Friday was the sandwiched day of our trip, a continuation of the 4th wine trip that I’ve taken with Pops. I wrote about the first day when we visited Flora Springs via GiftyBox and Pope Valley Winery. It was the beef in our burger, cold cuts in the sammy, ice cream in the It’s-It, or…ok, enough! Anyhow, Friday was our transition day to from Napa to Sonoma. It was also the only day on the trip where Pops and I had no set plans.
We started the day as usual, having coffee at Brown’s Valley Yogurt & Espresso Bar, with Pops’ buddies. Following that, we headed out, alllll the wayyyy to Sonoma (it’s about 20 minutes max, from my Parents’ home in Brown’s Valley, Napa). Our first stop was actually a couple miles South of Sonoma at one of our favorite diners, the Schellville Grill. It’s been serving great down-home food for decades and almost just as consistently, flooding every Winter. The all-important big wine-tasting breakfast accomplished, we headed further South to the Sonoma portion of Carneros after some thoughtful planning over our country potatoes.
Carneros is one of the few sub-appellations in California that actually straddles two full appellations, Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. It is a much cooler region, known mainly for their Burgundian varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As the North Bay inland temperatures gain in digits during the later afternoon in areas such as Napa, Yountville, Calistoga or Sonoma, thor lower air mass rises, drawing in cool air from the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific. This allows the grapes to cool down during that critical part of the day, retain their acidity and slow sugar development. All of this allows for longer hangtime, particularly for those two cool climate varietals. I find two other varietals make even more interesting wine from this region, however. Cool climate Syrah and Merlot have really piqued my interest of late. I think that it gives these traditionally jammier and perhaps, flabbier wines more structure and restrained power. This tension creates some fascinating aromas and flavors that combine into a more complete wine than might be seen in warmer climes.
The first winery we visited was Cline Cellars, one of the longtime producers of wine in California and well-known for their Zinfandel as well as their wines from their original hometown of Oakley in Contra Costa County. After starting at the outside temporary wine bar alongside the beautiful pond and plaza, we moved indoors and were nicely served by Stan. He had a tremendous store of information about Cline and their extensive vineyard holdings around the state. The ’06 Cool Climate Syrah and ’07 Cashmere GSM blend were two of my favorites. Pops and I both agreed that all of the wines had exceptional quality for their low prices. After diplomatically deflecting an out of state tourist’s colorful comment about my mohawk, we decided to head out a little further South to Viansa.
I’ve heard mixed reviews of Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace over the years. It was described as both bombastic and impersonal and conversely that it was a wonderful enclave of Italian culture. It was time to see for ourselves. Originally started by part of the venerable Sonoma wine family of Sebastiani, it is now owned by small conglomerate. Pops and I pulled into the rather full parking lot and I was concerned that it might be too busy to be enjoyable. As we stepped into the upper part of winery towards the tasting room, we realized that we might have been right…it was packed. Pops had already made the decision to skip this one, but I trudged on (it’s rough, I tell you!). I was making no headway after almost 10 minutes, however. As I looked behind myself, I saw another bar (which you can see in the back of the photo) that was empty and unmanned despite the other bar stacking 4 people deep. I did get a couple tastes after a pourer urged others in front of me to pass along my glass, but I lost my patience over the next 10 minutes and set my wine glass down 3 tastes short with my payment as a coaster. While heading back out to the parking lot, Pops and I asked the sort of maitre’d of the establishment about some back story and about why the other bar was empty. He proceeded to tell us that it was *too slow* at the winery that day and they didn’t want to open the other bar…a rather confounding decision, to say the least!
We hung a right out of the parking lot and headed over to another flamboyantly, Italian styled winery and Cline owned property, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Jacuzzi has some gorgeous architecture, but has definitely taken inspiration in scope from the neighboring Valley’s palatial wine estates. While impressive and very rustic, it does tend to give off a bit of an ostentatious feel, which is very rare in the more rural Carneros, minus the previous winery that we had just left. Fred Cline, owner of our first winery of the day, began making Jacuzzi wines in a tribute to his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, the famed inventor and home winemaker in 1994. They finally finished their palatial winery last Summer and have quickly built up a large contingent of wine visitors. Pops and I were taken care of by a tag team of Linda and Robert, who were very courteous pourers. My favorite wine pick from Jacuzzi was (as no surprise to my loyal readers) their ’04 Valeriano Super Tuscan blend, made up of Estate fruit from their extensive cooler climate holdings in Carneros. While it would have been nice to hang out for a bit to enjoy the view from their piazza overlooking the Los Carneros watershed alas, it was time to head to another venerable California wine destination.
Buena Vista Carneros has an extremely long and sometimes storied history in California. Originally founded as the very first winery in California in 1857 by the self-described Count Agoston Haraszthy, a very colorful Godfather of wine in this state, it has been through many iterations since then and seen it’s original extensive holdings split up (indeed, another favorite winery of mine Bartholomew Park, is on land that was part of the original estate and named for one of the owners over the years, Frank Bartholomew). I can recall numerous family picnic visits to this winery as a child with vivid recollection due to the incredible original architecture that houses the winery and tasting rooms. Boasting one of the best places to picnic in the Carneros (or Sonoma for that matter), I was excited to actually be old enough to finally taste their numerous small lot wine selections from their Estate Vineyard Series. Diane treated us to some fine selections of mainly Pinot and Chardonnay, with my palate enjoying the Pinots the best. It was pretty difficult to pick a favorite from the series that features small lot wines, all with different clonal selections from their premiere Ramal Vineyard in Carneros. The Chards were not in the style that I prefer, that buttery, full-bodied and toasty “Napa Style” that is more to Mom’s palate, but I can’t deny how well those wines embodied that style. Their lineup of reds were really the stars of the day, however.
After finishing up the last of the Pinots, we headed out for a quick stop at the last wine destination of the day at another legendary Sonoma family winery, Sebastiani in the town of Sonoma. The Sebastiani’s have been growing and making wine in the valley for over a hundred years, starting in 1904 with Samuele Sebastiani, a Tuscan who emigrated to the valley at the turn of the century. The last couple decades have seen the Sebastiani’s emerge as one of the premiere domestic negociants, as well as the producers of solid and affordable estate grown wines. Their extensive campus has recently completed renovatons, something from which their website could also benefit as it is a bit cumbersome to navigate. We only had a brief time to visit here before they were close to closing, but I did get to taste a nice selection of wines that were ably poured and described by Jerry before heading out to an early dinner. Their ’06 Barbera was the most interesting wine of the group.
We finished up the day with an early dinner at the longtime Irish pub establishment just off the Plaza, Murphy’s Irish Pub. It was some darn good grub and it was great to have a rather refreshing Irish brew after a long day of wine tasting. We then headed back to our hotel for some pool time. We stayed at the the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn & Krug Event Center, also just off the Plaza. While it was relatively nice and had a decent pool and spa area, it was not worth the $200 that we spent on our standard 2 bed room. One boost however, was the free Friday wine tasting happy hour. Now, normally these things feature mass-produced wines that can be found in any supermarket, but the Inn was not going that route that night. Steve Morvai from Roshambo was there pouring some of their very latest releases, which was a very nice treat. I was amazed that I could still clamor for more wines to taste! It was a nice, relaxing way to complete a very good day with Pops.
Feel free to check out my reviews below of all of the wines that we tasted on that second day of our trip. All are tagged as the others that we tasted on this trip, with “4thPSWT2008” if you would like to list these wines in your own WineLog. Enjoy!