Author Archives: Lyle W. Norton

About Lyle W. Norton

Free-lance writer specializing if wine, food, travel and jazz reviews.

“Zen for Zin”: The Wines of Carol Shelton

 

Speaking with an iconic winemaker, one that strives to create a zinfandel for every palate, I asked her to describe her wines in one word. In the small lunch room at her northwest Santa Rosa production facility, Carol Shelton responded, “Balance.”  Within a few minutes I would agree with her answer after tasting a zinfandel flight, each from distinct vineyards throughout the state.  With Wine Spectator magazine including her 2011 Carol Shelton “Wild Thing” Zinfandel (90pt/$19)on their 2014 Top 100 wines list, there has been increase attention to her releases.

Carol Shelton "Wild Thing" Zinfandel

Carol Shelton “Wild Thing” Zinfandel

Carol Shelton believes that the long journey to becoming a

Carol Shelton

Carol Shelton

winemaker and owning a winery began with an “identify the scent” game her mother played when she was a young girl.  Later, as an English student at UC Davis, the scent of a Sonoma County barrel room persuaded her to change career goals and complete a degree in Enology.

Her early career began working with winemakers in California and Australia, later returning to Sonoma County where she worked at Rodney Strong and 19 years with Windsor, honing her style and concentrating on the zinfandel varietal.  Carol has not missed a harvest since 1978 and in 2000, she and her husband founded Carol Shelton Wines, selling barrel futures to finance the bottles for the first vintage.

Like other successful winemakers, one of the main factors in her success is the ability to discover and partner with exceptional vineyards throughout the state.  She sources grapes from Mendocino County, the Alexander Valley, Lodi and Paso Robles. In

Florence Vineyard

Florence Vineyard

addition to the premier Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys in Sonoma County, she has discovered vineyards in the Fountaingrove District in north Santa Rosa and as far south as the old vines of the Lopez Vineyard, located where Highways 210 and 15 intersect in Rancho Cucamonga, south of Los Angeles.

Rancho Cucamonga’s dry-farmed Jose Lopez Vineyard, sourcing grapes for the 2014 Carol Shelton “Monga” Old Vine Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley ($19) was established nearly

2013 Carol Shelton "Monga Zin" Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley

2013 Carol Shelton “Monga Zin” Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley

a Century ago and is currently certified organic. Located adjacent to two major freeways, these vines define the tough conditions that zinfandel can thrive in.  From the Florence Vineyard in the Rockpile AVA, high above Lake Sonoma, the 2013 Carol Shelton “Rocky Reserve” Zinfandel ($35) is a fragrant wine with rich earth and mineral elements and nicely balanced fruit and spice throughout. The addition of petite sirah (14%) adds depth to this wine.  The last of our zinfandel flight peaked my interest because the grapes were sourced from a vineyard in the new Fountaingrove District AVA in north Santa Rosa, minutes from my home. The PeaceLand Vineyard, a translation of the German owners name, Friedland, sits in a fairly wild setting, overlooking at city of 160,000 people.  With seven-percent petite sirah added, I found the 2013 Carol Shelton “Peaceland” Zinfandel($30) to be the richest, most jammy of the three.  Spice flavors and hints of chocolate enhance the complexity of this wine that will age gracefully.

We actually began our tasting with three current white wines including a wonderful

Rhone blend.  Known for craft zinfandel, Carol has created a complex, layered white wine that will pair well with shellfish, scallops, fish and even some chicken dishes. A blend of grenache blanc, roussane, viognier and marsanne, sourced from Paso Robles

2013 Carol Shelton "Coquille Blanc"

2013 Carol Shelton “Coquille Blanc”

vineyards, the 2014 Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc ($24) delivers floral, stone fruit aromas and tart, but creamy, balanced flavors.  This “coquille” is deserving of its consistent 90-point ratings.

Shelton’s quest for obscure vineyards led her Auburn, CA in Placer County where the Damiano Vineyard is burrowed into the heat and elevation of the foothills.  The 2014 Carol Shelton Viognier ($20) delivers a full expression of fruit, both mango and grapefruit, soft and tart. Produced in both oak barrels and stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, it is regularly stirred sur lee to add a creamy texture. Part of her wild yeast selections, the 2014 Carol Shelton “Wild Thing” Chardonnay ($18), with small amounts of viognier, muscadelle, sauvignon blanc and roussane, fermented equally in oak and stainless steel, is a crisp and balanced wine, sourced from Mendocino County.  Carol recommends Thai food as a nice pairing.

In addition to the numerous accolades and awards for her wines, Carol has been personally recognized as the San Francisco Chronicle 2005 Winemaker of the Year and is one of eight designated Pioneer Women of Winemaking in Sonoma County, a list that includes iconic names like Merry Edwards and Helen Turley.

2014 Crol Shelton "Wild Thing" Rendezvous Rose'

2014 Crol Shelton “Wild Thing” Rendezvous Rose’

Carol also dabbles in red varietals other than zinfandel and the best way to begin tasting them is the 2014 Carol Shelton “Wild Thing” Rendezvous Rose’ ($15), a blend of mostly old vine carignane with a little viognier. A full-bodied, food friendly, dark pink wine, the “Rendezvous” is crisp and dry with cranberry, strawberry and watermelon on the nose and palate.

No one is certain, but it is common belief that the first carignane vines were planted at the dry-farmed Oat Valley

Oat Valley Vineyard

Oat Valley Vineyard

Vineyard in the Alexander Valley around 1890.  Carol used these grapes when she was making wine at Windsor and now has them back to craft her own style. In winemaking, “brix” measures the concentration of sucrose by percentage of the mass.  Shelton feels that the brix in carignane must reach 25% to unleash the complex flavors which explains why her 2012 Carol Shelton Old Vine Carignane Oat Valley Vineyard ($28) is at 25.7%.  With two-percent each of petite sirah and

2012 Carol Shelton Old Vine Carignane

2012 Carol Shelton Old Vine Carignane

alicante bouschet added for good measure, the flavors are creamy and smoky with spice, fruit and at bit of chocolate at the end.  This is a bold wine with multi-layered flavors and is a good value for the price.

