Exquisite Wine and Dine Open-Air at the Breathtaking Ram’s Gate Winery

Known for their small lot premium wines, innovative culinary experiences and beautiful farmhouse-meets-modern design, Ram’s Gate is a modern winery nestled between Sonoma and Napa at the heart of Carneros Valley. This fall, Ram’s Gate will open new Veranda and Arbor venues for private outdoor tasting experiences. The very first Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs by Director of Winemaking Joe Nielsen, who joined Ram’s Gate team in 2018, will also be released. These wines will be featured throughout the tastings and available for purchase at the winery. 

Ram’s Gate Winery

Veranda By the Fire

The new Veranda Experience offers guests a privately hosted tour by an in-house wine expert, tasting of five wines with locally sourced cheese and charcuterie, and a complimentary Ram’s Gate blanket per guest to sit by the outdoor fire. This experience is available Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, at $165 per person.

Open-air tasting areas at Ram’s Gate.

Innovative Culinary Experience at The Vineyard Table

If you want a special Chef prepared experience with friends, the Arbor Experience is a six-course wine-pairing of seasonal, locally grown produce prepared by Executive Chef Stacey Combs, paired with selections by Nielsen at the Vineyard Table under the Arbor, with a tour of the winery and vineyards before the six-course pairing. This two-hour experience for up to 10 is available beginning October 16 at $275 per person.

Wine and dine at Ram’s Gate.

Open-air Tasting and Pairing

Notably, the Ram’s Gate tasting room is designed by renowned architect Howard Backen, as a modern take on the weathered farmsteads of old Carneros, blending the indoor and outdoor spaces. You can experience the Open-Air Tasting with a 5 wine flight at $50 per person, and an additional three-course Wine & Food Pairing Experience for a total of $105 per person.

Wine flight at Ram’s Gate.

Planning Your Visit

The Ram’s Gate tasting room is open Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made at https://www.exploretock.com/ramsgatewinery/.

Breathless Winery Wins “Rising Wine Star Winery of the Year” Award

In less than 10 years since it opened, Breathless Wines has already won multiple awards, including the San Francisco Wine Competition, American Fine Wine Competition, Wine Enthusiast, among others. This time, it is awarded by LuxeSF, a luxury marketing organization, as their “Rising Wine Star Winery of The Year”, after a tough competition with 74 other nominations across 5 award categories, selected by a 14-person panel of respected industry veterans.

Have you tried Breathless Wines yet? They are currently offering a special duo Blanc De Noir and Brut Rose pack at $60 including shipping this week until September 18. Better yet, you could visit their winery in downtown Healdsburg and try a flight of 4 wines for just $16 in their outdoor patio, or join their Friday Bubbly Happy Hour, or try a Breakfast at Breathless Breton Crepe paired with their sparkling on September 27. For more options, check this page out!

Breathless Brut in their flutes.
Lady on a Flying Cork, a poster from 1920s, used as Breathless Wines Logo.

A Legacy Sparkling with Personality

Hailing from a pioneer winemaking family in Napa, Paula Kornell is a Napa native who has seen the region’s rise from idyllic countryside to a world-renowned premium wine destination. Paula has acquired decades of experience throughout the wine industry, having held management positions at Mondavi, Phelps and other wineries. She has been a member of the Board of Napa Valley Vintners and served a term as its President, and has also chaired the famous Napa Wine Auction several times.

Paula Kornell serving her wines at home.

Meeting Paula Kornell and Tasting Her Very First Vintage

Now, Paula is carrying on her family legacy, having launched her own line of methode champenoise (traditional Champagne method) wines last October with Vintage Wine Estates. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Paula and experience her great hospitality over a cordial wine lunch at her eclectic St. Helena abode and learn about the many colorful stories behind her brand.

Paula opening her bottle of Blanc de Noir

Kornell Family Legacy

The Kornell family history is interwoven with the Wine Country, starting with Paula’s father, Napa wine pioneer Hanns Kornell. Originally from Germany, Kornell studied winemaking at Geisenheim Enological Institute in the 1930s and applied that training working for French and Italian wineries. After a narrow escape from Dachau Concentration Camp, he arrived in America with $2 in his pocket. Hanns worked in wineries until he was able to purchase the historic Larkmead Estate, one of California’s oldest wineries, which was established by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in 1884.

