Sonoma and Napa wineries

It is closing in on that time of year. The cabernet grapes are the last to be harvested and that harvest is finishing up this week. October is the best time to visit Napa or Sonoma valley: the grape vines turn yellow and red, the grape crush is over, and the new wines are starting primary fermentation. With harvest over, the tasting rooms are full and conversation turns to the quality of the grape harvest and the quality of the new wine releases.

Mornings and evenings are crips, but the days are bright, sunny, and warm. The wineries are glorious and the wines scrumptious. I have my favorite wineries and so many small and established wineries I have not visited that a trip to “the wine country” will always be unique, refreshing, and perhaps rewarding. I’m always looking for that extraordinarily complex bold cabernet, but they are elusive.
I’m a club member of three wineries: Artesa in Carneros, Turnbull in Oakville, and Dry Creek Winery in the dry creek region of the Sonoma Valley. All three produce outstanding red varietals.

Artesa: For years Artesa has produced a slightly heavier Oaky Pinot Noir that I Iove. Lately their Pinot has been lighter. Artesa’s Cabernets are very good, I particularly enjoyed the 2009 Rive Gauche, a blend of primarily cabernet grapes.

Dry Creek: Dry Creek makes very good Bordeaux wines (a blend of cabernet, merlot, and traces of other varietals), Merlot, and Cabernet. Most of all I love their Zinfandels.

Turnbull: Cabernet. Their black label is a Bordeaux blend with complexity and depth. I often consider switching away from Turnbull, the club shipments can be pricey. But now and then I’ll pull a bottle from the wine ‘fridge and be blown away.

Getting away to Napa or Sonoma to visit three or four wineries is great. Driving up the valley with the sun on the vines is a release from the daily issues of work. Sipping a sample of a new wine is a taste adventure and fun to share with friends. I invariably purchase a number of bottles that were particularly good. But the biggest reward comes after selecting a bottle that was cellared for a few years; and remembering the winery, and the friends and conversation, and anticipating that first burst of flavor; remembering how the wine sits on the pallet and its finish. The most satisfying reward comes in the moment when I realize this wine is better than I remember. Most times this does not happen; the wine is good or just OK, which is fine. But on a few occasions, a wine will be amazing. Time to buy a case (if it is still available).

Joining a wine club provides this experience without the trip to Sonoma/Napa, and yes without the memories, but you do get to sample some outstanding wines and find that one superb wine for yourself.

Three other wineries I highly recommend are Laird, Failla (Pinot), and Clos Pigase. Both Laird and Failla require an appointment for tasting. There’s a slim chance you’ll be admitted without a reservation; very slim.

Up Next: Sonoma Square, where to eat and places to stay in Sonoma & Napa.

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