A Year of California Wine Country Impressions

As we visited wine country all across the Golden State this year, we saw many beautiful sights. These impressions have lingered with us:

California gold country

Stopping in Placerville on the way to Madrona winery, there’s gold mining history everywhere you look.

placerville old

The drive from Morro Bay to Edna Valley is a slice of “old California” with rolling yellow hills and sentinel oaks. When the fog rolls in, “beautiful” isn’t enough to describe it.

We enjoyed Healdsburg with its huge old trees in the historic town square. We love the incredible hotels, restaurants, shops, and bakeries and sipping a sparkler with winemaker Susie Selby in H2 Hotel’s Spoonbar restaurant with winemakers all around.

spoonbar

Giving a toast to an up close view of the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge AND the San Francisco skyline, just a minute from Stein Family Winery.

golden gate bridge

When we visited Sonoma’s gorgeous Dry Creek Valley with its gnarled old Zinfandel vines, we hung out with three vibrant generations of the Pedroncelli family.

pedroncelli

Getting our “Italy fix” at Ca’ Momi in Napa’s fine Oxbow Marketplace, inhaling the heady aromas of great homemade Italian food and Ca’ Momi wine and fighting over the box of Italian-style pastries they gave us.

oxbow market

It’s been another fantastic fun year with California wine.

Let’s toast to more beautiful sights in 2014. Salud!

Top Wine Stories of 2013

wine trends of 2013

Here are a few trends in 2013 that we think are going continue into the New Year.

1. Small wineries keep on coming.

Buying vineyard land and building a facility is definitely no longer the norm when folks want to start a winery. In 2013, we saw even more single-man or woman start-ups, with fruit entirely purchased from growers and wine produced in someone else’s winery.

We love the trend. It allows tremendous creativity and individual initiative, and this means, even better wines.

2. More efforts at sustainability and more focus on water use.

California wineries continue to be in the forefront of efforts to reduce their carbon footprints both in the winery and in the vineyards. Water use is coming up more often as a top concern.

3. White wine blends have joined the blending party.

Red blends have been on the upswing for a few years in the Golden State. California winemakers have kicked aside conventions and are mixing French, Italian and Spanish varieties together in some beautiful ways.

As for white wines, Chardonnay is making room for some tasty white blends. We’re even seeing Chenin Blanc on the horizon.

4. Pinot Noir dips, but Merlot is on the rise.

We love to see Merlot making a comeback, since it can be such a wonderful red. Growers and winemakers seem to be taking more care with it and allowing it to show its better self. Pinot Noir lovers are dwindling a little, but not to worry: wine growers have dialed-in what’s needed for Pinot on the Sonoma Coast, and others continue to fine-tune this finicky grape in Carneros, Monterey and Santa Barbara.

5. More people are drinking more wine more of the time.

Market surveys clearly show more than a 20% rise in the number of “core” wine drinkers – the ones who buy most of the wine. Their reasons for drinking have multiplied – wine remains celebratory, but sometimes, just making it through a hard day at work is cited as cause enough to uncork a great bottle. Hooray for that!

How about you? What do you see as the big stories behind wine this year?

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More Core Wine Drinkers!

white wine toast

The Wine Market Council has been tracking consumer wine trends for many years.

Its most recent finding about “core” wine drinkers – those who drink wine consistently – is fairly amazing.

In 1994, it estimated that only 34% of all U.S. wine drinkers were consistent core drinkers.

In 2013, that number jumped to 57%. This 57% of wine drinkers consumes 93% of U.S. wine sold outside of restaurants.

In other words, more of us are drinking more wine consistently.

Let’s toast to that!

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Terminology Twisters

wine terms

There is a world of terminology related to wine, and some of it is confusing.

Take the word palate, for example.

In the real world, palate means the roof of your mouth. In the wine world, it means the taste and texture of the wine in your mouth. And the spelling needs a mention – it’s not palette (a painter’s term, for a wooden block to mix color) or pallet (a wooden framework to carry or support goods).

Here are a couple of other terminology twisters:

NV: You could think it means Napa Valley, but it stands for non-vintage, meaning, the wine is made from grapes grown in multiple years. Non-vintage, by the way, doesn’t mean the wine is cheap – far from it. Some of the finest Champagne is non-vintage.

Brooding: We try to avoid anyone who is brooding (it means having a lurking unhappiness). But a brooding wine is just one that promises great glory (concentrated flavors, complexity), but for whatever reason is holding back right now.

Clean: Wine’s all clean right? In the sense of sanitary, yes. But a clean wine is one that has no off colors, aromas or flavors – in other words, you don’t notice any flaws offhand.

How to Be a Good Party Guest

wine party guest

Hosts always get a lot of advice on how to do their part in creating a great holiday party.

But they aren’t the only ones with work to do! Guests have a chance to shine, too.

Here are a few ways to be a great “wine” guest at any holiday party.

1. Bring a hostess gift of Sparkling Wine. If they want to serve the wine at the party, bubbly will go with many different kinds of appetizers or main dishes. If they want to save it, they can pop the cork and celebrate later.

2. Be generous in praise of wine you like. Otherwise … well, you know. (Keep your opinions to yourself.) Everyone’s taste is different. If wine isn’t to your taste, pick another topic!

3. Keep track of your wine glass. If there’s a wine glass charm ready, use it – or bring your own!

4. Last but not least – thank the host.

Party on!

French Onion Stuffed Mushrooms – Perfect with Pinot Noir

french onion stuffed mushrooms

Pinot Noir is one of California’s most popular wines, and we’re always on the hunt wonderful appetizers to pair with it.

Here’s a great one from Martin Ray Winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Courtney Benham founded his artisan, limited production winery in honor of Martin Ray himself, the Santa Cruz winemaker who in the 1960s was among the first in California to bottle 100% varietal wines – quite a change from the jug wines of the day.

Enjoy!

French Onion Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 branch of fresh Thyme (2-3 in)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • ¼ cup Martin Ray Pinot Noir
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 8 oz. basket Baby Bella mushrooms (about 20)
  • 1/8 lb Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs

Preparation:

  1. Thinly slice the onion. Remove stems from cleaned mushrooms and finely chop about ½ of them.
  2. Brown Panko bread crumbs with 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, over medium-low heat, add 2 tbsp butter, onions, thyme and bay leaf.
  4. Cook until onions have browned (about 20 minutes).
  5. Add the chopped mushroom stems and continue to cook about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the thyme and bay leaf and discard.
  7. Add the wine and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated.
  8. Salt and pepper to your preference.
  9. Remove from pan and set aside.
  10. Cook the mushrooms in the same pan (2-3 minutes each side).
  11. Fill each mushroom with onions, top with gruyere and bread crumbs and place on baking sheet. Bake the mushrooms at 375 for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has browned.

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Closing the Cellar Doors?

<em>image credit: <a href="http://www.lodiwine.com/">lodiwine.com</a></em>

image credit: lodiwine.com

Here’s something hot off the wine news press that got our attention:

San Joaquin Valley (Lodi wine region) is proposing a one-year moratorium on new wine events.

Some residents are upset about the changing nature of the community, with thousands of tourists arriving each year to sip and savor local wines.

On the other side, the wineries are in a ferment, since the wine industry has spent millions of dollars and decades trying to lure visitors and build a recognized wine region. They say the moratorium is a job killer and will set their wine region back years.

We hope they work it out and strike a balance where everybody can win with wine.