A Palette of Pinots – The Hues of Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

What comes to mind with you think of “Pinot”? Do you think of a ruby-red pinot noir from Burgundy or a rich deep pinot from Sonoma? Is it the pale straw of a pinot grigio from Italy? Whatever color variation of this grape you thought of, you probably were not thinking of Alsace when you thought of it. I’m here to tell you why you should, because #AlsaceRocks.

The Shades of Pinot

First lets talk about pinot. We begin with pinot noir, a grape with a thin skin that can be notoriously fickle. It has tight bunches (that are shaped like pine cones, hence the name) that are prone to rot.  It wants lots of sun, but doesn’t want to be too hot. Luckily, the Cistercian monks in Burgundy found their penance in the hard work of coddling this grape to it’s greatness.

From here we get the mutations: pinot blanc and pinot gris. Simply enough, pinot blanc is a white grape mutation and pinot gris is a “grey” grape. While not truly grey, pinot gris sits in the in between hue ranging from bluish gray to pinkish brown. Of course pinot gris is the French term for this grape, in Italy they call it pinot grigio.

Beyond this we get Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine that can be made from any of the pinots, (and upon occasion some “not pinots” like chardonnay) but all Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must be made from pinot noir, in the method traditionelle.

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France

Alsace

This region is perfect for these wines as they thrive in the dry climate created by the Vosges Mountains. Alsace is a thin strip on the North eastern edge of France. This area has gone back and forth between Germany and France for centuries and the style of houses and names of towns attest to that fact.  It’s a fairytale land with charming villages with half-timbered buildings, dotted with flower boxes. You can explore these delightful towns on the oldest wine route in France, that travels 106 miles from Marlenheim to Thann, stopping to taste the wines and the food as you explore this beautiful region.

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France

Then there is the soil.  We did say #AlsaceRocks right?  This area at the foot of the Vosges Mountains is a patchwork of soils.  You find granite, and sandstone, limestone, schist and volcanic soils. Once, fifty million years ago, the Black Forest and the Vosges were a single mountain range, pushed up by the plates.  When this collapsed it formed the Rhine River.  All that shifting around will geologically mix up some soil, and hence you get all these varied pockets of soil that add fascinating diversity to the vineyards.

The Wines & Pairings

Pinots from Alsace; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Crémant d'Alsace

A range of pinots from Alsace from Teuwen Communications (and Loki)

Now lets dive into the hues of pinots. @DrinkAlsace was kind enough to provide us a variety of pinots to taste through. (All opinions are my own) We begin with a 2017 Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, followed by a 2012 Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to a 2015 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir and finishing with a Crémant d’Alscace Rosé from Domaine Zinck. All but one of these wines come from the village of Eguisheim. The Pinot Gris is the exception coming from Riquewirh.

Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Traditional 2017

Emile Beyer is a 43 acre family estate just outside of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. This wine comes from younger vineyards on the estate.  The soil here is clay, sandstone & chalky marl, and the grapes are mostly Pinot Blanc with a little Auxerrois. Alcohol sits at about 13%. $15

Cheeses

I searched for cheeses to pair with this wine and went off to look for a Saint-Nectaire and a Chaource.

Chaource is a named for the village of Chaource in France. It is a very soft ripened cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is soft and buttery. My Murray’s guy found me a domestic equivalent that did not disappoint. Murray’s Delice is a lovely soft ripened cheese that really and truly melted in your mouth. It went nicely with the wine.

Delice from Murray's

Delice from Murray’s Cheese shop, similar to a Chaource

Saint-Nectaire is a Tomme style cheese again from cow’s milk. It is a semi soft washed rind cheese. It specifically comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from the mild of cows that feed in rich volcanic pastures. It matures 6-8 weeks on rye straw mats, which causes a pungent smell.

My Murray’s guy pointed me toward a Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese which was similar to an Alpine raclette. This gave us a different texture to compare with the Delice. Michael found it too pungent, but I enjoyed it.

 

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese

Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese similar to a Saint-Nectaire cheese from France

Appetizer

I had envied a fellow blogger his grilled peaches the other day, and planned on making some myself. I got running behind on dinner and instead sliced my peach and plopped a little goat cheese on it, a leaf of basil and wrapped it in prosciutto. This was definitely the right decision, both time wise and pairing wise. The fresh peach was still a little firm and with the goat cheese was really nice with the wine, picking up on those unripe stone fruit notes. It was also cool and easy to eat. I suggest these bites for all summer!.

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and proscuitto

Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and prosciutto

Frittata

I knew the minute I saw the suggestion of an egg dish with this wine, that I would go that direction. I looked through quiche recipes and then settled on the simplicity of a Frittata. This wine loves spring vegetables so a spring green salad would go along side. I quick pickled some small golden beets and radishes in honey and white wine vinegar to add to the top with some pine nuts.

The frittata I filled with broccoli, peas and green beans that I quickly blanched, then I sautéed golden beets, radishes and zucchini and let them develop a little crunch. I added a cup of ricotta to add a creamy cheese to the mix that would not be too heavy. Red onions were sautéed before dropping in the egg mixture. And it cooked to perfection in my rod iron skillet.

Sprint salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Spring salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc

Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Gris 2012

René Dopff took over Dopff & Irion in 1945 as he joined forces with the Widow Madame Irion, taking over the Château de Riquewirh. The Château was built in 1549 by the Princes of Württemberg who ruled this area for 5 centuries.

The village of Riquewihr in Alsace France

The Village of Riquewirh in Alsace. Home of Dopff and Irion

This wine is 100% Pinot Gris with soil in marl, limestone, gypsum, clay and sandstone. This cuveé comes from 200 selected vine-growers. It is stored on lees for 4 weeks before maturing in tank for four months. Like the Pinot Blanc it sits at 13% alcohol. $21.

Exotic and Strange Pairings

Dopff & Irion suggestioned “Pair with oriental and exotic cuisine like prawns with Thai Sauce, chicken curry or cottage cheese with pepper.  “Cottage cheese with pepper? It seemed strange to me, but I was definitely going to try this! Other suggestions included mushrooms and cream sauces, triple crème cheeses, green beans, and tikka masala.

So our pairings included a triple crème cheese with mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, apricot compote, cottage cheese with pepper, green beans, mushroom risotto, tikka masala, chicken in a thai curry sauce and fettuccine with chicken and a crème sauce. It gave a wide variety of styles of food to pair with.

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This wine was full and warm on the palate with baked apples and warm apricots. It was lush with a viognier like quality. Golden in color it opened into white flowers and the stones of stone fruit.

It spiked the flavor in the hazelnuts, blended nicely with the cottage cheese and pepper and brightened the spice in the Tikka Masala without adding heat.

With the mushrooms it leaned into the depth of forest floor. My favorite bite was the triple crème with mushrooms with the apricot compote. This was glorious in my mouth.

This wine was exceptional. So much depth! While I enjoyed all the wines, this was my favorite.

Route-des-vinsd'Alsace

Route-des-vinsd’Alsace

House of Leon Beyer 2015 Pinot Noir

This wine is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates. Founded in 1580 this winery is now run by Marc Beyer and his son, who along with a team of 21 others farm 173 acres.

The soils are limestone and clay with grapes from vines that are 25 to 30 years old. This wine was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks. It sits at 13%. $28.

This wine is light with warm berries and bright exotic spice. The nose reminded me of a savory strawberry tart with warm strawberries and rosemary and thyme.

I found this wine to be much more interesting when paired with food, than on it’s own.

Domaine Zinck Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV

Paul Zinck created the winery in 1964, it is now run by his son Philippe and Philippe’s wife Pascale.

