Sunday, October 12, 2014

Farm to Tap?

Breweries are popping up everywhere in Sacramento County. Vacant warehouses, abandoned storage facilities, one side of the two-car garage and as my kids used to call it, the "little bathroom," have all been transformed into brewing dens of iniquity.

With the Exception of...

A creek runs beside it...sort of?

Followers of this blog know that my ultimate passion is storytelling, and to do least as well as I do, requires relentless hours of qualitative research. (Wow, I'm really beginning to sound like a grad student!) Thus, I am always a sucker for a new location that will provide my readers with enough information to cause an avalanche of interest. Goat House Brewery, located in the lush, sprawling...more like crawling hills of Lincoln, CA provided a much needed escape from said relentless qualitative research.

The plan for the first weekend in October was to drive north to wine country to do an interview for an independent study project. As luck would have it, my car, Kenji...yes, that's what I call him, decided to extract a few don't have it, hundred dollar bills from my pocket by simultaneously killing a starter and blowing the rear calipers of his braking system. If this were not enough, the mechanic, or Devil worshipper, attempted to send me to an early grave by charging $429.00 for the starter alone. I don't remember much after this phone message, but fortunately, I was referred to a reliable ex-convict who did the work provided that I buy the beer. (He actually was a certified mechanic...just had a little trouble with the IRS, NRA and a slight misunderstanding with two of his three ex-wives)
Beer and wine on the same sign?

Speaking of Beer
I was able to reschedule the winery visit for later, but still had a day to do something a little closer to home. The Farm to Fork festival had taken place the weekend before, and while there, I met a few local brewers who mentioned a new place in Lincoln. Being a wine person, beer, or more accurately for my taste, ale, has become a new passion of mine and anything to do with farming is in my blood. (Okay, a few chickens and a garden = farm. Goats coming soon)

Relying on their recommendation, I called Goat House Brewery after recovering from car repair sticker shock, to make a reservation for a visit. (Info on Google said reservations were required...Not any more!)

Rustic? Maybe.

GoatHouse Brewing Company is a family affair, and owners Mike and Cathy like nothing more than welcoming families to their little piece of heaven on Earth. Located just a few miles northeast from beautiful downtown Lincoln, this dot com, moving and shaking couple searched for many years until they found exactly what they were looking for....a farm! As  Bay area transplants, they had the nerve to want to raise their children with a quality of life reminiscent of days gone by where running through orchards, catching butterflies, fishing and getting dirty was the norm. To hear Cathy, a former marketing executive, tell it, she did not want to die at her desk! So...they loaded up the truck and they moved to...Lincoln, CA?

Yes, that's exactly what they did. Damned the torpedo's,  these good people wanted their slice of American pie! Not the concrete jungle, or laptop death syndrome, they wanted a quality of life that included a farm, good schools, animals, dirt, crops, serenity...and of course, beer. Got to love these folks!.

What They Do
The drive to Lincoln has changed in recent years. Subdivisions, strip malls and a large casino occupy what was once hundreds if not thousands of acres of hop fields. Hops being one of the main ingredients in beer brewing are all but extinct in the area now, but the Johnson's have not let his deter their dream. They with a bit of ingenuity have installed as Cathy describes, "The Mike and Cathy Hop Growing System!"

Ingenuity at its' best!

Hops, Humulus Lupulus, are unique creatures. A member of the Cannabibaceae family, they are cousins to those munchie inducing, herbaceous, five finger leaf plants that when added to fudge brownies, give them...character? Anyhoo, you get the idea. Grown on sturdy trellises made of rope, or other materials, the "bine" grows by intertwining itself around the rope or other support system. This occurs autonomously; it is often believed that the bine follows the sun, but after conducting more research, I could find very little to substantiate this claim. However, hops do need an abundance of sunlight to grow, and the Johnson's system is a must see when you visit.

Bines braiding themselves
In addition to sunlight and support, hops need rich loamy soil to grow. Given the best conditions, the plants grow upward rapidly...sometimes 10-12 inches per day. It is not uncommon for hops to grow 20 feet high or more.

Bine vs. Vine

Hops, unlike grapes grow on a bine. Unlike vines, that have tendrils (petiole...the stalk between the leaf blade and the stem) and suckers that after making contact with an object for an extended period of time, attach themselves for support, bines are more aggressive. These plants have sturdier stems which form a helix around it's support system. They also have downward pointing bristles to aid in climbing. This gives the stem a rough feeling texture.
Inside the Hop
Lupulin...Da Money!
Cathy was more than kind to give me a lesson in all things Hops. Picking a cone from the plant, she expertly ripped it open for me to inhale the pungent, familiar aroma.(Smells like a good amber ale with a hint of citrus, honey and spice. Yum!) The lupulin gland is the yellow, sticky glob of essential oils and resins that are the main source of aroma and bittering compounds in beers. The Bracteoles are the protective leaves of the hop cone that yield more oil and resin, in addition to tannins and polyphenols. What are polyphenols you ask? The easy answer, they are antioxidants
found in red wine and dark chocolate that offer several good health benefits. So you see, beer is good for you. drink up!

Where were we?
Reaching for the sky!

