Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Two New Russian River Valley Tasting Rooms

I just returned from two days of drinking good wine and eating delicious food in the Russian River Valley. During my journeys I was introduced to two beautiful new tasting rooms.

Arista Winery was founded in 2002 and focuses on Pinot Noir. They also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtzraminer, and Zinfandel. The tasting room is in a beautiful Japanese-influenced building that is surrounded by formal gardens atop a hill, making this a perfect stop for a picnic. Arista is located at 7015 Westside Road, near Healdsburg. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment.

Lynmar Winery is older than Arista, having been founded in 1990, but its stunning hospitality center is brand new. Lynmar produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Your tasting experience includes wine and food pairings. On a nice day, you can enjoy your wine on the hospitality center patio and gaze out at the Quail Hill vineyard. The winery also has facilities for group meetings and luncheons. Lynmar is located at 3909 Frei Road, near Sebastopol. The hospitality center is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The Russian River Valley is best known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you want to take a private tour of this beautiful part of wine country that includes visits to Arista and Lynmar Wineries, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Delicious Wines - No Tasting Fees

Most wineries in the Napa Valley charge a tasting fee ranging from $5 to $15/person for their regular wines and up to $40/person for reserve wines. Fees were not always the norm. In the 1960s and 1970s winetasting in Napa was usually free. But too many people were stopping at the wineries for a free drink; with no interest in learning about wine and no intention of buying any. So most wineries started charging fees to taste.

One of my favorite wineries in the Valley,
Frank Family Vineyards, has great wine, hospitable staff, and free tasting. Frank Family remains the only winery that I frequently visit on tour where my guests have always purchased wine. Why? Because the wine is delicious. If you like big wines, Frank Family is for you. They produce a Chardonnay, which they call a white wine for red wine lovers; a regular, reserve, and premium Cabernet; a very big Zinfandel; Sangiovese; four sparkling wines; and a Zinfandel Port. All wines are not always available. Being a small winery, they frequently sell out of their releases. If you would like to taste a wine that is not being poured, ask if the wine is available. The staff will accommodate you if they can.

The tasting room is very casual. Dennis, Tim, Pat, Jerry, and Jeff preside over the room and will make sure you feel at home. In fact, the tasting room looks like it is in a 1950s ranch home. The front room is where you will taste the sparkling wines, which Frank Family calls Champagne. When you are finished up front, you will be ushered into the rear room to taste the still wines. At the end of your visit, you will have tasted at least six wines, gotten a good wine education, and probably laughed a bit. If Jeff is pouring ask him why he calls the Zinfandel, "LPR."

Frank Family is in the historic Larkmead Winery and the former home of Hans Kornell Champagne. The tasting room's address is 1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga and is open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

If you would like to include Frank Family on a private, custom tour of the Napa Valley, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Buying Wine at the Wineries

When taking guests on tour, I get many questions about purchasing wine while visiting the wineries. The first thing to remember when visiting a tasting room is that, while the wineries want to sell you wine, you are under no obligation to do so. Life is too short to buy wine you will not enjoy.

Prices at wineries are usually not below the prices you might find at a local discount wine shop or liquor store. Wineries will not undercut their distributors on price, so they generally sell at the full retail rate. However, there are some big exceptions:
  • A discount is usually offered if you buy a case (12 bottles). This need not be a case of just one wine. Mixing is permitted.
  • Joining the wine club provides discounts. Becoming a member of a winery's club lets you get a shipment of wine at regular intervals (two to six times per year). Prices are discounted on the regular shipment, plus additional savings are offered on other wines. A wine club is great when you like a winemaker's style and are willing to try whatever the winery sends you. There is no fee to join a wine club and most wineries let you cancel at any time. However, you must live in a state to which the winery may ship. (More on this another time.)
  • There are end of release sales. Sometimes the winery can no longer store old vintages and needs to sell them quickly to make room for new releases. I have bought some tasty wines and saved 40-50% of the regular price at these sales.
  • Many wines are only available at the winery. This is the most important factor to consider when purchasing wines at the winery (assuming you like the wine). Some wineries produce wines that you can easily find when you return home and others that are only available from the tasting room. If you enjoy one of these winery exclusives during your stop at the tasting room, you should buy it while there. Winery exclusive wines are usually produced in small amounts so may not be available if you try to order it directly from the winery at a later date. Plus some states only permit the wineries to ship wine to you when you are physically at the winery.
  • Many wineries do not distribute their wines. I love visiting small wineries. My guests get to taste wonderful wine and have great times talking with the tasting room staff. At times they get to meet the winemaker. Many of these wineries sell all or nearly all of their wine from the tasting room. Even when a winery has limited distribution the odds of 1 of their 3,000 cases ending up in your local wine shop is very remote.

  • I hope this information will help you better enjoy your next visit to wine country. If you want to take a private tour in Napa and Sonoma Counties to some of the small wineries, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here. I will try to pick wineries for you to visit that produce wines that you are likely to enjoy.