Recently in Wine Regions Category

Sonoma Harvest 2013 - Up Close and Personal

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istock_harvest.jpgGet an inside look at Sonoma Harvest 2013 through several videos being posted by wineries across Sonoma County below including Benziger Family Winery, Inman Family Wines and many more.

Click Here for more news, reports and pictures of harvest!




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Benziger Family Winery




Inman Family Wines




Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards - Top 5 Reasons to Visit

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If your Napa Valley travels have yet to include a visit to Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards in St. Helena, then see our top 5 reasons for making this winery part your Napa tour and wine tasting itinerary.

1. Beautiful Vineyard Views. Relax with a glass of wine outside and breathe in the beauty that surrounds you.

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2. Friendly, Fun and Knowledgeable Wine Staff. Josh happens to be our favorite and you can SEE why, but we hear great things about Dawn too!

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Napa Harvest Season 2013

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Harvest has descended upon Napa Valley once again. Join the excitement through tweets, pictures, upcoming harvest events (grape stomps, grape picking, wine dinners, etc) and general reports from wineries all over Napa Valley and their thoughts on this year's vintage and 2013 season.







Napa and Carneros Appellation Wineries Near American Canyon

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On your next trip to the Napa Valley or Sonoma Wine Country, consider booking your stay in American Canyon situated just outside the town of Napa and closer than you think to Sonoma County! Visit Napa and Carneros region wineries, play some golf, go hiking or birding in nearby wetlands and trails, spend quality time with the family at year-round, fun events and then stay at top-rated American Canyon hotels.

See our recommendations of nearby wineries in Napa and the Carneros Wine Appellation (situated in both Napa and Sonoma Counties and well-known for producing cooler climate varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay):

Jamieson Ranch (Napa, CA)
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, formerly known as Reata, is the southernmost winery in Napa Valley reminiscent of a majestic western mountain lodge. Sip a Pinot Noir in front of a cozy fire or relax with a glass of Chardonnay on the spectacular wraparound veranda that affords sweeping views of the Napa Valley and San Pablo Bay. Tastings begin at $15/person.

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Bourassa Vineyards (Napa, CA)
This winery, also located in Southern Napa, is a hidden gem; don't be fooled by the exterior! The charming warehouse exterior belies the gorgeous interior of a working winery and tasting room. Upon entering, escape to luxurious private lounge where friendly, expert staff will guide you through their portfolio of wines. Much more than just a tasting, it's also a wine education experience. Tastings begin at $20/person.

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Acacia Vineyard (Carneros AVA)
Situated in the heart of the Carneros appellation , Acacia Vineyard has beautiful views of the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Tucked away and off the beaten path, discover this tasting room with friendly staff, and a great place to learn about Acacia's special history, as well as taste delicious Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

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Roots run deep in Tri-Valley; one of California's oldest wine regions

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Livermore Valley Wine Country is home to more than 50 wineries.

livermore-wine-country.jpgWineries range from small family-owned operations to historic leaders of the California wine industry. You can enjoy handcrafted wines in an intimate, authentic setting in Livermore Valley.

The difference.
Unlike other wine regions, with long lines, large crowds, and expensive tasting room fees, most of our wineries still offer a complimentary tasting and a homespun atmosphere. We warmly welcome wine enthusiasts and novices alike. The neighborly ambiance of our tasting rooms will never make you feel like a tourist. We treat our guests like old friends, creating a one-of-a-kind experience. Meet the winemaker, get a private tour, barrel taste, and get a firsthand account of the wine-making process.

The experience.
There are several types of wine-tasting experiences in Livermore Valley wine country, from tasting rooms in downtown to no-frills country wineries and historic tasting rooms. Downtown Livermore's Blacksmith Square has several tasting rooms offering local wines, with restaurants and shopping nearby. Taste in an old barn while the winery owner's dog naps at your feet. Picnic in the countryside at a winery where the owners greet every visitor personally. Sip wine on the lawn, and play a relaxing game of bocce ball. For an upscale experience, with a touch of history, celebrate over 125 years with Concannon Vineyard and Wente Vineyards. Hungry for more? Livermore offers everything from picnic fixings to award-winning fine dining at several wineries throughout the region.


Art, Food & Wine Experience at Kenwood Vineyards

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kenwoodVineyards_ArtFoodWine.jpgAppreciate the premier marriage of art and wine at Kenwood Vineyards with their Artist Collection Series.

Every weekend, visitors will have an opportunity to view original art pieces from the collection that began with the controversial 1975, "Naked Lady" by David Lance Goines. With every new vintage, a new piece of art is featured making each bottle a true collectable.

Sip exceptional wines including the Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignons and nosh on gourmet appetizers perfectly paired to bring out the best characteristics of the wine.





More Details
  • Date: Every *Saturday & Sunday*
  • Time: 1pm - 3pm
  • Place: Kenwood Vineyards
  • Price: $30/person or $25/ wine club members
  • RSVP Required: For reservations, please call 707-282-4228. Reservations are required 72 hours in advance.

Partake by KJ : Now Open in Healdsburg

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Kendall Jackson Winery is upping the ante of your tasting experience with it's very own wine tasting lounge, Partake, is now open!

KJ_newWineTastingLounge_Partake.jpgPartake is located in the ever popular and trendy town of Healdsburg, right off the square, and will specialize in wine flights and seasonal bites that showcase the diversity of flavors in Sonoma County. Imagine an array of estate grown olive oils, organic vegetables, fruits & herbs, artisan cheeses, and sustainably raised meats - each dish artfully inspired to pair with the vast collection of Kendall Jackson wines.

Pinot & Mushroom Weekend at Chateau St. Jean

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event_ChateauStJean_PinotMushroom.jpgNo need to forage for mushrooms on your own this season. Join local Sonoma County mushroom experts at Chateau St. Jean February 23rd and 24th for a weekend of discovery with perfect pairings of fine St. Jean Pinot Noir and artisanal mushrooms. This special event will feature special wine and mushroom flights, a bountiful, mushroom-centric marketplace, informative lectures on fabulous fungi, an incredible Station-to-Station tasting experience, and a sumptuous Earthly Wonders luncheon, all which will leave you with a renowned sense of awe for the so-called simple mushroom and Pinot Noir. See more details below!


VIDEO: Learn About Harvest & Crush at St. Supery Winery

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Learn about the harvest season and what crush is like in Napa Valley from St. Supery's Assistant Winemaker Brooke Langelius and Winemaker Micheal Scholz.


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Harvest Season in Napa Valley Kicks Off!

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EVENTS:
Check out upcoming harvest season and crush events happening in Napa Valley in the months of August, September and October. CLICK HERE!

2012 #NVHarvest
Read tweets from folks all over Napa Valley involved with this year's Harvest. CLICK HERE!

Livermore Wine Country - Garden Trails

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lvwineOrg_PhotoCredit.jpgJust in time for Earth Day, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association celebrated the opening of the Drought Resistant Garden Trail with a sign installation and toast at Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery on April 12. Developed in cooperation with the Alameda County Master Gardeners, the initial phase of the new trail includes the first of many local winery and event center gardens to feature native, drought resistant plantings. Trail maps will soon be available at www.LVwine.org and at each of the following garden trail locations in Livermore Valley:

Cedar Mountain Winery (7000 Tesla Road): A wide perennial garden flanks both sides of the barrel room. The garden is filled with roses; especially captivating is the climbing rose Altissimo. Hardy penstemon and sages also fill the beds.

Concannon Vineyard (4590 Tesla Road): Playful topiary is the obvious theme of these gardens, where even mature Fruitless Mulberry trees are trained into arches and orbs. Drought resistant New Zealand flaxes, purple hopseed and daylilies are scattered among the olive trees. Concannon was one of the first wineries in Livermore Valley to use roses as detectors of molds and mildew in the vineyard.

Las Positas Vineyards (1828 Wetmore Road): Many drought resistant grasses, including California fescue and Mexican feather grass are planted in this extensive landscape that also features Teucrium chamaedrtys (germander).

Monterey Wine Harvest - 2011 Update

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Monterey County Wraps Up A Positive - If Unusual - Vintage

crush2008_01.jpgOctober 28, 2011 (Monterey, CA)--"This is my ninth harvest in the area and it has been unlike any that I can recall," says Executive Director for the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, Rhonda Motil of Monterey County's 2011 growing season. "The growers have all handled Mother Nature's curve balls with the patience and expertise indicative of our winegrowing region."

While growers and vintners throughout Monterey County admit that this has been an out-of-the-ordinary year, lovers of the area's elegant and well-balanced wines will be pleased to learn that the strange growing season has yielded overwhelmingly good quality across its nine AVAs.

"Climactic events like a wet spring, late rain in June, a milder-than-usual summer, and a big rain storm in early October presented us with many challenges, but the fruit coming into the winery is superb," said Matt Shea, Vineyard Manager of Bernardus Winery in the Carmel Valley. "The long summer coupled with adequate soil moisture created the perfect conditions for Pinot Noir on the Central Coast. The loose clusters, small berries, low yields, and long hang time will equate to concentrated wine with lots of depth and flavor."


Harvest In Wine Country Report

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by Courtney Cochran

istock_harvest.jpgHarvest is always a nail-biting time for winegrowers, but never more so than in a cool, late year like this one. Why? Early autumn rains can wreak havoc on fruit left on the vine to ripen long into the season, but low sugar levels in cooler years necessitate doing just that.  As a result, this year brought fretting throughout wine country over when to pick versus when to roll the dice and hope for the best.  

In some instances, grapes - especially whites and lighter reds - were harvested a bit behind schedule with little incident, while in others, rain fell on crops that were awaiting that extra bit of sunshine that never came. Here are insights from the harvest trenches on the peculiarity of the 2011 season. 

Sweet Whites: A Napa Valley Itinerary

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girlsDrinkingWhiteWineOutside.jpgby Courtney Cochran

If you enjoy a crisp, off dry Muscat (aka "sweet wines") on a warm afternoon or kicking back with girlfriends, this itinerary's for you. Come along as we visit three Napa Valley wineries offering pours of sweeter whites, and learn about shopping excursions and nightlife options, too. Here's to enjoying a sweet day in wine country!

Napa Valley Grape Harvest Begins!

