Saturday, April 25, 2015

Best Santa Cruz Mountains Value Pinots (Under $30) - Planning

We are blessed with an abundance of great Pinot Noirs in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A lot of these Pinots are $30 and up. I decided to try and find the best Pinots under $30. I knew of a couple, but would love to find more.

I went through all the wineries on the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association website and searched their websites for wines that were less than $30. This dollar amount could be due to club or case discount, if I could easily figure these out. After scanning the websites for hours I came to the conclusion that it might be easier just to ask the wineries.

So I started sending out this email:


I am a local Santa Cruz Mountains wine enthusiast. I have visited most of the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries and am a club member of many.

I like to put together blind tastings to enjoy with my friends. I typically blog our findings.

I want to put together a blind tastings of reasonably priced Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots. The Pinot must be from the Santa Cruz Mountains region and must be available for under $30 before tax. The under $30 price can be reached via club membership and/or case discount; it can also be reached via a reseller.

Do you have any wines that meet these requirements? Please note that I’m not asking for you to send me the wines, just looking for a list. I tried to figure out this list myself via and navigating everyone’s website, but in the end I thought it more fair just to ask; so as not to miss any.

If you do have any, please reply with the name of the wine and how the <$30 price was reached.

Rod Magnuson
Accidental Wine Snob

After reviewing the list, I realized some of the wineries I was familiar with were not in the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association. I added everyone to the list I knew or could find by scouring google maps for wineries.

Sue guessed we would get 30 and could name the tasting 30 under $30. I guessed we would get closer to 15.

As the list of wines grew, I realized that this was going to be a major undertaking and I had to start making some tough decisions if i was ever going to complete it. I decided the following:

  • Wines had to be below $30. Some wines were really close to $30.
  • Only one vintage of a wine. A number of wineries had different vintages of their wine. I chose to only allow one, preferring 09 - 12.
  • Only one wine per winery. Some wineries had more than one qualifying wine. I chose to only allow one, asking the winery which they would prefer.

I attempted to contact 84 wineries via form submissions and email.

I received a lot of encouragement and informative replies.

Judy Schultze from Windy Oaks provided me with this insight on price:

"A few of the reasons it’s under $30/bottle:
  • Not aged as long as our other pinots (but still ~16-17 months)
  • Not a block designate
  • No single fermentation (but still total fermentation time of 30-40 days)
  • Not as much new French oak as our other pinots"


Here's the list of wineries I attempted to contact. Am I missing anyone?

Ahlgren Vineyard
Alfaro Family Vineyards &*
Beauregard VineyardsWeb Site Form*
Big Basin*
Black Ridge
Bonny Doon*
Bottle Jack*
Bruzzone Family*
Burrell School Vineyards &*
Byington Vineyard &*
Clos de la*
Clos LaChance*
Clos Tita Winery*
Cooper-Garrod Estate*
Dancing Creek*
David Bruce
Fellom Ranch*
Four Gates
Heart O' the
House Family VineyardsWeb Site Form*
Hunter Hill Vineyard &*
J. Lohr Vineyards &
Kathryn Kennedy*
Kings Mountain*
La Honda*
La Nebbia
La Rusticana*
Left Bend*
Loma Prieta*
McCarthy Family Estate VineyardsForm Submission Failed*
Michael Martella*
Mount Eden*
Myka CellarsWeb Site Form
Pelican Ranch WineryWeb Site Form
Perrucci Family VineyardWeb Site Form
Picchetti WineryWeb Site Form
Pleasant Valley
P M*
Radonich Brothers*
Regale Winery and
River Run VintnersWeb Site Form
Russian Ridge WineryWeb Site Form*
Salamandre Wine
Sante Arcangeli Family*
Savannah-Chanelle VineyardsWeb Site Form**
Silver Mountain*
Silvertip VineyardsWeb Site Form*
Soquel VineyardsWeb Site Form
Storrs WineryWeb Site Form*
Testarossa WineryWeb Site Form
The Mountain*
Thomas Fogarty Winery &*
Trout Gulch VineyardsWeb Site Form
Villa del Monte*
Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards &*
Wrights Station Vineyard &*

Wines Under $30

Here are the wines I have so far on the list. If you see more than one from a winery, it just means I haven't made the call on which one to taste yet.

