I set my alarm for 6:50 this morning. Saturday morning. I think I managed to turn the alarm off by accident, so I shot up at 7:57. Which was not great because the class I’m taking was going on a day-long field trip to three wineries, leaving promptly at 8:30.
I immediately put some bread in the toaster, threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth, assembled a sandwich, and was out the door just after 8:10. I wasn’t too worried about missing the caravan at the junior college (about a mile north), but we had been promised bubbly before heading out, and I wanted to make sure I got some.
I hopped on my bike and made it there with time to spare. It was 8 in the morning and we were drinking Korbel Brut (from the Russian River Valley) before filing into two vans and heading towards our first stop, Lambert Bridge Winery in the Dry Creek Valley AVA.
At this point it’s clear to me that the wine business is as much about marketing as it is about quality. And that’s not just my perception, that’s what the wineries are telling us. It’s not enough for them to just make high quality wines because with the advent of technology, so many do. Instead they focus on the experience, the wine clubs, events they hold at the wineries, usually involving food.
Sonoma County has often been seen as the ugly step-child of Napa Valley, but many of the local wineries are beating out $150 bottles of wine from Napa with bottles selling for around $30. They say they’re reducing yields in order to focus on fewer varietals and concentrate the flavors among fewer pounds of grapes per vine. This of course is difficult as growers are usually paid by the ton, not the acre.
It’s also funny that two of the three wineries we visited mentioned the effect of Sideways on the industry and on American wine tastes. Predictably Merlot is tanking while wineries struggle to keep up with the demand for Pinot Noir. My tastes seem to sway with the seasons, I prefer to drink reds in the winter and whites in the summer. But beyond that all I can really say is that I like oaky, smooth reds with a little bit of spice and crisp dry whites. Otherwise my palate is not very refined.
After Lambert Bridge we headed over to Alderbrook Winery and got to sit down as a class outside on a patio behind the tasting room, with views of the vineyard in back. Our guide was very helpful, allowing us to taste two wines on their reserve list, one of which I thought was excellent, their 2002 Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, and I quite liked their 2002 Old Vine Zinfandel also from Dry Creek. The Syrah had a little bit of tang but was very drinkable, and the Zin was completely smooth. They gave us the 30% industry discount, and I walked away with a bottle of each.
We stayed there to eat lunch, drink more wine—provided by the instructor—and enjoy the steadily warming afternoon. Our last stop was Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, where we got a tour and talk from the winemaker, Ted Seghesio, who is the great grandson of Italian immigrants that brought vine cuttings with them from Italy.
I also got my first look ever at grapes growing on the vine outside the entrance to Seghesio’s tasting room.
At the end of the day (around 2pm) we’d tasted about 20 wines, courtesy of both the wineries and our instructor who liked to stop en route, break open a bottle of wine, and discuss some aspect of the area and its relation to the wine we were tasting.