Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Raise a Glass to “Green” California Wines During Down to Earth Month in April

Celebrate at Dozens of Eco-Friendly Winery Events

Malcolm CarlawSAN FRANCISCO — Eco-conscious consumers have many ways to celebrate with sustainably produced wines during California’s 6th Annual Down to Earth Month in April. California wineries will be offering dozens of sustainability-focused events and activities throughout the month from Earth Day wine festivals, farm-to-glass tours and walks with the winemaker to vineyard hikes, VIP eco-tours and more.

Created by Wine Institute — the association of nearly 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses — Down to Earth Month raises awareness about the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) Sustainable Winegrowing Program, one of the most comprehensive and widely adopted in the world, involving vineyards that grow 70 percent of winegrapes and wineries that produce 80 percent of all California wine. California is the world’s fourth-largest wine producer and the scale and comprehensiveness of the program covering vineyards, wineries and communities is a remarkable accomplishment.

“Consumers care about how their wines are grown and made, and our Down to Earth Month celebration is a way for people to learn about California’s world leadership in sustainable winegrowing,” said Bobby Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute. “In a recent survey, members of the wine trade said that they anticipate consumer demand for wines produced with sustainable practices to grow substantially over the next decade.”

North Coast

On April 22, visit Napa Valley wineries and restaurants and stop by the Earth Day Festival in downtown Napa’s Oxbow Commons. Enjoy local wines and foods, local bands and kids’ activities. Napa Valley Vintners, a sponsor of the event, has committed to having all Napa County wineries 100 percent certified Napa Green by 2020.
Sonoma County Winegrowers are committed to the county’s wines being 100 percent sustainable by 2019. A great way to explore Sonoma wines and green practices is at the Dry Creek Valley Passport Weekend April 28-30. More than 45 wineries are offering themed parties with food and wine pairings, regional chefs and vintners, and vineyard tours that offer a closer look at their winegrowing practices.

In the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the Celebrate Earth Day in Green Valley festival April 23 offers the chance to taste wines from 10 local wineries pouring at Iron Horse Vineyards. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross will discuss the future of food, while Chef Traci Des Jardins will showcase the “Impossible Burger” made entirely of plants. Guests can enjoy a National Geographic food photography exhibit. Proceeds benefit Sustainable Conservation.

Inland Valleys

About 90 miles northeast of the San Francisco Bay Area is Lodi, Wine Enthusiast’s 2015 Wine Region of the Year. The 2nd Annual Lodi Wine & Food Festival on April 1 provides an opportunity to taste wines from more than 30 wineries, many of which use sustainable practices. Food from local restaurants and caterers, wine pairings, blind wine tastings, olive oil tasting and live music are all part of the day.

Sierra Foothills

The Sierra Foothills wine region offers some of California’s highest elevation vineyards. El Dorado Wine Association’s 26th Annual Passport Event takes place April 22-23 and April 29-30 and is a chance to explore 20 of the region’s wineries, including participants in sustainable winegrowing efforts. Guests can sample local wines, buy gifts made by regional artisans and enjoy delicious food tastings.

Central Coast & Santa Cruz Mountains

In the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region, more than 50 wineries will offer special tastings during Passport Day on April 15, one of four times a year when wineries of this region come together to offer their wines. Another area tour is the Organic Wine Trail of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The Santa Barbara Vintners Festival Grand Tasting on Earth Day April 22 is the largest tasting of Santa Barbara County wines of the year. Wine lovers can celebrate with more than 100 wineries and winemakers, more than 30 food purveyors and chefs, regional artists and more.

Southern California

San Diego offers the VinDiego Wine and Food Festival, a fun experience with 70 wineries, including many certified sustainable, on April 8. Known as the largest wine tasting in San Diego, the event offers guests a chance to sip among hundreds of California’s finest award-winning wines and enjoy gourmet bites and live music at NTC Liberty Station arts district.

California Sustainable Winegrowing

California is a world leader in sustainable winegrowing practices. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), established by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers 15 years ago, is a three-time recipient of the governor’s top environmental award for increasing adoption of sustainable winegrowing practices in California. More than 2,000 wineries and vineyards in California participate in the CSWA program.
Many wineries and vineyards around the state have also earned CSWA’s Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing status with verification by a third-party auditor.

Explore all of the Down to Earth Month activities at or to earn a certificate as a Sustainable Winegrowing Ambassador, take a free one-hour course here.

Photo Credit: Malcolm Carlaw Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, March 27, 2017

Arts and Cuisine of Montreal Beckon Savvy Travelers

Montreal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city after Paris. This metropolis is considered the cultural capital of Canada and abounds with fantastic cuisine and world-class art.

La Bete a Pain bakery in Montreal

Northward Bound

March isn’t considered the tourist season in Montreal. It’s northern latitude means that chilling temperatures are still common in this cosmopolitan Canadian city of about 1.6 million.

We had some compelling reasons for making our recent visit, though. Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary, the world debut of Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera, and Montreal is our favorite Canadian city. Tourisme Montreal hosted the trip as I scouted the city as a prospective site for a future conference.

When we leave Northwestern Ohio at this time of year, it is usually to warmer climes in the south. This time we were greeted with temperatures of 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That in no way slows down this bustling city. With a stylish scarf and a hooded parka, Montreal residents love walking in their city no matter the chill.

Putting On The Ritz

Beet Salad at Maison BouludOur accommodations were at the swanky Ritz-Carleton Montreal. This five-diamond hotel blends the best of historic elements with modern features. The hospitality and service were superlative.

We arrived before our room was ready, so we adjourned to the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Maison Boulud. This is the bastion of Chef Daniel Boulud and our light lunch was served in the popular greenhouse section of the restaurant. My beet salad was artistic and scrumptious.

Ritz Carlton Dom Perignon barThe Ritz-Carleton was opened in 1912 and one of the best vantage points to enjoy the Grand Dame of Sherbrooke Street is the Dom Pérignon bar. The bar is located in the Palm Court, considered the city’s most glamorous lobby.

Quelus Cab Franc at Masion Boulud barThe luxury and attention to detail that is evident in the food and spirits is on display in the accommodations as well. Our spacious room had state of the art technology, including lights activated by motion sensors, curtains and blackout shades remotely controlled, a deep soaking tub with a handy television plus one more essential. The bathroom featured a multi-functional toilet/bidet with heated seat, automatic sensor and remote control. This baby had more controls that the Apollo moon mission – seat covers that open by themselves, a deodorizing feature and a drier. As you can see, even the smallest detail is not overlooked.

You satisfaction is assured when you stay at Montreal’s Ritz-Carleton.

Our Montreal Visit’s Best Bites

Vitello at GraziellaWith a city that loves food, great cuisine, funky bars and interesting shops are around every corner. In Old Montreal we visited Graziella, which focuses on elevated northern Italian cuisine. We enjoyed Carpaccio de Speck with caramelized pear, hazelnuts, arugula and Pecorino cheese. My entree was Vitello, a milk-fed veal loin with parsnip purée and roasted vegetables. To accompany the meal, there was an ample supply of Dogliani Superiore, a Dolcetto wine from Italy.

Lovers of baked goods and pastries are living the high life in Montreal. For sweet fans, Léché Desserts is an “artisanal doughnut café” in the St. Jacques neighborhood. It has a mind-blowing assortment of doughnuts that include coconut and lime, lemon meringue, white chocolate, s’mores and maple–bacon.

In the Little Burgundy area, delightful restaurants and food shops are springing up, including Patrice Patissier. The shop was opened by prominent pastry chef Patrice Demers. It swims in amazing aromas of fresh ground coffee, dough and crèmes.

Well made bread is essential to life – at least as I see it. I was informed by one of our hosts that baking is a specialty of Montreal and – the city has the best bagels, despite claims to the contrary by New York. Montreal bagels are smaller and typically plain or covered with sesame or poppy seeds – don’t ask for a banana mango bagel in Montreal We visited La Bête à Pain bakery in Griffintown town and tore into some delightful artisan breads.

20170312_201541-01Our course, we wanted to explore the wine scene in Montreal. We visited Pullman Bar à Vin for some small plates and flights of wine. I enjoyed a trio of wine from France’s Savoie region. The first was a sparkling Brut Zero made with the Gringet grape (a new one for me). This was followed by a white still wine made with Gringet as well. The red part of the trio was  Chateau de Merande Arbin Mondeuse Le Comte Rouge made with the obscure Mondeuse Noire grape. Pullman is quite a find. My wife enjoyed a great glass of Nero D’Avola with bison burger sliders.

