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The Holidays: Wine Pairing Suggestions

Whitehall Lane Winery has several suggestions for keeping holiday meal planning and wine selection stress free!

whitehall-lane-winery-wine-bottle-medley.jpg(1) Don't Interfere
Select wines with low tannins that won't make the mouth pucker (like biting a banana peel) and overpower the meal. Avoid big, buttery chardonnays and young cabernet, syrah and petite sirah that can have a lot of bite. Light-to-medium reds, such as pinot noir, Beaujolais, Burgundy and tempranillo, rosés, and steel-casked whites mix well with abundant holiday meals.

Select a wine that complements the sauce.
The darker the sauce, the darker the wine. Giblet gravy is great with a savory white while a well-aged red brings out the flavor in red-wine and red meat sauces.

(2) Consider Audience
Is the table full of foodies who love to experiment or Aunt Opal who has an opinion on everything? Always consider whether or not your guests like to stick to the tried and true or if they're willing to experiment with something new.

(3) Don't Break the Bank
Both quality and quantity are important. Keep in mind that there are many high-quality, reasonably priced wines out there and the professionals at your local wine store or favorite winery online shop can help you stay on budget while also helping you find everything you need to impress your guests.

(4) Go Big!
Big bottles, such as magnums, three-liter and six-liter bottles, are ideal for holiday meals. Many people are intimidated by big bottles but they're great for budget-conscious consumers looking to save time and money while at the wine store or favorite winery. It will leave your guests feeling impressed and you feeling like you hit a home-run.

Click Here to read the full post.

Get in the Spirit of Giving This Holiday Season

Each fall and winter season many of businesses in wine country join the holiday spirit and donate portions of their proceeds to local charities or host food banks drives. You can help AND make your dollar go farther just by purchasing wine from a participating winery or donating a can of food. See below for more details on how you can support and give back this holiday season!

kenwoodVineyards_foodBank.jpgKenwood Vineyards
Kenwood Vineyards has already started their holiday campaign to help put food on the table of every American. Help them support this worthy cause!

They will donate a percentage of sales to a local food bank, Redwood Empire Food Bank, in Sonoma County. Click Here for more info.

To encourage individual generosity to food banks across the country, Kenwood Vineyards' call to action will be highlighted on point-of-sales materials provided to retailers throughout the holidays. Coupons (where legal) for one dollar off Kenwood Vineyards wines will be offered and a shelf talker will invite consumers to support their local food banks. Kenwood will also be sending the same message to its many friends and fans via social media as the holidays approach.


Westin Verasa Napa: Annual Banksgiving

westinVerasaNapa_foodbank.jpgThroughout the month of November, BANK Café and Bar at The Westin Verasa Napa, invites the public to participate in a canned food drive titled "Banksgiving." In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, the two Napa branches of Mechanics Bank will generously match $1 per donated can, with 100 percent of food and funds donated to Community Action Napa Valley Food Bank (CANV). For every can donated, donors will receive a certificate with a percentage off of their meal, up to 10 percent to either BANK Café and Bar or La Toque, The Westin Verasa's Michelin-starred restaurant by Chef Ken Frank.  CLICK HERE for more info.

Donation barrels will be displayed in the hotel's lobby in front of BANK Cafe and Bar.
(1314 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA 94559)

Uncork The Thanksgiving Wines

Press Release

thanksgivingDinnerSpread.jpgThanksgiving is almost upon us, which means now is the time to select wines for the big feast. Fortunately, choosing wines that pair deliciously with Thanksgiving dinner can be quick and easy; all you need do is let your dinner and your preferences be your guide.

The traditional Thanksgiving dinner encompasses a range of flavors: rich, herbal, sweet and creamy. Wines that handle such diversity best are those that complement or accentuate, but don't overpower. The key is moderation; less - in terms of power, alcohol, tannin and oak - is actually more in achieving scrumptious Thanksgiving wine matches. And because Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday, it deserves to be celebrated with American wines.

Those who love white wines have a few choices when it comes to making a stellar Thanksgiving wine match. One is a vibrant Chardonnay with just a hint of oak character that echoes the richness of Thanksgiving dishes, such as the 2012 Kenwood Vineyards Sonoma County Chardonnay. Another is a medium-bodied, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc with fruit and herb character to enhance the foods' flavors. The 2012 Kenwood Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc captures this style perfectly, as do other unoaked Sauvignon Blancs from Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties. The last is a fresh, fruity off-dry Pinot Gris, Riesling or Gewurztraminer that lets the food shine and refreshes the palate. The hard-to-find 2012 Kenwood Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Gris is one option, but there are plenty more from cool vineyard regions across the United States. 

Flora Springs: Newest Ghost Winery Bottling of Petite Verdot

There's nothing more frightening than an empty wine glass!

Every year, right around Halloween, Flora Springs Winery conjures up the ghosts of spirits past with their one-of-a-kind Ghost Winery bottling. This unique varietal celebrates their century old "ghost winery" that was built in 1885 and carefully renovated by Flora and Jerry Komes in 1977.

flora-springs-ghost-winery-coffin-bottle-set.jpgThis year, their newest Ghost Winery bottling of Petite Verdot will officially be released on October 31st, but you can order ahead and in time for your Halloween festivities (must order by October 24th!) See the various sppoktacular specials below!

2011 Ghost Winery Petite Verdot Case & Poster
Purchase a case (12 bottles) of 2011 Ghost Winery Petite Verdot and receive a complimentary limited-edition collectible label poster (a $20 value, while supplies last) and for the month of October-- shipping is included!

2011 Ghost Winery Petite Verdot Box Set
Includes a bottle of 2011 Ghost Winery Petite Verdot and our one-of-a-kind Ghost Winery Coffin Box - perfect for gift-giving or to put on display at your Halloween party or in your wine cellar.

Ghost Winery 2-Bottle Box Set
This year, we've created the Ghost Winery 2-Bottle Box Set to offer the few bottles of last year's release -- 2011 Ghost Winery Syrah -- we've been carefully storing in our cellar. Very limited availability. Have fun tasting these two very different releases side-by-side!

Ghost Winery Accessories
Shop a variety of spooktacular Ghost Winery accessories, perfect for the Ghost Winery collector or as that special finishing touch at your Halloween party.

Napa and Carneros Appellation Wineries Near American Canyon

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.

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.

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.


Matanzas Creek Winery: Days of Wine and Lavender

The Days of Wine and Lavender at Matanzas Creek Winery on Saturday, June 29th from 12 to 4pm is back! This popular, annual wine event offers an immersion of the senses as guests stroll through vibrant lavender gardens while sipping Matanzas Creek's bright and refreshing wines. The Bennett Valley winery's two-acre lavender garden will be in peak bloom, with its more than 4,500 individual lavender plantings creating a sea of purple and perfuming the air with their heady scent.


Arts in April: Beaulieu Vineyard

Appreciate the Arts in the Napa Valley throughout the month of April.

Beaulieu Vineyards, located in the heart of Napa Valley in Rutherford, will play host to the original wine paintings of local artist Penelope Moore whose work will be on display starting April 1st in BV's Maestro Tasting Room and Club Room.

On Sunday, April 14th from 1:00-4:00pm, join other guests and enjoy a wonderful fusion of art and wine, live music, and afternoon hor d'oeuvres. Each of Penelope's paintings will be paired with a sinfully selected bottle of BV juice. Guests will have the opportunity to bid on each pairing. The lucky winner will have a sensory experience to take home. Tickets are only $15 per person or complimentary to club members.

But you don't have to wait until April 14th to start bidding!

  • Bid In Person: Visit Beaulieu Vineyards anytime starting April 1st - April 14th. Just mention "Arts in April" to receive two Maestro Tastings for the price of one to enjoy while you view and bid on the art.
  • Bid Online: A selection of five paintings will be available to preview and bid online at Bid on the painting by leaving a comment under the corresponding painting with the amount, your name and phone number. Online Auction closes on Sunday, April 14th at 4:00 pm PST. "Buy it Now" bids win. Visa, MC, AMEX, PayPal accepted.

Partake by KJ : Now Open in Healdsburg

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.

Treat Your Sweetheart!

Napa Valley wineries - Sterling Vineyards and Cliff Family Winery -  have you covered for Valentine's Day this year. See their sweet line-up of wine gifts perfect for that special someone in your life!

SterlingVineyards_RomanceGiftSet.jpgSterling Vineyards
Give your loved one the very best with two of Sterling Vineyard's premium Reserve wines! The buttery 2009 Reserve Chardonnay is the perfect companion for heart-warming wintertime comfort foods. Or try the 2009 Platinum Reserve, which scored a superb 92 points from the Wine Enthusiast for its expertly balanced boldness. Complete with a lovely red gift box and personalized message, these extravagant wines will make the perfect gift this Valentine's Day! Shipping deadlines are fast approaching so put in your order as soon as possible! (East Coast Orders - Feb 3rd, West Coast Orders - Feb 7th)  ORDER NOW

Visiting Napa Valley for Valentine's Day/Weekend? Enjoy excellent wines and amazing views at Sterling Vineyards! Indulge in complimentary hand-crafted chocolates paired with our delectable port-style Zinfandel available at the winery on February 9th, 10th, and 14th. Learn More.

Chandon for New Year's Eve Toast!

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chandon_NewYearsEve.jpgIf you can't attend Domaine Chandon's Sparkling Gala this year for New Year's Eve, not to fret; check out their recommendations for hosting a Chandon-style soiree at home!

1. Start the night a Chandon Sidecar: Begin with this brandy-based, citrus-infused cocktail classic, made distinctive with some sparkling flourishes and sure to please your guests. Click here for recipe.

2. Every good party needs a soundtrack, so try creating a playlist of your favorite songs from the past year. It'll infuse the celebration with your unique personality and is a nostalgic, toe-tapping way to send off the year.

3. Make it a magnum: Always a popular option to keep the bubbles flowing on New Year's Eve, a magnum of Chandon Brut Classic is both economically and conversationally effective. One magnum equals two regular-sized (750ml) bottles of wine.

CLICK HERE for more creative pointers for hosting a successful New Year's Eve party!

Don't forget to relax and enjoy your guests, look forward to what the new year may hold and don't forget the midnight kiss! It's Vino Nirvana


tastingRoom_2girlsDrinkingWine.jpgIf you enjoy the finer things in life (and who doesn't?), then you'll love this innovative new way to enjoy fine wine. takes the risk out of online wine purchasing by allowing you to try before you buy. Whether it's by the taste, by the glass or by the bottle, we let you enjoy wine the way you want it.

Our Wine Samplers let you line 'em up, six great wines side by side, and you're the judge and the jury. Each Sampler consists of six tastes (50ml) of different wines based on varietal, region or food pairing ability. Pick your favorite wines from each Sampler and then go online to order full-sized bottles of them to drink now or store for future consumption.

Our Super Flights™ take the Wine Sampler one step further: you or your giftee can sample six wines and then pick the top two to be delivered to their doorstep at no extra cost. It's that easy.

tastingRoom_PerfectHolidayWinesRed_superflight.jpgBut what if you don't want to open a full bottle? Say it's a Tuesday night, you're home alone and you want just one glass of wine (we've all been there, right?). Our innovative Wines by the Glass allow you to enjoy a single glass of wine whenever you like. Mix and match multiple Wines by the Glass and order by the 6-pack or by the case. Either way, you get great taste and no waste. Genius.

If you want to give a gift that keeps on giving, give a membership to our Wine Club, so your gift recipient can discover wines they love on a regular basis. It's the only club that lets you choose the wines you receive, so you're sure to get something you love every time. It's waaaay better than a book club. takes the whining out of wine shopping. No more battling the crowds at your local liquor shop or asking for help from uneducated staff. In our Wine Shop, you get to choose from hundreds of wines by producers from all of the major winegrowing regions in the world. That's what we call vino Nirvana.

* Must be 21 or older to make a purchase.

Holiday Greetings from Flora Springs Winery

Flora Springs Winery has created a whimsical twist on the "Twas the night before. . ." starring third generation family member, Nat Komes. Watch the video below:

In celebration of the holidays, Flora Springs Winery is offering a special price on case purchases of their 2009 Trilogy (their flagship wine), that includes shipping*. Offer ends December 31, 2012.

2009 Trilogy Holiday Case Special

  • Retail Price: $900/Case ($75/Bottle)
  • Special Price: $576/Case ($48/Bottle)
+ shipping included!

CLICK HERE to buy now!

Kamen Wines: New Tasting Room!

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kamenEstateWines_TastingRoom.jpgIt was with much excitement that Kamen Wines opened a tasting room to showcase their wonderful wines to the public earlier this summer. With harvest and crush festivities abounding in wine country right now, now's the perfect time to visit Sonoma County and stop by Kamen's new tasting room!

The Kamen Estate Wines Tasting Room is located in the historic downtown square of Sonoma  and is is open to the public daily. Tasting fees depend on the wine flight selected. See below for more details.

Signature Flight: A perfect way to enjoy the varietals in the Kamen Estate Wines portfolio, a rotating selection of current release Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Writer's Block Blend & Cabernet Sauvignon. 20 per person. Waived with two bottle purchase. 

Premier Flight: For the Cabernet lover, a selection of three library vintages for a vertical comparison of our flagship varietal. $35 per person. Waived with three bottle purchase. 

Vineyard Tasting: By advance appointment only, a private tour and tasting in their mountain vineyard. Guests will taste four wines complemented by artisanal cheese & charcuterie, while enjoying sweeping views of the Mayacamas Mountains and San Francisco Bay. They offer this experience once daily. Secure your reservation by credit card 48 hours in advance. 24 hour notice is Required for any alterations or cancellations.  $60 per person.  Allow 1 ½ - 2 hours for this visit. 

To schedule your visit, call 707.938.7292 or email

Whitehall Lane Winery: Harvest Update

Napa Valley, CA

Harvest 2012 is off to a great (and tasty) start, with much, much more to go!  We officially began harvesting our first grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, on Saturday September 8th.  As you can see, our entire crew, led by winemaker Dean Sylvester and Cellar master Fernando Cortez, were Œin the zone¹ ensuring the first grapes of the season were sorted, de-stemmed, crushed and pressed to perfection.

To date we have crushed numerous lots of SB and one of Pinot Noir picked at the peak of ripeness. Meanwhile, Mother Nature has been very helpful in providing textbook Napa Valley autumn days.  In fact, it¹s hard to believe ­ even if you live here ­ that it is 45 degrees in the morning and 85 in the mid-afternoon, every day.  Reds like Merlot and Cabernet flourish in this weather, which allows the grapes to develop flavor complexity and balance.

We'll begin picking them soon. There are lots of crushing to be done, so please come up, taste a few wines, and let us tour you through the winery. SEE SPECIAL OFFER!
What¹s the best way to celebrate harvest?  A Whitehall Lane HARVEST DINNER!
Join us at the winery Saturday October 13th, for an al fresco BBQ dinner commemorating the 2012 harvest.  CLICK HERE more information, or contact Dustin at 707 963 9454 x 32 or

Harvest Update: Picking & Sorting Grapes

Wineries around Napa Valley and Sonoma are watching their vineyards and grapes closely and will start harvesting any day now. Some have begun harvesting already. See the round-up of updates from across the blogosphere.

St. Francis Winery - Sonoma County, CA
"Our fourth consecutive "September Harvest" began with this morning's arrival of 8 tons of hand-picked Sonoma Valley Chardonnay grapes at our inspection platform. To our specifications, the sweet (24° Brix), plump golden grapes were hand-picked and cold to the touch--a good start for crushing. Once again, the sights and smells on our bustling Crush Pad are unmistakable: it is Harvest in Sonoma.- Christopher Silva, President & CEO
~ Click Here to read full post or Watch the video below!

Cuvaison - Napa Valley, CA
Report: At 10 pm on September 11, 2012, several crews began harvesting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay  grapes from our estate vineyards in Carneros. Crews worked tirelessly until 4 am, bringing in 31 tons of Pinot Noir and 32 tons of Chardonnay! The grapes look fantastic and we are all very excited about this year's crop! Watch the video to get a first hand look.

Get the Scoop on Napa Valley Harvest Season


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

St. Supery - Learning about Harvest Season & Crush
Harvest Season in Napa Valley Kicks Off!

Harvest Season in Napa Valley Kicks Off!


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!

A Look at Pre-Harvest at Benziger Winery

Mike Benziger takes a look at the vines at Benziger Family Winery in July and says this year's vintage is "off to an awesome start"! Watch the video below:

St. Supéry has gone to the dogs...

stSupery_Blog_DogFriendly.jpgNo need to leave Fido at home when you travel to Wine Country and go wine tasting! There are plenty of pet friendly wineries in both Napa Valley and Sonoma.

St. Supery, located in Napa Valley, have declared themselves "THE MOST dog friendly winery in the WORLD"! and encourage visitors to bring their furry friend along to the Estate tasting room, French parque, or petanque courts. St. Supery loves dogs so much that they even let their employees bring them to work and have regular visits from Buddy the Chiweenie, Nicki the Boxer, Rogue the Tibetan Terrier, and Coco the long-haired Chihuahua.

This year they are supporting a great cause at the Napa Humane's inaugural Walk for the Animals on August 5th.  All donations made go directly to Napa Humane's life saving programs like their low-cost spay & neuter clinic, their affordable vaccination and microchipping clinic, mobile adoption & educational outreach programs.

CLICK HERE to read more about St. Supery being a dog friendly winery and how you too can personally support Napa Humane.

Be sure to read the Wine Country Travel Guide: Pet Friendly for tips and suggestions when traveling with your pet to Napa Valley or Sonoma County.

Verasion Begins at KJ Winery

kj_Blog_PhotoOfTheDay_Verasion.gif"It may seem like a small thing, just one purple grape in a cluster of green, but it means the most exciting time of the year, Harvest, is starting to creep into view." ~ Kendall Jackson Blog

Summer days seem to be passing by in flash! Some wineries are already starting to see a tinge of purple on their grapes in the vineyards. The winemaker at Kendall Jackson, located in Sonoma County, snapped this beautiful picture of a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon that is already starting to change color from green to purple.

See other pictures in Kendall Jackson's "Photo of the Day" thread.

1976 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

chMontelena_Blog_1976Cab.jpgChateau Montelena makes some wonderful Napa Valley wines. If you've been saving some of their Cabs for a special occasion and wondering how they are holding up in your wine cellar, read what one of Chateau Montelena's customer's recently said about their 1976 Cabernet Saugvignon . . .

"Last night I had a small dinner at my home in Healdsburg, CA, in order to honor a friend, and to try out some Napa "Cult" Cabs I had assembled.  Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Bryant Family etc.... But the most amazing surprise was a 1976 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast ... wow! 

Whoever made that wine should be very proud, it's drinking wonderfully, even after 35+ years!  Please give my regards to the Barretts and anyone else who had a hand in that very fine bottling. What a pleasure, I'm a winemaker myself, and I just had one of the best wines I've ever had. Bravo!

Read more at the Chateau Montelena Blog.

Summer Wine and the Living is Easy

We're already a full week into summer and what better way to enjoy the weather then with a glass of "light, crisp, and refreshing" wine. Winemaker Cameron Parry from Chateau Montelena Winery makes some recommendations on his favorites and possible wine and food pairings.

chMontelena_Blog_SummerWine.jpgExcerpt from Blog Post:
So what is a "summer wine?"  Well, the snarky (but accurate) answer is that a "summer wine" is whatever happens to be in your glass from June 20th to September 21st.  However, most of the time we're talking about anything that is light, crisp, and refreshing - a wine that can benefit from a bit of time in the refrigerator (or even - *gasp* - the occasional ice-cube in the glass). For me, most often that means Sauvignon Blanc nice and frosty right out of the 'fridge . . . Close runners-up for summer time R&R are Riesling and Rosie . . .

Try the Riesling with some Memphis style ribs - you'll be pleasantly surprised; the Sauv Blanc, on the other hand, is a great match for barbequed oysters.   As far as the Rosie goes, it is a small production Rosé of Zinfandel that is great with grilled pork chops. 

Now, don't worry, I'm not leaving out the Chardonnay, and no it is not 4th place on my summer (or any other) list, but it is far too versatile to be pigeon-holed as a "summer wine."

CLICK HERE to read entire post.

The Father's Day Wine Gifting Guide

lakeSonomaWinery.jpgFather's Day is the one day of the year we thank dads for everything they do. It takes a special man to be a dad and a well-chosen Father's Day gift shows him just how much he is appreciated. Few Father's Day gifts are savored as much as a bottle of fine wine and with a little forethought, selecting the perfect wine for dad's special day can be a snap.

Consider the dad receiving the gift - his personality, his style and his preferences. Whether he is an occasional wine drinker or a wine aficionado, his fundamental nature should guide your wine selection. Wine is all about pleasure and the best Father's Day wine gift will be the one that gives your particular dad the most pleasure.

Then pick the wine. No need to stress; your instincts are sure to be right. And giving wine is easy - no sizes to consider, no assembly required, no potential obsolescence and only three colors from which to choose!

Auction Napa Valley - Bid on E-Auction Lots

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Auction Napa Valley starts today! (May 31 - June 2nd) and features four glorious days of incredible wine and food at locations throughout Napa Valley. Didn't make it this year?! Not to worry, you can still experience a part of Auction Napa Valley through the E-Auction Lots. Explore and bid on unique lots that include exclusive collections of Napa Valley wines, vintner-hosted events, and luxury items.

See some of the amazing lots from our Club Breathe Partners.

Lot #302 - Peju Province Winery
Peju Heavenly Adventure
Enjoy a private tour and tasting followed by a delicious gourmet picnic for 6 people hosted in the exquisite winery estate gardens of Peju Winery. Your successful bid also includes: a case of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, a case of 2010 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, a signed 3L bottle of 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley and 2 tickets to the Peju Winery Harvest Tasting & Vineyard Dinner.

auctionNV12_DiageoWineries.jpgLot #312 - Acacia Vineyard, Beaulieu Vineyard, Hewitt Vineyard, Provenance Vineyard, and Sterling Vineyards
The All Star Team - A Dominating line up of Red... and Gold
The most powerful reds in Napa Valley paired with the mighty Red & Gold--the San Francisco 49ers--for a special team blow out!  Lot includes 6 bottles of Napa Valley wine, 4 tickets to gala, 4 VIP tickets to 49ers home game, 4 pregame field passes, and 2 signed footballs.

Lot #314 - Hess Collection Winery
Mount Veeder Magic
Experience the magic of Mount Veeder as you join Hess Collection Winemaker Dave Guffy for a tour of mountain vineyards, stopping to enjoy incredible views with wine selections crafted from the very vineyard blocks you're visiting. Lot includes 13 bottles of Napa Valley wine, Dinner & Tour for 8, Wine club membership, and Book.

Lot #315 - St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery

Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Round-Up
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery invites you and eleven guests to join CEO Emma Swain and winemaker Michael Scholz for an exciting half day at our gorgeous Dollarhide estate vineyard. Lot includes 25 bottles of Napa Valley, Tour and Lunch for 12, and  . . .

Video: V. Sattui Tasting Room Spotlight

Napa Valley Wine Tasting Experience at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, CA

CLICK HERE to find out more about V.Sattui Winery in Napa Valley Wine Country and download their special tasting offer!

Kick Off Your American Summer with Chandon

chandonLimitedEdition_MemorialDay.jpgNothing says summer like picnics and pool parties. With Memorial Day - the official start of summer - right around the corner, Chandon celebrates its American Heritage with the launch of its Limited Edition Bottle.

The perfect accessory for summer, this special edition of Chandon Brut Classic sparkling wine is wrapped from head to toe in patriotic red, white and blue. Available June 1 through September 1, 2012, the bottle will be sold nationwide and on in both 750ml (SRP: $22) and 187ml (SRP: $7).

With its fruit-forward taste, Chandon is also ideal for mixing in refreshing cocktails that are perfect to pair with summer fare. Here is a favorite:

Chandon Citrus Fizz

  • 3 oz Chandon Brut Classic
  • 2/3 oz Belvedere Vodka
  • 1/3 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Simple Syrup

Directions: Shake Vodka, lemon juice and syrup ingredients over ice, strain into a flute and top with 3oz Chandon Brut.

New Season, New Wines

chMontelenaLabel.jpgSubmitted by Chateau Montelena

Now that we've officially kicked off the beginning of a new season here at Chateau Montelena, it's time for spring renewal and getting a fresh start in the New Year. For some, that may mean starting a new garden, taking up a new hobby or working on some spring cleaning. For us, spring means enjoying longer days, ample amounts of sunshine and the start of a new growing season in our vineyard.  

We're also looking forward to sharing our three new releases wines: our 2008 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Montelena Estate Zinfandel are now available for your sipping pleasure. Aside from being great pairings with spring and summer dining experiences - either along with a park picnic or out on the patio under the stars on a warm evening - they're also three fantastic reasons to make more room in your wine cellar. At the end of a long day, there's nothing better than grabbing a great bottle of wine to hang out on your home patio with your favorite people and savor a glass of wine as you unwind on a warm and clear night. The season of "patio wine" is upon us.

chateauMontelena_CabRelease.jpgWith three new Montelena wines to choose from, we're certain that there's an option for every palate and every occasion - from a special, celebratory dinner with our 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to a family barbeque with our 2009 Estate Zinfandel and even a mid-week repose to savor a special meal alongside our 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet just-because-its-Wednesday-and-you-need-a-break.  

So whatever your wine preference may be, we hope that you take some time to enjoy the new season, relax on the patio outside and delight in a glass (or two!) of your favorite Montelena wine. And next time you're in Calistoga, stop by the Chateau to taste them all, pick your favorite and stock up - we have a long and glorious spring and summer ahead of us.

CLICK HERE to see more posts in the Chateau Montelena Blog.

Sustainable Growing & Wineries: Sonoma

by Courtney Cochran

Sustainable businesses famously have an eye to the future as well as current projects. As awareness about the need to conserve for tomorrow's generations grows, so does the number of wineries in our backyard converting to eco-oriented wine-growing - and a sustainable future for us all.  Below are some of the Sonoma wineries featuring green practices ranging from responsible vineyard management to economically friendly processes in the winery.

benziger_Vineyard_FromClientWebsite.jpgBenziger Family Winery

Sustainability is built into the mission at this green winemaking leader, which famously focuses on "family, great wine and healthy vineyards." Now three generations in, the Benziger clan - more than a dozen are actively involved in the winery - ensures their entire roster of vineyards is certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic© via green metrics and a rigorous annual audit. Visitors will see the 'whole farm' ethos at work by way of the farm animals at the welcoming Glen Ellen property (hello, sheep cam!), and can look forward to quality that shows through in the glass:  a diverse lineup spanning Sauvignon Blanc to Syrah is well-received by critics.      

*Visit: 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; Call (707) 935-3000; Tasting Offer
**Event: Celebrate Earth Day

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Nestled into the hills of cool, bucolic Carneros, Gloria Ferrer is in a prime spot for making world-class sparkling wines.  What's perhaps less apparent is this picturesque winery's commitment to sustainable agriculture, something its owners pursue through innovative approaches to everything from soil biodiversity programs to integrated pest management, water management and energy conservation.  Because sustainability also has an eye to the health of people - not just plants - Gloria Ferrer's sustainability efforts support an arts program for local bereaved children, facilitating a focus on renewal of life through creativity.  Ferrer's high marks for hospitality and stellar pours are just icing on the sustainable cake, as it were.

*Visit: 23555 Arnold Drive Sonoma, CA 95476; Call: (707) 996-7256; Tasting Offer

Help BV Coastal Estates Give & Give Back


"At BV we make wines to enjoy at every American table. The fact that so many people are not able to put food on that table is a critical issue of our times," says BV Marketing Brand Manager, Noelle Campbell. "In America, more than 50 million people go hungry each day, and 17 million of those are children. Hunger relief has become a focus of our BV Coastal Estates mission and a way to give back to the community."

As part of the Give & Give Back online challenge, BV asks Americans to commit at least 1 million volunteer minutes to food banks, soup kitchens and hunger relief agencies nationally. When BV reaches the challenge goal of 1 million volunteer minutes, American wine lovers will have contributed the volunteer time equivalent of $356,000.

Wine Lovers Boot Camps

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CIA_KeithHarris_Photo2.jpgThe Culinary Institute of America is launching a new series of classes designed for the wine enthusiast at its St. Helena, CA campus -- Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Basic Training and Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Tasting Like a Pro.

Wine Lovers Boot Camp will debut in spring 2012 at the CIA at Greystone, whose location in the heart of the Napa Valley--home to great vineyards and wine estates--is ideal for the study and enjoyment of wine.

Wine Lovers Boot Camp: Basic Training
is a five-day exploration of the joys wine can bring to one's lifestyle, and is designed to elevate participants' overall understanding of wine. The program will also enable students to select and enjoy wine with greater knowledge and confidence, whether shopping for a mid-week meal at home, dining out at a restaurant, or hosting a special social gathering.

Working with the CIA's renowned faculty, students in this Boot Camp will taste the world's major white and red wine grape varieties as they learn to decipher wine labels from regions near and far. They will discover how a vineyard's location and a winemaker's influence can impact the flavor, style, and price of wine. Through tastings, participants will learn how to evaluate wine "flavor" and place it skillfully in the context of a meal. This new-found understanding will ultimately be put into practice in the kitchen as students prepare a multi-course meal with paired wines.

