November 2007 Archives

Frequent Winer

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By Courtney Cochran

Most of the time, a delayed flight is a major headache.  

When frequent flier Doug Tomlinson found himself delayed one too many times with nary a drop of decent wine in sight to stave his frustration, he knew just what to do.    

Enter Vino Volo (Italian for “wine flight”), Tomlinson’s airport wine bar concept that allows stranded travelers to enjoy a flight before their, well, flight.  The ex-consultant started the chain in 2003, when the first Vino Volo opened at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.  The company is now five stores strong (other locations include Sacramento International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport), with plans to open dozens more in major airports in coming years.   

The formula is simple:  Customers order wine by the taste, glass or tasting flight to enjoy in the sleekly designed lounge-like space, where gourmet nosh in the form of small plates is also on the menu.  All wines are available by the bottle, too, and can be carried away, or - for those who’d rather not schlep their booty – shipped.

How’s that for a headache-free send-off?

Breaking Borders

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By Robert Farmer

Anyone who’s bought wine online understands that the laws governing the distribution and taxation of wine between states and across borders can be somewhat Byzantine. Unnecessarily so, in my estimation. Without sounding like a Boston Tea Party-like revolutionary, it shouldn’t be so hard for wine distributors to reach out to customers and ship to them the products those customers select and purchase. In other words, the government should butt the hell out.

By the way, if you haven’t purchased wine online, I highly recommend it. Shopping for and finding the wines you like best is a great online experience. And when your wine arrives at your doorstep promptly and neatly packaged, well, it’s like a little bit of Christmas any time you want it. There’s a new website and blog that aims to keep interested online wine buyers apprised of the issues surrounding online wine shopping and shipping. It’s called the Wine Without Borders blog (, launched by the Specialty Wine Retailers Association as an effort to keep consumers informed and up to date on this ever-changing and often contentious issue. SWRA is an organization advocating non-discriminatory wine shipping laws throughout the nation. Their website is a catalog of information and documentation related to the direct shipping issue—you can also sign up for a weekly newsletter which, unlike wine in many states, can be sent directly to you without any government interference. Because an informed shopper is a successful shopper, this site should be bookmarked by any online wine buyer—do your part and help break those borders!

Gone, Bubble, Gone

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By Courtney Cochran

Used to be, if you popped the cork on some bubbly and didn’t finish the bottle, you’d be greeted with lifeless pseudo fizz the next day.

Now, thanks to the ingenious bubble saving system from French company Atelier du Vin (at-el-YAY doo van), you can enjoy the rest of your bottle with fizz aplenty, even several days after you open it.  

It’s easy:  Just affix the company’s Bubble Indicator ® capsule to the top of the bottle, and place the whole thing in the fridge.  The airtight system traps pressure inside the bottle – so your bubbles stay lively – and a colorful ring around the top lets you know when your fizz is running out of gas.  The ring sinks slowly into the capsule as bottle pressure diminishes; when the ring’s gone, you know your bubbles are gone, too.  

Just don’t say you didn’t have fair warning.

Top Wineries for Extra-Tasting Activities

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These spots serve up unique alternatives to the typical tasting experience.

by Courtney Cochran

Why just sniff and swirl when you can stomp, tour, and take in some art, too? In an effort to offer visitors more than the run-of-the-mill tasting room experience, many wineries are serving up unique alternatives. Read on for the details on how you can take a high-altitude jeep tour, commandeer your very own bocce ball court, or even stomp some grapes during crush.

Because cookie cutter visits are so last year.

Dressing on the Side

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By Robert Farmer

I admit to some hesitancy in coming around to buying and actually admitting to buying Newman’s Own-brand salad dressing. I just had this thing against celebrity self-promotion and, in the competitive salad-dressing market, there were a number of other brands out there that suited me just fine without having a movie star staring out at me from the label. But it turned out that Newman’s dressing is actually quite good. So though it’s certainly not the only kind I buy, I’ve totally overcome my ill-placed reservation. It’s with that same lack of misconception that I look forward to pulling the cork on Newman’s Own wines—yes, wines! He’s into the vino biz now, adding a branded chardonnay and cabernet to his list growing product line. Both vintages are 2006 and made with coastal California-grown grapes. The wines were produced in conjunction with St. Helena-based Rebel Wine Co., which is a collaboration of Three Thieves and Trinchero Family Estates. The wines are being marketed as high-end—retailing for $16 a bottle. And, as with all Newman’s Own products, all profits and royalties after taxes are donated to educational and charitable purposes. For that reason alone, it’s worth giving the guy a try.

