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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Summer Grilling Wines

You've got the grill ready to go. You've got some meat, some BBQ sauce or dry rub. You're looking for the wine to go with your meal. What to have?  Well, there are a zillion choices (okay, maybe only a million) so I won't try to get specific, but only give ideas.

The meats are usually some combination of fish, chicken, pork, and beef. When it comes to the lighter meats the prep can make all the difference. "Naked" chicken with Chardonnay sounds easy enough, but once you start adding herbs, spices, or sauces that changes things, especially if it's tomato-based or spicy hot.

Speaking of spicy, Sauvignon Blanc or a sparkling wine works well. Salmon or pork? You can go Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Smokey flavors? A dry Gewurztraminer or a not-too-heavy Syrah or better, a Syrah blend. Smokey flavors and Syrah often go together well. If you spice up your chicken or pork with a heavy sauce you can go with Zinfandel. I often have Zin with chicken slathered in a good tomato-based BBQ sauce.

Ribs can be prepared lots of ways from a more delicate and sweet style to really spiced up. Bubblies and lighter whites can work at one end of the scale to Zinfandel at the other. Beef ribs with dry rubs can work with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Just make it a reasonably priced wine  because we're talking about ribs here. Don't break out your $150 Diamond Mountain Cab (unless you're inviting me over for dinner).

For beef on the grill Cabernet is king. For sausages usually Zinfandel or Syrah. See how Syrah keeps coming up? Syrah-based Rhone-style blends are probably the best wines to cover most grilled meals.

If it's a really warm day the big reds don't usually taste as good so maybe Merlot instead of Cab or Pinot instead of Syrah or Zin. Don't be afraid to stick the red wine bottle in the fridge for a few minutes if the bottle feels a bit warm.  Of course, if it's really hot out you might want something like this ...
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Buck Chuck wins big

It's actually the Former Two Buck Chuck as the Charles Shaw wines now retail for $2.49. It's part of the Bronco Wine Company -- the fourth largest wine producer in the U.S. behind Gallo, Constellation, and (the generic) Wine Group. Anyway, I guess that extra 50 cents went to good use.

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Just in case you thought wine judgings were the end-all to tell you what you will like along comes the Orange County Fair wine competition giving out three gold medals to Charles Shaw for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and White Zinfandel!

 Okay, the competition, like most, has different price categories so a $100 wine isn't competing against a $5 one (or a $2.49 one).

In 2007 Charles Shaw Chardonnay got the best Chardonnay medal from the California State Fair wine judging.

The Orange County Fair wine competition is held in high regard and I admit to not having tried a Charles Shaw wine in a long wine. I guess this means I'll have to quit referring to it as Two Buck Upchuck.   LOL


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Another reason to break out the bubbly

Now that there will be more marriages!

Domaine Carneros, Gloria Ferrer, Iron Horse, J, Korbel, Mumm, Roederer, Schramsberg, Scharffenberger, or any of the many others in the Sonoma/Napa/Mendocino area. Your choice!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Another Growth Sector for Sonoma County's Economy

Another growth area besides wine that is. As to be expected in Sonoma County wine and the resulting tourism are huge. But what's this new growth area? It's something pretty closely related to premium wines -- craft beer.

At Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma CA

Lagunitas, founded 1993, and Russian River Brewing, founded 1997, are big success stories known to pretty much any American beer aficionado. The Bear Republic is also noteworthy. There are lesser known ones around the county like Dempsey's, Third Street, and Ruth McGowan's that all double as restaurants. And tiny breweries like Sonoma Springs. Eight new ones have opened in the last couple years. There are 18 breweries in the county now. During the last two years Lagunitas' sales grew 40%.
If you haven't seen this one
locally yet you will soon. They're
expanding to Chicago.
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The first brewery to open in the U.S. after Prohibition was New Albion in the town of Sonoma in 1976. That brewery didn't last until the new wave of micro-breweries swept America, but it helped start the trend.

Then Russian River Brewery puts out a seasonal beer (available for only two weeks) that was rated as the best beer in the world a few years ago. When this beer is released in February it has a noticeable affect on the area as people come from all over to sample Pliny the Younger. This past year I talked to the first people in line for the first day of the release. They were from Denver and had lined up at 3 am for the 11 am opening.

News article

Video on Pliny the Younger release

Friday, June 21, 2013

What wine for the first day of summer?

It's here! Sun, warmth, beach, patio dining. So how to celebrate the summer solstice? Well, you could go to Stonehenge or perform some other pagan ritual, but I'm thinking more of a Friday BBQ and some wine.

