Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for January, 2008

Silver Oak Winemaker’s Dinner

Thanks to Chip Ferguson’s comment, we know to get our tickets to the winemaker’s dinner at Bridges in Danville on Jan. 29. It’s a four-course dinner and two of the courses will be served with Twomey wines, fyi. But if you’re a fan of Silver Oak’s luscious Cabs and semi-annual release parties, it’ll no doubt be worth your $125. You’ll taste two 2003 Cabs (Napa and Alexander Valley, respectively) against chef Kevin Gin’s delicious creations.

Here’s the menu. Reception starts at 6:30 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m. Bridges is located at 44 Church St. Call for ressies at 925-820-7200.

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008
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Oak-Aged Yeti soused in expresso:Wow!

Oak-Aged YetiOh my. I never rush to post something, but this is irresistible. If you live in the Denver, CO. area, run, don’t walk tomorrow to Great Divide Thursday afternoon.

They’re tapping a cask of Oak Aged Espresso Imperial Stout Thursda (Jan. 17, 2008) at the Great Divide Tap room, which is in the corner of the brewery at 2201 Arapahoe St.in downtown Denver.

This is from the Great Divide e-mail:

“The brewers have taken our award winning Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, added a liberal amount of freshly brewed espresso and matured it in a cask through secondary fermentation. We only have one cask, so drink up while it lasts!”

I not only tried Oak Aged Yeti when I was in Denver last October during the Great American Beer Festival, I bought a large bottle to bring home. It was a great beer: aged in bourbon, huge, chewy, delicious.

One tiny problem: My luggage was carry-on; when I got to security, they noticed the bottle on their x-ray and confiscated it _ with large grins. The security guys said they get a lot of good beer that way.

Damn. Anyway, for what it’s worth, oak-aged Yeti, plus expresso, wild! Don’t suppose the espresso was Peet’s, but what the hell.

Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
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Beer of the Week: Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA

beer-of-the-week-alembic-glass.jpg

Hi Bill – Do you happen to know if there are any Oakland (or Bay
Area) stores that sell Dogfish Head IPA (60 and/or 120 minute)? I’ve read about these beers but have yet to find them anywhere. Any help would be appreciated. – Steve, Oakland
“Hi William: I’m looking for Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. I can’t find a distributor for this brand in the Bay Area. I was able to get a half case (12 bottles) of 90 Minute on the web for only $50 with shipping and handling. Odd how it came out to that even number? At $4.16 a bottle I’ve been very stingy with it. Drinking Bourbon is cheaper. Any ideas who has this in the Bay Area? It’s a killer IPA. – Thomas, Benicia

Every week or so I get an e-mail like these, asking about Dogfish Head IPA and I tell them there’s good news and bad news. The bad news for the many fans of the increasingly famous, extreme beers made by this Milton, Del. Craft brewer is there won’t be any Dogfish Head IPA here in California at least until later this year.

DogfishBrewery founder Sam Calagione said the company’s aware of the interest and as production expands so will distribution. But it will be late this year before Dogfish arrives in the Bay Area, Calagione says.

Now the good news.

If you are a fan of killer India Pale Ales or think that a brutally hoppy beer might be your idea of nirvana, there’s no better place to be than right here at home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

We’re living in the hoppy beer fatherland or should that be, motherland? IPA’s and their stronger kin, much like Dogfish IPA, abound here.

But wait, let’s jump back a couple of centuries: What is an “IPA?”

The style that became India Pale Ale got its start in England in the late 18th Century. It was a solution to a vexing problem: How to supply English troops and administrators in the Indian colonies with beer? Beer was important because regular water made people sick. Beer was boiled, so it was safe and everyone drank beer.

But by the time ordinary beer in its wooden cask arrived in India after a long sea voyage, it was past its prime, often undrinkable. A London brewer figured out that if the beer was brewed stronger and fresh hops and yeast were added to the cask, the beer would continue to slowly ferment and condition in the cask and arrive in India, stronger than ordinary English beer, but very drinkable.

