit. There's a touch of an olive note, too.  Drinkable now and it ought to cellar well through 2028.
Perfect for lamb or duck especially.
Currently in stock:  2018 LUCIA "Garys' Vineyard" SYRAH $59.99


You may not know the Meyer name or associate it with Syrah, but the late patriarch of the family was a real pioneer in Napa Valley winemaking.  He established a little winery in the 1970s which featured Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively and, today, it's one of the most popular of all west coast Cabernets.

Justin Meyer was a novice in the Christian Brothers many years ago, learning the wine business from various fellows there, including the famous winemaker, Brother Timothy.  Meyer was supposed to become the manager of the business, but he had other ideas and left the brotherhood, got married and started a little Cabernet production called "Silver Oak."  

Meyer was also involved with another winery called Franciscan, where they made a range of wines.  But his real goal was to make one wine and make it the best they could.  His notion was not to make a wine which required 20 years of cellaring, but to produce something very drinkable upon release.  Hence, his idea for Silver Oak was to have a wine which had spent plenty of time in wood and then got a nice bit of bottle aging before it was sold.  

Well, he and partner Ray Duncan built one hell of a mouse-trap with Silver Oak, but Meyer saw his family would need its own business because there were too many Meyers and Duncans to co-exist at Silver Oak.  When Justin Meyer passed away, his family had established a little outpost in Mendocino's Yorkville Highlands.

A fan of Port, he bought all sorts of port-styled wines in bulk.  These he matured further in wood and blended to create "Meyer Family Port."

The Meyer Family winery, located in Mendocino, features "port," still today, but they also make a nice little red wine of Syrah.

It's not a wine which will recall great Rhone Syrahs, because the style of the wine is, to our taste, more woodsy and nicely oaked, much like Justin Meyer's old Silver Oak Cabernets.

Early vintages were made from Sonoma County grapes which they'd purchased.  Today they grow their own in Mendocino.

Recent vintages have seen the wine wood-matured for nearly 2 years, with one-third of the barrels being new American oak. About 12% new French oak was employed and the rest was kept in neutral barrels.

We like the woodsy character of this wine and it's a delight at our current sale price.

Currently in stock:  2017  MEYER FAMILY "Yorkville Highlands" (Mendocino) SYRAH  (List $28)  SALE $21.99




Thackrey is located in the sleepy burg called Bolinas, California.
The locals there routinely abscond with state or county signage, pointing visitors in their direction, making it difficult to find.

Here's a real artisan winemaker, someone who makes wine by "feel," not by recipe.  Located in the middle of nowhere (that would be the town of Bolinas, which is unmarked as the locals keep swiping the road signs pointing in their direction), Thackrey buys fruit from a variety of sources and creates some amazingly good wines.  

Thackrey has been branded by some as a "Rhone Ranger," but he's not embraced that designation since he doesn't want to be viewed as "copying" an original.  Thackrey has training as an "art historian," so the idea of making a knock-off of a masterpiece is hardly appealing.  

His wines are named after stars and constellations and it's no wonder many people describe the wines as "heavenly."  His grape sources have changed over the years, some vineyards being snatched by competitors either in terms of ownership or buying contracts.  Even so, Thackrey manages to offer rather complex, "soulful" wines.  

The flagship bottling is an interesting "minestrone" called "PLEIADES."  It's the "winemaker's secret blend," varying from bottling to bottling, but always managing to be something intriguing.  Thackrey, who doesn't make wine in large quantities, doesn't make wine for "everyone."  And he notes "Why waste an open bottle on a closed mind?"  
These have been labeled with a "lot number."  The blend has changed over the years, but the wine remains typically "Thackrey" in style, with some brown spice notes on the nose and palate.

We tasted a new bottling in July of 2014 and found the wine to be perfectly standard in quality, but nowhere close to the really soulful bottlings Thackrey had five to ten years earlier.  

In 2018. we found the XXVI bottling to be a fairly standard wine but not as charming as the XXIV we had previously.
It's a mix of Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Zinfandel and Syrah, "to name but a few."  More recently, in mid-2019, we tasted the wine and it seem to have seen better days, frankly.

