Posts Tagged ‘Events’

Winter Wineland: Part 3 of 4: Tools and Tips to plan your Days

It’s almost here! You can feel the excitement in the Social Networking circles of Facebook and Twitter, amongst the wine people. Tickets have been flying off the shelf, Beth Costa, Executive Director of the Wine Road reports.

In case you just emerged from a Rip Van Winkle like sleep, we are talking about this weekend’s wrist-banded tasting event, the Winter Wineland. Over 120 wineries, some only open for events and appointments, are offering special wine and food pairings, and a variety of entertainment, and wine specials. Online ticket sales are now closed, but you can purchase them at the door of any winery: At the door prices will be $50 Weekend, $40 Sunday Only, $10 for Designated Drivers.

Ok, 120+ wineries, 5 hours each day. HOW does one pick where to go? Some turn this into a marathon event to see how many they can fit in one day; others like to visit their favorites, and others  like to try all new places. My personal preference is to fit 5-7 in a full day, with a mix of old and new. (Article 4 will be my iten.)

The Wine Road web site has some GREAT tools and tips to help you. Stop looking at Twitter and read carefully:

1. The full list of wineries and their offers.

NOT all wineries participate. In yesterday’s recommended stops, why didn’t I recommend say Iron Horse, or A. Rafanelli? Both great Wine Road wineries, but not participating in this particular event. Click HERE to open the 11 page PDF of the participating wineries and their offers. Read through these and look for things new, or interesting. The Wine Road has some new members as written in my first article, so check some of those out perhaps.

2. Use the Wine Road’s great Sorting guide.

The Wine Road web site has one of the best navigation tools for its members I have seen. If you click HERE you can use the drop down menus at the top to search by Wine Type, Region, or Amenities. One of my favorite things to do is to search for wineries, under amenities, that are open by appointment only and fit in a few of those. (Acorn, Siduri, Windsor would be good examples.) Make sure you reference the list you printed out in step one to see if they are participating! On a hunt for a new Pinot or Cab? Sort by varietal.

3. Plot them on the Wine Road’s great Maps

Ok, so you have marked off a bunch of stuff. Lets start to plot them on a map. If you are one of those marathon tasters, you don’t want stop one to be deep in Forestville, and stop two to be at the top of Geyserville. You can start first HERE at the main map page. This is an interactive map for each of the regions, and a special section for Healdsburg. Click on one of these and you enter into a detailed map for that appellation. This map is great because all of the member wineries are on it, and you can click on a winery, to launch to their own website.

During this stage of final planning, this is one of those times I actually (rare) prefer paper. If you don’t have one of their maps (get the new one, lots of new members!) you can look HERE online at the large overview map and save it as a PDF,  which is what I’d recommend.

4. Support Members Old and New

There is often a buzz to try all the new wineries and members. I’d like to also recognize, and ask you support member wineries who have been supporting Wineland for over 18 years. Their ongoing support has been the backbone that helps everyone, and consumers and new wineries benefit from their foundation.

  • Pedroncelli
  • Foppiano
  • Geyser Peak
  • Martinelli
  • Field Stone
  • Alexander Valley Vineyards
  • Sausal
  • Preston

Other Tips in General

I have a number of suggestions from the Wine and Food Affair event article.  All of these are still relevant – rather than repeat them all, take a quick read.  The Wine Road Wine 101 section has lots of great educational reading, including a section on Wine tasting, all relevant, helpful info.

Other suggestions:


One of the common complaints of people who avoid multi-winery events, is wineries become too packed and you can’t experience it fully.

Its true, you likely aren’t going to get to engage the winemaker in a 30 minute passionate discussion of toasting techniques for barrels, this isn’t the time to wine geek if its busy. But generally the first hour or so is slow, then picks up, so start promptly at 11 at one that most interests you. Visit some off the beaten path. If you don’t like crowds, don’t hit the  denser concentrations of wineries, like Healdsburg, at the Peak of the day.

Drink Responsibly

Learning to use a spit cup that I carry around was one of the biggest improvements in my wine tasting experience. If you are serious about wine tasting and education, learn it. (I just don’t personally care for spitting into a bucket, especially at a busy event.) Its also ok, and recommended, to dump your taste if you don’t want to finish it. After the equivalant of less than 2 glasses of wine, 4-8 tastes, your palette and sensory evaluation abilities are diminished, at this point you are drinking, not tasting. And thats ok if thats what you want, and you have a driver. Just be cognizant. wrist banded events are meant to be fun, but not wild parties.

