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A MOVEABLE THIRST: Tales and Tastes from a season Napa Wine Country

By Rick Kushman and Hank Beal

Wiley Paperback Hoboken, N.J. 2007ISBN-13: 978-0-471-79386-1

336 pages, $18.95

 moveable thirst

Napa County, the crown jewel of the California winemaking industry, has somewhere in the neighborhood of 475 wineries. The seemingly Sisyphean task of cataloging, visiting and reviewing each of these has been cheerfully undertaken by authors Rick Kushman and Hank Beal with their new book, “A Moveable Thirst.”

The bona fides of the authors are more than sufficient to the task. Since this is also a buddy story one is tempted to pigeonhole them with a simplistic Abbott and Costello-like characterization, but that would be inaccurate because they make a formidable team for their purpose. Kushman is the Sacramento Bee television columnist who brings his extensive journalistic credentials to the table. Beal is the head wine and liquor buyer and for the Northern California Nugget Market chain. Kushman has the role of the wine novice whose thirst for all knowledge wine related is steadily quaffed as Beal, the straightman, parses out the knowledge in satisfying portions.

The first half of the book explores the Napa Valley itself, physically and culturally, devoting chapters to each of the 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that lie within Napa. These are officially designated regions that have been determined to possess growing conditions that produce uniquely identifiable wines. The second half is the nuts and bolts portion listing wineries by region with salient information visitors will need to know when paying a call. The book offers a lot of tips and useful tidbits that will help visitors prepare for a visit and choose where to go.

Guidebooks have an inherent drawback in that the “use by” date often passes quickly after publication. Given the explosive growth of the wine industry and the attendant tourism in Napa this could prove problematic for such a guidebook. But that would be to miss the point since the book offers much more than maps and vital statistics of wineries (those can be found at the Convention and Visitors Bureau). Kushman’s self-deprecating perspective is front and center here and it works because most of us fall into his camp, that is, we arrive armed mostly with ignorance. It is also reassuring to those who might otherwise be intimidated by the thought of tackling the mysterious and venerated world of wine. Again, Kushman’s light touch delivers the appropriate irreverence necessary to remove the intimidation of the subject brought on by the fatuous wine writing with which most people are familiar. Kushman strips away the chimera of pretentiousness and replaces it with the useful idea of learning and having fun.

One criticism I have here is that the book tends to be too generous in its appraisal of the serving staffs at wineries, too often describing them as knowledgeable and well-grounded in wine. My own experience is that, while that may be true of the mom-and-pop wineries, the larger places are geared to serve a multitude of visitors and their servers are inclined to engage in patter that is too practiced and comes off as programmed information rather than genuine knowledge.

One comes away from “A Moveable Thirst” with an appreciation for the manners and mores of the wine culture of the Napa Valley. More importantly, they remind us that it is supposed to be fun and interesting. Although our intrepid authors did indeed undertake a Sisyphean task, they reveal the slope to be not too steep after all.

 

--reviewed by Michael Eady

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:58

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vines

Napa Valley: Land of Golden Vinesby Kathleen & Gerald Hill

The Globe Pequot Press

ISBN 978-0762734436www.globe-pequot.com

306 pages; $15.95

 Napa Valley Land of golden Vines

Although "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" has some disquieting inconsistencies and inaccuracies, it’s probably the best and most comprehensive guide to the area.

Wineries are the main attraction, of course, and the book lists locations, phone numbers, varieties produced, open hours and all the other relevant details for most of those that are open to the public. Each winery also receives a couple of paragraphs of narrative to flesh out the basic details that otherwise are available in many free periodicals available to tourists.

Restaurants, lodging and points of interests are also covered as the authors take the reader on a trip up the Napa Valley. Beginning with the Carneros region and moving northward through the city of Napa, the communities of Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, and then the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga at the valley’s northern end, the progression is logical and detailed.

However, "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" does contain a number of errors and ambiguities:

The authors tell us that Marilyn Monroe "used to visit the Calistoga baths when hubby Joe DiMaggio was off playing baseball . . . ". The Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season. He married Marilyn in 1954.

On page 87 Beaulieu Vineyards is said to be "the oldest continuously producing winery in the Napa Valley." On page 139 Beringer Vineyards is called "the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley."

The bistro Bouchon "was created by the Keller brothers of the French Laundry (Yountville) and Fleur de Lys (San Francisco)." Thomas Keller is the chef/owner of the French Laundry in Yountville. Hubert Keller is the chef/owner of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. They are not related. Certainly one would think such inaccuracies wouldn’t be found in a second edition.

Still, the amount of information in the book is substantial and many of the detailed topics are completely accurate and would likely be fascinating insight for most visitors. A 30-page history of the area is included, as are a smattering of vineyard and winery-supplied recipes. While I’m surprised at a number of inaccuracies, they don’t make the book less valuable as a tourist resource. Perhaps an analogy applies—that of a goalie who makes great saves all night, but leaves the fans remembering the few times a puck went past him. Authors Kathleen and Gerald Hill did have a pretty good game in goal and I would commend "Napa Valley, Land of Golden Vines" to California wine country visitors.

