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Category Archives: alexander valley

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 2 – Clos du Bois, Trione, and Alexander Valley Vineyards

If life is full of disappointments, Alexander Valley is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Robyn and I had been invited to attend Experience Alexander Valley, and we were looking forward to our Sunday Experiences; Yoga in the Vineyard for both of us in the morning, and a Spa Treatment in the afternoon for Robyn. Alas, a few days before the event, Rosie, from Alexander Valley Winegrowers contacted us to let us know that, because not enough guests had signed up for those two Experiences, the host wineries were forced to cancel them. Fortunately, however, there were plenty of exciting Experiences available from which we could choose.

So, Sunday morning we headed to Clos du Bois winery for an exploration of Marlstone Through the Years. When we arrived, our host, Chris, greeted us in the tasting room with a chilled glass of Lightly Bubbled Chardonnay; a delightful and refreshing unoaked, frizzante wine, perfect for the warm day. Thankfully, the previous day’s record heat had abated, and Sunday was more seasonal in the mid-80’s, so our tour of the demonstration vineyard, with chilled Chardonnay in hand, was quite pleasant.

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You may know Clos du Bois; their “Classics” series wines are widely distributed in wine stores and supermarkets across the country. What I didn’t know, and you may not either, is that in 1978, Clos du Bois was the first winery in Sonoma County, and only the second in California, to produce a Meritage wine. Contrary to popular belief, the word Meritage is not French, and is not pronounced as a French word. Meritage is a term coined by a group of American vintners to identify American made, Bordeaux-style blends. The term is a conjunction, representing Wines of Merit, Vines of Heritage. The pronunciation rhymes with Heritage – as “Meri-tidge.”

Clos du Bois’ Meritage wine is called Marlstone. As Alexander Valley is a prime Cabernet Sauvignon region, Marlstone is dominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot as the secondary component. However, in any given year, the blend can include some or all of the other five noble grapes; Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Here’s where the real fun began!

After the vineyard tour and some barrel tasting, Chris escorted us into a private tasting room where we got to taste through all five components, and the finished Marlstone 2014. Once we had our baseline, we got to create our own blend to see how close we could come to the winemaker’s version. Each component was spectacular on its own, and it was amazing to experience the changes as we blended them in the glass. I don’t know how the others did, but my blend was nowhere near as good as the Marlstone!

After lunch, Robyn and I parted ways again so we could cover more Experiences for you. (You’re welcome!) Robyn spent the afternoon at Trione Vineyards & Winery for a Bocce Ball Tournament, while I enjoyed a mountain-top Cabernet Sauvignon tasting at Alexander Valley Vineyards. Here’s Robyn to tell you about her Experience:

When I arrived at Trione, anticipating the Bocce Ball Tournament, they welcomed me outside with a glass of their tasty 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. I sipped on the cool, crisp Sauv Blanc under the trellis, parallel to two Bocce courts. I sat with Henry Trione, son of the founders, and learned about the family and winery history. Trione Vineyards & Winery was established in 2005. The winery building was completed in 2008. The winery is located next to an historic 1908, beautiful stone building, which the family restored and is now an event center.

As the Bocce Ball Tournament got started, since Kent was across the valley, I needed a partner. Luckily, as promoted, there was a handsome instructor to teach me the rules. I was quickly “adopted” by wine club member, Meredith, and her husband. For a while, we were in the lead. Although not a Bocce veteran, I do enjoy a good game of corn hole, and my accuracy is not too bad. I think my dead-eye aim came in handy on the Bocce court!

Adding to the friendly vibe, throughout the tournament, we sipped on Trione Rosé of Pinot Noir 2017. It was so good; I had to bring a bottle home to share with Kent. It’s a crisp and refreshing wine, and the perfect thirst quencher on the Bocce court. Sadly, our luck didn’t hold, and we lost the round. No worries, it was super fun and it’s always all about the company. Oh, and the wine! Cheers!

While Robyn was getting her Bocce on at Trione, one of Alexander Valley’s newer wineries, I headed across the valley to one of the older wineries, Alexander Valley Vineyards. There, Head of Operations and Family Partner Harry Wetzel met us for a history lesson and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Alexander Valley is named after Cyrus Alexander, who settled in the area in 1840. Fast forward to 1962, when Harry and Maggie Wetzel (our host’s grandparents) bought a portion of Cyrus’ original homestead. In time, they planted a small vineyard, and in 1975, their son Hank produced the first vintage of Alexander Valley Vineyards wine.

