The Green Efforts of 2 Northern California Wineries

Green EffortsYou begin to realize just how big California’s North Coast wine country is when you use Google Maps to figure out how far it is from Napa Valley’s Markham Vineyards to Mendocino County’s Parducci Wine Cellars.

Care to take a guess?

It’s exactly 73 miles, a trip that takes a little less than an hour and a half on Highways 29, 128 and 101.

Markham and Parducci may be dozens of miles apart geographically, but they are close neighbors when it comes to their efforts to protect the land for future generations.

Markham Vineyards’ view of wine growing has always been to respect the land and fruit while working diligently to make both better. The only difference now is that the objective has a name: sustainability.

The use of cover crops and alternate row cultivation to limit tractor and fossil fuel emissions, while still encouraging beneficial insect and plant growth, are methods that Markham has embraced for decades.

Sustainability starts in the field and focuses on environmentally beneficial land management practices. At the winery, the focus on sustainability continues in a more complex way. Water conservation remains key in efforts to be good stewards of the historic property; all winery wastewater is reclaimed.

Markham supports local California suppliers that provide packaging materials such as glass, labels and bottle capsules. Partnering with a local recycling center allows the winery to reduce its landfill impact by recycling all packaging materials. Even Markham’s grape pomace is recycled locally, and the winery purchases it back in the form of compost for its vineyards.

Parducci’s waste water reclamation efforts are well known in Mendocino County, and recently caught the eye of television producers.

In episode 9 of Food Forward TV, “Quest for Water,” Parducci proprietor Tim Thornhill takes viewers on a tour of Parducci Wine Cellars.

Where waste water once flowed freely from Parducci’s drains, Thornhill has designed and implemented a system of reclaiming and treating the waste water efficiently, so it can be re-used for irrigation. It’s an important part of the winery’s conservation and sustainability efforts.

Click here for a link to a trailer for the program.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

The Genesis of Italy’s ‘Super Tuscans’

iStock_000017467842SmallWith “Big, Bold Reds” being today’s featured sampler from Vinesse, it seemed like a good time to share the following question that recently came in.

It has to do with some of the big, bold red wines of Italy…

QUESTION: I’ve heard the term “Super Tuscan” used a lot, but I’ve never seen those words on a wine label. What exactly is a Super Tuscan?

ANSWER: In the 1970s, a new generation of Italian winemakers — seeing the simple Chianti wines of their fathers derided by critics and the public alike — took a leap of faith.

They decided to craft ultra-premium wines, and to do so, they had to break a lot of long-established Italian winemaking rules. Rather than blending a certain amount of white wine with their Sangiovese, which had been the tradition, they began making 100% varietal bottlings of Sangiovese, 100% varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, and blends of the two varieties.

They also aged their cuvees in barriques, rather than giant casks, so that the wood could lend additional complexity. Interestingly, because Italian wine laws had no designation for such wines, the government told vintners to label them simply as “vini da tavola” table wines.

It was the wine media that tasted the wines, liked them a lot, and dubbed them “Super Tuscans.”

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Culinary Regrets of an Erstwhile Chicago Resident

hotdougsI lived in Chicago for 14 years, beginning in 2000, but I never considered myself a Chicagoan.

I now live in Las Vegas, but I doubt I’ll ever think of myself as a Las Vegan.

I was born and raised in California. My daughter was born there. So were my grandkids. Most of my friends still live there.

Regardless of where I may live, I’ll always be a California kid.

But back to Chicago for a moment. During my 14 years and four months in the Windy City, there were two things, in particular, I came to love: the music scene and the dining scene.

The music scene ranged from the intimate Old Town School of Folk Music to the mid-sized Chicago Theatre to stadium shows at Wrigley Field. The food scene embraced every type of ethnic cuisine you could name, a bevy of “American” restaurants and steakhouses, and the kind of places you’d be more likely to see on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

I’m not sure whether Hot Doug’s ever was featured on “Diners,” but it should have been, as owner/chef Doug Sohn found a way to stand out in a city that’s home to more than 2,000 hot dog stands.

He did it by concocting unique hot dogs and sausages, and topping them with gourmet ingredients you’d be more likely to encounter at the Chicago home of revelatory bites, Grant Achatz’s Alinea.

I visited Hot Doug’s on two occasions during by tenure in the Windy City. I would have gone more often, but the restaurant was a bit out of the way, and the two times I did go, I had to wait in line for more than 90 minutes.

Hot Doug’s served the classic Chicago hot dog — topped with mustard, onions, relish, tomato, sport peppers, a pickle spear and celery salt — but so did those 2,000 other hot dog stands. I wanted to taste what made Hot Doug’s different, and for me, that meant sampling encased meats that had some kind of association with wine.

