The first two weekends in March remain one of the most desirable wine weekends in the North Coast region. The 36th Annual Barrel Tasting weekends (2 weekends) did not disappoint with over 130 wineries out of the 200 members participating on both weekends. The hills and valleys of the three Wine Road American Viticulture Areas (AVAs - Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley) offer a plethora of tasting experiences from the super large, like the legendary Kendall Jackson Wine & Visitors Center (millions of cases) to the very small boutique producers like Colagrossi Wines (about 650 cases). With this diversity of producers available over these 6 days, sometimes it makes sense to travel 'The Wine Road Less Traveled' to find special and unique wines.
Barrel tasting weekends are not overwhelmed with themes and music and food (although many wineries do offer palate treats) because the focus is truly on the wine. Most wineries offer the chance to taste and purchase futures (wine in barrel from previous harvests but not yet bottled) at a significant discount. Purchasers may have to wait 6-18 months to actually get their wine but it is fun to anticipate like Christmas. Because so many of the participating wineries are small and have limited production Barrel Tasting is often the only opportunity for non-wine club members to actual acquire these special wines.
Meanwhile, three of the 'newest reasons' to participate in The Wine Road Barrel Tasting weekends are the wineries in the following list.
Valdez Family Winery is the pride of Ulises and Adelina Valdez. Ulises' story has been widely reported, an American immigrant success story and is worth review. Arriving in the United States in 1985, he has parlayed hard work, dedication, good friends and a strong family to create a very successful vineyard management company with over 1,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma, under his care. He has been producing high quality wines since his first vintage in 2005 and one, the 2008 Silver Eagle Chardonnay, was served at a White House State Dinner. Ulises sources grapes from his own leased Silver Eagle Vineyard and from premium vineyards he manages like Landy, St. Peters Church, Botticelli (Rockpile AVA) and Lancel. The barrel samples offered included the 2012 Sonoma County Zinfandel, the 2012 St. Peter's Church Zinfandel and the 2013 Valdez Properties Pinot Noir. All excellent with exciting potential. It was a treat to see 3 of their 4 children in the tasting room helping with the family business. Valdez Family tasting room opened in 2013 and is just off the Healdsburg Plaza at 13 Mill Street.
Oded Shakked is a self declared soul surfer with a bit of Bordeaux experience. He grew up north of Tel Aviv and became an avid surfer in his youth. He was no stranger to wine and wine cellars after interning at Domain Chandon and Chateau Lafite. He graduated from UC Davis in 1988 before landing a nearly 20 year gig as winemaker with J Vineyards. His Longboard Vineyards tasting room is at 5 Fitch Street in Healdsburg and is rife with long boards, surfing videos and posters. Of course, Longboard is also a sponsor for the annual Mavericks surfing competition south of San Francisco. His first vintage was a 1998 Syrah and he continues to produce that varietal as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Total case production is between 7-10,000 cases depending upon the vintage. Besides his own 7 acres he sources grapes from Rochioli Vineyards, a real coup! The barrel sampled 2010 Russian River Valley Syrah and the 2013 Rochioli Pinot Noir were exceptional. Another little secret revealed thanks to the Wine Road.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was a tasting room at 132 Plaza Street in Healdsburg. Texan's Glenn and Melissa Alexander moved to Sonoma County in 2001 after dreaming about living there since their first visit in 1985. A farmer in Texas, Glenn started Bacchus Vineyard Management after realizing their was a market need. Since then he has grown the business with several widely respected vineyards under his care. In 2006, Glenn and Melisaa along with Children Dustin and Chelsea started Sanglier Cellars. The first vintage in 2007 was a Syrah from the Kick Ranch and since then they have added Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Russian River and the Sonoma Coast. Total case production is about 4,000 cases between their Sanglier and Tusque labels. The 2012 Blanc du Tusque and 2011 Pinot Noir were well balanced and offered structure and very pleasant aromatics. Winemaker Glenn clearly knows what he is doing.
Mark your calendars for 2015 and make an effort to find your own well hidden secrets hiding in plain sight!
About the Wine Road: The Wine Road - Northern Sonoma County has ~200 members including 150 wineries and 50 lodging establishments. The organization sponsors and organized three events each year beginning with Winter WINEland in January and ending with A Wine and Food Affair in early November. Although A Wine and Food Affair is considered their premier event, the Barrel Tasting weekends are the longest running and the most popular in terms of attendance over the 6 days. No single event in the north county can compete for fun, adventure and great wine deals. It also offers the most likely contact with the winemakers as they are typically offering the barrel samples.