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Category Archives: California

Venturing Out to Wise Villa Winery & Bistro

The weather forecast was daunting. A “Pineapple Express” was about to bear down on Northern California, bringing biblical rains, winds, and flooding. For those of you who don’t live in California, a “Pineapple Express” is a tropical storm system that originates near Hawaii, and barrels eastward carrying heavy rains and warm temperatures. The resulting deluge has been known to melt Sierra snow packs and cause widespread flooding in the Sacramento Valley from the combination of rainfall and snow melt. That was the prediction for the weekend.

Meanwhile, a week-long business trip was on the horizon. Having completed packing, Robyn suggested that, regardless of perilous weather forecasts, we head out to the nearby Placer Wine Trail, and do some wine tasting. There are about 20 wineries to choose from, but I knew right away where I wanted to go. We’ve enjoyed the wines of Wise Villa many times. In fact, on our first date, Robyn and I had a bottle of Wise Villa Tempranillo. So clearly, this winery holds a place near and dear to my heart. Yet, despite its location a just 20 or so minutes from home, I’d never been. This potentially stormy day, that injustice would be corrected.

Wise Villa Winery & Bistro is a family owned estate, situated atop a hillside in rural Placer county, with stunning views of the surrounding valley. They farm over 20 different varietals, producing more than 30 wines. From Albarino to Zinfandel, Wise Villa’s wines are expertly crafted to capture the essence of the variety, and the unique terroir of the Placer County Wine region.

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Our original intention was to visit a few wineries that day, but when we arrived at Wise Villa, and took in the beauty of their Tuscan-style building and breathtaking views, we decided to make an afternoon of it. That Wise Villa is the only Placer County winery with a full-service bistro, complete with gourmet chef, combined with the fact that we hadn’t had lunch, made our decision to stay an easy one.

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With the combination of beautiful views, excellent wines, and exceptional service, it’s no surprise that Wise Villa is the favored destination of local large group outings; work-related team building, bridal showers, etcetera. Sure, the winery and bistro were buzzing with activity when we arrived, but we found a quiet table on the covered patio that overlooked the vineyards and valley, and ordered a bottle of wine to enjoy with our small plates. Service was outstanding, and soon our glasses were full of the 2015 Sangiovese, and our Artisan Plate of cheeses, charcuterie, nuts, and fruit, and a platter of chicken skewers were presented for our enjoyment. And enjoy we did!

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Here are my thoughts on the Wise Villa Sangiovese 2015. (Shhhh. It’s a wine club member exclusive.)

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Rich, ruby color in the glass. On the nose, aromas of ripe raspberry and fresh cherry. The wine coats the tongue with a smooth, rich mouthfeel, and flavors of Rainer cherry, kirsch, and raspberry. Tannins are ultra-soft and smooth, balanced by medium acidity and a long, smooth finish of red fruit and spice. Paired perfectly with the Artisan Plate; especially the blue cheese.

As it turned out, the dreaded “Pineapple Express” failed to make an appearance. Instead, we were treated to cotton-ball clouds, warm weather, and absolutely unbelievable views. We relished in our appetizers and wine, and enjoyed a relaxing Saturday afternoon, and each other’s company.

As the larger groups departed, the tasting room became more tranquil, and our bottle now empty, we ventured inside to explore the rest of the Wise Villa menu. All of the wines were exquisite. From soft, supple whites with perfectly balanced fruit and acidity, to big, bold reds with unique aromas and full, rich flavors.

While tasting, and capturing a few photos for the blog, I happened into owner and winemaker, Dr. Grover Lee. A personable and friendly man, Grover shared his passion for winemaking and pairing good food with good wine. He also informed me he offers guided tours of the winery, and assured me they are like no other winery tour I’ve ever been on. Intrigued, I vowed to return to experience the full journey. In the meantime, there was an early morning flight to catch, so we had to say our goodbyes, with an intention to return soon.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration from Robyn Raphael
  • Photo credits: Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Come Barrel Tasting With Us…In Livermore Valley!

When you think of California Cabernet Sauvignon, where does your mind go? If you’re like most people you probably think of Napa, maybe Sonoma. How about that nice, big, California Chardonnay you’re enjoying with dinner tonight? Carneros? Monterey? Napa? Would you be surprised to learn that both Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have their California roots in Livermore Valley? I know I was surprised!

