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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.

Thanksgiving Weekend Wine Country Events

Happy Black Friday from Wine Country

Apologies for not publishing this last night as planned, I was wore out after a great day of food and wine, and practicing what I preach: Simple Hedonisms. I also have had my Twitter account hacked 2x the last two days, wasting a lot of time trying to individually apologize. I will NEVER send out SPAM.

In addition to this weekly Post (targeted for Thursdays) the Calendar page of this blog, and my events Tab on FaceBook are resources as well. (Best to check both, as some items exist only on one.)

There is a plethora of events this weekend, with many wineries hosting open houses, special events. It will take to long to highlight them all here, some (by no means all) are listed on my calendar.

Other good resources for events: The Juice, and usually add items from these (and other sources) for my calendar, but with too many open houses for me to list, I’d scan these too. And of course just call your fave wineries and see what they are offering.

Buy Wine – Black Friday is Red (or White) Friday!

Wineries are offering incredible deals right now, this is a great chance to stock up, as well as support your local wineries. I have picked up 6 cases this last week of great wines at prices that just couldn’t be ignored. For Holiday gifts, take advantage of wineries offering free/inexpensive shipping – thats as much as $50 right there. I overflowed my two wine cellars (120 and 40 bottle) and further stimulated the economy with a new Vinotemp 160, which I am waiting for delivery as we speak. Scouring the Net, I found this on sale, with free shipping ($300+), this is a killer deal for a quality cellar, and gives me some much needed expansion space!

Heart of Sonoma Valley – 26th Annual Holiday Open Housesonoma holiday

Today and tomorrow,  November 27 & 28.  Join over twenty wineries throughout the heart of Sonoma Valley for this annual celebration and enjoy wine tastings, meet winemakers, mingle in the caves & cellars, stock up on your favorite wines for the holidays, pick up holiday gifts for your friends & family and relish in wine country holiday cheer!

I am excited about this event, as I wrote last week, I don’t get down to the ‘Valley’ that much. This passport event is a steal, only $30 for two days.

Participating Wineries: Adler Fels Winery, Audelssa Estate Winery, Benziger Family Winery, Chateau St. Jean, Deerfield Ranch Winery, Enkidu Wines, Eric Ross Winery, Family Wineries, Imagery Estate Winery, Kaz Vineyard & Winery, Kenwood Vineyards, Kunde Family Estate, Landmark Vineyards, Ledson Winery & Vineyards, Little Vineyards, Loxton Cellars, Mayo Family Winery, Muscardini Cellars/Ty Caton Vineyards, Paradise Ridge Winery, St. Francis Winery, VJB Vineyards & Cellars, Valley of the Moon Winery and Wellington Vineyards.

As I have encouraged, spend a few minutes on the website, map out a plan based on interest in varietals, producers, before you head out. And consider carrying around a spitcup, to maximize your tasting experience. (Unless a day of partying is more of what you are after, just bring your DD along!))

Other Interesting Events:

Downtown Healdsburg Holiday Party: Today, 5-9 p.m.

CarolersThe Christmas season in Healdsburg is a wonderful way to experience the joys of the holidays in a small town. Even though Healdsburg has become a chic visitor destination, there is still a small town charm here that always shows itself off best at this time of year.

There are so many ways to experience the Christmas season in Healdsburg and enjoy our hospitality. There are winery open houses, the Victorian Inns tour and four days of the Strolling Dine Around. The holiday events start on November 27 with Healdsburg’s Annual Downtown Holiday Party! This shopping celebration shows off an eclectic mix of shops with refreshments, holiday cheer, music and horse-drawn carriage rides.

For the children there is Santa Saturday, which starts with a ‘Toys for Tots’ drive (please bring unwrapped gifts) and continues with Santa visits, games and family fun.

The restaurants will show off their best holiday dishes,  and the wineries and shops sparkle with holiday lights. Full details, and a map and timetable are here.

Santa Rosa Railroad Square:


Friday November 27th – Check out both the Courthouse Square Merchant Open House from 12-5 pm today and the  Santa Rosa Downtown Tree Lighting from 5-730. Lots of great local shop specials, and fun for the whole family. Click on the links for full details.

Wine Sale and Holiday Open House at Acorn Winery – Saturday Nov 28th, 11-4GrapeGreenLeaf

Join  Betsy & Bill Nachbaur of Acorn Winery, for a special open house. This is a special treat, Acorn is a small family producer, with less than 3,000 cases a year, normally open by appointment. Great people, wine, hospitality. If that’s not enticement enough Zin Restaurant  is catering, and offering: Autumn Vegtable Hash Cake with Zin Sausage & Eastside Farm Pepper Jelly, AND Holiday Biscotti with Chocolate and Dried Cranberries. Also, Acorn will be pouring (and selling) some delicious 2001 Acorn wines.

Holiday Open House at Kendall Jackson:

Ring in the Holidays at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center with a Reception, Wine Tasting & Hors d’oeuvres. Details. 11-4 pm, Friday

Also note at the K-J Wine Center: Art Show & Sale: November 28th – 30th, 10 am – 5 pm

  • Taste limited release wines while shopping for holiday gifts, and view artwork by local artists
  • Details

Not wine country related – but next week for your Portland Dwellers, don’t miss the very fun Holiday Ale Festival, in Pioneer Square. This is a great event, that runs next Wednesday through Saturday, that I unfortunately have to miss it this year as I head out Tuesday for business in N.C.

With that, I am off to re-organize my collection, and head out to some open houses!

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