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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 Grape Harvest in Sonoma

The 2012 harvest has just about wrapped up. That is, as far as grapes coming in from the vines to be crushed. There's still lots of work for the cellar folks.

After three years of some weather related disappointments 2012 looks like an excellent harvest. Excellent in quality and quantity. The weather was as good as you can expect from Mother Nature. The amount of fruit coming in surprised most people. Tank space and barrels are at a premium in the wine cellars. Early guesses are quantity is up 20% over last year.

Getting top quality wine along with high yields is a grower's and winemaker's dream. Or at least it will be now that the 80 hour weeks are behind them. They are hopeful at having a market for all this juice as much of Europe had a very bad harvest with low production hitting France and Italy. Overall it's estimated worldwide wine production will be at a nearly four decade low this year.

So there's good quality, high yields, and demand. People are smiling--once they get caught up on sleep.

Processing Pinot Noir earlier in October:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Late October in Alexander Valley (photos)

October 26, 2012 in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley
Click on any photo to enlarge

Unpicked red grapes (maybe Mourvedre) at Alexander Valley Vineyards

From Hanna Winery

From Hanna Winery

From Hanna Winery

From Sausal Winery

From Sausal Winery

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour of Lagunitas Brewery

I got in with a tour group from Rosso's Pizzeria (the best pizza in town) to visit Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. They've become a huge, successful operation and are in the process of expanding to Chicago to cover demand in the eastern U.S. Lagunitas IPA is the #1 selling IPA in California.
Here's a photographic tour of their production facility.
Click on any photo to enlarge

There's a LOT of stainless in Sonoma County!
That's our tour guide in the lower left of the picture

Bags of ingredients stored everywhere

Love the etching on the lid to the tank

This was a large spaceship-looking contraption

Fermentation tank

Bottling line

A sad story. A new tank was on its way from Germany via a ship
when it ran into a hurricane near Panama

Lots of automation in the plant and lots of equipment that's there it speed up processing as they try to keep up with demand. A nice problem to have!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sonoma County--The #1 Wine Destination

So says TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Award for The Top Ten Wine Destinations in the U.S.

#1 Sonoma County is called "laid-back and unpretentious" while #2 Napa Valley is "legendary, amazing and sophisticated." You choose your style. By the way #3 is Willamette Valley in Oregon. 

For some reason #10 Plymouth, CA and, I assume the rest of the Sierra Foothills, is behind places like Colorado and Long Island. No offense to them, but the Sierra Foothills is a great place to wine taste if you haven't been there. I expect their wines are better, too, as they've been growing wine grapes around Plymouth for almost 150 years. I guess they're still fairly unknown.

Worldwide Tuscany in Italy was #1 with Sonoma County #2. Nice to have the recognition, but we'd like Napa to keep the traffic!

 Who would you rather chat about wines with?

Duff Bevill, a Sonoma County grape grower
Napa Valley winery owners (Far Niente)

Images from and

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mid-October in Sonoma Valley (photos)

October 17, 2012 in Sonoma Valley
as the autumn colors are just starting to show in the vineyards.
Click on photos to enlarge

From Deerflield Ranch Winery looking across the valley
From Kenwood Vineyards looking towards the Kunde ranch

Near Kenwood Vineyards

Along Madrone Road

From Madrone Road

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Hearty Welcome to Sonoma County's Newest AVA

And I do mean hearty because living in this remote area isn't exactly for those who like warm, calm weather and nearby shopping!

The Fort Ross-Seaview American Viticultural Area is just a few months old. It's just inland from the northern Sonoma coast an 85 mile drive north from San Francisco. It's a sub-appellation of the much larger Sonoma Coast AVA of 27,000 rugged acres, but has only 500 acres of vineyards with a handful of growers and just one tasting room, Ft. Ross Vineyards. I don't imagine they get many visitors most days. The nearest towns are the seaside village of Jenner, pop. 135, and Cazedero, pop. 350, known for having the second highest rainfall in the state.

Meyers Grade Road, the "main drag" through Ft Ross-Seaview

Ft. Ross was an actual Russian settlement 200 years ago; Seaview is a small coastal cluster of homes.
What makes Fort Ross-Seaview unique? The Sonoma Coast is usually cool and cloudy during the grape growing season. A typical summer day is damp and overcast during the morning with a few hours of cool sunshine in the afternoon with temperatures usually in the 60s. Not a good place to grow grapes. However, the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA is just a bit inland and at an elevation above the fog (900 to 1,800 feet) so there's lots of sun but with fairly cool temperatures. It's a pretty good place for grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Wineries within Fort Ross-Seaview are the already mentioned Ft. Ross Vineyards plus Flowers, Hirsch, Peay, and Wild Hog.

So what are the wines like? The growing season is different than the warmer, lower elevation, inland areas. Pinots tend to be dark, spicy, firm, maybe a bit tannic; Chardonnays show acid and minerality. Acid in the wines is usually one of the things to expect from a cool region like this.

Part of Ft. Ross Vineyards
Image from

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marketing Jug Wine

Somebody in wine marketing should steal this idea from a spirits maker.

