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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

National Hamburger Day!

It's gotta be America's favorite made-up holiday
May 28th, National Hamburger Day

The hamburger was invented in Hamburg, Germany, but the idea of a sandwich (the bun) is an American invention. It's estimated American restaurants serve over 8 billion burgers every year. That doesn't include the ones we cook at home.

So we have to ask, what wine should you have with your burger? Like most any other wine-food pairings it depends on the prep. In this case what cheese, if any, and what condiments. Things like a sharp cheddar or a spicy mustard, and onions can make a difference.

This means it can be pretty much any red wine. A California Pinot Noir, Merlot, lighter Cabernet, Syrah or Zinfandel can work fine depending on the burger preparation. If you prefer a white then go with a heavier Chardonnay and lay off the onions, pickles, and strong cheeses. A "sweet" burger would be one with catsup, mayo, yellow mustard, caramelized onions and would work well with a more acidic wine to cut through the sweetness. A "sharp" burger would be one with dill pickles, raw onions, and a spicy mustard. Maybe a Pinot or Barbera here. If you're looking for one all-around red to go with any hamburger I'd probably go with Syrah or a Syrah blend.

Just make it an American wine as this is definitely an American holiday!

If you visit Sonoma County there are lots of good burger joints. In Santa Rosa: Carmen's, Flipside (my personal favorite), Ozzie's, Phyllis', Superburger, and the best chain burger joint--In 'n Out. In other parts of the county: Mike's in Cotati (considered by many to be the best), and Hamburger Ranch in Cloverdale.

Fire up the grill!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So, Tempranillo WON'T be the next big thing?

California's wine renaissance began in the 1970s. It was all about Chardonnay and Cabernet. In the 1990s someone decided Syrah would be The Next Big Thing so folks planted Syrah. Probably lots of grape farmers took out something else and put in Syrah to hop on the coming gravy train. Well, there's still lots of Syrah out there and it's tough finding a home for some of it. Syrah as a varietal never could come close to displacing Cabernet -- or even Merlot. 

In the last few years as people searched for a new trend Tempranillo (tem prah nee oh) often comes up as The Next Big Thing. Tempranillo is native to Spain. It's best as a blending grape because it's usually nothing spectacular on its own. I suppose you could describe it as somewhere between Sangiovese, will less acid, and Cabernet, with less complexity and body. Defenders often call it a very drinkable wine or a food-friendly wine, but you won't find anyone calling it an interesting wine.

One of the regions of recent Tempranillo plantings is in New Zealand.They seem to be planting it in the same area as Pinot Noir. In California it's in hotter regions like Paso Robles and Alexander Valley. 
A big award winner
from Texas

It hasn't taken off in either of these areas as many thought it would, but Tempranillo has gained a good foothold in Texas. They are finding it needs heat, but not too much heat, as the grapes need a fairly long growing season to let the clusters ripen evenly. Some are predicting Tempranillo will become Texas' most popular grape and will have more acreage planted than any other state. Before they go in whole hog they might want to talk to California growers about Syrah.

I'm sure there are a few good Tempranillos out there that are worth the money, but most aren't. But then you could have said the same about West Coast Pinot Noir 30 years ago.

For California we'll have to figure out where to grow it (Sierra foothills?), how to grow it, how to blend (with Grenache, Cabernet, Zinfandel?), and what you can charge for a Tempranillo ($20?). I think Syrah may have failed to really take off because it was made as a straight varietal rather than blended and people often charged the same as they would for Cabernet. That is, I think a $25 Syrah/Grenache blend may work in the market, but a $40 Syrah doesn't. Maybe wineries won't make the same mistakes with Tempranillo. Or maybe consumers won't give a damn about it because they would rather drink Cab or Pinot or Merlot.

