September 22, 2020 – Whoever thought that blue skies would actually excite Californians who are used to seeing them pretty much year round? After weeks of smoke, it surely was a relief to have the skies clear last week, enabling many wine tasting rooms to reopen. This outdoor only tasting thing has certainly imposed limitations, but when the weather is perfect, it showcases precisely why we live here and deal with the high costs of everything to do so. Pay to play, baby.
The people who are really paying to play this year are the winegrowers. So many vineyards are simply too smoke-tainted to be picked. It’s painful to see winemakers like John Benedetti (Sante Arcangeli), Ed Kurtzman (Mansfield-Dunne, August West), Bradley Brown (Big Basin Vineyards) and Cole Thomas (Madsen) among those having to walk away from fruit that is either heat damaged or smoke-tainted beyond redemption.
Is there any hope for the vineyard owners and winemakers who are facing steep losses? Yes, if they have crop insurance. And even if not, they may be able to apply for relief. Leaders of 10 wine industry groups are seeking help from Congress to
request an extension of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to cover 2020 wildfire-related losses. Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, WHIP+ provides disaster payments to producers to offset losses from wildfires, hurricanes and other qualifying natural disasters. In 2019, California growers received WHIP+ payments for 2018 covered crop losses due to wildfires, as well as quality losses due to smoke exposure.
“Farmers are resilient and they accept the many risks inherent to agriculture, but 2020 has produced more challenges than any could have ever anticipated. It’s absolutely essential that Congress extends disaster assistance to California winegrape growers,” said John Aguirre, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. We’ll see if this request is met with appropriate action on the part of Congress.
Dave Coventry of Talbott in the SLH says that the Pinot is coming along and they expect to pick starting in about a week. The Chardonnay will be slightly later. He says he knows one winemaker who is sending his grapes for testing to a lab in Australia, as the turnaround will be quicker than relying on domestic testing facilities.
Ann Hougham of Mesa del Sol reports her Sangiovese is all picked, with Megan Bell among the takers, and Michael Simons of Comanche Cellars picked Syrah early in September. She is waiting on the Zinfandel and the Grenache, and doing micro-ferments to check for smoke taint.
Reopened tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea which are now open daily, include Albatross Ridge, Blair, Caraccioli, Dawn’s Dream, DeTierra, Hahn, Galante, Kori, Manzoni, Scheid, Scratch, Shale Canyon, Silvestri and Wrath.
Talbott is now open Thurs—Sunday, as is Holman Ranch. Windy Oaks is closed on Tuesdays.
DeTierra is having a fall sale on 2017 Russell Vineyard Riesling, 2019 Russell Vineyard Rosé, 2019 Monterey Sauvignon Blanc, and 2016 Vindegard Chardonnay, all for only $150 a case through September 30.
Kori is offering a Wine Month Sample pack for $130, and is proud to announce that they received a 93 point score for their 2017 KW Ranch Pinot Noir.
In Carmel Valley Village, tasting rooms open daily are Boekenoogen, Cowgirl Winery, Georis, and Jouillian, the latter by appointment only. Bernardus has not yet reopened.
Joyce is open every day but Tuesday, I Brand is open Thurs-Sunday, as are Big Sur Vineyards, Albatross Ridge Tasting Cottage, BOLD (serving Figge wines as well as Seabold), Mercy Cellars and Parsonage. Rexford has not reopened either its Carmel Valley or its Santa Cruz tasting rooms, but is offering free shipping on 3-bottle purchases. Associate Winemaker Sam Miller and his wife, April, welcomed their new son Zev last Saturday: congratulations!! The winery in Santa Cruz will be open this Saturday for pickup, starting at 1pm. Order some Chardonnay and help them celebrate!
Bunter Springs, Massa and Rombi are open weekends. Windy Oaks is closed Wed and Thurs. Bunter Springs is open to wine club members only by appointment.
Lenora Carey of Big Sur Vineyards tells us, “We are open outdoors only, of course, but have increased our footprint and taken over the gravel parking lot! People love sitting under the oak tree. It’s cooler than the patio and always has a light breeze.”
She says she and Anna Marie Dos Remedios of Idle Hour will eventually be sharing her space. They are just waiting on licensing approvals.
As for harvest, Carey says, “Not sure about the grapes. The winemakers and farmers are sending in small batches for analysis. But it does not look good for the harvest. Arroyo Seco was pretty hard hit with smoke and most everyone out there was evacuated. All of our Rhone varietals from that area.”
The Hahn Estate Tasting Room on River Road is now open Thursday through Monday, with reservations suggested.
In other wine news, VinoCruz is open daily for lunch, with an expanded menu, featuring seasonal items: the Jimmy Nardello peppers are outrageous! Try the 2018 Assiduous Lilo Vineyard Pinot Noir: it’s classic Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Integrity tasting room in Watsonville has reopened as has the Beauregard Tasting Room in Bonny Doon, by appointment only, daily 10AM – 5PM. They are offering 50% off select cases of library wines and $50 per case sold will be donated to the Bonny Doon Family Fire Relief Fund.
In Aptos, Salamandre will open for a one-day invitational tasting on October 10, by appointment only, for 30 minute tasting sessions for up to 6 people at a time.
If you’re looking for a really wild, fun time, Eden Rift is now offering “Flight of Fancy” helicopter tours. Specialized Helicopters will take you on a 30-minute ride from Watsonville airport (or from Hayward or Monterey for an additional fee). You’ll land on a hilltop at Eden Rift and then get into a Polaris ATV for a tour of the 148-acre estate.
A tour of the property includes stops in the winery and barrel room, with tastes of Eden Rift’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Zinfandel. One of the best views in all the region can be had from the Adirondack chairs atop the Terraces where the best Pinot Gris comes from on property. Add a picnic lunch or sit-down meal at the winery’s historic Dickinson House, built in 1906 by famous architect Walter Burley Griffin, inspired by mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright.
At the end of your tour, the helicopter will take you back to your destination airport.
Eden Rift’s flight of fancy is available for up to three passengers and starts at $485 per person. To book, visit Specialized Helicopters or contact Eden Rift by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 831-636-1991.
Treasure these days of blue skies, clean air and smoke-free wine. 2020 is shaping up to be a doozy alright.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.