Winery Visit: Thomas Fogarty Winery

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Have you spent any time at a vineyard in the winter? When all the vines are laid bare and the geometry is clearly visible? When all the work for next year’s harvest is being done on the inside, and our role is merely to observe? It’s a stark, different beauty from the height of August or September, when rows are heavy with fruit and abundant foliage. But it’s also a reminder of the details that go into a vineyard – the trellises, the cover crops, the spacing between the vines. You can’t see those things when the rows are lush and full and green.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The story of how we wound up climbing around and through the vineyards at Thomas Fogarty is a post-modern one. One of the Fogartys found Tala on Delectable (Do you use Delectable? Find us! Follow us!), and invited us for a private visit and tasting. How could we say no to such an opportunity? Perched 2000′ in elevation up on Skyline Drive in the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, Thomas Fogarty Winery is a boutique producer of primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since 1981, they have been making rich, elegant wines from these varietals, and producing small, successful “experiments” with others. They have two properties – the one we visited, and a smaller site further south – totaling around 60 acres planted to grapevines. Together, these properties produce Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay – and there are several vineyard-select or block-select bottlings within the Pinots and Chards especially. Truly, a little for everyone – including the dry and sweet Gewurztraminers that they produce with fruit they buy from elsewhere.

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Tommy Fogarty (Jr., of course) and his wife Lily shepherded us around the property in this here Jeep. If you squint, you can see him just over the steering wheel in this photo! We meandered, climbed, and blazed through vineyards, oaks, and poison oak meadows as we learned about the unique geography of this area. Fogarty is located above the fog in a lot of places, which allows additional ripening, but being so high and close to the ocean, the vines also stay cool in the evenings. It’s exactly what a winemaker wants for his vines. The property is stunningly beautiful; a maze of oak and madrone, with small vineyards planted here and there to catch the sun exposure on the various ridges. Tommy knew the land like the back of his hand – the way you would if you, too, had been raised on that acreage. What a great way to experience the property and get to the know the fruit.

The wines are produced with as little intervention as possible. They don’t use laboratory yeast, and have learned to be patient if a fermentation is slow or gets stuck – as most of the winemakers we know and love, they simply wait it out and let the wine do what it will. They use organic farming methods in the vineyard, and as Tommy said, try to do as much work in the vineyard as possible so they can do as little as possible in the winery. This includes compost tea, a specifically selected cover crop for each vineyard – which helps to add or adjust nutrients in the soil each year, and careful monitoring of irrigation. They irrigate only rarely – and only to make sure the grapes don’t turn into raisins if the end of a season is particularly hot.

If you’re looking for a stunningly beautiful, easy afternoon trip to a winery in the bay area, we highly recommend checking out Thomas Fogarty. And if you see Tommy or Lily, tell them we said hello! And, check them out on Delectable too – it’s always fun to see what industry folk are tasting and drinking.

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Thomas Fogarty Winery
19501 Skyline Blvd, Woodside, CA
Use the directions on their website to guide you – DO NOT trust your phone!
Hours: Monday 12-4pm, Wednesday-Sunday 11am-5pm. Closed Tuesdays
Tastings from $10-$20/person, with free tasting on Wednesdays!

Day Trip: Highway 1 Slowcoast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve ever met me, you’ve probably gathered that I love a road trip. I will use any excuse I can find to drive down Highway 1 and take in the scenery. As a child, my parents took us to San Gregorio State Beach to play in the sand as well as Año Nuevo State Park to watch the elephant seals. It was good, cheap fun for my family, as we didn’t have a lot. Fast forward a decade or two and I remember being a young adult, freshly released into the wild, always driving down Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz… well, because I could. Gas was cheap back then and it was a nice way to spend the day alone. Today, I still I find great nostalgia in the familiar curves of the highway and the friendly ocean cliffs that have been burned into my memory from a lifetime of acquaintance.

