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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Entries in California (14)


CA vs. OR Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge: The Results Are In! 


It was a packed house last Saturday, as 50+ K&L customers put their palates to the test in the Redwood City tasting bar. The annual CA vs OR Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge is one of our most fun and popular customer tastings, drawing an enthusiast crowd of eager and open-minded Pinot aficionados.

In the end, California won by a landslide. Three wines were head and shoulders above the rest in terms of customer's votes. There was a tie for first place, each wine with 12 votes. Those wines were the 2009 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($19.99) and the 2009 Calera "Mills Vineyard" Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir ($44.99) with the 2008 Holdredge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($32.99) coming in second with 11 votes.

Out of the Oregon entries, the 2009 Soléna "Grand Cuvée" Oregon Pinot Noir ($22.99) was the most popular, with 5 votes.

The Winners  (both with 12 votes):


Known as one of the “god-fathers” of Central Coast Pinot Noir Jim Clendenen began Au Bon Climat in 1982. Since then he has made some of the best wines in the area. This Santa Barbara County bottling in Jim’s Words is, “Just easy to drink…There is nothing pretentious here, just well balanced, nicely textured, brightly fruity wine that seems to go with everything.” We couldn't agree more, but the wine speaks for itself.



In 1975, Josh planted his first 24 acres of Pinot Noir in three separate parcels. Since then Calera has been widely recognized as one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in the United States. The Mills Vineyard was originally planted in 1984 at an average elevation of 2,200 feet on pure limestone soils. The wine saw 16 months of 30% new French Oak. 1,599 cases were made from certified organically grown grapes as are all the grapes that are grown at Calera. 


K&L's Domestic Wine Buyer Bryan Brick assembled a lineup of 10 Pinot Noirs, 5 from Oregon and 5 from California, in the $19.99 to $49.99 price range and from vintages ranging from 2008 - 2010. The wines were brown-bagged and noted with a number. Tasting patrons received a blank piece of paper, with the numbers 1-10. The point of the challenge was not to guess all the wines correctly, but rather to thoughtfully evaluate the wines based on merit without letting preconceived notions obscure judgment and - most importantly - pick a personal favorite!

Tasters' "best-of" votes were submitted at the end of the tasting and tallied. The results reveal that the majority of tasting attendees showed a clear preference for fruit-forward and lush Pinots over lighter, brighter styles at this tasting.

What didn't seem to tip the scale much was price, with one of the least expensive wines ($19.99) tying with one of the most expensive  ($49.99) for first place.

Looks like CA Pinot producers don't have to worry about losing their loyal K&L Redwood City customers anytime soon! 


The Complete Lineup: CA vs. OR Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge 4/28/12

For more information about the Pinot Noirs featured in the tasting, click on the links below:

Wine #1: 2010 Patricia Green Cellars “K&L Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($27.99)  We work with Patty Green directly to bring in this exclusive bottling for K&L. The fruit in this bottling comes mostly from her Estate vineyard. Aged in less than 20% new oak we think this is a fantastic value.

Wine #2: 2008 Holdredge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($32.99)  John Holdredge produces less than 700 cases of this Russian River Pinot Noir. Using numerous vineyards throughout the appellation brings added complexity and depth. John is a “hands-off” guy letting the wine make itself, he likes to intervene as little as possible to let his raw materials shine through.

Wine #3: 2008 Easton “Durate-Georgetown Vineyard” Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir ($21.99) Bill Easton has been making wonderful wines under the Easton and Terre Rouge labels for years from his high elevation estate located in the Shenandoah Valley. This Pinot Noir was grown at 2,500 feet elevation and planted in 2007. 50% of the fruit was whole cluster fermented. The wine spent 11 months in 25% new French Oak.

Wine #4: 2009 Londer Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($24.99) Shirley and Larry Londer began looking for a vineyard site in 1997 and settled in Anderson Valley a few years later. Focusing on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer mainly from the valley they have created some beautiful wines over the last decade. This Pinot comes from four vineyards including their Estate Vineyard and Ferrington Vineyard and is aged in 30% new French oak. 1532 cases were produced.

Wine #5: 2010 St. Innocent “Villages Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($21.99) St. Innocent Winery was founded in 1988 by Mark Vlossak who continues to be the winemaker and President. Originally produced in 2002 the Villages Cuvee was an outlet for fruit from newly planted vineyards. Currently the vineyard blend is 65% Vitae Springs Vineyard, 15% Momtazi Vineyard, 17% Zenith Vineyard and  3% Freedom Hill Vineyard. The wine spent 12 months in 23% new French Oak before bottling.

