Robert Parker, Wine Advocate

2015 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast “Clean, crisp lemon and apple blossom, white peach and a touch of pear are all present in this modern style, fresh, steely and mineral-laced, mid-weight Chardonnay with surprising concentration and fruit. Drink it over the next several years.”

2015 North Coast Pinot Noir “This winery also scored well with their cross AVA blend from Mendocino, Russian River and the Sonoma Coast, the 2015 Pinot Noir, which was aged in 20% new French oak for six months. Pomegranate, red currant, allspice, roasted herbs and forest floor are make an appearance in this soft, round, juicy but lovely Pinot Noir, which is a dead ringer for a generic Côte de Beaune. Drink it over the next 3-4 years.”

2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “The 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River saw 20% whole clusters, but also enjoyed 20% new French oak for six months. (The reason for getting these wines in bottle so quickly is so that fruit is their hallmark.) This 2013 offers up notes of sweet and sour cherries, Asian plums, and hints of earth, underbrush and tobacco leaf. It is medium-bodied and best drunk over the next several years.”.

“These are three excellent values from proprietor Seth Cripe, who founded this label in 2008.”

— Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

Wally’s Wine and Spirits

“Proprietor/Winemaker Seth Cripe told us that his 2015 North Coast Pinot Noir was his best-ever, but we had no idea it was going to be this good! How he has managed to cram all this California Pinot Noir goodness into a bottle is truly a Penn & Teller worthy magic trick. The color is gorgeous, and the flavor profile even delivers hints of true Burgundian character laced with a bit of Oregonian earthiness. This Pinot Noir is not the best of both worlds; it’s the best of all worlds! Stick a bottle in the fridge for an hour or so to get it down to proper red-wine-savoring temperature (about 60 degrees), then twist off the easy-opening cap, pour and enjoy. We know you’ll be back for more.”

— Gary Fishman, Wally’s Buyer

Food52.com

“Seth Cripe applies his love for a product that can stand on its own in LOLA wines, born out of an appreciation for and want of more economical wine. He attempts to minimize the interference of the human hand, believing that starting with superior ingredients is the key to a great product. Grown in the cool climate and rocky soils of the Russian River Valley, LOLA’s grapes develop a great acidity and a real sense of terroir. The end result? Subtle, food-friendly, almost graceful wines that beg to be added to your wine cellar.”  –  FOOD52.COM

Wally’s Wine – Los Angeles

“Here’s another big bang-for-the-buck red. Twenty dollar Pinot Noirs that reach this level of quality are far and few between, especially ones that sport a Russian River Valley address. Founder/Winemaker Seth Cripe has garnered much attention since his initial 2008 release of 848 cases. His new 2010, a combination of Saralee, Cameron and Occidental vineyard fruit, yielded 1,400 cases of a strawberry cherry- red currant-scented Pinot Noir, and they are going fast. A newcomer definitely worth checking out.” – By Wally’s Wines

NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW

CORTEZ, Fla. — For centuries, fishermen here have netted mullet, an oily fish that retails for about $1 to $3 a pound and takes well to deep-frying or smoking. But in Italy, where some of this village’s harvest is shipped, sacs of roe are removed from the fish, cured and marketed as a delicacy, bottarga, that often sells back in the United States for more than $100 a pound.

Seth Cripe, who was born 34 years ago in this coastal village an hour south of Tampa, wants to capture some of that profit for the fishermen and artisans of Cortez.

In 2007, he began salting, pressing and sun-drying the roe sacs in a style that many Americans associate with Liguria and Sardinia, two regions of Italy where cooks frequently finish pasta dishes with a quick grate of briny bottarga. Today, Mr. Cripe, working with his business partner, Ed Chiles, produces more than 1,500 pounds of Cortez bottarga each year, sold under the Anna Maria Fish Company label to a few retailers and a growing number of influential chefs.

Christopher Kostow, chef of the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif., began using Mr. Cripe’s bottarga last year. “It tastes cleaner than the Italian stuff,” he said of the grated Cortez bottarga he placed atop a recent dish of broccoli flowers, agnolotti and farmer cheese. “And it’s not overly salty. Instead of cloaking flavors, it brightens and accents.”

At Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in New York, the chef Justin Smillie tosses shaved brussels sprouts with red onions, red radishes and bread crumbs before splashing the salad with colatura, the pungent Italian fish sauce, and finishing with grated Cortez bottarga, which he said “smells and tastes like the seashore.” And it’s local, he said. “Or at least a lot more local than Italy.”

At a time when the rest of the nation looks to the South as a redoubt of provincial culinary traditions, food culture in the region is actually changing in fast and often surprising ways. Bottarga cured in Florida is a vivid example of that dynamism, with the potential to transform the regional fish industry and make an impact on restaurant menus around the country.

That kind of makeover has Southern precedents. Traditional Tennessee country ham is now marketed as American prosciutto. Grits, stone-ground from heirloom corn, now earn the same respect as polenta. The best bourbon commands prices that are comparable to the best Scotch.

“Amazing products are now coming out of the South,” said Ari Weinzweig, a co-founder of Zingerman’s, the mail-order grocer in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Some were there all along, some are new, and some are examples of newly revitalized products that have emerged since America began to see new value in flavorful artisanal goods.”

Mr. Cripe’s product, wrenched from female fish after their necks have been broken, glows with a deep umber color and packs a marine umami punch.

“We want clean roe sacks,” said Mr. Cripe, standing on a dock recently as a crew of white-booted fishermen worked below, shoveling striped gray mullet from a flat-bottomed skiff onto a conveyor belt bound for the table where workers sorted the fish by sex. “If you break their necks instead of cutting off their heads, you keep blood from seeping into the roe sacks, and you get a cleaner-tasting, golden-colored bottarga.”

Mr. Cripe is not the only Southerner curing roe. Last year, Bryan Caswell, the chef at Reef, in Houston, started curing his own mahi-mahi roe and red snapper roe. In 2011, when Ryan Smith was the chef at Empire State South in Atlanta, he began curing shad roe, which he folds into butter and serves with sliced radishes.

But for Mr. Cripe — who splits his time between Napa, Calif., where he makes wines under the Lola label, and Cortez, where his mother, Nancy, works with him to cure mullet roe in a downtown facility — bottarga is just the first step toward creating new markets for mullet.

Fish emulsion fertilizer, often used in organic viticulture to lend nitrogen to the soil, can be made from mullet carcasses, he said. Smoked mullet fillets have potential, too. Cooked over smoldering buttonwood or red oak by small Cortez companies like Smoked Mullet by Gullet, they sell mostly to locals, who traditionally chop the fillets, stir them with cream cheese and serve the resulting dip with crackers.

To realize his vision, Mr. Cripe said he would have to change prevailing ideas about mullet. Even though the fish is sustainable and is rated a “best choice” by theSeafood Watch program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, mullet is often considered a down-market fish, best purchased shortly after harvest, fried hard and served on a foam plate with a fluted cup of tartar sauce.

And then there’s the name, “the haircut thing,” Mr. Cripe said, speaking of the much-ridiculed hairstyle (short in the front and sides, long in the back) immortalized in the 1980s by country musicians like Billy Ray Cyrus.

Bottarga, too, can be a hard sell here. When Mr. Cripe walked into Cortez Seafood Market, the manager, James Lee, told the young entrepreneur that he far preferred smoked mullet roe, which he sells for about $20 per eight-lobe sack. (Order a Caesar-style wedge at the Village Idiot Pizza in a Cortez strip mall, and the pizzaiolo, Joseph Yost, chars a romaine head in a wood-burning oven, then drapes it with slices of smoked roe that Mr. Lee buys from a man he calls Lurch.)

Mr. Cripe, who did not grow up eating bottarga, has endured many such moments since he tasted a dish of pasta topped with Italian-cured mullet roe at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. A light went on that night in 2007. And it was extinguished soon after, when, during a return visit to Cortez, he served childhood friends a similar dish of pasta with bottarga, based on a Martha Stewart recipe.

