I met Andy Erickson when I was at Dalla Valle researching an upcoming story for Wine Enthusiast. Andy is DV’s winemaker and was, until recently, Screaming Eagle’s. He told me he and his wife, Annie, have their own personal brand, Favia, and when I expressed interest in tasting the wines, he said I’d have to check with Annie (who’s last name is Favia).
Now there’s a properly trained husband!
I did, and she was cool about it. So last week Andy and Annie drove down here to the East Bay and we had lunch at the Chez Panisse cafe, where they poured two of their Favia wines, the 2008 La Magdalena and 2008 Cerro Sur.
I don’t feature very many individual wineries here on the blog, but Andy and Annie’s story is a good one. The couple met in 1995, made a little wine together in 1996, and wed in 1998. Annie got her degree in viticulture and has had a stellar career, doing stints at Cathy Corison and Newton, with John Kongsgaard. She also did the replanting at Screaming Eagle. Andy began his wine career working at the barrel producer, Sequin Moreau, but, realizing he wanted to make wine, went to U.C. Davis, got his master’s in enology, and went on to work everywhere from Saintsbury to Spotteswood, Harlan/BOND and Staglin. Andy was, in effect, the Cabernet Sauvignon king of Napa Valley, while Annie was one of the valley’s most extraordinary viticulturalists.
In other words, just your ordinary young Napa power couple.
In 2003, Andy left Staglin to be a consulting winemaker. His path took him to Ovid, Dancing Hares, Arietta and Hartwell, as well as Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle. It was Dalla Valle, and specifically Andy’s love for Maya, the Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend off the estate, that led to the creation of Favia.
Andy: “Maya is what drew me into Cabernet Franc.” Annie: “Dalla Valle is the wine Andy wanted to make.”
The 2008 La Magdelena is 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Cerro Sur increases the Cabernet Franc to 70% while reducing the Cab Sauv to 30%. The grapes come from different places–Magdalena from the foot of Spring Mountain, Cerro Sur from the valley’s southeastern hills, above Wooden Valley–so it’s not quite fair to compare them strictly on a basis of varietal percentage. But it’s fair to say that Cerro Sur is a bigger, richer, more tannic and spicier wine, while Magdalena is sexy and voluptuous. Both wines are awesomely delicious, and if I were scoring them on Wine Enthusiast’s 100-point scale, which I’m not, they’d rate well into the 90s. (Both retail for $120.)
I like it when people take creative and entrepreneurial risks to do their own thing. No doubt that Andy could do quite well continuing to be an in-demand consulting winemaker, with that roster of stellar names on his resume. Ditto for Annie, who, having trained with David Abreu, could probably develop any vineyard she wanted to, for an appropriate price. But they have their eyes on the prize: their own brand. It’s not easy, not even for these two talented young people. They still have to get out there and sell the wine. But when the wine is that good, it’s hard for sommeliers to say no. Favia is represented in some of the country’s greatest restaurants, including Per Se, French Laundry and Momofuko.
“It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one’s present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.” Said to be a Latin proverb.
Steve will be back tomorrow.
Cashing in on fame
Can we talk?
Over the last few years I’ve tasted a lot of wines made by people who got famous and wealthy in other fields, then decided to try their hands at the wine biz.
They may be athletes or rock stars, businessmen, restaurateurs, celebrity cooks or Hollywood types, whatever. Their names are household words. And that’s precisely why they get into the wine biz: someone (marketing wiz? PR guru? agent?) persuades them that they have a leg up selling whatever they make, because the American public is so gullible, they’ll buy anything that has a famous name attached.
And you know what? Most of these famous name wines are pretty mediocre. They’re also usually overpriced. (There is one notable exception: Boz Scaggs. He makes really good wine at his Scaggs Vineyard on Mount Veeder.)
The warning for consumers is the oldest one: caveat emptor.
They’re at it again in NY over selling wine in grocery stores
This argument seems like it’s been going on forever in The Empire State, doesn’t it? The one about whether grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine.
There are valid arguments on both sides. Basic freedom and capitalism suggest grocery store owners should be allowed to sell wine. But liquor store owners fear that such a move would put them out of business.
