I'd actually set out to look for Gary Farrell, but it wasn't where I expected it to be. [It had moved into a fancy schmancy new tasting room a couple of years back.] As a result, we stopped into Porter Creek largely in hopes of finding a current map [we did!]. Of course, we had to try their stuff.
Verdict: Verging on nasty, the good folks of Porter Creek seem to specialize in overpriced, sour, bitter wines that God only knows who actually purchases. The syrah was probably their best; the zinfandel totally undrinkable. Bleah.
Bonus: The man running the tasting room was a bona fide old school San Francisco homosexual, so we had a fine discussion of the pleasures of Guerneville, such as watching men without shirts stumble around trying to make their way back to the Triple R.
For whatever reason, I vaguely remembered hearing of this place, so we stopped in. It looks like it was designed as a tourist trap.
Verdict: Tourist trap. Riesling was overpriced at $16 a bottle, and had all the charm of warm Capri-Sun. Flabby, too sweet, smells like Glade. Revolting. Even worse: some obscure Portuguese varietal for only slightly less money that didn't compare favorably to those tiny bottles of bland French red you get in economy class.
Bonus: Chris snuck out back to smoke, and the picnic area, I suppose, is serviceable. Kudos to the Holly Hobbit fanatic who decorated the latrine.
I shared a bottle of pinot noir from this place with Dave Cobb a few years back, and Bill sent one over about a year after that. I have very fond memories of that first bottle.
Verdict: Whoops, there went the winery. At the height of the dot com boom, it looks like they decided they needed to rebrand, revisit their winemaking style, and invest a few million bucks in a brand new, swank tasting room. As a result, the labels are ugly, the wines are bland, and, well, the tasting room does actually look really good. Shame you can hardly find it, though.
At the winery, a bunch of bears from Dallas [OK, it was probably Plano judging by the way they dressed] showed up. It was very instructive to compare my tasting style with theirs. Me: put wine in mouth, make disgusting snorting/gargling noises, think intensely about it, spit if possible. Then, ask supposedly knowledgeable questions like Was this fermented in stainless? and Is this Nevers oak or what? [I'm kidding about the oak question.] Finally, discuss it sotto voce with Dan, and come to the conclusion that this shit really, really sucks, especially for $20 a bottle [for their mostly-fermented-in-stainless sauvignon blanc, which quite frankly couldn't hold a candle to far less expensive stuff like Tin Roof or Cape Mentelle]. Worst of all was a zinfandel they'd had sitting around for a few years: ugh. Dusty, tannic, dead, and a total ripoff even with the 50% discount. What happened?
Bonus: Watching the Texan bears "taste wine." One of the great frustrations in my dipsomaniac life is the simple fact that many wine drinkers are insufferable pricks with a lot of money but no real interest in or knowledge of the subject. Ah well. So: These guys tasted everything GF had on offer, pronounced it all to be "good", and then walked out in their crisply pressed Wranglers toting a little souvenir bag with the wines in it. It was definitely more of a lifestyle accessory than anything interesting to them, at least as far as I could tell.
Of course, I could be wrong. I think I was just jealous of their expensive couture. Damn, those crease lines were hawt.
Verdict: Sometimes what you really need to get the taste of overpriced wine out of your mouth is a Frosty. Mmmm, frosty.
Bonus: Some guy Brian played with at a Bearhug [I'm guessing] showed up and started talking to us. You know, some guys may be fun to have anonymous sex with at a play party, but damn, it can be excruciating trying to have a conversation with them afterwards. Hmmmm.
Finally, I figured it would be amusing to run by K-J's fabulous visitor center and see what Artisans & Estates' marketing folks had thought up. Conveniently located right off the 101 [i.e. hard by the freeway], it's dolled up like a wee French château, completed with organic vegetable and herb gardens and a huuuuuge gift shop groaning with shit you cannot possibly use [think $16 vinegar cruets and little angel statuettes!]. Oh, yeah, and there's a tasting bar, and they charge money to taste anything.
Verdict: A&E has their shit down cold. I think their secret formula has got to be simliar to Rosemount in Australia: Before you make grape juice into wine, set some aside in a fridge for a year or two. After you ferment the rest, add the grape juice to the finished product. Bottle and sell. For whatever reason, every K-J/A&E wine I've had tastes pretty much the same: it's obvious the grapes were good quality, but damn, there's a lot of residual sugar in there. As a result, it all tastes pretty good but ultimately it's boring as fuck. I mean, the sugar overwhelms everything else. I imagine it's like cooking up a good steak and then slathering it in so much sauce Diane you can't really taste the steak itself.
Bonus: Especially disappointing was their Edmeades late harvest zinfandel. I love zinfandel, and I really, really love those huge, backwards, over-the-top California zinfandels that are made by letting the grapes get really, really ripe and then making a whompin' huge, alcoholic monster of a wine out of it. When Ridge does it, it's amazing. When Edmeades/K-J/A&E does it, what you get tastes like really shitty Port. Fuck those clowns.
And then we drove back to Guerneville.
Some things I learned that weekend:
1. Wine tasting in California has generally finished its transition from consumer aid to tourist destination. At no point did I see anyone in those tasting rooms there to taste; they were there to "do Napa" [even if it wasn't Napa]. This is completely different than Australia or Oregon.
2. California wines are often the worst possible values in the wine world. However, there are exceptions to this rule [Cline, Bonny Doon, Ridge, and Three Thieves come to mind].
3. If there's a distinct terroir to the Russian River area, I haven't figured it out yet. Most of the stuff I tried tasted like it was right out of a UC Davis lab.
4. One of the great wines of California, Ridge Geyserville, is made nearby. I should have gone and tasted that instead, saving me much irritation.
5. I dreamed about finding a bear bar with a good selection of wine by the glass for about ten seconds before realizing that no self-respecting bear would ever be caught dead drinking wine in a bar. However, those odd new Riedel 'O' wine tumblers might make it less unthinkable in the future.
6. Sadly, Randy Nerwick [from LA] and his partner were nowhere to be found, so I had to fly the wine snob flag all by myself. It's more fun if you have like minded folks along for the ride. Part of the pleasure to be found in knocking back a bottle of Penfolds Bin 2 lies in being able to share it with your friends. If they're all drinking Tecate, though, it's merely irritating when you blurt something stupid like "oh, man, this mataro is really really barnyardy."