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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spring 2014 events in Sonoma County

It's springtime and a great time to visit. Warming temperatures, vines starting the new year's growth, and lots of exciting events to tempt you.

Early spring in Sonoma Valley

Wine related events


28-2 and 7-9 Wine Road Barrel Tasting 
This winery open house is Friday through Sunday the first two weekends of March (the first Friday is actually Feb 28th).
Over 100 wineries in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys participate. Many aren't normally open to the public. The theme for this event is tasting barrel samples of wines before they are finished and bottled, usually with a chance to buy futures. Some wineries will also offer food samples, wine sales, music, etc.
This is a very popular event and certain venues can get very crowded, especially on Saturday afternoon.

15-16 Savor Sonoma 
This open house is similar to the Wine Road Barrel Tasting event on the previous two weekends, but in a different part of Sonoma County.
Twenty-six wineries in Sonoma Valley will be offering barrel tasting, new releases, wine sales, food and wine pairings, etc.

21-22 Pigs and Pinot
Hosted by Chef Charlie Palmer at his restaurant in the Hotel Healdsburg.


5 Pick of the Vine
An evening of food and wine tasting plus music. A local fundraiser for seniors.

12 Taste of Olivet
Winery open house along Olivet Road in Russian River Valley.

20  Easter Sunday
Many wineries will be closed.

26-27 April in Carneros
An open house for approximately fifteen wineries in the southern region of Napa and Sonoma counties--an area known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.

26-27 Passport to Dry Creek Valley
About 50 winery open their door with food, wine, music, and vineyard tours--usually hosted by the winemakers. A pricey, but well-done event.


17-18 Taste of Alexander Valley
Similar theme to the Passport to Dry Creek Valley above, but with fewer wineries and a lower price. Alexander Valley is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, but you'll find everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Petite Sirah.

24-25 Pinot Classic
Seminars, tastings, and dinner in the Russian River Valley

Non-wine events


10-16 Sonoma County Restaurant Week
Participating restaurants throughout the county offer fixed-price lunch and dinner menu specials.

21-23 Artisan Cheese Festival
Chef demos, pairings, and meet the cheese makers in Petaluma.

22-23 24 Hours of LeMons
A fun weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Five hundred dollar cars dressed up to look like anything from the Starship Enterprise to the devil himself. Really!

29 Battle of the Brews
Food and beer tasting.


2-6 Sonoma International Film Festival
Viewing of 90 independent films--and there will probably be some wine involved.

12-13 Apple Blossom Festival
A parade, music, food, beer, wine, and, of course, apple cider. All in Sebastopol where the apple crop used to be bigger than the grape crop.

26-27 Bodega Bay Fisherman's Festival
Seafood, wine & beer, music, and the blessing of the fleet.


17 Rose Parade
The 120th Rose Parade in Santa Rosa.

17-18 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival
Some old, and very expensive, historic race cars on the track. If you're tired of wine bouquet and want to sniff some burning oil and hydrocarbons this is the place.

30-1 Bottle Rock
The second year for this amazing music festival in Napa. The first year left unpaid bills. 2014 has new promoters so anything could happen (or not happen).

Signs of Spring!

Friday, February 21, 2014

How to start your own winery

  You've been wine tasting, maybe even in Napa. Perhaps you have made five gallons of your own wine. More importantly, you have a few extra bucks and want to be part of The Romance of the Wine Country. You are, of course, naive.

  So how do you get started?

  First, you'll need grapes. Good California vineyards go for $100,000 an acre plus-or-minus. In Napa Valley where everyone wants to be it's well up on the plus side--way up. Even if you could afford that you'd then have to maintain it. Do you really want to be outside in the cold, rain, the heat, doing manual labor? Just buy grapes from a grower who actually likes being a farmer. To purchase grapes all you need is someone that knows vineyards, the local micro-climates and soil types, and knows contract law. The days of the handshake agreement between neighbors ended when all the, um, outsiders came in.

  Next you'll need equipment: Stainless steel, French oak, hoses, clamps, little pole thingies to stir with, etc. And a temperature-controlled building to house all this stuff. Expensive? Yee haw.  Bank of America loves start-up wineries! Maybe just rent a stall from one of those storage places next to the guy who stores his boat and shelves full of old comic books.

  This is getting more romantic by the minute.

Yup, this is what you call a good time!
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  You're going to have to sell your wine, too. You want shelf space next to Gallo, Kendall-Jackson, and Beringer? Yeah, just like the other 2,000 wineries. Direct-to-consumer is the way to go--no middleman. So how do you get these consumers? Well, you can get 96 points in Wine Spectator or you can throw lavish (free) drunken parties and invite everyone, hoping somebody will buy futures. FYI, getting people drunk is a lot easier than getting 96 points.

  Do you live for paperwork? If so, get into the alcohol making and distribution business!

