April 24-25th was the prestigious annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley, organized by the Wine Growers of Dry Creek Valley in North Sonoma County put their best foot forward pairing their wines with food, decorations, and even entertainment. After a long month of travel, I was here to enjoy myself. I wasn’t on a press pass, and was simply out to have a great time, explore and enjoy myself; thus you will find a lack of tasting notes and other details I usually include in an event review; this was purely for me.
Passport to Dry Creek isn’t just another weekend wine tasting event – It’s a day of quality experience and enjoyment, not just racing around from winery to winery, trying their wines. With only 5 hours each day, and 45 wineries participating, one has to be selective about where you go, In this case I based my choices not only on the wines poured but the description of the entire experience in the event details.
We kicked off the weekend at Amista, enjoying the wonderful hospitality of Vicky, Mike, Ross and the team; they held a wonderful brunch for their Wine Club members, and celebrated the launch of their new ‘minis’, which I had to be one of the first to buy! Had there not been a full day planned, we would have lingered over a bottle of chardonnay in the back patio.
Second stop was Mounts Family Winery – Dry Creek’s up and coming 3 generation growers turned small production vintners. The wines and hospitality are wonderful, and this time the Mounts had outdone themselves. The simple Mounts crushpad was transformed into a Persian adventure, complete with Belly Dancers. Great food pairings from a Divine Affair, and David’s well made wines. (Look for his amazing new Grenache release about to come out, it won’t be around long.) Of the wineries I visited, I have to give the Mounts the Simple Hedonisms ‘Best of Event’. A video of the Belly Dancer’s is here.
Even though they weren’t participating in the Passport, other than a walking tour, I had to stop by at Preston. Presto’s new releases are often small and don’t last long, and I love their Rhone blends, so I couldn’t resist stopping by for a taste. Preston was nice enough to not be charging Passport holders for tasting. I was also pleased they recognized industry discount when I left with four bottles, which is always a nice reward for this labor of love.
Next was Bella, I have visited a few times, and love hanging out on their lawn in the summer, where they regularly have live music. Bella staff doesn’t know the Simple Hedonisms guy yet, which is sometimes nice to be below radar when evaluating an experience. They did an outstanding job converting their property and cave to an African safari. There were some wonderful food offers, and the music was wonderful. Despite the busy day, I couldn’t resist grabbing a bottle of rose and lazing in the sun on a blanket for a bit.
We finished off the day at Michel-Schlumberger, Jim and his team always go the extra mile for these events, with fun themes, good food pairing. Their Baja theme was well done, and we hung out for a bit, had a good time, enjoyed some fun, and good wine. I forgot to try the famed Pinot Blanc snowcones though!
After wine tasting all day, nothing is better than a cold beer – so I opened my newly home brewed lager. Which ironically I bottled some of it in a Burgundy wine bottle as an experiment.
We started out the day with my favorite Sonoma Rhone wine producer, Frick. I had hoped that coming here first would ensure we didn’t have a crowd, but alas there was already a bit of a line. Frick was offering 8+ food and wine pairings, in order, in their small barrel room, which resulted in a bit of a backlog. I teased Bill I was going to stop writing about Frick and telling everyone, which of course I’d never do. Frick has many wonderful Rhone red and whites, most only 100-200 cases. At Passport the whites poured were his Grenache Blanc (one of my fave whites right now) and Viognier. Red single varietals were his Cinsaut (wonderful!) Counoise, Carignane, Syrah and Grenache, as well as his red Rhone blends C2, C3, and Cotes-Du-Dry Creek. I stocked up on what I needed, and headed out.
Next was a quick stop at Dutcher Crossing. Didn’t see the ever lively Deb, but enjoyed their hospitality, gorgeous views, a few good food pairings, before on to the next stop.