We later found out there was a snafu in Thackrey bottling his second round of the XXVI batch of Pleiades.  It seems he undertook bottling without the help of a trained enologist and, oops!, neglected to add a small measure of sulfites to stabilize and preserve the wine.  
As a result, that bottling deteriorated rather speedily and this was not a happy occurrence.

We had a taste of the XXVII batch and there's a world of difference in the quality of the wine at its core.  The fruit elements are finer and there's nice red fruit to the fragrances and flavor.  It's a medium-bodied, gentle red.  We find it to be good and worth putting on the dinner table.

The XXVIII is showing well (in 2021) and we understand Thackrey sold off his Pleiades brand to a fellow named Richard Shell who's been affiliated with the wine industry through a real estate investment trust and who has a wine industry news site.  Now he'll be dealing with a whole new set of challenges.  For now, though, the XXVIII bottling of Pleiades is charming and nicely done.

Will this new vintner upgrade Pleiades in the coming years or will he focus on marketing more than winemaking?
Time will tell.

Watch this space!

Currently in stock: 



We've often said "It takes a lot of singin' and dancin' to sell a bottle of wine."  New vintners, especially in Napa and Sonoma, routinely enter the business thinking selling $50 to $100 bottles of wine is easy and that customers line up to throw hundred dollar bills at them.  When they find out they'll need to sing and dance, they often give up the ghost (and the winery).
We tasted a nice Napa Valley red and were pleasantly surprised to learn the wine was made by a winemaker whose work we routinely admire:  Ken Bernards.   (He and his wife own the Ancien winery and he makes good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.)

The Scaggs of Scaggs Vineyard is a professional musician, so he's quite accustomed to singin' and dancin'.  

Scaggs and his wife Dominique bought a home in Napa in 1996 and they didn't plant vines, initially, but fruit trees.  It was to be a "home," not a commercial endeavor.  One day a friend of theirs was driving by and he had grapevine cuttings which did not get planted earlier in the day on a vineyard job.  He was willing to give them to the Scaggs and they planted these...Syrah cuttings from the Hudson vineyard in Carneros.  

When the vines started growing the following Spring, Scaggs says they put down roots not only in the hillside, but within he and Dominique.  They're friendly with importer Kermit Lynch, another fellow who sings and dances to sell wine and so the Scaggs had some familiarity with the Southern Rhone Valley.  They later extended the vineyard, planting Mourvedre and Grenache.  

What can I say...Production is quite small. The Lowdown is winemaker Ken Bernards doesn't produce over-the-top, pushing-the-envelope, full-lock-power-slide sorts of wines.  

We had a 2005 Mourvedre was a medium-bodied red blend which played some notes reminiscent of Southern Rhones, but with its own particular style and character.  The main verse is the Mourvedre with the chorus being sung by Grenache and Syrah.

Having been in the bottle for a while, the bouquet is nicely developed, showing some fruit tones of dark berries and a dusty, spiciness which may be, to some degree, the terroir shining through.  It's reasonably harmonious on its own, but really sings with Provençal-styled foods.  It seems, though, they retired this label and now feature a blend dubbed "Montage."

The 2013 Montage is in stock presently.   This vintage is 47% Grenache, 32% Mourvèdre, 12% Syrah and 9% Counoise.  It shows some red fruit along the lines of pomegranate and a touch of herbs and spice...sage, maybe?  

Currently in stock:  2013 SCAGGS Mount Veeder  "Montage" Red Blend SALE $39.99




Herman Story is the name of winemaker Russell From's grand-daddy, so that's that story.

Russell's story is he was at Cal Poly as a student and got himself an internship at the Lockwood winery in Monterey County.  (Lockwood had more than 1800 acres in Monterey and the brand has since been swallowed up by Boisset Family Estates.)  He also worked at the Tantara winery in Santa Maria, California.  From also was exposed to wine and food while working at a little Italian restaurant in Pismo Beach.  Rosa's Ristorante Italiano carries From's wine, so they're fans, too.

He's a fan of pedal-to-the-metal wines, so you shouldn't be searching for subtlety in the wines of Herman Story.  They are not for the faint-of-heart.