Livermore Valley Wine Country

Wait. You mean you’ve never heard of Livermore Valley? Don’t feel bad. Many people haven’t. Being from Northern California, I was aware of the area, but never really associated it with wine. Yet, as I started to learn more about this region, I learned that wine grapes have been grown in the Livermore Valley since the 1840’s, and the first Livermore Valley wineries were established in 1883!

Livermore Valley is located east of San Francisco Bay, roughly midway between San Francisco and Stockton, and an easy drive from Silicon Valley. The valley has an east-west orientation that allows coastal fog and marine breezed to roll in, tempering the interior valley’s heat. This results in ideal wine growing conditions, producing exceptional fruit. In fact, Livermore Valley is one of the first regions to receive American Viticulture Association (AVA) status, back in 1982.

Livermore Vineyards

With a long history of winemaking, and innovative pioneers leading the way, it is logical that the greatest wine grape varieties should be linked to the Livermore Valley. Perhaps you are aware that most Chardonnay grapes grown in California come from Wente clones. Well, Wente is a long-standing producer, located in the Livermore Valley. In fact, they were the first winery to produce a varietally-labeled Chardonnay, back in 1936. So you have the Wente family, now in their fourth generation of vineyard management and winemaking in Livermore Valley, to thank for that delicious Chardonnay.

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Similarly, Livermore Valley’s Concannon Vineyards produced the first ever Petite Sirah varietally-labeled wine in 1961. Concannon remains a large Petite Sirah producer; in fact, my first taste of Petite Sirah was a Concannon. What I didn’t know until recently, is that Concannon is more than Petite Sirah. The winery is credited with developing Cabernet Sauvignon clones, which represent approximately 80% of Cabernet grown in California today. In 1965, third-generation winemaker Jim Concannon collaborated with renowned U.C. Davis professor and viticulturist, Dr. Harold Olmo, to develop hearty Cabernet Sauvignon clones. Their work took California Cabernet from fewer than 1,000 acres, to more than 90,000 acres today. The clones they developed can be traced back to the “Concannon Mother Vine” which was imported from Château Margaux, by founder James Concannon in 1893.

Concannon Vineyards

Are you getting excited about Livermore Valley wines? I sure am!

In just a couple of weeks, on the weekend of March 10-11, the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association will host their 10th Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Robyn and I will be there, guests of the Association, and we would love to see you there! The event runs from noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. With more than 35 wineries participating, it will be an exciting weekend of samples, thieving, tasting, and eating. Barrel tasting is an exciting way to explore wine as it evolves over time, from vineyard to bottle. If you find something you like, many wineries will be offering futures sales, so you can reserve some exceptional wine at a pre-release discount. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah, you can taste varietals you may never have had the opportunity to sample before, such as Primitivo and Alicante Bouschet.

If wine isn’t your thing, there will also be Livermore-area breweries sampling beer, and distilleries offering tastes of their spirits. It’s all included with your wristband, so go out on a limb and try something different!

Want to start your day with something hearty to eat before you get to winetasting? Consider attending one of the Barrel Tasting Brunches at 11 a.m. Each day, two wineries will partner with local restaurants to host fabulous brunches on the winery grounds. On Saturday, you can choose from Garré Winery & Garré Café Brunch, or Las Positas Vineyards & Zephyr Grill & Bar Brunch. Sunday’s offerings are hosted by Retzlaff Vineyards & Salt Craft Brunch, and Ehrenberg Cellars, The Singing Winemaker & Liberation Foods Brunch. The choice is yours you cannot make a wrong decision wherever you go!

For the more artistic in your crew, enjoy the 15 hand-painted wine barrels that will be on display at participating wineries. If you see one you particularly like, you can buy raffle tickets for the chance to take it home.

Painted Barrel

Just one of 15! Photo Credit: lvwine.org

Whether you come for the wine, the beer, the spirits, the food, or just the scenery, the 10th Annual Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend will be an event to remember. You can get tickets at lvwine.org. We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

Lesser Known AVAs: Shenandoah Valley

My how time flies! It’s been almost a year since my first post on the Sierra Foothills AVA. When I wrote that piece, I had the grand idea of showcasing each of the five sub-appellations that comprise the Sierra Foothills: North Yuba, El Dorado, Shenandoah Valley, Fiddletown, and Fair Play. Alas, such is the life of a hobbyist blogger. Work, family, and life in general get busy, and grand ideas get set aside. It has taken some time, but I was finally able to make it to Amador County wine country recently to conduct some “scientific research” for this continuing series. It was arduous, but I’ll do whatever it takes for you, dear reader, to provide what I hope is interesting content.

