Join M Wine Education on a small-group tour of wine country! M has planned the ultimate insider getaways to Sonoma and Napa.
Sonoma: Arrive Thursday, June 25, depart Sunday, June 28
Napa: Arrive Thursday, July 2, depart Sunday, July 5
Thursday 'Welcome Dinner’ to get acquainted with your fellow wine enthusiasts.
Friday and Saturday you will enjoy a fun and informative day of touring, tasting and dining. You’ll visit three to four wineries each day that are rich in charm and history. M is very fond of the smaller, family "boutique" wineries, but there are no strict rules. Guests can expect to tour a winery, take in some exceptional views, stroll through the vines, learn about wine making, and discover the stories, history and people behind the wine.
Lunch could be a multicourse wine and food pairing event where you will enjoy stunning vineyard views and a fine dining presentation at a shared table. Dinner may be a casual, laid-back meal of small-plates, “some wildly inventive and others comfortingly familiar”, paired with local wines.
Sunday you are on your own.
This intimate grape escape, limited to six adventurous oenophiles, will be touring wine country by SUV. Morning pick-up will be 9:00 a.m. with a return time of 5:00 p.m. If your accommodation is within the wine region you'd like to tour, M will likely be able to pick you up and drop you off. Otherwise, we will meet you at a pre-arranged public place with ample parking. The same applies to dinner service to-and-from accommodation. These excursions are ideal for individual travelers, couples or small group of friendly people.
$75pp for Thursday welcome dinner
$295pp/day for wine tour, lunch and dinner
Some helpful info and links for your wine country getaway.
http://napavintners.com/, http://www.visitnapavalley.com/, http://www.sonomawine.com/, http://www.sonomacounty.com/, http://www.winecountrythisweek.com/, http://www.discovercaliforniawines.com/
Fun times with ‘M’ Wine this week! Michele took her Study/Tasting group on a field trip to Escondido to see the renowned private wine cellar of John and Shirley Gerardy. If you are a subscriber to Wine Spectator you can view the article that was written about their cellar in the Nov 30, 2010 issue “Collectors at Home, Wine Cellars Across America, Modest To Grand”.
The night started off with John giving us a tour of his underground, custom built 4,000 bottle capacity cellar. He then educated the group on proper wine storage, cellar management and wine buying. The focus of the night’s tasting was Napa Cab. We started off with a vertical of the 2002, 2005, 2007 Heitz Cellar "Trailside Vineyard" Rutherford, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a good exercise showing the consistency of the producer and the impact of a vintage on wine. The 2005 was the top pick by all in attendance. We then finished off the night with an assorted trio: Sherwin Family Vineyards 2006, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; Sebastiani 2004, Cherryblock, Sonoma Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon for some regional contrast; Paul Hobbs 2005 Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. This last lineup was a good way to gain a better understanding of why the same grape variety, grown in different regions, will have similar characteristics yet achieve its own unique “personality” in the finished wine. An exceptional tasting experience! See facebook for photos and see Napa Valley Vintners for more info on the region and its wines -Cheers!
Our group descended on Tuscany this past May/June to not only enjoy the simple yet wonderful cuisine and wine but to explore its landscape, medieval villages and prominent cities. The more we came to know the region, the more extraordinary Tuscany appeared. We had planned on having a somewhat “relaxing” vacation but it ended up being more of an “active” holiday.
In the following three posts I’ll provide you with information on where we stayed, some wine related highlights, dining choices and informative travel links, in the event that any of you are considering a trip to the region and might find something useful or be inspired. There is a lot to see and do in Tuscany; the difficulty is really where to start. Here are two websites I found to be particularly helpful www.discovertuscany.com and www.italyguides.it/us/italy/tuscany/tuscany-italy.htm.
We flew in to Pisa International airport and made our way to our accommodation - about a 30 minute drive northwest of Pisa. For five nights we stayed at the wonderful guest house, Locanda al Colle, a recently restored ancient farmhouse situated on a small hill overlooking Camaiore. Without question, we all would stay here again. The website does a great job of conveying its charm and amenities but the reality is so much better. The service we received from Riccardo and his team - from booking to departure - was exemplary. Evenings with chef Gianluca are not to be missed!
We stayed at Locanda al Colle for its proximity to the beach towns of Viareggio, Lido di Camaiore and Forte dei Marmi (10 min. drive) and Pietrasanta (10 min. drive), Pisa (30 min drive), Lucca (30 min drive) and the Cinque Terre (45-60 min drive depending if you go to La Spezia or Portovenere to catch the ferry to the “five lands”). We ended up driving the windy road to Portovenere and we were glad we did as it gave us more time to enjoy this incredibly picturesque village situated on the west coast of Italy. For info on the region and how to get there see www.portovenere.a-turist.com and www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en.
