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  Michael Apstein
  Wayne Belding
  Gerald D. Boyd
  Tina Caputo
  Jim Clarke
  Michael Franz
  W. Blake Gray
  Paul Lukacs
  Ed McCarthy
  Linda Murphy
  Rebecca Murphy
  Marguerite Thomas
  Robert Whitley
  Guest Columns


Columns – Linda Murphy

Virginia Vaults to New Heights
Linda Murphy
Oct 7, 2014

If sales figures means anything, Virginia wines are on top of the world. Sales of Virginia wines in fiscal year 2014 reached a record level, increasing by almost 2% from fiscal year 2013, at 521,000 cases. Since 2010, Virginia wine sales have grown 26 percent. And there's a lot more fuss over the Commonwealth's wine growth than just sales numbers. Ten years ago, there were some outstanding wines from Virginia, an equal number of adequate wines, as well as many flawed wines. Today, the overall quality of the wines has soared and there are many more members in the 'excellent' club.

Noble and Rot ... The Good and the Bad
Linda Murphy
Sep 9, 2014

The 6.0 earthquake that jarred Napa Valley on Aug. 24 injured more than 200 people, damaged historic buildings in downtown Napa city and homes in the southern end of the valley, and sent wine barrels and bottles tumbling from cellar racks and shelves. The damage to Napa's wine and agricultural businesses is estimated to be $80 million, and that figure that will likely increase as losses are fully assessed. Wine-filled tanks and oak barrels tumbled, spilling wine throughout cellars. Bottles in tasting rooms and retail shops crashed to the floor.

Try Before You Die: A New Twist on the Old List
Linda Murphy
Aug 12, 2014

The 'wines to try before you die' article has been written numerous times and in myriad ways. Most of the stories take a global view, recommending iconic wines such as Bordeaux First Growths and Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes. This is all great, and such lists are often interesting and thought-provoking. Yet one rarely sees U.S. wines on international 'before you die' stories, and when they do appear, they're from California, Oregon and/or Washington. Yet there numerous outstanding wine in the 'other 47' that get little, if any, attention outside state lines and deserve it.

MacRostie: Shining Brighter than Ever
Linda Murphy
Jul 22, 2014

I've enjoyed Steve MacRostie's wines since the early 1990s, when a retailer recommended a MacRostie Carneros Chardonnay for me to serve at a wedding anniversary dinner for my parents. He told me the wine was food-friendly and certain to please everyone; it also earned points with me for the tartan label, which would appeal to my Scottish-roots mother. The Chardonnay was a big hit, and I've followed Steve MacRostie's winemaking ever since.

Cheap Thrills
Linda Murphy
Jun 17, 2014

I think often about the price barriers that keep many Americans from drinking delicious wines and from making them a regular part of their lives. The subject came up in a big way at last week's Critics Challenge International Wine Competition in San Diego, where Texan Jeff Siegel, author of 'The Wine Curmudgeon's Guide to Cheap Wines' (Vintage Noir Media, 2013, $12.95), and I tasted several rounds of wines in the $15-and-under category and found some real gems. That stimulated much discussion during and after the judging about the fact that many rewarding and interesting wines can still be found for less than $15, and more importantly, for less than $10, which is approximately the price of a six-pack of craft beer.

Sonoma Legacy in a Bottle
Linda Murphy
May 20, 2014

I'm a sucker for a good wine story, particularly when I've experienced a tiny bit of it myself and know it to be authentic. The Bacigalupi family's story is one of those. Charles and Helen Bacigalupi met at Santa Rose Junior College, married and settled down in Healdsburg in Sonoma County. He established a decades-long dentistry practice and she worked for a time as a pharmacist. Together, they purchased the Goddard Ranch on Westside Road in 1956, and Helen became its overseer.

Super Seconds
Linda Murphy
Apr 22, 2014

In 1990s and early 2000s, some top-tier California wineries took great pains to disguise their second-label wines as new brands. As grape quality and quantity soared during this period (after phylloxera-ravaged vines were replanted to modern rootstocks and clones, and growers got a do-over in matching varieties to specific growing conditions), grapes that no longer made the quality cut were either sold on the bulk market, or more profitably, bottled as second or new labels.

A Salute to Bob Cabral
Linda Murphy
Mar 25, 2014

Bob Cabral, who in 1998 became only the second winemaker in Williams Selyem's 33 years as a commercial winery, will leave after the 2014 harvest. From all reports, his departure is amicable and gives Cabral the opportunity to produce wine with his family and seek new adventures. 'It's time for a change,' he said. Williams Selyem, of course, is the seminal producer of Pinot Noir (and lesser amounts of Chardonnay and Zinfandel) in Russian River Valley. Ed Selyem and Burt Williams went from hobby winemakers in a garage to become a cult favorite with sommeliers and those fortunate enough to get on the mailing list.

Johannes Reinhardt: Green Card as a Ticket to Golden Wines
Linda Murphy
Feb 25, 2014

Like most winemakers in New York's Finger Lakes region, Johannes Reinhardt is concerned about the damage the East Coast's 'polar vortex' might inflict on grapevines this winter. Yet his most arduous challenge was in securing a green card that would allow him to continue to produce wine -- most importantly his beloved Riesling -- in the United States.

Riesling Rising in Oregon
Linda Murphy
Jan 28, 2014

Approximately 10 years ago, Rollin Soles, co-founder of and then winemaker at Argyle Winery in Oregon's Willamette Valley, told me that Riesling could -- I emphasize could -- be the state's best white wine grape. With raised brow, I said, 'Really?' At the time, Pinot Gris claimed that distinction and Chardonnay was just beginning to evolve in Oregon, once Soles and his mates gained access to rootstocks and clones better suited to their growing conditions. But now I see, and taste, what Soles was taking about a decade ago, when Argyle was one of the very few Oregon wineries to produce Riesling.

