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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Wine Stories of 2014

Top wine, and beer, news of the past year from a Sonoma County point-of-view.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pennsylvania's Alcohol Gestapo Strikes Again

You might argue that places like Utah, Oklahoma, or even Massachusetts have more strict alcohol control than Pennsylvania, but nobody is more active in the enforcement of medieval laws. In PA all alcohol must be purchased via the state's bureaucrats whose livelihood depends on restricting citizen's rights while collecting taxes. Long ago we hated King George for the same reasons.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Why it's better to get drunk on wine

If you're gonna get drunk, and you know you are eventually, here's why it's better to do it on wine.
This is more stylish than twisting off the cap on a Bud

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wine Sales -- Getting You to Buy in the Tasting Room

If you should be lucky enough to visit winery tasting rooms you will be subjected to some standard sales techniques used by most of the winery staff. This, of course, is their job just like any other retail sales person.

For the smaller wineries that don't have much wine in the retail channel the sales from their tasting room is how they stay in business. It's also important for the big guys as they have to justify the costs associated with a tasting room. The sales push comes in two major flavors: Getting you to join their wine club and/or getting you to buy multiple bottles.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wine Marketing--Getting You to Buy

Marketing wine is pretty much like any other retail sales. There are some great lines the marketeers use to get you to act. Like these:

Time sensitive so you don't go away and think about it
Free shipping. Offer ends Friday
Up to 30% off for three days only
Last chance to save

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

All I Want for Christmas ...

Dear Santa,

Since I didn't get that six inch telescope when I was eight you owe me. Here's what I want this year. And it's not really even being selfish as most of this is as a public service for everyone to enjoy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Wacky Alcohol Laws

Prohibition may have ended over 80 years ago, but that doesn't mean various state agencies didn't come up with lots of idiotic ideas afterwards. Liquor laws are all over the place in the U.S. There are still areas where it's illegal to drink (dry counties), there are places where you can't buy booze on Sunday, but elsewhere there are drive-through bars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sonoma County Wine in the Old Days

By "old days" I'm saying three decades ago. To some those were the old days. I mean look at those hairdos!

I ran across a magazine article on Google Books from the New York Magazine dated March 28, 1983. This article is titled "A Sip of Sonoma" with a subheading of "Most of Sonoma's wineries are new, but they're producing attractive wines at moderate prices."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Today's Weird Wine News

Leave it to the alcohol biz to come up with items like this:

Cannabis-infused wine because one buzz is never enough
Musician Melissa Etheridge is behind a project to create a line of pot-infused wines. I hope the wine is made to pair with the pot brownies.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Wine Accessories as Gifts

Everyone has at least one person on their holiday shopping list who already has everything. Okay, they have everything in your price range. How about a nice wine accessory? There is a lot more junk out there (admittedly, some of it is cute) than useful items.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winter Events in Sonoma County

Major Wine-Related Events for Winter of 2014 /2015

This is the quiet time of year 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, plus 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. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Today's Beer News

There's a lot going on in the beer world. Some of it's funny, the last item significant.  
Old Ex-Commie Calls American Beer Filthy Water
The Czech president says nobody has better beer than the Czechs, but had to call out American beer because he still hates capitalist warmongers.   
X-Rated Beer from Austria  
There's actually a town called Fücking in Austria. Also, in German "hell" means "light" as in a lighter beer. So some marketing genius has a new beer called Fücking Hell.
What Lines People Up in Wine County?  
A new release from Silver Oak? No. It's the annual two-week availability of a triple IPA called Pliny the Younger from the Russian River Brewery.
American Craft Beer Bigger than Budweiser 
In 2013 more barrels of craft beer were shipped than barrels of Bud. Budweiser has been in a slow, steady decline for over 25 years. Craft beer, of course, is in a huge growth phase.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Article #237 on "What wine for Thanksgiving"

If you do a Google search on "Thanksgiving dinner wines" you'll find lots of people telling you what to drink with your turkey. Often though it's something like, "Get to 2013 Spier Chenin Blanc from South Africa."  Huh? Now I have to run all over looking for this specific wine? No thanks. Besides, a wine that's available in the 'burbs of New York City isn't necessarily going to be found in St. Paul.

If you want a successful meal note some of the characteristics mentioned below and do your Internet research or go to your knowledgeable wine shop person.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tasting Wine. Well, You Don't Actually Taste It

In truth, you don't taste much of anything. This is correct for any beverage or food.

Your tongue is not very sophisticated when it comes to picking up the nuances of what you eat or drink. It basically perceives sweet, salty, bitter, and sour; each on a different part of the tongue.

Also, your mouth picks up what is called mouthfeel. This would be body, or viscosity (is the liquid thick or thin), the temperature, and any burning or heat (as from alcohol). A higher acid wine may seem thin. One with some residual sugar, even a little bit, seems fuller-bodied (thick).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nat'l Zinfandel Day--Nov 19th

YES! An official holiday for the best wine variety on the planet! This "holiday" has been going on for several years. I can't believe this is the first I've heard about it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Visiting Wine Country in the Winter

What's it like to visit the Sonoma/Napa area in the winter? And how does it differ from summer travel to Northern California?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wine for World Diabetes Day

November 14 is World Diabetes Day. I assume it's a diabetes awareness day rather than a day to drink twelve Mountain Dews and give yourself diabetes. It's a serious disease as the American Diabetes Association says over 9% of the population has it.

