Showing posts with label Ventura County. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ventura County. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Baron Herzon Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel

Sometimes, when you take a chance on a wine by the glass, you get lucky and like it a lot.  Sometimes you just sit and ponder on it.  I pondered on an $8 glass of Baron Herzog Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel at Wood Ranch at the Grove recently.  It's produced by Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California.  They source the grapes from the Watts Vineyard, far, far away in Lodi.  The wine cost $8 by the glass and retails for $13 per bottle.

The reason for my pondering is not that it is a bad wine - it's just not what I expect from a Zinfandel.  The nose is candied up, which doesn't bring images of gnarly, old, head-trained vines to my mind.  There is some bramble on the palate with a big, spicy blackberry flavor which I do find appealing.  Gentle tannins also lead me to believe that maybe these vines aren't as old as they are cracked up to be.

A little research showed that Watts Winery in Lodi has some vines which date back to 1937 - old vines, to be sure, even though they're just teenagers by California Zinfandel standards.  To my knowledge, there are no government regulations on the use of the phrase "old vine" on a wine label, but, as I pondered, I thought, "maybe there should be." 

The thing that may be making me ponder this wine so much is the fact that Herzog ages it in stainless steel, not wood, for a year.  The Herzog website indicates that they feel this preserves "the fruit's essence."  I can't argue with that.  It's a fairly pure fruit expression.  Most of the Zinfandel I drink has the stamp of oak on it, to one degree or another, and this unoaked version left me a little baffled.

I suppose I prefer a little oak spice with my Zin, but this is a Zinfandel worth trying.  Its clean flavors and candy-like aromas are a different shade of Zin - one that's worth pondering for a glass or two.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Ventura County Wine Trail

Ventura County, once a Southern California stop-for-gas locale between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, now has a great reason to stop and stay awhile - a wine trail of their own.  The Ventura County Wine Trail is made up of 11 wineries calling Ventura County home plus four located in Malibu.

The area is a little too spread out to make for a convenient one-day excursion, but you can break it up into smaller segments and manage it a bit at a time.

The Malibu Section

Four wineries are in the Malibu and Malibu Hills area, up in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Elevations of around 1,400 feet and cool ocean breezes make for some good grape-growing conditions.

Rosenthal Malibu Estate

In 1987 George Rosenthal planted the first grapes in this area since Prohibition and spearheaded the effort to get AVA status for Newton Canyon, which is contained in California's South Coast AVA.  The winery's tasting room is actually down at sea level, on Pacific Coast Highway, with a great view of the beach.

Cornell Winery and Tasting Room

Cornell has its own wine to pour, but Tim Skogstrom also pours the wine of nearly two dozen other vintners in the Malibu Hills.  It's a laid-back, history-laden place.

Cielo Malibu Estate Wineyards

Richard and Diana Hirsh founded Cielo in what was to become the Saddlerock Malibu AVA.  Their '06 Syrah Blackcrow Mountain was a double gold award winner at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.  The Cielo wines may be sampled at the SIP Malibu Tasting Room in Agoura.

Malibu Wines

Way up in the mountains right between the 101 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu Wines has two labels to offer.  Semler is their estate label and Saddlerock is wine produced from grapes sourced elsewhere in the Central Coast.

The 101 Freeway Section

Four Brix Winery

Gary Stewart and the Four Brix Family source eleven different varities of grapes from nine vineyards in six appellations.  Taste their wines at The Wineyard, home of their official tasting room in Thousand Oaks.

Los Robles Hills Winery

Also in Thousand Oaks, the Los Robles Hill vineyard is named Puerta del Cielo, which means "Gate of Heaven."  It's an homage to the Spanish missionaries who traveled El Camino Real and planted a lot of grapes themselves.

Camarillo Custom Crush Winery

This a place where other vintners come to make their wines.  The tasting room - open on weekends - features the wine of three local vineyards per week.

Bella Victorian Vineyard

A Victorian-style home with a vineyard in the backyard - it's a refreshing break from Southern California suburbia.  The tasting room features a bistro, and the grounds are offered as a beautiful place for weddings.

