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Same Time Next Year (in) Mendocino, We Wrote
Preiser Reserve: For many years the vineyard company owned by the Madrigal family of Napa only farmed grapes and sold them to noted wineries such as Duckhorn, Chateau Montelena, Clos Pegase, Stag’s Leap, and Shafer. Ultimately, the Madrigals were managing 500 acres in the Napa Valley, 300 acres in Anderson Valley, and 15 acres of their own estate vineyard. Yet, as with so many in California, Jess and Chris Madrigal wanted to take the next step and show what they could create from the incredible grapes they were producing. So in 1995 they crushed their first 10 tons, and for their initial endeavor they chose what was then an obscure variety - Petite Sirah.
Our featured wine of this week is in fact the Madrigal 2002 Petite Sirah, not only a superb wine without regard to price, but a good buy at $35. This one is for big red wine lovers, with colors of deep purple that fade into inky black. It is well balanced, with spices and cherries beginning on the nose and continuing through to a ripe mid palate and mouth coating finish. Think roast beef, lamb chop, pork loin, or a mixed grill. The winery opines that this wine will cellar for up to 10 years. It’s a beauty.
Same Time Next Year (in) Mendocino, We Wrote
Theatre, movie, and TV buffs may immediately have their memory jogged by the tongue in cheek title of this week’s column. Set in the northern California coastal city of Mendocino, Same Time Next Year is Bernard Slade’s Broadway play (made famous by the 1978 film starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn) about two married people falling in love and meeting one weekend each year in this indescribably charming town. As fans of the TV hit Murder She Wrote will tell you, that show was ostensibly set in Maine, yet many exterior scenes were shot in Mendocino, built as it was by seamen from New England and thus closely mirroring the architecture of East Coast villages.
Well, wine lovers can add this wonderful town into their past and future experiences through Winesong!, one of the country’s best auction/wine programs. Held the “same time each year” -- Saturday following Labor Day Monday -- this brilliantly organized event is produced by the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation. Proceeds are used to enhance equipment, facilities, and services at the Mendocino Coast District Hospital, and those that attended the silent and live auctions earlier this month were responsible for raising a staggering $650,000.00 for this regional health care center that well serves a smallish population of about 30,000. Auctioneers David Reynolds and Dawn Marie Kotsonis worked through 82 lots and coaxed record bids from the crowd of 1,100 attendees. Hospital Foundation President Joan Selchau opened the Live Auction and established a compassionate tone by announcing that a portion of the auction proceeds would be set aside for a sister hospital damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Most of you who read this column have no doubt been to one or more of the many programs of this type that are held throughout the country. But our goal today is to describe why Mendocino is something special in terms that do it justice. Perhaps, however, simply one term will suffice – “Beauty.” If there is a more gorgeous area in the world than the California coast, we don’t know about it. And if there is a lovelier setting for a wine tasting than the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (actually in Ft. Bragg), it has escaped not only our notice, but that of Winesong! attendees from around the country.
The tasting venue itself was laid out in elliptical fashion within the larger property, and wineries were grouped with restaurants and musicians at eight different clearings along the trail -- each location bearing a romantic description such as “Shady Grove,” “Dahlia Gardens,” "West of Schoeffer Creek,” “The Narrows,” or “Intersection of North and South Trails.” How glorious was the music, which was well chosen to accompany the atmosphere. We listened to a jazz quartet, a Mozart trio, a string quartet, a sax quartet, a kettle drum group, and more, and the efficiency of the lay out was showcased by the fact that none of the eight groups of musicians intruded upon another. The wines were well chosen and each location was elegant in its own right. But all was overshadowed by the sheer magnificence of the Botanical Gardens with the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. Oh, did we mention the always dry California weather?
You may ask what wines were served, and that seems at first blush like a good question. But you know the truth? It wouldn’t matter much, as the setting itself is intoxicating. Nevertheless, the array of wines from many California regions was better than just fine. With outstanding producers such as Navarro, Silver Oak, Edmeades, Far Niente, Saddleback, Miner, St. Supery, Joseph Phelps, Rodney Strong, Treanna, ZD, Laird, Marston, Bonny Doon, Pezzi King, Stag’s Leap, Chateau St. Jean, Atlas Peak, Pride, Jordan, Lolonis, Nickel & Nickel, and Madrigal leading the way, you know we tasted some interesting and excellent wines.
Those responsible for the program - Norm Roby, Jeri Erickson, and Carol Joyce - know what they are doing. If you are looking for a wonderful weekend built around wine, we highly suggest Winesong!, next year on September 9th. www.winesong.org
2005 Harvest Brings New Questions: Wine aficionados are well aware that 2005 has been a strange year for the vines. Assaulted by late rains in June, and subjected to one of the coolest summers in years, the grapes have not enjoyed the conditions needed to ripen early, and will thus hang for a longer time than usual in hopes that this will allow the sugars to rise (a higher sugar quantity leads to higher alcohol). In fact, though some Napa fruit has in fact been picked (Mumm, for example, has harvested 96% of their fruit for their sparkling wines), a great majority of vines in the Valley and on the hills still have their grapes, and many are weeks away from giving them up.
The abnormal weather conditions have spawned interesting discussions, debates, theories, and predictions from the winemakers, growers, and vintners in the Valley. Most of the vintners and winemakers to whom we have spoken are cautiously optimistic at worst, and downright happy at best. All are on nervous and on edge. Many in the know cite the large clusters and abundance of fruit as signs of a bumper crop, while others go a step further and praise the opportunity to make wines this year that will probably have less alcohol than any vintage in recent memory. These lower alcohol products, they postulate, will be more European in nature in that they have ripened slowly, which permits the tannins to be in good balance with the sugars. Other vintners lament the slow ripening, and worry that ripeness will never reach the higher levels seemingly favored by so much of the American public.
As for growers, some that are being paid by the ton are concerned not only about this summer’s longer hang time, but the now-in-vogue process of allowing extended hang time in order to obtain big sugars (and subsequently alcohol) every season. According to the Napa Valley Register, famed grower Andy Beckstoffer, along with other prominent wine writers and winemakers, argues that high alcohol wines are ignoring consumer preferences. Our own experience, and that of the majority of vintners, however, is, as we suggested above, entirely the opposite. It is also worthy of note in assessing the arguments of some growers, that as grapes hang longer, they begin to shed water and may lose up to 20% of their weight.
So what will happen? Well, we have our own prediction based on scores of interviews and our own observations and tasting over the 4 ½ months we have been in the Valley. We think the long growing season of cooler, but not cold, weather will in fact allow great tannin/sugar balance, and that this year will produce large yields of long lived, beautifully elegant wines. Of course, an abrupt change in the weather (as we finish this piece it is raining for the first time since mid June), such as a prolonged heat spike or shattering rain could change everything for the good OR the bad, and all bets would be off.
Here’s to the success of all those professionals who have to decide when to harvest. We’re glad we don’t have the job.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.