Tool Time

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By Robert Farmer

Rare is the occasion in which I am in a discussion about pinot noir when somebody does not immediately bring up Oregon. Of course, often that somebody is me. By now most people know about Oregon’s wine country and the great pinot noirs that essentially put it on the map. But in case you are still – like me – in need of some direction when it comes to the state’s still-developing wine regions, there is now a handy guide available to see you through. Recently, the Oregon wine Board—which represents more than 350 wineries, 300 independent growers, and 15,600 vineyard acres throughout the state's diverse winegrowing regions—partnered with several of Oregon’s regional wine organizations to create something called the Discover Oregon Wine Country tool kit. Available by mail for just five bucks via, the tool kit is designed for Oregon novice and veteran alike – a guide containing handy information on each region, along with maps, vineyard listings and useful resources on traveling the area. It’s great for planning a trip to Oregon or for use as guide once you’re there. It’s also useful for pointing out that Oregon is worth exploring for much more than its pinot noir.

Harvest Hopeful Redux

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By Robert Farmer

It got a little screwy there for a bit in October. Winemakers went from feeling outwardly optimistic about the state of affairs for California's 2007 wine grape harvest, to suddenly having their spirits dampened by a wetter-than-usual October. But the clouds have parted and the news is still good. It was announced earlier this week, that California's wine grape growers are bullish on the 2007 harvest. The state's grape harvest this year began early, stalled mid-way due to cool weather, and finished in late October to "vintner accolades." The mild winter with below normal rainfall, coupled with a dry spring, led to early bud break. Overall, fruit was small, which leads to a high skin to juice ratio and, ultimately, higher quality in the bottle. "The 2007 year is one of the better vintages in recent history," commented Vince Bonotto, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines Vice President Vineyard Operations overseeing vineyards in Napa and Monterey. "There was a lighter crop and yields were down from the past few years, but quality is extremely good." The only bit of bad news? The yield was not as large as hoped for. Which really means the 2007 vintage is shaping up to have that "rare" and "hard to find" quality. As I've mentioned here before, get in on those futures while you can.

Room With a View

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By Courtney Cochran

You long for an excuse to visit Alexander Valley's ridiculously cute Jimtown Store, but it's tough to justify the trip given the dearth of things to do nearby. Until now, that is.

The newly opened Hawkes Winery & Tasting Room just next door to the Jimtown Store serves up small-lot Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in a smartly designed tasting room boasting sweeping views of the Alexander Valley.

Sidle up to the polished oak bar and savor a glass of the winery's signature Cabernet while you take in the impressive view, then while away some time checking out the Hawkes family's collection of rare and antique teapots from around the world. Those inclined to dine can enjoy the perspective from the porch, where gourmet goods purchased from Jimtown make a perfect alfresco lunch.

And so, between the view, the vittles and the vino, you've got not one, but three excuses to go. What are you still waiting for?

Hawkes Winery & Tasting Room * 6738 Hwy 128 * Healdsburg, CA 95448 * (707) 433-HAWK * * open 7 days a week from 10am-5pm * $5 tasting fee

The Flames of Wrath

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By Robert Farmer

From any perspective, the fires of late October in Southern California were terrible. The firestorms that engulfed California’s southland and burned hundreds of thousands of acres of open land a private property gripped the nation for solid week. And in the aftermath as the damage is being assessed and people are returning to the soul-searching devastation of having lost everything they own, it is becoming clear just how great an impact these events have had. So please don’t misinterpret my meaning when I decry the loss of some agriculture. Believe me when I say such losses are trivial in the scheme of things. And so it was, as a rabid avocado advocate that I was disheartened to learn that the fires of Southern California had torched a third of the state’s avocado crop. And no sooner had I come to terms with that than did my mind turn to the many great wineries of San Diego County. Since the fires have been contained, it seems the good news is most SD County vines were spared the havoc. According to reports in San Diego’s North County Times, wineries in the fire-stricken areas were by and large spared extensive damage. Still, Orfila Winery in Escondido lost about 200 of its 25,000 vines—something everyone will surely agree is a nominal loss. The real good news is that fires are now out. So let’s all raise a glass to that.

20th annual Holiday in Carneros Open House

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by Robert Farmer

Because you're a faithful reader of this space, you already know how much I love the Carneros region. So I don't have to spend any time or toss around fancy words and expend valuable typing time to espouse the merits of this oh-so-unique area of California's Wine Country. I don't even have to tell you how its true terrior produces some of the best pinot noirs and sparklers this side of Loire Valley. I don't have to mention that visiting Carneros is visit unlike a visit to any other part of Napa or Sonoma—both counties which Carneros spans east to west, by the way. And you already know that wine tasting in Carneros is a relaxing, familial affair; its many small, bucolic wineries welcome visitors with a smile and a neighborly embrace. So okay. You already know that. But did you know that this weekend (November 17th and 18th) is the 20th annual Holiday in Carneros Open House? This weekend is an ideal time to get to know the region for the first time or to pay a visit to an old favorite. Part open house, part holiday party, the annual event features numerous participating wineries offering barrel and reserve tastings and, in most cases, food pairings and live entertainment. For the mere $25 admission price, you can visit any participating winery—commemorative logo glass in hand—and get acquainted with everything that makes Carneros special. Most wineries will offer something not typically available during regular visits—including tastings from library and reserve selections. For details, check out So pay a visit to Carneros this weekend and find out for yourself what I've been trying to tell you all this time! Happy Holiday in Carneros, faithful readers...

Dry Creek: The Zin Tour

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The Dry Creek Appellation of Sonoma County, California produces outstanding Zinfandel worth seeking out. Take a tour of some regional favorites from this picturesque Northern California wine growing region.

If any grape could truly be called Californian, it is the bold and wily Zinfandel. Though its roots harken back to sunny Italy (say most, though its heritage remains a bit murky), Zinfandel has become synonymous with the bright, fruit-forward, come-as-you-are attitude of many California wines.

The How-To Harvest

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Harvest Tales - Part 2

by Robert P. Farmer

It's easy enough to feel like you're part of the wine country harvest simply visiting in the fall. But there are ways to truly be part of the action. Short of pulling up stakes and moving here, you can act like a local by getting involved with one of the many programs designed by wineries to make guests feel right at home. These events and programs don't only take place during harvest, but there's no better time to take advantage.

There are a number of excellent behind-the-scenes programs at wineries throughout wine country and in all of California's various wine regions. They range from full-fledged, yearlong grow-your-own courses to afternoon-length grape stomps. The programs are fun, educational ways to get to know wines first hand.

The Time is Ripe

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There's No Time Like Crush in Wine Country

by Robert P. Farmer

For my money, there's no better time to be in wine country than during harvest. The crush. That's what the locals call it. It's the time of year that the grape growers turn their crop into cash. It's an important time for them. And for the average visitor, it should be just as important - and no less busy, if you want it to be. The trick is to know what to do with your harvest time visit. You can spend day after day traversing the countryside, watching the colors change, and taking in chest-filling breaths of the crisp fall air and not really have any idea of what is really going on at harvest time. Wineries love this time of year and you should too.

Miles and Ryan MacDonnell

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Round Pond Estate

With the unveiling of a beautiful new winery and tasting room this past summer, Round Pond Estate took another step in establishing itself as one of Napa Valley's great young wineries. Guided by the dynamic brother and sister team of Miles and Ryan MacDonnell, Round Pond is a small, family-owned and operated winery located in the heart of the Rutherford winegrowing region. And though the MacDonnell siblings only released their inaugural 2002 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon a few years back, they are far from being the new kids on the block. In fact, Miles and Ryan grew up playing amongst the very same vine rows, where they grow the grapes for their sought-after wines.