Montreal Sights and BitesLe Beaux-Arts In Montreal

There are more than 50 museums in Montreal and the fine arts are an integral part of life. We were fortunate to visit during the Chagall: Colour and Music exhibit at Le Beaux-Arts Musee (Museum of Fine Arts). The exhibit runs through June 11, 2017, and is exhilarating to the eye and the heart. Music was pervasive in Chagall’s childhood in Russia and permeates his works on display in Montreal. A pleasant surprise was the display of costumes he designed for numerous ballets, including The Firebird and The Magic Flute. The museum also has a superb restaurant, which means you can happily spend an entire day at the museum.

At the Place des Arts we were guests at an opera happening to mark the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Roger Water’s legendary work, The Wall, was presented on the opera stage as Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera. Pink Floyd fans expecting to see a rock opera and play air guitar to the well-known tunes were in for a surprise. The operatic version composed by Julien Bilodeau with stage direction by Dominic Champagne, was truly an opera. Although the lyrics were word for word, new music was composed for opera.

The experience was spectacular, bringing to life the concept album with soulful music and stunning visuals and choreography. The style, passion and artistry were delivered in true Quebecoise style. Only in Montreal – you’ll need to come and see the city for yourself.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard Trio Delivers Taste And Value

Three new releases from one of our favorite Sonoma producers score high in QPR. For the uninitiated, this is Quality Price Ratio – or maybe the wine lover’s Holy Grail.

Dry Creek Vineyard Trio

An Intro To QPR

One of the most important concepts in wine buying, at least according to the tasting team at Vino-Sphere, is QPR. Quality Price Ratio basically is your scorecard as to whether you made a good purchase or a bad one.

A good Oregon Pinot Gris for which you pay $15 may have higher QPR than a 90+ rated single vineyard Cab from Paso Robles – if you paid $200 for it. It boils down to how much wine enjoyment you are getting for your dollar.

You might pay $35 for  two bottles of wine – one might have a tremendous QPR, and the other rock bottom. Which brings me to the focus for today – a winery that is always coming through with wines that ring the bell with great QPR: Dry Creek Vineyard.

Enter The Mariner

The Mariner is a high-end Meritage (Bordeaux-style blend) from Dry Creek Vineyard. Dry Creek Vineyard is located in Dry Creek Valley, a magical sub-region of Sonoma in California. At $45 this is a premium bottle for which you might expect to pay double if it came from Napa. The Mariner rocks a great QPR!

The blend for the 2013 vintage is 54% cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc. These are the five “noble” Bordeaux varieties. It delivers velvety flavors of blueberry, dark fruit and some vanilla. It is aged 20 months in French and Hungarian oak, adding to the complexity.

I recently organized a Beer versus Wine social event and The 2013 Mariner sailed to the rescue. Attendees could sample The Mariner for a small (or large) donation to help prevent child abuse. One sip and donations were flowing like the incoming tide. Not only is that QPR, but GBC (giving back to the community)!

A “Zinful” Pair

Zinfandel is a signature grape in Dry Creek Valley, and Dry Creek Vineyard produces some standout bottles. We recently sampled their 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2015 Heritage Vines Zinfandel.

Old Vine Zinfandel is an uncommon treat. While the grocery stores may be flooded with California Zin, those made from old vines are on another level in terms of flavor, complexity and winemaker craft. The DCV Old Vine Zinfandel is made with vines that average 95 years in age with some more than 110 years old. As the vines grow, they produce fewer grapes, but each grape is exploding with concentrated flavor.

The OVZ has bold berry and plum flavors and an aroma that says “this is going to be good” even before the first sip. This wine has aging potential, but is ready to provide a pleasurable experience right now. Look for the spicy notes that are a hallmark for these old vines. This is a solid value at $32.

DCV’s 2015 Heritage Vines Zinfandel is a leader in QPR with a retail price of just $22. Dry Creek Vineyard has been an innovator in Zinfandel production including their heritage vines project. Pre-Prohibition era vineyard cuttings were grafted onto pest-resistant rootstock starting in 1982. The result is “young vine” wine with “old vine” characteristics.