It’s hard to take sides when you don’t have all the facts, but I’ve on record as supporting the grocery stores. This ghettoization of where wine can and can’t be sold is an anachronistic leftover of Prohibition and needs to stop.
And if you think NY is crazy, try Pennsylvania
PA has got to be America’s wackiest state when it comes to the distribution and sale of alcohol. (Well, maybe Utah’s even wackier.) It’s has been in a complete psychodrama lately. It’s a control state, meaning PA’s 625 liquor stores are owned by the state. That sucks. Some politicians, mainly Republicans including the Governor, want to privatize the state stores, which would be a good thing, but so far, no one has actually introduced a bill. It’s easy to say you’re for something if you take no actual steps to realize it.
Then there’s another idea floating around that would allow beer distributors to sell wine and liquor. The geniuses behind this say it’s to maximize customer convenience, since under the current system, wine and liquor are available at the state stores, but beer has to be bought by beer distributors or at a restaurant or bar.
That is a pretty schizoid system, but don’t you think beer distributors already have about as much power as we should trust them with? I do. The solution to PA’s problem is, once again, the basis of any free market: let any licensee (on- or off-premise) sell any alcoholic beverage they want.
Times’ Resto critic Bruni to pen op-eds
I’m looking forward to seeing how Frank Bruni, who’s been the Grey Lady’s restaurant critic for five years, will do now that he’s been given a coveted weekly slot on the paper’s op-ed page.
The Times has shown it has a sense of humor and is willing to take risks with its columnists. Maureen Dowd’s snark, Frank Rich’s biting wit (I miss him now that he’s gone over to New York Magazine) and even David Brooks’ dry scholaticism make for some of the liveliest opinion pieces in America. Now Bruni, who’s openly gay, joins their ranks.
I’ve been hearing buzz that Moscato is the new “it” grape from several sources so I did a little research, and since hip-hop plays into this, I think I have some relative authority here: I live in downtown Oakland. Five years ago Kanye West decided he liked it and said so on MTV. Then Lil’ Kim sang, “Still over in Brazil/Sipping moscato/You must have forgot though/So I’ma take it back to the block, yo.”
Back to the block, indeed. Moscato achieved a kind of underground popularity with the hip-hop crowd. I have young hip-hop friends who think it’s cool strictly because their rock heroes are singing about it. Kendrick Lamar, a rapper from Compton, has a new disc (Feb. 2011) called “Moscato”, and on this website a reviewer writes: While I may blame Aubrey Graham for introducing Moscato to the national conscious and nobody really looking into it as a wine and nothing more, I still don’t blame anyone for actually partaking of the stuff. It’s rather smooth and if placed in the right setting and right mood, it’s a real jump starter.
Aubrey Graham is a Grammy-nominated Canadian recording artist and actor who goes by the name Drake. When he sang this line last year: “It’s a celebration/ clap clap bravo/ lobster & shrimp & a glass of moscato…finish the whole bottle”, the social media sphere lit up with Moscato fever. What happens in hip-hop doesn’t always stay in hip-hop. Moscato burst from the streets and into popular consciousness, not only in the States, but abroad. From the Jerusalem Post, 5/12/11: “The new popular product of the 21st century is Moscato…”. From The Republic, out of Columbus, Indiana: “Now, suddenly and surprisingly, [Muscats] are generating buzz. Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, Calif., a marketing cooperative representing more than 500 farmers in the state, reported that new plantings of muscat are surging.”
Apparently so. I had lunch the other day with a major grower who told me his company is budding vines over to Moscato. This mommy blog recommended a sweet Italian sparkling Moscato rosé for Mother’s Day, reminding us that slightly sweet bubblies often appeal to women. As a sociological phenomenon, it’s interesting to see a wine wavelet arise in the hip-hop community and spill over to the general community. It may even be unprecedented.
But is there a gigantic Moscato boom? Is it the next Pinot Grigio? I don’t think so. I’m not exactly getting a ton of Muscat, or Moscato, or Orange Muscat, or anything from that family sent to me for review. By far the majority of what I taste is late harvest sweet dessert wine; Williams Selyem’s is the best, but EOS’s Tears of Dew is always a contender. (Bill Foley bought it last November, and I hope he continues to produce it.) So I don’t think the premium wine market is seeing a burst of Muscat Fever.
