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Loads of Wine Events for this Pre-Holiday Weekend

wreathOnlyWithType2011webIf you survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and your credit cards haven't cried "Uncle" yet, this will be a great weekend to go shopping for your wine-loving friends. Or your wine-loving self. Wineries all over northern California are pouring not just wine, but holiday cheer. There are art and gift shows, tree lightings and plenty of tasty treats. And two big region-wide Passport-ish events: Rutherford and Livermore Valley. So, skip that crowded shopping mall this weekend and head out to your local wineries.

If you happen to be in Paso Robles this evening, start the weekend off right with some mulled wine and cookies at Vina Robles tree illuminating celebration. No RSVP is necessary. 5:30 - 7:30pm.

East Bay

Wine Wonderland Open House — Rock Wall Wine Company, Alameda: 1 - 5pm, Saturday Dec. 3
A variety of selections from Rock Wall and their resident producers: Blacksmith Cellars, Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars, Eno Wines, John Robert Eppler Wines, Joseph Gary Cellars, Mercy and R&B Cellars! More than 65 wines in all.

Stomping Girl Winery Pop-Up — Zut! On Fourth restaurant, Berkeley: 3 - 5pm, Saturday Dec. 3
A complimentary wine tasting with the winemakers.

Tessier Release Party — BarCeluna, Alameda: 1 - 4pm, Sunday Dec.. 4
A trio of brand new Tessier wines will be poured from the 2010 vintage—a Pinot Noir from the Carneros region, the Russian River blend, and a very special bottling from Saralee’s Vineyard.

Lake County

Art & Wine Reception with Obsidian Ridge — Lake County Wine Studio, Upper Lake: 4 - 7pm, Saturday Dec. 3
Meet artist Renee Geare, while sipping delicious newly released wines from Obsidian Ridge Vineyard paired with delectable appetizers.

Livermore Valley

Holiday in the Vineyards — Livermore Valley Wineries: noon to 5pm, Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 3, 4
An annual wine country tradition where wineries showcase their tasting rooms with arts and craft vendors, special wines, festive activities, santa visits, carolers, and more.


Downtown Lodi Holiday Wine Walk — Lodi: noon - 5pm, Saturday, Dec.. 3
Sample wines at nine tasting rooms.

Napa Valley

Art & Wine at Nichelini Family Winery — St. Helena: 11am - 5pm, Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 3, 4
After 121 years [Wow!], Nichelini Family Winery hosts the opening of its first ever art show. Featured will be ceramic sculptures and functional art objects created by renowned Napa artists Wendy Spiers and Carlos Oropeza.

Rutherford Passport Weekend — Rutherford Wineries: 11am - 4pm, Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 3, 4
Enjoy special pourings, barrel and tank tastings, paired food and wines, and conversations with the winemakers

Holiday Party & Tree Lighting — Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville: 3 - 5pm, Saturday, Dec. 3
The annual tree lighting ceremony and party, including horse and buggy rides through the To Kalon vineyard, Moscato d’Oro and other Robert Mondavi Winery wines, hot apple cider, carolers, Italian cookies, cheese, charcuterie and a visit from Santa Claus.

Paso Robles

Changala Winery Holiday Open House — Paso Robles: 11am - 5pm, Saturday Dec. 3
Enjoy live music, nibbles, great wine and chocolate, all sorts of goodies and fun.

San Francisco and SF Peninsula

Best of California Cabernet Tasting — K & L Wines, Redwood City: 1 - 4pm, Saturday, Dec. 3
13 Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2008 vintage, including Dominus, Staglin, Quintessa and Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To-Kalon. [I'll be there and hope to see you.]

Shypoke Cellars tasting — Que Syrah Wine Bar, San Francisco: 5 - 8pm, Saturday Dec. 3
Peter Heitz will be pouring four wines from his current vintage.

Sierra Foothills

Deaver Vineyards Holiday Open House — Plymouth: 11am - 5pm, Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 3, 4
Nibbles, recipe ideas and wine tasting.

Sonoma County

Siduri/Novy Family Holiday Open House — Santa Rosa: 9am to 4pm, Saturday Dec. 3
Celebrate the Holiday Season with a large selection of wines, many offered at special Holiday prices, plus gourmet nibbles (at least as gourmet as we get), and prizes for the ugliest Holiday outfits.

Sonoma Valley Wine Market — Sonoma: noon to 4pm, Saturday Dec. 3
Unprecedented access to over 35 Sonoma Valley wineries all in one place!

Townley Wines Holiday Party — Sonoma: 1 - 4pm, Saturday Dec. 2
They will pour tastes of our new wines and serve light appetizers with lots of holiday cheer. [Randy Townley's wines aren't widely known, but I've really enjoyed his Pinot Noir and Syrah over the years. Try to get out there to taste them if you can. - Fred]

Kenwood Vineyards Art, Food and Wine Experience - Kenwood: 2:00 - 3:30pm, Saturday & Sunday Dec. 3, 4
Taste exceptional Cabernet Sauvignons while learning and viewing the renowned Artist Series Collection. These are tours, so you should reserve a spot and arrive at or before the stated start time.

