Laura’s brother was visiting the Bay Area from the east coast and we decided to meet up along with her sister from Walnut Creek in the Santa Lucia Highlands to taste some fabulous Pinot Noirs. San Francisco, Walnut Creek and Atascadero are all about equidistant from the hills in Monterey County.
Most of the wineries along River Road are only open on the weekends so our choices were limited but they were good choices!
We met at Hahn Estates Vineyard which is located at the top of a long driveway through the vineyards and past a duck pond. The trek up the tree-lined driveway is definitely worth it when you reach the tasting room and take in the view. It’s difficult to see but in the middle of the photo along that mountain ridge you can see Pinnacles National Park which is an amazing place to hike.
We sat out on the patio to enjoy our tasting along with a nice meats and cheeses to go along with our wines. It was a quiet afternoon at the tasting room and we were glad to have spend some time chatting with Alejandro who poured for us as made his rounds with the other guests.
The wines were delicious and we each went home with some nice Pinots and my brother even joined the wine club!
When your friend asks if you would like to join him and his wife to pick up a wine club shipment in Los Olivos, you say “yes”!! Los Olivos is located about 75 miles away from our home which is a farther distance than we are used to driving but it’s a beautiful drive nonetheless.
Our friends were picking up their wine club shipment from Brander Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. The winery is tucked away just off Highway 154 along a frontage road. Brander is an unassuming winery if you consider a castle unassuming. The grounds are beautiful with vineyards on both sides and spacious rustic courtyards with plenty of areas to call your own for a picnic.
The tasting room is unpretentious with a nice view of the vineyard from the bar. They had a nice platter of cheese and crackers set out which was very nice. We were served by Jaisey who was very friendly and knowledgeable and willing to answer our questions about the wine and the winery. Fred Brander himself stepped behind the bar for a few moments in his modest working garb without a hint of snobbery.
There were two tasting flights Reserved and Classic. We maximized our tasting experience; Ray chose the Classic flight and I took the Reserved; but we shared tastes. All the wines were good and characterized the Santa Ynez region. From the Reserved list the 2015 au Naturel Sauvignon Blanc made Ray a fan. It had the astringent feel of a Sauv Blanc but a smooth finish and more complex than most Sauv Blancs. It had notes of coconut and fig; and Ray noted the lavender as described in the tasting notes. The Classic list had the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon; what was memorable about this can be best described as the “Pinot” drinkers Cab. It was lighter that most Cabs, but complex and delicious. Not on these lists was the 2014 Syrah. This had to have been one of the best Syrahs we’ve tasted. It’s everything you like in a Syrah, bold, earthy, a little gamey, but complex with flavors that gave you something different at each sip. As a side note, 2014 was the 3rd(some would say 4th) year of the California drought, and this was the golden year for most wines in California as most of the grapes were stressed enough to attain the richness of flavors…especially Syrah. All this aside, the Brander 2014 Syrah was our favorite this day and even went home with a couple of bottles.
If you are ever in the Santa Ynez area, we recommend you stop by Brander Winery.
Thanks to Jean Pedigo of Laughing Dog Cellars I had the privilege of spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Templeton and Paso Robles with wine blogger and author Alder Yarrow. Alder was in town for a book signing of his stunning book “The Essence of Wine“. We started at 15c Wine Shop in Templeton where we shared a delicious cheese and wine plate and a little bottle of Italian bubbly. We visited with a few people who came to buy Alder’s book and have it signed of course. Jean knew Alder from living in the same area of San Francisco but it was my first time meeting him and I really enjoyed hearing about his history and what brought him to where he is now with his enthusiasm and expertise in all things wine.
We packed up everything and headed up to Villa Creek Restaurant where we briefly met Executive Chef Maegen Loring and then settle into our table with the owner and winemaker of Villa Creek Cellars, Cris Cherry. We were soon joined by Carl Bowker, owner and winemaker of Caliza Winery in Paso Robles. We started out with a very nice Villa Creek 2014 Roussanne and Duck Confit Nachos. The table soon filled up with a Clos Solene 2014 Cuvee Jean, Caliza and Villa Creek red wines which were absolutely amazing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the wine world banter that flew around the table with a few laughs and even a vocabulary lesson. I also learned that if you ever want to play a challenging game of Scrabble definitely play with Alder!
