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Dry Creek Valley, A Gem of an AVA



Dry Creek Valley map

Located at the northern edge of Sonoma wine country, Dry Creek was among the first AVAs, approved in 1983. The area consists of a narrow valley approximately 2 miles wide and 16 miles long, a geography that makes Dry Creek an easy loop for a day trip from the Bay Area. Drive north from Healdsburg and drive along the east side of the valley on Dry Creek Road, then return south on West Dry Creek Road. If you’re adventurous and fit, you can even bike Dry Creek Road.

Although cold Pacific waters lie just 20 miles west, mountainous terrain between the valley and coast results in a hot summer days, cooling considerably at night. It’s an ideal place to grow Zinfandel, the region’s trademark grape.

Originally planted in Dry Creek Valley by Italian immigrants in the mid­-19th century, many of the region’s Zinfandel vineyards are among the oldest vineyards in the country, their distinctively gnarled, head­pruned vines dotting hillsides and valleys throughout the appellation. Many of these vineyards pre-date Prohibition and have survived not only that challenge but also the rise and fall of the infamous “white zin”. “Zinfandel is integral to the past, present and future of Dry Creek Valley,” says Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley® president, Clay Fritz. “There are families in this valley who’ve been growing it for seven generations, who have Zinfandel flowing in their veins.”

Dry Creek Valley is a patchwork quilt of diverse, well­drained soils and terrain ideal for an array of grape varieties. The Valley has one of the largest concentrations of bench lands in Sonoma County.

  • Deep, fertile Yolo soils are on alluvial fans and flood plains. Any crop can be grown on these soils. Good for white grapes.
  • Cortina soils are very gravelly, sandy loams on channeled stream bottoms.
  • The Manzanita series of gravelly silt loams is found on alluvial fans and river terraces. Constrained rooting depth makes it suited to limited production of white or red grapes.
  • The mid­terrace and hillside soils on the benches and hills, often a distinctive red color, are composed primarily of gravelly clay loam. Zinfandel thrives in the mid­terrace soils. Small crops of fine red grape varieties are grown on the hillsides.
©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Stylistically, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel hints at the characteristics of cool climate reds, with aromas of red fruits mixed with black pepper and earth. Depending on the winemaker, the wines can be lush and fruit driven, dark and intense, or anything in between. In general, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels balance ripe, sensual fruit flavors with moderate sugar levels, resulting in elegant wines great for pairing with food or enjoying alone.




Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Photo courtesy Rockpile Growers Association

Rockpile, in the mountainous northwest corner and overlapping Dry Creek Valley, has unique terroir. This is one of the smallest and most recent AVAs in the country, approved in 2002. Planted acres comprise less than 160 acres, which make comparisons of several winemaking styles from the same vineyard especially revealing.

Rockpile is unique in that there are no wineries within the borders of the AVA. However, winemakers have long considered this region a hidden gem and compete to secure grapes from fewer than a dozen Rockpile growers each year. Because the temperature in Rockpile is moderate throughout the growing season, harvest of several grape varieties can be pushed until late fall, resulting in intense flavor profiles. Rockpile wines are well worth seeking out; a number of wineries produce them including:

  • Bella
  • Bruliam Wines
  • Carol Shelton
  • Mauritson Wines
  • Robert Biale Vineyards
  • Rock Wall Wines
  • Seghesio Family Vineyards


Where to go



Visiting Dry Creek Valley wineries is a friendly experience. Here you’ll find winemakers that enjoy talking with you, cellars and vineyards to tour, and beautiful gardens in which to sip your wine. Because each of these wineries has outdoor space in which to play, children are welcome to visit.

The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley have an interactive map to help you plan your visit. You can select an amenity or wine, and the map will tell you which wineries to visit.

Here’s a selection of wineries, that I enjoyed on my first trip there. When I go back, I’ll visit more!



Dutcher Crossing Winery

8533 Dry Creek Road
Geyserville, CA 95441
Phone: 866-431-2711

Proprietor Debra Mathy can often be found welcoming guests with Dutchess, her Golden Lab, sidekick, and the winery’s official greeter. Winemaker Kerry Damskey’s small-lot, select vineyard approach to winemaking can be enjoyed in the tasting room. You can enjoy the view from inside the tasting room, but you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy in the garden with your wine.