Oregon Goes Boom
Linda Murphy
Dec 31, 2013

The pre-Christmas news that Domaine Drouhin had purchased the 280-acre Roserock property in Oregon's Eola-Amity Hills AVA might have raised eyebrows, had it not been for the prior, and unprecedented, string of Oregon vineyard land grabs in 2013 by companies based outside of the state.

Crab on My Mind and Plate
Linda Murphy
Dec 3, 2013

The debate will likely go on forever: Which U.S. region produces the finest-eating crab? Is it the Eastern Seaboard, with its blue crab? Alaskan snow crab? Florida stone crab? West Coast Dungeness? I love them all and won't wade into the treacherous waters of the 'best' discussion. Although I am partial to the meaty Dungeness species fished from the Pacific Ocean near where I live, that affinity is based largely on availability; fresh Dungeness is available at my local markets from November through early spring, and many top chefs plan their menus around Dungeness. But if I lived in Baltimore or Miami, blue or stone crabs, respectively, would likely be my favorites, just because they're classics in their regions.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Linda Murphy
Nov 5, 2013

I wrote here on WRO in May about a group of California winemakers, calling themselves the 'Seven % Solution,' who produce wines from unusual grapes such as Trousseau, Albariño, Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla, Montepulciano and Touriga Nacional. This loose organization's name comes from the fact that 93 percent of North Coast AVA vineyard acreage is devoted to the more traditional varieties seen in California, including the six mentioned in the first paragraph. The seven-percenters revel in the notion that the state's most intriguing wines just might come from non-mainstream (for California) grapes.

Cheap and More than Cheerful
Linda Murphy
Oct 8, 2013

I recently presented several good-value California wines to 24 visiting foreign wine influencers -- media, retailers and wholesalers -- from Europe, Canada and Asia. The theme was 'California Does Value,' and there were more than a few skeptics in the crowd -- particularly those from the United Kingdom. You see, very little high-quality wine is sent from California to the UK, because there is very little profit in doing so, and sometimes losses. The UK is extremely price-sensitive and has outrageously high taxes, leading the majority of California wineries to export to more lucrative markets, among them Sweden, Switzerland and Asia.

Cheap and More than Cheerful
Linda Murphy
Oct 8, 2013

I recently presented several good-value California wines to 24 visiting foreign wine influencers -- media, retailers and wholesalers -- from Europe, Canada and Asia. The theme was 'California Does Value,' and there were more than a few skeptics in the crowd -- particularly those from the United Kingdom. You see, very little high-quality wine is sent from California to the UK, because there is very little profit in doing so, and sometimes losses. The UK is extremely price-sensitive and has outrageously high taxes, leading the majority of California wineries to export to more lucrative markets, among them Sweden, Switzerland and Asia.

Hugh Chapelle's Quest for Excellence at Quivira
Linda Murphy
Sep 10, 2013

A rustically gorgeous property, Quivira is a wonderful place for visitors to learn about sustainable, organic and Biodynamic farming as they taste the wines. They're welcome to roam the gardens, pluck sweet cherry tomatoes from the vine, visit Ruby and the chickens, and see the prep tower, where Biodynamic sprays are prepared for application to the vines, in place of synthetic chemical sprays.

A Sonoma Story
Linda Murphy
Aug 20, 2013

I moved to Sonoma County in 1990, just in time to work the harvest. While it was a wonderful experience and set me up for eventually becoming a wine writer, I realized then that I not cranially engineered for chemistry and mechanics, and that I'm zero fun when it's cold and wet. Thus, there was no future for me in winemaking.

Wine Cool in the Sta. Rita Hills
Linda Murphy
Jul 16, 2013

The Sta. Rita Hills AVA in southwestern Santa Barbara County is known for its cool-climate Pinot Noirs and the hip 'coolness' factor of its wines. Yet the 2010 and 2011 vintages gave new meaning to the word 'cool.' First approved as 'Santa Rita Hills,' this American Viticultural Area was forced to abbreviate its name to 'Sta. Rita Hills,' after Chile's Viña Santa Rita winery complained that consumers would be confused about its wines versus those of the California region. I doubt that many wine buyers would mix up the two, but both sides came to a compromise, with the Californians changing the AVA name to Sta. Rita Hills. If somewhat awkward, Sta. Rita doesn't seem to have been impacted by the AVA name change, as its Pinot Noirs -- as well as Chardonnays and Syrahs -- have achieved top status.

No Vine, Still Wine!
Linda Murphy
Jun 11, 2013

During a recent tasting of US wines with Clark Smith of ApellationAmerica.com, Smith pulled out a wine cloaked in a brown paper bag. We had just tasted a dozen or so wines from 'unsuspecting places' -- among them Iowa, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Ohio -- so I figured that the mystery wine had to be really unusual. Like Cyndy Lauper. It was a very pale white wine with a faint minerally aroma. It tasted a bit like lemon-lime soda without the carbonation and sweetness. The finish was crisp, limey and grapefruity. I was certain it wasn't Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or a Clare Valley Riesling, and in fact, after sniffing and tasting the wine a few more times, I said to Smith, 'I don't think it's made from grapes. But I don't have a clue as to what the fruit is.' Smith, with a bird-ate-the canary grin, pulled the bottle from the bag and said, 'Avocado!'

Go Offbeat to Beat the Summertime Blues
Linda Murphy
May 14, 2013

Late-1950s rockabilly star Eddie Cochran was wrong: There is a cure for the summertime blues. It's a seven-percent solution of Trousseau, Semillon, Montepulciano, Chenin Blanc, Picpoul, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Albariño, Mourvedre, Vermentino, Gamay, Ribolla Gialla, Counoise, Barbera, Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, Carignan, St. Laurent, Tinta Cao, Aglianico and Verdelho. Drink one a day, as needed. Seventeen California wineries, calling themselves the 'Seven % Solution,' poured these oddball varietals at two tastings last week in Healdsburg, where the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys meet in northern Sonoma County.

