Wrap-Up: Gilroy Rambling

Gilroy was a great trip. Tom and Anne were great company and excellent guides. We really enjoyed being able to spend some time with them and to experience the scenic splendor that surrounds their stomping grounds. Thanks Tom and Anne!

Vines at Martin Ranch Winery
Vines at Martin Ranch Winery

Each winery we tasted at had its own distinct character and approach, but common among them was skill in balancing flavors in a way that allows each one to cooperate and share the spotlight rather than competing for it.

We enjoyed the social aspects at each winery, and we were happy to have had a range of experiences, from smaller, intimate spaces to bigger, more festive events. The various tasting room personnel and winemakers we spoke with were quite knowledgeable and eloquent, and we learned a great deal about wine, winemaking and some of the history of the Uvas Valley.

A view of hills across a pond
The moon rising over the pond at Martin Ranch Winery

The restrictions on hours of operation for some of the wineries makes it marginally more challenging to make Gilroy a wine-tasting destination, but it’s definitely worthwhile. If Gilroy isn’t on your list of places to go wine tasting, you should add it right now.

The one negative aspect was palate fatigue. That’s a problem we’ll need to solve. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave us a comment. Apart from that though, Gilroy was a wonderful trip.

Martin Ranch Winery: Gilroy Rambling part 3

Martin Ranch Winery
6675 Redwood Retreat Rd., Gilroy, CA (link to map)
Phone: 408-842-9197

Like many Gilroy-area wineries, Martin Ranch Winery is only open one weekend each month. Area residents had understandable concerns about potential congestion on Redwood Retreat Road. The downside is that it requires planning to visit for a tasting; the upside, if Saturday’s visit is any indication, is that every tasting weekend is like a big fiesta.

The festive crush pad at Martin Ranch Winery
The crush pad becomes a festive patio for the tasting days at Martin Ranch Winery.

Winemakers Dan and Thérèse Martin craft truly exceptional wines from both the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains appellations. They’re also warm and friendly, each very happy to talk to anyone that’s interested about their craft. We learned more about wine and winemaking from Dan in a half-hour of conversation than we have from several wine books. It’s no wonder they have such avid fans flocking to their winery.

With Dan and Thérèse Martin of Martin Ranch Winery
Us with Dan and Thérèse Martin (they're the good-looking ones).

Dan and Thérèse, who are married, each make their own wines for Martin Ranch Winery; tasting room staffer Matt joked that the couple have found that the key to a successful marriage is to each make wines that represent their individual styles. As a result, even the pickiest oenophile can find something to like. We’re wine fans rather than wine snobs, so we found a lot to love.

Unique Winery Offerings

In addition to their repertoire of delicious wines that Martin Ranch Winery normally sells, the winery also offers a Bottle-Your-Own day several times per year. The video below tells the story:

This event is entirely hands-on; wine fans go to the winery, put the wine into bottles, cork it, seal it and label it. Guests can even apply their own custom labels. The cost is $100/case, which breaks down to a little over $8 per bottle. We’ve tasted the wine, and it’s a great daily drinker, something I’d pay twice the price for. Alas, we’ll be out of town on February 13 and 14, when the next event is, but we’ve gotten a tip that there may be another over Memorial Day weekend.

The Wines

As part of the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries Passport Day celebration, Martin Ranch had nine wines available for tasting, as well as cask tastings of the above-mentioned bottle-your-own. Mike and I consulted our livers and decided we’d split the tasting.

2008 Thérèse Vineyards Grenache (Santa Clara Valley): Huzzah! With this tasting, we chalked up our third appellation. And what a way to do it! Winery staffer Kristina described the taste as “strawberry cream vanilla.” It’s an apt description, if the strawberries you have in mind are tart, new strawberries rather than super-ripe, sweet ones. This wine is very drinkable on its own, and would also go well with food.

