Category Archives: Vineyard

Passport to Dry Creek Valley

“A modern tradition with century-old roots” is a great description of the Dry Creek Valley and its eclectic mix of modern winemakers, family farmers and historical vineyards.  Always one of the most engaging events of the season, it continues to grow and evolve each year to offer something new and exciting.

Tickets are still available for the weekend on the Dry Creek Valley Winegrowers’ website. Also, pre-event luncheons are still available for a couple of great locations: Sbragia, Comstock and Capo Creek Ranch.  This pre-event luncheons let you relax with the winemakers and owners and learn about the Dry Creek Valley in an intimate family atmosphere.

Last year the DCV Passport added vineyard tours which are expanded from two to four this year.  The events on Saturday are a first come, first served model, so be on time or miss all the fun.  On Sunday, the tours require an appointment as space is much more limited.  The springtime in Dry Creek Valley is one of the most beautiful and a perfect time to learn about grapes.

I love the fun atmosphere of the themes at many wineries – at Armida Winery they are hosting the classic “Caddyshack” and Chateau Diana is going back to the 60’s with Flower Power. The wineries also focus on great food and wine combinations to showcase the farm-to-table blessings we have in Sonoma County. Some of my favorites last year were Collier Falls Vineyard, Comstock Wines, Devero Farms & Winery, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Forchini Vineyards, Gustafson Family Vineyard, Kachina Vineyards, Manzanita Creek, Mazzocco Sonoma Winery, Pedroncelli Winery, Rued Winery, Selby Winery, Truett Hurst Winery and Wilson Winery.

If fabulous music and wine away the afternoon you will have many choices from Country Western to Rock-n-Roll – for variety try De La Montanya Winery, Dry Creek Vineyard (Salty Shanties), Geyser Peak Winery (Rat Pack style), Kokomo Winery (Blue Grass), Malm Cellars (Country), Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery (Vegas style), Papapietro Perry Winery (New Orleans Jazz) and West Wines (America Graffiti) among others.

If you would just like to relax with a combination of great wines, fabulous food, good music and incredible views that is available too – try some of my favorite views at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery, Mounts Family Winery, Ridge Vineyards – Lytton Springs, Sbragia Family Vineyards, Talty Winery, Trattore Farms and Zichichi Family Vineyards.

If you like more activities try bocce ball at Mortarana Family Winery, Seghesio Family Vineyards or Lambert Bridge Winery; then hit it out of the park, baseball style at David Coffaro Estate Vineyards. Go for a unique experience and see a real amphora wine fermenter at Amphora Winery; catch talented local artisans at Amista Vineyards, sign a barrel at Blanchard Family Wines, visit a little piece of Germany at Gopfrich Winery, get a bottle signed by famed chef Charlie Palmer & winemaker Clay Mauritson at Mauritson Family Winery, visit old Hollywood at Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate, donate to local fire departments that help protect our precious vineyards with longtime volunteer fireman & winemaker Fred Peterson at Peterson Winery, and visit the biodynamic gardens at Quivira Vineyards and Winery.

There is something for everyone is this beautiful valley – don’t miss this annual event when the wineries of Dry Creek Valley showcase their best wines, food, music and entertainment.

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April in Carneros – Wine, Food and Entertainment

Springtime is a fabulous season to visit wine country; there are lots of classic events including ‘April in Carneros.’ 

Carneros is where the San Francisco Bay meets Napa Valley and Sonoma County to produce the some of the finest cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sparkling wines in Northern California. But the Carneros wine region is becoming even more with new forages into Grenache, Merlot and Petite Syrah wines that are expanding Carneros fans everyday.

During April in Carneros various wineries in Sonoma County and Napa Valley will be showcasing their wines with food pairings and music. The Carneros Wine Alliance, the organizer for this event bills it as “Where Everyone’s a VIP!”

