Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part 3 – Avignon

Avignon, a fortified city in southeastern France’s Provence region, and Capital of the Vaucluse Department, is set on the Rhône River. It was the seat of the Catholic popes from 1309 to 1377 and remained under papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. This legacy can be seen in the massive Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace) which is surrounded by medieval stone ramparts in the city center.


Palais des Papes from the ground (L.Compisi)

Perhaps because of the Papacies presence, Avignon has been a center of art culture and commerce for more than eight centuries. The amazing stone walls which surround much of the city offer a stunning backdrop to the wide Rhone River which is coursing toward the Mediterranean. In the middle of it all is the historic and beautiful palace.

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The Palace is immense as each pope seemed to want to add his own touch by building larger and opulent buildings extending the size of the Palace.  The daytime palace tour is worth the cost as you can wander for hours from chapel to living quarters to roof tops which offer splendid views of the Rhône and the city.


View of the Rhône from Pont d’Avignon (L.Compisi)

Also worthwhile is the tour of, ‘the most famous Bridge in the world’! The Saint Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon, was completed, the first time, in 1185 to span the Rhone River. Only a section of this UNESCO World Heritage site survives today. The bridge was made famous by the children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. The views of the Rhône River and the Palace from the bridge are spectacular.


The Palais des Papes from the Saint Bénezet bridge (L.Compisi)

Avignon offers excellent dining and cultural opportunities and one could spend days there exploring. If you are visiting between mid-August and the end of September try to experience Les Luminessences D’Avignon, a truly spectacular sound and light show within the Palais des Papes walls. The event is nothing short of fabulous and has both French and English performances every day during this late summer 6-week period.


Les Luminessences D’Avignon Courtesy gettyimages (Jean-Marc CHARLES)

Check back as we return to Provence, among other destinations, in the weeks ahead. We will certainly offer new insights, photographs and joys of travel.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, France, Provence, Rhône, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sip & Savor Experience: B Cubed

We just completed a very serendipitous experience this evening with a last-minute tasting at Healdsburg’s newest tasting lounge. Barrels, Brews and Bites is the brainchild of founder and proprietor Saunda Kitchen.

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Self-described as ‘A Sip & Savor Experience’, the menu offers the opportunity to sample small plates, Bitty Bites, as well as slightly larger plates, Bigger Bites.  We sampled a few.

The ‘Crispy Prosciutto Cups’ came filled with whipped Goat Cheese, Berry Compote and Jalapeño. Just the right combination of sweet and savory. The whipped goat cheese had a slight sweetness which was further augmented by the berry compote. This was juxtaposed with the saltiness of the prosciutto and the bit of a kick from the Jalapeño. We also sampled the ‘Lil Cluckers Deviled Eggs’ with bacon jam and Jalapeño. So far, all delightful.

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Prosciutto Cups and Deviled Eggs (L.Compisi)

To keep things a bit simpler the team refers to themselves as B Cubed. This helps! The ‘B Cubed Flat Bread’ was our second treat. Margherita, with Roasted Chicken and Cilantro Paste was our favorite of the evening. The Rosemary Marconas (a type of gourmet almond from Spain whose popularity is on the rise. The texture is closer to that of a macadamia nut) in the pesto were a taste treat. This dish can also be ordered with short ribs and gouda instead.

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Flat Bread with Roasted Chicken (L.Compisi)

Our next taste was the ‘Taco Trifecta’, a B Cubed version of street tacos with a choice of short ribs, Chili Verde, shrimp or veggies. We tried the first three while substituting lettuce for the tortillas.  Very accommodating by our server but probably a mistake. The tortillas would have certainly provided a much more satisfying textural combination.

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Taco Trifecta with short rib, shrimp and chili verde (L.Compisi)

The final taste was real treat.  Chocolate Mousse with a fruit jam and crème fraiche. Very yummy!

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Chocolate mousse (L.Compisi)

The Bitty Bites and Bigger Bites comprise about 14 choices with pricing from $8 to $20. The recipes are all Saunda’s and are tried and tested.

The wine and beer offerings are all local. The wines from around Sonoma County were generally small lot producers (Peterson, Smith Story et al) with a diversity of varietals. Same for the brews, which included about 6 or 7 choices. Again, pricing and serving sizes allowed for sampling.

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Located at 335 Healdsburg Ave (L.Compisi)


Saturday, June 9th is the Grand Opening (11am to 7pm) and Ribbon Cutting celebration (5pm). Take advantage of this opportunity to discover this newest Healdsburg Sip & Savor Experience.