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Napa Vintners


Harvest Season is a wonderful time of year to visit Napa Valley! Looking to get an inside look into "crush"? Check out our list of upcoming harvest events around Napa Valley

CLICK HERE for list of activities!

Mendocino County: A 'Grape' Cinderella Story

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mwd_MendoArticle.jpgOne of the original counties of California, Mendocino County is located on California's north coast above San Francisco Bay Area and west of the Central Valley. Most notable in Mendocino are the distinctive Pacific Ocean coastline, Redwood forests and quality wine production.

Mendocino's history in winegrapes began following the California Gold Rush in the 1850's. Immigrant farmers, in lieu of riches in gold, turned to farming; choosing the slanted, roughed up, sun-drenched hillsides for winegrape growing. Production started small and then grew with successes.

The more southern markets of Napa and Sonoma proved to be tough competition. Their proximity to distribution channels in larger cities like San Francisco gave them an advantage over the locally sold Mendocino wines. Then, during Prohibition, wine production all but stopped in Mendocino. Only one small family vineyard kept production alive, until the 1960's. Mendocino winemakers had their work cut out for them!

A Winemaking Stroll Down Bennett Lane

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By Robert P. Farmer

bennettLaneWinery3.jpgAlthough it was the birthplace of Wine Country as we know it today, Calistoga is often overlooked among the visiting public. Or, more accurately, it's not overlooked so much as it is not quite reached. Snuggled into the northernmost region of the Napa Valley, Calistoga frequently proves just a bit too far up along the lengthy, easily sidetracked winery trail of the Valley. Too bad. Because some of Napa's true gems await the tenacious traveler with the stamina - or planning foresight - to alight upon Calistoga.

One such gem is Bennett Lane, situated near the edge of the Mayacamas Mountains. Bennett Lane is not one of the household names associated with Napa Valley, but the still-young winery has quickly garnered a reputation as serious producer - earning especially high recognition for its cabernet sauvignon and for its tasty everyday varietal appropriately called Maximus. The vision of owners Randy and Lisa Lynch, Bennett Lane typifies the potential for high-caliber cab grown in the northern stretches of the valley - where warm summer sun and volcanic soil give the fruit a compelling intensity. Bennett Lane's winemaker, Grant Hermann, grew up in the area and learned at an early age the importance of sourcing local fruit and attention to detail when aiming for the sort of quality that he has achieved at Bennett Lane. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In less than half a decade, more than a dozen Bennett Lane wines have earned 90-point scores from Wine Spectator, and the publication has twice given the Maximus Vintage its "outstanding value" recognition.

At the Calistoga Wine Stop

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calistogaWineStop.jpgCALISTOGA, CA - At Calistoga Wine Stop, you aren't just another wine taster among a sea of others. Here, you receive personalized wine service and recommendations. Need a wine pairing suggestion for dinner tonight? Want a wine for everyday consumption? Not sure what wine to get for a special occasion? Whatever your wine needs - Calistoga Wine Shop has you covered!

The Pelter family has owned this shop for over 20 years; they have worked in the wine industry and have a wealth of knowledge to share with you. Through personal relationships, Tom and Tammy Pelter have sought out wines you most likely could not book a tasting with at the winery,  let alone find on grocery store shelves. These hand-selected wines from Napa and Sonoma producers off the beaten path with limited production are something special.

Wine Tasting in Calistoga, CA

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All "four" one and one "four" all. We've got four winery recommendation stops for your wine tasting itinerary in Calistoga! All boast gorgeous views and grounds, some really good wines, and will make for one memorable visit to Napa Valley Wine Country.

bennettLaneWinery2.jpgBennett Lane Winery
If you haven't heard of or tried Maximus, here's your chance to. Bennett Lane made a splash on the wine scene a few years back with this varietal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Not only does it taste great, it's priced at only $35 a bottle - quite a steal! Stop by their tasting room for a taste and glimpse into the world of wine-making. Tasting fees are only $10 per person.  Bennett Lane also offers offer a more hands-on experience with their "Varietals Fruit Flavor" program where one you learn will learn in more depth the wine-making process, an aromatics lesson, and a custom blending session. See the site for more details.

castelloDiAmorosa.jpgCastello di Amorosa
It's become one of the most popular attractions in the valley. One is sure to fall in love with this 13th century Tuscan style castle with the "romance of Italy and the wines of Napa". Guests and visitors agree - a tour is not to be missed. They include a tour led by a Castle guide, a barrel tasting, and complimentary tasting of current releases and range from $31 - $41/per person. Tastings alone range from $16 to $26 per person. Advance reservations are highly encouraged as the winery can get quite crowded throughout the day. And who wouldn't want to attend a party, gala, or other festivities at such an amazing winery. Be sure to check out their calendar for events held year round.

No Wine Over $25

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calistogaWineGarage.jpgCALISTOGA, CA - Who ever said wines (including Napa Valley wines) are expensive should visit the Wine Garage located in Calistoga. They have a great philosophy that every wine buyer can raise a glass to:

  • No wine is over $25!
  • Everything must taste great before it goes on the shelf
  • No wine snob attitudes
  • Impeccable and personal customer service
  • No wine questions go unanswered, or are deemed insignificant
  • Have fun - it's only fermented grape juice!
It's quite the funky little shop - a former gas station/tire shop to be exact. They have over 200 wines available from wine regions throughout California. You may be visiting Napa Valley when you step into the shop, but leaving with limited production wines from Lodi, Paso Robles, Amador and Mendocino. These aren't run of the mill wines. The owners personally scout for small hand-crafted wines and labels you won't typically see anywhere else!


Interview with Frank Vezer

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by Sipping Savant

Vezer Family Vineyards ~ Suisun Valley, CA

What attracted you to Suisun Valley?
vezerPersonality1.jpgMy first six years of life were in a mining town nestled in the Cassiar Mountain range near the westernmost Yukon border of Canada. At age six my family moved to a ranch in central British Columbia. The little town was called Fraser Lake and it is in the Omineca Valley. Omineca means 'slow moving water'. The Ominieca Valley is surrounded by the Fraser Mountains. Vezer Family summers were spent traveling to the Family's birthplace of Pecs, Hungary located in the Mecsek Mountains. My childhood memories of beautiful sheltered valleys and the scenes from the Sun's shadows on the hillsides enveloping the picturesque Valleys were re-ignited when I first visited the Suisun Valley some 22 years ago. Cradled on the west by the Vaca Mountains and at the north by the Twin Sisters Summit, Suisun Valley embodied all those memories. There was no doubt that Suisun Valley Is where my wife Liz and I should raise our children! Pronounced "Sue-soon" and meaning West Wind to the original Wappo Indian settlers.

vezerPersonality2.jpgThough not widely known, Suisun Valley is one of the older AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in North America and is approaching its 29th birthday. Suisun Valley boasted the largest winery pre-prohibition era in North America. Suisun Valley was also a favorite getaway of General Mariano Vallejo, closest confidants, and especially his daughter and her husband. The Blue Victorian Mansion was part of a land grant gift some 170 years by Spanish King Ferdinand VII for helping him settle the area. The Suisun Valley Village of Mankas Corners, originally Manka's Corner was established by the mining family Manka in 1846. The Mankas Corner had a general store with a Pony Express office and accommodations for weary delivery riders and other travelers. Today, Mankas Corner still has a 'general store', Mankas Café, Barista Café & Deli, Mankas Corner Vezer Family Winery and neighboring antique store, salon and more. Vezer Family and Staff are happy to share hospitality, time and local lore with visitors. The winery building is on the National Historic Registry and has a commemorative plaque about the Pony Express as you enter the Tasting Room, beautiful gardens and special event area for Concerts or Weddings.

William Hill Estate Winery

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grapes.jpgNAPA, CA - Come rain or shine, William Hill Estate Winery is one of the most gorgeous properties to visit in Napa Valley. The winery is surrounded by 140-acres of their Estate owned vineyards in the rolling hills of the Silverado Bench and the views are breath-taking all year round. Whether you arrive at the end of summer with grapes ripe and ready to harvest, in fall with the leaves a sea of burnt-orange on the vine or later in the year when you can appreciate the stark beauty of their winter dormancy, each season offers you a new perspective on Napa Valley.

Napa Itinerary: Silverado Trail South

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blackstallion.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When staying in Napa proper - an excellent jumping-off point for exploring the valley, not to mention a city booming with activity thanks to a host of recent improvements - it's easy to explore nearby wineries on the Silverado Trail.   Four of our fav Trail producers located just outside the city are detailed below - so you can quickly plan your trip and make the most of your Wine Country time.  

2010 Mendocino Harvest Report

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By Courtney Cochran

With smoke-tainted 2008 vintage wines in circulation now, Mendocino winegrowers no doubt are keen on a strong harvest this season. Still, this hardy group from one of Nor Cal's most northerly wine regions is all too familiar with the vagaries of inclement weather - not to mention so-called acts of god (hello, fires!) - which means they're used to holding their breaths come near-harvest-time.  

I caught up with standout Mendo vintner Paul Dolan of Paul Dolan Vineyards to get his take on what's in store for Mendo wines in 2010.


Taste Mendocino Wines

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wineTasting.jpgLooking for some great tasting wines from the Mendocino wine region? Check out the latest winners of the recent 34th Annual Mendocino Wine Competition There were 194 entries in 20 categories representing all 12 growing regions in the county.

Five wines were awarded double gold medals:
  • Yorkville Cellars 2009 LH Semillon
  • Yorkville Cellars 2009 Sweet Malbec
  • Bonterra Vineyards 2009 Riesling
  • Navarro Vineyards 2009 Muscat Blanc
  • Harmonique 2006 Pinot Noir


Since Mendocino is known as "America's Greenest Wine Region", it's only fitting that wineries compete for the "green" award as well. Two wineries tied for first place for this coveted award:
  • Husch Vineyards ~ Sauvignon Blanc ~ 2009 La Ribera
  • Handley Cellars ~ Pinot Noir Rose ~ 2009 AV Estate
For a complete list of winners, visit www.truemendocinowine.com. You can taste these winning wines at the upcoming Mendocino County Fair in Boonville on Saturday, September 18, 2010. Or you can plan your next wine tasting trip to Mendocino Wine Country

Bell Wine Cellars Wins!

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YOUNTVILLE, CA - The weight of medals must be heavy for Bell Wine Cellars. At the recent California State Fair, they won seven medals for their wines including double gold for Best of class in Napa Appellation and Best Cabernet in the state for their 2007 Claret.

bellWineCellars1.jpgStop in at the tasting room located in Yountville for a taste. The gold medal Claret Cabernet is only retailing for $35 per bottle. At such a great price and at less than 2,000 cases production, make haste and buy a bottle before they are all gone!

Bell Wine Cellars provides visitors with an intimate, personalized wine tasting experience. They are open by appointment every day of the week from 10:30am to 4:00pm and offer several options for wine tasting. See details below:

Yountville Tasting Itinerary

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By Courtney Cochran

bubbly.jpgYountville has never been hotter, and - fittingly - visitors to this popular Wine Country hamlet have never had better options when it comes to things to do. In this spirit, read on for a wine tasting itinerary starring four of the town's top vinous haunts; we're sure you'll find plenty more reasons to call this a hot spot once you've tasted its best in red, white and bubbly.

Yountville: Taste In Town

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wineTasting.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

You'll be hard pressed to find a cuter - or more gastronomically gifted - town than Yountville. With its myriad hotels, spas, restaurants and retail shops right within a several-block radius, it's a self-contained Wine Country hamlet literally tailor-made for tourism. Now, with the addition of Maisonry, Yountville packs more appeal than ever before.

Sonoma Valley Tasting Itinerary: Day 2

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by Courtney Cochran

Kenwood & Glen Ellen
An easy drive north from Sonoma, the wineries near the rural hamlets of Kenwood and Glen Ellen beckon with superb hospitality perks and the dramatic backdrop of the Mayacamas Mountains.

kenwoodVineayrds.jpgKenwood Vineyards
Kenwood puts the country in your Wine Country visit thanks to its rustic-chic tasting room housed in a welcoming, circa-1906 Redwood barn.  Hewing close to Sonoma's reputation for responsible environmental measures, Kenwood employs sustainable business and winemaking practices in producing its wide variety of wines, most of which are on offer daily in the tasting room.  Don't miss the spot's historic Jack London series of award-winning reds, produced each year from lava-terraced vineyards on the renowned Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen.
9592 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, CA 95452 * (707) 833-5891 * @KenwoodVineyard


St. Helena Wine Tasting Itinerary

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DSC02806, Beringer Vineyards, Napa Valley, Cal...

Image by jimg944 via Flickr

By Courtney Cochran

ST.HELENA, CA - Wine may be what brings us to wine country, but it's not the only show going on when it comes to things to do amongst the vines.  Read on for an itinerary focused on activities in and around St. Helena that promise more than your average swirling and sipping experience - one we're sure you'll remember long after the day's done.

History Lesson: Beringer 
Start you day north of St. Helena at Napa Valley's oldest continuously operating winery, Beringer.  Designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, the 19th Century Rhine House (fashioned after the family's impressive old German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine, natch) encompasses the tasting room and is a marvel of ornate Victorian architecture.  Choose from one of three tours (30 minutes to 90 minutes in length, including a family tour) to learn about the spot's vibrant winemaking history, or explore the estate's beautifully landscaped grounds on your own with a glass of wine in hand.
(707) 963-4812 * 2000 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574
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Sequoia Grove

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Sequoia-Grove-front-1_0.jpgWho Said Napans Are Snobby?
By Deirdre Bourdet

Whoever said Napa wineries aren't as friendly or down to earth as those in other places has clearly not been to the right places in Napa.  Even before I moved here, I always found Napan tasting rooms welcoming and friendly to everyone with a genuine interest in the wines and the region.  

Sequoia Grove is a perfect example, and one of my latest sleeper discoveries even though it's been around since 1978, and housed in a barn on Highway 29 that's 150 years old and surrounded by giant sequoia trees.  How I never managed to find my way there before is a complete mystery to me, but I'm very glad I finally made it. 

WineCountry.com Personality - Kathy Glass

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wcPersonalityPlatypusKathyGlass.jpgA Northern California Favorite with a Southern Accent

When you think of all the best things about the South, gentle conversation, gracious living, and good food come to mind. Nothing is hurried and everything is savored.

That southern tradition adds an extra element to Wine County exploration when you meet Kathy Glass, of Platypus Tours. She imbues the California past time of wine tasting and winery tours with a little southern accent. When you hear the soft lilt of her Alabama upbringing; you know that hospitality and home cooking will be as much a part of your experience as will talking about terroir and grape varietals.

Kathy's first big career was in the financial sector in New York. While Kathy loved her life in the city, 18 years later she traded in her panty hose and pumps for jeans with a taint of vineyard dust and sneakers. She met and married her husband Don and together they started Platypus Tours, a wine tours company, in 2004. Don, who was always in the food and wine industry, found a bus on eBay that was located in St. Louis. He purchased that bus and drove it back to Napa to begin offering specialized tours to meet growing demand. 

Wine Festivals in Mendocino

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Esterlina Tasting Room, Anderson Valley, CA

Image by Ethan Prater via Flickr

MENDOCINO, CA - Let us help you pick which weekend to escape to Mendocino Wine Country. With so many wineries to taste at throughout Mendocino, why not attend a wine festival where you can taste all your favorites and discover new ones too. See at a glance all the wine festivals happening in Mendocino Wine Country May - December this year!

MAY
May 14-16, 2010 (THIS WEEKEND!) - Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival
Anderson Valley is known for producing great Pinot Noir. If you love Pinot, then this is the event for you. Scratch whatever plans you have this coming weekend and attend this not to be missed Pinot Noir festival where over 40 wineries will be pouring their wines. Enjoy gourmet treats & music in the vineyard at Goldeneye Winery. Learn about Pinot Noir at the tech. conference & dine with the winemakers at Sat. evening dinners in Anderson Valley and on the Mendocino coast. On Sunday, visit the wineries for special wine tastings, seminars, food pairings, and more.
Fee: $50 to $125/person; Time:  Fri. 8 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.,Sat 11a.m. - 3 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Phone Number: (707) 895.9463Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Upcoming Events at Chateau Julien

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chateauJulienWineTasting.jpgIf you're planning a trip to Monterey Wine Country, then Chateau Julien Wine Estate should be on your list of places to stop for wine tasting. Print out the special offer for complimentary tasting (good for up to 4 guests) or sign up for one of their private tours! There are a variety of themed tours to choose from, including but not limited to, "Winemaker's Tour, Chateau Tour, Le Petit Tour, Back to Basics" and many more!

Of course, you also might want to attend one of their many wine events held throughout the year on the property. See below for the schedule of upcoming Chateau Julien wine events:

Wine Tasting Deals in Sonoma

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Stryker Sonoma Winery tasting room in Alexande...

Image via Wikipedia

SONOMA COUNTY, CA - No need to break the bank with wine tasting fees when you visit Sonoma Wine Country. We've scouted out the Complimentary Tastings and 2 for 1 Tastings at wineries throughout Sonoma!  Just click any of the links below, print out the special offer, and present to tasting room staff upon arrival at the winery on your wine tasting itinerary.

Complimentary Tastings

Barrel Tasting In Yakima Valley- Who Knew?

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barreltasting.JPGIt may come to your surprise, but Spring Barrel Tasting is a celebratory time of year in Washington wine country. It's the largest wine festival in Washington's wine country, a celebration of spring, new wines and a peak at the warm summer months ahead. The winemakers and staff are on hand to mingle with visitors, conduct tours and answer questions. Most open a barrel or two of future vintages for sampling. Many wineries have live music, appetizers and just a festive mood of celebration.

Tasting straight from the barrel is needless to say, a unique experience that any wine lover should enjoy and appreciate. A recommended event to do this would be the Yakima Valley Spring Barrel Tasting taking place April 23-25, 2010. This event also includes cooking demonstrations, winemaker dinners, vineyard tours and education on pairing food and wine. Click here for more information on this not-to-be-missed event!
As the event grows and more wineries come on line, a little pre-planning helps to best enjoy the festivities. Here are a few tips to help make the celebration fun for all.

Wine Tasting-Discover Washington's Yakima Valley

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Vineyard with Mt.jpgThe best way to sample a variety of wine is to order a flight. The best way to soak up a balanced blend of viticultural experiences is to escape to Yakima Valley. This sunny region in Washington's wine country has warm inviting tasting rooms, premium wineries, picturesque vineyards and charming inns.

The Yakima Valley Appellation is Washington State's oldest and largest wine-growing region. 12,000 acres of grapes produce more than one-third of all Washington State wine. Yakima Valley is home to 70 wineries with 30 varietals, from Syrah to Sauvignon Blanc to Merlot to Mourvedre.

Wine Tasting in Santa Ynez

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Sunstone Vineyards

Image by nicadlr via Flickr

by Robert P. Farmer

Sunstone Winery & Vineyards

With its picturesque setting overlooking the Santa Ynez River and mountainous backdrop, Sunstone feels like a bit of Provence in Santa Barbara County. The winery's reputation for big, beautiful reds doesn't hurt the illusion, either. The award-winning lineup of fully organic wines includes wonderful reserve Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The grounds feature sprawling picnic grounds and vine-covered walls. It's a slice of French Countryside life, without all the fussiness. The tasting room is welcoming and the unpretentious staff is eager to discuss the day's pouring, or the weather, or most anything at all.

Tasting fee: $10
Tasting room open daily: 10am-4pm
125 Refugio Road, Santa Ynez, CA
(805) 688-9463
www.sunstonewinery.com

Wine Country Personality: Winemaker Bill Anderson

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wcPersonalityChateauJulien.jpgThe Chateau Julien team has included Winemaker Bill Anderson since the Wine Estate opened in 1982. After studying enology at UC Davis, Bill joined Chateau Julien Proprietors Bob & Patty Brower with release of the first vintage of Chateau Julien wine - 1982 Merlot & Chardonnay.  Experience and consistency over the years highlight the essence of Chateau Julien wines. Today, over three-quarters of the winery's portfolio consists of its flagship Merlot and complementary Bordeaux varietals. Winemaker Bill Anderson has balanced the art of winemaking and a commitment to quality with each of the nearly thirty Chateau Julien vintages produced since 1982.

Bill's passion for the winemaking process began at the early age of eleven. Bill was fascinated by early childhood stories of his father making wine with friends during the prohibition period. One fall afternoon at his home in the San Francisco Bay Area, Bill eagerly set out to experiment with the fermentation process using apricots from their newly acquired family orchard.  He found an old porcelain 10-gallon crock in the garage, gathered apricots from the backyard and started mixing sugar, apricots and small packages of Fleishman's yeast. While the results tasted awful, the initial aroma of fermenting fruit never left his memory and ultimately led Bill to the study of enology twenty years later. 

His philosophy today continues to be as simple as the elegance he achieves in his wines. "Elegance is what I keep in mind in winemaking. Simple, straightforward, clean; the truth is evident without frivolity. If you have good grapes and treat them well, do all the details every day and let them do what they will naturally do, you will have a good product." 

Chateau Julien Wine Estate
8940 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley, CA 93923
831.624.2600



Winemaker Wednesdays in Santa Cruz

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Press Release

shadowbrookRestaurant.jpgSANTA CRUZ, CA - In an effort to promote wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Capitola's landmark Shadowbrook Restaurant is offering Winemaker Wednesdays, featuring half-price wines from the appellation now through May.

Each week Shadowbrook will be featuring two to four wines from a Santa Cruz Mountains winery, offered by the bottle or glass.  Wednesdays, beginning at 5p.m. a representative of that week's winery will offer tastings and information from a table set up in the restaurant's Rockroom Lounge.

That night all wines from the week's winery, whether ordered in the bar or dining room, by the glass or bottle, will be 50 percent off the regular price.  Featured wines will also be available in flights (about 2.5 oz, also half-price), accompanied by complimentary appetizer.

Save The Date: Carneros Harvest Passport

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carnerosEvent.jpgPRESS RELEASE:

CARNEROS, CA - For the first time in its history, the wineries of the Carneros Wine Alliance (CWA) will hold a Harvest Passport, a unique wine trail through the highways and back roads of Carneros on October 17 from 10 to 4 p.m.

Many CWA wineries never before open for a public passport event will be open to passport participants and pouring for the first time. An On-Line Auction of The Carneros Experience will offer holiday gifts, shared experiences with friends and family and special wines from the '07 and '08 vintages widely lauded by industry professionals.

Oregon Odyssey: Top 10 Willamette Wines

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By Courtney Cochran

Wine hasn't been big in Oregon's bucolic Willamette Valley for long - in fact, it was only in the 60s that the first plantings were made in what is now considered by many to be some of the most hallowed ground for wine production in the world. With a cool, moist climate that favors Pinot Noir in particular, the region just an hour's drive from Portland has fast turned into one of the most exciting places to swirl, sip and savor your way through wine country. Read on for my top ten wines tasted on a recent visit.

Wine Country Itinerary: Willamette South Valley

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ribbonRidge.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Visitors to Oregon's wonderfully Pinot-centric Willamette Valley will do well to split their tasting excursion into at least two days, as the area's wide open spaces create not only lovely panoramic views but also drives of some distance between wineries. Thus, this itinerary starts in the centrally situated Dundee Hills and meanders from there to the nearby towns of Carlton and McMinnville. Along the way, you'll visit one of the region's best-known (not to mention physically striking) wineries in Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a start-up venture in Scott Paul Wines and the birthplace of Willamette wine in The Eyrie Vineyards. In all, it's a fabulously diverse lineup where Oregon winemaking is concerned - and one just waiting for you to savor.

For more on wineries further north, check out our North Valley itinerary.

Oregon Odyssey

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oregon_wine_country.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Oregon's famed Willamette Valley - a wonderfully bucolic spot an hour's easy drive from Portland - may just be the anti-Napa Valley. You won't find any medieval castles or Persian Palaces here, though you WILL find no shortage of ridiculously good wine, an incredibly warm people and a far slower pace of life than that in bustling California. So slow down (literally, the police ticket a lot around these parts), take your time and prepare to be awed by the natural beauty of your surroundings, the superb quality of the wines and the kindness of the people serving them. It's not exactly wine country in slow motion, but it's not far off.

And given the hectic pace of our lives these days, this can be a very good thing.

Willamette Itinerary: North Valley

Willamette Itinerary: South Valley

Wine Country Itinerary: Willamette North Valley

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By Courtney Cochran

Stop 1: Adelsheim Vineyard

A Willamette tour wouldn't be complete without a visit to well-known Adelsheim Vineyard, which boasts stellar views of the Chehalem Mountains from its newly refurbished tasting room just outside Newberg. Founded in 1971, the winery is run by the affable David Adelsheim, a Willamette wine pioneer whose passion for the area and its world-class Pinots runs deep. It's worth going just to taste the winery's nuanced single-vineyard Pinots - the Ribbon Springs Vineyard ($68) is a standout - though Adelsheim's Willamette Valley-classified bottling ($32) is easier on the wallet and does a better job capturing the full scope of the region's signature aromas, flavors and silky texture.

Tasting Room: 16800 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132. Open daily 11am-4pm (tel) (503) 538-3652
Tasting Fee: $15 for 6 wines
Watch My Video of David Adelsheim at the winery

Tip: Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it on Adelsheim's spacious outdoor patio (bottle purchase will be appreciated as a courtesy for using the space). There are no other lunch options in the immediate area, and you'll want to make sure to refuel in the midst of a full day of tasting.

A Food & Wine Odyssey in Tri-Valley, California

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food_wine.jpegTri-Valley, California is a haven of artisan vintners and undiscovered culinary talent.  Home to the Livermore Valley Wine Country, Tri-Valley is an affordable and authentic destination.

EAT: Passionate Chef's Pair with Passionate Winemakers

Attend a winemaker's dinner at one of Tri-Valley's restaurants. Local chef's are very passionate good food and wine, many feature regular winemaker dinners, including the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. Nestled in the Livermore Valley Wine Country, the restaurant's Executive Chef, Arthur Wall works with fifth Generation winemaker, Karl Wente to create an exquisite menu.

Ruby Hill Winery - a Gem of a Winery

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rubyhill.jpegBy The Sipping Savant

Ruby Hill ... it really is a gem! My first visit to this winery was when I attended a great event next door at Casa Real in November last year. Since I had arrived early I wandered next door into the Tasting Room. Wow!

Not only did I get to learn about some great new wines at very reasonable prices ($12 to $30 a bottle), meet some down to earth "Tasting Coaches", I also did a large amount of my holiday shopping too!

Temecula Just Says No to Drunks

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By Courtney Cochran

In a novel move for a wine region, So Cal's Temecula Valley lately initiated a program seeking to curb the disruptive antics of overly inebriated visitors to valley wineries. Citing incidents such as impromptu bachelor parties - replete with the likes of booze-emboldened revelers and raunchy blow up dolls - that often spill into tasting rooms (making ordinary sipping more than a little uncomfortable for better behaved visitors), the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association put the program into place last November.

Wine Country Itinerary: Monterey Part 2

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Wine-ing Down One Side and Coasting Up the Other

Here's a quick overview of a few of the tasting rooms located off the 101 corridor and west toward the Peninsula off of Highway 1 and around Carmel Valley Village. It is too big of an area to squeeze into one day. Wine tasting is best done by selecting four to six places to visit; allowing time to become acquainted with the wine, and making sure you learn a thing or two (and of course bring home a few bottles your new discoveries). Plan your itinerary based upon a varietal, similar terroir, winemaking styles, or even just appeal.

By Robert P. Farmer

In California's Wine Country, most of the talk is about the Valleys--Napa and Sonoma. But where there's a valley, there are mountains nearby. For decades, brave winemakers have looked to the mountains as a place to claim their stake. And indeed the mountains that flank the valleys have taken on identities of their own. From Howell Mountain to Spring Mountain, the names are gaining reputation alongside the valley counterparts. The latest Wine Country mountain to peek through the clouds is Pine.

Steve Leveque: Inside the Mind of a Winemaker

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HallWinesSteve.jpgAnytime you have an opportunity to talk with a winemaker it's a special experience.  Here is "The" person directly responsible for making the wines you love to drink. And . . .you can now ask them any question imaginable...

I had such a moment at the HALL Rutherford Release Party for their wine Excellenz.  Their new winemaker Steve Leveque answered every standard and zany question I asked.  Steve has been making wine for about 16 years. He began his career at Robert Mondavi Winery under the tutelage of Tim Mondavi for close to 11 years.  Eventually, he spread his wings and flew to Chalk Hill Estate Winery in Sonoma Wine Country where he served as Executive Vice President and Winemaker.

New to the HALL Wines family starting summer of 2008, Steve says he's found a place he's proud to call home. It sounds cliché, but Steve relates that Hall Wines is dedicated to making great wine. "The owners are committed to the winemaking process, passionate about the wine experience, and they have one of the best vineyards - Sacrashe - to produce from."  With all the right components in place, you might say the only thing missing was Steve Leveque as winemaker....

HALL Rutherford: Wine As It Was Meant to be Enjoyed

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HallWinesVineyard.jpgRUTHERFORD, CA - A visit to HALL Wines in Rutherford is truly a heavenly experience.  Most tourists may be  familiar with the HALL St. Helena location next to Dean & DeLuca on Highway 29.   Unknown to many is their second location off the Silverado Trail and in the same area as Auberge du Solelil.

One wonders if this is done on purpose considering the exclusivity of the Rutherford location. With winding, twisting roads up a grand mountain,  at several different points you will question if you are going in the right direction.

Eventually, you will reach your destination and be utterly amazed. HALL Rutherford is literally perched on the top of the mountain with a spectacular view of the valley.  It's almost as if you've been transferred to another time and place.

Getting Pinched in Oregon

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By Robert Farmer

If you're like me you're by now a little tired of hearing about how bad things are economically in the world. And if you're like me, you probably help ease the sting of the daily bad news by indulging in good glass of wine or two at day's end - every day's end. But when it happens that the bad economic news is also related to wine, it leaves one not knowing where to turn.

Wine Country Itinerary: Monterey County

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Peninsula Tasting and Carmel Valley Village

As you approach the turnoff for the Monterey Peninsula on Highway 1, consider an easy stop at Ventana Vineyards, located close to the intersections of Highways 68 & 218.  One of the pioneering stars of the area, Ventana's wines are estate grown, offering high quality and excellent value.  There are a wide variety of whites, reds and dessert choices to enjoy. Check out the spectacular Super Tuscan Sangiovese blend Due Amici, a recent "Best of Class" winner. You will also find some excellent Meador Estate Wines here.

