Tag Archives: Cabernet Sauvignon

Exploring Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone – Part 1

The Santa Barbara "Funk Zone"

The Santa Barbara “Funk Zone”

In what was once an old, rundown industrial area just west of Santa Barbara’s bustling shopping district, the Funk Zone has emerged as a hub of unique art, culture, food & artisan wine.  In my opinion, it’s one of the best things to happen to Santa Barbara in a long time.

The Santa Barbara "Funk Zone"

The Santa Barbara “Funk Zone”

With a number of shops, galleries, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants all within walking distance, it’s easy to spend a day roaming around and exploring.

Several of the tasting rooms that comprise Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail are located right in the Funk Zone – some of which are open late.  Buellton’s Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company also opened a second location with a great outdoor patio for microbrew-lovers (or those just needing a break from wine).

My first stop at the Funk Zone was AVA Santa Barbara – a winery dedicated to making first class wines that highlight the very best of the five distinct AVAs (or American Viticultural Areas) of Santa Barbara.

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

The AVA Santa Barbara tasting room was truly one of the coolest I’ve seen.  With the use of soil samples, incredibly detailed wall murals, and an excellent portfolio of wines, visitors get a serious education on what makes each distinct Viticultural Area unique.

Inside the tasting room at AVA Santa Barbara

Inside the tasting room at AVA Santa Barbara

Incredible wall mural in AVA Santa Barbara by artist Elkpen

Incredible wall mural in AVA Santa Barbara by artist Elkpen

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

We tasted an incredible line up of wines from cool climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays to a Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec that thrive in the region’s warmer areas.  All the wines in this diverse portfolio were crafted from Santa Barbara grapes.

AVA Santa Barbara Wines

AVA Santa Barbara Wines

The AVA Santa Barbara tasting room is very dog friendly

The AVA Santa Barbara tasting room is very dog friendly

Outdoor patio at AVA Santa Barbara

Outdoor patio at AVA Santa Barbara

After AVA Santa Barbara, we walked up the street to check out Municipal Winemakers.

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

I absolutely loved the Municipal Winemakers tasting room.  It was creative and eclectic with just the right amount of industrial grit that makes the Funk Zone so special.

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Just like at AVA Santa Barbara, our dog Booker was invited to join us inside the tasting room while we tasted a delicious line up of wines.  My personal favorites were the mouth-watering Bright White dry Riesling and the juicy Grenache.

Booker relaxing on the cool floor at Municipal Winemakers

Booker relaxing on the cool floor at Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

I had such a fun day at the Funk Zone and can’t wait to head back.  Stay tuned for Part 2…

Click here to visit the Santa Barbara Funk Zone website.
Click here to visit the AVA Santa Barbara website.
Click here to visit the Municipal Winemakers website.

116 East Yanonali Street
Santa Barbara, CA  93101
Phone:  (805) 453-6768
Email:  taste@avasantabarbara.com
Tasting room hours: 12PM - 7PM Daily

22 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA  93101
Phone:  (805) 931-6864
Email:  dave@municipalwinemakers.com
Tasting room hours:
11AM - 6PM Monday through Wednesday & Sunday
11AM - 11PM Thursday through Saturday


2nd Annual Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles

By definition, the term “garagistes” refers to a group of innovative, renegade wine makers from the Bordeaux region who refuse to follow the strict French rules and instead, produce “Vins de garage” or “Garage wine”.

For the second year in a row, Paso Robles has celebrated the spirit of the garagiste movement by holding a festival focused solely on small production wines. Local artisan wine makers – some familiar and some unknown – gather together for a long weekend, giving wine lovers from all over an opportunity to taste the fruits of their labor.

The Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast – Per Cazo Cellars

This year was my first experience at the Paso Robles Garagiste Festival and I was thrilled to be part of it. On this particular trip, we stayed at the Creekside Bed & Breakfast at Per Cazo Cellars. I honestly can’t recommend Creekside B&B enough. From the comfy bed to host Lynn Teckman’s delicious gourmet breakfasts that were delivered to our room each morning, the entire stay was perfect. Creekside B&B was also very dog-friendly which made it extra convenient and comfortable.

The cozy Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

The cozy Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

The Creekside Room at Creekside Bed & Breakfast

Amazing breakfast #1: Egg & sausage scramble with fresh mixed fruit, fresh squeezed juice, and warm muffin

Amazing breakfast #2: French toast, thick bacon, and fresh berries

The Garagiste Festival opened on Thursday with a dinner at Thomas Hill Organics featuring the cuisine of celeb chef Ludo Lefevbre. Unfortunately I did not attend the dinner, but having experienced Ludo’s pop-up restaurant LudoBites in Los Angeles, I’m sure diners had an unforgettable experience.

Windfall Farms – Paso Robles

We attended the Garagiste Festival on Saturday, which was the day of the big Grand Tasting. We walked into the beautiful Stallion Barn at Windfall Farms where 48 independent and passionate wine makers were set up for tastings in the horse stalls.

Inside the Stallion Barn at Windfall Farms

It was difficult to decide where to begin, but I decided to head over to Liquid Farm. On a rare occasion, I’ve seen Liquid Farm Chardonnay and Rose on menus at some of the finer restaurants in LA, but I had yet to actually try the wine. Owners Nikki and Jeff Nelson took us through a tasting of two Chardonnays – both of which were unique and wonderfully balanced – as well as one Rose. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Liquid Farm, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Nikki & Jeff Nelson of Liquid Farm

After Liquid Farm, we headed to Nicora Wine where winemaker Nick Elliot took us through some outstanding Rhones. Right now, Nicora wines can be tasted by appointment only, but I highly recommend trying them next time you’re in Paso Robles. I can’t wait to see what else Nick comes up with in the future.

Nick Elliott of Nicora Wine

From Nicora, we headed over to Cloak & Dagger where Ray Schofield walked us through his portfolio of exceptional wines – all of which are “handcrafted in secret”. We were unsuccessful at uncovering any of the secrets of Cloak & Dagger wines, but we were very impressed with what we tasted. We tried two Pinot Noirs, as well as a delicious 2010 Illuminatus Sangiovese and a 2010 Skull & Bones Zinfandel.

Ray Schofield of Cloak & Dagger Wines

After Cloak & Dagger, we headed to Red Zeppelin Winery where the eccentric Stillman Brown introduced us to a couple really good Central Coast red wine blends. Finally, we ended our tasting with the latest offerings from our friends Lynn and Dave Teckman at Per Cazo Cellars. The 2010 Epi Telos and 2010 Zing were so good that I had to take home a couple of bottles when we checked out of the Creekside B&B.

Stillman Brown of Red Zeppelin Winery

Overall, I loved being part of the 2nd Annual Paso Robles’ Garagiste Festival and feel like there were so many more amazing wines to try. The wine makers who I met continue to inspire me and deepen my love for wine. It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to taste new wines with the passionate people who are hand-crafting them. I look forward to next year…

Foxen Vineyard & Winery…Again.

I realize this is the third time (at least) I’ve written about Foxen Vineyard & Winery, but as I sit here opening up my latest wine club shipment, I feel like a quick post is definitely in order.

Foxen Wine Club Open House

I patiently waited for three long years to be accepted into Foxen’s Anchor Wine Club. Due to the relatively small production at Foxen, wine club membership is limited and waiting lists are often long. But now that I’m a member, I can say without hesitation that the wait was 100% worth it.

As a member of the Foxen Anchor Club, I’ve been enjoying great discounts at the winery and feel like a kid on Christmas every time I receive one of my regular quarterly wine shipments (many of which are wine club exclusives). However, one of my best club experiences thus far happened on February 25th at Foxen’s first ever Wine Club Open House.

Heading into the barrel room at Foxen’s Wine Club Open House

We started our day of tasting at the Foxen shack where we tried a few wines before heading up to the newer, larger winery for the private event. When we arrived, we were led directly into the barrel room – a place that I’ve been dying to see ever since it was built.

Inside the Foxen Vineyard & Winery barrel room…

We signed in, were given name tags and wine glasses, and started our tasting on the east side of the barrel room. As we walked past neatly stacked barrels towards the folding table where a small crowd was gathered, I realized the man pouring was winemaker Bill Wathen.

Foxen’s winemaker Bill “Billy” Wathen

Bill “Billy” Wathen has been lovingly hand-crafting the wines at Foxen from day one. As I walked up to Billy, I have to admit I felt a bit starstruck. I’ve been hearing about the “Foxen Boys” Bill and Dick for years, but I had never met them in the flesh.

I introduced myself to Billy and he poured us tastes of his latest offerings, including a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc – Vogelzang Vineyard, a 2010 Chardonnay – Tinaquaic Vineyard, a 2010 Pinot Noir – Santa Maria Valley, and a 2010 Pinot Noir – John Sebastiano Vineyard.