Move Over

Space at the tasting bar, isn’t your personal manifest destiny. Share the space. Stand in columns, hug your loved one, maximize space so all can get their pour. Groups sprawled all over the bar like they own it are a big pet peeve.

Stock Up

This is a great chance to stock up on wines not sold retail, as well as take advantage  of special offers many will have. If you really like something, buy it! Wineries aren’t charities, and these events cost them. Its also a great way to re-live the experience later when you open the bottle.

Hope you found these tips useful – 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.


Wine Country Events Dec 4-6 – Sonoma and Napa Counties

Its a busy weekend again, despite no big ‘passport’ events for Sonoma County this weekend (although there is a mini one in Russian River for those ‘on the list’ .) There is never a dull moment though in Sonoma County, here are some of the many options to enjoy that caught Simple Hedonisms attention:There is never a dull moment though in Sonoma County, here are some of the many options to enjoy that caught Simple Hedonisms attention:

There are TWO passport events though in Napa, in Rutherford and Calistoga, see below.

Friday Dec 4

Vine Tastings – Meet The Winemaker 7 p.m.vinetastings

My favorite new place to eat in Windsor, with a great new chef,  is hosting meet Jennifer Wall the winemaker for J Lynne Wines.

They will have new chef William Oliver create scrumptious appetizers to pair with her wines.  Please RSVP in advance as there is limited seating.

Vine Tasting’s. 9058 Windsor Rd, Windsor, Ca 95492.  (707)620-0833

Sat Dec 5th

Pellegrini – Holiday Open House and Winter Pick-Up Event

Celebrate the Season with a Day of Wine Tasting, Holiday Shopping and Good Cheer in the Russian River Valley. Please join in ringing in the holidays at Pellegrini Family Vineyards! The Winery will be decked out for the holidays, and the Tasting Room will be filled with festive gifts and special holiday fare. A special visit from Santa will take place at 2:30 p.m. Reservations are required For any additional questions, please contact Barbara Pellegrini Rodriguez at 800-891-0244 ext. 2, or This is a fun facility, normally open by appointment only.

Hauck Cellars – Jeff Mall, Josh Silvers, Down Home: Downtown signing

Stop by Hauck Cellars on Saturday, Dec. 5 from 1-4pm. Zin Restaurant’s Jeff Mall will be there signing his cookbook, Down Home: Downtown, co-written with Josh Silvers of Syrah Bistro.

Siduri Wines – Open House

I wrote an article about Siduri Wines a few months ago. Siduri (all Pinot) and Novy (other varietals) is having their annual open house this Saturday. This is a special treat both because of the wide variety of wines they will pour, and because Siduri is normally open by appointment only. Don’t miss it!

Windsor Oaks Vineyard & Winery – Open House.

Windsor Oaks will be open to the public for wine tasting this Saturday and Sunday – normally only open 18 days a year. Come sample their handcrafted very small production wines. A $10 tasting fee applies and there is no charge for our Club members.
(Tasting fee is refundable with 2+ bottle purchase. All tastings in Riedel glasses.

Michel Schlumberger Holiday Market Bazaar

Michel Schlumberger Wine Estate, 4155 Wine Creek Road, Healdsburg, CA 11-5pm

Why not go Holiday gift shopping AND drink great wine?  This Saturday, December 5th, Michel Schlumberger features nearly a dozen local artists and craftsmen and women with great holiday gifts in our courtyard.  And what a coincidence, it is their last Wine Bench Pick Up Party with food by local chef Dan Lucia. Pouring the newly released 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Syrah.

Heidi Barrett – Winemaker Tasting 300-53o pmheidi barrett

The Wine Shop – Healdsburg, 331 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, CA

Join them this Saturday from 3:00-5:30 and meet one of the most celebrated winemakers in the world. Just back from her trip to China, Heidi will be pouring the current releases from her La Sirena label. If you ask nicely, she may even sign a bottle for you.

