Spring in wine country has none of the bustle of the fall harvest. Vines are budding–sighting of first buds is called bud-break— and winemakers are busy with the many tasks required to help make a successful vintage. Including ensuring proper irrigation in a drought. But the vineyards, themselves, are fairly quiet during the early growing season. (By the way, that headline is a quote by none other than Galileo.)
Spring is a perfect time to visit my favorite wine country–Sonoma. Oh yeah, everyone thinks Napa’s “THE” place but the fact is that most people around these parts think Napa’s way too impressed with itself and has the snooty tasting prices to match. Not to mention busloads of tourists. No, give me Sonoma County any day. It’s way more fun. Not pretentious at all. Sonoma Square is dotted with wonderful restaurants and cafes. It’s a pleasure to visit this chill, beautiful place and use it as a jumping off point for wine tastings. Which are always best done on a full stomach.
Oh, you want to know if I’m a wine expert?
That’s what I knew about wine when I met my last ex-husband. But he was a wine collector and very knowledgeable about wine. We spent a good bit of time in the wine country and I learned to enjoy the grape. The many tours and tastings we did even taught me a few things.
He was handy to have around because I never could remember what I liked. All I had to do was ask:
“What was that wine I liked here?” or
“Will I like this one?”
It saved me a whole lot of memorization.
Now, though, I’ve had to remember this stuff on my own. I’m managing. And thankfully, first and last hubby loves wine trips. But here’s the thing about wines: it’s all about what you like. Period. What you prefer. There is no right or wrong.
My list of favorite Sonoma wineries has been honed over the years to a few sure-things, but we found a new tasting room this last trip: Nicholson Ranch.
Before our visit I’d never heard of this wine, but it’s certainly earned some medals. Aren’t they impressive?
If you haven’t visited the wine country yet, we suggest you begin with Sonoma: Dry Creek, Alexander Valley–so many great wineries in these areas. And here’s one of our favorite places to visit:
It’s a family winery that goes back 150 years. A visit to their tasting room is always a fun experience. They’re down to earth and they pour some mighty fine wine. They were bottling the wines on the day we visited and I took a short video of the bottling process:
If you get a chance, take a cave tasting and farm tour. The farm tour allows you to taste in the vineyard, while a guide talks about Gundlach Bundschu’s sustainable farming. Our guide pointed out solar panels, explained the use of gravity in their farming as well as beneficial insects like ladybugs, and natural predators like barn owls. It’s fascinating. And then, a tasting in the cave where wine is stored.
Our favorite Gundlach Bundschu wine last year was a 2010 Merlot that sold out quickly. We drank a bottle and we’ve got one bottle left in our wine cellar that we plan to let it age a while longer. Maybe we’ll drink it on an anniversary. It’s hard to let wine you already like sit a while, even when we know it will only get better.
This time, though, we fell in love with a Pinot Noir and bought a couple bottles right then and there. Shakespeare called pinot noir “a wine that…perfumes the blood” and you can see why, considering its spicy aroma of cherries, roses, cinnamon, clove, raspberries and even earth. Since it was already “approachable” (one of those wine terms meaning it’s kind of ready to be drunk), we opened one bottle right away and put one away for a while.
I was surprised to read that pinot noir is a bit fragile and susceptible to weather. That’s why it’s known as the “heartbreak grape.” Apparently, producing a great pinot noir requires great wine-making skill. After 150 years, I think Gundlach Bundschu has the craft mastered. Conventional wisdom says that pinots do not age well and should be drunk “young,” that is, within four to five years of vintage date. Which is why we won’t hold this 2011 Pinot very long.
If you’re planning a visit to wine country, and I hope you will one day, the best times are spring and fall. The wine country gets super-hot in the summer and unless you like that kind of weather, it’s not a pleasant experience. Winter vines look so barren to me, so I stay away. But March is perfect, and so is fall harvest.