As we toured the property, Harry took us to The Adobe, the oldest structure in Sonoma County, and one-time home to young Cyrus Alexander. We also saw the old, 1868 Alexander School, a one-room schoolhouse, moved from its original location, just down the road, in 1972. Finally, Harry drove us up to a mountaintop picnic bench, set with a flight of Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted through the 2016 Estate, the 2015 Organic, the 2014 Reserve, the 2012 Single Barrel, and the 1999 Wetzel Family Estate. I normally gravitate to slightly younger wines, but the 18 year old 1999 was amazing; mature, soft and subdued, yet still retaining juicy fruit notes. (Yea, I bought some.) I don’t know which was more amazing; the fantastic wines, the breathtaking view, or having 45 minutes to visit with the family partner of such an historic and wonderful winery.

As we headed down the mountain back to reality, I got Robyn’s text that her Experience was winding down. Back across the valley, I picked up Robyn and we reluctantly headed home. We enjoyed our time at Experience Alexander Valley, and have a new love for the region. We will definitely be back!

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Be on the lookout for next year’s event. We encourage you to come and Experience Alexander Valley for yourselves. Please. We really want to do Yoga in the Vineyard next year!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1, Part 2 – deLorimier Winery

I arrived and deLorimier a little bit early for the Sensory Experience. Kent had to drop me off and get to his experience across the valley. As I waited for the event to start, I enjoyed walking in the beautiful courtyard and nearby grounds, while sipping on a glass of deLorimier’s 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, that the tasting room staff had brought out for me.

I was first greeted by Ben, the shy vineyard dog. He hesitantly approached me, and dropped a piece of wood, with the apparent expectation that I would throw the wood and engage in a game of fetch with him. Owner and winemaker, Diane Wilson, explained that once you engage with Ben, you’re on the hook.

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The two other guests arrived, and we were escorted into a beautiful, private tasting room. My eye was drawn to the tables, which were hand-made by a local craftsman, and made from old wine barrels cut in half lengthwise, filled with corks and some deLorimier wine bottles, and covered with glass. I love artistic expression! Our tables were set with a blind tasting, complete with black, non-transparent wine glasses. I’d never done a sensory experience, so I was really excited to see what I would learn, and how I would do in the blind tasting.

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We were presented with five paper strips, each with a particular essential oil scent. It was at that moment, that I was wishing Ben could be my wingman. As a dog, according to Diane, Ben has 300 million olfactory receptors, as compared to humans, who only have 6 million. Nevertheless, I put my sniffer to the test.

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First, we took a sip of each wine, to identify only whether it was a red or a white. If we wanted to throw out a guess at the varietal, we could. They were all room temperature, to make it more complicated. I got all the colors right, although I mistook their Rosé for a Chardonnay. (They didn’t say there could be a Rosé in there.) I smelled each of the scents, and one by one, matched them to the wines. I must say, I surprised myself; I was close or right on many of the aromas and varietals.

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The most exciting part of the experience was the food pairing. Chef Donna Parsons prepared the most delectable dishes to pair with each of the wines. That was our last challenge: pairing each dish with the appropriate wine. Luckily, she made it easy and presented left-to-right. But, still, I picked correctly with each wine and food pairing!

During the experience, Ben was by my side the whole time. I would kick his piece of wood a short distance, and then he would pick it up, bring it back, and drop it on my foot until I kicked it again. I think he was my lucky sensory partner! Maybe Ben was my wingman after all.

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After this amazing experience, Kent and I met up, grabbed some lunch, and then enjoyed a Cabernet Sauvignon and Chocolate pairing at Stonestreet Estate Vineyards. You can read about that in Part One of our series.

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Later that evening, we returned to deLorimier for a Blues concert. The concert was an added bonus, included with our event tickets! The band was Brad Wilson & the Rollin’ Blues Thunder Band, and they were amazing! Kent and I got the dancing going, and pretty soon the dance pad was full.

With great music and dancing, delicious food catered by Jimtown Store, and deLorimier wines, it was a great way to end an amazing day in Alexander Valley.

  • By Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael and Kent Reynolds

Experience Alexander Valley, Day 1 – Medlock Ames and Stonestreet

It was with eager anticipation that we set off on our journey to the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. We’d been invited as guests of Alexander Valley Winegrowers*, and based on all we’d heard about this new event, we knew we were in for something special. We wrote a couple of preview pieces, which if you missed them and want to catch up, you can read here, and here. But the previews don’t come close to capturing the magic and adventure that Experience Alexander Valley delivered.

