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.
Classes and Escapes began in February and were a little slow to get going, but as the year progressed things picked up. The four-class Introduction to Wine was increased to six classes and subsequently sold out. The final “Escape” in November, The Truth About Wine & Cheese, ended the year on a high note with a class full of enthusiasts and familiar faces from previous sessions, all enjoying everything the night’s Escape had to offer.
‘M’ Wine’s Loyalty Rewards Program was launched to recognize and extend appreciation to those who continue to sign up for Classes and Escapes on a regular basis. Quite a few of you have now reached the Pinot Rewards Member status. In case you are wondering, one person has reached Cabernet Rewards Member status by taking 20+ classes - impressive!
In addition to classes, ‘M’ conducted numerous wine dinners and private tasting events for both wine venues and individual enthusiasts. This component of ‘M’s business continues to increase, as it seems more of you are looking for a fun way to learn about wine in the comfort and convenience of your home.
While ‘M’ did not hit the books for her continuing wine education, she certainly did carry on her education as a global grape trotter. A trip to France in May to explore the wine regions of Champagne www.champagne.fr and Burgundy www.burgundy-wines.com surpassed expectations. ‘M’s love and appreciation of bubbles has increased ten-fold. Michele was also able to meet up with her favorite Burgundy wine expert, Brendan of www.wine-liaisons.com, for his invaluable insight into the 2011 vintage. The day started in the Cote de Nuits at Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, located in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, with an exceptional vertical tasting of Grand Cru Pinot Noir. From there they headed south and enjoyed a half-day exploring the villages of the Cote de Beaune (Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, Volnay...).
It was ‘M’s first trip to Champagne and third to Burgundy. Plans are already in the works to return in 2013. ‘M’ is considering making it a “class field trip”….
An unexpected wine country visit in June with a long-time friend had ‘M’ exploring the “taste trail” www.tastetrail.ca of Prince Edward County in Ontario, Canada. Organic farms, world-class wineries, artisan cheese makers, fine dining, and specialty producers made for a memorable experience.
The finale was a trip to Chile in November with an exploration of both the Casablanca and Colchagua Wine Regions.
To explore the best of the Casablanca Valley, ‘M’ organized an intimate full-day tour out of Santiago with "Uncorked" www.uncorked.cl. As most of you know, ‘M’ thoroughly enjoys food and wine pairing, so the gourmet tasting lunch paired with great wines at the House of Morandé made for an exceptionally enjoyable experience. Chile’s first cool-climate coastal region has caught the world’s attention with its crisp, clean, refreshing wines.
The Colchagua Valley, approximately three hours drive south of Santiago, was a great escape from the city. One of Chile’s best known wine regions is located in a beautiful setting with the Andes as its backdrop. Colchagua has earned much applause for its full-bodied Cabernet, Carménère, Syrah, and Malbec, with its wines regularly appearing on the world’s lists of leading wines.
To see pictures from her wine trips see ‘M’s photos page on facebook www.facebook.com/M.Wine.Education
As ‘M’ Wine is a relatively young venture, Michele recognizes how critical networking is to business growth. With that in mind, she joined North County Coastal Connections www.nccoastalconnections.wordpress.com NCCC is a group of strong, passionate business women that provide opportunities for professionals and small business owners to connect with other local professionals for networking and professional development. They encourage, support and promote each other by the sharing of ideas.” A special thanks to the gals of NCCC for your contribution to ‘M’ Wine in 2011!
In closing, a heartfelt thanks to all of you who supported ‘M’ Wine Education & Consulting in 2011.
Michele is looking forward to all that 2012 has to offer.
Cheers, Salud, Santé, Cin Cin!
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