Posts Tagged ‘chardonnay’

Wine Review: C. Donatiello 2008 Pinot Noir Block 15 Floodgate Vineyard

I have been a fan of C. Donatiello since I discovered them some 18 months ago, both for their wines, and the gorgeous property.
For those who may not yet be familiar with C. Donatiello or its location, Chris Donatiello, in partnership with Bill Hambrecht, purchased the facilities from Belvedere in 2006, and have morphed it into a world class facility and producer of stunning Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

C. Donatiello’s winemaker is Webster Marquez, also referred to as Web. An affable winemaker,  Web  is focused, committed, and always chasing making his best vintage yet, he comes to C. Donatiello from famous Pinot producer Williams Selyem. (He also has his own small label, Anthill Farms.)

In addition to their winery being a pleasure to visit, renowned for casual yet elegant service, each Sunday from late June through October 3rd they feature live music, with acts from all over the U.S. at no charge. It’s one of my Sunday’ faves, I almost hate to share to keep it smaller, but somethings are too good to keep to your self.

I was long overdue for a full tasting review; and was delighted for an invitation, as well as be one of the first for their new wine and cheese pairing which for $20, is one of the most underpriced, amazing Hedonistic pairings going on in Russian River. More on this in another post, but take my word for it, call for an appointment to schedule one of these.


I have a special interest in this release, having just recently toured Floodgate Vineyard with vineyard manager Warren Burton, and new wine producer Cartograph Wines.

Region/AVA: Block 15, Floodgate Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Color: Lighter cranberry color, slightly opaque. (A thankful break from the ridiculously dark Pinot’s being produced today by many.)

Aroma: Cherry, Cranberry, with a pleasant touch of Earthiness

In The Mouth: Elegant. Despite the youth of this release, it’s a pleasure in the mouth, with velvet texture, wonderful balance and mouthfeel. Flavors of cherry and red fruit, with a nice finish, and  lingering acidity.

Price: $49 Retail

Wine Geek Info:

  • Harvest DateSept 4, 2008
  • Barrel Program – 10 months French Oak, 35% new
  • Bottled – July 22, 2009
  • 400 cases produced

Highly Recommend.

Simple Hedonisms suggests: “Cool off this summer with some naked chardonnay … and expand your palate” (psst! It’s under $20)

What’s your perspective on Chardonnay? Love it? Avoid it? Or do you regularly try new wines and winemaking styles? If you shun Chardonnay as I did for many years, you may identify as an ABC drinker – “Anything But Chardonnay”. Simple Hedonisms has used this term to describe the backlash against overly oaked “butter bombs” popularly known as “California-style” Chardonnay. Whatever your motivation may be to explore, your understanding and appreciation is sure to benefit from trying new wines and styles.

Food Friendly
If you enjoy a crisp, palette-cleansing white wine with your asian spicy dishes, rich or “stinky” cheeses, oysters or seafood – don’t pass up the “new” Chardonnays made without oak aging or malolactic (ML) fermentation. You won’t recognize these wines as Chardonnay if you’ve only been exposed to the heavy oak and butter style. Think of them more like a new white varietal, and a possible alternative to dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You may be pleasantly surprised. And, if you are like me, you may begin to recognize an intense varietal character that you can distinctly identify as Chardonnay.

Chardonnay Grapes, Kopriva Vineyards

Kopriva is a family-owned single-vineyard producer of unoaked, no ‘ML” Chardonnay in the Carneros region of Sonoma county. I first wrote about their wine in my blog, VitaeVinoNote: If you’re in the Sonoma area, meet the winemaker and taste Kopriva Chardonnay at Big 3 Wine Bar, 6pm Friday July 16.

The Carneros Region
One of the charms of Carneros is the growers and smaller producers hidden down country lanes, who grace the landscape with their vineyards. Some of the acreage has been in cool climate fruit or grape crops for decades. Despite being one of Sonoma County’s most southerly appellations, Carneros is one of the coolest. It borders San Pablo Bay, and is subject to marine air movement between the Bay and the Pacific Ocean (a phenomena known as the Petaluma Wind Gap). Carneros AVA is home to 75 growers, 22 wineries, and over 7500 vineyard acres. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes flourish in its’ cool climate, resulting in a concentrated fruit said to represent a “true expression of the varietal.”

