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.

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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.

Wine is My Love Potion: Adventures as a Harvest Intern

(Contributed by Alexandro Gomez) Wine is my love potion. Never before would I have thought wine could be this interesting. It all started in the summer of 2019 when I met the Robledo family, owners of Robledo Family Vineyards in Sonoma, California. They established the first tasting room in the United States that is owned by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker and his family. After much discussion of my interest in wine, they offered me a harvest internship. Although I was very excited about this opportunity, I was also scared and nervous as I knew nothing about harvest or wine in general.

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Harvesting grapes at Robledo Winery. (Credit: Robledo Family Winery)

First Day on the Job

As I was pulling up to the vineyard at around 5am, I noticed how fast the harvest workers already were at picking grapes. Luckily, my father taught me about hard work and how to quickly adapt to tough situations. I began picking as fast as possible, knowing these workers were also relying on me to do the job well. After about 6 hours and 24 blade cuts later, I sat under the shade for some water and thought to myself – I want more!

A Promotion to the Cellar

Seeing my instant enthusiasm, the Robledo brothers offered me work in the cellars where I would soon realize the art of winemaking. Again, it was an extremely fast-paced working environment, but I went with the flow, despite being very green. My curiosity and motivation helped push me to learn more. I was assigned to clean tanks, disinfect barrels, mop floors, clean hoses, and many other tasks. Working in the cellars was a major eye opener, because I learned winemaking techniques and the language of wine.  The experience was just what I needed to immerse myself into the wine production world.

My internship at Robledo Family Winery ended after four months, and I decided to focus on my final exams and also gain more experience on the business side of the wine industry. It has been a great learning journey so far and I’m looking forward to more!

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.

Elephant Motif and Farm-Stay Wine Experience at Zo Winery

Contributed by Keira Fernandes – This month we had a great educational wine-tasting on the campus of Sonoma State University with Zo Winery. They are located in the Dry Creek AVA of Sonoma County, just three miles outside of the town of Healdsburg.  What is unique about Zo Winery is that they not only offer wine-tasting, but a farm-stay wine experience. They also have a very special focus on elephants, with every wine label graced by an elephant motif.

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The Elephant Connection

The 11-acre vineyard was purchased by David Eckert in 1999 and named after his son Enzo. Enzo’s name is unique in that the first half of his name, “En”, is Japanese for perfect balance and endless, while “zo” translates to elephant; thus, leading to the natural progression of the elephant motif on their wine bottles and their merchandise.

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The Farm-Stay at Zo Winery

Zo Winery boasts a farm stay experience that focuses on the environmental and agricultural impact of their vineyards. Guests can reserve a room in one of the three historical buildings on the premise and explore the grounds. They have wine tasting available on site, as well as a blind tasting experience and an aromatherapy tasting session.

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Zo Wines Giving Back to Elephants and the Planet

A great variety of nine different types of wine is offered at Zo Winery, including the very popular zinfandel – signature grape of Dry Creek AVA, along with cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, viognier, rose of zinfandel and many other favorites.

The team’s passion for their products are reflected in their passion for giving back, with Zo Wines donating 1% of its time to local charities, 1% of net sales to Save Elephants, and 1% of sales to Save the Planet. With the unique experiences they offer, everyone will find something to love about Zo Wines. You can visit their website to see what they have to offer or schedule a visit.

Photos courtesy of Zo Wines website

An Intimate Tasting with Schweiger and Bouchaine Estate Wineries

The most recent tasting of the SSU WineSense Club was intimate and relaxed.  Schweiger and Bouchaine wineries both presented and poured six of their beautiful estate wines.  The group of 18 Millennials in attendance really opened up and felt more comfortable asking questions in the more intimate setting.

Favorite Wines of the Evening

The favorite wine of the evening from Schweiger Vineyards  was the 2007 Schweiger Vineyards  Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley, Estate Bottled ($58).  This was a rich, full-bodied Cabernet with dark berries, chocolate, and toasty oak.  It has a very velvety mouth feel with a long and pleasing finish.  A truly elegant cab!  Schweiger Vineyards is located on the very top of Spring Mountain with a beautiful tasting room and 35 acres of vineyard.  They produce 5000 cases of estate wine annually.  For more information see:   http://www.schweigervineyards.com/

The favorite wine of the evening from Bouchaine Vineyards was the 2008 Bouchaine Pinot Noir, Napa Valley-Carneros, Estate Vineyard ($50). This was a complex rich garnet colored pinot with bright cherry and blue berry fruit.  It also had a subtle smokey note, hints of cocoa and a very long finish.  Bouchaine Vineyards is located in the Carneros AVA and is the oldest continually operated winery in that region, having been established in 1928 by Italian immigrant Johnny Garetto.  For more information on Bouchaine, please see:  http://www.bouchaine.com/

Warm and Cozy Food/Wine Pairing

New Wine/Food Pairing Chefs, Alexa Dallas and Jenna Tallyn, did a great job with our food pairing as well!   The main course was Boeuf Bourguignon with Mashed Potatoes. This was complemented by Goat cheese with Fig and Apple Compote, and Almond Roca Brownies for dessert.

Holiday Wines Millennials Love – Thanks to KJ, Mazzocco, deLorimier, Stryker and Selby Wineries

The last three SSU Wine Sense Club meetings have been packed to overflowing with an average of 50 Millennials attending each tasting. Special thanks to all of the Sonoma County wineries who have participated in these educational events.

Kendall Jackson was kind enough to provide a “fermentation style seminar” with Brian Cronin, MS and Jann Cotter.  The session included tastings of 5 chardonnays crafted in different styles:  1) fermented in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, 2) fermented in stainless with malo, 3) fermented and aged in neutral oak, 4) fermented and aged in French oak, and 5) fermented and aged in American oak.  Though all 5 styles received votes the favorite of most Millennials in attendance was chardonnay fermented and aged in French oak.

Mazzocco and deLorimier Wineries also conducted a tasting this month with their fabulous zinfandels, cabernets and one chardonnay.  Chef Giana prepared all of the food for the evening, including Roasted Tomato and Garlic Dipping Sauce with French Bread, Curry Chicken Salad, a variety of local cheeses, and Tempranillo Blackberry Brownies.  Favorite wines of the evening were the Mazzocco 2009 Smith Orchard Zinfandel and the deLorimier 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Stryker-Sonoma and Selby Wineries were kind enough to conduct an educational tasting the week before Thanksgiving.  Traditional fare of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were paired with chardonnay and lighter reds from Selby and the powerhouse cabs from Stryker.  Favorite wines of the evening were Selby 2010 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc and Stryker Sonoma 2004 Monte Rosso Cabernet.

Truly, a great start to the Holiday Season at SSU!