The well-known Rockpile Vineyard has been the source of grapes for many fine wines throughout the region.  A unique micro-climate and hard work from many people resulted in a recent AVA designation for the area.  The Rockpile AVA vineyards are at 1,000-2,000 foot elevation above Lake Sonoma.  They enjoy full morning sun and cool afternoon breezes off the lake, the opposite of the nearby Russian River Valley AVA.  As one of my favorite varietals that combines

Rockpile Vineyard

Rockpile Vineyard

complexity and accessibility, the 100% 2012 Carol Shelton Petite Sirah, Rockpile Vineyard ($40) does not disappoint with black pepper spice, concentrated, aromatic blue and black berry flavors and heavy oak influences.  The flavors are intricate, but balanced after 20 months aging in the barrel.

Describing the opportunity to obtain a ton of cabernet sauvignon grapes from the esteemed Showket Vineyard in Napa valley’s Oakville District, Carol poured a taste of her 2009 Carol Shelton Napa Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), a 100% cabernet sauvignon, all from a specific vineyard, aged 26 months in 100% new French oak. The depth and flavors of this wine seem to be ever ending and include herbs, currants, tobacco with some vanilla creme at the finish.

Zinfandel grapes seem to adapt well to late harvest, maintaining some structure before they begin to rot and turn to sugar.  Once again, Carol has achieved balance and complexity in her 2014 Carol

2014 Carol Shelton "Black Magic" Late Harvest Zinfandel

2014 Carol Shelton “Black Magic” Late Harvest Zinfandel

Shelton “Black Magic” Late Harvest Zinfandel ($20), even with a brix of 31.7%, six-percent residual sugar and 15.4% alcohol. After admiring the deep color, I enjoyed the jammy flavors and texture, the not too sweetness and more vanilla at the finish.  The wine is a perfect pair with savory cheeses or the most decadent chocolate dessert imaginable. The “Black Magic” label replicates the “Wild Thing” image in purple, black and white and glows in the dark.  It is an impressive gift for someone who enjoys late harvest wines.

I thoroughly enjoyed Carol Shelton’s wines and she was true to her word that balance is what best defines them.  Her focus is zinfandel and unique vineyard partnerships throughout California, but the white and other red varietal wines deserve equal attention from wine consumers.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands of good wineries in California.  If one were to drink Carol Shelton Wines exclusively, they would have a well-rounded experience.  I don’t often recommend joining wine clubs, but would make an exception because of her diverse releases.

Carol feels that “wine has a responsibility to be entertaining” as she strives to create a zinfandel for every palate. Her wines emerge from distinct vineyards and a small production facility in Santa Rosa, but her reputation is expanding and worth exploring on your own.


The Holland House

Eastern view

Eastern view

It’s quiet in the house on the hill.  We can look down on a busier part of town, but only when we walk out onto the deck in the evening can we hear the sounds of far off traffic and sirens.  We also hear the sounds of wild turkeys, taking a dinner stroll with their poults, the crackle as their feet crush the leaves fallen from the majestic California oak trees

Each day, the ever present view is more stunning as the morning fog lifts to reveal the valley below, the Annadel Ridge and the Mayacama Mountains above. Mount Bennett rises to the Southeast exposing the seasonal green on green or green  on brown of the oaks and grasses, a signature northern California landscape.  It is panoramic, the flagship of our decor.

To us, the Holland House, named after our road, is like living in a tree, looking down upon the world or a terrarium, observing the daily changes to the local landscape IMG_2901through glass walls.  We have awoken to pinkish-red skies contrasting the deep blue dawn off to the East.  The afternoon sun illuminates the mountains, highlighting the portrait as a museum piece and the evenings, especially during a full moon, need no description.

The front of the mid-century house faces the Taylor Mountain Preserve with the IMG_3231stunning natural vegetation flowing downward, looking like it is about to devour us.  During the spring, fresh peaches, picked from a tree outside the front door are added to a breakfast menu.  Beneath the peach tree, ferns, fuchsias and rhododendrons are soaking up the shade, adding texture and color.  Up the adjacent steep entry steps where the black lizards sun themselves, is a natural path that separates the front garden. Through the ivy archway, golden heather is interspersed with spikes of lavender, staring across the path at ghost lady ferns, Japanese painted ferns, azaleas and more rhododendrons.   Natural vegetation lifts above the garden like a breaking wave.

Today, I came upon a grey and orange fox, laying on the gravel driveway, seemingly unbothered by my presence.  Any sudden movement could startle him so I stood IMG_2656motionless as we watched each other closely for several minutes.  He sat like a dog, with front paws extended and crossed, his rear legs protruding backwards.  For a moment, he began to crawl forward on his belly, leading me instinctively to talk to him.  “ Come here,” I said softly, “I won’t hurt you.”  It didn’t work.  Just as I thought we were about to bond, he stood and jumped through the old fence, running off through the dense natural vegetation on our lower property.  This was my second encounter with a fox since we acquired the Holland House.

IMG_1218

1960s kitchen

In December 2014, we purchased a view and this home with great potential, originally built in 1950,  Initially, we saw a 1960s kitchen, divided rooms and small doorways that all needed to be opened up and modernized.  Fearing to become too comfortable and complacent with the existing decor, we immediately consulted a young designer and began the process of truly making it our own.  In April 2015, our  kitchen

2015 kitchen

2015 kitchen

moved into a spare bedroom and bathroom,  most of our furniture was put on consignment, the washing machine was relocated and re-

attached to the rear garden and, with the exception of the master bedroom, the house was emptied days before leaving on a pre-scheduled sixteen-day trip to Kyoto Provence in Japan.  Shortly after our arrival in Kyoto, we received photos by text from our contractor displaying openings where walls once stood and exposed sub-flooring that was supporting worn linoleum.  One photo showed a large pile of wood and trash with the caption:  “This is your old kitchen.”