So what does that mean in plain English? Also known as “un-wooded”, “stainless” or “naked” — unoaked Chardonnay reveals what the grape itself tastes like minus the oak and butter effects. At 13.5% alcohol, Kopriva’s Chardonnay doesn’t overpower food. Yet its bright acid and crisp minerality can cut through the richest cheesy pasta, the spiciest entree or oiliest fish dish.

Kopriva Unoaked Chardonnay, Carneros Sonoma CA

Hadley Larson in the Kopriva Vineyards

Last week Simple Hedonisms visited the Kopriva vineyard at Cassidy Ranch, and was greeted warmly by Hadley Larson. She and wine-maker partner Myles McMonigle live on the property and perform all duties from running tractor, harvesting and hauling grapes, to marketing and delivering local orders. Myles studied geology and enology and has worked for MacRostie, Domaine Carneros and B.R. Cohn wineries. He is currently Enologist at Groth Vineyards in Napa. His parents purchased the property about 10 years ago. Myles’ father was influenced by an early friendship with the Benziger family (of Benziger, Imagery, and Tribute label fame). At Cassidy Ranch, they maintain the vines using sustainable practices, including minimal tilling of the land to preserve minerals and moisture and allow native cover crops – which return nitrogen to the soil — to thrive. Thus the rustic look of what they call their “shabby chic” vineyard.

The New Unoaked Style
Kopriva started making their unoaked Chardonnay 5 years ago, joining a handful of producers such as Mer Soleil with their “Silver” Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, and Toad Hollow Vineyards of Healdsburg. It was challenging in those days to overcome the stereotypes of California style. Some restaurant and retail buyers didn’t believe they were tasting Chardonnay. Kopriva resorted to introducing their wine by likening it to Chablis.

About 2-1/2 years ago Kopriva’s task became a little easier as recognition grew for the unoaked style. Acclaim for producers Kim Crawford of New Zealand and Toad Hollow helped build awareness. Coverage in Food & Wine magazine of the new style chardonnay and its suitability for food pairing continues the momentum. There is now a thriving community of unoaked chardonnay drinkers centered around a delightfully irreverent blog dedicated to the style at The labor of love for these bloggers has resulted in reviews of 68 wines from 10 regions and countries. Readers regularly suggest new wines to taste, which the bloggers promptly seek out. As well, a few wine competitions are introducing unoaked Chardonnay as a category — the Sonoma County Fair is one.

Get Naked
The vineyards aren’t open to the public, but you can taste Kopriva at Big 3 Wine Bar at Fairmount Sonoma Mission Inn. Big 3 focuses exclusively on Sonoma wines — by the taste, glass and bottle. Several, like Kopriva, are not available elsewhere for tasting. A few retail and restaurant outlets, mostly in the SF Bay Area, carry Kopriva (see the website for a list). In and around Carneros, the wine is available at Whole Foods Market in Marin, Napa and Sonoma.

If you’d like to explore this new style further, another Carneros example is Roche Winery’s “Stainless Steel Chardonnay” ($15.99 suggested retail) available at their tasting room on the Sonoma Square. Kunde Estate in Kenwood produces “Chardonnay Nu,” or what they call their “naked” chardonnay — available for tasting at the winery ($15.99 at Bottle Barn). Using grapes from Lodi, CA, an award-winning producer of Chardonnay in the unoaked style is Passaggio ($11.99 on their website or at Valley Wine Shack in Sonoma). Simple Hedonisms writes periodically on this emerging style – search for “unoaked Chardonnay” to find out more.

At under $20, these wines fit the budget — and the menu as well.

Kopriva Chardonnay


Color: Pale metallic straw, mirror clear

Aroma: Citrus, hint of lactic, with a splash of dry straw

In the Mouth: The appeal of this wine is in it’s tactile complexity – fruity at the front, mouth-filling at mid-palette, with a crisp flourishing acid finish at the back. Leaving the wine in contact with its yeast lees (wine sediment) for 4 months gives this chardonnay its pleasurable mouth feel.

Flavors: Grapefruit, pineapple, and hints of other fruits ranging from tangy to tropical, in concert with mineral notes.

Price: Retail $14-19. Wholesale: $120/ case. (media sample)

Vintages: 2008 currently, 2009 launches in Fall 2010.

