Tag Archives: Sonoma County

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

Traveling Tuesday’s – Ravenswood Tasting Room

Most of you will know Ravenswood for all the grocery store wines they produce. Sure, they are a great value, but maybe not what you’re looking for in a wine country experience. Fear not. Their tasting room, nestled in the hills above Sonoma, is an inviting environment where I could see myself spending a lazy afternoon sipping great wine while being entertained by the knowledgeable staff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were greeted initially by one man, then two more appeared as the bar began to receive more guests. I could tell they all had been working together for a long time as they had excellent movement behind the bar and interaction with each other.

First in the glass was an off-dry Guwurtztraminer (one of my favorite styles) followed by a 300 case production Chardonnay. Both were very nice wines that I could find many uses for in my quest for great food pairings every month. A quick stop at Rose of Zinfandel (not White Zin) and Syrah before heading to the bigger red wine offerings.

Ravenswood’s slogan is NO WIMPY WINES! And I would agree with their viewpoint. All the wines stood up and said “HERE I AM”, but in a nice fashion. Many times ‘big’ wines end up being out of balance and are trading their style for winemaking finesse. But here the wines all had unique character from each other (even the five Zinfandel wines they were pouring had distinct flavors). This is no easy feat. It takes a lot of winemaking and grape growing talent to let the vineyard shine as it did with these wines.

And here’s where the experience in the room gets great. They do have some of the wines you find at the grocery store in the tasting room, however, the majority of what they pour and sell there is all small production wines available only there or through the wine club. And it shows. The wine quality is above average for the price points and I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed.

I couldn’t help but stop and enjoy the view….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though it was going to be close to 70-degrees today, it was a chilly morning and the fire was a nice touch….

 

 

 

 

 

 

My pick of the day was the Chauvet Zinfandel from a vineyard in Glen Ellen. It’s a field blend of Zin, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Field blends are when all the different grapes get blended together as the vineyard is picked or on the crush pad. There’s a small number of them because of the risky venture of blending before fermentation. Once blended, you can’t unblend. This particular one was very tasty and ready to drink. Why wait, right?

Next time you’re in Sonoma, take the short drive up the hill to the tasting room. You’ll be surprised at the number of wines available only in the tasting room as well as the high quality of the juice.

Cheers!

 

 

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Filed under Traveling Tuesdays, Wine, Wine Country

Sonoma County votes YES on hillside vineyard freeze

The Sonoma County board of supervisors put in place a stay on new hillside vineyards (greater than 15%) that require tree removal. Good for them. Even though it’s only for four months, it’s a step in the right direction.

At first this story seemed to be reported earlier in the week as a halt on just hillside vineyards (with little mention of the tree removal part), but there was already a moratorium on that even if it is flawed. The flawed part is that it was only on hillsides with a slope of 50% or more. Those sites are few and far between and most grape growers don’t want to incur the costs it takes to farm hillsides of that slope let alone the initial planting.

In Napa Valley the cutoff is a 30% grade making a more significant impact on farming. The main thought behind the restriction is to prevent (or at least help prevent) erosion. A good reason if you ask me, but certainly not the only reason.

Tree removal for vineyard sites is not a new topic. Any big wine company that has wanted to clear-cut to plant new vineyards has been met with opposition by environmental groups. In most cases it hasn’t led to stopping the new plantings, so why now?

Well, for starters, there is a new Ag Commissioner as of about a month ago. And there are at least a half a dozen proposed vineyards that require tree removal on the books right now. The largest of which is about 150 acres that Napa’s Artesa Winery is in process of developing.

Of course, that brings up a whole other topic – Why are Napa wineries buying land in Sonoma County? Primarily because of the Pinot Noir craze. Napa’s land suitable for growing Pinot grapes has long been tapped, so they are looking to other areas to propagate this high-profit wine. I can’t help but think that because those grapes will end up with a Napa label on them has something to do with this. It’s no secret that Sonoma County wants to promote Sonoma County wines – I’m certainly a big proponent of that.

But here’s the elephant in the room no one seems to be talking about: Why are wineries / grape growers planting grapes at a time when many vineyards have fallen out of contract and fruit has been left on the vines? The past few years have been pretty awful for some growers, so why create more vineyards with grapes that no one is buying?

It does take about 4 years after planting (and more if you are clearing before planting) to see a crop so maybe these wineries are projecting the need for more grapes. I hope so. It would be great to see an upswing. I already think we’re headed that way, but only time will tell.