Okay, back to the beer...and other stuff that they do. In addition to hops, the Johnson's grow citrus and nut trees, have bee hives for honey and raise goats for milk to be used in a future cheese making endeavor. All of this contributes to the family friendly atmosphere of their little slice of American pie, but there is something else that brings out the kid in all of us. Fresh, old fashioned soda!

Using honey from their bee hives, cream from goats milk and water, a real old fashioned cream soda, hand made and served with the foam blowing over the rim is just plain sinful! Being lactose intolerant didn't prevent me from indulging a bit...okay, I inhaled the cool, slightly sweet beverage like it was the last supper. Admittedly, it was awesome, and I should note...this is the perfect libation not only for the kids, but for those who wish to venture back to a simpler time in history. It was amazing. Another must stalk item on their list.

Water, cream, honey, Yum!

Let's talk beer...finally!

Mike has been brewing beer since his teenage years. Cathy describes him as a "Mad scientist" when it comes to creating his brew. On this visit, they were serving several beers with names that were more indicative of Mike's sense of humor (He is hysterical!) and the beers' characteristic. (Very accurate)

Beginning with a honey Hefeweizen, which was smooth and slightly sweet with a tropical tinge and a serious honey laced mouthfeel, (wine speak ala brew) each brew offered for the day was unique. Mike definitely has a way with words and a way with brewing. As I listened to the throngs of visitors
describe what they tasted, it was great to see that everyone's opinions were valued. I had more than one total stranger educate me in some way about the differences they were tasting in comparison to other breweries, and at least one other patron willingly accepted my half tasted barley wine without worrying if I had cooties. In short, everyone was friendly and other members of the family took great care to see that I and others were enjoying ourselves.

The Badonkadonk!
More about the beer

My personal favorite of the day was the award winning "U-so Fresh" brew. Made with wet hops as opposed to dry or pelletized hops. This was an amazing, as the name says, fresh tasting, beer with a good balance of citrus and floral tones. The kind of beer that you crave when you really want something with finesse. I wanted to make this sample last, and nearly ordered another. Moving onto the Hoppa di Peppa, made with a blend of several fresh peppers from their garden, one customer said that he had tasted peppered beers many times and that this one was not nearly as peppery as some. I had never had a peppered beer, and was quite surprised that the pepper flavoring was nice. I'm not sure what I would drink it with, but recently, I have been into pepper jams, so this brew will have to be revisited with food. Unlike drinking wine with a meal...which I do not like, beer accompanied with food agrees with me. Still, I do not have enough experience to say what I like with what. The U-So Fresh...I'm thinking a seafood salad?

Moving on. Before going to the Dark side, I inquired about the barley wine, correctly named, "The Badonkadonk!" For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, it basically means having a big butt! I thought it was funny when Mike asked if I knew what a "Badonkadonk was considering that this accurately describes my rear appendage. Anyhoo, this beverage is exactly as described, huge! High alcohol, high tannin, heavy and loud...a sistah girl with attitude in a glass no less, this beverage is not for the faint of heart.
Full spectrum sampler
Cloves, coriander, citrus, and honey. Tasty beyond simple, but too much for me. I could though, imagine enjoying this beer seated in front of a fireplace, curled up next to someone special and gnashing through a chunk of beef jerky while watching an action thriller. This is definitely not chick flick libation.(Depends on the chick and the flick, just sayin'). Anyhoo, this is a big mama jamma!
The hapless stranger seated next to me ended up finishing it off as I bade hime farewell to take more photos.

Converted barn into tasting room

As I stood to go take a few more photos, Mike asked me if I was going to try the Darkside. This was a huge stout with a rich, slightly chocolatey flavor. The Badonkadonk had killed any chance of savoring this beer, so I hurriedly sipped through it. Fortunately, hapless stranger had not left and he received the lion's share of this sample as well.


Due to some glitch in politics surrounding serving and selling beer, the Johnson's at this time can only offer two ounce samples for two dollars each or a flight.(Check menu board) However, you can purchase a growler.(1/2 U.S gallon) I like the idea of samples as this will allow you to not only taste what is offered, but also allow you to become familiar with the beer without delving into a full glass.(Pint) Mike has autonomy in what he does, and seasonal offerings are sure to be unique. The sample servings also invite conversation as guests can intermingle and share their thoughts with one another in the large, open tasting room. This I believe is what makes this location so special.

Cozy, friendly, open!
For starters, the room is large with picnic tables crafted from timbers salvaged from the original Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Following the philosophy of being good stewards of the environment, the tables are beautiful and rustic. The interior walls are crafted from the original exterior planks of the building which used to be a barn on the property. The Johnson's have retained the rustic feeling with an open air quality that allows the evening cool breeze to flow through freely. A juke box with music to suit any taste sits near the entry way, and a patron with a penchant for the Village People repeatedly  serenaded us with the Y.M.C.A. (Still have that tune in my head!)

Ooo Rah!
Final thoughts

GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room is an excellent place to become familiar with beer. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and owners Mike and Cathy do their best to make you feel at home. I give this place two slaps upside the head for beer, and that's a good beginning, and three slaps upside the head for ambiance. However, Mike get's a huge smack on his Badonkadonk for brewing beer with personality like his own. Catherine though, get's the highest marks for being a real sistah girl who knows how to treat folks well. I appreciate the time they took to show me around and share their story, but mostly I thank them for being role models to those who believe in following their dreams. Good on ya, folks!

