Northside SF
Wine Report from the Fort
The beginning of grape wine

A UCLA-led team reported … that it had discovered a 6,000-year-old facility in an Armenian cave that contained everything necessary to produce wine from grapes, including a grape press, fermentation vats, storage jars, wine-soaked pottery shards and even a cup and drinking bowl. … The oldest previously known evidence of wine dates to about 5400 BC and was discovered at a site called Hajji Firuz in the northern Zagros mountains …

– Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2011

When I lived in the Middle East for three years, I looked out at the snowcaped Zagros Mountains every day.

“For this time and period, it is a very surprising discovery of advanced large-scale wine production,” said biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, an authority on the origins of fermented beverages at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the project. … Through an extensive gene-mapping project in 2006, Dr. McGovern and his colleagues analyzed the heritage of more than 110 modern grape cultivars, and narrowed their origin to a region in Georgia, adjacent to present-day Armenia.

– Robert Lee Hotz
 Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2011

Many vintages ago, I discussed the history of wine with Professor Patrick McGovern at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

The closest my students come to tasting a wine near where wine originated is Bulgaria. Those getting high marks include:

Chardonnay Targovishte Winery Balkan Hills 2009, $9
Muscat Ottonel Targovishte Winery Black Sea Coast 2009, $9
Riesling Targovishte Winery Black Sea Coast 2009, $9
Sauvignon Blanc Targovishte Winery Black Sea Coast 2000, $8
Sauvignon Blanc Vendi, Vidi, Vici, Vini Wines Black Sea Thracian Valley 2009, $8
Traminer Targovishte Winery Black Sea Coast 2009, $11

The name is probably derived from the Indian word, sono, “nose,” a word applied to the chief of the tribe, hence “land or tribe of Chief Nose.” The interpretation “valley of the moon” is more poetic but less authentic.

– Erwin G. Gudde
 California Place Names

Some good Sonoma wines include:

• “” Pedroncelli Winery Sonoma County 2008, $10
Fumé Blanc Dry Creek Vineyards Sonoma County 2009, $12
Merlot Pedroncelli Winery Dry Creek Valley Bench Vineyards 2008, $14
Sauvignon Blanc Handley Cellars Dry Creek Valley 2008 $15
Chardonnay Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches 2008, $23
Petite Sirah Pedroncelli Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 2008, $28
Cabernet Sauvignon Ferrari-Carano Vineyards Alexander Valley 2007, $30
Zinfandel Beeson Ranch Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 2007, $34
Cabernet Sauvignon Jordan Vineyards Alexander Valley 2006, $52
Cabernet Sauvignon “Endeavor” Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley 2006, $60

Take a S.F. City College wine class at Fort Mason Campus on the following Saturdays, 1 p.m., 20 wines, $50 a class.
• July 9: California vs. the World – Golden State wines compared to others of the same vintage from France, Australia, Chile, Italy, and other wine-producing areas.
• July 23: California’s Five Wine Districts – Learn the state’s five wine districts and how they are different.
To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit
Register one week before classes begin to receive a $10 discount.

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophie Mercado (statistics)

Fred McMillin has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents and was voted one of the 22 best wine writers in America by Academy of Wine Communications.
E-mail:; fax: 415-567-4468

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