What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Friday, 17 February 2017 12:45

Wine Pick of the Week

Affentaler Spatburgunder 2015 Picmonkey

2015 Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

 

Affentaler Winzergenossenschaft Böhl

Baden, Germany

Alcohol: 12.5%

Suggested Retail: $17-20

Tuesday, 10 March 2015 13:44

Call of the Vine

Call of the Vine Picmonkey

By Dr. Liz Thach, MW

2014 The Miranda Press

ISBN 978-0971587052

Soft Cover, 367 pages, $19.99

 

There are plenty of books that evoke the beauty and glamour of wine country. Often short on information, but containing gorgeous photography, they look good on a coffee table. Liz Thach’s Call of the Vine is not one of these.

Though wine professionals would be familiar with the names of the ten Napa and Sonoma vineyards the author profiles, few would have actually visited them. For the wine consumer, first-hand familiarity with these vineyards would be even less likely. Information on these gems of California agriculture has been fragmentary and mostly anecdotal.

Liz Thach has initials PhD and MW appended to her name. In addition to her doctorate, the Sonoma State Professor is also an MW or Master of Wine, a degree which is held by just 318 people in the world. You would expect her research to be thorough.  Vineyard specifics and farming practices for each of these famous vineyards are displayed in chart form. This may seem repetitive but does provide a basis for comparison and illustrates that there may be many paths to grapegrowing greatness. While such details may hint at reasons why these vineyards have become recognized as among the best in the world, it’s the human stories the author delivers that give them context.

Though all 10 of these wineries are situated in just two adjacent counties, nature has provided them with very different challenges and opportunities. Farming practices differ in adapting to these conditions. The winemakers and vineyard owners and managers of these notable properties differ in their viticultural (and enological) practices, but all express a respect for nature and regard themselves as stewards of their land.  Some, like Boots Brounstein, who with her late husband Al, planted Diamond Creek in the late 1960s, were present at the creation of great vineyards. Others, like Matt Ashby of Robert Mondavi, are inheritors of a responsibility to maintain vineyards long-known for excellence such as To Kalon, which was first planted just after the American Civil War.

Thach has chosen to tell the story of each vineyard in reprising her initial visit. Conversations with those giving her vineyard tours are recalled with significant points often related via responses to her questions. While they seem more recitations of what the conversations could have been, than verbatim transcripts, they bring the reader a low-key and more personal insight to the actual vineyard practices and to the personalities of those responsible for them.

Though Call of the Vine is illustrated with frequent black and white photos, they’re grainy and fall short of matching the quality of the narration. But this is a book that communicates through the scholarship of its author and her diligence in bringing the reader interviews with vineyard stewards that might not be available anywhere else. It’s a good read for the serious wine fan.

--reviewed by Dan Clarke

Zin Grapes at Heritage Vnyd PicmonkeyRipe Zinfandel cluster at Heritage Vineyard in photo by ZAP

TASTE News Service December 5, 2014 - For the first time in 24 years, four new Zinfandel selections have been named by authoritative experts from UC Davis and Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Heritage Vineyard Project. The collaboration between ZAP and UC Davis is marking the culmination of 17 years of research to date. The four named Zinfandel vineyard selections are Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi, and George Zeni. Each represents a unique set of research data sourced from historic old vine plantings that are geographically diverse from the other selections, proven to make quality wine based on “small lot” productions and immediately recognizable in the marketplace.

“Since 1997, ZAP’s Heritage Vineyard Project has set a clear direction for the future of Zinfandel. With ZAP’s ongoing support, UC Davis scientists have conducted research to cultivate virus-free Zinfandel material for growers and provide winemakers with grapes that exhibit consistent characteristics and predictable quality results,” said Rebecca Robinson, ZAP Executive Director.

Ravenswood Founding Winemaker and a project founder, Joel Peterson, explains that "The Heritage Vineyard Project gives viticulturists knowledge about the clean material unavailable until now with options to achieve better results in the vineyard and with the wine. At the end of the day, it’s about knowledge, choice and getting results that are more predictably defined."

The UC Davis Foundation Plant Services (FPS), which evaluates and virus-tests rootstock for commercial distribution, had only certified four selections of Zinfandel in 1990. In 2009, FPS released 19 Zinfandel selections from the Heritage Vineyard Project to nurseries. Now, for the first time, the FPS numbers are linked to four of these selections, Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi and George Zeni. “Ultimately, by creating greater diversity, ZAP has fulfilled a primary goal to provide superior clean, documented Zinfandel selections to growers as the basis for future plantings,” Robinson adds. “These named selections represent the history and lineage of Zinfandel that will create the new historic vineyards of California’s traditional variety. Naming also delivers additional context to the selections, providing more information to consumers who are interested in Zinfandel, ultimately enhancing the viability of the varietal,” Robinson continued.

Lytton – FPS 24Ridge Lytton Springs Zin PicmonkeyBeginning with a colorful 19th century captain and evolving into a model sustainable enterprise and historic vineyard, Lytton Springs tells a story of land development, boom and bust, chance encounters, and the rebirth of the wine industry, all reflected in the old vines still standing today. The Sonoma County property originally developed as a resort by Captain W.H. Litton didn’t take advantage of existing vineyards. Not until the land passed through a number of owners over nearly a century was the value of the vineyard truly recognized and its vines- produced fruit coveted by some of the most enviable wineries in the region.

Mark Vernon, Ridge's president, prizes the significance of this vineyard. "We are very fortunate to care for these Lytton Zinfandel vines. Some of them have been producing world-class wine for over 100 years and our mission is to keep them healthy, happy, and productive for another century, if possible."

Today, Ridge Vineyards owns the 69 acres of old vines that exist as a mixed field blend of predominantly Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, and Viognier. These provide the backbone and character of Lytton Springs wines. As with each of its vineyards, Ridge takes a straightforward approach, growing intense, flavorful grapes with minimal impact on the land, using sustainable growing practices. The soils in this part of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County are varied with a predominance of gravelly clay with gravelly clay loam on hillsides. Lytton Springs Zinfandel has a ripe nose of raspberry, plum, pepper and chaparral. Blackberry, mineral and vanilla notes dominate the palate.

Moore – FPS 25Bob Biale PicmonkeyBob Biale Planted in 1905, the R.W. Moore Vineyard remains one of the oldest vineyards in the Napa Valley Coombsville appellation, still flourishing among all the modern-era plantings. Productive for more than 100 years, this vineyard has thrived through a series of stewards, beginning with seafarer Pleasant Ashley Stevens and currently under the watchful care of Bill Moore and his nephew-in-law, Mike Hendry.

In 2009, Moore’s family, Mike and Molly Hendry, decided to start their own winemaking project and asked if Robert Biale Vineyards would like to share the grapes with them. Bob Biale could not have been happier. "The wine from here displays a true sense of place—an identity that is due to its well-drained foothills soil, cool climate, modest rainfall, and good genetics. Small berries, thick grape skins, low yields, and slow ripening are the keys to growing great Zinfandel, and these sturdy old vines deliver it all," said Biale.

The vineyard, with its ten acres of old head-trained vines and prominent red barn, is as iconic a setting as it gets in California viticulture. Zinfandel represents about 95% of the vineyard, with Gamay, Mourvedre, Carignane and Petite Sirah making up the rest. Given the age of the vines, well-draining gravelly loam soils and dry-farming, the vineyard yields an exceptionally low 1.5 tons per acre, leading to expressive wines with intense blackberry fruit, earthy complexity and natural balance that only come with age.

Teldeschi – FPS 10The Teldeschi old vine vineyard features 30 acres of vines planted by the Reiner family between 1913 and 1919 in the gravely clay loam Tuscan Red Hill series soils of Dry Creek bench. The vineyard was purchased by the Teldeschi family in 1946 and has been farmed by them up to the present. The vineyard is dry-farmed and cross cultivated with a plow. It produces on average about 3.5 tons per acre and typically ripens in the first week of September. The ripe grapes have a distinct black cherry, vanilla flavor, deep colors, healthy acidity and moderate tannin.

Ravenswood first purchased fruit from Frank Teldeschi in 1982 and began vineyard designating this wine in 1997. The wines regularly receive among the top scores for Zinfandels in any given year by a broad range of top scoring periodicals. The wine is a traditional California field blend that includes Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignane which exhibit the exceptional flavors and aromas that epitomize Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel; rich flavors of sweet cherry liquor, vanilla and smoke that lead to a ripe, dense, long and bright fruit finish.

George Zeni – FPS 26Owned and operated by four generations of the same family, the Zeni Ranch still holds true to many of the traditions of the founder of the family, Eduino Zeni, who planted the first vines in the 1880's. Currently, the three acres of head-trained, dry-farmed old vines feature Zinfandel as the primary varietal. This original old vine portion of the vineyard is owned and managed by Ray Zeni, George’s son, and grandson of Eduino, along with Ray’s wife Jane, and their son’s Robert and Mike.

"The gnarly ancient vines yield sparingly but reward the winemaker most magnanimously. At least, that's what the wine labels used to brag," according to the Zeni family. Producers throughout the years have included: Kendall-Jackson, Edmeades, Ridge Vineyards, and Pacific Star.

Speaking passionately about the Zinfandel grapes growing on top of the ridge, the late George Zeni explained why winemakers such as Jed Steele trekked up the steep and twisting 15 miles to get the fruit from their historic vineyards. “They wanted our mountain grapes...there was more sugar and it’d make a better wine. In fact, they’re still doing that right now. Why do you think Kendall-Jackson comes over here and buys Ciapusci grapes and my grapes? That’s where they get all their gold medals....I must have a dozen gold medals over there....So does Ciapusci.”

Zeni Ranch Zinfandel is perhaps best described by Frank Prial in his 1995 New York Times article discussing the '93 Edmeades Vineyards (Zeni Ranch) Zinfandel: "Mendocino County, and particularly the Anderson Valley, is great Zinfandel country, as this wine illustrates. It's a big-bodied wine with a deep, garnet red color. The taste is intense, and the flavors are concentrated. The wine has power and a long, lingering finish. The oak is a bit forward, but let's face it, oak is where the action is these days. Keep the wine around a couple of years and the oak will blend in. But who's going to keep it around that long?"

Ultimately, that is the question. All the "named" selections today from the famed vineyards, Lytton, Moore, Teldeschi, and George Zeni—are still nourishing vines that are more than 100 years old—still going strong, advancing the legacy of Zinfandel for generations to come, preserving Zinfandel for the future.

Thursday, 29 November 2012 19:59

Wine and Tourism—The Experience

by Dan Clarke

 

Some folks in wine country used to feel tourists got in the way.

Twenty years ago a friend was lamenting the growing incursion of tourists in the Napa Valley. Jon managed a vineyard known for producing very high quality Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Yuppies were coming up from the Bay Area, he said. They clogged the main traffic arteries up and down the Valley, especially on the weekends. They impeded business and personal travel for the locals. More than once he'd had to slam on the brakes to avoid crushing a clueless bicyclist who'd decided to execute a u-turn right in front of him on the Silverado Trail. The free-spending ways of these profligates had led to the closure—or even worse, gentrification—of some of the watering holes he and his friends favored. He didn't see himself as a beneficiary of this tourist boom.

DowntownCalistogaByPeterStetsonPSI PicmonkeyDowntown Calistoga photo courtesy of Calistoga Visitors Bureau

About this time the bar and restaurant of Calistoga's Mount View Hotel had just been remodeled to effect an upscale Italian theme—obviously at significant expense. Jon and I were enjoying a couple of quiet beers one Friday evening and wondering if the house would ever recoup its investment when we had an epiphany. A handsome young couple came in and ordered a couple of beers. They asked for the grappa list and ordered a couple of those, too, though each glass was about $12-14. Fifteen minutes later they were out the door and on to the next beneficiary of their largesse. They'd just dropped about thirty-five bucks, not counting tip. At this point Jon and I realized that we were no longer part of the Mount View's* targeted demographic.

Perhaps Jon didn't benefit directly, but the winery that purchased his grapes didn't seem to mind catering to tourists. Visitors tasted wines there and bought bottles of wine; sometimes even cases. Moreover, if these tourists were treated reasonably well, they took home memories. They became ambassadors for wine and helped push the price of Merlot made from Jon's grapes to $75 a bottle.

