April 6, 2006
Remember the old nursery rhyme about three men in a tub? "And who do you think they be? The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker... "
In the world of North Coast winemakers you could turn that into the fireman, the policeman, the car salesman, the professor, the organic farmer, even the congressman -- everyone seems to be turning garagiste and trying their hand at the fine art of winemaking.
While Humboldt County is not exactly wine country, we have a growing number of fine wines in production, with around two dozen bonded wineries at last count. Local lovers of the fermented grape will have the opportunity to taste and/or purchase wines from a fair share of these local vintners this Saturday as KEET-TV, Humboldt's tiny public television station, presents its annual fundraiser, the Aged to Perfection Wine Tasting and Auction, starting at 5 p.m. at the Arcata Community Center.
Among dozens of producers and purveyors pouring wine to start the event are an even dozen Humboldt winemakers: Briceland Vineyards from Redway, Cabot Vineyards from Orleans, Curtis & David Winemakers from Bayside, Elk Prairie Vineyard from Fruitland Ridge, Fieldbrook Winery from Fieldbrook, Heidrun Meadery from Arcata, Moonstone Crossing from Trinidad, Riverbend Cellars from Myers Flat, Robert Goodman from Arcata, Trinity Valley Vineyards from Arcata, Violet Green Winery from Eureka and Winnett Vineyards from Willow Creek.
The event's live and silent auctions include 80-someodd lots ranging from a tropical vacation and a ballooning adventure to dinners at fine restaurants and, as would be expected, lots of lots of wine, and some really good ones from nearby.
A recent addition to the field of local wines, Violet-Green Winery, has contributed bottles of its 2002 Merlot-Alder and 2003 Merlot Alder Springs, both aged in French oak barrels. They describe the later merlot as having "cinnamon spice-cake aromas yielding to mouth-filling blackberry-vanilla cream flavors and a velvety texture," which makes it sound like dessert, but it's not a dessert wine.
SoHum vintners represented in the auction lots include the almost venerable Whitethorn Winery (among the first successful SoHum winemakers, anyway). They've donated a great red wine made with grapes from Hirsch Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast. Bottled in 2001, they figure it's at its best after five years, which means you can drink it right after you win the bid.
Then there's Elk Prairie Vineyard, from Fruitland Ridge, up above the Eel, a few miles from the Avenue of the Giants. They grow their own pinot noir grapes and handcraft around 700 cases of wine a year. They've offered a 2002 Pinot for the live auction and a gift basket for the silent auction with "everything needed for a night of wine."
Riverbend Cellars down in Myers Flat has a tempting package: An opportunity for you and a three friends to try their selection of wines and then have dinner at their restaurant, The Groves, where the food is excellent, or so I've heard.
From Eastern Humboldt we have organic wines, including a collection of bottles from Winnett Vineyards in Willow Creek and from Cabot Vineyards, run by young winemakers John and Kimberly Cabot in Orleans. The figure their 2003 Kimberly's Syrah, which will be on hand, is their "best wine yet."
As you might know by now, our publisher's husband, Bob Hodgson, is a winemaker, and since Fieldbrook Wine flows free at all company parties, I can testify that he makes excellent wine. Their auction lot? An afternoon of bocce ball at Fieldbrook Winery with Italian wine and hors d'oeuvres for 8 to 16 guests. As in the benefit for Mr. Kite, "a splendid time is guaranteed for all."
What would a local wine auction be without a sampling from the label that is Humboldt's premier wine success story? Behrens and Hitchcock grew out of a basement operation run by Les Behrens, founder of Folie Douce, and Joe Bob and Lily Hitchcock. The operation eventually outgrew the basement and finally Humboldt County, moving down to Napa Valley. Now they make wines that win raves, like the 2002 Behrens and Hitchcock Les Chats du Monde, which earned a 91-93 point rating from Wine Advocate, and their 2003 Behrens and Hitchcock Napa Valley Merlot, a merlot and cab blend that scored 88-91 points. Unfamiliar with the point system? Let's just say those are "A"s.
Since Rep. Mike Thompson is from St. Helena, in the heart of California's wine country, and additionally, since he is co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Wine Caucus, you might guess that he has his own wine. He's actually a small vineyard owner who bottles his personal label wine at Rutherford Ranch, where they know what they're doing. (Good advisors make for good politicians and good wine.) The 2001 Mike Thompson Cabernet Sauvignon he donated to KEET offers a promise of aromas of cherry and blackberry with, at least according to the catalogue, "flavors of raspberry, sweet red plums, blackberry and vanilla ... creamy, toasted oak and hints of mocha with smooth tannins for a long, satisfying finish." Will it live up to its promise? Ask the high bidder.
From Curtis & David Winery in Arcata comes a trio of reds: a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and zinfandel, all from 2001. The winery is invariably referred to as the one owned by a policeman and a fireman, although most could not tell you which is which. Well, Curtis Watkins is the fireman; David Brown is an Arcata cop. And, while I claim no expertise, based on my own tasting of their work they are truly fine winemakers.
Incidentally, the wines of Curtis & David will also be featured in a special wine tasting (unrelated to the auction) at Art of Wine in Eureka, on Friday, April 7. I'm guessing this small-scale event is already sold out; I mention it in case you want to learn about their future wine tastings. Call them at 268-0626, stop by the shop or send them an e-mail (email@example.com) and get on the list.
As one who is still working on my wine education, I'm going to try to make it to one of their future events, but this weekend, my crash course will come from the KEET shindig, where they also have an array of food from Curley's Grill, Avalon, Samurai and Ramone's, and -- since the official theme of the event is "Springtime Is Swingtime" -- dancing after the bidding to an 18-piece big band from Redding called Straight Ahead.
The Aged to Perfection Wine Tasting and Auction runs from 5-10 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the Arcata Community Center. Tickets are $55 ($50 for KEET members) and can be reserved in advance by calling KEET at 445-0813 or by ordering on-line at www.keet.org.
Perhaps I'll see you there. If not, you can find me earlier in the day on the Arcata Plaza, where it's the first day of this season's Farmers' Market. You may find a couple of winemakers there, too.
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