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Tag Archives: Wine Country Travel

It’s in the Bag!

Wine. Travel. Wine and travel. The two just seem to go together. Sometimes, the travel can be as simple as a picnic at a local park. Other times, it’s a trans-ocean, international dream trip. Depending on your journey, you may need different wine transport options. Fortunately, our friends at I Love Wine have compiled a list and review of a number of different Wine Travel Bags for your consideration. From a single-bottle picnic tote, complete with glassware and corkscrew, to a full-blown 12-bottle wine suitcase, they have you covered.

We’ve used bubble wrap wine sleeves when travelling, similar to No. 9 in the featured article below, and we’ve been very happy with the results. No breakage, no leaks, and no problems with packing – as long as you keep your suitcase under the weight limit! Remember, a bottle of wine weighs an average of about three pounds! Whether we’re bringing wine with us on our trip, or planning to buy some at our destination to bring home…or both…these sleeves are practical and affordable.

Now’s the time to start planning your 2019 getaways. Don’t forget to consider the wine! Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these bags, or something similar!

Cheers!

We love wine more than anything. Traveling comes in a close second, so traveling with wine is nearly perfect. It presents some challenges depending on how far you’re traveling and whether you need to keep the wine chilled in transit. Wine travel bags with insulated interiors solve part of the problem, but they vary in quality. Wine bags are also available in a variety of styles, so you need a carrier that reflects your taste as well as the formality of the event. Here we share ten of the best wine travel bags. Whether you’re carrying wine for a picnic on the beach, a train ride through Napa Valley, or a plane trip across the Atlantic, we have the perfect options for you.

1. OPUX Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Tote: $17

This insulated wine tote from OPUX is perfect for an afternoon picnic. The wine compartment is insulated to keep the bottles cool and has a divider to protect them from clinking together. It has convenient dual zippers, plus a front pocket for carrying other accessories. For a wine tote under $20, we’re impressed with its durability. It has a handle at the top, plus a detachable shoulder strap, offering a few transit options. We also love that it’s available in so many colors. For the price point, you can easily pick up a few of these to match the mood of the occasion. As a bonus, it comes with a free corkscrew.

2. Picnic at Ascot Deluxe Insulated Wine Tote: $24

This kit from Picnic at Ascot is an even more complete picnic kit. It includes two acrylic wine glasses, a wine opener, and a pair of napkins. With the goblets in place it holds just one bottle of wine. Remove the goblets and you can carry two bottles. The panel that holds your wine opener folds neatly between them so they won’t collide. The tote is made of sturdy canvas and comes in a variety of colors and patterns. Although it’s and extremely durable carrier, we love that it comes with a lifetime guarantee from the company.

3. KOVOT 9-Piece Wine Travel Bag and Picnic Set: $25

KOVOT boasts one of the most complete picnic kits on the market, including accessories you might not have thought about. It includes an insulated compartment to hold two bottles of wine with a divider in between. The side pocket holds two acrylic wine glasses, cloth napkins, a corkscrew, and a bottle stopper. The surprise accessory is a pair of stakes so you can secure your wine glasses on uneven ground. At first blush, this might seem like overkill, but it’s perfect if you need to set your glass down on the beach. This picnic set would make a wonderful impression on a first date and also makes a marvelous gift for any wine lover.

4. Kato Insulated 2-Bottle Wine Carrier: $20

If you want a 2-bottle carrier that looks more like a regular tote, Kato makes this stylish wine bag. It keeps wine chilled for hours thanks to its internal padding and insulation, plus it has a flexible divider to protect the bottles in transit. We love the zippered side compartment for carrying your phone, keys, or wine accessories. Like some of the other kits, it also comes with a free corkscrew. Above all, we love the variety of colors and patterns available, making this one of the most versatile and stylish totes at this price point.

5. Vina 3-Bottle Insulated Wine Carrier: $18

The Vina is our favorite 3-bottle wine tote. The bottles are held in place by dividers and the insulation does well in keeping chilled bottles cool until you get to your destination. One thing we especially love is how easy this carrier is to clean. The high-quality polyester is just a wipe down from looking perfect again, making it the ideal carrier for picnics, festivals, and other outdoor events. It has a convenient side pocket for storing the free corkscrew and any other items you need handy.

