Posts Tagged ‘dry creek valley’

Wine Review – Amista Vineyards 2005 Cabernet, Dry Creek Valley

I am supposed to be writing about Rhone varietals this week, (in honor of Hospice du Rhone) so of course, tonight’s review is about a Dry Creek Valley Sonoma Cabernet, from Amista Vineyards. ( I am being facetious since Cabernet is a Bordeaux varietal.)

Apologies to Simple Hedonism’s readers for being ‘away’ for a week; the amount of writing for 3 weekends of Barrel Tasting in two areas, and one of my infamous business road trips, 4 cities in 2 countries in 4 days…sometimes drinking wine takes precedence over writing about it.

For you Rhone and Syrah lovers, Amista makes a great syrah; I am writing after a 12 hour day, have a hankering for a cabernet to go with dinner, so it’s cabernet, writers indulgence!

I have to admit, I am a fan of Amista’s as much for their culture and hospitality, as their wines. But then, I have written repeatedly, living in an area with 160 wineries in a 30 mile radius; making good wine is table stakes to survive; you have to do more than just that to distinguish yourself.

Wine is more than a beverage, its an entity, a culture, an experience; and it starts when you enter the winery. I will write a proper review of Amista itself later, but suffice to say they have embraced their name: Amista translates as “it makes friends” – and Vicky, Mike, Ross, and the tasting room staff excel at that, and are growing a strong following of visitors and locals. Hospitality and making people feel welcome is Amista’s forte.

Wine Review Time

Another admirable quality about Amista, as a ‘newer’ winery is that they don’t release wines young, often a temptation. Current release Syrah is 2005, their ‘new’ release Zin is 2006, this cabernet reviewed is 2005. In case you don’t understand wine economics; holding back wine comes at a cost to a winery for storage and inventory costs, and cash flow. So when a more mature release is available at price parity to other wineries newer releases, there is an intrinsic value in that for you, the consumer.

2005 Amista Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Francesca’s Terrace

If you are tired of over the top Cabernet releases and long for style of years past; less tannins, good structure, easier to drink, you will appreciate this Cabernet release. Layers of complexity, but approachable and highly drinkable.

Tasting Notes:

Color: A vivid, dark purple hue

On the Nose: hints of blackberry, blackcurrant, plum

On the Palate: Currant, red fruit, clove, berry. Pleasing mouth feel, excellent balance, and a pleasant lingering finish. Very drinkable now, could also be laid down a few more years.

425 cases made, suggested retail $42, a great price for a cabernet of this quality, and age.

I don’t give scores or stars or animal crackers in my wine reviews; but it should be self evident since I don’t publish ‘bad’ reviews, that a wine I am reviewing, from a winery I enjoy, is a ‘buy’ recommendation, at least for my own palette! Stop by and try some before this vintage is gone, and tell em Hi from William. Cheers!

Recommendations for Winter Wineland, 2010 – Part 2 of 4

Last week, I published my first of four recommendations for the Winter Wineland event, the multi-winery event this weekend that anticipation on social media venues Twitter and Facebook is building to a not so dull roar. For Simple Hedonisms, Winter Wineland like an extended Christmas.

I am frequently asked to make winery recommendations, especially in the 4 appellations of the Wine Road. In my previous article I made mention of some of the newest member wineries.  Also see my last article on the Wine and Food event.

With now 160+ wineries in a 30 mile radius, spanning 4 different wine regions, there are many ways to skin a cat in where to go. In my next article I will discuss using the Wine Road’s great tools and make suggestions to plan out your day. Some make it a marathon and see how many they can motor through in one day, other enjoy themselves at a leisurely pace.

People get very passionate about their favorite wineries, which is great! I have visited many, but there are still some on my list to visit. Each event I mix in new ones with faves. A big event isn’t always demonstrative of a winery’s best food forward, especially if crowded, but its certainly a good test of their hospitality mettle, and some shine despite the added stress.

