If you’re visiting Sonoma, Chateau St. Jean is the perfect taste of wine country: gorgeous grounds, great selection of wines and friendly service! We visited the winery during Halloween weekend and our outfits seems fitting (no pun intended) for the European vibe. Let’s talk about the winery! Chances are, you’ve seen Chateau St. Jean at wine shops and restaurants. But, heading to their property is the way to go in terms of really experiencing the brand and what it has to offer. Once you walk through the gardens, the tasting room flows through an inviting patio courtyard facing the vineyards with a dramatic mountain backdrop.
It was a crisp, sunny autumn day; perfect mood to sip and savor every bit of the wine! We enjoyed a private tasting of their Reserve wines paired with a delicious lunch prepared by Chef Donald Provencio. The sous vide chicken pesto sandwich and French onion soup paired perfectly with their Reserved red wines:
1) 2018 Pinot Noir, $80: earthy, smoky with a hint of cedar, oak, cherry and chocolate.
2) 2016 Cinq Cépages Blend, $110: ripe fruit of blueberries and blackberries complemented by dark chocolate with polished driven tannins.
3) 2016 Reserve Merlot, $90: ripe and lush dark cherry, black fruit, plum and strawberry flavors.
4) 2016 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $115: full-bodied with aromas of black cherry, toffee, dark chocolate and cassis.
My favorites? Their flagship Cinq Cépages Bordeaux Blend. I absolutely love the Merlot, which was fuller and bolder than than the usual Merlot profile. We left with several bottles to enjoy just in time for #internationalmerlotday on Nov 7! Other varietals they produce include Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier.
If you are planning a visit to the winery in the future, avoid the crowds and opt for the reserve tasting where you can sample the wine that may only be available at the winery. Ask for Kyle of Quin as your host! Fun fact: Chateau St. Jean was actually named after Jean Sheffield Merzoian, sister, sister-in-law, and wife to the owners (grape growers in San Joaquin Valley).
Hats off to Bartholomew Estate for the beautiful scenery behind me and checking off all my favorite things: wine, atmosphere, art, nature! And if you've visited the oldest premier winery in California, Buena Vista Winery, this winery has a colorful history connected to Buena Vista!
In 1943, newspaper magnate Frank Bartholomew and his wife Antonia purchased the land which was the site of Count Agoston Harazthy’s residence and the original Buena Vista winery. Before the Bartholomews purchased the property, it sat idle for 60 years with the last vintage produced in 1883. In fact, the tasting room and art gallery was once an inmate hospital dubbed “State Industrial Farm for Delinquent Women” during the Prohibition period! This year, the winery building celebrates 100 years since the state hospital was built in 1922. The hospital has since been renovated to give an old-world Spanish vibe with a modern chic feel.
After Frank died in 1985, Antonia built a replica of Count Haraszthy’s villa, which is now a museum. Nestled on a historic, organically farmed estate just a few blocks from Sonoma’s Plaza, Bartholomew Estate supports the maintenance a 375-acre non-profit Bartholomew Park, which is free to the public, with a majority of the profits from wine sales. Once you’re done hiking the 3.5-mile trail, enjoy an outdoor wine tasting at the Oak Knoll district, which is where we had our wines overlooking breathtaking views of the organic vineyards and hills.
Our host, Giulio De Monte Gaspardo, was AWESOME! We can feel his passion for the wines and respect for the land. I especially enjoyed their 2019 Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, so we left with several bottles. The wines were approachable and affordable (less than $50 a bottle). They produce < 5,000 cases annually. I love knowing the purchase will go directly to support the park. Consistent with their mission to give back to the community, 25% of the proceeds from art sales from The Gallery goes to support art education in local schools and community organizations. A win-win for all! #artwine
If you love wine and art, check out Imagery Winery where you’ll find unique, biodynamic, reasonably priced wines for the quality. Even better, enjoy viewing 60+ artworks on view at their gallery while sipping the wine. At any given time, there are 30+ artists working on pieces that will appear on future Imagery wine labels. #artwine
My favorite was the Barbera and the Sangiovese. Their Sparkling Rosé is also great to enjoy year round. Kids love art? This winery is family and dog friendly! There’s a front and back patio with picnic tables and bocce ball court. Make sure to visit their sister winery Benziger Winery if you’re in the area. I recommend booking a “Biodynamic Tram Tour” to learn about the green farming practices of biodynamic agriculture while enjoying the vineyard views
Fun fact: After Mike and Bruno Benzigers (founders of the winery) purchased the land in 1980, which is now the site of Benziger winery, they moved in on Halloween day. What a coincidence we came dressed in costumes during Halloween weekend! #halloween2022
If you’re an art and wine enthusiast, BOOKMARK this post the next time you’re flying in/out of Santa Rosa airport.