California Whites: Viva Variety!
Linda Murphy
Apr 16, 2013

A British wine journalist once asked me why Californians felt so compelled to grow and vinify every wine grape known to man. My answer was simple: 'Because they can.' This journalist was accustomed to going to Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc, to Burgundy for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and to the Rhône Valley for Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, and was flummoxed by the myriad wines produced in California. 'Can't you people just focus?' was the plea. When I mentioned this to Bonny Doon Vineyard's Randall Grahm, his response was that California didn't make wine from enough different varieties.

The Rise--and Spread--of American Wine
Linda Murphy
Mar 26, 2013

The United States is the world's largest consumer of wine, having recently surpassed France and Italy to gain the top spot. We consume 13 percent of all the wine made on earth, and are becoming ever more thirsty for vino, as young adults/Millennials embrace the product of the grape with great enthusiasm--perhaps than their parents showed at such an age. America's growing taste for wine has opened the doors to hundreds of new wineries in the last five years or so. California, Oregon and Washington have seen their share of fledgling grapegrowers and winemakers, but it's in what my friends Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel of DrinkLocalWine.com call 'the other 47' where the real boom is being felt.

On Passion, Presciousness and Fenugreek
Linda Murphy
Feb 26, 2013

Drive, purpose and service to consumers motivate the wine journalists I know and respect, whether they be bloggers or print traditionalists. Those of us committed to the craft seek truth, unearth facts and report our findings to our readers, via any route possible. Opinion is heartily welcome. I don't respect everyone in my profession, as some are motivated by advertising dollars and/or narcissism about their endeavors. Yet most of us -- print and blog -- are motivated to speak to our audiences about the wines we like and the people who produce them. Professionalism, pride and drive trump the notion of passion any day.

Farewell Freestone, Hello Farrell
Linda Murphy
Jan 29, 2013

One of my favorite California winemakers, Theresa Heredia, left Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist Freestone Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast in the spring of 2012. It wasn't her decision. Initially, I was disappointed to learn of Heredia's departure from Freestone, and the shift in branding of the wines from the vineyard. I found Heredia's estate Sonoma Coast, Pastorale Vineyard and Quarter Moon Vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be exceptional and scintillating; the second-label Fog Dog estate wines offered admirable interest and complexity for their $35 price point. Yet silver linings abound in this change in personnel.

Outstanding Achievement Recognized: Merry Edwards
Linda Murphy
Jan 1, 2013

Few have contributed as much to modern, high-end California winemaking as Meredith "Merry" Edwards. And few have flown so low under the radar. Merry has been so far ahead of many curves -- the importance of matching grapevine clones to specific vineyard sites, and her Masters thesis on the health risk of lead capsules, to name just two -- that her discoveries were not fully accepted until others affirmed her research. Edwards has always been ahead of her time, yet her time for formal recognition is now.

Noble, with a Only a Hint of Rot
Linda Murphy
Dec 4, 2012

It's the most wonderful time of the year (thank you, Nissan and the late Andy Williams, for that earworm): Holidays, celebrations, family gatherings, delicious food, great wine and good cheer. It's also a time for stress, rushing around, nasty weather and economic uncertainty going into a new year. It's 'Noble or Rot' column season, too, when I find myself waxing and whining about vinous developments. I've always been a bit bah-humbuggy about Christmas, the December holiday my family celebrates; I much prefer summery Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Perhaps it's the fall-winter chill combined with a chronically malfunctioning wall heater, the heavy rains that find every little leak in my roof, and the depression I feel when darkness falls at 5 p.m. instead of 8, that bring out the cranky in me.

Sweet Red Wine?
Linda Murphy
Nov 6, 2012

Sweet red wine? Yuck, you might say. I certainly don't drink it, nor do many of my wine writing colleagues or friends, yet red wines produced with 2 to 10 percent residual sugar in them are, along with also-sweet Moscato, the largest-growing wine categories in the U.S., according to Nielsen Company. Nielsen, which tracks sales nationwide in grocery stores, reported sales of 350,000 cases of sweet red wine in 2011, an increase of 202 percent from 2010 (calculations are based on sales in grocery stores). SymphonyIRI Group independently reported that more than 500,000 cases of sweet red wine were sold in the States in 2011.

Firecrackers from the Finger Lakes
Linda Murphy
Oct 9, 2012

For all of its viticultural diversity, which includes Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger, Merlot, Pinot Noir, icewine and Dr. Konstantin Frank's beloved Rkatsiteli (made from an ancient grape native to the Republic of Georgia), Riesling is the real firecracker from the Finger Lakes, whose mineral-rich limestone and shale soils and typically chilly climate are conducive to producing racy Rieslings that can stand toe-to-toe with the best of Germany, Austria and Australia.

Get Thee Some Kiwi Gris from NZ
Linda Murphy
Sep 11, 2012

I wrote a column for Wine Review Online in 2008 about New Zealand's aromatic white wines -- Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer -- and how they were having a difficult time finding their place in the market alongside the Kiwis' iconic Sauvignon Blancs. Four years later, New Zealand Pinot Gris appears to be that wine, having made strides in both quality and in finding itself. I'm a fan of dry Riesling and floral, spicy Gewurztraminer from New Zealand, yet Pinot Gris is far more available in the U.S., and my tasting last week of 27 of them -- which are all sold in the States -- showed an encouraging shift toward more serious, complex wines.

Summer Thrill Ride: Assyrtiko from Santorini
Linda Murphy
Aug 14, 2012

Santorini, the Aegean island to which the Assyrtiko vine variety is native, produces nervy, minerally, oceanic and extremely flavorful wines that are, arguably, Greece's finest. Assyrtiko (ah-SEER-teh-koh), as its name suggests, is assertive and not for the faint of palate; wines made from the grape have the acid tension of a Jimi Hendrix solo. Yet uncork a bottle with a plate of raw or cooked seafood, and Assyrtiko assumes the beautiful harmony of the Beach Boys in their heyday.

