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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fastest growing wine in the U.S.


Muscat, that cheap Central Valley blending grape, is hot.   Gallo, Woodbridge (Mondavi), Sutter Home, and Beringer all report big sales.  Moscato is inexpensive and sweet and apparently trendy with younger urbanites.  Sales have more than tripled over the last three years.

Some makers are trying to move consumers "upscale."   Beringer adds a bit of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah to make Red Moscato.  Gallo has one under their Mirassou label with a suggested retail price of (gasp) $12!  Interestingly, nowhere on the Mirassou website is Gallo mentioned.  Mirassou Winery is called "America's oldest winemaking family"  even though the winemaking is now done by Gallo.  I guess withholding the truth is okay in marketing.

Muscat has been popular for generations as Asti Spumante and Muscat Canelli.  Now the U.S. marketing-types are trying to link Rap music and Moscato to key in on the millenials.  A couple Rap songs have referenced Moscato.

So if White Zinfandel is the official drink of middle-aged women and Pinot Grigio solidly with the 30-somethings then Muscat must be the drink for the young'uns in their 20s.   Just so you know where you belong--marketing-wise.
Cool-looking bottle, huh?
Seller's website says it's from a cult-Napa winemaker!

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The worst taste in wine

This wine is flawed.  Not because of the winemaking but because of a business decision.

This wine leaves a bad taste in the mouth
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Lieb Cellars of NY state, whose tag line is "North Fork not Napa Valley," has stepped in it deep with their 9/11 commemorative wine.   Yeah, WTF?   A Chardonnay and a Merlot labelled "9/11 Memorial" selling for $19.11.  The bottles note that the grapes "were grown 90 miles from the site of the World Trade Center attack."

The winery plans to give a small percentage of the sales to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.  Yeah, that's great but you could do that without trying to cash in on the tenth anniversary of a disaster that killed thousands.    Why not a 70th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor wine while you're at it?  Maybe you can export it to Japan (and send some to Hawaii).

To borrow a phrase from comedian Kathy Griffin, "You guys can suck it."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2011 Harvest Begins!

The wine grape harvest in Sonoma County officially kicked off on August 22nd.  A small batch of Pinot Noir was picked for use in J Winery's sparkling wine.  Grapes for sparklers are picked less ripe so they come in first.

This is just about the same time as last year with both years being later than average.  2010 saw a cool and damp summer causing the delay in ripening and a fairly heavy loss of some varieties in some locations.  2010 was also a tough economic climate for growers to sell their grapes even though the crop size was down.

The 2011 season was delayed by a wet spring but since that time conditions have been good.  Crop size is down from a couple years ago but quality should be high -- assuming Mother Nature continues to cooperate.  Also, it appears growers are having a much easier time selling their grapes this year.

The trickle of grapes that started yesterday should turn into an avalanche in a month.

Press Democrat article

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sonoma Pinot Noir Tasting

On August 18th blogger William Allen put on a Pinot tasting with about a dozen producers pouring their wines.   We all tasted and picked our top three.  He will publish the overall results in his blog Simple Hedonisms.   Following are my picks.

My top Pinots: (listed alphabetically)

Baxter 2007 Oppenlander Vyd Mendocino, $60.  Nice fruit with softer finish but well structured.  Yes, it's expensive, but it's a great wine.
My wine of the night
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Inman 2007 Olivet Grange Russian River Valley, $56.  Fruit-forward without being overdone or alcoholic.  Nicely balanced. Sometimes you try a wine and say, "This is really well made."

Krutz 2007 Anderson Valley, $45.  A bit tight but fuller-bodied with great structure and complexity. Classic Anderson Valley.

Joseph Swan 2007 Saralee's Vyd Russian River Valley, $35.  Depth, structure, bit soft, earthy, minerally.  If you like fruit-forward wine you probably won't like this one, but if you like Burgundian style this one works and at a reasonable price.

Londer 2009 Corby Vyd Anderson Valley, $40.  Lighter "classic" style, blueberries, bit of tobacco.

Other excellent Pinots:

Baxter 2007 Toulouse Vyd Anderson Valley, $45. Lighter body, bit tart, short finish.

Bjornstad 2008 Hellenthal Vyd Sonoma Coast, $40.  Blueberry coolness with a spicy finish.

Freestone 2007 Sonoma Coast, $55. Structured but somewhat lacking fruit and finish. Probably should age this one for a few more years.

Sojurn 2009 Gap's Crown Vyd Sonoma Coast, $48. Bit bitter up front, fruity, bit of heat on the finish.

Sojurn 2009 Roger's Creek Vyd Sonoma Coast, $48. Fuller bodied, rich, spicy, just a bit of heat on the finish.

