Wine Country During Harvest – Go! (Oops! It might be over!)

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Depending on which part of wine country you’re visiting, harvest may already be winding down.  At tiny Dragonette Cellars in Santa Barbara County, they’re pretty much done.  “We started harvest Aug. 9th and by September 1, we had 75% of our fruit in,” said co-founder Steve Dragonette. “Why was it so early?  “It was due to an early bud break.  Winter weather was so warm, the vines started early.  And there was no frost.”  The early finish is very unusual for these guys.  “We’re planning a Halloween party for the first time ever!”

If you do make it to harvest in time, enjoy the buzz.  You’re likely to see truckloads of grapes and workers, busy crews among the vines  — the hustle and bustle of harvest.  Great photo ops. But don’t expect to meet the winemakers pouring you a glass in the tasting room– they’re usually out in the vineyard or receiving grapes in the cellar as they work 14-hour harvest days.

Have you ever visited wine country during harvest?  What’s your favorite memory?

 

Why is Pinot Noir so Versatile with Food?

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Pinot Noir isn’t called “the noble grape” in France for no reason.  It been coveted by kings and commoners in large part for its magical abilities with food.

People often think of Pinot as a delicate wine, and that’s true to a certain point.  It is a light red wine, not a robust, tannic sort, and the best Pinots have marvelous layers of aromas and flavors that seem to go on and on.

But don’t let its delicacy fool you, because Pinot Noir is a powerhouse with food.  It has the kind of acidity that is so important to versatility with food.  This acidity comes from its cool climate growing regions.  In California, there are only a handful of regions that can deliver the best Pinot Noir — Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, parts of the Sonoma Coast, the Russian River Valley and Carneros.  Oregon has much more Pinot Noir territory than California.

The more fruit-forward the Pinot is, the better is with fattier fare, like roast chicken, lasagna, salmon or halibut.  Bigger Pinots can stand up to game meats and birds, as well as beef.  These types of Pinot often come from California, due to the weather.  Oregon generally produces leaner Pinot Noir which in our opinion is even more able to pair well with many kinds of food, including Chinese, Indian, lamb, pizza … the list goes on.

The only food we would not choose for Pinot is anything too hotly spicy

How about you? What’s your favorite food with Pinot Noir?

Our Top 3 Most Beautiful Wineries- Toast the Labor!

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In honor of Labor Day, we’d like to toast what we think are among California’s most beautiful wineries.  We can imagine how much time and effort (and money) went into their construction and now goes into their maintenance.  All, like their wines, are labors of love.

Domaine Carneros:  In Carneros, this elegant replica of the Taittinger chateau in France is stately and commanding, just like Domaine Carneros sparklers.

We love walking up the stairway and viewing the winery from different angles and heights. Inside, it is just delightful to enjoy the fire on a cold Carneros day, with DC bubbles in hand.

Peju:  Tony Peju spent decades building his spectacular, artistic winery in the heart of Rutherford.  At its center is the Peju tower, a medieval, French country style edifice that is home to the tasting room and extraordinarily beautiful.  Peju’s gardens (Tony is a master horticulturist), the rotating art works displayed and various superbly designed tasting venues make

Peju one of our most beautiful wineries.

Storybook Mountain Winery:  As you drive on the winding road just above Calistoga on the way to Healdsburg, you’d never know that you’re passing right by an amazingly beautiful little valleys.  Here, where steep hillside vineyards tumble down into a natural bowl, Storybook Mountain makes stellar Zins.  Its small, unassuming winery allows Mother Nature to be the star.  Groves of fir trees stand as sentinels above the vines, hawks ride the up drafts and Zinfandel  enchants founder Jerry Seps and his family. As it will you.

We know there are many gorgeous wineries in the Golden State.  What are your favorites?

Wine Dogs … Now, Wine Trucks

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Dog/wine lovers have their Wine Dogs of Napa and Wine Dogs of Sonoma books. Wine Dogs of Washington, too.

Well, step aside pups … the winery trucks are rolling in.

Wine Country Trucks of Napa & Sonoma Counties by Lisa A. Harris offers truly gorgeous photos of vintage trucks, working or not, at a variety of wineries.  And delightful commentary about each one.

There’s Mayo Family Winery’s 1931 Chevrolet pickup, gifted to Jeffrey Mayo at age 16 by his dad. Jeffrey lovingly restored it at his high school auto shop class.   It still has its original six-cylinder, 24-horsepower engine.

Or how about Old Yeller, the 1953 Chevrolet 3100 Series pickup that taught all the kids at Sonoma’s Beltane ranch to drive a stick shift, when it wasn’t acting as a prop for LL Bean, William Sonoma and NapaStyle.

Then there’s Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-owned winery in California with one of the oldest trucks,

a 1927 Chevrolet one-ton.  Jim Bundschu’s grandfather used it to deliver grapes, oats, hay and pears to market.   It helped Jim learn to drive in 1955, “when his father, Towle, instructed him to drive across a field littered with baled hay and to avoid the bales, which he mostly did.”

We hope you’re getting the picture–Lisa has a great fondness for trucks and has found a mother lode in wine country.

Know a guy you’d like to introduce to wine?

Here’s the perfect vehicle.

 

 

Don’t Forget Temecula!

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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.

How to Find Great Accommodation Values in Wine Country?

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Let’s face it.  Staying in wine country can be pricey.  To keep the lid on accommodation expenses, here are some tips:

•  Off-season and mid-week specials. During the winter, there are significant savings to be had throughout California wine country.

• Stay on the outskirts: Instead of a hotel in Napa Valley or Sonoma, try American Canyon, Santa Rosa or Petaluma.  In Temecula, choose a hotel in town.

• B&Bs: Some are costly. Many are not. The owners are usually your hosts as well, therefore, B&Bs can offer a rich source of firsthand savvy about the local wineries and attractions. And the breakfasts are typically fantastic.

Got a tip on balancing a budget in wine country? We’re all ears!

We salute all the “Chateaux Jeepers”

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Brothers John and Steve Dragonette grew up with their father making wine in their garage.  “We called it Chateau Jeepers—when you drank it, you went ‘oh jeepers!’” Steve recalls. 

This quote from Dragonette Cellars’ co-founder Steve Dragonette, aside from being one of our favorites, makes us think about how the wine business has changed since even a few years ago.

We hope dads are still making their wine in their garages, experimenting with yeasts and enchanting their kids.  But we know many winemaker-wannabees are getting more sophisticated with their learning.

They’re signing up with custom cellars that provide the grapes and the instruction.  Taking enology classes at local colleges.  Reading up about the latest techniques, yeasts and equipment.

That’s good news for wine quality, for sure.  But we

hope there will continue to be room for downhome, in-the-garage Chateau Jeepers in California’s future.

Know of any real-time examples?