Considering the fact that I’ve been driving up and down that stretch of freeway for the last 31 years, it’s only natural that I know quite a few great places to stop at along the way. The great thing about a road trip is that there is no destination; it’s about the journey. Here are some of my favorite places to go if you find yourself driving on Highway 1 between HMB and Santa Cruz. Don’t forget to bring cash, as many of these places are cash-only.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABob’s Vegetable Stand & Pumpkin Patch is the first farm stand you will see after heading south from Half Moon Bay on Highway 1. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s actually a really great place to get some cheap, local fresh veggies. They have artichokes, shelling peas, brussel sprouts, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, local honey… basically anything that grows in a 5 mile radius. They also have a nice pumpkin patch in the fall which is perfect for kids. Buyers beware: Not everything here is local. Be sure to look for the items listed as such, and ask to make sure your veggies weren’t sprayed with pesticides. If they tell you “I don’t know”, then they were probably sprayed.

San Gregorio State Beach should be next on your list, as it’s only a few miles south of Bob’s Veggie Stand. Be sure to pay for your parking spot, as our state parks need all the money they can get. You have to pay even if there is no attendant, so be sure to follow the instructions at the kiosk. Once you arrive, you can take a long walk south on the beach, dipping your feet into the cool & salty water. If sand isn’t your thing, you can stay near the parking lot and perch on a cliffside (being careful not to get too close to the edge, people DO fall off) and have a nice picnic. This place was on the short list of locations for my wedding, I love it that much.

Heading further south, you will encounter some signs for the town of Pescadero. At the junction for Pescadero Creek Road, there is a beach to your right and a turn-off to your left. Make a left on Pescadero Creek Road, and head east for about a mile. At the next intersection (Stage Road), make a left and you will be smack-dab in the middle of Pescadero. There are several businesses worth visiting here. If you are hungry, stop at the Arcangeli Grocery Store. They have excellent sandwiches made-to-order in the back, or just pick up a loaf of their delicious garlic herb artichoke bread. It’s usually still warm from the oven, and it’s so good it might not make it out of the car.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter re-fueling, there are a few other places you could visit. My favorite is Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where you can go on farm tours or just visit their quaint cheese shop to buy some of their award-winning goat cheese. They are located just around the bend; follow the wooden signs of a girl with a goat pointing in the direction of the farm. Once you arrive, park in the designated area and head towards the shop. If you are there in the springtime, you will be blessed by the sight of the cutest baby goats you’ve ever seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf it’s not the springtime while you’re visiting, say hi to the mama goats and then head to the store, where they have a ton of different, farm-made products to choose from. I love their fromage blanc, fresh chèvre, and berry nectar. They also sell farm-fresh eggs, goat cheese ravioli, goat ricotta, chalk paint, and much more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce you’re done spending a small fortune on cheese, head back down to Pescadero Creek Road and hang a left this time instead of going back towards the ocean. Once you reach Cloverdale Road (you’ll see a sign for Butano State Park), make a right. Follow this road for several miles until you see additional signs for Butano State Park. Get your cash ready – you have to pay to park here, as you do with all state-run parks. Be ready to get your money’s worth because this place is truly magical, especially in the summer. Park at the second parking lot where the bathrooms are (not right next to the entry kiosk). From here, there are picnic tables and trail heads. If you are here in the height of summer, there is an abundance of wild berries growing all over the place. Thimble berries and blackberries are king here, and I like to gorge myself like Yogi Bear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can opt to head farther into the park to get a little more privacy. There are several turn-outs where you can park and trailheads that lead into some of the most pristine and under-appreciated redwood forests in California. Alex and went there just this last weekend and had a wonderful picnic under the redwood canopy. We enjoyed a salad of radicchio, arugula & scarlet runner beans, grenadine apples, dried salumi, comté cheese, and a really funky French petillant rosé.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButano is also great for hiking (a 12 mile loop will take you on a tour of the whole park) and camping (drive-in as well as hike-in campsites are available). Due to budget cuts, it’s been closed during the winter for the last few years. It’s unfortunate as this temperate coastal redwood forest is quite mild in the winter. Next time you vote and see an option to add a small annual tax to keep our beautiful state parks open, please vote yes.

