Category Archives: Wine Country

Proud to be a Sonoman

I haven’t written in over 75 days. In fact, at a point last week I thought about taking a break and shutting my site down until I had more time or felt the inspiration to start writing again. Then, as I was on a walk with my new dog today….

Bodie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it struck me: I love living in Sonoma. I have felt this way for some time. We moved here (nearly on a whim) a little over six years ago with a 7 month old, 2 dogs, a cat and a gecko. Our family has changed some over the past years. Currently, we have two kids, 3 dogs, 2 cats and a chameleon. It’s a crazy, fun (and busy) life.

But let’s get back to what got me to think about writing again. As I was walking the plaza and “bike” path – mostly used by walkers – with Bodie, I was stopped a few times by people who wanted to say hi to him. I was taken with how nice everyone was.

It wasn’t just folks being nice to my dog, but genuine niceness to me as well. Not that I’m a cranky bugger, though I have my moments like everyone. I had several pleasant conversations with the people I ran into. I even gave some dinner recommendations as well as where to go to see a great view of the valley. I felt like a local. It was a fantastic feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve played the local over the past number of years. I have, after all, worked in winery tasting rooms for some time where you must know the area.

The part that made me most proud and why I am very happy to call Sonoma my home is that a place like this still exists. A place where you can take a walk and talk with neighbors and visitors, a little piece of Mayberry if you will. With our crazy busy lives and technology distractions it’s nice to know there’s still a place where people take the time to say hi to others they pass on the street.

Though having the dog doesn’t hurt in starting the conversation.

Cheers!

 

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Filed under Sonoma, Wine Country

Autumn Weather, Always Torn

This time of year is always tough for me. I’ve never been a warm weather person and when the Autumn breeze picks up and the vineyards start to turn beautiful colors it makes me happy. But this is nearly always the time of year that is the most difficult for grape growers and winemakers – especially for those grapes that need the extra time on the vines.

Why? Well, for starters the moisture content in the air gets higher and usually we start to have cloudy days and certainly heavy morning fog. This can induce botrytis on the grapes leading to moldy clusters. Not good. In addition, with the shorter days there is limited amounts of sunlight which means it takes even longer to get the grapes ripe.

So as much as I want to light a fire, sit on my couch and get lost in a great wine…I’m torn. I want to enjoy this time of year and all the things that come along with it (like eating more), but I’m always concerned about the grapes. When the vineyards have been picked I feel so much better.

But it is about so much more than just getting grapes ripe. It’s also about developing flavors. Generally speaking the longer the grapes are on the vine, the more depth and character are developed. There is always a give and take when it comes to wine though. During the growing process sugars rise as acid levels fall – at some point the two intersect at the perfect time and that is when the orders are given to pick. There’s a little more to it than that, but those are two very important factors. But wait too long and the wine can be too alcoholic leading to a ‘hot’ character.

All reports I’ve heard is that this year has been a banner year. Quality is really great and quantity has been higher than expected. After two semi-rough years it’s a relief to see one where winemakers are really happy. The last two vintages have certainly had their challenges (cool summers, heat spikes, rain), but the great winemakers have taken the time to provide higher levels of care and sorting to bring out the best qualities.

I live in an amazing place to grow grapes and with very few exceptions the climate is perfect. We aren’t plagued with many of the issues that Europe deals with. It’s not uncommon for France to have rain in the summer and very cold weather early on requiring picking sooner than is desirable. Often I have customers ask me what my favorite California years are and I can truly say nearly all of them. Sure, they each have their nuances (some providing more fruit forward wines or others earthier) but we are lucky that we have these nearly perfect conditions turning out an excellent crop year after year.

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Napa, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

Repris Wines, My New Wine Adventure Has Begun…

Exactly five weeks ago, I wrote this about not knowing what my next adventure in the wine industry would be. Less than a week later I had two job offers and one that I just couldn’t refuse. An opportunity that has consumed my last four weeks so much that I haven’t even had time to share with you where I’m working. I connected with a newer wine company in Sonoma that took over Moon Mountain Vineyard in 2011.

A while back I tasted a 2004 Moon Mountain Cabernet as the previous owners were closing the estate and had this to say about the property:

Even though there won’t be any more Moon Mountain made, the vines are still there and some of these flavors and aromas will likely still be showing up in future offerings from this estate. I’ll have to grab some of their first releases to share here.

