I am a reader. I love fiction. The juicier, bigger, more fantastic the fiction the more I like it. I like my wine the same way. There is an ingredient that makes a really good book a forever memorable book and that is when I learn something while I am being entertained. “The Da Vinci Code” was one of those books. So was “A Discovery of Witches.” Sonoma was that kind of trip. I didn’t want to leave!
First thing that made this trip memorable was the group. Coreen, LeBeau, Kristina, Wally, Jim, Kelly, Michelle, Bryan, Sally, Janice (my new friend), and Maureen were wonderful travel partners. We toured together and then did our own thing as well. Thank you all for one of the most amazing vacations I have had in years! Special thanks must go to Coreen for the suggestion of a wine vacation, contacting Platypus Tours and setting up two great days of winery and brewery tours. Additional thanks goes to Kristina Parker for arranging our hotel stay at Dry Creek Inn. Thank you Cat Wofford for shipping our wine to us so carefully and gently!
Day One: We Gathered
Sally and her friend Janice arrived a day or so earlier than the rest of us. She rented a cottage instead of staying at the hotel. Kudos Sally! It was a brilliant idea!
Bauer Farm. She spoke with owner, Blake Bauer and he generously agreed to arrange a welcome party on the 26th when the rest of us arrived. It is going to be challenging to put into words how wonderful this was but I am going to try.
After a long day of flight delays, car rentals, crazy traffic and crappy airline peanuts we arrived at Bauer Farm. Maureen and I were the last to land so when we got there everyone was gathered on the back patio. This patio looked onto Blake’s garden filled with vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs. Gulpers were sitting and chatting or wandering through the garden while this quick moving man with gray pony tale worked setting up two tables laden with goodies. Fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden were skewered with lettuce and bacon, yep, baby blt’s! Salmon was laid out with all the accoutrements of capers, onions, cream cheese spread and fresh artisanal bread from a local bakery. Locally produced sausages and chorizzo were grilled and offered on platters. More bread was sliced and was surrounded by homemade spreads using ingredients from his garden like basil, peppers, and garlic. Mission figs from his trees were piled up next to a pomegranate reduction dipping sauce. Yes, he grew the pomegranates. Bottles of wine were scattered around the tables for our tasting pleasure. Blake invited a friend of his, Chris, who was in the local wine business and he shared his knowledge and passion of wines with us. The buffet tables looked beautiful and the food tasted as amazing as the setting looked. (Please note: From here on out I apologize if I repeat my adjectives. I just don’t think there are enough in the English language to describe the scenery, flavors, smells, and pleasure).
While chatting and munching Blake showed us his fruit press and then demonstrated how it worked. Several of us took turns pressing local Gravenstein apples. We then enjoyed tasting the fresh juice. I grew up with an apple tree in my yard as a kid and we ate apples, cooked apples, canned apples, you name it we did it. It was nothing to eat apples fresh off the tree, warm from the sun. That,s what drinking this juice was like. Now when I drink any juice from the store I want it cold. It tastes better. I can only guess this is because it is mostly processed sugar water but this juice was so fresh, sweet and full of flavor I was smacked in the face with apples and memories. I could have drunk several glasses of it. We went through the pressing process again this time with grenache grapes from Blake’s vineyard. Here comes the first of dozens of fun facts from this adventure. Blake explained as he filled the press with purple grapes that no matter the color of the grape on the outside the juice inside is always white. It is the skins that give a particular wine its color and imparts the extra flavor! I think I kind of knew this but I didn’t realize for instance that champagne is made with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and is white even though pinot noir grapes are very dark purple. They just don’t put the skins in! Crazy, I know.
Blake’s friend Chris then took all this a step further when he offered a tasting of recently bottle grapes from Blake’s vineyard. Blake’s grenache grapes (and skins) produced a pretty garnet colored wine. It smelled a bit like honey and flowers. I might have just been smelling the garden I was in. It was light bodied and was still young in flavor, more alcohol than grape but it was good nonetheless and I wanted to kick Sally and Janice out of the cottage and move in. I was having Lucy Ricardo visions of grape stomping and vine wrapped bottles dancing through my head. It was a perfect evening of laughs, relaxing and friends. It was a dream and I didn’t want to wake up but eventually the day caught up with us and we said our good nights.
Day Two: We Toured
Thursday morning came with cool temperatures (it was 50 degrees) and fog. After everyone got breakfast we gathered at 10:00 am for a day of winery tours. We met Scott, our guide from Platypus Tours and he gave us a quick rundown of the day and invited us onto the bus to get the tour started. Before I go on just let me say that Platypus Tours and Scott rock. Scott was knowledgeable, fun and boy he knew how to drive a tour bus on very curvy roads. Scott also guided the gang the next day on brewery tours but we will get to that later.
Inspiration Vineyards. Jon introduced us to the job of “punching down the grapes.” His winery was filled with giant tubs of grapes. Some were open, some closed, and all were in the middle of fermentation. Everyday, three to four times a day he uses a big metal paddle and punches down the top of the grapes. Get ready for another fun fact! When grapes are fermenting yeast eats away the sugar and pushes out alcohol, heat and co2. When the co2 releases stuff floats to the top like seeds, and skins. Remember that the skins give the wine color so they must mix with the juice to do this hence the punch down. He demonstrated the process and then invited us to give it a try. We were so enthused we punched down 7 of his tubs! We PAID to punch down his grapes, (the tasting cost $10.00). Isn’t he a wily winemaker? After we finished our chores Jon took us to the tasting room where we enjoyed 8 different tastings from Chardonnay to Syrah. I am sure you know my favorites were the reds. I especially enjoyed the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was so dark purple it was almost black. The nose was chocolate, leather and raisins. The flavor was just like its aroma with a lovely finish of chocolate. I could totally enjoy this with a steak or chocolate mousse. Others really enjoyed his 2010 Russian River Estate Reserve Chardonnay. It was golden in color and smelled like apples and toast. The taste was more minerally than I expected but the creaminess from the oak was there in spades. It was a very tasty wine. We thanked Jon for his hospitality and headed on to our next vineyard.
Scott took us on a lovely long winding road and shared different tidbits of wine lore like why are there sparklers in some of the vineyards. After a quick tug of our legs with “Oh that is just the bubble from the sparkling wine grapes….ha ha” he explained that they were reflective streamers to keep the birds out of the grapes. Later another source would explain all the abundant rose bushes at the end of rows were to distract the deer, (they love to eat roses), and keep them out of the fields. Finally we pulled up to one of the prettiest locations I have seen in a very long time. VML Vineyards is situated in the middle Russian River
biodynamic and organic principles to the growing of the grapes. Back to the tasting. Christine was our guide through this tasting. We started off with a gewürztraminer. This was was the palest of yellows, almost clear and smelled of apples. It was drier than I expected and I didn’t get any of the clove or cinnamon I usually taste with this varietal but it was full with apples and peaches. With a little more age this will be one heck of a good wine. The 2010 Boudreaux Pinot Noir was another interesting selection with its pretty ruby hue. The nose was full of smoke, chocolate and blackberries, much bigger than your average Pinot. For me, it was high acid and there was an alcohol hit right at the beginning then it mellowed to a very jammy glow with a touch of licorice. (Real licorice, not the cherry stuff). It was at this location that Scott our guide made a picnic lunch for us. We enjoyed sandwiches, quinoa salad and fruit as we took in the scenery and sipped a rose’ Christine brought out. Made from pinot noir grapes it was coral colored and smelled like strawberries and pepper. As with the Pinot Noir it was high in alcohol which deflected from the other flavors in the glass. While we were sipping Jim and Kelly came strolling out of the vineyard and Kelly had tears in her eyes and Jim was wearing a big Cheshire cat grin. Those two crazy kids went into the grapes and got engaged! Woo Hoo!!!! Congratulations you two! In their honor Christine broke out a bottle of sparkling rose’ they had just bottled. It was my favorite of the visit. Pale pink with the strawberry smell I now associate with VML. It was refreshing and tasted like happy! It was fruity with just a hint of spice and a lovely crispness that I could have enjoyed all day long sitting on their patio and gazing into the gardens and vineyards. What a great place! Finally we had to say goodbye and head to Montemaggiore.
Montemaggiore, (pronounced: montay-ma-johray), is a breathtakingly beautiful vineyard precariously situated on a mountainside. Owner, Vince Ciolino told us the mountain wasn’t only for the great view. His grape vines struggle on the mountain…alert alert fun fact coming: It is better for the wine if the grapes are stressed and starved a bit on the vine. The reason is a stressed vine produces small berries with more concentrated juice and more skin. Remember from before the skins give the wine color and flavor. A happy, healthy and juicy grape might be good for Welch’s but not for winemakers. The Ciolino’s produce predominantly syrah wines and they want the deep dark colors, aroma and taste the these grape skins give their juice. Vince was a wonderful host and husband, referring often to the deft winemaking skills of his wife and partner Lise. He spoke extensively on the care they pay to their vines. The Ciolinos employ biodynamics and sustainable farming methods that they believe not only take care of the earth but make a better wine. They use no chemical products on the vines and the employ both animal and hand labor. Sheep are used as natural mowers and weed eaters. Cow horns are used in the compost to add important nutrients to the soil before broadcasting it across the vines. Their efforts were proven in their wines. Tasting the 2007 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah I can totally understand why it won “Best in Class” At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. It is dark purple in color and smelled like raisins, dark berries and cinammon. It was smooth and balanced full of jammy flavors touched with more spice and, call me crazy, a hint of eucalyptus. It was wonderful. Another phenomenal example of this family’s commitment to the wine was the 2004 Superiore. This Cab/Syrah blend is delicious. Again, it is inky in color with scents of cassis, black cherries, and smoke. The flavor matches the aromas with an additional hint of chocolate. We loved this so much the group went in on a case of it. Thank you Ciolino family for a wonderful visit during a most amazing day. We are back in the bus and onto Hawley Vineyards.
Hawley Vineyard in the middle of the harvest. The Hawley men were in the process of pressing the grapes that had just come in from the fields. We were greeted by Austin Hawley while his brother and dad kept working at getting the grapes in. It was a real treat to visit a working vineyard. Not that the previous stops on our tour weren’t wonderful but there was something special about walking around hoses, conveyor belts and fermenting tubs. Austin set us up at a makeshift counter of a plank on top two wine barrels. We were treated to about 7 different wines from white to red and there were two standouts that must get mentioned. The first was a viognier. Austin called it sunshine in a bottle and he wasn’t wrong. This golden color wine smelled of honeysuckle and tasted like summer peaches. God it was delicious! The second wine was so good I bought a bottle and opened it as soon as I got back to Florida. It was a 2005 old vine zinfandel. It was a deep dark ruby color and smelled like berries, smoke and vanilla. It tasted like heaven. It was smooth, with a long finish and full of jammy berries and spice. Austin was a warm host but it was obvious we were interupting. We didn’t linger and thanked them for a big finish to a great day.
At the end of the day we went our own ways. Some went back to their rooms to relax after a busy day. Others went into town for a couple more tasting rooms and dinner and others got together for an impromptu dinner at the hotel. Before we parted we thanked Scott once more for such a crazy informative, tasty, romantic and completely fun day.
Coreen will tell the story of Day Two and the beer tours.
The next Gulp gathering is Oktoberfest featuring beer on October 28th. Get your reservations in as soon as you can for this annual grand event!
See you there!
Keep Your Eyes open for these upcoming Events
Check out what is happening October 27th! It's a field trip!
More Info to Come, just starting to gather info now. Plan is to rent a van and have it tote us around, stopping at Tequesta Brewing Company, Bx Beer Depot, World of Beers, Due South and do tastings at each location. Like I say, I am just starting to do the legwork now, so just save the date now.wine-making state.
Let me know as soon as you know you are interested so I can plan accordingly
PAYPAL AT GOTTSCHALK.COREEN@GMAIL.COM.
the cost of this event will be in the range of $30-$35. Purchasing beer at the stops will not be included so that you can budget your flights or single pints for yourself. Your price will include a delicious "lining your bellies" lunch at the Serenity Garden Tea House and your transportation for the day. Timeline and More to come