More views from inside the Foxen barrel room

I truly have never tried a wine at Foxen that I didn’t like and I feel like the Pinot Noir’s that come out of Foxen are unparalleled. Such was the case during this visit. It was such a wonderful opportunity to have the winemaker walk us through his creations.

After we tried the first four wines, we headed to the snack table where we grabbed a selection of cheeses, almonds, olives, meats and chocolates – all of which were a nice complement to the wine. Then we moved on to the west side of the barrel room to finish our tasting.

More views from inside the Foxen barrel room…

On the way to the west end of the room, we bumped into Dick Dore – Bill Wathen’s partner at Foxen and the man behind the slogan “if you don’t know Foxen, you don’t know Dick”. We got a chance to speak to Dick about some of the dinners and events Foxen has coming up – some of which were happening in my hometown just outside of Chicago.

We found that Billy had moved to the west side tasting table, so we were fortunate enough to have him pour our last three tastes – a 2009 Pinot Noir – La Encantada Vineyard, a 2008 Volpino – Santa Ynez Valley, and a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – Vogelzang Vineyard.

The wine list from the Foxen Wine Club Open House

We chatted a bit more and enjoyed our last tastes on a picture-perfect Santa Maria afternoon. I walked away with a couple extra bottles of the 2010 John Sebastiano Vineyard and the 2009 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir’s – both of which were too good for words. If you can get your hands on either bottle, you’ll be very pleased you did. They’re heavenly.

Dick Dore outside the Foxen Vineyard & Winery barrel room

I absolutely loved being part of this wine club event and hope it’s something Foxen does more regularly. I’ve been to several other wine club events, but I’ve never been to one that felt quite so relaxed and personal. It was so nice to meet Billy, Dick, Allyson, Lee and the rest of the crew.

As I open my wine club shipment, I feel like I have an even deeper connection to what is inside and know a bit more about how each wine came to be. I look forward to the next one…

Click here to visit the Foxen Vineyard website.

(business address & tasting room)
7600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 4PM Daily

(foxen 7200 “the shack”)
7200 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415

Alta Maria Vineyards

Alta Maria Vineyards

It seems like every time I visit the Santa Maria Valley north of Santa Barbara, I discover an incredible wine that I’ve never tried before. On a recent visit, I not only found some new wines, but I discovered one of my new favorite wineries in the area.

Alta Maria Vineyards Tasting Room

Alta Maria Vineyards Tasting Room

Tucked away in the charming town of Los Olivos sits the new Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room. Although the tasting room is less than one year old, wine makers Paul Wilkins and James Ontiveros have been making wine for years. In fact, the Ontiveros family has a long ranching and farming history in the area. They drove thousands of heads of cattle into the Santa Maria Valley in the early 1800′s, finally settling there on the Rancho Tepusquet Land Grant of 1837.

With a rich farming history, a shared love of the land in the Santa Maria Valley, and a mutual passion for wine running through their blood, college friends Paul and James decided to turn their passions into careers. James’ expertise lies in viticulture while Paul serves as winemaker.

Pinot Noir label from Alta Maria Vineyards

Before stopping in the tasting room, I had heard about Alta Maria Vineyards and had seen their unmistakable bottles at specialty wine stores around CA.

The artwork on Alta Maria’s wines features hand-hewn iron nails used by homesteaders in Santa Maria before the Industrial Revolution. Each nail was essentially a one-of-a-kind based on the conditions in which it was made along with the expertise of the craftsman. This same idea of uniqueness and authentic, artisan craftsmanship carries seamlessly through to the wines of Alta Maria Vineyards.

Inside the Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room

Inside the Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room

When we walked into the gorgeous tasting room, we had our dog with us and assumed we would be sitting outside with him. On the contrary, he was welcomed inside with open arms and sat by us at the bar while we did our tasting.

Inside the Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room

Inside, the tasting room was warm and comfortable with natural stone floors, aged leather chairs, and a great cowhide rug. Our tasting consisted of four Alta Maria Vineyards wines: a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2009 Chardonnay, a 2009 Pinot Noir, and a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our dog Booker napping on the nice, cool floor

We also tried a 2008 and 2009 Native9 Pinot Noir, and a 2008 Autonom Rhone Cuvee. Native9 (strictly Pinot Noir) and Autonom (focused on Rhone varietals) are labels Paul and James produce in limited quantities along with the Alta Maria wines.

The wines of Alta Maria Vineyards

I truly loved all the wines we tried and could taste the attention to detail in each glass. I took home a few bottles of the crisp Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc, the Alta Maria Pinot Noir, and the lush Autonom Rhone Cuvee – all of which I thought were really exceptional.

