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Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 wine predictions

Image from Foxnews.com

Don't hold me to all of these.  You should know by now I often don't know what I'm talking about.    :)

Retail Wine Sales
Under $35 wines are selling with under $15 wines even better.  In the higher ranges the established and well-respected wines still sell.  There are much better quality wines showing up in the $10-20 range and there are still many in the pipeline so we'll see more bargains.   Plus there's still a backlog of wine so even as the economy seems to be improving the bargains should still be there though you will see prices creep up a bit.
Some seem to be asking if this is permanent or will customers eventually go back to routinely paying $40 or more for a bottle of wine.  Well, in any other downturn things have always returned so I'm guessing it will this time.  Only issue is when will this happen as not everybody can wait five years and still be in business.
Bottom line:  There will still be bargains, but many name brands won't be as steeply discounted as in 2010.

Restaurant Wine Sales
Restaurant sales continue to do poorly because most of their wines are well over $35.   For some reason restaurants don't get it. Or at least feel they can't operate in a lower price range.   Restaurant business seems to be picking up in the last half of 2010 as they are hiring so wine sales should follow.  But will it be only at the low end of the wine list?
Bottom line: Restaurant wine prices continue to be too high and sales continue to be flat.

Changing Customer Attitudes
The current segmentation of customers are: Millennials with iPhones, career- and family-oriented Gen-Xers, and aging Boomers.  Some people expect a social media presence, some want a green winery that cares about the land and energy use, while others just want a good wine at a good price and don't care who it's from.
Bottom line: Eco-wineries (organic grapes, biodynamic, solar, etc.) will be the in thing.

Things You'll See in Wine
Health concerns among many could reverse the high alcohol trend. 
Wines will come in recyclable packages, kegs, cans, and other non-glass containers.
Bottom line: More food-friendly wines coming in various containers.

Selling to the Under-30 Crowd
This gets a lot of press what with Twitter and other social media always in the news.  Only problem:  Is it smart to focus on the group that spends on average 50% of what the middle-aged and older customers spend?  This means as the economy improves and people start spending more for a bottle of wine again it won't be the younger customers. 
The good news is the under-30 people are much more enthusiastic about fine wine than any previous generation at that age.   So how will the wineries handle this (current vs. future luxury-goods customers)?   One thing it should mean is a big market for the under $15 wines for a long time to come.
Bottom line:  The social media craze continues and hopefully matures into a useful tool for wineries and their customers.

Wine Clubs
Clubs will continue to lose customers as people want to keep monthly expenses low.   Also, clubs seem to be more popular with the older folks and not so much the younger.  That's more cultural maybe.
Bottom line:  It will be another bad year for wine clubs as long as they stick with the model of requiring mandatory shipments and charges.

Corporate Wine
Most wine, by volume, is not from a small farming family, but from large private and public companies such as Gallo, Jackson, Constellation, Diageo, and Fosters.   Those last three just mentioned are corporations and they are all selling off all or part of their wine business because of poor economic conditions.    These guys are all jockeying around to survive.
Bottom line:  A bunch more wineries will change hands.  Everyone tries to hire the marketing whiz that will save their brand.

Some Wineries Will Get Hurt
As the recession drags on it will get harder to keep paying the bills for those small, independently owned wineries that are already stretched to the limit. This problem will focus with the small producers in the $50-up range. Unless these wineries are selling on allocation or sell-out on a mailing list they will have to drop prices, sell the winery, or go out of business.
Bottom line:  Unfortunately, there will be closures and sell-offs.

New Wineries Cropping Up
I don't know how the heck anyone will get a bank loan now to start up a new winery.
Bottom line:  Unless you have deep pockets and are already known in the wine world you won't be opening a winery. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Weirdest Wine Stories of 2010

Yeah, I know, another damned year-end list.  But here are some news articles that will make you go, "WTF!"


Wine-fed beef
Some British Columbia ranchers are feeding wine to their cows then selling the meat to high-end restaurants.  Sort of a Canadian version of Kobe beef.  I have no idea if it actually works or is a gimmick, but at least the cows are happy.  I mean if you're going to the slaughter you might as well do it drunk.

Virtual wine therapy
There's a Facebook page called "OMG I so need a glass of wine or I'm going to sell my kids."   It's a place for stressed-out working moms to go and vent.   For the non-mothers there's the more generic "I need a glass of wine" page.  "OMG I need a glass of wine ..." has turned into a real business as they sell cute merchandise.

Wine vending machines
Pennsylvania has installed wine vending machines so you don't have to bother a clerk.  Except for the guy watching every move you make while you swipe your ID, look into a camera to compare you with your ID, and then blow in a breathalyzer to be sure you're not already drunk.  I wonder if the store is supposed to call the cops if you're over the legal limit?  Or maybe the vending machine does an auto-dial to the highway patrol.

Cheap wine ban
The ever-knowledgeable Washington State Liquor Control Board has banned the sale of cheap beer and wine in Spokane to stop public drunkenness.  I'm guessing it's OK for those well-enough off to get drunk on the state's high-end Cabernet, but not so good for the street bums to get liquored up on Thunderbird.   I'm waiting for Gallo to sue to end this discrimination.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 wine learnings

Everybody has to do an end of the year list.  So have I learned anything new during the past year while doing this blog?   Hope so!   Here are some highlights from the year. 

Good and cheap Pinot Noir don't have to be mutually exclusive, but may be difficult to find.

Here are some really good ones I've found at different price levels:

Mark West California, $10
MacKenzie Russian River, $20
Siduri Sonoma Coast, $30

And probably the best "available anywhere" cheap Pinot is the Kenwood Russian River. It retails at $18 but it's often steeply discounted and becomes a great deal at around $12.

Sparkling wines

The best deals continue to be in bubbles.  If you're only drinking sparkling wines for New Years you really should try them with food and other events in your life.  They brighten up any day!  One thing that hurts sales of sparkling wines in the U.S. is the use of the traditional terms for defining them.  For instance, an Extra Dry is sweeter than a Brut. 
The Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee is one of my favorite bang-for-the-buck bubblies. Their Blanc de Noir is also a good deal.
And please note I didn't call it Champagne as to not piss off the French and other wine snobs.  :)

Two "P" wineries in Sonoma County

Preston - Across the board excellent balance at decent prices (mostly mid-$30s).  Just the right amount of fruitiness, but not overwhelming as many are. If you haven't had Lou's wines or haven't in a while try them!

