Don’t Miss “Beaverstock” at Castoro!


You’ve heard of Woodstock…now, experience Beaverstock at Castoro Cellars.

What’s with the beaver?  Well, castoro means beaver in Italian, and in his student days, it was the nickname for Niels Udsen who began Castoro, with his wife Bimmer, more than 30 years ago.  They were among the first to see the potential in Paso Robles…when we first met them, they were a young couple with toddlers operating their winery out of an old warehouse. Now the toddlers, Luke and Max, are part of Castoro Cellars, they own 1,000 acres of vines, their hacienda-like winery near Templeton is crowded with visitors and they want to celebrate–with Beaverstock.

Beaverstock is this family’s way to give back to the community they love.  It’s billed as “Two days of wine-loving peace and music in the vineyard.”  Proceeds will go to the Templeton Education Foundation which works with the Templeton School District, alma mater for Luke and Max.

The two-day line up is fantastic, including Allen Stone, The Band of Heathens, Los Lobos, Sean Hayes, Zongo All-Stars and more.  And the line-up of wines?  They’re all “dam fine” of course!


Visit to buy online or call 888-Dam-Fine.

What exactly IS a wine snob?


We know someone who years ago, was invited to go on a balloon ride with a friend over Temecula Valley wine country.  We’ll call her Joan.

The tour people served champagne to the group of six upon landing, and Joan started sharing some fun information about Champagne — number of bubbles in a glass, the fact that there is no “Champagne” grape — and her friend pulled her aside.

“What are doing?” she asked her.

“Just sharing some fun stuff about Champagne.”

“Well, don’t!”

After this, Joan could tell she was getting a somewhat cold shoulder from others in the group, who, before her Champagne talk, had been friendly.

We think this is a great example of how complicated the issue of “the wine snob” can be.  “Snob” is generally defined as someone who thinks they are superior to others, who looks down on others.  This was not Joan.

Yet, by offering information about a wine everyone was enjoying, she was perceived as a wine snob.

What is a wine snob?  It depends on the person making the definition.

For some folks, a wine snob is anyone who talks about wine in ways they don’t understand.  It may feel to them that this person is trying to show off.  In America, fine wine was viewed for many decades as something upper class and high-brow; many people felt intimidated by it.  Some of these attitudes still hang around –and so sometimes, we think, wine lovers like Joan are unfairly dubbed as snobs.

For others, a wine snob is someone who refuses to drink wines that don’t meet his or her high standards (like Miles in Sideways).  This kind of snob can make the rest of us feel like shlubs who can’t tell a good wine from a lousy wine.

For us, a wine snob is a person who feels they are vastly superior to others because of their wine knowledge.  They use that knowledge to impress, intimidate and embarrass others.

It’s possible to know a great deal about a subject, and not be a snob about it, and this can be true of wine knowledge.  Just because you know a lot about wine doesn’t mean you’re a snob — without a “superior” attitude toward others, you could actually be a wine enthusiast.

There’s another category of wine lover that we think people mistakenly identify as a snob.  That is the wine bore.  Watch out!  The wine bore is a dangerous threat to a great evening.  Wine bores can literally put you to sleep.  A wine bore may not even be a wine snob — just someone so full of wine information they can’t help spewing it out incessantly.

We still don’t think that was Joan.

So– what’s your definition of a wine snob? Any experiences with them?

Three Winemakers You’d Want to Meet


Daryl Groom:  Daryl makes our head spin.  Not just because his Groom Wines are incredible, but also, because this guy just never stops making wine!  He’s been at it for 40 years, with all kinds of “Winemaker of the Year” honors from the likes of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. Above and beyond that, this Aussie flies all over the world making wine, handling his brands in Australia and California, consulting for other wineries and judging at six international wine shows.  As if that weren’t enough, he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and so willing to share his knowledge about wine.  His passion for it is infectious, and his whole family is involved, including his son Colby, who has his own wine to fund heart health and research.  A delightful person, family man and wine master.

Dan Gehrs:  Easy going, affable and absolutely determined to produce great wine.  That’s Gehrs, founder of Daniel Gehrs Wines in Santa Barbara.

And did we mention, modest?  Dan would never be the one to tell you that he was the first to make a breakout Syrah in Santa Barbara, which earned a top score from

Wine Spectator and sent the region on is quest for Rhone wines.  He’s seen Santa Barbara appellations grow up and has been part of their evolution every step of the way.  And he knows how to take time off–he and his wife Robin hop on his Harley and drive up hwy. 1, a spectacular way to visit one of the world’s most beautiful places.

