Touring & Tasting's Wine Lounge
A forum for wine lovers to share their thoughts and experiences...
April 14, 2015 | Mikayla Molinaro
It’s not too late to secure your spot at the 2015 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend! What could be better than a weekend away in the beautiful Santa Barbara wine country filled with endless amounts of local foods and delicious wine? This is your chance to enjoy a taste of vino from all 120+ Santa Barbara Vintners! Don’t miss a few of our favorites:
Blair Fox Cellars
...and many more!
Calling all wine lovers…this is a weekend you won’t want to miss!
March 31, 2015 | Mikayla Molinaro
Looking to getaway and enjoy some much needed wine therapy? The Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend is the perfect combo of an ideal destination & endless amounts of vino! Take part in this opportunity to explore all that the Santa Barbara Wine Country has to offer, one tasting at a time!
Start the weekend off on Friday, April 24th by dining with many of the big names in Santa Barbara Wine Country at the historic Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos. Mattei’s Tavern is a historic landmark built in 1886 that original served as the Central Hotel and a favorite railway stop for travelers. Today, its historic charm remains with a new modern and local focus. Spend Friday with Mattei’s for local foods, local wines, and the true spirit and history of Santa Barbara wine country!
Be sure to save room for the Grand Tasting the following day, Saturday, April 25th at Buellton’s River View Park for your chance to taste all the wineries in one convenient location! There will be 100+ wineries paired with the best of the best regional cuisine from dozens of local restaurants, caterers and food purveyors. And if that hasn’t quite yet satisfied your thirst for Santa Barbara wine, purchase a Vintners Visa ticket to visit 12 tasting rooms of participating wineries from Thursday April 23rd through Sunday April 26th!
Calling all wine lovers…this is a weekend you won’t want to miss!
February 9, 2015 | Mikayla Molinaro
We've selected some of our favorite stand-out wines for you to try! Check out the Noteworthy Wines from our Spring 2015 issue.
Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
Castello di Amorosa
Harney Lane Winery
LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards
Mettler Family Vineyards
Mitchell Katz Winery
Papapietro Perry Winery
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
Seghesio Family Vineyards
Tamber Bey Vineyards
Trione Vineyards & Winery
Villa San-Juliette Vineyard & Winery
October 31, 2014 | Touring & Tasting
I know what you’re thinking, Oktoberfest means beer. You suddenly feel the urge to throw on your favorite lederhosen & knock back a bucket-sized mug of sudsy Hefeweizen while shouting “Noch ein Bier, bitte!” Before you inevitably end up with those questionable Facebook photos Monday morning (Wow those suspenders looked a lot better after a few cold ones, didn’t they?) let Touring & Tasting switch up your usual Oktoberfest routine this year…with wine! Germany is also famous for delicious wines, and you can even find a special wine tent at the famous Oktoberfest celebration in Munich. We might not all get to make it out to Germany this year, but here are a few of our favorite wine country destinations to make this October worth celebrating. Prost!
Brian Carter Cellars, Woodinville, WA
Le Boat, Various Regions, France
Le Cadeau, Willamette Valley, OR
Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa, Pismo Beach, CA
Santa Lucia Highlands, CA
Lucas Winery, Lodi, CA
Hope Family Wines, Paso Robles, CA
Fess Parker Winery, Inn, and Spa, Santa Barbara County, CA
Timber Cove Inn, Sonoma, CA
October 28, 2014 | Mikayla Molinaro
Meet "GarDoyle" by Fiddlehead Cellars
Congratulations to our reigning champion Fiddlehead Cellars for their outstanding decorating skills in our Hallowine Bottle Decorating Contest. They have shown that their dedication goes far beyond producing their delicious wines, but also in engaging with their audience in a fun and interactive way through our contests, coming out on top in both the Wine Label Contest and this month’s Hallowine Bottle Contest.
Fiddlehead is a happy family of hard workers who like to have a good time, love the challenge of making great wine, and thrive on sharing the pride of their handmade approach. With 26 vintages under her belt, Kathy Joseph (the “Head Fiddle”) and her Fiddlehead team take their winemaking very seriously, but do not take themselves too seriously! The joy of sharing their muse is their great reward.
