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.

lunch

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.

well

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

On the Way into Walla Walla -Waterbrook

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One of my favorite first stops on the way into Walla Walla is Waterbrook. They have the most gorgeous tasting room and outdoor space. Even if their wines weren’t as good as they are it would be worth the stop.

The interior is gorgeous with art and high-ceilings. Lots of windows overlook the outdoor space. Pick a gorgeous day to visit so that you can sit in front of the outdoor fireplace or overlook the pond. They have great landscaping.

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During the several times we have visited the staff has always been super friendly and accommodating. I always enjoy the reserve tasting more than the regular one. The Reserve Merlot and Reserve Malbec have become staples in our wine cellar.

We have browsed the menu but never eaten there except at special events. At that time the food was excellent. I have had friends tell me that they love their burgers and salmon salad. Next visit, in October, we will give it a try.

Nice Winery Near the City

Recently I went back to my hometown of Rochester, NY and one of my girlfriends took me to Casa Larga Winery in nearby Victor NY. They have a cute tasting room that is very convenient to Eastview Mall. At the time of our visit they were offering 5 wine tastes for $4 and tastes of their “special” wines for $1 each.

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Our wine steward was Meghan. She was very sweet but not very knowledgeable. She told us she had been pouring wine at Casa Larga for about a week. She also told us her mom worked in the office and that was the reason she was working there.

So without much to go on we jumped into tasting. Lilac Hill is one of their most popular wines especially around the Lilac Festival.  I found it to be very sweet with a finishing note of “bubble gum”. The Vidal Blanc is one of their best sellers and I think it would be a good accompaniment to a lunchtime salad.

My favorite wine was their Meritage at $21.99 per bottle. It was a bit dry but has a nice berry finish.

The tasting room is nice and you can also purchase chocolates or a cheese plate to compliment your tasting experience. They offer several special events such as Cabin Fever Thursdays in the winter and Patio Parties in the summer.

The location makes it a perfect diversion – near the city and near the mall. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Revisiting Obelisco

Obelisco Estates makes so delicious reds

Obelisco Estates makes so delicious reds

Obelisco has always been one of our favorite wineries and was my very first blog in October of 2011. On our first visit, I thought my palate was broken –I loved every single one of their wines. That never happens to me. I came back a second time and such delicious reds, I had to join their wine club. We continued drinking a lot of Obelisco wine and even had my husband’s birthday party at the Woodinville tasting room.

Obelisco had their first vintage in 2007 and opened their tasting room in 2010. A lot has changed over the past few years. We recently stopped by for a tasting and the wines are still just as delicious as I remembered. However, the tasting room itself is a very different experience. The tasting room was really crowded and there was a real lack of personal attention.

The "Barrel Room" at Obelisco is used for parties, private tastings and other events.

The “Barrel Room” at Obelisco is used for parties, private tastings and other events.

A small display outlined the current wine club membership. It is also a very different club than we had joined years ago and also had a “waiting list” stamped across it. The first two years the wine club had its annual event at the Gig Harbor home of Doug Long, one of the winery’s founders as well as Manny’s Brisket on select Friday nights. The current club membership includes a Gala Dinner that felt stuffy from the description.

I think it is always interesting to see how local wineries handle growth. From the crowd that was there the day we visited a ot of people enjoy Obelisco wine and must also like the new feel of the tasting room. My personal preference is for something a bit more laid back and personal.

Smasne Cellars

Smasne 1

Smasne Cellars is one of the favorite wineries of my friend Raye, so I have done several tastings here. Always a good choice, Smasne has a great range of wines from $14 Tuesday wines to a $110 special occasion bottle of 2010 Robert O Smasne Owens Reserve.

Smasne Cellars has a tasting room located in Woodinville.

Smasne Cellars has a tasting room located in Woodinville.

The Woodinville tasting room is always a good time. On the day we visited Jeff and Tracey were pouring. A really fun couple that are very knowledgeable about both the wine and the winery. A large space in the winery warehouse district of Woodinville includes a really long tasting bar so there is room for everyone. There are also plenty of tables and chairs – perfect for relaxing and enjoying the wine.

Robert O. Smasne, the winemaker, graduated from Washington State University and then began his career at Covey Run Winery with David Lake of Columbia Winery fame. From there he went on to Amavi Cellars and Alexandria Nicole Cellars. In 2006 he started his own winery.

On our most recent visit, we really enjoyed Ancient Rocks, a wonderful blend of Mourvedre and Grenache. We also picked up a case of Bunkhouse Red, a really versatile everyday wine. We also still have some ½ Ass Red in our cellar

In addition to a very large assortment of wines and winemaking styles Smasne Cellars is a great place to visit. Fun people, a nice atmosphere and wine to suit most tastes – I definitely would recommend a visit.

Hard Row to Hoe is a Fun Time in Chelan

My friend, Leslie, has been telling me how good the wines are in Chelan. I hadn’t been there in over ten years but could not even remember seeing a winery when I was there. So, as always, I was excited to try something new and something different. She recommended “A Hard Row to Hoe”.

Hard Row to Hoe

Hard Row to Hoe


This is such a fun place. I don’t want to say too much and spoil all the fun. When you go, you must ask for the story of how the winery got its’ name. I will give you a hint – it has something to do with an enterprising man in the 1930’s with a row boat who started a taxi service on Lake Chelan to take the lonely miners to a brothel across the bay at Point Lovely.
The winery doesn’t take itself too seriously. From the x-rated wallpaper to the red sofa where you can don a feather boa and have your photo taken – this is a must visit for a good time.
X-Rated Wallpaper

X-Rated Wallpaper


Even their wines carry on the theme with names like: “Good in Bed”, After noon Delight” and “Seduction Red” – this was my favorite with a blend of Malbec, Primitivo and Merlot – it was delicious. They also had a Petit Verdot that I really enjoyed.
The Tasting Room is warm and friendly.

The Tasting Room is warm and friendly.


On a second visit the winery was featuring a throw-back to Woodstock. They had a very fun band and were serving wine and snacks and people had blankets out on the lawn. It was a very enjoyable time.
Checking their website their sense of humor continues through Crush in October when they feature “Live Nude Grapes”. Everything is tongue and cheek, the wine is good and the winemaker and all her staff are interesting and fun. This is a definite visit.
It is easy to get into the spirit

It is easy to get into the spirit

Northstar Winery – a Fresh New Taste

Northstar Winery has a spectacular setting  off Peppers Bridge Rd

Northstar Winery has a spectacular setting off Peppers Bridge Rd


We had a great tasting at Northstar Winery. We have been here before and always liked it but somehow on this visit we really loved it. I am wondering if the winemaker has done something different. He began working with Northstar Winery in 2001 as the assistant winemaker and then his first drinkage was in 2006. Is it even possible that we have not visited in that long?

The setting is lovely. It would be a great venue for an event, wedding, shower, birthday celebration. The facility is fabulous and has a couple of different private areas. There is also a great patio and lawn beyond. There were four girls playing volleyball when we were there – having a great time.

The cozy tasting room at Northstar Winery

The cozy tasting room at Northstar Winery


Jan was pouring for us. He was lot of fun with a distinctive Norwegian accent and ready jokes. He knew a lot about the wine he was pouring and it was obvious he was enjoying himself as much as we were (well almost as much since we were tasting wine and he was only pouring it.)

One of the private dining spaces at Northstar Winery

One of the private dining spaces at Northstar Winery


The Merlots were still our favorites. It was fun to try the 2010 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot side-by-side with the 2010 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot. The Walla Walla was a bit more structured while the Columbia Valley was softer on the palette. Jan told us that Mrlot is 2/3 of their production and between 11,000 to 12,000 cases are distributed each year. These wines are priced at $41 and $50 repsectively. A bit pricier is the 2010 Northstar Premier at $85. This 100% Merlot is delicious. For us it will be a special occasion treat.

From the 2012 Northstar Stella Blanca Semillon to the 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – we enjoyed all of the wines that we tasted and took home a bottle of each. There is a $7 tasting fee refundable with purchase. Definitely worth the visit.

Foundry Winery – a blend or art and wine

On a recent trip to Walla Walla with friends Tim and Diane we stopped at Foundry Vineyards. The tasting room is a lovely venue set on the west edge of Walla Walla and combines two of my favorite things – art and wine.

The Foundry tasting room is friendly and they even invited Angel in to cool off (but no wine for her  :-)

The Foundry tasting room is friendly and they even invited Angel in to cool off (but no wine for her 🙂

We had visited before and were particularly taken with the art. I especially like a large bronze casting of a horse in driftwood. Al loved it too but the $300,000 price tag kept it out of our garden.
On this visit the art in the sculpture garden and the gallery was the art on this visit was from Maya Lin, an internationally recognized artist who created the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.

The current art exhibition is from Maya Lin

The current art exhibition is from Maya Lin

We enjoyed the art and then settled in for a tasting with Allison, a recent graduate from Whitman College, she was friendly and knowledgeable, even inviting Angel to come into the gallery and relax. We were totally blown away by the wine. The new winemaker, Justin Basel, formerly of Basel Cellars, created some fabulous wines that really fit our taste. We particularly loved the 2010 Artisan cabernet Sauvignon and 201 Syrah.
Another fun feature of the winery is that photos of the art that is displayed is used on the wine bottle labels.

The art is unusual and fun.

The art is unusual and fun.


This fun and interesting winery with its delicious wine and great hospitality is a must visit for any Walla Walla trip.