Monday, May 31, 2010
Kathy and I posted a while back about some Cline vineyard properties that are named after the Oakley streets to which they’re adjacent. Seeing old vines on Big Break Road made easy work of solving the mystery of where the grapes for Cline’s Big Break Zinfandel come from — no further questions, Your Honor.
Likewise their Bridgehead Road Zin probably was sourced from the old parcel on (dot, dot, dot) Bridgehead Road?
But the trippy thang is that both vineyard parcels were originally part of a huge agricultural land parcel bordered by Bridgehead Road to the west, and Big Break to the east, and purchased by chemical giant DuPont in 1955. Eighty-nine acres along Big Break were sold to Cline, as were 79 acres along Bridgehead, the two vineyards divided by tracks for the Santa Fe railroad.
But from 1956 until 1997, DuPont used virtually all the remaining acreage to erect a manufacturing base for the production of such agriculture-friendly goodies as anti-“pinging” gasoline additive tetraethyl lead; their patented refrigerant Freon; and the ever-popular white pigment, titanium dioxide.
Currently, with DuPont having shut down production years ago, and almost all manufactories on the site demolished, the vast property has been the target for myriad redevelopment plans with the City of Oakley, but the current economic climate seems to have stalled the dream.
Even trippier is a draft of something called the River Oaks Crossing Specific Plan, sponsored by the City of Oakley and the Oakley Redevelopment Agency, and which Kathy found online. Dated September 2007, this proposal provides a detailed blueprint for, basically, paving over the entirety of Cline’s old-vine Bridgehead Vineyard (acquired by the family when DuPont sold it) in favor of, among other mixed use, big-box retail: a Wal-Mart was said to be shovel-ready.
Man, between neighbors such as DuPont and Vold-Mart, I’m surprised that Cline’s Big Break Zinfandel didn’t glow in the dark, or exceed the RDA of lead in someone’s “Reedle” wine stemware from China.
Gawd, I need a drink.
And what better, this Memorial Day, than Cline’s 2006 Bridgehead Zinfandel from (insert Walter Brennan chuckle here) “the ol’ DuPont spread. Heh heh” ? It’s got a plumy garnet look, with a slight bluish tinge at the edge and a nose of blackberries, brambles and mocha. There are notes of earth and smoke, and a nice racy tartness on the back nine. “The miracles of science™,” indeed.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
We suspected that we were rushing the season, but when Kath and I drove by Papini Farms in Brentwood last weekend, and saw the apricots hanging from the trees, we knew that we had to check it out. After a quick tally of our mutual dough (all the U-Pick joints seem to be cash-only), we grabbed a bucket and came away with a couple of pounds of golden aps, as well as some Bing cherries. The first-of-the-season apricots are ripening nicely on our kitchen island, and the cherries barely lasted until the first commercial break during “Property Virgins.” (BTW: Don’t you hate when some first-time homebuyer thinks he’s being smart by proposing an insultingly lowball offer? Hey, mofo, hope you like that stainless steel fridge you’re eying, ‘cause the box it came in is where you and “babe” are going to be living.)
The great apricot adventure intrigued Kathy to try a funky tasting. We’ve posted before about Cline’s Oakley fiveREDS blend from local old vines. But, surprisingly, Cline bottles an Oakley fourWHITES, the 2008 comprising Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Malvasia Bianca and old-vine (70 years) Palomino. I never thought of our ‘hood as white wine acreage, but, apparently, we got some. In the glass, it’s all pale hay and straw colored, with the nose reminiscent of tropical fruit: pineapple and, yes, apricot! It has a decent balance of plumpness in the mouth and acidity on a medium finish, with a very slight metallic edge.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Had a great, enlightening telephone chat the other day with Dave Parker, winemaker and partner with his wife, Shari Simon, of Parkmon Vineyards, a super-small winery run, literally, out of their garage. They’re located in Moraga, California, a tony suburb a few klicks east of Oakland, and, by extension, San Fran just west of the bay.
When a consultant pointed out that the one-acre hillside behind their house would be great for grapes, Dave’s home-winemaker chops kicked into commercial gear in 2005: Today, he’s the prez of the Lamorinda Winegrowers’ Association, a band of small farmers, home winemakers and commercial grape growers numbering around 85 at last count. All tending miniscule parcels within the area encompassing the suburban cities of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. (BTW: Orinda’s beautiful old Streamline Moderne cinema is the new home of the California Independent Film Festival, and recent special events have included a Q&A with Tippi Hedren after a screening of “The Birds,” Mary Badham (“Scout”) post-“To Kill a Mockingbird,” and last night, Oscar-nommed Candy Clark was scheduled to do the honors after “American Graffiti” unspools.)