Their Estate Vineyard “Fiddlestix”, the source of the grapes for their coveted Doyle bottling, is smack-dab in the middle of the prestigious Sta. Rita Hills AVA (and directly across the street from Sanford and Benedict). As one of the pioneer winemakers of the region, Kathy helped establish the boundaries of the Sta. Rita Hills, which officially achieved the AVA designation in 2001 and is now world renowned and recognized for its ideal, cool climate and its unique east-west oriented valleys, making it perfectly suited for Pinot Noir.
Every vintage, Kathy and her team tirelessly taste through each barrel of Pinot Noir in their cellar, looking for that one single stand-out barrel worthy of the “Doyle” name (and “GarDoyle” at Halloween time!), and crafting the blends that represent their other popular Fiddlestix bottlings – “728” and “Lollapalooza”. They continue to passionately and enthusiastically create stylistic Sauvignon Blanc and silky, textural Pinot Noir, believing the love of winemaking must be reflected in every sip!
Scariest Costume- Donati Family Vineyard
Donati Family Vineyard’s entry is a Zombie-fied version of their wine, The Immigrant. Great Grandfather Albino Donati has risen from the grave during the full moon in search of…wine! This Blood-Red Bordeaux Blend is sure to please all ghouls, werewolves and vampires.
Most Creative Costume- Talbott Vineyards
Talbott Vineyards is known for their renowned Sleepy Hollow Vineyard located in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Using the Talbott crest, they created a knight costume for one of their Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay bottles!
October 6, 2014 | Touring & Tasting
In celebration of Califorania Wine Month, this unique contest gave wineries from all over the state the opportunity to show off their most loved wine labels. Over 25 wineries around the state were showcased. While some labels featured a fun or historical image, others paid homage to their winery’s founder. But they all had one thing in common—they all wanted to be named the Favorite California Wine Label of 2014.
The wait is over, the votes are tallied, and we have our winner!
Grand Prize WInner: Fiddlehead Cellars
Coming in first place is Fiddlehead Cellars with their Pinot Noir label. This label celebrates their 10th Vintage of the Estate Vineyard, Fiddlestix, and shows the evolution of vineyard, from flowers to vine plantings, to fully flourished Pinot Noir.
Runner-Ups: Rubin Family of Wines and Donati Family Wines
In a close second place is Rubin Family of Wines’ Un-Oaked Chardonnay label. In hopes of converting his wife, Pam, to a Chardonnay drinker, Ron Rubin created a wine he knew she would love. Now, Pam knows exactly which wine to grab when she’s craving something fresh and fruity because X marks the spot on this label!
Rounding out third place is Donati Family Wines with their Bordelaise blend label. This label pays homage to Albino Donati, who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1907 to create a better life for his family.
Congratulations to all of the winners, and thank you to those who participated in the 2014 Favorite California Wine Label contest. Remember to participate in October’s Wine Bottle Costume contest, and be sure to stay tuned for more exciting monthly contests!
September 8, 2014 | Tama Takahashi
If you love wine country travel as we do, making a checklist for an extraordinary experience is easy: a diverse selection of interesting wines that reflect terroir, plus nicely paired gourmet food—preferably both at reasonable prices, pleasing accommodations, gorgeous scenery, and plenty of other activities. One could optimistically add: no tasting room fees, access to winemakers and proprietors, and genuinely friendly people. On our recent trip, we found all these benefits in El Dorado County.
Between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado is in the rolling terrain of the Sierra Foothills. Golden, grassy hills lead to oak groves then pines at the higher elevations, punctuated with vineyards and fruit orchards. Shady country roads pass pastoral landscapes and fascinating landmarks from the Gold Rush of the 1800s. Winemaker Justin Boeger of Boeger Winery describes the topography, “The Sierra Foothills are made up of ridges and valleys, slopes of all degrees and exposure, and elevations from 1,200 to 3,500 feet, which provide infinite locations for almost any variety to grow. The terrain here means that over a 100-acre parcel of land, you might find 20 different microclimates or more.” The result is a tremendous range of wine varietals to sample.