Per a study done in the UK and published in the Journal of Nutrition consuming lots of flavonoids found in foods such as chocolate, tea, berries, and wine may help prevent type 2 diabetes. Flavonoids are plant pigments and act as antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants are claimed to help with everything from asthma to hemorrhoids. Since flavonoids come from pigment you want to consume colorful foods (like red wine).

Don't forget the dark chocolate and red wine tonight. I know I won't!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thanksgiving Weekend in Sonoma County

It's a long weekend and you have family visiting (or are visiting family). Let's get out of the house and do a little wine tasting! You aren't the first one to think of this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wines for Veterans Day

There are wines for every occasion, even for veterans and honoring vets.

Image from
Valor Winery
A veteran-run winery out of Livermore, CA. And they have a brewery now.
A news article about them.

Honor Winery
Part of the proceeds from the sale of their wines goes to families of fallen or wounded soldiers. Wines are $49 and up and are distributed in several states.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sustainable Agriculture in Sonoma County

The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission has decided all Sonoma County grapes will be grown sustainably within five years. With over 60,000 acres of grapevines this is an ambitious project. The majority of the vineyards are under 100 acres with nearly half less than 40 acres so there is lots of coordination and info sharing to be done.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What Your Beer Choice Says About You

Having just published What Your Wine Choice Says About You I'm thinking beer deserves equal time. Because, you know, beer is getting just as uppity as wine these days.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What Your Wine Choice Says About You

You are what you drink. You can use this handy guide to either find out what kind of person you are already or find what to drink so you can become the person you want to be. You're welcome!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Five Basic Wine Myths

There are lots of misconceptions about wine, but here are the basic ones everyone should know about.

Wine is better if it's aged

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bennett Valley, Sonoma County

Fans of California wine have probably experienced several of Sonoma County's grape growing regions. Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley are all pretty well known. There are a bunch of smaller appellations not so well known, like Bennett Valley.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Visiting Sonoma for the Wine? The Beer?

Thousands come to Sonoma County to sip from the hundreds of winery tasting rooms. There's everything from Korbel with their millions of cases of bubbly to guys making a couple hundred cases a year. You might be surprised by how many come for the craft beer. Russian River Brewery and Lagunitas are the most famous, but there are a couple dozen brewpubs in the county.

If you're coming make time to sample hard cider. There are several cider makers in the county and now a tasting room has opened for one of the "micro-cideries." Article from the Press Democrat.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

At Chateau St. Jean Winery (photos)

October 24th at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Sonoma Valley
 Click on photos to enlarge

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wine for the Zombie Apocalypse

You know it's coming because of the rash of zombie movies. You also know you can't live on just ammo and toilet paper. So what wines should you have stashed in your bunker while you wait for Bruce Willis in a black helicopter to save you?

Monday, October 20, 2014

When the Rules Don't Apply to You

There are many rules and regulations in the alcohol beverage industry at the federal, state and local levels. The County of Sonoma regulates the sale and production at wineries because it is a commercial venture usually taking place in a rural area. There are concerns with noise, traffic, water use, etc. Once a winery is okayed there will be rules like whether or not you can be open to the public for tasting, what the hours are, if you can hold special daytime or evening events, and the number of people you can have on the property at one time. Much of this has to do with concerns of the neighbors and traffic safety.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Red Wine Bath

We've all read numerous news articles about red wine supposedly being healthy for you. This one is a first though. A member of the Knicks NBA team is having red wine spa treatments for an injury. No, really!


The last paragraph is the best: "Are you using quality wine?" "I don't know, I haven't tasted it."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October in the Russian River Valley (photos)

Oct 15, 2014, after a brief rainstorm
along Olivet Road, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
Starting to see some fall colors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wine-buying demographics--what people don't talk about much

Large wineries (examples: Gallo, Kendall-Jackson) and beverage corporations (examples: Constellation, Treasury) along with outside marketing research groups spend lots of time and money looking at who buys wine. What's going to happen with the aging Baby Boomers? What are the Millennials buying? What can Gen X afford now and ten years from now?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Favorites from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair

The first weekend of October is a grand tasting of the wines of Sonoma County. I was there for one day, three hours, and barely scratched the surface. In fact, I had just gotten to the Cabernets at closing time! Of the wines I tasted these were the favorites.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Versatility of Zinfandel

California Zinfandel is an interesting wine. 

Premium Zinfandel is grown in diverse areas like Mendocino County in the North Coast, Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, Lodi in the Central Valley, and Paso Robles on the Central Coast. Several appellations of Sonoma County are known for great Zins, such as Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, and Rockpile. In nearby Napa County the Howell Mountain area is well known for Zinfandel.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Future of Wine: Boomers to Millennials

The Baby Boomers fueled the growth in New World wine starting in the 1970s then through the '80s and '90s when that generation was middle-aged and had buying power for premium wine. Now that Boomers are reaching retirement and fixed incomes the torch is being handed over to Gen-X and the Millennials. You can read a lot of material about how Millennials are changing wine--it's the big subject on the future of wine.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cliff Lede's Vineyards Rock

Cliff Lede Winery is just over the hill from Sonoma Valley in the Yountville area of southern Napa Valley. They sit right in "Cabernet central" surrounded by wineries like Shafer and Pine Ridge. Cliff Lede gets good reviews, but I admit I've never had one of their wines. Perhaps because in typical Napa fashion tasting costs $25 and up or because their Cabs cost $70 and up. Maybe it's just because there are so many great Cabernet houses in Napa Valley that it's difficult to try them all (a tough problem to have, I know).

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beer News

All the news that's fit to drink.

A compound in hops (and therefore beer) has been shown to have a positive effect on mental abilities. This is from research done at Oregon State University. Interestingly, this worked on younger lab mice, but not so much on older ones. That is, the younger ones that were fed this compound kept their wits about them in old age and didn't do stupid stuff like pull out in heavy traffic and drive 20 mph under the limit, for instance.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Wine Grape Harvest is Wrapping Up!!??

In most years the local grape harvest kicks off in the first part of September and is really going by the end of the month. Often the later-ripening grapes are picked towards the end of October.

Not this year as a few wineries have already finished their harvest just as we officially hit autumn on the calendar.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What to drink for National Cherries Jubilee Day?

September 24th is National Cherries Jubilee Day. It's autumn so fresh cherries are out of season. No, I don't know why this "holiday" isn't in June. The basic recipe consists of sweet cherries, ice cream and brandy. If you really want to do it up right make homemade ice cream and use Cognac. And try not to light the house on fire. So, what wine to pair with this dessert?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Visiting Sonoma County this Autumn?

If you have the opportunity to visit this fall here's a few "not to miss" things. This really is the best time of year to visit Sonoma County. Why? See below.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Petaluma #1, Paris #10

That's Petaluma, Sonoma County, California, population 58,000.

Harper's Bazaar online mag likes lists as they have a whole section on what to wear, what celebrities to be watching, etc. They've just published a list of the top ten fall travel destinations, mostly in the U.S. There's the usual Vermont for fall colors and they added Paris, France to the list just because.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shipping Your Wine Home

When you visit the wine country and buy some bottles of great wines how do you get them safely back home?

There are several alternatives. This is a great article from Inside Sonoma explaining your best options.

What's a vacation without souvenirs? Something you can share later with that special someone or a group of friends is a great way to remember your visit.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Post Earthquake News from Napa

The August 24th earthquake that struck southern Napa Valley was all over the news for a few days with pictures of damage to homes, roads, wineries, and other businesses. What has happened in the weeks after?

Sep 5  Promoters of the popular BottleRock concerts in Napa announce a Sept 25th benefit show. Performers will be mostly local musicians.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Some Wine Trivia

A few things you may not know about wine looking at the history, how things are currently, and what the future may hold.

  • The first reference to a fermented grape beverage was 9000 years ago in China.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Get your beer certificate here!

I don't know what's involved in getting a college-level beer certificate, but you've gotta admit it sounds a whole lot more fun than a degree in macro-economics, for instance.  

Sonoma State University has a Wine Business Program offering degrees and certificates. Their program is for the administrative side of the business rather than wine making. SSU is now offering a beer course next spring from their School of Science & Technology along with assistance from nearby Lagunitas Brewery. At the end you'll get an official certificate in beer! (With Lagunitas involved I smell a final exam in IPA).

It'll look great on the resumé. I assume you won't mind the homework. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Coming Wine Industry Labor Shortage

The U.S. economy is gaining steam although the growth isn't equal across all job categories, of course. The wine industry is in a boom phase and doesn't know where its future workers are going to come from.

You can see the problems coming with the current grape harvest. In the autumn a large bump in staffing is required to process the wine grapes. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What wine for National Literacy Day?

September 8th is National Literacy Day, but instead of wine how about a beer? I nominate one of these:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Harvest 2014 -- Fast and Furious

And early!

In farming you never know what Mother Nature will give you. For three years we've had early bud break in the spring followed by an early harvest--and a large wine grape crop.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Where the Drinkers Live

An interesting chart from the Washington Post shows beer, wine, and liquor consumption by state. Here's a look at wine consumption:

Heavy drinking in DC explains why not much else gets accomplished in the capital. New Hampshire folks really look like lushes, however their taxes are low so people from neighboring states (aka Taxachusetts) do their buying in NH.

Overall, the West Coast, New England and Florida are the biggest wine drinkers. Much of what you might call the "interior Bible belt" not so much. 

Going to the article in the link below you'll find most of these non-wine drinking states are bigger on beer and hard alcohol except for Utah, of course. Interestingly, the people of North Dakota drink a lot of beer.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Napa to tourists: We're open!

After the scary and much-publicized earthquake early last Sunday morning it dawned on local businesses that people might just stay away in droves thinking the whole place is in shambles. Labor Day weekend and the following couple months are huge in terms of dollars for the area as grape harvest activities draw many people.

Out-of-the-area visitors have called asking if roads are open in Sonoma County, for instance. Folks not understanding earthquakes or the local geography are probably cancelling plans to visit the area.

The earthquake was centered south of the town of Napa. This is the very southern end of Napa Valley. Most of the damage was in the town of Napa and areas just to the south. There are many home and businesses in the town still being red-tagged (marked not habitable). But the rest of Napa Valley to the north is mostly okay as is Sonoma County.

The vast majority of Napa wineries are open. There are some downtown Napa businesses closed and a handful of wineries. If you want to travel up-valley towards Yountville and points north the roads are open. Sonoma County is open. Napa businesses and business associations have put out the word, "Yes, we're open."

Getting Ready for the Weekend from Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Thursday, August 28, 2014

International Cabernet Sauvignon Day, Aug 28th

Or depending on who you ask Cabernet Day might be on August 30th of each year. What did you expect from a bunch of winos? The good news is that Cabernet will be required for at least two dinners this week!

A few boring facts about Cabernet Sauvignon:
  • It's a genetic cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • It needs to be grown in a fairly warm climate. That is, it won't ripen in the same places as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, for instance.
  • It's home is considered to be Bordeaux, France where it's often blended with other grapes such as Cabernet Franc and Merlot. In the U.S. people think of Napa Valley when they think Cabernet.
  • Cab is the most planted grape in the world.

So, what Cabernet to drink? With so many available the choices and price ranges are almost never-ending.

Some of the most recognizable wineries earned their reputation because of their Cabernet Sauvignon -- places like Silver Oak, Mondavi, Joseph Phelps, Opus One, and Jordon.

In Sonoma County the prime growing region for Cabernet is Alexander Valley, but there are several other areas of the county growing great Cabs including Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley. A couple special areas for Cab in the county are the Rockpile appellation and the historic Monte Rosso Vineyard in the new Moon Mtn. appellation.

Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably at it's best in blends, usually with the other "big 5" Bordeaux varietals of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Sometimes you see Cab blended with Syrah.

So grill a steak and pop a Sonoma County Cabernet (or two) this week!

A big award winner at last fall's
Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Image from

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sonoma County Events - Fall 2014

It's harvest season and there's lots to see and even smell! Great weather, great wine, great food, and great music. There are many events going on during this autumn season. Enjoy the bounty of Sonoma!

Here come the grapes!
Image from


29-31 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend - Wine tasting at the beautiful MacMurray Ranch, plus an auction, winemaker lunches and dinners, BBQs, all at various locations around Sonoma County. Info


6  Healdsburg Beer in the Plaza.  About 35 microbreweries. Info

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

9-11 National Heirloom Exposition at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. It's about the small, local farmer. Info

17-21 Wine County Film Festival in Sonoma. Info

19-22 BR Cohn Fall Music Festival in Sonoma Valley. Rock & roll, dinner, golf. Wallflowers, Melissa Etheridge, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis, and a lot more. Info

20-21 Russian River Jazz & Blues Festival in Guerneville. Info

20-21 Wings Over Wine Country. Air show at Sonoma County Airport. Info

26-28 Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma. Art, music, and lots of wine. Info

26-28 Sonoma Valley Crush. Harvest activities at various wineries. Info

27  Heirloom Tomato Festival at Kendall-Jackson. Info


3-5  Sonoma County Harvest Fair at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa - Food, award-winning wines, beer, music, "World Championship" Grape Stomp. Info

11  Cotati Oktoberfest - Eat and drink in your lederhosen. Info

26  Pinot on the River in Healdsburg. Info


1-2 Wine and Food Affair - A northern Sonoma County food and wine event weekend with over 100 participating wineries. Info

28-29  Heart of Sonoma Valley Open House at about two dozen Sonoma Valley wineries. Info

The harvest / crush / vintage - Grape harvest season this year started in August (a few weeks earlier than the norm) It generally runs until about Nov 1st with the busiest time about mid-Sept through mid-Oct. 

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

Concerts -  Entertainers appearing at various venues this fall include Trace Adkins, Cheech and Chong, Elvis Costello, Melissa Etheridge, Heart, Diana Ross, plus the Temptations/Four Tops.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What wine for Nat'l Senior Citizens Day?

August 21st is a day to "honor our elderly population." Well, that's nice and all, but the question is, "what wine for senior's day?

It appears any wine is good, but any red wine is better. Here are a few articles on the benefits of wine for the elderly:

Red wine may help prevent seniors from falling. Resveratrol, a compound in red wines, may help with mobility issues in older people. Okay, it may take several hundred glasses of wine a day to get enough resveratrol to do any good, but give it a try and let me know how your balance is.

A glass a day keeps depression away for those over 55. Grandma is happier if she's partyin'.

