Écluse Wines

Écluse Wines (www.eclisewines.com), in Paso Robles, offers wine tasting the way it used to be in the long gone Napa Valley times.  The tastings are held in the barrel room.  The bottles are laid out on a plank between two barrels.  And if you’re lucky, your glass will be filled by the owner and winemaker, Steve Lock.

Steve Lock, proprietor and winemaker, Écluse Wines.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

Mr. Lock and his wife Pam started their vineyard in 1997 and started making wine from their own property in 2001.  They have focused on Bordeaux and Rhone grapes ever since.  And, of course, since they’re in Paso Robles, they grow Zinfandel.

The setting of Écluse, atop a hill off a back road in Paso Robles, is quite rustic.  However, there’s nothing bucolic about the winemaking.  They are quite proud of the awards they have won, especially those from the San Francisco Chronicle’s annual wine competition.

The Central Coast climate leads to very high sugar concentrations.  The Locks believe in letting their grapes ripen to their peak flavors, so the alcohol content of their wines tends to run quite high.  Since they offer quite a number of their wines at each tasting, a bit of restraint is in order for the visitors.

Those wines fall into two categories.  There are single varietal wines, such as Merlot, Malbec and Zinfandel.  But then there are blends.  For a few examples, Ensemble is Écluse’s five-grape Bordeaux blend.  This you will find elsewhere. The others are like nothing else you’re likely to find in the Central Coast, or in all of California for that matter.  Improv is Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Carignan. Insider has Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (not so unusual) but half the wine is made from Tannat grapes!  A visit at Écluse is like a trip to Australia, without having to cross the Pacific.

The barrel room at Écluse.  Photo courtesy of Paso Robles Wineries.

Another distinguishing feature of a tasting at Écluse is that all of them include a barrel tasting.  If they’re not too crowded and you show genuine interest, Mr. Lock may treat you to an extraordinary experience.  He’ll draw wine from three barrels, each with oak of a different origin: France, Hungary and the United States.  The wine you taste will be from the same grape and vintage so the only differentiator is the wood.  This is an unforgettable experiment that offers proof of Écluse’s commitment to their wines.

Écluse is only open from Thursday through Sunday and reservations are advisable.  But we have found that if you’re not going to be in Paso Robles on the weekend, a call and a little polite pleading will win you a private tasting.

There’s a sly play on words in the name.  Écluse is the French word for lock, of the sort that are found on canals to raise and lower the boats.  Pictures of a lock are on the labels and considering the family name of the owner…

 

 

McCall Wines

Driving along Route 25 on Long Island’s North Fork isn’t much like motoring up Napa Valley’s Route 29.  Yes, there are wineries on both sides, but the California version is much grander.  There are a few wineries in Long Island with architecture that’s impressive, such as Raphael and Pellegrini, but most are understated.  Architecturally speaking, McCall is understated to the point of a whisper.  As you drive up to the winery, it seems like it could be farmhouse or a stable.

The tasting room at McCall Wines.

Well, it was a stable.  The owner, Russell McCall, is a horseman.  The tasting room has retained its equine charm, with a décor of saddles, farm implements  pictures of Mr. McCall playing polo.  Two of the stalls have been retained and you can taste your wine in them, if that’s your wish.   There is a small bar but tasting is done as table service, outside in the summer.

The site has historic interest.  It was once a meeting place of local Native Americans, known hundreds of years ago as Fort Corchaug.  The vineyard at the winery (they have another nearby) is still known as the Corchaug.  In good weather, we prefer to leave the stable behind us and sit at a picnic table on an expansive lawn overlooking that vineyard.

Tasting by the vines.

McCall also raises cattle on the property.  One of the popular attractions at the winery is Burger nights on seasonable Thursdays and Fridays, with the main attraction made from their own Charolais beef.  It may be a little unsettling to know that what you’re eating once lived just over there, but we recommend you wash down your concern with some wine.

We were first attracted to McCall by their Pinot Noirs, of which there are four.  It’s not a grape that is generally found on the North Fork, where Bordeaux grapes are more commonly grown.  These wines are not Burgundies, nor are they much like Pinot Noirs from Russian River.  They have their own local character.  You’ll have to judge for yourself how Long Island terroir plus maritime breezes work for these wines.

