Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for September, 2007

East Bay Vintners growing to 17

Irish Monkey Cellars

As you get acquainted with the wineries of the East Bay Vintners in today’s Food & Wine section, be prepared to welcome two more into the mix. They’re both long-time home winemakers who decided to take the plunge. And while they’re both in the early stages of commercial development, I wanted to break what little news I have here.

Two Mile Wine is a group of five guys from different backgrounds of the industry — a business man, a wine bar manager, a PhD scientist and two Mondavi harvest groms — who make about 650 cases of Viognier, Sangiovese and biodynamic Syrah a year. Cool factor: some grapes come from a 40-45 degree slope vineyard at Unti in Healdsburg, Matt Bramwell, one of the Two Mile guys, tells me.

They’ve been at A Donkey and Goat since last year, their first commercial year, but have plans to move into their own space at San Pablo Avenue and Grayson in the near future. It’s a stone’s throw from Seasalt, and if I know that block, I’m confident the restaurant will be carrying the boys’ Viognier to pair with their fish and chips before long. The fruit comes from Tom Bloomfield’s vineyard in Brentwood. Let’s hope they churn out a delicate (read: not too hot) Viognier.

While Two Mile does mostly direct sales to friends and family, expect that to change, as they’ve scaled back on varietals, increased volume and have that fabulous future location.

Second up is Irish Monkey Cellars. Winemaker Bob Lynch along with his wife Loreta have made wine for 10 years, and recently took the commercial plunge. Their production is about double Two Miles’ (1,000 cases in 2006; 1,500 for 2007) and their portfolio is quite broad and impressive:

A Bordeaux meritage is the flagship of the line. The “knights,” as Bob calls them, of the collection are Syrah, SyrBec (a Syrah and Malbec blend), Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Merlot, Cabernet Franc Solo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a limited port-type wine made from the floral Portuguese Touriga Nationale grape.

They make a table red from Sangiovese blended with Merlot, Malbec and a small portion of Syrah. I’m anxious to taste all of these wines, especially the Bordeaux meritage and Syrbec, and will let you know when I get my grubby hands on some. The wine is currently being tested in fine local restaurants, and the Lynches are scouting space in the East Bay to plant their winery.

Curious about the names of the labels? Irish Monkey Cellars is a combo-homage to Bob’s Irish roots and his wife’s Asian flair, as he puts it. Two Mile Wine is a shout out to the two-mile dry zone surrounding the UC Berkeley campus when it was built back in the late 1800s. All five guys live in Berzerkley.

Posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2007
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Blessing of the grapes with Jewish twist

Ernie Weir Hagafen Cellars

Pardon me while I get all nerdy Jewish grrrl on ya’ll. It’s Rosh Hashana you see, and I need to do me some good deeds to get inscribed in the Book of Life before Yom Kippur, when I won’t put wine to my lips for 24 hours straight! I know, koo koo.

Anyhoo, the typical blessing of the grapes thingie that occurs during crush happens to coincide with Sukkot, the Jewish agricultural, or harvest, festival. It’s a time of great joy following the heaviness of Yom Kippur. To celebrate, two wineries in Napa are calling upon wine buff and Rabbi Oren Postrel of the Valley’s Congregation Beth Sholom to bless their grapes.

“We thought it would make sense to align the two calendars, of Mother Nature and Jewish history,” says Ernie Weir (pictured above), the founder and winemaker at Hagafen Cellars. Ernie’s a great guy. Looks like a grown up Vince Vaughn. He’s doing — been doing for a while, actually — his part to improve the quality of wine coming out of Israel too, as he consults with wineries in the Galilee and Golan Heights.

Several Napa wineries will be hosting Jewish blessing of the grapes ceremonies on Sunday, September 30. The day will begin at 11 a.m. at Judd’s Hill Winery (2332 Silverado Trail, Napa, 255-2332; drink Judd’s “Magic” while you’re there, it’s heavenly) followed by a blessing at noon at Hagafen Cellars (4160 Silverado Trail, Napa, 252-0781; ask about Ernie’s other line of easy-drinking wines, Don Ernesto).