As I lamented in my earlier post, the Sierra Foothills area is, in my opinion, an underrated and underappreciated wine region. Often flying under the radar of major wine publications, the wineries here are producing wines that rival bigger, better known producers and regions. Fortunately, the Sierra Foothills received some recent exposure when nearby Lodi hosted the 2016 Wine Blogger’s Conference. Although I was unable to attend, I’ve read some great posts from fellow bloggers on the field trips that were offered to the foothills. Several of the winemakers and owners I spoke with on my recent daytrip also commented on the visits, and appreciate the attention the conference gave to the region. Still, it is with some trepidation that I go on; for fear that too much exposure will spoil the tranquil, picturesque wine region located in my own back yard. Nevertheless, I wish nothing but success for these amazing wineries and wines, so I must shout my praises from the rooftops. Well, at least from my living room.

Amador County is home to two of the five Sierra Foothills sub-appellations; Shenandoah Valley and Fiddletown. These two neighbors adjoin one another, and while I did briefly venture into the Fiddletown AVA, my focus this day was the Shenandoah Valley.

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The Shenandoah Valley is perhaps the best known Sierra Foothills wine region. It is the most easily accessible, and perhaps not coincidentally, is home to some of the larger and better known Sierra Foothills wineries. Many producers in the Shenandoah Valley, like Renwood and Montevina, have grown large enough to distribute their wines nationally, and perhaps internationally. In fact, some time ago I opened a Costco-branded Kirkland Signature Amador Zinfandel, and was surprised to find the Renwood Winery logo on the cork. That’s a testament to success!

Just outside historic Plymouth, a gold-rush era town, Shenandoah Road intersects State Highway 49. A short drive up Shenandoah Road, and around a hilly curve, and you are greeted by lush vineyards and stunning views. The majority of the wineries in the Shenandoah Valley AVA are located along Shenandoah Road or Steiner Road, which loops off Shenandoah Road, meeting it again a little further up. There are some 31 wineries located in the Shenandoah Valley AVA. Most are small, family owned operations, and it is not uncommon for the winemaker to be the owner, or the owner’s son, daughter, or other relation.

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Since the early days of the California Gold Rush, this area has produced wine. Originally, vines were planted by enterprising emigrants to supply alcohol to the thirsty miners who came to strike it rich. Zinfandel vines were found to thrive here, so that became the dominant varietal. Today, some individual vines can be traced back more than 150 years to those pioneering days. Other varietals have since been added to the region; mostly Italian and Rhone grapes that thrive in the warm, dry climate. The west slopes of the Sierra Foothills afford abundant sunshine during growing season, and summertime temperatures that can hit the low 100’s help to create ripe, fruit-forward wines.

Like all of the Sierra Foothills wine regions, the Shenandoah Valley AVA’s natural beauty equals, or dare I say, even exceeds that of the more famous California regions. Certainly Shenandoah Valley lacks the crowds, traffic, and commercialization of those internationally recognized destinations. Many wineries still offer complimentary tastings. Those that do charge generally limit it to $5, and that is waived with the purchase of just one or two bottles. (Many Napa wineries are now up to $30 or more, and waiver requires signing up for the wine club, a commitment of several hundred dollars per year.) Even the bottle prices are much more affordable, typically less than $30 for spectacular, award-winning wines.

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Photo Credit: helwigwinery.com

Winemaking here waned as the Gold Rush petered out. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the potential for this region was noted, and commercial wineries established. Early wineries such as Deaver Vineyards and Sobon Estate are still going strong, and are joined by relative newcomers like Andis (est. 2010) and Helwig (est. 2011). The growing popularity of wine among the younger generation, and the trend away from exclusivity and pretentiousness in wine has driven the rise in popularity and demand.