A Screed Against French-ification
Linda Murphy
Jul 17, 2012

Every now and then, I have a need not for speed, but screed -- to rant about a particular development in the wine industry. My recent tasting of a bottle of Champ de Rêves 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir got me foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog … or perhaps I should say chien enrage. What has me wiping spittle from my chin is that this new brand, from the folks at Jackson Family Wines (Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, Cambria, Stonestreet, etc.), has been handcuffed with a French name.

The Judgment of...Princeton?
Linda Murphy
Jun 19, 2012

Last week, I gave four New Jersey red wines higher scores than I did Bordeaux First Growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild. In fact, I gave the Mouton a mere 14 points on a scale of 20 -- well behind Bordeaux-style reds from New Jersey: 2008 Silver Decoy Cabernet Franc (17 points), 2007 Tomasello Oak Reserve (17), 2010 Heritage Estate BDX (16) and 2008 Amalthea Europa VI (15.5).

Let's Hear It for Hybrids
Linda Murphy
May 22, 2012

Let's hear it for hybrids. I don't mean fuel-efficient Priuses, but rather the wine grapes with names like Brianna, Marquette, Frontenac and Valvin Muscat, which are unfamiliar to the vast majority of wine drinkers -- and winemakers -- on the West Coast, yet are the lifeblood of grapegrowers and winemakers east of the Rocky Mountains. Hybrid grape varieties not only let vintners produce wine in climates too cold or too humid for classic European vinifera varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also give them an opportunity to make excellent wines. Trust me.

March Madness for Wollersheim Demonstrates Wine Competition Sanity
Linda Murphy
Mar 27, 2012

The recent 'March Madness' performance of Wollersheim at the San Diego International and Eastern International competitions was no fluke, and it strongly suggests that professionally run competitions with open-minded yet focused judges can lead consumers to wines they might not otherwise be aware of. That the panels include wine writers, sommeliers, retailers and wholesalers means that what they discover in their blind evaluations can push into the spotlight exciting wines that might otherwise remain behind the curtains.

Noble, or Rot?
Linda Murphy
Feb 28, 2012

While ice wines come from grapes whose sugars are concentrated by freezing after many months on the vine, other dessert wines are produced from grapes infected with noble rot, or more formally, Botrytis cinera. Just as there is good cholesterol and bad, there is good (noble) rot and bad (ignoble), the former drying out grapes to the point of raisin formation and flavor concentration, the latter turning grapes to unfermentable mush. Hey, that reminds me: It's time for another installment of 'Noble or Rot:'

Three to Watch
Linda Murphy
Jan 31, 2012

For several years running, The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper has chosen a California 'Winemaker of the Year' and 'Winemakers to Watch,' the latter a handful of rising stars who are doing dynamic things in the vineyard and cellar to make their marks in the wine world. Fellow WRO columnist Gerald Boyd and I are former Chronicle wine editors and we made these selections in the past; Jon Bonne has the pleasure now. As I sink my teeth into 2012, I've begun my own 'Ones to Watch' list. Yet it's not open to newcomers or young mavericks, but rather to important California wineries and wine companies that changed hands in 2011.

Next Up? Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula
Linda Murphy
Jan 3, 2012

I'm in the home stretch of writing a book which celebrates winemaking and grape growing in all 50 of the United States. During the process, a number of people have asked me which region in the 'other 47' (Drink Local Wine.com's term for winemaking states other than California, Oofregon and Washington) I've found to be the most exciting. It's a tough question, because I've found something fascinating about every state, and experienced enological electricity in several regions that I had previously under-rated or was unfamiliar.

White Wow Wines from 2011
Linda Murphy
Dec 6, 2011

Expensive and/or famous wines come with high expectations, and my notes reflect whether they meet those expectations or not … whether the wines need cellaring before they show their true selves … whether there is something magical about them to justify the price/notoriety, or the patience to put them away for 10 years. Yet this class of wine isn't eligible for my private 'wow' status. It is reserved for wines that are discoveries (to me); pleasant surprises; unusual varietals or blends; from emerging regions; offer amazing value; show that an under-achiever has just stepped up its game, etc. Wow wines aren't just good, they're exciting, conversation-stimulating, instantly pleasurable and in most cases, worth purchasing by the case.

Our Present Viewed from the Past
Linda Murphy
Nov 8, 2011

Fifteen years ago, as a prelude to the Sonoma County Showcase and Wine Auction, a press conference was held at Mark West Estate in the Russian River Valley. At the time, the Sonoma County auction received very little media coverage, and for various reasons: It was dwarfed by the Napa Valley Wine Auction (now Auction Napa Valley); some of Sonoma County's marquee wineries did not participate; Sonoma Valley vintners had their own freewheeling auction-cum-party that siphoned off some media from the county event; writers don't find much news to report from charity auctions other than the total take, celebrity attendees, and if Robert Mondavi sells the shirt off his back (which he did at the 1991 Napa auction).

Old But Gold in California
Linda Murphy
Oct 11, 2011

Old vines are deeply rooted in California's winegrowing history, and if Joel Peterson and his son, Morgan Twain-Peterson, have their way, grapevines that continue to produce fruit at 50, 75 and 100 years old will remain long into the future. Joel Peterson is the founding winemaker at Ravenswood Winery, having produced his first two single-vineyard Zinfandels in 1976. Zinfandels made from old vines in Northern California have always been his mission, and Peterson passed on that love of ancient things to his son, Morgan, born in 1981 and today a talented and thoughtful winemaker in his own right.

Buty and the Beast
Linda Murphy
Sep 13, 2011

If you live in California, as I do, you likely don't see many Washington state wines on restaurant lists, and even fewer on retail Shelves. Thus, I was excited to learn that a top-notch Walla Walla, Wash., producer, Buty Winery, has jumped into the California wine lake. Starting in September, Caleb Foster and Nina Buty Foster (he's the winemaker, she's the general manager, and together they are husband-and-wife owners) are making their wines available in my home state plus 14 others, Washington, D.C. and British Columbia.

