Category Archives: History

Legends: Next Gen @Sonoma County Wine Library – Nov 10th!

Meet The Future of Sonoma County Wine – Legends: Next Gen

After a three-year pause, the Sonoma County Wine Library is bringing back its Sonoma County Wine Legends event on Thursday, November 10th, 6:30 pm at the Steele Lane Community Center (415 Steele Ln) in Santa Rosa. (Photo credit Christopher Cheung/PD)

Moderated by Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, Legends: Next Gen will feature a panel discussion of these legends in the making, five next-generation professionals of the local wine community:

This fundraiser for the Sonoma County Wine Library includes wine pouring with charcuterie platter, and silent auction featuring special wines, gifts, and wine-country experiences. Early bird TICKETS are $45 for members and $60 for non-members, and $55 and $70 respectively after October 31st.

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NVL: #MerlotMe Month In Napa Valley!

It is MERLOT MONTH and timely to share my varietal article that appeared in Napa Valley Life. Here is a starter to lure you in, finish it up by following the READ MORE link to their site. . . Cheers!

MERLOT: Tracking its renaissance in Napa Valley

Over the past 50 years, it’s hard to imagine where the wine mecca of Napa Valley would be if not for Merlot’s early success, the noble red grape variety that burst on the scene in the late 1970s. Especially when one considers the series of phenomenal accomplishments that this amiable grape made as the leading wine purchased by American wine consumers, retailers, and sommeliers in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the beginning, Merlot was mainly used as a blending grape in the famous wine-growing region of Bordeaux in France before it arrived in the New World. But that started to change after classic Napa Valley brands like Louis M. Martini, Newton, Sterling, and Trefethen slowly worked with the grape after World War II, and Duckhorn Vineyards became the first winery to bottle the variety on its own in the late 1970s.

When the inaugural  Duckhorn releases hit the market in 1978, the  Merlot was priced at $10.50 and the Cabernet Sauvignon at $10.00. According to veteran winemaker Tom Rinaldi, who crafted the spirited Duckhorn wines for the first three decades, the price differ- ence reflected not only the great potential of Merlot in the marketplace but also the challenges that go along with finding the best sites to plant a grape that performs best in more moderate climate areas. . .

NVL: Rosé Style Wines for All Occasions

With a nod to National Rosé Day on June 12th, read my varietal article from the April 2021 issue of Napa Valley Life! Here is a starter to lure you in, finish it up by following the READ MORE link to their site. . . Cheers! Christopher

Drink Pink

“Pink sunshine” and “freshness in a glass” are catchy phrases Robert Sinskey winemaker Jeff Virnig uses to describe the winery’s latest release of the 2020 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, a complex pink wine with bright, fruity flavors, crisp acidity, and long dry finish. With a brilliant pale salmon hue, this signature style has become the benchmark for where classy pink wines have come over the past thirty years and one of the many reasons wine lovers flock to Napa Valley in the springtime to get their hands on these energetic young wines before they sell out.

The road to rosé’s popularity in Napa Valley did not happen overnight.

When Virnig started making rosé in1991, his goal was to create a fun, quaffable, food-friendly wine that added instant excitement to gatherings any time it was served. But at the time, the impression pink wines were making on American consumers was swayed by the sugary imports like Mateus and Lancers, which flooded the marketplace in the late 1960s. When Sutter Home Family Vineyards winemaker Bob Trinchero released their White Zinfandel in 1975, people went crazy for it, but it was still snubbed by serious wine drinkers.

As a result, the first few vintages of the Robert Sinskey Vin Gris were sold to wine buyers and sommeliers in New York City, who catered to world travelers that were already familiar with the drier  styles  of rosé produced in France, Italy, Spain and German. As the years passed, this learning curve gave Virnig and other adventurous winemakers of Napa Valley time to develop special techniques now being used to create various expressions of rosé wines.

NVL: Napa Valley & Cabernet Sauvignon

Back in November 2020, my Cabernet Sauvignon varietal article appeared in Napa Valley Life. Here is a starter to lure you in, finish it up by following the READ MORE link to their site. . . Cheers! Christopher

A Perfect Match

The Napa Valley has been cultivating grapes since the 1700s, but Cabernet Sauvignon was not introduced to the area until the late 1800s around the time when industry icon, Charles Krug opened the first commercial winery.  A decade or so later, Beringer and Inglenook followed suit.

