3 ‘Green’ Stories to Celebrate the Red, White and Blue

CuvaisonBefore we celebrate the red, white and blue this weekend, let’s take a quick look at three wineries that take “green” winegrowing seriously — Cuvaison, Marimar Estate and Quivira…

  • CUVAISON — The Cuvaison winery was established in 1969 on the Napa Valley side of the Carneros growing region.

Dedicated to a philosophy of producing vineyard-driven wines, Cuvaison employs block-by-block farming methods and a hand-crafted, vineyard-to-bottle winemaking approach. The resulting wines are balanced and complex, showcasing the distinctive characteristics of this cool climate estate.

“At Cuvaison, we are compelled to reduce our winery’s
impact on the environment,” says President Jay Schuppert. “Going solar and being certified Napa Green are only a few initiatives which support what we are trying to achieve. Because there is a shared concern from the staff as well, we turn to our organization and grassroots networks with our staff, their families and friends to find ways of creating change from within.”

  • MARIMAR ESTATE — “After experimenting for several years with a few blocks of vines, in 2003 we decided to make the jump to the entire vineyard,” says Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery founder Marimar Torres.

“The whole idea is to create an ideal balance between the vines and nature. The vineyard will be ecologically healthier, and the grapes of higher quality. That’s our long-term reward.”

Torres adds that she is excited about taking the next step. “Now that our vineyards are certified organic, we are moving into biodynamics,” she says. “This is really a step up from organic viticulture, where the approach is to see the vineyard as an ecological whole; not just rows of grapevines, but the soil beneath them — an organism in its own right — and the other flora and fauna in the area, growing together interdependently. To enhance biodiversity, ‘compost teas,’ prepared from special herbs, are also sprayed in minute quantities.

“Biodynamics is a leap of faith; it’s impossible to quantify the success of the practices. But we firmly believe that our wines have become more reflective of their terroir, rounder, and more ‘stand-alone’ since we became organic.”

  • QUIVIRA — Biodynamic farming is embraced by the owners and stewards of Quivira Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg (Sonoma County), California.

The core of biodynamics involves creating the healthiest soil possible. Following this farming discipline, the soil in Quivira’s vineyards is closely (bordering on obsessively) monitored, ensuring that it is teeming with natural, healthy microbiotic life.

Balance is essential; if something is taken out, something is put back in. Quivira feeds the microbiotic life with natural, time-tested techniques.

As a winery spokesperson tells us, “Everything done in the vineyards is a testament to the fact that the earth under our feet is just as alive as the vines above ground.”

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

Wine Friendly Lamb Ribs… Made Spanish Style

This tasty dish from Spain can be enjoyed with either red or white wine.

Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache) makes a good choice among reds, while Albariño is an ideal companion among whites.

Other tasty options include Syrah, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo. This recipe yields 4 servings.



  • 1.5 kg lamb rib racks (about 2)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. thyme leaves
  • Finely grated rind of 1 lemon, plus 1 tbsp. juice
  • 30 ml. extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 150 C.
  1. Place rib racks on an oven tray and score meat with a sharp knife.
  1. Pound garlic and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle to a fine paste.
  1. Stir in thyme, lemon rind, juice and oil.
  1. Rub half the garlic mixture over ribs, and season to taste.
  1. Roast until meat falls from the bone (about 45 minutes to an hour).
  1. Cut each rack into individual ribs, toss through remaining garlic mixture, and serve hot.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Inland from Ventura, a Wine Oasis Awaits

vineyard rowsAs Robert Mondavi was to the Napa Valley, Adam Tolmach has been to the Ojai Valley, bringing attention to the area as a legitimate winegrowing area — and providing one more reason to visit this quiet California village.

Tolmach went to the University of California Davis, where he studied viticulture and enology. After graduating in 1976, he settled down on the property his grandfather bought in the Ojai Valley in 1933 to farm sweet corn and melons, selling them at a roadside stand.

After two years of this satisfying yet difficult and nearly profitless work, he sought employment in his field of study. With degree in hand, he found work at the Zaca Mesa winery in Santa Barbara County. Before long, he decided to follow his own vision and started a winery with fellow Zaca Mesa employee Jim Clendenen.