Fritz Underground Winery

24691 Dutcher Creek Road
Cloverdale, California 95425
Phone: 800-418-9463

Fritz is architecturally unique. Built into the side of a hill atop the northernmost region of the famed Dry Creek Valley, the Fritz Winery operates with a green sensibility. Naturally cool temperatures, ideal for wine making and cellaring, are maintained without any use of expensive or carbon-heavy devices common to most modern wine production. In addition, they use a three-tiered structure to further cut down on energy usage. By harnessing gravity to move juice from the crush pad down to the tanks and barrels, they not only save energy by forgoing pumps, they also save juice from the detrimental effects of excessive pulsation and buffeting.


2859 Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: (707) 431-0804
Fax: (707) 433-5001

The Mauritson family has been making wine in Dry Creek Valley for six generations over 140 years. The family was growing 4,000 acres in the early 1960s when all but 640 acres were taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma.

On any given day and with no advance reservation, you can take self-guided vineyard tours. Along the way, learn what goes on in a vineyard during the year, sustainable farming practices and other interesting tidbits of information. Of course, after the tour you can taste their wines in their comfortable tasting room, filled with photographs and history.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery

4900 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Local: 707.431.8333
Toll Free: 800.292.8339
Fax: 707.431.1664

When you visit Quivira’s estate, you will enjoy an insider’s look at their wines, their vineyards, and their commitment to Biodynamic farming. Their organic and Biodynamic winery includes colorful gardens, entertaining animals, soothing waterways and, of course, abundant vineyards, offering breathtaking views of the thriving wine region.

In Spring and Summer, they offer a 90-minute tour of the Estate, discussing topics varying from their compost program to the Grenache varietal and the importance of vine trellis systems. Their Biodynamic agricultural practices are evident throughout their property but no more so than in their one-acre garden, which is home to more than 50 chickens, 120 raised vegetable beds, and one of their Biodynamic beehives. In Autumn and Winter, they invite guests into their cellar for an in-depth discussion on winemaking practices. After each tour, guests are invited to a private, sit-down tasting featuring their small-lot wines.

thumbprint cellars

102 Matheson St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Phone: 707.433.2393
Fax: 707.433.2325

In 2004, thumbprint opened their tasting room and wine bar which they deemed a tasting “lounge”, the first of its kind in Healdsburg. They designed the space to be comfortable and elegant, yet approachable and friendly. thumbprint cellars’ unique tasting room pours their artisan wines, which are recognized across the country. thumbprint supports numerous non-profit organizations and local events, through financial contributions, services and in-kind donations.


Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing's proprietor, Debra Mathy photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch

Winemakers Dinner at the home of Dutcher Crossing’s proprietor, Debra Mathy
photo ©Ilona Koren-Deutsch


This excursion to Dry Creek Valley was organized by McCue Marketing Communications, LLC for the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley®


Typing "help" provided by Alix.

Typing “help” provided by Alix.


In Pursuit of Balance

IPOBIn honor of IPOB today, a post of mine from the Wayback Machine:

Monday I was back at RN74 for another fabulous tasting. From the booklet, “The purpose of this event is to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California Pinot Noir. In Pursuit of Balance was created by Rajat Parr of Michael Mina and RN74 and Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards to promote wineries who are striving to produce balanced pinot noir in California.”

I’d say it worked – the public tasting was packed full of people happily enjoying our local wine delights. Many CA winemakers were there, each pouring several examples. Some comments on my tasting:

(N.B. – If I make no comments it’s because I didn’t taste, not because I didn’t enjoy.)