Alta Maria Vineyards

I’m so glad to have found Alta Maria Vineyards and recommend it to anyone visiting Los Olivos. It is officially on my list of regular go-to spots in the area.

Click here to visit the Alta Maria Vineyards website.

2933 Grand Avenue
Suite A
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Phone: (805) 686-1144
Email: aminfo@altamaria.com
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 5PM Daily

Chumeia Vineyards – *CLOSED*

Chumeia Vineyards

* UPDATE 11/13: CLOSED. Chumeia Vineyards appears to be closed and is currently listed for sale by Sotheby’s International Realty.

Last month, we drove up to Paso Robles for a long overdue visit – this time with our brand new wine tasting companion, Booker.

Our new travel companion, Booker, at Chumeia Vineyards

As a newbie to the world of dog ownership, I did some research before we left Los Angeles to see which wineries are dog friendly. As excited as I was to taste some new wines, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the little guy cooped up in a crate.

One winery I found online that seemed very dog friendly was Chumeia Vineyards. My dad and I had first experienced Chumeia wines about 5 years ago when I was living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A little wine bar in town had it on their list and – while I hadn’t had it since then – I remembered it being very good. I was excited to check it out again with our new little pup.

Little did I know, but Chumeia Vineyards ended up being one of the most pleasantly surprising and enjoyable wine experiences I’ve had in a long time. Chumeia is located on the east side of Paso Robles – an area that is dominated by larger, high production wineries. We didn’t know too much about the east side, so we made a list of a few other wineries in the area and decided to leave Chumeia as our last stop.

Chumeia Vineyards

After a day of visiting crowded wineries with limos and tour buses lined up in their parking lots, I was so happy when we pulled into Chumeia Vineyards. Strange as it sounds, I was thrilled to see the driveway to Chumeia was an unpaved gravel road that crossed over into a protected wilderness area. The parking lot was pretty empty with not a bus or limo in sight.

Chumeia Vineyards

Entry to Chumeia Vineyards’ Tasting Room

Chumeia is very dog friendly. Just be sure to bring a leash…

We parked and were immediately greeted by a large golden retriever, who we soon learned was Cristo – one of Chumeia’s winery dogs. Booker followed Cristo into the tasting room where they became fast friends. The dogs played fetch on the big, beautiful lawn the entire time we were there.

Booker and his new friend, Cristo

While the dogs played, I went into the tasting room to check out the wine. The tasting room was great – just a casual counter in the winery with stainless steel tanks in the background and a several award ribbons displayed on the wall. Nothing fancy… just comfortable and welcoming.

Chumeia Vineyards Tasting Room

A section dedicated to furry friends in the Chumeia Vineyards tasting room

Well-deserved awards displayed at Chumeia Vineyards

We started our tasting and were fortunate to have Lee Nesbitt – the winemaker at Chumeia – personally pouring for us. We took our time with the tasting and enjoyed great conversation with Lee indoors, as well as time outside with the dogs on Chumeia’s beautiful grounds.

Winemaker Lee Nesbitt chatting with tasters at Chumeia

Chumeia Vineyards

Chumeia Vineyards

The wines we tasted at Chumeia were delicious, each one having its own unique and complex flavor profile. In fact, there wasn’t one that I didn’t like. I ended up taking home a few bottles of the ’08 Odyssean – a fantastic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Syrah and Malbec. I also bought a couple of bottles of the ’09 Estate Petite Sirah, Iron Man Vineyard which was unique and so tasty. Only 100 cases of Petite Sirah were produced.

I also love that Chumeia Vineyards was so pet friendly. In fact, Chumeia hosts an annual “Cause for the Paws” event and has a wine club called “Whiskers & Paws” that proudly supports Woods Humane Society.

After spending a wonderful evening at Chumeia, we loaded up our car with the wine we purchased and took a few more photos to remember our experience. Unfortunately we locked our keys in the car in the process.

Even though they were trying to close up for the day, Lee and his father were gracious enough to let us hang out and wait for AAA to open the car. In fact, they had to leave before AAA arrived and entrusted us to lock up the vineyard.

Leaving Chumeia Vineyards…

Even with our car lock out, Chumeia Vineyards was an amazing experience and a “must see” for anyone visiting the east side of Paso Robles. A beautiful winery, great wine, and incredibly warm and friendly people. It has a small winery feel and meticulously crafted wines in an area known for large production. We can’t wait to head back…

Click here to visit the Chumeia Vineyards website.