Once you’re done at the park, you can either turn back towards Highway 1 or head into the Santa Cruz Mountains. If you choose to continue east on Pescadero Creek Road, it will eventually run into Highway 84. Make a right on 84 and head up towards Skyline. At the intersection of 84 and Skyline, there is a fantastic roadside diner called Alice’s Restaurant. They have delicious burgers, great beers, and unbelievable sweet potato fries. They almost never have a wait, even if it looks insanely busy. This is a must-try place. Every time I walk through the doors, I hum Arlo Guthrie’s song of the same name. Once you’re done eating, continue east on 84, which will eventually intersect with 280 and take you back home.

If you choose to head back towards the ocean, you can continue south on Highway 1 and visit a few more farm stands and attractions. There is Pie Ranch, Slowcoast, Swanton Berry Farm (seasonal berry U-pick), and a variety of beaches and state parks you can visit. Be sure to check the hours for these places before you leave, as many of them are seasonal and close in the late summer and fall. I was up there last weekend and Pie Ranch was closed, but Slowcoast and the Swanton Berry Farm pie shop (not the U-Pick) were both open. I scored a delicious Tayberry Pie and strawberry truffle while I was there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere you have it, folks. This is about as soul-baring as it gets for me. I feel like my insides are made up of beach glass, brussel sprouts and fog. I hope you find a chance to explore this beautiful stretch of California.

Do you know this stretch of highway? Do you have some favorite places to stop at that we didn’t mention here? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I took a drive down the coast to visit the new Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room in Davenport. They closed down their Santa Cruz location back in May and moved up into a new space about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The proprietor, Randall Grahm, is somewhat of a bad-ass in California wine history, and I have a lot of respect for him for popularizing Rhone wines in California. After all, some of my favorite varietal wines are made from Rhone varieties, and if it weren’t for Randall we might be in the dark about these delicious wines.

Unfortunately, the people operating the tasting room would not allow me to take any photos because they weren’t finished furnishing the place. Really guys? Your website says you are open for business and I just drove here from San Francisco! Anyhow, all I got was this crummy photo of their sign on the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is this blog post titled Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall? Well, if you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 in the fall, you know how many farm stands selling local produce there are all along the way. My travel partner and I decided to make the best of the situation and do some farm-standing along the way back home. I will review the beautiful fall vegetables we encountered along the way, along with some lovelies I came across at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurban Squash! These aren’t as great for eating as they are for looking at, but in the fall you will see them taking over the coastal pumpkin patches in California. They are an heirloom variety, dating back to to the 1800’s.  The flesh tastes vaguely of hazelnut and they make an excellent soup. You can also roast them whole and use them as a large soup tureen. I would probably just leave these mutant squash as-is and add them to my home as part of my holiday décor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPo-ta-toes! Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. While these are available year-round, I tend to eat them more in the fall because they lend themselves best to hearty, warm, savory dishes. We are fortunate to have many heirloom varieties at our disposal here in the Bay Area, and every time I buy potatoes I try a new variety. My favorite way to prepare them is to wash them, leave them un-peeled, chop into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil & fresh herbs, then roast at 375 degrees until tender and crispy around the edges. You can use these roasted potatoes in salads, as a simple side dish, as an accompaniment to eggs, or all by themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunchokes! What the heck are these, anyway? Also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are actually the tuber of the sunflower. They are ugly to look at, but if you find these rarities at the market be sure to snatch them up while they are available. They are as delicious as they are ugly. I like to chop them, toss in olive oil, and roast like I would a potato. The flavor is nutty and artichoke-like and they would be great paired with something a little sweet to offset their savory personality.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARadicchio! This is my favorite bitter leafy vegetable of the fall & winter. While it’s generally available year-round, I think it tastes best this time of year. You can slice a radicchio in half and grill it, or use it raw in a salad mixed with arugula and sherry or balsamic vinaigrette. It’s important to use a sweet-ish dressing with this in a salad, as it can be quite bitter and needs a little balance. It tastes great with bacon, too. It’s festive color is perfect for the season and will be a lovely compliment on your Thanksgiving table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild mushrooms! This year we have a huge bumper crop of mushrooms, and it’s only fall. Prices are at rock bottom right now and you can find some pretty exotic varieties at your local wild mushroom purveyor. These shown in the photo, above, are called Violet Chanterelles, or Pig’s Ears. They have a lovely texture and earthy/pungent flavor that is perfect to accompany roasted game birds or pork. Other delicious mushrooms to try are Porcini, King Trumpet, yellow Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Hedgehog, Matsutake, Maitake, Pioppini, and Yellowfoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersimmons! While I don’t have much experience with these, I do know how prolific they are around here in the fall. I had neighbors in Oakland with a whole orchard of them in their back yard. They are gorgeous when still on the tree, as they are late-ripening and the tree loses it’s leaves before the fruit falls off, making a silhouette that looks eerily like a scraggly Christmas tree full of bright orange ornaments. I know we have two major varieties here in CA; the sweet & friendly Fuyu persimmon, and the astringent Hachiya persimmon. To make them more palatable, my dad used to put his persimmon into a coffee mug and cover it with a small plate for several days. This would accelerate the ripening process, and he would eat it when it was practically rotting. Gross, Dad. There are some varieties indigenous to the United States, and they were a staple food of the Native Americans and early “American” settlers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApples! There is no fall food more perfect than the apple, especially here in California where we have access to a zillion different heirloom varieties. Right now there is a bounty of fresh apples all over the place and there’s a reason apple pie is so popular in the fall. Some of my favorite heirloom varieties include Pink Pearl, Grenadine, Rome, Wickson and Sierra Beauty. Pink-fleshed apples like Pink Pearl and Grenadine are not only beautiful, but in my opinion the most delicious. Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me because of the seductive color, convincing my brain that they somehow taste better, but that Grenadine apple really does taste just like grenadine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodbye tomatoes, basil, sweet corn & zucchini. Say Sayonara to sweet peppers. Summer is O-V-E-R, make room for fall foods! What are some of your favorite fall fruits & vegetables?