Before our flight back to OC, we stopped by Paradise Ridge for a private tasting. Located on a hillside with amazing views of the Russian River Valley, the drive to the estate wasn’t easy to find, but is worth the trek! To find the winery, we drove through residential areas until we approached a four-acre contemporary sculpture garden. Close to 40 sculptures by local artists are placed throughout the grounds giving the winery the appeal of an outdoor gallery.
Paradise Ridge all started in 1978 when Dr. Walter Byck and his wife Marijke Byck (pronounced Bic) stumbled upon a property immediately adjacent to their son’s school. Both in love with the property and saw it as “paradise”, the couple purchased the property naming it Paradise Ranch. For years, Paradise Ranch produced high-quality grapes for a large number of neighboring wineries, but soon opened their own winery in 1994. Committed to sustainable practices, the winery farms only 15 of its 150 acres in the Russian River Valley, and leaves the rest in a natural state. Back in 2017, the estate was among the 5,500+ structures destroyed in Sonoma’s Tubb fire. Luckily, the vineyards and art survived, but the Byck family had to rebuild from the ground up, which took 2+ years to complete.
Today, the winery is overseen by their son and daughter, Rene and Sonia Byck with Sonia’s husband as the winemaker. The best part of the tasting was getting to meet the founder myself: Dr. Byck. Even at 90 years-old, he doesn’t look a day over 70— aging well like fine wine! Known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, the wines are limited with 5000-6000 cases produced annually so wines can only be purchased directly. For some wines such as the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, they’re only available to members. We had a chance to try eight wines— all amazing! Prices range from $28-$60 per bottle.
NOTE: Paradise Ridge isn’t close to other wineries so if you’re looking to winery hop, make this your first stop on your wine trail.
If you love and miss all things Italian, then you’ll definitely feel like you’re in Tuscany at Viansa. Styled like a Mediterranean villa, Viansa is one of the closest Sonoma wineries to San Francisco. Located 40 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, Viansa sits on a hilltop providing views of the Sonoma Valley, olive groves and wetlands. In fact, there’s 97 acres of beautiful natural habitat for migratory birds, waterfowl, and native plants. For a truly unique experience, Viansa’s custom outlooks provide a treehouse-like perspective over the vineyards.
The name “Viansa” is a combination of Sam + Vicki Sebastiani, husband and wife team who started Viansa in 1990. Sam and Vicki Sebastiani are the third generation heirs to one of California's most noted and historic wine families, Sebastiani Vineyards. The winery was founded in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani, who had immigrated from Tuscany and settled in the Sonoma Valley. Viansa has been sold and resold over the years, but is now controlled and managed by Sam’s sons, Jon and Christopher Sebastiani. Now that you’ve got a bit of history, let’s talk about the wines!
My personal favorite is the Pinot Grigio, White Blend and Barbera. The aromas and flavors of dried cherries and vanilla comes through immediately with the Barbera. All the wines are meant to be drank young and some don’t need to be aerated. Easy drank alone or with cheese pairing. The wines are sold only through their memberships so you’ll have to visit them or buy online. The prices are reasonable ranging from $22-$54 (retail). Make sure to check out their marketplace too. You’ll find gourmet food items, unique gift baskets, wine accessories and even home décor! Great wine, great food and great people!
There are 400+ wineries in Sonoma and this IS one of my favorites. If you are an oenophile and art enthusiast, bookmark this post and follow me as we take a trip (virtually) to Donum Estate in the next several days. Located in the Carneros region, Donum Estate sits on 200 acres of vine against an impressive art collection that sits beautifully inside and outside of the estate. This year marks Donum’s 20th anniversary since it was founded in 2001 by Anne Moller-Racke who was formerly the Vice President of Buena Vista, the oldest winery in California. In 2011, the Moller-Racke family sold the estate to Allan and Mei Warburg who started a new chapter for Donum. Their vision was to intertwine art, nature and humanity within the landscape. In 2014, they began commissioning and acquiring sculptures from artists across 18 nations. The estate now has 40+ works scattered across the property.