Noble, or Not?
Linda Murphy
Aug 16, 2011

Noble rot, Botrytis cinera, makes the style of Sauternes/Barsac sweet wines possible. When the rot develops in healthy grapes, it dehydrates them, intensifying their sugars and flavors so that the wines are lip-smackingly sweet and honeyed, yet with brisk acidity to cleanse the palate. Yet not all rot is noble, and the nasty ones destroy the clusters, rendering them worthless for winemaking. Thus, here is an infrequent installment of my Noble or Not raves and rants. May the positives outweigh the negatives!

A Real Deal Anniversary at Freemark Abbey
Linda Murphy
Jul 26, 2011

I chuckle to myself whenever I receive notice of a California winery celebrating its fifth or 10th anniversary with a big party. However, when I receive an invitation from a winery to an event marking its 125th anniversary, that's something to get excited about. There isn't even an anniversary gift assigned to 125 years, it's that very long a time. The birthday was Freemark Abbey's, the celebration on July 15, to mark not only the Napa Valley producer's 125 years of winemaking, but also its resiliency and just-like-family bonding of its people during times difficult and delightful.

Winds of Change Reach Gale Force
Linda Murphy
Jun 21, 2011

Gone are the days when the sale of an important winery or vineyard shocks those who follow the U.S. wine industry. In the last decade, particularly in California, wine properties have changed hands nearly as often as I change the sheets on my bed. Every week, a new transaction seems to take place, and it's usually a big company swallowing up a smaller one.

Making Sense of Appellations
Linda Murphy
May 25, 2011

The overarching goal of the U.S. Treasury Department's American Viticultural Area program is to eliminate confusion for consumers who shop for American-made wines. AVA status, conveyed by Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), is indicated on wine labels, and is intended to inform shoppers of the provenance of the wines. In short: AVAs are supposed to tell us where the grapes were grown, and theoretically, the style of wine inside the bottle.

Appreciation: Jess Jackson
Linda Murphy
Apr 26, 2011

Jess Jackson, founder of California's Kendall-Jackson and owner of 30 other brands and 14,000 acres of vineyards, died April 21 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 81. Although he didn't plant a vineyard until he was in his mid-40s, and didn't bottle his own wine until he was 52, Jackson packed more accomplishments into his 37 years in the wine business than any other American.

Alysian and the Color of Quality
Linda Murphy
Mar 29, 2011

It's said that we eat first with our eyes, meaning that if a plate of food looks appetizing, we will likely dig in, believing that it will be delicious before we've taken a bite. If the beet juice has merged with the mashed potatoes, and the meat has the grayish look of a cement block, we don't get our hopes up too high for how the food will taste. Similarly, wine is also drunk with the eyes, its appearance giving us some idea of what the wine will taste like.

Surprising Wines from Santa Barbara County
Linda Murphy
Mar 1, 2011

Santa Barbara County's cool-climate areas in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills AVAs produce marvelous Pinots -- and Chardonnays -- yet there are warmer pockets within them that are conducive to growing Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. AVA status doesn't always give a detailed picture of the vinous opportunities a region presents. Only with the establishment of specific sub-AVAs within larger AVAs will consumers begin to understand the varietal options and wine styles they can expect in the bottles they purchase.

California Dreaming: Gorgeous 2007 Cabernets
Linda Murphy
Feb 1, 2011

A colleague of mine on the San Diego Union (now Union-Tribune) newspaper sports copy desk was (and probably still is) fond of saying, 'Even a blind hog can uproot an acorn every once in a while.' It's a common saying in the South, and in 2007 in California, it also applied to the Cabernet Sauvignon vintage. It was such a glorious growing season that nearly every winemaker produced Cabernets of admirable quality. The 2007 vintage is mostly diamonds, with very few dogs -- and it would be incredibly bad luck to find the latter.

A Vinous Look Back and Ahead
Linda Murphy
Jan 4, 2011

While I'm already thinking of the end of 2011, I'm also looking back on the year of wine in 2010. It was a year in which the economy had a tremendous impact on the industry, and wine drinkers. With consumers losing their jobs, enduring salary cuts and furloughs, struggling to pay their mortgages and facing soaring health care costs, few were in the mood to pay big bucks for wine.

Ruminating Relentlessly about Wine Style
Linda Murphy
Dec 7, 2010

Last week's 11-year retrospective tasting of Shafer Vineyards' 'Relentless' Napa Valley Syrah/Petite Sirah had me imitating Rodin's 'The Thinker' all weekend, contemplating wine styles, what I like to drink, and how I recommend wine to others -- even those I'm not likely to drink myself.

Stimulation for the Palate--and the Brain
Linda Murphy
Nov 9, 2010

If I had to drink only California, Oregon and Washington wines for the rest of my life -- the wines most available to me -- I would not be unhappy, but I would be restless. My curiosity about wines produced in the other 47 states would consume me: What am I missing? One doesn't drink only Bordeaux and declare, 'I know French wine.' One must taste the wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, the Loire and Rhone valleys, the Languedoc, etc., in order to make that statement. I want to 'know' American wine, and that means tasting everything I can, from regions that aren't already familiar to me.

A Game-changing Vintage in California?
Linda Murphy
Oct 12, 2010

Could 2010 be the year in which California Cabernet Sauvignon returns to the elegant, age-worthy style of yesteryear? Will Mother Nature force winemakers to reduce the ripeness of their grapes, and alcohol levels in their wines, by preventing them from letting the fruit hang on the vines too long? Will my favorite Cab producers, among them Chateau Montelena, Clos du Val, Corison, Ridge and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, finally have more company in bottling wines with true Cabernet character, with firmly tannic structure, refreshing acidity, secondary complexity notes of leafy herbs, cedar, forest floor and mint, alcohol percentages under 15, food compatibility, and capacity to develop in the cellar for a decade or more?

