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Winter Wineland 2020

By Wine Events, Wineries No Comments

It’s now a tradition – a group of us attend Winter Wineland together every year.  What is Winter Wineland you say?  It’s an event put on by the Wine Road organization.  Usually held over MLK weekend in January, it’s a two-day tasting event.  For a pretty reasonable fee – usually around $65 for the whole weekend – attendees are able to visit around 100 different wineries in the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley AVAs.  It was this event in 2018 that introduced me to the Russian River Valley.

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The weekend is a wonderful opportunity to discover and visit a great selection of new wineries.  Over the years I’ve come to use this as an event to find new wineries that I want to come back and visit on my own.  These weekends can be crazy.  You’ll likely get palate fatigue if you visit as many as we do.  But it’s fun – especially with a group of friends!

The Wine Road puts on a few, similar events throughout the year.  They do a Barrel Tasting Weekend in May (this year they’re offering it over two different weekends).  And, they do a Wine and Food Affair in early November.  Unfortunately, due to the fires in the area it was canceled in 2019.  I plan to attend that one later this year as well.  All of the wineries prepare a dish to pair with their wines – and they share the recipe online!  It sounds perfect for me as I love pairing food and wine.

Saturday

We have a strategy we typically employ when planning our trip.  We usually start at the northern end on the first day and work our way down towards Healdsburg.  This year we chose Zialena as our first stop.  None of us had ever visited Zialena.  They’re located up in Geyserville so it fit our requirements!  Being that they’re an Alexander Valley winery, we received a fun vertical tasting of their Cabernet Sauvignon (2014-2016 vintages) as well as a sample of their 2013 Zinfandel.

Zialena

Next we headed down Route 128 to deLorimier.  This was not a new stop for a couple of us.  I knew that I really enjoyed their wines.  And I knew that one of my girlfriends had enjoyed some of the deLorimier wines I’d shared with her recently.  So, it seemed like a good second stop. I really enjoy their Primitivo – and still did on this visit.

DeLorimier

Our third stop was new to everyone.  We continued down 128 to Starlight Vineyards and then onto Soda Rock.  Soda Rock also wasn’t a new stop for a couple of us.  However, one of my friends really wanted to visit and support them after the loss of their tasting room facility in the fires of 2019.  They held their tasting in a barn that barely survived the fires on the same property.  I had the opportunity to chat with one of the firefighters who was there the night that it burned.  He showed me photos of the inside of the barn just as it was starting to catch fire.  Luckily they saved the barn that night.

SodaRock

A favorite of just about everyone’s is Ridge.  Two of us joked that we’ve never been to one of these weekends without a stop at Ridge.  My girlfriends were thrilled they had the opportunity to sample some of their 2016 Monte Bello.  They let me sample some too.  My palate had clearly been spoiled by two weeks of tasting incredible wines that I wasn’t impressed by the Monte Bello.  I appreciated it was amazing.  But it didn’t stand out for me.

Ridge

Next we headed into Healdsburg.  Our palates were pretty overwhelmed by Cab and Zinfandel at this point.  So when one of my friends mentioned going to Holdredge who focuses on Pinot Noir, we quickly headed their way.  Holdredge may have been my favorite winery of the day.  Maybe because it was Pinot Noir.  But they had a great variety of single-vineyard Pinot Noir that they shared with us.  I’ll definitely be adding them to my list to revisit on a day where they aren’t the sixth winery of the day and I have time to savor and enjoy their wines.

HoldredgeWine

We’ve driven into Healdsburg so many times and saw Rockpile sitting there on the traffic circle leading into town.  I saw that they were participating, so we gave them a try.  I wouldn’t mind revisiting them at some point either.  But by this point, I was pretty much over Zinfandel.  They shared with me the list of wines they weren’t pouring and I’m interested.  I wasn’t surprised by it, but they also shared their strategy for what to pour on weekends like these.  They realize that they can open up their pricier bottles, pour through three cases, but that’s not what people are buying.  It makes no business sense to share those at events like these.  So they stick to lower priced crowd pleasers.  However, you can still get an idea for their style of winemaking to know if the rest of their wines may appeal to your palate.

HoldredgeChair

A couple of other new-to-us wineries we stopped by were Stephen Walker and Hawley.  At this point, I was done for the day.  I don’t remember much about either of those wineries.  One of us (not me) had a goal to visit 10 wineries on Saturday.  And we were working towards that goal.  And we had time for about one more winery.  I suggested Sanglier because I knew it was a favorite, and one of the group definitely wanted to revisit them.  They share a tasting room with Lurton so some of us can say that we hit 11 wineries on Saturday.  I didn’t actually taste any of Lurton’s wine so I can’t officially add them to my list.

Sunday

Round two!  You could tell some of us were hurting from the day before.  We knew we wanted to focus on the southern end of the map, Russian River Valley, and Pinot Noir.  We decided to start at Martinelli as requested by one of our group.  I hear great things about Martinelli.  And they’re a winery I definitely need to visit when it’s not an event weekend.  I haven’t overly enjoyed anything I’ve tasted at these weekend events.  So I want to see what all the fuss is about on my own.

Martinelli

We didn’t have a real plan for the day.  We knew we wanted to ultimately end up at Russian River Vineyards and some wanted to hit Jigar.  So, we stopped at DeLoach along the way before heading over to Dutton Estate.  Here’s where my winery count gets tricky – I visited Dutton Estate on my own earlier in the trip.  I didn’t blog about them in my 30 Wineries in 30 Days series as they didn’t fit any of my silly criteria.  They’re open to the public and they weren’t new to me.  On my first trip out here we visited Dutton Estate and I deemed them worthy of a separate revisit.  We all really enjoyed Dutton Estate.

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Then we headed up 116 to Russian River Vineyards – which was on our wish list.  It wasn’t new to many of us, but it was a favorite – just like our next stop – Jigar.  Jigar holds a special place in my heart as they gave me my first taste of a Green Valley Pinot Noir two years ago that started my love affair with the region.  And we picked up quite a bit of wine at Jigar before the unfortunate event occurred.  While trying to load everyone’s wine into the car, a bottle of Russian River Valley’s Pinot Noir must have hit the ground just right and cracked.  Someone called out – everyone grab a glass – and we all gathered around as we tried to extract the cork while wasting as little wine as possible.  We must have looked comical in their parking lot.  And maybe broke some laws about public consumption of alcohol – who knows.

Jigar

Our final stop of the day was Taft Street.  They were new to all of us and another highlight for me.  I’d definitely like to revist them on a separate trip.  Though, looking back on the wineries we visited on Sunday, Taft Street was the only new-to-me winery of the day.

Closing Thoughts

While I prefer personal, one-on-one tastings at wineries that provide in depth conversations about farming techniques and clones and barrels and things, I love these weekends, too.  I don’t feel the overwhelming pressure to purchase wine at every winery on these weekends.  Although, wineries do tend to offer great deals on wines at these events.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore new wineries and start a list of places to revisit on future trips.  I don’t typically have high expectations for these weekends but every now you stumble upon something amazing.

It’s important to note that tourism has been down since the fires.  So many people saw the devastating photos and videos of Soda Rock on fire and think the whole region was destroyed.  That’s not the case!  Sure, you can look up on the hillside and still see scorched trees.  But regrowth is happening there already.  Wineries are open for business – including Soda Rock who has TWO tasting rooms.  They’ve set up a temporary tasting room in the barn and have one in downtown Healdsburg.  Sonoma County is very much open for business!!  I was in the area during the 2019 fires.  I visited many wineries as they were just reopening after the power outages.  So many were counting on tourism in late October and November for a good end-of-year boost.  That didn’t happen for most.