The rest:

Londer Vineyards
A new find for me.
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Bjornstad 2008 van der Kamp Vyd Sonoma Mountain, $40.  Not showing well.  Maybe it will later?

Deux Punx 2009 Elk Prairie Vyd Humboldt County, $27.   Gotta love the name, two punks from Humboldt.  They claim the vineyard is on original European root stock (no phylloxera up that way--yet).

Foppiano 2009 Estate Russian River Valley, $25. Medium body with lots of fruit, but nothing special except the price.

Gloria Ferrer 2007 Carneros, $22. Bit of a medicinal nose, big fruit, soft finish.  Least expensive Pinot here and my least favorite.

Inman 2008 Olivet Grange Russian River Valley, $56. Tight, nose is a bit "off."  Will this develop like the 2007?

Joseph Swan 2009 Cuvee de Trois Russian River Valley, $29. Murky. Maybe too young?

Londer 2009 Ferrington Anderson Valley, $50.  Spicy, earthy, tannic. Probably needs time to develop.

Windsor Sonoma 2009 Russian River Valley, $30. Fruity, rich, simple.  A good deal if you like fruit-forward Pinots.

The best news is out of the approximately 18 Pinots tasted I found no dogs.  All were definitely drinkable; some were of a style I didn't particularly like (I'm not so fond of simple, big fruit wines).  For my money I'd be buying the Londer Corby Vineyard at $40 and the Krutz at $45.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New member of the Napa County Farm Bureau

The Napa County Farm Bureau contains numerous winery owners and winemakers, as you'd expect, along with a few ranchers and olive producers.   Their mission is "to ensure the proper political, social, and economic climate for the continuation of a strong, viable, and sustainable agricultural economy."
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The Farm Bureau has a new member, a St. Helena resident growing medical marijuana in his backyard.   Crane Carter wants to use his membership as a springboard to legitimize pot as a taxable crop.  In the meantime he's wasting no time in designing a t-shirt to sell to the tourists.

Carter's goal?  "Why should Humboldt County be the Napa Valley of pot growing.  It should be Napa!"

I suppose when the farm bureau finishes up its business meetings someone breaks out their Cabernet, maybe a rancher supplies some steaks, and now ...

By the way, if you're in town on August 28th per the farm bureau's calendar, it's their annual barn tour!  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Napa Valley - Disneyland for Adults

Napa Valley is sometimes described by locals as a "Disneyland for Adults."  It's a magical place grownups dream about visiting someday.  You can hang out and chat with other adults from all over the world. And maybe even hang with local rock stars (winemakers).
The Napa Valley Wine Train
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You can get a buzz on and maybe do something you wouldn't ordinarily do back home around the relatives.   It's not Vegas (thank God), but many visitors think it's a place to let loose.  Yes, I've seen a few things going on that are at least R-rated plus seen people drinking on the streets or even drinking and driving--things they wouldn't do back home for sure.

So by calling it "Disneyland for Adults" isn't meant in a derogatory fashion although some places and some events may cross the line into a bit of Vegas or Hollywood.  Is this wrong?  Well, these places and events sure are popular just like the real Disneyland.   Obviously, many people are looking for a bit of a fantasy vacation--that's why Vegas is popular, right?

Castello di Amarosa Winery
It's a well-done recreation of a Italian castle using materials brought over from real European castles.  There's a fee just to get inside.   Some people are put off by this, but then the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA doesn't let you in for free either. The Castello is very popular with the out-of-state and foreign tourists.   It's a fantasy in the true Disneyland model.

Chateau Montelena Winery
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The wine geek's Disneyland because of the "Judgement of Paris."   If you don't know what that is you're not a real wine geek.  If you are then it kind of like visiting Mecca.

Darioush Winery
The ultimate Disneyland in Napa.  Or is it Persia in Napa?   Or a Hollywood set? You can certainly call it spectacular.  It's just tough to call it a winery.

Napa Valley Wine Auction
Everybody dresses up and looks for stars.  Maybe Michael Jordan will be back to add to his collection?  Those nerdy-looking kids over there must be Google execs.  Lets hope Robin Williams won't swear at all the rich people bidding at the auction this year.  Looking for a sugar daddy (or momma)? This is the place!

Pride Mtn Winery
Pride Mountain got cult status a few years ago.  With any trend they come and go but these guys know how to cash in with a top-of-the-line $75 tour/tasting.  Someone will pay it.  But if you think that's bad you can make an appointment at one of Kendall-Jackson's Napa holdings, Cardinale, to taste their current release wine (that's singular) for fifty bucks.
Opus One. Sure it's overrated,
but you know you wanna go.

