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 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

– 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

– 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!

– “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

– 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!

– “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

– 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!

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

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.

Holiday Cheers to the 50 year Anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards

Pop! Pop! Pop! For wine fans across the nation, popping corks and sharing bottles of domestic sparkling wines has become a tradition during the holidays. One of the great wineries to thank for this tasty trend is Schramsberg Vineyards in Napa Valley.

schram4Located on Diamond Mountain near Calistoga, the Schramsberg brand was originally developed by Jacob Schram, who purchased the property in 1862. Following his family’s German tradition of winemaking, Schram established a reputation for making award-winning wines with Riesling, Golden Chesslas, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah grapes grown on the first hillside vineyard in Napa Valley.

Following Schram’s death, his son Herman ran the winery until he sold the estate just before Prohibition. Over the next few decades, the property changed hands numerous times before Jack and Jamie Davies purchased it in 1965 with the intent of making sparkling wines that could rival the finest offerings from Champagne.

While renovating the abandon winery, caves, and bringing the Schramsberg brand back to life, the Davies launched their inaugural release, the 1965 Blanc de Blancs, a combination of Chardonnay and a smaller percentage of Pinot Blanc, in 1967. A few vintages later, the name of the brand exploded when President Nixon took bottles of the Blanc de Blancs to the “Toast to Peace” in China in 1972.

Over the first couple decades, most of the fruit for these early wines came from Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and the Oak Knoll District in Napa Valley. But that started to shift in the early 1980s, when the family began working with more ultra-premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from the cooler climate regions of Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, and Marin County.

schram5Fifteen years ago, the focus on making the world-class sparkling wines was passed on to Jack and Jamie’s son Hugh, who was born the same year his parents purchased the property in 1965. Before joining the team, Hugh earned his masters in Enology at University of California Davis and worked harvests at Moet Chandon and Remy Cognac to hone his skills.

Today, Davies and the winemaking team works with 200 separate lots of fruit picked from 120 different vineyard blocks grown at different elevations and unique soils. Consequently, this diverse mixture of vineyard sources and special sites has resulted in an increase of concentrated flavors, complexity, and natural acidity in all the new Schramsberg releases.

These dynamic flavors shine in the new 2012 Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay, $39), which features elegant notes of spring flowers, brioche, crisp green apple, lemon/lime, grapefruit peel, roasted almond, and spice. Same is true for the 2011 Blanc de Noirs (89% Pinot Noir/11% Chardonnay, $41), which features vibrant flavors of baked red apples, ripe cherry, wild strawberry, raspberry compote, citrus peel, caramel, cinnamon toast, and a long lingering finish.

For the more limited releases wines like the J. Schram, J. Schram Rosé and Schramsberg Reserve, the team has started to ferment the hand-selected lots in a combination of stainless steel and a smaller amount of neutral oak barrels to add more nuances, structure, depth, and rich texture to the finished blend. (Check out the retrospective tasting notes below to see how well these wines age over time).

Other admirable sparklers to look for in the marketplace include:
Schramsberg Brut Rosé, Cremant Demi-sec, Mirabelle Brut and Mirabelle Rosé. Before putting the master blends into individual bottles with dollops of sugar and yeast to start secondary fermentation (the classic methode champenoise process which creates the bubbles); the wines are sterile filtered to insure freshness.

In the bottle, these sparkling gems are aged in the expansive estate caves which were hand-dug by Chinese laborers in the 1880s. According to Hugh, patience is the key. “You can’t make apple pie if you start with apple sauce. Instead, you must let the tart flavors develop over time.”

Beyond bubbles, the winery began making the J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in 2001 and more recently launched a special series of limited production Pinot Noirs made with fruit from Anderson Valley and higher elevation vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.

“My parents set us on a track to move forward with our own vision and access to the best possible fruit by developing deep relationships with some of the finest growers on the West Coast,” says Hugh, who lives on the estate with his wife Monique and their three son Emrys, Nelson and Hugh.

