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Category Archives: Sonoma County

An Excursion to Hanna Winery & Vineyards #WBC17

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Our Wednesday evening drive over to Santa Rosa for the 10th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17) was dark and rainy. We were unsure what to expect when we awoke Thursday morning for our excursion to Hanna Winery and Vineyards; other than an exciting and educational winery tour, and delicious catered meal with wines to match, of course.

Thursday dawned dry and only partly cloudy. It was a perfect day for a trip to wine country. As we rode on the bus out to Alexander Valley and the Hanna Winery and Vineyards Tasting Room, we saw the results of the devastation of the fires that had ravaged the area just weeks before. Yet we also saw the rebuilding that had already begun. With the sun peeking through the clouds, we could almost feel the hope and resilience we saw around us.

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The drive through the autumn colors of the vineyards was breathtaking, and turning up the driveway to climb the hill to the Tasting Room we were taken by the beauty. Hanna Winery and Vineyards sits atop a hill with a 360 degree of the surrounding valley. The views were amazing! As we entered, we were greeted by friendly, smiling staff with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Soon, our host, Christine Hanna welcomed us and provided some history of the family winery.

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Founded in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna, Christine’s father, the land was originally planted to French Colombard grapes. Soon, the family discovered that the land was well-suited to other grapes that could be crafted into world-class wines. As the operation grew, Christine took the reigns as president in 1993, and has continued to lead the way as the winery has grown and expanded its influence.

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Hanna Winery and Vineyards wines are estate grown on three vineyards in the area. In the Russian River Valley, the flagship Home Ranch Vineyards grows Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on its 25 acres, while Slusser Road Vineyard, 50 acres in size, is planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Red Ranch Vineyard, in Alexander Valley, is 88 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Bismark Mountain Vineyard, high in Sonoma Valley in the Moon Mountain AVA, grows Zinfandel and Bordeaux varietals.

Christine related the story of how, in an effort to develop the Bismark Mountain Vineyard site, she had to overcome the challenges of accessing a high mountain site without the benefit of such amenities as roads and electricity. Helicopters were involved, and she was successful in bringing this spectacular vineyard into existence.

Christine introduced us to Hanna’s winemaker, Jeff Hinchliffe, who took over the presentation and eventually led us down to the fermentation and barrel room on site for some barrel tasting. Jeff has been the winemaker since 1998. He explained how the varying terrain of the vineyards influences the flavor and profile of the grapes and wines. Jeff is clearly passionate about winemaking, while remaining distinctly humble. Jeff says that “wine will make itself, if you let it.” Jeff is especially enthusiastic about Malbec. He says Malbec wines are easy to make, but the grapes are not easy to grow. Still, he and Hanna Winery are quite successful at it, and produce a number of Malbec varietal wines. In addition, their Cabernet blend contains 25% Malbec.

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Perhaps the highlight of the barrel tasting was our opportunity to sample one of the rarest vitis vinifera grapes in the world. Once common in Bordeaux wine production, St. Macaire was virtually wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic, and thought to be extinct. However, St. Macaire was not ready to be relegated to an historic footnote. Jeff discovered that a nearby vineyard had a half-acre planted to the grape. The vineyard owner provided some cuttings, and Jeff planted a half-acre of St. Macaire at Hanna. They plan to release their first vintage of this wine soon, but we were able to get a taste of the still-developing juice. The wine is inky purple, nearly black in color. Though still very young, with high acidity and tight tannins, the wine was aromatic and flavorful. At this stage, there were significant green, spicy, vegetal notes along with some black fruit. Jeff asked around the room for descriptors. Responses included cassis, eucalyptus, and menthol. I hope to get a sample of the finished product once bottled and released.

Back upstairs and into the tasting room, it was time for a delightful lunch. The table was exquisitely set, and the multiple stemware glasses at each place setting spoke of good things to come! The meal was exquisitely catered by Chef Heidi West, with each course paired with one or two Hanna Winery selections.

The meal was superb, the setting spectacular, and the hosts unparalleled in warm hospitality. Enjoy the photo montage of the meal, and try not to drool on your screen!

FIRST COURSE PLATED

2015 Hanna Russian River Chardonnay

Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Toasted Sliced Almonds, Pickled Red Onion and Warm Bacon Dressing

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MAIN COURSE FAMILY STYLE

2015 Elias Pinot Noir/2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Porchetta with Salsa Rosamarina, Soft Creamy Polenta with Fresh Corn, Marscapone, Pecorino and Parmesan

Haricot Vert with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt

DESSERT PLATED

2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Fresh Raspberries

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If you are in Sonoma County wine country, it’s definitely worth a trip to visit the fantastic people at Hanna Winery and Vineyards. Take in the spectacular views, and enjoy some amazing wines.

