I 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).
Sonoma 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.
My 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.
For 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.
Another 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.
One 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.
But 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.
This 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.
Finally, 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.
As 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