“For that reason, we are not afraid to try new things with the intent of making world-class sparklers and still wines that offer complex flavors, subtle nuances, texture and other unique characteristics that are engaging and satisfying from the minute the cork is popped or how well the wines age in the bottle over time.”

Schramsberg Vineyards is open by appointment. For more information, visit Also, look for Hugh Davies and Schramsberg Vineyards at the upcoming Flavor Napa Valley events, March

History in the bottles: A 50-year Retrospective Tasting with Schramsberg Vineyards

This fall, to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Schramsberg Vineyards, Schramsberg President & CEO Hugh Davies and Winemaker Sean Thompson hosted the Golden Bouchon, a special series of exclusive Sparkling Wine Library Tastings at the historic mansion built by Jacob Schram in 1875 at the Schramsberg Estate. Here are my notes from the special sparkling wines and still wines we tasted at this memorable event. -CS


Schramsberg Vineyards Pinot Noir Brut Sparkling
Wine Library Tasting

The Schramsberg Reserve wines are typically made with 70 separate vineyard lots. A percentage of the blend is aged in barrels to create more complex flavors and aromas. It’s also worth noting that there were no reserves from 1987-1993, an important period when the Davies family developed relationships with growers who specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings in the cooler coastal regions of Carneros, Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Mendocino and Marin Counties. Today, the average retail price of the Schramsberg Reserve is $120; whereas the library selections are priceless.

Schramsberg 2007 Reserve: Lovely aromas and flavors of poached pear, wild strawberry, lemon curd, roasted almonds, truffle, ginger spice, and a long, vibrant finish. Content: 76% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay.
Vineyards: Saltonstall (Sonoma Coast/Petaluma Gap), Stevens (Marin), Juster (Anderson Valley).

Schramsberg 2004 Reserve: Very impressive sparkler with lively flavors of ripe tree fruits, baked apple, wild berries, almond paste, mint, and graham cracker crust. Content: 84% Pinot Noir, 16% Chardonnay.
Vineyards: Corby, Juster (Anderson Valley), Saltonstall (Sonoma Coast/Petaluma Gap), Hyde (Napa Carneros) Stevens (Marin).

Schramsberg 1999 Reserve: Stately sparkling wine that is still so lively and vibrant. Notes of peach, pear, white cherry, fresh ginger, cinnamon toast, creamy texture, and lingering finish. Ripe, zesty, and elegant.
Content: 73% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay. Vineyards: Corby, Husch, Rose, Vidmar (Anderson Valley), Lund (Napa Carneros).

Schramsberg 1994 Reserve
: Rich and complex, with flavors of poached pear, peach, citrus, and nutmeg. Graceful and ethereal. Content: 73% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay. Vineyards: Trefethen, Schramsberg (Napa); Cordoniu (Napa Carneros); Ricci (Sonoma Carneros).

Schramsberg 1986 Reserve: Rich, lively and precise. Aromas and flavors of peach, apple, toffee and smoke. Content: 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay. Vineyards: 100% from the Schramsberg Estate on Diamond Mountain (Napa).

Schramsberg 1977 Reserve: Sweet core fruit, layered with accents of coconut, vanilla and white chocolate, apple, truffle, caramel, and earth. Content: 78% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay. Vineyards: 100% from the Schramsberg Estate on Diamond Mountain (Napa).

Schramsberg Vineyards Chardonnay Brut Sparkling
Wine Library Tasting

Made with selective grapes from coastal vineyards, the emphasis of the J. Schrams master blend is Chardonnay with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir. 60-65% is aged in stainless steel barrels; while the other 35-40% is aged in neutral French oak barrels. It’s also interesting to see how the percentage grapes from Sonoma and Marin counties increased 15 years ago. This forward thinking really shows in the 2001, 2003 and 2007 vintages. Retail price of the 2007 J. Schram is $120.

Schramsberg 2007 J. Schram: Lovely floral aromas with hints of fresh citrus, ginger and brioche. Complex flavors of ripe peach, cherry, ripe pineapple, lemon custard, roasted hazelnut; and plenty of backbone for aging in the bottle. Content: 86% Chardonnay. Vineyards, 14% Pinot Noir.
Vineyards: Hyde, Jones, Tognetti, Schwarze (Napa Carneros); Horseshow Bend, Keefer (Sonoma Coast); Stevens (Marin). 12.8% alc.

Schramsberg 2003 J. Schram: Lofty aromas of ripe tree fruits, anise and butterscotch. lead to distinctive flavors of pear, apple, peach, dried honey, mineral and peanut brittle. Lively, vibrant, and inviting.
Content: 85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Hyde, Jones, Tognetti, (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Vella, Ricci (Sonoma Carneros); Stevens (Marin). 12.5% alc.

Schramsberg 2001 J. Schram: Soft, luxurious, and sophisticated, this sparkling gem is highlighted with notes of ripe Golden Delicious apple, pineapple, fresh lime, Meyer lemon, exotic melon, white pepper, and creamy texture. Content: 77% Chardonnay, 23% Pinot Noir. Vineyards:
Jones, Tognetti (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Vella (Sonoma Carneros); Stevens (Marin). 12.6% alc.

Schramsberg 1999 J. Schram: Due to the long, steady ripening period, the wine spent more time in bottle before being released, so it falls into the Late Disgorged category. The end result is a very complex wine with lovely aromas of spring flowers, white fruits, orange marmalade and fennel; captivating flavors of white peach, apple, lemon zest, ginger; and a long, dry finish. Content: 74% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir.
Vineyards: Tognetti, Schwarze, Hyde, Jones (Napa Carneros); Sangiacomo Donnell (Sonoma Carneros). 12.6% alc.

Schramsberg 1993 J. Schram: Intriguing wine with notes of poached pear, wild mushroom, honey, forest floor, earth, and rustic spices. A great wine to pair with creamy cheeses or mushroom bisque. Content: 82% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Hill (Napa Carneros); Schramsberg, Trefethen, Elliot (Napa). 12.5% alc.

Schramsberg 1987 J. Schram
: Made with 100% fruit from Napa Valley, this was the first vintage of J. Schram. Today, the wine features notes of apple, pear, almond paste, egg flower soup, and creamy texture. Content:
85% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Noir. Vineyards: Schramsberg, Trefethen, Elliot, Yountville (Napa). 12.9% alc.

Surreal Santa meets fabulous wines at Jessup Cellars

At Christmas, Santa comes in so many different forms. Besides supposedly working with reindeer and elves, sometimes he’s simply the nice person that opens the door for you when you’re shopping or the fun wine pro who tips you off on a flavorful new wine in a tasting room. Or, if you are very lucky, the person that fixes you an amazing dish that far exceeds your expectations. In short, hospitality, fine wines, and tasty cooking are an easy route to thrills and memories during the holidays and the winter months leading into the New Year.

Gastronaut Bob Blumer introduces the first course to guest at Jessup Cellars near downtown Yountville.
Gastronaut Bob Blumer introduces the first course to guest at Jessup Cellars near downtown Yountville.
I bring this subject up because of my recent encounter with my old friend Chef Bob Blumer, who lit up the countdown to the holidays with a special dinner he designed for friends and wine lovers at Jessup Cellars in Yountville.

Gastronaut Bob’s other name is the The Surreal Gourmet, an admirable title he’s earned via the artistic styles of food he’s been creating since he broke into the national scene in the early 1990s. Since then, Bob has gone on to become a master of molecular gastronomy; star in shows on Food Network; publish books; and do live cooking demonstrations at big events around the globe.

If that wasn’t cool enough, in 2010 Bob broke two memorable world records. The first was the Guinness World Record for removing grains of rice from a bowl with chopsticks (134 grains in 3 minutes in Taiwan).
The second was the fastest time for peeling of 50 pounds of onions at the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival in Washington, with a record time of 2 minutes and 39 seconds.

Although he was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, he now calls Los Angeles his home. Along the way, I was lucky enough to work with Bob and wine PR guru Joel Quigley worked for the Wine Brats organization and mythical cult magazine Wine X over a ten year period starting in the mid-1990s. What I learned is that Bob is more than a chef. Instead, he’s an artist who is willing to push the boundaries of how to prepare dishes and attract the attention of the soon-to-be eaters with his amazing presentations.