6. Kato 4-Bottle Insulated Wine Tote: $22

We love the styling of this 4-bottle carrier from Kato, with its leather accents and stainless steel hardware. The tote is made of canvas and comes in gray or a cute navy and white striped pattern. It doesn’t have side pockets, but we love that the divider inside is removable, which gives some storage flexibility. For such a stylish bag, we love the affordability. The quality of insulation is also impressive, keeping chilled wines cold for hours.

7. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Weekend Wine Carrier: $69

For higher-capacity totes, sturdy construction becomes critical. If the carrier isn’t built to handle the weight of the bottles, it will wear out quickly. Worse, it might break while you’re carrying it. For transporting up to 6-bottles, our favorite is this canvas wine carrier from Wine Enthusiast. It has a padded divider which leaves space to carry up to six Bordeaux bottles, plus a side pocket for accessories. The insulation and padding are both excellent and the exterior construction is just as impressive. The forest green canvas is durable and we love the chocolate brown trim. There’s also a monogrammable leather hang tag in case you’d like to personalize it.

8. Wine Enthusiast 6-Bottle Leather Wine Bag: $300

For a 6-bottle tote that doesn’t look like a standard wine carrier, Wine Enthusiast offers this gorgeous leather weekend bag. It’s much more expensive than a simple canvas carrier, but you won’t find a classier wine travel bag. It’s 100% handcrafted and the attention to detail is apparent in all aspects of the bag, both inside and out. It holds up to six bottles upright, separated with padded dividers, and has an outer pocket for small accessories. It’s the perfect bag to accompany you on that train trip through wine country you’ve always dreamt of.

9. Wine Wings Wine Bottle Protector Sleeve: $20 for 4

Planning a longer journey? If you’re traveling by plane, Wine Wings are an inexpensive way to safely pack your wine. These bags completely seal the wine bottle inside with Ziplocks and velcro to keep any leaks contained. The bags are also padded internally with bubble-wrap and have a stronger exterior to prevent piercing by other items in your bag. They’re durable and reusable, so investing in these means your only worry will be keeping your suitcase under the weight limit.

10. VinGardeValise 12-Bottle Wine Travel Suitcase: $209

Finally planning that wine vacation through Europe and plan to bring a lot of bottles home? VinGardeValise makes suitcases specifically designed to keep your wine safe during its journey. This suitcase holds 12 bottles and weighs between 43 and 49 lbs when filled to capacity. This keeps it safely under the checked bag weight limit for most airlines, though be sure to doublecheck when you buy your tickets. The suitcase meets TSA, FAA, and airline luggage standards and is a sturdy piece of luggage, as well. It has double channel zippers, a reinforced internal frame, and wheels that spin 360 degrees for easy mobility. We also love that it has a TSA-compliant lock to keep the wine even more secure.

 

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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

Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend: Day 1 – Saturday

If we had to describe our experience at the Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend in one word, without a doubt, that word would be: Hospitality.

This was our first trip to Livermore Valley Wine Country. We were invited as guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, and were very eager to attend. In preparation for the event, we did a little studying and learned a great deal about the incredible and influential history of this wine region. You can read about what we learned in our previous post by clicking here.

Livermore Valley Wine Country

As the name suggests, the Barrel Tasting Weekend is a two-day event, Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4:30 p.m. each day. There are more than 40 wineries in the Livermore Valley, and roughly 35 of them were participating in the weekend. Clearly, we had a daunting task ahead of us, trying to make it to as many of these as possible. Yes folks, Wine Blogging has its own, unique challenges and stresses. This is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, we are willing to do it. For you, dear readers.

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As luck would have it, to add to the challenge, we got a late start on the nearly two-hour drive to the Valley, and didn’t arrive Saturday until around 2 p.m. Having missed out on two entire hours of tasting, our mission looked dire. Like many events of this type, during registration we selected a winery to start our journey, where we would pick up our glasses and wrist bands. Scoping the lay of the land, we decided to start at one of the furthest locations from Livermore, the city, and work our way in. So it was that we found ourselves at the charming venue that is Cedar Mountain Winery & Port Works. There, General Manager Cindy Burnett greeted us with wine thief in hand. She was offering barrel samples of their 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as tasted of their finished and bottled 2015. Next to her was owner Earl Ault, with barrel tastes of their recent NV Tortuga Royale, a fortified, Port-style wine made from Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, co-fermented with 70% Cocoa Powder. Truly one of the most unique flavor experiences we have had in our years of wine tasting! After sampling the very chocolaty barrel sample, which we thought tasted like adult chocolate milk, we got to try the current release from the bottle. Here, the bold chocolate flavors had softened and melded into the wine, creating a smooth, bold, delicious finished product. Really, folks, if you haven’t been barrel tasting, this would be a great place to start! This wine really showcased the differences between barrel and bottle!

