Norton Safeweb

Friday, December 27, 2013

Where to find the best IPAs

In Sonoma County!

From Thrillist who bills themselves as "a men's lifestyle digital media company."  That is, an online resource for food, booze, and travel based in NYC, but with outlets in a dozen major markets across the country.

They asked a group of beer writers to pick their favorite India Pale Ales (not doubles or triples, but "regular" IPAs). The final list of the top ten IPAs includes three that are brewed in Sonoma County. Not bad! Eight of the top ten are from California.
America's best IPA
Image from
The IPAs brewed in Sonoma are:
Bear Republic Racer 5
Lagunitas IPA
Russian River Blind Pig

Blind Pig from Russian River Brewery was ranked #1. No surprise as they also make a seasonal triple IPA that shows up on many lists as the best beer in the world. Lagunitas' IPA is the best-selling IPA in California. Lagunitas Brewing is expanding to the eastern U.S. and will probably start showing up as the best-selling IPA in other states as production increases.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter Wines

Now that it's c-c-cold out you may want to consider winter wine warmers.  Breweries make special winter beers, distilleries and bars talk about winter drinks, so why not winter wines?

You hear lots about the mysteries of wine and food pairing, but you don't hear so much about matching wines to the season. In the heat of summer a nice, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc will probably taste better than a heavy Cabernet--or even a big oaky Chardonnay. 

When it gets cold you think about hearty meals so why not hearty wines? For a white wine this is probably the season where a heavier Chardonnay (one with oak and butter flavors) seems appropriate. For reds there are a lot more to pick from with Cabernet Sauvignon as the obvious choice. This is also a good time of year to break out the Syrah--not the "wimpy" Shiraz-style ones, but the cool climate big boys. Just like there's almost nothing worse than a big, dry Syrah in the heat there's almost nothing better on a cold night with a big, meaty meal and a fire going. One way to to know you're getting a cool climate Syrah is to look for either Russian River Valley or Bennett Valley appellation on the label.
This is how one suffers through winter!

Later in the evening don't forget the Port.

Syrah and Port are fireplace wines!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sonoma County's new Harvest Fair

For over three decades Sonoma County has celebrated the harvest at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on the first weekend of October. At one time most local farming was covered with the two biggest crops being wine grapes and apples. This fair as recently morphed into just a wine tasting much to the dismay of many locals. Now they have an alternative!

There's a new harvest fair coming to town. The real cash crop is actually marijuana. It has a quasi-legal status meaning you have to get a card from a doctor saying you need a prescription for it, anyone can find a doctor that will give them a medical marijuana card, but the feds still think all this should be illegal.

The weekend of Dec14-15 the Emerald Cup will be held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds with farmers, vendors, and classes on growing your own, but instead of wine, it will be all about weed. Ten judges spent five weeks evaluating 257 samples for appearance, smell, tasting and effect. They judge wine similarly, except for the effect part--maybe they should will all the high alcohol wines out there. The Emerald Cup will be honoring the best in outdoor, organically grown pot. The first-place winner gets a two week trip to a marijuana-friendly resort in Jamaica!

There will be a "tasting area" for those with a medical marijuana card. At $50 to get in you'd have to be high to pay that unless you can sample.

The judging (image from

Press Democrat article

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The best restaurant in America is ...

America's best restaurant, as voted by the users of Open Table, isn't actually a restaurant.

Open Table is an online reservation service. So the award would be limited to restaurants that subscribe to Open Table. The 2013 Diners' Choice Award goes to Sonoma County's St. Francis Winery for their wine and food pairings. The French Laundry in Yountville is often considered the best restaurant in the area and placed 9th.

America's #1 restaurant
Image from

I would say St. Francis Winery's chef has his act together and will probably be getting job offers from "real" restaurants. Not sure if he wants the hours of working in a restaurant. I'm thinking he has a pretty sweet deal being a (now) renown winery chef.

Nest time you're visiting Sonoma County you'd better put this on your list of things to do!

Open Table's announcement

Monday, December 9, 2013

Drink Wine and Wear Boxer Shorts!

I love all these studies on why wine is so healthy. Here's one for the guys.

From a study in Poland, the consumption of wine in moderation leads to stronger sperm! So if you're trying to have children forget the rhythm method and all that other stuff. Just have a glass of wine each day!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Duck Dynasty Wine

Yeah, really. These guys know how to market while the iron is hot! Check out their store.

Through Trinchero Family Wines (aka Sutter Home) they are launching Duck Commander Wines. A white, a red, and a sweet pink.

This is already causing a bit of trouble in their Bible Belt neighborhood as at least one of their appearances sponsored by a church has been cancelled because of the evil alcohol connection.

As Larry the Cable Guy would say, "Now that's funny right thar."

One of the Ducks on a recent trip to Napa Valley to check out "his" wine.
He's lookin' all serious there. Hope he don't become a wine snob.
Image from

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy 80th Anniversary to the end of Prohibition

   December 5, 2013 is 80 years after the official lifting of that failed social experiment, Prohibition. On Dec 5, 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, the 21st Amendment to repeal Prohibition became official.

   The consumption of alcohol dropped significantly when Prohibition first went into effect in 1920, but then grew as people largely ignored the law. (There was no law against drinking, just production, sales and transport).  What Prohibition did give us was organized crime and a big loss of revenue from alcohol taxes.

   Eighty years later we are still feeling the effects of Prohibition. Laws enacted at that time to control alcohol are still in effect. Things like dry counties, no Sunday sales, and state-run liquor stores. Plus the biggest issue, the three-tier system, where the middle men, the wholesales, still try to control all sales via the various state legislatures. So people in some states are freer than others to get a drink of what they want when they want it.

Amen Brother!
Image from

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sonoma County Events for Winter 2013-14

Major Wine-Related Events for 
December 2013 and January / February 2014

This is the off-season in the wine country and it's a great time to visit. What to expect:
  • There won't be any crowds (except on major event weekends). If you go on a weekday you could be the only people some wineries see all day!
  • Small crowds also means not much traffic, it's easy to find hotel rooms and get dinner reservations.
  • The weather can be 75 and sunny or 45 and raining so check the forecast before you go.
There are various holiday events, crab feeds, etc. besides these few major events listed below.

January in Alexander Valley

December 2013

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.

Almost all wineries are closed on Christmas Day. Most will close early, or all day, on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. If you plan on visiting at the holidays call in advance to be sure they will be open.

January 2014

Most wineries are closed on New Years Day.

18-19  Winter Wineland. It's an annual open house of wine, food, and art at over a hundred wineries in northern Sonoma County. This is the big wine event for the winter. Info

February 2014

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.

15-17  VinOlivo. Celebrating the local olive harvest with the main event being a weekend of wine tasting at participating Sonoma Valley wineries. During Jan-Feb there are a number of other events actually related to olives!  Info

22  Eighth Street Wineries Open House. Several small producers in a warehouse area of Sonoma open up for visitors. Info

22 Mr Healdsburg Pageant. All-male take on the beauty pageant. Only difference is that being good-looking and skinny is definitely not a prerequisite. There is a bathing suit competition so beware. Info

Feb28-Mar2 and Mar 7-9  Barrel Tasting.  The first two weekends of March are the Barrel Tasting weekends in northern Sonoma County--an open house at over 100 wineries. The greatest concentration of wineries and imbibers is in Healdsburg and on Dry Creek Road. If you want to party then that's the place to be; if you don't then stay in Russian River Valley or Alexander Valley.  Info

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Who's got your wine culture now?

Historically wine has been a natural part of life for much of Europe, especially in France, Italy, and Spain.  You can go back to Greek and Roman times and find wine carried in leather bags to purify drinking water. Heck, you can go back to the Bible and find lots of references to wine.

Per capita wine consumption has been dropping in France, Italy and Spain primarily because the younger generation goes more for beer or cocktails. Wine can almost be looked at as an old folks drink in some places.

Not too long ago the U.S. became the largest consumer of wine in the world. This is total sales. Our per capita consumption, however, is way down the list at less than one-fourth of what the French consume.

Having spent many years working in tasting rooms I've seen the buying public usually being in their 40s and 50s as premium wine is usually a bit pricey for younger folks. That age range has definitely been dropping. On a recent Saturday trip to a few Sonoma County wineries it seemed 95% of the customers were around 30 years old with many in their 20s. This is a fairly  new phenomenon and bodes well for the American wine industry. And for the importers, too, especially from countries where their own consumption is on the wane.

What do these young people drink? There are lots of marketing studies on this, of course. The latest one I read says Merlot and Malbec are popular. The rise of Malbec hasn't gone unnoticed, but there is only a very little bit of it planted in coastal California regions. It seems that it is difficult to grow and we are still learning--the same could be said about Pinot Noir 20 years ago. One Sonoma winery with Malbec planted called the grape "finicky."

On another note, China expects to be the largest wine grape growing country in the world in a few years.

Friday, November 22, 2013

We have it easy!

Meaning you can get a bottle of wine anywhere (at least in California, not all states are quite as fortunate).  The local grocery store has inexpensive to fancier wines. You can buy online. You can buy seven days a week!

It wasn't so easy in the old days.

Lining up to buy wine from a delivery truck in post-war France
Image from

They used to drink wine out of crap like this!
Image from

And they had to dress up to drink wine out of crappy glasses!
Image from

Here's a guy making wine in France. Note the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Image from

Some places you still have to buy it this way.
Image from

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

French anti-wine Nazis

A couple years ago the French Health Minister began a campaign to warn people about the over consumption of alcohol. It was worded something like, "Drinking a little bit too much every day can put your life in danger."  Fine, that's a middle-of-the-road statement. I'm sure there were endless government meetings on how to word this and not sound like they are against France's wine culture or their wine industry.

There's a French "health" lobby that wants to change the labeling on wine bottles from talking about moderation to say any alcohol consumption is dangerous. Okay, that's getting close to stepping on some French toes. They want to increase taxes on alcohol. Governments are always in favor of more revenue.

More drastically, they wish to control what people can say about alcohol on the Internet in France. They would like it to be illegal to promote alcohol. So I suppose a travel site mentioning, "Come taste in Burgundy" would be illegal?  Oh-oh. Even Tweeting, "Drank a bottle of wine and partied all night" would be illegal. A big oh-oh.

How do the backers propose to enforce this Internet ban? According to the Wine Spectator one idiot, Patrick Elineau, pointed out the success of China's ban on Internet free speech.

This is not going to be popular.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Wine with Thanksgiving Turkey

Image from
About half the population asks, "What wine should I have with Thanksgiving dinner?" and the other half will try to answer that question. So here's my go at it. I'm assuming something traditional as in "turkey dinner with all the trimmings."

With this meal you're going to have a multitude of flavors: Turkey (savory), mashed potatoes & gravy (savory, buttery, salty), sweet potatoes (earthy, sweet), cranberries (tangy), and all the traditional spices--allspice, sage, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Quite a complex meal when you think about it.

So, what wine?

First, what not to have--anything too big, heavy, dry, or acidic. For red wines this includes most Cabernet, Syrah, and  Zinfandel, Sangiovese, and the like. In whites I'd avoid many Sauvignon Blancs, Gewurztraminers and Rieslings, though some of these will work (the ones that don't come across too acidic).

What's best:

Chardonnay - This is one place where the big, oaky, buttery type of Chard can work. And it's probably your Aunt Esther's favorite wine anyway so keep her happy and you won't have to see her again for another year! The less oaked and buttery Chardonnays will work here, also.

Viognier, Roussanne - These fuller-bodied white varieties are more difficult to find, but will pair well with the meal.

Rosé - A quality off-dry rosé pairs nicely. I said "quality" and I didn't say "sweet." There are some bad food matches in the rosé category so be wary.

Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Grenache - Any of this lighter, fruity reds made in a more restrained style will go with the turkey dinner. How can you tell if it's restrained rather than a big, bold style? Go by the alcohol level (below 14%) or ask the clerk in a wine shop.

Sparkling - My favorite match for Thanksgiving dinner is an off-dry sparkling wine--Brut, Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé. All work! Nothing says happy holidays like popping a bottle of bubbly. Careful though, the bubbles might make Aunt Esther giggle.

In a sparkling wine I stay away from the cheap stuff. It really is made differently and it gives me a headache. One of the best for the money and widely available is the Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California. It should sell for $23 or less.

This is how you know the meal was a success

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wineries for sale

Over the past months a number of well known wineries have sold: Araujo, Clos Pegase, Qupé, Viansa. It appears there are a lot more wineries and vineyard property on the market now. Why? One is the economy as people have been waiting for real estate prices to start heading up. The second may be that a number of owners are getting too old to run a winery any more. These are the folks who jumped in during the '70s and '80s growth years for California wine.

Who will be the buyers? There are always investment groups looking for longer term gains. They'll be looking somewhere other than Napa Valley as property there is too expensive to expect to make a profit. Anyone buying in Napa is a "lifestyle" buyer, not an investor. Prime vineyards in Napa, such as in the Rutherford and Oakville areas, goes for a quarter million dollars an acre or more. Bare plantable land is about $100,00 plus-or-minus. Napa vineyard and winery prices held steady during the recession years. You can assume prices are starting to go up again. Central California, Oregon and Washington state probably offer better value. Also, some lesser known areas of California like Lake County and the Sierra Foothills may draw some attention.

I'd like to buy about, um, 100 sq. ft. please.
Image from

Besides investment groups, there are current winery owners such as Bill Foley who may add to their portfolios before prices rise. You can bet there will be some Chinese investors as there's lots of speculation of huge future growth in that market.

A number of wineries are buying vineyard land now, too. Part of the reason is speculation of an upcoming grape shortage as demand for U.S. wine is growing steadily. And, of course, there's that future boom in Chinese consumption.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sonoma Beer Country

You've maybe heard the phrase Sonoma Wine Country, but we're also beer country. As with a lot of the U.S. the micro-beer boom is well underway here. Sonoma County just had its first Beer, Cider and Spirits Conference bringing together the owners, media and people with money interested in funding craft beer growth. Yes, cider and local distilleries are growing, too, but it's mostly about the beer at this point in time.

Sonoma County has about 20 craft breweries. Nobody seems quite sure of the exact number as it changes quickly. Eight of these opened in the last couple years. The better known ones are Bear Republic, Lagunitas and Russian River Brewery. Lagunitas' growth has exploded in the last few years and they are expanding to Chicago to feed the eastern U.S. beerophiles. Russian River is one of the top ten breweries in the world according to those who put together these lists. Third Street Aleworks and Dempsey's have been around a long time, but don't get the press of these others. A couple of the newer ones coming to retail shelves are St. Florian's and 101 North.

Sonoma County doesn't rate up there with Portland, San Diego and Ft. Collins in the amount of craft beer available, but all of Napa Valley has about four breweries, I think. Just another reason to visit Sonoma instead of Napa, huh?

The #1 beer in the world
From Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California

I've searched for a website containing a list of all breweries and who has a pub, but haven't found anything all inclusive.  I recently went to Woodfour Pub in Sebastopol for the first time, but haven't yet made it to Fogbelt in Santa Rosa. And there are more to sample. So now I can't even keep up with the breweries let alone all the wineries. (I know, it's tough).

Sonoma County has four cider makers and three distilleries--so far.

This reminds me of the Sonoma County wine industry in the 1970s as it exploded from almost nothing to wineries popping up weekly it seemed.  And they still are!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Women in Wine

In the early days of Sonoma County wine (by the early days I mean the 1980s) the first time I thought maybe there was something different, something special, about a female winemaker was when I discovered Simi Winery had a winemaker named Zelma Long. I loved Simi wines at the time. There was something distinctive, maybe a light, feminine touch, I'm not sure. Zelma got her start in the 1970s with Mondavi which was certainly the place to learn about wine at the time. She's making wine in South Africa now.

It was definitely a male-dominated field then (as were many occupations). It's not so now. Here are a few of my favorite places with women winemakers.

Heidi von der Mahden studied under the late Mike Lee of Kenwood Vineyards. At Arrowood she started off by working for Dick Arrowood until he left. Mike Lee and Dick Arrowood were two of the best in Sonoma County.

Carol Shelton Wines
Carol has been in the wine biz for over a decade. Her wines, mostly Zinfandels, have won lots of awards.

Chateau St. Jean
Margo Van Staaveren is in her fourth decade at St. Jean. Yes, it's now a big corporate winery, but if you try her reserve wines rather than just the "grocery store" wines you'll see she knows what she is doing.

Inman Family Wines
Kathy Inman came to my attention just a few years ago when I first tried her Pinots at an open house for several small wine producers. I immediately gave them a "wow" and took home several.

Merry Edwards Wines
Merry Edwards was another of those "wow" rated Pinot Noirs. She was the winemaker that put Matanzas Creek Winery on the map in the late 1970s. People talk about terroir where a wine tastes like where it's grown. Her Pinots do that as well as any wines.

Selby Wines
Susie Selby has two decades of making wine after starting in the cellar. She has a small hands-on operation making some big wines.

Wilson Winery
Diane Wilson has probably won more awards at the local Sonoma County Harvest Fair than anyone has a right to expect. The Wilsons own several wineries in the county. All are highly rated.

Helen Turley, California's best-known winemaker

Women Winemakers of California 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Moon Mountain, Sonoma's newest AVA

An AVA, or American Viticultural Area, is a government-approved wine grape growing area--the most well-known one being Napa Valley. Moon Mtn is a sub-appellation of the bigger Sonoma Valley AVA. It deserves its own designation because, well, it's not even in a valley, it's on a mountain range that forms one side of Sonoma Valley. Most of the larger appellations like Sonoma Valley contain a wide range of soils and micro-climates so subdividing them may sound like a natural progression.

I have to think for those not familiar with the area that buying a wine saying Moon Mountain on the label sounds kinda spacey! And I sure wouldn't have any idea where it is let alone what it means. The most famous vineyard there is Monte Rosso (Red Mountain in Italian). It was first planted in the 1880s and was purchased by Louis Martini in 1939. The vineyard is most well-known for Cabernet and Zinfandel. It gets its name from the iron-rich volcanic soils.

The new Moon Mtn appellation ranges from a few hundred feet above the valley floor to about 2,000 feet. So its weather is influenced by the elevation plus by its proximity to the San Pablo Bay. This combination of unique climate and soils is why Moon Mountain grapes are different from those in the surrounding lowlands.

There are 40 vineyards in the appellation. Besides Louis Martini Winery some of the other with a presence in Moon Mountain are Hanzell, Kistler and the new Repris Wines.

Moon Mtn appellation  above the town of Sonoma
The Mt Veeder appellation in Napa Valley is just to the east

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Healdsburg, center of the wine universe

According to The Seattle Times you want to skip Napa and head for wine central in Sonoma County. Healdsburg, CA is close several wine areas and is less crowded. Tasting rooms, restaurants, and a brewpub, what else do you need?


One little problem: There's a quote from the article, "Unlike Highway 12 that runs through Napa Valley."  Well, Highway 29 runs through Napa; Highway 12 through Sonoma Valley.  Little issue with their geography.

Healdsburg. It's purdy darn cute.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Beringer Winery up for sale?

More bad news possibly for Treasury Wine Estates, the corporation owning over 50 wine brands around the world (the majority in Australia & New Zealand). Their CEO was canned recently for dumping bad wine. Blog entry from Sept. Something seemed a little wacky about that whole story.

Now their arguably most prestigious holding, Beringer Winery in Napa Valley, may be on the blocks. Apparently they paid too much for Beringer in 2000 and their bank would like them to dump it for some cash. And Beringer would definitely bring in some bucks. It's been around since 1875, they are one of the most visited wineries in Napa Valley, Beringer makes a lot of wine, something like eight million cases annually, and are found on pretty much every wine list in the country.

A Napa Valley landmark for a very long time
Image from

At this time info is pretty sketchy on what all is going on within the corporate walls at Treasury, but you can bet it ain't all good. Anyway, if this comes to fruition then remember you heard it here first! If not, forget about where you read the bad rumor.   :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Generalizing about California wine styles

Like these generalizations:
  • California Chardonnay is oaky and buttery.
  • California Zinfandel is all sweet red fruit with heat from too much alcohol (or is pink)!
  • California Merlot is cheap, undistinguished crap.
  • Great Cabernet must be $100+ and from Napa Valley. 
  • California wine never will be as good as French. Chablis, Bordeaux, and Burgundy are better.
Unfortunately lots of people believe in many of these generalizations. I assume because that's what they've read from some wine "expert" or from a limited selection of California wines available to them at home.

Why each of these statements isn't quite true:

California Chardonnay is oaky and buttery

This was a trend that peaked in the '90s as many popular California Chards were full of oak and butter flavors. Some producers, such as Kendall-Jackson, Sonoma Cutrer, and Rombauer make a ton of money with this style. And they still make it pretty much the same way for their loyal followers.
A Chardonnay that tastes like grapes
instead of oak!
Image from

The '90s were a long time ago in California wine trends. Now many are made with more neutral oak or stainless steel to lessen that characteristic. The secondary fermentation that gives the butteriness is done partially or not at all. There are more labels of Chardonnay done in this restrained style, but by volume found on most store shelves Chardonnay still leans towards the oak and butter flavors.

I find many visitors surprised when they taste the more typical California Chardonnay found in most wineries. Many will say, "I don't like Chardonnay" until they taste it and say, "Oh, but I like this one."

California Zinfandel is simple red fruit and high alcohol

Another trend that seems to be dying back fortunately. Much of California Zin isn't the over-the-top high alcohol fruit bomb, but what happens is the ones winning awards are. Why? On first sip in a judging these soft, fruity wines are really nice. A half a glass later they are not so nice (to me anyway). So for the minority of wineries that chase after gold medals this was the way they went and these people get the press.

There are many examples of the more restrained, "old school" Zin from folks like David Coffaro, Dry Creek Vyds, Nalle, Preston, Ridge, Seghesio, Storybook Mountain, etc.

There's nothing wrong with the big fruit and high alcohol Zins if that's what you like, but that isn't the only style available. It's just the style you hear more about.

California Merlot is junk

Merlot got a bad rap through no fault of its own. It got popular in a hurry after The French Paradox revealed possible health benefits of red wine. Merlot was where everybody turned and producers had to play catch-up to meet the new demand leading to a lot of blended Merlots made out of some pretty mediocre grapes.

But actually California has always made some pretty nice Merlot. A few of the producers are Duckhorn, Gundlach-Bundschu, Larkmead, Pride Mountain, and Shafer. There are lots of good Merlot from the Columbia Valley of Washington. Merlot is also one the the best bargains out there in under $20 wines. Try Alexander Valley Vineyards, St. Francis and Sebastiani.

Top California Cabernets cost over $100 and are from Napa Valley

Looking through a recent Wine Spectator pretty much all the Cabs receiving 90+ points were very expensive and from Napa. So you can see how so many wine drinkers equate Napa Valley with the best Cabs. Napa does put out some great ones, but they aren't all so expensive and all the great ones aren't necessarily from Napa. Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Rockpile, and Sonoma Valley's hillside vineyards are other prime Cabernet growing regions as is part of Washington state. You'll find lower prices in these areas compared to Napa.
Never had a Cabernet from Rockpile?
You're missing something!
image from

Within Napa Valley there are many great Cabs at more reasonable prices. A few of these are from Beringer, Hall, Heitz, Markham, Raymond, Smith-Madrone, and there are many others.