  • Alta Maria
  • Au Bon Climat
  • Calera – They started in the 1970s, and planted their grapes up the mountain east of Salinas, looking for limestone. All their wines show great minerality, and were nice and complex. I plan to make a trip there so I can taste the wines they didn’t bring to this tasting….
  • Ceritas – They say the make their wines to age, and the three I tasted support that. The 2007 (their 1st vintage) has lots of ripe fruit. The 2008 has a beautiful nose and also plenty of fruit. The 2009, bottled only 3 weeks ago, smelled a bit “ethanol” and has high acid. I trust it will age well, based on the two older vintages they were pouring.
  • Chanin – Their 2008 “Bien Nacido Vineyard” is the first from that vineyard. It has a smooth, silky finish. I’m looking forward to more!
  • Cobb – I fully enjoyed all three of their wines – they were smooth and complex. Sadly, they’re also out of my budget. *sigh*
  • Copain – I just received my spring allocation from them, and this tasting was a great preview of the next one. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a while. In fact, I’m bringing their wines as gifts to European friends.
  • Evening Land
  • Faila
  • Flowers
  • Freestone – Winner for Worst Note. “Late. Drunk. Yum.”
  • Greg Linn Wines
  • Hirsch – Interestingly, theirs was the only 2009 I preferred to their 2007 (which I also liked). Because of that, I’m interested to see where the wine goes over the next couple of years.
  • Kutch
  • Littorai – Oops. Poor notes. “Lovely, sophisticated. 2007 favorite.”
  • Miura
  • Mount Eden
  • Native9 – Un-fined, un-filtered. The 2009 has especially great potential. It’ll be released in the autumn, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
  • Peay – Let’s just say that I’m impatiently awaiting my allocation. And that if you don’t have any coming, I feel bad for you.
  • Sandhi – What can’t Raj do? I’ve been a fan of his Syrah since I first drank it last year. This week I fell for his Pinot. Which reminds me, Raj – how about a Syrah tasting next?
  • Soliste – Points for being the only winery pouring a rosé. 2010 Rosé de Pinot Noir – it was fruity and dry, just the way I like it. Not to slight their reds, but pink wine makes me smile. There reds are slightly out of my budget, but if I had the money I’d want them. Towards the end of the evening, they also poured their Syrah “under the table”. Wow.
  • Tyler
  • Wind Gap – These folks are old-school. Not only are all their vines organic, they’re dry farmed and crushed *by foot*. Even if I didn’t enjoy the wines (100% whole cluster gave them sort of a smoky taste), I’d kinda want to get on their mailing list just so I can play with actual stomping!

What impressed me overall is that whilst not every wine I drank was to my taste, all of them were well made. What frustrated me is the number of wineries that told me they don’t sell retail. C’mon! This was a public tasting! Don’t be such teases!

Also, I had the fun of meeting in person people I’d seen at tastings, follow on Twitter, or read their blogs. 

This Weekend: “Eat, Sip, & Be Merry” On The Santa Rosa Wine Trail

The Members of The Santa Rosa Wine Trail are hosting a special holiday tasting weekend on Saturday, December 8 and Sunday, December 9 from 11 am to 4 pm each day. The wine trail is a collection of urban wineries and tasting rooms, restaurants, and a hotel, all located within a few minutes of downtown Santa Rosa.

You will enjoy food trucks, live music, and exclusive tours and activities at ten wineries. Each guest will receive a special “passport” for the weekend. Passports with stamps from each location will be entered for a drawing to win prizes including a case of wine for only one cent!

Eat Sip and Be Merry The ticket price of $25.00 presale or $35.00 at the door includes tastings at ten wineries and tasting rooms, a commemorative wine glass, and $10.00 in “wine bucks” which may be used towards the purchase of wine at any of the participating wineries. For designated drivers, a $5.00 ticket includes special activities and non-alcoholic beverages.

Tickets are available at, at participating wineries, and at the door at any of the participating wineries during the event.

Participating wineries are: Carol Shelton, D’Argenzio, Inspiration, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World, Paradise Ridge, Sheldon, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, and the collective at Vinoteca.

The Fountaingrove Inn is offering a limited number of Deluxe King Rooms for just $89/night to Eat, Sip and Be Merry visitors who would like stay in town Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday nights. A link to the special purchase rate is available at Other lodging options may be found at

About the Santa Rosa Wine Trail

Santa Rosa Wine TrailThe Santa Rosa Wine Trail is a collection of eleven wineries, three restaurants, and one hotel in northern Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California. The Santa Rosa Wine Trail card (print yours here or pick one up at one of our member wineries) is your passport to great days and nights of some of the best wine and food Sonoma County has to offer, all in close proximity.

Santa Rose Wine Trail Members are: Carol Shelton Wines, D’Argenzio Winery, Inspiration Vineyards, Krutz Family Cellars, Old World Winery, Paradise Ridge, Robert Rue Vineyard, Sheldon Wines, Siduri/Novy, Two Shepherds, Vinoteca, John Ash, Stark’s Steak & Seafood, Willi’s Wine Bar and Vintners Inn.

Images from Hospice du Rhône

The 20th and last Hospice du Rhône celebration took place in Paso Robles on April 28 & 29 this year. I’m both glad I got to attend and sorry that I won’t get to go back.

Many bloggers wrote wonderfully about the event. Here are three of my favorite posts:

  • From RJ on Wine – Extremely thorough tasting notes
  • From Drink Your Carbs – Charming personal summary of the event
  • From Just Grapes – I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but he wrote a series of articles containing good information about the seminars.

And now, my 16,000 words:

Rhône Rangers Rosé!

I was going to post this right after Rhône Rangers in San Francisco, but decided it’s really just as much a preparation for Hospice du Rhône – especially for the Rosé lunch on Friday:

Rosé Lunch

Date: Friday, April 27, 2012
Time: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Cost: $100 (advance purchase is required)
Friday’s lunch has always celebrated pink wines and for the 20th year we will continue to toast these beauties. Don your best pink attire as we raise our glasses to the vast variety of Rosé wines that have traveled far and wide to be with us for the 2012 revelry. To highlight these lovely pink quaffers, Chef John Toulze of the girl & the fig from Sonoma, California will return to delight guests with Rhône inspired cuisine. The Rosé wines will be provided by the attending producers at the 2012 event.

(Question for someone who’s gone to this event before – do people really “don pink attire”? Because I’m going to have to buy something if that’s the case.)

Anyway, here’s a summary of my pink favorites from Rhône Rangers – I’m looking forward to drinking and discovering lots more next weekend!

Tablas Creek Rosé 2011 (Paso Robles, CA)

Always a favorite of mine, the 2011 is delicious. A traditional Southern Rhône blend of 58% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 12% Counoise – these grapes come from an organically-farmed vineyard, and are fermented using native yeast. Surprisingly high alcohol at 14.5%. Watermelon, plum, red berries on the nose. All that and a bit of spice on the palate. Nice and dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine.

Quivira 2001 Rosé Wine (North Coast, CA)

51% Mourvedre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah. 13% alcohol. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel, then the wine spends a short period in neutral French oak before bottling. Berries and orange zest on the nose, cherry-berry and spice on the palate.


Quady North 2011 Rosé (Rogue Valley, OR)

60% Syrah, 40% Grenache. Bright with lots of fruit. Dry and crisp, with citrus, stone fruit and watermelon on the palate. This is the kind of wine I like to sip on a hot day.


Proulx Willow Creek Farm Rosé (Paso Robles, CA)

Dry, with strawberries on the nose.
(It’s not listed on their website, and I failed to take detailed notes. To be updated later….)



Finally, this post is a celebration of today’s scorching hot San Francisco Saturday. Three guesses what’s in my glass….



Visiting Paso Robles: Wineries

I’m impatient for Hospice du Rhône, and thoroughly enjoying planning my trip to Paso Robles. Also this week, three different people asked me for a list of wineries I like in Paso Robles. None of them know each other, and none of them are going to HdR. I hope this means that one of my favorite wine regions is finally getting the attention it deserves!

Anyway, since I made a list for them, I might as well make it public. This is an idiosyncratic list – and deliberately in alphabetical order rather than ranked. I have no doubt I’m leaving off many great places, and certainly I haven’t been everywhere there is in the region. Please do use the comments to tell me your favorites….

Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery

Alta Colina

Small producer of Rhône varietals and blends. Relatively new – their first harvest was in 2007. I especially love the Toasted Slope Syrah.

Thursday to Sunday, 11:00am to 5:00pm. 2725 Adelaida Rd. Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805 227-4191.

Caparone Winery


A two-man operation (father and son), making mostly Italian varietals. Great value for the price. All wines are unfined and unfiltered. So far in my experience their wines age very well. (My dad’s in their wine club, so I mooch from him.)

Open for tasting (including barrel samples) daily 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. 2280 San Marcos Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.467.3827.

Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Kenneth Volk

A favorite of mine in the Santa Barbara area, and a favorite in Paso Robles as well. Ken Volk describes himself as “an innovating traditionalist”. They make a large variety of wines – from Paso Robles they’re making Bordeaux varietals. They share the property with Lone Madrone – if you take your Lone Madrone glass with you they will give you a 50% discount on your tasting fee. (I love that they have a customizable wine club.)