 

--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food. He doesn’t know much about ice hockey but likes his analogy, nonetheless.

Alligator Dreams: The Story of Greenwood Ridge Vineyardsby Richard Paul Hinkle

Silverback Books Santa Rosa, California

ISBN 978-1930603301

119 pages, multiple photos and illustrations, $24.95

 alligator-dreams

On a ridge named for an early American explorer of California and the west, Caleb Greenwood, Alan Green grows grapes, makes wines and lives among the vines. Author Richard Paul Hinkle tells us that Green realized early that he couldn't support himself growing grapes, but could by growing grapes and making wines.

Hinkle indicates although it is not a good idea to value a winery solely based on its medal count in competitions and judgings, Greenwood Ridge has such a collection of them a person has to take notice. This he indicates is especially true since Greenwood Ridge is small and its location is removed from the action in Mendocino County.

There are four noble varieties of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Greenwood Ridge makes wines from each of them and Zinfandel as well. Hinkle writes a short chapter about every variety of Greenwood's wines. Each chapter is replete with information about the wine, of course. There are also marvelous photos to accompany the text and, in some instances, art commissioned by Alan Green, too.

Green began growing grapes in the 1970's, made wines professionally in the early 1980's, and won a gold medal in 1981 at the Orange County Fair. It was in the early years that the alligator became a part of the Greenwood Ridge label. The contour of the ridge evoked the shape of a gator's head, hence the alligator's dreams of the title. The winery also uses the crocodilian theme in the chocolates, which are sold in its tasting room, Eye of the Dragon.

The owner has participated with a group of local winemakers and grape growers in getting federal approval of the Mendocino Ridge Viticultural Area designation. Hinkle tells us Mendocino Ridge is a unique viticultural area. It exists not in a contiguous land area but across a discontinuous area and it is "based on altitude rather than a wholly connected flat-land surface." It is the altitude, which makes the grapes grown in that area so special.

For those fascinated with the production of grapes and how wines are made, the author has included significant details about the cycles of the care for the vines and the harvesting of the grapes. There is even a well-illustrated "annual vineyard timeline" and "winemaking timeline" replete with drawings of what the vines would look like in the various months of the year. The people who care for the vineyard are credited for their efforts and featured in photos.

The author and Alan Green have cooperated to make not only technical, but also lyrical observations about the grapes and wines of Greenwood Ridge -- bits of brix talk here and there, but a lot more about the love of grape growing and wine making and enjoying them.

This book is a good read. It is the story of a man, his winery and his love of wines and the accompanying parts of the good life that go along with them. AlanGreen and the rest of us who have enjoyed his story and his wines are the richer for it as well.

 

--Reviewer Mike Petersen is an attorney employed at the state capitol who travels whenever he can to try new foods and wines in California and Europe. He especially enjoys cooking and eating Italian, Spanish, French, German and other dishes that he has sampled with the locals here and abroad. Mike is a founder and chair of Mr. P’s Wine Club, a no-load wine club whose members love trying new wines and foods. He also searches for Chicago-style, kosher hot dogs wherever he may be.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:09

Sharpshooter

SharpshooterBy Nadia Gordon

Chronicle Books 2002

ISBN 978-0811834629

272 pages. $11.95

 

sharpshooter-cover

Sunny McCoskey is the owner of Wildside, a Napa Valley restaurant. She also solves murders. At least in the pages of Sharpshooter, she does. In what the publisher defines as the first mystery in a Sunny McCoskey series, the chef/sleuth jumps into a murder investigation when her friend, winegrower Wade Skord, is arrested for the murder of Jack Beroni.

Beroni was in the process of inheriting control of the most substantial winery in the area. Many of the locals had reason to dislike him, and maybe even murder him. In any case, someone who was a pretty good shot with a rifle drilled him in the heart one night as he awaited at meeting at the garden gazebo adjacent his vineyard.

Gordon portrays the late Mr. Beroni as an aggressive proponent of a plan for wholesale presticide spraying to thwart the pending invasion of the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter. That sharpshooter is the vector of Pierce's Disease, a real-life threat to the wine industry.

The double entendre is the most obvious of many details designed to give a feeling of authenticity—an insider's view—to the reader. For the most part the author succeeds, although vineyardists and winemakers may be amused at her heroine's measurement of the sugar level of friend Wade Skord's ripening Howell Mountain Zinfandel. Chef McCoskey gets readings of 17 degrees Brix and decides that the grapes would reach the desired level of 24 degrees after a couple more warm days. This is a process that would take weeks, not days. Other details are more credible and Gordon's descriptions of Wildside certainly make it seem that it could be a real café in St. Helena or any other Napa Valley location.

