MercyPoursYou wouldn’t expect to find a New York based cheesemaker at wine festival in Carmel, but it seems fitting to pair zesty cheeses with acid driven wines like you find in Monterey county. At the Monterey Winegrower’s Annual Winemaker’s Celebration at the Barnyard in Carmel, last Saturday, I was lucky to encounter Yancey’s Fancy Cheeses, from a tiny town near Buffalo, New York.

Their spicy cheddar’s were a wake-up call to wine-jaded palates, and certainly provided saucy companionship to Syrah’s and some of the heftier Pinots. The horseradish and wasabi cheddar was amazing, as were the XXX sharp cheddar and the cheddar infused with Peppadew peppers. What a treat! Also thanks to the Lafayette Bakery folks, who have a storefront right there in the Barnyard, for keeping the masses satiated with their excellent breads, croissants and pastries, all of which kept evaporating in thin air before the servers could finish cutting them! Doctor Kracker was once again provider of those fiber-laden crispy crackers that make wine tasting seem a lot healthier.

wine oh tvThe music was great, too, and the band Victory Lane, really got people grooving, with their fluid mix of everything from Clapton to Hendrix to Garcia, and back again. What makes this gathering particularly special is the chance to chat with the winemakers themselves: if you can actually get to them. Some of the tables had huge lines trying to get anywhere near the winemakers to grab a sip of their local bounty, among them, Dave Coventry of Puma Road, Sabrine Rodems of Wrath, Paul Clifton of Hahn, and Ian Brand of Le P’tit Paysan, all of whom were positively swamped. Lines were also long at Pessagno and Caraccioli, where the sparklings tasted exceptionally good after a healthy dose of Pinots and such.

Top 12 Rave Wines Of The Day

1. 2012 Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp, clean, precise standard of measure, $22. Winemaker Dean deKorth.

2. 2012 Wrath Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc, screaming with spring grasses, jalapeno and unmistakable gooseberry and grapefruit pith. $19, 13.2%. Another riveting stainless steel wine by Sabrine Rodems.

3. 2011 Coastview Chardonnay, bright and sexy, with a texture of lemon bars and pear tart. $30, 13.5%. Deftly executed by winemaker Ian Brand.

4. 2012 Estancia Pinot Gris, filled with juicy just ripe nectarines. A best buy at $12 and 13% alcohol. Winemaker, Rebecca Nelson.

5. 2012 La Rochelle Pinot Rosé, a gossamer-winged dove flying against the dawn sky. Love this wine from the McIntyre Vineyard for its bracing acidity and lively rhubarb punch flavors. Tom Stutz, winemaker. $25, 13.4%.

6. 2011 Chalone Vineyards Grenache Rosé, energetic and spirited with crisp cranberry and strawberry-watermelon candy flavors. Easy drinking for summer. Winemaker, Reggie Hammond. $24

7. 2012 Bernardus Saignée of Pinot Noir, brilliantly rosy, with flavors of guava and raspberry lemonade. I could drink this one all day! $25, 12.7%

8. 2010 Mercy Chardonnay, Griva Vineyard, made from the Robert Young clone, by winemaker Mark Dirickson, this wine erupts with a volcano of classic barrel-fermented butterscotch aromas, followed by mouthwatering flavors of peach cobbler and creamy scones with apple butter. $30

9. 2009 Mercy Pinot Noir, Cedar Lane Vineyard, this is the essence of authentic Arroyo Seco pinot noir, earthy, savory and cedary, delivering endless flavors of rhubarb pie, cranberry, roasted chestnuts and strawberry jam on cinnamon toast. $38, 14.5%. (Winemaker Mark says this wine was “dumb as mud” until earlier this year. It is very old world, reminiscent of Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits, and considering those places got decimated by hail this year, you might want to stock up on this instead.)

10. 2010 Kori Pinot Noir, made by Sabrine Rodems from KW Vineyard grapes. Presenting classic SLH Pinot aromas and flavors, this is a well-constructed red-fruited, surefooted beauty! $36, on special for $30

11. 2011 Pierce Vineyards Garnacha, a smooth, cherry pie of a wine, dancing with strawberry and pomegranate flavors. $21.95, 14%. Josh Pierce, Winemaker.

12. 2011 Shale Canyon Kimberly Vineyard Merlot, a rip-roaring ripe as heck, yet mightily beefy Merlot, that socks it to your mouth with its immensely engaging layers of chocolate lava cake topped with brandy-infused cherries jubilee. $22, 15.1%. Winemaker, Ken Gallegos.

All in all, a fun day, with great auction items to peruse, and a host of great food for purchase from local restaurants and vendors. Always the second Saturday of August, so mark your calendars for next year’s Winemaker’s Celebration.


Laura NessLaura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at

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