Sonoma County Vineyard

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A great day!

Today was my Monday, but with the great lunch I had you would have thought it was my Friday. I met a friend at Rosso, a local pizza place in Santa Rosa. But this isn't any ordinary pizza joint. It's dedicated to pizza made, wine and great starters and appetizers all made with local ingredients.

I'm kind of surprised that this restaurant has lasted though. Saying it is off the beaten path is an understatement. If you didn't know someone who knew about it, you wouldn't find it. But the place was packed. There were people waiting on and off the whole time we were eating.

They have a huge wine list. In fact, it's much larger than the food menu. I'm okay with that. They have everything from great valued wine to the last bottle on the list here....Seriously, don't even ask. Funny I didn't see that next to any of the Sonoma wines on the list.

We started with some local asparagus sauteed in lemon butter.... Then we moved on to their "Beppo" pizza - pepperoni, olives, red onions and fresh mozzarella. It was the perfect combination. Their crust is so tasty. It's crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and still overall very light. I don't know how they do it, but I'd love to be able to recreate it.
I would have been content if that's where my exciting food for the day ended. But it was far from over.

Most Tuesday nights I am treated to the cooking of my mother-in-law because my wife works late. On this night, we decided that a Cabernet would pair best with the meal.... Chateau St. Jean is located in Sonoma Valley and is known for their Chardonnay and Cabernet wines. This particular one is their "Sonoma County" meaning at least 85% of the grapes were sourced from Sonoma County. The aromas in the glass were all dark fruits like blackberry and black cherry and some cooking spices. In the mouth, this wine was extra rich with the flavors continuing. The finish wasn't extremely long, but it was a very pleasing cab - especially with a price point in the upper $20's.

The wine was paired with this tasty dish....
Beef and Guinness Pie. I know what you're thinking, have a Guinness with it, but I felt like a hearty red would work well on this rainy evening. The richness in the gravy and the meat was an ideal match with the richness in the Cabernet.

As if these two meals weren't enough, it was topped off with this.... My daughter (with help from grandma) made the crust on the bottom out of pie crust, cinnamon and sugar. Then we topped it with ice cream, caramel and whipped cream. Simple, but amazing. If I wasn't so full, we would've opened up a dessert wine to go with it. Next time.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dinner with the in-laws

My in-laws are not what you think of as the proverbial in-laws. We actually get along (and quite well). They watch our kids 3 days a week - sometimes more - and I bring them wine. I think we're getting the better end of the deal. But once every couple of weeks we cook them dinner. It's something I always look forward to.

On this night, we started with this wine....It's an Italian Prosecco (sparkling wine) from Trader Joe's. This wine is a great start to an evening. There's just something about bubbles that makes it feel like a special occasion. And at less than $6, this wine can make almost any day a special occasion. It also makes great mimosas for that Sunday brunch.

Dinner preparation was a bit of a fiasco. When I opened the tri-tip, it smelled bad. Not taking any chances, my father-in-law and I ran out to Sonoma Market - love that place - to get a fresh one.

I made a rub out of espresso powder, cayenne, ginger, brown sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. I think it turned out really tasty. And to pair with it, we opened this.... It was the first time I tried this Syrah from Sonoma Valley. I've had their Zin on several occasions. Amapola Creek is a private winery started by Richard and Alis Arrowood. Richard has been making wine in Sonoma Valley since the 70's and has a special way with grapes. Amapola means Poppy in Spanish and the winery was named for the creek that runs through the property that is lined with California Poppies every Spring.

This wine is sourced from estate fruit that is organically grown. The color was deep purple. In fact, it was so dark, I would have mistaken it for a Petite Sirah if I didn't know what was in the bottle.

The fruit was plum and blackberry with hints of cooking spices and smoked meats. It was a perfect selection for the grilled tri-tip. I don't have many "rules" for wine, but when it comes to foods coming off the grill they are usually paired best with Syrah. There's just something about it. This wine was perfectly balaced and had one of the best mouthfeels I've ever experienced with a Syrah. I have to get some more of this before they run out!

In addition to the tri-tip, we had tri-color potatoes and cheese biscuits. I'd never had a purple potato before, but they were really good. We also finished up with a Lemon Meringue pie that my mother-in-law baked with fresh lemons from her garden. Sorry for no picture, but we gobbled it up so fast, there wasn't a was spectacular.

I'll continue to look forward to our dinners and the food and wine that goes along with it. It's also a small way to say thank you for watching our kids. But there's some good bonding that happens too! Invite your in-laws (or parents) over for never know what will happen.