How many Napa Valley murders can be devised as fodder for subsequent books in this series-to-be remains to be seen, but Sharpshooter is worthy on its own. The details and the setting create a book that's fun for wine and food buffs and probably for many mystery devotees, as well.

 

--Reviewer Dan Clarke writes about wine and food. He has worked at a vineyard on Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley.

With new Alaska Airlines flights begun in June, Sonoma County now has three flights from Los Angeles non-stop to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport- STS.

San Diego also began a new flight non-stop to Sonoma County Airport in June.

Fly Sonoma  SMALL 120295

Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport - STS, offers convenient service to this wine, spa and coastal destination. In addition to these new flights from Southern California, Sonoma County Airport is served by non-stop flights from Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Visitors departing from Sonoma County Airport on Alaska Airlines can also ship home a case of wine for no additional luggage cost. The wine must be packed to shipping standards, which many Sonoma County wineries will provide after purchase.

Located 30 miles north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma County has more than 300 wineries and is known for its local, farm-to-table cuisine. The region is also well-served by the airports in San Francisco (70 minute drive), Oakland (70 minute drive) and Sacramento (1 hour, 45 minute drive).

A free visitors guide with information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions, and dining in Sonoma County is available at www.sonomacounty.com.

(TravMedia.com sources contributed to this article.)

Editor's Note. Visitors to the state's North Coast can find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

north coast highlight SMALL

The North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) in California, covering more than three million acres, includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. The area forms a slightly crooked rectangle, approximately 100 miles long and more than 50 miles wide. A winemaking mecca since the mid 19th century, today the area features about 800 wineries, nearly half of the total wineries in the state. American Viticultural Areas are to appellations of origin as grapes are to fruit. AVAs are delimited grapegrowing areas distinguishable by geographic, climatic and historic features, and the boundaries have been delineated in a petition filed and accepted by the federal government. In size, AVAs range from extremely small to extremely large. AVAs are one kind of appellation, but not all appellations are AVAs. An appellation can also be a political designation, such as the name of a country, the name of a state or states, the name of a county or counties within a state.

 

Napa Valley

Established in 1981, the Napa Valley AVA covers 225,300 acres of land, encompassing almost the entire county of Napa and is home to 400 wineries. Within that area, there are 45,000 acres of vineyards planted. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa Valley with a total of 18,200 acres, and Chardonnay is the most widely planted white wine variety with 7,300 acres. Napa produces about five percent of total California wine.

The Napa Valley is bordered by two mountain ranges—the Vaca on the east and the Mayacamas, rising well above 2,000 feet and bordering the adjacent Sonoma County, on the west. Mt. St. Helena (4,343') stands sentry at the northern end of the appellation where the valley ends at the town of Calistoga. This is the warmest locale in the region. About 30 miles away, near the city of Napa, the southern end of the valley opens to San Pablo Bay, an interconnecting arm of the San Francisco Bay system.

A uniquely diverse winegrowing appellation, the Napa Valley formed—much like the rest of the North Coast—through a geological evolution active with colliding tectonic plates (large pieces of the earth's crust), volcanic activity and changes in sea level as water alternately advanced and retreated over the southern end of the valley several times. As a result of these geological events that took place over a 60-million-year history, the Napa Valley has soils of volcanic, maritime and alluvial origin, with more than 30 different types identified.

Defined by mountain ranges and a proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the Napa Valley enjoys a temperate climate with a long growing season of sunny, warm days followed by cool evenings. Within the Napa Valley AVA, there are 14 other AVAs with distinct microclimates and terrains formed by a varied topographical configuration of hills, exposures and elevations. The Napa Valley AVA is also part of the North Coast AVA.

  Sonoma County

The appellation of Sonoma County totals more than one million acres of land of which 60,000 acres area planted to winegrapes. The county includes 13 distinct AVAs as well as being a part of the North Coast AVA. The larger Sonoma Coast AVA has with 517,000 acres. Chardonnay takes the lead as the most planted variety with 15,100 acres, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the next most planted variety with 11,900 acres. The area produces about eight percent of California's total wine production.

Sonoma County is 52 miles wide and 47 miles long and is currently home to 260 wineries. On the east, Sonoma County borders Napa Valley along the Mayacamas Range. About two million years ago, volcanic eruptions deposited a series of ash and lava called the Sonoma Volcanics throughout much of Sonoma and Napa Counties, especially along the Mayacamas Range. The western edge of the County is the California coastline along the Pacific Ocean. Sonoma County borders Mendocino County in the north and Marin County in the south.

Luther Burbank called Sonoma County "the chosen spot of all the earth as far as nature is concerned." A vastly diverse range of topography, including numerous small valleys with distinct microclimates, the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean, all characterize the region. A moderate climate with a cooling maritime influence, Sonoma County embodies ideal and diverse grapegrowing weather: from valley to hillside, moist ocean coast to dry inland, and cool southern regions that complement the warmer, more northern areas.