Pedroncelli - Very well-made in what I'd call an older style (not fruit bombs) at extremely reasonable prices.  They top my QPR list ("QPR" is a wine geek term for a good deal).

Other winery discoveries

Bennett Valley Cellars - Excellent Pinot, good prices
Davis Family - Not a new winery to me, but their Pinots blew me away! 
Inman - More great Russian River Pinot. They pride themselves on earth-friendly farming and processing.
Gracianna - They make real Zinfandel! That is, not a mouthful of fruit backed by 16% alcohol.
Robert Rue -  Never heard of them?  Me neither until recently.  Great Zins!

What Sonoma County does well

Based on my extensive tastings at the last couple Sonoma County Harvest Fairs (hey, somebody has to do it) I've generalized and formed opinions on the state of wine in Sonoma.   Warning: Always be wary when anybody says generalize and opinion...

Pinot Noir prices have stabilized but the wines are not consistently worth the money.  PN is the chanciest wine to buy if you don't know the wine already.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, however,  are mostly good across the board.  Zinfandel continues to be largely made in the fruit-forward, high alcohol style though most are hiding the hot alcoholic taste in the wine.  There are a minority of winemakers still doing the spicy, brambly style of Zin. 

There's a move away from overwhelming oak and butter in Chardonnays though some may be moving towards too stark of a wine, but at least there are options in styles now.   Sauvignon Blanc is still Sonoma's most underrated wine.

Consumer tastes are getting more sophisticated

Wine continues to improve meaning there are fewer bad ones out there compared to a few years ago.  Now there are parallels in beer, coffee and even chocolate in quality, the sense of place (terroir), and, of course, prices.

Prices

Speaking of price... the recent economic problems and large supply of grapes has made for some bargains in negociant labels and in great deals from some wineries. (Negociant = someone who buys wine from several places and assembles their own finished product--they don't make the wine themselves).  The prices won't stay this way forever so buy and enjoy now--assuming you have a job.

 It was a tough year to be in the wine business

Raisined Zinfandel
Whether you are growing, making or selling it was not a good year.   The problems with selling anything this year are pretty well-known.  But for wine grape growers in Northern California it was the worst weather imaginable.  Cool and damp followed by blistering heat and cycling back to damp then finally rain.  Will be be a lousy year for wine?  I don't think so as winery crews are fairly sophisticated in what they can do, but we'll see.  I do feel sorry for the growers as they got the short end of Mother Nature's stick.

Quality of life, consumer-wise
Sonoma County and other nearby areas have an amazing supply of "the good life."   Not just wine, but local beers, breads, cheeses, and produce are first-rate, too.   There are several micro-breweries in Sonoma County with Russian River Brewing considered one of the top breweries in the world.  There are several more in neighboring Marin, Napa, and Mendocino counties.   There is no problem drinking local.   See, you don't have to visit just for the wine!

The rise of eco-friendliness

Concern about everything from the land, energy consumption to corks and bottles is on the minds of most in the wine industry.

In the Tasting Room

Prices to tour and taste keep going up, in Napa anyway, and there's more focus on retail sales rather than hospitality and education.  How about more focus on the wine?
Sonoma Valley old vines in March

The best time to visit?

The vineyards are most beautiful in the spring and autumn.  The crowds are biggest in summer and autumn.  The best weather is May-Oct.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top wine stories of 2010

Yes, another look at the year.   These items are related to the local (Sonoma/California) wine biz.

The Economy
Many would like to see more visitors
heading home like this!
Well, duh, this is the big story.  Mostly you hear about retail sales and pricing, but direct-to-consumer is suffering, too.  There are fewer visitors and they are spending fewer dollars. Plus there is a general oversupply of wine.  No, you won't find Screaming Eagle at Costco, but there are lots of good wines at nice prices--even Pinot Noir!  If the price pressure stays long-term there will be fallout from the marginally successful (or over-extended) growers and producers.   One thing that didn't change, but should have, is over-priced restaurant wine lists.
The Harvest
Bad weather led to bad grapes--low yields, rot, sunburn, you name it.  There were much lower yields of some varieties in some areas.  It appears Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel took the biggest hit.  Whatever your beliefs on climate change it appears the coastal areas may be cooling down.

Marketing
Many wineries are putting more attention on the under-30 consumers.  Much of this is a reaction to the slow-down in purchases by their traditional customers, the 35-55 year olds. If you can't beat 'em, tweet 'em!  It will be interesting to see if this pays off.

Corporate Turmoil
There seem to be changes afoot at Brown-Forman, Constellation, Diageo and Foster's wine groups. The large family holdings, such as Gallo and Jackson, don't go public though there's been consolidation within Jackson to save money.  There was news earlier this year that Diageo may sell off some brands to cut costs.  Foster's has separated their wine division from the rest of the company in preparation to spin it off or sell.  Constellation is selling off its non-U.S. wineries.  Brown-Forman appears to be ready to sell their wine holdings.   All of this affects brands like Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Rosenblum, and Sonoma-Cutrer.

Government Control
While Washington state might be doing away with state-controlled liquor sales Pennsylvania installed wine vending machines complete with a Breathalyzer.  And you wondered why people make fun of bureaucrats?

The Wholesalers Attempted Power Grab
It's called HR5034 and it's having a difficult time in Congress, so far.  The wholesalers want to do away with any form of competition allowing them to set the prices and prevent stores and wineries from shipping you wine directly. They want it all to go through them so they get a cut.  Any alcoholic beverage wholesaler that says he's your friend is, well, a liar.

Sonoma County Labeling Law
A new law says any wine made of Sonoma County grapes must say so.  Napa has been doing this for years (and Sonoma, being #2, likes to copy Napa).  If you think about it some Napa winery labels make no sense--like the ones saying "Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain."  OK, is it from the valley or the mountain?  The idea of the new regulation is to promote Sonoma County.  In reality you're going to see wine labels saying something like "Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley."  Don't get confused like I already am.

Being Green or at Least Politically Correct
Sustainable farming, and using less energy and water gets a lot of press.  Maybe that's what the wineries were hoping for?  Some really care. Others may just be trying to set themselves apart from the competition and get a little free publicity.  As more and more wineries move this way (a good thing) the marketing side of being green isn't there any more.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How green are wineries?

Lots of wineries talk about sustainable farming practices, solar projects, underground storage and all.   And that's great!   "Green" runs from stewardship of the land, chemicals used in winemaking, how you keep your cellar cool, the wine container, to shipping materials.

