Perched obscurely amongst oak trees and surrounded by stunning hillside views, we began to understand how “a fine wine begins with nature’s blessings and virtuous expectations.” Our gracious hosts for the afternoon, winemaker Stu Goldman and marketing and sales director Maria Montijo-Goldman, greeted us at their lovely home and winery, paying no mind to our 45-minute late arrival. Open only by appointment, they welcomed us with open arms. Although my mother and I already had the pleasure of tasting a few of Frolicking Frog’s smooth, delicious wines at SLO County events during the past year, we had no idea what an indulgent and educational afternoon lay ahead.
Stu and Maria led us to their quaint winery facility, full of American oak barrels brimming with ageing wine and vats of fermenting grapes. Removing the lid of one of the tanks of crushed Zinfandel and stirring its fragrant purple mash, Stu allowed us to revel in the awesome sight (and scent) of fermenting fruit. Melded for about two weeks, this spicy varietal would soon be barrel-aged for two years before bottling. This year, utilizing only Paso Robles appellation grapes, their annual production of 400 cases will include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Zinfandel. These winemakers—who originally only produced Cabernet Sauvignon—have come a long way.
Moving to their stunning property almost 20 years ago (which now includes goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and wind chimes—to ward off rattlesnakes), Stu recounted why he started making wine, pointing to the Mission grapevines they inherited with the acreage, growing just beyond their house and laughed, “If life gives you lemons, what are you going to do?” After experimenting as home winemakers for several years, they went commercial in 2003 with Cabernet Sauvignon, venturing out in 2006 to include other varietals.
Stu’s “hobby gone wild” now keeps him busy, in addition to his full-time responsibilities as a goldsmith. Visiting vineyards throughout the year, Stu tastes for complexity and keeps an eye on the quality of the grapes he chooses to purchase. Close to harvest-time, he tests the ph and acid levels. Stu recounted that although this year ph levels were off and acids were low, creating more of a challenge to make a good wine, his confidence to create quality wine remained high. We soon got a taste of the past successful fruits of his labor.
Stu and Maria seated us at their stunning outdoor tasting facility next to the winery, where we readied ourselves for seven wines. The first pour, a taste of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($18), yielded a light buttery hue; a soft bouquet of vanilla, apricot, and honey; and a silky taste with notes of light citrus, vanilla, and stone fruit. As we moved on to their red varietals, the buttery vanilla nuances of their low-tannin American-oaked wines became a familiar theme, yielding smooth, creamy flavors. The 2006 Syrah ($27) splashed the color of cherries in our glasses, also hinting of cherries on the nose and palate, and alluded to a caramel finish. This pleasant red wine warmed up our palates.
The next taste, their 2006 Cabernet Franc ($26)—one of my favorite varietals—exhibited a rich, lush berry hue with a beautiful raspberry nose. Its lovely, smooth, caramel and buttery flavors finished with sweet berry undertones. The 2006 Zinfandel ($30) exhibited a soft purple tinge and light fragrance of berries and cinnamon, displaying smooth, buttery qualities with a spicy zing on the finish, reminiscent of a traditional Zin.
The fifth indulgence, a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), exuded both a smack and shade of rich, dark berries. But its bold cherry and soft vanilla flavors left a smooth, mellow finish. The 2006 Petite Syrah ($32) played out with beautiful deep plum hues, wafting of berry and vanilla and its smooth, buttery qualities mischievously finished with fun, peppery undertones. And the last treat of the day—the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)—left us impressed with its robust berry color, nose and smooth flavor.
According to Stu, these smooth wines with soft tannins and balanced acids make for nice food-friendly wines. I couldn’t agree more. Meticulously picking out the stems before fermentation and utilizing particular yeasts to keep the tannins low (tannins act as a preservative), Frolicking Frog’s smooth, sip-friendly red wines can be stored for a maximum of five years. I purchased several bottles to take home with me in anticipation of future meals. I paired my following recipe with their 2006 Cabernet Franc, which yielded smooth, delicious results.
SLO Stuffed Peppers
8 bell or pasilla peppers
1 cup brown rice (cook 1 cup according to package directions with 1 cube vegetable bullion—I used basmati)
1 ½ cups red or black beans (cook according to package directions with 1 cube vegetable bullion—or use 1 or 2 small cans of your favorite pre-cooked beans)
1 large chopped halapeno
1—2 chopped chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (omit if you don’t like it too spicy)
A friend recently informed me that I enjoy spicy food so much because I’m a Scorpio.
½ cup chopped sweet onion
2 large chopped shallots
3 chopped cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sweet (or smoked) paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
6 tablespoons grape seed oil or extra virgin olive oil (reserve 4 tablespoons)
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheese (reserve ½ cup)
(I used an aged, semi-hard goat cheese with soft flavors—use your favorite cheese)
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350˚F. Cut stems of peppers off and scoop out seeds. On a large baking sheet or glass pan, coat with 2 tablespoons oil. When sautéed mixture is translucent, mix in with rice and beans. Add 1½ cups of cheese and mix. Stuff peppers and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and cover with alumimun foil. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until peppers are tender when pierced with a fork. Cool slightly, serve with remaing shredded cheese melted on top.
If you plan a visit to Frolicking Frog, please call ahead for an appointment and directions. Once you arrive, you'll be grateful you made the trek to experience these smooth wines on the top of Frog Pond Mountain!
Consider joining the "Horny Frogs" wine club, ensuring members three bottles of wine, twice a year! You can also find their wine at various grocery stores and restaurants throughout SLO County. Look for these details on their website, including online ordering and delicious wine recipes.
Stu and Maria associate winemaking "like a journey and expression of the appreciation of art."
All Text and Photos Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth in SLO. All Rights Reserved.