Winery Visit: Perrucci Family Vineyards

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Good lord, I love the smell of fermenting grapes in the morning. Anytime, really – I’ll be honest. It’s something I was worried I’d miss out on for the entire 2013 harvest season. Fortunately, Tala and I paid a visit to Greg Perrucci at Perrucci Family Vineyard on the outskirts of San Jose this past weekend, and I got a noseful. And a glassful. (See what I did there?) Greg has been a mentor and a force for good in Tala’s garagiste universe, coaching her through many anxious moments and home winemaking questions – it was high time that we went to visit the facility and vineyards.

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We met Greg and his family at one of their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, as they were wrapping up harvest of the grapes. It was beautiful – as vineyards at harvest always are – and the sky had that crisp blueness that Autumn brings.  They picked about 4400 pounds of Cab grapes on Saturday, all by 10am. The group made quick work of the small, sloped vineyard, and Greg drove the trailer back to the Perrucci homestead and winemaking facility, a short distance away. Tala and I followed behind in Tiny Car – the official Winelandia transportation vehicle.

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Once there, some of the team started destemming the Cab, while others tended to some of the in-progress wines, which is where I caught my first whiff of the pungent aroma of fermenting juice. We got to taste some Merlot mid-fermentation, as well as some fresh pressed Pinot that was awaiting yeast. These vibrant, juicy tasting experiences are the best part of visiting small producers, especially in the late summer and early fall. You get a sense of the work, and the magic, that goes into winemaking. It’s part art and part science.

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The Perruccis’ small family winery produces several different kinds of wines, mostly for club distribution and sales in local restaurants and wine shops. We tasted through several of their selections, including the Sangiovese, their red table wine, and two of their Cabernets. Their wines are approachable, affordable, and the family endeavor is really worth supporting. This is a small operation run by a great team with passion for wine and winemaking, and Italian charisma to spare. It was a great Saturday outing for the ladies of Winelandia, and well worth the visit. Hopefully we’ll be back to check them out again soon!

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Day Trip: The Sonoma Coast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year around the beginning of September, it gets really warm here in the Bay Area and in some of the foggy, freezing, coastal towns nearby. Some call it the Indian Summer. I just call it Summer, as it’s all I’ve ever known. What we experience from June through the end of August is NOT summer, just ask any local. Anyhow, our summer finally came around, luring the fog back over the ocean, finally exposing our coastline to the late summer sun. Colleen and I took the opportunity to drive north and visit the extreme Sonoma Coast.