Initial 2012 class dates are February 13-17, April 16-20, and May 21-25 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuition is $2,195 per person, and the class is open to students 21 years of age and older.

Wine Samplers for the Holidays

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tastingRoomWineSampler_2011.jpgThe wheel. Sliced bread. Electricity. wine samplers.

Life was fine without these revolutionary inventions but it's oh so much better with them.
How can one wine product be that different and industry-changing? We're glad you asked. Wine samplers let you try wine before you buy the bottle. That's right, no more paying first and then hoping you like the wine. These samplers let you taste six top wines at home and then buy bottles of your favorites. Like we said--it's revolutionary.
And, we're excited to offer our readers a special 1¢ Shipping promotion to discover this amazing wine innovation for themselves. Click here to shop and use promo code WCGIFT.* Better hurry! Offer expires 12/30/2011.

Monterey Wine Harvest - 2011 Update

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."

The Winery at Reata Opens in Napa Valley

New Vision for Historic Rancho Property

reattaWinery.jpgNAPA, CA, Oct. 19, 2011 - The Winery at Reata has opened the doors to its stunning California coastal lodge, located in the rolling hills that were part of General Vallejo's sprawling Suscol Rancho more than 150 years ago. The winery invites guests from around the world to enjoy its newly landscaped grounds, gracious hospitality and a wine tasting experience that is unique within the Napa Valley. 

"Reata has some of the most beautiful views in the Northern California Wine Country," said Alyssa O'Hare, co-founder and president for Reata. "I was raised on a working ranch in Oregon, and this estate is magical for me. From our veranda you can see the whole panorama from the Napa Valley to San Pablo Bay. It's a wonderful place to appreciate the beauty of this area."  

"We want people kick back and stay a while," says O'Hare. Guests are invited to soak up the sun on the veranda, sample wines at the gorgeous tasting bar, tour our landscaped grounds or simply relax by the massive stone fireplace. Barrel tastings are held daily and can be scheduled for private parties. Interactive guided tours are available by appointment, and the winery also offers a variety of formal and informal food pairings with Reata's portfolio of wonderful wines.

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!

Domaine Chandon Winery Hosts National Breast Cancer Foundation Benefit

Television Personality and National Breast Cancer Spokesperson Whitney Port to Present Whitney Eve Collection at October Event

Napa, CA (October 3, 2011) -- On October 13, 2011, Domaine Chandon, American Sparkling pioneer, hosts the sixth-annual Breast Cancer Awareness benefit in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). This year's highly-anticipated event features a fashion presentation by television personality and National Breast Cancer Spokesperson Whitney Port, as well as and hors d'oeuvres by Michelin-starred Chef Perry Hoffman of Chandon's étoile Restaurant. Details and ticket information are available at:

Whitney-Port-Headshot.jpgWhitney Port serves as a spokesperson for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, as part of a national initiative for early detection among young women.The October 13 benefit marks Port's first major public appearance on behalf of the organization. The event, which includes a reception, silent auction and Whitney Eve fashion presentation, will be held at Domaine Chandon winery from 5:30-8:30pm. 

Since 2006, Chandon has supported local and national initiatives in the fight against breast cancer. As a proud sponsor of NBCF, Domaine Chandon invites consumers to join them in the fight by entering the code "Chandon4theCause" on Chandon's Facebook page to activate a $1 donation to NBCF. Chandon is also providing Facebook fans the ability to easily share the promotion with their networks to continue to raise awareness for the cause and NBCF.

Wine Country Personality: Steven Emil Rogstad

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Submitted by Cuvaison Estate Wines

wcPersonality_CuvaisonRogstad_pic1.jpgIf a winemaker's personality could transcend into the wine he begets, Cuvaison wines would reflect something of a "passion-meets-hilarity" note. Winemaker Steven Rogstad is often grinning, as though teetering on the frontier between laughter and inspiration. Disposition aside, Cuvaison, is pleased to have Steve on board, as he consistently produces gracefully balanced, and structured wines.

Born in the cold reaches of North Dakota, Steve enjoyed a quiet adolescence with his family in the nearby small town of Minot. It was a sleepy town for a bright young man, and Rogstad dreamed of becoming like his childhood idol Jacques Cousteau; explorer, ecologist, filmmaker and all-around "ninja" of the 20th century. At the age of 17, and the day after high school graduation, Steve boarded the Empire Builder, and rode across the United States to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he pursued the course of study he loved; Literature and English.

Towards the end of his undergraduate experience, Steve had the opportunity to travel to Paris. Up until that time, he wasn't much of a drinker at all, and certainly didn't have a taste for fine wines. His apartment in Paris was located close to the Buci Marketplace and 6th arrondissement of Paris; hotbeds for culture, food and wine. The Parisian's way of incorporating wine into every facet of life is what really planted the winemaking "bug" in Steve.

Napa Valley Grape Harvest Begins!


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!

Charles Krug Winery Day

KRUG_Event_TastingsOnLawn_2.jpgTasting on the Lawn Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Napa's First Winery

Where will you be this Saturday? Hopefully you already have tickets (and if not - CLICK HERE) to the annual Tasting on the Lawn celebration at Charles Krug Winery where they will toast the winery's 150th anniversary!

Enjoy tastings of Charles Krug's current releases, barrel tastings, rare tasting of older, vintage wines, food and wine pairings, live music, and there will be several opportunities to meet members of the Peter Mondavi Family.

KRUG_Bottle_NV_CS_06_Beauty.jpgCelebration Highlights:

  • Tastings of all Charles Krug's current releases, from sauvignon blanc to cabernet sauvignon, including the winery's Limited Release and Family Reserve wines. Food pairings by Knikcbockers' Catering

  • Chefs from several Napa Valley restaurants serving samples of their specialties also paired with Charles Krug wines. Featured restaurants include Michael Chiarello's acclaimed Bottega, Cindy Pawlcyn's eclectic Backstreet Kitchen, and her brand new Mediterranean eatery, Brassica.

  • "Easy Everyday Pairings" -- Charles Krug wines served with fun, casual foods like pizza from the wood-fired oven, grilled burgers, tacos and even popcorn.

  • Actors portraying Charles Krug and his wife Carolina Bale Krug will stroll the Great Lawn in period costume, presenting vignettes from their lives 150 years ago.

  • Special pourings from magnums of Charles Krug's 150th Anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon and a rare tasting of older wines from the estate's cellar in the ballroom of Charles Krug's 1881 Carriage House.

  • Meet members of the Peter Mondavi Family, who will be on hand for photos and to sign bottles for visitors.

  • Live music on the main stage will provide a backdrop for all of the festivities. Featured is the popular Steely Dan tribute band, Steely Scam.

The Summer Grilling Wine Guide

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grilledSteak.jpgSummertime . . .and the grilling is easy. The long, warm days of summer are reason enough to fire up the grill - or barbecue - and enjoy some of the tastiest food on the planet with family and friends. Serving a good wine with fare hot off the grill turns dinner into a feast to be savored and making a good wine match is easy if you know how.

Making that good wine match begins with knowing the food to be grilled. While grilling imparts smoky, caramelized flavors, it is - with a few major exceptions - the food's intrinsic character that suggests good wine choices. As with most wine and food matches, the key is to select a wine that both complements the flavor and approximates the flavor intensity of the food.

For example, grilled steaks offer rich, hearty, mouthfilling flavor that pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which offer similar richness, heartiness and depth; Kenwood Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Valley of the Moon Sonoma County Syrah and - for more smoothness and complexity - Valley of the Moon Cuvée de La Luna Red Wine are all terrific matches.

Freemark Abbey Celebrates 125th Anniversary

freemarkAbbey_125thCelebrationJuly.jpgWine lovers are invited to raise a glass to history at a special event in July.

ST. HELENA, Calif. -- Freemark Abbey invites wine lovers on July 16 to join in a "Toast to 125 Years" as the winery celebrates 125 years in the Napa Valley. From 1 to 4 p.m., guests will enjoy past, present and future vintages of Freemark Abbey wines paired with small bites presented by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn. The winery will also unveil "History," its highly anticipated 125th anniversary blend, a limited-edition red wine that was crafted from the finest lots in the cellar spanning vintage, variety and vineyard.

"The history that this winery has seen and been part of is incredible," said Ted Edwards, director of winemaking who has been with Freemark Abbey for 26 years. "Freemark Abbey started when the Napa Valley's biggest crop was prunes, not grapes. We survived Prohibition, participated in the Paris Tasting and have watched wine become an important part of American culture. "

Tickets to the event are $50. For reservations or more information, call (800) 963-9698. Or e-mail Guests must be 21 or older to attend. Not able to make it to the celebration on July 16th? Plan a a wine tasting visit anytime through the end of July and take advantage of a special two for one tasting offer. CLICK HERE!

Wine Makes Father's Day Meal Extra Special

bvWines_GeorgeDeLaTour.jpgNAPA, Calif., May 25, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- For Father's Day, all Dad really wants is a little respect, a little evidence that you've been paying attention. Show him that you haven't missed a step by making his favorite meal.  Even better -- give Dad a bottle of wine selected specifically to enhance the flavor, the aroma, the experience of his favorite meal. And you know what that meal is, don't you?

To ease your gift giving, here's a helpful group of wine-pairing suggestions: 

"Burger Pop"
For "Burger Pop," the patty and the bun are just the beginning. He learned long ago that the biggest, best flavors can come from artful combinations of ingredients. That's why "Burger Pop" is happy to pair a bottle of Chalone Estates Pinot Noir with his latest creation, the farm-raised buffalo, sauteed mushroom, Roquefort burger on a brioche bun. 

"Delivery Dad"
What is Dad's favorite thing to make for dinner? Yep, a phone call. That a quick trip of digits across the touch screen is all it takes for food to show up is an endless source of amazement for "Delivery Dad." Whether it's spicy Vietnamese, Thai or Chinese, "Delivery Dad" is even happier to pair it with Snap Dragon Riesling.

"Fajita Father"
There's nothing like the sizzle of fajitas, onions and peppers on a hot iron skillet to signal that a hearty dinner is about to be served. "Fajita Father's" seared steak strips go well with his signature salsa. For a fruity mouthful to offset the spice, they're even better paired with BV Coastal Estates Red Blend.

Avoid the Curse of "The Gift"

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mwd-big-and-bold-reds-042511-265.jpgEvery year, on the third Sunday of June, fathers all around the country start bracing for The Father's Day Gift. They know that on Father's Day, their children want to show their love and appreciation for all the baseball games, fishing trips and steak and Cabernet dinners. But a macaroni necklace is no longer an acceptable gift and well, another tie? Dad deserves better! can help you break out of a bad gift cycle with some unique and classic wine gifts that dad will love. Do you have a game-day father who's known to exclaim that the team needs to, "Go big or go home?" How about the Big & Bold Reds wine pack, with three full-bodied yet food-friendly red wines that will go perfectly with his favorite dinner.

How about the sophisticated father who waits for the best? The Cellar Collection Aged Cabernets pack features bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from two of Napa Valley's most celebrated producers. Packed in a wooden box, the 1996 Joseph Phelps and the 1997 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignons are perfectly aged, richly layered and complex--just like dad!

Mom Deserves a Glass of Wine

mwd_PamperPinkBasket.jpgAh, Mother's Day!! When the sun is shining and Mom is serenely smiling while her children play happily and quietly in a flowery meadow, frolicking with brand-new puppies . . . at least that's what it looks like in that greeting card commercial.

In reality, Mother's Day is when children of all ages shower their mothers with well-deserved Mother's Day gifts and praise, blissfully forgetting the frustration and stress they've caused.

Moms have handled it all and she really deserves the best. Is it any wonder why Mom always keeps a bottle of wine around? She deserves a little luxury and relaxation now and then! Mother's Day allows us all to show our moms the appreciation she deserves.

This year, pamper her with gifts from For ultimate relaxation, give her a homemade spa day with the Luxury Wine & Spa Basket or the Pamper Her Pink Wine Gift Basket. In addition to a bottle or two of wine, each basket is filled with soothing and sweet-smelling bath and body soaps, lotions and treats from San Francisco Soap Company.

January Wines of the World: Sierra Barbera

redwine.jpgThe Calaveras Winegrape Alliance will host its January Wines of the World event Thursday, Jan. 13 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Murphys Historic Hotel. Guest presenter is Matt Hatcher, owner of Hatcher Winery, who will pour a number of Sierra Foothill Barbera wines. According to Hatcher, "The reputation of the Sierra Foothill Barbera is growing quickly, and guests at the event will find out what others have discovered - that Sierra Foothill Barberas are truly among our finest red wines."

Barbera is a red Italian wine grape variety that, as of 2000, was the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy. It produces good yields and is known for its deep color, low tannins and robust fruit flavors of cherry, red and blackberry. Outside of Italy, Barbera is rarely found in Europe except for small plantings in Greece, Romania, and Slovenia. However, in California, Barbera is one of the most successful of the Piemontese (the area in Italy most Barbera grows) grapes to be adapted in the state with more than 8,000 acres of plantings.

Top Wine Stories of 2010

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By Courtney Cochran

Silly prices for Lafite in China.  A wine ed gone maverick (and getting majorly trashed in the media). A schizophrenic harvest.  Stellar new apps on the market.  Cow horns getting cool...What didn't happen in 2010?  Looking back, it was a year of flux, with major trends and market shares shifting around the globe, consumer attitudes skewing from snobbery to self-orientation, and raucous weather keeping things interesting right here in our own backyard.  Herein, highlights. 

Hectic Harvest
Without a doubt, the happening that generated the most press here in the US was the year's wild grape harvest.  From coast to coast, unnaturally cool weather pushed harvest weeks behind schedule.  Along the way, clusters were blasted by errant heat spikes (resulting in serious sunburn) and late season rains pummeled fruit left on the vine into the fall.  We can't help but point to climate change for the continued wild ride that's become harvest; this year was the wildest in memory.

Give Back This Holiday Season

girlGivingBackHolidays.jpgThe holiday spirit of goodwill begins with you. This year, give a gift that's truly needed. We promise, your generosity will be as rewarding to give as it is to receive. See our wine country neighbors dedicated in helping you help others.

WINES NO LONGER AVAILABLE - - Victories Wine Collection
Peggy Fleming is not just an ice-skater. Read about her battle with breast cancer, the brith of Fleming-Jenkins Winery and how purchasing her Victorious Wine collection will benefit breast cancer research.

St Francis Winery & Vineyards & Vineyard Vines - Whale of a Chardonnay
Each bottle from the limited-run comes in a specially designed vineyard vines wine tote for $45 with $15 going directly to one of the winery's favorite causes, Waterkeeper Alliance.  This 100% Sonoma County Chardonnay is a classic Sonoma expression of the varietal, displaying overt tropical fruit and apple flavors, rich toasty oak notes and a crisp, supple finish. CLICK HERE to purchase.

Gallo Family Vineyards - Every Cork Counts
Gallo started a campaign at the beginning of November that benefits the organization Meals on Wheels which helps feed Americans in need. Mail a cork from any of the company's wines and Gallo Family Vineyards will donate $5 to help fight hunger. Last cork count was at 2,057. Let's see if we can't all boost that number higher. CLICK HERE for more details

Celadon Restaurant - Holiday Corkage
In support of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford, if you bring in a new, unwrapped toy of at least $15 value, Celedon will waive the corkage fee on one bottle of wine. Start loading up the cars with toys, this ends Dec 23rd. (Celadon is located in downtown Napa along the riverfront - CLICK HERE to make reservations)

Christmas Dinner with Kenwood Vineyards

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thanksgivingwine.jpgA Wine Guide

Christmas will soon be here and - as always - Christmas dinner will be a highlight of the day. Whether your tradition is a casual buffet or a sit-down feast, selecting and serving wines to complement Christmas dinner need not be daunting. A bit of guidance and your own good taste will lead you to wines sure to make the meal memorable.

First, relax. Picking wines to accompany a meal - even Christmas dinner - is a straightforward process. Take comfort in knowing that terrific wines to go with your Christmas dinner are available in every price range and the most satisfying matches often can be found among popular, well priced labels like Kenwood Vineyards.

2010 Wine Harvest: Schizophrenic & Still Uncertain

By Courtney Cochran

Depending on who you talk to, the 2010 harvest in wine country was anything from incredible to downright awful. Why such a disparity?  The year was, in the truest sense of the word, a rollercoaster of a vintage, one in which an unseasonably cool summer prefaced unruly late season rains, with a smattering of unexpected events further complicating matters in between (think sporadic triple-digit heat spikes).  The result was a harvest that fell two to four weeks behind schedule - leaving many a winemaker biting his nails in anticipation of when things might kick into gear - and culminated in a mad dash to harvest when things warmed up and rains loomed.  Amidst all this mayhem, some winegrowers came out on top, while others were just unlucky.    

Here's a closer look at the factors that drove this year's wacky harvest and the circumstances that led some to come out on top while others were left wishing that 2010 had never happened.

Mendocino County: A 'Grape' Cinderella Story

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!

Wine Country Cyber Exclusive!


mwd_Blowout.jpgWhat's better than a great deal on wine? A great deal on incredible wine, with $0 shipping! For CyberWeekend, get 12 bottles of wine - 6 reds and 6 whites - for only $99 with the Winecountry Selections Dozen. You save $80! The holidays mean family, friends, entertaining and gift giving, so 12 bottles of delicious wines will definitely be used and it will make your life so much easier when delivered right to your door.

That's $8.25 a bottle, saving you 45% off everyday low prices! Add free shipping and you are saving even more!

These Special Selections include a versatile wine selection from around the world. For the white wines, there are 3 each of the bright, light Castle Road Semillon-Chardonnay blend and the unoaked, refreshing Bloomside Chardonnay. For the red wines, discover 3 each of the fruity, yet balanced Argentine Ojos Verdes Cabernet Sauvignon and the Aussie Reti Cabernet-Shiraz; focused, bold and enchanting! The unique selection process at, who uses both tasting panels of wine lovers like you and wine experts, ensures that every wine is of top quality and the utmost in value. Only the runaway winners are selected so you can choose with confidence.

Healdsburg Itinerary: Russian River & Environs

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grapes4.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When visiting the achingly cute hamlet of Healdsburg - replete with lovely shops, fabulous markets, quaint tasting rooms and Michelin-starred cuisine - it can be tough to motivate to venture outside city limits.  But with some of the world's foremost vineyards beckoning just beyond, it's a sure thing your efforts will be rewarded with sweeping scenery, warm hospitality and - natch - delicious pours.

Bring the Tasting Room to Your Living Room

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tastingRoom1.jpgWant to have that winery tasting room experience without the hassle of traveling to the wine country? Now you can. has introduced a one-of-a-kind product that actually brings the wine country to the comfort of your home.
How is that possible? Simple. They work with top wineries to create collections of award-winning wines contained in 50ml taste-sized bottles -- roughly twice the amount you receive in a typical tasting room pour. The wines are assembled in beautiful packages of six mini bottles - called wine samplers -- and shipped right to your doorstep.

Once your wine sampler is delivered, you can have a wine tasting experience right in your home. Just pour the wine into six glasses and swirl, sniff, and sip to your heart's delight. Heck, you don't even have to take off your fuzzy slippers.

And here's the best part: you can taste six fantastic wines from six top wineries. Do you like Cabernet? You can taste California Cabs from six of the finest producers side-by-side. A Chardonnay fan? Compare Chards made using different winemaking styles. They've got well known wineries like Grgich Hills and DeLoach and up-and-comers like La Follette and Carol Shelton. And they've got hundreds of wines to choose from. All this for as little as $19.99.

World Series Wines Part II: Player/Pairing Mashup!

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By Courtney Cochran

We simply couldn't help ourselves in pulling together wine pairings around our fav Giants players.  And why shouldn't we?  We know that you're almost as into watching our local team in the World Series as you are into quaffing the good stuff.  So with no further ado: The original San Francisco Giants Player/Wine Pairing Mashup!  

(Shout out: Thanks to my friends on Facebook whose tips helped make this piece possible!)

Tim Lincecum: Oregon Pinot Noir
Unless you're a hard-core ball fan, you don't often hear the phrase "perfect pitch" outside of a musical reference.  But thanks to Lincecum's near-perfect form on the mound, we're beginning to hear a lot more buzz about the phenomenon.  Still, the guy's known almost as well for being undersized as he is accomplished, which is why we've selected Oregon Pinot as his pairing.  Fiercely talented but often overlooked and underappreciated, Oregon Pinot is making news these days as pros (critics) and fans (consumers) alike catch on to its talents.  To wit, look for silky tannins that recall - if we may - the waves in Tim's famously long locks.

Buster Posey: Beaujolais Nouveau
As one of the youngest Giants, catcher Posey charms audiences with his youthful (dare we say "baby faced"??) visage, which means we're looking to seriously young wines to pair with this player.  With the annual release of France's Beaujolais Nouveau less than a month away, it seems only natural to pair the 2010 vintage of this popular wine with the youthful athlete.  Released every year on the third Thursday in November just weeks after it's been harvested and fermented, Beaujolais Nouveau is the definition of a "young" wine.    

World Series Wines

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What to Quaff With What to Eat While Tuning In
By Courtney Cochran

drinkingWine.jpgAT&T Park - home to SF's National-League-topping Giants - is renowned for its fancy game fare (Gilroy garlic fries, anyone?), though beer usually trumps wine as game-viewing-beverage-of-choice at the LEED-certified park.  Still, we know that vinous-inclined ball fans watching from home will no doubt reach for the corkscrew come this evening's World Series kickoff game.  Accordingly, we've put together a few suggested food and wine pairings for those of you who prefer the likes of Zin while taking in our team's next win.

Where would a true ball fan be without this classic game viewing staple?  When tucking into 'nuts, there's nothing more fitting with which to pair them than a crisp sparkling wine.  Why? Its acidity will deftly offset all the salt in this treat, while its bubbly profile and creamy mousse recall beer (though we know bubbly is better!).

*Make 'em gourmet: Upgrade your traditional basic nut to fancy Virginia versions.

Hot Dogs
We can't imagine a ball game without 'dogs.  Accordingly, uncork a fruity, medium-bodied red like Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais (for the latter, we like versions from Morgon and Brouilly) when tucking into this meaty treat.  These wines' mellow tannins will stand up to dogs' chewy texture, while their fruity flavor profiles make great foils to the savory taste of this choice game fare.

*Make 'em gourmet: Opt for Polish sausage franks for a richer, beefier taste.

A Winemaking Stroll Down Bennett Lane

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

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

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!

Exceptional 2010 Vintage Prevails Over Challenging Summer Growing Season

NAPA, Calif. (October 14, 2010) - Napa Valley Grapegrowers report that the 2010 vintage is shaping up to be of exceptional quality, despite the unruly weather that the region received.  The cooler than average summer temperatures followed by several heat spells have not distressed the grapes as predicated by some.  In fact, the long growing season is resulting in winegrapes of well-developed flavors and more balance.  The later- than-normal harvest is proving to be a quality vintage the Napa Valley Grapegrowers are proud to stand behind.

"This was, by many accounts, the most challenging growing season we've experienced in a long time, but what I am seeing has made me extremely optimistic about the flavors and quality of this year's vintage," said Ann Vawter, winemaker and proprietor at Red Mare Wines and a member of Napa Valley Grapegrowers. "These last few heat waves are helping to produce mature grapes that will help to distinguish this as a premier year for Napa Valley wines."

Starbucks to Serve Wine & Cheese?

starbucksCup1.jpgStarbucks announced today that it is reopening their Olive Way coffee shop in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood and will start serving wine, beer, and an extended food menu. Apparently, it wants to meet the demands of customers who have commented they want "more options for relaxing in our stores in the afternoon and evenings."  Apparently, the Olive Way location is known as the "learning lab" to test the waters of this new idea.

What do you think? Good idea or should Starbucks stop trying to reinvent itself and stick to coffee?

Read the full article from CNN Money.

Wine Country Exclusive: Domaine Carneros' Eileen Crane

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eileencranedccredit1.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Champagne Taittinger's American outpost is helmed by a dynamic woman bent on improving opportunities for women in wine and putting Napa on the worldwide sparkling wine map.  Part of the founding team that literally built Domaine Carneros from the ground up, CEO/Winemaker Eileen Crane is one of Wine Country's brightest stars.    

Herein, her responses to our most pressing questions.

History & Hospitality High Notes: Silverado Vineyards

silveradovineyards.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Silverado Vineyards is akin to a fine racehorse that's been groomed for performance since arriving in this world:  Not only is the precedent-setting winery still turning heads after more than 25 years on the Napa wine scene, it's staying ahead of the pack with a host of hospitality and sustainability initiatives that honor both its storied past and promising future.

Heritage High Marks
In "The Silverado Squatters" (1880), famed Scottish scribe Robert Louis Stevenson notes that "the beginning of vine planting is like the beginning of mining for precious metals: the winegrower also 'prospects,'" an apt observation given the valley's storied past as a mining community.  As Wine Country readers well know, vinous pursuits - rather than mining - are the main event today in Napa, a detail that's abundantly clear at Silverado Vineyards' beautifully articulated hilltop winery and hospitality center.

Napa Itinerary: Napa Adjacent

domainetat.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When staying in Napa, consider visiting these nearby wineries that are easily accessible to day-trippers.  Whether located within city limits or in the hills and winding canyons just further afield, they make great options for those looking to remain down-valley during their Wine Country stay.  

Napa Itinerary: Silverado Trail South

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.  

Napa Valley in a Bottle

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conncreek.jpgConn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience will teach you what each growing region has to offer.

By Ethan Fletcher

Tired of enjoying a nice Napa Cab and then forgetting everything about it the next time you want to buy a bottle?

You might want to check out Conn Creek's Barrel Blending Experience, a two-hour seminar that provides a unique introduction to Napa Valley's famed Cabernet Sauvignons. Best of all, you'll walk out with something a little harder to forget: your own bottle of custom-blended wine.

Falling somewhere between wine tasting, a history lesson, and a high school science lab, the blending experience shows off Napa Valley's unusually diverse wine-growing regions by letting you play winemaker. Inside its recently completed AVA Room, the Yountville winery has collected Cabernets from the region's 13 distinct subregions. The Cabs are lined up in barrels underneath posters that detail their unique regions, climates, and soil types. Wines are ordered according to their characteristics, starting with the three lightest varietals, which offer the softest tannins, and ending with the three boldest Cabs.

READ the rest of the article HERE!

2010 Mendocino Harvest Report

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.

Hot 10 Under $20: Sonoma Summer Sips

By Courtney Cochran

Funny things happen to people when the thermometer inches up (according to the FBI, crime rates rise 10% nationally during the summer months).  And this summer - which is tracking to be the nation's hottest on record - will be no cup of tea.  Which is why, amidst all the hoopla about the heat and the stress from the heat itself, there's nothing quite like a glass of chilled white or rosé to take the edge off of it all.

Whether the weather where you are is scorching (hello, much of inland California!), simply warm, or something in between, we've got ten summer-ready Sonoma wine reco's that are guaranteed to cool you down.

Napa Grapegrowers Cautiously Optimistic About 2010

vineyard2.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Despite the doom and gloom forecasts circulating about the 2010 vintage, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers think this year's cool summer doesn't necessarily mean disaster, or even a difficult vintage.  At an August 18th press conference held at Beckstoffer Vineyards' historic Georges III vineyard in Rutherford, the growers discussed their hopes and fears for the harvest this year.  The consensus: it's still too early to call.

Harvest dates vary depending on the grape varietal and location, but typically occur in mid-to-late October for red grapes like cabernet sauvignon.  With harvest still two and a half months away, no one knows how this vintage will turn out.  

When Wine Is Not Enough...

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By Deirdre Bourdet

I love wine. But sometimes only a beer will do.  Here are a few places to slake your beerish thirst around wine country and not feel like a heathen for ordering the pint.

Oxbow Wine Merchants.  Despite the name, the Wine Merchants are much beloved by locals for their draft beer selection, excellent back deck, and televised sports inside in the air conditioning.  Tuesday locals' nights and weekend happy hours from 2-5pm bring the already affordable brews to the very quaffable $3.50 range.  Don't miss the watermelon beer from 21st Amendment... not sweet, not fruity, just really refreshing--and it's got something in it that might be good for you.

Wine Sampling's Small (Read: Big) Idea

home_hero_2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It seems obvious to eco-conscious winos that wine packaging should be shrinking, but until lately that idea has been little more than just a soupçon of wishful thinking.  But Nor Cal's is turning that hunch into reality, thanks to the company's innovative new line of 50mL bottles (compare to a standard wine bottle's 750mL) that allows consumers to taste tiny amounts of wines from a growing roster of winery partners.

Taste Mendocino Wines

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 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!

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

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

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.

Sequoia Grove

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. 

