Sonoma Wine Celebrates 40 Years, Sparkling Note to Finish, Cheese Burger Heaven and a chock full Half a Glass and More in This Edition of Woody’s Whine!

 “l like the “Whine” because it’s about good food and drink and has interesting tidbits.” MarMar – suburban Chicago

By

 Woody Mosgers

Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County

Sonoma Celebrates 40 Years of Special Names

40 years ago I was 35 years old and hard at work into my discovery of wine and food. My work was advanced by the creation of the first AVAs (American Viticultural Area) in Sonoma County that designated specific names for wine regions and the wines coming from them.

I recently attended an event that celebrating the 40th anniversary of the creation of those Sonoma AVAs and was happy to say “thank you” to those responsible for the original effort. It’s part of why we live here now.

Julie Pedroncelli is the matriarch of the Pedroncelli Winery (Dry Creek AVA) and is the president of the Sonoma County Wine Library Association.

Pedroncelli hosted a recent Association presentation that honored the anniversary of the creation of the AVAs at Balletto Vineyards in the heart of the Russian River AVA.

“Wine always starts in the vineyard and we wanted to be able to define our territories, most importantly the soils and the climate as simply calling it Sonoma County wine didn’t tell the whole story”, she offered.

“The importance of defining the viticulturally areas was to give the consumer a little more confidence about the wine they’re buying and exactly where it came from and what sort of flavors they can expect from their bottle.”

The Sonoma County Terroir includes nineteen AVAs which define the diversity of this renowned wine region and exhibit a far greater variety of wine styles and grapes than you will find in most other premium wine areas.

“An approved AVA from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) means that a region has proved to the agency there’s something very special about the particular appellation and that’s how we arrived at names that 40 years later are now commonplace to the wine industry; the Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, the Russian River, Carneros and Sonoma Coast are some of the better known areas as producers of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay respectively”, she explained.

John Balletto is founder of the well-known Balletto vineyards and was a driving force regards the original effort to designate the Russian River as an AVA.

“In our case the Russian River is our designated AVA and only grapes that are grown in the AVA and wine that is produced in this area can use the Russian River name on the label, which is a pretty big deal when it comes to marketing and recognition. Research tells us that the Russian River Valley is in the top five recognized areas for wine production, only topped by Napa,” he tells me.

“The grapes that come out of this area, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc are just phenomenal and they can compete with anything worldwide.”

“We’re only about 15 miles from the Pacific ocean so the fog rolls in overnight and hangs until about 10 or 11 in the morning keeping the grapes cool and allowing the chemistry in the grapes, the acids so forth to do their job and then when the heat comes in in the afternoon it’s usually only in the mid-80s with just enough sunlight and heat to move the process along, then the fog returns early in the evening cooling the grapes and allows the maturing process to continue.” he explains.

“The Russian River AVA is so important as a marketing tool to consumers and gives us a big edge in attracting grape buyers looking for a quality product because of our unique weather and how it affects the hang time of the grapes and all the other factors that allows us to produce the quality fruit that we do.” And then he smiles as he says,” They’re not making any more dirt like this.”

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On a personal note we live at the eastern boundary of the Russian River in Santa Rosa, no grapes in our yard but they’re only minutes away.

Gravenstein Grill Finishes on a Sparkling Note

Sparkling wine from smaller produces was the theme of the final wine event for the season at The Gravenstein Grill and unfortunately for the future, but more on that later. As always our cordial host was the grills wine director and noted wine empresario Chris Sawyer.

“I wanted to create a cozy atmosphere and the unique thing about this tasting it was really focused on small producers who are making interesting sparkling wines; I mean we even had a sparkling Zinfandel this evening” (not so great)

‘It was a great opportunity to kick off the holidays even though sparkling wine is not just about celebrating, I think it equals smiles and it’s about making great wine and sharing great wine, it’s an evening to celebrate the sparkling wine producers in Northern California.” Sawyer commented.

Not to be ungrateful and while there were a couple of interesting smaller wineries sampling sparkling wines I had really hoped to be able to taste wines from Roederer estate, Chandon, Mumm, Gloria Ferrer and Schramsberg to help develop my recommendation list for Christmas and New Year’s, alas my hopes were dashed.

We did enjoy the sparklers from the Domaine Carneros their Blanc de Blanc, the Scharffenberger Rose’ that did make my wine list and Iron Horse Wedding Cuvée for future reference.

It appears that Mr. Sawyer will have to find another venue for future tastings as the Gravenstein Grill unexpectedly announced its permanent closing right before Christmas citing higher food costs and lower bookings.

I was worried when they chose to go to an upscale menu several years ago to attract winery owners, their clients and wine tourists. We couldn’t afford to eat there anymore and it appears that others thought the same way. It is a lovely location with a terrific out door space and nice bar. We hope someone will find it worth reopening.

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Finding Cheeseburger Heaven

It’s known as one of our most iconic backyard barbecue and diner foods – the humble cheeseburger of course. And since what goes on top is literally and figuratively the highlight, it’s important to use the finest quality cheeses. The good news is, because most types melt well when covered on a hot grill or with a dome cover if using your stove, there are plenty of outstanding options. Most any good cheese will melt well as long as it’s sliced or shaved to the proper thickness—the harder the cheese, the thinner the cut.

Master Recipe

  • 1 ½ pounds high-quality, freshly ground meat (20% fat)
  • 4 premium rolls (sesame seed, potato, brioche all work well)
  • 4 slices of cheese (any kind)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Form the meat into 4 patties, ¾-inch thick. Do not overpack. Press a large dimple into the top of each patty to counteract bulging. For maximum sear and crunch, bring a gas or charcoal grill to high heat (400° F to 500° F). Butter and toast the rolls.
  2. Oil the grill grate and season the patties generously with salt and pepper. Cook the meat about 3 ½ minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other, only flipping once. Top the meat with the cheese and cover for 1 ½ minutes. Serves 4.

Note: The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 160° F (well-done) for most ground meat. For medium-rare cook to 140° F to 145° F.

Grilled Gourmet Beef Burger

Build It: Follow the Master Recipe.

Choose Your Cheese: Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam, rind removed, sliced ¼-inch thick ($22 for 7 ounces). Alternatives: Thin slices of a mellow blue, such as Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue Cheese ($19 for 7.5 ounces), or an American original, such as Vella Monterey Dry Jack ($7 for 3.5 ounces).

Top It Off: Ketchup, sliced pickles, lettuce and tomato.

Classic Beef Smash Burger

Build It: Use just 1 pound of ground beef, cold out of the refrigerator, and form into 4 pucks. Put the meat on a hot griddle or cast-iron skillet. Flatten the meat with a metal spatula and cook for 2 ½ to 3 minutes on one side, then 1 to 2 minutes on the second.

Choose Your Cheese: Many chefs insist on American cheese for their burgers because it melts easily and, thanks to its relatively bland flavor, adds richness without hogging the spotlight from the meat. Try thin (⅛-inch) slices of American cheese from Organic Valley or Tillamook. For more oomph, opt for a Colby, such as Deer Creek’s The Robin ($9.50 for 7.5 ounces), or a Cheddar, such as Prairie Breeze’s white Cheddar ($11 for 7.5 ounces).

Top It Off: Tomato, pickle, lettuce, bacon, raw or caramelized onions and Special Sauce (½ cup mayonnaise mixed with 1 tablespoon each of mustard and ketchup).

Wine Spectator

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Half a Glass

Would You Like a Donut With Your Egg McMuffin?

Krispy Kreme and McDonald’s are in “advanced discussions” to expand their relationship. McDonald’s began testing the sale of three different types of Krispy Kreme doughnuts at nine participating locations in the Louisville, Ky. market last fall. Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced an expansion of the pilot to 160 locations in Louisville, as well as nearby Lexington, Ky. Now, both companies are exploring further options.

Currently, at McDonald’s drive-thru locations, customers can choose from Original Glazed, chocolate iced with sprinkles, and chocolate iced Kreme-filled, and can order them all day in-store, at the drive-thru, via delivery or on the McDonald’s app.

Fries with your donut?

National Restaurant News

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Eric Asimov – Chief Wine Critic of The New York Times

Describe your approach to wine writing?

First, I am a journalist responsible to my readers and colleagues. I am not a member of the wine industry. My job is to inform, question and inspire, not to sell bottles. I imagine I’m writing for an intelligent, curious audience comprising a range of people, from those who know very little about wine to those who may know more than I do about certain areas, along with plenty in between. My hope is to span that spectrum without alienating people on either end. 

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

Prime rules I adhere to: Don’t pick a wine that will overwhelm the food, and don’t serve food that will blot out the wine. If you can manage that, good food and good wine will be great together.

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Wineries Should be Taking Care of Older Consumers

The premise is that Baby Boomers are aging out of wine buying and drinking, therefore, the wine industry needs to entice Gen Z (and Millennials) or risk going the way of the dodo bird. What are we to do?

One idea would be to shift the conversation to a more worldly wise demographic. A recent report noted: In 2023, there are more than 46 million adults aged 65 and over living in the US and that number is predicted to rise to almost 90 million by the year 2050. That’s one hell of a lot of potential wine drinkers – consumers who lack dependent children (we assume) and hopefully have a few dollars in the bank.

“Wine consumers who are 60 and over in age consume 31 percent of all wine versus consumers in their 20s who consume 25 percent,” explains Dr Liz Thach MW, president of the Wine Market Council.

“In general many consumers don’t start consuming wine in a serious manner until their 30s. This is a similar pattern around the world. The 20s are a time of experimentation, and right now wine cocktails, wine spritzers, etc. may seem more appealing to this group, as well as the new trend of sober-curious, which is impacting all alcohol.”

A Wine Market Council consumer survey reportedly  found that 23 percent of consumers aged over 70 drink wine at least once a week, compared to just 16 percent of those aged under 30. Just imagine it: a rapidly expanding army of older consumers firmly committed to this brand of red, that type of white. As it stands today, approximately 44 million Americans drink wine once a week – or more often.

“Changes in consumer priorities and habits mean that wine brand owners need to re-engage with an audience that’s increasingly older and more affluent, and one that is seeking more premium and interesting wines.”

Wine Searcher

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Spring is a great time to visit wine country, no ladies with big hats, lower rates on lodging and more casual times at wineries and restaurants who will be glad to see you, happy to help.

That’s my Whine and I could be wrong…Greg Baise

A recipe for Costco Mac & Cheese – I had to and my recipe for a Very Up Scale Au Gratin Potatoes with Bacon Onion and Cheese in fact right here. Enjoy!

Woody Mosgers, cooks, custom caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.

Woodywine@aol.com