Annual Catalan Holiday Luncheon at Gloria Ferrer — Sonoma: 11am - 2pm, Sunday Dec. 4
A special Catalan-inspired holiday luncheon featuring traditional Spanish feast with a sparkling wine reception. [I can tell you from personal experience that Gloria Ferrer knows how to put out an excellent spread!]

Southern California

Best of California Cabernet Tasting, Session 1 — K & L, Hollywood: 1 - 3pm, Saturday, Dec. 3
Robert Craig, Lewis Cellars, Phelps insignia, Dominus and more.

Best of California Cabernet Tasting, Session 2 — K & L, Hollywood: 4 - 6pm, Saturday, Dec. 3
Robert Craig, Lewis Cellars, Phelps insignia, Dominus and more.

Winter Wine Classic — Santa Barbara: 4 - 7pm, Sunday Dec. 4
A grand tasting of nearly 100 classic California wines.


Do you or your favorite winery have an upcoming event involving Northern California wine? Event organizers can publicize it in's Event Calendar. It's easy and it's free. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of Livemore Valley Wine Growers. All rights reserved.

California's Greatest Wine Grape?

In his blog yesterday, Steve Heimoff made a convincing argument for Chardonnay being California's greatest grape. I respectfully disagree though.

Of course dubbing one grape greatest is hard and something that there will never be majority agreement on. It's like naming the world's best guitarist or the world's best breed of dog. Fortunately, in the case of California wine grapes, there are few serious candidates from which to choose. In order to make a claim on the title "best in the state," I think the grape should be one that is grown widely throughout California. And I believe it should be a grape that is made into good wine on average, not just by the top 5% of the state's wineries. Those criteria cut out most of the varieties grown here. I would say only Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon are in the running.

Merlot can be great, but is far too often mishandled. Syrah has a lot of potential, but a lot of work still needs to be done in finding the best areas and techniques for growing it. Sauvignon Blanc has a lot of potential and there are some excellent ones out there, but not enough. There are still too many wineries, and wine drinkers, that don't take it seriously.

While Pinot Noir has been produced at very high-quality in California for decades, it's only been in this first decade of the 21st century that it has become on the states most popular wines. Unfortunately, with the rush to increase volume and take advantage of post-Sideways demand, sufficient care has not always been taken when selecting vineyard sites, tending those vineyards and making the wine. There is some fabulous Pinot Noir out there and the average level of quality is improving year after year. But I don't think it's good enough yet to take the title.

Zinfandel is the wine most uniquely identified with California. At its best, Zinfandel is deliciously charming when young and, after 30 years of bottle age, can be hard to distinguish from old Bordeaux. Zinfandel in California is also distinguished by the number of 100+ year-old vines still in use.

I have two primary arguments against Zinfandel being California's greatest grape. First, It's not taken very seriously outside of the United States. There are many people within California that would consider it our greatest. Outside of California, and especially outside of the United States, few would. It's not among the "noble grapes" of Europe and is often seen as quaint and juicy American oddity rather than a serious wine. The other reason I lean away from Zinfandel is that I think it's a wine grape that is, in most cases, best blended with others. There are some fine 100% Zinfandel wines. More often, though, it is substantially improved by adding a bit of Sangiovese, Petite Verdot, Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. Many of the best old vine Zinfandel wines are actually field blends.

My main argument against Chardonnay is that is not made at high levels of quality frequently enough, especially at moderate price points. Too many of the mainstream wines just aren't very good. I haven't tasted as broadly as Steve Heimoff, but my sense is that there is more good Cabernet Sauvignon from California at less than $30 than Chardonnay.

My vote for California's greatest grape goes to Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a very long history in the state and is widely-considered by non-Californians to be what our wineries do best. Our Cabernet Sauvignon has it's share of detractors around the world, but so do all of our other wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is also the California wine that receives the highest scores from wine critics. One may disagree with individual critics or scoring methods but I believe they need to be taken into account. They drive public opinion and sales. And they taste so many bottles of wine every year from all over the globe that I believe credit must be given to their choices.

Chardonnay is a much more neutral grape than Cabernet Sauvignon. If treated properly, it can let more terroir show through. However, when not treated ideally, it can be too easily dominated by oak or over-softened by malolactic fermentation. Cabernet Sauvignon falls victim to excessive oak as well, but at least it has the power to fight back.

Cabernet Sauvignon also has the capacity to be very expressive of terroir, whether it be on an AVA level or on a vineyard-by-vineyard basis. People contrast mountain and valley Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. That's far too general of a delineation. Which mountain? Which part of the valley? Which soil, which facing, what slope, etc.? All of these variables make a huge difference in the final wine. And those differences between the wines, on top of their quality, makes the grape California's greatest.

We'll never agree on the answer, but it's fun to have the discussion. Do you agree with me or with Steve, or do you have a different choice entirely?

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.