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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter 2011-12 events in Sonoma County

This is the off-season in the wine country. If you don't like crowds this is the best time to visit.  It could be 70 degrees and sunny or it could be 50 and raining but who cares if there's Cabernet to warm you up!

January in the Russian River Valley

December 2011

Many wineries have their own holiday open house events on the weekends leading up to Christmas. Check with your favorites and see if they have anything going on. I've seen listings for December holiday-related affairs at Alderbrook, Arrowood, Gloria Ferrer, Gundlach-Bundschu, Korbel, Matanzas Creek, Seghesio, and Sonoma-Cutrer.

Wineries are closed on Christmas Day; some will close early on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

January 2012

Almost all wineries are closed on New Years Day.

14-15 Winter Wineland. It's the 20th years for this open house of wine, food, and art at many wineries in northern Sonoma County. Info


3-16 at Russian River Brewery. No it's not about wine. This is the annual release of a triple-IPA called Pliny the Younger rated as the #1 beer in the world. Expect to wait in line to get in the door.

4  Micro-Winery Collective Open House. Seven wineries in Santa Rosa you've never heard of.  Info and tix

11  Sweet 116. Six wineries on or near Highway 116 in the Sebastopol area having a Valentine's event. Info on Facebook

For Valentine's Day several wineries put on chocolate and wine pairings or even host a lunch or dinner. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

17-20 Cloverdale Citrus Fair includes a wine competition. Info

17-20 VinOlivo. Sonoma Valley winemakers' dinners and tastings. Info


2-4 and 9-11 Barrel Tasting. This event has gotten so big it takes two weekends and is still crowded. An open house of northern Sonoma County wineries. Some smaller wineries that aren't normally open to the public show off their wines; other wineries just use this as an excuse to throw a big party. There's nothing like a barrel sample of a five month old Dry Creek Petite Sirah!  Info

17-18 Savor Sonoma Valley. Not to be outdone by the northern Sonoma County Barrel Tasting event Sonoma Valley has its own the weekend after. Just when you thought it was safe to dry out! The Barrel Tasting event is all about drinking; this one has food, too (and is more expensive). Info

Monday, November 21, 2011

Recharging in Sonoma and Napa

So you've got the electric vehicle now but have "range anxiety" meaning you must plan your travel for places with recharging stations.  You may as well have some fun while recharging! These places say you can plug in while you're visiting.


Case Ranch Inn B&B
This is the way to wait while
you're recharging.
Image from

Inman Family Winery - A solar-powered charging station! Totally "free" fuel!


Clif Family Winery

Hall Winery

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November in Dry Creek Valley (photos)

Nov 16, 2011 in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
(Click on a photo to enlarge)

Along Dry Creek Road

From Yoakim Bridge Road

Along Westside Road

Westside Road at Raymond Burr Vyds

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dumb Wine Names

Cruising through the latest Wine Spectator reviews of sparkling wine I found a couple that really stand out, not necessarily in a good way.

"The cute marketing works for Goats Do Roam from South Africa"

Flying Goat
Blanc de Blanc Goat Bubbles
I don't know about you but I'm not putting anything called goat bubbles in my mouth. Besides Wine Spectator only gave it 87 points and probably ten of those are for the name.

"From the school of redundant marketing school"

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée Sparkling California Champagne

Gallo must feel they have to hit their customers over the head with every term known to man.  Any one of those words would be enough for most people. I hope.

OK! I get it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why wine is the best drink

There's plenty of information the the health benefits of red wine

Aids digestion
Wine stimulates stomach acids and red wine counters some of the fats in red meats.

This may increase your good cholesterol so is good for a healthy heart. You can, of course, get antioxidants from things like cranberries and kidney beans but what fun is that?

Even though no one can pronounce this compound it is thought to reduce bad cholesterol.

Moderate levels of alcohol may help raise the good cholesterol and lower the bad.

Good wine
The right glass of wine will make any meal taste better.
A good glass of wine will make anyone a happier person!

Wine is better than:

The high alcohol levels can sneak up on you. Everyone has embarrassing tequila stories, right?

Bloats you up. Gives you a beer belly. However, hops have been shown to have some nutritional value so that's another reason to drink a quality IPA instead of Bud.  Once again, choose quality over quantity.

Too sugary. No nutrition. Just makes you fat (regular soda) or give you cancer (diet soda).

Yes, water.  The ancients used wine to purify water to make it drinkable.  The alcohol from a little wine in some water collected from a stream would kill off the bad bacteria. From the Bible,
"Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November in Sonoma Valley (photos)

Some fall color starting to show.
First three photos are from behind St. Francis Winery.
(Click on any photo to view larger images)

From Benziger Winery

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner wine

Come November every year people want to know what kind of wine they should serve with the Thanksgiving feast.

Of course, the food is what matters when selecting wine so I'm assuming the traditional turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.  All of that falls into a similar savoy flavor. It gets a bit more difficult when you add things like sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

The other thing to keep in mind is what will Uncle John and Aunt Mary like?
Image from

Often the recommendations are for everything from Gewurztraminer to Zinfandel.

I like an off-dry, a Brut style, sparkling wine. Bubbly goes well with lots of foods from salty to spicy to acidic.

Other options are Chardonnay as they tend to be a bit soft (lower acids) and maybe a bit buttery just like the stuffing and potatoes. These Chardonnays will match with everything mentioned except the cranberry sauce.