Drip irrigation
It seems there are a some areas that still need work:
  • Water. The biggest wine-producing states, California and Oregon, have limited water supplies.   As always with agriculture there's a battle between ever-growing populations and farming.   The Central Valley of California is notorious for over-use of water used in growing your fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Vines almost always require irrigation and stuff in the winery needs to be cleaned, but there should be a way to minimize the usage and use more recycled water.   The solution requires money, education and some government coordination.
  • Corks vs aluminum screw-off caps.  This debate will continue.  Cork is renewable--as long as you don't use it faster than you can grow it (like lumber).  Synthetic/plastic corks are definitely non-green.
      
  • Bottles that are thinner (but maybe more likely to break?) and alternative wine containers such as Tetrapak can help reduce what goes to the dump.  Some wine bottles get recycled, but most go into the trash heap.  The beer and soda industries do a better job of recycling, but that took the government to get things started.  The Tetrapak is made of recyclable paper, plastic and aluminum though it isn't good for longer-term storage.  Reusable stainless "canteens" are another possibility however the logistics of getting them back to the wineries is an issue.
      
  • Wine labels can be made from recycled paper and printed with non-toxic inks.
      
  • Shipping containers are available from reclaimed recyclable material.  Yes, Styrofoam is a better insulator than cardboard.  It's made from petroleum, is flammable, and a carcinogen.  Cardboard takes a couple months to decompose.  It's estimated that Styrofoam can take over one million years when buried in a landfill.  Think about that.
      
  • Sustainable farming and production.  There's lots of talk about organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking.  There's less talk about all the chemicals used around the winery.
      
  • Renewable energy sources. Everything in the winemaking process from crushing the grapes to bottling the wine uses energy, primarily electricity.  Cooling the air and the tanks plus hot water used for cleaning are probably the main consumers of energy.   The trend toward solar installations and overall concern for their carbon footprint is taking hold in the wine industry.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beer. The new wine.

First there were wine geeks and all their "secret" terminology and rating systems.   Now it's hitting tea, coffee, and beer.   Yes, my latest coffee is Kona Joe's Trellis Reserve which must be better than their regular stuff because it cost more and it's grown on a trellis system just like wine!   And all those varieties of tea available--you can't just buy Lipton. You've got to choose between breakfast tea, green teas, chamomile, oolong, etc.

The U.S. and Canada (see, I remembered to mention Canada) have over a thousand craft breweries.   This trend started in the '80s a few years after wine got trendy.   Until then you had your choice of a half-dozen macro-brewed beers that all pretty much tasted the same.


You have wine geeks and beer geeks.  As yet I haven't heard of coffee geeks but you might want to check with Seattle.


In the last few years beer alcohol levels have been rising in response to some wanting fuller, sweeter brews.  Does this sound like the New World wine trend of the last dozen years?


There are beer websites, of course, where you argue to your heart's content about what beer style is best and you can rate them using the 100 point scale.  Even Wine Enthusiast magazine did a recent list of the 25 best beers.   Just like any top wine list anyone reading this will note glaring omissions of the beers they like.


As with wine when you talk with beer geeks they use terms that mean nothing to most people:  Aroma hops, bitterness units, cask-conditioned, dry hopping, and wort.


Many micro-brews come in 22 oz bottles or even 750ml wine-sized bottles at $10-up.  Six- and 12-packs generally work out to over one dollar a bottle.


I've even seen vintage dating.  Trader Joe's new seasonal beer is labeled "2010 Vintage Ale" and it's pretty good (made by a micro-brewery in Quebec).  You have to like some of the names beer people come up with for their brews as they generally take themselves a bit less seriously than winemakers. Beers like:  Arrogant Bastard, Great Lakes Burning River (remember Cleveland?), Hop Stoopid and Polygamy Porter (from Utah, of course).


I've even seen websites starting to write about beer/food pairing (what? there's more than sausages?)


But if we've geeked-up wine, beer and now coffee and tea then what's next?   I think chocolate is well on it's way...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Napa/Sonoma Tourist Traps


Darioush "Winery"
Image from darioush.com
 Yes, some of the wineries are more about capturing tourists (and their money) than wine and wine education.   I've been to tourist traps when visiting other places, too.   I remember the western shop in SW Utah where the Japanese tourists were trying on the cowboy hats and gun holsters.  Though I didn't see any assless chaps like they sell in San Francisco...

Anyway, not saying you shouldn't stop at any of these places.  It's just whether you're looking for "wine Disneyland" or people passionate about their product.   What makes a touristy winery?  They get a lot of out-of-state visitors often for some non-wine reason.  Some are on the list mostly because their location has turned them into tourist stops.  Some because their goal in life seems to be to extract the maximum dollars from each visitor.

Castello Di Amorosa
Napa's newest, and very successful, tourist destination.  It's a recreated medieval European castle and is very well done.  But what the hell is it doing in Napa Valley?  Well, it's part of the Disneyland theme so well-practiced there.   You can't get inside without paying and tours cost extra.   But yes, it's worth doing once as it's still cheaper than going to Europe to see the real thing.

Coppola Winery
I'm not quite sure what to make of his new venture in northern Somona.  It's just finishing construction and I haven't visited recently.   But they have a restaurant, a full bar, a movie gallery, a swimming pool, and a bandshell "inspired" by the one in The Godfather II.  They obviously want you to spend the entire day there.  I can't wait to be a tourist and check this place out myself.

Domaine Chandon
A beautiful setting, good sparklers, and buttload of tour buses.  What really got me was after a fairly high tasting fee they have glass tip jars everywhere planted with a few dollars and people whose goal seems to be sure you leave a few bucks.  You don't tip winery employees, but out-of-the-area visitors don't know that.

Darioush
Just look at some photos of this place and decide for yourself if this remotely resembles a winery.  That doesn't mean it's not worth visiting if you want to pretend you're in Syria.

Jacuzzi
Meant to look old.  It's not.   Doesn't pull it off nearly as well as the Castello, but then it was done with a lot less money.

Mondavi
One of the original wineries designed to bring in tourists though Robert Mondavi wanted it to be for the wine.  Tours during the busy season feel more like being part of a cattle drive.  They are a victim of their own success.

Sterling
You take a tram to a Moorish castle on a hill to taste wine.  You get up there and you're kinda trapped for awhile like in a tourist "trap."  Taste in their reserve room, skip the standard tourist wines.