WineryWineRetailBest Price
Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery2013 Alfaro "A" Estate$25.00?
Bargetto Winery2013 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir, Regan Estate Vineyards$35.00$28.00
2013 Pinot Noir, Regan Estate Vineyards$28.00$22.40
Burrell School Vineyards & Winery2010 Estate Pinot Noir$39.00$29.00
Byington Vineyard & Winery2012 Pinot Noir, Estate$39.00$29.25
Clos Tita WineryPinot Noir Cuvee$26.00
Dancing Creek Winery2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Legato, Pinot Noir$28.00$28.00
Domenico Winery2009 Santa Cruz Pinot Noir$35.00$28.00
Ghostwriter2013 Ghostwriter??
Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery2012 Estate Pinot Noir$40.00?
La Honda Winery2013 SEQUENCE, Pinot Noir$28.00$28.00
McHenry Vineyard2012 "Swan Clone - Estate" Pinot Noir$38.00$28.99
2012 Estate Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$34.00$25.99
Muns Vineyard2010 Estate Pinot Noir$40.00$28.00
Nicholson Vineyards2012 Pinot Noir, Cuvee$30.00$25.50
Pelican Ranch Winery2011 Santa Cruz Mts., Meadowridge Vineyard$35.00$29.75
2010 Santa Cruz Mts., Amaya Ridge Vineyard$35.00$29.75
Perrucci Family Vineyard2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$34.00$23.80
Radonich Brothers Vineyards2012 Estate$27.99$27.99
Rexford Winery2011 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains$25.00$20.00
River Run Vintners2013 Pinot Noir$25.00$20.00
Roudon-Smith Winery2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Private Reserve Pinot Noir$30.00$26.40
Russian Ridge Winery2012 Russian Ridge Pinot Noir$30.00$25.50
Salamandre Wine Cellars???
Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard2010 Pinot Noir Bailey’s Branciforte Ridge Vineyard$32.00$29.00
Sante Arcangeli Family Wines2013 Pinot Noir, Split Rail Vineyard, Corralitos$36.00$28.80
Sarah's Vineyard2013 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$36.00$28.80
Ser2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$33.00$28.00
Silvertip Vineyards2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Estate$32.00$24.00
Soquel Vineyards2013 Estate Pinot Noir$33.00$29.70
Storrs Winery2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$36.00$28.80
Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$35.00$29.75
Trout Gulch Vineyards2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir$28.00$28.00
Villa del Monte Winery2013 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains$34.00$28.90
2013 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyards Martini Clone$32.00$27.20
2013 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Pommard Clone$32.00$27.20
2012 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains Regan Vineyard$32.00$27.20
Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery2013 Terra Narro Estate Pinot Noir$29.00$23.00

Tasting Plan

  1. I acquire all of the wines.
  2. I randomly divide them into tastings of 6 to 8 wines.
  3. We will host as many tasting that are necessary in which 6 to 12 of my wine enthusiast (no wine professionals here) friends will blind taste them, rating them from 1 to 5, decimals allowed. I will blog on each of these.
  4. I hopefully have a final tasting of the winners or the highest rated.

I'm guessing this is going to take months, if not the whole summer. It's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. :)

I'll try to keep this up to date as I get more replies.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wish List Decanters 2015

I noticed the images in my previous musing on decanters, Wish List Decanters, were not all working. As I fixed this, I revisited the lists of Amazon.

My prize decanter is an incredibly generous gift from my parents. It's such a beautiful piece.

Given this, I have to cross the other similar decanters off the list.

Wish List

I still have an affinity for the Riedel Black Tie Bliss Decanter. It's simple, but cute. I could definitely see it enhancing a romantic evening.

I also found this beauty via the also viewed section. It looks very interesting. I'm curious how it looks with wine in it. It looks gorgeous empty.

Riedel Hand-Made Lead Crystal Curly Decanter, 49-3/8-Ounce, Pink

Not on the Wish List

What is up with this one? Wow! it is crazy expensive, and that's saying a lot given the outrageous prices of decanters. It's not on any list of mine, but it would be interesting to see it in action.

Riedel 2014/02 Lead Crystal Horn Decanter

Friday, April 17, 2015

Our First Trip to Livermore - Planning

Our good friends Bob and Caroline moved to the east bay last year. I have been meaning to check out Livermore Valley Wine Country for years now, but this was the catalyst I needed to get something organized.



