Dining – Diavola

By Pandemic Wine Tour, Restaurants No Comments

With dining being limited to outdoor seating, I made sure to plan ahead for all of my dinners.  And I didn’t want to miss a single favorite restaurant on this trip!  My first dinner of the trip was at Diavola in Geyserville.

I thought I discovered them in January while looking for Italian food.  But, a friend assures me they provided catering at a winery during a Dry Creek Passport weekend.  And that friend knows his food and restaurants so I will trust his memory over mine!  On that trip I fell in love with their Beef Cheek Ragu.  Or it was some sort of cheek ragu.  They’ve clearly changed up the menu since January and February because the dish wasn’t exactly as I remembered – but it was still super yummy.

Anyway, let me back up.  I was SO glad I’d made a reservation.  Another party walked in at the same time and were turned away.  Whew!  Though, I did feel guilty that I’m a single diner versus their family.  The restaurant would have made more off of the family.  But, I tried my best to order lots of food and wine and tip VERY well everywhere I go.  It’s not their fault I’m dining alone.


They have the most adorable patio setup I’ve ever seen!  Oh my goodness.  It appeared they had sectioned off outdoor “rooms” off of a “hallway” with laundry strung up to dry overhead!  I practically squealed when I saw their decor.  It was so welcoming with tons of attention to detail.  You must visit!


I was seated in the very last room.  I already knew what I wanted as an entree – that ragu dish.  But, I hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours (BIG mistake considering I tasted through three wineries) so I wanted a starter of some sort.  I was wearing a white shirt.  I’m conscious that I will spill food on and stain any white shirt.  Therefore I tend to steer clear of anything that might drip.  But, I just could not see anything past their Pasta Fazool.  I envisioned a small cup of soup that would be the perfect starting portion.  But, maybe I should have looked at the price tag which suggested it would probably be something more substantial.  And it was.  And it was the star of my dinner.  Oh my goodness it was yummy.  And I was eating most of it.  And getting full.  And I’d already ordered my entree and dessert.  I was in trouble!


For my entree I ordered the Spaghettini w Pork Cheek Ragu.  It was tasty.  I ate all of the meat and some of the pasta.  However, my bowl still looked completely full when they took it away.  And I knew my hotel did not have a microwave.  Sigh.


Then came dessert.  Oh goodness.  The menu stated that it should be requested with dinner because of prep time.  I chose their Warm Italian Apple Cake.  And when it came, I knew I’d eat about 2 bites.  Luckily, I could take that home and eat it cold.  In fact, I just finished eating it while typing up this post.


Towards the end of the dinner I realized I’ve been eating a lot of “tasting menus” throughout the pandemic when I dine out.  I treated this meal like a tasting menu.  And maybe that would have worked if I had been sharing the dishes.  I have zero regrets.  It was all amazing.  I wish I had time to visit them again on this trip and try some of the other items on the menu.  You’ll just have to do it for me.

House of Flowers

By Pandemic Wine Tour, Wineries No Comments

Flowers always puts on a lovely tasting at their House of Flowers tasting facility on the Westside Road in Healdsburg.  For many of you, Flowers may not be a new winery.  They’ve been around for awhile.  However, they were a newish discovery for me last year.

I realized that I tend to gravitate towards coastal Pinots – especially those from the Fort Ross Seaview AVA.  Last summer I was trying to seek out wineries in that area.  I discovered there was only one tasting room.  However, Flowers Vineyards & Winery was teasing me with a soon-to-be-opened tasting room in Healdsburg.  I stalked them and missed their opening by one day.  One.  That’s it.  I was so super bummed.  Had I known that’s when they were opening I probably would have extended my trip.  But, I made a point to visit them last November on their first day open after the Kincade fire.

They took over a location previously used by VML.  They explained that they completely rebuilt their building and created little cabana-like tasting suites.  At least that’s my description of them.  Looking ahead to 2020, these little outdoor suites were perfect for socially distanced tastings!  It’s truly a gorgeous facility.

