Carneros

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Happy Travel Tuesday! How is everyone? I have missed this space as it has has definitely taken a back seat to work life and summer fun these days. I have so much catching up to do, but most days after a 12 hour work day, marathon training run, gardening, and attempting to eat healthy, I just want to curl up on the patio with a good book. Weekends have been full of seeing friends, and beach, boat, and pool time and little else, meaning our poor house is a mess as it tends to be every summer. I am definitely still traumatized by winter; I had  nightmare about it last night. I want to squeeze out every drop of sunshine.

Still I have so much I want to write about, and I have missed this space! I am still mapping out posts from my recent work trip to Sonoma County, and today’s features a new favorite winery that you must visit if you head to Sonoma or Napa.

Ram’s Gate Winery is an architectural and natural masterpiece, set at the gateway of Napa and Sonoma amongst gorgeous hills and vineyards, capped off by perfect blue sky. 

Ram's Gate Winery

Every inch of the winery has been designed with incredible attention to detail and taking into account the views and the light that this location is bathed in. I loved how, upon arrival, we could see right through to the other side of the building and out to the hills. The photo doesn’t capture even 10% of how amazing it was.

 

Ram's Gate Winery

As we took our tour, each room brought more ooh’s and aah’s. From the barrel room to the various tasting areas to the chef’s kitchen, each space is meant for entertaining and education. I loved how each corner brought a new seating area or something different; this place is perfect for group get togethers or small tastings as a result.

Ram's Gate Winery    

 Ram's Gate Winery As we traveled through the winery to the outside, the beauty just kept coming. Nestled above the vines, the property really boasts some pretty views.

Ram's Gate vineyards

 

Carneros Chardonnay

And just as the property delights with details and finesse, so does the wine. It was a hot and sunny summer morning when we visited, and a cold splash of bright, tropical Carneros Chardonnay was a welcome treat for our walk around. Ram’s Gate’s wines reflect their unique sense of place, and Carneros Chardonnay is beautiful.

Carneros Chardonnay

Our tour concluded with a tasting of three Chardonnays and three Pinot Noirs, grapes the Carneros area specializes in. As always, it was fun to taste through the same grape grown in different places to note the differences created by the conditions in each location. Ram’s Gate makes Pinot Noir in a range, from the cool climate Carneros region to Northern Russian River, and they really pride themselves on the knowledge and craft of those wines, highlighting the characteristics driven by terroir. As their website says, they like to get specific about where the grapes come from; they can pin it down to the actual row the grapes came from.

wine tasting

Ram’s Gate is a true experience not to be missed. It is open by appointment only, so be sure to check their website and call before your travels. I can’t wait to bring my husband there when we visit later this summer.

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Tags: Carneros, chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sonoma, Sonoma County, Travel, wine, wine tasting

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Jason from the blog Ancient Fire Wine, a site you will definitely want to check out if you have any interest in wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, or good food!

In 2010 my wife and I embarked on a project to make virtual visits to different wine regions around the world. We do make in-person visits several times per year, but the project offers a greatly expanded experience and is likely to set us up for future visits to areas we are particularly intrigued by. So far the trips have involved researching the regions to understand history, climate, typical grape types and wine styles, culinary influences and of course the tasting of wines hailing from the region. We have visited Stellenbosch in South Africa, the Elqui valley in Chile, Napa, Tuscany, the Columbia Valley in Washington, Douro and Madeira in Portugal and Ribera del Duero in Spain. When Meghan put the call out for guest posts I immediately thought of picking a new region and taking a trip.

Carneros

(View of the California wine region of Carneros in Sonoma)

For this trip I picked the Carneros region in California. The Carneros AVA (designated American winemaking region) is located north of San Francisco and contains parts of both Napa and Sonoma counties. The region was first officially designated in 1983 and is about 90 square miles in size. The region’s proximity to San Pablo Bay creates a climate that is cooler than areas further north in both Sonoma and Napa. This more moderate climate led to an early focus on cooler climate grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These are still the predominant grapes grown in the region today, although plantings and experimentation with other grapes like Roussanne, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Albarino has been ongoing for some time. The wines are typically higher in acidity than similar wines made farther north in the warmer areas.

In the 1980s considerable investment was made by sparkling wine interests including Domaine Chandon and Gloria Ferrer resulting in Carneros becoming, and continuing to be, one of the centers of sparkling wine production in California. I don’t believe I have enjoyed any sparkling wines from the Carneros region, something I surely must remedy!

Producers that you would want to visit when in the region might include Domaine Carneros, Cuvaison and Truchard Vineyards. I have enjoyed wine from all three of these producers in the last several years, with the Pinot Noir from Truchard being particularly notable for its lighter body and balance of fruit and spice flavors.

Specifically what to expect from Carneros wines can be hard to say. An open debate on what the signature of Carneros Pinot Noir is has producers divided. What is interesting about this particular situation is that there is a range of specific Pinot Noir grape clones being grown and vinified in the region, with a good deal of variation in the flavors, from mint, earth and herbs to intense dark fruits like blackberry. The alcoholic strength also varies, all together making it hard to define a singular style.

2008 Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay

The wine we chose to review from Carneros is the 2008 Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay. Clos Pegase is a Carneros producer located in the Napa portion of the region. This particular vineyard was a Valentine’s Day present from the owner of Clos Pegase to his wife over 20 years ago. What a present!