We appreciate the winegrowing craft that was used. Most important to us, though, is that this is an amazingly delicious wine at a shockingly good price. Raspberries, cherries, cocoa all dance in this rich, smooth wine. Heritage Vines Zinfandel includes 20% Petite Sirah and 1% Carignane, adding to the allure.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as marketing samples.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meeker Wines Leave A Colorful and Tasteful Impression

Meeker Handprint Merlot

For more than 30 years The Meeker Vineyard has been excelling in winemaking. We never buy wine just for the bottle, but when what’s inside is just as beautiful as the outside, we can make an exception.

Artistry In A Bottle

I’ve always scoffed at those who purchase wine due to a label with cute animals or a gimmicky name. After all, some of the world’s most magnificent wines are packaged with humdrum labels from top estates in France.

There are a few exceptions. I do enjoy Artist Series bottles, like those from Kenwood and Chateau Ste. Michelle. Some wineries have sophisticated and stylish labels. I consider these cool – as opposed to “lame” kangaroos, teddy bears or wines with no flavor, just a catchy name.

One bottle I would buy without hesitation – even if it contained only air – is the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot by Meeker. The bottle itself is a work of art – not just the label. It is a true beauty and I’ll tell you all about it – just not yet.

Shaking Up Sonoma

Meeker Grenache Meeker wines have been around since Charlie and Molly opened their winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley in 1984. Although their Handprint Merlot is their most iconic wine, in the early years they made their reputation with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. You can learn more about their story in our article from a Meeker wine dinner we attended last year.

Through Wine Studio, an online wine education program, we recently tasted not only the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, but the Meeker 2013 Hoskin Ranch Grenache and the Meeker 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc. Thanks to the mighty culinary efforts of the Green Dragon we enjoyed each wine with stylish food pairings.

We started with the Hoskin Ranch Grenache and the Cabernet Franc. For this delightful duo, Green Dragon prepared a gourmet mushroom soup with truffle oil and for the entrée, a steak pinwheel stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and asparagus, along with risotto and roasted vegetables.

Starting with some manchego cheese and olives, we sipped the Hoskin Ranch Grenache. This is a light red wine with amber highlights. On the palate the body is silky smooth with a light medium body. The Meeker team has successfully coaxed the complex flavors from the grapes without burying the flavors with harsh tannins. The wine is aged in once-used and neutral French and American oak.

This is an expressive wine with sweet cherry notes and threads of rhubarb. We found that the mushroom soup wasn’t an ideal pairing, but the Grenache continued to provide enjoyment well into our steak.

The Dry Creek Valley (one of our favorite US wine regions, by the way) Cabernet Franc was a revelation. The color is deeper than the Grenache and it was a glorious match with our steak. Up front the wine has herbal notes. Green Dragon is hypersensitive to vegetal flavors and she got some early, but it tapered off. I tasted none and was focused on the cherry cola flavor. This is a FFG – food friendly giant.

Meeker Wines food pairingsWhat’s Up With The Handprints?

First of all, those handprints covering the bottle are from winemaker Lucas Meeker. About 2,000 cases of the Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot are produced each year. At least once a week, a handprinting session takes place. It takes an hour and a half for a team of four to do the handprinting for a pallet and another hour and a half to tissue wrap the bottles.

We surely appreciate the effort. Green Dragon was so enamored of the bottle that she not only cooked an amazing shortrib entrée, brazing it three hours in wine, but also “paired” the wine bottle with color-matched flowers. Our entrée also included Yukon Gold smashed potatoes and pineapple-ginger glazed carrots.

The Handprint Merlot is almost always a blend of Merlot from a vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and one from Alexander Valley. The 2013 vintage also had 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Syrah. This is a mellow wine with polished tannins. It has a vibrant acidity and flavors of chocolate and sour cherry.

This wine is a work of art, outside and in. It has an SRP of $45, which is a steal for such a distinctive wine. The pricing on all three bottles is very good with the Grenache listed at $38 and the Cab Franc at $45. C’est magnifique!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Locations Wine: Exploring California and France

Locations - C WineHave an urge to explore the world – but not the cash? Locations wine company has bottled the best of the world’s finest wine regions. The world can be yours for a song.

What California Wine Regions Made The Cut?

Locations has a pretty lofty goal for their globe-spanning line of wines. They aim to create a blend across all of the major appellations to produce a wine that represents the country or state of origin.

When you are trying to master this, challenges abound. In the Old World, imagine the challenges in France or Italy. Right here at home, how do you create a bottle that represents all the fantastic winemaking across the wine mecca of California?