’07 J.D. Hurley 2007 Merlot (Santa Clara Valley): Drinking this was like eating a steak in a deep wine marinade. Since I’m a vegetarian, this is the closest I’m likely to get to tasting an actual steak for the foreseeable future; with a few bottles of this I certainly won’t feel deprived!

2006 JD Hurley Cabernet (Santa Cruz Mountains/Santa Clara Valley blend): This wine smelled of chocolate and caramel. On the palate, it had dark chocolate notes with a hint of blackberry and a delicate oak finish. If this description makes me sound like a wine snob, let me sum it up for you in a less snobby way: yum!

2007 Thérèse Vineyards Lester Family Syrah: This is a cold-weather syrah that was described by winery staffer Matt as having “more pepper, less fruit.” I could have smelled it all day; it had an aroma of spiced caramel. When I commented on the scent, Matt said, “Thérèse has a very fine sense of smell,” and added that she focuses on the aromatic elements of the wine as much of the flavor. She clearly doesn’t lack focus on flavor, however; the taste lived up to the scent.

2007 Thérèse Vineyards Zinfandel (Amador County): This wine smelled of chocolate and prune juice. It had a rich zinfandel flavor, but with a surprising citrus hit that I don’t normally associate with zinfandel.

2007 Thérèse Vineyards Estate Cabernet Franc (Santa Cruz Mountains): Tom described this one as having a “perfumey kind of taste.” It was delicate, but without seeming thin, graceful like a ballet dancer pirouetting across the tongue rather than a football linebacker of a Cabernet Franc barrelling across the palate. Mike commented on tasting that “good balance seems to be the theme of the day.”

2007 J.D. Hurley Cabernet Sauvignon: Have you ever had one of those chocolates that’s covered by those little white balls of sugary candy? This smelled like that, and there was a hint of it in the flavor as well. It was sweeter and lighter than I’d expect in a cab, but very drinkable.

Petite Syrah: Alas, I got neither the vintage nor the winemaker on this one. I can say, however, that if there were ever a wine that would remind one of a really good cup of hot chocolate, this is it. It might go well with dark chocolate, in fact.

Behind the Curtain: Sangiovese Barrel Tasting

The barrels at Martin Ranch Winery

The barrel room at Martin Ranch Winery.

Tom grabbed our elbow and tugged us into the barrel room. Dan was going to give us a barrel taste of his new Sangiovese! While it may need a little more time in the barrel, it was raisin-y and delicious. We also learned a great deal from Dan about winemaking, which will hopefully be in a future post.

Fernwood Cellars: Gilroy Rambling Part 2

We started the day’s tasting in the elegant new tasting room at Fernwood Cellars. Redwood Retreat Road, where Fernwood Cellars is located, is quaint, serpentine and picturesque. It’s also quite narrow, a factor which has limited the times when many of the wineries there can open their tasting rooms to the general public. The Fernwood Cellars tasting room is open every third weekend of the month, from noon to 5:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Second generation winemaker Matt Oetinger started Fernwood Cellars on land that has been in his family for six generations. (Sadly, we didn’t get to meet him, as he had a family engagement that day.) While the property was once home to a “metaphysical resort,” it now evokes spirits of a more delicious kind.

An unassuming metal industrial building houses the tasting room. Upon entering the four of us were greeted with an interior that is elegant and comfortable, appointed with rich brown woods and a warm granite bar.The walls display framed historic photos of former buildings on the property such as the Victorian-era Redwood Retreat Hotel.

The room has a traditional feel, and it looked to be able to comfortably handle 10-12 people at a time (or more, if everyone knows each other). It also is conducive to meeting your fellow wine fans; while we were there we met a couple from Australia that had just moved to Aptos.

The tasting room staff was welcoming. Sheryl Cathers poured for us. She had the easygoing yet professional demeanor of someone with complete confidence in the wines she was pouring — and deservedly so. We were impressed with everything we tasted.

Fernwood Cellars - with Sheryl Cathers
Oh hey, there's Sheryl. In the middle.

