Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend – a sold-out success

The Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend, held this past weekend April 28-29, was another sold out success drawing visitors from California, the U.S. and the world to share in the hospitality of the Dry Creek Valley winemakers.  This Passport is one of the best with winemakers going all out to welcome visitors with great food, entertainment, barrel tasting and fun.

Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves definitely set the standard with a “Once upon a vine…” theme.  Fairies in the courtyard entertained while visitors to this enchanted land sample the new 2011 Ten Acre Rose of Pinot Noir and the 2008 Ten Acre Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.  After you fill your glass with the 2010 Maple Vineyards Zinfandel you will enter the cool wine caves checking out the wicked stepmother before encountering a harpist playing enchanting tunes echoing through the caves as you spot the giant’s huge storybook.  Stroll down to the mad hatter’s tea party while sampling the 2009 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel.  Bella Winery really knows how to get with the program with great wines and great entertainment.

West Wines just opened their new tasting room this year and it was their first time in Passport.  Here you were taken back to the 70’s with tie-died t-shirts, long hair and bellbottoms while listening to 70’s pop songs from The City Lights.  The friendly owners, winemaker and staff were there to welcome you with their delicious 2009 Viognier, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and Chardonnay.

Dry Creek Vineyard gave an “Ahoy Matey!” as you sailed off to an adventure of fine wine and food while listening to The Seadogs singing a variety of Sea Shanties.  They paired up the 2011 Dry Chenin Blanc with a tangy shrimp cocktail, the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc with clam chowder and their 2007 Soleil with a delicious vanilla mango pudding.

Over 50 wineries were participating in this largest Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend ever.  This is a great wine country with many small boutique wineries tucked in the surrounding hillsides and along the valley.  A few of these wineries are only open by appointment only except during Passport Weekend.  One visitor stated that she came to Passport Weekend ever year for the past five years and it is definitely one she and her friends will not miss.  The winemakers were there at every winery to welcome the visitors and share their wine and hospitality.

For more information:  Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley

Bonterra Vineyards at California Café’s 5-Bites Friday in Palo Alto

California Café’s 5-Bites Friday in April brought in wines from Bonterra Vineyards, a winery based in Mendocino County.  Bonterra has a philosophy of growing grapes that match the location utilizing an organic and sustainable style.  In fact Bonterra was the first winery in California to commit to organic and sustainable winegrowing on their 378 acres of steep hills and rolling valleys in mountainous Mendocino County.  5 Bite Friday at California Café is a great way to experience the effect of food and wine pairing.  The chefs at California Café are very experienced in delivering great results matching the food with the wine.

At 5 Bite Friday they started the evening with a delicious fruit and cheese platter.  The first bite was a house cured salmon dish. This delicious dish was served with the Bonterra 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Lake and Mendocino Counties.  The wine delivered a lemon/lime zest flavor mixed with grapefruit, grass and tropical qualities.  The result was a delightful pairing with the acidity of the food balancing out with the wine, providing a long round finish.

Next up, the second bite for the night was a twice baked soufflé with a “cowgirl creamery” red hawk cheese.  It was paired with the Bonterra 2008 Roussanne from Mendocino County. This wine had a small amount of Viognier, Muscat and Marsanne in it. The Roussanne had a great floral quality followed up with a taste of Granny Smith apple, pear, honeysuckle and a certain waxiness coating.  Paired with the soufflé the brighter acid and fruit of the wine came through and the waxiness was cut delivering a brighter flavor and longer finish.

Third bite of the night was a smoked pork belly with an herbed cranberry wild rice and berry-chipotle sauce.  Bonterra brought their 2009 Mendocino County Merlot.  The Merlot was loaded with lots of black and red cherry flavors including raspberry and cranberry along with cinnamon, clove and vanilla.  It had a bit of earthiness to it plus a good toasted bread aroma and flavor. This was a wonderful pairing in which the food brightened up the fruit of the wine and cut down on the toastiness to deliver a well-balanced result.
Moving on to the fourth bite we found boar ribs with a vanilla scented BBQ sauce and crispy onion rings.  It was paired with Bonterra’s 2010 Pinot Noir from Mendocino County.  The wine had a very nice intense nose followed up with flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  It had a hint of cola and vanilla plus a long finish.  The ribs gave the wine a great kick in flavor and it continued to improve with each bite of the food resulting in the wine enveloping you in a warmth of flavor and spice.

We finished up the night with a fifth bite of poached Bosc pear in a honey mascarpone matched with the Bonterra 2010 Muscat from Bartolucci Vineyard in Lake County.  The Muscat has the aromas of almond, honey and orange blossom, combined with flavors of mandarin orange, lemon tart and honeysuckle.  The softness of the acid compliments the wine excellently with the mascarpone cutting through the acidity.

The night was a delight and congratulations to Sous Chef Madison Montoto for putting together a great food and wine pairing event.  Be sure to visit California Café for the next 5 Bite Friday on May 4 at 6:30 p.m. when they are putting together another great pairing with Castoro Cellars.  Cost is only $25 per person for a wonderful culinary event.

For more information:

Livermore Valley Wine Country unveils Drought Resistant Garden Trail

Just in time for Earth Day, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association celebrated the opening of the Drought Resistant Garden Trail with a sign installation and toast at Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery on April 12. Developed in cooperation with the Alameda County Master Gardeners, the initial phase of the new trail includes the first of many local winery and event center gardens to feature native, drought resistant plantings. Trail maps will soon be available at www.LVwine.org and at each of the following garden trail locations in Livermore Valley:
  • Cedar Mountain Winery (7000 Tesla Road): A wide perennial garden flanks both sides of the barrel room. The garden is filled with roses; especially captivating is the climbing rose Altissimo. Hardy penstemon and sages also fill the beds.
  • Concannon Vineyard (4590 Tesla Road): Playful topiary is the obvious theme of these gardens, where even mature Fruitless Mulberry trees are trained into arches and orbs. Drought resistant New Zealand flaxes, purple hopseed and daylilies are scattered among the olive trees. Concannon was one of the first wineries in Livermore Valley to use roses as detectors of molds and mildew in the vineyard.
  • Las Positas Vineyards (1828 Wetmore Road): Many drought resistant grasses, including California fescue and Mexican feather grass are planted in this extensive landscape that also features Teucrium chamaedrtys (germander).
  • Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery (3053 Marina Avenue): Avid gardener and winery owner Nancy Rodrigue is challenged by lack of sun in her landscape that features many garden “rooms.”  With the advice of master gardeners, she has replaced ground covers with ceanothus and native deer grass. A border that runs along an outdoor seating area has been replanted with honey bush mahonia and various colored leafed heuchera that add color.
  • Wente Vineyards Estate Winery (5565 Tesla Road): A former parking lot is now planted with hardy trees, shrubs and perennials that welcome guests to picnic. Outside the winery, white oleander and olive trees under planted with rosemary, lavender and agastache repeat in drifts along Tesla Road. Coffeeberry and heleanthemum are highlights of a corner garden in this lush space that features native and drought resistant plants.
  • Martinelli Event Center (3575 Greenville Road): Property given to the Master Gardener Program by the county in 2000 now blooms as an example of beautiful landscaping in a dry summer garden. The University of California Alameda County Master Gardeners Livermore Demonstration Garden is divided into six areas: an oak garden, a flower garden, a dry creek bed garden, a garden that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, a wind garden and example of gardening on a berm.

Several other Livermore Valley wineries are actively working with the Master Gardener Shari Wentz to design and plant drought resistant gardens that will be included in future phases of the wine country trail.
“Although the program is still in the beginning stages, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association and Alameda County Master Gardeners are excited about this cooperative effort and its potential,” said Wentz.

All of the gardens on the Drought Resistant Garden Trail are open to the public and the Master Gardeners Livermore Demonstration Garden hosts monthly classes. The Master Gardener program is part of Cooperative Extension, the outreach arm of the University of California through its Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who provide residents of Alameda County with information to help them garden in schools, backyards, nursing homes and other locations. Visit http://acmg.ucdavis.edu/Demonstration_Gardens/ for more information.

Inspired by Earth Day on April 22, wineries around the state of California are celebrating ”Down to0 Earth Month” with hands-on workshops, eco-tours, green-themed events, special offers and tastings of eco-friendly wines. Explore “Down to Earth” events at www.discovercaliforniawines.com/d2e and plan a visit just as California vineyards are coming alive with spring.

For more information:  Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association

All aboard the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Express – May 20

The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association is hosting the Wine Express on May 20, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. This event combines two of the top attractions of Santa Cruz, the great wines from wineries spread through the mountains and Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton.

This is the only opportunity to taste all 70 Santa Cruz Mountains in one location. Guests will have the chance to ride the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Express along this historic railroad.   Start your day sampling the offerings of wineries from your own local appellation; picnic in the sun; play family games; or just relax and enjoy the live music. Board the train for a trip through the redwoods- a full service ride that includes wine tasting and another round of gourmet treats, plus the breathtaking scenery of both forest and coastline.

Tickets are $55 in advance and $65 at the door and $20 for children under 12 years old.  For reservations or for more information contact the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association at (831) 685-VINE (8463) or send us an e-mail at info@scmwa.com

More information and tickets are available at the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers website.

Santa Lucia Highlands – the wine jewel of Monterey County

Santa Lucia Highlands is truly a special place for winegrowing, particularly Burgundian varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  This premier cool-climate winegrowing district has over fifty of the most famous premier Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards are located here.  Almost 80% of the vineyards here are dedicated to these two Burgundian varietals, with many Rhone varietals occupying much of the rest.  On April 3 the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans came together at Mission Ranch Resort in Carmel to share some of the great wines from this region with members of the wine trade.  I know, a tough job, but someone had to go taste these wines.

Twenty-four wineries were present at this event showing off some of their most recent releases.   A few of the wines reviewed here come from estate vineyards that primary produce high quality grapes for other wineries, but have also decided to produce some of their own excellent wines.
Boekenoogen Vineyard and Winery is a family owned and operated vineyard established in 1998 when John Boekenoogen transformed his cattle ranch into a vineyard, producing outstanding grapes that many local winemakers used to produce fine wines.  A few years later they opened a small boutique winery to produce about 5000 cases of their own wines.  At this event they brought along their 2009 Chardonnay.  

This wine is a lush wine with subtle green apple aromas leading on to flavors of apple, honeydew melon, and pineapple.  The bright acidity and fruit coupled with a mineral quality leads on to a long pleasant finish. 

The Boekenoogen 2009 Pinot Noir has a beautiful deep red color with cherry, raspberry and cranberry on the nose and the palate, followed by an abundance of spices including cinnamon and pepper with vanilla flavors.

McIntyre Vineyards is proud of their certified sustainable vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands. Steve McIntyre was farming in a responsible, sustainable manner long before such practices became vogue.  Much of the grapes are also classified as organic or biodynamic also.   McIntyre Vineyards helped set the standards for sustainable farming in the area.  They brought the only Sparkling wine to the event, their L’Homme Qui Ris, Monterey’s first Methode Chamenoise style sparkling using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir estate grown fruit. 

The McIntyre 2010 Chardonnay, both the “Estate” wine and their special hand-selected “Block K1” wine.  The Chardonnaay Estate wine has a delightful complexity of apple, nectarine and lime flavors with nice minerality brightness on the palate.  The Block K1 Chardonnay kicks this up a notch with an intense nose and a silkiness mouthfeel that delivers a wonderful toast and vanilla quality.  This wine gets better with each taste.  

The 2010 Estate Pinot Noir from McIntyre has a strong fruit quality of red and black cherry, cranberry and a touch of plum.   Again, the 2010 Estate Block 3 Pinot Noir is in a higher class showing off what Santa Lucia Highlands wines can be with a very intense nose of red and dark fruit, toasted oak and savory spices.  As you taste this wine you will love its complexity of various fruits and a blend of spices resulting in a balanced but complex wine with a perfect blend of tannins, fruit and spices.

For more information: