What’s on that Wall of Wine?

wine wall

Lots of talk on wine blogs these days about how “you can’t tell a wine by its label.” What they mean by that is that most of the bottles on the wall of wine at the supermarket are produced by the same big conglomerates.

In other words: the bottles have different brand names, but they’re mostly the same wine.

And yet, according to Wine Institute, the wine advocacy group based in San Francisco, around 75% of California wineries produce 10,000 or fewer cases per year.

What does this mean to us wine lovers?

Caveat emptor or buyer beware.

If you’re wanting a great wine from a small California winery, you’ll have to look past that wall of wine to a reliable friend – like us.

Check out our Wine Store.

Three Things We Look for When We Visit A Winery

winery

What do you look for when you go wine tasting?

Here is what catches our interest:

1. Smiling faces. We want to know about the wine of course, but we also want to have fun. Warm, friendly servers with a sense of humor really pair well with a good wine.

2. Insider Info: By that we mean, the servers know this winery intimately. They don’t give you a marketing spiel – they give you a genuine feel for the nature of the winery, wines and people behind it. If you’re visiting a small California winery, this one is usually a no brainer, because the founder or winemaker is probably pouring your wine.

3. Something Special: It can be vintage photos on the wall from the winery’s early days, the winemaker himself at the tasting bar, a beautiful view, an incredible wine, a wonderful winery dog (or cat), a boisterous, happy crowd of visitors, a garden to die for … that special something is what we remember.

Expect Discoveries from California’s Appellations

edna valley

Edna Valley. Calaveras County. Cienega Valley. Fair Play. Malibu-Newton Canyon.

Ever been to any of these California appellations? Maybe not.

With approximately 107 federally designated American Viticultural Areas in the Golden State, there are plenty to visit representing a rich variety of terroir.

wine regions of California

So, because these appellations are designated and recognized for their special attributes, like geography, terrain, soils, and weather, winemakers have dialed in the exact varietals perfect for each one, right?

We don’t think so. After all, California winemakers have only been at it for about 60 years. Prohibition wiped out the wine business, and it took 30 to 40 years to rev it up again.

The Napa Valley was California’s first official appellation, and that was in 1981—not that long ago. It took European winemakers about 400 years to completely comprehend where varietals do best.

So, we’ve got a ways to go yet in California, and isn’t that great? What fun we wine lovers are having as winemakers try this and that, here and there, and make fantastic discoveries along the way.

sonoma coast

Discoveries like Sonoma Coast for Pinot Noir (thought by many to be too cold for grapegrowing) or Temecula for Rhône wines (many folks turned up their noses at the idea of a southern California wine country).

Pour a glass, settle in and stay tuned. The spotlight is on California wine and the show is terrific.

Our Favorite California Wine Country Things

These are a few of our favorite (California wine country) things…

Club members call us often to ask, “What’s a must see/do in California wine country?”

We have so many favorites, we’ve lost count. So here’s a list, all jumbled up but full of great ideas for your next wine journey:

california's celebrity wineries

Mario Andretti Winery in the fall: Gorgeous fall colors, beautiful Italian country style winery, and lots of Andretti mementos.

R&D Restaurant

R&D Restaurant in St. Helena. From the folks who created Rutherford Grill. Need we say more?

Paso Robles

California’s Central Coast –Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey – a treasure trove for wine lovers and spectacularly beautiful, too.

applewood inn

A night at the Applewood Inn and dinner at its restaurant, Russian River, Sonoma County.

redwoods

So peaceful and beautiful among the redwoods.

Sonoma Square

Sonoma Square. Historic, and hipper by the minute.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

Storybook Mountain Vineyards in the hills above Napa’s Calistoga. Make an appointment and be stunned by its beauty – not to mention great Zinfandel.

Alisal Ranch

A stay at Alisal Ranch in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Horsebackriding on this gorgeous ranch? Do it!

Healdsburg

Healdsburg any time of year. A little gem of a town, a tourist lure, a wine/food/art adventure. What are you waiting for?

What are your favorite things?

A Spin on Zin, Red & White

zinfandel grapes

Love Zinfandel – the red kind?

Many Zin lovers turn their noses up at white Zinfandel, but hold on — that very popular sweetish wine was responsible for preserving a good many Zin vineyards over the past decades.

Today, Zin is one of the few California varietals to have “old vine vineyards” going back 50 years or more.

So maybe raise a toast to white Zin with your red Zin — Salud!

Small Winery Wisdom

california wineries

We love featuring California’s small, artisan wineries because they’re full of great people! You want a day brightener? Hang out with someone who has dreams … and is trying to achieve them. That’s California’s small wineries!

These quotes from our featured winemakers are an inspiring way to start the week. Enjoy!

You can live your dream even though it’s never the right time and there’s never enough money. It’s all about quality of life and being passionate about what you do.

–Jeff Lubin, Sidejob Cellars, Sonoma County

I feel that wine is the most intimate and profound thing. You can share it with friends, or sit alone and contemplate it. It represents a sustainable cycle. And it can be kind of fun, too.

–Tim Carl, Huge Bear Winery, Sonoma County

My life experiences are reflected in my winemaking style. It’s a passion, not just a career.

–Claus Janzen, Bacio Divino

Now, at 47, I am making less money, but I am happier than I’ve ever been. I get to do what I love.

–Sterling Albert, Sterling Albert Winery

I was so intrigued taking grapes and squishing them up and naturally fermenting them, and coming up with is unbelievably beautiful, multi-layered, complex, soulful liquid … It intrigued the hell out of me…

–Jayson Pahlmeyer, Pahlmeyer Winery