The Wines

2008 Estate Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains): I really liked this Chardonnay. There was oak, but not too much. There was citrus, but not too much. And there was a nice finish of toasted sugar, which I really enjoy. Nikki said the flavor gave her a pleasant sensation of fizziness (although it is not a sparkling wine).  None of the several flavors dominated; instead this was a well-balanced, sociable wine that can be enjoyed alone or with food.

2008 Zinfandel (El Dorado*): “Balanced complexity” is a phrase that kept entering my mind as we progressed through the tasting menu (in fact, it became a recurring theme of the day). The El Dorado Zinfandel had hints of cherry and its acidity was appealing but again, it was just right, never too much. Oak provided a nice coda, with the tannins contributing some punctuation without being too assertive. I felt that the flavor progression was enveloped by a nice, faint lacquer aroma which to my palate evokes a sense of tradition.

2007 Mirepoix (Santa Cruz Mountains): Nikki’s notes say this was a Bordeaux blend. I was probably petting the tasting room dog when she was learning that. I enjoyed this wine but it was difficult for me to isolate flavors within it. I noticed a kind of earthy, ashy taste which I quite liked but I couldn’t really dial my taste buds in to the other flavor components. Nikki loved the Mirepoix and noted a soft oak finish.

2008 Syrah (Santa Cruz Mountains:) Wow. This is a new release, and Sheryl and the other tasting room personnel insisted this one should be cellared for 6-8 years before it reaches its potential. I have to say this is the most mature-tasting young wine I’ve ever sampled in my (admittedly rather short) wine tasting “career.” [The staff said they’d double-decanted the wine in the morning to make up for its lack of age. – Nikki] Given how impressive it is now I can only imagine what “full potential” even means with regard to this wine. But it looks like I’ll get to witness it myself – we brought a bottle home with us and put a duct-tape note on it that says “Do not open until 2017.” It was a little spicy with just perfect tannins and earth writing the final chapter. It was deep and velvety, and Nikki {the vegetarian, ahem – N.] described it as “meaty.”

2007 Cabarnet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains): Nikki and I both noted this as a 2008 vintage, but I’m pretty sure after some Internet research that it was a 2007. A gold medal winner in the San Francisco Chronicle’s 2011 Wine Competition, this Cab had a velvety, dark character with tannins that seemed to evolve while it was on my tongue. A little more alcohol on the nose made me expect something aggressive, but as with all of Fernwood’s offerings the flavors were expertly balanced.

Fernwood Cellars produces distinctive wines with well-balanced, harmonious complexity. Matt Oetinger and his staff should be quite pleased with their accomplishments. I know we were.

* For those filling out their Appellation Trail Scorecards at home, the El Dorado Zinfandel doesn’t count toward our appellation total because the tasting room is too far away from the actual appellation.

Gilroy Rambling

My friend Tom Hepner, whom I met during The Foreigner at The Western Stage, had spoken glowingly about the great wineries in his neighborhood in Gilroy. If Gilroy sounds familiar, perhaps you know it as Garlic City.  

Gilroy is the nation’s top grower of garlic; for much of the year you can tell when you’re nearing Gilroy on the 101 by the smell. It also hosts one of the nation’s largest food festivals, the Gilroy Garlic Festival. It’s known by those driving up and down the 101 as either the home to the Gilroy Premium Outlet Mall or the location of the only In ‘n Out between Salinas and San Jose.  

The town is named after early settler John Gilroy. He was a scurvy-ridden Scottish sailor who converted to Catholicism, journeyed from Monterey to the area and was the first non-Spanish settler legally recognized by the Spanish crown.  

Before Tom mentioned it, it had never occurred to me that there might be grapes in them thar hills. I know, I should expect winemaking to be happening everywhere. Haven’t I learned anything while living in California?!?  

With our hosts, Anne and Tom Hepner
With our hosts, Anne and Tom Hepner. For once, Mike's the one who shut his eyes when the shutter clicked.

We made a date to visit Tom and his wife Anne and visit some of Tom’s favorite vintners in the gorgeous, verdant rolling hills where they live.  

The wineries in Tom and Anne’s neighborhood (seriously, there’s a vineyard right across the street from their property!) sit right on the border between the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation and the Santa Clara appellation. Winemaker Dan Martin of Martin Ranch Winery told us that the placement of the boundary between the appellations on and adjacent to his vineyards is due to the change in elevation.  

A vineyard in afternoon sun
Everywhere you look it's gorgeous views!

All Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards must be at a minimum altitude of 800 feet on the east side of the mountains and 400 feet on the west side of the mountains, according to documents on the Viticultural Association of Santa Cruz Mountains website. The VASCM says these borders were established to follow the fog line and that the appellation was one of the first to be defined by its topography.  

First to cover some non-wine issues: The countryside surrounding Gilroy is really beautiful! The vistas are stunning, and the drive up the gently winding, narrow road to the places we went is filled with beautiful scenery. We drove through a stretch that looked like a cathedral of oak trees, their trunks arcing gracefully over the road (by the time I thought to take a picture the light wasn’t good, but check out the background image at Fernwood Cellars’ website). The area is lush and green, with the occasional stand of palm trees reminding one that this is in fact California.  

A row of palm trees at Jason-Stephens Winery in Gilroy
A row of palm trees at Jason-Stephens Winery in Gilroy

It was great to spend the afternoon with Tom and Anne, and we were reminded again that while tasting wonderful, small-lot artisan wines is a pleasure all of its own, the real treasure of this activity — and of our Appellation Trail project — is social. Spending time relaxing with friends in beautiful settings and making new friends is really the point of the whole endeavor. We couldn’t be happier with how that’s working out.  

There are a lot of wineries we didn’t get to on this trip, but we’ll gladly visit Gilroy again.

Poetic Cellars: Santa Cruz Mountains part 4

Poetic Cellars
5000 N. Rodeo Gulch Road, Soquel, CA, 95073 (link to map)
Phone: 831-462-3478

The drive to Poetic Cellars, another winery on the great Summit To Sea Wine Trail, is along twisty roads through beautiful (and during our visit, rain-laden) redwoods. Your GPS won’t help you out here; you’ve reached a Land Without Mobile Reception. Fortunately, the staff at Poetic have signs posted along the way to help you find their winery.

When we arrived at Poetic Cellars, we met some friendly fellow wine tasters who we’d previously seen at Burrell School. Unlike us, they’ve done a thorough investigation of most of the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. They encouraged us to make our way over to Los Gatos and Saratoga. So much good wine, so little time!

We didn’t know until we visited Poetic Cellars’ website today that our wine was poured by winemaker Katy Lovell herself! Her son also poured some of our wine.

The Wines

2008 Livermore Viognier: It smells like nectar and tastes like fruit blossoms and perfumes. (Okay, I admit it — I’m a sucker for Viognier.) Mike noted a grapefruit hit at the end.

2006 Livermore Mouvedre: Dark chocolate and oak in the nose. Very astringent finish. Mike liked this a lot, noting a smoky flavor that was quite appealing.

2007 Merlot: Smells delightfully of chocolate and honey. Tastes like toffee and plum skins. Rich and absolutely delicious.

2006 Stanza Vineyard Syrah: Full of cherries. It had a tasty ash overtone, like Humboldt Fog cheese. It made me wonder if the vineyard had been in an area near one of the California wildfires.

Chant Royale: Gosh, I wish I hadn’t hit palate fatigue right as she pulled out this port-style wine! This sweet, cherry-filled wine would be perfect under most circumstances, but my dead tongue was overwhelmed by alcohol.

Poetic Cellars

From left to right: winemaker Katy Lovell, one of our wine tasting buddies, Mike Rainey, Nikki Gustas, and another wine tasting pal.