8331 Highway 46 East
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 226-0102
Fax: (805) 226-0104
Tasting room hours: 12PM – 5PM Monday through Thursday.
11AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday (excluding select holidays). Call ahead during the holiday season.

Calcareous Vineyard

Calcareous Vineyard

We hadn’t been to Calcareous in a few years and decided to stop for a tasting during our last visit to the area. Perched up on a hill overlooking Paso Robles, I remembered Calcareous being really beautiful with picture-perfect views. After our last visit however, I think Calcareous might possibly be one of the most beautiful wineries in Paso.

Lloyd’s Lookout – the gorgeous tasting room at Calcareous Vineyard

We drove up the long driveway to the winery and arrived at the parking lot. From the tasting room with floor to ceiling windows to the perfectly landscaped grounds dotted with tables where tasters can sit and take in the views, Calcareous was stunning.

Lloyd’s Lookout – the gorgeous tasting room at Calcareous Vineyard

The view at Calcareous Vineyard

The hilltop tasting room opened in 2008 and was named Lloyd’s Lookout, in honor of the winery’s cofounder, Lloyd Messer. We found the perfect table outside and I went in to set up our tasting. I was immediately offered a big bowl of cold water for our dog and was given our first pour – a wonderful 2009 Viognier/Marsanne. It was full of refreshing citrus and great to drink outside on a warm day.

Calcareous Vineyard

The view at Calcareous Vineyard

The priceless view at Calcareous Vineyard

Calcareous Vineyard had a consistently good portfolio of wines with quite a few stand outs. Since our last visit, they have broken into 2 proprietary labels – Calcareous and Calcareous Twisted Sisters.

Bocce ball court at Calcareous Vineyard

Booker enjoying the bocce ball court at Calcareous Vineyard

The glorious view at Calcareous Vineyard…

The view at Calcareous Vineyard

The winery’s signature and primarily estate grown wines fall under the Calcareous label while the Twisted Sisters wines are made from several different local vineyards. All the Calcareous Twisted Sisters wines retail for $20, which makes it nice if you’re searching for high quality wines at reasonable prices.

Calcareous Vineyard

We found both labels to be equally good and could have easily purchased 1 bottle of everything. We narrowed it down and purchased two wines from each label. From the Calcareous label, we took home an ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon and an ’07 Cabernet Franc which was full of dark cherry, strawberry and a touch of oak. From the Calcareous Twisted Sisters label, we chose an ’08 Main Squeeze – a perfectly balanced blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel – and an ’07 Syrah which earned 92 points in the World Wine Competition.

Our dog Booker running around with one of the winery dogs…

Overall we were very impressed with the wines of Calcareous Vineyard and could have easily spent the entire day relaxing on their beautiful grounds. Calcareous is a must-see for anyone looking for a truly memorable Paso Robles wine experience.

Click here to visit the Calcareous Vineyard website.

3430 Peachy Canyon Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 239-0289
Fax: (805) 239-0916
Tasting room hours: Open daily 11AM – 5PM

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

When people ask for winery recommendations in the Santa Maria area, I never hesitate to recommend Rancho Sisquoc Winery.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Located at the north end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, Rancho Sisquoc is not only in a gorgeous setting, but it seems to have a wine for just about every palate.

Entrance to Rancho Sisquoc Winery

One of the first things visitors see as they approach Rancho Sisquoc is the old chapel perched on top of a hill overlooking the entrance. The San Ramon Chapel as its called was built in 1875 by Frederick Wickenden, at the request of his wife, Ramona Foxen Wickenden. Frederick drove 5,000 sheep up north to Redwood City, which he sold to purchase redwood boards to build his home and the chapel you see today.

San Ramon Chapel

San Ramon Chapel

The San Ramon Chapel was officially dedicated in 1879 and services were held once a month. The chapel’s structure was built on stilts, which often resulted in service being disrupted by cold temperatures and wind. When attendance dropped, the chapel was used for special services only.

History of the San Ramon Chapel

Another weathered plaque outside of San Ramon Chapel

Fortunately, the San Ramon chapel began a period of rebirth in July 1966 when it became the first official landmark in Santa Barbara County. On August 31, 1975 the chapel was dedicated as State Historical Landmark #877 and in November 1976, Father Anthony Runtz agreed to restore regular services. Finally, in 1979 the San Ramon Preservation Committee was formed. Their job is to maintain the beautiful chapel and to preserve its historical integrity.

The chapel with its storied past appears as the logo on every bottle of Rancho Sisquoc wine.

San Ramon Chapel

After a trip down the long driveway – barely wide enough for two cars – visitors approach the cozy little tasting room. Every time I visit, I’m taken aback by the charming surroundings at Rancho Sisquoc. It feels as if you’re miles away from Foxen Canyon Road and surrounded by a lush landscape with a perfectly placed, wood shingled wine cottage and an inviting, secluded little picnic area.

The Rancho Sisquoc Winery tasting room

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

I come to Rancho Sisquoc Winery on a regular basis for three main reasons: the beautiful setting, consistently good wines, and prices that are surprisingly affordable. I love that I can walk away with several bottles of great wine without feeling like I broke the bank.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Picnic area at Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Rancho Sisquoc has a portfolio of 12 beautifully crafted and reasonably priced wines from which to choose. From a sweet Riesling with hints of citrus to a dark velvety Malbec full of black fruit, tasters get to choose 6 wines from the list for an $8.00 fee (logo glass included). The least expensive wine is priced around $12.00 and the top end is $30.00 per bottle.

The wide variety of wines at Rancho Sisquoc

I always walk away with a few bottles of Tre Vini and Sylvaner – both of which are unique to Rancho Sisquoc. Tre Vini ($20/bottle) is an Italian blend that seems to change slightly with each vintage and pairs perfectly with Italian food. The latest vintage (2008) is a unique blend of 52% Sangiovese, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon & 22% Syrah, and is absolutely delicious.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

The ’09 Sylvaner ($14/bottle) on the other hand is a white blend of the Sylvaner grape with 16% Riesling. Rancho Sisquoc is the only producer of this varietal in California. It’s perfect for summer with hints of light lime, apricot, sweet pear and roasted peanuts on the nose and a crisp, slightly sweet finish. It’s very unique and loved by many – including those who don’t typically enjoy drinking white wine. I’ve also purchased Rancho Sisquoc’s Malbec, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir, and have thoroughly enjoyed each and every bottle.

With over 30 years of experience making estate grown wines and a claim of being one of the first wineries in the now famous Santa Barbara County wine region, Rancho Sisquoc Winery truly knows their craft.

Click here to visit the Rancho Sisquoc Winery website.

6600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 934-4332
Fax: (805) 937-6601
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 4PM Monday through Thursday. 10AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday.

Inglenook (formerly Rubicon Estate) | Napa Valley

I have to admit that while I was interested in trying the wines of Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley, it wasn’t exactly at the top of my list.

Rubicon Estate Winery in Napa Valley

Rubicon Estate Winery in Napa Valley

I assumed that a winery owned by 5 time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola and his family would likely be “Hollywood”. I anticipated it would be a bit flashy, a bit pretentious, somewhat corporate, and probably quite grand in appearance. And I expected the wines would be equally grand in price, but lacking in substance.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover my assumptions were not true at all. Situated in Rutherford, the Rubicon Estate was absolutely gorgeous and really has nothing “Hollywood” about it. The rich history of the Estate dates back to pre-1880 when a tenacious and wealthy young sea-captain named Gustave Niebaum decided to launch a wine business. Fueled by a longing for missed European traditions, Niebaum pursued his goal “with a zeal that verged on obsession.”

Rubicon Estate Winery in Napa Valley

Rubicon Estate Winery in Napa Valley

In 1880, Niebaum founded Inglenook Estate with the intention of creating California wines that would be sought by wine connoisseurs and command prices similar to the most famous wines in Europe. He spared no expense and procured some of the best vineyards in the area. Within 10 years, the wines of Inglenook were receiving local and international acclaim.

Eventually, Niebaum’s wife’s grand-nephew John Daniel, Jr. took over and carried on the family tradition of creating impeccable, world-class wines. John Daniel led with a “pride not profits” motto and would not bottle a wine unless it met his strict quality standards. Unfortunately he died before he could usher in his successor. Which brings us to Francis Ford Coppola.

Rubicon Estate Chateau in Napa Valley

In 1975, Coppola found the Inglenook property while searching for a quaint summer home for his family where he could also make wine in the basement, similar to what his grandparents had done. The property was much larger than what he was initially looking for, but Coppola was both impressed with the beauty of the Estate as well as felt a deep connection to Gustave Niebaum. Coppola decided to purchase the Estate with a focus on restoring Niebaum’s original dream by creating the Niebaum-Coppola Winery.

Coppola’s goal was – and continues to be – preservation of the traditions of his predecessors through the creation of high-quality, world-class wines. It took over 20 years to “reunite all of the original vineyards and restore winemaking to the Chateau.” Once that was completed, the Estate was renamed to the current Rubicon Estate in honor of their flagship wine.

