Yesterday, I began a story about an event Jose and I attended in San Francisco. It was for vintners who belong to the San Francisco Wine Association, entitled Crash Course at Crushpad with the San Francisco Wine Association, where each member showcased his or her wine.

Once I had written the part about Wait Cellars, I thought about you, the reader, realizing that yesterday’s story was beginning to get pretty long. By the time you would have reached Wait Cellars, you may have to get back to work. I still had two more vintners to go, and still hadn’t added any images.

This was when I made a decision to break this into two contiguous stories. The next three vintners were each so amazing, that I didn’t want these last three to get lost in the length, and so I decided to break this into a two part story… And here are their tales.

If you missed yesterday’s story, it will follow this one as the next entry. Jose and I really tried to make it around the room, and I think we would have, had we not found a few very interesting vintners. My faves in the order that I found them, and the only wines mentioned on this blog posting today (and yesterday’s), are the following:

Picking up where I left off…

Wait Cellars

This was the first winery I walked to when we entered, but Robert Wait was so busy that Jose and I drifted back to the other side of the room to begin our adventure. I was drawn to the old silver objects on his table. They distinguished him as someone who has an appreciation for and is demonstrating that history’s on his side. One object was an old water pitcher, that he was using for a dump bucket. The other was a three pronged candelabra. Not being highly polished, they flew in the face of fancy, but still has those old, vainglorious roots. [As a kid, I had to polish a lot of silver. Seeing that was badly in need of polish did my heart good. I wasn’t going to have to do something about this. It was comforting, and I immediately liked this aura.]

Now, we were finally at his table and the crowd had dispersed a bit. When he told me his name was Robert Wait, I told him that I had another Bob Wait in my life, an old family friend who taught biology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. When I told him my story about Bob, he said, you’ve got to write that into your blog. I won’t here and now – because this is about wine – Bob Wait’s wine – but if someone is curious enough to want to hear it, I’ll post it in my comments upon a request to do so at the end of this SFWA posting. It’s not a wine story. It’s a life story of immense proportion for me.

Wait Cellars was founded in 2004 by Robert Wait, a local to San Francisco’s Alamo Square/Lower Haight neighborhood and owner of the Page Bar at Page and Divisadero streets in San Francisco. Bob is a former engineer who, over the past ten years, in addition to making wine at home, has taken numerous wine appreciation courses at the UC Berkeley Extension, as well as wine-grape growing courses at UC Davis.

Robert’s philosophy in the vineyard and in his wine making style is to stand aside and let the land and the fruit speak for themselves. He produces small amounts of high-quality wine from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Country fruit, for enjoyment in his San Francisco neighborhood. For the past three years, Wait Cellars has purchased beautiful Pinot Noir fruit from the Amber Ridge Vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River AVA, which we tasted.

The 2006 Wait Cellars Russian River Pinot Noir was aged for 10 months in 50 percent new French oak, but didn’t lead with wood, regardless of how much new oak there was. It was supple and sensual ~ as only Pinot can be ~ and it demonstrated full cheery candy, sans sweetness. $35 (Best Value)

The 2007 Wait Cellars Russian River Pinot Noir was aged for 10 months in 33 percent new French oak, was bottled on August 28th, 2008, and is scheduled for a fall 2009 release. We tasted it pre-release, and were told that it would be a more intriguing, darker fruit wine, which it delivered. Either Pinot would be splendid on tables graced with duck, turkey – especially the dark meat, and/or portobello mushroom dishes. $42

Townley Wines

Randal Townley Bennett is the proprietor of this wine company. His marketing director Lindsay Marie Barnes (and love of his life) was there to talk about Randy’s wines,  and I’m honestly glad that it was she. Not everyone’s a great front person, and the more there’s art involved, the curve for self promotion – in most instances – goes sharply down hill. It’s very hard to say, without people thinking there’s something wrong with your ego mechanisms, “Didn’t I do a great job?”

By the time I had reached Townley wines, I had my hands completely full. Jose and I had worked out a deal where I’d carry my notebook, pencil, and manage my camera, while he carried the glass and we’d both taste from that one glass. It was working pretty well, except at this time, all of the slippery cards that I had accumulated along the way just fell out my hands and onto the concrete floor. I was promptly rescued by another guest Sefano. I quickly learned that he likes Italian, and is really Steve Peterson, president for Custom Homes of Woodside, Inc. I’m telling you, ladies, this was right out of the days of women dropping their hankies to get a guy’s attention, fast forward to today. Chivalry’s not dead…. Neither is my clutsiness… Stefano turnd me onto a friend of his, Chef James Stolich of San Francisco. How can anyone go to a wine event and not also be thinking food? Chef James is a private chef and is part of an underground food network in San Francisco… All very tasty and artsy… One good deed deserves another.

