30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 16: RAEN

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RAEN was a winery that was on my radar for a couple of months.  I’d stumbled upon a bottle at the wine store and picked it up because it was pricier and because it was Sonoma Coast.  I’m fairly certain it was their 2017 Sonoma Coast Royal St Robert Cuvee.  And I wasn’t overly impressed.  I then dined at Saison last fall and now that I look at the menu, I see that I was served the exact same wine – and vintage!  And I loved it.  I guess it was my mood or the food or some other factor.

Anyway, RAEN (pronounced like “rain”) made the list.  What I didn’t know about RAEN until doing a bit more research is that two of Robert Mondavi’s grandsons decided they wanted to make Pinot Noir.  With a backing and knowledge of the Mondavi family, how can you go wrong?  But they wanted to make Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  And that’s what they did!  They found some Sonoma Coast growers and leased some acreage and were off and running.

Their wine is made in Sebastapol along with Pax.  They have a nice network of winemakers who help and support each other.  They make extremely limited production wines.  Fewer than 3000 cases.  And they now make a Chardonnay, too, that is quite nice!

My Tasting

I don’t really want to call it “My Visit” because there’s not much to visit.  They’re new and small.  Their tastings are held in the Vintage House hotel in St. Helena.  When I walked in the front door, I had a feeling that Emily – the person I’d made my reservation with and had spoken to – was sitting in the lobby waiting for me.  And, I was right.  So, we headed upstairs to a small seating area and I tasted through all four of their current releases!


I don’t have many photos because there’s not much to share.  There’s wine and a hotel lobby.  Ha Ha!  But, it doesn’t matter the setting.  They have snazzy almost tech sheets with tasting notes.  They actually look identical to the labels on the bottles with tasting notes on the back.  Here’s a fun tip – if you’re ever popping the cork on a bottle of RAEN, look at the cork!  Each one is unique to that particular bottling and vintage.  You’ll find the time the grapes were picked along with the cycle of the moon.  Maybe you can use that as a trick at a restaurant – take the cork, quickly look at the side, sniff it, and declare you can tell from the scent those details!

The Wine

The guys started out doing a partial cluster fermentation and have worked up to whole cluster.  I believe 2017 was their first vintage of 100% whole cluster.  Tip for my wine girlfriends who – like me – thought they hated whole cluster pinots!  I think we were trying the wrong pinots.  I discovered this a little while ago as so many are whole cluster but don’t market that piece of info.  These were delicious.  Whatever it was that made us not like whole cluster had something else that caused us to not like it!

My favorite of the wines was hands down the 2018 Sea Field Pinot Noir from the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA.  I love the Fort Ross-Seaview wines.  If you’re not familiar with it, don’t worry – it’s a pretty new AVA that was only approved in 2012.

Anyway, you’ll be lucky to get your hands on one of their wines.  Only the Sonoma Coast Royal St Robert Cuvee makes it out into the market.  I’m honestly surprised that I even found it in a wine store where I live.  The rest of their wines are only sold to their allocation list members.  I’m excited to see these guys build this label in the future!  They have plans to buy a vineyard property, start growing estate fruit, and build their own winery.  It’ll be fun to watch!

They do offer tastings by appointment.  I didn’t have to trick anyone or beg.  If you’re in town, schedule a tasting with Emily!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 15: Kistler

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I had a blast at my tasting appointment at Kistler.  Once again, it was the experience that made it great.  Don’t get me wrong, the wines were all spectacular.  But my THREE HOURS spent at Kistler were so much fun.

I arrived a couple of minutes late for my appointment – very rare for me.  But, my appointment time was for 2pm right when I was scheduled to finish work.  Kistler is located only about 7 minutes from my Airbnb so I left at the last possible minute.  Why does this matter?  You’ll see.


Kistler is also a winery behind a locked gate.  I love their little roadhouse (former brothel) up on the hill.  I’ve driven by many times so I was excited I was finally able to pass through that gate!  I apologize for the rainy, through-the-window photo, but I loved the scene even if it was a yucky, rainy day.

When I called up to the Roadhouse, I was told to pull up to the white house and someone would come get me.  Ummm….okay.  So I sat in my Jeep.  And out came my tasting host of the day with an umbrella.

My Visit

Once inside, I was delighted to see I wasn’t alone!  I even said so.  Two lovely women were seated and already enjoying their 2013 Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast.  When I came in they each stood up and shook my hand.  I assumed these were winery employees.  No other customers would stand and shake my hand.   They’d stay seated and continue sipping on their wine.  But, they told me they were friends.  One was visiting from North Carolina for the week and the other was up from Carneros.  Okay.  Whatever.  I didn’t give it another thought.  Though, I did think it was weird that the gal from North Carolina didn’t have any idea what other wineries she might visit.  But, everyone is different.


We moved into the tasting room which probably has gorgeous views on sunny days!  But the view still wasn’t bad.  I’d signed up for the 7-wine chardonnay and pinot noir tasting paired with “dips and butter”.  I’ve been making fun of that pairing ever since I booked it.  It wasn’t a cheap tasting and there was no refund or credit if you purchased wine.  In fact, I knew that I would only be allowed to purchase up to 4 bottles of wine as their wines are so highly allocated.

The woman next to me quickly asked if she could keep the pen because it was so nice.  I giggled as I’ve been swiping winery pens everywhere I go.  I’m building quite the collection!  And the Kistler pens were nice with just a “K” written on the barrel – perfect for someone whose name begins with a K!  The tasting host said we could take anything that would fit in my purse.  And I was pretty sure I could squeeze one or two of those Riedel Veritas Oaked Chardonnay or New World Pinot glasses in mine!