Luxury Experiences in Santa Barbara: Wine Tasting

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SBwinetasting.jpgSanta Barbara's wine making history, like that of many areas in California, extends back to the days of the Spanish missions - 200 years ago. Today, the region is home to more than 100 wineries and some 24,000 acres of planted vineyards.

A Pairing of Wine and Livermore

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livermore_TastingRm2.jpgBy Jessica Beck
As submitted by Tri-Valley CVB

A relationship has transpired over the years between Livermore and the full and vigorous wines of the area. The Livermore Valley serves California as its oldest wine region but what is even more unique and special about the area lies in the connection between the two. Over the decades, a rapport has developed in which one supports the other and one in which each would not be what they are without the help of the other.

In 1997, the city of Livermore adopted the South Livermore Specific Plan which to date has permanently preserved over 5000 acres of vineyards. Livermore has supported the wineries over time and is very proud of the resulting outcome that is now the Livermore Valley Wine Region.

Discovering Liquid Gold in the Sierra Foothills

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By Robert Farmer

As summer ends it final month, and the dog days bark in with a lazy yowl, wine country begins to take on a particular texture. The heat, in the long afternoons of blazing sun, works on the vines, producing the big push toward complete ripeness in the fruit. It also works on visitors, pushing them toward cool bodies of water and stretches of time filled with do-nothing schedules and refreshing sips of chilled chardonnay.

Though the famous valleys are still packed with wine-appreciating visitors, still other regions are enjoying a less populated pace. For my money, one of the best escapes is above the valley floor, and into the foothills of the Sierra.

Dog Days of Summer

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By Robert Farmer
News of the economic crash-and-burn is everywhere you look these days. And as we enter the dog days of summer, it appears there is little water on the horizon for the thirsty canine that is the national economy. So in these times of belt-tightening and bean-counting, we turn to the simple pleasures in life to remind us that, as the saying goes, life must go on.

Wine is indeed one such pleasure.
  But what if wine could also be the answer to the problem, rather than simply a salve?

Kunde: Wag-Worthy Winery

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sidephoto_susthike.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

For the second time this year, Kunde Estate Winery & Vineyards is going to the dogs. Well, going dog friendly, that is. Following on the heels of Kunde's sold-out canine-themed event in May, the family-run winery will offer a second dog-friendly hike on Saturday, October 18th. The three-mile trek through Kunde's sustainably farmed estate vineyards will cost participants $45 (the fee covers both person and dog) and conclude with wine, a gourmet wine country picnic and water tasting for the pets.
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Press Release: Kenwood, CA, --Following a sold out event in May, Kunde Estate has scheduled a second dog-friendly hike on Saturday, October 18th, 2008. The hike offers a chance for animal lovers to enjoy wine country with their dogs while raising funds for Canine Companions and the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County (HSSC). Both non-profit organizations provide vital services to people and animals in the region.

October's Dog-Friendly Hike consists of a three mile trek through the Kunde family's 1,850 acre estate, led by fourth generation winegrower Jeff Kunde. The hike is $45 per person and dog and concludes with a wine country gourmet picnic and wine tasting, with treats and a "water tasting" for dogs.

Beer Steps Aside for Colorado Wine

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boulderfwfest.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Boulder, Colorado: If you're like me, the beverage you equate most with the Rockies is beer - one particular type of beer, more likely. For as long as anyone can remember, the taste of the Rocky Mountains was a hops-and-barley taste. Beer in Colorado is king. That is, until now.


Like each of its 49 neighbor states, Colorado, too, has an emerging wine industry. And now that industry is starting to inch into the territory of its dominant sister beverage. While it will certainly be some time before beer is replaced on the throne, wine in Colorado is proving to be a worthy prince.
ccwithchanel.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It's tough for a gal not to get all gushy about Chanel, and for this gal, an auction item including some Chanel, a private jet to Paris and accommodations at the über luxe Hotel Plaza Athénée is about as good as it gets.  Add to all this fabulousness a vertical of double magnums from one of Napa's most sought-after new wines and special perks in Par-ee (think fashion show tix and a tour of Coco Chanel's private apartments), and you've got the stuff of wine-loving fashionista fantasy. 

Deep In the Heart of Texas

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texaswine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Texas has long been known for many things - BBQ, the Alamo, Dynasty, a fantastic music festival called South By Southwest (to name just a few) - but until recently something the Lone Star State most certainly was not known for was its wine.  On the heels of this year's well-attended Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival (texaswineandfood.org), however, that's all changing.

Napa Valley Wine Tasting Itinerary

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napaItinerary.jpgHave friends visiting and need a tried and true Napa Valley wine tasting itinerary?  Don't spend hours researching online or connecting dots on the map. Download the trip below and let the fun begin!

Stop 1 - Alpha Omega
It's fitting that this is the first wine tasting stop on the itinerary given its name.  Alpha Omega makes some really good wines. Of particular note is the Proprietary Red which has the smooth yet complexity of a slightly aged Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay is light and refreshing for any white's fans. Their Late Harvest is just plain delicious, but they are currently out of stock!  After tasting, go around back (or front depending on your internal gps) and revel in the gorgeous view of their pool with sprawling vineyards as backdrop.
Tasting Room: 1155 Mee Ln St Helena Hwy; Open daily 11 am - 6pm
Tasting Fees: $10/person

Oregon's Vital Center

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By Robert Farmer

Those few I-live-in-a-cave-types who need further convincing that Oregon's wine scene is not just full-grown but thriving, need only look at the hard evidence. Or, in this case, brick-and-mortar evidence.

Recent news that the Oregon Wine Services & Storage company--a temperature-controlled storage space and distribution center--embarked on a $3.5 million dollar expansion to increase its 110,000-square-foot capacity by 60,000 square feet was certainly no surprise. It's a function of necessity. In a report this year from Silicon Valley Bank about the state of the wine industry, it was predicted that the wine industry as a whole, and in particular Oregon, will continue its record expansion.

East Bay Wineries Create Urban Tasting Experience

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By Robert P. Farmereastbayvintners.jpg

Most people rightly associate Wine Country - no matter which region you're talking about -- with the country. It's hard not to think about with Wine Country experience and not think about the bucolic countryside. It's the most common setting when one thinks about wineries and vineyards. But there is a growing trend in cities around the nation that is shaking that perception by its rootstock. The Urban Winery Phenomenon has recently been making more noise in the wine industry than a traffic jam in the heart of Market Street. And not only is it changing the way people taste wine, it's changing the entire concept of what constitutes a winery.

The Upside of Global Warming?

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By Courtney Cochran
grapes.jpeg

I've long suspected that there might be an upside - at least a temporary one - to global warming when it comes to wine production in some parts of the world.  Marginal climates, after all, yield some of the world's most sought-after wines (think Champagne, Bordeaux and much of Germany), but these areas are also known for their penchant for producing lackluster wines in years when the weather doesn't get warm enough to make decent juice.

As reported in Decanter, Château Margaux general director Paul Pontallier recently spoke to this phenomenon when he announced, "We are so fortunate with global warming. Look at the number of great vintages we have had [in Bordeaux] in the last 12 or 13 years. It is absolutely amazing."  Counterintuitive though it may sound, Pontallier's statement speaks to the benefits of warming temperatures in spots like Bordeaux, where vintners often struggle to obtain fully ripe fruit each year.  However, a far more chilling effect of global warming was proposed by renowned viticulturalist Richard Smart at a recent climate change workshop in Spain, where he asked attendees, "Have you thought about the fact that in Bordeaux, we may have already seen the best vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon?"

Weighing In

Chilling, indeed.  Not to mention the implications of this news for wine regions on our own shores, many of which have warmer average temperatures than their European counterparts.  We'd love to hear from vintners stateside about the onslaught of global warming and how it's changing their wines and making practices.  Could there be - as the Bordelais suggest - an upside to our own battle with the phenomenon?  Or is the future of wine in our own backyard at serious - and imminent - risk?  We hope you'll take a moment to comment. 


Parducci Puts it in "Neutral"

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By Robert Farmer
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You've read in this space about my efforts to espouse the benefits of living "green" whenever possible. And when that can include drinking green, all the better. The wine industry has noisily been getting into the act, cleaning up their vineyards to reduce environmental impact, and putting wine in bottles that are being called "organic" or otherwise good for the environment.

In Ukiah, Parducci Winery is not just talking the talk; they are walking the walk - in a big way, apparently. The winery, which has long been a leader in biodiversity and organic grape farming, announced recently that they have become "carbon neutral" in their wine production process--the first U.S. winery to achieve the status. That's very impressive, in my view, and not easy to do, from what I know of it. To get "neutral," Parducci worked closely with the California Climate Action Registry, which enabled the winery to calculate greenhouse gas emission helped them take step to offset or mitigate that harmful output. It took three years to accomplish and included such arduous steps as increased use of solar power, use of bio-diesel in farm equipment, and simple steps like switching to compact fluorescent lights in the winery.

But the results have been impressive and I commend Parducci on the effort to set higher standards for the wine industry. Perhaps I'll toast to the effort with a biodegradable paper cup full of their always-zippy Signature zinfandel--one of my personal favorites.

Georgia on My Mind

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By Robert Farmer

georgiamap.jpg

Okay first things first. In light of recent news about books being published by authors who simply make things up and claim them as real, I'll admit: I've never been wine tasting in Georgia. But I'll also admit, the Wine Highway Weekend they've got scheduled for March 29 and 30 sounds like something I need to do. Yes, wine tasting in Georgia. And what better way to discover the wines of the Peach State than during an official event designed to garner awareness for the region's burgeoning wine industry?

Like California's, Georgia's wine industry has its roots in the 1800s, before being crushed by Prohibition. But its favorable grape-growing climate, with steep, well-drained hillsides, excellent soil qualities, and warm summers, remained. It wasn't long before grape growers returned and got vines in the ground and by the 1980s, the industry began to blossom again. Today, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia counts ten member wineries, located along the Wine Highway, north and west of Atlanta. During the special event weekend, member wineries and affiliate members will each feature open houses, including barrel tastings, food pairings, and live music.

