Wine of The Week

Sports News

Posted on: Wednesday 12/17/2014 10:21pm

The must-see and taste vineyards of Sonoma Valley

Posted on: Saturday 12/13/2014 1:36am

Scott Greenberg, syndicated wine columnist

Passport to wine country: Sonoma Valley, part one

Posted on: Friday 12/12/2014 1:59pm

AP_WineTravelSonoma.jpg
Taking a trip through wine country? WTOP Wine Contributor Scott Greenberg offers his favorite spots in Sonoma County. (AP Photo)

Scott Greenberg
WTOP Wine Contributor

WASHINGTON -- Last week, we took a quick spin through Napa Valley. This week, we continue our Passport to Wine Country series with a visit to Napa Valley's big brother: Sonoma County.

I say "big" because Sonoma is about 75 percent larger by land mass than Napa Valley and includes several specifically distinctive appellations, including a dry inland region and a coastal region.

We'll tackle Sonoma Valley in two parts, beginning this week with a few of the more notable wineries around the bucolic city of Healdsburg.

But first -- a reminder on a few things you'll want to keep in mind before you go.

If you want to make the most of your wine-travel experience, there are a few things you need to know. With so many people visiting wineries and so many wineries to visit, it definitely pays to spend some time planning your trip before you go in order to avoid crowds and get a better-than-average reception during your visit.

Many wineries may charge a small fee for tasting a flight of their wines. Often, these fees are waived for groups that have appointments set up by wine shops or other wineries.

If you don't have a friend in the business, consider hiring a company to set up your visits. I like to send friends to Cellar Pass, an online winery booking site that will create a custom tasting tour of California wineries, catering to the size and tastes of your group. I have also heard good things about Small Lots Tours, a company that specializes in family-run operations in Sonoma and Napa.

Regardless of where you go, here are a few useful dos and don'ts that will make your visit more enjoyable.

A Few do's:

  • Reconfirm all of your appointments. It goes a long way with the winery to demonstrate goodwill.
  • Leave plenty of time between appointments so that you have time to spend at each winery without having to cut your visit short or rush off to the next one.
  • Consider hiring a car or van service or ask someone in your group to be the designated driver.

A Few don'ts:

  • Don't show up late. Most wineries have a lot of things to do and people to see, particularly during harvest, so show up on time.
  • Don't show up unannounced unless the winery specifically lists hours during which they are open to the public.

As for my specific recommendations, here are a few of my favorite wineries to visit in Sonoma Valley:

Rodney Strong Vineyards
11455 Old Redwood Highway
Healdsburg, California 95448
707-431-1533

In 1962, legendary dance performer Rodney Strong went from toe-tapper to grape-stomper when he and his longtime dance partner, Charlotte Ann Wilson, married and purchased vineyard land and an old winery in Windsor.

His wine, made from estate-grown grapes, eventually garnered so much attention that he was able to raise enough equity to buy land in Sonoma County, where he created a "boutique winery within a winery" that offers premium, small-lot wines. In addition to the wonderful wines, there is a celebrated summer music festival where picnickers can enjoy top acts while sipping wine under the stars.

Dry Creek Vineyards
3770 Lambert Bridge Road
Healdsburg, California 95448
707-433-1000
dcv@drycreekvineyard.com

Located just a few miles outside of Healdsburg, Dry Creek Vineyards was the first new winery established in the Dry Creek Valley after Prohibition.

MIT grad David Stare had a vision to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek appellation. That decision led to cementing the winery's legacy as one of California's most important wineries. Today, David's daughter, Kim Stare Wallace, and her husband, Don Wallace, are at the helm of DCV. Now, they produce over 25 wines from 10 different varietals, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and, of course, Sauvignon Blanc.

Matanzas Creek Winery
6097 Bennett Valley Road
Santa Rosa, California 95404
707-528-6464
info@matanzascreek.com

This out-of-the-way winery, tucked into the middle of Bennett Valley, boasts gorgeous grounds where lavender fields compete with vineyards for your attention. Its park-like setting makes this a great picnic location.