This visit was actually my second this year and third since they’ve opened.  I just love their tastings paired with little bites of food.  And, as a member, I get to enjoy those for free.  They’re offering two different in-person tasting options right now – their Flowers Flight which is what I selected.  And, they offer a Bottles & Provisions tasting.  I REALLY wanted to do the Bottles & Provisions tasting.  They explained all of the food that comes in each box and it sounded AMAZING.  However, when you choose that option, you get a 1/2 bottle of a wine of your choice.  One single wine.  This would be a great option if you had multiple people in your party – and I assume most people do – because you could each choose a different wine and share.  It’s rare that I see other single tasters (though I did see one the other day and REALLY wanted to ask him if he wanted company – ha ha).  But if you’re tasting alone, you only get to taste one wine.  How fun is that?


Upon arrival, you’re greeted with a sample of their rose which is currently sold out except for their 1.5L magnums.  I was SO glad I customized my last allocation and threw in a few of those bottles and would be taking them home with me.  I screwed up my reservation time and was 40 minutes early to my tasting.  Totally my fault.  I should look at my calendar more closely.  They couldn’t immediately accommodate me – and I won’t fault them for that.  In fact, when I went to make the reservation they were completely booked but manually scheduled me.  So they were already doing me a favor since I was a member.

However, while I sat and waited, I watched group after group get checked in.  They were hopping!  These days I tend to visit smaller production wineries that tend to have a more intimate tasting experience.  It initially seemed dangerous during a pandemic to be so crowded.  But, they managed it all.  Tables were distanced.  I still enjoyed my one-on-one appointment.  Looking back, I guess none of my previous tasting with them have been scheduled on a weekend.


I was interested to see that they were only pouring their pricier single vineyard wines.  Typically they throw in some of their “entry level” appellation blends.  But not on that day!  I actually really enjoy their appellation blends – their Russian River Pinot is one of my favorite everyday wines.  Though, both their Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs are truly my favorites of the wines they produce.  However, their price tag is just a bit steeper than my everyday wine budget.

All-in-all it was a fabulous visit.  I would undoubtedly suggest everyone make a point to visit. But it also made me appreciate the smaller, more intimate settings much more!  And that’s what I have scheduled for the remainder of my visit.




By Pandemic Wine Tour, Wineries No Comments

The second stop on my Pandemic Wine Tour was Dutton-Goldfield.  Dutton-Goldfield holds a special place in my heart.   They were the very first winery I joined as a member.  I try to swing by whenever I’m in town to visit with my tasting room friends and especially sample their non-Pinot Noir wines.  I’m a “Pinofile” member so my allocations are always filled with Pinot Noir.  It wasn’t until about a year later that I realized they make some stunning Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Zinfandel too.

It doesn’t look like I blogged about it, but Dutton-Goldfield was actually the reason I extended my big “30 Wineries in 30 Days” journey earlier this year by an entire week just so I could join them at a special wine luncheon at Valette.  If you’re not familiar with Valette, I’ll be blogging about them soon.  They’re another “must visit” when I’m anywhere near Healdsburg.


Dutton-Goldfield has always had a lovely patio in front of their indoor tasting room so I can only assume it wasn’t a huge change for them when it came to setting up an outdoor tasting room.  I was seated at a very socially-distanced table on the patio and ran through their full tasting menu.  Greg, their tasting room manager, always makes sure I don’t miss out on any “last chance” wines.  This time it was their 2019 Pinot Blanc and their 2019 Rose.  On an unseasonably warm day both of those hit the spot!


I was also excited to try their newly released 2018 Devil’s Gulch Chardonny.  This guy caught my eye when they sent out an email with the subject line “Our super-secret Devil’s Gulch Chardonnay is Released”  Wait.  What?  Super Secret?  They got my attention.  They’ve been producing a Devil’s Gulch Pinot Noir from that vineyard for years.  But, what they didn’t tell most of us was that for the past few years, they’ve also been getting Chardonnay grapes from that same vineyard and making a still wine (and apparently a future bubbly???). Most years, they’ve produced only a tiny amount of this Chardonnay, so it’s been a stealth wine, slipping out to those in the know (hmmmm….I was most definitely not in the know). For the 2018 vintage, they didn’t set any aside for this phantom bubbly they hinted about, so they finally have enough to release to everyone.  YAY!!!

