As my wife and I are
Tandem Wine Club Members La Follette Club Members — and as Quivira Winery and Tandem La Follettee are related (“sister wineries”) — we decided to swing by Quivira Winery after our visit to Michel-Schlumberger — an easy five-minute drive away. As some background, my wife and I were introduced to Tandem Wines in July 2008 at a restaurant known then as The General’s Daughter located in Sonoma — the restaurant has since been sold and reopened under the new name “Estate” and is now more of an Italian restaurant. Getting back to my short story, the sommelier recommended that we try Tandem’s 2005 Peloton as she told us, “the interesting thing about Peloton is the blend changes each year yet it consistently is a good tasting quality wine” — I totally agree. I have found that I have enjoyed the blend from 2003 through 2005 with the 2005 Peloton being my favorite. The photo below is Tandem’s 2007 Manchester Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir which is a wine I wrote about earlier and illustrates Tandem’s label should you be unfamiliar their wine.
I assume you are wondering how the visit to Quivira Winery is relevant to a Tandem Wine club member. In January 2009 Greg La Follette (Tandem) agreed to take on a new majority partner, Wine Creek, founded and owned by Pete Kight. Pete Kight is also the owner of Quivira Winery thus establishing the relationship between the two. Jennifer Rolander, Direct Sales Manager for both Quivira and Tandem, was so kind as to arrange a quick last-minute tasting for my wife and I. In our haste I forgot to take any photos, however the Quivira wines we tasted were delightful and the staff in the tasting room were great. Jennifer poured a variety of wines for us, including the highly rated 2006 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) along with the 2007 Grenache (Dry Creek Valley) and a Sauvignon Blanc — we enjoyed all of the wines. On our visit, we were fortunate enough to meet Pete Kight and he did reaffirm that Greg La Follette, who heads up Tandem’s wine-making and viticulture, is now able to focus on his passion: crafting fantastic wines without having to worry about all the business trappings.
This was a quick visit but I am glad we took the time to introduced ourselves to Quivira wines. The winery is in beautiful Dry Creek Valley and should be visited if you are in the area.
I have to further acknowledge the outstanding customer service as provided by Jennifer Rolander. Not only did she arrange her schedule to accommodate our visit she has since worked with me to reduce the shipping costs I incur by consolidating wine club shipments. This may not seem to be a big deal but the cost savings to me will be significant — such that I can spend the money on what I enjoy — wine! Most wineries I have spoken to have not been willing to even entertain the idea. Cheers to delicious wine and great customer service! These days, extra efforts towards customers is that special touch that sets a winery apart from the herd and Quivira / Tandem does an outstanding job due to Jennifer’s special touch. Should you desire to follow Quivira on twitter they are @Quivirawinery.
Recommendation: If you are in the Healdsburg area you should visit Quivira winery as they craft quality wines you will enjoy. Make sure you make an appointment if you would like to take the tour and, as always, I suggest you take the tour if you have the time. No appointment is necessary for the tasting room with a $5 tasting fee that is waived if you buy a bottle.
Quivira Vineyards and Winery: 4900 West Dry Creek Road; Healdsburg, CA 95448
From the Gary Farrell Winery we had some time before our next appointment so we drove into Healdsburg, had lunch at El Farolito (Mexican food) and then walked across the street for ice cream at Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Healdsburg itself is fantastic as there are plenty of great restaurants, fantastic shopping, wine tasting opportunities and of course, one of my favorites — yummy desserts.
After lunch we drove to Michel-Schlumberger Winery, located in Dry Creek Valley, for our 2 pm appointment for our “Estate Tour and Tasting”. A “Wine and Cheese Pairing” is available Friday, Saturday and Sunday (we visited on a Tuesday so this was unavailable). In addition, a “Vertical Tasting of Reserve Cabernet” is also an option — looking back I wished we had gone with the vertical tasting as it would have been interesting to taste the differences in the 1998, 2000 and the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon side-by-side.