On one occasion, I had the Chardonnay and Jalapeno Rattlesnake Sausage, topped with pomegranate mustard and cheese-stuffed hot pickled peppers. I must admit that I could not taste the Chardonnay in that sausage.

On the other occasion, I had the Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and sel gris (a.k.a. Celtic sea salt). And I must admit that I could not taste the Sauternes (a sweet dessert wine from France) in that sausage.

I remember wishing I had a glass of Chardonnay to drink with that first long sandwich, and a glass of Sauternes to taste with the second, but Hot Doug’s was not that kind of place. With so many flavors going on in those sandwiches, I’m guessing any wines served with them would have had their flavors overwhelmed. But that’s just a guess; how cool it would have been to be proved wrong.

I had put a return visit to Hot Doug’s — appropriate wines in hand — sometime next year on my culinary bucket list. Sadly, on October 3, the restaurant shut down. It wasn’t from lack of business; if anything, the restaurant had too much business.

From what I’ve read, it simply sounded as if Sohn needed a rest, and perhaps a few opportunities to have the tables turned with someone serving lunch to him.

I plan to Google his name every so often, just to see if he emerges somewhere with another restaurant concept or, perhaps, a resurrection of Hot Doug’s. But for tonight, I’ll have to settle for raising a glass of Chardonnay and, later, a glass of Sauternes in his honor.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Forchini Winery: A True American Success Story

dry_creek_zin_2012From estate-grown to estate-bottled, Forchini Vineyards & Winery is a small, family owned and operated winery committed to making distinctive wines from historic vineyards in the Dry Creek and Russian River Valley appellations of Sonoma County.

Having been grape growers in Sonoma County since 1971, the dream of creating wines from their own vineyards finally became a reality for the Forchini family in 1996. That year, in a small barrel room, 425 cases of wine were produced. Annual production today is limited to 3,000 cases of wine, which are consistent medal winners in major wine competitions.

“You will taste the love of the land and grape in every bottle of Forchini wine,” a family spokesperson says.

Dedication to the environment is a top concern at Forchini. Sustainable vineyard practices that minimize pesticide usage are employed in all of the family’s vineyards, and composting of winery pomace has been a tradition for decades. Solar power is generated for winery buildings and vineyard pumps, while goats and sheep are pastured in the vineyards during winter for cover crop control and soil rejuvenation.

Owners Jim and Anita Forchini first came to Sonoma County in 1963 from Southern California, where Jim had been working as a mechanical engineer, writing contracts and executing procurements for NASA spacecraft programs.

From 1963-1976, he worked in Sonoma County, performing product development for two major manufacturing companies. It was during this period that he gradually developed an interest in viticulture — the result of his Italian heritage, being exposed to the surrounding vineyards, and making wine with friends.

With this growing interest, in 1971, Jim and Anita invested in a 24-acre ranch in the Russian River Valley, which had a mix of old grapevines and prunes. They soon became immersed in the renaissance of the Sonoma County wine industry, which was upgrading from generic vineyards and prune orchards to premium varietal winegrapes.

After acquiring an additional 20-acre vineyard property in Dry Creek Valley in 1973, Jim was approaching a career crossroads. Torn among the demands of private industry, a growing family of three children, and operating two vineyards, he decided to make a career change in 1976. He became a full-time winegrower, with the dream of one day building a small winery.

The family traded up to acquire 67 acres in Dry Creek, maintained its 24 acres in the Russian River Valley, and devoted extensive time and effort in replanting both vineyards to premium varietal grapes, while preserving some of the older Zinfandel vines.

In 1996, the time was right to build the long-desired winery. Jim took several courses at U.C. Davis and did extensive self study. The family’s first year production of 425 cases of estate Dry Creek Zinfandel won a gold medal in the West Coast Wine Competition, and the winery was on the map.

Over the next four years, production increased to 3,000 cases, a level at which it remains today. Forchini Vineyards & Winery now produces six estate-grown and bottled wines.

The Chardonnay is crafted from grapes grown in the Russian River Terrace vineyard, located near the river. This site provides a cool climate with late-breaking summer fog that promotes extended hang time for optimum balance in grape sugar/acid ratios.

“Papa Nonno” is a unique blend of varietal grapes fermented together with a small amount of heirloom whites to produce a dry, fruity wine in a style similar to the Chianti wines of Tuscany.

“BeauSierra” is a Bordeaux-style red table wine made from multiple varieties.

“Old Vine” Zinfandel is produced from 100-year-old, non-irrigated, head-pruned vines grown in the family’s Dry Creek Bench Vineyard. These stubby, gnarled vines are a living testament to their endurance, resulting from the unique combination of an old clone grafted to St. George rootstock.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the elevated eastern bench land of the valley, and is hand picked to ensure quality.

And Pinot Noir is produced from the Russian River Terrace vineyard, where the microclimate is ideal for this early-ripening varietal.

In an ever-more-corporate wine world, Forchini Vineyards & Winery remains family owned and operated. Jim is the winemaker, Anita handles the office, son Andrew (featured in the photo above) is the vineyard manager, and other family members help out part-time.

It’s a real American success story.

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Forchini Vineyards & Winery is located at 5141 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448. It’s open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and other days by appointment. Call 707-431-8886 for directions or other information.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

A Wine Book That Stands the Test of Time

winewarSummer may be over, but you still have time for some good “summer reading.”

Although it was published in 2002, Wine and War remains one of the best wine-focused tales ever told.

As Library Journal noted, the book recounts “the dangerous and daring exploits of those who fought to keep France’s greatest treasure out of the hands of the Nazis. Whether they were fobbing off inferior wines on the Germans, hiding precious vintages behind hastily constructed walls, sabotaging shipments being sent out of France, or even sneaking people out of the country in wine barrels, the French proved to be remarkably versatile when it came to protecting their beloved wine.”

I read Wine and War when it first came out, and picked it up again this past summer. Over a long weekend in Michigan wine country, before and after winery visits, I read it all the way through… and enjoyed it just as much.

One of the good things about being “a certain age” is that you can re-read books, and it’s almost as if you’d never read them in the first place.

Last I checked, Wine and War is still available through I suggest reading it with a glass of wine — perhaps a nice red Bordeaux — within arm’s reach.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Notes and Quotes of a Vinous Variety

iStock_000005364409XSmallTime for a clearance of notes, quotes and other vinous miscellany that, in their various forms, are threatening to gather dust on my desk or overload my hard drive. (Yes, I know about the cloud…)

  • “Wine is a living liquid containing no preservatives. Its life cycle comprises youth, maturity, old age and death. When not treated with reasonable respect, it will sicken and die.” Know who said that? None other than legendary cook/chef/author/TV host Julia Child (R.I.P.).
  • It’s promoted as Southern California’s largest wine and food festival, and the 2014 edition is scheduled for November 17-23. It’s the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, and details are available online now:
  • There may be no better restaurant in Southern California for a romantic meal — especially at sunset — than 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach. With stunning views of the historic Newport Pier, an array of seafood entrees and a well-selected wine list featuring more than 300 choices, 21 Oceanfront is reminiscent of a private supper club. A perfect choice for special occasion dining. For more information, go to:
  • Chevre is the French term for cheese made from goat’s milk. Because of its herbaceous and somewhat wild flavor, it pairs well with a wide array of wines. Among the most sublime pairing partners are Albarino, Riesling and creamy Chardonnay.
  • You probably don’t think of Iran as “wine country.” But it was within that country’s borders that evidence of the world’s oldest wine (made from grapes) was recovered. The find took place in Iran’s Zagros Mountains.
  • Looking for a different wine-touring experience? One of our favorite wineries in Sonoma County, Gundlach-Bundschu, takes visitors on estate tours on a vehicle called a Pinzgauer, which may fall into the ATV category (we’re really not sure!). You can view a picture of the vehicle and learn more about the winery’s tour program here:
  • And finally, Bunny Finkelstein, co-owner of Judd’s Hill Winery, located on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, once made this observation: “Making wine is like having children; you love them all, but boy, are they different.”
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Posted in Editor's Journal

Another Sauvignon Blanc-Friendly Recipe

sauvblancIn yesterday’s blog, we talked about how challenging it is to pair wine with asparagus, and offered Sauvignon Blanc as a world champion pairing partner.

But without some help, you may well have some leftover wine. What to do with that other half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc? Serve it with this tantalizing dish (which also matches nicely with Torrontes and Viognier).

This recipe yields 4 servings.



  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs. large sea scallops
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/8 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Torrontes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme


  1. Prepare orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Return to pan. Stir in 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, olive oil, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Keep warm.
  1. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat scallops with cooking spray. Add scallops to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  1. Combine wine, shallots and vinegar in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes, or until liquid reduces to 1 tablespoon. Reduce heat to low. Add butter cubes, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition until butter is fully incorporated.
  1. Stir in 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  1. Serve scallops with sauce and orzo.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Asparagus Challenge… and the Wine Solution

bunch of raw, green asparagusThe herbaceous nature of asparagus makes it among the more challenging foods to pair with wine.