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Deaver Vineyards

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Sobon Estate

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Helwig Winery

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Andis Winery

The atmosphere at the wineries in this area vary from traditional, down-to-earth, and intimate, to state-of-the-art, hip, trendy, and vibrant. Some offer tours, including a Farm-to-Glass Vineyard Tour at Vino Noceto. Click the link to read my post on my recent experience and learn more. To attract even more people to the area, including non-wine-drinkers, Helwig Winery built an amphitheater along with their winery. They host a summer concert series each year, attracting some big name performers and plenty of fans, who are introduced to the beauty, and deliciousness, of the area. No matter your preference, you are sure to be greeted warmly, and will taste some underappreciated, world-class wines.

If you are thinking of visiting, the closest airport is Sacramento (SMF). Check out the Amador Vintner’s Association website amadorvintnerlogofor trip planning help and tips. Come to the foothills, check out the wines and history, and enjoy the stunning scenery. You’ll be glad you did!

Old World v. New World Cabernet: A Total Wine & More Event

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Total Wine & More bills itself as “America’s Wine Superstore.” I would have to agree. The first two times I walked into a Total Wine store, I walked out empty handed. It was simply overwhelming. Those of you fortunate enough to live near one of their 135 stores in 18 states know what I mean. They stock more wine, beer, and spirits on their shelves than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. Simply walking through the store can be disorienting to the uninitiated. I recommend hiring a guide. If you’re ever in the Sacramento area, drop me a line and for a small fee (a bottle of sumpin’ sumpin’) I will gladly help you navigate the labyrinth.

Like so many retailers these days, Total Wine has a loyalty rewards program; they call the Total Discovery Program. Basically, you earn points for each dollar spent in the store. You start at the “Select” level, which basically gets you coupons. Rack up enough points and you level up to the “Reserve”, then “Grand Reserve” levels. At these levels, you receive discounts on products and classes, and invitations to complimentary Members-Only events.

But this post is not intended to be free advertising for this magical place. Rather, it is about an event I attended there yesterday evening. reserveApparently, even though most of my wine comes to me via online retailers, I buy enough product from Total Wine to have recently achieved “Reserve” level status. Thus, I received an invitation to their Sip & Mingle event, The Great Cab Debate: Old World vs. New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Not one to turn down an opportunity to taste world-class wine for free, I naturally submitted my RSVP accepting the invitation.

As one might imagine, this event pitted four Left Bank (Cabernet based) Bordeaux against four California Cabernet wines, in the spirit of this year’s 40th anniversary of the famous Judgment of Paris tasting. This was not a blind tasting, and as the name of the event, Sip & Mingle, implies, it was as much a social evening as a wine tasting. At these events, participants are encouraged to chat, socialize, and nibble on the snack foods provided. Sure, there were a couple of serious wine tasters present, who stood quietly in a corner sipping, spitting, and jotting notes without interacting much. But for the most part, the 20 or so people there relaxed at the tables and enjoyed the wine and conversation. It was certainly a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday evening.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What about the wine?” Ah, yes, the wine. Most of my Bordeaux experience has been Right Bank, Merlot based, so I was anxious to try some of the prestigious Left Bank Chateau creations. These hailed from the Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, and Pauillac appellations. The California wines included one from Paso Robles, and three from the general Napa Valley AVA. In order of recommended tasting, here’s what I thought of them:

Sextant Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2014

01-sextant-paso-robles-2014Brick red, ruby rim. Nose of blackberry and red currant. Flavors of blackberry, red currant, black pepper and spice. A little hot but smooth tannins. Long, spicy finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Château Pierre de Montignac Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2011

02-chateau-pierre-de-montignac-medoc-2011Brick red, ruby rim. Plum and earth on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, sour cherry, soft oak, and spice. Bone dry with firm tannins and a medium finish.

Retail $19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Courtney Benham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011

03-courtney-benham-napa-2011Purple color with brick rim. On the nose, green bell pepper, light blackberry, and dusty earth. Blackberry, black plum flavors with soft, smooth tannins and light acidity. Medium finish with berry and white pepper.

Retail $24.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-87 points)

Château Landat Vieilles Vignes Haut-Médoc 2012

04-chateau-landat-vieille-vignes-haut-medoc-2012Ruby color. Nose of raspberry and blackberry. Flavors of ripe raspberry, plum, red currant, earth, and spice. Supple tannins, medium acidity, and a medium, spicy finish.

Retail $29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Christophe Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

05-christophe-limited-edition-napa-valley-2012Purple color with ruby rim. Aromas of ripe blackberry and soft oak. On the palate juicy blackberry, cassis, and white pepper. Super soft tannins and light acidity. Medium finish of dark berry.

Retail $35.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion Pessac-Léognan 2009

06-chateau-larrivet-haut-brion-pessac-leognan-2009Deep purple color with ruby rim. Nose is fig, mushroom, and cedar. Flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and black plum. Soft, velvety tannins and balanced acidity with a long, fruity, spicy finish.

Retail $39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (88-91 points)

Baldacci IV Four Sons Fraternity Napa Valley Red 2012

07-baldacci-four-sons-fraternity-napa-valley-2012Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of blackberry, bramble, cassis, and a hint of licorice. On the palate, blackberry, cassis, black pepper, and spice. Rich and fruity, with soft tannins and balanced acidity. Long finish with berry, cocoa, and spice. My favorite of the evening.

Retail $46.99

4.5 out of 5 stars (91-94 points)

Château d’Armailhac Grand Cru Classé Pauillac 2012

08-chateau-darmailhac-pauillac-2012Ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, herbal notes with green bell pepper and blackberry. Flavors of blackberry, bell pepper, earth, spice, and cedar. Still young, the tannins are edgy and its a little acidic. This one needs a few more years in the cellar.

Retail $44.99

3.5 out of 5 stars (85-57 points)

This was a fun evening. Although not a blind tasting, it was interesting to compare Old World v. New World Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Overall, as in ’76, Napa won the evening. At least for me! I look forward to my next invitation to a Total Wine & More Sip & Mingle event!

Review: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This is the first review in my Judgment of Paris wines series. I came up with the ridiculous idea of sampling recent vintages of each of the 10 reds and 10 whites represented in the famed blind tasting of 1976. This will probably take a couple of years to complete, but they say it’s good to have goals, right?

Freemark Abbey was one of 11 wineries representing Californian wine at the 1976 blind tasting event. In addition, Freemark Abbey has the distinction of being the only producer to have wines represented in both the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) and whites (Chardonnay/White Burgundy) competitions. The wines entered were hand-selected by the organizer, Steven Spurrier. Each of the wines chosen were considered the best of the best, and was selected over hundreds of others. So even though the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon placed 10th out of 10 entries, it’s still a very impressive showing.

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Photo Credit: FreemarkAbbey.com

 

Freemark Abbey has no connection to nuns or monks, or any religious institutions for that matter. Nevertheless, the winery has an intriguing past, with many notable mileposts. Freemark Abbey Winery’s history dates back to 1886, when Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built a redwood cellar on the site, becoming the first female winemaker in the Napa Valley. 12 years later, in 1898, a friend of Ms. Tychson named Antonio Forni bought the winery. He renamed it Lombarda Cellars in honor of the Italian town of his birth. Forni constructed the winery building which still stands today. The current name came about in 1939, when three southern California businessmen bought the winery. Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert “Abbey” Ahern combined their names to form Freemark Abbey. Of course the role Freemark Abbey had in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact that event had on the Napa Valley, remains one of the winery’s crowning moments.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2012

Here’s my review of this historic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

I decanted the wine for a little over an hour. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, and cassis, with soft oak. As the wine opened up, the luscious aromas filled the room, and some light violet scent emerges. On to the tasting! This is a rich, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blackberry, cassis, black plum, mild oak, and pepper. The tannins are soft and smooth. The berry and oak flavors continue into the medium-long finish, with the addition of some baking spice and dark chocolate. There is also a little lingering alcohol on the finish. Paired well with grilled ribeye and roasted rosemary potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Total Wine & More: $32.99

So, one down, 19 to go! Now it’s on to the next one. Wish me luck!

 

A Cabernet is a Cabernet. Or is it?

Cabernet Aisle

Not all wines are created equal. There are many variables that can affect the quality and profile of a wine; from weather conditions, to the quality of the grapes harvested, to the winemaker’s skill. Some wineries create their wines for specific demographic markets and price points. Large scale productions may want to make affordable wines that appeal to a mass audience, by blending grapes from different locations to achieve consistency year after year. Boutique wineries may craft single-vineyard wines that highlight the unique characteristics of the region’s soil and climate- the terroir.[1] These are just two examples of different winemaking philosophies and goals that can result in dramatically different styles from the same varietal.

While the information in this post applies to all varietals, I am partial to Cabernet Sauvignon, so that will be my reference and examples throughout. Also, though Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over the world, my focus is on California, because that is where I live, and the wines I know best.

I was at my local Total Wine & More store a few weeks ago, partaking of their weekly wine tasting. They were pouring two Cabernets; one from Sonoma, and one from Lodi. A couple at the tasting bar next to me was enjoying the wine, but they were asking questions that made it clear they were relatively new to the wine experience. They did not understand why two wines made from the same grape, both from California, would taste so different. Always eager to educate people about wine, whether they want it or not, I talked to them about the differences in climate, terrain, and soil and that influence the resulting wines. (They appreciated the tutelage…or so they said.)

Climate

Both Sonoma County and the Lodi Region (in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties in the Central Valley) are in Northern California. While both regions have a lot in common, they have their differences, too. Perhaps most notable is that Sonoma is a coastal county, whereas Lodi is inland. Several mountain ranges separate the two regions, isolating Lodi from the cooling marine influences found in Sonoma.

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Sonoma Wine Region

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Lodi Wine Region

Although I can personally attest that both Sonoma and Lodi can be darn hot in the summer, Sonoma can get a bit cooler at night from the influence of evening ocean breezes. This cooling can make a difference in how grapes taste, with the Sonoma grapes ripening slightly slower and later. I find that Lodi Cabernet is often bursting with ripe fruit flavors, because of the hotter growing season, while Sonoma Cabernet tends to be more restrained and nuanced.

Terrain and Soil

Wine grapes grow best when the vines are stressed.[2] This sends the vine into survival mode, and causes the roots to dig deep to find water. As the roots dig and locate water, they absorb minerals from the soil. Soil in different regions has varying mineral composition and density. The influence of these minerals in the grape causes variations in taste. This is the terroir that we wine geeks talk about. Terrain and location also play a factor. Grape vines like hillsides. An east-facing vine gets morning sun and evening shade, but west-facing vines get the afternoon heat. Thus, terrain and location affect the speed and timing of ripening.

Blending and Labeling

What many casual wine drinkers don’t realize is that winemakers blend to achieve their desired result. It surprises a lot of people to learn that, in the United States, a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon need have only 75% Cabernet in it. The other 25% can be any combination of other varietals, used to soften harsh tannins, or add structure, or simply to achieve a desired taste profile.

Carnivor California

The other key factor with blending and labeling has to do with the region, appellation, or American Viticultural Area (AVA.) Once again, labels can seem misleading. Laws relating to location designations vary, depending on the designation. If a label identifies a wine as a California Cabernet Sauvignon, then 100% of the grapes used in production must have come from California. CaliforniaMap(For other states, that requirement is just 75%)[3] However, this means the grapes could have been grown all over the state, from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Amador, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, or any other location. These grapes are processed and blended to produce the wine. This regional blending eliminates any sense of terroir, but results in smooth, easy-drinking wines.

If the label specifies the AVA (Lodi, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc.), including sub-appellations (Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Calistoga, etc.), 85% of the grapes must have been grown in that AVA.[4] This allows for blending of up to 15% of grapes from other regions. Again, this blending is used to balance and improve the wine. However, with AVA designated wines, dominated by local grapes, will retain the characteristics that made those regions great.

Oak Grove CaliforniaNoble Vines LodiRodney Strong SonomaProvenance Rutherford

I Just Want My Cabernet

For many wine consumers, none of this matters. They just want a Cabernet and don’t care where it comes from. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I live by the motto: Drink What You Like. Yet, if you want to learn more about wine, compare different bottles of the same varietal. Grab a California Cabernet, in which the grapes could have been grown anywhere in the state and blended. Compare that with a Lodi Cabernet, grown in the hotter Central Valley, or one from cooler Sonoma County. Finally, splurge on a sub-AVA specific Cabernet from the Napa Valley region, like Rutherford, for example. Or explore Oakville, or Calistoga. Take your pick. Now that you have three or four wines for comparison, prepare some hors d’oeuvres, invite some friends over, and have yourself a tasting party. I predict you will be surprised at the differences between the wines. Yes, same grape, but different location, different terroir, and different blends. Let me know in the comments what you think, and which you like best.

Cheers!

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[1] http://www.terroir-france.com/theclub/meaning.htm

[2] http://www.wineanorak.com/struggle.htm

[3] https://napavintners.com/wines/how_to_read_a_wine_label.asp

[4] http://www.wine-searcher.com/wine-label-usa.lml