I’m also very much in favor of keeping the trees we have left in this county. Not only because of the environmental benefits of having lots of trees around, but because I don’t really think we need to be clear cutting acres of land to plant more grapes. There are better ways. There are other areas to choose. Sure, maybe not with the cache of Sonoma County, but other options exists.

Let’s hope the Board of Supervisors make good decisions about the future of Sonoma County’s grape growing regions. Maybe there is a middle ground that can be reached: a certain amount of trees that can be cut down while making other environmental positives occur like the same amount of trees planted in other areas of the county. Just a thought. Why not make a net zero impact a requirement for new vineyards and possibly even other projects? This could be a great opportunity and I hope the board doesn’t take it lightly.

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Filed under Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

Napa Valley (the most popular post ever)

My most viewed post of all time is this one: Napa Valley – A New Adventure

I find this extremely interesting, yet not too surprising. Interesting because my blog name is Sonoma Cork Dork. Not surprising because of many reasons including the most sought after wine valley to visit is still Napa Valley.

I can’t tell you how many visitors and tourists mix up Napa and Sonoma and never really know where they are. The often say things like, “This is my first time to Napa Valley” or “I love tasting wines in Napa”. I don’t take offense to it because I believe that they really don’t know where they are. I also don’t look at this as a bad thing. After all, the more visitors to the area the better, right?

It’s just clear to me that when people are looking for wine related information on the web they often type in Napa before any other wine region. And this is where I think Sonoma may be behind the times. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sonoma is often talked about as more laid back, country, and a place you are likely to meet and talk with the winemakers. By contrast, Napa is often described as an adult-Disneyland. Both regions offer great wine, beautiful vineyards and big and small wineries.

Napa really started marketing itself as a wine destination in the 60′s when Mondavi opened up his winery. He realized the potential of direct to consumer sales and used to drive his car slow on highway 29 then turn left even slower into his driveway to bring people to the winery. Maybe not the most effective marketing, but it was a start. Before long Napa was really booming and visitors started to flock to the area.

Sleepier Sonoma has been playing catch-up ever since. We hear a lot of visitors say they really enjoy Sonoma for it’s quieter tasting rooms, smaller tasting fees and friendly staff. So, why then, do we see less visitors every year? It’s a mystery.

Sonoma also makes about three times as much wine as Napa. That has everything to do with geography. Sonoma County is a much larger area (about 60 miles north / south and 25 miles east / west), compared to Napa (about 20 miles long by 1-5 miles wide) – a huge difference. You would think at some point that Sonoma would overtake Napa with visitors, just from the amount of wine that is distributed from the area, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. And I’m okay with that.

As I said before, the more visitors to the area the better. I truly believe that. Visitors will see our marketing efforts and discover this great region I call home. After all, I’m still discovering it. There are over 350 wineries in Sonoma and I’m not sure I’ll ever get to all of them, but I’m going to try and I’m going to write about it every step of the way.

Cheers!

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Filed under Napa, Sonoma

Freixenet, Rockaway and some killer BBQ…

A couple of nights ago we hosted a dinner party. We love doing this. It’s a great chance to open some nice wine and kick back enjoying the evening. So, I fired up the BBQ at 9:30 in the morning to slow cook a brisket all day. More on that in a minute, but first the wine!

A lot of people need an excuse or special occasion to open a bottle of bubbly, but not us. And certainly at the price of $6.99. Thank you Trader Joe’s for having this wine on display!

This Cava (sparkling wine from Spain) was bright, crisp and refreshing. Maybe not the most exciting sparkling wine I’ve had recently, but quite a value.

The winner for the night though was this Rodney Strong Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet….

This 2005 Cabernet was quite spectacular. I even pulled out one of my favorite Cabernet’s to enjoy along with this one, but it paled in comparison. Maybe it was the bottle. Maybe it was the food. But I think it was just that this wine truly rocked. There’s all this info and data on the back of the label, but it doesn’t matter. What mattered was the wine that was inside. It was so smooth with tons of fruit and the perfect balance of oak and tannin. My only wish for the evening was that we had another bottle to dive into.

The food was pretty tasty too. My wife made some killer parmasan potatoes and I spent all day tending the BBQ for this….

My first ever slow smoked brisket. This was some of the most tender meat I’ve ever had and the smokey flavor worked perfectly with the Rockaway Cab. As if all this wasn’t enough, my lovely wife baked these chocolate espresso chocolate chip molten lava cakes….