Thursday, March 25, 2010


Quivira Winery is located in Dry Creek Valley. It is known for crisp Sauvignon Blancs and stunning Zinfandels. But they do some other interesting wines as well. From Petite Syrah and Grenache to a dry Rose and this little beauty....
Mourvedre traces it's roots back to Spain, but it wasn't until it reached France's Rhone Valley in the 16th century that it found its true home. Often blended with a little Grenache to soften it, but this particular one is 100%.

Wine Creek Ranch is Quivira's home vineyard and it is farmed not just organically, but biodynamically. Biodynamic farming is all about putting back in the vineyard (and land) what you take out, but it goes so much further than that. It's a mix of science, farming and spiritual awareness. Based on moon phases, there may be many different things that need to happen, including: certain ways to stir, cow horns buried in the vineyard and making fertilizer.
But what does this all mean to you? I believe that all wineries are striving to make the best wine they can. Some do it in this biodynamic way, others choose different paths. To me, I choose to take the path of let's try it and see how it tastes. Because after all, if I like it, I'll buy it and I believe Quivira does a great job. You can read more about Demeter Biodynamic Certification here.

The winery itself is powered by solar panels and everything they do is in a conservation manner. They have estate gardens, a chicken coup, honey bees, and Ruby....
Isn't she cute? They do a pig roast every year (because their wines go so well with pork), but I was informed that Ruby is here to stay. Good news, because my kids would be disappointed if we showed up and she wasn't there.

The Mourvedre that I'm drinking tonight has beautiful bright fruit flavors like blueberry, blackberry, plums and bramble. In addition, there's this underlying spicy character followed by a nice weightiness, soft tannins and a pleasant black licorice finish that goes on and on....

I would consider this a rare varietal on its own, which makes it fun and interesting. If you find a bottle, snatch it up and throw some pork chops on the BBQ. I can almost guarantee you a good time.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring is here!

Driving around wine country today, it is very clear that Spring is in the air. Here are some pictures of bud break.....
Some vines have already made some pretty decent progress....

Look at all the little buds - it's so exciting!

The wind machines are a reminder that Spring is actually a dangerous time for grapes. These machines will move air around on nights that the temperatures drop to freezing or below. The theory is that moving air is warmer than air standing still. Generally, this works.Some growers use a sprinkler system that coats the grapes with water which then freezes. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the frozen water around the grapes actually keeps the grapes from freezing.
Here's an example of the sad reality for some growers right now....
This vineyard, and many others I drove past, haven't been pruned. It's not uncommon for growers to wait until early March to prune. This can protect them for an additional 7-14 days from frost by delaying bud-break. However, this late in the game, the reality is that this vineyard likely isn't being pruned because it has fallen out of contract. In other words, the growers don't have anyone to sell their grapes to. Bummer.
The canes that the new buds are on were last year's canes. These vines should have been cut back to the thicker part of the stalk as shown in the pictures above.
Stay tuned for more signs of Spring in the coming weeks.
On another note, I just had to make some cookies today. Now I'm enjoying them with a glass of this Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc. The cookies are lemon macadamia with white and milk chocolate chips. The Meyer lemon aromas and flavors, along with the acid in this wine pair perfectly with the dessert.
That's all for tonight.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Simple meal

We had a simple meal tonight. Very good, but simple.

Okay, don't laugh my wife made pizza made with Bisquick, veggies and sauce....

I was little skeptical, but was really surprised that it tasted wonderful.

What does a simple meal call for? A simple wine....
This is a Red Table Wine from Loxton Winery in Sonoma Valley. Loxton was founded by Chris Loxton in 1996. Originally from a grape-growing family near Adelaide, Australia, Chris moved here in the early 90's for a different reason, but quickly found his way back into the wine biz.

I don't remember the exact blend of this wine, but I know there is a lot of Syrah and Zinfandel. I originally bought it for my Dad some time ago (because I know he liked it when he tasted it), but decided to give him something better.

The aromas and flavors were quite good, but singular. In other words, there wasn't a whole lot of complexity. It was very fruit forward with a lot of body and tannin - perfect for pairing with pizza (any kind).

When it comes to food and wine, it's okay to think about simple wines with simple foods or complex wines with more complex foods.

Sometimes, it's the simple things that make life great. Tonight was a great example of that. After all, we can't eat (and drink) like Kings and Queens every night!


Monday, March 15, 2010

A Washington wine

First, it was such a beautiful day in Sonoma, I just had to share....

