Northside SF  

October '09

Wine Report from the Fort
Scoop! Chardonnay grape tells Northside San Francisco how it came to California

By Fred McMillin

Hello. I’m the Chardonnay grape. Many millennia ago I was born in Eastern Europe. My parents were the Pinot Noir and the little-known Gouais Blanc grapes. Here is how I got to California.

Circa A.D. 800, the gift – Burgundian Emperor Charles the Bald gave the vineyards at Chablis, France to his brother Eudis. The vineyards became the property of the black-robed Benedictine monks.

A.D. 1118, monkey business – The Benedictine monks sold the Chablis vineyards to the white-robed Cistercian monks. The Cistercian were the first to plant a vineyard where I was the only grape present. From then on, I made better and better white wine, until it was applauded as the best white wine in the world. I soon spread to many parts of the world, but did not arrive in California until 1880. There I had many names, including Chardenai, Chardenot and Pinot Chardonnay. Around 1900, I became ill from phylloxera and did not recover until 1941; then I won a gold medal at the California State Fair for Wente Winery. Later in May 1976, Mike Grgich entered me in a Paris competition against the best French bottles. I was overjoyed when he received the telegram that read, “Stunning success in Paris tasting. You took first place.”

: Here are the Chardonnay wines that have scored well in my recent classes at San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Campus):
Chardonnay under $15
• Firestone Vineyards California 2008, $10
• Motos Liberty California 2008, $9
• Targovishte Winery Bulgaria 2007, $8
• Wild Hare California NV, $7

Chardonnay under $25
• Dry Creek Vineyards Russian River Valley 2007, $20
• Lake Sonoma Winery Russian River Valley 2008, $17

Chardonnay over $25
• Hanzell Vineyards Sonoma Valley 2006, $70

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20 million?
“The average bottle of champagne contains enough carbon dioxide to produce 20 million bubbles.”
 – The Wall Street Journal

So if you want to taste 20 million bubbles without busting your budget here is your sparkler:
Brut Crane Lake Cellars California NV, $8
To find this sparkler, call Lisa Graham at 209-538-3131 or fax at 209-538-7864.

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Send in the clones
William Jarvis, with consulting winemaker Dimitri Tchelistcheff, has made a study of 14 clones of Cabernet Sauvignon from the United States, France, Argentina, Germany, Australia, and Italy. (A clone is a single “mother vine” and has distinctive characteristics from other clones.) Of the clones, the French INRA 5197 gave the lowest yield (3.28 tons per acre) and the highest quality.
Hence the winery converted all its Cabernet Sauvignon to INRA 5197 in 1994. So it’s no surprise that in four of my classes at San Francisco City College (Fort Mason campus), Jarvis Cabernet Sauvignons have ranked number one twice, and come in second and third once, against 96 rivals.
The four Jarvis Cabs all scored above 90 points. To obtain a jaw-dropping Cabernet Sauvignon from Jarvis winery, call 800-255-5280, fax 707-255-5282 (fax), or e-mail info@jarvis

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The joy of booking
Way Beyond Wine, The Williamson Wines Story, by Ken Majer and Bill Williamson (nonfiction, hardback/paperback)

Some tidbits:
• Some time ago Mr. and Mrs. Williamson were inspired to buy vineyard land in Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) by visiting the nearby Raymond Burr Vineyards (the same Raymond Burr
who starred in the Perry Mason TV series).

• Dr. Ken Majer is a Stanford graduate. He and his wife, Lynette, visited the Williamson's winery and were smitten by the high quality of the wines. Then Ken and Bill joined forces to raise the Williamson Wines to even greater heights.

• Steve Ramirez, Global Trustee, Ronald McDonald House Charities said, "Wow! I learned a lot about the art of winemaking, the art of living your dream, and the happiness in living ‘today’ fully and completely."

Postscript: My class at Fort
Mason tasted the Williamson Merlot Dry Creek Valley ‘Amour’ 2002, $42. With a score of
90 points, it was voted best of tasting over 20 rivals. Text Box:  

School is cool
Edgar Vogt and I teach wine classes for S.F. City College each month, Saturday 1 p.m.
• April 24 – More Basics includes a careful comparison of important varietals.
To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit
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A final wine smile
This wine column is free including shipping and handling.

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophie Mercado and Ruby Dequis (statistics)

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712.

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