Until next time,



GoatHouse Brewery and Tasting Room
600 Wise Road
Lincoln, CA 95648


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hear no evil, Speak no evil, Ksee-no-Mavro?

Friends with Benefits

My friend Stephen, who I had only met in the cyber world of social media dropped me a line one day asking me if I would like to drive to the city, (San Francisco) and meet a few winemakers from Greece. Okay, more accurately, the conversation went like this:

Stephen: "Hey you busy this week?"
Me: Uh, why?
Stephen: "Check your email!"

Considering that we had never met in the physical world, .and I had no memory of how he got my email address, until I remembered how we ACTUALLY met...which is another story worthy of a blog post,  I hurriedly opened the email which contained a VIP entry into the world of Greek wine. Having never experienced any wine from this archipelago in the Aegean Sea, and with little knowledge that the birthplace of wine, (Think Dionysus) would actually grow grapes and produce wine, I eagerly accepted the invite.

The Experience

In attendance
The Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco is not easily accessible. Tucked in an alley between several buildings, I nearly spent as much time trying to find the location as it took me to drive from Sacramento. *Note: when calling to get directions, ensure that the person you speak to has either lived in San Francisco...within five miles of the hotel that is, and manages to get to work without getting lost, or can hand the phone to someone who is capable of at least indicating which alley not to drive through, lest you become ensnared by a hapless, evil,  delivery driver blocking you in for an eternity. Not one to get discouraged, after all, there was wine to be sampled, I persevered and eventually was able to drop off the keys to my car with a very cheerful valet and search the labyrinth of endless hallways in this five star, non air conditioned, travel destination.

On more than one occasion as I searched for the room where my palate would be tantalized, I would bump into a ever so quiet speaking concierge who, barely audible, would direct me to another equally silent speaking concierge. Perhaps due to the weather, a sweltering 98 degrees, which by San Francisco standards is akin to a day in Hell, the staff may have been speaking in this way to avoid generating more heat.
After what seemed like an eternity, (about three minutes) I located least someone who looked like his Facebook profile, and the party was on! (Another hour...they were running a little late.)

Pavlidis Michael
The Grape
Xinomavro - (Acid-black) is the predominant native red grape varietal of Macedonia, Greece. Known for their aging potential and high tannins, this wine grape is a true must stalk varietal. The berries are tight clustered, dark and rich. Almost similar in appearance to Zinfandel grapes, but nothing like them in character. The initial sip tasted like a viciously tart Pinot Noir; light, but explosive. A second sip, stained my teeth purple. I could have sworn that I was drinking an angry Syrah. The texture was almost leathery with a hint of smoke. I had to step back a few times and scream,"What the heck is this?" After settling in and calming down no less, I concluded that...I needed to sample a different bottle.

Bad idea!

The next bottle provided another round of complexity that eventually lead to the need for food as these wines have a "Smack you upside the head" quality. Plowing through a plate of cheese, I eyeballed a female winemaker who surely had a wine with a bit less punch; maybe a little softness? I mean after all, when introduced, she was soft spoken, demure, polite, and well, seemed almost shy.
Nope! Her wines were in my opinion, capable of putting hair on your chest! Regaining my composure and wiping the sweat from my brow...the room was now full, and it was REALLY hot.  I ambled over to an open window, contemplated hurling myself through it, but instead, caught a lung full of San Fran's finest polluted air. The breeze felt good no less, and the wine was beginning to do what wine presented to a less than full stomach does. (Think acid reflux!) Stephen came over and we began a not yet finished conversation about my thesis and how this experience may contribute to my study. As we conversed, I couldn't help but say that the experience thus far was enlightening and that the wines of Naoussa were some of the best I had tasted in a long time. (They are still leading the pack...just sayin'.)

There is a ton of info on this elusive varietal on the barely visible link below: (Be patient...takes a minute to load)

Removing the bias,  let's stick to the story of how much this wine was enjoyed by all in attendance at this San Francisco soiree.

To describe these wines, we'll use words like dense, perhaps. Or,  tannic? Yep! Mysterious? Most definitely!  The winemakers didn't leave us wondering as they brought a huge selection to sample from.  No two were alike. Being a bonafide Rhone Ranger who loves nothing more than deep, dark, eclectic wine grapes, Xinomavro did not disappoint. (Nor did the wine that Pavlidis Michael introduced. Yum!)

The crowd in attendance was diverse, which to my delight was unexpected and yielded some much needed additional data for my thesis project. With this, I was able to gather a mixture of humorous and critical  information  about the wine from several people that I spoke with. (Those who could after an hour of sampling, still form complete sentences...just sayin'.) Some remarked that Xinomavro reminded them of Pinot Noir due to its' tart characteristic. (Mouth puckering is an understatement) Others, who like me, could not find a definite characteristic, said that the wine was remarkably well structured and complex. (We were the one's still standing after an hour.) No least within my earshot, had anything negative to say. (Nor would I care if they did.)