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* As guests, our event admission was complimentary. We received no other compensation or incentive. All descriptions, opinions, and reviews are our own.

Like many wine country events, this was a two-day adventure. Unlike many wine country events, rather than racing from winery to winery, guests got to choose two Experiences per day. Since we were invited as bloggers, to cover and promote the event, Robyn and I wanted to participate in as many Experiences as possible…to a point – we do enjoy each other’s company! So we decided “divide and conquer”, at least for a couple of Experiences. We each selected one Experience per day to fly solo, and one to attend together.

Saturday dawned clear and bright. And warm.  Weather forecasters predicted highs near 103F, and they weren’t far off. This meant that many outdoor Experiences had to be canceled or at least modified. Nevertheless, we were undaunted and headed from our hotel to Robyn’s first destination, deLorimier Winery. I’ll let Robyn tell the story of her Experience herself. Watch for her blog post in a few days.

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I had a bit of a drive to get to my first Experience, at the Medlock Ames Winery. Though they have a tasting room on the valley floor, they wanted to treat guests to a Sustainable Winemaking Experience at their vineyards and production facility. The drive was beautiful, along the east side of the valley, then up Chalk Hill Road. The thing that struck me most: No Traffic! I was virtually alone on a Saturday morning in Wine Country.

Turning onto a single lane road, I started to get a little nervous that my trusty Google Maps might have failed me. It was a paved, single lane road, so that was hopeful. Alas, my trust in Google ran out two hilly ridges in. I turned around, beginning what would be a 30 minute detour that ended up taking me right back where I was. Around a curve about 100 yards beyond where I’d turned around was the entrance to Medlock Ames. Sigh. I’d done it to myself, and was almost 45 minutes late!

Fortunately, friendly Isabella saw my plight and left her post in the tasting room to rescue me. She came out into the already 90+ degree day, and caught me up with the small group on the outdoor tour. Isabella handed me off to Chelsea, who was leading the two other guests, Jimmy and Maryanne, on a tour of the grounds.

Medlock Ames is a sustainable, organic winery, and includes a one-acre vegetable garden, and a one-acre fruit garden. Due to the heat, we were not able to walk to those gardens, but still got a brief overview of the property and history. Chelsea led us to the shade of a large tree at the edge of a vineyard. There she told us that the two acres of vines were looking at were nearly ripped out when owners Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard had been planted by the previous owner, a sheep rancher, and nobody knew what variety they were. Ames, the head winemaker, was hesitant, however, and decided to walk the vines before excavation. He found a tag on a vine, from a nursery in New York. After a call to the nursery and some research, and they found the answer: Merlot. But not just any Merlot. These vines are Jefferson clones; descendants of vines that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson brought from France to his Virginia estate! With that kind of pedigree, the former Tulane University roommates decided to leave the vines in.

All Medlock Ames are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit. The winery is fully solar powered. Of the 338 acres on the estate, only about 55 acres are farmed, leaving the rest of the land to its native flora and fauna. There are more than 800 olive trees, five retention ponds for irrigation, and at least 50 barn owl boxes on the property. To help conserve energy, the barrel room is underground, below the production facility.

Speaking of the barrel room, where better to continue the tour on such a hot day? After a brief visit among the fermentation tanks upstairs, we ventured down into the 55 degree cellar to meet Ames, and enjoy some barrel tasting.

The beauty of the Experience Alexander Valley event is that the three of us had about 30-45 minutes of interrupted time with the head winemaker. (I was enjoying myself too much to keep track of time.) We could ask whatever questions we wanted, and he took the time to answer in a way we could all understand. You don’t get that on a party bus tour!

Ames is clearly passionate about what he does, and is very knowledgeable. He thieved us samples of their 2017 Lower Slope Chardonnay, the 2017 50 Tons Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2017 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2017 Secret Ingredient Malbec. Each of the wines has a nick-name, and a story. The Kate’s and B’s is named after Chris and Ames’ wives; Kate is Ames’ wife, and B (stands for Bradley) is Chris’ wife. They chose the very best grapes from the very best vineyards to make the wine with their wives’ names on it. Smart men!

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From the cellar, we walked back up to the tasting room where Chelsea hosted us in a wine and cheese pairing. The cheeses are all local, Sonoma County artisan cheeses, and paired each of the wine amazingly! I’ll let the pictures tell the story here.

As we were finishing up, I got Robyn’s text letting me know her Experience was over, and she was ready for me to come get her. So I didn’t have time to explore the preserves, marmalades, and olive oils they make with estate fruit. No worries though; that gives me something to look forward to when I bring Robyn on our next visit!

After a quick lunch break, we headed to our next Experience, this time together. Turning up the tree-lined drive to Stonestreet Estate Vineyards, we were taken with the beauty of the property. Here, we were to enjoy a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Originally scheduled outdoors on their beautiful patio overlooking the valley and nearby Mayacamas Mountain range, they thankfully relocated the tasting indoors, in their air conditioned tasting room.

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We were greeted by DTC (Direct to Consumer) Manager, Michelle, and our host and guide for the day, Tasting Room Manager, Samantha. Having never heard of Stonestreet before, we were in for a bit of a surprise.

Video credit: Stonestreet Estate Vineyards

Stonestreet Estate Vineyards owns a large chunk of the Mayacamas Mountains we had admired as we entered the property. 5500 acres, to be more specific. Yet of those 5500 acres, only 800 acres are planted to vines. Committed to sustainable and environmentally friendly winemaking, when the owners purchased the land in 1995, they conducted wildlife studies; migration patterns, breeding grounds, etc. and planted around those areas so as to not disturb the native wildlife. This also helps to keep the critters out of the vineyards. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is part of Stonestreet Farms, located in Kentucky. Stonestreet Farms breeds thoroughbred race horses, very successfully, including such standouts as Rachel Alexandra (depicted in the beautiful statue on the grounds.) The founder of Stonestreet Farms was Jess Stonestreet Jackson. Jess Jackson. Yes, the Kendall-Jackson Jess Jackson! Surprise! Who knew?

Now on to the chocolate and Cabernet pairing. Some might think that it is difficult to pair chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon, and it can be. The wine is often too tannic to work well with the creaminess of the chocolate. But Stonestreet sent samples of the wines for the pairing to the local pastry chef they’d commissioned for the event. She, in turn, created the chocolate confections to match each of the wines. It was exquisite! While it was hard to select a favorite, if forced, I’d say mine was third from the left, the Chocolate Budino with huckleberry compote. Robyn fell in love with the Opera Cake (second from left) made with dark chocolate genoise, espresso cream, and topped with a sprig of lemon thyme. Each of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons paired perfectly with the chocolates.

Running a little ahead of schedule allowed Samantha to give us a brief tour of the barrel room, and some photo ops. We also had a chance to sample their Meritage, Bordeaux-style red blend. Made from all five of the noble grapes, it was amazing!

 

And that’s it. Just two Experiences per day. I’ve prattled on long enough for now, and we’ll cover Sunday later. Robyn will write about her solo Experiences in separate post, too. Oh sure, there was the fantastic blues concert at deLorimier Saturday evening, but Robyn will write about that in her first Experience post.

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The biggest takeaways for us on Saturday were these: One, Alexander Valley is a hidden gem; a peaceful wine oasis mere minutes from the crowds and bustle of Napa. There was virtually no traffic all weekend, and no crowds, either. Sure, the heat may have kept some away, but Sunday was much cooler and yet no more crowded.

The other takeaway was this: though the lack of crowds was nice, Experience Alexander Valley was noticeably under-attended. Experiences had capacity for up to 24 guests. Of the four I attended, two had only three guests, one had four, and one had seven. Intimate to be sure, but really, folks, come out next year and let’s make this an event, an Experience, worth repeating! You’ll remember your Experiences forever.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, unless otherwise noted.

Reminder: Experience Alexander Valley

Hi gang! Robyn and I hope you enjoyed our post about the upcoming Experience Alexander Valley event coming up June 23 and 24. If you missed it, you can read it here. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

All up to speed? Great! Experience Alexander Valley is a wine region event like no other. There’s no frenzied rush to make it to as many wineries as possible; no party busses; no palate fatigue. Instead, each of the two days of the event, you will enjoy two experiences at two wineries. These will be unique, intimate experiences limited to just 24 guests at each location. With such intimate experiences, they will also be quite personal. You will have the opportunity to have real, genuine conversations with the winery owners, family members, and winemakers.

If this sounds like your kind of experience, you’d better hurry! Ticket sales end this Wednesday, June 20, at 9 p.m. Surf on over to the Experience Alexander Valley website to reserve your tickets! Experiences are filling up, so you need to act quickly to get in on the action!

This will be a fun and memorable weekend experience. We hope you can join us!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael

Come Experience Alexander Valley

Show of hands, how many of you have been on one of those wine region weekend events? You know the ones. A single fee gets you a wrist band and a plastic glass (or actual glass stemware if it’s a swanky affair) and you power through two days of as many wineries and tastings as you can manage. Elbow-to-elbow, fighting your way to the tasting table, desperately trying to catch the eye of the winemaker so you can ask a couple of questions, trying to stay one winery ahead of that fleet of party busses with all…those…drunk…fun-loving…people! Of course I exaggerate. Honestly, these are fun events that allow you to try a number of different wines and wineries in a short period. But let’s be honest; they’re exhausting. OK, you can put your hands down, people are starting to stare.

On June 23 and 24, 2018, Robyn and I will be attending a different kind of regional wine event. We’ve been invited, as guests of the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association, to attend the first annual Experience Alexander Valley. What makes this event so different? Glad you asked…

For years, the Alexander Valley Winegrowers Association hosted a regional event like so many others. This year, however, they’ve decided to revamp the event and create a whole new…well…”experience.” This will be nothing like the fast-paced and frenzied tasting events you’ve attended in the past. 20 wineries are participating. Each guest selects two…yes, two…winery experiences each day. Yup, that’s it. You don’t get to try and pound through all 20 wineries in two days. The participating wineries will provide their own small, unique, and intimate experiences for guests. Each experience is limited to just 24 guests. No more jockeying for position just to get a 2 ounce taste. Here, you can have an actual conversation with the farmers and winemakers! Morning experiences start at 10:00 a.m., so you can still sleep in a bit. Afternoon experiences begin at 2:00 p.m.; plenty of time in between for a hearty wine-country lunch, or maybe even a little siesta!

So, what are these experiences they are offering? How about Pizza Making & Wine Experience at Francis Ford Coppola Winery? Maybe a vertical Cabernet Sauvignon flight at Silver Oak’s new Alexander Valley winery and tasting room is more to your liking. Interested in learning how to make sausage, and then grill ‘em up and eat ‘em? Sign up for the Sausage Making class at Hawkes Wine. Do you have a talent for art? Sutro Wine is offering a Hike, Sketch, and Sip experience. And who doesn’t love a good Corn Hole competition? White Oak Vineyards & Winery is hosting one. These are just a few of the experiences you can enjoy if you come out and join us June 23 and 24. The complete list, with descriptions, is available at the Experience Alexander Valley website.

Hold on a second, Robyn wants to tell you what she’s looking forward to at Experience Alexander Valley.

Did someone say “Yoga in the Vineyard?” I’m looking forward to breathing in some fresh, Alexander Valley air and getting my chakra on in the vineyard, at Hawkes Wine on Sunday Morning. I’m not sure if my yoga attire is suitable for wine tasting afterward, but, heck, I’ll throw in a change of clothes, just in case. I’ve always wanted to do Yoga in the Vineyard, and now I can. Namaste.

Kent is the wine guru; I just know what I like. I’m really looking forward to the Saturday morning Sensory Experience with Diane Wilson at deLorimier Winery. During this experience, I’ll be able to understand my preferences based on olfactory and flavor sensations, and learn food and wine pairing tips. I love learning more about wine and why I like what I like.

As a treat on Sunday, I’ll be able to experience Hanna Winery for the second time. My first time there was exquisite. We went there on an excursion during the Wine Blogger’s Conference, and enjoyed a wonderful meal and tour with the winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, and winery president, Christine Hanna. My second experience will be a Spa Day with Wine Country Botanicals. YES! Just saying, I’m a girl who loves pampering, and I love the wines at Hanna that I’ll be sipping on during the Spa Day, most notably their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. What a way to end a great weekend of Alexander Valley Experiences. Cheers!

Those are going to be some exciting experiences! While Robyn is enjoying her sensory experience Saturday morning, I’ll be learning about sustainable winemaking at Medlock Ames. Saturday afternoon, we’ll meet up for a Cabernet and Chocolate Pairing at Stonestreet Wines with estate wines and local, artisan chocolates. We’re together again Sunday morning for Yoga in the Vineyard, and then we’ll split up again and while she is getting the pampered treatment at Hanna Winery, I’ll be headed to Alexander Valley Vineyards to enjoy a Cabernet tasting with family partner Harry Wetzel.

We hope you can make it out to Alexander Valley on June 23 and 24, for a unique, intimate, and actually relaxing, regional wine tasting event. Tickets are available on their website.

After we return from our weekend, we’ll follow up with posts about all six of the experiences we enjoyed. Stay tuned!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael