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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

The Ojai Vineyard – Myths, Rumors, and Fantastic Chardonnay

April 28, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks 2 Comments
The Ojai Vineyard – Myths, Rumors, and Fantastic Chardonnay

For nearly thirty years, Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, has been making critically acclaimed wines from his humble family-owned winery on the outskirts of Ojai. He boasts a career that spans over three decades including stints at Zaca Mesa (he was the third employee), Edna Valley, a harvest in Burgundy, and ten years as a partner with Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat. Adam is a quiet guy with a charming sense of humor and a gentle demeanor. He enjoys being off the normal beaten path of the California wine scene. “There’s tons of gossip that goes on in the wine scene,” he tells me, “and I don’t have any interest in it at all actually.” Although Adam’s wines have earned him praise from critics and colleagues alike, as well as a devoted following over the years, he tries to avoid too much time in the limelight. “He never promotes himself,” his assistant winemaker Fabien Castel tells us.

However, there has been much debate and attention focused on Adam on forums like eRoperParker and Decanter in recent years, centered on a Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Are California Wines Over the Top?” The article included a quite fantastic quote that set the internet wine pundits a-buzz. “I’d stopped drinking my own wines,” it quoted Adam as saying. It prompted headlines on various blogs such as, “Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards is in the LA Times today. It looks like Adam has gotten tired of serving the dark Sith lord Darth Parker…” The article, focused on Ojai Vineyard’s recent efforts to tame the alcohol content of some of their wines, wines that previously received very good scores from critics, such as Robert Parker. … Continue Reading

Clos Pepe – Battle For the Soul of Pinot

April 14, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks 6 Comments
Clos Pepe – Battle For the Soul of Pinot

Wes Hagen makes it easy for one to get excited about visiting him at the Sta. Rita Hills vineyard he manages. “Put your thinking cap on,” he told me, “this place may blow your mind,” Sta. Rita Hills has certainly blown his.

The guy is nuts about his little slice of pinot paradise called Clos Pepe, and rightfully so. The Sta. Rita Hills is a special part of the Central Coast, and Wes appreciates the piece of land he farms maybe more than any other winemaker I have met. He talks fast and colorfully often using wild hand gestures, like a magician crafting an illusion.

When we first spoke over email, he encouraged me to visit him at Clos Pepe (pronounced clo, with a long O and no S, and peppy), because as he said, “you have to kick the dirt and breathe the air to get this place.” Wes gets it. … Continue Reading

Municipal Winemakers – And the Man Who Is Better than You

March 24, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks 6 Comments
Municipal Winemakers – And the Man Who Is Better than You

“I am pretty sure that most of you reading this are in fact not good enough to buy our wine.”

Dave Potter made the above statement in response to a Wine Spectator article calling his 2008 Bright White Riesling “A California White With No Need for Pretense”.  “Au contraire!” Dave fired back, “I would like to point out that the Municipal Winemakers do have a great disdain for all that are beneath us (aka not Awesome).”

After just a few moments on Municipal Winemakers’ website, you realize that it isn’t business as usual for the Santa Barbara winemaker. There is not a Chateau to be found, neither oak tree, or regal men smoking pipes. There are however, pigs in uniform and Tom Cruise adorned in 80’s shades. The site includes a few professional reviews, well…sort of. Tron Guy, who found his own Internet fame after fashioning himself an outfit modeled after the 80′s sci-fi cult classic: Tron (which is being re-released this December by Disney), was approached by Dave to review a few of the Municipal Winemakers’ wines. See Tron Guy here. … Continue Reading

Mondavi, King of the Valley

March 17, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks, Napa County Comments Off
Mondavi, King of the Valley

I know…I know…Mondavi is probably not the direction you would like to see me going with this project, especially after several posts on family wineries emphasizing environmental sustainability. But, I have my reasons for profiling Mondavi this week.

The first and most important reason is that you cannot talk about the history of California wine without talking about the efforts of Robert Mondavi. Like it or not, the empire he built is one of the key reasons California enjoys the global recognition it has today. The second reason, is one of logistics, like most Internet writers, I have a real job that keeps me quite busy. While I love to publish interviews with winemakers and proprietors as often as possible, I simply cannot visit all of them in person. By the time a profile gets published on the site, there are usually weeks and months of emails and phone conversations that have gone into the article. Winemakers are busy people, and although I have a dozen wineries waiting for their chance to shine, I simply have weeks with gaps in content because interviews have not been completed. This is one of those weeks. I promise some real interviews starting again next week. I will work to keep these kinds of posts to a minimum, but in certain instances like this week, they have their place. … Continue Reading

Chatom Vineyards

Chatom Vineyards

As a boy I spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My Grandma, an aunt, and uncle called it home. The Aunt and Uncle still do, Columbia and Oakhurst respectively. My roots are in the Southern California coastal town of Ventura, but when I was five I my family and I moved to a sleepy agricultural town in the Central San Joaquin Valley. The valley is a hell of a place, literally. Hot and dry in the summer, cold and foggy in the winter. I remember playing hide and go seek in open fields using only the blanket of fog for cover. But the mountains on the other hand were glorious. With my sisters, we could pan for fools-gold, fish for small-mouth bass, or feed raccoons grapes. We played in the creeks of my Aunt and Grandmother’s place, marveled at large group of deer, and on evening walks with my father and uncle, I would watch enthralled as a family of quail dashed across the roads and into Manzanita bushes. I played in the snow for the first time, caught my first fish, rode a bike with no hands, and ate my first rattlesnake (long story). The Sierras are a part of who I am and they will always be a second home.

When I was 13, I returned to my coastal home. Once regular visits became infrequent, then stopped. Mid-last year, after an absence of ten years, I returned with my father to visit my aunt. … Continue Reading

Harvesting the Wind, Anaba Wines

Harvesting the Wind, Anaba Wines

Green isn’t always a bad thing as it relates to wine. While a “green” or young wine, maybe unappealing to the palate, a “GREEN” or Eco-friendly wine may even taste better according to some enthusiasts. But what does it mean to be “GREEN” in the wine industry today? The sustainability movement in vineyard management is it’s self a green or young development. Regulators are still wrestling with “organic” and “sustainable” classifications. What makes a vineyard “organic” or “sustainable”? The movement is still in barrel, waiting to be bottled, and consumed by the masses so to speak. Yet, winery after winery marches forward into the green frontier. But, are they not really marching backwards, rediscovering the roots of their trade?

Wine is one of man’s oldest carnal pleasures and passions. From Bible times until present, a good glass of wine has brought joy to the soul and even health benefits. In comparison to the centuries of wine cultivation by organic means, modern farming techniques such as tractors, the use of chemicals to control pests, and even bioengineering, have played a small role. The Israelites of ye’ olde were not exactly rolling around in a King David 4000 (patent pending) spraying for mealy bugs. They were by default “organic” and therefore “green” operations. So it should be no surprise that wine can be made and in fact very good wine, with a much smaller impact on the environment around it. … Continue Reading

Handley Cellars

Handley Cellars

What makes California such a tremendous force in American and World wine, is the same reason that makes California tremendous force economically, creatively, and physically. California has it all. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way: California is paradise! But then again, I do kind of mean it that way. But California does have it all. To be fair, California is much larger (and longer…a very important geographical advantage to our agriculture and wine), than most other states of the Union.

However, what it contains within its large borders is what is most important.  From the lowest to highest points in the lower 48 States, to the largest trees, celebrities, and budget deficits, California does everything on a large scale. There are many more clichés to add here about our Governor, etcetera, etcetera, but you get the point.  Aside from the general imagery everyone conjures up of palm tree lined beaches and very public celebrity meltdowns, California remains a naturalist’s dreamland. There is a reason much of the modern day environmental movement first started with California: it is a glorious place.  The diversity of snow-capped peaks, boiling desserts, vast valleys, and jagged coastline is what give California wine such tremendous range and potential. Often you hear comparisons between California and France’s wine regions (Central Coast and Rhône, Napa and Bordeaux). If there is an award-wining region of France, California has an AVA that mimics its ancient European predecessors. … Continue Reading

Michael David Winery

January 9, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks, Other Counties Comments Off
Michael David Winery

From its earliest days, the trademark has played an integral part in both the market-place and in pop culture. With their red triangle, The British brewery Bass & Company, claim title to the oldest registered trademark dating back to the late 1800’s. From McDonald’s golden arches to the double tail of the Starbucks mermaid, trademarks shape how we think and respond to merchandise. A well designed logo or trademark can mean the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. This fact drives brand managers to change and adapt with the times and market-place.

Lately, I have thought about brand images a lot. … Continue Reading

River Run – The Start

River Run  – The Start

If you read Wine Spectator, you are familiar with the last page, “Wine Talk”. Here, you may find an interview with a race car driver, an 80’s hair metal legend, or my recent favorite, Sean Connery. Often, in these short profiles, you will read a sentence something like this: “I remember when I had my wine revelation, it was… (insert memorable wine moment here)”. Wine has a gift, older than Bob Barker himself , of grabbing a person and often in a dramatic and lasting way. I was no different.

I had always wanted to like wine, but wanting to like wine and liking it are two different things. I collected a few bottles as a teenager, not to drink, just to have them. However, I had a hard time really enjoying what I drank when I first started trying wine. At the time, I thought I simply did not have the “acquired taste” for wine that I had heard about and I figured I would need to work hard to build an appreciation of wine over time. In retrospect, there is only so much quality in a $5 to $7 wine from the local super market, no offense Sutter Home … 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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