A few dining highlights other than our experience at Locanda al Colle.
Locanda del Gusto - see link to review on Trip Advisor
Ristorante Filippo - see link to review on Trip Advisor
Best Wine Shop
While in Lucca for the day we decided to stop by Enoteca Vanni. We had read that below the unassuming storefront is an ancient cellar with a vast selection of wines. We were not disappointed. This subterranean maze of passageways and rooms was filled with all sorts of unexpected finds. Definitely worth the stop!
Stay tuned for Tuscany, Italy Part 2 of 3: our stay in the heart of the Chianti Classico!
When shopping or ordering off a restaurant wine list, the selection available can be overwhelming. The variables are endless when you consider the different grapes, countries and producers. So what is another way to choose a wine if you have limited knowledge yet an adventurous palate? Wine can be “categorized” by focusing on its taste profile: refreshing, bright, whites; lively rosé's with ample fruit; brawny, intense reds that command attention… When it comes to finding your taste, identify the wines you prefer and use these as a starting point to learn more and broaden your horizons.
To learn more about finding your taste profile there is a great book by Vincent Gasnier called “a taste for wine” that will help you “unlock your personal wine style” or you can register for “A Blind Tasting Tour - Finding Your Style Wine Class” on Saturday, March 1 in Del Mar, CA. Click on link for info and tickets.
There are no rules when it comes to finding what YOU enjoy; it's down to personal taste, know-how and above all, having fun!
Thinking of planning a trip to Wine Country? ‘M’ just returned from a 3 night excursion to Sonoma, CA. This “escape” covered an assortment of wineries from north to south and an array of grape varieties and wine styles from Chardonnay to Zinfandel. When planning this trip Michele wanted diversity. She came up with an itinerary that included tours and tastings focused on food and wine pairing, sparkling wine production, vineyard practices (e.g.biodynamics), no-frills tastings and more formal seated affairs.
Here is the November 2013 M Wine Gals Sonoma Wine Trip Itinerary. Maybe this will give you a few ideas for your next visit to the region. (See map link for winery locations.) See facebook to view photo album
Caught a 9:30 a.m. flight from San Diego direct to Santa Rosa in Sonoma, CA. Arrived in to http://www.sonomacountyairport.org/ at approx 11:20, picked up our rental car and headed to Sebastopol for our 12:00 Lynmar Estate Wine Tasting Picnic Lunch http://www.lynmarwinery.com/. From there we drove north for our 2:00 J Vineyards J Legacy Sparkling Wine Tasting http://www.jwine.com/. Then it was off to Big John’s market http://www.bigjohnsmarket.com/ to get some supplies before checking in to our VRBO http://www.vrbo.com/383928 in Geyserville. Dinner was spent at our VRBO.
We were picked up at 9:00 a.m. by http://www.sonomasterlinglimo.com/ and driven in a Cadillac Escalade SUV to our 10:00 Iron Horse Tour & Bubbly Tasting http://ironhorsevineyards.com/ in Green Valley. From Iron Horse we made our way to Sebastopol for our 11:30 K&L Bistro Lunch http://klbistro.com/. Lunch was followed by two more tastings: 1:00 Merry Edwards Tasting http://www.merryedwards.com/, 3:00 Copain Wines Farm to Table Tasting paired with Cheese http://www.copainwines.com/. After a full day of touring and tastings we arrived back at our VRBO at 5:00 and elected to spend another night in enjoying our days wine purchases and food prepared by our own culinary geniuses.
We enjoyed a leisurely morning at our VRBO before proceeding to our 11:00a.m. Jordan Winery Tour & Library Tasting http://www.jordanwinery.com/ in Alexander Valley. From Jordan we drove to Dry Creek for our 1:00 Quivira Biodynamic Vineyard Tour and Tasting http://www.quivirawine.com/. After spending a relaxing 2 hours at Quivira we stopped at the Dry Creek General store http://drycreekgeneralstore1881.com/ to get a quick bite to eat (sandwiches, potato chips…) before going in to Healdsburg. The remainder of the afternoon was spent checking out the various retail shops and tasting rooms before finally making our way to dinner at http://campo-fina.com/.
