It was our last day to tour Sonoma, so we managed to fit in 5 places and most of them pretty great and places that I would recommend.
It rained like an MF all day and my cute Target leopard print flats were soaked (good thing they cost $10...oh how I love Target!), but we had fun. MC Ice and I never let weather stop us from having a good time and yesterday that was a fortunate attitude to have!
11:00 AM: Bella
A few years ago, a friend who has a similar passion and palate to me told me about this very cool property in the Dry Creek Valley. They were known for outstanding, big Zins and no one did it better than they did.
I saw her on Friday and told her I was heading to our mutual favorite haunt. She got a funny look in her eye and then warned me that there had been some changes that made her drop out of their wine club. She didn't elaborate, just said that she wanted to know what I thought. I had to go check it out.
Urgh. Bella is, by far, one of the cutest properties in Dry Creek. It has a two-part tasting area -- in a barn and then in a beautiful mountainside cave. The hospitality is amazing and the people are so kind...but the wine is not what it once was. It's the winery's 10 year anniversary and apparently they haven't upped production (it's around 7,500 cases), but the wines are completely different. They've added a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley (which, honestly, was the best wine of the day -- lightly oaked, acidic, very refreshing) but their Zins hail from the same vineyards as in the past.
Sadly, these are not the same Zins. They lack the jammy fruit, the complexity, the rich spice, and the velvety texture that I loved in their Zins from years passed. They used to be like mini-Turley Zins (really famous, expensive but sinfully delicious!). I'm not sure if it's a vintage issue or if there's been a philosophical change, but the big, delicious, California-identity Zins that I knew are no longer.
I'd send people here for the hospitality and the property, but no longer for the wine. I just hope the winemaking goes back to the way it used to be someday.
12:15 PM: Michel-Schlumberger (pronounced Michelle Schlumber-JHEY)
Ok, you guys were the ones that told me to check this place out and I've got to say a BIG thank you. It rocked! The wines are 100% organically grown, mostly from the estate surrounding the property in the Dry Creek, and they are excellent. The hospitality was terrific too -- our down-to-earth, passionate, but no nonsense educator, Samantha, kicked ass and we had a great time!
Each wine was elegant, restrained, and versatile -- you could drink them alone but they'd be fabulous with food too. It's hard to pick out favorites, but the Merlot was amazing (especially for $25), their special reserve Cabernet called Deux Terres because the grapes come from two soil types was complex and delicious, and their Syrah, mixed with some Viognier in a Northern Rhone style was nothing short of stunning and left me speechless and wanting to drink more.
With a remote location and a Spanish-style winery that was pretty and welcoming, I'm a Michel-Schlumberger lover! Thanks to to readers who pointed me in that direction. Good call!
1:15 PM: Lunch at the Dry Creek General Store
Good food, expensive, owned by Gina Gallo, FYI. Although your wallet will feel much lighter, it's an awesome place to stop for eats because it keeps you local. Instead of going to Healdsburg or Santa Rosa, you stay within the vineyard area so you don't lose travel time. I recommend it highly!
2:00 PM: Sbragia
Another reader suggestion, this was a great winery. It's a family owned winery, run by a father and son. The father, Ed Sbragia, is a long-time winemaker for Beringer (but don't think ill of him, Beringer's reserve wines are off the chart delicious, FYI).
The tasting room was mobbed, but they still managed to do some hospitality for this pop-in blogger and we were in no rush, so it was just fine. It's a gorgeous property that overlooks a giant dam and if it had been a sunny day it would have been a great place to stay for a while and enjoy the amazing outdoor patio (with fun games on it) and the fabulous view. The rain prevented us, but we'll be back again to enjoy it!
Sbragia is known for Zin and Cabernet. The Zins were just what I like from the Dry Creek -- fruity, spicy, and liked a baked berry cobbler. The highlight for us was the Italo's Zin, made from 50 year old vines. We didn't taste through their whole Cab lineup, which included a lot of Napa Cabs, but we did sample the Monte Rosso Cabernet, from a really great old vineyard which I'll share more about in a longer post. It was a great wine and very well made, so I assume the rest of their Cabs would be solid too.
Thumbs up for Sbragia.
3:00 PM: J. Fritz
Another off-the-beaten-track winery, this one is way off a random road on the way to Geyserville. We found it a few years ago and were excited to go, but also nervous, given the changes that we found at Bella.
Whew! Fritz hasn't changed a bit. Around since 1979, the winery is in a giant cave built into a hillside. It's 200 feet deep and 5 stories high -- they use no air conditioning to cool their cellar and they use gravity flow to push the wines through from delivery to production. Very neat.
Even better, they make great wines. A unique Sauvignon Blanc that tasted like a mango, a very typical Russian River Valley style Chardonnay (not my style because of the oak but very well made if it is your style), and then we moved on to their jewels in the crown. Fritz does red and does it WELL. Their Zin was solid, and their reserve Cabernet was sinfully delicious. I love that their wines are alive -- saturated with flavor and full of complexity.
The one thing that wasn't being poured but which I know about from being there before -- they make a small quantity of lights-out Syrah. We snagged two bottles and will hold them for a year (check out my review of the Syrah from last year -- it is amazing).
4:30 PM: The Natural Process Alliance
Ok, so to end the tour, I wound up back where we started: in a warehouse in Santa Rosa. But this time it was to see my old pen pal, now materialized friend, Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine fame. The man and the legend is one of the kindest, most passionate people I've met and I was honored to have him host me and MC Ice at this VERY cool winery. What is the NPA? From them...
"We believe that expressive soil is sacred, responsible farming is a requirement and natural winemaking is the only option. In the creation of wine, there are innumerable natural processes that are elegant in their simplicity and astonishing in their effectiveness. Our role is but one of these processes and is no more significant than any other. We have joined a natural alliance that has been ignored for far too long."If that doesn't make sense -- I'd say the philosophy is that they don't monkey with the wines at all. There is a head winemaker, two other full-time employees (including Hardy who helps make, market and sell the wine!), and a few interns who make wines with as little human intervention as possible. NPA wines are all white and are not bottled, but sold to people and restaurants in aluminum canteens -- which are meant to be refilled. The wines aren't sold anywhere outside of a 100 mile radius of the winery and you can expect these white wines to be cloudy and kind of orange-pink from skin contact. They are fresh, natural, and awesome. Once a week Hardy goes to San Francisco to drop off new canteens and pick up the old ones (he said he's the wine milkman -- he delivers the canteens in wooden crates that are like the old-school milk crates!). He's selling to some of the top restaurants in San Francisco, who love the wines.
The reds are bottled under the Salinia brand. We tried the Pinot Noir and a Syrah. Each were very natural and tasted like the grapes and land from which they come. This is a completely different style of wine, incomparable to anything else I've had. This is what wine tastes like before it is refined by winemakers -- very cool. I'll elaborate in a future post.
6:30 PM: Dinner at Stark's with Rick Breslin of Hello Vino.
We ended the day with a phenomenal dinner at Stark's in Santa Rosa with Rick Breslin of Hello Vino fame (if you don't know about this application -- get on it! It's a pairing and wine recommendation engine for normal people!) and his lovely wife. We had a wonderful time and were so happy that they trekked all the way from San Fran, in the rain, to be with us and share some laughs and great food!
So now we take a few days off and follow another passion -- hiking! It's off to the north for us, up to Humboldt County and Trinidad to see the redwoods. We'll be back tackling a few properties in Mendocino later in the week! Thanks for reading!