From Sonoma County a few are Alexander Vly Vyds, B.R. Cohn, Clos du Bois, Hanna, Rodney Strong, and Simi and there are a bunch more. Many of these Sonoma County Cabernets can be found selling in the $20s and $30s.

California wine isn't as good as Old World wine

This one has been tossed around for decades--ever since California was first seen as competition for France. California grows the same grapes, but has a different climate, usually different soils, and doesn't grow or process the grapes exactly the same as the Old World. That doesn't make California wines inferior; just different. The comparison was going to happen, of course, but you'd think after the Judgement in Paris almost 40 years ago people could get over the "Old World is better" stuff.  But some still think since France was first then all wine should taste like theirs. 

You may have an overall favorite style and lean more towards one of the other. Nowadays you'll find a number of New World wineries making wine in more of an Old World style and you'll find Old World wineries making New World style wine.

As always, buy what you like and at a price you are comfortable with.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vineyards and the environment

Sometimes the top cash crop shouldn't always win out. In Sonoma County nearby Artesa Winery, owned by the Spanish Codorniu Group, has been fighting for years to clear cut a large parcel of Sonoma Coast land for grape vines. Many folks aren't happy.

News story from NPR

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Wine Float

No, not like this. Unfortunately.
No, not like a root beer float though you might want to try a float with a semi-sweet rosé sparkling
wine and let us know how it turns out.

Speaking of semi-sweet sparkling wine Stella Rosa Wines will have a float in the next Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. KC and the Sunshine Band will be on the float singing some of their 40 year old songs such as "That's the Way I Like It."  Don't know about you, but I can't wait!  It's the first ever wine-themed float in the Rose Bowl Parade. I don't know why it took so long! Yes, I'm being a bit sarcastic.  :)

News story

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Four reasons to visit Sonoma County in November

1. The crowds are gone. September and October are still busy as folks visit at harvest time. Somehow, magically, the traffic slows way down November 1st. 

2. Special events: 
Wine & Food Affair in northern Sonoma County. 
Annual Holiday Open House in Sonoma Valley. 

3. The weather is usually pretty good. You can get some of those early winter rains in November, but that's most likely going to be at the end of the month. Most days are very pleasant for the better part of the month (the average high temperature in Santa Rosa is 67 in November). Perfect for wine tasting. Also, the cooler weather across the country makes it safe to ship wines home.

4. The beauty of the vineyards in November.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mid-October in Dry Creek Valley (photos)

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, October 2013
Click on photos to enlarge

Vineyard in the south end of Dry Creek Valley

A sea of vines!
From Passalacqua Winery in mid-valley

From Passalacqua

From Yoakim Bridge in the northern part of the valley

Several wineries in Sonoma County are set up for self-guided vineyard tours. One of these is Mauritson Winery in central Dry Creek Valley.

Some raisined grapes left on the vine after harvest

40 year old zinfandel

Cabernet clusters left after picking

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Seasons in the vineyards

Photos of the different seasons in Sonoma County vineyards.
Click on a photo to enlarge

Winter is the season of dormancy and pruning off last season's wood. Pruning determines how much growth you get for the next two years.

Late winter in Sonoma Valley

As the soil warms new buds swell and shoots begin to grow. Bud break is when growers worry about frost damage to the tender green growth. Flowering follows in late spring.

Early spring in Russian River Valley

Summer is about the growth of the grapes then ripening (sugar production).

Summer in Bennett Valley

Late summer and early autumn is the time of harvest. All the work and decisions in the vineyards  for the past year pay off now -- with hard work and decisions in the cellar.

Autumn in Dry Creek Valley

Friday, October 11, 2013

Ten things you should do on your visit to Sonoma County

Following are a few items every visitor should experience. As you can see it'll take more than a couple days to work your way through the list, but it's worth multiple trips if that's what it takes!

Drink Champagne
Okay, we can't call it Champagne, but visit Gloria Ferrer, Iron Horse, or J Winery for some bubbles.

Visit a hilltop winery to experience the view
Paradise Ridge and Sbragia are the best, but Armida, Gary Farrell, Gloria Ferrer, Iron Horse, Stryker, and Twomey aren't bad either.

Watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean
The Sonoma Coast has unrivaled views. Just remember some evenings, especially in mid-summer, can be foggy. While you're waiting for sunset go horseback riding, look for whales, fly a kite, or visit a Russian fort at Ft. Ross.
The last California mission -- in Sonoma

Visit the redwoods
The old growth sequoias in Armstrong Redwoods State Park can be 300 feet tall and over 1,000 years old.

