Tag Archives: Central Coast

SANTA RITA HILLS AVA – BURGUNDY ON THE CENTRAL COAST

I recently spent a couple of days in the Santa Rita Hills (LINK to Prior Posts), located north of the city of Santa Barbara and west of the cities of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. The unique geography and geology of the Santa Rita Hills AVA (the mountains and valleys run west to east allowing cooling Pacific winds and moisture to come further inland), make this an excellent location for Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is also a decent amount of Syrah grown here, along with a few other varietals in smaller lots.

Over two days, we visited five wineries and stopped at a sixth just to buy some wine. I am going to feature four, Ampelos, Foley, Hilliard-Bruce, and Pence Ranch.

Pence Ranch Vineyard & Winery (LINK): I visited here last year, when they were relatively new as a tasting room operation (LINK). At that time, I was told that their plan was to open the tasting room for regular hours in the future. When we stopped without an appointment, I was told that they were back to the appointment system, but there was availability. Jake, took us via a large golf cart to a part of the property where an outdoor tasting room area had been created. We had a very nice experience tasting the Pence wines, and then got a tour of the vineyard portion of the property. The Pence Ranch is relatively narrow and runs nearly two miles deep off Route 246 between Buellton and Lompoc. The front of the property is where the vineyards and wine tasting rooms are, the back is an equestrian center and a working cattle ranch. The winery is in Lompoc.

At Pence, you taste the Pinot Noirs before the Chardonnays, the former being elegant in style, the latter being more pronounced, if not the traditional butter-bomb California Chardonnay. Their wines are uniformly well-crafted and made to enjoy with food. This year, we also tasted a Gamay wine, which is young and crisp but very complex. I plan to take a bottle back to France to share with my friends used to drinking Beaujolais. So, make an appointment to visit, or order their wines from their website – you are not likely to find Pence Ranch Wines at your retailer.

Foley Estates Vineyard (LINK): Foley has been making great wine in the Santa Rita Hills for decades. Their tasting room is nicely appointed, next to the huge “barrel room” where special events can be held. Like all the SRH wineries with some history, Foley makes very good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. They also make a very good Syrah. Their blended Chardonnays, Pinots, and the single vineyard versions of these varietals each have their own characteristics. We particularly liked the 2015 “T-Ranch” Chardonnay and the 2015 “T-Ranch Pinot Noir (there are also 2013 and 2014 Pinots available currently), but all were good. Foley is worth a visit when you are in Santa Barbara County. You can also order wines from their website.

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards (LINK): A smaller, boutique producer, Hilliard Bruce Vineyards occupies 101 acres (21 under cultivation) to the west of storied Clos Pepe Vineyard along Route 246. This was my first visit to Hilliard Bruce and you have to be impressed with the beautiful grounds, architecturally striking winery/tasting room building, and the vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The wines do not disappoint. Four 2014 Pinots from their Earth, Sun, Moon, and Sky vineyards, each have nuances that separate them from the others, yet all are clearly in the same family. Spicy, peppery, soft and velvety Pinots will go well with food.

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The Chardonnay is also made to go with food, as the bottle we bought to have with our picnic lunch showed. Well-structured, with a hint of buttery mouthfeel, the 2014 Chardonnay is classic Santa Rita Hills in style and should drink well for several years. We did meet John Hilliard during our visit – he was most cordial and, like almost everyone in the wine industry, liked to talk about his wines and his property. Hilliard Bruce is open by appointment; their wines are available via their website.

Ampelos Cellars (LINK): Full disclosure – my wife has known Peter and Rebecca Work for a few decades, having worked with them years ago when they were all with Price-Waterhouse. But Dorianne was not with me on this visit, and Peter and Rebecca, sadly, were not at the tasting room in Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto when some friends and I visited recently. I have enjoyed their wines for years.

Ampelos uses biodynamic and organic farming practices (LINK) and produces a range of wines, some of which are atypical for the Santa Rita Hills AVA. These include their Viognier and Grenache (bottled as a single varietal and blended with Syrah for their Syrache red blend). Viognier and Rose of Syrah constitute the lighter end of their offerings; two Pinot Noirs in the mid-range; and Grenache, Syrah, and Syrache at the heavier end. Of course, none of these wines are really big wines like you would find in Napa Valley or Paso Robles these days. Ampelos focuses on balance and elegance, putting them well within the Santa Rita Hills style in this regard. The vineyard is down the 246 a way; the winery is also in Lompoc. Wines are available for order at the website, and you will find them at better wine shops here and there.

I also stopped at Ken Brown Wines in Buellton to buy some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on our way out of the area. Brown is one of the pioneers of the AVA and produces some amazing wines in the Burgundian style. I frequently tell my friends in France about the Santa Rita Hills with their east-west mountains and valleys and their Burgundian style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Now I will have a few to take back and share with them.

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

A VISIT TO PASO ROBLES – THREE WINERIES

Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.

As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.

Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).

Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroir origins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.

Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.

The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online. 

Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).

The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75% Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56% Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95% Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.

Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard

PASO ROBLES TRIP, PART 2.TABLAS CREEK VINEYARD AND CALCAREOUS WINERY

As I noted in my last post (LINK), Dorianne and I went to Paso Robles  along California’s Central Coast region for three nights and two days of wine tasting with her sister and brother-in-law, Debby and Mike. Our daughter, Grace, joined us on the first day of wine tasting, but the four of us were on our own as we set out on Tuesday morning. We decided to keep it to two wineries to allow time for a nature walk later in the day.

Our first stop on the west side was Tablas Creek Vineyards (LINK) in the Adelaida AVA of west Paso Robles. Long known for their expertise in Rhône varietalsTablas Creek has a Rhône River partner, Chateau Beaucastel (LINK) in France. You could spend months studying the Tablas Creek history, viticulture, wine making techniques, and tasting their wines (maybe a lifetime on that), but we only had a couple of hours.

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From the website (LINK) with embedded links:

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain.

The partners imported the traditional varietals grown on the Perrins’ celebrated estate, including Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise for reds, and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc for whites. These imported vines passed a rigorous 3-year USDA testing program, were propagated and grafted in our on-site nursery, and used to plant our organic estate vineyard.

Dorianne and I were members of the Tablas Creek wine club for a couple of years before we moved from Southern California. Their wines are beautifully crafted and many of their varietals are unique on the Central Coast, or even in all of California. They produce a few dozen wines, only three of which, called their core blends, are distributed widely. Here is the link to their wines page (LINK) for a more thorough description of each one.

Tablas Creek Vineyards and Tasting Room is located at the far west end of the Paso Robles area, which means that they are closer to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling influence. The tasting room is modern and state-of-the-art, with views into the winery. Several tasting stations surround a central core with displays of wines and other things for sale. As you approach the entryway, a display of grape vines for sale and a tub of stainless steel water bottles for guests to use during their visit.

The tasting room was crowded when we arrived. We found some space at a station being staffed by Suphada Rom, a very knowledgeable and well-traveled young woman from Vermont. Like many of the winery and tasting room workers in California, she arrived after some experience in Old World wine regions and developed a love for wineSuphada writes a wine blog (LINK).

The tasting experience at Tablas Creek involves the core blends and one or two varietals. To keep it short, I will just say that the core blends are always of a very high caliber. What I seek out at Tablas Creek are the single varietals. Our tasting included the 2013 Viognier and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were very good – the Cabernet being smoother and lighter, more elegant  than the typical Paso Robles-style Cabernet, which are big powerful wines.

Before departing Tablas Creek, we purchased a four-pack of varietals that included the 2013 Cabernet, 2012 Tannat2012 Picpoul Blanc (a varietal we enjoyed in France), and the 2013 Vermentino – a set that should provide many pleasures in the coming months.

Our next stop was farther east, up on a very high hill closer to Paso Robles on the border between the Adelaida and Willow Creek AVAsCalcereous (pronounced with two hard “C’s”) is another wonderful Paso Robles wine experience. The name comes from the limestone soils of the area.

