Notes from Recent Sonoma County trip (and a day over the mountains)

The first week of March, my friends and I returned to the Sonoma County area for the 14th annual wine and food sojourn. Again this year I did not focus on tasting notes on specific wines tasted over the course of the four days. But my general impressions, highlights and thoughts might be helpful for others looking to visit the area. And the 2012 wines we tasted were excellent across the board - the hype is justified.

At the prompting of one in the group a few of us decided to fly in on Tuesday and spend the night in San Francisco so we could eat at the popular throw-back House of Prime Rib. Staying at the Argonaut Hotel, we stopped into the attached Wine Collective for happy hour. While there, we met a young lady from Sol Rouge, who happily poured for us a 2007 Mourvedre and 2009 Gypsy Blanc (white Rhone blend). We like the wines enough to buy a few bottles to take to dinner. The HOPR did not disappoint - carnivores should not miss this place. They serve perfectly prepared prime rib roasts sliced at the table.

It was a quick stop at K&L for a few bottles of champagne on Wednesday morning before we headed up the coast to Pt. Reyes Station to check out Cowgirl Creamery where we grabbed lunch. And then it was over to Healdsburg to check into the home we rented (which was an excellent call). After a grocery run and a few cocktails it was off to Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa for dinner. The food at Willi’s was fantastic. We ordered what seemed like nearly every small plate to sample. Favorites were the Balsamic Roasted Fig and Serrano Ham flatbread, Pork Belly Potstickers, duck liver mousse, Mu Shu bacon and the Moroccan style lamb chops. Everyone drank wines offered by the glass (nice selection) and we brought a bottle of a Martinelli syrah (a few guys had stopped by the tasting room/winery on their way to the house), which I didn’t try. All was topped off with the 5 spice beignets.

Thursday. The next morning we headed down towards Sonoma. Thanks to the invitation of Paul Luckin, we made arrangements to visit him at Enkidu’s new tasting room located in Kenwood. Paul was a gracious host and poured for us their Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Tia Marie Pinot, Odyssey Syrah, High Mayacamas Cabernet and Napa Petite Sirah. (If you visit you have to get the story on the winery’s name). We enjoyed all of the wines, but the standouts/surprises to me were the Odyssey Syrah and the High Mayacamas Cab. The syrah was very Thrackrey Orion like with a noticeable eucalyptus note. And the cab reminded me of the cabs I remembered tasting at Arnot Roberts a few years ago - more old-world styled and a bargain at $35/bottle. I haven’t bought any cab for some time but I bought this.

The last of our group was scheduled to meet us in Sonoma so off we went. As luck would have it our timing was perfect. At Paul’s suggestion, we headed to LaSalette for lunch. Excellent linguica and Serra da Estrella to start. I also had the Dungeness crab pita “melt” which was perfect with the light Portugese beer. I would love to try the dinner service here. From there it was off to our appointment at Sojourn Cellars. Thanks to Craig Hasserot for emailing me inviting our group to a tasting. We were greeted by Emily Katon in the small home just off of the square. Emily poured for us the 2012 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot, 2012 Rodgers Creek Pinot, 2012 Sangiacomo Pinot and the 2011 Home Ranch Cabernet. The pinots had been recently bottled and seemed a bit disjointed. The Sangiacomo was the star on this day, but all the pieces were there for some incredible pinots across the board. I purchased a few to cellar to see how they come together. And, once again, the Cabernet was a surprise to the group - another in the “old world” style.

Paul Luckin had mentioned Bump Wine Cellars, started by Enkidu’s former assistant winemaker Geordie Carr. We wandered into their fairly new tasting room just off the square and were met by Geordie’s wife, Mieko. Mieko gave us the run down on their operation and poured for us the 2011 Fortune white Rhone blend, 2011 Chardonnay, 2007 Syrah and 2009 Zinfandel. If I remember correctly, all of the grapes for their wines are sourced from very small vineyards in and around Sonoma. All of the wines were well made and reasonably priced - under $28. Surprisingly, my favorite today was the chardonnay. Mieko was a pleasure to talk to and I recommend stopping by to try the wines if you are in the area.

We had time to kill before our dinner reservation at The Girl and The Fig, so a few of us headed to the Meritage Martini Oyster Bar & Grill for some oysters and champagne. Excellent service and oyster selection. Then over to The Girl and The Fig we went. The food definitely lived up to the hype, but I thought the service was only average but adequate. The table shared the charcuterie plate, which had a nice selection of meats and cheeses. My crispy chicken livers (with bacon lardons and fried egg) and the grass fed steak tartare starters were amazing. And the duck confit entree with farro, roasted parsnips and kale was excellent. We ordered a few desserts for the table and all were very good.

Friday morning it was off to meet Duncan Meyers at Arnot Roberts. When we last hooked up a few years ago it was at the old apple processing plant in Forestville. Duncan gave us a quick tour of the new space while Django kept us busy retrieving sticks we threw for him. Duncan opened for us to taste the 2012 Ribolla Gialla, 2012 Old Vine White Wine, 2012 Griffin’s Lair Syrah, 2012 Clary Ranch Syrah, 2011 Clajeux Vyd. Cabernet, 2011 Bugay Vyd. Cabernet and the 2011 Fellom Ranch Cabernet. If I had the money I would buy all of their wines - I continue to be a fan of their wine making. The syrahs are very similar to what is commonly referred to as Northern Rhone-ish (though I’m not sure the Northern Rhone syrahs fit that mold today). The Old Vine White continues to impress me, as did the Ribolla Gialla. And the cabs continue to be made in a style one would associate with an earlier era (“leaner” is the word that comes to mind, but in a good way) and one that I enjoy on the few occasions I drink cabernet.

