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20+ Wine Events for the Weekend, January 13 - 15, 2012

Now that all the New Year's hoopla is over and the consequent hangovers are past, Northern California wineries are celebrating winter. Those wineries that don't have snow — and most don't — are doing their bit to pretend there are igloos in our future. There's warming wine, hot soup and hotter music. And it's a good thing, because this 60° weather has me wearing long sleeves! But enough about me. Which events will you hit this weekend?


All events listed below are in chronological order within each region. I also recommend checking the increasingly jam-packed events calendar at for future events. Some require advance reservations or ticketing. Others offer early-bird discounts.


Anniversary Celebration Concert at Heritage Oak Winery — Acampo: Saturday, Noon - 4pm
Bob Stanley and Random Jazz will offer covers of tunes from the 60's and 70's. The concert is free but there's a charge for wine and food.

Wine Pairing with the Pasta Queen at Fields Family Wines — Lodi: Saturday, 3 - 7pm
Enjoy three pasta dishes paired with three Fields Family wines.

Mendocino County

Hopland Case Sale Event at McFadden Winery — Saturday, Hopland: 10am - 5pm
For one day only, McFadden will be offering killer deals by the case.

McFadden's Second Saturday — Hopland: Saturday, 10am - 5pm
On the second Saturday of each month, McFadden's tasting room offers a yummy "food treat" and a discount on a particular wine.

Napa Valley

Winter in the Wineries — Calistoga: Ongoing through February 5
The Calistoga AVA is offering free tastings for the next month to holders of a Calistoga passport, available for $50.

Winter White Wineland at Girard — Yountville: Saturday, 1 - 5pm
The tasting room will be pairing hearty snacks with a flight of wines.

Paso Robles

The Wineries of 46 East present Esprit du Vin — Paso Robles: Saturday, 5:30 - 7:30pm
Twelve wineries gather for an exciting night of wine, cheese and appetizers.

Blending Seminar at Sylvester Winery — Paso Robles: Sunday, 11am - 2pm
Join winemakers Jac Jacobs and Michael Barreto to learn all about the craft of blending wines. You'll make your own blend and enjoy a light lunch.

Sierra Foothills

Be a Nut for a Day at Vino Noceto — Plymouth: Saturday and Sunday, 11am - 5pm
Okay, this is not an invitation to break out your Jerry Lewis impressions. Vino Noceto's wine club is called the Nut Club. (You can ask them why when you're there...) Anyway, every weekend in January, Vino Noceto will be giving non-Nuts the same treatment that genuine Nuts get. So go nuts and enjoy limited release wines, etc.

Winemakers' Dinner at the Imperial Hotel — Amador City: Friday, 6:30pm
A five-course dinner will be served alongside top Sierra Foothills wines as judged by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Taste with the Winemaker at C G DiArie Winery — Plymouth: Saturday, noon - 4pm
Winemaker Chaim Gur-Arieh will walk you through his flavorful yet elegant wines.

BBQ and Music at Feist Wines — Amador City: Saturday, 3 - 6pm
BBQ chicken, salad and chocolate with Feist Wines. Free for club members.

Cooper Vineyards Pruning Demonstration — Plymouth: Sunday, noon to 2pm
Get a pruning demonstration from owner/grower Dick Cooper,, then compare the early stages of the 2011 vintage with the recently released 2009.

Sonoma County

Winter Warm Up Party at Windsor Oaks Vineyard — Windsor: Friday, 11am - 5pm
Enjoy Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir with Truffled Mushroom Bisque. Check out the art of Tara Heffernon and an educational display put together by the cellar team.

Live Music at Garagiste Healdsburg — Healdsburg: Friday, 6 - 7:30pm
Steve Pile and Marcus Owen will play an acoustic set at one of Healdburg's coolest hangouts.

Darrel Corti on "The Italian Wine Spy" at Trione Winery — Geyserville: Friday, 7pm
Vintners' Hall of Famer Darrel Corti will be discussing the lasting importance of a book by Guido Rossati who "spied" and reported on the American wine scene a century ago. This is a benefit for the Sonoma County Wine Library.

