There has been a recent epidemic of blog postings that have been critical of the lack of customer service that a few wineries have provided, including two recent ones from me (here and here). With the ever-expanding blog posts about everything from what people had for breakfast to the wine they drank before going to bed, the internet is a haven for people to write about their daily experiences. It is also a fact that people talk more about their bad experiences than their good ones. Online and during their everyday lives.
I was told by one of my male friends that my posts as of late have been a bit pessimistic and that I should write about something pleasurable and not just promotions or brands that upset me. Though I don’t believe him, especially looking at the overwhelming exceptional customer service I received (and wrote about) from my favorite wineries over the past two Barrel Tasting weekends, I figured I would take a look at some places I have been to recently that I think have the right idea. Two Sonoma County restaurants instantly came to mind.
Jack and Tony’s Whisky Bar- They opened up in Railroad Square in downtown Santa Rosa last month, but local Sonoma County chef, Jack Mitchell (of Sassafrass) knows that a good restaurant is nothing without a great staff who is dedicated to providing a memorable experience. They literally rolled out the red carpet for their customers this past Wednesday. It was their Grand Opening celebration and no matter how cheesy it sounds, the party was in fact Grand.
A limo drove guests from the Santa Rosa Hyatt and dropped them off at the front door. Here guests were greeted by a red carpet and a smiling Jack saying “thank you” for coming. For part of the day, a paparazzi style photographer snapped candid photos, the mayor showed up for a ribbon cutting ceremony and they gave away free appetizers. The drinks were delicious and the garlic parmesan fries were cooked perfectly.
Jack personally went from table to table to greet each of his guests and to chat for a bit. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up this level of great customer service, but as Jack told me “He had the best restaurant staff to choose from in Sonoma County,” so look for people who know what they are doing.
Bovolo Restaurant- One several different wine tasting occasions, myself and a group of wild women have entered into Bovolo (behind Copperfield’s on the Healdsburg Square) to dine on their infamous mac and cheese and carbonara dishes. Other than my friends being obsessed with the handmade bacon, we go there because they offer free corkage for locals and I have a bit of a crush on one of the staff members at the cash register. I like that you order off the menu at the cash register and you go to sit down, it brings a more informal vibe to the place.
We tend to get a bit rowdy, so instead of yelling (which has happened at various restaurants or hotels), the staff will come in the back and simply ask us to keep it down. I understand that sometimes we need to be reminded to use our inside voices, but asking us nicely goes much further than coming back and acting like we are ruining your life.
(Bovolo picture taken from Google Images)
Both of these restaurants have proven to me on more than a few occasions that it is the simple things that create an experience worth coming back for.
Saturday March 14th was the big Barrel Tasting event for me. This time I was to be accompanied by my local Sonoma County group of friends, as well as some out of town wine blogging/twitter friends, including @Robbin_G, @Winebratsf, @BrixChick_Liza, @MmWine, and local friends @Oenophilus and @SonomaWineGuy.
We made the stops in Dry Creek Valley at the usual suspects, including Truett Hurst, Papapietro Perry, Kokomo Winery and Michel-Schlumberger. My non-wino friends had a great time at all of my favorite wineries, laughing at the glasses from TH or loving the mystery barrel (and winemakers) at Kokomo and especially the photoshoot in the rows of barrel at MS. They all loved the wine too, thus cementing each winery into my winery hall of fame (to be mentioned at a later date).
The one thing all four of my favorites have in common (other than the Dry Creek location) is that each winery has their own style of Pinot Noir. All delicious in their own way, but all very different with wines that range from lighter fruity flavors like the 2005 Pinot Noir from MS to the robust raspberry flavor of the Pinots at PP (specifically the Elsbree Vineyards).
Pinot has been my one true wine love for some time. It wasn’t until I discovered this varietal that I started drinking and loving wine. After years of living in Oceanside, Ca and having a roommate that would always drink heavy Zins from Ravenswood, I discovered the joy of a lighter wine in the La Creama 2003 Pinot. Of course the movie Sideways came out a few years later and I couldn’t order a glass of wine without someone asking me about that movie. Five years later, this wine has grown in popularity and the amount of vineyards growing this grape just keeps on getting larger. This only fuels my love for this grape.
The two Sonoma County appellations that grow some of the best (IMO) grapes are the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. The fog provides the perfect blanket for these demanding grapes.
Saturday night was the second “big event.” My first ever Twitter Taste Live where I would be able to stream live with Matt from A Good Time with Wine on the #TTL website trying none-other than my favorite wines…. Yes, it was a Passion for Pinot night on #TTL.
About 15 wine bloggers met up at Palette Art Café in Healdsburg (Great food and FREE WIFI), socialized, ate some dinner and drank many different Pinots. Unfortunately after a long day of Barrel Tasting and a stolen iPhone, I had to leave early (I am so sorry I wasn’t able to stay).
Sunday morning I was up and ready to tackle my very last day of Barrel Tasting. This time I was caffeined up and excited to hit some new wineries in the Russian River Valley. I met up with Danelle (aka @daynell), fellow wine bloggers (see above) and Samantha Vega from 101.7 The Fox (aka @1017TheFox) at Joseph Swan. Here we tried some pretty good samples of Zins. After leaving, Danelle, Samantha and I got lost for the rest of the group… And with no cell reception and an apparent lack of knowledge of the area, we ended up not being able to find Olivet Road to meet up with the posse.