Okay, I'm a little out of my comfort zone tonight - I opened a Washington wine. I know, I know, it sounds silly, but my focus has and remains to be Sonoma County. So when I open something out of the area, I never know what to expect. Despite what you just read, this is a good thing. I really do enjoy exploring other areas though I generally have little time to do it.

This wine, however, is not entirely an unknown. I did taste it a few years ago upon purchase. We were travelling in Seattle and I tasted this in a little wine shop in Pike Place market. That was in 2006. Almost four years have passed since I tasted it and, from what I remember, it hasn't changed significantly.

Camaraderie Cellars sits on the west side of the Cascade mountains. If you know anything about Washington, it's cold and rainy most of the year on the west side of the mountains. Not an ideal place to grow grapes. But that's the interesting part. The winery is on the west side, but the grapes come from the dry east side of the Cascade mountains.

99% of Washington's grapes are grown on the east side of the mountains. Just like in California, a winery can source grapes from any place grapes grow. In the case of this Cabernet Franc, the grapes are grown in the fairly well known Yakima Valley.

The wine has aromas of blackberry and cherry with a bouquet of white pepper and clove. The difference between an aroma and a bouquet? Aromas are generally characteristics that are associated with a young wine and a bouquet will develop with time in the bottle.

On the palette, it's full and rich with a strong backbone. It doesn't have a lot of complexity, but it's a good drinking wine on its own - especially for the $25 I paid for it. It's easily a wine I would compare in the $30-plus category.

And that pretty much sums up Washington - a great value. Washington still hasn't been fully recognized as a premium wine growing region. As a result, there is still great value to be had. A good example was the sweepstakes winner in the dessert category at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition this year: Watermill Winery's 2008 Gewurztraminer from Walla Walla Valley.

I think we'll see more and more from this growing region in the future. Keep your eye (and your wallet) out.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Wine and Cheese Class

Last night I was lucky enough to go to a wine and cheese pairing class at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco. If you haven't been to the Ferry Plaza, check it out next time you're in SF. There is plenty to keep yourself busy, most of which is food focused.

It's not often that I venture into the city, but I thought it was worth it for this event. The class was just $65 and included seven wines and cheeses.

But first, a trip to the Ferry Plaza isn't complete without a stop at Taylor's Refresher. The original one is in St. Helena, but this one works for me too.

I had a bacon cheeseburger, fries and a 1/2 bottle of Silverado Vineyards 2005 Cabernet...

Of course, I had a good friend with me to help share the wine and fries!

They poured us a glass of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling wine) which was very crisp and refreshing with lots of fruit flavor on the palette.

Next came these six still wines and the seven cheeses.
The wines from left to right:
Godello (Spain)
Gelber Muskateller (Austria)
Chardonnay (Carneros, CA)
Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, CA)
Petit Verdot (Napa Valley, CA)
Solera 1847 (Spain)

The wine from Spain had almost no smells at all and was very light in the mouth. The cheese that was paired with it was a soft cow / goat cheese that overpowered the wine a little. But the same cheese with the Prosecco was outstanding.

My favorite white was the Austrian Gelber Muskateller (don't even attempt it!). It had amazing aromatics (like CA Guwurtztraminer) and was full of body and flavor on the mouth without having too much oak. The cheese with it was perfect - a fresh pecorino from Italy. It was so soft and creamy. I was thinking it would make a great cheese for the next time I make pizza.

I was really surprised about the Chardonnay. This Chard was representative of CA: big, buttery and oakey. On its own, I didn't like it. BUT, with the Carmody cow's milk cheese it changed significantly. The wine became more creamy and most importantly the wine had this elegant long finish that was a result of this creamy cheese interacting with the wine. Cool.

The cheeses from top clockwise:
Largo, Andante Dairy (CA)
Pecorino Toscano (Italy)
Carmody, Bellweather Farms (CA)
Pilota (France)
Mimolette (France)
Noord Hollander (Holland)
Bleu d'Avergne (France)

The fourth wine was a Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, CA. Pinot is not typically my favorite type of wine and this one wasn't an exception. But, yet again, with the Pilota cheese (sheep's milk from the Basque region of France) the wine evolved into something I would drink.

The last dry (all the sugar was fermented out) wine was a Petit Verdot from a small producer Napa Valley. Just 110 cases of this wine were produced. This is a grape variety that has been used as a blending grape in Bordeaux, France since the beginning of time. Well almost, anyway. It's fairly uncommon to find this grape bottled on its own because it usually doesn't have enough interesting qualities. However, with this one, that was not the case. Tons of fruit on the nose and palette and a pleasing long finish. This paired wonderfully with the sheep's milk cheese from france. I think this cheese would work well with many CA Merlots as well.

