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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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Job opening at Treasury Wine Estates

There's a fairly long, not so illustrious, history to Treasury. They were part of Fosters, the beer people. A few years ago the wine part was spun off as Treasury Wine Estates as they were the poorer performing part of the company. They own Chateau St. Jean, Beringer, and about 50 other brands covering four continents.

When first spun off I remember going to the new Treasury web site and finding their home page saying, "Treasury Wine Estates. One foot in the vineyard, one foot in the boardroom."   Hmmm.

This appears to be a wine company not run by wine people. You know, the same thing that's gotten GM into trouble many times because they're a car company not run by car people.

Treasury had an excess of wine that sat around and went bad. The CEO decided to dump it and write it off rather than risk the reputation of the Treasury brands by selling it -- a smart long-term strategy. He was fired for it. Of course, it was a half-million cases of wine!

So if you like the corporate world and don't really care about wine so much there's a job opening at the top! Though it's really not clear what will happen with the company or their U.S. holdings now.

News Article

Update: Mr Dearie only made $2.4m last year with the drop in profits for Treasury's holdings. Of course, unemployment compensation will be a bit less.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Grenache Tasting

The Rhone Rangers sponsored a Grenache tasting at the Stark Tasting Room in Healdsburg on Sept 20, 2013. Grenache is a grape not well known in America, but is widely planted in Spain and the Rhone Valley of France. It is often blended with Syrah and Mourvedre (moo VED ruh) in France.

There were a dozen northern California wineries pouring about 35 different Grenache Blancs (white Grenache), Grenache Noir (red), plus Grenache blends. There were also some rosés, but I didn't sample any.

I also attended these tastings each of the last two years in Sept 2011 and Sept 2012.

My favorites this year in each category (listed alphabetically):

Grenache Blanc (white)

Frick 2010 Estate Dry Creek Valley, $27

Skinner 2011 Eldorado, $22

Grenache Noir (red)

Anaba 2010 Greywacke Vyd Russian River Valley, $38

Mounts Family 2010 Estate Dry Creek Valley, $30

Quivira 2011 Wine Creek Ranch Dry Creek Valley, $30

Grenache Blends (white & red)

Frick Cotes-du-Dry-Creek White 2011 Estate Dry Creek Valley (Grenache Blanc & Viognier blend), $27

Frick Cotes-du-Dry Creek Red 2009 Dry Creek Valley (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut), $24

Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2011 Dry Creek Valley & El Dorado (Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah), $38

For me Frick Winery was the hit of the night.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Random Sonoma County Photos

A few various non-wine photos from around Sonoma County. There's stuff to look at besides grapes!

Click on a photo to enlarge

Armstrong Redwood Park

A lonely beach along the coast

Summer morning marine layer keeping things cool

The Healdsburg town plaza

A winter's day in Russian River Valley

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Off the beaten path in Sonama County

Okay, compared to most of Napa Valley ALL of Sonoma is pretty much off the beaten path!  Here are a few places in Sonoma County that may be hard to find, but worth it.

Watch for this sign!

Chloe's (open Mon-Fri for breakfast & lunch) - A French-style cafe in a weird location. Save room for dessert.

Farm store
Kozlowski Farms. You don't see family stores like this anymore. Pies, jams, cider, oh my.

Iron Horse is known for sparkling wine. It's down a narrow road that can be flooded out sometimes in the winter. Top-notch wines and a nice view. Tasting "room" is outdoors.

Occidental isn't near much of anything though it's trying for a bit of the wine country chic with spas, B&Bs and fancy eats. They've got that along with the Union Hotel and Negri's--a couple of Italian restaurants that have been there forever. Small, quiet, redwoods, a short drive to the ocean.

The Old West
Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery is where the original pioneer settlers were laid to rest. Volunteers occasionally offer daytime and nighttime guided tours while you hear tales of life in early California.

In Occidental

Saturday, September 14, 2013

How is the harvest going so far?

Update on the 2013 wine grape harvest for Sonoma County and nearby

This is mostly second and third hand information I've heard, you know, through the grapevine.   :)

It was an early year for fruit this year because of a warm, dry spring. Not just for grapes as my own apple trees ripened weeks ahead of the norm. Bud break was about three weeks early this spring and all other major phases (such as bloom and veraison) were weeks ahead of schedule. Likewise, the harvest is ahead of the average picking dates--not the earliest ever, but one of the earliest. Things are definitely in full swing in mid-September.

So what does this mean? Winemakers look for an optimal sugar level, pH, and acids for when to pick. Some are saying the sugars are there, but the best flavor hasn't developed yet. So do you pick at the right sugar to keep the alcohol levels down or wait for the flavors to develop and pick at higher sugar levels? Many are hoping for cooler weather to keep sugars reasonable while waiting for the best flavors to come along.

Seems like 2013 won't meet the high quality and quantities of 2007 or 2012. So far quality and quantity look better than 2010 or 2011. But Mother Nature isn't done with us yet, of course.

Russian River Valley Chardonnay picked in late August

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What makes Sonoma County special for wine grapes

Trivia question: What is the size of Rhode Island, can have a 40 degree difference in daytime temperatures, and has more soil types than France?
Answer: Sonoma County.

Wine grapes can be grown almost anywhere though most is between the 30th and 50th degree latitudes in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Countries as seemingly different as Brazil and Switzerland have sizable grape production.

So what makes Sonoma County special? In a word, diversity.

First, Sonoma has the right climate (temperature, rainfall, sunlight, wind) and good soils. There's the warm and dry growing season with cool nights that's just right for premium grapes. For soil good drainage is important. Rich soils are actually a detriment as they promote vine growth at the expense of the best grape growth.

But it's the diversity that makes Sonoma special.

Image from


A micro-climate exists in a very small area of differing weather. With the latitude and long hours of sun this part of California is naturally quite warm during the summer and into the autumn, however the cool Pacific waters lap on the western edge of the county. This "fight" between hot, dry air and the heavier cool, moist air is what really sets Sonoma apart.

Temperatures and winds can change noticeably in just a few miles. It can be 100 degrees in the hottest inland areas and only 60 at the coast.

Why does this matter to the grapes? Some wine grapes do better in a cooler area with less sunlight while others what the heat. This means Sonoma County can grow all the major wine grape varieties within a few miles of each other.


Gravelly, stony, volcanic, clay, it's all here. Vineyards run from down almost at sea level to 2,600 feet. It's not unusual for a single vineyard to have multiple soil types.


Sonoma County is the birthplace of the California wine industry. The wine industry here was huge by the late 19th century. The local grape growers have learned a lot about producing top quality grapes over time.

Sonoma has everything from valley dry-farmed Chardonnay to mountain Cabernet grown in volcanic rock. There's that diversity again!

Bennett Valley in Sonoma County
An area surrounded by ancient volcanic peaks
with the marine layer of cool air influencing the growing season

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Trinchero Family

Yes, you can make a lot of money from White Zinfandel if you sell enough.

Trinchero Family Estates is the umbrella company over a large number of wine brands that all started with Sutter Home White Zinfandel about 50 years ago. Trinchero owns Joel Gott, Montevina, Napa Cellars, Trinity Oaks and almost 30 other wine labels.

They are now following Gallo into the booze biz. Last year Trinchero released Cruz and Tres Agaves Tequilas and just recently Sugar Island Rum.

Eventually one of these big players will get into the craft beer business. I'm guessing Gallo first. They have almost as much muscle in the distribution side as Anheuser-Busch. It's already been done on a small scale. Locally, for instance, the Ceja Winery family opened a small craft brewery. But when Gallo, Bronco, Trinchero, or one of the other biggies get in it'll be interesting to see how much success they have.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Watch the harvest!

Kutch Wines, a small producer of Pinot Noir from various Sonoma Coast vineyards, has a live cam in their wine cellar. 

Watch, and listen, to all the action.

(camera is sometimes offline)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Simple advice for wine newbies

It's pretty daunting, huh? Grape names, winery label jargon, and wine terms you can't pronounce. All the wine buzz words that you don't have a clue as to what they mean. Then there are the tasting descriptors like, "a foxy blend of dried eastern spices and lush currant with a backbone for aging."  Huh?

The basic mantra to always remember is:

Drink what you like

This means you don't have to like what friends do, what the wine magazines do, or the wine judges. Drink what you will enjoy. You like oaky Chardonnay and cheap Merlots even though the "experts" say you shouldn't? It's your money and your palate.

Some other basic rules:

Drink what you can afford

You don't need to spend fifty bucks on a bottle of wine. There are plenty of good ones in the twenty dollar range and some good one for ten. If you have the disposable income fine--buy all the Napa cult wines you want and save the reasonably priced ones for the rest of us.

Maybe this wine blog is for you: Good wines under $20

Find a good wine shop

If you plan on getting more than the ten dollar grocery store stuff then find a retailer you can trust to be honest when you ask, "We're having glazed pork chops tonight and I'd like a red wine for about thirty dollars to go with that." Heck you can even say, "My in-laws will be over Sunday afternoon. We'll be on the back patio chatting and my mother-in-law loves oaky Chardonnays, but I don't want to spend more than twelve bucks on her."