At  the time, America was captivated with Bordeaux wines, and in 1889, Inglenook gained worldwide notoriety with their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Rutherford, which won the Gold Medal at the prestigious Paris World Fair. This accolade ultimately drove attention to the Napa Valley and set the stage for the region’s potential to produce premier Bordeaux-style wines.

Celebrating its 120th anniversary in 2020, the Rutherford- based Beaulieu Vineyard has become a benchmark of Napa Valley style: An iconic winery responsible for the success of world-class wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes planted before prohibition and after the modern boom of large- scale plantings, which began when Robert Mondavi opened his winery in Oakville in 1966 . . .

African American History Month meets the Wine Industry!

Many people enjoy their vino without knowing where or whom has contributed to their treasured tasting.  Well I think it is appropriate to point out some stellar wines to try during African American History Month both for educational and pleasurable purposes!  Please peruse this informative article that shares 31 Black Owned Wine Businesses to get started before February ends!

In the article you will find featured, as well as pictured above, Winemaker/Proprietor Mac McDonald of Sonoma County-based Vision Cellars (center).  With us is star sommelier Tonya Pitts of One Market restaurant in San Francisco (left), along with myself and fellow judges at the Annual KRSH FM Thanksgiving Wine Picks team last fall.

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Also included in the article is Brown Estate, their fabulous Zinfandel is made with fruit from the family’s high-elevation vineyard in the Vaca Mountains above Napa Valley.: Here is a special selfie with Coral Brown (bottom right), before our special Napa Valley Zinfandel Advocates & Producers seminar at the CIA at COPIA.

The top right photo features Football legend Charles Woodson, who launched his Napa-based Charles Woodson Wines with business partner Rick Ruiz in 2001.

Cheers! Christopher

Nor Cal Fires: Looking Back, Moving Forward & Drinking Wine!

Last month we were in Santa Rosa, my wife and son returned to a treasured park only to find it surrounded by burnt out lots.  The park was only grazed with crisp leaves and they were able to play their requisite basketball.  However, as they put it, felt like being in a forest.

A recent article I wrote, Out of the fires: Wildflowers and Pink Wine for Valley of the Moon Magazine is a look at the natural rebirth of some affected wineries.  The view above from my house during the fires, at the extreme end of southern Sonoma County, and beyond into the entire Bay Area, we all experienced the devastation from afar.

So have we, of course, been following the recovery:  Great news sources are the Press Democrat special section Rebuilding the North Bay, as well as this Facebook Page Rebuild NorthBay Foundation. The emblematic winery Paradise Ridge can be a reminder to us all that LOVE is leading us through!

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Oregon Pinot Noir with a French Twist

Based at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, the International Pinot Noir Celebration has brought joy to wine fans who love drinking world-class wines made with variations of this noble grape grown in Oregon, California, Burgundy and other special regions around the globe. This year’s festivities in late July marked a chance to learn about where Pinot Noir has come over the past three decades and how the special combination of French soul and Oregon soil helped make the Willamette Valley one of the top wine growing regions of the world.

It is a journey that began four years before “Papa Pinot,” the young American adventurer David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, planted young samplings of the first Pinot Noir grapes near Corvallis, Oregon in 1965; another early pioneer to see the potential to plant world-class vines in the region was Frenchman Joseph Drouhin, who came to the region to sell his family’s wine from Burgundy in 1961. But it wasn’t until 25 years later that Drouhin’s daughter Veronique laid the foundation to accomplish this dream when she visited the region and interned with upcoming wineries Adelsheim Vineyards, Bethel Heights and Eyrie in 1986.

The following year, Veronique and her family established Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Today, the majestic winery in the Dundee Hills represents a signature French accent that helped put Willamette Valley and other segments of Oregon on the world wine map to stay.

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of these accomplishments, the Grand Seminar at this year’s festival, moderated by wine critic Eric Asimov of the New York Times, was aptly titled The French Adventurers: Burgundians Making Pinot Noir in Oregon. Here is the SawyerSomm synopsis of the seminar and the a few Domaine Drouhin wine reviews.

Veronique Boss-Drouhin, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee

Like her father Joseph, who originally visited the Willamette Valley in 1961, Veronique Boss-Drouhin immediately saw the promise of the region primarily located west of Highway 101 and the Pacific mountains between Portland and Eugene, when she first visited the area in 1986. Although the region did not have the limestone soils of Burgundy, Drouhin loved the cool climate and the various forms of basalt and volcanic soils that make it a prime region to grow the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes she studied while attending the University of Dijon in the mid-1980s. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the family’s dreams of planting vines in the region started to become a reality.

