Chalk Hill Winery

Healdsburg, CA

ch-wineChalk Hill Winery is a bit out of the way and I had high expectations. Unfortunately, our experience shows how much impact the person in the tasting room can have on your experience and your impressions of the winery and the wine.

Chalk Hill Winery is located in a breathtaking setting – nearly 1,500 acres surrounded by woods. The tasting room is set up on a hill with a beautiful outdoor patio. There is an Olympic-size equestrian center that is used for many events. The tasting room has a beautiful outdoor patio, spacious tasting room and a very small gift shop area.

Our tasting started off pleasant with a nice young man who began pouring a 2013 North Slope Pinot Gris. It was cool and refreshing and we were enjoying ourselves and his conversation. Then “Hannah” sashayed in and shooed him away and took over our tasting. Things went south very quickly. I wanted more information on the winery, especially interested in its history. I asked Hannah how long the winery had been there, obviously she misunderstood and said she had been there since February. I clarified and asked if I could take a few photos and she launched into a story about how someone had come in recently and still had her photo from when she worked in another tasting room. Again, I clarified, I wanted to take photos of the winery and tasting room, not of her.

We continued our tasting with a 2014 Mt Eden Pinot Noir, which is made from grapes from Santa Cruz that have been cloned onto grapes in the Russian River Valley – interesting – this is what I was looking for info on grapes, not her personal life. J

We then tried the Cabernet Sav/Carmenere, which is a gorgeous color. This is a delicious wine and even though I was put off by its $85 price, I could not resist buying a bottle to take home. As 4:30 approached, Hannah must have had a hot date because we felt practically thrown out.

Chalk Hill is lovely and the wine is very good. Having a tasting with someone like Hannah makes me appreciate all the true professionals we have met that treat their job with enthusiasm and passion.

ch-3While I enjoyed the scenery and the wine, I would call first to see who is in the tasting room pouring before I spent time with Hannah. The fee was $20 for the tasting and lasted about 15 minutes with three wines.

2013 North Slope Pinot Gris – $30 – This was very refreshing on a gorgeous sunny day.

 

2014 Mt Eden Pinot Noir – $60 – It was a nice wine but not my favorite of what we tasted.

 

Cabernet Sav/Carmenere – $85 – Delicious. Gorgeous color. Bold. Would cellar very well.

Susan’s Score – I would try the wine but skip the tasting room until they upgrade their staff.

Murrietta’s Well Estate Vineyards

Livermore, California

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Another Livermore winery that is definitely worth talking about is Murrietta’s Well Estate Vineyards. One of the original California wine estates, Murrietta sources all the grapes from the estate.  The vineyard was started with cuttings from the famed French winery – Chateau Margaux in the Bordeaux region and the Chateau d’Yquem in Graves.

Our visit to Murrieta’s Well got off to a rocky start. The day before our visit I went on their website and saw that we needed reservations. I was looking at the various reservation options when I got a pop-up from Cellar Pass. I communicated with “Spencer” who told me that the only way that we could taste at Murrietta’s Well was with a reservation – they do not accept walk-ins. Not True. He also could not answer basic questions about the winery or wine and did not think that we could share a tasting – which we always do.

We arrived at Murrieta’s Well on a gorgeous sunny day and were immediately greeted by Kayla who gave us each a glass of Muscat Canelli as a “welcome wine”. It was very welcome – a light refreshing wine perfect for a summer’s day. We explained our confusion with Cellar Pass and they made it all good. They found us a table on the patio and we ordered a delicious charcuterie board as well as the mac and cheese (recommended by Ben who is a self-proclaimed mac and cheese aficionado.

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Ben, a charming fellow from Yorkshire, England, took over for Kayla and served us lunch as well as our wine tasting. He had a great sense of humor and a good knowledge of the wines that we were sampling. He was our “wine ambassador” He had us save a little of the white (chardonnay) to try with the mac and cheese and the tempranillo was excellent with the fattier meats and cheeses. The Zarzuela 2015 was a big favorite for us.