Sunday Dec 6th

Summit School – Stonestreet Tasting Room 1-3 pm 7111 Highway 128, Healdsburg, CA

Riedel Glassware Tasting Seminar

Discover how difverpack_sommeliersferent wine glasses enhance the flavors and aromas in wine. Friends from Riedel are joining  this class where you will have the chance to experience first hand the difference the right wine glass can make.

The tuition for this class also includes a set of four Riedel glasses.

Simple Hedonisms note: Stemware RULES!!! if you are new to wine, or don’t think stemware makes a difference, go try this class!!

Wine Club 8 at the Gate Day – 8 Russian River Wineries 11-4 pm

To help celebrate and get into the holiday spirit, 8 Russian River Wineries are mutually extended Wine Club member benefits to each other.  If you are a member of Lynmar, Dutton-Goldfield, Dutton Estate, Hanna, Iron Horse, Marimar, or Taft Street Winery,you are invited to visit each with wine club member perks for a very special day of wine, food and exclusive perks in the Russian River Valley on Sunday, December 6, from 11 am to 4 pm.

For this special day, you can visit all, enjoy some wonderful wine and food, and receive all the privileges of being a member of all 8 wine clubs for the day. Our wineries are within 3 miles of each other at the gateway to the Russian River Valley, so it’s a perfect fit for a day. (For those members too far away to join in person, each winery will offer its discount via web or phone orders on December 6th only. When ordering use the code “8 at the Gate” to receive your discount.)

There’s no charge for this fabulous event and no reservation necessary-it’s our way of sharing some holiday spirit and saying Thank You to  loyal wine club members. And, it’s a great way for you to taste and purchase wines at very good discounts, just in time for your holiday shopping. Please view the map to see the participating wineries, locations and websites

Mutt Lynch Winery – Open Sundays in December

This is a treat, as Mutt Lynch isn’t normally open, save for events.patch07_harvest_250x167

To help welcome in the holiday season, Mutt Lynch will be opening their winery doors each Sunday of this month – December 6th, 13th and 20th – from Noon to 4pm. Come canines, come humans, come all!  If you’re anywhere in the neighborhood, please made certain to swing by and enjoy a taste (or two… or three… or four!) of our wine.  We’ll have some holiday nibbles for both human and canine to make it worth your while.

And More

There are tons of other family related wine country and other events on December event page.

Napa Events

Calistoga – Winter in the Wineries, Passport Weekend

Just saw this Thursday by luck on a Twitter tweet – wish I had known earlier.

The Event: Weekend Passports, at $40 each, entitle the holder to tours at numerous wineries, wine tasting, and meeting winemakers, and exclusive special discounts by restaurants and lodging venues.

To Purchase Passports: To purchase your Winter in Wineries Passports online, please click here.


Rutherford Passport Weekend

Gah, another I just saw now. The appellation has a newsletter mailing, signed up so won’t miss again.

The Rutherford Passport Weekend is the premier consumer event sponsored by wineries residing in this historical appellation.  Experience the wineries of the Rutherford Appellation as never before. Passport Weekend allows Passport holders exclusivity to special pourings, barrel and tank tastings, paired food and wines, and conversations with the winemakers – all of which will make for a memorable time in beautiful Napa Valley.  Read about the participating wineries.

Part 2 – Sonoma Valley’s Holiday Open House & “Best of Event” – Eric Ross Winery

Part 2

(Splitting a long review into two articles is an experiment, let me know what you think. )

Tuesday’s article discussed the Heart of Sonoma Valley’s Annual Holiday Open House event, and reviewed six wineries.

The final winery review is Eric Ross, to whom I award the Simple Hedonisms “Best of Event”, something I will do going forward each event. Now in fairness, that means the best I visited, a subset of the twenty. Even a guy nicknamed the ‘Tasmanian Devil’ at work can only hit so many in one day! This in no means detracts from the many good experiences, it just shone the brightest based on not just the wine, but overall hospitality (not just to me), layout, vibe – I have written repeatedly on the importance of providing a outstanding experience in the tasting room. I observed other attendees, other pourers – the place was warm, alive, and full of happy people and good spirit.eric ross

Eric Ross Winery

As I did for the previous weekend event, I chose to finish at a winery that I felt I could rely on for a positive experience. This was actually my first visit to the winery, but I had met Eric at the Family Wine Tasting in San Francisco earlier this summer, during the Industry tasting (I was pouring as a volunteer for Mounts Family Winery.)I had sought out Eric Ross because of their Marsanne-Roussanne white blend, and ended up having a very enjoyable, detailed discussion. That intial dialog was not just about his wines, but my sabbatical, my own interests in wine and the industry, and my hobby Syrah vineyard.