This winery is also located in Eguisheim, with vineyards with soils of silk, chalk with clay-silt and volcanic ash.

This Non Vintage crémant is 100% Pinot Noir and sits at 12.5% alcohol. $25

The color on this wine is rich and warm as it also is on the palate.

Pairings for Both

Both of these wines we paired with a cheese and meat platter. We pulled up a variety of cheeses including a local cheddar from Utah coated in Earl Grey as well as prosciutto and sopresso, pistachios, pine nuts, sliced apples, apricots and salt and pepper popcorn.

Crémant d'Alsace & Pinot Noir from Alsace and a cheese platter

Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Zinck and a Leon Beyer Pinot Noir paired with cheese, fruit, charcuterie and salt and pepper popcorn.

These two wines were lovely to enjoy on an afternoon with the pinot noir going nicely with the Earl Grey cheddar, the sopresso and the salt and pepper popcorn most especially. The crémant went well with everything and had a great depth of flavor.

All of these wines were exceptional values and provided flavors that were not quite “typical” for the varieties.

And remember I mentioned the hues?  The colors, the aromas, the flavors on the palate, they all brought a range of depth.  From the faintest color of straw in the Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, to the rich gold of the Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to the warm rich golden salmon tones of the Crémant d’Alsace from Zinck and into the vivid rich red of the Pinot Noir from Leon Beyer,  the range of expression in these wines was beautiful.  It was a trip through the seasons; spring with Pinot Blanc and the brightness that went so well with the spring vegetables in the frittata; summer with the warmer exotic flavors pairing with the vivid Pinot Gris, that brought in a little of humid lazy summer days with it’s brooding side; fall with the rich warm tones of the Crémant d’Alsace, which did really look like fall in the glass; and then the richer warmer red of the Pinot Noir for Winter, that still keeps things a little light, I picture snow sparkling in moonlight amidst the festive streets of Eguisheim.

These wines brought something a little extra. Perhaps it is the soils? I mean it is true that #AlsaceRocks

If you enjoyed this, and want to dig a little deeper into Alsace, please join our chat on Twitter We love visitors and happily chat and answer questions. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of great Alsace wine suggestions from our Winophiles

You can check out another piece we did “Dipping my toe in Crémant d’Alsace“.  And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Côtes de Bordeaux pairings through Blaye, Cadillac & Castillon with #Winophiles

Côtes de Bordeaux from Cadillac and Castillon

For many people, when they think of French Wine regions, Bordeaux is the first to come to mind.   Big, bold, age-worthy red wines driven by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot dominate the region. These can seem like rarified, expensive wines that are slightly beyond reach. Finding Côtes de Bordeaux is an opportunity to dive into this region in a new way, with many lovely affordable wines that are perfect for weeknight dinners.

Côtes de Bordeaux AOC

The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC is made up of 5 separate regions all on the right bank of the Gironde, Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. The regions from North to South include:

 

Vignoble de Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux

We tasted and did pairings with wines from Blaye, Cadillac and Castillon. I will be searching for wines from Francs and Saint-Foy to try in the future.  Let’s start with a little background on the 3 regions from which we tasted wines.

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

Citadelle de Vauban

Citadelle de Vauban

This region is the northern most of the Côtes de Bordeaux regions. Vines here were planted even before those in the well known Medoc across the Gironde river. Planted originally by the Greeks and Romans the vines thrived into the middle ages and, as the area was easily accessible via the Gironde, these wines traveled.  Louis XIV built the Citadelle de Vauban here, now often known as the Citadelle de Blaye.  The fortified structure is now a museum.

The vines of Blaye overlook the Gironde estuary and have varied terroir. Most are grown on the slopes, and the soils are clay limestone from ancient ocean sediment.

Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux

France the renaissance castle of Cadillac in Gironde

France the renaissance castle of Cadillac in Gironde

The Cadillac region sits on hillsides overlooking the Garonne river. A region originally planted by the Romans the name travelled with the knight Lamothe-Cadillac to Louisiana where he was governor. He of course brought with him the wines of Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux. It is his name that becomes the name of the luxury car dealer.

This area, previously known as Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux, is filled with historic Castles (such as the Castle of Cadillac) as well as many Romanesque churches.  There are several walking routes, where you can discover the sites and stop for a wine tasting.

The soils here from top to bottom: limestone covered in pebbly gravel, limestone, and fine gravel with silica. You will find over half the vines here are Merlot with a quarter Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Castillon La Bataille

Castillon La Bataille

This region sits just north of the Dordogne river and just east of Saint-Emilion with whom they share the limestone plateau. The slopes here span 100 meters in elevation. Most of the estates are small, sitting at an average of 10 hectares. Soils run from sandy gravel or sandy clay to clay limestone. 70 percent of the grapes grown here are Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc and the remaining is Cabernet Sauvignon. The slopes get southern exposure and the winemakers here are devoted to the environment with at least a quarter farming biodynamically.

The famous Battle of Castillon was held here in 1453 putting an end to the hundred years war and reclaiming the area from 300 years of English rule.

The Pairings

Cadillac & Castillon

We did a side-by-side tasting of 2 wines, one from Cadillac & one from Castillon and we paired them with a cheese and charcuterie plate and a Mediterranean twist on a stir-fry.

Rosemary Balsamic Steak stir-fry with peppers, snap peas and carrots

Rosemary Balsamic Stir Fry with Côtes de Bordeaux

Rosemary Balsamic Stir Fry with Côtes de Bordeaux

The steak tips were marinated in a combination of balsamic, soy, rosemary, olive oil, sea salt, garlic, & black pepper. We stir fried the meat and then added thinly sliced rainbow carrots, slice red, yellow and orange peppers and snap peas.  We served it on a bed of brown rice and quinoa with olive oil and garlic.

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2012 Clos de La Vieille Eglise Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

The wine from Castillon was dark and deep with brambles and dried herbs on the nose. On the palate there were peppers and spice and a hint of licorice and cherry cola. This was great with the stir fry and the charcuterrie. This wine sat at 12.9% alc.

This wine is primarily Merlot from vineyards bordering St. Emilion.

2014 Château de Paillet-Quancard

Cadillac- Côtes de Bordeaux

2014 Château de Paillet-Quancard Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux

The Cadillac was was bright and more translucent than the Castillon. On the nose I got warm curry spices. In my mouth it was tart with light to medium tannins, like eating just barely sweetened cranberries. This wine is a great easy drinking red for summer It paired with the peppers in the stir fry and was good with the bright snap peas and goat cheese. It is 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Sav and 5% Cab Franc.

This wine is grown on slopes above the Garonne River and made by Château de Paillet-Quancard, a Château that dates back to the 16th centruy.  The Paillet vineyard is clay-limestone and clay-gravel and these vines are about 25 years old.

Blaye

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Rosemary

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

Braised Chicken with Zucchini and Goat Cheese

I was searching for recipes and found this one on the Le Vins de Saint-Emilion site https://en.vins-saint-emilion.com/braised-chicken-zucchini-and-rosemary

I paired the recipe down and adjusted just a bit to make dinner for Michael and I. The recipe is simple and you can cook en papillot, in grease proof paper if you have it, or foil. The parchment I had wasn’t grease proof, so I made 2 individual foil packets. This worked perfectly as Michael was running late, so I could wait and put his packet in the oven when he left work.

The chicken breast lays on a bed of thinly sliced small zucchinis, you top with salt, pepper, chopped garlic and thyme add 2 medallions of goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil and top with a sprig of rosemary, seal the packet and bake.