For the next three months, my desk was a makeshift counter, a hot plate was our stove, a IMG_2509microwave our only oven, and an old love seat gave us somewhere to sit.  The kitchen sink was across the hall in the main bathroom.  My outdoor laundromat was functional and the air-dry system involved draping our clothes over the deck railing.  I hadn’t worn air-dried clothes since those that my mother hung on our backyard line during the 1950s. The clothes were naturally fresh and stiff.  This new living arrangement was reminiscent of our early marriage and our college days.

Warned to expect delays and overruns, each one became less tolerable,  especially the closer we were to completion.  Perseverance and patience came easier with the completed design sketches, knowing that there was a pot-of-gold at the end of this huge, colorful, costly and time-consuming rainbow.  The near completion of construction also reminded us that we did not have any furniture.  In a crazy “start anew” moment, we sold it. However, the computer-generated sketches from our designer, Lauren, fresh from  celebrating her 27th birthday, gave us a starting point to collaborate on the last furnishing decisions.  Following our instincts while allowing Lauren to push us where we had never gone before, the final plan was approved and I began searching, not for another rainbow, but, literally, a pot of gold.  The last furnishings were delivered inIMG_2552 October 2015 and the first phase was complete.   The new design fits our lifestyle and gives us, arguably, the best view from any laundry folding counter anywhere in the  world.

The Holland House has given us a renewed sense of community, one that was much less evident in our Southern California neighborhood.  There are 116 homes on the hill, connected through a mutual water district and an email alert system, warning of nearby thefts or occasional mountain lion sightings.  Neighbors, immediate and nearby, have come to greet us and introduce themselves.  Today, a bag of fresh vegetables arrived at our door, from a neighbor’s garden.  We like the people on the hill.  They make us feel we belong here.  We do.

With the exception of our friendly neighbors, the Holland House is about privacy and serenity that connects us to the land.  Completely private, our master bath and shower is open to the outside through a large glass window.  Numerous times this season, while showering, I have observed an adult doe with her fawn during early survival training.  Deer use our property as a connector path to the preserve and they jump a short, old country fence before loping up the hill.   Instinctively aware that the fawn could not make the leap without practice, the doe would cross the fence, face away from the young fawn and wait patiently for the trial and error process to evolve.  When the IMG_2544fawn would panic after failing time after time, the doe jumped back for comfort, then repeated the process.  Today, the fawn, larger and more stable on its feet, conquers the fence, usually after a brief contemplative pause.

One hour away from San Francisco, our favorite city in the world, the birds are noisy and the squirrels are busy, leaping from tree to tree on a warm afternoon.  The hawks are circling above while the hummingbirds hover at eye level.  It is all ours to enjoy, breaking from the routine of the day, a continual reminder that we share this planet with many beautiful creatures and natural landscapes.  The Holland House has brought us back to the land and re-energized our commitment to preserve and protect it for future generations.


Change and Hope

 

The year 2008 was an election year and before it was over, I would step away from a thirty-six-year career in public administration.   Looking forward to doing many new things, I occasionally  questioned the timing of my retirement and had some trepidation about adapting to the significant changes that lie ahead, fearful it would change who I am.  We were deep into the Presidential election process and, in late spring, the economy was becoming a concern to most people in the country.  After eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the public seemed ready for a change and I assumed it would be Hillary Clinton.  She had history and now Senatorial experience where she seemed adept at reaching across the aisle.  Many people saw her as the smartest and most committed Clinton in the White House and there was no doubt in my mind that she would be elected our next President.  Also, electing the first female president is still an important milestone for my generation.  Then came the 2008 Iowa Caucus, not something that I gave much credence to.   It was still not significant in the overall scheme of things until Barack Obama, a young senator from Illinois won the caucus, which afforded him the opportunity to speak on a national stage.  From that point and throughout the next few months, my personal and political experiences would be about change.

I have heard political speeches for decades.  They all cover the usual issues and hit upon the partisan biases of the day.  They also provide a platform for politicians to inject the most powerful tools at their disposal:  hope and fear.  Hope is hit or miss, difficult to effectively pull off, but fear works every time.  It gets their attention quickly and is welcomed justification for the anger some feel, trying to survive in a difficult, stressful society.  Hope, on the other hand, is more risky, but when it works it can drive people to change.   For any leader, hope can bestow reverent power, the kind given by the people because they believe in you.  We went to the moon and back in 1969 because John Kennedy, years earlier, told us that we could do it and we believed him.  Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt led us through difficult times because people believed in them.   I admired that Barack Obama was following the path of change and hope, but also remembered that it can be an obstacle for most people. Electing the first African-American president was still a milestone for my generation.  So I thought.

Words are just words, but I saw something in Barack Obama during his Iowa victory speech that I hadn’t seen in forty years, someone who could unite our country and, maybe, the world.  I had thought that a relatively inexperienced  African-American man named Barack Hussein Obama could not be elected as President of the United States, but from the 2008 Iowa speech, I began to comprehend what the excitement was all about.  He truly had the power of hope and the potential to make Americans and the world believe in America again. Our household was politically divided during the primaries, my wife, sticking with Hillary and me defecting to Obama.  “I like him,” Karen said, “but Hillary is more electable and she’s a woman.”   I responded, “I know, I will vote for her in November, but this guy could be one in a generation.”  Karen was retiring in June 2008 from a teaching career and was beginning to worry about her 401K.  She protested, “Greed always overcomes reason.”

Daily reports about the evolving economic crisis in the national housing market seemed to coincide with the announcement of my October retirement in April 2008.  We had some big and significant projects ahead of us and some colleagues suggested that I reconsider and “work until the storm clears.”  They still hadn’t realized that the merry-go-round never stops and it’s up to each of us to decide when to step off.  With college expenses behind us, I had hope that the country would eventually fix our economic ills.  The world was counting on it.

