Today's Sponsors
 Monterey Wine Auction & Gala
Join us for our 5th Annual Passport Weekend!

 Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr
Sample the glory of Burgundy in a tour designed for value-seeking wine lovers.

In This Issue
 More wacky labels Wine salesman and high-profile politician, Don Sebastiani seems to have converted the art of the wild and crazy label into a wine-selling money machine.
 Monterey Wine Auction & Gala Join us for our 5th Annual Passport Weekend!
 Gino Da Pinot 2005 Monterey County Pinot Noir ($15.99)
It's no pricey collectible, but the cartoonish label on this bottle adorns a decent Monterey Pinot Noir.
 Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr Sample the glory of Burgundy in a tour designed for value-seeking wine lovers.
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More wacky labels

Following up on Wednesday's inquiry into the pricey collectible wines that bear Marilyn Monroe's name and image, let's stay on the label topic today with a look at a large and fast-growing California wine company that seems to have converted the art of the wild and crazy label into a wine-selling money machine.

Don Sebastiani & Sons is a family-owned "negociant" firm, meaning that they assemble and market wines rather than growing grapes and making wine. Don, a high-profile figure in both California wine and California politics, founded the new firm in 2001. His father, August Sebastiani, and grandfather, Samuele Sebastiani, have had the family name on California wine labels since the 1800s.

Driven by the popular Pepperwood Grove and Smoking Loon labels, Don's company quickly grew, selling 1 million cases of wine in 2004 and than 1.75 million cases last year, according to company press materials. According to industry data, Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon ranked as the No. 1-selling Cabernet in the United States during the spring quarter last year.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a man who the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat described as "outspoken and sometimes outrageous" during his six years as one of the most conservative assemblymen in the California legislature and who "angered women, Democrats, minorities and even Republican Governor George Deukmejian during his colorful career in Sacramento," the company under Don's dominion has developed a reputation for good, modestly priced wines sold under a bewildering variety of bizarre and often hilarious wine names and labels.

It started with Smoking Loon, whose original label featured a cartoon image of a water bird with a cigarette in its bill. Now the company's product lines - which include the separate portfolios "Three Loose Screws" and "The Other Guys" - include such labels as "Mia's Playground," "Hey Mambo," "le Bon Vin de la Napa Valley," "Plungerhead" and the inimitable "Used Automobile Parts" and "Screw Kappa Napa," the last being closed with a screw cap, of course.

Today's featured wine, "Gino Da Pinot" 2005 Monterey County Pinot Noir, hit the market last summer. Its label (pictured below in our Graphics Edition and in the archived edition online), bears the name and image of its imaginary wine maker, a youngish gent with a big hat who stands very much in the tradition of Cella Lambrusco's legendary Aldo Cella and the old Italian Swiss Colony's "Little old wine maker, me."

It's a serious wine, though, full of red fruit and herbal notes and that characteristic "cherry cola" aroma of Central Coast Pinot Noir. It's a blend of 95 percent Pinot Noir accented with homeopathic additions of Syrah and Clarksburg Chenin Blanc, and is in national distribution albeit somewhat limited: 5,100 cases were made. See below for my tasting report.

Today's Sponsor

Monterey Wine Auction & Gala
Monterey Wine Auction & Gala

Entertainment, food and wine tasting are all a part of the 5th Annual Passport Weekend to be held Feb. 16-18, 2007. Passport Weekend will feature a worldwide flair as nearly 20 wine tasting rooms throughout Monterey County observe the culture, food, and entertainment from their selected country. Nearly 20 countries will be represented during this unique opportunity to travel the globe without even having to pack a suitcase!

The Passport Weekend is paired with the Monterey Wine Auction & Gala, which will feature extraordinary wine, lifestyle, and other one-of-a-kind packages. The wines will sparkle and the venue will dazzle you at this “Denim & Diamonds” themed event. The Gala will occur Saturday, February 17 at Holman Ranch. This is one of the first special events that will be held at the newly re-opened Holman Ranch.

Gino Da Pinot Gino Da Pinot 2005 Monterey County Pinot Noir ($15.99)

Clear ruby but not too dark, typical of Pinot Noir. Red fruit and herbaceous aromas, cherry cola and tomato skin, are typical of Central Coast Pinot, leading into an appealing if light-bodied red-fruit flavor, nicely balanced with crisp acidity. Despite the cartoonish name and label, this is no mere "pop" wine but a decent representation of Central Coast Pinot. (Jan. 18, 2007)

FOOD MATCH: Good just about any place that Pinot will go, from roast beef to wild salmon. It made a fine match with the pork and sauerkraut dish featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor FoodLetter, with the caveat that the sauerkraut in that preparation has been rinsed to reduce its tangy acidity.

VALUE: I'd really like to see this wine closer to $10, but in fairness, it's competitive at its price point in the Pinot-hyped world after Sideways.

WHEN TO DRINK: It's made as a drink-me-now wine, the synthetic closure (a burgundy-color plastic "cork") rules out long-term cellaring. It won't go anywhere over the next year or so, though.

Gino Da Pinot is vinted and bottled by "The Other Guys," a division of Don Sebastiani & Sons, Napa. Here's a fact sheet on the wine:

Look up vendors and compare prices for Gino Da Pinot on

Terroirs of Burgundy with Robin Garr

Hotel DieuWhat wine lover hasn't dreamed of touring Burgundy, meeting its wine makers and learning about its wines?

Now, with the respected wine-touring company French Wine Explorers, we've crafted a special, once-in-a-lifetime Terroirs of Burgundy tour aimed at thrifty, value-seeking wine lovers.

If you've long dreamed of learning Burgundy and its wines with an expert at hand but thought you couldn't possibly afford it, I invite you to consider The Terroirs of Burgundy. I'll be personally leading the July 2-7, 2007 tour, and I promise maximum "bang for the buck."

Interested? Don't delay, as the tour is strictly limited to 16 wine lovers. You can review the itinerary and details at

For more information or to make reservations, send E-mail to or call +1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada). And if you would like to discuss this tour with me personally, feel free to write me at

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Friday, Jan. 19, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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