Me and My Closest Complete Strangers

So what’s with the title? Yesterday I read a tweet that inspired me to draft this post on a topic that had been fermenting in my mind for several weeks. The tweet you ask? Here, take a look:

You may have figured out by now that you can click on the snippet to go the the link @figgirl included in her tweet. Cool right? I think so. Here is why. Social media has created this fascinating insiders only perspective. If you are not following on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube you wouldn’t get the shot of the crew sitting around the table preparing for the introduction of the new menu items. This is a great example of how social media is changing the marketing landscape, but this we already know.

Here’s the real reason I have been inspired, however. Take a look at this tweet:

@MikeWesterberg, of Cellars of Sonoma, has been engaging northern California wine fanatics via Twitter for several years now. Mike and I have never met, in person, but we talk hockey, wine, family and a little business once in a while all via Twitter. I have a profound respect for Mike (and his partners at @CellarsofSonoma) and I developed this respect directly via social media interactions. Who do you think I would trust to steer me right (or left depending on which side of the political fence we sit on) should I need something from someone in California?

This is another great example of the power of web 2.0. We are unearthing layers of our social graph that we did not know existed. Do you know how many people think I live in Sonoma? Of course I understand why someone would think this, I do go by the handle @sonomavine, but I live in Pennsylvania. Herein lies the power of social media.

Not too long ago I was approached by a homegrown Sonoma County wine family and their winery to conduct an interview, review some wine and begin to grow our brands together.  Talk about positive strokes, of all people to be selected, I was astounded but it was my Sonoma Vine blog that perked their interest. This can be attributed entirely to the use of social media. And by the way, my viewership and followers jumped some 30% as a direct result of the work I did with this winery.

Along these same lines of social promotion @thedamnwells should thank @napachris for promoting their band. He shared a Pandora channel one night on Twitter and I thought I’d check it out. Turns out this band is outstanding along with several others that I was itnroduced to as a result of the sharing option via Pandora. I can truly say I am a happier person thanks to @napachris! And then there is @MatthewLiberty (Matt Browne) who out of the blue retweeted me one night and if you know Matt this is an invitation for a friend for life! I have met several great wine people through Matt and his continuous thirst (no pun…) for social media and promoting the wine industry are evident through his tweets.

These are great stories or examples of social media in the wine biz and how it peels back the social layers. You get to know people and learn about them from thousands of miles away. Its like long distance learning but on a real human level. Thanks to everyone for bringing me into your world and of course, thanks for being my closest complete strangers!

If you would like to find out more about the people I mentioned in this post simply hover your cursor over the Twitter handle and you will see their Twitter profile with the option to click through.

Some of my other friends you may want to follow:

@SLHousman, @CordairGallery, @JohnTylerWines, @alawine, @HahnWines; @SonomaWilliam, @sharayray, @Cellarmistress; @RickBakas, @lynnsherwood, @LMonheit, @FLWineLady, @napamarriott, @passaggio, @brandirahill, @WineInkByTia, @westsidelodge and many, many more!



There’s a Kitchen Aid in my Cannoli!

[caption id=”” align=”alignright” width=”300” caption=”Image via Wikipedia”]Cannoli with chocolate.[/caption]

During our visit to Sonoma we headed up to Kenwood to dine at Cafe Citti. Word on the street was that this place was awesome.  So we shot up there one evening, popped up to the counter and ordered our meal.  Of course the meal was wonderful, the ambiance was upbeat, and the waiter was great.

To put a bow on the greatness of this evening, we ordered cannoli and cappuccino. This super snack is something I love to eat when I think I may get a really good one and this one was ranking right up there as one of the best. This was right up until I chomped down on what I thought was a nice chunk of chocolate.  I was thinking man, this is one big (and hard) chunk of chocolate. So, I chomped again this time realizing it was not chocolate but a Kitchen Aid mixer knob.  Yep, you heard that right, a knob from a Kitchen Aid mixer had somehow broken in two during the making of this cannoli and one of the pieces ended up inside MY cannoli! What are the odds of this happening?

I flag down the waiter and he has this great look on his face as he approaches the table. His expression flattened in horror as I explained what I had found in the cannoli. After a dozen apologies he ran off to the kitchen to figure out how on earth he was going to handle this.  It had to be a first for him and of course it was for me.  In moments he returned to the table practically shredding the bill for the meal on his way. Needless to say he and Cafe Citti covered the bill.

I suggested this was not necessary, however, it wasn’t worth fighting over, after all there was a Kitchen Aid in my cannoli!