2015 Château la Valade

Blaye – Côtes de Bordeaux

2015 Château la Valade Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

2015 Château la Valade Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux

85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon

Part of the Alfio Moriconi Selection, there were not many details to be found on this wine.  We found it for $13.99 at Total Wine.

I will admit that I was a little concerned that with the goat cheese and chicken, I had chosen a recipe that was more in line with the regions white wine (sauvignon blanc), but it paired surprisingly well. The nose on this wine was bright with undertones of exotic spices and was tart but light on the palate, making it work well with the chicken and not overpower it.

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux and a cheese platter

Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux and a cheese platter

I did also have a cheese plate laid out with Parmesean, almonds, honey, blue cheese, honey and black berries. This wine went really nicely with the blue cheese and was amazing with the black berries making the floral notes explode in my mouth.

Return to Castillon

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Duck Breast with black berries and leeks, baked macaroni and cheese and an Italian melon salad

This was my “all in” pairing. Duck breast are not easy to find here in Vegas, and what I picked up from the local butcher shop was the larger Moulard Duck Magret Breast. I was dipping into the recipes again on the Le Vins de Saint-Emilion site and found a recipe for Duck Breasts with figs that I riffed on, rendering the duck breasts then adding sliced leeks and black berries when deglazing the pan with a little balsamic and some of the wine.

I did individual servings of baked mac and cheese, an idea gained from Fiona Beckett, who suggests cheddar cheese or macaroni and cheese with “full-bodied Merlot dominated bordeaux”

Then I returned to the Saint-Emilion site for a vegetable or another side or appetizer and I found an Italian Melon Salad. I again riffed on the recipe with a bed of rocket (arugula) mixed with roasted pine nuts, chunks of gorgonzola, thin slices of parmesean, olive oil, lemon juice and salt a pepper all topped with cantaloupe, thin slices of prosciutto and basil.

2011 Château Moya

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2011 Château Moya Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

2011 Château Moya Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

93% Merlot 7% Cabernet Sauvignon

https://www.chateaumoya.com/

This is an organic wine from Cotes de Castillon. This region is known for is sustainable practices, with a large portion of the growers using biodynamic and organic farming practices.

This wine immediately dried my teeth. It had warm savory notes on the nose with bright cranberry fruit and it continued to evolve in the glass. It paired nicely with everything.

I will admit to being most enchanted by the wines from Castillon. These wines were great food wines, but were also really intriguing on their own. This is a region I will use as a go to for wines and I will continue to search out wines from all over the Côtes de Bordeaux.

Music pairings

In addition to pairing with food, wine is great to pair with music. I paired the Chateau Moya with some Nina Simone and if you head to the Vins de Bordeux https://www.bordeaux.com/us/

site they have some great wine pairing playlists for you! Try this Mindful Wine tasting playlist https://www.bordeaux.com/us/Wine-Tunes/Moods/Mindful-winetasting

The French #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Côtes de Bordeaux region hosted by Michelle of Rockin’ Red Blog

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, May 19th at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on the Côtes de Bordeaux and it’s wines!

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla offers “Exploring the Côtes de Bordeaux with Simple, Salty, Spicy Nibbles

Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Celebrating the Warm Weather with Bordeaux

David from Cooking Chat brings us “Cheesy Beef Casserole with Wine from Côtes de Bordeaux

Nicole from Somm’s Table explores “2 oz Pours: 5 Nights of BDX

Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog offers “Côtes de Bordeaux: Your Go-To For Affordable, Approachable Bordeaux

Gwen from Wine Predator shares “Affordable French: Bordeaux and Burgers for #Winophiles

Rupal the Syrah Queen gives us “5 Reasons You Should Be Drinking Côtes de Bordeaux

Jill of L’Occasion offers a “Guide to the Wines of Côtes de Bordeaux

Lynn of Savor the Harvest shares “Côtes de Bordeaux: A Chateau Carsin Surprise

Jeff at FoodWineClick! shares “Drinking Tuesday Night Bordeaux

Liz Barrett of What’s In That Bottle helps us with “Get to Know Côtes de Bordeaux #Winophiles

Lauren from The Swirling Dervish offers “Côtes de Bordeaux: Why It Should Be on Your Wine Shopping List

Amber of Wine Travel Eats gives us “Salmanazar – Côtes de Bordeaux

Michelle Williams of The Rockin’ Red Blog shares “Drinking Bordeaux in Blue Jeans”

Please join the #winophiles Côtes de Bordeaux chat on Saturday, May 19 at 11am EST on Twitter. We will discuss wine, food pairings, culture, and the region. All are welcome and encouraged to participate in the chat.

And don’t forget to check back here for more great information on wine, wine regions and the people behind the grapes on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Côtes deBordeaux (1)

Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley

I had a plan, well sort of. It was Day 3 of our Flash tour and Flash tours are pretty busy! We had spent a day in Sonoma and this day was to start in Napa and end up in the Livermore Valley. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I had a plan to start the day and to end the day, but the middle was a bit mushy. There was much driving to be done, so the wine needed to wait until later in the day and I had not done enough research to find a proper stop. Michael dove online and saved the day. A mid afternoon stop that could be our final Sonoma destination that had a patio for a picnic lunch and a hike! Balletto it was! Since then I have had multiple people tell me how much they like this winery, but at the time…I knew nothing about them.

Balletto Vineyards

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Balletto Vineyards is located in Sonoma, with their winery just a little bit off the 12 on Occidental Road.  The address says Santa Rosa, but they are closer to Sebastopol.  They were farmers first, with John Balletto starting the business running the family’s 5 acre farm growing vegetables in 1977.  John’s father had passed away and to care for his family, he gave up college athletic scholarships to start the business.  They expanded the property they owned and grew more and more produce.  In 1995 they had 700 acres and grew 70 different varieties of produce and were one of the largest vegetable farms in Northern California.  Multiple El Ninos in 1998 wiped out much of their crops and as they looked at potential future water crisis’ they determined to turn their properties to wine grapes.  They began with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sold fruit to Sonoma Wine Producers.  In 2001 they created Balletto Vineyards, keeping 10% of their fruit from their Russian River Valley Vineyards for themselves.  Their produce packaging and shipping center, became the winery.

#VineyardAdventures

In the tasting room you can ask about the self guided tour and they will give you a laminated map to guide you.  These are done in conjunction with Sonoma.com and on their site you can find details on multiple Free Vineyard Walking Tours.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

We started out with the hike, it was a beautiful day and getting to see the soil and the vines and a little of the story of this place seemed to be a good way to set the mood for the wines we would taste later.  The tour had 7 stops, each telling you a bit of behind the scenes information on things Balletto Vineyards is doing to be sustainable, to care for the land and the people on it.  Because after all…that really does make for better wine.

Preservation of Habitat

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Located in the Russian River Valley the vineyard and winery sit next to the Laguna de Santa Rosa which is a major tributary of the Russian River. This part of the Russian River Valley is flat and open and the Laguna de Santa Rosa is a wetland habitat where you can see a variety of birds, including osprey, pelicans and Great Blue Herons.  Diversity in species and landscape are vital to keeping environments healthy.

Water Conservation

When Balletto began as a vineyard, they already understood the importance of water conservation.  Here next to the winery they have 3 holding ponds where they reused water from the winery.  The water is specially routed to the ponds from the winery where it is treated.  It is then reused for irrigation and in the spring for frost protection.  In addition they have mobile fans for the vineyard. Frost protection can be quite the water guzzler, so the fans allow them to use less water.  They also utilize recycled water from the City of Santa Rosa’s Laguna treatment plant.