The historic Larkmead Winery. Credit: Napa Wine Project

Paula’s Wine Beginnings

After college, Paula’s adventurous spirit led her to a brief period working in vineyards around Europe and studying winemaking at Geisenheim, as did her father. Later, she did a stint selling Burgundy wines for the famous New York wine merchant Sherry-Lehmann. Although she enjoyed filling orders for celebrities on Madison Ave, her father eventually persuaded her to fly back to California on a one-way, first class ticket to work for Kornell Cellars.

The iconic Sherry Lehmann on Madison Ave.

The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

While sharing her Brut, an elegant blend of Central Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Paula noted how American consumers were unaccustomed to the “sparkling wine” definition initially. “Champagne” was perceived as better, but consumers increasingly understand why the change in nomenclature was made. International laws restrict the Champagne label to wines made only in this French appellation, even though many premium sparkling wines are made elsewhere using the same method. Her family has long used this traditional Champagne winemaking method in making their California wines.

Kornell Brut in a bucket.

Paula’s Blanc De Noir

Paula also opened a bottle of her inaugural 2017 Blanc De Noir, made with 98% Pinot Noir from the classic Mitsuko’s Vineyard in the Los Carneros area, ideally situated to catch breezes from San Pablo Bay. Remarkable was how it tasted like a more aged Champagne: complex, with toasty notes and a crisp hint of zesty citrus. It was an absolutely delightful pairing with her homemade galette made with fresh vegetables from her yard.

Our wine pairing lunch.

How the Wine Started

Paula’s own wine brand came into being when she was approached by long-time family friend and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, Pat Roney, who wanted to boost their premium boutique wine portfolio with great sparkling wines. The winemaker behind Paula’s wine is Robin Ankhurst, who has worked harvests from Burgundy and Languedoc to Marlborough and Barossa and now directs winemaking for several esteemed Napa wineries. I noticed the beautifully etched Riedel glasses with her logo, which she explained was the Men of Canaan – the same logo used in years past by Hanns Kornell Champagne, denoting Israelites carrying grapes to the “Promised Land,” which for her family was California.

Paula, her Blanc de Noir and me.

Staying Positive and Resilient

It’s not only Paula’s great wines and the history that stand out, but also her resilient and jovial spirit. To be sure, lockdowns caused by the current pandemic will pose challenges for wineries needing to sell excess inventory, but she sees pockets of opportunity for those who build relationships and continue to get involved. Despite the current pandemic, Paula has managed to progress with building partnerships through Zoom calls.

Outlawed – Watch Outlaw Country Musician Elizabeth Cook Perform Live at Home With a Glass of Paso Robles Wine

This summer is time for delicious wine and safely distanced live music! The exciting Robert Hall At Home Sessions we announced earlier continues with an incredible line-up of talented independent musicians for you and your community to watch from home, and enjoy authentic Paso Robles wine for the occasion. Next Wednesday September 2, the fourth virtual concert will feature contemporary Outlaw singer songwriter Elizabeth Cook, known for her appearances on David Letterman, “hip hard-country delivery, comedic gifts and magnetic personality”.

Elizabeth Cook. Credit: Robert Hall Winery

Watch From Home

You can watch the performance live, and get an exclusive behind-the-curtains recording from the artist after the show. Simply go to Robert Hall Winery’s Facebook page, @roberthallwinery. Previous shows and exclusive behind the scenes artist interviews can still be viewed at RobertHallWinery.com/At-Home-Sessions

Elizabeth Cook’s music video, “Bones”. Credit: Robert Hall Winery

Paso Robles Wine + Special Discount

In addition, Robert Hall is releasing some 2019 vintage wines for the first time, which you can buy directly online. You can now get 20% off using the at home sessions code and free shipping if you live in valid states, including California.

Robert Hall’s latest Cavern Select Vermentino 2019.

About Robert Hall Winery 

Founded in 1999 by the late entrepreneur Robert Hall, Robert Hall Winery showcases the best Paso Robles has to offer. The winery has three estate vineyards in the Geneseo and Estrella Districts, totaling 136 planted acres of fruit. In addition to growing Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, the winery also sources grapes across the Paso Robles AVA. This provides Head Winemaker Don Brady with a broad range of soils and micro-climates that, together, create optimal fruit for the beautiful wines that capture the essence of Paso Robles.  