Recommendations from Friends

  • Michel
    • McGrail Vineyards & Winery
    • White Crane Winery
    • Concannon Vineyard
    • Los Positas
    • Wente Vineyards
  • Brian
    • Wente Vineyards
    • Concannon Vineyard
    • 3 Steves Winery
    • Fenestra Winery

Initial List

  • McGrail Vineyards & Winery
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • #1 on best of list
      • Good Yelp reviews (4 stars)
      • Their Merlot and Cab won gold in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
      • Decent variety of wines, mostly red
    • Cons
      • Not a lot of images on the website of the tasting room.
    • Details
      • Address
        • 5600 Greenville Road
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 215-0717
      • Open 12 - 4:30
      • $10 < 8, $20 8 or more (includes a table)
  • The Steven Kent Winery
    • Pros
    • Cons
      • Wine looks expensive
    • Details
      • Address
        • 5443 Tesla Road
        • Livermore Valley, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 243-6442
      • Open 12 to 4:30
      • $15 Barrel Room Tasting
      • $25 Merlot & Malbec Retrospective in the Reserve Room
      • Advanced Reservations via CellarPass, Will accommodate dropins with next available slot
      • 6 or more need an appointment
  • Las Positas
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • Their Cab won double gold, and Tempranillo and their blends won gold in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
    • Cons
    • Details
      • Address
        • 1828 Wetmore Rd
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 449-9463
      • Open 11:30 - 4:30
      • Need a reservation for 12 or more
  • Wente Vineyards
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • #5 on best of list
      • Good Yelp reviews (4 stars)
      • Three of their whites won gold in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
      • Website makes it look like a very nice place
    • Cons
      • Their 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition were all very inexpensive
    • Details
      • Address
        • Which tasting room?

      • Open 11 - 5
  • Concannon Vineyard
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • #7 on best of list
      • Good Yelp reviews (4 stars)
      • Their Petit Syrah won gold in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
      • Good amount of reasonably priced wines
    • Details
      • Address
        • 4590 Tesla Road
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (800) 258-9866
      • Open 11AM - 8PM
  • White Crane Winery
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
    • Cons
    • Details
      • Address
        • 5405 Greenville Road
        • Livermore CA, 94550
      • Phone: (925) 321-5463
      • Open 12 - 4:30
  • 3 Steves Winery
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • Good Yelp reviews (4.5 stars)
      • Their Merlot won Best of Class in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
      • Decent variety of wines
    • Details
      • Address
        • 5700 Greenville Rd
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 997-7736
      • Open 11:30 - 4:30
  • Fenestra Winery
    • Pros
      • Recommended by friends
      • #12 on the list
      • Their Cab won gold in 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition
      • Numerous wine varieties both white and red
    • Cons
    • Details
      • Address
        • 83 Vallecitos Rd
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 447-5246
      • Open 12 - 5
      • $10 tasting fee
  • Darcie Kent Vineyards
    • Pros
    • Cons
      • Not on the list
    • Details
      • Address
        • 7000 Tesla Road
        • Livermore, CA 94550
      • Phone: (925) 243-9040
      • Open 11 - 4:30

The Plan

These 9 wineries will need to be paired down to 3 or 4, with one audible, just in case.

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition - Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, Pinots

Congratulations to 2015 SF Chronicle Wine Competition, Santa Cruz Mountains AVA Pinots medal winners.

Bargetto Winery

  • 2012 Regan Vineyards, Reserve - Bronze ($40.00)

Hallcrest Vineyards

  • 2012 Barrel Select - Bronze ($52.00)

Kings Mountain Vineyards

  • 2010 Kings Mountain Vineyard - Silver ($60.00)

La Honda Winery

  • 2012 - Bronze ($28.00)

Martin Ray Winery

  • 2013 Cooper-Garrod Vineyard - Silver ($40.00)

McHenry Vineyard

  • 2012 McHenry Vineyard - Silver ($38.00)

Russian Ridge Winery

  • 2012 - Silver ($30.00)

Savannah Chanelle Vineyards

  • 2012 Mums Vineyard - Gold ($45.00)
  • 2012 Regan Vineyard - Silver ($50.00)
  • 2011 - Bronze ($36.00)