Where I suspect the growth is happening is in the popularly priced market. Barefoot, Flipflop, Fetzer, Woodbridge, Redtree, Coastal Ridge, Ca’ Momi and others all have sent me Moscatos lately, with prices hovering just below ten bucks suggested retail (which means you’ll find them in big chains for even less than that). They’re all clean, off-dry and crisp, the scores are in the 85 point range, and I’ve given a lot of them Best Buys. If there’s Moscato action, that’s where it is.
If you ask me, the most exciting place to be growing Pinot Noir now is the Sonoma Coast. Anderson Valley’s damned good. So is Santa Rita Hills. Russian River Valley/Green Valley is great; Santa Lucia Highlands is erratic. Carneros, err, umm, well, sometimes. Santa Cruz Mountains: so little produced, it’s practically extinct. But Sonoma Coast: there’s the real deal.
I was reminded of this by Randy Caparoso’s article on the coast, “Sonoma Extreme,” in the Jan. 31 issue of Sommelier Journal they gave out for free at the Wine Writers Symposium. While not breaking any new ground, Randy did a good job of updating readers on who’s who and what’s what.
I’ve been writing about the Sonoma Coast since the early 2000s, interviewing people like the Flowers, the Bohans, Don Hartford, David Hirsch, Daniel Schoenfeld (Wild Hog), Bill Smith, Jayson Pahlmeyer and, of course, Ehren Jordan, whom I featured prominantly in my 2005 book, A Wine Journey along the Russian River, which is out in a new paperback edition.
Reading Randy’s article, it’s funny how some of the same issues that were relevant in 2002-2004 are still being debated, namely, how to sub-appellate this vast, sprawling region, whose climates and soils are so wildly disparate that everybody agrees the appellation in and of itself is meaningless. This is, of course, why so many people make a distinction between the formal Sonoma Coast AVA and the “true” Sonoma Coast, which is much closer to the ocean.
It struck me also, in Randy’s article, how little one can generalize about Sonoma Coast terroir today, nearly a decade after I started trying. Even if you limit it to the first two coastal ridges running down from Annapolis to, say, Freestone, there are so many different elevations, exposures, soil types and micro-terroirs that it’s awfully hard to make accurate claims, beyond generalities. I liked Adam Lee’s description of Fort Ross-area Pinot (cited by Randy) as “soil-related flavors like forest floor and pine needles.” I’ve often described Failla’s Pinot Noirs, for example, as “feral,” a word I also used in my review of Williams Selyem’s ‘08 Hirsch. I described “dried pine needles” in Williams Selyem’s ‘07 Precious Mountain, and “balsam” — essentially the same thing — in Bjornstad’s ‘07 Hellenthal. Then there was the “hint of pine cone” I got from Hirsch’s ‘07 San Andreas Pinot. So I guess pine–in the form of needles, cones or balsam–is a marker of a Fort Ross-Seaview Pinot Noir. So is acidity. But the best of these wines possess an excitement that’s hard to put into words.
For me, the Fort Ross-Seaview area is the best understood sub-region of the true Sonoma Coast, although it will be at least another 50 years before it can be understood as well as, say, Oakville. It needs its own appellation, badly. Don Hartford told me, in 2003, concerning a separate Fort Ross AVA, “They’re trying, but they can’t agree on a name.” That was eight years ago. I know these things get political, but really, what’s the problem out there?
The good news is that a couple dozen “true” Sonoma Coast wineries started a new organization, West Sonoma Coast Vintners. Their web page says the Sonoma Coast “contains many distinct growing areas including Annapolis, Fort Ross/Seaview, Occidental, Freestone, Green Valley and the Sebastopol Hills.” Green Valley already is an AVA. The rest aren’t. Won’t it be nice when they are? I’ve had my problems in the past with appellations that are silly, but these little carve-outs in the Sonoma Coast are teeter-tottering on the edge of greatness, and they deserve their own identities.