The Wines


The tasting began.  And, in the style I like, all wines were poured rather quickly side-by-side.  Here’s the lineup:

  • 2013 Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2017 Trenton Roadhouse Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)
  • 2017 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2015 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2016 Stone Flat Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)
  • 2015 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay (Carneros)
  • 2016 Cuvee Natalie Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
  • 2016 Laguna Ridge Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)

I found it interesting that, similar to Williams-Selyem, they use the same barrels for every bottle and vintage.  Though, they do use two different coopers.  They also use only one chardonnay clone in every vineyard.  So you’re really going to see how the terrior and vintage and aging impacts the wines.  All other factors are the same (barrels and clones).  Well….I guess there’s one other difference that was shared.  The Durrell Vineyard and Stone Flat Vineyards are separated by a path – so they’re essentially the same.  However, they have different rootstock.

For Pinot Noir, they have two different clones.  I believe he said they were Swan and Pommard.  Look at me knowing clones!  I’m learning something on this journey.

Between the three of us we discussed the similarities.  I was really intimated by the gal from North Carolina.  She seemed to know wine and asked some great questions.  I decided that the 2015 vintages of the Durrell and Hyde were my favorite.  I’ve come to learn I like Hyde fruit.  When I see that vineyard on a label, I wouldn’t be afraid to buy that wine without tasting it.  Everyone wanted to know my favorite producer of Hyde.  Ummmm….who would ask that?

My Visit Continued

As is usual in a group setting, we chatted about lots of things – restaurants, lodging options, etc.  I’d mentioned that I had a super fun experience at a restaurant the night before when I was seated next to some winemakers.  I won’t dive into that story here as I hope I’ll have a reason to share it later!  But, they agreed that you never know who you might bump into in wine country.

Then something was mentioned about Gwyneth Paltrow.  I missed what was said.  But, the gal from North Carolina shared the she had the opportunity to host Gwyneth once.  Ummm….who is this person?  She was dressed very stylishly.  She knew her wine.  She travels for wine (like me).  And, she has some pretty famous friends.

It was then that they came clean.  They were in fact Kistler employees!  They had decided to deceive me (their words).  But everything they’d said was completely truthful.  They were the ones who had designed that pen.  They were also the ones who had designed this tasting experience!  Normally for this tasting experience you need to have at least 2 people.  However, I really wanted to taste Kistler wines and I wanted to taste as many as I could.  So, I picked up the phone and called the winery.  And they accommodated me!  I wasn’t surprised I wasn’t tasting alone.  I assumed they’d add me to another party doing the same tasting as they were pretty specific with which dates were available.

And then we relaxed and had fun.  The Gwyneth story?  They hosted her at the winery for a private tasting with her boyfriend.  She even got to sit by the fire and chat with them for awhile.

Now they could ask me questions about my opinions on the fact that they did not have a tasting sheet out for me while tasting.  They taste the wines side-by-side.  And, they do a “dip and butter” tasting.  Oh!  I haven’t shared that with you, have I?  Funny story – everything in the photo was for me.  I thought it was weird the other two had to share a board since it was served before they let me know they worked for Kistler.  Now it made sense and I  no longer felt guilty!


OMG!  That butter!  It was crazy incredible.  And, since I knew they were all employees who created this, I was honest with them – they need more dippers!!!

Remember how I said that the gal from North Carolina was pretty stylish?  Apparently she stressed over what to wear to our tasting.  They’d been planning this ruse for awhile.  Apparently all of the winery employees were in on this.  Someone else came in to ask a question of one of them.  They let her know I was now in on their secret.  She commented on the noise level of our laughter that it sounded like there must have been a dozen of us!  We were enjoying ourselves.  But one winery employee could have blown it.  He walked by outside and waved like a giddy school girl up to us.  Ha Ha!

I was so happy they came clean earlier rather than later.  I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my clock when I got into my Jeep.  I’d been there for three hours!  Yikes!

Sadly, even though they brought me extra pens, multiples of their engraved glass water bottles, and a Kistler canvas tote, I didn’t get any special treatment when it came to purchasing wine.  I opted for a bottle of each of the 2015 wines I’d tasted.  I was only allowed 1 bottle of each.  The 2017 wines I can get through my allocation, the 2013 isn’t available at all, and the 2016 wines didn’t excite me as much.  But look at that packaging!  Everything was just a little nicer than everywhere else.  And their wines are really reasonably priced by comparison.


Closing Thoughts

Kistler was one of the wineries I’d been most looking forward to.  Funny enough, they appeared on my radar last year when I was seeking out Green Valley wine.  I was pretty sad when I realized they produced mostly chardonnay.  But, last fall I really started to fall in love with chardonnay.  I was excited since they’d made an exception for me and allowed me to taste.  And, I loved the one wine of theirs I had tried elsewhere before my visit.  So, the lesson learned here is don’t be afraid to ask!  I wouldn’t have been upset if they didn’t let me sign up for the tasting since it had a minimum of 2 people.  I’m so glad I picked up the phone that day!  I’ve also already placed the order for my allocation – much more confidently now that I’ve had the opportunity to taste their wines.


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 14: DaVero

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I’m breaking one of my rules today.  I previously visited DaVero.  This winery was not on my original list – I warned you it may change!  But, I decided that it was close enough to qualifying that it deserved to make my lineup.  I initially visited DaVero two years ago as part of the 2018 Dry Creek Passport event.  And I was NOT impressed.  I loved their wines.  But they refused to sell to me at the event because I wasn’t a member.  I can understand that as part of their normal process, but at a passport weekend event?  Why is a winery participating???  Just to gain members?  I’ve vented about this with so many people, I’ve lost count!