It’s all free and open to the public with light grub, so stop by!

For other locations, check Beth Sholom’s web site.

Posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2007
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Michael Jackson Goes To Heaven

Here’s another cartoon about Michael Jackson drawn by a friend, Alan Moen. I posted the earlier cartoon here about Michael in hell, light beer in hand.

Personally, I like this one better. Alan says Michael loved the “hell” cartoon, so Alan was inspired to do this one. To which, I can only say, Amen.

Michael Jackson in heaven

On a different note. Here’s a reminder: There’s a beer dinner Wednesday night, Sept. 19, 2007 19 at the Pleasanton Hotel in downtown Pleasanton with chef Neil Marquis featuring the exquisite beers of Anderson Valley Brewing, Boonville. $50. Info: 925-846-8106. See you there.

Posted on Monday, September 17th, 2007
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Brewing Organic at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

I wrote about Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing in the San Jose Mercury News today. I’ve posted the article in the post below. But the Merc also did a slide and audio show with Chad Brill the co-founder and brewery. I really liked it. Hopefully, you can click on the link below and watch it.

Posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
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Whats On Tap: Tiny brewery taps into green movement

Note: This column ran today, Sept. 12, 2007 in the San Jose Mercury News

By William Brand
It isn’t easy being green. Ask Chad Brill and Emily Thomas, founders of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. The husband and wife team not only converted their love of home-brewed beer into a thriving business on a bare-bones budget, they chose to make their brewery totally organic.
“Getting organic certification was a real process,” says Brill, 34, who handles most of the brewing, although Thomas, 32, brews a batch now and then, including a prizewinner. Her brother, and co-founder, Nick Thomas, 25, also helps brew.
“There was a lot of paperwork required, and the first year, we had a problem with our filtration . . . the diatomaceous earth,” Brill says. “We couldn’t get a statement of the source of the earth from the factory it came from. So we discontinued filtration.”
Now, all their beer is unfiltered, so it can be somewhat cloudy instead of sparkling clear – it’s beer in its natural state right out of the fermenter. (Filtration doesn’t change a beer’s taste. Today, even high-volume craft brewers often leave their beer unfiltered.)
For Brill and Thomas, going organic was an easy decision. “It’s our way of life,” Thomas says. “We care about the environment. I was raised here in Santa Cruz eating organic food.”
Certification by Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers, a leading organic certification non-profit group, was a must. It’s impossible to taste the difference between organic and non-organic beer, but a CCOF certificate has

real meaning to people who care about things organic.
Non-organic hops are heavily sprayed with pesticides, Brill says.
One thing’s certain. This tiny brewery tucked away in a courtyard on Ingalls Street, a few blocks from Natural Bridges State Beach on the west side of Santa Cruz, makes excellent beer.
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Pale Ale (My rating: ***) is an American-style pale ale, pungent, with a hoppy nose, 5.4 percent alcohol by volume. It has plenty of sweetness from the American Gambrinus malted barley and a hit of spice from the imported German Hallertau hops, which are added during fermentation in an ancient English technique called dry-hopping.
The brewery’s India Pale Ale (**), a style of strong, hoppy beer created by 17th century English brewers to supply the troops in India, is hoppier and stronger. It’s 7.5 percent alcohol, mildly malty with a pleasing dry finish.
Dread Brown Ale (*** 1/2) is a real stunner. Brewed by Emily Thomas, it has an intense nose of sweet malt and roasted barley. It tastes like heaven: light, with pleasant notes of caramel, chocolate and coffee and a rush of hops in a long, dry finish. It won a gold medal at the California State Fair in 2006.
In a way, it’s fitting that Emily Thomas’ Dread Brown is a medal-winner. She was the first home brewer among the three founders. “My uncle taught me how to brew when I was in college at Lewis & Clark in Portland,” she says. “In college, I brewed a lot of beer, and I drank a lot of beer. It became a hobby, and for my graduation present I got home-brew equipment.”
She met Brill in San Diego, where she was working as an engineer for Qualcomm. “She taught me how to brew,” Brill says. “In the beginning, I was not a beer fanatic, but when I tasted the first beer we made together . . .”
When Brill’s job with the city of San Diego ended, Thomas brought him home to Santa Cruz. They were contented home brewers for a time; their two sons were born, and she continued to work for Qualcomm.
Then, one day they drove down Ingalls Street. “We saw this little warehouse, and we thought, `Well, it’s not much bigger than our garage,’ ” Thomas says.
They made the leap.
The scraped together what they could, writing themselves an $18,000 loan from Thomas’ 401(k). They leased the warehouse space and a batch of Grundy tanks, which are surplus steel tanks used in English pubs in the 1950s. Brill welded and fabricated a brewing system.
“Everything’s homemade,” he says with obvious pride.
It has not been easy. During their first brew, their son Alden, then a baby, got the flu. While Brill continued brewing, Thomas rushed Alden to the hospital. It’s still a juggling act, but they’ve never looked back.
They opened for business on Memorial Day 2005, offering free four-ounce tastes, and were surprised by the response.
“We decided to open on weekends and give the beer away so people could taste it,” Thomas says. “We expected five or 10 people a day. We were getting a hundred, and on Friday nights, there might be 400 people there for two hours.”
So they built a tap room and then a small beer garden with picnic tables and started charging for their beer. “Even in winter, sometimes we’ll have 50 people outside in a tent we put up,” she says.
Being organic also gave them a commercial boost. A prominent organic distributor picked up their beer, and it is now sold in health food stores and in Whole Foods stores throughout the South Bay.
The tap room is open daily. The full range of beers, including the seasonal brew of the moment, usually are available.
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing is one of a growing number of all-organic brewers. Bison Brewing of Berkeley makes all-organic beer, so does Butte Creek in Chico, and Eel River in Fortuna (south of Eureka), certified as the first organic brewery in America in 1999. Wolaver’s, originally based in Nevada City, distributes organic beer nationally.
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz. (831) 425-4900
At the brewery: Tap room and beer garden open noon-10 p.m. daily. Beer: pint, $4, 10-ounce glass, $2.50; taster flight of all beers on tap, $7 for two-ounce servings. Beer to go in reusable, brown glass, half-gallon “growlers,” $15 for the first growler, refills $9. Sandwiches, fish tacos made by nearby Kelly’s French Bakery. Free wireless Internet.
Where to buy bottled beer: South Bay Whole Foods stores, health food stores in the San Jose and Campbell area; Beverages & More stores in San Jose; 41st Avenue Liquors, Capitola. City Beer Store, San Francisco.
The brewery plans a Sausage and Beer Fest noon-5 p.m. Sept. 29. Live bluegrass music. No admission charge. Handcrafted sausages from Severino’s Community Butcher. All beers $3.
William Brand rates beers on a scale of one to five stars, with five signifying one of the world’s best, and one OK to drink in a pinch. Contact Brand at, (510) 915-1180, or What’s On Tap, Box 3676, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94598. Read more by Brand at www.beernews Can’t find a beer? E-mail, call or write Brand and ask for his 2007 Retail Beer Store List.

Posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
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Wine’s like coffee’s like chocolate

Loved Ed Levine’s post this morning on Seems the idea of terroir is quickly slipping into the coffee biz, where serious caffeine-o-philes are skipping the supermarket and even Starbucks to get their buzz directly from growers and their cooperatives in far flung regions like Honduras and Rwanda.

It’s not unlike my trip to Napa this weekend, where a small crew of serious oenophiles and I met with Keith Emerson of Vineyard 29 to sample not the luxurious wines he makes for that label, but his own, Emerson Brown, which is even more hard to come by. Where did he source the fruit? How did he make it? Can we score some cases from him? You betcha.

It’s simple really. Anything that grows in the ground is going to be imprinted, in a sense, with the DNA and composition of that particular plot. Add to that climate, irrigation, and treatment of that appellation plus how the bean or grape is manipulated, and you’ll inherit distinct characteristics, be they nutty or floral, grassy or steely.