We have a 2016 Syrah called "Nuts and Bolts."  The fruit comes from several vineyard sites in the Paso Robles area and south into Santa Barbara County.  It carries, though, the appellation of "California."
It's a mere 15.8% alcohol on the label, so it could be even higher.  You'll want to fasten your seatbelt when drinking this at the dinner table.

When we tasted this, we pegged it right around 15.5% alcohol and expected that the various critics would be giving the wine some serious point scores, so if you want to put some numbers on the table, grab a bottle of this.

The wine shows lots of black fruit notes and somehow seems to avoid being jammy.  We found it to show a touch of oak as it was matured in French oak cooperage, 80% of the barrels being brand new.  The critics predict this will cellar handsomely into the next decade.  We'd be inclined to open this over the next two or three years.

Currently in stock  2016 HERMAN STORY California SYRAH "Nuts + Bolts" Sold Out






Dave Ramey is a winemaker's winemaker.  

He wrote a magnificent thesis in 1979 which will likely cure your insomnia issues.
Ramey has tattoos from various wineries:  Simi, Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus, Rudd Estate and now his own...We find his Chardonnays to be routinely excellent and he's got a nice touch with Syrah, as it turns out.  

He's dabbling with Syrah...nice red wine and it's neither the bombastic "fruit bomb" made by many California winemakers and it's not the Rhône styled wine, either...

It's been a while since we've picked up a Ramey Syrah but we can always get some bottles for you if you like.

Currently in stock:  2007 RAMEY Sonoma Coast SYRAH   Sold Out

By Sleep Specialist, DAVID RAMEY



TN00018A.gif (1390 bytes)BONNY DOON VINEYARD
We had been a long-time admirer of the amazing early works of the crew at Bonny Doon Vineyard.    The "flagship" wine in the galaxy of California Rhone wines from super-star winemaker Randall Grahm is called "Le Cigare Volant", a French term translating to "the flying cigar" (we call them "flying saucers", the French, apparently, view UFOs as being akin to cigars).  

Grahm was such a pioneer in the 1980s, he was dubbed "the Rhone Ranger" and the Wine Spectator featured him on the cover of its magazine one issue!

The wine, a California interpretation of "Châteauneuf-du-Pape", pays homage to the citizenry of the Southern Rhone Valley who passed legislation banning the landing of "flying cigars" in their vineyards.  It is, to date, the only law I am aware of, which has not been broken in France.  Over the years the blend has changed and been refined, sometimes by what varieties have been available and other times by the taste of Grahm and his selections for the blend...

We are not convinced this wine has taken the proper flight pattern and over the years it's changed and become a bit more superficial and less soulful.  We were surprised and saddened to see one vintage labeled with the admission of less-than-stellar winemaking:  it was revealed that the wine had been 'flavored' with oak chips!

In his early pioneering days, it's doubtful Mr. Grahm would have even considered the use of "fake oak" in making his wines!

In 2020 Randall sold the Bonny Doon Vineyard brand and winery to some outfit called "WarRoom" and that enterprise offers some brands seemingly more the work of a marketing department than of winemakers.
They have a wine called The Big Red Monster and a seltzer called "Bubble Butt."

They have scaled back the range of wines being offered by Bonny Doon.

Here's a snippet from the back label of a Bonny Doon Cigare Volant bottle:

Do you think a serious wine producer would be adding or flavoring a premium quality wine with oak chips?

Mr. Graham would have never entertained the idea of using fake oak for his wine.

As we update this posting in the Summer of 2021, we should include the news of Randall signing on with the humongous wine giant, Gallo.
They plan to dabble in more esoteric wines from Central Coast vineyard sites.

Stay tuned.





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A few decades ago Randall had become enamored with a process being employed (or deployed) by a fellow in the southwest part of France.  This method involves adding tiny oxygen bubbles to the tanks during it's maturation.  Randall feels it is possible to manage the tannins with this method, so he made a somewhat "stronger" version of the Cigare in 1997.  I was privileged to taste a number of samples, from non-microbouillaged (as it's called) to a "little" MB to a lot of "MB."  The heavier dosed versions were, in fact, the more interesting wines.  