Twitter Info: Michel-Schlumberger has an active presence on twitter so if you are into that you can follow them at @M_Schlumberger along with Jim Morris who is the Director of Retail and Direct to Consumer operations for the winery and is known as @Sonomawineguy.
We began the tour walking a short distance up the hill — the view from that vantage point is quite impressive. As you look around, you see vines on the sloped hill, the picturesque lake and the vine-covered valley below — a truly beautiful setting. The 30 minute tour continued stepping through the entire process from the vineyard to the bottle and then ultimately, to the tasting.
Our tasting experience allowed us to enjoy the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc in the beautiful mission styled main building. As we walked in, it was if we were special guests entering a friend’s home — you could see the painstaking efforts made to ensure that we felt like honored guests. Nice touch indeed! Enjoyed the winery, however the wines were not to my liking — not all wines are for everyone.
Recommendation: Make efforts to visit the winery — the view plus the enjoyable wine makes it worth the effort. Michel-Schlumberger: 4155 Wine Creek Road; Healdsburg, CA 95448
Wow! What an experience! Prior to our visit, I had heard that the tasting room at Gary Farrell Winery offers one of the best views overlooking the Russian River Valley and it did live up to its reputation. The winding drive up to the winery set the tone as my wife and I kept commenting on the beauty that surrounded us as we made the drive up to the top of the hill to the winery. Our 10 am appointment gave us 30 minutes before the winery opened to the general public allowing us to have the place relatively to ourselves for a brief time — an advantage to making an appointment in advance. As we like the slower pace we opted for the tour, tasting and cheese pairing and I urge you to do the same as it makes for a fantastic experience.
Scott Monroe took care of us beginning the tour with the stunning view you see above. This overlook of the Russian River Valley is fantastic and this photo does not even come close to capturing the beauty. Scott described the wine making process beginning with the important long-term relationships the winery has with various vineyards for its supply of quality grapes — with only one exception, the fruit originates from Sonoma County — most of it coming from the Russian River Valley. One particular relationship that caught my attention is the one with Rochioli Vineyard as this vineyard is known to produce exceptional fruit year in and year out — supplying both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Scott detailed the process and concluded the tour talking about Susan Reed who spent 3 years working with Gary Farrell and then in August 2006 took over the reigns as winemaker at the winery.
The wine tasting and cheese pairing experience was both relaxing and enjoyable and the view — have I mentioned the view? The view from the tasting room really is breathtaking, so much so I forget to take a photo for you to enjoy. The relaxed atmosphere made the experience one both my wife and I will always remember. We tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, a Proprietary red blend and Zinfandel. Of the 9 wines we tasted, I noted 4 as being very enjoyable including the 2007 Bradford Mountain (Dry Creek Valley) Zinfandel.
We joined the Gary Farrell Grand Crew Club as we were so impressed with the wines we tasted. We just recently took our first delivery which consisted of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and once I open them, I will share the tasting experience in a future write-up.
On a side note, when you visit the Gary Farrell Winery you are a short drive (about 10 minutes) away from the Farmhouse Inn Restaurant, a Michelin rated one-star restaurant that is just fantastic — my suggestion is go there for dinner if you can. The link will take you to my earlier post about our experience there — a truly memorable dining pleasure. I only mention this as the Farmhouse Inn Restaurant is in my top 2 favorite restaurants in the Sonoma / Napa area.
The tour, tasting and cheese pairing is at a cost of $25 — do it! You will enjoy it! You can opt for tastings only with a tasting fee of $10 and $15 depending on the wine flight you choose.
Recommendation: Make time to visit the Gary Farrell winery as you will enjoy both the outstanding wines and the exceptional view overlooking the Russian River Valley.
Gary Farrell Wines; 10701 Westside Road; Healdsburg, CA 95448
We booked a tasting and tour with Schramsberg Vineyards & Cellars due to its outstanding reputation for sparkling wines and our group was relatively small — about 8 people. The caves were initially hand dug by Chinese laborers in the 1870s with further expansion of the caves in the 1980s. As we entered the caves, we noticed a clean up crew at the end of the first tunnel as a couple of bottles had burst causing a chain reaction within the stack of bottles resulting in about 100 bottles breaking. We could see the remnants of the small stream of sparkling wine that ensued making us realize the careful handling required for sparkling wines — something I had not thought about prior to the tour. The caves themselves hold an inventory of approximately 2.2 million to 2.4 million bottles.