Same thing happened on the way to learning about chocolate. You might recall an A-1 piece I did about two years ago about the booming high-end chocolate market, where higher cacao content bars are revered like big Napa Cabs. It coincided with “Chocolate: The Exhibition,” a Cacao 101 exhibit that had recently opened at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

I met with chocolate educator Seneca Klassen at Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe in Oakland and he led me through a sensory evaluation on par with Copia’s finest.

Yup, we started by smelling the dark hunks of a bar of 80 percent Forastero cacao from Sao Tome: very fruity, like blackberries. Then we observed its color, no waxy Hershey’s overlay, just beautiful black shine, like Cherokee hair. I was instructed to break the square and observe that before I put it in my mouth. From there, you are to let the chocolate rest on your mid palate (this is like swirling), where, if made well, it should melt (this is the finish) into oblivion with no cocoa butter shield (think wine additives like yeasts, sulphates). Then we did the same thing with the 62 percent Caribbean Criollo, and compared the two.

Go to Luka’s Taproom and Lounge in Oakland and you’ll see that beer tasting notes are quite the same; Go to La Pinata in Alameda and you’ll see the same is true of tequila tasting.

So, welcome, coffee drinkers of America. To direct trade, to snobbery, and to a future $5 cup of Joe. I’m just not sure about the B&Bs in Third World coffee country.

Posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
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Top Five from Savor South Africa

Dudes, I’m back in the blogosphere. My apologies for the absence. It’s been one thing after another.

Our blogging tool was down, then I went to Cabo San Lucas for a week where I drank delectable Casa Grande Chardonnay. Then I headed to Napa for what was truly a dreamy weekend: private tastings at Vineyard 29 and Blackbird followed by dinner at Presse and two rounds of Taylor’s Refresher. Needless to say, I’m in withdrawls. But mostly, I’m craving the company of my fantastic traveling companions. More on that later.

As you know, writers are left-brained (no we’re not artists), and as such, I have to blog chronologically. So that means a full report from Savor South Africa, which was held last month at Fort Mason. I know, I’m sorry. I lag. Let me say up front that the wines were lovely overall, quite affordable and some quite intriguing.

It was a small and very scene-y evening, perhaps because of its proximity to the Marina District (who wears white Dolce & Gabana to an event dripping with Pinotage?) but Michaela and I got started right away, avoiding the Nor Cal bling to the best of our ability. All the wines I’m going to mention are available at

If you’re curious about the aforementioned hybrid grape — it’s Pinot Noir and Cinsault, created in South Africa in 1925 — may I suggest Warwick Estate Pinotage 2005? More smoke than bramble, and enough subtle tropical fruit to make a Tuesday night salmon with mango salsa really interesting. Plus it retails for $22.99, so not a huge commitment.

Riding the Pinotage train (I’m not getting off it, why should you?), I have to say the Golden Kaan Pinotage Rose 2006 was the best deal of the night. A gorgeous, spicy, wild stawberry juice at only $9.29. Also try their Chenin Blanc and Shiraz. All at this price point, all easy, week day, delicious drinking.

Next up, I loved the Boschendal Le Pavilion 2005, a dry, honey-and-roses blend of Chardonnay and Semillion. This would be my ideal summer wine, were it not approaching fall in the Bay. Oh well, next year. It’s on, and a steal at $10.29.

Lastly, you should know about the sparklings of Graham Beck, both the Methode Cap Classique Brut ($13.79) and the Methode Brut Rose Cap Classique 2005 ($19.99). The latter is similar to Taltarni’s Brut Tache, though not as sophisticated. But they’re both a great buy.

Sorry this is brief, but trust me, if you go to and
purchase these, you won’t be sorry. If you are, I’ll drink them for you.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007
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Danville wine event benefits cancer research

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but if you’re looking for a way to contribute to the fight against cancer this month, I’ve got your ticket.

Norma Futini of Dynamic Concepts Event Planning has organized a stellar event for this Saturday, Sept. 15 at 4:30 p.m. to benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. She’s turning the private Danville estate of Mike and Anne McCall into a wine and food pairing extravaganza, complete with live jazz and twinkling lights, and it’s all fueled by local spirit.