10:30 am – 5 pm daily. 2485 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.237.7896.

Lone Madrone

Lone Madrone tasting room

A wide variety of wines, and a gorgeous tasting room surrounded by the herb and flower nursery, Fat Cat Farms. You are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy the atmosphere. They share the property with Kenneth Volk.

Open daily 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. 2485 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.238.0845.

Opolo Vineyards

Hilltop Vineyard, Opolo

One of my favorite places to visit. In addition to very good wine, they have a wood-fired oven. For very little money, you can get a pizza or the house-made sausage and a glass or bottle of wine and enjoy lunch on the patio. Plan your visit for when you’re hungry!

Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 7110 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles, CA 93446, 4.8 miles north on Vineyard Drive from Hwy. 46 West. 805.238.9593.

Pipestone Vineyards

Pipestone's horses, at harvest

Pipestone’s horses, at harvest

A small family winery, they produce estate grown Rhône-style wines from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, & Viognier and a dry farmed Zinfandel. They farm according to principles of Feng Shui. In addition, they are solar powered, a Certified Wildlife Habitat and have a zero landfill program. Their vineyard is even farmed with a team of draft horses!

Thursday-Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 2040 Niderer Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.227.6385.


Proulx’s tasting room

Actually I’ve never been to their tasting room. However, I really like what they poured at Rhône Rangers in San Francisco. They’re on my list to visit next time I’m in Paso!

Thursday – Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. 5424 Vineyard Drive Paso Robles, CA 93445. 805.706.0425.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. They are almost all about Rhône grapes, but they also one of the very few California wineries to grow Tannat and Vermentino. I’m never disappointed by my wine club shipment.

10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; free tours daily by appointment. 9339 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446. 805.237.1231.

For another post: eating and sleeping….

Rhône Rangers 2012 – Win Free Tickets!

Rain, rain, go away! Well, even if our belated rainy-season doesn’t end soon, there’s the Annual Rhône Rangers Tasting in San Francisco to look forward to! This is definitely one of the spring highlights for wine lovers in the Bay Area. Held at Fort Mason, the event offers the chance to taste a wide selection of Rhône-style varietals and blends.

Win Tickets

Win a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting! All you need to do is click here to send me email telling me which new-to-you grape you want to try this year. You can also enter by sending me a message on Twitter (@terroiriste) with your answer. The contest ends on Monday, March 19 at noon Pacific time. I will randomly select a winner, and notify you by email or tweet.

Rhône Varietals

The French government recognizes 22 varieties in the various appellations that comprise this large and diverse wine-growing region. Rhône Appellations (including Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Condrieu, Chateuneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Bandol, Cotes du Rhône and several others) each choose a different subset from the collection of grapes known (from their place of origin) as Rhône varietals. For a wine to be considered a “Rhône Ranger” wine, and poured at an official Rhône Rangers tasting, the 22 recognized accepted varieties must comprise at least 75% of the blend.

Red Grapes

The most common red Rhône varietals are Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, with Syrah predominant in the Northern Rhône and Grenache in the Southern Rhône. Other relatively common red grapes include Cinsault, Carignan, and Petite Sirah. Finally, the list includes some grapes that are found only in trace amounts even in France, and are just beginning to be explored in the United States, including Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Vaccarese, and Terret Noir. For the sticklers out there, the Rhône Rangers have adopted Petite Sirah, a French cross also known as Durif, due to its extensive interplanting with traditional Rhône varietals in Calfiornia.

White Grapes

The principal white Rhône varietals are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, each found throughout the Rhône Valley, with Grenache Blanc a widely planted but less well known contributor in the Southern Rhône. The other white grapes include Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picardin, Picpoul/Piquepoul Blanc, and Ugni Blanc.

