March 5, 2008

Wither Wine Country Weddings?

By Courtney Cochran

The first part of the story is familiar:  Boy meets girl, boy buys ring, boy pops the question. Fanfare and general bliss come next, followed quickly by the other big question - where should we get hitched?

And while this new question can give rise to a dizzying set of considerations for any couple, those inclined to a wine country wedding are faced with their own unique set of sometimes overwhelming options. Will any wine region do, or is there a special area we're set on? Will our guests be up for a destination wedding, and - if so - is there adequate lodging nearby to house everyone? And, of course, How much does a wine country wedding cost? Will it amount to more or less than getting hitched somewhere else?

We here at want to know how couples sort through these sorts of questions en route to planning their own unforgettable wine country weddings. If you have an experience, resource or tip you'd like to share, please post it here as a comment.

Not only will your feedback help visitors to the site - many of whom visit us for guidance in wine country wedding planning - it will also give us valuable insights into how we can improve our own wedding planning content. Cheers to that.

February 14, 2008

New Campaign Touts California as Land of Wine and Food

By Robert Farmer


In case, like my friend who for the last two decades was lost on a remote desert island somewhere in the South Pacific, you didn't already know that California is the Land of Wine and Food, our beloved governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger was recently trotted out as part of a new campaign to tell you so. In spite of my possibly undetected sarcasm here, I actually think this is a good idea on behalf of the California Travel and Tourism Commission. The Commission has brought out some - if not outright famous - at least recognizable names to promote their new portal for visitors to California in search of the wine and food experience.

Although all the information and then some can be found on the site you're currently reading, I still commend the Commission for recognizing that food and wine are perhaps the Golden State's most attractive reasons for visiting. In addition to "The Governator", the campaign features such personalities as Thomas Keller, famed chef of French Laundry, and Andrew Firestone, the fortunate son of Santa Barbara's Firestone Vineyards, who also blogs for the site. The Commission will market the site via TV spots featuring Schwarzenegger and his wife in major markets beginning this month. In the meantime it can be found here:

January 30, 2008

Honing Your Wine Frequency at 32,000 Feet

By Courtney Cochran

crbs0661917.jpgAdmit it:  You’re seriously considering packing a parachute if you have to watch another G-rated animated flick on your redeye to Boston.  

But don't bail out just yet, frequent flyer.  

When popular wine podcast Graperadio ( ) becomes available to American Airlines’ Business and First Class passengers beginning in February, it’ll allow air travelers the unprecedented opportunity to bone up on interesting topics like wine history, wine drinking and wine etiquette courtesy of the airline’s in-flight entertainment players.  And besides the usual “Wine 101”-type content, the 30- and 60-minute program segments will also feature interviews with high-profile wine industry luminaries such as Margrit Mondavi (telling the Mondavi story from her point of view, rather than that of a certain book author), Gaia Gaja of Piedmont’s acclaimed Gaja family, and Frederick Paniotis of Champagne’s venerable Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.  

Here’s to Flying the Much Friendlier Skies
Together with the recent launch of the Vino Volo chain of airport wine bars, the high altitude debut of GrapeRadio signals a welcome new direction in air travel.  Thankfully, one that precludes packing a 'chute. 

January 11, 2008

Cold Therapy

By Courtney Cochran

pills.jpgWhile contemplating the usual suspects in cold therapy at my local Safeway today it dawned on me that my choices couldn't seem less therapeutic.  Their weird, extraterrestrial sounding names - a sampling included oddities Mucinex, Drixoral and Zicam - were an affront to my already congested senses.  Even worse, their homogoneous, sterile-looking packaging only served to make me feel more sick than I already did.  So, in a rare moment of extra-viral clarity, I pulled myself together and hacked and sniffed my way over to a much more inviting place:  the wine aisle.  

In a perfect world, my doctor's prescription for cold relief would include the following:

* warm blanket
* lots of sleep
* sappy romantic comedies along the lines of When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail
* gigantic bottle of full-bodied, fruity red wine, preferably high in alcohol content to encourage aforementioned sleep

Now, I just got off the phone with my doctor and I'm pretty sure her cold season advice did not include the fourth item on my list.  Still, what she doesn't know won't kill her, and so I am, with an enormous smile on my face, currently enjoying a 2004 Ledson "Baldocchi Old Vine" Russian River Valley Zinfandel (ABV 14.9%, thank you very much).  