DaVero has come up as a suggestion at least a half a dozen times over the past year.  Every time I explain that I’ve been there, but see absolutely no reason to go back.  However, while I had friends joining me in Sonoma for Wine Road’s Winter Wineland event (I’ll be posting about that in a couple of weeks), one of my friends wanted to sign up and become a member.  He really loves DaVero wines and wants to be able to purchase them.  So, one of the days he was here I treated him to a tasting at Flowers and he treated me to a tasting at DaVero with our member perks.  I haven’t decided if I’ll share about our Flowers visit as it, too, breaks my rules.

Oh, and I made sure to share my experience with DaVero who apologized up and down.  And at the end of my visit, our tasting host (I don’t recall his name) asked if my opinion changed – and it indeed has.

My Visit

DaVero is more than just a winery, it’s a farm as well.  In addition to wine, they also produce olive oils and jams.  We were given a brief tour of the farm and even met Boris, their winery pig.  Despite appearances, Boris isn’t soft and cuddly.  He’s really wiry and pretty dirty.  I mean – he is a pig!  I’m not sure he enjoyed all of the attention I gave him as he almost immediately got up and wandered out of his little barn.  I snapped all sorts of photos of the farm so I’m just going to dump them below for your viewing pleasure.  The building in the last photo is where our private tasting was held. I’ve visited in the Spring and their farm is gorgeous when it’s not winter!




DaVero-Tasting-ShedThe Wines

After our tour, we headed into our little “shed”.  That’s the best term I can use to describe it.  It’s was cozy and comfortable.


DaVero specializes in Italian Varietals.  And we were here for their Sagrantino.  My friend absolutely loves their Sagrantino and scored some a few years back.  Apparently we have their Sagrantino to thank – it’s the reason they’re a winery and not an olive….orchard?  Is that what you call a farm that grows olives, an orchard?  You get the picture.  The story goes that their owner had a taste of Sagrantino and declared that his business was ruined.  I think that’s the word that was used.  He returned to his property and started planting grapes!


The map above illustrates why Italian varietals grow well in Northern California – it has some geographical similarities to Italy.  I’ve heard the same about Oregon and France when comparing Pinot Noir regions.

The tasting experience was delightful and paired with small bites that also highlight their olive oils and jams.  And, pretty unique for a winery, as a member you have the option to get some of their olive oils and jams in your club allocation.  I’m not a member but thought it was a fun feature – I enjoyed what I tasted!


Closing Thoughts

I’m honestly glad I returned for another visit.  That’s what I love about passport or event weekends.  You have the opportunity to visit a winery and try a small selection of their wines.  It’s enough to give you a taste to see if you like their style of wines.  It’s then fun to return and try some of their other lineup during a more personal visit.  That’s exactly what happened here!

If you’d like to continue to read all about my 30 Wineries in 30 Days, click here to view them all!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 13: Wheeler Farms

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Today’s visit to Wheeler Farms was the result of another Wine Spectator review while looking for non-Pinot Noir wines.  I’d initially stumbled upon Tor Wines and wanted to try some of their Cabernet Sauvignons.  I quickly learned that all of their tastings are held at the Wheeler Farms Custom Crush Facility in St Helena.  And, to my disappointment (or so I initially thought), they do portfolio tastings that feature their own wines and a few of their member wineries.  Hmmm…I wanted to taste Tor wines.

Like a few others, when making my appointment, they wanted to know my wine preferences and what I was looking for.  I honestly can’t recall exactly what I shared.  Apparently I didn’t share that I’m a Pinot Freak.  Sometimes when I make my appointments, I was purposefully leaving that out if I thought the wines I was hoping to try didn’t include Pinot Noir.  I don’t think that’s always a wise decision now that I look back.  There’s nothing wrong with being honest and wanting to branch out to try new things!

My Visit

After being welcomed into their gated facility and figuring out where to park (it’s not overly obvious), I was met in the parking lot by Patrick with glasses of the Wheeler Farms Sauvignon Blanc for us both.  He led me on a brief tour of their pretty high-tech crush facility.  I learned all of the ins and outs and pros and cons of optical sorting vs human sorting.  They also have technology to enable their wine makers to remotely monitor their wines.  It’s a very new facility.  The owners only purchased the property about 6 years ago and built the facility from the ground up.

Their tasting lounge is contemporary and fresh with a smallish kitchen where they prepare their food pairings.  They offer two different tastings – both of which feature food pairings.  I believe I must have reserved the Winemakers of Wheeler Farms experience.


My Tasting

Once seated, I glanced at the wine bottles that were sitting on the table and was instantly annoyed.  There wasn’t a single TOR wine on the table.  The Wheeler Farms tasting experiences are NOT inexpensive.  I wondered if I should mention it – ultimately, I spoke up.  Patrick explained that he was aware and we would be tasting some TOR wine.  Okay.  Redeemed.  Below is the initial lineup (listed from left to right).


  • 2018 Wheeler Farms Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2017 Vice Versa Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • 2016 Wheeler Farms Rutherford Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2016 Roam Sleeping Lady Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2016 Accendo Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

I was so very excited about the second wine of the tasting – that Vice Versa Platt Pinot Noir.  I’ve had other pinots from the Platt vineyard and loved them.  Sadly, the winery that had been producing them is no longer getting from that vineyard.  I had hoped a Vice Versa wine would be on my tasting menu – and there it sat!  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next up was the Wheeler Cuvee.  I don’t remember much about it.  I don’t remember hating it.  But, it was quickly overshadowed by the next two.  I took my first sip of the 2016 Roam Sleeping Lady and almost fell out of my chair.  I quickly declared it to be my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon of the trip – and I’ve had some pretty spectacular cabs so far.  But lets first talk about that bottle!  It’s probably not evident from the photo, but that is a copper medallion on the front of the bottle.  Each one is struck, curved, and attached to each bottle by hand.  You can read all about the full process on Roam’s website.  If I recall, Roam only produces around 500 cases in total each year.  So, it is certainly a very small, limited, amazing wine.