About the same time, pale malts were coming to market and the new, copper-colored IPAs, made with pale malt, became a huge hit in the colonies and around the world.

‘But in the 20th century IPAs fell from vogue, washed away in a sea of light-tasting lagers. We know the drill: A little hops, a little malt, a whole lot of water and advertising.

It took one patriotic American brewer to seriously revive the IPA style. Fritz Maytag and Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, fired the shot heard ’round the world at the dawn of America’s bi-centennial in 1976. He called it Liberty Ale****. In a tongue-in-cheek wink at the British, Anchor used American Cascade hops.

At that point, most surviving English IPAs were subtly hoppy with lots of malt. Liberty Ale had both: It was satisfyingly malty with an intense zap from the hops. That beer set a generation of homebrewers on fire. Many went on to found craft breweries and an IPA became a craft brewing staple.

Fast forward three decades and we find a new generation of craft brewers on the job. And have they ever pushed the envelope. Enter: extreme hops, and – to balance all those hops – a whole lot of malt.

Sam Calagione and his Dogfish brewers are part of the revolution. But a lot of it is happening here.

Never tried a Double IPA. Here are three suggestions:

Pliny the Elder****, Russian River Brewing Co., Santa Rosa, CA. Pliny was a Roman naturalist and historian, who gave hops a name. The only downside to this very splendid beer is that it’s draft only. But any beer tavern worth the name stocks Pliny. If your local doesn’t, complain.

Pliny’s 8 percent alcohol by volume and 100 International Bitterness Units. Your basic Bud’s 5 percent alcohol and 13 IBU. However, don’t expect Pliny to be a bitter beer. Malt predominates and hop aroma is intense, but the mouth doesn’t pucker. Double IPA brewers tend to use only aroma hops and to add them very late in the brewing process and as dry hops in the fermenter. Ergo: aroma, but not so much bitterness.

Maximus, Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma. One of the few Double IPAs available in bottles, at 7.5Lagunitas Maximus percent ABV and 90 IBU, it’s a treat. This lat note. Maximus placed third in a New York Times blind tasting Jan. 9 (2008). Of course 90-minute IPA was first, a beer I’ve never heard of, Weyerbacher Double Simcoe I.P.A. from Eaton, PA. placed second. Fourth was the beer in a can: Oskar Blues Gordon from Lyons, CO. Personally, I think our own beer in a can, 21st Amendment IPA from San Francisco tops Gordon. But then, blind tatings can fool even the most expert expert.

Stone Ruination, Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, CA. 7.7 percent alcohol, 100-plus IBUs. It’s another over-the-top IPA.

This last note: The center of Double IPA heartland is The Bistro, a modest, but nationally important tavern at 1001 B. St. in downtown Hayward. Proprietor Vic Kralj had been holding an annual India Pale Ale festival for a while, when he noticed that some of the newer beers far exceeded the strength and hop bitterness of a typical IPA. His solution: The Bistro Double IPA Festival.

The eighth annual Double IPA Fest is set for Saturday, Feb. 9. (2008) Vic expects more than 50 beers from craft brewers here and around the U.S. Many will be bringing special beers, created just for the festival. No doubt, Dogfish 90-Minute will be on hand. Hours 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Dogfish e-mailer’s, here’s your chance. More information on this not-to-be-missed festival can be found at www.the-bistro.com.

This final note. If you’re interested in uber-hoppy beers and other extreme brews and in Dogfish Head, founder Sam Calagione has written the book: “Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home,” Sam Calagione, Quarry Books, Glouster, Mass., $24.99. It’s easily found discounted in most bookstores or order it online.

Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
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The price of knowing

Fine study about the brain and wine preference in today’s paper. Like we didn’t know that the average American consumer is obsessed with luxury and that more expensive always equals better in this country?

Please. Had the participants been schooled in blind tasting they would’ve been able to say, which much ease, “Uh, these are the same wine.”

If they really wanted to mess with people, they should’ve decanted the $10 wine, let it breathe, served it an optimal temperature or some other trick we all use to make a $10 taste like a $50 one.

