Artisano celebrated it’s third annual festival the weekend of 18-19 November at the Events Center, Vintners Inn/John Ash & Co. The previous years festivals were held behind the Geyserville Inn, in Geyserville earlier in October. The weekend of activities focuses on small production and handcrafted wines in northern Sonoma and Mendocino Counties with the addition of some exquisite locally produced food and art. The event benefits the Slow Food Sonoma County North, a chapter of Slow Food International, which was started in Italy in 1989 and is intended to focus on fresh local ingredients for food and wine. Although Artisano features a weekend full of activities including a Friday night Winemaker Dinner and a Saturday night Harvest Dinner, this post will focus on Saturday’s Grand Tasting.
The event center employed the permanent existing buildings and added tented areas for additional wine, food and food demo activities. With over 30 wineries participating, this was an exceptional opportunity to meet, taste and enjoy wines made by very small, typically, artisan wines rarely available to the general public. Most of these wineries have no tasting rooms and have case productions often in the less than 1000 cases range. Even with 5 hours available, it is very difficult to taste so many wines and maintain a discerning palette that is fair to each wine. That said, some of the highlights of this event included wines made by Landy Vineyards, Chiarito Vineyard, Acorn Winery, Skipstone, Valdez Family Winery and Reynoso Family Vineyards. Each of these represented some unique aspect and most are growers and winemakers. An alphabetically listed review follows.
Acorn Winery, located in Healdsburg, poured several wines including a Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese and Acorn Hill a field blend from their Alegria Vineyard. All were very nice but the Syrah and Cab Franc were stand outs. The vineyards are all Russian River and date back to the 1890s. Acorn has a field blend tradition which produce very balanced and interesting wines. This is a real family run operation with no tasting room but they do offer tastings by appointment at 707-433-6440.
Chiarito Vineyard, is owned and operated by second generation southern Italian, John Chiarito and is located in the eastern Ukiah Valley – in the upper bench lands of the Russian River. His farming passions were ‘planted’ by his grandfather and ‘cultivated’ by his father, Americo Chiarito. John features several southern Italian varietals including Nero D’Avola and Negroamaro. John also produces a powerful Zinfandel. All quite exceptional. His focus is on highly structured and intense flavors. The vineyard is thinned for 2½ to 3 tons per acre. Employing dry farming (no irrigation) and cross cultivation makes Chiarito very unique in the United States. No tasting room but you can contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foursight Wines is located in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County and was established in 2006 by Bill and Nancy Charles (growers since 2001) and their daughter Kristy and her husband Joe Webb. They focus on high quality premium wines with a special fondness for Pinot Noir. Kristy was pouring two Pinots, 2007 and 2009 vintages and although both were very round and colorful, the 2009 was especially pleasant and fragrant. Foursight does have a tasting room in Boonville and it is open Friday through Monday from 10:00 to 4:30. Definitely worth a stop!
Landy Family Vineyards is another Russian River Valley family operation. Owned and operated by Jim and Christina Landy, they employ the widely heralded guidance of consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs and vineyard management expertise from Valdez and Sons, Vineyard Management. Some of the very best in the business. Christina poured a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Blend called Melange de Vin Rouge that were more than exceptional and worth multiple tastes. If you are seeking wines made with a very personal touch Landy may be what you are looking for. They are opening a tasting room in Healdsburg on December 1st. email@example.com
Reynoso Family Vineyards is another smallish operation created by Joe and Elena Reynoso in the mid 1990s. Elena is the winemaker and has been in the industry for more than a decade starting in Chicago. Joe and Elena have over 500 acres in the Alexander valley and focus their attention on Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah. They created a second label, Long Gamma, to experiment with a white and red blends showcasing their exceptional fruit. The Reynoso wines had a wonderful mouth feel and great fruit while being very approachable. There is no tasting room at this time.
Skipstone Ranch Winery opened an amazing level of sophistication at this event. A micro winery in terms of case production, Skipstone was founded by Fahri Diner, a native of Cyprus, who is very comfortable with the Mediterranean like terrain and weather that Sonoma County offers. Diner has assembled an elite team including executive wine maker Phillip Melka and vineyard management by Ulises Valdez – a recurring theme. Brook Drummond, General Manager, poured the 2008 Oliver’s Blend – 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc – and it was truly exquisite. Skipstone makes less than 500 cases of wine per year and only bottles the Oliver’s Blend and a Viognier. They also offered an exceptional estate olive oil for tasting. No tasting room but a must visit vineyard which can be arranged via the website.
Valdez Family Winery may be the biggest success story in recent Northern Sonoma County history. Founded by Ulises Valdez, who built a hugely successful vineyard management business (over 1000 acres), his wines have been served at a state dinner honoring President Calderon of Mexico at the White House by President Obama last year. Ulises’ winemaker is Mauricio Soto and he has helped take Valdez Family wines to the next level. Mauricio poured a couple Landy (see above) Zinfandels and a Botticelli – Rockpile Zin which were well structured and delightful. The tasting room is in Cloverdale and is open on Saturdays 11am-4pm and Friday and Sunday by appointment only 707-894-3710.
The food and food demos were mouthwateringly good. Of special note was the Braised Short Ribs from Dustin Valette, Chef de Cuisine at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. Served on a moist firm polenta with a wonderful parsley aioli. John Toulze, Managing Partner and Executive Chef at Sondra Bernstein’s Girl & the Fig, provided a great demo with a perfect fall comfort food, Bread Pudding. Chef Dino Bugica, Diavola Pizzeria in Geyserville offered several selections from his Salumeria. The brisket was amazing. Finally, Jude Affronti, owner and executive chef of Afffronti, just off the square in Healdsburg, offered a duck over polenta that was perfect fall fare. Yum!
Special recognition to Mark Tharrington and his team who organized and managed this important event. Matt has become a significant player in Sonoma and Mendocino County wine and food events over the past 12 years. Also of very important note is the coordinating and MC role played by Donna del Rey, founder of Relish Culinary Adventures and Relish Culinary Center in Healdsburg. Bravo to you both and your excellent teams!!