Monthly Archives: January 2011

Winter Wineland, Northern Sonoma Cnty – Day One was very fortunate to receive two complementary tickets to the 2011 Winter Wineland Weekend.  This is a weekend in which over 140 wineries in the Russian River Region, from Santa Rosa through Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Healdsburg and Dry Creek Valley get together to let wine lovers experience the different wineries.  The theme this year was “Education and Art”.  Some of the wineries are not normally open to the public, some by are by appointment only but on this weekend all the participants are open and ready to receive you.  More wineries than not offered food to be sampled with their wines.  Larry and I went through the map and listing and tried to locate wineries that we either haven’t been to or haven’t been to in a long time.

Day 1 – Saturday January 15 – We started off the day by leaving our house in the East Bay, San Francisco area around 9:30.  We got to the first winery just past 11:00, which is when it opened. 

Martin Ray – Their parking seemed limited, but it is a small winery with a nice tasting room.  They have merchandise to sell.  Their staff is very friendly.  They offer picnic benches and have a beautiful view of their vineyards.  They were pouring their Angeline ’09 Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and their ’04 Santa Cruz Cabernet.

                        Martin Ray Winery                                                    Martin Ray Winery Tasting Room

Graton Ridge Cellars – Another small winery right on the 116, Gravenstein Highway.  I liked this tasting room.  There was a nice large bar, plenty of room to wander inside and look at all the gift items they have for sale.  Here they had made homemade chili that they were serving.  They have a nice outdoor bocce ball area with comfortable chairs to sit at while either having a picnic or playing.   They were offering their Chardonnay at 25% off.

                           Graton Ridge Winery                                                    Graton Ridge Bocce Ball Court

Dutton Goldfield Winery – Also on Gravenstein Highway, this winery is one of our favorites for Pinot Noir.  They have been written up several times, been the Winery of the Year and have received above 90 points on over 4 of their wines.  We met our daughter-in-law and granddaughter here.  We tasted ’08 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay, ’08 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, and ’08 Devils Gulch Pinot Noir and a ’08 Syrah.  As we enjoyed the wines we sat out on their front deck and ate our picnic lunch.  They have good parking and a very well informed, educated staff.  They have nice art and a fireplace indoors which is perfect on those cold days.

                                       Dutton Goldfield Winery                                        Kim and Elliana Lapides having a picnic

Red Car Winery – This winery is right next door to Dutton Goldfield.  They had just opened up their tasting room recently.  They don’t have any picnic benches but they have a very art deco tasting room.  They were pouring a Chardonnay, and two ’09 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs from different vineyards.  I would definitely go back and try them on a day when it isn’t so crowded.

Mueller Winery – This is a nice winery in a very remote location.  We had to drive through rolling farmland with cows on one side and vineyards on the other.  Here we tasted their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, which we liked very much.  They had a live band, the Surf Brothers, playing soft rock and roll songs.  They also had Claudia Sanchez, an artist, who displayed her cat art.  The tasting room is in the cellar.  They purchase all their grapes.

                         Mueller Winery Tasting Room                                                 Surf Brothers performing

Russian Hill Estates – Here they were pouring their new releases.  Their Viognier is what stood out to us.  But more importantly, the views from their backyard are amazing.  They have a few tables and chairs and welcome you to relax and take in the view while sipping their wine.

                              Russian Hill Winery                                                  Views from Russian Hill Winery

Sonoma-Cutrer – Known for their Chardonnay we tasted a few different vineyards of Chardonnay.  Their building is beautiful with African animal art displayed; they also have photographs of different vines growing in different soil.  They were pairing their wines with a black bean/corn salsa on a corn chip.  The backyard is enormous and would be perfect for an outdoor function.  They have two full-size croquet courts with immaculately groomed lawns.

                          Sonoma-Cutrer Winery                                             Sonoma-Cutrer Croquet Court     

Inman Family Wines – Here we met the winemaker and owner Kathleen Inman.  She was very nice.  They just recently opened up this tasting room.  They will be making their Chardonnay here soon.  They are very popular for two things.  One is being very organic.  The building they have their tasting room in, is made by using all re-used products.  Second, they use screw caps for all their releases.  They are firm believers that this keeps the wine from going bad and makes it easier to open. 

              Inman Family Wines Tasting Room                                        Inman Family Wines Barn

Benovia Winery – Known for their Pinot Noir, they were pouring their wines in the barrel room.  We tasted a Pinot blend, two different Pinot Noirs and a Zinfandel.  All of their grapes will eventually be harvested from their own vineyards.  They are open by appointment only and have a beautiful visitors center with a fireplace, dining room table, and a very nice outdoor deck overlooking their vineyards.  Here they had an educational video on how oak barrels are made.

                       Benovia Winery Cellar Room                                         Views of Benovia Winery Vineyards

This day of wine tasting ended about 4:30.  We were pretty tired.  Larry spit out all of his tasting so he was able to drive us around safely.  I however, just took little sips all day long.  Needless to say we didn’t have any wine with dinner that night.  The day ended up being about 70 degrees!  In the middle of January!  Wow!  We needed to go to bed early this night so we would be ready to go to more wineries the next day.

Wineries, Birthday and Babysitting

Last weekend Larry and I went up north to Santa Rosa to attend the annual Winter Wineland event in the Russian River wine region.  Over 140 wineries were participating and the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County comp’ed us two tickets.  We started out on Saturday morning and drove straight to Martin Ray Winery to check in and receive our weekend bracelet and wine glass.  I’m not going to go into details of each winery on this post as I will dedicate a post to each day of wine tasting.


Suffice it to say that we went to nine wineries on Saturday and eleven on Sunday.  On Saturday we met up with our daughter-in-law Kim and granddaughter Elli at Dutton Goldfield Winery.  We went and talked to some of the staff that we all knew because Brandon used to work there.  We tasted some good wines and had a picnic lunch there.  The temperature that day got up to 70 degrees!  Yes, 70 degrees in the middle of January!  It was such a perfect weekend for touring around different wineries.


After lunch we continued onto a few more wineries and ended up at the meat market.  This is where Brandon and Kim suggested we go to buy the beef we were interested in for Sunday’s dinner.  We bought 4 nice rib-eye steaks and a package of 4 lamb sausages for our dinner that night.  After a quick trip through the grocery store we got to the kid’s home.  We visiting a bit, then Brandon got home.  We were going to be babysitting Elli so that Brandon and Kim could go out for an evening alone.  After a bit they left and we were there with Elli.  We fed her and played with her.  We even gave her a bath!  Then we put her to bed.  We then got working on our dinner, which was lamb sausages and sautéed vegetables consisting of onion, mushroom, red pepper and zucchini.  The sausages really hit the spot in a delicious sour dough roll with a nice porter mustard.  We watched a little T.V. and relaxed.  The kids got home before 10.  They saw the Black Swan, which we had already seen.  So we discussed the movie a bit before heading off to bed.


The next morning I was awoken to the smell of bacon cooking.  What a treat, Brandon was cooking eggs and bacon for breakfast.  We all ate together then we all dispersed to different locations.  Brandon went back up to his winery, Armida, where he was pouring his Chardonnay and Zinfandel all day.  Kim and Elli went off to church and then to the winery for a little lunch and visit, and we went off to our day two of wineries.  We went to four wineries before we got to Armida for lunch.  Once we got to Armida, which was very crowded, Brandon was ready to take a little break.  So we grabbed some food and sat out on their beautiful deck.  This day the fog had just lifted and it was a bit cooler.  But it was nice to spend 10 minutes with Brandon.  We went back into the winery and watched a little bit of football and watched Brandon sell his futures.  Afterwards we went to a few more wineries and got back to the house around 4:30.  I made nachos for a pre-dinner snack.  Brandon got home around 5:45 and he opened up a bottle of 2006 Pinot Noir from Windy Oaks Winery from the Santa Cruz Mountains.  We started making dinner.  I did the stuffed baked potatoes, Larry did the green beans and Brandon did the steaks. This dinner was in celebration of Brandon’s 29th birthday.  There was a 2007 Petite Verdot opened also but it wasn’t as good as the Pinot Noir.  Elli finally went to bed and we enjoyed the birthday dinner.  For dessert we had chocolate chip/oatmeal/dried cranberry cookies that I had made and brought up.  We watch the Golden Globe awards and gave Brandon his present, which was a dehydrator.  This is something he can really use since he has such a big garden.  A good time was had by all. 


The next morning Kim went to work and I took Elli for a 45-minute stroll.  We went on a couple errands, she had lunch then she went down for a nap.  After her nap we went to Benovia Winery where we went to check out their new visitor center.  It is a beautiful center with couches and a fireplace for casual fare, a nice dining room table for more formal fare, and the backyard deck which looks onto their vineyards and beyond.  We then drove home, Kim got home and Larry and I got on the road back home.  It was a very full and eventful weekend.

Traveling along… Hollister, CA

The day after Christmas we went on a small one-day journey.  We were headed to the Santa Cruz area and decided to head to a wine region that we had heard of but not been to.  They skies were blue, it was a bit brisk but very reasonable for December.  This region is San Benito County and the city was HollisterHollister is about 1 ½ hour southeast of Livermore and about 45 minutes northeast of Monterey.  Just 20 minutes off hwy 101.  There are about 40,000 people residing but it is spread out and there is a lot of visible land.  Something you don’t see too often anymore.


We drove and went to our first destination for lunch at The Running Rooster .  We were in the mood for a good hamburger and fries.  They label themselves as the “best burger ever”.  So we decided to give it a shot.  It is right on the main street of Hollister on San Benito Street.  They have their grills outside in front so that is the first thing you see.  They cook the burgers and other items to order.  I got their ¼ pounder, which was plenty.  It was good, not the best ever, but it hit the spot.

From there we went to go and find some wineries.  First on our list was Calera Wine Company .  It took us about 20 minutes from the restaurant to get there.  They have some of the best scenery from the winery.  The wine making facilities and tasting room are all at the same location.  The tasting room wasn’t very fancy; it was in the barrel room.  But they had a couple counters and a couple people pouring so it was a very nice experience.  Lori was the one who was helping us.  She was very nice and knowledgeable.  The owner and winemaker is Josh Jensen.  He has been there for 30 years.  They have a seven level gravity flow system for their wine making process.  This is very unusual but they can do it because the winery starts way up on the top of the hill. The gravity flow system allows the wine to travel from tank to barrel to barrel without much disruption, thus making the wine happier.  We bought their ’09 Viognier, Central Coast.  It has a very nice flowery flavor but not over powering.  They also make Chardonnay, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, and a few other miscellaneous varieties.  They have a few benches and a couple tables if you want to have a picnic here.  Like I said the view is beautiful.

                    Views from Calera Winery                                           Grape Arbor at Calera Winery

Our next stop was at Pietra Santa Winery .  This winery is just beautiful.  It is in the style of a very old California Mission.  The outer walls were made with stone and there are bells in the steeple.  The only downfall of this tasting room is that you have to go upstairs to get to it.  If you can’t climb the stairs, no worries, they will come down and let you sample their wines, but you miss out on the ambiance.  Once upstairs they have a couple of tasting menus.  The tasting fee is $5.00.  We really enjoyed their Gewürztraminer and their Sangiovese.  We also tried their Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and Zinfandel.  They sell some shirts, caps and a few miscellaneous items.  While we were there we met a couple that are club members.  They were very nice and we had fun chatting.  We found out that they were then going to Leal Vineyards next.  So we decided to follow them there.


                         Pietra Santa Vineyards                                                             Pietra Santa Winery


At Leal Vineyards one of the first things you see is a big white tent set up for weddings and events.  As we parked we noticed that they had recently planted some new vineyards and they were also growing Agave plants.  Strange!  So we went inside.  Their tasting was $10.00 per person.  They have a nice area just outside their tasting room where they have a very large fire pit with some seating around it.  Nice ambiance for drinking wine, especially if it’s nice out, which it was.  Here they make mostly blended wines.  We tried their Chardonnay, Cabernet and three different blended wines.  They also offer some estate Syrah, Merlot and a Meritage.  We took a walk up to their two bocce ball courts.  They had a full outdoor kitchen up there as well as another fire pit.  Up there they also had tons of tables and chairs.  This is the perfect location for a picnic.  We were still mystified by the agave plants growing there until we found out that the owner, who has a love for tequila, is a co-owner in a tequila distillery. 


                Leal Vineyards New and Old                                        Leal Vineyards and Agave Plants


After leaving Leal we had about 45 minutes of sunlight left so we headed towards the Mission of San Juan Bautista .  It was about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Hollister.  As we approached we realized that we didn’t give ourselves enough time to see the quaint town with the different shops and restaurants.  Nor did we have enough time to get a tour of the Mission.  So, we will have to go back another time.  We did however walk the grounds of the Mission and see some of the gardens.  From there it was just a 45 minute drive to the Santa Cruz area.  A perfect day. 


            San Juan Bautista Mission Gardens                                      San Juan Bautista Mission

Goodbye 2010

The Year of 2010

It’s that time of year when you can’t even believe that a whole year has gone by since you last celebrated in the New Year.  The years are just flying by.  

Here I sit at my getaway beach house near Santa Cruz, California reflecting on 2010.  It was a year full of drama.  We had many celebrations, one after another, starting with my youngest son, Jacob, proposing to his then girlfriend of 2 years while we were all in Cancun bringing in the year 2010.  That was a very festive evening.  Then in March and April Larry and I turned 50 and we had a very nice celebration.  The end of April brought us our first grandchild, Elliana.  We had forgotten how a little person can add so much love to your life.  And at the end of summer we had an engagement celebration for Jacob and Brittany.  With all these happy times came some sad days when we lost a number of very close friends to cancer.

I want to say that I am so happy that I have a wonderful husband and two incredible sons who have chosen such fantastic women to add into our family.  I have two cats and one dog which I love and so many great friends and family that have always been there when they are needed through the good and the bad.

In these difficult times that we are living in, it is sometimes hard to see all the good things that one has.  That is why I feel that it is so important to at least take out a couple hours at the end of the year and reflect on all that you have.  If you make a list of the good and the bad things that have happened, you can always find more good things than the bad.  And just remembering all the good things should help to erase most of the bad things.

In closing I just want to say thanks to all of you who read my blog and are patient with me as I don’t always have the time or energy to write.  I have still been enjoying drinking wine and traveling to a number of different wineries and I will get to writing about it.