Silver Mountain Vineyard

  • 2009 Muns Vineyard - Bronze ($39.99)
  • 2009 Miller Hill - Bronze ($39.99)

Soquel Vineyards

Stockwell Cellars

  • 2012 Lester Family - Silver ($38.00)

Storrs Winery and Vineyards

  • 2011 Christie Vineyard - Best of Class ($42.00)
  • 2012 - Silver ($36.00)

Villa del Monte Winery

  • 2012 William Vincent - Gold ($34.00)


  • 2012 Lester Family - Gold ($46.00)

I want to get my hands on the gold, double gold, and best of class winners for a blind tasting.

12,000 Page Views

I've never taken blogging about wine too seriously - you may have guessed this by the three postings in the last two years. While I'm always interested in promoting the great wine regions I am so fortunately surrounded by, the enjoyment I derive from blogging comes and goes. That said, I have never missed posting about a blind tasting, if only for future reference by my fiends who participated.

After my most recent posting, I took a look at the stats, just for grins.


After almost 4 years, I've had 12,905 views.

Top Five Posts

Bionic Frog being #1 baffles me.

Adsense Earnings

Total Estimated Earning - $46.69
Estimated Earning from Clicks - $44.70
Estimated Earning from Views - $1.98

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

45th Birthday Tasting - Part 2 : Cabs

After enjoying dinner, a splurge of prime and kobe Fred Steak from Schaub's, we moved on to the Cabs.

2005 Ridge Montebello

We started by tasting the main event: The 10 year old beauty, 2005 Ridge Montebello, Bob and Caroline gave me for my 40th. It was truly a treat.

We then moved on to an 'at your leisure' tasting of my best cabs.


It should be noted that while everyone tasted, not everyone provided their ratings, including yours truly. I was disappointed not to find Jennifer's thoughts on this, given her affinity for Napa cabs.

Top to Bottom from Left to Right

D - 2010 Frank Family Vineyards, Reserve, Rutherford came in first place with an average of 3.69. I picked this up on a Napa adventure with Dawn two years ago. This wine tasted fantastic then and even better now. They had an even better, more exorbitant Cab blend: The Winston Hill Reserve. Thanks Dawn for reminding me! If I ever return to the tasting room, you can bet I'll be looking for them both.

A - 1997 Silver Oak, Napa Valley came in a close second with an average of 3.60. Bob and CJ gave me this 18 year old masterpiece as well for some occasion that by no means warranted it. At this point you may be asking yourself who is Bob and how can I become friends with him. :) We are blessed with truly wonderful friends. Often they are far too generous. Whenever this generosity comes in the form of a bottle of wine, I always try and make certain the wine is enjoyed with them.

Silver Oak is the first bottle I ever purchased over $50 at the first wine bar I ever went to courtesy of my good friend Ted. We tasted with a nice older couple. I remember the wife said her favorite wine was Opus One. I had never heard of this wine. Ted told me it was a silly expensive, overrated wine.

C - 2009 Vine Cliff, 16 Rows, Oakville came in a third with an average of 3.26. At Ted's recommendation we toured Vine Cliff on our first real trip to Napa. It was a fantastic, beautiful, and informative two hour tour with just us and the wine maker. I will always remember it. It ended in tasting 4 wines: 2 white and 2 red. This is when I learned how expensive wine in Napa was.

Me: "This tastes great!"
Winemaker: "That's our $85 Estate. You liked that, try this."
Me: "Wow! That's even better!"
Winemaker: "That's our $150 reserve"

At this point I felt I had to buy something, so I bought one of each of the reds.

I'm not picking on Vine Ciff's incredible wine. It's all that expensive in Napa. This was just my first experience with the pricing.

At some point, When Wine Enthusiast gave the wine a 98. Ted and I bought one, betting who would open it first. I paid Ted the $20 I owed him to serve this wine.

B - 2011 Dariush, Napa Valley Cabernet Franc came in a last with an average of 2.66. We picked this bottle up on our last trip to Napa. The Dariush cab will always have a special place in my heart after the Return to Napa Cab Tasting. I'll never forget opening up #1. I still can't believe it was an Opus One that beat the Dariush; what a wonderful gift to share.