After the tasting, Mike stopped to admire the view from the parking lot.

On the drive home, Mike noted that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the wine tasting experience is that you meet great people along the way. We were lucky enough to strike up conversations with two separate great groups of people, and also got wonderful information on wineries around the country to visit from the tasting room staffs that we met.

On our ride home, we saw a rainbow above Highway One. Mike would call it a weather pattern. I like to think of it as a good omen for our Appellation Trail project.

Loma Prieta Winery: Santa Cruz Mountains Part 3

As we drove up the hill to Loma Prieta Winery, another winery on the Summit to Sea Wine Trail, the road got narrower and windier. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any tighter, we saw a sign. “Road narrows.”

“What, are we going down to a half-lane?” I gasped.

The roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains perform their own sobriety checks, kids, and the penalty for going over the limit is going offroad, and potentially down a pretty steep and long Thelma-and-Louise kind of drop.

The rewards, however, are the views, and there is no view more stunning than that from Loma Prieta Winery. Or, at least, we assume the view is stunning.

It’s pretty high up there, and from the clouds beneath us we could tell there were a couple of big valleys on either side. However, note that bit about the clouds? On a clear day you can see straight to Monterey Bay. This was not one of those days.

Regardless, I still wanted to run up to the tasting room spreading my arms and singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music!” And I don’t even like that movie.

The entrance to Loma Prieta Winery

The winemaker’s home is next to the tasting room, requiring prominent signage to keep confused wine lovers from stumbling into the living room.

We ran into several friendly people on our way in who recommended that we visit David Bruce Winery and try the pinot. We didn’t get there Sunday, but we swear, it’s on our list!

The tasting room staff is backed up by one friendly and non-threatening dog. I am frankly terrified of most dogs both large and small, and even I would have been happy to pet this one. That is, if I weren’t so allergic that it would have rendered me incapable of tasting!

The Wines

2009 Lodi Viognier: This wine tastes like Chanel No. 5 smells. (Thank goodness Chanel No. 5 doesn’t taste like it smells, or I’d have a very expensive perfume habit.) There was a floral element and a hint of vanilla. In my tasting notes I wrote, “Flowers and butterflies.” What can I say? This swept me away.

2008 Pinot Noir: The fruit for this Santa Cruz Mountain wine was grown in Aptos. The smell was a mix of cherries, chocolate, pepper and wood, while on the palate it was a smooth balance of cherries and alcohol.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: This Gilroy-grown wine starts with a little bit of berries, but has a fascinating cinnamon finish, so much so that I kept sipping to make sure it was really there. The tasting room manager brought out some chocolate, encouraging us to sample it and see how it changed the flavor of the wine. The chocolate made the berries deeper and the finish sharper.

2008 Amorosa Vineyard Lodi Pinotage: Pinotage is a grape that is not well-known around these parts, but Loma Prieta has committed to giving it a place at the table, so to speak. The smell is silky with notes of chocolate, gasoline, and wet asphalt. The taste is chocolatey, like having your tongue wrapped in a warm blanket. Someone else described it as “like a really aged zin.” The finish is unusual and very hard to describe. It’s angular, like having the pointy tip of a triangle land on your tongue. Reading it in my notes makes me remember exactly what that tasted like, but dang if I can express it any more skillfully.

Port: Mike described this as having a “chocolate covered caramel scent.” To me, it smelled like toffee, chocolate and blackberries. From what the tasting room manager said, it’s excellent as a glaze for duck (something a vegetarian like me is unlikely to make use of, but things change!) Mike thought it tasted like a chocolate covered cherry, while I felt it was more like candy and chocolate mixed together.

Mike and Nikki outside Loma Prieta

Mike and Nikki in front of the Loma Prieta Winery. The sound of the shutter once again made Nikki blink!