There are also Chardonnays and Rosés to sample.  But the star of the show, to our tastes, is a Bordeaux Blend they call Ben’s Blend, named for their founding winemaker.  McCall ages these wines – the youngest available for sale in 2022 is the 2014 vintage – and we find it more Californian in character and quality than any other red wine we have tasted from a Long Island winery.

One thing we appreciated when we last visited was that the winemaker, Miguel Martin, walked around to each table and had a few words with the patrons.  Mr. Martin is a Napa Valley veteran, transplanted to the East Coast.  We were quite impressed with the experience of wine tasting at McCall and urge visitors to the North Fork to include it on their itineraries.

A. Rafanelli Winery

You may have tasted a Rafanelli wine and if you did, it was probably in California and it was probably a Zinfandel, the wine they’ve been best known for for decades.  If you tell someone about what you tasted, they’ll either give you a dull look indicating that they’ve never heard of it or you’ll get a knowing nod that says that you’re now an initiate in a special club of Rafanelli admirers.

It’s not a winery that’s off the beaten path, since it sits on a hill along the well-travelled West Dry Creek Road.  And while you can go there for a tasting, you will need an appointment, which is not that easily come by.  (You even need an appointment to buy wine.)  When you go, you won’t find yourself in a handsome tasting room with servers waiting on you.  You’ll be in the barrel room with a worker who will be back growing grapes or making wine as soon as you leave.  Rafanelli is a throwback to an earlier era of wine tasting, one that is rapidly fading away as wine tasting has become a popular attraction for tourists.

Sometime in the early 1900’s, Alberto Rafanelli came over from Italy with his wife Letizia and planted vines.  It’s not clear whether those were Zinfandel grapes; in those days immigrant farmers planted whatever they could and mixed vines together in the fields.  By mid-century, their son Americo had moved the winery to its current location and had focused on Zinfandel.  From then to now, a Rafanelli Zin is a powerful, deep, fruit forward wine.  Was Dry Creek Valley famous for Zinfandel before the Rafanelli’s started cultivating it or did they cultivate it because the grape does well in Dry Creek.  Who knows?  And really, who cares except for the family itself.

As a visitor, what you should care about is what they serve you.  Some things you know in advance: It will be red wine.  You’ll certainly get to taste the Zinfandel.  You’ll get a feel for winemaking more than salesmanship.  You will probably be given a little of their other wines, variously going from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon to a 60-40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend.  Their top-rated wine, the Terrace Select, does not show up often in tastings (at least to our experience).

You will be in a working winery when you visit, no palaces here.  There is a loveliness about the location, though, sitting on a hill, surrounded by flowers.  We have a particular fondness for springtime, when the hill is alive with daffodils.

There’s another factor that makes a visit to Rafanelli attractive.  The management, winemaking and vineyard cultivation are in the hands Alberto’s great-grandchildren.  In this highly commercial age, it is rare to discover a family-owned winery, much less one that is carried on to the fourth generation.  Though we don’t know this as a fact, we believe that this tradition gives Rafanelli the freedom to make wines as they like them and not as some marketing department tells them to do.  We’re sure that the family hopes you like what they do, but they’re going to continue to do it their way.

Mattebella Vineyards

When we first arrived at Mattebella Vineyards (www.mattebella.com) we were a bit flummoxed.  For one thing, we couldn’t see a winery from the parking lot.  What we did see was a statue of a large red dog guarding the vineyards.  Had we stumbled on at the home of Clifford the Big Red Dog by accident?  But no, a few feet further along there was a statue of a large blue dog, and this one had an air tank in its back.

A statue of a large red dog stands in front of the vines.

A bit further on, there was a quite inviting garden, with tables, umbrellas, gazebos, sofas and people seemingly at an elegant party, sipping wine and snacking on charcuterie from large planks.  Had we crashed a private party?

In a short while, someone led us to an empty table besides rose bushes and, in time, a woman came by offering us the tasting list.  (We didn’t know at the time that the woman was the co-proprietor, Christine Tobin.  Her husband Mark is the winemaker and the winery is named for their children, Matthew and Isabella.) This was not the usual offering of the latest releases of the winery’s production.  There were red and white verticals available!  A rosé described as Provencal.  And the aforementioned platters of meats, cheeses, olives and baguettes.

But where was the tasting room?

