Archive for the Napa/Sonoma Trip October 2010 Category


Posted in Bella Winery and Caves, California Wine Country, Info on Wine, Napa/Sonoma Winery Visits Oct 2010 with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2010 by ballymote

Bella means “beautiful” and that’s just what the views from this Dry Creek property are. The views at Bella are not the only thing they have going for them. Their zinfandel is first-class and the syrah they make is also some very good juice.

A former co-worker from years ago lives not far from Sonoma and when this trip was being planned I had asked her to try to arrange a tour at Bella which has long been her favorite winery. We arrived in the early afternoon and after a quick tour of the caves, which have lots of side rooms used for special dinners and events at the winery, our guide Ross Clendennon, loaded the eight of us into their thirty year-old all-terrain vehicle for the climb up the hill to their “Lily Hill” Vineyard.

Everywhere you turned there was one magnificent view of the valley after another.  Ross described the harvesting process and pointed out some of their neighbors including Ferrari-Carano pictured on the right above.

The grapes that go into making their signature wine, the “Lily’s Hill” Zinfandel, are grown near the top of the vineyard and benefit from both the afternoon sun and the soft breezes from the Pacific. Ross had us sampling the wines as we toured and made sure we never had an empty glass.

Eventually, he led us to a picnic table where we tasted thru much of the Bella line-up. This was the first year that Bella did a Chardonnay, a major departure from what was always nothing but red wine. He ended the tasting with an interesting pairing, chocolate peanut butter cups with a delicious late harvest zinfandel. Ross was the perfect host and even confided that he and his friends had recently produced a “mockumentary” on the entire Napa/Sonoma wine industry titled “Corked: The Movie”, which is apparently a satirical look at the entire wine scene.

We went back to the office area and made some purchases and thanked Ross for the tour and Carolyn and her husband, Dick, for taking time out of their schedule to set this up for us and spend some quality time with us. The memories of the beauty and serenity of the Dry Creek Valley will stay with all of us for a very long time.


Posted in Food and Wine Lists, Info on Wine, Mayo Family Wines Reserve Tasting Room, Napa/Sonoma Winery Visits Oct 2010 with tags , , , , on October 14, 2010 by ballymote

The Mayo Family Wines Reserve Tasting Room in Kenwood offers a unique seven course wine and food pairing. Do not confuse this with their regular wine tasting room in Glen Ellen. The Mayo Family wines aren’t in the same class with our first three visits but our group was looking forward to this pairing and we arrived at the Sonoma location eager to enjoy our 1:00 P.M. appointment.

The cost for the Food and Wine pairing is $35.00 per person and the fee is waived if a certain amount of wine is purchased. Each course is prepared by Chef Max Porter-Elliott.

Max is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and his skills at matching food and wine are evident in the pairings. We started with Crab Salad, Whole Grain Mustard with Pumpkin Seed Brittle, this was matched with a  2006 Brut, Laurel Hill Vineyard, Sonoma and the match was spot on. Course #2 was Marin French Cheese Cous Cous Pearls San Andreas Gratin paired with a tangy 2007 Voignier, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley. It was scrumptious. This was followed with AllSpice Apple Butter Sweet Potato Pork Dumpling accompanied by a 2008 Grenache, Judge Family Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. Many of our group chose this as their favorite pairing. The tasting proceeds at a comfortable pace and Chef Max entertains us with stories of his past life back on the East Coast. The 4th course is an O’Neil Farms Squash Truffle Ravioli Sherry Apple with a 2008 Zinfandel, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The majority of us thought this zinfandel was the best of the wines served.

Next up we enjoyed the Smoked Pumpkin Soup, Chili Oil, Star Anise and Creme Fraiche served with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Delaney Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. The next course was the Fruit Foie Preserve Fig Honey Compote which was paired with a wine which just recently was awarded Best of Class at the 2010 Sonoma County Harvest Fair, the 2007 Meritage, Los Chamizal Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. This was an excellent wine. Max shared with us that the final course was actually created by his girlfriend, so naturally, all of us declared this one to be our favorite just to see how he would handle the situation. We concluded with Cardomom Spiced Brioche Pears Pomogranate alongside a 2008 Gewurstraminer, Kunde Ranch, Sonoma Valley.

It was a nice substitute for a lunch-time burger and Max proved to be not only a very good chef but a personable guy who also gave us a great dinner recommendation in Sonoma. A very enjoyable visit and I would certainly recommend the experience to anyone planning a trip to Napa/Sonoma.


Posted in Info on Wine, Kapcsandy Family Winery, Napa/Sonoma Winery Visits Oct 2010 with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by ballymote

We awoke early on Wednesday morning (Oct 6th) and drove to Yountville for a quick breakfast at Bouchon Bakery before heading up to meet with Lou Kapcsandy at his State Lane property. This was a visit I had been looking forward to with great anticipation. Kapcsandy Wines are quickly becoming one of the new California “cult” wines and everyone who has visited and posted reports of their visit on the wine boards seems to come away totally impressed with Lou and his operation.

 We arrived exactly at 10:00 A.M. and Lou was there to greet us and show us the grounds. His passion and pride was immediately apparent as he related how through persistence and a bit of luck he was able to purchase the former Beringer property back in 2000. Soon after purchase, and with the help of famed winemaker Helen Turley and her husband, John Wetlaufer, he replanted the entire vineyard and set about working toward his goal of producing world-class wines. His first few vintages, beginning in 2003, began to draw notice and good reviews and in 2007 he brought on Denis Malbec, winemaker at Chateau LaTour in France to work his magic. The results were almost immediate. Recent vintages of the Kapcsandy Cabernet Sauvignon, State Lane Vineyard (2007) and Roberta’s Reserve Merlot have, according to noted wine critic, Robert Parker, achieved perfection and Lou’s goal of having his wines reach the level of the First Growth’s of Bordeaux has been achieved. You can tell though that Lou is not about to rest on his laurels as he is as committed as ever to turning out the best possible wines each and every year.

We moved inside to the tasting room and Lou began pouring virtually the entire line-up including a 1995 Beringer Cabernet from State Lane that had served as a mentor wine for him. Lou, by the way, was, and continues to be a collector of fine wines and has a cellar that would make anyone envious. I was already aware of how good his wines were but it was a treat to watch the others in our group as they sampled one after another of the Kapcsandy wines. Naturally, the highlight of the tasting was the 100 point 2007 State Lane Cabernet Sauvignon but I think what stayed with everyone even more than the lingering finish of each of those wines was the cleanliness of the entire operation.

As Lou escorted us from one area of the plant to another it became apparent that what is clean by other’s standards is downright filthy by Lou’s standards. Every inch of floor space is immaculate to the point of being able to eat off it. The stainless steel sparkles. The barrels are spotless. Lou would have it no other way. His attention to the minutest detail is meticulous. He could be described as being a stern task-master except that he has an obvious softer side and a sense of humor. The two hours flew by and all of us learned so much and were totally impressed by the man and his wines. We made some purchases, begged to be remembered when the 2008’s were released for sale and thought that was the conclusion of our Kapcsandy experience. It was not.

On Friday, Gerry B. and I drove back up to Kapcsandy to pick up our wines. Much to our surprise and delight, we arrived just as last night’s harvest of merlot grapes was being sorted in the plant. Lou took us over and we had the opportunity to watch as the grapes were de-stemmed and moved slowly along the conveyor belt with nine pickers on each side scanning the grapes closely, removing the imperfections. By the time the grapes dropped gently onto the next area where they were gently prodded and suctioned into the tanks, they were perfect. It was fascinating to watch and observe as the climax to a year of growing took place. So much goes into the end product that we see as a bottle of wine. It starts in the soil, gets nurtured by Mother Nature, receives good “parenting” from Lou and his team, a touch of magic from Denis Malbec and all we see is the finished product on a shelf.

Thank you so much, Lou, for allowing us for taking the time during your busiest of seasons to both enlighten and entertain our group. Keep up the great work!!


Posted in Alpha-Omega Winery, Info on Wine, Napa/Sonoma Winery Visits Oct 2010 with tags , , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by ballymote

Tuesday morning, our intrepid group of wine lovers set out from Sonoma for our appointment at Alpha Omega which sits just off Route 29 in Rutherford. There is a beautiful view of the vineyards and fountains from the front deck but we ventured inside to meet with Rick Patton, the Tasting Room Manager.  Rick looks very much like a Hollywood character actor and his outgoing personality was perfect for an early morning tasting. He poured us a couple of A-O Chardonnay’s, an unoaked and an oaked version. Our group voted unanimously for the oaked version which had the more creamy mouthfeel due to under-going malolactic fermentation. We liked it so much that we purchased almost two full cases. As we moved into the reds, Jean Hoefliger entered straight from the fields. Harvest is late in many areas of Napa this year and several vineyards were picking this week. Jean is the winemaker at Alpha-Omega and when he speaks of his wine it’s easy to detect his passion for his craft.

“Liquid poetry”, is what he associates with a well made wine. He believes in letting the vines and the soil do most of the work in creating his wines. With that in mind, I asked him why he felt he needed to consult several times a year with Michel Rolland, noted wine blender who travels the world teaching wineries how to blend wines that will score well in the ratings. Jean replied that he simply uses Michel as a sounding board. He says he needs “a doubter” to provide him with options so that he doesn’t become complacent over time. Jean has practiced his craft in wine regions all over the world and his talents are evidenced in the wines he produces.

Jean spent about 40 minutes with us and then it was back to the harvest and Rick continued the tasting and tour leading us into the Barrel Room and outlining the A-O fermentation process. One of the distinct highlights of the tour was an opportunity to taste their flagship wine, in this case, the 2008 not yet bottled ERA. The barrel sample we enjoyed really was “liquid poetry” with a floral bouquet on the nose and rich blackberry fruits intertwined with cedar and licorice with great structure already evident. As a consumer, it’s hard to justify paying $185.00 for a bottle of wine but this one may just be worth it.

Alpha-Omega is a beautiful property in a great location producing wonderful wines, red and white. It’s clear that Jean Hoefliger can read the pulse of wine lovers and his attention to detail and love of the land has resulted in a group of wines that are both elegant and delicious. Thank you, Jean, for taking the time to make our visit a memorable one.


Posted in EMH/Black Cat Vineyards with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2010 by ballymote

There may be a better way to start a trip to California Wine Country than what we did last week but I highly doubt it. Merrill Lindquist is the owner of EMH/Black Cat Vineyards just off of Picket Road in Calistoga, CA. I wrote to her a month before our trip and requested an appointment for our group of six wine enthusiasts from the Philly/South Jersey area. I requested the visit, not based on her highly regarded cabernet sauvignons, which I had never tasted, but on the basis of her many responses to inquiries on wine boards that I read. Merrill was always polite and informative and there was always this underlying sense that she was an extremely warm and caring individual. Merrill was all of the above.

She met us at her house and invited us into her dining room where we sat and tasted through a vertical of her outstanding cabernets. It is truly amazing that she is able to produce such eloquent cabs from her tiny parcel of vineyard (less than one acre). We began with a side by side comparison of the 05 and 06 cabs. Most of us agreed that although both were excellent we would give a slight edge to the 05 as the rich dark fruit, evidenced in both was mingled in the 05 with a distinct silkiness. Moments later that wasn’t quite as important as we were now drinking everyone’s “new” favorite, the 2007 Black Cat. This was one was magical; featuring sweet floral scents, an almost cotton candy-like nose and each sip brought a mouth-filling sensation of chocolate covered cherries with a finish that went on and on.

We moved from the table to her yard and walked amongst the recently picked vines where Merrill pointed out some of her prestigious neighbors including the Araujo Eisele Vineyard, just a stones throw away. We got to meet one of her two pride and joys, her lovely daughter, Emily, who was off from school. Unfortunately, although we did spend some time with her second favorite black feline, the famous “Sparkles” had decided to hide for the day.

As the lunch hour approached we reluctantly surrendered our wine glasses, made a few purchases and some mental notes to try and get some of the 08’s on release. The EMH, (which stands for the first initial of Merrill, Emily, and her ex, Hugh), only produces somewhere between 125 and 140 cases each year. There is another winery with same Black Cat name nearby and it is important when seeking out these remarkable wines that you make sure they are the EMH/Black Cat wines.

Merrill suggested SolBar for lunch and that proved to be another one of her talents as the food and service there were top notch. Thank you, Ms. Lindquist for getting our Napa visits off to a great start and for providing all of us with a unique learning experience.


Posted in Info on Wine, Napa/Sonoma Trip October 2010, Napa/Sonoma Winery Visits Oct 2010 with tags , , , , , , on October 11, 2010 by ballymote

Returned yesterday from a wonderful eight days and seven nights in Napa & Sonoma. My wife, Kathy, and I, our good friends, Joe B. and his wife, Carol and Gerry and JoAnn B. spent a glorious week in Wine Country with a taste of San Francisco thrown in as a diversion.

Quite honestly, we did not get to nearly as many winery visits as I had anticipated but the ones we did were absolutely fantastic. We had great weather, drank great wines and enjoyed some fabulous food each evening of our trip. There is so much to write about that it’s difficult knowing where to start. I think I will separate the wine from the food and do individual reports on each of our wine exploits because each one was truly memorable.

Prior to the trip there were three individuals from Napa that I wanted very much to spend some time with. I knew them from not only their wines but their interaction on the various wine boards. Each one seemed unique yet outgoing in their passion for their wines. I wrote to each and as I had anticipated, all three were gracious and offered a personal visit to their property. I will begin tomorrow with the first of our appointments and that would be a warm and wonderful two and half hours with Merrill Lindquist at EMH/Black Cat Wines in Calistoga.  Next will be a report on our visit and tour with Jean Hoefliger at Alpha-Omega in Rutherford and the third will be a very informative and personal experience with the amazing Lou Kapcsandy at his State Lane Vineyard. Each one remarkable in its own way and a marvelous learning experience for each of us. See you all tomorrow!


Posted in Info on Wine, Pre-Trip Update #5 (Final) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by ballymote

A trip that we began planning over a year ago is now just a few short days away. The research is over, the reservations have been made, dinners arranged and winery appointments scheduled. I have always believed that much of the enjoyment of travel was in the planning and this was certainly no exception. I have had a blast during every phase of the research process. With hundreds of great wineries in Napa and Sonoma to choose from it is no easy process to come up with the very few we will have time to visit during our week. I’ve tried to concentrate not just on places with great wine, but more importantly, places with great people. 


We arrive in San Francisco on Saturday morning and after a full day tour of the city we will be dining at Rue Lepic on Nob Hill. On Sunday morning we will make our way to Sonoma, stopping for breakfast in Tiburon and checking into the Renaissance Lodge at Sonoma, our home for the week. After freshening up we plan on driving to Santa Rosa for the final day of the annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and after a healthy sampling of the wines competing for medals at the fair it will be time for dinner at Cole’s Chop House in Napa. Next Saturday, after making our way back to San Francisco, we will tour Alcatraz and enjoy dinner at Izzy’s Steaks and Chops before four of us head for the airport and our flight back home. Gerry and JoAnn will remain in the city by the bay for another 3 days.

Monday thru Friday will be our days for wine visits. It’s an exciting time of the year in Wine Country as the harvest is taking place in many of the areas we will visit. Here is  what our week may look like. Not all of these are booked or will take place, but it’s a nice outline of what the week may look like. Thanks,Gerry, for putting this together:   

Monday, October 04, 2010            8:45 AM      Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    40 miles ~60 mins to   10:00 AM    EMH Wines, 25 Rosedale Rd, Calistoga

Travel         02 miles ~05 mins to   12:00 PM     Vincent Arroyo, 2361 Greenwood,Calistoga

111 miles     04 miles ~10 mins to   2:00 PM       Chateau Montelena, 1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga

167 mins     07 miles ~12 mins to   3:30 PM       Larkmead, 1100 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga

                    36 miles ~48 mins to   5:30 PM       Ar Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

Wineries                                          7:00 PM       Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

Visited         22 miles ~32 mins to   8:00 PM       Dinner at Ad Hoc, 6476 Washington St,

    4                                                                      Yountville


Tuesday, October 05, 2010            10:00 AM    Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    28 miles ~40 mins to   11:00 AM    Alpha-Omega,1155 Mee Lans, Rutherford

Travel         22 miles ~31 mins to   12:30 PM     Chalk Hill, 10300 Chalk Hill, Healdsburg

127 miles     17 miles ~25 mins to   1:30 PM       Mayo Family Tasting Room, 9200 Sonoma

202 mins                                                             Hwy, Kenwood-7 course wine/food pairing

                    16 miles ~25 mins to   3:00 PM       Swanson, 1271 Manley Lane, St Helena

Wineries      21 miles ~35 mins to   4:00 PM       Ravenswood, 18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma

Visited         03 miles ~06 mins to   5:00 PM       Ar Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

    5                                                  6:00 PM       Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    20 miles ~40 mins to   7:00 PM       Dinner at Bottega, 6525 Washington St,                                                                       Yountville



Wednesday, October 06, 2010       9:00 AM      Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    24 miles ~36 mins to   10:00 AM    Kapcsandy Winery, 1001 State Lane, Napa

Travel         07 miles ~12 mins to   12:00 PM     Robert Baiale, 4038 Big Ranch Rd, Napa

57 miles       08 miles ~15 mins to   1:30 PM       Truchard Vineyards, 3234 Old Sonoma Rd,

93 mins                                                               Napa

                    07 miles ~13 mins to   3:00 PM       Del Dotto Cave Tour, 1055 Atlas Peak Rd, Wineries                                                   Napa

Visited         11 miles ~17 mins to   5:30 PM       Ar Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

    4                                                  7:30 PM       Dinner at Sonoma Renaissance Resort



Thursday, October 07, 2010          9:00 AM      Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    42 miles ~65 mins to   10:15 AM    Bodega Bay

Travel         11 miles ~15 mins to   12:30 PM     Jenner

171 miles     16 miles ~30 mins to   2:30 PM       Armstrong St Prk, 17000 Armstrong

260 mins                                                             Woods Road, Guerneville

                    19 miles ~36 mins to   4:30 PM       Thumbprint, 36 North St, Healdsburg

Wineries      40 miles ~60 mins to   6:30 PM       Ar Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

Visited                                             8:00 PM       Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

    1              43 miles ~54 mins to   9:00 PM       Dinner at Cyrus, 29 North St, Healdsburg



Friday, October 08, 2010               8:00 AM      Lv Sonoma Renaissance, 1325 Broadway

                    29 miles ~39 mins to   9:30 AM      Whitehall Lane, 1563 St Helena Hwy S,

Travel                                                                 St Helena

63 miles       08 miles ~15 mins to   11:30 AM    Paraduxx, 7257 Silverado Trail, Napa

93 mins       02 miles ~03 mins to   1:30 PM       Silverado Vineyards, 6121 Silverado

                                                                            Trail, Napa

Wineries      01 miles ~02 mins to   3:30 PM       Hartwell, 5795 Silverado Trail, Napa

Visited         23 miles ~34 mins to   6:00 PM       Dinner in Sonoma

I will certainly be busy writing restaurant and winery reviews in the days and weeks following this trip and I am looking forward to that challenge. My wife, Kathy, and myself are fortunate to be making this trip with four of our absolutely favorite people, Joe and Carol B. and Gerry and JoAnn B. The weather looks good with warm days and cool nights and we are psyched for a fabulous trip!


Posted in Napa/Sonoma Trip October 2010, Pre-Trip Update #4 with tags , , , , , , on August 11, 2010 by ballymote

The trip that was once a year in the distance, is now less than two months away. Hundreds of wineries which had been paired down to 24 have been further paired down. Reservations have been made for dinner for three of our nights.

 The wineries are still subject to change but here is the current line-up.


Del Dotto





Hess Collection (for the art)

Black Cat (invitation from Merrill Lundquist)

 Possibly:  Whitehall Lane & Hendry




Mayo (Reserve tasting w/food)


Chateau St. Jean

Paul Hobbs

 Possibly:  Sojourn & Audelssa


We have restaurant reservations for Ad Hoc on October 4th, Bottega on October 5th and Cyrus on October 8th. We may just leave the other nights open for some spontaneity and I am certain we will pass some wineries where we just “drop in”. We would also like to do a leisurely drive to the coast and travel the coast road from Bodega Bay to the town of Jenner,with a nice lunch overlooking the Pacific.

I’m sure I’ll have another update on this trip as we get even closer.

52 Days and counting.


Posted in Info on Wine, Napa/Sonoma Trip October 2010, Pre-Trip Update #3 with tags , , on July 1, 2010 by ballymote

In preparation for our trip I had put in a lot of time researching the hundreds of wineries and tasting rooms in Napa and Sonoma.  It was excruciatingly difficult to narrow all the stops I wanted to make down to 4 a day for six days. When at last, I had completed this herculean task of eliminating some great places and arriving at a final list of the 24 chosen ones I came to a startling conclusion…….this isn’t going to work, either. It isn’t going to work because it doesn’t allow time for spontaneity.  It precludes the spur of the moment “let’s stop here, this place looks great.” You just can’t do that when you are on a schedule and afterall, this IS a vacation and should be relaxing. Anyway, I thought I would share the Final 24 with you before it is shredded and a new Final (fewer) list evolves.




























I’ll be back in a few days with a revised final list that will probably not be the final list, either.


Posted in Pre-Trip Update #2 with tags , , , , on May 25, 2010 by ballymote

We are six weeks closer to our trip than when I last wrote about it. All the reservations have been made, restaurants researched, wineries considered and, as for myself, I am totally Trip-Advisored out! Despite all that, each day brings a new search for some detail I may have overlooked. Just when I am certain there are no other search words related to Napa, Sonoma, Food or Wine, I think of a new one and a few hours more are spent in Googleland. If it sounds like I am complaining, I am not. This is part of the fun of travel; the pre-trip details, and I thoroughly enjoy it. My wife, Kathy, and fellow travelers, Carol and Joe, Gerry and Joann have graciously allowed me to do the planning on this venture and it’s important to me that my obsession with wine not interfere with everyone enjoying this trip.

There is certainly more to Napa Valley/ Sonoma and the entire San Francisco Bay area than just wine and we certainly plan on seeing as much as we can. One of the really difficult things for me has been choosing amongst the hundreds of wineries to create a trip that will be both fun and informative. It’s very difficult to properly visit more than four wineries in a day and with four months to go I have already chosen 12 in Sonoma and 12 in Napa. Undoubtedly, some of these will change as many require appointments and as we will be visiting during the busy “crush” season, some will not be able to take visitors.

In the next update I will list the 24 wineries that I have chosen and give some reasons why each is on the list. We may also  name some of the restaurants we would like to visit. Stay tuned!