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Columns – Linda Murphy

Nick Goldschmidt: How Does He Do It?
Linda Murphy
Aug 18, 2015

I once asked winemaker Nick Goldschmidt: 'How do you ever get it all done?' 'I don't do any of it very well,' he responded with a smile. Goldschmidt lied, because he makes marvelous wines from a wide range of terroirs: Sonoma's Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Sonoma Coast, Oakville in Napa Valley, Marlborough in New Zealand and regions throughout Chile and Argentina. 'Energizer Bunny' is a characterization doesn't do him justice, as he spends a remarkably brutal life of travel, winemaking and sales calls, in two hemispheres. His California-based Goldschmidt Vineyards brand is but a cog in Nick's winemaking world; he consults for 26 wineries in seven countries--15 of them in Chile--along with making wine at home.

The Evolution of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Linda Murphy
Aug 4, 2015

Since my first visit to New Zealand in 1999 (I'd pined to go there since I was a kid, after watching a TV fishing program where the Kiwi accent and monster trout mesmerized me), I've been hooked on New Zealand and its wines. Many are world-class. 'EnZed' is known--first and foremost--for its pungent, boldly fruity Sauvignon Blancs, with theirdistinctive gooseberry, kiwi fruit, passionfruit and grassy, herbal characteristics. Only a cool-climate, marine-influenced region can produce these aromas and flavors, and U.S. consumers have lapped up the wines since such producers as Cloudy Bay and Kim Crawford first made major market headway in the 1990s.

Pinots You Should Know
Linda Murphy
Jun 23, 2015

When we last left Bob Cabral a year ago, he was about to embark on his 17th and final vintage with Pinot Noir powerhouse Williams Selyem, located in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley AVA. At the time, Cabral said he needed a change, wanted new challenges, but was not specific. Six months ago, Three Sticks Winery owner Bill Price announced that Cabral would direct winemaking at the Sonoma-based winery, working with his longtime winemaker, Don Van Staaveren. Cabral handles the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, Van Staaveren the Cabernets.

Lake County's Irrepressible Rise
Linda Murphy
May 26, 2015

Hail, rain and gusty wind pummeled the white tent pitched atop Obsidian Ridge Vineyard. In mid-May. In a drought. It was surreal, to say the least, for the season, when the valleys below, in Napa and Sonoma, were bone-dry in the fourth consecutive drought. Underneath a tent, Peter Molnar, one of the vineyard's owners, tried mightily to talk over the freakish storm's din, to folks huddled there to learn more about viticulture and winemaking in Lake County. At 2,640-foot elevation, Molnar's vineyard normally would be basking in solar energy in May, its obsidian chunks and shards glinting in the sunlight. But on this day, the storm subdued the obsidian's sparkle and reminded that Lake County, and specifically the Red Hills Lake County AVA in which Obsidian Ridge is located, is not simply a northern extension of the Mayacamas mountain range that give Napa and Sonoma their viticultural personality, but also a distinctive place with terroir all its own.

Over a Barrel
Linda Murphy
Apr 28, 2015

On May 1, the Sonoma County Vintners association will conduct its first Sonoma County Barrel Auction, with bidders grabbing one-of-a-kind wines not sold commercially. It's not a charity auction but rather a fundraiser for Sonoma County Vintners' administrative and marketing efforts, modeled after Napa Valley Vintners' hugely successful Premiere Napa barrel auction. The idea is simple: Wineries produce a barrel of wine impossible to attain anywhere else, and donate it to the auction. Members of the trade -- largely wine retailers and restaurateurs -- purchase the barreled wines at auction, and when the wines have matured and been bottled, the buyers take possession sell them to their best customers.

Appreciating Flowers
Linda Murphy
Mar 30, 2015

Long before inland California wineries and grape growers made a rush to the Sonoma Coast for the production of cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there was Flowers Vineyard & Winery. Joan and Walt Flowers, former nursery owners from Pennsylvania, began planting wine grapes in 1991 on their newly acquired 320-acre property near Cazadero, a tiny hamlet in far-western Sonoma County. They weren't the first to venture into this forested, cold, ocean-influenced wine territory -- David Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards blazed that trail in 1980 near Fort Ross -- but the Flowers' putting down stakes in an area though to be too chilly to ripen grapes not only underscored Hirsch's genius, it opened the doors for other growers to explore the advantages and challenges of growing grapes on the so-called 'true,' 'real' and 'extreme' Sonoma Coast.

Well, Did You Know That….
Linda Murphy
Mar 10, 2015

Sometimes I learn a new bit about wine or the people who make it, get all excited and write about it -- only to be told that 'everyone knows that.' Well, I'm not everyone, and there just might be other 'someones' out there who would think one of my discoveries is cool, too.

Cabernet Franc Finally Finds Footing in California
Linda Murphy
Feb 3, 2015

For a grape that is a parent (with Sauvignon Blanc) of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc doesn't get much attention in California. Loire Valley, yes. Bordeaux, certainly. Virginia, absolutely. Golden State? Not so much. Cab Franc's kudos come largely from California winemakers who use it as a 'secret sauce' to jazz up Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Cab Franc can add complexity in the way of perfumed aroma and an herbal character that adds a pleasant herbal edge to the typically fruitier Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But as a stand-alone varietal, California Cab Franc is nearly invisible to consumers. And that's a shame, because it can be more interesting and compatible with a broader range of foods than king Cabernet Sauvignon and queen Merlot.

Noble and Rot, Early 2015 Edition
Linda Murphy
Jan 6, 2015

It's 'Noble and Rot' time, when good and not-so-good wine developments come to mind. But as anyone who adores concentrated late-harvest wines produced from shriveled, Botrytis-infected grapes (noble rot) can attest, bad can become something wondrous. Take, for example, the large number of U.S. wine pioneers who died in 2014. While their deaths are to be mourned and their families and friends deeply saddened, their passing also reminds the rest of us of their importance, of how they contributed to producing great wines, vineyards and wine regions.

A Surprising Source for Affordable Bubbly
Linda Murphy
Dec 2, 2014

My two nieces, mid-20-somethings, have 'Champagne tastes on a beer budget.' They work hard for not a lot of money, yet they've developed a palate for high-quality wine and yes, Champagne. However, because Champagne is out of reach for their budgets, their favorite aunt does her best to introduce them to sparkling wines they can afford, and also appreciate as much as they do Champagne. Some Spanish Cavas do the trick, but Australian and South African bubblies are tough to find on the West Coast. Cremant d'Alsace is usually a bit over the nieces' price limit by the time it hits store shelves. But California can deliver the goods.

Make No Mistake: Don't Dismiss Napa Cabs from 2011
Linda Murphy
Nov 4, 2014

The Nov. 15, 2014, issue of Wine Spectator magazine includes a story on 2011 California Cabernet Sauvignon. The online teaser (one must be a Wine Spectator online subscriber to access the story) reads: "Trying Times for Napa Cabernet: Cool, Damp 2011 Vintage Yields Few Gems, with Hillside Sites Performing Best. Napa Valley Cabernet skirted disaster in 2011. Cool, unruly weather clouded the growing season from start to finish, reminiscent for some of a wet year in Bordeaux. The season was punctuated by big storms at harvest and botrytis in many vineyards.' This is largely true, except for the 'yields few gems' part.

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.