Small selection of wines from Greece
With flavors, that, ran anywhere from tart pomegranate to bold cherry and everything in between, each wine had a lingering finish that almost tasted of a hint of olives or some other is it a fruit or vegetable type food. It was very difficult to discern what this "extra" taste was as it could not be aligned with the familiar pepper, earthy or vegetal finish of domestic American wine. This was wine that required serious contemplation, reflection and conversation.

Did I forget to mention food?

First round of munchies!
 To accompany the wine that was served, a selection of cheese, olives and meats were made available. Being one of the a few people who do not enjoy wine with food, (Okay, I confess, Petite Syrah paired with peanut butter is a fetish of mine), the wines paired nicely with each offering and did not overshadow, or complicate the palate. Taking Stephen's advice to eat before sampling...lest there be no food left, I would have to say that the plethora of cheese samples were my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast of textures against my palate and found that each wine remained solid combined with the food. Although I do not care for olives, or pickles, the wine paired well with whatever type of olive was served.(They didn't look or taste like the salty, red booger filled jar variety, so I ate a few. Yum!) There must have been several carnivores in attendance as the Prosciutto didn't last long enough for me to venture into the world of swine and wine. Instead, I stuck with the Brie.

One of my favorites!

Wine and more wine!

Moving from one winemaker to the next, (the language barrier was eliminated by a common love for grape juice), was a study in art and sign language.  Each had their own style and creative influence that made their wine that much more enjoyable. I wish that there were more translators in attendance who could convey what this American sistah girl had to say about the wine, and who could divulge more pertinent details about their philosophies. Instead, a vigorous nodding of the head and the universal thumbs-up sign were enough to communicate how much I was enjoying  myself. The winemaker's in turn, had mastered saying, "Thank you!"
The most difficult thing for me was selecting and remembering which wine was which. (I did recognize a few Greek letters, but the way they were slung together, looked more like sorority/fraternity call letters than names of wine.) Every piece of literature that I was given was written in Greek. Only a few had contact information written in English. Thankfully, I have been able to keep abreast with what's happening with this group of winemakers by way of Facebook. This in itself has been a blessing, as it allows me to share the passion for this wine with other wine consumers.
A solo act for sure!

To say that there was a definite favorite among those in attendance would be unfair. However, I did happen to procure a bottle of a unique blend from a Mr. Pavlidis Michael. No, it's not the photo to the right and slightly above with the wine glass, but if you look at the beginning of this writing, and check out the photo with the selection of wines, it is the one with the big orange graphic. Yes, this was the wine of all wines...a Greek Bordeaux! The politics of how this wine was created, I will leave to the winemaker. However, I do enjoy a rebel spirit, and this wine provided just that. Think of the Bordeaux varietals that are dominate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Now, no cheating, substitute one of these aforementioned wine grapes, and replace it with Xinomavro. Boom! Can you say, Orgasmic? Now you know why this one came home with me.

Whats Next?

They're doing well!

Obviously, the wine is making some noise here in the U.S. Unfortunately, it is not easy to least not where I live. One small specialty store, (Corti Brothers, Folsom Blvd.) carries a few (2) bottles, and being a cheerleader for this wine is causing them to consider stocking more. (Thought about gathering a few folks and picketing outside until they comply) I was impressed that the wine steward knew about this grape, but also sad that few if any ask for it by name. (He dusted off a bottle just for me!)
The price point for Xinomavro runs $20-60 per bottle. Rumor has it that because each winery only produces a small amount of wine...less than six thousand cases annually, it will be difficult if not impossible to find in all locations. Bummer!

After sampling nearly all (just kidding) of the selection of wines that were offered, I must add that because Xinomavro was the guest of honor and there were a few white wines available...mainly Sauvignon Blanc, each bottle of Xinomavro remained excitingly different. Seriously, there were no two alike which is a testimony of the artistic ability the winemakers. 

Winemaker Georgia Foundi

The Future of My Wine Cellar

It's a tough existence...traveling, taking photos and learning about all things libation. However, as mentioned before,  I am becoming a little bored with domestic wine, and relish an opportunity to try something different. The wines of Naoussa are definitely something to add to the eclectic wine consumers' cellar. (Not for the faint of heart...seriously) I look forward to adding more of these rare gems to my collection. (700 bottles and counting...yep, I need a few more!)

I highly recommend  the wines of Naoussa, and give them five slaps upside the head...and that's a VERY good thing, for uniqueness, quality and age ability. Please take the time to explore and savor these wonderful wines...if you can find them.

Don't hate...somebody has to do this gig!

Until next time,


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My twin sister? Yes, she's into wine as well!

1.  either of two children or animals brought forth at a birth.
2.  either of two persons or things closely related to or closely resembling each other

Pretty self explanatory...unless?

Just off Hwy. 49

On a recent hot, lazy, Saturday afternoon, I realized that it had been a long time since my twin sister and I had seen one another. Oh, you didn't know that I had a twin? You are not alone in this well kept family secret.

Heading to yet another gas station, I teased Kenji's belly with a whopping $20 worth of sustenance. I seem to have a propensity to deprive Kenji of a full tank of gas, lest I starve myself. (For you new followers of this blog, my car is named Kenji, and he plays a significant role in my travels.) Belly teased, we head up Jackson Highway(CA.16) to the ever so small, bustling town of Sutter Creek where my equally passionate, wine loving twin sister, manages a small winery.