In conclusion, please join me in congratulating the staff, the ownership and especially the waiter, for handling this so gracefully and so professionally.  This was a rare circumstance and I was not upset in the least.  Later I wrote about this on Yelp and received an email from Luca Citti, Owner:
I am so sorry to hear that this happened to you!!  I can assure you that in 20 years of business….this is a first!!  I am glad that my staff handled it correctly and I very much appreciate your positive attitude and good humor about it all.  Please be sure to stop in again, we appreciate your patronage and support!

So there you have it. One of my favorite stories to share and a wonderful ending for all.  Be sure to check out Cafe Citti if you head out to Kenwood.

Link: Cafe Citti


*Disclaimer - I visited Cafe Citti in June of 2009
Porter Creek Vineyards
Porter Creek Vineyards is the thirteenth winery in the Westside Road series.  This winery employs a series of interesting practices in order to produce organic wines and operate a sustainable vineyard. Here is an excerpt from their website with a link to follow.

There are several estate wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel - all of which do famously well in the Russian River Valley.  Here is the link as promised:

Porter Creek Vineyards

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.


Trini Amador IV - Wine Maker, Gracianna Winery

Today Trini Amador IV was extremely generous and offered to allow me to conduct an interview. The interview will be transcribed and posted here in the near future, however, I want to share one or two thoughts on this experience.

First, Trini Amador IV and the Amador Family were very kind in offering their time and allowing me to learn first hand why Gracianna is not your average winery. Second, I could not have asked for a more pleasurable experience in conducting this, my first wine maker interview. Normally, I do not over do the gratitude, however, this deserves the attention because they are helping me to take my passion to the next phase. Thank you so much Trini and to your family for trusting me to help share the story of Gracianna.

Please be on the look-out as I will publish the interview soon.  In the meantime, you can get a glimpse of Trini Amador IV and Gracianna here: Link to Gracianna

UPDATED: Interview available here: Interview with Trini Amador, Winemaker Gracianna Winery


The Lodge at Sonoma Review

The following is a review I posted on an a blog (SuperSuitCase) prior to the establishment of  The Sonoma Vine. Thought it would be of interest to anyone traveling to Sonoma. Enjoy…

We spent three nights at the Lodge at Sonoma by using our Marriott Rewards points. Our goal was to visit California wine country but do so in a more subdued environment than the popular Napa excursions. Sonoma was the perfect choice as it is a small, intimate town with a lot of history.

The Lodge at Sonoma is situated about 1 mile from the center of town, give or take a few hundred yards. It is a straight shot to the town square making it convenient to hit the quaint shops and restaurants or to venture on to the wineries (we had a rental car).

The Lodge is set up with hotel rooms and cottage style accommodations. Using the points, we were not sure what we would get, but as with all reservations for this trip, I indicated we were celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. This may have been a wise choice as they upgraded us to the cottage. Very courteous and very classy describes both the personnel and the environment.

Check in was smooth sailing and we were in our room within 10 minutes. The property is gorgeous and it seemed as though we were situated smack dab in the middle of a botanical garden. Our stay covered the first few days of June so the flowers were in full bloom. The weather was cool at times but spectacular. There was a pool; however, we did not test it out for we were busy with other things. Nice feature: sofas and fireplaces around the pool deck.

The room itself was really nice. Although a cottage, it was not enormous but rather spacious enough to enjoy a home-like setting. Living room set next to the bedroom (which is all one room really), then the bathroom area and garden tub with a window shutter pass through (large) to the living room. Definitely a couples-only style room! There was an armoire/entertainment center with flat panel TV and a refrigerator inside. We had a coffee maker, iron, hairdryer, and everything you need. Finally, there was a side door that led to a small patio with bistro table and 2 chairs.

The Lodge had a spa that we did not experience but I am sure you can search for reviews on this.

As for a restaurant, the Carneros Bistro and Wine Bar is attached and serves as the hotel eatery. It is very elegant and perfectly fitting for the wine country. We enjoyed a few drinks there but did not have a meal. They have a guest winemakers from local wineries come in frequently and offer tastings. I would definitely give the food a try next time I visit. It comes highly rated.

The final amenity, I like to call it, is the Cellar Door, a tasting room featuring wines from the local region. There is an eclectic mix of wines and wineries represented and as a guest you get a free tasting. We actually found one of our favorite wines here (Chandelle Cabernet). This is located on property but in a separate building.

There is a small workout room, but skip this, go visit a winery instead! Also on property are banquet facilities, a small bar, and an indoor seating area surrounded by a large hearthstone and fireplace. Overall, this place is wonderful. As mentioned, our mission was to see wine country so we did not spend a lot of time on premises.