Even white asparagus (the result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing), which is extremely popular in parts of Europe, presents a paring challenge despite its not-quite-as-bitter flavor profile.

The best food and wine pairings require some similarities between the food and wine. Because it often exhibits an herbaceous quality of its own, Sauvignon Blanc — the featured varietal in today’s Cyber Circle sampler— has proved to be a reliable pairing partner for asparagus.

Try Sauvignon Blanc with this dish, and see how the herbal character of the wine complements the assertive flavor of the asparagus.

This recipe yields 8 servings.



  • 1 (16-oz.) package dried penne pasta
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • ½-cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bunch slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¼-cup Parmesan cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente (about 8 to 10 minutes). Drain, and set aside.
  1. Warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in chicken, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  1. Cook until chicken is cooked through and browned (about 5 minutes). Remove chicken to paper towels.
  1. Pour chicken broth into the skillet. Then stir in asparagus, garlic, and a pinch more garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  1. Cover, and steam until asparagus is just tender (about 5 to 10 minutes). Return chicken to skillet, and warm through.
  1. Stir chicken mixture into pasta, and mix well. Let sit about 5 minutes.
  1. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, stir again, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

- – – – -

Tomorrow: Another Sauvignon Blanc-friendly recipe — to help you finish off the bottle!

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Napa Valley Film Festival: Ready! Set! Drink!

mbenztheaterThe bucolic Napa Valley may be the last place you’d expect to encounter a Hollywood-style red-carpet premiere.

But for five days in November (the 12th through the 16th), California’s most famous wine region will play host to the Napa Valley Film Festival, described by organizers as “the ultimate celebration of film, food and wine.”

NVFF features more than 125 new independent films and studio sneak previews, screening in a dozen venues in four walkable villages. Some 250 visiting filmmakers and celebrities will interact with audiences at the various screenings and intimate events.

There will be film panels, culinary demonstrations, wine tasting pavilions, a Festival Gala, celebrity tributes, an awards ceremony, and an array of parties, VIP receptions and winemaker dinners.

For those of us who love wine, the festival’s wine pavilions are the place to be during the afternoon hours. Here’s a look at this year’s pavilion schedule:

  • Mixologist Takeover: Shake, Stir and Sample — Thursday, November 13 at 2:30 p.m., Yountville.
  • Calistoga: Downtown Tasting Room Wineries — Friday, November 14, 2:30 p.m.
  • Next Generation — Friday, November 14, 2:30 p.m., St. Helena.
  • Crusher Wine District — Friday, November 14, 3 p.m., Napa.
  • Stags Leap District House of Cab — Saturday, November 15, 2:30 p.m.
  • Rutherford Dust Society Exhibition — Sunday, November 16, 2:30 p.m.
  • Spring Mountain District — Saturday, November 25 at 2:30 p.m., St. Helena.

As seen on the festival’s website, here’s a look at NVFF by the numbers:

  • 5 days
  • 12 screening venues
  • 125 films
  • 300 filmmakers
  • 50 chefs
  • 150 wineries

If you’re reading this blog, we know you love wine and food. If you’re also a film buff, the Napa Valley Film Festival is a must-attend event. To learn more about the 2014 festival, and to view the 2013 festival’s “sizzle reel,” click here:

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Yountville Becomes Even More Enticing

Friends sitting on the grass, enjoying an outdoors music, culture, community event, festival.As more and more people seek to have not only vacations, but experiences, California wine country is becoming an ever more popular destination as individual wineries, winery groups and others plan an ever expanding array of special events — i.e., experiences.

This came to mind when the following question was sent in… and the answer demonstrates that the experiences in “wine country” need not be limited to tasting wine.

QUESTION: We know that there are many opportunities to hear live music in California wine country during the summer. But we’re planning a visit next spring, and were wondering if you know about any concerts planned then.

ANSWER: Although artists have not been announced as this blog was written, we just heard about an event that sounds like it’s going to be a winner. It’s called Yountville Live, and it’s scheduled for next March 19-22 in the Napa Valley town of Yountville.

Here’s how it’s described by event organizers:

“Yountville Live is the ultimate, luxury getaway event, featuring exclusive performances from some of today’s hottest recording artists, exquisite foods from world-class restaurants and award-winning chefs, and a unique variety of some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated wineries.

“This super-luxe weekend is the perfect combination of premium entertainment and epicurean experiences with all of the luxury and sophistication that the Napa Valley has to offer, for guests who appreciate the art of living well through discovery and exploration.”

You can get more information here.

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Posted in Wine FAQ
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