It may not be Mucinex, but I sure do feel better. 

December 28, 2007

Wine: No Longer a Stowaway at the Movies

by Courtney Cochran

theatres_1_icon.jpgIf you're like me, you may have stashed a bottle of vino in your purse or overcoat on occasion before heading into the movies.  Sure, you felt a bit sheepish about your contraband, but when the opening credits rolled to the tune of a lush Santa Rita Hills Pinot, you knew you’d taken the risk for good reason.  Still, sipping from the Styrofoam cup you snagged at the concession made your reward seem less sweet.

With the opening of Sundance Cinemas San Francisco at the old AMC Kabuki Theater in Japantown ( ), you can purchase wine by the half glass or glass and take it right into the theater with you, no smuggling required.  The first theater in the city to snag a liquor license, Sundance offers moviegoers an eclectic lineup of 25 wines sourced from both local and global producers, many of them made from organic or sustainably farmed grapes.  

Even better, they’ll give you a real glass, too.  

Full disclosure: I am the sommelier who selected the wines for Sundance Cinemas. 

December 19, 2007

When Life Bubbles Over

By Robert Farmer

Nothing prepared me for the sheer joy of it. Nothing anybody told me – and believe me, lots of people told me lots about it – prepared me for what really to expect. Nothing. Even the best, most well-meaning advice about “getting plenty of sleep while you can,” and about how to “enjoy my freedom while it’s still available, was able to adequately capture the true nature of the Event and life immediately after the Event. It turns out that having a child is something – to employ a rather hackneyed cliché – one must experience to appreciate.

 And that is exactly what happened to Yours Truly in early December when my wife delivered after no shortage of agonizing labor our first child, a beautiful daughter. She was north of ten pounds and her size seemed to belie her sweet innocence while it also underscored the magnitude with which she impacted our life. People go on and on about how a baby will change your life. But mostly they mean the nuts and bolts of it. Gone are the blissful, slumbering nights and long leisurely weekend mornings. Gone is the narcissistic focus on Self. It’s all replaced by an incredibly unexpected and unwavering need to care for someone else. I now know they’re talking about when they speak of unconditional love. Nothing anybody told me prepared me for that part of it. It's life bubbling over, and I’m there to scoop it all up.

And, it's also the reason I have been saving a bottle of 1998 Schramsberg Reserve sparkling wine to commemorate the occasion. Sure, there are bigger names in the “celebratory” wines world. But like the emotions I’ve experienced with this child, wines like this are something one must experience to appreciate. This is a truly great sparkler, befitting any great occasion. It represents just 2% of the winery’s production, but it’s their best pinot noir-based sparkling wine. It’s wonderful, a thing of beauty, and I hope you can appreciate my analogy here.

November 28, 2007

The Book of Mondo

It was released about the same time that the mega-hit wine-themed film “Sideways” came out, so Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary, “Mondovino” sort of got lost in the shuffle and was seen by only a fraction of the “Sideways” crowd. Too bad, really, because as a movie about wine, “Mondovino” is a far superior work in my humble opinion; far more effective in shedding light on the inner-circle snobbery of the wine industry—well beyond the simple catch phrase “no merlot!” made unjustly popular by “Sideways.” I strongly suggest making “Mondo” part of your DVD library. And now there’s something to add to your bookshelf. Nossiter recently released his first book, which he calls an “anti wine guide” that, like his film, pulls the wool back on the industry’s most influential critics and on the exorbitant pricing prevalent in the business. With an official launch in Bordeaux “Le Gout et le Pouvoir” (Taste and Power), sets out to democratize wine, taking to task such critics as Robert Parker who, in Nossiter’s view wields undue influence over the sale and price of wine. The book, said Nossiter in a statement, “is a call to find another way to talk about wine, to find words that include people, not exclude them.” That’s great stuff! Nossiter’s book is destined to make waves. If you can read French, you can get it now online ( The English version is slated for US distribution in late 2008.

October 22, 2007

City Club

By Robert Farmer

I like opening big wines and I like big wine openings. So I was fairly pleased to hear the news of the long-anticipated retail outlet of Cellar360 in San Francisco recently. This is great news for anyone who, like me, loves to shop for wine and who happens to live in San Francisco. The shop opened in mid October and is built into a local landmark—Ghirardelli Square, and delivers a little slice of California wine country to the water’s edge of the City by the Bay. Cellar360 is a wine fan’s Valhalla: a wine club and retail establishment with an ever-changing menu of more than 200 wines from around the world on continual offer—each presented with the solid backing of a knowledgeable and friendly staff who are quick to point out subtleties and discuss likes and dislikes with patrons of any wine experience level. And beyond wine, the 360 experience includes alfresco dining on gourmet charcuterie and artisan cheeses in the Square. The opening of Cellar360 also serves as a cornerstone in the ongoing and fast-evolving refurbishment of Ghirardelli Square, bringing the beautiful, historic landmark back to its rightful prominence in the City I love.

April 18, 2007

Lifestyles of the Rich & Richer

by Erika Lenkert

It doesn't take access to local tax accountant records to know that there are a lot of wealthy people in Northern California Wine Country. A quick glance at the chateaux and villas tucked into the hillsides and the acres of property in between them are pretty good indications that there aren't a lot food stamps being cashed in at the local grocers. But some of the outrageously luxurious and expensive new programs offered by wine country businesses have me pondering just how rich the area's visitors are—especially when a weekend of participation for some wine country stints could cover my mortgage for more three years. If you want to know how the other half of the other half lives, consider the following tours and attractions.

A Thomas Keller Birthday Party
Have a measly extra $60,000 on hand? Great! Then you can gather six couples and throw your significant other, parent, friend, or self the ultimate food and wine birthday party in conjunction with Napa Valley's ultraexclusive Poetry Inn. The stunning and very intimate Stags Leap District hillside hideaway has teamed up with chef Thomas Keller to offer an all-Keller-all-the-time weekend, which includes dinner at one of the famed chef's two casual Yountville restaurants (Bouchon or Ad Hoc), a sexy picnic packed by his delicious Bouchon Bakery, and accommodations and a seven-course wine-paired Keller-directed birthday dinner at Poetry Inn. Tack on 30 bottles of the sold-out $120 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon from Cliff Lede Vineyards, a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux wine from the honoree's birth year, and limousine transportation. Sound like a deal? Call Poetry Inn to book your bash (707-944-0646).

VIP Wine Tour with Karen MacNeil
Healdsburg's luxury leader Les Mars Hotel ups the luxury wine tasting ante with a completely custom one- or two-day Sonoma County excursion led by wine educator and The Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil. A true red-rope grape escape, the package includes the opportunity to visit wineries usually closed to the public, tastes of rare and coveted wines, and tutelage on wine topics of choice. Accommodations for a group of two to eight participants are not included in the fee, which starts at $7,500 for a basic one-day adventure.
Should you have 10 grand to burn, call the hotel to find out details (877-431-1700).

Hands-On Harvest
Believe it or not travelers whose love for wine runs as deep as their pockets actually pay a premium to do harvest grunt work. Sure grape-picking teams may scratch their heads at the notion of volunteering for backbreaking work in the hot, dusty fields. But anyone who enrolls in Sonoma County Grape Camp, held this year on September 24 to 26, will find that the fruits of an hour or two of labor outweighs the sacrifice. The three-day extravaganza allows participants to learn the details behind harvest and fine winemaking, pluck grapes off of the vines, blend their own juice, and get schooled on the art of food and wine pairing by award-winning chef and author John Ash. Added perks include a visit to the region's revered Redwood Hill Farm, vineyard dinner by chef Mark Stark of Willi's Wine Bar, paella party on the banks of the Russian River, and accommodations at the Vintner's Inn. What does it cost to be prime for the picking? $15,000 per couple.

January 19, 2007

Feel the Love- Wineries Embrace Valentine's with Special Events

Visit wineries across Wine Country during the first 2 weeks in February and you will feel the love of not only wine...but food. Chocolates, cheeses and gourmet dinners are prepared with the specific intent to honor the Valentine's holiday. That is why I encourage a visit to one of our wine regions as a quick escape to celebrate the sweetie and sweet tooth in your life. Who needs elaborate gifts of jewelry and long-stem roses? You can quickly create a long-term gift by spending a memorable day among the vines attending special wine tastings and indulging in a decadent winery dinner.

Take Napa Valley for instance you can indulge in "Sweet Delights to Pair with Wine" includes 5 wines and sweet pairings for $10 in downtown Napa at Wineries of Napa Valley. "Romance in the Cellar" is going at St. Supery Winery in Rutherford and Raymond Vineyards up the road invites you for a new release Cabernet and Chocolate tasting. For a truly decadent evening, Merryvale hosts their 'Seasons of the Napa Valley' Valentine Dinner on February 10.

Sip in Sonoma to your heart's content with creatively themed events like the Healdsburg Winery Walk "Heart and Sole"- just in time for the Valentine's Weekend on February 10 and 11, sip specially selected wines as you stroll from tasting room to tasting room in the heart of downtown Healdsburg. In Glen Ellen, drop in on the "Valentine Moon at Valley of the Moon Winery" or the "Valentine's Day Port and Truffles at B.R. Cohn Winery." Up the road in Kenwood, you two can sneak some "Kisses at the Castle at Ledson Winery" where women are greeted with a red rose and each guest treated to wines paired with a aphrodisiac culinary appetizers. And for that big night out on February 10, join St. Francis Winery near Santa Rosa for the Valentine's Winery Dinner in their beautiful dining room.

You can also get away for a long weekend of wine and wooing with Passport Tasting Events in Monterey County, on February 16-18, and in the Sideways famous Santa Ynez Valley region on February 10. These "Passport Tastings" provide access to most of the region's wineries on the same day and allow you to sample the latest releases, all at a set ticket price.

So forget the flowers and take your wine lover out for a day of breathtaking wine country vistas and heart-felt toasts. even offers a special Valentine's package complete with dinner at Domaine Chandon winery. Buy now online here:

And the events calendar has details on these and newly posted events for February. Read More

November 20, 2006

Spice Up the Evening with a Wine Party

By Kimberly Wilson

Single? Stop drinking wine by yourself – that’s how rumors get started.

Married? Drinking wine at dinner is so last year.

It’s time to throw a party, wine country style way. Invite over a couple of friends for good wine, good food, and good ol’ fashioned fun. Check out the suggestions below for making sure your first, second, and 50th party is not a dud.

Pick an assortment of wines to please any palate. Go to popular stores BevMo or World Market for low to medium priced wines. Raid your personal cellar (or in my case, the closet) for two or three reserve wines. Taking out your absolute best is up to personal discretion, but don’t blame me if you regret wasting that 1997 Cab on friends who would have been just as happy with 2 Buck Chuck wine. Below are some standards I always like to share:

  • 2005 Beringer Blass Chardonnay
  • 2005 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2002 Stags Leap Viognier
  • 2003 Sterling Vineyards Sangiovese
  • 2001 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2001 Ravenswood Zinfandel
  • 2004 Navarro Vineyards White Riesling
  • 2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Moscato d'Oro
  • Domaine Chandon Brut Classic

Don’t stress yourself out with hours and hours of food preparation. Cooking sweethearts like Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart get paid – you and I don’t! However, I am not endorsing you go cheap. If you are not a chef by heart, plan a day to pick up supplies from the bakery, the butcher, specialty/and the local farmer’s market. Listed below are just some of the essentials.
  • Meats –roasted chicken, roasted Pork Loin, smoked salmon, salami, proscuitto
  • Cheeses – cream havarti, Monterey jack, Belgium brie, smoked cheddar
  • Fruits – Fugi & Jonagold apples, bosc & red pears, dried pears, raspberries, blackberries
  • Breads – sourdough baguettes, French bread baguettes
  • Jams & Jellies – boysenberry or plum
  • Fresh Herbs (Whole Leaf) – Basil and Cilantro
  • Vegetables – tomato, cucumber, bell pepper
  • Desserts – whatever your heart desires

Start the party with the smooth sounds of jazz, and then maybe graduate into your favorites whatever they may be – pop, rock, country, and R&B. As the night wears on and laughter fills the air, let Justin Timberlake move your body to the beats of bringing “Sexy Back”.

Don’t pigeon yourself into thinking wine parties are only a night thing. Have a brunch and pop open some of the bubbly!

March 3, 2006

Belly Dancers, Belles, Balls, and Benefits

By M. L. Hilton

(NAPA VALLEY, CA) -- If you are a professional party-goer, a philanthropist, or an aution-ophile, spring is the season to get out your wallet. The last weekend in February in Napa Valley was the Winter Ball in St. Helena and the Premiere Wine Auction (raising collectively more than $2 million). The first weekend of March there will be an Academy Awards benefit, two school wine auctions (don’t look down your nose – bottles of Screaming Eagle have been known to show up) and a marathon.

