Category Archives: Sustainable

The Ultimate Wine Weekend – Your Way!

76Imagine Labor Day weekend in Wine Country with Jean-Charles Boisset (DeLoach Winery, Buena Vista Winery) ; Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane (Benovia Winery); or James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalists Mark and Terri Stark (5 Sonoma County Restaurants – Willi’s Wine Bar, Stark’s Steak & Seafood and Monti’s in Santa Rosa, and Willi’s Seafood and Bravas Bar de Tapas in Healdsburg).  These entrepreneurs are serving as honorary chairs for one of the most decadent weeken23ds of culinary and wine events, along with 200 or so of their favorite chefs, winegrowers, and winemakers in Sonoma County – Sonoma Wine County Weekend.

Sonoma County chefs have access to the seasonal abundance of the most fertile foodshed anywhere in the world, often grown and provided by small, local family farms – combine this with world-class wines and you have an event perfect for oenophiles and foodies alike!   Plan a weekend that exactly suits your fantasy from intimate luncheons or dinners to the exciting flagship auction at Chateau St. Jean with lots of exciting events inbetween.

BobbyI slide into the weekend slowly with an intimate winemaker luncheon on Friday – a fabulous way to meet with the owners and winemakers while you sample their current releases.  These are world class wines from the most diverse wine region in the world and the wineries pair them with seasonal local foods prepared by experienced chefs to perfectly highlight our local bounty.  These exemplary culinary and wine luncheons are relaxed and casual and usually hosted in the vineyards or wineries from which the wines are created.

At NightBut Sonoma Starlight dinner and dancing really gets weekend moving as Francis Ford Coppola’s team hosts an extravaganza – dine, drink and dance under the stars poolside Friday night at this iconic Sonoma County winery. Toast the start of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend at the sparkling wine reception, followed by a bountiful array of local, seasonal cuisine poolside. Over 25 local wineries will be on hand to share their finest Sonoma County wines, so you can create infinite perfect pairings for your favorite Sonoma County varietals and wines al fresco.

On Saturday, Kate MacMurray, daughter of Hollywood stars Fred MacMurray and June Haver, hosts guests at the breathtaking MacMurrary Estate Vineyards – once a gentlemen’s cattle ranch and now a premier estate vineyard for the Gallo Family of WiMacMurraynes.  This is a culinary and wine immersion into the culture of Sonoma County with a combination of chefs, winegrowers, and winemakers that is unequalled in Sonoma County – Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Estate Vineyards. Sip wines from more than 200 wineries pouring thousands of wines, and over 60 local chefs whipping up divine pairings in a once-in-a-lifetime experience for oenophiles and foodies alike. But it doesn’t stop there – cooking demonstrations throughout the day, farm-to-table marketplace, food & wine pairings with the pros, blind wine-tasting, reserve tasting, bubble room, sommelier lead tours, the crushpad (experience our harvest), and wine tours & talks. Many of these events sell out, so get yours tickets early – but the nice part is, you can customize your day to suit you own unique tastes and interests with a little or a lot.  On Saturday night you can relax at a winemakers dinner with local delicacies and wines that never disappoint.

Sonoma Harvest Auction 2On Sunday is the flagship event of this ultimate wine weekend with the Sonoma County Harvest Auction at Chateau St. Jean. One-of-a-kind auction items include unique tastings experiences, exclusive trips & packages, collectable etched wines, and many surprises every year.

In additional to acquiring fabulous items, your donations support deserving Sonoma County charities aiding efforts to support youth and children to ensure their success, preserve our environment for future generations, and provide for basic unmet health needs and services which improve the welfare of our local communities.

Your ticket not only offers you passage into the Wine Spectator Auction Tent, but it also allows you to minSonoma Wine Weekend Auction Story 1gle with Sonoma’s finest winemakers, as each table will be presided over by a local Vintner or Grower who will share not only their finest wines, but great stories, too! This is an upbeat fun time with featured chefs, including Ari Weiswasser, Glen Ellen Star; Armando Garcia, El Dorado Kitchen; Andrew Cain, Santé; Catherine Venturini, Olive & Vine; Douglas Keene, Cyrus; Duskie Estes & John Stewart, Zazu kitchen + farm; Dustin Valette, Valette; Jamil Peden, Applewood Inn Restaurant; John Franchetti, Rosso Pizzeria and Bar; Josh Silvers, Jackson’s Bar and Oven; Moaya Scheiman and Andrea Koweek, Crisp Bakeshop; Robert Nieto, Jackson Family Wines; and Tracey Shepos Cenami, Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates.

This is truly an oenophiles and foodies extravaganza that can be customized to your favorite culinary adventures and wine experiences.  But tickets for the most popular events sell out fast, so don’t wait for the last minute to plan your Labor Day weekend in Sonoma County.

For updates follow Sonoma Wine Country on Social Medial: Like Sonoma Wine Country Weekend on Facebook at, Instagram at @SonomaWineCountryWeekend, and follow on Twitter @SonomaWCW. Hashtag: #SWCW.



Sonoma County Inaugural Barrel Auction

Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

I don’t know of anything more satisfying than a resplendent red wine on a winter’s evening or a crystalline white wine on a summer’s day.

Are your most discerning clients looking for unique wines that make an opulent-life even more luxurious?   Now you have the opportunity to exceed those expectations as Sonoma County Vintners announce the Inaugural Sonoma County Barrel Auction.

Licensed wine trade will have the opportunity to participate in a live auction for one-of-a-kind wine futures with lots ranging in size from five to 20 cases that include single vineyard bottlings, specific clonal selections, blends, wines aged using special barrel regimes and joint lot wines made by collaborating wineries.   All wines are “Never Before, Never Again” opportunities for heritage wine at its finest, showcasing the stylistic range and world-class quality of Sonoma County.

