Ho Ho Wine-Ho – Simple Hedonisms tours Sonoma Valley’s Holiday Open House

Part 1 (Because of the length of the review, event will be split into two posts, with a feature tomorrow on Eric Ross Winery)

It was a week to be thankful for indeed. It was my first full week back home since I started my whirlwind new job that has me commuting to Portland weekly. I had hoped to spend more time connecting with industry friends, but between work, and some needed respite, I wasn’t able. I was well rested, though for this weekend’s Heart of Sonoma Valley’s Annual Holiday Open House.sonoma holiday

I was especially excited, as I really have not paid enough attention to the Kenwood and Glen Ellen areas of Sonoma Valley. While was familiar with many of the wines, I had actually visited very few of the wineries, and others not in years. Last week, Simple Hedonisms (aka me) visited Carneros for their Holiday in Carneros event. Two weekends in a row in Sonoma Valley (as opposed to my beloved Northern Sonoma Wine Road)…would it meet my high (maintenance) expectations? Would I have fun?

Once again, I followed my own advice (I don’t always) and did some planning. Using the Heart of Sonoma website, I printed out the map, and clicked on the individual wineries seeing what they were pouring, and sometimes digging deeper. The nice thing about this area is the wineries are all pretty close off of one road, most of the way, so it’s not as spread out as a Wine Road event. Still, with only 4-5 hours and 25 wineries, I needed to narrow it down, and the website wasn’t completing the task. Reaching out to Social Media, I got input from those on FaceBook and Twitter.   I used those suggestions, especially when there were numerous people making the same comments, like Eric Ross.

vineyards1I also decided to go the second day of the event, as I did the weekend prior for the Holiday in Carneros. This again proved prudent, as crowds were lighter, and allowed for better interaction. (hmmm maybe I shouldn’t share this tip.)

I chose this trip to focus again on new and smaller wineries, as much as I wanted to hit some of the older classic wineries of Kenwood and Glen Ellen, I had been to most and could only fit in 7-8 in one day. Spit cups, cooler, and maps in hand, I ventured out of Russian River into  Sonoma Valley.

Kaz Winery

First stop to get a glass and a bracelet was Kaz. I am a big fan of Randy and Kaz’s weekly Radio show (which I listen to as a podcast) of Wine Biz Radio. They regular feature interviews of Social Media people, (maybe me one day ;) ) and new marketing ideas.  Kaz apparently doesn’t like signage, as he has a teeny sign on the road. But then as a micro-winery (under 1000 cases) he probably isn’t looking for those tour buses.  On the radio show, Kaz is a boisterous, high energy guy, and he is just as whacky in person. He was buzzing around personally greeting people, serving chili, and making sure people tried the barrel samples of his 09 ‘newvoh’ Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sangiovese releases, in addition to the tastings. kaz

Kaz was offering tastings of a variety of reds.  All were interesting varietals, and had interesting names: including Hooligans Grenache, Moo-Vedra (Mourvedre), and Melodrama Malbec. All were 100% varietals, and I thought a good expression of the fruit. They were also pouring three ports, that I skipped, so I could try all the reds. (5 tastes total.) Tasting room pours were small, not uncommon for small wineries at passport events, but makes it hard sometimes to evaluate with only one mouthful.  He was offering a buy two, get two free, so I had no choice but to partake. Bottles in tow, headed back onto Hwy 12.

Muscardini Cellars and Ty Caton Vineyards

tastingroomintI had originally planned to skip this tasting room, since I had just tasted Ty Caton the previous weekend at their Eighth Street location, but after repeated suggestions, I gave it a look. Muscardini had a nice offering of Italian varietals, so that was enough to sway me. Their tasting room is well designed to host people, and had a very steady flow of traffic. The tasting staff was both friendly and knowledgeable, enough to make me overlook the country music blaring just as it was at their other location. A little yee-haw never hurt anyone.

Eleven wines total were offered to taste that day with no restrictions….really glad I had my personal spit/dump cup. Kudos for both the selection, and for offering 20% off on all purchases during the event. I also appreciated nice sized pours that allowed me to evaluate each pour several times.