But what really intrigued Kath and me was the discovery that, among their 15 or 16 bottlings sourced from grapes up and down the state (the Rosenblum model was a big influence, notes Dave), Parkmon has vineyard-designated a few varietals sourced from our ‘hood.
Oakley, Brentwood and Antioch are nowhere near Moraga, but Dave bottles some tasty juice from … Evangelho! Previous posts and photos have shone the light on Frank’s vineyard, but check this out:
Dave Parker has always loved Rhone varietals, and grooved to Napa-based winery Jade Mountain’s forays into Mourvedre and Rhone blends. Now, Napa is Cabernet country, so it’s obvious that this branching out was due to its winemaker, Alison Green Doran. And where did she source her Rhone varietals for these bottlings? Frank Evangelho! Oh, another thing, strictly FYI: Alison has moved on from Jade Mountain, and Jade Mountain no longer does an Evangelho Vineyard designate. I’m just sayin’.
So, Dave boldly calls up Alison, explains his sitch, and Alison hooks him up with Frank Evangelho! Frank agrees to give him a few rows of Carignane and Zin, and they have been operating on this deal for a couple of years now. As Dave told me, “We agree on terms in May, then Frank calls me when his bigger clients are picking. I show up with my micro-bin; they pick my fruit in 45 minutes, then spend the rest of the day picking for the big boys.”
Kathy and I have a few Jade Mountain notes to post soon: an ’06 Evangelho Mourvedre, and both the ’06 and ’07 “La Provencale” blends (available at Cost Plus World Market at a bargoon price), all of which, I’m pretty sure, were made under Green Doran’s regime.
And what has Dave done with the legacy of Evangelho fruit for his and Shari’s label? An elegance that I would never have thought possible from old skool vines. Parkmon’s 2007 Evangelho Carignane exhibits a nice, rare blueberry color on the robe, furthering the adjectives on the nose --- blueberries and violets--- (Kath even noted Gummi Bears) --- with a great mouthfeel of elegant acid and hints of cloves and tar (not a bad thing!).
The corkscrew is on deck for the Parkmon 2007 Evangelho Zinfandel.
Yesterday morning, Kath and I set the alarm for a produce-pickin’ adventure. As former residents of the Pacific Northwest, we were familiar with the buzz surrounding the start of Washington state cherry season. But this was the first time we were close enough to the source to actually participate in U-Pick cherries at local farms.
Apparently, Memorial Day weekend is the official start of the season: A figurative starter’s pistol cracks, and people from all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco, travel hours to our neck of the woods to swarm the orchards; buckets and ladders akimbo.
Yesterday, we crossed from Oakley into Brentwood (no passport required) and, armed with our Harvest Time Farm Trail Map, dropped in to Nunn Better Farms. Grab a bucket, proceed to the orchard rows marked by the flags, then help yourself. Whether the cherries end up in the bucket or in your mouth is up to you; you just pay $2.50 a pound for what’s in the pail. The owner invited us into a closed section of the orchard to taste some pale, firm Utah Giants that were just starting to come into their own. The trees in the flagged rows were laden with delicious, ripe fruit (check out Kath’s photo), and all within reach — no ladder required! We ended up with eight pounds of sweet Coral Champagnes.
The only thing sweeter was the knowledge that we had beaten the mob scene that traditionally defines U-Pick cherry season around here.
Speaking of “cherries,” that’s exactly the sort of aroma and appearance one gets from Boho Vineyards 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, sourced from Oakley Zin vines throughout our ‘hood. It’s “bottled” inside a resealable bag, itself inside an octagonal cardboard box made from recycled material and printed with plant-based inks. It’s known as the Octavin Home Wine Bar, and its 3-liter capacity replaces four glass bottles.
It’s a great quaff, and the Boho folks indicate that the packaging design allows the contents to stay fresh for up to six weeks after opening. The Octavin didn’t last in our joint anywhere near that long, with its peppery berry nose and Gamay-like approachability. Not a huge finish, but for the equivalent of about $6 a bottle, it’s a nice Oakley Zin to have, literally, on tap.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Even a Mensa dropout (Densa) like me could realize that when the big sign on the building screamed “Continente,” this might just be Continente.
Gnarly vines? Check
Sandy soil? Check.
Sign that reads “Continente”? Uh, check.
Went into the “gift shop” wherein one could purchase dried fruit, olive oil and grape vinegar — which we did — and tried to get some information about the vineyard history and plantings. We didn’t get any info from the friendly cashier, but, as we were driving out, Kath and I took a flyer on the SUV just pulling into the property.