Want to learn more about Rhône grapes? See http://www.Rhô

Schedule of Events for the Celebration of American Rhônes

15TH ANNUAL RHÔNE RANGERS GRAND TASTING, GENERAL ADMISSION TICKET, Sunday, March 25, 2012, 2-5 PM, Fort Mason, Festival Pavilion. $45/ticket—> BUY NOW

15TH ANNUAL RHÔNE RANGERS GRAND TASTING, VIP TICKET, Sunday, March 25, 2012, Early Entry at 12 noon, Fort Mason, Festival Pavilion, $75/ticket—> BUY NOW

SEMINAR #1: RARE WINES, COME TASTE THE UNUSUAL, Saturday, March 24, 2012, 12:00 PM, Fort Mason, The Firehouse. Participating Wineries include Clos Saron, Holly’s Hill, Lagier Meredith, Ridge, Tablas Creek, Two Shepherds. $45/ticket—> BUY NOW

SEMINAR #2: WINE & SWINE, A PAIRING OF RHÔNE VARIETIES WITH BACON, Saturday, March 24, 2012, 2:00 PM, Fort Mason, The Firehouse. Participating Wineries include Inspiration Vineyards, Katin, Mount Aukum, Skylark, Treana/Hope Family Wines. Our “Baconologist” is Duskie Estes, Co-Owner, Black Pig Meat Co & Zazu Restaurant. $65/ticket—> BUY NOW

SEMINAR #3: AMERICAN SYRAH FROM A VARIETY OF REGIONS, Sunday, March 25, 2012, 11 AM, Fort Mason, The Golden Gate Room. Participating wineries include: Big Basin, Caliza Winery, Chateau Ste Michelle, Cornerstone Cellars, Domaine Berrien Cellars, Domaine de la Terre Rouge, Donelan Wines, Folin Cellars, Tarara Winery, Zaca Mesa. $55/ticket—> BUY NOW

About the Rhône Rangers

The Rhône Rangers are a group of roughly 150 wineries dedicated to making wines from the 22 grape varieties originally made famous in France’s Rhône Valley. These varieties range from the better known Syrah and Viognier to the up-and-coming Mourvèdre, Grenache and Roussanne, to obscure (but delicious) grapes like Counoise and Picpoul.

The Rhône Rangers started from a small gathering of American vintners who began meeting informally in the 1980s. As their numbers expanded, the group organized under the name “Rhône Rangers.” The Rhône Rangers is a non-profit organization focused on promoting the enjoyment of Rhône varietal wines produced in the United States. These grapes include the 22 traditional varieties approved by the French government for the Côtes du Rhône, as well as Durif (Petite Sirah). In order for a winery to join the Rhône Rangers, they must produce at least one wine that contains 75% of any single approved varietal (or combination of these varietals). Visit us online:

Central Coast Wine Day (#CCWineDay) – What’ll be in your glass?

Tomorrow (15 March 2012) I’m hosting a mini-tweetup for Central Coast Wine Day (hastag #CCWineDay). I hope you’ll all be going to one, or at least opening a bottle of Central Coast wine at home!

The Central Coast AVA is huge, containing 576 resident wineries. It was the second mega coastal appellation in California to be approved by the BATF. The massive AVA runs the 250 miles from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, including 30 sub-AVAs. Chardonnay is the most planted grape, but Rhone varietals are emerging as hot new thing (I personally think that’s fabulous).

Map ©2009 Ernest & Julio Gallo Winery

The region’s 100,000 acres of vineyard one thing in common: the West Coast marine effect (aka fog), which moderates warm temperatures during the growing season.

At the north end of the Central Coast, the San Francisco Bay AVA is heavily influenced by coastal fog and produces mostly Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Traveling south, Monterey County enjoys a long-growing season due to its cool, foggy climate, and is home to some of California’s most sought-after Chardonnays. Monterey County is one of the state’s larger AVAs, with nine sub-regions, including the renowned Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, home to highly-regarded Chardonnay as well as a lot of my favorite Pinot Noirs.

Diverse climate is a hallmark of the southernmost districts in the Central Coast AVA – San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties – where vineyards vary dramatically in their proximity to the ocean and their elevation. The warmer inland sub-regions of San Luis Obispo, like Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley, are famous for complex Syrah.

The most recognized grapes grown in the Central Coast AVA are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chardonnay (accounts for nearly half!)
  • Grenache
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Gris / Grigio
  • Pinot Noir
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Syrah / Shiraz
  • Viognier
  • Zinfandel

With so many choices, how can you fail to find a bottle or three you’ll want to drink?

