Today we’ll travel two and a half hours east of Sonoma/Napa to the El Dorado County wine region in the Sierra Foothills. This lengthy podcast recorded in February will feature three vintners who are distinctly different. They are Chaim and Elisheva of C.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery, Kevin Jones of Lava Cap Winery, and Adam Smith of Skinner Vineyards and Winery. They are a good representation of the region’s wineries who are producing world class wines, and run by the nicest people you’ll ever want to hang with. To learn more about the region click here. Now, let’s head to the foothills!

 

A Trip to El Dorado County

On the deck, in the rain, with Kevin Jones of Lava Cap

A Trip to El Dorado County

Chaim and Elisheva of C. G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery. Chaim is serving during their club party. Elisheva is in behind one of their wines that benefit great causes.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Winemaker Adam Smith of Skinner Vineyards stompin’ the grapes.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Making my way through the back roads of a vineyard on Friday. Dry and green.

A Trip to El Dorado County

Waking up Saturday to 7 inches of snow. Thankfully, it was expected…and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Trip to El Dorado County

The wine club party at Lava Cap Winery in one side of their large barrel rooms.

A Trip to El Dorado County

A sample of Elisheva’s mixed media artwork. Her art hangs throughout C.G. Di Arie winery.

Trip to El Dorado County

I saw this photo of the snowfall that occurred at Lava Cap Winery a week before my trip. I’m glad it inspired me to rent an SUV and leave my coup at home.

On this podcast you’ll meet Nate Belden of Belden Barns.

He grew up on a farm but spent a number of his adult years working in New York and San Francisco. After a while he felt the unrelenting tug of country life once again. Although his wife Lauren grew up in New York City, surprisingly, she had a similar dream of living a rural life. But grape growing and Belden Barns wine isn’t their only focus. They partnered with Jenny and Vince Trotter to offer Farmstead Goods. Visit their website here.

Hear how Nate and Lauren’s yearning for country life came true as we talk…in the barn.

 

Belden Barns

The set up in the milking barn.

Belden Barns

There’s a good story about the reason for the Poetry Room. Ask them if you ever see Nate or Lauren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belden Barns

Their vineyard atop magical Sonoma Mountain

 

This is one of the most unusual podcasts I’ve offered yet. Prompted by an invitation I spent 3 days exploring the village and area of Saratoga, California in San Francisco’s South Bay. This historic community is situated next to San Jose, Cupertino and Los Gatos in the Santa Cruz mountains south of Silicon Valley. From wineries and restaurants, to Japanese gardens, stables and a mysterious house, the area has a lot to offer. This is your invitation to ride along as my wife Meredith and I experience Saratoga.

 

Saratoga, CA

The Village of Saratoga on Sunday morning

Saratoga, CA

Our suite at the Saratoga Oaks Lodge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Winter Berries at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

Saratoga, CA

Plum Flower at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

With Shozo Kagoshima at Hakone Estate and Gardens

 

 

Saratoga, CA

The Lower House overlooking the Dry Garden at Hakone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

In the Cooper-Garrod Tasting Room

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Winemaker Bill Cooper of Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Horseback riding at Garrod Farms

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

The many rooftops of the peculiar Winchester Mystery House as seen from an outdoor balcony

Saratoga, CA

One of the staircases that go nowhere in the Winchester Mystery House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

One of the original cabernet vines planted at Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Estate overlooking the South Bay

 

 

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

In the tasting room at Ridge Vineyards before our Estate Tasting

 

 

 

Saratoga, CA

Enjoying a wonderful dinner at Hero Ranch Kitchen. Look at those redwood tree plates!

I kick off 2019 with interviews from two wineries the Santa Rita Hills. You’ll meet Chad of Melville Vineyards and Bryan of Babcock Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of California’s central coast.  Primary wine varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Bryan is also bottling Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and a few surprises. Both offer sparkling wines when they’re not sold out.

This trip to Santa Barbara offered plenty of wine and craft beer options, blue skies, palm trees and the Funk Zone. The distinctive pleasures tied in well with Chad’s unconventional winemaking style and Bryan’s innovative vineyard management. Both are gaining high praise. Melville was chose by Wine&Spirits Magazine as one of the world’s Top 100 in 2018. Babcock has received some flattering press including Food&Wine and other respected publications.  Needless to say, they deserve your attention as well!