The color of the wine is of straw with a clear rim transitioning through several shades to the center. My initial impression of the nose I summed up as smoked savory pear. The nose is moderate with pear, peach and toasty notes of oak. I would classify the wine as medium dry and just from tasting I would guess a moderate to high amount of alcohol, around 14%. The label indicates 13.9% alcohol making my guess pretty solid. I found flavors of fig and a warm flavor that I proclaimed as Chinese Five Spice. I think that outcome is a unique expression of the intersection of the alcohol, oak and fruit in this wine. The wine has a nice rich body to it and a long finish. From a quick look at the Clos Pegase web site I found that the wine is made with extended sur lie aging and battonage, which means the wine is aged on its lees and that they are frequently mixed back into the wine during the aging. This process can have a profound effect on the final wine, producing one with more intense aromas and flavors and considerable mellowing from contact with spent yeast and aroma/flavor compounds that would normally have been discarded much earlier. I very much enjoyed this wine and would recommend it as an excellent example of a cooler climate Chardonnay with some oak influence.

That wraps up our visit to Carneros. Hopefully there was something new and interesting here, and that you might even be thinking about looking for wines from the region to try yourself. If you have been to the region be sure to leave a comment and tell us about your experience.

Cheers!

–Jason

Thank you for your post on one of my favorite areas of California, Jason! You have to get your hands on some Gloria Ferrer bubbly soon. It is definitely one of my favorites.

Interested in more food, wine, beer, and cocktail information, including homemade wine and spirits? You have to visit Ancient Fire Wine, Jason’s blog and a direct link into his home drink adventures!

Image sources:

#1 – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:View_of_Carneros_Sonoma_from_Artesa.jpg

#2 – Bottle label, my own

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Tags: Carneros, chardonnay, Guest Blogger, Pinot Noir, wine, wine country, wine regions

I realized just the other day, when making a reservation for November at our favorite Healdsburg B & B, that I am in the midst of planning another short wine country trip, and I haven’t even finished blogging about the last one! I prematurely booked a ticket to San Francisco for the Foodbuzz Festival, hoping that I get a ticket, and we have an extra two days that we will be spending in Northern Sonoma. Yipeeeeeee.

I have already covered many of the wineries we visited on our last trip, but there were a few more, all very different and all worth visiting for different reasons.

 

Arista Winery

While dining out at Dry Creek Kitchen (which I actually don’t think I ever blogged about!) we met the guest Sommelier for the night, Mark from Arista, makers of fantastic Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Mark gave us his card, and since we were going to be in the area for the DeLoach Bastille Day party anyway, we decided to check Arista out.

I was running out of camera battery which was awful because their outdoor tasting bar and Japanese gardens were just beautiful. Mark’s dad actually poured our tasting at the bar, and were smitten with not only their single vineyard Pinot Noirs but also their Pinot Gris. Arista is on my list of definite visit-again wineries. There is just something magical about tasting outdoors under big, old trees!

Arista Vineyards

Arista Vineyards

 

Domaine Carneros

We had passed Domaine Carneros, the Napa-side Carneros winery owned by Taittinger, many many times on past wine country visits. This summer, several people recommended that we visit, so we made a point of stopping by for a glass of Domaine Carneros’ famous bubbly. As you can see the property is fabulously beautiful, like a French chateau.

This is one of my favorite photos from the entire summer.

Domaine Carneros

Their majestic indoor space had a gift shop that offered, among many other things, truffles with wine.

wine truffles

And their patio was a beautiful place to sip a glass of Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé, an elegant pink bubbly.

Domaine Carneros

But, to be honest, I would probably not return. It’s a haven for tour buses and feels very corporate. Maybe it’s just my style, but give me a dusty old dirt road and a tiny warehouse or farmhouse tasting room any day. It is certainly a sight to see though, and if you have the time and are in the area, why not stop?

 

Loxton Cellars

Loxton Cellars was another gem recommended to me by Chef Robin. On our March Sonoma visit, we stopped, but there was an event going on, and it was super crowded.

We soon learned why.

image

The owner and winemaker himself was there to pour for us, and his incredibly charming Australian accent roped us in, and his Cuvee Ellen Syrah won us over. We hope to join the Loxton wine club now that the summer is over and we can ship wine again without worrying about the heat!

Loxton Cellars Wine

Loxton Tasting Menu Loxton Syrah

 

Kunde Family Estate

Our final winery stop, right before meeting the TasteLive folks at Zazu, was a random stop at Kunde Family Estate. On the same road as Loxton in the Glen Ellen area of Sonoma, Kunde has a huge hillside property complete with some intriguing caves.

Kunde Caves Kunde

And beautiful grounds. . .photos of hydrangeas will have to get me through until next summer!

Kunde

The Kunde tasting room is like a chalet with massive high ceilings, multiple tasting bars, and a seating area for seated tastings. Since we didn’t have a ton of time, we shared a tasting at the bar. I loved their citrusy Viognier, their Grenache Rosé, and the spicy Sangiovese. There were many wines to try, and I know we missed some of them so we will definitely be back next time we are in Glen Ellen.

Kunde Tasting Room

I know some of you are planning Napa and Sonoma trips, and though I am not an expert, I would love to share the places that I have had great experiences. I can not wait until November to be on the West Coast and in the Dry Creek Valley again!

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Tags: California, Carneros, Glen Ellen, Healdsburg, Napa, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sangiovese, Sonoma, sparkling wine, Travel, wine

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