Tag Archive | Chardonnay

A Home Buying Wine Tour

So, it’s one week until closing. We are just waiting, and getting the last bit of our packing finished. Our financing has been finalized for weeks, so other than packing, we really haven’t had a lot to do. Our buyer, however, is still not ready to go with her financing and it is making me nervous. Her mortgage officer is trying to reassure our agent that everything will be ready to go by closing, but I’m still nervous. I can’t understand why it should be taking so long if things are happening as they should. So, in the meantime, I’m trying not to think about it.  Yes, I’ll admit it – I try to be very organized about these things, and it annoys me to no end when other people are not, if it affects my world. And this certainly affects my world.

I have been a bit absorbed with this whole home process lately, and my wine and travel blog has been suffering. We haven’t had time to do much wine tasting! I’m looking forward to turning that around once we move and get some semblance of a normal life back. That said, we did do a local mini-tour last weekend in honor of harvest weekend with Jon’s mom and sister. We went to two local wineries – Willow Tree and Glacial Lake Missoula.

Willow Tree Vineyards is a new winery in the area, having opened their tasting room in April. As you drive in, it certainly doesn’t look like much. There is a ramshackle single-wide trailer on the driveway to the winery, and the winery itself is housed in a non-descript pole building. Which isn’t that uncommon for wineries in this area. Don’t let that deter you. Once you walk inside, the tasting room is tastefully decorated, with a fireplace, comfy seating, and a stand-up tasting bar. They also have had chocolates and cheese and crackers out each time I’ve been there, which is a huge bonus. I’m usually hungry in the afternoon, and the nibbles are great to hold me over until dinner. The co-owner is usually serving, and she is warm and friendly and knowledgeable about their wines. It is a winery where you feel welcome!

Willow Tree has several whites, including a Sauvignon Blanc, two vintages of Chardonnay and Viognier, and a Pinot Gerwurztraminer. My favorite of these is the Sauvignon Blanc, which has a crisp minerality that I enjoy. Jon likes their more heavily oaked Chardonnay. Willow Tree is currently having a labeling issue with the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency) on their “waiting to be released” Blue Heaven, which is a Blueberry Riesling. Yes, Riesling combined with Blueberry juice. We got to barrel taste it, and it was delicious. Which makes the fact that the ATF has now rejected 7 versions of the label especially frustrating for Jon’s mom and me, as we have to continue to wait to buy it! Willow Tree also has several good reds, including a Carmenere, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, all the reds are currently sold out except for the Cab Franc. So, we are eagerly awaiting next year’s releases. What a nice problem for a new winery to have!

After we left Willow Tree, we headed out to Blaine to visit our favorite local winery, Glacial Lake Missoula. Tracey was holding down the fort with a friend, as Tom took a trip down to Oregon to pick up grapes. They are branching out and producing a Chardonnay and a Gamay Noir. I’m very excited about both. The Chardonnay will be another “enrobed” wine, which is Tom’s name for a white wine that is colored (and flavored) with the skins of red grapes. A white wine that looks like a red. And depending on the temperature you serve it at, it can taste completely different. Their current “enrobed” wine is a Marsanne, which is excellent, so I can’t wait to see what they do with the Chardonnay. And Gamay Noir is one of my favorite varietals, so I’m super-excited to try this one. Of course, as they are just crushing now, both wines have awhile until release. It is just so hard to wait!

I’m sensing a theme with this post. Waiting…. One of my least favorite things to do. Hopefully in one more week, the wait for the house will be over. Stay tuned.

P.S.  After posting this, I learned that our buyer’s loan docs are finalized and at the title company!  So everything should be good to go now!

 

Chehalem – YUM!