We aimed to find out as we popped open a bottle of “CA.” Each bottle in the series is distinctively badged with the “bumper sticker” declaring its location.

Which regions made their way into the bottle? How about Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills? That’s a pretty good cross-section. We visited Amador Country last summer and in doing so gained a new appreciation for vino from the Sierra Foothills.

If you were expecting gobs of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, you would have guessed wrong. CA blends Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache grapes and includes 10 months of aging in French oak. It will please any California wine lover, with big flavors of berry, herbs and a dash of smoke. The tannins are evident, but don’t distract from enjoying this wine now.

Locations - F WineThe F Word Is Good!

In wine, or at least in Dave Phinney’s Locations series, the F word is France. In this instance, it is France. You might say they dropped the F bomb, because the lineup includes two F wines: a red and a rosé. We recently popped open the rosé.

Rosé is not just a hot weather wine. It is a perfect food wine and often comes to the rescue when you have a dish for which wine pairing is tricky. We served it as an arrival wine at a recent party.

This rosé comes from the south of France, perhaps Languedoc, although it isn’t stated. If all the grapes came from Provence, I’m sure that would have been trumpeted loudly.

It is 100% Grenache and is fermented in stainless steel tanks to maintain its fresh flavors. It offers a light-medium body and concentrated flavors of peaches and honeysuckle.

Serving rosé works with almost any light entrée or social occasion. It also shows you have enough savvy to know that rosé is trending in the wine world – and for good reason. The quality of rosé worldwide has never been better.

We enjoyed both these Locations. Each bottle is priced below $20, so these stops on your world tour won’t break the bank.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as marketing samples.

Friday, March 10, 2017

St. Francis 2014 Reserve Merlot, Sonoma County

St. Francis Merlot ReserveNo wonder this Merlot is so magnificent. The winemaker uses 19% of one of our favorite grapes. It’s not one you would expect.

A Sonoma Surprise

Merlot’s natural blending partner is Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot is lusher and less tannic than Cabernet. It also ripens faster than Cab. So combining the two makes a lot of sense for the winegrower and the winemaker.

We uncorked the 2014 St. Francis Reserve Merlot on Mardi Gras. Green Dragon likes to host parties and enjoys cooking up Cajun-style food. Cajun food is known for including just about everything but the kitchen sink in the boiling pot. So I was pleased to see that the Merlot also included a surprise ingredient.

The St. Francis Reserve is 77% Merlot, 19% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Malbec elevates this reserve wine above your typical Merlot. The resulting wine has exquisite flavors of blackberry and currant with a dollop of vanilla.


St. Francis Merlot CapThe grapes for this wine are hand sorted with the Merlot coming from the Wild Oak and Behler vineyards in Sonoma County. The vineyards are protected from extreme weather allowing them to ripen to great depth of color and flavor.

Aging is for 20 months in French oak, about half of it new barrels. The wine also undergoes malolactic fermentation, which accounts in part for the beauteous full and rich body.

The wine retails for about $40 and pairs well with lamb or pork dishes. We can report that it pairs very well with jambalaya and red beans and rice too!

The 2014 St. Francis Reserve Merlot is highly recommended for those who want to drench themselves in a flavorful wine experience.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Books Explore Italian Wine History And The “Real Italy”

Italy from two perspectives

Looking to enjoy the good life in Italia? This pair of books provide entertaining reading on the people and wine.

Living In Italy – The Real Deal

Living In Italy – The Real Deal by Stef Smulders (Barbeque Publishers) relates a rolicking tale of two Dutch guys seeking to relocate to Italy and open a B&B. That simple plan becomes confounded by a colorful cast of Italians ranging from sympathetic to villainous.

In 2008 the author emigrated to Italy with his husband and dog to start the Villa I Due Padroni bed and breakfast. The tale takes place in the northern Italian region of Oltrepò Pavese. The task to transform a fading gray concrete block building into an attractive haven with a swimming pool is beset with minor calamities.

My only trip to Italy found me driving a rental car in the middle of a historic pedestrian-only Roman square. So Stef’s insights are quite relatable and welcome.

Smulders dishes up his tale with equal parts amusement and disbelief while weaving an entertaining tale. The book not only relates their story, but gives keen insight into the essence of Italian character.

Living In Italy  is available through Amazon at $13.95 in paperback.

