All Wined Up

A Trip to Sonoma

Guest post by Tara Newman 

During the day, Tara Newman works for Leading Authorities, one of the nations largest speaker bureaus. But after hours Tara spends her time trying to realize her dream of breaking into the wine business, she particularly loves "researching" new wines. You can find Tara on twitter @TaraNewman or meet her at one of the @YoungWinosofDC events.

Today I am sitting at my desk, trying to eat lunch, do work, and write this blog post. I have my outlook up and occasionally I have to stop writing in order to answer a “very important e-mail.” A typical D.C. day - however, a month a go I was sitting in a cherry red mustang convertible, vintage bug sunglasses and driving scarf in place, riding down HWY 101 to my next exciting Sonoma wine destination.

This decision, like all best decisions I make, was made spur of the moment 8 months prior when I saw a LivingSocial escape to the beautiful Auberge on the Vineyard in Cloverdale, CA – which I found out later was at the tippy top of the Sonoma County region. I thought – I like wine and I’ve wanted to learn more about California – so why not! As it turns out, that was one of the most amazing, completely random thoughts I've ever had.

Completely accidentally, I ended up going during Barrel Tasting Weekend Northern Sonoma (Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys). An event that is put on by the ever helpful people of (seriously, if you are planning a trip check this website out). So, while I was treated to a couple of wineries filled to the brim with drunk, partying, bearly-21-year-olds (not that there is anything wrong with that), a number of appointment only wineries recommended to me opted out of this annual tradition.

I ended up going to approximately 12 Vineyards over the course of 4 days. Since 12 wineries is a bit much for me to review, though I definitely have positive and glowing things to say about most if not all of them, I am going to concentrate on the ones that really stood out for me: Sojourn Cellars, J Vineyards & Winery, Unti Vineyards, and Zichichi Family Vineyard & Winery.

Sojourn Cellars

I stayed in Northern Sonoma County and the tasting room for Sojourn Cellars in is Sonoma City - about an hour away. I went for three reasons,

  1. The tasting was HIGHLY recommended;

  2. I wanted to grab a bite at the delicious The Girl and The Fig; and

  3. The drive (I did rent a convertible after all).

    1. I am so glad I went here. This ranked as one of my top two favorites of the weekend. The tasting room is in a quaint little house right off of the square. I had the Director of Marketing do my tasting and while she doesn’t normally do tastings, I thought she was fabulous. We actually got to try seven wines instead of the normal five – one of the “extras” turned out to be my favorite of course! Now, they don’t do any white wines, so white wine drinkers I am sorry. Currently they only make Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but they are pretty close to perfect. One of my favorite touches to this tasting were the jars of soil from each of the vineyards where they source their grapes. Delicious AND educational. What I took home: Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir - fruit forward, balanced, and great with lighter foods. The Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir - Mineral first, bold and bright, went amazingly with my herb crusted pork tenderloin.
      Sojourn Cellars Website
      Sojourn Cellars on Facebook
      Tasting by appointment only.

      J Vineyards & Winery

      During my trip I went to three food and wine pairing style tastings – J Vineyards & Winery’s “Bubble Room” was easily the best. We started out with a tour of this sparkling house – some very serious machinery. I have never seen the production side for sparkling and I got to say it all looked pretty cool – I hope I can see it in action one day! They have a beautiful building and while their bubbles were certainly fun, I feel in love with their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their chef’s creations were perfect, utterly decadent and delectable. A picture is worth more than a thousand words right? It looks unbelievable and tasted even better! What I took home: J Chardonnay, Russian River Valley – I have never been a huge fan of chardonnay, that being said this one surprised me! There was a touch of citrus in here that really brightened the experience. In retrospect I should have purchased a Pinot as well, but I was getting concerned about my bags weight limit. There is always next time!
      J Vineyards & Winery Website
      J Vineyards & Winery Facebook
      Walk-ins welcome at the tasting room. The Bubble Room is appointment only.

      Unti Vineyards

      Not surprisingly, you will find a lot more Bordeaux-style wineries in Sonoma than you do Rhône style. It comes with the territory of decades long rivalry between the two regions. Unti Vineyards, however, is a perfect example of what off-beat varietals and a natural, hands-off wine making style can bring to the region. This small production house is only open by appointment and was not participating in the barrel tasting phenomenon. That didn’t keep it from being super busy though – in fact a weekend visitor from Napa who was staying in the same B&B as I did tried to get reservations the same day I went and was unable to get in. Lesson of the day: Sometimes planning ahead works in your favor. These wines are very powerful in flavor. The folks at Unti are incredibly proficient blenders and as a result their wines are complex and satisfying. My friend bought three bottles (her biggest buy of the weekend)! Sadly, once again I only left with one… What I brought home: 2008 Grenache – Medium bodied, spicy and smoky, this wine is great with the big red meats! Since I mentioned that Unti were blending masters – here is the blend for this Southern Rhône-style wine: 75% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre, and 12% Syrah.
      Unti Vineyards Website
      Unti Vineyards on Facebook
      Tasting by appointment only.

      Zichichi Family Vineyard & Winery

      Zichichi was my most surprising stop of the entire vacation – if Unti proved it is good to plan ahead, Zichichi proved it’s good to step off the beaten path. When I asked a taster at another winery she said, “Don’t tell my bosses I said anything, but Zichichi is my favorite winery in the whole valley.” High praise from a girl I had just bought half a case of futures from! However, she was right. Unlike most of the wineries I stopped at Zichichi makes wine from only their estate grown grapes – which produced some pretty fabulous wine. This is the only one of my “Barrel Tasting” stops I am mentioning, so I should mention that I only tasted very young futures from this winery (of which I bought ½ a case of, though I wish I had enough money to buy more).  Zichichi is also the only “Barrel Tasting” where not only did I get to meet and spend time with the winemaker, but I also met and talked to the owner a little bit as well! The only complaint about this place that I have is that they can’t make more of their wine. Much like Unti, this is an incredibly small production house – I saw all of the barrels they had and it wasn’t that many. In fact one of the wines I bought, their Petite Syrah, is already almost sold out – before bottling! Their wine was complex, not overly tannic, smooth, and delicious and I literally can’t wait to receive my futures. I don’t think I have stopped talking about this place since coming back – maybe this post will end my ranting... nah!
      What I brought home:
      Sadly, nothing – I had no room left in my bag. I bought a bunch of futures though!
      Zichichi Family Vineyard Website
      Zichichi Family Vineyard on Facebook (This is really their most up to date information)
      Call ahead to make sure they are open.