Trellising

While water can be in short supply, the morning fog brings lots of moisture to the vines.  When you get close to harvest, this can be detrimental as it can increase the chance of fungal diseases.  To mitigate this, vineyards use trellising.  The Chardonnay vines at Balletto are trellised to keep the clusters of grapes even along the vine, allowing for more air circulation among the leaves and clusters and decreasing the chance of mold and fungus growing.

Grapes

We walked along the vines and were drawn to the beautiful clusters which were going through veraison, turning those beautiful shades of deep purple, bronze, or silvery gray.  Balletto grows 9 varieties of Pinot Noir and one Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy).  Pinot Gris is Pinot Noir’s lighter dryer cousin.  These grapes thrive in the Russian River Valley’s cool coastal climate.  There is Chardonnay here also, so the colors of the berries in the blocks varied from the bright greens of the still ripening Chardonnay to the dusty grey bronze of the Pinot Gris to the deepening purple of the Pinot Noir.  Here for your viewing pleasure, a selection of grape glamour shots.

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Soils

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Terroir is the idea of the essence of a place.  This begins with the soil.  The vineyards of Balletto encompass 5 different soil types with the two primary types being Wright Loam and Blucher Fine Sandy Loam.  North of the winery near Oxnard road you find Clear Lake Clay.  The differences in soil, site and climate are what make vineyards unique.  Mind you, we were just standing on one of the Balletto Vineyards, they own 16 estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA from the Santa Rosa Plains to the Sebastapol Hills area and Petaluma Gap.  From these vineyards Balletto creates 8 vineyard designate wines, allowing you to taste the difference in terroir.

Pomace for Fertilizer

Pomace is the seeds, stems, skin and sometimes pulp, left over after the grapes are crushed for their juice.  Named for the Goddess of Fruit “Pomona”  this leftover from the wine making process can be used for fertilizer.  It tends to be a little smelly, as any good fertilizer is.  Here at Balletto they create piles of pomace after harvest and let them dry for 16 to 18 months, then they use them as fertilizer between the rows.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…there you go.

Field of Dreams

There is more to wine than the soil and the grapes, the people who make the wine are part of this story.  It’s their hard work you taste in the glass.  Protecting the land and conserving it’s resources, is good for grapes, but it’s also, more importantly, good for people.  A sense of community is important.  Here is one story from Balletto on building community.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour field of dreams

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour, field of dreams

Next to the winery, it is impossible to miss the “Field of Dreams”.  Instead of being in the middle of a cornfield, this field sits on 4 acres in the middle of the Balletto vineyard.  In 2004 the Balletto vineyard crew asked John Balletto if the winery would sponsor their league baseball team.  John Balletto took it a step further and took 4 acres next to the winery and donated all the materials to build a regulation baseball field.  The vineyard crew built the field and now in the Spring and Summer the league plays games here on Sundays. Blocks in the vineyard now sport names like  “First Baseline Chardonnay” or “Field/Dream (west) Pinot Gris”.  (scroll to the bottom to see the field in our video of our walk)

On to the Wines

Balletto has an extensive tasting list ranging from Sparkling wines (which makes perfect sense since they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), to Pinot Gris, Sav Blanc, Chardonnay and a Gewurtztraminer. They produce a lovely Rosé of Pinot Noir and a Vin de Paille dessert wine from their Pinot Gris.  Their Reds are dominated by Pinot Noir (no surprise there), with several vineyard designates.  They also have a Zin and a Syrah.

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

2013 Brut Rosé 2013 $42

This wine spends 3 years in the bottle. In June of 2017 it was given 90 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay this Sparkling wine is made the the Methode Traditionelle.  It is dry and refreshing with balanced acids and a little mineral note.  Stacy at Briscoe Bites did a great review on this wine http://briscoebites.com/balletto-brut-rose/

2016 Savignon Blanc $19

This wine comes from the Balletto Estate Vineyard on Hall Road, where they have two blocks that balance each other. The South block fruit is 80% of this wine with bright fruit and high acidity while the fruit from the north block adds a rich and savory note to balance the wine. My note on this was “Bright without being abrasive”. They note that the wine is pressed lightly in whole clusters and fermented in neutral oak for 5 months on the lees. 20% of this goes through malolactic fermentation. They produce 1200 cases of this wine.

2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay $20

The grapes for this wine come from the west end of the vineyard around the winery which has sandy soil and they are a Robert Young clone.  The grapes are harvested early, whole cluster pressed and given a long cool fermentation.  This is 100% stainless steel, no lees stirring and no Malolactic fermentation.  What you get is vibrant with great acidity, but also with a great texture.  They made 3,260 cases of this wine.

2014 Cider Ridge Chardonnay $38

This wine comes from their new Cedar Ridge Vineyard which sits just 10 miles from the Pacific.  It is cold and foggy and windy, but the vines are on slopes that face west, get amazing sun and sit at an elevation of 950 feet.  This wine has tropical notes and well as subtle nut tones and a little minerality. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and then barrel fermented, so it is a great contrast to Teresa’s Unoaked.

2016 Gewütztraminer $19

This Gewürztraminer is from their Piner Road Vineyard where they have 2 blocks of Gewürztraminer totaling less than 5 acres on the 58 acre vineyard.  With a nose ripe with lychee, beeswax, honey and white flowers, this wine steps away from the traditional Burgundian wines this winery is known for.

2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir $18

Rosé has come back full force and drinking pink is finally fashionable again.  This particular Rosé is of Pinot Noir.  They specifically farm blocks of Pinot Noir at Balletto for their Rosé, the idea is to have brightness and soft tannins to give the wine structure.  This rosé is light in color because they limit skin contact.  They do 80% whole cluster pressing and 20% is sanguine (or the bleed off from their regular Pinot Noir fermentation).  This gives the wine depth.  Luckily they make 4,840 cases of this wine, but you should still plan to get the 2017 as soon as it comes out, and stock up.  Our friend Sarah did a review that I will share with you.

Sonoma Magazine – “22 Best Sonoma Rose Wines to Drink All Summer,” June 2017
“A perennial favorite, we loved the easy drinkability of Balletto’s Rosé. The classic strawberry notes are complemented by herbaceous green tea, Kefir lime, candied apple and a bit of minerality. At under $20 a bottle, easily findable at the grocery or liquor store across the country, and family owned and operated, it’s an easy pick for the ice bucket when company comes over.”- Sarah Stierch

2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $29

This Balletto Pinot Noir is a blend from 7 of their estate vineyards.  Because the vineyards are diverse and range from warmer to cooler areas and open flat areas like the estate vineyard at the winery to vineyards that are steeper hillside vineyards, these grapes blend to create a wine with depth and complexity.  This wine and all of their Pinot Noirs are fermented with native yeast.  They ferment in 6 ton open top fermenters and then age in mostly neutral French Oak.

2014 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir $42

This Pinot is from the new Cedar Ridge Vineyard.  Balletto has 14 acres of Pinot Noir planted here and this is the first release of Pinot Noir from this site.  The Cider Ridge we found to be bigger on the palate than on the nose.

2015 BCD Pinot Noir $44

This wine is a vineyard designate from their BCD Vineyard.  This wine had more tannins than the other two Pinot Noirs that we tasted, but was still mellow and very nice.

2014 Zinfandel $28

The Zin had a classic Zinfandel nose, but was lighter on the palate due to the cooler climate.  It has spice and a bit of vanilla and is bright on the palate, with a long finish. Their Zinfandel comes from the BCD Vineyard where they have about a 6.5 acre block.

