Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Faded Star Reborn

Early this month, I wrote about the Boisset family's efforts with Raymond Winery in the Napa Valley.  Tuesday I had the opportunity to see the results of their work since purchasing Sonoma's Buena Vista Winery in 2011.

Buena Vista Winery was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, a native of Hungary, making it the oldest commercial winery in California.  In recent years, the winery went through a number of owners and its star faded.  The wines were good but not exceptional.  The old Champagne Cellars building closed due to damage sustained in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In 2011, Boisset Family Wines, one of Burgundy's largest wine producers, purchased Buena Vista.  Led by Jean-Charles Boisset, the company began a major renovation of the property.  Last year, the Champagne Cellar reopened after undergoing an extensive seismic retrofit estimated to have cost over $7 million.  Also, for the first time in many years, wine was made onsite at Buena Vista.  More work remains, but today the old winery shines again.

Buena Vista offers a variety of tasting options. You can drop in to do a stand-up tasting of a variety of whites and reds.  By prior appointment, daily barrel tastings are offered in the Champagne Cellars at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  On Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., "Count Haraszthy" will take you on a tour of the property and tell you about its rich history.  You'll need a reservation to join the Count on his walk.

Buena Vista Winery is a short drive from Sonoma Plaza at 18000 Old Winery Road.  The tasting room is open daily, excluding major holidays, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  If you would like to take a private tour of Sonoma Valley that includes a stop at Buena Vista, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tasty Paninis in Healdsburg

Scopa is a well-reviewed Italian restaurant in the charming town of Healdsburg in Northern Sonoma County.  As it is open only for dinner and I am seldom in Healdsburg in the evening, I have yet to sample chef/owner Ari Rosen's cooking.  Last year, Ari opened a more casual restaurant, Campo Fina, which serves both lunch and dinner.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to lunch at Campo Fina.  Now I want to go back to taste Ari's dinners at both Campo Fina and Scopa.  The lunch menu consists of a variety of hot and cold paninis, small plates for sharing, salads, and a special from Grandma's House.  We were a group of seven and enjoyed everything.  We shared honey-glazed carrots, hard boiled eggs with salsa verde and pickled celery, pickled vegetables, and ciabatta with extra virgin olive oil.  Four of us had paninis, two had the special from Grandma's House, and one enjoyed a salad.  Everyone raved about his/her meal.

Campo Fina is open daily from 10:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.  If you would like to make this your lunch spot on a tour of Northern Sonoma County wine country, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Unique Napa Tasting Experiences

A few years ago Raymond Vineyards was purchased by the Boisset family, one of the largest wine producers in France.  Jean Charles Boisset took charge of the winery and created some of the most whimsical tasting experiences in the Napa Valley.

Upon arrival at the winery, you'll see signs pointing you to the Theater of Nature.  Here you'll walk through gardens to learn about Raymond's devotion to Biodynamic farming.  You'll see a variety of vegetables and animals that contribute to producing high quality grapes.  If you have young children with you, they will especially enjoy seeing the white peacocks, chickens, goats, and sheep.  Also outside is Frenchy's Winery, where your dog can enjoy a respite while you are tasting inside.

When you first walk into the tasting room, it looks like a fairly ordinary Napa tasting room, but you'll need to dig deeper.  You can walk down the Corridor of Senses to see if your sense of smell can pick up the many aromas found in wines.  Instead of tasting out front, walk back into the Crystal Cellar where you will learn about the art of decanting and see more Baccarat crystal than you've probably ever seen before.

If you plan ahead, more tasting experiences await you.  By prior appointment, you can take a blending seminar and make your own wine.  You'll get to take your wine home with you and Raymond will save your blending notes for future reference should you want more of your special cuvee. 

The Gold Room enables you to taste JCB Wines in opulent surroundings.  Your group can have a sit-down tasting surrounded by more gold (color, not metal) than you've ever seen in one room.

Finally, if you are a big fan of Raymond's wines, you can become a member of The Red Room.  For a $500 annual fee, you can make use of a room lined with red velvet that has a feel of old-time men's club, complete with a pool table.  The Red Room has its special red blend, which can only be tasted here.

There are other tasting options at Raymond, so visit the website and see what suits you.  If you'd like to take a private Napa tour that includes a visit to Raymond Vineyards, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at or (866) 326-4237 (toll free).