The Modern History of Italian Wine

The Modern History of Italian Wine, edited by Walter Filiputti (published by Skira) is a feast for lovers of Italian wine. The oversized book is bursting with beautiful photos and thoughtful articles rich in insights on the Italian wine industry.

At 414 pages, this isn’t a book that can be easily read in the course of a evening or two. Rather, it is one to savor and enjoy. I’d suggest it be done with an appropriate glass of Italian wine.

The story of Italian wine is a complex one. I dare say the intricacies far surpass fellow Old World wine powerhouse France. The volume brings the story alive with the people, lands and tales of Italy. It does so in three main sections: 1. The Renaissance of Italian Wine, 2. Italian Wine Innovation, and 3. The Geography of Italian Wine.

Considerable time is spent discussing the Renaissance of Italian wine. During my lifetime (at least my wine-consuming years) Italian wine has always been superlative. I didn’t realize that Italy had to arise from a sea of low-cost, low-quality wines to achieve the notoriety it now enjoys.

The article, The Renaissance of Italian Wine: the People Who Changed History, is particularly interesting. It covers the development of Sassicaia, the first Super Tuscan premium wine that shook the foundation of the DOC system and eventually resulted in an overhaul to the Italian wine system.  Tignanello is also given its due as the wine that changed Chianti and Italy.

Italian wine producers have used innovation to refine the product, which is a deeply artisan one. The book covers scientific and technical advances while highlighting the wines and personalities of superb wine regions like Brunello di Montalcino, Piedmont, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Chianti.

The Excellence of Italian Wine from the 1960s to Today is a look at the best winemakers and wines by the decades. Photos accentuate and beautify this volume. Like a lingering finish on an aged Barolo, the closing chapter on Wineries – New Architecture, is a sensory delight. The design of Italian wineries reflect the sense of style and innovation that have keyed the success of Italy in this post-modern consumer world.

I recommend this for every wine lover’s library. Available on Amazon, The Modern History of Italian Wine retails for about $36.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sonoma’s Ordaz Wines A Triumphant Tale

Immigration reform and a proposed wall on the border with Mexico are not just passing news stories for this California winery owner. His trail to success starts with an illegal border crossing…

Ordaz Malbec

Crossing The Border

Jose Jesus Ordaz is an American success story with an ending for which wine lovers are most thankful. Ordaz, known as Chuy (pronounced “Chewy”) was the son a a vegetable farmer in Mexico. By the time he was 20, he had tried unsuccessfully to cross the border 32 times. He realized his goal on his 33rd try – and he has now been a resident of Sonoma for 43 years.

He grew up farming and sold grapes from a fruit stand when he was 15. With the help of a “coyote” he finally crossed the border into the US. He has worked in Sonoma County in almost every position inside and outside of a winery, logging most of his work at Kenwood.

He got his immigration papers decades ago and has been a citizen for more than a dozen. Not only is he the owner of Palo Alto Vineyard Management which services premier vineyards in Sonoma Valley as well as Alexander Valley, but he has his own vineyard in Russian River Valley.

The Fruits Of The Journey

Ordaz Family WinesWe recently had the chance to taste a pair of Ordaz Family wines as part of the Wine Studio educational program. The Ordaz 2014 Placida Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec were paired with food and festivities.

The Ordaz Pinot Noir was part of a three-way Pinot shootout with Pinot Noir from Rogue Valley, Oregon, and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Germany. Our meal was pork tenderloin with a red wine reduction sauce accompanied by sautéed spinach and grilled potatoes. Pinot and pork is a heavenly combination.

I’m a big fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, but the finesse of the Ordaz Pinot outclassed the the other two. Placida Vineyard is in the heart of the Russian River Valley and the prized grapes delivered elegant, layered flavors of cherry and raspberry. The light ruby colored wine also has delicate flavors of berry compote. The other two Pinot were clumsy by comparison.

Our next Ordaz tasting was wildly different – in a good way. The Green Dragon (my wife) is known for her Mardi Gras parties and so she whipped up a pot of jambalaya and red beans and rice. As our partygoers enjoyed the Cajun style food and Zydeco music, I poured the Ordaz Malbec.

Some Malbec (did someone say Argentina?) can be fruit bombs – jammy to a fault. The Ordaz Malbec struck a wonderful balance. The fruit was rich and beautiful without going over the top. I’ll also give high marks for versatility.Jambalaya has sausage, shrimp, peppers and who knows what in it. There is a bit of a spicy kick, too.

