Notes from the third annual WINeFare tasting in San Francisco – March 7th, 2020

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Ken Zinns
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Notes from the third annual WINeFare tasting in San Francisco – March 7th, 2020

#1 Post by Ken Zinns » March 16th, 2020, 7:49 am

Third Annual WINeFare – March 7th, 2020

I attended the recent WINeFare wine tasting in San Francisco, and wrote a report for the Grape-Nutz.com website. An abbreviated version of the report is below – there are lots more photos plus tasting impressions from nearly 25 wineries and importer/distributors here: Third Annual WINeFare – March 7, 2020

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Report on the 3rd annual WINeFare wine tasting, held on Saturday March 7th, 2020 at The Women’s Building in San Francisco, California. The focus of the event is on women in the natural wine movement.

WINeFare – the name stands for Women in Natural Wine – was founded in 2018 by Pamela Busch. Pamela is a longtime wine industry veteran. In 1994 she opened Hayes and Vine, one of San Francisco’s first wine bars, and in 2005 she opened CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen, one of the first natural wine venues in the Bay Area. She’s taught at several wine schools, written about wine, and currently runs The Vinguard website. In conjunction with her work in wine, she has long been an advocate for equity and social justice, and the combination of these interests is the primary focus of WINeFare.

Pamela heads up the steering committee that organized this year’s WINeFare – the other committee members are Haley Bash, Ailis Peplau, and Sherry Zhong. The theme for this year’s event was transparency, or “Drinking Clearly.” Part of this is their Wine Industry Equity Pledge / Code of Conduct – while it’s too long to include here, it can be seen in its entirety on the WINeFare website. Wine-related businesses are encouraged to sign onto the Equity Pledge / Code of Conduct, and so far that growing list includes over 60 businesses.

Proceeds for each of the previous two WINeFare events went toward various organizations, mainly ones helping women and children in need. Tickets were sold out for this year’s WINeFare 2020: Drinking Clearly event, and over $8,000 was raised for the Immigration Center for Women and Children. In addition, the silent auction that was held during the tasting raised nearly $3,000 toward a documentary that Pamela is working on about women who have helped to pioneer and shape the natural wine movement.


General Impressions

Schedule conflicts prevented me from attending either of the first two WINeFare events, so I was glad to be able to make it to this one. Appropriately, the tasting was held on the weekend of this year’s International Women’s Day. The Women’s Building – a well-known landmark in San Francisco’s Mission District – was a new venue for the event this year, and I thought it was a good choice. It’s easy to reach via public transit – I took BART there – and the space was a comfortable size for the number of producers and importers/distributors (about 30) and attendees (I heard that this was around 200). The bright and airy room never felt too crowded or got too warm. The event staff and volunteer helpers ensured that everything ran very smoothly – check-in was quick and easy, there were spit cups provided, and each table had water and dump buckets that were filled or emptied regularly.

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WINeFare Steering Committee: Ailis Peplau, Haley Bash, Sherry Zhong, Pamela Busch


I was able to taste with 24 producers and importers/distributors at WINeFare, missing only a handful of those who poured there. With limited time to taste, I didn’t try every wine at each table, and this was particularly true at the importer/distributor tables. It should be noted that the wines listed in my notes below are by no means the only ones I tasted, but I felt that these were the highlights at each table. Producers ranged from some fairly well-established ones to newer ones that have received well-deserved positive press, to little-known – and some brand-new – wineries. About half of the wines at the event were from California, and there were producers from Oregon, Vermont, and Maryland as well as from France and Argentina. Importers poured wines that included those from France, Italy, Austria, and Georgia.

When I looked at my notes after the tasting, I couldn’t help but notice a few descriptors I’d jotted down for a number of wines – “fresh”, “fun”, and “vibrant” were some of them. This event featured a very well-chosen group of producers, and I think those wine qualities really shone throughout the wines at the tasting. There were quite a few sparkling wines being poured, both Pétillant Naturel (often shortened to Pét-Nat, and also known as ancestral method or méthode ancestrale) and traditional method (as in méthode champenoise). A few of these were interesting grape/apple co-ferments – not quite wine and not quite cider but very distinctive. White wines that underwent some degree of skin contact – ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of months – were also on display. Overall I really enjoyed these – they were not as heavily “phenolic” as some orange wines I’ve had in the past, and showed a nice balance between freshness and skin-contact complexity. I also tasted a couple of blends of both red and white grape varieties, a trend that seems to be on an upswing and can produce some intriguing wines that can be somewhere between a rosé and a light red.

There were little more than a half-dozen producers on hand whose wines I’d tasted before, so this was a great opportunity to learn about many wineries that were new to me. Among my “discoveries” were Champagne Lelarge Pugeot, Domaine de Sérol (from Floraison Selections), Lula, Margins, Statera, Stella Crinita, Unturned Stone, and Zafa. While I’d heard of several of these producers before, this was my first time tasting their wines. Nearly all of the wineries I was already familiar with poured standout wines – Donkey & Goat, J. Brix, Martha Stoumen, Solminer, Tessier, and Two Shepherds. It was tough to pick out wines for my “Favorites” list for this tasting since there were a number of others that were tempting to add, but I had to stop somewhere.

