Recap of 2011 Family Winemakers Tasting in San Franciso

Last week I attended, as a media guest, the Twenty-first Annual Family Winemakers of California (“FWC”) tasting held at Fort Mason. The event was held over two days, August 21st, and 22nd. Alas, duty (work) called on Monday, so I opted to attend Sunday only. This was a huge event, even bigger than Sonoma InThe City, which to date, had been the largest tasting I’ve attended. There were over 300 producers (probably about 1000 different wines would be my guess) from throughout California pouring at the event. On Sunday, the event was from 1:00-6:00p (trade/media from 1-3p, open to the public thereafter), so I needed a plan to maximize my time there. After considerable teeth gnashing, I decided to focus on red Rhône wines.

Red Rhône wines are primarily comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (a.k.a. “GSM”) sometimes as a blend, sometimes on a stand-alone basis (for a PDF of red Rhônes click here). Red Rhônes are certainly on the rise in California, with Paso Robles leading the way. I once saw Rhônes described as the vinous equivalent of a “primal scream”. That’s what I love about them, along with their affinity for food.

I thought the event was very well organized, although there was a bit of a challenge with a long line, and a bit of chaos getting in when the doors opened at 1. The wineries were arranged alphabetically, which made it easy to find the wineries I was looking for. There was good news and bad news about the tools and resources provided by FWC. The good news is that the FWC had a helpful website that included a list of participating wineries, and a sortable Varietal map showing who was pouring what. There was also a very informative brochure with details about the participating wineries. The not so good news is that the Varietal map wasn’t as accurate as I hoped. As I worked my way through my red Rhone list, I discovered some wineries listed as pouring red Rhônes were in fact pouring either a Rosé made with red Rhône grapes, or red wine blend that may have included red Rhône varietals. Additionally, wineries pouring Petite Sirah were counted as red Rhônes, when technically Petite Sirah isn’t considered to be a Rhône varietal (at least not in France, though the California based Rhone Rangers list Petite Sirah as a red Rhone varietal) That didn’t create any heartburn for me because I enjoy Petite Sirah, and I consider them to be spiritually akin Rhône, if not genetically, or otherwise deemed to be Rhônes. In fact, for the first time, I came across a few “GSP” (Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah) blends which I found quite enjoyable! Purists…you have been forewarned ;-).

My tasting plan included 38 wineries listed as pouring red Rhônes, and 8 of the wineries were new to the event. After I tasted through the red Rhônes on my list, I had about 30 minutes of “Taster’s Choice” time, and arbitrarily selected a few more wineries for tasting. I tasted 70 wines from 40 wineries. My favorites (I scored 90 points, or higher) including my detailed tasting notes follow. Note: The price range represents the range for wines poured at FWC. Cs/Yr = Annual case production.


Carica was established in 2005 by Charlie Dollbaum. I’ve visited the winery, which is one of several wineries at Rockwall Wine Company, a couple of times. In particular, I remember enjoying their Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, and Temptation Rhone blend. 975 Cs/Yr. Range: $18-$36. Nice QPR on these!

  • 2008 Carica Petite Sirah Kick Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County – Dark fruit aromas with rich blackberry flavors. Good balance with supple tannins and medium long finish (90 pts.)

Core Wine Company

This was a new to me winery out of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. I’ve been to a couple of different wine festivals in Santa Barbara the last few year, but don’t recall seeing them pouring. My loss…very nice wines! Founded in 2001. 4,000 Cs/Yr Range: $19-$61

  • 2007 Core Elevation Sensation Alta Mesa – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red fruit, bittersweet chocolate, and spice aromas with intense dark cherry, spice, vanilla flavors. Medium long finish. 62% Grenache, 38% Mourvedre (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Core Grenache Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Cherry, plum, and spice aromas which follow onto a round palate. Long finish. 85% Grenache; 15% Syrah (90 pts.)

Enkidu Wine

This was another new to me winery. This one is located in Sonoma, and was founded in 2004. 5,000 Cs/Yr. Range: $20-$45

  • 2008 Enkidu Humbaba – USA, California, North Coast
    Blackberry, dark cherry aromas, and palate. Well structured and intense with medium long finish. 63% Syrah; 25% Petite Syrah, and 12% equal part of Grenache, Mourvédre, Counoise, and Tannat from 4 vineyards in Sonoma (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Enkidu Syrah Odyssey – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Intriguing floral, dark fruit, and spice nose. On the palate moderately complex with dark red fruit, currant, spice flavors. Round with a medium finish. From cool climate vineyard in Santa Rosa. Unfiltered and unfined. (90 pts.)

Grey Stack Cellars

Santa Rosa based winery established in 2005. 2,000 Cs/Yr Range: $24-$45

Harrison Clarke Vineyard and Winery

This is one of the wineries I stumbled upon during my “Taster Choice” time. They had several Rhone blend, but didn’t turn on my search for red Rhone producers. The winery is in Solvang. They produce about 800 Cs/Yr. Range: $18-$52. I tried their flagship wine, but would also have liked to have tasted their Grenache, and Estate Syrah.


This is one of the wineries I didn’t get to at the last large tasting I attended, Sonoma In The City. Fortunately, my fellow wine blogger Richard Jennings didn’t. After I read his recap, this winery hit my radar. They produce very good wines. The winemaker is Michael Browne of Kosta Browne. They are located in Santa Rosa. Range: $32-$65

  • 2007 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark fruit, sweet wood, and smoky aromas. On the palate, dark fruit, vanilla flavors. Full bodied anad supple with a medium long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
    Dark red fruit, oak aromas with plum, dark red cherry, and cocoa flavors. Round and elegant with a medium long finish. (91 pts.)

