Monday, December 29, 2008

Cozy Winery in the Russian River Valley

It was cold outside. When my group walked into the tasting room at C. Donatiello Winery they immediately gravitated to the leather chairs in front of the fire place. They would have been content to just stare at the fire, but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay awaited them.

C. Donatiello is a lovely new winery on Westside Road, southwest of Healdsburg, in the Russian River Valley. The winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the grapes that made the Russian River Valley famous. Not only can you taste an array of wines in the cozy tasting room, but you can also stroll through the surrounding organic aroma gardens. Plants in the garden represent the flavors and aromas associated with Pinot and Chardonnay.

During the summer, C. Donatiello hosts a number of events, including concerts by well-known musicians. You can here the likes of Booker T. Jones while picnicking on the terrace next to the aroma garden. Space is extremely limited, so check the winery's website for a list of upcoming events.

The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Russian River that includes a visit to C. Donatiello, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winetasting During the Holidays

Many tasting rooms operate on different schedules during the weeks of Christmas and New Year's. If you are planning on doing some winetasting in Northern California during the holidays, you might want to call your favorite wineries in advance to make sure their tasting rooms will be open. If that's too much work, here's some general guidance.

Most wineries will open and close at their regular times each day from December 21 through January 3, except on December 24, 25, and 31 and on January 1. A few of the small wineries will close for a few days during this period.

Most wineries will close early on Christmas Eve and a few will be closed entirely. After 2:00 p.m., there are very few tasting rooms open on December 24. Wineries also may decide to close earlier than planned if business is slow.

All tasting rooms are closed on Christmas Day.

Most wineries will close early on New Year's Eve; although some will stay open until their regular closing times. After 2:00 p.m., definitely call prior to visiting a tasting room to see if it is open.

Only a handful of wineries are open on New Year's Day. I know that Nicholson Ranch near Carneros and V. Sattui in Napa are open, but I am sure there are a few more. Phone ahead of your visit to confirm if the tasting room will be open.

If you would like to take a private wine country during the holidays or in 2009, please feel free to phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here. Blue Heron will be closed on both Christmas and New Year's Day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

2 for 1 in the Russian River Valley

One tasting room, two wineries. That's what you'll find when you visit Balletto Winery and Dutton-Goldfield Winery.

John Balletto has been farming for over 30 years; first vegetables and now grapes. In 2001, the family began making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from grapes they grew. Since then, they have expanded their vineyards to approximately 400 acres and added Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Syrah to their portfolio of wines. The family continues to sell most of their grapes to some of the area's top wineries.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery makes wine at Balletto Winery and pours their wines in the same tasting room. The winery was founded in 1998 by Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield. Steve and his family manage over 1,000 acres of vineyard. Dan's passion is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which he first made at La Crema and then at Hartford Court, before moving on to Dutton-Goldfield.

When you visit the Balletto and Dutton-Goldfield Tasting Room, you will be able to sample current releases from both of these small producers. Friendly staff will guide you through one or both winery's wines. The tasting room is located at 5700 Occidental Road, just west of Santa Rosa and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Russian River Valley that includes a visit to the Balletto and Dutton-Goldfield Tasting Room, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Winetasting in Nevada County

Nevada County is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks about California wine. It is also gets lost among the Sierra Foothills wine regions. However, there are 16 wineries located within short drives of Nevada City and Grass Valley that are ready to welcome you to their tasting rooms.

Two wineries have tasting rooms in Nevada City -- Indian Springs Vineyards and Nevada City Winery -- and three in Grass Valley -- Burch Hall & Coyoteville Wineries, Lucchesi Vineyards & Winery, and Sierra Starr Vineyards. All of these tasting rooms are open daily, from between 11:00 a.m. and noon to around 5:00 p.m.

The balance have tasting rooms at their wineries. The wineries are far apart from each other and not on main roads. A tasting room map will help you plan your visit. You can download one from Northen Sierra Wine Country's website. Many of these wineries are open to the public on Saturday afternoons and some are also open on Sunday afternoons. Appointments are needed to visit these wineries on weekdays. Some wineries always require an appointment to visit.

These wineries are mostly small, family affairs. Ten thousand cases is a lot of production in Nevada County. We visited five tasting rooms on a recent visit and found friendly staff everywhere. Usually there is no charge to taste.