The fifth wine in the official tasting was the 2016 Accendo Cellars Cab.  I had also hoped to get to try a wine of theirs.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Accendo.  I didn’t realize it was  created by Wheeler Farms owners who previously produced Araujo.  The Accendo wines are now produced by the next generation of the Araujo family.  I took one sip and forgot all about the Roam I’d just declared as the best wine of the journey.  Oh my gosh!  It was incredible.

The Pairings

The chef brought out bites at the beginning of the tasting that paired perfectly with the wines I tasted.  Because each visit is customized, the menu varies.  But, they have a bite for every wine.  Unfortunately, the menu recently changed so the first bite was new and I don’t have a description.  However, here are the three from left to right starting with the second bite:

  • Sonoma Lamb & Spring Vegetable Risotto
  • Pork & Duck Cassoulet
  • Roasted Beef Short Rib with Garlic Ponne Puree, Garden Broccoli, Thyme Jus & Crispy Onions


Now that Patrick had a better idea of my palate and preferences, we chatted about TOR.  Apparently many of their cabs are “punch you in the face” style.  That’s not my style.  So, he opted to pull out the 2017 TOR Cimarossa Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  I wasn’t overly excited about it.  I’m not afraid to say that.  It’s just not my style.  It made me appreciate that Roam and Accendo even more!

Here’s where it gets dangerous.  I had no idea how much any of these wines cost.  Well, I knew what the price point was on the Roam because I asked.  But, there was no price sheet.  No order form.  This didn’t feel like the other tasting experiences where I felt like I was in an MLM pressured sales pitch.  Apparently that was by design!  And I LOVED it.  I also loved that I tasted each wine without the knowledge that I should appreciate a more expensive wine over a cheaper wine.

The visit was very comparable to my visit at Spire that I visited a few days ago.  Both are higher end, luxury, hard-to-find wines.

I highly recommend a visit to Wheeler Farms.  You’ll taste some incredible wines.  The experiences aren’t inexpensive but will be waived if you make a large enough purchase.  I can’t wait for my next visit – Patrick even seemed to invite me back within the next few weeks while I’m still in the area.  He promised to pull out a completely new set of wines.  Oh, so tempting!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 12: Lewis Cellars

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I know exactly why Lewis Cellars made my list!  I was served a glass of their 2017 Reserve Chardonnay at The French Laundry last fall.  It was love at first sip as I enjoyed their super creamy and luscious chardonnay – one I would expect out of Napa.  So, when I sought out wineries to visit, Lewis Cellars quickly made the list.  Sadly, they’ve just run out of that 2017 Reserve Chardonnay.  The 2018 is being released in a few weeks and I’ve been promised I will love it.

Lewis Cellars is located on what I now call “race car lane” directly across from Andretti Winery.  If you’re into Indy car racing, you may be familiar with Randy Lewis.  I am not an avid follower, so I didn’t recognize the name.  But, Randy Lewis had a nice career racing cars for a living before retiring to make wine.  Their website didn’t provide a ton of history.  However, I enjoyed hearing all about it from David this morning.  Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (not their reserve) was the #1 rated wine in 2016 by Wine Spectator.  The trophy is even on display in the tasting room.  I guess there’s a reason their wine is being served at The French Laundry.


I found all four of the wines I was served to be wonderful and affordable for the quality.  However, I really enjoyed their 2018 Napa Chardonnay and 2017 Alec’s Blend the most.  They’re definitely daily drinkers in my opinion.  Don’t get me wrong, I thought their cabernets were lovely, but I’m building quite the selection of amazing 2016 Cabernet Sauvignons.  And I don’t drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon.

  • 2018 Napa Chardonnay
  • 2017 Alec’s Blend (Napa Valley)
  • 2017 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

My Visit

When I made my reservations, David and I had the opportunity to chat about how I’d come to find them.  He asked my preferences.  And, I was excited to see he was doing my tasting.  We had a great visit and he provided some great suggestions that I look into researching.

It was a private, seated tasting.  There were no bells and whistles.  But it was relaxed, casual, and comfortable.  Their winery is easy to pass by!  In fact, I did…..twice!  I pulled out my reservation notes and quickly identified their location that sat back off of the road in a grey and blue chateau.


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 11: Laurel Glen

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Laurel Glen found its way to my list when I realized I’d never really visited the Glen Ellen area.  So, I sought out a couple of Glen Ellen wineries.  Granted, Hanzell could probably qualify – maybe – I’m terrible with geography!  However, Laurel Glen is the first of two that I settled on.  And both of my choices appear to be very different.

When making my reservation I didn’t even realize they were a member with Grand Cru Custom Crush until I saw their logo hanging on the wall as I waited for my Flambeaux tasting earlier in this adventure.  I had remembered that I had an option of a Windsor or Glen Ellen location when I made my reservation.  Since I’ve already been to GCCC on this trip, I’m glad my tasting was held at the vineyard location.  There’s one more GCCC member winery left on my list this trip – and I purposefully chose their second tasting location as well.

The Laurel Glen vineyard is located on the eastern slopes of Sonoma Mountain – the smallest AVA in Sonoma County with only 667 planted acres.  They produce a whole lotta Cabernet Sauvignon and have been for 40 years!

My Visit

The tasting here was a basic wine tasting.  No frills.  No fancy food.  But, amazing wine that ages beautifully!  I had read that you can look forward to experiencing a vertical of Cabernet Sauvignon as your tasting flight.  And I was NOT disappointed!  Laurel Glen purposefully sets aside a large volume of each vintage to release later after they’ve had time to age.  They grow all of their own fruit except for the first wine – a Sauvignon Blanc.  That fruit comes from a small family winery in Windsor.  It’s delightful!