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Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
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Pulling the Cork on WBC17

It was a dark and stormy night.

Snoopy

That seems an appropriate way to open a story about a trip to Santa Rosa, home to the Charles Shultz museum. Charles Shultz, of course, was the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, and everybody’s favorite beagle, Snoopy.

Our “easy” drive to Santa Rosa was hampered by the first significant rain storm of the season. The roads were slick, and glare from oncoming headlights was blinding, so everyone was driving extra cautiously. And slow. But we made it, and spent the last three days enjoying the activities and adventures of the 10th Annual Wine Blogger’s Conference, #WBC17.

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It was our first time attending WBC, but it will not be our last! It was a fun, informative, and engaging event. This post will be a general overview of events, with more detailed posts of the highlights in coming days and weeks.

Our first event was an excursion to Hanna Winery. Located on a hilltop with gorgeous, sweeping views of the valley, Hanna Winery has been in operation since 1985. We were greeted by our host, Christine Hanna, who gave us some history, and then winemaker Jeff Hinchcliffe took us down to the barrel room for some tasting. Following this, we enjoyed an amazing lunch, paired with several Hanna wines. Welcome to Sonoma County, indeed!

Upon our return to Santa Rosa, we participated in a Wine Discovery Session with Mark Beringer, Chief Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards. He led us through a tasting of their Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, starting with four of the single vineyard wines that go into the final blend. Once we had established the baseline, we “worked” our way through a decade vertical tasting of the Private Reserve wines, starting with 2014 and travelling back in time to the 2004, 1994, and finishing with the 1984 vintage. The evolution of these powerhouse wines was amazing to behold.

Later in the day, we journeyed around the world with A Study of Pinot Noir. Our tour guide was Senior Winemaker John Priest, from Etude Winery. He took us from Sonoma County, north to the Willamette Valley, then all the way south to New Zealand in our exploration of this incredibly versatile grape. It was a wonderful trip!

The wine education sessions were followed by an opening reception, where we met many of the bloggers we have been following, as well as new friends. Thus ended day one!

The following day, we attended educational seminars covering writing tips, legal and ethical issues, wine vocabulary, and developing relationships with wine companies. Lunch was hosted by El Dorado Wines. Nearly 30 El Dorado County winemakers lined the back of the conference room, and then poured samples of their wines.

After lunch we enjoyed a Wine Education Seminar, presented by Lyn Farmer, about the “Region to Watch,” DOP Cariñena in Spain. We were immediately enamored with the region, and have added DOP Cariñena to our list of “Must Visit” destinations. We tasted through an amazing flight of Garnacha, with one Cariñena varietal wine (you may know it as Carignan) mixed in for interest. These are some amazing, affordable wines. You’ll want to try some as soon as possible!

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Following a captivating keynote address by Doug Frost, we participated in our first Live Wine Blogging event. Wineries get five minutes at each table to pour tastes, and we blogged, Tweeted, or Instagrammed our impressions of the wines. It was kind of like speed dating, but with wine! A high-energy and raucous time, we tasted some amazing wines! The Friday speed-tasting was whites and rosés.

Friday ended with what was the absolute highlight: a Wine Cave Dinner at the Thomas George Estate. It was a first class affair! It was an amazing, “check-it-off-the-bucket-list” adventure. We’ll write more about this later, but suffice it to say this was among best meals we have ever had!

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Saturday opened with more educational sessions, including Social Media tips, photography and video, and panel discussions covering relations with PR firms, and ideas for monetizing a wine blog. (If you’re into that whole, making money doing what you love thing.) We also attended a presentation about the devastating wild fires that ravaged the area only one month earlier. The destruction was unprecedented, but the recovery and rebuilding has begun, and Wine Country is open for business.

Following lunch, we returned to Spain with our host, Lyn Farmer, to explore DO Rías Baixas, and the spectacular Albariño wines being produced there. We tasted through 10 (yes, ten!) different expressions of this amazing white wine. I can’t say enough about Lyn Farmer and his friendly, comfortable teaching style and encyclopedic knowledge of Spanish wines.

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After another round of Live Wine Blogging, AKA speed-tasting, this time with red wines, the conference concluded with a banquet hosted by NakedWines.com. As you probably know, I am a long-time customer of NakedWines.com, so it was fun to see many of the winemakers and staff I have come to know over the years.

Even with all the fun and wine (did I mention we had wine?) the biggest take-away for us is the comradery, support, and encouragement that exists in the wine blogging community. From big name bloggers and writers, who have thousands of followers and are making a living writing about wine, to brand new members who have yet to post their first blog, we were warmly welcomed and embraced as part of the family.

Finally, the dates and location for next year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference were announced. Walla Walla, here we come! We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael