Norton Safeweb

Thursday, August 30, 2012

U.S. market share for wine

Beer production is at record levels -- led by China! The U.S. is second though showing a slight decline even with the craft beer market's rapid growth.

In the U.S. over the past fifteen years beer has gone from 61% of alcohol sales to 53%. Spirits has risen from 27% to 32% now that cocktails and in favor again along with the popularity of premium vodkas, tequilas, single malt scotch, etc.

Wine has gone from about 12% to 15% of the market in that time and continues a steady growth through bad times and good.

Wine sales have grown for 18 straight years. Essentially from the time of the French Paradox episode of 60 Minutes that linked the good health of the French to their consumption of red wine despite eating fatty foods and smoking.

As the under-30 crowd becomes more wine savvy and many consumers want to explore new things, not just Chardonnay, White Zinfandel and Merlot, there's no reason to think this growth won't continue. It seems like it will be at the expense of Bud, Coors, and Miller.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Red wine and your sense of balance

If you believe all the studies red wine is pretty much a fountain of youth. This is mostly from the compounds Resveratrol and other antioxidants found in red wine. It'll cure cancer, prevent heart disease, and keep you from getting fat.

The latest benefit is probably the most comical. A new study says it'll help older people maintain their balance according to a professor from Duquesne University. Of course, you'll have to drink a lot of red wine to get the benefits. I don't know about you, but when I drink a lot I tend to lose my balance.

Another study from the University of Oregon says wine can help prevent thinning bones in women as they age. So if you do fall ...

As the saying goes, "Alcohol can preserve many things. Your dignity and virginity are not among them." Once again the alcohol in wine gets in the way!

Article from CBS News.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Autumn 2012 events in Sonoma County

Following are some of the larger events for September through November of 2012.

The weather is usually great until well into November and you can check out the grape harvest. Heck, you can smell the harvest! This is definitely the best time of year to visit Sonoma County.

Autumn in the vineyards


Aug 31-2  Sonoma Wine Country Weekend - Wine tasting at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch, auction, winemaker lunches and dinners, BBQ. Info

1  Rodney Strong Winery Concert Series - Rock out and drink Cabernet with Huey Lewis and the News. Info

Classic Car Show - A benefit in Santa Rosa with BBQ and music. Info

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

8  Healdsburg Beer in the Plaza.  About 30 microbreweries.  Info

Cajun/Zydeco Festival in Sebastopol. Food, beer, wine, and lots of music. Info

Chili N Wheels Chili cook-off, classic car show, beer and music in Rohnert Park. Info

9  Bone Appetite benefit for Canine Companions in Santa Rosa. Food vendors, wineries, and cute doggies. Info

11-13 National Heirloom Festival at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. It's about the small, local farmer. Info

14-15 Heirloom Tomato Festival at Kendall-Jackson in Fulton. Info

22  Polo in the Wine Country benefit for Junior Achievement in Santa Rosa. Food and wine tasting. Info

22-23 Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival on the beach in Guerneville. Info

26-30  Sonoma Valley Crush Weekend harvest events. No, I don't know why they moved this event to the same weekend as the much more popular Vintage Festival. Maybe trying to draw off that crowd? Or maybe they just wanted to be sure the grape harvest was actually underway.  Info

28-30 Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival -  The 115th annual celebration held on the town square in Sonoma with a grape stomp, parade, music and, of course, wine tasting.  Info


5-7  Sonoma County Harvest Fair - There's an expensive Friday night event followed by the Sat-Sun afternoon wine tasting.  Food, award-winning wines, beer, music. Imagine hundreds of wines available over a weekend. Imagine the choices you have to make! I never miss this one.  Info
5-8  BR Cohn Winery Music Festival - A Friday night dinner and auction then the Doobie Brothers and others play in the vineyards on the weekend followed by golf on Monday.  Info

13 Cotati Oktoberfest - Eat, drink and wear funny socks. Info

20 Healdsburg Crush Festival - You guessed it--wine and food. Info

21  Pinot on the River in Healdsburg. OK, it's not exactly on the river, but if you love Pinot Noir it's the place to be. Info

27 Bounty of the Harvest open house by a dozen Russian River Valley family wineries. Info


3-4 Wine and Food Affair - A northern Sonoma County food and wine event weekend with over 100 participating wineries. A great chance to check out some of those small ones that aren't usually open for tasting.  Info

17 Artisano Grand Tasting in Santa Rosa. Yup, more wine and food. Info

17-18 Holiday in Carneros - Winery open house in southern Napa and Sonoma Counties.  Info

23-24  Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House at about two dozen Sonoma Valley wineries.  Info

November in Dry Creek Valley

Peak time for events - Late September through early October is the peak time for the harvest and seems to be the peak time for major events. If you're not in Sonoma County at least one of these weekends you're missing out!

