Pruning Season in the Russian River Valley – Benovia Winery

As I have said before, enjoying wine is more than just the liquid in the glass. To deeply appreciate the wine, understanding what it takes to get the juice into the glass is integral. That’s why last weekend’s vine pruning seminar at Benovia Winery was both fascinating and educational.

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Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa (L.Compisi)

Pruning grape vines is a vital process in maintaining and in some cases enhancing the vigor of wine grape vines.  Chris Kangas, Vineyard Manager at Benovia lead the thorough and fun vineyard adventure.  Aided by three able members of Atlas Vineyard Management (contract vineyard management company employed by Benovia and many other Vintners) team Chris began the experience with a detailed safety briefing regarding the pruning tools used and the hazards of a real vineyard e.g. gopher holes, spiders and snakes.

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One of the larger versions of pruning tools – Chris Kangas “Safety” (L.Compisi)

After breakfast pastries, coffee and introductions, Chris and the Atlas Team lead their 21 guests into the Martaella Vineyard at the Hartman Road home base of Benovia.  The 58-acre property has 42 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay located in the heart of the Russian River Valley in Laguna de Santa Rosa. The vineyards had been mostly pruned before our arrival but Chris and team had left 3 rows in two different blocks as our classroom.  One was cane pruned while the other was cordon pruned as two examples of pruning styles. Chris answered questions and demonstrated the various objectives and techniques revealing the depth of his experience after 36 years in the vineyards.

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Chris Kangas (r) demonstrates and educates (L.Compisi)

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A guest tries her hand supervised by Jorge from Atlas (L.Compisi)

We broke down into 4 teams with Chris or one of the Atlas team leading groups of about 5 each.  We spent the next 90 minutes being coached and corrected by the experts as we each worked the various techniques while pruning the different blocks.  Chris showed us one block where the pruning techniques were being used to restore a vineyard that was showing less vigor than desired.  The phrase, ‘listening to the vines’ or the ‘vines talking to the pruner’ rang so true as the lesson continued. The judgment displayed by the experts made it clear that there is both a science and an art to successful pruning.

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The Trunk and Cordon give way to the Cane and Spurs year to year (L.Compisi)

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On left the professionally pruned on the right amateur hour (L.Compisi)

When sufficient learning had occurred, we were invited back into the wine production facility where we had the opportunity to taste 6 different Benovia wines.  VP of Sales, Bob Cooley lead the tasting, beginning with a Blanc de Blanc, a Chardonnay and then 4 different Pinot Noir. All exceptional although the 2014 Cohn Vineyard, Russian River Pinot Noir was my favorite.  It was elegant, smooth and so well balanced with a plush velvety mouth-feel. It retails for $75 a bottle and is worth it.


Blanc de Blanc with empty soldiers waiting (L.Compisi)

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Nicole Kosta welcomes guests with Blanc de Blanc from Benovia (L.Compisi)

After the pruning and tasting we were treated to a delicious lunch catered by the locally renowned, Forestville based, fusion restaurant, Backyard.  The Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Biscuits, Carrot and Vegetable Salads were to die for.  Nicole Kosta, Benovia’s Events Director, assisted by teammate Gail, provided overall event planning, coordination and execution to great effect.

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Lunch and Tasting – Standing l-r Nicole, Chris and Bob Cooley (L.Compisi)

This was an unusually informative seminar but like all things Benovia no detail was missed in creating a memorable guest experience. We’ve have had many and expect we will have many more in the future.

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Guests even received a Certificate of Achievement (L.Compisi)

Benovia Winery is located at 3339 Hartman Road in Santa Rosa.  Tastings and Tours are by appointment only although they do participate in various Wine Road events, the next of which is Barrel Tasting on the weekends of 2-4 March (Benovia is only participating in this first weekend) and 9-11 March 2018.  Tickets are available. 

Posted in Adventure, Day Trips, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tasting Barolo in the Piemonte – the Langhe

The Langhe is a hilly area in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It is famous for its wines, cheeses, and truffles—particularly the white truffles of Alba. The countryside remains largely agrarian and is highly regarded for its vineyards which produce, predominantly, Nebbiolo grapes to make the wines of the region, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco although Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba and Arneis are also highly regarded as well.

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The Langhe terroir and terrain is absolutely gorgeous (L.Compisi)

We flew from San Francisco to Milan, via Washington, D.C. (we avoid Chicago and LaGuardia at all costs) to arrive. Although Turin is closer to the region (68 km versus 160 km from Milan), our travels included Lago di Como, the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Liguria so Milan was a better choice for us.