For incredible views, two of my favorite wineries are Gloria Ferrer and Schug Carneros Estate.  Both of these wineries feature elevated views of the Carneros wine region.  Gloria Ferrer is scheduled to be featuring sliders from Black Bean BBQ and acoustic pop music from No Buenos. Schug Carneros Estate is slated to serve Greek Lentil Salad and Asian Noodle Salad from Oliver’s Market to the sounds of The Movers

To visit families that embody the Mexican heritage that has dominated viticulture in both Sonoma County and Napa Valley for generations stop by Ceja Vineyards and Robledo Family Winery. Ceja Vineyards is an ultra premium Latino family owned winery founded by Amelia, Pedro, Armando and Martha Ceja producing a diverse range of award-winning varietal and blended wines from their estate grown grapes. Or experience a true “American Dream” at Robledo Family Winery and visit the first tasting room in the United States established by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker and his family. Both of these wineries are scheduled to showcase their heritage in food and music. These wineries make you feel like family.

Carneros is also a great location for local history with locations like Larson Family Winery, once the home the largest rodeo in Northern California, its barn turned tasting room is still full of memorabilia. This fun-loving, country-easy, family-style winery is a great place to kick off your boots and relax with a great glass of wine.

For more history, visit the sister wineries of Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Cline Cellars produces rich, distinctive Rhône-style wines and intense Zinfandels served in an 1850’s style farm house tasting room with a California Missions Museum. Across the road, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards’ tasting room houses a premiere event venue and is named for founding Jacuzzi brothers (famous for the bath and spa products that bear their name). The winery is noted for its Italian varietals that showcase the Jacuzzi heritage.

The Bonneau family has been farming the Carneros region since the 1920’s originally a dairy farm and country store with vineyards replacing the dairy over the years. Since 2002 Bonneau Wines has produced their own label Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. 

There are many other great finds in Carneros from one-man wineries like Homewood Winery; to the boutique wineries in the beautiful Cornerstone Sonoma facility including Keating WinesMeadowcroft Wines and Poseidon Vineyard / Obsidian Ridge Winery; and wineries serving chocolate like Ty Caton.  In addition to the Sonoma County side of Carneros, Starmont Winery will be pouring on Sunday from their Napa Valley Tasting Room.

Tickets are available through many of the winery’s websites as well as the Carneros Wine Alliance

#AprilinCarneros #CarnerosWineAlliance #Carneros #SonomaCounty #NapaValley #Wines #Winery #Vineyards #Springtime #BonneauWines #CejaVineyards #ClineCellars #GloriaFerrer #HomewoodWinery #JacuzziFamilyVineyards #KeatingWines #LarsonFamilyWinery #MeadowcroftWines #PoseidonVineyard #ObsidianRidgeWinery #RobledoFamilyWinery #SchugCarnerosEstate #StarmontWinery #TyCatonVineyards







Inaugural Wind to Wine Festival – Proposed Petaluma Gap AVA

Wind to Wine FestivalDon’t miss this chance to taste some of the Petaluma Gap’s finest Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah at the Inaugural WIND to WINE Festival at the Sheraton Petaluma on August 8th. More than 60 wines will be available for tasting, including some limited production and library wines, but I would highly recommend the VIP tickets which includes a VIP Seminar lead by one of our local favorite Sommeliers, Christopher Sawyer, VIP Tasting Lounge, and Buffet Luncheon.

VIP SCHEDULE OF EVENTS – Saturday, August 8, 2015
11:00 am VIP Seminar
Noon VIP Early Access to Grand Tasting
12:30pm – 2:00pm VIP Buffet Lunch
1:00pm – 4:00pm GRAND TASTING General Admission
2:00pm – 4:00pm VIP Access to Elite Wine Lounge

The Petaluma Gap is best known for its wind, which allows for direct access to coastal marine air and fog. Hourly average wind speeds throughout the Gap regularly exceed 8 miles per hour (mph) nearly every afternooPetaluma Gap Fogn during the winegrape growing season, with winds in excess of 20 mph a common occurrence. It is this cooling “wind tunnel” effect that distinguishes the Petaluma Gap from neighboring winegrowing areas.

The Wind results in lower yields with grapes that reach physiological ripeness at lower sugar levels, developing wonderful flavors and fruit characteristics while maintaining ideal levels of acidity. It’s the perfect recipe for intense but well-balanced wines with character and distinction.

In February 2015, the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance submitted a petition to the  TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to establish a new AVA.  This process normally takes a few years to complete, but to celebrate their AVA and showcase the wines produced in this area, they are hosting their Inaugural AVA Event – Wind to Wine Festival.