Individual wineries harvest events - Many wineries have their own harvest parties and winemaker dinners. Check with your favorites to see if they have anything going on.

Thanksgiving weekend - Wineries are closed on Thanksgiving Day. The rest of the weekend is usually very busy and many put on holiday open houses.  Check with your favorites to see if they have a special event. Just be prepared for big crowds on Friday and Saturday

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Korbel sells off wine brands

Gary Heck, owner of Krobel, failed in his attempt earlier this year to sell his largest still wine holding, Kenwood Vineyards, as that deal fell through. This month he has succeeded in selling his other two winery holdings, Valley of the Moon and Lake Sonoma. These have been sold to two owners of a company called West Coast Wine Partners.

One of the partner's family has wine roots locally; the others family owns Quail's Gate Winery of British Columbia.

This leaves Heck with F. Korbel champagne and brandy plus Kenwood Vineyards. He'll keep the Korbel property, but continue to look for a buyer for Kenwood Vineyards.

Article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Silver Oak gets into the Zinfandel business

Silver Oak Winery is known for higher-end Cabernet Sauvignon. Maybe a bit less known is they also own Twomey Cellars. Twomey started as a Merlot producer and has moved into Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Silver Oak has purchased Sausal Winery, a family-owned vineyard and winery in Alexander Valley known for old vine Zinfandels.

Their plan is for more Cabernet on this property. Hopefully not at the expense of any of the current vineyards. Silver Oak and Twomey are fairly high-end in price while Sausal is not. Silver Oak's Cabs sell for about $70 to $100. Twomey's Pinots go for about $50. Sausal's wines go for for around $20--for now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sonoma County Events on Labor Day Weekend 2012

It's a long weekend and there will be lots of wine country travelers. If you're amongst them here are a few special events happening in Sonoma County over Labor Day 2012. And with the way this grape growing season is progressing you might just see some harvest activity.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
The big event for the weekend with the highlight being the Taste of Sonoma at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch. Wine and food. Discount tickets with a Visa Signature card. Info

Huey Lewis & The News
At Rodney Strong Winery's outdoor concert area in the vineyards. Info

Classic Car Cruise In
At BR Cohn Winery. Info

Broadway Under the Stars
At Jack London Park in Glen Ellen. Info 

Free concerts at Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa
Saturday a Credence Clearwater cover band, Sunday an Eagles cover. Info

Wine tasting on Labor Day weekend:

It will be busy! This is a good weekend to plan for some of those out-of-the-way stops as the popular tourist destinations like Viansa, Krobel and Chateau St. Jean will be crowded on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Finding parking in the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg on those afternoons won't be easy either.Head for Alexander Valley, Westside Road in Dry Creek, and some of the more isolated stops in the Russian River Valley.

If you really want to get away from the crowds Fort Ross Winery has just opened their tasting room. It's somewhere up here...
Image from

Enjoy your last weekend of the summer! The good news is summer weather will still be hanging around Sonoma County for many more weeks.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"If only more wineries would make ____ like ___"

Some wineries specialize in a certain type of wine and some do really well in the marketplace with it and can build their whole brand around that one wine. I'm thinking of wineries like Sonoma-Cutrer and Rombauer with Chardonnay as examples.

For me there are certain wineries that get one varietal right. The wine is great year-after-year and is affordable.

The first time I thought to myself, "If more wineries would make..." was for Navarro's Riesling (and Gewurztraminer). The full thought being, "If more wineries would make Riesling like Navarro then Riesling would be a lot more popular in the U.S." Navarro is one of the early folks in Anderson Valley in Mendocino County (north of Sonoma). It's definitely a cool growing area and is better known for Pinot now. Navarro is about the only place I will buy Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

Sauvignon Blanc
There are times when a refreshing glass of white wine tastes really good. Sauv Blanc fills the bill and Hanna's will show you what Sauv Blanc is all about. It's done the right way all in stainless steel with a bit of other whites, like Semillion, blended in. Okay, there are some good SBs that get some oak, Merry Edwards and Clos Pegase come to mind, but the best refreshing Sauvignon Blancs don't see oak.

There are a few high-end Merlot producers that make a great Merlot like Shafer, Pride, and Twomey. These are also expensive Merlots although still not as expensive as the high-end Cabernets, making Merlot a relative bargain. But year-after-year since I've been drinking California wine Gundlach Bundschu has done it best for a reasonable price. They require a bit of aging on release, but can be outstanding after a few years. I wish more folks would make structured, ageable Merlot instead of the syrupy stuff.

Zin has sat behind Cabernet in popularity forever. It actually was behind Merlot and now Pinot Noir as a popular wine. Zinfandel almost died out as a varietal in the 1980s. In the last 15 years many have turned Zin into a high alcohol monster. Getting the structure, complexities, and flavors right is almost a lost art. Luckily, Storybook Mountain still makes Zinfandel that actually tastes like Zin, ages like Zin, and pairs with foods like Zin is supposed to do. There are a number of top-notch Zinfandels from Dry Creek, Russian River, and even Alexander Valleys in Sonoma County, but nobody does it quite like Storybook Mountain.

Cabernet Sauvignon
There's no single producer that I zero in on, but actually a region. Alexander Valley produces some top-notch Cabs at reasonable prices almost every year. Sometimes it's from Clos du Bois, or Rodney Strong or Simi, but they're always excellent wines for under $25. But I've never asked myself, "Why can't Napa make a Cab like this for these prices" because I know they can't compete in that price range as the land and the grapes are just too expensive.

Pinot Noir
Top quality Pinot Noir is a fairly new thing to California as it's been the last decade or so that Pinot has really flourished. There are folks like Joseph Swan and Dehlinger that have made excellent Pinots for a long time, but there are so many new ones it's difficult to keep up! I can't say I've had Pinot year-after-year from a single producer where I've said, "If only more people would make Pinot like this." I'm still waiting to see that elegance and complexity as the goal rather than cherry fruit and 14%+ alcohol. So I'm deferring on this one for awhile.
Their most expensive wine at $25

What's known as QPR or Quality Price Ratio or just bang for your buck. Whenever I visit Pedroncelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley I say to myself, "It's too bad more wineries can't make this quality of wine at these prices." I guess they're old-fashioned and just got stuck in 1990 prices as most of their wines sell for under twenty dollars.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The grapes are ripening! (photos)

In Russian River Valley on August 4, 2012

Petite Sirah



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bad ass wines

A bad ass wine label

Car guys know about the most bad ass cars like the Bugatti Veyron, Dodge Viper or the Mustang Shelby GT500. Gun nuts know the bad ass guns (probably something in a 50 caliber). Beer folks know about Pliny the Younger--a triple IPA with 11% alcohol that was given a perfect score by the Beer Advocate.

What about wine? Wine people worry a lot about finesse, alcohol levels, the appellation, food parings, etc. If you're gonna be a bad ass you don't worry about all that.

For a bad ass varietal I nominate Petite Sirah. It's no wimpy wine even though a few folks have manipulated it trying to make it fruit-forward and (OMG!) knock down the tannins. Petite Sirah is the Jack Nicholson/Clint Eastwood/Bruce Willis of wine. It won't take any shit off you, but it will dish it out. We're talking something like a Parducci or Foppiano Petite. These are no excuses bad ass wines. You have been warned!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Making your food go with the wine

That sounds backwards because aren't you supposed to find the wine that goes with what you're cooking or ordering?

This idea of making your food properly match wine came to me as I'm marinading some chicken in a teriyaki with pineapple sauce. The experts (ok, the websites found by Google) said Riesling or maybe Gewurztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc. Well, I want a red wine! What is it about the marinade that won't work with a red? The sweetness, the saltiness? The problem is more often I get in the mood for a certain kind of wine than a certain kind of food.

For one, any dish that's overdone with something like too much garlic, onions, heat, fat, etc. will have a difficult time pairing with most wines.The best wines are balanced, that is everything in harmony. Not too much tannin, alcohol, acid, etc. It's the same with food. So you want balanced food with balanced wine. Well, maybe it's not that simple as I don't have any actual metrics to define balance. It's one of those, "I know it when I taste it."

Recently I sat in on a herb/wine paring. It was with one particular Chardonnay and several different herbs. The difference in the wine with each herb was striking. Knowing what you're doing is the key and I don't  profess to being any sort of expert.

It gets tricky. For instance, do you want an acid wine, such as a Sangiovese, to go with an acidic food, say spaghetti sauce? Or do you want to create a contrast, say a fat (low acid) Chardonnay with an acidic food to make the Chard seem more balanced?

My ol' standby is, "When in doubt use an off-dry sparkling wine." That's because bubblies usually work well with spicy or salty foods and that's often where you get into trouble with food/wine pairing. Next time instead of the store-bought teriyaki sauce I should just look up a recipe for a marinade using the wine I plan on drinking with the meal.

There's a blog post by Palate Press that goes into this in much more detail and is interesting reading.