Tag Archive 'northern california'

IMG_0787In my line of work, I meet a lot of fun, attractive, smart wine lovers and Cortney Roudebush is one of them.  On our first date, she was my guest at a media event. She reciprocated by introducing me to one of her favorite intimate (and insider) food and wine haunts in San Francisco.

I could immediately tell that Cortney had an experienced palate and that she was Napa-savvy.  I knew she had started a blog and was working at a fine wine shop in upscale Tiburon.  What I didn’t know is that she is a novelist.  It’s almost irrelevant that Where I Want To Be is her first novel, the woman can write.

In a nutshell, it’s a story about a single woman who moves to Napa to attend wine school, becomes fast friends with three women (each with intriguing stories and personalities) and through trial and tribulation, she begins to find her true self and live her dream life.  I’ll tell you the best part of reading this novel is not that I know the places and recognize the personalities from which she draws her characters; this is just a darn fun book and I want more.  The good news is that the book is sub-titled, A Wine Country Series eBook, so there’s more to come.

I read ebooks constantly and enjoy being able to highlight my favorite lines and paragraphs. Let me share a few (with my commentary):

“A captivated audience of one, she is batting her eyelashes so fiercely I feel a breeze.” (This sentence should win an award.)

Shaking my head, I swat the piece of paper away. “He’s not my type.  Besides, he didn’t even notice me.”

“You have a type Oliva?”

“This is my type right here,” I answer, gesturing to the diminishing wine in front of me. Between my fingertips, I take the stem of the wineglass and move it in small circular motions. like drawing circles with a pencil. The dark red wine dances around the crystal bowl of the glass, captivating my interest as my best friend brings up her newest millionaire clients.”  (This writing is as good as Sideway’s author Rex Pickett.)

“Immediately afterward, he put his pants on and said, “So I’ll see you in class tomorrow?” (Any Sex in the City fans?)

“Could it be that I’m tired of being invisible?” (Depth and change is what makes a novel sing.)

“Parched and bleary-eyed the next morning, I forget where I am.” (An absolutely classic thought for people of a certain age.)

Cortney is the real deal and her book is a page-turner.  Available on Amazon October 1, 2013, read the first chapter here.











Read Full Post »

Pinot Grigio, Give it a Try

Balletto Pinot Gris

“I challenge you to show me a great Pinot Grigio,” said a wine-loving friend  from California. Well, Dave, here it is, Balletto, 2010 Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, Estate Bottled, Sonoma County.*

I tasted it while visiting Balletto Vineyards at Passport to Pinot Noir. The owner, John Balletto is a personable and generous man who had to leave a promising sports career and college when his father died unexpectedly. At 17 years old, he and his mother started farming vegetables in Sonoma County. Their business grew to be the largest farm north of the Golden Gate.  John told me he made the decision to turn his vegetable farm into vineyards after three bad floods in 1998. Today, he owns over 500 acres of prime grape growing land. 90% of his fruit is sold to others. In 2006, Balletto Vineyards opened a small tasting room and now sell their own label. You can find it online, by visiting and at Bay Area restaurants and wine shops.

I also highly recommend their 2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir and their Zinfandel Their 2007 Zinfandel is better than many Zins from neighboring AVA Dry Creek Valley, which is famous for Zinfandel.

Insider Tip: These wines are excellent value, especially considering their location in the Russian River AVA.  All of their current releases are less than $30 a bottle. If you join their wine club, you get 20% off which make these wines a steal. The Pinot Gris is $18.


*Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape; Italians use the former.



Read Full Post »

Pinot Noir

June 9 & 10, 2012 See ya there!

I don’t know. It’s the heartbreak grape. Difficult to vinify. For me, it’s a metaphor for the process of art. You struggle and suffer against seemingly insuperable microclimatic odds, and only when everything comes into a … perfect confluence can you really alchemize something transcendent. And it doesn’t happen often. But, forsaking money, and with no apparent concern for one’s well-being, like artists, true artists, Pinot vintners persevere for that one preternatural moment. Which, when imbibed, is then only but a memory, nothing really tangible, like a book, or a painting, or a movie, admittedly. But … unsurpassable in all other sensory delights in that one sublime, albeit ephemeral, moment.  Miles, from the play Sideways by Rex Picket (reprinted with permission)

The scene in the Sideways movie of Miles sitting on the porch in the late evening with an attractive Sommelier is forever etched in my memory.  His over-the-top musing was fascinating, like watching a train wreck. I wondered how can people be so silly in describing wine? Simultaneously I was intrigued about Pinot Noir.