Their winery, Au Bon Climat, debuted in 1982 and was an overnight success. But after nine years together, the partners realized they had to follow separate paths. Clendenen bought the business in 1991 and went on to further glories.

Meanwhile, Tolmach had planted a vineyard in Ojai to Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, and had begun producing wine from that fruit in 1983. When the collaboration with Clendenen ended, he concentrated all his attention on The Ojai Vineyard.

Looking back over the last 25 years, one can see the development of the winery came in three distinct phases. In the beginning it was lots of fun for Tolmach to discover the budding Central Coast region, experimenting with new plantings, new areas, and a wide selection of varietals — Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, other Rhone varietals — in addition to those planted in his estate vineyard.

Back in 1983, the vines were grown without much care in what was called a “California sprawl.” It took years for Tolmach and others to convince growers to move toward progressive practices like drip irrigation and vertical trellising in order to improve wine grape quality.

This brought about the second phase, where Tolmach honed an uncompromising plan, striving to make the best possible wine. By 1994, his wines were consistently delicious and attracted notice, which furthered his success.

With that success, Tolmach was able to change all of his grape contracts and purchase fruit by the acre rather than the ton — enabling him to direct farming practices and reduce the size of the crop by thinning. The clusters that were left on the vine to mature ripened more evenly and were more intensely flavored. He found himself paying two or three times the typical price for quality grapes, but felt it was worth it.

For the next 10 years, the wines were big, boisterous and delicious. He worked relentlessly to fine-tune the winemaking process and make it as natural as possible, using only tiny quantities of sulfites and avoiding fining and filtering, with an aim to further improve quality.

The third phase started a few years ago as Tolmach’s craving for perfection made him question and review his experiences to find the very best way to convey the personality of each vineyard he works with.

The Ojai Vineyard’s intimate tasting room is located in downtown Ojai, next to the Art Center, the longest continuously-operating multi-disciplinary center serving the arts in the state of California, which hosts a wide array of programming.

Another local winery — Casa Barranca — has a tasting room nearby in the downtown Arcade. It specializes in locally grown organic wines.

Also in the Arcade is Barrel 33, which combines fine wine with fine art to create a sophisticated yet comfortable atmosphere for tapas, artisanal cheeses and sparkling conversation.

At Boccali’s Restaurant two miles outside town, tastings of Boccali Vineyard wines are offered on weekends until 5 p.m. This family owned and operated winery produces 100% estate wines, made from fruit grown on the Boccali Ranch in the upper Ojai Valley.

All of these wine experiences are easily accessible from the Su Nido Inn, which features spacious one- and two-bedroom suites built around a charming cobblestone courtyard. Although situated in the heart of the Ojai village, visitors are still tucked away with plenty of privacy.

Ojai, about 12 miles inland from the California coastal community of Ventura, has long been known as a haven for artists, musicians and health enthusiasts. It also makes a great weekend getaway for wine lovers.

– – – – –


The Ojai Vineyard

109 S. Montgomery St.



Ojai Art Center

113 S. Montgomery St.



Casa Barranca

The Arcade

208 E. Ojai Ave.



Barrel 33

The Arcade

308 E. Ojai Ave.



Boccali’s Restaurant

3277 Ojai-Santa Paula Rd.



Su Nido Inn

301 N. Montgomery St.


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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

Kids and Tasting Rooms — A Good Idea?

Baby girl eating fresh ripe grapes in a sunny autumn vineyard“Wine country” — whether it’s in the Napa Valley in California or the Hudson Valley in New York — gets busy during the summer months. So, this is a particularly timely inquiry…

QUESTION: We are the parents of a very well-mannered 3-year-old daughter, and we’d like to take her along on our vacation this summer. We’ll be going to a lot of wineries in Napa Valley, following some of the suggestions you’ve made. But a few of our wine friends are urging us to leave Makayla at home, saying she’s too young. What do you think?

ANSWER: Even the best-behaved 3-year-old can do a lot of damage in a winery tasting room — purely by accident.

For one thing, most tasting rooms have lots of glass bottles on display; after all, selling wine is their business. Secondly, most Napa Valley wineries also have gift shops that are stocked with breakable items such as glassware and decanters on their shelves. They may not display “You break it, you own it” signs, but that’s because they don’t expect to have toddlers running around.

Our advice: Leave your daughter at home for this trip, and make it up to her with a day at Disneyland.

Tomorrow: We’ll help you plan a wine-focused vacation inland from the California coastal community of Ventura.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Coffee, Chocolate, Golf… and (Of Course) Wine

iStock_000008957470LargeA few notes that are at least semi-related to our favorite subject (wine) as we near the end of June…

  • Coffee king Starbucks, which has been experimenting with wine, beer and upscale snacks during evening hours at a number of locations for several years, plans to expand the program widely. According to a Reuters report, the company believes it can increase evening sales by $1 billion via its plans for after sunset, and will add wine, et al at nearly 3,000 of its 11,900 cafes. As one Starbucks district manager told me, “The roll-out will be gradual. The speed has a lot to do with [liquor] licensing, which is largely out of our control.”
  • Wineries have the tasting room model down to a science, offering a wide array of tours, product sampling and other experiences. In downtown Napa, Anette’s brings the tasting room experience to fine chocolates, with offerings ranging from “Taste and Talk” ($5 for 10 minutes) to the “Premier Tasting” ($30 for 45 minutes). In addition to an array of chocolates and truffles, Anette’s crafts chocolate wine sauces which, by themselves, make the stop worthwhile. Learn more at: www.anettes.com
  • At the Chardonnay Golf Club, don’t be surprised to encounter grapevines where you’d simply be out of bounds on other courses. The club consists of three 9-hole layouts (called Meadows, Lakes and Vineyards), configured so golfers have a choice of three 18-hole courses. There’s also a driving range and practice facility, as well as a bar and grill called The View. Plan your wine country golf outing at: www.chardonnaygolfclub.com
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Posted in Editor's Journal

Fascinating Facts About 5 Wine Countries

vineyardWe love the wines of California so much that we sometimes forget that there’s a big, beautiful “wine world” out there — from South America to Australia to Europe and beyond.

Here are a few fascinating facts about five of our favorite winemaking countries…

  • ARGENTINA — Although considered a “New World” winemaking country, Argentina’s first grapevines were planted in the mid-16th century by Spanish missionaries. At that time, some of the more famous areas of Bordeaux in the “Old World” winemaking country of France had not yet been planted.
  • AUSTRALIA — You want to talk about “old vine” vineyards? That term has no legal definition in the United States, and in California, is often is applied to vineyards that barely date back to the middle of the 20th century. But in Australia, there are a handful of still-producing vineyards that were planted in 1850. Now that is old!
  • CHILE — With its beneficial natural barriers and its Mediterranean climate, it makes sense that Chile is home to some of the largest sustainably farmed, organic vineyards in the world. Those barriers? The Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes Mountains to the east, the Patagonian ice fields to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west — all of which help protect the vineyards against pests and disease.
  • FRANCE — Although consumption has decreased somewhat in recent years, the people of France still consume more wine than residents of any other country on Earth — about 60 liters per person per year. What’s interesting is that a vast majority — 60% — of the wine sold in French supermarkets is red.
  • ITALY — Whereas the French drink the most wine, the Italians make the most wine. In fact, is has been said that Italy is one giant vineyard, because you’ll find grapevines planted in all sectors of the country. It could simply be a matter of doing what you know; wine has been made in Italy for more than 2,800 years.
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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Exploring the Moon Mountain Sonoma AVA

mayacamasFor many years, the grape growers and winemakers on the western Mayacamas range wished they had a way to differentiate themselves from those in the lower elevations of Sonoma Valley.

In October of 2013, they got their wish when the Moon Mountain District Sonoma County (that is its full given name) was granted American Viticultural Area status.

Part of the larger North Coast AVA, the Moon Mountain District’s distinct features bring into closer focus the vast diversity within the Sonoma Valley AVA.

Sharing the ridge of the Mayacamas, the Napa/ Sonoma County line defines much of the eastern boundary of Moon Mountain District. The city of Sonoma is the demarcation to the south, Sugarloaf Ridge marks the northern line, and Valley of the Moon is the western boundary of the AVA.

The moderately steep slopes rise from 400 feet to 2,200 feet at the highest peak, distinguishing the region from the flatter terrain of the valley below. The high elevations allow for cool mountain air to drain off into the valley, reducing frost in the mountains at critical times in the growing season, as well as placing a vast portion of the region above the cooling marine fog.

Despite being tempered by two coastal influences — the ocean and San Pablo Bay — the region stays warmer due to the higher elevations.

Soils are dominated by Sonoma Volcanics — lava flows of ryholite, andesitic and basaltic that over time formed the rocky soils important for good drainage. The thin, loamy soils of the area result in vines with less vigorous growth and lower yields, but fruit with greater concentration of flavors.

You don’t see the Moon Mountain District Sonoma County designation on very many labels just yet, but that’s likely to change in the future as wines currently in barrels get transferred to bottles.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

Sonoma County Wineries That Walk the ‘Green’ Walk

green vineyardEvery so often in this blog, we like to give props to some of the wineries that take their stewardship of the land seriously.

Wineries that don’t merely the “green” talk, but walk the “green” walk.

The Sonoma Green Business Program is a partnership of government agencies and utilities that assists, recognizes and promotes local organizations — focusing on small- to medium-sized consumer-oriented businesses — that volunteer to operate in a more environmentally responsible way.

To be certified, participants must be in compliance with all environmental regulations and meet program standards for conserving resources, preventing pollution and minimizing waste.

Wineries that are part of the program include:

  • James Family Cellars, Cotati
  • Clos du Bois Winery, Geyserville
  • Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen
  • Imagery Estate Winery, Glen Ellen
  • Valley of the Moon Winery, Glen Ellen
  • Sonoma Wine Company, Graton
  • Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg
  • Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Healdsburg
  • J Winery, Healdsburg
  • Jordan Winery, Healdsburg
  • Simi Winery, Healdsburg
  • Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood
  • Kenwood Winery, Kenwood
  • Kunde Family Estate Winery, Kenwood
  • Heck Estates, Santa Rosa
  • Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma
  • MacRostie Winery, Sonoma
  • Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines Carneros, Sonoma
  • Moon Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma

The last winery on the list reminded me that I’d been meaning to do some research on the American Viticultural Area known as Moon Mountain Sonoma for quite some time. I’ll be doing that today, and I’ll share what I find out about it tomorrow.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

Vino in the Negev? A New Wine Country Experience Beckons

Bordeaux. Napa Valley. The Veneto. Rheinhessen. Rioja.

All of these geographic names are recognizable as wine regions. Hear the name, and you immediately know what “wine country” it’s connected to.

Bordeaux — France.

Napa Valley — The United States (specifically, California).

The Veneto — Italy.

Rheinhessen — Germany.

Rioja — Spain.

But when you hear the name “Negev,” wine probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. What you may know is that it’s a desert, and that doesn’t exactly equate with winegrowing.

But amid the harsh desert scenery that dominates the landscape of southern Israel, a series of vineyards have been planted over the last decade by a number of pioneering and dedicated people.

These are idealistic people who love their land and, together with state-of-the-art drip irrigation technology, have grown vines and crafted wines where, just a few years before, the idea would have been unimaginable.

The Negev Wine Route was established with the support of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council and the government, which provided the land on the condition that it would be accessible for tourists and used for tourism-related purposes.

The wineries are part of a bigger series of such farms that stretch across the Ramat Hanegey region, and each offers something for tourists — be it lodging, restaurants, cheese-making, olive-oil making or, of course, winemaking.

The first winery to open in the Negev was the Boker Winery, which began 15 years ago as an experiment led by Zvi Remek, a member of the Sde Boker kibbutz who studied agronomy in California before returning to his home. Having previously worked with the grapevines of the kibbutz, opening the winery was the start of a transition from simply growing produce in the Negev to creating a high-value product from it.

Slowly, the Sde Boker Winery expanded, and today is still modestly housed in the old communal laundry facility of the kibbutz.

The Boker Valley Vineyard not only grows its own vines, but also offers visitors the opportunity to taste many of the other wines produced in the region. It is run by a couple with diverse origins: Moshe is from Eilat, while Hilda hails from the Netherlands.

