Happy Father’s Day: Wine Recommendation Croad Vineyards Petite Sirah Paso Robles 2012

Happy Father’s Day!

As a newly minted member of the dad club, it behoves me to recommend a wine to gift those dads out there. You can break the bank, if desired. But if you want him to actually open it on the day without spiraling into guilt-ville: think solid but not over-extravagant, drinkable now, keep it under $100, and if grilling is in this weekend’s plans, think red.

Heck, think this:


Croad Vineyards, perched high in Paso Robles’ cooler West Side, has an amazing view:

Croad View


The mission style complex made for a killer family member’s wedding a few years back:

Croad Wedding.jpg

The winery make many solid quality wines for reasonable prices. But I would suggest dad would love this:

Croad Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Paso Robles CA 2012 $42

Croad Petite Sirah Paso Robles 2012

APPEARANCE: A clear, medium intense ruby purple core with a shimmering ruby edge, and tinted red tears.

AROMAS: First, a heady black cherry liquor wafts over all aromas, candied orange peel folding into duskier notes of dried rose petals, dried mint leaf, and dried madagascar vanilla .

The PALATE leads off with round ripe fruit, but do not be fooled, this is a dry red, with medium acidity, medium round tannins, cozy sweater alcohol, a plump body, and a viscous lightly dusted texture.

FLAVORS recall black cherry but as syrup, with a light drizzle of molasses, candied orange, finishing with sea salt and that dried mint and floral component.

CONCLUSIONS: Croad’s 2012 Petite Sirah is ready to drink now, but has another five years in it.  It is very good quality (4 of 5) but since single variety Petite Sirah is rare, Croad’s is a treat.  It drinks big but easily without food.  However, it has stuffing to hold up to a range of grilled meats.  Yet the tannins are soft and ripe enough even for the spicy veggie stir fry I threw together.

Croad Petite Sirah Food

So, this Dad’s Day, do something different.

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Buzzing at O’o Coffee Plantation Farm Tour Maui, Hawaii

Our Maui drinks tour continues.  After we tried good distilled downers at Hali’imaile (read here) and Ocean Vodka (read here), today we wake to caffeinated uppers at a coffee plantation.  I could give up wine (probably). But coffee was my first true love (aka addiction).  Now in Maui, we have a chance to tiptoe through the coffee bean tulips.

O’o Farms offers a “Seed to Cup” farm tour and breakfast for $58.  So with baby in toe, we drive up valley into deep, steep, Maui Upcountry.  Situated 3,500 feet above sea level, O’o hides in the cool, damp, cloud line. Nights drop to 35 degrees fahrenheit: ideal for coffee.  At first, it looks like an abandoned hut village in Vietnam:

O O Shack Vietnam

Not your typical plantation

But here, eight employees farm a wee eight acres biodynamically.  In 2000, surfer/restauranteurs, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert bought O’o to supply their fancy hotel restaurant empire in Lahaina, including Pacific’O, The Feast at Lele, and Aina Gourmet Market.  The 1.5 acres vegetable farm looks adorably like home, with a better view:


O O Farm Plants


We walk into their orchards of strange Chinese fruit and hybrid lemons:


O O Lemons

Oo! Stipey!

Then, finally, the coffee bushes emerge in chunky rows, like muppets, rolling down the hill.

O O Coffee Plant Rows

They’re excited to see us.

The plants bloom and fruit year round, peaking production in summer.  O’o’s eight employees harvest twice a week. Five major varieties of bean grow here.

Red Cautai is the most grown, named for its red berries. We eat a few. They feel gummy, taste mildly sweet, like a red apple raspberry juice, with a light peppery note.

RED CAUTAI Coffee bean OO

Red Cautai coffee berries


Yellow Cattura berries look plumper and, well, yellow when ripe. They taste more like white-melon and pear.