  And the worst part is you'll need people to do all this stuff. Can you trust a bunch of underpaid hourly workers to care as much about your livelihood as you? I mean, they just want to go home at the end of the day, not live there day and night like you. You'll have to micromanage everything! Oh yeah, you'll want to speak Spanish.

  Currently Napa and Sonoma each have 450 wineries, there are 180 in Paso Robles, etc. All you have to do is go into debt up to your eyeballs and work 18 hours every day and you could be number 451 in Napa Valley!

  You'll need a white pickup truck, too. The good news? You can show up to dinner at any swanky wine country restaurant in dirty shorts and rubber boots and no one cares.

  When do you make a profit? Yeah, right. This had better be a tax write-off.

  If this all sounds unappealing maybe you just want to open a craft brewery.

This could all be yours someday!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sonoma County's three big weekends in March

The first three weekends of March 2014 hold major wine events in Sonoma County. These are essentially winery open houses. Come join in the fun!

Wine Road Barrel Tasting 

Friday through Sunday the first two weekends of March (2/28-3/2 and 3/7-3/9).
Over 100 wineries in Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys participate. The highlight is tasting wine right out of the barrel months before final blending and bottling. Some wineries will offer food samples, futures purchases, etc. Weekend or Sunday only tickets are available as are designated driver tickets.
This is a very popular event with big crowds so the ticket price seems to increase a bit every year. You can save by getting your tickets online by Feb 24th.
If you don't like crowds then stay off Dry Creek Road and out of Healdsburg on Saturday afternoon. Many of the wineries start on the Friday of each weekend so this is the day to visit these popular areas.
This is a great chance to check out wineries that aren't normally open to the public.

Savor Sonoma 

The third weekend of the month (15th-16th).
Buy a weekend or Sunday only ticket that gets you into 26 wineries in Sonoma Valley. Barrel tasting, new releases, sales, food and wine pairing.

Barrel tasting
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Hints to make your weekend more enjoyable:
  • Leave the kids and dogs at home.
  • Plan your lunch and break up your day of tasting with food and water.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. If you can't remember how many wineries you've been to then it's time to stop. Be safe!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Beer turns into wine!

Beer is becoming the new wine in America. Check out the similarities with high-end wines and craft beer.

Serious vs. Ordinary
There are the ordinary wines in boxes and bottles that cost under ten bucks. No self-respecting wine snob will ever go near these--same with beer. The beer geek looks down on Bud Lite and anyone who drinks it. It's all about flavors, complexities, and pushing the envelope on alcohol levels to get there.

Bottle sizes
In the old days wine came in jugs; beer in 12 oz. cans and bottles. Now beer comes in 22 ounce and 750ml bottles and even bigger special occasion beer bottles. Some have corks.

North Coast Old Stock Ale
Vintage 2011
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Those big beer bottles can easily cost $15 and up.

Vintage dating
Some beers get vintage dates just like wine, only the vintage year on beer tells you not just when it's fresh, but helps you determine how long to age your beer. And you can have arguments with your beer geek buddies about a particular beer--whether the 2010 or 2011 vintage is better.

It costs more to use a barrel so these beers are most expensive as is wine aged in barrels.

Top brewmasters
Winemakers such as Helen Turley are rock stars. So are guys like Vinny from Russian River Brewery. Of course, there are other famous beer makers as Adolf Coors -- the counterpart to Julio Gallo.

Beer and food pairings
Apparently it's not just Cheetos and pretzels anymore. Here's a beer / food pairing chart from CraftBeer. One difference with wine / food pairing suggestions I noticed on this chart--there are a lot of beers that go with meat pies. You don't hear much about meat pie and wine. Also, under "lighter fare" they've listed bratwurst. Gotta love it!

As soon as they start labeling the appellations for the hops we'll know beer has made it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Presidents Day Weekend in Sonoma County

February 14-17, 2014 is a three day weekend starting off with Valentine's Day. Might as well spend it in Sonoma wine country! Besides the usual world class wineries and eateries what else is happening?


Wine and chocolate events at several wineries in the county including Bella, D'Argenzio, Longboard, and Paradise Ridge--and there are probably more I don't know about. Some require reservations. Valentines Day dinners at St. Francis, Seghesio, and Valley of the Moon wineries.

Black White Beer Ball at the Vets Memorial Building in Santa Rosa.

Cloverdale Citrus Fair (14th-17th).

Vin Olivo Weekend in Sonoma begins Friday with a kick-off wine tasting then other events through the weekend.


Wine and chocolate pairing at Ferrari-Carano Winery (Sat and Sun).

Comedienne Kathleen Madigan at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa


Wine and food pairings with ten wineries at the Old Roma Station in Healdsburg. 

Art, food, and wine at Kenwood Vineyards.