V. Sattui
The original Napa  tourist trap.  Come on a bus, buy a deli sandwich and some wine, then sit outside and have a picnic.  This is the last place I'd want to have a "wine country picnic," but it's the most visited winery in the state.  Same owner as the Castello.

Viansa
Your first warning should be the "visitor info" sign out front. Yeah, right. Inside you'll find an "Italian village." You can tell places where the staff works on commission.  The winery is strategically placed to get you on your way into the wine country.


All of these wineries are doing something right as they all see lots of visitors so if you're going to show up on a summer weekend expect big crowds.

Always good to end on the positive:
  • I have been through the Castello Di Amorosa a few times and find it amazing. 
  • Domaine Chandon makes some excellent bubbles.
  • Mondavi can put on a great tour and has excellent reserve wines.
  • On a recent off-season visit to V. Sattui I found our hostess very pleasant and knowledgeable plus some of the wines quite good.
  • Viansa's "Thalia" is one of the better Sangioveses around.
  • Some other very busy wineries that still seem to thankfully be mostly about the wine:  Beaulieu, Benziger, Beringer, Cakebread, Domaine Carneros, Louis Martini, Mumm, and Sebastiani.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Siduri/Novy and Dehlinger Open Houses

Image from siduri.com
Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Well, that was a good day!   Both Siduri and Dehlinger are top-quality producers and are generally closed to the public, but they both had open house events on the same day (and are about ten minutes apart).

The wines are listed from my favorite to least.

Siduri Pinot Noir

2008 Sonatera Vyd, Sonoma Coast, $49
Great fruit and balance.  Rich, dark, dense.

2009 Gary's Vyd, Santa Lucia Highlands, $51
Very nice. Just a bit tart, complex.

2009 Keefer Ranch Vyd, Green Valley, $49
Rich and spicy with great balance for a young wine.  This one is going to be good!

2009 Cargasacchi Vyd, Santa Rita Hills, $54
Bit earthier, herbs, red fruit, tobacco. Tight.

2009 Sonoma Coast, $30
Rich and spicy.  A good price.

2008 Beran Vyd, Willamette Vly, $39
Similar to the other Willamette wine, but spicier

2009 Arbre Vert Vyd, Willamette Vly, $39
Lighter, lean, good acid. Still in its youth

2009 Pisoni Vyd, Santa Lucia Highlands, $55
In past years this has been my favorite from Siduri, but not this time. Predominate dirt and not enough fruit.  Maybe it's just shut down in its youth?

2009 Santa Lucia Highlands, $30
Deep, rich, a bit hot. Needs time. Just not sure about the alcohol taste.

2009 Hirsch Vyd, Sonoma Coast, $54
Red fruit, cola, much lighter, too soft, no finish.

2009 Sonoma County, $20
Murky, muddy, stemmy, oaky.

Notes on Siduri Pinots:
Really, any of the top five were all very good wines now, and some may be great wines in time. The Sonoma Coast Pinot at $30 is a heckuva bargain. 
If you like the leaner style and will age the wines for awhile the two Oregon Pinots are a good deal at $39 and should be outstanding food wines.
I've had the cheap-o $20 Sonoma County Pinot from Siduri before and was disappointed then, and still am.  Overall, though, some great wines. 
I'm still deciding on the '09s as they're just coming out.  They seem deep, dark, and structured -- so far.  I also believe I prefer the '07s and '08s -- so far.

Novy Syrah

2007 Santa Lucia Highlands, $27
Good structure, complexity, great food wine.

2007 Christensen Vyd, Russian River Vly, $27
Thick, rich, soft

2007 Rosella's Vyd, Santa Lucia Highlands, $29
A bit earthy and floral. Dark, black fruit.

2007 Russian River Vly, $27
Just okay.  You'd want to drink this one now.

2006 Judge Family Vyd, Bennett Vly, $20
Light, spicy, tannins, dry.

Notes:
Besides Syrah there are several other wines under the Novy label that I didn't try.  The top two on my list stood out from the rest.

Dehlinger Winery

Yep, I hadn't been here in years and it still looks the same.  Tom puts his time and money into the vineyard and winemaking, not the facility.  That is, letting the wines do the showing off, rather than the castle, chateau, or caves.

I didn't take notes at Dehlinger so I don't have the vintage years or prices, so all I can say is they were the current releases.  But if you're not on their mailing list you're not likely to find most of these wines.  Following is what I remember as the highlights.

Russian River Estate Pinot.  Very nice, but not great, didn't "wow" me. Firm, earthy, some tannins, ageable.  Good complexity.  

Goldridge Pinot.  Red lush fruit, velvety, somewhat soft, but good acidity.  DEE-licious!

Russian River Estate Syrah.  Deep, rich, bit spicy, firm, but smooth, balanced.  Excellent.

Russian River Estate Cabernet.  The most "not ready yet" wine of the day. Inky and complex. Significant, but not drying tannins.

Yes, the Goldridge Pinot Noir and the Syrah stood out.  Outstanding wines.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trends in the Tasting Room

Things evolve, including how your visit goes when you check out your favorite California wineries.

In the "old days" it was, "Come in and try our wines to see if you like them"  (for free).  With the popularity of wine tasting, especially in Napa, that attitude and price is pretty much gone.

Perhaps some of this is a sign of the recessionary times, but here are trends I've noticed:

  •  Consolidation and "corporatizing" is still happening, but most don't advertise the fact.  The real winery owners are often corporations like Constellation, Fosters, or Diageo.  Sometimes it's rich families like Gallo, Jackson, or Foley.  Does it matter?  I don't know.   But the winemaker's job can be drastically different whereas the common view is he/she spends time in the vineyards, is hands-on with the crush until the wine is bottled vs. sitting in front of a computer in an office bartering for grapes with other wineries in their portfolio.
    Is this guy coming soon to a
    tasting room near you?
  • The mission of the tasting room has gone from hospitality and wine education to retail sales.  The tasting room has changed from a place to show off your wines to a profit center.  You see this in things like job titles (and objectives) changing from Hospitality Manager to Retail Sales Manager.  Will the focus go too far in the direction of the sales push?  Probably in some places.
  • Keeping people on site rather than just moving them through quickly.  Wineries with large enough facilities are looking for ways to keep you there to give you more opportunity to spend money.  The best example of this is the Coppola Winery family theme park.