I’d go as far as to say that people familiar with wine do everything to promote and push quality value bottles. Look at what Cameron Hughes is doing at Costco. Look at Joel Gotts‘ wines. Or Four Bears Winery.

Just last week, I sat down with Four Bears winemaker Sean Minor and tasted through his portfolio. Not only is his Cabernet Sauvignon among my picks for the best Napa Cabs under $40 (yes, they DO exist) but his Sauvignon Blanc, made from Dry Creek Valley fruit, was a sophisticated example of this often lean wine, and with an easy price tag to boot.

For $13 a bottle, I got an almost creamy entry (Minor ferments 15 percent of his Sauvignon Blanc in new oak) followed by all the fig, melon and mango you come to expect from this varietal.

The fact is that warehouse wineries and micro crush facilities are making it increasingly possible for people to make high quality wines without the inflated price tags. It really is a whole New World.

Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
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A calendar of upcoming Bay Area beer events

Winter used to be the doldrums for the beer world. No more. The calendar in the next few weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area is incredibly full.

Here’s a partial list:

Jan. 16, 7 p.m. Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, 4250 Lone Tree Way, Antioch,CA. Goodbye party. Schooner’s is being sold. This is goodbye. The new owner takes over Thursday.

Jan. 16, 6 p.m., Lagunitas Beer Dinner, Horizons Restaurant, 558 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA. $49 plus tax and 18 percent gratuity, 415-331-3232.

Jan. 23, 6 p.m. Second Annual Lagunitas Beer Dinner, Pleasanton Hotel, , $50 plus tax and tip. Reservations: 925-846-8106 Great menu. Desert sounds like a sugar bomb: Molten Lava Cake with Caramel Ice Cream paired with : Hairy Eyeball. There’s been a change at the hotel. Chef Neil Marcus, who launched the hotel’s beer dinners, has left the hotel to become a partner with Edward Westmoreland in a new restaurant opening next month at 4889 Hopyard Road in Pleasanton: Eddie Papa’s American Hangout. (Yes, they plan an extensive beer list.)

Anyway, the new chef, Chris Smith, a San Francisco Culinary Institute graduate and restaurant pro, will be handling the menu,. which you can find here.

Jan. 25, 5:30 p.m., Bay Gourmet: The San Francisco Beer Story: History, Culture, Taste, Cuisine, Commonwealth Club, 595 Market St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, $12 for members, $18 non-members. Panel discussion featuring : Hos Justin Crossley, the Brewing Network, John Foster, Beerschoo,com; Nico Freccia, co-ower 21st Amendment Restaurant &b Brewery, Dan Gordon, co-founder Gordon Biersch, Dave McLean, owner, brewr Magnolia Pub & Brewery; Bobby Coleman, co-founder, San Francisco Brweers Guild. Info: www.commonwealthclub.org/mlf/#beerhistory.

Feb. 2, 2 p.m., until. Anderson Valley Brewing Co., 20th anniversary celebration, 17700 Hwy. 255, Boonville, CA. 95415. Tours, carriage rides. Beer tasting and hors d’oeuvres begin at 4 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m., $65. Tickets: www.avbc.com or 707-895-2337 ext. 25.

This is one beer dinner worth the windy-road trek to Boonville. Centerpiece will be Anderson Valley’s 20th anniversary beer, an Imperial India Pale Ale, 100 IBUs (International Bitterness Units: Bud’s 13 IBU), 9 percent alcohol by volume. It’s going to be bottled, Anderson Valley says.

Feb. 9, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Bistro Double IPA Festival, 1001 B.St., Hayward, CA.,Over 50 beers on tap, live music and barbecue. This supremo event kicks off the Celebrator Beer News 2008 Beerapalooza. Many, many events to come. Find the whole list here.

