Family Winemakers of California was founded in 1990 to provide a voice for small wineries in California. It is involved in lobbying and other efforts to reduce restrictions on the sale and distribution of wine and “broaden access to domestic markets.” For consumers, the retail and restaurant trade and the media, it produces tastings to show off the wines of its members to new audiences.
The Family Winemakers ventured south to Del Mar recently and some 80 wineries poured more than 330 different wines, including 18 white varietals and 20 red. The biggest representations around the room: Cabernet Sauvignon, 48 wineries; Chardonnay, 38; Pinot Noir, 34; and Zinfandel and Red Blends, 25 each. Prices ranged from a low of $14 to $180.
Our top wine of the day came from one of the smallest producers:
Vineyard 511, 2013 Diamond Mountain Cabernet $149. Dark purple; big berry nose; cedar and wood (30 months in French oak); big fruit; long rich finish. 17.5-18 on the UC Davis 20-point scale.
The following wines were all excellent, in our top rankings:
Frisson Wines, 2012 Diamond Mountain Cabernet $70. Mid-dark garnet; big Cabernet nose; mid-big body; long rich finish. 17-17.5
Frisson, 2012 Rutherford George III Cabernet $95. Distinct Napa Cabernet nose; berries; mint; mid-big body; herbaceous finish; needs time. 17
Paloma Vineyard, 2013 Merlot $57 from the small Spring Mountain district at 2,000-foot elevation. Weedy, cocoa, black currant nose; mid-body; balanced; good fruit extract; long rich finish; fine structure. 17
Stonestreet, 2012 single vineyard Cabernet, Rockfall. Mint, vanilla, berry nose; mid-body; balanced; chewy, needs time; long chewy finish. 16.5-17
Taplin Cellars. 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena (560 cases, on allocation). Big berry nose; Cabernet and black currants; big Cabernet flavor; long chewy finish. 16.5-17
The rest of the top wines we enjoyed are listed in alphabetical order, with short tasting notes and the UC Davis score (for 100-point fans, these are all over 90).
AvinoDos, 2014 Sonoma Mountain Zinfandel $30. Single vineyard. 80-year old vines. Brambles and berry nose; good Zin character; good Zin flavor; long finish. 16.5
AvinoDos, 2013 Oak Knoll District Malbec $38. 250 cases. Darkest purple; floral hyacinth nose; big, long chewy finish. 16.5
AvinoDos, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville Napa Valley $58. Single vineyard. Dark garnet; big mint, wood nose; big flavor; long fruity finish. 16.5
Byrd, 2012 Mendocino Estate Reserve Cabernet $60. Vineyards at 2,400 feet. Dark garnet; mint, smoky, big Cabernet nose; vanilla; big fruit; needs time. 16.5
Darms Lane, 2014 Napa Chardonnay, $28. Light Chardonnay nose; stone fruit; mid-body; balanced; good acids; long crisp finish; nice style. 16.5
Fifty Row, 2012 Cabernet, $55, single vineyard Rutherford. Napa Cabernet nose; berries, vanilla, mint; long chewy finish. Two years in 80 percent new French oak. 16-16.5
Fifty Row, 2010 Cabernet (sold out). Smokey, berry nose; balanced; smoothing out; a little age helps. Nice food wine. 16.5
J. Rickards, 2013 Five Sisters $38 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Nice berry nose; good fruit and finish. Very drinkable. Balanced 16-16.5
J. Rickards, 2014, Old Vine Zinfandel Alexander Valley. $28. Field blend. Brambles and berries; mid-big body; good fruit and finish. 16.5
Keenan, 2014 Estate Chardonnay Spring Mountain $34. Vanilla, big oak nose; crisp acids, long fruity finish. 16-16.5
Keenan, 2013 Reserve Cabernet Spring Mountain $102. Dark garnet; herbaceous, ripe grape nose; mid-body; big fruit extract; long chewy finish. Needs time. 16.5
Kennan, 2013 50-50 Cabernet-Merlot blend “Mernet” $98. Mint, cocoa nose; balanced; nice style, long tight finish. 16.5
Keenan, 2013 Napa Cabernet. $54 Dark garnet; mint, oak nose; balanced to big; semi-chewy; long fruity finish. 16.5
Pride Mountain Vineyards 2014 Cabernet $74. Mountain fruit rom 59 percent Napa, 41 percent Sonoma. Big fruity nose; berries and wood; mid body; balanced; good food wine; long complex finish. 16.5
Sullivan 2015 Napa Sauvignon Blanc $34. Intense varietal nose; flowery, tropical; mid-body; good extract; long fruity finish. 16.5
Sullivan 2013 Coeur de Vigne blend (49 percent Cabernet Franc, 37 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot). Berry and wood nose; mid-big body; good tannins; long, lush finish; nice style. 16-16.5
Bottom line, Family Winemakers staged a fine tasting, with trade and media tasting first, followed by the general public. Some of the wineries are looking for trade representation in Southern California and we hope they find good partners so wine drinkers here have more access to the family wines.