The California coast in the summer is a sight to behold. Highway 1 runs from North to South, offering expansive views of oceanside cliffs, sandy beaches, waterfalls, sycamore trees, pastures, azure waters, and blue skies for miles and miles. When I see the coast, it warms my heart and reminds me of why I pay a zillion dollars a month for rent to live in the Bay Area. I can drive an hour north or south and visit it anytime I want. I was practically raised on the beaches of Bodega Bay, my mom hauling us kids around with her as she explored the places that I still find myself drawn to today. These memories were the preface to our adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first stop on our route was Bodega Bay, a small coastal town that sits right on top of the San Andreas fault. This adorable little village offers many amenities to people passing through, including a market, taffy shop, several restaurants, an ice cream parlor and an adorable little wine shop called Gourmet au Bay. All we had to see was the Wine Tasting sign and we pulled right into their parking lot. Colleen and I weren’t sure what to expect, but we were gleefully optimistic about the prospect of wine tasting on this beautiful, sunny day.

Upon entering, we noticed rows of wines for sale, with a wine bar selling wines by the glass in the back. We took a closer look at the wines offered for retail sale and noticed some of our favorites. The selection here is mostly local wines, or at least wines from vineyards that are on the Sonoma Coast. The prices were reasonable, and if we were from out of town and looking for a special bottle to take home, this would be a good place to buy one.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter inspecting the retail offerings, we made our way to the back and spied the wines by the glass. We settled on splitting a glass of Vermentino, and it wasn’t until then that we realized Gourmet Au Bay had a patio on the water. We deployed our huge sunglasses and took our tasty wine outside to enjoy with a spectacular view of the namesake Bodega Bay.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGourmet au Bay is located at 913 Hwy 1 in Bodega Bay, CA 94923.

After taking in the view and slowly sipping on our glass of Vermentino, we packed up and journeyed north to check out some of the beautiful beaches Bodega Bay has to offer. When I was little, my mom took us to a tiny beach called Shell Beach for family adventures. I remember scrambling over the huge rocks, poking sea creatures in tidal pools with my finger (don’t try this at home), making sand-angels, and eating peanut butter sandwiches while watching the waves crash on the inhospitable shore (this is not a place you go swimming!). I thought it would be neat to show Colleen this beach and tell her stories about my family’s visits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can find Shell Beach by driving north of Bodega Bay for several miles, until you see the sign for Shell Beach. It’s farther north than most of the other beaches in the area, so keep driving even if you think you’ve passed it. This is a wonderful spot to stop at and enjoy your peanut butter sandwich, or just to take in the views. If you are lucky enough to be there during low tide, you can walk pretty far down the beach and see some of the less-traveled areas. I recommend always bringing layers, as even on this hot day the fog line was just over the highway, and the beach was pretty foggy and cold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter spending a few minutes torturing Colleen with boring family stories about the beach, we got back into the car and continued north. Our mission was to find a cow suitable for photography for the blog, from here on out known as the Picture Cow (not to be confused with a Gift Horse). If you’ve ever driven around here, then you are familiar with the miles and miles of green pastures inhabited by happy California dairy cows. If there’s any one scene that embodies the Sonoma Coast perfectly, it’s a serene cow munching on grass, mooing gently into the breeze. Eventually, we found the Picture Cow near Fort Ross.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPleased with our Picture Cow findings, we continued north until we reached our only planned destination, the Fort Ross Vineyard. Having been pleased with their wines at the Family Winemakers tasting a few weeks ago, we thought we would visit their winery and taste through their offerings without the madness of the event. It’s one of the only winery tasting rooms open to the public on the Sonoma Coast, and they don’t require an appointment to enjoy a tasting. To find it, continue north past the town of Jenner (right past the mouth of the Russian River) and hang a right on Meyers Grade Road. Go up the hill, following the Winery signs, and you will see it on your right. Be sure to take in the views as you drive, as the highlight of this trip is not the destination, but the sights along the way.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe enjoyed our flights of wine on the lovely patio of the tasting room. This place is very fancy, not your typical rustic Sonoma tasting room. The wines are remarkably California in style, with their Chardonnay being rich, bold and buttery. We quite enjoyed all of the wines, but the 2010 Symposium Pinot Noir was our favorite. We picked up a bottle and will be posting a review here soon, so stay tuned for that.