February 13, 7 p.m. Beer & Cheese Tasting, Rogue Ales Public House, 673 Union St., San Francisco, More info: rogue.com

February 15, 6:30 p.m. Chocolate & Belgian Beer Dinner, Cathedral Hill Hotel, 1101 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA, 415-776-8200 ext. 7785

Feb. 16, noon until… Annual Toronado Barleywine Festival, Toronado, 547 Haight St., San Francisco, CA. Saturday, February 16, noon to ??. No cover, pay by the glass. Possibly 100 or more barleywines from around the world. This is the granddaddy barleywine festival, the one that started the barleywine craze.

Feb. 17, 4 – 8 p.m. Celebrator Beer News’ 20th Anniversary Bash, Oakland Convention Center, Marriott Hotel. Lots of beer, lots of food, lots of music. An event not to miss. Info: www.celebrator.com.

Feb 21, 4 p.m. (tentative), E.J. Phair Alehouse, 2151 Salvio St., Concord, CA
925-691-4253. Failure to Launch Party: Unveiling of the Sam Adams Double IPA Longshot winner. The homebrewer, Mike McDole, of Clayton, used a recipe based on Pliny the Elder from Russian River. It won the national contest, but because of the international hop shortage Boston Brewing (Sam Adams) couldn’t source enough hops to brew the beer this year. It will be released nationally next year.

However, a test batch was brewed at Sam Adams in Boston. It’s this beer that will be poured at E.J. Phair’s _ if the beer arrives, so stay tuned.

Posted on Monday, January 14th, 2008
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Schooner’s Antioch sold to Gilroy couple

OK, here’s a news flash: Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, the primo brewery-restaurant out in Antioch (suburban San Francisco,CA) has been sold.

Craig Cauwels, Schooner’s brewer, who is one of the original owners, says the new owners are Frank and Tina Jiminez, of Gilroy, CA., doing business as Classic Restaurant Management Inc. Cauwels said Jiminez owns pizza parlors and was associated with BJ’s, the pizza chain, before it began opening brewpubs. The price was not disclosed.

Schooner’s

Schooner’s founders Craig Cauwels, left, head brewer, and managing partner Shawn Burns with medals they won last October at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Photo credit: Gregory Daurer/Denver

“They have the money to do things like enlarge the bar area and do other things we couldn’t afford to do,” Cauwels said. Most of the current staff including Cauwels, as head brewer, and floor manager Gary Craven will stay on.

Last day under the founding owners is this Wednesday, Jan 16 (2008) and beginning at 7 p.m., there’s gonna be a blow-out goodbye party with live music.

By the way, the current Schooner’s is going out with some great beer; there’s a new IPA that people tell me is dynamite. Craig has a new barleywine as well; they’ve won a ton of awards including a Great American Beer Festival bronze for anearlier version of Old Woody. Old Woody was best of show last fall at the Bistro West Coast Barrel Aged Beer Festivbal. They’ve also won GABF gold for Oatmeal Stout.
Schooner’s opened in April 2001. Managing partner’s Shawn Burns, who was the head brewer at Black Diamond in Walnut Creek before starting Schooner’s.

Schooner’s Grille and Brewery
4250 Lone Tree Way
Antioch, California
(925) 776-1800

Posted on Monday, January 14th, 2008
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An afternoon beer tasting in Berkeley, CA: Old Crustacean rocks!

Gary LarsonI stopped into a most unusual beer tasting Saturday afternoon – in the back of Virginia Bakery on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, CA.

To appreciate it, you’ve got to know Gary Larson. Gary’s a retired Berkeley police officer; for much of his 30 years of service, his beat was West Berkeley, an area which ranges from the marina on San Francisco Bay to some of the toughest neighborhoods in Berkeley to the posh Fourth Street shopping area.

You always knew when Gary was around: He’s at least 6 feet – 5 inches tall. He has a son, who is much taller and played pro basketball in Norway.

Gary’s always been interested in many things: The Sons of Norway, teaching Norwegian at a summer camp, rowing on San Francisco Bay in an authentic Viking longboat; dancing the polka – he’s from South Dakota.

