Friday, November 19, 2010

Bigger Than Your Head Reviews

Let's be honest: wine reviews can be a bit ridiculous. For most of us, even food lovers, there are many flavor descriptors used in wine tasting notes and reviews that we'll never experience on a plate, let alone in our wines. However, there are also those instances where I read a wine review and think: wow, I want to drink that wine. Now. Nevermind that I just brushed my teeth.

Fredric Koeppel, who has won the American Wine Blog Awards Best Wine Reviews category three years in a row for BiggerThanYourHead.net, writes those latter kind of reviews. Below I've copied his recent post about Foursight:

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AND THE SMALL SHALL LEAD THEM

Nothing wrong with large producers; they often make fine wine indeed, though they can also err in trying to be all things to all consumers and churning out labels at every price-point. What I really love to write about however are the small, family-owned wineries that nestle in the hills and dales of our country’s wine regions, making a few thousand (or few hundred) cases of a small number of wines and selling them or marketing them as best they can, without the benefit of marketing teams and agencies in New York or San Francisco.
Here are reviews of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir wines from two such wineries. These were samples for review:

Foursight Wines produces fewer than 1,000 cases annually of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from the Charles Vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley and a Mendocino gewurztraminer. The winery was founded in 2006 by longtime growers Bill and Nancy Charles, with their daughter Kristy Charles and her husband Joseph Webb. That’s it. The wines practically teem with authenticity and integrity and a sense of connection to their cool, coastal region.

The Foursight Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Anderson Valley, is exceptionally clean and fresh and invigorating. It’s like drinking a deconstruction of a grapefruit — without being anything like a snappy, over-eager New Zealand rendition — with the tang of the pulp, the slight bitterness of the pith and the oiliness of the rind, combined with a spicy tangerine-lemon element and a brilliance of limestone-like minerality. The wine is juicy and tasty, yet spare and delicate; made all in stainless steel, it radiates purity and intensity. 216 cases were produced. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2012. Excellent. About $20.

The Foursight “All-In” Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, is an understated beauty. Fermented with wild yeast, unfined and unfiltered, it offers a beguiling limpid ruby color that’s almost transparent at the rim. Scents of lightly spiced red and black cherries hold undertones of red currants and mulberries with touches of smoke and leather. Lovely balance and integration produce an entrancing mouthful of pinot noir that glides across the palate like satin; a few minutes in the glass add notes of moss and briers, while structure and texture remain subtle and supple. The wine aged in French oak, 20 percent new, the rest two-year-old barrels and older. A pinot noir for devotees of the classic elegant fashion. 407 cases were produced. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $46.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Favorite Things: Anderson Valley

I have always wanted to put up a billboard alongside the freeway, just before the turnoff onto Highway 128, that reads "Anderson Valley: It's not that far, and it's SO worth it," with images of what I see everyday: gorgeous, wooded hills, traffic-free roads, and quiet tasting rooms with the proprietor behind the bar.

I grew up here, and so I have an unabashed love for the area, but I truly believe that Anderson Valley is one of the best wine country getaways in California. And I stress the word getaway, because once you pop out into this small valley, you'll feel like you're truly away from Monday through Friday and life as you know it. It's quiet, it's beautiful, and it's laid-back. Just perfect.


I'll admit, if you get carsick, some of our roads can be tough. However, roads like these exist in every wine region unless you don't stray off of Highway 29 in Napa. In reality, Anderson Valley is only two hours from San Francisco. Just enough to feel like you're on vacation. And just enough to enjoy the scenery through Marin, Sonoma, and up into the wilds of Mendocino County.

Every day in the tasting room I'm asked what my favorite Anderson Valley to-do's are. So, in no particular order (because it all depends upon what you're in the mood for), here are my recommendations:

