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Wine Report from the Fort
Scandalous behavior of Napa Valley vintner
By Fred McMillin

Northside San Francisco
1879 issue: Vintner Lillie Hitchcock establishes the Napa Valley Larkmead Winery with 130 acres of vines.

Northside San Francisco
1884 issue: A Northside S.F. reporter observes Lillie’s scandalous behavior at a bar in St. Helena, dressed like a man, playing poker, drinking bourbon, and swearing just like all the men!

Northside San Francisco
1894 issue: Lillie sells her winery to the Hans Kornell Champagne Cellars and moves to San Francisco, staying at the Palace Hotel.

Northside San Francisco
1915 issue: Lillie is pursuing her greatest love, the San Francisco Fire Department, and she races to many of the conflagrations with the firemen.

Northside San Francisco
Sept. 2008 issue: When she died in 1929, Lillie financed a monument on Telegraph Hill dedicated to the Fire Department. You see, her married name was Lillie Hitchcock Coit, and we know the monument as Coit Tower!
Postscript – Our June issue featured Jacob Schram and the Schramsberg Vineyards, where there is a plaque stating that Lillie was a “cherished friend.”
Sources – The Wines of America, Leon Adams and They Left Their Mark,
J. P. Dutton.

Don’t Throw Merlot Under The Bus
The year 2000 was the first time Merlot passed Cabernet Sauvignon as the best-selling red in the United States. Six years later, it fell out of first place and has been getting bad press ever since. However, recently at the Fort we have found these fine Merlots, which definitely should not be thrown under the bus.

$20 maximum:
• 3rd: Frei Brothers Winery Dry Creek Valley Reserve Merlot 2003, $20
• 2nd: Ridge Winery Napa Valley Reserve Merlot 2003, $20
• 1st: Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Merlot 2004, $19

$35 maximum:
• 2nd: Nova Wines Napa Valley Marilyn Merlot 2006, $27
• 1st: Bargetto Santa Cruz Mountains Reserve Merlot 2004, $35
Unlimited price range:
• 2nd: Grgich Napa Valley Merlot 2003, $38
• 1st: Jarvis Napa Valley Merlot 2005, $70

Assisted with this article: Ruby Dequis.


Life begins in the 50s
• 18th century: Father Junipero Serra was 54 when he was chosen by the Spanish government to bring the cross (and the first wine vines) to what is now California.
• 19th century: Count Agoston Haraszthy was 50 when he jumpstarted the Golden State wine industry by bringing and publishing a catalog of 100,000 cuttings from Europe that were far superior to Father Serra’s Mission grape.
• 20th century: Robert Mondavi, the outstanding California vintner of the last 100 years, started his own winery at age 52.
Postscript – Watch the birth announcements in 2012 and 2013. These pioneers were born in 1713, 1812 and 1913!

Try it before you buy it!
Take a wine class: Saturdays, 1 p.m., 20 wines, Fort Mason.
• Sept. 6: Basics for Beginners – Learn the five basic types of wines and how
they are made.

• Sept. 20: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.
Many people take Terms over again because the wines and words are different each time. To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit Education.


Need mead?
Northside San Francisco reader Cliff Leake liked the mead (fermented honey) discussed in our February 2008 issue.

It’s called Chaucer’s Mead because Jeffrey Chaucer was the first to extensively praise mead in English literature in the 14th century. For example, in his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer includes passages like, “Her mouth was sweet as mead … .”
Incidentally, Chaucer’s father was a wine merchant in London.

Mr. Leake asks if there is any other mead available. Happily for him, Bargetto also makes a Chaucer’s raspberry mead, $15. For availability, fax Martin Bargetto at 831-475-2664, call 800-4BARGETTO, or buy online at

The best wine you’ve never tasted
It’s called “Counoise” (coon-wahw) and is used to add pepper and acidity to Rhone wines, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Ace winemaker Jed Steele releases it under his Writer’s Block label. There is a limited supply, so phone (707-279-9475) and plead.
• Steele Winery Writer's Block Lake County Counoise 2006, $16

A final wine smile
In the 1849 Gold Rush, the ’49ers drank Zinfandel and needed clothing and other supplies. A businessman from the east, Levi Strauss, sensed the sales opportunity and was a big success, which is not surprising … it was in his jeans!

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, or fax him at 415-567-4468.

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