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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.