Sadly every wine tour has to come to an end, and we wrapped up our Memorial Day tasting tour with our favorite – Chehalem. Chehalem is one of the wineries that Jon’s grandfather told us we had to try, and he was right about it’s quality. Chehalem has a tasting room in Newberg, Oregon that is very conveniently located as you head north on Highway 99. It is a standalone brick building, and once you are inside, you are greeted by local art on the walls that changes quarterly. Whoever is in charge of the art has done a great job choosing beautiful works that really fit the wine country and local agriculture theme. I’ve been tempted by several of the pieces. The tasting room staff are always friendly and knowledgeable about the wines, and are very down to earth and fun to talk to.

But this trip we didn’t go to the tasting room – twice a year they open up the winery for tastings there and tours, so we headed there instead. The winery is a few more miles north on 99, close to August Cellars on the other side of the road. We got there and checked in, and told them we are wine club members, which gave us the privilege of a barrel tasting of their 2010 vintage “Best of Barrel” wines. We got our glasses and were told to head on over and start tasting the whites, and Harry would come get us when he was ready for our barrel tasting. We got our wine club shipment a few weeks ago, so we were looking forward to the opportunity to tasting some of the new releases before we opened our bottle.

We started our tasting with a perennial favorite – the Inox Chardonnay. The Inox is a stainless steel aged Chardonnay, so it doesn’t have the oak flavor that so many Chardonnays have. It is an extremely crisp and clean Chardonnay, that pairs well with spicy food and rich foods.

The second wine was a Grüner-Veltliner – a varietal that isn’t very common in the United States yet. The grape is primarily grown in Austria, Slovia and the Czech Republic, where it is commonly grown on extremely steep terraces where it is difficult to retain the soil. Apparently when DNA researchers went looking for the parents of the Grüner-Veltliner grape, they found that one parent was the Traminer grape (also a parent of Gerwurztraminer) and the other parent was unknown. Eventually they discovered one lone vine hanging on in an abandoned vineyard in Austria. The pasture had not been used as a vineyard since the late 1800s, and this was the last remaining vine they could find. They are currently trying to cultivate this last vine to see what kind of properties its grapes have. But I digress. Chehalem’s Grüner-Veltliner is a refreshing white with a lot of minerality.

The last white that we tried was the 3 Vineyard Riesling. This wine is one that I have discussed before in a previous post. I’m happy to say I enjoyed it as much the second time I tried it.

After we tasted the whites, Harry came and got us for our barrel tasting. We happened to be the only ones going on the barrel tasting tour at the time, so we got a private tour. Harry is the owner and founder of Chehalem, and his knowledge and expertise are evident when he talks about his wines. It is Harry’s opinion that the 2010 vintage won’t be horribly ruined, even though the spring weather was cold and rainy, and we got early fall rain as well. For him, it is all a matter of the expertise of the winemaker – and if anyone can do it, Harry can.

The Chehalem Barrel Room is big and plain – not a lot of ornament, just a commitment to making good wine. Each year, Harry selects one barrel from each of the four Pinot Noir vineyards (one isn’t really its own vineyard, rather a section of the Ridgecrest vineyard), and that becomes the “Best Barrel” for the year. That barrel is aged and bottled as a single vineyard wine that is sold as futures to wine club members. The theory behind the Best Barrel choice is that it represents that absolute best of that vineyard for the year. Harry also chooses a Best Barrel for the Chardonnay. This is what we had the opportunity to taste that day. And I tell you, these wines were amazing! We started off with the Chardonnay, which is aged in oak. The other barrels of this Chardonnay become the Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay, so it was nice to have the opportunity to see what our bottle might taste like. The oak on this wine is light and not overpowering, with a light butter that gives it a richness. Jon was head over heels over this wine – I foresee buying futures of it – well, in the future.

The four Pinots each had different characteristics. We tasted Stoller, Corral Creek, Wind Ridge and Ridgecrest. Harry explained the differences in the types of soil and the temperatures of the vineyards. With his descriptions, you can really taste the differences and how the vineyard plays a role. They were all amazing, but our favorite was the Wind Ridge. Wind Ridge is actually a section of the Ridgecrest vineyard, at the highest elevation of the vineyard along a ridge. This is a fairly young planting, and you can tell that the wine is going to improve with age as this vineyard matures. When we have a bit more disposable income, we will certainly be interested in buying these futures wines.

After the barrel tasting, we headed back outside to where they were tasting the reds. They started us off with the Cerise, which is one of my absolute favorite wines. Frankly, I don’t think it gets enough credit. The Cerise is a blend of 80% Gamay Noir and 20% Pinot Noir, and it has a rich Bing cherry flavor. It is really like drinking a delicious cherry pie. It is very reasonably priced as well, with the 2009 vintage retailing for $24.  Unfortunately, you don’t see it around outside the winery much, I think because they don’t produce much of this wine.

Next we moved to the 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir, which is a blended Pinot Noir that includes grapes from Chehalem’s three estate vineyards (that means that Chehalem owns the vineyards, and they don’t buy the grapes from someone else.) The 3 Vineyard Pinot is a great wine – it has excellent structure, and a nice balance between the fruit and the light oak that it is aged in.

We finished off with the 2009 Corral Creek single vineyard Pinot. This is a big Pinot, mixing cherry and chocolate tastes, but still delivering without being overpowering. It was a great wine to finish off the tasting.

We brought home several bottles for ourselves, and purchased some for Jon’s mom as well. She has been interested in Chehalem since trying their Inox Chardonnay a couple of years ago. Our Chehalem wrapped up the Memorial Day tasting weekend, but we can’t wait for our next visit.

Ken Wright Virgins No More!

Once we left Tyrus Evan, we headed across the street to Ken Wright, which is also in Carlton. Ken Wright is only open Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Day weekend, because they sell most of their wine as futures. We hadn’t been to Ken Wright before, and we had never even had Ken Wright wines. Ken Wright was a favorite of Jon’s grandfather, who lived in McMinnville. He had been buying futures of Ken Wright for several years, and gave us a bottle of the wine, which we have been keeping for a special occasion. When he passed away, we received another bottle.

Ken Wright specializes in single vineyard Pinot Noir. He has ten vineyards, and each is aged, bottled and sold separately. We started our tasting with a Pinot Blanc. It was delicious, with a soft, unoaked, creamy butter taste. Jon and I both really like it, as it was a compromise between the light crisp wines that I like and the heavily oaked, buttery white wines that Jon prefers. Their Chardonnay was excellent as well, a soft butter without the too heavy oak of so many Chardonnays. After we left, Jon regretted not buying a bottle of the Chardonnay. After the whites, we moved into the barrel tasting of some of the 2010 single vineyard Pinot Noirs.  Carter, the first one we tried, was very good. It already had a very nice structure with the tart cherry flavor of a good Pinot.  I can certainly see why the futures sell out. The second we tried, from Canary Hill Vineyard was my least favorite – it has a very light mouthfeel, and just didn’t have the structure of the other two. We finished off our barrel tasting with the Guadalupe vineyard, which was everything a Pinot Noir should be. I will want this wine when I can afford to buy the half case of futures.  What we found with the Ken Wright barrel tastings is that you can really appreciate the flavor that the soil and the differences at each vineyard really impart into the wine.

The tasting ended with a truly spectacular surprise.  2009 was a bumper crop in the Willamette Valley, with a hot summer that produced a lot of fruit in the vineyards. Ken Wright had no much extra fruit that they did what they rarely do. He took leftover grapes from 9 of his vineyards and produced a Pinot Noir that is affordable and delicious. We really enjoyed the blend, and I hope that they will do it again. From what I’m hearing, 2010 was a much tougher year, and 2011 is shaping up so far to be miserable, so it might be a couple of years before we get this wine again. The good news is that while we are waiting, there are always other wines to try. And other reviews to write…

Tyrus Evan – King of the Claret

Jon and I took a little trip down to the Willamette Valley for Memorial Day weekend. Other than the day I took off to accompany my horse up to the vet clinic to have his tooth yanked earlier this month, I haven’t had a day off since the President’s Day Holiday weekend in February. Jon and I had been looking forward to this for weeks. Especially since the Willamette Valley is one of our favorite places on earth. If I were independently wealthy, I would work part-time in a tasting room in the Willamette Valley. And volunteer at an animal shelter.