Silverado Vineyards
No, it's not a Disneyland-style winery, but it actually has a Disney connection as it's owned by members of the Disney family.  It's a nice winery, with nice wines, and Mickey is not to be seen anywhere.

Sterling Vineyards
There's an entry fee to get here as you must ride a tram up to a Moorish castle.  You might wonder what a Moorish-style castle is doing in Napa and what it has to do with wine, but after looking at Darioush it's really pretty tame.

V. Sattui Winery
If you're there on a rainy Wednesday in January you won't get the Disneyland connection. But if you're there any other day with the buses, screaming kids, pushy tourists, and the frazzled employees you'll see a spectacularly successful winery in full tourism mode.

All I can say is, "It's a fake town" in that the locals don't have anywhere to shop.  It's small and cute and loaded with expensive lodging and food.  But then I just got back from Mendocino on the Pacific coast so I understand the allure of those picturesque places that exist only to cater to tourists.

Foppiano Winery in Sonoma County
No Disneyland effect or prices here!
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So just like every kid wants to go to Disneyland every adult who drinks wine even occasionally wants to visit Napa Valley.    Go ahead, but don't say I didn't warn you!   You can visit and stay away from the Disneyland effect by visiting some of the smaller and more out of the way places.  Or, of course, you can come over the hill to Sonoma County.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August morning in Sonoma Valley

August 15, 2011
Click on a photo to enlarge

Madrone Road near Valley of the Moon Winery

From Madrone Rd looking towards Mount Veeder

Color change (veraison) a couple weeks late this year

Lots of choices!

Kunde vineyards

From Kenwood Vineyards

Veraison at Kenwood

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What wineries should you visit?

An oft asked question of people planning a trip to the California wine country is, "What wineries should I visit?"   It's a great question, but there's no answer.   That's like asking, "I need a new car. What should I buy?"  I dunno, a Kia or maybe a Ferrari.   See the problem?

Between just Sonoma and Napa Counties there are hundreds of choices so you have to come up with a criteria to narrow the selection.

Here's one way to get around
on your first visit.
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Have you ever been to the wine country before?
If not you may want to start with a tour at one of the big boys like Mondavi or Beringer.  If you've made a trip to Napa already it's time to branch out to Sonoma or somewhere else.  If you're already been to Sonoma, Santa Barabara, and the Sierra Foothills maybe it's time for Mendocino or Santa Cruz.

Do you know much about wine?
If you consider yourself a novice you may want to stick mostly to names you've heard before such as Mondavi and Beringer, but don't be afraid of some places you've never heard of because you'll find that 99% of the winery names are new to you.

What time of year are you visiting?
Napa Valley and anywhere close to a large city can be very crowded in peak season.  This can detract from the overall experience.  Choose somewhere less famous and you'll get better service.

Artesa Winery
Are you interested in anything besides the wine such as architecture, art, great views, the vineyards?
Do some Googling before you go.

Do you prefer certain varieties?
Certain wineries and certain growing areas are better for certain types of wines.  That is, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grow in cooler areas with a coastal influence and Cabernet does best in warmer areas.  With California's micro-climates you can still find most varieties within an easy drive of each other, but if you love Zinfandel you want to visit Dry Creek Valley, for instance.

Looking for new wines or things you can buy back home?
Some folks want to sample so they have a better idea what to buy at home.   Others are looking for only wines they can't find on their local store shelf.  You see Beringer, Mondavi, Kenwood, and Chateau St. Jean wines everywhere, but even these big boys make a few wines you probably won't find at home.   There are many small operations that you've never heard of and these are where your new wine discoveries can be made.

What price range of wines are you interested in?
You probably shouldn't be stopping at Sterling if you are looking for high-end Napa Cabs.  Likewise, you probably don't want to make appointments on Diamond Mountain (where you find expensive Cabs) if you are looking for cheap Chardonnay.

Or are you not buying this trip?
You can stop in tasting rooms that are open daily or you can make appointments at smaller wineries where you sit down with the owner and/or winemaker.  If you're just sampling to see what you like with the intent to buy back home then stick to the open-to-the-public tasting rooms.

Once you can answer these sorts of questions it becomes easier to make recommendations and for you to do Internet searches to find potential stops.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Autumn 2011 Sonoma County Events

Fall is a great time to visit the wine country.   The harvest is happening, the weather is great, and there are fall colors in the vineyards.
Here are some things happening in Sonoma County during September, October, and November of 2011.