April Showers Bring...Springtime Bubbles

By Courtney Cochran

The intermittent showers that doused Northern California earlier this week may have been met with dismay by those unlucky enough to be caught in their midst sans paraplouie, but their arrival signals an altogether more sunny trend we can anticipate along with May flowers:  the opening of brunch season.  And just in time for the ordering of countless benedicts, the donning of polo shirts and pastel getups and the lazing away of innumerable hours at cozy outdoor tables comes a bubbly literally tailor made for the season:  Pommery's Springtime Brut Rosé Champagne ($65)

Top 10 Most Asked Wine Questions (With Answers!)

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By Courtney Cochran, that fount of Internet-based info dedicated to answering every pressing question site visitors can dream up (top searches in '09 included What is Twitter?, What is the meaning of life?  and - not kidding - What is Miley Cyrus' phone number?), kindly shared with us their top ten most frequently asked wine questions.  And since we figure we know a thing or two about that topic, at least, we took a pass at answering these burning vinous questions.  

Miley's number, however, is another story. 

"Secret" Spring Whites

By Courtney Cochran

Surprise pals with your vinous prowess as you uncork these lesser-known whites this spring.

Famously made in northwestern Spain's ocean side Galicia region, Albariño is also grown stateside by a handful of adventurous growers including central coast white wine powerhouse Tangent.  A crowd pleaser thanks to its medium body, food friendliness and fruit basket aromatic profile, Albariño works as well with fish tacos as it does with fruit salad and lighter meat dishes - though it may shine brightest of all when sipped on its own. 

Wonderfully full-bodied, this aromatic variety from northwestern Italy has surprising heft for a white wine, making it an excellent choice for food pairings where you might otherwise look to red.  But take note: Arneis' eclectic flavor profile - think blossoms, pears and herbs, punctuated by an almond finish - make it tricky for food pairings, though it may just be tailor-made for chicken salad tossed with dill, almond slivers, pear slices and a kiss of dried cranberry.
Note: look for versions from Roero DOC.

Top 10 DIY Wine Tasting Themes

Wine glasses

Image by slack12 via Flickr

By Courtney Cochran

As a wine writer and some time hip wine party planner, I'm asked time and again about how to throw a great wine tasting at home. Naturally, I've no shortage of ideas. And given that the recession has inspired ever more tasters to turn to their own homes and devices to explore the vinous world in all its grape glory, I here submit my top recommendations for easy-to-implement wine tastings in your home. As for wrangling the troops, that's entirely up to you.  

The Wine Next Door
With wine now made in all 50 of our great states, it's never been easier to host a tasting highlighting wines raised in your own 'hood. Whether your area specializes in Rhône reds (AZ), crisp Rieslings (NY), Bordeaux reds (CO) or Seyval Blanc (GA), there's bound to be something interesting to get to know.  For a cool twist on this theme (or for those whose local wines may be far from new news), try a tasting that features wines from little-known locales around the US. 

Special Bottle Sunday
Inspired by the national phenomenon that grew out of longtime, Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Special Bottle Night, Special Bottle Sunday is just what it sounds like: an evening to invite over your friends to share special wines you've all been saving can't remember any more.  The theme makes for a wonderfully congenial tasting that focuses on great friends and great wine - and reminds you all that you don't have to have a reason to enjoy the better things in life.
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Easter Sunday Openings in The Napa Valley

Each holiday season The Council produces a list of "Businesses Open" ... and this Easter is no exception.
Click Here for this helpful summary of Easter Sunday openings for wineries, restaurants, and spas.
Happy Holidays from
The Napa Valley Destination Council!


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collage_over_image_page41_10_1[1].JPGBy Courtney Cochran

A recent San Francisco tasting of some of our nation's top Biodynamic® wines proved revelatory as potential for these much-buzzed-about quaffers goes.  Made from grapes grown in vineyards that are treated with special natural soil additions and farmed according to the lunar calendar (seriously), these wines are beginning to turn heads with their graceful fruit profiles and authentic transmission of terroir.  Read on for some of my favorite producers from the event, along with tasting highlights and recommendations.  

And for more on the practice of Biodynamic® farming - along with historical facts and philosophical considerations, such as the importance of biodiversity on farms - check out this useful site from the Demeter Biodynamic® Trade Association, organizers of the tasting.

Barrel Tasting In Yakima Valley- Who Knew?

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.

Attn Pinotphiles: La Paulée If You Please! (I Do)

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lepaulee3.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

For Pinot fans who aren't sufficiently "off" the variety as a result of the slew of recent "Pinotgate" allegations, there is an upcoming tasting in the Bay Area sure to satisfy your every Pinot fantasy.  Enter La Paulée de San Francisco, a now-annual wine and food bacchanal inspired by the namesake grand feast held each year in Burgundy at the conclusion of the harvest.  With a bevy of the best names in French Pinot and Chardonnay - not to mention a stellar lineup of star chefs and sommeliers - on the docket, this year's event looks to be something you won't want to miss.

The Plight of The Cab-Drinker

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By Deirdre Bourdet

One of the biggest challenges facing a fan of cabernet sauvignon is finding foods that stand up to their bold and brawny wine. Unless you subsist entirely on red meats, you have no doubt noticed cab's tendency to overwhelm or clash with more delicate flavors and textures, particularly vegetables or white meats and fish.  Does this mean that you can never enjoy a glass of cab with these kinds of meals?  Of course not.  It just means you need to be more creative about bridging the gap between them.

Here are a few pointers on making your food more compatible with cabernet:

With Respect: Wine Tales of the Decade

robertmondavi.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Props to Sasha Paulsen over at the Napa Valley Register for penning a spectacular piece on the top trials, travails and triumphs of the last ten years in wine. Beginning with a nod to the two economic downturns that "bookended" the decade, Paulsen explores everything from the departure of legends (RIP, Robert Mondavi) to the erection of Tuscan castles to a move towards producing wines with environmental and sustainable cues in mind.

New Year In Wine: 10 Predictions for 2010

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newyear2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

With 2009 behind us, let's all breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn our sights - not to mention our vinous radar - on the New Year.  If you're like us, a fresh start means you're looking forward to good things like pay raises, thinner waistlines and general prosperity like we haven't seen in some time.  And while that's all good and well, we'd like to remind you that there's more - much more, in turns out - in store for you in the world of wine in the New Year.  

Read on for our predictions on what'll be hot - as well as what'll 2010.

Clef du Vin: Best Wine Gadget Ever, Or Just Another Expensive One?

clefduvin.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The Clef du Vin purportedly allows a collector to identify when his or her wines will be at their prime by mimicking the aging process.  For each second the copper-looking alloy is submerged in the wine, the wine supposedly "ages" one year.  If true, this has got to be the best gadget ever invented!!  Imagine taking the guesswork out of when to drink your precious bottles, and even out of which bottles to buy for the collection.  Imagine being able to buy only cheap, young wine and having it taste like pricy, aged collectors' items in a matter of seconds.

Bridge Wines: The Ultimate List

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Red with meat, white with fish?  Not necessarily! 

By Courtney Cochran

For years, the annals of wine drinking 101 have told us that we must drink whites with light dishes like fish and reds with sturdier fare such as steak.  Not so!  Turns out there are many wines that manage to work well with foods on both sides of the intensity spectrum - and they're primed for your food and wine pairing pleasure.  We call them bridge wines, and we've prepared a whole list of our favorites for you below, along with tips - natch - on the best fare with which to pair them.  

Get ready to start drinking outside the proverbial wine box. 

Football Wines

footballwine.jpegBy Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

With New Year's bowl games nearly upon us (and Super Bowl '10 just around the corner!), we decided to offer you some suggestions for wines to pair with football.  Because while these games have long been beer-centric, we're convinced there's room for a few good wines after kick-off.

Bowl Game Bruiser
There's something undeniably masculine about Petite Sirah, the hearty grape that produces massive reds like Parducci's standout Mendo bottling, True Grit.  Crafted from gnarled old vines that deliver loads of palate-pleasing black fruit, vanilla, pepper and caramel, True Grit might as well be tailor-made for the biggest grill fare - think steak, sausage, brisket and ribs.  In other words, it's just what your football fan ordered.  Game on!
2006 Parducci "True Grit" Mendocino Petite Sirah ($20)  

Passion, not Pretense

Julio.jpgPalmaz Vineyards reflects the ingenuity and determination of its owner.

By Ethan Fletcher

Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, Julio Palmaz doesn't give the impression of being the millionaire inventor of a medical device that has saved many lives. Just as his Palmaz Vineyards, located virtually unmarked off a windy country road on the outskirts of Napa, doesn't seem all that extraordinary at first glance. But like the winery, which houses one of the most sophisticated underground wine-making operations in the world, Palmaz has more going on than meets the eye.

Trim and youthful looking at 63, Palmaz was born outside of Buenos Aires-his father, a bus driver, used to send the young Julio to the store to fill up glass jugs with wine. After attending medical school in Argentina, he came to the United States in 1977 for his residency at UC Davis, and it was while living in the Bay Area that Palmaz and his wife, Amalia, discovered the magic of Napa Valley.
"I had this little white Triumph Spitfire, and we used to love exploring Wine Country on the weekends," Palmaz recalls.

It was also at Davis that Palmaz first came up with the idea that was to enable the couple to fulfill their fanciful dreams of one day owning their own Napa winery. Interested in medical innovation, Palmaz developed a coronary stent-a miniature collapsible scaffolding expanded by an inflatable balloon that essentially props up clogged arteries.

Read More

Top 10: Mood-Boosting Wines

Feeling down?  Let these cheerful wines turn that frown upside down.

By Courtney Cochran

This time of year - and this year in particular (sheesh) - there's a laundry list of things that could be getting you down.  Lost jobs, money worries and holiday stress are just a few of the icky items that could very well be a drag on your otherwise sunny mood.  Happily, we're here with a list of wines known for their mood-boosting powers, all packaged into a convenient list.  So, should you need them, we offer not just a few but 10 reasons to stay cheerful this wintry season.

Three to Watch

You may not know these winemakers-but maybe you should.

By Linda Murphy

Who are all these winemakers? That's the reaction of many wine drinkers when they scan retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, and see dozens of unfamiliar labels. Some of them are small brands, numbering in the hundreds, not thousands, of cases. The wines are sold by word of mouth, and the good ones are quickly snapped up by keen listeners. Here are three winemakers who are getting good buzz.

Holiday Sparklers

Tis' the season to be sparkly! Our present to you? A perfect sparkling and festive accessory- for your glass that is! After all, what could be more beautiful and festive than the red, white and sparkling wine swirling in your hand? To receive this gift, simply click to our friends below and get ready to choose that perfect holiday accessory to sparkle your glass!

Champagne & Sparkling Wine

Merry Good Gear: Top Wine Gifts of 2009

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By Courtney Cochran

fishnet-wine-tote-two-bottle-R-2[1].jpgWith the holidays already upon us, many of us are wondering: what in the world will I buy for the wine lover on my list this year?  Please, allow us to suggest: At the conclusion of a year that can only be described as tough, let loose with gifts that embrace the adventurous, offbeat side of wine.  Because what we can all use right now is a healthy dose of humor - packaged, of course, in stellar style.  

Bonny Book
Santa Cruz wine scion Randall Graham's zany new book, Been Doon So Long ($23), is being hailed as the best new thing in wine reads since Gary Vaynerchuk's manic wine Tweets first hit the web.  Graham - founder of the trailblazing, troublemaking (in a good way) Boony Doon brand - peppers the pages with hilarious literary parodies, song lyrics ("Born to Rhone", anyone?) and more hilarity, but at the heart of it all are some serious questions about the future of New World wine. Score it here.

Tote Tease
Built NY - which first brought us their stylishly minimalist neoprene wine totes several years ago - has only continued to riff on their original concept since, with great success.  And though their well-crafted line of picnic and computer accessories charms as well, we still love their basic wine tote design - updated for '09, of course, in a very cool new "fishnet" design.  So let your bottles AND your style shine through with this terrific new tote, available in two-bottle style for a rightly reasonable $17.

Natural Is As Natural Does

So-called "natural wines" are under the microscope these days
By Courtney Cochran
Twitter: @HipTastesMaven

The natural wine debate reached a fever pitch last week when the San Francisco Chronicle's head wine scribe, Jon Bonne, penned a blog post asserting that "natural wine is toast." At the core of his rant? The co-opting of the term - intended, at least initially, to describe wines made with minimal intervention - by marketers who wish to capitalize on its buzz-worthiness. The problem with buzz, of course, is that as soon as something becomes earmarked as "buzz" it's usually lost most of its potency anyway.

Wine Spectator: Top 10 Wines of 2009

Earlier this week Wine Spectator announced their top 10 wine picks for 2009. Watch the video and hear senior editors introduce each wine and explain what makes puts a particular wine on the top 10 list!


Holiday Wine Deals

chandonHolidayPack.jpgNeed fail-proof gift ideas for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative. No worries! What could be easier than the gift of wine? Even better (and definitely faster) - order the wine directly online.

Our elves have been busy finding fabulous wine deals to fit every shopper's budget. Read on and click to find that perfect gift for your loved ones. If you're lucky, maybe they will even share! Tip: When ordering out of state, remember to check if the winery of your choice will ship to that state.

Arrowood Vineyards & Winery
Holiday Gift Collections - Choose from four elegant gift pairings that will make wonderful presents for the wine lovers on your holiday shopping list. Choose from our Classic's, Rhone style or Reserve designates. Each collection comes beautifully packaged with signature wines hand crafted by Winemaster Richard Arrowood.   

B.R. Cohn Winery
Holiday Wine Sampler - Planning a holiday party or joining friends and family at theirs - B.R. Cohn has you covered. Just order their 12 bottle holiday sampler which includes pairing suggestions to cover all your holiday foods. Currently they are offering a 25% discount on the case!

Domaine Chandon
Chandon has a variety of gift ideas for a wide range of friends whether they are a culinary expert (Epicurean 2 pk), a party host/hostess (Genuine Entertainer), or chic & savvy (The Sophisticated). And of course, you really can't go wrong with bubbles! Shipping is free on any order of $100 or more.

Deals on Champagne & Sparklers

champagne2.jpgAccording to Paul Gregutt in a recent article for the Seattle Times, prices for Champagne and sparkling wine have decreased. In fact, worldwide demand has fallen by at least 10% which can only mean one thing for you and me - it's time to buy and stock up! And for those gearing up for the holidays, it couldn't be more perfect timing.

The articles suggests a few tips in what to buy:

(1) Be adventurous. Try something new instead of sticking to the brand you always buy.

(2) Buy a vintage Champagne rather than a brut

(3) Look on the bottle to see if the grapes are grand cru. Apparently grand cru vineyards are considered to be the best and well worth if it, even if a few more extra dollars..

(4) Splurge without breaking the bank. Purchase a half bottle

Paul also recommends asking the wine seller what is on sale. One deal out there right now is from Duval-Leroy where they have half bottles of brut at $18 and a full bottle of Cuvee Paris at $35.

Other articles on picking out sparklers for the holiday season:
Bubble, Bubble Everywhere

Cooking With Wine

When You Actually Put It In the Food

By Deirdre Bourdet

Some may consider the deliberate pouring of wine into anything other than a drinking vessel or eager mouth a shameful, wasteful act.  While I see their point, wine-based cooking also happens to be one of the most delicious, easy, and traditional techniques for creating wine-friendly food.  A splash of red to deglaze your meat searing pan, a dash of white to loosen up those all-too-quickly browning onions, and you've suddenly added worlds of flavor, depth, and sophistication to your creation.
Then there are the truly wine-based recipes (coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, moules marinière, etc.) where the wine takes center stage.  Typically there is a great deal of reduction involved--simmering the wine with other ingredients to concentrate flavor and reduce the volume of liquid to a thicker, more sauce-like consistency.  These recipes make you confront the question of which bottle to use head-on, because the quality of the wine reduction really sets the tone of the dish.

What Wines to Serve for Thanksgiving

Are you at a loss when deciding on which wine to serve for Thanksgiving? Rest assured, you're not alone! Surprisingly (or not), trying to pair the perfect wine to accompany the wide variety of food we encounter with this wonderful meal is a common dilemma.  The good news is, we can help! Watch the videos below and get expert tips from those who know best. Now, what to do with eccentric family members?  We'll leave that to you!

Hoax or No - Twitter to Make Wine??

fledglingwine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It's true, management for social networking phenomenon recently announced a partnership the company has struck with San Francisco-based Crushpad, the urban winery, to make its own brand of wine: Fledgling. Proceeds for the so-called social media wine - which has its own handle, natch: @fledgling - will go to Room to Read, a charity that supports international literacy projects. And with some 49,124 followers as of press time, it sounds like Twitter's Fledgling Wine is off to a buzz-worthy start.

Wine Country in Hong Kong?


Sounds odd, but according to a recent CNN report,  Hong Kong is now home to a boutique winery by the name of 8th Estate Winery. It produces about 100,000 bottles every years and is currently selling 4 reds, 4 whites and 3 different types of dessert wines. As you can imagine, there is no space to actually grow grapes in Hong Kong considering it one of the largest populations in the world. As a result, the grapes are sourced from all over the world with 2007 vintage made with grapes from Washington and the 2008 vintage from regions of Italy. To ensure freshness, the grapes go through a flash freeze process before being shipped.

Of course the real question in all of this is - Is the wine any good?  CNN conducted a test with unsuspecting guests at a hotel bar who were served 8th Estate wine. Below are just a few of the comments:

"It's good, drinkable . . . it could be from some part of France." (Swiss man who lives in Hong Kong after tasting the Chardonnay)

"Very dry, very nice. No after taste. Is it from California?" (Miami, Florida man also in Hong Kong  after tasting the Merlot)

Guess it goes to show you, you can make wine anywhere!

CLICK HERE to read the full article

Parker Pandemonium

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parker.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

It's not easy being Robert Parker.

If the recent rash of criticism of the wine ratings czar is any indication, the lawyer-turned-world's-most-recognized-wine-critic isn't sleeping easy nights. Things first turned tough for Parker this spring when respected wine blogger Tyler Colman (AKA Dr. Vino) as well as The Wall Street Journal penned exposes on ethical missteps by members of Parker's tasting staff. And things have only continued to heat up since, with Colman penning follow-on pieces examining the veracity of Parker's so-called perfect tasting recall and discrepancies in the quality of wines rated in his publication, the Wine Advocate, and on the market.

PRESS RELEASE: Petroni Receives Top Awards

petroniWine.jpgFive of the six wines produced by Petroni Vineyards have received top awards from the prestigious 2009 Tasters Guild International Wine Judging Competition that took place this summer in Washington DC.
The Poggio alla Pietra, Petroni's flagship Brunello di Sonoma, was awarded the highest honor of Double Gold.

If there is a wine whose pants should come off, surely it is the Brunello di Sonoma.  It is big and come-hither, a full-blown Rubens of a wine, with a bouquet of cherry whipped into shape by a little leather and tobacco.  Rich as a velvet curtain.

The Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded a Gold Medal.

A layered bouquet of red bell pepper, chocolate, and crushed black cherries with subtle oak nuances.  Ruby red, silky and elegant, for years to come.

While the Sauvignon Blanc, Rosso di Sonoma and Syrah all received Silver Medals.

About Petroni Vineyards
Fabulous Tuscan-style wines & organic olive oil. Unique award winning private estate wines, including Brunello di Sonoma, developed by San Francisco North Beach Restaurant's owner. Visit Petroni Vineyards in Sonoma on the beautifully terraced hillsides of the Mayacamas Mountains that boast majestic views. Call for tasting appointments! Visit online to order wines and holiday specials. 

Nouveau Sips: Wines to Savor in 2010

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By Courtney Cochran

Let's face it: the recession taught us many of things, perhaps the most important: you've got to appreciate the small things in life. And with 2009 drawing to a close, we can all look forward a renewed perspective (not to mention uptrending economic indicators, whew!) in the new year. To go along with this reinvigorated view of things, we offer the following ten wines that are destined to be hot in 2010. Because if another thing is altogether clear as we head out of this strange era: wine is and always will be a hallmark of the good times. And, it's time for each and every one of us to start living the good life again.

So go on: The little things in life are beckoning - and go down swell with a swill of some excellent vino

Back Room Battle

Back Room Wines 10.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The film Bottle Shock tells the tale of the 1976 "Judgment of Paris," where California wines beat out their French counterparts in a widely publicized blind tasting.  This week in Napa, three local merlots go head to head against three from Bordeaux at Back Room Wines' Thursday night tasting event. It won't be blind, but it will be delicious.

Top Wine Faults & How To Deal

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By Courtney Cochran

We've all been there before: The wine you've ordered arrives at your table at the chichi restaurant and smells...wrong. You're not sure what's behind the malodorous scent, but you're quite sure it smacks of your Aunt Edna's moldy attic. You're desperate to send it back, but nervous the "dirty attic" excuse will come off as uninformed, inadequate and pathetically incorrect all at once. But take heart, worrisome wino: there is a method to the madness of decoding wine faults (as usual, we've got you covered).

Because no one - your Aunt Edna perhaps excluded - should have to suffer through the unpleasantness of a mold-imbued wine.

Boo Worthy Wines

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by Courtney Cochran

dessertWine1.jpgIn a curious twist of linguistic fate, some decidedly frightening-sounding statements have been lately transformed into vehicles of praise. Mostly refashioned, as far as I can tell, by loquacious members of the surfer/skater culture prevalent in California, the phrases run the gamut of topics and references, but given the time of year I've singled out two that undoubtedly invoke Halloween.

A sampling: .

"These [insert noun in the plural form] are scary good!"

Translation: These [things] are delicious.

"That [insert noun] was wicked bad."
Translation: That [thing] was very cool/extremely impressive. (Note: True to the ironic spirit of this group, the use of two negative descriptors - "wicked" and "bad" - in this one makes it all that much more complimentary.

And so, to borrow a page from this verbally adventuresome sub-culture, I'd like to say that the following sweet wines are scary good, and that serving them on Halloween this year would be wicked bad of you.

Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Repeat

By Deirdre Bourdet

tastingParty.jpgWine tasting parties always seem like such a fun, good idea, particularly this time of year as the evenings get chillier, and harvest-themed wine events get pricier.  If only someone else would throw one... but actually, hosting a wine-tasting is a snap when you keep it simple.

Step 1: Pick a tasting theme--like oak vs. no oak Chardonnay, Napa vs. Sonoma, Old World vs. New World, or some other contest fraught with passion and potential conflict.  If you need thematic inspiration, or suggestions for generally-available wines at all price points that are good examples of regional or stylistic wines, check out Great Wine Made Simple by Andrea Immer (now known as Andrea Immer Robinson). 

Wine Tasting with Robert M. Parker Jr.

ciaParker.jpgST. HELENA, CA - Great news for wine enthusiasts anticipating the tasting of the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape vintage at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone with Robert M. Parker, Jr. Three more wines have been added to the flight, making a total of 21 wines from this excellent vintage to be tasted. This annual event has generated an endowment in excess of $1 million for Wine Advocate scholarships for the CIA's Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies. This year's tasting is scheduled for Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. at the CIA's Napa Valley campus.

When Parker first reviewed the 2007 Châteauneuf du Pape wines, he awarded them ratings in the mid to high 90s. According to Parker, "the entire vintage will be very long-lived given the extraordinary balance in the wines. (And) given this quality, the high demand and limited supply from these producers makes 2007 one of the most collectible vintages in recent memory."

Mendocino High: Phillips-Hill Estates Pinot Noir

PH-Oppenlander-06.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

In the world of wine as we know it, few winemakers have followed so circuitous a route to oenophilia as Toby Hill, owner/winemaker for Phillips-Hill Estates in Philo. A California native who grew up in Manhattan before returning to the Bay Area for high school, then heading back to New York to pursue a successful career as an artist and ultimately settling down in Mendocino, Hill literally began making wine on a whim when a friend gave him several bottles of unfinished wine one harvest. Several years later, the self-taught winemaker is turning heads with his extremely limited, Burgundian-style Pinots made from Mendo's emerging comptche sub-region. Read on for notes on my favorite of his current offerings.

More Than Just Winetasting

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benzigerTractor.jpgWith wine sales down and tourists carefully considering every dollar earmarked for travel, Napa Valley and Sonoma are trying to attract local visitors with more than driving from tasting room to tasting room along the highways.  According to Linda Castrone's new article "Wine Tourism Goes Local" from Palate Press, "wineries are getting creative".

No longer just a couple of glasses of  wine with a few crackers here and there, many wineries have since expanded to offer wine education classes, food & wine pairing tastings, vineyard tours by tractor, SUV, or even a hay wagon, picnic areas and Bocce ball courts.

Places like Kunde Family Estates in Sonoma even offer "Eco Tours" with their winegrower Jeff Kunde perfect for those who like to hike, bike or want their dog to tag-a-long. (Upcoming Bike Tour is on October 4th!)

There's a three day Spring Blending Camp at Schramsberg in Napa Valley (March 14-16, 2010), though the cost ($1100/per person) may preclude most.  Their three day harvest camp has already passed, but several Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries are still offering a host of crush and harvest related activities that are much more affordable. Be sure to check out the events calendar.

Suffice to say, visitors to wine country have plenty of activities to choose from whether you are a local going on a day trip or out of the area spending a couple of days.

To read full article from Palate Press, CLICK HERE.

Wine Country Personality: Remi Cohen

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personalityMerryvale.jpgMerryvale Vineyards - Vice President of Vineyard Operations

Remi Cohen has been a winegrower and vineyard manager in the Napa Valley since 2001. Remi oversees Merryvale Vineyard's grape growing operations, emphasizing wine quality, sustainable farming practices and green certification on their estate vineyards. 

Remi has worked closely with the Napa Green Farm Certification program and Fish Friendly Farming to develop environmentally friendly farming plans.  Sustainable practices include utilizing permanent cover crops for erosion control, utilizing compost to recycle nutrients, attracting beneficial insects through the use of insectaries, and adjusting canopy management practices to reduce disease pressure. 

CRUSH IT - Book Signing by Gary Vaynerchuk at V. Sattui Winery

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St. Helena, California, September 2009 - Internet entrepreneur and wine retailer extraordinaire Gary Vaynerchuk will talk about his new book CRUSH IT! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In On Your Passion and sign copies in his only wine country appearance this fall, at V. Sattui Winery on Saturday, October 24. V. Sattui Winery is located at 1111 White Lane off Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. The book is published by HarperStudio and retails for $19.99.

From 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Gary will talk about the book, answer questions and sign copies for the public. The event is free and all are welcome. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at $19.99. A range of lunch/picnic options are available at a range of pricing, from bbq to pizza to sandwiches, cheeses, salads and more.

In honor of Gary's visit to Napa Valley, V. Sattui Winery will be making a donation to Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in St. Helena.

During his visit to Sattui, he will also appear in a 'cameo' appearance on V. Sattui's The Wine Guys online program, hosted by President Tom Davies and Senior Vice President Peter Godoff.

Bottle Shock Movie: Fiction vs. Fact

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bottleshock3.jpgBRENDA LHORMER, Producer, Bottle Shock: "The heart of the story is true - the competition in France, Spurrier's role in facilitating the competition, the Napa vintners taking first place, and Bo and Jim's struggles and ultimate victory as the owners of the winery who made the winning Chardonnay.
We would have loved to tell the entire story about the competition and all the wineries involved, it would have been impossible - one can only cover so much in a 100-minute narrative feature. Bo, Jim, Gustavo - REAL. Sam (the pretty blond intern) -- FICTIONAL, but inspired by the groundbreaking and aspiring female winemakers who were out there working. Jo, the bartender -- FICTIONAL, for fun.
Many will note that Mike Grgich, who was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena at the time, is not a main character, as we chose to focus on the Jim and Bo Barrett - the father/son story. We could only work through so many character arcs; and more importantly, when you are dealing with real life characters, there are many legal hurdles to contend with in order to portray them."

Read on for more fun facts vs. fiction in the film or go online and buy the DVD to watch for yourself! Already seen the movie, CLICK HERE to share your story and enter the Bottle Shock Getaway Contest.

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.
bvwines.jpgCelebrate a Milestone Birthday with the Original Cult Cabernet

NAPA, Calif., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- In 1936 Georges and Fernande de Latour, founders of Beaulieu Vineyard, harvested the grapes that became the inaugural vintage of Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet, Napa's Benchmark Cabernet. Throughout the years, Beaulieu Vineyard has continued to foster and use the same remarkable, heirloom vineyards and handcrafted techniques that made this wine one of the most collected Cabernets. Today, Beaulieu Vineyard is releasing the 70th Anniversary vintage of this American Classic, the 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $110).

"Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon remains the ultimate artistic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon at BV and sets the standard for great California wines," said Jeffrey Stambor, BV Winemaker. "This wine was first created in 1936 to honor founder Georges de Latour, and with each release we commemorate his vision and passion for excellence."

Since its beginning, Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon has been sourced from the famed vineyards, BV Ranch #1 and BV Ranch #2. The first and second vineyards the de Latours purchased, these legendary vineyards help develop complex flavors because of their optimal location on the Rutherford Bench.

Watch the Harvest in Napa Valley

Want a first hand glimpse of crush season in Napa Valley already underway? Of course you do, which is why you're here!

See what Hall Wines and Goosecross have been up to . .  .

Hall Wines

Goosecross Cellars

Pre-harvest Grape Sampling from David Topper on Vimeo.

Top Napa Wine Stops?