And beer, good beer, a fascination that began when he was Peace Corps volunteer in South America. Anyway, a love of beer led to his love of brewpubs. He’s always traveled widely and his trips always involve brewpubs. He’s visited somewhere around 500 in the U.S., and Europe. When I launched What’s On Tap, the Newsletter, back in the 1990s, he was the brewpub writer.

After he retired from the Berkeley PD, Gary signed on as an emergency volunteer supervisor with the American Red Cross. If there’s a disaster anywhere in the U.S, Gary will be there: Katrina, Oklahoma floods; hurricanes and 9-11. Yes he was there too and I believe it was the only time he didn’t visit a brewpub.

But in the years that followed, he’s caught most in the New York metro area.

His apartment’s filled with beer he’s collected on his travels and occasionally, he holds a beer tasting, among other reasons to make more room in his apartment for new beer.

This is a guy who has set routines in Berkeley and one of them is morning coffee at Virginia bakery. He has friends everywhere and naturally he knows the bakes at Virginia Bakery.

The bakers made pizza and Gary brought the beer: Mahrs Brau Jubelfestbier, 4.9 percent from Bamberg, Germany; Santa’s Butt Winter Porter, 6 percent, Ridgeway Brewing, Oxfordshire, UK, Wreck the Halls Holiday Ale, 6.5 percent, Full Sail, Hood River, OR. Hoppy Holidaze, 7 percent, Marin Brewing, Larkspur,CA.; Altenmunster Winterbier Doppelbock, 7.2 percent, Allgauer Brauhaus, Germany.

Also: Lump of Coal Holiday Stout, 8 percent from Ridgeway; Jewbelation 5766, Shmaltz, Saratoga Springs, NY and Noel Christmas Ale, 2006, 9 percent, Affligem Brouwerij, Belgium.

One of the bakers brought a 2006 Old Crustacean Barleywine,11.5 percent. from Rogue, Newport Oakland.

By the time I got there, two hours into the tasting, the tasters were in a merry mood. Lump of Coal was gone, unfortunately. This is a fine, English stout with a bit of a kick from the alcohol, very drinkable.

I looked forward to the Affligem Noel. But I found the 2006 sadly faded. I had really liked the 2007, just the right spicing.

My favorite of the day was the Rogue. A year of aging had done Old Crusty justice. Mellow, smooth, a lot of sweetness, balanced by the hops and alcohol. A fine beer indeed.

Finished off the afternoon with a piece of cheesecake, a Virginia bakery speciality. A nice Saturday afternoon indeed.

Note to Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors et al. Here’s a riddle for you-all. “What did the baker bring to the party?” Hint: It wasn’t a sixer of Bud Light.

Photo: Gary Larson hoists a glass of Old Crusty.

Posted on Sunday, January 13th, 2008
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Looking past Coast Range bankruptcy: Beer in Steinbeck Country?

There’s a bit more news about the apparently soon-to-be-departed Coast Range/Farmhouse Brewing Co. of Gilroy.

Longtime brewer Peter Licht e-mailed me; he said I was wrong about one thing: His cel phone hasn’t been disconnected. I had the wrong number.

But the end is in sight at Coast Range. Peter says he’s been helping out brewing with brewr Bill Coffey at St. Stan’s in Modesto. But the major news is that Peter and Jeff Moses who was the marketing manager for Coast Range until he quit last September, are working on a start-up project for a production brewery based in the Moss Landing/Elkhorn slough area.

Moss Landing is on Monterey Bay about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. It’s on the edge of Steinbeck country – the Salinas Valley-Monterey area where John Steinbeck set his most famous novels, including Grapes of Wrath, his 1939 epic about the fate of the Okies who came west during the Depression.

Grapes of Wrath CoverSteinbeck loved his beer and the harder stuff. Hope an early beer from their brewery – which, fingers crossed, they can finance – will pay tribute to Steinbeck, who was born in Salinas, 10 miles southeast of Moss Landing. Hell, call the first beer Steinbeck and make it strong as possible. I believe John Steinbeck and his longtime Cannery Row crony marine biologist Ed Ricketts would have loved it. So would I.