2014 Syrah $28

We are finding that there are quite a few cooler climate vineyards that started out exclusively growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that are starting to grow Syrah and finding that it thrives and creates a lovely elegant expression of this grape.  This wine comes from the BCD Vineyard which is a rolling vineyard with sandy soils.  These are typically the last grapes picked by Balletto each season and they get maximum skin contact with lots of gentle pump overs.  To soften the tannins the wine is aged in French Oak for  22 months.  This was indeed a lovely Syrah, with cocoa, coffee and smoke on the nose and smooth tannins, but quite honestly it could not outshine the Pinots on this list.

We will leave you with a virtual tour of our afternoon at Balletto!  But a virtual tour is only so good.  Get out to Sonoma and visit Balletto for yourself.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Lompoc, the Wine Ghetto and Beyond

lompac Ghetto

We visited Lompoc.  It was a Thursday…so limited wine tasting rooms were open, but it gave us a chance to do a few tastings and scope out tasting rooms we would like to return to.  But perhaps you have never heard of Lompoc?  Let me bring you up to speed.

Lompoc

Lompoc is located on the Central Coast of California in Santa Barbara County.  From a wine perspective, it is the area just west of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  The Chumash Indians were the first known settlers here and enjoyed relative peace and quiet for what is thought to be 10,000 years until the first European Settlement was built in 1787 with the La Purisima Mission.  The original mission was destroyed in 1812 by an earthquake and was rebuilt several years after at another site.  The mission is now a state park and is host to the Wine and Fire Event held annually by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. the name Lompoc comes from the Chumash Indian word “Lum Poc” for “Lagoon” (or for stagnant waters, but lagoon sounds better).

The city of Lompoc was Incorporated in 1888 and many wharves were built for incoming supplies to the coast.  At the turn of the century the rail system took over transport of goods and slowed traffic to the coast by boats, but the new rail system ran from San Francisco to LA with a spur coming into Lompoc. The city is known as the City of Arts and Flowers and indeed they became know as the capitol for the flower seed industry.  The area became agriculturally based and still grows many flowers.

In 1941 Camp Cooke was established as a Army Training base and was renamed Vandenburg Air Force Base in 1958 when the Air Force began using it as a test site for intermediate-range ballistic missles.  In the late 1980’s this was to be the new spot for launching Space Shuttle Missions and the town grew and boomed with the expectation of people coming in to see the launches.  Sadly the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986 ended that program and the city struggled to find a way out of the recession they found themselves in.

They turned to Tourism and now in addition to their arts and flowers, they are home to many wineries with around 30 tasting rooms, which are typically open on the weekends.

The Wine Ghetto

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto came about in 1998 when Rick Longoria moved his winery operations to an industrial Warehouse in Lompoc.  It was close to the vineyards and allowed an affordable space to make wine.  Others soon followed suit, and while Longoria moved out of the Ghetto, in to a new facility down the street (in the historic JM Club), there are still plenty of great tasting rooms in the Ghetto.

We had tasted in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto before at Palmina by Steve Clifton and a little further outside the Ghetto at Brewer Clifton back in 2012.  It seems like not so long ago, but really it has been a bit of time and things have changed.  Brewer-Clifton was founded in 2001 by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton.  In 2015 Ken Frederickson and his team joined Brewer Clifton and recently the winery was purchased by Jackson Family Wines.

We also visited Fiddlehead Cellars during a Vintners Spring weekend event and enjoyed a great tasting with Kathy Josephs the winemaker there as well as some great home-cooked food!

Currently the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is home to 18 wineries and tasting rooms.  In addition there are individual tasting rooms like Longoria and Brewer Clifton further to the West and just east of the Ghetto is the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center Where you can find 4 tasting rooms and several other wineries.  The tasting rooms here include Zotovich, AVE, Kessler-Hawk and Transcendence.  In the Ghetto you will find Ampelos, Arcadian, Bratcher, DSP, Fiddlehead, Flying Goat, Holus Bolus, Jalama, La Montagne, La Vie, Montemar, Morretti, Pali, Palmina, Piedrasassi & Stolpman.  Check out the Lompoc Wine Trail for details and a map.

During this visit we stopped at A Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room, which shares space with Moretti, located in the Wine Ghetto and then visited AVE and Transcendence located a short walk away at the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center.

You will find that most of the tasting rooms and wineries here focus on the varieties of grapes coming from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, meaning lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there are other varieties available also.

While I was unable to get there, on Friday afternoons, Piedrasassi, Sashi Moorman’s Winery also has it’s Bakery open run by Melissa Sorongon.  You can get fresh baked bread and taste some great wines all at one time.  It’s on my list.

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We will be sharing the details of our tastings in Lompoc in future posts.  Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Crawford Family Wines

Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room Los Olivos Santa Barbara County

Celebration of Harvest with the Santa Barbara Vintners is upon us and with the endless number of wineries in the Santa Barbara Valley, there are plenty to explore.  On our last trip we made a new discovery, as we visited Crawford Family Wines in Los Olivos.

Mark Horvath is the owner and winemaker at Crawford Family Wines.  That being so, you might ask where the name for the winery came from.  Well before Crawford Family Wines, Mark had another winery with Joey Gummere (who now runs his own winery Transcendence).  They spent a bit of time batting around names for their collaborative venture, mixing and matching their names and they came up with Kenneth Crawford.  Not names either of them were really known by, Kenneth is Joey’s first name, but he doesn’t go by it and Crawford is Mark’s mother’s maiden name but together…it sounded pretty cool, better than Gummere and Horvath or Mark & Joey, that was for sure.  So when opening his own winery Mark figured he would stick with the Crawford, and Crawford Family Wines was born.

Mark Horvath, Crawford family Wines speaking at the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar April 2016

Mark and his wife Wendy have been in the wine industry for a while.  Spent time immmersed in the industry in Sonoma, with Mark working at Carmenet Winery, learning the cellar, the lab and then taking UC Davis courses.  It was at UC Davis, that he ran into a bunch of Santa Barbara Winemakers.  Mind you, back then there was not alot of buzz about Santa Barbara, but these winemakers had a passion and Mark and Wendy found themselves drawn to the area.  Mark worked at Babcock as the assistant winemaker, then started Kenneth Crawford with Joey Gummere and recently has worked at Tres Hermanas as the winemaker.Wendy has a background in the restaurant industry, she worked at The French Laundry and at Santa Barbara’s Wine Cask and has done work with a wine distributor.

The focus at Crawford Family Wines is Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, many of which are vineyard specific.  They also do a Chardonnay from Rita’s Crown.  Outside of the Burgundian wines, they have an Albarino, a Rosé and a couple of Rhones.  We enjoyed a Syrah Seminar on the range of Santa Barbara Syrahs in April of 2016 and Mark spoke about the cool climate Syrah he was making from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Crawford Family Wines Los Olivos Santa Barbara County Tasting Room

Tin Roof and all at the Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The day we walked into the tasting room was a Monday and we were lucky enough to find Wendy manning the tasting room.  On the outside the building is rustic with a tin roof and wood siding, and beautifully manicured plants.  When you walk in the tasting room is clean and bright with white walls with large vivid photography gracing the walls.  While clean and sharp it’s also warm and welcoming.

We had a wonderful conversation with Wendy while tasting through their wines.

Speaking of the Wines….

 

Crawford Family Wines 2016 Albariño

Yeah, one of these things is not like the others…but this is a great wine and a great grape that is getting more traction in Santa Barbara.  The grapes for this particular wine come from Brick Barn Vineyard, which is located just outside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Buellton.  The entire vineyard is 50 acres on a former horse and cattle ranch.  This is only the 2nd crop of this grape.  It is fermented in Stainless steel and is bright and crisp with a some lemon, some peaches and florals.  This is what I would consider a Zesty wine.