  • 2005 lightly Oaked chardonnay, partial ML (Malolactic), Wine Enthusiast Best Buy, well balanced, good expression of fruit.
  • 2008 Ty Caton Syrah Rose. I  like few dry rose’s and this one made the list. Dark color, dry, big fruit, and 1/2 off at $11. Bought one.
  • 2007 Muscardini Sangiovese. Award winner at multiple events, big nose, great body, dry finish. Another purchase.
  • 2007 Ty Caton Malbec. People rave about Ty’s Malbec. This wine by their own admittance is young, but its flying off the shelves. (WSJ mention didn’t hurt.) Its big, and would benefit from some cellar time, so I bought one to put next to my 2006.
  • 2008 Muscardini Barbera. A big bold wine, with lots of big fruit, good structure. Surprisingly smooth for a 2008. Another one for the cellar, bought one.
  • I skipped two Syrah’s from Muscardini. I also skipped the Ty Caton Merlot – had it the previous week. It’s billed as ‘big enough to pass as a Cabernet.” Not a fan…I like Merlot to be like Merlot….supple, friendly, almost comfort wine. I buy Cab when I want Cab! But that’s just me.
  • 2007 Muscardini Tesoro – Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cab, and Syrah. Big wine, big tannins at finish.
  • 2006 Ty Caton Tytanium. (I skipped the 2006 Cab, had last week.) Another wine with a big following, Bordeaux blend. A treat to taste at $75 bottle, on sale for $60.

A really great visit, and experience here. Back onto Hwy 12, for a slight detour down Dunbar Road.

Loxton Cellars

Kangaroo Crossing signs driving up belay the Aussie origin of winemaker Chris Loxton. Loxton was pouring their Zinfandel, Syrahs, and award winning ports. Friendly people, good wines, albeit small pours again. Tasting was station to station, not at a bar, no tasting notes this stop, sorry.

Wellington Vineyards

I added Wellington mainly because I saw a 2008 Roussanne offered, since I am a big fan of white Rhone wines. Unfortunately it turns out that the white Rhone wasn’t offered for tasting. It’s a small production that the renowned Girl & a Fig restaurant buys the majority of and features.  That was good enough endorsement for me, so after tasting through their zin, merlot, cab, I bought a bottle of the Roussanne, even though I couldn’t try it.

Mayo Family WineryPIX_winery

After a quick lunch at CaffeCitti (and a bad choice of sangiovese) moved on to Mayo. I was fortunate enough at the first tasting station to meet one of the owners, pouring a Pinot Gris and 2007 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay. Neutral oak, and partial malolactic, this was a nice Burgundian style chardonnay that didn’t hide the fruit. Wine geeking, I also found out they sold a ‘unwooded’ Chardonnay, no oak, all stainless.

Additional stations tasted a 2007 Pinot, a 2006 RRV Zin, 2006 RRV Old Vine Petit Sirah, 2005 Merlot, 2006 Libertine red blend, and a few others. I thought all were well made, the Zin catching my eye at only 14% alcohol, soft, nice fruit that wasn’t in your face, and a good finish. I also really enjoyed their 2005 Napa Cabernet, $40.

As I was leaving, I decided to purchase the un-oaked Chardonnay without tasting it, and the Cabernet. I should have paid better attention to their specials – the tasting sheet offered 20% off 2 bottles of most varietals, but the chardonnay wasn’t listed, and I hate public haggling, and didn’t want to mar a good experience over a few dollars.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two, and winner of The Simple Hedonisms ‘Best of Event’ Selection – Eric Ross Winery.

cheers!

Not just about his wines, but my sabbatical, my own interests in wine and the industry, and my hobby Syrah vineyard. To my amazement Eric immediately recognized me, AND actually remembered all of our conversation, including the vineyard, 5 months later. I have written many times, wine is far more than the product itself, it’s a living entity, and an art form, and for me the enjoyment and experience is as much about the people and artisans, as their product, especially in a region with hundreds of wineries.

ericluse_hosva_web_024_elEric Luse owner and winemaker, was a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle for xx years. I was fortunate enough he spent an hour with me, and in addition to wine geeking, he shared a number of his photographs. His work is brilliant in my opinion, and he really should publish a book, as many have encouraged. Eric did the photography in the beautiful new mini book on “The Wineries in the Heart of Sonoma Valley.” Besides being an amazing photographer, and a down to earth, genuinely nice guy, he is a talented, passionate wine maker, and of interesting varietals, which captures my attention even more, in our California tendency to make homogenous, over extracted, over the top wines.

