Category Archives: Sonoma

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

YardWine – are you in on the trend?

Most of you are probably aware that during the late Spring and Summer I spend many Tuesday evenings on the Sonoma Plaza enjoying a couple glasses of wine and picnic food (most of the time – of course, last night was burritos) while the kids run around. The event is really the Tuesday Night Sonoma Farmer’s Market, but it is way more than a regular farmer’s market. Most of it, for me anyway, is about socialization and a feeling of community. Sure the fresh flowers, veggies and goods offered by the vendors are great, but so many people flock to the plaza to meet friends and family that evening.

Much like these folks are doing on Friday nights in Rossmoor (Southern California). Dan and Nancy Roddy started the concept of “YardWine” more than 25 years ago. The idea is really simple. Sit in your yard, your front yard people!, open some wine and invite a few neighbors over. Sounds easy, right? I can hear the excuses already: “We’re just so busy right now”, “Maybe next week, we have plans tonight”

Neighborhoods just aren’t what they used to be. And why do you think that is? Because we don’t do the things we used to do. It used to be on Friday nights there weren’t any TV shows worth watching – though I’ll argue there likely still aren’t. We weren’t captivated by our electronic devices. Now we have to come home and feed our fake fish, check facebook 10,000 times before bed, run through all the Pinterest posts, etc. We are so ‘busy’ these days we don’t have time to talk with our neighbors. That is why neighborhoods aren’t the same. And nothing is going to change unless we get out there and change it.

This year my wife bought some Adirondack chairs for our front porch…

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hope was that we would sit out there more this year maybe meet some of our neighbors and enjoy this great area we decided to live in – like we do on Tuesday nights. The reality is that by the time we eat dinner, the kids go to bed (they are almost to the age we can just let them play in front of the house) and we are ready to sit out there it is too windy or chilly to fully enjoy. Likely I should have added that to the excuses above. The wi-fi reaches out there so our electronic leashes are not an excuse for us to stay inside. Although that defeats the purpose of the YardWine concept.

Sonoma has great weather, but one of the reasons it is such a perfect climate for grapes is that it’s warm during the day and cool overnight. It can sometimes get in the way of evening outdoor plans. We still have some ‘summer’ left in us and I plan on sitting out there more this year. Maybe even some of the neighbors will stop by to enjoy a glass of vino with us. Maybe.

Cheers!

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Filed under Sonoma, Wine, Wine Tasting

Lackluster June Rain Leaves Vineyards Okay

Last year is a wine growing year that likely many vintners and growers want to forget. June was plagued with rain during bloom causing fruit set to be irregular leading to uneven grape clusters. So when the weather reports called for rain on Monday I was thinking it was June 2011 all over again. Turns out the highest rainfall amounts recorded were 4 hundredths of an inch or barely heavier than a thick fog.

I stopped and took a picture during the rain to check on the grape clusters…

These little clusters were in the middle of bloom, but it didn’t matter because the rain wasn’t strong enough to get in the way of the self-pollination. Did you know that wine grapes are self-pollinating? The grapes do not need an outside source (like bees) to pollinate. I’ve always thought that was a cool fact about wine grapes.

All is still going well for the 2012 growing season and the forecast for the next 10 days show sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80’s, just the right temperature to move this vintage along at a steady pace.

One more note about the rain (if you can call it that) from Monday. It was very windy on Tuesday meaning that any ill-effects of the cooler, damp weather were pretty much erased. Wind is exactly what is needed to dry the vines out after the drizzle.

More updates as we move through this season.

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Sonoma, Wine

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

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