Tag Archive 'Wineries & Wine Bars'

Tulip in Barrel Room

For me, the atmosphere of a winery, restaurant or hotel is as important as the wine, food or my ability to sleep soundly. When a winery is dog friendly, it says a ton about the overall vibe. These wineries are consistently welcoming and easy-going.  I’ve never felt uncomfortable or overwhelmed by dogs; instead, people smile at each other, admire the pooches, let them play with each other outside.  Tulip’s been wine tasting since she was 5 months old.  Here, she enjoys a private tour of Bella‘s Barrel Room.

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Doobie Brothers, Wine & Cheese

BR Cohn Tasting

Down-home, relaxed and quick-to-laugh Vallerie Cohn, the daughter of Bruce (BR) Cohn, the Doobie Brother’s long-time manager, recently invited me to her childhood home in Kenwood for a wine and cheese tasting.  In the ’70′s, Bruce decided to learn winemaking and ended up raising his family in this little Sonoma County town. Today, the house is where guests go to taste at BR Cohn Winery.

The winery is flush with memorabilia and Doobie culture. Fans of Steely Dan or the Doobies should definitely opt for a seated tasting/tour.  It’s like storytelling hour with adult beverages.  Call ahead to schedule an appointment.

(Vallerie modeled for an industry event that my sister and I produced with Wine and Hospitality Network.)

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My favorite time to hang out at wineries is the fall and winter months.  I get excited when I see the first seasonal decorations following the hot summer season. During the fall, the vineyards and landscape are changing colors, the air is crisp and cool and the wine never gets hot in the car.

In the winter months, the vineyards are dormant and the landscape is shades of grey. This is the time to go indoors to tasting rooms that have couches, artwork, and friendly staff.  There’s no other type of shopping that encourages me to sit around, sip and talk wine.

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Wine Above the Lake

View at Gustafson

I met Dan Gustafson and his wine maker Emmett Reed at the Blogger’s Conference lunch held at Dry Creek Vineyards.  Their wine surprised and impressed me.  Dan & Emmett explained to me that their vineyards are located 1800′ above Lake Sonoma.  As far as I know, Gustafson is the only winery up there, so their wine is totally unique.  The Rockpile Appellation is further up and is highly regarded for Zinfandel, but Gustafson’s land is considered Dry Creek Valley Appellation. They make about 3,000 cases per year, all estate wine, which means they grow and bottle their own grapes.

Small wineries come in all shapes; this one is spectacular.  The location is gorgeous and well worth the short drive up a mountain road at the end of Dry Creek.  Currently, they are open to the public on Saturdays, but I got a Friday appointment (during the busy harvest) to bring 6 guests for a tasting and private tour. The winemaker, Emmett has the magic touch with grapes.  He is the vineyard manager (i.e., Rockstar) and the wine maker.  Dan Gustafson, the owner, is very welcoming and genuine.

If you want to discover one of my favorite secret places, give them a call, or contact me and I’ll arrange a tour for you.

There’s an Insider Pass to Gustason worth $100 in my guide.

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The Wine Shop, Healdsburg

The Wine Shop, Healdsburg

When I travel, I like to have a deli & wine night in the hotel room. (I always get a suite with a dining area & refrigerator.) While on vacation in Arizona, hubby and I were directed to a gourmet store with a fabulous wine shop. We were delighted to find out that the older gentlemen who worked there was a Sommelier. He was relaxed and happy to talk about the nuances of stateside Pinot Noir and French Burgundy. Enjoying his company and finding wine that we would bring to Thanksgiving the next day was a great memory added to our trip.

You’ve found a good wine shop when you are enthusiastically welcomed & offered genuine assistance. You’ll be able to tell if the staff cares about what you want and how to please you.  A good wine shop experience feels like you’ve made a new friend.

Wine shops offer three services generally:

  1. assist you when you walk in;
  2. sponsors special tastings, parties and meet the wine maker events;
  3. finds wine specifically for you & contacts you.

You’ll get the most out of a wine shop if you ask lots of questions and attend their events. Get on their email list.  Let them find wines for you.

Last of all, they can find bargains.  My last purchase at a wine shop was 6 bottles of Marietta Old Vine Lot 50 ($12 ea). A wine that is well-made, food friendly and inexpensive. That’s the kind of wine shop I like!

Favorite Wine shops: The Wine Shop*, Healdsburg, Rick’s Wine Cellar in Corte Madera (Marin) & Valley Wine Shack, Sonoma.

* They have an online wine shop where you can get the same service and bargains I get!

Get an Insider Pass & join the party!

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There is a winery in the trees behind Sonoma Plaza named Gundlach Bundschu, the locals call it Gun Bun.  It has a great history that is well-worth reading about on their web site.  Gun Bun is very popular because there’s something for everyone.  I find the terrior fascinating and the atmosphere at the winery is always fun and festive.  The two brothers, Jeff & Jim Bundschu have a sense of humor that infiltrates their many events, e.g., outdoor rock concerts, costume parties, polka dances, Bavarian sing-a-longs…even if you just take a tour, you’ll learn a little song/dance routine that will help you pronounce and remember the winery’s name.

