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Wine Education: In depth with Napa Valley!

Flavor! Napa Valley is just six weeks away, March 22 through 26!  Make sure to get your tickets for my seminars now.  Many are already SOLD OUT, so get them while you can!  To get both your palate and cerebellum ready, enjoy this article I wrote about Napa Valley below for  

Napa Valley, California

Mention Napa Valley, and most people have a story to tell about a memorable wine they’ve had from the region. It’s an interesting point when you consider that the valley is only 30 miles long, a few miles wide, and represents roughly 4% of the amount of grapes picked in California. But despite being a relatively small area, the big reputation is built on making world-class wines with fruit grown on family-owned vineyards.

Squeezed between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountain ranges, 45 minutes north of San Francisco, Napa Valley was the first American Viticultural Area or AVA to be designated in California in 1981. Back then, there was only a handful of wineries in the region. But today, there are 500-plus wineries and a shared dedication to growing premiere vineyards in diverse soils and warm, arid climate conditions that are similar to those found in the famous winegrowing regions along the Mediterranean. The end result is an elaborate matrix of vineyards varying in elevation from sea-level to 2,600 feet that produce low yields and high-quality fruit used to make some of the most prolific wines enjoyed in America and around the globe.

Grape Expectations

Whites: Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant white grape planted in the gravelly soils on the valley floor, particularly in the warmer segments in the northern part of the valley. Whereas, ….In the more clay and sandy-based soils stretching from Yountville to San Pablo Bay at the southern end of the valley, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape at the southern end of the valley. Smaller offerings to look for include: Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

Reds: For red grapes, Napa Valley is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux-style blends made with smaller portions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Other specialty plantings in the region include: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir.

Tasty Sensations

White Wines: The diverse styles of Sauvignon Blanc vary in style from racy and tangy to elegant and complex. Some are aged entirely in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity of the grape; some have a portion of the blend aged in egg-shaped concrete fermenters; and others have a touch of neutral or new oak. The Chardonnays tend to be riper and more full-bodied than those from the more coastal regions of California. And in addition to being blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make a more complex, Bordeaux-style white wine; Semillon is also used to make aromatic sweet wines with flavors of ripe tropical fruits.

Red Wines: There’s no denying that Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of Napa Valley. The styles of the region range from earthy, tangy and spicy with emphasis on red fruits; to bolder styles with notes of dark berries, cherry, chocolate and varying levels of oak; to the more full-bodied opulent flavors, and the potential to age for decades in the cellar. Most of the Merlots are medium to full-bodied with emphasis on ripe red fruits, milk chocolate, and spice. The Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are mainly from old vines—many of which are still farmed by the families who planted these vineyards before the focus of the valley shifted towards Bordeaux varietals. For that reason, many of the wines made with these grapes have distinctive fruit flavors and layers of spice.

Food Pairings

As a rule, many of the Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley match perfectly with a wide range of cuisine, including oysters on the half-shell, goat cheese, gourmet salads, sushi and lighter meats on the grill, to spicier dishes that fall under the categories of Mexican, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. For Chardonnay, the lighter styles pair nicely with appetizers and starting courses; while the more full-bodied offerings are fantastic to pair with seafood, poultry, pork, pasta, and white sauces.

In the red wine category, the more elegant styles of Cabernet Sauvignon are very compatible with daintier dishes like grilled vegetables, seared Ahi tuna, roasted chicken and Asian cuisine with plum sauce. For the bolder and more complex styles, rib-eye steak, lamb and blue cheese are great choices. For Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux-style blends; think wild mushrooms, quinoa, salmon, quail, and meats seasoned with herb-based rubs. While Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are sassy, savory, and ideal for pairing with grilled red meats, veggies, and elaborate pizza.


Wine Education: A look at Oakville, CA

In anticipation of the upcoming Flavor! Napa Valley, March 22-26, I would like to share some summaries I have written about the area.  Read more about Oakville below: This article and others in the region are posted at  A note about Flavor! Many of my seminars are SOLD OUT already, but some still have tickets available.  Get them while you can!

Oakville, Napa Valley, CA

If there is an epicenter of high-end Cabernet Sauvignons in the United States, there’s a good argument that it’s the Oakville appellation in Napa Valley.

Named after the beautiful oak trees native to the area, Oakville is located between the small towns of Yountville and Rutherford in Napa Valley. With a population of less than 300 people, the region is easy to recognize by nearly 4,000 acres of sweeping vineyards; the dazzling architecture of pristine wine destinations which include Robert Mondavi Winery, Far Niente, Turnbull and Opus One; a historic wine production building and current home of Napa Wine Company on the corner of Highway 29 and Oakville Crossroad, which was originally constructed by Brun & Chaix Winery in the 1880s; and the iconic gourmet food stop, the Oakville Grocery.

The first major grape plantings were developed by Hiram Crabb, who purchased 240-acres of property in the region in 1865. After initially selling table grapes and raisins, Crabb changed his focus to making wine with grapes in 1872. And by the end of the 1880s, he had over 400 grape varieties planted at his To Kalon Estate.

In Greek, To Kalon means beautiful. Following Crabb’s death, the property was sold to E.W. Churchill family in 1899. After the lovely wooden winemaking facility burned to the ground in 1939, the Churchills sold the property the following year. The section with the most diverse plantings, the Old Federal Vineyard, eventually became home to the University of California Davis Station, one of the greatest vineyard test-sites in the world. Another section became the coveted vineyard blocks owned by Robert Mondavi Winery.

When Mondavi finished building his winery in Oakville in 1966, his vision for the Oakville region and Napa Valley quickly blossomed. The elegant California mission-design of the winery was appealing to tourists and Mondavi’s focus on producing world-class wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc was a big departure from the old wines made in the region with Zinfandel and German white grape varieties.