Karen and I had talked about going somewhere fairly soon after my last day in the office.  We talked about Paris or London, somewhere to celebrate and to de-compress.  At dinner one evening, we discussed our options and the words of a speech that resonated with us forty years prior somehow came up.   The basis of the speakers remarks were that the two things most difficult for people were accepting change and maintaining hope. Karen suggested that we include them as our retirement model.  “Ya’ know,” she said, “the dollar sucks right now, we should stay U.S. and go see some history or to places that inspire us.”    “Good idea, but we don’t have much time to pull it together,” I responded, giving praise but evoking a sense of urgency.  I was not in retirement mode yet, but maybe planning this trip would help with the transition.  We both soon knew where it would begin.

The economy was bad and would get much worse before it would start to get better.  The commonly used phase of the day was “too big to fail.”  It had to change or we were going to experience the difficult childhood of our parents.  In late August, an apparent act of desperation, John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate announced the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice-President and within a few weeks, it was over.   We would most likely elect the first African-American president, an act that, in itself, represented both change and hope.

Feeling nostalgic, I was drawn back to JFK,  listening repeatedly to his January 1961 Inaugural address from an old CD that I purchased at the Dallas Book Depository gift shop, ironically on the same day JFK, Jr. was killed in a small plane crash.  The speech began, “We observe today, not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom, symbolizing an end as well as a beginning, signifying renewal as well as change.”    They were appropriate and comforting words for all that was happening in my life.

Our calendar was clear.  Less than forty-eight hours after I left my office for the last time on October 1, we were on a plane bound for JFK airport in New York City and after a brief layover, boarded a short flight to Logan International Airport in Boston, where we spent our first night.  The next morning, we picked up a rental car and headed north on Highway 91 toward  Vermont; there was no time to waste.  Connecting to Highway 89 in Woodstock, we headed northwest and would be in Stowe within a few hours.  We arrived just as the leaves were turning, vividly painted across the horizon, a natural, magnificently depicted metaphor for change.  Color was everywhere, covering the mountainsides like bright tie-dye covers a T-shirt. Individual trees were extraordinary and the hiking paths were covered with newly fallen leaves looking like multi-colored cobblestone.  The rest of our trip would be a celebration of this moment in time.  Change was inevitable and it was good.

We left Stowe four days later, driving past mountain lakes surrounded by rich Impressionistic slopes, through New Hampshire to a historic inn on Walker Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, across the cove from the Bush Family estate.  All the local seaside inns display flags whenever the President or Barbara Bush were in town.

A flat in Boston was next where we walked the Freedom Trail and spent a day in the JFK Museum at the University of Massachusetts, a prelude to our next stop, Hyannisport,  Camelot of the 1960s.  After visiting another small, more localized JFK museum, we were on the fast ferry to Nantucket Island for a slower pace, leaving our car on the mainland.  Back on the road days later, we headed to New York City via New Haven, Connecticut and Yale University.   New York didn’t have any special significance except that it was New York and we had an apartment on the Upper East Side for our last week.

Revitalized, we returned to watch Barack Obama make it official on the second Tuesday in November.  Change was here as well as a national crisis that was testing people’s hope.  Whatever the first-term agenda was intended to be, it was now about facing the most dangerous economic quagmire since the Great Depression.  I felt the weight on his shoulders.  I thought about Jackie Robinson and all he went through, but that was 1947.  This was the year 2008 and I was energized to stay engaged in how the next few years would unfold.  Somehow I felt primed to confront it all.  Those life changes that consumed my thoughts over the past few months were not as significant as I imagined.  My spirit was renewed and they hadn’t changed who I am.


Coyote Cardio

 

Ed Ruscha's Cyotoe

Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote”

As the Wednesday morning management meeting was breaking up and, after determining that there was no further business, Jim inquired, “Any stories from our little snow bunnies?”  He was referring to Dennis and I, who had just returned from a four-day ski trip at Mammoth Mountain with some colleagues from other parts of the state. Sunburned faces after a two-day absence from the grind always left the door open to facetious references like “snow bunny.” Amid the noise of rustling papers and squeaky chairs as people transitioned out of the room, Dennis proclaimed, “Well, Lyle got chased by a coyote and he has witnesses.” Laughter ensued and chairs began to squeak once again, this time from returning butts, waiting for a juicy story.

Our ski trip to Mammoth Mountain resort had become an annual event and, over a ten-year span beginning in the 1990s, had grown to six skiers. George, most active in keeping it going year to year, knew the mountain well and was always looking for an excuse to be out of the office. He and a few others in the group wanted to be on the mountain early each morning when the lifts start running and used their late afternoon shut down as the only reason to stop. I preferred the 10:00am to 3:00pm window but my legs were strong and I felt up to the task.

After a twenty-minute lunch break, we exited Mid-Chalet to put on our skis and traverse to Chair Three.  George wanted to show us some new runs that we could access from the top. They were called “Critters” and “New Critters” which, within the hour, would be the irony of the day. Assembling at the top of Chair Three, we started down the backside of St. Anton where we could pick up enough speed to traverse past Bristlecone to the top of the new runs that would ultimately provide a long path down to Chair One. George’s plan connected many runs to give us one very long one, interrupted only by our need to catch a breath.  Somewhere near the top of Bristlecone, Gary caught an edge and fell, landing softly onto the new snow. While the others kept going, worried about having enough speed to finish  the traverse without excessive poling, I stopped to make sure that Gary was OK. “I’m fine, dammit,” he snorted, so I left, reminding him that we were all meeting at the bottom of Critters.

Poling, a consequence of not having enough speed, is defined by burning arm muscles and lack of rhythm, not the true exhilaration of skiing. Relieved to reach the top, I turned right and began my descent down the hill. Moving fluidly, I was relaxed, letting my ski’s do the work just before the chaos began. Suddenly, through my tinted goggles, I saw movement flash by, peripherally, on my right side. Within an instant I realized that it wasn’t another skier or snowboarder because it was staying with me.