Most of the wine is very reasonably priced, with most wines costing between $10 and $25 per bottle. Unfortunately, at these prices, many of the wineries cannot afford to buy the best in winemaking equipment. New French oak barrels are out of the question. Staves and used barrels are sometimes used. My favorite wines were at Sierra Star in Grass Valley.


In my last post, I highly recommended a visit to the charming town of Nevada City. If you find yourself in the area, you might want to visit a couple of the tasting rooms. However, I wouldn't recommend heading to the area solely to winetaste. The wineries are too far apart and the wine not of sufficient quality to make the Nevada County wine region a destination unto itself.

If you would like to have a private tour to Nevada City and/or Grass Valley, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Charming Nevada City

Nevada County is at the northern end of California's Gold Country, about one hour northeast of Sacramento and about 2 1/2 - 3 hours from San Francisco. The county is home to at least 15 wineries, which I'll talk about in my next post. First I want to highlight the charming town of Nevada City.

The first gold miners settled along Deer Creek in 1849. The town quickly grew with 30,000 people calling Nevada City home at one time. Today Nevada City is much smaller with just 3,000 people living in town. The central business district is on the registry of National Historic Landmarks. City law requires that the downtown area keep its 19th century appearance. Walk down any street and you will see many Victorian homes and buildings.

Fall is a nice time to visit Nevada City. The summer's heat has dissipated and the winter rains have yet to come. Many streets are lined with maple trees and, as a result, this is one of the few places in Northern California where you can see fall foliage. Broad, Main, and Commercial Streets are home to many antique stores, boutiques, galleries, and interesting shops.

The town is home to a number of restaurants. We dined at New Moon Cafe and Citronee Bistro and Wine Bar. New Moon Cafe features California cuisine, while Cintronee is more American albeit with a French influence. New Moon Cafe has a very interesting wine list that includes wines from some lesser known wine regions. You're sure to find something tasty at either restaurant. If you want a taste of New Orleans at lunch or breakfast, stop by Ike's Quarter Cafe.

Nevada City is home to many bed and breakfasts. We stayed at Emma Nevada House. Innkeeper Andy Howard will give you an overview of the house's interesting history upon your arrival. In the morning, you'll wake up to Susan Howard's delicious breakfast. Rooms are pretty good size and quite comfortable. If you enjoy Victorian bed and breakfasts, you'll want to check out Emma Nevada House.

For something a little different, try the Outside Inn. This typical roadside motel was refurbished with each room featuring a different outdoor theme. Rooms are quirky, clean, and very reasonably priced.

Whether you are a Bay Area resident in need of a weekend away from the city or an international visitor seeking some old west character, head up to Nevada City for a couple of days. You'll not be disappointed.

If you would like to take a private tour of California's Gold Country that includes a visit to Nevada City or you have a group that would like to visit Nevada City for a couple of days, Blue Heron can take care of your travel arrangements. Just call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wineries with Caves

I frequently get asked to visit wineries that have caves. Most wineries do not have caves as they do not have access to hills in which to drill caves. When wineries do have hills, they often chose to excavate caves so they can store their wine in perfect climatic conditions with minimal expense for power. Fifty-eight degrees is the perfect temperature for storing wine. With a cave, the winery does not need to spend money on heating and air conditioning. In addition, wine should be aged in a humid environment to minimize evaporation. Caves, being naturally humid, save on power for humidification.

Below is a partial list of wineries with caves that can be visited:

Napa Valley

Del Dotto - Compare barrel samples while visiting their cave.
Hall-Rutherford - Taste wine under a chandelier in the shape of a vine's roots.
Jarvis - See beautiful crystals and a restroom with twinkling stars.
Palmaz - Enter a 180 foot tall cave while being guided by a family member.
Rombauer - Tour the cave and enjoy a picnic lunch on their beautiful grounds.
Rutherford Hill - Take a public tour that includes a visit to the winery's cave.
Schramsberg - Visit caves dug by Chinese laborers in the 19th century.

Sonoma Valley

Moon Mountain - Visit one of the few natural caves used for aging wine.
Nicholson Ranch - Walk through their no-frills cave on a private tour.

Dry Creek Valley

Bella - Enjoy beautiful views from the hillside and then taste in the cave.