“They thought I was crazy,” he recalled during a recent walk down the Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island. “None of my friends would even try it.”

But Mr. Cripe, who moved to California at 17 in search of a job in the wine industry, was determined. Some restaurateurs in the Cortez area have caught on. Derek’s Culinary Casual, in nearby Sarasota, has grated Cortez bottarga over handmade pasta since 2009. Caragiulos, also in Sarasota, offers Seth’s Pizza, layered with fingerling potatoes, roasted shallots, mascarpone cheese and Cortez bottarga.

Many seemingly newfangled ideas leverage long traditions. According to exhibits on display at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez, itinerant Spanish fishermen here in the late 1700s were harvesting mullet roe, which they cured in a brine solution, preserved in lean-to smoke huts and shipped to Cuba and beyond.

Today, local wholesalers like A. P. Bell Fish Company, in business since the 1940s, freeze and ship much of the mullet roe harvest in huge containers to places like Taiwan, Egypt and Italy.Back on the dock, Justin Moore, a friend of Mr. Cripe’s since childhood, sorted the catch. To determine the sex of each fish, Mr. Moore pressed his thumb into the belly of the fish. When a squiggle of milt, which locals call white roe, emerged from beneath the anal fin, he tossed the fish in a bin full of males. When auburn eggs, which locals call red roe, came squirting out, he tossed those fish in a bin full of females.

There is a ready market for red roe. But white mullet roe will most likely prove hard to sell to consumers. The taste is milky, like a summer oyster, said Mr. Chiles, a son of the former Florida governor Lawton Chiles.

“But we can try: mullet is who we are,” he said, standing at a stainless-steel table in the kitchen at his Sandbar restaurant, experimenting with various preparations of white roe, including a crudo made with rice wine vinegar and sliced jalapeños. “They want our sandy-bottom striped gray mullet in Sardinia. They want our red roe in China. Now we have to teach people to see new possibilities in Florida.” – John T. Edge | Published: July 22, 2013 | New York Times

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LOS ANGELES TIMES REVIEW

At 34, Seth Cripe has spent more years around wine than you’d think.

The owner-winemaker of LOLA Wines, which he founded in 2008, moved to Napa Valley right after he dropped out of high school. He said that although he wouldn’t recommend that exact career path, he was so fortunate to work for Swanson and Caymus.

His stint at Caymus Vineyards lasted a dozen years, and in the end, he was running the vineyards there. When Caymus was developing its Belle Glos project, he, as the only available young and single person, was sent off to France for four or five months a year to learn what he could.

All that experience plays into the wines he makes at LOLA — right now just 5,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and dry Riesling. He farms most of the grapes, which come from western Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley, but still lives in Napa Valley.

Here’s what he’s drinking now:

“I’ve been liking a new Napa Valley wine called Carne Humana, named for the mid-1880s Mexican land grant that ran from Rutherford and St. Helena north to Calistoga and which has some of the oldest vines in Napa Valley.

“The 2010 is their first vintage. This wine is a blend of Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel with a little Syrah and Charbono. It’s got those big and rich flavors of really extracted Napa Valley wine, but because it’s old vines, it has those bright, dark berry flavors along with a good acid structure.

“That, to me, is a rare quality in Napa Valley and California reds. It’s a cool, refreshing style of wine for the valley.”

– By S. Irene Virbila | May 25, 2013 | Los Angeles Times

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EDIBLE SARASOTA REVIEW

As soon as Seth Cripe gets his little processing shed up and running at Charlie’s Fish Camp at the end of 125th Street, he plans to export an ambitious 2,000 pounds of authentic, perfect bottarga. By March 2012, the precious 2.5- to 3-ounce portions with a long shelf life and a value higher than lobster or crab, will satisfy wholesale and retail purveyors such as Gilt.com, which already sells out of every shipment. The “broad scheme,” according to Cripe and Chiles, is to expand into other products that will establish Cortez Village as the world epicenter of high-end delicacies of the sea. – By Edible Sarasota | January 31, 2013 | Article

 

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