A Breathless Experience: My First Time Breaking A Wine Bottle With a Saber

Have you seen a champagne or sparkling wine bottle being broken open with a saber? I have not, until I was very lucky to have a chance to try it at Breathless Wines, known for their traditional method (the original method for making Champagne) sparkling wine in Healdsburg when Dr. Thach and our group visited!

What is Sabering?

A saber is a type of sword with a curved blade associated with light cavalry in the early modern and Napoleonic periods. The technique of breaking open a champagne bottle using a saber, called “sabrage”, was popularized after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s cavalries celebrated their victory by using sabers to open champagne bottles.

A saber breaking open a champagne bottle. Credit: Last Bottle Wines

Safety First!

For someone who has never held a saber, let alone cut a bottle open with one, it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Breathless has very careful protocols guided by their friendly experts. I was led by Sharon, one of the Founding Sisters of Breathless Wines. The “Saberer” first puts on protective heavy duty gloves and safety goggles. Because of Covid-19, an extra pair of disposable gloves are worn before the heavy duty gloves, and of course I was masked up like everyone else. Also, using a cold bottle makes it easier to break.

The saber, cold Breathless Blanc de Noir bottle, and protective gear

Power Pose

Having the correct posture helps to wield power. To start, Sharon demonstrated how to stand sideways, almost like an archer, and hold the body (where the label sits) using my non-dominant hand. Of course, the bottle must be pointed far away from anyone – everyone needed to stand back!

Sharon demonstrating the power pose and how to hold the bottle.

Learning The Technique

Next, Sharon demonstrated the actual technique of holding the saber, and how to strike the bottle. With the saber in hand, the blade sits at an angle to the bottle, and I took a few turns running the blade along the bottle towards the lip, which is the breakage point.

How to hold a saber and where to guide it

Blast off!

Finally, the wire cage was taken off as an extra step to make it easier. Shortly after the demo, I was ready. My hand went faster than I was mentally prepared and POP! Went the top. I did not apply much force, and it felt a lot smoother than expected. Indeed, I read later that it is simply the force applied at a fragile point of the bottle – with already much internal pressure – that breaks it. Some wine was lost, but I held it up in victory, still shocked at what happened just seconds ago. I was relieved no one was hurt!

This happened within seconds!

Serving the Wine

What good is opening a wine if you can’t enjoy it? After sabering, make sure to check for shards before serving. We all got to enjoy a fresh glass afterwards!

Dr. Thach gets the first glass!

Certified Saberer!

Certificate and cork wrapped in Breathless Seal

Breathless Wines awards every Saberer with a “Certificate of Completion”, and the cork sealed with their signature Breathless label. I am really grateful for such an unforgettable experience, and hope to lose less wine next time!

Try it Yourself!

For more information and to schedule this exciting Sabrage Experience, please click here:
https://www.breathlesswines.com/Visit-Us/Sabrage-Experience

BRAND Napa Valley Launches #FromBRANDwithLove Giveback Sharing Package

Pritchard Hill winery, BRAND Napa Valley is running a giveback program, #FromBRANDwithLove for customers and Covid-19 first responders around the nation. Sharing the gift of wine, the “BRAND Care Package” is essentially a buy-1-get-1 for customers to spread the love with a distinguished bottle of wine and send another to a first responder as a token of appreciation for their selfless service.

Credit: BRAND Napa Valley, at Harvest 2019

BRAND Care Package

With the purchase of a $150 “BRAND Care Package”, worth $300 in value, customers receive a bottle of the prestigious 2016 BRAND Napa Valley BRIO Red Blend—an estate produced Bordeaux-style Red Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot—for the customer and for a first responder of their choice, who will receive an identical bottle at no cost to them. Customers can purchase the “BRAND Care Package” online, nominate their first responder, include a personalized note, provide shipping information.

Historic St. Helena Winery Charles Krug is Now Ropened For In-Person Tastings

On June 9th, Napa’s oldest winery, Charles Krug reopened its St. Helena estate adhering to local guidelines, after being closed since March 16th in compliance with California’s statewide Shelter-in-Place order. The reopening comes with a variety of new protocols that go above and beyond county and state recommendations to ensure health and safety for everyone.

Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley
The New Cabana at Charles Krug for Safe Wine Tasting.