Though wineries have existed in the area since the time of America's Civil War, it wasn't all that long ago that prunes were a more significant crop there than grapes. When Robert Mondavi opened his Oakville winery in 1966 there were approximately 25 wineries in the Napa Vallley. The Napa Valley Vitners Association now counts 436 wineries among its members. Obviously, the wine industry in Napa and the rest of the state has grown substantially in the last few decades and this has triggered a whole new category of tourism.

A couple of weeks ago I joined approximately 230 others at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. They came for the second edition of the Wine Tourism Conference, which was organized by Zephyr Adventures. While most at the two-day meeting hailed from California, tourism interests in 18 additional states and two Canadian provinces were also there. Attendees represented government-sanctioned promotional boards, regional grower and vintner organizations, individual wineries, vendors of specialty travel services and members of the press. According to Touring & Tasting, one of the conference sponsors, overall U.S travel is expected to account for $852 billion dollars in 2012. It's projected that 27 million people will visit wineries in the United States this year.

The phrase “wine tourism” is fairly new and lacks a universal definition. Actually, it might be considered a subset of larger categories like “agricultural tourism” or even “culinary tourism.” Whatever it is called, experiencing a rural environment can be a great adventure for many Americans trapped in hectic urban lives.

Jean-Charles Boisset PicmonkeyJean-Charles Boisset has inherited Haraszthy's legacyAs keynote speaker at the recent conference, Jean-Charles Boisset spoke of his first visit to California. In 1981 the 11-year-old boy visited Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County with his grandparents. Perhaps imbued with a sense of history from his French family, Boisset was quite taken with both the story of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, a product of the area's secession from Mexico in 1846, and the pioneering efforts of Agoston Haraszthy who had planted vinifera grapes and established the Buena Vista Winery not long after that time. Though too young to qualify for sampling in the winery's tasting room, the young man from Burgundy did get a taste of California's wine elsewhere on the trip and found it very much to his liking. Three decades later Boisset now owns Buena Vista and seems acutely aware of its heritage. He is investing in substantial restoration and declares “a winery should be a place where people need to feel comfortable, to learn, to reflect.” In tying the efforts of America's wine pioneers to the country's recent focus on food, he observed, “The U.S. has always been a country running toward the future. You're the place that is creating this magic around the world.”

Consumers can get wine at the nearest supermarket; what they are seeking in visiting wine country is an elusive concept—an experience. Traci Ward, who represented Visit California at the tourism conference noted “a shift coming in who the traditional wine consumer is. Younger people don't want to be told what the have to do; they want will let you know what they want.”

People in the wine business attended the two-day meeting to learn more about how to create a a positive environment for visitors. Others—those in the travel business—came because they wanted to learn how to offer wine experiences for their clientele. Readers of Taste California Travel are typical of the audience all of these people traveled to Santa Rosa to learn how to please. Whether you're going to Napa or anywhere else in California's wine country, you're likely to be welcomed by people who're happy to see you. Enjoy the experiences you can have with them. However, if your experience is less than happy, don't put up with it. Your satisfaction is paramount

*While the Mount View probably does not have a grappa list these days (that was at least two concepts and two more remodelings ago), it is still a worthy establishment in Calistoga, one of the many offering a upscale environment for its visitors, be they yuppies or not. Currently there are two restaurants at the property, Barolo and JoLē. A decidedly unpretentious alternative down the street is Suzie's, where some of the locals go for a shot and a beer.

 

Editor's note: Planning a trip to any part of wine country? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory contains links to the website of thousands of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to all of the state's wineries. We've also added a section for brewpubs and beer-centric restaurants and bars.

Farmers Mkt Strawberries SMALL P4231046

The popularity of California wine, fresh produce and regional cuisine continues to expand worldwide. For travelers to the state, one of the best ways to discover what's new in fresh seasonal cooking and dining is to visit California's wine country. Local restaurants focus on pairing regional wines with natural, farm-grown ingredients, often sourced from community farmers' markets. These markets reflect the abundance of produce available in the state, as California is America's top agricultural state, producing 400 plant and animal commodities.

There are more than 400 certified farmers' markets throughout California, many of them in the state's wine regions. A complete listing is available at http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com.

Mirroring the growth in California wineries, California farmers' markets have continued to rise in popularity over the past three decades. Professional chefs shop alongside domestic consumers, looking for field-ripened fruits and vegetables, fragrant flowers, fresh fish, artisan breads and pastries, plus delicacies such as local olive oils and cheeses. Beginning in 2000, California wine can now be sold at qualified California Certified Farmers' Markets.

Restaurants and consumers alike are aware that more flavorful dishes can be created with heirloom vegetables and products, grown, raised or harvested with the same care that is put into their preparation. Food from local sources also travels from the farm to the plate in a timely manner. The freshness of the ingredients becomes part of the feature of the dish and supports the sustainable concept of "green dining" in that less fossil fuel is used to transport products from the farm to the kitchen.

Illustrating the allure of California's wine country and cuisine, six regional winery associations highlight popular restaurants and farmers' markets to visit within their locales. These attractions traverse California's wine and agricultural regions, from Central California's Paso Robles, north to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and beyond San Francisco to Lodi, Mendocino and Sonoma County.

LodiLocated within the Delta area east of San Francisco, Lodi has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. From wine and cherries to nuts and asparagus, Lodi is part of the San Joaquin Valley, the garden basket of California.

The 18-week Thursday night farmers' market hosted in downtown Lodi is not just for residents. Visitors and locals alike find locally grown, fresh produce, fruits, flowers and herbs at the Lodi farmers' market. School Street Bistro is known for being a local vintner hotspot. Winemakers catch up with friends and relatives over a glass of wine before heading to the market to pick up their supply of produce.

The chef at Wine & Roses Restaurant on the property of the historic Wine & Roses Inn prepares fresh seasonal cuisine highlighting the abundant agriculture of the Lodi region.

Another legend in Lodi, celebrating more than 50 years of producing seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, is Phillips Farm; a staple for quality locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many first-time visitors are drawn to the farm stand for the café or the wine but return time and time again for the pie, made fresh in the café from fruit grown on the farm!

