Hidden Wine Country: Napa’ School House Vineyard Keeps Things Quietly Classic

All photos by Steve Mort

Napa and Sonoma, the two counties at the heart of California wine country, are famous for lavish tasting rooms, Michelin star restaurants, and deluxe accommodations. Drive even a few hundred yards along Napa’s main thoroughfare, Highway 29, and you’re likely to pass five or six big name wineries ready to put on an impressive, pricey, and often thoroughly enjoyable show for you.

But hidden behind them, there’s another world — a place that’s more about passion than money, more about soil than manipulation, more about history than trends, and more about experimentation than safe bets. You have to look a little harder for this hidden Wine Country, drive a little farther to get there, and pay a little more attention when you arrive. But it’s well worth the effort.

Part 1 of this series takes us to School House Vineyard, a Napa stalwart making elegant wines that remain largely unknown, even to many of the Valley’s most ardent fans.

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Willamette’s Cristom Vineyards Picks Orlando’s Wine Bar George for Exclusive 25th Anniversary Tasting

I’ll admit I’ve always felt a twinge of sticker shock at the prices for the events and tastings at Wine Bar George. I know, I know, it’s at Disney Springs, and it’s helmed by a Master Sommelier. But still, it’s tough to part with $70-100+ for a tasting (plus a hefty Lyft fare), when standard tastings at most local wine establishments cost half that amount.

Earlier this month, however, Master Somm George Miliotes and his team invited me to attend an event as their guest, and I can tell you, this was no standard tasting.

Cristom Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The festivities include a road show featuring an exclusive tasting with owner and winegrower Tom Gerrie comparing multiple vintages of the winery’s single vineyard pinot noirs.

When I say “multiple,” I mean we sampled nine pinot noirs from four single vineyards and six vintages.

When I say “exclusive,” I mean Cristom is presenting this tasting in only six cities around the country, including New York and San Francisco. Orlando was the only city in Florida to make the list.

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Where to Go in Sonoma: The Blockbusters

Note: The wineries in this post followed the common industry practice of waiving tasting fees for bloggers and other media. 

Is a trip to wine country on your list of resolutions for 2018? If so, Sonoma County should be on your agenda.

Sonoma is sometimes an afterthought – nothing more than a quick stopover between San Francisco and Napa. But this diverse county is a worthy wine destination unto itself, offering everything from stunning tasting rooms with breathtaking views to flip-flop-casual samplings in out-of-the-way vineyards. Most importantly, though, Sonoma offers plenty of good wine.

In this post, we’ll explore three blockbuster wineries that hosted me for tastings on a visit to Sonoma last fall. Next time, I’ll unveil a few of the region’s hidden gems.

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Ready, Set … Holiday Wine!

It seems Orlando’s wine establishments are using the coming week as an opportunity to take a big, deep breath … before the holiday drinking season takes off with a vengeance.

Tim’s Wine Market in Lake Mary-Sanford should get ready for a crowd at Tuesday’s tasting with Lindsey Hoopes of Napa’s Hoopes Winery … because it’s the ONLY thing on the wine Events Calendar next week!

After that, though, it’s off to the races with Halloween, the start of November, and the beginning of the annual holiday wine-ing marathon!

Highlights for the week of October 29 include:

A cavalcade of events follows throughout the holiday season, and they will fill up fast! Check the Events Page early and often so you can fully enjoy the festivities.

Cheers!

We’re not Burgundy or Cali, top Oregon winemakers tell Orlando’s wine pros

In Oregon,”you must be the master of your vineyard,” says Eugenia Keegan, General Manager of Gran Moraine Winery.

Speaking to a packed house at the Hilton Orlando on Tuesday, she and four other leading winemakers from Oregon’s Willamette Valley made the case for Oregon as a wine region unlike any other. Her compatriots on the Jackson Family Wines “Oregon: A State of Mind” tour included Lynn Penner-Ash (Penner-Ash), Ryan Zepaltas (Siduri, Zepaltas), Tony Rynders (Zena Crown, Tendril), and Craig McAlister (La Crema).

They have a valid point.

Uniquely Oregon

Oregon has been a major player in the wine game for almost 40 years, but much of the discussion about Oregon wines still takes place in the context of comparison – usually with the state’s giant wine neighbor to the south, or with Burgundy, the standard bearer for cool climate pinot noir.

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A Florida Oenophile in California Wine Country: Part 6 – The Last Day

About this series: After years of loving (and semi-seriously studying) wine, I finally took my first trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was a wonderful week of sunny days, cool nights, beautiful views, and beautiful wines. These are the impressions, discoveries, favorites, and surprises from my journey.

Part 1: Chateau Montelena, CADE, Pride
Part 2: Frog’s Leap, Heitz, Mumm Napa
Part 3: Y. Rousseau, Antica, Failla
Part 4: Stony Hill, Domaine Chandon
Part 5: Fort Ross, Gary Farrell

Day 7, Part 2 – Friday, Aug 5

We had no more appointments after Gary Farrell, but it was our last day in Wine Country, so …

Joseph Swan: No Fountains or Gardens, Just Great Wine

I looked on the map and noticed Joseph Swan was just down the road. I’ve enjoyed their pinots in the past, so I gave them a call to see if we could come by.

“Sure!” said the nice male voice on the other end of the line. “We don’t have the views they have up there at Gary Farrell, but we’ll be here!”

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A Florida Oenophile in California Wine Country: Onward to Sonoma – Fort Ross & Gary Farrell

About this series: After years of loving (and semi-seriously studying) wine, I finally took my first trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was a wonderful week of sunny days, cool nights, beautiful views, and beautiful wines. These are the impressions, discoveries, favorites, and surprises from my journey.

Part 1: Chateau Montelena, CADE, Pride
Part 2: Frog’s Leap, Heitz, Mumm Napa
Part 3: Y. Rousseau, Antica, Failla
Part 4: Stony Hill, Domaine Chandon

This being my first trip to California Wine Country, I focused mainly on Napa, but I couldn’t leave without a little taste of Sonoma too. We managed to fit quite a lot into just a day and a half, including a few well-known places and one hidden gem.

Continue reading “A Florida Oenophile in California Wine Country: Onward to Sonoma – Fort Ross & Gary Farrell”