Acres planted: 12
Case Quantity: 299
Harvest: September 11, 2008
Alcohol: 13.52%
Average Chemistry: 3.31 pH, .576g TA
Residual Sugar: 0.033
Fermentation: 100% Stainless steel
Aging: 4 months sur lie
Malolactic Fermentation: 0%

Follow Kopriva Website, Facebook, Twitter

Wine Review – Paradise Ridge 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Nagasawa Vineyard

Paradise Ridge 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Nagasawa Vineyard

  • Vibrant yellow straw color.
  • Hints of tropical fruit, pineapple, lemon on nose.
  • Lush tropical fruit, pear and touch of butterscotch on the palette. Pleasing weight, mouthfeel, and lingering acidity on finish. Will pair nicely with many foods.
  • This release has spent time on French oak, and has undergone partial Malolactic fermentation. An excellent example of how oak and Malolactic fermentation don’t mean you have to lose the expression of the fruit, or become a  California butter-bomb. Only 225 cases made. Fruit is from their Estate Nagasawa Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. $27 retail

About Paradise Ridge: Originally opened in 1994 in Santa Rosa, in their California designed tasting room, with a European styled courtyard. The San Franciso Chronicle describes it aptly “The view from the terrace is like a painting, layered with greens and golds, gradually blending into deeper earth tones and finally fading to hazy purple hues at the horizon…..This place has the feel of an insider’s secret…it’s well worth the effort to find.”

Paradise Ridge has also expanded to a second tasting room and art gallery, in Kenwood, off Highway 12.


Question of the Week: Recommendations for an Every Day Wine (chardonnay in this case)

Welcome to the Inaugural post of “Question of the Week.”

This week’s chosen question is week from a Facebook follower/friend Janey Patton Russell who enjoys wine, and learning. (One of the things I love about wine, is you are never done learning.)

I have a chardonnay question for you. You will laugh or may think my every day choice of chardonnay wine is gross.  I really enjoy Clos Du Bois for my “everyday” wine sometimes I step it up to Rombauer or Sonoma Cutrer. That said do you have a suggestion for me for a nice, dry chardonnay? I like Sonoma, Russian River Valley.  Tried Toasted Head here and there but over that.  Prefer  dry, a little buttery,  but certainly not a lot. Come to think of it I like it dry and oaky!

Great questions. Long time friends of mine may find it ironic I am doing reviews of chardonnay and being asked questions. Until the last few years, I generally shunned chardonnays, my palette not enjoying most of the US made highly oaked, buttery styles. As I have dove headfirst into exploring whites, (especially Rhone varietals) I have learned more and more to be open minded, and explore more styles and countries.

Explore and Branch Out: The many names of chardonnay

I am hardly a Franco-phile, but I have been embracing French wines more (don’t worry Sonoma County, my heart is yours forever), especially white wine from Burgundy…..which is chardonnay. You may hear or see “white burgundy” or “chablis” or “pouilly-fuise” – don’t be confused. All of these are chardonnay, the latter two being appellations (regions) of Burgundy, France. Unfortunately many people hear ‘white burgundy’ or ‘chablis’  still have memories of low quality white jug wines from decades ago, in a travesty of marketing.

How to Pick a Wine, Where to Buy

One of the challenging things of recommending wine to the average consumer outside of this area, is there is little consistency, even in a national chain, of what you can buy. Even Costco varies what they offer by location. There are certainly a few brands you can find many places, but I have to say as a general rule, I shy away from a bottle of wine that had one million cases made. I am buying and tasting more larger production wines for review (my personal cellar still stays mostly small producers) to assist with this, but it will always be a challenge.

(It is worthwhile to note that even the million+ case wineries will bottle a release in much smaller scale. I was amazed at a visit to the La Crema winery (not the tasting room) to taste through 5 pinot noirs and 5 chardonnays. I knew of their massive scale releases, but was pleased to enjoy bottles of limited small lot production as well.)

So when asked, in addition to exact bottle/wine recommendations, I am will often give you some broader guidelines.

My answer to this enquiry:

” I generally drink a newer style of chard, which is unoaked and non ML (not buttery)…odds are you won’t find many of these in a every day retail store. Rombauer and Sonoma Cutrer are definately higher end better chards. If you ever see say, a Lynmar or Hartford Court (won’t be at Safeway) try them, although more pricey. They will have the oak and ML components, but be beautifully balanced.

One you could try, that should be easily found, is La Crema…they have several mass produced chardonnays that are widely distributed and decent, and they also have some great ones here that don’t make mass market. I haven’t tasted through Kendall Jackson’s chardonnay releases entirely, but enjoyed some of their whites at the Heirloom Tomato Festival this fall.

My best suggestion – try your local wine shop. Explain your tastes, and what you like, and what you want to spend. for the same money you will get something from a smaller winery. Let them recommend a few and buy 2-3 of those for comparison.

Be opened minded to other countries as well:  French, Australia, Chile. I shunned France for years, but have re-opened that, especially now that I drink more chardonnay. Chardonnay from Pouilly-Fuissé region of Burgundy tend to be reasonable. I had one last night actually that I really enjoyed, I picked up at K and L Wines.

Don’t apologize for drinking chards, its one of the world’s most planted and consumed varietals, and the French still make really great, original style. The bad name came from the over oaked US garbage. Instead embrace it, and see what you can learn about styles, different areas. Australians’ make good chards as well.

My friend responded back with one more comment I thought worth sharing.

Thanks so much! I will try your suggestions. I had a feeling you being a real wine person would not drink chardonnay. I was told by a guy at the store to try this one French but I did not….I will go back and ask him again what it was. I’m going to embrace my love of chardonnay and learn as much as I can. Thanks for the boost of confidence! I’m told by my wine  friends that real wine drinkers don’t drink anything bit reds.

I’d tell her the wine friends are clueless, but frankly I was one of those for 12+ of my 20 years drinking wine.  It took some pushing and exploration at first, but once my mindset and palette cracked, and I discovered gems like Viognier, Torrontes, Rousanne, Marsanne, and now some chardonnay, pinot gris, chenin blanc and more – my experience and enjoyment of wine has increased many fold – so many more options, things to learn, and tastes, aromas to experience. Open your minds and palettes, try things, wine is a never ending journey, or should be.

And as I will constantly repeat, do not drink your white wine overchilled. (Unless its not very well made, then by all means drink it right from the fridge.) You can not experience the aroma, mouthfeel, and nuances of a wine if you drink it out of the fridge at 52 degrees.

Hope you found this useful, I’d love comments. You can also reach my on Facebook, Twitter, or the Contact Me, tab.


Wine Review – 2007 Mayo Chardonnay “unwooded” (aka unoaked)

I visited Mayo for the first time a few weeks ago, during the Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House, as reviewed earlier this month.

When I learned they had a unoaked chard, I bought a bottle, blind as it wasn’t available for tasting. I have written several recent articles on unoaked chardonnay and discussed the nature and flavor profile of this style of chardonnay. I am planning a review soon, of a side by side comparison of many, so if you produce one, or know of one, let me know soon.

The marketeer in me doesn’t jazz on the term ‘unwooded’ but the description on the back label captures perfectly the essence of this style. “Ever wonder what chardonnay really tastes like underneath all that oak? We’ve made this wine for ourselves for a few years, loving the fruit forward, mineral…qualities if offers. We thought it was time to let it loose on the public.”

And I am glad they did, although its no longer on their website, so wondering if they are sold out.

This is another great expression of pure chardonnay fruit.  It doesn’t specify it did not undergo malolactic fermentation, but my guess is it didn’t.

The 2007 vintage is from the Sonoma Coast, Risk Vineyards. 454 cases made. 13.9% alcohol.

Color: Pale to medium yellow, good clarity

Aroma:  Scents of wet stone, grapefruit, and a hint of peach

In the Mouth: Bursting with citrus when it first hits the palette, pleasant taste of kiwi and peach on the mid palette,and a pleasant finish that lingers citrus and a hint of minerality.

I will repeat my mantra on drinking quality white wines: DO NOT OVERCHILL. If its been in the fridge, take it out for 15 minutes. If the glass is cold to touch, warm it in your hands. Cold masks all the aroma and flavor profiles the winemaker worked so hard to achieve.


Wine Review – Branham 2007 Russian River Valley Chardonnay (no oak or ML)

Is your mantra about white wine  ‘ABC’. (Anything but chardonnay.) Do you enjoy sauvignon blanc, or other white wines with crisp acidity, and bright fruit? If so hunt out the slowly growing category of chardonnays that are made without oak aging or malolactic (ML) fermentation.

There is nothing wrong with a chardonnay that is well made, and seen some oak and ML, but many have been turned off by the overly oaky, buttery chardonnays that have been being cranked out for years – we love to take a good thing to excess in the U.S. Its also a personal palette preference.

I discovered sauvignon blanc years ago, before the New Zealand craze caught on, and as a result of palette fatigue (kinda like wine ADHD) was hunting something else, and was pleased to discover this slowly emerging category of chardonnay in the US. (This is nothing new to Aussies.) I was inspired enough this was one of the two varietals I crushed this year, to also experiment with this style.

The Sonoma County Fair for the first time, amidst some controversy, had a category this year for unoaked Chardonnay, which I hope they repeat.  Like any wine, not all of these unoaked, no ML chardonnays are stellar, and a few poorly made entries seem to have portrayed the category negatively.

I generally try and/or buy any in Sonoma County I find, and have tasted quite a few. Sometime early next year, I am planning to taste through a number in comparison, so if you have suggestions, send them on.downtown wine

One that I discovered this year, and enjoy regularly is from Gary Branham, a local boutique wine maker. Gary shares a tasting room with Kenny and Lynn of Hobo Wines, (I am a big fan of Kenny’s wines.)  Both of their wines are poured and available for purchase in downtown Healdsburg, at Downtown Wine. More often than not, you will be attended to by Aaron – a very knowledgeable wine aficionado. Talk less than I do, and you may learn a few things. Downtown Wine is also part of the Wine Road, and will be taking part in the Winter Wineland next month.

Color: Pale yellow, light straw, good clarity

Aroma:  A wonderful nose – full of  green apple, citrus

In the Mouth: Left on the lees (wine sediment) for 4 months gives this chardonnay nice mouth feel.


A bounty of fruit in the mouth; pineapple, green apple, grapefruit. Needless to say, a mouth watering finish, that lingers nicely.

Only 325 cases made, get some before its gone, but save a case for me!

Around $22, You can find this wine at the Downtown Tasting room, or Vine Tastings in Windsor, by the glass or bottle. (Unfortunately like most restaurants its served over chilled, masking its nuances. Cup your hands around the glass for a minute.)

Wine Geek Info

  • Harvest: September 30, 2007
  • Average Chemistry at Harvest: 25 Brix 3.20 pH .68 TA
  • Whole Cluster Pressed
  • Fermented in Stainless Steel for 25 days @ 55 degrees F
  • No Malolactic fermentation ~ Left sur lie for 4 months
  • Bottling: January 2007
  • Chemistry at bottling: 14% alcohol 3.20 pH .68 TA
  • Varietal percentage; 100% Chardonnay
  • Vineyards: Foppoli Family Vineyard
  • Production: 325 Cases

Fun times at Holiday in Carneros

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.Wine, Song, Love

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.


Dogs like Wine Country too!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!

IMG_0280Ty 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?

IMG_0281Would 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.


IMG_0282I 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.

Ceja VineyardsIMG_0285

IMG_0288I 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!)

Don’t Miss! The Wine Road’s 11th Annual Wine & Food Affair. (tips inside)

Northern California Wine Country has many events, and its been a passion and pleasure of mine to attend many. While there are many good ones, there are a few that are GREAT. One of my favorites is this weekend’s Wine Road’s Wine & Food Affair. I feel some events are becoming a bit pricey for what they deliver; the Wine and Food Affair is one of the best values, and experiences Sonoma that Wine Country has to offer.


This special “Tasting Along the Wine Road” is November 7 & 8,  Saturday & Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm.  A Wine & Food Affair is the “premier event for the Wine Road, featuring a weekend of wine and food pairing in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.”

So what is this about? 80 wineries along the Wine Road (aptly named ‘Heaven Condensed’ ) offer food pairings to go along with their wines being poured. This is a ‘passport’ event – meaning you pay one fee, and can visit as many participating wineries as you wish. At just $60 for the entire weekend,or $40 for Sunday, this is an amazing value. People who pre-registered also get a great cookbook of the recipes.

So 5 hours a day for 2 days, and 80 wineries. How do you pick?  I have a (longish) list of Wine Road favorites, but rather than rattle those off here (email me), I am going to try and stay neutral, and offer other suggestions to enjoy this event. And this is about food pairings, not just wine.

planThe Golden Rule:  PLAN! Plan, plan, plan, plan. Did I say plan? Do you close your eyes at Safeway and throw random articles into your cart? No. So, don’t just drive down Dry Creek, or Westside Road and stop anywhere. There are great resources on the Wine Road website I am going to suggest – follow and use them.

So where do you start?

First are you going for one day or both? If only one, then its really important to map out a hit list, and start early.

1. What varietals (wine types) do you prefer?

You can partially match areas to this. Of course some wineries produce from all over, but generally if you prefer say, Pinot Noir map-homeand Chardonnay, you should spend time in the area around Forestville – Sebastopol and visit places like Lynmar, Moshin, Balleto etc. These geographic lines do get a bit blurry though, as great Pinot houses like C. Donatiello, Thomas George, etc. are further North. Dry Creek Valley is known as Zin country, but many wineries produce a host of other varietals, especially Syrah, and sometimes Cab, Petite Syrah, and others, as does Alexander Valley. You may want to consider focusing on lighter varietals, like Pinot, in the morning, and then try more full-bodied wines in the afternoon.

(2) Use The Wine Road web site to assist you.

It has many great maps and sorting tools. My favorite page allows you to click and sort by varietals (wine types), region, and amenities. This latter one is very useful for identifying wineries that are open ‘By Appointment’ only. There are a number of wineries participating such as Acorn, John Tyler, Windsor Oaks, etc that normally are open to the public only by appointment, so this event is a great way to just pop in and experience those wineries without having to plan ahead a make an appointment.

You can also use the amenities sort feature to identify the wineries with picnic facilities,  If you are really organized in planning your route, you can land at a good picnic spot right around lunch time.

(3) Consult the Participating Winery List.

Eighty wineries are participating – but the Wine Road has over 150 wineries, so don’t assume, double check. Especially for the wineries that are open by appointment only -some of these aren’t participating. It also doesn’t hurt to check with your favorite wineries if they don’t show up as participating. Mounts Family Winery in Dry Creek for example, isn’t on the official list, but will have free tastings for ticket holders, and is offering a food pairing.

(4) Bring a Spit Cup. redcup

If you are serious about tasting wine, and hitting as many wineries as you can, I strongly urge you to bring your own spit cup. Spitting into a dump bucket in a crowded tasting room isn’t something I recommend, and many people find it unpleasant which is one reason why more people don’t. That’s why at industry events and wine classes, red plastic spit cups are usually available. They’re easier to use, unobtrusive, and allow for discreet spitting for those who are shy about spitting in public. I can’t underscore this enough – if you taste 4-5 wines at each location, you may not realize that you are easily consuming 1-2 glasses of wine per locale. However, as little as 5-6 ounces of wine is a enough to start to impact your palette and judgment. Yes the food will help a bit, but not enough, if you are making many stops. At a bare minimum, dump varietals you don’t care for. But that is only going to help a bit. Give spitting a try — for the morning at least.  You will be glad you did!

(5) Bring a cooler. And your wallet.

If you like a winery, or they treat you extra special, buy something (or a few somethings!). They are artisans, but this isn’t charity. Weathermen are calling for mild weather this weekend according to the current forecast. It is supposed to be cloudy and 69 on Saturday, and 70 and sunny on Sunday. But these forecasters are the same guys that predicted that the harvest rain would only last one day.  Heat is the enemy of wine…even a few hours of heat and sun will negatively impact a bottle. Bring a cooler just in case, and you can stock it with water, red bulls, and nibbles.

6. Start Early, hit off the path wineries later.

The well-known wineries, closer in, can get quite mobbed, especially by mid afternoon. Try and be there when the bell dings, and get an early start. When you map out your route, perhaps do the less familiar wineries, or those off the beaten path, later in the day.

7. In the event you DON’T Pre-Plan (tsk tsk) at LEAST print out the event page which lists the food pairing, and the participating wineries, AND the modified Wine Road map that shows ONLY the participating Wineries.

8. Be Courteous,  Pleasematt at dutton

Some wineries are going to get busy. Try and be respectful of sharing the tasting space (do not stand 4 together at the bar, talking about your shoe purchase). Bond with your significant other and share the space one behind the other, thus doubling the space. Wearing perfume, talking at 120 decibels on your cell, chewing gum, trying to steal wine (true story), or being inebriated and harassing a tired pourer are all faux pax.

(Note to Winery owners and staff – I know it’s a trying,  long weekend; but I have witnessed some appalling treatment at ‘bracelet  events. In a down economy, and a push to sell Direct to Consumer (DTC), a little pre-event pep talk to your team may be in order. In years past, events like this were where I discovered some of my favorite wineries and – as a result of positive experiences –joined the wine club. )

Let’s all have fun – we are blessed to be surrounded by good people, good food, good wine; and this weekend is a culmination, and celebration of all three.


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