The final wine was a Sherry from Spain. Slightly sweet this wine had outstanding smells. Everything from toffee to petrol (like the late harvest Riesling from an earlier post) to caramel and coffee. It was by far my favorite of the night and at just $18 it was a bargain too. This was paired with two different cheeses - a 24 month old Gouda and a Bleu from France. The Bleu was my favorite with it and that's not uncommon for me and sweet wines.

Overall, this was an excellent experience that I would highly recommend.

There was even a dog there, to ensure the proper wine country reception....

In case you were interested, her name is Sheeba. Isn't she cute?

I hope I have inspired you to pair some of your wines with cheese. There are no "rules" when it comes to this, but there are some cheese that work better with some wines. The problem is it's hard to generalize both cheese and wine, so it's difficult to say that this cheese will work with this wine. The best thing to do is to try.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Oscars, I guess

I'm not a movie buff. In fact, most movies I just pass by. But tonight when we happened to be watching the red carpet show prior to the Academy Awards and it hit me. The red carpet us just like Pinot Noir. Which was really funny because I had already planned on opening a Pinot for tonight's dinner.

Pinot is everything the red carpet is: Red (of course), soft, sexy, velvety, luscious and in the best cases complex.

Tonight, we opened a 2005 Landmark Kanzler Pinot Noir....I bought this a couple of years ago and managed to put it away in my cellar and forget about it. It has developed beautifully. The nose was packed full of aromas like blackberry, plums, black pepper and little hints of smoke, redwood bark and barnyard - all pleasing smells. In the mouth, the wine is velvety, packed full of flavors and has an extremely long finish.

Landmark is steeped in history. Its roots are from the John Deere tractor family and was founded in Windor in the Russian River Valley. But today, you will find the winery and tasting room at the Northern end of Sonoma Valley. I actually happened to visit them this week. I was surprised and pleased to see sheep out in front of the tasting room....
The sheep eat a lot of the weeds that are not good for the vines. This only works in small vineyards, but can be very effective. They also leave behind some great fertilizer!
The reason I opened the Pinot Noir tonight was because my wife was making a new dish....
This pasta was absolutely restaurant quality. First she roasted a whole head of garlic along with tomatoes sprinkled with salt pepper and a little sugar for an entire hour. The smells filled up the whole house and were fabulous. I had also just finished baking my weekly sourdough and those aromas were still filling the air too. In addition, there was some fresh basil and mozzarella. All of these came together to create the perfect pasta. It paired splendidly with the Pinot we had opened. It was a good night.
Next time a big event comes on T.V., think about what wine might pair with it. It just might lead you to open a bottle and enjoy it!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Part 2 of 3: Sonoma County's AVA's

Let's jump straight in and talk about the AVA's of Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. If you missed the first posting, you can read it here.

Sonoma County American Viticulture Area map....

(Map courtesy of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission)

Russian River Valley:

Mostly known for its cool climate, Russian River is highly regarded in Sonoma County for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But there are many other grapes planted as well, including: Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Viognier. Climate is cool, especially in the western portion. Like Carneros, this valley see large temperature swings because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Soils in this area range from volcanic (which came from Sonoma Mountain), alluvial materials in the benchlands to clay in the center part of the AVA. Interesting fact: The Russian River, which runs through the AVA) used to travel down through Sonoma Valley. No one knows why the river changed routes, but my guess would be a significant earthquake or volcanic eruption.

Dry Creek Valley:

The first grapes in Dry Creek were planted by Italian immigrants in the 1870's. Today, it is mostly known for the Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blancs being produced and sourced from there, but Cabernet is the most planted varietal. The climate is warm to hot depending on where you are in the valley. Everything is very compact - the valley is just 2 miles from ridge to ridge. In it are over 60 wineries, most are small to medium in size. The soils come in a wide variety from silty loams to gravel and volcanic to sand - all very fertile. Tip: When visiting make sure to stop at the Dry Creek General Store. It's old, funky and cool. Especially check out the bar attached to it.

Alexander Valley:

In the 1840's Cyrus Alexander was gifted 9,000 acres on the east side of what is now known as Alexander Valley. Among other things, he planted a vineyard and the history of the valley as a wine growing region began. Far inland, this valley does not get much of the cool breezes and fog off the ocean or bay. But what this AVA has is elevation - and the higher one goes the cooler it gets. So, surprisingly, there is Chardonnay planted there. But Alexander Valley is best known for its Cabernets. It is home to several world class wineries that use Cabernet as their main ingredient, if not 100 percent. Fun facts: There is an extremely upscale restaurant in Healdsburg named Cyrus (after Cyrus Alexander) and every once in a while a bear is spotted in the hills running away with some grapes!