Mendocino CountyMendocino County is rooted in agriculture. Since the 1850s, the region has developed a personality influenced by the values of independent family farmers, their respect for the land and dedication to quality. Many families have lived for two or more generations on their land. These legacy farmers deeply appreciate the connection between man and earth. Mendocino County is also at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Demeter certified Biodynamic, and Fish Friendly Farming movements.

This off-the-beaten path wine region offers many opportunities for adventure and discovery along with culinary delights such as local grass-fed meats, local grains, a coastal fishing community in Fort Bragg, apple and pear farms, plus artisan cheese, honey, bread, salt, and olive oil producers. Friendly, rural charm abounds with winemakers and chefs who are more than happy to stop, relax and chat. For elegant, upscale dining look to Patrona in Ukiah, Table 128 at the Boonville Hotel, Café Beaujolais, MacCallum House and 955 Ukiah in the storybook town of Mendocino and many diversions along the coast such as the all vegetarian The Ravens at the Stanford Inn, The Little River Inn, Stevenswood and farm-to-table dinners at the Glendeven Inn. Look for casual, local-food inspired dining at Ukiah's OCO Time sushi, Mendo Bistro and Piaci Pizza and Pub in Fort Bragg and the Purple Thistle in Willits. If you find yourself in Point Arena, at the southern coastal end, do not miss pastries at the French-inspired Franny's Cup and Saucer.

Mendocino County also hosts nine farmers' markets. For a complete list, visit www.mcfarm.org.

Monterey CountyFrom five-star restaurants to award-winning wines, Monterey County is a gourmet food lovers' paradise. Endowed with the seafood bounty of the Monterey Bay, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Salinas Valley, and the fine wines that flow from vineyards throughout the region, local chefs craft culinary masterpieces not easily forgotten. Wine-themed nights occur at several restaurants throughout the county. Tarpy's Roadhouse celebrates "Wine-Down Wednesdays," Montrio hosts Half-Price wine nights each Sunday, and the Rio Grill adds a $5 glass of a nightly wine feature onto the meal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Sardine Factory's wine list, featuring over 30,000 bottles, has received ongoing recognition and shouldn't be missed. Christopher's Restaurant in Carmel is a must-stop for anyone wanting to explore Monterey County wines.

Fresh agriculture products and other gems of the area can be found at numerous farmers' markets conducted weekly throughout the county. Old Monterey Marketplace is the home each Tuesday afternoon for a Certified Farmer's Market and the Monterey Peninsula College's lower parking lot also boasts fresh produce and flowers each Thursday afternoon. A weekend market that features 60 vendors is available in Salinas every Saturday from June through mid-November.

Paso RoblesA trip to Paso Robles Wine Country would not be complete without tasting the culinary expertise in the region, where the best of California cuisine is paired with local Paso Robles wines. Bistro Laurent, Paris Dining with Andre and Panolivo restaurants feature a French influence in their menu offerings. California and Mediterranean inspired cuisine distinguishes Villa Creek, Matthews at the Airport, McPhees and Odyssey World Café. For those who love Italian-inspired foods, there is Buona Tavola. Deborah's Dining Room at Justin Winery is open nightly.

Paso Robles chefs are dedicated to using local, fresh ingredients and source many items at farmer's markets or from local, organic farms. Some chefs even use by-products from the vineyards and wineries to create marinades and smoked meats. From the vineyards to wineries and into the kitchens, Paso Robles is focused on sustainable programs to bring fresh, local foods and wines to residents and guests of this thriving community.

A Certified Farmers' Markets in the Paso Robles downtown city park fosters this rural connection on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A small, 50-acre organic family farm east of Paso Robles, Windrose Farm hosts a farm stand that gives guests the chance to hand pick veggies and fruits.

Santa Cruz CountyIn the Santa Cruz Mountains, there is a marriage of high quality wine, local produce, farmers' markets and exceptional cuisine. The combination makes for an extraordinary culinary experience. Many restaurants in the Santa Cruz Mountains follow "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" as part of their wizardry. Several with this focus are Theo's, in Soquel; Michaels on Main, in Soquel; Manressa, in Los Gatos; and Sent Sovi in Saratoga. Michael's on Main incorporates organic produce from local farms into their menu and even their desserts!

Sent Sovi in Saratoga is another well-known supporter of the farming community. "We use as many local products as possible. I try to source as much as I can from within 100 miles or so of the restaurant. There is a farmer in Sonoma who sends me ducks by UPS. Another just grows tomatoes during the summer. I want to bring that quality and passion to the table, along with a focus on local and smaller wineries. They go hand in hand," said owner Josiah Sloan. Manressa Restaurant focuses on locally grown products, and finds a nice fit pairing them with regional wines. "Some of the finest wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains grace the tables at Manresa," says chef David Kinch. "We are fortunate to have such a vital winegrowing region right in our own backyard." Growers offer their products at Certified Farmer's Markets in the town of Santa Cruz and nearby in Aptos, Felton and Watsonville on almost every day of the week. The central market in downtown Santa Cruz, at Lincoln and Cedar Streets, is held every Wednesday.

Sonoma CountySonoma County is a dining paradise. It's not only a premium winegrowing region, but also a prime diverse agricultural region, with artisan cheese makers, an array of small farmers and locally raised meats. The county's restaurants feature the bounty of the region with fresh, local and often organic offerings. Sonoma lamb, salmon from Bodega Bay, and Petaluma duck appear on many restaurant menus, while dessert might feature succulent in-season peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce. For elegant upscale dining, restaurants such as Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, rival any in the country. Casual yet refined independent restaurants abound, with gems such as Zin, Ravenous, Manzanita, Ralph's Bistro and Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar within walking distance of Healdsburg's town square. Sonoma offers Deuce, The Girl & the Fig, The General's Daughter, Carneros Bistro, and La Sallette, among many others, while prime Santa Rosa offerings include Zazu, Syrah and Willi's Wine Bar.

 

For a list of Sonoma County farmers' markets, visit www.sonoma-county.org/agcomm/farmers_mkts.htm.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article, which also runs in the chefs and restaurants section of Taste California Travel.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options near locations mentioned above can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory .

 

The popularity of California wine, fresh produce and regional cuisine continues to expand worldwide. For travelers to the state, one of the best ways to discover what's new in fresh seasonal cooking and dining is to visit California's wine country. Local restaurants focus on pairing regional wines with natural, farm-grown ingredients, often sourced from community farmers' markets. These markets reflect the abundance of produce available in the state, as California is America's top agricultural state, producing 400 plant and animal commodities.