If you love beautiful books about wine then please check out Alder’s book The Essence of Wine. If you’re in Paso Robles and love amazing wines do yourself a favor and visit Caliza, Villa Creek Cellars to experience them for yourself. You will certainly want to finish your day in Paso Robles vineyards in charming downtown Paso Robles for dinner at Villa Creek.
Most of our wine tasting experiences over the years are done in “wine country” places. This weekend we were recommended by our friend Aussie to stop by the Orange Coast Winery if we were ever in the Costa Mesa area. What a coincidence that my sister lives in Costa Mesa and we happen to be visiting this weekend.
The winery is in an unassuming business area in Newport Beach, which is in the next town over from Costa Mesa in Orange County. The parking lot in the back accessed the tasting room through a couple of roll-up doors. We visited on a Sunday afternoon and they had a band playing and the atmosphere was friendly and inviting.
After getting situated at the wine bar, we got started of with the Orange Bubbly; which is a sparkling wine that reminded us all of a mimosa sans orange juice, and it was a deliciously cool and refreshing drink on a warm summer day (my sister ended up buying a couple of bottles which paired well with Japanese food).
Most of the grapes were source in the Temecula Valley area. The 2014 Pinot Noir was a bit heavy for a traditional Pinot but I found it complex and it reflected the area from where it came from…and I liked it. The 2013 ES Zinfandel was fruit forward and easy drinking even on a warm summer day. The 2014 GSM carried all the complexity and boldness you would expect from a GSM. This stood well without any food pairing, but would definitely be an ideal bbq companion. My sister Michelle and Laura also tried and liked the various white wine selections 2015 Albarino, 2015 ES White Blend, 2015 ES Chardonnay. We appreciated their small selection of tasty bites available and went with a cheese plate that paired well with the wines we were tasting.
Since our friend is a wine club member at the winery we were able to enjoy the Members Only Barrel Room where we were served a nice refreshing sangria. We were also privileged to enjoy a barrel tasting of the soon to be released Malbec which is only available for wine club members.
If you’re ever in the OC and looking for a nice place to go wine tasting do yourself a favor and check out Orange Coast Winery.
Even though we love our local wineries here in the Paso Robles area, one of our favorite places to visit are the wineries around the Santa Rosa area. Granted we are not as familiar since it is a 5 hour drive north of us. But luck would have it that we had some time after business for a little wine tasting pleasure. Laura’s cousin Kristn, who is a sommelier from Rochester NY, recommended that we drop by Siduri Winery. After tasting the wines, I recommend anyone who appreciates Pinot Noir to visit this place on their next wine tasting trip to the Sonoma County area. I would even venture to say visit Santa Rosa just so you can tastes these wines! I may be overstating it, but taste and see for yourself.
Our experience started as we walked through the door and was greeted by a kind tasting attendant. We unfortunately did not have an appointment but we were graciously accommodated. We tasted the following wines:
2014 SIDURI Willamette Valley Blanc de Pinot Noir – from Oregon, a touch of sweetness but champagne taste without the bubbles
2013 SIDURI Chehalem Mountains AVA Pinot Noir – another Oregon area vineyard
2013 SIDURI Sonatera Vineyard Pinot Noir – from vineyard near the Petaluma gap, a touch of acidity but still balanced and delicious
2013 SIDURI Parsons Vineyard Pinot Noir – this was my favorite from a vineyard near the winery tasting room. Pronounced classical Pinot Noir notes. But in a word…yummy
2013 SIDURI Soberanes Vineyard Pinot Noir – how can you go wrong with these grapes that came from the Santa Lucia Highlands
2013 SIDURI Sta Rita Hills AVA Pinot Noir – near and dear to our hearts these grapes came from the famous vineyards in the Santa Barbara region.
2013 Novy Family Limerick Lane Vineyard Zinfandel – Their Novy label distinguishes their brand for varietals other than Pinot Noir. This is Russian River Valley zinfandel; not as powerful as zinfandels in the Paso Robles area but balanced and fruity.
Weekends in January are a great time to go wine tasting with your girlfriends since it’s likely that your husbands have their interests elsewhere…namely in front of a TV watching football. Two of my friends took advantage of this and ventured out once again to taste the amazing wines of Paso Robles. We like to visit our favorite wineries but we also try to visit ones that we haven’t been to yet.
