If you look at a map of Napa and Sonoma it appears that the trip between them is just a short hop from one wine country to another. The drive from Napa to Sonoma can take 45 minutes to an hour through beautiful winding mountain roads. The two areas both make great wine but in many ways that’s where the similarities end. One person told me to think of Napa as Las Vegas and Sonoma as Reno. The description isn’t far off. To me Sonoma is very reminiscent of the Napa I first visited 27 years ago. The countryside has much more of a rural feel and the folks seem much more casual and relaxed.Our first stop was Emeritus Pinot.
Emeritus was founded by Brice Cutrer Jones after he sold his namesake winery Sonoma Cutrer. Much of the Emeritus team came with him from Sonoma Cutrer. Emeritus is a working winery that is not really geared for tourists so we felt lucky to get shown around. I’ll write more on Emeritus later but don’t be surprised if you have not heard of their wines. The only make two Pinots, all from estate fruit. The Russian River Pinot is available in restaurants only and is immediately drinkable. The William Wesley Pinot is more structured and can be cellared for years to come. This wine is only available from the winery. Do yourself a favor and order a few bottles.We spent time in the vineyards with Ted Elliott learning about this year’s grape crop which, due to weather, has been challenging. We were able to taste nearly ripe grapes right off the vine.
We then toured their wine making facility and barrel room learning how the winemaking process for Pinot Noir is different from other winemaking. The highlight was getting a chance to taste unfermented freshly pressed pinot juice. It was absolutely delicious, very sweet and fruity. Take a cup of this juice, reduce it on the stove and pour it on homemade vanilla bean ice cream and it would rock your world.Pezzi King Vineyards and Winery
Our next stop was about 20 miles down the road at Pezzi King. We were not familiar with their wines until they invited us to visit. The long drive up a winding wooded mountain road was well worth the trip. As we reached the crest, we popped out into a bowl of vineyards and winery. Our tasting was done poolside at Rowe family residence (more like a villa) on a warm sunny afternoon. We had a lovely time with our hostess, Joanna and another visiting couple. During our tasting we were joined by Chris Barrett, the winemaker which is always a nice treat. The wines were all good but the two Zins stole the show and are a great value. The Riley’s Red Zin sells for $18 and the Old Vine Zin sells for $24. The OVZ is a well deserved double Gold medal winner. Again, these wines are great values and I’d suggest you grab or order some for yourself.
Our touring ended at the opulent Jordan Vineyards and Winery. The experience at Jordan has more of a Napa feel than the more casual atmosphere we found in other Sonoma wineries. That said, it is a great experience, a very good tour and elegant wine tasting. We visited Jordan for the first time in 1987 and we were so glad we came back. If you are a fan of Jordan, have you ever wondered why their wines are so consistent? They have had the same winemaker, Rob Davis, since their first harvest 1976. Our tour guide, Sean, was very fun and knowledgeable. The elegant dining room served as our tasting room complete with fresh flowers arranged on the tables. Served with our wines was a selection of artisan cheeses and a bite of seared Ahi tuna served on a pepper tortilla chip, topped with a bit of quail egg. The best of show here was the 2003 Cabernet which is about to go into re-release. Grab a bottle if you see it.
We finished the evening in true Sonoma style sitting on the patio with friends and winemakers at the very stylish Affronti Restaurant. With live acoustic guitar in the background Donna and I met up Mark Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines (click here to see our previous story) and his consulting winemaker Jene Chapanar of J. Cole Wines. Jene brought along an as yet to be released Super Tuscan (compete with hand sketched Sharpie label) and a couple of bottles of his sumptuous Syrah. Mark added a Pinot Gris from Windsor Oaks. The Pinot Gris was sourced from the same grapes Mark will be using when they add Pinot Gris to the Blanchard Family line up next year. I’m not generally a fan of Pinot Gris but I liked this one as it was unusually lush and creamy. Mark ordered a number of outstanding small plate appetizers for the four of us to share. Both of these guys are passionate and enthusiastic about their wines and a blast to hang with.
Unfortunately, we had the drive back to Napa ahead of us so we were forced to sip and not spend the evening drinking all wine in front of us. It all ended far too early.