We quickly moved into their Cabs.  First up was their Counterpoint label.  It’s a Cab/Merlot blend that is extremely affordable and nicely rated receiving several 90+ point ratings from respectable reviewers.

Next we moved onto their 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon followed by their 2013 “barrel select” Cabernet Sauvignon.  They chose 6 of their barrels of cab to put into this bottle based upon their stringent criteria for structure and and complexity.  This one was called Lot 45 as it commemorates their 45th year since their Cab was first planted.  This will be the only bottle ever labeled Block 45.

Finally we moved to my favorite of the day – and the one that came home with me – their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s drinking beautifully right now.  And, for a library wine, the price point is spectacular!  It’s only $10 more than their current release.  I’ll pay that all day long for 7 years of aging – giving me a perfectly aged Cabernet Sauvignon that is ready for drinking right now.


If you’d like to continue reading about my 30 Wineries in 30 Days adventure, click here to view them all!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 10: Matthiasson

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We’re one-third of the way through the journey and visiting Matthiasson today!  This winery made my list based upon a recommendation.  Last month I was chatting with a friend and wine broker.  I showed him my list of wineries and asked for suggestions.  He rattled off dozens.  But, Matthiasson was the one that was quickly added to the almost complete list.

Driving to the winery I began to question my GPS again.  I really thought it was taking me to an Over 55 Community.  It was very residential.  But, this is Napa.  You’ll find wineries everywhere.  And, as it turns out, we were tasting in the owner and winemaker’s backyard in a newly constructed tasting room and production facility that really looked like a house.

I had heard of the Matthiasson brand.  But I knew absolutely nothing about it.  If you check out the Press section of their website, you will be blown away!  Here are just some of the things that jumped out at me:

  • 2019 James Beard Award Finalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2018 James Beard Award Finalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2017 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2016 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2015 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2014 James Beard Award Semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional
  • 2018 Top Wineries by Wine & Spirits Magazine
  • 2018 50 Best Wines by Vinepair

That’s just a handful.  The  list of accolades is LONG.  And, Steve really needs to win a James Beard Award, right?!?!  Maybe 2020 is his year!  I’d seen tons of James Beard signs around the tasting room and now I know why.

My Visit

Matthiasson hosts small groups for tastings.  I was joined by three others – including one of their wine club members and our tasting host, Audra.  We were all originally from New Jersey and compared notes the entire time.  It was a nice break to have company at another of my tastings.  Matthiasson is a relatively small winery producing around 8,000 cases per year.  Here’s a little trick to knowing how limited one of their wines may be.  There are images of shears on their labels.  The more shears on the label, the more widely distributed the wine.  A label with one shear is probably only available at the winery and maybe not even available to their member list – like a couple of those that we tasted.  And, now, looking at the photo below, I only purchased wine bottles with the fewest shears.

We tasted the wines pictured below from right to left.


We started off with their 2016 Napa Valley White Wine which is currently listed as Sold Out on their website. It’s a blend made up of roughly 50 percent Sauvignon blanc, 25 percent Ribolla gialla, 20 percent Semillon, and 5 percent Tocai friulano.  HUH?  A couple of those aren’t exactly common.  However, what interested me was that they share some of their Ribolla gialla with Ryme Wineries – another favorite of mine over in Forestville.  This one is widely available and popular.  It makes up about 30% of their total production each year.

Next up was a yummy Napa Chardonnay called Linda Vista from the 2018 vintage.  It was quite delightful.  And I liked it until I tried their 2016 Michael Mara Chardonnay grown out on the Sonoma Coast.  What is it with me and Sonoma Coast?  It was explained that this wine almost bankrupted the winery.  The soil in the vineyard is insanely rocky.  Ultimately, they had to sell most of the grapes to cover the cost of planting the vineyard.  But, they held onto some – thankfully.  And this is the wine that was produced – a whopping 273 cases.

Our fourth wine was an amazing Pinot Noir from Limerick Lane over by Healdsburg.  I’m a little sad about this one.  It’s a 2012 vintage.  It was JUST released.  They don’t have any tech info on their website about this one.  So, I’m working from memory here.  They aged it in barrels for two years and then in bottles for five.  Steve and his wife sampled the bottles monthly and finally deemed it ready for release.  40 cases were made. These will be the only cases of this wine ever produced because they ripped out the yummy Pinot Noir after the 2012 vintage and planted GRENACHE in its place.  Sigh.  This wine was not made available to wine club members.  This is a tasting room exclusive.  And some of this rare wine is now part of my collection!  Will I be able to bring myself to drink it?

Fifth was their 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux blend made up of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  It was enjoyable.  But I am have large collection of 2016 Napa Cabs.  The price point was certainly very attractive at $65!

Next up was their 2015 Napa Valley Red Wine.  This was my least favorite of the lineup.  And when I learned of the wine’s makeup, I quickly understood why – 49 percent Merlot, 38 percent Cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent Cabernet franc, 5 percent Petit verdot, and 2 percent Malbec.  Darn you, Merlot.

The final wine was a true delight!  It was a late harvest Viognier that was allowed to go to raisin before being picked.  They then jumped on the whole cluster fruit to extract the juice.  I’m just picturing them jumping on the clusters.  Ha Ha!  It has the perfect amount of sweetness without being syrupy.  We all agreed that we were in love.  I do not buy dessert wines.  I’ve added this one to my collection.

Other Thoughts

Sorry, I only took the one photo.  I was the last to arrive (but not late) so I quickly sat down so as not to delay the other guests.  My back was to the view the entire tasting.  The tasting room is tight.  You can kind of get an idea of how tight if you look closely at the photo.  You can see three of the walls.  There’s just barely enough room for the table and seats on each side.  And, it was kind of a dreary day.

I will honestly say that Matthiasson should be put at the top of your list of wineries to visit.  It’s off of the beaten path on the western side of Napa in a residential neighborhood.  Their wines are fun and unique.