For a white wine nothing says summer like Sauvignon Blanc. It's lighter-bodied than most Chardonnays and has more acid meaning it's crisp and refreshing. From Sonoma County you've got Geyser Peak and Kenwood on the less expensive end of the spectrum. Then there's Hanna Winery with what I'd call the gold standard of Sauvignon Blancs. But there are dozens of top-notch SBs from the Russian River Valley and parts of Dry Creek Valley.

Want something a little different? Look for a Marsanne or other Rhone-style white blend. Or even wilder, try to find a Grenache Blanc.

In a red wine a good quality one on the lighter side is the way to go. How do you know if you're getting an easy drinking, lighter red wine? Look for grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. Just as important look at alcohol levels. Once you hit the mid-fourteens on most of these they are getting out of the range of what I'd call "light" or a "warm weather" wine.

Alexander Valley Vineyards and
Valley of the Moon Winery
make excellent Rosé based on Sangiovese
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But there's nothing wrong with going this way
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wanna be part owner of a winery?

Lots of folks dream of giving up the rat race, moving to the countryside, and growing grapes or making wine. Some are rich and make a big splash, others rent space in a warehouse and make a couple hundred cases of Cabernet while keeping their day job.

But now there's an opportunity to become a part owner without all the hard work or even getting your hands dirty!  This doesn't happen very often, but Truett-Hurst Winery in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County is going public. Today they've launched an IPO at only six bucks a share! Much cheaper than Google.

Why so cheap? Well, nobody's heard of Truett-Hurst. They've only been around for six years. Like most wineries, especially the newer ones, they have a ton of debt. So rather than buying into some new venture by an established company you're mostly paying down loans. A good investment? You decide. But at least you can say you're in the wine biz!

News article

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

So You Want to be a Sommelier

Sommelier (French, noun) - A professionally trained wine snob who can make any restaurant customer feel inferior when they are trying to order something to drink for dinner. Hint: order a beer. Pronounce "sommelier" by holding your nose so you voice takes on a nasal (aka French) quality and say, "smellier." That will be close enough.

Wanna-be sommeliers spend thousands to be trained by sommeliers that couldn't find restaurant jobs. You'll run into people who say they are sommeliers because they've taken the "intro" course. The master level has only a couple hundred people--it's like a triple black belt.

Why would you want to turn something fun, like wine, into something so serious? Why would you want to have to give a shit about Greek wine? Why would you want to spend all that money on certification? Money that could be used to actually buy wine?

Yeah, this guy looks like a real good time. Not!
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I mean can you imagine a get-together of these high-and-mighty wine geeks? They'd tell jokes like, "Your farts are so bad they smell like Pinotage" or "Is that a 375 ml in your pocket or are you just happy to see a properly chilled bottle of Viognier"?

I've gained my (very limited) wine knowledge just by being around it. Living in Sonoma County for 35 years and it'll just rub off on you. I've worked in winery tasting rooms. Hell, when I wasn't thinking clearly I even ran tasting rooms!

Yes, knowledge is good. Just don't take it too seriously. Save the seriousness for the people looking for a cure for cancer.

Keep wine in the glass surrounded by good friends and good times and no pretensions.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

2012 - Biggest grape crop ever for Sonoma County

This was expected as everyone seemed to be getting a lot more grapes last fall during harvest. Lots of fruit and good quality. Two things led to the record harvest. Most importantly, was the warm spring and near ideal summer weather. Second, is the ever increasing acreage of grapes in Sonoma County.

News article

Eventually the new crop report will show up on the Sonoma County Ag Commissioner's website.

They've got crop reports going back over 80 years. For instance, in 1940 21,000 acres of grapes were harvested at an average of $20 a ton. Currently it's 58,000 acres at over $2,000 a ton. The valuation of the 1940 grape crop was about the same as prunes and hops.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wine at the beach

It's summer. You're going to the beach sometime. Maybe it's a long drive through Saturday traffic or maybe it's a week-long vacation.

So what kind of wine should you take to the beach? Or to put it another way, what would Annette and Frankie drink?

Well, first you might wanna check to see that alcohol is allowed at the beach. Always good to not get arrested in front of a bunch of impressionable kids. Especially if they're yours.

Once that's all cleared up the wine should be white or rosé so be sure you have the ice to keep it cold. Nothing like a glass of warm rosé while sitting in the hot sun. Bring the aspirin if that's your plan.

Go with something inexpensive and light. Not a heavy, oaky Chardonnay, but more of a "naked" one. Not a sweet rosé, but a quality one that's drier.

Of course, if part of your day is grilling burgers then you can bring along a lighter red wine. Two cautions: This only works if you've got a shady spot to sit and don't let the wine get warm. Ugh.