The winery became quite successful in its marketing efforts and Randall's playful wine names and often artistically-enchanting labels brought much fame and a little fortune to the brand.

Randall was an anti-establishment character and a bit of an iconoclast (as well as an icon).  Of course, contrarians are always popular with many people who root for the underdog.  And Randall worked with lots of "underdog" grape varieties and the wines were must-haves for many shops and restaurants.


Bonny Doon had a vineyard near a men's correctional facility and so Randall produced a line of modestly-priced "house wines."  But these were labeled "Big House" Red and "Big House" White.  They were popular and the brand grew like a weed until Randall rounded up all these playful labels and sold them to some wine group in Livermore, California.  Many people who had worked at Bonny Doon lost their jobs as a result.   Part of the sales contract mandated that Bonny Doon stop using the cartoon-like labels with which they're identified.

Randall also had a Riesling project in Washington State where Riesling can be grown with ease.  He made some good wines and when that gained some traction in the market, he sold that brand, too.  Pacific Rim.  

Currently available:  Nada.  Niente.  Nuthin'.



The Epiphany label is the work of Eli Parker, whose father is Davy Crockett.  
Okay, well, his Pop is actor Fess Parker, who played the role of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.  Dad later portrayed Daniel Boone, another wild, wild west pioneer.

Fess may not have been the first pioneer in Santa Barbara wine history, but he amassed a fair bit of acreage and did launch the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard.  

We typically found the Fess Parker wines to be a bit ordinary, frankly.  We'd tasted some wines from grapes Parker had sold to others and these were often superior to the wines Parker put his name on.  But we've noticed a steady improvement over the past few years and the wines of the Epiphany label to be a bit of a revelation.

In 2013 we included a Rhone-styled blend in a blind-tasting.  The 2009 blend of Grenache and Syrah won the tasting, finishing in first place ahead of 7 other Grenache and Grenache blends from California.  The wine carries the proprietary name of "Revelation" and it was certainly a pleasant surprise.  It showed a nice blackberry sort of fruit character and had mild tannins and a bit of acidity to keep it balanced.  

We inquired about a new vintage of this wine and the winery rep was more intent on selling their entry-level wines which we did not find to be terribly exciting.  "We only have a few 6-packs of the Revelation," she told us, indicating she was not at all interested in our tasting the wine or in carrying it in the shop.

One day, when her wines are not selling, perhaps she will have an epiphany of sorts and realize her wines are not selling.

Stay tuned.

Currently in stock:  2012 EPIPHANY CELLARS Santa Barbara "REVELATION"  Sold Out



Matt Murphy hails from Arkansas and his family had a farm in nearby Louisiana where he'd hang out during the harvest...that's where he became interested in agriculture.

While at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he spent a summer working at Napa's Signorello winery and this proved to be a life-changing experience.

After finishing his studies in biology in Colorado, he again came west and landed at an ambitious Santa Maria Valley property called Ambullneo.  The assistant winemaker there was Dieter Cronje and the two became good friends.  Ambullneo was a short-lived venture and the fellow who owned the place was hell-bent on making impressive, show-pieces.  

After a short stint with Ambullneo, Murphy decided to throw caution to the wind and launch his own brand.  The name Presqu'ile is Creole and translates, they tell us to "almost an island."

With the help of his parents and siblings, Matt found a 200 property that's 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and it has a diverse landscape, allowing for vines at different elevation levels and varied soil types.  

Murphy and Cronje planted numerous clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with some Sauvignon Blanc and a tiny bit of Nebbiolo and Syrah.  

We tasted through the roster of Presqu'ile wines are were delighted with the 2014 Syrah.  It's an impressive wine that really captures the Rhône-like soul of the grape.  The fruit comes from their estate vineyard and they left about 30% whole clusters in the fermentation tanks.   The wine then went into French oak barrels for about a year and a half.  Twenty-five percent of the wood was brand new.  
It's a limited release, by the way.