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Interviewing Chad in the storage and fermentation building

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Interviewing Bryan in the Vineyard Tasting Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Babcock’s larger tasting room space

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

The outdoor patio of Melville’s winery tasting room

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Babcock’s Soul Struck Lounge

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

Melville’s modern tasting room in Santa Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

One of the many spaces in Babcock’s hangar-sized tasting room that is jam packed with 20th century relics, some of which are for sale.

Two Wineries of the Santa Rita Hills

The Library Wine tasting room just off Melville’s barrel room

 

On this podcast you’ll hear my intimate conversation with winemaker and iconic wine producer, Michael Browne.

He gained fame with the highly respected Kosta Browne over the last 20 years. He has since moved on to a his own project Cirq. In this interview you’ll really get to know Michael, what drives him, why he loves Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, and hear about past experiences that inspire his winemaking and fearless pursuit of his passions.

And what’s  up with those early 20th Century wine labels? He’ll explain…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes good things come in twos. It took over two years for me to nail down this interview with Warren Winiarski, I recorded over two hours of audio, and it took two visits to do so. Yet every minute I spent with him was a pleasure. You may be aware that Warren was the founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and it was his Cabernet Sauvignon that outscored the French Bordeaux wines in the famed Paris tasting of 1976. But that was early on. He has accomplished so much in his 90 years and, remarkably, continues to do so. He semi-retired in 2007 but is still involved with grape growing in his Napa Valley Arcadia Vineyard. He continues to learn yet his depth of knowledge is astounding, and the way his looks at life and winemaking is fascinating. Warren is engaging, charming, and kind of like a great uncle you rarely see but when you do you just want to give him a big hug…and drink his wine.

Author’s note: Here are the other California wines that made the final list of the Paris tasting based on an average of the judge’s scores in the Paris tasting, also known as The Judgement of Paris.

Red Category: Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (5th), Heitz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard (7th), Clos Du Val Winery (8th), Mayacamas Vineyards (9th), and Freemark Abby (10th).

White Category: Chateau Montelena (1st), Chalone Vineyard (3rd), Spring Mountain Vineyard (4th), Freemark Abby (6th), Veedercrest Vineyards (9th), David Bruce Winery (10th).

A exceptional accomplishment to those who were entered!

Warren Winiarski

Warren Winiarski

Warren’s Arcadia Vineyards was hit hard by the Atlas Fire a year ago October. He lost a barn, the tractor trailer with all of the equipment, and three homes.

 

 

 

 

 

Warren Winiarski

The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

Warren Winiarski

The Arcadia Vineyard. You can still see the remnants of the Atlas Fire’s damage on the hillsides. The grass has grown back but a number of burned trees are evident.

A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of being invited to attended a grand affair at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia in Napa. About 700 people were in attendance, culinary fare was being served, several musicians performed and all for the purpose of celebrating ZD Wines’ 50th Anniversary.

The Rutherford AVA Napa Valley winery has been building something special for quite some time. They also make one of the most unusual wine blends I’ve heard of in the U.S. Abacus is pricey but because of the decades it takes to craft that unique blend you could argue that it’s worth it.

Just a few days before the celebration I had the chance to sit down with winemaker Brandon deLeuze so you and I could hear more about ZD Wines. Click the player below for the interview.

Follow up: I felt this was noteworthy – since this post went out Brandon was promoted from Assistant Winemaker to Winemaker, and Winemaker Chris Pisani has been promoted to Senior Winemaker. Robert deLeuze, CEO and Director of Winemaking said, “Chris and Brandon are exceptionally dedicated to producing the highest caliber wines. We appreciate their effort in advancing our commitment to quality and are honored to have them on our team.”

Congratulations to both of them from On The Wine Road.

ZD Wines' 50th Anniversary

The sun set as the Bash continued.

ZD Wines' 50th Anniversary

This 1994 Merlot was one of many library wines offered that evening. What a nice gift for ZD to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZD Wines 50th Anniversary

It took a one-of-a-kind barrel rack to hold the one-of-a-kind Abacus wine.

In preparation for this year’s Taste of Sonoma event I spoke with Tracy Nielsen of La Pitchoune Winery. Part of the interview was about Taste, but the remainder concerned her winery and their unanticipated success.

As you’ll see below by the artistic photo from their blog post they picked up a Best of Class Award at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. 7000 wineries entered the contest! A six year old winery just isn’t expected to take the top prize in their category. Hear how Tracy struggled to get into the business, met her winemaker at a party, and at the behest of her husband (and chief strategist) decided to start their own winery. Their motto? Nothing is impossible.