Take in the scenery of oaks and olive trees while enjoying a bottle of the wonderful Merlot. The Sauvignon Blanc has quite the reputation, too. Stop by the gift shop for lavender soaps, lotions and other products made from lavender grown at the winery.

Ram's Gate Winery
28700 Arnold Drive
Sonoma, California 95476
707-721-8700
info@ramsgatewinery.com

The wines and the architecture here offer visitors a strong sense of place. The winery, opened in 2011, resembles the weathered farmsteads that dotted the landscape 100 years ago. Wines are crafted from grapes locally sourced, imbuing each sip with the taste of place.

Food and wine pairing options are available -- from a simple chef-packed picnic to pair perfectly with the wine choice, to the "Behind the Gate" experience that's part tasting, part cooking class.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

Tip: Always make reservations before wine tastings

Posted on: Saturday 12/6/2014 12:34am

Scott Greenberg, syndicated wine columnist

Wine travel: Your passport to wine country

Posted on: Friday 12/5/2014 10:01am

Napa.jpg
A server fills glasses in preparation for a 10-year vertical tasting of Joseph Phelps Insignia wine. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Scott Greenberg
WTOP Wine Contributor

WASHINGTON -- Wine consumption is up in the U.S. from 2.73 gallons per resident in 2012 to 2.82 gallons per resident in 2013. And along with wine consumption, wine tourism is booming as well.

Many wine consumers have turned to wine-themed destination travel over the last several years. According to The Wine Institute, a California-based government relations association that represents wineries and wine-related businesses, 20.7 million tourists visited California wine regions in 2013, adding $2.1 billion to the economy.

Articles with titles such as "Ten Great Places to Hike, Bike and Sip in California Wine Country," and "Five Great California Wine Country Road Trips" are now commonplace in trade and consumer publications.

However, if you want to make the most of your wine-travel experience, there are a few things you need to know. With so many people visiting wineries and so many wineries to visit, it definitely pays to spend some time planning your trip before you go, in order to avoid crowds and get a better-than-average reception during your visit.

Many wineries charge a small fee for tasting a flight of their wines. Often, these fees are waived for groups that have appointments set up by wine shops or other wineries. If you don't have a friend in the business, consider hiring a company to set up your visits.

I like to send friends to Cellar Pass, an online winery booking site that will create a custom tasting tour of California wineries, catering to the size and tastes of your group. I have also heard good things about Small Lots Tours, a company that specializes in family-run operations in Sonoma and Napa.

Regardless of where you go, here are a few useful do's and don'ts that will make your visit more enjoyable.

A Few Do's:

  • Contact your local wine shop and ask them to arrange for a personal appointment for you and your group.
  • Reconfirm all of your appointments -- it goes a long way with the winery to demonstrate goodwill.
  • Leave plenty of time between appointments so that you have time to spend at each winery without having to cut your visit short or rush off to the next one.
  • Consider hiring a car or van service or ask someone in your group to be the designated driver. Tasting multiple wines at several wineries can add up to a DUI -- and law enforcement in wine country are exceptionally well-trained to spot and detain inebriated drivers.

A Few Don'ts:

  • Don't show up late. Most wineries have a lot of things to do and people to see, particularly during harvest, so show up on time.
  • Don't over-consume. Spit if you can, taste if it must, but remember to consume all alcohol products responsibly.
  • Don't be a rude guest. Visiting a winery is like going to someone's home -- and in some situations, you are going to someone's home. Be polite and buy wine if you like it.
  • Don't show up unannounced unless the winery specifically lists hours during which they are open to the public.


Below are a few of my favorite wineries to visit in Napa Valley.

Smaller Wineries:

Neal Family Vineyards
716 Liparita Rd.
Angwin, California 94508
707-965-2800; info@nealvineyards.com

Mark Neal has created the union of farming Napa's most prized appellations and uses the fruit from those vineyards to produce Napa Valley and vineyard-designated wines. Many of the sites that were selected have been under vineyard management with Jack Neal and Son since 1968, with all grape sources for the Cabernet Sauvignon programs either owned or under vineyard management by Jack Neal & Son.

Mark and winemaker Gove Celio direct the farming practices and have refined their techniques for many years. They share the common goal of producing superior grapes required to make quality wines, sustainably, so that future generations may do the same.

They have also taken a leading role in organic farming, certifying all NFV wine program vineyards with the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Wine tasting in their caves, drilled deep into the hillside, is an unforgettable experience. Reservations are required.

Bennett Lane Winery
3340 Highway 128
Calistoga, California 94515
877-629-6272; info@bennettlane.com

Located at the North end of the Napa Valley, where the valley floor meets the edge of the Mayacamas Mountain and near the quaint town of Calistoga, owners Randy and Lisa Lynch have created a winery to make wine they like to drink as a complement to a meal and not the centerpiece itself. Ask to see their "petting vineyard" -- a small vineyard that is set up to show visitors the different types of wine varietals and vines. Reservations are recommended.

Saddleback Cellars
7802 Money Road
Oakville, California 94562
707-944-1305; barbara@saddlebackcellars.com

Known as "The King of Cabernet," legendary winemaker and owner Nils Venge is a hoot! He has been making stellar Cabernet Sauvignon since its establishment. Nils' philosophy on making wine is that wines must reflect the best qualities of Napa Valley; sometimes a single vineyard, sometimes a single appellation, or a blend of appellations to make the best wine in a particular vintage.

Despite his reputation as "The King," Nils is a down-to-earth, cheerful, full-of-life kind of guy, whose wines not only reflect the character of their region, but also seem to reflect his personality -- bold, yet approachable, friendly and fun, with layers of complexities. While Saddleback is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., I recommend calling ahead for reservations.

Venge Vineyards
4708 Silverado Trail
Calistoga, California 94515
707-942-9100

Nils' son, Kirk Venge, gravitated to winemaking at an early age. He proved to be as talented a winemaker as his father, making wines in his own style, with a vision to build his own legacy in the valley.

In 2008, Kirk achieved his lifelong dream and acquired full ownership of Venge Vineyards from his family. Today, Kirk continues the Napa Valley heritage, focusing on select vineyard sites that produce fruit worthy of bearing the Venge family name. Not open to the public, so reservations are required.

Larger Wineries:

Chateau Montelena Winery and Estate
1429 Tubbs Lane
Calistoga, California 94515
707-942-5105; reservations@montelena.com

Chateau Montelena is one of the most beautiful and storied wineries in Napa Valley. A visit to the grounds is worth the visit alone. In 1972, under the leadership of Jim Barrett, the vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the Chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment.

Barrett assembled a team to oversee the vineyard and winemaking, then grew and contracted for the highest-quality grapes in the Napa Valley. Decades later, this celebrated, family-owned winery continues to thrive with Jim's son Bo Barrett at the helm. Be sure to watch the movie Bottle Shock before you go. Open daily to the public, but reservations are required for the exclusive library wine tasting.

Joseph Phelps Winery
200 Taplin Road
St. Helena California 94574
707-963-2745

Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, Joe Phleps bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards and construction of a winery.

The Joseph Phelps winery was completed in 1974 in time for harvest, crushing grapes for the first Insignia and the first Syrah bottlings. It put Joe Phelps and his Joseph Phelps Vineyards on the map of top Napa Valley wine producers. One of the best views of Napa Valley is from the porch of their tasting room, making it a wonderful place to pick up a bottle of wine and take time out of your day and relax. Open to the public daily. Reservations required for their private tasting room.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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Posted on: Saturday 11/29/2014 4:11am

Scott Greenberg, syndicated wine columnist

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Posted on: Saturday 11/1/2014 1:18am

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