IMG_4939To kick off the event, Winemaker dinners will be held at Keller Estate and McEvoy Ranch on Friday, August 7th. Purchase a Friday dinner ticket and a Saturday Grand Tasting ticket together and receive a huge discount!

Keller Estate is one of the few wineries in the proposed AVA that is open to the public for tastings on a regular basis.  They also have a fabulous car collection – one of which is rotated into the Petaluma Gap tasting room monthly.

As McEvoy Ranch is a private residence, they are only able to welcome guests for scheduled events and by appointment.  I would recommend a ranch tour that gives you a history of the place as well as a tour of the orchards, vineyards, and state of the art mill. They sell olive oil and body products as well as wine from their ranch.

Sunday, the Winegrowers in the Petaluma Gap are scheduling vineyard tours to some of the most beautiful vineyards and ones that are rarely open to the public.  This will be an event not to be missed – watch the Petaluma Gap website for updates to their schedule of events.

#WindToWine #WindToWineFestival #PetalumaGap #Petaluma #SonomaCoast #SonomaCounty #Festival #Wine #Wineries #Vineyards #WineTasting #VIP #WineEducation #WineSeminar #WineLuncheon #WinemakerDinner #VineyardTour #Chardonnay #PinotNoir #Syrah #Sheraton


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

A Glamorous Life in Viticulture

IMG_0716After returning home from surgery on Saturday, Tom Altemus at Red Cap Vineyards spent the next three nights answering frost alarms as Howell Mountain temperatures dropped with the recent storms.  These are part of the daily challenges a farmer faces as does anyone raising children – the timing is never convenient, the rewards aren’t immediate, and the hours are long.

In 1998, Tom and Desiree bought ten acres on Howell Mountain after the birth of their second child meant they needed more room and a great opportunity came their way. A couple of years later, stay at home dad, Tom, began vineyard planning amid studies and surveys culminating in mountains of permit paperwork. Finally in 2003, the land was cleared in time to welcome their third child and the work was to begin in earnest.


Winemaker, Rudy Zuidema, and Tom have been friends for 25 years.  They worked together before Red Cap Vineyards as chefs at Brava Terrace Restaurant in St. Helena where local winemakers brought their wares and asked the chefs to pair the wine with a custom dish.  It was here they learned what they liked and what kind of wine they wanted to make – an elegant, complex Cabernet Sauvignon.

After planting and nurturing their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, the first grapes were harvested in 2006 and Rudy & Tom created their first vintage – to be released just as the recession in 2008 hit and no one wanted additional wine, especially an unknown product.

So Tom began the process of turning a family farm into a viticulture business in slow measured steps.  Watching nature change the surrounding forest gently and slowly, he worked in the same way, creating an organically styled vineyard with a rich loose soil that reminds you of a forest floor when you walk on it. They pick grapes a few tons at a time as each section ripens with daily walks in the vineyard to taste seeds for a nutty ripeness and juice for its vintage characteristics. Vintage variance is evident here as each year reaches its own balance.

This working family vineyard has help from entire family as each one lends their skills in many ways from data entry to social media to pulling crickets from the grapevines.  A slow, humble way of life that creates a rich family lifestyle in a beautiful spot where you want to live now, retire eventually, and watch your grandchildren grow up.

Red Cap continued to develop their Cabernet and added a Sauvignon Blanc (from purchased grapes) as an entrance wine to get them into restaurants with great success. Now they have developed a following of friends, wine lovers, and businesses that appreciated their small production, gently made wines.


This admittedly unglamorous life-style of fighting mildew, praying for rain, praying it doesn’t rain, and answering frost alarms in the middle of the night is exactly the rich life the Altemus family has chosen. They find their own kind of glamour in a humble vineyard in the mountains above Napa Valley and a gentle lifestyle that is reflected in the land they call home.

#RedCapVineyards #NapaValley #WineCountry #Vineyard #Winery #Viticulture #Wine #Wines

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


IPOB Wines from the True Sonoma Coast

Platt2When growers started planting Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, everyone said it was crazy and now winegrowers are pushing the limits on the far West of the Sonoma Coast and achieving spectactual results at elavations and locations that were thought maniacal.  Through new eyes, a desirable low fertility soil managed impeccably with sustainable, organic, and biodynamic style farming practices are producing world-class grapes which makes finding incredible Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from this region a wonderful adventure.

