A few months ago, we created a video about exactly what it is we do at The California Wine Club – the kinds of California wineries we look for, how we go about evaluating the wines, what we think is important to our members, etc.
We asked for your feedback, and we were floored by your response – and it was great to hear why you love The California Wine Club.
Here’s a few:
“I’ve been a member for more than 15 years, and wish I had a limitless budget so I could try everything. I’ve never had a bad bottle.”
“We love the wine we get from you and love that it is from small wineries produced with pride of the owners. Please keep up the good work of finding these special wines.”
“Thanks for creating a win/win situation by helping local small wineries as well as allowing the rest of the country to experience these interesting craft wines.”
Thank YOU for letting us know!
One thing we love about Napa is its mountains. Howell Mountain, Mt.Veeder and Diamond Mountain each offer a great refuge from the crazy busy valley floor. During the summer time the mountains are also cooler, the traffic lighter and the views can be terrific.
Each has distinct character. Howell Mountain has terrific views; Diamond Mountain is more a topsy-turvey in the woods drive. Mt. Veeder is the coolest as it is closest to Carneros.
Two things to keep in mind for your Napa wine mountain adventures.
1. Call ahead for tours. Many of the wineries are small and tours are by appointment only. Our favorites are Burgess, La Jota, Robert Craig (Howell Mountain); Schramsberg, Diamond Creek and von Strasser (Diamond Mountain); Godspeed and Mount Veeder (Mt. Veeder).
2. Do a little research before you go. There is a lot of fascinating history related to some of these mountain wineries, and it’s fun to pick and choose the wineries that sound most interesting.
Recently we signed up a little winery called Rucksack, the project of Paul and Maggie Bush in El Dorado County, part of the huge Sierra Foothills appellation. Paul’s dad founded Madrona Vineyards, so Paul grew up seeing what the region could do, wine-wise. Paul has been managing production for the past 23 years, and he’s been amazed by the tremendous diversity of the Sierra Foothills.. The couple’s Rucksack Cellars really struck us, because the idea behind it shows how far wine has come in California.
The idea? To create a winery that celebrates one region, making wine from its various appellations.
Twenty years ago, no winemakers were thinking in these terms. When we were traveling the California wine country, we’d find winery owners committed to making more than a dozen different varietals from their one estate vineyard. They made the wines because they were popular varietals, not because their vineyards were suited to them. In fact, it seems to us the idea of terroir –that each varietal prefers a certain blend of soil, exposure, climate, etc.—was slow to take root among many California wineries.
Case in point: Santa Barbara. Why did it take Santa Barbara so long to produce a great Cabernet Sauvignon? Because much of the area is too cool for the varietal. It wasn’t until Jim Dierberg and others headed to the very warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley called Happy Canyon that Santa Barbara Cab took wing.
Now, we have many wineries focused solely on one appellation and producing the varietals exactly suited to it. And, we have many wineries that have figured out their estate vineyards cannot do it all – they either develop their own vineyards in regions suitable for the wines they want to make, or they buy the grapes from growers.
Rucksack Cellars is taking this a step further to embrace the diversity of a huge region with various appellations.
Fun, isn’t it? Have you noticed anything changing at California wineries, some evolutionary trend?
In 2013, California had its largest wine grape crop ever, likely because of many new plantings over recent years. Despite dry conditions, ground water was supplying enough moisture for existing vineyards.
In 2014, things may change.The drought may cause grape growers to pick and choose the blocks they will irrigate. Fortunately, grape growing, especially with established vines, requires less water than other crops.
Growers may be able to nurture their vines through what is shaping up to be a landmark dry year.
Here are a few of our favorites…
• Edna Valley on the Central Coast…just a few minutes inland from Pismo Beach, and it’s a beautiful drive. Rural, low key, with a few wineries. Cool climate varietals. Claiborne & Churchill Winery is worth the visit.
• El Dorado, Sierra Foothills – About an hour from Sacramento Airport, you’ll find yourself in the heart of historic Gold Rush country – and great wineries too. Madrona, Boeger, Mount Aukum, Perry Creek.
• Carmel Valley – Beautiful, oak dotted, hills and welcoming wineries like Chateau Julian, Bernardus, Joulian – not to mention fantastic attractions nearby. To name a few: Carmel (one of the world’s most charming seaside villages), Pt. Lobos State Park (great otter watching here), Santa Lucia Highlands (renowned for Pinot Noir) and Hwy. 1’s gorgeous coastal route.
Is there a “hidden” appellation or place in California wine country you’d like to share?
We were in a restaurant recently, a nice Italian place, not real pricey, and we chose a glass of Italian Montepulciano (made from the Montepulciano grape, from Italy’s Abruzzo region – not Tuscany). Price: $7.50 per glass. Waiting for our dinner, we took a sip or two. We weren’t impressed.
Then the Ravioli with Butternut squash and Pine Nuts arrived. And over the next half hour, that Montepulciano came into its own. It became soft and velvety, and merged with the ravioli flavors so beautifully.
So, IT happened again…that we started with a wine we didn’t care for, but when we tried it with food, during a leisurely meal, different story.
If you’ve never had this experience … well, you need to! Because it’s one of the most fun things about wine. Given the right food match, some wimpy little wine with no character will stand up and be noticed.
Often, this extra wine pizzazz has to do with both the food and allowing the wine to “breathe” in the glass. During your meal, it starts to open up and show its true self, just like a person who might be a bit shy. If you’re considerate and give that person some time, they might start to share who they really are.
Did you know marketers estimate that a whopping 70% of wine today is consumed without food? Too bad!
Has this ever happened to you? What was the wine? What was the food that brought it out of its shell?
It’s interesting that most of us don’t serve wine with dessert. Why not?
Probably because it’s something of a challenge…for example, you can’t really claim Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are great with chocolate – BUT – those that have chocolate notes are fantastic with chocolate. And Zin with berry notes is a great chocolate pairing.
One guideline may be to serve a sweeter wine with things like lemon puddings, white cakes and custards. Late harvest Riesling can work, as can a sweeter sparkling wine, like Demi-Sec.
Or, you can make a tiny glass of wine the dessert. Ice Wine is pricey but delivers a rich, sweet sensation at meal’s end.