The WINeFare tasting did a great job of showcasing the skill, creativity, and enthusiasm of women in the natural wine movement. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed discovering so many producers and wines that were new to me. I felt the wines were high quality overall, and more consistent across the board than at some other natural wine tastings I’ve attended. The tasting reinforced my feeling that natural wine should no longer be looked at as a niche market. The best natural wines – including many poured at WINeFare – have a deservedly growing place in the overall wine world. WINeFare as an organization certainly goes far beyond just tasting wines that women in natural wine have produced, but this event is a key part of it and I look forward to attending again next year.

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Favorites

Sparkling and Still Whites and Rosés
Champagne Lelarge Pugeot 2013 “Rosé de Saignée”
Domaine de la Chevalerie 2014 Bourgueil “Chevalerie”
Domaine de Sulauze 2017 “Galinette” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (Floraison)
J. Brix 2019 “Nomine Amoris” Skin-contact Pinot Gris
Margins 2018 Skin-fermented Chenin Blanc
Statera 2016 Belle Pente Vineyard Chardonnay
Judith Beck 2017 “Bambule!” Welschriesling (Sylvester/Rovine)
Two Shepherds 2019 Vermentino
Two Shepherds 2019 Skin-fermented Pinot Gris “Ramato”
Unturned Stone 2018 “Firebird” Vecino Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Yamakiri “Sin Eater” NV Pét-Nat
Zafa 2018 “Word Is Born”

Sparkling and Still Reds
Amplify 2019 “Mixtape Red”
Donkey & Goat 2019 “Twinkle” Mourvèdre
Domaine de Sérol 2017 “Oudan” Côte Roannaise (Floraison)
Domaine de Sérol “2018 Turbullent” Côte Roannaise (Floraison)
Lula 2019 “State Flower” Valdiguié
Martha Stoumen 2017 Venturi Vineyard Carignan
Solminer 2019 Coquelicot Vineyard Carbonic Syrah
Stella Crinita 2019 “Omaggio” Pét-Nat Cabernet Franc
Tessier 2018 Alegría Vineyard Cabernet Franc
Tessier 2016 Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noir
Unturned Stone 2015 “Spider Chase” Waterhorse Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon

Others of Note
Bodega y Viñedos Catena 2017 “La Marchigiana” Criolla Chica
Champagne Lelarge Pugeot NV “Bises”
Minimus 2018 Johan Vineyard Blaufränkisch (Craft)
Donkey & Goat 2019 “Isabel’s Cuvée” Gibson Ranch Grenache Rosé
Loop de Loop 2018 Four Winds Pinot Noir (Indie)
J. Brix 2019 “Uncontainable” Hagata Vineyard Rosé of Cinsaut
Calcarius 2018 “Roz” (Jenny & François)
Julie et Toby Bainbridge 2018 “Cuvée Highway 8”
Margins 2019 Rosé
Martha Stoumen 2018 “Honeymoon”
Old Westminster 2018 “Terracotta” Libertas Vineyard Pinot Gris
Solminer 2019 Coquelicot Vineyard Méthode Ancestrale Sparkling Riesling
Statera 2019 Chardonnay Pétillant Naturel
Stella Crinita 2019 “Omaggio” Pét-Nat Viognier
Zafa 2018 “Before Sunrise”


Selected Tasting Impressions
I’m posting selected tasting impressions here from just a few of the producers whose wines I tasted at the WINeFare event – notes on all 24 wineries and importers/distributors I tasted with are in the full Grape-Nutz.com report. I’d like to focus below on the producers that were completely new to me at this tasting and whose wines particularly impressed me.

Champagne Lelarge Pugeot
Clémence Lelarge represents the eighth generation of winegrowers in her family, a story that started in 1799. Their vineyard, in Champagne’s Premier Cru village of Vrigny, is planted mainly to Pinot Meunier, and many of the vines there are 40-50 years old. The 2012 “Les Meuniers de Clémence,” from 100% Pinot Meunier, featured apple / pear aromas plus yeasty and stony mineral notes, with fresh acidity and a dry finish. The 2013 “Rosé de Saignée,” from 60% Pinot Meunier and 40% Pinot Noir, was made with 32 hours of skin contact – this had subtle red fruit and earth aromas, a very lively mouthfeel and a crisp, dry finish. The NV “Bises” is 100% Chardonnay, made with a dosage from local honey. More intense pear and stone fruit aromas with distinct honey undertones, a bit richer texture than the other wines but retaining a fresh, clean finish.

