Summary of Our Passport 2013 Experience

View of the vineyard at Mastroserio Winery, in the Fairplay region. (c)2013 David Locicero

View of the vineyard at Mastroserio Winery, in the Fairplay region. (c)2013 David Locicero

The El Dorado Winery Association, knows how to put on an event. The Association’s 2013 Passport event the past two weekends was a success for me and my merry band of tasters.

The overarching theme was “Fame”, which manifested as Hollywood movie themes of varying intensity from winery to winery. At some wineries, the theme was non-existant. At others it was over the top. Coming into one winery at the end of the day, the costumes were a little disturbing. Frankly, I don’t think they need a theme other than “Sierra Foothills Wine”, which should be enough.

Over 30 of the Association’s member wineries participated in the Passport event. It is impossible to visit them all, even over a two day weekend. So we visited some old favorites and some newer to us and managed to visit 8 wineries and revisit two of them to make purchases. We also visited a non-participating winery, which I will write about later.

Here are some observations in no particular order:

  • Gold Hill’s “California Champagne” is still one of the best sparkling wines made in California.
  • David Girard’s wines are getting better and better.
  • Jodar’s wines are unbelievably consistent from year to year.
  • Crystal Basin’s wines did not shine at the event, but their sparkling wine was a bargain.
  • Mount Aukum’s wines are changing and not for the better.
  • Skinner’s wines are remarkably complex and their food pairing really showed off their wines well.
  • Miraflores is developing a range of wines of quality and depth.

Regarding Mount Aukum. Their wines are changing and the change seems to date to their change in ownership. I’m not sure if the change is purposeful, or incidental. What I am finding is that their single varietal wines are losing the balance and complexity that was the hallmark of the winery when we first got to know them. Their blends still are still very good and have what I am looking for in a wine: balance and deliciousness. But the recently released single varietal wines from Mount Aukum have been, to my palate, harsh, unbalanced and simple. I am doubtful that they will gain balance as they age.

On the other hand, David Girard’s wines have improved greatly since they changed wine makers. I used to be mystified by the hoards of Girard enthusiasts. When I first tasted their wines 8 years ago, the wines seemed thin and far too acidic. To be fair, they were working from young vines at that time. Now with older vines and a new wine maker, the talented Mari Well Coyle, I am mystified that this winery isn’t even more popular than it is. These wines now have more body, complexity and balance. I hope that more people will give these recent wines a chance.

The non-Passport participating winery that we visited is Mastroserio / Rugiada Winery. Ruggero Mastroserio is the owner/wine maker. He is formerly the wine maker at Latcham Vineyards among others. Mastroserio was the highlight of the weekend and I’ll be writing about them very soon.

My merry band of tasters was a group of 8 this year, with seasoned tasters and complete newbies and we all had a great time. We were able to taste wines satisfying for everybody’s palates. That is one of the things about the number of wineries in Gold Country: there is bound to be a winery making wines for your palate, no matter how you like your wine. We are looking forward to getting back up to the Sierra Foothills to explore the new wineries that have opened and revisit our favorites.

About dslocicero

David is an author and architect living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He writes about wine, food and travel. His first book is Pour Me Another: An Opinionated Guide to Gold Country Wines, now one of the highest rated books about California Wines.