How I Fell in Love with Wine: Autumn Leaves and Finding Grape Buyers

Contributed by Victoria Herrera – In 1950 my great grandfather bought 75 acres of farmland outside of the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma, California in the Dry Creek Valley AVA. It was then passed down to my grandfather, who was an immigrant from Italy. Naturally he planted several acres of Zinfandel grapes that he would sell to make a little bit of cash, and also make wine for the family.


Vineyard Leaves in Autumn

Growing up, I always enjoyed visiting my grandfather at his Healdsburg property. I enjoyed watching him take care of his chickens, vegetable garden, walnut trees, and grapes. He took great pride in everything he grew. One of the best parts for me was to climb to the top of the hill in the autumn time and look down across the vineyards. There was a full 180-degree view of the Dry Creek Valley, and the vine leaves were always beautiful shades of yellow, gold, brown, red, and green.

Recently my grandfather passed away, so my mother and her two sisters had to take over the work of the gardens and vineyards. However, we no longer had any one to sell the grapes to because the connections my grandfather had remained with him. We were left with beautiful grapes, but no idea what to do with them or to whom to sell them.

This is how I fell in love with the wine business. My mother and I reached out to people, and eventually we found someone to buy and harvest our grapes. Experiencing the whole process created a spark within me, and I knew I wanted to be involved in the wine industry. That is why I am studying wine business at Sonoma State University.

Though I am not old enough to drink wine yet, I will be in another year. Then I look forward to falling in love with wine in another way – through exploring taste and texture, pairing with food, and sharing with friends and family.


Old Vine Zinfandel in Autumn


Kicking Off with Kenwood Winery – First Fall 2015 Tasting of SSU Wine Sense Club

SSU Winesense Kenwood Winery Tasting

SSU Winesense Kenwood Winery Tasting

Contributed by Sophia Fish – Cheers to a great first Wine Sense Club meeting for Fall 2015! We were very excited to welcome Maxwell Burns and our very own VP of Operations Matt Lopez from Kenwood Vineyards to come speak with us about their fabulous winery.

Kenwood Vineyards – Historic & Sustainable Cellar

Kenwood Vineyards was established in 1970 formerly the Pagani Brothers Winery, a historic cellar dating back to 1906. Kenwood Vineyards is devoted to producing premium wines truly representative of Sonoma County’s world class vineyards.

Kenwood Vineyards is committed to making the finest wines and treating the earth with the utmost respect. They are doing this by following sustainable growing practices . They stand by this philosophy and make every effort to reduce waste, recycle and lower their energy consumption.

Tasting of 4 Magnificent Kenwood Wines

2014 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc: The first is a Sauvignon Blanc with fruit sourced from vineyards located in five different appellations in Sonoma County. Aromas of white nectarine, honeydew melon and lemongrass combine with citrus and tropical flavors that give a crisp and refreshing finish.

Kennwood wines2012 Sonoma County Reserve Merlot: Next we had a 2012 Reserve Merlot from Sonoma County. The production of this reserve wine was limited to less than six percent of Kenwood Vineyards’ Merlot production. This wine is full of enticing fruit aromas of fig, plum and black cherry join with spicy notes of nutmeg.

2012 Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel: We felt incredibly lucky to taste the 2012 Zinfandel from Kenwood’s Jack London Vineyard. It was interesting to learn that over 30 years, Kenwood Vineyards has exclusively crafted wine from the single vineyards of Jack London’s historic ranch. The flavors from these vineyards emanate fruity aromas of raspberry and fig mixed with subtle notes of vanilla and pepper.

2010 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon: Last but certainly not least, we were inspired by Kenwood’s 2010 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon. The art featured on every bottle incorporates fine wine to make each new Artist Series release an event and every vintage a prime collectible. The Artist Series originally highlighted works by contemporary artists, then 1987 vintage broke with tradition by featuring a painting from Joan Miro.  In the years since, the Artist Series has presented works from other important artists including Pablo Picasso, Henry Miller, Alexander Calder and Vincent van Gogh. This wine is full of fragrant fruit aromas of cassis and black cherry joined with spicy notes of cinnamon.

Favorite Wines of the Evening:

At the conclusion of the tasting, and before prices were revealed, we voted on our favorite wines of the evening.  The winners were:

2010 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon

2012 Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel



Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir and Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon Tie as Top Favorites in Classic Red Tasting

Sbragia Wines With Cheese Platter

Sbragia Wines With Cheese Platter

What is a classic red wine grape? It is a variety that has proved it can produce consistently high quality over a long period of time in more than one region of the world. Therefore, though there are more than 120 commercially produced wine grapes, there are only 4 classic red grapes. In California, however, we add Zinfandel as well, because it is one of our most beloved State grapes:

  1. Pinot Noir – famous in Burgundy, Oregon, Sonoma, New Zealand and many other regions of the world
  2. Merlot– famous in Bordeaux, Italy, Washington, and many other regions
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon – famous in Bordeaux, Napa, Italy and other regions
  4. Syrah – famous in the Rhone, Australia, and Paso Robles
  5. Zinfandel – famous in California, Croatia and Italy
Winning Pinot Noir from Paul Hobbs Winery

Winning Pinot Noir from Paul Hobbs Winery

In a blind tasting of these five famous varietals in Bus 305W, the 42 Millennial wine business majors tied in a vote of their favorites. Paul Hobbs 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir ($55) with dark raspberry, mushroom earth and cola notes tied with the 2011 Sbragia Cabernet Sauvignon ($49), with complex cassis cedar and earthy notes from the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard. Both wines were of high quality with good balance of fruit, oak, acid and alcohol; complex flavors, excellent concentration and a very long finish.

SSU Students Love Turley and Miraflores Zinfandels at ZAP Tasting

Rebecca Robinson of Zap with Ray Johnson

Rebecca Robinson of Zap with Ray Johnson

The SSU WineSense Club was thrilled to have Rebecca Robinson, Executive Director of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), conduct the most recent tasting.  Rebecca regaled the students with the history of ZAP and shared fascinating information about the Zinfandel grape.

Fun Facts About Zinfandel

  • The grape is originally from Croatia where it is called Crljenak Kaštelanski
  • Also quite famous in the Puglia region of Italy where it is known as Primativo
  • Brought to America in the 1800’s
  • Zinfandel Grapes

    Zinfandel Grapes

    Planted throughout the Sierra Foothills, Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles, and many other regions

  • Today more than 50,000 acres of zinfandel in the United States
  • A well loved grape because of its ripe jammy berry flavors and spicy peppery notes
  • Can be made into red zinfandel, white zinfandel (pink wine), zinfandel port, and sparkling zinfandel

A Tasting of Six Zinfandels

The group tasted six different Zinfandels.  They were from Dry Creek Valley, Amador County, and El Dorado County AVAs plus a bonus wine from the Heritage Vineyard which was a collection of different clone tests.  At the end of the tasting Rebecca quizzed the students to see who was listening the best.  Three lucky students each received a bottle of wine for being so zin savvy.

When the voting took place at the end of the session, the two top favorite wines of the evening were the Turley Zinfandel from Amador County and the Miraflores Zinfandel from El Dorado County.

Top Scoring Zinfandels from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley

dscf0053California has claimed zinfandel as one of its signature grapes.  This is because there is no other place else in the world that can produce such big, spicy and jammy wines from this unique grape varietal (originally from Croatia).  One of the most famous appellations for zinfandel is the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County which has hot dry summers and warm autumns to ripen the heavy purple fruit from this vine.  Driving through Dry Creek Valley in the autumn is one of the most beautiful sites in California, because the valley floor and hillsides are filled with a tapestry of gold, red, yellow, and orange leaves on knarly old black zinfandel vines.  A truly amazing site.

This week’s blind tasting included 5 zinfandels from Dry Creek.  Our five Millennial judges had a hard time selecting their favorites, because they said all 5 wines were good.  Indeed they gave medals to all of the wines, but when pressured were able narrow it down to 3 top favorites:

***** (94, GOLD) Peterson Zinfandel 2005 Dry Creek – $21petersons-zin

A richly concentrated wine with depths of dark blackberry, raspberry, and chocolate.  Lovely carmel notes with spices of clove, cinnamon and white pepper, and a hint of smoke.  Would go well with charred fish or chicken with a spicy rub.  The favorite wine of Zack, Matt, and Jennifer.  Available at

**** (SILVER) Pedroncelli Zinfandel 2006 Dry Creek, Mother Clone – $15pedroncelli-zin

An elegant more feminine zinfandel with soft berry and floral notes; allspice; and smooth tannins.  A lighter ruby red color with good balance.  Katie’s favorite and she would pair it with BBQ chicken.  Available at

**** (SILVER) Alderbrook Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Dry Creek, Sonoma alderbrookCounty- $19

A complex leathery zin with raspberry, spice, oak and smokey overtones. Well balanced with a smooth finish.  Shannon’s favorite and she would drink it with chocolate.  Available at

How the Judges Scored the Wines

All the judges are millennials between the ages of 21 and 30 and are attending university.  They have varying degrees of wine experience, but have been trained on how to use the Wine Tasting Evaluation form (see menu on How We Evaluate Wines).  All judges complete the Wine Tasting Continuum Questionnaire and completed the PROPO test to validate their score in order to determine if they are tolerant, sensitive or hyper-sensitive tasters.  Following are wine preferences of each judge:

Zach is from Rohnert Park, California. He is a Tolerant Taster with a score of 7 on the Wine Tasting Continuum. He prefers big, red tannic wines.  His scores were: Peterson = Gold-20; Pedroncelli = Silver-18 and Alderbrook = Bronze-16.

Matt is from Sherman Oaks, California.  He is a Sensitive Taster with a score of 4 on the Wine Tasting Continuum.  He prefers dark red wines with big tannins.  His scores were: Peterson = Gold-19; Pedroncelli = Silver-17 and Alderbrook = Bronze-15.

Jennifer is from Petaluma, California. She is a Hyper-Sensitive Taster with a score of 3 on the Wine Tasting Continuum. She prefers white wines, such as Chardonnay, as well as Champagne and sparkling wine.  Her scores were: Peterson = Gold-19; Pedroncelli = Silver-18 and Alderbrook = Silver-18.

Shannon is from Lodi, California.  She is a Sensitive Taster with a score of 4 on the Wine Tasting Continuum.  She prefers red wines such as cabernet and pinot noir, and is found of a well balanced wine with spicy oak, smooth tannins and firm acid.  Her scores were: Peterson = Silver-18; Pedroncelli = Silver-17 and Alderbrook = Gold-19, with Alderbrook being her favorite.

Katie is from Solvang, California.  She is a Sensitive Tasters with a score of 4 on the Wine Tasting Continuum.  She enjoys all types of wine with no preference of white over red, but selects wine based on the food and occasion.  Her scores were: Peterson = Silver-18; Pedroncelli = Gold-19 (her favorite) and Alderbrook = Silver-17.

How We Evaluate Wines

Each judge is trained in how to complete a Wine Tasting Evaluation form which includes analysis of wine color, aroma, flavor and quality.  Quality is determined based on balance, length of finish, intensity, and complexity.  Judges are also asked to describe the “x factor” of whether they like the wine or not – and why. See “How We Evaluate Wines” on main menu.