Still startled, I planted my pole for a sharp left turn and it followed, head down, like its nose was glued to my boot, fortunately made of hard composite material. Planting my pole, I thrust my knees quickly to the right and glanced down to see breath streaming through its nostrils.   I was not only trying to shed the beast but concentrate on getting to the bottom without falling. Another quick turn to the left, then to the right and I could sense the commotion stop. Needing to regain my balance and composure, I forced my knees, once again into the slope and, quickly stopped, pushing up a small trail of snow. My heart was still pounding when I looked up and tried to make some sense of what just happened.

Fifteen feet up this slope named “Critter,” stood a large, skinny coyote with a long pink tongue drooping below its jowl. We shared a terse stare before he turned and loped through the white snow to some nearby bushes.  Turning toward the bottom of the hill I gazed at my friends. Still attached to their ski’s, they were rolling in the snow, consumed with belly laughter.  Then Gary came over the horizon and pulled up, “What’s going on?”  Not certain how to answer his question, I just said, “I’ll tell you when we get to the bottom.”  His questions continued after he looked down the hill, inquiring, “What’s up with them?” I left without responding, ready to confront my audience.

Theories abounded at the bottom of the hill, each attempting to justify what occurred. Dennis surmised, “I think he’s been waiting all day and he finally found the weak one of the herd.”  I reminded him that the coyote was still hungry and I was at the bottom of the hill. “Ya’know, in my old neighborhood,” George chimed in, “there was this dog, I think it was a black lab, who chased everything that moved, cars, motorcycles, even bicycles. He never hurt anyone, he just loved to run after moving things.  This coyote was the same as that dog, except this neighborhood has skiers instead of cars.”  Gary, who missed it all, added his opinion. “Maybe he’s rabid, we should report him to the lodge. Don’t these things hibernate?”

Coyotes do not hibernate or migrate during the winter. They survive on berries, bushes and very rare natural prey, a  segue way to my theory.  For my canid friend to be competitive for the occasional meaty morsels, he must stay in shape and maintain his edge.  Like duck hunters who hone their skills during the off-season by shooting at clay pigeons, this coyote used me and, maybe others, to exercise his instincts and remain sharp.  It was a collaboration.  I was pushed, through fear, to turn my ski’s as crisply and quickly as I had in years while the coyote worked on his cardio and learned to anticipate the moves of another frightened creature.

Ed Ruscha's Coyote #2

Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote #2”

As we gathered to ski down to Chair One, George, pointing up the slope, yelled, “Look!”  There was a female skier with a coyote’s snout at the back of her boot. Suddenly she fell and he immediately retreated into his hiding spot, presumingly feeling bad about being too aggressive.  We checked in on the latest victim. “I’m okay,” she responded, “did you guys see that?” I yelled back, “Know him well.”

Months later at a conference, I joined a friend and some of his colleagues for coffee. After being introduced, one of them said, “Your name sounds familiar, did you once get chased by a coyotes while skiing?”  “That was me,” I nodded. The diverse demographics of our ski group had taken the story statewide. I have fond memories and feel fortunate to have been chased by a coyote.  Only a handful of people, skiing this small area of Mammoth Mountain on this cold, white February day, will have a great tale to tell for the rest of their lives.

 

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Trending Rose’

 

The fact that the popularity of rose’ is rising is not a new trend, it has occurred for over a decade.  The emergence of rose’ is still being discussed by sommeliers in 2016, but the real story is about its evolution.  Today, it has become a priority, not an afterthought for winemakers.  Good, specifically designed rose’ has fueled the market which, in turn, has channeled more energy to create the next best release.

Another trend is that consumers are less discerned with color and are breaking with traditional values toward what types of foods pair with red or white wine.  Rose’ has

Provence vineyards

Provence vineyards

stepped up as a wine that belongs at the dinner table, as well as the patio on a summer afternoon.  Many restaurants now include rose’ on their wine lists year-round, not just the summer months.  Blended from Rhone varietals including syrah, mourvedre and grenache, Spanish tempranillo, Italian sangiovese and California pinot noir, modern rose’ can compliment food from raw oysters and sushi to roasted chicken and pork.  Yesterday’s rose’ wines were sweet and simple.  Today, they are versatile, friendly but complex and readily recommended in tapas bars and most trendy restaurants.

All wine grape juice is clear, generating its color from various degrees of contact with red grape skins.  With rose’, the juice is separated or “bled” away from the skins very early in a process known as the “Saignée method.”  The normal deep ruby color of the fine reds

Chateau Miraval Provence France

Chateau Miraval Provence France

turn to what are known as “pink wines.”  Rose’ is also mostly produced in stainless steel with little or no oak, resulting in higher acidity with crisp, invigorating texture.

Due to its diversity, fine rose’ is now produced in all the world’s wine regions. At the top is Provence, located south of France’s great appellations and north of the classic Spanish blends from Rioja, whose winemakers have focused their production almost exclusively on rose’.  The current rose’ inventory in most fine wine outlets is generally between fifty and seventy percent from Provence. The selections are so vast that a decision could be overwhelming, so, let me recommend a few good ones that are readily available.

With multiple ratings in the nineties, the 2015 Chateau Miraval Cote de Provence Rose’ ($20) first earned recognition when the 2012 vintage was named to Wine

Chateau Miraval 2015

Chateau Miraval 2015

Spectator magazine’s Top 100 wines and became the world’s best rose’ of that year. Produced through a partnership between Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateaunef-du-Pape, the current vintage expresses wonderful floral and fruit aromas, soft berry flavors and a nice minerality on the finish. A high quality for the price, the Miraval is available at wine outlets and on-line. Another rose’ from a large

2014 Cotes du Rhone Rose'

2014 Cotes du Rhone Rose’

producer in the Rhone Valley, the 2014 Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rose’ is a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault that make it dry, but fruity.  This vintage has an acidic finish that compliments spicy foods.