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vineyardPic.jpgWondering which wineries to stop by on your next trip to  Napa Valley? Need some new choices if coming on a return trip?  Roy Isle of Food & Wine Magazine picked his top wine stops in Napa Valley.They included:

  • Newton Vineyard
  • Acme Fine Wines
  • CADE Winery
  • Conn Creek Winery
  • Freemark Abbey
  • Vineyard 7 & 8

All wonderful choices as they all make some great wine. You'll have to decide which ones are worth your tasting room dollars and driving mileage when you are planning your trip.

CLICK HERE for a list of Napa Valley wineries.

In the meantime, what are your favorite Napa Valley winery stops?

PRESS RELEASE: California Sustainable Winegrowing


California has the most widely adopted green winegrowing and winemaking program in the world, one that has earned the state's top environmental award. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers, has released a new video  to show highlights of its program's earth-friendly practices embraced by the state's vintners and winegrape growers.

"Consumers are interested in knowing where and how their wines are grown and made, and the California wine community has responded by becoming a progressive advocate of environmentally conscious practices," notes Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. "As our sustainable program develops and expands, we're seeing how responsible sustainable practices have a positive impact on the environment and in our communities."

CLICK HERE to read press release in it's entirety.


Chatting with ... the Producer of Bottle Shock!

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Bottle Shock stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine,
Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina and Eliza Dushku.
Catch the movie now - on DVD.

We caught up with Brenda Lhormer, producer of the charming wine-soaked movie, BOTTLE SHOCK, to get some inside scoop about the making and distribution of the film. And naturally we wanted to know whether BOTTLE SHOCK stars Alan Rickman, Chris Pine (the new "Captain Kirk" from Star Trek), and Bill Pullman got hooked on our Napa and Sonoma wines!

First off, tell us a little about how the movie came about. Where did the script come from?

BRENDA:  My husband Marc and I received the original script (written by Ross Schwartz) from a great friend of ours, Todd Harris, a Hollywood-based producer, in the fall of 2005. Ross (an entertainment lawyer turned screenwriter) was captivated by the Napa Valley back in the '60s and '70s and witnessed the transformation that occurred when Napa Valley wines beat the French in a blind tasting in 1976 (the famously coined "Judgment of Paris"). Chateau Montelena had the winning Chardonnay, and Stag's Leap Wine Cellar had the winning Cabernet Sauvignon. It blew the French away and put Napa on the map. So, twenty years later, Ross, and his wife Lanette, thought it would be a great idea to make a movie about this historic event and how it changed the world. Ross interviewed many of the major players involved in the wine industry at that time and wrote his script for Bottle Shock, focusing primarily on the characters at Chateau Montelena. 

Bottle Shock Getaway Package



Bottle Shock is based on the real events surrounding the 1976 blind tasting in Paris pitting California wines against the French. The film stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, Rachael Taylor, Dennis Farina and Eliza Dushku. Bottle Shock was shot in Sonoma and Napa during August 2007, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008.

The Producers of the hit movie Bottle Shock are giving away an amazing Wine Country get-away package for two that brings the winners "on set" to see where and how the movie was filmed. Create the perfect Bottle Shock Evening (including a viewing of the film, your favorite wine, great friends) share your story, and you may win!

The 3-Day, 2-Night Bottle Shock Getaway Package includes:

  • 2 nights at the Lodge at Sonoma, where the cast of Bottle Shock stayed (Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Eliza Dushku).
  • Helicopter tour with the producers capturing those beautiful aerial shots over Napa and Sonoma and stopping for tours and tastings at key filming locations.
  • A guided tour of Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, whose 1973 Chardonnay was the winning white wine at the 1976 Judgment of Paris.
  • A guided tour of Kunde Estate in Sonoma Valley where several scenes were filmed, including the boxing ring scenes with Bill Pullman and Chris pine going at it, and the judging scene inside the ruins of the first winery in Sonoma Valley.
  • Dinner with the producers at Della Santina in Sonoma, where scenes with Alan Rickman and Dennis Farina were filmed.
  • A bottle of chardonnay from Chateau Montelena, signed by the cast.
  • Your very own Bottle Shock movie poster.


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homewinemaking.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Who says that when it comes to winemaking you have to leave it all to the pros? Turns out there's never been a better time than today to make your own wine, whether you're set on doing so solo in your own home, with a group at your local wine shop or at one of the popular new custom crush facilities. The wine world, you see, is your oyster - or perhaps we should say, your Cabernet.

Home Winemaking
Home winemaking has been around for millennia, though it really picked up in popularity during the Prohibition era, when Americans were allowed to make a limited quantity of wine at home for their own consumption. Techniques for home winemaking have improved since then, though many of the practice's most staunch adherents continue to use fairly basic techniques (for more on how to begin making wine inexpensively at home, consider picking up the well-received The Way to Make Wine: How to Craft Superb Table Wines at Home.

New In Napa: August 09

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EstateCave1_LargeWeb.JPGBy Courtney Cochran

Home to some 300 wineries, Napa Valley is the engine that drives California's booming wine industry. It's also a place where history, art, hospitality and a search for perfection collide to produce some of the most compelling products and experiences Wine Country has to offer. Read on for new developments in this "land of plenty" in our own backyard.

PRESS RELEASE: Louis M. Martini Annual Cellar Sale

louisMartini.jpgSaturday 12th September 2009
12.00pm to 4.00pm

Built by Louis M. Martini in 1933, the Martini Winery has been a legendary landmark in the Napa Valley for over 75 years. With third generation winemaker Mike Martini at the helm, the winery continues to craft rich, distinctive wines that draw visitors to St. Helena from all over the world.

The Annual Cellar Sale offers the opportunity to buy cases of older vintage wines and big bottles, all at an incredible value with huge savings of 40-60% off retail prices!  This is an ideal opportunity to stock up your cellars and wine racks in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There will be a limited number of bottles available that have been signed by Mike Martini making them a great gift for the wine lovers in your life or a fabulous talking point at a party! We will be serving Italian style hors d'oeuvres and library wine tastings will be available.

The Martini Annual Cellar Sale begins at 12:00 pm and concludes at 4:00 pm and will be held at the winery.

Louis M. Martini
254 South St. Helena Highway (Hwy 29)
St. Helena, CA 94574
Special Tasting Offer

Wine Forward: iPhone Wine Applications

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iphone_app.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Made from scores of regions, hundreds of varieties, thousands of producers and newly released each vintage year, wine is one of the most data-challenged consumer goods we enjoy. But now, thanks to a host of fancy new iPhone and iPod Touch-compatible applications, sorting through the dizzying array of wine selections in stores, restaurants and even in your own cellar is getting a whole lot easier. Read on for our picks for top applications to fuel your Wine Country lifestyle; they make researching, scoring, sharing and even buying wine a snap - and they let you do it all from the palm of your hand.

Grape Crush Begins

It's early, but for some vineyards crush has already begun. On August 10th, in the dead of the night (3 am to be exact), Hunter Farms of Sonoma Valley began harvesting this season's first pinot noir.

Although the unusually cool weather has many Californians crying "what happened to summer?", it is actually perfect weather for growing grapes. More surprising for Hunter Vineyards is the seemingly increased quantity of grapes being harvested. According to the Press Democrat "Instead of the 15.3 tons delivered last year (to Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma), the same 5.5 acre vineyard produced 21.5 tons, a stunning 40% percent increase"Click here for full article.

Watch the Video!

Rodney Strong: Wine of the Month

chardRodStrong.jpgOne good thing about being in a tough economy is that everyone in the retail industry seems willing to give a good deal. Either that or the American public is so spending conscious, they actually pay attention to emails offering specials and discounts before automatically hitting the delete button.

Wineries are no exception. Case in point, Rodney Strong Vineyards highlights a wine each month from their collection and entices buyers with a special discount. For August, the wine is their 2007 Chardonnay Reserve ($40). They are offering %15 savings per bottle and 25% savings per case. Better yet, if you are already a wine member you get an additional 10%.

The tasting notes declare it has "Powerful aromas of spiced apple, pear and pie crust join lemon-cream and toasty oak on the palate, adding up to a compelling and thoroughly satisfying experience for true Chardonnay lovers".

Be sure to join Rodney Strong's mailing list and get notice of these deals by email.

**If you are planning a trip to Sonoma Wine Country, add Rodney Strong to the wine tasting itinerary. More information online and download special tasting offer!

Wine "Made In Hong Kong" A Hit

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By Courtney Cochran

Though wine drinking in Hong Kong is ever on the rise, it still came as a surprise to me when I heard that wine is being made in the city. After all, the flashy metropolis is made of mostly concrete and steel - there's nary a vineyard in site. Having recently visited City Winery in NYC, however, the pieces started coming together as I began to envision the newly faddish urban winery concept taking root overseas - and it turns out that's exactly what's going on in Hong Kong.

"Something Sinister at Work"?

wineadvocate.jpegRobert Parker's Bitch Weighs In On Wine Ratings
By Courtney Cochran

You have to hand it to Tina Caputo (Twitter handle @winebroad), the feisty young editor of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine: she's got guts.  To wit, one only need spend 26 minutes watching her 2009 documentary, the controversially titled "Robert Parker's Bitch: The Wine Media's Influence on Winemaking," to grasp the degree to which she goes out on a limb to explore the idea that two influential wine critics - Robert Parker and Wine Spectator's James Laube - wield too much power over the evolving wine style in Wine Country.

ABC Deems Label Too Titillating

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cycles_glad.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Alabama's Beverage Control Board apparently didn't like what it saw when its members spied the label on Cycles Gladiator wines, which feature an 1895 Parisian poster of a nude woman and a bicycle. So much so, in fact, that the board banned the wines from store shelves throughout the state. Joey Kennedy, columnist and blogger for Alabama Live, was quick to call the board "prude" and even went so far as saying he thinks naked women ought to be able to "sell anything." But it seems that in Alabama, naked women - including those on tasteful 19th Century art posters - can't do much, least of which sell wine.

From Bottle to Bulletin Board

Cuvaison_cork1.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Cuvaison gave new meaning to recycling when it kicked off its National Cork Recycling Program at last month's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Reps for the sustainable Napa winery - which utilizes solar power and is certified Napa Green - collected more than 5,000 corks at the swank Colorado festival and say their efforts were rewarded with choruses of 'It's about time!" and 'Great idea!' from fellow vintners.

Officially First Winery in State of California to Reach Gold LEED® Certification Status

Napa Valley, CA, July 16, 2009 - HALL Wines, the premier 21st century vineyard and winery, announces today that it has received the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold Certification for its Napa Valley St. Helena winery, becoming the first winery in California to be distinguished as a Gold certified facility by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED® Green Building Rating System™.

The HALL St. Helena LEED® certified winery is one of most advanced wineries in California, with state-of-the-art facilities designed for ultra-premium wine production. LEED® is an internationally recognized certification system that measures a building or community's performance across all environmental metrics including energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

"The certification of HALL Wines not only marks a momentous occasion for the wine industry of California, but demonstrates how all industries can choose to be solvers of our collective environmental challenges," said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council. "The HALL Wines project efficiently uses natural resources, makes an immediate positive impact on our planet and as a business leader, can expect to reap financial benefits over the lifecycle of the building." 

Summer Wines $15 and Under

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summerwines.jpgYou may think summer has taken a hiatus and slipped back into spring. However, if you happen to catch some heat waves and are looking for something refreshing to drink, San Francisco Chronicle recommends six excellent summer white wines all $15 and under.

  • 2008 Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($10)
  • 2007 Branger Le Fils des Gras Moutons Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie
  • 2007 Kuentz-Bas Alsace Pinot Blanc ($15)
  • 2008 Ebner Ebenauer Wienviertel Gruner Veltliner ($13, 1 liter)
  • 2008 Blacksmith Cellars Alta Mesa California Torrontes ($15)
  • 2008 Tintero Sori Gramella Moscato d'Asti ($10)

Read More . . .

Wine With a Side of Fries

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What to quaff with these salty treats

by Courtney Cochran

Whatever wise guy once said "some of the best things in life are free" had it all wrong.

Most of the best things in life, in my estimation, are just the opposite: cable TV, fabulous vacations, exquisite meals in high-end restaurants and fancy cars are just a few examples of some of the better things in life that are most decidedly NOT free.

Given my realist tendencies, you can probably understand my frustration when somebody started referring to French Fries not long ago as "Freedom Fries." Although I understand the not-so-subtle political agenda behind the re-naming, I can't help but poke fun at the unintended implications of the new name. Because, as is the case with most good things in life, there's absolutely nothing "free" about fries.

San Francisco International Wine Competition Results

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After scores of wine tasting and much deliberation the results of the San Francisco International Wine Competition were announced over the weekend. According to the press release "Forty-five wine industry professionals from throughout the United States convened June 19th, 20th and 21st to taste, score and rank 4,274 wines from 1,195 wineries" and "judged from 26 states and 21 countries".

Several domestic wineries took home honors.

Wedding Wines

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wedding.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

As every bride-to-be knows, a wedding is about much more than just the ceremony - it's also about the many special occasions (Dress shopping! Shower! Bachelorette!) leading up to "the big event." 

What's more, every oeno-inclined bride-to-be also knows that each and every one of these occasions is destined to be still more memorable when paired with the perfect glass of wine. 

In this spirit, read on for our complete list of wine suggestions for weddings - as well for all of the associated fêtes that come before happily ever after.

Burn, Baby, Burn: Best Wines for BBQ

A Sommelier Sheds Light on the Best Wines for BBQ
by Courtney Cochran

Firing, roasting, and grilling are decidedly du rigueur during the summer months, but finding wines that work well with this tricky fare can be a challenge. Just as shining a spotlight on an actor onstage brings her features into focus for an audience, these cooking methods serve to concentrate the flavors of whatever's being cooked, necessitating a wine with both strength and personality to stand up to the food.

Read on for the low-down on some of the more common characteristics of flame-cooked fare and how to track down the perfect wines to pair with these traits.

Wine Jobs 2.0

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murphy_goode.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Used to be, all you had to do when applying for a job was submit a resume and show up for the interview. Not any more. In today's era of Web 2.0 (see Facebook , TwitterTasteLive , Wine 2.0 , et al), you've also got to prove you can create a one-(wo)man social media empire more or less out of thin air - and do so in the course of a one-minute online video that you (with your stealth online video producing prowess) produce, natch. If all this has you yearning for days when job searching only required a new suit and a few angst-inducing, in-person (read: private) interviews, you're not alone. You may, however, be missing the boat.

pinot.jpgIf you love Pinot (and all it's variations), then is the site for you.

Discover the "sensuality" of Pinot Noir  . . .

Plan to attend upcoming Pinot wine events around the country....

Pair some of your favorite dishes with Pinot...

Read recommendations on what Pinots to buy and drink...

Remember...there can "Pinot" no others!

Italian Wine

By Courtney Cochran

Italian wines have long been some of the best buys in imported wine, and even with the dollar's relatively weak position vis à vis the Euro they continue to offer terrific value to domestic shoppers. To get a jump on the trend, read on for a list of some of my top picks in Italian vino, conveniently arranged by region. For purchasing information, visit Salute!

The gorgeously fog-draped vineyards of northwestern Italy's Piedmont turn out some of the world's most sought-after reds, particularly those crafted from the expressive Nebbiolo grape.  Named for the nebbia (fog) so common in the region, the grape reaches its finest expressions in reds from Barolo and Barbaresco, though better value can be found in versions from lesser-known sub-regions.  To wit, the 2007 Elio Grasso "Gavarini" DOC Nebbiolo d'Alba ($25) enchants with much of Barolo's power and finesse, for a fraction of the price.
By Courtney Cochran

Chère Rosé, you mean the world to me.  You are so pure, your flavors so balanced (More approachable than red!  More filling than white!) I find myself fantasizing about you night and day.  Often I picture myself, feet up at the end of a long day, meditating on your pale pink robe, pausing to savor a sip so lush it takes my breath away.  

O Rosé!  You are so refreshing, you are so lively, you are the perfect companion to a slice of pâté or nutty frommage comté.  

I love you just as you are - never change, Rosé!


Your Biggest (AKA most loyal, ahem) French Fan

Wine Cocktails for your Summer Barbecue

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One of the biggest BBQ weekends is upon us. Folks around the country will be pulling out their grills and barbecuing up a storm - ribs, chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers - you name it, it's on the grill. What's a little barbecue without a couple of beers and of course wine! There are scores of white wines to serve chilled as a fresh, cool respite from the heat or of course the ever popular pairing of Zinfandel later on in the evening.

But why not try some wine cocktails this year:


Other wine cocktail recipes:

Pinot Grigio Wine Cocktail
Get the recipe & watch the video on how to make!

Champagne Punch
Breezy summer drink recipe by Martha Stewart.

What would summer be without a little sangria! Find the basic recipe and several variations like "Peach & Orange Sangria, Citrus Sangria, etc."

Wine Tasting Etiquette

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wineEtiquette.jpgApparently there is a certain etiquette to wine tasting. If so, I should enroll some of my friends who seem to think it is impolite to not drink all the wine offered and after two wineries are tipsy. Then, of course there is always the one guy in the group who wants to showcase that he just read wine basics 101 online. Hint: No one cares. Let us enjoy the wine in peace or at least hear from the expert behind the wine tasting counter.

Columnist Nathaniel Bauer knows who you are and he has compiled together 10 etiquette tips for wine tasting.

Some you might know, others may be new, either way, it's always good to review!  Read full article here.

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!

Cool, Refreshing White Wines for Summer

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It's not officially summer, but it's starting to warm up across the country. Which can only mean one thing - break out the tank tops, shorts, BBQ grills, a couple of beers and of course some wine to relax with in the backyard.

Gary from WineLibrary TV has some excellent suggestions for chill, crisp, white wines.

Passport to Sonoma Valley - May 16th & 17th

sonomaPassport1.jpgExplore Sonoma Valley with a passport to over 50 wineries showcasing the very best of their current wine releases, library wines, and special bottlings!  The event is next weekend May 16th & 17th from 11am to 4 p.m. and promises to be two fun-filled days of wine tasting festivities including food pairings and entertainment.

Your passport includes a commemorative wine glass, unlimited wine tastings at participating wineries, discounts on wine purchases, and entry to some of Sonoma Valley's wineries normally not open to the public. Additionally, for the first time, participating wineries are partnering with their growers and pouring their best wines in the vineyards where the grapes are sourced giving Passport holders the ultimate grape to glass tasting experience.

On the day of the event or if you wait to buy tickets, check in at one of the four designated "start" locations - Viansa Winery & Marketplace, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery, Valley of the Moon Winery and Ledson Winery & Vineyards.

Don't miss out on this wine tasting event, buy your tickets online today!

sonomaPassport2.jpgWhat: Passport to Sonoma Valley

When: Saturday, May 16th and Sunday, May 17th

Time: 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day

*Price: $55 Weekend Passport/$65 at the Door
            $50 One Day Passport/$60 at the Door
            $10 Designated Driver
            *Save $5 off ticket prices if you have a Visa Signature Card.


Gavin Newsom on the CADE Winery Bandwagon?

cadeWinery.jpgFor those of you in California,  you most likely know Gavin Newsom who is currently Mayor of San Francisco and is making a bid for Governor.  But did you know that his career aspirations also include being a Napa Valley Vintner? Of course, which such close proximity to both Napa Valley Wine Country and Sonoma Wine Country this new bit of news is probably not surprising to most.

Apparently, Newsom is part of the Plump Jack team that recently opened CADE Winery on Howell Mountain which is trying to set themselves apart as being the first LEED-certified, solar powered and organically farmed winery in the area.

It's quite a twisty trail up from the Silverado Trail, but who knows, maybe on one of your visits you might run into Gavin Newsom himself....



deeridgegroup.JPGBy "The Sipping Savant"

In the Wine Country, hoisting a wine class for a toast as simple as "Cheers" is a regular occurrence, but at one Livermore Winery you almost feel as though that should be the name of the winery too!

More Thoughts on Earth Month

By Robert Farmer

Yes, it's a big job. But somebody's gotta do it. Well, more precisely, we all gotta do it--or at least we all should be doing our part to preserve Mother Earth.  This month's ongoing theme of environmental stewardship brings to mind all the many and various ways we impact our surrounding environment.

Because one my favorite things to is to drink wine, I increasingly find myself considering what that means in terms of my so-called "footprint"--carbon or otherwise. With every empty bottle I send to the recycling bin, I think about what it took to get that bottle into my home, and what it will take to get it from my bin to its next incarnation.

Thoughts on Earth Month

By Robert Farmer

As is in fashion more commonly these days, the month of April is referred to as Earth Month. Holding as it does the 30-year-old celebration and awareness-event known as Earth Day, the entire month has now expanded to absorb the concept. But as most stewards of the environment--self proclaimed and otherwise--will tell you, we need far more than a month to keep us reminded of the significance. Indeed a Day is as insufficient the way a bottle of wine falls short of supplying a holiday party.

And speaking of wine, it's also popular in the industry for wineries to promote their "green" credientials--especially at this time of year. However, the walk has proved much harder to walk than the talk is to talk. So it happens that at this time of year, the wine industry looks inward on itself to figure out just exactly how it as a whole can be better environmental custodians.

Go Green: Earth Day Celebrations In Wine Country

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By Courtney Cochran

Come April 22nd, enviro-friendly oenophiles will have ample opportunity to celebrate Earth Day among the vines. Read on for our top picks for where to go green in wine country on this feel-good holiday.

Green Valley
What better place to fête this fabulous day than in Green Valley!? To wit, Iron Horse Vineyards and several of its Sonoma County neighbors will host "Celebrate Earth Day In Green Valley" a few days early on Sunday, April 19th. Highlights of what to see and do at various stops include a sparkling wine and salt tasting at Iron Horse; biodynamic vineyard tours and sustainable fashions created from recycled wine packaging at DeLoach Vineyards; and docent led tours of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, Sonoma's richest wildlife preserve, starting from Dutton-Goldfield and Balletto Vineyards' joint tasting Green Valley room. Get the scoop here .

What to Sip This Spring? Why Pinot, Of Course!

sundawg_wine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

The 2007 Pinot Noir harvest in the Russian River Valley was a thing of beauty, leading to the production of wines with elegance and power, grace and personality. I know all this because I was there, working as a cellar scourge for a couple of glorious days when I played hooky from my responsibilities in the city. And now, as the results of that harvest begin to trickle in for release nationwide, I couldn't be more pleased to taste the positively delicious results in the bottle.

Wineries to Watch

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By Courtney Cochran

Each year I attend countless wine tasting events where I am inevitably plied with the wines of hundreds if not thousands of producers from our own backyard and the far corners of the globe.  Along the way, I sip, swirl and spit the likes of sparkling wines from Brazil, sweet wines from Sonoma, soulful reds from Lake County and intriguing, sea-scented whites from Galicia.  I also shake hands, take notes, snap pictures and invariably return home with piles upon piles of notes enthusing about the nuances of new wines and their various vintners.

What follows is a list of some of the more memorable wines I've sampled lately.

Geoff Kruth ~ Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant Wine Director

wcPersonalityGeoffKruthFarmhouse.jpgMaster Sommelier Geoff Kruth brings vitality, passion and extensive knowledge to his role as wine director of Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant.  Having worked at some of America's finest dining establishments, Kruth is on a short list of up-and-coming young wine professionals.  In 2008 he became one of less than 150 people worldwide to have earned the designation of Master Sommelier.

His current position at Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant is a home coming of sorts for Kruth. The former Sonoma resident graduated from Sonoma State University with a bachelor of science in computer science before moving to Silicon Valley to pursue a career in the technology industry. 

A blossoming wine hobby became an obsession that lead to his enrollment in the French Culinary Institute's Classic Culinary Arts program in New York, where he honed his palate to taste professionally.  While a student, Kruth started working part time at Balthazar as a cellar master, moving on to assistant wine director upon his graduation in 2003.

Recession Proof?

domperignon96.jpgBy Robert Farmer

You see the term "recession proof" tossed around a lot these days. Yet increasingly things that have been deemed to be so are turning out to be anything but. And so it was with great curiosity that I saw an item recently proclaiming select French wines to be valiantly resisting the downward economic trend. According to the global wine search website Wine, French wine has remained in high demand during this downward spiral into the financial abyss. Based on the data collected by the world's largest and most widely used wine search engine, shows that houses like Lafite, Margaux, and Dom Perignon remain in hot demand across the globe.

Crush on Bordeaux

By Robert Farmer

You've heard me go on about how great custom winemaking programs are, and how a few of them go beyond the simple do-it-yourself drill to provide an experience you won't soon forget - and wine you can actually drink. One such program is the popular Crushpad, a Napa-based company that has helped set the standard for individual winemaking.

By the Glass Bargains - An Upside to the Recession

By Courtney Cochran

When it comes to restaurant wine sales, the news is largely not good - for the restaurateurs, at least.  To that end, the Wine Market Council - in conjunction with The Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Team - reported this winter that on-premise sales of wine have slipped dramatically from 2007 and early 2008 levels, with some restaurants even forced to shut their doors as a result of sluggish sales.  Happily, there's a silver lining to this latest tale of recession-induced woe: by-the-glass sales at on-premise locations are still strong, and restaurants are responding by injecting new life - and appeal - into their BTG programs

Second Label Standouts

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goldeneye.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Just because your inner shopper is insisting upon a "save" rather than "splurge" strategy these days doesn't mean you can't still score a little of the good life in your glass.  Thanks to the "waste not, want not" mentality of many a high-end vintner, wine that doesn't make the cut for some of wine country's most sought-after labels is finding a home in cheaper bottlings from the same wineries - often at deep discounts from what you'd pay for the vintners' first-label offerings. 
By Courtney Cochran

Come February 22, many of us - film and wine buffs alike - will find ourselves settling in to enjoy the time-honored tradition of watching Hollywood's annual version of an all-you-can-eat buffet with extra helpings of couture, paparazzi and bawdy political jokes thrown in for good measure.  That's right: it's Oscar time!  And, to further enhance your viewing pleasure, this year we're pleased to present our second-annual Academy Awards tasting lineup, complete with frank and - hopefully - amusing commentary on nominated films and personalities.  

So whether your star picks turn out to be winners or just plain winers, you'll be guaranteed a good laugh along with a good glass as you take it all in - the most winning combination we can think of. 

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

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.

BYO Wine Do's & Don'ts

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By Courtney Cochran

As the economy continues its sobering slide, there are a few things in which we can all take comfort.  First, the obvious: we have a new president in office who has vowed to tackle the faltering economy head-on.  Second: the crisis is bringing friends and families together like never before for mutual comfort and support.  And third, cha ching!: we can all look forward to saving a little cash during these tough times by bringing our own wine to restaurants.  

Read on for some of our top tips on how to BYO in style, as well as hints on what not to do when you decide to bring you own.  Because in times like these, who wouldn't want to drink great wine while paying less?

Ten-Buck Chuck?

yellowtail-shiraz.jpgBy Robert Farmer

I suppose we are now officially in the age of Expectations Adjusted Downward. News from Down Under recently popped up about over-supply of and under-demand for premium wines. Australian wine makers have historically relied upon a consumer base outside their borders. And global demand for higher-end wine has been evaporating faster than a rain puddle in the Outback.

So, as has been the trend globally, Australian producers have had to adjust prices downward, setting a new threshold for so-called premium varietals. Have we entered the era of $10 premium wines? Probably not, but we're getting closer. And in Australia, the problem may have been self-inflicted --at least partially.

Wine Judging Gets Judged - And the Verdict's Not Good

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By Courtney Cochran

This news just in:  judges at the annual California State Fair wine competition are apparently more than a little inconsistent in their evaluations of medal-winning (and non-winning) wines. According to an in-depth report published by the Journal of Wine Economics, fewer than half of 65 judging panels at the fair evaluated over a three year period achieved "anything close to similar results" in their appraisal of wines submitted, and one group even awarded a gold medal to a wine it had previously thrown out of the competition - twice.

World Wine Forecast Fair, In Spite of Economic Heat

By Courtney Cochran

According to a study just released by The International Wine & Spirit Record, demand for wine is projected to grow roughly 6 percent to 2.8 billion cases between 2008 and 2012, a figure close to in synch with pre-recession trends.  Global production is also predicted to grow over the same period to an estimated 3 billion cases annually, an increase of approximately 3.83 percent over earlier levels.  The findings support a long-held belief that wine is more or less "recession-proof" - meaning that drinkers continue to enjoy the beverage even when spending power is down.

Getting Pinched in Oregon

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.

Opening Silver Oak

silveroak.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Sitting as it was without bothering anybody in my wine cellar, the bottle of 1999 Silver Oak had been resisted long enough. So on Christmas last year, I decided the time was right to open 'er up. Frankly, I have not been the rabid advocate for Silver Oak as are many folks among the legion of fans the winery can proudly claim. I've been impressed, but also under whelmed by some vintages. And while I know the oak notes are the wines' signature, my experience has occasionally been akin to running headlong into an oak barrel.

