Category Archives: Awards

East Meets West: 2017 Competition Results!

As promised, results from the recent East Meets West Challenge results.   Check the site for a more thorough summary later this month.

Best of Show: East
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Finger Lakes Natural Ice Wine, $45

Best of Show: West
Miro Cellars, 2014 Petite Sirah, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley, Reserve Coyote Ridge Vineyard, $32

Best Sparkling: East
Trump Winery, 2009 Brut Reserve Estate Monticello, Methode Champenoise, Estate Bottled, $75

*Best Sparkling: West
Gloria Ferrer, Royal Cuvee 2007, $37

Best White: East
Wine Insiders, Simue 2016, Verdejo, Spain, $30

Best White: West
Oak Farm Vineyards, 2016 Albarino, Lodi,
Certified Green under Lodi Rules, $24

Best Rosé: East
Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, 2015 Rosé, Maryland, $20

Best Rosé: West
Stave & Stone Winery, 2016 Dorothy Pinot Noir Rosé, Columbia Gorge, Broten Boulder Vineyard, $25

Best Red: East
Pollak Vineyards, 2014 Cabernet Franc, Reserve Estate, Monticello Estate Grown Reserve, $50

Best Red: West
Miro Cellars, 2014 Petite Sirah, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley, Reserve Coyote Ridge Vineyard, $32

*Best Riesling: East
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, Finger Lakes Natural Ice Wine, $45

Best Riesling: West
Carol Shelton Wines, 2014 Black Magic Late Harvest Zinfandel, $20

*Indicates Best of East Meets West in Class

VOTE!

The final tally is upon us.  Just a reminder if you have not already mailed or dropped off your ballot that Tuesday November 8th is the final day cast your vote!  Your voice matters.

After you participate in the general election, use that momentum to participate in the Bohemian Best of Sonoma 2017!  Please consider voting for me as Best Sommelier for Sonoma County?
Just type in Christopher Sawyer!
nbb-vote2017-300x250Many thanks for your support!

Harvest Challenge: Submit Your Entries by Nov 14th!

harvchall2016Why enter your wines?  Because the Harvest Challenge 2016 is a wine competition that bases its judging on a group of vineyards (or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making savoir-faire, which contribute to give the specific personality to the wine.

 In other competitions, this factor is ignored. At the Harvest Challenge, judges taste wines with other wines of the same appellation. Thus, with cross-regional competition removed, the inherent quality of wines can be seen without the influences that sometimes eclipse even a wine of very high quality.

Convinced yet?  Follow this LINK to enter the competition!

I hope to taste your wines there!
Cheers, Christopher

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is back!

20160926_084845If you are looking for something fun to do in wine country this weekend, then jump in your car and head directly to Santa Rosa for the 42nd Annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair, September 30-October 2.

Located inside the easy to get to fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, this fun and lively three-day event offers great chances to taste over 500 award winning wines that were judged by me and 24 other wine pros earlier this month, as well as craft beer and cider, and food from top restaurants in the county.

In addition to browsing in the expansive Wine Country Marketplace; there are plenty of educational activities, including food and wine pairings, chef demonstrations, harvest workshops and seminars, and more!

To kickoff this interactive weekend event, a series of special awards were handed out at the Harvest Fair Gala & Dinner held at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts last Sunday.

For wine, the big winners included:

Sweepstakes White Wine: J. Rickards 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Croft Vineyard, Alexander Valley ($24). This wine also won Best of Class in the category Sauvignon Blanc/Fume Blanc, retail price $20 and above.

Sweepstakes Red Wine: Russian River Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir, Horseridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($65). Best of Class in the Pinot Noir category; retail price $45 and above.

Sweepstakes Specialty Wine: Gloria Ferrer 2007 Royal Cuvee Sparkling Wine, Estate Grown, Carneros ($37 Best of Class in the category that covered all sparkling wines, retail price $20 and above.

For beer, the beloved cult sensation Russian River Brewing Company won the top award for Excellence in Craft Beer Industry.

[Photo Captions (clockwise from left):  What do you know! My good friends Shane Finley of Thirty Seven Wines, Nicole Bacigalupi Dericco of Bacigalupi Vineyards, Victoria Jo and Billy Green of Matrix Wines, and Donna Joyner and the Zanin family of Bennett Valley Cellars and Bin 6410 Wines were all represented with gold-medal winning wines!;  Feeling refreshed at the awards ceremony gala for the Sonoma County #Harvest Fair!;  Some of the top wines I tasted with my fellow wine judges a couple weeks ago were spectacular and great indicators why the 2013, 2014 and 2015 were all special vintages for so many different reasons!;  Petaluma represented! Congrats to Out to Lunch Catering for this fabulous award!]

