Marin French Cheese Co. visit leads to coastal day

This morning we discovered that we needed to go to shopping in Novato for some necessities which in turn led us down many a winding road today. We had plans to work on the house (like we’ve been doing for months), but I guess the sun shining and the warm temperatures took us in a different direction.

From Novato we decided to head over to Marin French Cheese Company…

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I had always wanted to visit and I heard they had tours of the facility so we took the 20 minute detour. Unfortunately, when we arrived we discovered they aren’t doing tours right now because of renovations. No problem!

We grabbed some cheese and took residence at one of their many picnic benches along the pond….

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The cheese was called “Breakfast Cheese”. Perfect since it still wasn’t quite noon.

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It was a version of Brie cheese and was nice and creamy. The only thing missing was a bottle of wine (the retail shop sold many, but it was a little early).

Since the tour didn’t happen, we looked at each other and said “Let’s go to Pt. Reyes”! Why not? Right. We had time to kill and procrastinating on household chores seemed like a good idea.We had been once before but it had been years and we didn’t quite remember how far it was. But after about 45 minutes of driving we arrived at the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse.

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What we hadn’t planned on and certainly this picture doesn’t show was how cold and windy it was. We were just going 20 minutes from Sonoma initially. So we were totally unprepared for the 25 degree cooler weather. But we dealt with it. It was fun to be spontaneous for a change. Walking down these steps the girls saw a whale. I missed it, but I’m happy for them. Blue Whale migration season is almost over, but the employees had 8 reports of whale sightings today.

That’s all, right? Nope. While at the lighthouse one of the workers said that we just had to go to Chimney Rock and see the Elephant Seals. So, we did…

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They were very cool, but we could only stay a few minutes as we had our fill of windy, cold weather. We jumped back in the car and drove the 90 minutes home to temperatures much warmer than we had been in all day.

Most of my time is spent discovering Sonoma County’s wine country, but it was fun to get out and see some of the other things that are out there just a few miles from home. There are many attractions aside from wine and I hope to get to a fair number of them this summer.

Here are some more pics of the day….

 

 

 

“Breakfast Cheese”

 

 

 

Marin French Cheese Company’s facility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

View from bench at Marin French Cheese Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My daughter having fun at Marin French Cheese Co.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“South Beach” at Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

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Earth Day: Drink Some Wine, Plant a Tree

I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist. Those folks live in trees and work for Greenpeace, right? Well, maybe not, but isn’t that what a lot of people think? I do care a lot about the environment and my family and I make decisions everyday to help make this world a better place to live in.

Several years ago we chose to buy a Prius. It was for my wife and she was commuting a good distance, so we thought it was a good idea. I quickly realized what a great vehicle it was: high gas mileage, funky design that stands out and says “I care”, not to mention the vehicle is packed with great technology. It didn’t take me long to get behind the reasoning as to why the vehicle’s engine shuts off at stop lights or in parking lots. Every car should have that ability – it would save a ton of fuel, but the US fuel mileage standards doesn’t include a stop / start in their testing cycle so manufacturers don’t care. Sad.

Anyway, this blog isn’t about cars, but the vehicle in the garage represents one of the things we’ve changed in our daily lives. Of course, there’s lots of other things like recycling wine bottles and corks. My wife even made a couple of wine cork wreaths this past year. And we’re teaching our girls better ways to live daily life with minimal impact on the earth. It just makes sense.

When I saw that Trinity Oaks Winery plants a tree for every bottle of wine purchased I couldn’t help but think, “What a great idea”!

Their One Bottle, One Tree program has planted nearly 7 million trees to “take one step to a greener tomorrow”. But I can’t figure out if this is a really unique marketing plan or if the owners of the winery just care a lot about the environment. Either way, I guess, it’s a feel-good kind of thing. And as we approach Earth Day, 2012 I’m wanting to seek out some of this wine I’ve never had.

All the wines retail for $9 and they offer Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet. They all also are designated with the California AVA (American Viticulture Area) meaning the grapes come from all over the state. Not uncommon in this price range. So, how does a company that retails wine for $9 plant a tree with every bottle? Most of the trees are planted from seedling in Brazil, meaning it probably costs just pennies to plant each one.

I’m so happy to see wineries, well this one anyway, take a stand for a better tomorrow. Many talk about organic and biodynamic farming or being sustainable, but I’m not aware of many taking steps like this. And for that, I applaud Trinity Oaks. Great job. Let’s see more wineries and businesses take action and work towards a greener planet. It doesn’t take living in a tree.

Soon to come, a tasting of one or more of these wines.

Cheers!

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Artisan Wine, Craft Beer: Similar, yet different

Time really flies – This week marks five years since I worked my first day in a winery tasting room, changing my career life forever. Okay, it changed my life period. Working with wine has certainly been the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I mean seriously if you can’t have fun pouring wine, maybe you’re just not a fun person.

Recently I’ve been diving into the craft beer world for a new aspect of my job and I can’t help but think of where I was five years ago. At that time I knew that I liked wine and that was about it. I’ve learned a lot from many places including customers, co-workers, winemakers, managers, classes, seminars to mention a few. But there’s always more to learn especially in this every-changing industry.

Just like wine, I knew I liked beer – some beers more than others, but not much more than that. I’m excited to be learning more about this beverage I’ve been drinking for many years – I’ve never really thought about all it takes to make beer before. This isn’t a beer blog, so I won’t be posting regularly about the subject, but just thought it was interesting that there are so many similarities between the two industries.

One thing I’ve noticed is craft beer lovers are an extremely loyal and passionate group. They are also quite opinionated. Sounds like another category of alcohol drinkers I know. The ones I’ve been working with for the past half decade. I didn’t realize there were so many intricacies with beer, from the type of hops and yeast to some beers that are barrel-aged and so much more. All of these things equate to grape growing and wine making too where the yeast selection and type of barrels used all make unique flavors in the wine.

The only big difference seems to be the time it takes to get from production to the consumer is much quicker with beer. This is definitely a benefit to the brewer assuming they have buyers for their products. Quick turn around time is something that definitely doesn’t happen with wine.

Beer consumers are also very educated. They know their stuff. Working in a tourism industry, I have often spent time explaining how grapes are grown and how wine is made before getting into specifics of a particular wine. In the beer world, it seems as if the majority of drinkers are already educated leaving the conversation more about the specific products rather than an overview – which is why the details are so important.

Cheers!

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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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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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Traveling Tuesdays – Keating Wines (at Cornerstone)

My second stop on Tuesday was Keating Wines┬álocated South of the town of Sonoma on highway 121 in the Cornerstone art and garden center. I was lucky enough to taste Eric Keating’s first vintage of Malbec (I think it was a 2005) about 4 years ago. When I put that wine in my mouth, I knew it was something special. This is the 2007 vintage and it’s still a great wine….

Back when I initally tasted this wine, it was one of the first Rockpile (extreme Northern Sonoma County) wines I’d ever had. The flavor and texture of this 07 is stunning.

$5 gets you 6 tastings of wines made from vineyards throughout Sonoma County. I enjoyed all the wines and some of my favorites included the Sonoma Valley Merlot ($25) and the Rockpile Petite Sirah ($38). I’ve heard the Beckstoffer Georges III Napa Cabernet is outstanding, but it’s not available for regular tasting. The room is large and simple with an urban upscale feel to it. The focus is definitely on the wines and I will never fault a tasting room for that. My daughter even had a space to sit that was out of the way.

I could also see hanging out on these couches with some friends.

I’d say I’m one happy taster!

The Keating Wines tasting room is open from 10-5 daily. Definitely worth a visit.

Cheers!

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