Monday, April 18, 2011

Sonoma Valley Trip

On Friday, Annie and I got to experience our first pickup party as wine club members.  It was fun, and I truly believe that we found one of the hidden gems of Napa/Sonoma Wine Country: Hook & Ladder Winery.  Their wine is delicious, super reasonably priced, and their tasting room is the most welcoming environment I've found in all of my wine tasting travels.  Friday, we showed up about 20 minutes before closing.  It was jam packed full of people, and we were immediately nervous about who we check in with and where to stand and how everything works.

Five seconds after we were through the door, one of the ladies pouring yelled over for us to come join her while she found us 2 clean glasses.  Every person I talk to there is more than willing to tell you everything they know and to make you feel as comfortable as possible.  Then, when they gave me the total bill for this quarter's club shipment and all the extra wine we had bought there, it was about $50 less than I expected.  We just kept adding bottles, since it felt that cheap!  The worst part about it was that they had sold out of my favorite vintages of my favorite wines, but I can't really complain that they make good, popular wine for such a small winery!

We woke up Saturday morning and hit up the Healdsburg Downtown Bakery & Creamery to try their doughnut muffins (among other things) since they were featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate.  They were good, but not nearly as good as their Pain au Chocolat or their Sticky Buns (we got both while they were warm)!!!  Then we went to pick up our quarterly olive oil shipment from Dry Creek Olive Company.  We're part of their olive oil club (just like a wine club, but cooler).  The guy there remembered me, which always makes me feel like a VIP, and we tried some of their just-released, new oils.  This place is always great, they have bocci ball on site, and we're seeing them pop up more and more in Norcal.  I really wish they had a facebook or twitter page so I could hype them more!

Finally, we spent the rest of the day tasting at 5 other tasting rooms (3 of them at wineries) while driving south to head home.

Big Surprises
Kaz Winery.  We went there because we have made friends with someone in the Bay Area with really close connections.  Our friend got us a free tasting of their whole fleet of wines, and Kaz was happy to give us the 'friends' discount which was RIDICULOUS!  We bought a 1/2 case of their wine.  For those of you that know us, this is a TON of wine for one winery.  We were worried that it wasn't going to be good, but that we would power through to save face with our friend.  We were wrong.  Their alicante blew my mind.  We even did some port tasting, which is usually not one of Annie's things.  She liked it so much that we bought one just for her!  Heck, we even bought a bottle of their hot sauce!!

Also, we ate at Zazu, which is a restaurant adjacent to the farm that's providing most of the food.  They make and sell their own bacon.  The food wasn't spectacular, but their bacon-wrapped dates were superb.  We bought a package of their bacon to take home.  We ate the whole package Sunday morning.

In asking around for winery suggestions before going to Sonoma, we heard Benziger a few times.  I even started to see it more at retailers (though I think that's because I always used to confuse it with Beringer).  Their property is gigantic, and they were in the middle of a huge party for their wine club members.  That wasn't a big deal, since it was separate and didn't really clog up the tasting room.  Though nobody was rude or snobby, big places like that just don't have the same warm feeling that Sonoma does so well.  You never feel like anybody cares rather or not you like their wine.  2 of their wines were absolutely amazing, but I couldn't afford a single bottle in their reserve tasting room.  They did move us halfway through our tasting to an even cooler room (just us and one other couple tasting) because the first reserve room was filling up, but that didn't really make it any better.  They also overcharged my card for an extra tasting, and the lady had the hardest time fixing it.  She ended up giving me her card and saying, "In case you get charged for 2 extra, which may have happened at this point, feel free to call and give them my name."  We got a free tasting for their sister winery, Imagery, and we're hoping we have a better time there.  One other thing to mention is that they are a biodynamic winery, and if you have any interest in super-organic woo-woo farming, you should research what biodynamic means.

Annie and I live off Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel.  They sell it at Trader Joes and BevMo! and other wine retailers.  So, we were enthusiastic to hear that the wines they pour at their winery aren't mass-produced or widely distributed.  When we showed up, it was the end of a huge party (April in Carneros), so the property was filled with intoxicated people.  We got to taste everything we wanted for free, but the environment wasn't that inviting.  The kid pouring our wine couldn't have been more than 19, and he was pretty tied up by 3 drunken 19-yr-old-looking girls.  At least he admitted "a few of these wines are cheaper at BevMo!" for those wines that they actually sell at BevMo! (not the wines we were tasting).  I'll definitely be going back here once I can find an odd time where they'll be empty and able to treat me like the huge fan that I am.

Other places
Mutt Lynch, a dog winery that Angel was invited into and treated like the princess he is.
Deux Amis, a winery that shares a tasting room with Mutt Lynch, but I couldn't sip without my big nose being in the way of the shape of their small tasting glasses.
Glen Ellen Market, a gigantic deli with good food right next to Benziger.

One great moment of the day was at Mutt Lynch/Deux Amis when a group of 4 friends came in and tasted.  As they were leaving, they told one of the pourers they were heading over to Napa Valley and asked if they had any recommendations.  None of the 3 pourers in the room could think of a single place, since they all "hadn't been to Napa in years."  It's so funny to think that they are so close, yet there is really no reason to go spend money in Napa when you're surrounded by amazing, cheap wine in Sonoma!!

If you are heading up to either Napa or Sonoma in the near future, I'd be happy to tag along or just offer advice,

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