Sonoma County Vineyard

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I love Merlot...

I love Merlot. Really, truly and honestly. Phew, I feel better now. Why is it that I feel like a just let out a big secret? When did Merlot become such a terrible word? Is it really all because of the movie Sideways?

I spent the day today pouring (and tasting) Merlot wines from the mid to late 90's and they were outstanding. It's not easy to create a Merlot with ageing potential like that, but for those who can do it well the end result can be some of the most stunning and interesting wines you'll ever run across.

Merlot is the main grape in many of the worlds most highly regarded wines. I'm specifically speaking of Bordeaux, although California has its fair share as well. If Merlot is grown in the right climate - relatively cool - it is known for high acidity, dark fruits, soft tannins and low alcohol. Of course, the alcohol is a whole other discussion we'll save for another day.

Of course, Merlot is not for everyone. It certainly wasn't for the lead character in Sideways. But what the movie doesn't tell you that the book does is he doesn't like Merlot because it was his ex-wife's favorite varietal. But I believe the producers of that movie chose to stick with Merlot because, from California, it was becoming a singular flavored, watered down, simple wine. At least for the inexpensive ones. The ones the majority of Americans drank.

The real irony in Sideways was lost on many people. The main grape in the bottle he drank (1961 Cheval Blanc) at the end of the movie in the burger joint was Merlot based. Interesting.

But back to why I love Merlot. One reason is when Merlot is young, it's great to drink. Another is when Merlot has aged, it's great to drink. Which is not the case with many wines. Also, I believe that really excellent Merlot only comes from cooler climates or higher elevations with eastern exposure where you can get a long hang time. Longer hang time equals more complexity. Plain and simple. The warmer the climate, the faster the sugars in the grapes develop, the sooner you pick. There are only a few producers of Merlot that will spend the time and energy necessary to grow Merlot in the cooler conditions.

But most of all, Merlot is versatile. It's an elegant wine that pairs perfectly with many foods. Merlot also has plenty of structure and complex aromas and flavors that it's a fabulous wine to pair with a glass. In other words, it drinks wonderfully on its own.

So, next time you're shopping for wine give Merlot a try again. If you still don't like it, at least there will be more for me!


Friday, January 29, 2010

Slownoma, officially.

For many years now Sonoma has had the nickname, Slow-noma. And it's true. Things move at a different pace in Sonoma. It just has a small town, country feel to it. It's one of the reasons we decided to move here to raise our family. That and all the good wine, of course.

Well, Sonoma was officially named a "slow town" by the Cittaslow folks on Wednesday. Cittaslow (pronounced Chee-Tah-slow) is an Italian organization that has named over 120 towns in over 15 countries "slow". The name literally means slow town. There are 50 or so qualifiers that a town has to have in order to be named a Cittaslow town. The big news here is that Sonoma is the first in the U.S and that, my friends, is a big deal.

Sonoma is dedicated to small town life, history, organic, sustainable, family, and community just to name a few. All you have to do is come out to a farmer's market on Tuesday night in the Spring or Summer or to the annual 4th of July parade to know that Sonoma embodies all these things. I hope it never changes.

How does this tie into wine? Well, for me, wine is all these things. Wine is history in a bottle. It's naturally organic (though some people change that). It started as a small town crop, and in most parts of the world, including parts of California, it still is. Sure, there's the big producers, but in Sonoma that's still the exception.

Wine is slow. The grapes grow slow. The fermentation can take forever. The barrel and ageing process can seam to last a lifetime. But when I open a bottle, the world slows down. I use all my senses. And most importantly, I smell and taste every drop. How often do we stop and do that these days?

So, please slow down, open a bottle of wine and think about all the time and energy that went into making it. But above all, enjoy it!


Thursday, January 28, 2010

First trip to Vella Cheese Co.

I've been eating Vella Cheese, specifically the Dry Jack, for several years now. It's made right here in Sonoma and they have a retail shop about a mile from our house just off the plaza. I'm not sure why I never ventured to it, but I finally did today.

Maybe for some of you going to a cheese shop may not be a big deal, but for me it was huge. I've really grown to love different kinds of cheese (paired with wines, of course) and this particular cheese goes with almost any wine - a true versatile wonder.

I know them for this Dry Jack (pictured below), but they also produce high moisture Jack, Cheddar and some Italian style cheeses too.

Vella was started in 1931 by "Tom" Vella and is still in the family. They pretty much make cheese the same way they did back then. I talked with one of the "Vella" family members for a little while about the cheese, she had some great information.

The shop is small and rustic. It's situated at the front of an old stone building that was built in 1906. It was like a time-warp going in there. The staff member and the family member I talked with were knowledgeable, friendly and genuinely seemed happy to see me. That is hard to find.

Hopefully next time I go I can get a behind the scenes tour, we'll see. Until then, I'll continue to enjoy this cheese with many of the different wines I'll be drinking.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


For three Winters now we (that's a collective wine country / California we) have been praying to the rain gods, hoping they were listening. Apparently, they all decided to get together over the last 12 days. It's been non-stop downpours here in Northern California. It seams as if we've received more rain over the last 2 weeks than we have in all of the last 3 years combined.

The rain is much needed, as is the snow-pack in the Sierra. This past Spring and Summer there was a lot of water rationing. So much that some vineyard managers had to choose early on whether they were going to frost protect (early in the season) or irrigate (later in the season).

Frost protection can happen a number of different ways, but one of the most cost effective ways is through a sprinkler system that coats the grapes with water which then freezes. The frozen water acts to protect the grapes and keeps them from freezing. Seams kind of strange and counter-intuitive, but it works. Many vineyards are set up this way.

Irrigation is the norm around here, although there are some vineyards that are still "dry farmed". That is, they don't use any water at all. It's pretty risky, but the grapes can be amazing.

When you have to choose, it's not a good year. Most would choose irrigation and take their chances that the frost event (if there was one) wouldn't cause too much damage.

The good news? If, and I mean if, it keeps raining there should be enough water this year that having to choose won't be an issue.

So, while the sun was a beautiful warm distraction from the rain today, we need more of the wet stuff. I admit, I really enjoyed the sun: windows down, sunroof open and sunglasses on, but bring on the rain for at least a few more weeks. Please.

Oh, and while I'm writing this, I'm drinking an 05 Quivira Wine Creek Ranch Zinfandel and it is awesome!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another reason I love Sonoma...

If you haven't figured it out, I love Sonoma. Not just the town of, but Sonoma County and all of its cool little towns as well. (More on that as I travel through Sonoma).

Tonight we went to one of our favorite local restaurants in Sonoma: The Red Grape. There are many options in Sonoma, especially surrounding the plaza, but this is consistently one of the best eateries at a great price.

The Red Grape has great pizzas, pastas and panninis (at lunch). Sometimes we take a bottle of wine, but most of the time we order off their list. Their wine list is almost all local wines at really reasonable prices.

Tonight, I ordered a margherita pizza and paired it with a Pellegrini Merlot from Alexander Valley. The half bottle was just $14....that's awesome!

The wine paired perfectly. It had great acid (a must for food pairing), and flavors of chocolate, black cherry and just a little oak.

We finished the meal with one of their giant ice cream sundaes. Perfect!

Stick around for more wine and culinary adventures. Until then, Cheers!

Monday, January 25, 2010

There's always something green...

When people ask me what I like best about wine country, I think about the stunning views, amazing wineries (and their wines), but always at the top of my list is the green that's seen year round.

No, I'm not talking about all the money being flaunted in Napa (and to a lesser extent in Sonoma).

I'm talking about how there is always something green to look at.

During the Winter months, the grasses on the hillsides and between the rows of vines grow like crazy. Later in the season the mustard with its green stalk is a beautiful addition.

As we transition into Spring, the leaves on the vines come alive and add stunning greenness to the topography. However, at the same time we start to see the hillsides and vineyard rows turn to a golden brown.

Summer arrives and the vines go crazy with the heat sending green chutes straight into the air. Sometimes, 4-5 feet above the vines.

As harvest approaches and the Autumn nights start to turn cooler, the vines transition into amazing golds, reds, yellows and browns. But the trees (often olive and oak) hang in there with their green colors until the grasses take over again.

So, when people ask when the best time to visit is, I always say "Right now!" Because there's never a bad time.

Here's hoping you get to experience all four seasons in wine country, but if you can't know that the most beautiful season is the one you visited in!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

First Post

I'm sitting in a quiet house drinking some killer Zin. If you asked me just a little over three years ago if I would be living in Sonoma and working in the wine biz, I would've laughed. I guess you just never know where life will take you. So far, I've been quite successful in a short time.

Currently, I'm running two tasting rooms in Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley. Both wineries have excellent reputations and make awesome wine. Everyday that I show up at these stunning locations, I'm still in awe that I've been able to make a living in this industry.

Enough about me....this blog is dedicated to wine in all aspects. The vineyard, the process, but most importantly the end product - the part we all love to enjoy. Stick around for some insight on the wine country lifestyle and my take on the wine and food I eat and drink.

Thanks for reading!