© 1998 JDM Enterprises
CALIFORNIA PORT TRIBUTEby Jerry D. Mead
When I was a young man, learning about wine pretty much on my own (my family was from the Midwest and south and tended to drink beer and whiskey), one of the first California wines that I read about, then tried, and as a result have enjoyed a 35-year love affair with, was Ficklin Port.
I'm sorry to say that what brings Ficklin to mind today is the recent passing of the winery's original winemaker, University of California-trained David Ficklin. Ficklin was 80 when he died on March 20, and is survived by his wife and partner of 48 years, Jean, and two sons, David and Peter. He is also survived by the brother who co-founded the winery with him in the mid-forties, Walter Ficklin, Jr. Peter assumed winemaking duties in 1983, and Walter's son Steve manages the vineyards.
Ficklin is important to the history of California wine on a number of levels, but most importantly for being the first California winery to strive to make world-class, super-premium Port, and to do so employing traditional Portuguese varieties.
Prior to Ficklin, most wines called "Port" in California were primarily prized for their sugary sweetness and their high alcohol, by the derelict populations of America's "skid rows." Ficklin gave California Port a new legitimacy, and deservedly so, that had connoisseurs pouring it purely for its sensory attributes, the way they would the wines of "Oporto" from Portugal.
The Ficklins, David, Walter, Jr. and their father, Walter, Sr., were also among the first in California to plan their vineyard and winery based on what varieties would do best in their soil and climate. Based on then new university studies, it was a toss-up between Port and Sherry varieties. We should be forever grateful that they settled on such top Portuguese varieties as Tinta Madeira, Touriga (my personal favorite Port variety), Tinta Cao and Souzao.
Ficklin makes both Vintage Port (very limited production and not inexpensive) and non-vintage Port labeled "Tinta," which is widely available and moderately priced.
BEST BUY WINE OF THE WEEK
It's on Norwegian Cruise Lines, Sept. 18-28, 1998 and the price includes roundtrip airfare from the West Coast to Honolulu. It's one of those deals where you fly to Hawaii, get on the ship and immediately visit Kona. Then it gets different. You spend two days at sea...destination Christmas Island(aka The Republic of Kirabati)...and then two more days coming back. That's when the series of four wine seminars will take place.
Then it's back to Hawaii for visits to Hilo, Maui, Molokai and Kauai, before eventually heading back to Honolulu and wherever home is. Note that I've been on two other cruises with this organizer, who is a real pro and does everything first class. Price for outside midship cabin with window is the in the $2600 range including airfare and all meals.
If you want more information call (800) 845-9463 and we'll have the organizer send a brochure.
There were no gold medals awarded in the up to $10 price range, though there were a number of silvers and bronzes, many of them to wines of Chilean origins. To order the official awards book containing all winners, send $6 to: NWIWC Winners, Box 1598, Carson City, NV 89702.
In the top price range of $21.01 and above golds were awarded to: Dry Creek 1995 "Dry Creek Reserve" ($27) and Firestone 1995 "Santa Ynez-Winemaker's Reserve" ($30). Both wines have national distribution but limited availability.
The winner of the Chateau Ste. Michelle/Andre Tchelistcheff Memorial Trophy for Best New World Merlot came from the $15.01 to $21 price range and went to: River Run 1996 "California" ($18). Sorry to say, this is a small producer with limited distribution. It will be tough to find.
Other golds in the same price range went to Lockwood 1995 "Monterey" ($18) and Vina Calina 1995 "Chilean" $20).
The only other Merlot gold went to the $10.01 to $15 price range for the very popular and widely available Columbia Crest 1995 "Columbia Valley, Washington" ($15). Note that this wine is a consistent winner, vintage after vintage, and is often found on sale for less money.