Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 Best Microwinery, Red – Hoyt Family Vineyards

Hoyt Family Vineyards    
5929 Kanan Dume Road
Malibu, California 90265

“We were quite excited when we found out about this award,” said Carol Hoyt, winemaker and owner, with her husband Stephen, of Hoyt Family Vineyards in Malibu, California. I was in Europe when I received an email about it, so it was quite a surprise.”

Like a number of microwineries, Hoyt Family Vineyards has no winery facilities of their own. However they do have two vineyards: one acre plus in Malibu, planted in 2001 and six acres in Paso Robles, just recently planted. Their grapes are custom crushed for their hand-crafted wine at Terravant Wine Company, a state-of-the-art winemaking facility in Buellton.

“I am the winemaker,” said Hoyt, “but have two outstanding consulting winemakers helping me: Travis Proctor from Terravant and Etienne Terlinden from Summerland Winery. It is always best when you can surround yourself with great people and I have two of the greatest helping me with the wine.”

The four wines that Hoyt Family Vineyards entered in the  California State Fair Commerical Wine Competition this year all received medals. One of them, their 2009 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, received a double gold medal, 98 points and, as a result, the “Best of Microwinery, Red Wine” award.

“A vineyard had been on our minds for a long time, “said Carol Hoyt in a recent interview. “For a while we lived in San Francisco and visited the Napa Valley area regularly to taste and buy wine. On our kitchen wall we posted pictures of vineyards and people often asked us why. ‘That is a reminder that we are going to have a vineyard one day,’ I would tell them.”

From there they moved to Hollywood where again the vineyard pictures were prominently displayed on the kitchen wall. Friends continued to ask the same question about them and received the same answer. The idea of having a vineyard had not been forgotten and continued to be their goal.

“I was a drama major at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, which you can tell had nothing to do with wine,” said Hoyt. “I was an actress for a number of years and had several interesting roles, including a season as the villainess on ‘Power Rangers.’ I’m retired from acting now, taking care of my family and making wine.”

Both Carol and Stephen Hoyt not only enjoy wine, but also like farming, so it was logical that they would ultimately go looking for some acreage and on which they could plant a vineyard and build their house.

“ We found what we liked in Malibu and there was already a vineyard right next door,” continued Hoyt. “It was perfect for us and 2001 we planted chardonnay, malbec and merlot.”

The property they selected was on the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, a couple of miles from the ocean. Because of its location, it is subject to cool, foggy mornings, followed by heat and then cool evenings. It was the ideal climate for chardonnay, but maybe not malbec or merlot. Once they reached that conclusion, they decided to concentrate on chardonnay by planting more of those vines and grafting over the malbec and merlot.

Because of the location and the fact that the vineyard was only a little bit over an acre in size, they decided to use the Smart-Dyson trellis system for their vines. According to some grape growers it comes the closest to attaining the often elusive balance between foliage growth and maximum premium wine grape production in the coastal areas of California.

Smart-Dyson is a single curtain system with divided foliage. In simple words, shoots from each vine are positioned both up and down and the leaf cover is modified to allow in the proper amount of sunlight. By using that system they found they were able to almost double their potential yield and also have the fruit ripen before the Fall rains arrived, the bane of some coastal vineyard owners.

While waiting for the vines to mature, Hoyt decided it was time to actually try her hand at making wine. She purchased some cabernet sauvignon grapes and turned her kitchen into a winery. “We called it ‘Carol’s Cab,’she remarked, “and it turned out great, all two cases of it.”

With their chardonnay grapes maturing and the taste of success with the cabernet grapes, the next year they became more serious about their winemaking and Hoyt Family Vineyards moved from their kitchen to the facilities at Camarillo Custom Crush. One year later they moved again, this time to Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria where Carol Hoyt had the opportunity to work with Summerland Winery’s winemaker, Etienne Terlinden.

Just two years ago both Hoyt Family Vineyards and Summerland moved to Terravant Wine Company in Buellton, which then gave her the opportunity to work with both Terlinden and Terravant Wine Company’s winemaker, Travis Proctor.

“Both my husband and I prefer big, up front fruit cabernets, the ones with blackberry and currant flavors and lots of mouth feel,” Hoyt remarked. “As people become more educated about wine that seems to be one of the things they like.”