Auction Lots were cultivated in Sonoma County’s most highly acclaimed vineyards, handcrafted by legendary vintners, and curated by a hand-selected panel of influential Sommeliers & a Master of Wine. Every lot in the inaugural Sonoma County Barrel Auction is a masterpiece of Sonoma County winemaking. Here are a couple examples of the world-class collaborations:

Photo ~ Sonoma County Vintners

Photo ~ Sonoma County Vintners

A Russian River Valley Epoch: The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost Pinot Noir
An exclusive barrel lot by three epochs of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir history, Joseph Swan Winery (The Father), Williams Selyem (The Son) and Kosta Browne (The Holy Ghost) have joined forces to make a barrel of Swan Selection Pinot Noir from their finest lots of some of their finest vineyards in the Russian River Valley.
A Founders’ Lot from West Sonoma Coast Vintners
Featuring West Sonoma Coast Vintners founders Carroll Kemp at Red Car Wine, Ted Lemon at Littorai Wine,Vanessa Wong at Peay Vineyards, Damian Parker at Joseph Phelps Vineyards – Sonoma Coast, John Raytek at Ceritas, Akiko Freeman at Freeman, and Ehren Jordan Failla Wines in a never before collaboration on True Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This elegant and racy Pinot Noir represents the essence of the newly petitioned West Sonoma Coast appellation. Never before have so many heralded winemakers joined together to produce such an important wine from the region. West Sonoma Coast Vintners is an association of wineries and growers who are passionate about farming wine grapes on the coastline of Sonoma County. They advocate wines with a clear identity that evoke the complexity of our region and the authenticity of its community — wines with balance, integrity, character and nuance.

Photo ~ Maple Vineyard

Photo ~ Maple Vineyard

Dry Creek Valley’s Classic Zinfandel
Four visions of the famous Maple Vineyard‘s 2014 Zinfandel by Dutcher Crossing WineryMazzocco WineryBella Winery and Vineyards, and Armida Winery. Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is one of the most renown terroirs for growing zinfandel grapes. Maple Vineyards is 27 acres of benchland at Dry Creek and Lytton Springs Roads, a few miles northwest of Healdsburg.

This is small sampling of the more than seventy unique wine lots representing twelve Sonoma County appellations.  A complete listing of the awe-inspiring lots and information about attending the invitation only event visit the Sonoma County Vintners Barrel Auction website.

#SonomaCountyVintners #SonomaCounty #SonomaCountyBarrelAuction #WineCountry #RussianRiverValley #DryCreekValley #AlexanderValley #SonomaValley #KnightsValley #SonomaCoast #Vineyards #Wineries #BarrelAuction

RRV Single Vineyard Night – Viva Variety!

View of Alcatraz from General's Residence at Fort Mason

View of Alcatraz from General’s Residence at Fort Mason

Internationally-renowned sommelier, Christopher Sawyer, with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers hosted an evening of Single Vineyard splendor at the General’s Residence (Fort Mason, San Francisco). As a native of Sonoma County, Christopher was the consumate host for this appellation in the heart of Wine Country. Christopher described Sonoma County as a little Europe, the land of promise, and everything you could ever want as far as a great place to live. The European analogy seemed to be a perfect introduction to the extraordinary variety that was to exemplify the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard wines.


Northeastern section of Russian River Valley – Limerick Lane, Healdsburg, CA

The Russian River Valley (RRV) American Viticulture Area (AVA) encompasses more than 15,000 acres of winegrapes and approximately 100 wineries. Although world-class Pinot Noir is grown in abundance in the RRV, it not alone in the vineyards. The RRV is incredibly diverse consisting of five distinct growing neighborhoods or regions – Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge, Green Valley, Santa Rosa Plain, and Sebastopol Hills. The westernmost vineyards lie among hills on California’s coastal range sometimes within 8 miles of the Pacific Ocean.  These areas are cool-climate vineyards with the climate strongly influenced by the ocean and fog and focus on Pinot, Chardonnay and cool-climate winegrapes.

Statistics via Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Statistics via Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Further north in the RRV, the vineyards enjoy a milder influence from coastal breezes and oceanic fog; the relatively warmer climate finds Zinfandel winegrapes.  In the RRV’s northeastern corner it is at its warmest; the vineyards include winegrapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many varietals florish within the RRV from Chardonnay to Gewurztraminer and present themselves as a reflection of the place in which they were grown by Winegrape Growers and Winemakers that are working to be 100% sustainable and protect this incredible valley for many generations to come.

What does ‘Single Vineyard’ really mean?  The RRV Winegrowers defined a single vineyard wine as the “grand cur” of grapes – the highest quality and most sought after.  Most winegrowers nuture a vineyard for years and then only in the best vintages do they single out those grapes for a vineyard designate wine – a year where the concentration, depth of flavor, balance, and complexity of the harvest results in an impeccable reflection of the terroir on that vineyard. This gives you an idea of the quality of the wines presented at this signature RRV event.


Sommelier Christopher Sawyer

To exemplify the terroir diversity in this region, Christopher Sawyer along with an expert sommelier panel of Ian Burrows, Mauro Cirilli, and Michael Ireland selected four wines to discuss – a Bacigalupi Vineyards Estate Chardonnay (middle reach – Westside Road); a Dutton-Goldfield Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Freestone – southwestern RRV); Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir (Green Valley of the RRV); and Novy Papera Ranch Vineyard Zinfandel (Santa Rosa plains). As host, Christopher began with the Bacigalupi Chardonnay describing the old vine patch to the right of the family home that was planted in the mid 1960’s with an intimate knowledge of the winegrapes and wine produced there.  This white wine had a natural minerality with aromas of peach and mango followed by hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The medium acidity and citrus on the mid-palate created a well balanced wine.