BTW, no one seemed to be hyping Pinot Gris/Grigio in the U.S. as it "snuck up" to become the fourth best selling wine in the U.S. Is this because it's a less expensive wine, not something in the premium wines category? 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Some Friday Wine Humor




College Wine Humor


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California, USA

Healdsburg = redneck farm town
Healdsburg = Mayberry with wine

That's the transformation over the past dozen years for this town of 11,000 people surrounded by world-class vineyards. It started with the Hotel Healdsburg containing a Charlie Palmer restaurant opening right on the town plaza in 2001. It was pretty fancy-pants for Healdsburg at the time though now the town has gotten fancier with the likes of the H2 Hotel, many B&Bs and expensive retail shops.

Healdsburg Ave, main street USA

As one of the locals who has been in the grape biz forever, Rich Thomas, proclaimed once in a wine class he was teaching, "I can't even buy a pair of underwear in Healdsburg anymore."

Recently Healdsburg made Fodor's list of "Best Small Towns in America," the Zagat guide listed Healdsburg as one of "Twenty Winter Food Destinations" in the world, and Travel & Leisure magazine named the town plaza as one of "America's Most Beautiful Town Squares."  Whew.

The smallish downtown surrounds a town plaza/park. It's populated with wine tasting rooms, restaurants, hotels, plus various gift and clothing stores. That is, it's geared towards visitors. This is good news for the wine country traveler as you can pretty much park yourself in town for a couple days and never have to drive anywhere.

Town plaza, est 1857

I worked in one of those tasting rooms a few years ago just as The Great Recession hit. Healdsburg was in "full bloom" with about 15 tasting rooms within easy walking distance. It appeared to me, from a business perspective, that was about twice as many as the town could really support. On a recent trip into town I counted 14 tasting rooms within a couple blocks of the square. Most of the ones from four years ago were gone, but new ones have sprung up. It was a weekday in May, but it seemed the tasting rooms right on the square were fairly busy while the ones just a block away and off the main street were not. Good ol' Toad Hollow Vineyards seems to be the oldest survivor. Even Gallo and Kendall-Jackson left their prime spots on the plaza.

Spoonbar - The trendiest place in town
Image from

Signs of resurgence are there. New restaurants are opening. While Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen in the Hotel Healdsburg gets credit for starting the fine dining trend the nationally-known Cyrus Restaurant really put Healdsburg on the foodie map. Well, Cyrus is gone, but there's no lack of great food in town with places like Barndiva, Bistro Ralph, Bravas, Campo Fina, Charcuterie, Pizzando, Scopa, Spoonbar, Willi's Seafood, Zin, and lots more. Yeah, good luck getting a weekend reservation at Scopa!

After dinner it's good to know there's something still open in town

The Oakville Grocery has a store there. The Costeaux French Bakery is as popular as ever with the lunch crowd and the baked goods are fantastic. The Flying Goat makes a great cup of coffee. The Bear Republic is a top-notch micro-brewery. And so on.

The newest trendy store for visitors is The Shed. A large retail outlet with an eclectic mix of items including a sit-down coffee bar, local cheeses, kitchenware (I spotted a $285 French cast iron 5.5 qt pot), gardening supplies, and an in-store grain mill.

The Shed

The biggest events in town for the locals are the annual St. Patrick's Day "parade" that consists of folks dressing in green then parading between the bars--this is all early in the morning before anyone goes to work. The other is the Mr. Healdsburg pageant.

Swimwear competition in the Mr. Healdsburg pageant
Image from

During the spring-to-fall season there is a farmer's market on Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon. There are free concerts in the plaza on Tuesday evening with some pretty good local talent. Andy Griffith's Mayberry was never like this!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Weekend of May 17-19, 2013 in Sonoma County

Planning on visiting in mid-May on the 17th though the 19th? Well, sit down, strap in, and hold on! It's gonna be a busy weekend!

Amgen Bike Tour of California - The final leg of the race begins Sunday morning in SF and ends in downtown Santa Rosa Sunday afternoon. BTW, this event leaves SF in the morning about the same time as the Bay to Breakers foot race--this won't be a good time to be driving through.

James Family Cellars Winemaker Dinner - Saturday in Rohnert Park. 