I tasted Volatus wines a few years ago and was really impressed. Volatus is one of those rare gems in Paso Robles that will make an unforgettable impression on you. The name Volatus means flight which may make you wonder what it has to do with wine. Well, Hal Schmitt, the winemaker and owner was a TOPGUN instructor and the Navy’s air-to-air training expert. Hal is also an expert photographer offering top-notch instruction at workshops and excursions through Light Workshops.
The winemaker and his wife are both wonderful photographers, all around nice people who are passionate about everything they do. The wine along with everything else is an excellent representation of a dedication to distinction.
Victoria and Hal Schmitt
This hidden gem isn’t something you will randomly stumble upon while exploring the wineries of Paso Robles. Volatus doesn’t have a tasting room so in order to experience their wines you will need to make an appointment. Hal and Victoria are wonderful hosts and very interesting to talk to. One of my friends said after we left the tasting “Wow, I learned a lot!”
The tasting list is not an extensive one but the quality of the wines makes up for any perceived lack of quantity! The first wine we tasted was a white, a 2014 “Inside Passage” which is an incredible blend of 68% Viognier, 17% Marsanne, and 15% Grenache Blanc. If I didn’t have a wine fridge full of whites that I won’t be touching til the weather warms up I would have bought a bottle or two.
The next wine on the list is a 2007 Volatus Reserve Red, an excellent blend of Malbec and Syrah which is a velvety smooth delight. This was followed by a 2008 Volatus Reserve Red which is a bold blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah. These wines are exceptional and your tastebuds are likely to become hooked on such Paso Robles goodness!
The final wine we tasted was the 2007 Topgun Cuvee, another big blend of Malbec, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel. This wine is extremely well-balanced and great alone or with just about any food you can think of.
I went home with a 2007 Volatus Red and a 2008 Volatus Red which are both gone in less than a month so I will be needing to revisit these wines soon!
If you venture out to taste these incredible wines be sure to stick around and taste the wines of Midnight Cellars which Hal has a hand in making their great wines also.
Fall is usually my favorite time of year but this year it was particularly wonderful. We made a trip to Pennsylvania and New York with a few friends and had a fabulous time! The weather was actually a lot more typical for what we are used to in California….in the 70’s during the day and in the 50’s in the evenings. We had expected a few days of rain but only had one. The leaves weren’t quite at their peak of turning colors but we got to see them change and the colors were pretty magnificent.
We had hoped to visit a few wineries in the Finger Lakes region and we had some good recommendations from our friend David Wilson of Grape Encounters Radio. In spite of our good intentions we ended up visiting only one tasting room at Heron Hill Winery overlooking Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, NY. Of course we would have enjoyed visiting one or two additional wineries but our days were full and our travels brought us everywhere from the Poconos to Niagara Falls to New York City in ten days.
The drive to Heron Hill Winery is a beautiful one! We ended up missing our turnoff but the Waze App directed us to the winery down a really nice backroad. The winery is situated on top of a hill and surrounded by vineyards and overlooks Keuka Lake. The view from the tasting room is pretty incredible!
Laura and tasting room attendant Madeline
Ray and Laura at Heron Hill Winery with Keuka Lake in the background.
We enjoyed chatting with our tasting room attendant Madeline who was sweet and cheery. The tasting list was 26 wines long with over half of them white wines and the majority of those whites were Rieslings. The reds on the list were Pinot Noirs a Blaufrankisch and a few Cabernet Francs. The wines were a real change from what we have grown familiar with in San Luis Obispo County wine country. Our faves were the Cabernet Francs and the Rieslings and we purchased a 2013 Classic Semi-Dry Riesling and a 2013 Classic Semi-Sweet Riesling. (These two bottles fit nicely in my boots inside my checked baggage.)
Thankfully, Grape Encounters Empourium, our favorite little wine bar in Atascadero carries Heron Hill Winery wines! If you can’t make it to the Finger Lakes wine region of New York, do yourself a favor and stop by the Grape Encounters Empourium and taste the Heron Hill Winery wines.