We’re talking celebrated home cooks, professional chefs and wine merchants joining forces to wow us with the likes of mouth watering local cuisine and artisan, hard to find wines. Some details:

Jim Daugherty, Captain of the Alamo Fire Station, is cooking grilled lamb chops, caprese and foccacia with long time friend Stuart Yaniger (the neocork guy).

Boccondoro caterer Daniele Carsano of Walnut Creek is making parmesan risotto balls and Italian frittata.

Russ Belleci of Alamo’s Forli’s is serving penne and meatballs.

Jeff Mahin of Patrick David is doing his famous vanilla custard.

That’s just to get your mouth watering. Information on the wines is minimal, but I do know that Corks, Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants and Wine Styles will be pouring.

Plan to sample great value wines including JRE’s Pleasant Hill Red, Cono Sur Vision Cabernet from Chile (Robert Parker 90 pts), Vinivera Pinot Gris, Taft Street Chardonnay and good old not planning on dying anytime soon Prisoner, from Oron Swift. Mom’s in town so I will most likely take her along. Good times!

Tickets are $55 for one, $95 for two and $275 for a party of 6. The event is over at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 925-858-7976 no later than Friday at 9 p.m.

Posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2007
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Michael Jackson – The Beer Critic – The Books He Wrote

Michael Jacksons, the great English beer critic, died last week in London. As I promised in my column today, here’s a list of the books he has written still in print. You can find them at many Internet booksellers like Amazon and Powell’s books.

1. RUNNING PRESS POCKET GUIDE TO BEER, SEVENTH EDITION: The Connoisseur’s Companion to More than 2,000 Beers of the World by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – Aug 10, 2000)

Great Beer Guide by Michael Jackson (Paperback – Oct 5, 2000)

2.Ultimate Beer by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – Oct 19, 1998

GREAT BEER GUIDE: 500 CLASSIC BREWS. by Michael. Jackson (Paperback – 2002)

Great Beer Guide by Michael Jackson (Paperback – Oct 5, 2000)

Great Beer Guide (500 Classic Brews) by Michael Jackson (Paperback – 2006)

Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion: The World’s Great Beer Styles, Gastronomy, and Traditions by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – Feb 2000)

Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide by Michael Jackson and Sharon Lucas (Paperback – Oct 1, 2000)

Beer (Eyewitness Companions) by Michael Jackson (Paperback – Oct 29, 2007)
Buy new: $20.00 $13.60
Available for Pre-order. This item will be released on Oct 29, 2007.

Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium by Michael Jackson (Paperback – Sep 1998)

The Great Beers of Belgium: The new guide to Belgian beer culture by Michael Jackson (Paperback – 1994)

The Great Beers of Belgium : A Complete Guide and Celebration of a Unique Culture by Michael Jackson (Paperback – 1992)

Michael Jackson’s World Beer Hunter – PC – CD-ROM by Discovery Channel Multimedia and Multimedia 2000 (CD-ROM – Dec 1, 1996)

3.THE BEER HUNTER [ SET of 3 Tapes ]. Volume One: California Pilgrimage / The Best of Britain. Volume Two: The Bohemian Connection / Germany – The Fifth Element. Volume Three: Holland – Our Daily Beer / The Burgundies of Belgium. by Michael Jackson (VHS Tape – 1991)

4.Michael Jackson’s World Beer Hunter – Mac – CD-ROM (Discovery Channel Multimedia: Beer Hunter) by Michael Jackson (CD-ROM – Dec 1, 1996)

The New World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – Mar 1997)


Michael Jackson’s Pocket Beer Book by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – April 20, 2000)

Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch: The Connoisseur’s Guide to the Single Malt Whiskies of Scotland by Michael Jackson (Hardcover – Nov 1999

Michael Jackson’s Little Book of Beer (Miniature Editions) by Michael Jackson (Hardcover)


The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson (Paperback – May 1982)

Posted on Wednesday, September 5th, 2007
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