You might taste this blind and guess it to come from the Northern Rhône.  It's got the spice and berries of a really good Crozes-Hermitage or Saint Joseph.  With a bit more time in the bottle, perhaps we'll liken it to a good Côte Rôtie.  

Currently in stock:  2014 PRESQU'ILE Santa Maria Valley SYRAH   Sold Out



Napa Valley's Joseph Phelps Vineyard was ahead of its time in planting Syrah in the Napa Valley back in the 1970s.  
Mr. Phelps lived in Colorado and ran a very large construction company.  He even opened an office for the firm here in Burlingame.

He had been hired to build a winery in Napa and he fell in love with the place.  There was a modest property near Heitz' winery on Taplin Road, east of the Silverado Trail and Phelps engaged the owner about selling the place.  It was most used as pasture land for cattle.  The owner didn't want the property to be turned into some commercial circus and Phelps assured him he'd preserve the site for vineyards and winemaking.  
We recall, visiting the brand new winery in the mid-1970s, that the winery was built around an old tree, or two, out of respect for the property and its previous owner.
Phelps tasted some Northern Rhône wines and was a fan of Hermitage.  He also knew that some Bordeaux estates, under dark of night, had "fortified" their Cabernet and Merlot blends with some "Hermitage" wines.  (Chateau Palmer in Margaux offers an "historic" bottling of such a blend, by the way.)
So Phelps took it upon himself to plant some Syrah in Napa and see what he could produce.
But Syrah was a tough wine to sell, even back then, despite its rarity.  

They made some Napa Valley Syrah and later had a blended red called Pastiche.

These became difficult to sell when the market became flooded with Syrah and Rhone blends.

Phelps made a wine called Le Mistral from grapes grown at the Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County.  They sold the brand to the Ventana owners.

Today, many years after the sale of the Pastiche brand, Ventana makes a blend of Grenache and Syrah but incorporates Pinot Noir into this.

Oh well.

We believe Phelps has resumed making Syrah in recent vintages, but it's not in commercial distribution apparently.


We fondly remember the late Joe Phelps and he was a real pioneer in Napa Valley winemaking!

Currently in stock:  Nothing Presently



This brand came about as a collaboration between a restaurant guy (B) and a winery guy (H).  We thank one of our customers, some years ago,  for putting us in touch with this dynamic duo.   The fellow had tasted a B & H wine in his travels and so we've been a supporter ever since.  They make rather small quantities of the various bottlings.  Their 1997 Napa Syrah, for example:  only 375 cases were produced.  That wine won one of our Syrah tastings. 

The partners split and now it's Les Behrens and his wife Lisa Drinkward, who manages their vineyards, who own the place.  They will still offer some wines under the B&H label, but are also creating a new brand using the name of Les Behrens' mom: Erna Schein.  She was, we're told, quite a proficient baker and the label design for the new label features an icon of her electric mixer.  Well, it beats the hell (literally) out of another "critter" label.

We currently have a few bottles of a nice Petite Sirah:  it has intensely fruity notes which are somewhat along the lines of a whole-berry fermentation wine, yet the tannic backbone of some Rhône-styled reds. It will stain your teeth.

The Homage to Ed is in honor of Ed Oliveira, a high school principal and winemaker in Arcata who's known to Les Behrens for working with his kids and giving him some guidance as to winemaking philosophies.  The wine is quite deep and a real mouthful.  Fasten your seat belt when opening this wine.

Currently in stock: 


Not many people associate Shafer with Rhone Ranger varieties, since the winery produces Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay for the most part.  

But they've been making a rather nice, showy red blend called "Relentless."  It's named in honor of winemaker Elias Fernandez, who's been a part of the Shafer "family" since the 1984 vintage.  

The wine comes from vineyards at the southern part of the Stags Leap District.  It's actually a field blend and they estimate the 2017 vintage is 86% Syrah and 14% Petite Sirah.   

The wine goes into brand new French oak and it's one of the benchmarks for Napa Valley Syrah.  The wine is hardly in the style of most French Rhône Syrahs, having deep black fruit notes, the typical "international" style of power, body and oak of modern, high point-scoring Napa reds.  They pick the fruit at a high sugar level and it's usually north of 15% alcohol.  This one is around 15.8%!!!