Are these trends bad?  They don't have to be.  Lots of businesses are corp-owned, lots are there to sell, and many like you to stick around rather than checking out the competition.   It's just that the low-key family farms are getting harder to find.  Or maybe it just becoming a mature business.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Social Media -- It's All the Craze

Wine is a trendy business.

It's no secret the retail and travel businesses are bad shape.  Most wineries are down significantly in sales though things seem to be picking up in the last half of 2010.

How can they get new customers?  With so many winery tasting rooms in the Napa/Sonoma area how do you get people to stop by yours?  Do you use traditional advertising, blogging, twitter, Facebook, etc?  Well, with the trendiness of the wine business you can guess where all the buzz is happening.

When I watch TV, read a magazine, or view most Internet sites there is advertising.  I pretty much choose to ignore all of it. (Thank God for the TV remote control).

So why would I want to go to a company's blog/twitter/Facebook page to pull in their ads? I have no idea. What I see many wineries doing is getting someone with a marketing background to do their blog/twitter/Facebook and try not to make it look too much like in-your-face advertising. This is a fine line to walk--keeping people interested while pushing your product.

I believe traditional advertising via social media is the wrong way. If I'm already interested enough to look you up on Facebook don't try to sell me. (Do you hear that Verizon and Dish TV)? Just feed stuff that's of interest to someone who already likes your wine. You are keeping me interested; maybe you are closing the deal.

The greatest blog or tweet would be from winemakers during harvest. Wouldn't that be cool to follow along with their daily activities? Do you think they really have the time even if they have the aptitude to do this?

It would be fun to hear what's going on in the vineyards with posts like, "Our first bud break on our hillside Cabernet!" or even "We're two weeks later pruning then we'd like to be." Customers are a lot more interested in what the vineyard or cellar folks have to say than some marketing hack.

I was just reading about one interesting thing that is popping up now.  You can pick up discount coupons just before entering the winery via your iPhone-type device. Slick idea! Only issue I had with the article was this type of advertising was being touted by a "social marketing consultant" so I wonder if there's really a pay off? As that's a really narrow section of customers.

I checked out a winery's blog that's been getting a bit of publicity. The first entry was about a meal pairing a BBQ'ed meat with their Cab Franc. So far so good except there was one sentence about the food and several paragraphs about why I should buy this great Cab Franc. It was such an obvious sell job I left the site and didn't read any more. Instead how about something like, "I had our '07 Cab Franc with braised ribs last night. What a great pairing with the strawberry flavors and spices of the wine with the BBQ sauce I made. Recipe follows:"    That is what I need to convince me to buy the wine, not a blatant sales pitch.

There are lots of new experts in the social media field telling wineries what to do.  I don't know how many of these "experts" really know anything.   If I was hiring for this job I think I'd want someone with an even split between wine growing/wine making knowledge, journalism, marketing, and graphics design. I don't know where you find someone like that.

Some thoughts:
  • Blogging:  There are a number of winery websites with a blog link with no or maybe one entry then they've given up.  What the hell are you thinking?  Blog at least weekly or remove the link! If you're going have an active blog, and you should, you need a plan and someone with time to do this.
  • Facebook:  Give me a reason to want to visit your winery or your website.  But don't try to sell me something with your FB entry.
  • Twitter:  It's short and fast by nature.  Be careful what you say.  Think before you post!
Whatever you decide to do you must commit time to remain active.  Yes, social media is cheap advertising, except for the labor side.

Like I said, as a consumer I want interesting things about the vineyards and cellar, and maybe an occasional online coupon. You know, give me a reason to follow your site.

I have a couple wineries I follow on Facebook because I'm already a fan of their wines.   There is some maturing to be done in the social media biz.

If you can't beat 'em Tweet 'em.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sonoma Valley Open House, Nov 27

The Heart of Sonoma Valley association sponsors a holiday open house after Thanksgiving. There were 22 participating wineries; I sampled at the following. They are ranked in order of my preference, favorite to least.

Audelssa - They have been a favorite since my first stop there about 1-1/2 years ago. Great blends 

Deerfield Ranch caves
Image from inside-sonoma.com
 and Cabs from mountain fruit. The Tephra $28 blend of four varietals is a good deal.

Enkidu - The Petite Sirah was soooo good I still have just a bit of enamel left on my teeth! :)

Deerfiled Ranch - More subtle, maybe more French style in their balance. Some good Cabs and Syrahs.

Landmark - A standard of Chard and Pinot.  They did the minimum to participate in this event. (It's supposed to be a food & wine event guys).

Loxton - Good Syrah and Zinfandel at reasonable prices.

Paradise Ridge - Rockpile and Russian River reds. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be interested in pouring the RRV wines while I was there--too busy talking amongst themselves.

VJB - Going for Italian style wines.

Eric Ross - Unusual varietals with sometimes good results.

Wellington - "Funky" is my best description. Not for me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy 100th Mr. Foppiano

Lou Foppiano turned 100 years old November 25th.   Yeah, you could call him a fixture in Sonoma County farming as he spent about 80 years in the vineyards and cellar.

Foppiano Winery has been around a very long time as it was Lou's grandfather who started the winery after arriving from Italy.  The family is now in its fifth generation of managing the winery.

What does Lou attribute his long life to?  One glass of wine a day, no more.  Others would say it's his hard work up until just a few years ago.

Foppiano wines aren't at the forefront of trendy wines.   I mean, they specialize in Petite Sirah for crize sakes!   And it's not exactly an approachable wine when young.  I going to guess Robert Parker never gave a 95 to anything from Foppiano.

Lou's legacy though, may be in his helping to organize the first local winery association to help market their part of Sonoma County.

Read more about Lou Foppiano turning 100 in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Selling wine to China

Everybody wants a piece of the new consumer economy in China--can't let General Motors have all the fun.

Even though U.S. exports of wine overall have dropped with the tough economy exports to China (and Hong Kong) have increased substantially in the last few years.

Chinese investors recently bought Silenus Vintners and their vineyards in Napa Valley.   But it's not just California as Chinese have bought interests in Australian wineries and even French.   Foreign investments in California wines is nothing new, but in the past it's been primarily the French and Australians.

Does China have its own wineries?   They do but apparently the quality has a long way to go before the wines can be considered premium.   Maybe the Chinese hope to learn that from the French, Australians and Americans.   Bordeaux's Chateau Lafite is helping the Chinese develop a vineyard in the Shandong Province, already home to Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc vineyards.  Shandong has been called "China's Bordeaux."

