Category Archives: Weekend in Wine Country

Weekend in California Wine Country – Day Two

A  Weekend in Wine Country is Never Enough!

There just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do; visit all the Wineries, see all the incredibly beautiful places, eat at all the terrific restaurants, and taste all the wines you want to taste!

As I stated in the Day One article, I could have every minute taken up with appointments if I chose too. But that wasn’t what my lovely bride Margie and I wanted to do on day two. We both have been burning the candle at both ends the last several months at our jobs, and we needed some Margie & Terry time. We wanted to just let it happen as it came with a two basic starting points:

  1.  Start in the City of Healdsburg, Sonoma County
  2.  Spend time together talking, laughing, meeting people, and making memories

We awoke on Saturday morning at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel in Santa Rosa needing coffee really bad. While the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is comfortable and in a great location for Sonoma, I have to say the hotel needs a serious renovation. They do offer a full service restaurant, large rooms, and amenities such as wine tastings in the evening. However the rooms look like they were decorated in 1980. And the pool was completely torn apart and we had to listen to the workers refinishing the pool. But… we don’t spend a lot of time in our rooms; we basically sleep there and go, go, go! I personally prefer the newer Marriot Courtyard for my money.

We dressed, had coffee and a light breakfast at the hotel and back to our room to get ready for the day. We decided to drive to Healdsburg Square, park the car, and just discover the town. We arrived about 11:00 AM. After parking we strolled around dipping inside the many shops lined around the square, as Margie dearly loves to shop. I think it is something in women’s DNA. I am convinced that the word “SALE” works as a pheromone that draws women into a store, where they can nearly always find something “cute”! Along with clothes, you will find terrific restaurants, candy shops, bakeries with lots of goodies, ice cream shops, and lots of places with home and kitchen goods..

Square in Healdsburg, CA
Square in Healdsburg, CA

I really did not mind walking around the shops, because about every 4-5 shops it seems is a wine producer sampling their wines. Well, it would be rude not to do a tasting right? We first stopped for a tasting at Roadhouse Winery tucked away in the corner of the square.

Roadhouse Winery
Roadhouse Winery

I have to tell you I was a little hesitant at first, but also intrigued as well because I am currently on my Pinot Noir kick. Plus I really liked the label. The young men inside were laughing, joking around, and NOT taking much very serious…except their pinot noir. This they were very serious and enthusiastic about the product. And they should have been because the Pinot Noir that they were pouring was great! In fact I bought 4 bottles  and brought them back to Texas.

Next was an ice cream break at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie. With a great selection of delicious deserts to temp you! And anyone that really knows me understands I love my ice cream as much as my wine.

On around the square for more shopping and wine tastings. We enjoyed the wines at Portalupi Wines so much we bought a glass each and sat down to chat and sip the terrific wine and decide our next move!

Portalupi Tasting Room Healdsburg Square
Portalupi Tasting Room Healdsburg Square

Remember, we had very little agenda upfront and decided to just let the day come to us. So we decided since we love the Dry Creek AVA so much; let’s drop the top on the convertable and go discover!

First stop is one of our favorite places in Sonoma; Dry Creek General Store. Established in 1881, the Dry Creek General Store is a very historic and unique establishment that is still to this day a local hangout. They offer great crafted sandwiches, soups, salads, and local gifts. We have a a tradition of buying coffee cups every time we stop to remind us of our great times in the valley. You can get a great sandwich or salad made to order, then head to the gardens or on the front stoop to enjoys with the locals. Many times we will load up on picnic supplies and head over to one of the local wineries to picnic. Regardless this is a MUST STOP when in the area!

Dry Creek general Store
Dry Creek general Store

After a great sandwich, and wine out of our new coffee mugs, we are off to explore!

Dry Creek General Store Mugs
Dry Creek General Store Mugs

Feeling adventurous we just took a road and drove, looking and exploring until we ran upon a small winery by the name of Zichichi Family Vineyard.

There was a small sign out front that got my attention: “Wine Enthusiast 95 Points”

Zichichi Sauvignon Blanc wowed us!
Zichichi Sauvignon Blanc wowed us!

Zichichi

Now we were WAY off the beaten path, but what the heck? Let’s check it out. We were extremely surprised and pleased.

A little history of Zichichi:

In 2000 a New Orleans Physician Steve Zichichi and his wife Kristen purchased the 22 acres in Dry Creek Valley. 14 acres of zinfandel and 4 acres of petit sirah, all planted in 1928 and 1964 by the previous Bartolozzi Ranch. After several years of selling grapes to local wineries, the Zichichi’s built their own winery in 2006. They now produce an Estate Zinfandel, an Old Vine Zinfandel, A Cabernet Sauvignon, a Petite Sirah, and an incredible Sauvignon Blanc that blew me away!

In fact, we loved the Sauvignon Blanc so much that we bought a case and shipped it to Texas, where we almost immediately drank every bottle and wished we had bought 2 cases! I am on the very short member list now, and have already bought the next vintage. They are very unique in that they sell out most of their wines to members every year, usually within 3 months.

We were taken to the back for barrel samples of the upcoming vintages of Old Vine Zinfandel and this was quite impressive. You can really see how well the wines have been made, and the promise to come in a few years. We will stop in again next trip to the area.

After driving around the wondrous beauty of Dry Creek and Russian River Valley, we headed back to the room to rest up, then clean up for dinner. I made dinner reservations at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. Margie and I had visited, and loved the original Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, and in fact have artwork in our entryway of our home from the famous establishment in Paris. While I understood already that they were not affiliated, I was still intrigued.

While Willi’s Wine Bar was almost nothing like the Paris version, it was a very nice wine country restaurant, lots of character, and a very impressive wine list.

We like to arrive before our reservations and sit at the bar. We meet a lot of wonderful Bartenders and staff, as well as the patrons at the bar. We enjoyed a terrific bottle of Black Kitty Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard that was a suggestion of the Bartender. It was nicely perfumed with aromas of raspberry, violets, chocolate, and somewhat earthy. Chew tannins, and black cherry bursting in our mouth. Delicious Pinot Noir! We had a wonderful time at dinner, food was very good, and I would suggest it when in Santa Rosa.

Willi's Wine Bar Santa Rosa, CA
Willi’s Wine Bar Santa Rosa, CA

The next day was pack up and go home day. I carry with me a great packable wine shipper called “Wine Check”. It holds 12 bottles of wine in Styrofoam, covered by a very sturdy box, and then covered by a padded heavy duty vinyl cover. It has a removable strap and wheels on one end for easy transport. It weights 45-48 lbs full and you can check it as luggage on the plane!

Wine Check - Holds 12 bottles
Wine Check – Holds 12 bottles

I always bring back a nice booty of wine to enjoy!

Wine Booty March 2015!
Wine Booty March 2015!

Margie and I had a short, but incredible time in Wine Country. I hope this article helps you plan your next trip. If you ever want me to assist you with where to go taste wine, great places to eat, and beautiful places to visit feel free to email me. I would be happy to help you with suggestions.

Just keep in mind:

A Weekend in Wine Country is Never Enough!

Thank you again for reading the ramblings of a Texas Wineaux!

(Please leave a comment,good or bad, because I need the feedback.)

Grape Harvest

Weekend in California Wine Country – Day One

A weekend in Wine Country is never enough time.

Although the Wine Country is a great getaway and incredibly beautiful; 2 days in California Wine Country is just not enough. Especially if you are half a continent away from California in Dallas, Texas and you spend much of your valuable time in an airport, on an airplane, or trying to get a rental car!

My beautiful wife Margie was going to be in Oakland and Sacramento on business back in March, so I decided that would be the PERFECT excuse to take a day off and spend the weekend together in my personal  Mecca; Napa and Sonoma! So I set up a few appointments for winery visits on the first day day and left the last day wide open to do whatever came to mind.

Wine County Weekend!
Wine County Weekend!

You can imagine I have a multitude of  connections in the wine industry, and get offers to visit and write about my experiences on a regular basis. So I could have scheduled 4-5 winery visits per day and had every minute of our two days booked.But I really needed a nice relaxing and romantic weekend with my beautiful wife more than I needed to visit new wineries.

Margie is a Director of a large hair care products distributor, and lots of travel is just part of her job description. And the beginning of a New Year always brings on even more travel (to get the New Year started), so she has been away from home more than usual. Spending really quality time with each other was very high on our list.

SO…I only scheduled TWO (yes you read right, two) winery visits for the trip!

I flew into Oakland on Thursday, landing about Noon and rented a convertible Mustang. I then drove “topless” to Sacramento to pick Margie up at her hotel. She had just finished meeting with her clients in the early afternoon, and they were begging her to go to happy hour to celebrate a successful meeting. She politely said no, offering that I was picking her up and we were going to Wine Country for a fun weekend!

My wife is absolutely my best friend in the world, and we have an incredible marriage. We have so much fun together, sometimes doing absolutly nothing but making the best of our time making each other laugh.

I am a lucky man indeed!

 

Happy Couple
Happy Couple

The first night we decided to head over to Healdsburg for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma Valley;  BarnDiva. Located on Center Street in Healdsburg, it is an eclectic blend of different modern and old barn decor, with an ever changing menu. The bar scene is terrific and hip at night, and the Patio and area out back is calm, artistic, and relaxing during the day. The food is always creative, delicious, and ever changing according to the season. If you go you have to try the goat cheese croquettes with Wildflower Honey and Lavender is is incredible!!!

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.
Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.

We enjoyed a perfect 2009 Simmonet-Febvre Vaillons 1ér Cru Chablis with our dinner that was outstanding.

Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg
Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg

The next morning I had a 9:30 appointment with Jeff Mangahas, Winemaker at the legendary Williams Selyem Winery in Russian River, Sonoma Valley. Jeff was gracious and accommodating with his time. You can read more and the actual interview with Jeff in my previous post in March. It is times like these that I dearly love what I do, as I feel very humbled to have had this opportunity to interview and spend time just visiting and talking wine with Jeff. We loved the behind the scenes stories as well that can only be told by the winemaker!

Williams-Selyem Russian River
Williams-Selyem Russian River
Rare "Winery Only" wines, sold on premise.
Rare “Winery Only” wines, sold on premise.
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Thank you Jeff!
Thank you Jeff!

Our next appointment wasn’t until 2:30 but it was across the mountain range in St Helena, Napa Valley. For those of you that have driven from Santa Rosa to Napa Valley know there is a mountain range between the two valleys. So as the crow flies it isn’t that far. But to drive you have 2 choices;

1. Go south on Hwy 101 and go around Southern Sonoma down and come up along the highway 121 to Scenic Hwy 29 where all the wineries are located just North of the City of Napa (BORING).

2. From Santa Rosa in Sonoma Valley head east along Calistoga Road, across the mountains to Petrified Forest Road to Calistoga. This is the scenic route! If you can ALWAYS take this route because it is so beautiful and so “Northern California”.

Calistoga, CA is a beautiful place to stay, taste wine, have lunch or dinner, shop, and just spend time! We had about 2 hours to kill before our next appointment at Fantesca, so we stopped and had lunch outside at Calistoga Kitchen on Cedar St. Very quaint and full of character. Great food, and we were so impressed with the owner and Chef Rick Wankel. Margie and I split a terrific BLT with duck egg and it was incredible! The bacon was localy sourced thick cut, smoked to perfection, and very meaty! We split a County Line Mixed Green Salad, and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay (that matched perfectly) and we were in heaven! The owner Rick explained his food is ingredients driven, featuring local growers, purveyors, and wines. If you are in the area I highly suggest a visit and tell them the Terry Hill the Texas Wineaux sent you!

Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen

When I took my Sommelier class at Texas Sommelier Conference (TEXSOM) many years ago, Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor assisted in our instructions and blind tastings, and I have kept contact with him over the years. You may know DLynn from the movie “SOMM”. Dlynn had suggested a few wineries to vist that were “unknown gems”  in Napa. I chose Fantesca Winery from his suggestion and it was terrific. Fantesca was an extremely interesting story.

Susan and Duane Hoff  were working for Best Buy, and decided they wanted to be in the wine business. So they bought 53 acres with 10 planted to vines in Napa Valley. The property was originally part of Caroline Bale’s dowry when she married Charles Krug, and the vineyards dated back to the 1860’s. After Phylloxera epidemic of the 1900’s and then Prohibition in the 1920’s the vineyard was allowed to go back to native forest for more than 70 years! The vineyard was replanted in 1997 with only 10 acres.

Susan Hoff is the real heart and soul of Fantesca, and she recruited the legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett to be the Winemaker. If you are not familiar with Heidi Barrett; she gained legendary status at Dalle Valle by creating powerful Cabs including the famous “Maya” cult cab that received two perfect 100-pt scores from Robert Parker. She then was hired by Screaming Eagle and AGAIN received two perfect 100-pt scores from Parker! This is a legendary name in Napa and she married well too. You may know Heidi’s husband Bo Barrett and Father-in-Law Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena and the famous Judgment of Paris and the movie Bottle Shock.

We had a personal tasting of available wines, a barrel tasting, and a tour of the facilities including the Cave. The Cave was an old silver mine in Spring Mountain, and it holds the barrels for aging at a perfect 58-F.

Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Fantesca Chardonnay
Fantesca Chardonnay

The 2012 King Richard Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2012 Russian River Sonoma County Chardonnay were all that was available for tasting, and both were quite impressive. We left with few bottles of each, and we are looking forward to sharing these incredible Heidi Barrett wines soon! I will have tasting notes at that time.

Next stop was the iconic and legendary Chateau Montelena! I This is the historic winery that bested the French Burgundy in the famous Judgement of Paris! I have been all over Sonoma and Napa Valley and never visited in the past, so a quick visit of the beautiful property so full of history was a “must stop”. We strolled around the beautiful grounds longer than we did tasting wine because I know how incredible these Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are already because Margie and I often drink them at home.

The Pond at Chateau Montelena
The Pond at Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena

 

Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena
Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena

We headed South on Hwy 29, and even though I knew it was getting late in the day I always have to stop at one of my favorite wineries; Peju Province Winery in the mecca for Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. We stopped in for a quick tasting! Then back in the car to visit my very special friend Carrie at Napa Valley Wine and Cigar in the city of Napa!

Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!
Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!

Stopping to see Carrie is ALWAYS a MUST STOP for me when in Napa!

She is such a sweetheart, and she has an absolutely phenomenal selection of wines and cigars for all your hedonistic needs. If you tell her I sent you and ask very nicely, she will take you to the back room and the “special stash” of wines. I have bought some great wines from her over the years because she is on everyone’s wine lists, and has the wines in stock when no one else does!

Looking for a Harlan Estates or Screaming Eagle? She has it! How about a Dalle Valle or Saxum’s James Berry Vineyard? She has it!

Pick up a great stogie while you are there too!

We were exhausted after a long day in paradise, so we had a simple dinner and an early night getting ready for the next day!

Check back soon for Day-2 where we have NO SCHEDULE and we improvise the entire day!

Terry Hill The Texas Wineaux!

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