ARCHIVE FOR November, 2013

The Secret to Hosting a Great Holiday Party

holiday wine party

What to do when your guests’ experience levels with wine range from almost none to connoisseur?

Answer: Have a range of wine available.

For the wine newbie, consider uncorking a Rosé, Pinot Grigio, fruity Chardonnay or sparkling wine.

For those passionate about wine, pull out your single vineyard bottlings of complex Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir.

If you’re serving dinner and Chardonnay is the best fit, offer an oaky, rich version and a drier, stainless steel fermented type. If Cabernet Sauvignon suits the main dish, provide a great one with layers of complexity, along with a nice, approachable Bordeaux blend.

As a host/hostess, it goes without saying that your main job is to be sure everyone feels welcome and comfortable. If you think someone might prefer sparkling water with a twist of lime, water or even sparkling cider, be sure to have that on hand, too.

What We’re Thankful For


During this season of gratitude, we’re thankful for:

  • Living in a “Golden Age” of California winemaking. We are lucky to have access to tons of great wine, wonderful people to visit and know.
  • Sustainable winemaking. Winemakers and grape growers have been among California’s leaders in recycling, dry farming, composting and organics.
  • Family and friends. What would life be without them?
  • The new world of cooking. So many young chefs are doing fantastic things, so many ways to find and enjoy those recipes.

What are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving? We’d love to hear about it.

We’re also thankful for this month’s Martha Stewart Living! Our wines are among her recommended gifts!

What Makes A Successful Winemaker Dinner?

lobster bisque

Have you ever been to a Winemaker Dinner?

A winery will team up with a local chef or restaurant to create special meal to show off their wines.

Ed Skupien, Vice President of Frank Family Vineyards in Napa, was telling us about a recent Frank Family Vineyards event at Johnnie’s restaurant in Chico, California:

They did a lobster bisque with butter poached lobster in a puff pastry to pair with Frank Family 2012 Carneros Chardonnay. It was sublime.

You know when a chef nails a pairing as soon as they bring the food to the table.

People are talking and all of a sudden, it gets quiet. They’re so into the wine and the food.

That’s what happened.

Sounds like success! Sorry we missed it.

We can help make your holiday gift giving a success, too!

The Winemaker’s Challenge


We were chatting with winemaker Joe Otos the other day, who in addition to his own Willowbrook brand, helps up to 30 other winemakers “if they get in a jam” at the wine production facility he helps manage.

We asked him the winemakers’ most frequent mistake.

They second guess themselves too much. Instead of going with their gut instinct, they tone it back and end up going half- way between styles.


What’s behind that? Worry, stress. They’re thinking, ‘My whole financial calendar year is behind this.’ They start redoing trials, exhausting their palate.


With wine, you have one harvest and one bottling and that is all.

ONE harvest a year (unless they’re globetrotting across hemispheres)! No pressure, right!?

It’s something to remember the next time we uncork a bottle of wine!

Knowing Your Vineyard Makes For Great Wines

wine grapes

Many individuals have tiny production wineries. They own no vineyards and buy their fruit from the best producers they can find.

This “own no vineyards” trend is huge and here to stay.

It makes sense. Tending a vineyard is a complicated undertaking – pretty much year-long, involving many worker hours and expenses.

So what’s the upside of the “traditional” winery model where you do own an estate vineyard?

Jarvis Estate, producer of an upcoming Signature Series feature, is situated 1,000 feet above southern Napa Valley. This small, premium winery is focused on Bordeaux varieties, all produced from its 37-acre vineyard.

Winemaker Ted Henry offers these insights about the advantages of the estate vineyard:

I remember when working for larger wineries, sometimes driving 40 miles to a vineyard. The key thing about owning your own estate is you have immediate access to your vineyard – it’s right there. You learn that every vineyard row has its little quirks. This one closer to the hill ripens earlier than that one, things like that. Jarvis has its own team to tend the vines so they are very familiar with the vineyard. We harvest into small 30 lb. bins, and we put them on a tractor, not in a truck, so no crushed grapes lead to premature oxidation.

Read more about all of our wine club levels.