A glass of wine to help prevent Alzheimer's. Study shows those over 75 who consume a glass a day have less risk of getting dementia. So you won't forget where you left that half glass of Chardonnay.

Wine, tea, and  chocolate are good for the brain. A study says these increase cognitive performance in the elderly. I've got the wine and chocolate covered, have to work on the tea.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to overpay for wine

Wine comes in all price ranges and that's nice as there is something for every budget (some wine geeks forget not everyone can, or is willing to, spend fifty bucks for a bottle). Plus there's something for every occasion (maybe you don't want to share that seventy-five dollar Cab with your mother-in-law who prefers Pinot Grigio).

When you get into the moderate-to-expensive range of wines, lets say over twenty-five dollars, there are ways to insure you are spending more than you need.

Fancy labels

It is, of course, obvious that rich-looking labels and other fancy packaging has no impact on what's inside, but in the emotion of buying you forget that. How do you think Mercedes sells cars? Buying a wine that is packaged like a Mercedes could mean you've spent a lot more than necessary if a Ford could have worked just as well.

Fancy growing regions

Napa?  + $xx   Bordeaux?  + $xx or even $xxx
This doesn't mean you should not buy a Napa Valley wine. It just means don't buy just because it's a Napa Valley wine because it'll cost you extra to get that on the label. Bordeaux or Napa on a label has "snob appeal" compared to Lodi or Yakima Valley, for example.

Fancy wineries

Often small wineries or just small production wines cost more only because there isn't much of them around (supply-and-demand). You want a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay or a Korbel Brut? They're everywhere!  You want a cult wine from some guy in California that makes only 200 cases a year then it'll cost you. This doesn't mean the small production wines aren't worth their cost, but it doesn't mean these wines are automatically better just because there's less of them.

Medals and points

This is the thing you'll see on the "shelf talkers" to sell a wine, "So-and-so gave this wine 92 points!" First off, one good rating doesn't mean much. Just like movie ratings where it's best to get a consensus of the critics; it's the same with wine. One gold medal or one 90+ point rating doesn't mean the wine isn't worth the price, but look for multiple good scores or medals on a wine. And be sure it's for the same vintage year and appellation. It's not unheard of for someone to promote a 2012 Sonoma County Chardonnay when it was the 2011 Russian River one that won all the medals.


I didn't say wines meeting any of these characteristics are not worth the price. Just saying not to buy one just because it meets one of these criteria.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Paul Hobbs Wines in the news

There are literally hundreds of small wineries throughout both Sonoma and Napa counties. Considered one of the best is Paul Hobbs Wines. To visit his establishment in Sebastopol requires an advance reservation. Tasting there is expensive, as are the wines.

Some people and businesses are better neighbors than others. Hobbs doesn't appear to be one of the better ones. Let's just say there's been a pattern of disregard for neighbors and the law--the same laws that all other wineries and grape growers abide by.

Article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Wine Basics

Why I'm writing this

Wine is mysterious, full of jargon, and full of itself. It don't gotta be that way.

What is wine?

It's adult grape juice--just worst tasting than actual grape juice.

How is wine made?

Yes, grapes are a great tasting fruit. If you ferment them they taste awful so you add some chemicals and sugar and stuff. Fermentation changes the natural sugars in the fruit to alcohol with a byproduct of carbon dioxide. So essentially the little animals called yeast eat sugar, pee alcohol and fart CO2. If you think that's gross where do you think the little air bubbles in your bread come from? Be glad there's no brown stains in your Wonder Bread.

Where did wine come from?

In ancient times (I'm talking before 1990) it was found that alcoholic beverages made water safe to drink. This was all before the fluoridation of water. People would mix wine with water to quench their thirst as getting drunk was better than getting the runs. Usually, unless you fell off your horse.

Although if you ask the French they invented wine.

Why is wine so expensive?

Oak barrels are expensive, stainless steel tanks are expensive, vineyard land in Napa is way expensive. Sure you can get a box of wine for eight bucks that's absolutely fine just like you can get a car for $500, but neither will win you the admiration of friends. More importantly, neither will get you laid.

How is wine rated?

It's a simple 100 point scale. Nobody gets over 96 without creating an outrage from other vintners and other wine "experts." Any wine under 87 point sucks.  Makes perfect sense.

Why is wine rated?

So you'll buy it.  Duh.

How can I learn more about wine?

Figure about $8,000 over the next several years deposited at local wine shops. Then you too can pretend to know what you're talking about. Until then learn the difference between malolactic and negociant.

See, nothing to it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Treasury Wine Estates -- Getting close to the sale?

Treasury Wine is an Australia-based wine corporation, and one that's not run very well. In the U.S. they own Beringer, Chateau St. Jean and a number of other wineries. Treasury has been in the news over the past year or so, and it's never been good news. It appears they are about to sell to a U.S. private equity firm who might be looked at as a savior with the cash to turn it around or they could be seen as corporate raiders. Yes, they'll have money to invest, if that's what's needed (can you fix bad management by throwing money at it)? Most likely they're looking for a fairly rapid turn-around in Treasury Wine so they can sell them off for a profit.