Next up the rest of the AVA's in Sonoma County.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sometimes I just want a Guinness....

Most nights, I drink wine. But every once in a while a trip to the pub is necessary....Usually, we go to Murphy's Irish Pub in Sonoma because, after all it's in our own town. But on this particular night we made the trip to downtown Santa Rosa to visit Stout Brothers.

We looked at the menu that morning (not that I don't already know it) and all day I had talked myself into the Jameson chicken sandwich. Then at the last minute, I changed it to the Jameson burger with onion straws and their killer Jameson BBQ sauce. I just had to do it.

Of course, I ordered a pint of Guinness....Along with the Guinness, I tried a Bushmills 1608. Usually, I drink Jameson Irish Whiskey, but on this night I wanted to try something new. This Bushmills was outstanding. Sure, it was pricey, but aren't most things of high quality?

This extra large shot was about the price of a glass of wine at a nice restaurant - not bad. It had great nutty notes and was super creamy in the mouth with a really long finish. Very, very tasty. I'm gonna have to get a bottle of that!

Just a short post tonight. More pubs on or around St. Patrick's Day.

Slainte! (Cheers 'to your health' in Gaelic)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sonoma County's Growing Regions

I think it's time we talked about Sonoma County's wine growing regions.

First a map to help orientate yourself.... (Map courtesy of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission)

Sonoma County is very unique. It is the only growing region in the world that has climates of very cool, cool, warm and very warm (some would say cold to hot) all within the confines of one AVA - American Viticulture Area. AVA's are controlled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Wineries can petition to create new boundaries, but it is a difficult process.

Temperature highs in these AVA's, during the growing season (April - October), can range upwards of 40 degrees in some cases. In addition temperature swings from overnight to the hottest part of the day can range 40-plus degrees as well. All great things when growing grapes.

I'll start tonight by covering the AVA's encompassed by Sonoma Valley. Sonoma Valley has three AVA's within its borders. These are areas that have significantly different temperatures and/or soils than the larger AVA.

Los Carneros (The Ram):
Los Carneros, usually referred to as just "Carneros" spans both Sonoma and Napa Valley's. Sonoma's portion is cooler due to winds coming off the ocean and San Pablo bay. Soils are primarily clay and the top soil is not deep causing drainage problems. The Most common grapes in the region: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and small amounts of Pinot Blanc and Merlot. A majority of the grapes in this region are used for sparkling wine production.

Sonoma Valley:
Cool on the southern end and warm on the northern end, Sonoma Valley (like Napa Valley) can have a wide range of temperatures. There is also a set of mountains that help with controlling wind and rain. The Mayacamas to the east and Sonoma Mountain to the west. As a result, there is valley floor fruit as well as hillside fruit. There is a significant difference between the two, with hillside grapes generally more stressed producing smaller berries and more concentrated flavors. Soils range from clay on the floor to volcanic in the mountains. It is an area where many types of grapes will grow including: Rhone and Bordeaux varieties, Italian and German among others like Zinfandel. There are nearly 40 different grapes growing in this one region. AVA's within Sonoma Valley: Los Carneros, Sonoma Mountain and Bennett Valley. Fun fact: The first grapes were planted in Sonoma Valley in 1824.

Sonoma Mountain:
Sonoma Mountain AVA is small, but diverse. The terrain varies significantly throughout the area. There are little pockets where only certain grapes will grow. Sometimes fog will sit in pockets for hours longer than the surrounding areas. Up in the higher areas mostly Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, but the lower areas have grapes ranging from Chardonnay to Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. It is one of Sonoma County's smallest AVA's.

Bennett Valley:
Sonoma County's newest AVA, Bennett Valley, is one of the area's coolest regions. With fog and wind influence from both the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay, it consistantly runs 5-7 degrees cooler than neighboring Sonoma Valley. Although, on significantly foggy days this range can be upwards of 20 degrees. Soils range from clay to volcanic, much like Sonoma Valley. But Bennett Valley has a rock in the soil called basalt that can impart a smokey characteristic on the wines. Grapes grown in this area include Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and small amounts of Granache and Syrah. Cool fact: Bennett Valley only has one winery open to the public daily.

That's all for tonight. Next time we'll tackle the regions of Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.