We rarely venture out beyond Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo and feel perfectly content doing so considering the quality of wines so close to home. (We do hope to make it to Europe some day though)
A few weeks ago we ventured out all the way up to Napa and Sonoma to meet up with my brother and his wife and daughters who were visiting from Pennsylvania. We were a bit apprehensive about visiting the larger wineries of Napa and Sonoma since we consider ourselves quite spoiled by the smaller and more intimate wineries of Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
As always we start our wine tasting adventures with a full belly or at least a full bag of cheese and charcuterie. Ray’s been interested in going to Thomas Keller‘s restaurant in Yountville called Addendum for quite a while so we figured that would be a great place to begin. Our dog Nellie was along with us so we were happy to see that Addendum is located in a park-like setting behind the AdHoc restaurant. We enjoyed some amazing fried chicken unlike any we had tasted before. We brought along a bottle of wine that unfortunately didn’t fare well in the heat as it was well into the 90’s. My brother owns a wonderful restaurant in Ardmore, PA called Barbacoa which serves up some incredible Peruvian style rotisserie chicken along with some other delectable dishes. He really enjoyed the food and talking shop with the staff.
Our first winery, Frog’s Leap in Rutherford caught us off guard right at the end of their driveway when we saw a sign that said something about an needing an appointment. My sister-in-law called the tasting room from the end of the driveway asking if we could get in for a tasting. Thankfully they had room for us for a Garden Tasting so we found a nice table in the shade out back.
My brother chose Frog’s Leap Winery to ensure his daughter’s that watching four adults taste wine wasn’t going to be all that bad. He had heard somewhere that that Frog’s Leap Winery had a petting zoo. When we asked the gal that greeted us about the petting zoo she looked stumped–no petting zoo there but she did tell us that there were a few chickens the girls could visit but to watch out for the rooster as one of them has very sharp talons and is pretty mean. They chose not to see the chickens. The girls were great to have along and had plenty of nearby grounds to explore. The property is really beautiful with lots of seating areas in the shade and surrounded by vineyards full of grapes. We have asked a 2013 Chardonnay, 2013 Zinfandel, 2012 Merlot and 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our next destination was Cakebread Cellars also in Rutherford whose wines my brother and his wife have enjoyed in the past. With the temperatures still in the 90’s our dog Nellie was befriended by Sean Hubbard, the Visitor Center Manager and got the VIP treatment receiving a bowl of water and even enjoyed a nice stay in his air conditioned office while we toured and tasted. Our “tour guide” was Una who had a great Scottish accent and was very knowledgeable and sweet. We got to taste with a nice small group of people and Una made it a really fun experience.
Our first day was crowned with a quintessential wine country dinner experience at friends of my brother and his wife on their property. I’m talking about the kind of dinner around a great big farm table with great wine, amazing food and memorable conversation and lots of laughter under the stars and surrounded by vineyards and giant oak trees.
We spent our last day in Sonoma starting at the beautiful and historic Sebastiani winery. We were greeted by a friendly woman at the door who introduced herself and pointed us in the direction of an open space at the bar with Sam. Sam was also very friendly and we had a great time tasting the delicious wines with her. The winery is one of a kind with wood carvings and great wood everywhere.
Sebastiani winery is a great place to visit for many reasons…the wines, the people, the property and the history!
We finished our day in Sonoma enjoying the amazing views at Ravenswood Winery. We sat at a table perched up on a flat area just outside the tasting room with just enough shade to block the hot sun and a great view of the hills and vineyards. We shared a couple of delicious charcuterie and cheese plates which even included a little pate. Ravenswood Winery is a great place to find a nice selection of Zinfandels. We are big fans of the Paso Robles Zinfandels so it was nice to try some from a different area.
Our visit to Napa and Sonoma was short, sweet and quite memorable and we look forward to returning again soon! Let us know what your favorite winery or winery experience in Napa and/or Sonoma was.
As we were driving away from Wolff Winery in San Luis Obispo on a hot Sunday afternoon, we discussed our next stop and decided on Morovino Winery in Avila Beach with the hopes of finding a cooler climate. Knowing that Avila Beach has been a bit warm lately I called ahead to make sure they were open and to ask a most important question….did they have their air conditioning going? We got the green light on the A/C and headed out to beautiful Avila Beach where we found the temperature to be a refreshing 20 degrees cooler than in SLO.