  Mendocino County

Mendocino is an approved American Viticultural Area with 275,200 acres. The total area planted to vineyards is 16,700 acres. About 4,300 acres are planted to Chardonnay, 1,900 acres to Pinot Noir, and 2,600 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon. Approximately 25 percent of the total vineyard acreage in Mendocino County is certified organic. There are 10 official American Viticultural Areas in Mendocino County. There are 56 wineries and over 250 growers harvesting approximately 62,000 winegrape tons, representing about two percent of the state's wine tonnage.

Located directly north of Sonoma County and about 90 miles north of San Francisco, the Mendocino wine region is bounded by California's Coastal Mountain Range, the Pacific Ocean and the great northern redwood forests. A mountainous region, it is part of the seismically active Coast Range and is also the place where the San Andreas Fault reaches the ocean. Almost 60 percent of the county is blanketed with coniferous forests. Most of the vineyards are located in the inland valleys in the south and east areas of the region. The vineyards growing white wine grape varieties are located on flood plains and alluvium along the Navarro and Russian Rivers. Most of the red varieties are grown on the bench lands above.

  Lake County

The western portion of Lake County comprises the North Coast AVA. It encompasses the Clear Lake AVA, which in itself has 168,900 acres of land, the Red Hills Lake County AVA, and High Valley AVA. Within Lake County, a total of 8,530 acres are planted to winegrapes. This is expected to double in the next few years, as many new vineyards are being planted. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted variety with 3,300 acres. Sauvignon Blanc is the second with 1,790 acres. Fourteen wineries are located in the region. About 20 out-of-county wineries purchase Lake County grapes from independent growers. Lake County crushed 32,000 tons in 2005, about one percent of California's total winegrape tonnage.

Lake County surrounds Clear Lake, the largest natural lake in California. The vineyards are planted throughout the county, from the agriculturally rich valley at 1,370 feet elevation (lake level), to the rocky red volcanic soil at more than 2,000 feet elevation around Mt. Konocti—a dormant volcano in the Pacific Rim chain. These elevations provide cooler winter conditions and a later start to the growing season. Summer growing conditions are suitably warm to ripen the grapes and the elevation allows rapid cooling in the evening. Few grape pests can tolerate the altitude and cool climate. Lake County growers are committed to sustainable farming and participate in year long educational programs to this end.

  Marin & Solano Counties

Marin County has 80 acres of vineyards and 13 wineries. Bordered on three sides by the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the area grows mostly the early maturing Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay. The northeastern half of Marin is officially in the North Coast AVA. A small portion of Solano County, forming the southeast tip of the North Coast AVA, has three AVAs, covering an area of more than 21,200 acres. It too receives the cool maritime influence with ocean breezes flowing through the San Francisco Bay and the Delta.

The vineyards and wines of California's North Coast are recognized worldwide for their quality and diversity. There is a sense of place that identifies the region as well as the people. From the days of the Gold Rush of 1849, this part of the state has embodied the pioneering spirit and innovation that still energizes the California wine business.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options in the North Coast region can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the Resource Directory are links to the sites of most, if not all, of the wineries in this region.

 

 

Saturday, 19 May 2012 13:42

Great Bicycling in Sonoma County

cyclist in occidental8 SMALLTake either of two roads from Occidental to the coast.

Less than an hour north of San Francisco is some of the best bicycle riding in Northern California. You can travel flower-lined country roads that pass organic farms, ride under towering redwoods or pedal down quaint lanes past vineyards and wineries. You can also try winding routes that follow the gentle Russian River to the wild Pacific coastline.

The area is synonymous with good riding. With 2,250 kilometers/1,400 miles of lightly traveled secondary roads and a growing system of off-road bike trails, Sonoma County appeals to a wide variety of riders. Whether you are a dedicated cyclist attacking mountain passes or a weekend pedaler eager to sip wine and cycle through the vines, Sonoma County can provide you the perfect track. It's no wonder Bicycling Magazine listed the area as one of "The 7 Greatest Rides on Earth."

An avid cycling community is here. Perhaps the most notable is star resident and professional cyclist Levi Leipheimer. Serious bicyclists come to train as well as to compete. Sonoma County was at the starting line (and Stage 1 finish) for the Amgen Tour of California, May 13.

 

Here are some ways to explore the county by bicycle:

 

Challenge and Train

Two challenging rides in the county are the Kings Ridge-Tin Barn Road near Cazadero and Coleman Valley Road near Occidental. The Kings Ridge ride, favored by pro racer Levi Leipheimer, is a challenging, hilly course. It is considered one of the most beautiful, fulfilling bike rides in the world. The Coleman Valley ride is a landmark climb in Northern California and was featured in this year's Amgen Tour of California.