Tasting:

  • His previously mentioned Marsanne-Rousanne is one of my favorite whites. The remainder of his 2007 vintage wason sale, so I grabbed 6 bottles. This blend has a great floral nose, good acidity, balance and mouthfeel. You red wine drinkers looking to branch out, should start here. But PLEASE do not drink overly chilled, as so many do.
  • The 2006 Old Vine Carignane was a treat. An easy drinking, comfort wine with bright, but not overpowering fruit. The Rauser Ranch vines in Lodi were planted in 1907! Grabbed one of these for home, $22 retail.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir, Saralee’s Vineyard. Drinkable now, but I’d leave in bottle for 6 more months if can resist, a pinot with big color and fruit, good structure, from 30% new French Oak.
  • 2008 Old Vine Zin, Cody’s Block. Technically in Dry Creek, but on the edge off the Russian River appelation,and with the characteristics of RRV ZIns, I am starting to find very appealing. Softer, less intense than many Zins, I don’t buy many Zins, but one of these came home with me.
  • 2006 Syrah. Sorry was yakking so much with Eric, forgot tasting notes! RRV Syrah with 3% Viognier.

What a great ending to the day. It had been a good day of wine tasting and meeting people, but I was missing that one moving experience that makes me glow like a bulb on a Christmas tree, and Eric delivered. I had recently jettisoned a larger winery club, as I like to rotate each year, and completed the experience by adding Eric Ross to my list.

This will also give me a reason to come back to Kenwood/Glen Ellen more frequently, which I need to. I skipped some of the larger/older wineries, like Kenwood, Ledson, Benzinger, Chateau St. Jean, and they are deserving of a visit as well, having played key roles in the history of Sonoma. This event was well done, and this area deserves more buzz. I’d encourage the marketing organization to get more active in Social Media, and promote itself more on FaceBook, Twitter and it’s Website. It has a lot to offer.

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4 Responses to “Ho Ho Wine-Ho – Simple Hedonisms tours Sonoma Valley’s Holiday Open House”

  • Ahhh be still my heart….Kaz is truly one of my favorite. For a Pre-Thanksgiving feast I opened a bottle of his ’02 Mary Tauge and it was by far the favorite of the evening. I also just received my mixed case from my last visit including Mayo and Ty Caton, lying peacefully in my wine cabinet anxiously awaiting decanting. Both visits were memorable and my guess, most people don’t take time to stop by these smaller tasting rooms but as William points out, these places are little treasures! I am excited to read your post on Eric Ross, another true gem! Cheers William, you are awesome!

  • candy:

    It was a fun day to be sure but I found your comments about Loxton giving small pours interesting. Given the fact that your supposed to be “wine tasting” not wine drinking, don’t you think wineries should be giving small pours? Especially on a day like Friday when most people will be hitting multiple wineries in one day.
    I for one loved the ambiance, music and food at Loxton. I wish all the wineries on the tour had gone to that level and based on the huge crowds and number of people buying wine, I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it.

  • William:

    Hi Candy thanks for the comment. I agree its wine ‘tasting’ – I make a point throughout many of my articles, I even carry my own spit cup. I don’t think wineries should give big pours, especially since most are drinking. I do like to get a big enough pour (the standard 1 oz pre-measured pourers do great) so that I can get two tastes, for a 2nd glance at the wine, as I evaluate it. Glad you had a great time at Loxton!

  • Thanks for the kind words about the show! I wanted to say that Kaz has teeny tiny signs because of the county, not because he doesn’t like signage! Knowing him as I do, he’d be thrilled to have an enormous sign posted with sparkles and neon if that’d bring more business in.

    But you are correct that his winery is not suited to the oversized tour bus-type visitor. His place is much more homey and intimate, where you can literally hang out and engage in conversation with someone who knows several metric tons about winemaking. Just make sure not to leave empty-handed!

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