Saturday, July 26, 2008

California - Day 3: Amador County Fair

It was the suggestion of the folks at Crystal Valley Winery that we attend the Amador County Fair that evening. We just lucked out to be there on day the Amador County Fair Wine Tasting event. How could we resist?

We had great advice to drive there via Old 49, rather than the new highway. The old road winds through several historic mining towns on its way to Plymouth, the host of the county fair. We loved taking some time and exploring Sutter Creek. The old roads reminded me of Cobalt, in northern Ontario, near our family cabin. They're carved out of the bedrock and wind up and down, up and down, and around. The little downtown in Sutter Creek is charming! We got there after most of the shops had closed for the day, but looked in a lot of windows.

It was very educational to visit the Amador County Fair wine tasting event. We're usually on the other side of the tasting table... serving the wine. It's so much saner on that side of the table! Holly and I tried a bunch of local wines, but only managed to stay for about an hour. It was just too crowded and crazy.

So.... on to Davis and our wine tasting class tomorrow.

California - Day 3: Lodi

It was Holly's dream day. A whole day spent tasting rich, complex Zinfandels.

Day 3 of our California trip was spent visiting [mostly] small to medium wineries within the Lodi appellation. Everywhere we went we found lovely Zinfandel wines... quite a bit of Petite Syrah... and some nice Barbera....

It was extremely interesting. Many aspects of the wineries were similar to ours, but the wines they make are pretty much the opposite. With their growing conditions, they make great big reds but struggle with their whites. It's just too hot -- their white wines lack acidity and are pretty flat. And we make great acidic aromatic whites and have a harder time with our reds.

We loved:
* Chatting with the winemaker at Crystal Valley Cellars
* Learning about the upcoming wedding at Berghold Winery along with great conversation with our fellow wine tasters there
* An amazing, fresh lunch at the Farm Cafe at Michael-David Winery
* Watching the effortless grace of the tasting room staff at VanRuiten Winery as they juggled an increasingly busy tasting room
* The warm, exceptional service from Akaylia at Jessie's Grove Winery -- we felt right at home!
* Meeting the sisters... and the adorable winery dogs at Macchia Winery

Today's photos:
An ancient (100+ year old) Zinfandel vine
Gorgeous grape gate, Berghold Vineyards and Winery

Friday, July 25, 2008

California - Day 2: Napa Valley

If you only had time to visit one winery in Napa Valley, where would you go?

That's the situation we found ourselves in yesterday. We left Copia after 3:00. Most wineries close their tasting rooms at 4:00 or 5:00. What winery should we visit? Our answer might surprise you.

We decided to visit Sadie.

Sadie is one of the four Airedales featured in the Wine Dogs USA book. And, of course, Rosie is another.

After Wine Dogs USA was published, Sadie sent us a calendar featuring her and her buddies at Dutch Henry Winery in Calistoga.

It seemed like the perfect choice. And it was.

Dutch Henry Winery is very small, based on Napa Valley standards. They produce about 7,000 cases of wine per year. We tasted five or six of their wines, visited with Sadie and all the other animals (they have more than we do!), and took a tour of their newly built wine cave.

It was the perfect end to our day in Napa.

California - Day 2: Copia

Our visit to the Napa area was centered around reservations for lunch at Copia.

Located in the town of Napa, Copia is the new(ish) food and wine museum that bills itself as "The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts." It's a grand idea and a beautiful facility.

Of course, having worked in museums AND wineries, I have an interesting perspective.

I'm aware of the financial problems Copia has been having since it opened. Like many larger new museums, it greatly over-projected annual visitation and income. And, like Cereal City in Battle Creek, there's really not that much to do once you're there.... and at Copia, almost everything costs extra.

My personal beef is with them billing themselves as "The American Center..." They are very much centered around Napa Valley, with northern California pretty much the furthest they reach. There was no wine for sale in their shop that came from outside California (except some from outside the U.S...huh?). And everything they said or did was all about northern California.

To be fair, my experience with them is pretty limited. But, as someone with museum and winery experience, those are my thoughts.

That being said, we had a really lovely time at Copia. The luncheon was delicious, the wine was even better, and I loved the program's format. We sat in a classroom/amphitheater where we were treated to a combination class on cooking, wine, and gardening. What could be better?

The luncheon was based on summer themes and local Zinfandels. The menu included lots of local foods, including some that were grown in Copia's gardens. Yum!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

California - Day 1

Holly has always wanted to learn more about wine tasting. She has an amazing palate and has learned a lot in informal settings, but has always wanted formal wine tasting/sommelier training.

One of the places we've looked at is the University of California at Davis. Known as one of the finest Enology schools in the world, they offer a range of classes for winery professionals. And the nicest thing is that some of those classes take place over just a day or two -- certainly do-able for folks coming in from out of town.

One of their classes, Advanced Wine Tasting, trains and certifies judges for the California State Fair wine judging. We're not particularly interested in that certification, but the training is exactly what we'd been looking for.

Yes, "we." Holly and I (and the rest of the crew) decided that it was more beneficial to send both of us. It always works out best that way -- if one person doesn't pick up something, the other does. And you're already paying for the hotel rooms and rental car...

Yesterday was Day 1 of our trip. We decided to take a few days extra to do some winery visits. Visiting other wineries is so educational -- you always pick up great tips about what others are doing. (And it's fun too, of course!) And, honestly, we (and our sinuses) wanted to be over jet-lag before we embarked on the U.C.Davis class.

We decided to visit some smaller, more out-of-the-way wineries (yes, you can still do that in northern California!), and planned the Clarksburg AVA as the destination for our first day. It's south of Sacramento in a lush, beautiful river delta area.

The website looked great -- just what we were looking for, we thought. Unfortunately, the website seems to have been set up before all the wineries were ready.

The first winery we stopped at, California Cellars, looked open. But when we got there, we were told that it wasn't the case. It's a lovely area, pretty much right on the river, with well-tended grapes and a nice-looking facility. We mentioned that we were from a small winery in Michigan and were told that we could drive back and look at the grapes, but nothing else. With no indication on either of the websites (the winery's or Clarksburg's), it was disappointing to drive all the way out there for nothing.

The next winery, Ehrhardt Estates, was vineyards and equipment... nothing for a visitor to see.

We were thrilled to see road signs for the next wineries. Located in a renovated sugar mill, the signs said "5 Wineries, Open Wed-Sun 11-5." But when we got there, only one was open on Wednesday, Carvalho Family Wines.

We had a great visit to the Carvalho tasting room, which included a barrel tasting of their '07 Te
mpranillo. The tasting room staff were terrific -- warm and open, with lots of information about their wines and where to eat while in Davis. We left there with their off-dry (I'd call it semi-sweet) Muscat Canelli, 2004 Tempranillo, and a dry Pinot Noir rose'.

The renovated sugar mill is a gorgeous building. Lovely high ceilings and lots of wood.

The last stop of the day was Bogle
Vineyards & Winery. The largest of the wineries in the area, we were familiar with a few of their wines that are distributed in Michigan. Located along another river in the delta area, the winery and tasting room are beautiful, with a lovely shaded picnic area along side the buildings.

We enjoyed everything we tried, but especially their Zinfandels and Petit Syrahs. Of course, we took a few of them with us to share back at home.

So what's up for Day 2? We have lunch reservations for the Zinfully Elegant Barbecue Lunch at Copia.... stay tuned!

raphics (from the top):
California Cellars
Clarksburg AVA display
Old Sugar Mill - interior
Old Sugar Mill - exterior
Bogle Winery - interior
Bogle Winery - picnic area & Hollyhocks
Bogle Winery - river