The Sonoma Coast 60-kilometer/40-mile ride is best done in the early morning before the motorists hit Highway One. It includes a couple of challenging hills. A good starting place is the town of Occidental through Monte Rio and Duncans Mills along Highway 116 to the fishing village of Bodega Bay.

The Geysers 80-kilometer/50-mile loop (1,000 meters/3,500 feet of climb) is very remote, with no services and very challenging terrain between Geyserville and Cloverdale. Suitable for fit, experienced riders only.

 

Sip and Cycle  

Come for one of the popular wine-tasting rides, known as "sip DryCreek5 Sign SMALLPastoral Dry Creek Valley offers tranquil riding. Photo by George Roseand cycle," where you can stop along the way every mile or so to taste wines at one of the more than 300 wineries. There are ideal places along the way to linger with a picnic of fresh wine country produce, breads, pasta, olive oil, fruit, cheese and chocolates.

The West Dry Creek Road near Healdsburg is a picturesque ride with a few rolling hills through vineyards and country roads. Many of the wineries are only minutes apart. Another great route is Red Winery Road in the Alexander Valley between Healdsburg and Geyserville. This is a quiet, peaceful, flat and virtually traffic free area with beautiful oak dotted hills and miles of vineyards.

 

Bring the Whole Family

Explore the many paths as you pedal through Armstrong Redwoods under the giant trees in a truly tranquil and peaceful setting.

The Joe Rodota Trail, a segment of the West County Trail, is paved and runs between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. It's built on an former railroad right-of-way; several bridges have been constructed over the old trestles. The trail is especially popular in the spring with the vivid blooming of the wildflowers. It is an excellent place for bird watching year-round.

The West County Trail between the towns of Sebastopol and Forestville is a paved path and relatively flat with a few gentle climbs. An unpaved horseback riding trail runs parallel. The West County Trail and the Joe Rodota Trail offer beautiful farm and agricultural views.

 

Leisure and Moderate Trails

The leisurely 32-kilometer/20-mile Sonoma Valley ride explores the scenic Valley of the Moon. Begin at the Sonoma Plaza, ride past the historic General Vallejo home and continue on back roads through the town of Glen Ellen to the Jack London State Historic Park. The winding roads and gentle climbs allow you to soak in the beautiful views of lush greenery, vineyards, streams and oak trees.

Starting and ending in Petaluma, the 48-kilometer/30-mile Spring Hill-Chileno Valley ride is a pleasant tour of the dairy lands along the border between Sonoma and Marin Counties. Much of this trail is on quiet back roads and is very scenic; some sections offer moderate to fairly serious climbs.

 

The following Santa Rosa-based companies offer bicycle rentals or tours:

 

Getaway Adventures & Rentals

www.rinconcyclery.com

Bike rentals or guided personalized tours; gourmet lunches available.

 

Rincon Cyclery

www.rinconcyclery.com

Located just blocks away from excellent riding sites - Spring Lake Park, Howarth Park and Annadel Park. Staff will help you find the right bike and the right trail or road to ride on.

 

Other good places for cycling information:

 

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition

www.bikesonoma.org

The coalition also has a bicycle map online, or available for purchase a printed map.

 

Santa Rosa Cycling Club

www.srcc.com

Excellent site for group events and rides.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of Sonoma County lodging and dining options can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

Whether grown from the fertile earth or harvested fresh from the sea, Sonoma County's eateries embrace an eat-fresh philosophy that offers visitors a true taste of wine country.

Sonoma Co wine at picnic tableDining has close connection with the land.

Venture out beyond your resort's borders to discover a food lover's paradise: 500-plus restaurants ranging from Michelin- and Zagat-rated to casual wine country cuisine use freshly harvested, locally-grown produce.

Pay attention as you explore the lush countryside; the bounty you see today may be on your plate tonight. An abundance of fruits, vegetables and herbs blanket the countryside. Cattle, sheep, and pigs graze the landscape, chickens and turkeys scratch in the pastures, and goats and cows offer up fresh milk and cheese. Dungenesss crab, salmon and briny oysters expand menu choices.

While the "locavore movement" is changing the way the nation eats, here it’s been that way for hundreds of years. Sonoma County Farm Trails is evidence of this rich heritage. It's a culinary charm bracelet of more than 200 orchards, farms, ranches and vineyards throughout the county, offering everything from apples to zucchini.

 

Some notable restaurants to visit would include:

Santé

Santé Restaurant is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn's (www.fairmont.com/sonoma) premier dining room and has earned a national reputation for its outstanding food. Literally meaning “to your health,” the restaurant is a celebration of innovative California cuisine and good taste. Recipient of a prestigious Michelin Star as well as the AAA Four Diamond award, Santé is the only restaurant in the Sonoma Valley to receive these accolades.

Guests enjoy a seasonal menu, in a warm and casual yet stylish setting. Designed to exude the California wine country experience, Chef Andrew Cain showcases the region’s abundant local products and world-famous wines. Only the freshest local produce, meats, poultry and seafood are used to create elegantly simple dishes that let the natural flavors of the food speak for themselves.

The Farmhouse

Located in the small town of Forestville, California in the Russian River Valley Region of Sonoma County's famed wine country, the Farmhouse (www.farmhouseinn.com) represents the finest level of Sonoma inns, restaurants and spas - where sublime guestrooms, farm-fresh food and seasonal body treatments come together in one unforgettable experience.

Nestled in the heart of the Russian River Valley wine region, the "country-chic" Farmhouse is a Michelin-star, top Zagat-reviewed restaurant for the San Francisco Bay Area and has been a San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 Restaurant four years running. Chef Steve Litke offers "sublime" seasonal California-French cuisine showcasing local, artisan ingredients. The restaurant's signature dish is "Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit," rabbit prepared three ways, all delicious.

Viola Pastry Boutique & CafeBy opening Viola Pastry Boutique & Cafe (www.violapastryboutique.com), Jennifer McMurry celebrates her grandmother, Viola, who was the heart and soul of her family. McMurry has always wanted to share her grandmother's love of food and cooking with others. Cakes, cookies, pastries and cupcakes head the pastry menu.

Want something savory, a full menu for breakfast includes eggs Benedict, breakfast sandwich or burrito, chillaquiles, huevos rancheros, and veggie hash. Sandwiches, soups, paninis and more are lunch and dinner fare. Did we mention pastries?

Applewood Inn

This Sonoma County restaurant, located in the Russian River Valley, is highly regarded for its exquisite cuisine, soothing atmosphere, polished guest services, and its mellow earthy ambiance. The cozy restaurant was built to recall a French barn, yet gives one the feeling of being at a fine Italian villa. The restaurant is part of Applewood Inn (www.applewoodinn.com), a Sonoma County bed and breakfast boutique hotel.

Jackson's Bar and Oven and Petite Syrah

Diners rave about popular chef Josh Silvers’ two Santa Rosa restaurants - Jackson's Bar & Oven (www.jacksonsbarandoven.com)and Petite Syrah (www.petitesyrah.com). Both in historic Railroad Square, Jackson's is a more casual, family-friendly eaterie, with a menu that centers on dishes from the kitchen's wood-fired oven. Petite Syrah, created from Silvers’ elegant Syrah Bistro, offers small plates in a wine country casual atmosphere.

Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe

Chef Jeffrey Madura, former head chef at the epitome of wine country restaurants John Ash & Co., has opened the doors to his own cafe. Jeffrey's Hillside Cafe (www.jeffreyshillsidecafe.com) sees Madura moving away from elegant evening service to a hot breakfast, lunch and brunch spot.

After 20 years as executive chef at John Ash & Co., Madura left in 2008 to spend more time with his family. He realized he loved not working nights, but he missed the creativity of cooking. Now, if you want to sample his fare, be there early. The cafe is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

 

(TravMedia.com contributed to this article)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County and other North Coast areas can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

sonoma county farm scene  SMALL and wine barrel 

The vintage of 2011 was a great one for Sonoma County wines, as the wine industry's top publications and wine competitions honored many of the region's top producers, and the 2009 vintage of Sonoma County wines, most notably Pinot Noir, garnered outstanding coverage.

The 2011 San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 American Wines report featured 27 Sonoma County wines, significantly more wines than any other region in the report. Sonoma County wineries were prominent among the sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon categories, a testament to the diversity of the region's appellations and climates.

In the Wine Spectator's October 15, 2011 California Pinot Noir issue, the cover story headline proclaims "How Pinot Became Sonoma's Signature", a huge coup acknowledging the evolution taking place as vintners and growers learn more about their sites, clones and nuances in winemaking. Senior editor James Laube's story, entitled "California's Burgundy" chronicles the wine's evolution in Sonoma County from the 1980s to the 2009 vintage and highlights 20 Sonoma County producers and 15 great vineyard sites before extolling the virtues of the critically acclaimed 2009 vintage. "In terms of the number of great wines,'09 is head and shoulders above any other vintage in California Pinot Noir history," Laube writes.

In another exciting acknowledgement of Sonoma County's Pinot Noir quality, 2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was ranked the number one wine in the Wine Spectator Magazine's Top 100 Wines of 2011, a huge accomplishment considering that over 16,000 wines from all over the world are reviewed each year by the publication. Ten Sonoma County wines were in the Wine Spectator Top 100 for 2011 from regions throughout the county, including Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Alexander Valley, and Knights Valley.

The Wine Enthusiast honored Pinot Noir from Sonoma County in 2011 by naming Joseph SwanVineyard's 2007 Trenton Estate Pinot Noir the number two wine of the year in their annual "Enthusiast 100 Must-Have Wines of the Year". Editors of the publication also lauded Bob Cabral from Williams Selyem, one of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County's pioneering wineries, as Winemaker of the Year in their 2011 Wine Star Awards. Russian River Valley was nominated this year as the top region of the year, as well.

Sonoma County Chardonnay also earned kudos from top wine publications. The October 2011 issueof Wine & Spirits "Best Chardonnays of 2011" featured 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Camp Meeting Ridge and 2009 Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay in the top two spots among 579 wines reviewed. Two wines from Iron Horse Vineyards, 2009 Green Valley Native Yeast Chardonnay and 2009 Green Valley Heritage Clone Chardonnay, took two more of the top six slots in the review.

Diane Wilson, of Wilson Winery in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, won several awards including"Best Wine by a Woman Winemaker" at the 2011 International Women's Wine Competition.

Editor's note: For a free visitors guide or information on hotels, wineries, events, spas, attractions,and dining in Sonoma County, visit www.sonomacounty.com or call (800) 576-6662.

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in Sonoma County can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

(Editor's note: These observations from a very special tasting of Inglenook wines first appeared in our electronic pages in 2002. They remain relevant today as Francis Ford Coppola, a man with an appreciation for history, has continued to acquire Napa Valley vineyards that supplied grapes to this icon of California wine. In 2011 he bought back the Inglenook trademark so that he could use it for the highest quality line in his winery operation. Readers can learn about the resurrection of the fabled Inglenook brand at Historic Inglenook Estate to Release First Wine with Classic Label)

 

By Dan Clarke

Inglenook 1941 Cab MEDThe legendary 1941 

For all the mystique about older wines, not many of us really have much first-hand experience with them. Not even wine writers.

In the modern world most wines are purchased shortly after they are released. The red wines of Bodeaux and their American counterparts (comprised mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) go on sale about three years after their grapes were crushed. Those of us who write about wine spend an awful lot of time tasting, analyzing and pontificating about these new vintages. Often we predict which ones will age well, though we may not have extensive experience with their previous editions. It is expected of us.

So while we spend most of our time tasting new wine, we love to sample older vintages. Doing so validates (or refutes) our predictions. The exercise usually involves wines five or ten years old, at times somewhat older.

Last Friday I was privileged to experience vinous history. The Niebaum-Coppola Estate occupies the property that once was home to Inglenook. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t have to inherit the mantle of greatness of the legendary Napa Valley property (interim corporate entities squandered that opportunity in the 1960s and 70s), but he chose to do so. He believes that the glory that was Inglenook’s is the heritage he continues in his Rubicon wines. Since 1974 he has been purchasing segments of the original historic Niebaum Estate, home of Inglenook wines, and after extensive restoration, winemaking returned to the original chateau with his 2002 crush for Rubicon.

John Daniel Jr. was the name associated with the glamour years of Inglenook—the decades of the 30s, 40s and 50s. He was known as a man who never stinted in the pursuit of quality. He made what must have been a difficult decision to sell the winery in 1964. Things were never the same. After a very few years the emphasis went to lower prices points and larger production. Today the name Inglenook still appears, but only on cheap jug wines.

About 70 of us participated in the Inglenook tasting and the Rubicon dinner that followed. Our host was there, of course, as were his wife Eleanor and son Roman. Others from Niebaum-Coppola tasted with us. There was a clear link to the past in the presence of Robin Lail and her husband Jon. Robin is the daughter of John Daniel and continues the legacy in her own way with the John Daniel Cuvée from Lail Vineyards. Some television people were there and I recognized fellow wine writers Dan Berger, George Starke and Alan Goldfarb, among others. We were part of a fortunate group.

The tasting included seven Cabernet Sauvignons spanning four decades. We began with the youngest wine, the last one made on John Daniel’s watch, a 1963. We concluded with the first Inglenook wine to celebrate the repeal of the Volstead Act, the 1933 vintage. Master Sommelier Larry Stone supervised the uncorking and decanting of the wines. Because of the size of our group, not all of us had samples from the same bottles, of course. Variation from bottle to bottle could mean different tasting experiences. My observations seemed to be more-or-less similar to several of my colleagues. Quantification of the experience wasn’t the point, though. You don’t count beans when you’re experiencing history.

I would have loved it if every friend who really appreciates wine could have shared the table with us at last Friday’s tasting. Since that wasn’t possible I’ll provide the harvest notes we were given for each vintage (as taken from the writings of Charles Sullivan, Stephen Brook, Michael Broadbent and James Laube), as well as my own thoughts:

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, C-3,

Napa Valley 1963, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “A very wet rainy season was followed by lots of frost and a cool summer. September was cool and foggy. The early October rain hit with 50 percent of the crop unharvested. There was a race to get grapes in, and pickers were scarce. Last vintage under John Daniel family ownership. The Napa Valley Wine Library was formed. A record year for California wine production.”