If you read my post yesterday, you may recall mentioning that Flambeaux’s 2017 Zin was named as one of the “21 Amazing Zinfandels to Buy Right Now” by Food & Wine Magazine.  Well, Dutton-Goldfield’s 2017 Morelli Lane Zinfandel was also named in that list!  However, I always have blinders on and think Pinot/Chardonnay, I quickly dismissed the Zin.  I have HUGE regrets that I didn’t give that wine the attention it deserved.  I was rushing to purchase the wines I wanted to take with me and get to my next appointment that I just sipped it and set it aside.

If you’re in town, check them out!  I absolutely love their Pinots.  And learn from my mistakes – they make amazing other varietals!!!



By Pandemic Wine Tour, Wineries One Comment

When I decided to visit Sonoma County, the first “winery” I knew I wanted to visit was Flambeaux.  If you followed along on my “30 Wineries in 30 Days” journey earlier this year, you may have read about my visit to Flambeaux.  During my first tasting, I told Art about my 30 Days “thing”.  He seemed genuinely interested.  I’d mentioned to a lot of the folks I visited on that trip.  But, I don’t think anyone was as dedicated to following the journey as Art.  Well, maybe my friends.


Over the past 10 months, I’ve followed Flambeaux on Insta.  Like so many wineries during the pandemic they were doing live events.  I enjoyed getting to know him and his family through their posts.  And he continued to follow and like my posts.  So when I made a really quick “stock up” trip to Sonoma County in July, Art commented that he was bummed I hadn’t scheduled a visit to the vineyards.

Well, when I got the wild idea to come to Sonoma this month, I immediately reached out to Art first.  The original trip was supposed to be similar to my July trip – drive out on Friday, visit a couple of wineries on Saturday, and drive home on Sunday.  Just a quick escape out of the house.  You see, I definitely err on the side of caution during this pandemic.  I’ve embraced grocery delivery.  I now have a stand to hold my phone or tablet while I FaceTime with friends for hours.  I haven’t hugged a friend in MONTHS.  I haven’t dined inside of a restaurant.  I’ve done a few patio dinners.  But even those seem risky to me.  I prefer to support my favorite restaurants with curbside pickup.  My point is – a trip to Sonoma is really outside of my comfort zone during a pandemic.

I decided to take the trip on October 11th.  I left home on October 16th.  During those five days I canceled and rebooked the trip four times.  Was a trip like this responsible?  I am 99% sure I don’t have Covid.  I rarely leave the house.  I don’t interact with people.  I drive around with disinfecting wipes in my car.  I wear a mask everywhere I go – including the drive through window at McDonald’s.  But, will the people I interact with in California see me as a risk?  Am I putting their health in danger?  And, on the flip side, am I putting myself at risk?

My cautious friends and family encouraged me to go.  They all said as long as I take the same precautions while traveling as I do at home, I should be fine.  It took me 30 minutes to disinfect my hotel room.  My fingers were literally pruning because they’d been using wet disinfecting wipes for so long.  I know that hotels are being very careful.  But do they disinfect the hangers or the wall behind my pillows?  I wasn’t taking any chances!

So here I am.  And you’re probably now wondering – I thought this post was about Flambeaux.  It is.  Here we go.  My first stop (after refueling and finding a restroom) was Art Murray’s home and the Flambeaux estate vineyards on the west side of Dry Creek Valley.

Flambeaux-GateThe vineyards are located up a narrow lane off of Dry Creek Road.  And I just giggled when I pulled up to a locked gate.  If you remember my previous trip, I struggled with winery gates and the sequence to get them to open.  Do I call?  Is there a code?  Do I just pull up far enough?

Once through the gate, I drove up the pretty steep driveway and was greeted by Art and Stella.  Stella is their huge, fluffy dog who is making quite the name for herself.  She’s the cover model on the 4th edition of Wine Dogs California book.  Stella seemed more excited to see my Jeep than me.  Art quickly exclaimed they have a friend who owns a Jeep and brings along a four-legged friend for Stella.  Sorry, girl!  You’re stuck with just me.

StellaWe headed up to the family’s amazing deck that overlooks the valley with sweeping views of the Mayacamas.  The view is breathtaking.  The family purchased the property back in 2012 and has worked hard over the past eight years to create a gorgeous, welcoming home.  You can’t visit wine country without discussing the recent fires.  The Walbridge fire came uncomfortably close to their back door.  Art described the phone calls with the fire department and the harrowing night when they weren’t sure if their house would be standing in the morning.  But it was.  The fire came to the top of the ridgeline behind their property.  But the firefighters were able to hold the flames from coming down the hill.

Flambeaux-ViewI’m 790 words into this post and I haven’t even talked about wine!  We did drink wine, too!  But, as Art has observed through my Instagram and blog posts, I don’t get into the details of the wine.  There are plenty of places out there for you to get wine reviews and tasting notes.  I write about the experience.  My website is really just my personal journal.  And I hope – if you’re still reading – that my experiences promote these wineries – and the people – that I’ve come to love.

We started off with his 2019 Rose.  I really liked the 2018 and picked up a couple of bottles of it in January which I quickly finished.  Sadly, I made the decision to leave the Cab and Zins that I purchased in my wine locker so I hadn’t tasted them since my tasting in January.  And I was anxious to revisit.  After the yummy rose (some of which came home with me), we dove into the 2017 Estate Zin.  OMG.  It was better than I remembered.  Food & Wine Magazine recently called out their 2017 Dry Creek Zin as one of the “21 Amazing Zinfandels to Buy Right Now“.  That’s pretty impressive for this little winery that produces about 1500 cases each year.  I’m stinkin’ excited to have a handful of these in my collection.  Funny enough, I just realized I tried another wine that made the list on my next stop!  More on that tomorrow!

I remember being shocked at the price-point on Flambeaux wine.  It’s incredibly reasonable for the quality.  I’m sitting here asking myself – why didn’t I buy more of that 2017 Zin????  It’s only $40 and I’m now a proud member of the “Founder’s Club” and get a discount on top of that!  WHAT!?!?!

Flambeaux-WineArt poured a sneak peek taste of the 2018 Dry Creek Zinfandel for me as well.  And you better believe I’ll be getting some of those upon their release.  I think that may have been my favorite of the day!

We then moved onto Cab.  And I enjoy his Cabernet Sauvignons.  Most people don’t think Cab when they think Dry Creek Valley.  But, I know from personal experience that some amazing Cabernet Sauvignon is produced out of that region.  And the price-point is must easier on the wallet than the stuff produced over in Napa.  We had what I thought was a really interesting conversation about grape costs between the two areas.  I apparently geek out on the economics of wine production.

Flambeaux has quickly become one of my favorite wineries for quite a few reasons.  First: Art Murray.  I could sit and chat with that man all day.  He’s kind and personable and a wonderful host.  He immediately grabbed his phone to connect me with a new-to-me winery for later on this trip.  I knew there was a reason I hadn’t booked anything for Tuesday!

Second: the wine.  I’ve already mentioned how it’s an amazing value.  I remember thinking that on my first visit.  I picked up a half a case without knowing the price.  And was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it was.  It’s delicious and getting some great reviews and press.

Third: Ryan Prichard.  Ryan is their wine maker.  You may have heard the name before.  He’s also the winemaker over at Three Sticks and was recently awarded the highest wine industry honor by LuxeSF and San Francisco Magazine, the 2020 Rising Star: Winemaker of the Year award.  My first tasting was brief and I remember regretting asking Art how he chose his winemaker.  And it was a question I knew I wanted to ask on this visit and did.  Apparently Ryan is the friend of their real estate agent or something like that?  It’s definitely some random – and lucky – connection!  I’m excited to see follow along on their journey!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

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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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.