The French have been importing wine into China for a long time and own nearly half of the import market.  The U.S. is only five percent.    China, of course, has a billion potential customers.  Many are very poor, some are part of the growing middle class, other are nouveau riche.  There is no wine culture in China, but that used to be said about the U.S.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What's going on at Foster's wine division?

Foster's renamed their wine division to Treasury Wine Estates a few months ago.   Previous to this there had been some reorganizations and realignment leading to speculation that maybe Foster's was setting up their wine brands for a sell-off.  At the time of the renaming Foster's said they would "spin off" the wine group so that group could have a dedicated focus on wine.  Yeah, it sounds like a lot of corporate mumbo-jumbo to me, too.

Locally Treasury owns Beringer, Stags Leap, Souverain, and Chateau St. Jean.  Also Penfolds and Rosemount plus some others.   It's quite a line-up.

They have a headquarters in Napa.   Why do I ask what the hell is going on?    Because they are hiring for every corporate-type position imaginable.  Looking at one of the wine job sites I see 17 current openings.  Here's a few examples:

Regional Chain Manager
Packaging Manager
Industrial Technology & Systems Specialist
Logistics Business Analyst
Studio Project Manager
Strategic Pricing Manager

 Huh?   I have no idea how the small guys do it without all this.   So what's going on?    I see two possibilities:
  1. They are  being run by people with a manufacturing background who don't know a f**king thing about wine.
  2. They are building up to sell out.   Maybe the more employees the more the business is worth?   That seems counter-intuitive to me.

This is a lot of overhead and is probably only the tip of the iceberg.  I guess their margins can support this.  It seems pretty wacky to me.   Maybe I'm missing something.

So what are the plans for Treasury Estates now?  Foster's has said a 2011 spin-off will happen though they've had at least one offer to sell, but was rejected because it wasn't enough money.  

Foster's said they are starting to see cost savings with the new division--must be because they're hiring all these middle-managers and analysts.   Also they want to increase profits by, um, raising prices at Beringer--probably to be able to pay all the new middle-managers and analysts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November Sonoma Valley Photos

Autumn is in full swing in the vineyards.
November 15, 2010 in the north end of Sonoma Valley (Kenwood vicinity).

Click on any photo to enlarge


Chateau St Jean

From Kenwood Vyds looking south into Kunde property

Kunde Winery

Cave entrance at Kunde

Kunde

Kunde
St Francis Winery

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sonoma Wineries: A few old-timers

If you're looking for big, jammy, expensive fruit-bombs then this post isn't for you.  This is about some of the guys that have been around for decades and still making their wines the same way, for better or worse, depending on your tastes.

I sampled mostly red wines.


PEDRONCELLI since 1927
Image from pedroncelli.com

First thing that hit me were the prices with most wines in the $15-$18 range.  The Friends Red, a blend of Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and Merlot, is a steal at $10.   The Mother Clone Zinfandel is an old vine Zin with typical Dry Creek brambly characteristics, and another steal at $15.

These aren't big, lush wines, but they are excellent food wines and can stand a bit of ageing.


PRESTON since 1975

Exquisite balance. Not too tannic, good fruit, but not jammy or alcoholic.   Folks who like the Turley-esque fruit bomb wine should try Preston's Zinfandel.  You can have nice fruit without 16% alcohol (they don't go over 14.5% on their wines).

Higher-priced with most in the mid-$30s.  Besides the Zinfandel, the LPreston Rhone-style blend and Syrah-Sirah blend were excellent.   Some really great wines.


DRY CREEK VINEYARDS since 1972

Semi-nice, but not Preston nice though at Preston prices.  I tried their three available Zinfandels (you know you're in Dry Creek when you can taste three Zins at one stop) and preferred the Beeson Ranch at $34.   I have been a fan of Dry Creek for a long time, but a bit disappointing this time.


FOPPIANO since 1896

It's all about the Petite Sirah.  They have an Estate Petite (I tried) and a Reserve Petite (I didn't).  The Estate Petite Sirah had a nice spicy, peppery note to it that you don't often find though it also had some of the tannins you often do. This is what you'd call a manly wine--it ain't for sissies!  Don't drink this wine tonight; wait a few years.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dry Creek Vly Vineyard Photos

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California.  November 8, 2010.
Not quite at peak autumn color yet.

Click on any photo to enlarge

Mid-valley looking east near the Family Wineries

Mid-valley looking west

At Mauritson Vyds. Fruit cut and left to rot on the ground
because it had raisined

North valley from Yoakim Road looking west

Looking south towards Wilson Winery

From same location as previous photo but looking west


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sangiovese: Not popular in the US, never will be

Okay, if I'm wrong on this prediction in 50 years you can sue me!  

It's quite popular in Italy, of course, but Americans think it's yucky.   Why is that?

One, it's kind of hard to pronounce, but so are other varieties.  I tell folks if you "talk with your arms" Italian-style while saying "san-jee-oh-VAY-zee" it just rolls off the tongue.

The biggest problem is the acidity of the wine.   All wines have it, but many of the most popular are soft (low acid) wines.   That's why Chardonnay sells more than Sauvignon Blanc.   The high acid in Sangiovese can come across as "bright," "tart," or "bitter."   It depends on the wine and it depends on the individual.   Some people seem to be more sensitive to the acid.

Why do the Italians seem to love it then?    Because they eat a lot of high acid tomato-based foods.    Pastas, pizza, grilled meat with BBQ sauces, and the like are great matches for Sangiovese.   Of course, people will sample their first Sangiovese in a tasting room or at home without food first and will go, "Yuck, where's the Merlot?"

Sangi is one of those grapes that works well in blends as the Italians make it.   California has a hard time with blending, but that's a subject for another time.   If Sangiovese is to catch on in this country it'll be because it's blended.   Italian Chianti is mostly Sangi with a couple other obscure (to us) grapes blended in.   Super Tuscans are a fairly new idea of blending Sangiovese with Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah.   It seems Sangi might be a natural for blending with Zinfandel, but you never see it (at least I haven't).

In California, Sangiovese grows well in parts of Sonoma and Napa, but seems to do best in the Sierra Foothills such as in Amador County.    I believe CA is still trying to figure out where and how to grow Sangi.

Sangiovese also makes a nice dry rosé wine usually called Rosato di Sangiovese.

Ferrari-Carano's Siena and Viansa's Thalia, both blends, are a couple you might want to look for.  If you want a nice, cheap one try Pedroncelli. From Napa I love the Benessere Sangiovese. Remember to have it with a hearty meal!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Interesting Winery Architecture

A number of visitors are interested in seeing wineries with unique architecture and there are quite a few around.   I split them into old, fascinating, and odd (as in amusing) plus those that have great landscaping.    There are others--this is just a sampling.  These cover both Napa and Sonoma counties.

Old

Beringer

Buena Vista
Image from buenavistacarneros.com

The main winery building is about 125 years old.  The tour goes through some of the old wine making areas.  Beringer is very crowded on summer and autumn weekends, but this is a must-see if you've never been to Napa.
Buena Vista
They call themselves "the oldest premium winery in the state."  You can look around the grounds and the large tasting room area.  This is the birthplace of wine in Sonoma County. 
Castello di Amorosa
I couldn't really decide if the Castello belongs under Old, Fascinating or Odd. Lots of money plus a big ego yields an amazing replica of a medieval castle. OK, it's not really old, but it sure looks that way. Worth a visit for the tour if not for the wine.

Hop Kiln
Taste in a 19th century hop barn.  Sonoma County used to have a lot of hops ... then the grapes came in.

Korbel
The winery site contains the original 19th century winery building.  Their free tour starts at the old train station. They even have an antique rose garden.  There's a lot of history here--ask about the ghost in the old house on the hill above the rose garden.

Schramsberg
Take the great tour of their old wine caves.  Appointment required.
Simi
A 19th century stone building houses the winery (except for the more modern visitors' center).  They used to offer public tours, but I can't tell if they still do from their website.

Fascinating


Opus One
Image from gocalifornia.about.com
 Artesa
Modern architecture that blends in well with the surroundings.
Clos Pegase
A famous architect, an eccentric owner, and a desire to recreate a modern version of ancient Greece.
Domaine Carneros
Several wineries try to emulate a French chateau--Domain Carneros does it best.

Opus One
Very modern and a bit pretentious, just like the wine and the people, but a simple, beautiful mix of classical and contemporary.  Yeah, I know, all those terms don't go together exactly.

Odd

Darioush
Image from darioush.com
 Darioush
I can't think of a structure that's more out of place, but that doesn't mean it's not beautiful or impressive.
Ledson
Not your typical winery building.  Looks more like grandma's house.    Or the Addams Family house.

Landscaping

Ferrari Carano
Image from ferrari-carano.com

Chateau Montelena
And old stone building with a great landscaped pond.
Chateau St. Jean
Very beautiful Mediterranean-style gardens.
Ferrari Carano
Amazing grounds.  They must keep an army of maintenance people busy.

Matanzas Creek
A naturally beautiful corner of Bennett Valley (you'll have to look that up on a map) with nice landscaping and their famous lavendar gardens.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wine Accessories

You can't just buy a $5 cork screw and be done with it.   Noooo, this is capitalism at work!    There are a ton of accessories you can buy to go with your drinking habit.   Some make sense.

Bottle Openers
There are the waiter's pull (a standard screw pull), Ahsos, and Rabbit (lever) pulls.   Now there's even electric ones where you just push a button.
You should have a waiter's pull and an Ahso (sometimes called a two-prong cork puller).












The waiter's pull works great for most everything.  The two-prong puller is great for older wines with soft, dry corks where putting a thread into them will just make the cork disintegrate.  The two-prong pulls don't work well for synthetic corks.

I also use the lever-style screw pull because it's easy.













Most of the other types either don't work well or are expensive.   There are numerous different takes on the basic screw-type puller with different handles that you pull down or push up and it doesn't matter because none work as well as those pictured above.

Of course, the best idea is to just use screw caps!


Wine Preservatives

If you have a partially full bottle you let lots of oxygen get in contact with the wine. O2 is the enemy because it will spoil your wine in a short time.    There are two schools of thought to prevent this:  remove the oxygen or put a heavier than air neutral gas on top of the wine in the bottle to insulate the wine from the oxygen.

The vacuum pumps are cheap and you never run out of anything (like argon gas).   The only problem is that don't work well.

The other option is to buy cans of gas that you spray into the bottle.

Or a better option may be to just finish off the bottle and take a couple aspirin before going to bed!

I've seen fancy preservative systems that control the temperature and pump gas into the bottles that cost over $200.

Wine Mellowers

I'm not sure what else to call these items that are meant to smooth out a young wine.   Decanting is the obvious way to do this.   Tumbling the wine and getting air to it mellows the wine.  Essentially, your ageing the wine in a few seconds.   You can pour the wine in to almost any clean container, preferably a glass one, but of course, you can buy a $75 crystal decanter.

Fairly new on the market are the wine aerators where you pour from the bottle directly into your glass through this funnel that has little air tubes (venturis) running through it.   These are more convenient than decanters and they work.    But decanters have another use--getting sediment out of your wine.

If you primarily drink younger wines the aerators is the way to go.  If you drink older wine then get the decanter.

There are numerous other gizmos to stick in your wine that will magically age your wine in seconds.  These are most likely snake oil.

Palate Cleansers

Drinking too much young red wine, such as when you're out visiting wineries or at a wine tasting event can lead to what's called palate fatigue.   Your mouth just gets too tired to taste wine anymore.   Bread and sparkling water do a decent job of reviving your taste buds.    There's a new product specifically designed for this and it does a good job.   It's a sort of a sparkling water with "secret ingredients" that seem to really work called SanTasti.

Other Crap

Don't forget the wine racks, 18 different kinds of Riedel glassware, coolers, foil cutters, champagne stoppers, blah, blah, blah.

My favorite, after years of being told to hold the wine glass by the stem so as not to transfer body heat to the wine, is Riedel's stemless wine glass.  This is their Pinot Noir tumbler.   Yes, it's expensive.   But hey, if you're a clumsy drunk maybe it'll keep you from knocking over your wine glass.

Yeah, this one's for Pinot Noir only.    Don't let me catch you drinking Sauvignon Blanc out of this thing!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What kind of wine with .....?

You never know when one of these weird combinations may come up so as a public service here's what to serve with these, um, foods.

