Coronado Brewing Company

It has been a busy week! My youngest son, Matt graduated from San Diego State University, with a degree in Marine Biology. The entire family came together to celebrate his accomplishment. The following day, my son wanted us all to visit his favorite micro-brewery, and had arranged a tour of their facility. We met on a Saturday morning at the Coronado Brewing Company at their tasting room/ brewery on 1205 Knoxville St in San Diego.

From the outside, the 20,000 square foot building looks like any other industrial building in the area, but when you walk in the door, you are greeted by a 750 square foot tasting room, with 25 taps, with tasting benches and tables. There is also a small gift shop area on the far end of the tasting room.

On the right side of the entrance, is a loading dock, and a wall lined with oak bourbon barrels. The bulk of the warehouse is home to a 30-barrel brewing system, along with a bottling and labelling line.

I had been aware of Coronado Brewing since about Christmas of 2013, when my son came home for the winter break with growlers of his favorite beers. Coronado Brewing Company actually opened on August 30, 1996, when there were only six micro-breweries in all of San Diego. Now there are over 90 micro-breweries in the San Diego area, and it has become the “hot bed” of craft brewing in the United States. In April of 2014, Coronado Brewing Company was named the best mid-sized brewery in the world, at an international competition in Colorado.

Coronado Brewing Company is known for its’ hoppy beers. They brew over 40 different beers a year. There are five core beers, four seasonal beers and eight specialty beers.  One of the favorites is known as Idiot IPA. But, if you look online for customer ratings, the top rated beers are Wadeorade, Orange Avenue Wit, and Islander IPA.  I must admit, I am not a hoppy beer fan. It seems that the younger crowd has more of an admiration for these styles. What I like about Coronado Brewing Company is that they have a full range of beers, which meet the requirements for almost any type of beer lover. Their Coffee Stout, Cream O’ the Hop, and Silver Strand were less hoppy, and some of my favorites. We actually bought some of the Coffee Stout, and served it at a breakfast we hosted, later in the weekend.

Earlier, I mentioned the Oak Bourbon barrels. Coronado Brewing Company has created the “Coronado Collection”. These are beers that are barrel-aged. The Barley wine is brewed with brown sugar and orange blossom honey and aged for six months in oak barrels. Continuing on this tradition, Coronado Brewing is also making their Stupid Stout and Old Scallywag, and aging them in the bourbon barrels. These beers are only available for release in January, and get snapped up by the locals at around $15/bottle. Unfortunately, they were long out of stock by the time we arrived.

If you can’t make it to the tasting room, Coronado Brewing Company Beers are available in a number of states, and 11 countries.  Despite their growing international reach, 75 percent of their beer is sold in California.

In addition to the tasting room, Coronado Brewing Company has two restaurants on Coronado. One is part of the Coronado Brewing Company facility (serving lunch and dinner); the other is Tent City Restaurant, located at the other end of the island at 1100 Orange Avenue (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner).

The White Wine of Argentina

When it comes to South American wines, most people immediately think of Chile and Argentina. After my article about Tannat in Uruguay, that red wine might also be gaining in popularity. The signature grape for Chile is probably Carménère, and Argentina is mainly known for Malbec. But what if I told you that Argentina may soon be known for a white grape? Let me introduce you to Torrontés.

Torrontés is a distinctive wine, not only because it is a white wine, but because Argentina is virtually the only country to produce it. It is considered an Argentinian variety.

Recent DNA studies have determined that Torrontés is most likely a cross between two varieties brought to the country in colonial times: the Criolla Chica (or Mission) grape known locally as “Uva negra” and Muscat of Alexandria, or “Uva de Italia”. Torrontés possibly originated in Mendoza, under the leadership of the Jesuits. Torrontés initially grew among other varieties, without producers noticing it was a different stock. DNA evidence shows that there is probably no relationship between the Spanish variety of Torrontés and the South American variety.  So, consumers may be confused when they see Spanish wines labeled as Torrontés from the Galician wine region of Ribeiro.

The name “Torrontés” started to be used in Argentina by the middle of the 19th century. The oldest available record found is in a study by Damián Hudson dating back to the 1860's.

There are actually 3 members of the Torrontés family: Riojano, Mendocino, and Sanjuanino. Torrontés Riojano is the best and most widely planted of the three. It is more extensively grown and expresses the best qualities for dry premium wines, and has earned numerous international awards. Torrontés Sanjuanino is less focused than Riojano and Torrontés Mendocino is less aromatic.

The finest expression of Torrontés Riojano, is thought to come from the tourist town of Cafayate, in the region of Salta. Salta (which derives its’ name from the Aymara tribe’s word for “very beautiful”) is located in the northwest part of Argentina.  The land is mostly irrigated desert, but has very fertile soil where it is irrigated. The area has lots of sun, but not too hot. The average summer temperature is around 77ºF, while the winters average about 55ºF. This area is home to some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world. The average elevation is about 5,200 feet, with some as high as 9,840 feet above sea level.  Here, the harsh growing conditions allow the variety to attain high acidity and assertive flavors. Due to the elevation, many vineyards are planted in “el parral” style, a trained pergola about 6.5 feet tall, which help shield the grapes from the harsh high altitude sun. The conditions, and wine training, allow for exceptional development of grapes. The ultraviolet light at this altitude, is thought to penetrate the grape berries, and help ripen the pips (seeds), creating greater phenolic ripeness.

Torrontés is also grown in other regions of Argentina, including the provinces of La Rioja, Mendoza, San Juan and Rio Negro. But it is Salta and Catamarca, in particular that are considered the best of its kind in the entire world. A small amount is also grown in Chile and Uruguay, but is rarely seen as a single varietal wine.