Once my rescue was over, I was back to the business of Townley Wines.

Randy and Lindsay have been together for many years. When it became time for Randy to reinvent himself from a technology background, he and Lindsay wanted to combine their love of travel with their love of wine. This gave birth to Townley Wines, for which the story in now reflected on their labels. They’ve taken prominent images from their travels, and made those skylines into the images on their labels.  These aren’t traditionally styled labels with critters, grape leaves, of family crests… Nay, they’re captivating worldly skylines. On the Townley Wines table that night were the original photos that were taken, next to each bottle with a silhouetted skyline. What a great opener!

We tasted the 2007 Townley Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard. This Santa Barbara County wine is 87 percent Syrah (from White Hawk Vineyard), 10 percent Petite Sirah (for a bit of backbone, which is had in measured amounts), and 3 percent Viognier. The other Rhone components added beautiful and complex red fruit (PS) and floral characteristics (Viognier). The very smooth and lush textures of mid to dark fruit made this wine really yummy, while it had a luscious and lingering finish. $38 and decadent.

I’d serve this wine with an old favorite of mine, Double Fried Pork in Plum Sauce. You batter the pork in cornstarch, fry it, remove and drain, then refry once more before you add your sauce. It’s not as good for your heart as it is for your tummy, but some times you’ve just gutta sin.

Seawind Wines

This is our last wine tasting of the evening, and like all the others in this blog posting, it had a great story to tell, besides their great wines to try. Proprietors Ken and Catey Dunkley are proprietors, with Ken being the winemaker. They love the sea and live in La Jolla near Windansea Beach. (Nuf said?)

Seawind Wines makes only single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from California’s premier coastal AVAs. He’s on a journey to discover the best grapes and to capture their rich flavor, balance, and structure in his wines. Ken believes that the best California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes come from coastal valleys, and there are many who would agree with him on that one, including me.

This is where I can let Ken’s own words explain his beliefs and story: “Cool Pacific winds bring foggy mornings, bright afternoons and chilly nights. Ideal conditions for long hang time. Perfect for grapes to ripen with rich flavor and naturally balanced sugar and acidity.  Traditional small-lot wine making captures the essence of terroir. Pinot Noir is hand sorted and de-stemmed. Fermented in small bins, manually punched, and gently pressed. Aged in premium French oak barrels and bottled unfined. Chardonnay is gently whole-cluster pressed and fermented in French oak and stainless steel. Aged sur lee with stirring and partial malolactic fermentation. Each lot and barrel is given individual attention to capture the best of the grapes.”

Jose and I tasted three Pinots in succession:

The 2006 Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – Santa Lucia Highlands had ripe and rich flavors of bing cherries, red raspberries and a soft spice. It was elegantly round, with soft tannins and a beautifully balanced wine. $44

The 2007 Pinot Noir, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – Santa Lucia Highlands proved to be another beautiful wine, just slightly younger then the 2006, but still with great flavors and aromas. Another beautiful $44 wine.

The 2007 Pinot Noir, Split Rock Vineyard – Sonoma Coast had a more juicy bright cherry flavor for me, that also had cranberry and some hints of blueberry flavors. A touch of oak made this wine very memorable, along with the others. $44

The bottom line for me with this tasting was this: It’s an amazing thing to taste wines that are produced one barrel at a time, with each of the vintners only looking forward to perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 total case production. While you might think of this as hobby wine because there are so few cases, and solely surviving on only a few thousand cases isn’t completely possible, not one of these vintners sees what he or she is doing as a hobby; rather, it’s measured growth. Just as I put on events and project how many people I could comfortably manage so nothing goes wrong if I can help it, these winemakers are also creating just the right amount of wine for which they can manage. There’s more to making wine than simply fermenting juice, as any one of these vintners will tell you. Once it’s made, it must be marketed, and the ones marketing their wines are also the ones making them.

This was a great event put on at the Crushpad facility by the San Francisco Wine Association.  I trust that next year it will be moving further back into the room, because there were times when we were all seriously bumping booty with each other… the interest being so high in a relatively intimate setting.