Holiday Wine Round up

As the new year begins I have been reflecting on the last few weeks and the holiday rush. With the rush comes parties with friends and family and lots of holiday wine drinking! Each time we shared a bottle, I had some great stories to tell either about the wine, where it came from or the people who had previously enjoyed it with me.

This holiday season we shared a few wines that we brought from our trip to Healdsburg, some from one of the few clubs I can get wine from and some of my own homemade Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve picked a few to share with you; some you will recognize, some you may not. Either way, it’s wine so we know it is gonna be good!

The first on the list is 2009 Wilson Winery Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition). Picked this up after tasting it at Taste of Sonoma, also picked up the Sawyer Zinfandel. This is sourced throughout the valley, but it is a wonderful Zin. Spice, berry, slight acidity, even slightly smokey and a great finish. This is a Dry Creek Zin for sure and makes you want to keep having glass after glass.

Then there is the Mazzacco Winery Sonoma County Zinfandel. Mazzoco is located in Dry Creek Valley right around the bend from Wilson. This zinfandel is a Sonoma County Zinfandel which is sourced from throughout the county. This was reminiscent on the Wilson but not nearly as complex or flavorful. A little less burst, if you will from the zinfandel, some spice and a slight tart note to it. Still a great zin.

We also shared a bottle of 2005 Chesterfield Cellars Bretts Barrel Blend with our family. This is a wine I bought from a wine club that consists of 55% Cabernet Franc and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has robust, concentrated berry, dark cherry, some earthiness, acidity but the finish sort of drops off the table. It’s a great value for us, so we keep drinking it. If you allow it to open up for some time, it improves dramatically. Also want to be sure it is not too cool.

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At Christmas dinner we decided to change it up slightly with a bubbly from Korbel. This was called Rouge as it is made with Pinot Noir. It is a great sparkling wine to have with food as it is not too sweet, much more on the dry end of the spectrum.  The layers from the Pinot are very nice and a welcome change form the sweet champagne style wines we are used to. We paired this with Braciole with marinara and white wine sauce and some fontina mac and cheese. It worked very well.

Finally, we shared a bottle of Gracianna Zinfandel and Pinot Noir on separate occasions. I have reviewed the 2008 vintages but these were the 2009. Many similar characteristics to the 2008 but as vintages go, they are very unique in their own way. The Zin maintains its bold fruit, pepper and a great balance of oak and acidity. The Pinot is as complex as ever, great layers (not to overuse the term) and a flavor experience that true Pinot lovers will enjoy. I always look to Gracianna for a great wine to share with family and friends over the holidays!

A few we did not open yet, but will soon: Stryker Sonoma Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merriam Vineyards Block 8 Cabernet and John Tyler Wines Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. I will be sure to share these experiences with you soon!

Stryker Sonoma - Our Own Private #CabernetDay

One of the highlights of our trip to Sonoma was having our own private #CabernetDay at Stryker Sonoma Winery. Here’s the background on how we were treated to our private tasting by Brian Shapiro, Media/Marketing for Stryker Sonoma.

We decided prior to leaving PA for Sonoma that we would try to attend the #CabernetDay event being held at Stryker Sonoma on September 1, 2011. We were going to meet many friends there, taste some great Cabernet’s and enjoy our first night in Alexander Valley in style. I go online to secure the tickets required for the blogger/social media session from 5-7pm. No tickets left. I immediately email the event organizer and request permission to attend. Brian responded with an open invitation stating there’s always room for more.

To make a long story short, our departure was delayed 4 hours on 9/1 so we did not check into our rental until after 6pm. We had no way to make it to the event at this point. So, we opted for a Costco pizza and a bottle of Simi Cabernet (our contribution to #CabernetDay). This was fine but not the way we planned to start out our wine country vacation.

The next day we start our wine tasting at Clos du Bois and then planned to head over to Stryker and Alexander Valley Vineyards. Since we missed the Cab event we thought we should stop over anyway and see what Stryker had to offer. We arrive at the beautiful tasting room, taste several fabulous wines including the Rockpile and Estate Cabs, the Monte Rosso Cab Franc and I am tweeting away about these wines.