For a panoramic understanding of the region, start your visit at Mount Aukum Winery at an elevation of 2,615 with an expansive view of El Dorado County. Many of their small-lot Rhône and Italian varietal wines are only available through their wine club or at their tasting room, so a visit is essential. Proprietors and winemaker Michel and Terry Prod'hon took us back to their barrel room to sample two vintages of their excellent Sangiovese. The Prod'hons will be sailing with Touring & Tasting on a luxury river cruise through Burgundy and Provence in November. They also will be hosting a seafood feast paired with their wines on September 14, 2014, at their winery. Just $45-$55 for lobster, scallop, shrimp and more. Visit their website for information.
Visit Skinner Vineyards on the way down Fairplay Road towards Placerville to try their elegant Rhône-inspired wines which are produced sustainably and with minimal intervention. Turn left when you get to Pleasant Valley Road for Narrow Gate Vineyards’ carefully-crafted, biodynamic wines. During fermentation all punchdowns are done by hand, 2-3 times a day.
I was eagerly looking forward to our Miraflores Winery visit as I was familiar with their wines from the Touring & Tasting wine club and have often chosen their wines for dinner parties. It was a pleasure to sit on their sunny piazza with Events Manager Matricia Haigood, Touring & Tasting VP Paul Arganbright, and a bottle of the 100% Barbera Miraflores Rosé. Matricia described their monthly wine pairing dinners with eminent Northern California chefs, like Chef Christopher Caul of Christopher’s on Lincoln in Carmel. The 4-course plated pairings are complemented by Miraflores wines and are just $32.50-$40. I’m packing my bags and returning to Miraflores for one of these dinners as soon as possible.
Their wines will be “starring” in the film Last Weekend. Matricia explained this was not a product placement. The wines were provided in the cast’s “green room” and the actors liked them so much that they brought them on set to be filmed. Miraflores wines have received numerous 90+ point scores and accolades including a compliment from Wine Spectator’s Tim Fish: “Foothills wineries often have trouble getting the attention they deserve in the California wine industry, and none are more deserving of a higher profile than Miraflores.”
The Historic Cary House Hotel is in the perfect location for exploring the area. On the main street of Placerville, it has housed legendary guests like Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and Bette Davis. We enjoyed two peaceful nights’ sleep on the extra-comfortable beds. The Cary House provides modern conveniences like free internet access and flat-screen TVs while preserving the past with beautiful antiques, silent movie nights, and talks on the hotel’s 157-year history. You can walk to several great restaurants like Bricks and Heyday Café as well as antique stores and the Nello Olivo tasting room.
We had such a fun time in the Nello Olivo tasting room chatting with Nello and his son Ivan that we ended up being there for two hours. They make wonderful wine and have a million stories to tell. The family had a restaurant for years and Nello made wine to go with their food. His winemaking hobby became his full time pursuit when he and his wife Danica bought a storied piece of property that once was home to a pre-Prohibition vineyard. Their first grape harvest was in 2005. The wines won many gold and double-gold medals, so Nello knew he was on to something great. In 2010, his Sangiovese was judged the best in California. Nello and Ivan poured us their Sagrantino, a varietal from Montefalco in Umbria, Italy. They may be the only producer in the USA making this cellar-worthy wine.
A scenic driving loop from Placerville takes you wine tasting on Apple Hill, named for the 60 apple growers. In autumn, a million visitors come for hayrides, pumpkin pickings, heirloom apples and fruit products of every description. On this loop, Boeger Winery was one of the state’s first producers of varietal Merlot and produces innovative blends from over 29 types of wine grapes including many Italian varietals like Moscato, Refosco and Aglianico. Further down the road, we visited briefly with Lava Cap Vineyard Manager Charlie Jones who sees the 2014 harvest shaping up to be a great one, with moderate temperatures allowing the grapes more hang time on the vine to develop further flavors.
The energetic Madroña Vineyards winemaker Paul Bush just finished a press of Gewürztraminer and was on his way out to an event. But, in keeping with the exceptional friendliness and generosity of the El Dorado wine community, he took the time to not only pour some of his wines, but take us into the winery to barrel sample Chardonnay and to give us a complete explanation of why pH is as important as brix in determining when to harvest grapes. Passionate and knowledgeable, Paul strives to create pure wines with superlative tipicity. He doesn’t enter his wines into competitions because the expression of a varietal should be influenced by terroir. Paul opined, “How can you compare Chardonnay from El Dorado with that of Amador County? Each should be different.”
