Starting the Year with Sonoma County Wines: Favorites from the 2015 Winter WINEland

Winter WINEland at Kendall Jackson Wine Estate

Winter WINEland at Kendall Jackson Wine Estate

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of attending the Wine Road’s celebration to kick off 2015, the two-day Winter WINEland wine and food event covering the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander Valleys in Sonoma County.   We didn’t make it to all of the participating wineries (please – there were 140 of them) but we were impressed by many wines at the places we did make it to.

Skewis Wines

Skewis Wines

So, if you are heading to a wine store, a restaurant, or planning a wine tasting trip to northern Sonoma County, these are the wines (and wineries) we strongly suggest you check out. We were lucky in our travels because we were able to taste two of the wines listed in the Top 100 Wines of 2014 of the West Coast, assembled by Jon Bonné, San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Editor: the 2012 Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Chardonnay and the 2012 Skewis Wines Lingenfelder Vineyard Pinot Noir.

On January 17 and 18 we found plenty of white wines to recommend and a whole lot of red wines as well. However, we hit the jackpot at several wineries where not only did we enjoy the wines, but we found delicious food paired with the wines accompanied by charming hospitality.   These were our favorite combination experiences that weekend:
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2015 World of Pinot Noir: Crystal Clear Reasons to Go

World of Pinot Noir LogoThe first weekend in March, Pinot Noir producers and lovers from around the world will converge at the 2015 World of Pinot Noir Festival on the gorgeous California coast in Santa Barbara.  The 15th Annual World of Pinot Noir takes place on Friday, March 6th and Saturday, March 7th at Bacara Resort & Spa and this year’s Crystal Anniversary event comes with multiple in-depth Tasting seminars and excursions, Grand Tastings, a Burgundy seminar and tasting, and gourmet lunches and dinners showcasing the local cuisine.

Two of our favorite parts of the World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) are its two separate Pinot Noir by the Sea Grand Tastings with about 100 different producers at each session. The Grand Tasting sessions take place between 3 and 6 pm each day (tickets are $110) or you can also purchase early access tickets allowing you to enter 30 minutes early (for an additional $25).  This is your chance to “get current” on the latest offerings from wineries from many appellations such as the Carneros Region, Russian River Valley, Santa Maria, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez, Sonoma Coast, and the Willamette Valley.

Soter Vineyards

Soter Vineyards

Some of the wineries we are most looking forward to enjoying at this year’s Grand Tastings are Alma Rosa Winery, Archery Summit, Au Bon Climat, Bouchaine Vineyards, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Kosta Browne Winery, Merry Edwards Winery, Sea Smoke, Soter Vineyards and Talley Vineyards.

On the international front, the WOPN Grand Tastings will also include Weingut Fred Loimer (Austria), 50th Parallel Estate (Canada), Kingston Family Vineyards (Chile) and Burn Cottage Vineyard (New Zealand) as well as representatives from Wine Australia and New Zealand Winegrowers.

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Attention Petite Sirah Groupies: The 2015 Dark & Delicious Event

What the Cake?

An adorable cake from What the Cake? at the 2014 Dark & Delicious

If you’re a red wine lover who enjoys food and wine events then you should know that the annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah™ event provides an amazing experience and it’s coming to the East Bay on February 20th. Over 40 premium Petite Sirah wineries join forces with Bay Area restaurants, caterers, and food purveyors to provide you a chance at plenty of fun, food, and wine in a convenient location (and with free parking, no less).

Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah™ is the preeminent Petite Sirah annual event, produced each year by PS I Love You, Inc. The festivities will take place on Friday, February 20, 2015 from 6 to 9 pm and it will be held once again at Rock Wall Wine Company (2301 Monarch Street, Suite 3D, Alameda). Part of the Mission of organizer PSILY is to emphasize the terroir uniqueness amongst Petite Sirah wines and the Dark & Delicious event helps deliver that with wines made from grapes grown all over California.

Tickets for the annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah™ are only available in advance and they are limited so you should really go here and buy them soon. The cost is $65 per person or $55 per person for groups of 6 or more.  In addition to a broad range of wine and food samples, the event also presents a Silent Auction so you can have fun bidding between tastes of incredible Petite Sirah.  Last year’s items included private tour and tasting activities, lodging and tasting packages, and bottles of wine ranging from 375 ml to 3 liters.

Gustafson Family Vineyards

Gustafson Family Vineyards

Some of the participating wineries at this year’s Dark & Delicious will be Ballentine Vineyards, Berryessa Gap Vineyards, Clayhouse Wines, Concannon Vineyard, The CrusherFenestra Winery, Field Stone Winery, Gustafson Family Vineyards, Miro Cellars, Ridge Vineyards, Robert Biale Vineyards, Rock Wall Wine Company, Trentadue Winery, and Tres Sabores.

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A Decade of Aromatic Whites: The 2015 International Alsace Varietals Festival

2015 International Alsace Varietals Festival Poster  The 10th annual International Alsace Varietals Festival is coming to Mendocino County next month, on February 7th and 8th offering a chance to celebrate varietals such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat.  This fun and unique event is brought to you by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association and whether you enjoy white wines more than red, or are just a fan of the Alsace varietals, you should seriously think about attending.

On February 7th there are three key events, with the first two happening at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in downtown Boonville (14400 Highway 128).  In the morning, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm, the 2015 International Alsace Varietals Festival has an Educational Session where you can listen to and interact with winemakers from around the world as they discuss the topics of grape growing, winemaking and food pairing specific to Alsace varietals (and a Continental Breakfast will be provided).

