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Columns – Tina Caputo

Q & A: Linda Schwartz, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
Tina Caputo
Dec 18, 2012

At first, the story of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery may sound familiar: City-dwellers buy vineyard land and embark on second careers in the California wine industry. But this story has a twist. The couple behind this Sonoma Coast winery, Linda and Lester Schwartz, didn't exactly take the easy route. In 1976 the South African natives moved to Northern California, where Linda put her music background to use as an arts administrator and Lester worked as a lawyer. In 1988, the couple bought a virgin property in the high coastal ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean, above the old Russian Settlement of Fort Ross. This is normally the part of the story where the couple hires famous consultants to plan and plant their vineyard. Instead, Linda enrolled in the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College and Lester discovered his affinity for heavy machinery.

Q & A: Mike Martini, Louis M. Martini Winery
Tina Caputo
Nov 20, 2012

Like many wine lovers, I'm always interested in hearing about new producers, especially if they're veering away from the mainstream in terms of grape varieties, blends or styles. But sometimes the classics are just what I'm looking for. Wineries with a sense of place and history, specializing in traditional varieties, can be as welcome and satisfying as a plate of mom's pot roast. Louis M. Martini Winery in the Napa Valley is one of those classic California wineries. Whenever I pop a cork on one of Martini's Cabernets, I know that the wine in the bottle will be well made and a pleasure to drink -- rich, yet expertly balanced.

Q & A: Melissa Stackhouse, J Vineyards & Winery
Tina Caputo
Oct 23, 2012

When the weather turns cool and Thanksgiving approaches, my thoughts turn to festive sparklers and elegant Pinot Noirs -- wines that will pair beautifully with everything from cranberry relish to roasted turkey to sausage stuffing. If I had to choose a single source for elegant holiday wines, I'd turn to J Vineyards & Winery, in the Russian River Valley. Not only does J make terrific sparklers, it makes a range of lovely Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris wines.

Q&A: Gina Gallo, Winemaker
Tina Caputo
Sep 25, 2012

If you think you left Gallo wines behind when you moved on from Hearty Burgundy, you may be in for a surprise. Gallo is behind a slew of premium brands these days, including Frei Brothers, Louis M. Martini, MacMurray Ranch, Rancho Zabaco, William Hill Estate and many others. The 79-year-old company also makes some impressive wines under the Gallo Family Vineyards label, including the Estate, Single Vineyard, Sonoma Reserve, and now, the Signature Series offerings.

Q & A: Sean O'Keefe, Chateau Grand Traverse
Tina Caputo
Aug 28, 2012

As a Michigan native, I've kept an eye on the state's wine scene for many years. During that time, I've gone from being a skeptic, to being pleasantly surprised at the quality of certain wines, to becoming a True Believer in the ability of Northern Michigan vintners to produce fantastic wines. One producer that's been doing this all along is Chateau Grand Traverse. Located near Traverse City on the beautiful Old Mission Peninsula, Chateau Grand Traverse is the oldest and largest winery and vineyard operation in Northern Michigan.

Q & A: Peter Molnar of Obsidian Ridge Vineyard
Tina Caputo
Jul 31, 2012

I've tasted and enjoyed many wines from Lake County over the years, but until recently, I'd never really toured the region's vineyards. There's really no excuse for that, since Lake County is less than a two-hour drive from my house. It's just that it always seemed so… far. I'm embarrassed to admit that it took the promise of aerial transportation to entice me to spend some quality time in Lake County. But boy, am I glad I made the trip.

Q & A: Mark McWilliams of Arista Winery
Tina Caputo
Jul 3, 2012

People who live in other parts of the country often tell me how lucky I am to live in Northern California wine country, with its gorgeous vineyards, fantastic wines and sunny skies. As much as I love it here, I tell them, it has nothing to do luck. I was born and raised in suburban Michigan, but I decided soon after college graduation head West and make my own luck. Such was also the case with the McWilliams family of Texarkana, Texas, owners of Arista Winery in the Russian River Valley. In the mid-1990s, after years of vacationing in Sonoma with his wife Janis and dreaming of a life among the vines, orthodontist Al McWilliams pitched in with his brother-in-law to buy a family vineyard estate in Cloverdale, in northern Sonoma County.