So friendly were Cindy and Earl, and the rest of the staff at Cedar Mountain that they invited us to stay for a complimentary tasting of their entire library at the tasting bar. Never ones to be rude, we agreed. Though we didn’t taste the entire library…they have more than 20 table and dessert wines…we did work through many of them, including our first White Port experiences; a Viognier Port, Chardonnay Port, and an Oak Fermented Chardonnay Port! Long story short…we were there for over an hour. So much for our itinerary!

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On to the next stop, we sauntered up the road to Eagle Ridge Vineyard. There we were greeted by Ron, an outgoing Philly transplant with a gruff, East Coast exterior but a great sense of wit and humor. He thieved us tastes of 2014 Petite Sirah and 2015 Zinfandel. Both presented nicely out of the barrel, and will really shine when bottled in a few months. After the barrel tasting, Ron invited us to taste a few more wines from their library. We were beginning to detect a theme here in Livermore Valley! As we tasted, Ron veered off to help some other newcomers, and we were further entertained by another of the amazing Eagle Ridge staff, Bill. Bill continued to pour, describe the wines…many of which are award winners…and generally entertain us with friendly conversation. Finally, it was time to go. There was less than an hour left in Saturday’s event, and we had more wineries to visit.

Down the hill a short distance and we came to what would be our final winery stop of the day, BoaVentura de Caires Winery. Housed in a quaint country barn, adjacent to a century-old farmhouse, BoaVentura specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon. If you clicked on the link at the beginning of this post, and read our preview article, you know that the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon you know and love actually originated in Livermore Valley.  (If you didn’t read our preview, you can do so now. We’ll wait.)  BoaVentura Batista de Caires is the grandfather of proprietor, Brett Caires. BoaVentura emigrated from Portugal in 1915, bringing with him, and passing down, a great love for wine. Brett purchased the vineyard land upon which BoaVentura winery sits in 1999. The influences of the unique micro-climates of this hilltop property produce distinctly different profiles in each vineyard. Many of the Cabernets are single vineyard, and the differences are self-evident with each taste.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Although specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon, the barrel taste of choice this day was the 2016 Petite Sirah; another impressive barrel sample that will shine after bottling. Brett was also pouring samples of their bottled Green Label Cabernet; a luscious and amazing wine! When we mentioned to Brett that we were there for our first visit, as guests of the winegrowers association, he told us to make ourselves at home in the tasting room, and to tell the staff there to “take good care” of us.

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Always the obedient types, at least when it comes to wine, we ventured into the eclectic tasting room where we met Daniel. Daniel is Brett’s nephew, and actually works in the town where we live (did we mention it’s about a 2 hour drive?) Even more, he lives in the foothills beyond our town. No, he doesn’t commute to Livermore Valley every day; just once in a while and for special events. At any rate, we hit it off with Daniel and he was quite generous with the tastings. We tasted the entire flight, up to and including the spectacular Maroon Label. Now, I (Kent) have tasted some cult Napa Cabs before… (remember this amazing day?) I would put the Maroon Label up against a $200+ cult Napa Cab any day, and it’s a fraction of the cost, at just $79!

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Clearly we were impressed by the wines at BoaVentura. But what about that Livermore Valley hospitality with which we started this piece? Well, the event officially ended at 4:30 p.m. At 5 p.m. we were still tasting, and making friends with some of the wine club members who had gathered for a post-event event. By 5:15 these same wine club members had started a fire in the fire pit. We left our glasses on the tasting bar and meandered out to warm ourselves by the fire for a few minutes on our way to the car. A couple of minutes later, Brett Caries came out of the barn and walked over. He noticed that we had no wine glasses in our hands. We explained that we left them on the bar on our way out. He said, “well go back in there, grab some glasses, and make sure they pour you whatever you want.” And so it was that we finally left close to 7 p.m., after enjoying wine, laughs, and new friends.

A side note if you get hungry. Everywhere we went, when we asked for dinner recommendations, to a person, the response was “Zephyr Grill & Bar.” So we went. Robyn had the Eggplant Parmesean; ½ inch thick slabs of eggplant cooked to delicate perfection and served with sinfully delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Kent had the Duck Confit, which was also perfect; not greasy and not dry. Perfect! We’re not food bloggers so we didn’t think to take pictures, (We only managed to snap this shot of the wine glass) but the dishes were definitely worth writing home about. Service was exquisite, local wines aplenty, and we went back to our hotel completely satisfied. Check it out when you visit!

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Thus ends day one. Stay tuned for more Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend Adventures in Part 2: Sunday!

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

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

 

Destination: Calaveras Grape Stomp

The weather was perfect; crystal-clear skies, low 80’s, and a slight breeze. The juice was flowing; from the barrel, and from the bottle. Welcome to the 2015 Calaveras Grape Stomp, in Murphys, California!

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Held the first Saturday of every October, in conjunction with Gold Rush Street Faire, this year’s Grape Stomp held special meaning, as Calaveras County residents begin the recovery and rebuilding process following the devastating Butte fire. The Butte fire raged for nearly a month, burning 70,868 acres and destroying 475 residences[1]. Mandatory evacuations displaced thousands of people, and disrupted the local economy, which is highly dependent on tourism.

The Calaveras Winegrape Alliance produces the annual Grape Stomp as a benefit for local community groups. This year’s beneficiary is the Disaster Relief Fund for the Butte Fire. Proceeds from t-shirt sales, silent auction, and wine tasting will help to support those impacted by the fire.

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The Grape Stomp takes place in the Community Park in picturesque Murphys, “Queen of the Sierra” and heart of Calaveras County wine country. The competition pits teams of two in a juicy, sloppy, purple race to see who can extract the most juice from 25 pounds of grapes in three minutes. The teams consist of a Stomper and a Swabber. The Stomper’s job is self-described. The Swabber collects the pressed juice. It’s a raucous, high-energy event, with many teams dressed in costume[2].

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The fun isn’t limited to the stage. There is a silent auction, and of course, wine tasting. $15 gets you an etched Riedel glass and a coveted wrist band, entitling the wearer to sample the wares of the more than two dozen wineries in the area.

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Up the hill from the park on Main Street, the Street Faire delights with arts and crafts, music, food, and even a Mai Tai booth! Unlike street fairs and festivals in more populated areas, the Gold Rush Street Faire in rural Murphys was well attended, but not crowded.

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Murphys

Murphys is an historic Gold Rush town. In recent years, the regional wine industry has sprung up, and is quite successful. There are some 27 tasting rooms along Main Street, in the space of just a few blocks. The wine is sensational, and the people are friendly and inviting.

This is also, by far, the most dog-friendly community I’ve ever visited. Most of the shops and tasting rooms welcome four-legged guests, and many restaurants feature outdoor seating to accommodate Fido. Be sure to stop in at Murphys Dog Store (281 Main Street, Suite B) for concierge-level service and a great selection of dog supplies[3].

After a fun afternoon of enjoying the festivities, we were hungry. Fortunately for us, Murphys boasts a number of gourmet dining options. We chose the Alchemy Wine Bar & Café [4]. They feature BBQ Spare Ribs with Krassen Big Mouth Syrahan extensive list of local wines by the glass or bottle. (Their adjacent market has more than 100 beers on hand, if you’re into that.)

The Slow-Smoked BBQ Spareribs with garlic fries and homemade cilantro slaw was amazing, and paired nicely with a glass of Klassen “Big Mouth” Syrah.

Likewise, the Chef’s Burger – topped with melty blue cheese and caramelized onions, wiChef's Burger with Black Sheep Zinth a side salad (meager attempt at eating healthy) was amazing! I gave up trying to hold it in my hands; this is a “knife and fork” burger! My glass of Black Sheep Zinfandel washed it down beautifully.

Too full to even look at the dessert menu (but check it out online…we’ll be back!), we meandered back to the car for our drive home.

Travel Tips:

Bring cash. T-shirts and tasting tickets are cash only. There are no banks in Old Town Murphys. The nearest one is about a half-mile walk. There were reports of ATMs in various locations in town, but I was not able to find one.

If you are staying overnight, be sure to wander Main Street after the Street Faire has folded up. Murphys, like many old Gold Rush towns, is full of history.

Check out the Gold Mining museum at Ironstone Vineyards. It’s really interesting!

Support the Recovery

If you can’t make it out for a visit, but would like to help, please consider donating to the Calaveras Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund: http://calaverascommunityfoundation.org/news-events/calaveras-community-foundation-disaster-relief/

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[1] http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=1221

[2] http://visitmurphys.com/calaveras-grape-stomp-and-street-faire/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/murphysdogstore

[4] http://alchemymarket.com/