Uncovering Treasures Beyond the Golden Gate Bridge
Post by Chuck Hayward | June 24th, 2011
Tasting through the pinots that were recently poured at the Seventh Annual Marin County Wine Celebration in Larkspur was a revelation. It had been about three years since I last had a chance to immerse myself in the wines from this emerging appellation. And while some of my past impressions were reconfirmed, at the same time, I gained a few fascinating insights that bode well for the region’s future:
Chuck Hayward (r) chats with the legendary Sean Thackrey
The quality of winemaking is at a high level. Yes, it takes good grapes to make great wine, but it also requires skill. Many winemakers working with this fruit are at the beginning of their wine careers, yet with acclaimed vintners like Sean Thackrey and Scott McLeod (ex-Rubicon, now Skywalker) overseeing their crushpads, there is no shortage of star power. Plus, a few of the winemakers now have around five vintages under their belt and have gained an in-depth understanding of their sites that they can pass on to new vintners. The combination of older vines and increased experience will provide the foundation for excellent wines in the future.
Noticeable characteristics distinguish Marin County pinots. One of the most telltale attributes is the dark color of the finished wines. It turns out that the strong winds which propel the fog into the valleys of Marin and Sonoma make it quite difficult to grow grapes. To protect themselves, the grapes naturally develop thick skins giving the resultant wines lots of pigment and powerful flavors. The prevailing winds also reduce yields by making pollination difficult, which creates smaller bunches at harvest and therefore higher skin/juice ratios. (more…)
Major wine tastings usually follow one of two basic formats. One focuses on a single variety, as withZAP or the upcoming Pinot Days. The other centers on geography, like those hosted by the Wines of Spain or the Sonoma County Vintners Association tasting to be held in San Francisco in July. The problem with some of these bigger geography-based events (the Sonoma tasting will cover 12 different subregions) is that there is so much to take in, everything runs together and wines start blending into each other.
Marin County Wine Celebration: Small But Substantial
That was not the case with 7th Annual Marin County Wine Celebration—one of the more unique tastings I’ve had the fortune to attend. In order to raise funds for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), an organization dedicated to preserving land for agricultural purposes in the county, an assortment of pinot noirs (and a rare white here and there) were poured by 14 wineries. Most were fairly new with a few pouring their first-ever efforts. To witness the gradual progress being made in this small growing region is truly exciting.
Historic Escalle's Winery - 771 Magnolia in Larkspur, CA
While Marin County wines are newcomers to the current wine scene, the area itself boasts a significant history, largely forgotten until the latest plantings began to take root. Though it was very likely that Spanish settlers planted grapes when they founded the mission in San Rafael in the early 1800s, grape growing really gained momentum in the late 1800s. Back then, Escalle Winery, where the tasting was held in Larkspur, was a frequent tourist destination for San Franciscans on weekend getaways of wine drinking and picnics in the estate’s gardens. Other vineyards were located in San Rafael and Fairfax on hills along today’s “Golden Mile.” (more…)