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A diversified family farm located in Nicasio, Marin County, within California’s North Coast region, produces rabbits, pigs, sheep, premium wine grapes and asparagus for retail customers and direct sales to high-quality restaurants. Sustainable, humane agricultural practices are utilized, organic whenever possible.
Devil's Gulch Ranch
by Ken Zinns | Grape-Nutz
Report on the 7th annual wine tasting presented by the Marin County Winegrowers Association, on Saturday, June 11th, 2011, at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur, California. The event is a benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and DG Educational Services, and focuses on wines from the Marin County AVA.
The Marin County Winegrowers Association promotes wines from the county, and supports cooperation among growers and wineries. It helps to raise awareness of Marin’s wine history as well as of its current wineries and wines.
The Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) is a non-profit organization formed in 1980 by local ranchers and environmentalists, dedicated to preserving Marin farmlands for agricultural use. MALT works with landowners to acquire agricultural easements to prevent the spread of non-agricultural development on the area’s farmlands. MALT also works to support public policy that preserves agriculture in Marin. MALT conservation easements now total over 40,000 acres, on over 65 family farms and ranches, and this farmland produces some of the Bay Area’s best-known organic produce, dairy products, and wines.
DG Educational Services provides educational programs on nature and agriculture, both locally and around the world. The goal of their programs is to “develop the skills to produce food and to live sustainably while building an understanding of our interconnectivity with nature.”
The annual Marin wine tasting, organized by Mark Pasternak of Devil’s Gulch Ranch, is an excellent opportunity to try many wines sourced from Marin County fruit.The wineries themselves were from a number of places, not just located in Marin, while the vineyards are in various parts of the county. Previous tastings have been solely for Marin Pinot Noir, and the name change of this year’s event – from “Pinot Noir Celebration” to “Wine Celebration” – highlights the tasting’s new inclusion of all wines from Marin. While the wines at the event were still predominantly Pinots, other wines being poured included Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
A total of 14 wineries poured at the tasting, held on the upper level of the old Escalle Winery building. It was built by Frenchman Jean Escalle in the late 19th Century, and once had 23 acres of vineyards on the adjacent hillside. Sadly, the winery did not survive Prohibition. The space features photos of historic Larkspur on many of the beautifully-carved wood paneled walls.
The old winery building continues to be a fine venue for this event, and fortunately the weather was cooler than last year’s scorcher, making the space much more comfortable throughout the afternoon. The attendance seemed roughly the same as last year, and the layout of the winery tables allowed plenty of space to circulate. The tables themselves were generously-sized, so there was not much problem with tasters crowding in front of them. A small but welcome improvement over last year was having larger dump buckets at the tables. Overall, the event was well-organized and ran smoothly.
As always, the food at the event was delicious and was all provided by artisan food purveyors from Marin County, including Dehasa foods, Point Reyes Vineyard Inn, Il Fornaio Bakery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and Cowgirl Creamery. The food included a country pâté of rabbit studded with pistachio nuts, served with local breads and cheeses. They were also grilling pork and rabbit sausages, venison with a plum sauce as well as venison with a dry spice rub (this was exceptional!). A chef who makes his own salumi dropped by with some samples of his bacon, coppa, and a couple of other products.
Al Osterheld made the rounds at the tasting early on, while I arrived toward the end of the event, having been tied up with another commitment that afternoon, so we each tasted separately on this occasion. Between us, I believe we tasted all but one of the wines being poured, though we both somehow missed the only sparkling wine of the event – a Blanc de Noir from Point Reyes Vineyard. Al was able to taste some wines that I did not have a chance to try later in the day, and his notes are designated with an “(AO)” at the end of the note. He also contributed some of the winery comments and other impressions of the event (especially of the food).
Some producers poured one or two of the same wines as last year, though all of them featured their latest releases. There were also a couple of older wines and some previews of upcoming releases. I’d tried wines from most of these producers at last year’s tasting, but there were also some promising newcomers to the event – Bailiwick, Couloir, and Easkoot all produced notable Pinot Noirs. I’ve found that Kendric, Pey-Marin, and Vision have been among the most consistent producers of Marin County wines over the past few years, and by and large, they continued that trend this year. A handful of other wines were just a notch below those listed as “Favorites,” including Pinots from Easkoot, Sean Thackrey, and Skywalker Ranch’s Viandante del Cielo label.
I thought the overall quality of wines at the event was very good, though there were a few that both Al and I felt showed some flaws. But aside from those exceptions, I felt that the standout wines of this year’s tasting were as good or better than those from the past couple of years. It was good to see some newer producers taking on Marin County fruit and looking at it from a fresh perspective. And some more established Marin producers like Kendric continue to experiment – using more whole-cluster fruit in fermentations, extended macerations, etc. – so there are always some new paths to explore with these wines.
Once again, the Pinot Noirs in particular from Marin distinguished themselves – bright red fruits, sometimes floral, and usually lighter in color and body than many from California. It’s an intriguing growing area that I think is deserving of greater attention, and the wines at this year’s Marin County Wine Celebration showcased both the best of the current releases as well as the promise of the future.