Another is a drier Rosé as these have pleasant fruit flavors and nice acidity (the good ones do anyway) plus the bright fruits and festive color will please your auntie.

Some recommend Pinot Noir but I haven't had a lot of luck finding one that's a good match. I think you'd want something softer and lower alcohol than most California Pinots such as a Beaujolais. Zinfandel?  I just can't see this as a match to a turkey dinner.

Some Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris may work pretty well. Most have a crisp acidity helps cut through some of the buttery, fatty flavors of the meal.

I'd recommend an off-dry sparkling wine or a dry to off-dry Rosé.

Now what about the pumpkin pie? I'd go for a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc ( as a Sauterne) or a Muscat-based dessert wine.

Oh yeah, remember to sit up straight at the dinner table so you can eat more!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Climate change and California wine grapes

Scientific studies have suggested we're in the beginning stages of a global warming. With all the concern over rising sea levels with potential coastal flooding, food shortages, and so on there are some people getting paid to worry about California's wine grape crops.

A study by Stanford University says up to half of the land now used for premium wine grapes could be lost as soon a 2040 if the predicted two degree temperature increase happens.

California's premium grapes are grown in coastal areas of the state.  Not necessarily on the coast, but close enough to get a cooling influence from the Pacific.  Climate, along with soils, are the two key elements to growing great wine.  So the thinking goes if we heat up it'll be too warm for grapes where they're grown currently.  Such as, Chardonnay and Pinot will no longer grow well in places like Carneros and the Russian River Valley.  And Cabernet in places like the middle of Napa Valley and in Alexander Valley.
Morning fog in the vineyards
Well, I ain't no scientist, but I'm not convinced these areas under a cool coastal influence will actually get warmer.  

The global weather is driven by the difference in temperatures in different regions of the land and on the water.  The coastal areas of California have a climate dependent on hot weather in the central part of the state.  As the Central Valley heats up in the summer with temperatures often hovering around 100 degrees this hot air naturally rises.  Cooler, denser air from the ocean is pulled in to replace it.  Or what's known locally as our morning fog.

Fog hugging the California coastline in summer
Image from

This cooler air coming in off the Pacific is the defining characteristic of the growing season climate in California's premium grape region.

So the question is, will the coastal areas heat up equally with the interior or will this rising hot air / cool ocean air engine actually be stronger?  These global warming studies seem to take a macro view in that everywhere will heat up more-or-less equally.  Wouldn't it be interesting if the coastal areas get cooler as more ocean air is being drawn in because the central part of the state is heating up?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wine for the Millenials

Now that the Millennials are mostly in their 20's (drinking age) you see marketing directed towards them and wine is no exception. The problem with California premium wine ($20+) is it's too expensive for most people in that age group.

Also, a culture brought up on Pepsi doesn't easily move to dry wines with acids and tannins. This is why we've seen the popularity of White Zinfandel, oaky, buttery Chardonnays, and more recently the soft, fruity Zinfandel (and Pinots and Cabs).  Most of these are still out of the price range of a 25 year old except for the White Zin but that is way past being trendy. Somewhat sweet Pinot Gris is fashionable right now but it's a girly wine apparently.

One wine that's shot up in popularity among the younger and new-to-wine crowd is Muscat in various new forms (see earlier blog post on Muscat).

Those who are big into wine (aka wine geeks) are always on the lookout for The Next Big Thing. This may be some new, trendy and expensive Napa Cabernet (the next cult wine) or maybe trying to decide if Tempranillo or Viognier will ever really catch on in the U.S. But The Next Big Thing will make the wine snobs gasp, shriek and choke on their cigar smoke because it'll be cheap, somewhat sweet red wines.

If the 20-somethings can find an $8 bottle of wine with a youthful looking label and the sweetness to appeal to their cola-drinking history then it'll take off.  I don't mean really sweet dessert wines; these will be sipping wines--something for the trendy wine bars to sell even. It's not Boone's Farm or Thunderbird and it's not Dow's Port--it's in between in quality and price.  That will be the trick--making a decent quality and affordable slightly sweet wine. I expect there's enough worthy red wine grapes in the Central Valley of California to make this work.

It won't be just the 20-somethings either as I can't count the number of times in a tasting room when I've been asked by a middle-aged Midwesterner if we have any sweet red wines. And the answer has always been "no."  Non-dessert style sweet reds have always been looked down upon as cheap and crappy bulk wines--just as rosé had the same reputation until recently.

The wine biz admits to White Zin being sweet and probably will too with Pinot Gris.  They never fessed up to sweet Chardonnays like the one that made Kendall-Jackson rich.  When these sweeter reds come they will have to admit to leaving sugar in the wine to attract the right consumers. Or maybe they'll call them "off dry" or "fruity."

Wine marketers in Sonoma County and other premium wine areas have been going after this age group for awhile with social media and in other ways.  The issue has been it's still consumers in their 40s and 50s that buy $20-up wine. New wine drinkers don't generally understand dry beverages.  That's not new as buttery Chardonnay and White Zinfandel often have been "starter" wines for many. But if you want the 20-somethings to become steady buyers you need a line of cheaper, softer, sweeter wines. Or you can wait for Gallo to take over that market, too.
This one's got the name B LOVELY
the label FLOWERS and BEES
the price UNDER $10
Image from