WholeCluster_Stolpman_HighRes

Whole cluster grapes at Stolpman Winery

Fine rose’ wines are produced in all California wine regions, from the Santa Ynez Valley in north Santa Barbara County to the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County.  Diversity in varietals and terroir make for a broad palate of selections and new rose’ production is vital across the state.  For example, grapes from the Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Ynez have been sourced to other wineries for decades. They have an impeccable reputation and have begun producing wines under their own label like the 2015 Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Rose’ ($17), a soft, fruity pink wine from 100% grenache grapes, a portion undergoing the carbonic maceration process that introduces them to a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. The whole grape begins to ferment while in the skins.  This rose’ can be a nice summer sipper as well as a food wine.

Tablas Creek Winery, a patriarch among the California Rhone Rangers in Paso Robles,

2015 Patelin de Tablas Rose'

2014 Patelin de Tablas Rose’

produce what many believe is the best rose’ in California, the 2014 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rose’ ($20).  A Rhone blend of grenache, mourvedre and counoise, this wine is fresh, floral and balanced, expressing cherries and watermelon throughout a long finish.  To the north, in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation comes the 2015 Luli Central Coast Rose’ ($14),  produced through a partnership between Master Sommelier Sarah Floyd and the Pisoni Family who have contributed to and created many great wines from the region. A distinct blend of pinot noir and grenache, it has balanced flavors that will compliment food very well.  Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm, another patriarch among California Rhone Rangers, has always been willing to push the envelope in finding obscure vineyards to produce rare wines like 2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato ($24) from the Mt. Oso Vineyard in the hills above Tracy, CA in San Joaquin County.  Ciliegiolo is actually a little known Tuscan varietal related to sangiovese. Randall spoke of the grape, “While it can be brilliant as a

2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

2015 Bonny Doon Il Ciliegiolo Rosato

powerful red, one might argue that it is uniquely well suited to haunt the palate as a fragrant, delicate pink.” It is actually a light red, as opposed to a pink wine and I find it to be the boldest rose’ that I’ve have tasted, one that I would not hesitate to pair with roasted pork.

St. Supery Vineyards and Winery in Napa Valley produces mostly estate grown and sustainably-farmed Bordeaux varietals from vineyards on the valley floor.  With a darker color, the 2015 St. Supery Estate Rose’ Wine Napa Valley ($18) is all about fresh berry aromas and flavors.  It is a merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend that also includes cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc and petit

2015 St. Supery Napa Valley Rose'

2015 St. Supery Napa Valley Rose’

verdot, blended after fermentation. It exudes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and watermelon throughout and, at under twenty dollars, is an exceptional value. Another winery using cool-climate pinot noir from Sonoma Coast vineyards and a significant percentage from a biodynamically-farmed vineyard outside of Sebastopol, CA, the 2013 Red Car Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2014($22) is fermented without any contact with the skins, creating what the winemaker calls, “A pale melon pink wine.”  It is bone dry, zesty, very aromatic with herbal and berry flavors.  Referring to the finish,

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rose'

2013 Red Car Pinot Noir Rose’

Antonio Galloni of Vinous says this wine, “Smoothly plays power off finesse and finishes with resonating florality.” It is a suitable pair with sushi or grilled salmon.

Carol Shelton has made her own wines since 2000, mostly zinfandel sourced from some of the finest Sonoma County vineyards. She also creates limited amounts of pinot noir, petit sirah, cabernet sauvignon and carignane, a varietal that dominates the Carol Shelton 2015 Wild Thing Rendezvous

Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rose'

Carol Shelton Wild Thing Rendezvous Rose’

Rose’ ($15), a crisp, dry wine from Mendocino County expressing strawberry-watermelon aromas and flavors with mineral hints on the finish.  Half of the pink juice is bled off after brief contact with the carignane skins, resulting in the color of a light pinot noir.  Consistently rated in the 90s, the “Rendezvous” has the complexity necessary to accompany any food, from sushi to BBQ ribs.

Very good rose’ wines can be found throughout Oregon and Washington State as well as South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand where the 2015 Elephant Hill Tempranillo Rose’ Hawkes Bay ($29) originates. As with many red varietals, the warm climate of wine regions below the equator accentuates the flavors of tempranillo.  This dry, zesty small-production wine, consisting of 92% tempranillo and eight percent syrah is citric, fruit-forward and spicy with a very clear

Elephant Hill Winery New Zealand

Elephant Hill Winery New Zealand

minerality on the finish

The end of summer no longer breeds disappointment among rose’ fans.  Today, it is a year-round alternative when serving appetizers, a three-course dinner or enjoying a glass with friends.  Rose’ has emerged and will continue to evolve as it renews the spirit of winemakers everywhere to commit to exploring the potential of pink wines.  Maybe there is a rose’ wine on this list for you.


Mr. Jones Revisited

Mentors are like artists or writers, sometimes their impact is not fully appreciated for decades.  Then, at times, it is passed on and lives for generations.  This could be the story of Mr. Ron Jones, a very normal looking young high school English teacher in 1965, with a fresh credential, trying to enlighten a class of 4th-year English Seniors, some looking for inspiration and others waiting for it all to end.  Though I found him an interesting teacher, it took years to fully understand the profound effect our time together had in developing some of my lifelong passions and, in many ways, guiding the way I look at things.

Mr. Jones had a typical mid-1960s high school teacher image, short hair, gray slacks with cuffs, a button-down dress shirt and tie and tweed jacket.  His look was preppy, but intellectual, one that would drastically change for teachers in the next few years. Jones had chosen, as one of his extracurricular requirements, to help with the football team and I would often see him at practice.  He was athletic and knowledgeable about the game, but his classroom persona revealed much more than just a jock teaching English.  The fall of 1965 was at the cusp of massive cultural and social changes in this country and, I believe, as a young man, he sensed and embraced them early.