After saying our goodbyes to the friendly folks at Fort Ross Vineyards, we turned south to meander back home, with at least one more destination in mind. If Colleen and I have any one thing in common, it’s our lust for oysters. Delicious, briny, fresh, succulent oysters, gently plucked from the beautiful Tomales bay. Little did Colleen know, I had a special bottle of wine in the cooler, waiting for this occasion. We made a bee-line back down to Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, CA. To get there from Fort Ross, just drive south on Highway 1 until you reach it. You have to do a little jig to stay on the highway once you pass Bodega Bay and it makes a left turn for Petaluma, just keep an eye out for the signs to stay on Highway 1. Once you turn right to stay on the Highway and head towards Marshall, just continue south until you see the farm on the right.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a normal day, you might not get as lucky as we did at the farm. The most cost-effective way to enjoy oysters here is at the Shuck-yer-Own picnic tables, which generally require a reservation made months in advance. Lucky for us, it was late in the day, and there was a vacant picnic table for us to shuck our own oysters at. You can also buy pre-shucked or BBQ oysters from the stand in the back, but you will pay a lot more that way. We decided on 3 dozen oysters total; 1 dozen Kumamoto (our fave), 1 dozen X-Small Sweetwaters, and 1 dozen Atlantic. If there is any duo on earth that can put away 3 dozen oysters, it’s the Ladies of Winelandia. We grabbed our oyster knives and got right to business.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShucking an oyster is a learned skill. It’s not as easy as those guys at the oyster bar make it look. I’ve shucked hundreds (if not thousands) of oysters, and I still struggle with it. My only advice is to never give up, and keep on shuckin’ until you become a master. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will die trying. I love oysters so much, it won’t be a problem.

Wine and oysters are a match made in heaven, and there aren’t many white wines I wouldn’t pair with them. The only white wine I would avoid is anything with oak, as the woody or buttery flavor can clash with the fresh, briny oysters. I stashed a bottle of Robert Sinskey’s 2012 Pinot Gris in the cooler before we left, which on this hot day was closer to cellar temperature when we opened it. I wanted it to be ice cold, desperately, so we devised a technique we dubbed Ice Mountain to keep our wine cold. Worked like a charm. I encourage you to use our patented technology should you find yourself in a similar predicament.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Robert Sinskey 2012 Pinot Gris was perfect with these oysters. It’s rich, full-bodied, bright, pure, fruity, and refreshing. If Robert Sinskey does anything right, it’s white wine. They are some of my favorite from California, and they are one of the few producers to make a 100% dry Muscat, which is absolutely insane. If we are lucky, we might offer some Sinskey white wines on Winelandia.com once we start our retail operation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was getting late in the day, and we needed to start heading back home. We decided to take the scenic route, meandering through Nicasio Valley and stopping at the reservoir to enjoy the last bit of sunshine before landing back in reality. The sun was getting low and casting a lovely golden hue on everything surrounding us. It’s days like this that remind me of why I started Winelandia. I want to share these experiences with people who weren’t lucky enough to be immersed in it their whole life, showing them the hidden gems along the way, and how to find ways to make the experience even richer. The landscape of California and the fruits of the vineyards, farmland and pastures have inspired me for decades. I am grateful to share these experiences with our readers.

If you want to replicate our adventure, feel free to reach out to me directly (tala@winelandia.com) and I will send you a map with all of the side-missions and destinations. I certainly hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Day Trip: Russian River Valley Winery Tour

Colleen and I are in agreement: The Russian River Valley is one of California’s finest AVAs. It’s the birthplace of some of the New World’s most refined Pinot Noir & Chardonnay because of it’s warm days and cool, foggy nights. This swing in temperature preserves the grape’s natural acidity and extends the growing season which in turn produces wines that have great complexity and excellent age-worthiness. The best thing about the Russian River Valley is that it’s just an hour an a half outside of San Francisco/Oakland. You can easily make this a self-guided day-trip with plenty of time to enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the most beautiful places in California.

The first stop on your day trip should be the fair city of Santa Rosa. She is smack-dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley AVA, home to several awesome wineries, and one of the first cities you will pass on your way to rural RRV backroads.

