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Winery Spotlight - Fort Ross Vineyards

Every once in a while I come across a winery with a magical story and Fort Ross Vineyard is no exception. I had the great pleasure of tasting through their complete line-up of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Pinotage. 

Situated only one mile from the Pacific Ocean high above the fog line, to say the property is picturesque is an understatement. Perched within the Fort Ross - Seaview AVA, this is as far west as it gets. Named after the historic Fort Ross which was once Russian occupied and is now the only foreign funded state park in the United States. Fort Ross Vineyard owners, Lester and Linda, have brought a whole new definition of romance with the elegance of place which comes through in their wines. Originally from South Africa the couple longed for country life and to build upon their love for wine and food. 

Having found the perfect location along the Pacific Ocean, they decided to plant a test vineyard with 16 different varieties, three different trellis systems, assorted clones and different rootstocks. After four years, they concluded that the area was ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and in 1994 began installing the first seven vineyard blocks. Shortly, thereafter, the native South Africans paid tribute to their home country by planting Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. 

Deciding what to plant and where was not the only challenge. With steep slopes and the property ranging in elevation from 1200 to 1700 feet, and more rainfall than the Amazon Jungle reaching upwards of 125 inches of rain a year, the challenge of mapping out the vineyard was no easy feat. With the help of a consultant and thousands of plastic knifes, (yes, plastic picnic knives), used to mark the rows of the future vineyard, Lester and Linda accomplished what many thought to be unthinkable. Due to the steeps slopes, the vineyards are all hand-harvested before being taken to winemaker Jeff Pisoni's winemaking facility in Santa Rosa. 

The purity of the wines along with their balance and exemplary expression of each grape variety shows a true dedication to producing the best wine from the best vineyards and location. Lester and Linda are dedicated to letting each vintage speak for itself and don't try to make the exact same wine as they did before. 

So what about the juice they produce? Well, to say their wines are bloody fantastic is not an understatement. If you like crisp chardonnay that tastes of lemon curd, citrus, and a fresh summer morning, that you have got to buy Fort Ross' wines. The reserve spends a little more time in oak but most of it is neutral so if you like heavier Chardonnay than the reserve is for you. 

The Pinot Noirs are also outstanding and as a self-proclaimed Pinot Noir nut, there is a pinot for everyone here. The cooler years produced much more elegant and refined Pinots and the warmer years produced big and bold style Pinots and the Pinotage has gripy tannins, spice and great fruit sure to satisfy any red wine lover. 

I highly recommend that you make the trip out to the newly opened tasting room. What better way to spend the day than sipping amazing wines while looking at extraordinary views of the Pacific Ocean?! For more information and tasting room hours, please visit their website. 



Easter Wine Recommendations 

Easter is this weekend and I'll be honest that for me, Easter, is less about religion and more about Cadbury eggs and mimosas. Truth. Is. Out. 

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate here a few wine recommendations for your upcoming feast of savory and/or sweets: 

  • If you plan to prepare and enjoy a lamb dish, I recommend pairing it with a Tempranillo or Malbec. Both wines have great acid to cut through the meaty texture and have enough spice and boldness to accommodate the bold flavors of both the meat and planned accoutrements. 
  • If you plan to prepare a glazed ham, I recommend pairing it with a Riesling, Grenache, Pinot Noir or Merlot. The stone fruit and touch of sweetness in the Riesling will accent all the flavors of the glaze and the sharp acidity will cut through rich meat. With the red wines, the sweet glaze will also be complimented with fruit flavors of cheery, plum and red berries often found in all three red wines. The acid will again, help to cut through the succulent meat and
  • Sparkling wine and/or mimosas go with everything....duh.
  • If you plan on gorging on candy and candy only, I recommend a Port or Madeira to accompany. It's all about the sweetness baby! 

Wishing you a very happy and delicious Easter. 


If you have a favorite Easter or springtime wine, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. 


10 Tips for Planning a Wine Tasting Trip

Originally published on Tablehopper.

The romance and allure of the wine industry is often what draws wine drinkers to plan weekend trips to Wine Country and sip the days away in tasting rooms. I’ve spent a significant amount of my working professional life in winery tasting rooms, which has allowed me to geek out on soil types, rootstocks, average rainfall, and clones, and has also led to many laughs (nothing compares with experiencing Pat Sajak’s cheesy jokes firsthand). I also love watching a guest experience his first aha moment, when he connects the dots between the vineyard and what’s in the glass by tasting specific characteristics of a grape for the first time.

These moments are all among the highs, but unfortunately it isn’t always as elegant and dreamy as you might imagine. These exhilarating experiences are often interspersed with desolate moments that have made me unsure about the human race.

Having experienced a guest spit gum into my hand so they can better taste the wine is, unfortunately, not the most repulsive experience I’ve had. Tracking down guests who have disappeared to the tank room to “ferment” their love, if you will, was rather distasteful but so was serving as a backsplash for a guest insistent on knowing if the spit buckets were from Ikea by flipping the mélange of wine and saliva upside down. True stories. And then there is always that guy who likes to tell me the history of the wine industry because he saw the movie Sideways.