Recession Ups and Downs Trickle to Wine Country

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By Courtney Cochran

With our nation now fully entrenched in a recession, no one can deny the ripple effects of the economic downturn coursing through our lives and those of friends, colleagues and family.  And, though we'd all like to imagine the wine industry impervious to the nation's economic ills, the fact is that wine country, too, is feeling the effects of the crisis.  Fortunately, it's not all bad news when it comes to financial affairs and wine.  

Luxury Experiences in Santa Barbara: Wine Tasting

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.

Recession Edition: Wines to Brood Over

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By Courtney Cochran

With the Dow marching steadily south, unemployment on the up and deflation dangerously near, it's easy to feel there's little source for cheer these days.  Still, if there's anything a trying economic clime coupled with an already frigid winter welcomes, it's uncorking a wine worth brooding over.  Read on for a list of our top picks for wines with which to weather the current season - whether your portfolio is up, down, or you just can't bear to look.  No matter what, we've got you covered.

Out with the Old, In with the New: Wine Trends of 2009

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By Courtney Cochran

As with every new year, 2009 will bring the birth of new wine trends and the departures of others.  Some we'll be sad to see go (so long, cellaring for sport!), while others we'll barely miss (we're talking about you, overly alcoholic wines).  No matter what, we predict you'll find lots of things to relish about the wine scene in '09, and along with them excuses for uncorking many a new bottle.

OUT: Heavy, Oversized Bottles
Heavy wine bottles will continue to come under fire from climate change-conscious critics in 2009, with good reason.  Developments in '08 such as popular British wine critic Jancis Robinson's "name and shame" campaign - which prompted visitors to her subscription-basis website to list wines made by wineries using heavier-than-usual glass bottles, so others could avoid purchasing them - have already led to several large wineries' decisions to begin "lightweighting" their bottles going forward.  It can't happen soon enough. 

Wine Country Personality: Wine for the Holidays with Kasha Buckley

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kashaBuckleyPic1.jpgby Staff Member Kasha Buckley

For me, Christmas always brings to mind thoughts of laughter, beautiful lights, decorations, holiday treats, anticipation of presents. Of course, it is also during this holiday season that we spend the most time with special friends and endearing family members while enjoying our favorite bottle of wine.

One of my earliest Christmas memories goes back to the early 80s watching my family share in the festivities with wine glass in hand.  At the time, I was far too young to partake, but it made me joyful all the same for the simple fact that it was oh so fun refilling my mother's and grandparent's wine glasses. It meant playing with the spigot because yes, ladies and gentlemen, our wine came in a box.

I have not personally tasted wine from the box, so cannot in good conscience vouch one way or the other for the quality of that wine. However, whenever I've mentioned this beloved family tradition, folks tend to break out with a few snorts and snickers.  And if you seem to think that boxed wine is a wine faux pas, let me tell you about a few of mine. Does anyone remember wine coolers in the two liter bottle? I do, and my excuse - I was young.  Gradually I did move on to Bartles & James in the actual glass bottles and even dabbled with the peach flavored "wines" which were at least in real wine bottles.

What Wineries Are Open for Christmas

(2012 Update!) See the list of Napa Valley & Sonoma wineries that will be open for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

*Napa Valley & Sonoma Restaurants Open for the holidays - Click Here
*Events Calendar Guide - Click Here


Napa Valley
  • Chateau Montelena Winery ~ 707.942.5105
  • Hours: 9:30am - 12:00pm

  • Back Room Wines ~ 707.226.1378   
  • Hours: 02:00pm - 5:00pm

  • V. Sattui Winery ~ 707.963.7774   
  • Hours: 9:00am - 3:30pm

  • Gloria Ferrer ~ 707.933.1917
  • Hours: 10:00am - 3:00pm   

  • Imagery Estate Winery ~ 707.935.4515   
  • Hours: 10:00am - 3:00pm

  • Thumbprint Cellars ~ 707.433.2393
  • Hours: 11:00am - 4:00pm
  • White Oak Vineyards & Winery ~ 707.733.8429   
  • Hours: 10:00am - 1:00pm

New Year's Eve Party at Chandon!

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chandonNewYears.jpgRing in the New Year at Chandon! 

Join Chandon for a Roaring 20s party on New Year's Eve. Enjoy a decadent six-course tasting menu paired with Chandon wines. Then, dance the night away to live music with  Soul Project. It will be a party to remember for ages. Don't delay, tickets are selling fast. Buy Online toay!

More Details:

  • December 31, 2008
  • Dinner & Party Tickets: $225 (plus tax & gratuity)
  • Party Tickets Only: $75
  • Formal Portraits Included
  • 1920s Cocktail Attire (Black Tie Optional)

Call 888.242.6366 for more information and to make your reservation or visit for party tickets only!

CLICK HERE for more Details.

Happy New Year!

Snow Day at CADE Winery

NAPAVALLEY, CA -'s definitely cold in Northern California!

Yesterday saw snow at Cade Winery on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Snow adorned the vineyard as well as the branches of the Manzanita trees from which CADE bases its logo. The eco-winery, opening in March 2009, will be the first LEED-certified, solar powered and organically farmed winery in the area and will likely be the only Gold-LEED-certified winery in California.

More information, visit
Located at 360 Howell Mountain Road, South Angwine, CA 94508



Bubble, Bubble Everywhere

Sifting through the sparkling wine clutter this holiday season

by Courtney Cochran

It never fails: the holidays arrive yet again and you still have no idea how to tell your Prosecco from your Cava. When to serve vintage versus non-vintage Champagne? You're clueless.

With all the stress that comes with the holidays, worrying about your sparkling wine selection seems like an unnecessary burden. Happily, help is here when it comes to the sparkling wine thing. Read on for the low-down on some of the most popular styles of sparkling wine, so that this holiday you can really mean it when you insist that - ahem - you're quite certain a sparkling Chenin Blanc is just the thing to pair with your honey-baked ham.

By Courtney Cochran

In these sketchy economic times, it seems that nothing is safe from deflation, devaluation and the many other disturbing indicators of economic mayhem wreaking havoc across our land. But thanks to urban winery Crushpad's newest creation, Bailout Wine* , these signs of malaise are no longer quite so frightening - at least not when it comes to the state of the wine scene.

Vampire Phenomenon Infiltrates Wine World

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By Courtney Cochran

If you haven't noticed the rash of vampire-related TV shows and films appearing on screens stateside, then perhaps it's because you've been sleeping under a rock.  To wit, Twilight - the newly released megapicture chronicling an "epic" romance between a vampire and a teenage girl - is currently raking it in at the box office, while standout new HBO series, True Blood, has hard-core sci-fi fans and regular viewers alike abuzz about its racy plotlines that follow centuries-old vampires as they "mainstream" into contemporary life in a rural southern town.

Winter Wines

Enjoy robust Italian Nebbiolo Barolo and luscious Canadian ice wine paired with your hearty winter meals.

by Courtney Cochran

There are all sorts of things that are wonderful about winter time. Snow, comfort food and roaring fires are just a few of them. But one of the best things about brisk weather and the winter months is the opportunity they afford to switch up your wine routine.

Colder temperatures and heartier fare are important reasons to look to new wines at this time of year. But another, in all likelihood less obvious reason, is quite simple: state of mind. The arrival of winter signals a change in our routines and activities.

Gift Guide 2008 - Wine Gadgets

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iStock_000003501714XSmall.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

This holiday season, make an impression on the oenophiles on your list with stylish wine gifts of all stripes.  Read on for some of our favorites. 

Vacu Vin Crystal Wine Servers $5
Give the gift of a non-drip pour - non-drip pour spouts, that is.  These special non-drip servers snap easily into the neck of most open wine bottles and add a touch of elegance to a meal or tasting.  Remove for easy cleaning, and re-use.  Particularly handy if you're pouring over carpeting or guests' clothing where spilled wine would be - shall we say - a most unwelcome addition to the party.   

A Guide to Giving Wine as a Gift

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wine_gift.jpgSubmitted by My Wines Direct

Whether given as a show of hospitality for a dinner party, or just as a sign of affection during the holidays, wine is a unique and thoughtful token of appreciation.

If you are bringing a wine gift to a gathering where you know the wine will be opened during dinner, you should try to find out what is being served and match the wine appropriately. Contacting the host or hostess mentioning that you'd like to bring a wine to match the meal is a great way way to ensure you don't bring a big red to a light meal where a light white would be a better choice. If you choose to bring white wine, you may want to bring it already chilled so it can be immediately served if needed. And don't take offense if you bring a bottle of wine to a party and it does not get opened -- the wine choice is up to the host or hostess. So unless you were particularly asked to bring a bottle of wine to go with dinner, you might not get to drink your wine at the meal (this is a subject that has surely been debated many times before).


ericRoss.jpgYour next Sonoma Wine Country trip should include Eric Ross Winery. As a small wine producer, they are all about producing wines with big personalities and heartfelt passions. And if you're a big reds fan, then Eric Ross Winery is where you need to be.

It's not often they have a tasting offer, so be sure to  print this special 2 for 1 Reserve Tasting that is only valid through the end of the year. In addition, receive 10% off any wine purchases for that day or 20% if you join the Wine Club.

Eric Ross Winery
14300 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95442

Don't Forget the Wine for the Holidays!

christmaswine.jpgBy Angela Lytle

Good company, good food, and of course, good wine. What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a bottle of one of the magnificent wines available today. Enjoy the distinctive tastes of merlot and cabernet, sip the cold and flavorful white wines, like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and for dessert, try a nice sweet wine served ice cold.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of varieties of wine, as remarkably different as the artful bottles that hold the wine. It is said, however, that there are eight major varieties of wine, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, for the reds, and Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites.

Wine Deal of the Week!

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larson.jpg2006 Gewurztraminer - 6 Pack Special

6 Bottles of wine for only $50. I had to rub my eyes to see if it was true too. Larson Family Winery is offering a special deal on their 2006 Gewurztraminer great with Turkey or Holiday Dinners! Hurry up and order. Offer only good through 12/31/08.

"Our Carneros Gewurztraminer is a rich, complex Alsatian style Gewurztraminer. Enjoy this with spicy Asian food, white meats, crab, or fresh melons and fruits, and the classic pairing of roast turkey and ham"

6 Pack Special - $50
Case Special - $90

Larson Family Winery
23355 Millerick Road
Sonoma, CA 95476

Winery Deal of the Week!

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blackstone.jpgDubbed "Cheesiest Tour in Sonoma Valley"

If you're in Sonoma Wine Country, be sure to stop in at Blackstone Winery located in Sonoma Valley. To make your wine tasting experience even sweeter, go on their "Cheesy" Tour offered daily at 11:30 am.

This tour is only $20 and a great value. It includes:

  • Winery Tour: Learn about grape viticulture, growing seasons, pruning, trellising and the grape harvest as well as processes such as crush pit, presses, fermentation tanks, open top fermentation, "batonnage" of whites and barrel aging.

  • Wine & Cheese Pairings: Sampling of Blackstone's award-winning wines paired with cheese.

Present THIS SPECIAL OFFER to Tasting Room Staff!

READ MORE... for other winery tasting stop recommendations in Sonoma Valley

Blackstone Winery
8450 Sonoma Highway
Kenwood, CA 95452

Turkey Wines

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turkeyWines.jpgby Courtney Cochran

It's that time of year again, and you have no idea which wines to pair with your turkey feast during the Holidays. Do you stick with your usual favorites, Pinot and Cab, and throw in a nice Chardonnay for contrast? Or do you try something you've never had before, like a Gruner Veltliner, to make a big statement?

The answer lies somewhere in between. On upcoming Turkey Days you ought to offer a blend of whites and reds, but you also ought to seek out specific wines whose flavor profiles and weight complement heavier foods, which are often laced with a combination of sweet, savory and spicy notes. Some of these wines are exotic-sounding and can add an exciting contrast to your otherwise traditional table - never a bad thing!

Wine, Meet Nightlife: SF Wine Week (Nov. 10th-15th)

sfwineweek.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

In a city that's practically synonymous with fine food and wine, it seems only fitting that San Francisco should play host to a highly anticipated series of November wine events known collectively as SF Wine Week. And with a bevy of chic nightlife venues lined up and a who's-who of winery and industry sponsors clamoring to get behind it, the unprecedented week-long celebration of wine in the city seems primed to catapult San Francisco to still greater heights of vinous renown.

Winery Deal of the Day!

goosecrossVoting.jpgGoosecross Cellars - 25% Off Offer

Goosecross Cellars located in Napa Valley is providing a fabulous incentive for all those voting in the General Election! Take or Fax your voting stub to Goosecross Cellars either Tuesday, Nov 4th or Wednesday, Nov 5th and get 25% off any wine.

We personally recommend either their signature Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay ($32) or Napa Valley Amerital VI ($40).

This is a huge discount and only valid for two days! So hurry up and take advantage. 

CLICK HERE for more details.

Watch Video for an up close and personal look into Goosecross Cellars!

By Courtney Cochran

Those of you who follow this blog probably know that I'm a big fan of user reviews and the whole "wisdom of the crowd" model that's taking the online world by storm. Lamentably, wine web players - outside of a handful of cutting edge companies involved in the Wine 2.0 movement - have been slow to get on the user review bandwagon. But with Sonoma-based Dry Creek Vineyard's recent addition of user reviews to its ecommerce site, there may be hope for change after all.

Finally: Wall Street Woes Have Some Positive Impact

By Courtney Cochran

"It's not like Wall Street," mused Chris Howell, winemaker and general manager of Napa's Cain Vineyard and Winery, in describing the challenges facing California vintners when planning for the future in the face of climate change.

"When you're a farmer you have to be optimistic," he continued, noting that "you're planting a vineyard for [generations that will tend it for] 20, 50 or 100 years...we need to be grounded in reality and need to think about how to adapt."

Top 10 Emerging Wine Regions - California

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By Courtney Cochran

With close to 200 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) recognized in the US - more than 100 of which are in California alone - there's no shortage of interesting domestic wine regions for oenophiles to explore.  And, thanks to the bumper crop of AVAs recently added to California's already impressive lineup, there's an exciting bunch of new regions angling for your attention.  Read on for our picks on those to watch.       

Breast Cancer: A Survival Story, Wine Included

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lori_breastCancer.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When Lori Ondaro was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, her children knew she would need a big show of support if the single mom was going to beat the disease a second time around.  After successfully battling the disease more than 20 years ago, Lori had recently learned from her oncologist that the cancer was back, only this time it had spread throughout her entire body.

Family Ties - The Roots That Bind

"[Following the first cancer battle] I'd gotten my wish to see my children grow into exceptional adults, but I wasn't through," Lori explains of her first thoughts on hearing the news.  "I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up as well."  As members of her family gathered together to lend support during the critical days following the diagnosis, Lori's eldest son and his wife - both of whom work in the wine business in Northern California - proposed founding a wine label whose proceeds would go towards helping to find a cure for the disease. 

Wine 2.0 Takes Off

By Courtney Cochran

With the rash of new social (heh, Facebook) and micro-social (Twitter, anyone?) networking sites, it was only a matter of time before the techno-connectivity bug hit the wine world, big time. Enter Wine 2.0, an organization whose tagline - "Blending the Line Between Wine & Technology" - sums up its vocation, though there's a lot more to the organization that just sips and bits.

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.

A Vintage Experience - A Taste of Tri-Valley

livermore_grapeVineyards.jpgSubmitted by Tri-Valley CVB

Livermore Valley Wine Country offers a flourishing expanse of vineyards, vistas and wineries.  From new winemakers to fifth generation winegrowers, the traditions and legacies of the region are thriving.  Visitors looking for the best wine tasting experiences are sure to find that they are looking for in Livermore Valley Wine Country.

Hard Times: Harvest Report 2008

By Courtney Cochran
Admittedly, California vintners have been through nothing if not the ringer this growing season. Starting with a devastating frost in late March - the worst on record in more than 30 years - that decimated as much as 30% of some vineyards' crop, 2008 has been a year that's tested the mettle of just about everyone close to winemaking in the Golden State, most of all those in hard-hit Northern California. To wit, on the heels of spring's frosts a series of devastating summer fires raged through wine country, causing winemakers to fret still more - this time about the potential impact the abundant smoke might have on their as-yet-unmade wines. Hard times, indeed.
By Courtney Cochran

Admittedly, Daniel Shanks has an important job. He's the man, after all, who fields phone calls from the Oval Office about which Chardonnay to pour for Queen Elizabeth II (Newton Vineyard Unfiltered Chardonnay, since the winery's British founder was knighted by the queen) and which bubbly to uncork for French President Nicolas Sarkozy (NV Chandon Étoile rosé, since the Napa-based winery is owned by the French). And thanks to a recent report at by one Elin McCoy, we now know a whole lot more about the method behind Washington's number one wine man's maneuvering.


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harvest.jpgCALIFORNIA - It's harvest time around wine country regions all over the country! If you haven't had a chance to experience Crush Season first hand, take a look at one staff member's journey at several wineries in Napa Valley over the past couple of days. Check back often fro updates!

However, many wine drinkers are concerned about whether it will even be a good harvest this year. Weather seemed to bounce all over the place between extreme high temperatures and then very cool days resulting in mixed reviews from wine growers, vintners, and reviewers alike. Read buzz from all over California Wine Country:

By Courtney Cochran

It's official: If one more restaurant, winery or joe-hawking-specialty-wine-tours-in-Napa bloke signs me up for his mailing list without my permission I'm going to implode. Seriously. In fact, the email deluge has gotten so bad of late that I've been forced to take the proverbial pickax to my inbox, ruthlessly unsubscribing to literally dozens of unwanted distribution lists in fits of slash and burn clean-up. In spite of this furor, I have to admit that I still DO occasionally receive the odd piece of unsolicited email which I find - irritating though it is to admit - undeniably useful, at times even intriguing.

French Youths, Look West!

By Courtney Cochran

A recent study conducted by Sonoma State University professor Liz Thach revealed a serious problem afoot in France:  French young people aren't drinking wine like they used to.   At a time when American youths (the so-called Millennial generation, encompassing young adults who turned 21 after the turn of the new millennium) are drinking more wine, more often and at higher price points than any of their forebears, French youths are drinking...a lot less than their parents.

What's the Partyline on Cocktails and Politics?

As Reported by Sam's Wine and Spirits

All eyes on politics! Unless you're living under a rock, the country is in the midst of Democratic and Republican National Conventions this week and next. Brian Rosen (President of Wine and Spirits) reports that young people are on the political scene enthused and hosting their own parties while discussing the issues of their political party.

In fact, Sam's Wine and Spirits has been receiving a high volume of orders and the breakdown across partylines is extremely interesting. See if your political affiliation and drink preference go hand in hand!

Krug Pops Cork on New Era


krugwinery.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Happily, the more things change in Napa, the more things stay the same in Napa. And so it goes that as one legendary winery changes ownership hands, another emerges from the chrysalis to spread its wings anew.

In September, the Mondavi family will celebrate the renewal of the Charles Krug Winery--officially unveiling an $8 million restoration to the two historic national landmark buildings at the winery while also honoring the patriarch, Peter Mondavi.

Rosé Renaissance

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By Courtney Cochran

Unless you've been living under a rock, the news that pink wine is hot is hardly something new to you.  Still, the array of rosé styles to choose from is impressive - and often takes even the pink stuff's most serious fans by surprise.

Dry Rosé
By far the most common style of rosé, this is the version you see on the shelves of most quality wine merchants come summertime. Fermented entirely or nearly "to dryness," this style of rosé contains little or no residual sugar and tastes stylistically similar to the dry red and white table wines (think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) we're most familiar with.  They key difference when it comes to dry rosé is in the winemaking style - these wines score their enticing pink color from a process called "saigner," meaning "to bleed" in French. During the saigner process, a touch of color is leeched from the skins of red grapes (all grape juice is more or less clear without skin contact) prior to fermentation, leaving the finished wine anywhere from just barely pink in color to just shy of fully red in hue, depending on the amount of time the wine spent in contact with the grape skins.

Going to the Frogs

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Chateau Montelena.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Egoistic French monarch Louis XIV once famously said, "l'état, c'est moi" ("I am the state," as in, I AM France).  Which came to mind as I was reading about the recent sale of Calistoga's Chateau Montelena to French businessman Michel Reybier, who also owns - among a number of other significant holdings - Château Cos d'Estournel, a well-known Bordeaux second growth.

How French Can We Get?
The great irony behind the purchase?  Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay was the white wine that bested its French counterparts in the legendary Judgment of Paris tasting of 1976, a watershed moment in Franco-American wine relations.  Along with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' Cabernet Sauvignon - which placed first in the red category over a slew of top growth Bordeaux - Montelena's Chardonnay is credited with putting American wines on a level playing field with French wines for the first time.   As a result of these wins, the wine drinking world's consciousness began a gradual shift from France towards America (California, really), and it's a shift that's been ongoing ever since. 

Wine-based cocktails

By Robert Farmer

There are those among us for whom the thought of a wine-based cocktail is tantamount to heresy. Yes, I am firmly in that camp. Not since I sipped a peach-flavored Bartles & James wine cooler through a straw (only once, I swear!) have I even considered the relative merits of the wine cocktail. Sangria shot to the mouth from the spout of a bota bag notwithstanding, my current stance is that if somebody's making wine-based cocktails, it's probably because the establishment in which they are making them has not yet received its liquor license.

Press Release: South Coast Winery Strikes Gold


Temecula, California -- Outlaws hiding in the valley and surrounding mountains in Southern California's Temecula Valley always knew there "was gold in those hills" but it took up until July 10, 2008 for South Coast Winery to strike gold and in a big way.

That is, the prestigious, bear-shaped Golden Bear Winery trophy from the 150+ year old California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition went to South Coast Winery as the winery for fielding the greatest number of award-winning wines in the 2008 annual fair competition. This 10-pound prized trophy is the symbol of California and adds the little known wine region to the Hall of Wine Producing Fame.

Beer Steps Aside for Colorado Wine

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.

Courtney & Hip Tastes Come to St. Helena!

htb_header.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

St. Helena, Napa Valley: I'm thrilled to announce a rare Napa Valley appearance tomorrow night, 6/25 - I'll be chatting about my book, Hip Tastes: The Fresh Guide to Wine, and signing copies as part of the 1st Annual Books on Wine Festival at the St. Helena Public Library. I'm thrilled to be included in a super lineup of wine books published in 2007, including A Moveable Thirst, New Classic Winemakers of California, Small Plates Perfect Wines, and The Art of Terroir.  Refreshments begin at 6pm and are followed by author chats from 7 to 8:15, with author signings to follow.

Benziger Swaying With The Palm

thepalm.jpgBy Robert Farmer

I'm typically not a "chain" guy, when it comes to restaurants. Indeed in most instances I avoid them by personal writ. But of course some chains are better than others. And some are cut from different cloth entirely. So it was when I entered for the first a couple summers ago The Palm Restaurant in Miami.

I knew the Palm was one of the most feverishly followed steak houses in the U.S., and I was eager to discover what all the fuss was about. Besides, with only 25 Palms in existence, this particular chain was decidedly "short" which made it easier to bend my own rule.

Wine Popping With Climate Change

climate2.jpgBy Robert Farmer

It's easy to overlook just how pervasive the topic of climate change really is. Not everybody lives in the South Pole, where massive sheets of ice are breaking away at alarming rates and melting into the ocean. Not does the threat of coastal waters rising to overtake entire cities sway the minds of most people on earth.

But the fact is, climate change can and will impact nearly all parts of our current lives. Yes, dear wine lover, that includes wine. And so it was with a great interest that I heard the news recently of a planned Wine Industry Seminar on Climate Change, scheduled for July 31-August 1 at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma.

Go Go Camp Mendo

glasshand.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Those familiar with this space know that I am a fan of "immersion learning." Especially when it comes to wine appreciation, there's no better way to "go deep" into it than to live it for a few solid days. Wine camps are a great way to do it. And increasingly, regions are offering innovative, educational, and above all fun, opportunities to experience wine like you never have.

Mendocino gets into the act with Wine Camp 2008, a three-day, three-night immersion into Northern California wine and all of its various nuances and tendencies. I like this Wine Camp because it takes place in one of California's lesser-known regions and provides "insider info" to the intrepid camp-goer about one of Northern California's under-discovered gems. And, with each camp limited to just eight campers, it promises to be an intimate excursion, with ample opportunity to get one-on-one contact with winemakers and other participants.

Auction Napa Valley Report: Lights, Camera, Oprah!

EV_NapaAuction060908_200.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Known variously as The American Wine Classic and "the granddaddy of all wine auctions," Auction Napa Valley 2008 went down on June 9th at the lavish Meadowood resort, though the vibe was decidedly more subdued than in previous years.  Whether you blame the scaled back fanfare on the tough economic climate, the heat (though it's typically scorching in Napa every year around Auction time) or the recent passing of Napa scion Robert Mondavi, the auction was without a doubt more mellow than usual.  

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 (, however, that's all changing.

Crazy Over Corkage

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winerestaurant.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Recently my wife and I ventured out for an increasingly rare night on the town for dinner without our new baby. To us, such an occasion is special, so we set out for one of our favorite special occasion restaurants in San Francisco.

Though the place isn't one of the high-voltage restaurants that most people in SF correlate with a special occasion, it is a local favorite, which consistently earns high marks with critics and area foodies alike. Also, they have an exceptional wine list to match their gorgeous menu.

Wine List Anxiety

winelist.jpgBy Robert Farmer

With only one or two exceptions among my decent-sized group of regular dining-out companions, I am always first to grab the wine list. And once I get it, I rarely let it go. Not to say others don't take a look, but instead I tend to keep hold of the list throughout the meal - occasionally prying it open to peruse depending on which stage of the meal we happen to be in.

I love looking at wine lists--the imagination of the sommelier or wine-steward is in full view in these lists, which can range in size and scope from a single-sided sheet of paper, to a handsome, leather-bound book that looks more like an Encyclopedia Britannica. This I know is not the norm. Many people shy away from a wine list like the waiter was waving a plate of liver and onions beneath their nose.

Stellar Sangiovese By the Glass, Guaranteed (Well, Almost)

bg_drinks.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Restaurant ratings giant Zagat - which provides user-generated reviews of restaurants across the US and in some well-traveled international cities - recently announced the debut of drinkwellTM (, the first online guide to restaurants dedicated to serving the highest quality drinks and drink service - and that includes wine. The new ratings system is a boon for anyone who's ever wondered how an eatery fares not just in terms of what comes out of the kitchen, but also in terms of what comes across the bar.

The Making of a Legacy: Tracing Robert Mondavi's Rise

rmondavi2.jpgby Courtney Cochran

The recent passing of the man who was widely known as the patriarch of California wine caused us to reflect on just what it means to have been Robert Mondavi.  Frequently described as larger than life, the Minnesota-born son of Italian immigrants was a marketing mastermind who can be credited not only with putting California on the global wine map, he also with leaving an indelible mark on the American wine scene. Read on for highlights of Mondavi's most significant contributions to wine as we know it.    

Toast to Mr. Mondavi

Robert_Mondavi_1984.jpgBy Robert Farmer
If you enjoy or even appreciate a little, California wines, then Robert Mondovi has impacted your life. It may not be in an obvious way, but the legendary vintner and wine-making pioneer has left his mark so indelibly upon the California wine industry that even a casual fan of wines from the Golden State has been influenced in some way by the man.

So as an industry offers an ongoing toast in honor of the late Mondavi, who passed away recently at the age of 94, I encourage everybody to raise a glass and salute him in their own unique way and honor one of life's true visionaries.

Robert Mondavi: Farewell to a True Pioneer

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robertmondavi.jpegBy Robert Farmer

Without the life of Robert Mondavi, one could strongly argue, the California Wine Industry would not exist in its current form. And so it is more than appropriate in light of his recent passing, that the praise being showered on the man in his wake be commensurate with his lasting impact. Perhaps no single person had such a pronounced impact on California Wine Country. With remarkable vision and diligence Mondavi steered the current irresistible force that is California Wine.

It was Mondavi who led California wine producers out of their mass-production jug-wine mentality and into the light of quality, limited-yield wines that would ultimately be judged on par with the great vintages of Europe.

R. Mondavi - With Respect

rmondavi.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Growing up in a small town in Central California, good wine was difficult - if not downright impossible at times - to find.  And since I had the good fortune of having parents with a European sensibility when it came to sharing wine with their kids, I developed a good enough palate early on to feel the pain, so to speak, when the vino on the table wasn't up to snuff.

Almost Famous: Celebrities Put New Spin on Wine

marilynwine.jpgby Courtney Cochran

From Major Leaguers to major religious leaders, celebrities of all stripes are catching the wine bug these days, lending their names and likenesses to bottles, participating in the promotion of the wines and sometimes even cuing up the blends themselves.  And while celebrity wines are hardly a new phenomenon, the most recent influx of offerings brings with it a surprisingly diverse mix of celebs, not to mention a fascinating blend of prices, styles and blends to boot.

Mafia Maven
Lorraine Bracco - who played psychiatrist Dr. Melfi to Tony Soprano's brooding mafia head on the hit HBO series, The Sopranos - has released her own line of Italian wines, reportedly inspired by the ten years she spent living in France during her early career as a model. Made possible by a collaboration with importer Maison Jomère, the celeb's lineup of eight wines sell under the Bracco Wines ( label and include a Pinot Grigio, Primitivo, Amarone, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.

