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SAXUM {deeper roots}

February 16, 2012 Fifty-Two Weeks 1 Comment
SAXUM {deeper roots}

SAXUM, it’s obvious right? I am a glory seeker; I am Napoleon, motivated by my own lust for recognition. I search out the best, the finest; I am Alexander, an elitist, a snob, a name-dropper of the worst kind, eager to pat myself on the back, and exalt my own voice. I walk around with a sense of self-entitlement fit for a king and look down upon man as though I were David’s Goliath.

It is the same for Justin Smith you say, the golden boy of California wine, the charmer, the handsome forty-something behind Saxum. He who has schemed to unlock the magic formula that forces the palates of the World’s best critics prostrate in obeisance to his miracle juice. He who influences their pens with his smooth lips to write the shockingly high numbers of their tasting notes, to write the impossible three digit perfection as if they had wine scoring turrets. He has cast a spell on the wine world and his potion is Bone Rock, Broken Stones, and Rocket Block.

In some ways it is true I suppose. I have sought out some of the best in this game, the most interesting, the most passionate, the most gifted. But they are also the most genuine, people of class and substance, people with real stories.

And what an honor it is to tell those stories.

It is also true, Justin Smith is a charmer. You can’t help but like him. But if you strip away the hype and fade the endless praise and criticism into the background, if you stand there with Justin, in his jeans, v-neck, Patagonia vest, and flip flops and if you listen to him talk, to what he really has to say, it all comes down to a simple sentence:

Justin Smith is a farmer. … Continue Reading

The Regions – Santa Barbara County

March 9, 2011 The Regions 2 Comments
The Regions – Santa Barbara County

The Regions. It was intended to be a monthly look at a specific wine region, it was a great idea, in theory. In reality, only reviewing wines from one region is extremely limiting. For one, what happens if I can’t visit an area during the month I want to review it? What if I find a great wine from Santa Cruz the month after we featured Santa Cruz?

So although we will continue to focus our efforts on the regions that most catch our fancy (Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo County, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Mendocino), we will no longer focus on one singular region a month. We will still try as best we can to focus on a region each month, but not to a fault. If a Paso wine or two slips into Sonoma or vice versa, so be it. … Continue Reading

Tercero Wines – More Than Numbers

Tercero Wines – More Than Numbers

Robert Parker has it out for Larry Schaffer.

In the most recent issue of Parker’s highly influential publication The Wine Advocate, Larry’s Tercero Wines, were eviscerated by the East Coast King Maker. Parker took the numerical and verbal gutting so far that he happily ignored his own rule of not publishing ratings lower than 85 points. Aside from one wine, which scored an 86 and was called “a superficial red with no real depth or layering,” the other wines scored in the low 80’s. Some of Parker’s critiques included gems like: … Continue Reading

Zaca Mesa – Contending with Nature

Zaca Mesa – Contending with Nature

Chess, the beloved ancient game for the opulent and the humble masses. Played by both Kings and noblemen, and millions from the working class. Chess is a human heritage with its foundations in ancient India, before coming to Europe where it evolved and spread around the world. It has inspired us to create international champions and produce numerous books and films dissecting its every part.

Like chess wine is a global obsession. It has found favor with the opulent few and with millions of modest means. It has enticed men to lose vast fortunes and has even revived the moral of men at war. Wine is a part of our collective human inheritance; passed down through the ages.

As there is in Chess, wine has two contenders, the Winemaker and Mother Nature. Each has their pieces in which they utilize in attack against or in defense from their adversary. Nature, has her heat, wind, rain, and frost. The Winemaker, has his land, his winery, and his vineyard and cellar team that he uses to outplay and outthink Mother Nature. In this battle between adversaries there can be only a single outcome: success for one and failure for the other. … Continue Reading

Sanguis – Blood and Wine

July 9, 2010 Archieves 3 Comments
Sanguis – Blood and Wine

Artists know a moment in which all natural sensations dim until all that is left is the artist and their art. The mind stops. You no longer think how to respond, you just do. It is as if your hands have always known what they were to do. It would be challenging, if not impossible, to describe the creative process an artist goes through while in this altered mental state. For each artist, the experience is unique and without words to describe it.

For some years, I was in a band called Devore. With influences from Sigur Rós to Mogwai we could be melodic, even beautiful, but more notably we could be loud. My friend Jordan and I wrote everything, from guitars and bass, to many of the drum lines. We didn’t write “songs” in the singular sense, but rather, we labored over long periods of time to craft sweeping events with highs and lows, tension and poetry…and really loud guitars. We loved it and I miss playing greatly. The rush of performing before an audience and sharing something you have spent months crafting is like nothing I have ever experienced. Those live shows, the way people responded, the way I was lost in the creative moments, will stay with me as vivid as the days they were played. … Continue Reading

Landmark Vineyards – The Third Flag That Flies

Landmark Vineyards – The Third Flag That Flies

1776: The Founding Fathers sign the declaration of independence. 1805: Lewis and Clark “discover” the Pacific Ocean. 1838: John Deere invents the steel plow. 1865: The Civil War ends. 1914: Henry Ford revolutionizes automobile production. 1929: The stock market collapses. May 22nd, 2010: Mike Colhoun, Owner of Landmark Vineyards meets me, Wayne Kelterer.

While each of the above events had massive implications for American culture, none were as earth shattering as Mike Colhoun having the opportunity to meet me. I am the Barbara Walters of wine interviewers. The Ernest Hemingway of wine writing. When people say, “it is a pleasure to meet you,” I usually say, “yes! you are right. It IS a pleasure to meet me.” … Continue Reading

Kokomo Winery – There’s A Place Called…

Kokomo Winery – There’s A Place Called…

A city sign that reads: “Kokomo First into the Twenty-First Century – Hometown of Erik Miller” sits high and proud on the tasting room wall of Kokomo Winery.

Erik Miller is the energetic thirty-three year old behind Kokomo Winery, based in the Dry Creek Valley AVA of Sonoma County outside of Healdsburg. The sign was a gift from the Mayor of his birth town in Indiana, the town that was the inspiration for his brand name, Kokomo. Eric wears a goatee that contrasts with his buzzed hair. His intense and dramatic eyes match his absolute zeal for sharing his wines and the land they are made from. He wears a Kokomo T-shirt and jeans and speaks quickly.

Kokomo sits on the Dry Creek Canyon “bench” that runs a long the east side of the valley. Once the site of an orchard and dried fruit processing center (Timber Crest Farms), the series of old farm buildings now house a half dozen independent wine brands. Behind the facilities, a junkyard of the rotting decrepit remains of old Sterling trucks lead up to the base of the vineyard. The farmer who owns the land has an intense passion for these forgotten relics and expends huge efforts to bring them back to their former glory. Erik too speaks of them with enough focus and exuberance that suggests he finds inspiration in their transformation and in the possibility of what can be, with some time, and a lot of hard work. … Continue Reading

Lafond Vineyard – Pioneers and Pinot Noir

Lafond Vineyard – Pioneers and Pinot Noir

Santa Barbara, the American Riviera. First settled by the Chumash Indians and later colonized by Spanish Missionaries in the late 1700′s, Santa Barbara continues to be a cultural mixing pot. Santa Barbara straddles the line between Central and Southern California lifestyles. From hippie communes in the hills, to billionaire moguls, there is something for everyone in the city embraced between the mountains and sea. Few places in California allow for a surf session in the morning, rock climbing in the afternoon, and a fine dinner and Yo-Yo Ma in the evening, all without leaving the city limits. Almost the entire California experience can be had in Santa Barbara, if only Robert Iger would build a theme park.

The original Santa Barbara Mission, a key landmark within the city, founded in 1786, was rebuilt after it was destroyed by an earthquake-induced tsunami in 1812. The rebuilt mission remains one of the most impressive in California, affectionately called The Queen of the Missions. The Spanish colonization influenced Santa Barbara greatly through the centuries. The mission and other historic structures remain threads that tie the identity of the city together. History pairs with high fashion in a city known for its museums and shopping. Street names and neighborhoods bare Spanish names like Carrillo, Chapala, Sola, and San Roque. Interestingly, it was Sebastián Vizcaino in 1602, a Spanish soldier that gave Santa Barbara its name (he passed through the Santa Barbara Channel on Dec. 3, the eve of the feast of St. Barbara) along with Point Conception, and San Diego. … Continue Reading

Barrel 27 – Wine Amongst Friends

Barrel 27 – Wine Amongst Friends

Two weekends ago was a big weekend for me. To understand why, I need to go back to the fall of last year.

My initial short list of wineries that I wanted to work with included Tablas Creek, Kosta Browne, Sine Qua Non, JUSTIN, Barrel 27, The Ojai Vineyard, and a few others. As I re-wrote my list a few times, JUSTIN, Barrel 27, and The Ojai Vineyard were consistently part of the top five. So, the weekend of April 23rd was a big one for me. On Friday, I spent several invigorating hours with Adam Tolmach and his assistant at The Ojai Vineyard. The following morning was spent on a tour at JUSTIN, where I had the opportunity to meet Justin Baldwin. We concluded the day down the hill, on the other side of the 101 freeway in Paso Robles, at Barrel 27. Three of my top 5 in less then 24 hours! Oh, plus I got engaged the next day, but that’s another story… … Continue Reading

Tablas Creek, The Long Road to Success

Tablas Creek, The Long Road to Success

“Would you like to try it?” Jason asked.

“Sure.” I replied.

We were in a large green house at Tablas Creek Winery. At full capacity, as many as 200,000 grape vines call it a temporary home, before moving into shade-houses, and then finally their permanent homes in vineyards all across the west coast. However, at this time of year, the vast space is all but empty, other than the gray plant racks and the lone grafting table that we stood before.

The grafting tool, one of the originals at Tablas Creek, allows a varietal, such Grenache, to be grafted onto a specific rootstock. This process is known as bench grafting. Jason Haas, General Manger, and son of Robert Haas (Owner of Tablas Creek), walked my friend Jordan and I through the steps. … Continue Reading

{Archives}

Bonny Doon: Day of the Doon IX {Photo Essay}

September 22, 2011

Bonny Doon: Day of the Doon IX {Photo Essay}

We have grown rather accustomed to long trips for short stays, so much so that a 500 mile weekend is not such a big deal anymore. There are a lot of events we are invited to and we can only attend a few of them. But when Randall Graham asks you to attend, you attend. [...]

Secret Project {the reveal}

August 17, 2011

Secret Project {the reveal}

A few weeks ago I posted the “Secret Project” with some shots of  a friend’s new winery taking shape. At the time, the space was still in a raw state, holes in the ground, bare walls, cut concrete. In terms of photographing a new winery, one might say there was not much to see, no [...]

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