Locally, there are grocery stores and every other type of shopping or eating establishment you can imagine. We are particularly fond of Whole Foods which is a mile away (we don’t have these in Lititz, PA). We stocked up on fruits, snacks, and coffee and had some great breakfasts on the patio. I can’t say enough about the ambiance! Super relaxing!

We would (will) go back in a heartbeat. The Lodge is located smack dab in the middle of wine country, close to the center of town, and a fifteen minute drive to Napa. The town is quaint and has a lot to offer; check ahead for there are small-town happenings all the time. We visited in early June and it was pretty quiet in Sonoma but awesome nonetheless. One recommendation: ask for a private trolley tour at the Sebastiani Winery. We lucked out and were the only two on the trolley for a one hour tour of the vineyards and locale. So great it is hard to describe.

Link to The Lodge at Sonoma

2010 Sonoma Harvest Fair Wine Awards

Sonoma, CA
Image by thesonomavine via Flickr

I was taking a look at the 2010 Sonoma Harvest Fair wine awards the other night.  So many of the wineries featured on this site are recipients of awards this year.

Here is the complete listing: 2010 Sonoma Harvest Fair wine awards

Fingerlakes Photo Gallery

I debated whether to post these photos from the Fingerlakes since all the photos were taken with my iPhone. Although they are not too good but not too bad I figured I’d let you have a look.

The one I like the best is the view from Two Goats Brewing. What a great view and atmosphere for relaxation! Enjoy the photos.

Link to The Fingerlakes Photo Slideshow


The Finger Lakes - Seneca Lake Wine Trail

We were planning to come to Sonoma for our mini-excursion last week, however, in the weeks leading up to the trip we decided a road trip to the Finger Lakes in New York was much more manageable during this busy month.  We are SO happy we made this decision. Not only did we save a bundle on air fare but we also came away with some wonderful bottles of wine and even more incredible memories. Here is the tale of the tape:

On September 23 we arrived in Watkins Glen and headed around the east side of Seneca Lake to an area called Hector, NY. This is where Seneca Springs Resort is located, the place in which we chose to stay during our stay.  A little about the resort: I would equate it to a combination of hotel and bed and breakfast. The reason I say this is there is a multi-unit cottage style building on the property and a more traditional “inn” like you would experience at a bed and breakfast. Breakfast is included in your reservation and is served at 9am each morning and it is absolutely an incredible breakfast. Quiches, cranberry pancakes, sticky buns, coffee, potato bakes, and several other dishes to choose from.  You do not have to sit around a table with others if you prefer to remain somewhat anonymous as there is plenty of space to choose the seat of your liking (like the huge wrap around front porch overlooking the lake!).

For you nature lovers, there is an abundance of acreage with ponds and woods to take in as you walk around the 100+ acres that overlook Seneca Lake.  Furthermore there is a fire pit stocked with wood for your use as well as a 3 hole golf course on the upper tier of the property. Sounds great, right? We didn’t even get started on the wineries yet!

Following check-in, we hopped in the car and zipped north to check out some tasting rooms before the end of business for the day. First stop, Atwater Vineyards. As is the case with most Finger Lakes wineries the Riesling is king here at Atwater. My wife and I are red wine drinkers but found the Atwater Riesling pretty nice as was the Riesling at most other wineries as well. But, we were on a mission to find a good red in the Finger Lakes. Next stop was Red Newt Cellars. This was a whopping 2 minutes drive from Atwater. Some decent reds here; came back for a wonderful dinner at the restaurant. For the final stop, we backtracked a whole 3 miles to Damiani Wine Cellars which, if you want the ultimate interactive tasting experience, stop in here because Aaron the tasting host will get you so psyched up you will be ready to hop a plane and go hike the Pyrenees! This was a great place to wrap up our tasting for the day.

As I mentioned we went to Red Newt for dinner knowing that Thursday was half-off a bottle of wine night. Great dinner, great wine, and great atmosphere.

The next day we ran in town to Watkins Glen and hopped a boat ride on Seneca Lake which was so relaxing (especially since I just ate enough breakfast to feed two families). Nice narrated tour explaining why the lake does not freeze (underwater springs) and how the salt belt underground is mined and processed to ready for sale at your local grocer. From here we hiked the gorge at Watkins Glen State Park. Awesome walking/hiking tour of really cool rock formations and waterfalls.

