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Monday, March 11, 2013, 6:25 am

Wine Industry: Vintner launches semisweet ‘agavé wine’

Also: Carneros Vintners buys second winery; new tasting rooms; wine auction results

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    Jeff QuackenbushAgavé Garden (agavegarden.com) is not grape wine, but it is fermented in local wine country and shipped in wine bottles. It’s not distilled like tequila, but it is made from organic syrup of Agavé tequilana weber, or blue agave. This “fine agavé wine” is the work of custom vintner Owl Ridge Wine Services of Sebastopol.

    Owl Ridge Wine Services proprietor John Tracy developed Agavé Garden as a novel premium product to make after the winegrape harvest.

    “When people first hear of it, they don’t know what to make of it,” said John Tracy, Owl Ridge proprietor.

    Owl Ridge winemaker Joe Otos and Mr. Tracy came up with the beverage in December 2011 as a way to extend the company’s line of products, and it helps keeps the winery fully utilized year-round.

    Owl Ridge crushed 800 tons of grapes at its facility in a north Sebastopol wine production cluster and bottled 150,000 cases of grape wine for private-label and custom clients. Some of the latter are the proprietors’ brands, Oak Ridge, Willowbrook Cellars and Sebastopol Hills.

    After grape wine comes out of Owl Ridge’s stainless-steel tanks, batches of agave syrup from Mexico can go in for a dry white wine–style ferment below 70 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks at a time. After the result settles, it is filtered, flavored, adjusted for acidity and bottled in flint-colored 750-milliliter Bordeaux-style bottles under screw caps.

    Current flavors for the semisweet 11 percent alcohol beverage are peach; “tropical” blend of passion fruit, papaya and mango; ginger; cranberry; and the POG blend of passion fruit, orange and guava. Variations in development include one with slight carbonation for “crispness,” another with 20 percent alcohol and one said to closely taste like a traditional dry sauvignon blanc wine.

    Agavé Garden first came on the market last year, and 1,000 cases have been sold so far. It is now retailing for $8.99 a bottle and is being carried by a few North Bay grocers such as Oliver’s Market. By word of mouth, some North Coast wineries have been inquiring about buying it to have something novel, refreshing and light for the tasting room or have a sweeter beverage available.

    One of four local wineries carrying it already is Russian River Vineyards, which added it to its Corks restaurant beverage list and in the tasting room. Forestville winery worked with Owl Ridge to develop a $19.99 private label, Agavé Diva, which appeared in the restaurant and tasting room three months ago. The winery already has sweet wines, but the restaurant only has a license to serve lower-alcohol beverages such as beer and wine, according to winery proprietor Chris O’Neill.

    “Often, people looking for a cocktail and not beer and wine, so we looked for something to fill that need in the restaurant,” he said.

    ***

    Large-scale custom winemaking company The Vintners Group, which operates Carneros Vintners, purchased a 600,000-gallon winery it had been renting from the VinREIT division of Entertainment Properties Trust since the middle of last year.

    Carneros Vintners, Inc., purchased the Ramal Road winery for $12.5 million on Dec. 6 from CCC VinREIT, LLC, according to public records and EPR’s annual regulatory filing on Feb. 28. The deal involved $10 million from Carneros Vintners, financed by First Community Bank, and a five-year, $2.5 million secondary loan from EPR. The REIT came out $538,000 ahead on the sale.

    ***

    Karissa Kruse

    Karissa Kruse

    Karissa Kruse, who has been marketing director for Sonoma County Winegrape Commission since August and instrumental in the rollout of the Sonoma County branding campaign, is set be the 1,800-plus-member organization’s next president on May 1. She replaces Nick Frey, who in January announced plans to retire in May after nearly 14 years at the helm of the organization.

    ***

    The anticipated Kendall-Jackson bistro and tasting lounge is coming to the Healdsburg plaza area around the end of this month. The 55-seat restaurant, called Partake by K-J (partakebykj.com), is set to open March 25 at 241 Healdsburg Ave.

    “Our wine-driven Bites & Flights menu is a collaborative effort between our culinary team and winemakers to carefully match the flavors, texture and weight of each dish with our wines,” said Kendall-Jackson Executive Chef Justin Wangler. “We hope to elevate expectations of what a winery tasting experience can be.”

    La Follette Wines (lafollettewines.com), launched in 2010 by Tandem creator Greg La Follette, is set to open a tasting room with private and public tasting events March 15–17 at The Barlow industrial-retail redevelopment of a former apple-processing plant site at the corner of Morris Street and Highway 12 at the eastern gateway to Sebastopol.

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    The 17th annual Premiere Napa Valley charity auction by Napa Valley Vintners in late February took in $3.04 million, nearly matching last year’s record.

    The auction’s 211 lots donated by 218 association members were purchased in just over three hours at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. More than 80 percent of the lots featured were from the 2011 vintage, which ended with cool, wet weather at harvest. The average wholesale price per bottle sold was $160.75.

    Top-earning auction lots came from Bevan Cellars and Chateau Boswell Winery, Reynolds Family Winery, Shafer Vineyards, Keenan Winery, Kapcsandy Family Winery, Rombauer Vineyards, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars, Derenoncourt California, Saintsbury, Hourglass, Vine Hill Ranch and ZD Wines.

    The more than 1,000 attended the auction, including 600 top trade and media from 35 states and nine countries.

    ***

    A total of $483,500 in proceeds from the 2012 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend charity food and wine events at Labor Day weekend produced by Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, were distributed to 32 local beneficiaries on March 1 at St. Francis Winery and Vineyards.

    Two of the primary beneficiaries, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley and Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County, received grants that totaled $264,000 raised from the “Fund-A-Need” lot at the 2012 Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction, one of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend’s flagship events.

    The balance of funds was disbursed through the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Foundation and the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation in small grants to local organizations: 10,000 Degrees, Ceres Community Project, Friends in Sonoma Helping, Global Student Embassy, Green Acre Home & School, Jewish Community Free Clinic, La Luz Center, Operation Access, Parks Alliance for Sonoma County, PDI Surgery Center, Petaluma Health Center, Redwood Empire Aqua Stars, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma County Family YMCA, Sonoma Overnight Support, Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, Sonoma Valley High School Agriculture Department, Sonoma Valley Hospital, Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma Valley Teen Services, Sunny Hills Services, SVVGA Scholarship Fund, The Living Room Center, Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, Transcendence Theatre Company, Verity and Willmar Family Grief & Healing Center.

    Including the charitable grants, the event takes in $1.7 million in gross revenue and generates more than $830,000 for local nonprofits.

    ***

    A 9-liter bottle of 2010 Williams Selyem Westside Road Neighbors pinot noir was auctioned for a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo record $205,000 on March 2, benefiting children’s education. Buyers of the Salmanazar-sized bottle, equivalent 12 standard-sized bottles, were Bradley Fish, Red and Gay Griffin and Chuck Simmons. The Russian River Valley wine won the show’s Reserve Grand Champion and Best of Show award.

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    Send items for this column to jeff.quackenbush@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4256.

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