A few years back IPOB was created by Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74,a and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, to celebrate wineries striving to produce balanced pinot noir and chardonnay in California.  Amazingly of the thirty-three member wineries in IPOB 2015, ten of them (almost 1/3) are member wineries in the West Sonoma Coast Vintners.  I think this says something about the quality and types of wines, especially pinot noir and chardonnay that are coming out of this region.

Nine of those wineries will bPinotBabiese participating in the Grand Tasting for the West of the West Festival and The Barlow Center on August 2-3.  Hirsch Vineyards is not participating due to family commitments, but the rest of these small production, hard to get wineries will be on hand and offering their wares.  I would highly recommend trying some of these wineries, which include:

Ceritas led by the husband and wife duo of John Raytek and Phoebe Bass who talk about simplicity which they describes as “allowing our vineyards to be the teachers, with us as the students. It means the ongoing process of listening to and learning from each site, every vintage, to discover and share what that site is capable of expressing. It means honoring our commitment with our grower partners to farm every vineyard sustainably and organically.” Their fall release includes 2012 Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and 2012 Pinot Noir from Hellenthal Vineyard and Escarpa Vineyard.

Cobb Wines led by two generatigrapes5ons of the Cobb family, father and winegrower, David Cobb (one of the pion
eers of pinot noir viticulture on the far Sonoma Coast) and son and winemaker, Ross Cobb (a noted pinot noir expert, making wines at Cobb Wines & Hirsch Vineyards and consulting winemaker for Banshee Wines and Claypool Cellars with Katy Wilson of LaRue Wines).  Ross has said that beyond what occurs in the vineyard, 90% of winemaking is the picking decision.  Ross favors lower alcohol wines that reflect a sublte expression of ripeness.  Spring release included 2011 Pinot Noirs from Coastlands Vineyards, Emmaline Ann, and Rice-Spivak, so Fall release should include Joy Road and Jack Hill Pinot Noir.

grapes4Failla led by husband andwife team of winemaker Ehren Jordan and CFO Anne-Marie Failla, makes a diverse portfolio of wines, but I expect they will be featuring Sonoma Coast wines like 2012 Whistler Vineyard Pinot Noir and my favorite 2012 Pearlessence Pinot Noir at the WOW Grand Tasting.  Although Ehren came to winemaking in anything but a conventional manner he has created an empressive resume between Turley Wine Cellars and Failla.

Flowers Vineyard and Winery originally led by former nursery owners Walt and Joan Flowers turned their passion for agriculture, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir into a world class winery. In 2009, Huneeus Vintners (Huneeus family, owners of Quintessa Vineyards) bought a substantial interest in Flowers and Joan and Walt Flowers retired. Flowers produces Chardonnay and Pinot from its estate vineyards.  The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a fine representation of the true Sonoma Coast along with a number of other estate cuvee and vineyard-designate bottlings including Andreen-Gale, Moon Select, Camp Meeting Ridge, Frances Thompson, and Sea View Ridge vineyards.

IMG_1776LaRue Wines led by Katy Wilson is a perfect example of a renaissance woman.  In following her passion for agriculture and creativity into winemaking, she may have adopted a hands-off style of winemaking, but is no ways hands-off in the day-to-day operation of the winery where she spends long hours doing most jobs herself.  These wines are a must try!  She is pouring her 2012 Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  Her 2012 Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir is in bottles, but won’t be released until Spring 2015.

LIOCO led by partners Matt Licklider (former wine importer) and Kevin O’Connor (sommelier turned winemaker).  LIOCO currently produces wine from Sonoma, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz counties with a focus on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Carignan.  I would expect offerings in their non-invasive style such as 2012 Hanzell Vineyard Chardonnay or 2012 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Fun-loving yet with a true passion for winemaking.