So anyway, on Friday evening, I had to stay at until 5 o’clock, to grab job applications out of the application box because everybody that normally does it was out of the office. Then I just about locked myself out of my office, where my purse and car keys were waiting for me (damned security badge keycards!). That really freaked me out! So anyway, I headed home, threw a couple of things I forgot to pack into my suitcase, and then hit the road at about 5:30. Jon is great about getting things together while I finish packing, feeding the cats, putting out extra water, and putting more litter in the litterbox. We have a system.

We got down to Portland about 10, and vegged out the rest of the evening watching TV and playing on the internet, and talking about some of the wineries that we haven’t been to and intended to try. Jon has trouble making up his mind about an itinerary, and I don’t want to pick them all, so sometimes we just head in the general direction and then decide where to go as we drive by. It was that kind of day. We intended to start the day at Anne Amie, and I probably should have remembered this, but Anne Amie has a rather steep tasting fee on Memorial Day weekend. It is a $20 fee, that includes wine flight and food pairing. What we didn’t know is if you could share a flight. So, as much as we love Anne Amie, we decided to come back on a non-holiday weekend.

So, we headed into Carlton. Jon has been talking about visiting Tyrus Evan for awhile, so we took the leap. Tyrus Evan is Ken Wright’s second label, which specializes in the Bordeaux wines. They source a lot of their fruit from Washington and the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon, and Jon has been curious about their Cabernets. They are located in downtown Carlton, in the old train station. The building is beautiful, with a lot of historic features. You can look out the window and see the old grain storage silos, which according to the tasting room staff, don’t get much use anymore.

Tyrus Evan started us off with their Viognier, which was good and not too floral. Their Chardonnay, although aged in oak, had a very light oak taste, and was quite nice. Jon particularly enjoyed it. Next we moved to two vintages of their Claret, which are Bordeaux blends, using slightly different blends (a Malbec one year and a Petit Verdot the other).  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are included in both vintages.  Their Clarets were what Jon had heard great things about, and we both agreed that they did a great job with them. They were very well balanced, have some time to age and soften, but could be enjoyed now. Neither were overpowered by the oak or tannins.

They showcased their Syrahs in a similar way, having us taste two vintages of the Syrah, one which had been made using Walla Walla Valley grapes and the other with Rogue River Valley grapes. You could taste the difference, but it was tough to pick a favorite.

We finished with a Port style wine that has been aging in the barrel for several years, because Ken Wright didn’t know what he wanted to do with it. You can’t buy it, but it is waiting for label approval from the ATF and will soon be on the market. It was a deep, syrupy Port, which reminded me a lot of a Marechal Foch Port I sampled at August Cellars last year, although this one was a Bordeaux blend. It was delicious, but it is always difficult to think of an occasion for a Port.

The verdict:  Tyrus Evan is certainly a winner.  Once we left Tyrus Evan, the next stop was the winemaker’s original label, Ken Wright…  Stay tuned!

Fennville Michigan – Find it on the Map!

Jon and I took a road trip this last weekend to visit Jon’s brother Justin and celebrate Justin’s birthday at a birthday BBQ. It was great to see the family, meet some of Justin’s friends, and relax in what turned out to be some fleeting sunshine. Justin is a scotch and red wine drinker, and I was in the mood for a white wine, so I brought my own bottle. The Fenn Valley 2007 Reserve Chardonel that we brought along turned out to be an excellent choice.