It's not just for breakfast anymore

Chocolate-covered Bacon
This was at the county fair this year.   No, I didn't try it--couldn't even get the kids to try.   Well, sparkling with goes with salty food and the acids in a sparkler are probably good at cutting through grease so we've got the bacon part figured out.  Chocolate is almost always good with a young Cabernet, but would probably suck with bacon.  Off-dry sparkling wines, however, are great with chocolate.  See, bubbles don't have to be just for Valentine's Day.

Squirrel
I assume there are still people in the South that eat squirrel.  It also seems to be trendy in England for some reason. I don't know what the heck squirrels taste like and I really don't care if I ever find out, but I'm guessing it has a wild gamey flavor.   I'm going with a full-bodied red like a Syrah.   They grow a lot of Syrah in Australia and they seem crazy enough to eat things like squirrels.

Buffalo Burgers
Merlot is a good choice. I think that's what the Indians drank.

Vegemite
This is a nasty, salty yeast paste that Australians use to make sandwiches. Think "stale beer."  I guess they don't get peanut butter down there. I'm going with a robust red similar to what you've have with a stinky French cheese.

Garlic Ice Cream
There's an annual garlic festival in Gilroy, CA (the garlic capital) where they sell this creation.  I believe it needs a somewhat sweet rosé. 

Snickerdoodle Cookies
This is a cinnamon sugar cookie that really needs a glass of milk, but if you insist on wine then go with a late harvest Gewurztraminer.

Jelly Beans
Muscat.   At least something sweet and syrupy.  Think "Log Cabin syrup with alcohol."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Final Push in the 2010 Harvest from Hell

Mother Nature has not been kind to the Sonoma County grape growers in 2010.   It was a cool, wet spring followed by a much cooler than average summer with a few blasts of record heat.  The crop loss will be significant.

As of October 19th the weather forecast is for the possibility of rain showers beginning Friday that will last for several days.   Rain and mature grapes don't get along well.   So this week will be the last major push to get the rest of the wine grapes in.

If you're thinking about visiting the North Bay wine country to see the harvest in action then this may be your last chance this year.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat article.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Winter Season Wine Events in Sonoma County

Image from california-vineyards.com
You could stay home and throw another log on the fire or have some fun in the wine country.

Following are some wine-related events for Nov. 2010 through March 2011 in Sonoma County.

November

A Wine and Food Affair along the Wine Road.

Holiday in Carneros Open House.

Heart of Sonoma Valley Holiday Open House.

December

Notes: Wineries are closed on Christmas, some on Christmas Eve.  Many wineries that have event space, such as a cave, will host a New Year's Eve party.

January

Note: Wineries are closed on New Years Day.

Winter Wineland along the Russian River Wine Road.   Website

February

Eighth Street Wineries Open House in Sonoma for a bunch of small wineries you've probably never heard of.  And it's on my birthday!  Website

March

The Barrel Tasting party (yes, it's a party!) along the Russian River Wine Road.   Bring a designated driver for this one.  Website

Savor Sonoma Valley. Their version of a barrel tasting.  Just when you thought it was safe to sober up.   Website

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sneaking Over into Napa Valley

Image from travelpod.com
Yes, this is supposed to be a Sonoma blog, but Napa is just over the hill and sometimes I like to visit foreign lands. So here are some of my favorite destinations.  So far I've been lucky to not be stopped by the local cops patrolling the "border" as you'd think they could tell I'm from Sonoma, not Napa, by my t-shirt, $17 haircut, and driving an old Ford.

Note that I'm somewhat of a cheap bastard so maybe you rich folks won't want to hobnob with the same people I do.

From north to south in Napa Valley

 Calistoga area:

This is the area closest to me so it's where I like to slip in over the border most often. 

My favorite winery in Napa Vly is Schramsberg.  They make some of the best bubbly and have a great tour / sit-down tasting--reservations required.   Lots of history in their old lichen-covered caves.  Chateau Montelena is in a beautiful setting and also has lots of history (plus a $20 tasting fee and expensive wine).   You can see "The Bottle" from the 1976 Paris tasting that put Napa on the map.

For eats you'll find me at Buster's BBQ (with a real wood-fired grill).  Check out the photo of Buster on their web page and tell me your mouth isn't watering!   Yes, it's Napa, so you can have a glass of wine with your ribs, but I don't know why you'd choose that over a cold beer or lemonade.

St. Helena:

You don't hear about much about St. Clement winery, but they put out some nice cabs at reasonable prices, have a $10 tasting fee (cheap by Napa standards), and a nice view from their porch and picnic area.  Benessere makes a great Sangiovese and some other interesting wines you aren't likely to find elsewhere.  Heitz is well past being trendy so is usually overlooked--a mistake (and they have free tasting)!  Raymond Vineyards is probably on nobody's list of places to stop for Cabernet -- except mine. I've been buying reasonably priced Cabs from them for a long time.  Don't miss Prager Port Works as it's easy to drive right by without seeing their sign.

At the Silverado Brewing Company you can sit outside with a cold one and watch the traffic go by on Highway 29. Be sure to get the sweet potato fries.  Taylors Refresher or Gott's or whatever they call it now is a local institution.  Many can't understand the reason to stand in line for a $10 burger (it ain't the ambiance), but it's something you must try at least once.  Tra Vigne was over being trendy many years ago, but is still a favorite of mine. They have a wood-fired oven.  Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen is, um, on a back street in St. Helena so many don't know to look for this gem.

My only word of warning is avoid driving through the downtown area of St. Helena on weekends as you can have a 20 minute wait in traffic--welcome to Napa!

Rutherford:

Mumm has a great setting for enjoying a couple glasses of bubbly.  St. Supery is known for their Sauvignon Blanc and their Rutherford Cabernet, but also makes Semillon and a bunch of other Cabs plus have a nice setting.

The Rutherford Grill makes the best rotisserie chicken!  And has a damn fine wine list.  And a damn fine bar.

Yountville:

This town is just a bit too touristy for me although I've had some good meals at Mustards and Brix, but I can't afford to eat here very often as "cuteness" has its price.

Town of Napa:

Artesa Winery is a favorite stop for cool architecture and wines.

I don't get to the town of Napa often, but when I did I was most often at the Red Hen Cantina (I told you I was cheap).  Hey, they have their own tequila list!  You get tired of wine lists after awhile.   Napa is full of new restaurants that I've never visited--the place is booming!  Check out the downtown and the riverfront area.


Now that I've offered ideas of things to do in Napa Valley I realize it's all about eating or drinking (duh).   Are there other things to do?   I dunno.   I used to work over there, but even that involved drinking.