As we all loaded into Chris Howell and his wife Katie’s old S.U.Vs and headed up the mountain to their vineyard at Cain Winery, we saw fields and fields of wild oats and what they referred to as ‘tar-weed’. It stretched for miles and miles. The entire area smelled of sweet oats and later that evening, when we got to try their delectable wines, there again was the aroma of wild oats. It was incredible.
As we drove up the mountain and through the fields of oats, we had to go through several locked gates. Chris and Katie would stop the cars, get out and unlock each gate by hand before we could enter and then they would lock them again behind us. The gates, they said, were to keep the deer from eating their grapes. Then almost as if on cue, I looked up to see a family of deer grazing on the wild oats and I was lucky to get one (albeit blurry) shot of them before they scampered away. After tasting the wines at Cain, I can attest to the fact that these deer have excellent taste.
Once we reached the top of the hill after unlocking many gates, we got out to see the famous Cain rock, ‘La Piedra.’ The rows and rows of grapevines lead up to it, as if bowing their heads to a god. I got the chance to climb the rock and once at the top, I felt as if I were on top of the world.
This is the labeling system they have at Cain. The LP at the top stands for “La Piedra” and the “SY NOIR” stands for Syrah, meaning that particular row of vines grow the Syrah grape.
This is the view from the steps of the Colgin Cellars Estate. Owner Ann Colgin is very particular about her winery and detail and precision are both very important to her. If you can see, the lines of her vineyard are in perfect rows. This attention to detail is what makes Colgin Cellars an unbelievable and highly exclusive winery.
Colgin Cellars winemaker, Allison Tauziet, explains to us her style of winemaking. Her attention to detail pairs beautifully with that of Ann and she is an encyclopedia of knowledge.
Even the grapes at Colgin seem to know they have to be perfect. No bruises, no discoloration from the sun, just perfect clusters of grapes waiting to turn. They have their operation down to a science and it was such a treat to get to see how it all happens.
This is the Non-Colgin Wine Cellar inside Colgin Cellars, meaning this is where Ann and her husband keep the wines they like to drink (apart from their own). Everywhere you look there are bottles and bottles of wines. It was a massive library. Her oldest bottle in the cellar dates back to the 1880’s with a handwritten label.
The entranceway to the Sequoia Grove Winery Tasting Room is beautiful and serene. You feel as though you’re walking through the early morning mountains, surrounded by wet moss and flowers and massive trees. The building has a cabin-like feel to it and is very warm and inviting.
President Michael Trujillo is the kind of man who puts you right at ease. He loves to share stories and he talks to you like you’re an old friend. The entire company has a very laid back vibe to it and yet his wines definitely make a statement. He likes to say that they, at Sequoia Grove, are ‘only serious about wine.’ Michael and his team work incredibly hard to make Sequoia Grove what it is today and I have the feeling that he isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
Like a big kid, excited to show off his new toy, Michael had the idea to have us all take a photo holding one of the recently bottled Cambium double magnums. They were deceivingly heavy and I have never been so nervous to hold something in my life! That’s Michael, second from the right and then me, and on the other side of myself is Winemaker, Molly Hill.
Here, Rich Frank (right), owner of Frank Family Vineyards and Aaron Feaver (left), Director of Retail Operations give us a tour of the winery. Frank Family is in a class all on its own, it’s a large company, with an old school feel to it and yet their wines are extremely elegant and refined. Rich Frank, himself is quite a character. Not pictured is his rescued German shepherd, Riley, who joined us for every part of our tour.
Our dinner was paella al fresco made by the one and only Gerard (left). Gerard’s job is to travel the world and cook paella for anyone who asks. It was absolutely delicious and watching him prepare it on such a large scale was a spectacular event. He is very precise about the steps he takes to make his paella and I believe every step is worth it. He did, after all, beat Chef Bobby Flay in an episode of his Food Network show, ‘Throwdown.’
After the paella was complete, we all sat down at a long table on the Frank Family lawn and ate and drank for hours. I feel like I really got to experience the authentic Rich Frank: a warm and inviting, generous and ‘life of the party’ kind of man, the same man who I believe would be present at a table surrounded by his own family. Rich shared more of his stories, and even though the weather that evening was particularly chilly, you couldn’t help but feel the warmth.
Kathleen Inman, founder and winemaker of Inman Family Wines in Sonoma, shares with us her style of winemaking. She believes in organic, ‘eco-ethics’-sensitive farming and natural winemaking. She doesn’t believe in intervening or manipulating while making her wine and that philosophy carries over into her lifestyle as well.
This is a photo taken of her countertop in her tasting office. It’s made from broken wine bottles and is just another example of how Kathleen will try to reuse as much as possible, and she does so in such a beautiful way.
After our tasting, we all sat down to a lunch that Kathleen grew and prepared for us. The vegetables in the lunch came from the garden right outside the window. It was a simple and delicious offering of various salads that all tasted as they should…just like her wines.
Here’s a row of grapes growing on the property, right outside of Kathleen’s tasting room. Kathleen Inman chooses to pick her grapes a couple of weeks earlier than her neighbors during harvest so that her wines have a certain subtlety to them. After you taste her wines, it’s safe to say that many of her neighbors are most likely following her lead.
This may be my favorite photo I took while I was on my trip. It most accurately displays the feel of Inman Family Wines: natural, pure, simple, and unadulterated beauty.
Don Van Staaveren, winemaker at Three Sticks Winery, pours us one of many 2012 barrel tastings of the day. Even with the handicap of an arm splint, Don is able to be so gentle and precise. We tasted some chardonnay, pinot noir, and several grapes he uses to blend in his cabernets. It was such an amazing experience to taste such “green” wines that still had amazing flavor profiles. The ’12 wines are going to be fantastic!!
After our tour through Three Sticks, we were taken to Durell Vineyard, where they grow a lot of the grapes used in their wines. This was a field of newly planted vines that had been planted just days before our arrival.
The sky played unbelievable tricks on the vineyard during our visit to Durell. We had looming, grey clouds as well as sun and blue skies. Each time it changed, we saw an entirely new vineyard.
Finally, after three days of touring vineyards, we got to see color on some grapes! These were just beginning to turn and as Rob Harris, Director of Vineyard Operations, walked through his vines, he picked up a grape to taste and without a beat said, ‘I’d say they’re at about 14% sugar right now,’ and kept walking.
As he walked away, I had to taste them myself. Now, I can’t say that I tasted 14% sugar, but what I did taste was something that was as sweet as it was tart and something that I will, never, ever forget.