One of the most exciting parts of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is the excursion dinner at an offsite location (most times at a winery with catered food). This year, we bought our tickets ahead of time so we could join our friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, who we had met at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. They bought their tickets as soon as the Thomas George Estates excursion was announced, and we did as well soon after. The dinner experiences are a hot commodity at the WBC. This time, the tickets were only $20 per person, and I’m not kidding when I say it was the best Andrew Jackson I have ever spent on a wine and food pairing! Don’t believe me? I have the pictures to prove it.
I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm as I detail the evening, but I have to admit I felt like royalty from the moment we left the conference hotel to the moment we returned. We met our dinner group and loaded on to a limo bus. Below is a photo of us on the bus, and you can see the excitement in our faces! We heart wine dinner excursions!
After a long and bumpy ride, we arrived at Thomas George Estates–a bit of a mystery spot for me, because I could not find much information about them on the web. After getting off the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see our group was being escorted into a wine cave! We were led into a foyer area and presented with a charcuterie spread from Black Pig Meat Company the likes of which I had never seen before. Our glasses were also filled with Thomas George Estates Blanc de Blancs, an estate bubbly made from chardonnay.
We mingled amongst ourselves while sipping the sparkling wine and enjoying our selections from Black Pig Meat Company: Cured Meats, Roasted and Marinated Vegetables, and Hummus with Crostini. I snuck away from the group to take pictures of the tables where we would later be dining. The attention to detail of the table setting was remarkable. Plus, I took a peak at the menu for the evening and I could hardly wait for what was to come!
Our first course of the meal would be a roasted Brussels Sprout Salad, with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona Almonds, Aged Sherry Vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery “Capriago”, an asiago-style cheese made from goat milk and aged between 8 and 10 weeks. This course was paired with a 2015 Chardonnay from the Thomas George Sons & Daughters Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The best part about this dish was the crispy bacon nuggets and Marcona almonds nestled in the salad hidden like buried treasure. Alyse and I laughed about our disdain for frisée…I did not know someone else shared my dislike of its curly texture and overall annoyingness when trying to cut/eat it. Still, this salad was a major hit with me.
The entrée course was a stunning “Cracklin'” Pork Belly and Star Anise Liberty Duck. It was served with Black Rice, Thomas George Estate-Grown Pomegranate and Watercress. The wine pairing was an Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The texture of the rice was wonderfully chewy and sticky and was offset by the crispy pork skin and the tenderness of the duck leg. As you can see it was a beautiful presentation and the pomegranate lent itself in both flavor and color. There was also a bit of persimmon on the plate, special to me because Fuyu persimmon is my favorite fruit, and it was my first taste of it that season!
For our final course, we were presented with a Quince & Apple Tartin, served with Bourbon Gelato. I was served a dessert without the crust, as they kindly remembered my gluten free request. I thought the Bourbon Gelato was pretty incredible, especially with the wine we were served as a pairing: an Estate 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from the Baker Ridge Vineyard “Baby Block”, Russian River Valley. Success! The wine WAS slightly sweeter than the dessert, and that is how it should be in a dessert/wine pairing. Lately, I have come to appreciate/enjoy dessert wines more and more, and might have even purchased a few bottles of Pinot Gris in the last month. I used to hate on sweet/dessert wines (like, a lot), so here is my formal apology of sorts.
Our dinner was skillfully prepared by Chef Duskie Estes of zazu kitchen + farm. I asked her to take a picture with me and she kindly obliged (below). I just took a peek at zazu’s sample menu and I’m probably going to have to stop in next time I am in the area! Luckily, we have friends who live in Sebastopol… 😉
Not only were the wines and the meal terrific, the company I shared them with and the memories I have of the evening are unforgettable. Thank you to the staff at Thomas George Estates for your hospitality and to Chef Duskie for her food presentation.
For another account of this excursion, head on over to Appetite for Wine, and read what Kent had to say!
AN IMPORTANT P.S.!!!
The winery is closed to the public during the month of January for annual maintenance and improvements, but will return to regularly scheduled operations on February 1st. So this means you have plenty of time to plan a future visit!