Oregon's Vital Center


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.

A Word on Wine at Costco

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winebottles.jpgBy Robert Farmer

I've long been intending to share my thoughts in this space about buying wine at Costco, but there just always seemed to be more pressing and - yes - more interesting. But recently the Costco Wine section has been in the news, and so it seems appropriate to bring it up.

If you follow trends in the wine industry, you may have heard that recently Costco Wholesale Corp. lost its long battle to overhaul wine-distribution laws in its home state of Washington. Costco had originally sued the state for what it viewed as the state's violation on federal antitrust laws as they related to wine distribution in Washington.

This Mother's Day, Go Pink or Go Home

rosewine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

With rosé wine enjoying an unprecedented level of popularity stateside - The Nielson Company recently revealed that sales of premium pink wine rose an astounding 53.2% this year - there's never been a better excuse to drink pink on Mother's Day.  Indeed, from supermarkets to Costco to the nation's most tony wine merchants, bottles of pink are appearing on store shelves in greater numbers than ever before, leaving you no excuse not to go pink this Sunday.

Tips For A Terrific Home Wine Bar

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winestorage.jpgWhether your taste is grounded or grand, a few essentials will ensure your home wine bar is primed for the long haul:

Temperature plays a crucial role in the life of your wines. If you do not plan on cellaring your wine, consider a refrigerated system from Sub-Zero. This will also take care of humidity, which should be moderate.

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.

What's a Wine Cliché?

By Robert Farmerwine label view.jpg

In the landscape of the written world, the dubious "cliché" is one of the most maligned creatures--something to be steered clear of, a menace to descriptive prose, ridiculed and frowned upon and, ultimately, often unavoidable. And since the written word also applies to wine labels, the loathsome creature frequently creeps its way onto that space as well.

Press Club Debut in SF

By Robert Farmer
winerytastingroom.jpgFor a time -before I saw the light - I was somewhat opposed to the multi-winery tasting room. My preference had been for a tasting room to be not only to focus on a single winery's vintages, but also to be attached to that winery. It makes sense, you have to agree. But as I'm sure you'll also agree, I am right in tossing aside that narrow-minded attitude and embracing the new-style tasting room, the likes of which are proliferating these days in unexpected places. And so you can understand that recently, the opening of the Press Club in San Francisco was happy new for me. Not just because I happen to live in San Francisco, but also because this is an exceptionally fine example of the concept.

My So-Called Grape Life

By Courtney Cochran


Forward-thinking Napa vintners Susan and Duane Hoff have searched for ways to bring the experience of making wine at their bucolic Spring Mountain property closer to consumers since they founded Fantesca Winery ( in 2004. An industrious pair, the Hoffs ran through the typical canon of winery marketing shtick: they built a web site, hosted lavish harvest events for club members, and even created a MySpace page.

Motown Merlot

By Courtney Cochran

bottle_merlot.gifWhen former Motown Records CEO Kedar Massenburg launched K'orus Wine ( in late 2007, he did so with a splashy launch party in Beverly Hills attended by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Vivica Fox.  And while not the only wine launched with a celeb-studded fête in recent months , Massenburg's offering differs in a notable way - it's intended for African Americans.

Cinematic Splash: Top Films for Wine Lovers

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by Courtney Cochran

film.jpgIn most films, the cast is comprised of seasoned actors who possess a vibrant screen presence and innate ability to charm the audience.  But for a handful of movies in which wine itself plays a major role, we might as well add "mouthwatering" to the list of qualities a cast may claim.  Encompassing major motion pictures, documentaries and even a mockumentary, our list of top films for wine lovers covers lots of territory - affording viewers plenty to digest when it comes to wine and the silver screen.

California Wine an Earthy Choice

By Robert Farmer

3Es_circles.jpgIt seems that the state of California sometimes is fighting its own personal battle against global warming. The Golden State enacts initiatives that are separate and apart from the national programs - or even the national objectives. As the 8th largest economy on the planet, I suppose it's important that the state makes an environmental policy that sets the bar for the planet. The same can be said of California's wine industry, which has provided the standard for environmentally friendly wine-producing practices for years.

Earth to Ukiah


By Robert Farmer


It's fairly obvious that, although Earth Day is officially April 22, what is less known is that April is actually Earth Month. But what everyone ought to know is that every day is actually Earth Day. We have one planet. We have one chance to make it work. So it is that I continually bring up the subject as it relates to Wine Country. Because when it comes to the wine industry, the connection to the earth is top on the list of Things That Are Important.

Insider Trading

wildduck-homead.gifBy Courtney Cochran

When it comes to the financial markets, taking tips from insiders can get you into some serious trouble (remember Martha's little foible?) But - fortunately - when it comes to wine, there's nothing illegal about getting the inside track on some good juice.



Blame it on Ravenswood. With their irresistible Zinfandel, Cab and Chardonnay flowing freely, the audience was well primed for 'Corked', one of the 75 films featured at this week's 11th Annual Sonoma Valley Film Fest.  Created by local winemaking millennial/GenXers Russ Clendenen and Paul Hawley, Corked leaves no stone unturned in a hilarious spoof on the wine industry.  While Sideways took aim at the wine tourist, this little gem nails the insider's perspective.

Sipping Pretty: Winning Wines for the Spring Season

by Courtney Cochran

When the weather turns warm many of us feel inclined to pursue decidedly spring-like activities. Our short list of favorites includes spending time outdoors, foraging for fresh produce at farmer's markets and seeking out new wines to pair with the season's exuberant flavors and favorable forecast. Read on for some of our favorite selections for spring, along with - naturally - advice on food pairings and occasions for sipping. Santé!

Non Sequitur Sensations


By Courtney Cochran


In news that may come as surprising to some - and perhaps not so much to others - market research firm ACNielsen recently revealed that almost one in five of the table wine brands to hit the market in the last three years features an animal on its label.  This leap in popularity of so-called critter wines is remarkable not just because the wines represent a break from traditional wine labeling, but also because the animals featured on the labels often have little or nothing to do with what's inside the bottle.

Dubbed non sequitur labels due to this disconnect between the label and what's inside the bottle, critter wines benefit from customers' association of the animals with themselves (e.g. pet owners often have an affinity for canine-themed labels).  This flies in the face of traditional branding rationale, which argues that images should be strongly associated with the product  - whether it be wine or anything else for that matter - being sold.  But rather than perplexing, I find that this news confirms a suspicion I've long had that wine - made from a puzzlingly large number of grapes grown in regions all over the world and frequently marketed with labels in obscure languages - can sometimes seem about as relatable to American consumers as quantum physics. If at times it takes a critter label to break through all this clutter and strike a chord with the consumer, so be it. 

Wine as Art, Er, Fashion Statement, Er, Drink

By Courtney Cochran

Fresh back from Miami, I have to say that the sunny spot is without a doubt a city that knows how to party. And so I wasn't surprised to learn today that charismatic designer Christian Audigier - who shot to fame in the '90s as the man behind the eponymous Von Dutch brand, a favorite among celebrities and musicians, and who now oversees Ed Hardy clothing - chose Miami as the spot to debut his new wine brand, The Cool Wine (, at a star-studded affair late last year.

With juice coming from vineyards in Audigier's native France and distribution taken care of by Southern Wine & Spirits, The Cool Wine seems to have all the pieces in place for success as a traditional wine brand. But with packaging comprised of screw cap-topped bottles and boxes covered with colorful tattoo-inspired artwork, The Cool Wine is as much eye candy as beverage, as much fashion statement as libation - hardly traditional attributes in this long-staid industry. Watch for versions of the trendsetting stuff made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay and also a Rosé on store shelves and (naturally) bottle lists in nightclubs soon.

Parducci Puts it in "Neutral"

By Robert Farmer

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

By Robert Farmer


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

LeAnn Rimes & Estancia: Right on Key

By Courtney Cochran


As further evidence of wine's inexorable march to the fore of America's pop culture consciousness, Estancia today announced its official sponsorship of the new LeAnn Rimes video, Good Friends and a Glass of Wine. The video - which features the famed country chanteuse and a bevy of her real-life friends relaxing while sipping Estancia Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - celebrates the role of wine in creating an atmosphere of reflection and rejuvenation after a hard day's work.

The announcement marks another high note for wine as it continues to grow in popularity among Americans of all (legally appropriate) ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. It also comes across as a well-timed strategic move by Estancia - a long-established brand seeking to update its image by way of a staring role in a chart-topping song by one of today's most popular young musicians. Sounds right on key to me.

A Deed Very Well Done

By Courtney Cochran

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 ( 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

By Robert Farmer

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.

Does the World Need Wine Blog Awards?

By Robert Farmer

From the Shameless Self Promotion Department I offer the following: the American Wine Blog Awards are accepting nominations until February 27th. That means, you have by the time of this reading, probably already missed your opportunity to nominate Yours Truly for one of eight categories accepted for the awards acknowledging achievement in self-administered wine opinionating.

Forgive me if I appear cynical, but I came upon the news of these awards at first with some excitement. But that quickly gave way to disillusion as I realized my chances of winning anything - or even being acknowledged - were slim to nil. Because wine opinions are like noses (both the wine variety and the face variety): Every bottle's got one. And these days it seems everybody's willing to broadcast those opinions on the Internet in the form of a blog. The irony of me noting this phenomenon in the form of a wine blog is noted, by the way. But with nearly a thousand online wine-themed blogs to choose from, how does one even get close to recognize an exceptional effort? Well, I feel compelled to offer with a wink, you could just stop with this one. Still, I consider the wine blog phenomenon to be a good thing - an ever-current and contemporary means for wine discovery among those who care to explore; and a means for those who care to write about it for anyone who cares to read. And so perhaps it is all worth it, and perhaps next year, Yours Truly will take the stage to accept his Best Wine Blog award, placing me firmly among the bright shining stars of the blogosphere.

To know more about the awards, and their creator, visit (another blog) at

Top 10 Spring Break Escapes

springwine.jpgDaydreaming of warmer weather, sunny skies and tasting the new releases of Spring? Wine releases that is! Imagine indulging in the new red and white vintages, touring through budding vineyards, driving over sun drenched hillsides, taking in coastal views and feasting on fresh seasonal menus. recommends these unique limited-time escapes for your adult Spring Break.

"No Merlot" No More

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By Robert Farmer

BlackStone_merlot.jpgYou've heard me argue for the defense in the case of the Public vs. No Merlot before - though I thought the movie Sideways was excellent, it was also a bit missinterpreted and way off point with the character's virulent opposition to merlot. Well, as with most things that are incorrect, time took its course and righted the wrong. And so it is in this spirit that I was happy to see the report released this week that sales of merlot in the United States rose by some 6 percent in 2007.

It took awhile for the public to set aside their fear of being un-trendy and their proclivity to bypass the merlot section in their grocery store wine aisle, but it does appear that merlot is again taking its rightful place among grape greats. Merlot still ranks high with U.S. wine consumers, as some 45 percent of total wine sales in the States is comprised of merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon. Anecdotal evidence of the trend reversal is offered by Constellation Wines, the largest wine company in America, which claims among its many brands Blackstone Winery. For the same 2007 period, Blackstone's benchmark merlot enjoyed a sales increase of more than 11 and a half percent.

I guess Blackstone fans never saw Sideways...

Ceja Vineyards Wine Tasting Salon

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 (; 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.

Of Billionaires, Ambiguous Bottles & the Big Screen


By Courtney Cochran

oldwinebottle.jpgWhen oil magnate William Koch bought four bottles of wine purported to once belong to Thomas Jefferson - and found in a bricked-up cellar in Paris, no less, where the ex-President spent time as an ambassador to France - he thought he was buying a piece of history.  Not long after the purchase, however, the charismatic billionaire launched into an exhaustive self-funded investigation into the authenticity of the bottles, which he had become convinced were fakes.  The lawsuit Koch eventually filed (and which was recently thrown out of court) made headlines worldwide and grabbed the attention of history buffs, wine collectors and consumers alike with its scintillating story of deception, huge sums of money and larger-than-life players.

Now, it looks as though Koch's story may be told on the big screen, too.  Decanter reports that two Hollywood outfits have separately purchased rights to the tale as it's told in a soon-to-be-released book about the affair, The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, and in a recent New Yorker article about the scandal.  Whether either party will eventually make a film from the rights they've purchased is unknown, but the undeniable appeal of the story coupled with the recent success of other wine-related films (think Sideways, Mondovino) certainly bodes well. 

Merlot Fights Back


A stunning new Merlot helps dispel the varietal's bad rap

by Courtney Cochran

Ever since Sideways' curmudgeony wine geek Miles dismissed Merlot as something he'd rather skip a meal over than swill, Merlot's been suffering under the blight of crashing sales and a seriously downtrodden image.

In fact, the backlash against the varietal has been so bad that Swanson Vineyards - Napa Valley's largest producer of estate-grown Merlot - recently launched a PR campaign called "Merlot Fights Back." Their message? Don't diss the misunderstood varietal just because a fictional down-on-his-luck oenophile with a penchant for Pinot says it's not worth your time.

Wine Law Woes

By Courtney Cochran

liquorstore.jpgNew York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s latest column, “A Befuddlement of Liquor Laws” (Wednesday, January 30), is one of the best commentaries I’ve read on the current crisis state of the American alcohol distribution system.  The influential critic comes out of the box swinging when he asserts - just 100 or so words into his column - that “the laws governing direct interstate shipments from wine retailers to consumers are confusing, arcane, inconsistent, often ignored and rarely discussed.”     

The Beginnings of Progress
Ka-boom!  And just like that, Asimov brings to the front and center a controversy that has been simmering for many years and which is finally reaching a boiling point thanks to a number of recent events.  To wit, in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban out-of-state wineries from shipping wine directly to in-state consumers if in-state wineries were allowed to do so.  This was good news for consumers in states like New York, where the changes that grew out of the ruling mean that folks can finally order mailing-list-only and other hard-to-find wines from wineries in, say, California, and also for wineries themselves, which now have a broader customer base nationwide and take home a bigger piece of the profit pie thanks to their ability to sell direct.

And while there are still holdout states clinging to the archaic system of three-tiered liquor distribution established in the wake of Prohibition (which necessitates that alcohol pass from a producer to a wholesaler/distributor before it reaches retailers, thereby making direct sales illegal), the ruling at least signals progress for wineries and consumers in a number of states.   

Wine Merchants: Left Out In the Cold
But pretty much total confusion still reigns when it comes to wine sales made by non-winery retailers, who in recent years have been treading in murky waters when it comes to shipping wine across state borders (as have wineries).  But, sadly, retailers were not awarded the same new shipping freedoms that wineries were granted after the court’s ruling.  And while shipping across state lines is not exactly impossible for retailers, doing so legally requires that they navigate a complex web of dos and don’ts, permit filings and a strange mandate necessitating the establishment of brick and mortar outposts in certain states in order to do so.  These hurdles mean that only the most organized and well-funded retailers are able to make a go of inter-state selling; as for the rest, they either do it illegally or they don’t do it at all.

Long Way To Go
The sum of all of these regulatory and shipping hang-ups is a system woefully in need of an overhaul.  The shocking number of constituents who are financially impacted by the hang-ups - not only the wineries and retailers who are leaving money on the table due to an inability to make sales to customers in holdout states, but also the retailers who spend time and money slogging through the same hang-ups so that they can make inter-state sales - is just as disturbing as the paucity of consumer choice that accompanies them.  It’s inexcusable that in a country that prides itself on free trade there are still barriers within our own borders prohibiting us from purchasing goods we’ve made domestically.

The advent of eCommerce and the accompanying debate about inter-state shipping has only drawn into sharper relief problems that have been inherent in our liquor laws for far too long.  It’s time that we considered methods to level the playing field for everyone involved, so that businesses may realize their full potential and consumers may get their hands on the wines that they want.  This need for consumer choice, after all, is a mandate for something even more important than profits:  It’s a call for the best quality of life this country has to offer. 

Monterey Wine Auction


By Robert Farmer


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

By Robert Farmer


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.

Zinfandel: The New Budweiser?

By Courtney Cochran

zap.JPGThe first time I attended the ZAP festival ( ) – the annual tasting hosted by the trade group Zinfandel Advocates and Producers each January at San Francisco’s Fort Mason – I couldn’t get over the sheer enormity of the gathering.  Press materials peg attendance at the multi-day festival somewhere around 10,000, an astounding figure for a wine event.  And while the size of the event is itself noteworthy, what I find still more interesting is the makeup of the tasting’s attendees (and I’m talking demographics - not cosmetics - here).

The Everyman Tasting
The beer and burger crowd is at ZAP.  The barely-old-enough-to-drink crowd is at ZAP. The fashionistas are at ZAP.  The gays are at ZAP.  The hippies and the yuppies are at ZAP.  It’s the most eclectic gathering of wine drinkers I’ve ever seen in one place, and it’s also the only major wine event I’ve attended where casual may just be the best word to describe the guests.  This diversity, in and of itself, is exciting and worth checking out, particularly in light of the Wine Market Council’s recent announcement that 2007 was “a tipping point” for wine consumption in America, a phenomenon triggered in part by a shift among many wine drinkers from marginal to regular wine consumption, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of twenty somethings (holla!) drinking wine.  

Many of these so-called marginal drinkers are folks who used to choose a beer or a cocktail over wine, but whom statistics show are increasingly opting for a glass of wine when selecting a drink.  And, to lots of these newbie wine enthusiasts, Zinfandel is a fruity, easy-to-like wine that doesn’t intimidate.  After all, Zin is the wine most often associated with casual foods like pizza, burgers and ribs, and its low acidity when compared with other popular varietals (think Pinot Noir & Sauvignon Blanc) makes it a palate-friendly option for someone who may not be accustomed to wine’s signature strong acidity.  

A Gateway Wine
This weekend’s ZAP festival is the perfect occasion to check out these casual drinkers in action, not to mention a great opportunity to knock back some seriously good Zin.  And, I would be remiss as a sommelier if I didn’t note that, in spite of Zin’s casual reputation that I’ve emphasized here, it can also be a serious wine, one worthy of connoisseurship and all the other hallmarks of a “fine wine” tossed about in the stuffy-wine-speak lexicon.    

But really, at the end of the day, what’s most important about Zin is its accessibility to the legions of new drinkers we’re seeing leap, many in jeans and t-shirts, onto the wine bandwagon.   And what a merry bandwagon it is.    

It Only Tastes Expensive

By Robert Farmer

wineglass.jpegThe report tore through wine circles recently that a study that shows people think the more expensive wine is the better it tastes. The study, produced by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology, showed that because people expect wines that cost more to be better, they convinced themselves that indeed those wines were more pleasurable to drink. Now this might be easily categorized in the “no kidding!” file, but I don’t think it should be so easily dismissed. This information is actually more beneficial to wine makers - actually, to wine marketers - than it is to wine consumers.

This news is, in my view, an insult to wine drinkers.  It demonstrates in no uncertain terms the gullibility and the overall herd-mentality of the wine drinking public (indeed, this phenomenon isn’t limited to the wine business). Is it true that wine drinkers are so eager to have a positive wine-drinking experience that they can be so easily hoodwinked into thinking that because the wine in their glass costs a lot it must taste good? Please, let’s hope not. In the meantime, it should be every serous wine drinker’s mission to sniff out the you-know-what and to let their taste buds make the decisions - not their wallets.

Label Overexposure

By Robert Farmer

bonny_doon_label.jpgOn the other side of the label - the wine label argument, that is - is California's trend-setting winery, Bonny Doon Vineyards, in Santa Cruz. Long known for its avant-garde approach to the wine biz, and for its rather whimsical takes on wine label, Bonny Doon announced recently that it would begin offering wine labels that list all the ingredients in its wines, as well as what ingredients were used to create those ingredients. Though it might be a case of TMI (too much information), and perhaps even a case of Who Asked For It, the winery hopes it will be a precedent-setting example of transparency that will help the consumer make better choices'certainly more "informed" choices, at the very least.

This is interesting to me, especially in light of the recently proposed Oregon legislation (see above) that hopes to mandate such transparency. But what this means, and what consumers will begin seeing on the labels of Bonny Doon’s, Demeter certified Biodynamic 2007 Ca' del Solo Albarino and the 2007 Ca' del Solo Muscat, is an esoteric catalog of such things as tartaric acid, yeast nutrients, bentonite, enzymes and sulfur dioxide. Many of these ingredients are benign and indeed no longer remain in the completely fermented and bottled wine. But, trailblazer though they are, Bonny Doon wants to expose it all. I’ve always like the Bonny Doon labels - typically fun, eclectic, and colorful. But I'm not sure I like this idea and I'm not sure it makes a difference.

Label me undecided.

Wine Label Larceny

By Robert Farmer

labels2.jpgIf your New Year's Resolution included being more conscientious about what you eat and drink, then the addition of nutritional information to wine labels might strike you as a good thing. For those in the wine industry, however, the proposal is something less helpful.

As has been much in the wine-industry news lately, the Oregon State Alcohol Tax and Trade  Bureau (TTB) has proposed a requirement that winemakers there list nutritional information on their wine bottle labels. Now, you may be saying to yourself… What!? Because, like many people I know and with whom I have discussed this notion, the idea seems superfluous at best, idiotic at worst. And as we know when it comes to all things state-related, one state’s law can soon impact the nation. So it's not surprising the Oregon winemakers have been digging in their heels in opposition to this. You should be too.

The proposal presents a number of problems, both logistical and philosophical. From the former, it's not easy for winemakers to list the ingredients that go into their wines - it's an ever-changing array of components added with the temperament and nuance of an individual and generally with little consequence to the wine drinker other than a resulting product that they enjoy. Nutritionally? If you're that worried about what nutrition you're getting from your wine, I'm afraid you’ve got bigger problems than can be solved on a wine label.

And, speaking of the label, the ones that already have government-mandated copy publicizing alcohol content and the dangers thereof (which I agree isn't a bad idea), it's also the space that the winemaker relies on for telling the particular wine story - not to mention for grabbing the attention of the wine-buying public from its position on store shelves.

So, in other words, there are many reasons why this is a bad idea. For Oregon's sake and for overall wine-drinking sanity, let’s hope this particular label idea doesn't stick.

Stop la presse!

By Courtney Cochran

In a move that can only signal the further withering of France's reputation as the homeland of the bon vivant, a Paris-area court recently ruled that newspaper articles promoting wine should include the same terse health warnings that appear on alcohol advertisements.  This comes on the heels of strict new laws in France that levy severe penalties on drivers who've been drinking.  

For many years, getting behind the wheel after a couple  - or more - glasses of good wine was commonplace for many French.  And while I've heard lots of grumblings from folks over there about these changes (which in spite of their inconvenience are a good thing for public safety), the government's more recent interference in beverage reporting is truly shocking.  At the center of the controversy is a 2005 article in Le Parisien that the court claims was 'intended to promote sales of alcoholic beverages in exercising a psychological effect on the reader that incited him or her to buy alcohol.'  Le Parisien countered that its piece was 'purely editorial'. 

As a journalist, Francophile and wine lover, I'm utterly disgusted by the ruling.  What’s next - outlawing French Fries?!  Woops, guess that bad move's already been made.

Resolve to Drink Wine Pt 2

By Robert Farmer
With 304 million cases consumed in 2007, the United States is now ahead of Italy in per-capita wine drinking. And, more telling, we are behind only the French. Among the many factors contributing to this welcome trend are the same factors that play into my resolution: increasing evidence that (red) wine is actually good for you; and the availability of better wines in more places throughout the country. Of course, more people are coming of wine-drinking-age now, which does not include me, but we won't get into that. But, like me, more Americans are interested in getting quality for a good price. And, we're more aware of what quality in a wine actually tastes like. As tastes become more sophisticated, wine producers work harder to reach those tastes and to market to pocketbooks. So as more US producers get into the mix along with better bottles from places like Australia, South Africa, and Argentina, we the wine-lovers of the world stand to benefit. As I continue on this resolute journey, I will happily share my finds with you. By all means return the favor if you like!

Resolve to Drink Wine

By Robert Farmer

wine_2.jpg'Tis the season for making and for breaking new year resolutions. Myself, I for the past six or seven years have not been so foolhardy as to give in to the temptation to make resolutions at the new year or any time of year, knowing that not only are they wishful thinking, they tend to be equally unrealistic and unattainable. But that's not to say that the changing of the calendar from one year to the next does not give me pause to reflect on things I might do better, or differently, in the coming 365 days and beyond. There is a certain undeniable tabula rasa effect that comes in along with January 1st. So this year, I will put my mind to seeking out and drinking better wine. That's not to say that, to-date, I'd been a dedicated "Two Buck Chuck" drinker. Rather, it means that I am going to re-focus my mission to find those great wines that are suitable for everyday enjoyment (i.e., they don't break the bank, but also don't insult the palate). There's strong evidence that this resolution will be one I can achieve and, according to the 2007 wine market report by Impact Databank, I will not be alone. The study indicates that Americans are drinking more and better wine than ever, and they are seeking out and relying upon dependable well-priced bottles.

AVA Angst

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by Courtney Cochran

Thumbnail image for homepage-feature1.jpgI feel sorry for those of you who – like me – have been attempting to follow the US Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau’s controversial proposed amendments to American Viticultural Area (AVA) regulations.  I feel sorry for anyone, for that matter, who is sorting through the piles of legalese and angry banter being circulated about the matter in newspapers and online, not only because it's all terrifically confusing, but also because the proposals at the center of the controversy shouldn't even be up for debate at all. 

Proposed amendments hinge on a fundamental shift in regulations that would prohibit wines hailing from smaller appellations located or “nested” within larger appellations (e.g. Oakville within Napa Valley) from listing both the sub- and macro-appellations on their labels. Besides this, there are other issues at play in the current mess, most importantly a proposed "grandfather” clause that would allow wineries founded between 1986 and 2005 to continue to use place names that are also appellations in their brand names (e.g. the soon-to-be-approved Calistoga AVA, as in the case of Calistoga Cellars) even though their wines may not satisfy the standard requirement that a minimum of 85% of the grapes used to make a wine be grown in the wine’s stated AVA. 

If all this sounds confusing – and WRONG – that’s because it is.

When a Spade Isn’t a Spade
When it comes down to it, listing both a sub appellation and a macro appellation – especially when the sub AVA is a new and/or little known region – is a key marketing tool wineries use to communicate what’s inside the bottle.  For example, a consumer might hesitate to order a Cabernet Sauvignon from “Wild Horse Valley” (popularly held to be Napa’s least-known AVA) but he or she might decide to give the wine a try if the bottle listed both “Wild Horse Valley” and “Napa Valley” on its label.  

As recognition of the Wild Horse Valley AVA and its wines grows, that indication on a bottle may very well become a source of differentiation that helps vintners from the area to sell their wines.   And while we're on the subject, differentiation is also the key economic driver that allows producers to charge more for their products than others charge for similar, undifferentiated products.  So, the most effectively differentiated products are not only more likely to sell, they’re more likely to sell at a higher price.

And don’t even get me started on what’s wrong with a wine’s inferring it comes from a certain place when, in fact, the legal threshold for grapes coming from that region hasn’t been met.

At What Cost Costs?
Rumor has it that the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) proposed these amendments as a result of the growing number of sub AVA petitions the bureau is receiving and the its members’ desire to manage costs associated with processing the petitions and regulating wine labels that list an increasingly large number of regions.  The problem is, we need to look beyond these superficial costs.  Restricting geographic labeling can only hurt wineries and therefore – on a much larger scale – hobble the wine industry itself, one of California’s most vibrant and economically viable agricultural entities.  Moreover, I seriously doubt that the costs “saved” by TTB could equal the long-term fiscal impact of these changes on the industry.

As a sommelier I will always be in support of providing consumers with the most information possible about a wine – and in this case that means both sub and macro AVA identification.  And I will always press for veracity in wine labeling. 

For these reasons, I find the changes proposed by the TTB unacceptable and in need of review. At the end of the day, refuting TTB’s proposals and maintaining or more fairly altering the current AVA regulation policies will only help winemakers - folks who for the most part make wine with integrity and would also like to market their wines with integrity – not to mention sell a good amount of the stuff while they’re at it.  

To voice your own opinion on the subject, visit Docket No. TTB-2007-0068 at .

Cradle of Love - Wine Gift Ideas


by Courtney Cochran

Gifting for the wine lover in your life seems easy enough until you realize that the best gifts have already been given:  fancy Rabbit-style corkscrew (check), embellished pewter bottle coaster (check), elaborate duck-shaped decanter (sigh, check). 

But wait!  Just when you’ve decided that finding the perfect gift for your wine lover is about as likely as White Zin making a comeback, I’m here with the scoop on something the wine lover in your life almost certainly doesn’t have:  a wine cradle. 

Made from a variety of materials and available at a variety of price points, a wine cradle is – essentially – a holster designed for serving old and rare wines.  Because older bottles often contain sediment – a natural by-product of wine’s aging process – serving them from a wine cradle ensures that the sediment stays where it ought to be – in the bottom of the bottle – and out of your glass.  Sleek, minimalist cradles may suit New Age drinkers, while more classic, Italian-made pewter versions will win points with traditionalists.