Articles from BBC and from Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Natural" Wine vs. "Manipulated" Wine

There are a number of people in the wine biz talking up "natural wines." There's no real definition for it. It's not organic or biodynamic wine. It's about getting away from all the extra ingredients (and processes). Extra ingredients? Isn't it just grapes and yeast making alcohol,  maybe some sulfur, or a fining agent like egg whites?  Well, no. That's no more true today than believing Italian maidens still stomp the grapes.

I'm looking through the catalog from a local home winemaking shop. Their "Enhanced Winemaking Products Chart" lists:

Go-Ferm, DAP, Opti Red, Lallzyme EX, Tannin Complex, Flashgum R Liquide, and a host of other stuff.

These can be anything from yeast food to something that removes the sulfur aroma. There are additives and winemaking processes to reduce alcohol levels. That nice, deep color in that Cabernet--it's might be from Mega Purple.

The natural wine movement is about minimizing this intervention in winemaking. Not to argue the merits here because you can read elsewhere the justification for each side from winemakers, consumers, and the wine critics. I suppose it comes down to, do the ends justify the means? And most importantly, does the consumer care?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Yes, the French are more civilized

A French hospital is opening a wine bar for terminally ill patients and their visiting families.

News article

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, AZ, a congressional-hopeful held a fundraiser called, "Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms" at a local gun range. Andrew Walter states, "The price of food, gasoline, education, and healthcare are all going in the wrong direction." So for a donation of up to $1,000 you could shoot stuff, then have a cigar and some drinks with Walter--probably while complaining about the high cost of scotch and ammo.

Wine News from the Sierra Foothills

   The foothills region of the Sierra Mountains east of Sacramento may not be the world's most famous wine region, but it puts out some pretty nice red wines, and a few whites. The two counties of Amador and El Dorado are known mostly for Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Barbera.

   California is having its share of wildfires this year. There's one burning near Plymouth in Amador County. It's already destroyed several homes. There is now worry of smoke taint in the wine grapes. In 2008 there were numerous fires in Mendocino County just north of Sonoma County. The skies were actually full of smoke for the month of June that year. At the time no one thought much about wine-related problems from the smoke, but later found smokey flavors in many wines from this region. It doesn't seem like the smoke will hang around as long in the foothills fire, but growers are concerned. We'll probably know in a few months. Article


   One of the wineries in Amador County that helped put the region on the wine map, Amador Foothill Winery, is changing owners. After 35 years Katie and Ben are calling it quits. You may have never heard of their wines as they make only a few thousand cases a year. I first learned of Amador Foothill Winery in the 1980s as Katie had previously worked at Gundlach-Bundschu Winery in Sonoma. Every two of three years we try to make a road trip to the Amador/El Dorado area and always stop at Amador Foothill where Ben could be found in the tasting room. The good news is that they've sold to another local wine family, the owners of Lava Cap Winery. Article from the Sacramento Bee.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

America's Adult Beverage of Choice

Beer is #1 in America though wine has closed the gap in the last few years.

Per an article in The Drinks Business the popularity of beer is at its highest level in a decade. However, men over 55 years old prefer wine as do women.

Gallup has an interesting poll showing the popularity of beer, wine, and spirits for the past couple of decades. There is a slow, but steady increase in the popularity of spirits over that time. Wine shows a bigger increase while beer has been up and down, but mostly down. Interestingly, it appears that during the recession wine decreased and beer increased in popularity as folks were probably looking for something less expensive.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Wine and Food Pairing--It can be Simple

Some People Want to Make it Complicated

Remember how you used to think sex was complicated? Later you figured out it's really pretty simple. When it comes to wine & food matching there's not really that much you need to know. Oh, there's been billions of words written on food/wine pairing by gobs of experts. (This post is not written by an expert, btw). Is there really any way to know the nuances of every wine you might buy and know exactly how to prepare a certain meal to match it? I mean, do I need a different wine for the meat, the potatoes, and the vegetable? Well, I'm not going to do that and neither is anyone else I know. Life's already too complicated!

The Basic Law of Wine and Food Pairing

If you take a great meal and have a mediocre wine with it, overall you have a mediocre meal. If you take an average meal and add a great wine you have a great meal.

Extreme Examples

Let's say you go out to the nicest restaurant in town. You order their fresh seafood of the day, their best steak, or maybe a nice pork tenderloin. Pair that with White Zinfandel and see how the meal works out.

Or let's say you grill up some Safeway hamburger and put it on you basic white bun with your basic condiments. Now open up a ten year old notable Cabernet you've been saving. You've just created that special event! And those burgers will taste pretty good.

Pairing by Quality

Okay, you're not likely to do either, but you get the idea. Always upgrade the wine. If you've got $60 to spend on the meal don't spend $50 on food and $10 on the wine. Make it more like $30 each.