Yellow Cattura coffee bean

Yellow Cattura coffee beans

Typica coffee bushes are the tallest with big red fruits, which taste like bell pepper and red cherry.  O’o also grows Mokka, and Bourbon varieties. Fun fact: their bee hive increases coffee production by 17%!

Dad Baby Coffee Farm

What child labor?

After pretending to harvest, and getting an odd numbing sensation in our palates, we head to the roasting facility.

O O Coffee Processing

Beans then ferment and shed skin in buckets for days. Floaters get tossed. Next a fancy machine removes those tasty, fruity surroundings in 15 minutes (by hand it takes two hours) .

Soaking Beans

High tech.

The clean beans then go into dry racks in what looks like an old incubator. Once dried they get sorted on mesh racks.

Bean Sorting OO


Ugly or cracked beans get tossed into compost, while the rest get immortalized in the roaster. Inside their fire engine red roaster, they wait for the first and second crack of the beans (like popcorn), watch color, and keep the drum rotating.  At first this place smelled of lemongrass, becoming blanched almond, and finally dark toffee. Once ready, beans get released to cool down:

No crying babies were harmed in the filming of this video, promise!

So, how does all this hard work taste?

We try French press versions of the main varieties.

O O Coffee cup Red Catawa

Red Cautui in a cup

Red Cautui: The color is ruby-cored, amber-edge and hazy. Aromas smell of toffee, toasted nuts, dried cherries. The palate has pretty bright acidity, medium tannins, extra caffein, and a leanness about it. Flavors taste bright, peachy, vinous, even red wine-like. Very good (4 of 5) especially as an espresso!

Yellow Cattura: smells of dried fig, tobacco leaf, black tea and potpourri. It feels soft, round, with low acidity, moderate tannin, average caffeine.  Flavors retain a dried fig fruit leather of medium length. It is very good (4 of 5).

Mokka: has a dark lemon edged color, smells and tastes of black cherry liquor, cocoa powder, tobacco, stout-like. It is dry and intense, with medium plus acidity, extra tannin, and oodles of caffeine. It is outstanding (5 of 5), but a bit much as a daily drinker.

Already itching like heroin addicts on caffein, we get more coffee with a custom breakfast.  We sit at a long table, beneath vines, with three other couples.

Farm Chef Daniel Eskelsen walks us through his coffee pairings with seasonal produce.

Chef OO Breakfast Today, gluten free crepes made with their own eggs, potatoes, and sweet potatoes garnished with fresh greens emerges, paired with Yellow Cattura coffee in drip form:

Breakfast OO

Food pornography

Homemade, wood oven baked honey biscuits made with coffee fruit fill baskets. Arugula, roasted plantains, and some sort of magic hummus form the next course of delights.

Breakfast Second OO

Magic salad

I think there was more. But by now caffeine is re-etching my brain like ants in a sand castle.  Everything spins and twitches.  Foolishly, I remember ordering a cappuccino of Red Cautui and then jittering my way back to the car.

Once my head centers itself, I ponder this quaint farm O’o. Maui imports most of its food.  Can each hotel have a wee farm run by hipsters to support it? Will it, like the distilleries, provide a model to save Maui’s agriculture?  Well, under O’o’s Aina label, you start by paying $26.50 for 16 ounces of beans.  You can buy 16 oz of Folgers Coffee for $10, $13 for Starbucks.  However, O’o makes primo, biodynamic, small lot stuff.  It does taste amazing and you know exactly where it comes from. But are we willing to pay double or triple for our coffee? Can this be coffee’s Champagne to our daily wine?  I hope so.

Next post, we go to balance our buzz with wine, yes wine, grown and made at Maui Winery. Finally, wine!



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Mini Champagne Off

We have a few splits of Champagne left over from my Christmas gift to the wife. We can’t feel as guilty since they’re half bottles, so we open them for a side by side comparison.

Guess which one is so tired it’s dead….yup, the Pommery may end up as our second most expensive cooking wine yet.

The Laurent Perrier and Perrier Jouet both are lovely. LP is crisp, lemony, strawberried, and fun.  PJ is vibrant as well, but a touch sharper, less sweet, frothier, and a bit more biscuity, vanilla laced, and right now more complex and interesting.

Well 2 outta 3 ain’t bad.

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Ocean Vodka: Maui Drinks Part 2

We continue Part Two of our drinking adventure through Maui.  As mentioned in the last distillery review (read here), Maui has a problem.  The sugar cane monopoly collapsed last year. Now endless fields of sugar cane run wild across this Hawaiian island. Can a boutique drinks industry salvage or even transform the island’s economy?

But first, lunch.

Lightly buzzing from our tasting at Haliimaile Distillery, we check out the nearby glass art factory, skip the food truck and far too fancy “deli”. Instead, we search the net for something not awash with tourists. Luckily, master sushi maker, Kojima saves us, green tea cleanses along with some of the best unagi within memory.

Daughter picks out which raw fish she wants.

We pop by Surfing Goat Dairy for a fresh yet varied cheese tasting, risky goat petting, and then we roll deeper uphill to Maui’s other spirit producer: Ocean.

Ocean quickly set sights on one market with one product: organic vodka. I can’t name an organic vodka.  This could work.

Just above a cliff’s edge, on a grassy plateau, stands Ocean’s new red shed.  Once a cattle ranch, cane fields now cover the ground.

Cane Sugar Ocean

Organic thinking lines everything from their single estate cane sugar farm, to solar panels, to water reclamation, to chickens that roam the property, like everywhere on Maui, eating pests and fertilizing the canes.

The canes get dehusked thanks to a fancy mill which looks disturbingly tidy.

The custom continuous still tower pops stories out  the roof, subjecting the cane sugar to twenty passes (most vodka go three or four).  Ocean’s goal is to cut any head or tail that might give their vodka the slightest edge.

Once sugar becomes alcohol, it needs to be watered down to standard 40% alcohol.  But tap water on Maui varies immensely.  So Ocean sources the purest possible water from the Big Island, strangely sent in massive bag in boxes that get reused.

A pot still makes a small bit of their white rum.

Like everything, Ocean’s bottling line looks immaculate to the point of obsessive compulsive. Once filled, their Japanese float-like bottles enter and leave in the same box to avoid waste.

So, what does all this commitment to uber premium vodka taste like?

Making a $12 tour out of one or two products asks a lot of Ocean’s staff.  I feel like I am at a mini Opus One again.  Luckily, our guide could go for days.  He may also be the first person who proudly drinks vodka neat.  It feels a touch ridiculous, but he walks us through a three step tasting: first neat to ground our palates, then again to analyze it, and finally with a water splash to open it and cut the edge.

Admittedly, Ocean vodka is silken, viscous, round, and warm with narry a harsh thing to say about anyone.  If you squint extremely hard, a wee bit of soft water, aniseed, pineapple, and salinity emerge.  It may be the cleanest vodka I have tried (very good 4 of 5) but it is still vodka. $33 dollars will get you a 750ml bottle, but $5 dollars will get you an adorable, pocket-sized 50ml float bottle at most gift shops.

Their white rum seems similarly soft, but glows heavy with mango, coconut, and vanilla syrup flavors. Not my thing but good (3 of 5). I look forward to their rumored gin.

Ocean kills it on the islands. Their blue bobbles stack high in Costco and hang like register candy at ABC stores and groceries.  They have strategically and smartly wedged into the West Coast as well.

So, choose: anodyne, organic vodka pe‏rfection or a style mashup to fit every bar’s needs?  Both Haliimaile and Ocean do local well, just for different ends.  Neither will save Maui’s dying agriculture.  Automation, gentrification, globalization, and land costs have simply rendered sugar as unprofitable.  However, both distilleries point to paths of premium products that may keep people and land working.