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Hog Island Oysters – Marshall, California

By Food and Wine, Travel with Wine, Wineries No Comments

Are you a fan of oysters?  Then I highly recommend a visit to Hog Island Oysters if you’re visiting northern California.  Not only are the oysters amazing, but the drive is incredible!

I didn’t set out looking for oysters.  I was looking for cheese!  If you love wine, I’m sure you enjoy pairing your wine with cheese.  One of my favorite creameries is Cowgirl Creamery.  While I was on my 30 Wineries in 30 Days journey, I looked for other places and activities to experience.  Through Cowgirl Creamery’s website, I stumbled upon Hog Island Oysters – just a short drive up the Pacific Coast Highway from their creamery.

Hog-Island-Oysters-Cafe

Lessons Learned

Make reservations.  Seriously.  Make reservations if you’re planning a visit on a weekend – even in January!   I cannot stress this enough.  While standing at the hostess stand, I watched a dozen people get turned away in front of me because they didn’t have a reservations.  That’s not an exaggeration.  And it wasn’t a single party of twelve.  It was several parties of 2-3 people.  Others were seated off to the side in hopes that someone wouldn’t show up for their reservation. Make a reservation!

But let me back up.  I have another lesson learned (besides MAKE A RESERVATION).   First, they offer free valet parking.  Their parking lot is not a free-for-all.  Can you guess what I did?  Yup!  Something you should know about me is that I drive a Jeep Wrangler.  Jeep owners are a special breed.  We like to park together and go out of our way to do it.  We wave at each other when we pass each other on the road.  It’s a special club.

When I pulled up to Hog Island Oysters, I spotted a prime spot right next to a Jeep that matched mine.  I excitedly pulled right in.  As I was getting out, the valet parking guy made a comment that I could stay parked there.  Huh?  OH!!!  Oops.  That’s kinda how it went down.  I apologized profusely.  He confirmed I had a reservation.  And I explained that I was SO excited to see an empty spot next to a Jeep (because we park next to each other) that I missed any signs and just parked.  He was very cool about it and reminded me that it was still a valet lot and I should hand over my keys.  Ha Ha!

The Oysters

I was seated at my communal table that could accommodate eight people.  I’m not entirely sure what was on the menu.  I think there were pickles and charcuterie and salads.  But, I was there for the oysters – and their Dungeness Crab special that I had spotted on their Facebook page the day before.  Though, I did order a loaf of the Pt. Reyes Brickmaiden Bread served with cultured butter and a glass of wine to start.  It was crusty and yummy.  I only wished it was warmed a bit before serving.

Hog-Island-Oysters-Bread

I was torn between the Raw Oysters and their BBQ Oysters with Chipotle Bourbon Garlic Butter.  Ultimately, I chose a half dozen raw oysters and that amazing looking dungeness crab special I’d spotted.  My only complaint was that the crab was chilled.  I wanted it served warm, too.  It was still tasty and served with a Calabrian Chili Sesame Oil Dipping Sauce and a Parsley Vinaigrette.  The chili dipping sauce was my fave!

I don’t know how to eat an entire dungeness crab.  I wasn’t ashamed to ask for guidance.  After a few pointers, I dug right in.  Here are the before and after photos.  I actually stopped the server from removing my stack of crab shell until I was finished – explaining that I needed a photo.  Ha Ha!  I’m sure I left a lot of meat in those crab shells – but it’s a lot of crab for one person.  And I get bored easily with tedious tasks.

Hog-Island-Oysters-Crab

 

Hog-Island-Oysters-Crab-After

The oysters were easy!  You just slurp those suckers down!  They were served with “Hog Wash” and lemon.  There were also a variety of hot sauces on the table.  I stuck with Hog Wash and lemon.  They were huge and amazing.

Tablemates of mine ordered the BBQ oysters to start – and I was instantly jealous.  After finishing the feast above, I ordered myself a plate of those, too!  And they were the best thing I ate that day!  I really wanted to order another (or ten) plate of four.  Warning – the shells are hot!  They just came off of a grill.

Hog-Island-Oysters-BBQ

Closing Thoughts

The drive is worth it if you have a free afternoon!  You’ll be sure to swing by Cowgirl Creamery and Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station.  If you’re going to make the drive out there, you might as well make the most of it!

You’ll pass several seafood options along the route.  They were all packed!  I wanted to try them all but didn’t have the time or room in my stomach!

I drove into Point Reyes Station via Petaluma and followed what is apparently Pt. Reyes – Petaluma Rd/Red Hill Rd according to Google maps.  The scenery was absolutely stunning – green, rolling hills and farms and cows and winding roads.  It was such a nice day I even pulled over to remove the front roof panels from the Jeep.  I was so envious of the convertibles with their tops down, cyclists, and motorcycles.  So, I joined them!

There is no mobile phone reception.  At least on my carrier, AT&T.  Finding a signal in Point Reyes Station was incredibly difficult.  Thankfully Toby’s Feed Barn had WiFi.  But, I pretty much drove “blind” up to Hog Island Oysters – thankfully remembering that they were located north on the PCH in Marshall.

On the way “home”, I chose to follow the Pacific Coast Highway north towards Jenner.  It was late in the afternoon and the sun was starting to set behind the hills of Tomales Bay State Park.  It was truly magical.

And, if you’re wondering how my parking situation turned out, I came back to the valet parking lot to find my Jeep facing out.  I teased the valet that he just wanted to drive my Jeep.  I was also over-the-moon excited to see that a third Jeep (of the exact same model and trim level) was parked on the other side.  Mine is the one in the middle.  Of course a photo was in order!  I asked the valet to turn around the Jeep on the right but I don’t think he realized I was actually serious!

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Lando Wines

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I’m crazy excited that I can add Lando to my list of wineries!  The story begins like so many others – I discovered Lando at PinotFest last fall.  I’d never heard of them.  And they weren’t on my list of wineries to taste at that event (I didn’t visit every winery at the event – 40 is a lot in 3 hours).  However, Sam Lando’s table was set up directly next to Kosta Browne.  They were arranged alphabetically at the event.  So Kosta Browne then Lando made sense.  Kosta Browne was definitely at the top of my list of wineries to visit then felt obligated to try Sam’s wine because he was standing like a foot away.  And I’m SO GLAD I did!

Ironically, Sam Lando worked at Kosta Browne up until he started his own winery in 2012!  I remember chatting with Sam and I enjoyed his wine.  But, I don’t recall how much of my five-week adventure I’d shared with him or if we’d even discussed me tasting his wines while I was visiting California.  But, when I went back to reach out to the wineries his website clearly states “Due to our limited production, we are not presently open to the public for tasting.”  I can respect that and did at the time.

Then I happened to realize that he produces his wine at Grand Cru Custom Crush.  I know that facility has tasting rooms available to their wineries.  But, Sam doesn’t do tastings.  I even remember chatting about that when I was tasting with Flambeaux.  Oh well.  I was on Sam’s allocation list – I hoped.  And then I sort of forgot about Lando.  It just wasn’t happening and I moved on.