Ian Burrows, Michael Ireland, and Mauro Cirilli

Ian Burrows, Michael Ireland, and Mauro Cirilli

Ian Burrows (formerly with FarmHouse Inn) continued with the Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir which displayed a good natural stucture that Ian felt would fully develop within 1-2 years in the bottle but would cellar well for 8+ years. The Pinot Noir displayed blackberries with a coriander/white pepper spice (called “Freestone spice”), some tobacco in the mid-palate and medium acidity.  Ian recommended pairing this Pinot Noir with tuna tatare or duck. Michael Ireland presented the Martinelli Pinot Noir which displayed dark cherries, plums, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon in a much riper wine than the Dutton Goldfield.  This wine also requires a little age to come together, but was an excellent historical representation of the Green Valley of RRV and showed a very different style of Pinot Noir.  Mauro Cirilli finished with the Novy Zinfandel.  Papera Ranch is an old-vine Zinfandel vineyard, located on the eastern side of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Planted in 1934, after the repeal of prohibition, the wine from this vineyard showed aromas of red raspberries, mint, wild flowers and sage with the silky tannins of an old vine winegrape. This seminar’s prelude of diversity introduced the audience to the variety of amazing wines that followed in the grand tasting.


Middle Reach of Russian River Valley

I started off my journey through the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard wines looking outside my standard favorites (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) for those wines that would show the diversity in this truly rich agricultural region. Here are just some of the wines I tried.  I hope they give you a small taste of the wonderful choices that you can experience exploring the high quality wines produced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA.

Cartograph‘s 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Gewurztraminer a pale yellow Alsace-style bone dry white wine with aromas of lemon and mandarin orange.  DRNK Wines 2013 Catie’s Corner Viognier a crisp white wine with aromas white peach, melon and guava, a mineral driven structure, light tannins and a fresh finish. Gordian Knot Winery 2012 Elieo Vineyard Albarino a tangy mix of white peach, grapefruit with firm acidity. Valdez Family Winery 2012 U.V. El Diablo Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc a zesty white wine with aromas of lemon grass, green apple, and subtle notes of honey. J Vineyards 2013 Cooper Vineyard Pinot Gris a tropical white wine with aromas of oranges, apricots, and honeysuckle; a crisp acidity and distinct minerality. I would drink all of these wines now.

Nicole Bacigalupi

Nicole Bacigalupi

Mueller Winery 2012 Block Eleven Syrah a fruity red wine with aromas of blackberry, black cherry, oak and vanilla; complex with a smooth finish. Viszlay Vineyards 2009 Five Vines Bordeaux Blend a fruit-forward ripe red wine with aromas of blackberry, currant, vanilla, and caramel; a medium acidity and fine tannins.  Y. Rousseau 2012 Tannat, Matthew’s Station a rich dark red wine with aromas of black cherry, cassis and licorice that turns into a juicy cherry pie on the palate. Acorn Winery 2012 Sangiovese, Alergria Vineyards a red wine with aromas of cherries, plum and oak that add mocha on the palate; slightly chewy with youthful tannins. Bacigalupi Vineyards 2012 Petite Sirah a big, bold red wine with earthy aromas and flavors of pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon which dominate a boysenberry jam and typically firm tannins, cellar to enjoy later.  Most of these red wines would benefit from a little patience in the bottle/cellar.

Ted Elliott with Christopher Sawyer

Ted Elliott with Christopher Sawyer

Okay, I can’t help myself – one Pinot Noir.  First, I must say, there are too many great Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley to try them all in one sitting, but maybe one Pinot Noir to start your journey would be TR Elliott 2009 O’Connell Vineyard Burgonet a selection of three barrels from the two-acre vineyard atop a knoll on Vine Hill Ridge in western Sonoma County that is planted exclusively to the Pommard clone. The O’Connell Vineyard has a long, cool growing season and Gold Ridge sandy loam soils.  The aroma of this wine is cherries, raspberries, and cinnamon that waifs into tobacco and forest floor on the palate. A beautifully complex wine that will make you want to take a life-long journey through Russian River Valley wines.  So whether you choose to explore new varietals or some of the classic grapes plan to fall in love with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers and Winemakers.

If you missed the Russian River Valley Single Vineyard Night, they also host Russian River Valley Passport to Pinot coming in June 2015.  Join their mailing list and you will always know when these two classic events go on sale.

#RussianRiverValley #Winegrowers #Wine #Winetasting #ChristopherSawyer #SingleVineyardNight #AcornWinery #BacigalupiVineyards #Cartograph #DRNKWines #DuttonGoldfield #GordianKnotWinery #JVineyards #JWine #MartinelliWinery #MuellerWinery #NovyFamilyWines #TRElliott #ValdezFamilyWinery #YRousseau #IanBurrows #MichaelIreland #MauroCirilli #PassporttoPinot #PinotClassic

A Wine and Food Affair

IMG_3571I love wine for many reasons, but most of all because of the memories I have of sharing a great bottle of wine with family and friends. These gatherings have usually included copious amounts of fabulous food as well as some amazing wines.

One of The Wine Road‘s signature events, A Wine and Food Affair, highlights this Wine Country tradition of pairing local food and wine which is why it is one of my favorites. The 16th annual Wine & Food Affair was held Nov 1-2, 2014 featuring wineries in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley (American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma County). Additionally, wine tasting rooms in Healdsburg participated – many of which have vineyards in these AVAs.

Since good wine festivals offer many excellent choices, everyone needs a plan of action to make the most of these events. So let me start with a couple of suggestions and then tell you how I planned my affair with wine for this weekend adventure.


A Wine and Food Affair is a festival where participants travel to multiple locations to try wine, meet the winemaker, sample excellent pairings, and enjoy the venues. I love that it enables participants to discover the personality of each winery by seeing the people in their natural habitat – whether it be a warehouse, an urban storefront or surrounded by vineyards and breathtaking views.  But since this does involve travel, the first choice is to select a designated driver. Second, make an action plan of what your goal is for the event.  Sometimes, I choose a wine varietal – for this event, I selected a wine region – the Dry Creek Valley. Finally, be realistic about the number of wine or wineries you will be able to visit – both by the distance between faciities and whether you plan to consume the wines or spit them out (yes, this is acceptable).  