Days and Hours: Open Monday-Saturday 11am-7pm. Sunday Brunch Day 10am-4pm. Unique concept joining local craft beer, hidden gem wine & savory food pairings.

Posted in Culinary, North Coast, Sonoma County, Wine | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part 2 – Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Part 2 of our journey to Provence focuses on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a commune in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. Famous for its eponymous red wine, the village lies about 3 kilometers to the east of the Rhône and 12 kilometers north of the town of Avignon.

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Grenache Grapes in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (L.Compisi)

Charming, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, (literally, “new castle of the Pope”) takes its name from its relationship to the Avignon Papacy (1309 AD to 1376 AD) and particularly for the Chateau built on a hilltop of the village in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon rather than in Rome. The ruined medieval castle  dominates the landscape to the south. Interestingly, none of the subsequent Avignon popes stayed in Châteauneuf but after 1378 the anti-pope, Clement VII, sought the security of the castle.

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The interior of the Château (L.Compisi)


The remaining walls of the Château (L.Compisi)

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View from the Château overlooking the vineyards and village (L.Compisi)

Today, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is recognized as one of the most renowned appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC – an official French wine region certification) of the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Vineyards are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighboring villages of Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues between Avignon and Orange. The rocky vineyards cover slightly more than 7,900 acres. Nearly 3 million gallons of wine are produced here each year. More wine is made in Châteauneuf-du-Pape than in the entirety of the northern Rhône region.

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Reflecting on the 800 years of Papal history (L.Compisi)

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A small tasting room in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (L.Compisi)

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Big farm equipment moving through narrow streets (L.Compisi)

We had the very good fortune to experience a tasting and tour at a family owned winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape named Domaine de la Charbonnière. We had met Véronique Maret in Paso Robles, California in 2016 at an event called Hospice Du Rhône. Véronique and her sister Caroline were in the middle of crush when we arrived but they were very gracious and showed us around. The operation was similar to what we are familiar with in California and the wines were delicious.


Domaine de la Charbonnière was a delight! (L.Compisi)


Véronique and Caroline Maret run Domaine de la Charbonnière (L.Compisi)

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Traditional 1200 gallon (4500 liter) French oak foudres  (L.Compisi)

We were so enthralled with Châteauneuf-du-Pape that we will visit additional wineries and villages during our upcoming visit to see the legendary lavender fields.

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Beautiful Provençal Lavender (L.Compisi)

Posted in Adventure, France, French Wines, Provence, Rhône, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part I – Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine

It can be difficult to imagine an area of the world with more varied terrain, climate and history than Provençal, the classic spelling of Provence. Even the name Provence is indicative of its history, derived from Provincia Romana, given by the Romans when they established the region as the first Roman province beyond the Alps. Bordered in the northeast by the Alps, the East by the Italian Piedmont, the Southeast by Liguria, the South by the Mediterranean and the West by Languedoc-Roussillon, the most prominent and influential feature, perhaps, is the Rhône River which finds its source in the Swiss Alps at the Rhône Glacier and flows through Switzerland to France and ultimately empties into the Mediterranean. The terroir of Provence; the soil, topography and the climate and perhaps the history are created and dictated by the influence of the Rhône.

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The Rhône leaving Lake Léman in Geneva heading to Provence (L.Compisi)

We first saw the Rhône in Geneva at the beginning of our journey where it flows into and then out of Lake Léman (Lake Geneva). After leaving Switzerland and entering Italy we did not see the Rhone again until we were driving past Valence on our way to the small city of Bollène. Bollène is located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur where we stayed for three days as we began our exploration of Provence.  We were fortunate to stay in the guest cottages of vignerons Valérie and Jean-Pierre Jourdan, proprietors of Domaine Bastide de Jourdan. The Domaine was perfectly situated for our upcoming explorations of Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Orange and the Roman City of Vaison-la-Romaine. Yes, the Domaine’s wine was also quite good and representative of the region.


Mme Valérie Jourdan of Bastide Jourdan in Bollène (L.Compisi)


Family Jourdan- Jean-Pierre, Valérie and Grandpa enjoying harvest (L.Compisi)

We explored Orange (Arausio, the original Roman name when founded in 35 BC) on our first day enjoying the delightful Market which consumed several blocks in the center of the city. The local food, vegetables, spices and crafts were eye-catchingly colorful.