Brand new French oak is used to try to tame the wine and the wood is easily evident on the nose.

There are not many wines which are bigger than this.

We receive a few bottles each vintage and usually have some bottles out on the rack for sale.

Currently in stock:  2017 Shafer "Relentless" $99.99
2013 SHAFER "Relentless"  $89.99  (a few bottles remain)






The Sobon crew is certainly well-regarded for making some top Zinfandel wines, but Syrah is well below the radar at this Amador County estate.

Shirley and Leon Sobon pulled up stakes in Los Altos back in the mid-to-late 1970s and started the Shenandoah Vineyards winery.  He had been a research scientist at Lockheed, so it's not surprising that a rocket scientist can make a decent bottle of wine.  They did a good job early on and were able to buy a neighboring property  when the D'Agostini brothers decided to hang up their corkscrews.

That cellar, by the way, is a California Historical Landmark, #762 if you're keeping track.  We had spent a couple of years on the "waiting list" for D'Agostini wines...they made a wonderful Zinfandel and it was slightly less expensive than those from Napa and Sonoma.  I recall the Zin going for $2.99 a bottle, so it was maybe a buck or two cheaper than those expensive bottles from other places.   Eventually we moved up the list and Tulio D'Agostini would bring cases of Zinfandel in fifth-sized bottles and I think we also had half gallons of "Burgundy."  

The Sobons farm some of the original vineyards of the D'Agostini property and they augmented plantings over the years.  

The Sobon's son-in-law Tom Quinn, who is the sales manager for the company, told us "We thought we'd plant some Syrah and make a $35 bottle of wine.  Well, we planted Syrah and we do make a $35 bottle, but with Syrah sales being stagnant, we sell it for a whole lot less."

And, indeed!  We've tasted a number of vintages of this and it's routinely been good and it does often capture some earthy notes and a bit of the bacony, hickory character we like in Syrah.  And yet the wine is available in our shop for a most attractive price.
The 2019 vintage, on our most recent tasting of it, displayed a bit more oak than in preceding vintages, so it's a bit less akin to Northern Rhône Syrahs.  It is, though, a most pleasantly drinkable California red at an everyday price level.

Few California Rhone-istes can compete with the French, but the Sobon family has given the French a run for the money, be it Euros or Francs.

We currently have the 2019 vintage.

Currently in stock:  2019 SOBON ESTATE Amador County SYRAH  $12.99  (Special Price presently)




Red Car is all about stories.  
It's the work of a couple of guys with Hollywood backgrounds.  Screenwriter Mark Estrin teamed with movie mogul Carroll Kemp to produce small quantities of Syrah and Pinot Noir.  Kemp had been suggesting they team up in a winemaking project, since they both enjoyed a good glass of vino.  Estrin had resisted this proposition until he received a fortune cookie message saying "The venture you are thinking about will bring you wealth and fame."  That proved to be the impetus for Estrin to accept Kemp's invitation.

They bought barrels and grapes and started making wines at a custom-crushing facility in Santa Maria.  The wines have garnered a modest amount of "buzz" amongst wine geeks and critics.  

Sadly, Mark Estrin died in the Spring of 2005, so who knows what direction this enterprise will take.  

We had tasted a nice, lavishly-oaked, international-styled Syrah from Red Car, a wine dubbed "All Night Radio."   They have been sourcing fruit from good vineyards up and down California's coast, so it's not surprising they're able to make some pretty wines.

The bottling in stock is called "Shake Rattle & Roll" and it's a liqueur-like rendition of Syrah.  It's one of those wines which sends old-timers into apoplexy.   Today's Generation-Somethings-or-Other seem to embrace this sort of huge, deeply-colored, intensely fruity, over-the-top Syrah.  Five vineyards of Syrah and a drop of Grenache from another vineyard account for this wine.

Production is limited, of course. 

The winery moved to Sonoma County and they're making a nice range of wines.

Currently in stock: 
2005 RED CAR "Shake Rattle & Roll" California Syrah $55.99



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(Petite Sirah, etc.)



















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