Because of that, they wanted to start growing their own cabernet sauvignon grapes to obtain maximum control over their wine, but they knew by experience that they couldn’t do it on their Malibu property. So they went looking elsewhere for a place for their new vineyard.

Since they were very pleased with the grapes they had been getting from the Paso Robles area, that seemed the most likely place to begin their search.

“On the west side of Paso Robles was an area I really liked,” said Hoyt. “There were already vineyards there and it had the calcareous soil that I wanted. I believe it is that soil that is putting the fruit of Paso Robles on the map.”

They found what they liked and bought it. In their new vineyard they planted six acres of vines: two of cabernet sauvignon, one of petite verdot, one of grenache, one of tempranillo and one of viognier. But for them that was only a start. In time they plan on adding more cabernet vines along with grenache blanc and petite sirah.

“We love the wine made from the cabernet sauvignon grapes that grow in that area and it is our present plan to use our petite verdot, grenache, tempranillo and viognier for blending purposes,” added Hoyt. “All of those vines are only a year old, so for a while we will still have to purchase grapes to make everything but our Malibu vineyard chardonnay.”

The grapes for their award winning 2009 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon came from Bella Collina’s vineyards. “We blended in five percent petite verdot and five percent merlot,” said Hoyt. “I believe blending is a creative process and the wine got better with just that much of those two added.”

What is in the future for Hoyt Family Vineyards? They are hoping to build a small winery on their Paso Robles property, but have no intentions of becoming big. Their present production is about 750 cases a year and presently they are not looking to even triple that amount in the future. “We like being small and more of a boutique winery,” said Hoyt.

Some time ago one of Hoyt’s friends asked her a very common question, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? “I told her that I would be living on a vineyard and making wine,” answered Hoyt. “But it didn’t take me 10 years. Only three years after I was asked the question, I was there.”

Hoyt Family Vineyards wines that received awards at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition:

  • 2009 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (Double Gold, 98 points, Best of Microwinery – Red Wine)
  • 2009 Paso Robles Tempranillo (Gold, 94 points)
  • 2009 California Chardonnay (Silver, 89 points)
  • 2010 Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Chardonnay white blend (Bronze, 87 points)

2012 Best Microwinery, Other – Rancho de Philo

Rancho de Philo Winery,
10050 Wilson Avenue, Alta Loma, California
(909) 987-4208.

Generally when one thinks of microwineries in California, the image is often that of a small retirement business, producing a small amount of wine from a few acres of grapes, usually planted on the home property. Rancho de Philo, which won a gold medal and “Best Microwinery-Other” award for their non-vintage California Triple Cream Sherry this year, is a bit of that and a lot more.

“My grandmother’s family, the Vachés, arrived from France and settled in San Juan Bautista in 1832, where they planted grapes and built a winery,” said Janine Tibbitts, winemaker and co-owner of Rancho de Philo with her husband, Alan. “It was Mexican California then, and that was six generations ago.

“The grapes and the winery were in the Gavilan Valley, but their wine store, along with a bakery, were in San Juan Bautista. Later the family moved to Hollister and then Santa Monica.

“They had a winery in downtown Los Angeles called Vaché et Cie. The grapes came from Anaheim until phylloxera got to them.

“In the late 1800s they decided to plant a vineyard and open a winery near Redlands in the San Timoteo Valley. There was a brook adjacent to the winery so they called it Brookside Winery.

“My great grandfather Biane came from France and, since he was an engineer, went to work for the City of Redlands building storm drains and streets. His son, Marius joined him, and went to work at Brookside Winery. When his contract with Redlands ended, my great grandfather returned to France, but his son stayed.

“The Vaché family would come up from Santa Monica to spend time at the winery and that is where my grandparents met. My father, Philo Biane, was born on the winery property.

“Before selling Brookside to Beatrice Foods in the 1970s, he and my mother were involved in a program put on by the Wine Institute and the U.S. State Department. Over a period of five or six years in the 1960s they were sent to other countries to meet with other winemakers. In Spain he discovered the Spanish solera system for making sherry. He thought that would be a good retirement for him and in 1963 started the process of making sherry.

