In late August I visited some old and new friends in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley and then attended the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (SWCW), centered between the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg. Before SWCW I was the guest of Blue Rock Vineyard, and after that was hosted by the weekend’s organizers (www.SonomaWineCountryWeekend.com) as well as Adams Walter Communications founder Lisa Adams Walter (www.adamswalter.com). Part I described the first half of that journey. This is Part II.
After my action-packed two days in the Alexander Valley I headed down to the city of Sonoma and the Fairmont Mission Inn for SWCW. The first event, for press only, was dinner at Arista Winery, which offers an onsite food program with snout-to-tail cooking, a three acre organic garden, and experiential aspects for guests (picking their own garnishes, etc.) that connect customers to their wines.
A 2011 Chardonnay El Diablo Vineyard captured me with its gold-yellow color, aromas of lanolin and sweet orange, and flavors of pineapple and beeswax. The 2011 Pinot Noir Harpers Estate Vineyard showed pink cherry and smelled of green melon. The taste was all raspberry licorice and ash. Both wines finished high and long.
The next morning, Friday, August 30, brought on a press-focused meet-and-greet. I learned that there are around 60,000 acres of grapes planted in Sonoma (one million total acres in the county), which is a lot more than in Napa! It was also revealed that more than 200 (of approximately 500) county-based wineries and 100 chefs were participating in the weekend. More than 5,000 guests attended but at only a very few points did I feel overwhelmed by crowds.
We followed the presser with a trip to MacMurray Ranch, originally owned by the “My Three Sons” star but now in the Gallo portfolio. The 2011 Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay Laguna Ranch showed a sunflowery hue, a nose of bitter almond and lemon, and a palate of vanilla, green tea, and peach. As for reds, my favorite was the 2011 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Winemaker’s Block, a ruby concoction with salty black cherry, black plum, and tangerine following each other on nose and tongue.
Lunch in the vineyard with Kamen Winery (I most enjoyed the 2010 Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, violet-red in color, with smells of strawberry compote and raspberry coulis followed by a palate of mocha, red cherry, and cola) was followed by my second visit with Jean-Charles Boisset (married to Gina Gallo). Jean-Charles is part of a French family with long roots in wine. He recently renovated the historic Buena Vista Winery in the city of Sonoma. He is now focusing on historic varieties such as the 2012 French Columbard, a sunflowery, sour apple and cantaloupe tinged, honey- and pear-finished beauty.
Saturday brought the Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch, where I learned the phrase, “is that your pinosity showing or are you just happy to see me?” I attended a Kendall-Jackson food pairing demo and then wandered around, tasting all sorts of wines both standard and unusual. That night’s dinner was at Benziger, a biodynamic winery that also focuses on hospitality for its many fans. My favorite here was the ruby tinged 2010 Pinot Noir Bella Luna Vineyard, full of cranberry, raspberry liqueur, black cherry and mocha.
Sunday brought the ostensible purpose of the whole weekend – a charity auction that benefited Fund the Future, focused on children’s literacy in Sonoma County that raised more than $1.4M. A highlight was when Magnum Force, a group of lady winemakers, auctioned off something like 60 magnums for a ton of cash. I sat at the Davis Bynum table, and this winery’s dark red 2011 Pinot Noir Jane’s Vineyard cast a spell on me. Full of tangerine peel and black cherry, the bitter almond, cola, and red raspberry finish were a perfect accompaniment to such a worthy cause.
Although SWCW was finished by that evening, those of us who weren’t leaving until the next day gathered for dinner at Olive and Vine in Glen Ellen, where a few of the bottles I had brought from my cellar in Denver for just such an occasion showed extremely well. The next day I headed over to my friend Lisa Mattson’s house (PR director for Jordan Winery who has also just written a novel, www.exesinmyipod.com), where we did a very late Bastille Day dinner. I had previously hosted such a meal for three straight years — on the proper date — in Napa but was not able to do so this year. Lisa graciously allowed me to not skip a year. She also let me sleep in her guest bedroom that night.
Before the dinner I found the time to head up Chalk Hill Road and visit with old friend Jesse Katz, winemaker at both Lancaster and Roth. Jesse is building an entirely new winery for the Roth brand, which keeps him quite busy. But he was able to spare the time to taste me on a few barrels of the 2012s. These wines just keep getting better, and I highly recommend the Cabernet Sauvignon, black-purple in hue, with elements of blackberry, red cherry, brown sugar, and granite, as well as the Heritage Blend, in this case more purple in tone, with smells and tastes of red apple, pomegranate, cinnamon and allspice. Both exhibited the firm yet supple tannins I’ve come to associate with Jesse’s style of winemaking.
In summation, SWCW was just a blast and I highly recommend it for wine lovers of all persuasions. If you’re serious about wine this would be a definite highlight of any year. In the next column I will be describing a special few days in San Francisco with New Zealand Wine during the America’s Cup finals. Then I’ll recap an extraordinary press trip to Umbria, Italy, to cover Enologica34, the most important wine festival in the world dedicated to the sagrantino grape. After that my Wine On The Road Piedmont Unfiltered tour takes place at the beginning of November (for more information on WOTR’s tours check out www.wineontheroad.com). Stay tuned!
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We eat at authentic local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
Planned excursions in the first half of 2014 include an Asado Argentina visit to Mendoza and Buenos Aires scheduled for March 16 – 25, 2014 (www.wineontheroad.com/argentinaunfiltered.php), and additional trips to Piedmont, Italy (www.wineontheroad.com/winebeesandcheese.php) and Oregon’s wine country (email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details) in late April and May. We will also be heading to France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux (with time in Paris) in late 2014. You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by emailing me at email@example.com.
Arista Chardonnay El Diablo Vineyard RRV 2011 (Sonoma County, California) $N/A
Gallo Signature Series Chardonnay Laguna Ranch RRV 2011 (Sonoma County, California) $22
Buena Vista French Columbard 2012 (Sonoma County, California) $32
Arista Pinot Noir Harpers Estate Vineyard RRV 2011 (Sonoma County, California) $N/A
Macmurray Ranch Pinot Noir Winemakers Block 2011 (Sonoma County, California) $50
Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2010 (Sonoma County, California) $80
Benziger Pinot Noir Bella Luna Vineyard 2010 (Sonoma County, California) $50
Davis Bynum Pinot Noir RRV Jane’s Vineyard 2011 (Sonoma County, California) $35
Roth Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Sonoma County, California) $N/A
Roth Heritage Blend 2012 (Sonoma County, California) $N/A