Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
August is my birthday month on the 31st and as fate would have it opportunities developed in June and July that allowed us to create a months’ worth of wine tasting adventures. It turns out to be a lot more work than you might think and I hope you will find the tour entertaining.
The tour for your casual host began rather small; actually it began in a garage in a nondescript business park on the west side of Santa Rosa.
It was not your regular garage filled with cars and trucks, but a garage filled with winemaking equipment and barrels of wine where wine hobbyists and small producers get together to crush the grapes they grow or purchase for their own use and share with others. You can see from the photo that I wasn’t lying about the fact that we were in a garage. We found some pretty good wine and some we really didn’t care for but all in all it was fun.
The next adventure took us not to a garage but perched on a hillside overlooking Alexander Valley at the Robert Young Estate Winery and a comparative Cabernet tasting experience. It’s not every day that I start drinking $90 Silver Oak cab at 10 A.M. but someone had to do it.
We were offered tastes of Silver Oak, Alexander Valley Vineyards and Robert Young wines all 2018 vintage plus an older vintage. The Alexander Valley AVA is noted for its Cabernet and the Robert Young family has been in the grape growing and wine business for over 100 years in the same location.
Silver Oak is a rather cult wine and not something we have access to with a waiting list and all so I was looking forward to tasting the 2018 at $90 and 2012 at $120.
Unfortunately, I was expecting something more, the ’18 was very good but maybe it was the time of day or that I don’t know what $90 wine tastes like, the ’12 was showing some age.
Alexander Valley Vineyards 2018 “Organically Grown” was described as “a summer cabernet” light and not at all tannic, I wondered if being organically grown had any effect.
Their 2018 “School Reserve” was “beautiful” and the choice of the tasting panel – really lovely fruit and balance and only $55, more of what I was expecting from SO. We are fans of AV wines and have visited their more casual winery on several occasions over the years.
It was quite the learning experience to hear a wine manager point out that we were drinking wine produced from vineyards not 100 feet up the hillside from where we were sitting.
The 2018 Robert Young “Sicon”, a Bordeaux style blend was just OK to my pallet for the $50 price, Peg liked it.
Their 2018 cab was pretty good but my overall winner was the Alexander Valley ’18 Cab.
I asked the event host what she took away from the tasting and her thoughtful comment was, “…all of the wine exhibited a real sense of place”. I couldn’t agree more.
“Happy National Pinot Noir Day and this is where we’re at, we only have 24 wineries pouring Pinot Noir for us tonight”, laughs Chris Sawyer noted wine writer, event judge and sommelier. “I feel really good about this Woody, I really do”.
And so began our next adventure on the birthday wine trail.
The tasting at Gravenstein Grill in the heart of Russian River Pinot Noir country showed the great diversity of Pinot Noir reflected by the wineries locations.
“Wineries are here from the Sonoma Coast, from the central coast, a little bit of Anderson Valley up in Mendocino, some Santa Rita Hills from Santa Barbara County and of course all throughout the Russian River”, Sawyer noted.
Our next stop several days later was an uphill battle – literally. Pine Mountain winery is 42 acres of mostly Cabernet grapes at altitudes of between 2,200 and 2,800 feet in clay and volcanic soil on the west facing side of the Mayacamas Mountains overlooking Cloverdale California.
Unfortunately our visit became rather arduous as we had to scale several miles of mostly steep, one lane gravel roads that twisted, turned and fell off precipitously down the mountain. The further we battled up the road the more lightheaded I became due to the sudden increase in altitude; sorry I’m an old man.
“There is a taste difference between grapes from the different altitudes even though it’s the same fruit and the same wine maker,” explained staffer Nikki Mustard. Unfortunately we had to take her word for it as with my altitude issues and the winery being short staffed – we never got to taste the wines and I’m afraid we’ll never return – I was just too high.
We did finish strong though enjoying food and wine stops with our friends at J. Rickard and Mercury and made new friends at Ramazzotti who shares a tasting room with the Mercury folks, all on flat and level ground in Geyserville.
Finishing off our month-long adventure we returned to the Nelson Family Winery in Ukiah, just an hour north up in Mendocino County where we spent a lovely and remarkable evening listening to every song that the late Tom Petty ever sang courtesy of a wonderful cover band, Petty Theft.
It was a glorious evening at a great natural venue and the wonderful wines from Nelson Family Winery made the evening perfect and a great way to finish our month-long birthday wine tour.
Gallo’s Going Long
Are you ready for some football … and a glass of chardonnay? That’s the bet E. & J. Gallo Winery has undertaken as the NFL’s new official wine sponsor. The country’s largest wine company hopes to reach more consumers by aligning itself with the sports juggernaut that attracts up to 180 million fans even in an era of fragmented media and entertainment.
“We think this is a great way to insert wine into a new occasion,” said Stephanie Gallo, chief marketing officer. “The wine industry has to continuously challenge ourselves as to how we make ourselves relevant to the next generation of consumers,” she added.
The deal makes a lot of sense for Gallo because the NFL is at the center of the national cultural zeitgeist with its games being typically the most viewed TV broadcasts in the country, said Rich Campbell, a marketing professor at Sonoma State University (CA.) who specializes in sports business
“The NFL isn’t the elephant in the room. The NFL is the room,” Campbell said. “They’re like the presidential suite at that level. Firms and brands want to be associated with them.”
The effort by Gallo also is long overdue as the wine industry has failed to keep up in broad-based advertising to reach consumers in comparison with both the beer and spirits industry, said Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division.
He noted the wine industry’s view appears to be “pretty much sticking to our approach. It worked in the 90s, and, damn it, it is going to work in the 2030s.”
The company has no plans – at least not yet to do a Super Bowl ad, Gallo added. (really, can you believe that?) but the agreement does give Gallo “pouring rights” at premium league events, including the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl.
It’s mission now is to expand the playing field, whether at the stadium or at home. “We’re mission-focused on winning new friends for wine.” Gallo said.
I must note that Gallo is filling the “void” with its Barefoot brand, a mostly under $10 a bottle brand that features sweet and fruity blends with a few red exceptions and is a big grocery store and discount (read Walmart) staple.
Not So Easy to Roll Out the Barrel
Droves of barrels destined for Northern California wineries have been sitting in shipping containers for weeks, sometimes months because of a massive bottleneck at the Port of Oakland, CA. New oak barrels are essential during the harvest season for fermenting and aging wines, and the delays are generating logistical challenges that could force wineries to cut corners on quality.
Barrels, which cost roughly $1,000 each, are just the latest supply-chain issue affecting the wine industry, as delays have persisted throughout the pandemic. Wineries have already struggled to get materials like glass and corks to bottle their wines.
Reports are that between 20,000 and 30,000 barrels are waiting to be released and the missing barrels could have a “devastating effect” on “California’s wine community.”
The most pressing issue for those waiting on barrels is a lack of space for bringing in fruit. Each winery has a limited number of tanks to use. When a fresh wave of harvested grapes is brought in and needs processing, they typically move some of the wine in tanks into barrels.
Jennifer Higgins, winemaker at Healdsburg’s Lambert Bridge, hasn’t received her Chardonnay barrels. In the meantime, she said, she’ll have to put the Chardonnay in 1- or 2-year-old barrels and transfer it over to the new wood once it arrives. It’s not an ideal solution.
“Any time you move something, you’re opening it up for oxidation and losing aromatics,” she said. “You want to try to preserve that freshness. It likes to stay where it ferments.”
In Person Tasting Update for KFC Real Chicken Nuggets
Loyal ‘Whiners’ will recall that I shared with you in last month’s edition of Kentucky Fried Chickens release of its first-ever real chicken nuggets and that the nuggets were being tested at select stores in the Charlotte, N.C. area. The 100% white meat chicken nuggets are coated in KFC’s signature 11 herbs and spices and can be paired with meal deals and the brand’s classic sauces.
So I finally got the “boots on the ground report” from my intrepid sampler and while his report was brief, it’s positive. I should note that he admits to loving KFC chicken but I would never question the honesty of his remarks.
“There was full promotion of the nuggets at the location and staffers talked them up, as in “You’re going to like these!” “My order was served hot but just a tad greasy”.
Our taster thought these nuggets were nice size pieces of real chicken and were very tasty and that the varieties of sauces offered were also good.
“They (nuggets) were as good as Popeyes”, and you know that’s saying something.
He finished his report sharing that he completed an on line survey card for a $10 credit, and has in fact received the coupons.
Real chicken and cash back, how can that be bad?
The Color of Rose’
Let’s set the record straight once and for all. The color of a rose’ tells you nothing – truly nothing! – about how good the wine is.
The popular myth that lighter-colored rosés are superior to darker ones got a big boost recently when Real Simple magazine, (who?) posted an item on Instagram, declaring: “Always buy the Rosé that is lightest in color.”
Wine-industry insiders went bonkers, posting angry responses to the post to counter the misinformation summarized as “worst advice ever.” The bad tip comes from an actual wine professional who, among other things is a curator for Martha Stewart’s wine club.
This rosé-color myth has persisted for a long time (I’ve never heard it) as many people associate dark rosé with low-quality, sickly sweet wines like Sutter Home White, although the colors of those wines have nothing to do with their respective qualities, it’s easy to see how folks confused correlation for causation.
Rose’ is made when you take red grapes and let the grape juice steep with its skins. The shorter that steeping time, the less color and conversely the longer the steeping time, the darker the wine will be. We’ve had some great ones lately of all different colors made from a wide range of wines.
Remember: Never judge a wine by its color – please go tell your friends! And check out the following recommendations.
You Can Drink California Rosé for $20 or Less
Rosé has transcended trend status. It’s now a permanent fixture of life in California. These days seemingly every winery in the state makes a Rosé, and winemakers perennially report that it’s their most popular product, selling out quickly. People can’t get enough.
Here’s some of the best bottles out there right now, ordered alphabetically.
Balletto Rosé of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2021 ($20, 13.3%): Rose petal aromas lead into the juicy core of this wine, which suggests nectarine and watermelon flavors. We sampled and liked this wine at the tasting that I reported on in last month’s “Whine”.
Fossil Point Rosé of Grenache Edna Valley 2020 ($13, 13.2%): There’s a briny, sea-salt note carrying the palate of this wine, grown in the heavily ocean-influenced Central Coast region of Edna Valley.
Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands 2021 ($17, 13.9%): This is a zingy, bright, ripe-tasting rosé. It recalls strawberry preserves and rhubarb,
Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2021 ($20, 13.9%): A grown-up version, literally, of white Zinfandel, this wine is dark-magenta in color and full-throttle in flavor and texture. Made by one our favorite winemakers and was the featured “Wine of the Week” in the Santa Rose Press Democrat the week of 8/8/22.
Rodney Strong Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2021 ($20, 13%): Here’s a classically delicate, floral take on rosé, with a potpourri aroma and flavors of strawberry and watermelon.
Stolpman “Love You Bunches” Rosé Central Coast 2021 ($19, 12.5%): A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah —grapes commonly used in the classic rosés of southern France. This rosé bursts with citrus, sweet herb and just-barely-ripe strawberry flavors.
The SF Chronicle
My recipes for Sesame Salmon Bowls and Caramelized Five-Onion Dip are in fact right here, enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA. at www.woodythewineguy.com