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by Fred McMillin
for March 9, 2000


Unordinary Fred Cherry


"When I first wrote about California wines it was much simpler. There were only 20 wineries."

...Fred Cherry, San Francisco Wine Critic

The Rest of the Story

Many WineDay readers have read Fred's wine reviews without realizing it. For years he wrote the wine articles you found in airline magazines.

Anyhow, in recognition of Fred's early 20-winery start, we set up a tasting of bottles from 20 California wineries, with Fred as guest of honor. of course, we had to ask him some questions before he tried the wines.

WineDay: What's the most interesting development in California wines that you've seen since you moved here from your native Philadelphia four decades ago?

Fred: I'll give you one of them...the founding of so many wineries that are making GOOD, not poor wines. For example, at a recent ZAP [Zinfandel] tasting, I sampled at random from a huge number of bottles and did not come across a single poor wine.

WineDay: What California wine districts do you find most exciting currently?

Fred Cherry

Cherry's Jubilee
Fred Cherry told us a lot about wine, but nothing about how he managed to be photographed with Miss America while he was judging wines in Las Vegas.

Fred: One is Lake County, which is converting more and more of its grapes to wine instead of selling them to producers in other areas. Mendocino County also is producing a number of new, fine wines. But the area that seems to be upgrading the fastest is the south Central Coast...San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, etc.

WineDay: You've seen a huge increase in Califoria Chardonnay production...over sixfold. Has the wine changed much during that time?

Fred: Absolutely, and for the better. Initially it was rough and unpredictable, often with excess oak and even with troublesome tannins. But now, the winemakers have learned how to bring all those elements into harmony, producing complex, elegant wines.

Then Fred turned to the 20 covered bottles. An hour later we unwrapped his top choices, and found...

4th—Robert Pepi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
3rd—Villa Mt. Eden Reserve Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
2nd—Pacific Echo Brut Rosé, Mendocino County
and the First Choice is our Wine of the Day.
1st—Kendall-Jackson Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay

So three out of four of Fred's favorites came from some of those upcoming districts mentioned, one Mendocino and two southern Central Coast. Not bad.

But now on to Kendall-Jackson and Chardonnay. That's the variety that MADE the winery. S.F. attorney Jess Jackson produced his first wine in 1982, Chardonnay with a little sweetness, from grapes grown in his small Lake County vineyard. Today the Jackson juggernaut makes over 2-1/2 million cases of the wine, from nearly 5,000 acres of that varietal. Critic James Laube says some of the best grapes come from their "excellent Chardonnay vines in the Santa Maria Valley," which bonded with Fred's taste buds.

For more about K-J's leading white, see the June 23, 1998 WineDay, Gangway for this Chardonnay", or phone (707) 547-4748, FAX (707) 544-4013.

Postscript—Cooling Chardonnay

I have an old Cherry Bottles Up newsletter with good advice about cooling that Chardonnay before serving. "When a wine is overchilled, it is robbed of its aroma, and components of the flavor are serve between 50 and 55 degrees F." That means 90 minutes in the frig is enough if you want to get all the aromas and flavors the winemaker worked so hard to create. If there's any doubt, pour two half-full glasses from the same chilled bottle, cover the glasses with plastic wrap, put one in the frig and the other in the freezer. Taste them both in 40 minutes. The freezer wine will lack a lot in the nose and mouth.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created March 2000