During our delightful lunch, Lindsay, the General Manager, stopped by to give us a bit of history of the winery, which traces back to 1884 when Luis Mel built a gravity flow winery into the hillside and planted the vineyard. In 1922 the property was sold to Ernest Went and became part of the Wente Family Estate.(Check out the previous blog about Wente Wines).  In 1990 Philip Wente partnered with winemaker Sergio Traverso and they named the winery Murrieta’s Well after Wakene Marietta who was a sort of Robinhood of that era. He would rob the rich and then ride on stolen horses to take the riches back to the poor in Mexico. There is an artisan well from 1884 that is dedicated to him and the day we visited there was a wedding being set up in front of it. Truly a gorgeous spot for a wedding.

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tasting-rmWhile we enjoyed lunch and a tasting on the patio (I would really recommend this) you can also enjoy the indoor Tasting Bar.  It has gorgeous views and also a very knowledgeable staff. Tastings are a bit pricey at $25 for 4 wines. Members can enjoy the Club Lounge, A special area that includes wine and a food menu.

 

Here are the wines that we tasted during our visit:

Muscat Canelli – $35 – This was our “welcome wine. Crisp & refreshing – ideal for a picnic.

2015 Sauvignon Blanc – $35 – It went nicely with the Mac and Cheese.

2014 Tempranillo – $48 – This was ideal with the charcuterie board – nice long finish.

Zarzula – $60 – this is a red blend that includes Tempranillo, Souzao, Touriga, Counoise and Petite Syrah. Very nice. I am told it is a favorite of the winery regulars.

This is a charming winery with a genuinely nice staff. It is obvious they work hard to make their Guest’s experience as pleasurable as possible.

Susan’s Score – A great spot for a warm day. I would recommend lunch as well as the tasting.

 

 

 

Wente Vineyards

Livermore, California

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On our most recent trip to California, we were a bit pressed for time, but wanted to spend a day wine tasting and really wanted to try somewhere new. A little internet research came up with Livermore, California. I had never heard of it, but it was located just east of San Francisco. It fit the criteria perfectly. Now the big question…how was their wine?

One of our stops was at Marietta’s Well (more on that later and they recommended that we go to Wente Vineyards. With the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in the US It was established in 1883.
The Wente Estate is like an adult Disneyland! It includes a golf course, tasting rooms and a restaurant. During the summer they host concerts in the vineyards with some big name artists like Diana Krall and The Doobie Brothers.


Wente has several tasting room experiences: The Estate Winery & Tasting Room offers daily tours at 11am and 2pm to see the winemaking process. Wine flights are also available. The Vineyard Tasting Room includes a tour of the sandstone caves as well as information on wine appreciation and a chance to experience some of their wines via $10 tasting flights.  There is a large gift shop that includes wine accessories and gourmet food.
We went directly to the Winemaker’s Studio and met with Cheryl and Darrell. What a treat. Both of them are very passionate about wine and wine education. Darrell is a certified sommelier and one of five wine educators employed by Wente Vineyards. Cheryl is the tasting room manager. We were certainly in good hands to explore what Wente had to offer.

phone photos 239The Winemaker’s Studio is a must for anyone who would like to learn more about wine appreciation. There are lots of hands-on educational activities. My only regret is we don’t live closer so I could attend them all!  There were four classes being offered by appointment. They included: Black Glass Blind Tasting – where you use senses other than sight to determine a wines color. (I tried looking at wine in a black glass and had no idea if it was red, white or rose). Wine Aroma Seminar – this is a class where you learn how people come up with the terms you read on the wine notes such as notes of blackberry, hints of tobacco and my favorite, fresh cut garden hose. The Wine and Food Pairing – where you learn why certain foods pair well with a particular wine and the class I really want to try – Winemaker’s Blending Experience – where you get to taste various barrels of wine and create a bottle of your own blend. (I am hinting to Al this would be a mind-blowing Valentine’s Day gift).