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A gentleman interrupts our tasting to ask if I was @sonomavine. He had been monitoring Stryker mentions on Twitter and recognized me from our email exchange the day before. Of course he introduced himself as Brian and we had a chuckle about the coincidental nature of our encounter. After chatting for a moment, Brian invited my wife and I to taste a few of the wines that were left from the #CabernetDay event the previous night.

Over the course of the next hour we tasted a dozen spectacular wines from several great wineries. I snapped what seemed to be a never ending stream of bottle photos on Instagram; complete with re-tweets of reminiscence (@JordanWinery). We talked social media, #CabernetDay, who we are and where we are from and had one of the most memorable wine tastings. We feel truly privileged to have had this experience courtesy of Brian.

Our unique experience did not stop there. We made sure to catch up with Brian at the Stryker Sonoma table at Taste. I’ll be sure to tell you more about this in an upcoming post about Taste of Sonoma.

It’s going on three weeks now since our visit. Time flies! I maintain regular contact with Brian and several of my new friends. I recognize many of the places everyone is tweeting about. Thank you United for the 4 hour delay.

Remember to “hover” your cursor over the Twitter handles to follow or read more!
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend 2011

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation in Sonoma County. We have gone through our pictures, pamphlets, and all of that Visa Signature crap we accumulated during our trip. Visa is a great sponsor of Taste of Sonoma and Sonoma Wine Country Weekend but here’s a hint - we only need the wine glass lanyard! Of course we came away with wonderful memories of wine, Sonoma and many, many new friends.

I will be writing more specific posts about various aspects of our Sonoma Wine Country Weekend experience; however, I am going to touch on a few things that stood out for us.

  • The hospitality displayed by everyone we came in contact with was the ultimate highlight. We were so thrilled to feel welcome and appreciated everywhere we went. This was veryrefreshing.

  • There is always room at the Inn. Brian Shapiro (@VinoVotary) of Stryker Sonoma gets the Champion for the wine country lifestyle award! I’ll share the relevance of my “always room at the Inn” statement in my upcoming Cabernet Day post but in short, Brian encompasses everything I love about the wine country lifestyle in Sonoma. By the way, we can thank @Twitter for our chance encounter!

  • Two things have drawn me to Sonoma. Wine, of course and social media. The combination of the two have taken on a life of its own and it is only because of social media that I have been so fortunate to meet so many of you. It provides a conduit for a guy in Lititz, PA to engage with and learn from people in the heart of California wine country.

  • Taste of Sonoma is bonkers. Too bad they asked us those people to leave. I mean, really? As if 5 hours of wine tasting were not enough.

  • We love the Russian River Valley. No offense to the rest of Sonoma County. The River, the wineries, the little cabin we rented, the vineyards, the proximity to MacMurray Ranch and the Pinot Noir is off the hook.

  • Korbel is a must for any visitor to RRV. I did not want to go, my wife did - I wanted wine, not bubbly. I am here to say it was a fascinating experience and a welcome change of pace from wine. My wife will not let me live this one down.

  • Finally having the chance to meet so many Twitter peeps was an absolute joy. I think I met people who introduced themselves with their real name and was like, ok what’s your Twitter handle? Aaahhhhh, now I know who you are! Some I knew by name though and it was great to meet @SLHousman, @mrhousman, @alawine, @vinovotary, @moxie_lady and many more.

[caption id=”attachment_1676” align=”aligncenter” width=”300” caption=”Stryker Sonoma in Alexander Valley”]Alexander Valley[/caption]

To conclude, I want to share that one of the primary reasons for us visiting Sonoma County was to meet some new and wonderful friends, the Amadors of Gracianna Winery. Regulars to The Sonoma Vine know how my relationship with Trini III, Lisa, Trini IV and Ashley Amador has grown over the course of the last 9 months. Admittedly, I have become somewhat of a homer when it comes to Gracianna. Since I write a reference blog I feel I can have one or two favorites without tipping the integrity of my site! My wife and I are amazed with the kindness that they have shown us and we look forward to the many years of friendship ahead.