Charcuterie at the market in Orange (L.Compisi)


Delightful local food, herbs and craftsat the market in Orange (L.Compisi)

The principal historic sites, the Triumphal Arch of Orange and the Roman Theatre, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are two must-sees. Théâtre antique d’Orange, the Roman Theatre of Orange was built in the first Century AD. The preservation of this theater, constructed during the reign of Caesar Augustus, is phenomenal and the efforts to make a living museum have vastly succeeded. The size is difficult to comprehend but consider that it could seat between 5,400 and 7,300 people. The theater is also the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d’Orange.


The Triumphal Arch of Orange (L.Compisi)


Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)


Théâtre antique d’Orange stage from the highest seats (L.Compisi)


Detail of the amazing stage – Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)

Not to far from Orange is the historic town of Vaison-la-Romaine. Visitors can walk through the original Roman hill town of Vaso which remains the heart of modern day Vaison-la-Romaine. You are literally walking on cobblestones placed over 2,000 years ago. Most notable is the old Roman Bridge, over the river Ouvèze, constructed in the first century AD and still in use by people and automobiles. I had a feeling of my own insignificance as I considered the people who had crossed that bridge before me and the interesting and difficult lives they must have lead.


The old Roman Bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine (L.Compisi)


View of the countryside from the original Roman hill town of Vaso(L.Compisi)

Some places to eat near Bollène and Orange:



Lee Pigalle in Orange for lunch (L.Compisi)

Le Pigalle in Orange had outdoor and indoor seating and a very diverse menu for or lunch experience. We enjoyed the local wines and food made with very fresh ingredients.


Sign leading to Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Restaurant La Chapelle Paul Trois Châteaux is located at Saint 5 Impasse Ludovic-de-Bimard, 26130 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Recommended by Mme Jourdan, the setting is romantic and intimately delightful. The dishes were very thoughtfully prepared and exquisite in flavor.


The dining room at Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Where we stayed:  We were very fortunate to stay at the quaint and convenient cottages of Bastide Jourdan at the winery property in Bollène were we awoke to the sounds of harvest.  A delightful and well situated location, especially in September. The cottages (there are several) offer full kitchens and 2 bedrooms.

Cottage from website

One of the cottages at Bastide Jourdan (L.Compisi)

Our first visit, chronicled here, was so pleasant and relaxed that we will be returning in July to experience the annual Lavender bloom which should be spectacular.  Read Part II about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Part III on our report on Avignon!

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Clarice Wine Company Hosts Inaugural Members Only Event

We just attended the inaugural Clarice Wine Company event.  It was a tour and tasting of Limerick Lane wines at Jake and Alexis Bilbro’s Limerick Lane winery and estate on, you guessed it, Limerick Lane in Healdsburg, California.  You might ask why the Clarice Wine exclusive club member tasting was at another winery? Fair enough, and the answer is, because Clarice is a very new kind of wine company with no wine yet released and a sales and membership model very unique compared to traditional wineries and wine clubs. Read on!


Limerick Lane 1910 Block – 108 year old Zinfandel vines – Jake Bilbro in background (L.Compisi)

Clarice Wine Company is a new and very unique type of winery started by Adam Lee over the past 12 months. Adam, winemaker and co-founder of Siduri Wines, with wife Dianna Novy Lee, sold Siduri to Jackson Family Wines a couple years back and remains the Siduri winemaker. In his spare time and for his next ‘act’, apparently, Adam had a hankering to try something new and very different.  He has combined aspects of an online wine community, a wine education website, and a limited-enrollment wine club in his vision for Clarice (named after his grandmother) which he established in the summer of 2017.


(l-r) Jake Bilbro (Limerick Lane) and Clarice Wine Co.Founder Adam Lee (L.Compisi)

Adam’s Siduri Wines sourced Pinot Noir grapes from some of the best vineyards throughout California and Oregon. We wondered where Adam would take this new venture so we signed up.  As a member of the Clarice Wine Community, we have the opportunity to interact with 625 (about 67% subscribed as of this writing so there is room for you) fellow members, sharing wine opinions and wine list guidance, as well as recommendations for wine travel, restaurants, hotels, events and more. The ‘subscription’ membership provides a case of wine annually at about $85 per bottle paid over 6 months in advance of delivery which is expected in the late autumn. Exclusive as well as interesting, right?