Then you'll need some glasses. Bring plastic ones. Something with a picture of a hula girl on the side of the bowl is fine.

What do I take to the beach? I'm taking beer. To hell with wine! If it's near sunset then margaritas are okay, too. I mean Cabernet on a warm beach? Yuck. Good beer in cans is what's called for.

THIS is the way to go to the beach!
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It's time to get your sunburn on

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Avoiding the crowds in Napa this summer

Napa Valley is about 25 miles long and a few miles wide. This famous wine region sees millions of visitors every year with the majority coming during July, August and September. If this trip is in your plans how can you find elbow room? Let alone a hotel room.

When to visit

Of course, weekends will have biggest crowds. Specifically, Saturday afternoons are the busiest. Monday through Thursday before 1 pm is best for avoiding lots of people on the road and in the tasting rooms.

The month of June is actually a fairly quiet time.

Highway 29 in southern Napa County
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Where to visit

The south end of Napa Valley is closer to the SF Bay Area and is always busier than the north end. From the town of St. Helena south is where you'll find the traffic. Once you get north of St. Helena to Calistoga things magically clear out.

To the north there are a few large wineries that attract large crowds: Beringer, Sterling and Castello de Amorosa. But there are still many smaller wineries, from August Briggs to Zahtila, that won't be stuffed with other visitors.

Calistoga. The quieter side of Napa Valley
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Sonoma County

Next door to Napa is Sonoma County. It can get busy at certain times also, but won't be as crowded as Napa. The general ideas here for Napa apply to Sonoma as well (fewer people on weekdays and to the north).

If this all still sounds too busy for you keep heading north to Anderson Valley in Mendocino County or over to El Dorado and Amador Counties in the Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento.

Geyserville in Sonoma County. Even quieter.
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A suggestion

With Napa and Sonoma Counties right next to each other you can visit both if your trip is more than a couple days duration. Pick lodging that is centrally located to both areas. Visit Napa on a weekday and Sonoma on the busier weekend.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

The Top Ten Wine Travel Destinations?

Redbook Magazine has done a top wine travel destinations list, too. I don't read Redbook as it's aimed at a different demographic. A quick scan of their online mag shows it to be kind of a mild version of Cosmopolitan magazine. Yes, Redbook still has articles on baking and raising children, but they seemed to be focusing more on sex cuz, you know, sex sells.

So the trips are oriented toward the female travelers, but that doesn't fully explain the list.

A few are well-known wine areas:
Finger Lakes, Long Island, Willamette, Sonoma, Walla Walla.
Even Texas Hill County, Charlottesville VA, and Temecula are known by many plus are near major metropolitan areas helping their popularity.
But I honestly didn't know about Treasure Valley, ID--or Louisville, KY. I've heard of St. Chapelle Winery in Idaho, but Louisville? Really?

I found a web page listing about 60 wineries in Kentucky!
Kentucky's finest. It's not bourbon?
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I guess the ladies are over Napa. Apparently the "Sideways" wine tour in the Santa Barbara area is for guys only. Paso Robles? Forget-about-it.

Bummer Napa. You're off the list!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

If you only read one wine blog ...

... and don't take wine too seriously then check out the ol' Hosemaster. Okay, it's a bit of an insider's view of what goes on in the wine industry, but it's worth a look because you'll laugh.

The Hosemaster is an ex-comedy writer and an ex-sommelier (a professionally trained wine snob). He IS from Southern California though...

Here's a video interview with him explaining his new purpose in life.

A quote from a recent blog post:

"Millennials want wines that are authentic ... by dedicated vintners who spare no labor or expense, who love the land and cherish the Earth and... never manipulate the wines ..., and, finally, the wines are also delicious and compelling, get you drunk, and don’t cost more than $15."

His blog.

The Hoser works part-time at a local tasting room. It must be a riot in there when he's around.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sonoma County for the outdoorsy types

Not everyone wants to drink wine during their entire trip.

I know, some people are gasping at the thought. What?  But it's true. So here are a few suggestions if you want to start your day with a little exercise, take a break between wineries (a good idea), or take a day off from wine tasting.

There are 11 state parks and 45 regional parks in the county. Lake Sonoma, Spring Lake, and Lake Ralphine are within parks. The two main rivers are the Petaluma River and Russian River. There are mountains and over 50 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline.

A sampling of some of the many parks:

Annadel State Park is in Santa Rosa and is very popular. There are several miles of trails. A favorite spot for mountain bikers. Trails are easy to moderate. Bring your own water.

Armstrong Redwoods in the western part of the county contains the world's tallest living things--coastal Redwoods--some over 1,000 years old. If you haven't "walked among the giants" before then this is a must do. Note: If you park at the entrance and walk in there's no charge. It's an easy walk.