I know that many of you don’t associate Michigan with fine winemaking, but Michigan wine is starting to make a name for itself. Since my parents are from Michigan, and many of my extended family still live there, it is a foregone conclusion that I would go wine-tasting in Michigan. To tell the truth, I have been a couple of times, but since it is difficult to bring wine home on a plane, I don’t usually have wine to savor after the trip.

I visited my grandmother and extended family in October 2008, a couple of months after I met Jon. I flew out for the visit, but my parents were there at the same time and had driven out, so that meant that I could stash a couple of bottles of wine in their car for transport back to Washington. My cousin and I decided to take a couple of day trips, and we headed west to Lake Michigan. On the way, we stopped at Fenn Valley Winery, which has been in business since 1973.

Fenn Valley Winery

After being carded (that hardly ever happens anymore – unfortunately!), we went through a traditional tasting and decided which wines we liked. Interestingly, my favorite was a varietal wine that I hadn’t heard of before called Chardonel. Upon doing further research, I learned that it is a hybrid grape derived from the Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc grapes. The grape was first hybridized in 1953, but wasn’t released to wineries as stock until the 1970’s. Back in the 1990’s there was a push to get the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency (it has always seemed odd to me that wine is regulated by the same agency as semi-automatic weapons) to approve Chardonel as a varietal. I assume it happened, since the Fenn Valley Chardonel I purchased was a 2007 vintage. However, there is no longer any mention of Chardonel on Fenn Valley’s website, so I’m not sure if they are still producing it. It would be too bad if they aren’t making it any longer.

I read up on Chardonel, which seems to be more cold-hardy that it’s more famous parent, the Chardonnay. That is important when you are trying to grow wine grapes in Michigan. Although it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of Michigan due to the warmer wind that blows in off of Lake Michigan in the winter, the area around Fennville is still not what could be considered a temperate climate. Snow falls a good portion of the winter there, with low temperatures to about 10 Fahrenheit (according to the Fenn Valley website). Maybe Northwest Washington wineries should take up the Chardonel grape!

But back to the present day. I uncorked this delicious wine, and found that my choice two and a half years ago was justified. This wine is buttery like a Chardonnay, but more light and crisp that a traditional Chardonnay. It was a nice compromise between a full bodied white, and a crisp summer white. Jon liked it so much that he switched from the red he was drinking to have some of my wine. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if the sun had stuck around a while longer. It went very well with my spicy sausage, and with my hamburger. Hey, I know what you are thinking – “How much does she eat?”, so let me just say that Jon ate half of each. A girl has got to fend for herself in this marriage. When Jon’s around, no food is safe.

Perhaps when I visit Michigan next time, I’ll have a chance to visit Fenn Valley again. And hopefully, I can buy their Chardonel.

Mother’s Day Spring Release

Well, it finally came – Mother’s Day weekend. For Jon and me, that means Spring Release. Some of you might imagine that is some sort of break time for the kids, but since Jon and I don’t have any, we think in terms of a break time for the adults. And all that is just a convoluted way of saying that the local wineries released new wines this weekend. Jon’s mom came up to visit on Saturday with Jon’s second cousin Anne, who I have never met and Jon hasn’t seen in about 10 years, and we went on a mini-tasting tour.

We took Linda to Glacial Lake Missoula Winery last spring on Mother’s Day weekend, and she was an immediate convert (it isn’t hard to do). Last fall, we got to taste GLM’s enrobed Marsanne, which is a Marsanne white wine varietal wine with the skins from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape added in to provide a red color and some robustness in flavor. When we barrel tasted, we could already tell that it would be amazing. So, we have been waiting ever since. And we thought the wait was over!

So we started the day at Mt. Baker Vineyard.  Mt. Baker is the oldest winery in the county, and they do a lot of different wines.  They are all decent, but there are a few standouts.  They have a new Riesling out, with is a semi-sweet and very nice. The red that I like the most is the Malbec.  It is quite smooth, with a jammy, berry flavor.