Clarice Pinot Noir from 2017 vintage (Courtesy Clarice Facebook page – Richard Green)

The Limerick Lane event was one of two exclusive Clarice parties each year.  The next party is expected to focus on the Clarice Pinot Noirs. Adam and Jake Bilbro are bound by mutual respect and friendship.  Adam was an early supporter when Jake purchased Limerick Lane in 2011 and they clearly maintain a collegial and supportive friendship. Thus, this inaugural Clarice party hosted by Limerick Lane and spotlighting Bilbro’s wines and historic vineyards. Those wines, some from vines over 100 years old, include Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache (among others). Truly spectacular!


Head pruned 1910 Block Zinfandel – Limerick Lane (L.Compisi)


Estate Rocky Knoll Zinfandel – Limerick Lane #PureYum (L.Compisi)

If you are interested in a very interesting and somewhat experimental approach to a wine club, consider Clarice Wine Company. Stay tunes as there is more to come.


Two happy Clarice members – L.Compisi and the iconic Carol Shelton (J.Compisi)

Read more about Clarice Wine Company in the Washington Post.

Rusty Gaffney has also offered his thoughts in his newsletter, “The Prince of Pinot

Posted in Day Trips, North Coast, Road Trip, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hospice du Rhône Showcases Delicious Rhone Wines in Paso Robles

Hospice du Rhône Paso Robles 2018 has come and gone and the only thing remaining is the afterglow of wine friends, Paso charm and the beautiful Rhône varietals grown all over the world. Read on to understand what the Rhône varietals are and where they thrive.


Sondra Bernstein and Jérémie Castor enjoying the Rosé Lunch happy hour! (L.Compisi)

Rhône varietals include 22 different grapes. Some are very well known, some not so much.  In the white varieties Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Muscat-Blanc are most well-known. For the reds Syrah, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre), Cinsault and Muscardin top the lists. Côte du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are probably the most well know of the Rhône wines.

Two of the beautiful Rhone wines served over the weekend. (L.Compisi)

Hospice du Rhône (HdR) was established in 1991. It is an international advocacy group for all growers, producers and advocates of Rhone varietals. HdR conducts events at Blackberry Farm Resort in Walland, Tennessee; the Rhône Valley and of course in Paso Robles, to welcome multiple Rhône winemakers and chefs from around the world. Organizers John Alban (the Founder of Hospice du Rhône), Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells continue doing a phenomenal job of bringing in top flights Rhône producers from France, California and around the world.

(l-r) Founder John Alban with organizers Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells (L.Compisi)

(l-r) Alban and presenters Morgan Twain-Peterson – Tegan Passalaqua and Carroll (L.Compisi)


Philippe Guigal (l) of ‘E.Guigal’ with moderator Patrick Will of Vintus. (L.Compisi)


Wine writer Jeb Dunnuck (c) being honored as HdR ‘Person of the Year’! (L.Compisi)


The event weekend consists of a variety of delicious breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tastings and four exceptional educational seminars. Well over 1200 people attend the various events.  The educational seminars this year included: Seminar One: South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance – Lauren Buzzeo, Wine Enthusiast, moderated a group of South African winemakers;  Seminar Two: A 6th Generation Crusade in the Barossa Valley – Moderator Chuck Hayward of Vinroads engaged five spirited winemakers from Australia; Seminar Three: Lost and Found: Old Vine Rhônes Across California – was moderated by Alban Vineyards and presented by a new generation of California winemakers Morgan Twain-Peterson (Bedrock Wine Company) and Tegan Passalaqua (Turley Wine Cellars) and finally; Seminar Four: The Majesty of Guigal – Philippe Guigal presented the fascinating story of E. Guigal (founded by Philippe’s grandfather) moderated by Patrick Wills of Vintus. Of course, all four seminars allowed for questions and answers from the attendees and included about ten wines for each seminar for tasting and learning. Favorites from the grand tastings are highlighted in the photos included in this report.

Amazing wines tasted while being described by the outstanding presenters (L.Compisi)

A few favorites from the large Opening and Closing tastings (L.Compisi)

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A smilingFrançois Villard of Domaine François Villard says, ‘pour ta santé’ (L.Compisi)


Jérémie Castor of Vignobles Saint Nabor is enjoying the opening tasting! (L.Compisi)

Two very special events are the Rosé Lunch on Friday and the Live Auction on Saturday.  Hundreds of Rosés from all over the world are on hand for open tasting during the Rosé Lunch including favorite bottles provided by attending winemakers from all over the globe. The exciting high-stakes auction provided the opportunity to bid on truly amazing auction lots of wine, travel and unique experiences such as “the girl & the fig” Cooking and Dinner Extravaganza with Sondra Bernstein and Chef John Toulze. The first lot auctioned was designated to raise relief funds for the victims of last October’s California wildfires! All breakfasts and lunches are included in the weekend pass.  A truly great deal.

Montage of beautiful foods and wines at Rosé Lunch! (L.Compisi)

Where to Stay: There are many clean, modern, nicely appointed hotels within walking distance of the Paso Robles Event Center. We have stayed at several but this year chose to enjoy the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Paso Robles which is perhaps the closest of all. The hotel offers a full complementary buffet style breakfast, very clean and recently remodeled rooms and reasonably affordable prices.  The staff were very friendly and helpful.  We would be pleased to stay there whenever we are in Paso Robles which is typically at least once a year.

The Holiday Inn Express & Suites is within walking distance of the event. (L.Compisi

Wherever you are able to attend Hospice du Rhône (Paso Robles, Tennessee or the Rhône Valley), make it happen.  So if you need a long planning window, mark your calendars for April 23-25 2020 for Hospice du Rhône Paso Robles.  Prepare to be delighted, you won’t be disappointed.


Posted in Central Coast, France, French Wines, Road Trip, Travel, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wineries | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Three Delightful Sonoma Wine and Food Pairing Experiences

Tasting wine in Sonoma County is always a delightful experience. Tasting rooms typically have very knowledgeable tasting teams whose only focus is to educate and inform the tasting public. Recently, however, some wineries and estates have decided to elevate that experience through wine and food pairings. Although there is additional cost to the consumer, the experience better replicates and informs your purchasing decisions. After all, wine is best enjoyed with food. Three recent experiences at Benovia Winery, Lambert Bridge and J Vineyards & Winery highlight these very enjoyable opportunities to live and learn.

IMG_20180420 J Entrance

Benovia Winery is a family owned operation on the southwest side of Santa Rosa and specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although their Zinfandel is well respected. Some of their estate vineyards are co-located with the tasting room and winery while a couple are in the surrounding areas of the Russian River and Sonoma Coast. Benovia offers numerous unique experiences (see previous posting) but tastings are by appointment only. They have collaborated with Copain and Littorai to create A Trail of Treasures.

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Benovia Tasting and Experience Center (L.Compisi)

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Wine and food at Benovia (L.Compisi)

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View of Benovia Estate vineyards (L.Compisi)

J Vineyards & Winery was established by Judy Jordan decades ago and was recently purchased by E&J Gallo for their premium wine division, a smart choice. Located just outside the city of Healdsburg (about 20 minutes north of Santa Rosa) also in the Russian River Valley, J also specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but may be best known for their sparkling wines. J offers a few unique tasting and pairing experiences but most noteworthy are their Legacy Tasting, Signature Tasting and the Bubble Room experience. Each is unique in their own right and all offer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or sparkling flights. The Legacy Tasting pairs exceptional artisanal cheeses. Izzy Diaz was our host and he was fabulous. Knowledgeable and fun!

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Legacy Tasting offers choices (L.Compisi)

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The cheeses were well paired with J wines. (L.Compisi)

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J Vineyards Legacy and Sparkling Tasting Menus (L.Compisi)

The penultimate experience was at Lambert Bridge in the Dry Creek Valley. Another family owned winery and estate, Lambert Bridge has made major changes to their business model and production volumes. Previously producing over 25,000 cases per year, they now limit yields and produce about 6,000 cases annually with a direct to consumer model and a premium quality focus. Our experience was centered around a very personalized pairing of Cow Girl Creamery cheeses and accouterments with five Bordeaux wines preceded by a delicious Viognier. The 2016 Dry Creek Valley Viognier was perhaps the best we ever tasted. The 2012 Sonoma County Merlot was to die for! The 2015 Cabernet Franc and the 2013 Chambers Vineyard Malbec were also quite special. Perhaps as tantalizing and welcoming were the tasting team. Sara Carli and Katie Boyer went well out of their way to make us feel special. Katie virtually accompanied us on the entire tasting journey without distraction in the wineries newly configured barrel room. A very special experience.

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View from Barrel Room to Tasting Room at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

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Guest comfort and care is the primary focus at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

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A delightful deviation from the Bordeaux wines (L.Compisi)

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A perfectly ethereal experience at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

More and more wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties are pushing the envelope to differentiate their offerings from the hundreds of choices in the North Coast but these three are worthy of special note and your attention.


Posted in Day Trips, North Coast, Sonoma County, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment