Why Grüner Veltliner?


Just when we’ve become comfortable with the pronunciation and flavors of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, roussanne and others, someone suggests a grüner veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEENER). Some may ask, “What is this?,” others merely, “Why?”

Domaine Wachau along the Danube River

To the first question, it is the most indigenous and abundant grape in Austria.  Miles outside of Vienna, in regions like Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal within the broader Lower Austria, grüner veltliner vines grow, side by side, with riesling on terraced slopes above the Danube River.  To the second question, that terroir with traditional winemaking practices make concentrated and expressive wines not to be overlooked.

Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s national grape, accounting for one-third of their total production. With nearly 43,000 acres under vine, they understand the need for deep, loose soil that maintains moisture, climate that retards disease and willingly accept the required commitment of closely regulated pruning.

Austrian releases are significant white wine options that often fall under the radar. However, plantings of grüner veltliner by U.S. winemakers has increased awareness and availability. Grown in many California regions, other releases from Oregon and New York state are also on the rise.

My interest in the varietal peaked a few months ago when I tasted the 2011

2011 Carlisle Gruner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard

Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard (92-pt), sourced from the mountains in southeast Sonoma County.  It actually served as the opening to a tasting of zinfandel and syrah, but I was drawn to the complexity of the white wine.  Set between the spice and floral nose and the mineral nuanced finish were citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors for the palate

Days later, at Sessions at the Presidio, I paired a glass of Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2015 with grilled fish tacos and cumin slaw. Sourced from the Edna Valley southeast of San Luis Obispo, it’s subtle spice and more concentrated melon and fruit flavors with

Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner 2015

patented mineral finish was the right wine for my meal.

Focusing on riesling and pinot noir from the cooler Santa Barbara climate, Graham Tatomer produces a few grüner veltliner releases. The 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meereboden Vineyard (90-pt) offers nice stone fruit flavors with a finish described as “kelp-like.” The vineyard’s name translates to “ocean soil” that, in this case, is a combination of sand, diatomaceous earth and loam.

These three California-grown releases from

northern, central and southern terroir illustrate the diversity of the grape and our state.  Outside of California, this varietal seems to flourish on each coast.

Chehalem Winery in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley mainly focuses on single-

Paragon Vineyard

vineyard pinot noir.  During our last visit, we enjoyed a very nice grüner veltliner from the Ribbon Ridge appellation. Their current release, the 2015 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Block uses both stainless steel and neutral oak for fermenting and has been well-reviewed.

In Austria, grüner veltliner and riesling vines are often grown together.  It was only a matter of time that Fingerlakes Lakes, New York, origin of our country’s best riesling, would begin to produce it’s collaborator.  The Herman J. Wiemer Grüner Veltliner 2014, the second

2015 Tatomer Gruner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard

release from the noted producer, is available at some Bay Area wine outlets.

In an article debating the merits of grüner veltliner, the author described a friend who was skeptical until he shared “an F.X.” with him.  Afterward, as its told, his friend was hooked forever on the varietal.

The name F.X. Pichler, from the Wachau region, is associated with, arguably, the world’s finest and most expensive grüner veltliner.  Having tasted an F.X. Pichler wine years ago, I recall the creamy texture that I later learned was created from the batonnage (sur lee) process.  After glowing reviews, Wine Advocate declared that the 2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau (93-pt) delivered complexity and a balance of “richness with tension and invigoration.”  While not fully comprehending what that means, it does sound intriguing.

2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau

Last evening, in my American mid-century home,  I enjoyed the Carlisle Sonoma County Grüner Veltliner with a slab of French Comté cheese and a great jazz recording by the Polish-based Marcin Wasilewski Trio. It was the perfect global pairing and I may do it again tomorrow.  Why not?


Wines For Dessert


While entertaining during this season, many are ditching the traditional apple or pumpkin pie for a thoughtful fruit and cheese

Village et vignobles de Sauternes

plate paired with a port-style or late-harvest dessert wine. The most famous and expensive dessert wines on the planet are from Sauternes and Barsac, south of Bordeaux France.  For the past two years, the Chateau Climens Barsac 2013 ($68/97-pt) and the Chateau Coutet Barsac 2014 ($37/96-pt) are among Wine Spectator magazine’s top five releases worldwide. They are both a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon blanc, the same grapes used in the classic Bordeaux white wines. The difference lies in something nicknamed the “noble rot.”

Mold is a natural enemy in the vineyards and can quickly destroy plants.  However, the renowned Sauternes are among those “botrytized” wines, that oddly benefit from

Chateau Coutet Barsac

the encouragement of a mold called Botrytis Cinerea.  High humidity make the plant susceptible to the rot which, primarily during late growth, turns the grapes to raisins and sweetens the juice.  Botrytis may sugar-coat the Sauternes, but they maintain the complex flavor profile and other attributes of traditional white wine from the region.

Although the Sauternes I have tasted are unmatched, the typical $50-75 per bottle cost is beyond mine and many budgets.  Albeit difficult to dissuade someone from experiencing these great releases, common sense suggests that we look to more affordable and accessible choices

Grapes with Botrytis Cinerea

in California.  Pairing any of these dessert wines with rich cheeses like Rogue River Bleu from southern Oregon or Point Reyes Bay Blue with some sage honey and a bit of chocolate may draw you closer to nirvana.

Vincent Arroyo Winery in north Napa Valley has produced their petite sirah port-style wine for over twenty years in the authentic method of using grapes from one vintage only.  Petite sirah is compatible with many palates and some of the best comes from this region.  Clearly identified by a striking silver embossed label, one remaining 2012 Vincent Arroyo Port sits in my cellar.  It is a rich, balanced, age-worthy port and I trust the current vintage is as well


After I first tasted the full-bodied 2010 Richard Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Santa Barbara County ($23) paired with fine chocolate, I lost all self-control and had seconds.  What I love about this port-style, single-varietal wine is that, although fortified, the complexities in the syrah are still evident.  The spice aromas are protuberant and the cherry flavors are baked,

2012 Longoria Vino Dulce Syrah

balanced and expressive.

Wines sourced from San Benito County vineyards are interesting because of the heavy limestone influence in their soil. Vista Verde Vineyard, south of Hollister, is a familiar one.  The Williams Selyem Port Vista Verde Vineyard 2010 ($30), and earlier vintages are rich and complex, aged forty months in oak barrels. Look for fig and floral aromas, dark berries flavors with a nice “Snickers Bar” finish that romances the palate.

Last week at a dinner party with friends, I shared the Hungarian “botrytized” wine, Disznókő, Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008 ($45), a classified first growth release and considered the finest wine in the Tokaji region. After initial hints of citrus,

Disznoko Tokaji Aszu Puttonyos 5

the other elaborate flavors melded into a potently polished rich mouthfeel. While this special after dinner wine pairs well with a variety of cheeses and chocolates, it can be dessert on its own.

For those curious about Sauternes, I did a quick net search of local Bay Area wine outlets and found several priced in the $20-$30 range.  The top-rated wine was a 2001 Guiraud Sauternes ($60), which received a 96-pt rating from Wine Spectator and was on their “Top 100 Wines of 2004” list describing flavors of “butterscotch and vanilla with hints of ripe apples.”  It’s there for the taking, but, as we have discovered, there are many delectable options to choose from.

Tasting “Sonoma Strong”


Sonoma County has experienced tragedy from the recent fires.  There was loss of life and property and we all see areas of scorched earth where beauty once prevailed. The land will recover and the community has begun the healing process with an outpouring of community support.

Staff at Merry Edwards Winery

Thanks to the efforts of firefighters and other public service personnel, most of the landscape remains unchanged, including our famous vineyards.  Sonoma County is open for business and the experience of great wine, food and natural beauty is very much intact. The following recommendations are intended to deliver it all for a memorable day-trip.

The first stop is a late morning reserved tasting at Limerick Lane Cellars, named for their street of origin, on property south of Healdsburg.  Since the Limerick Lane

Limerick Lane Winery

Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2012 (94-pt) placed #12 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 list, their wines have become recognizable and highly rated. Currently, visitors can enjoy the 2015 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the 2015 1910 Block Zinfandel (94-pt),a specialty field blend and the wonderful 2015 Syrah Grenache, a Rhone blend with a pinch of petite sirah added.

There are a plethora of good lunch opportunities in trendy Healdsburg, a few blocks north of Limerick Lane  Two of my favorites are The Shed, offering a delightful farm to table menu and Barndiva, with aesthetic patio dining.

Leaving town and traveling west, Healdsburg Road, passing over  Highway 101, soon intersects with the iconic Westside Road that weaves through the heart of the Russian River Valley.  Not all estates along Westside Road are open to the public,

Patio tasting at Gary Farrell

but MacRostie Vineyards, Gary Farrell and Thomas George Estates offer special tasting experiences that focus on cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir.  All of their single-vineyard releases feature noted local vineyards like Olivet, Durrell and Wildcat Mountain

They all offer a broad menu of tasting experiences, held in modish settings, that are

Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard 2013

both exceptional and pricey.  Indulge yourselves while enjoying fine wines like the 2014 Gary Farrell Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Valley (94-pt). Reservations are required at each.

The continuing drive along Westside Road is a virtual feast for the eyes, passing through gorgeous redwoods, oaks and vineyards like Allen, Bacigalupi and Bucher that source grapes to many of the valley’s producers.  As with previous vintages, the medium-bodied 2015 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir, sourced from these and other nearby vineyards, has a rich mouthfeel with berry and spice flavors that pair well with my palate.

Hacienda Bridge

Driving south along Westside Road requires crossing the one-way Hacienda Bridge that affords splendid views of the Russian River. Soon, Westside becomes Wohler Road moving south to River Road, toward the Highway 116 wineries.  This is a good time set your GPS for Merry Edwards Winery on Gravenstein Highway North (116) near Sebastopol.

With consistent great releases from an iconic winemaker, poured in a private setting,

Merry Edwards Winery is unsurpassed. The free tasting treats you to more highly-rated single vineyard pinot noir, chardonnay and something more.  The 2016 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, as well as previous vintages, is arguably the best sauvignon blanc in California. Stable ratings in the mid-nineties and multiple appearances on Wine Spectator magazines Top 100 Wines List substantiates it’s reputation. Several lees-stirrings and the addition of sauvignon musque adds richness to the complex flavor profile of stone and tropical fruits with expressive mineral notes on the finish.  The golden color and floral aromas alone earned a reserved place in my small cellar.

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc

Another nearby option is Dutton-Goldfield, serving more chardonnay, pinot noir and the rich, balanced 2014 Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah, using forty-percent whole cluster grapes from a warmer vineyard to create a soft, velvety texture.

Zasu at the Barlow, featuring pork dishes, Jamaican food at Revibe or seafood at Handline provide options for an early dinner in Sebastopol.

Sonoma wineries are surely open for business and many are dedicating profits to help fire victims.  Come enjoy some of the finest wines on the planet and help Sonoma County rebuild itself.  Your taste buds will thank you.


The Rhones


While reading a recent Wine Spectator magazine article extolling the virtues of the current releases from the Rhone Valley in southern France, I was reminded of our recent travels to Chateaunef-du-Pape and of how much I favor the blends from the southern valley.

The approach to winemaking in the northern Rhone Valley is simpler because they focus only on syrah and a few white varietals. The exceptional syrah from known appellations like Cote du Rhone, Crozes-Hermitage and Cotie-Rotie is arguably the world’s best.

Wine Spectator has given the entire 2016 vintage a rating range of 94-97 points, comfortably in the “classic wine” designation.  The earlier 2015 vintage was awarded an astounding 99 points.

In contrast, the wines from the southern Rhone are all blends of seven grapes for the reds and six for the whites.  The renown southern Rhone red blends from

Tasting in Chateaunef-du-Pape

Chateaunef-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and others north of Avignon, feature a backbone of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The other permitted red varietals, counoise, cinsault, clairette and carignan are used mainly in a supporting role.

White Rhone blends, whether from the southern Rhone Valley or California have become, for me, a consist alternative to chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. The most recognizable grapes used in the white blends are grenache blanc, marsanne, roussane and viognier.  Lesser known varietals picpoul and bourboulenc are becoming more present in blends featured on restaurant wine lists.

As is commonly the case, most of the credit for these great Rhone valley wines is given to the soil.  During a recent visit to the Chateaunef-du-pape appellation, I was surprised to see large stones covering the top soil looking like they were purposely dumped there.  These stones, described as galets, consist mostly of limestone and

Stone galets in a Chateaunef-du-Pape vineyard

serve to insulate the roots from the region’s cool evenings.  I have not seen soils like this anywhere else.

As one may guess from the current ratings, Rhone Valley wines are very expensive and sometimes rare. Some recent research revealed their availability ranging from moderately priced to more high-end.  Also, we are fortunate that regions in California, including Paso Robles, are producing world-class Rhone blends right under our feet.

The following wines from both France and California are accessible on-line and in many wine outlets, representing some of the better values.

I am always interested in highly rated wines that sell for under twenty dollars.  The 2013 Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac $19/90-pt), a blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault, got my attention.  From the Lirac cru, located across

2013 Château de Montfaucon “Baron Louis” Lirac $19/90-pt)

the river from Chateaunef-du-Pape, this wine has been defined as “comfort food in a glass” and promises ripe fruit and spice flavors.

We were fortunate to have tasted the 2015 Chateau de Vaudieu “Val de Dieu” Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($65/95-pt during our visit to the region last year. It was complex from the bouquet through the finish with intense, but balanced fruit, floral and spice flavors.

Wine Spectator’s James Molesworth recently wrote of an opportunity to barrel taste each varietal separately prior to blending into a future Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaunef-du-Pape release. Chateau de Beaucastel is an iconic winery

Chateau de Vaudieu

estate that is a patriarch of rhone wines in both France and California.  I am envious, but feel fortunate for our 2016 private tasting at the estate.

I found two releases including the 2009 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaunef-du-Pape ($55/96-pt), a grenache and mourvedre dominant blend that fits the mold for a highly aromatic, full-bodied wine with impeccable structure.  Also available as a classic for collectors was a 1990 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateaunef-du-Pape ($200/96-pt).  Apparently, the 1989 and 1990 vintages were as outstanding as the current ones and this wine became part of Wine Spectators Top 100 Wines of 1993. Critic Janis Robinson, at that time used descriptors like “generous, concentrated, intense and mouth-filling” in her review.

Decades ago, Chateau de Beaucastel and the Perrin family partnered with the Haas family to create Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, one of the early producers of fine Rhone blends in California.  They offer three traditional blends beginning with

2014 Tablas Creek “Cotes de Tablas Rhone Blend

the 2014 Tablas Creek “Patelin de Tablas” Paso Robles Rhone Blend ($25/92-pt) comprised of mourvedre, grenache, syrah and counoise and awarded 92-points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.   The acclaimed mid-range, medium-bodied release, the 2015 Tablas Creek “Côtes de Tablas” Paso Robles Rhône Blend ($32/92-pt) is primarily a grenache, syrah blend that adds ample spice to the other layered flavors. A good value.

Among my favorite white Rhone blends, vintage to vintage, the 2015 Tablas Creek “Côtes de Tablas Blanc” Paso Robles White Rhône Blend ($28/91-pt) is an equal blend of grenache blanc, viognier, marsanne and roussanne.  It consistently has nice perfume aromas, with complex stone fruit, citrus and spice flavors.

Their finest large production Rhone blend, the “Esprit de Tablas” is, vintage to vintage, one of the finest blends in Paso.  Although I have not yet tasted the 2014 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas” Paso Robles Rhône Blend ($50/92-pt) it has been consistently reviewed in the low to mid-nineties with familiar comments about floral tones on the nose, ripe berry flavors, balanced throughout with some mineralogy and spice on the finish.  Decanting this wine for a few hours will fully consummate the relationship with your palate.

With small productions of 800 and 880 cases respectively, two high-end Rhone blends, the Tablas Creek “Panoplie” $95/95-pt and the Tablas Creek “En Goberlet” ($55/92-pt)have eluded my palate but should be of interest to anyone serious about the Rhones.

At times, some California wine makers like to experiment with tradition and add

Orin Swift “Abstract” Rhone-style blend

their own mark.  From a respected winemaker, the 2015 Orin Swift “Abstract” Rhone Blend ($30) adds petite sirah with grenache and syrah to create concentrated, balanced  flavors and a full mouthfeel.  Petite sirah is not permitted in the Rhone Valley, but is often used in California blends.

The Yorkville Highlands appellation in southern Mendocino County actually separate the Alexander Valley in north Sonoma County from the Anderson Valley.  The 2015 Halcón “Esquisto” Yorkville Highlands Rhône Blend ($28/92-pt), from that region, is a grenache dominant blend with mourvedre and a touch of syrah that has ample pepper and spice notes throughout.  Sterling, complex flavors make this wine a good value.

In early November, I receive shipments of a few special wines that I have purchased throughout the year.  Today, I received one of my indulges:  two bottles of Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” 2015, arguably the finest Rhone blend produced in this country, if not beyond.

Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” Rhone Blend

Owner/winemaker Justin Smith, known as Paso Roble’s coolest winemaker, first received acclaim from this blend when it appeared within the top ten on an annual Wine Spectator list of exciting wines. In 2010, the Saxum “James Berry Vineyard” 2007 was named Wine Spectator Wine-of-the-Year. Since than, Smith has produced 38 wines with ratings of 95-points or higher.  The current release is a blend of grenache (33%), mourvedre (32%), syrah (24%) and counoise (11%) all sourced from his hilltop vineyard in the Willow Creek District of Paso Robles.

Justin Smith, owner/winemaker at Saxum

Rhone blends from Saxum are expensive and difficult to acquire, but the best needs mentioning. Now I can enjoy my vintage 2014 bottles.

With regard to northern Rhone-style single-varietal syrah, there are many readily available options in California.  With the potential for overly complex spicy flavors, I prefer that they are fully balanced and integrated.  Two of my personal favorites are the Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Syrah ($50)from the Russian River

James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles

Valley and the Rusack Syrah Reserve Santa Barbara County ($44) from the Ballard Canyon Estate near Solvang, CA. Both need some time to breathe before serving.

Short ribs and a fine Rhone blend was one of my most memorable food pairings. The Rhone wines will also stand up to a holiday roast or prime rib. They also partner well with both aged sheep and cow cheeses or can just be savored with friends and a warm fire.


Precious and Fragile


October 7, 2017 was not an ordinary Saturday. We joined friends on a fancy tour bus for the ninety minute ride from Santa Rosa to Middletown, then up the mountain to the hydro-thermal power compound known as “The Geysers.”   Returning in the afternoon from Calistoga, the bus drove through the pass that became Mark Springs Road because it was the fastest and most accessible route.

Passing by the entrance to Safari West, an African animal preserve prompted discussion on who had been there

“We were there last month,” I said

Weeks before, in late August, out-of-town guests enthusiastically requested Safari West, a four-hundred-acre African preserve and breeding center, as a top priority during their short visit.  I either never knew or had forgotten that such a place existed northeast of Santa Rosa.  However, I was game and loved being around it.

On a warm morning, we arrived and soon met our guide and jeep driver, Cindy.  With dusty Levi’s, a khaki workshirt and the baked skin of someone who spends their days in our local Serengeti Plain, she was surely a seasoned veteran, comforting to our group.

Cindy explained that we would soon board what looked like a worn World War II surplus jeep retrofitted with a second level of seating for four people above the cab and a long gear shift protruding from the floor to the right of the driver. She  referred to the old jeep as her partner and I had full confidence in both.

First on our day’s agenda, before boarding the jeep, was some intense bird-watching, then viewing primates and predator cats that, for obvious reasons are prohibited from roaming freely among the appreciative prey on the preserve.

I have seen flamingos before, but never heard them make a sound.  We came upon a crowded colony of various shades of pink that, at times, sounded like an entire section of Type-A violinists who played and argued with each other simultaneously.  The crescendo came in waves.  One flamingo would annoy another, others, who I called shamers, would join in to escalate the volume and ferocity of the screeches, lowering their heads and projecting their necks forward like a weapon.  The colony moved from tranquil fluidity to chaotic dysfunction and back again within seconds. Watching their behavior made me think of the parallels between us and them.

After carefully cleaning the bottoms of our shoes, we entered the large aviary.  In trees and on the ground, we were surrounded by scarlet ibis, Argus pheasants, crown cranes,  Stanley cranes and a unique demoiselle crane named Kovu, who literally had no clue that she was a bird.  Some abandoned crane eggs were hatched in an incubator, producing Kovu,


who was then hand feed by humans.  During both her formation and formative years, Kovu bonded with people, not cranes or birds at all.

She soon joined our group and participated in the walking tour. She stopped and started walking with us and seemed to enjoy observing these engaging winged creatures that surrounded us.  Cindy pointed out that she has, in the past, taken a particular liking to a specific person, prompting her to raise and spread her wings, strutting around ceremoniously in circles.

Moments later, I stepped back and accidentally nudged Kovu. I apologized.  She stared at me for a instant and then the “love dance” began. I became the one.   She pulled her wings back and, in full display, began to dance in circles just for me. I was embarrassed and flattered at the same time. At my age, it’s nice to have appeal, even by a demoiselle crane who thinks more like a girlfriend than being a bird.


“Stand back Kovu.” Cindy delivered the disappointing news to our young friend, who had expectations of leaving the aviary and joining us for the rest of the tour.

After viewing the caged cats and before boarding the jeep, we observed several Black and White Colobus monkeys swinging from branches and moving quickly on the ground. Each one of these gorgeous creatures had a distinct black body with a white cape-like streak down it’s back and a ring of white fur that surrounded their entire face.

Colobus is the Greek word for “mutilate” and unlike any  other primates, these beautiful creatures, genetically, have no thumbs. They are also herbivores with a digestive system that enables the consumption of a variety of leaves, flowers and twigs.  Their sloppy eating habits and digestive systems are said to be vital to seed distribution.  It’s difficult to be neat without thumbs.

“Who wants to sit up top first?” asked Cindy as we boarded the jeep.  A young family of four jumped at the chance and were doubly pleased when we offered them our turn.

Buckled in, we started up the bumpy road.  Entering each section of the preserve required that Cindy stop and exit the jeep, unlock and open a gate, re-enter, start up the vehicle and move a few feet forward, stop and exit once again to lock the gate behind us.  She did this several times during the tour.  After all, this is old school Safari West, not Jurassic Park.

The first series of corrals belonged to five or six large giraffes with enough acreage to roam freely.

Cindy spoke.  “Thirty-six giraffes have been born here and we believe that Jamala, who is celebrating her twentieth birthday today, may be pregnant.”   She definitely was. When she turned, we were all surprised to see parts of two hoofed legs protruding from her.

Cindy quickly grabbed her radio.  “This is Cindy. Are you aware that Jamala is giving birth.”

A voice was transmitted.  “Yes, we’ve been monitoring her the last hour.”

“Does she need help?”

“We’re going to give her some time.”

“I knew that young Rico was up to no good.” Cindy smiled.

“Yeah, he was pretty active in the short time he was here.”

Rico was a nine-year-old male giraffe that was brought into the preserve to stimulate some growth to the herd.  Apparently, his activity level was so high that his stay was shortened.

Not knowing how long the birth process would take, Cindy suggested that we proceed with our tour but quickly return after any updates.

In the next minutes we encountered ostriches, water buffalo, varieties of antelopes and an interesting zebra dynamic.  We came upon three female zebras, standing side by side, intently observing a young male eating.

Admiring giraffes

“They shunned and were downright  mean to him when he first arrived,” said Cindy, “but after awhile, they all warmed up.”

The expressions of the tirelessly observant females seemed to say, “Isn’t he handsome when he eats?”

“Oh yes, such confidence!”

After listening to a scratchy voice over the radio, Cindy said, “It’s time to get back to Jamala.”

Handsome guy

We returned to the sight of two young women pulling on rope lines that had been secured around the calf’s hoofs, now below a dangling head and neck. This tug-of-war continued for several minutes before reinforcement arrived in the form of two more young women.

The giraffe corrals looked like one large square corral, divided into four equal parts. Although Jamala was separated, a six-foot fence could not keep the others giraffes from surrounding her with comfort and support.  They did not interfere, they were just there for her. One last tug by the young quartet and the new miracle of  life slid from the mother

Helping Jamala

and fell six feet to the ground.

The calf looked dazed for a moment and then began, in vain, to stand up.  Due to predators, standing is a top priority for baby giraffes.  After many wobbly, futile attempts, the twenty-minute-old calf finally stood up and a minute later was nursing.

Jamala tended to her new offspring, cleaned her up and, within  the forty minutes, we observed a new six-foot-tall baby giraffe walking steadily, looking a month, not an hour old.

She shared her wonderful birthday present with a small, fortunate group of people and supportive giraffes. The four interns were exhausted, but running high on

Jamala’s Birthday Gift

adrenaline.  We all shared a moment and a lifelong memory together, but theirs were up close and personal.

My story was convincing.  All on the bus agreed that we would go soon, together.

In the late hours of Sunday October 8, the Tubbs Fire ravaged through the same pass that we had traveled a day before and burned parts of Safari West.  After directing the staff to evacuate, owner Peter Lang, stayed behind and strung together ten garden hoses to hold it at bay. N one of the living creatures at the preserve were harmed.  The same could not be said for Lang’s home and a fleet of old, worn surplus jeeps with special seating above the cab.

Heroically, Peter Lang not only saved these beautiful creatures, but future

Mother and calf

opportunities for us to observe all facets of their complex lives, including the miracle of birth.

Safari West can be life changing.  At a minimum, it reminds us of what we have known all along and may have forgotten. We are part of a balance that is both precious and fragile. Although humans have benefitted from being able to walk and use our hands simultaneously, we still share an eco-system and a an obligation to nourish and protect it.

On October 19, our family welcomed Drew Sofia Norton, into the world. Her parents

Drew Sofia Norton

and Jamala experienced the miracle of birth months apart. I hope that this beautiful baby, precious forever and fragile for the short-term, will embrace and celebrate all living things in our world. Visiting Safari West in a few years may give her a head start.

Turley Wine Cellars: A Profile of Diversity


In September 2003, I wrote my first wine article for the inaugural edition of AV Lifestyle magazine.  It was titled:  “A California Zinfandel Tour,” featuring good zinfandel wines from Paso Robles, Sonoma County, the Napa Valley, Lodi,

Mendocino County and others.  Today, you can almost go on a 2017 California zinfandel tour just by tasting wines at the acclaimed Turley Wine Cellars in Templeton, near Paso Robles.

From their menu of thirty-one wines, Turley produces twenty-five different zinfandel releases, twenty-three vineyard designated, all organic and sourced from some of the oldest and finest vineyards throughout the state. That many wines may seem a bit ostentatious, but, according to winery representative Steve O’Brien, they are all unique and different.

Turley has placed a different release on Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 list in the past five years including single-vineyard zinfandel from Ueberroth, Dusi and Pesenti, a blend of young vineyards called “Juvenile” and a Petit Syrah from Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley.

“With such a broad range of soils and terroir, how could the wines not be different?” said O’Brien, as he led me through some current releases.

Larry Turley was an emergency room physician in Santa Rosa for over twenty years before purchasing property north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley and beginning

Larry Turley

Frog’s Leap Winery with a partner.

In 1993, he followed a dream to focus on zinfandel and began to secure grapes from some of the oldest vineyards throughout California.  One such vineyard was the Pesenti Vineyard in Templeton, which was actually founded in the 1920s during Prohibition.  During negotiations, the Pesenti Family expressed a desire to sell and Turley bought the entire winery and re-located to the Paso Robles area.

His grapes are sourced from the oldest and finest zinfandel vineyards in California from Dogtown in Lodi to Whitney Tennessee in the Alexander Valley and Dragon atop Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. The same élevage(everything between fermentation and bottling) and viticultural practices are used for each, yet they are all different like the sandy loam, volcanic, clay or gravel soils that produce them.

Among all the single-vineyard designate releases, our tasting began with a unique blend, using eighteen different vineyards. When it is necessary to replace old vines with new ones, they are tagged and used in a wine Turley calls, “Juvenile.”  The Turley Zinfandel “Juvenile” California 2015 ($20), while not considered a “fruit bomb,” has nice red fruit flavors with complex herbal and savory notes.  The young vines vary in age up to a quarter century.

The 2102 vintage of “Juvenile” was designated #46 in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014.  They were impressed by the 91-point rating and $20. price tag.

A proprietary blend from two vineyards high atop Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley, the Turley Zinfandel “Cedarman” Howell Mountain Napa Valley 2014($45) is sourced from heavy volcanic soils with grapes that ripen later due to the cooler average temperatures at higher elevations.

The “Cedarman” has a savory, “garrique” feel with herbal influences. Garrique is a

Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard on Howell Mountain

term used to describe when the flavors of the wine take on those of the natural flora and vegetation. Zinfandel vines, grown among cabernet sauvignon in the prestigious Howell Mountain appellation, combined with a pinch of petit syrah, results in one of Turley’s biggest and boldest wines.  It has robust, expressive flavors, but is accessible to most palates.

The petite syrah added to the “Cedarman” zinfandel comes from the

Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard on Howell Mountain in the northeastern slopes of the Napa Valley.  The grapes for the acclaimed Turley Petite Syrah Howell Mountain Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard 2013 (95-pt./$45), designated as #17 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 list, also come from that vineyard. The deep inky color and balanced bold flavors make it one of the best of the varietal in California.

Cities and towns have grown up around many of the surviving vineyards in places like Antioch and Martinez, east of San Francisco.  These are pure stock, old vines that produce such varietals as carignane, mourvedre and zinfandel.

Comprised of fruit from three historic vineyards in the area, the 2015 Turley Zinfandel “Duarte Vineyard” Contra Costa County ($20), is a tribute to local patriarchal grower, Joe Duarte. A distinctive creamy mouthfeel and soft

Evangehlo Vineyard in Contra Costa County

tannins are the result, according to O’Brien, of the deep sandy soils that have built up over time.  For rich texture and a long, soft finish, I selected this wine as one to take home to my cellar.

Less than a mile from the intersection of Vineyard Drive and Highway 46 inn Templeton, the Pesenti Vineyard soils are filled with fossil matter and limestone, like the appellations in Burgundy and the Rhone Valley in France.

The Turley Zinfandel “Pesenti Vineyard” Paso Robles 2010 ($38), awarded 93-points, was placed among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2012.  The current release, the Turley Zinfandel “Pesenti Vineyard” Paso Robles 2014 ($40) expresses red fruit flavors, not the typical dark fruit.  There is a sweet tartness to this wine, like red licorice.

The nearby Dusi Vineyard next to Highway 101 in Templeton, has produced

Turley Wine Cellars

premium zinfandel grapes for several wineries for over half a century.. I had an opportunity to meet Dante Dusi at a 2012 Father’s Day tasting hosted by his granddaughter, Janelle Dusi. He passed away in 2014 but his legendary vineyard continues to support great wines like the rich, luscious Turley Zinfandel “Dante Dusi Vineyard” Paso Robles 2010(95-pt./$42), the #12 wine on the Top 100 Wine list of 2013.

Years ago, the now-defunct Martin-Weyrich Winery’s annual zinfandel release from the Ueberroth Vineyard was my favorite.

Families have been growing grapes in this vineyard since 1885 and they are the oldest vines used by Turley. Now owned by the family of Peter Ueberroth, former 1984 L.A. Olympics chief and Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Turley

secured a partnership years ago and produces the same luscious, concentrated flavors and rich mouthfeel that I remember.

The Turley Zinfandel “Ueberroth Vineyard” Paso Robles 2013($48)

caught the attention of the critics and Wine Spectator named it the #20 Top Wine of 2016 with a 94-point rating. We tasted the current release, the Turley Zinfandel

Ueborroth Vineyard in Paso Robles

“Ueberroth Vineyard” Paso Robles 2014 ($52) and it lived up to its reputation for rich mouthfeel and deep flavors.  It was the second bottle that I purchased for my cellar.

I would love to continue my Turley zinfandel tour at a later time, whether at the Templeton or Amador tasting room.  There are many remaining releases to taste from Alexander Valley’s “Vineyard 101” in north Sonoma County, the Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi or the century-old Rinaldi Vineyard, available in the Amador County tasting room on Shenandoah Road in the town of Plymouth.

Wine is about stories and Turley’s is a good one that involves passion, experience and the will to pair great stock with the perfect terroir.  The zinfandel grape is native to California and it continues to showcase the state’s bountiful diversity.

The Future of Grüner Veltliner


Site and yield are essential to the success of grüner veltliner (grew-ner velt-LEENER) or green veltliner, the most indigenous and abundant wine grape planted in Austria.  Site, because the finicky grape needs deep, loose soils that maintain moisture and climate than protects it from numerous diseases.  Yield because the vines are extremely fertile and abundant and their growth requires closely regulated pruning.

There is constant debate regarding grüner veltliner.  Some see it as trendy, not sustainable worldwide. It emerged in US markets at the turn of the century, mostly as a food-friendly, popular alternative on restaurant wine lists.  Since that time, popularity in this country has waned.  However, still their national grape, it represents over one-third of all vineyards in Austria, nearly 43,000 acres with another 5,200 acres in the Czech Republic.

Wachau wine region along the Danube River

Miles outside of Vienna, in regions like Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal within the broader Lower Austria or Nierderosterreich region, gruner veltliner vines grow, side by side with riesling on terraced slopes above the Danube River.  This terroir and traditional winemaking practices make rich, concentrated wines with expression.  Austrians are always willing to have their wines “blind tasted” with fine chardonnay and riesling.  Their grüner veltliner has always competed very well.

Much of the skepticism with grüner veltliner is over its ability or inability to age and some actually believe that it peaks during its youth.  The whites of Burgundy France, Rioja Spain and some in California are now designed to age up to five years or more.  To prove itself worthy and enhance its competitive nature, producers are hosting tastings of aged gruner veltliner as proof of balanced maturity. For me, it’s about taste and texture, regardless of the wine’s age and the good releases I have recently tasted deliver my

Carlisle “Steiner Vineyard” Gruner Veltliner

preference for that soft, creamy minerality on the finish.  They also pair well with grilled fish or chicken.

A recent peak in my interest in grüner veltliner was sparked by the 2011 Carlisle Grüner Veltliner Steiner Vineyard ($25/92-pt), from a mountain vineyard in southeast Sonoma County.  It began a tasting of zinfandel and syrah and I found the texture and balanced acidity impressive.  It delivers an unusual combination of spice and floral aromas followed by diverse citrus, tropical and stone fruit flavors on the palate.

Fermented solely in stainless steel with no softening malolactic fermentation, winemaker Mike Officer has proven that great skill can transcend both red and white varietals.  This could be the best grüner veltliner in California.

The following wines include some I have tasted and others that have been highly reviewed and are accessible. They are all available in wine shops and on-line.

The terroir in Santa Barbara County is so diverse that I am always looking for small, unique releases, red or white.

2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard

Graham Tatomer grew up working at wineries, developing both a passion for winemaking and an understanding of the breath of options available in cool, marine-influenced climates.  Focusing primarily on riesling and pinot noir, Tatomer produces two grüner veltliner including the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner Meeresboden Vineyard ($27/90-pt) near Lompoc.  The vineyard’s name translates to “ocean soil” and, in this case, is a combination of sand, diatomaceous earth and loam.

The wine offers nice stone fruit(peach, apricot) and citrus flavors with a unique minerality, described as “kelp-like,” throughout the finish.  On the argument of preference between young and aged gruner veltliner, both the Meeresboden and the 2015 Tatomer Grüner Veltliner John Sebastiano Vineyard ($35) were designed to age with grace developing more honeyed flavors.


Wine Spectator magazine described the Austrian 2015 Birgit Eichinger Hasel Grüner Veltliner Kamptal ($15/91-92-pt)as “a powerful and savory white, with concentrated green peach, apple and white cherry flavors, accented by sage and white pepper notes.”  They also predicted the wine’s drinkability will peak in two or three years. A savory wine from the Kamptal region along the banks of the Danube in northern Austria, it is a very good risk at fifteen dollars.

Chehalem Winery is located in Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley near Newberg.  Focusing mainly on single-vineyard pinot noir, I enjoyed, during my last visit, a very

2008 Chehalem Gruner Veltliner

good grüner veltliner from the Ribbon Ridge appellation.  Their current release, the 2015 Chehalem Grüner Veltliner Wind Ridge Block ($24) uses both stainless steel and neutral oak barrel for fermenting which produces a balance of herbal and stone fruit flavors and a healthy minerality through the finish.

Monterey County and the Central Coast region is home to many accessible grüner veltliner releases including the Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2015 ($20) from the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo.  Rich concentrated flavors ranging from white pepper to ripe melon drive more mineral notes on the finish.

The makers of Monterey County’s Vollendet Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($24) strive to replicate a true Austrian-style wine like those from the Wachau region.  The grapes are picked early and fermented in stainless steel, but stirred on lees to add richness and texture. Whole cluster pressing adds an herbal

Vollendet Gruner Veltliner 2016

flavors to match those of stone and tropical fruits.  This wine is reputed to be food friendly for fish, goat cheese, Thai food and even fried chicken.

The best American riesling does not come from California or the Pacific Northwest.  It is produced in the Finger Lakes region in New York State and Herman J. Wiemer is one of the finest.  He recently began developing a “gruner”  and the Herman J.

Herman J, Wiemer Gruner Veltliner 2014

Wiemer Grüner Veltliner 2014 ($27), his second release, is getting nice reviews.  Integrated and concentrated herbal, floral, melon and stone fruit flavors are described as “balanced and long.”

Domäne Wachau is the largest winery is the esteemed Wachau region and well known throughout Austria. They produce various styles of riesling and gruner veltliner from steeply sloped vineyards. Their current releases are available on-line and include the Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015 ($16-20/91-pt) that is defined as a light, crisp wine that is best enjoyed now, while it is young.  It has been reviewed well with particular acclaim for balance.

Domane Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner 2015

The Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Terrassen 2016 ($24/92-9t) is described as one of the “complex, full-bodied wines of the Wachau with aging potential.”  It is their top release, using only the best grapes.

In an article debating the merits of grüner veltliner, the author described a friend who was skeptical until he shared “an F.X.” with him. Afterward, as its told, his friend was hooked forever on the varietal.

After some quick research, I discovered that F.X. Pichler, from Austria’s famed Wachau region, is arguably the world’s finest producer of grüner veltliner. Much of the aged F.X. Pichler wines are only available through auction. However, I found that the 2010 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd ‘M’ Wachau ($80/91-pt) was available through a few of the major on-line outlets.

Sourced from five different terroir within Wachau, the “M” is fermented and aged in twelve hundred liter casks.  They repeated the batonnage (sur lie) process for a few months to give the wine its signature creaminess. I prefer integration of the dead yeast

F.X. Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd “M”

back into the juice because I prefer rich, creamy wines.

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate lauded all aspects of the wine, but their report that “ green bean, apple and white peach are dusted with brown spices and Szechuan pepper” was engaging enough to consider purchasing a bottle.

The review ended, declaring “the fascinating interplay of fruit and mineral that characterizes the very best F.X. Pichler wines is missing in their “M.”  This tells me that the best F.X. is still out there.  I then found the 2015 F.X. Pichler Steinertal Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Wachau ($80-100/93-pt).  Wine Advocate, after glowing reviews, detailed complexity and a balance of “richness with tension and invigoration.”

Beyond my reach in price and accessibility, it’s nice to dream of enjoying a glass of F.X. on a fall afternoon outside of Vienna, overlooking the Danube River.

To my mind, grüner veltliner wine is more than a passing fad. It has many fine qualities and can be a pleasant, food-friendly alternative to chardonnay and other white wines.  With heightened awareness, I will now look for the varietal and, when the opportunity presents itself, enjoy a glass to discover what a “balance of richness and tension” tastes like.