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Family Winemakers: A heritage of fine wine

Last Sunday Pasadena was host to the Family Winemakers of California Wine Tasting event at the Convention Center. There were 150 wineries participating and showcasing the diversity that exists in California wines. The wineries represented various regions throughout California.

Peter Work, Owner of Ampelos Cellars, clad in his signature cowboy hat serving his wine at Family Winemakers wine tasting event.
Ken Bornstein
Navarro Vineyards with their wonderful Gewürtztraminer was one of the featured wineries at Family Winemakers of California wine tasting event.
Ken Bornstein

Although I could not possibly visit all the wineries, here are those with wines I felt were standouts from the event. I will begin with those wineries whose entire selection of wines at this event rated merit. In my opinion every one of the varietals and blends they shared were superb.

All the wines offered by Ampelos Cellars blew me away. You could tell by owner Peter Work’s facial expressions that he truly loves what he does and the wines he creates. Adorned in his signature cowboy hat, Peter eagerly pours and discusses his wines.

I started with the 2012 Viognier. The wine is aged in stainless steel and fermented for one month. There is no malolactic fermentation. The wine is crisp and exudes the flavors of peaches. In fact Peter was quick to point out that the grapes are not ready to be harvested till they taste like stone fruit.

The 2013 Rose of Syrah is a real winner. It was refreshing with a hint of spice on the finish. The wine is made up of Syrah and Grenache and a very small amount of Riesling. Peter says, “the Riesling that brings out the tropical fruit flavors.” I think the Riesling also enhances the spices that one perceives on the finish. This wine is co-fermented for a month in stainless steel and like the Viognier there is no malolactic fermentation.

The 2010 Pinot Noir is light but very balanced. A fun spice driven wine is the Syrache. I sampled a 2009 that I think is best accompanied by food.

Finally I sampled the 2009 Syrah that was a smooth balanced wine with a silky and velvety texture. This is a wine with a lot of holding power.

J Dusi Wines is located in Paso Robles. In the past I had enjoyed their Zinfandel but at this event I was able to sample a nice selection of their wines. I was thrilled to try the 2012 Pinot Grigio as it is the only white available from J Dusi. Aged and fermented in stainless steel, the wine is “crisp, lean and refreshing”, as Janell Dusi so aptly puts it. Janell comes from a family of winemakers so it was only natural that she would continue their legacy by making her own mark in the wine industry. Her favorite is the Zinfandel and tasting those she produces, it is quite apparent that there is a love affair with this varietal. The 2011 Zindandel is medium bodied, very elegant and refined, which enables one to serve it with almost any type of food. This is not always the case with Zinfandel because often it is very big, over done and jammy. On the website, Janell states, “Winemaking is part science, part art and 100% passion.” The 2011 GSM proves this point. The science brings out the complexity, the blend which is 42% Grenache, 37% Mourvédre and 21% Syrah shows off the art and the passion is felt by the flavorfully smooth character of the Grenache that really comes through in this wine. There were two Syrahs poured but I preferred the more drinkable 2011 Paso Robles Syrah compared to the one from Caterinas Vineyard.

You can always count on Peju to have a fabulous well-rounded and balanced Merlot. The 2010 was an exemplary example showing off the velvety qualities this varietal can exude. I discovered a new wine at Peju, Tess. It is a non-vintage red white blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine is aged as a red would be and than the white is added. The color is a lighter red but what I like was that it was a very refreshing wine. It was smoother than a Rosé. I tasted strawberries with a little spice. There is sweetness on the finish. The wine is yummy and delightful. It is definitely an easy drinking wine.

I have followed Rocca Family Wines for quite some time and was anxious to try their new releases. I was most impressed with the 2010 Merlot. It was a velvety yet bright balanced wine. I don’t typically think of a Merlot as being bright but this one definitely was just that. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Grigsby Vineyard was also very smooth and a great wine to hold as it will get better with age.

I discovered Hawk and Horse Vineyards last fall and was so enthralled with their wines that I had to return and share with my husband. It was fun to see how the wine developed over the last five months. My favorite on this occasion was the 2009 Block Three Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has 5% Petit Verdot that softens the flavors. The wine is full of blackberries, cream and cocoa. The texture is rich and smooth. The other wine that I am always taken with at Hawk and Horse is the Latigo, a dessert wine from late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a wine you cannot put down.

Some of the wineries I experienced at this event had one outstanding wine that stood out from the rest of their line up.

Navarro Vineyards, a Mendocino County winery is known for their Gewürtztraminer. The estate dry 2012 was nicely balance with just the right amount of acidity yet has a smooth texture and is mildly spiced on the finish.

If you are a lover of the Iberian styled wines, Quinta Cruz makes some interesting wines. The 2007 Rabels was my favorite, a Port styled wine that is not jammy or heavy as is typically found with this type of wine. I enjoyed the anise flavors. The grapes for this wine come from one of my all time favorite vineyards for Iberian styled wine, Pierce Ranch. For other Iberian wines from Quinta Cruz, try the mild styled 2010 Tempranillo or the 2010 Graciano.

Trione Vineyards and Winery featured a 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Block 21. This Cabernet was a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The wine exploded with flavors of Blackberry, Allspice and Cloves. This is a very balanced full-bodied wine.

Ventenx Vineyards’ 2010 Tache Le Verre is a very balanced Syrah displaying a beautiful color.

Westerly Wines, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is very drinkable and balanced. It is a wine that will improve with time. The Fletchers Blend, a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc is very balanced.

If you can get your hands on a 2008 Herb Lamb Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon you will not regret it. This wine is just beautiful and ready to drink. Notes of cherry with a bit of sweetness come together to make this a superb wine.

If you are looking for bigger wines, Oakville Ranch Vineyards offers two that would fit the bill. The 2010 Field Blend, a combination of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah is a fruit driven wine. My preference was the 2010 Robert’s Cabernet Franc, a very drinkable Cab Franc. It is a wine that brings out the berries but in just the right balance right up to the finish.

Pat Paulsen Vineyards 2003 Black Label Collection Petite Sirah was an excellent example of the development of a wine over time. Because of its age the wine was well balance and very drinkable with dominant notes of cherries.

I ended my tasting experience on a sweeter note by indulging in the chocolates at Le Belge Chocolatier from Napa Valley. The White Chocolate with Passion Fruit Ganache was sinfully wonderful. It made for a sweet ending to a day where a family of wines was the center of attention.

If you would like to follow more of Cori Solomon’s articles, she would love you to subscribe to her column by clicking the box next to her photo.