Checked out of our VRBO at 10:00 a.m. and set off to St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa for our 11:00 a.m. multicourse Wine & Food Pairing Lunch http://www.stfranciswinery.com/culinary/wine-food-pairing/. We followed this outstanding experience at St. Francis with a 2:00 tasting appointment at Siduri http://siduri.com/ in Santa Rosa. After this comprehensive tasting we hit the road to the airport for our 4:40 return flight to San Diego. * Alaska Airlines allows 1 case of wine per person to be checked free of charge.
An unforgettable experience!
In September 2014 ‘M’ will be taking a study group to Napa to take the CSW exam http://www.societyofwineeducators.org/education-certification/csw . They will then spend 3 nights exploring all that Napa has to offer. The CSW study group will be starting in Jan 2014. Details TBA.
Our first day of wine tours and tastings started in Sonoma (see link to view wine tasting maps by region). http://www.winecountrythisweek.com/maps
We made our way from our VRBO www.vrbo.com/450777 in Alexander Valley to our 11:00 a.m. appointment at Williams Selyem Winery located in the Russian River Valley. This was a 25 minute drive through some spectacular scenery along seemingly never-ending back roads. The rolling vineyards, wineries and quaint towns situated amidst the trees and alongside the river made for some great photo ops.
In 1983 the Russian River Valley, located in the heart of Sonoma County, California achieved its AVA (American Viticultural Area) status. The seasonal fog and the moderating effects of the Pacific Ocean to the west creates an unusually long growing season, generating just the right conditions for the cool-climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grape varieties. For more info on the Russian River see http://rrvw.org
Williams Selyem Winery, 7227 Westside Road, Healdsburg CA http://www.williamsselyem.com
In 1979, Williams Selyem Winery was created by two friends pursuing their dream. Ed Selyem and Burt Williams were making wine on the weekends out of a garage located in Forestville, Sonoma. Two years later in 1981 they made their first commercial vintage. In less than two decades they had ascended to “cult-status” setting a new standard for Pinot Noir winemaking in the United States.
In 1998, John and Kathe Dyson purchased the winery from Burt and Ed. Today, the Dysons along with Executive Winemaker, Bob Cabral and his team, remain dedicated to making the best possible hand-crafted Pinot Noir.
What did we taste? The top 2 picks are highlighted with a link to tasting notes.
•2011 UnOaked Chardonnay, Russian River Valley $37
•2011 Chenin Blanc, Limestone Ridge at Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County $30
•2010 Pinot Noir, Weir Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands $58 http://www.williamsselyem.com/wines/pinot_noir_weir_10.html
•2009 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast $59 http://www.williamsselyem.com/wines/pinot_noir_sonoma_coast_09.html
•2007 Pinot Noir, Vista Verde, San Benito County $66
Our next stop in the Russian River Valley, Martinelli, was a short 15 minute drive south east of Williams Selyem. We did not make an appointment.
Martinelli Winery, 3360 River Road, Windsor, California, http://www.martinelliwinery.com
Five generations of the Martinelli family have been growing grapes and making wine in Sonoma County since 1887. Today, the small boutique winery, situated in an historic turn-of-the-century hop barn makes handcrafted wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel.
We tasted a variety of wines with “Judy”, who, as on previous visits, provided us with a wealth of information on the region and its wines. Martinelli remains a personal favorite for the quality of their wines, the rustic charm of its tasting room and its friendly and knowledgeable staff.
We took home:
•2010 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Zio Tony Ranch $48 https://www.martinelliwinery.com/wines/chardonnay/ztrc.html
•2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Zio Tony Ranch Grace Nicole $60 https://www.martinelliwinery.com/wines/pinot/ztrpn.html
We left the Russian River Valley and journeyed north for a quick lunch at Jimtown Store in Alexander Valley before our 2:00 pm appointment at Ridge Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley.
Jimtown Store, 6706 State Highway 128, Healdsburg, CA http://www.jimtown.com
This country store/cafe nestled in the vineyards of Alexander Valley has been a Sonoma County Landmark since 1895. Daily from scratch they prepare a variety of breakfast and lunch items that are available to go or enjoy on site. They also offer boxed lunches that are ideal for a wine tasting picnic and carry a nice range of house-made and local food products. But Jimtown offers more than just food: they are known as a gathering place for locals and info center for visitors and sell an assortment of old-fashioned toys, house-wares, vintage collectibles and distinctive antiques.
Some of our faves:
•Ham & Brie Signature Sandwich with Mendocino Mustard Butter
•Turkey Signature Sandwich with Chickpea Chipotle
•Prosciutto Signature Sandwich with Jimtown’s Fig & Olive Spread and Point Reyes Blue Cheese
•The Jimtown Artichoke, Olive & Caper Spread/Dip
We enjoyed the Artichoke dip on more than one occasion with locally made crostini and Chalk Hill’s Sauvignon Blanc - Yum!