The drive seems longer on this day...probably because the outside temperature is rapidly approaching the triple digit mark, and Kenji is doing his best to conserve the precious snack of $20 worth of gas. Doing everything to avoid using the AC, I drive as fast as the speed limit allows, for this is CHP country, and officer Bubba and his cousins enjoy nothing more than pulling over hapless motorist who are unfamiliar with unmarked speed traps.(They don't do a good job of disguising themselves, just look for the front end of a cruiser poking out from a large bush or tree on the opposite side of the highway.) Anyhoo, we arrive at our destination about an hour or so later.

Sutter Creek had grown since my last visit about two years ago. There were now at least four winery tasting rooms, and I would have to visit again to sample their wares. On this day though, it was all about my twin, and I wanted nothing more than to visit and enjoy her company. The wine would have to come second...which was initially the plan.

Chink-Wah! Yep, that's how it is pronounced. As I entered the door of this five generation owned and operated rare gem of a tasting room, there was no one to greet me! Boo, hiss! Not good! I wasn't expecting a red carpet or a confetti laced parade...okay I was, but it caught me off guard that the tasting counter was devoid of a human presence. Fortunately, before the big girl panties bunched up in a knot, my twin had it all under control and quickly surfaced to greet me with a huge hug and a even bigger radiant smile.(Turns out she was handling some business only a few feet away and would NEVER ignore or allow a visitor to be left unattended. We were raised right...ya know!)

Foyer at Cinque

My twin, Alicia, is one of the most thoughtful, warm, intelligent and genuine people in this realm. Her infectious, upbeat demeanor is truly appreciated in the world of pretentious wine snobbery, and visiting her always results in a few unpredictable pranks that only twins can play. This visit would provide yet another "Gotcha" opportunity.

Five in Italian
After settling in, Alicia produced a wine glass and expertly directed and encouraged me to sample the plethora of wine available from this facility and its' sister winery located a few miles away. Being the older sister, I duly complied, and was taken on a wine journey that involved not only a great selection of all things grape, but also included a few surprises in the form of hard ciders.(Going to have to return for a visit to describe these gems)


Beginning with a Pinot Gris...and my twin knows that this is NOT my favorite grape, I take in the atmosphere of the tasting room. Save for a few microscopic water spots on the entry door, the room is immaculate! Seriously, there isn't a speck of dust anywhere! The displays are neatly filled with an assortment of wine, wine stuff, and wine goodies. The signage is written in an easily readable font..(Lord, I can't stand weird fonts!) and, the temperature is near perfect to preserve the precious life of each bottle of wine. (Considering that the outside temp has arched over the century mark...impressive!)

Alicia by now has a few more customers, so I amble over to a simple plate of patriotic treats she has laid out for guests.

Strawberries, cream cheese, and blueberries paired well with the wine that I am sampling, and Alicia did not hesitate to keep my glass wet with the next selection of wine as she multi-tasked between guests and myself. What was also impressive is that despite being a family member, she only poured the requisite one to two ounce samples of wine.(I,m so proud of her!)

To secure my place at the next family holiday meal by not forgetting to mention that my niece, Desiree...whom I had just met (We are a slightly dysfunctional family) also works in the tasting room. Like her mother, Dez (I think I can call her this) was a natural at customer service. Taking cues from Mummy, Dez was enthralled to finally meet her full monty auntie.

Sauvignon Blanc
As we laughed, talked, hugged and imbibed, Desiree could not help but laugh out loud at our antics. She had heard the stories of how her mother and myself would dupe unwitting customers with our near identical appearance while we worked for two single owner wineries. This and other pranks were a daily ritual for my twin and myself and reliving these happy moments made the visit that much more special.

Let's talk wine...after we introduce the Scotto Family
Rare White Blend

The name Cinque means five in Italian, and five generations of the Scotto family have been sharing their passion for winemaking. Beginning in 1903, when Dominic Scotto emigrated to the United States from Ischia, Italy. Settling in Brooklyn, New York, where he worked as a ship's caulker, he taught his sons to make wine. The wine was then stored in gallon crocks and sold from a horse drawn wagon. A few years later, Dominic opened Scotto's Liquors, a small neighborhood business, which is still open today.(The Scotto Family Story)

The current superstars of Cinque and Serafina wineries, Natalie, Michael, Anthony, Paul and Anne Scotto, are the grandchildren of Anthony Scotto Sr. who began his wine career in 1940 selling gallon jugs of his fathers red wine from a pushcart.(This method of selling wine was common among Italian emigrants) Eight years later, he and his brothers created "Villa Armando," and Italian style rustic red wine. Today, Villa Armando is one of the oldest U.S. wine brands and has filled more than 200,00,000 glasses.(The Scotto Family Story)

The Wine

Visitors at Cinque are treated to one of the most diverse selections of wine from the Scotto family portfolio. Labels include, Sera Fina Cellars, Dancing grape, Scotto Family Cellars, Villa Armando, Nightfall, Regio, and Rare Bubbles. Each has its' own unique flair, and I can honestly say that my favorite was...uh, the, uh, okay, we will talk about that later.