The dazzling Duck Sno-Cones, which jiggled in the wire holders for extra fun.
The dazzling Duck Sno-Cones, which jiggled in the wire holders for extra fun.
At the recent dinner at Jessup Cellars, Bob showed his skills by creating a masterful menu that was paired with their new releases. Highlights of the special Tastemakers Dinner included:

– The classic Shrimp-on-the-Barbie, which included spicy grilled marinated prawns served via Barbie dolls on the plate; a tangy dipping sauce; and sips of the charming aromatic gem, Jessup Cellars 2014 Viognier.
Cracker Jacks Soup made with variations of corn (including popcorn) and a great pairing with the extremely balanced 2013 Jessup Cellars Chardonnay.
Duck Sno-Cones, a lovely combination of Duck with fresh herbs and spices. As seen, paired with 2012 Manny’s Blend, a dynamic cepage of old vine Zinfandel planted by Robert Mondavi in 1972 and a smaller portion of Petite Sirah. Jammy flavors and a long engaging finish. Yum!
Life is a Box of Chocolates paired with the 2011 Juel, a Bordeaux style blend with lively notes of wild berries, tobacco, and fresh sage.
– The finishing touches were the Caramelized Pear and Walnut Pizza, a great recipe from B, paired with the stately 2009 Jessup Cellars Zinfandel Port.

Life is a Box of Chocolates, a dazzling spread of Beef Filet, potatoes, and veggies all made to look like pieces of chocolate candy.
Life is a Box of Chocolates, a dazzling spread of Beef Filet, potatoes, and veggies all made to look like pieces of chocolate candy.
Across the board, each dish was paired perfectly with the wines crafted by Executive Winemaker Rob Lloyd, who also makes the Handwritten and Humanitas wines that are also part of The Good Life Wine Collective.

Although the seating for the dinner was very limited, the great thing is that Bob can come to your house on a daily basis if you buy his great books and share these festive styles of food with friends and family throughout the year. Great last-minute presents too! Visit to find out more about his books available online.

In the meantime, if you are in the Napa Valley area during the holidays or the New Year, don’t forget to stop by Jessup Cellars to taste all the fabulous wines they make!

Jessup Cellars Tasting Room
6740 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-8523

PressPlay: Sharing Holiday joys with walnuts and Trefethen Winery

Every year I receive great gifts from wineries as a thank you for articles I’ve written, speaking engagements, or friendships that have been built over the past two decades.

Trefethen 2012 Dragon's Tooth Red Wine: Fabulous blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lively aromas and flavors of dark fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, toasty oak, and a long rich finish. Holiday pairings: wild mushroom pasta, mac & cheese, seared duck breast, and roasted meats. $60.
Trefethen 2012 Dragon’s Tooth Red Wine: Fabulous blend of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lively aromas and flavors of dark fruits, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, toasty oak, and a long rich finish. Holiday
pairings: wild mushroom pasta, mac & cheese, seared duck breast, and roasted meats. $60.

With that being said, I always know what I’ll get from Trefethen Family Vineyards on a yearly basis: a fabulous bag of walnuts from the magnificent trees on the old Eshcol property the Trefethen family purchased just east of Napa in 1968.

Besides being used as ingredients in tasty holiday treats, this special bag of nuts serve as a symbol of farming heritage of the estate and neighboring properties in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. In many ways, it’s also a small token of the family’s gratitude for friendships they have built through the years with wine writers, sommeliers and retailers whom are appreciative of the family’s unique wine portfolio.

But this year has a little extra meaning to the family. For when the South Napa earthquake hit at 3:20 a.m. on August 24, 2014, tref15bthe impact of the 6.0 tremor caused severe damage to the historic winery and winemaking facility on the property.

Granted, it’s going to take some time to retrofit and rebuild this legendary wooden winery designed by architect H.W. Mcintyre for the Eschol family in 1886. But alas, I’m happy to say that when I visited Trefethen Vineyards in mid-December, the construction was in final stages of restoring the amazing face of the southern end of the building back before Christmas.

According to my good friend Mimi Gatens, the Marketing Manager for Trefethen Vineyards, the family is hoping to have the winery open in spring 2016. But for now, they have a fun and festive tent set up to serve as the hospitality center until the building is finished. (See the photos of my favorite new wine picks.)

Walnut-Recipe-s2With walnuts, here is the newest seasonal recipe done by Napa Valley’s own Chef Cindy Pawlcyn, who will be working with a long list of other star chefs, as well as wines from Trefethen Family Vineyard and a multitude of other great members of the Napa Valley Vintners, at the exciting Flavor Napa Valley events, March 16-20. Try this recipe with another local speciality: the Traditional Plain Chevre from Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol.

In the meantime, holiday cheers to the Trefethens and all the great readers of from the Sawyer family!

Trefethen 2014 Dry Riesling: Enchanting aromas of ripe fruits, citrus, chamomile, jasmine and white pepper. Vibrant flavors of white peach, apricot, apple, lime, grapefruit peel, and burst of bracing acidity. 
Crisp, clean and bright. Holiday pairings: young cheeses, spring rolls, soups, salads with citrus vinaigrette, shellfish, light fish dishes, roasted chicken, and spicy Asian cuisine. $25.
Trefethen 2014 Dry Riesling: Enchanting aromas of ripe fruits, citrus, chamomile, jasmine and white pepper. Vibrant flavors of white peach, apricot, apple, lime, grapefruit peel, and burst of bracing acidity.
Crisp, clean and bright. Holiday pairings: young cheeses, spring rolls, soups, salads with citrus vinaigrette, shellfish, light fish dishes, roasted chicken, and spicy Asian cuisine. $25.
Trefethen 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Classic Trefethen style of Cabernet Sauvignon with deep flavors of ripe berries, licorice, wild sage, layers of spice, fine French oak, and a smooth, velvety texture. Young, lively, and worthy of aging. Holiday pairings: charcuterie, risotto, ham, grilled steaks, and rack of lamb. $100
Trefethen 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: Classic Trefethen style of Cabernet Sauvignon with deep flavors of ripe berries, licorice, wild sage, layers of spice, fine French oak, and a smooth, velvety texture.
Young, lively, and worthy of aging. Holiday pairings: charcuterie, risotto, ham, grilled steaks, and rack of lamb. $100

Trefethen Family

1160 Oak Knoll Avenue, Napa, California 94558

Williams-Sonoma comes home: Remembering Founder Chuck Williams

This week Chuck Williams passed away at 100 years old, just one year after his flagship Williams-Sonoma store returned to it’s original home on Broadway in Sonoma.

Cooking School at the new Williams-Sonoma, designed for private classes and events.
Cooking School at the new Williams-Sonoma, designed for private classes and events.
I was fortunate enough to attend that store opening celebration last autumn and published this brief article in Napa Sonoma Magazine: You can read about it at No Place Like Home and then peruse a few photos on my Pinterest page.  More will be added soon.

Wishing Chuck a peaceful rest.

Help Humanitas Wines with Soles4Souls: Clothes4Souls Coat Distribution on Sat Dec 5th

Humanitas Wines is partnering with Soles4Souls on both a regional shoe collection drive and national fundraising campaign this holiday season.

Humanitas, part of The Good Life Wine Collective along with sister wineries Jessup Cellars and Handwritten, will use the family-owned wine group’s dry goods storage building in southern Napa to house the shoes prior to national and international distribution. Visit the Soles4Souls: Napa Valley Shoe Drive Facebook page to learn more and get a list of local drop-off sites.

In addition to the shoe drive, Humanitas Wines is also partnering with Soles4Souls’ Clothes4Souls division to distribute 1,200 brand new coats donated from Macy’s to Lake County Fire Victims at a Holiday Party on Saturday, December 5 from 1pm to 4pm at the Middletown Lions Club (15399 Central Park Road). The afternoon includes a visit from Santa, treats, and craft activities.