The next night I found myself seated at the bar in Valette (yes, that happens a lot).  I happened to be seated next to winery owners that night, too!  I’d ordered my usual scallops – because you HAVE to if you dine at Valette.  And I paired them with a Chardonnay that Dustin Valette explained to me he added to the list specifically for his scallops.  Yay me for getting that pairing right!  (You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this – patience.)  I next ordered their ahi tuna appetizer as my “entree”.  I asked the bartender for a suggested pairing and he gave me something – I don’t remember what.  It was then that I glanced up behind the bar and noticed the bottle of Lando Pinot Noir.  Had I spent even a few minutes looking over the entire “by the glass” section of their menu, I would have spotted the Lando Pinot Noir.  But, it took me a few more weeks to figure it out.

A week later I took 10 of my friends to Valette for their tasting menu.  We opted for six courses.  And out came the bottle of Lando.  My friends absolutely loved the Lando Pinot Noir that we were served.  And they were all pretty desperate to get their hands on it – even talking about it the next day.  I explained that I’d met Sam in San Francisco in the fall and wanted to do a tasting but that he just doesn’t do them.  They gave me all sorts of ideas on how I might wiggle my way through with some of our wine industry connections back home.  I knew I didn’t need to pull strings.  I’m pretty good on my own.  But, I explained that I was on his allocation list and I would try to get them some wine.

About a week later Sam’s pre-allocation email came out.  Buried in a link to a 5-page PDF that included some FAQs on Page 5 I saw the first question “can we drop by and taste your wines?”.  I giggled to myself thinking I knew the answer.  But then I read his answer:  “Technically, we do not have a tasting room and we are not open to the public.  However, feel free to drop me an email and we’ll see what we can do.  Since we are still a one man operation, it’s pretty tough to pull off…but we’ll try.  It’s best to plan out three to four weeks ahead of time. We have a business office off the square in Healdsburg and an outstanding custom crush winery in Windsor. Both of which are ideal if time allows!”

WHAT?!?!  There were only 2 weeks left in my trip.  I only had 3 days that could possibly work for me.  If I had known, I would have reached out back in November and made him a priority.  But, I took a chance.  I immediately emailed Sam.  He responded a few hours later that one of the dates magically worked for both of us!  He even said he remembered me from San Francisco.  But we never officially confirmed the location so I started to get nervous as the date approached.  However, he reached back out the day before our scheduled tasting – and we were ON!

Funny enough – a couple of days earlier my Kosta Browne post went live on my blog and Instagram.  The next morning I woke up, looked at who had started following me and was alerted that Sam Lando was now following me on Instagram.  And I wondered – does he know that’s me?  The answer is – no, it was purely coincidence.

My Visit

I tried SO hard not to be too early.  But, I fail miserably every time.  As usual, I pulled up in front of his office about 10 minutes early when someone who really looked like Sam Lando walked by my Jeep and smiled.  I didn’t wave or anything – what if I was wrong?  I didn’t want to look any more foolish than I usually do.

After confirming I’d parallel parked adequate enough, I took the elevator up to the second floor and his office.  And, it was Sam.  He’d explained that he’d just gotten back from urgent care – his son had broken his thumb goofing off.  He’s a one-man show, a husband, a parent, and probably so much more.  He’d made it to my tasting with 10 minutes to spare.  Even if he was rushing around, he didn’t let it show and made me feel relaxed and wonderful.

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He asked me what I’d like to try – um, everything!  I usually just say – whatever you’d like to share.  But I was pretty excited when he pulled out the 2018 Chardonnay, 2018 Russian River Pinot Noir, and the 2018 Sauves La Vie Pinot Noir.  Those were the three wines in his current release.  Since I’m new to his allocation list and have purchased nothing, I was only lucky enough to be allocated four bottles of the 2018 Russian River Pinot Noir.  Both the other Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were only available to me via “wait list”.  He explained that for the Suaves La Vie he had planned to produce 300 cases.  But, when it came down to sampling the barrels and making decisions a couple of weeks ago, he only produced 165 cases of which 150 would be available to customers.  The rest held back for tastings and such.  I recalled reading the pre-allocation email that said he would try to allocate one of each of those to everyone on his list.  But, some of us weren’t lucky enough.

They’re young.  Very young.  Bottling happened a week and a half ago.  But I really enjoyed his Chardonnay and hoped I’d get a couple off of the wish list.  It’s only the second vintage of a Chardonnay that he’s produced.  My favorite may have been his 2018 Appellation Blend Russian River Pinot Noir.  This is what I’ve been enjoying over at Valette – but the 2017 vintage.  I was in love.  And thrilled that four of those are guaranteed to be mine – and hopefully more!

I also enjoyed the 2018 Sauves La Vie.  This is his single vineyard pinot.  And he explained that the name translates to “life saver” and told me the story.  Back in 2007 when his wife gave birth to their second child there were some complications that weren’t immediately obvious to everyone.  When they realized what had happened, she’d lost like 80% of her blood.  She was raced to emergency surgery where they called in an older “war vet” doctor who is their go to when they have a particularly scary/difficult case.  Due to his experience as a military doctor, I guess he’s known for coming up with creative solutions.  And on that day, he saved her life.

Fast forward a few years when Sam was looking at vineyard sites.  He was chatting with the vineyard owner who recognized his last name.  The vineyard owner asked if his wife’s name was Jennifer.  It was.  Sam was curious.  The vineyard owner says he remembers his wife – she was the only person he saved in 2007.  And now we’re both getting misty-eyed.

I noticed Sam checking his watch and tried to ignore it.  But wanted to respect his time.  I could have stood there listening to his stories all afternoon.  He politely explained that he had an important call in a few minutes.  He shared with me some of what the call was about.  I’m not comfortable sharing those details.  It’s not my story to share.  But I’m REALLY excited for what it could mean for him.  And I now wanted to race out of his office so that he could prepare.  We hugged and said we hoped to bump into each other in a month at World of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara.

I cannot wait to watch Sam Lando’s winery grow.  I’m going to be standing over here on the sidelines cheering him on and enjoying his wine – however much he’ll allocate to little old me.

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J Cage Cellars

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Boy, do I have another fun story for you today about J Cage and how they came to be on my tasting tour during my five-week adventure in Sonoma County!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – you never know who you’ll bump into or sit next to in wine country.  It happened again the other night.  I was sitting at the bar in Valette enjoying dinner.  I really enjoy sitting up at the bar because it’s easier to strike up a conversation with folks around you. Even though I’d made a reservation and could have a table, I happily grabbed a seat at the bar.

There I was – enjoying my pasta appetizer paired with my favorite by the glass Pinot Noir by Sam Lando when a couple sat down next to me.  I heard them tell the bartender that they wanted to try the new red blend on the “by the glass” menu.  That sounded odd.  And the tone in everyone’s voice had a “knowingly joking” tone to it.  Then I noticed the gentleman’s hat matched the label on the bottle.  Hmmm…fishy.  So, I struck up a conversation.  They are newish winery owners making small batch Pinot Noir.  Hello!

Though, it wasn’t one of their Pinot Noirs that is being served by the glass.  It was a red blend.  Maybe I live under a rock, but the blend was rather unique – 50% Sangiovese, 40% Zinfandel, and 10% Petite Sirah.  Uhhhh…..what?  We chatted about all sorts of topics over the next couple of hours.  I asked about their winery and how they started.  I was surprised to hear that they were acquaintances with Adam Lee back in Texas and he’s now their winery consultant.  Okay….if Adam Lee is involved, maybe their Pinot Noir is pretty decent.  Their son is their winemaker.  He’s also employed as a winemaker over in Napa.  And, it must be pretty good wine if Dustin Valette has their wine on his menu, right?

Without me realizing it, a glass of wine appeared.  Donna pushed it over towards me.  They’d ordered me a glass of their red blend.  It was SO good.  I can see why it’s such a crowd pleaser.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d like this blend.  And it’s only $38 per bottle! Then they told me the story of how it came to be.  Apparently they were sitting around the table with Adam working on their wines and blends and had some leftover Zinfandel and Sangiovese but not enough to really do a bottling of either varietal on its own.  That’s when Donna had the great idea to blend them.  Adam was like – why not?  So, they did.  And it worked!  And now they can’t stop making this wine!  Donna’s pretty dang proud of this wine – and she should be!!!

Roger and Donna were at dinner tonight because they’d just received the news that their wines had won all sorts of Gold and Double Gold recognition.  They were celebrating.  And now I feel guilty that I’m interrupting their celebration.  But they assured me that they were enjoying themselves and I wasn’t interrupting.

Roger and Donna are amazingly wonderful, down-to-earth, friendly folks.  I immediately felt like a member of their family.  And I wanted to taste their Pinot!  We exchanged information and the next day I reached out with what little availability I had left in my last few days in wine country.  I was thrilled when Donna wrote back that they could squeeze me in for a tasting that afternoon!  It was going to be a tight race to get all of my last-minute errands done and make it to the tasting.  But, I did it.

My Visit and the Wines

They were so welcoming.  It was like they were inviting an old friend over for a visit.  The three of us sat around the tasting table and they walked me through their wines and gave me some more background about themselves.  It felt as if I was joining them around their own dining room table in their home as friends.

J-Cage-Tasting

We started with their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc.  I’ve been served a ton of Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s the wine almost every winery starts out with.  But this one was nice.  Roger explained that it actually sees some oak and goes through a little malolactic fermentation.  So, it definitely had some of the characteristics I enjoy in a Chardonnay.  Thinking back, maybe I should have revisited that one!  I kind of forgot about it among the sea of Pinot Noir.

Next up was their 2018 Chardonnay.  And I loved this Chardonnay.  I was sad to learn that the 2019 vintage will be their last.  They’d decided to stop producing a Chardonnay (for now).  This wine received a Double Gold Medal and a 95 point rating by American Fine Wine – so  I’m not alone in loving their Chardonnay.

Then we transitioned into Pinot Noir.  I was pretty excited about this.  I was also excited to see they have a single-vineyard pinot from the Van Der Kamp vineyard.  I recalled that Dutton-Goldfield just started producing a pinot from that vineyard of the same vintage.  I have several bottles but was explicitly told to lay them down for at least a year when I picked up my club order.  And I obeyed.  I shared this advice I’d received.  And they agreed that they could see that that could hold true for wines from that particular vineyard.  I’m excited to take them home and try them side-by-side……in a few months.

Next was their 2017 Hallberg Pinot Noir.  I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous.  It was good.  I wouldn’t complain if I was served this wine.  But, I just liked the Van Der Kamp better.  And apparently everyone else understands why based upon the wines I’ve said that I enjoy. I’ll trust them!

The final Pinot Noir of the “official” tasting was their El Coro.  And, for me, this one blew the Van Der Kamp away.  Though, I kept remembering my initial reaction to the Van Der Kamp.  It was rated as one of the Top 100 Wines of 2019 by Sonoma Magazine.  I believe they said only 13 Pinot Noirs were recognized.  So at least I was in good company in liking this wine.

J-Cage-Pairing

But there was one last surprise – a tasting of a pre-release of their 2018 Wedding Block Pinot Noir sourced from some Martinelli fruit off of River Road.  It was indeed young.  I’d like to revisit this one in about a year as well.

Other Comments

Towards the end of my tasting their son, Conch, joined us at the tasting table.  And we all sat around chatting about their wines, my experiences, his other winemaking gig, and variety of topics.  This is the type of tasting I enjoy – sitting with the winemaker and the owners and feeling their passion and pride for their wines.

My tasting was running long when another group showed up for their tasting.  I continued to chat with Conch and Roger chatting about their wines and whatever else was on our minds but we realized the other group might enjoy visiting with them as well.  So we invited ourselves into their tasting!  Come to find out one of the women was the very first wine blog to write about their wines.  She also apparently works at Firehouse Wine Cellars in South Dakota as their Wine Club Manager.  She had brought along the General Manager of their winery, their Winemaker, and his wife.

This was VERY different than my tasting with Occidental where I had another winery owner/winemaker join me.  It wasn’t all about them.  I ended up being seated in between the two winemakers and got very lost in their conversation about winemaking topics.  Though, when I joked that I was lost, they patiently and excitedly explained what they were talking about.  I wanted to be part of both conversations – the winemaking discussion and the business discussion being shared between the women.  I was in heaven.  I was totally getting my “geek on” from both conversations.  And, of course we were revisiting their wines.

We had such fun that we took a group selfie together.  Michelle and Kara have invited me to South Dakota to try their wines and have offered me their spare bedrooms.  I may seriously take them up on that offer.

I sat there and thought to myself several times – how did I get here?  How did I get so lucky?  This is not the type of experience you have by popping into tasting room after tasting room up the Westside Road in Sonoma County or along the Silverado Trail over in Napa.  This is what I love.  Small wineries.  Family-owned wineries.  Passion.  A relaxed environment that invites you to sit, relax, and stay awhile.

Radio-Coteau-Wine

Radio-Coteau

By Wineries No Comments

Let me tell you a funny story about my quest to try Radio-Coteau wines.  It’s one of my favorite stories from this trip to wine country and I’ve been itching to share it with you.  But, I had to wait for the story to be complete before I could do so.  It all begins in July of 2019.  I was on a last-minute trip out to Sonoma County since I had nothing else to do over the 4th of July holiday weekend last year.  I decided to try staying in Sebastapol for a change.  I’ve previously stayed in Healdsburg, Windsor, and Santa Rosa on previous visits.  I also wanted to try the dining scene.

Based on reviews, I chose the Gravenstein Grill for dinner one night.  My dinner there wasn’t something I’d write home about.  It wasn’t bad.  It just didn’t stand out.  But, the wine did!  I ordered a glass of one of Radio-Coteau’s Pinot Noirs.  Boy, do I wish I’d jotted down more info on it.  I fell in love with the wine almost instantly.

The next day I was tasting at Ryme and chatting about other wineries – Radio-Coteau’s name came up.  I explained that I’d had a glass of their wine the night before and was definitely interested.  Radio-Coteau wasn’t open to the public so I couldn’t just pop over.  But, I immediately joined their mailing list.  However, I wanted to taste more of their wine before blinding ordering some.

Taunting

In comes PinotFest last fall.  You’ve heard me mention that event on some previous posts.  I used my trip to PinotFest last fall to try some new to me Pinot Noir I’d like to explore more on this trip.  I saw that Radio-Coteau was on the list.  I sought them out as soon as I walked in the door and tried a few of their wines.  It solidified the fact that I liked their wine.

After PinotFest, I reached out to all of the wineries that stood out – including Radio-Coteau.  They offer tastings by appointment.  However, they don’t have a formal tasting lounge.  They conduct their tastings in their production area.  No problem, right?  The only problem was that my trip coincided with their bottling schedule.  They took down my name and said they thought they could probably fit me in the last week of my trip.  But, we should touch base as that week got closer.

Then I kinda forgot about them until I found myself in their parking lot visiting a neighbor winery!  I was so surprised and delighted to see their little sign hanging off of the corner of their winery.  One of my girlfriends ran over to knock on the door.  There was no answer, as I expected, it was a Sunday and they’re not open to the public.  She even tried their door to see if it was locked.