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Darrell mentioned they are always coming up with new classes. Another one that sounded interesting to me was the Size and Shape Glassware Class – here you get to experiment with different types of glassware to see if the size, shape and thickness of the glass really does have an effect on the taste of the wine.
Wente has currently has five winemakers / assistant winemakers on staff. Each one brings their own personality and experience to the small lots that they create.  We were told that Wente is considered a “winemaker’s Playground” and we can confirm that after tasting several excellent wines. Here are some of the wines we tasted and our thoughts:

2015 Morning Fog Chardonnay – $15.This was a bit too mineral tasting for me (not a huge Chardonnay fan anyway), but Al liked it. Great price point & I think I have seen it at Costco and Total Wine for about $11
2014 Eric’s Chardonnay –$30. Unoaked and is nice and crisp.
2015 Small Lot Pinot Noir Rose’ -$30. – Fermented in stainless steel so it is crisp and dry. Ideal for summer.
2012 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon – $30. A legacy of the vines brought from France by Charles Wetmore, this is a deep rich wine. Would hold up great with beef.
2014 Nth Degree Pinot Noir – $95. Delicious. Would go well with food or by itself.
2013 Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon – $120. I did taste chocolate and figs. It was a wonderful wine, deep rich color and a great consistency.

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We were intrigued by the wines and fascinated by Cheryl and Darrell but on our next trip we will have to allocate more time to the property itself.  Besides the winery and concert venue, there is an 18-hole Greg Norman Golf Course. The Grill includes indoor dining as well as patio service. There is also a gourmet restaurant that we did not get to sample (yet). It serves lunch, dinner and brunch. The menu showed interesting and seasonal offerings like steelhead trout and roasted baby beets along with more typical fare such as burgers and steaks. The property also has several venues for weddings and other events. They include the fabulous lawns, sandstone caves as well as the restaurant and Grill.
My biggest complaint about Wente Vineyards is that we did not allocate enough time to fully enjoy everything that they have to offer. It is definitely on my “return soon” list. I am very excited to experience some of the classes that Darrell described and to hear more from Cheryl about the wines and the interesting history of the area and of Wente. Be sure to check out their website (there is a lot of information there).

Susan’s Score – Cannot Be Missed (be sure to allow enough time, this could easily be a half day visit or more if you are golfing.

 

Kunde Family Winery

 

Kenwood, CA

Kunde Exterior

Kunde Family Winery   9825 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA

This was our first visit to Kunde Family Winery and it quickly became one of our favorite stops. The property itself is a spectacular 1,850 acres that includes twenty different varietals grown in six micro-climates. Most of the grapes are grown in what is referred to as “Red Hill Soil” which is what remains of a 5-million-year old lava flow.When grapevines struggle in poor conditions, they produce better wines.

We walked into the tasting room and were immediately greeted by Mike. He is super-friendly, knowledgeable and very passionate about wine. He was preparing to lead Kunde’s Mountaintop Tasting Tour (unfortunately for us it was sold out – but more about that later).

Kunde Retail and indoor tasting

Kunde Retail Shop and Main Tasting Room

Kunde’s retail shop is impressive. Instead of the same old, ho-hum assortment of merchandise they have some unusual items; cork purses, a rustic decanter that I would have bought if I could have figure out how to get it home in one piece, some great books, gourmet food items and an amazing vase made from a Portuguese cork tree.

Kunde offers a variety of tours and tastings that should fit everyone’s preference.  There is a basic tasting in the Main Tasting Room for $15 per person.  The outdoor venue, 202 Lounge, was our choice since it was such a gorgeous day. Similar to the tasting in the Main Bar the fee is $15. A private, seated tasting is offered in the Kinneybrook Room, a gorgeous space that allows you to relax and really get to savor Kunde’s wines. The wines are paired with a cheese plate for $30.