There are more than 400 certified farmers' markets throughout California, many of them in the state's wine regions. A complete listing is available at http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com. Mirroring the growth in California wineries, California farmers' markets have continued to rise in popularity over the past three decades. Professional chefs shop alongside domestic consumers, looking for field-ripened fruits and vegetables, fragrant flowers, fresh fish, artisan breads and pastries, plus delicacies such as local olive oils and cheeses. Beginning in 2000, California wine can now be sold at qualified California Certified Farmers' Markets.

Restaurants and consumers alike are aware that more flavorful dishes can be created with heirloom vegetables and products, grown, raised or harvested with the same care that is put into their preparation. Food from local sources also travels from the farm to the plate in a timely manner. The freshness of the ingredients becomes part of the feature of the dish and supports the sustainable concept of "green dining" in that less fossil fuel is used to transport products from the farm to the kitchen.

Illustrating the allure of California's wine country and cuisine, six regional winery associations highlight popular restaurants and farmers' markets to visit within their locales. These attractions traverse California's wine and agricultural regions, from Central California's Paso Robles, north to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and beyond San Francisco to Lodi, Mendocino and Sonoma County.

LodiPhillips Farms bakeryPhillips Farms serves home-baked pies.Located within the Delta area east of San Francisco, Lodi has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. From wine and cherries to nuts and asparagus, Lodi is part of the San Joaquin Valley, the garden basket of California.

The 18-week Thursday night farmers' market hosted in downtown Lodi is not just for residents. Visitors and locals alike find locally grown, fresh produce, fruits, flowers and herbs at the Lodi farmers' market. School Street Bistro is known for being a local vintner hotspot. Winemakers catch up with friends and relatives over a glass of wine before heading to the market to pick up their supply of produce.

The chef at Wine & Roses Restaurant on the property of the historic Wine & Roses Inn prepares fresh seasonal cuisine highlighting the abundant agriculture of the Lodi region.

Another legend in Lodi, celebrating more than 50 years of producing seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, is Phillips Farm; a staple for quality locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many first-time visitors are drawn to the farm stand for the café or the wine but return time and time again for the pie, made fresh in the café from fruit grown on the farm!

Mendocino CountyMendocino County is rooted in agriculture. Since the 1850s, the region has developed a personality influenced by the values of independent family farmers, their respect for the land and dedication to quality. Many families have lived for two or more generations on their land. These legacy farmers deeply appreciate the connection between man and earth. Mendocino County is also at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Demeter certified Biodynamic, and Fish Friendly Farming movements.

This off-the-beaten path wine region offers many opportunities for adventure and discovery along with culinary delights such as local grass-fed meats, local grains, a coastal fishing community in Fort Bragg, apple and pear farms, plus artisan cheese, honey, bread, salt, and olive oil producers. Friendly, rural charm abounds with winemakers and chefs who are more than happy to stop, relax and chat. For elegant, upscale dining look to Patrona in Ukiah, Table 128 at the Boonville Hotel, Café Beaujolais, MacCallum House and 955 Ukiah in the storybook town of Mendocino and many diversions along the coast such as the all vegetarian The Ravens at the Stanford Inn, The Little River Inn, Stevenswood and farm-to-table dinners at the Glendeven Inn. Look for casual, local-food inspired dining at Ukiah's OCO Time sushi, Mendo Bistro and Piaci Pizza and Pub in Fort Bragg and the Purple Thistle in Willits. If you find yourself in Point Arena, at the southern coastal end, do not miss pastries at the French-inspired Franny's Cup and Saucer.

Mendocino County also hosts nine farmers' markets. For a complete list, visit www.mcfarm.org.

Monterey CountyFrom five-star restaurants to award-winning wines, Monterey County is a gourmet food lovers' paradise. Endowed with the seafood bounty of the Monterey Bay, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Salinas Valley, and the fine wines that flow from vineyards throughout the region, local chefs craft culinary masterpieces not easily forgotten. Wine-themed nights occur at several restaurants throughout the county. Tarpy's Roadhouse celebrates "Wine-Down Wednesdays," Montrio hosts Half-Price wine nights each Sunday, and the Rio Grill adds a $5 glass of a nightly wine feature onto the meal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Sardine Factory's wine list, featuring over 30,000 bottles, has received ongoing recognition and shouldn't be missed. Christopher's Restaurant in Carmel is a must-stop for anyone wanting to explore Monterey County wines.

Fresh agriculture products and other gems of the area can be found at numerous farmers' markets conducted weekly throughout the county. Old Monterey Marketplace is the home each Tuesday afternoon for a Certified Farmer's Market and the Monterey Peninsula College's lower parking lot also boasts fresh produce and flowers each Thursday afternoon. A weekend market that features 60 vendors is available in Salinas every Saturday from June through mid-November.

Paso RoblesA trip to Paso Robles Wine Country would not be complete without tasting the culinary expertise in the region, where the best of California cuisine is paired with local Paso Robles wines. Bistro Laurent, Paris Dining with Andre and Panolivo restaurants feature a French influence in their menu offerings. California and Mediterranean inspired cuisine distinguishes Villa Creek, Matthews at the Airport, McPhees and Odyssey World Café. For those who love Italian-inspired foods, there is Buona Tavola. Deborah's Dining Room at Justin Winery is open nightly.

Paso Robles chefs are dedicated to using local, fresh ingredients and source many items at farmer's markets or from local, organic farms. Some chefs even use by-products from the vineyards and wineries to create marinades and smoked meats. From the vineyards to wineries and into the kitchens, Paso Robles is focused on sustainable programs to bring fresh, local foods and wines to residents and guests of this thriving community.

A Certified Farmers' Markets in the Paso Robles downtown city park fosters this rural connection on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A small, 50-acre organic family farm east of Paso Robles, Windrose Farm hosts a farm stand that gives guests the chance to hand pick veggies and fruits.