Wine Tasting at the Rubicon Bar

During our visit, we opted to do the Daniel Tasting ($25) which includes 5 wines, including their non-distributed Captain’s Reserve wines, as well as CASK and Rubicon. It also includes a tour of the Estate. The Daniel Tasting is available at the Rubicon Bar, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

The warm and festive interior at the Rubicon Estate Chateau

Warm and festive interior at the Rubicon Estate Chateau

While I thought Rubicon was fantastic and CASK Cabernet Sauvignon was also delicious, my favorites were the non-distributed Captain’s Reserve wines. The 2008 Captain’s Reserve Chardonnay ($30) had wonderful flavors of pear, apple and citrus balanced by the perfect amount of vanilla cream.

Rubicon Estate’s 2008 Captain’s Reserve Chardonnay featuring Captain Niebaum on the label

The 2006 Captain’s Reserve Syrah ($34) was full of dark fruit – blueberry, blackberry, and plum – which was complimented with just the right amount of spice and smoke. Finally, the 2007 Captain’s Reserve Pinot Noir ($38) had concentrated flavors of red fruits like cherry, strawberry, and raspberry balanced by hints of spice and vanilla.

I thought the Captain’s Reserve wines were gorgeous and quite affordable considering the quality. As an added bonus, Rubicon Estate was offering 40% off each bottle for the holidays. I walked away with a bottle of each without hesitation and would have purchased more if I had room in my suitcase.

Vineyards at Rubicon Estate

Rubicon Estate was a very pleasant surprise with amazing wines, a beautiful estate, and a very rich history. It is highly recommended for anyone in the Napa area.

NOTE: In 2011, Francis & Eleanor Coppola acquired the Inglenook trademark and returned the estate to its original name, Inglenook.

Click here to visit the Rubicon Estate website.

Rubicon Estate
1991 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Toll Free Phone: (800) RUBICON (782-4266)
Phone: (707) 968-1100
Fax: (707) 963-9084
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Daily

Woodinville, WA Wine Country

Last weekend, we left sunny southern California and headed up to Seattle to explore the wine country in Woodinville, Washington.

A rare sunny day in Seattle

Woodinville is an easy 30 minute drive from downtown Seattle along lush forests and over long, floating bridges. I had never been outside the city and was blown away by how beautiful the area was. When we arrived in the picture-perfect little town of Woodinville, it was foggy and misting which only made the colors on the changing trees more vibrant. After what has been a really strange year weather-wise in Los Angeles, it FINALLY felt like fall.

Fall colors in Woodinville, WA

We decided to begin our day with breakfast at a local restaurant called Barking Frog. The name comes from “the Native American storytellers use of the Frog as a symbol of wealth or abundance. When the frogs are barking, it is a sign of peace and harmony in nature.”

This cozy, rustic restaurant features both a chef (Chef Bobby) who was once invited to cook at the historic James Beard House in New York City and a wine list that has received Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence five years in a row. Even more importantly, the restaurant had an incredible casual warmth to it and the food was absolutely delicious. We watched the restaurant’s resident peacock roam the grounds as we enjoyed our food. It was a great and highly recommended way to start a day of wine tasting – especially considering Barking Frog’s convenient location at the beginning of the wine country “loop”.

The beautiful grounds outside Barking Frog

Barking Frog’s resident peacock entertaining diners

After breakfast, we were ready to begin our day of wine tasting. Woodinville Wine Country is arranged in a loop composed of tasting rooms representing over 50 Washington wineries, ranging from one of the biggest wineries in the state to several small production boutiques. Almost all Woodinville wineries grow their grapes in the warm, arid climate of Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley which shares similar latitudes to the great wine regions of Northern Europe.

Woodinville Wine Country tasting map

We decided to start with the biggest and most well-known – Chateau Ste. Michelle – which was a quick 5 minute drive from the Barking Frog. The Woodinville wine industry actually began with the establishment of Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1976 and the industry has been growing and flourishing ever since.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Map of Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle was a truly impressive winery with beautifully landscaped grounds, a large tasting room and a wine-focused gift shop. Visitors can also take a tour of the facilities to learn more about the wine making process. We each decided to do a tasting where we sampled 4 of the 8 wines they were pouring for a $10 fee. Some of these wines can be found at major grocery stores while others can only be purchased at the Chateau.

