North Coast, California
Hobo Wine Co.
- Over 3 million total acres across six counties: Mendocino, Lake, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin Counties.
- Roughly the same size as the Willamette Valley but with ~7x the planted vineyard density (150,000 acres vs 22,000 acres)
- Home to some of the world’s most prestigious wine regions and brands.
- An array of micro climates, from foggy Sonoma Coast to arid Lake County and everything in between.
- There is often cross-over, with producers sourcing from many vineyards across the region.
Some very old vineyards exist in this area, many dating back to the pre-prohibition era.
When most people think of California wines, they think of the North Coast. Napa Valley, in particular, seems to be the enduring icon of California wine. For good reason, too. Producers from this region have pioneered a number of wine advancements, challenged behemoths like France on the global stage, and have grown to be some of the largest and most successful wine brands in the world. The wines of Napa proper are outside the price range of this club, but it is not hard to find highly compelling wines from the neighboring regions, equally as great of winegrowing regions in their own right.
Sonoma, in particular, has grown to become one of the world’s premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay regions over the last twenty years. Within Sonoma, the warmer Russian River Valley has been the traditional all-star with these grapes, but as the impact of global warming grows, more farmers are moving towards the cooler Pacific Ocean. The new ‘West Sonoma Coast’ AVA will be gaining more and more accolades in the coming years, no doubt. The eastern part of the County, along the western bench of the Mayacamas, is also home to outstanding Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, mimicking Napa over the hills. The Dry Creek and Alexander Valley AVA’s, in the north end of the valley, can produce top-notch Zinfandel, Cabernet, and other Bordeaux varieties.
Mendocino, to the north, is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the state (and the nation). This is thanks to its remote location and lack of industrious winemakers tearing up old, less productive vineyards to replant with more profitable varieties. Mendocino is also home to the illustrious Anderson Valley AVA, which is a remote, cooler appellation known for Pinot and Chard, plus Alsatian Varieties and Sparkling wine.
Of the last major counties, Lake is the most up-and-coming. As new producers are vastly priced out of Napa Valley, more people are starting to set up shop further North. Here, the climatic elements of high elevation winemaking (1500-3000ft), coupled with the cooling effects of Clear Lake, result in wines as ripe and robust as Napa, but with an old-world rusticity and charm. If I was to bet, I’d say this area is going to be America’s fastest growing wine region over the next 20 years.
Like always, we make the greatest effort to find stellar value wines from the fringes. Rather than overpaying for the mainstream (aka Napa Valley or Russian River), we want to find you something different that is multitudes higher in quality for a fraction of the price. Both of this month’s wines do that.
Prima Materia, Tocai Friulano, Mendocino County 2019
Pietro Buttitta used to be a chef. He cooked in nice enough restaurants, and for long enough, to be able to fall in love with good wine. With Italian heritage and vigneron roots, yet a life anchored in the new world, Pietro felt destined to follow his ancestry. Prima Materia (aka ‘primal matter’ - the foundational building blocks for all in existence) is the culmination of those dreams.
Prima Materia is a new wine brand that has, seemingly, nothing in common with most new wine brands. There is no light, glou-glou red or crisp, mineral-driven white in the lineup. The wines are clean, with no ‘natty’ qualities. And they hail (almost entirely) from one estate vineyard, rather than a cacophony of different vineyards from across a region. Their estate vineyard and winery is in Kelseyville (Lake County) on the slopes of Mt. Konocti, directly south of Clear Lake. Here they farm 10 acres sustainably, by hand, without the use of irrigation. Plantings are decidedly Italian, with a hard bias towards the varieties of the sunny Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy), such as Aglianico, Negroamaro, Primitivo and Sagrantino (hello, old friend). A great deal of info can be found on their website here, which also includes a detailed map for the super-nerds that have read this far.
This wine, ironically, is the only one in the inaugural release that doesn’t come from their estate vineyard. Sourced from the Potter Valley AVA in deep north Mendocino County, this Tocai Friulano is one of the best expressions I’ve had domestically. Tocai Friulano - called just Friulano in Italy due to a lawsuit by the unrelated Tocai region in Hungary - is an amazing grape. It is generally fruity and mineral in its youth, aging slowly mellows both of these qualities and gives it a complexity not dissimilar to the best well-aged Chardonnay. For now, aromas of pear, white peach, guava, sweet almond and white flowers frame a deep mineral backbone. It has driving acid that’s complemented by a mouthfeel of medium-weight and a semi-lingering finish.
Word has it that Pietro didn’t produce another wine from this vineyard after 2019, so it’s unlikely you’ll ever see this particular bottling again. (We bought all that remained in Oregon)
Camp, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast 2021
Anyone who attended our first ‘Last Thursday’ event back in April should be familiar with Hobo Wine Co. We featured label and marketing design from a regular and club member who grew up with the brand. If you don’t know the brand, we’re excited to make the introduction.
Founded by Kenny Likitprakong with two barrels of Dry Creek Zinfandel in 2002, Hobo Wine Co has provided a refreshing, alternative perspective to the wine industry for over 20 years now. Started as a ‘skateboard brand that moonlights as a wine brand’ and growing into a ‘menace to the wine industry’ (their words, not ours) Hobo is all that I love about wine. It isn’t stuffy or pretentious, it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, and it isn’t taking anything too seriously. And they make damn fine wine on top of all that. You can find Kenny’s musings on almost 20 years of business here.
Camp is one of the many Hobo offshoots. These include Folk Machine, Parts & Labor, Edith & Ida, Banyan, Ghostwriter, Camp, and occasionally a wine that actually has ‘Hobo’ on the label. All are made/sourced/devised by Kenny. All are delicious and worth a shot if you see them in the wild.
Camp was dreamt up in 2011 with an idea to give focus to the stellar value available on the North Coast. This wine is sourced from four different vineyards - ⅔ from Mendocino County and ⅓ from Sonoma County. The cepage is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot. (Consistent with TTB laws, a wine can be labeled as one variety if it’s 85%+ of that variety).
I’ll be frank here. It is hard to find a sub-$25 Cabernet from a named region in California that is actually good. And if you don’t buy wine at Safeway or Fred Meyer, you may never see one at that price in the wild. That said, this one is very good given the age and the price… I told the distributor it was a $45 wine in a $22 bottle and will stand by that. Notes of blackberry, cassis, tobacco and overripe cherry are on the nose. There’s a nice ripe quality to the fruit that gives it a juicy note on the palate. It is medium bodied, with a bright punch of acid, and fine front of mouth tannins.
(Note - front of mouth tannins like this are a marker of a wine that is fermented honestly, without additives like wood chips or tons of new Oak. Grape skins and seeds give those ‘inside the lips’ tannins that go away quickly, while too much new, poor quality oak gives that deep, ‘back of mouth’ dryness that hangs around and leaves you thirsty.)
This isn’t a Cabernet Sauvignon that is built to age, but it could absolutely withstand a year or two in the cellar … If you can wait that long.