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

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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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and beyond – Day 3 – North Coast

Napa Vineyard

The flash tour continues!  Day 3 finds us Exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and then making the trip a little south to the Livermore Valley.  Much of this day takes us out of the Central Coast region and into what is considered the North Coast Region of California Wine Country which encompasses, Napa, Sonoma, Lake County, Los Carneros, Solano County and Mendocino.

Day 3 North Coast – Napa to Sonoma then the Livermore Valley

Yountville

Day 3 Started with a drive into Napa, destination Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Yountville is a glorious place to start the day and a Café au Lait and a Pain au Chocolat eaten on a bench outside Bouchon Bakery is the way to go. We then enjoyed a stroll through beautiful Yountville where there is art around every corner.  We also made a stop at the French Laundry Gardens to see what they were growing.

Napa

We had not set appointments ahead of time and wanted to do a bit of driving and sightseeing, so we got back on Highway 29 and stopped for photo ops at Opus 1, Robert Mondavi, Gott’s Roadside (where you really have to have lunch), and Chateau Montelena. The drive through Calistoga and into Northern Sonoma on Rt 128 is stunning with Spanish moss dripping from the canopy of the trees over the road and the smell of cedar in the air. The roads here are curvy, so it’s best if you have not overindulged in tastings before making the drive, but the slower driving allows you to roll the windows down and soak in the air.  The North Coast is noted for it’s redwoods and cool climate.

Sonoma – Russian River Valley

We jumped back on the 101 and made our way south to the Russian River Valley and to Balletto Vineyards. In conjunction with Sonoma County.com they have a self guided walking tour where you can learn about the local wildlife, grape varieties, soil types water conservation and see the baseball field built on the property.

Livermore Valley

From here we left the North Coast and drove on to the Livermore Valley arriving in time to enjoy a tasting at the gorgeous property at Wente Vineyards. This stunning property has a full concert series in the summer, they have an 18 hole golf course and an award winning restaurant. Founded 130 years ago they are the country’s oldest continuously operated family owned winery. The grounds are stunning and there are tables outside where servers will bring you tastings or wine by the glass.

Thus ends Day 3!

Day 4 sees us making the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon on the Coast then driving to Paso to visit Tablas Creek. Come back for more of the trip!

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

Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

Gloria Ferrer Vineyard Carneros

We continue our 6 day journey through Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond with Day 2, which is the beyond part.  After driving from Vegas to Santa Barbara and making our way up the coast through San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, we ended Day 1 in Monterey.  Our 2nd day takes us to Sonoma.

Day 2 Monterey to Sonoma

Sky at Marina Dunes

Morning Sky at Marina Dunes

 

The sky was lit up beautifully behind the clouds as we headed out from Marina California, just south of Monterey in the morning.  We hit the road to make the drive to Sonoma.

Gloria Ferrer

We started the day with some bubbly at Gloria Ferrer in Carneros. The wine, the view, the gardens and the service all started the day off beautifully. We will do a detailed post on our tasting later…for now, just soak in some of the beautiful scenery and bubbles.

Viansa

This is the southern end of Sonoma and we made one more stop in the area at Viansa. The grounds here are beautiful and the views phenomenal. They are committed here to preserving the wetlands habitat that surrounds the vineyards.  After soaking up the views, it was time to head into the city of Sonoma.

Sonoma Plaza

We had time for a visit to the Sonoma Plaza to relax and watch the ducks and take in some of the art.

At the center of the plaza is the City Hall built in the early 20th century.  It was built with all 4 sides identical, so as not to offend any of the merchants and businesses on the surrounding square.  It has a beautiful duck pond on the corner where I rested soaked in the calm and enjoyed some of the wonderful large art pieces.

Corner 103

Now it was time to head across the street to Corner 103 where we had a 2pm Cheese Experience Scheduled. This is a great way to start a wine trip, they will guide you through a tasting of Corner 103 wines, paired with cheeses and help you to find our what your preferences are. Schedule in advance and allow at least an hour and a half. (And watch for an in-depth posting on our experience here)

Day 3 has us exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and taking a trip out to the Livermore Valley!  Come back for more of the trip!