Cantara Cellars

Cantara sources Northern California grapes from Lodi and pours their wines at the winery's tasting room in Camarillo.

Herzog Wine Cellars

Driven from their Slovakian home in 1948, the Herzog family moved to New York City, where they made wine until moving to California in 1985.  Their winery was constructed some 20 years later in Oxnard.  The tasting room is on-site, where you can try the Baron Herzog and Herzog Wine Cellars labels.

Magnavino Cellars

This Oxnard winery relies primarily on Lodi grapes.  Their Viognier is sourced in Santa Barbara County.

Rancho Ventavo Cellars

Operating from an Oxnard avocado and lemon ranch, winemaker George Gilpatrick draws fruit from a variety of locales, including Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County and the Sierra Foothills.  The tasting room is in downtown Oxnard.

The Ojai Section

Old Creek Ranch Winery

Wine production on the Old Creek Ranch in the Ojai Valley dates back to the 1800s.  The original winery is still on the property, but the current version was founded in 1981.  Old Creek Ranch is cattle ranch with fruit orchards, so the grapes are sourced from Napa Valley and a number of notable vineyards in Santa Barbara County.  The tasting room overlooks the orchards.  Feel free to bring a picnic lunch.

Casa Barranca

The Casa Barranca Estate is a national historic landmark featuring the 1909 California Craftsman Pratt House.  The estate is unfortunately not open to the public, but the tasting room in downtown Ojai is.  Their ICO certified organic vineyard produces Syrah, Grenache, Semillon and Viognier grapes.

Ojai Vineyard

Adam Tolmach produces excellent wines using grapes from Santa Barbara County - including the Sta. Rita Hills - and the Ojai Valley.  The tasting room is located in downtown Ojai.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Gary Stewart, Four Brix Winery

A great bunch of Ventura wine people showed off a great bunch of wine in Thousand Oaks recently.  Four Brix Winery invited some media representatives to their tasting room in The Wineyard on Thousand Oaks Boulevard.  I was fortunate to be included in the group who tasted some of Four Brix offerings.

Gary Stewart (pictured) hosted, while Lora Simonsgaard helped me taste through a flight of really exceptional wines.  Four Brix is located in Ventura County, and they source their grapes from a variety of great California regions - Santa Barbara County, Paso Robles, Monterey and Sonoma among them.  Their wines are predominately blends - they do a fantastic job getting the mixtures right for incredible bouquets and delightful flavors.

Many of their wines use grapes from a specific area, even though the labels denote a rather generic "California" designation.  I suggested to them that they use more specific designations for a little more "label pizzazz," but they were way ahead of me.  The next vintages of several of their blends will feature designations of "Central Coast" and "Paso Robles" on the labels.

The Wines

Smitten 2009 - The only white on the table for this event is a Viognier/Marsanne blend.  The '10 vintage won't have as much Marsanne, only 5%, I'm told.  The '09 shows the Viognier well, with a lovely, floral nose and a little white pepper.  The nose is so full and the mouthfeel so creamy, I assumed some oak is involved.  Not so, though - it's a stainless steel white.

Roseo 2010 - This is a barrel sample, as the wine is scheduled for a May 14th release.  It's Grenache-based and some Zinfandel is used in the mix.  It's unusual, but it works.  A big strawberry nose meets great acidity and fruity flavors on the palate.  It's definitely a wonderful rose for food.  The crew at Four Brix is shooting for a price point under $15.

Temptress 2008 - A five grape blend of Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, this one is juicy and spicy on the nose with a dash of cinnamon showing.  Big, red fruit flavors are joined by good minerality and acidity and plenty of spicy notes.  I'd love a piece of smoked sausage with this wine.  The '09 vintage will be labeled Central Coast.

Rhondevous 2008 - Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Counoise make up this vintage, while the '09 will feature Grenache in the lead position.  The nose is fragrant and lovely and the taste is spicy blackberries.  It's all San Luis Obispo County fruit despite the "California" label.  Look for a Paso Robles designation on the label for the '09 vintage.