After a ride north we hit Wagner Vineyards, one of the oldest and more commercial wineries of the Finger Lakes. After a quick bite at the cafe, we did the winery tour which was intimate and interesting, tasted some wine, bought some wine, and headed on out to the next winery. Shalestone Vineyards is one of the only “all red” wine makers in the region so we knew we had to stop here. It quickly became our favorite winery of the trip. Great Cab Franc, Lemberger, and meritage/blends which rank up there with some of our favorite California reds. Different but refined, great owners/hosts.  Next stop was Kings Garden for some acclaimed reds including Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Meritage. These were the next best on our list and between Shalestone and Kings Garden we filled a case.  Eventually we made it to Stonecat for dinner which was pretty nice.

Our last full day in the Finger Lakes we decided to rev up the Odyssey and head for the west side of the lake. We drove north as we planned to drive the entire circumference of the lake which allowed us to see everything on the west side. Fox Run Vineyards was the first stop. We started our visit with a winery tour which turned out to be one of the best I have every done. So informative and right up close to the action. So close in fact, we were practically part of the bottling assembly line. Following the tour and tasting we left for several other wineries including and in no specific order, Hickory Hollow Wine Cellars, Herman J Wiemer Vineyard, Anthony Road Winery, and Lakewood Vineyards which produces an interesting Cabernet Sauvignon and Concord blend (not what you might be thinking!). Each had their highlights but f you do not like sweet wines you will need to be very selective in the Finger Lakes.

Last bu not least, we had dinner at Danos Heuriger which is a Viennese restaurant that serves traditional Viennese food in a family style* atmosphere (*isolated to your party). Try as little or as much as you like and do not miss out on the bread basket with some of the traditional spreads; a meal in itself.  This was one of the most satisfying dining experiences ever and opened my eyes to Viennese cuisine. We finally made it back to the resort and got some much needed rest after three busy days.

So, there you have it. After our final breakfast at the resort we packed up and headed back to Pennsylvania.  What a great experience; it absolutely lives up to its reputation and can hold its own against other wine destinations. If you have had thoughts of visiting Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes be sure to check out the fabulous wineries and restaurants and you must stay at the Seneca Springs Resort, its a no-brainer!

PLCB Discussion Continues
I have traded messages with Angela P. Fitterer, Policy Advisor House Majority Policy Committee on my recent posts about the PLCB.  Our dialogue has been very professional and objective in nature, not dismissive in any way.  I was encouraged to read in her message that she would be happy to assist me as I work to push for change.  Thank you for your response Ms. Fitterer.

In my last post I shared some information about Rep. Turzai and his proposed legislation that would privatize the wine and spirits sales in PA.  Here is an excerpt form his proposed House Bill 2350:

"We have introduced legislation to privatize the wine and spirits wholesale and retail operations of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). (Please note that this proposal would not affect the way beer is sold in the Commonwealth.)
Fiscal Benefits
Pennsylvania is facing a looming fiscal crisis. We have to be bold and innovative in how we tackle the issues before us. This plan will not deplete but will actually enhance revenues moving forward. The proposal is cautiously estimated to bring in approximately $2 billion for the sale of the wholesale and retail licenses alone. Furthermore, the new plan will at least maintain if not increase current annual revenues into the General Fund from the sale of wine and spirits.
The notion that the state’s General Fund gets this massive annual infusion of money from the LCB itself is a myth. Currently, the LCB transfers only on average $90 million annually to the General Fund from its operation. In addition to this transfer, taxes on the sale of wine and spirits bring in about an annual $376 million directly to the General Fund. (These tax revenues will come in whether operated by the state or by private owners). Total, that amounts to about $466 million annually.
Under our new tax and fee structure, annual revenues should amount to about $500 million - ensuring that the Commonwealth continues to receive the funding it has in the past while offsetting the administrative costs of a newly streamlined PLCB operation (licensing, enforcement and alcohol education).

Customer Satisfaction
This proposal will 1) promote better selection, 2) lead to more reasonable prices and 3) increase consumer convenience. Competition will take effect.
State should not be in the business of selling alcohol: Conflict of interest
One question we should ask ourselves is: should Pennsylvania really be in the business of selling alcohol? Should the entity promoting sales of wine and spirits be the same entity that polices those sales? Doesn’t that constitute a conflict of interest?
Only two states currently own and operate all wholesale and retail sales of wine and spirits: Pennsylvania and Utah. There are currently only 18 states that have some level of involvement in wholesale operations, 32 do not. Only 14 states have some level of involvement in retail operations of wine and spirits, 36 do not. (Even those states with some involvement have private sector components).”

If you have time and a desire to see this House Bill make it the floor please visit State Rep. Mike Turzai’s website at You can read the full bill summary and find out ways to support this legislation.  One obvious way is to write to your Representatives!