Lagunitas Beer Circus - Sunday afternoon at Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma. Bet you've never been to a beer circus before.

Mazzocco Winery Winemaker Dinner - Sunday evening at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg.

Salute to American Graffiti - Much of the movie was filmed in Petaluma and this is the 40th anniversary of the film. The highlight will be the Saturday downtown cruise. Hopefully, there will be a '58 Chevy or two.

Santa Rosa Rose Parade - On Saturday, a local tradition since the late 19th century.

Sbragia Winemaker Dinner - Friday night, Inn at the Tides, Bodega Bay.

Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival - At Sonoma Raceway. A weekend of old race cars. Many cars will be visiting Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma on Saturday evening.

Taste Alexander Valley - A weekend open house of food and wine at 30 wineries.

Wine Country Gran Fondo - Saturday in Sonoma. Bicycling is the main event, but it's a day long celebration of wine and food, too. 

Weekend weather? Sonoma County has lots of micro-climates, but figure upper-70s on Saturday to mid-80s on Sunday. Sounds perfect. Come and visit us!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sonoma County Events - Summer 2013

Following are wine-focused and non-wine events during June, July, August, and through Labor Day Weekend in Sonoma County California for 2013. There are many others at specific wineries during the summer -- check with your favorites.

Mid-summer in Sonoma Valley

Wine-themed events 


8-9  Russian River Valley Passport to Pinot
Wine, food, and music at about two dozen Russian River Valley wineries. Info

23  Pinot Family Reunion
Afternoon tasting and an evening dinner. Info


4  Many wineries are closed. Others will close early for the holiday. The best place to be is in the Sonoma town plaza for the annual 4th of July Parade and Celebration.

5  Summerfest in Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
First Friday of June-Sept. Food, wine, music. Info

All American Zin Day
Grilled meats and Zinfandel in Dry Creek. Info


2  Summerfest in Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
First Friday of June-Sept. Food, wine, music. Info 

2-4  West of West Wine Festival
In Sebastopol. It's all about west Sonoma County cool climate wines with winemaker dinners, seminars and a tasting. Info

17  Grape to Glass
A Russian River Valley pre-harvest party. Wine, food, dancing with winemakers and grape-growers. Harvest is coming so it's their last chance to have fun until November! Info

24  Taste of Petaluma
Local wines, beers, foods along with art and entertainment. Info
Salmon anyone? Bodega Seafood Festival

24-25 Bodega Seafood, Art and Wine Festival
Arts, crafts, food, live entertainment. Info

30-Sep1  Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
"A wine, cuisine, and cultural event" presented by Visa Signature--check their website for discount tickets. Info

Non-wine events
Although you'll find wine available at most of these. 
After all, it's the wine country and we don't want to miss an opportunity to let you sample our wares.

Peggy Sue Car Cruise

1-9 (begins May 31)  Healdsburg Jazz Festival.
1   Beerfest. Northern California's micro-beer scene.
2   Ox Roast Community BBQ in the Sonoma Plaza
6-9 Peggy Sue's All American Car Cruise. Hundreds of old cars highlighted by a Saturday evening cruise in downtown Santa Rosa.
14   Huichica Music Festival at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery.
15-16 Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic. You have to get up early for this one!
16  Father's Day car show at Julliard Park in Santa Rosa.
19-23 Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma. Evening concerts, ugly dog contest, destruction derby.
21-23 NASCAR at Sears Point Raceway/Infineon/Sonoma Raceway/whatever it's called now. If you're going to Sonoma or Napa this weekend stay away from the racetrack--there will be huge traffic jams.
22 Michael McDonald at the Rodney Strong Winery summer concert series.
22-23 Sonoma Lavender Festival in Kenwood. Lots of purple. Local wineries will be pouring.
22-23 Russian River Rodeo and Parade in Duncans Mills.