Santa Cruz CountyIn the Santa Cruz Mountains, there is a marriage of high quality wine, local produce, farmers' markets and exceptional cuisine. The combination makes for an extraordinary culinary experience. Many restaurants in the Santa Cruz Mountains follow "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" as part of their wizardry. Several with this focus are Theo's, in Soquel; Michaels on Main, in Soquel; Manressa, in Los Gatos; and Sent Sovi in Saratoga. Michael's on Main incorporates organic produce from local farms into their menu and even their desserts!

Sent Sovi in Saratoga is another well-known supporter of the farming community. "We use as many local products as possible. I try to source as much as I can from within 100 miles or so of the restaurant. There is a farmer in Sonoma who sends me ducks by UPS. Another just grows tomatoes during the summer. I want to bring that quality and passion to the table, along with a focus on local and smaller wineries. They go hand in hand," said owner Josiah Sloan. Manressa Restaurant focuses on locally grown products, and finds a nice fit pairing them with regional wines. "Some of the finest wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains grace the tables at Manresa," says chef David Kinch. "We are fortunate to have such a vital winegrowing region right in our own backyard." Growers offer their products at Certified Farmer's Markets in the town of Santa Cruz and nearby in Aptos, Felton and Watsonville on almost every day of the week. The central market in downtown Santa Cruz, at Lincoln and Cedar Streets, is held every Wednesday.

Sonoma CountySonoma County is a dining paradise. It's not only a premium winegrowing region, but also a prime diverse agricultural region, with artisan cheese makers, an array of small farmers and locally raised meats. The county's restaurants feature the bounty of the region with fresh, local and often organic offerings. Sonoma lamb, salmon from Bodega Bay, and Petaluma duck appear on many restaurant menus, while dessert might feature succulent in-season peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce. For elegant upscale dining, restaurants such as Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, rival any in the country. Casual yet refined independent restaurants abound, with gems such as Zin, Ravenous, Manzanita, Ralph's Bistro and Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar within walking distance of Healdsburg's town square. Sonoma offers Deuce, The Girl & the Fig, The General's Daughter, Carneros Bistro, and La Sallette, among many others, while prime Santa Rosa offerings include Zazu, Syrah and Willi's Wine Bar.

For a list of Sonoma County farmers' markets, visit www.sonoma-county.org/agcomm/farmers_mkts.htm.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article which also appears in the Home Cooking section of Taste California Travel.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options nearby to places mentioned above can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

Each year, tourists visit wine regions throughout California to explore the state's 3,000 wineries and the diverse array of cultural attractions. From gardens, art museums, great seasonal cuisine and artisan foods to natural hot springs, spa treatments, beaches, redwood groves, golf, and boutique shopping, California wine country offers travelers many diversions between visiting the wineries.

With so much to choose from, some of the state's regional winery associations have shared their "insider" tips for having great experiences while touring their wine regions. The following are recommendations for three ideal days in Amador County, Lodi, Monterey County, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Cruz County and Sonoma County from these travel and hospitality experts.

Amador County

Nestled in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, two hours from San Francisco, Amador County boasts 37 small family wineries, some of California's finest old-vine Zinfandels, gorgeous scenery and many captivating Gold Rush-era attractions.

Begin your tour in Jackson visiting the wonderful Amador County Museum, which boasts a treasure trove of memorabilia from the Gold Rush days. Then, head east to Pine Grove to visit Indian Rock Grinding State Park, located in a small valley 2,400 feet above sea level. From Pine Grove, travel northeast to the charming Gold Rush town of Volcano for dinner and a night's stay at the historic St. George Hotel. On your second day, explore the Black Chasm Caverns in Volcano and then head west to Sutter Creek to savor its quaint Main Street shops and Gold Rush-era buildings. Enjoy a casual lunch and local wines at Susan's Wine Bar, then visit Sutter Ridge Vineyards to taste one of California's few Tempranillos. Thrill-seekers should be sure to book a tour of the Sutter Gold Mine. From Sutter Creek, head north to Plymouth, gateway to the wineries of the Shenandoah Valley. Join the locals for some delicious ribs and Zinfandels at Incahoots, than bed down at the nearby Plymouth House Inn.

On your third day, buy a snack at the gourmet Amador Vintage Market in Plymouth before setting off for the gorgeous scenery and charming wineries of the Shenandoah Valley. Be sure to stop at Montevina, one of California's venerable producers of classic old-vine Zinfandel, and Shenandoah Vineyards, a producer of an array of top-value Amador wines. Also check out Avio, a new winery specializing in Italian varietals, and Dobra Zemjla, a quintessential Amador producer of "Big Reds." For more touring information, visit Amador Vintner's Association.

LodiSchool Street Bistro  SMALL JPG 575 431 0 80 1 50 50Lodi's School Street Bistro

Lodi Wine Country is a hidden jewel in California wine country. Begin your journey in downtown Lodi Stroll past boutique and antique shops as you make your way to School Street Bistro, owned by local winemaker, David Akiyoshi and wife Trisha. Later you can check in at the beautiful, Tuscan-inspired Wine & Roses.

Just a short walk from your room at Wine & Roses is the interactive Lodi Wine & Visitor Center where you can walk through the demonstration vineyard, learn about winegrape growing and winemaking, find out more about a number of local wineries and everyone's favorite part—taste a selection of over 200 Lodi wines. See Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission for more visitor information.

Spend the next day tasting wine in Lodi Wine Country, making sure to stop at Jessie's Grove Winery, a historic farm property highlighting the history of Lodi. Then head to Phillips Farms so you can experience the Michael-David Winery and grab a snack at the farm fresh café. Next, stop by Chocoholic's Chocolate Factory in Clements to practice chocolate making first-hand with self-guided tours and chocolate tasting in their gift shop. Be sure to also check out the thousands of acres of nature preserves surrounding Lodi. A paradise to avid birders and nature lovers, the river-rich basin and marshes are home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. The Cosumnes River Preserve is a favorite among visitors and offers year-round hiking trails and an educational visitor center. During the winter months, the Sandhill Crane come to nest, offering individuals an opportunity to view this magnificent bird. Lodi celebrates the arrival of the crane each November with the Sandhill Crane Festival featuring nature-related educational classes, bus tours and entertainment.