For our visit we stayed in the hilltop town of La Morra for 5 days in early September. The municipality of La Morra, a small village in the heart of the Langhe, is surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards and is close by the world-famous towns of Barolo and Barbaresco. The vineyards are recognized for providing an outstanding example of man’s interaction with his natural environment and provide an international benchmark for adapting grape varieties to specific soils and climatic conditions.

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The streets of Barolo during Festa (L.Compisi)

We stayed at the Corte Gondina Hotel.  Corte Gondina is elegant and comfortable and is situated in the center of La Morra. It is a delightful private habitat where the proprietors, Elena and Bruno Viberti, have skillfully combined past and present to create a unique experience. Elena and Bruno offer concierge services. They made our reservations for tours and tastings at several wineries and dinner at the local restaurants.

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The pool from our room at Corte Gondina Hotel (L.Compisi)

We, quite unexpectedly, were in the region during the annual Barolo Festival which was nearby. Barolo is only about 6 kilometers from La Morra. The Barolo experience was magical and intimate, unlike anything we had attended in California, although it was very similar to wine festivals we had attended in Tuscany and Umbria. The town is quite small and, of course has a castle at its center. The streets are brick and narrow.  No sidewalks so pedestrian compete with the small Italian cars for space, quite congenially. There is no ‘competition’ between producers, rather it is an opportunity for the region to present their wines. Local crafts, produce and cheeses competed for our attention.

Local Produce (l) and formal pouring of Barolo at the Festa (L.Compisi)

The Barolo Museum (Enoteca Regionale del Barolo) was unique and offered wines for sale as well as other books and materials for the serious student of this wine growing region. It reminded me of our experience at a similar festival for Sagrantino in Umbria in the town of Montefalco. The Barolo Regional Enoteca, located in Castello Falletti, was founded in 1982. It’s organized and sponsored by the 11 communes that produce Barolo, by the province administration, the Cuneo Chamber of Commerce, the Barolo Consorzio, and by the Piedmont regional government. A non-profit entity, its mission is to promote and preserve the image of Barolo wine and its production area. Producer members, at present 195, must produce Barolo. The public area comprises three sections: the displays show wines (not all for sale) from the overall Barolo area, a tasting area, a retail sales area with bottles at producer-established prices. Quite fascinating.

The Enoteca Regionale del Barolo (l) and wines for tasting at the Festa (L.Compisi)


Castiglione Falletto from a distance (L.Compisi)

We were fortunate to visit 3 wineries in the region.  Each was unique, family run and truly Italian.  We visited the family wineries of Marcarini, Vietti and Cavallotto.

The Marcarini family, now six generations strong, manages their own vineyards and produce wine according to the most rigorous Piedmont and, in particular, Langhe traditions. It is located right in La Morra and very accessible. The cellars are very impressive and the wines were truly typical of the region.

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Marcarini Barolo (L.Compisi)

The historic Barolo winery Vietti continues to be managed and guided by enologist and CEO Luca Currado, a member of the Vietti family line.  Founded in 1873 in the commune of Castiglione Falletto,  Vietti is currently owned by the Krause family of Iowa. The winery and vineyards represent 84 acres of prime real estate. We were very impressed by the tour and tasting we experienced with Elena Penna Currado.

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Fortunate to taste library wines at Vietti (L.Compisi)

The Cavallotto family has owned the estate Tenuta Bricco Boschis since 1928. They were the first cultivators in Castiglione Falletto, in 1946, to vinify all of their estate’s fruit. In 1948 they released the first bottling of their own Barolo wine, with the label and registered trademark of Cavallotto. Today the children of Olivio – Laura, Giuseppe and Alfio, the 4th generation working the family farm – continue to exclusively vinify the grapes: Barolo, Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo, Langhe Freisa, Langhe “Grign” made from Grignolino grapes, Langhe Chardonnay and “Pinner” made from Pinot Nero grapes. We had a delightful vineyard tour and tasting in their tasting room. Ah…Barolo!

Cavallotto Nebbiolo grapes and their barrel room! (L.Compisi)

The Langhe were inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2014.

Posted in Barbaresco, Barolo, Italian Wines, Italy, Piemonte, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Elegant Taste of Burgundy

Okay, I’m a California Pinot Noir lover but when it comes to vin de Bourgogne, I admit I am a rookie. However, a recent trip to the Côte d’Or has begun to change that. We arrived in Puligny-Montrachet in mid-September right at the beginning of harvest. We had made a room reservation at La Maison d’Olivier LeFlaive ( based upon some very good Trip Advisor reviews and a recommendation from a wine writer friend in San Francisco. Little did we know what a unique adventure was about to unfold. The Olivier LeFlaive Experience!!

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Monsieur Olivier LeFlaive with ‘Grandma’ (L.Compisi)

The LeFlaive family has been known for grape growing and wine making in the Côte de Beaune, the southern part of the Côte d’Or, since the 1700s. In the past century that continuity has been associated with Domaine LeFlaive which had been managed by Vincent and Jo LeFlaive, the sons of Joseph LeFlaive, who died in 1953. When Vincent died in 1982, Olivier LeFlaive (Joseph’s son) and his younger cousin Jean-Claude LeFlaive (Vincent’s daughter) took over the operation. Domaine Leflaive is a winery in Puligny-Montrachet, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. The domaine is very highly regarded for its white wines, and its vineyard holdings include 5.1 hectares (13 acres) of Grand Cru vineyards.

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Harvest in Puligny-Montrachet (L.Compisi)

Wishing to expand and experiment, M. LeFlaive struck out on his own leaving Jean-Claude to manage the Domain. M. LeFlaive established his Olivier LeFlaive winery with the financial assistance of his customers who appreciated the quality of wine that he made and loaned him the money to purchase the grapes.

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One of the several Grand Cru wines (L.Compisi)

Building on his background, he began purchasing grapes from around the Côte de Beaune from the neighboring vineyards and vigneron he knew so well. With his continuing success, his production has grown from a few thousand bottles to the 800,000 bottles he produces today. 80% are White Burgundy (Chardonnay for us rookies) and 20% Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir). Olivier says, “I am retired now but we do not want to increase beyond the 800,000 as we can continue to manage as a small family operated business”. It is exciting to note that they will be releasing their fist Champagne in 2017.

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Three of nine wines we tasted at pairing (L.Compisi)

LeFlaive is passionate about wine but insists that it is to be enjoyed with food, so early on he began serving his wines for friends, clients and visitors with food. He did this at his family home on the square in Puligny-Montrachet, where the winery is also located.

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LeFlaive family home on Place du Monument (L.Compisi)

It wasn’t many years later that M. LeFlaive realized it wasn’t safe for people to drive anywhere after the tasting. Always creating and experimenting, he purchased a neglected 17th Century village house, also on the square, and developed La Maison d’Olivier LeFlaive.


Tasting bar and dining room, La Table (L.Compisi)

The Maison has 24 unique and very well appointed rooms as well as a dining room and tasting bar.  La Table, the dining room, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and also offers food and wine pairings with a choice of wither 6 or 9 wines.  The operation of La Maison remains in the family with Olivier’s daughter Julie providing flawless leadership. The food and wine are quite exquisite.

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We loved our ‘Pop’ decorated room (L.Compisi)

To make the ‘Olivier LeFlaive Experience’ complete M. LeFlaive and his co-owner brother, Patrick LeFlaive offer comprehensive and good humored vineyard and winery tours, all within walking distance of the Maison. Quoting M. P. LeFlaive, the brothers follow two principles: ‘Protect the Terroir’ and ‘Take Your Time’. One percent improvement here and there will add up to an exceptional wine and an exceptional experience. Today, over 10,000 visitors from the USA, the UK and Japan, among many other countries, enjoy the tours and tastings each year. Truly elegant and delightful.

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Patrick LeFlaive poses with ‘Grandma’ (L.Compisi)

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Charming Charles (Charlemagne) guides vineyard tour (L.Compisi)

Puligny-Montrachet is very well located as a point of departure to Chablis and the other wonderful appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of Burgundy.  It is also just a few miles from the historic and beautiful medieval town of Beaune, a great place to spend at least half a day or more.

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The fascinating Hospices de Beaune (L.Compisi)

If you are considering traveling to Burgundy, I would recommend a visit during September and especially to La Maison D’Olivier LeFlaive in Puligny-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune, where you will personally have the ‘Olivier LeFlaive Experience’. You will not forget it!

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Clift San Francisco: Singularly Fascinating Hotel

Hotel Clift San Francisco is a fascinating place to stay in downtown San Francisco. Located just a block and a half from Union Square and convenient to shopping, restaurants and event venues, the special feel emanating from this hotel begins immediately upon arrival when the valet opens the outside door and one enters into the ‘decompression chamber’, a narrow lavender colored space between those outside doors and the inside doors of the lobby. You pick up a sense of calm in the colors, the staff, the furnishings, and, dare I say, the smell. Yes, the atmosphere in this hotel is calming and offers one the sense of being in a safe protected space.

