The weekend of Nov. 21-22 was the Holiday in Carneros event, with over 20 wineries participating. The event is sponsored by Hospitality de Los Carneros (“HDLC”), which is a collective of Napa and Sonoma wineries located within the Carneros Appellation.
I don’t make it down to ‘the Valley’ – a/k/a Sonoma Valley, as much as I’d like to, so I was glad that this weekend didn’t have a lot of events to compete with Holiday in Carneros. I had previously stumbled upon the similar “April in Carneros” event last year, and had a good time, so I was really looking forward to going back.
Taking my own advice from my post on the Wine Road Wine and Food Affair, I took the time to do some planning. The HDLC website helped by providing a well marked map, and a handy list of who was offering what. I was a bit surprised to see some number of Carneros wineries did not participate, especially the many of the ‘tin warehouse’ wineries on 8th Street. (Lets see some Appellation Solidarity.) But, there were more than enough wineries to visit for the day. Printing out the Map and the Event details, I laid out a plan that took me to mostly wineries I had not visited before, and had varietals, and descriptions that interested me.
Having just returned back home after being in Portland all week (again), I decided to rest up on Saturday, and make a full day of it on Sunday. This turned out to be prudent, as several wineries reported that the crowds were lighter on Sunday, which allowed more quality time to interact with winemakers. I also followed my own advise about carrying a spit cup, and brought my own. For the most part, toting around a spit cup not only helped my tasting, but it also occasionally impacted what I was served. At one winery, a less experienced pourer gave me a funny look, in others I was offered tastes of wines not on the “menu.”
After a good start of a mimosa and pumpkin Belgian waffles, I made the trek down to the Valley. My check-in point was at Roshambo, which I chose simply because it was close to Gloria Ferrer. (Gloria Ferrer did not participate in Holiday in Carneros, but I had a wine club pickup there.) I hadn’t had Roshambo wines in a few years (in fact, they were still in Dry Creek Valley last visit), so I figured it was about time. Plus, I had driven by Cornerstone Place many times, and never stopped in. Glad I did, as I had a nice visit with Steve Morvai, the G.M. who has been with them quite awhile. Steve was pouring a Sauvignon Blanc, their ‘Justice’ Syrah, the ‘Rock’ blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, and a Grenache. I liked them all, but the Grenache really caught my attention, as less common varietals often do. There was a huge case sale on it, so guess what I walked out with.
Cornerstone looked like a cool place, but my mission to hit 8 wineries in 4.5 hours didn’t leave me a ton of time. I did stop to scarf down 2 pieces of pizza from Kashaya’s Pizza – straight from their cool brick oven on wheels. Pizza was being served complimentary as part of the event for the 3 wineries pouring there. Santa Rosa based, I’d recommend Kashaya to any winery wanting food for an event.
For those of you that think Social Media doesn’t draw traffic, think again. I didn’t really know Anaba, and it wasn’t on my initial list. However that morning, I Tweeted about the wineries where I WAS planning to stop, and got a note back from Anaba with a sad face and ”No Anaba?” As a result of Anaba noticing, and replying to my tweet, I began to read up on it. Learning that Anaba was a “new winery” with”Rhone and Burgundian style wines,” I appended my itinerary. I was glad I did. The facility is comfortable and non-pretentious. Everyone was friendly. And GREAT Rhone whites.
Side note for you red wine only drinkers –I was one of you once — branch out! Especially try some of the more full-bodied Rhone whites like Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne. I observed a lot of people skipping the whites, and remembered doing the same thing myself once, but I was glad I didn’t skip these. ‘Coriol’ is a blend of the above 3, plus Grenache Blanc, with a wonderful, floral nose, and a good mouthfeel. Their Viognier was even better, and I bought a bottle. I also enjoyed their Sonoma Coast Pinot, and Coriol red, a Rhone blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise, and Petire Sirah. (The latter being an ‘adopted’ Rhone varietal.) If you like desert wines, Anaba also makes a late harvest Viognier, and red and white ports.
The tasting room staff was young, but very attentive and knowledgeable. I’d have liked to learn a bit more about the genesis of the winery, and the owners/family were supposedly lurking in the back. They should take a lesson from the Ceja’s and work the visitors; stories sell wine!
Ty Caton, Parmalee Hill – Eighth Street Wineries
Next, I h eaded over to Eighth Street, where 3 more wineries were pouring. I have had Ty’s wine’s before from my club at Cellars of Sonoma, and I am a fan of their Malbec. Nice people and good wines, but between the country music and the slightly hard sell on sale priced wines, I didn’t linger.
Had visited Tin Barn before, so I skipped it and dropped in on Parmalee-Hill. After wine geeking over all the cool production equipment, I also enjoyed their wines, especially their Grenache Blanc and Marsanne/Roussanne blend I found white Rhone varietals at several Carneros spots and I wondered: why don’t we have more of these in northern Sonoma County?
Would have liked to stop at Three Sticks and MacRostie, but they were not officially participating, so I kept rolling.
Robert Stemmler Winery
Next stop was down Ramal Road at Robert Stemmler Winery. The drive down a remote winding road, made me feel like I was driving around my beloved Russian River. From best I can tell, the winery isn’t normally open for tasting, but has a good following based on the crowd. This is a Burgundian style producer, that day pouring a Carneros chardonnay, and Carneros and Russian River Pinot Noir. There was only one small table for pouring, so space was a bit tight. I really liked their wines, and thought their Carneros Pinot was the best of the appellation I tasted that day.
Unfortunately between the crowds, and a rather obnoxious ‘taster’ who fired off 100 questions, trying to present she knew a lot about wine, stymied me from detailed chat. (The barrage annoyed me enough to wander off and pet the local horses – the lady gave away what I suspected – she knew nothing about wines except buzz words, when she starting asking, going over the entire wine list “is this wine racked? and this one? and this one?” ‘Racking” is the process of transferring wine from one container to another to get it off sediment, and improve clarity. ALL wines are RACKED; granted Pinot is sometimes less so, but it is. Next time ask if grapes need sun, too. Snarky mode off.) I came back to buy a few bottles after she left, but large crowd came in, so I decided to move on. Will come back in April.
I have had Etude Pinot a few times, and they have a big following, so decided to make my first visit. Service was friendly, though 3/4 of the pouring staff knew very little about wine. It was also odd to me that a winery known for Pinot was pouring only one, but that is perhaps related to their high price and very low yield vines. One thing that did catch my attention – they have migrated their Chardonnay to the new glass stopper tops I have been hearing about. FAR more elegant than a screw cap, and seals nicely. Consider me a big fan, I’d love to see more wineries use this style closure.
I thought it best to end the day on a safe note, removing the element of surprise with a winery I know delivers – Ceja. I could write (and should) an article just on Ceja, although they hardly need my help. This family of Latino growers, turned Winemaker, ‘gets it.’ They provide an amazing customer experience, work to make wine simple and enjoyable, paired with food, reasonable price points, invest in marketing, and have embraced multiple avenues of customer touch points and Social Media, from blogging to Twitter, Facebook and more. Multiple generations of the family take on roles, and at their beautiful facility (not the downtown tasting room) you can’t go 10 feet without a Ceja warmly engaging you. As always, the experience included good food, live music, and great wine, comfortably staged around the property. I like all of their wines, but I am fond of their Vino de Casa, Red Blend, an unsual blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet, priced at a very affordable $20.
A great ending to a great day in Carneros.
I look forward to the April event, cheers!
(ps, this Friday and Saturday is ANOTHER passport event in Sonoma Valley – come back for my Thursday post for more details!)