Sonoma Getaway

Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros

I found a Sonoma getaway on Groupon and booked the date.  With great anticipation,  Hill and I loaded up the Monsters and headed up to Sonoma to experience their wines and hospitality.  We stayed at the dog friendly Best Western Plus Sonoma Valley Inn.  It was an above average room located within walking distance of the town square.  There was a dog park and walking trail right off of 1st St. W., also within walking distance.  You can spend the whole day at the tasting rooms just off the square.  We found one of our favorites from Healdsburg had opened a tasting room of the square.  MacLaren Tasting Lounge has some of the best Syrahs I have tasted.

On the drive up to Sonoma from the bay area our first stop was at Domaine Carneros.  Hill loves the bu20140223_125007bbly and Domaine Carneros was a recommended stop.  I enjoyed the Brut rose. It was fruity, flora with a hint of tangerine on the finish.

We left Domaine Carneros and drove across the street to Cuvaison.  What an unexpected surprise. Our Pour Guild was Pina, Patty, and Paul.  They were awesome. Very attentive, knowledgeable, Personable.  I learned a lot about Cuvaison wines from them and from tasting.  Their 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay has aromas of citrus, popcorn and butter, with mineral, lite fruit and floral notes on the tongue.  The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was floral on the nose, with raspberry, strawberry and a little spice on the tongue.  Tannins and acidity balanced remarkably. One of my favorites.  The 2011 Brandlin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 85% Cab, 9% Petite Verdot, 6% Cab Franc.  It has good legs, nice black cherr20140223_141017y color and lots of dark fruit on the tongue.  It is well balanced with hints of caramel and toffee. 2011 Estate Syrah has long legs and deep dark color.  It is smokey, peppery with hints of bacon and black cherry and supportive tannins.  2010 Estate Merlot is 86% melot, 14% cab.  Jalapeno pepper on the nose and palate, long legs, dark color.  Smooth and silky.  The Noblesse Desert Wine has a nose of apricot and Meyers lemons.  It is not overly sweet with a lite lemon finish. The price points for Cuvaison are right on. I enjoyed all of their wines and Cuvaison is now on our “To Join” wine club list.

We said goodbye to our new friends at Cuvaison and headed to one of favorites, Patz and Hall.  They have just opened a beautiful tasting room in Sonoma.  We were greeted by Ross who made us feel at home and set us up with a bowl of those delicious truffle oil almonds.  We started with the 2011 Hyde Vineyard Carneros.  It has aromas of orange and white flowers and a palate of crisp acidity and minerality. Lite oak and spice on the finish. $58.  2011 Zio Tony Ranch, Russian River Valley Chardonnay has aromas of citrus and green apples.  On the palate it is well balanced with acidity and minerality with a hint of butter and oak on the finish.  $60.


Schug Winery

Schug Winery

Day Two

After taking the doggies for a walk, we headed to Schug Winery.  Schug Winery is a 50,000 case producer.  The winemaker, Walter Schug, is a 3rd generation wine maker.  His life story, growing up in Germany and emigrating to the US, is very interesting.  We started with the 2012 Chardonnay Carneros.  It was well balanced with a lite butter finish.  The 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros is their Flagship.  I found it to be fruit forward and lite tannins. Price points for both wines is acceptable. The 2011 Pinot Noir, Carneros ”Schug Estate” was quite nice.  I found it to be smokey, dark fruit notes, well balanced acidity and tannins.  The 2010 Cabernet Franc is 70% Cab Franc, 25% Cab Sav. On the palate it was a little dry with dark berry fruit.  2012 Late Harvest Riesling has aromas of honey suckle and bees wax.  It is sweet but not over the top with notes of apricot and honey. Its also lite on the tongue and not syrupy.  Price point a little high for the smaller size bottle.  The 2010 Rouge De Noirs, Carneros, Sparkling Pinot Noir was a nice surprise.  It reminded me of a bubbly version of the 2011 Pinot Noir Carneros with a little more character.  I enjoyed all their wines and I think it id definitely worth a visit.  Schug also has a self guided tour of the Estate which provides some really nice views.  Gloria Ferrer was our next stop.  Gloria Ferrer has a nice 2010 Brut rose that reminds me of citrus and raspberries.  The 2008 Jose Ferrer Pinot Noir was my favorite.  Its long legs and ruby color hinted of the complexity of the tannins and the flavors of raspberry and cherry.  At $42 a bottle I could not resist.


We headed back to town to continue tasting on the town square.  We wondered into Walt and it was a great find.  Walt features Chardonnaya and Pinot Noir.  Heaven….  Jerry was great.  I felt like we were old friends hanging out at a barbeque.  The 2012 “Blue Jay” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a four vineyard blend.  It has a nice lite color, good legs and blue fruit, black cherry is smooth and easy on the palate.  We did a side by side comparison of the “Blue Jay”, “Hein Family” and “Savoy”.  The “Hein Family” vineyard is located closer to the coast.  It gets less sun and cooler temperatures.  The “Savoy” is mid-valley and has the best qualities of “Hein Family” and “Blue Jay”, which is the furthest from the coast.  “Savoy” was definitely my favorite but out of my price range at $60. I enjoyed all the wines at Walt and are my recommended stop in Sonoma. Jerry suggested we stop by MacLaren Tasting Lounge.  I remembered visiting him when he was pouring at Talty Winery in Healdsburg.  By the time we got to MacLaren, they were closing up but, they were willing to pour for us.  So, they unpacked the bottles and we got to taste some really good syrahs.  We were poured four wines; 2010 Judge Family Vineyard, Bennet Valley, 2010 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County, 2009 Drouthy Neebor, Sonoma County and the 2010 Samantha’s Vineyard, Russian River.  My favorite was the 2009 Drouthy Neebor.  It had a big fruity nose and was well balanced.  And, the price points are reasonable.

Sonoma was a really nice wine tasting experience.  Everyone we met was really nice, engaging and more than willing to carry a conversation and joke with us.  Can’t wait to go back.







The Vintners’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee Hotel 2013

Dining Room at The AhwahneeTroya and I have had our eye on The Vintners’ Holidays at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park for a couple of years now. We usually plan a little get away for each other’s birthday gift, and while the Vintners’ Holidays happen around both of our birthdays it costs a little more than we usually like for our little gift. Last year we decided we would combine our two gifts and go see what all the fuss is about. The programs run through November and December each year and each program is either two or three nights. The only real addition on the 3 night program is a wine and horderve evening on the first night. The concept of the program is getting some of the more recognized wine makers in California to speak on various topics such as how certain wines are made or how they are different based on where they are from (yes, terroir) while also presenting their wine. Over the 2 days of the program you have four afternoon sessions, and on the last evening you are treated to a dinner with wine paired from the wineries in the program.
I had not been to Yosemite Park in a very long time and had never stayed at the Yosemite ValleyAhwahnee Hotel, so I was very excited. When making the reservations Troya was given the option of staying in a suite at a much discounted price, so this made our anticipation that much higher. If you have not been to Yosemite Park, or it’s been a while, you should go just to remember what this magnificent park has to offer and how small and fleeting it can make you feel as you gaze up at these colossal rocks that have been there since the beginning of time. The Ahwahnee Hotel was built in the 20’s as a way to attract the 1%-ers of the time to the park. Since then the list of dignitaries and royalty who have stayed there is as impressive as any. For its time I am sure it was as spectacular as any, and the architecture is still very impressive, built out of concrete to withstand a forest fire but textured and painted to appear log cabin-ish and appease the eye. We were told that Queen Mary had once stayed in our suite, and while elegant and spacious, it did feel a little run down. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to see one of the regular rooms so I cannot comment on what they were like.
Since we had the horderve evening on the first night we decided to stay with that theme and run to the village store and get some cheese/salami/bread/crackers and fruit and enjoy it in our room with one of the many bottles of wine we brought ourselves. While not a huge selection, what they had filled the need and ended up being one of our best decisions of the trip. The following night we made reservations at the Ahwahnee Dining The Dining Room at The AhwahneeRoom. Reservations required, dress code enforce. One of the most impressive and elegant dining rooms anywhere. Now if the meal could have just lived up to the buildup and setting. No complaints with the service, but the food had a cafeteria feel and taste to it. The presentation was unimpressive and food was mostly on the bland side. No disrespect, but it felt like it was being made for octogenarians.
The program itself was spread over the 2 full days there, with 2 afternoon programs on each day. Our moderator for the program was Dan Berger, a very well-known and Vintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee respected wine writer and judge, who did a great job keeping the program flowing and interesting. The first program, given by Steve Urberg from Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards was entitled “The contribution of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the blending of Gloria Ferrer Mѐthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines” and was very interesting and informative. Steve spoke in detail about the Champenoise method of making a sparkling wine and how the California weather is ideally consistent for making this style of wine. He also spoke on the importance of the yeast in the whole process and how they use a proprietary strain in their process. Interestingly he also recommended that sparkling wines be Cheers at the Ahwahneestored upright so as not to come in contact with the cork which can cause it to loose elasticity. The next session, “sites, age and clones-single vineyard Chards & Pinots of the Sonoma/Marin Coast” was given by Dan Goldfield from Dutton-Goldfield. His talk focused mostly on the various vineyards they use and some of the history behind the vineyards and the winery. The following day kicked off with a talk by Robb Talbott from Talbott Vineyards on “Terroir based Chardonnay vs Commodity Based”. If you are not familiar with the term terroir it is a French term that refers to where something is from and that the location, soil and environment will all influence what produced there. With single vineyard/estate wines you can taste how the terroir influences the wine and how they will be different from each other. Commodity based wines are generally going for consistency and volume but end up with no soul. To quote Robb “wine grown in the right place speaks for itself” and the winemaker is more a shepherd, guiding the wine through the process rather than a creator of the end product. He also could not pass up the opportunity to share his thoughts on corks vs screw caps, feeling that screw caps eliminates the multiple variables involved with corks that can negatively influence the wine. However DanVintners' Holidays at The Ahwahnee pointed out that corks can enhance the maturation process while screw caps can slow the process so they will essentially be about 6 months apart if bottled at the same time. The final session was “Five vineyard lots-2012 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir” by David Duncan from Twomey Cellars. It took a little while to figure out, but what we did in this session was very cool. Their Bien Nacido Pinot Noir is a blend of several different vineyards and during this session we got to taste each one of those wines individually while we discussed to properties of each, and then tasted the blend, the finished product at the very end and were able to identify all the characteristics from the individual wines in the blend. That evening we were back in the dining room for a 5 course meal paired with wines (mostly ones we had not already tasted) from the presenting wineries. The food, from the same chef as the night before, was all very good and for the most part was well paired with all of the wines.
Dry Miror Lake, YosemiteFinal thoughts on The Ahwahnee Hotel Vintners’ Holidays; first, once we got use to the size and style of the program it was actually very enjoyable and informative. It would have been nice to have smaller sessions which would have given it a bit more intimacy. The Ahwahnee hotel, while still very elegant and impressive, feels a bit like it is living off of its reputation rather than living up to its reputation. And finally Yosemite Valley itself, which has to be seen to be appreciated, and will never ceases to amaze.