Wine #6: Cristom “Mt. Jefferson Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($25.99) Cristom may be the K&L staff’s favorite winery in Oregon currently. Steve Doerner has been the winemaker since the wineries inception in 1992, previous to that he made over 15 vintages at Calera Vineyards. Coming from both estate (38%) and purchased fruit this Pinot comes from 12 different vineyards throughout Willamette Valley. 37% of the wine was fermented Whole Clusters and wild yeast was exclusively used. Just short of 6000 cases were produced.

Wine #7: Arterberry Maresh “Maresh Vineyard” Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($49.99) Jim Maresh maybe the most talented young winemaker in the Willamette Valley right now. Maybe that comes from his intensive knowledge of the Dundee Hills where he has lived his entire life and where 100% of his fruit originates from. It also doesn’t hurt that his family planted what is now the 3rd oldest Pinot Noir Vineyard in Willamette Valley and the oldest in the Dundee Hills sub-appellation. Jim’s wines are all about finesse and grace which we think this wine personifies.

Wine #8: 2009 Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($19.99) Known as one of the “god-fathers” of Central Coast Pinot Noir Jim Clendenen began Au Bon Climat in 1982. Since then he has made some of the best wines in the area. This Santa Barbara County bottling in Jim’s Words is, “Just easy to drink…There is nothing pretentious here, just well balanced, nicely textured, brightly fruity wine that seems to go with everything.” We couldn’t agree more.

Wine #9: 2009 Soléna “Grand Cuvée” Oregon Pinot Noir ($22.99) Laurent Montalieu (Mumm, Willakenzie) and Danielle Andrus Montalieu (Archery Summit) purchased an 80-acre estate to commemorate their marriage. In May 2002, they launched Soléna by releasing their first bottling and, shortly thereafter, opening a tasting room in Carlton. This 3,500 case cuvee comes from 5 vineyards located throughout Willamette Valley and is aged for 10months in 25% new French Oak.

Wine #10: 2009 Calera “Mills Vineyard” Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir ($49.99) In 1975, Josh planted his first 24 acres of pinot noir in three separate parcels. Since then Calera has been widely recognized as one of the leading producers of Pinot Noir in the United States. The Mills Vineyard was originally planted in 1984 at an average elevation of 2,200 feet on pure limestone soils. The wine saw 16 months of 30% new French Oak. 1,599 cases were made from certified organically grown grapes as are all the grapes that are grown at Calera.


Shop our wide selection of Pinot Noir and stage your own Pinot Noir Blind Tasting Challenge with friends at home!


Personal Sommelier Online: California Cabernet Gets Interesting


"Stay thirsty, my friends." What do Mexican beer ads have to do with California Cabernet?

Not much, except as the source of inspiration for my article in the September issue of the K&L Wine News, our monthly newsletter. The theme this month is California Cabernet. As I set about to write, I realized couldn't remember the last time I bought a California Cabernet to take home and drink myself. "I don't drink Cabernet that often," I said to my veteran coworker later that day in the tasting room, "but when I do, I prefer Bordeaux."

"Yes... I used to prefer California Cab," he responded, "but you know they don't make them like they used to." 

While I'm not nearly as interesting as actor Jonathan Goldsmith's character in the Dos Equis ad campaign that ran in the United States in 2006, this particular coworker could give him a run for the money.

What do you prefer?

With all due respect to the great winemaking traditions of my native state, I know for a fact that I'm not alone in this - let's call it frustration - with the opulent style that has come to characterize the wines made around here.  Many of my Personal Sommelier Service Wine Club customers, for example, enlist in the program with the same requests: "No fruit bombs," they ask. "Balanced, Old World-styled Cabernet or blends preferred." It is the very fact that they can subscribe to a wine club and have overly oaked Cabernets filtered out that motivates them to cancel their other clubs and stick with this one only. Some even go so far as to justify this request with an excuse similar to that of my coworker: "I used to drink a lot of California Cab," one customer explained. "But not any more - too oakey, too expensive, too much of the same." 

It's my job to find wines that suit my customers' tastes and preferences. When it comes to Cabernet, if a customer expresses and preference for a more restrained, Bordeaux-like style, I have often come up short at the local level and must look elsewhere - Bordeaux, South Africa, or even Spain - for wines to suit his or her tastes. This has been the case even if the customer wishes to source locally if possible, and despite my desire to support my local industry.  Wines with less attitude and more soul at fair price can be hard to come by around here. 

Which is why I am so excited to report in this issue that demand for unique, terroir-driven, and handmade wines, not just from California but from all over the world, seems to have finally reached the tipping point, and local industries are responding.

Even California.  Larger, established producers are diversifying their product mix, dialing back the oak and coming up with fun, new, balanced wines at the entry level. New boutique producers are popping up with small-production Cabs and blends meant for drinking tonight. And the guys that have been quietly making wines this way all along are making better wines than ever before.

This is no joke.  California Cabernet - and California wine in general - is getting interesting again.

Check these out, if you're interested:  

2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99) Ancient Peaks has flown under the radar as a producer of distinctive, value-driven wines from the Margarita Vineyard, its single estate vineyard, for some time. The wine from this family-run operation shows pure varietal Cabernet aromas and flavors, and it is defined by an earthy, mineral-driven quality that speaks to its unique terroir. It is structured without being heavy or overdone, and drinks well above its retail price.

2008 Broadside “Margarita Vineyard” Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99) Ancient Peaks had fruit to share in 2008, and the talented, up-and-coming young winemakers Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Brian Terrizzi (Giornata) got their hands on some. The result is a refreshing, black currant-scented, mineral-accented, fine-boned and effortlessly clean Cabernet made (and priced) for drinking.

2009 Robert Craig “Mt. George Cuvée” Napa Valley Red Wine ($24.99) Former Hess Collection CEO Robert Craig has been making serious Cabernet and blends from top hillside sites under his own label since 1992. The new Mt. George Cuvée takes the best of the “leftovers” from the winery’s pricier “Affinity” bottling and crafts a softer, entry-level version for drinking tonight. This Left Bank inspired blend spent just six months in French oak before release. It’s medium-bodied, fragrant and forward, with a nose of dark fruits and rose petals accented by subtle hints of vanilla and spice. The palate is soft, round and generous, with moderate tannins adding a little grip at the finish.

2008 Obsidian Ridge “Obsidian Ridge Vineyard” Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon ($27.99) Lake County, Napa’s wily backwoods neighbor, is fast-becoming an exciting destination for affordable Cabernet. Named for the black obsidian boulders that mark the landscape and define the terroir, the nose is dark-fruited and deep, with a complex array of spicy, herbal aromas that morph into dark chocolate and barbecue smoke with some air. This is medium-bodied, but framed by firm tannins and acidity. It is a bit more serious, with a long, chewy, mineral-driven finish, and needs some time to open up, but it might be one of the most interesting California Cabernets I’ve tasted in a long time.

-Chiara Shannon


Drink More Interesting Wine. K&L’s Personal Sommelier Service is our customizable wine club that allows you to set the price range, number of bottles, origin, style preference and be in direct communication with your chosen K&L sommelier to better tailor your “club” to suit your needs and tastes. Visit to learn more or get started.


Behind the (Urban) Wine: Kristie Tacey & Tessier Winery

2009 Tessier "Trenton Station Vineyard Clone 37" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($37.99)Kristie Tacey started Tessier (the original French spelling of her last name) in 2009 after spending three and a half years as the Assistant Winemaker and Operations Manager at Oakland’s Lost Canyon Winery (until the brand was acquired by Fritz Winery of Sonoma). Kristie then decided to go off in her own direction, focusing on producing barrels of distinct clones of Pinot Noir, making them in a small century-old warehouse near Oakland's Jack London Square. Her wines are elegant and structured, and completely unexpectedly produced in an industrial area in the Bay Area.






Q&A with Kristie Tacey of Tessier Winery

What made you decide to get into the wine industry?

I was a research scientist for 10 years, working at the University of Michigan medical center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and then a local biotech.  After being published several times in scientific journals and working on the human genome project, I felt I had achieved what I needed by then.  Plus, life as a scientist was turning more from lab work to computer analysis and statistics, which got me wondering what else I could do with my microbiology degree.

Luckily, my cousin Mat Gustafson (who is the winemaker/owner of Paul Mathew Vineyards) in Sonoma and kept urging me to consider his path.  Since urban wineries were cropping up all over the East Bay and one had an opening for an interesting position.... I made the leap.  The wine industry was just what I was looking for—a blend of science and art. 

