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IPNC New California Wine Seminar

Writer Jon Bonné Moderates a Seminar of California Winemakers

The afternoon of Day One at IPNC 2014 featured seminars on a variety of wine topics. When I saw that author and San Francisco Chronicle wine writer Jon Bonné would be leading a panel on New California WIne (the subject of his recent book), I was interested. When I saw who was on the panel, I was determined. I quickly signed up.

And we were first in line, when the doors opened for the seminar. We claimed the front row, center seats. After a four-course, multi-wine lunch, I'm not sure the friend accompanying me totally appreciated my eagerness--his eyes were a little heavy--but I really wanted to hear the rock star winemakers on the panel. They represented five wineries...I knew the reputations of four very well and had tasted wines from two of them. The fifth was new to me.

As with virtually all IPNC events, the seminar was accompanied by the appropriate wines to reinforce the points the speakers described. Bonné did a good job setting the stage and then allowing the winemakers to talk about their approaches and their wines.

I had heard raves about Rhys from knowledgeable wine people, but had never tasted it. No surprise--it sells out on mailing list and there's a long wait to get on that mailing list. Now I know why. It was the wine of the weekend for me. Beautifully balanced, elegant, intense...a graceful athlete at the top of its game. Amazing that owner Kevin Harvey and winemaker Jeff Brinkman have achieved such success in a relatively few years. While Napa and Sonoma are more famous, Rhys and Ridge (and others like Arnot Roberts and Mount Eden) are proving that there is great terroir in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Peay is one of the wines that I've had on several occasion--including on our recent trip to Blackberry Farm. It was also lovely. Winemaker Vanessa Wong, previously of Peter Michael, makes lithe, elegant wines from grapes she and her husband, Nick Peay (and Nick's brother, Andy) grow on the extreme Sonoma Coast. Graceful wines--and wonderful with food.

The wine I did not know was a very pleasant surprise: Dragonette Cellars from California's Central Coast. The collaoration between John and Steve Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis produces small amounts of hand-crafted wines that are--to borrow the phrase of critic Antonio Galloni--"...truly world class." Obviously, if a famous critic is saying that, I should have known about the winery...but I didn't. Their pinot was perhaps just a bit more robust than the Rhys or the Peay--might have been more gymnast than ballerina...powerful, but still very coordinated, very balanced.

Nathan Robers and his partner Duncan Arnot Meyers make a number of different wines from grapes from a number of different California regions. Their success earned them San Francisco Chronicle's WInemaker of the Year Award for 2012. This Arnot Roberts pinot was made with grapes from the historic Martin Ray property on Mount Eden in the Santa Cruz appellation. Same appellation as Rhys...but quite different terroir. Elegant...silky...sinewy. I liked it a lot. I suspect with a few years aging, I'd love it.

I've also tasted Sandhi before. The collaboration between famous sommelier Rajat Parr and winemaker Saashi Moorman is made in the unglamorous industrial park of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. What the winery lacks in beauty, the wine makes up for. Very light on its speaks quietly, but hamoniously.

What a treat! Most--perhaps all--of these wines are such small production and in such demand that this was a really special experience. For those who might suggest that California can only produce big, extracted, oaky's not true. And this was proof. There are wines for every taste in California.

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