Turns out that the SUV driver was John Continente Jr, owner of the spread, and third-generation grape farmer of the whole ranch. According to John, although planted a century ago, the property was purchased by John’s grandparents in 1920. The price: $2,000, two horses and a rifle.
Rosenblum Cellars used to do a Continente bottling, and when Dr. Kent Rosenblum visited (did I mention that he’s a veterinarian by training? Our two kitties loved him.), he hipped me to a cool fact: Like most old skool Cali vineyards, the only way they could stay solvent during Prohibition was to ship grapes around the continent for legal use by home-winemakers. Back east, the Italian immigrants wanted the blend of Zin, Mataro and Carignane. So that’s how Continente planted it: one row of Zin, next Mataro, next Cari. Kent said that it used to be fine if you were doing a blend, but if you were doing a Continente Zin, for example, having to harvest every third row was a real pain.
John Continente told us that he’s had contracts with a lot of big wineries over the years, but that these days, he sells virtually all his crop to Bogle Vineyards, run by the family of the same name. Bogle is an old Scot or Welsh word for “specter” or “apparition,”so the Bogle clan put out a red blend of Petite Sirah, old vine Zin and o.v. Mataro (Mourvedre) named “Phantom.” The 2006 bottling has a rich purple color (my tasting notes mention its “look of Gerber Strained Plum baby food”; apparently I’ve got a few ghosts of my own to deal with.) and nose of dried cranberry, oregano and other herbal notes. There’s a nice weighty bit of “tongue fur” from the tannins, and a medium-length finish. Boo!
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Only in CoCo, you guys.
As Buster Poindexter might have said, “smack dab in the middle” of century-old vines sits an active, and popular, golf ball driving range.
As the brains behind this blogging endeavor, Kathy began researching our old vine heritage through search engines, using keywords such as “wine,” “region,” and “Contra Costa County” to land on a unique grape source.
Echelon Vineyards, headquartered hundreds of miles away toward the Pacific Ocean, and situated in a town just east of San Simeon’s Hearst Castle, is another label now owned by booze Goliath Diageo. And Echelon was the only Google match to label a wine as a vineyard designate from a “Driving Range Vineyard” in CoCo County. Diageo was awesome; when Kath phoned the number for Echelon, she was connected to a local Diageo rep, who called right back to hip her to the wine’s backstory.
See, there’s a driving range in Antioch that is ringed by high netting to stop errant golf balls, but it’s slapped right in the middle of acres of old vines, circa 1910, carved into the landscape. If any wine was going to earn a CoCo vineyard designate as “Driving Range Vineyard,” this was definitely going to be it.
But ya know what? It’s totally fake. Kath phoned the Vineyard Practice Tee driving range (complete with wine barrels and a row of “just for show” vines at the entrance to the parking lot); the folks there thought that the plot was owned by a Gonzalez or Gonsalves family, but they had no knowledge of a vineyard name. According to Tom at Diageo, the name “Driving Range Vineyard” was a “proprietary” designation (i.e.: made up).
Apparently, Echelon made two vintages (2003 and 2004) of Driving Range Zinfandel before exiting the course and declining to sign the score card. Kath found a 2003 Echelon Driving Range Vineyard Zinfandel from CoCo County, and it’s just hoping to make the cut. It shows a bogey on first glance: some red/orange brickiness, and more than a little Port-like whiff. And the ripe fruit smacks of a rusticity, but there’s raisin and prune on a short finish. An inexpensive Zin, for about 10 bucks, that’s starting to show its age.
Par for the course?
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Had, without a doubt, one of the coolest tasting experiences last Friday. Kath has been sending out e-mails to vineyard owners and contract growers in the Oakley area, as well as to Cali winemakers who use said CoCo County grapes, in an effort to pinpoint vineyard names and locations, and to discuss their ties to these sites.
Heard back almost immediately from Shauna Rosenblum, winemaker at up-and-coming Rock Wall Wine Co, who, with her dad, venerable vintner Kent Rosenblum, as consulting winemaker, was just going to happen to be in Oakley on Friday. After decades in the biz, Kent sold his Rosenblum Cellars label to drinks giant Diageo, but still keeps his hand in as their consulting winemaker. Now, in partnership with his daughter, he brings his years of vineyard contacts and grower relationships into play for this exciting new venture.
Shauna and her dad were going to be in Oakley to sign a new contract for another Montepulciano crop from a local grower; her first stab at a varietal Monte sold out in 29 hours. She said that she’d grab a bottle from her library stash and come out to the house for a tasting!
I polished the Riedel in anticipation of their arrival. When they came by, Shauna and Kent turned out to be two of the coolest brand ambassadors you’d ever want to clink glasses with: informative, passionate, savvy and warm.