A Princess Sweetheart Ball at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Getting my own appellation

Appellations are different from the Appalachians, but they probably have appellations in the Appalachians. An appellation = American Viticulture Area = AVA. Napa Valley is an AVA.

There are also lots of them around you've probably never heard of like Chiles Valley and Green Valley cuz nothing interesting has ever happened there.

An AVA is supposed to represent a unique growing area within a larger one like Rutherford within Napa Valley. Or it you want to see the logic in all this, there is Moon Mountain AVA within Sonoma Valley.

I'm thinking about getting my own appellation. I've got a few zinfandel vines in the side yard. It's unique in that there's a fence on the north side of the vines that reflects heat back onto them and helps block the wind. Plus my shed is right next to it.  This is unique as it gets.

People get AVA's because they think it'll help sell their grapes or their wines. Being unique is better because, as is often said, "We are all unique, just like everybody else."
image from

I'm thinking of calling my backyard AVA Bordough. I believe it could be good marketing-wise. I may want to extend it down to the highway a mile away as there's a small branch bank there. I'm hoping to get them to change their name to Right. That wold put me near the Right Bank in Bordough. I see lots of growth opportunities. I may consider pulling out my lawn to make way for a couple dozen more vines.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Friday Wine Photo Funnies


The perfect parents

Amen bro'

The perfect boss

How winery Direct-to-Consumer marketing works

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Two wine pioneers lost

Within a few days we lost two people important to North Coast wine.

Saralee Kunde passed in late January. She grew up on a dairy ranch then became involved with wine grapes after marrying into the Kunde family. She was a symbol of Sonoma County agriculture--and its biggest promoter. If you've heard of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair or the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association it's largely because of her. The Kundes, along with the Duttons, are the best-known families in Sonoma County grape growing.

John Parducci died a couple days ago. If you've heard of Mendocino wine it's largely because of him. As a young teen he worked his father's vineyards along with his brothers. John would tell stories of selling bootleg wine during Prohibition. He said he once took a solo cross-country train trip sell their juice during Prohibition--at the ripe old age of 14. The family built the first commercial winery in Mendocino County in 1933 just as Prohibition was ending. He spent almost eight decades in the wine business.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The good side to the drought

The California drought is big news. All farmers, not just grape growers, are worried about not having enough water for their crops. It's a $40 billion industry mostly in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys where ag is responsible for 80% of the water usage.

So what's the good news?

Tourism. With sunny skies and temps in the 60s and 70s wine country visitors have been plentiful. Another popular activity in Northern California this time of year is skiing, which has been awful this winter. So if you can't go skiing you might as well go wine tasting! For out-of-state visitors it's about escaping the storms and record cold temperatures in much of the country.

Weekends in Napa and Sonoma have seen lots of visitor traffic through the traditionally slower months of November, December, and January. I was in Calistoga, in the northern Napa Valley (the "quiet" side), a couple Saturdays ago trying to get a parking place in town--that didn't happen as the main street was full of traffic. It looked like summer--and it almost felt like summer, too, with the warm sun.

The potentially good news.

At the very end of January the weather pattern has changed to a more traditional one with cooler temperatures and some rain. As yet, not nearly enough precipitation to relieve the drought, but anything is good.

Numerous religious groups in the state have been asking their followers to pray for rain. Last Saturday hundreds of Muslims gathered in San Francisco for an organized rain prayer. There's even controversy among religious leaders as to whether God is in the rain-making business. Hey, it can't hurt!

Folsom Lake reservoir east of Sacramento
Image from

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What wine with groundhog?

No, I've never eaten groundhog meat and never will. Not even squirrel. But I did some research for Groundhog Day and my best guess is a Syrah. If you try it don't bother letting me know how it works out. Yuck. Gross. It's a freakin' rodent.

You want this winter to end? Move to Florida!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

7,762 Wineries in the U.S.

According to trade publication Wines & Vines there are 7,762 wineries in the U.S. with a total of 8,391 in North America. That's a 4% yearly growth rate in the number of wineries and a 6% growth in total wine production. I would call that healthy expansion.

The top five states/provinces and the number of wineries:
CA 3,674
WA   689
OR    566
NY    320
BC    257

There are about 450 wineries just in Sonoma County--more than all but the top three states!

Of the 7,762 U.S. wineries 1,197 are defined as virtual wineries. These have a label, but don't own vineyards or a production facility. They have a winemaker and use a winery belonging to someone else to make their product.

Another telling statistic has to do with the size of the wineries, measured by annual case production. Of the 7,762 in the U.S. 6,016 of those (78%) make less than 5,000 cases a year. So while you see wines from the big boys such as Beringer, Gallo and Kendall-Jackson you probably never see wines from the vast majority of producers.

That's a shame because you're missing out on some great wines. How can you get access to these? Make plans to visit a wine region this year. Thirteen states and two provinces have more than 100 wineries so there are plenty of choices!

They're everywhere!