There’s a lovely little patio overlooking the pond, and a large picnic area for big groups, so it’s an ideal place to visit in good weather. (This is California btw, that would be about 296 days of sunshine…)

My favorite wines are the Tempranillo & Pinot Noir.  Diane in the tasting room called the Pinot, “truffle in a bottle.”  I agree, it doesn’t require food, it’s so rich and full flavored.  My ultimate Gun Bun experience is to sit by the pond mid-week on a perfect winter day and enjoy a bottle of Pinot & truffles.

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My Kind of Winery

Courtesy of http://CasaNuestra.com

Courtesy of http://CasaNuestra.com

When people ask me where to go wine tasting in Napa, I feel a bit of a conundrum.  I wonder why Napa?  Do they drink $150 Cabernet Sauvignons?  Are they okay with paying $25 per person for tasting fees? Do they like wineries owned by international conglomerates? Are they interested in cult wineries, hanging out with very wealthy people or visiting exceedingly sophisticated and stunning tasting rooms?  If so, I can definitely point them in the right direction.

For my taste, here’s my criteria for a great wine tasting experience:

  • I am enthusiastically welcomed.
  • The staff obviously enjoys introducing me to their wines & educating me about their wine making style, history & story behind the wine.
  • I can sit while tasting & take my time studying the wine.
  • There are plenty of wines & price points to choose from; if there are only two Cabernets and one Chardonnay on the tasting menu & I don’t like any of them, I’ve wasted my time & theirs.
  • The tasting fee should be waived with purchase at the discretion of the staff.
  • I always love unexpected discounts.

Added bonus:

  • Tulip is welcome (dog friendly).
  • A paired tasting is offered.

When in Napa, check out a really fabulous and unexpected wine tasting experience at Casa Nuestra.

Get a private tour and surprise with an Insider’s Pass.

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Paradise Ridge, Aj Gentry

I attended a superb Wine Club Lunch at Paradise Ridge.  We were greeted at the Barrel Room by enthusiastic smiling women in Hawaiian dresses, and handed a lei and a glass of champagne (Blanc de Blanc!)  The party started at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday and I hadn’t eaten yet so I was thrilled to find some fruit and sliced bakery items to go with the champagne.  I also was delighted to find a table with a game on it.  (Name that varietal – smell various scents, name the descriptors & then match it to a varietal.)

I tasted a Chardonnay & Pinot Noir in barrels.  Not only was the wine maker hosting the barrel tasting, notes were posted on the barrel. This detail gave me more time to understand each wine which increased my anticipation of its bottling.  They were also pouring two new releases and had plenty of small bites to go with it.

One of my favorite parts of the event’s first stage was the introductions of the family & the winery team.  They all seemed so friendly and accessible!  Summoned by the bell (silverware on a wine glass) we proceeded to the winery for lunch.

Assigned seats were labeled with our names on pretty envelopes.  Inside, a thank you note from Amanda McLain, the Wine Club Manager reminded us of past and future events including pairings with local produce from the Paradise Patch, sunsets in Paradise, the 2nd P.R. tasting room in Kenwood.

Lunch was first-class with lots of wine glasses and sparkling silver. I especially appreciated the Chef speaking.  (I love it when the Chef  comes out of the kitchen.)

I found Paradise.  Have you?

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Welcome to Paradise

Courtesy of ParadiseRidgeWinery.com

Courtesy of PRWinery.com

I love this winery! Friendly, gorgeous views of the Santa Rosa Valley and great wines at reasonable prices. Bring some nibbles and buy wine by the glass at 6pm on Wednesdays May through October.

Read more about my pairing with their fab Ode to Joy and the winery’s unique history.

Get Directions to Paradise Ridge.

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Hess Collection Winery & Gallery

Courtesy of Hess Collection

The man who owns Hess Winery appreciates all things artistic.  His estate wines are from grapes gathered from a very specific and beautiful place, Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley.  He is also one of the top 200 art collectors in the world. The winery includes 15,000′ ft of museum space featuring artists as famous as Francis Bacon to others that are lesser known commercially but equally fascinating.

Hess’ winemaking focuses on where the grapes are grown, i.e., soil, elevation and atmosphere.  I watched a short film about this “place” in the comfortable on-site theatre and it was the most enjoyable and memorable film of this type that I have seen.

The first Hess Collection wine that rocked my world was the 2004 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.  I gave it as Christmas gifts one year.  Today, my favorite is the 2007 Hess Small Block Series Viogner.  My “every day chardonnay” is the $11 2006 Monterey Chardonnay (Best Buy Wine Enthusiast).

Hess is slightly off the beaten path from other Napa wineries but well worth a few extra miles drive.  Spend the day and enjoy everything this special place has to offer.

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