From there it was off to our appointment at Copain. The weather was much better this year than our last trip and we started with a pour of the Tous Ensemble Chardonnay while lounging in the Adirondack chairs overlooking the vineyards. Once everything was set up we went back inside to taste the following: 2013 Rose, 2011 Les Voisins Pinot, 2011 Monument Tree Pinot, 2010 Les Voisins Syrah, 2010 Brosseau Syrah. Tony McClung joined us and he had a few more bottles for us to try: the 2009 Kiser “En Haut” and Kiser “Combes de Gres” Pinots (from magnum), 2012 Wendling Pinot (from magnum) and the 2012 Baker Ranch Syrah. The Kiser pinots were the best I’ve had from Copain - finesse, complexity (the En Haut was from a found stash and I didn’t hesitate to order some). The Wendling was a surprise to me, not having tried it in the past - I found this to be another fantastic pinot, which I added to my Fall Shipment. The Monument Tree pinot has been a favorite of mine and the 2011 did not disappoint (though there is some question whether Wells will continue to purchase grapes from this vineyard in the future). And, vintages notwithstanding, the syrahs showed their different vineyard characteristics, with the Brosseau showing more minerality and the Baker Ranch showing more structure and spice. My preference has always tended towards the Brosseau. Though each vintage has its challenges, Wells’ evolving shift in style seems to have been timed perfectly with the 2012 vintage.

Then four of us headed to meet with Eric Sussmen at Radio Coteau at the winery in Sebastopol. There was a large group there as well, but Eric was gracious to everyone. He poured for us his 2012 RC Platt Vyd. Reisling, County Line Chardonnay, County Line Pinot, RC La Neblina Pinot, Timbervine Syrah, and County Line Zinfandel. It’s been a while since I’ve had any Radio Coteau pinots and, IMO, the press Eric gets is warranted. And I thought the County Line wines were impressive blends. If I wasn’t in wine-budget cutback mode, I’d consider again joining this list.

With time to kill before dinner, we stopped at the Underwood Bar and Bistro in Graton for some oysters and a beer and to log some patio time. $350 later we headed back to the house to get ready for dinner. With more time to kill, we grabbed a drink at the bar at the Dry Creek Kitchen.

Dinner was a return to Scopa. I think we all agreed it was a bit of a disappointment. The menu was nearly identical to the one we had on our first trip a few years ago. I did have an excellent salad that had crab and citrus fruit and the pasta special with pork sugo was very good. Because there were six of us we were seated in the outdoor area in the entrance way. It was really dark and we totally lost the ambiance and vibe that you get dining inside the restaurant. It’ll be a scratch the next time were in the area.

On Saturday morning we headed over the mountains to meet Will Segui to taste through most of the current Rivers Marie lineup. Will was kind enough to work us in around his new duties as a parent. We met in a park in St. Helena which was perfect since the weather was beautiful. Will brought the 2012 Occidental Ridge Vyd. Pinot, Summa Old Vine Pinot, Summa Young Vine Pinot, Silver Eagle Vyd Pinot, Kanzler Pinot and 2011 B. Thieriot Vyd. Chardonnay for us. I’m a fan of RM’s Chardonnays and the 2011 was no exception. We were surprised that the first pinot poured was the Summa Old Vine but quickly understood why. It is the most feminine of the RM wines, but I found it to be the most layered and a standout. Having last had the 2009 Silver Eagle Vyd. our last visit (when we first met Will just before he was starting with Copain) which had quite a bit of reduction, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the 2012 was excellent. The Occidental was also my favorite young pinot from that vineyard. And then there was the Kanzler. This was poured by Will without revealing the vineyard. Immediately my thoughts went to the Kosta Browne Kanzler pinots I used to buy and that was my guess. After the reveal it was incredible to me that the flavor profile was so similar. Like the KB Kanzlers, this is no shrinking violet. Not overdone but definitely a larger scaled pinot. It’s just no longer my style of pinot. We revisited several of the wines after tasting through them and, to me, the Summa Old Vine continued to resonate. I could have relaxed in that park all morning with the rest of the bottle. Rivers Marie offers a uniqueness in its wines that I really enjoy, and the 2012s are the best I’ve tried, across the board.

For lunch, we grabbed some ‘que to go from Buster’s in Calistoga and headed to meet Vince Tofanelli at Up Valley Vintners. We visit Vince when whenever we’re in the area. Vince took a break from working in the vineyard to meet us and pour his 2010 Estate Charbono, 2010 Estate Petite Sirah, 2011 Estate Grenache and 2011 Estate Zinfandel. It was great to hang out on the patio and get caught up with Vince until he had to get back to the vineyard crew. I’ve commented before about the balance I find in Vince’s wines and, despite the difficult 2011 vintage, these wines were no different. My favorites were the Charbono (which I found to be very Nebbiolo-like) and the Grenache.

Then it was back to the house in Healdsburg. We popped the champagnes from K&L and hung out on the deck snacking on cheese. The tri tip expert in our group picked up about 10 lbs. of the marinated tri tip at Big John’s Market for grilling for dinner (and breakfast, as it turned out). Damn fine beef, it was. And our last night was spent dining in and drinking a few bottles picked up during the trip.

A special thanks, again, to all of the winemakers and wineries for having us!

Yikes, my liver hurts just reading this post!

Sounds like good times!

Lot’s of training, Casey :slight_smile:

Great report Jeff. You guys sure eat a lot. Glad you enjoyed your stop at Enkidu. Paul is a great guy and a good source of Sonoma Valley info.

Great notes, Jeff - thanks for posting!

Great report Jeff. Did I read that right - you ate $350 worth of oysters?

With a few drinks. And there were four of us. Including tip :slight_smile:

We do enjoy our food:) And there are so many great places out there. Agreed - it was great to meet Paul.

Remind me to party with you next time you’re in town champagne.gif