California: Wine, Californian Wine Regions, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, & More Profiled

Top 25 Most Awesome Tasting Rooms in California

Wine tasting is not merely the act of drinking wine, it is the total experience and that includes the physical space you are standing in when sampling Sauvignon Blanc or pondering Petit Verdot.

Ten California Cabernet Sauvignons for the Money

California Cabernets are some of the best wines in the world.  Unfortunately, the pricing on many of them has gotten quite exorbitant.  There are a plethora of great wines for $100 or more.  Even at the $75 mark, there is no shortage of outstanding wines.  So, for purposes of this list, these are my favorite five California Cabernets priced at under $25 per bottle.  In addition, I only chose wines that are very consistent from vintage to vintage.  Finally, I have avoided rare and hard to find wines for this list. 

The Three Legged Winemaker - An Interview with Napa Valley Legend Mike Grgich

Mike Grgich and Brad PrescottI recently had the great privilege of spending an afternoon with legendary Napa Valley winemaker Mike Grgich. Over a long lunch and more than a few bottles of his finest wines, we discussed his career and its influence on Napa winemaking as well as his myriad accomplishments, winning both the 1976 Judgment of Paris and the Great Chicago Showdown to name but a few. I had never met Mike in person before and did not know what to expect. What I found was a man with deep pride in his accomplishments but one who is equally grateful to all those who helped and influenced him along the way. I also discovered a man who is the living embodiment of the American dream, having fled communism to find success in Paradise, California. It's safe to say that my long lunch with Mike was the most enjoyable and interesting day of the six years I have spent running IntoWine. I interviewed Mike via email in 2007. The interview below is round two, where I get to ask my wish list of questions. Thankfully, Mike obliged.  

Wine to Go Buy This Week - Lilu by Clos DiDi, a Carneros Chardonnay

Clos DidiI recently had the opportunity to try a terrific small-production, Sonoma chardonnay that I highly recommend. Lilu by Clos Didi is liquid gold, the kind of chardonnay that appeals to even those people who don't typically choose chardonnay.

Top 50 California Cabernet Sauvignons to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In putting together a list of the top California Cabernets, there is sure to be some disagreement.  I tried to include those wines that have a track record, the wineries still making great wines, those that seemed to have the commitment for the future and some personal favorites.  I am sure I left some out.

1. Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select – It’s always hard to name the number one wine.  But this has a track record that’s very long.  Even in less than stellar vintages, it is an outstanding wine.  They just don’t seem to make a dud.  My only complaint is the price at over $200 a bottle.  But, in comparison to other Napa Cabs or elsewhere in the world, this is a fair price. 

Top 75 California Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In my last article, I listed the Top 75 French Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking.  In this article I look at the “non-dump bucket” list for wines from California.  This proved to be a different task.  First, very few wineries have a long track record of making great wine.  Secondly, while California is diverse, it does not have the diversity of climates and terroir and grape varietals of France.  Still, it does produce some of the best wines in the world and any wine lover should make it a point to try as many of them as they can.  Here is my list:

1. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – It’s hard to pick the first wine.  This one is a great wine in every vintage and has been for a long time.  Expensive but still possible to afford and made in large enough quantities to be found in grocery stores.  Every lover of Cabernet should try this once.

Q&A with Amelia Ceja, Owner of Ceja Vineyards, Sonoma

In 1999, Amelia Ceja co-founded Ceja Vineyards located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Amelia was named president which made her the first Latina Woman Vintner in California. The Ceja family paved the way not only for Latinos but also for many minority families in the wine industry. Today they produce about 10,000 cases of wine which is distributed throughout the U.S. and hey farm over 100 acres of prime vineyard land. Additionally they have successfully used social media and Amelia has created over 100 video blogs about pairing wine and Mexican food.

Q&A with Joe Hart, Owner and Winemaker at Hart Winery in Temecula

As an earlier pioneer of the Temecula Valley, outside of San Diego, Joe Hart, only the fourth person to start a winery in the area, has spent the better part of 30 years as a champion for the Temecula wine region. Sequestered in one of Southern California’s last “unknown” wine regions Hart Winery capitalizes on the soils and climate at 1,500 feet above sea level to produce the premium varietals like Merlot, Fume´ Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Rose´, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The renaissance of the California wine industry in the 1970s found Joe Hart and Nancy Hart and their three sons planting their first vineyards in 1973.

Your first experience with wine was in Germany, which got you started.  Describe that experience with those wines and how those eventually lead you to forming your own winery.

There were two wine experiences in fairly quick succession, the first in Germany, followed soon after by one in Italy. Shortly after graduating from San Diego State I had been a reluctant draftee into the US Army, and after completing basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Ord I was sent to Germany, where I ended up in Augsburg, Germany, at a relatively cushy desk job in the Quartermaster Corps.

Napa Valley Chardonnay: Foods to Pair With, and Meals that Call for, Napa Chardonnay

Chardonnay—a chameleon of a grape. There are an especially large number of choices to be made in terms of winemaking when it comes to Chardonnay. It can be still or sparkling. It can be aged in oak or un-oaked, filtered or unfiltered, subject to malolactic fermentation or not. Even the type of oak used, or the decision to keep the wine in contact with dead yeast cells during the winemaking process affects the style of the final product. These factors (not to mention the concept of terroir) result in endless Chardonnay styles that can range from Burgundy’s crisp, austere, mineral-driven wines to Australia’s tropical fruit-packed, viscous style.

Q&A with Richard Sanford, Owner and Winemaker at Alma Rosa

Santa Barbara wine pioneer Richard Sanford is among the inductees into the 2012 Vintners Hall of Fame. Sanford started one of the first modern wineries south of the San Francisco Bay Area in 1982 and for several decades, his Sanford Winery and Vineyards was the lone outpost in the now-sizzling Santa Rita Hills area of Santa Barbara County. He was the first winemaker to prove the potential for Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills and spent the next 20 years making some of the best regarded Pinots from the region including bottlings from arguably his best vineyard, Rinconada. Sanford left his namesake winery in 2005 and founded Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards in Lompoc.

What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career? If not winemaking, what path would you have chosen?

Upon returning from military service in Vietnam in 1968 I wanted to pursue an activity more connected with the land. During my tenure in the Navy I had been introduced to a wonderful Volnay by a fellow naval officer. That became my inspiration to pursue a career in agriculture and I chose winegrowing to attempt to duplicate the quality of that wine. After 40 years as a winegrower I cannot imagine any other path.

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