Day 1 – Saturday, October 18

Flew into San Francisco via Minneapolis.

Drove up 101 past Santa Rosa and found our place to stay, Sweetwater Ranch, in Guerneville. The road to our ranch turned out to be another “intestine”. 5 miles of winding California canyon road through the redwood forest and old gravel quarries. Very beautiful hills and countryside. Gated home on 40 acres up a winding, very steep driveway. House is beautiful, with cathedral ceilings, built to look out over the valley at sunrise. Greeting by a nice house cat.

Got settled a little and drove to Healdsburg for dinner. Very upscale town. Had dinner at Charcuterie. Excellent chicken roasted in mustard tarragon cream sauce, with a Deux Amis Zinfandel from a local grower. Took gingerbread and carmel ice cream to go for breakfast.

Stopped at Safeway for cat food (Janice wants to take the cat home already) and coffee.

Day 2 – Sunday, October 19

Woke up to an incredible sunrise and fog filling the entire valley down to a town or city we have yet to identify. Got out my sketch pad and gestured the cat for a while, drew some kind of blue-black jay that had a berry in its beak, then drew a chair with draped fabric.

Worked for a while, got connected via the house’s satellite internet. Got dressed and went down the side of the hills that we had not seen yet. Cows where wandering along the road with no fence. Sweetwater Springs road lead to West Side Drive which lead to our first winery, Korbel. Sampled champagnes and learned they make brandy. Bought some Sec champagne and a picnic lunch in their great deli. Drove along the Russian River and then onto Arista. It has a beautiful japanese garden and makes amazingly good Pinot Noirs. Bought a bottle of their Longbow Pinot and ate lunch in the garden.

Drove towards Healdsburg and tasted at Mill Creek, a nice, friendly, small winery. Left with a better understanding of wine making (their Syrah was dry French style) and a case of very good Cabernet.

Next stop was Alderbrook. Discovered the Carignane grape, an Italian red, and tasted through Pinot Gris and several Zins, all very very good. Left with a mixed case of 2005 Carignane and 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel.

Drove to Bodega Bay, saw the Pacific. Very cold and windy, wind surfers everywhere. Had dinner at the wharf. Excellent fresh seafood and a typical California wine list (amazing list most other places). Very informal restaurant. Giant oysters sauteed in butter and wine.

Came in the back way to Guerneville and got breakfast makings, then back up the “bad” intestine. Made it safely to the ranch. Saw a big buck coming up the lane.

Day 2 – Monday, October 20

Fog filled the valley this morning and came up our valley all morning. I made huevos rancheros with fresh guac.

Packed up and went to Healdsburg to the UPS store where they are friendly to those of us from evil wine states like Pennsylvania. We now have a wine shipping account with them. πŸ™‚

Drove down towards Sonoma via 12. Stopped at Blackstone. Very well versed server at their nice tasting room. Bought a mixed case of a new white wine for us (Malvasia Bianca) 2007, Pinot Noir 2005 Clone 828, and one of their jammy Zins.

Across the street to Chateau St. Jean. Beautiful grounds with a 1920’s mansion, a chateau winery and amazing gardens in a European style. Tasted many wines and got their 6-pack special which was one of all we tasted plus a decent Gewurz. Got a free invitation to taste the good stuff over in the old mansion. Over there, in the old well preserved mansion, we tasted one of the best Merlots I have ever had, at 90 bucks a bottle. Also, Cabs that were totally over the top. Bought half a case of 2004 Cabernet for a lot of money. Worth it. πŸ™‚

Update: the Chateau St. Jean 2004 Cab Cinq Cepages is available as of January 1, 2009, in the Loyalsock, Pennsylvania State Store for $45. This is less than our case price at the winery in Sonoma.

Drove to Mayo Family Winery. Chose the Adventure series tasting. Lost track of all time space continuum. Tasted champagne, pinots (several), cabs (at least 4, all superb with that nose that makes drinking them unnecessary. Zins – many, one of which was a “free run” meaning it was made from the juice BEFORE it was even pressed. Just the juice that happened to run down as the grapes were loading in the press. This was called Ricci’s Reserve and was the best Zin I have ever had. Lots more Zins, Viognier, can remember all of them. Had to stop tasting and pour many into the waste crock. Spent a lot of money, joined the club, will be receiving 3-1/2 cases of happy in a week or so. Unbelievable winery. Just like the finger lakes – small, friendly, approachable but with wines that are just too good to believe, one after the other. Mayo.

Left Mayo to find Rin’s Thai, but it was closed. Ended up at a wonderful wonderful French cafe called Harvest Moon Cafe in downtown Sonoma. Best steaks I’ve had in a long time (ribeyes with a fantastic brown sauce), Janice had the best pork chops ever made (rosemary, pepper), horseradish potatoes, soft polenta, radicchio grilled in a red wine of some type. I was too wined out to have my own glass but Timm ordered a Random Ridge Cab 2002 (65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Cabernet France). Again, that nose that eliminates the need to drink it. You start wondering how there can be so many good wines here. Any one of these would be big finds back in Pennsylvania. I could used to it. πŸ™‚

Made it back to the ranch up the intestine. (easy way). Saw a fox that ran on the road ahead of us for a long time and then a large pig in the road. Not sure if it was a wild boar or a free ranger.

Saw the big buck again in the lane up to the house. At least 8 point with a large rack, Timm thought it was a white tail.

Day 3 – Tuesday, October 21

No fog this morning but we saw a hot air balloon rise up from the valley and move off to the west.

Lazy day. Worked some and then made huevos rancheros and this time remembered to put the cheese on top.

Went down the road to Hop Kiln where we met a happy gent from San Diego. Purchased some Grenache. Stopped back at Alderbrook to work out Timm and Kristen’s wine club and then on into Healdsburg. Beautiful cool evening.

Purchased vegetables from the farmer’s market and books and coffee from a shop on the park in the center of town.

Purchased food at the Oakville Grocery store – crab cakes, salmon, olive oil, cheese, olives, mango chipotle salsa. Made dinner at the ranch on the grill with the fresh vegetables from the market – lettuce, tomatoes, pablanos, green onions, leeks, squash, parsnips and lemon cucumbers! Also made a dessert with local pears.

Left a bottle of wine in the freezer by accident all night. Yes, wine freezes – but all it did was push the cork most of the way out and become gelled.

Day 4 – Wednesday, October 22

Drove to Healdsburg to visit Simi Winery, and tasted a thinnish sauvignon blanc, an 06 dry creek zin that was very good – jammy but with strong undertones – having a little petite syrah mixed in (9%). Tasted a spicy, cassis merlot, also very good and an 05 alexander valley cabernet with all 5 of the bordeaux grapes – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petite verdot, malbec). Did not possess the magic nose. Then an OK petite syrah 05 dry creek with some undertones of leather.

Healdsburg has, according to Simi, 16 tasting rooms! And in the movie Sideways, the guy who does not drink merlot refrains from it because its was his ex wife’s wine of choice, not because he thinks it is an inferior wine.

On to Geyserville and a little store called Two Jim’s where we got superb sandwiches and drinks, then drove to Styker Sonoma winery. Along with Mayo, this turned out to be a don’t miss place with lots of reasonably priced wines that were as good as anything we tasted anywhere in the valleys. Absolutely beautiful tasting room and setting for a picnic.

Chardonnay – european style (less oaky) – 10 months in the barrel – very very good.

05 Dry Creek Zin – good body – very very good.

05 Alexander Valley Zin – estate grown – lighter body – very very good.

Valley floor zins tend to be more spice and peppery with more mineral notes, esp. in alexander valley zins:

05 Alegra Zin – valley floor grapes – Janice loved this one. Tasted the 04 also – both superb but I liked the 04 better.

04 Speedt Creek Zin – hilltop (hot) vineyard – black pepper – very very good.

Zin is notorious for uneven ripening – clusters can have raisins, green grapes and ripe grapes at the same time. Brix (original sugar) in this case is difficult to judge until after the grapes are pressed into juice, making Zins sometimes sweetish or an adventure.

03 Cab3 – Sonoma – fruit from 3 vineyards – superb.

04 Franc – earthy like dirt in a glass and very very good, with floral tones.

04 Cab Speedy Creek – less nose but very good.

Merlots – all were very very good. We purchased a lot of wine here, including the 04 Two Moon Merlot from a terraced, eastern facing vineyard. Janice loved this one.

Also tasted a semillion, australian style with light oak and a nice tartness.

Stryker told us they price wines based on the cost of the grapes and when they release the wines, they are ready to drink. They press in such a way to allow less seed tannins into the wine and include more free run juice (the juice you get before you even press the fruit at all).

Tried to get to Silver Oaks in Alexander Valley to purchase some obscenely priced cabs but they were closed. With the superb cabs we found elsewhere at such a lower cost, I’m glad we missed this one. Maybe.

Onto Pedroncelli, an old winery up and over the hill from Silver Oaks. Found an outdated tasting room but excellent wine and expertise and had a great time. I would go back. Nice education from the pourer on many things.

Dry Creek cabs tend to be fruit bombs according to this pourer. We tasted:

05 Petite Syrah – good.

00 Zin (yes, 8 years old) – $8 – good.

01 Zin – also good.

Sangiovese – Janice liked this one.

05 Block 07 – OK.

05 Morris Fay Vineyards Cab – very good.

Other Cab heavens – Fieldstone and Sausal wineries.

Tasted good ports – perfect with Stilton.

Day 5 – Thursday, October 23

Stopped at the petrified forest and got some souvenirs.

Traveled to Napa for the day. Stopped at Heitz, a cab heaven stop. Tasted a 10 year old Martha’s Vineyard cab that I was not able to appreciate.

Excellent ports, one from an italian grape, the grignolino and one from the traditional portuguese grapes.

03 Trailside Cab was very very very good but $85 a bottle.

Tawny port is one that is casked for 10 years, acheives tawny color, less fruity, more honey and nut and caramel.

Across one of the crosses to the Silverado Trail. Stopped at Miner. Napa seems to be a different world than the previous days. Bottles are 2-4 times more expensive, tastings are crowded, wine is excellent but not any better than previous days.

Good viogner – dry but sweetish tones.

Good chard – oakey with a little butter.

05 Stagecoach Merlot – very very good.

05 Oakville Cab – very good.

05 Oracle – very good and very pricey.

Silverado – super views (best all week), great wine (blanc, sangiovese 8 months in oak, 04 merlot that was very big and just $30, 04 Cab $42 very very good. A must not miss winery even though my writing here does not indicate such. The place is beautiful.

Searched for anything open on the crosses. Found one called AO (alpha omega) open 2 years or so. Nice winery (new) with a fountain, as the sun was setting over the mountains. We got all of our days to be like those once every 3 months crystal clear days back in Pennsylvania. Just too nice for words or pictures.

Good unoaked chard.

Very good oaky chard.

Very good 04 cab but not the magic nose.

Very good proprieter’s red.

ERA meritage blend – barrel tasted – got our tastings with a wine theif. Superb but less nose than expected – I have to find out what makes those cabs that smelling is better than drinking, maybe something about being “cooped” up in a bottle?

Dinner in Calistoga at Brannans. Many great restaurants in this town, smaller than Watsontown. Pan roasted grouper with hens of the wood mushrooms and apple balls.

Had a Paradigm 03 Merlot very very good wine.

Day 6 – Friday, October 24

Kenwood, California towards the southern end of Sonoma. Went to the Mayo Reserve Tasting Room – Cheg Billy Oliver. 7 courses of food paired with wines. Super time!!! This is a do not miss under any circumstances event.

Madamoiselle Claven was in attendence.

Best wines – the Ricci Zin free run (bought earlier in the week) and the reserve Malbec – a stunning wine and the most pricey we purchased on our trip.

Menu was:

Chilled Gazpacho with Grapeleaf Pesto

2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Emma’s Vineyard, Napa Valley

Mustard Seed Crusted Trout & Butternut Squash “Dolma”

2006 Chardonnay, Laurel Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, β€œReserve”

Wild Mushroom & Telame Cheese Tart with Cranberry-Fennel Slaw

2006 Pinot Noir, La Cruz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Reserve “Pommard Clone”

“WIne Jus Brined” Smoked Duck Breast with Raspberry-Pecan Glace

2006 Zinfandel. Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley, “Old Vine Reserve”

Root Vegetable & Pork Tenderloin Stew with Blackberry-Hazelnut Compote

2006 Syrah, Page-Nord Vineyard, Napa Valley

Kobe Beef Meatloaf with Cabernet Ketchup

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Random Ridge Vineyard, Napa Valley

Chocolate-Almond Lollipop with Port Reduction

2006 ZinFandel Port, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley, “Old Vine”

Then we went to the Castello di Amorosa, a castle built by the Vi Sutui family in authentic fashion. OK tour, good wines and very nice architecture.

Map of Sweetwater Ranch
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