Holiday in Carneros: Festive Food, Pumpkins, Salsa Music and yes – Wine!

The annual Holiday in Carneros is in full swing this weekend. Simple Hedonisms visited a few of the participating wineries yesterday and we share our experiences here. Tickets are still available at the 22 open wineries today from 10am-4pm. They are an excellent value at $40 for a full day of food, wine, and gorgeous fall vistas over the San Pablo baylands spanning southern Sonoma and Napa county.  The list of winery activities can be found here, and a map of participating wineries is here. We’ll also be posting additional coverage after today’s tastings.

Ceja Vineyards

Pulling up at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros, I heard music and laughter. Inside it was warm and I was welcomed, as always, by family members. The crisp, minerally Ceja Sauvignon Blanc was paired with homemade corn chowder, served steaming with queso fresca and a twist of lime. The hot spice in the chowder was tamed nicely by the SauvBlanc.  Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir is paired with noshes of dark chocolate truffle cake from Truffle Gateau of Sacramento. Worth pursuing!

All the wineries are running special offers for Holiday in Carneros guests, and Ceja’s are exceptional values, for example $50 off the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This brings the Sauvignon Blanc to $11/bottle – a great value for this well-made wine.  I didn’t stay late enough, but Orchestra Borinquen was slated to play in the afternoon. This is a great spot to come inside and warm up to artisan wines, homemade soup, chocolate and salsa music!

Ceja also produces Chardonnay, Carneros Merlot and a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a Rosé and blends. They have a central downtown Napa tasting room open 7 days a week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day).

Adastra Vineyards

Adastra's Historic Barn Tasting Room

Adastra is a 20-acre family vineyard open only twice a year to the public. The tasting room is housed in a quaint historic barn, with old photos on the walls, along with large signs detailing special Holiday in Carneros pricing for wine, wine club, and private tours.  All grapes are estate grown and CCOF certified organic. The name “Adastra,” comes from a phrase beloved of the owner’s father: Per aspera, ad astra … through striving to the stars.

Adastra makes both an oaked and an unoaked Chardonnay. The labels state this rather simply, as shown in the photos.  My palate gravitated to the crisp unoaked Chardonnay, with a breezy, salty baylands tang coming through in the fruit. Paired with a Boucheron goat cheese, it was divine. Another memorable wine I tasted was the 2007 “Proximus” Pinot Noir. Proximus is Adastra’s reserve designation. Select small lots of wine are classified Proximus, Latin for “closer”… to the stars. Pinots are paired with a fabulous Drunken Goat cheese from a village in Spain. The cheese is dunked in wine then aged 2-3 months, giving it a grapey aftertaste that brings out new layers of flavor in the wine. Besides Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the winery also produces Merlot and a Red blend.

Departing Adastra, I noticed a group gathered around a pile of pumpkins. A sign said “Take home a pumpkin (or two),” so we did!  It was fun to come home with wine and festive pumpkins for display or holiday cooking.

Although Adastra is not open to the public, they offer a private tour and tasting by appointment. For $20/person, guests tour the historic ranch with the winemaker, and sample 7-9 wines paired with artisan cheeses. Fees are waived with wine purchases. Contact the winery for details and to make an appointment. I’m planning to!

Larson Family Winery

It took Holiday in Carneros to get me to visit Larson, and finally I’m relieved of the guilt I’ve felt at driving by on the highway dozens of times without going in.  Larson is a stand-out with their rustic barn barrel room, great food and wine pairings, and live acoustic music and vocals.  The fun starts when you step in the door and spin the “big wheel.” I won a 40% discount on case purchases for the day!

Live in the Barrel Room at Larson Family Winery

Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and a crisp Gewurztraminer – all Carneros grown – were paired with juicy local oysters BBQ’d and served with a choice of hot sauce with lime and salt, or garlic butter (should have been called buttered garlic).  The estate-grown and produced 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir is a rich garnet with vanilla nose, and bright red fruit in the mouth.  Full-flavored yet only 13.5% alcohol makes this a very versatile Pinot at $29.99 retail.

The piece-de-résistance was a rich cheesecake smothered in Larson’s own “Three Lab Cab Chocolate Cabernet sauce.” Of course, the pairing was with Cabernet Sauvignon – I had the 2005 Sonoma Valley which was full-bodied and flavored with only 13.5% alcohol (really). This Cab in a 1.5 liter bottle is currently on sale at $55. Great wine-making, value and hospitality at Larson!

Larson makes numerous other wines, check the website for information. They are  open for tasting daily 10-5, and they are a family- and pet–friendly winery. In fact, two of the 3 labs were fetching a ball out back when I arrived.

Schug Carneros Estate

I’m really glad I had a chance to return to Schug this year. I found their new vintages really exciting and had a chance to taste some of their Reserve wines too.

The 2008 Pinot Noirs were interesting to taste side-by-side. The Sonoma Coast Pinot was ruby colored, with scents of red stone fruit. It opened into many layers on the palate: briar-patch, nettles, licorice and cherry. At 13.5% alcohol and $24 a very versatile wine. The Carneros Pinot was deep garnet with distinct berries and tasty tobacco-y tannins, for $28.

Reserve Tasting in the Cave at Schug Carneros

In the cave, I tasted 2007 Rouge et Noir made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from the Ricci vineyard on the cool Napa side of Carneros.  I was provided with a slender flute to taste the bubbly, which was rose-colored, light and toasty. The 2007 Schug Carneros Chardonnay Heritage Reserve was dry, floral and tasted of golden raisins. Paired with Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel. Yummy!  Another Heritage Reserve wine was the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir. Paired with the 6-month aged El Trigal Manchego cheese it was stunning.

I recommend Holiday in Carneros guests take advantage of this opportunity to taste the Schug Reserve wines paired with great cheeses. It’s a $10 optional fee and well worth it.

Schug makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot, Merlot and Cab, including some Rosé and Sparkling versions. The tasting room is open daily 10-5.

Plan Your Day!

These are just a few of the wineries participating, to give you a flavor of the event. Each spot on the map offers a unique experience, direct access to the people behind the wines, and dramatic fall vineyard scenery. And it’s all for a good cause, as proceeds help to fund scholarships at Santa Rosa Junior College and Napa Valley College.  To get the most out of your day, don’t forget to read Simple Hedonisms’ advice on planning for a tasting event outing. If you use Twitter, search on hashtag #HiC10 to see posts and tips in real time today.

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