What is the story with your label? 

The label is an homage to my past career as a scientist.  The front label features an image of yeast cells, and it is round in order to appear as if you were looking through the microscope, shown on the back label. Yeast is the most important microorganism in winemaking, it consumes the sugar and makes alcohol as a byproduct.  So we wouldn't have wine without it!

How would you describe your winemaking philosophy?

I strive to make a well balanced wine with subtle complexities.  My 2009 Pinot Noir is more Burgundian in style, while my 2010s seem to yield a more fruity Californian style. 

What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?

First, my cousin took me wine tasting when I was in my early twenties.  He cultivated my love for Pinot Noir.  Then later talking me into taking the leap from my biotech job into the winery world.  Secondly, I was also heavily influenced by Lost Canyon Winery, this is where I got my start with actually making Pinot Noir. Jack States was a great mentor, very encouraging, good palate and a mellow personality.  Finally, I was very inspired by Merry Edwards and her wines. She is a wonderful Pinot Noir winemaker and had a strong science background, similar to myself.

How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?

Since I am relatively new as a winery, I have only worked with Saralee Kunde.  She has been growing grapes for 26 years and is very humble and down to earth.  I love the fruit from Saralee's and Trenton Station Vineyard.  Another vineyard that I love is Keefer Ranch in the Green Valley AVA, a sub-appellation of Russian River Valley.  I am on their wait list for Pinot Noir. 

"I'm not a big fan of 'fruit bombs' that have extra-heavy oak, and little acidity with no structure," explains Kristie. "I think you have to keep it real to you. It's important to make wine that you love, in case it doesn't sell, and you will be the one drinkingit all."

What is your production level like?

My first two vintages—2009 and 2010—produced about 8 barrels, less than 200 cases.  We will see how 2011 turns out.   

How is the urban winery scene/community evolving? Are there any disadvantages?

It is really nice for events and getting people together.  Everyone tries to help each other out, since we are all small.  I really like the community side of it, it is a great support system.  In fact, I probably wouldn't have gotten started if it wasn't for all the advice and help I received from the local wineries. 

What advice would you give to people considering getting into small production winemaking in an urban setting? 

It is a social industry and people are very friendly and helpful.  But there are long hours from August or September through November. After all, it's not called "crush" only because of what happens to the grapes. 

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?

The biggest challenge for me right now is the economy.  Folks want a cheaper Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir is particularly hard to keep the bottle price low.  This is due to the cost of good fruit, French oak barrels (about 30-50% new) and sensitive conditions that Pinot Noir thrives in.  

What changes are planned for coming vintages? Any new (top secret) varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon? 

In a couple weeks, vintage 2010 will be bottled. There are 3 different Pinot Noirs:  Las Brisas Vineyard from Carneros, Saralee's Vineyard from RRV, and a RRV blend. 

This year, I will be attempting to make a Grenache from the Sierra foothills.  I wanted a hotter region than RRV for the Grenache, something more similar to the Southern Rhone region in France.  That is how I decided on the El Dorado AVA, which is a sub-appellation in the Sierra Foothills.  They get the hot days at higher elevations with no coastal fog.  

You focus on specific clones, generally what do they yield as far as variation?

There are subtle differences between all the Pinot Noir clones, which I find fascinating.  My interest was originally piqued back in the Lost Canyon days when we attended Saralee Kunde's annual tasting for winemakers for the 2006 vintage.  This was a particularly hard year for color extraction, but clone 37 had a beautiful purple magenta color and it really stood out.  In 2007, we added clone 37 to our portfolio, in addition to the our other clones:  777, 4, and 115.  This was a fantastic harvest year.  The clones were able to ripen and be picked at their own rate, which allowed us to keep them separate until just before we assembled the blends.  It was at this time that I tasted clone 37 on its own and loved the structure, color and flavor profile.  Single-clone Pinot Noirs are relatively uncommon, but I like when they can stand on their own.  Clone 115 is another favorite, which you will soon be able to taste on its own in my 2010 Tessier Saralee's Vineyard, Clone 115.  

Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?

I'm not a big fan of "fruit bombs" that have extra-heavy oak, and little acidity with no structure.  I think you have to keep it real to you.  It's important to make wine that you love, in case it doesn't sell, and you will be the one drinking it all.


The 2009 Tessier "Trenton Station Vineyard Clone 37" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($37.99) is elegant, structured, and beautifully balanced. In stock now at K&L!

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