IMG_3246-SmSonoma County is largely a county of family farmers and Dry Creek Valley is no exception. In many locations you will find family members in the winery or tasting room proudly sharing their wares. Dry Creek Valley is rightfully acclaimed for a number of varietals, but this intimate (16-mile long x 2-mile wide) valley has been kind to Zinfandel. Nearly 2,400 acres of Zinfandel are farmed in Dry Creek Valley and it is one of the densest concentrations of Old Vine Zinfandel in the world. Dry Creek Valley, long noted for its fertile landscape became one of the first California wine regions to be recognized as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) with almost 10,000 acres under vine and approximately 50 wineries. Long, warm days allow the fruit to fully ripen with coastal cooling in the evening to enable the grapes to mature slowly while retaining their acidity. These are the perfect growing conditions for Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, and Rhone varietals that are food-friendly and appeal to consumers and sommeliers alike.

IMG_3253My goal for this two-day adventure was to find some new food and wine pairing ideas and explore a couple of wineries not open to the public without an appointment.  The surprise winery for me was Simoncini Vineyards, a destination winery built solely by local artisans in a massive cave.  The grounds include intimate picnic settings along a winter creek and a wine tasting bar inside the cave. Simoncini produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel from vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Rockpile.  I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of a small staff that knows the details of winery.

IMG_3295For food pairings there were many standards and some of my long-term favorites like duck and polenta served with Pinot Noir.  The photograph shows the one served by Forchini Vineyards and Winery and paired with a vertical selection of their Russian River Valley Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir which is estate grown & bottled.  The lovely patio setting to enjoy the food and wine and speak with the winemaker added to the enjoyment of the visit.

IMG_3572Another delicious pinot pairing was from Papapietro-Perry Winery in which the sauce for the slider included their 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and was then paired with the same wine.  This winery produces Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir.  I like their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and a wonderful way to experience them is to try their Pinot on the Patio, a seated wine and cheese pairing which includes five wines and is conducted by a knowledgeable wine educator from their staff.

IMG_3402-SmOne of the more unique and fun pairings was from the always eclectic and fun team at Kokomo Winery. It was an apple-pear chutney made with Kokomo verjus.  Verjus is the pressed juice of unripened grapes.  The French term vert jus (green juice) refers to the high-acid, low-sugar grapes that winemakers thin from the vines just when the crop is beginning to ripen. Unlike wine, however, verjus is not fermented, and is not alcoholic.  Kokomo paired the chutney with their 2012 Chardonnay.

IMG_3283But my favorite pairing was the Zinfandel Barrel Stave Grilled Hangar Steak with 2012 Fritz Estate Grown Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Fritz Underground Winery is a small, family-owned, subterranean winery that has been producing wines since 1979. When you visit be sure to book a tour of their wine cave and underground winery facility and learn about gravity-flow winemaking.  It is located just a short distance from downtown Cloverdale on the far northern side of Dry Creek Valley.

IMG_3327-SmThis event included so much more than just food and wine – as you visit many of these family owned and operated wineries they often share other local artisans with you as well.  No one did this better than Vicky & Mike Farrow, proprietors at Amista Vineyards. They regularly feature art work by Carole Rae Watanabe (photo at the left is an image of one of her works) and she was on hand with paint bushes, art work, and information galore. Wine glass holders were available from 3G Designs which are always usefully with food and wine pairings. Did I mention they had chocolate! Amista featured Cocotutti chocolate which always has fun and artsy chocolates that are so delicious. Can wine drinkers ever so no to chocolate?  There sure seemed to be a fair amount of it in Dry Creek Valley this weekend.  If you are looking for sparkling wine in Dry Creek Valley this is one of the only sparkling producers here and the only one that I know that makes a sparkling Syrah. Additionally they produce Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet (from my favorite place Rockpile AVA).  Friendly and nice doesn’t begin to cover the way you feel when you meet these warm and gracious winery hosts, Vicky and Mike.

IMG_3272-SmFinally, I have to give a nod to all of the winegrape growers in the Dry Creek Valley that work hard to maintain healthy vineyards that are sustainable, organic, and/or biodynamic and the efforts that many of them have made to protect and restore Dry Creek for which this valley was named. I would specifically like to mention Gio Martorana of Martorana Family Winery who last week received The National Private Lands Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Award from The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for his work with the restoration of Dry Creek. Their organic winery and vineyard is located on West Dry Creek Road.

IMG_3321As you can see, even with my limited wish list and narrow focus, I found many wonderful treasures while enjoying The Wine Road in Dry Creek Valley for A Wine and Food Affair.  If you would like suggestions for wineries to visit in Dry Creek Valley, please feel free to ask or visit my Dry Creek Valley webpage. I will also offer suggestions for any of our other wonderful wine regions in Sonoma County and I am working on webpages for those regions.

You don’t need to wait an entire year to enjoy a Wine Road event – in January The Wine Road will be hosting the 23rd Annual Winter WINEland and in March the 37th Annual Barrel Tasting.  I am going to be in the Russian River Valley for Winter WINEland and Alexander Valley for the Barrel Tasting, please join me or plan you own journey to Sonoma County Wine Country. To make the most of these events, I highly suggest a plan of action and some good friends to share the experience.

#TheWineRoad #WineRoad #WFA2014 #AWineandFoodAffair #DryCreekValley #AlexanderValley #RussianRiverValley #Healdsburg #Wine #Wineries #Winemakers #Winetasting

Vitcultural Drones – Just Another Tractor?

MulticopterNature’s signs are ever present in the Kunde Family Vineyard as Sonoma County’s harvest approaches with copious amounts of ripening grapes, yellowing leaves, and hungry birds.  But the morning air whispers a subtle mechanical sound as a 3D Robotics‘ autonomous multicoper lands among the vines.