“In 1974 he retired and in 1975 released his first sherry. I went to work for him in 1977 and continued learning at his side until his death in 1999.”

The solera system involves a stack of 15 barrels with five on the bottom row, four above, three above those, then two and then one.

Rancho de Philo has 15 separate soleras and once a year they take 15 gallons out of each of the bottom barrels. The bottom barrels are then refilled from the barrels above, which are then refilled from the next higher row until the top barrel is emptied. Since they only bottle a portion of what they take from the bottom barrels, they refill the top barrels with a mix of that and sherry that has been separately aging in their cellar for seven years. Therefore their sherries do not have a vintage date as they are really a blend of many vintages, all 12 years or older, including some, albeit only a small amount, of all their vintages back to 1963. For the consumer’s convenience, they put an estimated average age on each yearly release.

“The barrels in our soleras are neutral American oak from whisky distilleries,” commented Alan. “They are more porous than many other oak barrels, and since it is a continuous oxidation process, they work well.”

“Many of the 140 gallon hogsheads in which the sherry ages for its first seven years were used by the Spanish and Portugese to carry wine to the ‘New World’ over 150 years ago,” added Janine. “There is a lot of history there.”

All of their sherry is made from Mission grapes that grow in their own six acre vineyard. Mission is the grape the Spanish brought to their colonies and it got its name from being the grape most commonly planted around the missions in California.

Some Spanish scholars believe it was originally exported to the Canary Islands and then to the Mexican colonies and is the listan prieto or palomino negro grape, from Spain.

“We had 1450 vines that were about 60 years old until 1998 and 1999, when the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter infected them and we lost all but 30 vines,” said Alan. “With help from Dr. Raymond Hix, who had been hired by U. C. Riverside to work on the problem, especially in the Temecula area, we were able to replant the vineyard using our own vines as stock.

“We don’t make the wine here, since we have become a residential area and people don’t like the fruit flies and the aroma,” added Janine. “My father made it at Brookside, until he sold it, and now it is made by Galleano Winery, which is about 12 miles away. They do the fermentation for us, and we take it from there.”

“Our annual production is only about 325 cases of the triple cream sherry,” continued Alan. “We open for sales on the second Saturday in November, and stay open for nine days, unless we sell out earlier. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. Our customers are there to buy, and they buy not only wine to drink, but wine to put away since it continues to age. Because of that I guess you could call us a ‘cult winery.’

“It took us quite a while to expand our production to reach the 15 soleras we now have,”
continued Alan. “It is an involved process since when we build a new solera we have to move wine from the bottom row of the existing soleras into the bottom row of the new one, and so on, so that all of the soleras have the same wine in each row. We can’t just double our capacity overnight.

“We are very proud of our sherry and often receive high medals and even best of show awards when we enter it in competitions,” added Alan. “I had just come out of the shower when I received a call telling me about this outstanding award. Janine was out pruning roses, so rather than tell her I just told ther she had a call so she could be surprised. After 47 years of marriage, I guess I can get away with that.”

This 2011 release of the Rancho de Philo California Triple Cream Sherry has an alcohol content of 18.5 percent and 13.5 percent residual sugar.


California Golden Winery 2012 – Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill

Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill
5625 Gaddy Lane, Kelseyville, California
(707) 279-2995

Ten for ten plus: ten wines entered in the 2012 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition and ten medals received, along with four Best of Class awards and one Best of California award. Not a bad record for any winery and a spectacular record for a young winery that had its first bottling just last year.

Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill, located in Kelseyville, a town tucked away in Lake County, California, is that winery, and they received the 2012 Golden State Winery award for their hard work.

“Mark Burch is our winemaker and deserves the credit,” said Paul Manuel, General Manager and owner. “He graduated from Fresno State and worked for Gallo, Sebastani,  Kendall Jackson and Wildhurst before coming to work for us. He is a wonderful winemaker, highly experienced and, I believe, underappreciated in Lake County.”

“I was quite surprised and elated to get the results of this year’s judging,” said Burch. “It was a phenomenal opportunity for me to get to work at a new facility with some great people. Paul is a great guy to work for and together all of us are proving to be a good team.

