TNs: Notes and Impressions from Family Winemakers Pasadena-Mayacamas,Corison,Littorai,Calera...

I look forward to this even every year. It is nice to get to talk to wineries of smaller production all in one location and see how their current wines are looking. My only regret is there is too many wineries to try and not enough time. Four hours is a good length but I am only human. The other regret is that I tend to mostly visit people and wineries I know versus trying new faces. It is difficult to find that balance at this event as well as many others.

There was a good mix of classic wineries, new faces and modern stand by’s. I think I only got to three tables for whites before I gave in to my craving for all the reds I was looking at. A couple more stops forced me to try their whites even though I was suffering from a coating of tannin. I appreciated the variety of styles and approaches present. The mix of varieties was also welcome.

I’ll resist trying to make any generalities about vintages since I tried so many kinds of wines. I also saw variety among wineries within vintages. For instance, all three Pinots Calera poured were from 2009 but were very different in character. Lots of very good wines actually. The following list is in no particular order but they all stood out to me.

A few highlights:
09 Black Sears Zin
09 Calera Ryan Pinot
06 Corison Kronos…and the 05
07 Darms Lane Hillside Cab
10 Dragonette Happy Canyon S. Blanc
09 JC Cellars St Peter’s Church Zin
09 La Jota Cab F & Cab S
11 Liquid Farm Rose
09 Littorai Cerise Pinot
10 Mayacamas Sauv Blanc
07 Mayacamas Merlot
06 Saddleback Cab
09 SC Mtns Petit Sirah
10 SC Mtns Grenache
10 Tercero whites and rose
09 Wallis Family Cab

Arrowood - Haven’t tried their wines in some time.
2008 Sonoma Cabernet – Restrained yet rich fruit showing some extraction. Tannic.
2003 Reserve Cabernet – Touch of brett. Tight and restrained. Very tannic.

Black Sears -
2006 Zinfandel – Ripe fruit but a clean, lean Zin character. Stony.
2009 Zinfandel – Lean feeling again. Lots of peppery notes with freshness.
2008 Red Wine – 50/50 Cab S/Cab Franc. Light in character and juicy.
2009 Cabernet – Bit green and woody. The green character was reminiscent of stems in a Pinot or Syrah.

Calera – Nice to try these next to each. Very different from one another
2009 de Villieres Pinot – Ripe with some VA. Very nice acidity.
2009 Ryan Pinot – Rocky and stony. Tannic. Excellent structure.
2009 Mills Pinot – Tight and lean. Showing a lot of whole cluster character where the Ryan did not.

Corison – Another classic winery. Very nice of them to pour a small vertical of the Kronos Cab. All three were good in their own way. The 05 and 06 need more bottle time.
2006 Napa Cabernet – Richer, softer and sweeter than its brethren.
2004 Kronos Cabernet – Juicy profile with classic flavors.
2005 Kronos Cabernet – Denser and more concentrated than the 04. Perfumed chocolate notes. In need of time.
2006 Kronos Cabernet – This was wrapped up and tight. Lean feeling. Fresh with notes of pepper.

Darms Lane – Nice people here. Some new editions to the lineup including a block select from their estate vineyard. They will donate $25 per bottle from purchases of this wine to cancer research. The wine is a big step up from their regular Cab which is always solid.
2010 Dutton Ranch Pinot – Dark fruited with a bit of a bite.
2008 Cabernet – Rich and fairly modern in style. Chocolate notes. A touch of heat.
2007 Linda’s Hillside Cabernet – Driving structure lead of strong tannins. Narrower in feel than the regular Cab. Showed a bit tight but this has excellent potential.

Dragonette – I like their program. They seem to like to tinker and Brandon is a great guy.
2010 Rose -70/25/5 – Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah. Farmed exclusively for the rose. Sweet florals and candy like notes. Bright acids.
2010 Santa Ynez Valley Sauv Blanc – 60/40 Steel/Neutral wood. Very grassy with notes of cat pee.
2010 Happy Canyon Sauv Blanc – All neutral wood and barrel select. Nice clean mineral notes. Hints of wood. Tight.
2010 SRH Pinot – Little bit round and richly fruited. Classic SRH nose.
2009 Seven Syrah – Richly fruited with notes of roasted meats. Very tannic.

Herb Lamb – Good to see both of them at the event
2009 HL Cabernet – Classic Cab notes on the nose with a touch of green. The is on the soft side dropping off from the promise of the nose.

JC Cellars – Jeff is putting his name on the label now. Looks like he is tinkering more than ever. I like to see that they are using cement and foudres.
2009 The First Date – 75/25 Roussanne/Marsanne. 40% new wood. 50% in cement eggs. Rich and a bit short.
2009 Imposter – Field blend with 65% Zin. Made in foudres. Focused Zin like nose. Dense fruit with plenty of tannin. Has the heft and breadth the blends exhibit versus straight Zin.
2009 Sweetwater Springs Zinfandel – 65% in cement. Rest in new wood. Dense fruit again but ripe and a bit hot.
2009 St Peter’s Church Zinfandel – Old vine field blend. Has that classic old field blend Zin character. Very nice.

La Jota – I like what they do here. Both the Cab F and Cab S were notable.
2009 Cab Franc – Nicely classic in character. Dusty and earthy with notes of tobacco. Plenty of tannin.
2009 Merlot – Soft and juicy. Seems to lack some concentration. Bit of a bite.
2009 Cabernet – Soil and earth. Medium fruit and a strong structure. Nice.

Liquid Farm – Brand new label focusing on making wines that speak of their place.
2010 White Hill Chardonnay – Clean and fresh but there is a touch of heat.
2011 Rose – Mourv/Gren. Nicely bright with a strong Mourvedre character similar to Bandol in expression if not weight and depth. Nice.
2010 Beauregard Byington Pinot Noir – Very lightly colored with sweet fruits.

Littorai -
2010 Les Larmes Pinot – Strong strawberry notes. Sharp and biting.
2009 Savoy Pinot – Earthy and expressive. On the young chunky side. Bit of heat.
2009 Cerise Pinot – Nice fruit and stony notes. Tight. Very good.

Mayacamas – Great to see a classic winery like this at the event. I think they still represent a lot of value which is rare in Napa.
2010 Sauvignon Blanc – Pretty, classically restrained. Balanced with a grippy finish. Very nice.
2009 Chardonnnay – Very lean and acidic. Had to be very tight.
2007 Merlot – 13% Cab. Lovely palate like an old school Cab. Soily, earthy notes. Terrific.
2006 Cabernet – 13% Merlot. Tight though the fruit feels a little bit round. Notes of cigar and late complexity on the palate.

Mt. Brave – New label using the same winemaker as La Jota.
2008 Cabernet – All Mt Veeder fruit. Ripe and somewhat soft. Shows notes of wood and is a bit weedy.

Lucia/Pisoni -
2010 Gary’s Pinot – Big and darkly fruited. Lots of black cherry. Ample tannin.
2009 Gary’s Syrah – Rich showing roasted meats most prominently along with pepper and the signature teriyaki note.

Roar – Both were a bit bigger than expected from Ed’s work.
2010 Sierra Mar Pinot - 1st release from this new vineyard. Reminds me of classic SLH Pinot with charcoal and juicy ripe fruit.
2010 SLH Pinot – Blend from all four vineyards. Big, forward and juicy. Just a touch of heat.

Robert Biale – Wished they had some single vineyard Zins to try.
2010 Party Line – Reserved yet somewhat rich. Bit hot.
2010 Basic Black – 40% Petit Sirah. Tart and juicy.

Saddleback Cellars – Another classic styled Cab maker and things haven’t changed thankfully.
2006 Cabernet – The fruit is rich but this feels lean at the finish. Nicely tannic. Needs time.
2006 Merlot – Lots of fruit here. Rich yet clean. On the short side.

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards/Quinta Cruz – Jeff Emery has devoted the Quinta Cruz label exclusively to varieties from the Iberian Peninsula. Old school and experimental.
2009 QC Tempranillo – Ripe fruits and cured meats. Juicy.
2008 QC Reserve Tempranillo – This contains a little bit of Graciano. Juicy with ripe fruits again. This did have some pee like bretty notes.
2009 QC Touriga – The ripe fruits were a bit candied on this one. Tight and lean though.
2009 QC Souzao – Not a grape you see often here or from Portugal these days. Rich, ripe and almost Zin like. Rich and dense in feel. I would give this a couple years to settle but I could see this being popular.
2009 QC Graciano – Well balanced but chunky in the young sort of way. Still tight.

2008 SC Mts Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Pinot – Aromatic with a touch of brett. Juicy though a bit muddled. Very nice acid and tannin combo.
2009 SC Mts Branciforte Creek Pinot – Tight nose with a touch of VA. Though the fruit is ripe this displays a great balance with the acidity marrying to the fruit very nicely.
2010 SC Mts Grenache – From head trained vines and only 12.8% Alc. Very light in color. Complex nose and very fresh palate. Lots of tannin. Very different for Grenache and very good.
2009 SC Mts Pierce Ranch Petit Sirah – 13.2%. I liked it when he labeled this Durif traditionally. Pretty nose of fresh fruits. Tannic with nice acids. Like the Grenache, a bit atypical from what you would expect and in a very nice way.
2008 SC Mts Bobcat Red - Gren/Syrah blend. Odd stony, bretty nose. Lean feeling. Plenty of acidity.

Seavey – More modern than I expected. There is certainly an audience for these.
2008 Merlot – Ripe with flavors of oak. Not soft at all but tannic and a bit hot.
2008 Caravina – Nice classic Cab nose. Lean and juicy.
2008 Cabernet – Chocolatey nose. In between classic and modern in style. Lean feeling and tannic.

Tercero – I’ve always felt that Larry’s whites were his strength and it seems they are getting better. I can safely put Tercero in the rare category of quality white wine from California with value pricing. You can count those on one hand and not use all of your fingers. They all feature prominent acidity and fruit that doesn’t smack you with ripeness or richness.
2010 Outlier – Gewurztraminer. Lightly spicy and very fresh.
2010 Viognier – Floral notes. The fruit is ample or even fat but even with the acidity.
2010 Grenache Blanc – A bit tight still. Spicy for the variety.
2010 Rose – Meaty and rich but very clean. Something like a Bandol in shape.
2008 Cuvee Christie – 75% Grenache. Strong acid and tannin.
2008 Larner Grenache – 25% whole cluster. Dark for Grenache. Spicy, clean and tannic.
2008 Larner Syrah – Dark fruit. Chocolatey.
2008 Cuvee Loco – 50/50 Syrah/Grenache. Lengthy and juicy. Nice acidity.
2008 The Climb – The fruit wasn’t showing much but the structure stood out.
2008 Petit Sirah – Tart and juicy. Wanting some concentration.

Wallis Family – Another TRB project.
2009 Little Sister – Bordeaux blend. Chocolatey and rich. Bit round with some bite.
2008 Cabernet – Ripe and juicy.
2009 Cabernet – Denser and richer than the 08. Darker fruit. Nice.

Sounds like a nice event, Cris.

We have found some good prices on the Arrowood’s at Safeway lately. They have had the 2007 and 2008 Sonoma Cabs for less than $25, and the 2008 Chard for $16, with a Club card and minimum purchase of six. Hard to go wrong at that price.


That’s a sweet deal, ED. Very difficult to find quality Cab in California under $50, much less $25.

Nice report, Cris. Thanks for taking the time to post it.

I know what you mean about the big-name v. unknown label tasting dilemma at Family Winemakers. Too many good options. It should be a great opportunity to be adventurous and try some new producers, but what are you going to do – walk right by Littorai without tasting? Falling squarely in the unknown label camp, I’ve found Family Winemakers to be too big to be a worthwhile pouring opportunity. I would sprint past my own table too if I knew there were a bunch of open bottles of Calera across the room.
I’m glad to see the good review for the La Jota cab franc. It was my favorite wine at last year’s Family Winemakers, and I didn’t talk to anyone else at the tasting who had even stopped to try it.

Good thoughts, Stewart. Part of the dilemma for me is seeing people I know also. I actually made a point of skipping a couple tables where people I am very familiar with had wines so I could spread out my experience a bit wider. Do you think there is a solution for this? I would fear that if they concentrated on newer faces they would lose some attendance by not having the well known quantities.

I always try the La Jota wines when I have a chance. Have had several good experiences with their wines in the past. [cheers.gif]

It’s the first time I’ve missed this event in many years. One solution might be to group the new comers-emerging wineries in one section. One could then spend some time with them without having to traverse the whole floor. Who was the attendance and crowd control this year?

I thought the attendance was strong but not too crowded. Busy tables rarely had more than a couple deep but there was enough tasters to keep everyone busy. Good thoughts on organization.


It was great seeing you and getting to go through my wines with you in Pasadena - and this time in a relatively unencumbered way (-: . Though it was busy, it was ‘manageable’ I felt - and it appeared to me that more than one winery picked up and left 30-45 minutes early.