What Makes Great Sparklers?


That’s easy.  Methode champenoise, the incredibly labor intensive, time-consuming, traditional French technique for making fine Champagne.  Among many other steps, this involves a second fermentation and at least three to five years aging in the bottle before the final steps of wine making.

All this costs money which is why great sparkling wine is more expensive than sparklers made the “industrial” way.  Is there a real difference?  Try a methode champenoise sparkler next to one that’s not.   And let us know which you like best!

4 ways to introduce Newbies to Wine


So, your brother in-law drinks beer. ONLY beer.  Always has and always will, he says.  Can you lure him to the dark (red wine) side?  Maybe not.  However, here are a few strategies that might encourage someone new to wine to try a sip…or 2 or 3.

  1. During an outdoor project, in the heat of the day, offer the newbie a mimosa (orange juice and champagne). Yes, this is cheating a little, but at least they’ll experience some bubbles.
  1. Again, on a hot day, offer your newbie a glass of chilled Chardonnay — an easy drinker, not too buttery or oaky — or, a Pinot Gris, that user-friendly white. Plus, some super finger food that will make the point that wine and food are AWESOME.  Crab cakes, cold salmon, brie on a cracker?  What worked for you?
  1. You’re watching a movie so bring out the popcorn…and Chardonnay! A buttery Chardonnay this time — with buttered popcorn, it’s a pairing that will  stun any newbie or any connoisseurs, for that matter…
  1. Invite your newbie to dinner. A long dinner, with a main course of beef.  The newbie may want just water, or sparkling water, but rather insist they take the glass of the beautifully complex Cabernet Sauvignon you’re offering.  Ask them to humor you by sipping just a little to start with.  And then one sip every 15 minutes if that’s all they can manage.

About an hour into your dinner, your newbie may experience the transcendent power of a great wine as it unfolds from its tight, bottled beginning to luscious layers of flavors.  As the wine reveals itself, so may your newbie become more open to the real possibility that wine is worth the pour.

Let us know…did you make a convert to wine?

Don’t Forget Temecula!


With almost all of California’s vineyards up in the northern end of the state, it’s easy to forget what’s happening wine-wise in Southern California.  It’s easy to forget Temecula.

This vibrant wine region is just an hour north of San Diego, and it has the balmy Mediterranean climate so perfect for Rhone varietals.  You might think it would be too hot for decent grape growing, but there are several factors that make its climate moderate.  Two gaps in the coastal mountains allow cool, moist marine air to drift in.   Also, situated at 1,500 to 2,500 feet above sea level, Temecula is surrounded by mountains ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 feet high. Cold air collects between the peaks and flows down into the valley at night, setting the stage for great acidity in Temecula’s wines.

If you’re thinking of visiting, don’t worry about time of year — with just 14 annual inches of rain, it’s unlikely you’ll get rained out.  Sunshine prevails.

Just as attractive as its climate is Temecula’s laid-back

Southern California ambiance.  And we’re not talking L.A.  How to describe it?  To us, it seems very South of the Border — the air has that softness you find in Baja, and the cacti you see on the hillsides, combined with birds like roadrunners, give that feeling of being 500 miles south of San Francisco, which you are.

Wherever wine country is, people tend to be in a party mode, but in Temecula, the party is combined with a special kind of warmth and relaxation that really seems to us to be unique to this wine region. It’s just incredibly easy to have fun at a lot of these Temecula wineries.

We’ve visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms throughout the Golden State, and have to say the most fun we’ve ever had was at Temeucla’s South Coast Winery and Resort.  It was one big party.  Not to mention great wine.  This winery has really led the way as far as offering a true resort wine country experience. Their guest cottages overlook the vineyards (and are very private) and their pool and spa are world-class.

A few miles away, Thornton Winery is another trend-setter in Temecula. It was one of the first to offer premium dining with its Café Champagne and has also been a pioneer among California wineries for its outdoor smooth jazz concert series.  They put on quite a show at Thornton where two generations proudly serve their own sparklers and roll out the red carpet for a never-ending stream of wine lovers.

During the past 10 to 15 years, there has been significant development in Temecula.  Many wineries are now much grander than they were (such as Mount Palomar).  Yet, most of Temecula’s 30 or so wineries remain family owned, where you might meet the  founder over a glass of Syrah or Cab or chat up the winemaker. Didn’t meet the winemaker today? Perhaps mañana, my friend.  Meanwhile, have another taste of wines like Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, or a Rhone Blend.  Welcome to Temecula.

Test Your Wine ‘n Food Pairing Savvy


Are you a quaffer? One of those people who drink wine just by itself?  Or are you a foodie?  A person who finds delight in pairing wine with food? Here’s a quiz we hope will entertain all types of wine and food lovers.

  1. Which is the best wine to go with a grilled steak?

a) Pinot Noir

b)  Zinfandel

c)  Cabernet Sauvignon

  1. Which of these wines would you choose with a crab salad?

a) sparkling wine

b)  Sauvignon Blanc

c)  Pinot Noir

  1. Pinot Noir is versatile wine with food. It goes well with everything from pizza to salmon to Indian cuisine.

It would be the perfect choice for Thanksgiving dinner,

Except for one thing.  What is that?


  1. (c)
  2. any of the 3
  3. cranberry sauce kills delicate Pinot Noir

Vineyards and Bees: A Surprise


It seems that honeybees are in trouble.  Diseases attacking bee hives, loss of habitat, and other species of bee competitors have all combined to make a crisis for America’s bee populations.

In order for fruit to grow, bees must pollinate, meaning, go from flower to flower gathering and leaving pollen. So, how is the trouble for bees affecting California vineyards?

Answer:  It’s not.  This is because grapevines, like some other plants, are self-pollinating (wind carries the pollen from vine to vine).  Bees play no role.  However, their sting can be felt by harvest workers sometimes, since bees love to visit vineyards during harvest to feed on ripe grapes.  However, the bigger problem for harvest workers is wasps who can nest in the vines (unlike bees) and are usually there for many months.

Viticulturists can fight back by installing insect netting (much denser than bird netting), burning wasp nests or  conducting midnight raids to knock wasp nests from the vines.

Anyway, that’s the buzz from the vineyards…

3 favorite Summertime Wines


Care for a chilled white on a hot summer day?  Of course you do!!  How about a friendly Rosé?  We’ve found that even bold red wine only lovers will happily accept a well-chilled white in August, or a light red.

There’s something incredibly refreshing about the clean flavors of a crisp white wine, or the subtle delight of a chilled, lightweight red.  Each sip trickles down so easily. When you add the right food pairing, it’s heaven.

So, what are three reliable summertime wines … three wines that everybody will love?

Viognier (Vee-ohn-yay):  Beautiful floral nose, lightly flavorful palate.  A real friend on a hot day.

Rosé of Pinot:  This one’s hot in wine country right now and for good reason.  Nuanced layers of flavor make it delightful with or without food.

Blanc de Blancs (methode champenoise):  This sparkling wine is made of all white grapes, usually Chardonnay.  Buy a premium sparkler made using laborious and time-consuming methode champenoise techniques.  Blanc de Blancs is a completely different experience of bubbly — perfect to celebrate the long days of summer.

Cutting Costs on Your Wine Country Tour

edna valley

You’re in wine country, and you want to have a great time, right?  But, you need to do it on a budget.  Here are a few tips to make every dollar count toward lasting memories:

  1. Plan your trip ahead to take advantage of off-season hotel deals. There are so many advantages to visiting wine country in off-season (winter and early spring).  Less traffic.  Fewer crowds in tasting rooms.  Easier to get reservations for a splurge dinner at a hot restaurant.  Winemakers actually able to speak to you at the winery (unlike during harvest).


  1. Don’t pay for a tour –customize your trip for yourself ahead of time. What kinds of experiences are you looking for?  Do you want to visit the “landmark” wineries of Napa Valley, or wander through the Sierra Foothills and visit small artisan producers?  What’s a must see?


  1. Buying wine? Have the winery ship it.

It may seem a little spendy, but you’ll make that up in the time spent hassling to pack it and move it yourself.It’s worth it.


  1. Cut down driving time and expense by visiting tasting bars. Multi-winery tasting bars are a trend in wine country. Instead of driving all over, you can sit down and sample a huge variety of wineries in one spot. Save on gas, save time and identify some fabulous finds.  Then pick one or two to visit.


  1. Eat one meal out. Save on food costs by buying deli/picnic fare for breakfast and lunch at local markets. Then splurge on dinner.  But DO eat throughout the day if you are tasting — your system needs the food to counter the alcohol.

6. Consider B&Bs and accommodations on the outskirts: There are great deals to be had and wonderful people to meet in B&Bs.  And if you stay someplace a bit outside of

the “heart” of your wine country, a short drive can save a bundle.