When the first 96 barrels of DDO wines were made the following year, the family didn’t own a winery or had to source the grapes they worked with. But after the original Pommard and Wadenswil clones of Pinot Noir were planted and the winery was finished a few years later near Dundee, the winery has become one of the most celebrated Pinot Noir producers in the United States.

In the words of John Paul, proprietor of Dundee-based Cameron Winery, who spoke briefly at the IPNC seminar, “Veronique and her family brought the legitimacy that the Oregon wine industry really needed.”

Domaine Drouhin 2014 Roserock Zephirine, Eola-Amity Hills / $60 – 97 pts
Although it’s a relatively new planting on the southern edge of the exciting Eola-Amity Hills appellation, winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss loves the possibility of this new DDO estate vineyard. The quality of the fruit shows in this new release, which is from the warm vintage of 2014. Rich, supple and concentrated, the wine starts with attractive aromas of dark fruits, potpourri, fresh tea leafs, blood orange peel and licorice. The flavors are equally deep, with deep notes of black plum, raspberry, wild strawberry, red cherry, mineral, chewy tannins, structure and layers of savory spice on the finish.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Cuvée Laurene, Dundee Hills / $70 – 96 pts
Soft, subtle and graceful. Lovely aromas of ripe red fruits, cola, earth tones and baking spice. Lively flavors of dark cherry, wild berries, plum, cocoa, fresh sage and forest floor. Overall, elegance and finesse from start to finish, with the structure and natural verve showing with more time in the glass. A classic signature of the DDO style.

Great Grub To Grill For Summer!

But first, a little background. . . Chouriço is Portugal’s answer to the Spanish Chorizo. Typically cooked over a clay assador, a mini, portable indoor grill, chouriço is one of Portugal’s prized culinary specialties. It is often enjoyed sliced as an appetizer alongside bread, cheese and olives.  Pair this delicacy with Dow’s 2015 Vale do Bomfim ($13 SRP), a product of the Symington Family Estate.  The compelling aromas showcase rich black fruit, lending to flavors of blackberries and plums on the palate. Lively acidity and freshness help cut through the fat of the chouriço, making it a perfect pairing.

Don’t forget the veggies! Our family favorite of the past few years is grilled Caesar Salad.  Yes, even the young lad goes for this one.  A great way to round out the heartier sausage and cheeses, plus add a bowl of freshly picked blackberries to finish things off (found along innumerable rural roads in Sonoma & Napa Counties).

Happy grilling!  The Sawyer Family

Astoria, Oregon Crab & Wine Fest! April 28-30

If only I could be in two places . . . why my obscure obsession with the coast of Oregon? Because I lived there of course! In Astoria to be exact, for two years of my High School career. A place that is still warm to my heart as well as the memories of delicious sea food. While I will be returning this summer for the many-year HS reunion, perhaps there are others that can be there this weekend for the official 35th Annual Astoria Warrenton Crab, Sea Food & Wine Festival. Running Friday April 28 through Sunday April 30th, swing by and enjoy if you happen to be in north west Oregon!

The friendly representation of Sweet Cheeks Winery at the 2015 festival!
The friendly representation of Sweet Cheeks Winery at the 2015 festival!

Flavor! events to honor winemaker Heidi Barrett on March 23rd

Time to get your tickets, while they last, to these two exclusive events at Flavor! Napa Valley.

From Vineyard to Bottle: Exploring Napa Valley with Iconic Winemaker Heidi Barrett
Moderated by wine, food and television star Leslie Hartley-Sbrocco of KQED’s “Check, Please!”, this exclusive seminar and tasting is focused on Heidi’s secrets behind the way she captures the deep, rich and complex flavors of the fruit she works with from premier vineyards in the wines she makes for her La Sirena and Barrett & Barrett labels, as well as other special selections from the highly-touted Napa Valley brands Paradigm, Fantesca, Kenzo Estate and Lamborn Family Vineyards.
Thursday, March 23, 2017 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

Icons Dinner honoring legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett
Celebrate some of our favorite food and wine icons at this exclusive dinner at the Silverado Resort and Spa:  A multi-course dinner will be paired with outstanding, rare Napa wines.
Host Chef Jeffrey Jake (Silverado Resort and Spa), Matthew Accarrino (SPQR), Stuart Brioza & Nicole Krasinski (State Bird Provisions and The Progress), Waldy Malouf (CIA), Ken Frank (La Toque) and Michael Schulson (Schulson Collective)
Thursday, March 23, 2017 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Hope to see you there to celebrate and imbibe!
Cheers,  Christopher