Schramsberg uses the méthode champenoise method in its sparkling wine production meaning the secondary fermentation process takes place in the bottle itself. This method is the more expensive process but is used in higher quality sparkling wines such as those Schramsberg produces. After addition aging, the resulting settled out yeast — the sediment — has to be removed through the Riddling process. The bottles are placed on a rack with the neck facing downward initially at an approximate 45 degree angle and abruptly twisted (about an 1/8 turn) every 1 to 3 days with the bottle angle slightly increased each time. Schramsberg’s Master Riddler Ramon Viera (we were told he is set to retire in 2009) has been with Schramsberg for approximately 35 years and turns between 30,000 and 50,000 bottles per day! The Riddling process continues until such time as the bottle is almost vertical — during this process the sediment will have completely migrated to the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen and both the frozen sediment and crown cap are removed and the bottle is then topped off and corked.
The tasting is fantastic as the cave setting with candle-light provides for an impressive experience. Schramberg’s quality sparkling wines have been served by every US President to honored guests since President Nixon began the tradition with his toast to peace with China in 1972.
Be sure to call ahead and make an appointment as the space is limited and the tours do fill up quickly. The experience is something you will remember and enjoy and is worth the effort — the tour and tastings are not to be missed.
Recommendation: Make the effort to enjoy this tour and tasting; it is worth the effort and although a bit pricey, the memorable experience is worth it.
Schramsberg Vineyards: Tours: Generally 5 tours offered daily; by appointment — Cost: $35 per person
Location: 1400 Schramsberg Road; Calistoga, CA 94515
Throughout my experiences in enjoying wines, Sommeliers have in many instances suggested wines that I otherwise would have never tried or experienced. Such was the case at dinner at John Ash & Company whereby the Sommelier suggested trying a wine from Whetstone Wine Cellars. He told us of Jamey Whetstone’s beginnings in the wine industry and his development as a “Rock Star” in the wine industry and the quality wines he crafts. Jamey began at Turley Wine Cellars in the summer of 1998 and the evolution for him continues as he is the founder of the Whetstone Wine Cellars label, is co-founder of Manifesto! Wines and is a consulting winemaker for JT Wines. That initial taste made me a believer in Whetstone’s quality and I have enjoyed Whetstone wines ever since. A particular favorite wine of mine is the Phoenix Ranch Syrah and Jamey and Michelle Whetstone were gracious enough to invite us to a private picnic lunch at Phoenix Ranch. Located in the southern part of Napa Valley, Phoenix Ranch experiences the perfect climate for the quality Syrah fruit this vineyard consistently produces.
Michelle had set up a spread of sandwiches and Whetstone wines for us to enjoy and as we did so we enjoyed the beautiful view of the scenic Phoenix Ranch Vineyard — what a memorable experience in such a beautiful setting. I had only tasted the Whetstone Pinot Noir and Syrah and noticed that Michelle had included the Russian River Viognier for us to try. My wife and I had previously made the mistake of limiting ourselves to the reds and the Viognier made us aware of the quality whites Whetstone also produces. It was a pleasure spending time with both Jamey and Michelle — they both demonstrated their passion reflected in the wines they represent.
If you have not had the pleasure of enjoying Whetstone Wines I highly suggest you take an opportunity and do so — you will be impressed.
Whetstone Wine Tasting Room — follow the link for information. It is a fun experience!