Radio-Coteau

That night we dined at SingleThread – more on that experience in the coming days.  My girlfriend and I chose different wine pairings.  She was poured a 2013 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir from Radio-Coteau!  Okay.  Now this is a fun coincidence.  Twice in one day.  They’re just taunting me now.  I knew I needed to reach out over the next couple of days to schedule that tasting.

Fate

The following night I joined someone I met at another tasting for dinner at a local favorite restaurant – Backyard.  Why not?  I was getting tired of dining alone.  He explained that he wanted to share a couple of his wines with me.  And, I brought one along to share as well.  Shortly after we were seated another couple sat down next to us.  The gentleman commented on the three bottles of wine that were sitting on our table for the two of us.  He mentioned that they were winemakers.   I thought to myself – oh gosh, that’s so cute, everyone out here thinks they’re a winemaker.  Then he pulled out his business card to share with us – it was Eric Sussman and Davida Ebner from – you guessed it – Radio-Coteau.  I almost fell out of my chair.

Eric-Davida

The four of us spent the next three hours chatting about all sorts of things, sharing wine, and listening to the live music.  We were the last ones in the restaurant that night.  It was one of my favorite evenings in a very long time.  Of course I told them everything that led up to this moment that I just shared – including the fact that my girlfriend tried to break into their winery the day before.  Davida got a kick out of that one.  She encouraged me to reach back out to Stephanie to schedule that tasting and that she’d give her a heads up that I’d be calling.  So I did.  And here I am.  You never know who you might be seated next to or bump into out here.   This was actually the second time being seated next to local winery owners.  Now I come to expect it when I’m dining out!  (Ironically, it happened again the night I typed this post.)

My Visit

I tried not to be too super early for my tasting, but I was really excited!  It is the least formal tasting on this trip.  I gently knocked on the open winery door and several employees jumped to help and find Stephanie, my tasting host for the day.  She gave me the brief tour of their winery operations.  Everything is done on site.  They do have some off-site bottle storage.  But everything else is done right here.

Radio-Coteau-Winery

And they were working in this winery!  A team of employees were working to clean barrels since they’ve finished bottling.  The same room pictured above is also their tank room during fermentation.  The tanks are stored outside during the winter to maximize the space.  Stephanie and I headed over to the next room – their bottling room – for our tasting.

Bottling-Line

I was honestly surprised when I looked in the corner and spotted their own bottling line!  I believe it’s only the third winery I’ve visited that has their own line.  Most use a mobile solution.  But, they prefer having the control over scheduling – which makes sense.  In the above photo, you can also catch a glimpse of my tasting bar – that board propped up on barrels.  I now fully understood why tasting while they were bottling could be problematic (not that I ever doubted that).

The Wines

I’m extremely honored.  They’re pretty sure that I was the very first customer to taste some of these wines.  Several of these are part of their spring release which is going on now.  None have shipped.  And, I’m guessing I’m their first tasting appointment.  Obviously the employees have tasted these wines.  But I was the first customer!

Radio-Coteau-Wine

Unlike any other winery I’ve visited, Stephanie uncorked each and every one of these bottles for me.  They hadn’t been left over from a previous tasting.  They hadn’t been Coravined.  They were mine.  I was slightly disappointed their Savoy wasn’t in the lineup – but their Savoy also isn’t part of the spring release!  However, I was excited to see a Syrah in the lineup.  I’d only ever tried their Pinot Noir and here sat a Chardonnay, 2 Pinot Noirs, a Syrah, and a coastal Zinfandel.  A what????

We started off with their County Line Rose.  I didn’t realize it but Eric also has a second “companion” label – County Line.  I believe she explained that these are more mass-marketed, more affordable wines.  Much of the wine is leftover from the Radio-Coteau wines.  It’s a single-vineyard champagne clone Pinot Noir.  It definitely reminded me of a flat champagne.  It’s a crazy dry rose and they encourage you to enjoy it with oysters.  I can see that!  The County Line label was created just for this rose but they now produce a few other wines under this label.

Next up was their 2017 Sea Bed Chardonnay.  OMG.  I loved this Chardonnay.  I’ve said that before, haven’t I?  I immediately knew that I needed some of this!  It’s their estate Chardonnay.  And, it’s their very first vintage of this particular Chardonnay which was just planted in 2014.

We next moved onto Pinot Noir and their 2017 La Neblina.  Stephanie told me that most likely this was the wine I’d tasted at that very first restaurant.  It’s their flagship Pinot Noir and a blend from several different vineyards.  Then we moved into the “new” wines that are part of the Spring Release.  They shared with me the 2017 Belay Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which I really enjoyed!

But what I was really excited about was the Syrah.  I’ve never considered myself to be a fan of Syrah.  I like it in a good ol’ GSM blend.  But rarely on its own.  Until I went to Ramey and loved their Syrah.  So, I was cautiously optimistic as I took my first sip.  And I was in love.  It was their 2016 Dusty Lane Syrah from the Sonoma Coast.  I’m excited to share this wine with my Syrah-loving friends.

The final wine was a coastal Zinfandel.  From what I understand about Zinfandel and coastal wines, the two shouldn’t really go together, should they?  This is also made of estate fruit from vines that were planted in 1946 and 1981.  So, not at all new.  It was definitely fun to try.

Other Comments

I was so happy that Davida swung by in the middle of my tasting to say hi.  The three of us had a nice conversation and laughed and enjoyed a great visit.  I was so grateful to her for helping make this tasting happen.  I’m not sure it was still even an ideal time for them, but they made it happen.  Forklifts were literally moving within a few feet of my tasting space.  Barrels were moved to either side of my little tasting bar situated by one of their eggs which was still decorated from their fall release party.

As I was loading up my Jeep with my newest wine acquisitions (including some library 2013 Savoy Pinot Noir – the same we’d tasted at SingleThread), Eric popped over to say hi as well.  I absolutely love these two.  They’re genuine and wonderful and welcoming.  And I’m so grateful for that chance encounter at Backyard.

Davida asked me over dinner if I preferred a seated or a standing tasting.  I answered “seated” because I feel like it invites you to settle in, get comfortable, and not feel rushed.  But, it really doesn’t matter.  It’s about the wine.

Since then I’ve had similar discussions over tastings and have thought about her question.  And my answer has been different as my visits went by.  My favorite tastings are those with the winemaker or close relation – Flambeaux, Smith Story, Ramey, and Radio-Coteau.  And you know what?  Two of the four were standing!  That isn’t saying that some of my tasting hosts weren’t amazing – most were with very few exceptions.  But nothing can replace speaking with the owners/winemakers and feeling the passion behind the label.  And you’ll want to check back the next two days – two additional, special experiences similar to this one!

Occidental-Wines

Occidental Wines

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During my 30 Wineries in 30 Days journey, I had the opportunity to visit just a few more wineries.  Occidental was one that was highly recommended right from the start!  While making reservations for the trip, one of my other wineries suggested them.  So, I reached out and made the appointment.  Occidental was originally supposed to be my first winery visit.  However, due to scheduling issues, they reached out to me to reschedule.  And, I’m glad they did!  It allowed the anticipation to grow!

I don’t think any other winery had been so highly recommended as Occidental.  Occidental is a pretty new kid on the block.  However, their owner and wine maker is certainly not new to the world of making wine – Steve Kistler.  Steve built the Kistler brand into a highly respected name in Chardonnay.  He’s stepped away from Kistler and he wants to focus on making batches of coastal Pinot Noirs.  And he’s doing great!