On our way back in from Mt. Baker, we saw the sign for Willow Tree Vineyard, a new winery that opened in April.  Their debut wines are a Chardonnay, a Viognier, a Carmenere and a Syrah.  Their whites are both good and true to how a Chardonnay and a Viognier should taste.  I’m just not the biggest fan of Chardonnay and Viognier.  The Carmenere is very good.  Carmenere is a grape grown widely in Chile, and it is referred to there as the lost grape, because for years they had it planted all over but thought it was Merlot.  Once the Chileans realized that it was a different varietal, they really capitalized on the distinction.  In the US, Carmenere is still mostly a blending grape, but I think it is excellent as a standalone varietal wine, and it is nice to see when it is offered.

The Syrah at Willow Tree is a big heavy, jammy wine, with a strong fruit taste.  Jon really liked it, but I thought it was a bit much for me.  They will be releasing a rose soon called Blue Heaven, which is a semi-sweet Riesling mixed with Blueberry wine, and we got to taste it before its release.  Wow.  I can’t wait until that one comes out!

After Willow Tree we headed up to Glacial Lake.  They have their 2007 Deluge out now, which is a bit different than prior years because Tom added Malbec to this vintage.  It was delicious.  And the Harbor Light is new too, and as always, it is a standout.  But the bad news is that the label for the Marsanne didn’t get approved, so we still can’t get it!  As soon as the label gets its approval, we’ll be able to pick up our bottles.  And meanwhile, we wait, and dream…

Woodinville – The Wine Country of Warehouses, Part 1

We took a day in September to drive down to the Woodinville winery area.  It is a little out of our way, but hey, it was raining at home, so what better way to enjoy an afternoon when you have to be outside anyway?  It poured on our drive, but by the time we ended up in Woodinville, it was a blustery, but not rainy, afternoon.  We arrived a bit early, and a lot of the wineries don’t open until noon on Sunday, so our first stop ended up being a place that wasn’t on our list.

Novelty Hill-Januik’s facility was very modern looking, with cement walls with wood accents.  The interior is minimalist, and kind of cavernous, and reminded me of all the bachelor pads we see rich men on tv living in.  There are actual two partner wineries here, Novelty Hill and Januik.  Mike Januik makes the wine for both.  You can choose different flights, $5 for their “Columbia Valley” tasting, or for $10 you can choose either their “King Cab” or reserve wine flight.  When you choose a flight, then you get to choose four wines from the list to taste.  I went with the $5 flight, and Jon chose the reserve flight – we frequently strategize this way, because most places don’t have a problem if you share.  The first drawback was their tasting room servers were predominantely young, college age women who didn’t seem to know anything about the wine they were serving.  I love getting the opinion of the server on what wines they like and how they describe the wine they pour.  Our server didn’t have much to say at all, but she did have a beautiful blue topaz pendant and ring set.  I digress.  Anyway, back to the tasting.

Novelty Hill/Januik Tasting Room

Here’s what we thought.  Their wines were decent – not outstanding.  The 2007 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Sauvignon Blanc was a good clean white.  I really enjoyed it.  Their Januik 2008 Chardonnay had an oakey nose, but was not all that oakey on the palate.  It was a nice medium bodied crisp apple Chardonnay.  Jon would have preferred something more buttery and oakey, but I liked it.  The Januik 2009 Bacchus Riesling smelled crisp and had a lot of mineral smell.  But I was disappointed with the taste; it tasted flat to me.  It wasn’t overly sweet though like many Rieslings are.

Of the reds, there were several that were very good, but I’m not sure it justifies the prices.  Their Januik 2007 Champoux Cab Sauvignon had nice light oak and a good balance – we both really enjoyed this one, which is unusual for us to both like a Cab Sauvignon.  The Januik 2006 Klipsun Merlot was a bold Merlot which Jon liked.  He also liked the Januik 2007 Lewis Syrah – he liked it because it was not as jammy as many syrahs.  The Novelty Hill 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah was more suited to Jon; he thought it was strong and bold with a lot of fruit and oak.  I thought it would be better with a bit more of that jammy taste that Jon complains about.

I guess to sum it up, the wine was good, but it had that big business wine feel.  I would have preferred more of that small winery feel.

Our Introduction to Napa Valley

We started our first full day in Napa Valley with a walking tour of the downtown area.  We got a tour with historical facts about Napa, the architecture, and even a beer tasting.  Beer was the dominant production in the area until wine took over in the 1870’s.  Our tour was very interesting, and we got to see inside a beautiful turn of the century mansion that is now a B&B, Churchill Manor.  Edward Churchill built it in 1889, after making his fortune in banking.  Churchill also owned a beer brewery called the Golden Ribbon, and the Tokalon Vineyard.  The vineyard land was approximately 700 acres, and is now a part of the Robert Mondavi Winery empire.  Jon and I both would like to stay there one day – when we can afford it.  Until then, our economy lodging.

One day we will stay here

Churchill Manor - one day we will stay here.

After the tour, we headed up the wine trail.  We had lunch at the Pacific Blues Cafe, and had a great pulled pork sandwich and Cobb salad.  We browsed in a wine shop that had a fantastic selection of rare wines and everything you could imagine… from California.  It seems California doesn’t believe that other wine areas exist.  We saw two lonely bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir.

So, our first stop for wine tasting was Robert Mondavi.  Big producer, big attitude is apparently the theme here.  We stopped in the tasting room, where we got to listen to a waiter from Canada schmooze the server into a free “industry tasting”.  You have got to be kidding me… but it worked.  But it seems that most of us can get a free tasting – Jon and I did too, with a coupon.  The server basically ignored Jon, but gave me a bit more attention.  We tried wines that ranged from $80 – $160, and while they were decent, there wasn’t one that I would have bought at those prices.  I’ve had better $30 reds at home.  We left there feeling like we had just had a very strange experience.  At least we checked Mondavi off our list – but they at least could have told us about the Edward Churchill connection.

Next stop was ZD Wines.   This was a spur of the moment choice, but an excellent one.  They focused on Chardonnay, which is 80% of their production, and it showed.  We both loved their Chardonnay.  We also really enjoyed all of their other wines, but the price points are a little steep for us.  The folks at ZD are a fun, lively bunch, who are very friendly to chat with.  No weirdness here – ZD was more like the wineries in Washington and Oregon.  They recommended a stop at Peju, so that’s where we headed next.

Jon in Front of ZD Wines

Peju does a very regimented tasting.  You are put on a list, and then in groups of 10, shuttled into the tasting room.  Our server was a bit of a schmoozer – it seems that they are on commission there, and he liked to use the “grandchild needs some shoes” bit.  He also thought Peju wine was the best on the planet.  Jon and I disagreed.  We enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc, their Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel, but the rest we could take or leave.

The group next to us at the tasting recommended we have dinner at Go Fish, a seafood restaurant in St. Helena.  It was our splurge dinner for the trip.  Jon had the halibut, I had a Chef’s plate of sushi.  The halibut was very well prepared, and delicious, but Jon left hungry.  We brought a bottle of our ZD Chardonnay to enjoy with dinner.  YUM!

In the end, we learned that some places in Napa are of the snobbish variety.  I guess we’ll just have to figure out which ones we like and don’t like along the way.

Our tips so far:

Family-owned winery in WA or OR means it is a small boutique winery, where you will usually be served by the winemaker or a family member.  The family-owned distinction in Napa means nothing to the consumer – these families are rich and their wineries are just as big!

Every famous person in the world it seems has started a winery in Napa/Sonoma.  The Andretti family of racecar fame, the Jacuzzi family of hottub fame, Francis Ford Coppola, are just a few.  But… it doesn’t necessarily mean they know good wine.  It seems Napa is all about who you know.