Monterey County

Each winegrowing area within Monterey County's 40,000 acres of grapes offers unique wine tasting experiences. Start your first day with the convenient tasting venues throughout the popular vacation areas of Monterey and Carmel-by-the Sea. From there, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which Zagat Survey rated as the nation's top aquarium and the third best attraction in the U.S. Next, get ready for some excitement with kayaking or whale watching. End your day with fabulous cuisine at one of the restaurants near Cannery Row while watching a beautiful Monterey Bay sunset.

On your second day, visit the intimate tasting rooms in the Carmel Valley Village. Spiritual seekers will find inspiration at Esalen in Big Sur, or by walking the labyrinth near the mouth of Carmel Valley. Mid-afternoon, go tide pooling along the rocky shore, ride horseback over open meadows, or hike in one of the many nature preserves. Explore Monterey County's ninety-nine miles of Pacific coastline and the world-famous 17 Mile Drive. Then, treat yourself to one of the many pampering packages at one of the world-class spas, such as Pebble Beach or Quail Lodge. Finally, golf at one of these resorts or one of over 10 other wonderful golf courses in the area.

Head over into the Salinas Valley on the third day. First, speed enthusiasts will want to take in a race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Then literature buffs can visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas to experience a journey through John Steinbeck's world, experiencing Steinbeck's works and philosophy through interactive, multi-sensory exhibits for all ages and backgrounds, priceless artifacts, entertaining displays, educational programs, and research archives. Wrap up the afternoon with a tour along River Road and visit one of the many new tasting rooms that have recently opened. End the evening by staying at The Inn at the Pinnacles, located adjacent to the Chalone Winery. Check in your bags at The Inn and then hike through the Pinnacles Monument. End your evening by listening to the coyotes and eating a gourmet meal at this exclusive inn. For more information on Monterey, visit The Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association.

Napa ValleyDomaine Chandon oysters SMALLTreat yourself to oysters on the patio at Domaine Chandon.

Napa Valley is a renowned world class winegrowing region that was the first recognized AmericanViticultural Area (AVA) among California's 107 AVAs. Though most known for full-bodied, signature Cabernet Sauvignons, the 400 wineries in the Napa Valley produce a range of wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot among others.

Start your tour visiting a winery off the beaten path, such as the Hess Collection on Mt. Veeder where within its three-story winery houses a renowned collection of modern art. Have lunch at Domaine Chandon's restaurant with sparkling wines from this well-known winery in Yountville. On Highway 29, visit the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville for an educational tour. Unwind overnight at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort, site of the annual Auction Napa Valley, or one of the many bed and breakfast inns dotting the valley.

Day two begins with exploring wineries along or near the Silverado Trail, such as Groth, Duckhorn, Clos du Val, Stag's Leap Winery, Rudd or Miner Family Vineyards. Make a reservation to do a wine blending seminar at Conn Creek Winery. Enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch on the lawn at V. Sattui Winery's delicatessen, then take a break from wine tasting and visit the charming town of St. Helena for some shopping. Dean and De Luca is a purveyor of wine country eats and accessories and there are several unique antique stores and boutiques.

Begin day three with a visit to the historic Rhine House of Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena. Next, take a tram ride up to Sterling Vineyards' hilltop winery and take in the view of Napa Valley on their patio. Travel to nearby Calistoga to shop or visit one of the several historic spas for a mud bath, massage or natural hot springs soak. End this day with a cooking class and dinner at the Culinary Institute of America. For more information, visit Napa Valley Vintners.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles Wine Country is centrally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California's Central Coast. The region is home to 180 wineries and more than 29,000 vineyard acres, making it the state's third largest wine region. More than 40 wine varieties are grown and produced here. From Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel to Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, you can find a wide selection of wines.

Begin your stay by exploring the wineries as well as the thriving community. Between winery visits, take a stroll through the downtown City Park, outlined with boutique shopping, olive oil tasting, and several fine dining restaurants.

On the second day, take a quick 30-minute trip to the coast; just 30 minutes puts you on the sandy beaches where you might spot elephant seals. Next, tour the majestic Hearst Castle San Simeon State Historical Monument. Choose between five tours, ranging from the basic "Experience Tour" to the upper floors and gardens to a special tour at night. Tour reservations are required to guarantee the tour, date, and time desired.

On your third day, check out the WineYard at Steinbeck Vineyards, where you can discover Paso Robles Wine Country aboard a vintage jeep. The winegrape growers lead this excursion through the vineyards and talk about planting a vineyard and the growing season. More wine touring information is at Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Santa Cruz County

With easy access to the San Francisco and San Jose airports, the Santa Cruz Mountain tasting rooms in Saratoga and Los Gatos are a good place to start your tour. Also, stop by nearby historic Cooper-Garrod Vineyards, Savannah Chanelle, and Testarossa. Hakone Gardens, an 18-acre Japanese-style garden and koi pond, is along the way, and one can enjoy a concert at Montalvo Arts Center and dine at Sent Sovi before a comfortable overnight stay at Saratoga Inn.

Day two takes you up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Putter along Bear Creek Road, enjoying David Bruce Winery and the Chateau at Byington. Cross over Highway 17 to explore Summit Road and a tasting at Burrell School. Next, pick up lunch supplies at the Summit Store before venturing over the other side to Soquel. Enjoy dinner at charming Cafe Sparrow in Aptos near the coast, before cozying up in the quaint Historic Sand Rock Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Start your third day with a walk on the beach prior to the tasting room and gallery at Bargetto Winery. Plan on lunch at Aldo's on the Santa Cruz Wharf and then head to Storrs Winery to sample more wines. Next, spend some time sipping the sparkling wines at Equinox. Finish your day on the Santa Cruz Wharf with a visit to see the sea lions and do wine tasting with Beauregard Vineyards. Touring information is at Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County's world famous and diverse wines would make this premium winegrowing region an unbeatable destination in itself, but it also offers weeks worth of amazing visitor experiences that have nothing to do with wine—a rare combination.

Begin one day in the Russian River Valley tasting the area's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. End up in the picturesque town of Healdsburg, where you can enjoy boutique shopping and a leisurely lunch in the town square. Spend the afternoon out at the coast, stopping along the way in Dry Creek Valley to sample Zinfandel. At Bodega Bay, walk along the beach, go whale watching, or just enjoy the view. End the day with a fresh seafood dinner and an ocean sunset. Stay in one of the area's many bed and breakfast inns or drive back to Healdsburg for a laid-back luxury hotel experience.