$28.00

2015 Tin Shack Chardonnay

This wine comes from the Sta. Rita Hills, from Rita’s Crown.  As the name indicates this vineyard sits on the highest point in the region, the “Crown” in Sta. Rita.  The vineyard sits at 600 to 1000 feet and has diatomaceous soil.  Close to the ocean, you find fossilized seashells here.  It has southwest facing slopes and is surrounded by other well known, dare I say “famous” vineyards in the area, like Sea Smoke, La Rinconada, Sanford & Benedict and Fiddlestix.

This wine is called “Tin Shack” because it is fermented in Stainless Steel, then put into neutral oak for a year.  Only 180 cases were produced.  This is meant to get the best of both worlds with fermentation and winemaking technique.  The stainless steel fermentation captures the essence of the soil, the bright acidity and aromatics.  The year it spends in barrel on the lees softens it and adds some complexity giving you that baking spice on the nose.

The label for this wine as well as for the Walk Slow Pinot were done by Wendy’s Brother.

$42.00

2016 Rosé

This wine comes from probably the warmest vineyard that they source from.  It is a Grenache rosé from Mesa Verde Vineyard, which is one of the southern-most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, sitting just west of Sunstone.  They picked early to keep the brightness, but because it is the southern part of the valley, the fruit developed some of those riper flavors.

$25.00

2013 Bentrock Pinot Noir

This is single vineyard wine from Bentrock Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  Bentrock was formerly known as Salsipuedes.  This is the far South West corner of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and is close to the ocean catching daily cold ocean winds (not breezes).  This is a lean and earthy Pinot Noir, with minerality.  This is a wine that has capture the terroir, you can taste the wind, the ocean, the reach for the warmth of sunlight.

$52.00

2014 Pinot Noir, Walk Slow

This Pinot is a blend of fruit from Bentrock and Babcock Vineyards.  It does 30% whole cluster fermentation and is 75% Babcock fruit which is clone 115 and 24% Bentrock which is clone 667.  Both vineyards are in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, but Babcock sits down in the valley on the route 246 where as Bentrock is up on the far west end of Santa Rosa Road.

This is 30% new french oak, which is the only new oak in his winemaking program.  It spends 16 months in barrel.  The fruit from these two different vineyards balance each other.  With a beautiful nose of black tea with woods and dark cherry and cherries and tart red fruit in your mouth.  (My mouth is watering just thinking about this wine and I’m kicking myself for not leaving with a bottle!)

The name of this wine “Walk Slow” is Mark’s reminder to himself to slow down and enjoy.  This is a wine that opens up with layer upon layer, you have to slow down and experience it as it changes in your glass.

$48.00

2014 Second Street Cuvée

The Second Street Cuvée is a GSM blend, in a Cotes-du-Rhone Style. It is named after the “Second Street” where their winery is located in Buellton.

It is 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre from Lavando and Shokrian Vineyards.  Lavando is a small vineyard that is planted at a friends ranch just outside the Ballard Canyon AVA.  Shokrian is in Los Alamos and is owned by Babak Shokrian and was previously Verna’s Vineyard, owned by Melville.  This vineyard sits across the road from White Hawk Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road.  So there is a bit of distance between where the fruit grew.  The fruit came from hillside blocks together give this wine an earthy fruit quality, that is very food friendly.

$32.00

This tasting room is not on Grand Avenue, the main road in town, but is a block over on the main cross street Alamo Pintado.  If you find your self at the flagpole, head east on Alamo Pintado (past Panino) and cross San Marcos Ave.  It will be on your left past Blair Fox Cellars.  It is well worth the stroll to the outer edges of the town.  If you are hungry after your tasting, I recommend the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, where they often serve Crawford Family Wines by the glass.

Celebration of Harvest Weekend which is coming up September 29th through October 1st, is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers.  There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried).  So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard.  There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.

You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.

And be sure to stop back here!  We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Yountville

I remember first reading about Thomas Keller in Michael Ruhlman’s “The Soul of a Chef”.  Ruhlman describes his first visit to the French Laundry and the out of body experience that it was.  He includes the story that is included in the French Laundry Cookbook about Keller’s first time butchering rabbits. The experience was for him, a turning point.  The experience was awful and he vowed to ensure that these rabbits were beautiful, there would be no neglecting them as they cooked, overcooking by accident and throwing away needlessly was not to occur after taking their lives.  This story of getting back to where the food comes from, the respect for that and subsequent care for the products that he puts on the plate is part of the essence of what makes the French Laundry so special.

The history of the building

The French Laundry is a two story stone building that was built in 1900 originally as a saloon.   In the 1920’s it served as a French steam laundry.  It had a personal residence and was also a brothel and saloon in the 1930’s, before going vacant for many years, but the locals still referred to it as the French Laundry.  In 1976, one time Yountville Mayor Don Schmitt and his wife Sally purchased the neglected property and turned it into a restaurant.  In the 1990’s the Schmitt’s were ready to leave Yountville, it had grown a little too big for them and an unemployed Chef from LA saw the property and knew it was his destiny.  Mind you, Keller had already made a name for himself at Rakel in NYC as well as Checkers in LA.  When he opened the French Laundry in 1994 he had immediate interest followed by profuse praise.  The restaurant continues to set high standards and be one of the most acclaimed restaurants on the planet.

The building is inconspicuous and you can easily walk by and miss it.  Covered in vines, it is humble and elegant.  While walking by, we watched multiple cars stop, it’s occupants hurrying around to have their picture snapped in front of this iconic restaurant.

Thomas Keller's French Laundry In Yountville

Thomas Keller’s French Laundry In Yountville

When you follow the front walk to the end, you can see the beautiful new kitchen that was built in 2015.  This is modern in contrast to the restaurant building.  Thomas Keller comments that he was inspired by the Louvre, contrasting the older and traditional with the new and innovative.  There is a great video with him on the The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Facebook Page.

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The gardens across the street, are well kept, but also humble.  A vegetable garden, with herbs and flowers, that is not pretentious and is open to passersby.  As you stroll up the street you will see the hoop houses in the back.  At the center of the garden near the sidewalk you will find a podium with a wood and glass display box that shows the layout of the garden.  You can look about and see exactly where the tomatoes, cucumbers, squash…the herb patch and the flower bed with sunflowers are located.  Off to the side you see the chicken coop and you can wonder up and say hello to the chickens.  There are bee boxes for fresh honey as well as to provide a home for the bees who pollinate the garden. There are sun chokes, pumpkins, peppers and along the sidewalk you will see fruit trees.  Here and there you find benches to sit and enjoy the bucolic view.

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville Napa North Coast

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville

French Laundry Culinary Gardens and Bench Yountville

A shady tree and a bench to sit on while you take in the culinary gardens.

This is farm to table.  The produce comes in each morning and the menu can be based on what they know is going to be ready in the garden. Again, this is Keller getting back to the source of the food he is so beautifully preparing.

All in all, strolling Yountville and the French Laundry Culinary Gardens is a fantastic way to start a day in Napa.  It is stimulating to the senses, yet calming.  It quiets your mind and puts you in a reflective mindset, which I believe is the perfect way to start tasting wine.

Continue with us as we chronicle our journey through wine country and dig into some of the wonderful places we’ve already visited.  You can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles   or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest Weekend

Firestone Vineyard Koehler Vineyard Curtis Vineyard

Santa Barbara is one of our favorite wine regions. Typically we find our way that direction in April for the Vintners Spring Weekend, with it’s Seminars, special events and of course the Grand Tasting.  This year, we thought we would mix it up a bit and we will be attending the Celebration of Harvest.  Fall rather than spring, post harvest rather than bud break…it gives a different visual of the area.

We just did a Flash tour through a large portion of California Wine country and our starting and ending point was Santa Barbara County.  You simply can’t beat the diversity.  With the East/West Valley and the temperature increasing a degree per mile as you drive from the cooler Sta. Rita Hills (think Burgundy) through the Santa Ynez Valley past Ballard Canyon (think the Rhone) and on into Happy Canyon (yep think Bordeaux), (not to mention the micro climates you find in Los Alamos Valley or the amazing Vandenburg fog that influences the grapes in Santa Maria and Foxen Canyon), you get a wide range of varieties that grow well here, so when it comes to the Santa Barbara Vintners events, there is something for everyone.  We have done a highlight reel of our favorite stops in this amazing area.  Of course that list is growing, but check out So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine.

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This years Celebration of Harvest, kicks off with their signature event “Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country“.  This event will be held at the Fess Parker Resort, right across from the beach in Santa Barbara.  50 wineries will be on hand to pour their fall releases and word has it that many will have library wines available for tasting also.  And of course their will be great food from some of the best restaurants and vendors in wine country.

Many of the greats will be there, Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Qupe and some of our favorites, Beckmen, Casa Dumetz, Clos Pepe, Jamie Slone, Presqu’ile, Riverbench, Zaca Mesa. And don’t miss stopping by The Central Coast Group Project if you want to try something new.  Scott Sampler of CCGP has been working with extended mascerations and is producing some very interesting wines.

In addition they will have Harvest Experience Passports available.  The passport allows you to visit up to 12 of the participating tasting rooms over the weekend, many of which will have special experiences and tastings just for passport members.

They also have a series of Collaborative Dinners in various locations, where a restaurant or chef are paired up with several wineries for a unique dining experience.  There are 4 of these set up in various locations around the area from a Surf and Turf dinner Angel Oak at Bacara out on the shore with Fiddlehead, Zotovich, Martian, Longoria and Jaffurs wines, to a Cowboy BBQ in Los Alamos with Municipal Winemakers, Casa Dumetz, Lumen, Frequency and Bedford.  Further in there is a Farm to Fork, Vine to Glass dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe with Bernat, J. Wilkes, and Refugio Ranch and then and East Meets West at the magical Ballard Inn Gathering Table with Chef Budi Kazali creating amazing dishes to pair with wines from Melville, Andrew Murray, Beckmen and Star Lane Vineyards.

Celebration of Harvest Weekend is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers.  There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried).  So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard.  There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.

You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.

And be sure to stop back here!  We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Corner 103 – more than just wine tasting in Sonoma

Corner 103 wine glasses

Just across the street from Sonoma Plaza in beautiful downtown Sonoma sits Corner 103. Appropriately it is on the Corner and the address is 103 West Napa Street. It’s an understated name. If you go by early in the day you are likely to see a man outside sweeping the sidewalk in front of the establishment. That man would be the founder and owner Lloyd Davis. Understated is a word that describes Lloyd well, he is soft spoken and mild mannered, and his tasting room, which is much more than a tasting room, like the man himself, is sparkling and spotless.

Corner 103 Sonoma

Corner 103 on the Sonoma Square

We had a 2 pm appointment for a Cheese Experience. Brent welcomed us and then Lloyd joined us at the table which was glistening with glasses of wine and plates of cheese and something more. Lloyd intends this to be an experience, and an educational one. This is not just educational in that you learn about wine, but that you learn about what you like and don’t like in wine. Every palate is different and the intention is for you to experience how you can find things that speak to your taste buds.

The table is beautiful with the glasses, and I realize that there are many different styles of glasses before me, each specific to the wine that it holds. While you can drink wine from any sort of container or glass, the right shape of glass can greatly enhance the experience, bringing out the aromas in a wine and channeling them in just the right way for you to be able to most appreciate them.

Under each glass sits a coaster size card giving you the wine, the area the grapes came from, the Vintage and any awards that the wine has garnered. Flip the card over and you are treated to even more information. This begins with a short description from Lloyd and then includes a map of the Sonoma Valley, with the specific area that the grapes for this wine were pulled from highlighted. It goes on to give you the Blend, the Total Production, Alcohol, the Appropriate glass style to drink it from, the Harvest and Bottling Dates, how it was aged, the appropriate serving temperature and the price. It’s quite a bit of information I know, but for a wine geek like me…heaven.

In addition there was a card specific to our tasting with each wine and the cheese and other other small bits.

As we chatted and Lloyd explained a little about Corner 103, he invited us to enjoy some of the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. This allowed us to prime our palates and get into discussing the wine and what we tasted. He asked each of us and explained that we were likely to experience the wine differently, our taste buds and experiences are unique to each of us and affect how we interpret flavors.

Corner 103 cheese Experience Sonoma

The Cheese Experience at Corner 103 in Sonoma

We moved on to the 2014 Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast which was paired with and Italian Style table cheese as well as crushed roasted hazelnuts. The process went as follows; taste the wine, taste the cheese, taste the wine with the cheese and finally taste the wine with the cheese and the hazelnuts. The idea is to identify what you are tasting separately with the wine, then the cheese and then how they are different when they are together. Adding the hazelnuts at the end change what you experience yet again. Depending on what you enjoyed or disliked about each bite, Lloyd can suggest a pairing. If you enjoyed the wine with the cheese, try a darker meat chicken, if you didn’t like it with the cheese try it with white meat chicken (adjusting the fat content). If you liked the addition of hazelnuts, perhaps try adding something earth to the dish like mushrooms. The possibilities are endless, but this small pairing can give you direction for planning an entire meal.

We continued on moving into the red wines:

2013 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley with California Daisy Cheddar & Dried Cherries

2012 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley with Asiago & Dried Herbs

2012 Merlot from the Alexander Valley with Oro Secco & Bacon Bits

2012 Red Blend (Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel & Petite Sirah with Romanello Dolce & Green Peppercorns

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sonoma Valley with Mezzo Secco & Blackberry Preserve.

Each time the sequence was the same; wine, cheese, wine & cheese, wine & cheese & the added flavor. Michael and I surprised ourselves with some of the differences in our tastes. Throughout the experience Lloyd encouraged us to not worry about what was right or wrong. We are each experts on what we are tasting. His quiet and thoughtful demeanor allowed us to open up to our own thoughts and interpretations.

With Corner 103 Lloyd is committed to creating a safe space for everyone to learn and embrace the wine expert inside each of us. He finds that too many people are intimidated by wines. His wines strive to be approachable.

The experience is really extraordinary and you are treated as an honored guest from the moment that you walk in the door. While we were there, the beautiful park was right across the street, people and cars were going by, people came and went, at least I think they did, I was completely absorbed in the experience.

You can visit the Corner 103 website to schedule one of these amazing tastings.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

a Corner 103 Photo Gallery

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Bubbles to start the day – at Gloria Ferrer

So we find ourselves on the Vista Terrace at the beautiful Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards. It’s a comfortable morning where the clouds have not yet burned off, so the view is soft and the vines look happy.  And it’s time to get down to some tasting.  5 flights were available on the list including the Winery Exclusive Flight which included 3 sparkling wines that were exclusive to the winery (you can’t purchase them anywhere else), a 90 Point flight of their sparkling wines that have been rated at 90 points or about, the Glorious Flight which comes with a chocolate pairing, a Pinot Flight and a Ferrer Family Passport which includes 3 still red wines.  There are other wines available by the glass.