The Aroma of Consolidation
Linda Murphy
Sep 14, 2010

The current trend toward winery consolidation and cost-cutting in California smells like cabbage left in the refrigerator for two weeks too long. It stinks, and particularly now, as Northern California wine grapes are finally being harvested, two to three weeks later than usual following a very cool spring and, thus far, summer. Iconic wineries such as Arrowood Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma County, Freemark Abbey Winery in Napa Valley and Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda (an island across the bay from San Francisco) have seen their winemaking programs relocated to facilities far away from their original homes, after the wineries and brands were purchased by large corporations.

Ehlers Estate: Winery with a Heart
Linda Murphy
Aug 17, 2010

Ehlers Estate in St. Helena has gone about its charity business rather quietly, without much fanfare, donating every penny of its profits to cardiovascular research conducted throughout the world. This philanthropy, along with the opportunity to produce Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from organically grown grapes from a single estate, lured Kevin Morrisey away from Stag's Leap Winery in 2009 to become Ehlers' general manager and winemaker.

Jordan's Rejuvenation
Linda Murphy
Jul 20, 2010

I am happy to say that things have changed dramatically at Jordan, so much so that I'm now a fan of Rob Davis' wines and of John Jordan, Tom's son, who took over as CEO in 2005. John, who left his law practice to join the business, has made enormous changes, including in the vineyards, the hospitality center and consumer outreach. Appointments are still required to visit, yet one doesn't need to know the password or secret handshake. Just call.

Serious California Rosé
Linda Murphy
Jun 22, 2010

Many California wineries are now producing dry rosés, yet some do it better than others. Too many -- most of them newcomers to the category -- have the notion that rosé should be more red than pink, and more tannic, alcoholic and gutsy than the European rosé models, in order to be accepted in the United States. These are the rosés I do not consider to be serious.

Rotten Deeds and Noble Accomplishments
Linda Murphy
May 25, 2010

Recent wine industry developments have me thinking about noble rot -- as in noble accomplishments and rotten deeds. Unfortunately, I must start with the bad before I get to any good. If HR 5034, a bill introduced to Congress by beer wholesalers and supported by wine and spirits wholesalers, is passed into law, it would greatly reduce consumer choice in the wines they purchase, and how they purchase them. It could also mean ruin for small wineries that rely on direct-shipping of their wines to consumers, rather than relying on a shrinking list of wholesalers to sell their wines.

Pairings from a Master Matcher
Linda Murphy
Apr 27, 2010

I don't pay a lot of attention to books on matching wine with food. I don't have anything against them, and many people find them useful and inspiring I just don't bother with them. Yet a new book on matching, from California master sommelier Evan Goldstein, not only caught my eye, it captured my interest.

Kunde: Ducking the Downdraft and Lifting Its Game
Linda Murphy
Mar 30, 2010

When the announcement came earlier this year that Vintage Wine Estates had purchased a share of Kunde Family Estate winery in Sonoma Valley, it seemed to be one more domino to fall, one more long-time producer needing a bailout. Yet my recent visit to Kunde, just outside the town of Kenwood, proved this was not the case. In fact, the Kunde family, which has grown grapes in Sonoma Valley since 1904, appears to be in better shape than ever.

Evaluate--or Enjoy?
Linda Murphy
Mar 2, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about evaluating wines vs. enjoying wines -- and there is a big difference. By day, I taste dozens of wines a week, sometimes hundreds if I'm judging a competition, and the task is to judge each one in some context. Yet by night, when it comes to choosing a wine I want to drink with dinner, or on a summer Saturday afternoon on the patio with friends, the bottle I open usually has little to do with scores or stars assigned to wines during the evaluation phase. I might give a wine 92 points if it's remarkable and well-made, then say to myself, 'But I don't want to drink it.'

Lambert Bridge Crosses the Rubicon
Linda Murphy
Feb 2, 2010

A former winemaker colleague of mine was fond of saying, 'Northing happens quickly in the wine business except mistakes.' Lambert Bridge Winery in the Dry Creek Valley of northwestern Sonoma County is proof of that - not because of any mistakes it might have made, but because the producer demonstrates just how long it can take to turn a moribund winery into one bursting with life and success.

The Fall of the Republic
Linda Murphy
Jan 5, 2010

My heart sank when I pushed my shopping cart toward the checkout line at my local Trader Joe's store just before Christmas. There, facing the cash registers, was a huge case stack of wines from Sauvignon Republic, a serious Sauvignon Blanc-only brand based in Sonoma County and producer of wines made from grapes grown in Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the Marlborough region in New Zealand, and Stellenbosch in South Africa. Not only was I depressed that these fresh, energetic wines were available at Trader Joe's (which has a reputation for being a clearinghouse for wines that don't find more lucrative homes), but also that they were priced at $6.99 per bottle. They normally sell for $18 to $20, so the Trader Joe's 'sale' meant only one thing: that Sauvignon Republic was Houdini, about to disappear.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
Linda Murphy
Dec 8, 2009

On the first day of Christmas My true love sent to me: A 3-liter of Screaming Eagle, praise be! (Which I hope to sell, when the economy recovers, for thousands of dollars, to be used as a down payment on a used car, to replace my really, really used car. Or perhaps I'll use the proceeds to pay for a few months of health insurance premiums. Decisions, decisions …)

Thanks, and No Thanks
Linda Murphy
Nov 10, 2009

I'm written dozens of wines-for-Thanksgiving stories, including one for the San Francisco Chronicle, which told readers where they could buy wine on Thanksgiving Day. I was surprised to learn just how many wine shops are open on the holiday, saving the day for procrastinating shoppers. This isn't that kind of column. Instead, I'm giving thanks -- and no, thanks -- for some wine-related developments in 2009 that had me thinking about more than just what wine to serve with turkey and fixings.

Antica: Another Achievement from Antinori
Linda Murphy
Oct 13, 2009

Everything Italy's Marchese Piero Antinori and his winemaking family touches seemingly turns to gold: Chianti from Tuscany, the "Super Tuscan" Tignanello and Solaia wines, Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino, Guado al Tasso in Bolgheri, Castello della Sala in Umbria, Tormaresca in Puglia, and Montenisa sparkling wine in Franciacorta. So it is no surprise that the Antinoris, who have achieved phenomenal success in the 26 generations they have made wine, have yet another winning brand, one that debuted only in 2007, yet is as solid as the volcanic rock blasted to smithereens two decades ago to make way for the vineyards which supply it.

Shifts in Sonoma
Linda Murphy
Sep 15, 2009

On vacation in Sonoma County in 1987, the place flashed 'HOME' like a big Las Vegas neon sign. I was taken by the beauty of the area -- not just the vineyards, but also the rivers and lakes, the mountains, redwood forests, winding country roads and rugged coastline -- and with the friendly people who went out of their way to be helpful. I loved the fact that I could dine in a fine restaurant and be seated next to a grapegrower in jeans and dusty boots.

Grasping the Genius of Ramey Chardonnays
Linda Murphy
Aug 18, 2009

While I am always looking for lower-alcohol, crisp white wines with energy and compatibility with a wide range of foods, I have concluded that California Chardonnay - at least the high-end stuff, produced from premiere cru-equivalent vineyards such as those Ramey sources -- needs to have some oomph: ripe fruit, oak contact, and a textural richness that comes from lees contact. By extension, they will almost always have significant, yet not over-the-top, alcohols.

No Second Acts in American Life?
Linda Murphy
Jul 21, 2009

Richard and Thekla Sanford … Gary Farrell ... Brice Cutrer Jones … the Fetzer siblings ... winemaking icons all, yet they are no longer connected to the wineries they founded, and which still bear their names. But the most traumatic departure from one's own winery was that of Robert Mondavi and his family, after Robert Mondavi Corp. was sold to Constellation Brands in 2004.

A Petite Feat
Linda Murphy
Jun 23, 2009

Petite Sirah can be such a monster that it is among my least favorite varietals. Like so many other wine competition judges, I cringe when I'm assigned the Petite Sirah category, because I know I'm in for a long, painful day of tannic assault and blueberry-syrup flavors. Yet for every one of me, there is a Petite Sirah fanatic, someone who loves the wine for the very reasons I don't. In fact, there is the 'P.S. I Love You' fan club, comprised of producers and consumers who are as devoted to their grape as members of the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers are to theirs.

Marlborough Sauvignon at a Crossroads
Linda Murphy
May 26, 2009

Montana, New Zealand's largest wine producer, celebrated its 30th vintage of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in March, an occasion so significant that Prime Minister John Key was there to unveil a monument marking the spot where the first commercial vineyard in Marlborough was planted, in 1973, by Montana founder Frank Yukich. At that time, Yukich declared, 'Wines from here will become world famous,' despite the fact that the region was previously known for its sheep ranches and fruit orchards rather than vineyards.

Wineries That Always Deliver
Linda Murphy
Apr 28, 2009

I love a breaking wine story as much as anyone, and my pulse races when I acquire the odd bottle of California Vermentino or Tannat. Yet I have great appreciation and admiration for wineries that have been around for a while and do a consistently excellent job in bottling quality, and selling it for fair prices.

Great Drinks for Tough Times
Linda Murphy
Mar 31, 2009

With the economic disaster, workers getting pink slips, taxes soaring and some of us looking under the sofa cushions for loose change, drinking wine at dinner can be a comfort, helping to bring people together at the table for a deep breath and stimulating conversation. Even the most humble of dishes, such as hamburgers and macaroni and cheese, taste better when they're accompanied by a bottle of wine passed around the table. With so many tasty wines available for under $15 -- less than the cost of a large take-out pizza -- wine does not have to be seen as an unaffordable luxury

Sad Sideways Sequel in Oregon
Linda Murphy
Mar 3, 2009

Across America, the deepening recession has changed how most of us eat and drink. While consumers appear to be buying as much wine as before, they're trading down, buying less expensive bottles (or boxes). Oregon doesn't have a lot to offer in the $15-and-under category, where most of the sales action is during these trying times, so wine lovers with a $12 price limit will look to wines from other states and countries.

Chilean Wines for the Times
Linda Murphy
Feb 3, 2009

For those who appreciate $20 wines that taste like $40, look to Chile, as I did on a recent visit to judge the Wines of Chile Awards in Santiago. Between the competition -- limited to wines priced $30 or less -- and tastings at wineries, I found a number of delicious Chilean wines that are available in the United States and suitable for serious but penny-pinching wine drinkers.

Is There Really 'No Accounting for Taste'?
Linda Murphy
Jan 6, 2009

I write about West Coast wines for London-based Decanter magazine. Its editors and many of its contributors live in the United Kingdom and are, naturally, Euro-centric in their tastes, having been weaned on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Wines made in the United States have to go the extra mile -- make that kilometer -- to impress them. After Decanter published its California Cabernet Sauvignon report in the January 2009 issue, based on tastings conducted in fall 2008 in London (which I did not attend), it was with some trepidation that I turned to page 82 to see how the 2005 California Cabs fared. Literary blood soaked the paper.

California Chardonnay for the Ages
Linda Murphy
Dec 9, 2008

Seldom do wine writers get the opportunity to taste aged California Chardonnay ... So I jumped at the chance to taste 10 Patz & Hall Chardonnays with some bottle age on them, the oldest from the 1999 vintage. Overall, the wines showed extremely well, yet it was the most senior of the group, the 1999 Patz & Hall Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, that was the most alluring for drinking now.

Penfolds: Something Delicious for Everyone
Linda Murphy
Nov 11, 2008

At a recent San Francisco tasting of selected red wines from the Penfolds cellar, guests were served 11 aged wines, including 1991 and 1998 St. Henri Shiraz, 2002 RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz, the fabulously well-preserved 1962 Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon/Kalimna Shiraz, and two vintages of Grange, 1990 and 1991.

An Exemplary Wine Blog
Linda Murphy
Oct 14, 2008

Tablas Creek general manager Jason Haas uses his blog not so much as a marketing tool for his wines, but as an information center on industry trends and issues. Any winery can blog blah-blah-blah about its medals won and 90-point scores; it takes thought and a commitment to serving the customer to create a blog that has something to say other than, 'buy my wine' or 'join our wine club.