Chances are rather slim, in the most famous wine regions, that one would have the winemaker or proprietor pouring wines in the tasting rooms. It seems fairly common in El Dorado County. Winemaker Paul Wofford has an impressive resume that includes making wine for Martin Ray and Bargetto Winery and consulting for numerous others. He poured us samples of his small-lot wine as well as a lovely hard apple cider. Crystal Basin Cellars is just off highway 50 on the loop back to Placerville. Proprietor Mike Owen poured us his fruit-forward Zinfandel, Bordeaux and Rhone blends. The winery boasts massive hand-hewn beams, an outdoor space for live music, an organic herb and vegetable garden and the adjoining Crystal Basin Bistro.
For the second half of our visit, we moved to Eden—Eden Vale Inn, that is, though you could drop the last two words and still be correct. On the way, one can find David Girard Vineyards where grapes for traditional Rhône style wines are grown on 80 acres of cultural significance. The land was part of a claim established in 1849, that later encompassed the first hotel and stagecoach stop and the site of the first Japanese colony in the US where tea and silk was produced. Many of the original structures are intact and the Japanese colony is on the National Register of Historic Places. David Girard named their their Côte-Rôtie-style premium Syrah for the first Japanese to be buried on American soil and the winery donates a portion of the proceeds of this wine to the conservancy group.
“It’s the attention to detail”, said Eden Vale Inn owners Mark and Gayle of their high occupancy rate and faithful repeat visitors. Make me one of those repeat visitors. This well-appointed B&B, set amidst a veritable Eden of verdant grounds canopied over with leafy trees and flowering vines, is a balm for the soul. With comfortable seating hidden among dappled pathways, a postcard-ready pond with a rowboat, a convivial fire pit for making s’mores under the stars, and much more, the Inn has everything one would need for a relaxing vacation. It was nearly impossible to imagine that the original structure was a plain barnyard in a grassy field when the owners first laid eyes on it. Between Gayle’s green thumb and Mark’s carpentry skills, they have created a luxury destination with every detail imagined, from the romantic inset lighting to the bubble bath and rubber ducky for the deep soaking tubs.
We had plans to drive to South Lake Tahoe, around 2 hours roundtrip, but being at Eden Vale, we asked ourselves why we would go anywhere else when it was so beautiful there. I spent a blissful afternoon resting in a hammock with a good book. Heaven. Then, after the impossibly long hours of hoteliers—who are up at dawn and checking in guests late into the evening—the innkeepers invited us to dinner. Gayle made a delightful meal with fresh produce and fruit from her extensive orchard and vegetable garden, which we topped of with a thick slice of olallieberry pie.
The outstanding wines, delectable food, affordability and scenic beauty were enough to draw us back to El Dorado County, but the warmth and hospitality of the people is what makes this region a top destination for wine and food aficionados. El Dorado may not be a household word—yet—but once people start learning of the treasures to be found there, the
Avail yourself of our Touring & Tasting concierge service, providing personalized assistance, free! Our knowledgeable staff can save you hundreds of dollars and provide VIP perks while planning your perfect itinerary to El Dorado wine country.
September 3, 2014 | Tama Takahashi
Santa Clara County, home to “Silicon Valley”, has one of the highest standards of living in the country and nearly 1.9 million residents, mostly in the northern area. The southern end is rural and agricultural with fertile plains and picturesque oak-studded hills. Winemakers have been growing grapes in the area since 1852, making it among the oldest premium wine growing regions in California.
Touring & Tasting had the opportunity to revisit Santa Clara and and taste some of the delicious wines along the new Wine Trail Route during the official opening on Friday, August 22, 2014. Unlike some wine trails which are complex spiderwebs of intersecting roads, the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail provides access to the 21 wineries in a convenient, roughly elliptical loop. The Trail is near the town of Gilroy, an ideal stop-over along Highway 101—the popular transit between Northern and Southern California.
Start your visit at Guglielmo Winery, the oldest continuously family owned and operated winery in the region. Three generations have been producing award-winning wines at their 100-acre estate. Besides favorites like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Guglielmo produces some intriguing European varietals, like Charbono and Fiano. Their tasting room has a wide assortment of interesting gifts that range from arts, crafts, books, locally produced gourmet foods and wine accessories. Pick up your Wine Trail map and you are ready to explore! The 70+ new directional signs bearing the logo of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley will make your tour of the wineries hassle-free.
We look forward to tasting wine at all of the member wineries on future visits. For now, we can report our enjoyable experiences at several we have visited, including Solis Winery, just south of Guglielmo Winery, with an impressive line up of gold-medal-winning wines. Fortino Winery, to the west, was founded by Ernest Fortino, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy. Today, his son and daughter continue the tradition of dry farming many of their varietals for their flavor-intense, handcrafted wines.
Kirigin Cellars is one of California’s oldest wineries and charming reminders can be found in the original tasting room where the thick trunks of ancient vines have almost become a part of the structure itself. Proprietor Dhruv Khanna has updated the winery and grounds without changing its winsome character. Kirigin Cellars offers complimentary wine tastings!
If you are looking for a gourmet meal after your pleasant day of wine tasting, Milias Restaurant is a must-visit in Gilroy. Its roots go back to 1895 when Yugoslavian immigrant George Milias, Sr. opened the Milias Chop House. The modern restaurant features fresh fare with a Mediterranean influence, from watermelon and feta salad to Chicken and Brie Saltimbocca with Madeira wine sauce. We were treated to a wonderful lunch at Milias, paired with the Solis Winery Fiano, Medeiros Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel and the Guglielmo Eredita Port. The warm peach wrapped in prosciutto was a stand-out. After our excellent adventure discovering the wonderful wines and food, we look forward to future visits touring and tasting along the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail.
More info on the Santa Clara Wine Trail.
More info on Guglielmo Winery including address and contact information.
May 19, 2014 | Touring & Tasting
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Paso Robles & San Jose, CA
Celebrations: J. Lohr is kicking off their Chardonnay celebration on May 22nd with a #ChardDay Tweet Chat
Wente Vineyards, Livermore Valley, CA
Celebrations: Wente is kicking off their Chardonnay celebration on May 22nd with a Chardonnay Reception
More from T&T soon!
April 10, 2014 | Carol Dinh
The sun is out, the flowers are in bloom—April is when spring fully blossoms and it’s the perfect time to celebrate the annual Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend. One of the most interesting aspects of this weekend is that it is much more than just simply wine tasting. This allows the adventurous and the curious to explore other activities that are being offered on April 10-13.
This weekend kicks off with two signature Thursday events, starting with the Vintners Festival Golf Tournament and the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing. Whether you enjoy golf or prefer to indulge in the wine-pairing event, it’s a great way to relax on a stunning spring day in Santa Barbara wine country. These events are only the beginning of the Vintners Spring Weekend!
If your heart desires more time to explore nature in the vineyards, then Friday, April 11th is your day to play. You’ll get a chance to partake in delicious wine and vineyard hikes side-by-side with winegrower Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards, owner Kevin Gleason of Refugio Ranch Vineyards, or owner John Hilliard of Hilliard Bruce Vineyards.
The headline event of the weekend is the 32nd Annual Vintners Festival Grand Tasting. Over 100 wineries will join together at the scenic River View Park in Buellton to offer exquisite wine tastings, along with a silent auction, an inventive Art Walk, a Farmers Market Pavilion, and live cooking and barrel cooper demonstrations. Lastly on Sunday, don’t miss the signature event to wrap up the weekend: farm-to-table Picnic & Concert!
If you think that is all for the Vintners Weekend, do not fret, my friend. There is an exciting list of additional events for each day. So if you missed the vineyard hikes on Friday, there's always another chance for you to participate in a vineyard walk on Sunday with winemaker Karen Steinwachs of Buttonwood Winery, plus brunch and a scavenger hunt!
There are activities and events for everyone—the wine enthusiast, the foodie, the explorer, the golfer, and the novice. So, if you haven’t bought your tickets yet, it isn’t too late. Visit www.sbvintnersweekend.com for tickets and the full event schedule.
Touring & Tasting will have our own booth at the Grand Tasting. Stop by and chat with us as we savor the beautiful spring weekend with the Santa Barbara Vintners. We hope to see you this weekend.