They were also able to solve a couple of our vineyard mysteries by identifying specific sites that we’d seen on Rosenblum labels for years, and Rock Wall labels more recently. For example, Carla’s Vineyard, Kent informed me, is located behind the K-Mart in Antioch (and it just happens to border Frank Evangelho’s property). The 2007 “Carla’s Reserve” Zinfandel from century-old vines exhibits big, ripe blackberry jamminess on the nose, with super-bright cherry acidity with ripe blackberry flavors and even a hint of nuttiness.
Shauna did the honors by uncorking her 2008 Montepulciano from relatively young vines in nearby Brentwood. A lot of the old vines in CoCo were planted by immigrants to the county, so I naturally assumed that an Italian varietal such as Montepulciano was old skool, too. Nope; these vines clock in at around 10 years old, but there’s nothing shy or minor about the wine that Shauna’s made from ‘em. Deep purple color, cocoa powder and black raspberry on the nose, and a big mouthful of cranberry tartness and smoky earthiness. Vinted Zin-style, this complex effort is the Full Monte.
She gracefully left the rest of the bottle for Kathy (who had to work that day), and she and her dad took their leave.
It wasn’t until Shauna and Kent left the house that I realized that I had used the wrong Riedels.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Funny how two of a wine label’s terms most sought-after by consumers, “Reserve” and “Old Vines,” have absolutely no legal standing. One has merely to count the number of cases of a certain winery’s “Proprietor’s Reserve” filling the shelves at Grocery Outlet to wonder whether the “proprietor” needed to have one swinger of a garage sale, or didn’t need to explain to ATF how half-a-million cases were for personal use.
Likewise, “old vines” on a wine label has no legal frame of reference, like 50-year-old humans receiving AARP membership applications in the mail (ahem, nothing to see here; move along). Kathy and I moved to Oakley, CA last year from Washington state: a great wine region, but a relatively young one whose “old vine” label designation could legally mean that the juice was pressed from vines younger than Kirsten Dunst (BTW: happy 28th the other day, Kirsten).
But Cali, and our Oakley ‘hood in particular: maaaan, viticulturaly, we are kickin’ it oooooold skool. A skool inaugurated prior to 1900. As you can tell by Kath’s photos here and in previous posts, these are ghoulish, wizened, gnarly vines that stand up by themselves, burrowing dozens of feet through the sand to find moisture to produce a fraction of the crop of a new vine — all the more to concentrate the flavors in the berries that do form. This is the real juice, from the real source.
And that’s why we couldn’t fathom the sad story behind the acres of old vines choked by weeds in a big vineyard four blocks from the house.
The Green Leaves Church at the end of the block (Marquee: “What’s Missing From ‘CH_ _ CH’? U R”) sits across the street from an unoccupied, but well-tended, little house, which itself borders acres of gnarly untended vines. Kathy wanted to get a photo; sort of a “these are your old vines; these are your old vines neglected” vibe, despite the “No Trespassing” thang. She’d barely snapped a frame when an elderly, well-seasoned voice busted us.
Kath explained our project, and then Mabel would never let us go, us being richer for the experience. That little house on Highway 4? Unoccupied. But it’s not boarded up for demolition, and Mabel was born inside that house 87 years ago.
Mabel Ramos-Canada (both the “Ramos” and the “Canada” accent the second syllable) married at 15 and had six kids by age 22. Her dad bought the acreage for $240 and initially planted it to asparagus, before finally deciding on grapevines. “When my dad farmed it, there wasn’t a weed,” she proudly proclaims. Her mom drove her to school in a Model T.
Her father deeded out an acre to Mabel on which to build her house; that’s where we got accosted. But Mabel’s sister had the rest of the land, including the vineyard, and she recently died of cancer. Sadly, Mabel’s nieces and nephews have no interest in doing anything with the vines, except surrendering them to the weeds, and paying taxes on the land on which they sit. Kath and I weren’t able to ascertain what the vineyards are planted to, or what wineries they were ever leased to, but we did discover that Mabel, at four-score-and-seven years of age, loves to watch WWE Smackdown on television “even though it’s fake.”
Speaking of pioneers, we recently tried a 2006 Zinfandel from “Beastly Old Vines” grown in our ‘hood, and bottled under the “Cardinal Zin” label started, and later sold, by OG Rhone Ranger and certified eccentric Randall Grahm. The ’06 Cardinal Zin showed off a deep, almost Merlot-like plum color; with a muted nose of cranberry bog and dried cherry; nice open mouthfeel of open fruit flavors and blueberry notes in good balance, all on a pretty lengthy finish. Beastly Old Vines, indeed.