Q & A: Daryl Groom
Tina Caputo
Jun 5, 2012

Daryl Groom is a man with many achievements under his belt. During his 30-plus years as a winemaker in his native Australia and in California, he's racked up multiple 'Winemaker of the Year' awards for his work at Geyser Peak Winery in Sonoma County (1990-2007), and holds the distinction of spending six years making one of Australia's most famous and sought-after red wines, Penfolds Grange. But his most meaningful success to date, he says, is a $13 red blend called Colby Red.

Q & A: Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery
Tina Caputo
May 8, 2012

When talking about the history of Oregon wines, certain names inevitably come up: Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards and Dick Erath of Erath Winery. These pioneering vintners -- among others -- laid the foundation in the late 1960s and `70s for the winemakers who followed. One such winemaker to benefit from the founders' wisdom -- and mistakes -- was Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder of Chehalem winery (pronounced chuh-HAY-lum) in the Willamette Valley. With degrees in chemistry and English, Harry's first career was in high-tech manufacturing. But as many before him have discovered, a wine hobby can have life-altering effects.

Q & A: Ross Cobb
Tina Caputo
Apr 10, 2012

Ross Cobb practically grew up in his family's vineyard, but becoming a winemaker and starting a winery weren't part of his original plan. In 1989, Ross' father David planted the 15-acre Coastlands Vineyard in California's chilly Sonoma Coast region with the idea of selling cool-climate Pinot Noir grapes to a handful of vintners. On weekends and summer breaks from studying biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ross helped his dad in the vineyard. He grew to love the winegrowing process so much that he changed his major to agroecology and sustainable agriculture.

Q & A: Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Mar 13, 2012

For those of us who live in California, getting our hands on East Coast wines isn't easy. One East Coast producer that's worth the extra effort is Fox Run Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes region. With 55 acres of vineyards, Fox Run makes a variety of wines -- including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc-Lemberger -- but it's the winery's Rieslings that really stand out. Fox Run is one of three Finger Lakes wineries that combines its efforts to produce Tierce, one of the country's best Rieslings.

Q & A: John Balletto, Balletto Vineyards & Winery
Tina Caputo
Feb 14, 2012

John Balletto has been farming for most of his life -- but he didn't always focus on wine grapes. In 1977, after the untimely death of his father, 17-year-old John started a vegetable farming business with his mother. If it hadn't been for three El Niño storms in 1998 that wiped out three successive Balletto vegetable plantings, and a lack of water for growing vegetables on one of John's properties in western Sonoma County, John might be more famous today for his zucchini than for his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Q & A: Jeff Stai, Twisted Oak Winery
Tina Caputo
Jan 17, 2012

I first ran across Twisted Oak Winery several years ago, at one of those giant public wine tastings that draw dozens of vintners and thousands of attendees. In a sea of wine offerings, my attention was drawn to a man brandishing a large rubber chicken. That's right: a rubber chicken. I'd seen people walking around the event earlier that day wearing badges that read "Are You Twisted?," and wondered where they came from. Here, at the Twisted Oak table, was my answer.

Q & A: Sarah Cahn Bennett, Navarro Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Dec 20, 2011

Of all the gorgeous wine regions to visit in California, the Anderson Valley is probably my favorite. You won't find any trendy, high-end restaurants or chic boutiques in towns like Philo -- set in a remote location three hours north of San Francisco -- but you will find acres of majestic redwood trees, beautiful vineyards and some really nice people. Oh, and plenty of delicious Pinot Noir, too. Whenever I find myself winding my way up curvy Highway 128 through Anderson Valley, I always make a stop at Navarro Vineyards to pick up a few bottles.

