Category Archives: Wine Country

Traveling Tuesdays – Robledo Family Winery

Well, I’m back in it! It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to get out and do some wine tasting, but I jumped back in this past week with a visit to Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma. When I first announced that I was doing Traveling Tuesdays, the tweeter (is there such a thing?) for Robledo jumped right in and asked if I was coming for a visit. So, four months later, I finally made it.

I had been once before, but it was nearly four years ago, so many things had changed and I didn’t really remember what the wines tasted like. The story is one of truly pulling oneself up by their bootstraps: With $30 in his pocket and a dream, Reynaldo Robledo came to the U.S. to start a new life. Except for a trip back to marry his wife to Mexico, Mr. Robledo spent all his time in California. He acquired a job with Christian Brothers in Napa Valley and eventually became a manager with the company.

Eventually, he was able to purchase 13 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region, followed by many acres in Sonoma and Lake counties as well. The family now owns nearly 400 acres of land in the three areas and produce more than a dozen varietals. They remain one of only two latino-owned wineries in all of Northern California and are quite successful.

Walking up to the tasting room, there is this outstanding water feature along with expansive vineyard views and, of course the most important flags…

The tasting room itself is a little difficult to find, but after trying a few doors I found it. Once inside the room is quite large and able to accommodate many guests at one time. We were greeted by Luis Robledo, one of 9 kids of Reynaldo – 9 kids! All the family are involved in the winery in one capacity or another. Luis mans the tasting room, but I’m sure he does much more than that.

The tasting started with a delightful Sauvignon Blanc…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ended up going home with half a case of the Sauvignon Blanc. I was getting low on bright, refreshing summer wines and the price and flavor were right for the warm months ahead.

Luis also poured Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc to round out the tasting.

Oh and a white port!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were many more wines available, but they will have to wait for another visit which will definitely happen again.

Cheers!

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Filed under Sonoma, Traveling Tuesdays, Wine, Wine Country, Winemaking

Spring in Sonoma

The reports have been rolling in during the last week that bud break was happening all over the county. However, on my drive through parts of Carneros and Sonoma Valley, I haven’t seen much action. But nearly every morning I wake up to a sound that lets me know Spring has officially begun and a new growing season has as well: Vineyard fans.

Vineyard fans are used when the temperature drops to near freezing. They are set to automatically turn on at around 36-degrees to start circulating air because moving air is always warmer than static air. If you’ve never heard a vineyard fan, they are loud. Very loud. I believe the closest one to my house is at least a 1/2 mile away and it sounds like there is a helicopter circling on the next block over. I can’t imagine what that would sound like if it was in my backyard.

Spring is an unpredictable time. One day it can be 70 degrees and the next it can be 45 and raining. It’s also what makes this time of year so scary for growers. These first few weeks after bud break are an extremely critical time. If it gets too cold, those precious buds can be ruined which is why the vineyard fans are no joking matter – they can make or break a grower’s year.

It’s no coincidence that Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons. Spring for the warm days and cool nights and the beginnings of the new growing season. Fall for the excitement of harvest. The past three years have each had difficult moments with some leading to crop loss in staggering numbers. It’s not all bad though because there was definitely less demand for finished goods.

I’m crossing my fingers that this year will be a stress-free year for the growers. Only time will tell…

Cheers!

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Filed under 2012 Growing Season, Wine, Wine Country

Traveling Tuesday’s – Ravenswood Tasting Room

Most of you will know Ravenswood for all the grocery store wines they produce. Sure, they are a great value, but maybe not what you’re looking for in a wine country experience. Fear not. Their tasting room, nestled in the hills above Sonoma, is an inviting environment where I could see myself spending a lazy afternoon sipping great wine while being entertained by the knowledgeable staff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were greeted initially by one man, then two more appeared as the bar began to receive more guests. I could tell they all had been working together for a long time as they had excellent movement behind the bar and interaction with each other.

First in the glass was an off-dry Guwurtztraminer (one of my favorite styles) followed by a 300 case production Chardonnay. Both were very nice wines that I could find many uses for in my quest for great food pairings every month. A quick stop at Rose of Zinfandel (not White Zin) and Syrah before heading to the bigger red wine offerings.

Ravenswood’s slogan is NO WIMPY WINES! And I would agree with their viewpoint. All the wines stood up and said “HERE I AM”, but in a nice fashion. Many times ‘big’ wines end up being out of balance and are trading their style for winemaking finesse. But here the wines all had unique character from each other (even the five Zinfandel wines they were pouring had distinct flavors). This is no easy feat. It takes a lot of winemaking and grape growing talent to let the vineyard shine as it did with these wines.

And here’s where the experience in the room gets great. They do have some of the wines you find at the grocery store in the tasting room, however, the majority of what they pour and sell there is all small production wines available only there or through the wine club. And it shows. The wine quality is above average for the price points and I wouldn’t kick any of them out of bed.

I couldn’t help but stop and enjoy the view….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though it was going to be close to 70-degrees today, it was a chilly morning and the fire was a nice touch….

 

 

 

 

 

 

My pick of the day was the Chauvet Zinfandel from a vineyard in Glen Ellen. It’s a field blend of Zin, Carignane, and Petite Sirah. Field blends are when all the different grapes get blended together as the vineyard is picked or on the crush pad. There’s a small number of them because of the risky venture of blending before fermentation. Once blended, you can’t unblend. This particular one was very tasty and ready to drink. Why wait, right?

Next time you’re in Sonoma, take the short drive up the hill to the tasting room. You’ll be surprised at the number of wines available only in the tasting room as well as the high quality of the juice.