In the food judging categories, each dish was rated based on creativity, flavor and presentation. The following gold medal winning restaurants will be serving their entries at the Harvest Fair celebration this weekend too.

Salad – Charlie’s at the Windsor Golf Course, Windsor: Roasted Chicken, Farro & Quinoa Salad

Appetizer – Thai Time Asian Bistro, Santa Rosa: Fresh Summer rolls

Vegetarian Entree – Risibisi Restaurant, Petaluma: Risotto

Pasta Dish – Gaias Garden, Santa Rosa: Deconstructed Ravioli

Seafood Entree – Bear Republic Brewing Company, Healdsburg:
Salmon BLTA

Dessert – John Ash & Co, Santa Rosa: Bella Rosa Coffee S’mores Pie

During the ceremony, other important agriculture awards were handed out by Karissa Kruse, the executive director of Sonoma County Winegrowers, and videos were shown about each of the recipients. This year’s winners included: Shannon Donnell for Outstanding Young Person in Agribusiness; Marissa Ledbetter-Foster for Outstanding Young Farmer; Singing Frog Farms for Excellence in Food Production; Jackson Family Wines for Outstanding Sustainable Processor/Maker; and Redwood Empire Vineyard Management for Outstanding Sustainable Farmer.

“Sustainability is just the right thing to do,” said Kevin Barr, who accepted the award for his family’s company Redwood Empire Vineyard Management. “We have to make sure that the future generations can farm here too!”

To honor their contributions to Sonoma County over the years, Buck Sangiacomo of the Sonoma-based Sangiacomo Vineyards won the special award Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture for the over 1600 acres of vineyards his family farms in Sonoma Valley, Carneros, and the exciting Petaluma Gap region located in the southern portion of the Sonoma Coast appellation.

The other big honor went to Alexander Valley-based Robert Young Family, which received the “Methuselah Award” for Lifetime Contribution to the Sonoma County Wine Industry.

“It’s a celebration of who we are and what we do,” says Mike Martini, proprietor of Taft Street Winery and a member of the Harvest Fair Board of Directors, who was the emcee for this year’s event.

To buy tickets or see the more comprehensive list of Wine or Food Competition winners, visit www.harvestfair.org.

Sawyer Somm Newsletter Wins Accolades!

First of all, thanks all of you for reading! We have worked hard to make this a universally legible format, that accommodates multiple email programs. Hopefully you like what you are seeing.

As it turns out our template designers at Mail Poet are in agreement and recently chose The Sommelier Files to be featured on their Showcase page! Check out the creativity of all the winners and read more details at the Mail Poet Blog.

Cheers! Christopher

40 Years Later: Judgement of Paris

This recent Examiner article recounts the details of my special wine class at Flavor! Napa Valley last week.  Here is your chance to catch up if you missed the event!

Bottle Shock rocked Judgement of Paris:
40 Years Later at Flavor Napa Valley

Loved the complex flavor profiles of the two vintage Chardonnays and the special Cabernet Sauvignon we tasted from #ChateauMontelena at the "Tastes of Time" seminar at the Silverado Restort. #JOP40 #ChateauMontelena #FlavorNapaValley
Loved the complex flavor profiles of the two vintage Chardonnays and the special Cabernet Sauvignon we tasted from #ChateauMontelena at the “Tastes of Time” seminar at the Silverado Restort. #JOP40 #ChateauMontelena #FlavorNapaValley
Fabulous tasting of vintage wines from the S.L.V. Collection from #StagsLeapWineCellars at the "Tastes of Time" seminar I moderated at the Silverado Restort. #JOP40 #StagsLeapCask23
Fabulous tasting of vintage wines from the S.L.V. Collection from #StagsLeapWineCellars at the “Tastes of Time” seminar I moderated at the Silverado Restort. #JOP40 #StagsLeapCask23
Selfie Deluxe with winemakers Marcus Notaro of #StagsLeapCask23 and Matt Crafton of #ChateauMontelena for our epic #FlavorNapaValley seminar celebrating the 40-year Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris at Silverado Resort, #NapaValley. #wine #JOP40 #siphistory #ChMontelena #StagsLeapWineCellars
Selfie Deluxe with winemakers Marcus Notaro of #StagsLeapCask23 and Matt Crafton of #ChateauMontelena for our epic #FlavorNapaValley seminar celebrating the 40-year Anniversary of the Judgment of Paris at Silverado Resort, #NapaValley. #wine #JOP40 #siphistory #ChMontelena #StagsLeapWineCellars

Bohemian 2016 Best Sommelier of Sonoma County is . . .

Yep, you guessed it.  I have won this prestigious honor again for 2016, third year running!  HUGE thank you to all of you that took time to vote for me, it is ever so much appreciated.

Minervalogocolor1.psdSorry I had to miss the celebration as well, hosted by my good friend Daedalus Howell at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa on Friday night.  I was kinda busy working Flavor! Napa Valley as Wine Director (hey, Best Somms gotta work!), which was an incredibly fulfilling experience.

Peruse and congratulate the other Bohemian Winners of 2016 – and don’t forget to vote again in the fall!

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

Tasty results from the American Fine Wine Competition 2016

Every wine competition has its own unique shtick. Some are focused on specific varietals or regional specialties; while others are concentrated on wines from around the globe at different price points.  For these reasons, it’s very rare to find a large-scale competition that is solely focused on high-end wines. An exception to this rule is the American Fine Wine Competition.

afwc1In mid-January, myself and twenty-three extremely qualified wine professionals from all areas of the wine and food industry were put through the test of judging 770 high-end wines at the 9th Annual AFWC held at the Chaplin School of Hospitality Management in the Wine Spectator Restaurant Lab at the Florida International University in Miami.

Co-founded by Shari Gherman and Monty & Sara Preiser in 2007, the AFWC has become one of the most influential wine events in the country over the past decade. The competition is followed by the annual Charity Wine Gala which takes place in April. There is also a series of Wine & Business After Hours events that raise money for a variety of non-profits and promote award-winning American wines throughout the year.

Since its inception, AFWC has raised more than a million dollars for local charities. The organization also works closely with the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, an organization founded by Michael Mandich, whose father Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, a popular player for the Miami Dolphins and a beloved broadcaster, died of cancer in 2011.

Pink out! Kenwood-based Muscardini Cellars won the coveted Best of Class award for Dry Rose with this elegant wine made with fruit from Alpicella Vineyard in Sonoma Valley.
Pink out! Kenwood-based Muscardini Cellars won the coveted Best of Class award for Dry Rose with this elegant wine made with fruit from Alpicella Vineyard in Sonoma Valley.

“We are also proud that most other competitions charge $25 – $75 for each bottle of wine entered, garnering big profits for the organizers. We charge nothing, and all profits realized go to charity. Few can make such a statement,” says Gherman, the president and co-founder of the organization.

In addition to myself and Dr. Barry Gump of FIU (who I annually judge with at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition), some of the other well know judges included Masters of Wine Dr. Liz Thach and Peg San Felippo; Master Sommelier Virginia Philips; internationally renown sommelier and wine educator Charlie Arturaola; Wine Director Kris Margerum from Auberge du Soleil in St. Helena; East Coast wine sales experts Veronica Litton and Scott Caruso; and Patrick Sullivan, editor of DINE Magazine.

In the end, the top awards for 2016 went out to a fabulous mixture of producers from northern California:

Best of Show Sparkling Wine (Tie): Signal Ridge, Anderson Valley ($25) and Breathless Blanc de Noirs, North Coast ($30) Best of Show White Wine: Rivino 2014 Pinot Blanc, Mendocino ($25) Best of Show Red Wine: Luna 2013 Canto Super Tuscan Style, Napa Valley
($70)
Best of Show Sweet/Dessert Wine: Castello di Amorosa 2013 LH Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley ($39 – 375ml) In addition to California, there other top wines entered in the competition from Virginia, Maryland, New York, Texas, Oregon and Washington State. The complete list of the Best of Class winners and all the medalists will be out next week on www.AmericanFineWineCompetition.org.

In the meantime, to get your taste buds primed for the great results from the AFWC, here are my notes on for some of my favorite gold and double gold medal wines that I tasted at the two days of judging in Miami. Enjoy! -CS

High-end Chardonnays

Miner Family 2012 Chardonnay, Wild Yeast, Napa Valley: Complex flavors of ripe pear, apple, citrus and creamy custard accented with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice and roasted nuts. Elegant texture with plenty of depth, structure, and length, ($50). DOUBLE GOLD www.minerwines.com

Lobo Wines 2014 Chardonnay, Wulff Vineyards, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: Sultry combination of golden delicious apple, melon, white peach, coconut, lemon and grapefruit. Bright, expressive, lovable ($60). DOUBLE GOLD  www.lobowines.com

Shadowbox 2013 Chardonnay, Forty-Sixth Leaf, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley: Sweet fruit notes of ripe melon, apple, citrus, banana cream pie, chamomile and subtle spices lead to a lingering finish. Superb! ($60). DOUBLE GOLD  www.shadowboxcellars.com

Fisher Vineyards 2012 Chardonnay, Mountain Estate, Sonoma County: Lovely aromas of spring flowers, honeysuckle, ripe melon, citrus, vanilla and toasty oak; elegant flavors of poached pear, Crenshaw melon, peach, mineral, and roasted almonds; smooth mouthfeel; and long finish. ($70). DOUBLE GOLD www.fishervineyards.com

Coastal Pinot Noirs

Castello di Amorosa 2014 Pinot Noir, Il Rubino, North Coast: Pretty nose and complex flavors of ripe blueberry, candied red fruits, earth and spice ($39). DOUBLE GOLD  www.castellodiamorosa.com

Calstar Cellars 2012 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast:  Elegant and fruity, with notes of wild, berries, cherry cola, ripe plum, cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice and smoked meats; vibrant acidity, and a rewarding finish ($40). DOUBLE GOLD www.calstarcellars.com

The Lando 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was one of the big medal winners in the high-end category at the the AFWC 2016.
The Lando 2013 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was one of the big medal winners in the high-end category at the the AFWC 2016.

Lando Wines 2013 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast: Sophisticated Pinot with concentrated flavors of blackberry, dark cherry, blueberry, mineral, and silky tannins. Dense, spicy and generous($42). GOLD  www.landowines.com

MacPhail 2013 Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast:
Well-balanced wine with vibrant flavors of black raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and layers of spice ($49). GOLD  www.macphailwine.com

Lichen Estate 2012 Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Lichen Estate, Anderson Valley: Dark berries, raspberry, plum, mint, vanillin, and forest floor.  Beautiful Burgundian-style wine with a rustic twist ($65). DOUBLE GOLD www.lichenestate.com

Donum 2013 Pinot Noir, Angel Camp Vineyard, Anderson Valley: Rich flavors of blackberry, blueberry, dark cherry, blood orange peel, wild herbs, and mineral. Gracious, complex and ageworthy ($72). DOUBLE GOLD www.thedonumestate.com

Alquimista Cellars 2014 Pinot Noir, Manchester Ridge, Mendocino Ridge:  Wild strawberry, red cherry, clove, tangerine rind, and a linger finish ($75). DOUBLE GOLD  www.alquimistacellars.com

Napa Valley Cabernets

Triumph Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: Young, vibrant wine with layers of ripe raspberry, dark cherry, plum, cocoa, wild herbs, and a burst of bright acidity on the long, engaging finish ($40). DOUBLE GOLD www.calistogacellars.com

Triumph Cellars 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley: Rich, lively and extremely balanced. Deep flavors of dark berries, cherry, cassis, vanilla, smooth texture, and toasty oak ($52). GOLD
www.calistogacellars.com

Roberts & Rogers 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain: Concentrated notes of black raspberry, blueberry, cassis, maple, black pepper and wild mountain herbs ($55). DOUBLE GOLD www.robertsandrogers.com

Lagniappe Peak 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Pere, Napa Valley: Rich texture with dark berries, black currant, bittersweet chocolate, layers of spice, chewy tannins, and a persistent finish ($75). DOUBLE GOLD. www.lagniappepeakwines.com

Four of the fabulous Merlots entered into the AFWC 2016 by top Napa Valley producers.
Four of the fabulous Merlots entered into the AFWC 2016 by top Napa Valley producers.

My Reflections on 2015

If we only live once, then 2015 was a benchmark in my life so far. For starters, it almost makes me blush when I think of all the projects I worked on with so many great wine associations, winemakers, star chefs, actors, musicians, corporate groups, economic analysts, and even President Obama.

In the wine industry, 2015 will certainly be remembered as the year of the drought. And while the lack of rain hurt the yields, the quality was there in the grapes that were picked. The year also marked the 50-year anniversary of the planting of the first Pinot Noir grapes in Willamette Valley. And closer to home, some of the most notable news stories were focused on the devastating Valley Fire in Lake County; the departure of Sunset Magazine from its historic headquarters in Menlo Park to new offices in Oakland and Sonoma; and the heist of $300,000 in wine from the French Laundry in Yountville.

Below is a list of my favorite accomplishments in 2015. Alas, I also have plenty of fond memories catching up with old friends; enjoying delicious lunches and dinners or attending lavish parties with winemakers, proprietors, marketing gurus and other pals in the wine industry; travels with the family; winning the Bohemian magazine’s Top Sommelier of Sonoma County award for the second straight year; and watching the Warriors win the NBA Championship.

On a more personal level, the year also marked the passing of my mom, Linda Sawyer, at the age of 67. It was a hard loss for our family, but we were happy that she died peacefully after a long battle with cancer. Recently my mentor, Master Sommelier Bob Bath, sent me a very nice note about my mom, in which he wrote: “She will always be proud of you…I sure am.” That really touched my heart and made me realize how lucky I am to have support from such an amazing group of friends, colleagues, and family.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to a very exciting 2016. As a preview, the year will kick-off quickly with me judging three major wine competitions between now and mid-February. At the same time, I’ll be starting more new projects with Feast It Forward, Allvino, ZigSaw Production, and ramping up my activities with the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone as the official Wine Director for the Flavor! Napa Valley Festival, March 16-20.

In a nutshell, I can’t wait to start sharing more cool, fun, and educational stories about wine, food, travel and philanthropy with you in 2016. In the meantime, thanks so much for following SawyerSomm.com and best wishes for a Happy New Years to all! –CS

__________


“Sommelier to the Stars” Christopher Sawyer’s Top Picks of 2015

1. Wine Writers Symposium: Held annually at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort & Spa near St. Helena, this exclusive gathering of professional writers was a true learning experience for me and all those in attendance. Guest speakers included marquee writer Jancis Robinson MW, Evan Goldstein MS, Andrea Emmer Robinson MS, Karen McNeill, Wall Street Journal Wine Columnist Will Lyons, and Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Great discussions, education, opportunities, fabulous tastings, fine cuisine and bright ideas resonated throughout this superb three-day event!

2. Speaking Engagements: 2015 was a monumental year for me at major speaking engagements for an assortment of wine consumers, collectors, private parties, media, sommeliers, winemakers, winery proprietors, and bigger wine associations. Here are some of the highlights:

– Santa Barbara Vintners Seminar. As a special part of the Santa Barbara Spring Weekend, I was honored to moderate a fabulous seminar with gifted winemakers Jim Clendenan of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines and Eric Mohseni of Zaca Mesa, whose careers were all influenced by stints at Zaca Mesa Winery and the development of the Santa Ynez Valley, which became an official appellation on April 15, 1983. Other highlights included a magnificent Winemaker Dinner at Mattei’s in Los Olivos; a fun Sauvignon Blanc-inspired lunch with winemaker Fred Brander and MW Patrick Farrell; the Festival Grand Tasting at Grand View Park’ a few late night shenanigans; and some great time spent with Chad Melville and his staff during my stay at Melville Winery. For tickets to the 2016 Spring Weekend April 21-24, visit www.sbvintnersweekend.com.

– Banfi’s Cru Artisan College 2015.
Highlighted by a colorful cast of some of the world’s leading winemakers and me as the “Head Master” at the San Francisco stop on this exciting multi-city tour; this unique wine education platform explored the different ways that terroir, plant material, sustainable farming practices, new technology and the winemaker’s touch can add more personality to the flavor profiles of some of the finest wines of Italy, Chile, and Washington State. In 2016, the Cru Artisan College Campus Tours will be happening in new metropolitan markets across America. For information on these comprehensive seminars and intimate wine tastings and pairings, visit www.cruartisancollege.com.

– Mt. Veeder Media Lunch and Q & A Session To celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the Mount Veeder appellation in Napa Valley, this year’s panel featured Chris Carpenter of Loyoka Winery, Steve Lagier and Carol Meredith of Lagier-Meredith Vineyard, and me as the moderator. Kudos to Sam Peters for organizing this great discussion, luncheon, and public tasting at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco! www.mtveederwines.com.

– “A Winemakers Perspective on the Petaluma Gap AVA” Seminar
As the VIP and Media kickoff to the “Wind to Wine” Festival put on by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, I was happy to do this interactive seminar with talented winemakers James MacPhail of MacPhail Family Wines and Ryan Pritchard of Three Sticks Wines at the Sheraton Hotel in Petaluma. Overall, the festival was a smashing success and a great sign of things to come in wines made with fruit grown in this cool climate area in southern Sonoma County, which is currently under review to become its own appellation. For breaking news in 2016, check out www.petalumagap.com.

– Taste of Sonoma “The Glass makes a Difference” Seminar For the second year in a row, the two special seminars I taught at the historic MacMurray Estate in Russian River Valley were focused on showing how Stolzle Stemware brings out the unique flavors in special wines made in Sonoma County. Tasty delights for the seminar were provided by Bennett Valley Cellars, Matanzas Creek, St. Francis, Stryker Sonoma, and Dutcher Crossing wineries. Other highlights of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend included attending special dinners and lunches, working with the Somm Stars team, and once again being the private sommelier for the top table at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction which raising $4.5 million for local charities. Job well done by everyone involved! www.sonomawinecountryweekend.com.

– “Sip & Discover: Livermore Valley Wine Stories” In the luxurious Grand Hall at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, this brilliant seminar explored how the unique growing conditions, rich history, specially selected grape varietals, farming techniques, and a modern approaches to winemaking make the wines from Livermore Valley so special. After my intro, I passed the microphone to the passionate “storytellers” of the region: Karl Wente of Wente Vineyard; John Concannon of Concannon Vineyard; Steven Kent Mirrasou of The Steven Kent Winery; Collin Cranor of Vasco Urbano Wine Company; Bob Bossi of Dante Robere; Steve Burman of 3 Steves Wines; and John Kinney of Occasio Winery. For more information about this unique appellation, visit www.lvwine.org.

– Single Varietal Tasting Series at Napa Valley Wine Academy. Organized by Jolene Patterson of Discover Napa Valley Wine & Discover Sonoma County Wine, this magnificent series of in-depth tastings was designed to educate members of the media, sommeliers, wine buyers, vintners, winemakers and other wine professionals from the Bay Area. As the official moderator of the series, I got to work with a fascinating group of winemakers who are also grape varietal experts: John Skumpky of Lang & Reed Winery (Cabernet Franc); Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines (Syrah); Michael Scholz of St. Supery (Sauvignon Blanc); Chris Pettinger of Skinner Vineyards (Grenache); and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars (Petite Sirah). Stay tuned for the continuation of the series in 2016!

3. Epic Wine Cruise on the Mediterranean: In July, I spent eight amazing days sailing from Rome to Venice on the Oceania “Riveria” with Chris Silva, the president & CEO of St. Francis Winery, and Steve, Lawrence and Emily Lohr from J. Lohr Vineyards & Wine. Organized by Brian Murphy of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Petaluma, the “Isles & Empires Wine Cruise” included stops in Sorrento/Capri in Italy; Taormina, Sicily (with a magnificent side trip to Benanti Winery near Mt. Etna); Argostoli, Greece; Kotor, Montenegro; Zadar, Croatia; Koper, Croatia; and a memorable day in Venice at the end. The food was fantastic and Chris, Lawrence, and I hosted informative wine education classes along the way. Can’t wait to go on my next trip with Oceania Cruises!

4. Napa Valley Film Festival
It’s back! This year marked the 5-year anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival, a magnificent experience which fused together film, wine, talented actors, star chefs, sommeliers, mixologists, and other colorful characters in mid-November. Highlights of this year’s event included the cinematic debt of SOMM Into the Bottle, an extremely entertaining exploration of some of the greatest wines of the world through the view of the sommeliers, winemakers, and world-reknown experts; a set of unique Celebrity Tributes honoring John Travolta, Bruce Dern, Keegan–Michael Key and other talented actors; lively parties and culinary events; and a continuous flow of remarkable features and documentary that make this annual event so special! www.nvff.org.

5. Memorable Tastings
While there were plenty of special tastings of international wines in the Bay Area in 2015, some of my favorite memories were based on the accomplishments of gifted winemaker and family owned wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

– Celebrating the 50 years of Winemaking with Winemaker Richard Arrowood. To kickoff his monumental 50th vintage, Sonoma County icon Richard Arrowood hosted a series of retrospective tastings featuring over 60 wines from his private collection. My great mentor Master Sommelier Fred Dame and I were there to help with each of these tastings. I must say it was a pleasure to taste through this vast collection of gems. Highlights include: a rare series of vineyard designate wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes from legendary sites like the Laurel Glen, Wildwood and Glen Ellen (now Moon Mountain Vineyard) that were part of the Chateau St. Jean collection from 1974 to 1988; to a series of elegant and ageworthy wines from Arrowood Vineyards; and finishing with an impressive grouping of the more powerful styles made under the Amapola Creek label from 2005to the present. My stories on this experience appeared in Tasting Panel and Napa Sonoma Magazine in 2015 as well.

– The 40th Harvest Luncheon at Jordan Winery. This special gathering honored winemaker Rob Davis and his dedication to the craft, the winery and his family. Other special guests included SF Giants coach Bruce Bochy and radio announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper; winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet of Chateau Petrus, Dr. Ann Noble of UC Davis, and the dazzling meal was prepared by Executive Chef Todd Knoll and his fabulous staff. A winning combination!

– The 25th Anniversary of Robert Biale Winery: Hosted by co-founders Robert Biale and Dave Pramuk, this magnificent tasting of single-vineyard designates wines made with pristine fruit from old Zinfandel and Petite Sirah vines was a complete joy to the senses. Through the years, the winery has done a great job of protecting these old vines and it showed in the lively flavors in each of the wines we tasted. For that reason, I’m looking forward to Robert Biale being part of the Preservation Society Seminar I’m moderating at CIA Greystone as part of Flavor! Napa Valley on March 18. For more info, visit www.flavornapavalley.com.

6. Wine Writing: This year included a wide range of writing assignments, as well as reviewing wines for Vivino and other wine, food, and travel projects.

– At the top of my list is the article I wrote about chefs Duskie Estes and John Stewart of ZaZu Restaurant in Sebastopol for the inaugural release of The Clever Root, a new cutting-edge culinary magazine created by the publishers of The SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel. The next issue will feature my article on Chef Trevor Kunk of Press Restaurant and the Rudd Farms in Napa Valley. Can’t wait to work with Editor Meridith May and the team in 2016!

– For Diablo Publications, I wrote a series of articles focused on wine, food and travel in Napa Sonoma Magazine. In addition to the story on Richard Arrowood’s 50th vintage and another I did on hip wine caves; one of my favs was the “Power Duos” article focused on intriguing teamwork between family-based winemakers and proprietors featuring Heidi and Bo Barrett, Joel Peterson and Morgan Twain Peterson, Mike and Violet Grgich, Jamie and Lisa Whetstone, Susan Lueker and Chef Ralph Tingle, and Jesse Katz and star photographer Andy Katz. In the fall, my story on Urban Tasting Rooms highlighted Cornerstone Cellars in Yountville, Starmont Winery in Napa, Ramey Wines in Healdsburg, MacPhail Family Wine Salon in Sebastopol, Corner 103 Wines in Sonoma, and Ancient Oaks in Santa Rosa. Versions of the article were published in both Napa Sonoma and Diablo magazines. Coming soon is my article on the new Virginia Dare brand started by Francis Ford Coppola at the old Geyer Peak facility in Geyserville.

– With Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine, I did a special article on the 50-year anniversary of the planting of the first Pinot Noir vines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and two dynamic Q & A articles focused on Jean Arnold Sessions of the Jean Arnold Group and Chris Indelicato of Delicato Vineyards. In November, I also served as the official spokesperson for VWM Media at the 25th Anniversary of the Grand Harvest Wine Competition.

– As a side note, it was also nice to have my sister-in-law, Alexander Russell, write a fantastic profile piece on me in North Bay Biz Magazine. Thanks, Alex!

7. Thanksgiving Wine Pairings for President Obama:
Finally, I must say that it was a pleasure to be asked to do a special set of Thanksgiving pairings with Sonoma County wines for President Obama. The premise behind the pairings was the fact that the two birds the president pardoned, Mac & Cheese, were from a unique breed developed at the Nichols Ranch in Sonoma County. Articles with my pairings ran throughout the United States, including a great story written by Diane Peterson for the Press Democrat. Featured wineries included Gloria Ferrer, Gundlach Bundschu, Balletto Vineyards, Cline Cellars, St. Francis Winery and Dry Creek Vineyard. Special thanks to the President Obama, Foster Farms and Fineman PR for getting me involved in such a unique project.