Winter Wineland at Wineries in Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley: Saturday and Sunday, 11am - 4pm
Meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, new releases or library wines and enjoy special hospitality from the wineries of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley.

Art, Food & Wine Experience at Kenwood Vineyards — Kenwood: Saturday & Sunday, 2 - 3:30pm
By appointment tours at Kenwood Vineyards that include their Cabernet Sauvignon, deftly paired snacks and Kenwood's collection of original art.

Southern California

A Central Coast Wineries tasting at Campanile Restaurant — Los Angeles: Sunday, 10am - 5pm
15 Central Coast wineries will be on hand, offering over 30 wines from all over the Central Coast AVA. This event is at the restaurant, but is not a lunch or dinner.

Pasadena PinotFest Winemaker Dinner at Altadena Country Club — Altadena: Sunday, 6pm
6 courses, 6 chefs, 6 winemakers, 20 wines

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.

Original content Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo by Hansueli Krapf. All rights reserved.

Terroir is Money

A truly unique product feature or benefit is a very powerful selling tool. Coca Cola and KFC safeguard their recipes more carefully than some countries do state secrets. Billions of dollars (in aggregate) are spent each year by companies applying for and defending patents, trademarks and the like. Packaging and advertisements often put more focus on these selling points than they do the brand behind them.

Terroir is exactly this type of tool for wineries. Almost by definition, the terroir of every vineyard or block is unique. No two plots of land can have exactly the same combination of soil composition, mesoclimate, microclimate, orientation to the sun, microbes, etc. Though I wrote otherwise, satirically, in a April Fool’s Day article “Terroir To Go,” terroir cannot be duplicated or transplanted. Many wineries use this to their advantage.

It may seem that terroir is a feature that comes to wineries for free. The earth and sun are simply there. On the contrary, terroir can be a very costly feature to “implement.” Since every terroir is different, and some are perceived to be better than others, there is a corresponding difference in the prices of the real estate involved. Buying a vineyard with a great reputation, or simply buying grapes from such a vineyard, can easily cost at least five times more than it would to work with a less prestigious vineyard.

In contrast to many unique product features that cost a lot of money to invent, terroir is mostly pre-existing but can cost a great deal to maintain. At nearly every step in the grape-growing and winemaking processes, choices are made that can either increase or decrease the extent to which terroir shows through in the final wine. Many of the choices made to highlight genuine terroir result in increased costs and/or diminished volume. For example, allowing the grapes to grow too large and juicy, which increases production volume, dilutes the flavors. Strong flavors from inexpensive barrels can easily overwhelm important nuances of the juice. There are hundreds of other examples.

When wineries make these pro-terroir decisions, they do so in the belief that it will eventually increase the quality and value of their product or because they have a strong philosophical leaning toward terroir-centric wines. But philosophy doesn’t put food on the table, so even the fiercest terroirists need to make their investments pay out.

European wineries have been particularly successful at using terroir to both increase the value of their wines and secure what some people see as a moral high ground. These producers have convinced many consumers that you can almost literally taste the famous vineyards of Europe. Some might even imply that the terroir is somehow only evident in European wines or that wines without evident terroir are not genuine.

The concept of terroir have also been used to justify flavor profiles that some people might otherwise find unattractive. And though some of these flavors or aromas could be eliminated, or at least moderated, by slight changes in the vineyard or winemaking practices at a particular winery, those choices are sometimes resisted because they might be perceived as masking the “genuine” terroir. While not a common practice, terroir can be valuable to a winery in this respect because it allows them to sell as a feature what might otherwise be considered a flaw.

Some wine “experts” are convinced that top quality wines cannot be made in California due to issues of terroir: its weather is too hot, its soil too fertile and its... name your excuse. Such generalizations are absurd. However, the success such arguments have had shows the strength of terroir as a sales and marketing tool.