Walk around the town of Sonoma
The central plaza is bordered by numerous stores, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and history.

Visit Sonoma Raceway
aka Infineon or Sears Point
Check their schedule (and the schedule for the Russell Racing school) and see if anything is going on.

Visit a brewery
Yes, Sonoma County has some of the top breweries in the country.

Relax at a spa
Spend a half-day getting pampered.

Sample artisan cheese
Southern Sonoma and northern Marin Counties have a cheese trail.

Check out the local art
Every town seems to have at least a half dozen art galleries plus several wineries display artworks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sonoma County Harvest Fair 2013

Sonoma County's Harvest Fair is on the first weekend of October every year. It's main focus is to showcase local wines. There's a judging of nearly a thousand wines the week before with the gold medal winners poured over three days. Optionally, the wineries can pour other medal winners besides the golds. There were almost 200 gold medal winners to choose from. I barely scratched the surface.

Following are the wines I tasted grouped by my preference listing the winery, the wine, price and medal received. Note there can be several categories for any one type of wine, for instance, Zinfandel under $25, Zinfandel $25-35, and Zinfandel over $35, each having Best of Class or Double Gold winners. Double Gold means all judges unanimously gave it the gold.

Just the opinion of one person, of course, and I may have had a bit of palate fatigue. Luckily, there were also local beers available to help refresh the ol' taste buds.  :)

The Best
A great wine!

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2011 Jane's Vyd Russian River Vly $40 Best of Class
Davis Family Pinot Noir 2011 Starr Ridge Russian River Vly $50 Gold
Estate 1856 Cabernet Bordeaux Blend 2010 Sonoma County $36 Best of Class, Sweepstakes
Estate 1856 Cabernet Bordeaux Blend 2011 Sonoma County $36 Double Gold
Matrix Zinfandel-Petite Sirah 2011 Russian River Vly $32 Best of Class
Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Brother's Ridge Vyd Alexander Vly $75 Gold
Trentadue Petite Sirah Port 2011 Alexander Vly $25 Best of Class
Wellington Victory (Bordeaux) 2008 Sonoma County $60 Gold


Ashton Syrah 2007 Ashton Vyd Sonoma Mountain $49 Gold
Cazadero Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Bei Ranch Sonoma Coast $59 Double Gold
Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Alexander Valley $28 Double Gol
Davis Family Pinot Noir 2011 Soul Patch Russian River Vly $50 Gold
Deerfield Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Sonoma County $30 Bronze
Dutcher Crossing Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Taylor Dry Creek Vly $45 Gold
Forchini Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Dry Creek $32 Best of Class
Forchini Zinfandel 2011 Reserve Old Vine Dry Creek Vly $28 Gold
Imagery Syrah 2010 Dragonleaf Sonoma Mountain $39 Gold
Mathis Grenache 2010 Sonoma Valley $30 Best of Class 
Matrix Petite Sirah 2011 Bacigalupi Vyd Russian River Vly $32 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Pony Dry Creek Vly $38 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Pony Reserve Dry Creek Vly $52 Gold
Pezzi King Zinfandel 2011 Serracino Vyd Dry Creek Vly $50 Double Gold
Rodney Strong Symmetry Red Meritage 2010 Alexander Valley $60 Gold
Selby Malbec 2008 Alexander Valley $34 Double Gold
St Francis Merlot 2010 Behler Sonoma Valley $45 Best of Class
Thirty-Seven Malbec 2010 Sonoma Coast $46 Best of Class
TR Elliott Pinot Noir 2011 Queste Russian River Vly $44 Double Gold

Very Good

Alexander Valley Cyrus (Bordeaux) 2009 Alexander Valley $65 Silver
Arrowood Syrah 2008 Saralee's Vyd Russian River Vly $30 Gold
B.R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Olive Hill Sonoma Vly $55 Gold
Cazadero Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Bei Ranch Sonoma Coast $49 Gold
Clos du Bois Cabernet Franc 2010 Alexander Valley $40 Gold
Clos du Bois Marlstone (Bordeaux) 2010 Alexander Valley $50 Gold
Davis Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Sonoma County $60 Best of Class
Geyser Peak Petit Verdot 2010 Foothill Block Collection Alexander Vly $28 Best of Class
Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee (sparkling) 2005 Carneros $32 Gold
Imagery Pallas Estate Red 2010 Sonoma Valley $65 Gold
Matrix Pinot Noir 2011 R Buoncristiani Vyd Russian River Vly $48 Double Gold
Matrix Pinot Noir 2011 Reserve Nunes Vyd Russian River Vly $56 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Briar Dry Creek Vly $29 Double Gold
Pedroncelli Sangiovese 2011 Alto Vyds Dry Creek Vly $16 Best of Class
Trentadue Zinfandel Port 2011 Alexander Vly $25
Wilson Zinfandel 2011 Molly's Vyd Dry Creek Vly $36 Gold
Wilson Zinfandel 2011 Nolan Dry Creek Vly $40 Gold


Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Signaterra 3 Blocks Sonoma Vly $50 Double Gold
Benziger Pinot Noir 2011 de Coelo Quintus Sonoma Coast $75 Gold
Breathless Blanc de Noir (sparkling) Sonoma County $30 Sweepstakes
Carol Shelton Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Rockpile Reserve $50 Gold
Christopher Creek Petite Sirah 2008 Reserve Russian River Vly $39 Best of Class
Davis Family Barn d'Or (red blend) 2011 Sonoma County $35 Gold
de Lorimier Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Preston Ranch Alexander Vly $52 Gold
Foppiano Port 2010 Russian River Valley $40 Silver
Forchini Papa Nonno (blend) 2011 Dry Creek Valley $25 Silver
Francis Ford Coppola Syrah 2010 Reserve Dry Creek Vly $36 Best of Class
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs (sparkling) Carneros $22 Double Gold
Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose (sparkling) 2008 Carneros $42 Gold
Keating 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Montecillo Vyd Sonoma Vly $48 Gold
Matrix Pinot Noir 2011 Nunes Vyd Russian River Vly $42 Gold
Mayo Rhone-The Gypsy 2009 Sonoma County $40 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Beasley Dry Creek Vly $34 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Seaton Dry Creek Vly $52 Double Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Serracino Dry Creek Vly $52 Gold
Mazzocco Zinfandel 2011 Sonoma County $26 Double Gold
Michael Pozzan Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Sonoma County $15 Best of Class
Pezzi King Zinfandel 2011 Harris Kratka Vyd Alexander Vly $42 Gold
Pezzi King Zinfandel 2011 Row 26 Dry Creek Vly $50
Sebastiani Barbera 2009 Sonoma Valley $26 Best of Class
St Francis Claret 2010 Sonoma County $20 Gold
Sequana Pinot Noir 2011 Russian River Vly $38 Best of Class
Shiloh Road Pinot Noir 2012 Sonoma County $18 Best of Class
Soda Rock Zinfandel 2011 Wentworth Sonoma County $42 Double Gold
Wilson Zinfandel 2011 Estate Dry Creek Vly $68 Gold
Woodenhead Pinot Noir 2010 Wet Kiss Russian River Vly $52 Gold

The Rest

Karah Pinot Noir Karah Vyd Sonoma Coast $16 Gold
Saini Zinfandel 2011 Pear Block Dry Creek Vly $38 Double Gold
Sunce Mourvedre 2011 Montgomery Vyd Russian River Vly $28 Gold
Wilson Zinfandel 2011 Sawyer Vyd Dry Creek Vly $50 Gold
Windsor Vyd Carignane 2010 Reserve Alexander Vly $20 Gold

Best deals

Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Alexander Valley $28
Michael Pozzan Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Sonoma County $15 
Pedroncelli Sangiovese 2011 Alto Vyds Dry Creek Vly $16  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wine terms you may misinterpret

Some of these terms refer to making wine and others to the important part, drinking it, but all are obscure and need defining to make your wine enjoyment better.

Aggressive wine - It's threatening and you have a right to shoot.

Appellation - The mountains where the hillbillies live in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Backbone - What you wish your boss had.

Bottle shock - An over $60 wine.

Bud break - In the spring the new shoots come out so the grape grower celebrates with a Bud break.

Bunghole - No, it's not what you think.

Corked - You opened the bottle up. Unless it was a cheap screw cap wine then the term is Screwed.

Cultured Yeast - Yeast that grow up listening to Classical Music. If you still listen to 90s rap you'll want to stay away from wines made with Cultured Yeast.

Downy Mildew - A new fragrance of fabric softener.

Fining Agent - The person who gets you a contract for your next fining gig.

Fleshy wine - A plump and pudgy wine. Think Kirstie Alley.

Hang Time - Alright ladies, keep it clean.

Harmonious wine - The Beach Boys of wine.

Jug Wine - Alright guys, keep it clean.

Late Harvest - Grapes picked after 10 pm.

Reverse Osmosis - Opposite of Forward Osmosis.

Wine thief - Someone who steals wine from a barrel with a glass tube.

Memorize these and you're halfway to being a first level sommelier! 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Alexander Valley grape vines (photos)

At Stryker-Sonoma Winery in northern Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, Sept 26, 2013

Click on any photo to enlarge

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet. Looking pretty juicy.

Malbec. Looking a little thin.
Maybe that's why you don't see much Malbec in California.

Petite Sirah vines budded over to Cabernet Sauvignon
(there's a lot more money in Cab)

100+ year old Zinfandel vines