It may be time to start thinking about heading south for Spring. For information, visit www.georgiawine.com.

A Deed Very Well Done

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By Courtney Cochran
gunbun150th.jpg

With its cultish following and flare for colorful tasting parties (think Prohibition-themed romps, elf-themed holiday fêtes and rowdy wine club shindigs in spots like New Orleans and Memphis), we're pretty sure Gundlach Bundschu's (gunbun.com) upcoming "Deed Day" celebration to commemorate the Sonoma winery's 150th anniversary will be an unforgettable affair.

Festivities get underway at California's oldest family-owned and -operated winery at 11:00am on March 12, with a special ceremony slated from 11:30am to noon to pay tribute to the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the signing of the original deed to the property in 1858. Special tastings and tours will follow, and discounts on wine purchases will be available throughout the day. And although "Deed Day" is scheduled to wrap up at 4:30pm, fans are invited to continue celebrating with the family throughout the year, since the 12th marks the kick-off to what they promise will be a yearlong anniversary celebration.

Given that it's "Gun Bun," we'd expect nothing less.

Zin Fest in Paso

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By Robert Farmer
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What is it about Zinfandel that makes people nuts? The feverish following the grape enjoys is bordering on obsessive. I'm willing to dismiss the argument that it's because zins typically have a higher alcohol content than other varietals, in favor of the more logical approach that the wine simply speaks to its advocates on a visceral level. Zins are not shy. They are not given to nuance. They tend to be bold and matter-of-fact, and that transparency, I think, is why so many people count the grape as their favorite. Hence, Zin Fests, held throughout the world in various zin-producing regions, are eagerly anticipated and widely (and wildly) attended.

The 16th annual event in Paso Robles is no exception. The weekend-long celebration of Paso Zins, held March 14-16, features nearly 100 wineries hosting themed-events and activities and of course, spotlighting their signature zins. Among the attractions are winemaker dinners, live and silent auctions, zinfandel seminars, and winery open houses allowing guests to discuss their passion with those who create it. The anchor event for the weekend is the Festival on the 15th, a one-stop shop at the Paso Robles Event Center during which the intrepid zin fan can sample wine and food in copious quantity and variety. It's a popular event that typically sells out, so get your tickets soon and start brushing up on your Zinspeak. www.pasowine.com

Ceja Vineyards Wine Tasting Salon

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By Robert Farmer

cejafamily.jpgIn the ongoing development of downtown Napa into a thriving, walkable destination district befitting the valley that bears its name, many wineries have lately been angling to have a presence among the charming, historic streets - an extension, if you will, of their vineyard experience for the downtown set. One recent example could be found earlier this month when Ceja Vineyards opened the doors to its new Tasting Salon in the heart of town at 1248 First Street (www.cejavineyards.com; 707-226-6445).

Ceja (pronounced SAY-ha), is an excellent local story to begin with -  a Latino family-owned winery founded by Amelia, Pedro, Armando and Martha Ceja, who are first generation Mexican-American winegrowers in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Today, the winery produces more than 10,000 cases of premium-quality wines that include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as such individual specialties as Vino de Casa Blanco, Vino de Casa Tinto, Dulce Beso Late Harvest White Wine, and a soon-to-be-released Bella Rosa dry Rosé .

The Ceja family of wines can now be enjoyed with the familiar Ceja Family hospitality at their new downtown tasting room, which places guests within arm's reach of their great library of wines, and within an easy walk to the growing list of area attractions that already includes Copia, the beautifully restored Opera House, the River Walk, and the recently opened Oxbow Public Market. There are also several great restaurants and hotels downtown, making Ceja's decision to open a tasting room here as close to a sure bet for success as one can get.

Monterey Wine Auction

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By Robert Farmer

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February is a great time to be on the Monterey Peninsula. Okay, so pretty much any time is great to find yourself on this part of the California Coast, with its rugged natural beauty and refined city life that attracts all walks of life - from romance-minded tourists to nature lovers to golf nuts and, of course, wine lovers. Golf lovers, Yours Truly among them, head toward the Peninsula in February to mingle among the celebs and the pros during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, held this year February 4-10. I'll be there to take part in the fun and to try and get pointers from the pros on golf, and from the celebs on how not to work for a living.

Foggy Bridge Winery

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By Robert Farmer

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The news that a winery would soon open in San Francisco's Presidio hit home for me quite literally. Or at least, close to home. My residence happens to be within an easy walk to the Presidio, that gorgeous former military base that is now a national park. And it's a frequent haunt of Yours Truly - ideal for Sunday afternoon walks with the family beneath the towering forest of Eucalyptus trees and among the array of historic structures that one by one seem to be getting new life. One such structure will be the home of the proposed new winery at Crissy Field. >

Foggy Bridge Winery would be the first winery every in a US National Park. It's the idea of Daryl Groom, former winemaker at Geyser Peak Winery to open a boutique, 8,000-case working winery and tasting room inside a 37,000-square-foot former Army machine shop. Plans also call for a 120-seat restaurant to be built into a former airplane hangar. While there are of course no vineyards surrounding the planned winery, that won't prevent Foggy Bridge from its plans of being a working winery. Grapes will be hauled over from Livermore vineyards to the facility and guests will be able to watch the full process during crush time. I for one can't wait to see the plan ripen into reality. The ongoing development and improvement of the Presidio makes one of my favorite spots in the City more attractive all the time. And the idea of a winery within walking distance from home and within eyeshot of the Golden Gate Bridge is something I can easily support. I'll keep you all up to date as plans develop.

Breakout Wine Regions of ’08 – Part Three

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by Courtney Cochran

Journey to Japan

When I poured the 2005 Koshu Yamanashi Cuvée Denis Dubourdieu for a group of creative executives the other day, one wryly remarked that he sensed “a soupçon of Samurai sword” in his glass.  Jokes aside, this pioneering effort in traditional winemaking from Japan is dry, low in alcohol (just 10%) and offers tasty notes of lime rind and other citrus fruits before a crisp, food-friendly finish.  Koshu is one of the first vinifera grapes (the species to which Chardonnay and Merlot belong) successfully grown in Japan, and we should expect to see more of it on adventurous wine lists in the not-too-distant future. 

Breakout Wine Regions of ’08 – Part Two

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by Courtney Cochran

Patagonia Precedent

Voyage deep into the heart of Argentine Patagonia and you’ll find stunning Bodegas Familia Schroeder, a winery on the scale of the most ambitious in Napa.  The five-story, gravity-flow winery encompasses a white tablecloth restaurant in addition to its well-appointed visitor center and special “cave” showcasing the fossilized remains of a dinosaur found on-site during construction.  The Schroeder “SAURUS” (the name is a reference to the dinosaur) Patagonia Extra Brut Non-vintage sparkling wine is a sophisticated bubbly offering notes of white flowers, lemon zest and steely minerality before a crisp finish.  Pick number three to be announced Friday!

by Courtney Cochran

Whoever said wine is a stodgy industry offering few surprises is sorely mistaken. With three exciting wines from breakout regions as proof, I’m here to say that there’s lots of change afoot in the wine world, as new areas previously assumed unfit for wine production step into the spotlight, just in time for sampling in the new year.  

Georgia On My Mind

The rolling hills of north Georgia are home to Persimmon Creek Vineyards, a labor of love founded in 2000 when physician Sonny Hardman and his wife, Mary Ann, purchased 101acres along meandering Persimmon Creek and planted a vineyard.  The rocky soils and cool nights found there are ideal for grape growing, and their 2005 Persimmon Creek Cabernet Franc is a promising early effort, offering compelling notes of smoke and baking spices alongside firm structure and ripe red-black fruits.

Look for my other picks later this week...

How Green Was My Winery

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By Courtney Cochran

It used to be enough to be “green.”  

But with Parducci Winery’s recent recognition as a carbon-neutral winery – the first of its kind in the United States – there’s a new standard for environmental achievement on the domestic wine scene.

Mendocino County’s oldest family-run winery was awarded the prestigious 2007 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) last month in Sacramento for its pioneering work in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change.  Parducci’s use of solar power, wind energy and bio-diesel fuel was applauded, as was the winery’s commitment to taking additional steps to offset its remaining carbon footprint.  

Besides achieving carbon neutrality, Parducci and its parent company, Mendocino Wine Company, farm according to organic and biodynamic principals and are committed to sustainable viticulture practices that will protect the environment for future generations.

I’ll drink to that.        

mendocinowineco.com

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 www.oregonwine.org, 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.

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.

Diary of a Crush: Part 2

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courtneyCochran_profile.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Day 2 - Friday, Sept 21

Friday dawned crisp and cold in the Russian River, where I was staying with Kenny and his family. Although Kenny had left for the winery before 6 to supervise early morning harvest-related activities, I'd been given the go-ahead to sleep in and catch up on a few emails before heading out to meet him. I wondered briefly if the folks back home would call me a fair-weather-crusher for sleeping in, then got over it: I wasn't on payroll here, after all.

Besides, the dreary weather wasn't exactly welcoming at the crack of dawn. It registered to me at that moment that you have to seriously love what you're doing to work until 10, then rise again at five to head out and do more of the same - in icky weather, at that.

High Hopes for Harvest

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By Robert Farmer

Wineries throughout Napa Valley have got that happy feeling--not just because it's harvest time, which always brings a smile, but because the harvest this season is looking particularly good--as good, in fact, as it's looked in a long long time.

The official (and unofficial) word among vintners is that the 2007 harvest season, which got under way about three weeks ahead of schedule, is shaping up to be the strongest harvest for Napa in at least a decade. This according to early reports in the industry and according to a panel of growers convened by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

Kisses (and Vino) from Rio

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By Courtney Cochran

The dating life is tough. Take, for example, an unfortunate coincidence that came up between two good friends of mine not long ago. Both ladies were living in Manhattan, working hard by day and - unbeknownst to each other - enjoying romantic dates with same dashing bachelor by night.

Both believed her relationship was "getting more serious," when in reality the guy was more interested in dating most of Manhattan than moving closer to any sort of commitment. It wasn't until said gentleman went on vacation to Brazil and sent both women flirtatious text messages signed, "Kisses from Rio" that they made the connection.

As you might imagine, they then promptly made a disconnection from the guy who became known infamously in our circle as "Kisses from Rio."