Part way through the Holiday tasting, Eric came out, and to my surprise 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  years. I was fortunate enough he spent an hour with me on this busy day, 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.

By complete co-incidence my friend and fellow Wine Blogger Amanda Hagood earlier this week also did a feature piece on Eric Ross. She did a great job, so rather than re-state a lot of the same, you can read her piece here.

I did actually taste wine, although I think I chatted more!


  • His previously mentioned Marsanne-Rousanne is one of my favorite whites. The remainder of his 2007 vintage was on 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 with similar Rhone whites; Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier. 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. Amanda cracked open a bottle last night she tells me, and raved.

As a special treat, I also bought a bottle of the limited release 2007 Pinot Noir, Poule d’Or. It wasn’t being poured, but it wasn’t a big leap to trust Eric.  “Russian River Valley vineyards of Pommard Clones dominating the Dijon Clones of Pinot Noir as they come together in this Reserve Wine, only made in the years deserving an extra look.” Sold!Logo-LabelRoughsV6

What a great ending to the day. It had been a fun day of wine tasting and meeting people, but it was this final visit that was the experience that makes me glow like a bulb on a Christmas tree. I had recently dropped a wine club, as I like to rotate each year, and completed my experience by adding Eric Ross to my list.

Wine club pickup events will also give me a reason to come back to Kenwood/Glen Ellen area 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 continue to be in Social Media, and promote itself more on FaceBook, Twitter and it’s Website. It has a lot to offer.

Thanks for reading – come back tomorrow for the weekly posting of Wine Country weekend events.


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.


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.


  • 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.

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!)

Artisano – Slow Food meets Wine Country

On Saturday, September 14th, I attended a new event in North Sonoma – the first Annual Artisano.  The event was hosted by Slow artisanoFood Sonoma County, North;   a chapter of Slow Food International.  Slow Food Sonoma County engages the local community in supporting and promoting local, sustainable food and food traditions and advocating for good, clean, and fair food for all people.

Sonoma County and Slow Food fit hand in glove – we embrace food, and appreciate it as an embedded part our culture. I knew little about this event going into it, but after a very long week on the road, I was looking forward to what I hoped would be a relaxed day of food and wine, Sonoma style.

The event organizers came through, and Mother Nature assisted by providing us with a gorgeous, mid 70s sunny day. IMG_0252The event was hosted at Geyserville Inn. I was expecting it to be inside (and perhaps that was the plan in the event of inclement weather…?) but was pleased to find everything spread out across the well manicured lawn and garden areas. The layout was well done, and leisurely paced, as befits ‘Slow’ Food.

I have raved about the Signature Visa Annual Taste of Sonoma as one of the best events that I have attended. I would put Artisano right next to it, on a micro scale. In some ways I enjoyed it more – while it 1/20 of the scale of food and wine offerings, the more casual pace, smaller crowd, and very high quality food and wine providers, was exceptional. The event was a bit pricey at $75 in advance, $90 at the door. (Ten minutes after I bought mine online, I found an email with a promo code that would have saved me $20/each – the online agency was unable to help me after the fact though.) This may have contributed to keeping the event numbers lower – however, had many more attended I think the event wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.

The event  organizers did a great job seeking out wine producers who rarely show, and/or were new. The majority of the wines being poured I had never seen before, or knew little about.

The intimate size and moderate crowd made it possible to linger at many stations and talk with the wine makers, and owners. After a long sleep deprived week, I was less in ‘investigative mode’ and more in ‘enjoy’ mode, but I did take the time to chat in depth with a few.

IMG_0253Skipstone: I spent a fair amount of time with Brook Drummond, head of Marketing and P.R. as well as Andrew Levi, the wine maker. Both were very friendly, and enthusiastic about their product. Skipstone only bottles two wines: a Viognier ($40), and Oliver’s Blend, a Bordeaux style blend. They offered an amazing food pairing with each, prepared by their own chef, the only station that had both wine and food in one spot. The Viognier was great expression of the varietal, that let the fruit come through, and not over manipulated, as seems to be the trend now with California Viognier’s. Oliver’s Blend was my favorite red of the day – a testament to the quality, as I have generally become burned out on Bordeaux blends. Turns out it’s a highly allocated, $100 wine – but I picked it as my favorite before I knew the price. I was also impressed by their marketing and PR material – this is a winery that ‘gets it’, and fortunately has the back to invest in itself – which only pays dividends later.

Duxoup I had never heard of Duxoup, and was amazed to learn they have been making wine in Healdsburg for over 25 years. Owner Andrew Cutter admitted he almost never attended these events, so it was a treat. Duxoup bottles varietals you don’t find commonly – charbono, gamay noir, dolcetto, and sangiovese. These are made old world style, moderate alcohol levels, and moderately priced. Their wines have a great following and procuring some requires some live interaction with them – there is no storefront, online or brick and mortar. I am in contact to procure a mixed case, should hear back shortly. I’ll be buying most blind – but willing to take a leap of faith after meeting Andrew, and sampling the dolcetto.IMG_0251

Forth Vineyards Its hard not to like Jann Forth with her bubbly, energetic, outlook. They have a cute quote on their literature (not on their website) that starts….” 2 crazy people, 5 baby-doll sheep, 3 dogs, 4 cats, 16 free range hens…” that continues and then ends “1 huge love,, enough to share.” The Forth’s love of the area, and what they do shines through in Jann. Their website and marketing is simple, their wines are well made, and embody the spirit of Sonoma family wine making.

Kelley and Young Newer entrants to the business, I enjoyed chatting with the very hospitable co-owner, Kathleen Kelley Young. They make a great Sauvignon Blanc. Kathleen was a joy to talk to,and I hope to be able to attend the fundraiser they are hosting in their home December 13th.

Since this was a Slow Food event, I guess I should also mention some of the amazing food offerings. There was an amazing variety of creative, delectable food offerings from wonderful venues like Zazu, Zin, Rosso, Dry Creek Kitchen, Bovolo and more. As well as great breads, cheeses, and chocolate morsels from Costeaux French Bakery, Cowgirl Creamery, Delice de la Vallee, Sonoma Chocolatiers and more.

It was hard to pick a favorite out of so many. Jeff and Susan of Zin never disappoint, and I’d like to have grazed on their lamb offering a few more times. Zazu had an especially yummy bite as well. Across the board, every thing offered was well prepared, creative, and delicious. My apologies that I didn’t take more detailed notes and pictures, as I admitted above, I was enjoying simply being a consumer, and rejuvenating myself with great food, wine, and people – what I love about Sonoma so much.

IMG_0254Throughout the day there was live music and chef demonstrations. Everything was very well laid out, planned, and spread out. I slowly drifted around the grounds a few times, and was amazed that my allotted three hours had flown by! Apparently time flies, when you enjoy Slow Food…..but that’s what its all about isn’t it….taking the time from our ridiculously busy lives to enjoy the bountiful gifts that surround us – we are truly blessed as Sonoma County residents.

Hats off to the event co-ordinators – I’ll be buying tickets next year the day they go on sale.


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.


Pinot-Phile Heaven – Pinot on The River Grand Tasting

Over the last few years I have come to really appreciate the complexity of a well made Pinot Noir. I have long been a fan of Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinots, and have enjoyed the evolution of Pinot Noir in California, especially now that my backyard is the Russian River Valley,  recognized world wide as a premium Pinot producer.

The evolution in the quality of California Pinot Noir is still somewhat below the radar of the average wine consumer. This isn’t surprising; many of the highest rated Pinot houses do very small lots, and often sell only via allocation.  And when a small producer gets a Wine Spectator or Robert Parker 90s rating, their wines can gain cult status, and you many never even see a bottle exported out of state.

Pinot on The River Grand tastingThe weekend of October 23-25, 2009, Pinot Report hosted Pinot on the River, a series of dinners, seminars, and tastings, culminating with the Grand Tasting on October 25th, hosted at Rodney Strong.  Over 100 Pinot Noir producers, many very small, poured their velvety libations.