To keep reading about my 30 Wineries in 30 Days adventure, click here!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 9: La Jota

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I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I requested a tasting of La Jota wines.  While trying to fill in my wine tasting schedule, I sought out some highly rated Napa Cabs.  And I just realized (after my visit) that I focused on the wrong wine!  Ha Ha!  That’s okay.  The visit was still a lot of fun and very memorable.  It was actually  La Jota’s 2016 Howell Mountain Merlot that was ranked as the #37 wine of the year last year by Wine Spectator Magazine that had caught my eye.


Why wasn’t I sure what to expect?  Well, when I contacted La Jota I learned that I would also be tasting other “Spire Collection” wines.  Ummm….okay.  Not what I asked for.  I kinda hate that.  That’s happened on two of my days – the other is still to come.

Who is Spire?

I tried (not very hard) to figure out what I was walking into.  What I pictured was a facility like Grand Cru Custom Crush over in Windsor that’s a Co-Op for wineries with about twenty different members.  Spire is actually the luxury collection of wines for the Jackson Family of Wineries.  Some of these brands only produce one wine.  And their vineyards are located all over the world.  Hmmm…I came here to drink California wine, thank you very much.  Grrrr.

Jessica greeted me at my Jeep.  She led me into the tasting room and showed me the start of the lineup for the day.  We were beginning with an Alexander Valley Chardonnay, a McLaren Vale Cabernet Franc (yes, Australia), a mystery wine that I would blind taste, and the La Jota 2016 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  When I’d contacted Jessica initially, she’d asked me about my wine preferences.  She customized my tasting based upon my comments.  And, while I loved Pinot, we initially stayed away from Pinot.  I’d told her that I really love Cab Franc in hopes of tasting the La Jota Cabernet Franc.


My Tasting

We started with the Legacy winery’s 2016 Alexander Valley Chardonnay.  It was really enjoyable.  If you followed the wrath of the Kincade fire last fall, you may recall that one of the Jackson family’s daughters lost her home in that fire in Geyserville.  However, it doesn’t sound like the vineyard where this particular Chardonnay is sourced from was impacted.

Next was The Nest, a 2017 Hickinbotham Cabernet Franc from McLaren Vale.  I absolutely fell in love with this wine.  I will drink this wine all day long.  I’m certain it pairs wonderfully with food.  But, it’s also an easy sipper, too.  What’s interesting about Hickinbotham is that their wine maker is also the same wine maker at La Jota…and a couple of other brands!  The Spire Collection sends Chris Carpenter over to Australia each year for about eight weeks for harvest and production!

The next wine was in my glass, but there was no corresponding bottle.  I was tasting this one blind.  I picked it up and examined it.  The color intensity and opacity matched that of the Cabernet Franc from Australia and the yet-to-be-tasted Cabernet Sauvignon that was up next.  It was in a Cabernet/Merlot Riedel glass.  So not Pinot.  Regardless, it was too dark for Pinot.  But not inky enough to be a Syrah.  I assumed that she wasn’t trying to trick me with a wine from another country.  So, I assumed it was probably Napa.  Maybe Sonoma.  I swirled and smelled it.  I also saw sign that it had any age on it.  It was a very young wine.  I declared it to be Merlot.  Jessica quickly asked if I was even going to taste it.  Ooops.  I hadn’t even tasted it.  I know my palate.  It’s not going to help.  I was going to have to use my other analytical skills on this one.  Completely stunned, Jessica pulled out the bottle of Mt Brave 2018 Mt Veeder MERLOT!  She explained it’s rare for people to guess that one correctly.  And I hadn’t even tasted it!  Maybe I have a knack for this blind “tasting” thing yet!

The fourth wine was my requested La Jota 2016 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  And it was good.  It had scored 94 points by WS.  I haven’t met a 2016 Napa Cab that I don’t like.  They’re all incredible.  That’s all I have to say about that one.


But we weren’t done yet.  At Spire they select the first few wines based on your discussion at the time of reservation.  And then they pull out wines based upon your comments on the initial wines they selected.  Well, at least that’s what Jessica did with me.  My fifth wine was the Mt Brave 2014 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Single Block Cabernet Sauvignon.  I wasn’t a fan.  No worries, mate.

Wine number six was one I was instantly excited about.  It was from their Maggy Hawk label.  More specifically it was the 2017 Stormin’ Pinot Noir.  The Maggy Hawk Pinots come from the Anderson Valley.  Since I wasn’t overly excited about the Failla Anderson Valley Pinot, I was excited to try another to see if my initial thoughts on Anderson Valley Pinot were true.  I absolutely fell in love with this one.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Pinot gal and I’ve been drinking Cabs and Merlots and it was comforting to come back to what I love.  It absolutely killed me to not pick up any of it.  But,  I have a lot of amazing Pinot Noir in my collection.

The final wine was a Chardonnay.  From South Africa.  OMG.  This wine ROCKED.  Am I really tasting South African Chardonnay in Calistoga?  Why yes, yes I am.  It was the 2016 Capensis Chardonnay.  They make one wine.  That’s it.  And they do it oh so well.


Closing Thoughts

What a delightful surprise!  I’m so glad I kept an open mind even though I was initially super frustrated with what I thought I was expecting from the tasting.  While I appreciate sitting in a winery – this was pretty close.  We were looking out over Jackson Family Cabernet Sauvignon which will ultimately go into a Freemark Abbey bottle.  The vineyard workers were out in the vineyards while we tasted.  Though, they were tending to fires.  They were burning the trimmings of the vines.  It’s that time of year!


Jessica was knowledgeable about all of the wines under the Spire umbrella.  The experience was 100% tailored to me – right down to the music!  Upon my arrival, I noticed the collection of vintage vinyl and the record player at the far end of the tasting room.  Jessica invited me to select my choice of music for the tasting.  I put on a Beetles album.