This list is by no means complete. It includes caves I've personally visited or have been recommended to me. If you would like to take a private wine country tour that includes a tour of one of these winery's caves, please call me at (866) 326-42377 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Indoor and Outdoor Tasting at Lynmar

If you enjoy Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay, I recommend visiting Lynmar Estate in the Russian River Valley. The winery had a tasting room in Graton for a number of years, but moved into a stunning new home on the estate a few years ago.

When you approach the tasting room, note the creek that seems to magically disappear. You'll then enter a modern salon with high ceilings and a tasting bar at the far end. You are welcome to stand at the bar while you taste, but outdoor, seated tastings are offered on nice days. Two tastings are available: an Estate Tasting for $10/person and a Reserve Tasting for $25/person. Both include tastes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. On Thursdays - Sundays, with 48 hours advance notice, you can have food pairings with your wine. Sipping wine while gazing at the Quail Hill Vineyard on a sunny day is a pleasant way to spend an hour.

Lynmar is also a great venue for special events and private luncheons. I've tasted chef Sandra Simile's work a couple of times and enjoyed her meals immensely.

Lynmar is open daily from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. If you would like to take a private tour of the Russian River Valley that includes a stop at Lynmar, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Family Affair in the Dry Creek Valley

Last week, I visited Mounts Family Winery for the first time. The Mounts family has been growing grapes in the Dry Creek Valley for over 50 years. They also farmed prunes when the valley was better known for fruit than wine. In 2007, the Mounts family decided to open its own winery.

Mounts Family Winery is a little off the beaten track, up Wine Creek Road on a hillside overlooking the Dry Creek Valley. It's best to make an appointment before you visit; although, the family is usually there on weekends. When you arrive you'll be rewarded with a beautiful view overlooking the family's hillside vineyards. One of the family members will greet you and invite you to taste their current release wines in the bare bones tasting room -- a picnic table outside of the wine cellar.

Mounts Family makes Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Syrah, and Viognier. You'll be able to taste as many wines as are available while gazing out over the hills and valley. Feel free to ask questions about the winery and the history of the Dry Creek Valley.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Dry Creek Valley that includes a visit to Mounts Family Winery, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Old Vine Zin in the Alexander Valley

Sausal Vineyard in the Alexander Valley is a Zinfandel lovers' paradise. They make four different Zins: Cellar Cats, a non-vintage estate Zin named after the winery's two cats; Family Zinfandel, which is made from estate vines averaging 50 years in age; Private Reserve Zinfandel, another estate wine but made from vines over 90 years old; and, finally, Century Vines Zinfandel, made from vines planted on the estate in 1877.

Labeling a wine as "old vines" does not mean anything legally, but all of Sausal's Zins, except for the Cellar Cats , meet anyone's definition of old vine. If you have never tasted old vine Zin, I highly recommend doing so, regardless of whether you taste some at a visit to Sausal or by purchasing a bottle at your local wine shop.

Sausal's tasting room is small and the staff friendly. There's no guarantee that all of the Zins will be available when you visit. However, in addition to tasting some of the Zins, you are likely to be able to taste one or two of Sausal's other reds, which include a Cabernet, Sangiovese, and two blends.

If you are a fan of wine from old vines and would like to taste some on a private, wine country tour, please contact me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or by clicking here. Nearby Stryker and White Oak both have old vine Zin and Field Stone has old vine Petite Sirah.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Wine Country with Kids

Touring wine country is not much fun for children. After all, watching one's parents drink is not a great spectator sport. A great compromise is to devote part of the day to a child-friendly activity and the balance to visiting wine country.

Blue Heron has long offered a tour called Red Trees and Red Wine, which combines a visit to Muir Woods with a tour of the town of Sonoma and the Carneros wine region. During this full-day tour, we start with a visit to Muir Woods, home to the coastal redwoods - the tallest trees in the world. Afterward, we head up to the Carneros wine region for an afternoon of winetasting. The charming town of Sonoma, with its Mexican-era plaza and old mission, is a great place to stop for lunch. A visit to Mission San Francisco de Solano, the last of the 21 missions built in California, can be included.

Another fun day for families is to start with a tour of the Jelly Belly Factory to learn how these delicious candies are made. Then its off to Carneros or the southern Napa Valley for lunch and an afternoon of winetasting. This tour allows every family member to come home with treats they will enjoy.

If you would like to take one of these tours, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pretty Tasting Room in Rutherford

Last December, I wrote about olive oil tasting at Round Pond's olive mill in Rutherford. This past weekend I had the chance to visit Round Pond's winery, which is located across Rutherford Cross Road from the olive mill.

The tasting room sits on the second floor of the winery; thus, enabling you to gaze out over the vineyards while sampling Round Pond's wine. You can enjoy a sit-down tasting either inside the tasting room or outside on the lovely terrace. For $25/person you will taste four wines paired with small appetizers. Staff are very friendly and knowledgeable about the winery and the Napa Valley. Tastings are offered daily between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and are by appointment only.

If you would like to learn a little more about how wine is made, you can combine a tasting with a tour of the winery, which is offered at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00 by prior appointment. The tour and tasting costs $35/person.

Round Pond produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, which were available for tasting when I visited, plus small amounts of Petite Verdot and Nebbiolo.

To make an appointment at Round Pond, please call (888) 302-2575 or visit Round Pond's website: www.RoundPond.com. Better yet, let Blue Heron Custom Tours take you on a private tour of the Napa Valley that includes a visit to Round Pond. For more information or to book a tour, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fine Dining at Mendocino's Cafe Beaujolais

Cafe Beaujolais has been serving visitors to Mendocino since 1969. After Margaret Fox purchased the restaurant in 1977, Cafe Beaujolais became nationally known for its outstanding breakfasts. In 1984, the restaurant began serving dinner. In 1990, the Beaujolais Brickery opened and diners could purchase wood-fired, brick-oven bread. Margaret Fox sold the restaurant in 2000 and the restaurant changed hands again in 2006.

Last year, I had a chance to buy some excellent breads from the Brickery but was not able to sample the new owners' dinners. In May, I finally had the chance to taste Executive Chef David LaMonica's French/California cuisine and can report that it was one of the best meals I've had along the Mendocino Coast. The filet mignon and sturgeon were both excellent. Service was attentive but informal, as one expects along the coast.

If you are planning a trip along the Mendocino coast, I definitely recommend dining at Cafe Beaujolais. It is open for lunch from Wednesday - Sunday and for dinner nightly. It stopped serving breakfasts many years ago, but you can purchase a cookbook with Margaret Fox's recipes. The restaurant is located at 961 Ukiah Street in the village of Mendocino. Advance reservations are recommended. If you would like to take a tour of the Anderson Valley and the Mendocino coast that includes dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lunch in Boonville

Boonville is the largest town in Mendocino County's Anderson Valley. For many years there were not many good options for lunch. But this has changed with the Boonville General Store. Located in the center of Boonville, at 14077-A Hwy. 128, this eatery makes great sandwiches and salads mostly from organic ingredients. You can eat in the restaurant or at one of the picnic tables fronting the road. The Boonville General Store is also a great place to pick up food for a picnic at nearby Navarro Vineyards or Greenwood Ridge Vineyards. You can also taste wine before or after your lunch at Zina Hyde Cunningham Winery, whose tasting room is right next door to the General Store.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley that includes lunch at the Boonville General Store and tasting at the above mentioned wineries and others, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sparkling Wine in the Anderson Valley

The Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, which is best known for Alsatian Varietals and Pinot Noir, is also home to two producers of excellent sparkling wine: Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars. The two wineries' histories are different but now are owned by the same company, Maisons Marquis & Domaines.

Roederer Estate was founded by Champagne Louis Roederer in 1982. Today the winery produces vintage and non-vintage bruts and ros├ęs made completely from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. The tasting room lets you sample the current releases for a small fee.

Scharffenberger Cellars was founded in 1981 by John Scharffenberger, who later left the company to make chocolate in Berkeley. The winery went through a number of changes, including a name change to Pacific Echo. The current owners restored the original name; although, the winery has no affiliation with Scharffenberger Chocolate. The winery produces a non-vintage brut, which is available for tasting in the winery's small tasting room. In addition, you can taste wines from other properties in the Maisons Marquis & Domaines' portfolio. On our recent visit, we tasted Alsatian Gew├╝rztraminer and Riesling from Domaines Schlumberger.

The wineries are about two miles apart from each other on the north side of Highway 128. Both tasting rooms are open daily from 11 - 5. Roederer Estate offers tours by prior appointment. Picnic tables are available in the garden in front of Scharffenberger's tasting room.

If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley that includes visits to both Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"

Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" is considered a classic horror film. If you are not familiar with the plot, the story is about birds attacking the residents of the small, oceanside town of Bodega Bay.

Since the film's opening in 1963, visitors have flocked (pun intended) to Bodega Bay to see the sights Hitchcock used in the movie. What many do not realize is that Hitchcock's fictionalized Bodega Bay consisted of buildings in both Bodega Bay and the nearby town of Bodega. Hitchcock also built temporary sets in Bodega Bay and filmed many scenes on a soundstage.

Today, not much remains from the filming of "The Birds." The Tides Restaurant was featured in the movie; however, the restaurant burned in 1968 and today's Tides bears little resemblance to the one shown in the movie. The restaurant's walls has photos from the making of the movie and its gift shop sells "Birds" souvenirs.

In nearby Bodega, the Casino restaurant, the Potter School, and St. Teresa de Avila's Church were shown in the film and still remain. The Potter School, named Bodega Bay School in "The Birds" and now a residence, is home to a gift shop featuring movie souvenirs. It is open on weekends when the weather is nice and on some weekdays.

Bodega and Bodega Bay are about 1 3/4 hours north of San Francisco on the Sonoma County coast. If you are winetasting in the Russian River Valley, it's an easy drive to the coast. If you would like to take a tour that includes a visit to Bodega and Bodega Bay, please feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Food and Lodging in the Russian River Valley

One of my favorite restaurants is outside the small town of Forestville in the Russian River Valley. The Farmhouse Inn is a Michelin one-star restaurant serving excellent California cuisine. I have eaten at the Farmhouse a few times and the meals have always been superb. Of course I am a sucker for a good cheese course, and the Farmhouse Inn has one. You'll probably want some wine with your meal and you are sure to find something tasty on the restaurant's 20-page wine list. The restaurant is open for dinner from Thursday through Monday.

After your scrumptious dinner, you probably won't want to drive far to go home or to your hotel room. The Farmhouse solves that problem for you. Just walk across the driveway and spend the night (or two) in one of the Inn's well-appointed cottages. All of the rooms have queen or king beds. Many have fireplaces. Some rooms have jacuzzi tubs or saunas. There's no TV reception at the Farmhouse, but rooms are equipped with DVD players and flat-screen TVs. Bring your own discs or borrow some from the inn's library.

Even though you will go to sleep feeling well sated from dinner, you will probably wake up ready for some breakfast. That's no problem as a delicious country breakfast is included with the price of your room.

Lodging prices vary depending on the season and day of the week. During summer and fall try to reserve your room and/or dinner well in advance to avoid being disappointed.

Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel can pick you up at the Farmhouse to take you on a tour of the Russian River Valley and other nearby wine regions. To book a tour, call me toll free at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Corks or Screwcaps - Part II

In July 2006, I wrote about the ongoing debate over the best closure for bottles of wine. Today most Australian, New Zealand, and Austrian white wines are sealed with screwcaps. In California, corks still predominate but screwcaps are gaining wider acceptance daily.

I just finished reading one of the more comprehensive discussions of this issue: "To Cork or Not to Cork; Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle" by George M. Taber. This book is an easy read by the former reporter for "Time" magazine and author of "The Judgment of Paris," another good read.

Taber covers the debate from all angles and delves into the history of wine closures. To the average wine drinker this may sound a bit too geeky; however, I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys reading about wine and is trying to better understand what all this fuss is about.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Stunning Napa Winery

A couple of months ago a tour guide friend told me he had been to the most beautiful winery he'd ever seen: Palmaz Vineyards. Since he has been leading wine country tours for more years than me, I figured I better seen this winery. Last week I had the chance.

Palmaz sits on a hillside overlooking the southern end of the Silverado Trail, just outside of the city of Napa. The winery is built into the side of Mount George in a five-level cave that is equivalent to the height of an 18-story building. The five levels enable the grapes and wine to move by gravity; thus, making pumps unnecessary. This gentle handling of the wine improves its quality says Palmaz, and other winemakers.

The fermentation dome is the world's largest underground reinforced structure at 54 feet high and 71 feet in diameter. The fermentation tanks sit on a carousel that enables the tanks to rotate into place to catch the grapes as they drop from the crusher-destemmer. Each fermentation tank is connected to a central computer so temperatures can be monitored constantly. These high-tech features are unlike any I had ever seen.

If you visit Palmaz, you will get to tour the winery and taste their current release wines paired with cheese or hors d'oeuvres. Palmaz produces two Cabernet Sauvignons, a dry Riesling, Chardonnay, and a sweet Muscat Canellli. The entire experience lasts about 90 minutes and costs $60/person.

While, Palmaz may not be the most beautiful winery I've ever seen, it certainly is one of the most stunning and certainly the highest tech winery I've visited. If you would like to take a private tour of the Napa Valley that includes a visit to Palmaz, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Zin and Syrah in the Russian River Valley

This past weekend I had a chance to take guests to one of my favorite little wineries -- Limerick Lane. This small, family-run winery features Zinfandel (red, not pink) and Syrah. Currently they produce four Zins, a Syrah, and their signature 1023 - a blend of Zin and Syrah. (1023 is the winery's address.) All of the wines come from the winery's vineyards, making Limerick Lane an estate winery.

But what makes Limerick Lane special is the laid back feeling and knowing that this is a real winery supporting local families; not just one of dozens of wineries in a big corporation's portfolio. Because the winery is small, they frequently sell out of wine. Thus, you are unlikely to be able to taste all of their wines during your visit. For example, 1023 is released in December and is usually sold out by early March.

This past weekend, my guests were able to taste Limerick Lane's Late Harvest Furmint. I had never heard of this grape and learned that it is a Hungarian varietal. Limerick Lane may be the only winery in the U.S. producing wine from Furmint. In addition to the Late Harvest Furmint, the winery produces a dry Furmint, but is currently sold out of this wine.

Limerick Lane's tasting room is located at 1023 Limerick Lane and is open daily from 10:00 - 5:00.

If you would like to take a private wine country tour that includes a visit to Limerick Lane, please call me at (866) 326-4237 or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Italian Varietals in Sonoma Valley

Some wineries have their tasting rooms located away from the actual winery. Wineries do this because their facilities are too far away from the usual tourist routes; the county will not issue a permit for a tasting room at the actual winery; or they lease, rather than own, production facilities.

VJB Vineyards and Cellars has a tasting room on Sonoma Highway (Hwy. 12) in Kenwood that is open to the public daily. They also offer sit-down tastings at their estate, which is just off Sonoma Highway, a couple of miles north of the tasting room.I had a chance to stop by the tasting room on a quiet day recently and found the staff to be friendly and knowledgeable.

VJB produces wine from both traditional Italian and French varietals. I enjoyed their Barbera during my visit. They also produce Prosecco, an Italian-style sparkling wine, and Tocai Friulano, a white wine. Their Italian-style red wines include Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Anglianico, and Primitivo. Their French varietals include Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah. Finally, they produce a Zinfandel (red, not pink).

VJB is a good stop on any visit to the Sonoma Valley. You'll get to taste wines that are not commonly available in an enjoyable environment. If you would like to take a private Sonoma tour that includes a stop at VJB, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Friendly French Cafe in Occidental

Last February I wrote about the small town of Occidental in the Russian River Valley and the Inn at Occidental. At that time, I did not have the opportunity to dine at the well-regarded Bistro des Copains. So on a recent overnight in Bodega Bay, I decided to drive the 30 minutes to check out this restaurant.

It was a typical winter's night in Occidental. The rain was pouring and the winds were blowing. When we entered the cozy restaurant, we were warmly greeted by owner, Michel Augsburger. We had many tables to chose from as not many folks were venturing out on this wet, chilly Monday night. We selected a window seat and decided on a red wine to help ward off the cold. While we were in California's wine country, Michel helped us select a French red to accompany the Provencal cuisine.

The bistro offers a very reasonably priced three-course tasting menu that changes daily. Since cassoulet - one of my favorites - was featured, my choice was easy. My wife opted for a salad and a thin-crust pizza. The food was good and the service casual and friendly. I definitely recommend dining at Bistro des Copains if you find yourself in West Sonoma.

I'd be happy to help you plan a vacation that includes a visit to the Russian River Valley or the Sonoma Coast. Just call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.