Justin Vineyards and Winery

This is a winery I sought out during my “Taster’s Choice” time. The winery is located in Paso Robles. I didn’t get a chance to go the last time when I was in Paso, but I’d heard nothing but good things about Justin. The wine I tried was a Bordeaux blend, and it lived up to the hype. The next time I’m in Paso, Justin will be a “must” visit. Founded in 1981. 50,000 Cs/Yr Range: $15-$62

  • 2008 Justin Vineyard Isosceles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Dark red fruit, oak, cassis aromas with ripe dark cherry and cassis palate. Well structured with a long finish. Bordeaux blend – 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot (91 pts.)

L’Aventure Winery

This is another wonderful Paso Robles producer. I had the pleasure of visiting last month. If you’re ever in Paso, this winery is a must. Founded in 1998. 6,500 Cs/Yr. Range: $50-85

  • 2009 L’Aventure Côte-à-Côte Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    GSM Blend. Dark red fruit, tea, hint of tobacco aromas. Vibrant dark red cherry, red currant, and vanilla flavors. Young, but smooth. Should just get better with time. Long finish.(92 pts.)

Orin Swift

I’m familiar with Orin Swift, having enjoyed their “Prisoner” Zinfandel blend a couple of years ago. They are a well known Napa based winery. Founded in 1998. 10,000 Cs/Yr Range: $25-$55

  • 2009 Orin Swift Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes D66 – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
    Dark red fruit, with subtle floral, and oak aromas. On the palate well structured with burst of ripe dark cherry, spice flavors. Medium bodied with a long finish. Inaugural release of new winery and vineyard in France. 80% Grenache, 12% Syrah, and 8% Carignan. Aged in 100% French oak, 25% new for 12 months. (91 pts.)

Robert Biale Vineyards

This is a winery that first came to my attention earlier this year, when I attended “Dark & Delicious”, the annual Petite Sirah (a.k.a. “Pet”, “PS”) put on by P.S. I Love You. I really like their Pets, and Zinfandels. They are definitely on the rise! 9,000 Cs/Yr Range: $40-$75

  • 2008 Robert Biale Basic Black North Coast – USA, California, North Coast
    Dark fruit, violet aromas with ripe blackberry, vanilla flavor. Fruit forward, nervy, and vibrant in the mouth. Medium long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Royal Punishers – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Blackberry floral aromas with ripe baked blackberry, vanilla and spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Young, but relatively supple. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Thomann Station – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Blackberry, dark red cherry, spice aromas with a blast of juicy blackberry, cherry, spice flavors on the palate. Well behaved tannins, and a long finish. (91 pts.)

Stage Left Cellars

Stage Left is an Oakland based “Urban winery”. They source fruit from throughout the state of California. I’ve been to their winery a few times, and am a fan. Founded in 2004. 1,200 Cs/Yr. Range: $22-$48

  • 2008 Stage Left Cellars The Globetrotter – USA, California
    Dark red fruit, dust, and spice aromas, with dark red cherry, black currant, and spice flavors with fine grained tannins, nervy acidity, and a medium long finish. 41% Syrah, 39% Grenache, 20% Mourvédre (90 pts.)

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Definitely one of the gems in Paso Robles! The winery is a partnership between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas founder of Vineyard Brands. The wine I tasted is their flagship red Rhone blend. Their vine were imported from France. They make great Rhone blends. Founded 1989. 20,000 Cs/Yr. Range: $20-$55l

  • 2009 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Intense dark red fruit, violet and spice aromas with intense dark red cherry, spice, and mineral flavors. Balanced, and well structured with a medium long finish. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, and Counoise (92 pts.)

Turley Wine Cellars

Another Paso based winery. They have a well-earned reputation for Zinfandel, and Pets so I was a bit surprised to see them pouring a Cinsault, which you don’t find a lot on a stand-alone basis. According to Richard Jennings it’s only distributed to restaurants. That’s a shame, because it was excellent!

  • 2010 Turley Cinsault El Porrón – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Earthy red fruit and spice aromas with vibrant red cherry, spice, and vanilla flavors. Medium long finish. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Turley Zinfandel Dragon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
    Black raspberry, cherry aromas with juicy red cherry, red currant, flavors. Medium bodied, smooth with wonderful intensity and balance. Medium long finish. (90 pts.)

Earlier I mentioned trying several “GSP” wines. The couple I tried, and enjoyed were from Pierce Ranch (the best “value” producer I sampled), and Sycamore.

What I always enjoy about big tastings such as this, is finding exciting wines from producers I haven’t previously tasted. The “discoveries” for me at this tasting were Core, Enkidu, Jemrose, and Harrison Clarke. It was also good to check in on producers whose wines I’ve previously enjoyed as they continue their ascension. It was a great tasting, and next year I hope to attend both days!


  1. Martin,
    Great job of focusing at FW! That’s not easy to do. And you got to some excellent producers. I’m glad you enjoyed Jemrose and Core.

    I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meeting you on Sunday. I kept looking, but now you know what a horde is there on Sunday. Hopefully we’ll manage to meet up before the end of the year.

    1. Thanks Richard. Yes…when I saw the hordes of folks I definitely understood how challenging it would be for us to see one another, and meet in person. I look forward to meeting you in person.

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