Regale Winery: Santa Cruz Mountains Part 2

Regale Winery and Vineyards
24040 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA (map link)

Regale Winery is beautifully sited on a hillside looking out toward Santa Cruz. On a clear day, the view must be breathtaking. Heck, the valley was thick with fog and it was still gorgeous when we visited.

Regale Winery

It’s a photo of Nikki taking a photo of the Regale gates! How meta!

The grounds are very thoughtfully laid out; it’s clear the owners were focused on the tasting room as an event venue just as much as a spot at which to taste wine. They certainly put one in the mood for love, as you can see from this photo of Mike.

Mike plights his troth to Regale's statue

Mike plights his troth to a Regale statue.

Regale Winery is located right next to Burrell School Winery, but was mysteriously not included in the Summit to Sea Wine Trail. The reason became clear when we got a look at their tasting list; not one of these wines is made from Santa Cruz Mountains grapes.

We were thrown off our stride by the tasting fee. In Monterey County, we’re used to a $5 ceiling on our tastings, so it shocked our little wine-loving wallet to pay $10 apiece at Regale. But the staff was warm and friendly, so how could we say no?

The Wines

2008 Russan River Valley Sauvignon Blanc: This wine was a disappointing start, thin and tasting more of oak than of citrus.

2006 Central Coast Chardonnay: Now we’re getting somewhere. This chard was a little nugget of butter wrapped in a warm, fuzzy swaddling cloth of oak. A little more fruit up front and it would be perfect!

2007 Pinot Noir, O’Neel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: Soft and drinkable. Like warm velvet on my tongue.

2007 Napa Valley Sangiovese: Oh no! I think my palate just died! All I could taste was woody bitterness, as if someone had juiced some acorns and served it to me in a glass. I ambled off to sample some of their divine bread and olive oil (sadly, neither was for sale).

2007 El Dorado County Barbera: This is a berry wrapped in several layers of grape skin. There was a dry texturalness to this wine.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: Chocolate and berry skins.

Finale: Their desert wine is made from zinfandel grapes and fortified with an everclear-type alcohol the winemaker made from wine grapes, giving this a pure grape flavor. It’s like drinking a dark chocolate with a zinfandel filling. Good, but a strong alcohol finish at the back of the palate.

Posing with Regale's tasting staff

We pose with our friendly tasting room pourer. No, Nikki’s not drunk; the sound of the shutter clicking just makes her blink.

The Central Coast AVA tasting made this our second appellation covered in this day. (For why the other wines didn’t count toward our total, see The Rules.)

Burrell School: Santa Cruz Mountains part 1

Burrell School Vineyards & Winery
24060 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA (map link)

We decided to hit the ground running — or, more to the point, drinking — on January 2 with a trip to a nearby wine destination we’d yet to explore, the Santa Cruz Mountains. These wineries are an easy drive both from our hometown, Monterey, and from Silicon Valley. Plus, it’s an area that’s easy on the eyes, making it a perfect Sunday outing.

As soon as we made that decision, I hit the web for some ideas as to where to go. My first stop was the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association website. I immediately felt at home there due to its striking resemblance to the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association website, a site where I spend a not-insignificant amount of time.

I browsed their listings and immediately latched onto Burrell School Vineyards and Winery. A winery? Located in a historic schoolhouse? Which has the slogan “I promise to sip my wine. I promise to sip my wine” written in chalk across their website? My little former-15-year-old truant heart (ssssh! Don’t tell Mom!) filled with glee.

Another big plus was the big “Location” button on the website. Do you have any idea how many wineries list every bit of data about their tasting room on their “Tasting Room” page, except its location? It’s as if the location of many wineries is a closely guarded secret.

Tip #1 to Winemakers: If you want people to visit, make sure you list your address on the “Tasting Room” or “Location” page!

Fortunately, Burrell School had already taken this tip to heart. They became the axis around which I planned our first Appellation Trail trip. (They even had a link on their site to the Summit to Sea Wine Trail, which became our roadmap for the day’s tastings.)