Drone news is often military related, but drones can be used for everything from agriculture to delivering pizza.  2014 Precision Aerial Ag Show drew 1,000 midwest farmers.  With concerns about privacy the FAA has postponed final discussions on drone regulations until 2015. Current FAA restrictions allow farmers to operate an unmanned aircraft over their own property for personal use under 400 feet and outside 3 miles of an airport.  Japan is extensively using drones in agriculture. 3D Robotics wants farmers to use drones the way they would any piece of farming equipment and is creating products to meet those agricultural needs.

Ryan Kunde, 5th generGrapes Smallation viticulturist and winemaker from DRNK Wines, is surveying the grapes to be harvested in the Kunde Family Vineyards near the old winery ruins in the Sonoma Valley AVA. Kunde Family Vineyards is a remarkably diverse 1,850 acre farm with less than 40% of its land devoted to vineyards and topography that varies from 1400 foot mountain tops, to rolling hills, to a valley floor. The vineyard acreage is home to around 20 varietals grown in a volcanic band of “Red Hill” soil.  Ryan is very familiar with this large vineyard, he grew up here among these sustainably-grown vines talking easily about the the land, the lakes and grapes in a knowledgeable but unpretentious manner.  But today he wants a bird’s eye view of these vineyards to help him assess areas of vigor and stress, because he needs to determine harvest timing and row locations.

This time of the year, growers and winemakers alike are walking the vineyards sampling the fruit and making tDrone 1 Whiteheir most important decision of the year – when to harvest.  But is that really the only question? More and more I am hearing that separating the grapes from different areas of the vineyard so that more complex and interesting wines can be blended at bottling is almost as important as harvest timing. How do you evalutate all of the important or possibly important grape variations within a large vineyard like Kunde Family Vineyards? For Ryan the answer is viticultural drones. Drone photographic images can be accumulated long-term to assess vineyard patterns and perform maintenance. Additionally, they can be used for on-demand aerial images as he is doing today.

Imaging 2Images are created from autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multicopters with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside. 3D Robotoics software then stitched the images together to generate the 3D model of the vineyard. Color variations in the 3D photographic model of vineyard help select sampling areas for possible seaparation during harvest.  Then it was back to the manual process and out into the vineyard to pick grapes to test for harvest readiness, using additional tools of the harvest (refractometer).

SamplingDrones are obviously not a replacement for a knowledgeable vineyard manager or winemaker, but another farming tool.  Drones can be a cost-effective solution in difficult terrains, newly acquired vineyards, or large properties to assess areas for manual evaluation or maintenance.  This evaluation can include watering or fertilizations requirements, pest control, general vineyard vigor, or harvest readiness. Ryan can send vineyard workers with guided GPS to specific areas of the vineyard to work and make informed decision about grapes to be separated during harvest so that he has the ability to make better decisions and better wine once the grapes are back in the winery.

Imagery is not uncommon to agriculture, but hiring planes or using satellite technology is more expensive and subject to weather and timing.  Planes often need to be hired weeks in advance and satellite images are difficult when clouds interfere.

Drones technology is moving to meet this agricultural need with two trends drivening drone expansion (and reducing pricing) one is open source technology and second is the development of the Maker Movement for do-it-yourself (DIY) techies. Ryan’s interest in technology began with a childhood interest in radio-controlled cars. Today, he owns automous fixed-wing planes and is beta-testing multicopters both models equiped with GPS location systems and point-and-shoot camera technology (Go-Pro).

The most important factor in any harvest is still the man or woman guiding the process, our wonderfully talented growers and winemakers, but using every available tool to make the best decision can give you an edge.  Ryan is producing some incredible wines with a complexity that I love.  So perhaps it isn’t just another tractor, but a new innovative tool to allow a talented winemaker to improve his winemaking starting in the vineyard!

3D Robotics Logo 3D Robotics was started in 2009 by Chris Anderson, former Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, and Jostrdi Muñoz.  At 20, Muñoz hacked a Nintendo Wii controller, wrote his own code, and equipped a remote helicopter with microcomputer boards to build the first-ever autopiloted drone. He recorded the flight with a camera and uploaded the video to a new website called, which was created by Chris Anderson. After Anderson saw the video, he sent the young inventor $500 so Muñoz could continue his work.  Without ever meeting in person the duo started VC-backed 3D Robotics 2009.  3D Robotics is vertically integrated and manufactures its own hardware and software. While vertical integration increases up front development costs, it offers greater control for the company to market its products to specific industries, such as agriculture.

DRNK Wines PNis a Dougherty-Kunde family partnership with Dale Dougherty, Ryan Kunde, Nancy C. Dougherty and Katie Kunde. DRNK uses the latest winemaking techniques to create elegantly crafted and balanced wines, each expressing a focused sense of place. The inaugural release of DRNK’s Cavers Cuvee Pinot Noir received a 97 at the North Coast Wine Challenge.  Ryan says, “Winemaking begins in the vineyard, and we begin evaluating our fruit from the time of inception to harvest from all perspectives, from under root to over the canopy. An intimate relationship with the fruit continues through crush as each lot is carefully hand harvested and sorted in the vineyard and again at the winery before crushing. All fermentations are carried out in small batches and punched down by hand. The wines are then transferred to barrel in our underground cellar, an ideal winemaking environment. The utmost care and consideration is given to each barrel individually before final blends are made.”   Tours & Tasting by appointment only. or call 707.889.1000

#DRNKWines #3DRobotics #Wine #Drones #Viticulture #SCHarvest14


Small Vines with Guided Balance yield Classic Wine

Paul Something about Burgundy (France) seems to be unusually inspiring to growers and winemakers in Northern California. Here we create wines with balance and style that we believe (perhaps prejudicially) rival any wine in Burgundy.

Burgundy’s primary grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and its most famous vineyards are in the hands of the men who work them.  The best of these vineyards are classified as Grand Cru.  This is a story about Burgundian grapes and our own Grand Cru farmer (vigeron, in France) that grows them in Sonoma County.  Paul Sloan at Small Vines is our vigeron.