My Visit

I just giggle anymore when I pull up to a locked winery gate.  I’ve definitely learned to review my reservation notes so I’m not scrambling to figure out what trick I’m supposed to use to get inside.  Occidental is just an easy call up to the winery to be let in.  It’s a gorgeous drive up to their winery and office up through the pastures and hills.  And, as you can see, I enjoyed a clear blue sky the day I visited.  Some of the hills are pretty steep!  I just reminded myself that I’ve off-roaded in this Jeep and these hills weren’t that steep comparatively – I could still easily see over the hood.

Occidental-Gate

I finally came upon their office and tasting room amid pretty young vineyards.  They planted their first vines just about nineteen years ago.  The vines around the vineyard are younger than ten years old.  The land on which the vineyards are planted were previously cow pastures and had never had grapes planted.  This was about as new as it gets.

After making introductions, Mia led us into the vineyards for a tour.  This wasn’t a private tasting.  Normally I love having others along during the tasting.  However, I was pretty miserable this time.  The other person joining me was a winemaker himself from Canada.  He did most of the talking – far more than Mia or myself.  We learned all about his winery and production techniques.  That’s not why I signed up for this experience!

Occidental-Vineyards

In between his stories, Mia tried to explain about the vineyards and their production techniques.  We had a great tour of their facility.  Everything is new and fresh and as high-tech as you get for a winery that tries to make wines as naturally as possible.  Mia mentioned a couple of times that their wine only sees a pump twice during the entire production process.  Gravity does the rest of the work.  They even do as few push downs as possible during fermentation which is rather unique – at least from what I’ve heard on other tours.

Fermentation-Tanks

They’re a relatively small winery – producing fewer than 10,000 cases of wine each year.  They’re currently making five different Pinot Noirs.  Once our tour was complete, we were able to taste three of them.  My barrel nerd came out when I saw that Steve chooses to use a single cooper and barrel for all of his wine.  I think it’s only the second time I’ve seen that – Williams-Selyem being the first.  Though, from what I learned about Kistler, I’m not overly surprised.  The photo below is probably half of their barrel storage – the second half located behind me.

Occidental-Barrels

The Wines

Our tour ended at their amazing tasting room that allows you to take in the views from the top of their hill looking out over their vineyards.

Occidental-Tasting-View

As I mentioned, we had the opportunity to taste three of their Pinot Noirs.  Occidental currently does one release each year which is currently open.  Once they grow a little more they’ll begin to offer two releases.

Occidental-Wines

First was their 2017 Bodega Headlands Vineyard Cuvee Elizabeth followed by their 2017 Running Fence Vineyard Cuvee Catherine.  Elizabeth and Catherine are Steve’s daughters.  Both of his daughters have returned from college and now help their dad at the winery.  As with his Kistler wines, all of Occidental’s are individually numbered.  The third wine, Occidental Station was probably my favorite if I had to choose.

I enjoyed his wines.  And I’m looking forward to watching this brand grow in the future.

Auteur-Wine

30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 30: Auteur

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I did it!  I visited and wrote about 30 wineries over the course of 30 days!  The final (official) stop on my journey was at Auteur!  Auteur was not on my original list.  However, I had a free day in my schedule.  You may remember my visit to Stewart Cellars.  My tasting host there, Andi, struggled during our entire tasting to remember Auteur.  Based upon our conversation, she knew I’d enjoy their wines.  I’m grateful she took the time to email me later that night when the name came to her!  She was absolutely right!

Later in the trip when I was entertaining myself at lunch on Instagram, I ran across a couple of Auteur’s posts.  Their name immediately jumped out at me.  I saw they were invitation only, so took a chance and reached out.  I wasn’t overly optimistic I could get a tasting scheduled.  You see, my one and only free day was Superbowl Sunday.  And the local team happened to be playing in the game this year.  Who on earth is going to come into the winery on Superbowl Sunday for a tasting for one person with less than 24 hours notice?  The answer – Corey at Auteur.  He explained he could do a 10:30 or 11am tasting.  I went with 10:30.  I’m pretty sure he was grateful I chose the earlier time slot since I’m so chatty.

In our email exchange he asked how I’d come to learn about Auteur so I explained the recommendation followed by Instagram.  I believe he told me that 95% of their tastings are by winery referrals.

My Visit

I was initially hesitant once I sat down and researched them the morning of the tasting.  I really try to explore a winery’s entire website before a tasting.  And, if I have a good amount of time, I’ll do a Google search as well.  Why was I hesitant?  Well, according to their website they were sold out of just about every single Pinot Noir as well as some others.  Were they going to have anything for me to try – let alone purchase if I happened to like them?

I was also a little hesitant when I did a quick Wine Spectator search of their ratings.  Most were under 90 points!  And they hadn’t been rated since their 2016 vintage.  However, I became a bit more optimistic when I saw some of their more recent ratings on their website – so many well over 95 points.  Okay.  That’s a little better.  But still…what on earth are they going to pour me?  I figured they wouldn’t schedule a tasting if they didn’t have any wine to share.

They’re located just steps away from the square in Sonoma.  I didn’t immediately realize where I was based upon the way my GPS brought me into town.  And then I just laughed when I saw where their tasting room is located – directly across the street from Walt and around the corner from Three Sticks.  They are both tasting rooms I’d visited last fall.  And I hadn’t even noticed Auteur.

Auteur-Wine

They check all of my boxes.  Not open to the public.  Crazy small production of wines produced with fruit from very reputable vineyards – Hyde, Durell, Savoy, and Gap’s Crown just to name a few.  I believe he said they farm usually 1/2 acre blocks at these vineyards.  Producing around 100-125 cases of each.  Small.

Corey even commented on the fact that they’re having a hard time figuring out what to share in the tasting room!  Just a few days ago they went digging in inventory to see what they have left.  Just a handful of cases of these wines.  And, they even had to pull out some library wines to round out the tasting.

The Wines

I was so excited to jump into the tasting.  Corey poured three Chardonnays for me.  And then he said something that almost immediately turned me off.  They don’t put their Chardonnay through malolactic fermentation.  Ummm.  I like the results and characteristics related to that malolactic fermentation.  And they’re only using 25% new oak.  What on earth???  I can’t wait to get home to pull out my Wine Spectator Magazine where apparently Ramey made a comment about California Chardonnay that doesn’t go through malo.  However, I really liked the first wine Corey poured – their 2017 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay.  Whew!  The second and third wines were the 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and the 2017 Durell Vineyard Chardonnay.  I really loved that Durell.

Next we moved onto Pinot Noir.  We started with a pinot they needed to pull from their library due to the limited amounts of wine they have available.  I wasn’t complaining.  It was their 2010 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.  And I instantly loved it.  I’ve been drinking so many younger pinots these days that I haven’t enjoyed many of the older vintages that have been poured for me.  That wasn’t the case here.  Sadly, they no longer source fruit from Shea Vineyard.

The second Pinot Noir was their 2017 Sonoma Coast blend which I could just drink all day long.  They make a bit more of this – a whopping 174 cases.  Their blends tend to be the wines that make it out into restaurants.  The third was the 2017 Savoy Vineyard Pinot.  I’ve gotten a lot more familiar with this Anderson Valley Vineyard this trip.  And it was my favorite of the pinots I could purchase.  Corey pulled out their 2017 Manchester Ridge Pinot for me to try.  Jeb Dunnuck had proclaimed this to be one of the Top 50 Red Wines he tasted in 2018 out of 9000 different wines.  And Corey tells me the 2018 promises to be even better.  I cannot wait to get my hands on that one this fall!