The bunches of grapes on the Torrontés vine are round, medium-sized, and usually a yellow-green color, and sometimes even golden.  The vine is highly productive. And often over-produces, unless kept well pruned, with good canopy management. The success is dependent on the skill and care during the winemaking process, particularly in maintaining suitable acid levels to balance the wine.

If acid levels aren’t reached, the wine can become flabby. Many wine shops won’t carry these “flabby wines”, so in hot vintages, there may not be much to find on your favorite wine shops’ shelves. Here, in California, the 2013 vintage is virtually impossible to find, due to a hot vintage.

Torrontés is typically  a light yellow wine that occasionally has golden and green hues. The aromas have a marked floral scent, usually described as “white flowers” (roses, jasmine, or geraniums). It is a light to medium-bodied white wine somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. On the palate, notes of lychee, citrus and stone fruit are commonly noted.

The wines are usually produced fresh and crisp without oak maturation and are best consumed within one or two years of release. One of the nicest surprises for consumer is that the wine is rarely priced over $15 a bottle (but once word gets out, expect that to move up with demand). Just remember that the wines don’t tend to age well, so try to consume within one to two years of the vintage date.

Torrontés has an acidity level that is slightly less than Sauvignon Blanc, and is lighter in style than Chardonnay, making it the perfect wine for pairing with shellfish and seafood, or even grilled chicken. But the spice and aromatics also make it a great choice for Indian, Chinese, Thai and even Mexican food.

I hope this has inspired you to try Torrontés. If you have trouble finding it in your favorite wine shop, ask them to order some. If you normally order Pinot Grigio, or Viognier at a restaurant, make a change to Torrontés. And if you are a winegrower in California, and are at high altitude (check out my blog from last week), you may want to try growing Torrontés, and be the pioneer in something completely different.

Barrel Tasting with a Home Winemaker

There is one thing about living in the mountains....there is always something new to discover. This week, matter of fact this day, offered two new experiences.

Earlier in the week, I received an e-mail from someone I have known for a while, but never really spent any time with. He had invited me to his home to try some of his homemade wine. For the last couple years, I had heard that he was growing grapes at his property. As far as I know, he is the only person in our mountain communities that is truly attempting to grow wine grapes in our area. The challenge is the altitude and short growing season. I didn't know what to expect, but really appreciated the invitation, and looked forward to see what our mountain could produce.

As our tasting date approached, another friend contacted me, wondering if I knew anyone who could identify wild mushrooms. He thought that he might have Morel mushrooms growing in his area. As it turns out, my business partner has been gathering wild mushrooms for years. I put them in touch, and decided to join them in the hunt. We found all types of mushrooms (some edible, and some poisonous). After about 1 1/2 hours, we had collected a large handful of Morels. I had to cut the hunting short, so I could get on to my next adventure of wine tasting some local wines.

I quickly cleaned up, and headed to Dart Canyon, where we pulled in to the Krumwiede's driveway. Their two dogs greeted us and followed us out into the vineyard. They own 3.5 acres of gently sloped mountain land. About half of the property is landscaped, which is no surprise, as Richard is a landscape architect. On one end of the driveway is their house, with vineyards neatly pruned and trellised below. Around the vineyards were numerous apple trees. Richard and Elizabeth explained that prior to grapes, they grew apples, and produced apple cider. Now they have added Zinfandel and Syrah vines. Normally I have seen both of these grapes bush trained, but they chose to trellis their vines, figuring that this would allow more sun exposure. Bud break had occurred a couple weeks earlier, so everything was starting to green up. The entire setting reminded me of being somewhere in the Sierra foothills.

On the far end of their driveway is the "winery". We walked through what looks like a tasting room, then into a back room filled with barrels, and a long tasting table, that Elizabeth had set with an assortment of cheeses, fruits and nuts. On the back wall, there were racks of bottled wines. The south wall had a number of Hungarian oak barrels, each labelled with the vintage, ph, and grape.

Richard grabbed the wine thief, and extracted wine from the first barrel, which contained a Mourvedre. The grapes had been sourced from someone named Raphael, who has vineyards in San Miguel (part of the Paso Robles AVA, in the California Central Coast). The wine was light in pigment, and had a pronounced cherry aroma.

Where the fun began, was with the local Zinfandels. This grape variety has a tendency to be all over the place in style, taste and aroma. It also reflects the terroir. We tried two different vintages of Zinfandel. One was spicy, and the other was jammy. The vines are still young (for Zinfandel) and truly reflect the vintage. We also tried Primitivo, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Sirah sourced from Sculpterra. The Syrah was sourced from Saarloos & Son's Windmill Vineyard in Ballard Canyon (the newest AVA in the California Central Coast). We did not try locally grown Syrah. The vines are only a few years old, and still developing.

After barrel tasting each of the wines, we tried a little blending to see what might be possible. We really didn't do any serious blending, but tried a couple different variations, with differing quantities of barrel samples. Also joining us in the tasting was long-time friend, Tom Bachman. While he doesn't grow his own grapes, he has been making wine since I have known him. He shared a bottle of his Bordeaux-style blend of red wine. There was a pronounced rose perfume on his five-grape blend.

Currently, Sycamore Ranch and Vineyard is not available for sale. It is strictly shared with friends, and a co-op of family winemakers. But, that may change down the road. Richard and Elizabeth indicated that they may seek to have their winery bonded, and create the first Dart Canyon winery. Since there is no AVA in this area, the wines would have to be labelled as "California Wines". They already have a tasting room, and wine. Also watch for some of Elizabeth's artwork.

Our mountain community continues to surprise me...wild mushrooms, and local wine. Based on my tastings, I think there is a future for wines produced at elevation in Southern California, and the Krumweide's are leading the way. I didn't know what to expect from a home wine-making operation, but this felt like a "professional" wine tasting room.

What is happening in your backyard?