I will be documenting several aspects of our trip in the coming weeks so be sure to check back regularly.

*You can follow any of the Wine Tweeps by hovering your cursor over their name.

2011 Sonoma Wine Vacation

My wife and I are leaving very early this Thursday (9/1/11) to take our second vacation of the year (and within a month!) Seems wrong somehow to pack two weeks of vacation in a three and a half week period. Hey, it’s Sonoma so it is so worth it!

We plan to attend the 2011 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, the 32nd annual Taste of Sonoma being held at MacMurray Ranch. This is going to be so great because there will be nearly 170 wineries and 60 local chefs pouring and cooking some of the best wines and foods one can ask for. This event is going to be packed and I only hope I get to meet some of the people I met through my social media connections.

One family we will be meeting with is the Amadors. They own and operate Gracianna Winery and those of you that read my blog know about my personal affinity and appreciation for the Amador family. This will have been a long time coming so we are truly looking forward to seeing them at Taste and for a private gathering during out trip.

I rolled out this new website to mark the trip to Sonoma. I will have plenty of biz cards to hand out in the hopes that some wineries would like me to feature them on the blog. I like to promote wineries and the lifestyle in Sonoma so I am happy to feature just about anything wine related from Sonoma County. I would also enjoy the opportunity to gain some new followers and share with them my passion for wine.

This event and the trip as a whole will be a wonderful learning experience as we get to venture out into the Russian River Valley near Healdsburg, CA. Many great wineries reside along the Russian River and we are destined to visit every one! Of course Gracianna, John Tyler Wines and many, many others as well. The house we rented is fabulous and we can’t wait to enjoy the privacy as we are nestled along the Russian River and surrounded by vast acres of vineyards.

Upon wrapping up our trip I will be sure to share our experiences with you. Pictures, reviews and the whole nine!  In the meantime, look over the new site and share a comment or connect on my social channels. Wish us well and cheers to you!


John Tyler Wines | True Essence

John Tyler Wines, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA

The story of John Tyler Wines begins in 1956 when Charles and Helen Bacigalupi purchased 121 acres on Westside Road. In the years following this purchase the Bacigalupis heeded the advice of several well respected growers, including Paul Heck, and planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay .  Originally serving the community as a dentist and a pharmacist, Charles and Helen had started down the path of building what is now one the most respected, if not THE most regarded, vineyards in all of the Russian River Valley.

John Bacigalupi, son of Charles and Helen Bacigalupi, started working on the vineyard as a child and continues farming to this day. With over 30 years devoted to the growing of quality grapes, John has developed a deep understanding of the grape growing region. This understanding has helped John become a top producer of quality wine grapes throughout the Russian River Valley. As anyone with experience in the wine industry will tell you, this endeavor is monstrous and cannot be managed alone.

In addition to the Bacigalupi’s contribution, John Tyler Wines would not be possible without Tyler Heck, a fourth generation winemaker. You’ll recall that the input the Bacigalupis received from Paul Heck was pivotal in the development of the vineyard. Paul’s son and Tyler’s father, Patrick, served as Tyler’s mentor providing him every opportunity to gain the valuable experience and knowledge required to become a top level winemaker. These experiences extend well beyond the RRV and California reaching into wine regions in the great northwest, Australia and Europe. Tyler also draws on his formal education at Fresno State University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Sonoma is rich with family owned vineyards and wineries, however, few have roots that run as deep as the Bacigalupis. This relationship forged between the Bacigalupis and the Hecks over the course of many years via friendship and marriage (Pam Bacigalupi, Johns wife, is the daughter of Paul Heck) has really been the driving force for the development of JTW. No longer solely focused on growing grapes, the contributions of a third generation of Bacigalupis, Katey and Nicole and under the guidance of a 4th generation winemaker in Tyler Heck, JTW is forging ahead developing into a premier winery in RRV and beyond.