I always enjoy these walk around tastings, and my immersion in local industry networking and wine studies this year, made this one even more enjoyable. These events are more engaging and rewarding now, as I know more people in the industry, and have become a more passionate consumer, hobbyist, volunteer, and social media advocate.

Red spit cup in hand (carried in, and now stocked in my FJ Cruiser), along with a notepad and camera, I dove right in with one of my blog editors and friends, who also shares a passion for pinot (although not necessarily the same palate and preferences).

There were many great Pinot producers here, and it was impossible to taste everything offered. So, for those producers with which I am already well acquainted (and already a big fan), such as C. Donatiello, I only stopped by their tables briefly. Kudos to C. Donatiello (and others who followed suit) for coming out in a show of force.  Pouring for C. Donatiello was both Chris Donatiello himself, and Webster Marquez, the winemaker. They were both busy, and I only got to say a quick hello late in the day, but not before I got a pour of their 2007 Maddie’s Pinot, which is always a treat. Much of my day was focused on tasting as many of the new and small pinot producers, as well as the many that attended from out of the area, like those who trekked up from Central California and the Santa Barbara area. A few of my other Pinot favorites such as Lynmar, were not in attendance.

I will comment on a few of my favorites, but first a quick overview on the event logistics.  Overall, I felt the event was well coordinated.  Some 800+ people attended, and fit into a space that wasn’t nearly as sprawling as the MacMurray Ranch, the site for the Taste of Sonoma — our finest local event, in my opinion.Pinot on The River

The Rodney Strong staff was very hospitable, and on their game. For the most part, especially earlier in the day, it rarely felt cramped, or rushed, and I enjoyed being able to have a meaningful dialog with the pourer, which for many tables, was the owner and/or winemaker – which I truly enjoy, as I can both wine geek, as well as discuss business and marketing aspects.

The only flaw in the event was a lack shade for some tables. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the temperature ended up in the high 70s.  For those tables in the sun, it got to be quite warm as the afternoon wore on.  As a result, many wines were poured at elevated temperatures even though such, high end red varietals need to be served well below that ambient air temperature to show their true expression. A great pinot noir served a tad warm can lose some of its subtle, velvet mouth feel, and taste more hot (alcohol) on the finish, transforming the experience from an eye-rolling sensory pleasure, to a merely so-so experience.  Some tables diligently worked ice baths, rotating bottles in and out, so as to not let them get too cold, either (Roessler, in particular, did a noteworthy job here).

Personally, I’d also have liked to see some more food offerings worked in. The bbq was great, and there was a cheese sampling station I never made it too, but a few chefs offering small pairings would have been appreciated, and I’d have forked out a few dollars.

I did well making the rounds and sampled many of the producers, no small feat, given that some poured as many as five different Pinots Here are some of my favorites. No slight is intended to any producer not mentioned — I only got to about half of the 100, and skipped many of my already faves in order to discover something new.

Tandem :

– 2006 Sangiacomo Pinot noir, 656 cases.  Great mouth feel, velvet body.

– 2007 Manchester Ridge (not on website). Much bigger fruit, appealing to those who like that style over Burgundian.


2007 Russian River Valley, 900 cases.  A delicate, lighter Pinot, Burgundian style

Three Sticks Winery

2006 Durell Vineyards, 325 cases

Nicholson Ranch

I am a fan of this Carneros Pinot producer and don’t get there much, so I stopped to sample.  Their reserve 2007 Cactus Hill shone brightest amongst its gems.


2007 Russian River Pinot – Big fruit, nice mouth feel, decently priced at $36

Freeman Winery

– 2007 Russian River Valley – dark in color, big fruit, hint of tannins, big pinot. $42

– 2007 Keefer Ranch – fruit forward, easy to drink, nice mouth feel. $48. [ This wine was one of my editor’s favorites of the day, who consistently tended to favor the fruit-forward style of Pinots of several producers who sourced fruit from the Keefer Ranch vineyard.]

Black Kite

2007 Redwood’s Edge

My dialog with Black Kite  owners was also noteworthy for their savvy marketing and PR investments. Please see later this week for a follow-up article.


All and all a great event, and a great day. (More event pictures can be found here.) But then how can a day filled with amazing Pinot, chatting with winemakers and owners, surrounded by people who love wine, NOT be a great day. Cheers!

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