The following and  buzz of Simple Hedonisms is really picking up, however I often visit without mentioning the blog, or downplaying it, trying to experience what any person off the street would.  An experienced, attentive pourer, should be able discern someone who appreciates wine, if they pay attention to the comments, questions. Despite occasional gifts and samples, I buy a LOT of wine. Treat me decently and it’s rare I leave empty handed, indeed usually with multiple bottles.

Ok enough blab, on to my recommendations. These are wineries I have visited, some repeatedly. Some hold an extra special place in my heart, but all are sincere recommendations I’d stand behind, and would like to hear if your experience is bad. Just because one isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean it isn’t great. And if you like it, that’s all that matters. I am always approachable for a visit most weekends.  Keep in mind not all wineries participate in Winter Wineland, so check the list.

If you go to one of the places because you read about it here, please help Simple Hedonisms continue to increase its visibility; Tell ’em you read it here.

This is a long list,so I am not going to embed URLs for this many, if you use the Wine Road’s list, you can find them all.

Russian River Valley (RRV)

Acorn – Generally open by appointment only outside of events.  Bill & Betsy are great hosts, and are a template for how to use space to keep things not overly crowded instead of jamming into one small tasting bar. As an extra bonus, Zin restaurant is catering their event. Great wines; zinfandel, sangiovese, and my favorite, the Acorn Medley. Say hi to Betsy and Bill from William.

Battaglini – a charming stop, run by a charming Italian gentleman. Look out for his fiery habanero grappa, if he takes a liking to you.

Carol Shelton – Carol is renowed as one of the pioneers of female winemakers, and her lineup of zins, including Wild Thing (native yeast) capture the hearts (and palettes) of many.

CopainCopain has been opening its doors more to events. This is a beautiful, simply appointed winery staffed by people passionate about their wine. The views are gorgeous, and their Tous Ensemble label continue to win awards for high quality, moderate pricing. Their viognier is one of my local faves. Great pinot, syrah, and others. Their higher end Copain label is usually on allocation, so buy while there if you like it.

Freestone – A bit off the beaten path, a great stop for you Pinot hounds, in a cozy, home like setting.

Harvest Moon I finally just visited Harvest Moon this year, and what a great find, doubly so if you are a Zin fan. (Other varietals too.) Owner, winemaker Randy is as nice as they come, and can often be found behind the tasting bar, working it, and mingling with the crowd, sharing his passion for producing great wines. Say hi to he, or bubbly Hospitality manager, Erin, for me.

Kendall Jackon Wine Center -Yes, you can buy many KJ wines almost anywhere. It’s the ones you can’t that are especially worth checking out. Their Fulton center (not downtown Healdsburg) is offering seminars and tastings (additional fee) of their Highland Estate, 92+ point vineyard designate wines at Noon, 1 and 2 pm. The KJ crowd is always welcoming, and the Wine Center is a good place for learning about wine.

Korbel – Another veteran of the region, come discover some of their bubbly offers you won’t see at Safeway, paired with great food combinations. A great stop to start or end the day on – bubbles! (No Iron Horse this event, so this is your place for bubbles, and worth the stop.)

La Crema, (Windsor Location) This isn’t the downtown Healdsburg tasting room, it’s the production winery, not usually open for pouring to the public. Besides the massive case lots of pinot and chardonnay you see everywhere, ask about their smaller lot production Pinot and Chardonnay, many under 20k cases. I tasted a number of these smaller lots this summer at this location, and won me over.

Lynmar One of my favorite wineries in the RRV, as much for their exemplary service and focus on their customers as their great pinot, and beautiful gardens. Some of that can be hard to capture at a big event like this, but owner Lynn Fritz works hard to make sure everyone who graces his doorstep has a quality experience.

Thomas George It has been awhile since I visited Thomas George when I discovered it a year ago. (Are the caves done yet?) Great pinot! And a very friendly staff.

Windsor Oaks Generally open for select events, this is one of your chances to visit, taste their wines.

Woodenhead Newer winery, I discovered a year ago. Great small producers of pinot, syrah, zin.