I didn’t peruse neighboring wine countries, but I know from experience they are just as packed full of fun and parties. After the glitter of the holidays and before the warmth of spring, it is easy to think of the winter months of January, February, and March as dreary.

Truth is, you probably need to change your mind-set and start looking ahead with date planner in hand. Otherwise you are going to miss your opportunities and you mize well stay home with a strong dose of Prozac.

Sadly, most of the touted Balls don’t put a strong enough emphasis on the dancing. The timing will typically take place after the live auction and the bands are not always that engaging. If you really love to dance and aren’t as interested in the auction check in advance to see if the dancing is in a separate area (like the Mustard Festival opening event) or if they follow the auction, which will rarely be on time.

If you love red wine, the local Napa auctions will always have an amazing selection. St. Helena Rotary’s Winter Ball (Feb. 25) was cab-o-rama. Premiere Napa Valley is only about wine (for the trade). The Mustard Festival was strong on vacation packages this year.

If you only pick one party, that little black dress is going to do you just fine. But if you love dress up there are some pretty fun opportunities. The Mustard Festival Opening is usually a masquerade, the Rotary Ball was Morocco themed and jewel tones, see through gauze and glitter were every where. Sophisticated glamour is the Academy Awards. If you are of the female persuasion and need a new dress, a number of the top local stores will pull the similar gowns in different sizes off the racks – so you don’t have to run into your evil twin.

In California style, I saw a sheik at the Winter Ball whose purple painted toenails were an obvious standout in his sandals (Birkenstocks, I believe – but they fit right in).

The best times I have had are at the events I have come home with something: a new friend, an auction lot, and once a tattoo (temporary) in a very low spot on my back. It is really a great time when you have a fabulous table which can take some putting together. More on that thought another time.

February 13, 2006

A perpetually single girl’s guide to Valentine’s Day

By M.L. Hilton

(WINECOUNTRY) -- There are certain holidays that carry high expectations. Especially, if you pay any attention to the myriad of ads that run during these times with every gift portrayed as a happy ending in disguise. Christmas is that time for the Christians; Valentine’s for the lovelorn (or is that worn?).

Pressure on the perfect romance aside, an advantageous opportunity of Valentine’s commercial assault is the sale prices offered on Champagnes and sparkling wines. Sparkling wine is a necessity in my household. I grab any excuse I can to pretend a celebration in my week and open a bottle. And once the bottle is open, the celebration is no longer pretend.

This year, my local Safeway offered Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut (2000) for under $15 a bottle, a full 50 percent off its normal retail price. I bought three bottles. That’s at least one celebration a week for three weeks. Should get me through February just fine.

I love the look and smell of chocolate, though I only indulge minimally in a month. My opinion about chocolate is: why bother with lesser goods when they all put the same weight on your thighs? This is a product where it is definitely quality over quantity. If you are overindulging on chocolates, there is something else out of balance in your life and this won’t replace it (okay, we could say that about Champagne, but lalalala, I’m not listening).

If you are going for culinary decadence, go all the way and don’t wait for someone to buy it for you. A trip to Woodhouse Chocolates in St. Helena (CA) is a sensory experience – it’s a fun visual one too, if you get them to open the back door of the shop into the kitchen. Handmade, all natural, don’t wait to eat them – you may let your romance go stale, but never your chocolates.

I can't think of cholcolates without thinking about the Whitman Sampler summer. This is the salacious moniker we have given to a girlfriend’s season of exploration and adventure. Variety, that year, was the spice of her life (okay, and through titillating conversations it was ours that year also).

If you are reading romance novels for your titallation, sister give those up. My novels of choice for recreational reading are murder mysteries. You can come out of those and believe humanity has no where else to go but up. NO MAN, however, lives up to the beautiful, sensitive, rich, and recently reformed men of the saccharine fantasies. You are only setting yourself up for emotional failure – move on.

If you find yourself depressed, or looking too longingly after couples holding hands, you may want to try the original cure for sadness – engage yourself in helping others. You get love when you give love out, and you feel a lot better about your problems when you are helping other with theirs.