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Wine Geek Dreams


Florida Jim
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I’m drinking a delicious wine and a question comes to mind; “I wonder if I could do that?” I know guys that have made the switch from wine geek to wine maker (eg., Russell Bevan of Bevan Cellars) and I’m retired with lots of time on my hands and a love of northern California . . .

So this past week, Diane and I spent every day touring areas of northern CA that interest us in search of property, talking to realtors, wine makers and growers, and getting a feel for the areas and the requirements of growing grapes and making wine.

Maybe we should have talked to our banker first.

It is virtually impossible, in today’s market, to find a few acres with a house on it in wine country for less than a million dollars. Any part of wine country. And prices are going up so rapidly, that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to afford it.

Yet there is a difference between a wine-tasting visit to wine country and the search for property. The former focuses on the wine; the latter takes you to places where there isn’t any and to some of the most beautiful vistas and acreage I’ve ever seen. Most of it rural, a lot of it with water problems, some of it with septic problems and none of it in our price range. I should have been discouraged, I suppose, but just the scenery was so inspiring that I wasn’t. Then too, we got to stay with friends and enjoy good company, good food and a little wine; not the stuff of depression.

Briefly, it went like this:

Day 1: Fly into Sacramento; dinner at Masque (a marvelous restaurant NE of the city which I highly recommend to anyone in the area) where we enjoyed a 1999 Maison Leroy, Volnay Santenots: that started closed and quite oaky but ended the evening more open and with all the oak fully integrated. Needs time but has extraordinary potential.

Day 2: Drive through Lake County, Mendocino County (including the Anderson Valley) looking for property and getting a feel for the area. Stopped in several real estate offices, visitor’s centers and spoke to random folks whenever we had the chance. Then out to the coast and drove south eventually winding-up in Sebastapol for the night.

Days 3-6: Drive through Sonoma County looking at property, talking to realtors, etc. eventually winding-up at Chez Bevan for the evening and the next three days. Went to a marvelous little restaurant in Glen Ellen (the name escapes me) and slept hard.

The next three days were spent in realty offices, on the road, walking over land, talking to wine makers and partying in the Bevan style. (I may be getting a little old for that style – maybe.)

Some (of many) wines tasted:

2003 Silver Pine, Syrah:

Started closed (bottled about a week ago) but opened over the evening to a clearly CA styled wine with pretty flavors and good concentration. A bit of an enigma now; the promise of the nose was not fulfilled on the palate but this is so young that I’d be very interested to see what it’s like in the future.

2003 Silver Pine, Sauvignon Blanc:

Killer sauvignon; very aromatic, very full-flavored; lots of mineral flavors with citrus and grassy tones. Up in the 14’s in alcohol so probably not one for the cellar but quite something now.

1997 Togni, Cabernet Sauvignon:

No cabernet fan am I but this showed very well after being decanted several hours. Clearly needs another decade or so in the cave or lots of time in the decanter, if you’re impatient.

Day 6: Off to Occidental to visit with Pete and Barbara Marsh (of Marsh Vineyard fame) and learn about actually growing grapes. It appears I’m going back to school and offering my services to a grower if I pick this method of living the “good life.” The complexities of farming are well outside my grasp at this point.

But Pete and Barbara live within sight of the Pacific and are extremely gracious hosts. We had a lovely dinner in Bodega Bay at the Sea Weed Café (I think that was the name) and drank some eye-opening wines including, the 2000 Swan, Estate Pinot Noir: which was singing! Rich, deep, bright and long in the mouth with a spice elements and the impression of concentrated black fruit throughout. Nicely complex, too. This got me to re-thinking what can be done with pinot in the Russian River Valley.

Also, the 2002 Lynmar, Pinot Noir Quail Cuvée: that was almost on par with the Swan pinot, albeit showing very young with good depth, concentration and length.

Last day: A walk through the Occidental Ridges, breakfast with Pete and Barbara and the drive back to the airport.

Back at home now and I’m not sure if I was dreaming or previewing a nightmare.

Some trip.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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So is it the lifestyle or the winemaking? I remember in the 80's there was a winery (McLester?) making decent wine in a warehouse by LAX. I don't have to tell you how many people make decent wines miles from the 7 figure properties of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. I agree it would be a beautiful way to live, as long as you weren't totally leveraged.

David Cooper

"I'm no friggin genius". Rob Dibble

http://www.starlinebyirion.com/

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So is it the lifestyle or the winemaking? I remember in the 80's there was a winery (McLester?) making decent wine in a warehouse by LAX. I don't have to tell you how many people make decent wines miles from the 7 figure properties of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. I agree it would be a beautiful way to live, as long as you weren't totally leveraged.

It's possible to make your own wine without a vineyard. We do it and have for years. We get grapes from a number of vineyards we tend for people and they get wine back. One can always buy grapes, rent equipment and buy barrels. However you are looking for real estate in one of the most expensive places in the US. I just sold a house with a lot in Spring Hill Fla. for $150,000. Here in Sonoma you might get a mobile home for that. Tis the land of $500,000 starter homes that need work. Best of luck in your quest. Look also in the Foothills, Amador, Eldorado and the whole hwy 49 area. :biggrin:

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

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So is it the lifestyle or the winemaking? I remember in the 80's there was a winery (McLester?) making decent wine in a warehouse by LAX. I don't have to tell you how many people make decent wines miles from the 7 figure properties of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. I agree it would be a beautiful way to live, as long as you weren't totally leveraged.

It's possible to make your own wine without a vineyard. We do it and have for years. We get grapes from a number of vineyards we tend for people and they get wine back. One can always buy grapes, rent equipment and buy barrels. However you are looking for real estate in one of the most expensive places in the US. I just sold a house with a lot in Spring Hill Fla. for $150,000. Here in Sonoma you might get a mobile home for that. Tis the land of $500,000 starter homes that need work. Best of luck in your quest. Look also in the Foothills, Amador, Eldorado and the whole hwy 49 area. :biggrin:

Bruce,

Thank-you.

I'm listening.

Best, Jim

www.CowanCellars.com

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Look for a home on a rocky, wooded bluff or on other land that is not considered arable--in wine country it might be less expensive. A nice large garage or outbuilding with power and water, and you're all set. As Bruce suggested, with our current California grape glut, you can buy great grapes for far less cost and headache than planting a vineyard. Which is a whole 'nother topic.

You might also try ferreting out the oldest, semi-retired realtors in these areas. They often know of the old-time, aged people with farms who are on the verge of selling, but haven't listed the property yet. We got our property before the "For Sale" sign went up, and there were three backup offers for more money behind us. (When the sign went up, it said, "For Sale, Sold Quickly" :raz: ).

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