Architectural and furnishing designs are High Concept like the sweeping staircase and the Salvador Dali Chair in the lobby.


Sweeping Staircase leading to former private residence. (L.Compisi)


Elegant Salvador Dali Chaise in lobby of Clift (L.COmpisi)

The above lamp, in the lobby, is another example of the unique character of Clift Hotel San Francisco.

Clift (they prefer Clift rather than the Clift) was originally commissioned in 1913 by Frederick C. Clift, an attorney, for the Pan-Pacific International Exposition that was to be held in San Francisco two years hence in 2015. At that time, the whole City was abuzz with building and rebuilding after the catastrophic 7.8 earth quake and ensuing fire that nearly destroyed (80%) the City in 1906. When 2 additional floors were added in 1924, it became the largest hotel in San Francisco.


Dining Table in our Suite (L.Compisi)


Our King Bed (L.Compisi)

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Sitting Area near elevator (L.Compisi)

The design concepts continue throughout the elevator waiting areas, the rooms and the event areas. This 300 room hotel is truly delightful with so many special touches. It houses banquet spaces, a ‘living room’, a pop-up-store, the Velvet Room and the Spanish Room (formerly the owner’s private residence) available for special events and the Redwood Room replete with all wood paneling from a single redwood tree. This has to be seen to comprehend how much wood that really is. Throughout the hotel one finds pieces of interest that at first glance may seem out of place but, in fact, fit into an over all integrated concept of quirky interest that draws you in and makes you feel like you are in on the secret. It goes on and on in an amazingly coherent fashion. Simple and calming elegance is the best way to describe the character of these beautiful and welcoming rooms.


Mirrored Bar set for the Sunday Brunch (L.Compisi)

Above is the mirrored bar in the Redwood Room and below is the concentric design of the 14 floors of staircases.


Beautiful Staircases but a bit dizzying (L.Compisi)

The unique furnishings, referred to earlier, include Salvador Dali lamps, a gorgeous lobby fireplace and comfortable chairs that encourage you to just sit and relax. Besides the fireplace, the lobby sports an over-sized Captain’s chair with a surprise on the underside of the seat (Not telling!). The lavender colors run throughout thanks to the inspiration of French design master Philippe Starck who totally renovated the hotel in 2001 achieving his High Concept Contemporary theme. The staff outside and in welcome you like you were an old friend returning to town. That was just the experience we had this past Friday.


Unique Furnishings (L.Compisi)

The guest rooms, standard, studio or one bedroom maintain a consistent color and furniture theme. Sleigh beds that seem to float in the air. The wheel barrow chair is meant to evoke the tools of the mining Forty-niners. The Redwood Room, often recognized as one of the top bars in the world serves as a bar and lounge in the afternoon and evenings with a menu full of small bites to accompany the perfectly prepared Cosmopolitan or other delicious cocktail. In the morning, depending upon the occupancy, the Redwood Room serves breakfast to order as well as a very hearty and scrumptious breakfast buffet.


Symbolizing 49ers (L.Compisi)

Perfect for travelers who prefer something with more personality than the sterile feeling one may get at one of the traditional hotel chains, Clift is a special place that one wants to make their home-away-from-home and to return often just for that feeling calm belonging. With the holidays upon us, consider Clift San Francisco for your shopping headquarters in the City.

Clift San Francisco is part of the Morgans Hotel Group whose other hotels are located in major gateway cities globally like New York, Chicago, Miami (Delano), Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, Turkey and Qatar with a new hotel coming on line in Dubai.

Clift is located at 495 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 Tel. 415 775 4700


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Winter in California’s North Coast Wine Country

Winter is a truly delightful time to visit California North Coast wine country.  Living in Sonoma County at the nexus of Mendocino, Napa and Lake Counties, it is a treat to observe the variation in the terrain, foliage (or lack thereof) and the patterns of activity in the vineyards. Pruning the vines is mostly complete; burn piles of the detritus send columns of white smoke into the air and the off-season festivals are gearing up.


2018 Winter WINEland Poster from the Wine Road (L.Compisi)

This post will focus on a recently experienced January event, the Wine Road’s Winter WINEland and three upcoming events for your consideration. Anderson Valley’s newly renamed Aromatic White Wine Festival in February, the Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting Weekends in March and Appellation St. Helena’s bASH in St. Helena in Napa Valley in early April.


Hop Kiln is now the home of Landmark Estates in the Russian River AVA (L.Compisi)

The 26th Annual Winter WINEland was a perfect opportunity to experience these wonderful wine growing regions without the crowds. January is a generally a quiet time of year and since the wildfires of October 2017 it appears that many people may have canceled their travel plans.  A real shame as Sonoma County, specifically, and Northern California wine country, in generally, survived well considering the real devastation that some residential communities experienced in the area.


The Landmark Tasting Room is a beautiful historic building (L.Compisi)

We spent our time in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of the Wine Road (the Alexander Valley and downtown Healdsburg members also participated but one only has so much time).

Winter WINEland is a great time to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, sample new releases and library wines. Designed by the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, WINEland is the smallest (in terms of crowds) of their annual major events.   As is typically the case, some wineries offered food pairings and other enticements for visitors to stay, enjoy themselves, establish an emotional connection, join wine clubs and, ultimately, buy wine. Most of the Wine Road’s 200 member wineries (the association also has 54 lodging members) participated in this winter themed event that drew visitors from around the country.  The cost of admission included wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the 2 day weekend, with hours from 11am – 4PM daily.

A particular pleasure with events on the Wine Road is the beauty of northern Sonoma County vineyards and wineries.  Spread over hundreds of square miles, the rolling hills, bench lands and valley floors just ooze idyllic tranquility.  What’s not to love?


The Dry Creek Valley from Trattore Winery (L.Compisi)

Despite the fact that the wineries often offer small bites, your planning should include a lunch break if for no other reason to give your palate a break.  Picnics are possible at many of the wineries but the weather is not a guarantee.  Some lunch or dinner options include the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to eat or purchase picnic supplies.  Alternatively, Campo Fina, Costeaux or the Bear Republic Brewing Company offer a casual quick bite in Healdsburg.  The Trading Post (Best New Restaurant in Sonoma County 2017) in Cloverdale (Alexander Valley) also serves brunch from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Planning your route can be a challenge if you are trying to maximize your visitations, again, because of the vast geography.  The well advised brought designated drivers, hired drivers and or hired limos or buses to handle the driving chores. This approach is clearly much safer (no DUIs) and also offers an opportunity to visit more wineries with parking and departing facilitated by the non-drinking driver.  Visiting more than 10 wineries in the 2 days is not likely and also not advisable


Landmark Estates at Hop Kiln: Located at 6050 Westside Road Healdsburg, CA 95448 only recently became a Landmark property. The wines offered are identical to the wines offered at their Sonoma Valley tasting room as they sold of the inventory of the former Hop Kiln Winery. The property is undergoing some upgrades and remains both historic and beautiful.  The Landmark Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are always good with grapes sourced from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara County AVAs.


Landmark Tasting Room Chardonnay and Pinot Noir galore. (L.Compisi)

De La Montanya Winery and Vineyards is located at 999 Foreman Lane
Healdsburg, CA 95448 just off of Westside Road. De La Montanya is a family operated winery with over 270 acres planted in Sonoma and Lake Counties and produces about 4,000 cases annually. Their tasting room is just off the beaten path and is located in ‘the barn’.  Intimate and quaint, the variety of wines they produce offers many choices to visitors. Winemaker Tami Collins is well regarded in the area and is the winemaker for several outstanding labels.

De La Montanya ‘barn’ and tasting room l.-r. (L.Compisi)

Trattore Farms Winery and Tasting Room is located at 7878 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, CA 95441 and is marked by the olive orchards on the hillside.  Recently opened, the tasting room is situated high above the Dry Creek Valley with a beautiful terrace sporting expansive vineyard and Dry Creek Valley views. Owner Tim Bucher named his 40 acre farm and winery Trattore, tractor in Italian because farming is his passion.  Trattore has a nice selection of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals.  Trattore has its own mill to press their olives and they offer community pressing during the olive harvest season.  Private tastings and tours can be arranged.  As an added benefit, Trattore Farms is equipped with Tesla and Universal chargers in front of the tasting room.

Trattore’s new tasting room has spectacular views of Dry Creek Valley (L.Compisi)

David Coffaro Estate Vineyard is located at 7485 Dry Creek Road in Geyserville, California 95441. A real iconoclast, Dave and wife Pat have farmed their Dry Creek Valley estate since 1979.  They sold their grapes to E&J Gallo for years while Dave experimented on making his own wine. In 1994 they obtained their commercial winery license and now produce about 8,500 cases of estate wine annually. In2003 Coffaro became one of the earliest adopters of 100% screw cap closures. Many offerings are Zinfandel or Bordeaux blends but Coffaro also produces sparklers depending upon the vintage. About 60% of Coffaro’s wines are sold through the futures program.  The Coffaro’s have great parties and their wine club is filled with happy loyalists.


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Coffaro’s always get into the mood of the event! (L.Compisi)

Three upcoming wine country events to consider:

The Anderson Valley Wine Growers in Mendocino County are hosting the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Aromatic White Wine Festival (formerly the “International Alsace Varietals Festival” – same great festival, new name) on Saturday, February, 24, 2018. The event begins with insightfully and highly enjoyable Education Seminars from 8:30 am – 12 pm at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds – Apple Hall in Boonville. The afternoon brings the Grand Tasting from 1-4 pm, also at the Fairgrounds.  A unique opportunity to taste Alsatian-style aromatic white wines from the Anderson Valley and beyond including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat. You will actually meet the winemakers and sample over 100 wines from around the globe.  The food for pairing is typically exceptional and the Silent Auction, to benefit the local Housing Association, is exciting. Tickets can be obtained at:

The newly renamed Aromatic White Wines feature Alsatian whites (L.Compisi)

The Wine Road’s next events are the Barrel Tasting Weekends (yes that’s 2 three day weekends), March 2nd through the 4th and March 9th through 11th.  These weekends are very popular and offer the chance to taste unreleased wines from previous vintages that have yet to be bottled.  Many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, and return, if you like, to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months later. The weekends also offer a Winemaker Breakfast and Q & A on Saturday March 3rd and Saturday March 10th. Tickets must be purchased for this added event during registration. This is an open forum for guests to meet and chat with winemakers in a casual breakfast setting.

March is a delightful time in Sonoma County for barrel tasting (L.Compisi)

The last event, although technically not winter, that I wanted to highlight is perhaps the most elegant wine and food pairing event we have experienced. Of course this world class event is hosted by Appellation St. Helena – ASH – (the local growers and vintners association) at the historic Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone (formerly Christian Brothers) property in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The delightful aspect of the event, called bASH, is that 24 CIA student chef team are paired with local wineries to develop specific creations to pair with the local wines. Very unique and quite exquisite. A few local St. Helena restaurants also participate to add and additional level of interest. This event is scheduled for Saturday April 7, 2018  from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm. Get there early! Tickets are available at:

The CIA in St. Helena is unbeatable and the student Chefs are great too (L.Compisi)

ABOUT THE WINE ROAD: The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and in 2008 was updated to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 200 wineries and 54 associate lodging members within the three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley) and in town Healdsburg tasting rooms and wineries participating.

Posted in Adventure, Barrel Tasting, Day Trips, Mendocino County, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

FunKey Town: Key West Florida

We spent a fun and relaxing time in the Florida Keys last year before the hurricanes hit. Although the Keys were hit very hard the word it out that much of Key West reopened for business around October 1st last year. Multiple hotels have reopened, and many attractions were spared damage and are operating close to normal. All they need is visitors!

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Pool and Marina at Ocean’s Edge Resort (L.Compisi)

This string of tropical islands stretching about 140 miles off the southern tip of Florida between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico offer outstanding fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities. But travelers to the Keys should be cautious, as parts remain severely damaged and unable to welcome visitors. Recovery efforts continue and motorists need to be careful in affected areas.


The downtown waterfront sports a grand promenade and cruise ships (L.Compisi)

This beautiful and unique archipelago begins about 50 miles southwest of Miami near Homestead.  We crossed our first bridge from Homestead to Key Largo. The next 2.5 hours can be memorable or a bit monotonous, depending upon the traffic. Despite that possibility, the drive, the water views and the experience, were truly once in a life time.

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The suites at Ocean’s Edge Resort are large, bright and well appointed. (L.Compisi)

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One of the six pools at Ocean’s Edge (L.Compisi)

We drove along the Overseas Highway, U.S. Highway 1, a 2 lane highway, stretching over 110 miles with 42 bridges from the Florida mainland until we arrived at the second last major island, Stock Island, before the island of Key West.  We had booked 4 nights at Ocean’s Edge Marina and Resort Key West.  This very new and exceptionally well appointed resort was the perfect location for us. The rooms are elegant, bright and all face the ocean or the Marina.  The six gorgeous swimming pools offered delightful sunbathing and relaxing opportunities.  The comings and goings of charter fishing boats and personal yachts provided great people and activity watching.  You can rent jet skis and paddle boards onsite.  The onsite restaurant had very scrumptious breakfast options including a Starbucks if you just wanted coffee and a pastry.  The happy hour drinks were reasonable and plentiful. Free parking was quite helpful.

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Duval Street is the happening spot. (L.Compisi)

The drive from Ocean’s Edge to Key West island was about 3-5 minutes across the last bridge. The main tourist part of Key West is the western and about 5-10 additional minutes, depending upon traffic, once you cross the bridge.

Food is a recurring theme in Key West. Blue Heaven Shrimp and Rooster (L.Compisi)

The town of Key West is so unique and offers so much in terms of history, dining, beaches and a night scene (and I do mean scene).  The Earnest Hemingway and Harry S Truman Museums are just a couple of examples of the historical context of this hard to get to ‘out-of-the-way’ venue.  Hemingway lived on the island from 1931 through 1939, although he maintained ownership until his death. Some of his finest works were written while he lived here including short story classics and novels “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “To Have And Have Not” (respectively), and the non-fiction work “Green Hills of Africa”.

Truman’s winter White House on the Key West Naval Base hosted some significant meetings including the 1948 post World War II reorganization of the entire defense establishment creating the Department of Defense, referred to as the Key West Agreement. Truman wasn’t the first US President to stay here and he wasn’t the last.  Others included Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter and former President and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

The dining scene is vibrant as well as delicious.  Our favorites were Latitudes on Paradise Island (a short ferry ride from the cruise ship terminal), Blue Heaven, a couple blocks off of Duval and Martins on Duval Street.

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Beautiful plating at Martin’s (L.Compisi)

Martin’s is like a non sequitur…classic European elegance with a tropical twist.  The cuisine can have a German flair like Jäger Schnitzel and Weiner Schnitzel or be classic European like the Beef Wellington or Lobster Tail “Caribe”. Nothing seems out of context! All exquisitely prepared.

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Fresh Fish at Martin’s (L.Compisi)

In the opposite direction is funky Blue Heaven, which has witnessed cock fighting with Hemingway as a judge in its past. It has the feel of a Caribbean shanty town but offers exceptional well prepared dishes like Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Cajun Caribbean BBQ Shrimp.  Meanwhile the local roosters wander freely around the tables outside.  A genuine Key West experience.

IMG_20170502_112317195 Latitude exteriorIMG_20170502_120928238 Lob Salad LatitudeIMG_20170502_113520013_HDR Latitude View1

         Latitude on Paradise Island. Al Fresco dining with Lobster Salad (L.Compisi)

For island romance you cannot beat Latitudes, located on a private resort island with uninterrupted views of the ocean where the water colors can make you forget that you are hungry.  Cocktails with you feet in the sand and premium table service is just so hard to beat.  Did I mention that the food is outstanding?

Walking down Duval Street is entertaining all by itself.  The tourists and locals tumble out of the over flowing bars and clubs, drink in hand and smiles on their tipsy looking faces.  Not for the faint of heart, the entertainment can include funky steel drums and reggae, jazz or blairing rock and roll.  The performers may be in ‘drag’ or straight so be prepared for anything.  The later it gets…the ‘later it gets’ if you know what I mean!!

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Never know what you’ll see (L.Compisi)

Although we drove the island chain (highly recommended at least once) from the mainland of Florida on arrival, we flew out of Key West International Airport through Orlando before heading back to the West Coast. The airport is small but very accessible with a good number of flights.  We liked our experience so much that I am sure we will return.  When we do, most likely we will fly in and out.

If you are concerned about new hurricanes and their potential effects, recommend you make your travel plans to Key West very soon.

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Louis’s Backyard is great for drinks (L.Compisi)

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Grapes from 3 States take honors: 2018 SF Chronicle Wine Competition

The 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition,  held at Cloverdale, CA’s historic Citrus Fair last week, is now in the record books. More than 6,900 American wines, from thirty-five (35) States, were entered into this year’s competition and after 3.5 days of swirling, sniffing, sipping, spitting and judging six (6) wines received the penultimate recognition of ‘Best of Class Sweepstakes’ awardees.


2018’s 64 judges from across the USA (J.Compisi)

Gaining the spotlight at Friday morning’s Sweepstakes taste-off were: Rack & Riddle of Healdsburg for its $22 Blanc de Noirs in the Sparkling Category; Barnard Griffin Winery of Richland, Wa., a perennial favorite, was named the Rose Sweepstake Winner for its $14, 2017 Columbia Valley Rose Sangiovese; a rare varietal winner in the White was Brick Barn Wine Estate of Buellton, Ca., for its $40 2016 Santa Ynez Valley Vermentino; O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery of Angwin, Ca., scored the Red wine for its $100, 2014 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon; the judges choice in the Dessert category was Merritt Estate Winery of Forestville, NY, for its $39.99, 2015 Lake Erie Vidal Ice Wine; and finally, Goose Watch Winery of Romulus, NY, was recognized for its $14.99 Finger Lakes Flying High Semi-Sweet Cider in the Cider category.


The six wine Sweeps winners and the Label Contest winner far right (J.Compisi)

There was also a Label Competition occurring in parallel and the winner of that judging was Rodney Strong Vineyards of Healdsburg for its $28, 2015 Sonoma County Upshot.

Approximately 125 volunteers, mostly from Cloverdale and Sonoma County, but some from as far away as Oregon and the Sacramento area, along with the Citrus Fair Staff and local caterers, Full of Flavor Catering, poured more than 21,000 tastes, served nearly 1,500 meals, setup and tore down the 21 judging panels, washed and racked thousands of wine glasses as well as handling the 40,000 plus bottles of wine numerous times to verify and cross verify that the wines being blindly served to the judges were the correct wines. All in an effort to assure the integrity of the competition. As competition Executive Director Bob Fraser tells the vintners across the country, “You will get a fair shot!”

The judging week started Monday with final preparations by the volunteers and the organizing staff led by Bob and son Scott Fraser and Anne Vercelli. The actual judging began Tuesday morning when the 64 judges, who gathered at the Citrus Fair for a welcome Sparkling Wine, buffet breakfast. Retiring Citrus Fair CEO, Bonnie Wlodarczyk, welcomed the judges and incoming CEO Katie Fonsen Young was introduced. Some of this year’s judges have been judging this competition for more than 10 years. Fraser reminded all present of the 35 year history of the competition which started in 1983 as the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition.


The judges gather at the Citrus Fair for a “sparkling’ breakfast Tuesday. (J.Compisi)

Later Tuesday evening the local Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak (PM-CP) wine growers and producers hosted a pre-dinner reception showcasing PM-CP grapes with wines from Miro Cellars (Silverwood Vineyard), BobDog (Sky Pines Vineyard), Ampère (Pine Mountain Vineyard), Captûre (Jackson Family), Imagery Estates (Upper Ridge) and Archimedes (Francis Ford Coppola).  This is the second year that PM-CP has taken advantage of this opportunity to expose these renowned judges to wines from this unique American Viticultural Area (AVA) high above Cloverdale. The Judges Dinner was prepared and served by Erik Johnson and his team at Trading Post Restaurant in Cloverdale The Trading Post was recognized in 2017 as the best new restaurant in Sonoma County.


Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak wines (J.Compisi)

It was a kick to see so much local involvement in the largest competition in the world for American wines. Not only the volunteers but the many judges from around the Bay Area and Sonoma County, including Cloverdalians  Miro Tcholakov, Winemaker at Trentadue and his Miro Cellars and Christopher O’Gorman, Director of Communications for Rodney Strong Vineyards.

To get more information about the award winning wines visit To experience and taste the gold member winners and Best of Class Sweepstakes winners you can attend the public tasting at Ft. Mason Center in San Francisco on February 17th, 2018

About the Cloverdale Citrus Fair: The Cloverdale Citrus Fair began as a typical small country fair in 1892 and still remains the earliest fair held in California each year. As you’ll soon see, this event has blossomed into a major community effort, resulting in one of the most memorable and entertaining events in California. Cloverdale is approximately 90 miles north of San Francisco in Northern Sonoma County.

About the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition: In 1982, two wine industry insiders sat down over a glass of zinfandel and laid plans for the first Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wine Competition the following year. At that time, Bob Del Sarto was the general manager of the historical Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, California and Bob Bogner was general manager of one of the largest grape grower cooperatives of that day, Allied Grape Growers. They conceived the competition to fulfill the needs of the burgeoning wine industry in northern Sonoma and southern Mendocino Counties. The first competition was modest in size — 15 wineries entered 45 wines, and a single panel of five judges awarded 30 medals. The competition grew rapidly in the 1990s to over 100 wineries. Eligibility was gradually increased to include all wineries in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties. Consequently, it was renamed the Tri-County Wine Competition from 1996–99. The competition expanded to the entire North Coast Appellation in 2000 as the California North Coast Wine Competition. This area included all wineries in the counties of Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, Lake, Solano and Marin. In 2000, the San Francisco Chronicle became the naming sponsor of the competition with the Cloverdale Citrus Fair remaining the host. In 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine competition expanded its geographical base nationally. The proceeds of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition support the non-profit Cloverdale Citrus Fair and help support wine and food education at educational institutions and non-profit organizations.

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