A tasting at Mattebella is like being at an elegant garden party.

By this point we realized that visiting Mattebella is all about the wine tasting experience, exactly what Power Tasting stands for.  When you go into Wine Country, it should not be for the purposes of drinking.  You should be there for sipping, savoring, exploring wines.  It’s for tasting them in an atmosphere that you would hope to be in when you open a bottle with friends and loved ones, surrounded by beauty.  You should be encouraged to make the wine the center point but not the totality of a sensual encounter: yes, the taste but also the aroma, the visual pleasure of your surroundings, a whisper of a breeze in the trees.  This is what Mattebella delivers.

Of course it would all be for naught if the wines weren’t worthwhile.  Fortunately, Mattebella’s are quite good indeed.  And the way in which they are presented, along with the little lecture introducing the wines to you, doubles the pleasure.

We were very impressed with a vertical of their Chardonnays ranging from 2013 through 2018.  First of all, who serves verticals these days?  And who serves what any other winery would call library wines?  We were told that they use both oak and steel containers to age their wines, to provide balance and aging potential.  It was eye-opening (well, more tastebuds than eyes) to see how in each preceding year the Chablis-like austereness of the wines gave way to a more rounded finish, with the oak more distinct.

There is a small building that they refer to as a tasting cottage, so you can visit Mattebella when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  (Except, so they warn, when it snows.)  But reservations are made for the gardens, and a rainstorm would definitely spoil the experience.

This was our first time visiting Mattebella.  We are quite certain it won’t be our last.  We walked in without a reservation and were lucky to be seated because it was towards the end of the day.  Next time, we’ll reserve.

 

Robert Young Estate Winery

They say that in Sonoma County, the farmer is king.  And in Alexander Valley, Robert Young (www.ryew.com) was the king of farmers.  Born in 1919 and passing away 90 years later, Young was one of those wine pioneers who had the temerity to pull out fruit trees and plant Cabernet Sauvignon.  Keeping in mind that the farm had been in his family since the mid-19th century, that took a lot of guts.

He was a “winegrower” as he styled himself, not a winemaker.  He raised premium crops and sold his grapes to such houses as Château St. Jean, Blackstone, Clos du Bois, Simi and others.  Château St. Jean was the first Sonoma winery to identify a particular vineyard on its label and make a single-vineyard wine.  That Chardonnay is still one of their biggest sellers.

Photo courtesy of the winery.

All this history is fine, but how does that translate into a reason to visit the winery?  For one thing, there is a winery and a tasting room, but only since 2010.  It seems that the younger Youngs, who operate the family farm for yet another generation, pressed Grandpa to press some of the best of his grapes himself.

Getting there is half the fun.  You drive off the northern end of Alexander Valley Road onto Red Winery Road.  (There is no red winery to be seen, but there must have been once.)  If you’re there on a lazy summer afternoon, you’ll be all alone on a windy road surrounded by nothing but farmland – mostly vines – with some well-placed trees and open sky.  You’ll know when you get to Robert Young, because there’s nothing else around.

Scion House.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

In old Robert’s day, the tasting room was in a building that appeared to be the ancestral farmhouse.  It wasn’t, but the effect was pleasing.  Today, there’s an aptly named Scion House that serves as the tasting room.  It isn’t a farmhouse and never will be, but it has that vibe.

We don’t review wines at Power Tasting; we write about the experience of wine tasting on travels through Wine Country.  And as we have written before, when you consider that each winery has its fans, they’re all good.  At Robert Young, they pour Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

The best way to enjoy them is to take your glass to the patio and gaze out over the more than 300 acres that constitute Robert Young’s vineyards.  It is truly impressive, vines – their vines – as far as the eye can see.  You feel as though you’re looking back through time, to the era when Sonoma County and Napa Valley were just fertile farmland, but without tourists.

In a way, a visit to Robert Young hearkens back to the early days of Northern California wine tasting.  A farmer had some grapes and made wine out of them.  He wanted you to come and have a taste and maybe buy some.  That bit of living history is worth the drive.

Arrowood Winery

Back in our earlier years of wine tasting in California, there was Napa Valley and only Napa Valley.  Oh, we had heard that there was wine being made on the other side of the mountain in Sonoma County, so occasionally we’d take the Oakville Grade and find our way to Route 12 in Glen Ellen.  Turn right and we could visit Arrowood…if we could find it.  The problem was (and is) that the turnoff road for Arrowood (www.arrowood.com) is shared with another winery and that one’s sign is more prominent.  So we would drive right by.