Tasting selection at Chateau Ste. Michelle

I decided to try an ’08 Pinot Gris, ’05 Chenin Blanc, ’07 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and an ’05 Petit Verdot. While I thought they were all quite good and nicely balanced, the Cabernet Sauvignon was a clear stand out for me.

Chateau Ste. Michelle tasting menu

After our tasting, we continued along the loop and stopped at Novelty Hill/Januik. Novelty Hill and Januik are two independent wineries that share a tasting room and production facility in Woodinville. Acclaimed winemaker Mike Januik makes the wine for both labels, working with leading Columbia Valley vineyards, including the wineries’ own estate vineyard Stillwater Creek.

Novelty Hill/Januik Winery

The Novelty Hill/Januik winery is a modern architectural masterpiece with a design that works in perfect balance with the natural environment. Dominant use of cold gray concrete mirroring the often overcast Washington sky is warmed by rich woods, splashes of colored artwork, vibrant green gardens, an outdoor fire pit, an open cellar/barrel room, and lots of natural light coming in through the many glass features.

Entrance to Novelty Hill/Januik

Tasting room at Novelty Hill/Januik Winery

Novelty Hill and Januik are both committed to delivering consistent high quality wines using nurturing and innovative artisanal winemaking processes. Visitors are able to taste wines from both labels, with 3 different tasting options. The Colombia Valley Tasting allows for 4 wine samples from a combination of Novelty Hill and Januik for $5. The “King Cab” Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting features 4 Cabernet Sauvignon tastes for $10, and the Single Vineyard & Reserve Tasting is a mix and match of 4 single vineyard and reserve wines for $10 (Friday through Sunday only).

I wanted to familiarize myself with wines from the different single vineyards in the Columbia Valley, so I opted for the Single Vineyard/Reserve tasting and found several of the Cabernet Sauvignon’s to be exceptional, rivaling some of the great Cabs of Napa Valley. Novelty Hill/Januik is a definite “must see” for anyone visiting the area.

Artwork in the tasting room…

Barrels of wine aging in the open cellar at Novelty Hill/Januik

Filling barrels in the open cellar at Novelty Hill/Januik

We purchased a couple of bottles at Novelty Hill/Januik and headed on to Efeste. Efeste is the northernmost winery along the Woodinville wine country loop, but it’s well worth the visit. Stand outs here included a 2009 Babbitt Rosé Syrah made from 100% Syrah grapes, an ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend called Final Final, and a 2007 Big Papa made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Efeste also had a gratis cheese and cracker plate that complemented our tasting perfectly.

At this point, we were running out of time so we headed to one more winery – Mark Ryan. Mark Ryan McNeilly is an artisan winemaker with a rock and roll edge whose wines have received several rave reviews from Wine Spectator.

Mark Ryan Winery

The tasting room at Mark Ryan was one of the coolest we saw on our tasting trip. The walls were decorated with colorful rock and roll posters, restored vintage motorcycles were on display, and the tasting menu was written on a chalkboard above a wonderfully aged yellow credenza.

Mark Ryan tasting room

Mark Ryan tasting room

Tasting menu at the Mark Ryan Winery

Mark hand crafts all his wines in a garage in Bellevue, Washington and aims to create wines that are expressive of the region where the grapes are grown. He lets his grapes ripen quite a bit resulting in wines that are big, flavorful, and juicy, but also very nicely balanced.

Mark Ryan tasting room

Most of the wines we tasted at Mark Ryan were Bordeaux blends (Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon), some with Syrah or Petit Verdot added which gave the wines bold body and unique personality. I liked all the wines we tasted here, but my favorite was the ’08 The Dissident ($32). We bought a bottle and brought it back to Seattle to enjoy at dinner.

I very much enjoyed our trip to Woodinville Wine Country and felt like we really only scratched the wine tasting surface in this beautiful area. The wines we tasted were consistently very, very good. Cabernet Sauvignon seemed to shine here, along with Merlot and Syrah. In fact, I felt the Cabernet we tried was on par with some of the best I’ve tasted out of Napa. I look forward to getting back to Woodinville to explore it further. It is well worth a visit and recommend to anyone who has an appreciation for the natural beauty of the Northwest and a passion for great wine… all within a short drive from Seattle.

Click here to visit the Barking Frog website.
Click here to visit the Chateau Ste. Michelle website.
Click here to visit the Novelty Hill Winery website.
Click here to visit the Januik Winery website.
Click here to visit the Efeste Winery website.
Click here to visit the Mark Ryan Winery website.
Click here to visit the Woodinville Wine Country website.