To mark the advancement of the JTW label and winery, JTW will open it new tasting room on Westside Road in the coming days. JTW is also expecting to release its 2007 Pinot Noir in late spring 2011 (the 2006 is a Gold Medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition). If you want to capture the true essence of Sonoma County and the Russian River Valley in your selected wines, you cannot find a better example than John Tyler Wines.

If you are interested in learning more about the rich heritage of the Bacigalupi and Heck families and the promising future of John Tyler Wines, please visit their website at Going to Sonoma County? Stop by their new tasting room and be one of the first to experience a new legacy in the making.

Interview: Trini Amador IV, Gracianna Winery

Does it seem as though every entrepreneur’s success story started in their garage? There are so many great stories of successful businesses that were born from the dimly lit, sometimes dusty comforts of the home-based laboratory. I would like to officially add Gracianna Winery to this growing list of successful enterprises.

It was not all that long ago that Trinidad Amador IV (Trini), winemaker for Gracianna Winery, was expressing his independence in the comforts of his Forestville, CA garage using raw product from the agriculturally robust Russian River Valley AVA and dabbling in what so many in the region have already perfected - winemaking. What started out as an exploration into the very thing that we identify with Sonoma County has developed into the Gracianna story. I recently secured some quality time with Gracianna’s winemaker, touted as an up and comer, but you will come to realize, as I have, that Trini Amador has already arrived.

In this article I will share with you the Gracianna story and how the passion of a local boy turned winemaker and his family have built a winery rooted deeply by values of grace, graciousness, and gratitude.

Gracianna Winery rests in the heart of the Russian River Valley, nestled along the “miracle mile” on Westside Road. The Amador Family - Trini, his sister and his parents - are Gracianna, quite literally, as they are the team that fulfill the operations of the winery.  At the center of this and every winery is the winemaker of course.

Trini Amador, son of Trinidad and Lisa Amador, grew up in Forestville, CA just west of Santa Rosa merely a stone’s throw from Westside Road. Being a local and having grown up in the Russian River Valley surrounded in every direction by wineries, vineyards, and the agricultural epicenter for the wine industry, Trini was determined to carve out his career path as a winemaker.  In order to achieve this goal Trini enrolled at Oregon State University to study Applied Agriculture. During his college years and shortly thereafter Trini worked in various capacities in the wine industry starting first with internships with Williams Selyem (winemaking) and Gallo Family Vineyards (vineyard management). Eventually, these experiences compelled Trini to embark on a career that beset both vineyard management and winemaking.

These distinctly different winery and vineyard experiences helped fulfill his initial objective which was to learn the wine business. With this combination of experience and education he was ready to bring to life his winemaking vision. In 2005, with the support of his family, who not only serve as business partners but as his inspiration for building a successful winery, Trini and his family launched Gracianna Winery.

In Sonoma County you either work in the wine business or someone in your family works in the wine business.  This region is synonymous with hard work, pride, and the pursuance of a lifestyle that shows appreciation for what one has. This culture provides the perfect backdrop for Trini and Gracianna.  Most of us wine lovers believe that wine is a medium for cultural expression or an artful presentation of the values of those that cultivated the grapes and produced the wine. I asked Trini if he subscribes to this belief and how he would describe his winemaking style. Without hesitation he expressed his agreement with this and added that Gracianna is about sharing gratitude and appreciation for all of the blessings in life. The wines he creates are a strict representation of this vision and each varietal is designed specifically to capture the very best of the RRV.

I pressed Trini on his choice of varietals for Gracianna which include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. He further endorsed his vision for prescribed winemaking and stated that these varietals offer the greatest opportunity to produce the results he envisions. Russian River Valley famously produces outstanding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel fruit but this alone does not make a great wine. Trini devises a plan for each varietal more than a year before production carefully identifying the components he wants to emphasize in each vintage. Zinfandel provides him with a bold yet versatile option while Pinot Noir requires precision and finesse. Chardonnay, some of which he sources from the Green Valley in RRV, gives him an exciting change of pace and another opportunity to represent his vision. The first release of these wines came in 2009 giving the local community their first glimpse into Trini’s vision for winemaking.