1) Taste wine, of course! You can find a list of wineries with tasting rooms at http://www.avwines.com./ You can't go wrong with the Pinot Noirs, crisp white wines and sparkling wines that Anderson Valley is known for.
2) Visit the farmer's market on Saturday morning at the Boonville Hotel, followed by a cappucino or dark chocolate mocha and pastry at Mosswood Market & Cafe, across the street. Try the goat cheese and bacon empanada. Yum!
3) Grab some supplies at either the Boonville General Store or Lemon's Market in Philo, pack a backpack, and hike the old-growth redwood grove at Hendy Woods State Park. Wrap up the afternoon with a picnic in the park.
4) After Hendy Woods, stop by the Philo Apple Farm to peruse the self-serve farm stand. Some of my favorite products are the apple cider syrup and balsamic syrup for to-die-for salad dressings with just a little olive oil and vinegar. The apples and ciders are amazing, too!
5) Gowan's Oak Tree, just down Highway 128, has amazing, home-made apple pies to take back to your cottage and have with one of the valley's amazing late-harvest Gewurztraminers or Rieslings. (Psst... Lemon's Philo Market has its own fishing boat. If you want to complete the meal, pick up some fresh crab or salmon there when in season.)
6) On your way to the coast on a hot day, park alongside the road at mile marker 3.66 and walk down to the river. This is one of the best swimming holes on the river -- the site of a former bridge, so it's nice and deep. A myriad of little trails criss-cross this area as visiting the river is a big locals activity.
7) Want to learn a little more about the native flora? Visit the Demonstration Forest in Navarro, next to the Masonite Boy Scout camp. Trees are identified as you walk through the forest. This is a good place to let your dogs run around and jump in the river as they're not allowed on every trail at Hendy Woods State Park.
8) Drive one of the mountain roads. If you don't mind twists and turns, take Mountain View or Greenwood Ridge Road over to the coast and enjoy the scenery. Or, if you have a sturdy car and an adventurous spirit, take Fish Rock Road. Just be prepared for several hours and a good, long patch of dirt road in the middle. More people live out these roads than you'd think, hours from anything, so watch out for fast-driving locals and logging trucks in the summer. It's all part of the experience. You'll see vineyards up here and old apple orchards, on ancient homesteads first settled more than 100 years ago.
9) Make a trek out to Machester State Beach - one of the most amazing and deserted beaches in the area. No dogs allowed, but an amazing place to pull up a driftwood seat and watch miles of crashing waves.
10) Kayak Big River and see otters, birds, and just a few other river travelers as you drift with the current, then paddle your way back out (or visa versa, of course, depending upon the tide). An amazing, peaceful voyage that is especially quiet in the shoulder seasons.
11) My favorite dinner spots for a casual meal? Libby's mexican food in Philo: you have to try the carnitas and a michelada beer. Also, Lauren's is a favorite spot for an amazing  burger with a fresh bun, lots of carmelized onions, and crazy good fries. Try it with a bottle of local sparkling or a Boonville Beer and you'll be in heaven.
12) Oysters and Roederer on the Boonville Hotel patio in the summer. Sunday, 4-7 p.m., but summers only.
13) Walk Boonville. The biggest town in the valley now has quite a few to-do's of its own. Tasting rooms within the town limits include Foursight, Londer and Zina Hyde Cunningham. There's the John Hanes art gallery and several cafes and shops, including the Mercantile for adorable kitchen and other wares. The ice cream shop is now owned by the Boonville Hotel and serves up organic ice cream and treats with just enough space outside to watch the passerbys, and Anderson Valley Brewing Co. is at the outer reaches. You can park downtown, put on your tennis shoes, and walk to and fro all day. If you like disc golf, cap it off with some beer on the course at the brewery.
14) The Mendocino County Fair, mid-September. The school bus here literally drops kids off at the fair after school on Friday. It's a quaint, country fair with lots of rides and games, animals, a wool and fiber show complete with spinning demonstrations, food, drink and a rodeo. A special treat: the sheepdog trials on Sunday morning.

If you want more recommendations for your Anderson Valley trip, I'm always happy to answer questions and give recommendations. kristy @ foursightwines.com.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Money in the Country

One thing that I love about living in a rural area like this is the decreased importance of money. I don't mean that people don't need it. I mean that showing it off isn't a big priority.

I would actually say that people here stress about money more than in larger areas where opportunities are more plentiful. Here a full-time job is often considered three part-time jobs cobbled together in hopes of making a decent salary. Those jobs don't offer benefits, sometimes are only temporary, and most often pay little. Housing is still expensive, and you have to drive everywhere to get supplies, making off time that much more important, which can be hard to get when you work so much. You can get supplies in the valley, but it's going to cost you dearly, so over the hill we all go every week.

One thing that I noticed growing up here is that the people with money don't particularly drive nice cars. An old, diesel Mercedes, Subaru hatchback or pickup truck is considered just fine, thanks. They live on 3-million-dollar properties, but the worth is in land -- in fact, they live in a small, one-bedroom former barn. Clothing is vastly functional and not necessarily attractive. I haven't seen a pair of designer jeans in years.

I've found that, moving here, my need to buy things has decreased as well. I wasn't a huge spender before, nor did I have a label fetish, but I did burn through a decent stack of cash each month, purchasing things and eating out. A lot of it was for work, but here it's different. Not only do jobs where heels or suits are required, well, not exist, but people just don't care as much about your new stuff. Also, if you buy new stuff that's too delicate or nice, it's likely to just be ruined within the month.

I've got a stack of high heels in my closet that I never wear. Why? For one, I'll break my ankle tromping around gravel and the vineyard in them. For another, I'll just ruin them. This same principle applies to cars (mine has tan leather - if I had known I'd move back so soon, I would have gone with another choice) and a myriad of other things.

I'm sure that part of this is a different mentality about money that comes from either years of living places where you simply don't see or have no use for nice things, and an attitude about materials goods stemming from the 70's back-to-the-landers. A big dose of it's practicality, but it still is an interesting study in human behavior and thought patterns.

As for me, I chose jeans and boots today. Between the gravel, putting out and taking in signs, and the wet, muddy Labrador that's my coworker, it just seemed easiest. When these boots become so dirty and scuffed that they no longer serve their purpose, I'll start thinking about buying new ones.