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant located just off of scenic River Road in Forestville, California is an exceptional restaurant. The drive from Sonoma took about 45 minutes and was both easy and enjoyable. The scenery in this area is just fantastic — the Russian River Valley has a special place in my heart as so many fantastic wines come from grapes grown in this area. Upon our arrival, Christopher Fohner (the Maitre d’) welcomed us as if we were family presenting us with our menu that included a “Happy Anniversary” message. I confessed that it really was our 25 1/2 year anniversary (people who know me know I love to extend celebrations) and he presented us with an updated menu congratulating us on such a joyous occasion. The personal touches throughout our experience make this a restaurant that I highly recommend — go out of your way to experience this gem of a restaurant.
Fohner’s wife, Jenn, did an outstanding job in answering our questions about the menu that ultimately led my wife to try the “Duo of Heritage Berkshire Pork” and I had to have the “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit” which I had heard is a signature dish. Geoff Kruth, the Master Sommelier, suggested the 2006 Failla Estate Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast) to pair with our meal and as it was a wine we had never had our trust in his recommendation was greatly rewarded. You can follow Failla Wines on twitter @faillawines.
The Duo of Heritage Berkshire Pork is a combination of Pancetta wrapped tenderloin and a crispy Kurobuta belly along with a steamed corn flan and fresh shelling beans and this combination put a smile on my wife’s face that I know means she enjoyed.
The Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit consists of an applewood smoked bacon wrapped loin that is fantastic as the combination of flavors works perfectly and is a taste that is not only enjoyable but unique in every way. Next, in the center of the photo below is the confit of leg that is covered with a whole grain mustard sauce and to the right you see the roasted rack. This combination of rabbit is outstanding and, even though my expectations were very high, was even better than expected.
The 2006 Failla Chardonnay Estate (Sonoma Coast) wine paired very well with our dinner and is a highly rated wine crafted by Failla Wines being a winery that we had not heard of prior to this dinner. The wine itself has hints of various tropical type fruits (I noted “hints of pineapple” especially) with a fresh crisp finish that went perfectly with our selections of food throughout all courses and for that I thank Geoff Kruth, the Master Sommelier, for his recommendation.
From my perspective, the restaurant at Farmhouse Inn is one of the best places to enjoy a nice relaxing meal as you will enjoy fantastic food, a very nice selection of wine to choose from (and expert advice if you desire) and outstanding service. Go there! You will enjoy it!
Farmhouse Restaurant: 7871 River Road; Forestville, CA 95436
In July 2009 we returned to the Sonoma / Napa area for our 2nd year in a row — the first trip was great but this trip was even better. We arrived in Sonoma late afternoon and had made an appointment to enjoy a stone massage at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. We arrived an hour or so early to enjoy the “bathing ritual” as it gave us the opportunity to enjoy both the warm and hot mineral soaking pools, the herbal steam room and the dry sauna. After all of that, this kid was almost completely relaxed and we sat in the lounge enjoying flavored teas and fruit — I was in heaven. Next, we enjoyed a 90 minute stone massage — now that is the way to begin a vacation! Completely relaxed, we were ready for our hike the next day as our plan was to go to the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve.
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve: The hour drive from the Mission Inn was easy and relaxing and once we arrived at the Reserve we parked on the roadside and began our hike — starting out on the “Pioneer Trail.” Completely surrounded by beautiful redwoods and other vegetation, I was completely amazed — no photograph I have seen has captured the beauty of this place. You just have to experience this to truly appreciate the beauty. As we were walking the trail one of the locals pointed out the “Burbank Circle” which she explained is a grouping of centuries old redwoods that form almost a perfect circle.
As we walked we veered off the common path and decided to climb up a bit as we knew that I had a trusty map in my pocket (we forgot that a map is only as good as the one using it!). Fortunately, I did not have to use my map reading skills as we easily found our way around as the trails were well marked.
As we strolled back onto the path leading to the Redwood Forest Theater we noticed tables set up for those participating in a Wine walk — what a great idea!
The Colonel Armstrong Tree is an amazing sight as it is about 1400 years old and is the Reserve’s oldest tree and is 308 feet tall with a diameter of around 15 feet.
The beauty of the Armstrong Redwood Reserve is well worth the effort to enjoy and experience.
Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve: 17000 Armstrong Woods Road; Guerneville, CA 95446