For our day of wine touring this was a great spot to refuel before our next tasting at Ridge Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley.
Dry Creek Valley earned its AVA status in 1983. The area is located in Northern Sonoma County, California, approximately 70 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. At only 16 miles long and 2 miles wide with 9,000+ acres of vineyards extending along the valley floor, surrounding benchlands and hillsides, it is home to 70+ wineries that are nearly all family-owned.
With a grape growing history going back 140 years it possesses one of the densest concentrations of Old Vine Zinfandel in the world. While Dry Creek is acknowledged for producing some first-rate Zin, Bordeaux and Rhone wines are also widely available. The long, warm days allow the grapes to fully ripen, while coastal cooling in the evening enables them to mature slowly and retain their acidity and balance. These are the perfect growing conditions for the region’s signature varietals. For more info on Dry Creek Valley see http://www.wdcv.com
Ridge Vineyards, 650 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg, CA http://www.ridgewine.com
Ridge has been crafting exceptional single-vineyard wines since 1962. Surrounded by beautiful 115-year-old vines, their eco-sustainable Lytton Springs Tasting Room and Winery stands as one of the most unique sites in all of Sonoma County's wine country. This remarkable facility (built of straw bales, vineyard clay, and primarily solar-powered) is very visitor friendly, with a full patio for picnicking that overlooks the old vines, and is a wonderful environment in which to experience their exceptional, single-vineyard wines.
We made a 2:00 reservation for the “Estate Tour and Tasting”. This personalized tour takes you through their century-old vines, touches on the rich history of Ridge and Lytton Springs, and permits access to their eco-sustainable winemaking facility. The tour concludes with a seated “experience” in their private tasting room, consisting of side-by-side comparisons of select limited single-vineyard, estate wines including their legendary Monte Bello.
Known primarily for its red wines, (Cabernet and Zinfandel account for most of the production; Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, and Petite Sirah constitute a small percentage), Ridge has also made limited amounts of Chardonnay since 1962. The Santa Cruz Chardonnay was named #2 wine of the year in Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2007.
What did we taste?
•2010 Estate Merlot (100%), Santa Cruz Mountains $45
•2008 Mazzoni Home Ranch (50% Zinfandel, 49% Carignane, 1% Petite Sirah), Alexander Valley $30
•2011 Geyserville (78% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane, 4% Petite Sirah, 1% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Mourvedre), Alexander Valley $38
•2007 Monte Bello (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc), Santa Cruz Mountains $150
•2011 Petite Sirah (100%) Lytton Estate, Dry Creek Valley $30
The wines in this lineup were enjoyed by all! To view tasting notes see http://www.ridgewine.com/Wines/Our%20Wines
Next stop – our vacation rental to relax and enjoy our recent acquisitions and rescue Guinness from the fountain.
Stay tunded for Post 4 of 6: Shafer Vineyards, The Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, Hanna Winery and Big John's Market.
An introduction to the wines of California with a focus on Napa and Sonoma.
With over 85% of the vineyard acreage in the United States, California produces more than 90% of American wine, in all varieties and price ranges. For a number of fundamental reasons, much of California is ideal for wine production: its wonderful year-round weather is good for wine; abundant sunshine ensures a consistent and long grape growing season; warm summers and cool ocean breezes in Sonoma and Napa yield delicious, fruit-forward wines. This diversity of terroir supports a multitude of grape varieties. In fact, you’ll find more than 100 varieties across the state, giving winemakers the latitude to create complex single varietal wines and unique, expressive blends. The state’s long history of grape growing – since the 1770’s – gives the wine culture a passionate sophistication, with well organized wine touring. Upscale Napa draws many visitors to its abundant wineries, while Sonoma offers a more informal, personalized experience. For more information on California’s wines and regions, and to download a useful map, see www.discovercaliforniawines.com.
Napa Valley is located in Northern California, close to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean, and a few hundred miles north of Los Angeles. Located between the Mayacamas Mountains (west) and Vaca Range (east), Napa is about five miles across at its widest point and 30 miles at its longest. Although the place and the industry are relatively small (Napa Valley produces just 4% of California’s wine), it is the most recognized wine region in the United States and its wines are considered some of the finest and most age-worthy in the world.