Hood Mountain Regional Park is at the eastern edge of Santa Rosa overlooking Sonoma Valley (and the Golden Gate on a clear day). Moderate to strenuous hiking.

Gunsight Rock at Hood Mtn
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Howarth Park is a city park in Santa Rosa next to Spring Lake Park (see below). Can be busy on summer weekends. There's a great playground for kids plus it's an easy hike around Lake Ralphine. There are small boat rentals. Lots of people fish here because it's convenient, but I don't see much being caught.

Jack London State Historic Park is where the writer lived the last few years of his life. There are trails, a museum, and his grave site. Hiking is easy to moderate

Lake Sonoma is very popular for boating and picnicking. There's also hiking including walk-in camping. The visitor center and fish hatchery that may interest the kids. Sbragia and Ferrari Carano wineries are close by.

The Sonoma Coast State Beaches are a string of coastal access areas running from Bodega Bay to Jenner. Salmon Creek and Goat Rock are a couple of the best to visit along with Doran Beach (a county park). Note that most of the coast has dangerous surf conditions as in, "Do not go into the water even to wade." Doran and Salmon Creek have gentler surf. Goat Rock is scenic, plus the north end of the park is at the mouth of the Russian River and doesn't have the dangerous surf.

Portuguese Beach on the Pacific coast

Spring Lake in Santa Rosa has hiking, biking, fishing, camping, and a swimming lagoon suitable for the kids. Boating is allowed (no gas engines) including boat rentals. The Lakeside Grill serves some pretty nice meals right on the beach.

Sugarloaf Ridge with 25 miles of scenic trails with great views. Moderate to strenuous hiking. Camping.

Preparation for the parks
Most people realize you should bring water and sunscreen. Many don't realize the climate variations. The coast can be cold any time of the year. Mornings can be cool anywhere, but will heat up rapidly in the late mornings so dress in layers. Watch for poison oak and be aware of the occasional poisonous snake. It's unlikely you'll see one--just know they can be there.

In Bodega

The best fishing is probably on an ocean fishing charter out of Bodega Bay. Certain times of the year the Russian River can have decent fishing. Check the rules first as you cannot take salmon at certain times of the year. Lake Sonoma is the most popular fishing location and has plenty of shoreline to find a spot where they're biting.

There are over 20 courses in the county, a few are private. I'm not a golfer, but some of the most popular public courses seem to be Bodega Harbour, Northwood, Oakmont, and Windsor. Note a couple of these are nine-hole courses.

Ice Skating
The Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa. Okay, it's indoors, but it's still good exercise.

Horseback Riding
The most popular is probably the beach ride offered by an outfitter out of Bodega Bay.

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Kayaking and Canoeing
The Russian River has companies offering boat rentals and return transportation for traveling down the river. Best times are May and June. After that the river is running a little slower and there's more paddling to do--it depends on how much current you like. There's boating and paddling on the Petaluma River, also.

Paddling the Russian River
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Doran Beach park on Bodega Bay is the most popular spot in the county and can have some of the worse weather so be aware. It can be stormy in the winter and cold, foggy in the summer. There's camping at Spring Lake in Santa Rosa and in Sugarloaf Ridge plus there are numerous private campgrounds including a couple KOAs.

Or maybe "outdoorsy" to you means enjoying a glass of wine on the patio  :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wine Whining...

... from guys who should know better. Or at least have something better to do.

Everyone knows of Napa Valley. Most have also heard of Sonoma County as a premium wine region. Fewer know anything about Rockpile or Green Valley or even Russian River Valley. Russian wine??

U.S. wine growing areas have lots of different American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). These government-approved growing regions are supposed to help the consumer select wines based on where the grapes are from.

Many wines labeled Napa Valley aren't grown in the valley at all, but on nearby hills, but they still say Napa Valley because that's what people recognize.

Sonoma has finally realized they should be selling Sonoma County to wine buyers so beginning in 2014 the label has to say "Sonoma County." It will still say Russian River Valley, or Dry Creek Valley, or whatever, but will also say Sonoma County.
Fancy wine label,
but where the heck is Alexander Valley?
Image from

This will really help clarify where the wine comes from for the majority of wine consumers.

There are a few yahoos that don't understand wine-buying in New Jersey or Texas and think this is wrong. From an article in one of these winemaker yahoos says, "The danger is very real. It'll elevate a few large producers of mid-grade wines (read Gallo & Kendall-Jackson) at the expense of the small producers." (I paraphrased a bit here).


Do you guys actually sell wine? And to someone other than wine geeks who know this stuff? Get you head out of your you-know-what. This is a good thing. Really.