The power of suggestion is very high when it comes to evaluating food and drink through tasting. However unconsciously, people tend to find those flavors, aromas and levels of quality that they have been led to expect. Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, has done a number of interesting studies that prove this to be the case. (Here’s a link to a YouTube synopsis of one such study).  Many more can be found in his excellent book, Predictably Irrational.) So, “selling” terroir not only offers both intellectual and romantic arguments to consumers for a wine’s superiority, it can work its way into the consumers’ subconscious mind and lead them to experience whatever claims have been made.

To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that terroir is a myth or the cynical creation of wine marketeers. Though there is no universal consensus on exactly how to define what variables combine to constitute terroir or the exact mechanisms that result in any particular wine’s characteristics, the general concept is both valid and useful. The fact that the concept makes intuitive sense and that differences in wines from different vineyards can be easily and consistently perceived in blind tastings compounds its value to wineries.

Terroir is more than a romantic notion and more than the sensory signature of a vineyard. Terroir is an important differentiating feature for wines and something that wineries put a great deal of effort and money into cultivating.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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 outour 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.

What is the Value of a Wine?

Value is important. We all want to get a good deal on things we buy. We don’t want to feel we’ve overspent by a few dollars, let alone experience the disappointment of paying way too much for something. We read reviews to guide our purchases. We ask friends for their advice.

Wine reviews aren’t perfect though. No review can tell you exactly what your impressions of a wine will be. Reviews can’t even provide a complete picture of what the critic experienced. Words are not sufficient. Add to this the facts that individual bottles of wine vary from one to the next, that wine changes over time and that the environment in which we taste a wine impacts our perception. Assessing value based solely on a review and a price point is very difficult.

There is more to wine than aromas and flavors too. Unlike other beverages, or virtually any product that might be considered a commodity, a good wine is unique. A glass of Pepsi or a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino looks, smells and tastes almost the same every time we drink one. This consistency can be comforting, but such products rarely bring back memories of a particular occasion on which we drank one previously. Good wine does do that. It can be a landmark leading to a specific memory. And, since wine is often — and best — consumed with family or friends, those memories can be very rich. To me, the richness of those memories can add value to a given wine beyond whatever sensory pleasures it provides.

I opened a “bonus bottle” of wine for my tasting group the other day. A bonus bottles is something I pour for the sheer enjoyment of the wine once a serious, all-business tasting is over. After nine Chardonnay and Chardonnay-pretenders from around the world, we were ready for some red wine. Everyone enjoyed the bonus wine. It was rich and fruity, yet interesting. Plush but structured. A young wine, it didn’t offer a lot of complexity but its sensuous pleasures were a great way to end the evening.

As our glasses neared empty, someone asked me what I paid for the wine. I told them the price. “That’s kind of high,” she said. “Would you buy another bottle at that price?” “Yes,” I said. “I bought a three-pack.” “Would you buy it again at that price,” she persisted. It was a simple question on the surface but I saw the potential for layers of answers. I couldn’t answer it directly just then.

Why was it such a hard question to answer? I believe that a given wine can become very personal because of its uniqueness and the memories with which it can become intertwined,. But that personal aspect of a wine doesn’t extend to other people who don’t share the same frame of reference.

A professional photographer told me the difference between a snapshot and a great photograph. A snapshot is only meaningful to those people who have direct, emotional ties to the memory it depicts. A great photograph can make anyone at all stop and say “Wow!” Great wines are like great photographs. But, if a given wine also evokes the personal memories of a snapshot, it has even more impact. To me, the bonus wine was both.

The wine tasted and smelled great, a hedonistic pleasure. And it will age. But it also brought back memories: memories of visiting the winery and various conversations with the winemaker over a period of years; memories of my having taken friends to that winery where they tasted the wine for the first time with me; memories of them loving the wine and wanting to buy it; memories of the rest of that day together in wine country. In me, it also created anticipation of future visits with those friends and, ultimately, their stories of when and where they opened the bottles they purchased for themselves. The wine will develop over time, as do friendships, but it will always be “that” wine.