Find their website here.

 

La Pitchoune     La Pitchoune

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Pitchoune

Peter Joachim Nielsen, Tracy Nielsen, Andrew Berge

 

This week I’m traveling off the wine road and on to the spirit trail. Spirit Works Distillery has been on my radar for quite some time. I’ve heard nothing but good things about what they craft and witnessed them win an award one evening. It’s an interesting story how Timo and Ashby Marshall came together under extraordinary circumstances and ended up where they are today. That is, creating finely crafted variations of gin, vodka, whiskey, even sloe gin in a sustainably conscious manner with their grain to glass philosophy. I’m impressed with what doing…I even like their gin! (That hasn’t happened since that one night in high school). Learn so much more by clicking the play button.

 

Spirit Works

Ashby and Timo

 

Spirit Works

Lauren Patz, Head Distiller

Spirit Works

The line up

 

Spirit Works

The CARL distillery system

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve known these guys at Kokomo Winery over five years now. Winemaker Erik Miller was on my first show back in October of 2013. Winegrape grower Randy Peters was kind enough to by my guest every other month a couple years ago when I presented a feature called From Bud to Bottle. And as you’ll hear, my wife and I belong to their wine club.

When I heard they achieved a perfect 100 point score in the North Coast Wine Challenge, I was thrilled for them. Like a friend would be. Sure, it’s not quite the same as receiving 100 points from some international wine critic but when you consider the wineries entering are from six of the most respected wine regions in California, well that’s sayin’ something.

By the way, I knew that wine was special the first time I tasted it, before the award. I remember the moment. It’s sublime. A true representation of the nectar of the gods. Here’s your chance to find out how they did it.

 

 

Kokomo Winery

Randy Peters (left), Erik Miller (right)

Kokomo winery

The winning 2016 Pinot Noir

Kokomo Winery

The Kokomo Winery Tasting Room at Timbercrest Farms, Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg, CA

 

Join Russian River Valley Winegrowers for an amazing tasting experience of Russian River Valley single vineyard wines. More than 30 wineries will be pouring small-lot, single vineyard wines from the Russian River Valley, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Guests will dine on delicious appetizers while enjoying single vineyard wines.

This year the event takes place at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country

My interview with RRVW Board President Giovanni Balistreri and Executive Director Wendy Hilberman is below. I apologize ahead of time. We were drinking Russian River Vineyards Rosé.

I hope to see you there!

Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Single Vineyard Night Single Vineyard Night Single Vineyard Night

 

 

I’ve been seeing Breathless Sparkling Wines around more and more lately. They’ve been winning awards, and I hear people say it’s their favorite bottle of bubbles. It was time to find out more about this burgeoning winery. The three sisters who share ownership and responsibilities pursued the endeavor inspired by their mother’s zest for life. I enjoyed a tasting and interview with Sharon, and admitted to her that I prefer still wines over sparkling. The one they have now captured my heart…the silky, lightly sweet Ratafia. Like liquid gold. Speaking of which, they’ve already picked up 10 Gold medals in 2018, four of which were Double Golds. To that I say “Cheers!”

 

 

Breathless Sparkling Wines

Each year, member wineries of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers open their doors for this one weekend, giving visitors exclusive access to the wines, vineyards and people behind this iconic wine region. This year the event takes place April 27th through 29th.

Visitors enjoy unparalleled personal, backstage access to private homes and historic wineries alike. The weekend includes exclusive dinners, private tours, barrel tastings, food pairings, music, and experiences–all set amongst the glorious vineyards and towering Palisades of the Stags Leap District.

Additionally, to further support relief efforts from the recent fires last year, 5% of the proceeds from this year’s Saturday Open House tickets will be donated to the Napa Valley Community Foundation.

Here’s my interview featuring two of the participating wineries and principles; Silverado Vineyards’ G.M. Russ Weis, and Malk Family Vineyards’ owner Brian Malk. You’ll learn about the wineries past and present and hear what they have planned for the weekend. Cheers!

Stags Leap Vineyard to Vintner Event

The limited 2015 Appellation Collection of 17 handcrafted 2015 SLD designated Cabernet Sauvignons each signed exclusively by the vintners

Stage Leap Vineyard to Vintner Event

 

The name Mondavi is synonymous with wine in California, and across the globe for that matter. Riana is a 4th generation Mondavi and is a brand ambassador for CK Mondavi and Family. In early March I had the chance to sit down with her and their winemaker, Charlie Gilmore.