Yes, I was here to taste California wine.  But it was actually Australian Cab Franc and South African Chardonnay that ended up coming home with me.  Well, and maybe some of that 2016 La Jota Cab, too.  A friend of mine asked if I had given any thought to hosting a “highlights” dinner.  I hadn’t.  But I am now.  However, I have NO CLUE how I’m going to even begin to narrow down my favorites to share.  But right now that South African Chardonnay is on that list.

Have you been following along on my 30 Wineries in 30 Days journey?  You should be!  Click here to read all about my wineries!


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 8: Failla

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A funny story about Failla….I didn’t think I’d ever heard of them until last fall.  However, I think I was wrong!  This is another one of my PinotFest finds.  However, prior to visiting a winery – besides researching the winery – I do a quick email search to make sure I have the details of my visit correct.  When I searched “Failla”, I found an email from April 2016 that I had tucked away in some random folder about Hopland Wineries.  Failla is not in Hopland.

I had remembered a friend of mine from New Jersey had mentioned going on a wine tasting trip and visiting reservation-only wineries.  I had reached out to her for some recommendations before I took a trip that year.  Unfortunately, I never actually took her up on her suggestions – until now.  But, she had recommended Failla if I wanted to try some Pinot Noir.  The response is the same whenever I mention I’m visiting Failla – people are excited.  So, I was excited!

My Visit

I think I was mostly looking forward to a tasting experience in their cute little cottage.  It was a dreary day.  Warm and cozy sounded good.  I wish I’d read more closely.  My tasting was being conducted in their caves.  Dark, windowless, cold caves.  But I never got to go back into the cottage once we left for our tour.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to hang out in a cave.  Ummmm….  But, I’ve been in a lot of wine caves.  It’s kinda of like – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.  Or maybe I’m missing something.  Who knows.  I had selected the Spotlight Tasting which clearly states it’s held in the cave.  So totally my error.  But there’s also a Cave Tasting.  Whatever.  It’s all about the wine, right?


The first thing you see upon entering the cave are some adorably decorated concrete eggs.  What is it with this concrete egg trend?  It seems like everyone has a concrete egg these days!  Apparently Failla has TWENTY!  What happened to barrels and oakiness?  (I think I’m still grumpy about being in a cave.)  I realized my tasting guide (another name I’ve forgotten) was waiting for me to actually finish my first Chardonnay – their 2017 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay from the Napa Valley.  There was no dump bucket.  I don’t typically finish my pours.  He’d poured it for me before we left the coziness of the house.  Apparently I’m still bitter about the cave.


After downing the first wine, the next pour on our cave tour was their 2017 Haynes Vineyard Chardonnay from Coombsville.  Both Chardonnays were delightful.  And then he led me into my prison for the next hour.  I’m being really awful about this.  It’s my own fault.  And the tasting was actually one of my favorites between the amazing wines and enjoyable conversation.


The Pinots

He had chosen four of their Pinot Noirs to share with me.  All from the 2017 Vintage.  First was from their Estate Vineyard out in the Fort Ross Seaview AVA – one of my favorites for pinot.  The second was from the Hirsch Vineyards – technically also Fort Ross Seaview but apparently Hirsch specifically asks those who buy their grapes to label their bottles with “Sonoma Coast” which is technically still true.  Apparently Hirsch is pushing hard on the new West Sonoma AVA that they’re trying to create.

Next we moved onto the Savoy Vineyard up in Anderson Valley.  I was especially excited to try the Anderson Valley pinot.  I haven’t had many and had heard great things.  However, it was my least favorite of the four.  Don’t get me wrong – all of them were absolutely amazing wines.  You tend to get overly picky and critical when you are ONLY tasting amazing wines.  It happens to me each and every time.  But, I think it was the final pinot that I liked best – their Occidental Ridge from the Sonoma Coast.

Other Comments

I’m going to need to revisit Failla on a future trip.  My opinion was clearly skewed by being in a cave.  As I’ve stated on previous posts, your experience plays such a crucial part on your opinion of a winery.  If you haven’t spent time in a wine cave, you might have a completely opposite opinion.  They make incredible wines.  But due to my own error, my experience was less than optimal.


However, the conversation was great.  Funny enough, as we were getting up from my tasting, my tasting host even said so.  And I believe him.  He honestly sounded surprised that he enjoyed it as much as I did.  He complained that so many people come in and talk about themselves.  Instead, we delved into things like the macroeconomics of wine production which is what he really wants to do in the industry.  I shared my Merus vs ALTVS experience from a few days ago where I questioned the price variance between two wines from essentially the same vineyard and producer.  He was so interested, he’s planning a visit.  It’s through these one-on-one conversations that I’m learning just so much!  And this is only Day 8!!!  There are 22 more wineries on my list.  And many more one-on-one conversations to be had.

To read about all of these wineries, be sure to check out my 30 Wineries in 30 Days series.


30 Wineries in 30 Days – Day 7: Joseph Phelps

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Joseph-Phelps-LogoTo say I enjoyed lunch today at Joseph Phelps is probably an understatement.  But let’s back up a minute as to why they made the list.  Sure, I’m familiar with the Joseph Phelps brand and their Insignia wine.  I’m not sure I’d ever drank a drop of any of it until last fall.  They were also at PinotFest with a few of their pinots where I tried (and liked) them all.  So when my tasting host, Mark, asked why we were here today, I quickly exclaimed that I was there for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir……..and I was the only one.  Ha Ha!

For the first time on this adventure, I wasn’t tasting alone!  It was a delightful change.  Eight of us had signed up for their “Playful Plates” experience.  OMG.  So. Incredibly. Worth. It. Period.  More on that in a minute.  Anyway, the other members at the table quickly volunteered to take my pour of Insignia (a $300 cabernet sauvignon)!  I’m pretty sure someone at the table muttered something about everyone seems to be making a pinot these days.  However, Mark quickly jumped in pointing out that Joseph Phelps’ original goal was to create Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines!  HA HA HA!!!!  See!  I’m not completely off-base.  However, his estate in Napa Valley doesn’t exactly provide the ideal growing conditions for either varietal.  They’re now sourced from his vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA.

My Visit

Upon arrival to Joseph Phelps, I knew this experience would be different than the others.  The parking lot contained more cars than just mine for once!  After checking in and being seated in a waiting area in the middle of the building, I looked around.  I was surrounded by rooms that looked like school rooms.  In one room, folks were playing around and making their own blends.  It seemed that there was an experience for everyone.  I was there for a food and wine pairing.


As is the norm, our tasting host Mark poured us a glass of their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc to enjoy as we enjoyed a very brief tour.  He led us out onto their terrace which provided more gorgeous views of Napa Valley.  And it was OUR view.


Directly behind us was our dining room – with assigned seating.  The women were able to enjoy the valley views through floor to ceiling windows.  The men were able to enjoy views of the women.  At each seat it seemed were more pieces of silverware than I’ve ever seen at once – mostly because there were four knives.  These days most restaurants just bring you the appropriate pieces for the next course instead of forcing you to remember to work from the outside in.  Anyway, I knew we were in for a treat.


Wine and Food

We had some great conversation over the course of our two hour, four course lunch of perfectly paired dishes with Joseph Phelps wines.  I often tell the story of my very first trip to Napa Valley 20 years ago.  I chose some amazing tasting experiences.  One of my all-time favorite tastings was at Mondavi.  Sure, these days I drive right on by because I’m attracted to slightly smaller producers.  But I hold a special place in my heart for Mondavi.

That tasting was also a food and wine pairing experience.  We were given unseasoned, cooked chicken and steak as well as a variety of seasoning options.  We were encouraged to try the unseasoned meats with the wines, then go back and season them and retaste.  It was truly eye opening for me.  What really entertained my fellow diners that day was that I preferred the unseasoned meats to those with seasoning.  I was alone in this opinion.  Everyone else seated at the table was in the wine industry and probably had enviable palates.  I grew up eating relatively simple foods.  Something with less seasoning was closer to what I’d been brought up on.  To this day I probably under-season dishes.  Sorry, mom, not trying to say anything bad about your cooking!  At the end of the experience we were given a full meal to enjoy with the variety of wines.  It’s probably because of that single experience that I seek out wine and food pairing opportunities.  I absolutely love the way the two compliment each other.


Everyone at my Joseph Phelps lunch said that they would really enjoy that kind of experience.  And I noted that it seems hard to find those food and wine tastings lately.  Apparently I’m not losing my mind!  Napa has cracked down on wineries offering food.  I guess local restaurants felt like it was hurting their business.  So, rules were put into place.  Of course I wondered how Joseph Phelps was working around this rule.  Apparently when the rule went into place they had a small employee kitchen.  It had a chair and a stove or something basic like that.  But, they were grandfathered.  That little employee kitchen has been converted into a full commercial kitchen and they continue food and wine experiences to this day.  Yay!

The Lunch

Okay, okay…I know I’ve gotten wordy and haven’t even really talked about lunch.  Here we go.  Before each course, Brian (the Executive Chef) or Izzy (the Pastry Chef) would come out to speak about each of the dishes.  Mark would speak to the wines.  And we’d just eat.  First up was a Butternut Squash Tart Tatin featuring Goat Cheese Fromage Blanc and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds.  That goat cheese played so well with the Sauvignon Blanc (the same one we were initially poured).


Next up was one I was really excited to try.  It was a Herb Crusted Scallop sitting on a Sunchoke Puree, Celery, and Pomegranate Jus.  It was paired with the 2016 Pastorale Vineyard Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast.  I learned that both the Pastorale and Freestone Pinots and Chardonnays are from the same vineyard – just different sections.  I think I prefer Pastorale – and I think I thought that before I saw the price tag!


The third course was a Liberty Farms Duck Breast with a Sweet Potato-Vanilla Puree, Honey Glazed Turnips, and Toasted Fennel Jus.  Not shocking it paired wonderfully with the 2016 Pastorale Pinot Noir.  And as we finished our glasses of Pinot Noir, Mark refilled them!!!  But that was for the fourth course.


We finished the meal with a Grilled Loin of Venison with Brown Butter Sage, Roasted Beet Puree, Savoy Cabbage, and Apple.  That dish was paired with the Pinot Noir from above (that’s why our glasses were refilled), the 2016 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, AND the 2016 Joseph Phelps Insignia.  Different elements of the dish paired with the different wines.  The Pinot was great with the apples.  The Venison was great with the Cabs.  I left most of the Joseph Phelps Cab.  And, to my lunchmates dismay, I drank every drop of that Insignia!


Our final parting gifts were boxes of candy.  The first was a chocolate truffle.  I forget what was in it.  It was incredible.  The second was a gummy candy made out of reduced Insignia wine.  I’ll be honest here – I thought it tasted like I was eating a plastic Barbie doll.  I’ll stick to enjoying it in liquid form, thanks!

Other Comments

I truly enjoyed the lunch conversation.  I also enjoyed learning that Mark’s family owns a vineyard not far from Joseph Phelp’s location in the Sonoma Valley.  When I asked, he explained that the vineyard is Hawk Hill.  I immediately recognized that vineyard as one of the sources of one of my favorite Freeman Chardonnays!

If you’d like to follow along or read about some of the other stops on my journey – click here to view my 30 Wineries in 30 Days!