How a Winery Nearly Destroyed By Wildfires and Ravaged by COVID Still Manages to Enchant Visitors

(Contributed by Avery Shive) I’ll never forget my first visit to Soda Rock Winery, located in Sonoma County outside the town of Healdsburg. My mother, two sisters and I had planned a glamorous girls weekend visiting top tier wineries in California Wine Country towards the end of November 2019. Our goal was to have fun, but to also support the wineries by visiting after the devastating fires that swept Sonoma County in October.

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Avery and her sisters at Soda Rock Winery after Wildfires

Wildfires Rage Over Soda Rock Winery

When we heard about the affect the fires had on Soda Rock Winery, we planned on visiting to merely show our support but once we arrived, this winery became so much more than that. Upon arrival we saw that the historic winery, originally established in the 1880s, was almost burnt to the ground from the fires, but still parts of it had survived. The firefighters had managed to salvage some of the main rock wall, the barn, and the grapevines in the back of the winery. Following is a news video depicting the fire at Soda Rock:

A Humble Tasting Room in a Barn with Impeccable Service

When discovered that Soda Rock employees had set up a tasting room in a humble barn with a dirt floor. But from the ceiling there was a grand chandelier covered in crystals hanging over the tables and chairs which overlooked the vineyard. The service at the winery was impeccable, and we were given free tastes of as many wines as they had. I remember falling in love with a crisp chardonnay and a flavorful pinot noir. We were excited to purchase several bottles of wine to take home with us.

This experience was so memorable for me, because it was shortly after Soda Rock was nearly destroyed by the fires. However, not only did they continue to stay open, but all of the tasting room employees had smiles on their faces and were giving out discounts and free tastings. I was so inspired by the large number of people gathered to support such a historic winery, plus the positive and hopeful feeling in the air. It was a very beautiful wine experience, and I will always remember it.

Soda Rock
Soda Rock Winery Re-Opened After Wildfires

Soda Rock Winery Reopens After COVID Shut-Down

Even though Soda Rock winery was able to reopen after the devastating October wildfires of 2019, it was forced to shut down its tasting rooms in March of 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. However, this winery seems destined to rise from the ashes, because, in June 2020, it was able to re-open its tasting room in the vineyards outside the humble barn.

Currently they are offering a by appointment only tasting at a 6-foot segregated tables overlooking the vineyards. It includes 5 wines and a picnic lunch box prepared by Coyote Sonoma Chef Christopher for only $40 per person. For more information and/or to reserve a table, click HERE.

Vin Piscine – The New Exciting Trend of Swimming Pool Wine

I first encountered “Vin Piscine” last year in South Africa on a very hot January day in Johannesberg. Being the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons of South Africa are opposite of North America, and I had spent the hot and humid day on a tour of the city. By the evening, I was ready for a cool glass of chenin blanc wine, but was surprised when the small outdoor café where I went for dinner brought me a bucket of ice, tongs, and my wine in a large balloon glass. Looking around the café, I saw other people with similar glasses and they were all putting ice cubes in their wine, creating a beautiful spectacle of light dancing around the crystal ice cubes and shimmering golden and rosé wines.

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Rosé Piscine and Blanc Piscine

What is “Vin Piscine?”

“Vin Piscine” means “wine swimming pool” in French, and refers to a glass of wine – usually white or rosé colored – served in a large glass with lots of ice.  The ice, which is swimming around in the pool of wine, slowly melts creating an icy refreshing drink referred to by the French as “Vin Piscine.” Apparently, it is all the rage in Paris this summer, as well as last summer, according to a report in Meininger’s. Another popular drink is the “frosé,” which is wine mixed with crushed ice, similar to a crushed ice margarita or daiquiri, but made with wine.

Special Types of Wine Used to Make Vin Piscine

In France, they have actually created a new category of wine designed to add ice.  It is usually stronger tasting so when the ice melts, the wine still retains good flavor.  Examples are illustrated in this advertisement for Blanc Piscine and Rosé Piscine by VinoValle.

Vin Piscine from Vinovalle

Try Making Vin Piscine Yourself at Home

Since it is currently difficult to find this special type of wine in the US market, I decided to try making my own “Vin Piscine.” I pulled out two large balloon wine glasses and filled them half-way with ice cubes.  Then I poured a French Provence rosé in one and a California white blend in the other. The rosé, which was dry, quickly became diluted and didn’t taste as good after some of the ice had melted.  The white wine, however, which was fruitier and more concentrated with a hint of sweetness, actually improved with the ice, and I ended up relaxing by the pool and enjoying my glass of “Vin Piscine.”

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Swimming Pool Wine by the Pool – Vin Piscine

Hike, Picnic and Taste Wine at La Crema Winery’s New Outdoor Tasting Experience

As wineries slowly start re-opening in California, many are getting creative in the types of experiences they offer, because currently most tastings must be outdoors and include food. With this in mind, La Crema Winery took advantage of their beautiful Saralee’s Vineyard property to offer walking tours and picnics in the relaxing gardens surrounded by rolling vineyards.

Guests must make a reservation online in advance. When they arrive, they are provided with a map of suggested walking trails to explore the vineyards and take in the beautiful vistas of the Russian River Valley. Upon conclusion of the walking tour, they receive a pre-packed cheese and charcuterie picnic box with an estate wine to continue the La Crema outdoor experience at home or on the Estate, including at Richard’s Grove, the beautiful, expansive great lawn adjacent to the vineyards.

La Crema has prioritized safety by conducting training with its tasting room and culinary staff. All employees must wear facial coverings, conduct pre-shift health screenings, and thoroughly sanitize surfaces prior to and following all visits. Hand sanitizer stations are also available for guests. La Crema is following all the hygiene and health requirements consistent with CDC guidelines.

Reservations are available daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and can be booked online  HERE. The experience, which includes the walking tour, lunch, and a bottle of wine is $100 per couple.

Photos courtesy of La Crema.com

 

 

Wine Tasting in Paris and Falling in Love with Champagne

(Contributed by K. Lewis) – My favorite tasting experience I have ever had was during the Summer of 2017 in Paris, France. I went on this trip with my mom and aunt, and after exploring the city throughout the weekend, we ended our trip with a wonderful Champagne tasting on a small boat sailing down the Seine River. The tasting consisted of three different Champagnes. I knew I really liked wine at the time, but this was one of the first times I remember gaining an understanding of the fact that different types of sparkling wine actually taste very distinctive with their own unique set of flavors.

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Champagne Tasting in Paris with Family

The service that we received was fun, friendly, informative, and interactive. Our server provided an extensive background on what champagne really is, where it comes from, and how it is made. He told us what to expect before we took our first sip of each glass, and left plenty of time in-between each tasting for us to ask questions and discuss the wine while we continued our sailing tour of the city. Of the three champagnes, two were dry and one was very sweet. I learned that the dry ones were called Brut and Brut Reserve and the sweet one was called a Demi-Sec. They were all delicious, but I was very excited to try the sweet one because it was unique to me, and tasted like a dessert! 

Champagne we tasted

The Three Champagnes in Our Tasting

As we continued to sail down the Seine while tasting exquisite bubbly Champagne, I realized this was one of the best days of my life. The experience was so unique because it took place on a small boat, and we were treated to the sights of Paris. We sailed past the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the d’Orsay Museum, and many other beautiful must-sees of Paris. The day was cloudy but warm, and it felt like the perfect setting to fall in love with Champagne. I can’t wait to go back one day and explore more of the beautiful wine that Europe has to offer! 

The Boat

Sailing Down the Seine on a Warm Cloudy Day

Innovative Winery Launches Nature Hikes and Wine-Tasting Picnics with Social Distancing

American wineries have shown much innovation in reaching out to wine consumers via virtual tastings, tours, and other online methods due to the closing of tasting rooms with COVID19. However, one winery has found a very unusual means of connecting with consumers again by scheduling educational nature hikes in Sonoma County.

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Hiking at Jordan Winery, Sonoma County, California

This weekend, Jordan Winery is set to become the first winery to reopen in Napa and Sonoma, using the Sonoma County park/trail reopening health order (effective on May 13) as its path. These educational nature hike packages for two include a  guided hike across our 1,200-acre ranch, and a charcuterie picnic and wine to-go to enjoy at home. (No food and wine can be consumed on the property to keep in compliance with the governor’s current mandate.) Social distancing rules are respected, so that visitors have plenty of space as they hike past vineyards and magnificent oak trees.

Nature hike tickets are now on sale for $110 per person/$220 per couple.  All details (pricing, available dates, times, picnic menu):
https://www.jordanwinery.com/visit/tours-and-tastings/nature-hike

Jordan will be offering nature hikes on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from May 23 to June 7. Each week, they will evaluate the county health order updates to decide if they need to open up more hikes.

A Heavenly Visit to Hanna Winery in Sonoma County

In October the Wine Sense Club put on an extravagant field trip out to Hanna winery in Alexander Valley. Driving up the long and beautifully landscaped driveway of Hanna Winery, the Wine Sense club was able to take in the picturesque views of the valley. The club’s wine tasting excursion took place under the large oak tree below the tasting room. Shelby Lozinto, the President of the Wine Sense club arranged a private tasting for the club and presented a selection of the Hanna wines to the club members.

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Hanna Winery in Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.  Photo Credit: Hanna

About Hanna Winery

Hanna Winery was first started in 1985 by Dr. Elias Hanna.  Christine Hanna, president and daughter of Dr. Elias Hanna, took over operations of the winery back in 1996.  When she took over the operations the company’s production was less than 10,000 cases per year; now the winery produces up to 55,000 cases annually and is growing steadily.  Out of the 55,000 case production, 35,000 cases are solely Sauvignon Blanc.

Tasting Hanna Wines

The first wine the club experienced was Hanna’s renowned 2015 vintage of Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine took best in class during the San Francisco Wine Competition and received a double Gold medal during the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. This wine is also produced in the Russian River Valley. Hanna Winery has secured long term grape contracts to supplement their growth pattern.

The second wine presented to the club was the 2014 Hanna Rosé, which was produced in more of a French fashion meaning it was light, crisp, and not very sweet; a dry taste of the wine was emphasized. The Hanna Rosé is almost a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec. The Malbec is produced in Alexander Valley, whereas the Pinot Noir comes from the Russian River Valley. A fun fact about this wine is to achieve the beautiful light pink color, the skins of the grapes are only in contact with the juices for at most 4 hours.

The third wine the club tasted was the 2014 Elias Chardonnay.  The Elias brand name is derived from Dr. Hanna’s first name, he is also a renowned heart surgeon.  During Dr. Hanna’s career, he was known for having the “Quickest hands in the West.” Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are some of his favorite varietals to grow and consume.  This Chardonnay is grown in the Russian River Valley near the Santa Rosa tasting room. It is also barrel fermented in French and Hungarian Oak which gives the wine its smooth texture.

After the Chardonnay the group went on to sample the Hanna Malbec, which had recently received, the Gold Medal in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Malbec came across as the perfect Fall wine as it resembles pumpkin pie spice, “jammy” cranberry sauce and an essence of sage; the perfect complement to any Thanksgiving meal. Overall the wine was very lively on the palate.

The last wine the group experienced was the Hanna Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This bold wine was given 94 points by Robert Parker. It is grown in Alexander Valley where the valley has the perfect warm and sunny climate to produce Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Big John’s Market

Great Food from Big Johns Market

During the Wine tasting the Wine Sense Club enjoyed refreshing and delicious sandwiches and goodies from Big Johns Market in Healdsburg. At the end of the tasting Shelby escorted the group into the vineyards where everyone was able to sample a few grapes straight off the vine. In the area, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec were available to taste. The group was astonished with how sweet the grapes actually tasted and were amazed at the transformation they go through to transform into wine. To continue with the tour of the property, Brett Roland, a local wine tourist guide was kind enough to take the wine club on a horse and carriage ride down to the ponds. To end the tour of the property, Shelby took the group into the cellar room below the tasting room to show off the barrels and tanks.

Enjoying the wines, the education, the beautiful scenery and clear blue sky above, the group was enamored by the wonderful experience. Overall, Hanna Winery had been a great destination to take in the beauty that Alexander Valley has to offer and enjoy some premium wines of Sonoma County.

How I Fell in Love with Wine in Montenegro

(Contributed by Makenna White) My relationship with wine is different from most Americans growing up. I have Danish family members that we would visit every couple years and my cousins, a couple years older than me, would have their own glasses of wine at dinner. After our first visit there, my parents introduced us to alcohol the same way many Europeans introduced their children to alcohol. They made it accessible for my brother and I to try, making drinking alcohol not seem forbidden and therefore “desirable.” As a kid having a sip of mom’s wine and dad’s rum and coke, none of it tasted good until our second trip to Europe.

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Wine & Food from Montenegro. Photo Credit: Commons

I first fell in love with wine when I was fourteen, at a little family winery in Montenegro. It was late May, 2014, we had just visited our family in Denmark, we flew to Croatia and drove to Montenegro to spend a few days there. My parents set up for us to go to a local winery with a translator and after driving through neighborhoods, we arrived at this little winery. The winery has been there for generations and is currently run by three generations of the family. We sat around a table in their cellar with old swords on the walls, barrels full of wine, fresh prosciutto from the neighbor’s pig, cheese from another neighbor, and fried dough the grandmother had just made.

Before even starting with the wine, they gave my parents six shots of brandy. Since Montenegro did not have a drinking age, they asked me if I wanted to try a sip of wine. I, being fourteen and wanting to act grown up, said yes. I tried two different reds, I do not remember the type of grapes but they were named Dionis (Greek God of wine) and Korin (which is similar to my mom’s name, Corinne).

I was very happy about the experience. It was amazing how connected everything was, the fresh meat and cheese from the neighbors, seeing the grapevines we just had wine from as we drove away, and sitting with the people whose whole lives revolved around a drink. My parents bought a few bottles to bring home, but I do not think we have anymore now. The experience we had will stay with me forever and remind me how ancient and universal this industry is.

South African Wines Now Shipping Again After COVID Halt

During the middle of harvest season for South African vintners in March, business activity was ordered to stop by their Government to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Alcohol production, national sales and tasting rooms were prohibited, followed by an export ban on April 16th, grinding the entire industry ­(except sanitizing alcohol) to a halt. 

Vineyard in South Africa

Wines of South Africa

Wines of South Africa, the organization representing all exporting South African wine producers, has been actively lobbying to lift restrictions. Their efforts were successful when Minister Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced permission of packaged and bulk wine export activities, including procurement, transport, manufacturing and related services to resume starting May 1st.   

Economic value 

According to Wines of South Africa, wine is their nation’s second largest agricultural export, amounting to $500 million in foreign revenue annually. The wine industry contributes $2.6 billion USD to national GDP and creates 290,000 jobs annually.

This several-week ban has lasting implications: apart from estimated $53 million lost revenue, Wines of South Africa estimates at least 3 months but likely longer for an average order to be fulfilled, as the entire supply chain gradually resumes with continuing restrictions, strict safety protocols, and new rules to be followed.     

Best Wine Tasting Experience at Serego Alighieri Winery in Italy

(Contributed by Gabriele Brusamarello) – My best tasting room experience was at the Serego Alighieri Estate, in the heart of the Valpolicella wine region in Italy. Located just a few miles away from the historic and magical city of Verona and beautiful Lake Garda, the winery estate was establish in 1353. It was a sunny and warm day in spring 2012, and I went to visit the winery with some basketball teammates since we were playing for the Verona basketball team. When we first arrived, we were surrounded by nature, astonished by the historic beauty and uniqueness of the location, and our friend Massimilla (daughter of the owners of the winery) warmly welcomed us and gave us a great tour of the whole Serego Alighieri estate and vineyards.

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Serego Alighieri Estate in Italy

When we first arrived, we were astonished by the historic beauty and uniqueness of the location, surrounded by nature. Our friend Massimilla (daughter of the owners of the winery) warmly welcomed us and gave us a great tour of the whole estate and vineyards.

Tasting the Amarone Wine

After the tour, Massimilla escorted us to the cellar, where grapes used to make Amarone were left to rest during the winter months for hundreds of years. We were welcomed by Massimilla’s family inside the cellar who made us feel like family the moment we walked in. A place with centuries of history immediately became an extremely friendly environment, which made the whole experience even more pleasant and memorable.

Inside the cellar we were offered many red wines that Serego Alighieri produced, including Valpolicella Classico Superiore, the Recioto Della Valpolicella, and delicious Amarone Della Valpolicella of different years. They were complemented by a variety of salame, prosciutto crudo, and porchetta, as well as different cheeses. Pairing wine and food helped wine to release its best flavors and aromas –it was absolutely perfect.

History and Family Linked to Dante

What made this so special is the history and family. In fact, Massimilla’s father told us that the estate was bought in 1353 by the son of the Supreme Poet Dante Alighieri. The fact that we were able to walk around made the whole experience surreal, magical, and breathtaking. I will always remember that special day and to be the experience that made me love wine even more than before.

Learn About Champagne from the Experts – Free!

What do you think of when you hear “Champagne”? While the name is sometimes used generically for sparkling wine especially in the United States, Champagne only comes from Champagne, France. The name is actually protected by French statutes since 1887, with over 120 national jurisdictions today restricting the use of the name to sparkling wines exclusively produced from grapes in the French region and using the traditional method (méthode champenoise, also is a protected designation).

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Sparkling Glasses of Champagne. Photo Credit: Comité Champagne

The Official Comité Champagne

Behind its exclusivity and luxurious connotations, Champagne – both the wine and region – is a living heritage with unique culture that is fascinating and one worth studying. Who better than the Champagne experts themselves to reveal the secrets of this exceptional wine? The Comité Champagne, the official trade organization representing the region’s 16,100 growers and 360 houses, is now offering a free Massive Open Online Course (“MOOC”). Guided by Master of Wine Jeremey Cukierman, this MOOC delivers a comprehensive coverage of the Champagne appellation and wines in a series of short but informative videos, which will turn you in less than five hours into a Champagne expert. The course is available anytime and from anywhere.

 Tricks of the Trade

From sommeliers, wine merchants, to everyday enthusiasts, anyone interested in Champagne will benefit from this course. In four modules, learners explore topics including the diversity and tasting of the Champagne wines, the winemaking process, and about the region’s unique terroir, history and economy. In addition, you have an option of upgrading to obtain a Statement of Completion from the Comité Champagne with the passing of a quiz, and extra access to further content for €49 (~$53 USD).

Check it out yourself here: https://www.champagne-mooc.com/