Blogger-beer scribe Jay Brooks asked his wife, who is an attorney in San Francisco to do a records search on the Coast Range bankruptcy filing. He sent the documents she found along to me.

Coast Range filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Dec. 12, 2007 – just last month. I only have the first page of the petition, but Jay sent along pages of lawsuits and liens filed against Coast Range.

Just a quick scan showed a bunch of tax liens from the state of California and the federal Internal Revenue Service, one from the IRS filed on Oct 9, 2007 demanded $113,536 in back taxes. Other suits included one filed in June 2006 by California Glass Co. for $21,703. There were a number of similar suits and a couple filed by Coast Range seeking collection for money owed them by companies for beer brewed, but not paid for.

I could get the whole petition off Lexus-Nexus. But I dunno. Why bother. It’s so damn sad. I’d much rather hope for new beer from Peter and Jeff from Steinbeck Country.

Coast Range Peter Licht

Peter Licht at Coast Range in 2006

Coast Range Jeff Moses

Jeff Moses at Coast Range with a selection

of Farmhouse beers. They were all damn good.

Posted on Saturday, January 12th, 2008
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Vine Wine Bar

Move over SF. Oakland is gaining on you with wine bars per square mile. Vine Wine Bar on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland is officially open, despite the confusing “Coming Soon” on their Web site. Perhaps they mean the site itself? Anyway, I checked out the bar earlier this week and while it has some kinks to work out, I’m definitely glad they’re here.

Much like Artisan Wine Lounge in Walnut Creek and Taste in Berkeley (which is currently closed for remodeling), Vine Wine Bar offers two Enomatic machines, one for whites and the other for reds. Incidentally, the white machine offers three levels of pours, not just one. Pretty cool.

The selection in the machines was good: everything from Plumpjack Merlot and HdV Syrah to lesser known cool climate Viogniers and even two sakes. The by-the-glass list which includes J’s uber-popular Pinot Gris, shows all the Enomatic offerings in red type, which is quite helpful. Why bother ordering a full glass if you can taste it first.

The space in general is winning as well. Ceiling-high barrels fill the vaulted overhead with the seductive smell of a warehouse winery — the scent I wish my home had — while sleek black couches and a gorgeous wall-size wine art give the room the vibe of a lounge.

What needs work:

1. The menu. A fruit plate with yogurt dip is not wine bar fare. Neither are salads. And when you only offer three cheeses on your charcuterie plate, make sure one of them is not cheddar. I’m astounded they call themselves a wine and tapas lounge. The owners need to take a lesson from Artisan, with its easy going yet elegant Spanish-themed small plates.

2. The music. There’s no need to play loud techno, bump and grind or otherwise clubby music at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday. Let the crowd dictate what you play, not the other way around.

3. Switching out bottles. When the Plumpjack Merlot was finished, it took a team of two to three staffers to replace it and ensure Jenny got the pour she paid for. To make up for it, they let me try a taste on the house, which was nice.

4. Flirting with the customers. Jenny and I were floored at how forward one manager was. The joint was filled with an almost entirely male clientele to begin with, so we already felt odd being two of the only women in the place. We didn’t need any more attention.

5. Consider offering Enomatic cards in any increment the customer wishes. Vine’s minimum is $20, and with a slim menu offering not even one hearty dish (French fries? Sandwiches?) that’s too much wine for light weights like me and Jenny.

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008
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Sonoma revelations

I’m back from vacation and still swooning over some very serious wines I tasted in the Russian River Valley last weekend. Yes, I was stuck in the apocalyptic storm. Yes, it took five hours to get there from south Berkeley. Yes, it was worth it.

I’m wowed by the breadth and scope and capacity of Sonoma terroir and will be writing about these wines and the people behind them in the coming weeks, so check my column on Jan. 16 for the first installment.

All I’ll say now is that Siduri and Novy, Lynmar, Baker Lane and Hanzell are making some of the best Pinot Noir in the country. I had the opportunity to rub elbows with these and other talented winemakers over the weekend and have stories to tell you!

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008
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