Cheers!

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Filed under Real. Simple. Food., Wine, Food, Sonoma

Commuting through wine country, so much better!

Today I drove to San Francisco from Sonoma. Normally, I drive the other way to Santa Rosa. Let me tell you, what an experience.

I left the house early planning for some traffic and as soon as I got in the car I turned the radio on to hear that there was a three car accident halfway to SF. Oh well, I thought as I settled in for a long drive. Sure enough, it was super slow for a good 20 miles. Fun.

But it was all for good as I was going to the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium. It was sure to be a great day of wine talk and inspirational ideas of how to run all operations of The Wineyard better. And the conference did not disappoint. Great information was shared.

Then after the day was over, I climbed in the car and did the reverse of the morning only it was worse because it was raining. Californians do not know how to drive in the rain, so it was an even slower commute than the morning. And the whole time I couldn’t think of anything but how great my ‘regular’ commute is.

Of course, I knew this already. Mostly because my commute takes me past some of the most beautiful vineyards in Sonoma County. All while driving on a meandering two-lane road at the slow pace of about 50 MPH. But that 50 MPH is way faster than I was able to drive today. An interesting observation since I always thought everything was faster in the city. I guess that’s everything except the traffic.

I actually feel bad for the people that have to do commutes like that. My wife was one of them for about 5 years before landing a job close to home. We all make choices and we chose the slower life here in Sonoma and never looked back. I’m so happy we did. Life is great!

This is really just a reminder that life is short and we should all do everything we can to live it to the fullest. More tomorrow on the awesome wine we had last night.

Cheers!

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The Fall of Russian River Valley

In my mind, Russian River Valley will no longer have the cache that it once had. Starting on Dec 16th, the Russian River Valley boundaries are being expanded further south to parts of Rohnert Park and Cotati. Gallo has been asking for the past couple of years to expand the territory to include a 350-acre vineyard they own on Cotati grade into this AVA (American Viticulture Area).

Their reasoning is simple. Right now they have to use Sonoma Coast on the label. Sonoma Coast grapes don’t have the following that Russian River grapes have and thus result in lower prices at the wholesale and retail level. But from a growers standpoint, the areas are not alike. And certainly not similar enough to be considered the same.

The first time I saw the signs by the Gallo on the side of Highway 101 saying Russian River watershed, I laughed. I actually laughed out loud and thought, “are you kidding me? This area has nothing to do with Russian River!”. But somehow, I knew there would be trouble. This was one of Gallo’s main points – that they are in the Russian River Valley watershed. Well, so is Petaluma (another hill south) and just about everywhere else in Sonoma County for that matter. Based on that idea, why not include the whole county into the Russian River Valley AVA?

You may be thinking, “Why is this such a big deal?”. The answer is quite straightforward. Russian River Valley grapes have a certain characteristic and flavor and these grapes will be different from that. Well, that’s not so bad you say, different is good, right? Usually. But in this case it’s different enough that it should have its own AVA. ┬áBut grapes from a new AVA don’t bring the prices Gallo wants in the market, so they piggy-backed on the existing area with cache. But I know better. And so do most of the Russian River Valley grape growers who strongly opposed this change.

It’s also pulling the wool over the consumer’s eyes. If you have never been to Sonoma County and specifically Russian River (or at least driven along highway 101), then you probably wouldn’t understand. But for those of us who live here, we all know that by going over just one little hill or mountain can change how grapes are grown significantly. And in the case of this particular vineyard it is not only over a hill (south) from Russian River, but has a completely different terrain and climate from the ‘old’ Russian River Valley. But the consumer in Missouri or Texas or New York will probably never know the difference. And that, my friends, is a travesty. And also Gallo’s plan – since they sell over 90% of their wine in the marketplace.

It just goes to show you what money can do. But wait, maybe it wasn’t money. Because Jess Jackson tried to rename a mountain in Alexander Valley and was unsuccessful. Renaming a mountain sure seems easier than extending an AVA. So maybe it wasn’t all money that made this happen. Whatever the pull behind it, it was a bad move and one that, for me, will taint Russian River Valley. Luckily I know the difference and know where my wine comes from. But the average consumer won’t be so lucky and that is a shame.

Cheers (to the ‘old’ Russian River Valley)!

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Filed under choosing wine, Russian River Valley, Wine, Wine Country