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Category Archives: #WBC17

Dinner in a Cave! #WBC17

Dinner in a wine cave. Check! One more thing off the bucket list!

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We had a lot of amazing experiences at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, California. However, the unparalleled highlight was the Friday evening dinner at Thomas George Estates. When the list of dinner excursions was published several weeks earlier, we scanned the host wineries’ websites, and noticed that Thomas George Estates has a wine cave. A telephone call to the winery confirmed the WBC Dinner would be held in the cave. We made our reservation immediately!

With eager anticipation, we boarded the luxury wine-tour bus and settled into the plush leather seats. Under the soft mood lighting, we enjoyed the short ride to the winery. Upon arrival, we stepped off the bus and into the cavernous entryway of the cave.

There, we were warmly greeted by Thomas George Estates staff, who handed us each a glass of their 2014 Brut Blanc de Blancs. We sipped this delightful sparkler while visiting with our fellow diners, and nibbling on Hors D’Oeuvres including house-made cured meats, and roasted and marinated vegetables.

Soon enough, we were summoned to the dining table, located in a long corridor in the cave. The service was excellent, the wine free-flowing, and the food exquisitely prepared. We both agree this was among the top five meals we have ever experienced; and toward the top of that list, to boot! The first course was a roasted Brussels Sprouts salad with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona almonds, aged sherry vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery Capriago. This amazing salad was paired with the Thomas George Estates 2015 Chardonnay, Sons & Daughters Vineyard. It was during this course that we learned that all the pork served during the evening was hand-raised by our chef, Duskie Estes, of Zazu Kitchen & Farm in Sebastapol, California. Now that’s farm-to-fork, local food!

The main course was Cracklin’ Pork Belly (from our friendly neighborhood porker) with Star Anise Liberty Duck; a full leg quarter; served over black rice, with pomegranate and watercress. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the pork belly, but I was not disappointed! As much as I love duck, this crispy chunk of heaven was out of this world! Paired with the Thomas George Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, this was an entrée and pairing worth writing home about!

Amid friendly conversation, ample refills, and boundless frivolity, I wondered if it could get any better. Leave it to the good folks at Thomas George Estate and Zazu Kitchen & Farm to up the ante with dessert. Backyard Quince & Apple Tartin with Bourbon Gelato. Why, yes, I believe I will. Paired with the most amazing 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from Baker Ridge Vineyard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Just look at the color of that Viognier! Divine!

Even after dinner, the hospitable staff kept our glasses filled, until it was time to, sadly, re-board the bus for the ride back to the hotel. But first, swag bags! We each received a gift of a bottle of Thomas George Estates 2016 Rosé of Grenache, a numbered bottle of their Baker Ridge Vineyard Olive Oil (delicious), and for a longer-lasting keepsake, a Thomas George Estates t-shirt.

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Back on the bus, we basked in the afterglow of a magical, memorable evening. One we will not soon forget.

Cheers!

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

Pulling the Cork on WBC17

It was a dark and stormy night.

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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

 

We’re Off to the Wine Bloggers Conference #WBC17

And away we go!

Tonight I am packing for the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference. What to pack? What to wear?

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#WBC17 will be held in Santa Rosa, California, in the heart of Sonoma wine country, from Thursday, November 9 through Saturday, November 11. I’ll be in the company of my associate and fellow wine lover, Robyn Raphael. This will be our first time attending a Wine Blogger Conference. Last year, it was held in Lodi, just 45 minutes from my home, but scheduling conflicts prevented attending. Fortunately, the 2017 event is still local for us; just a 2 hour drive away! An easy trek compared to the cross-country or international travel many of my associates will endure. We are excited to be going, and looking forward to meeting so many of the bloggers we have been reading for several years.

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As you may be aware, Santa Rosa, and much of the Napa and Sonoma wine regions, was ravaged by wildfires last month; historic fires that were the most destructing and deadly on record. Yet, the people there are resilient and strong, and are already in the process of rebuilding. The bloggers who will be descending on the region will be helping in the recovery in one of the most practical ways possible: visiting wineries, buying wines, and dining in the area restaurants. While the conference has been planned for more than a year, the timing, relative to the fires, allows attendees to dig deep and support the region.

Among other activities, we will be going on a wine excursion to Hanna Winery, complete with wine-pairing, catered lunch; a wine cave dinner at Thomas George Estates that will cross off a bucket-list item (dinner in a wine cave); and a banquet at the host hotel hosted by NakedWines.com. We will attend wine education sessions, including one hosted by Beringer Vineyards, in which we will experience a vertical decade tasting of their Private Reserve Cabernet, from 2014 all the way back to the iconic 1984 vintage; and an exploration of Pinot Noir, hosted by Etude Wines. There will be gourmet foods, and spectacular wines. I anticipate we will not want to come home!

Through it all, we will be attentive to the destruction, loss, and hardship around us. We will honor the resilience of the local residents. We will contribute to the recovery and rebuilding with our words and our wallets. We will unite as bloggers and journalists, and meet new friends. All in all, this will be an amazing weekend! We are grateful to be able to attend, and look forward to experiencing every moment.

If you are attending WBC17, we look forward to meeting you in person. If you aren’t, stay tuned for live-blogging updates, and follow along on Instagram or Twitter for up-to-the-moment coverage.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael, 11/7/2017