There is definitely something for every palate in this tasting room, and visitors would do well to stop by more than once. Alicia was an expert at fielding questions on each of the labels offered. After three tastes of different white wines, she reminded me that there were a few surprises lurking in the small refrigerator and that she would be sure that I sampled them.
One of two hard ciders

Dark and Naughty!
Perusing the tasting menu as the room began to fill with anxious and familiar customers, I noticed that a young man who happened to be African American had entered the room. Mind you, Sutter Creek is not exactly the urban hub of the lower Sierra foothills. With a 2012 population index consisting of 86% white, 8.3% Hispanic and 2.4% Asian, it was good to know that the remaining 3.3 percentage of inhabitants contained at least one African American.(Rumor has it...there may be more!)

Being mindful of his presence and nonchalantly slipping into research mode, I began a series of innocent questions about his experience living in Sutter Creek. He told me that he loved living in the area, and that he valued the peace and quiet of small towns. He also thoroughly enjoyed learning about the local lore and said that he had not experienced any issues that made him feel uncomfortable.(Boo yeah!) This not only put a smile on my face, but I knew that my twin with all of her wisdom, charm and warmth had made his visits to the tasting room all the more special.(Btw, she does this for everyone!) Cinque was definitely scoring high points from the way he spoke of his experiences while visiting. I was proud to be standing in a tasting room where I could see first hand how an African American was being treated with kindness, dignity, respect and appreciation.

More About the Wine

As the young man retrieved his wine club order, we bade one another farewell and promised to keep in touch. Alicia by now was also in a hurry to get to her next gig. Realizing that I had only sampled a few red wines, She grabbed a bottle of cider laced with Pinot Gris white wine. I refrained from tasting this and asked for more of the Serafina Barbera. I love Italian varietals, and Barbera is a popular grape. The hot climate, hilly slopes and extended growing season lend character to this otherwise nondescript blending grape. The Serafina Barbera was phenomenal.


Because I am a fan of blends, the Regio Dark Red wine began to speak volumes. I might add here that the Scotto family has roughly 35 additional wine labels in their portfolio. For the novice to the expert, this family owned winery clearly has something for everyone.(I know...I'm repeating myself)

Let's Talk Dessert Wine

For those who prefer the sweeter tastes of dessert wine, the Scotto family does not disappoint. Included in their vast portfolio of wine are nine...count them folks, NINE dessert and specialty wines! Though I am not a fan of the sweet stuff...this place is the go to for those who are. (Call ahead to be sure which ones are available for tasting) Alicia knows this is not my forte, but she did insist that I try the bubbles!. Lord, I am not a bubbler, and I graciously declined.

So, you wanna know what my favorite wine was?

It is unfair to say which wine I enjoyed the most as I was very picky...lest I not make it home safely. I would give the Nightfall Tempranillo two slaps upside the head...and that's a good thing! Again, Tempranillo is not one of my favorite grape varietals.(Too light...I like them chewy) However, this particular offering revealed in it's earth characteristic one of the most exciting aspects of wine tasting. If you allow yourself to have an open mind...and an open heart, the experience can be a blessing in disguise. By never criticizing a wine grape that you may have not previously enjoyed, you remove any preconceived ideas of what you do not like. I have been humbled numerous times by saying that I did not like something only to discover that I was fervently drinking whatever it was that I said I didn't like. Be open to new opportunities and allow yourself experiment.

Time to go!

By now, Alicia is frantically trying to get to her next gig.(She hides this well. No one would ever suspect that she is in a hurry) She passes the torch on to Desiree, and bids me farewell with a big sisterly hug. We promise to hook up in the next few weeks before I return to the droll of graduate school, and slip in another big hug before she closes up shop. I have to say that this experience was one I will never forget, and has contributed strongly to my research. Cinque Winery is by far one of the nicest tasting rooms that I have visited. The atmosphere was genuinely warm and inviting. The wine selection was conducive to nearly any palate and my twin sister is an expert in treating folks right. I give this little facility three slaps upside the head...and that's a good thing for being a true destination worthy of a visit. And on a final twin and myself will always have the last laugh.

Twins...who happen to be 11 months apart!

Until next time,



83 Main Street

Sutter Creek, CA



Feedback appreciated.  Thank You!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Staggs MY back yard?

Tintoria; Dark and Naughty!
Year three of my personal research journey as a wine blogger has taught me much about all things grape, and I have finally reached a pinnacle...or, as some would say, a boredom with the repetitive flavors of California wine. It didn't help that a recent invite to a private tasting in San Francisco at the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel, introduced me to Greek wines, and that their winemaking style is something to definitely pay attention to. (Not going to mention that the food provided was to die for! Nope, not going to say anything.) Greek wine is sooooo different from California wine, or, from any other wine region that I have experienced, so much that, oh wait, I'm writing about a new place in the Sacramento Delta. We'll talk about Greek wine later.
Meanwhile,  to alleviate the boredom, the repetitive, never ending barrage of all things California grape juice, I have had to dig deeper into the nooks and crannies of the California wine country to find that elusive, unique, dark and naughty wine that I love so dearly.

The Journey Continues!