Burgundy since the Middle Ages has defined much of what we take for granted about these classic grapes, especially Pinot Noir. The Church with an educated workforce had time to cultivate vines, experiment, and observe/record variances in vineyards.  It became old-school which plots of land and which methods of growing were the best for their grapes, so that in the late 1800’s when a phylloxera disaster occurred, only the best vineyards were worth replanting.  The Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy continue to produce some great wines.

In talking about the vineyards where fine wines are grown, the term terroir (pronounced “ter-wah-r” or “ter-wah”) is used.  The definition is often “a sense of place” implying that the soil and climate impart a personality to the wine.   But terroir stands for so much more than soil and climate, as any farmer will tell you, it is a complex combination of conditions to be gently guided year after year in the face of every challenge Mother Nature concocts.  So the most often overlooked element of terroir is the person who tends the grapes and makes the wine (in France there isn’t even a word for winemaker it is just vigeron). This is why our local vigeron, Paul Sloan at Small Vines, is so important.

GrapesMany of us know our local farmers via roadside stands or farmers markets, because there is an increased awareness about food quality – we want our food to be fresh and healthy.  We believe this type of food comes from a balanced environment that we can recognize.  But when it comes to wine, we lack a reference for a balanced vineyard. Instead, we rely on a vigeron’s standards to develop and maintain a precise and controlled method for tending his vines that creates a healthy balance in the vineyard.  In Burgundy, the quantity of fruit and the size / shape of the vine are regulated. The goal of these restrictions is to limit grape crop size to improve quality thus protecting the reputation of their wines. In the U.S., we lack a historical persceptive or desire to develop such planting standards.  So our vigeron spends time year after year walking the land, breathing the air, listening to the leaves rustle in the wind, smelling the earth and the soils and the underbrush, sensing how the temperature and wind patterns shift hour-to-hour, determining alone what creates his balanced vineyard.

Paul follows Grand Cru standards for his vines, but it is more than regulations it is his meticulous attention to everything from canopy management, to cluster distribution, to crop load that creates an environmentally soft footprint and his perfect vine balance.  It is a labor intensive, detailed monitoring that is this vigeron’s personal standard.  It is an expensive method of farming both in the vineyard development costs (twice as many plants, stakes, etc.) and the year-to-year labor costs.  Each vine requiring twice the attention as many other viticulturists might allocate to their vines.  It would definitely be easier to farm the way others do.  Paul’s vineyards require attention, but they reward him, which is exactly the point.  Some times we forget the basics – it doesn’t always take fancy gadgets or the latest technolgy – sometimes just the simple, caring hands of a diligent farmer.

Paul’s mantra is “the smaller the vine the better the wine” which derives from the fact all the great wines of the world are made from lowish yielding vines. However, it is not true that simply having low yields or small vines will ensure wine quality. What is of equal importance is the circumstances under which those low yields were obtained. If not well managed a vineyard will never produce grapes capable of creating fine wine, so it comes down to vigernon that farms it.

Small Vines

It is said Burgundy wines appeal to the heart, I know they reach the heart of at least one vigeron and his family because it is reflected in their love of the vines and the land on which they are grown.

One of my great pleasures with wine is that its story never ends!  My wine and viticulture exploration is filled with evolving knowledge and dedicated men and women that love the vine.  They graciously share their hard-earned knowledge and collaborate to make this sensual treat we imbibe ever more delicious.  What I truly love about wine is the context—the people, the place, the story – those that make it and those that share a glass with me. Paul and Kathyrn Sloan (our vigeron’s wife) are two of these dedicated individuals with gracious sharing hearts that want you enjoy wine as much as they enjoy growing the grapes and making their wine.

Having been a consumer of Small Vine wines now for many years, I have become a believer, because I find their wines to be complex, structured, and interesting.  A wine that is in harmony; a wine that is as balanced as is the vineyard in which it is grown.   Paul’s small vines do create better wine.

To get some of these wonderful wines, often requires an allocation, but reach out to Kathryn Sloan and I am sure she will find a bottle or two to share. Add good friends and family, and you have the perfect combination.

Small Vines
Phone 707.823.0886
Fax 707.823.0887

#SmallVines #Burgundy #GrandCru #PinotNoir #Wine #SonomaCounty

Benziger Pinot Experience

HistoryBenziger Family Winery is just that a family winery – still run by the family that founded it in the 1980’s, some of whom you will probably encounter when you visit as three generations are as active in the winery as they are in their community (Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, CA).

In the beautiful rolling hills of Sonoma Mountain, Benziger is a destination with something for everyone – take a self-guided walk through their biodyanmic® garden, enjoy a picnic lunch with a bottle of Benziger wine (on weekends you might get a wood-fired pizza) or visit their tasting room. But at Benziger you can expect more.  A novice can get up close and personal with a vineyard on a Biodynamic® Vineyard Tram Tour or a wine enthusiast can go behind-the-scenes with the Benziger Partners Estate Wine Tour & Exclusive Wine Tasting, but for the true pinotphile (Pinot Noir fanatic) the only option is the Pinot Experience

BenzigerThe living room of the original family ranch house is set up as a Pinot Parlor to savor Benziger’s limited production, elegant Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir in the warmth of the Sonoma Valley.

Our host, Nick, began with a bit of West Rows Chardonnay to warm up our palates and then moved to the Pinot Noirs each of which was perfectly matched with a canapé.  These wines included the Signaterra Bella Luna Pinot Noir from the Green Valley of the Russian River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) and three Pinot Noirs from the de Coelo vineyard (outside Bodega) in the Sonoma Coast AVA – Terra Neuma, Quintus and Arbore Sacra.

Pinot 4There is an ever increasing movement toward balance in Burgundian grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Producers, especially along the Sonoma Coast of Northern California, are seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. They are focusing on balance and an expression of terroir.  These producers exhibit more restraint (less manipulation) in the cellar and talk about finish versus big taste.  This Renaissance of style is becoming one of the hottest topics in the wine world and is displayed in the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs from Benziger.  The three Sonoma Coast wines have the distinct Pinot Noir mouthfeel and exhibit different subtleties in flavor and finish all based on vineyard block and clonal blend.  For those who appreciate the subtle nuances these wines can provide, this is the experience for you.