Lunch at the fair while checking out the racing form
4  Lots of fireworks shows on or near the 4th. The big one is at the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. 
13 Wine Country Big Q. Barbecue, beer, and music sponsored by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Sounds like a perfect summer afternoon.
20 Rivertown Revival, Petaluma. Music, art, food, boat races.
20-21 Civil War re-enactment in Duncans Mills.
25-Aug11 Sonoma County Fair. Rides, corn dogs, concerts and thoroughbred horse racing.
26-28 NHRA Nationals at Sonoma Raceway.


1-11 Sonoma County Fair continues.
4  Dwight Yoakam in concert at Rodney Strong Winery
17-18 Wings Over Wine Country air show at the Sonoma County Airport.
23-25 Indy Cars at Sonoma Raceway.


Tuesday: Farmers' market in Sonoma. Farmers' market and kids outdoor movies in Windsor, concerts in the Healdsburg plaza
Wednesday: Farmers' market in Santa Rosa at the Vets Building and at the Wells Fargo Center, Santa Rosa downtown market, Wines & Sunsets at Paradise Ridge Winery, Petaluma evening Farmers Market
Thursday: Wine Down Thursdays at Santa Rosa Vintners Square, St. Francis Winery outdoor film festival
Friday: Cloverdale Farmers' Market and music in the plaza
Saturday: Farmers' Markets in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Healdsburg. Music in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa.
Sunday: Music in Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa.

Gundlach-Bundschu, Moshin, and St. Francis Wineries all offer movie nights during the summer. Check their web sites for info.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What wine with junk food?

May 11th is Eat What You Want Day. We all know what that means. It's all about the junk food that tastes soooo good and is soooo unhealthy.

We're talking doughnuts, chili dogs, potato chips, Oreos, and all the other things we stuffed our faces with when we were 12 years old--before we had a primary care physician to tell us to only eat raw green beans dipped in vinegar or we will die an early, horrible death.

So naturally we should decide on what wine to go with your day of pigging out. It's tough to come up with a single wine because there are so many different flavors here. Though it boils down to sugar, animal fat, and salt, I suppose. My best guess would be a cheap sparkling wine. Nothing over $7 a bottle otherwise you'll look like a snob at the doughnut store in the morning (most doughnut shops do not charge corkage BTW). If you go to your local Burger King order the secret combo #13. It's not on the list, but it's a Whopper, fries, and a glass (a Solo Cup actually) of Two Buck Chuck.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sonoma's "anti-highway 29" wine road

Highway 29 is the main artery running through Napa Valley. Anyone who has been there knows the string of tasting rooms, fancy eats, and traffic--lots of traffic. There must be about one hundred wineries along that stretch of road.

A world away from that crowd is Highway 116 in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. The stretch of 116 between Sebastopol and Forestville is the main section for wine lovers. This is a cooler micro-climate so you'll mostly find cool climate grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

The road is known locally as the Gravenstein Highway named for the apples that used to be the predominant crop here before wine grapes took over.

Sebastopol, a nuclear free zone!
Heading north along 116 from Sebastopol to Graton then Forestville 

Hook & Ladder Winery has a tasting room in Sebastopol. They make a little bit of everything from Gewurztraminer to Zinfandel. 

Balletto Winery is is a couple miles east on Occidental Road. They are known for estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Hanna Winery has a tasting room near Balletto. They are known for Sauvignon Blanc and heavy-duty reds from Bismark Mountain Vineyard.
Merry Edwards
One the most most respected
winemakers in Sonoma County
Image from

Taft Street is just west on Occidental Road. Lots of different wines from all over the county at decent prices.

Merry Edwards is all about Sauvignon Blanc and vineyard-designated Pinots.

Red Car has three price tiers of wines and specialize in Syrah.

Dutton-Goldfield is known for balanced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Dutton Estate (yes, the Dutton family name is popular around here). Chardonnay and Pinot.

Lynmar is off 116 on the bumpy Frei Road. Once again, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They have an in-house chef so you can get a picnic lunch or pizza. (Check their web site for details).

Iron Horse Vineyards is off 116 on Ross Station "Road" (it's not much of a road). Great sparkling wines and view.