During a week-long segment on poetry, Mr. Jones veered from the classics to discuss some new contemporary poets.  “Ya’know, he said, “many of the writers and poets today are singers and songwriters.”  Then, poetically, he recited lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie and Leonard Cohen, prose of a new day.  Half the class continued to be bored with both the new and the old, but Mr.Jones had my full attention.  In this moment, a teacher was about to inspire a student.  Months earlier, with no expectations, I had gone with a friend to a Bob Dylan concert.  The profound effect of his music had led me to other songwriters of the emerging folk rock movement and Mr. Jones just legitimized them all.

For the next few weeks, students were allowed to bring in music on Fridays.  We listened seriously to songwriters, discussing and interpreting their poetry the best we could.  Some students never understood or cared about it at all, foreshadowing future oblivion or a difficult adjustment through the next decade. At times, I thought Mr. Jones and I were having a conversation and others in the class were just listening. A typical classroom discussion was best summed up by one of my Friday submittals, Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad Of A Thin Man” from his new album, “Highway 61 Revisited”:

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says

“It’s his”

And you say, “What’s mine?”

And somebody else says, “Where what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God

Am I here all alone.”

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Passion for music of all kinds has continuously enveloped my adult life, always leaving time to explore the lyrics of great contemporary song writers like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and others who have chronicled our time so eloquently.  Amid many musical influences, Mr. Jones steered me in their direction and gave me permission to be open and accepting of something new.

Weeks later, this engaging teacher offered an intriguing extra-credit opportunity, one that got the attention of my friend Steve and I.  “There is a film playing at the Towne Theater, it’s called, ‘The Pawnbroker,’” Mr. Jones announced, “it’s not required but if any students are able to watch it and write a brief description of your impressions, I’ll give you fifty extra credit points toward your grade.”  With SAT scores lower than expected, we were both focused on our GPA’s and justifying a week-night movie as the road to an A was appealing.  “If you wanna do it, I can pick you up at 6:30,” Steve said as I nodded affirmatively.  Steve’s dad had recently given him a brand new, burgundy-colored 1966 Pontiac GTO as an early graduation present, vastly increasing my transportation opportunities.  The car was a beast that delivered less than eight miles to the gallon and even with fuel priced at twenty-nine cents per gallon, lack of gas money often restricted our travel.  Luckily, tonight was about extra credit and Steve’s mom pitched in a few dollars.

I loved the movies, especially when Paul Newman overcame adversity and prevailed over the latest antagonist or Jerry Lewis would portray a character among his breadth of idiots.  I loved movies, but had no concept of film as an art form until that rainy January night, my first time inside the Towne Theater, at the time San Jose’s only art and foreign film venue. The featured film was director Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker,” a dark portrait of a soulless man, the survivor of the Nazi concentration camp where his wife and children were killed.  The main character, Sol Nazerman, played by young actor Rod Steiger, operated a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem that also fronted for a pimp.  His experiences had left him totally detached from others or the world around him. I was expecting a more dramatic Hollywood ending where we watch significant changes to Sol’s life unfold into happily ever after. In this film, real change came slowly or not at all, with a small glimmer of hope left to the interpretation of the viewer. The “Pawnbroker” was stark reality, but, at seventeen, the most poignant film I had ever seen, a film that heightened my understanding and awareness of the Holocaust.

Eager to write a brief review of the film to secure the extra credit, I described the use of visual flashbacks to horrifically reveal Nazerman’s past, they helped me to better understand his behavior.  Unlike today, information and reviews were not available to the masses.  Viewers had to rely on their own perceptions. In a later discussion, Mr. Jones, admittedly a fan of Sidney Lumet, described how the director used various techniques to create a more powerful message.  It was the first time I understood the role or appreciated the contribution of the film director.

Remaining somewhat interested over the ensuing years, my curiosity re-emerged after I met my wife, Karen, an undergraduate student who also had an interest in film.  Hers was influenced by her parents, who would go to the Towne Theater to watch art films and mine from Mr. Jones.  Karen and I have remained avid film buffs for 47 years, beginning in 1969 with watching art films on campus or at the old Saratoga Theater, a metal quonset hut nestled against the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the village of the same name.

I never communicated with Mr. Jones after graduation but like to remember thanking him and telling him how much I enjoyed his class. Moving on with my life, I remained unaware that he had touched and opened a side of me that could have remained dormant forever.  Questions will always remain of what became of Mr. Jones.  Did he continue teaching in the public school system or drop out and live in a commune for the next ten years?  He may have written the screenplay of a film that I enjoyed, not that credits for someone named Ron Jones would raise a red flag.

Whatever became of him, Mr. Jones will always be remembered as a wonderfully effective teacher, one that opened a young mind to appreciate artistic expression of all kinds.


Zinfandel Keeps Good Company

 

Zinfandel is America’s wine grape. Sure, there is primitivo, a distant cousin from Italy, but zinfandel is the only grape that truly has roots here.  When friends from San Francisco had to make a “zinfandel run” to northern Sonoma County and suggested we accompany them for some tastings and lunch, we freed our calendars and made it happen.  It had been some time since we did this and our companion’s quarterly allocations were

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard

building up at two separate wineries, each producing very diverse styles of zinfandel.  Anticipating that the tastings would be very distinctive, I was also interested in releases of other varietals.

The Dry Creek Valley, located fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, has the warmest climate in the area, sandwiched between the Russian River and Alexander Valleys.  The terroir in this region is more conducive to zinfandel than pinot noir or chardonnay, typical in most of the county.  Today’s stops, Mazzocco Sonoma, part of the Wilson Family Wines empire, and historical Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, both construct highly acclaimed zinfandel with completely divergent views on how the varietal should be expressed.

Worth mentioning, Wilson Family Wines own eight different wineries in Sonoma County, as far south as St. Anne’s Crossing in Kenwood to Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, CA to the north.  Four

Mazzocco Winery

Mazzocco Winery

wineries focus on zinfandel, two on cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, one daring soul pursues pinot noir and the matriarch Wilson Winery produces a variety including petite sirah and syrah.  Many of their wines were awarded gold medals in Sonoma Harvest Fest and the San Francisco Chronicle Wjine Competition.