Getting to Know: Southern Oregon

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Ready for an adventure? The fledgling wineries of Southern Oregon from Grants Pass, south to Medford, Jacksonville and Ashland--are just beginning to get national attention. Visitors to this emerging wine region are rewarded with plenty of personal attention and unique wine finds. You just have to know where to look.

Oregon Wine Country - Facts and Figures:

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Think you know Oregon wine? Chances are you might be surprised to know that since 1986, the number of Oregon wineries has gone from a paltry 47 to more than 314 in 2004. Or, that grapes were first planted in the Willamette Valley in 1847? Read on to find out what you need to know about Oregon's booming wine industry.

Santa Cruz Cab takes first in a re-visit of the 1976 Paris Tasting

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If anyone thought the 1976 Paris tasting, where several virtually unknown Napa wines bested their French counterparts was a fluke, they'll have to contend the 2006 COPIA tasting. In May, two panels convened--one in England, and other in Napa at COPIA--to re-evaluate the original wines and see who's stood the test of time. The results: the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains finished in first, followed by the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cab, with a third place tie between the 1970 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Napa Valley Cab, the 1971 Mayacamas Vineyards Cab and a 1972 Clos du Val Napa Valley Cab.

Passport to Calaveras County

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calaveras.jpgBest known for its jumping frogs (courtesy of Mark Twain) and the once-bustling gold mines dotting the region, Calaveras County is a historic Gold Country outpost nestled into the foothills the Sierra Nevadas. And though each year, the county holds its jumping frog festival and eager tourists still pan for gold in the hills, Calaveras has another attraction bringing eager tasters from near and far--wine.

Russian River Redux

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A region springs to life

by Courtney Cochran

Sonoma County's westerly Russian River Valley is like no other place in Northern California's storied wine country. 

One need only drive down winding, pine tree-dotted Highway 116 hugging the Russian River to feel transported to another place.  The towering redwoods and river-side clapboard cottages seem to belong to another time as well, a time when lazy days spent dangling your feet in the cool river while sipping a glass of one of the region's award-winning Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs were commonplace.   

There's just something about Pinot Noir that inspires near fanaticism in both winemakers and wine drinkers. Some say it's the inherent difficulty of growing the grapes that makes the reward all the sweeter. Others insist that, unlike other grapes, Pinot Noir holds the imprint of the grower and winemaker like no other varietal. Whatever the case, hordes of Pinot lovers will converge in Oregon's Willamette Valley this July to celebrate their passion for this amazing grape.
Pinot Noir got its start in America a little over 100 years ago in a rather surprising spot: Santa Cruz. Brought over by Paul Masson, a French immigrant (yes, that Paul Masson, of jug wine fame), the first cuttings were reportedly from the Burgundian vineyards of Louis Latour.

Now known as the "Cradle of Pinot Noir", this mountainous region is producing elegant Burgundian-style Pinots with intense fruit and complexity. Gaining the respect of increasing numbers of Pinot drinkers, the Santa Cruz appellation--which spans a wide swath from Half Moon Bay to Watsonville--has firmly established itself as a hotspot for this notoriously fickle grape by winning award after award for its steadfastly individual wines.

Syrah's Star Keeps Rising in Santa Barbara County

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syrahGlasses.jpgMany years after the movie debuted, they're still giving "Sideways" tours down in Santa Barbara County, and they will be for years to come. That's how it is with movies that cement an image of a place in the popular mind. Santa Barbara's wine country is now Pinot Noir country, and that's that.

Except that it isn't. For some of us, Santa Barbara County's chunk of the massive Central Coast appellation is Syrah country.   It's where Zaca Mesa winery, founded in 1972, still preserves what it calls the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Central Coast and still makes illuminating Syrah. It's where Bob Lindquist went to work in 1975, and then founded Qupé to make some of California's first breakthrough Syrahs in the early 1980s. Those wines made it onto the wine list at Chez Panisse, which wielded more influence in those days than most people can imagine, and Syrah was effectively launched on its current rocket ride to star status.

Little Dry Creek Valley Turns Out Big Wine Experience

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Everett.Ridge.TR.jpgIt may be a small AVA (American Viticultural Area) but one whose wines you are not likely to overlook. Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County has long been a grape-growing region respected for its zinfandels.

This small AVA is only 16 miles long and two miles wide - that's measured ridge to ridge, however, the actual valley growing zone is much narrower. There are more than 9,000 acres planted at this time and even though zinfandels are well known here, it is second in acreage to cabernet sauvignon.

Another Appellation for Monterey

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otr_another_appellation.jpgThe federal government late last year approved the establishment of the San Bernabe American Viticultural Area (AVA), located in southern Monterey County. Delicato Family Vineyards applied for the 24,796-acre area that includes its famed San Bernabe Vineyard property.

This is the "the world's most diverse" vineyard, according to Delicato. Almost two dozen grape varieties are grown there, including: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah/shiraz, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, barbera, gewürztraminer, white riesling, lagrein and valdiguié. More than 5,580 acres are planted to wine grapes, which is divided into 135 unique vineyard blocks, each farmed individually to maximize grape quality.

Pinot Noir - If France is the Past, California is the Future

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PinotNoirArticle_LargePic.jpgPinot Noir may be one grape, but it has developed two distinct personalities in this country. They have as much to do with each other as a string quartet and heavy metal; both are music, but one was designed to decorate the status quo and the other to shake it up. That's how it is with Pinot Noir in America.

California Syrah Recommendations

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By Thom Elkjer

syrahGlasses.jpg

The marriage of Syrah and California has one of the hottest trend lines in wine. Ten years ago, the state had 800 acres of the grape ­ about 2% of the acreage held by Cabernet Sauvignon. Today it's on its way to 16,000 acres and growing faster than any other major grape, red or white. It's easy to see why. Syrah comes from a region in the south of France known for sun and wind ­ which California has in even greater abundance. It's easy to grow and easy to make into wine. And its flavor profile fits California's Mediterranean-style dining trends like a lock and key.

Pinot Noir Recommendations

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By Thom Elkjer,
Anderson Valley is in the throes of America's Pinot Noir culture clash. Two-thirds of the wines tasted of freshly picked red fruit with both sweet and sour qualities, such as raspberries and cranberries. These wines were medium-bodied, well-balanced and made long-time valley vintners nod approvingly. The other dozen or so wines tasted of cooked black fruit laced heavily with dark baking spices and toasted oak flavors. They were big, brawny wines that the younger winemakers at the tasting understood and appreciated immediately.

44th Parallel

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A friend strolled onto the front porch last weekend with a bottle of white wine in his hand and one of those swallowed-the-canary smiles on his face. I learned years ago that when this smile shows up, its owner will be carrying a bottle with a little test attached for the wine writer of his or her acquaintance. Usually I find a way out of the test, but this time I was the host and everyone else had already arrived.

Showtime.

Got some of the wine in a glass and took a sniff. Oaked Chardonnay was clearly one component, but the diesel notes were more like real automotive fuel than Riesling. I didn’t think my friend was trying to kill me, and I saw the cork pulled, so apparently it was a blend of Chard and Riesling and who knew what else.

Years ago the owner of the Sushi Ran restaurant in Sausalito, California correctly guessed the components of a blend of Riesling and Viognier that I brought back from a trip to Arizona (that’s another story), so I knew that weird combos are out there everywhere. But I wasn’t going to guess without a clue, so I asked for one, and got it: “Forty-fourth parallel.”

Forty-four degrees of latitude is a great address for wine on this planet, running through the Rhone valley and Tuscany and cruising past important vineyard regions from one end of North America (Niagara) to the other (Oregon). Was this mystery wine Canadian, perhaps from Nova Scotia? It wasn’t made in any style I knew from this continent, so I went back to Europe in my head.

The 44th parallel was too far south for Hungary, too far north for Lebanon or Israel. Piero Antinori once told me he was helping a friend plant a vineyard at 6,000 feet of elevation on Kyrgyzstan, but that was also too far south. Time to ask for another clue.

How much did the wine cost? “One dollar.”

I headed inside to look at the atlas. The 44th parallel goes all around the northern hemisphere, so at some point it pretty much has to run through China -- the only place where $1 for a bottle of wine makes sense. But where?

Xinjiang Province, surrounded by Mongolia, Tibet, and Kahakhstan. I kid you not. The vineyard is on the Yili River, according to the bottle. I could not find it in my atlas at first, so of course I went online. There I found a Chinese blogger who posted pictures of the river and advised visitors to the arid region thusly: “Maybe reasoning the hot and passion, I like the grapery there most. You can feel a kind of special breath. Grape what growing in this area seems alive and have nimbus. Well, you must not believe me. So, you'd better go to see it by yourself.”

After that, the wine made a lot more sense. It may have been only 11.5% alcohol, and the oak treatment might have lacked a certain finesse, but all that special breath and nimbus for only $1? Tell that to the terroirists!

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

How Many Ya Got?

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At Anderson Valley’s recent Pinot Noir Festival, residents were joking about how little recognition this Mendocino valley has relative to other top Pinot Noir regions in California.

The day before the festival, in fact, the Napa Register published a long piece in which writer Charles Neeve put the entire county of Mendocino into the “Lost Coast,” jumbled Anderson Valley up with Yorkville Highlands, and stated authoritatively that “much of this land is part of the Alexander Valley region.”

For the record, Alexander Valley is a completely different appellation in Sonoma County; the Lost Coast is a section of California coastline that’s mostly in Humboldt County; and Anderson Valley and Yorkville Highlands are about as different as two adjoining appellations can be. (Valley. Highlands. Get it?)

“When the universe revolves around you, you don’t need geography,” laughed one lady, referring of course to Napa’s position in the U.S. wine world.

“That’s good,” rejoined her companion. “We don’t want more people coming in here than we have already!”

The laughter didn’t last long, however, because the reality is that people are coming into Anderson Valley at a fairly brisk rate. Some are coming to live in a beautiful, pastoral, pristine place. The others are coming to make Pinot Noir.

At the festival’s Grand Tasting on Saturday, May 20th, I encountered Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs from half a dozen new labels, including Baxter, Black Kite, Breggo Cellars, Harrington, Standish, and Zina Hyde Cunningham. Existing labels including MacPhail and Saintsbury also unveiled new programs. These push the known number of valley Pinots past the mid-century mark, with more to come. If all the programs in barrel come to market as planned, there will be more than 60 different Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs a year from now.

To put this into perspective, most people consider Russian River Valley the benchmark region for California Pinot Noir. As Charlie Olken of The Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine taught me long ago, regional reputations are made when high-quality wines are made in sufficient quantity that many people can experience them, and Russian River certainly has passed that test. There are a lot of Russian River Pinot Noirs, and a fairly high percentage of them are outstanding.

But here’s an interesting thing. If you count up the Russian River Pinots from the last vintage that’s completely in the market (2003) you get into the mid-60s – not that much more than Anderson Valley. And if you count up the Pinots from the other important Pinot areas (Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Rita Hills) you find that Anderson Valley has more Pinots than any of them.

The recent surge in distinct bottlings is due largely to urban garagistes who are making small-batch, site-specific wines of exceptional quality from Anderson Valley vineyards – just as they do from good vineyards in Russian River, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Rita Hills. This trend is also evident among wineries that are based in Anderson Valley – they’re making more vineyard-designated wines alongside their appellation-based wines.

So at least the artisanal winemakers (and rich relocators) know where Anderson Valley is. Do you?

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

Stop Your Sobbin'

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It looks to me like there are two kinds of wine regions: those that raise their hands overhead in victory or clap them in self-congratulation (Napa, sometimes Sonoma, and lately Lodi), and those that wring their hands in concern or scourge themselves (long list).

One of the hand-wringing areas that caught my attention was Mendocino County, mostly because I used to visit a lot for the scenic beauty, fly fishing, and, every now and then, wine. The lament I heard all the time was the same: “We don’t get no respect.”

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but I finally got it clear in my mind. The growers in Mendocino did one of three things each fall: (1) ship their fruit in trucks to one of those hand-clapping, back-slapping places such as Napa or Sonoma where it got buried in a wine with a Napa or Sonoma appellation on the label, (2) sell their fruit to Fetzer, which made good mid-priced wine with Mendocino on the label, or (3) make their own wine that sold for a low price or mid-price no matter how good it was.

And no matter which route they took, they didn’t like it.

Now that Fetzer’s cutting back on production or putting more wine into brands based in Paso Robles and “California,” there’s less of option 2 for people in Mendocino to wring their hands over, which means more of options 1 and 3.

Here’s the bad news: option 1 isn’t going way anytime soon. The marketing people like to say that Napa and Sonoma have more “brand equity” than Mendocino and therefore the “highest and best use” of Mendocino’s grapes is to go into the other counties’ wines. The truth is that Napa and Sonoma have ten to twenty times as many wineries as Mendocino, those wineries have hundreds to thousands times more customers, and they therefore have an insatiable thirst for cheap, good fruit – Mendocino’s specialty.

Here’s the good news: option 3 is looking pretty darn good these days. I have recently run some benchmark, whole-appellation tastings in Mendocino County, staffed by winemakers, wine buyers, wine writers, even some of those clever marketing people. The best thing about these tastings has been the astonished, relieved looks on the judges’ faces.

WineCountry.Com Food Editor Heather Irwin attended a couple of these tastings, and didn’t hide the fact that she was expecting “a train wreck” from the latest one. (She wasn’t the only one who had that apprehension, just one of the few to cop to it. Remember, a lot of these people are hand-wringers from way back.)

But the fact is, the wines rocked.

It used to be that if you got a couple of dozen Mendocino wines together on the table, you could count on a handful that made you snicker, a handful that made you say, “Well, not bad,” and a bunch that you forgot an hour later. Sometimes the same winery would have a wine or two in all three categories. It was that random.

Not any more. One tasting I did in December had 38 Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs from 2003: no corked wines, no cooked wines, no cock-eyed wines. And a whole bunch of really sleek, elegantly powerful wines, the kind you wish you had a case of. (And which you could conceivably have a case of, because they’re not overpriced and oversubscribed yet.)

Another tasting, with 32 Yorkville Highlands wines, just a few couple week ago, included reds, whites, and rosés. Chardonnays, Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Syrahs. Not a dud in the bunch. Just one good wine after another, including some eye-openers from rare white grapes.

They’re going to be releasing the third vintage of Mendo-only “Coro” red blends from all over the county in June, and I can tell you from crawling all over the first two vintages that these wines are not just really well made, they’re a whole ton of fun to drink.

So lately I’ve started wondering when the growers and winemakers in Mendocino are going to stop their sobbin’ and start shoutin’ out a little. They’ve got the fruit, they’ve got the wine, and they’ve still got all that scenery. (And all those rivers with all those fish!) They really need to update their attitude, and I’m feeling like it’s only a matter of time at this point.

Before they do that, though, the rest of us should drink up hearty while prices are still low and the wine’s still easy to get. Got to make the “highest and best use” of our wine-buying dollars, right?

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

Zig Zag Zin

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Not too much in the wine business makes my jaw drop anymore, but it almost hit the table the other day in Ukiah. I was there getting an update on the progess of Mendocino County’s Wine Commission, which could potentially work the same magic on Mendo’s reputation that the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission did on Lodi’s.

Well actually, Lodi didn’t have a reputation before, so the magic would be different. Because Mendocino County certainly has a reputation for something other than wine. Something as leafy as a grape vine, and that is harvested in the same season, but which is generally consumed drier and hotter (and sooner). If you’re already lost, please click over to another blog. If not, read on.

So I sit down with Tim Thornhill and Paul Dolan, who are partners in Mendocino Wine Company. They both own vineyards in the county, and they’re also co-owners of Parducci Wine Cellars and a number of other brands. They would dearly love to see Mendocino’s reputation rise, because it would satisfy them emotionally, psychologically, and, oh yes, way financially.

Dolan sets down a bottle of their new Italian-style red blend, called Tusk ‘N Red. (Pronounce it “Tuscan.”) Nice package, evocative of Chianti labels but with a whimsically placed elephant in the Italianate scene. A nice wine, too, blended from Sangiovese, Carignano, and other grapes favored by Mendocino’s Italian immigrants in centuries past.

Then Thornhill puts down a bottle of their new Zinfandel, called Zig Zag Zin.

Now, if you’re of a certain age or subscribe to a certain joie de vivre, you are probably already forming a mental image of a slender cardboard package with the folded filmy papers inside. The lettering is faintly exotic in style, the corners are decorated with little curves, and there is some kind of dervishy-looking guy winking out at you from the label.

For those of you who are not forming this image, Zig Zag is the most popular brand of, um, cigarette rolling papers. And these guys have created a wine label that looks for all the world like a Zig Zag rolling paper package. Same shape. Same size. Same curved corner cuts. Same lettering. Same bright color. Unbelievable. I stared at the label, then at Dolan and Thornhill. They shrugged back, as if to say that they are as surprised as I am.

Turns out they were surprised. “We expected to get rejected,” Thornhill tells me, “but apparently none of the regulators in Washington right now lived through the Sixties or Seventies in California.”

Of course, Zig Zag Zin is not a wine for morally righteous bureaucrats in Washington. It’s a fun, friendly Zin for the rest of us. So naming it after an icon of the counter-culture makes sense – especially when you’re coming from a county in a region known as the “Emerald Triangle.” If you want to build up Mendocino’s reputation, why not start with something it’s already known for?

I did get a good update on the Wine Commission thing (state legislation has passed and the county's winegrowers vote their approval next month). But I'm still amazed at that bottle on my desk. Heck if it doesn't give me the munchies just lookin' at it.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

Dos Rios

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So I got this email from an editor way back east asking for a story about a brand new AVA in Mendocino, called “Dos Rios.” He wanted a description of the whole area and all the wineries in it, and suggested it could be a launching point for a story about the whole county. I read and re-read the message, wondering if he was pulling my leg.

The thing is, Dos Rios is a tiny town in white-water rafting country, rugged lumberjack country, ain’t-no-one-out-here-but-us-critters country. It’s beautiful, but has got to be one of the last places in California you would put a wine region. Wineries there would be well north of any others I’ve seen in Mendocino. Or California for that matter.

But hey – if there are a bunch of winery estates somewhere that I’ve never heard of, with a shiny new appellation that captures their commonality, let me at ‘em.

An hour later, I put down the phone after a conversation with Steve DeTevis, co-owner (with his wife Carol) of Vin DeTevis: the one and only vineyard and winery in the Dos Rios appellation. Solamente uno, amigos.

I had already looked at the application that wine regions have to make to the federal bureaucracy in order to get an appellation approved, and knew that the DeTevises' names were not on it. So for my first question, I asked Steve if he was involved in the new AVA anyway.

“Oh heck no!” he laughed. “The guy who applied for Covelo [a small valley in northern Mendocino] did Dos Rios at the same time.” I asked why. Another laugh. “Beats me.”

I asked if the appellation approval was going to be a boon for Vin DeTevis. A chuckle this time. “I doubt it. We’re just up here by ourselves, having fun.” Wouldn’t a flood of visitors to his tasting room be a good thing? Another laugh. (I wish all interviewees found me so amusing.) “It’s not like we’re doing this for money!”

Turns out the Steve and Carol found a patch of paradise at the junction of the Eel River and its Middle fork, where the water moderates the temperature and the hillsides catch the afternoon sun. They grow mostly reds and some Chardonnay. They taught themselves the wine business, and do pretty much all the vineyard and winery work themselves. “We wave at the kayakers,” Steve said, “but they don’t stop in to taste. One rafting outfit did put us on its website, though.”

I felt myself falling in love. Then I went to the Vin DeTevis website (www.vindetevis.com) and looked at the wine lineup. My heart jumped up in my chest. Cabernet Sauvignon for $15. Zinfandel for $12. Chardonnay for $8. Pinot Noir for $8. Eight bucks! I challenge you to find Pinot Noir by the glass for that price!

I remembered that Steve had called the DeTevis Cabernet Franc “killer,” and I was fully prepared to believe it from someone so genuine. It was priced at $15 for the 2000 vintage, which means it probably has enough bottle age to hit Cab Franc’s late-arriving sweet spot. Next time I’m in Dos Rios (or anywhere within 20 miles of it), I’m stopping in.

So my hat’s off to that cagey, ear-to-the-rail editor way back east. Goes to show you that your next winery discovery can come from just about anywhere --- and be just about anywhere.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at www.winecountry.com.

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