October 25, 2003

Our Sonoma Weekend

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Last weekend we enjoyed a wonderful trip to the Sonoma wine country with my parents and their friends Tom and Carol. Normally a third couple, Deb and Martyn, join my folks and Tom and Carol, but this year Deb and Martyn are in Hawaii so we got to come along instead. Hooray! Here's a rundown on what we did.

The pictures are here!

Click below for the rest of the story...

My parents drove up in their minivan and met up with us on Friday evening. Saturday we picked up Carol and Tom from the Oakland airport and started our wine oddyssey. The goal for the trip was to visit some new and unknown wineries, as well as a few old favorites. Many of our tastings were by appointment only where we got to talk directly to the winemakers, do barrel tastings, and learn all kinds of things about winemaking.

Our first stop was an appointment with Hanzell . We drove up to the top of their rolling hills vineyards and were treated to winetasting on a porch overlooking the vast estate. The view could not be beat. We also got a tour of their brand-new cave, built in respose to TCA contamination in their current facility. TCA is a fungus that makes the wine taste and smell "corked" (smells like wet cardboard, or, well, fungus). The wine was pretty good but nothing to do backflips over.

The next wineries are not in the order that we visited them. Wine makes the memory a little unreliable. Anyway, we went toArrowood. I stayed in the car to nap, and boy was that a mistake. The winemaker's wife Alis sat with our group at length and talked about all kinds of wine stuff.

Also on Saturday was Imagery. Their emphasis was on original art of their labels. We bought a cool poster (on sale, too!). Unfortunately the guy at the wine bar was pretty snooty. The wine didn't make an impression on me, so it must not have been great.

We ate a picnic lunch at B. R. Cohn. B. R. Cohn used to be a band manager before he went into wine, and managed the Doobie Brothers and another band whose name I can't remember. He had all of their gold albums decorating his tasting room, however.

Saturday night we dined at Syrah in Santa Rosa. It was quite good, and I split a very nice Fromage a' Trois (three cheeses) for dessert.

Sunday morning we were up again for our first hit of the day, Kosta Browne winery. This was an appointment tasting at a new winery (new to us, and only a few years old). Wow! They had great wines. Their specialty is Pinot Noir, my favorite, and it was very good. We got to see where they have started digging their cave and do some barrel tastings. Mike and Dan spent a lot of time with us talking about their philosophy and techniques of winemaking. It's so wonderful to meet people who are truly passionate about good wine. If you come across a Kosta Browne on a wine list at a fine restaurant, you can't go wrong with that choice. They also set us up for dinner at Willi's Wine Bar, where Dan created the wine list.

I pretty much used up my wine limit at Kosta Browne so I took it easy the rest of the day. I slept through Roshambo, which turned out to be a good idea this time. As Kevin said, "Somebody needs to pay more attention to their wine and less attention to being cutting-edge cool."

We lunched (another picnic) at Mill Creek Winery, where the mill wheel was very cute but the wine failed to make an impression on me. Perhaps because I may not have tasted any there. Kosta Browne nearly wiped me out.

We hit the very posh Ferrari-Carano winery. No relation to the car, Ferrari-Carano was very impressive. Their building screamed "We have money!" and their cellar was the coolest thing I've seen in a long time. The wine wasn't bad either, especially in the underground reserve room. They had several letters on the wall from the White House announcing the times F-C wine was served there. I was impressed.

I'll take this moment to interject a comment about wineries in general. Some wineries have elaborate manor houses, some have just a bar in a small tasting room. Some taste right from their barrel room--in a giant converted barn or an industrial park warehouse. While the elaborate tasting rooms are impressive, it's my opinion that the best wine is found in the hole-in-the-wall, hard to reach places where it's just you and the winemakers who take time from crush or punching down to crack open a few bottles for you. Sure, big wineries make good, dependable wines, but the best wines, I've found, are from the small, hand crafted, wineries. The type it takes an appointment to taste. The ones at the end of the dirt roads with wild turkeys crossing the road in front of you. If you're taking a wine trip, be sure to hit some of those small wineries you've never heard of. The winemakers are thrilled to have you and love to talk shop, and love to teach you everything you want to know about fine winemaking. Okay, back to the wineries.

One delightful visit of the day was to Kenwood. Our wine pourer was as jovial and gracious as they come, and he did a great trick pouring just enough wine in the glass and then rolling the glass to you. The wine was quite good. Kenwood also makes wine from the Jack London vineyards and those wines have a cool wolf on the label. Kevin and I bought wolf t-shirts here.

We also visited Selby winery, chosen because the name is one letter off from Shelby. Their tasting room was quite small and tucked away in a residential neighborhood, giving it a homey feel. They also had a letter from the White House saying they served Selby wine. Very cool.

Dinner Sunday was at Willi's Wine Bar, set up for us by Dan Kosta. Willi's (which sounds like a country western hokey place) is actually named for the famous Willi's Wine Bar in Paris. The menu was a little tricky and it took us a round or so to get used to it. Basically the meal was made of very small plates, appetizer size, of your chosen food. Each plate was enough for 2 small portions. We ordered about 12 different plates, sharing between couples and with each other. My favorite dish was the cambozola macaroni and cheese. Yeah, yeah, laugh at me for eating mac and cheese at a restaurant. But I tell you, this stuff was good. Even better than Kraft's Velveeta and Shells, which says a lot. Besides, Kevin ordered it.

Monday morning we started much like Sunday morning, with an appointment at an out of the way winery, Siduri. The winemaker, Adam Lee, gave us an awesome tasting--opening up 9 bottles of wine and sampling 3 barrels. My dad and Adam go way back--Dad's been a fan of his work since before he started Siduri. Siduri is one of those located in an industrial warehouse, but don't be fooled, this is some incredible wine!

We then headed over to a special appointment at St. Francis. We'd actually been to St. Francis once and tasted from their regular wine bar, but Monday we had a great tasting with 4 hors d'oeuvres paired with wine. The wine/food pairings were really good with the wine and the food complimenting each other quite nicely. St. Francis is a bigger winery but their wine is very good. We also happened to be looking out the window to see a man on one knee proposing to his girlfriend in the vineyard. How sweet!

We had a lunch appointment with Doug and Lee Nalle over at Nalle winery. This was one of the most enjoyable visits we had. Dad has been buying Nalle for a while now, and Doug and Lee (and their yellow lab, Solo) were very gracious hosts. We had a leisurely lunch, tasting and talking and enjoying the company. Nalle has the best winery website I've ever seen. It's hilarious. You really have to check out their zin labels. Doug and Lee are the most down-to-earth people I've ever met in the wine industry.

As if we couldn't get enough appointments, we headed over to Chateau Felice for our private tasting there. The area was beautiful, with rolling hills of vineyards, a small lake, a beautiful house, and the requisite big-barn-for-winemaking. Unfortunately it was quite hot (the car's thermometer read 102 degrees) which put a slight damper on our outdoor tasting. Their chilled whites were great but it was a little to hot to enjoy their reds.

We wrapped up the day by visting the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center. It's more than a winery, it's a Wine Center! They had a giant tasting room with an immaculate manicured garden (which I pretty much skipped as gardens aren't really my thing). The rest of the group enjoyed their tasting but I was wined out so I missed it.

Exhausted yet? We were! And there was one, possibly two that I left out here because they were so great neither Kevin nor I remember them. Hmmmm.

Don't miss the pictures!

Posted by Shelby at October 25, 2003 09:35 PM