Downtown Healdsburg

Downtown Wines: Hobo and Branham: Head to Downtown Wines, right off the Healdsburg Square to taste the great wines of Kenny and Lynn of Hobo, Folk Machine, and Gary Branham. (Wonder if Kenny and Lynn will bring  their newest future wine maker – Lynn gave birth to her 2nd daughter, Christmas week.) If it’s not too busy, take time to talk to Kenny, he is great guy, easy going, and very knowledgeable. Tell him hi from William. You won’t be thrown out. (I think.)

Holdredge: I wrote last week about the Hudson Wineries joining the wine road. You can park it here and make a full day. Make sure you go around the back and visit Holdredge, an excellent small Pinot producer.

Longboard: Surfs up! Check out this fun winery, with a love for surfing and wine, off the edge of Healdsburg..

Topel: Donnis Topel is a great lady, passionate about wine, food, and dogs, and produces a dog calendar each year for Healdsburg Shelter fundraiser. My (rescued) Aussie, Flash,  is Mr. September this year. Her Birdsong, white Rhone blend, is one of my faves. If you see Donnis, wish her well from me.

Dry Creek Valley (DCV)

AmistaFriendly service, great wines, nice tasting room. I am overdue for a re-visit.

Bella – Bella has quite the growing following. They hold great events during the summer, and their wine caves are always a hit. Expect crowds, go early.

Dutcher Crossing Boisterous owner Deb doesn’t send me as much Facebook love since I went back to work; she works tirelessly often seven days a week connecting with her customers, whom love her. Deb, and her staff here greets their regulars by name, and wine club events feel more like a big family gathering. Stop by for a variety of great wines, and usually a fun, outgoing group of people.

Frick – I met Bill Frick this summer at Zintopia. A one man small winery, I immediately liked Bill, and his wines. In a world of extracted new world wines, he produces interesting varietals, old world style, including cinsaut, grenache, counoise, grenache blanc. Sunday will be my first visit to the Winery, only open weekends.

Fritz – I made my first stop there last month, dropping in on the Crab feed, club event. Small cozy winery, with warm people, good service. A little off the beaten path, at the end of Dry Creek, worth a stop.

Kokomo This small, newer winery was another great discovery of 2009. Great wines, good people, and dog lovers to boot!

Michel-Schlumberger I re-aquainted myself with M-S this year after years of absence. Always a class act, and a beautiful property. As a extra treat this year in addition to food pairings with their great wines, be entertained by Olympic Stars. (I want to see ‘Tonya Harding’ and the ‘Jamaican Bobsled team’ myself.) My part time blog editor, Deb is pouring on Sunday. (I have been too busy to use her recently, if you can’t tell from my writing lately, usually hammered out in wee hours.)) Say hi to her and tell her you are a blog fan.

Mounts: One of my favorite wine families in Dry Creek, 4 generations of down to earth Wine Growers in DCV, who expanded into making small lots of wine 5 years ago. Its a passion for David, and he makes great zin, petite syrah, syrah, cab, and his special, small production grenache. Give Lana a hug from me. Stick to a handshake with David.

PrestonEvery visit I make to Preston, the more I love it. Small, quirky, charming, quasi French. Interesting Rhone varietals, which don’t seem to last long once released, so buy one if you like it I learned.  No buses!

QuiviraA leader in DCV in biodynamics, Quivira’s grounds are beautiful, their staff warm, and they make some great, interesting wines, especially their Rhone varietals.

UntiLove their wines, this will be my first time visiting. Lots of buzz about Unti, don’t know why its taken me so long to get here. (I mean there only 160 member wineries, what a slacker.)

Santa Rosa

D’Argenzio – I visited this gem for the first time last weekend. They have been at their present location for over 16 years, yet below radar of many, yet has a great local following. (Haven’t done a blog article yet, but my Yelp review is here.)

Siduri – normally open for tasting by appointment, and a few select events, if you call yourself a Pinot lover, and you haven’t been here, you may have your Pinot-phile card revoked.

Alexander Valley & Geyserville

Hanna (2 locales) – Hanna has two tasting rooms, one off Hwy 128, and one off Occidental Road.  Both are featuring food and wine pairings, library releases, and a Flashback to the 50’s with poodle skirts and Elvis impersonator. I hope to stop by this locale for the first time.

Stryker Sonoma: Great views, awesome wines, enthusiastic people, this is on my Sunday list. Brian (hospitality, marketing) is a great guy, tell him I said hey.

Terroirs: this warm, elegant tasting room is a great stop in downtown Geyserville, and pours wines from a select number of very small wineries who don’t have their own tasting room.

Trione: Rich in history, passionate about wine, this is a must stop in Geyserville. Food and wine pairings (love their Syrah!), and Hog Island Oysters to boot. Say hi to Jess for me, the Queen of Geyserville and active Social Networker. Actually I will see her Sunday, but tell her Sonoma William sent ya.

Still here? Thanks for reading all the way through. My final two pieces will be my personal itinerary for the weekend, and an article on more tips on planning, tasting. Your comments are always welcome.

Simple Hedonisms is a labor of love, that makes no money. (Nor is intended to.) If  you enjoy the articles, I’d ask you sign up in  the top right for email updates. No spam, never shared, you simply get an email when a new article is published, with the title.


Question of the Week – Winery Recommendations for Winter Wineland event

I hope everyone’s new decade is off to a good start, and less frenzied than mine!

This week’s question of the week is:

If you were steering a visitor during the Winter Wineland coming up in a few weeks, what wineries would you urge them to visit?

This is a great question, one that I will answer in a few different posts. But first, for the uninitiated, what is the Winter Wineland?

This is an annual event, hosted by the Wine Road, Northern Sonoma County. I have long sung the praises of this marketing organization, which represents 150+ wineries, in the appellations (wine regions) of Russian River, Alexander Valley, Green Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.  I will write a follow-on article with tips to maximize enjoyment of this event, for now I refer to my posting on the last event, Wine And Food Affair, which still apply.

With over 120 wineries participating, there are any number of ways to decide where to go; by geography, by wine type, by food offerings, by wineries not open to public normal, by your normal favorites.Are you going for 1 day, or both? Generally, 4-5 in a day is about what you can expect to experience and enjoy, unless you are jamming through, spitting, and hitting denser clusters of wineries. Wine and wine country is to be enjoyed, and leisurely, go for quality of experience, not quantity.

As a rule of thumb, the first day of an event is ‘usually’ the busiest, and the mid afternoon on times are the craziest. Plan your stops accordingly, and make popular places your first, and lesser known ones perhaps later. Some wineries and their experience will resonate with you and make you sing like a bird, others may not make you all warm and fuzzy. I think  it’s a good idea to save a winery you know will be a good experience to finish on, to end your day on a high note.

I highly recommend you print out and read the detailed (11 page) list of participating Wineries, and what they are offering.  Live music, food pairings, library wines: each winery has unique offers.

This years Winter Wineland has a record number of participants (kudos to the wineries for solidarity.) I think it always good to visit some of the new participants to encourage them, especially if they are new to you. But don’t forget your favorites and the steadfast regular attendees.

I certainly have my own favorites wineries: for this posting I am going to highlight some of the new member wineries, many I have not yet explored. In a subsequent post, I will write about some of my favorites, and my planned itinerary. (Day 2 is mapped out, Day 1 still in progress.)

  • D’Argenzio – this new member winery, is in Santa Rosa, and is an Italian family offer Italian varietals not commonly produced in this area, including Sangiovese, Muscato Canelli and Rossat, being tasted at a special event this Saturday. They also source and crush traditional Sonoma varietla like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, etc.
  • Robert Rue – new member winery, in Fulton. A family of Growers now also turned small wine producer –  Currently offering a 2005 and 2006 Russian River Zin. < 800 cases, old Vine Zins. Be among the first to visit Bob and Carlene Rue’s “just opened” Tasting Room. Taste award-winning Zinfandels paired with Mushroom Soup prepared by winery chef Kathy Bradley, and hand-made truffles by Gandolf’s Fine Chocolates.
  • Souverainnew member winery. Their gorgeous Cloverdale property is offering historic Asti Tours at 11:30 am,
    1:00 pm and 2:30 pm
  • New Members Hart’s Desire, J. Keverson, and the Hudson Street Wineries, visit 8+ wineries all side by side, right off downtown Healdsburg. Hart’s is offering a Mediterranean Lamb Stew that will pair wonderfully with their Red wine selections. (good Pinot!) (Make sure you go around and see Holdredge too. ) J. Keverson is offering a Chipotle-Squash Soup with Fresh
    Rosemary and Toasted Pumpkin 2006 Hales Zinfandel.
  • Freestone Vineyards – a little off the beaten track, this new member and newer winery has a comfortable home like tasting room, and makes great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Lounge around the fire, and enjoy!

Haven’t bought your tickets yet! $40 for two days of wine tasting and food pairings! Advance ticket sales end Jan 11th, and prices go up to $50 for the weekend, so get them soon.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to post any questions or comments. If you enjoy Simple Hedonisms, sign up for (secure, private) email notifications of new posts, in the top right, so you never miss a post!

Nov 14-15th 2009 Wine Country Events

Apologies for the bit of ‘radio silence’ since the last blog Post. The new job has been exciting, and consuming.

I just returned from our big trade event of the year, with a frenetic pace of meetings from 7 a.m. to Midnight+ Sun-Thursday – so I am looking forward to this weekend’s fun!

As events thin out, I will work on better weekly coverage on not just West Sonoma, but Napa, Mendocino, Sonoma Valley etc.

Saturday Nov 14th

Merlove DVD signing at V. Sattui Winery, St Helena:

Merlove  Producer/Director Rudolf N. McClain  will be on hand to sign copies in the Tasting Room at V. Sattui Winery on November 14 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Merlove is a documentary celebrating Merlot wine in response to the movie Sideways.merlove

The winery is located at 1111 White Lane off Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. The DVD will be available for sale. The event is free and open to the public; no reservations are necessary. Adjoining McClain’s spot ‘signing’ the DVDs, the winery will be offering a free tasting of the winery’s two Merlots, the 2006 Henry Ranch and 2006 Napa Valley.

When Pigs Fly…….They Fly To Michel Schlumberger this Saturday


pigsflyPouring futures of Cochon Sauvages Zinfandel (Wild Pig Zin) and our immensely popular Coteaux Savage.  A very limited number of cases of these futures will be available for purchase at this party.  The roast pig and all of the accoutrements will make this a most memorable day.

As the story goes, Jacques Schlumberger always said that Michel-Schlumberger is a ‘Bordeaux house in a sea of Zinfandel’ here in Dry Creek Valley, and that he’d make another Zinfandel ‘when pigs fly’.  Well, as the label indicates, pigs are flying (!) — at least for a handful of those lucky enough to get a hold of the few cases of Zinfandel we do handcraft.  Our fabulous co-fermented blend of Syrah (red) and Viognier (white), Coteaux Savage is an extremely limited production wine that will sell out quickly.

Join winemaker, Mike Brunson, proprietor Jacques Schlumberger and the team for Wild Pig prizes, games and surprises!

Price $40 pp Buy your ticket by calling 707.433.7427. – this event has sold out every year.

Arrowood Vineyards & Winery, Glen Ellen:

Arrowood Vineyards & Winery will host an artist reception featuring the work of Karen Ingals, “Land, Trees, Vines.” What better way to enjoy friends during the holidays, but to stop in and enjoy Karens work while sampling their highly allocated new release, 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Rosso Vineyard along with their 2007 Chardonnay, Rserve Spciale and 2007 White Riesling, Select Late Harvest, Saralee’s Vineyard which received 92 points – Wine Advocate – accompanied with small bites, a warm fire and our breathtaking view of Sonoma Valley. Arrowood Winery is charging $10.00 per person, please pay at the winery.