“David Weiss owns a nearby vineyard and has been here for around 14 years. He knows where the best grapes are grown and helped us get our foot in the door. We rely on him, since in addition to the grapes we get from Paul’s vineyard in Nevada County, we purchase all our white, and some red grapes from Lake County vineyards.

“I like to make clean, solid wines with true varietal character, that are not overdone or over oaked. To do this I have to stay up on the wine, from fermentation to bottling. When people ask me about my wines I don’t give them the usual talk, I tell them that if it feels and tastes right to them, they will enjoy it. Later they can work on identifying all the aromas and tastes that many winemakers talk about.

“We are permitted for 15,000 cases, but right now we are producing about 6,000,” Burch added.

The story of Chacewater began many years ago when Manuel’s father moved their family from Sacramento to 80 acres outside Nevada City.

“In 1988 the ‘49er Fire’ burned all the trees and brush on the land,” remarked Manuel, “and were left with a mess. I had a construction company at the time and fortunately had the equipment to clear it.

“Several of our neighbors and friends had vineyards, so I studied what they did and, when my company wasn’t busy, I put my men to work preparing the land for a vineyard.

“My wife, Kellye, knows each of those vines intimately, since she was two weeks overdue when we planted the first 10 acres. She and the eldest of our three sons, Matt, who recently graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Agricultural Management, manage the vineyard, which is now 31 acres in size. Matt also helps me here at the winery.

“Our middle son, Luke, is a graduate student at the American University in Washington, D.C. He is our east coast sales representative for Maryland and the D. C. area. Our youngest son, Alex is a CPA for Ernst & Young in Phoenix, Arizona. They are all doing well and are very supportive.

“We simply sold our grapes for a while and after I retired from construction in 2004, we decided to take the grapes to Lake county for custom crush. Later we decided to go looking for a location for a winery and Lake County seemed to be the place to start.

“In 2001 St. Gregory of Sinai Monastery began building an olive mill there and planted about 10 acres of olive trees. The building and facility manager, and later the mill operator, was one of their Novices, Emilio De La Cruz.

“In 2008 they found it was interfering with their other work, so they decided to sell the land, orchard and mill. It was perfect for us, so we bought it and built a 10,000 square foot winery building next to the mill. Emilio stayed on to train our staff and a few years later he joined us full time so we can continue to produce the finest extra virgin olive oil in our mill.

“Our family is Cornish, with roots in the Cornwall area of Great Britain. We didn’t realized it at the time we moved to the Nevada City area, but my great grandfather, like many of the Cornish, had been a hard-rock miner there in the 1880s.

“On a visit to Cornwall we fell in love with Chacewater, a small village on the southern tip of England, that was the origin of the Manuel family tree. That seemed perfect for our winery name, and we included in our logo the unique Mark of a Chacewater church craftsman.

“Our vineyard, the olive mill and the winery facilities are all certified organic and audited once a year by the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). Since we get grapes from other sources than our own vineyards, our wines are not necessarily organic. However, the facilities are, which means they are very clean and well maintained.

“Our wine is not the only thing receiving great awards, our Robust Tuscan Extra Virgin Olive Oil received Best of Class and Best of Show awards at the Los Angeles International Olive Oil Competition last March.”

The wines entered by Chacewater Wine Co. & Olive Mill in this year’s California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition were:

  • 2010 Lake County Chardonnay (Double Gold, 98 points, Best of Class (Tie) North Coast Appellations and Best of California)
  • 2009 Red Hills Petite Sirah (Gold, 95 points)
  • 2008 Red Hills Petite Sirah, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon blend (Gold, 94 points, Best of Class North Coast Appellations)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Merlot (Silver, 92 points)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Silver, 91 points)
  • 2011 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc (Silver, 90 points)
  • 2009 Red Hills Malbec (Silver, 90 points, Best of Class North Coast Appellations)
  • 2011 Sierra Foothills Estate Generic Rose (Silver, 89 points, Best of Class Sierra Foothills Appellations)
  • 2011 Sierra Foothills Estate Zinfandel (Bronze, 86 points)
  • 2010 Sierra Foothills Estate Syrah (Bronze, 86 points)