If you see a sign for Imagery, be aware that that’s Arrowood too, and there are still some very good reasons to take that turn.

The tasting room at Arrowood, with its great view.  Photo courtesy of Winetraveler.

The first is the beauty of the setting.  Arrowood’s tasting room sits atop a rise and there is a wide panoramic window that provides a view of the vineyards and a swath of Sonoma scenery.  If you care for wine with a view (and we do) Arrowood has a lot to offer.  The building itself seems like an upscale farmhouse, but it’s a bit difficult to take in because it is best seen while driving up the hill.  Better to keep you eyes on the road.

The winery is named for its founder, Richard Arrowood.  Now retired, his career reads like a history of Sonoma winemaking.  He began at Korbel in 1965; then at Rodney Strong; was the first winemaker at Chateau St. Jean and then opened his own winery in 1985.  The winery has changed hands several times over the years and is now in the Jackson Family collection, with Richard staying involved through 2010.

He has been a strong proponent of Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County and the wines you will sample there lean heavily in that direction.  The winery used to make a Syrah that we particularly liked, but that no longer seems to be the case.  They source grapes from all around the county: their own estate in Sonoma Valley, whites from Russian River, Alexander Valley and Knights Valley.  This alone is a reason to have a tasting at Arrowood.  With one winemaking team, the differences among the wines must be reflective of the terroirs where the grapes are grown.  In general, we have found the servers to be knowledgeable and helpful, especially in describing the different vineyards.

If you happen to be tasting in December, you’ll find the tasting room to be pleasantly decorated for the season, with a fire going in the fireplace.  It reflects the elegant hominess that is a hallmark of Arrowood, both the winery and the wines.

Arrowood’s story in many ways echoes that of top-end California winemaking.  It has a reputation and a style built around its founder, a Sonoma County pioneer.  It has been sold and re-sold and now belongs to a multi-label corporation.  While Jackson is best known for its low-end wines, the company does own quite a few well-respected vineyards.  It seems that Arrowood is left to its own stylistic devices; still, there is a similarity among its wines and among Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignons generally.  Is this a good thing or the opposite?  Each taster needs to make up his or her own mind.

 

 

Wineries of Saint-Chinian

Power Tasting’s normal practice is to review one winery each issue.  But whole there are many wineries in Saint-Chinian making quite good wine, there are no standouts so we thought it best to review a group of them to give a sense of what wine tasting is like in the region.

Saint-Chinian is an appellation d’origine contrôlée or AOC.  Within it there 20 communes or sub-regions.  There is a difference between the wines from the rockier souls of the north and the clay/limestone of the south, so we are offering capsule descriptions of four, chosen for their proximity to the town of Saint-Chinian.

Château Belot

Château Belot is in the Pierrerue commune and is nestled in the midst of its vines and plentiful garrigue.  (What is garrigue, you ask?  To say it is wild-growing brush is true but doesn’t say enough.  It has an earthy herbal aroma that somehow manages to infuse itself into many of the wines of the Languedoc.)  The building housing the winery and tasting room is an expression of the Spanish-influenced architecture often seen in Saint-Chinian.

As is common in Saint-Chinian, all of Belot’s wines are made with the customary Rhône grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre in the reds and more variety in the whites made from Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and other grapes.  The tasting room is simple and modern.  There aren’t a lot of visitors, so one server manages to attend to all guests.

The vineyards of Château du Prieuré des Mourges

Even smaller is the Château du Prieuré des Mourges, also in the Pierrerue commune.  The domaine was once the property of the bishops of some nearby towns and there may have even been a priory there.  There is no tasting room as such, but there is a room where you might well find the winemaker, Jérôme Roger, at work and happy to share a glass with you.

He doesn’t make a lot of wines but we found the wines of Prieuré des Mourges to be among the richest in the area.  Enjoy them while you’re in Saint-Chinian because they do not export to the United States.

The tasting room at Château La Dournie

Château La Dournie has been passed from mother to daughter for many generations.  Located in the Saint-Chinian commune, right outside the village, it is rather spartan and industrial although the building is attractively vine-covered.  The tasting room is evocative of Napa Valley in the 1960’s: two barrels and not even a plank between them.