TedLittorai Wines has been a long time favorite of many pinotphiles because Ted Lemon is consistently looking for BD (not certified but nature friendly) ways to grow great grapes. Ted has been a leader in the community of growers in moving to this method of viticulture and his wines reflect his love of the land.  Ted and Heidi Lemon have run this small, but world-class winery since 1993. I would expect Pinot Noirs from Hirsch Vineyards as well as estate vineyards, The Haven and Pivot.  Look for the Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay at the Seminar on Saturday as well as the Grand Tasting.

Peay Vineyards is a partnership between Vanessa Wong, and Andy and Nick Peay making wine since 1998 near Annapolis.  Wines are created from meticulously managed non-certified organic style vineyards.  I would expect their 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and well as 2012 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir.

wow wineRed Car Wines led by winemaker Carroll Kemp and General Manager Peter Willmert. Red Car is one of the few wineries in this group with a formal tasting room, although still a limited production facility focusing on the True Sonoma Coast.  Now I use the word formal to mean open to the public regularly, because this is truly a fun, dynamic group of individuals that make wine tasting fun and educational.  They will be pouring an impressive array of wines including 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 2012 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2012 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 Falstaff Vineyard Pinot Noir, and 2010 Red Car Estate Syrah (see photo).

The Prince of Pinot recently said, “Today, Pinot Noir lovers are experiencing an embarrassment of riches. It took thousands of years for Pinot Noir to emerge as the primary red grape of Burgundy, and many more centuries for Burgundy’s complex wine culture and accomplishments to develop. In California and Oregon, the process has been mirrored in barely half a century, spurred by a dedicated group of winegrowers and vintners who took their cues from the Burgundians, but put their own stamp on Pinot Noir.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Enjoy these any many other fabulous wines at West Sonoma Coast Vintners West of the West Grand Tasting on Aug 2-3 at The Barlow Center in Sebastopol.

#WOWSebastopol #Ceritas #CobbWines #Failla #FlowersVineyard #LaRueWines # LIOCO #Littorai #PeayVineyards #RedCar


Sonoma County Harvest 2014 Begins in July!

IMG_1982J Vineyards and Winery began its 28th Annual Harvest with Pinot Meunier from Nicole’s Vineyard at 10 pm on July 30, 2014 one of the earliest harvests in memory.   J Vineyards is generally one of the first wineries in Sonoma County to begin harvest due to the earlier harvest for sparkling wine grapes.

J Vineyards and Winery released a statement saying that, “The 2014 growing season is very similar to the 2013 season, but the 2014 harvest is tracking about five to seven days earlier than 2013 due to the recent hot weather in Russian River Valley. The yields look very balanced with beautiful, small-to -medium berry clusters on the vine. The J winemaking team foresees that this great crop will produce an outstanding 2014 vintage.”

J memoryThe grapes arrived to their Healdsburg winery facility this morning where Founder Judy Jordan and Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse joined employees and media in toasting the 2014 Harvest with J Cuvée 20 and dedicating it to Kerry Manahan-Ehlow.  Kerry was J’s VP of Global Sales for the last three years and passed away earlier this month. The harvest mantra will be “Keep Calm and Kerry On.”  

Judy Jordan with Scott Zapotocky, new Director of Vineyard Operations announnced the acquistion of two new estate vineyards on the “True” Sonoma Coast near Annapolis.  These are pinot noir vineyards and they are very excited about their ability to expand their pinot noir offerings.  All of the Sonoma County pinotphiles feel the same way.

Judy and MelisJudy-Melissasa lead us down the red carpet to the J Bubble Room for an airing of the new J Vineyards and Winery terroir video on Geology versus Site which features a funny and fun-loving battle between Judy and Melissa on whether geology or site dominates.  Judy passed out rocks as we entered the room, so it was pretty obvious she would come down on the geology side.  I can’t wait for them to post this to their youtube site.

ToastWe adjorned to the veranda for a champagne bunch prepared by J Executive Chef Erik Johnson who is celebrating his one year anniversary at J Vineyards and Winery this month. J’s commitment to youth and our community was continued with a presentation of internships, mentorships, and scholarships.  Judy closed with anniversary awards to many employees, some 12 and 15 year awards, showing what a dedicated team she has fostered.

Many of the photos in this article were taken by the J Winery Marketing staff and I thank them for the use of the photos.

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