This adventure led us to Westside Road where we passed by two friends of mine who were frantically waving at the passing cars, trying to persuade people to visit the Thomas George Estates (formally the Davis Bynum tasting room). Of course, I had to stop.
Here we sampled two delicious Pinots. One where I am coming out and saying was the best (in the barrel) Pinot Noir I had all weekend. – This was an 2008 Lancel Creek Russian Rover Valley Pinot. A perfect blend of strawberries with a hint of cherry. It wasn’t too dark or too light… I guess I would have to call it “just right.” It even paired perfectly with my vegetarian tamale that they were serving.
This new winery is definitely worth checking out. Their tasting room currently pours several different Pinots, reminding any visitor that the Russian River appellation is a great place to visit and drink some great Pinot Noir.
One of the biggest events in Sonoma County is the two weekend extravaganza (aka drunk fest) that is Northern California Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting Weekend around Healdsburg, Ca. The first two weekends in March provide visitors the chance to sample wines straight from barrel, pre-purchase the wine (called futures) before it is bottled and meet the winemakers.
Barrel Tasting weekend is a true celebration of spring in Wine Country: the mustard flowers are in full bloom, the sun is usually out for the first time and tourists & locals are running around in short sleeved shirts with red stained teeth. It is the first event of the year that the wineries roll out the barrels and open up their cellars to the sunlight.
Thea Dwelle, her mother and I headed out into the wilds of the Sonoma County wine roads with an agenda:
- To show Thea’s mom some of her favorite wines and wine people.
- To visit new wineries we haven’t been to.
- To visit our Winery Twitter friends.
Dry Creek Wineries: Papapietro Perry, Kokomo, Peterson, Truett Hurst (aka @truetthurst) and Sbragia.
Saturday morning was spent visiting some favorites including, Papapietro Perry, Kokomo, and Truett Hurst. All the barrel samples from these favorites did not disappoint. Kokomo Winery even had a delicious special “Mystery Sample” for visitors to guess the varietal. Winemaker, Erik Olsen even gave us a clue (a Bordeaux variety). Thea did eventually get it. If you really want to know the varietal, ask me in the comments.
Jim Morris at Truett Hurst made us laugh with his “X-Ray” glasses (aka polarized lenses to look into the creek for salmon), feed us some tri-tip and let us try some of their own zinfandels.
We also visited Sbragia where they seemed to not have enough people working to handle the massive amounts of people visiting the winery. We tried some unmemorable Zin and left.
Alexander Valley Wineries: Route 128, Jimtown (for lunch) Hawkes Wine’s (aka @hawkeswine) and Stuhlmuller.
Route 128 is a newly opened tasting room in downtown Geyserville. They are still very small so they were not participating in Barrel Tasting, but they poured some pinot for us anyways.
The folks from Sonoma County Tourism Bureau (aka @InsideSonoma) suggested a pairing of Jimtown General Store’s infamous chocolate pudding with one of Hawkes Wine’s Cabernets. The pairing did not disappoint. The 2007 Pyramid Cabernet Sauvignon went perfectly with the rich chocolate pudding. Good thing the two are right next to each other.
Healdsburg Wineries: Newly opened Hudson Street Wineries (Bluenose, Owl Ridge, Teira, Windsor Vineyards, etc), Holdredge, Camilla (where @Cellardiva was pouring), Sapphire Hill.
These wineries are all smaller with limited cases and I would have to say, I was not as impressed with them. It was the end of the day when we stopped by here, so my experience could have been a bit jaded because of the massive amounts of people. I would like to stop by Camilla and Sapphire Hill again.
Altogether, I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday to spend wine tasting to experience some old favorites and new adventures.
Last week I stopped by the Love Farms Market in downtown Healdsburg to say hello to a friend who was helping to remodel the store. Love Farms is a local farm which grows certified organic fruits, veggies and sells seedlings for people to grow their own. They supply produce to some of Healdsburg’s biggest restaurants (Barn Diva, Ravenous and Cyrus) as well as to anyone who stops in their retail store or by their farm on Grant Street.
Picture taken from Jon of Sonoma’s Flicker page
During my visit, Ron Love (owner and the farm’s namesake) told me that they are remodeling the market to introduce a healthy and economical community restaurant to the town in the back portion of the store. He mentioned it would be opening up around the time when the Healdsburg Farmers Market opens up (in May) with meals made, of course, with Love Farms produce. During my visit we talked about the new seedlings that they are selling and he inspired me to want to start my garden at my house.
All of this rain and the extra pinch on my pocketbook as of late has gotten me into a food funk. I notice that during the winter I am much more apt to eat meals with less variety…. Maybe it is the weather and being stuck indoors has made me a bit lazy, maybe I just know I can use that as an excuse. But I don’t seem to have the same inspiration in the wintertime as I do during the fall, spring and definitely the summer.
I still buy produce… I have had a lazy vegetarian taco kick that has lasted the past two months. A few times a week, I will sauté up some spinach, mushrooms, bell peppers and onions along with some store bought salsa to make my tacos. It takes no time at all and they are delicious, but that is beyond the point.
What is my point? Do I even have one?
Oh…. yes…. My food habits have become monotonous. My visit at Love Farms has sparked a new excitement in me. Sonoma County is the perfect climate to grow a garden (or even a Farm). For the first time since I moved out on my own, I am not living in an apartment… Even better – my house already has three boxes for gardening. Ron mentioned that right now is the perfect time to start growing my seedlings, or purchase them from him to start growing my beets, onions, garlic and spinach. So, look for tweets and blog posts about my very first adventures in gardening.