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Floraison Selections
Based in California, Floraison Selections was founded in 2017 by Nadia Dmytriw. Importers and distributors, they represent nearly entirely French producers. This table was my last stop of the tasting, and it was a good one, with several standouts. The Domaine de Sulauze 2017 “Galinette” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is a blend of 70% Grenache Blanc plus 10% each Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and Vermentino. Bright stone fruit with touches of citrus, flowers, and stony minerals, this had lively acidity combined with good texture and a fresh finish. The Domaine de Sérol 2017 “Oudan” Côte Roannaise is Gamay from 25-year old vines on granite soil, fermented with 60% whole clusters. Bright, tangy, and minerally, this was more intense than many Gamays, with medium weight and plenty of structure. My final wine was the Domaine de Sérol “2018 Turbullent” Côte Roannaise – a sparkling Gamay rosé made by méthode ancestrale. Raspberry and tangerine aromas with a slightly chalky mineral note, this had zippy acidity to balance some noticeable residual sugar – a fun wine to finish the day!

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Nadia Dmytriw of Floraison Selections


Lula
Lula is a brand-new label, and the wines are made in Richmond, California. Owner/winemaker Megan Sekermestrovich was on hand to pour her debut release. With fruit sourced from an organically-farmed Mendocino County vineyard, the 2019 “State Flower” Valdiguié was made with carbonic maceration and bottled with no added sulfur – floral aromas with fresh plummy fruit, herbs, juicy acidity, and light tannins. A nice debut and a fun wine!

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Margins Wine
Owner/winemaker Megan Bell launched her label in 2016, after working in wineries and vineyards in California, Oregon, New Zealand and the Loire Valley. She makes her wines at a shared facility in southern Santa Cruz County, and her focus is on “underrepresented regions, vineyards, and varietals.” Megan started off with the 2019 Massa Vineyard Chenin Blanc from Carmel Valley, made in stainless steel – this had bright citrus and green apple fruit and zippy acidity. In contrast, the 2018 Skin-fermented Chenin Blanc from Clarksburg – the fruit spent a full month on the skins – was savory, with pear and spice notes, with a more textured mouthfeel. The 2019 Rosé, from 53% Merlot and 47% Barbera from two Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards, featured red fruit aromas with fine acidity and a fresh finish.

Statera Cellars
Statera is the project of friends and co-winemakers Meredith Bell and Luke Wylde, and they focus exclusively on Chardonnay from Willamette Valley and nearby Oregon growing regions. They established their label in 2014, and Meredith poured three Statera wines at the event – all were very good and two were particular favorites. The 2019 Chardonnay Pétillant Naturel had bright stone fruit aromas with floral undertones and a refreshing mouthfeel and finish. The 2016 Belle Pente Vineyard Chardonnay featured pear and stone fruit, herbs, and a stony mineral character on the nose with a moderately rich texture balanced by fine acidity and a clean finish.

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Meredith Bell of Statera Cellars and Craft Wine Company


Stella Crinita
From the Mendoza region, Stella Crinita is considered one the pioneers of natural wine in Argentina. Their vineyard, at over 3,000-foot elevation, has been Demeter-certified since 2012. The 2019 “Omaggio” Pét-Nat Viognier, which was made with some skin contact, displayed floral notes along with tropical fruit, fine bubbles, and a clean finish. The 2019 “Omaggio” Pét-Nat Cabernet Franc was another bright and lively wine, with red fruit and raspberry aromas plus herbal and floral undertones. A still wine, the 2019 “Amici Miei” is co-fermented Malbec and Syrah, made mostly in concrete. This had plummy fruit with savory and spicy elements, and good structure.

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Unturned Stone Productions
Unturned Stone was launched in 2010 by Erin Mitchell and Randy Czech. They make their wine in Windsor, and they focus on vineyard sources in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. Their 2018 “Firebird” Vecino Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Potter Valley in Mendocino was left in barrel to develop a protective flor yeast and bottled with no added sulfur – this had savory and earthy pear and citrus aromas, very distinctive. The 2015 “Spider Chase” Waterhorse Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Fort Ross-Seaview appellation on the West Sonoma Coast, showed a brighter, livelier side of this variety, with black cherry and currant fruit, fine acidity, and fine tannins.

Zafa Wines
Although she grew up in California with a family connection to farming, Zafa owner/winemaker Krista Scruggs makes her wine and cider in Vermont, where she’s also farming a vineyard. The grape varieties she uses are hybrids rarely if ever seen in California. The wines she poured at the event were all sparkling, using the traditional method, and some made from a combination of grapes and apples. The 2018 “Word Is Born” was made from 50% Frontenac Blanc grapes and 50% from five varieties of apples – definitely an apple-like aroma to this, very fresh and clean. Krista brought a preview of her 2019 “Mea Culpa”, made from Frontenac Blanc and Frontenac Gris grapes, apples, and maple syrup – like a few other wines during the afternoon tasting, I neglected to write anything about this one in my notebook but marked there that I liked it! The 2018 “Before Sunrise,” from 88% Frontenac Noir and 12% La Crescent grape varieties, was floral, grapey, and quite pleasant.

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Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines
ITB, Harrington Wines & Eno Wines, and Grape-Nutz.com

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