Napa has become synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon. The majority of Napa Valley winemakers produce it but, thanks to the many diverse growing conditions, all kinds of varieties flourish. Conditions are well-suited for growing both Burgundian (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) and Bordeaux-style varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc). For more information on Napa see www.napavintners.com, www.visitnapavalley.com.
Sonoma Wine Country, adjacent to Napa Valley, is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. Sonoma County’s geographical and regional diversity in its grape varieties, climate, proximity to the Pacific Ocean and culture contribute to this regions unique character. Vineyards located in Sonoma’s Coast and Russian River Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) benefit from a cool marine influence that brings early morning fogs and cool nighttime temperatures, making them ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Others, like Dry Creek and Alexander Valley located further inland are warmer, and produce wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel grapes. For more information on Sonoma see www.sonomawine.com, www.sonomacounty.com.
Both Napa and Sonoma offer the opportunity for an immersive wine country grape escape, but one should note that they do vary somewhat in their attitude, style and vibe. Fortunately these differences will be gratifying to a variety of visitors.
Napa Valley has a sense of allure and a glam factor that is hard to come by in laid-back Sonoma. For most, Napa is simply a more convenient and concentrated experience. Sonoma is so much larger than Napa that it makes it difficult to discover the region in a single trip. On the other hand, you will hear many veteran wine country travelers state that upon visiting both regions, they more often go back to Sonoma for its considerable diversity of wines and regions.
In the next four posts I’ll be taking you on a tasting tour of the wineries and eateries I visited in Napa and Sonoma:
As a wine educator and global grape trotter, I am convinced that there’s no better way to get to know the wine you love than to visit the place where it grows and experience everything that contributes to the final product.
Whenever I plan a wine-related vacation, I always research the region, its wines and wineries prior to going in order to ensure a nice mix of confirmed appointments and time for spontaneity along with some non-wine related activities. For this trip, I wanted to see some iconic wineries along with some small producers and estates that I needed to visit for “educational/biz” reasons.
So where did we stay? We booked our accommodation through VRBO www.vrbo.com/450777 and stayed 8 nights at Villa Amici, a laid-back ranch style home located in the heart of the Alexander Valley, Sonoma. The villa is surrounded by vineyards and is situated just minutes from world class wineries, great restaurants, shopping in Healdsburg and is relatively close to Napa Valley; Calistoga and St. Helena are only 30 and 40 minutes away, respectively.
What did we do? We enjoyed private wine tastings with friends, intimate tours, the occasional meal out, kayaking on the Russian River www.riversedgekayakandcanoe.com, jogging through the vineyards and countless games of bocce ball. Of course, we also enjoyed many hours of relaxation in our vacation rental’s hamoc with a book, glass of wine and our four-legged family member snoozing at our feet.
If you are thinking of planning a trip to either of these extraordinary wine regions, I hope the following information that I will be detailing in a series of 6 entries helps make your trip to wine country as memorable as ours.
As some of you may know, I like to plan an annual wine excursion to keep up with what's going on in the world's various wine regions. In 2009 it was France and Spain; in 2010 it was two weeks in Sonoma; and for 2011 'M's annual wine tour will be taking us back to France.
Yes, 'M' will be enjoying a brief sojourn in Burgundy. This will be my third experience and I will be working extra hard with my acclaimed Burgundy guide in two ways: first, to get a premium experience, and second, to work with my contacts and friends to keep the cost down and the fun up!
This may end up being 'M's third time through The Rhone and second to Provence. Provence was such a magical experience that I'm not sure if a return trip can top the memory. Traveling with family and friends made the 2009 trip one I'll never forget. It didn't hurt that we toured with our own personal chef (my brother Sean) and two other industry professionals, so the wine and food were always guaranteed to please. Even better, we struck gold with the vacation rental we booked on-line - a perfect fit for 6 adults who wanted some R&R time after an intense week of wine tasting and travel throughout Burgundy.
I appreciate the vast majority of wine but I do have a particular affinity for Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc. I believe it's time I spent some time in the Loire Valley tasting and touring through Vouvray, Savennières, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, so we may end up making a slight diversion.
As you can see, the plans have only just begun..
Regarding destinations for 'M's up and coming wine tours, I am leaning towards Napa, Portugal and Spain for 2012. If you are interested in any of these, or if there is any other wine region(s) in the world that you would like me to put on the list, please let me know.
Note that 'M' likes to include free time on all wine trips to explore on your own. We will discover the culture of the land, the people, and of course, enjoying the best of wine, food and all the wonderful things we can while guests in another's country.
Cellar Tasting Château de Montfaucon, S. Rhone, France 2009