Burrell School Vineyards and Winery

We took a back road to Burrell School, driving up (and up, and up) Soquel-San Jose Road to Summit Road. The drive, through misty redwoods, was breathtaking.

The turn onto Burrell School’s driveway, however, was a sphincter-clenching hairpin turn. Note to others visiting: come up Summit from Hwy. 17 – you’ll be happier.

Burrell School

The front of Burrell School Vineyards & Winery. Tasting is done in an adjacent building that once was a carriage house.

The Tasting Room Theme: A+

Burrell School gets an A+ for follow-through on their theme. Tasting information is written on chalkboards around the tasting room. Small wood-framed slates (about the size of an iPad) sit next to each bottle of wine on the roster, each with chalk notes about the vintage. Even the wine names follow the theme, with sobriquets such as “Principal’s Choice” Pinot Noir and “Detention Red” Zinfandel (a name that absolutely appeals to a rebellious zin lover such as myself).

Burrell School Vineyards and Winery

The whimsical school theme touches every aspect of this winery.

If the theme was playful, the tasting staff was all business. They’re serious about wine, and it shows. The couple who staffed the wine tasting bar (sadly, I do not remember either of their names, but I do remember she’s born on February 3 and he’s just a couple of days away from that) were very focused. He was kind enough to give me tips on several wine apps for my brand-new Android phone.

The Wines

If Burrell School’s wines were being portrayed by an actor, they’d be portrayed by the legendary Brian Blessed. As you drank the wines, you’d hear him say, “My friend! I have been FERMENTED in OAK! Feel my OAKINESS EXPLODE upon your TONGUE!” If you love oak, this is your place.

2007 “Teacher’s Pet” Chardonnay: I found this wine to be oaky, with some butter up front, but in the end more astringent than I wanted. For me, this wine would be perfect with a thicker layer of fruit in the middle. Mike found it more lively than many other chardonnays though, and liked it for this reason.

2006 “Principal’s Choice” Estate Pinot Noir: Yummy and full of cherries, again with a strong oak finish.

2006 “Dean’s List” Cabernet Sauvignon: Smelled deliciously of chocolate and raw wood. The oak was up front on tasting, the fruit a very mild-mannered presence underneath.

2007 “Honor Roll” Estate Reserve Merlot: There’s a smell that certain wines get that make me want to wear them as perfume for a sultry night out. This is one of those wines. It was loaded with berries and had a hard oak finish, almost as if the wine were slamming the door on my palate.

2006 “Detention Red” Zinfandel: A name after a girl’s heart. Sweet cherries at the front, hard oak at the back. This wine was the lone Amador County wine in a tasting full of Santa Cruz Mountain appellation wines.

2007 “Spring Break” Syrah: Gorgeous smell; the taste was like having Brian Blessed do a little “Oak! Oak! Oak!” dance on my tongue.

Late harvest “Chaperone” Chardonnay: There’s a particular note in the smell of skunk that I actually like. It’s pretty buried and I’m not sure anyone out there can smell it but me. But this wine had a hint of that, and I consider that a positive. Syrupy but not overwhelming, like Semillon without the saffron finish.

Late harvest “Probation” Zinfandel: The scent was full of tobacco and leather, absolutely delectable. The flavor was sweet, tart and complex, with a hint of leather. If Burrell School’s other wines are Brian Blessed, this wine is Brian Blessed as a biker in Easy Rider. (I know, I’m reaching…but I’m committed to this metaphor, darn it!) Mike thought that this wine would be one to reach for on a cold, blustery night while wrapped in a blanket listening to the weather.

“Deportment” Zinfandel port: This wine seduced me with its name, and the flavor finished the job. If you made a Zinfandel Jolly Rancher, it would take like this. I like both Zinfandel and Jolly Ranchers, so I’m a big-time fan.

Burrell School Vineyards and Winery

Burrell School Winery is just one of the wines on the Summit to Sea Wine Trail. The trail is worth seeing both for the wines and the views!