Those words couldn’t have been more true! You see, my new home just released the inaugural wines this past week. Yes, I’ve tasted them. Yes, I love them. Much more so than the 2004 I tasted before. Some of that could be my personal attachment to the vineyard and wines now, but I believe what is happening on the mountain now will outshine anything we’ve seen from prior owners. I have every faith that the wines, the vineyard and the experience rivals the best in the world. That’s a big statement, I know. But likely you haven’t experienced what we have to offer and once you do, you’ll understand.

Here is a preview of what the property and wines offer up. Stunning, right? And let me tell you these photos do a great job of showing off the vineyard, caves and harvest, but until you’ve seen it with your own eyes you won’t fully understand.

My career has taken a swing in my day-to-day tasks and I’m happy for that. I have loved working in tasting rooms for the past five years, but really needed and wanted to contribute in a different way. I’m working with the members of Repris, interacting with them via phone and email. It’s amazing how much crossover there is from in-person conversation to the phone. Either way, I’m telling the story of the vines, the wine making process and my favorite part: the finished product. I’m enjoying it immensely.

Let me know if you are in the neighborhood, I’d love to show you around this spectacular estate.

Cheers!

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Filed under Sonoma, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

A new wine adventure awaits!

Tonight I lie in bed awake waiting for tomorrow to come. Tomorrow brings with it opportunity, new experiences and more time with the family. You see, last Friday was my last day at the place I spent 5 days a week at for the last year plus. Through no fault of my own, the business closed. I was working hard to make it a success; however there were too many factors stacked against us. But that is the past and the past can not be changed. What can be changed is tomorrow (and now – but tomorrow and now are pretty close to the same thing).

I’m already interviewing for my next adventure in this ever-changing industry. And I really mean an adventure. Each place I’ve worked for in the past 5 years has had its own character, history and customers. It has been a lifetime of experiences in a short period of time full of awesome co-workers with unlimited knowledge of wine. All of whom were willing to share with me and impart a real understanding of this complicated business. I’ve also had the pleasure of taking some great classes through leading organizations in the wine industry leading to even more knowledge.

It all sounds so easy: grow some grapes, crush them, bottle the product and sell it to consumers. So simple, I forgot the part about fermentation! But this is an intricate business that has countless steps to ensure the quality of the finished wine matches up with what the winery’s customers have come to expect. As one of the funny ecards floating around Facebook said recently: “you mean I can get paid to help people drink wine? Where do I sign up” It’s true. When all is said and done, that is what we do – although each of us plays a unique role in the process.

So while I don’t know yet what the next adventure for me will be, I do know that it will be exciting. I do know that it will bring with it new challenges and experiences. I also know that I will meet new people with unique perspectives hearing about some of the same processes in new ways. I’m excited for what the future holds and I look forward to where this career path will take me next.

So while I type this and think about all the experiences I’ve had, I know only one thing for sure; this is the only thing I want to do with my life. There are no other jobs or career paths that fit with my lifestyle. In addition, the beverage I have come to not only enjoy daily has provided for my family for nearly half of my post-college years. Good stuff. You’ve heard people say it, but do what you love and the money (and happiness) will come. I’m trying. And if the money doesn’t come at least there’s wine!

More soon on my next steps….

Cheers!

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Filed under Wine, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

Paso Robles Wine Country

Thanks to my in-laws a couple of weeks ago my wife and I managed a weekend away and decided to make the trek to Pismo Beach. Thanks to a friend we stayed at Pismo Lighthouse Suites, a well-appointed hotel right on the beach. Great place to stay and an excellent view….

 

 

 

 

 

 

With only one full day down there, of course we went wine tasting! I had heard about good wines from Paso Robles, but I think most people would label the region as still ‘up and coming’. With the five wineries we visited, I would venture to say that the area is no longer up and coming, but rather has hit full stride! At each stop there wasn’t one wine that I would have labeled as ‘not good’. There were certainly a few that weren’t my style, but all the wines I tasted were of high quality.

Our first stop…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peachy Canyon was our first stop. We know the area is known for Zinfandel and we are huge Zin fans. This winery was listed as one that offered multiple Zinfandels. They had three on the list, but 6 more available just for wine club members. All were tasty. They also offer live music on Saturdays during the summer and have a huge picnic area and lawn. Cool stuff.

Second up was Turley Wine Cellars….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turley traces its roots back to St. Helena in the Napa Valley and I recognized the name. We tasted 4 wines and all were very good, so they were packed into the cooler. Turley offered a more upscale experience with a large bar, many staff members and a retail shop as well.

After that a short trip to Zin Alley where we tasted wine along with the owner and winemaker. A very cool experience tasting right in their cellar, right up my alley….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not much to look at, but the wines were very good. We actually ended up going home with a Syrah blend. Funny since Zin is in their name.