Edoardo Seghesio first planted his Home Ranch Vineyard, north of Geyserville, in 1895, following his instincts that it was the right terroir for zinfandel, petite sirah and many Italian varietals.  “Today, Seghesio owns over 300 acres of estate vineyards and farms nearly one hundred acres of outside vineyards making them one of the largest producers in the region. History and a commitment to the land has been rewarded with an ideal platform for producing consistent quality wines.  We didn’t know what Spring releases they were pouring, but foresaw that some special single vineyard and reserves would be included.

In the land of zinfandel, the first three wines we tasted were Italian varietals, including the dry, herbal 2015 Seghesio Vermentino ($22), a rare white varietal, dry with nice expressions of fruit and a minerality that defined its character.  Excepting those from Burgundy, European white varietals are unfairly overlooked and many consumers are missing opportunities to add diversity to their taste buds.  Also dry, but fruity, the 2013 Seghesio Sangiovese ($30) is soft, with a nice creamy structure carried through the finish.  There are many very fine releases of sangiovese, used to produce chianti from Tuscany.  This is another good one.

With roots in the Barolo wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, barbera typically shows deep colors and earthy flavors.  When I unexpectedly encounter a good California barbera, I often take a bottle home including the 2013 Seghesio Barbera ($30).  Deep, ruby hues and soft,

Seghesio Barbera

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

102017b_11Barbera_F

Seghesio Family Vineyard Barbera Alexander Valley

accessible flavors are enhanced by a balanced structure and deep color that seemed to glow when held up to the light.  This one will pair perfectly with pasta or mushroom risotto. Seghesio also produces other Italian varietals, arneis, pinot grigio and fiano, in estate-owned vineyards, both in the Russian River and Alexander valleys.

“The Cortina Vineyard, named after the loamy soil that exists on the site, has been farmed by Seghesio since 1957. Known for its subtle, elegant flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Vineyard ($40) was awarded 94-points by Wine Spectator magazine. In addition to the soft flavors, I found great bouquet and texture to this exceptional wine.

Using old zinfandel vines and a small amount of petite sirah grapes from their flagship Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard and gnarly vines from the Saini Beach Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, the 2013 Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($40) is a dry, austerely luscious wine with balanced structure and a nice spice character to the flavor. Enjoy the wine by itself or try BBQ meats that would enhance the spice.

Using a blend of old and young zinfandel vines and a small touch of petite sirah for color and softer flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Vineyard (58) expresses an earthy bouquet that transcends into the flavors.  The “Home Ranch” had the softest creamy texture of all the wines tasted, leaving me no choice but to take a bottle home to my cellar.

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel

Sonoma Valley’s Pagani Vineyard has been literally deeply rooted in the soil and the fabric of the regional zinfandel community since 1887.  It is dry-farmed, creating deep-rooted vines and fruit that produce rich, potent flavors, yet express a lighter structure than the other zinfandels we tasted. This defines the 2012 Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani Vineyard ($48). It is fascinating when the special, unchanged characteristics of an old vineyard can produce uniquely identifiable wines, vintage to vintage.

Seghesio produces many wines at different levels, many are available at local outlets.  The single vineyard releases, at a higher price, are available online, from the winery and wine shops, offering the truest picture of their finest efforts. After lunch, we would drive north a few miles to the heart of the Dry Creek Valley where Mazzocco Sonoma specializes in a different style of zinfandel.

Mozzacco is a very welcoming place, located on Lytton Springs Road, north of Healdsburg.  It does produce cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals but its focus is on high alcohol, lively and fruity zinfandel, mostly from designated vineyards.  To prepare our palates, the tasting opened with a 100% sauvignon blanc, a white wine sourced from the Alexander Valley.

ZIN_RES_SMITH

Mazzocco Reserve Zinfandel Smith Orchard

The crisp and fragrant 2015 Mazzocco Sauvignon Blanc ($28) created in a New Zealand style, was a very nice beginning that expressed stone fruit aromas with vibrant grapefruit flavors and mineral elements on the finish.  As one who usually prefers a softer, creamy style, I liked the grapefruit accents and would recommend this refreshing wine for hot, summer afternoons.  This was a good beginning, but it was time to enjoy four single vineyard zinfandel releases, all highly acclaimed.

Awarded gold medals over the past three years by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Briar Vineyard ($29), estate-owned with seven percent petite sirah, was intense from bouquet to palate with wild berry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish.  Another highly acclaimed zinfandel in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Wine Competitions, the 2013 Mazzocco

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

Zinfandel Reserve, Warms Springs Ranch ($52) conveys a myriad of aromas and flavors ranging from floral hints to roasted nuts and spice from mid-palate through finish, jammy, but at the same time, elegant.  The “Warm Springs” was the best illustration of their signature fruit-forward Mazzocco wines.

From the heart of the Dry Creek appellation, with deep volcanic soils, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve West Dry Creek Vineyard ($52) delivers concentrated, balanced fruit and berry flavors with accents of cocoa and pepper throughout the finish. This wine is meant to be enjoyed outdoors with some nice gorgonzola cheese.

They saved one of their best reserve zinfandels for our last wine. From their highest elevation vineyard at 2,400-foot, with iron-rich soils that allow the fruit to mature slowly, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve Smith Orchard Vineyard ($52) expressed rich, diverse flavors ranging from currant jam and anise to chocolate and creme brûlée.  This is truly a luscious zinfandel that caught the attention of Robert Parker/Wine Advocate who awarded it 91-points, citing a combination of intensity and balance.

Wine Spectator, National Geographic Traveler and Sunset magazines have recently published articles recommending travel to Sonoma County for its rich food, wine, culture and open space.  While the world-famous pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay are the stars of this region, travelers should not miss an opportunity to experience the zinfandel and other varietals in the north end.  Along with Paso Robles, Lodi and Calaveras County, the Dry Creek Valley is at the table with California’s best and these two wineries afford a fine   opportunity to enjoy different styles, each excellent in their own way.