BD1No Benziger tour is complete without an understanding of their commitment to the land and farming – every wine comes from a vineyard that is third-party certified as sustainable, organic or Biodynamic®.  They call it character and conscience – wine that tastes good and is good for the environment.  For an explanation of the differences between sustainable, organic, and Biodynamic® see the Benziger Green Farming webpage.  We toured the Sonoma Mountain Biodynamic® Discover Trail, a self-guided walk through a bio-dynamic environment with information on biodynamics in a lush garden.

Benziger has won many awards with its wines including 2011 Winery of the Year at the San Diego International Wine Competition where their wines won four platinum awards and one silver; 2012 Best Sonoma Valley Winery; and numerous individual wine awards on their extensive collection of wines sure to please any palate.

If you can’t personally visit Benziger you can order most of their wines from their website or by joining their wine club, but here is a virtual tour from their You Tube channel.

Benziger Pinot Noir Experience
$40 per person/$30 for Wine Club Members
11am & 2pm daily
Reservations require 24 hours advanced notice. If your date or time is not available, or for groups larger than 6 please contact us at 707.935.4527. 

Benziger Family Winery:  
1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442 | (888) 490-2739
Click here for driving directions
Open daily from 10am – 5pm 

#Benziger #PinotNoir #SonomaCounty #WineTasting

On the Wine Road – Russian River Valley

RRVSaturday the Wine Road was celebrating Wine Tourism Day and since Green is their new Red, I loaded my Honda hybrid with a recyclable water bottle and set out to visit a couple of the Wine Road Russian River Valley wineries.

If you are more ambitious, many of these wineries are also bicycle friendly and will gladly ship your purchases home for you.  Many of Sonoma County’s fabulous wineries have beautiful picnic spots, so be sure to take along a sandwich or picnic lunch to enjoy during your visit.  Think about what kind of wine you plan to taste and bring food that you think will be fun to pair with it for the best experience ever!

Wine Road is an association of wineries and lodgings in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys of Northern Sonoma County (currently more than 150 wineries and 50 lodgings). The Wine road describes itself saying “It’s not actually a “road” in the sense of a single, continuous stretch of paved highway, but more of a treasure map to the many jewels nestled among the hills and valleys of a region where fresh air, fine wine and exquisite cuisine await those who traverse it.”

To traverse this expanse of wineries, will require multiple trips, so this is only my first in a series where I will continue to explore these wonderful gems.

Siduri20aI started my journey at Siduri, who was celebrating their 20th Anniversary having gone from warehouse winery to the White House holiday tables. For this special milestone, Siduri was offering tastings of select past vintages plus special appearances by famed Pinot Noir growers presenting their current releases.  Siduri was also offering futures (and barrel tastings) for the 2013 Siduri Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Adam and Dianna Lee, owners and winemakers, create every Siduri wine with an emphasis on expressing the unique characteristics of the vintage and the terroir.  Their restraint in winemaking manipulation has led to many accolades over the past 20 years and will surely continue long into the future, because of the relationships they have developed with each of their growers.  You will definitely find a wine perfect for you in their expansive offering of single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs.

SiduriVintageYou can join Siduri’s mailing list or visit their “urban” winery by contacting SiduriI am sure you will enjoy these knowledgeable, friendly people who love to talk pinot noir and share their fabulous wines.

Siduri Winery
981 Airway Court, Suites E & F 
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
TEL: (707) 578-3882

The second winery on my journey was appropriately the eco-friendly Inman Family Winery. Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker, describes her passions as elegant pinot noir and the beautiful Russian River Valley.  Inman Family Winery sits on their organically farmed estate vineyard, Olivet Grange. As I drove in amid wandering chickens, an electric vehicle had just pulled into the first privately owned public charging station for electric vehicles in Sonoma County.


In addition to Kathleen’s OGV (Olivet Grange Vineyard) and Thorn Ranch Pinot Noirs, the Inman Family Winery also produces a Sparkling Brut Rosé and their Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir, the later of which just won Sweepstakes Rosé Class at the Riverside International Wine Competition.  “An addictively bright and refreshing rosé with notes of strawberry and watermelon.”
– Daryl Groom, Wine Judge. This wine sold out in six weeks last year.

PicnicMichelle works with Kathleen in the tasting room creating an inviting venue to learn about their commitment to elegant pinot noir and significant environmental practices. They have a picturesque living room and picnic table set outside the winery for you to enjoy your lunch with a bottle of their lovely wines.  Additionally, they rent the farmhouse on Olivet Grange which makes a great base for your explorations of the Russian River Valley.  Tasting Room Hours: 11am – 4pm Thursday through Monday.

Inman Family Winery
3900 Piner Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401

RRV Home RanchMy third stop was Hanna Winery’s Russian River Valley tasting room.  Hanna maybe better noted for their majestic location in the Alexander Valley, but this tasting room sits amidst Hanna’s original “home ranch” chardonnay and pinot noir vineyards.

Dr. Elias Hanna founded this winery in 1985, but it has been run for the past 20 years by his daughter, Christine.  She embodies the Russian River Valley love of wine paired with food and has written “The Winemaker Cooks.”  To help you understand this passion, Hanna offers an array of wine and food experiences in both of their tasting rooms.

TastingRoomChristine Hanna with winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, are known for their Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as their Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. They make a number of other varietals as well, but are announcing this week the release of their 2012 Hanna Malbec from Alexander Valley which will be a first for them.