Right down the hill from Zin Alley, was our favorite stop on the trip, Cypher Winery. I was a little skeptical as some of their wines seemed gimmicky…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With names like Anarchy, Heretic and Zin Bitch I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was blown away with quality, elegance and power of these wines. We just drank the Heretic and I was equally impressed while drinking it at home. Which brings up another topic that I’ll have to write about. Many tourists get caught up in the romance of wine country and dream up that the wines are better than they really are. Then upon returning home they are disappointed in the wine they purchased. Sorry for the tangent, back to the wine. We also picked up the Chardonnay even though it was un-oaked. I’m usually a fan of some oak on my Chard, but this one really stood out.

Our last stop was Lone Madrone. We were drawn to it because of its Celtic logo…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are any number of things that attract tourists (and locals) to wineries. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a logo or bottle design. This one looked like a symbol we had seen while traveling through Ireland a few years back. The symbol dated back more than 5000 years. The wines were as good as any we had on the trip. The Chenin Blanc was a highlight as was the Hard Apple Cider they produce.

All in all it was a fantastic introduction to the wine country in and around Paso Robles. We can’t wait to return and discover some new favorites.

Cheers!

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Filed under Visiting Wineries, Wine Country, Wine Tasting

Traveling Tuesdays – Robledo Family Winery

Well, I’m back in it! It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out and do some wine tasting, but I jumped back in this past week with a visit to Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma. When I first announced that I was doing Traveling Tuesdays, the tweeter (is there such a thing?) for Robledo jumped right in and asked if I was coming for a visit. So, four months later, I finally made it.

I had been once before, but it was nearly four years ago, so many things had changed and I didn’t really remember what the wines tasted like. The story is one of truly pulling oneself up by their bootstraps: With $30 in his pocket and a dream, Reynaldo Robledo came to the U.S. to start a new life. Except for a trip back to marry his wife to Mexico, Mr. Robledo spent all his time in California. He acquired a job with Christian Brothers in Napa Valley and eventually became a manager with the company.

Eventually, he was able to purchase 13 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region, followed by many acres in Sonoma and Lake counties as well. The family now owns nearly 400 acres of land in the three areas and produce more than a dozen varietals. They remain one of only two latino-owned wineries in all of Northern California and are quite successful.

Walking up to the tasting room, there is this outstanding water feature along with expansive vineyard views and, of course the most important flags…

The tasting room itself is a little difficult to find, but after trying a few doors I found it. Once inside the room is quite large and able to accommodate many guests at one time. We were greeted by Luis Robledo, one of 9 kids of Reynaldo – 9 kids! All the family are involved in the winery in one capacity or another. Luis mans the tasting room, but I’m sure he does much more than that.

The tasting started with a delightful Sauvignon Blanc…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up going home with half a case of the Sauvignon Blanc. I was getting low on bright, refreshing summer wines and the price and flavor were right for the warm months ahead.

Luis also poured Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc to round out the tasting.

Oh and a white port!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many more wines available, but they will have to wait for another visit which will definitely happen again.

Cheers!

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Filed under Sonoma, Traveling Tuesdays, Wine, Wine Country, Winemaking

Spring in Sonoma

The reports have been rolling in during the last week that bud break was happening all over the county. However, on my drive through parts of Carneros and Sonoma Valley, I haven’t seen much action. But nearly every morning I wake up to a sound that lets me know Spring has officially begun and a new growing season has as well: Vineyard fans.

Vineyard fans are used when the temperature drops to near freezing. They are set to automatically turn on at around 36-degrees to start circulating air because moving air is always warmer than static air. If you’ve never heard a vineyard fan, they are loud. Very loud. I believe the closest one to my house is at least a 1/2 mile away and it sounds like there is a helicopter circling on the next block over. I can’t imagine what that would sound like if it was in my backyard.

Spring is an unpredictable time. One day it can be 70 degrees and the next it can be 45 and raining. It’s also what makes this time of year so scary for growers. These first few weeks after bud break are an extremely critical time. If it gets too cold, those precious buds can be ruined which is why the vineyard fans are no joking matter – they can make or break a grower’s year.

It’s no coincidence that Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons. Spring for the warm days and cool nights and the beginnings of the new growing season. Fall for the excitement of harvest. The past three years have each had difficult moments with some leading to crop loss in staggering numbers. It’s not all bad though because there was definitely less demand for finished goods.

I’m crossing my fingers that this year will be a stress-free year for the growers. Only time will tell…

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Wine, Wine Country