Which Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner?

thanksgiving wines

Here’s the big question this week:

Which wine should you uncork to go with your Thanksgiving feast?

But that’s the wrong question.

The question should be, which WINES should you uncork.

The Thanksgiving meal has so many flavors and textures going on: savory roasted turkey and stuffing, thick and rich gravy, spicy pumpkin pie, and more.

We love a sparkling wine with appetizers, then we put both a red and a white on the table. Riesling is a great white to choose or a tank-fermented Chardonnay (not too rich) and a fruity Syrah or a flavorful Cabernet Franc for the red. You could even go with Pinot Noir.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Living California Wine Legends – Mike Grgich

Mike Grgich - Grgich Hills Estate

If you’ve been around wine a while, you’ve heard about the Paris Tasting of 1976.

It was a blind tasting of French and California wines, wherein the California contenders won top honors. Who came out on top of the heap?


The Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, made by none other than Mike Grgich.

Mike is now nearly 91 years of age. He’s still busy at the winery he founded in 1977 with Austin Hills (Grgich Hills), assisted by his niece and nephew.

A bottle of that historic wine, the suitcase Mike brought with him from Croatia on his journey to California, and his signature beret are now in the Smithsonian as part of a major exhibition on food history.

We’re thrilled to have featured Grgich Hills wines with The California Wine Club.

We love the fact that this living legend is still among us, with a vibrant winery in the heart of Napa Valley.

Grgich Hills is definitely worth a visit on your next trip to wine country!

California’s Golden Age of Winemaking

Thanksgiving wine pairings

Thanksgiving wine pairings

When was California’s Golden Age of winemaking?

Was it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when young winemakers began handcrafting varietal wines?

Or, is it right now?

From the looks of it, we think we are in a Golden Age II of California winemaking. There is a virtual explosion of new winemakers producing very good wine in very small quantities –
with more attention to handcrafting than ever before.

This coincides with a much deeper understanding of California terroir and which areas grow which grape types best.

Chatting with Keith and Cherie Hughes, founders of 1,100-case Hughes Family Vineyards near Glen Ellen in Sonoma County, Cherie made this comment:

It’s very exciting to be here now. There are many small, boutique wineries and young winemakers, looking at winemaking in a different way, embracing it as a lifestyle. It’s made the Sonoma Valley wake up!

Incidentally, we’re featuring the Hughes Syrah in our upper level Signature Series club — “We always pour our Syrah with Thanksgiving turkey – it’s a great pairing!” Cherie said.

Are you wine ready for Turkey Day?

Is it an Artisan Wine or Mass Produced?

Is it an Artisan Wine or Mass Produced?

Is it an Artisan Wine or Mass Produced?

How do you know if a wine is an artisanal wine or just mass produced?

The winery label isn’t going to tell you. Wines from huge conglomerates stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the “wall of wine” with artisan wines. How’s the consumer to know the difference?

Recently, Doug Margerum of tiny Margerum Wine Company in Santa Barbara shared his thoughts about that with us:

It kills me when I see my Sauvignon Blanc on the shelf next to one that is produced in the hundreds of thousands of cases. We need to see retailers separate out the artisan wines. I pity the guy who buys his boss a blah wine, whereas he could have impressed him with an artisanal wine.

We couldn’t have said it better, Doug.

You can always find artisan wines in our Wine Store.


An Explosion of California Winemaking Talent

california wineries

Is California wine gaining admirers? You bet it is.

In 2000, there were 1,450 wineries in the Golden State.

In 2009, that number doubled to 2,972. Many of these start-ups are small wineries without vineyards who share co-op production facilities.

We’ve seen an explosion of talent in the past decade — new, young winemakers aiming high, handcrafting terrific wine from great vineyards — and by the way, the quality of vineyards in California has skyrocketed with everyone’s greater knowledge of
clones, terroir, etc.

So, the landscape of California winemaking is incredibly exciting right now.

But here’s the catch – you’ll never find most of these wines on your grocery shelf or even at a wine store. You have to go looking for them — unless you let us do it for you.

We seek, you sip, we both savor.