Like the others, La Dornie makes a variety of red, white and rosé wines from traditional Rhône grapes.  Most are meant for consumption with meals, but they also make wines called Shebam!, Wizz! and Oops! that you just can’t takeseriously.

Tasting at Clos Bagatelle

Clos la Bagatelle, is located in the Saint-Chinian commune, but has parcels of land in four different areas.  It dates back to 1623 and has been in the same family – mother to daughter – for all that time.  The tasting room is not much more than a shed and the inside, while clean and well lit, is hardly more than two half barrels.

A visit to Clos la Bagatelle is interesting in that you get a chance to taste the work of a Saint-Chinian winemaker from lands around the Languedoc.  As with all the wineries mentioned here, you will be welcomed and well attended if you do stop by.

Cakebread Cellars

There are some wineries you visit for the gorgeous views.  Others have unique architecture.  Some (not our favorites) cultivate a party atmosphere.  You go wine tasting at Cakebread Cellars (www.cakebread.com) for the wine.

Now, Power Tasting does not do wine reviews, but it’s fair to say that Cakebread makes some pretty fine wine.  They’re best known for Cabernet Sauvignon and we’ve enjoyed their Pinot Noir in the past.  The winery building itself is pleasant enough, but not such an architectural wonder that you’d make a special trip.  The big attractions are an attention to wine tasting as a unique activity and some of the most knowledgeable servers we have ever encountered.

Cakebread Cellars’ winery.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

In the past, we have always indulged ourselves with the reserve tasting.  The ability of the servers to understand each visitor’s level of knowledge and interest and explain the wines in alignment with the individual, have always impressed us.  We don’t know if it is still the case, but pre-pandemic we learned that all the servers in the reserve room were qualified sommeliers.  In one case, a server showed us a book on wine that he had written.  Impressive, right ?

These days the reserve tasting is supposedly limited to Cabernet Sauvignons and they do pour quite a few of them.  We’ve found that there’s usually some other interesting wine behind the bar, just for contrast.  On one visit, we expressed disappointment not to taste their Merlot, so the server ran out and got a bottle to open for us.  This is indicative of their attitude about wine tasting and towards their guests. They clearly enjoy sharing wine and experience with people.  As a visitor, you cannot help but being caught up in their enthusiasm.

We have not tried it, but Cakebread now has a seated group tasting, highlighting library wines.  We’re sure it lives up to the experiences we have had.

Cakebread is very serious about their “by appointment only” policy.  While many wineries use the limitation as a way of managing crowds, at Cakebread no reservation means no tasting.  Of course, this gives the staff the opportunity to really focus on the people who do call or email in advance.  We recognize that the ways and manners of Napa Valley wine tasting have changed since our earliest wine tasting days.  Still, there’s a different feel to such formality that doesn’t always sit well with us.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread were among the pioneers of Napa Valley winemaking back in the 1970’s.  Their sons now run the enterprise, which has grown to include vineyards as far afield as Howell Mountain and Anderson Valley.  Cakebread’s all wood winery building pays homage to those old days, so you can still feel a little of the vibe even if today’s reality is somewhat different.  Cakebread Cellars is an expression of what Napa Valley was and what it has become.  For lovers of the distinctly Californian style of winemaking, this winery is definitely a place to visit.

Dry Creek Vineyard

We’ve written about Dry Creek Vineyard (www.drycreekvineyard.com) before, but in a different context.  We’re very fond of this winery and have visited there often.  This year marks their 50th anniversary, which is quite an achievement, and they have been family-run for all that time, which makes the achievement even sweeter.  In the interests of openness, we have to say that we’re members of their wine club, but as we often note, we don’t review wine.  Power Tasting is about the wine tasting experience.

The theme on Dry Creek’s attractive labels is sailing.  As a club member, you can enjoy one of their many member events; pre-pandemic one of them was a sailing day in the San Francisco Bay. Of all the wineries that we know, there is none that has as many club member events as Dry Creek.

The Dry Creek Vineyard winery.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

And we find that there are many reasons to visit the winery and indulge in a tasting.  We do enjoy Dry Creek (the valley) and often spend a day or more in that region of Wine Country.  When we do, Dry Creek (the winery) is always on our itinerary.  Like much of this region, Dry Creek Vineyard specializes in Zinfandel.  They are well known for Sauvignon Blanc and they make some creditable Cabernet Sauvignons and blends as well.