Let's talk about their wines! These highly rated wines are beautifully crafted and really showcase the ripeness of Pinot Noir. They’re so good, I left with a case of the following below. There’s <5,500 cases produced annually and sold directly through the winery, so you’ll have to visit or buy online. Cheers!
1) 2017 Pinot Noir: a classic, balanced ruby wine from the Carneros estate with the aromas of black cherries, raspberries and plum. It’s spicy yet lightly sweet with agave undertones. You can drink it young or let it age in cellar.
2) 2018 Chardonnay: a light gold color, this Chardonnay opens up with bright aromas of lime and apple flavors. It’s complex yet soft on the palate with hints of butterscotch and ending with a zippy finish.
3) 2020 Pinot Noir Rosé: a complex, crisp, structured sip! Aromas are expressive with fresh peach and apricot on the palate. Produced from 100% estate grown Pinot Noir grapes and aged in 100% French oak, there are only 400 cases produced annually.
Life is a balancing act even when it comes to winemaking. Today, I’m featuring Anaba Wines, the first northern California winery to utilize wind power to generate electricity for their office operations, irrigation pumps, wine storage and tasting room. In 2013, the winery installed two more wind turbines and solar panels to support the creation of a new winemaking facility on the property.
Let’s talk about the wines! Anaba sits on a 16-acre estate on the western part of the Los Carneros appellation where cool Pacific breezes and sloping vineyards help slow down the ripening process. This allows grapes to develop robust flavors and distinctive varietal characteristics. If you prefer Rhône-style blends, this place is it. The Anaba team was gracious to host me this month to sample a tasting of their wines. Below are my tasting notes.
1) 2017 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast: lovely notes of tropical fruit, vanilla, citrus with hints of lemon meringue. On the plate, this medium-bodied wine carries a zippy finish.
2) 2019 Turbine White, Sonoma Valley: this is White Rhône blend of 30% Viognier, 28% Grenache Blanc, 26% Marsanne, 16% Picpoul Blanc. On the nose, you can smell jasmine and honeydew and pairs well with grilled chicken or fish.
3) 2018 Pinot Noir, Petaluma Gap: this wine is intense on the nose with aromas of blueberry, dark cherry and ash, gentle on the palate and smooth on the finish.
4) 2018 Petit Sirah, Dry Creek Valley: this is a deep red wine with bold flavors of plum and spices but integrates well with the cherry flavors for a silky finish.
5) 2018 Turbine Red, Sonoma Valley: this Red Rhône-style blend is named for the iconic image of the wind turbine on the label and comprised of 44% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 24% Mourvèdre, and 4% Petite Sirah. It tastes earthy, spicy and fruity making it a complex wine to pair with grilled NY steak.
December 5, 2020 marks 87 years since Congress passed the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition. Why should we celebrate? The thirteen years of Prohibition (1919-1933) were a dark time for America. The criminalization of alcohol actually led to more organized crimes. Bootlegging and sneaking liquor around the country became a big business in 1920s. Ironically, the “dry” decade was also the Roaring 20s when clandestine nightclubs (speakeasies) became widely popular. Then again, there’s nothing more tempting than the forbidden fruit...
Through it all, some wineries managed to survive during Prohibition, including Buena Vista, California’s first premium winery founded in 1857 by the first Sheriff of San Diego, Agoston Haraszthy. Despite his abrupt death in 1869 in an alligator-infested river in the jungles of Nicaragua and through a series of owners, his beloved Buena Vista Winery has endured. Behind me isn’t just a stone-walled tasting room from the mid-1800s. It’s also a California Historic Landmark. The original property has since been renovated under new ownership of Jean-Charles Boisset of the renowned winemaking family from Burgundy, France.
Now let’s talk about the wines! We tasted the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Blend. My personal favorite is “The Sheriff.” This 2018 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, Petite Verdot, Mourvedre and Merlot. If you like sweet and peppery notes with bold black cherry aromas and long silky finish, this is a great wine to pair with steak. The wines are affordable with price ranging $35-$60 retail. Cheers!
