ARCHIVE FOR December, 2013

A Year of California Wine Country Impressions

golden gate bridge

As we visited wine country all across the Golden State this year, we saw many beautiful sights. These impressions have lingered with us:

California gold country

Stopping in Placerville on the way to Madrona winery, there’s gold mining history everywhere you look.

placerville old

The drive from Morro Bay to Edna Valley is a slice of “old California” with rolling yellow hills and sentinel oaks. When the fog rolls in, “beautiful” isn’t enough to describe it.

We enjoyed Healdsburg with its huge old trees in the historic town square. We love the incredible hotels, restaurants, shops, and bakeries and sipping a sparkler with winemaker Susie Selby in H2 Hotel’s Spoonbar restaurant with winemakers all around.


Giving a toast to an up close view of the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge AND the San Francisco skyline, just a minute from Stein Family Winery.

golden gate bridge

When we visited Sonoma’s gorgeous Dry Creek Valley with its gnarled old Zinfandel vines, we hung out with three vibrant generations of the Pedroncelli family.


Getting our “Italy fix” at Ca’ Momi in Napa’s fine Oxbow Marketplace, inhaling the heady aromas of great homemade Italian food and Ca’ Momi wine and fighting over the box of Italian-style pastries they gave us.

oxbow market

It’s been another fantastic fun year with California wine.

Let’s toast to more beautiful sights in 2014. Salud!

Top Wine Stories of 2013

wine trends of 2013

wine trends of 2013

Here are a few trends in 2013 that we think are going continue into the New Year.

1. Small wineries keep on coming.

Buying vineyard land and building a facility is definitely no longer the norm when folks want to start a winery. In 2013, we saw even more single-man or woman start-ups, with fruit entirely purchased from growers and wine produced in someone else’s winery.

We love the trend. It allows tremendous creativity and individual initiative, and this means, even better wines.

2. More efforts at sustainability and more focus on water use.

California wineries continue to be in the forefront of efforts to reduce their carbon footprints both in the winery and in the vineyards. Water use is coming up more often as a top concern.

3. White wine blends have joined the blending party.

Red blends have been on the upswing for a few years in the Golden State. California winemakers have kicked aside conventions and are mixing French, Italian and Spanish varieties together in some beautiful ways.

As for white wines, Chardonnay is making room for some tasty white blends. We’re even seeing Chenin Blanc on the horizon.

4. Pinot Noir dips, but Merlot is on the rise.

We love to see Merlot making a comeback, since it can be such a wonderful red. Growers and winemakers seem to be taking more care with it and allowing it to show its better self. Pinot Noir lovers are dwindling a little, but not to worry: wine growers have dialed-in what’s needed for Pinot on the Sonoma Coast, and others continue to fine-tune this finicky grape in Carneros, Monterey and Santa Barbara.

5. More people are drinking more wine more of the time.

Market surveys clearly show more than a 20% rise in the number of “core” wine drinkers – the ones who buy most of the wine. Their reasons for drinking have multiplied – wine remains celebratory, but sometimes, just making it through a hard day at work is cited as cause enough to uncork a great bottle. Hooray for that!

How about you? What do you see as the big stories behind wine this year?

Hurry! Our $1 shipping, end of year clearance sale ends at 5pm Pacific on 12/31/2013!

More Core Wine Drinkers!

white wine toast

The Wine Market Council has been tracking consumer wine trends for many years.

Its most recent finding about “core” wine drinkers – those who drink wine consistently – is fairly amazing.

In 1994, it estimated that only 34% of all U.S. wine drinkers were consistent core drinkers.

In 2013, that number jumped to 57%. This 57% of wine drinkers consumes 93% of U.S. wine sold outside of restaurants.

In other words, more of us are drinking more wine consistently.

Let’s toast to that!

It’s not too late to order a gift of wine for the holidays. Check out our gift options!

Terminology Twisters

wine terms

There is a world of terminology related to wine, and some of it is confusing.

Take the word palate, for example.

In the real world, palate means the roof of your mouth. In the wine world, it means the taste and texture of the wine in your mouth. And the spelling needs a mention – it’s not palette (a painter’s term, for a wooden block to mix color) or pallet (a wooden framework to carry or support goods).

Here are a couple of other terminology twisters:

NV: You could think it means Napa Valley, but it stands for non-vintage, meaning, the wine is made from grapes grown in multiple years. Non-vintage, by the way, doesn’t mean the wine is cheap – far from it. Some of the finest Champagne is non-vintage.

Brooding: We try to avoid anyone who is brooding (it means having a lurking unhappiness). But a brooding wine is just one that promises great glory (concentrated flavors, complexity), but for whatever reason is holding back right now.

Clean: Wine’s all clean right? In the sense of sanitary, yes. But a clean wine is one that has no off colors, aromas or flavors – in other words, you don’t notice any flaws offhand.

How to Be a Good Party Guest

wine party guest

Hosts always get a lot of advice on how to do their part in creating a great holiday party.

But they aren’t the only ones with work to do! Guests have a chance to shine, too.

Here are a few ways to be a great “wine” guest at any holiday party.

1. Bring a hostess gift of Sparkling Wine. If they want to serve the wine at the party, bubbly will go with many different kinds of appetizers or main dishes. If they want to save it, they can pop the cork and celebrate later.