Closing Thoughts

I could have sat there and chatted with Corey all day.  But he had a party to get to.  It was still Superbowl Sunday!  But I was blown away by the service that provide to their members.  Corey invites members to call and text any time.  They make notes on everyone who comes and tastes about preferences and their palate.  That way when a customer calls and asks for a suggestion, they have a better idea of what the customer might prefer.  They offer concierge service and can get folks into harder to get into tasting rooms.  I think I’ll take him up on that service on future visits!

30 Wineries in 30 Days

So this is winery number 30.  It should be the end of this journey, right?  But why end at just 30?  I have a few more wineries that meet my silly criteria to visit.  So, you can look forward to a few more visits over the next few days.  There are definitely three – possibly four more.  First will be Occidental – Steve Kistler’s new winery.  If there was one winery that was suggested more frequently than anyone else it was Occidental.  They were actually supposed to be my very first winery on this journey.  However, they reached out to me because they didn’t have anyone to do the tasting on the day I was scheduled and we pushed back my tasting.  They wanted to schedule me for the next day and I just laughed.  My schedule was packed.  I can’t just come the next day.

The next one or two are a couple of cult wineries I’m excited to try.  Radio-Coteau is the first of those.  I have a funny story I cannot wait to share about Radio-Coteau and am thrilled out of my mind that I’m getting to do a tasting there.  The next is an almost impossible winery to get into.  They flat out state that they don’t do tastings.  Period.  But I reached out and we scheduled something.  But it’s not 100% confirmed.  So, I’m hoping it’ll still happen.  I won’t even name them here just in case it doesn’t happen.  And, last but certainly not least is Aubert.  Oh, do have stories to share about Aubert.

However, since this is the unofficial end, let me share some stats.  I arrived in Forestville on Saturday, January 4th.  My first stop was a winery.  Not my house.  Not a rest area.  Not a restaurant.  It was a winery.  Dutton-Goldfield.  It’s not one I’ve blogged about because it doesn’t meet any of my criteria, but it’s a favorite of mine.  And, ironically, my trip ends with them.  I extended my trip by an entire week  just to attend a luncheon they’re co-hosting with one of my very favorite restaurants, Valette.  You better believe I’ll share about that!

I’m on track to have 57 winery visits between January 4 and February 8.  I worded that very carefully.  I’ve actually only visited 56 wineries – one I visited twice.  Seventeen of those wineries were over the course of two days with a group of friends who flew in for the weekend to attend Wine Road’s Winter Wineland.  I’ll write up a separate post about that fun event and the highlights.  A couple of wineries fell off of my list.  But, I will have visited at least one winery every day between January 8 and February 4.  I spent my first 3 full days in wine country with an awful stomach bug and had to rearrange some things.

This trip was thoroughly exhausting – far more exhausting that I ever anticipated.  I thought by just visiting one winery every afternoon that it wouldn’t be too much.  I was wrong.  So very wrong.  Except for that weekend of 17 wineries, I never visited more than three wineries in one day on a weekend day.  Every Saturday I rolled out of bed grumbling that I didn’t want to taste wine.  Most Saturday wine tastings began at 10am.  And a couple of them were in Napa – an hour’s drive from my Airbnb.  The majority of these tastings weren’t basic tastings at the tasting bar.  They were one-on-one, seated tastings lasting 1-1/2 to 3 hours per winery.  Many included tours.  Most included pairings of some sort. Almost all included in depth discussions about production and clones and farming techniques.

A girlfriend of mine who works in the industry shared with me that after a significantly shorter trip to wine country, she comes home and eats a bowl of white rice with sparkling water because her palate is shot.  Amen!  Will I ever be able to drink lower priced wines again?  I’m sure I will.  But, boy, did I taste some amazing wines!?!

I’m getting a little choked up as I write this.  The journey is pretty much over.  (I really have one week left in wine country before heading home as I’m writing this.)  But this is my 30th winery!  I made it!  I miss my house and my friends.  I’d say that I miss my bed, but the bed in my Airbnb is really comfy.  I’ve missed all sorts of gatherings and events by being away so long.  I cannot wait to get back to a different normal routine since my normal routine has been to work from 5:30am to 2pm every week day.  Then hop in my Jeep and drive 10 minutes to an hour to a winery.  Spend a couple of hours at the winery before finding dinner (though I cooked about 50% of my dinners).  Then blog.  Then go to bed between 8 and 9 to do it all over again the next day.

If you’ve followed my journey, thank you!  I hope to continue to post about my Adventures With Wine.  Many more trips are planned.  I’ll probably write up some of my thoughts as I open some of the wine I’ve purchased as well as share recipes that pair with them.  I have a bunch of restaurants I want to share about just in case you’re in the area and want to try something new.  Hint….I’ve already written up about my dining experiences at both SingleThread and The Restaurant at Meadowood – both Michelin 3-star rated restaurants in wine country.  They’ll be posting in the next couple of weeks.  So please stay tuned!

 

 

Hirsch-Tasting

30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 29: Hirsch

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Hirsch is another winery that I sought out.  They’re located way out in the Fort Ross Seaview AVA.  Although, they don’t like to admit that for some reason.  I do not understand why they don’t want to be associated with that sub-AVA.  They’re located right in the middle of it.  I even asked and still don’t understand.  My tasting host says they just want to be known for being Hirsch.  There are some great cult wines from that region.  Anyway, lucky for everyone, they have a tasting room in Healdsburg which is much more accessible than driving all of the way out to the coast.

In the past they’ve sold fruit to a handful of wineries.  But, they’re pulling back and only sharing their fruit with a few these days and focusing on producing their own wines.  Failla is still lucky enough to be the recipient of some Hirsch fruit.  And, I had the opportunity to try their Hirsch Pinot Noir a few weeks back.  Interestingly, I didn’t buy any.  Boy would I love to do a side-by-side comparison now.

My Visit

I arrived pretty early to my tasting – by almost 20 minutes.  They were expecting three more folks to join us who apparently got caught in traffic.  So it ended up being a one-on-one, private tasting.

Hirsch-Tasting

We started off with their 2018 Hirsch Estate Chardonnay.  I thought it was a bit more acidic than I would prefer.  I do like my Chards full and creamy and only lightly acidic.  That’s more than I knew four weeks ago!  This girl has come a long way in this journey.  I didn’t dive into the snacks.  Maybe I should have.  This wine probably would have paired beautifully with food.

Interestingly, they only produce a Chardonnay because one of the wineries they provided fruit to in the past (Williams-Selyem) encouraged them to plant Chardonnay.  However, Williams-Selyem no longer sources fruit from Hirsch.

Then we moved into what I was here for – Pinot Noir!  First was their 2017 Bohan-Dillon Pinot Noir which is super easy drinking and yummy.  I fell over when I read the price is only $38 per bottle!  Their other Pinots were significantly higher – more than double.  She shared their 2016 East Ridge Estate and pulled out a 2015 San Andreas Fault that wasn’t on the list.  The East Ridge ended up being my favorite of their pinots.  We closed out the tasting with their 2015 Raschen Ridge.

Closing Thoughts

I had such a fun visit chatting with the tasting host whose name I’ve completely forgotten.  I really enjoyed an opportunity to taste more wine grown out along the coast.  I really enjoy the coastal wines these days.

The tasting contained no bells and whistles – and that’s fine!  The tasting room is small and intimate and perfect.  And, apparently if you catch someone working in the tasting room and they have availability, you might get the opportunity to walk in.  However, tastings are super easy to schedule.  And, I highly recommend putting them on your list if you enjoy coastal pinots!