Keep an eye out for more coverage on this website from the 2017 Santa Rosa conference. I’m not sure which direction I will go content-wise, but would like to say something that hasn’t been already said. It was a conference definitely filled with mixed emotions as a result of the fires in October, but definitely an uplifting place to be in witnessing the resilience of wine country and its representatives at the conference. Cheers, and thanks for reading! #WBC17
10 Tasting Room Tips for the Aspiring Wine Lover
No matter if you are new to wine or wine tasting, or if you visit tasting rooms often, it’s useful to remind ourselves of good etiquette and read up on ways to improve your experience. Whether you are a first time visitor to a winery, or if you know enough about wine to impress your friends, this list of tips is for you!
1. Avoid wearing heavy cologne/perfume/body spray.
This is without a doubt the number one tip. When you are tasting wines, you need the ability to smell what is in your glass without any interference. A key factor in tasting a wine (as it is in tasting food) is smelling it. Many wines have floral, herbal, spicy characteristics that can be masked when a stronger scent is present, so it’s important that the wine is the only thing you can smell! If you must wear a cologne, apply it at least 2-3 hours before you plan to head to the tasting room. P.S.: Do wear deodorant, but make it unscented if possible.
2. Wine with friends!
Wine is always more fun with friends! Groups of 2-4 people work really well for a number of reasons:
A. 2-4 people do not overwhelm a tasting room associate like a larger group might. Imagine if a bus load of people all arrive at the same time and the craziness that would ensue.
B. A group of 2-4 is bound to have different opinions on what they thought of the wines. One person might hate something that you loved, but that is totally OK! Learn to discuss the wines and get different perspectives at the end of the day.
3. Take a photo of your favorites!
Sometimes you might not be in a traditional tasting room, but at an event where there are nearly hundreds of wines being presented. Maybe there is not an opportunity to purchase the wine at the tasting, but there will be at a later time. This is the perfect opportunity to whip out the camera or cell phone and snap a picture of what you loved so you can make it a part of your cellar later on!
4. Take notes.
Remember when we used something called a pen and paper? Jot down your favorite wines if you don’t have a camera. Write down what you liked about a wine or what it brings to mind. If the tasting room associate says something important (like a food pairing or their recipe for meatballs) get that on paper, too! The most important thing is to document your experience, because most of us have been on tastings and have forgotten parts of them.
5. Use the dump bucket.
But not like that. Part of why we sometimes can’t remember what we tasted is because we have not used the dump bucket to its full potential. The plastic or metal container sitting on the bar beside the wines is there for a reason. So you can taste and spit and keep a sound mind. By all means, taste as many wines as you can, but don’t feel obligated to drink the entire pour. Keep your taste buds refreshed so you can still distinguish wines even if you are at your 3rd or 4th stop. Additionally, a winery is really the only place where spitting in public is NOT frowned upon, so sometimes I have a smaller cup I spit into and then pour it into the main dump bucket, so I am not directly spitting into the bucket. Trust me, I have seen this technique go awry and the liquid ricochet into the spitter’s face when they spat into a mostly full bucket. And they were wearing a white shirt. Not pretty.
6. Get your taste, then step aside for the next person in line.
Be aware of others around you who might be thirsty. It’s really rude to monopolize a tasting room associate when there are other people behind you waiting to taste the long awaited release of Matchbook Arsonist Chardonnay. You can always get back in line for another taste, but don’t just stand there like an oaf and prevent someone from getting one! (I am only 5’1″ tall and have been corkblocked many times!)
7. Ask questions.
Tasting room employees are not there to intimidate you. They are there to share information with you and to hopefully sell you tons of wine and maybe convince you to join their wine club. Ask questions about the wine. Ask about wine in general. Ask about the wine club. Ask about the perks of the club. Joining a wine club might be a great deal of savings to you if you like the winery and the wines they make. Sometimes wineries through big parties during releases of a particular varietal they make and the parties are for wine club members only. PS: Do ask questions, but adhere to rule #6 and do step aside as to no monopolize the tasting room associate so others can taste/ask questions, too.
8. Plan your day ahead of time.
Plan to visit 2-3 wineries maximum and spend quality time at each. Most tasting rooms have put time and effort into making their property somewhere you might like to be for while (maybe even all day). Visit the winery website (almost all of them have some sort of web and social media presence) before your visit, and learn about what makes the winery you choose unique. Some wineries have food and wine pairings/tastings. Some have live music or get food trucks to come by to provide food for purchase. If you like food and music (like I do) those are the most attractive! If you do find a winery with musical entertainment, there will also be comedic entertainment by someone who has had a little too much to drink and has decided to bust out some awesome dance moves!