Either way, your gift-giving savvy may just net you a taste of one of said old bottles – a fitting reward for your efforts, if I do say so.

Classic SF Restaurant Returns with Welcoming Wine List


By Robert Farmer

A San Francisco icon has reemerged like the butterfly from the chrysalis. Only in this case the butterfly is a Moose. For decades the anchor of Washington Square and the hideout for local politicos and socialistas, Moose's (415-989-7800; recently reopened following a major redesign and refurbishment.

The good news is, it appears that it will still be a great place to grab a glass of wine and discuss the events of the day. Under the watchful eye of wine director Glen Standish, Moose's has unveiled a world-spanning list of wines that showcase artisan producers with an emphasis on organic and biodynamically produced wines. What's more, care was taken to offer value and selection. Great prices will make it tough to choose from among 15 by-the-glass wines and from more than 150 bottle and half-bottle selections. The wines will pair nicely with a new menu from chef Travis Flood, who honed his skills at SF's Fifth Floor, among other haute spots.

It's good to see the return of a classic to the City by the Bay--a place where a local neighborhood restaurant welcomes people from all neighborhoods.

Shop Online With a Million Friends


By Robert Farmer


You’ve heard me rant about the benefits of buying wine online – hello, front-door delivery! But sometimes it can be tough to make decision is the vast cold void of cyberspace when confronted with a gazillion choices. That is, unless you know exactly what you want.

But let’s say you’re not Robert Parker and you’re just interested in exploring. Enter Snooth (, a New York City-based (yes, New York City!) online presence that leverages the much-hyped Web 2.0 technology for its wine recommendations and overall functionality. Flush with a recent one million dollar financing deal, Snooth is poised to make big waves in the online wine shopping and searching world. Using so-called “social” recommending, the site offers info and detail on more than 300,000 kinds of wine.

It also claims 1.9 million users, each of whom add to and help build the site—for instance, you can see what your site friends are liking at the moment, what they’ve bought, and what they’ve steered clear of.  It’s like Facebook for wine snobs! The best part is the search capabilities. The site seems to know wine terminology—for instance, it can find recommendations for based on your love of “buttery” chardonnay.

Check it out and see if you give a Snooth.

The Young Guns

juddhill.jpgWine Country's Next Generation of Wine Makers Takes Off

By Courtney Cochran

Ever since Yellow Tail landed stateside I've seen a lot more young wine drinkers stepping up to the tasting plate. Now, before you stick up your nose and bad mouth the Aussie juice as some sort of unsophisticated entry-level slop, think twice.

It's having a profound effect on consumption patterns amongst new drinkers, functioning as a starter wine for lots of folks who were previously swilling just beer and booze. And, as is true for all things entry-level, there's only one way to go from here: up.

Once they're in the door, newbie wine lovers are moving quickly beyond the black and yellow to more complex wines. And what better way to introduce them to a bunch of awesome examples than through a live tasting featuring some of most dynamic movers and shakers on the wine scene under the age of 35?

How Green Was My Winery

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.

Sweet and Local -- American Dessert Wines Are Coming of Age

DessertWineGlass.jpgIt's no accident that most great wine-producing regions of the world have a signature dessert wine. Bordeaux, Tuscany and the Rheingau are the most famous homes of "stickies," as dessert wines are sometimes called, but the list is far longer. The reasons are simple: sweet wine makes a great finish to good meals, and it takes good grapes to make good dessert wine. So superior stickies tend to be made in places where good wine and good food go hand in hand.

Jessie's Grove Vineyards


Ancient Vines Still Growing Strong in Lodi

Though they're gnarled and twisted with age, a little hunched over and not at all interested in new-fangled ideas like, say, trellises and grafting, there's still plenty of life left in the wise, old vines of Jessie's Grove. They've made it 115 years, after all.

Given names like Yoda and Royal-tee, these relatively ancient vines are the oldest in Lodi--and among the oldest in the state. Planted in the late 1800's, not long after the madness of the Gold Rush and some of the earliest plantings by the viticultural Johnny Appleseed of the California's Central Valley--Captain Charles Weber--the vines continue to produce intensely flavored, highly prized Zinfandel and Carignane wines.

Frequent Winer

By Courtney Cochran

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Borders

By Robert Farmer

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

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

Gone, Bubble, Gone

By Courtney Cochran

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

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

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

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

Dressing on the Side

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By Robert Farmer

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

Tool Time

By Robert Farmer

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

Harvest Hopeful Redux

By Robert Farmer

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

Room With a View

By Courtney Cochran

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

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

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

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

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

The Flames of Wrath

By Robert Farmer

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

20th annual Holiday in Carneros Open House

by Robert Farmer

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

Dry Creek: The Zin Tour


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

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

The How-To Harvest


Harvest Tales - Part 2

by Robert P. Farmer

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

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

Ready, Sip, Go!

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By Courtney Cochran

Laggards waiting for a good reason to hightail it up to Mendocino no longer have an excuse for staying away, since with the October opening of Mendo maven Bernadette Byrne's highly anticipated wine bar and tasting room, Sip Mendocino, travelers can now sample the bounty of some of the area's best small producers, all in one place.

The first collective tasting room in the area, the Hopland-based wine bar and retailer offers more than 100 wines from small and hard-to-find producers, many of whom Byrne met during her tenures as President of the Mendocino Vintners Association and Executive Director of the Mendocino Winegrowers Alliance.

But Sip isn't just about wine: Oeno-weary travelers will be thrilled with Byrne's excellent selection of local micro-brews, too. Drop in for one of the spot's weekly Thirsty Thursdays tastings to sample single-vineyard wines and other specialties, all poured alongside a refreshing dash of Byrne's trademark Mendo hospitality.

So you see - there's really no excuse not to go. Sip to it.

13420 S. Highway 101, Hopland, CA 95449 (707) 744-8375

Scent & Scent Ability


It's no one's fault when a wine you uncork has a fault, so why do you always feel so icky when you nab a bad bottle? A new installation at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts aims to help us get over our discomfort with common wine faults like the dreaded spoilage yeast "Brett" by way of a new self-service station where visitors can sample tainted wines. For $1 per one-ounce taste, participants can smell and swill four faulty wines en route to a better understanding of what's to blame when your Margaux smells like something that's decaying in Aunt Mildred's attic.

Novelty aside, whether or not your knowing that the wet cardboard smell wafting from your glass (you'll learn that's the yucky compound TCA, or "trichloranisole") makes the experience of scoring a bad bottle any less unpleasant is still up for debate.

Open Wed. through Mon. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Tues. - 500 First Street, Napa, CA 94559 * - (707) 259-1600

Contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Diary of a Crush: Part 3

courtneyCochran_profile.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Day 3 - Saturday, Sept 22

We rose at five the next morning to pick Kenny's Zin. As I emerged from the guest room I was greeted with a large mug of coffee and pressing questions about how much beer I thought we would need when we finished picking. Unable to think with perfect clarity at that hour, we all agreed to err on the side of "more is better." Amply plied with caffeine and with our beer in tow, we departed a few minutes before 6, giddy with excitement about what was to come.

Diary of a Crush: Part 2

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.

Diary of a Crush: Part 1


By Courtney Cochran

f I'd kept a diary as a teen, it surely would have chronicled many a crush. After all, the anthem of adolescence is, without a doubt, unrequited love.

But, given my current profession (and age, I must grudgingly add), crushing has everything to do with wine, and little to do with romance. Unless, of course, you believe the general splendor of wine country nets it a spot in the romance category, in which case you might make an argument that this diary chronicles an adult crush of a very serious nature.

However you see it, read on for the story of an exciting adventure in crushing.

Drink correctly:


by Robert Farmer

So I’ve never been a huge subscriber to the "what wine goes with what food" school – I’ve always been a believer that if it tastes good and you enjoy it whatever you happen to be eating. But I am also aware that the equation will only get you so far, and in many cases the “right” wine not only pairs well with certain foods, it can also make that food taste better and more enjoyable. The vice-versa is of course true, too. Because tons of people aren’t like me (sadly), there is a great service available that helps take the guesswork out of pairing wine and food. And now, that service is available online. The intrepid folks at Wine That Loves custom bottle wines expressly intended to pair with specific foods and put that recommendation right on the label. For instance, "Wine That Loves.... pasta!" It's a brilliant concept and they've now gone digital. So the next time you're flummoxed by fish or stymied by steak, check out and pair with confidence.

High Hopes for Harvest

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.

On Second Thought: Putting Used Bottles to Use


Anyone able to pull a cork is capable of enjoying the spoils of a bottle of wine, but it takes a truly savvy enthusiast to take the good stuff where few mere fans have taken it before. Read on for tips on re-using wine bottles – because your enjoyment shouldn’t end just because you’ve swilled the last drop.

Savvy Centerpiece
Pour the contents of a bottle of wine into a decanter in advance of a festive meal. Decanting works wonders when it comes to opening up young reds, and even helps some whites to show their full potential (it certainly doesn’t hurt ‘em), so pour away! If you don’t have a decanter on-hand, any clean, empty flower vase or water pitcher will do the trick.

Next, pluck some flowers from your yard or local florist shop and arrange them inside the empty wine bottle. Voilà – you’ve got a centerpiece with panache, and you and your guests can admire the bottle on the table while enjoying the wine from the decanter. If you’re pouring from the flower vase, you can also share a good chuckle over the ironic role swap.

Wine Bottle As Found Art
Those interested in taking their bottles to still greater heights of innovation can experiment with empty wine bottles as found art. More and more, wine bottles are turning up as decorative elements in lighting fixtures (wine bottle chandelier, anyone?) and wall dressings (making the phrase “wine wall” quite literal). Even better, planning for your art installation is a fabulous excuse to try new wines.

Message In a Bottle
One of the best things about wine is the way it brings us together with friends and family. For a great way to harness the memories you generate while enjoying a special bottle, jot down highlights from your gathering on a piece of paper, roll it up and slide it inside the empty bottle. Store this “time capsule” along with others from particularly memorable occasions, and plan a time to open them up and savor your memories – ideally, over more great wine.

I can’t think of a better excuse to start enjoying the good stuff this very moment.

contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Kisses (and Vino) from Rio


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."

Dry Creek Zinfandel Recommendations


Zinfandel has been on a rollercoaster of popularity for nearly 150 years - today's mad passion is only the latest peak for the bold-flavored red. Throughout most of that time, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma has been a bastion of Zinfandel quality and tradition. A quarter of the valley's vineyard acreage is planted to Zin, yielding up an abundance of Zinfandels with "Dry Creek Valley" on the label every year.

While it's hard to go too far wrong with Dry Creek Zin, prices have crept up steadily during the grape's latest burst of popularity. There's also been a major move toward higher alcohol and more saturated color and flavor. So there's more reason than ever to choose carefully in order to find a Dry Creek Zin with a style and price you like.

Nearly Native Son--Zinfandel is as American as Fine Wine Can Get


Dry Creek Zinfandel RecommendationsZinfandel's more passionate adherents got some wind knocked out of them in 2002, when the premium wine grape they described as "America's own" turned out to be European - and from a never-heard-of-it neighborhood to boot.

In the years leading up to this discovery, Zin fans had become increasingly creative in defense of their chosen vine. When a southern Italian grape called Primitivo turned out to be genetically almost identical to Zinfandel, some Zin fans came up with a "reverse immigration" theory: the American grape was so good, they said, that Italian-Americans must have exported it back home to their winemaking cousins. (As if Italy, with more than 2,000 indigenous grape varieties, needed another one.)

Syrah Shows That Change Is Intrinsic to American Wine

Centuries of wine tradition are ending in a single generation. In just the past few years we've been given premium wine in boxes and cans, $160 Cabernet with screwcaps and imported wine named for small marsupials - and it's all wonderful. Wine is good for us and the earth, and today's trends toward an easier, friendlier wine experience are all positive.

But just a short time ago, almost none of them were on the horizon. In fact, some of the grapes we now take for granted were still struggling for a place in American wine.

Take Syrah. In the early 1970s, there were a few Syrah vines scattered here and there in northern California, but they were usually mixed in anonymously with other varieties. No one made anything with "Syrah" on the label. The University of California at Davis had vines which it had propagated from cuttings taken from a famed French vineyard in the northern Rhône Valley, but the faculty was divided on whether Syrah was worth planting in California. So the vines remained in the university's teaching vineyard.

Corkscrew Caper


Without intending, you've already committed a cardinal party-thrower sin - you're taking way too long to get the cork out of the first bottle of party wine.  I can picture the scene perfectly:  With your guests waiting impatiently in the living room, you curse silently to yourself as you struggle to insert the twisty metal prong into the cork, then guide the wings on either side upwards in a perfectly synchronized gliding motion.  Your reward for executing this challenging set of moves should be a neatly removed cork and sustenance for the thirsty revelers about to undergo party–goer mutiny in the next room.

Unfortunately, after several attempts all you have to show for your efforts are a few pieces of miserably crumbled cork and rapidly rising blood pressure (not to mention some seriously disgruntled guests).

Tricks of the trade
Been here before?  Well relax, because so has pretty much everyone else reading this blog.  That's right, anyone worth his party-throwing stuff can tell you that this first, simple task – getting the cork out of the bottle – isn't always as easy as it's made out to be.  Whether it's a straightforward-seeming winged corkscrew like the one referenced above or a super-technical rabbit version that you're using, there are sure-fire tricks to working successfully with all of these gadgets. 

Read on for just that, so that you can appear the flawless hostess next time — and spare yourself from a hostile takeover under your own roof.

Winged 'screws
Winged corkscrews come with an exposed worm — the twisty metal or Teflon piece that you drive into the cork — situated between two metal wings that you pull upwards to draw the cork out of the bottle.  Because winged ‘screws are inexpensive and widely available, they're some of the most frequently used — and abused — openers out there.

Much of the problem has to do with the fact that these don't readily allow for easy manipulation of the worm when it's first inserted into the cork.  As a result, the trick to successfully using a winged ‘screw lies in your ability to firmly insert its worm into the cork.  For the best results, start by drawing the wings upward and grasping them in one hand along with the top portion of the worm mechanism; with the other hand, guide the worm securely into the middle of the cork surface.  Once the worm is firmly inside the cork, release the wings and continue twisting the worm until most of it disappears inside the cork.  Finally, draw the wings slowly upwards while the bottle rests on a sturdy level surface.  The cork should come out easily.

Rabbits & such
Rabbit corkscrews are the hefty, often black devices that use a lever mechanism to take the elbow grease out of the opening equation.  Trouble is, rabbits not only take up a ton of unnecessary room in your kitchen, they're among the most difficult–to–figure–out 'screws on the market!  But, if you do choose to invest in one (or receive one as a non-returnable gift), it can pay to take a little time to figure out how to use the darn thing.

The upside to cumbersome rabbits is that they often come with a handy foil-cutting device (part of the bells and whistles portion of your purchase). Use this to remove the foil cap from your wine with a quick pinch and twist around the top of the bottle.  Next, position the worm portion of your rabbit over the cork, and close the handles around either side of the worm until the device forms a snug vice-like hold on the neck of the bottle.  Grasping the now-conjoined ends of the handles firmly with one hand, lift the top lever mechanism up and away from you until the cork is pulled cleanly from the bottle.  Then, release the vice grip from the neck and pour away; you can eject the cork simply by repeating the motion in reverse, without the bottle underneath. 

Waiter widgets
My own top choice for cork removal, the waiter's corkscrew is one that folds up compactly (to fit into a waiter's pocket, natch), doesn't cost much and works efficiently time and again.  Widely available for less than $10, the waiter's corkscrew consists of a basic worm and lever attached to a tiny retractable knife that's used to remove the foil from the top of bottles. 

How does it work?  First, use the knife to cut around the top of the foil cap just above the lip of the bottle (this is the part that protrudes outward near the bottle's opening), then peel the foil away to expose the cork.  Grasping the bottle firmly with one hand, guide the worm into the cork with the other, and use this same hand to then twist the worm all the way into the cork.  Next, secure the lever extension (this is usually a steel or chrome piece that tilts down towards the cork) to the lip of the bottle; place a hand firmly on top of where it joins the bottle to ensure a non-slip pull.  Finally, slowly pull upwards on the lever, which should extract the cork from the bottle. 

While this method does requires some brute strength (a double-lever extension alleviates some of this), it's the most sure-fire and efficient method I've found for cork removal, to date. 

Stay tuned for more tips.

contributed by:  Courtney Cochran

A Better Blanc: Great Whites That Are Good for the Earth

At harvest time in California wine country, it's not just warm during the day. Sometimes it's downright hot. That's because the vast Pacific Ocean, the cold California current that runs along the coast, and other factors conspire to push our summer season, weather-wise, much later into the year than in other parts of the country.

So while the south is steaming and the Midwest is baking in June and July, California's coastal counties are often chilled by morning fog and cooled by afternoon wind. Then in September and October, when the leaves are turning in Wisconsin's Door County and people are donning jackets to walk on Cape Cod, vines in California hang in all-day sun, soaking up the energy they need to complete their reproductive cycle.

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.

Go Premium Yourself


Personal-batch wines for the High-end Set

by Robert P. Farmer

In our do-it-yourself world, people remodel their kitchens and build their own outdoor decks. Now, add to the list, making their own wine fine wine. Sure, folks have been making their own wine (and outrunning the local sheriff) for centuries. But, of course, today we're talking about Wine Country and personal-batch wines in these parts are always up-and-up, and more often suitable for sampling along with fine cuisine than for sipping from a jug in a shed 'round back.

The individual-label wine trend is growing. And as part of its natural evolution, the trend for personal premium wine is growing too. In Napa and Sonoma counties, the trend is fostered with the help of professional winemakers who possess both the facilities and the patience to help interested parties learn about and appreciate the effort it takes to make their own wine. Individuals like this can be found at Owl Ridge Winery, whose custom-crush services at Owl Ridge Winery gets under way this year in the form of Sonoma Grapemasters.

SteveReynolds_winemaker.jpgFor generations around the world, families made their own wines, sometimes tending small vineyards behind their homes or just checking on a ceramic crock of fermenting juice hiding in a closet. It was a tradition for everyone--from mom and dad, to the smallest children--to be involved in everything from growing the grapes, to crushing and bottling (or jug-ing, perhaps) these rustic wines. Today, many small-production, boutique wineries continue that tradition in Napa.

Though technology has made the process easier, and many hire some of the valley's most prestigious winemakers to help craft exceptional, rather than rustic wines, the homegrown feeling is much the same. Walking into tiny tasting rooms, often run by the family themselves, the air is less of a corporate machine, and more of an extended living room where visitors can casually sip a glass of wine while chatting with the folks who know the wine from the inside, out.

The Merlot Lovers Tour of Napa Valley


Though Cab may reign supreme in Napa these days, Merlot has always been a member of the royal family--though somewhat in exile these days. But tastes are a fickle thing, and those who know the true beauty of a silky, carefully crafted Merlot aren't slaves to fashion, or the whims of Hollywood.

For those who remain true to great Napa Merlots, this is a wonderful time to taste the grape that steadfastly refuses to slink away quietly while others have their moment in the sun. In fact, 2002, according to published reports was one of the best years ever for Napa Merlot, with several top wines receiving stellar scores and launching a quiet renaissance of this noble grape.

Take a special varietal-inspired tour of Napa's best Merlot producers, located primarily along the Silverado Trail, but dipping into Rutherford, as well.

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

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.

For Picnics, Think Inside the Box


The 411 on better boxed wines

By Courtney Cochran

When I think of all the fabulous things that come in boxes – chocolates, engagement rings, and presents comes to mind – and then reflect on the sad reputation of wines that come in boxes, I get a little down. The reason is, although boxed wines are getting better, most connoisseurs still think of them as swill only fit for the likes of frat parties and pizza parlors.

But according to market tracker AC Nielsen, the overall volume of 3-liter boxed wine (the equivalent of four standard-sized 750ml bottles) grew 44% in the past year, compared with just a 3% gain in overall table-wine volume. Apparently, enlightened folks out there are drinking a lot more boxed wine. Let’s take a look at why:

Hip to be square
Boxed wines are gaining thanks to better varieties being offered in boxes (boxed Chard, anyone?) and a growing understanding amongst consumers of the value and durability boxes offer. Boxed wines can stay fresh in your fridge for as long as four weeks, since the collapsible bags inside don’t allow the wine to be spoiled by oxygen, and they’re often far less expensive than bottled wine on a per-volume basis.

But in spite of these gains, boxed wines still lag – painfully so – behind bottled wines when it comes to social acceptance. Case in point: Few folks who consider themselves truly wine savvy would be caught dead bringing out a box at a dinner party, even if it was the much-lauded Chardonnay from Northern California-based Black Box Wines that won a silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition not long ago.

When boxes rock
But one place boxed wines WILL make a splash – socially speaking – is on outdoor excursions. This is due to yet another attribute of boxed wines that’s contributing to their gains – their flexibility when it comes to transporting them. You can take boxes places you can’t take glass (think of the beach, tailgate parties, and camping excursions) and they’re far lighter than bottles to boot.

Besides all this, boxed wines are often made with environmentally friendly biodegradable materials, which means that you can now knock back better wine from boxes, and feel good while doing it. If that’s not socially acceptable, then I don’t know what is.

Top boxes
Target Wine Cube – These stylishly designed cubes come in 3-liter and 1.5-liter sizes (equivalent to 4 and 2 regular-sized bottles, respectively) and feature a wide range of varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Australian Shiraz and a Cabernet/Shiraz blend. Watch for new Riesling and Pinot Noir offerings in 1.5-liter sized boxes in fall 2007.

Delicato Bota Box – The colorful three-liter boxes from Delicato Family Vineyards consistently score highly with wine critics for their premium offerings of Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet. Priced at about $18 per box, the Bota Box offers award-winning wine for the equivalent price of $4.50 per standard 750mL bottle. Not bad.

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.

Seeking Closure


A Bottle Top Overcomes Its Screwed Up Rep

by Robert P. Farmer

By now anyone who has been paying attention has heard the details in the discussion about screw caps. Once vilified in fine wine circles as the bellwether of bad taste, winemakers and wine lovers alike now embrace the ordinary screw cap. The reasons for this are myriad. But the practice, supported by evidence and sound science, still have yet to gain widespread acceptance in the wine industry.

Petite Sirah, The Not So Little Prince

fa_little_prince.jpgIt's one of the most heart-warming wine stories of recent times: a tale of love and loyalty, family tradition, and the perilous passage through deserts of neglect to reach the lush garden of commercial success. The hero of this romantic journey? A forgotten prince known as Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was born of French parents in the 1800s. His father was Syrah, long renowned for the famed red wines of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. His mother was the less noble but passing fair Peloursin. Yet somehow they abandoned or lost their offspring. He finally turned up in Livermore Valley east of San Francisco, planted by Irish immigrant James Concannon in 1883. But no one knew who he was.

Syrah's Star Keeps Rising in Santa Barbara County

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.

It’s a Bloggy Blog World - Navigating the wine travel blogosphere


By Courtney Cochran

When I spent three weeks in the south of France last summer I chronicled just about everything I did in my blog. Besides documenting winery visits to tony spots like Bordeaux’s Château Margaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s Beaucastel, I blogged about nightclubbing in St. Tropez, shopping in Cannes, and gambling in Monte Carlo.

What could be more natural, I thought?

To me, these experiences were integral parts of my wine country travels. But to others, I’m sure some of these activities – the clubbing, the shopping or the gambling (or all of them!) – may seem like hedonistic side jaunts unrelated to wine.

But these “extras” are exactly what I love about blogs (short for web logs). Unlike more traditional publications, blogs are highly personalized and often include eclectic commentary on authors’ unique experiences, impressions and opinions. They bring their subjects – whether they’re widgets or wine makers – to life in a way more mainstream publications simply can’t.

No question about it, blogs are now key players in the editorial landscape, and the opportunities they afford travelers to gain an inside look into the activities and personalities of places can’t be underestimated. And although there’s no shortage of wine blogs out there, a handful of them do terrifically well at showcasing wine country travel.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of my favorites:

Founded in 2004 by San Francisco-based entrepreneur and wine enthusiast Alder Yarrow, Vinography may just be the most popular wine blog on the Web. In it, Yarrow ably canvases a broad swath of wine-related subject material including wine reviews, event listings, industry trends, and – yes – travel. His coverage of a trip to New Zealand in late 2006 is rife with amusing insights, beautiful photography and useful tips on tasting, touring and dining. Besides this and other travel notes, Vinography includes an extensive list of links to other wine blogs, publications, and resources, making it a dynamite jumping off point for your foray into the wine blogosphere.

Gang of Pour
Run by a wry group of wine writers located in Detroit, Ohio, California, and Canada, Gang of Pour takes on the subject of wine in decidedly amusing ways. With features like “Rednecks & Red Rhônes” and “Lot-a-Palooza” (about something called “lot” wine production), Gang of Pour puts an entertaining spin on its subjects that’s made it one of the Web’s most popular wine blogs. And with a rich cache of travel-related reporting, it’s a favorite of mine for tips on where to go and what to taste in off-the-beaten-path places like Niagara and Oregon. Watch for regularly updated wine travel features in Gang of Pour’s “Daze of Wine and Road Trips” e-journal.

Tom Cannavan's wine-pages
Wine-pages is the long-time passion of Tom Cannavan, whose day job is editing “Fine Expressions”, a glossy bi-monthly magazine devoted to wine and premium drinks. Founded in 1995, wine-pages is a veritable Internet dinosaur, but don’t expect antiquated design or features: The site is spiffy and up-to-date and includes a great archive of wine-related material, from a BYO guide and book reviews to tasting notes and travel guides. And with its detailed notes on excursions to wine country around the globe, Cannavan’s site is my pick for the most practical wine travel tips. Voyagers can expect to find advice on “eating and sleeping” and “wines and things to do” throughout Europe, in the US, and in South Africa. Bon voyage!

Fry Wines – What You Need to Know


Fry Wines – What You Need to Know

If you think about it, our associations with wine and fries are worlds apart – gustatorially speaking. One we pick up in so-called upscale places where we feel obliged to pronounce the names of obscure producers and lands with just the right touch of accent and well-cultivated vinous savvy.

for example: “Why yes, Server Jeffrey, I’d like a glass of the 2002 Olivier Leflaive Corton Charlemagne. Oh, and please don’t serve it too cold. I hate it when I can’t pick up all the nutty nuances in my White Burgundy.”

Okay, Mr. Big Man, coming right up.

The latter, on the other hand, we’re accustomed to ordering at the local Mickey-dees drive-through, where the process couldn’t be less ceremonious.

e.g., take two: “Um, yes, I’d like the, uh, Big Mac - no onions - and a side of fries…Large. Oh, and please don’t forget the ketchup.”

It would seem, to the uninitiated, that these two twains just aren’t meant to meet.

Let’s Get Together
But that’s just where you’re wrong.

Wine and fries actually share a colorful and – if not remarkably long or widely celebrated – history together. A favorite combo in French bistros and their offspring around the world, wine and fries come together on the table more often than you might think, and often to great effect.

Steak Frites – This classic French bistro dish is just what it sounds like: a well-marbled steak alongside some greasy fries. Together, the combo is high in both fat and salt (fat comes from both, the salt mostly from the fries), which is a big reason why we like it so much. Note: the concepts of “light” and “low sodium” don’t exist in France.

Croque Monsieur – Another French favorite, a Croque Monsieur is a glorified grilled cheese sandwich dressed up with a slice of ham and some good bread, buttered and grilled - naturally. Fries on the side round out the wonderfully fatty experience and lend this already salty dish (thanks to the cheese, bread AND ham) still more salt. Mais bien sûr!

Make Mine a Fry Wine
Not just any wine will work with fries. Super salty and fatty, fry dishes call for wines that are low in tannin (salt makes tannins – the chalky, chewy substances found in red wines – seem stronger than they really are) and light in body. Light-bodied wines tend to have high levels of acidity, and fatty foods need zippy acidity to cut through all their grease.

Red Pick – Simple, straightforward fruity reds from Beaujolais in France make the best wines for meat-driven fry dishes like Steak Frites. These wines hit all the right notes: they’re light in body, high in acid and simple in structure – just like the bistro dish you’re tucking into. Even better, they’re super cheap – usually clocking in at $10 a bottle and under – putting them on a perfect price par with your grub.

White Pick – With its melted cheese and buttery bread, a Croque Monsieur calls for a crisp white wine, while its mega-high salt content cries out for something sweet (strange as it may sound, sweetness is the ultimate counterbalance to saltiness). This is why crisp, sweet German Riesling is the perfect partner for the Monsieur. Reach for one with the word “Kabinett” or “Spätlese” on its label for an unforgettable fry-wine combo.

contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Closet Merlot Drinkers, Unite!


There's no reason to hide our love of top-notch Merlot.

The current attitude among wine fans about Merlot - don't get caught dead with it - is a fashion trend, not a wine evaluation. Like many bashin'-fashions, it arose in response to over-exposure. Starbucks was cool once, before it was on every block downtown. Even Jennifer Lopez went from scorching hot to the, ahem, butt of jokes when she put out too many movies, videos, and albums too quickly. Same with Merlot. So it's useful to remember when Merlot was first emerging into the limelight.