Located on a hillside just outside the town of Glen Ellen, overlooking the Sonoma Valley, Arrowood Winery is the real life dream of Richard Arrowood and his wife and partner, Alis Demers Arrowood. Completed in 1987, the winery is modeled after a New England farmhouse. With its winemaking facilities hidden from view, the building sits in perfect harmony with the surrounding countryside.

12:00 PM start time.

Artisano – Wine, Food, Art. Geyserville

This event especially caught the eye of Simple Hedonisms.

Artisano is a celebration of small production, locally handcrafted wine, food and art and the people who produce it.  It takes place in Geyserville, CA , the heart of Sonoma County’s Wine Country.artisano

Discover local artisan ultra-premium wines rarely available to the general public… Enjoy small plates from well known restaurants featuring locally raised meat and produce… Sample artisan cheeses, charcuterie, chocolates, etc from gourmet artisan food producers… Browse and purchase paintings, ceramics, fused glass, sculptures, other original works of art from several of the region’s premier artists… Enjoy chef demonstrations and book signings with local celebrity chefs… Participate in a live and silent auction including rare, hard to find lots of artisan wines and incredible destination vacation trips… Dance to fabulous live music.Fee: $75 Advance/$90 At the GateTime: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Phone Number: (707) 894.8500

Benefitting Slow Food Sonoma County’s School Garden Project

Lynmar Estate Wine Club Event, Sebastopol

Another fabulous evening of food at wine at one of Russian River’s spectacular wineries. Event is host for wine club members, but I believe non club members can attend for a slightly higher price. Best to check if space is available.

Wine Club Pick Up Party in 2009, which will include a very special performance by piano player Bob Milne.

Time: 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Please respect the starting time and arrive promptly at 6 pm. Food will be served prior to the piano concert (the piano concert is scheduled for 6:45 pm-7:45 pm).
Location: Lynmar Estate Tasting Room – Get Directions
Cost: $45 each for club members and guests | Connoisseur and Collector members receive two complimentary tickets.

Mounts Winery pour in @ Que Syrah Wine Bar, San Fran

mountsOne of my fave Dry Creek Valley small family wineries.

Bay area friends, we are coming to pour for you at Que Syrah Wine Bar this Saturday from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm.  Stop by for a visit and taste through five of our new releases.

Que Syrah is located at 230 W Portal Avenue – San Francisco.

$15 pp or $10 pp for our Club Members!

Polenta Dinner at Seghesio Family Vineyards, Healdsburg

If you have never had a wine & food pairing at Seghesio – you are missing out. These guys should open a restaurant, I’d eat there every weekend!

Celebration, Food & Wine Education: Ed Seghesio invites you to a family dinner featuring his chicken & sausage polenta served with our newly released 2007 Sangiovese and 2006 Home Ranch Petite Sirah. Ed will share recipes and anecdotes before we head down to the cellar for a traditional Italian dessert. Please join us! RSVP by Nov 2nd. 14730 Grove Street, Healdsburg
Fee: $55/$40 Centennial Club Time: Seatings at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. & 8 p.m. Phone Number: (707) 433.3579 x109

Thats the wrap-up of the events that caught my eye. Lots more next weekend. Feel free to post in comments of other events this weekend I didn’t note that catch your eye.


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.


The Annual Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch

Saturday, September 5, 2009
MacMurray Ranch, Healdsburg

The  Annual Showcase Taste of Sonoma was a culinary, hedonistic heaven, and one of the best organized food/wine events I have ever attended. (and I have attended a LOT.) This event is part of series of Sonoma County activities hosted all weekend.

To start, it’s hosted at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch a venue only open for special events. Hidden from the road, nestled amongst hills, is an amazing valley with gorgeous views. It’s a picture perfect post card-like vista of Sonoma County.
sonomawine country weekend2
It’s amazing how an event with 2,400 attendees, 120 wineries, and 60 chefs can feel so unhurried and un-crowded. Huge kudos to the organizers for their execution.