9. Pack snacks and water!
So if the places at which you are tasting do not offer food, call them and see if you can bring food, more appropriately snacks to the tasting room or winery grounds. I am not talking about getting a Domino’s pizza and having it delivered to the winery, or rolling up a Weber BBQ next to the bar, but I do suggest calling the winery ahead of time and asking them if it is OK if you bring cheese, crackers, dried fruit, etc. with you. Sometimes there might be food sold on the premises, and in that case outside food might be frowned upon. In all cases it is best to call the particular winery ahead of time and ask. If you are bringing something to snack on, keep it classy and bring in a nice picnic basket or small cooler. Water is a no-brainer when it comes to drinking and helps prevent a hangover if you do accidentally overindulge.
10. Buy at least one bottle of wine from each place you visit.
You don’t have to always follow this rule, but it’s just good practice. When you buy a bottle of wine after a tasting, almost always the tasting room will refund your tasting fee. It’s a very strategic move especially in places that charge more than $10 for a tasting. At the very least you get to take home a memento from where you have been that day.
And it’s always nice to have a souvenir from a great trip you had. When you open the wine, you can relive your tasting room visit all over again. Invite your friends over (if you have not gravely embarrassed them from the winery visit and they are still speaking to you) and have a great dinner built around the wine. There are recipes all over the internet geared to almost any common varietal you can buy.
Hopefully my tips have prepared you for your next visit to wine country! Cheers!
Pinot on the River is a fun filled weekend of Pinot Noir in the beautiful Russian River Valley town of Healdsburg, California. Guests of the event can sit with the winemakers and other Pinot-loving consumers as the festival focuses on limited productionWest Coast Pinot Noirs. Sunday’s Pinot Noir Grand Tasting will feature over 100 wineries plus guest Artisan Food Vendors all on the downtown Healdsburg Plaza Square, it’s a Sonoma County wine weekend you won’t want to miss.
11 a.m. to 12 noon – Grand Tasting Opens –
Artisanal Pinot Noir Grand Tasting Early access.
12 noon to 4 p.m. – Artisanal Pinot Noir Grand Tasting – General Admission
Taste current releases, special bottlings and library wines from 100 top Pinot producers from up and down the West Coast at this “full immersion” walkaround tasting.
Judges will award “Special Achievement in Pinot Noir” Trophies.
Giant check Presentation to Boys & Girls Clubs.
Wineries scheduled to be present at Pinot on the River are:
Alexander Valley Vineyards
Artisan Wines of California
Belle Glos Wines
Benziger Family Winery
Bien Nacido Vineyards
Black Kite Cellars
Blue Farm Wines
Brassfield Estate Winery
Bucher Vineyard Wines
Canihan Family Winery
Comptche Ridge Vineyards
Couloir Wines | Straight Line Wine
Donelan Family Wines
E16 Wine Company
Furthermore Pinot Noir
Hahn Family Wines
Hop Kiln Vineyards
Hook and Ladder Winery
J Vineyards & Winery
L Foppiano Wine Co
La Follette Wines
La Pitchoune Winery
Maggy Hawk Wines
Martin Ray Winery
Nunes Vineyard / St. Rose Winery
Ordaz Family Wines
Ousterhout Wine & Vineyard
Patz & Hall
Paul Hobbs Winery
Pech Merle Winery
Pellegrini Wine Company
Peter Paul Wines
Ram’s Gate Winery
Russian Hill Estate
Small Vines Wines
Ten Acre Winery
The Donum Estate
Thralls Family Cellars
Valdez Family Winery
White Oak Vineyards & Winery
Windsor Oaks Vineyards and Winery
Do you see any of your favorites? I am looking forward to seeing my friends from Walt! This looks to be the Olympics of Pinot Noir, so if you’re a fan, don’t miss it. The draw of this event is that it showcases very small producers that you will rarely see elsewhere!
Tickets are $75 per person and $100 at the door. You can purchase tickets here. Hope to see you there! 🙂