Day two, enjoy wonderful hiking in Jack London State Park and view the museum dedicated to the writer, before experiencing yet another distinctive wine area, Sonoma Valley, known for its Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tour vineyards, vibrant gardens and buzzing wildlife sanctuaries at Benziger Vineyards, which offers visitors a 45-minute adventure in winegrowing via a tractor tram tour of their estate in Glen Ellen. Then head to historic downtown Sonoma for shopping and restaurants. Unwind at one of the region's numerous spas before spending the night in Sonoma.

Get up early on your third day to go hot-air ballooning, or have a more leisurely morning browsing a local farmer's market. Pick up some picnic supplies and head out to a winery in picturesque Alexander Valley for an idyllic wine-country lunch. In the afternoon, enjoy one of Sonoma's more than 20 golf courses, or rent a bike and travel down the region's back roads.

Maps of Sonoma County wineries can be found at Sonoma Country Vintners. The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau is a great source for lodging and restaurant information at Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.

 

(Wine Institute contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options in wine country, as well as the websites of the wineries themselves, can be found in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

Saturday, 26 May 2012 16:28

Champions of California Wine

California winemakers have ridden the wine wave of the past 30 years to achieve a degree of visibility and renown within the industry and beyond. As the number of commercial bricks and mortar California wineries has grown from about 850 in 1998 to over 3000 in 2012, winemakers have taken the center stage, much like football quarterbacks. Whether they were born into a winemaking family, or became a winemaker through sheer will, or even by chance, winemakers have earned their title through hard work and a devotion to the grape. The job requires a strong sense of self-confidence along with an ability to make quick decisions and take risks.

There are countless paths to becoming a winemaker. Some go to college from winemaking families, as they want to continue their heritage. Others have a love of wine and decide to be winemakers, sometimes after having started careers in other fields. Many have a creative bent and are looking for an appropriate outlet. Whatever the motivation, a successful winemaker must have scientific aptitude coupled with strong intuitive and sensory abilities.

 Mondavi 320px-UC Davis Mondavi CenterWine industry's legacy at UC Davis includes the Mondavi Arts Cent

Winemaker Education and Training

California winemakers have usually completed a four-year degree program, such as the ones at the University of California at Davis; California State University, Fresno; and California Polytechnic State University. The UC Davis and Fresno programs, for instance, graduate 20-25 students annually with a Bachelor of Science degree in viticulture and enology. A handful of students, who usually have an undergraduate science degree, receive a Masters degree in viticulture and enology each year. The curriculums are rigorous with courses in viticulture, pests and diseases, plant physiology, enology, microbiology, fining and others. The new Cal-Polytechnic program is also similar, but includes wine business courses in the curriculum.

College provides the technical information about the process of winemaking, but experience is the great teacher. After graduation, future winemakers may start out in the winery lab or as an assistant winemaker. If they are fortunate, they will have a mentor, allowing the art of winemaking to be passed down from generation to generation, from expert to novice.

Harvest – the Crucible of Winemaking

Winemakers love the challenge of harvest. It is the time of year when their knowledge and actions impact an entire vintage of wine. They usually work seven days a week for two to three months, as they need to be in constant communication with their growers and cellar staff. Harvest is a time of uncertainty and dealing with the unknown, whether it is equipment malfunction or heat spikes in the weather that turns the process into a frantic race to get the grapes off the vines. Adrenalin, as well as mental passion and skill, help winemakers cope with the daily dance of harvest.

The decision of when to pick is a winemaker's responsibility. Judging at what point the grapes will produce the most flavorful and balanced wine is critical. Winemakers walk the vine-yards; they sample the fruit and rely on both their sensory instincts and lab analyses to determine ripeness. They also need to be practical regarding the logistical constraints of harvest, as to how many tons of grapes can be picked in a day, how many tanks are available and how much their cellar crew can handle.

During the last 20 years, the emphasis in California winemaking has shifted to the vineyards. A winemaker's depth of knowledge regarding the vineyards that produce the fruit for his or her wines is perhaps the most important aspect of the job. Whether working for a large winery that contracts with multiple growers or on a small vineyard estate, the winemaker needs to have enough experience and awareness to make decisions about the ripeness, flavors, acidity and condition of the grapes. Each vintage is different, and winemakers need to use their training and intuitive skills to work with every season. A winemaker's relationship with growers or vineyard managers is usually one of close cooperation and communication. Many are long-term relationships built on trust and a shared vision of how to achieve certain parameters for making the finest wine possible from a given vineyard site.

Tasting and Blending – the Artistic Aspect of Winemaking

Tasting is an important facet of winemaking, from the beginning when the juice is in the fermenter to the final blend before bottling. Winemakers learn the technical aspects of tasting at school. However, it is through experience where they gain the ability to affect the taste of their wines through a myriad of daily winemaking decisions. These choices range from determining types of yeast to managing fermentation temperatures and times. Some winemakers taste alone. Oftentimes, there is a winemaking team that tastes together, and it is important to develop a common vocabulary so that everyone agrees on the basic tastes – astringent, bitter and sweet – as well as more complex descriptors.

Blending is another tool in the artistic palette of a winemaker. Each vineyard lot is usually kept separate, and yeast, fermentation and oak treatments can vary, depending on the winemaker's intention. Often a winemaker will have 20-30 lots of a wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, that come from different vineyards with various vine maturity, aged in different types of oak, or differ in color from light to opaque with varying degrees of alcohol. It is up to the winemaker to decide how to blend this array of wines to create the final product that will be bottled.

The Business Side of Winemaking

Winemakers are also responsible for budgets, purchasing winemaking equipment, managing inventory, and many other managerial responsibilities depending on the size of the winery. More and more, winemakers spend time traveling to different cities, meeting with media and trade to help promote and market their wines. These Renaissance men and women are leaders and innovators in the California wine industry. Their endeavors have been central in helping California wines enjoy a reputation for high quality and, often, for greatness.

Special thanks to the following experts for providing interviews for this article: MaryAnn Graf, consultant, Vinquiry; Fred Peterson, owner and winegrower, Peterson Winery; and Karl Wente, vice president viticulture and winemaking, Wente Vineyards.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of nearly all of California's wineries, as well as links to thousands of nearby lodging and dining options, can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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