Morovino Winery recently moved to a new location not far from their previous spot in Avila Beach. Their new tasting room is a little closer to Front Street across from the Pier and is very bright and cheery (like the owners). There is plenty of seating areas and room for a few small groups to stand at the bar. The owners, Andrea and David Bradford are a wonderful, cheerful couple who can usually be found pouring in the tasting room. Andrea was light-heartedly pouring wine for their guests in the seating areas and David poured for us at the bar. David enthusiastically shared with us the history of the winery and his extensive knowledge of wines and answered our plethora of questions.
There is a height difference between the two of them and we will leave that up to you to find out for yourself which of the photos below represents their actual heights (as you can see they are fun loving)
We learned that the Chianti region is predominantly Sangiovese, but in reality, can be any varietal that’s grown in that region of Italy. Speaking of Sangiovese, their 2012 Sangiovese was in a word…delicious; it had all the fixins of a good Sangiovese, spice, lightly fruit forward with a balance of light acid and smooth tannin. Our friend who was tasting with us, has visited Italy somewhat recently, said it reminded him of the Chianti’s he tasted there. And as is our custom, we ended up bringing home a couple of bottles of their 2012 Sangiovese. The rest of their tasting list also deserved mentioning – 2012 Beach Blonde, 2013 Pinot Grigio, 2012 Pinot Noir, all very solid wines. Our friends really enjoyed the 2012 Dolcetto and the Tesoro (which is their version of port made from 4 Portuguese varietals). We’ve always been big fans of Italian varietals and particularly those at Morovino Winery. And we will definitely be back as our favorite guitar player Jon Stephen performs there on a regular basis. This particular Sunday, a wonderful guitarist named David Orr, sang and played some beautiful songs.
The wineries of San Luis Obispo were sounding awfully enticing while we were enduring triple digit temperatures in the northern parts of San Luis Obispo County. We checked out the SLO Wine website to see if any of the wineries were having any fun events on Sunday. We discovered that Wolff Vineyards Winery was having an event they called “Meet the Wolves”…we’re not talking about meeting the Wolff family but actual wolves. They were also having a popular food truck there called The Grilled Cheese Incident out of Los Osos, CA.
We expected to find some cooler weather, a typical Sunday afternoon crowd and some delicious wines. Well we only found one of those things there at Wolff Vineyards Winery! (I am referring to their delicious wines of course). The temperature was in the 90’s and we didn’t see an open seat anywhere, for that reason we decided amongst ourselves that we would come back another time. At that moment a really nice guy came up to us who must have seen the bewildered looks on our faces and offered his table to us as they were just leaving. We settled in to our chairs close by the outdoor bar and were almost immediately greeted by a tall handsome gentleman (I believe his name was Ken)to get us started on our tasting. He started us off with a delicious and refreshing 2012 Old Vine Chardonnay and an equally delicious 2013 Dry Alsatian Style Riesling. These were followed by some wonderful cooler climate red wines with the exception of a delicious blend from our favorite region–Paso Robles-the 2012 Red Wolf comprising of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. We also made a new discovery of a varietal that none of us had heard of before, the Teroldego and we had a difficult time pronouncing (tehr-AWL-deh-go)which is an ancient varietal from the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Northern Italy. We were also informed that they only grow about 3 acres for this grape and it’s grown in only about 100 acres in the America and about 600 acres worldwide – the point is that it is a somewhat rare varietal. The wine was a deep garnet color and had a lively feel on the palate and bold yet soft tannins.
The 2012 Pinot Noir was as expected from this region, a nice Burgundian style with delicious flavors of strawberry and cherry and one flavor that I always tend to appreciate in a good Pinot Noir, just a hint of cola. It was rather superb. The 2012 Syrah and the 2012 Petite Syrah were great and it was cool to experience a wine produced in San Luis Obispo that is so prevalent in the Paso Robles region.
The whole atmosphere at Wolff Vineyards was really friendly and upbeat in spite of the oppressive heat and large crowd. Every staff member that we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful which says a lot under those conditions. We look forward to our next visit.
We finished off our visit of the wolves that WHAR Wolf Rescue brought to the event. She was a beautiful animal and seemed to have a sweet disposition as she was petted and admired by children and adults alike. We went on our way in search of a cooler environment and Avila Beach was sounding really good!