Trini‘s vision does not exclude a desire to produce high quality wines that are recognized as such. However, he states his motivation is vested in a higher purpose for Gracianna. Revisiting the mission for Gracianna he is driven by the desire to produce a great wine that can bring together friends and family to celebrate what is great in life. To celebrate the brightest moments in life Trini wants the greatest quality wine to match the occasion. He wants to produce something he can be proud of and awards and accolades are a relatively innocent byproduct of quality winemaking.

Trini went on to add that he is not consumed with achieving commercial growth and is more interested remaining focused on making great wines. I have heard that he is considered an up and coming winemaker so I asked him when he will know he has arrived.  His response is what made me most appreciative for this interview. Trini believes his personal success is measured only by his ability to sustain his career in the business of his dreams, by growing grapes, producing great wines, and meeting a variety of self imposed challenges along the way.  Upon speaking with Trini, it is quite easy to gauge his level of appreciation for the life he has, his humble perspective, and his passion to embrace local tradition as his chosen profession. Furthermore, and maybe most importantly, for this is what Gracianna is founded upon, he attributes many of these values to his family and without their support he could not embark on the pursuance of his dream.

I learned a great deal about the personalized nature of winemaking but much more about the deeper significance the wine industry represents to the people of Sonoma beyond the obvious economic implications. It is this appreciation that Gracianna represents and Trini Amador has everything to do with this.

Additional points of interest:

Gracianna was awarded gold for the 2007 Gracianna Bacigalupi Zinfandel and silver for the 2007 and 2008 Gracianna Bacigalupi Pinot Noir at the 2010 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition.

UPDATE: Gracianna awarded 2011 Best in Class by the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition for their 2008 Bacigalupi Pinot Noir! Also awarded Gold: 2009 Suzanne’s Blend Chardonnay and Bronze: 2009 Bacigalupi Zinfandel.

Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Oct. 2010 brought Gracianna a gold medal for 2008 Bacigalupi Zinfandel and a silver medal for the 2008 Bacigalupi Pinot Noir.

The winery is expected to open a new tasting room in early summer of 2011.

The Amadors expect an estate vineyard designated “Mercedes’ Vineyard” planted to pinot noir to release in 2013.

The 2010 growing season presented a challenge to all vineyards in northern California. However, all signs point to another solid harvest for Gracianna.

Link to Gracianna Winery

Steve Palmer is the author of The Sonoma Vine - Sonoma Wineries and Vineyards Reference Blog. For more information or questions about this article Steve can be contacted at

©Copyright 2010-2011. All rights reserved by The Sonoma Vine.


Westside Road Wineries

Here is a list of wineries that make up the Westside Road wineries. These are all located along the Russian River with Mill Creek representing the northern most winery and Gary Farrell Winery being the southern most winery (or last one of the group as it may be).

Two of the wineries are already featured on The Sonoma Vine: Arista Winery and Armida Winery.


* Arista
* Armida
* C. Donatiello
* Gary Farrell Winery
* Gracianna Winery (appointment only)
* Hop Kiln
* Rochioli
* John Tyler Wines (appointment only)
* MacMurray Ranch (no tasting)
* Matrix Winery
* Mill Creek
* Moshin Vineyards
* Porter Creek
* Thomas George Estates
* Twomey Cellars
* Williams Selyem (no tasting)

Here is a link to a brochure/map from Westside Lodge that shows the wineries and where they are located along the river Brochure/Map.

Sonoma Wineries: Buena Vista Carneros

Today we feature Buena Vista Carneros. I have talked about this winery before so I won’t rehash everything but this winery is the oldest commercial winery in CA! One visit to the winery and you will be hooked.

During our visit to the winery we were very impressed with the staff; we had a great time with our server- he was knowledgeable and fun which really made the experience wonderful. The wines are fabulous and like I said before I couldn’t get enough of the Syrah even though the Pinot is the acclaimed vintage. They are both great so go try them out!

there are several events that take place at Buena Vista so be sure to check the website for details. Enjoy Buena Vista Carneros!

Link to Buena Vista Carneros