We met at the Sonoma County Wine Library, a true library rich with books on wine history as well as educational resources. There were a few people studying nearby so it may seem like we’re talking in hushed tones. It is a library, after all.

During this podcast we’ll discuss their 75 year history, their decades long relationships that help maintain their incredibly low prices, and keeping the brand relevant with the current generation.

 

CK Mondavi

When people visit wine country they often don’t know where to start. The options are endless on what people can experience. Do you want to taste in a cave? Bring your kids…your dog? What kind of wine do you like? The definition of what an enjoyable day of wine tasting is varies greatly for consumers. And how do wineries connect with you, the consumer?  Now, the app/website Wine Routes can help you hone in on what you want to experience and provide a connection to the wineries you prefer. And they’re offering these options across the country! In this podcast you’ll meet Wine Routes co-founder Adrian Tamblin and web designer Ian Scales.

 

Wine Routes

 

 

This dynamic event offers an extraordinary immersive opportunity for wine enthusiasts to taste incomparable wines, visit acclaimed vineyards, meet passionate vintners and growers, and experience the welcoming community spirit of the Sonoma Valley wine region. Top vintners and growers include Hanzell Vineyards, Ram’s Gate Winery, Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, and many more.

I focused on Signature Sonoma Valley on my radio show that aired 3/24/18. The audio is below. I interviewed winemaker Joel Peterson, best known as the co-founder of Ravenswood Winery, and Steve Sangiacomo from the longtime wine growing family in Sonoma Valley who are just about to launch Sangiacomo Wines. You can get their perspective on the weekend and maybe I’ll see  you there Friday, April 6th – Sunday the 8th  Click here for more details and tickets for Signature Sonoma Valley.

 

Signature Sonoma Valley Signature Sonoma Valley

Yes, for 50 years the Chappellet family has been crafting exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and other varietals from their Pritchard Hill Estate high above Napa Valley. It started with a leap of faith when Donn Chappellet and family left a successful business in Los Angeles to make the kind of wine he enjoyed. He may have been a bit naive but determination, and a little help from Napa Valley icons, helped Donn and Molly Chappellet build a well-respected and sought-after brand. Vice President and owner Dominic Chappellet shares his family’s story from the beautiful estate where he was born and raised.

Chappellet Chappellet

Chappellet

This year’s Wine Expo in Sonoma County featured a seminar on Pét Nat, or Pétillant Naturel. It’s an ancient method of making a sparkling wine with a single fermentation. It predates the more common methode champeniose that is used in Champagne and sparkling wine. On the panel was natural wine producer Jared Brandt of Donkey And Goat. He intrigued me. There’s been a natural wine movement in recent years but Jared and his wife Tracey have been at it for over 2 decades. They rarely filter their wine and add as little sulfur as possible. He explains the reasoning behind that and their process as he shares their story.

 

Donkey and Goat

Donkey and Goat

Donkey and Goat

Donkey and GoatDonkey and Goat

When I attended Wine and Spirits Magazine’s Top 100 Wines Tasting event in San Francisco this past October I had the chance to meet Chris Phelps, the associate winemaker at Inglenook Estate Winery. I jumped at the chance to do an interview with Chris. We finally made that happen in December. You may not realize this but Inglenook was one of the first estate wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1879 by Finnish sailor (and early entrepreneur), Gustave Niebaum. Following its sale in the mid-60s the winery’s quality and reputation suffered. Enter Francis Ford Coppola. Through his love and decades of painstaking efforts the winery is once again an internationally respected estate and remains a Napa Valley icon. This is its story.

 

inglenook

With Chris Phelps on grand staircase

Ingelnook

 

 

 

 

 

 

inglenook

The South Barrel Room event space

 

 

 

The folks Ram’s Gate Winery refer to themselves as the Gateway to Sonoma and the Carneros wine region. It also leads to a full sensory experience with stunning views, architecture, and design, the aroma of the organic garden, the palate-pleasing culinary offerings, and, oh ya, the wine. It truly embodies the meaning of “the nectar of the Gods.” Ram’s Gate Winery is like a spa without the massage tables and towels but just as relaxing. Managing Director David Oliver and winemaker Jeff Gaffner fill me in on its history and the experiences they yearn to offer their customers.

 

Jeff Gaffner and David Oliver

 

In the organic garden

The Vineyard Table that offers inspiring views