What Rex wrote is true, it’s a delicate varietal and desires perfect conditions. I’ve written quite a lot about the grape including my Pinot Trio Tour in Germany, visiting oceanside Pinot vines in Chile, picking the winner at a Carneros Chef Smackdown pairing contest and more. I”m attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference because it’s in Oregon and I want to learn more about their Pinots.

Next up in my year of Pinot Noir is the 1st Annual Passport to Pinot Barrel tasting weekend, June 9 – 10, 2012 in the famous Russian River AVA. I highly recommend this event for Pinot Lovers. It will be super fun, educational and you will no doubt find some new favorites.  See you at the wineries!



Read Full Post »

PureCru Mitch Cosentino

“I had been reminiscing about a small, hands-on entity where I could do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning.” Mitch Cosentino

Hands-on winemakers making small amounts of lovingly-crafted premium wine can be found all over the world.  Some stay small while others grow into big wineries while retaining a personal touch.  Mitch Cosentino has come full-circle. He started making his own wine in 1980 in Modesto; he then grew a 30,000+ case winery in Yountville/Oakville, bringing substantial attention to that part of Napa Valley at that time. Cosentino Winery is now owned by Vintage Wine Estates and Mitch is back to making small lots of “winemaker’s wine.”

I really like Mitch’s new PureCru wines.  They are well-priced, well-made and I have succumbed to the cool factor of his label.  I would bring this wine as a gift or to a party in a heartbeat.

PureCru wines are very approachable and food friendly with enough interest to hold the attention of connoisseurs.  The 2010 Giovanni Vineyards Pinot Noir ($32) is from Carneros.  I am pleased that it doesn’t have under-ripe green bell-pepper or cow-patty flavors that often plague Carneros wines. (I always say wine from Carneros is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get. Nod to Forrest Gump.)  I highly recommend PureCru’s Pinot Noir and everyone knows I’m a (picky) Pinot lover.

I also recommend PureCoz Red Blend 2007 ($65).  Cosentino’s famous for his red blends and this one does not disappoint.  Aged 36 months in French Oak, PureCoz is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese. I can not say it better than what Mitch wrote on the label, designed for the fine cuisine of the world.  It’s a beautiful wine and a real conversation starter.

For white wine lovers, I recommend the 2009 Purety blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion ($25).  Intriguing and pleasant (with no malolactic fermentation).

Since they are made in such small qualities, this is the Wine Club you want to join. For a pittance compared to other Napa wine clubs, you get well-priced premium fruit made in small lots by a famous winemaker.


Read Full Post »

Photo Courtesy of Bonterra

Bonterra loosely translates from Italian as good earth.  Bonterra Winery’s good earth seems to bring out the best in their grapes.  I can not remember a time when I was more pleasantly surprised by a group of wines.  Added bonus…they are $13.99 for whites and $15.99 for reds, have a lovely fresh label and are widely available in the states and overseas.

I first opened the 2009 Chardonnay and thought, wow, this is lovely.  I like to keep Chardonnay in my fridge for a week to enjoy a small glass with Hubby in the evening after work.  I’ve experienced other organic wines turn ugly quickly even though I always use a VacuVin, but the slight changes that occurred with Bonterra’s wine were not unpleasant in the least. I am very picky about Chardonnay and I really love this wine. It has all of the elements of a thoughtfully-made, restrained Chardonnay: 70% of the fruit went through malolactic fermentation in French and American oak. It was then blended with 30% fruit from stainless steel tanks and finished off in neutral oak. For me, that is a winning combination; the malo cuts out the bitter acidity that I find nasty in “naked” Chardonnays and grapes from the the stainless steel tanks keep the wine from being overwhelmed by oak flavors.

I was also thoroughly surprised by the delightful 2008 Merlot.  Blended with a bit of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Carignane, it’s a very special wine in that the grapes were subjected to a rare 50-year frost with a long growing season which resulted in (low-yield) concentrated fruits. Events like this showcase a winemaker’s ability and palate. Winemaker Robert Blue turned a potential disaster into a must-try Merlot.

The winemaker’s handling of Bonterra’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is just my style. It’s a food friendly, flexible Cabernet Sauvignon.  Folks who don’t want a tannic big red wine, this is your Cabernet Sauvignon. It has plenty of structure and flavor but I found that it pairs nicely with basic Mediterranean or Italian food. I would even recommend a high-quality pizza and salad with blue cheese. A non-stuffy Cabernet Sauvignon – nice!

Bottomline: The fact that the winemaker is making fabulous wines from organic farming is interesting to me as an oenophile and it’s fun to show others what organic wines can be, but you don’t have to be “into organic” wines to enjoy these refreshing, flavorful and delicious food friendly wines.  


Read Full Post »


MacPhail Winery, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

MacPhail Winery, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

Part 2.  Read the back story and meet the wine…

Interview with James MacPhail, Winemaker, MacPhail Family Winery 

When did you start making wine, what was your position and with whom?  I started making my own wine in 2001 (it was a Merlot).  I was working at Pelligrini at that time – and that’s where Merry Edwards was making her wine before she built her own place.  I worked for both producers doing everything and anything that was asked of me.  There really wasn’t a name for it.  I guess “cellar rat” is the closest thing.

When did you start your own label?  2002

When did you partner with Hess? If you mean when was I contacted to be the winemaker for Sequana, that would be in the spring of 07.   If you mean when did Hess and MacPhail Family Wines come together, that would be June of 2011.

 How did that come about?  For 2007, I was on the list to be interviewed for Sequana. I went over with 3 bottles of my Pinot – no resume – and met with Dave Guffy.  We hit it off.  I got a call the next day and was offered the position.  If you mean 2011, that happened at the Taste of Vail event with CEO Gary Bulger – over a beer.

What are your favorite things to do when you are not making wine?  Sleep in, be with my family, go places and relax and soak up the sun.  Swim.  Go out with friends and try new places.

Do you have any goals or dreams in the winemaking business that you have yet to meet? If so, what are they?  I’d love to make wine in Argentina, do more research about this business; I’d like to teach.  It’s a never-ending quest.

Thanks James (& Kerry!), I finally got the answers to my burning questions. Regarding Argentina, interesting…everyone knows it’s my favorite place in the world (besides home). 

Read Full Post »

Winter Winelands, Sonoma

As part of my wine education, a few years ago, I spent 2 1/2 years visiting wineries, year-round, four days a week.  I loved talking to wine makers, owners and staff during the winter season.  During that time, and the 5 years before that, when I wasn’t studying, I was home (practicing pairing) so I rarely went to public wine events.

This year, Winter Winelands in Northern Sonoma County caught my attention. It’s one of my favorite wine regions, and although 6,000 people attend annually, the event is spread out over 30 miles including Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Healdsburg, Dry Creek Valley and even some tasting rooms in Santa Rosa. The possible combinations of itineraries is almost endless.

I’ve decided to visit some old favorites in Dry Creek Valley. I’ll miss a few folks over in the Russian River (like John Tyler) but I’m sure I’ll be inspired to come back another weekend to say hello.  My friend Herlinda and I will be in my little roadster starting at Bella Wine Vineyards & Wine Caves. It’s beautiful inside the caves with tasting stations throughout, the perfect escape when it’s chilly outside and the vineyards are bare and boring.  Warmed up, we’ll be ready to hit the red carpet at Dry Creek Vineyard where there are always good deals and a variety of wines to taste. (I’ll be looking for a new vintage of their dessert wine Soleil.)

Then off to a rare public opening of a secret winery that is usually appointment only. Note: Not on the Winelands list but tastings are complimentary for Wine Road participants. Only open Saturday, not Sunday.  From there, a drive up to Michel Schlumberger to see friends, it’s always a great place for a party (inside scoop that they will have some fabulous deals, the more you buy, the more you save).  Might end our day here but I’d love to stop by Merriam Vineyards to taste through their outstanding wines. Merriam’s also serving braised pork and grits. Yum!

Make your itinerary at Winter Wineland, The Wine Road.

Read Full Post »

White Oak Vineyards & Winery

White Oak Winery

The pretty Alexander Valley tucked into Sonoma County’s northern corner is quite different from its famous neighbors, Dry Creek Valley (filled with Zinfandel pursuers) and Russian River Valley (teaming with Pinot Noir collectors). There is a hidden, quiet, unassuming quality to the area.  Perhaps this is because the main road is dotted with occasional signs and driveways and most of the wineries are hidden from view.  It’s also a monoculture grape-growing region, so a big part of the area’s appeal is being surrounded by rows and rows of vineyards.

It”s easy and pleasant to get around this unhurried and uncrowded area, yet it’s also an ideal place to enjoy open-air transportation.  Unless you have your own convertible, your choices are a horse-drawn Wine Carriage or a customized Land-Rover called the Vine Rover.

The Wine Carriage takes you through the vineyards and includes a barrel tasting & cave tour at Alexander Valley Vineyards, guided tours, premium tastings and a gourmet picnic and tasting at White Oak Vineyards & Winery, Hannah Winery, or Soda Rock Winery.

Vine Rover Tours offers customized tours, VIP tastings, friendly and knowledgeable guides.  And because I’m a guide with Vine Rover Tours, I’ll introduce you to some of my favorite wineries.

To book Vine Rover Tours, call Jay (707) 838-1405.  For the Wine Carriage call Bret at (707) 849-8989. Both are available year-round as weather permits.

Read Full Post »

Where to Stay in Sonoma

Loxton Winery, Australian Wine maker, Sonoma, CA

Loxton Winery

If you’re looking for a California resort in the town of Sonoma, MacArthur Place is the only game in town. It has everything I want in a resort—-a pool, spa, boutique shopping (next to the Spa), complimentary wine & cheese pairings in the Library, a martini bar, on-site breakfast (in bed too), a variety of room choices (all fabulously decorated) and flower gardens with sculptures (e.g., eye candy).  It’s just a few blocks from the Sonoma Plaza on a residential, tree-lined street and very convenient for wine tasting in that area.

If you want privacy & a kitchen, I recommend renting a home.  I have a great recommendation in the Kenwood/Glen Ellen, a beautiful area with lovely wineries.

(Picture is of Loxton Cellars.)

Read Full Post »

Sciandri Family WInery

Sciandri Family WInery

Most people who visit Napa never pass through it, or even know it exists. Yet, for anyone who has cherished the renowned quality of Napa Valley wines or has fallen in love with the epicurean delights of Wine Country living, Coombsville is an absolute must-see destination. (Coombsville Vintners & Growers)

The Coombsville appellation, tucked away behind Napa (city), is one of my favorite insider places to visit. It feels like it’s a world away from urban Napa but it’s super close. It’s old world Napa, the wineries are surrounded by rolling hills, trees and horse pastures. While the atmosphere is much more intimate than Yountville and St Helena (up-valley), the wines are of equal quality and often a better value.

Don’t forget you can stay overnight in Napa on a whim.  Here are some of my favorite unique and intimate wine tasting experiences:

Sciandri Family Vineyards. (Pronounced She-an-dree) Located behind the city of Napa (northeast edge of the valley), you wind through Wild Horse Valley and park in front of the Sciandri’s house and tasting room. The vibe at Sciandri is relaxed and welcoming; their daughter tells a fascinating story of how the family starting making wine just a few years ago, how her hard working parents came to rebuild an old house and pursue a dream that would ensure that their family stayed close.  Call for an appointment to sip their Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon with a nice plate of Italian Salumi while pretending you live there for an afternoon at least. (Every appointment is a private tour and tasting, and groups from 2 -12 people are welcome.)

Black Cat Vineyard.  This must be the smallest winery in Napa. One woman does it all, and I mean everything.  When you visit Black Cat Winery, leave the cell phone, camera and video recorder in the car. Be in the moment and soak up Tracey Reichow’s massively intelligent and fascinating wine knowledge.  The view is outstanding, but her explanation about the Coombsville region being “wine mecca” makes it unforgettable. I love her Syrah & Cabernert Sauvignon; gently & lovingly crafted, a beautiful alternative to in-your-face big, bold “Napa” reds.

Marita’s Vineyard.  This winery’s for serious wine collectors, aficionados and groups who want to enjoy an intimate food and wine experience. Here’s my post about this amazing family and their seriously stunning wine.

Tournesol. This beautiful property is all about gracious hospitality and fine wine.  They make two wines, a red blend and a Napa-style Cabernet Sauvignon. Insider tip: Ask about their spectacular guest accommodations.

To plan your tasting day or weekend, go to the official site for a list of wineries.

Read Full Post »

Next »

site development by kevin mcgrath