Wine bloggers are descending on Santa Rosa this week to learn more about California's North Coast wines (yes, it's not just about Sonoma - Lodi, Napa and Mendocino have organized outings for the bloggers) and will be getting a first hand view of the wine country fires and their impacts on the affected communities.
The vast majority of sponsors of the conference are large, corporate owned wineries who pitch their stories to the legions of influencers. The bloggers will also certainly be overwhelmed with marketing communications from Sonoma's sustainability contingent. Wineries like Gallo and Kendall Jackson make sure to tout their green horns quite loudly while continuing to spread toxic chemicals across the vines.
In Sonoma, vintners spread more than 60,000 pounds of glyphosate annually; this is the main ingredient in Roundup and it has been declared (officially) a carcinogen by the state of California. In the EU, glyphosate is on the verge of being banned, with France announcing it will phase out the chemical in agriculture over the next 3-5 years. In addition, vintners here use thousands of pounds of imidacloprid, the bee and bird toxin, now banned in Europe.
Bloggers beware. Is this the type of farming we want to support?
The bigger voices of this "sustainability" group are well funded and well meaning. Writers should dig deeper and look at the wonderful, local wineries who practice the greenest farming of all - organic and Biodynamic.
Here's a list of wineries not to miss that are located in Sonoma within easy driving range for Wine Blogger Conference attendees. What follows are my top ten list.
TOP TEN WINERIES FOR WINE BLOGGERS TO VISIT
DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG
1. Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs Estate
World Class Wines from Heritage Vines
Few people know that Ridge has the largest acreage of certified organic vines in Sonoma - some 200 acres, more than twice as much as any other winery in the county. Everyone knows their environmental record (Lytton Springs' straw bale construction, solar energy, etc.) and wine quality is superb. But few know how deep this approach is rooted - literally in the soil.
Try some of the local Zinfandels. Two of my favorites are the East Bench (which is even bottle labeled on the back "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" - one more thing to love about Ridge) and the 50th anniversary of Geyserville. Hurray to get a bottle of the latter. These vines date back to the 1880s - a heritage even Europeans cannot match.
2. Benziger Family Estate
Biodynamic Pioneer Offer Best Biodynamic Tours
No one tells the story of Biodynamics better than Benziger on its tram tours and estate tastings. You'll learn about the winery's 100 acres of estate vines rely on biodiversity, cows, and herbal and compost teas to grow healthy grapes.
Especially recommended here are the Pinot Noir wines from its de Coelho vineyard out in Freestone (where the coastal fog is a huge influence).
3. Radio Coteau
Single Vineyard Wonders from a Quiet Outpost
If you want to taste some of the very best Pinot Noir from the U.S., make an appointment to meet Eric Sussman of Radio Coteau, who quietly makes a dozen-plus wines from top tier growers in Sonoma and Anderson Valley. I'm not the only person who says this; esteemed wine expert Karen MacNeil holds the same opinion of Eric's wines.
Eric sources a few of his single vineyard designates from certified organic and Biodynamic vines. His piece de resistance in my opinion is the Terra Neuma, which comes from Benziger's Freestone vines at de Coelho. (It's also a certified Biodynamic Wine, meaning no additives save sulfur).
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY
4. Porter Creek
Pure in Pinot Noir
Want to visit the most laid-back place to find somm gold? Porter Creek - where you'll find the treasure you seek. In the form of Pinot Noir.
A perennial favorite of NY somms, and moi, Porter Creek is one of the great producers of Biodynamic Pinot Noir - created with nothing (save sulphur) added. No additives - yes, you got that right. Their beautiful 17 acre estate surrounds their rustic tasting shack. On one of the world's most beautiful wine roads - Westside. Not to be missed.
Take your pick of any of the estate Pinots. My faves among them change with each vintage. You're sure to hit on at least one that sparks your palate. (Personally I have about 10 cases of their wines in my cellar which should show you what a diehard fan I am.)
5. Horse and Plow
Table/Fine Wines + Rustic + Hip + Heritage Ciders
Table wines don't often get their due, but Horse & Plow gives us a great selection of both affordable and weekend wines to choose from (the weekend wines come from their higher priced The Gardener label). And it's all set in a beautifully casual setting.
They've recently branched out into kickass heritage ciders and have even planted their own estate apple farm featuring heritage varieties. Plus you can play horseshoes outside and relax on hay bales after buying your organic veggie starts (in the spring).
A welcome break after too many (other) tasting room come ons to join our wine club. Sonoma's most down home setting.
I'm all for their rosé! Consider buying a case. It's got a great track record, year after year.
DRY CREEK HEALDSBURG
6. Preston Farm and Winery
Rhones Down Home on the Farm
The Rhones have it at everybody's favorite winery - Preston. A farm that's a winery or a winery that's a farm - you decide.
Enjoy the grassy lawn, play bocce (on weekdays only please), or buy local cheese - with bread made by the vintner hisself - Lou Preston. The tasting room is housed in the historic farm house building. There's a picture perfect barn in back that houses the winery.
You can also stroll through the acres of crops - everything from lettuce to grains that go into the bread.
Visit on Sunday and you can get a gallon of their famous backroom blend for $36. (Them be bulk wine prices, practically).
Join the wine club for the best prices.
I'd go for the Syrah myself, but try them all.
SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT
7. Kamen Estate
Mind Blowing Views (and Wines) on the Estate Vineyard Tour
Moon Mountain's Cabernet country - and Kamen Estate is one of the great estates in this region. Owned by movie screenwriter Robert Kamen, the winery has a tasting room in Sonoma just off the plaza, but it's far better to take the estate tour (by appointment only) which is how I celebrated a recent "Big Birthday" (one of those decade ones), not knowing I'd encounter such a breathtaking view of the Bay and surrounding countryside.
You'll sip and savor atop a mountain perch. The wines are every bit as memorable as the scenery. Memories are made of this.
Everything they make is first class. They're known for Cabs that match Napa's finest (at similar prices) but every wine here is "above average." (That's putting it mildly). Parker gives them high scores, but for those who often find Parker's palate too big, you'll probably find these wines a very welcome treat.
SONOMA/MOON MOUNTAIN DISTRICT
8. Amapola Creek
A Cabernet Legend's Lair + Red Volcanic Soils
Richard Arrowood is the undisputed king of Cabernet in Sonoma, with decades of vintages that proved the county's the equal of Napa in every way. In fact, Moon Mountain sits on the ridge between the two counties.
Arrowood's Moon Mountain estate vineyard is the source for his Amapola Creek wines, which come from red volcano soils. The spectacular mountainside site borders one of Sonoma's most historic mountain vineyards (above). Open by appointment only. Well worth the trek.
The Cabernets the thing. (But don't let it blind your eyes to Amapola's other delights - which are many.)
GLEN ELLEN/SONOMA VALLEY
9. Hamel Family Winery
Elegant eco chic with grand views of Sonoma Mountain
Rising Biodynamic star Hamel boasts some of the most spectacular and luxurious estate tasting experiences in the whole North Coast region. Set across the valley from Sonoma Mountain, its architects took great care to frame the mountain in the most spectacular way.
While you can taste here during the day, the winery also offers a continental breakfast experience that lets you greet the day here with relatively few other visitors as you lounge on the various patios and garden settings or get cozy inside the glorious tasting room.
The caves here are world class works of art.
The whole experience here reeks of elegance and style - a classy way to present wines worthy of their environment. The entire estate (already certified organic) is on its way to Biodynamic certification.
The current vintages were made under the direction of Harlan Estate's former winemaker and take a decidedly translucent approach to wines. No big jammy Cabs here. All is ethereal and light. Taste the full lineup.
DRY CREEK VALLEY/HEALDSBURG
Biodynamic Rhones and Zins
It's recently downsized its certification from Demeter Biodynamic to CCOF organic, but that doesn't change the fact that Quivira's current releases mostly come from its Biodynamic era. About a third of the estate wines are from certified vines. (Two thirds are farmed conventionally; ask in the tasting room or check out the bottle labeling - Quivira does bottle label certification).
The Sauvignon Blanc is a perennial favorite, but the Zins and Rhones are highly recommended as well.