Cheers!

 

 

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Sonoma County votes YES on hillside vineyard freeze

The Sonoma County board of supervisors put in place a stay on new hillside vineyards (greater than 15%) that require tree removal. Good for them. Even though it’s only for four months, it’s a step in the right direction.

At first this story seemed to be reported earlier in the week as a halt on just hillside vineyards (with little mention of the tree removal part), but there was already a moratorium on that even if it is flawed. The flawed part is that it was only on hillsides with a slope of 50% or more. Those sites are few and far between and most grape growers don’t want to incur the costs it takes to farm hillsides of that slope let alone the initial planting.

In Napa Valley the cutoff is a 30% grade making a more significant impact on farming. The main thought behind the restriction is to prevent (or at least help prevent) erosion. A good reason if you ask me, but certainly not the only reason.

Tree removal for vineyard sites is not a new topic. Any big wine company that has wanted to clear-cut to plant new vineyards has been met with opposition by environmental groups. In most cases it hasn’t led to stopping the new plantings, so why now?

Well, for starters, there is a new Ag Commissioner as of about a month ago. And there are at least a half a dozen proposed vineyards that require tree removal on the books right now. The largest of which is about 150 acres that Napa’s Artesa Winery is in process of developing.

Of course, that brings up a whole other topic – Why are Napa wineries buying land in Sonoma County? Primarily because of the Pinot Noir craze. Napa’s land suitable for growing Pinot grapes has long been tapped, so they are looking to other areas to propagate this high-profit wine. I can’t help but think that because those grapes will end up with a Napa label on them has something to do with this. It’s no secret that Sonoma County wants to promote Sonoma County wines – I’m certainly a big proponent of that.

But here’s the elephant in the room no one seems to be talking about: Why are wineries / grape growers planting grapes at a time when many vineyards have fallen out of contract and fruit has been left on the vines? The past few years have been pretty awful for some growers, so why create more vineyards with grapes that no one is buying?

It does take about 4 years after planting (and more if you are clearing before planting) to see a crop so maybe these wineries are projecting the need for more grapes. I hope so. It would be great to see an upswing. I already think we’re headed that way, but only time will tell.

I’m also very much in favor of keeping the trees we have left in this county. Not only because of the environmental benefits of having lots of trees around, but because I don’t really think we need to be clear cutting acres of land to plant more grapes. There are better ways. There are other areas to choose. Sure, maybe not with the cache of Sonoma County, but other options exists.

Let’s hope the Board of Supervisors make good decisions about the future of Sonoma County’s grape growing regions. Maybe there is a middle ground that can be reached: a certain amount of trees that can be cut down while making other environmental positives occur like the same amount of trees planted in other areas of the county. Just a thought. Why not make a net zero impact a requirement for new vineyards and possibly even other projects? This could be a great opportunity and I hope the board doesn’t take it lightly.

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Filed under Russian River Valley, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country

The Fall of Russian River Valley

In my mind, Russian River Valley will no longer have the cache that it once had. Starting on Dec 16th, the Russian River Valley boundaries are being expanded further south to parts of Rohnert Park and Cotati. Gallo has been asking for the past couple of years to expand the territory to include a 350-acre vineyard they own on Cotati grade into this AVA (American Viticulture Area).

Their reasoning is simple. Right now they have to use Sonoma Coast on the label. Sonoma Coast grapes don’t have the following that Russian River grapes have and thus result in lower prices at the wholesale and retail level. But from a growers standpoint, the areas are not alike. And certainly not similar enough to be considered the same.

The first time I saw the signs by the Gallo on the side of Highway 101 saying Russian River watershed, I laughed. I actually laughed out loud and thought, “are you kidding me? This area has nothing to do with Russian River!”. But somehow, I knew there would be trouble. This was one of Gallo’s main points – that they are in the Russian River Valley watershed. Well, so is Petaluma (another hill south) and just about everywhere else in Sonoma County for that matter. Based on that idea, why not include the whole county into the Russian River Valley AVA?

You may be thinking, “Why is this such a big deal?”. The answer is quite straightforward. Russian River Valley grapes have a certain characteristic and flavor and these grapes will be different from that. Well, that’s not so bad you say, different is good, right? Usually. But in this case it’s different enough that it should have its own AVA. ┬áBut grapes from a new AVA don’t bring the prices Gallo wants in the market, so they piggy-backed on the existing area with cache. But I know better. And so do most of the Russian River Valley grape growers who strongly opposed this change.

It’s also pulling the wool over the consumer’s eyes. If you have never been to Sonoma County and specifically Russian River (or at least driven along highway 101), then you probably wouldn’t understand. But for those of us who live here, we all know that by going over just one little hill or mountain can change how grapes are grown significantly. And in the case of this particular vineyard it is not only over a hill (south) from Russian River, but has a completely different terrain and climate from the ‘old’ Russian River Valley. But the consumer in Missouri or Texas or New York will probably never know the difference. And that, my friends, is a travesty. And also Gallo’s plan – since they sell over 90% of their wine in the marketplace.

It just goes to show you what money can do. But wait, maybe it wasn’t money. Because Jess Jackson tried to rename a mountain in Alexander Valley and was unsuccessful. Renaming a mountain sure seems easier than extending an AVA. So maybe it wasn’t all money that made this happen. Whatever the pull behind it, it was a bad move and one that, for me, will taint Russian River Valley. Luckily I know the difference and know where my wine comes from. But the average consumer won’t be so lucky and that is a shame.

Cheers (to the ‘old’ Russian River Valley)!

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Filed under choosing wine, Russian River Valley, Wine, Wine Country