Finally, the overlapping appellations are:

  • Arroyo Grande Valley (AVA)
  • Arroyo Seco (AVA)
  • California (State Appellation)
  • Carmel Valley (AVA)
  • Chalone (AVA)
  • Cienega Valley (AVA)
  • Contra Costa County (County Appellation)
  • Edna Valley (AVA)
  • Hames Valley (AVA)
  • Lime Kiln (AVA)
  • Livermore Valley (AVA)
  • Monterey (AVA)
  • Monterey County (County Appellation)
  • Mount Harlan (AVA)
  • Pacheco Pass (AVA)
  • Paicines (AVA)
  • Paso Robles (AVA)
  • San Antonio Valley (AVA)
  • San Benito (AVA)
  • San Bernabe (AVA)
  • San Francisco Bay (AVA)
  • San Lucas (AVA)
  • San Luis Obispo County (County Appellation)
  • San Ysidro District (AVA)
  • Santa Barbara County (County Appellation)
  • Santa Clara County (County Appellation)
  • Santa Clara Valley (AVA)
  • Santa Cruz County (County Appellation)
  • Santa Lucia Highlands (AVA)
  • Santa Maria Valley (AVA)
  • Santa Ynez Valley (AVA)
  • Sta. Rita Hills (AVA)
  • York Mountain (AVA)

Micro wineries – big successes

Last weekend I drove up to Santa Rosa, to a tasting event for a group of micro-wineries hosted at Inspiration Vineyards. I enjoy supporting small businesses in general, and wineries in particular. My friend William Allen of Two Shepherds created and marketed the event – I got to be the very first member of his new wine club! – so special thanks to him, and to all the wineries, who poured some delicious wines.

Here are some brief tasting notes for selected favorites of mine. These aren’t the only wines I liked by any means, but other wines from the event have already been reviewed by other bloggers.

2010 Colagrossi L’Inizio, Nevarez Vineyards, Paso Robles (50% Grenache Blanc, 25% Roussane, 25% Viognier) ~300 cases produced
Refreshing, an ideal warm-weather sipper., it would also pair well with fruit, salad, or light fish.

  • Nose: Tree fruit, pear and jasmine.
  • Palate: Lemon, pineapple, and pear.


2009 Inspiration Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley.
Co-fermented with Viognier, the style is reminiscent of the northern Rhone valley. Paired surprisingly well with the chocolates offered by Truffle Gateau (see my comments below).

  • Nose: Blackcurrant and vanilla
  • Palate: Blueberry, chocolate and coffee.


2010 Two Shepherds MRV, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
(47% Marsanne, 47% Rousanne, 6% Viognier) 50 cases produced
Aged 6 months in neutral oak, on lees, racked once prior to bottling. A "winter white", would be wonderful paired with roast chicken or grilled root vegetables.

  • Nose: Melon, pear and stone fruit
  • Palate: Orange peel, pear, and spice


2007 Wesley Ashley Intelligent Design Cuvée, California Central Coast, 500 cases produced
(51.5% Carignan, 15% Grenache, 14% Cinsault, 11% Petite Sirah, 4.5% Mouvedre, 4% Pinot Noir)
100% French oak, 36% of the oak new. Wines aged separately for 18 months, then blended and bottled unfiltered. Full-bodied yet easy to drink.

  • Nose: Dark fruit and spice.
  • Palate: Cherry, plum and raspberry.


A note about Truffle Gateau: Normally I am not a fan of wine and chocolate. Somehow, however, these folks make the pairing work.
Recommended by over 400 California and Oregon winemakers, their dark chocolate Truffles pair surprisingly well with Cabernet, Zinfandel, Pinot, Syrah, Petite Syrah and Port wines. They didn’t have these at the event, but they also recommend their milk chocolate Truffle Gateau with a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Viognier wine for another outstanding pairing. Anyone who’s tried the pairings with whites – please let me know in the comments what you think!

All-in-all it was a great time in the industrial park. I hope they do this event again soon – and don’t miss it when they do!

Treasure Island WineFest

I like wine. I like the Blue Angels. I remain unconvinced that a wine tasting should be conducted with the Blue Angels flying overhead. Blue Angels flying above the Golden Gate I’m sure the organizers thought it would be a great idea – people will want to see the Blue Angels from Treasure Island, and why not drink wine while doing so? However, I wonder if they considered how difficult it is to have a reasonable conversation with a producer when you both have to scream to be heard? I also feel sorry for the musicians, now that I think of it. Still, the noise wasn’t so much a problem in the first couple of hours, when the show was only open for Media and Trade, and I did most of my tasting then.

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