So, would I recommend that someone else buy the wine at that price? It’s a very good wine. If I thought they would iike the style and could afford it, I would recommend they try it.

Would I recommend that someone in my tasting group buy it at that price? I think the wine is reasonably-priced given it’s low production-volume, high quality and region of origin but, on a purely objective level, one can probably find equal degrees of yummy or more distinct terroir for less money. And I can’t put my memories in someone else’s glass. They have tasted the wine and know their own budgets. It’s their call.

Would I buy a similar, but different, wine at the same price? Perhaps, though I'm currently in a mode of drinking from my cellar rather than adding more wine to it.

However, if the question was truly personal and specific, my answer is clear. Would I buy that wine again at that price? Yes. I would buy that wine again. And I would pay more for it.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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 2010 NorCal Wine. Frappucinno is a registered trademark of Starbucks. All rights reserved.

Tasting the Wines of Andrew Murray Vineyards

During my recent trip to Santa Barbara County I stopped in at the tasting room of Rhone-variety specialist Andrew Murray Vineyards. The tasting room, conveniently located on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos, is sleekly modern with surfaces of bright white, gleaming glass and chrome accented by splashes of color. Wine is the clear focus but there are a few other things on sale too, from gourmet chocolate bars to wine accessories. The tasting bar accommodates four stools and one or two standing customers. There’s additional seating along the side walls. It's open daily from 11am to 5pm.

Winemaker Andrew Murray             Photo: Andrew Murray Vineyards

Andrew Murray’s tasting room manager kindly accommodated me before regular open hours, so I was able to focus fully on the wines. They are reasonably priced, ranging from $16 to $36, and all are bottled under screwcap and in light glass to reduce the carbon footprint. Quality was very good across the board.


2012 Andrew Murray RGB Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, $25
This blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc straddles two worlds to good effect. There’s plenty of fruit but also mineral, full-bodied viscosity but freshness and silky texture. Aromas include peach blossom, spice, citrus rind, mineral and a chiffonade of herb. The weighty palate brings long-lasting, cool-climate flavors of under-ripe stone fruit, peach pit and mineral. Highly Recommended

2012 Andrew Murray Viognier Santa Maria Valley, $25
The Andrew Murray Viognier smells like a carefree summer’s day: frozen peaches, cotton candy, spice and citrus blossoms. There’s more frozen peach on the nearly full-bodied palate along with peach skin, lime and grapefruit pith plus minerality. Notable acidity and a fine powdery texture keep it clean and interesting. The mineral-dominated finish is lengthy. Recommended+

2011 Andrew Murray Syrah Thompson Vineyard (Los Alamos Valley, Santa Barbara County), $38
This deeply-colored Syrah smells deliciously of black cherry ice cream with a hint of herb and baking spice. The seductive palate is nearly full-bodied with moderate, fine-grained tannins and flavors of black cherry, briary blackberry, spice and mocha. Good length. Now through 2017. Highly Recommended

2011 Andrew Murray Syrah Three Creek Vineyard, Happy Canyon, $36
A very fruit-forward Syrah, the Andrew Murray Three Creek offers festive boysenberry, blackberry and baking spice on the nose. That follows through—at length—on the medium+ palate along with earth and moderate talc-like tannins. Straight-forward and but very tasty. Enjoy through 2015. Highly Recommended

2010 Andrew Murray Syrah Terra Bella Vineyard Paso Robles, $36
This site, near Paso Robles’ Adelaida District, brought ripe cherry ice cream, baking spice, vanilla and a hint of herb on the nose. The flavor of espresso is added to the mix on the palate which is medium+ in body. Tannins are moderate and talc-like but drying and cut into the finish. Try it with juicy grilled lamb chops or smokey baby back ribs. Highly Recommended

2012 Elleven Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley, $16
Elleven, it’s name an allusion to the famous Spinal Tap line, is an Andrew Murray brand focused on delivering value with varietals for which quality is elusive under $20. The Pinot Noir exceeds expectations, pleasing with plentiful, varietally-correct flavors. Brown spice leads earthy red cherry and dry herb on the nose and palate. The body is medium+ with talc-like tannins on the lean side of moderate. Juiciness balances the package. Recommended

2012 Elleven Big Bottom Red Blend, Santa Ynez Valley, $16
This wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, is not as broadly-proportioned as its name suggests but will get you farther on a date than singing the song in a girl’s ear. The gregarious nose lures you with currant leaf, black currant, mocha and red cherry. Flavors of red cherry, dark berries, spice, mocha and scattered dry leaves string you along. Moderate, talc-like tannins provide enough resistance to keep the chase interesting. Recommended

2012 Elleven Unplugged White Blend Santa Ynez Valley, $16
The name Unplugged is apt for this restrained blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. The medley of bell pepper, spice, gooseberry and lime salt struck a familiar chord but didn’t command my attention. Though the medium+ body satisfied and its light texture had raspy-voiced charm, the overall production didn't get me dancing.

Andrew Murray Vineyards offers other wines, including the Esperance Red Blend, a Mourvedre varietal and other single-vineyard Syrahs, but I didn’t taste them on this occasion.

Interpreting my wine ratings


Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The reviews above reflect my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

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 2013 NorCal Wine. The Andrew Murray Vineyards logo is a trademark of Andrew Murray Vineyards. All rights reserved.

Winemaker Karl Wente Judges Iron Chef America Battle on December 4

I’m a fan of the Iron Chef America series. I enjoy seeing what some of the best chef’s in the world (and their talented teams) can do with a “mystery” ingredient. The show exposes me to some chef’s and restaurants I’ve not been aware of previously too. I also appreciate the focus on food and the craft of cooking instead of interpersonal drama.

There are two things I don’t see enough of on Iron Chef though: wine and West Coast judges. Perhaps it’s been done, but I’ve never seen Iron Chef America use wine as the secret ingredient. And, while West Coast chefs are frequent contestants — and chefs Elizabeth Faulkner and Michael Chiarello are currently battling on The Next Iron Chef — judges from this region are uncommon. San Francisco’s Martin Yan has made appearances, but he is really focused on Asia. There have been many entertainment celebrities too, some of whom are based in southern California. But they don’t speak to our food scene.

This Sunday, one of those issues will be remedied. There will be two Californian judges for the Holiday Battle between Iron Chefs Morimoto and Michael Symon. The judges will be Karl Wente, winemaker at Wente Vineyards, bi-coastal TV chef and author Candice Kumai plus Iron Chef veteran Donatella Arpaia.

I don’t know the secret ingredient. But it won’t be wine. It’s a shame to bring a winemaker onto the show and not take advantage of his particular expertise. And wine is a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into both savory and sweet dishes. But Karl Wente is there due to the Food Network’s joint venture with Wente Vineyards on the “entwine” wine label, not because this particular show will have a wine focus.

Karl_Wente_vineyards-cropNonetheless, I think Karl Wente will be more interesting than most of the non-culinary guest judges. He’s got an excellent technical background: a Chemical Engineering degree at Stanford and Masters degrees from U.C. Davis in horticulture/viticulture and food science/enology. He has been in charge of all of the winemaking at his family’s Wente Vineyards for several years. Prior to that, he worked for Peter Michael Winery and at Brown Brothers in Australia.

Fortunately for Iron Chef America viewers, Karl Wente is not just a wine and chemistry geek. I’ve seen him do consumer tours at the winery. He’s well-spoken and doesn’t rely on technical jargon. The kitchen in his backyard, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, is arguably the best in eastern Alameda County too. It’s current executive chef, Matt Greco, spent the last ten years cooking at top restaurants in Manhattan, including two New York Times 3-star establishments, Café Boulud and A Voce. So, Karl should be able to make astute comments about the Iron Chefs’ dishes.

I’m looking forward to an entertaining show that gives some well-deserved attention to West Coast palates. And maybe, just maybe, there'll be a glass of wine in there somewhere.

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 of Karl Wente courtesy of Wente Vineyards. All rights reserved.