The $50 Mountain Top Tasting, sold out the day we were there, is set 1,400 feet at the top of the mountain above the winery. It sounds amazing and on our next trip I will be sure to make a reservation. It also includes a wine tasting.

Kunde Cave

Kunde Wine Cave Entrance

Mike suggested that we join the complimentary Cave Tour lead by Duck. (No that is not a typo. You know your tour is ready to leave when you hear the duck call – very fun). Duck was fabulous! He is very knowledgeable about Kunde, the area and the wine. He has a dry sense of humor that I found delightful.  We were lead into a wine tunnel that was carved from a volcanic lava flow. Along the way Duck gave us a colorful history of the Kunde Winery.

The cave itself is extraordinary. It was dug between 1989 and 1990 and is ½ mile long. It holds 6,000 barrels of wine and has a year-round temperature of 58-62 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural 75% humidity of the cave is perfect for aging wine in barrels with minimum evaporation (called the “Angel’s Share” by winemakers).  It was very refreshing on the warm summer day that we were there.

At the end of the tunnel is a dramatic dining area complete with chandelier and formal tables.  The back of the cave was left with the red volcanic rock exposed like a stunning piece of art. This would be the perfect setting for a wedding, milestone birthday party or another special event.

An interesting tidbit that Duck shared with us is that about 80% of the movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed at Kunde. They have even left the boxing ring from the movie and you can see it on the mountain top tour.

When we finished our cave tour, it was time for some wine tasting. Kat was pouring for us and she was amazing! She was taking care of a group of ten bridesmaids as well as four couples and we were all feeling the love. She poured and chatted and joked and no one felt left out. Also, at the other end of the tasting bar, fifth generation, Jordan Kunde looked like he was also doing a good job of pouring wine and keeping his customers entertained.

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202 Lounge is perfect for outdoor tasting

Kat did a great job of making our tasting experience unique by giving us side-by-side tastes of each varietal. On this visit, we tasted the following wines:

 

 

 

2015 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc – $17. I don’t consider myself to be a true white wine drinker but this was fruity and fresh. It would be fabulous with a summer salad or early evening watching the sunset. Great price point.

2015 Kunde Sauvignon Blanc, Block 4SB20 – $25. I thought the finish of this wine was a bit harsh and prefer the Magnolia Lane.

2013 Kunde Red Dirt Red – $35. This is a six grape blend. The color is gorgeous.

2013 Century Vines Kunde Meritage 202 – $35. This is a blend of five different Bordeaux varieties. It has a velvety texture.

2013 Kunde Sonoma Valley, Family Estate Series Zinfandel – $22.  Drinkable now with a nice hint of berry.

2013 Kunde Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel – $50.  This was a nice wine but would really benefit from being cellared for about ten years to really round out the sharp notes.

2012 Kunde Cabernet Sauvignon, Drummond Vineyard – $50. Delicious.

2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – $60. This was a bit more peppery and could really stand up to a steak or a bit of dark chocolate.

2012 Kunde Red Wine, Moon Mountain District – $100.  We were lucky enough to try this wine-club only blend. Good enough to join the wine-club for it.

Non-Vintage 1904 Dessert Cuvee – $40. This is named 1904 because that is when the land was bought to plant the first grapes. This was smooth and had some undertones of caramel. Really nice.

 

Kunde also has a wine club that seems to be packed with events. I looked over the list and it is quite a range from a Sweetheart’s Dinner in February to a Harvest Celebration and Barbeque in October.  But the one that really caught my eye was the Wine Club Dog Hike and Lunch. I chatted with Kat about it as she was involved in setting it up. She told me that the one in April was a lot of fun and raised money for the local humane society. I will have to try to take Angel to that next year (but she truly is a wine dog and we will have to keep her away from the tasting bar  J)

If you are tasting in Sonoma, Kunde Family Winery is truly a must visit. Everyone is friendly and makes you feel like part of the family. It is relaxing with plenty of space to explore and really get to know the wines.

Susan’s Score – Cannot Be Missed