 

This wine is nearly 40 years old. Thinking of it as John Daniel’s last wine brings a little sadness, which is amplified by realizing that the grapes were crushed the month before Jack Kennedy was assassinated. I wonder if I have ever tasted this wine and the 1958 and 1959 vintages that will come next. It’s certainly possible, but that would have been a long time ago. When the fraternity party invitation read B.Y.O.B., I tended to drink Almaden Mountain Burgundy, not a bad wine and, at $1.25 affordable for a college boy. But it was not Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, J-6,

Napa Valley, 1959, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “A dry year with a scorching summer. St. Helena hit 111 degrees on July 10th. The vintage started on August 28th and was rapid and fairly orderly. Hot weather cut crop, but yields were satisfactory. A huge September 17th rain frightened growers, but excellent weather followed. Very hot in Napa, but some memorable cabernets. Napa wine production was 5,752,000 gallons with an average grower price of $67.38. Vineyardists earned $201 income per bearing acre.”

 

I’m relieved to find that this wine is still vibrant. If not youthful, it certainly isn’t over the top. It was a great nose, with minty, menthol/eucalyptus aromas. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, F-10,

Napa Valley, 1958, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “Vintage was early and orderly. Warm weather lasted into November. An extremely good vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon. The number of wineries declined from 38 to 30 since 1951. Prices went back up, with national wine consumption rising steadily.”

 

Less minty than the ’59, but fine Cabernet aroma. This wine is wonderfully balanced and has a long finish. An elegant wine. (Might I have had it before? Maybe in the early ‘60s on a special date at Restaurant Antoinina or while looking for sophistication on trips to San Francisco as a college student).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1943, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “Winemakers of the era considered 1943 only ‘good.’ Vineyardists left monumental numbers of buds on their vines, making 1943 the largest vintage here since 1888. In 1943 the wine list of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel contained twenty-eight table wines from Napa producers. A decision was made by founding fathers (Martini, Tchelistcheff, Daniel, Abruzzini, Stelling, Stralla, Forni, the Mondavis and Brother John) to meet regularly and discuss matters important to Napa wine, be they technical, financial, cultural or gastronomic. Martini was the first president and Daniel the first vice president. They were most concerned about government price controls on grape prices. Later, in 1983, the group became a formal trade organization, the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association.”

 

The 1943 is a little dimmer than the ’58, but still remarkably good. It smells and taste like an old Bordeaux. (This vintage is a year older than I am--and maybe in better shape?).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1941, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The 1941 vintage was almost featureless, except that Napa producers made several great wines . . . the Inglenook Cabernets . . . were fifty-year wines. Some great wine, notably Inglenook Cask. Heavy spring rain, ten cold days, bloom delayed. Very warm summer. Dry autumn, late October harvest. Napa wine production was 5,288,000 gallons with an average price per ton of $24.50.”

 

The wine still has good color and composition, but not a lot of nose. It’s still an elegant wine, though, with a very long finish. (For years I’ve heard about the California vintage of 1941, but hadn’t the opportunity to taste it until now. What a treat! It would have been wonderful to track this wine all through its history, maybe tasting a bottle every year or two. I wonder if anyone has been able to do that? No matter. I have experienced this 61-year-old wonder this evening).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1934, 375 ml and 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The vintage . . . was of good quality . . . Good quality. Independent vineyardists organized to form the first cooperative winery. Grape prices collapsed from 1933 euphoric heights.”

 

These last two wines are in very short supply tonight. Vintages poured prior to this provided a small glass for each taster. Each glass of the 1934 and the next wine must be shared by two tasters. Color is very dark, dense. The first whiff and the nose seems unusual. The aroma reminds me of knockwurst, a word I’ve never used in describing wine. The first sip reveals a taste much better than the odor might have hinted. Later sniffs reveal some floral odors—maybe a little bit like violets. It gets nicer as it goes along. Not a long finish, but what ’34 does? (At harvest time my father was running cross country during his senior year at San Mateo High School).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1933, 375 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The Napa Valley crop was very short and 5,000,000 gallons of wine were produced. The weather for harvesting grapes was ideal—reported in mid October. First harvest after prohibition.”

 

All of the 1933 tastes and some of the 1934 have been poured from ½ bottles. Accepted wisdom is that the larger the bottle, the slower and more gracefully the wine will age, but these bottles were what was available. Would the wines have tasted different/better if they had come from larger bottles? The point is moot, of course, but I can’t imagine wines this old tasting any better or more youthful. This wine is still remarkably young in appearance. There seems to be a little subtle spice in the background—not a characteristic normally attributed to this variety, but I find it pleasant. It finishes nicely and very long. (My mother was in junior high school in Medford, Oregon at harvest time. No doubt her father was pleased about the end of Prohibition, though it didn’t cramp his style too much according to most family recollections).

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in the Napa Valley and the rest of the North Coast can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

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