A Pleasant Physically-Distanced Wine Experience

5 new WiFi-enabled cabanas within the winery’s Picnic Grounds will be unveiled with the reopening. Although the cabanas were already under construction before the Pandemic, they are particularly timely to facilitate efficient physically-distanced wine experiences. The winery’s diverse culinary offerings will still be available on a modified schedule: artisan pizzas from Charles Krug’s wood-fired Mugnaini oven will be available Friday through Sunday, while local culinary partner, Tre Posti, will offer both cheese and charcuterie plates, as well as grab-and-go items.

Additional Winery Safety Measures

On top of meeting Napa County’s official safety guidelines including face masks worn by employees, extra hygiene protocol and more, Charles Krug’s tasting room consulted with Winery Safety Officer AJ Perez to implement stricter standards:

  • Comprehensive “Deep Clean” disinfecting, misting of general and targeted touchpoints in all areas of the winery before Grand Opening
  • Appointment-only booking to limit occupancy within winery
  • Outdoor-only tasting, with wine delivered in pre-poured glasses. Wine service will be guided by a masked Wine Ambassador from a safe distance
  • All tables, furnishings, and flat surfaces will be sanitized after each guest visit
  • A concierge will manage customer flow and monitor physical distancing while guests are waiting to be seated, entering or leaving the property 
  • Touch-free transactions, with goods being placed directly in the guest’s car or carried out by customers as they prefer
  • Water will be served in single-serve recyclable containers
  • Restrooms are cleaned every 30-60 minutes

About Charles Krug:
In 1943, Italian immigrants Cesare and Rosa Mondavi purchased the historic Charles Krug property, the oldest winery in the Napa Valley and longest-running tasting room in California. The brand was built on a foundation of family values, hard work and a European winemaking tradition; it remains a family-owned winery today, producing estate-driven, top of the line Napa Valley wines. The wineries are under the direction of Peter Mondavi Jr. and Marc Mondavi, who steward the family business passed to them by their father, legendary Napa Valley wine icon Peter Mondavi Sr.  The family is now proudly welcoming members of the fourth generation to the business, continuing a legacy started over 70 years ago and setting a foundation for generations to come.

My Favorite Wine Tasting Experience at Caymus Vineyards, Napa Valley

(Contributed by K. Mead) My absolute favorite wine tasting was at Caymus Vineyards, one of the oldest Napa wineries, started by the pioneering Wagner family winemakers. Located just north of Napa in Rutherford, Caymus is situated amongst vineyards that produce some of the highest quality grapes Napa Valley has to offer. Each year they craft highly-regarded wines, such as their signature Caymus Cabernet.

Outdoor Tasting at Caymus Vineyards. Credit: Meyer Sound for Caymus Vineyards

Cozy Wine Tasting on a Cold Fall Day

I had the pleasure of stopping by Caymus for a tasting in late fall of 2019. Grey and overcast, it wasn’t the most pleasant of conditions for the occasion. Luckily, Caymus thoughtfully offered guests a fleece blanket, along with a complimentary Caymus wine glass. If visitors prefer staying indoors, Caymus welcomed them to a comfortable lounge area which emulates the personal Wagner family living room.

Friendly and Knowledgeable Tasting Associates

With top notch service, the Caymus tasting staff are not just inviting and friendly, but passionate and knowledgeable about the entire Wagner Family wine portfolio. Adding a personal touch to every tasting, they tailored each conversation according to the guest and the mood, gladly answering all questions, regardless of level of wine knowledge.

Delightful Wine Tasting Selection

The wine tasting menu consisted of a variety of wines from not only Caymus, but other wines in the family portfolio, such as Emmolo, Mer Soleil, and Conundrum. I was delighted that the final wine of our tasting was the celebrated Caymus Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Words fail me each time I have the pleasure of tasting this wine. It tastes like a warm summer evening, when you can smell the crush in the air. Its full and comforting flavors were the perfect ending to a rather cold and dreary weather day.

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.

Robledo Family Winery
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!

What Type of Wine Do They Drink in Costa Rica?

IMG_5742March 13, 2013 – This past week I enjoyed my first visit to the beautiful country of Costa Rica.  Though better known for coffee than wine, since I was in the country to present a paper on the wine supply chain at the NBES academic conferences, I was naturally curious to learn about the types of wine available in Costa Rica.  Therefore I made it my mission to investigate wine lists and store selections during my stay.

Chilean Wine Dominates, Followed by Argentina and Spain

After visiting six restaurants, three grocery stores and four wine shops, I would have to say that Chilean wine seems to dominate the market place by about 50% – at least on the Pacific Coast near Jaco where I was staying.  This was followed by Argentinian and Spanish wine, both with estimates of around 20%, and California wine making up the last 10%.  The most common US brands were KJ, Robert Mondavi Woodbridge, and Barefoot (Gallo).

Chilean Wine with Costa Rica CheesesObviously this was not a scientific poll, but it does provide an idea of what types of wine you will find when visiting the country.  In addition, Costa Rica actually produces some fruit wines, because wine grapes cannot grow in such a hot, tropical climate.  It is interesting to note, that since their alcohol taxes are higher, wine prices are more expensive as well.  For example, a bottle of 2011 Barefoot Chardonnay was $12 in the grocery store, whereas in the US it usually sells for around $7.  In a restaurant I paid $11 for a glass of 2012 Montez Alpha Sauvignon Blanc.

Hot, Humid Climate Calls for Chilled White Wine, Beer or Rum Drinks

Since Costa Rica is covered with many rainforests and volcanoes, and is known for producing coffee and bananas, it obviously has a warm and moist climate.  Indeed, from December through May, the Pacific side of the country where I visited is very hot and sunny.  Everyday the temperatures hovered in the high 90’s F with 90% humidity.  Then during July through November, the rains come – dumping an average of 400 inches on the land, and allowing them to grow rice in the fields.

JungleBecause of the warm climate, most locals drink beer or rum with a preference and pride in their homegrown brands of Imperial beer and Cacique Guaro rum.  The latter is blended with fruit juice or “agua de pipa” – coconut water. Because of the intense heat, when I bought wine, I was drawn to the crisp, chilled sauvignon blancs from Chile and verdejos from Spain.  At the Marriott Los Suenos, I was interested to see that when they did serve cabernet sauvignon, it was chilled because they kept the bottles on ice.  Though that may sound strange for a red wine, it made sense in Costa Rica because the nights were so sweltering and sticky.

Costa Rican Food – Fresh and Simple

Not much has been written on Costa Rican cuisine, and that is because it is rather simple, consisting of fresh fish, fruit, rice, and beans.  They also enjoy chicken and fried plantains, and craft some local cheeses.  The food has a bit of Caribbean flare, but I found I was missing sauces, salsas, and spices in general that would make the cuisine more interesting.

Costa Rican Red Snapper DishA very strange experience occurred when I ordered a whole red snapper, which is supposed to be a specialty of the region.  However when it arrived, it was so tough and rubbery I could barely eat it.  Apparently the custom is to flour and salt it, then deep fry it for about an hour.  It is served with fresh lime, but no sauce.  I found the best bet is to order fresh filet of sea bass or mahi mahi.  They also make good ceviche with tilapia and/or mango.

Costa Rica is World Class in Ecotourism

Where Costa Rica does excel is in ecotourism.  I have never visited a country that has perfected this subject to such an art form.  It is very inspiring how the whole economy seems to revolve around protecting the rainforests, their national parks (which make up more than 25% of the country), conservation, recycling, and education on all of these issues to tourists.

ToucanWe visited Manuel Antonio and Carara National Parks, and in both cases had professional guides with degrees in biology and conservation that guided us through the rainforest.  They carried large telescopes and could easily spot toucans, red macaws, sloths, monkeys, fruit bats, and other exotic rare birds and creatures.  They knew the name of every tree, bug, and bush, and showed great enthusiasm in explaining nature and the impact of man on the environment.

We also did a kayak trip through a mangrove swamp and learned how the mangroves protect the land from erosion.  We visited a few beaches and discovered that they are quite varied, with some having rocks and grey sand, whereas others are pure white sand with native coconut palms.  Another highlight of the trip were the very large crocodiles that live in the many rivers and crawl out to rest in the sun on muddy banks.

IMG_5751Overall, Costa Rica is a beautiful country with abundant wildlife, friendly and enthusiastic people, and a belief in enjoying life as illustrated by their motto of “pura vida”, which means “pure life” or “live life in the moment.”Costa Rican Sunset at Playa Hermosa

Capuchin Monkeys in Costa Rica