I love dogs, I love history and I love wine. Visiting Larson Family Winery checks off all three. Located in the heart of the Carneros growing region of Sonoma, Larson Family Winery isn’t just family-friendly (hence the name), they’re dog-friendly! In fact, one of their adorable Labs followed me to the small petting zoo. From the labs running around to the photogenic tractors, this is the least-pretentious winery in the region and a fun one—they even have corn hole set up!
A little bit of history. The land on which Larson Family Winery now sits was once the Embarcadero. Passengers and freight traveling from San Francisco Bay transferred here to wagons for a ride to the Sonoma Plaza (Larson is a ten-minute drive to Downtown Sonoma). The tasting room to my left was actually a farmhouse built during the Civil War. Tom Larson’s great grandparents bought the original 120-acre ranch and farmhouse in 1899. The winery wasn’t just a farm, but also a rodeo! In fact, Tom’s uncle, Buster Millerick was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame for his major racing wins as a trainer. Fun factoid! The rodeo used to be a training ground for Seabiscuit (the world's most famous racing horse). By 1977, the family started making home wine. Realizing they produced more wine than they could drink, they sold them. And so, the rest is history. The winery was founded that same year and the first vintage released to the public in 1989.
Let’s talk about their wines! You’ll definitely need to try their 3 Lab Chardonnay (that’s what they’re known for). I like their Pinot Noir most. You can also order a cheese and meat board to enjoy with the wine while sitting outdoor for the scenic views. The winery only sells exclusively through their club memberships and tasting room. For future reference, this is a great place to host family get-together or company event. And if you’re planning a visit in the future it's best to visit during the week as they get super busy on the weekends. Cheers!
What does wine and architecture have in common? Both involve creativity. Similar to winemaking, erecting a building involves careful design to produce a masterpiece. And you’ll find a great example of architectural beauty at Ram’s Gate Winery. The building was designed by famous architect Howard Backen who took a modern spin to a Carneros farmhouse. Known as the gateway to Sonoma and the Carneros wine region, once you’re here at Ram's Gate Winery expect to get a full sensory experience with stunning views of the architecture, gardens and vineyards.
Founded in 2011 and built on a hilltop across from Infineon Raceway, Ram’s Gate is surrounded by 28 acres of sustainably-farmed vines planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache and Syrah. Along the back wall, glass doors and windows open up to a patio that overlooks the rear vineyards and wetlands. Speaking of glass, out of the four wines I tried, the 2017 Pinot Noir stood out the best. A lovely, balanced Pinot from the Russian River Valley with cinnamon and peppery notes ending with a smooth long finish. While the Pinot Noir was good, there are better valued Pinot in Sonoma so I recommend coming here to enjoy the property and grounds more so than their wine. Cheers!
Rolling landscape, classic stonework, arched windows and a central piazza makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint village in Italy even if you’re actually in California. More specifically, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards is the perfect place to feel like you’re wine tasting at a Medieval estate right in the heart of Sonoma wine country!
If the last name sounds familiar, the Jacuzzi family is credited for inventing the famous whirlpool bath and spa that bears their name. Founded in 2007 by Fred and Nancy Cline, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards specializes in Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, Lagrein and Barbera. If you’re a member of Cline, their sister winery, you can enjoy free tastings at Jacuzzi and 20% off at their gift shop. And there’s lots of choices when it comes to wine! An additional feature includes complimentary olive tastings. Enjoy!
There are close to 11,000+ wineries in the U.S. producing wines. And did you know Kendall-Jackson and its sister wineries ranks 13th?
The company produces nearly 2 million cases of wine annually and exports to 40+ countries worldwide. That’s a lot of wine! Chances are, you’ve seen their Vintner's Reserve line at grocery stores, Target, Costco and drugstores. Today, Kendall-Jackson is still family-owned and operated focused on building upon the legacy of its late founder, Jess Jackson, who built the brand starting from his first vintage in 1982.
Known for their slightly sweet Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, this wine popularized nearly 60% of Americans’ palate for sweet and fruity Chardonnays. The Vintner's Reserve line expanded to include Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Riesling. Soon a new collection of wines, the Grand Reserve line, was introduced. The Grand Reserve line was made from the finest grapes from the finest vineyards— noticed emphasis on “finest.”
The Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens you see behind me went through a complete renovation to provide an immersive, educational experience focused on wine, food, and wine country living. Unfortunately, tours were closed when I came, but I look forward to visiting the winery again when it fully opens and take a wine cooking class on-site.
While Sonoma County has no shortage of grape growing areas, Dry Creek Valley (located just outside of Healdsburg) is one to visit if you’re a Zinfandel fan. Despite its name, Dry Creek Valley is not dry at all! You'll get a stunning view of the lake and if you keep driving, you might end up at the ocean. Here, you’ll find two roads, five stop signs and 10,000 acres of endless beauty. It may be only be 16 miles long, but there are over 70 wineries you can visit.
Now let’s talk about Kokomo Winery! Nestled in the hills of Dry Creek Valley, Kokomo is named after Erik Miller’s (owner) hometown in Indiana. After graduating from Purdue University with a stint in finance, Erik found his calling with wine. Kokomo Winery currently produces 5,000+ cases of mostly Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah. The wines are produced exclusively from Randy Peters’ vineyard sites within Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Coast and Alexander Valley appellations. With their partnership, Miller can be selective in choosing the best possible grapes for his wines.
I got the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon— both delicious and price affordably at $28 and $48, respectively. The 2019 Zinfandel received 92 points from Wine Spectator and well-deserved because it has a great balance of flavors (blackberry, plum, vanilla) and boldness. You’ll get a sweet profile upfront, but hints of smoky vanilla oak comes out mid palate. I have yet to taste the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon since it’s recommended to age for 10+ years. So I guess you’ll need to stay tune for my review MUCH later into the future. Cheers!
Earlier this week, I highlighted a young winery in Dry Creek Valley. Today is all about Ferrari-Carano, an iconic Sonoma winery less than a 10-minute drive from Kokomo Winery. Founded in 1981 as a small wine farm by Donald Louis Carano and his wife, Rhonda, the couple grew the brand to be a mainstay in the Sonoma scene. Today, the Carano brand spans 3,500 acres across five appellations and produces up to 26 wines, many of them vineyard-designated. Here visitors can stroll lush gardens and enjoy spectacular vineyard views (1,500 acres are certified sustainable vineyards).
Over the years, their wines have earned numerous scores of 90+ points from Wine Spectator including their world-renowned Fumé Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc). While known for their White wines, Ferrari-Carano also produce estate Reds including Pinot Noir. Scroll, which comes from three ranches in Anderson Valley. Medium-bodied with silky tannins, you can taste the juicy jammy flavors of plum, raspberry and cherry bursting on the palate. Balanced tannins and acidity, this well-structured wine carries a with a lingering toasty finish. Fun factoid: Pinot Noir is Rhonda’s wine of choice and in 2006.
Sonoma has reopened for in-person outdoors tastings so definitely schedule a visit and enjoy the picturesque vineyard views Ferrari-Carano when you’re there. Cheers!
Here’s another winery to visit when in Dry Creek Valley! Named for the nearby trestle bridge which spans Dry Creek, once you walk into the tasting room at Lambert Bridge you naturally feel relaxed. The décor features rustic wood finishes, vaulted ceilings and a beautiful stone fireplace complemented by tranquil grounds.
Established in 1975, Lambert Bridge is known as a producer of artisanal world-class, Bordeaux-styled wines. As a new world winery with an old world approach, their wines offer a nice balance of flavors, acidity and tannin structure. This 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, is an age-worthy wine to keep in your cellar, but could be enjoyed young. Make sure to decant an hour before sipping. To get your hands on this wine, you’ll need to purchase from their winery directly. Yet another reason to visit Healdsburg.
Are there second chances at true love? How to find a good man and keep him?
After a night of drinking and the dreaded walk of shame Katie needs a road trip and an intervention with her girlfriends. Four attractive, successful women yet they can’t find and keep good men. The high school boyfriend that wasn’t going anywhere opens up like a well-aged wine after it is decanted. Magic in the Napa air may lead to a second chance at true love. A humorous and heartwarming story about friendships, frenemies and understanding men. Sex in the City meets Crazy Rich Asians in this page turner.
When Sex and the City Meets Crazy Rich Asians in the heart of Wine Country.