Category Archives: Sonoma County

24th Annual Holiday Open House: Sonoma Valley-Glenn Ellen-Kenwoods’ Best Value Festival

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Every year since 1984, the Holiday Open House presents wineries from the Sonoma Valley region and “sweet and savory nibbles.” The festival runs Friday November 23 and Saturday November 24. This year’s addition will be one of the best yet with 20 wineries participating. The list includes:

Audelssa, Benzinger, Blackstone, Chateau St. Jean, Eric Ross, Imagery Estate, Kaz Winery, Kenwood, Kunde Estate, Landmark, Ledson, Loxton Cellars, Mayo Winery, Muscardini Cellars & Ty Caton, SL Cellars, The Wine Room, VJB Cellars, Valley of the Moon, and Wellington.

The real treat is the value this wonderful Holiday Open House represents. Here is what you get: Tastings at all 20 wineries of their best varietals and vintages; Open House style access to the grounds, expert service, AND small plate tapas style appetizers. To finish off your moving meal is chocolate tastings. All the wine, food, and chocolate you can devour for $30 per person. Now here is the real kicker. Your $30 ticket covers both days of the event.

I defy anyone to show me a better deal. A Festival with world class wineries like Chateau St.Jean, Landmark, and Eric Ross along with 17 of their winery neighbors serving all you can taste. Culinary offerings at every stop and as much chocolate as you can possibly find room for after all of the wine and food.

Mark this event on your calender; it is not to be missed.

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Martinelli’s Tasting Room: A Tasting Experience Lost in a Dollar per Square Foot Theme

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Helen Turley is the most important figure in wine making today. She is a pioneer and leading expert of a generation of California wine making brilliance. Her talents and abilities have been well documented by some of the most outstanding artistic creations California has to offer the wine loving world. She is to wine what Babe Ruth is to baseball. The greatest, one and only, talent the industry has ever produced in my opinion. Consequently, the following article is about the Martinelli tasting room not their impressive wines.

Martinelli , considered one of the most desirable ’boutique’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers in California, has a solid track record of excellence recognized throughout the world. So it was with great expectations, that we pulled into Martinelli to “experience” these legendary wines on their home turf: the tasting room. In one of the biggest disappointments since Major League baseball allowed an All Star game to go unfinished as a tie, the Martinelli tasting room was simply “ugly.” A cross between a Hickory Farms store and a Williams Sonoma outlet shop, Martinelli’s tasting room “vision” does not match their majestic wines.

The ambiance, if you could call it that, is pure delicatessen with a mix of country brick a brack. The tasting room was less room and more closet. It was a bar of roughly 15ft in length jammed into the back corner of the room. This “cubby” hole is surrounded by retail “rounders” holding expensive Italian hand painted pottery, food items, and apron type of kitchen knick knacks. Again the feel you get is that the Martinelli’s are desperate to monetize their winery so they “must” cram a bunch of stuff into as little space as possible.

Upon our arrival, the tasting area was packed: 6 people were jostling for position. As we stood back to survey the scrum, a party of 10 walked in asking for service. The response was less than enthusiastic. The servers denied the party access. The reason given for their rejection was as follows: We can’t handle big parties as we only have two servers staffing the bar area. The area is too small and we limit the size of a party to 6 maximum. This message (paraphrased) was delivered in a sympathetic manner but it did not change the “small” feel a person gets when tasting at Martinelli. It did not bring back memories of that cozy, warm beautiful cabin in the mountains. Instead it felt like a Japanese bullet train boarding passengers by shoving them into the compartment with cattle prods.

Smallness of attitude and service seemed to be the theme. Our tasting staff of two consisted of one staffer who claimed to have many years in the industry. Yet this server never answered any wine specific technical questions as she was more interested in discussing how rakish the last party of customers acted. Her cohort in crime looked the part of a bartender not a server in a tasting room. She had a nano second of regurgitated company propaganda and nearly no discernible knowledge about the winery or the wine being poured. The two were very friendly but this did not make up for the feeling we experienced: get away and get away quickly.

But instead of getting away, we stayed for the wine. The tasting was free and that is an admirable quality at Martinelli. But again smallness reared it’s ugly head. The problem? Every bottle being poured was affixed with a traditional bar tap. These “taps” are spouts which pour a pre-measured “shot.” In Martinelli’s case this pre-measured pour resembled the size of a cologne tester, the skinny test tube freebies, at your local Nordstrom store. According to our server, the pour is 1/2 an ounce. I will go on record as disputing that measure. Either I can’t eye out my alcohol, I am a former bartender, or our pour was more like 1/3 of an ounce: enough to wet your lips slightly with nothing left for your palette. I would rather pay $5 or $10 and receive enough wine to enjoy and judge the wine.

Hoping for something to hang our hats on, we surveyed the grounds for a quiet romantic spot and picnic facilities. Small seemed to describe the scene. A few picnic tables sit in front of the “store” tasting closet. The surrounding foliage was nice and it would have been suitable for a picnic yet the noise of River Rd., less than 100 ft away, made for less than ideal conditions. The other picnic area was in back somewhere. We were never really given any directions to it so we gave up on that area. It may have been very nice but our patience was almost nil at that point.

If you are expecting a shrine to the wine at the Martinelli’s tasting room, you will be greatly disappointed. It is best to skip a visit here, enjoy the wine as always, and find more enjoyable tasting rooms in the Green Valley appellation.

Iron Horse Vineyards: Finest Tasting Room in Green Valley Appellation of Russian River Valley

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In what has to be the only “outdoor” tasting room in the Western Hemisphere, tasting at Iron Horse Vineyards is a truly unique experience. Imagine driving to a remote location, down a secluded unpaved trail, up the side of a hill, to reach the top where you are treated to a 360 degree expansive view of vineyards nestled into rolling hills which give way to a green valley floor. Welcome to paradise Iron Horse style.

As you walk from the parking area you see what looks like a plank sitting on top of wine barrels housed in a cabana style protective covering. When you get right up to this “structure” you realize that this IS the tasting room. Turn around and you have a Thomas McKnight like picture postcard view of the Green Valley.

What makes this such a great tasting room? First the staff is extremely friendly. We began our tasting with Dawnelise and she was both exuberant and knowledgeable about the wines and the region. When Dawnelise was busy with new customers, Aaron or one of his cohorts filled in without a hitch. The attitude is so friendly and based on pleasing the customer. The staff is clad in shorts and beach wear which lends to the festive atmosphere.

Gorgeous topography, festive ambiance, a friendly and knowledgeable staff are not the only great features of this tasting experience: the wine ain’t half bad either! To be more exact the wine is exceptional in most cases. The following are the 3 wine flights offered the day we tasted at Iron Horse:

Sparkling Flight: 2001 Blanc de Blancs-$37; 2002 Classic Vintage Brut-$31; 2002 Russian Cuvee-$31; and the 2004 Wedding Cuvee-$37

Seasonal Flight: 2005 Viognier-$25; 2005 Un-Oaked Chardonnay-$26; 2004 Estate Chardonnay-$27; 2006 Rosato di Sangiovese-$13; 2005 Estate Pinot Noir-$36; and the beautiful 2004 BDX Meritage-3-$3.

Reserve/Library Flight: 2006 Cuvee R-$26; 2003 Estate Chardonnay-$30; 2006 Rose de Pinot Noir-$16; 2003 Benchmark-$100; and the 2005 Late Harvest Viognier-$26.

The first two flights have a tasting fee of $10 each; the Reserve/Library Flight tasting fee is $15. But wait! We were never charged a tasting fee. In fact we had so many wonderful discussions going on simultaneously with each staff member, that they began offering us wines not on the flight list. When we finally concluded our tasting, both satisfied and a bit tipped, we purchased one bottle and we were never asked to pay a tasting fee.

We made friends with staff, fellow tasters, and overall our afternoon at Iron Horse Vineyards was the highlight of our weekend.

Bodega Bay Seafood, Art and Wine Festival: Last of the Fantastic Summer Wine Festivals

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The San Francisco Bay Area’s Summer Festival season is coming to a close with one of the very best outdoor celebrations. The 13th annual Bodega Seafood, Art and Wine Festival provides celebrants with a serene water location, world class musical talent, and gourmet food and wine offerings.

The Bodega Bay celebration is held in the historic bay side resort town of Bodega Bay made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in his creepy classic “The Birds.” The festival, August 25 & 26th, is located at Watt’s Ranch 16855 Bodega Avenue in the village of Bodega Bay, California. The event runs from 10:00-6:00 on Saturday and 10:00-5:00 on Sunday; admission fees are $12 for adults, $10 for Seniors 60 and over, $8 for kids 12-1, and children under 12 are admitted free of charge. This is truly one of the best values in entertainment. The following is a lineup of musical talent, Art, Food and wineries available:

Saturday August 25: Headliner Marcia Ball Singer/Pianist brings her brand of “bayou blues” and “honky tonk” style for her first appearance at Bodega Bay.

Opening for Marcia: Guitar virtuoso Scott Huckabay , Cari Lee and the Saddle-ites , Montuno Groove , and a host of stage shows.

Sunday August 26: Headliner the Bay Area’s native sons Pride and Joy the best R&B club band with over 25 yrs of headliner gigging.

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Opening for Pride and Joy: Incendio nuevo flamenco and Tom Rigney.

With 19 wineries led by the fantastic Sbragia from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County and 10 breweries including Sierra Nevada there will not be a dry glass in the place.

If you are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area in late August or if you are a local make the trek to Bodega Bay for what promises to be the best celebration of the summer.

Ed Sbragia Winery: Prominent Winemaker Uses Glass Stopper to Slay the Cork Myth

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The dirtiest little secret, within the wine industry, long a terrible fact is the”corkage factor.” It has been estimated that up to 20% of the wines in circulation are contaminated rendering them undrinkable. The reason for this high rate of loss is the material used to seal a wine bottle: cork. Cork has long been the traditional material used in the wine industry. Cork is cheap and it is romantic in it’s opening. Cork also represents history within a industry steeped in tradition.

Unfortunately the worst case scenario is when a collector or wine fanatic saves aka “lays down” a bottle for 5+years. I have done just this with a bottle of Caymus Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary 1994 Napa Valley vintage. At release this bottle retailed for $100. Currently this wine sells at retail for between $250 and $400 depending upon the source. Scarier yet is the fact that on one restaurant wine list a bottle of 1994 Caymus Special Select was selling for $650! Consequently this bottle is meant for my upcoming birthday. . . if tragedy strikes and this bottle is tainted, it would be a loss on 3 levels: time to age, cost at release, cost to replace present day. I could never afford to own a replacement!

All of this has changed with the introduction of Ed Sbragia’s “Resealable Glass Stopper.” Sbragia, the legendary wine making master for Berringer Vineyards for so many years, has introduced the “new cork” at his new winery Sbragia Family Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley region of northern Sonoma County.

In a fun and interesting article written by Bill Daley, in”The Stew” Chicago Tribune’s wine and food blog, a brief history of alternative “stoppers” is explored. Daleys’ examination of the stoppers is both accurate and a good description of what to expect for those first timers.

Consequently a new era of taint free wines is a true possibility. Although Sbragia is not the first vintner to use glass resealable stoppers, he is the most prominent and powerful winery owner to promote them. This fact alone may create a shift in perception amongst winery owners and the public. Hopefully bottles, coddled and stored with loving care, saved for that special occasion will no longer bring with them the ultimate let down-another tainted disaster!

The Greatest Value Chardonnay You May Never Taste

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Chardonnay, easily one of the most controversial and popular grapes harvested , has many superstar offerings. Wines such as Kistler, El Molino, Beringer Reserve, Martinelli, Rombauer, Patz and Hall, Shafer’s Red Shoulder Ranch, and Ramey are bursting with multiple flavors, structure, and balance. The problem remains the price as most of these offerings begin around $30 skyrocketing up to the triple digit level. For everyday sipping, these fantastic chardonnays can become a bit pricey.

The most economical, rich, and elegant chardonnay (everyday tasting) we have tried is Buena Vista’s 2004 Sonoma Chardonnay. Crafted from Carneros fruit, this chardonnay is very smooth and creamy. It is reminiscent of Rombauer’s smooth malolactic mouth feel without a 2×4 oak log beating you over the head as you pull splinters out of your tongue.

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Mind you, I love Rombauer Chardonnay! Yet many self proclaimed “experts”, the folks who can detect 29 different and distinct tastes from moldy sweat socks to a hummingbird’s vapor trail, believe that oak in wine is an affront to mankind! A little oak never hurt, as long as it’s not coming from a wood shampoo, and in wine it can provide a fantastic background flavor.

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All fun aside, Buena Vista’s 2004 Sonoma Chardonnay tastes like a superstar’s $50 per bottle offering. Yet, it is priced just right! We found this wine at various locations. The best price? At our local Longs Drugs store of all places. Long’s price: $10.99.

I hope you had fun.  Thanks!

Buena Vista Carneros: Help Celebrate the 150 Year Anniversary Sept. 7, 2007

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Buena Vista Carneros, established in 1857 and now the oldest winery in Sonoma, celebrates it’s 150 year Anniversary on September 7, 2007. According to the Buena Vista web site, “. . . a sumptous food & wine event” will be held from 2pm to 5pm. The event will be attended by wine trade dignitaries as well as California political figures.

In addition, Sonoma’s most noteworthy restaurants, none were named in the announcement, will be present serving their finest accompanied by Buena Vista’s rich offerings. Live music in the beautiful fountain courtyard area round out the celebration.

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Tickets for the event are on sale now. Carneros Club members: $45 and non members: $60. Space is limited and it is suggested that the public RSVP in advance at 800. 325.2764 phone or 800. 425.8238 fax.

A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the Sonoma Valley Historical Society.

For more information please contact Dean Guadagni winecountryrogue@gmail.com