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If you are coming out on a Saturday (but not on a Sunday, because even wine people need a day off), be sure to pay a visit to the Natural Process Alliance. If you’ve ever seen a wine being poured from a reusable Kleen Kanteen, it was probably a NPA wine (you can have these refilled with delicious wine for a discount after a $15 refundable deposit on the Kanteen). The owner and winemaker, Kevin Kelly, also produces wine under his Salinia label. He has a very natural approach to winemaking and produces some pretty interesting stuff. He is very warm and welcoming, and no appointment is needed to visit on Friday & Saturday from 10:30AM to 4PM.

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One of our favorite NPA wines is the ’25 Reasons’ petillant-naturel of skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is lightly sparkling, highly aromatic and completely mind-blowing. Kevin recommends you stand it upright in the fridge the day before you want to drink it, letting the sediment settle to the bottom (the wine has lees in it from the pet-nat process). You then carefully pour the first two glasses ‘clear’. This clear wine is subtle and elegant with more obvious mineral notes. Then, you give the last bit of wine a quick shake and serve the rest cloudy. The resulting wine is tropical, fruity, earthy, full of body, and delicious. This would be an excellent wine to pair with pork chops, roasted chicken or vegetarian dishes. If you want to get your hands on some, act quickly. There are only six cases left at the winery. You may be lucky enough to find it in a place like Arlequin Wine Merchant or Bi-Rite Market in SF.

The next stop while in Santa Rosa could very well be Punchdown Cellars (by appointment only!), home to about 30 different wine producers which include Dirty & Rowdy, Ceritas and Lioco. This custom-crush facility provides very small producers the resources to produce fine wine with with the latest equipment and technology. During our visit, we met with Jim from Lioco. They are a producer of high end Sonoma County Pinot Noir & Chardonnay but they also make a lovely Pinot Blanc, Carignan and rosé.

photo (14)It’s not often, but sometimes you encounter a wine that makes you absolutely lose your sh*t. Colleen experienced this while tasting their Pinot Blanc from the Chalone AVA. It was rich, spicy, fruity, full of body, with complex aromas and balanced acidity. If there’s anything Colleen loves, it’s a complex white wine with body AND acid. At $28 a bottle, it’s definitely a steal. While we loved all of the wines, we felt the other stand-outs were the rosé of Carignan, $18 (which had tons of acid, picked at 19.5 Brix); the RRV Chardonnay, $35 (delicious, classic RRV Chard); and finally the Indica, $20 (a rustic red blend of mostly Carignan with a screw-cap closure, insane QPR).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow on to the backroads. From Santa Rosa, head down Guerneville Road towards the city of Sebastopol and pay a visit to Iron Horse Vineyards. This spectacular winery is located at the top of a hill in one of the Russian River Valley’s coolest and foggiest subregions, Green Valley. Like many RRV producers, Iron Horse makes Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, but they also produce sparkling wine from these grapes in the traditional method. Colleen is a wine club member here and we love to stop by to pick up her allocation and also taste through their current releases. Their newly released 2009 Summer’s Cuvée was just what the doctor ordered because it was over 100F that day and we were melting. This is a great place to enjoy a glass of bubbles while taking in the amazing view.

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While Iron Horse is not a small producer (they even make a wine for the White House!), we love their sparkling wines, friendly staff and gorgeous quince tree at the entrance, which we couldn’t resist taking a photo of. What is a quince, you say? Well, if you’ve ever had that red jelly called Membrillo that you see on cheese plates at fancy restaurants, you’ve tasted a quince. They are a hard apple/pear type fruit which is inedible in it’s raw form but when cooked for hours turns a lovely pink color and develops a floral flavor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe feel that three wineries is the right number to visit in a day. If you visit these three, you will not be disappointed. That said, check out our very own Tasting Room Guide for more wineries not only in the Russian River Valley, but other surrounding areas. If you are going to Iron Horse, Dutton-Goldfield is nearby and is definitely worth a visit. If you plan to head further West towards Guerneville, call and make an appointment at Porter-Bass. If you’re heading North to Dry Creek, take a detour along Westside Road and stop at Porter Creek Vineyards along the way. You’ll definitely find something you love.