Because I am still a full-time student/freelance photojournalist/wine blogger, I'm cash pour, but passion inspired. Translation; the car eats better than I do, which enables me to visit those out of the way, difficult to find, rare, hidden, gems so far from where I live.

After putting five dollars in my car, Kenji's gas tank, (Yes, folks, it's like this, I'm BROKE!) me and my ever so willing to ride shotgun cousin, Sojo, departed for a day of exploration and new adventures.

We began our day, roughly twelve miles from my front yard, by visiting an old favorite haunt in Clarksburg, The Sugar Mill. Sojo needed to check on her wine club at a winery that I will write about soon, and after sampling a few wines at this unnamed facility, we decided to check out a winery on the eastern side of the Sacramento River.

As we drove away from the Sugar Mill, and as luck would have it, we spotted a sign just ahead, on the levee road, about the size of a standard piece of copy paper, perched atop what appeared to be a street barrier, behind some roadside scrub weeds. I have no idea how Sojo spotted the sign, and once I slowed Kenji (That's what I call my car) to a crawl,  and put on my 2+ power reading glasses, the sign jumped out in plain view for me to see as well.

New Winery!

The sign says it all...sort of?

Initially, the sign did not indicate how far one would have to drive on this desolate back road,and not seeing anything except endless dirt and the occasional field of unknown crops, we nearly turned around twice. But Kenji, (That's what I call my car) running on fumes by now, persevered, and we continued onward to seek out this new promise of wine.

As we drove west, the road became dotted with full, heavy fruit laden vineyards bathing in the delta sunlight. Having traveled these back roads many times, I was reminded of the days of endless sugar beet and tomato trucks ferrying their loads along the nearby winding and precarious levee road. It gives me great joy to see grapevines planted in these fields, and even more joy to see the area become a new destination for wine and tourism.
Julietta Winery

 Squinting through the glare of my windshield, we arrived at Julietta Winery, unsure if they were still open. (The Sugar Mill had just booted us for a wedding taking place at five.) Pulling into the gravel driveway, we were greeted by a couple who genuinely were glad to see us. How do I know this? Gravel driveways kick up a ton of dust, which is not good for grapevines. On more than one occasion, I have been reprimanded for driving two miles per hour on the often posted five miles per hour signs on gravel driveways that many wineries have. Thus, I was prepared to be spanked for kicking up dust...again! Anyhoo, we were spared the verbal tongue lashing for kicking up dust and greeted warmly by the owners, Craig and Julie Russell.

Julie and Craig Russell, in their tasting room

Craig Russell, born and raised in Napa, is a retired general contractor. Tending to newly planted grapevines along the driveway, as we drove in, he and his wife Julie, the director of charter schools for the State of California, warmly invited us to come in for a taste of their wines. This caught both Sojo and I by surprise. We both have a lot of experience working winery tasting rooms, and we  know what it's like for the last visitor to pull in the parking lot at closing time. Nonetheless, we took note of this genuine warm greeting and parked in the ample parking lot.

Note: Having recently completed a course in liability and risk management, I was particularly pleased to see that the parking lot was one of the most professionally ADA compliant designed features that I had ever seen at a winery. This gave me the warm and fuzzy's to know that the owners were cognizant of their duty to provide for those with disabilities.
We parked and marveled at the charming, rustic building, the westward, fast approaching  sunset and the meticulous new landscape. The air was full of warmth and the delta breeze had just begun to blow, cooling the air and beckoning us to stay a bit longer. We instantly fell in love with the atmosphere, but were just beginning to experience what real hospitality is all about.

Sign at entrance of Julietta Winery
In the world of customer service, and more accurately, in the wine least at wineries that I have worked at, when a customer arrives at closing time, you serve them. You do not EVER make them feel as though they are not welcome, or worse, that you have something better to LEAVE, because it's two minutes till ??? I know this all too well;  in my experience, I once was asked to re-open a closed winery tasting room to facilitate customers who had been delayed due to some un- avoidable issue. Did I like doing this? No, but hey, it's what you do to take care of guests...and you do it with a genuine smile.

Craig and Julie did just this, and it was with a genuine warmth that gave Sojo reason to begin planning her birthday bash, to be held at this rare delta gem.

The Monet inspired tasting room
Leading us into the large, well lit, warm and cozy tasting room which had been a former corrugated steel building, the inviting layout held numerous opportunities for large gatherings, private dinners or just a day to watch the game on the wall mounted flat screen television. Leather chairs, located at the double door exit to the large covered patio were available for intimate conversations, and the western facing window provided a perfect opportunity to watch the delta sunset.
Julie assured us that they would be putting up a shade to control the vast amount of sunlight that entered through the windows, but would still allow guests to experience the view.

The room is designed with a then not known Monet inspiration that Craig had somehow mentally conceived. Perhaps it was a spiritual manifestation? He was soon given a book about artist Claude Monet's studio. While leafing through the pages of the book, one cannot help but notice that the architecture, material and fixtures are nearly identical to the design in Julietta's tasting room. The spiritual manifestations do not cease here, but I'll allow the Russell's to share the story of how the winery got its' name when you come for a visit.