The Ordaz Malbec could have been crowned king or queen of the Mardi Gras, the pairings were so good. My biggest challenge was trying to keep our guests from finishing the bottle before I could get a refill. I’m happy to report that the Ordaz Malbec lasted long enough to pair with beignets for dessert.

Ordaz 2014 Placida Vineyard Pinot Noir retails for $38 while the 2012 Sandoval Vineyard Malbec has an SRP of $25. These are wonderfully crafted wines and great values to boot.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

13th Annual Grand River Valley Ice Wine Festival Set March 4, 11 and 18 in Northeastern Ohio

Ice Wine Fest 025Surprise! Chilly weather can mean something good – like the Grand River Valley Ice Wine Festival, now in its 13th year. The festival is located in the Northeastern Ohio in the heart of the Grand River Valley Wine Region. The event will be held March 4, 11 and 18. Five area wineries come together to celebrate this golden nectar otherwise known as ice wine that can only be made in certain parts of the world. Not only is this wine unique but Grand River Valley ice wines have garnered top awards in international wine competitions.

The festival consists of 5 area wineries all within a 10-minute drive of each other. Each winery will provide a sample of their wines, an ice wine glass, and a complimentary appetizer. The event begins at noon and ends at 5 p.m. The cost is $6 per person at each winery.

Patrons begin at the winery of their choice for this fun, progressive Ice Wine tasting throughout the Grand River Valley wine region. Participating wineries include Debonné Vineyards, Ferrante Winery & Ristorante, Grand River Cellars Winery & Restaurant, Laurello Vineyards, and St. Joseph Vineyards. Making this event a progressive tasting is one of the reasons the event is such a draw. Patrons will have a unique experience at every winery and will be able to see different sights around the area.

Many wineries have added “extras” for people to enjoy. Some of the extras include special wine dinners featuring local meats, cheeses and vegetables, ice carving, dog sledding, food demonstrations and several artisans. Most of these “extras” are free but some will cost the patron a small additional charge. In addition, many of the winemakers will be on hand for people to talk to and other wines will be available for people to taste.

"This year is especially exciting for us here at Debonne Vineyards," says Tony Debevc, President. "Our 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine garnered the top award at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition being recognized as the sweepstakes winner for "Best Dessert Wine". In addition, our winemaker, Ed Trebets, garnered the same award for "Best Dessert Wine Maker". The festival provides a great opportunity for patrons to taste this award winning ice wine and the award winning ice wines at the other wineries as well.

In an effort to help the local food banks, the wineries are encouraging everyone to bring in canned food items for which they will receive $1 off at each location. For more information about the Ice Wine Festival call 440-466-3485 or visit for a list of details.

Appetizer Menu & Events include:


  • APPETIZER:  Smokey Salmon Pate on Cracked Pepper Crackers
  • Sled Dog Demonstration all day
  • Live music Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
  • Winter Glow Progressive Dinner – each Friday evening.  Call 440-466-3485 or for more information on the dinner or to make reservations.


  • APPETIZER: Pound Cake with a  Peach Ricotta Cream
  • Live music Friday & Saturday evenings.
  • Take a picture with our giant ice wine bottle.
  • Ice Wine Pairing Dinner offered all three weekends.   No Reservations Necessary.  Visit for our menu & additional information.


  • APPETIZER: White Cheddar, Bacon & Caramelized Onions Mac & Cheese
  • Featuring Ice Carving at 12 p.m;
  • Delightful Soy Candles featuring Ice Wine Candles
  • Ice Wine Marshmallow Roast All Day (small additional fee)
  • Winter Glow Progressive Dinner – each Friday evening.  Call 440-298-9838 or for menu or more information on the dinner or to make reservations.
  • Live music Friday and Saturday evenings from 7:30-10:30.


  • APPETIZER:  Macaroon with hints of Orange and Dark Chocolate
  • Featuring Beach Glass Jewelry by Rita Burns.
  • What a video of this years ice wine harvest and pressing.


  • APPETIZER:  Ohio Apple Strudel Infused with Ohio Maple Syrup
  • Krzys Family Maple Syrup Demonstration

Monday, February 27, 2017

Barrel Run Crossing Winery & Vineyard: Ohio Winery Visit

This Ohio winery combines grapes and trains. The results are on track with delicious results.