I was shocked to read the bottle the next day and discover that this was the Cab Franc instead of the Cab I had intended to use. Doh! I'm going blind in my old age, that and their bottles look very similar. This wine was also too warm, which was unfair to it. It was incredibly chocolatey too.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Russian River Ads

After publishing my last post, I was treated to this ad when I viewed the blog.

 I don't think the ad picking algorithms got the jist of the Russian River, or perhaps I don't.

45th Birthday Tasting - Part 1: Pinots

For my 40th birthday, our dear friends the Fosters gave me an incredible gift: A 2005 Ridge Montebello. I had tasted Montebello once before at Ridge, but never imagined owning one. Bob told me to cellar it for 5 to 8 years. After 5 years, I figured it was ready to taste, and I vowed to bring my best wines to taste alongside it. Anyone that knows me must be shocked to read I actually cellared something for 5 years. My good friend Ted regularly offers to store my special purchases, knowing I'm apt to open them prematurely. The first time I bought a case of futures, I don't think any of them survived to the recommended age of 3 years. But after wasting a good number of bottles, I've mostly learned my lesson.

2007 Marcassin Pinot

We started the tasting with another bottle Bob and Caroline had given me for one of my birthdays: A 2007 Marcassin Pinot. I had never heard of this exquisite, rare wine made by Helen Turley until Bob put it in my hands. After reading about its scarcity, how hard it was to get on the list, and seeing how exorbitantly priced it was directly (let alone on auction) I tried to return it. Bob, of course, wouldn't have anything to do with it. I tried to open it on a couple of previous occasions when the Fosters were around, but could never muster the courage. After breaking the cork (doh) I strained it into my best decanter, and let it sit for 2 plus hours before we all enjoyed this incredible treat.

We then went on to an "at your leisure" Pinot blind tasting of the best my cellar had to offer. All of the Pinots were allowed to breathe 2 plus hours.


Top to Bottom from Left to Right

Our First Bottle
B - 2012 Kosta Browne, Russian River Valley came in first place with an average of 3.30. We first experienced this wine in Las Vegas at Aureole; it’s a great restaurant, but the attraction was the 3 story wine tower with angels that fetched wine in a Mission Impossible-esque way we had seen on TV. We were seated in the swan room and were only able to see the tower in action from the outside and on the walk in and out of the restaurant. On the up side, we did have a swan swimming just outside the window. I was attracted to Kosta Browne on the iPad containing the wine list due to its mention in a couple of "Best California Pinot" searches I had done when looking for places to go. After the half bottle we enjoyed there, we joined the waiting list, and currently purchase the maximum number of bottles a year they allow us to purchase - four.

D - 2012 Halleck Vineyard, Estate came in second place with an average of 3.29, a virtual tie (TM) for first. We encountered this winery on our first trip to the Russian River. It was available by the glass at Stark's Steak & Seafood, a recommended steak house we walked to that was literally on the other side of the tracks from where we were staying. While enjoying a great steak, "Potato Skin" fondue, and truffled french fries, I discovered one of my favorites, the Three Sons Cuvee Pinot. That same night, Sue discovered one of her favorites, the Sapphire Hill Pinot. All Halleck wines are treats in our house, but a bottle of the Estate is a once a year (if that) celebration.

A - 2012 Patz & Hall, Pisoni Vineyard came in third place with an average of 3.11. Ted turned us onto this winery; their Sonoma House was our last stop on our Wine-Train-gift-certificate-inspired adventure to Sonoma and Napa last year. We joined the winery so that Ted could get some Pisoni - it's only available in limited club allocations. We enjoy the wine too, but mostly I blame Ted. :) They offer a billion Pinot and Chard varieties, so you can't help but find some you love; so far it's been an exercise in cellaring.

C - 2012 Thomas Fogarty, Rapley Trail, Henry Ayrtons’ Block, came in last place with an average of 2.22. We were tricked into rejoining Fogarty when they informed us that, while getting their records in order, they had discovered that we never received a club shipment we paid for a number of years ago. While picking up the the shipment, they plied us with all sorts of great wine, "tricking" us into rejoining. We encountered the Henry Ayrtons at a special tasting with the wine maker and owners at Fogarty.

At this point you no doubt realize that the best of my cellar is way too young, and you probably question if I've actually learned to cellar anything at all. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I'm going to cellar one of each of these to try again in two to three years.