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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Adventures with Savignon Blancs

whitesaviog33120133I’ve been on a Savignon Blanc kick lately and it’s totally by accident.  I had a day off and Michael was working and I took myself to a movie and lunch.  I asked for a recommendation to pair with my lunch at The View Winebar and Joey  took the time to be sure to find something I would like.  After determining that we were going white and that I was having gnocchi au gratin she suggested a Sav Blanc.  I hesitated.  I am not usually a Sav Blanc girl, it’s a little too tart and often…I searched for the word and she replied “metallic”.  “Yes”.  “Wait” she said.  She popped open a new bottle and poured me a bit.  It was lovely.  Definitely a Sav Blanc and with the distinct grapefruit on the nose, but without that overly sharpness that I often get from a Sav Blanc.  So I enjoyed a glass or two of this lovely Savignon Blanc from Francois Chidaine Touraine Blanc 2010 from the Loire Valley.  It was perfect to cut through the fat in my luscious gnocchi au gratin and was really pleasant to just drink on it’s own.

Last night Michael and I went out to dinner at Grape Street Cafe.  It’s been awhile since we have had the opportunity to have dinner together with our schedules.  I ordered the Smoked Salmon pasta and asked for a recommendation for a flight to pair with it.  Our waiter suggested the Sav Blanc flight as the dish has a creme sauce.  This flight included Walnut Block “Collectibles” from New Zealand, Auntsfield Estate from New Zealand, Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc from Napa and Vogelzang 2009 from Napa.  Okay so not really Napa.  I came home and did my research today and found that the Vogelzang makes estate Savignon Blanc with fruit from their vineyards in Happy Canyon.  The winery itself is located in Santa Barbara.

So first my tasting notes on these wines.  Last night I snapped a shot of the flight menu, then put it away so that I could just taste the wines without being influenced by the winery or location.  The first wine (The Walnut Block) had a gorgeous nose!  There were lovely floral notes (it felt like more than one) lime leaf and zest and then subtle grapefruit.  I wanted to dab this wine behind my ears.  It was heavenly to smell.  On the palate it was aromatic with perfect acidity.  It was light and clean and was beautiful to balance the fried calamari we had as an appetizer.  The second wine (the Auntsfield Estate) was everything you expect from a Savignon Blanc.  It had big grapefruit on the nose and on the palate it was bold and tart.  The third wine (the Ferrari Carrano) was the Fume Blanc.  It reminded me of the Carhartt Savignon Blanc that I love so much.  The nose is a nuanced grapefruit and citrus but on the palate it is much more dimensional.  It is less tart and more balanced and rounded with a touch of sweetness.  The final wine was the  Vogelzang 2009 Savignon Blanc.  I was immediately surprised that the wine was more golden, but I didn’t look too closely in the dark light.  On the nose I immediately got oak.  On the palate I got the tartness of a Sav Blanc but then also a peat note that made me wonder if someone had scotch in this glass.  At the end of the night as I was getting to the bottom of my tasting glass, I noticed a squiggle of something burnt on the bottom of the glass.  Well, that would do it.  So my tasting on that wine has to be tossed out. But….after visiting the website I did find that this wine is aged in neutral chardonnay oak for 10 months.  So…maybe I did taste some in there?  Who knows.

Okay so now for my research on the wineries!

Francois Chidaine has been producing biodynamic wines for a while, but that’s not what he’s about.   As is typical of french wines this is not 100% Sav Blanc, it has a small percentage of Chardonnay.  His 40 to 80 year old  vines are trained low to hug the ground and by hand harvesting happens in mid October.  He does not encourage malolactic fermentation but lets the wines sit typically for a year on the lees.

Walnut Block in Marlborough New Zealand is named after the iconic walnut tree that is the regions oldest at over 100 years old.  The vineyard uses a three cane system and organic practices.  The Savignon Blanc is a wine that they say will cellar for up to 3 years.

Auntsfield Estate  is Marlborough’s first and oldest Vineyard.  The history page on their website is fascinating!  Filled with great stories!  My favorite….Bill Paynter who took over the property in 1905 and ran it until 1931 when the vines were removed and the land turned over to other farming had his final cask of wine hidden away and his sons were told it was only to be opened at his wake.  During shearing season while he lay ill his sons realize that the shearing shed was very quiet.  They found the shearers all asleep in the shed, having found and imbibed on the hidden cask the night before.  They now grow Savignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the property.

Ferrari-Carano is a winery that I go way back with.  I remember enjoying their wines at their Casino in Reno at the opening of the state of the art theatre with Smokey Joe’s Cafe.  So I have a fondness for them.  As to Fume Blanc, well that I fell in love with thanks to Mike Grgich and the fabulous pourer at his winery that suggested we take a split and pair it with the Tuna Burger at Gott’s Roadside.  So…here I bring together two loves.  And mind you last night, I had put the wineries out of my head as I tasted the wines, and this was one of my favorites.

Villa Fiore is Ferrai-Carano’s hospitality center.  They have tastings upstairs but I suggest setting up for  a reserve tasting in the Enoteca Lounge downstairs.  It is well worth it.  And allow yourself time to stroll the stunning Italian gardens on the property.  We enjoyed visiting a few years ago and long to return.  There is a coveted bottle of  their Tresor in my cellar.

Vogelzang Vineyard with it’s tasting room in Santa Barbara as I mentioned before grows it’s fruit in Happy Canyon, CA one of California’s newest appellations.  Located in the Santa Ynez valley (which has become one of my favorite areas) they  have a longer stretch of heat during the day because the morning fog burns off earlier than in the rest of the valley.  In addition to Savignon Blancs they grow Cabernet and Bordeaux Varietals.  Like most Santa Barbara County vineyards they don’t just grow grapes for themselves, they also supply grapes to well known wineries including Foxen, Dragonette, Fiddlehead and others.  I look forward to getting to Santa Barbara and doing a tasting here!

So…no longer afraid of Savignon Blancs I have a new appreciation for the range of this variety!

 

Wines that I can’t forget, part one

Michael and I do quite a bit of wine tasting on our vacations.  As you know if you have read our blog before, we love to visit wineries taste and get the feel of a winery.  Often you can get caught up in the moment (and the wine) and join a club or buy several bottles to take home.  On other occasions if you have flown in and it’s the wrong time of year to have wine shipped, you go home empty handed.  Today I want to explore the wines I remember and still want and maybe some of the why’s to that.  Was it the location, the people, the wine itself or a combination.

I started this by just going through by memory of some of the wines that as we traveled and tasted stood out to me.  Wines that I want to drink again.

Stoller Tempranillo,  Lange Pinot Noir,  Hart Family Vineyards Syrah and Chardonnay,  Argyle Black Brut,  Longoria Lovely Rita,  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc,  Carhartt Pinot Noir,  Tablas Creek Vermentino,  Terry Hogue Syrah,  Vino Robles Petite Sirah,  Lone Madrone The Will,  Veritas Cabernet Franc, Wildhorse Unbridled Bien Nacido Pinot Noir and Trisaetum Riesling.

As you can see the list is long and this is just me quickly running through this in my brain, not going back (as the wine geek in me so desperately wants to) and scanning all the wineries that we have tasted at in all the different areas we have tasted.  You will also note that I didn’t include  years.  I’m trying to keep my list short and I would have to research to remember the years and that would make my list grow!  So we will try to keep this simple. I have a list of 15 wines that off the top of my head I loved and want to drink again.  My list leans toward Syrahs and Pinots and then expands to many different varietals and includes a blend.  So….with a list this long I will break it up into groups of 5 (cause I will want to wax poetic on each and you don’t want to be here reading all day!).

Stoller Tempranillo

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller Vineyard Circa 2011 Dundee Hills Oregon

Stoller is located in the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Tempranillo is definitely not the first wine you would think of there.  I was a bit taken about when I heard they grew it right there by the winery.  The climate is much cooler than you would expect for a Tempranillo.  It was enchanting.  Dark and rich and a big contrast to the lighter more delicate Pinot Noirs we had been tasting.  Also my friend Adam was with us and he knew the person doing our tasting.  She was talking about her boyfriends new restaurant that he was opening and telling us about the bee hives they had in the blackberry patch in the middle of the vineyard and the blackberry honey they looked forward to getting.  So….the atmosphere had me pretty enchanted also.  Adam left with 3 bottles of the Tempranillo, so I will have to check with him to see if the wine lives up to the memory I have of it.

View from Lange Winery

Lange Vineyard, Oregon 2011

Lange Pinot Noir

Jack_the_cat_at_Lange

Jack the Vineyard Cat at Lange 2011

This particular Pinot that I remember was a blend of several vineyards and had a smokiness that I love.  I had researched Langebefore going there and was exited to see Jack the cat. He actually greeted us at our car.  There had been a blog post about Jack who they had adopted as a stray and named Jackie, only to find he was really a Jack.  They had won Snooth’s winery of the year distinction earlier that year and I was excited to see the small family winery that I had heard so much about.  They are again in the Dundee Hills.

Hartford Family Syrah and Chardonnay

In my research for our trip to Napa/Sonoma I had come across Hartford Family Vineyards who were doing a fund raiser while we were there for a local food bank.  They were serving an appetizer to pair with their chardonnay and the proceeds from the appetizer would go to the food bank.  Great food and wine pairings and for a charity?  I was in.  So we stopped by on a rainy December day to their beautiful Estate and had the crab cakes paired with their coastal Chardonnay.  The pairing was perfect…the wine seemed to have a slight salinity that spoke to the crab cakes.  I actually tried to order this wine once when I found it on a wine list to pair with seafood, only to have the waiter come back and tell me they were out!  In addition we had a wonderful Syrah that smelled like bacon in the glass.  I was enamored.  One of the guys working in the tasting room was full of fantastic information and was so passionate speaking about the wine…I felt sure that we were looking at a future superstar winemaker.  We did leave with a bottle of the Syrah and I long for more.

Argyle Black Brut

Argyle Winery Dundee Hills Oregon

Argyle Tasting room Dundee Hills Oregon 2011

Michael does not like champagnes or sparkling wines usually.  He says that the effervescence mutes the flavor for him and he has been known to allow a sparkling glass to sit and go flat before tasting it.  Me…I like my bubbles.  So Michael tasted Pinots and Chards and I tasted the bubbly when we got to Argyle.  Argyle has great appeal because Rollin Souls is just so cool!  He is microbiologist who was roomates with Lyle Lovett in college.  The tasting room is lovely with a big wrap around porch and the tasting room staff were down to earth.  When they poured the Black Brut for me I was in heaven.  Think cherry cola elevated to an extreme.  I still dream about this deep dark sparkler.

Longoria Lovely Rita

Longoria Tasting Room

Santa Barbara and the Santa Rita Hills are known for great Pinot Noirs and Longoria makes some of the best.  This tiny tasting room in Los Olivos is in a historic building.  I had read about Richard Longoria in Steve Heimoff’s book, “New Classic Winemakers of California”, so my expectations were high.  I was surprised when I enjoyed the Lovely Rita more than the vineyard designated Pinots.  We left empty handed since we had flown in but this is one wine that is on my list to order and have shipped to me this fall!

Okay….that’s a start.  If you enjoyed this and are interested in the other wines I can’t forget, stay tuned for the next couple of posts!

This weekend’s wine…Poggio all a Pietra

My weekend is different from most of yours.  It encompasses Wednesday and Thursday each week.  The great thing is that if we choose to go somewhere it is typically less crowded.  The downfall is that special events in the area typically happen on Saturday and Sunday, so we miss those.  But…as most of your weekends are yet to come, maybe I can share what I did over mine and inspire you for yours.

My weekend was nothing exceptional.  Lots of relaxing with Michael.  Thursday saw us at the Farmer’s Market in the morning, then off to see “The Decendents” and then a relaxing afternoon, reading, researching and playing on the computer and then a nice dinner and finally enjoying our new fire pit out back under the stars.

Before dinner, I heard Michael popping the cork on a bottle of wine, and waited to see what he was bringing out.  He had opened a bottle of Poggio alla Pietra Brunello di Sonoma from Petroni Vineyards.  We were lucky enough to visit Petroni last year while in Sonoma.  A co-worker and friend set up an appointment for us.  I must admit this was the first “appointment only” vineyard I had ever visited.  The grounds were lovely and Elizabeth the Tasting Room and Events Manager graciously greeted us and set us up out by the pool for our tasting.  We had a wonderful time and joined the wine club and the Poggio all a Pietra was one of the first wines we received.  This wine is a rich Sangiovese  made from the high intensity Sangioves Grosso grapes originally from Matalcino Italy.  It is aged in French Oak for 20 months.

We had picked up a quick to fix dinner of steak pinwheels filled with spinach and cheese, butternut squash risotto and asparagus spears in herb butter.  Fresh, healthy and quick from “Fresh and Easy” this romantic dinner for two was under $15, before the wine.  Normally I would not have steak with a Sangiovese, these tend to go best with pasta in a red sauce, but this wine is bigger and much more intense than your typical Sangiovese.  It paired nicely and was a joy to drink on it’s own.  You definitely get oak on the nose along with a coolness that I associate with Eucalyptus.  It was spicy and rich and deep without the big fruit kick.

If you find yourself in Sonoma, give them a call or visit them at the famous North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco.  The vineyards are beautiful and they also produce and outstanding Olive oil!  They are currently working on caves built into the side of the mountain under the vineyard.  On their website you can find a virtual flyover tour showing the steep terracing and the stunning location.