Rhone Rangers: Touting The Best Of California’s Rhone Varieties

Rhone Rangers
The Rhone Rangers wine tasting brings together wineries from all over California who pride themselves in creating Rhone varietals and blends from the 22 grape varieties known in France’s Rhone Valley. The majority of the wineries at this event were from the Central Coast, encompassing the regions of Santa Barbara Country, Paso Robles, and Monterey County.

The event, a popular one every year, was held at the Vibiana, Los Angeles. Originally known as the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, this former church was the parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The majestic site, with its towering walls and ceilings, is a spacious venue for a wine tasting. My only complaint is that the noise bounced off the ceiling, making it hard to hear and learn about many of the wines as the crowds increased.

Discovering the new gems in the wine business is always a delight when attending an event like the Rhone Rangers. There were so many wines worth mentioning, and I recommend attending the event yourself in the future. Here, I’ve covered all my favorites as a guide to the experience.

Tercero Winery

Beginning with Tercero, a winery in Los Olivos, CA, one cannot go wrong with the 2012 Mourvédre Rosé. This outstanding Rosé is one of winemaker/owner Larry Schaffer’s best and a definite hit at this event with its crisp, balanced qualities. Larry also featured an excellent 2008 Cuvee Christie, a light and balanced blend of Grenache, Mourvédre, and Syrah. This blend consists primarily of Grenache and aged for 42 months.

Wines from Tercero
Wines from Tercero

Ecluse Winery

Having just sampled several wonderful wines at Ecluse Winery in April, I wanted to sample those wines that were not being served at the winery. My stop at the Ecluse booth was well worth it. I sampled the 2010 Prelude, a white blend of 48% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, and 24% Grenache. It was delightful and refreshingly balanced with a nice sweetness that made it something to remember.

It was the red wines that were truly impressive. The 2009 Grenache was a bigger wine with a fragrant nose of sweet currants. The currants permeated the wine’s flavor with a little bit of spice. The 2009 Rendition, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel, had a fruity zing on the finish. The 2010 Petite Syrah was a very rich, velvety wine that definitely has holding power.

Wines from Ecluse
Wines from Ecluse


At the time of writing this article, Petrichor is a new winery on the block and appears to have an amazing future. The winery is located just north of Santa Rosa above the Russian River Valley and atop a ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains, where owners Jim and Margaret Foley have planted Grenache and two clones of Syrah.

Petrichor means the scent of rain on the dry earth. For the Foleys, it expresses the terroir of the volcanic soils against the elements of the climate, which change throughout the day.

Thus far, they have produced two vintages, the 2009 and 2010 Estate Les Trois. Both were excellent, but my preference went to 2009, as 2010 needs some more time to age in the bottle.

Staying true to the Les Trois name, the wine is made up of three different plantings. There are the Grenache and two different clones of Syrah. In all, the Syrah makes up 86%, and the wine is rich in both color and flavor. The nose is very jammy, giving, forth to wonderful hints of currants and licorice.

Margaret Foley Petrichor Wines
Margaret Foley Petrichor Wines

Caliza Winery

Caliza offered one of the most consistent wines, starting with the outstanding bright 2012 Pink, which exudes the aromas and tastes of raspberries and is a truly exceptional Rosé. The white Rhone blends are exceptional, especially the crisp 2011 Kissin Cousins, a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne.

The 2010 Azimuth, a red blend of 40% Mourvédre, 30% Syrah, and 30% Grenache, is very floral, and the palate senses the red berries that exude from this wine. The nose displayed strawberries and exhibited a well-balanced wine with a long finish and hints of raspberries.

I found the 2010 Syrah rich and well-balanced, with a cherry aroma and the perfect amount of spice. Caliza’s wines reflect the love of the winemaking process and the personality of winemaker/owner Carl Bowker.

Caliza Wine
Caliza Wine

Proulx Winery

Proulx was another outstanding winery at the Rhone Rangers wine-tasting event. Kevin and Genoa Riley, whose first release was in 2005, own the winery. The wines I sampled were very drinkable and balanced.

The 2012 Rose of Grenache was a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cinsault, and Grenache Blanc. The 2011 Petite Sirah “Yellow Label” felt very balanced on the palate, with hints of pepper on the finish, making this reasonably priced wine an exceptional value at $18.

Several of Proulx Rhone Blends include Zinfandel. The addition of Zinfandel adds a zing to the wine. This was true of Dimples, a wine named for Riley’s son, and the 2011 Petite Sirah “Red Label.”

Andrew Murray Vineyard

Andrew Murray Vineyard recently released the 2012 Viognier, a bright and expressive wine created in a process Andrew calls “uncalifornicated because it is lean and mean.” This description refers to the fact that this Viognier has no oak and no malolactic fermentation because it ages in stainless steel, instead of traditional barrels.

Other Mentionable Rhone Rangers Wine

Other wines worth mentioning are the Refugio 2011 Viognier with its crisp, and citrusy flavors. I also found many of the wines from Carcareous excellent, including the very drinkable 2010 Syrah called Moose, the nickname of the winery owner’s father.

Calcareous Wine
Calcareous Wine

One should not miss out on a very special treat at the Rhone Rangers event. For those with a sweet tooth GG’s Gourmet Toffee is a must-try. The Macadamia Masterpiece combines white chocolate, coconut, and Macadamia nuts. It is truly delicious. These homemade toffees are made from a family recipe.

The Rhone Rangers tasting event is a must for any wine enthusiast. Overall, the featured wines left me excited for my next attendance. If you’re interested in attending, check their schedule at rhonerangers.org.