2. Be generous in praise of wine you like. Otherwise … well, you know. (Keep your opinions to yourself.) Everyone’s taste is different. If wine isn’t to your taste, pick another topic!

3. Keep track of your wine glass. If there’s a wine glass charm ready, use it – or bring your own!

4. Last but not least – thank the host.

Party on!

French Onion Stuffed Mushrooms – Perfect with Pinot Noir

french onion stuffed mushrooms

french onion stuffed mushrooms

Pinot Noir is one of California’s most popular wines, and we’re always on the hunt wonderful appetizers to pair with it.

Here’s a great one from Martin Ray Winery in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Courtney Benham founded his artisan, limited production winery in honor of Martin Ray himself, the Santa Cruz winemaker who in the 1960s was among the first in California to bottle 100% varietal wines – quite a change from the jug wines of the day.


French Onion Stuffed Mushrooms

Serves 3-4


  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 branch of fresh Thyme (2-3 in)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • ¼ cup Martin Ray Pinot Noir
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 8 oz. basket Baby Bella mushrooms (about 20)
  • 1/8 lb Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs


  1. Thinly slice the onion. Remove stems from cleaned mushrooms and finely chop about ½ of them.
  2. Brown Panko bread crumbs with 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, over medium-low heat, add 2 tbsp butter, onions, thyme and bay leaf.
  4. Cook until onions have browned (about 20 minutes).
  5. Add the chopped mushroom stems and continue to cook about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the thyme and bay leaf and discard.
  7. Add the wine and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated.
  8. Salt and pepper to your preference.
  9. Remove from pan and set aside.
  10. Cook the mushrooms in the same pan (2-3 minutes each side).
  11. Fill each mushroom with onions, top with gruyere and bread crumbs and place on baking sheet. Bake the mushrooms at 375 for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese has browned.

It’s not too late to give the gift of wine! Check out our fun and unique holiday gifts!

Closing the Cellar Doors?

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Here’s something hot off the wine news press that got our attention:

San Joaquin Valley (Lodi wine region) is proposing a one-year moratorium on new wine events.

Some residents are upset about the changing nature of the community, with thousands of tourists arriving each year to sip and savor local wines.

On the other side, the wineries are in a ferment, since the wine industry has spent millions of dollars and decades trying to lure visitors and build a recognized wine region. They say the moratorium is a job killer and will set their wine region back years.

We hope they work it out and strike a balance where everybody can win with wine.

3 Great Wine/Cheese Pairings

wine and cheese pairings

wine and cheese pairings

It’s holiday party time, so bring on the cheese!

Cheese can be tricky with wine.  There are so many kinds of cheeses and so many different wines, pairing them can seem overwhelming.

Also, as you’ll know after experimenting, some pairings don’t work at all well.

The trick is to match the character of the wine to the cheese — bolder wines for bolder cheeses, milder wines with milder cheeses.

On the other hand, sometimes contrasts can be terrific — you’ll just have to sip and sample.

To get you started, here are three surefire pairings that promise to deliver smiles.

1. Sharp Cheddar  with Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot

The tannin in these heavier red wines can handle the bold flavor of sharp cheddar.

2. Brie with Sparkling Wine

Creamy brie needs a rush of bubbles to create a delicious contrast.

3. Gouda with Chardonnay

The “Queen of Wines” has the texture to marry well with Gouda.

wine cheese pairings

Need a gift idea?

Tuck one of these great wines in a basket with a terrific artisan cheese. We’ll help you with the wine.

Our Favorite Wine Country Shopping Spots

St. Supery Vineyards

It’s the holidays and ‘tis the season to shop.

St. Supéry Vineyards

Image credit: St. Supéry Vineyards

Of course, the best gift is a membership to The California Wine Club, but if you want to augment that, here are some of our favorite wine country stops to buy unusual gifts and goodies:

St. Supéry Vineyards, Napa: Their tasting room always has top-of-the line items and their incredible wine education center is steps away.

Harmony Cellars, Cambria: A really unique collection of handmade ceramics and art.

Yountville: This little town is chockfull of great shops – V Marketplace at the south end of town is terrific.

Oxbow Market, Napa: In addition to Ca’Momi Wines, this fabulous venue is overflowing with some of Napa’s tastiest food and wine gifts. Great fun!

Sonoma Square: Quaint, historic and packed with fun shops and wonderful places to eat.


5 Reasons We Love Wine

love wine

love wine

We love wine, but you already knew that.

There are so many different reasons for our undying devotion to the nectar of the gods, but her are our top five:

  1. Wine is the perfect beverage for almost every occasion. You know, like lunch, dinner, bedtime, and everything in between.
  2. Wine is a living thing. Really! A premium wine will change during a decade and will even change in your glass during dinner.
  3. Wine is beautiful. From the vineyards in wine country to wineries to bottles to glasses -It’s like poetry we can drink.
  4. We’ll never be bored with wine. Lucky us! We live in an age when there are dozens and dozens of great types of wine to discover and savor. When you are a member of The California Wine Club, you can discover new great wines every month!
  5. Wine is a warm, welcoming libation of friendship. Friends and wine are the perfect pairing. A good wine creates smiles and conversation and great memories.


And you? Why do you love wine?