Another legendary site in the region is Martha’s Vineyard, which was planted by Bernard and Belle Rhodes near the UC Davis experimental station in 1959. The original vineyard was 14 acres of White Riesling and 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, but eventually was converted to all Cabernet before Martha and Tom May purchased the property in 1963. In 1965, the family started selling grapes to Joe Heitz, a talented winemaker who went on to make a huge name for his brand and the site with a series of Martha’s Vineyard designate wines he made in the 1960s and 1970s.

As the number of vineyards increased during the late 1970s to the present, many important new brands and cult wineries were developed in Oakville, including Groth, Joseph Phelps, Franciscan Estate, Silver Oak, Swanson, Turnbull, Rudd Estate, Miner Family, Dalla Valle, Harlan Estate, and Screaming Eagle.

In 1993, Oakville became an official appellation. Stretching across the valley from the Mayacamas Mountains to the Vaca Mountains, the region is two miles wide. From a geographical standpoint, the vineyards are influenced by sunny days, cool nights, and well-drained soils that produce a plethora of elegant, complex and age worthy wines on a yearly basis.

Grape Expectations

Whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay.

Reds: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Zinfandel, Sangiovese.

Taste Sensations

White Wines:  The Sauvignon Blancs from Oakville typically feature lively aromas of fresh fruit, citrus, lemongrass, ginger, herbs, and fresh-cut grass. The flavors are vibrant with notes of green apple, ripe melon, grapefruit, fig, passion fruit, mineral, spice, and tangy acidity.
The Chardonnays are elegant and refined with notes of ripe apple, stone fruits, caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Red Wines: There is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon is the definitive red grape variety grown in Oakville. The profiles of the finished wines are broad, elegant and sophisticated with enticing floral aromas and concentrated flavors of dark fruits, dark cherry, black currants, blackberry, cassis, plum, fresh mint, dried herbs, and cedar; lush texture; firm tannins; and long, rewarding finishes. Many of the Cabernets are made like Bordeaux blends with smaller portions of Merlot to provide smooth, soft and elegant texture; Cabernet Franc to add balance and spice; Malbec and Petit Verdot to add more color, tannins, and depth of flavor. Although it is no longer as widely planted in the region, the Zinfandel vines that still remain produce magnificent wines with bright and expressive jammy flavors of ripe berries, licorice, and black pepper. And the Sangiovese produced by Showket, Swanson and a few other wineries in Oakville feature lively notes of ripe red fruits, cherry, plum, mineral and allspice.

Food Pairings

The vibrant flavors of the Sauvignon Blancs from Oakville pair nicely with oysters and a tangy citrus-based mignonette, prosciutto with melon, chilled soups, arugula salads with goat cheese, grilled asparagus, pan-seared white fish, and tarragon chicken. The complex Chardonnays are better to pair with fine cheeses; rich soups; salads with creamy dressings; seared scallops; lobster risotto; roasted game hens; and pork chops.

With the Cabernet Sauvignons and Bordeaux-style blends, try roasted vegetables, gourmet mac & cheese, char-grilled steaks, rack of lamb, hearty stews, and dark chocolate truffles. Zinfandels are fantastic with gourmet sausages, barbecued ribs, and spicy Mexican or Indian cuisine.
Sangiovese is a great match with ripe cheeses, salumi, creamy soups, roasted beets, pasta in a hearty red sauce, gnocchi, pork tenderloin, and grilled meats.

El Dorado County: Apples & Wine in the California Foothills

If you want to get away this holiday season, without a long trek, or crowded streets, then consider a drive up to the wine and apple farm region of El Dorado County. Just east of Sacramento this quaint foothill region, along historic Hwy 49 with legends of gold, can still stir up remembrances of times past.

(Photo credit Dianne Reber Hart)
(Photo credit Dianne Reber Hart)
This recent Press Democrat article Placerville’s Apple Hill Serves Up Tasty Fall Fun expounds the farm bounty and family activities to experience in the region!

Follow that up with an educational tour of the El Dorado Appellation that I wrote for Be sure to share your tasty foothill adventures with us all here!

Rose Rendezvous on Saturday, August 1st

Here is an opportunity to taste some great wines, some which I was fortunate enough to award Gold Medals at the recent Rose Competition.

roserendevouz-250August 1st, 2:00-5:00pm

Rose Rendezvous will be a charming event where you can meet some winemakers and celebrate all things Rose. SIMI’s Executive Chef Kolin Vazzoler will be cooking up tasty noshes while music will be provided by the eclectic band Full Chizel.  Be sure to get primed for the day with my recent article Ten New Pink Wine picks with Class and Style.

$35.00 per person includes all sips, bites plus a custom souvenir Rose glass to take home.  Buy your tickets at HTTP://ROSERENDEZVOUS.BPT.ME/

For further information contact Bob Ecker (707) 421-1701

The Sangiacomos: Grapes, Farming & Family

Check out this cool story by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau on one of my favorite winegrowing families, the Sangiacomos!

Sangiacomo Family, Passionate About Agriculture and Family

Steve, Buck, Mike, Angelo & Mike Sangiacomo

Currently, the family grows Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Merlot and cool-climate Syrah grapes used by over 80 top producers in Sonoma and Napa counties. This impressive list includes special vineyard designate clients that include Neyers, Saintsbury, Sojourn Cellars, LaFollette, MacRostie, Rams Gate, B.R. Cohn, Ravenswood, Ancien and Chausseur.

In addition to being loyal members of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the family is also very active with other fantastic organizations like the Sonoma County Vintners, Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers, Carneros Wine Alliance, and the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance. For more information about the vineyards and the family, visit

Down on the farm.
Down on the farm.