The bigger wine conglomerates with the marketing staffs are always looking for something new, something to attract a wine-buying segment of the market. One of those segments is wines aimed at guys. For instance, some genius came up with Big House Wines featuring cartoonish pictures of prisoners on the labels.

A German spirits company, G-Spirits, claims all of its booze was "poured over the breasts of a certified model" before bottling. Booze over boobs article.

Using this for wine could lead to a very popular and probably the most expensive "jug" wine ever! It could even be for a good cause as October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Someone out there should get on this! And if you need an official photographer to record the event give me a call.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2012

The 2012 Sonoma County Harvest Fair annual tasting of gold medal winners was October 5-7. I made it all three days. Whew! I didn't attempt any real rankings or much in the way of notes as it's really difficult to attempt at a crowded event like this (or maybe I'm just lazy). The wines are listed below by the category as judged by the fair. The fair breaks many of these down by price range (such as Cabernet under $30), but I just lumped them all together. Within each of these I did a rudimentary ranking where I've split the wines  tasted into four color-coded categories:

Top Wines of the fair 
Excellent Wines - the other standouts
Very Good Wines - I'd buy these if they're cheap enough
Not So Good - I can't figure why these got Gold Medals or maybe I just don't know anything about wine

So, wines in bold type are my top ones, blue excellent, red pretty decent, light pink not so good. The Harvest Fair gives out medals that are better than a "regular" Gold Medal: Double Gold (unanimous choice from the judges for a gold medal), Best of Class (the best of all the gold medal winners), and Sweepstakes winner (best of the best).

Note that I'm a red wine drinker. There were hundreds being poured so I only got to a fraction of them. Often I went for wineries I've never heard of or at least haven't had their wines before.

These are all Gold Medal winners unless otherwise stated below. As always, it's just my opinion. Your results may vary.

Grape Stomp Competition

Bordeaux Blends 

Alexander Valley Vyds 2007 Cyrus Alexander Vly, $60
Clos du Bois 2009 Marlstone Alexander Vly, $50. Best of Class (needs time!)
Dry Creek Vyd 2008 The Mariner Dry Creek Vly, $40
Ehret 2008 Bella's Blend Knights Vly, $40(very tannic)
Estate 1856 2009 Cab/Petite Verdot/Malbec Dry Creek Vly, $36
Forchini 2009 BeauSierra Dry Creek Vly, $22
Muscardini 2010 Rancho Salina Sonoma Vly, $49
Page Hill 2009 Alexander Vly Bordeaux, $25. Best of Class

Bordeaux Varietals 

Wattle Creek 2010 Malbec Alexander Vly, $38. Best of Class
Windsor Oaks Malbec Block 35 Chalk Hill, $35

Cabernet Franc
(No, I don't know why Malbec is judged as Bordeaux Varietals and Cab Franc has its own category)

Christopher Creek 2009 Kelly's Block 7 Dry Creek Vly, $55
Wilson Winery 2009 Dry Creek Vly, $35 (spicy, no varietal characteristics)

Cabernet Sauvignon

Deering 2009 Nelligan Road Sonoma Vly, $45. Best of Class
de Lorimier 2009 Reserve Preston Ranch Alexander Vly, $52
Dry Creek Vyd 2007 Endeavour Vyd Dry Creek Vly
Francis Coppola 2008 Sonoma County, $58
Geyser Peak 2008 Block Collection Alexander Vly, $47
Hauck 2009 Sonoma County, $34. Best of Class
Medlock Ames 2008 Alexander Vly, $52
Roth 2009 Alexander Vly, $28
Williamson 2009 Dry Creek Vly, $57


Williamson 2011 Dry Creek Vly, $45 Double Gold (oaky, flat)


St. Francis 2009 Behler Vyd Sonoma Vly, $45. Best of Class
Selby 2008 Sonoma County, $20. Best of Class

Petite Sirah

Gustafson 2009 East Ridge Block Dry Creek Vly, $28
Shippey 2008 Flaming J Vyd Dry Creek Vly, $28. (too drying; maybe in 2025!)

Pinot Noir

Bennett Valley Cellars 2011 Bin 6410 Carneros, $24 (not ready yet) 
Davis Family 2009 Soul Patch Russian Rvr Vly, $42
Davis Family 2010 Soul Patch Russian Rvr Vly, $42 (not ready yet)
Davis Family 2009 Russian Rvr Vly, $40 
James Family 2010 Stony Point Vyds Sonoma Coast, $35. Best of Class 
Richard Berridge 2009 Sonoma Coast, $45 (nice flavors, but a bit hot)
Rodney Strong 2009 Barrel Reserve Russian Rvr Vly, $40 (nice spice, bit overripe)
Woodenhead 2009 Buena Tierra Russian Rvr Vly, $65. Best of Class


Loxton 2010 Sonoma Vly, $28 (alcoholic)
Pedroncelli 2007 Dry Creek Vly, $19. Best of Class 

Rhones (varietals and blends)