Scosso 2008 - Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make up this beauty with a smokey, bright cherry nose and deep, rich flavors of spicy dark berries.  The name comes from the Italian horse race called the Palio di Siena, which is held in the town square.  It's a rough race in which horses sometimes finish without their jockeys, a condition known as "scosso."  You'd be well advised to stay in the saddle for this ride, though.  The Sangiovese is sourced from McGourty Vineyard on Paso Robles' west side.

Petite Sirah 2008 - Fruit from Sonoma County's Gold Hawk Vineyard brings the Russian River Valley to Ventura County.  A 100% varietal wine, the nose is dark and spicy with an iodine note while the palate is fruity and tannic.  The 2010 vintage will feature Charbono in a blend, from Calistoga's Frediani Vineyard.

One of the Four Brix wine wizards, Gary Stewart, told me about going to the vineyard to harvest the Charbono grapes.  Due to a quarantine caused by the European grape moth, Stewart was not allowed to bring the grapes to the crush facility.  He had to "field press" the grapes right there in the vineyard, leaving the leaves and stems behind!  No doubt, that extra effort will be appreciated when the vintage is ready.

All the wines at this tasting were paired with Vosges Haut Chocolate from TIFA Foods, an Agoura Hills venture.  Mike Ashamalla was on hand to describe each morsel.  The chocolate with notes of Indian curry and coconut paired with Smitten, while a disc made from Fiji beans went with the Roseo.  Temptress paired well with an Indonesian chocolate with earthy, mushroom flavors and one with spicy Ancho chipotle and cinnamon elements scored with Rhondevous.  Scosso was a hit with a Madagascar chocolate with a dark, smokey edge.  TIFA is working with Four Brix Winery on a project to create chocolates especially for their wines.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Mike Brown, Jim Galicia

When the great wine regions of California are enumerated, Ventura is often missing from the list.  It may be because they grow more strawberries than grapes in Ventura County.  They actually grow more strawberries than anything else in Ventura County.  But wine grapes don't even make the top ten.  Raspberries, celery, lemons, tomatoes, peppers, avocados and cabbage beat out grapes.  Even plants grown for nurseries and cut flowers are in the top ten.  But that doesn't mean nobody cares about wine in Ventura County.  Far from it.

The name of the event was "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places," seemingly tailor made for an area which, for many, flies below the radar as a wine region.

There are only a handful of vineyards in Ventura County, so the winemakers have to source much - if not all - of their fruit from elsewhere in the state.  The passion for winemaking is not diminished, however.  They will put their wines up against any others.  Gary Stewart of Four Brix Winery says "It's not all Sonoma and Napa - other regions have good grapes, too."  Good winemakers as well.

Stewart, John Whitman of Old Creek Ranch Winery, Mike Brown of Cantara Cellars (left in image) and Jim Galicia of Rosenthal Malibu Estate (right in image) poured their wines for me, all at one table.   The wasn't even a hint of friendly rivalry.  They were all there working for team Ventura.

Here are my notes on what the guys poured for me:

Cantara Cellars Zinfandel 2008 - Lodi fruit - lightly tinted - lovely nose with cherry and spearmint notes

Cantara Cellars Tempranillo 2008 - rich and full, smokey fruit

Old Creek Ranch Loureiro 2009 - Santa Ynez Valley fruit - 12%abv - beautiful nose of peach, pear and citrus - tart taste of grapefruit, zesty

Old Creek Ranch Carignane 2008 - minty note under a big, bright cherry and blueberry palate

Old Creek Ranch Sangiovese 2008 - Sangio/Primitivo blend - SBC fruit, White Hawk Vineyard - big cherries with a long finish

Four Brix Scosso 2008 - super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon and Merlot - beautiful floral nose - cherry on the palate is rich

Four Brix Temptress 2009 - Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel - will be released in Nov 2010 - dark and bright fruit both at once - complex

Rosenthal Surfrider Red Wine 2005 - fruit from Malibu Newton Canyon - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot - big nose of red fruit, tastes smokey, cherry, earthy

Tomorrow: Stuck in Lodi again - and loving it.