Lauren Pours at Barrel Run

Stop At A Refueling Depot

In the olden days of steam locomotives, trains would stop to take on water. They’d fill up their tanks with water to run the boiler, ensuring there’d be enough steam to finish the next leg of the journey.

We found ourselves in a similar situation when we recently returned from a friend’s birthday party near Pittsburgh. Deciding we would avoid the stress and nondescript scenery of the interstate, we were cruising along US 224 east of Akron when our “steam engine” needed to refuel. In other words, the Green Dragon said she needed to stop to eat.

A few spoken words to our phone very fortuitously showed a couple of wineries near our location. One is a rather well known winery, but it was closed on Sunday. We decided instead to visit Barrel Run Crossing Winery and Vineyard in Rootstown.

Barrel Run CrossingOur Backroads Trip Is Rewarded

We are fans of Ohio wineries and encourage support of local wineries and businesses. Sometimes our faith is rewarded, but there have been a few times were the quality is uneven. As Forrest Gump may have said, going into a winery in Ohio is like opening a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. We’re pleased to report that the “chocolates” in this box were very tasty.

If we hadn’t decided to take the backroads on our return trip from PA, we never would have passed through Rootstown and other notable places like Ruggles, Ohio. Fate rewarded our wayfinding with a visit to a cool winery.

Soon after we pulled into the parking lot for Barrel Run Crossing, a freight train came roaring by – giving no doubt about the reason for the winery name. Barrel Run is the name of a nearby creek.

Barrel Run Crossing - OhioTrue To Its Roots

Barrel Run was derived from a family farm that had been in existence for four generations. Nick and Tirina Miller planted the first vineyard in 2006. Hay, soybeans and wheat have been grown along with 11 acres of eight different grape varieties. There is also a five-acre apple orchard, put to good use in their ciders and dry apple wines.

For the Millers, goals for the winery include producing superior wine that is authentically Ohio from Ohio grapes. They want to the land to continue to be used for agricultural purposes and provide jobs for the community.

Wine is produced mostly from estate grapes, with some being sources from other Ohio wineries. There is a small quantity of grapes from the family farm in North Carolina. White grapes grown in the vineyard include: Frontenac Gris, St. Pepin and Frontenac Blanc. Red estate grapes include Corot Noir, Frontenac, Marquette and Noiret.

Flavorful Cargo Delivered!

We mostly visit wineries for – you guessed it – for the wine. At Barrel Run Crossing the food is also an attraction. I enjoyed a tasty Turkey Gouda panini while the Green Dragon had grilled cheese with homemade tomato soup.

The tasting room has a view out to the vineyard and you can also see the trains rumble by. There are plenty of windows and comfortable seating for eating or drinking. To get the full experience, we opted for a flight.

Flights are served in a cross-section of a log branded with a very “railroady” BRX and holes drilled to hold the serving cups. The wines are railroad themed. We started with Traminette (OK, there is at least one that doesn’t have a railroad name). Traminette is a white hybrid grape that tastes very much like Gewürztraminer. Locomotion, a blend of Chardonnay, Traminette and Vidal, was more to the liking of Green Dragon – a light refreshing white.

High Iron looks almost orange in the glass and is a dry blend. It is early with a brambly flavor. The blend isn’t disclosed, but I’ll guess that it includes Marquette and perhaps Frontenac. The Roundhouse red is a blend of Frontenac and Cab Franc (about a 70-30 blend). This is enjoyable with a taste of pepper.

A chance meeting with new friends Charles and Cassandra added much to the enjoyment of our visit. They were recently married and had been staying nearby in a B&B and enjoying a tour of wineries. Making new friends and sometimes bumping into them later on the wine trail is an enjoyable aspect of visiting wineries.

We finished our tasting with Engine Number 5, of which we also purchased a bottle. Engine is a dry blend with cherry and blackberry flavors. This includes Noiret, a hybrid grape that’s deep in color.

In all, the wines were enjoyable. As you might expect, the body for the reds is lighter than a California wine. The flavor notes, though, are right on target. These are wines intended for enjoying over a casual meal or to open with friends at a get-together. 

Barrel Run Crossing is a great destination for wine lovers. Come by automobile, plane or train – you’ll enjoy the visit.