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Posts Tagged ‘Winery Review’

Michel-Schlumberger Winery: Gem in Dry Creek Valley

October 31, 2009 2 comments

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.

Michel-Schlumberger Lake View

Michel-Schlumberger: Lake View

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Tour was informative in a beautiful setting

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.

Michel-Schlumberger

Beautiful room setup for our tasting

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

Gary Farrell Winery: The Wow Factor!

October 29, 2009 3 comments

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.

Gary Farrell: View off patio deck

Gary Farrell: View over-looking the Russian River Valley

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.

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Winery Tour: Scott Monroe explains the wine-making process

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.

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Wine and Cheese tasting setup

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

 

Schramsberg Vineyards: Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Image courtesy Schramsberg Vineyards Website

Master Riddler: Ramon Viera (Image courtesy Schramsberg Vineyards)

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.

Riddling process being explained

Riddling process being explained

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.

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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

Whetstone Wine Cellars: Visit to Phoenix Ranch

October 23, 2009 2 comments

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.

Phoenix Ranch (Napa)

Phoenix Ranch (Napa)

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.

Michelle & Jamey Whetstone

Michelle & Jamey Whetstone

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!

Ferrari-Carano Winery: A “Special dessert”

September 30, 2009 1 comment

Ferrari-Canano Vineyards and Winery (located in Dry Creek Valley). My wife and I had talked about going to the Sonoma County / Napa Valley California wine country for quite some time but we just never made the time to do so.  It took a fund-raiser Gala event to turn that tide as one of the items was a private tour, tasting and lunch at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg, CA.  The item came up for bid and I thought, time to just do this.  We won the bid and I thought it would be great for our 25th anniversary celebration and it was even better than we could have imagined. I have written about the other wineries visited in previous posts as this is the last winery we visited during our July 2008 trip — we wanted to save this special experience for last — kind of like a special “dessert”.

Our first view of the winery:  outstanding

Our first view of the winery: outstanding

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery will treat you to fine wines and will overwhelm your senses with beauty throughout the entire winery.  You will be overwhelmed with the beautiful gardens, the tasting room, the wine cellar and the views and how the design of the winery compliments the beauty you will see all around you.

Upon arrival, Patrick Mukaida (Director of Hospitality) greeted us and took us on a private tour, where we met Sara Quider (white wine winemaker), followed by a private tasting and lunch which all combined to be perfect to help us celebrate our 25th anniversary.

The view is simply amazing

The view is simply amazing

Patrick Mukaida takes on the tour of the vineyard

Patrick Mukaida takes us on a tour of the vineyard

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Downstairs: "Enoteca Lounge"

We walked through the cellar and the great smell of wine, it is just something that I will always remember and hope to experience again and again.  The cellar itself is beautiful as is the downstairs limited release and reserve wine tasting room (the “Enoteca Lounge”).  Shortly after tasting a few of the select wines we moved on to the private lunch at “Villa Fiore” as provided by Chef Joseph Costanzo.  The entire experience was just amazing and gave us the chance to experience wine and food pairings that were outstanding.  Chef Costanzo gave us many hints and did a great job in teaching us how he paired wines to compliment the food served.

We started out with a Chilled Avocado Soup with a Tomato, Shallot and Mango Crab Salad paired with the 2005 Tre Terre Chardonnay.  Next, we had a Pan-Seared Herbes de Provence Marinated Lamb Loin topped with Goat Cheese paired with the 2006 SIENA.  The Siena is mostly made up of Sangiovese (about 75%) blended with about 25% Malbec and the pairing was perfect.  Next we had Blackberry Sorbet paired with the 2006 Eldorado Noir.  The Eldorado Noir is made from 100% Malbec and is styled as a “late harvest” wine.  I had never thought of such a combination and was amazed at how outstanding it was.  Just as a note of information, Ferrari-Carano’s web site has a wine and food pairing guide along with all kinds of fun recipes which you may find useful.

After lunch, we walked outside to enjoy the gardens and said goodbye to our host Patrick.  Ferrari-Carano was the last winery visited on our trip in July 2008 and absolutely was fantastic.  The sights, the wines and the friendliness of the staff left an impression that will last forever.

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View from "Villa Fiore"

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Garden View

Garden View

Recommendation:  A must visit winery! If you are going to be in the Healdsburg area, the wines and the views will be worth the effort to visit.

You will need an appointment to take the winery tour which I highly recommend.

Tasting Fee; $5 (No appointment necessary) — fee refunded with purchase of $25 or more

Location:  Ferrari-Carano; 8761 Dry Creek Road; Healdsburg, CA 95448

Follow on Twitter:  @ferraricarano


Stryker Sonoma Winery: Beautiful “room with a view”

September 25, 2009 Leave a comment

We included Stryker Sonoma Winery on our list of wineries to visit for two reasons: (1) to taste the award-winning wines and (2) as Stryker’s design won the 2002 Architectural Design Award for Northern California from the American Institute of Architects we thought it would be great to see and experience a design that achieved such an accomplishment.

As you walk towards the entrance of the tasting room (the “room with a view”) you will experience how the design of the walkway focuses your eyes towards the beauty of the vineyards, the landscaping and the winery structures.  As you walk along the pathway, the vine canopy above assists in framing the picturesque view.  The view is enhanced by this design and it is amazing how such beauty has been enhanced!  It truly is impressive and you will see why the design of Stryker won the noted award.  The attention to detail is apparent and the design integrates the natural beauty of the vineyards with the inner workings of this small winery.  Additionally, the picnic area has a wonderful view of the vineyards, providing a great setting to relax and have lunch (if you brought one with you).  Impressive views and this is only the walkway; we haven’t even gotten to the “room with a view yet!”

Styker: Walkway towards tasting room

Stryker: Beautiful design

As you open the door into the tasting room you will be welcomed with spectacular views. The glass pavilion design gives an open feeling allowing you take in the view of the valley as you enjoy the nice wines offered.  You will see why this tasting room is called “the room with a view”.  During our tastings, we felt almost as if we were in the vineyards tasting the wine.  During our visit, we had the tasting room to ourselves mainly due to the fact we visited during a week day in the last week of July.  Since we do not enjoy being part of a huge crowd, we have found timing our visits for the last week of July to be an excellent choice.

Stryker: Tasting Room with a view

Stryker: Tasting "Room with a view"

View of the tasting room as you walk in

Entrance into Tasting Room

At the time we visited the following tasting fees applied and should give you an idea of what fees you can expect:

Complimentary tastings: 2005 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley; the 2005 Merlot, Alexander Valley Estate; the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County

$5 tasting fee taste all of the noted Zinfandels: 2004 “Old Vine”, Alexander Valley; 2005 Russian River Valley, Alegria Vineyard; 2004 Speedy Creek Vineyard, Knights Valley

$10 tasting fee to taste all of the following: 2004 Merlot, Rockpile Vineyard; 2004 Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley, Alegria Vineyard; 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Two Moon Vineyard; 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, Monte Rosso Vineyard.

Recommendation:  If you have the time, swing by and visit as you will be impressed by the beautiful tasting room and the views you will be able to experience.

Location:  Stryker Sonoma Winery:  5110 Highway 128; Geyserville, CA 95441

Next time:  We head to a winery in the Healdsburg, CA area!

Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves is located in the heart of Dry Creek Valley and the drive along West Dry Creek road offers beautiful views of various vineyards along with plenty of opportunities to visit numerous wineries, so many it becomes overwhelming.  We decided to go to Bella as we had tried a bottle of their Zinfandel — which we enjoyed  —  and thought it would be a great idea to experience the “caves” and enjoy the other wines Bella had to offer.  As we turned into the entrance to Bella we knew this would be a memorable visit as the entrance to the wine cave was right below one of their vineyards (Lily Hill) — visually it is very impressive.  Being the geeky person I am, I had to ask about the cave details and we were told the cave took 1 1/2 years to complete as excavation began in June 2002 and was completed in December 2003.  The cave has about 5200 square feet of barrel storage space and another 1500 feet used in entertaining guests (tasting area, music room and dining room).

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View towards Lily Hill Vineyard and Wine Cave

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Entrance to Wine Cave and tasting room

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Wine Cave entrance: View towards tasting area

The cave and tasting room is located tucked just beneath the Lily Hill Vineyard which produces great old vine Zinfandels (over 85 year old vines).

As we visited mid-week, the Cave Tour was not available but we did enjoy great wine tastings.  We tasted the 2005 Big River Ranch Zinfandel, the 2006 Sonoma County Syrah, the 2006 Lily Hill Petite Sirah and the 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel.  We had a great time and enjoyed the wines and I think we appreciate the wines even more now.

Lily Hill

Lily Hill Vineyard: Photo to give you an idea of one of the vines

Tasting Fee: $5 (No reservation required)

Make sure you make reservations ahead of time if you want to enjoy the Cave Tour and/or Tour of the Vineyard both of which I highly recommend — I wish we had done it!  We will next visit, for sure.

Recommendation:  Highly recommend you visit!

Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves:  9711 West Dry Creek Road; Healdsburg, CA 95448