One aspect of a tasting at Dry Creek that is rather unique is that they make seven single-vineyard Zinfandels and four different Bordeaux blends.  Not all are available for tasting at any given time, but it’s rare to have the opportunity to compare side-by-side the same grapes made into wine by the same winemaker (Tim Bell).  If nothing else, it gets you thinking about the relative influence of winemaking artistry and terroir.

The tasting room is in a vine-covered stone building, fronted by an extensive lawn and some of Dry Creek’s vines.  That lawn is a great attraction.  It has shade trees, picnic tables and some lawn games for the kids.  They’ve even put in a bocce court.  It is meant to be welcoming and family-friendly.  We have often seen little ones running around outside while their parents sipped and had lunch at nearby tables.

If you do want to have a little picnic, there’s a special advantage at Dry Creek.  They’re only four minutes’ walk, according to Google, from the Dry Creek General Store, so you don’t have to pack a picnic in advance.  Of course, in California no one walks so it’s a one-minute drive.

Dry Creek’s “insect garden”.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

Another reason to visit Dry Creek is what they call their “insectary garden”.   To be honest, the name put us off for quite a few visits.  Eventually we came to recognize that Dry Creek is rather committed to sustainable farming, and insects form a part of the biosystem that they intend to preserve.  All very scientific, to be sure, but for the visitor it’s a pretty little garden to walk around in just in front of the grape vines.

 

In these pandemic times, visits are by appointment only.  We can only hope that the disease will pass and the ability to just drop in will return.

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, San Jose

There actually is a fellow named J. (for Jerry) Lohr.  He began making wines in California’s Central Coast back in the 1970’s, first in Arroyo Seco and then in Paso Robles.  He also owns a vineyard in Napa Valley but the main production comes from the center of the state.  J. Lohr has two tasting rooms, the original one in San Jose and a newer one in Paso itself, on the less artisanal east side of Route 101.

The J. Lohr tasting room in San Jose.  Photo courtesy of Travel Expert Wiki.

The San Jose site is on a city street, just off a major boulevard.  We’re fond of in-town tasting in places like Healdsburg or Calistoga, where there are several tasting rooms you can walk to.  But finding one in a city of a million people is neither bad nor good, but it is definitely unusual.  For one thing, there’s no place to park; you just find a spot in the street.  For another, there’s no indication that you’re in Wine Country.  The tasting room just stands alone.

It’s a pleasant, brick building covered in vines.  Once you enter, it’s like any tasting room anywhere: a long bar, some tables, wines on display.  And there are quite a few red and white wines available for tasting, that do show off what J. Lohr wines are all about.

And what they are about is, for the most part, easy accessibility.  You may already be familiar with these wines from a local wine shop or on a restaurant menu.  Many are inexpensive and are appropriate for casual drinking.  So why go out of your way to taste them?

The reason is that like many wineries that make their living in the mass market, they also have some wines that defy your expectations.  This applies to J. Lohr.  Yes, there are Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons available for under $15.00.  But there are also single vineyard varietals including Pinot Noir from Santa Lucia Highlands and Cabernet Sauvignon from their vineyard in Napa Valley.  Even these, by today’s standards for such wines, are relatively affordable.

And then there are a few of J. Lohr’s wines that are clearly intended to show what this winery is capable of.  As with other makers of widely sold wines, it’s a pleasure to find out that their winemakers have the talent – and the grapes – to make fine wine.  Power Tasting is about wine tasting, so we’ll leave it to wine critics to say just how good J. Lohr’s top wines are.  We found some of their Signature series wines to be quite enjoyable and certainly didn’t consider them to be casual.

We were in Silicon Valley on business and took a little side trip to San Jose to visit this tasting room.  We wouldn’t recommend a special journey there, but if you are in the area it’s worth a stop.  One of the pleasures of wine tasting is surprises, finding something you enjoy that you didn’t even know existed.  We can’t promise that all their best wines will be available for tasting when you go, but there will probably be something you’ve never tasted before.  Finding the top-end products of wineries you only thought of as making picnic wine is a very pleasant surprise indeed.