On a lark, stopped at Gopfrich, which had never been to, and was intrigued by the ‘little over 500 cases’ production, and that they are rarely open to the public. Hospitality was wonderful, enjoyed a few wines, tried our hand at ‘fishing’ for a special prize (fishing poles and wine tasting can be a interesting combo as we observed.) I was on a mission to see more wineries than Saturday, so pressed forward.
Onto a quick stop into Peterson, recommended by our wine maker friend Alan Baker. I am on a mission trying ‘natural’ or zero manipulation wines as they tout, and their carnitas were also being lauded. Indeed instead of a taste, it was enough for lunch! Sampled a few wines (must come back to try the Sangiovese) and walked to our next stop:
Kokomo – I have had Erik’s wines many times at tasting events, and Becky has always been great, but I had never actually stopped by the tasting room. Like many participants, there wasn’t a lot of detail on what they were offering, but I was really glad we stopped, the food pairings were one of the best of the weekend. Erik was also pouring two new releases, his Grenache rose, and his new Chardonnay, both wonderful discoveries. The rose was bone dry, lots of great fruit and a wonderful finish. The Chardonnay was one I thought I wouldn’t have fond of, given it was oaked and full Malo-lactic, but Erik did a great job retaining acidity and fruit characteristics, and I really enjoyed it. Sampled a few zins, and then headed on.
A quick pitstop into Quivira. who wasn’t originally on my list, but I needed to pick up some of their mourvedre, one of their Rhone varietals, not commonly bottled as single varietal, and one of the best I have experienced yet.
Next, was Alderbrook, as I had planned to stop by Mazzocco and maybe one other. Alderbrook is in a interesting location –it’s a convenient first or last stop when visiting D.C.V. It was my first visit to Alderbrook; the Pigs N Pinot description had me. It sounded fabulous, and I was also determined this trip I’d fit some new tasting rooms I had yet to visit, a never ending goal, since the Wine Road has over 150 in a 30 mile radius. The tasting room of Alderbrook is nice, but the gem is the beautiful back yard, perfect for a warm sunny Sonoma day. In a addition a great Zydeco band was playing (video clip here) – I was hooked, and took the blanket out of the car, bought a bottle of wine, and spent stayed until closing, to the detriment of my itinerary, but to my personal pleasure. The wine and food were great, the venue, music, and hospitality wonderful. It was a great relaxing end to a hedonistic 2 day weekend.
The event was well executed, and I thought most wineries did a wonderful job. Albeit Passport is a more elite event than others, and with the higher $120 price tag, should come a higher quality experience.
Some wineries definitelyoutdid others, but the most important aspect is hospitality, and all excelled here. I have two broad suggestions for improvement. First, was thimble size halve pours at some venues. Before you sputter and mutter it’s wine ‘tasting’, remember I am the guy who frequently preaches AND uses a spit cup at these, and writes regularly encouraging thus. As someone evaluating wine, I find it very hard to when there is one mouthful, as I generally want at least two samples, and found that difficult at a few places. Given every pour was with food, I want enough to be able to enjoy with the food. Over pouring is bad, and I totally empathize with small wineries (I am the guy also frequently writes wine tasting isn’t charity) but at $130 event, I should not be wanting for wine.
The second suggestion which I think should be looked at more closely, both policed by the D.C.V, as well as participating wineries if they wish to attract attention: provide (or enforce) providing details of what you are offering. Most of these wineries and wines are generally open for tasting; so at this event it IS also about what the rest of the package is. Simply printing your usual web data that “your wines are grown on ancient vines delivered by Moses, and the grapes pressed by Elves” really doesn’t help me in narrowing down where to visit, and for the most part, meant you likely didn’t get considered. I know small wineries are busy, but help yourself marketing wise, and submit something compelling.
Those two minor suggestions aside, it was a wonderful weekend, and I was a bit sad I had not got to experience more, as I have no doubt more wonderful experiences were to be had, in this beautiful area, and with so many wonderful people. I highly recommend this event if you have not attended, and look forward to 2011!