I loved the layout. Food and wine was organized into four main tents, one for each of the primary Sonoma regions: Dry Creek, Russian River , Sonoma Valley, and Alexander Valley. Since I live in the area and explore here often, I was more inclined to focus on Sonoma Valley , since it’s an area I get to less. Of course I went through all four tents. Repeatedly. Started with whites….made the rounds, paired with food. Next, Pinots. Rinse repeat. Then on to bigger reds, and I focused on less common varietals.

If you are a Signature Visa cardholder (like my United Visa) not only was the event discounted $50, you were also treated like royalty with a special area and gift. This event was a bargain at $95. (anyone who lives/visits Sonoma should have one for the winery bennies – click the link for details.)

Gloria Ferrer Bubble Lounge: REALLY nice setup area, right at the entry, complete with comfy What better way to start with bubbles and food pairings?! Gloria Ferrer was a class act as always, with three different bubble offers and food pairings. Pizza Politana had an INCREDIBLE thin crust fig pizza that was to die for, and paired well with their Royal Cuvee. Gloria Ferrer’s new Va Da Vi cuvee has been a smash hit for them. Production is currently ramping up, and is also just now hitting some retail venues. Its Cuvee Club pickup month, so looking forward to another visit soon!

There were also a number of seminars, chef contests, and other interesting activities if you could break away from eating and imbibing. tasteof sonoma chef

To keep up with Social Networking, there were ten laptops for patrons to update Facebook, Twitter, Snooth, and also to upload pics. For the technically challenged, friendly assistance was on hand. This turned out to be a godsend for any AT&T user, as there was almost no signal anywhere, and my iPhone was demoted to picture taking.

I was somewhat surprised to see people walking around with beer(!). Stella Artois was pouring Stella, Hoegaarden, and Leffe (the latter two being great beers) served in a free proper-style Belgian glass, with logo.

I will make a quick mention for some special things that caught my eye. My apologies to the many great others I didn’t get to. It may have been that I just got too carried away enjoying the event to take anymore notes.

– Autumn Barber at Aioli Deli/Catering did a delicious pulled pork slider with slaw. As a six year resident
of the Carolina’s, this was noteworthy stuff. Go Aioli!
Epicurean Connection: Sheana again had great food, and a gelato people where hunting everywhere, and a line always in queue
– Hopmonk Tavern had a yummy lamb bite with pureed squash.
Many others as well. Everything I sampled was creative and delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t get to taste the fried chicken from Susan/Jeff Mall’s Zin Restaurant. The line was always long and I forgot to circle for the third time. (But I frequent Zin regularly, so I don’t feel too deprived.)

Again, a dizzying array of choices. I tried to stay away from usual faves, and explore new. I was pleased that I was usually able to engage in meaningful dialogue. Its always great to meet owners, wine makers, and other knowledgeable staff, and I enjoyed the chats almost as much as the wine.

Spann Vineyards: I made up for my faux pas of not tasting Spann at the Family Winery event, and was pleased to meet Peter in person. The chard/viogner blend was a hit on my palette, all fruit, great balance…will be coming soon to purchase. The Mo Jo Super Tuscan red blend was also great…but then I am a sucker for well- made Sangiovese. I wish I could attend Spann’s tasting event Sept 12th, but that Saturday is already quadruple booked. Do treat yourself if you can make it.

VJB Cellars: great Italian varietals: Barbera, Sangiovese. Well made, neutral oak, all fruit, palette pleasers. They also make (weren’t pouring) a Montipulciano. Guess I will be making a visit soon.

Soujorn Cellars: Three great Pinot offers, but hands down the Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast. They were just awarded a 95 score by the Pinot Report, was a crowd pleaser, and my Pinot pick of the day. (Amongst many stunning choices.) This Pinot is under allocation, only three per purchaser – hurry!

I, of course, did stop for quick tastes of some of my usual Russian River and Dry Creek favorites that were there (some weren’t) including Kokomo, Acorn, Lynmar, Thomas George, and more…

I was thinking this morning on how fortunate I am to live in such beauty and great culture. To be surrounded by warm, fun people who love life is a blessing. Kudos to Signature Visa for pulling this together and to share with so many people the jewel that is Sonoma County is.

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