Notice there's been no mention of, "Serve white wine with this and red wine with that." It's not as important to having a quality wine. Not saying you can't have an inexpensive bottle of wine; just saying it won't be as memorable of a meal.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gallo -- All you need is money and lawyers

Gallo has never been what you'd call a friend of other wineries or grape growers. Most wineries and growers, especially the smaller ones, get along just fine and will help each other out. Gallo is not a friend of wine wholesalers either as they've been really good at muscling the smaller guys out. Yeah, it's supposed to be a dog-eat-dog business, but when you find restaurants in Sonoma County that only carry Gallo brands you have to wonder.

The Jackson Family (Kendall-Jackson, La Crema, etc) and Gallo (Frei Brothers, Rancho Zabaco, etc) are the largest vineyard owners in Sonoma County.

Gallo is the largest winemaker in the world. One of every three bottles of wine made in America is from one of Gallo's brands. You often don't even know you're drinking Gallo as they have over 50 labels. They made their money initially off the cheap rotgut stuff like Thunderbird, Ripple, and Night Train. These wines sold well in the slums and to poor drunks as the "wine" was cheap and high in alcohol. Gallo received a lot of public pressure concerning this so in a bit of civic responsibility they removed their name from the label. If you look at the Gallo web site for a list of their wine labels you won't see these listed.

In the past Gallo employees voted to kick out the United Farm Workers labor union. That vote was overturned when it was found Gallo management pressured people to vote their way.

Gallo's latest act? There is a small shop in North Carolina that sells pizza kits. It's run by a husband and wife, Tom Gallo and Susan Devitt. They call their company GalloLea Pizza Kits (like Galileo, cute, huh)?  Well, Gallo Wines was sure people would confuse their wine empire with this pizza outfit. After $140,000 is legal fees and new marketing costs to change their name this ma-and-pa shop is ready to go again.


Really, Gallo?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What Wine with Ice Cream?

The third Sunday in July is National Ice Cream Day as signed into law by none other than President Ronald Reagan. The first ice cream cone was served at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904.

So, what wine should you have with your ice cream? There are some basic wines that will cover most flavors: sweet to slightly sweet Sparkling wines, Ruby (red) Port-style wines, and late harvest whites, especially Sauterne-style wines. 
Mmmm, homemade ice cream

Wine / ice cream pairing suggestions:

A Sauterne-type wine works. This is usually a sweet Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon wine with apricot and honey flavors. Also, Trentadue Winery in Sonoma County makes a late harvest wine called Chocolate Amore with actual chocolate in the wine--maybe you could just pour some of this on top.
A chocolate stout beer makes an excellent vanilla ice cream float.

This is where the red Port-style wine works (not the Tawny style). This is a rich, sweet, heavy wine. In California you'll find Zinfandel and Petite Sirah-based port-style wines.

Chocolate Mint
You can use the Ruby Port or maybe a Zinfandel, especially one of the more fruit-forward styles of Zin from a producer such as Mazzocco or a region like Lodi, CA. Or have the best of both and get a Zinfandel made as a port-style wine.

With the fruit-flavored ice creams I'll go for a slightly sweet sparkling wine. A rosé would be great.

Go with the slightly sweet sparkler here, too.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reasons NOT to Visit Sonoma County

Come to California's wine country? What were you thinking? Don't do it! Here's why:

You'll eat too well and put on a little weight

image from

You'll also drink too much

image from

All the restaurants are too fancy to be affordable

image from

 Wine, wine, wine. You'd better like wine. There's nothing else to drink.

The roads are terribly crowded

If you get lost there will be nothing to do

Okay, wine and food, but there's nothing else to do or see

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

U.S. Brewery Count = 3,000

  According to the Brewers Association there were 3,040 breweries operating in the country in June 2014, the highest number since the late 19th century. California has over 500 breweries. Sonoma County is home to 23 craft breweries at last count.

  One-third of all breweries are located in four states: California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

  Maybe a better stat is from Vermont with just 29 breweries, but the volume of beer produced puts them at 15 gallons annually per adult (ranked 1st in the country). In case you were wondering Mississippi comes in last with only four craft breweries.

  You just have to go back to the early 1980s to find that there were only about 90 breweries in the whole country (aka, the bad ol' days). At that time small breweries were considered operations like Anchor Steam, Hamm's and Yuengling. Boy, things have gotten better!


One of the little guys in Sonoma
They're expanding!
Image from

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer in Alexander Valley

July 11, 2014 from Hanna Winery in Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
 Click on photos to enlarge

Looking down the rows of vines

Grape clusters

Looking west towards some coastal clouds

Vineyards and dry, brown hillsides

Vineyards to the south

Winery entrance

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer in Sonoma Valley (photos)

July 10th from the Kenwood Vineyards property.
Click on photos to enlarge

Grapes are still green, but color should start to show soon

Down the rows

Looking south to the Kunde property

North to Hood Mountain

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The hard cider market in Sonoma County

Wine is what Sonoma County is all about though the craft beer market is expanding rapidly, too. Alcoholic cider is a fast growing market in the U.S. (and in other places). Even MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch have jumped into the cider market.