In addition to wines, they sell local olive oil and olives, and offer beautiful accommodations in the heart of the desert.

Not all of the farms along the Negev Desert Wine Route make wine, but all produce some type of high-quality produce originating from the Negev.

Just north of Mitzpe Ramon and the famous makhtesh, for instance, Carmey Har Hanegev is a farm that produces a wide range of natural desert resources, including olive oils, fruits and liqueurs using the produce of the farm. The farm has camping and cabin facilities for overnight stays, and also sells artwork.

Just like Napa Valley and other wine regions of the world, the Negev is now offering a lot more than wine; it’s offering a “wine country” experience.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Duckhorn Purchases the Vineyard It Made Famous

duckhornvineyard_mapThis blog should perhaps be archived under “Vineyards of Distinction,” rather than “Wineries of Distinction.” But the vineyard and the winery have been intertwined for decades — and, now, their relationship has become even closer.

In May, Duckhorn Wine Company announced that, after 37 years of making wines from its coveted fruit, the company has acquired Napa Valley’s legendary Three Palms Vineyard. Here are excerpts from the media release on this historic purchase…

– – – – –

Three Palms is widely recognized as one of North America’s greatest Merlot vineyards, and Duckhorn Vineyards made its inaugural Three Palms Vineyard Merlot in 1978. This iconic wine helped to pioneer luxury Merlot in California, and played a pivotal role in establishing it as one of North America’s great premium varietals. Until then, Cabernet Sauvignon attracted virtually all of the attention among high-end California wines. Duckhorn’s Three Palms Vineyard bottling put Merlot on the map, where it remains today.

Three Palms was acquired from Sloan and John Upton for an undisclosed price.

Duckhorn Wine Company has been purchasing all of the grapes from the 83-acre vineyard since 2011, and most of the fruit in prior years. Fruit from Three Palms will continue to be used exclusively in Duckhorn Vineyards wines; there are no plans to sell a portion of it to other wineries.

“This is a very special day for us,” says Duckhorn Wine Company founder and Chairman Dan Duckhorn. “We have championed the remarkable character and quality of Merlot from Three Palms Vineyard since our debut vintage. We released that inaugural vintage at the then-high price of $12.50, because we wanted people to understand that it was a Merlot of exceptional quality.

“This message connected with people,” Duckhorn adds. “Not only has the Duckhorn Vineyards story always been tied to the story of Three Palms, our long friendship with Sloan and John has been one of the wine industry’s most successful and enduring partnerships. We are honored that they are entrusting us to carry on their life’s work, and to carry their great legacy forward.”

Three Palms Vineyard has long been recognized for its unique history and its benchmark Merlots. In the late 1800s, the property was owned by San Francisco socialite Lillie Coit (for whom the Coit Tower is named), who planted the site’s three landmark palm trees.

In 1967, the rocky, alluvial fan was acquired by the Uptons, who planted it the following year. The vineyard has sparse, bale loam soils. In many spots, the vines’ roots dig as deep as 18 feet in search of nutrients. Because of the challenging soils, the vineyard is planted to only 545 vines per acre.

Three Palms also is covered by volcanic stones, which absorb the sun’s heat during the day and radiate the heat back to the vines at night, protecting against frost and helping to ripen the fruit. In addition, the vineyard’s warm up-valley location — in the northeast sector of the valley in an alluvial fan created by the outwash of Selby Creek — contributes to a shorter season with exceptional ripening.

Of Three Palms’ 83 total acres, 73 are under vine, with approximately 50 acres planted to Merlot, and the rest planted to smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. The youngest vines were planted in 1999.

With the acquisition of Three Palms Vineyard, Duckhorn Wine Company’s Napa Valley estate program now includes seven vineyards. These include both mountain and valley floor sites, for a total of 223 planted acres.

“Three Palms is the crown jewel of our estate program,” says Duckhorn Wine Company President and CEO Alex Ryan. “Not only does Three Palms represent the pinnacle for New World Merlot, it is one of a handful of Napa Valley’s greatest vineyards.

“When the history of Napa Valley is written years from now, Three Palms, and the relationship between the Duckhorns and the Uptons, will be an important part of the story.”

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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