Winter Wine Tasting Wonders in Our Backyard
By Dianne Boate and Robert Meyer
Once more, the Bay Area wine scene
astounds us, just like Sideways. So many people asked us if
we had seen the movie, that we were forced to go and totally
enjoy ourselves. It’s the new movie about making one’s way
through a week of wine tasting as other forces intrude upon
the characters’ lives. Since we were about to go on a
special wine tasting weekend, it was perfect and helped us
see what we were looking at.
In January 2005, we were invited to the
Winter Wineland of Sonoma County. This is the 13th year for
this weekend event but a first for us. The wineries of
different appellations in Sonoma County join forces for
all-out hospitality and a good time. For $35 a person (less
if you order ahead), practically the whole county is open to
you for wine tasting at 95 wineries and sampling delicious
food at many locations. The weather was chilly and overcast,
so at this time of year almost everyone had some kind of hot
soup with beans or lentils, vegetables, sausage or ham, all
very tasty. There were plenty of good Sonoma cheeses, too,
which have a fabulous reputation of their own.
Nature was putting on its own show, with
bold green spear-like leaves announcing the imminent return
of spring daffodils...full blown pyracantha trees with
millions of red berries....holly trees in bloom with
berries....lush shrubs of rosemary sporting myriads of tiny
blue blossoms (this seems to be shrub of choice at many
wineries), lavender, and beautiful orange trees with perfect
fruit at the Madrona Manor. Huge lemon and orange trees can
be found here and there along the roadside. Dianne
especially likes the oak trees with their wintry, diaphanous
shroud of bare branches looking like an enveloping mist.
These leaning, deciduous oaks create the impression that
they are on the march somewhere, like Tolkien’s Ents.
There is a similarity between the wine
folks of Sonoma County and those from the Santa Cruz
Mountains: Just Folks, folks. It is charming to meet people
who are so passionate about working with something that came
from the land; the head, heart, and hand work together to
create something truly wonderful for us to enjoy.
Here is what we did in a day and a half:
In the Russian River area: Battaglini, Dutton-Goldfield,
Hartford Family, Hop Kiln, (where we saw for the second time
a group of girls with tiaras on their head who told us
enthusiastically they were from Los Angeles and come up
every year), Iron Horse, Marimar Torres Estate, Paradise
Ridge, Sunce, and Topolos.
In the Dry Creek area: Alderbrook (big
roaring fire, great gifts to buy), De La Montanya (our apple
orchard friends), Nalle Winery, Pezzi King (pouring at
Madrona Manor, where the orange trees are).
In Alexander Valley: Geyser Peak, Locals
(right on the main drag, a unique place for six small
winemakers to join forces for a tasting room), Meeker.
In Healdsburg: Camilla Cellars, Holdredge
Wines, Huntington Wine Cellars, Sapphire Hill (these four
are located together near the Russian River, very charming),
Selby, Thumbprint Cellars.
Here are the most interesting individual tastes we found:
At Miramar Torres:
Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds
24 blanched almonds, toasted
24 medium dates, pitted
8 thin slices bacon, cut in thirds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stuff an almond inside each
date, wrapping date around almond. Wrap each date with bacon
and secure with a toothpick, crosswise. Bake on baking sheet
20-30 minutes, or until bacon is crisp. Drain on paper
towels and serve while still warm.
Recipe from Catalan Country Kitchen, by Miramar Torres.
At Hartford Family Winery:
Crisp crackers held delightful morsels of sturgeon that had
been infused with lemon, salt, and sugar, prepared like you
would make gravlax. Unbelievably good.
(Recipe upon request from
Over at Topolos, their young chef was busy stirring up
Saganaki (Greek Fondue) in a skillet. Try this at home!
8oz Kasseri cheese, cubed
3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Greek oregano
1-1/2Tablespoons Metaxa or brandy
Melt the cheese over medium heat in a skillet, stirring
occasionally. Whisk the red wine vinegar and lemon juice
into the cheese, sprinkle oregano over the top, drizzle with
brandy and ignite. Serve with sliced baguettes or crackers.
Have it hot!
At the end of the day, we were grateful for the cozy and
comfortable accommodations at the Geyserville Inn in
Geyserville. It is a beautiful place, well appointed, and
has a restaurant next door that serves breakfast and lunch.
We stopped into the restaurant as we were leaving for the
day and instantly regretted not having breakfast there. The
menu is very appealing, and there was a fire in the
Our experiences together in wine tasting,
and the hospitality that goes with it, began 25 years ago.
(You should have seen us with Mrs. Cat, the white Persian
with yellow eyes, who traveled with us to many places in
California and once to Oregon, calmly watching everything
from her perch in the rear window of the car!)
We looked up wineries on lots of roads
less traveled and met the real stars of the process–the
winemakers and the growers. Some had very grand tasting
rooms and landscaped grounds; others were in barns, sheds,
back rooms, and industrial parks. We saw all sizes of
fermenting tanks in steel and in concrete, crept into dark
mold-covered caves, shared our picnic food countless times
with a wide variety of people in the business. While
traveling abroad, we tasted older wines and enjoyed various
traditions and cultures. On one of our first trips to
France, we had the nerve to take a California wine to some
French experts in Burgundy at the VINEXPO (a major wine
event that takes place every two years, but in recent times
has expanded to other cities), long before there was a big
California presence in Bordeaux.
In the meantime, our recent getaway
weekend proved once again that you don’t have to go far at
all, when you live here, to have a memorable wine country
experience. We’d be willing to bet that with the wide array
of activities in the Bay Area related to wine tasting, you
could not do everything in 52 weeks, but you sure could have
For more information, call Russian River Wine Road (800)
726-6336; wwwwineroad.com; Geyserville Inn (707) 857 4343;
Dianne Boate is a San Francisco-based writer, photographer,
and designer. Her work can be seen at www.danielakart.com.
Robert Meyer is a consultant to the wine and spirits
industry. Some of their wine adventures would make good
cartoon features. Or shorts.