2-4  Sonoma Wine Country Weekend - Wine tasting at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch, an auction at Cline Cellars, various winemaker dinners and winery BBQs.  Get discount tix with a Visa Signature Card.  Info

2  Santa Rosa Railroad Square First Fridays - Street festival with food, wine, and music. Info

4  Rodney Strong Winery Concert Series - Jazz musician Chris Botti.

10  Healdsburg Beer in the Plaza.  About 30 local microbreweries.  Info

10  Wine Country BBQ. Kansas City Barbecue Society nationally sanctioned competition.  Lots of meat, wine, beer and music.  Info

14-18  Sonoma Valley Crush Weekend. Harvest events.  Info

23-25  Sonoma Valley Vintage Festival - Held on the town square in Sonoma with a grape stomp, parade, music and, of course, wine tasting.  Info

23-25  BR Cohn Winery Charity Auction and Music Festival - A Friday night dinner with Guy Fieri then the Doobie Brothers, Leon Russell, Sammy Hagar, and others play in the vineyards on the weekend.  Info


1-2  Sonoma County Harvest Fair - There's an overpriced Friday night event on Sept 30th followed by the Sat-Sun afternoon wine tasting.  Food, award-winning wines, beer, music, big crowds, and more wine.  Info

21-23  Pinot on the River - Three days of Pinot Noir in Healdsburg.  Info


5-6 Wine and Food Affair - A very popular Northern Sonoma County food and wine event weekend.  Info

19-20  Holiday in Carneros - Winery open house in southern Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Info

25-26  Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House - Holiday food and wine tasting.  Info

Harvest Events - Many wineries have their own harvest parties. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

Thanksgiving Weekend - The wineries are closed on Thanksgiving Day. The rest of the weekend is usually very busy and many put on special holiday open houses.  Check with your favorites to see if they have anything special going on.

Wells Fargo Center - The auditorium has various shows and concerts.  During Sept, Oct, and Nov. Willie Nelson, Ron White, Lisa Lampanelli, Dana Carvey, and others perform.

November in Dry Creek Valley

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Another reason to drink wine in the summer

You've seen all the studies showing moderate consumption of red wine can prevent everything from heart disease to osteoporosis.   The latest study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry says a  compound in grapes may protect from UV radiation.
Wine could keep you from
becoming a redneck!

So maybe a glass of Cabernet instead of rubbing on that smelly, greasy Coppertone.

The study says you may get the same benefit from eating table grapes, but what fun is that?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Russian River Valley morning

Morning fog clearing over the Russian River Valley.
8/4/11 looking west towards the coast
Click on photo to enlarge

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Another Sonoma family winery goes corporate

Not too long ago the second oldest family run winery in Sonoma County, Seghesio, sold to a Napa-based wine group owned by a larger company.
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Now Landmark Vineyards, founded in 1974, has sold to the owners of Fiji Water.  The company, Roll Global, is U.S. based and has about 4,000 employees mostly in agriculture-related businesses.

Landmark is primarily known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and has a facility in the northern end of Sonoma Valley.

Press release

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tasting with a View

Following are some Sonoma County winery tasting rooms that have great views for you while you sample their products.  No sense looking at a boring wall!

These are all open daily.  There are others where you can see some vines or you can step outside and have a nice view but these all have a Bar With a View.  I'm sure there's something I've missed.  Let me know if you can think of any others.

Known for their Zins and some legendary parties during the March barrel tasting weekends, but go on a quieter day and enjoy the view over Dry Creek Valley.

Gary Farrell
In the hills of the Russian River Valley down a road where you'll swear you're lost and will never see civilization again. Gary no longer owns his namesake winery but he sure did put some money into this place before he sold.  You can look out over the oak forests--see it's not all vineyards!  They are known for their Pinot Noir.
Gary Farrell

Gloria Ferrer
Sitting part way up a hillside off the valley floor outside of Sonoma with a nice view of the vineyards.  You can sip on some excellent sparkling wines at an outdoor table.

Iron Horse
It's high-end sparkling wine and Pinot served from an old, rustic building. The cool part is the tasting is outdoors where you can look over the vineyards on the rolling hillsides with mountains in the distance.
Iron Horse

Paradise Ridge
You would never guess what a great view you'd have based on their location in Santa Rosa with nearby commercial and residential areas.   They have a  spot on a hillside overlooking some of their vineyards and points farther west across the entire Russian River Valley.  There are indoor and outdoor tasting areas.  Highlights are the estate Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.

Stryker Sonoma
From the tasting bar you look through huge windows out onto Alexander Valley.  Known for their Cabs and Zins.

This is the old Roshambo Winery in the Russian River Valley.  Actually it's right on the "border" with Dry Creek Valley.   The tasting room is on a hill looking over the valley and to the mountains beyond.  Great Pinot Noir.

Disclaimer: I get a paycheck from one of the above