Sauntering through the front door, I was enthralled by the outdoor fire pit. This feature alone would be enough to encourage me to visit often. (I should also mention that there is a slough that careens next to the winery with a promise of bass fishing. Just sayin'.) Craig, who was attentive and gracious at all times, offered the use of the fire pit for late evening date nights, or just a way to unwind with a bottle of wine as long as we gave prior notice that we would be on the premises. Similar to the days when folks left the keys to their house under the doormat in case you needed to get in while they were out, honesty and trust have become relics of the past. However, the Russell's have decided that this will be how they operate their winery; good old fashioned customer service.

The Wine

Dark and Naughty!
 Customer service aside...and they had already hooked us to the point of becoming regular visitors, the wine is...well, PHENOMENAL! Remember when I said that I was bored with California wine? Not any more!

Introducing Tintoria! Sometimes referred to as Alacante Bouschet, is a teinturier wine grape. Unlike most red grape varietals that have white flesh innards, teinturier, a French word meaning "tinter" or 'dyer" grapes have red tinted flesh that make significantly richer colored wines. Originally used as blending grapes, these dark and naughty (because they have flavors that are sometimes elusive and complex) high - yielding, easy to grow varietals are not for the faint of heart.

Widely planted in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, Spain and Portugal, and to a lesser extent in parts of Italy, Israel, Chile, Africa and California, the varietal is a clone of Petit Bouschet and Grenache first cultivated by viticulturalist Henri Bouschet in 1866. One of the grapes more historical contributions is that it was used to help rebuild the 19th century Phylloxera epidemic that devastated the European wine industry. During prohibition in the United States, Alicante Bouschet was grown in California and sold on the east coast as table grapes. For wine production, its' thick skin allowed wine makers to press the grape several times to make sure every drop of color and tannins were extracted to give wines their rich color and texture. Alacante Bouschet has always been one of my favorite varietals and is becoming more difficult to find. With a little prodding, Craig unselfishly allowed us to sample this wine more than once...lest we not be sure that we like it.

Blue residue from the Tintoria
As a bonafide Rhone wine connoisseur,  Syrah is also another favorite. Julietta winery does not disappoint with this palate puckering varietal. I'll avoid the over described fruit forward, smokey, yada, yada, yada, wine speak.  This wine was...Orgasmic! Yes, a bottle of this, a Teddy Pendergast CD and the outdoor fire pit...can you say, "Date Night!"
In the words of Teddy P., "Come here!"

Winemaker Brian Brown, formerly of Trefethan and Round Pond Wineries, and now at Onyx in Paso Robles, knows what he is doing when it comes to creating wine that Craig and Julie enjoy sharing with their guests. Because they are not winemaker themselves, they entrusted Brian to do his thing in the process, but he on the other hand, was more interested in creating what they enjoyed drinking and wanted to share with their guests. This made Craig a bit uneasy in the beginning, but he soon understood that winemaking is a visceral art form and that passion is one of the most important components in the formula. Brian was able to translate their passion for wine, life and sharing of their blessings through the creation of a selection of both red and white wines that are sure to impress the most astute wine drinker or the novice who just wants to enjoy a great day on the delta.

Speaking of Staggs Leap?

Craig samples, "The Cab!"
 Remember when I said that I was bored with California wine? Pulling out all of the stops, Craig allowed me on a second visit to sample their Staggs Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. This Napa Valley/Oakville/Saint Helena grown wine is 96 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 1/4 percent of a unknown to Craig white wine varietal. That quarter percent of something proves that Brian is a master at making red wine. It is not uncommon to add white grape varietal juice to red wine as most red grape varietals have white flesh. The skins are what give red wine its' color.
Drooling in anticipation, Craig produced the professionals choice for wine retrieval, a turkey baster, to draw a sample for me to taste. Sniffing, swirling and sniffing some more, the wine was beyond good from this standpoint. Now it was time to introduce it to my over saliva filled mouth. Boo Yeah!  Unbelievable, and indescribable! I was too engaged with my glass to get minor details such as when the wine will be ready, how much did they produce and what will the price point be. Call them and ask for yourselves, or better yet, visit! I'm still thinking about this amazing wine!

Click on label to enlarge
Another special wine, and quite nice to drink on any given day, is the red table blend aptly called, "Beverly's Legacy." The wine was named in honor of Craig's mother, Beverly. According to Craig, his mother enjoyed a popular Napa wine blend that inspired the creation of this wine. However, the most unique thing about the wine is the dual year marked on the label. This is a rarity, as the TTB (Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau) do not allow two vintage dates...or any date on a non-vintage wine label. Again, you will have to visit the winery to get the full story on this.

As I wrapped up my second visit, the Russell's  filled me in on future plans for the winery. A bocce ball court, dog park and small pond are in the works, and they plan to add a VIP tasting parlor to their nearby home.

For now, the warm, genuine hospitality, creative operational hours (Remember, date night?), outdoor fire pit, covered patio, large tasting room (Don't forget the careening water better known as "Duck Slough...bring a fishing pole. Just sayin') and excellent wine provide guests with enough reasons to make this new winery a destination worth visiting. I give this location three "slaps upside the head," and that's a good thing!

Julietta Winery, Get in there, Damn it! (Julie's words)

Until next time,

51221 Clarksburg Road Clarksburg, CA 95612. Tasting Room Open Thursday - Sunday, or by appointment. 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Date night for sure!