The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2014

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2014 H ard to imagine, but one of California's oldest, most exciting wine regions lies smack dab in the middle of the state—and nobody ever goes there. We are talking about vineyards located at the northeast edge of Contra Costa County, where the San Joaquin River meets the Sacramento River, just before emptying into San Pablo Bay. No major wine writers, local or national—and certainly no wine buyers, on- or off-premise—have been known to trudge through the vineyards of Contra Costa. Yet some of our best and brightest winemakers—such as Neyers Vineyards' Tadeo Borchardt, Three Wine Company's Matt Cline, Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm, Precedent's Nathan Kandler, Turley's Tegan Passalacqua and Bedrock's Morgan Twain-Peterson—have long considered Contra Costa's plantings to be solid gold: as good as, or better than, any other region's. Contra Costa has zero, zilch romance—except to winemakers who drool over the prospect of 100+-year-old vines growing on piles of basically pure, tropical beach-like sand (technically, Delhi sands derived from decomposed granite) in a Mediterranean climate relentlessly scrubbed by near-gale force winds funneling through the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. The most vaunted of Contra Costa's growths consist primarily of Zinfandel, Mataro (aka Mourvèdre) and Carignan planted during the 1890s by Portuguese immigrants settling in the adjoining Bay Area bedroom communities of Antioch and Oakley. This past August, I persuaded three sommeliers to make a Contra Costa field trip with Borchardt, Passalacqua and Twain-Peterson. The sommeliers were tasted on some phenomenal wines among the vines, including a humongous Neyers 2013 Evangelho Carignane and feral, muscular Neyers 2012 Evangelho Mourvèdre; a lavishly perfumed Turley 2012 Duarte Zinfandel and finely etched Turley 2012 Salvador Zinfandel; and an edgy, field-blended Bedrock 2012 Evangelho Heritage. Borchardt explained, "Contra Costa is a winemaker's dream because we always get full-fledged flavors at lower sugars." Twain-Peterson alluded to the vines' consistently "high acidity" and "brown seeds," despite the region's warm, early ripening climate. Passalacqua elaborated by telling us: "These are very intelligent vines . . . they have endured all these years as own-rooted plants because they grow in pure sand, and the roots go down over 40 feet." Jamie Harding, Wine Director of Cavallo Point in Sausalito, reflects back: "What struck me most was the historic nature of these vineyards—like living windows to California's pre-Prohibition and pre-phylloxera days. It was the first time I'd seen own-rooted vineyards, and I was amazed to see vines over 100 years old producing such delicious, balanced, healthy fruit." Shelley Lindgren, owner/sommelier of San Francisco's A16 and SPQR, describes these "great old vines" as "insane," and the dedication of winemak- ers to these long overlooked vineyards as a "contagious passion." As Harding puts it, "The work of these next-generation winemakers with these old plantings is creating a whole new conversation for us all." California's Greatest Wine Region (Where Nobody Goes) WITH ITS TREASURE TROVE OF OLD-VINE ZINFANDEL, MOURVÈDRE AND CARIGNAN, CONTRA COSTA IS A HIDDEN GEM story and photos by Randy Caparoso Winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company with Evangelho Vineyard Mataro. Left to right: Wine Director Jaime Harding of Cavallo Point, Neyers Winemaker Tadeo Borchardt and owner/Wine Director Shelley Lindgren of A16 and SPQR. Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars.

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