Patrick Shockey generously shared with me his 13 years of experience in Hanna’s wines, including his current favorite a 2007 Merlot which is only available to visitors at the winery – another good reason for a road trip!  Patrick says to pair this wine with another local favorite Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk  cheese. Tasting room hours are daily 10am-4pm

HANNA Winery, Russian River Valley
5353 Occidental Road
Santa Rosa, CA  95401
(707) 575-3371

winepressMy fourth and final stop, was a new winery for me, although it has a long history of family farming in the Russian River Valley. Dutton Estate is owned by Joe and Tracy Dutton.  Joe’s parents purchased their Green Valley ranch before he was born and Tracy parents have been farming Kozlowski Farms since 1949. Tracy says “Joe is a true farmer and enjoys the fruits of his labor.”

Today, Dutton Ranch (co-owned by Joe and Steve Dutton) farms 1300 acres of grapes and 250 acres of apples, all within the Green Valley-Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. Steve Dutton with Dan Goldfield own nearby Dutton-Goldfield Winery.  The Duttons work with other grape growers to foster sustainable farming and Joe Dutton is a board member of the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District.

chardonnay2The history of this family is evident throughout the winery beginning with the vintage wine press at the tasting room’s wooden door entrance.  The tasting room is housed in a converted farm house and inside you find a stagecoach wheel table holding souvenirs and antique furniture from the family everywhere.  But the best part is that you also find that old-fashioned kindest in the greetings of a knowledgeable staff who not only know the wines and winery, but the community as well. 

Outside the doors is one of Dutton Estate’s Chardonnay vineyards which is included in their VIP Tour of this working winery.  The VIP Tour progresses to the barrel room to taste wines during their fermentation and ends with the piece de résistance, an alluring wine and food pairing created by winery chef, Cynthia Newcomb.  The tasting is created specifically to enhance the distinct characteristics of each wine. Dutton Estate wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnary, Pinot Noir, and Syrah that are hand-crafted from many small vineyards.


Multiple picnic areas are available on the grounds which overlook vineyards or beautiful garden settings. Wine tasting is offered daily 10am-4:30pm

Dutton Estate Winery
8757 Green Valley Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 829-9463


I would highly recommend a visit to any of these excellent Russian River Valley wineries.  The Wine Road offers custom tour maps and trip planning assistance as well as one (1) and three (3) day tasting passes.  Check out their website for additional information.

#RussianRiverValley #SonomaCounty #WineRoad #Siduri #InmanFamilyWinery #HannaWinery #DuttonEstate #winetasting

Benovia Spring Open House 2014

Joe Anderson and Mike Sullivan

Joe Anderson and Mike Sullivan

Benovia’s Open House Saturday was highly anticipated and well attended – but that would be  expected.  Benovia has consistently produced excellent wines and Spring was in the air.

Benovia is at the end of Hartman Road (West of Santa Rosa) in the Russian River Valley.  It is an elegant setting that helps you appreciate the wine and this event even more.

Joe Anderson (owner) and Mike Sullivan (winemaker) were pouring wines along with a crew of family and staff.  This is always a very friendly and well organized event.  When you entered you were handed a glass of 2013 Rosé  of Pinot Noir.  This Rosé has cranberry / watermelon aromas supported by bright acidity and a tart cherry finish.  This will be a great summer wine and drinkable right away.

The Chardonnays offered for tasting included the 2012 Ft. Ross-Seaview Chardonnay from the Martinelli vineyards, a wine that reflects its cool-climate origins with aromas of pears, and the 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a complex blend from Benovia’s Martaella Estate Vineyard and grapes from a couple of small Russian River growers.  I believe both of these will gain from little more time in the bottle.  Historically, the RRV Chardonnays have done very well in competitions and I wouldn’t expect less from this textbook vintage.

Gerard's Paella

Gerard’s Paella

The Pinot Noirs are the highlight for me.  I paired them with Gerard’s Paella, a local favorite! Gerard’s blend of rice, vegetables, seasonings, sausage and chicken matched the wine beautifully.

Benovia was pouring their 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from their Martaella Estate Vineyard.  2012 was considered an excellent year for Pinot.  This wine’s aroma is full red fruit, but tastes more dense and earthy.  Benovia also poured their 2011 La Pommeraie Pinot Noir which vintage after vintage has been one of my brother’s favorite wines.  The fruit is sourced from a Martinelli Family vineyard along Laguna Ridge at the edge of
the Green Valley AVA.  The name pays homage to its apple orchard origins (La Pommeraie is French for apple orchard). This wine hints of blackberries and crisp acidity.  Mike Sullivan indicated that Benovia chooses their clones thoughtfully to develop flavor and nuances that might not be in some other pinots.  Benovia has a number of heritage clones as well.  Their pinots reflect Mike’s thoughtfulness from the field to the bottle.

I believe that all of Benovia’s Pinot Noirs reflect their best potential with some aging.  I highly recommend cellaring these wines for a year or so and then start tasting them again.  Joe was also pouring a 2010 Savoy Pinot Noir (for friends) which reflected the merits of a little patience. This Anderson Valley wine is more earthy than its Sonoma County relatives and still could easily be cellared for a few more years.

Last but not least Benovia was pouring their 2011 Sonoma County Zinfandel.  They dry-farm these Russian River Valley vines to produce small and compact clusters with incredible fruit intensity and bright acidity.  Dry-farming is only one of the many sustainable practices employed at Benovia Winery.  Read more about everything from Solar Panels to root-stock selection on their website and support farmers/vineyards that treat this wonderful place we live gently.

Everyone was enjoying the beautiful wines and the incredible setting.  Here are a couple of pictures of guests relaxing and a little romance in the vineyards.  It was a great day all around.  If you would like to stop by an enjoy this incredible venue and their wonderful wines.  Appointments are required.  See their website for additional information.  Tell Roger that Discover Sonoma County Wine sent you.

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Harvesting Sunshine

Benovia WBenovia Solarinery‘s vineyard manager, Chris Kangas says “We practice sustainable farming and that means we are environmentally sensitive and socially responsible when it comes to grape growing.”

Benovia recently installed 171 photovoltaic modules atop their winery. The solar panels produce some 60,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year — about 90% of all the energy they need to power Benovia Winery’s operations.