This year’s Session will include a discussion on the Appellation of Crus in Alsace, complimented by a tasting of the 8 Grand Crus produced by Domaines Schlumberger.  There will also be a lecture on how pressing and skin contact influence wine flavor, a Pinot Blanc tasting focusing on wines from three wineries using grapes grown in the same vineyard (Schrader Ranch), and a presentation on how to pair food with Gewürztraminer.  At the end of the Educational Session, there will be a Cooking Demonstration from Chef Francois de Melogue.

Balo Vineyards

Balo Vineyards

The second event that day is a Grand Tasting at the International Alsace Varietals Festival offering over 100 Alsace Varietal wines from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.  Over 30 wineries from around the world are participating, including Balo VineyardsBrooks Wines, Claiborne & ChurchillCutruzzola VineyardsElke Vineyards, FEL Wines, Foris Vineyards, Handley CellarsLula Cellars, Navarro Vineyards, Phillips Hill Winery, Philo Ridge VineyardsRobert Sinskey VineyardsSaintsbury and Tatomer Wines.

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Hail, Dungeness! The 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival

Dungeness Crab on PierCrab lovers rejoice, because it’s time for the 2015 Mendocino County Crab, Wine & Beer Festival, celebrating this year’s harvest.  This ten-day countywide celebration offers all-you-can-eat crab feeds, winery events, brewery tours, restaurant specials and crab fishing adventures (where you can even catch your own crab).

The 16th Annual Crab, Wine & Beer Festival takes place January 16-25, 2015, with an abundance of activities provided by restaurants, winemakers, breweries, fishermen and community organizations who are inviting you to join in the fun.  Many activities during the Festival also serve as fundraisers for worthwhile local organizations such as the Lions, Knights of Columbus, Rotary Clubs and a community health center.

Mendocino CrabsMendocino County, a rural county of striking natural beauty and friendly small towns, is just 90 miles north of San Francisco and 145 miles west of Sacramento.  It’s also home to 550 vineyards supplying grapes to over 90 wineries.  If you visit the County you can also enjoy local art exhibits, musical performances, and botanical gardens.  Or, you can get a little more active with nature trail hikes, horseback riding, canoe rentals, mountain bike rides, or kayaking classes. Then again, you can just go for it and embark on a crab fishing and whale watching adventure, where you can catch up to 10 crabs personally on trips arranged by All Aboard Adventures or Telstar Charters.

We’ll offer highlights of the Crab, Wine & Beer Festival below (including information about the awesome Crab Cake Cook-Off and Wine Tasting Competition on January 24) but you can also follow this link to the extensive Festival Brochure.

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2015 Winter Wineland: The Cold Never Bothered You Anyway

2015 Winter WINElandKick off your 2015 with a wonderful wine event in Sonoma County, the 2015 Winter WINEland. On January 17-18, the weekend offers about 140 wineries throughout Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley welcoming you with wine tasting, wine specials, and tasty bites. Running between 11 am and 4 pm each day, this is a chance to taste limited production wines, embark on winery tours, and seize opportunities to meet the actual winemakers.

Winter WINEland attendees can enjoy wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the weekend, although you will need to select which winery you are starting from when you order your tickets online.  Advance ticket prices are $45 per person for both days, or $35 for Sunday January 18 only (plus tax and a small service charge).  Designated Driver tickets are $5 for either one or both days. To purchase advance tickets before January 12 and/or to see the complete list of participating wineries, please go here.

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates

Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates

When you order online, your Confirmation Email serves as your “ticket” and it confirms your starting winery.  After checking in there, you are welcome to visit any and all of the wineries that are participating in the event throughout the weekend. If you miss the advance purchase window, you can still purchase tickets at participating wineries during the weekend but prices increase to $60 for both days, or $45 for Sunday only.  Designated Driver tickets will be $10 (for either one or both days) at that point.

The good news is that the 2015 Winter WINEland provides you about 140 Sonoma County wineries to choose from, and each one will have something on sale. The bad news is now you have to choose which ones to visit.   Keep reading, and we’ll try to help with that:

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Cabernets, Cookies, and Santa: 2014 Holiday Events in Napa Valley

Happy Holidays in Napa ValleyIt’s hard to get your hands around all of the holiday events in Napa Valley, so we thought we’d take a crack at it for you.  We’ve listed the 2014 holiday events below, in chronological order, to try and make things easier. This also helps clarify how many things are actually taking place on a very busy Saturday (December 6) across Napa Valley.

We’ve captured winery Holiday Open Houses that are free to the general public, appellation-based wine tasting events that aren’t as free, and a fancy black-tie-optional affair.  But, we’ve also identified many family-friendly and community-based activities in Napa Valley such as Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies, Parades, Trolley Rides, and a Gingerbread House Contest.  And, we’ve even included a few 5Ks in case you need to work off the calories from those cabernets and cookies.

This list of holiday events may not be exhaustive, but it is extensive, and we’ve tried to concentrate on free activities or those events with a holiday focus that benefit non-profits and other charities. Please let us know if you think we’ve missed something in the Napa Valley that should be on the list.

Napa on Ice LogoThe one activity that has already started and runs until January 11 is Napa on Ice which is open from noon to 10 pm Mon-Sat and noon to 8 pm Sun (but starting at 2 pm when school is in session).  Although this outdoor ice-skating rink may not be Rockefeller Square you can still glide along and practice your spins as you enjoy this popular (yet temporary) rink with 5,600 square feet of real ice. Special programming at the rink includes “Rock the Rink” on Friday nights, and occasional fundraisers (such as for Napa Food Bank, St. John’s Lutheran School and Napa High School). Cost is $12 (which includes skate rental)Corner of 2nd and Coombs Street, Napa
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