The biggest and best-known hard cider maker in Sonoma County is ACE. They've been in the business for 15 years operating in what once was a large apple-producing area near the town of Sebastopol. The lesser known micro-cideries are Devoto, Murray's Cyder, Sonoma Cider, and Tilted Shed. Most seem to be back-to-the-land folks using organic fruit. None have tasting rooms, but they are available at local retail stores.

Cider's boom in popularity can be traced to it being a light, refreshing, slightly sweet drink--just what a lot of folks are looking for, especially during the warmth of summer. Cider started its rise in popularity in the UK several years ago. In the U.S. Portland, OR seems to be the epicenter.  You could say cider is piggybacking off the growth in craft beer. The hard cider industry expects rapid expansion to continue for the next several years and seems to be aiming towards a younger, affluent, mostly female crowd--a good place to attract advertising dollars. We'll see if some of these small micro-cider makers get swallowed up by larger companies as has happened in the wine biz.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

You know you're in Sonoma County ...

... when you see stuff like this!

Does it run? Doesn't look like it.

This passes for fall colors

You get vistas like this

Summer looks like this

You know what this is  (answer below)

Answer: Annual line outside Russian River Brewery for the Pliny the Younger release

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What wine for Bikini Day, July 5th?

Who cares?      :)


The bikini was first introduced in Paris on July, 5, 1946. Happy anniversary!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why beer is better than wine

Sonoma County is wine and beer country. There are hundreds of wineries compared to a couple dozen breweries in the county. Still, even when you live in the wine country it's easy to admit that beer is better.

Beer is better than wine because:
  • You can open a 12 oz beer without it being a big deal because;  1) it won't get you drunk, 2) it doesn't cost as much, and 3) it's a whole lot easier to open.
  • Corked wines are a problem you don't get with beer unless you're drinking one of those fancy schmancy beers that come with a cork. Then you're just like the wine people because you probably paid a lot of money for that corked beer.  Ha ha.
  • Beer commercials on TV are great. Only caveat is it seems the worst the beer the better the commercial. 
  • George Thorogood sung about, "One bourbon, one scotch, one beer." Nobody ever asks a bartender for a glass of Merlot and a shot of Jack. At least I hope not.
  • Beer is better with all the basic food groups: BBQ, potato chips, nachos, and hot links. Ever try chips and salsa with Cabernet?  Yuck.
  • Wine drinkers worry too much about the vintage and the vineyard. Beer drinkers mostly care if the brewmaster is chubby because that means he likes his own product. All real beer makers have a beard and wear flannel shirts. Real winemakers wear shorts and rubber boots. If you see either one in a suit be wary.
  • Wine makes you want to listen to classical music, or worse, smooth jazz. Beer makes you want to crank up The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers LP. Nuff said.
Beer maker at Rogue is famous 
for having made a special beer from 
the yeast living in his beard. 
You'll never see that from a  winemaker!
image from

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 4th weekend in Sonoma County

Planning on spending the Fourth of July weekend in Sonoma County? Fireworks, music and parades everywhere! Here's what's happening.

Fireworks over Bodega Bay
photo from

July 3rd

Barlow Street Fair in Sebastopol. A weekly event with music and vendors.

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

Guerneville fireworks. Get there early--Commander Cody rocks out the town at 6pm. Free.

Sebastopol music and fireworks at Analy High School. Admission charge.

Windsor fireworks at Keiser Park next to the high school. Begins mid-afternoon with music and things for the kids. Admission charge.

July 4th

Some wineries will be closed all day or will close early so their employees can enjoy a family BBQ, too.  

Beatles tribute band at Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, noon to 3pm. Free. Food & drinks available.

Kenwood parade in the plaza park.

Cloverdale plaza has evening music and a farmers market (a weekly event).

Judy Collins performs at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. Info

Healdsburg fireworks at the high school.

Petaluma fireworks at the Sonoma-Marin fairgrounds. Events, including music, starts mid-afternoon. Small admission charge.

Santa Rosa fireworks at the Sonoma County fairgrounds. Sort of a mini-fair day beginning mid-afternoon. Parking and admission charges. Or just show up about an hour early and find free nearby parking and watch from there. Biggest fireworks display in the area. Info

Sonoma has a parade, music, then fireworks at Vallejo Field. Travel and Leisure recently named the town of Sonoma as one of the top ten places to spend the Fourth of July.  Info

July 5th

All American Zin Day. A special ticketed event at several Dry Creek Valley wineries. Expect fried chicken, hot dogs, and ice cream.  Info

An '80s dance band at Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, noon to 3pm. Free. 

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

Bodega Bay fireworks at Westside Park, but you can see it from all around the bay. It will be chilly, probably foggy, so dress accordingly.

Monte Rio fireworks at the beach.

July 6th

An oldies band at Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, 1-4pm. Free.

Petaluma Summer Music Series. Free concert downtown 3:30-6pm.

Julliard Park in Santa Rosa has free music 5-7pm.

It's an old-fashioned 4th of July parade in Sonoma
photo from