Closet Merlot Drinkers, Unite!


There's no reason to hide our love of top-notch Merlot.

The current attitude among wine fans about Merlot - don't get caught dead with it - is a fashion trend, not a wine evaluation. Like many bashin'-fashions, it arose in response to over-exposure. Starbucks was cool once, before it was on every block downtown. Even Jennifer Lopez went from scorching hot to the, ahem, butt of jokes when she put out too many movies, videos, and albums too quickly. Same with Merlot. So it's useful to remember when Merlot was first emerging into the limelight.

Vigonier: An Exotic Alternative Alternative to Everyday White Wine

There are some who think that Americans should get past an obsession with Chardonnay and start drinking other white wines, such as Viognier, as a white wine of choice.

Granted, many of the people who put this thought forward have a vested interest -- they make Viognier and would like nothing else than to be in the position of not being able to make enough of this wine, made from the white Rhône grape variety of the same name. But having tasted through a number of Viogniers from around the United States recently, I'm beginning to see the light as well.

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

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


By Thom Elkjer


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

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.

Reality TV Meets Wine Country

theWineMakers.jpgThis fall, reality television comes to Wine Country as a group of six men and women compete for a chance to create and launch their own wine label. The show, which will air on PBS next spring, is a take off of shows like "The Apprentice", where contestants are pit against each other over several weeks to come up with the best plan for launching their label. According to the producers, the show will be taped in Paso Robles during September and October, airing in the spring of 2007.

Here Comes Grenache


If you were at Hospice du Rhône earlier this month, you could hardly miss it. I don’t mean the huge number of people at the Grand Tasting, or the, um, unusual seminar line-up. I mean the number of bottles of varietal Grenache: 37, according to my notes, and that doesn’t count the Grenache Blancs and the Grenache rosés, never mind the dozens of wines that included some percentage of Grenache.

Assuming that there are other Grenache producers out there who did not attend Hospice du Rhône, there could be 40 to 50 bottlings out there. That’s a huge increase in a handful of years.

The last time I wrote about varietal Grenache in California for “By The Glass,” back in 2001, I found 17 of them – and I hunted hard. More than a third of them were nothing to write home about. This year, the three dozen on offer at Hospice du Rhône were all successful wines, ranging from new programs such as Tallulah’s southern Oregon version to rock-steady regulars such as Alban, Beckmen, Cedarville, and Eaglepoint.

I had dinner with Gary Eberle the night after the event was over, and mentioned all the Grenaches I had seen. We were drinking a 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape I had brought, one that was mostly Grenache, so it seemed a good time to raise the subject. Eberle reminded me that one of the top wines from my earlier Grenache story was his. He’s not making varietal Grenache lately, but he had several ideas about the profusion of other people bottling Grenache on its own.

“They know how to grow it now,” was his first surmise. That means vintners have gotten the message that Grenache, which was bred to produce huge crops in hot, windy places, needs a brake (not a break) in the vineyard. Otherwise a Grenache vine loads up the fruit and gives up complexity.

“They don’t need it in their Syrah now,” was his second observation. That means vintners have also gotten a lot better at making Syrah, so they don’t need to blend in Grenache to make a good wine. Now that Syrah is California’s new darling alongside Pinot Noir, producers want to have “Syrah” on the label. That means they have to use at least 75% Syrah, and they can use up to 100%. So more Grenache is now available for the same treatment: a bottle of its own.

“They are looking for something new,” was Eberle’s third theory. Eberle has been doing something new with Rhône varieties in California for 30 years, so he’s more or less an expert on this topic. If he’s right, we’ll be seeing a lot more varietal Mourvedre soon because that will be the next new thing.

“But the main thing is, it makes a heck of a nice wine,” he said. Had to agree with him there. When I was leaving, he walked me to the door. Some other guests had brought some wine from a newish Paso Robles winery called Cass, and they had left three bottles on the table in the entry way. Eberle and I looked through them, as people in the wine business always do with they see bottles under a new brand.

There was a Viognier, and a Mourvedre, and – bada bing! – a Grenache.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Don't Call it Sangiovese


Tasted an interesting wine the other night. A one-off from Londer Vineyards in California, called "Immigrante." The label said it was a mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and PInot Noir, which has to be one of the oddest combinations you can imagine. Cabernet and Pinot Noir rule New World wine right now (not to mention a large chunk of the Old World called France). But Sangiovese? It's big in Italy, but a total loser in California. I thought, "how'd that dog get in there with the aristocrats?"

I forgot the question when I tasted the wine. Real nice red, full of ftuit and spice, good body, and a texture made for savoring. It made me think of pasta for dinner, so we whipped something up and feasted on the food and the wine.

I ran into Shirlee Londer at a farmer's market a few weeks later and asked about the wine. Wasn't "Immigrante" kind of a modest, aw-shucks name for a something with Pinot and Cab in it? "It's mostly Sangiovese!" she exclaimed. She went on to explain that the Londers' New York distributor warned them against releasing a wine called "Sangiovese" because the grape already had a bad rap. So the Londers gave it a proprietary name and sold it handily.

So yesterday I'm in San Francisco, where Sonoma County is putting on a big show. I'm tasting at the Ferrari-Carano table manned -- er, womanned -- by winemaker Sarah Girder and publicitymaker Cheryl McMillan. They pour me some of their proprietary red wine called "Siena," and I start to write up my notes. The description starts reminding me of my notes on Immigrante: real nice wine, fruit/spice/body/texture etc. etc..

So I ask about the grapes in "Siena." Sure enough, it's mostly Sangiovese.

I have to confess that, as a lover of Italian wine, I wrote a lot about Sangiovese when it started going into the ground in California and people started making the wine. I also have to confess that I didn't hesitate to call the public's attention to how unsatisfying that wine turned out to be in many cases. It was fermented too hot with the wrong yeasts, it took up too much oak from the wrong barrels during aging, and it was just generally dried out, astringent, and awkward.

Of course winemakers are smart enough to figure out where they went wrong originally, and they are now making good Sangiovese up and down the state of California. But bad press dies hard, so there appears to be a hesitation to put "Sangiovese" on the front of the bottle.

If you know of other examples of good Sangiovese by some other name, send me a message at so I can get the wine and taste it.

It may be time to start talking about California Sangiovese as a delicious change of pace, and bury its reputation as a major disappointment.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Judgment at Paris, Revisited


Thirty years later, how do California wines stand up against their French counterparts? You make the call.

Thirty years ago, a young British wine retailer had the big idea to put a group of unknown Napa wines up against some the Grand-Cru wines of France in a blind tasting. So utterly outrageous was the premise that almost no one, but a single journalist from Time Magazine, bothered to even attend the event. At the time the idea that these young, New World vintners--including Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars--would even be considered in the same class as the Bordeaux and White Burgundies of  France was utterly implausible.  C'est impossible.

Scarcity Pricing


When I am speaking or teaching and it comes time for people’s questions, one topic takes over every time: wine pricing. People have endless curiosity about why wine costs what it does, what’s the best wine for the money, what’s the most overpriced – you name a wine pricing angle, I get a question on it.

Often I wind up explaining about scarcity pricing, which is just the ancient law of supply and demand in silk lingerie. (Listen, if people on food shows can describe pork sausage – pig parts stuffed into intestinal linings – as having “sex appeal,” then I can dress up economics in something flirty.)

Scarcity pricing works like this. If enough people want a wine you make, you can put the price up higher and higher until they stop buying it. On the other hand, if you’ve made a large quantity of wine and need to make sure you sell it all, you can take the price down lower and lower until enough people decide it’s a bargain. Pretty simple.

Also powerful. So powerful, in fact, that it totally trumps wine ratings. In other words, if two wines get the same score but one is scarce, its price will almost always be higher. If you look around, you’ll start to see this everywhere in the wine business. In fact it’s an embedded part of the business model for many smaller producers.

Once you know what you’re looking for, examples pop out everywhere. Here’s a good recent example that you can go verify for yourself, if you’re so moved.

Wine Spectator, in its April issue, gives two Sonoma County Chardonnays the same numerical rating: the dread 89. This rating officially means “very good” verging on “outstanding.” Unofficially, for winemakers, it means “kiss of death.” But I digress.

What first caught my eye concerning these particular wines was how similar they sounded. The reviewer found them both “sleek” and “elegant” with “citrus” and green apple” flavors. There were other similarities as well, which would be apparent to you if you read the back pages of Wine Spectator closely over the years, but you get the point: two remarkably similar wines from the same grape and same appellation, with the same descriptors and the same quality rating.

In a world where wine ratings ruled, these wines would cost the same. But they don’t, and scarcity is the reason why.

The first wine was listed in the review at a quantity of close to 10,000 cases and priced at $17 a bottle. The second wine was listed at just a shade over 300 cases. It tastes like the other wine, and according to expert testimony merits the same score, but there’s just a few hundred cases of it. So where do you suppose its price lies? Twice as high as the first wine? Three or four times as high?

Try more than ten times as high. Try $175.

I can think of only two rational reasons to pay ten times as much for what amounts to the same fermented grape juice. One is that the 10X wine is going to mature into something the $17 wine will never become, and 10 years from now it will taste ten times better. I say this is a rational approach, though I doubt hardly anyone is going to actually take it. For one thing, there’s a good chance it won’t work out and the $175 will be an expensive bet that didn’t pay off. For another, most people don’t hold Chardonnay long enough to find out what it becomes.

The far more likely rational approach has to do with scarcity: the desire to drink something hardly anyone else will get to drink. In other words, paying $175 for a bottle of wine is rational behavior if you want the scarcity as much as the wine itself. Some people want that, and they’re willing to pay for it.

If what you really want is to drink good wine, however, then it’s not rational. It’s nuts.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Bygones Be Gone


I was mad at Pat Kuleto before I ever met him.

It wasn’t that he did anything bad to me personally. He didn’t actually do anything bad at all. But he was the guy responsible for taking chef Nancy Oakes out of her quiet, intimate little restaurant out in the avenues in San Francisco and putting her in a big, ostentatiously Parisian bistro downtown.

Oakes’ previous place, L’Avenue, was the kind of place you rave about to your friends, then hope they won’t tell anyone else. Suddenly Oakes was in a big place, on one of The City’s more visible corners, where everybody could find her. Even the name of the new place, Boulevard, was a sting. Boulevards are bigger than avenues, and noisier, and more heavily trafficked.

Years later, when Kuleto opened Martini House restaurant in St. Helena, they had about five different openings for the press and I somehow managed to miss them all. Sure, I noticed that Kuleto had picked yet another chef, Todd Humphries, who cooks the way I like best: full-flavored dishes that stay light on their feet and make wine sing. But I was, you know, busy.

When Kuleto opened a winery in Napa Valley, I somehow never got around to writing about it, either. Just another rich white guy buying his way into the wine business, I told myself. Not important.

The first time I met Kuleto, I told him why I was mad at him. He laughed out loud. “I was mad at me too!” he said. “I loved L’Avenue. I hated to see it go. But Nancy was going under there and I didn’t want to stop eating her food. So we set her up in a big enough place to succeed.”

It was a pretty good response, so I decided to stop being mad at him and taste his wines. They turned out to be pretty tasty. Very tasty, in fact. And they score highly in some other areas that matter to me.

For one, they’re very reasonably priced. (Of course this is relative for Napa, but how many Napa Valley Chardonnays are getting 90+ points and going for $30?). They’re also relatively moderate in alcohol compared to other serious Napa bottlings. Chardonnay under 14%, Zinfandel under 15%, other reds in between. Full-flavored yet light on their feet.

Third, they’re getting better -- not just year to year with the new releases, but in the bottle. One of America’s better-known wine magazines should polish its spectacles and revisit its 83 point score for Kuleto’s 2002 Syrah. Lovely wine, great balance, with the hearty earthiness of Syrah’s origins polished to a rich patina rather than painted over with American oak. It was one of the better Syrah debut bottlings of recent years in my notes, and the 2003 should be every bit as good.

So I’m not mad at Kuleto anymore. In fact, he’s okay in my book. Heck, I wonder if Martini House is open tonight…

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

An American Angel of Wine Pricing


It was a dark and rainy late winter night in the Italian city of Siena. We had arrived late to our hotel and the patrona had frowned when we asked about a place to eat. It was low season, she reminded us, so dining might be difficult. She made a few calls and sent us back out into the night. We wound up in a tiny restaurant off some stone steps that seemed to be carved out of the massive stone buildings on either side.

Because it was late, the owner of the restaurant told us he would simply bring us dinner – no selecting from the menu this time. A moment later he returned and put an open bottle down on the table. At first I was taken aback, but then I saw that the small amount of wine missing from the bottle was in a glass in the owner’s own hand. He was giving us the wine he had opened for himself.

That was 20 years ago, and I have never forgotten it.

Start with the name, “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.” The noble wine of Montepulciano – a noble town in its own right. The grape, he told us, was Prugnolo Gentile (which I later found out was the local name for Sangiovese). The producer’s name, Avignonesi, also had an unmistakable ring of authenticity. This supposition was confirmed when the restaurant owner told us the winery’s cellars were some of the oldest in Tuscany – which meant some of the oldest in Italy and therefore Europe.

The wine itself was the sunlight of Italy in a bottle, with the red cherries and summer heat still shimmering in their warm sweetness. Yet there was also a serious earthiness that bespoke history, tradition, and rocky hillsides trod by simple men and their beasts of burden. I can remember that wine in my mouth like it was yesterday – and I can well understand why the restaurant owner chose it to end his long day.

For years I would make the rounds of the handful of winesellers in the Italian quarter of San Francisco to see if they had the wine, but I was disappointed far more often than satisfied. Or the wine would show up on a restaurant list at an absurd price. Somehow the handful of lire I once spent on a rainy winter night for this wine stuck in my mind as the price I should pay, so I could rarely bring myself to fork over a fistful of dollars.

But now the drought has ended.

Brian Larky has signed Avignonesi to his Dalla Terra Winery Direct business, which cuts the importer out of the mark-up chain that pushes prices relentlessly up as wine moves from foreign producer to U.S. consumer. Avignonesi Vine Nobile di Montepulciano is now available stateside for around twenty bucks, which means when I want to dress up dinner on the weekend, I can relive one of the happiest wine moments of my life without breaking the budget.

Larky’s working the same magic with a number of other Italian producers who used to be priced past the $20 point where consumers are often reluctant to go. He's also bringing in plenty of great wines around $10 - or less. The wineries he selects are small, family-run, and expert at producing heavenly wines without hellishly high alcohol. So ask about Dalla Terra at your local wine shop and give both yourself and Larky a boost.

Now if he could just do something about Napa Cabernet…

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Playing the Game


Spent Christmas in Europe, splitting time between a couple of different households, neither of which is in a wine-producing region. So they buy and serve wine like most of us do: purchase at retail, drink at home. As I often do outside the U.S., I observed not just the wine I was served, but who served it and how. European cultures have been dealing with wine far longer than we have in the States, and it’s always interesting to see what models we inherited, which ones we follow, and which ones we ignore.

At one home, the widely-traveled lord of the manor has a wine collection in a below-ground cellar with perfect temperature and humidity. He likes to age red Bordeaux, white Burgundy, and German Riesling. He swirls, sniffs, and invites visitors to give their impressions of what he pours. He’s no stiff, though. There’s plenty of laughter and fun at his table, which is often graced with lovely ladies who manage to combine aristocratic bearing and outrageous humor.

At the other home, the modest lady of the house is Spanish and the wine is often from that country or a neighboring one. Bottles come to the table open (often with a little something missing due to their passage through the kitchen), and are poured without ceremony or comment. People drink as much water as wine, and sometimes they mix the two. Here, too, there’s plenty of fun, including teenagers who don’t care a fig about wine. (Yet.)

Can you guess where I drank the wine with more pleasure?

It was at the second, less formal home, where wine was treated purely as social lubricant and comestible condiment. After several days of going back and forth between these households, I realized the difference. At the first home, the gentleman is doing what I call Playing The Game of wine. When people are Playing The Game, most of their wine talk is about how much they paid, how old the bottle is, and so on. The whole idea is to pay less than other people, get bottles other people don’t have, find “steals” that the critics missed (hah!), and so on. It’s a competitive sport.

On this visit, the fellow was showing off his latest find, a European version of “Two Buck Chuck.” It was an Australian Shiraz for one-and-half euros. It was not drinkable by any stretch of my imagination, and if there was really Syrah in it it came from Mars. Of course I sipped the wine politely. I also made sure I was eating something at the same time.

My host was particularly proud of a bottle of Bordeaux he showed me in his cellar. I immediately recognized it as one of those bottles that looks really impressive, with engravings of castles and medals on the buff-colored label, but which came from a minor producer in a weak vintage. It should have been drunk a dozen years ago. By now it was past 15 years of age. I imagined it was a left-over “steal” from years ago, now transferred to the “age-worthy Bordeaux” category.

In other words, it was still in The Game. Its owner was keeping it for that reason, not because he had any idea if it was any good. When he asked me what I thought we should have with dinner that night, I immediately pointed to this bottle so that it would not get any older than it was. He smiled as if to say “nice try,” put the bottle back, and picked something from 1999 (which he never got around to opening).

In the second home, the wine ranged from an Italian Pinot Grigio (a label I had never seen) to a cru bourgeois French red from Mouton Cadet. None of these wines cost much over $5.00 in Europe. All were pleasant, perfect with the food, and poured freely as long as people were at the table. When I asked one of young sons of the house to identify a wine down the table from us (it was a candle-lit table in a dark room), he immediately said, “It’s white. Would you like some?”

This seems to be a good test for determining whether someone is Playing The Game. Do they offer you a position on the wine? Of do they offer to put some in your glass?

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Appellation vs. Terroir


I’ve recently been drawn into a blogosphere discussion about terroir, which I think is largely empty of meaning. Some points I made in an email string got sent around, and you know how that goes: pretty soon people were chewing on me without having the whole enchilada.

So here’s a simple summary for anyone out there following the discussion. Appellation and terroir are related in one way: vintners can use both concepts to describe (and therefore sell) their wine. Otherwise, they are fundamentally different.

Terroir is abstract, undefinable (even the French love to say that), and personal. Anyone can tell you anything about their terroir, and you would have to do some direct empirical digging before you could even know what they mean, much less believe in it. Terroir is a human concept, which means it’s inherently malleable and spinnable. In the U.S., the term “terroir” is, in my humble opinion, an empty cliché. People throw the term around without understanding it, mostly because they hear other people throwing it around. We are a herd of terroirists. Mooooooooo.

Appellation is geographically concrete, legally defined, collectively determined, and very tough to alter once it’s set. Along with varietal and producer, appellation is the only hard fact people always ask about when they encounter a new wine: "where's it from?" If the new wine is Pinot Noir, and its origin is an appellation like Russian River or Willamette Valley, we can feel fairly confident about the wine. If the appellation is “California,” however, we might wonder. You can’t fake a Russian River Pinot Noir. Either it is or it isn’t.

So that’s one way to tell terroir and appellation apart: one’s spin, and one’s fact. Here's another test: What do you learn when people use the terms?

Let’s say we meet someone a party and he tells us that his new Cabernet is from a "terroir" with well-drained soils, south-facing slopes and little rain outside of winter. What did we learn from this? Almost nothing about the wine, or about him. The wine could come from the high plains of southern Arizona. He could be a wacky dreamer on two acres in Tennessee or a corporate chieftain with 500 acres in Paso Robles. He will say that his wine "reflects its terroir" or that “the terroir is ideal for Cabernet” because every web site says that about every wine. Translated, this means that all terroir is ideal for whatever is growing there – because the people growing there say so. But if all terroir is ideal, all the time, everywhere, then what is it besides pure hype?

Now let’s imagine that we meet someone who says their that their new Cabernet is from Napa Valley. Unless he is a crafty negociant, we instantly know many things about both the wine and the vintner: his level of wealth, his vinous aspirations, the likely weight and style of his wine, what it probably costs, and why it’s priced that way. There is a limited set of places he could be growing fruit or buying it. There is a tight, narrowing band of quality that his wine must fit within for a whole set of reasons. We would be able to guess who this person knows, where he eats, and how he socializes.

Terroir is what vintners want others to think about them and their wine. Appellation is what's true about them and their wine, no matter what they say.

Which do you want in your glass?

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

The Lecture


Visited my friend Steve in the Bay Area over the weekend, and when I arrived he was opening a bottle of Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from 1983. He had just pulled it out of his cellar. “I was in the mood for something old,” he said. “It’s probably gone over the hill, but what the hell.” The wine smelled like wet grapes in a cardboard box, and while there was some evidence of fruit and body, they were mostly departed. Steve grimaced and went downstairs for another bottle.

This time he brought up a Chalk Hill Cab from 1987. The red plums and cherries the wine once had were gone, leaving nothing but a liquid, acidic version of green bell pepper. Back downstairs. Steve selected a 1980 Jordan Cabernet from Alexander Valley. I saw a 1998 Jordan Cab and advised Steve to bring that one, too.

The 1980 Jordan smelled like a wet dog that had been eating blackberries, and tasted like the vinous equivalent of a men’s chorus made up entirely of baritones: everything was in the same low range. No high notes, couldn’t hear the harmonies. The 1998 was worse, even with more than an hour of decanting, which stumped Steve. How could a wine almost 20 years younger have so little fruit left?

I pointed out that the 1998 was made when Jordan’s own vineyards were being replanted and the winery was buying fruit. Steve read the source of the grapes on the label (information that’s required by law) and laughed ruefully: “Who ever made ‘Sonoma Coast Cabernet Sauvignon’ on purpose?!”

So we whiffed on that bottle, too. Four old wines, four disappointments.

Now, if you read the popular wine press you’re probably expecting me to give you The Lecture now. This is the sober, wise-old-guy essay that comes down to the old adage that “It’s better to drink a wine a year too early than a week too late.” The latest version of The Lecture was in the December 1 Wine Enthusiast, given at least an entertaining spin by Jeff Morgan. Jim Laube does it every couple of years in his Wine Spectator column. You see it other places, too.

I understand The Lecture up to a point – Steve and I went 0 for the eighties on Friday night – but I also disagree with it strongly in certain aspects.

It just seems too convenient to have “thought leaders” in the wine industry urging us to stop keeping wines and start drinking them up. Morgan himself is a vintner, with a whole load of new wine every year to sell. I’m sure Jeff would tell you to hold his wines, particularly Covenant, as long as you want, but the conflict of interest is built in.

In fact, I find that the The Lecture is completely misleading for young wines, those that have just been released into commercial distribution. These wines are not released because they are ready to enjoy, in my view. They are released because of other considerations, such as cellar space and cash flow.

As a result, I cannot enjoy most young red wines, particularly from California. That’s because the oak’s too strong for the fruit. I want those elements in balance with each other and the wine’s acidity. That takes more time than most wineries can afford to give their red wines before release.

As a result I almost never drink American Pinot Noir until it’s six years past vintage. Most Rhone reds and Zinfandels have to be at least five years old for me to enjoy them. Most Cabs and Merlots I give five to ten years. Brunello, Barolo, Bordeaux? Ten years is a nice round number, isn’t it? Heck, I even cellar high-ticket Chardonnay up to a decade.

But then I drink up.

I don’t go look up what Parker said about 1995 Pontet Canet (a red Bordeaux from the Paulliac region) when he reviewed it as an infant way back then. I don’t care about his (or anyone’s) predictions of 20 or 30 years of bottle age. I crack open a bottle and enjoy the hell out of it. The fruit’s fresh, the body’s plump, the wonderfully mature flavors open out as if they’re overjoyed to be released into the air, and everyone has a damn fine time.

No lecture required.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

All I Want for Christmas


Found a 1999 Mourvèdre in the cellar the other night, a bottle I had completely forgotten about. I must have picked it up during a swing through Paso Robles, because it was from a Ken Volk second label, one used for Rhône-style wines before he sold his Wild Horse Winery. When I see varietal Mourvèdre –meaning a bottle of wine with that grape on the label, meaning it’s at least 75% Mourvèdre – I buy it. Doesn’t matter who made it, or when, or where.

And you thought I was really selective, right?

Well, this habit of mine really is an example of high selectivity. Years ago, in the first wine class I ever took, the instructor poured a Mourvedre during a session on California Rhones. He didn’t know the wine himself, because he had picked it up in a shop on the way to class. I remember the look on his face as he took a quick sip himself while the wine was being poured for the students in the room. His eyebrows went up. When the pourers got to me, I asked for a little extra.

That wine was Ancient Vine Mourvèdre from Cline Cellars, and I went out and bought some the next day. Started buying Mourvedre whenever I saw it. Still do. The reason? That grape just happens to fit my palate perfectly.

You might say the grape selected me, because when I discovered that I liked it I had very little knowledge of French or Californian wine. In other words, I didn’t decide that I liked it for any particular reason, because I didn’t know what the reasons were for liking wine. I just… liked it.

Today I have more knowledge, but it doesn’t change what my palate wants. I know that Mourvèdre’s long ripening cycle means it’s can’t become a super-ripe fruit bomb, its acid structure means it’s always going to have some grip in the texture, and its berry size means it’s going to have pretty good color. Turns out I like these things in all red wine. Mourvèdre just happens to have them in spades.

In fact I still have that empty Equus bottle on my desk as a reminder. Because the holidays are approaching and I now see that I can give my family and friends a very short, bullet-proof wish list. Doesn’t matter who made it, or when, or where. Just give me a bottle of Mourvèdre.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Rockin' Dessert


I love dessert wines, and not because I was a Kool-Aid junkie as a kid. I love them because of how they subvert a lot of the conventions of wine in general.

I got a fresh hit of this the other night at a dinner a buddy of mine threw to celebrate buying a cellar from a guy in Germany who had a couple of strokes and had to stop drinking. This gentleman, Ludwig Balz, had spent 40 years collecting dessert Rieslings called “Trockenbeerenauslese” (which means, roughly speaking, “hand-selected, late-harvested berries dessicated to almost pure sugar by bunch rot”). Now the whole collection’s in San Francisco at Dee Vine Wines on Pier 19.

So let’s consider how these wines, known as “TBAs” for short, knock down stereotypes.

Riesling is pretty pale in color, right? Well, the TBAs we had at dinner the other night were not pale. They were not even close to white. They were gold-, caramel-, and Coca-cola-colored.

Wine is supposed to smell like fruit, right? These wines smelled of dried dill, fabric softener, marshmallows and motor oil. I mean they smelled divinely of these things, along with apricots, roasted chestnuts and caramelized walnuts.

You know how Riesling is generally pretty thin stuff? These flowed like maple syrup.

Dessert wines get drunk after a meal, right? We drank these TBAs as perfect complements to some cheese, a fois gras appetizer, and a main course of fancy chicken and potatoes. (Okay, we had some with dessert, too. But you get the point.)

Best of all, there is no way on earth to make wines like these to order, the way so many wineries in so many countries are making Syrah and Merlot and Chardonnay to a chemically calibrated standard, like beer, so they can ship it 10,000 miles and sell it at Safeway.

You make one of these babies, you are sending a ship out on the ocean that will make landfall in some other dimension of time and space as a completely different creature. No one can predict what it will be at that moment. I can only salute Herr Balz and my pal Dade for bringing a whole flotilla of these miracles into a harbor near me.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at

Chianti the Italian-American Way


For ten years we’ve been reading about the extraordinary transformation in Italian wine: new vineyards, new wineries, new technology, even new uses of old quality designations. It was all great to read about, but two things bugged me.

One was that happy little quaffers such as Soave and Montepulicano d’Abruzzo that I used to buy for $2.59 shot up to $11.99. Even worse, the nifty Chiantis I used to get for $11.99 seemed to evaporate. A few huge Chianti labels swarmed into the stores, and I didn’t like any of them (Gabbiano, anyone?). Then their prices went up, too.

I sucked it up and spent $25 for good Barbera and better Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but I pretty much stopped drinking Italian on a regular basis. Now I might have to start again.

A certain Italian-American family known as the Gallos have more or less taken over a long-standing growers’ cooperative in Chianti and created a new label called “Da Vinci.” The wines, including three Chiantis and a Brunello di Montalcino, are now for sale in the U.S.

The Gallos are working with Alberto Antonini, one of Italy’s best-known “flying winemakers,” so you might guess that the wine is made in the “international style” that now rules the import world. This style intentionally rounds off the corners and smoothes out the textures on whatever wine it encounters, so there’s little to intrigue you (or, more to the point, to slow you from pouring another glass or two down your throat).

The good news is that Antonini, a proud and intelligent man with a quick smile and piercing wit, was born and raised in Chianti and still lives there. So he was not about to sacrifice Chianti to the international style just to make another few million dollars for the Gallos. He calls the Da Vinci wines “Chianti for the third millennium,” meaning they’re modern but you can still tell immediately where they came from.

After tasting the wines, I have to agree. On the side of place and tradition are flavors of dry cherries, with hints of tobacco, cedar and soft leather, and alcohol of just 13% (hooray!). On the side of modernity? Soft textures, lingering sweetness, and fairly serious color, size and weight. And the prices are quite reasonable.

As Joe Bob Briggs used to say, check it out.

- Thom Elkjer
Check out my regular wine coverage at