J Wine Company: Beautiful Bubblies...and Beyond
Linda Murphy
Sep 16, 2008

In 1986, Judy Jordan raised eyebrows when she and her father, Jordan Winery founder Tom Jordan, created J Wine Co. for the expressed purpose of producing sparkling wine. An infatuation with bubbly and visits to Champagne left Judy certain that fine fizz was her future. 'My first baby: Bubbles,' she says.

The Mouth-Watering Rieslings of Alsace
Linda Murphy
Aug 19, 2008

For acid freaks like me, there are few places in the world better than Alsace for delivering white wines whose acidities take a layer off the tongue, get the drool going like Pavlov's dogs, and give new context to the phrase, 'hurts so good.'

Healdsburg: On the Road to Napa-ness
Linda Murphy
Jul 22, 2008

When I visited Healdsburg for the first time in 1987, it flashed "home" to me like a big Las Vegas neon sign. "Move here. Move here. Move here," it said. And I did, three years later, on nothing but blind faith.

Harsh Reality in the Wine Business
Linda Murphy
Jun 24, 2008

Lush, emerald-carpeted vineyards are still bucolic and green, wineries in chateau and redwood-barn structures remain charming and inviting, and the fine wines produced within them continue to ignite amorous sparks between people and the mating of food to wine. Winemaking and wine drinking remain seductive; it's the business of it all that can crush one's heart.

Home Run Napa Cabernets
Linda Murphy
May 27, 2008

The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons are entering the market, though plenty of 2004s are still out there, including the exceptional Spottswoode St. Helena Napa Valley, Dominus Napa Valley and, fittingly, the Robert Mondavi Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons--three of the finest wines I tasted from the vintage. Anywhere.

A Weighty Issue
Linda Murphy
Apr 29, 2008

I got up on the wrong side of the bed one recent morning and stubbed my big toe when I tripped over a 4-pound bottle of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. That's approximately 2 pounds of glass holding 2 pounds of liquid. The bottle is so ridiculously heavy that it could be used as a doorstop, or a weapon for use on an intruder, or a dumbbell for reducing underarm flab.

A Case for White
Linda Murphy
Apr 1, 2008

A stubborn insistence that red wine is the only wine that matters--especially sturdy, tannic Bordeaux and sensuous, elegant Burgundy--has been passed across the Atlantic from Europe to the United States and adopted by many Americans, who turn up their noses at any wines colored from pale straw to deep golden. Sadly, they're missing half the fun of drinking wine--and these are people who know wine, not neophytes.

Aromatic Whites from New Zealand
Linda Murphy
Mar 4, 2008

Kiwi Pinot Gris, Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are typically off-dry; winemakers leave a bit of unfermented sugar in the wines to balance the racy acidity and plump up the fruit character and texture of the wines. They're easy to drink, stylish, pair nicely with a wide range of foods, and--as winemaker after winemaker told me--they can't make enough to quench consumers' thirst.

Tasting Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Linda Murphy
Feb 5, 2008

For those who are neither wealthy nor connected, tasting Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is a treat of the highest order. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti isn't just the superstar of Burgundy; it produces some of the finest wines in the world, and unquestionably some of the most collectable. I'll take DRC La Tâche over Chateau Latour any day.

Passion for Pinot at Affordable Prices
Linda Murphy
Jan 8, 2008

Siduri's Adam Lee is among the small number of vintners who understand that the U.S. Pinot Noir category will survive only if there are tasty, varietally correct wines made at lower price points. Helen Turley's Marcassin Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs will always command whatever price her fans are willing to pay (they start at $75), and red-hot Kosta Browne will thrive as long as critics continue to adore the Russian River Valley- and Sonoma Coast-sourced wines. Yet the exclusivity and pricing of these stellar wines shut out all but a lucky few of the wine-buying public, so Lee has pledged to devote a portion of his Pinot Noir production to affordable wines.

Proverbs and Procrastinations
Linda Murphy
Dec 11, 2007

Since the road to hell is paved with good intentions -- and I meant to recommend the wines below much sooner, I swear -- I now ask forgiveness for pushing some bottles to the back of my mental cellar. I bring them forth now, and each is a winner, for the holidays and thereafter, for stuffing in stockings, stocking up by the case, or sending to the cellar for future drinking. I should have done this sooner, but hey, better late than never, yes?

Zins: Sins, and a Few Wins
Linda Murphy
Oct 16, 2007

I've been thinking a lot about Zinfandel, and about how little of it I drink. I sample hundreds of Zins a year at tastings and competitions, and where I reside in Sonoma County, I'm surrounded by Zinfandel vines and the folks who turn the fruit into wine. Yet I spit more Zin than I swallow.

RSV Gets Serious
Linda Murphy
Sep 18, 2007

Rodney Strong wines have always been reliable, yet almost always neglected by those interested only in 'serious' wines. If it can easily be found on a retail shelf, then these folks don't want it, and RSV's Sonoma County and estate bottlings have been just that -- good (but not great), accessible, affordable and available. The 'not great' part has stuck in the craw of Rodney Strong owner Tom Klein since he purchased the winery and vineyards from Guinness in 1989, and he's doing something about it.

ORCA Chardonnays
Linda Murphy
Aug 21, 2007

Seven members of ORCA, the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance, beached themselves at a restaurant a few weeks ago and demonstrated to me that at least seven Oregon wineries are producing gorgeous Chardonnays.

It's Not the Talk, It's the Walk
Linda Murphy
Jul 10, 2007

You've heard the worn-out marketing lines before: 'Warm days and cool nights' … 'unique soils' … 'our wines express the terroir of our special sites' … 'We craft our wines to complement food.' Nearly every winery in California can say the above is true of its vineyards and wines, as the claims are so superficial. How warm is warm, and how cool is cool?