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SPIRITED DAY: Hali’imaile Distillery Maui

SPIRITED DAY: Hali’imaile Distillery Maui

This Memorial Day kicks off our series on America’s tropical paradise, Maui.  Where better to “drink local”, yet dive into coffee, pineapple vodka, sugar cane gin, pineapple and, yes, grape wine, along with endless cocktails wedged by a pineapple than the Hawaiian islands.  Welcome to Wayward Wine.

Maui has a green sea of sugar cane and pineapple-lined hills. But after over a century, the Baldwin sugar cane empire has collapsed. Losing $30 million in 2015 meant 36,000 acres now run wild with canes.  They grow like grass and the plant rusts in ruin. People blame everything from South America, to China, to wages, to our shift to corn syrup.

Sugar Cane Factory Maui

Now what?

Luckily, sugar canes and pineapples have sugar. Luckier, sugar wants to become alcohol. Thus, we go to drink liquor for breakfast.  We stumble into the car and drive from west coast Kihei into upcountry Maui.  The canes wave at us through the green valley.

Below a tree-shaded slope, a metal quanset hut and shed sit unassumingly. We check in and hide from sun in their barrel shed.  From a family of distillers, the LeVecke brothers  hired master distiller Mark Nigbur from Colorado and moved him to Maui.

Mustachioed whisky barrels wink at Maui’s cowboy past.

Hallimaile Distillery Barrels Alexandria Aaron

Hali’imaile’s production squeezes between the corrugated steel arc that once used for painting. White food grade tubs line the center. In each, they variously ferment sugar cane and pineapple.

Hallimaile Distillery Wide

The sugar cane will grow up into gin and rum. The pineapple will become vodka. But first, once alcoholic, they must transfer into custom stills based on pharmaceutical models. These are pretty sweet. Their glass gets blown in Germany.  Heat jackets bring it to boil evaporating alcohol. Then that tall column of silver fibers filters impurities and the cycle continues.

Pau Vodka Stills

Today, they bubble botanicals and sugar cane into rum.

Hali’imaile even has their own wee bottling line.

PAU bottling line

A couple large tanks store rum and vodka.

PAU vodka Tanks

Hali’imaile’s range rests mainly on their pineapple vodka Pau.  It is a solid, clear vodka that tastes aptly neutral, but lightly spicy and a bit hot and edgy. I know vodka’s wheelhouse should be smooth and flavorless, but I like Pau’s character. It tastes nothing like pineapple, but something of pineapple’s structure, its reediness, its acidity, hangs on. Very good (4 of 5).


The pineapple vodka also finds its way into expensive barrels from Limousin, France.  The staff dally about divulging the aging procedure, but these are clearly quality used barrels and see at least a year if not more: Pau’s original edge tastes halved, as Pau Oaked Vodka now blanketed with dried vanilla bean, light tobacco.  Poured neat, this makes a lovely night cap. Very good (4 of 5). We buy a bottle for $36.

We try their Beach Bar White Rum tied to Sammy Haggar (like coconut water, viscous, but warm and round: good 3 of 5) and finish with their Fid Street Gin, which tastes like even more like coconut, dried orange peel and especially of cardamom, finishing with candied vanilla. It is very good (4 of 5), if a bit cloying.

Our biggest fault is being purists.  Limited to four tastings, we forgo tasting their flavored range.  Other spirits include an interesting experiment, Paniolo Blended Whiskey: a blend of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and their Pau pineapple vodka. The Maui Moon range features flavored vodkas in a tiki god bottle: Hibiscus Flavored Vodka Pineapple Orange Guava Chocolate Macadamia Nut.

In summation, Hali’imaile makes a wide range of spirits to please different customers.  The tour is efficient, informative, and they let the baby tag along.  They try to lead with a rebellious, surfer, rocker, masculine image that gets a mit muddled with so many products.  But that makes them interesting. This is not a bar, the tasting is limited to an ounce of four items only.


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