Claus Janzen:  Claus is a fermentation of wine savvy, know-how and inventiveness.  He’s a delightful man to talk to about his passion wine, for he has a quick wit and amazing grasp of wine from many angles. Years ago, Claus was a somewhat frustrated non-professional wine expert in Canada, where he won that nation’s top amateur wine tasting.  Claus then decided to direct his life toward wine, first taking his family for a year to France’s Rhone country, then landing a marketing job at Caymus in Napa.  There, he began making his Bacio Divino (“divine kiss”) red blends, to immediate acclaim. Today, with his wife and son, he is still pursuing “the Great Bottle” with ongoing applause from consumers and critics.

Fun Stuff about California’s Wine Scene


Visiting wine country doesn’t have to be all about wine…there are other fun things to see and do.  Here’s a quick round-up:

In Napa:

Visit a real castle at Castello di Amarosa — they’ve even got a moat…. Go to one of the world’s best wine/food bookshops at The Culinary Institute at Greystone (housed in the historic Christian Brothers winery) …  Drive up Howell Mtn. and experience living history at ghost wineries like Ladera …


…Take the kids to Coppola near Healdsburg, where they can swim in a pool (two pools actually, with a swim through feature), have poolside pizza and you can enjoy the wine — Coppola makes sure the pool isn’t overcrowded or noisy and you can rent a private cabin with shower and change room … Shop Sonoma Plaza.  Its neat, trendy stores offer all kind of goodies, wine-related and not … Drive out to the coast through Sebastopol and get the beautiful drift of “cool climate” Sonoma … Hang out in Healdsburg Square and watch farm hands, winery owners, tourists and toddlers under the generous shade of the huge trees …  Visit Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen for a great hike and a bit of history.

Santa Barbara

Explore the “Urban Wine Trail” in downtown Santa Barbara, more than 17 wineries plus restaurants.  The beach is a couple of blocks away with one of the best swimming spots, East Beach, just down Cabrillo Blvd.

Or, hop over to the harbor and walk on the quay for a spectacular view of this red-roofed slice of heaven…

Visit Lucas & Lewellen in downtown Solvang and explore all its Danish heritage and knick knacks, or take a ride at gorgeous Alisal Ranch to see Old California ranch country up close and personal … visit Santa Barbara’s Botanical Gardens in Mission Canyon, after you tour California’s most charming old mission — later, you can toast the missionaries for planting the Golden State’s first vines.

Have we missed anything? You bet we have!  Fill us in, would you?

The numbers — what the heck do they mean?

glass of cab

Brix, alcohol, T.A., pH … this is wine “by the numbers” — but what do these numbers mean?  What can they tell us about the wine in the bottle?

Brix:  This indicates the amount of concentrated grape sugars.  It’s an indicator of the ripeness of the grapes and is one tool winemakers use to determine when to pick (the other is taste, and some only go by that).  Most wine grapes are picked between 21˚ and 25˚ Brix.  Winemakers use a refractometer to measure  brix.

Each degree of brix equals one gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice.

Brix measurements are also used in the fruit juice, carbonated beverage, starch and sugar industries.  What do they use for beer? A system called Plato.

Why the name brix?  Because in the 1800s, a German inventor named A.F.W. Brix invented the technique.

What does brix mean to wine? The higher the brix, the riper the fruit so typically the wine will be more fruit forward.

Alcohol:  This number can also indicate how ripe the grapes were–the higher the alcohol, the riper the grapes. The higher alcohol of many wines in recent years may reflect warmer weather.

There’s been a lot of controversy swirling in the glass about the industry trend toward higher alcohol levels.  Some people say any wine over 15% alcohol is unpleasant to drink and doesn’t’ age well. Others scoff at these ideas. Consumers don’t seem to have a problem with big alcohol wines, since they keep buying them.

What does it mean in the glass?  In a blind tasting, most people cannot tell if a wine is high alcohol.

T.A. or Total Acidity:  This is a measurement of acidity by volume.  Actually, there are several kinds of acid and T.A. only measures one, tartaric.  T.A. ranges from 0.6 to 0.7 in most table wines.

T.A. is tied to the tartness of the wine.  The higher the T.A., the more “zip” to the mouthfeel.  If the acid is too low, the wine tastes flat.  Acidity is important if you’re looking for a wine to go well with food.

Did you know winemakers can legally add tartaric acid to a wine to increase its acidity?’