Ramey-Wines

30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 28: Ramey

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Ramey had to make my list for an assortment of reasons.  First, they’re a pretty big name in Chardonnay.  Second, they just placed 7th on Wine Spectator’s list of Top 100 wines of 2019.  Third, they make a Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay.  I love wines made using Hyde fruit.  It was also, coincidentally, their Hyde Chardonnay that was so respectably placed.  Plus, I’ve never been there.  And they’re not open to the public.  The only thing that made me pause – I prefer smaller production wineries.  I think Alan mentioned they make something like 40,000 cases.  Not small.

My Visit

Ramey has the least sexy entrance of any winery I think I’ve visited.  They’re located on the outskirts of downtown Healdsburg.  I’ve driven right by and had no idea they were there.  If they were located in Napa, I suspect it would be a very different environment.  But, environment doesn’t matter.  Yes, yes, I do recall my post about Stewart Cellars.

Ramey-Door

I was whisked away to their second floor tasting room.  It was very corporate.  Wines were already poured.  And my tasting host, Alan, explained a few others would be joining us.  Yay!  There was a lot of wine on the table.  Seven glasses per person – including a set for Alan.  I do love it when they pour all of the wines for us so we can compare and contrast.

Ramey-Wine

I was somewhat disappointed (but not at all surprised) that we weren’t tasting that 2016 Hyde Chardonnay.  It’s sold out on their website.  Though, I know where you can get some!  However, I wasn’t all that disappointed because I have a bottle of it that I look forward to enjoying in the kinda near future that I picked up at that source.

The other couple at my tasting were in the industry.  Well, the husband was.  He works part-time in a tasting room.  And then Alan made a comment that got me all excited.  He referred to his “dad”.  My tasting host was the owner’s son, Alan Ramey.  So we enjoyed some very first-hand stories and knowledge from someone who has grown up in this industry and brand.

The Wines

We had the opportunity to taste four of their Chardonnays.  Alan threw in a bonus wine for us.  Ironically the first Chardonnay was the 2016 Rochioli Chardonnay.  I’d just been to Rochioli the day before!  I believe my favorite was the second – 2016 Woolsey Road Chardonnay.  I drive by that vineyard almost daily!  The third was the 2016 Westside Farms Chardonnay which was pretty nice, too.  Finally, our bonus wine was “just” their Russian River Chardonnay which I thought I could very easily enjoy drinking.

Ramey-Wines

I probably would have bought lots of their Chardonnay if it hadn’t been for what was coming up in the reds.  We tried their only Pinot Noir – a Russian River blend from the 2016 vintage.   I liked it.  But, it didn’t really stand out.  Again, I’ve enjoyed a lot of really great Pinot Noirs.  This one was fabulous.  But, I have a lot of Pinot Noir at this point.

Then we moved onto a 2014 Cole Creek Syrah.  Let me be honest here.  I was initially really bummed that I was missing out on possibly another Chardonnay and being forced to drink this Syrah.  But oh my gosh, I was so very wrong.  I loved this Syrah.  It’s very rare that I love Syrah.  It’s a pretty limited production – only 135 cases produced.  I need some Syrah in my cellar!

Next was the 2015 Template from Napa Valley.  It was a blend of 70% Merlot (UGH), 25% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I was not expecting to like this wine due to the amount of Merlot.  But, I was again oh so wrong!  I love being wrong when it comes to wine.

Finally, we tasted their 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  It’s made up of 80% Cab Sauv, 17% Cab Franc, and 3% Malbec.  I should have liked this one.  But I preferred the Syrah and Merlot blends more!

Other Thoughts

I’m so glad I added Ramey to my list.  I really enjoyed drinking such a wide variety of the wines they produce since I think of them when I think of Chardonnay.  While they may be  a pretty large production winery, it has a very intimate feeling.  I love that they’re not open to the public and rather focus on tasting for people who truly seek them out.  And I love that it was their son, Alan, who was doing the tasting for us.

The winery is located directly outside of our tasting lounge.  There has to be so much more to this winery somewhere.  Also an interesting note….Ramey and another winery co-own their own bottling trucks which makes scheduling the trucks a lot more convenient!  And, as you can see below, one was parked inside the winery but not running.

Winery1

Winery2

Rochioli-Gate

30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 27 – Rochioli

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Rochioli is another winery that was not on my original list.  However, their name kept popping up that I decided they needed to be on the list.  I believe they source fruit to around six wineries.  I’ve been to or will visit five of the wineries.  Longboard is the only winery they sell fruit to that isn’t on my list.

I’ve driven by their winery countless times along the Westside Road.  I imagine I always thought they were open to the public so I didn’t consider them.  However, relatively recently they are now appointment only.  Since they meet both of my silly criteria for this series, I swapped them out with another winery that was really just “filler”.  I hope I’m not missing out on something amazing at that other winery.

The tasting was quite affordable, getting the tasting fee waived didn’t break the bank, but the selection of wines they offer you is relatively limited.  You see, for Rochioli’s Single Vineyard wines, there’s a five year waiting list!  And I hear it’s worth it.  In fact, someone lucky enough to have just gotten off of their wait list was in the tasting room picking up his very first allocation.  He was so excited.  It was adorable.

My Visit

Since I’m having fun trying to get through all of these locked gates at so many wineries, I got a kick out of the gate at Rochioli.  It wasn’t at the end of their driveway.  It was a walked gate at the start of the pathway leading up to the tasting room.  This girl couldn’t even figure out that gate.  There were two call buttons.  Sigh.  Of course it was the second button that worked.

Rochioli-Gate

Behind that gate and into their tasting room is a gorgeous view.  Maybe not quite as awesome as the view from Viader yesterday.  But, I wasn’t complaining.  While I was sitting there, we even watched Joe Rochioli putter on by in his car.

Rochioli-View

Since their Single Vineyard Wines are so desirable and limited, I tasted a flight of their Estate Wines – which are all super yummy.

Rochioli-Tasting

Also, it doesn’t happen that often.  However, there was a sparkling line in the tasting.  They’ve only produced a few vintages of their sparkling.  It’s not even mentioned on their website.  But, I was lucky enough to try one – even though I’m not the biggest fan of bubbles.  It was their 2016 Blanc de Noir.  And they were only allowing folks to buy up to 3 bottles.  I wasn’t bad for someone who doesn’t appreciate sparkling wines.  But, I didn’t pick any up.  The only sparkling wine I’ve gotten was gifted to me on this trip.

Next was their 2019 Estate Sauvignon Blanc.  2019.  Brand new.  This is the first 2019 vintage wine I’ve had the opportunity to taste.  One of my allocations included a 2019 Rose of Pinot Noir from another winey.  But, I haven’t tasted it.  I really liked this Sauvignon Blanc.  I didn’t think it was as acidic as others I’ve tried.  And, it seems everyone these days greets you with a Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s kinda hard to impress me there.

Next up was their 2018 Estate Chardonnay which I really enjoyed.  It really makes me excited to see what they do with their Single Vineyard Series.  The 2018 Estate Pinot Noir was also lovely.  It didn’t necessarily stand out to me as something extra special.  I’ve had plenty of those recently.  But, without me ruining my palate on incredible wines every day, this is probably a great Pinot Noir!

Closing Thoughts

I’m so glad I popped in to learn more about the winery, their history, and their vineyards.  It was a relatively brief visit just at their tasting bar.  But all of the wines were super enjoyable!  I’d definitely recommend them!

To read more about my 30 Wineries in 30 Days adventure, click here to see who else I’ve visited!