Q & A: Bernard Portet
Tina Caputo
Nov 22, 2011

Although he was born in France, Bernard Portet is what you might call a Napa Valley legend. He arrived in the Napa Valley as a young man in his late 20s, charged with creating a Bordeaux-style winery from the ground up. That winery was Clos du Val. A ninth-generation winemaker, Bernard was born in the Cognac region of France and grew up in the Bordeaux area, where his father was the technical director at Château Lafite.

Q & A: Kokomo Winery's Erik Miller
Tina Caputo
Oct 25, 2011

After two days of jokes and small talk around the judging table, I learned that not only is Erik a really nice, down-to-earth guy, he also makes some fantastic wines. When the final competition results were tallied, Erik's wines had won a slew of top awards: 'Red Wine of the Year' for the 2008 Pedroni Vineyard Cabernet Franc, 'Best of Class' for the 2007 Mountainview Ranch Sangiovese, and double-gold and gold medals for Kokomo's Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay wines.

England: The Next Champagne?
Tina Caputo
Sep 27, 2011

The English are known for many great contributions to the world: Delicious ales, hilarious comedy, the Beatles. Even the local cuisine, the butt of bad-food jokes for decades, has recently become a point of pride for the Brits. But wine? Surely the English should leave that sort of thing to their neighbors across the Channel in France, right? While that may have been true 20 years ago, it appears that the tide is turning.

Q & A: Michael Beaulac, Pine Ridge Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Aug 30, 2011

I first met Michael Beaulac, the personable and funny winemaker for Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Napa Valley, several years ago, when he was the winemaker at St. Supery. I admired his wines then, and I'm even more impressed by what he's doing at Pine Ridge. I followed up with Michael last week to find out more about his journey to Pine Ridge, and to see how the 2011 vintage is coming along.

Q & A: James Hall
Tina Caputo
Aug 2, 2011

For followers of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Patz & Hall is one of the greats. While some vintners say that the key to winemaking success is owning and farming one's own vineyards, Patz & Hall winemaker and co-owner James Hall has been proving otherwise for 20 years. The winery owns no vineyards, opting instead to showcase the distinctive fruit of growers from the Sonoma Coast to the Santa Lucia Highlands through a portfolio of excellent single-vineyard wines.

Q & A: Bill Knuttel
Tina Caputo
Jul 5, 2011

Bill Knuttel is the executive winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard (DCV) in California's gorgeous Dry Creek Valley. You may know DCV for its terrific Dry Chenin Blanc or Fumé Blanc wines, but the winery is primarily a Zinfandel specialist. Dry Creek Valley is one of the best places on earth for growing Zin, and DCV makes multiple versions -- all sharing a family resemblance of ripe fruit, good acidity and fine balance.

Q & A: Paul Dolan
Tina Caputo
Jun 7, 2011

There are a lot of impressive people involved in the California wine industry, but few are as respected and admired as Paul Dolan of Mendocino Wine Company. Paul is revered not only for his winemaking, but for his decades-long dedication to sustainable winegrowing and business practices. A fourth-generation winemaker, Paul's grandfather Edmund Rossi ran the Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, California, and each summer while he was growing up Paul spent the summer with him. But despite the family wine connection, Paul didn't initially set out to become a winemaker.

Q&A: Cathy Corison
Tina Caputo
May 10, 2011

For my inaugural piece I'm featuring Cathy Corison, who for decades has been quietly making some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley under the Corison Winery label. The star of her lineup, which consists only of two Napa Valley Cabernets and the occasional Gewürztraminer, is the Kronos Cabernet, made from her 40-year-old estate vineyard right off Highway 29, between Rutherford and St. Helena.

Marimar Estate: Spanish Elegance in Sonoma's Russian River
Tina Caputo
Apr 12, 2011

I first met Marimar Torres, the proprietor of Marimar Estate winery, at a media seminar several years ago. We'd gathered at the winery to learn about Russian River's Green Valley AVA -- located in the foggiest part of the region, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean -- which was becoming recognized as a prime spot for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When it was time to break for lunch, Torres didn't whistle for the caterer; instead she whipped up a fabulous paella for 50 in a 3-foot diameter pan, chatting with guests all the while. As I watched her in action I thought: Now here's a woman who can do just about anything.

Sake is for Wine Lovers
Tina Caputo
Mar 15, 2011

I had my first encounter with sake back in college, when I worked at a Japanese restaurant. In those days -- the late `80s -- sushi bars served only one type of sake: the warm, disgusting kind served in little ceramic bottles. I stood by, mystified, as otherwise-sophisticated diners washed down their high-rent sushi platters with tiny cups of steaming swill. What did they see in it? It wasn't until years later that I learned of the existence of premium sakes, meant to be served chilled instead of heated. Could these sakes actually be worth drinking? Oh, yes.

Extreme Cold Also Threatens Wine
Tina Caputo
Feb 15, 2011

What if you live in a cold-climate region and your wine is forced to spend the afternoon in a shipping box on your front porch -- it's not legal for the shipper to leave it there, but it happens -- or in the trunk of your car during a winter storm? And who among us has never popped a bottle into the freezer for a quick chill-down, only to forget about it for a few hours, or even overnight? (Guilty as charged, Your Honor.) I know all too well that wine can turn into a Slushee if left in the freezer too long, but what are the scientific effects on the wine?

Ulises Valdez Crosses Borders
Tina Caputo
Jan 18, 2011

We wine writers hear tons of stories about people who give up successful white-collar careers as doctors, tech gurus and the like to follow their winemaking dreams. "I just felt the need to get back to land," says the retired cardiologist whose closest contact with "the land" before buying a vineyard was telling the gardener where to plant the tomatoes. Ho-hum. While the cardiologist's origins make him no less passionate about winemaking than the lifelong farmer, the story does get old after a while. That's why I love to hear about guys like Ulises Valdez. I interviewed him a few months back for a business story in Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, and was both impressed and fascinated by the path he took to become one of Sonoma County's most successful vineyard managers, growers, and now, winery owners.

Crémant Offers a Champagne Alternative
Tina Caputo
Dec 21, 2010

f there's ever a night during the year to splurge on a great bottle of Champagne, it's New Year's Eve. But this is no ordinary year. I, for one, won't be forking over $150 for a bottle of tete du cuvée Champagne this New Year's Eve -- but I still have every intention of getting my sparkle on.

Hanukkah Wine, California Style
Tina Caputo
Nov 23, 2010

While many of us are contemplating which wines to serve with our Christmas turkey or ham, Jewish wine-lovers are thinking about Hanukkah, which begins this year on December 1st. The wines you'd normally serve with a Butterball just wouldn't cut it with a hearty brisket or a crisp batch of latkes. So which wines pair best with Hanukkah fare? With the variety of foods served at most holiday feasts, it's best to take this one dish at a time.

A Toast to Chile
Tina Caputo
Oct 26, 2010

When 33 Chilean miners were finally rescued in mid-October, after two months of being trapped underground, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. These stories all-too-rarely have happy endings, and let's face it: We could all use some positive news these days. While you could pay tribute to the rescued miners by wearing your favorite Chilean alpaca sweater, it would be a lot more fun -- and less itchy -- to raise a glass of Chilean wine in their honor.

Wine Bottles Lighten Up
Tina Caputo
Sep 28, 2010

Just when I thought the 'heavy bottle' trend had run its course, I received a sample of the 'Barrel 32' Zinfandel from Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg. 'Holy crap!' was all could say as I hoisted the bottle from its shipping box -- this was, without a doubt, the heaviest bottle of wine I'd ever encountered. Just to make sure, I weighed it on my office's postage meter. The verdict: almost 4.5 pounds! Compare that to a standard full bottle of wine, which usually weighs less than 3 pounds.

Wine Competitions: Consumer Helpers or Instruments of Evil?
Tina Caputo
Aug 31, 2010

An article posted on the New York Cork Report website last week took a bold stand on the subject of wine competitions: The website's writers and editors will no longer accept invitations to judge them. After much deliberation, the NYCR crew came to the conclusion that competitions don't provide any real value to the consumer -- and it's calling on other would-be wine judges to join the boycott.