T.A. is very much related to climate.  Warmer climate wines tend toward too little acidity; cooler climate wines tend toward too much.

pH: This number is another indicator of acidity.  Specifically, it measure ripeness in relation to acidity.  The lower the pH, the crisper the wine.  The higher the pH, the more chance the wine has of growing bacteria.

3.0 to 3.4 is typical for whites; 3.3 to 3.6 for reds.

pH and T.A. relate to each other this way:  the higher the pH, the lower the acidity; the lower the pH, the higher the acidity.  So, if you’re looking for a wine to enjoy with a meal, you’d want a lower pH bottling.

It all adds up to great wine — we hope!


Drought Report – On the Frontlines with CWC winemakers


Wherever your vineyard is located in California this year, you’re thinking about water.  Drought conditions have affected every corner of the state, one way or the other.  Northern California growers are generally in fairly good shape, given that there were helpful spring rains and ground water is typically available.  Those in the south aren’t so lucky.  For example, the Paso Robles water table is dwindling as the drought continues.  Niels Udsen, a pioneer in Paso Robles winemaking and founder of Castoro Winery, said, “We are seeing the wells on the west side drop in production more than usual. The whole area just looks dry.”   In drought defense, his viticulture team is “keeping everything clean and not letting the weeds steal any water!”

In Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, according to Martin Ray winemaker Bill Batchelor, “Everyone is cautious about water use and eyeing the vines as they mature. It’s easier for vines to get stressed if water is withheld.  Growers have cut down the crop more aggressively so that each vine has fewer berries to ripen.  They’re also keeping an eye on heat spikes.”

Fortunately, winter was mild throughout California with little or no frost in wine country.  This gave vines a head start and partially explains why harvest this year is one of the earliest on record.  Wineries in Temecula began picking in late July.  In Napa, some started the first week of August.

John Bargetto, Director of Winemaking and third generation at Bargetto Family Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, says they are “continuing to practice deficit irrigation by using minimum water with drip irrigation, one of our sustainable practices.  The water table in Santa Cruz County continues to drop, but our well has pure water, with no salt water intrusion (7 miles from ocean).”  Bargetto starting irrigating its estate in January anticipating the drought.  The crop is proving “full and wonderful,” says John.  “God bless water and early irrigation!”

According to Bill Easton of Terre Rouge in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County, the drought has not affected the vineyards much.  “The well water tables are running low so we need good winter rain,” he told us.  We asked what effect the drier conditions might have on the fruit.  “In drier years like 2014 and like 2004, grapes cluster size and general grape cluster morphology is smaller (smaller berries). The grapes have more concentrated flavor and intensity.”  Bill has harvested a small amount of fruit, but said “we should be rolling pretty good by mid-September.”

Pietro Buttitta, who with his father operates Rosa d’Oro Winery in Lake County (north of Napa), notes that rain in March “really helped our drought conditions.”  Even without a drought, Rosa d’Oro is already pushed to the wall water-wise because of its well situation.  “We don’t have a good reliable well, so we’ve planted on drought resistant rootstocks.  There are four or five of them from Italy and Spain.  The trade off is, they are more vigorous, so we have to do more handwork in the vineyard with canopy management.  You can’t control the vine as much.”

Control at this point doesn’t’ seem to be in the cards for California winemakers. This was underscored on Sunday with a 6.0 earthquake in the epicenter of wine country, Napa Valley.

Any of you notice any drought-related efforts on your visits to California wine country?


Wine Can Tell a Story — Are you listening?


There are plenty of people who enjoy wine without fanfare.  They uncork the wine, pour it and are happy if it tastes good. They’re even happy if it’s “not too bad”!

Then, there’s the rest of us.  We like to know where the wine came from.

Who made it?  Is it a family?  How many generations?  Why do they make wine? Did they grow the grapes themselves, or buy them?  Where are those vineyards, anyway?  In an appellation we’ve heard of?  Have they made this wine before?  Did they add other varietals to the wine, or is it a stand-alone 100% varietal?

These are stories wine tells us.

There’s nothing wrong with simply uncorking a bottle and enjoying, no questions asked.  But there’s something to learn when you question why one wine taste great and another wine doesn’t measure up.

As California winemaking and viticulture have come of age, Golden State wine has become better and better.   And its stories have become more interesting.

As the competition heats up among wineries, they are doing more and more to make a better wine each year.

The explosion of very small, artisan brands in California, often begun by passionate winemakers who buy all their grapes and own no winery facilities, has been a surprising and exhilarating phenomenon.

Yes, the big conglomerates dominate the market.  But for those of us on the lookout for better and better wine, the small family wineries and these adventurous new generation winemakers are creating some wonderful stories in the bottle.