Mayo Family 2008 Carignane Stone Ranch Alexander Vly, $35. Best of Class
Wellington 2009 Grenache Estate Sonoma Vly, $25 (100 year old vines) 


de Lorimier 2010 Keeper Vyd Alexander Vly, $32. Best of Class (maybe in a couple years)

Sparkling Wines
(Pretty much a one horse show on the bubbles. Only 11 entries in this Category)

Gloria Ferrer 2007 Brut Rosé Carneros, $42. Best of Class
Gloria Ferrer 2007 Blanc de Blancs Carneros, $28. Double Gold
Gloria Ferrer 2000 Carneros Cuvée Carneros, $50
Gloria Ferrer 2004 Royal Cuvée Carneros, $32 


Deerfield 2008 Estate Sonoma Vly, $30. Best of Class
Ehret Family 2007 Estate Knights Vly, $32
Loxton 2009 Rossi Ranch Sonoma Vly, $35. (big and tannic) 

Other Reds

Benziger 2010 Estate Red Joaquin's Fire Sonoma Mtn, $60
Hauck 2010 Game Day Red Sonoma County, $28 


Fogline 2010 Grist Vyd Dry Creek Vly, $35
Fritz 2009 Estate Reserve Dry Creek Vly, $50. Double Gold
Gordian Knot 2011 The Buzz Dry Creek Vly, $28 (classic DCV pepper) 
J Keverson 2010 Buck Hill Sonoma County, $30
Keating 2010 Montecillo Sonoma Vly, $28 (bit hot, otherwise very good)
Mayo 2010 Ricci Vyd Russian Rvr Vly, $40
Mayo 2010 Ricci Vyd Reserve Russian Rvr Vly, $50
Mazzocco 2010 Serracino Reserve Dry Creek Vly, $52
Meadowcroft 2010 Sonoma County, $34 
Pezzi King 2010 Estate Old Vine Dry Creek Vly $28. Best of Class
Pezzi King 2010 Harris Kratka Vyd Alexander Vly $42
Pezzi King 2010 Pezzi King Vyd Row 26 Dry Creek Vly $50. Sweepstakes
Puccioni 2009 Old Vine Dry Creek Vly, $28 
Rock Wall 2010 Harris Kratka Vyd Alexander Vly, $35 (port-ish)

Favorite Wines

Clos du Bois 2009 Marlstone
de Lorimier 2009 Preston Ranch Cabernet
Dry Creek Vyd 2008 The Mariner
Gloria Ferrer 2000 Carneros Cuvée
Gustafson 2009 East Ridge Block Petite Sirah
Wellington 2009 Estate Grenache

This year no Pinots or Zins were any of my overall favorite wines. But my favorite Pinot Noir would be the James Family 2010 partly because it's "only" $35--a good price for a good Pinot. Favorite Zinfandels would be from Fritz and Fogline.

Best Deals

Wellington 2009 Grenache at $25
Pedroncelli 2007 Port at $19


The wine tasting at the fair this year:
Attendance at the Friday night $60 tasting was good. Saturday's crowd was okay; Sunday's small. Maybe because there were so many other events going on this weekend or maybe because it's now $10 to get in the fair and $2.50 per taste. For example, a couple going in and tasting ten wines each would cost $75. (Parking, entry, glasses, extra taste tickets).

The wines:
Too many of the Pinot Noirs taste the same--red cherries with a hint of alcohol. Too many Zinfandels are overripe. As I said in past few years I've usually found Pinot and Zinfandel to be my favorite wines, but not this year. Maybe it's time for a new wine category for Zinfandel Under 15% Alcohol? I loved the Cabernet blends, sparkling wines, and would love to see more Rhone-style wines.

Now I need a few days to detox the liver!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Amazon gets into the wine business

The word is that Amazon will soon be selling wine. This means you can go to their website to download the latest Coldplay, pick up some new hiking shoes, and buy an assorted six pack of Zinfandel!

The not very secret word on the street is that Amazon recently hosted an event in Napa attended by over 100 wineries to pitch the service. They want to be up and running for the holiday season.
Mmm, a cart full of Cabernet!

One question is how will they do this? It appears that it will be a "marketplace" where you go to deal with each winery individually. This is better for Amazon legally (they would not be selling alcohol directly), but not so convenient for the consumer who wants to shop variety. Someone (Amazon, a third-party, or each winery) has to handle the confusing array of state shipping laws. Plus they don't want to ship in hot weather, they'll need return policies for bad wine, etc. It appears the method taken by Amazon will be in basically supplying links to individual winery "stores."  So if you want to buy two bottles each from three different wineries does this mean three separate purchases and three separate shipping charges? It appears so.

The bigger question is how much of an impact will this have on brick-and-mortar wine shops? Like any other retailer it has to do with ease of purchase, price, and selection. Amazon has the easy purchasing part figured out and I expect will have the power to get good prices and selection, including the shipping costs. Large retailers like Costco have had an impact on smaller wine shops. Will a large online retailer have an impact on Costco and all the other walk-in stores?

We'll see how this works.