Hartford Family Winery is NW of Forestville on Martinelli Road. Chardonnay, Pinot, and Zinfandel. Soft, higher alcohol, pricey, and they have a cult following.


Sebastopol - Cafe Claudio, Hopmonk Tavern, K&L Bistro, King Falafel, Starlight Wine Bar/Restaurant.

Graton - Underwood, Willow Wood

Forestville - Farmhouse
Image from

Other Food Stops

Mom's Apple Pie - Lunch sandwiches and maybe the best pie ever.

Kozlowski Farms - A family farm and store started just after WWII. Apple cider, apple pie, jellies, mustard, BBQ sauce, etc. They will ship. Don't miss it!

Link:  Taste Route 116

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A healthy lifestyle with wine

People in the wine biz like to mention that moderate consumption of red wine is good for you. It's because of antioxidants and resveratrol are supposed to be good for your heart. Cocoa beans are claimed to lower blood pressure. Hops may help in fighting diabetes and cancer.

So it seems a steady diet of Cabernet, chocolate truffles, and India Pale Ale and you should live forever.

Remember you heard it here first.

A new study (sponsored by an adult beverage company) claims drinking Champagne will help improve your memory. I just can't remember where I saw that article ...

You never know what scientists will discover in the future. Following is a scene from Woody Allen's 1973 movie Sleeper where he wakes up in the distant future.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Oh oh, wine prices are heading up

As was predicted with a shortage of wine and increasing demand it was going to happen.

2012 saw an overall decrease in wine production mostly because Europe has a terrible season with the smallest crop in 50 years. Locally, the good news was California's crop size was way up with near perfect weather (after a few bad years).

A study reported in the L.A. Times said restaurants have upped their prices about 8% in the last few months. Besides the wine shortage this is probably another sign the recession is ending as businesses are beginning to feel they can finally raise prices.

The squeeze will be on the lower end of the market too, as the bulk wine folks have had it easy finding juice during the recession. Their sources are drying up. Even Two Buck Chuck is now $2.50!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Diet Wine

It's no secret that most women in the Western World think they are too fat. Estimates put the U.S. weight-loss industry at a $20 billion yearly business.

Wine producers want a piece of this. After all, Bud Lite and Coors Lite are the top selling beers in the U.S. (No, I don't know why either).

Light wines are aimed at women figuring they are the ones usually looking to cut calories with a side benefit of cutting alcohol consumption (lighter wines have lower alcohol levels). The calories come from alcohol and any residual sugar left in the wine. Most table wines are dry (no residual sugar from the fruit) so the calories are all from the alcohol.

A typical table wine is about 14% alcohol. Light wines come in about 8%. The calories in a five ounce glass of "regular" wine is under 100. So if you do the math you can see the saving isn't huge. But I've seen people add Diet Coke to their rum so I guess it makes people feel better to think they're doing something healthy.

Treasury Wine Estates, owners of Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Meridian, and many others, launched Little White Lie a few years ago. That diet wine failed in the market place. This year they tried again with Skinny Vine and the sales are off to a good start. There's Slim Chardonnay, Thin (white) Zin, and Mini Muscato. Yes, the names are damn cute. You can guess who they are aimed at in the market. That's why I'll never be able to buy one and try it. I'm not going to be caught buying something called Skinny Vine Mini Muscato. I don't want to put my manhood into question.

Diet wines are big business in the UK. Maybe they'll catch on in the U.S. next.

No thanks. I'll take a nice manly glass of Petite Sirah

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Been to Napa? The locals thank you!

Why? Because they appreciate the annual $1.4 billion pumped into the economy!  Wouldn't you?

Based on visitor surveys nearly nearly three million out-of-towners spent almost one-and-a-half billion dollars in 2012 while visiting Napa Valley. (Other estimates put the number of annual visitors as high as four million). About two million of those folks were there for one day only so we can guess they reside in the S.F. Bay Area.

The best news is the vast majority said they will return.

Two-thirds of employment in Napa County is wine-related. No surprise!