We chose the Winery Exclusive Flight.  I mean why wouldn’t you?  If we can taste the other wines elsewhere, this was the flight to go with.  This flight included the 2009 Extra Brut, the 2013 Brut Rosé and the 2005 Carneros Cuvée.

2009 Extra Brut

This is a blend that is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  This is a “late disgorged” wine.  This wine cellar aged for 7 years.  The “late disgorging” enhances the bubbles.  This vintage, 2009 started mild, with ideal summer temperatures so the fruit was able to ripen and develop deep flavors.

With Green apple and brioche for your nose and then, citrus, honey and black cherry for your taste buds.

$50

2013 Brut Rosé

92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay. This wine has strawberry and brioche on the nose, Watermelon and peach on the palate with some ginger notes at the end.  This is a festive wine that is a real crowd pleaser.

$50

2005 Carneros Cuvée

53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay.  This is their flagship sparkling wine.  The 2005 vintage started out cool and wet with a late bud break.  The summer was sunny and dry and the temperature were mild going into harvest which meant more hang time between veraison and harvest.

This is made from the premium estate fruit.  It has 9 years en tirage, and 6 months on the cork.  It was indeed our favorite wine of the tasting. What is en tirage you ask? this is the French term for how long the wine rests in the bottle on the lees (the dead yeast sediment) from the secondary fermentation. This allows the flavor of the autolyzed yeast to develop in the wine.

This was my favorite from this tasting, with floral notes, apple, honey, ripe pear and a bit of mineral which keeps it clean even with it’s long finish.

$75

2014 Blanc de Blancs

We were lucky to taste the newest Blanc de Blancs their 2014.  It was a beautiful bright color and was crisp with green apples and pears and meyer lemon.  It had some lovely yeasty brioche and a creamy mouthfeel.

$50

In Addition we tasted the 2008 Royal Cuvée and the 2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay ($40).

2008 Royal Cuvée

The Royal Cuvée has a history.  The inaugural vintage of the “Royal Cuvée” was in 1987 and was first served to King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain when they visited California.

It is 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay.  These grapes are handpicked and brought to the winery in small bins and only the first press of gentle whole-cluster press is used.  It ferments in stainless steel.  It is blended after 6 months then bottled and aged sur-lie in the wine caves for 7 years.  It is then disgorged and finished with a dry dosage and aged an additional 6 months before being released.

This has peach, ripe apple and honey on the nose with black cherry and pear on the palate.  It is bright and crisp with a hint of ginger at the end.

$37

2015 José Ferrer Chardonnay

The only still wine that we tasted, this 100% Estate Chardonnay, is whole cluster pressed very gently.  It is barrel fermented and aged in French oak with 25% of that being new oak, for 9 months.  They put a third of the wine through malolactic fermentation.  The barrels were stirred monthly for 6 months to mix the lees and create the full mouthfeel of the wine.

This wine had some tropical fruit and green apple, but what stood out to me was the spice.  When I described the wine at the tasting, my first thought was “spicy”.  This is not heat or pepper, but more baking spices.

$40

The wines were lovely.  On our next visit I look forward to tasting the olive oil also.  They have multiple tastings to choose from as well as experiences.  I was tempted by a flight that had a chocolate pairing.  They also have 3 guided tours daily that should be reserved in advance.  There are several other experiences: Pinot Journey, Bubbles and Bites, A Taste of Spain, Glassware Exploration, Gloria’s Wine Country Picnic and Reserve Tour that are available with advanced reservations.

This beautiful winery is definitely the perfect way to start a day in Sonoma. If you missed our post on some of the history of Gloria Ferrer, you can find it here Gloria Ferrer – A little history.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Gloria Ferrer – a little history

On our recent trip to the California Coast we had the opportunity to stop for a tasting at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard.  Located in Carneros, which is the Southern end of Sonoma County Wine Region, this is a sparkling wine house.

The Ferrers

The Ferrers have a little bit of wine history.  The family has been growing wine since the 1500s.  They own La Freixendeda (which means “ash tree grove” in Catalan) outside of Barcelona Spain which is an 11th century farming estate.  From the estate name comes “Freixenet” the famous Cava from Spain.  Yep, they own that too.

Freixenet

The story of Freixenet, goes like this: Pedro Ferrer marries Dolores Sala (from another winemaking family). Phylloxera hit Spain as they got married wiping out vineyards.  The two replanted their vineyards with white wine varieties and decided to make sparkling wine.  The first bottles of Freixenet (which was Pedro’s childhood nickname) were released in 1914. You are sure to have had one of those signature black bottles at some point.

There have been lots of articles out recently about Cava and Prosecco, and the one thing that stands largest among the difference between the two (other than grapes and location) is the method in which they are made.  Cava is made in the Traditional Method (like champagne) where the secondary fermentation is done in bottle.  This produces much smaller and more persistent bubbles.

Cava is made with 3 primary types of grapes Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada.

Vineyards Gloria Ferrer Carneros Sonoma County

Vineyards over the lavender at Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

José and Gloria Ferrer came to California in the 70’s on a road trip.  They fell in love with Sonoma and wanted to come and build a winery here.  The Ferrer Team knew that they wanted to make méthode champenoise wine in New World terroir and that to do that they would need Pinot Noir.  They acquired Pinot and Chardonnay clones from Champagne and brought them to plant in Carneros. They purchased 100 acres from three cattle ranches in Sonoma to plant the original vines in 1982 and in 1986 they opened the beautiful winery with the Vista Terrace for visitors to enjoy the wine and the view.  They now farm 335 acres of Vineyards, still primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The vines at Gloria Ferrer are hand farmed and many of the original crew that planted the grapes 30 years ago are still a part of the process.

The Winery and Vista Terrace

The Winery which opened in 1986 was designed like a Catalan Farmhouse originally, with wooden beams and old world charm. The caves were the first built in the area. The president of the Catalan Government actually came to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.   When they decided to update the tasting room they worked with a Catalan interior designer, Isa Rodriguez (he also designed the Freixenet’s building in Spain). The modern tasting room still includes the wooden beams, but in a much more modern aesthetic.

So while modern tasting room is stunning, the view will draw you out to the Vista Terrace.  This is a civilized tasting, you don’t stand at a bar, you are escorted to a table where you can enjoy glasses or flights.  They have expanded the Vista Terrace to have an area reserved for Wine Club Members as well as lots of additional room for other guests.

There are umbrellas for shade, but the morning that we were there it was early and the sky’s were still a little cloudy allowing us a comfortable and cool tasting right on the edge of the terrace, with expansive views out onto the front vineyard blocks as well as to the South which are part of the “Home Ranch” and just a little further south to the Circle Bar Ranch.  Well, so much for the view, our next post will tell you about the tasting.  Bubbles to Start the day – at Gloria Ferrer

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A Day in Sonoma County

We spent a day in Sonoma.   I suppose that’s a pretty vague statement when you consider the size of the area, so let me be more specific.  We spent a day in the Southern part of Sonoma County, starting our day in the Carneros region and finishing in the City of Sonoma.

When you find yourself in this area, it is tempting to try to take in as many wineries as possible.  I would encourage you to select just a few and soak up each.

We started our day with a visit to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, enjoying the views and tasting sparking wines.  We continued to see the amazing landscape around Viansa just south of them.  Our day finished in the city of Sonoma with a visit to the beautiful Sonoma Plaza and an amazing tasting and cheese pairing at Corner 103 across from the Plaza.

Take the visual journey with us here.

If you want to know more of the details visit Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

This was one of the two “Beyond” days where we enjoyed a little of the North Coast.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram