Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bocce, Fresh-Baked Bread, Olive Oil, and Even Some Wine

Preston of Dry Creek is a family-run, organic farm and winery in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma County. Lou and Susan Preston bought their first land in the Dry Creek Valley in 1973. At that time, there were more prunes on the land than grapes. They produced their first wine in 1975 - Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then the winery has grown and downsized. Today the winery focuses on Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignane, Cinsault, Viognier, and Rousanne, as well as Zinfandel.

Preston is a fun, casual place to visit. For five dollars, you can taste four wines from the menu. Some freshly baked bread is usually for sale, so bring some cheese and other food and stay for a picnic. The tasting room also sells olive oil, olives, and organic produce from the garden.

Want to have a little fun after you taste Preston's wine and enjoy your picnic lunch? Try your hand at a game of bocce - the Italian bowling game.

Preston is at the northern end of the Dry Creek Valley at 9282 Dry Creek Road. The tasting room is open daily from 11:00 - 4:30 p.m. If you would like to take a private tour of the Dry Creek Valley that includes a stop at Preston, please phone me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bubbly in Mendocino County

I'm cheating a bit on this post. Since my last two posts were on bubbly in Napa and Sonoma, I thought it would be good to do a third on bubbly in Mendocino County. However, I wrote about sparkling wine in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County 9 months ago. Therefore, I'll just include a link to the old post:

Since I'm talking about the Anderson Valley, this coming weekend, February 21 and 22, is their International Alsace Varietals Festival. For more information, visit

If you would like to take a private tour of the Anderson Valley, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bubbly in Sonoma County

The Russian River Valley is the place for sparkling wine in Sonoma County. This wine region produces world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two of the three grapes used in Champagne. (The other is Pinot Meunier.)

The three principal producers of sparkling wine in the Russian River Valley are Iron Horse Vineyards, J Vineyards and Winery, and Korbel. All three are well worth visiting.

Iron Horse has a simple, outdoor tasting area atop a hill covered with vineyards. Tasting bubbly on a sunny day while gazing out over the rolling hills of vineyards is an only-in-California experience. Don't expect any fancy dump buckets here. Just throw whatever you don't want to drink onto the grass. The winery offers flights of still or sparkling wines at various prices from 10:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Tours are offered by prior appointments on weekdays. Iron Horse can get crowded on weekends, so try to visit on a weekday when you will get more personal attention.

J Winery provides a nice contrast to Iron Horse. The tasting is much more upscale looking. A flight of four still and sparkling wines is offered daily. In addition, J recently started a tasting of their small-production wines in their main tasting room. For a special experience, visit the Bubble Room on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. With a prior appointment, you can taste J's white, red, and/or sparkling wine paired with delicious foods.

Korbel is the westernmost tasting room in the Russian River Valley. It's not near other wineries, so make sure you want to invest the driving time to get to Korbel. When you arrive, you'll find beautiful brick buildings, a nice cafe with indoor and outside dining, a large gift shop, and more types of sparkling wine than any other producer in Sonoma or Napa County. Korbel also offers regularly scheduled tours.

Carneros, which lies in both Napa and Sonoma Counties, also produces excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Gloria Ferrer, the American outpost of the Catalan cava house - Freixenet, produces high quality bubbly in the Sonoma side of Carneros. The tasting is pretty simple at Gloria Ferrer. Walk up to the counter, order a glass of bubbly, and take it to a table in the tasting room or on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. Gloria Ferrer offers tours, but call first to make sure they will be offered on the day you plan to visit.

If you would like to take a private tour of Sonoma County's sparkling wine producers, please feel free to call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bubbly in the Napa Valley

While the Napa Valley is best known for Cabernet, some world-class sparkling wine is produced there. Three of the French Champagne producers have long had outposts in Napa. The first was Domaine Chandon, part of the Moet Chandon empire. This was followed by Mumm Napa, a sister winery to GH Mumm and Perrier Jouet in Champagne and part of the Pernod Ricard group, and Domaine Carneros, which was founded by Champagne Taittinger in 1987.

Of the three, my favorite to visit is Domaine Carneros in the Carneros Region of Napa County. Table service is provided on the terrace in front of the Chateau, a wonderful spot to enjoy bubbly on a sunny day. You can also pair cheese, caviar, and other foods with your wine.

Mumm Napa also offers table service on a sunny terrace overlooking the vineyards. They also have a photography gallery with rotating exhibits and photos by Ansel Adams. Mumm does not offer food pairings, but does have a free tour of the winery. Domaine Chandon tends to get crowded. While you can enjoy your wine at a table, you need to take your glass back to the bar when you are ready to move on to the next wine.

Two wineries best known for Cabernet also offer bubbly. Frank Family in St. Helena is one of the last wineries in Napa not to charge a tasting fee. However, that does not mean the wine is not good. Your visit to Frank Family will start with a tasting of their current release sparkling wines, followed by a tasting of their still wines. Frank Family has one of the friendliest tasting rooms in the Valley. Try to avoid Saturdays as they do get crowded. When Cliff Lede bought S. Anderson to open his eponymous winery, he inherited about 10 years' supply of S. Anderson's bubbly. If you visit Cliff Lede within the next year or two, they should still have some S. Anderson sparkling wine available for tasting.

Schramsberg is one of the premier producers of California sparkling wine. The winery is at the far northern end of the Napa Valley, near Calistoga. Your tasting comes with a tour of the winery that includes a visit to caves built by Chinese laborers in the 19th century. Schramsberg is very popular and tastings, which require advance appointments, tend to fill up early on summer weekends. So plan ahead if you want to see this historic property.

If you'd like to take a private Napa tour that focuses on sparkling wine, please call me at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail me by clicking here.