But what the kids are doing to Mabel’s sister’s vines is even Beastlier.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
We ventured farther afield to the city of Antioch, just past the western border of Oakley. The main drag of our burg changes name, but that’s all. After a few false starts, looking at vines by a mausoleum, we discovered the Evangelho vineyard, planted in 1890 and farmed by the eponymous family since 1938. We drove along a newly paved road, ending at a deserted business park, with rows of old vines on the left, and someone’s trash dumped at the end. Kath found some city council minutes online; apparently in 2007, the city of Antioch decided to invoke eminent domain on part of Frank Evangelho’s vineyard to build said biz park (and a part of the road we drove on). The hearing was in June, and the grapes were just taking shape. Apparently, Frank wasn’t trying to stop the project; he just wanted to get the last harvest out of the grapes that would be ripped up by the easement, and be paid a fair price (Antioch had offered $225K) for the land about to be appropriated. (He wasn’t going to lose the whole vineyard, but a 30-foot width of old vines.) But having driven up on a new road, part of which, we later discovered, probably used to be some of his 110-year-old vines, Kath and I could only hope to toast Frank and fam by trying some Evangelho-designated wines. And Kathy found a few.
“three wine company” is a relatively new venture by Matt Cline and his wife, Erin. Matt is the bro of Fred Cline of Cline Cellars. Yep, it seems that, in CoCo County wine circles, all roads are inclined, in decline, or lead to a Cline. three’s 2007 Zinfandel from the Evangelho vineyard is blended with 7% each of Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet from Frank’s nutrient-deprived soil classified as “Delhi Sandy Loam”; Hell, I’d be gnarly headed, too, if I had to put down roots for over 100 years on acreage that barren. The 2007 Evangelho Zin is not a typical Cali Zin: For starters, it’s a relatively modest 14.8% alcohol, and sports none of that mofo-ripe fruit character of some Zins pushing 17+%. Here, the nose shows hints of menthol and very ripe plums, but the mouthfeel is bright, balanced by some solid furry tannins, with a finish that hangs on. A lot of wine writers and other cork dorks have beef with high alcohol wines from super-ripe fruit. I have no prob with those wines; they’re perfect for Snappy Hour stand-alone slurping, but you just want to invite three’s Evangelho Zin over, to share with a home-cooked meal.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
A couple of random NoCal thoughts. We just picked up our CSA box (that’s Community Supported Agriculture, not Confederate States of America, though the fake documentary film “CSA” depicting the USA if the South had won the Civil War is outrageously cool) and we are awash in kiwi fruit! Kath found a great simple dessert recipe for sliced berries and peeled, cubed kiwi. No sauce, no chaser: serve with your favorite late harvest sweetie, or single malt. Got a couple of grapefruit, too. To paraphrase the great Noel Coward, “Girl have I got a few cocktails up with which I could hook you!” Taste-tay!
Never told y’all about the lemon tree on the property down the street. Turn off the main drag onto our rue, and things go from old-skool to McMansion. I think our street used to be a dead-end until a developer petitioned to extend the street into a series of curlicues and thermometer-bulb cul-de-sac streets. As is apparent below, Kath and I live in the McMansion section. BTW, I think I dodged a bullet when my east neighbor lent me a saw to cut down vegetation that was threatening to compromise our fence. (I do not want to hear the words “Hey, Tony, what say we go halves on a new fence?”)
Anyway (hoo?), Ever since we’ve moved in in August, we have seen this mature lemon tree on a property down the street, the owner of which is doing nothing with them. Finally, a few weeks ago, I talked to a dude cutting the grass on the property, and he told me that his mom, the owner, is home.
“Ma’am, I’m a neighbor up the street; may I pay you for some lemons off your tree?”
(Here’s the punch, like she’d been dealing with a produce buyer from Safeway,) “Three dollars a bag, and DON’T GO HAYWIRE WITH THE BAG.”
Thanks, neighbor. (And strictly FYI, Target bags are bigger than Safeway bags.)
Speaking of Safeway and neighbors who drive one to drink, Kath and I tried an inexpensive Cline bottling available at a lot of supermarkets around here. Oakley fiveREDS retails for about seven bucks. It’s a blend of red varietals harvested from Cline’s extensive Oakley properties/contacts. The blend and grape sources vary year-to-year (the Wild, Wild West-like label is pretty sparse on specifics), but the 2007 exhibits a nice ripe plum color, and a nose of pomegranate and stone fruit. There are lots of bright berry flavors and some nice bracing acidity on a medium-length finish. Be great with food, or as a quaff after an hour of picking lemons.