Oct 202013

Sonoma WineriesI miss the bygone days of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Those days before fanciful wineries, hospitality directors, rock star winemakers, iPhone wine apps and glossy winery maps with hundreds of tiny dots. Some of my favorite memories date back to our travels in the early 1980’s  when we would drive up back roads and cross roads never knowing what tiny winery would be around the next curve.

But what I miss most are the unexpected and hands-on experiences that today seem rare, indeed. I recall fondly meeting  Charlie Wagner, Founder of Caymus Vineyards, who tried to discourage us from a tasting by demanding we spend time touring his post-harvest, rain-soaked muddy vineyard. The stop turned into hours of education and a new respect for the farming aspect of winemaking. I miss moments like the time we randomly stopped into the new (now corporately owned) Folie à Deux Winery only to be asked by the founders (two slightly crazy psychiatrists) to help press the last of what became their 1983 vintage.

And then there was the ponytailed cannabis-aromaed gardener who found himself the winemaker of a now defunct Sonoma winery after the previous winemaker had quit mid-harvest. We barrel tasted through his wines; all barely drinkable. Then we got to one last Chardonnay barrel. The gardener-turned-winemaker said, “Dude…now this one I forgot about and didn’t do nothing, no yeast or anything and a couple of months later, shit, it was wine. I guess they forgot to teach him about native yeast fermentation in the “crash crush” course he had taken a few months earlier. And yes, Dude…it was his best wine.

So we are on a quest over the next year to find intimate winery experiences that hearken back to the essence of those earlier days when a trip to wine country was a journey rather than a destination. For those who wish to explore, learn and maybe on occasion even get a little dirty, these will be the stops for you. For those who want a wine country experience filled with “notch your bedpost” names like Opus One and Harlan in an effort to make your friends envious; stop reading now. Most of the boutique wineries we will explore together you will have never heard of (some I had not heard of before my visit) and your friends won’t get excited until they taste the wine you pour from your newly discovered winery gem.

The wineries we are set to explore most likely will not have a public tasting room and you will need to make an appointment, especially in Napa Valley. This is due mainly to the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance that among other things, restricted wineries opening after its inception to be “by appointment only.” However, in some cases the winery’s production is so small and the wines so well regarded there is no need for a full time tasting room. Some of the wines from these boutique producers will be quite affordable while some will be expensive. The one thing they will all have in common is an intimate and unique experience with folks passionate about the wines they produce.

So join us on our intimate journey of undiscovered Napa and Sonoma… Here are the blog posts from best boutique winery experiences we’ve had so far…

Best Boutique Winery Experiences – Sonoma County

Experience Bucher Vineyard – Exceptional Wines and Vines from Extraordinary People

Jericho Canyon Vineyard – A Unique Vineyard Adventure

Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery – The Real Deal

Kelly Fleming – Living the Wine Country Dream

Meet Winemaker Cathy Corison of Corison Winery

Jul 152010

Recently we were contacted by James Blanchard of Blanchard Family Wines in Sonoma and asked to review their newly released wines. It seems that James was reading our Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog and noticed we are based much of the time in Denver, Colorado. James, as it turns out, lives near us. He is active duty in the U.S. Air force and recently finished a teaching assignment in the business school at the Air Force Academy, down the road in Colorado Springs. 

James, along with his brother Mark and help from the rest of the Blanchard family, started Blanchard Family Wines just a couple of years ago. Their story is one of many great stories about how wine can unite or in this case re-unite a family. The story they tell is of two brothers who while growing up were as close as two brothers can be, often referred to singularly as the Blanchard Boys. However, as they matured into young men they focused more on their differences than their brotherhood. James attended the Air Force Academy, earned his undergraduate degree in business, his MBA, and became a combat helicopter pilot. Mark on the other hand, was more of a free spirit studying music, poetry and ultimately getting his degree in creative writing. Separated by both ideology and geography, the Blanchard boys grew far apart.

Leave it to wine to bring these two brothers back together. Mark began working at a wine shop in Chicago which ultimately led him to choose to move to Napa. James at this time was stationed at Vandenberg in the central coast wine region of California. Dramatic helicopter flights over the wine country fueled a new love of wines for James. Mark worked at wineries in Napa and Sonoma for the next seven years gaining valuable experience. During that time when the Blanchard family would get together for holidays and the like, they found that their mutual love of fine wine was enough to bridge the differences between them. A few years ago James traveled to Sonoma to visit Mark for his 30th birthday and together they spawned the idea that became Blanchard Family Wines. While James continues his Air Force career through doctoral studies at the University of Colorado, he and his wife Sylvia operate the national sales and distribution program while Mark runs the daily wine making operations in Sonoma.

James and Sylvia came over on a Sunday afternoon bringing bottles of their 2007 and 2008 Amber Monique (named for their daughter) Syrah and 2007 Cash Allen (named for their son – note the boy’s initials C.A.B.) Cabernet. These wines are obviously young and are the first releases by Blanchard Family. Donna prepared grilled duck breast with raisin compote and thinly sliced brisket with grilled onions, blue cheese and an aged balsamic reduction to pair with the wines.

We started with the soon to be released 2007 Cash Allen Cabernet ($35). My friend Sue, in London, would accuse us of infanticide, drinking such a young cab. The wine was aerated and decanted for about an hour before it really opened up. The grapes are sourced from Windsor Oaks vineyard in Chalk Hill and aged for 24 months in French Oak. After an hour the tannins softened to match the young fruit. The wine had great color, great varietal flavors of dark fruit and a touch of pepper. We thoroughly enjoyed this wine and think that in another 3-5 years it will be at its peak. It paired best with the brisket, onion, blue cheese combination.

Next up was the 2007 Amber Monique Syrah ($25) from Russian River. Aged in French oak for 18 months, this Syrah really hit the spot. Nice and jammy with velvety tannins this 50 case production had definite cola, raspberry and spice flavors with a nose of cocoa and black cherry. Again, the wine was aerated and decanted for about 30 minutes. The jamminess of the Syrah combined with the duck and raisin compote were sumptuous.

We finished with the yet to be released and recently bottled 2008 Amber Monique Syrah ($25). These grapes were sourced from a different part of the Russian River Valley than the 2007. Needless to say this wine is very, very young and as a result very tight. Even so it showed much potential and may, in a couple of years, out shine its older sister.

Blanchard Family Wines will release a 2009 Laurel Springs Ranch (Dry Creek -Sonoma) Cabernet in 2011 along with a 2009 Zinfandel (Russian River – Sonoma) from a hillside block at Windsor Oaks Vineyards.

We had a great time meeting James and Sylvia Blanchard while sharing the first releases from Blanchard Family Wines. These are very impressive efforts that will improve as they age. We’re excited to see what else the Blanchard Boys will create in the years to come.

May 022010

 Wines From Last Night….

This is our weekly review of wines we had the opportunity to taste over the last week or so. Unless otherwise noted all the wines were paid for with our hard earned bucks. But if anyone out there would like to donate a wine to end up in this blog…we’re game!

This week’s wines are from : Twenty Rows, AnnaBella, Kunde Estate, Lezuan

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