The allure of the wine industry may seem to stretch a little further than my liking but then that’s just it—the real story being told is how wine brings people together from all walks of life. So as much as these stories may have you questioning why anyone would ever work at a winery, the passion lies with connecting people with a product that has the ability to be the center of celebrations and many stories to come. That is a powerful romance you don’t fight, but embrace.

So unless you want to become a gum-chewing, cracker-spewing, flipping-the-dump-bucket drunk, I’d like to share my 10 tips for making your day of wine tasting the best it can be for all involved.

  1. No gum, perfume, or cologne. Wine goes great with food but doesn’t make a great pairing for gum, perfume, and/or cologne, which can easily dominate the flavors and aromas in wine and affect the tasters around you.

  2. Use dump buckets. It really doesn’t matter if they are from Ikea or not, I recommend making use of these. Life is too short to drink bad wine—spit out the wine if you don’t like it or if you’re feel a little tipsy. Using dump buckets can slow the pace down while you still get all the flavor.

  3. Learn: ask questions of your tasting room associate. If you don’t understand something, ask for further explanations. If the associate is anything like me, she will be more than happy to impart all her wine knowledge.

  4. Come prepared with water and snacks. The majority of wineries do not provide food or allow for picnics on their property, so bring food to fend off the munchies.

  5. Plan for a lunch stop along your wine route. See no. 4.

  6. Make appointments ahead of time. This is a great way to get a private tasting and personalized attention from trained wine professionals.

  7. Pick one geographic location and stay there. Don’t try to cover multiple regions or appellations in one day. Select a few wineries that are close to one another.

  8. Hire a car or plan for a driver. Drinking and driving will get you sent straight to the slammer, a hefty fine, and the loss of your driver’s license. Just don’t do it. Be smart, plan ahead.

  9. Know and accept that you can’t do it all. Plan to visit three or four wineries in a day. You can expect to taste, on average, about five wines at each winery. If you’re not making use of the dump buckets, the amount of wine you will drink can add up fast.

  10. Have beer on hand at home. Nothing is more refreshing at the end of a long day of wine tasting than an ice-cold beer.

With these tips in mind, wine tasting is more than just an excuse to day drink. It’s a lot like trying on shoes: you get to try on something new, and decide if you love or hate it. I just ask that you don’t leave basic etiquette at the door. But please, by all means, feel free to snap a selfie in the vineyards on the way out.



The Calling - Get Your Pinot and Chard On

Ok, here's a moment of honesty: When I first saw this brand, I thought it was sleek, especially with the heavier bottles, but the name is completely cheesy. "The Calling," sounds like a sci-fi mystery or Star Wars movie welcoming me to the dark side. I am most likely a princess in the court of the dark side, however, this is not my genre of entertainment, which made me roll my eyes at the label....almost.   

One of the things I LOVE about wine is that it brings people together. The story behind "The Calling," is no exception. Once I read more, I came to understand the impactful meaning behind the name. Peter Deutsch and Jim Nantz had the random fate of meeting at a restaurant through mutual friends. Nantz, is an Emmy winning sportscaster while Deutsch is a wine industry marketing and operations guru. Both had been greatly influenced by their fathers and had followed their independent passions in both sports and wine. The two hit it off immediately shared similar values their fathers had installed and decided to partner on a wine venture for follow their true calling

I had high expectations for the Pinot and Chardonnay because a) I'm obsessed with Pinot and b) It has Dutton Ranch on both labels. The fruit coming from this vineyard in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma is rather outstanding. So if they messed that up, this would be a much angrier blog post. However, they rocked it. A bold, rich pinot with loads of cherry, mushroom flavors and slight baking spice. This is a great pinot to drink on its own or with food such as Salmon or heavier fish dishes.

The chardonnay follows suit in being rich, layered with flavors and mouth-feel without being buttery and oaky with a strong fruit focus and slight minerality. Also a great wine for pairing with salads, cream based dishes and lighter stews.

This wine embodies everyone's wish to follow their heart and make a living from what we love. So when you open a bottle, take a sip and appreciate all that you have accomplished and all that you hope to accomplish. 

Furthermore, if you had a wine to name, what would it be and why? Post your answers below in the comments. 

To learn more about The Calling and to purchase these wines, visit their website.




Upcoming Event 3/9 - 12th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

My obsession for Pinot Noir is about to be indulged in a big way. This weekend I am SO excited to be participating as a "celebrity Sommelier" for the 12th Annual Pinot Noir summit this weekend in San Francisco!

This is the second year I will be participating and I invite all of you to attend! I will be helping to facilitate the blind tasting so grab your tickets: 


SPECIAL OFFER: 20% off with promo code: SFPinot

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Learn more about the Pinot Noir Summit:

See you there wine lovers!