From their website (LINK): “Father and daughter Lloyd Messer and Dana Brown realized their dream of finding a place to express their passion for wine in 2000, when they established Calcareous Vineyards on one of the highest limestone plateaus on Paso Robles’ westside. Both Lloyd and Dana, experienced wine distributors in their native Iowa, recognized the westside of Paso Robles had potential to produce world class wines. Their acquisition of 342 acres atop solid calcareous rock reaching 1,800 feet above sea level confirmed their dedication to producing the highest quality, terroir driven wines possible.  It is a labor of love to cultivate fruit on this challenging land, but the reward is immediately apparent when tasting the wines.”

 

Everything about Calcereous is beautiful – the wines, the land, the tasting room, and the experience. Our tasting room host, Karl Jepsen, is from Denmark. He gave an animated and informative “wine seminar” as we tasted six wines (five from the list and one additional).

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Karl led us through the tasting, going over the provenance of each wine and adding some additional bits of information, such as how to determine which aspects of the bouquet of the wine come from the fruit and which come from the barrel.

Calcereous wines are premium wines – every wine we tasted was in the 90’s in my own mental ratings chart. We were given an impromptu tour of the  vineyard & winery as well. I think we spent nearly 3 hours there. Wine highlights were the 2014 Estate Chardonnay, the 2013 ZSM (a fantastic blend of Zinfandel, Syrah & Merlot), and the 2012 Lloyd Bordeaux-style Blend, a truly exceptional wine Our 1/2 case purchase contained all three of those.

A note about the restaurant where we ate lunch after these great winery experiences – Fish Gaucho (LINK) in downtown Paso Robles did not disappoint. Very good Mexican dishes, large portions, and a nice atmosphere with good service. It’s worth a look when you are in Paso Robles.

There are over 200 wineries in Paso Robles, California. We visited just five of the more established producers on this short trip. I look forward to returning soon and exploring some of the smaller and newer producers.

As always, your comments are welcome.

And it was chilly – here are Dorianne and Debby clearing the ice from the car in the morning.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

FIVE GOOD REASONS TO BUY WHEN YOU VISIT THE WINERY – FROM LAZENNE.COM

Our friends at Lazenne.com (LINK), makers of wine luggage and wine travel accessories, have posted an excellent article giving five reasons to purchase wine at the winery. Here is a quote from the article by Chrissie McClatchie for Lazenne:

“In France alone there are over 300 AOC’s (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or Controlled Designation of Origin), some counting just one or two producers (Palette in Provence) to hundreds (the simple Bordeaux AOC). Considering the scope, it’s easy to imagine how many of these wines don’t leave their region of origin. I lead wine tours through the Bellet AOC in the hills of Nice, one of France’s oldest and smallest appellations, boasting only eleven vineyards. With such a small production, the wineries can little keep up with the local demand, let alone consider opening up export markets. For most people, therefore, purchasing direct is the only access they have to wines which are simply not available in their home country.” – (LINK TO FULL ARTICLE)

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Tasting Room at Chateau Manissy in Tavel, France

I would add that many of the same reasons hold true when you are visiting domestic wineries – good values, wines that are not otherwise available due to limited production, and knowing the provenance are also reasons to buy at the winery in California, New York, or Virginia.

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Tasting at LaFond Winery in the Santa Rita Hills of California.

Dorianne and I will be visiting California’s Central Coast twice in the next two months, and Napa-Sonoma-Mendocino areas early in the new year. We are looking forward to tasting and buying some amazing wines.

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Me Tasting at Broc Winery in Berkeley, California.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Lockard

A TRIPLE-HEADER OF REALLY INTERESTING WINES

Last night, we spent some time and had dinner with Brad Kieffer and Karen Oxrider, our good friends and wine buddies.

Initially, Karen came over to our house where she and Dorianne did some work for a non-profit they are involved with. During this time, we opened a bottle of 2007 Au Bon Climat Hildegard White Table Wine, the wine, from the stable of the great Jim Clendenen, is an amazingly well-crafted white wine; made from 55% Pinot Beurot (Pinot Gris), 40% Pinot Blanc and 5% Aligote inspired by the composition of the Corton Charlemagne vineyard in Burgundy as it was believed to have been planted during Charlemagne’s reign as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (Parker). I have blogged about this wine before (Link).

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It made the non-profit work go very smoothly!

Unfortunately, it was our last bottle of this great wine.

After the work was done, it was time to meet Brad for dinner. We chose Galetto’s Grill in Westlake Village, one of my favorites – a mixture of Brazilian and Italian cuisine with an excellent wine list.

But tonight, we would be bringing a couple of bottles.

Brad and Karen had a bottle of Hungarian wine that they brought back from a trip to Europe a few years ago. The wine, a 2002 Sandor Pince Egri Pinot Noir, was an unknown quantity. Would it still be good in 2015? Was it a good wine to begin with? An internet search revealed next to nothing about this particular wine.

A bottle of 2010 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir would serve as a back-up.

Our conversation ranged from travel, past trips and future plans, to wine to food, to our impending move away from California and our extended stay in Europe. It was an evening of good company, good food, and good and interesting wine.

2015-02-02 18.35.21The waiter opened the bottle of Sàndor Pince and poured a taste for Brad. He sniffed and swirled and very slowly tasted. After a pause, he said, “Interesting.”

The wine was very earthy – mineral on the nose, terroir (dirt) with a hint of rust was evident in the wine – not in an unpleasant way, but there was a nearly total absence of fruit on the nose and in the mouth. I liked the wine more than the others, but I agreed that we should see what it would be like in a few minutes. So we ordered.

I ordered a Brazilian style rib eye stake that would come with black beans and rice, pico de gayo, and other spices. Dorianne had a fish dish, Karen had salmon, Brad a skirt steak prepared much like my rib eye.

I will say that the Hungarian Pinot Noir was a good compliment to my steak with the dry Brazilian spices. The mineral nature of the wine was a good pairing. It’s relatively high acid and medium tannins went well with the dish. The others were ready to turn to the Clos Pepe, however.

Wine - Clos Pepe LabelAs always, the Clos Pepe Pinot Noir did not disappoint. Smooth, with a wonderful balance of mineral and fruit on the nose and the pallet, with a hint of pepper and spice. It was a nice finish to the evening after the harsher Hungarian Pinot Noir.

In fact, that wine was book-ended by two splendid wines from the California Central Coast. Our experiment with the rare (for us) Hungarian Wine from the “Valley of the Beautiful Women,” was really not all that dangerous, as we were definitely working with a net, as it were.

So it was the best of both worlds – a chance to try something new and also to enjoy two well known wines that never disappoint.

WINE TRAVEL – WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO DRINK?

I love to travel. Since I was a child, I have always gotten excited about traveling – to the next town or across and ocean.

Dorianne shares this passion and we also are passionate about wine, so we combine the two passions wherever possible. This will begin a series of blogs on wine related travel, leading up to our departure in late February for a few months in Spain, Portugal, and France. I will, of course, blog from the places we visit about the locales, the people, and yes, the wines.

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Wine Travel is Fun and Rewarding – Here we are at Foxen near Santa Ynez, CA.

“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” ~ Carson McCullers 

A couple of years ago I took a short sabbatical, six weeks, and Dorianne and I went to France. We spent 3 1/2 weeks in an apartment in Paris, then went to Lourdes in the Pyrenees for a conference, the spend about six nights in Bordeaux and six more in the Loire Valley. The year before that, we took our daughters to Paris, Burgundy, and Provence for three weeks. In each of these amazing places, we sampled the local and regional wines and, where possible, visited the vineyards and chateaus where wine was grown and made, and made friends in cafes and tasting rooms with others who love wine.

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A Great Wine Shop in St. Emilion.
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The Good Stuff.

 

“If I were really really ridiculously wealthy, I wouldn’t buy a mansion, just tiny apartments in every city I love.” ~ Mara Wilson 

Combining wine enjoyment and education with travel is something that may not be for everyone, but for some, it is the essence of a quality experience. Those of us who spend time with people who create and sell wines know that they tend to be very interesting people, indeed. People like Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Estate in the Santa Rita Hills of California’s Central Coast region and Giancarlo at Le Wine Bar in Bordeaux, are just two examples of friendly, knowledgeable, and approachable people who happen to be in the wine business. There are countless others as well. Wine travel lets you meet these people and have the experience of connecting at a much deeper level with the wine itself.

Wine travel can be a day trip, for those fortunate enough to live near wine-producing regions. I will be taking such a trip in a week, to the Santa Ynez, Santa Rita Hills appellations in Santa Barbara County. This will be a group tour, with many people who I know – four wineries and a picnic lunch. A very nice way to spend a day.

One of the things we will be doing on our upcoming European journey is setting up future small group wine tours in France. Working with travel professional Steve Hooks, we will be creating a series of tours that will include time in wine country – initially Bordeaux then Burgundy – followed by some time in the city – either Paris or Lyon. The tours will be geared toward those who are already familiar with fine wines and in separate groups, those who want to learn about fine wines. The focus of the former will be discovery and enjoyment and the focus of the latter will be education and enjoyment.

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ~ Anaïs Nin 

I really believe that good wine is best enjoyed with others. Our tours will emphasize that point, while offering some really unique opportunities to access some amazing places, enjoy great food paired with fine wines, and exploring the people and places of some of the world’s great wine regions.

We are not certain that there is a viable market for tours of this level. There are not many truly high-end wine tours being offered to North American customers. Some of the major tour companies and some of the cruise lines have tours featuring wine, but they are rather pedestrian, have larger groups, and mix the novice and the expert, which does not often go well in my experience.

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One of the Buildings at Chateau Smith-Haute- Lafitte in the Bordeaux region.
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In the Tasting Room at Smith-Haute-Lafitte

 

Our question is – is there a market for a week-long small group experience with four nights in a premier wine region (Bordeaux, Burgundy) followed by three in a major city (Paris, Lyon), staying in top hotels, with tastings of top wines, dinners in chateaus, connections with locals in the wine trade, special tours of museums (like a private evening tour of  the Musee du Louvre), wine pairing experiences, wine seminars and more?

As the year unfolds, we will be finding out. Share your thoughts in the comment section or email me at DrJim-Lockard@ATT.net

GETTING THE CELLAR READY FOR OUR DEPARTURE

The For Sale sign is up in front of the house. Dozens of folks are streaming through our completely staged home – meaning that it looks pretty much like we don’t live here. Every morning, we hide all of the evidence of our occupancy and we depart whenever the realtor notifies us that a showing is happening. Fortunately, that has been happening very regularly of late.

We will be heading to Europe for a while, no fixed address, probably for most of 2015 and maybe beyond. I am looking forward to sampling more of the wines of Spain, France, Germany, and Austria (at a minimum), but what to do about our wines in our home cellar?

Now, when I say “cellar,” I should note that we live in a suburban tract house. No basement. Our “cellar” consists of a number of stashes around the house, where lighting is minimal and temperature is fairly steady. The really good stuff is in a wine refrigerator in the garage, but there are bottles on a rack in our utility closet, another rack in a hallway, another on the cabinet in our dining room (French only!), and more on a small rack built into our kitchen breakfast nook.

When the move was being planned, we had about 350 bottles in total. We rented a locker at CELLAR MASTERS in Newbury Park, CA, where we put a dozen cases right away and where the remainder will go when we leave.

The focus now is on drinking wines that will not age well, or that are at or near their peak now. We are also supplementing with some purchases of whites, which we do not tend to keep over time for the most part. Our wines are mostly from California, with the Central Coast and Napa and Sonoma well-represented; plus a couple of cases of French wines, and a few Australians and one or two from British Columbia’s Okanagan Region.

So, our case of ARTISTE wines, our CLENDENDEN FAMILY WINES and the AU BON CLIMAT are being consumed, as are our STOLPMAN and some CABERNETS. Our French wines, mostly Bordeaux, will age well, as will the Burgundies. We will keep some of the newer CLOS PEPE Pinots, which should last a few years, and we will have a lot of assorted CABERNETS and MERLOTS from California to keep.

I expect that we will be down to about 200 bottles when we depart sometime in mid to late February. At some point, we will likely have the wines shipped from the storage facility to wherever we land, or sell it off. It is both fun and a bit sad to be consuming some of the bottles that we obtained from the wineries or through friends. But, there are worse things that one has to do, right?