Hidden Wine Country: RYME Cellars Turns Eclectic Grapes into Some of the Most Exciting California Wine You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Photos by Steve Mort

When you imagine California wine country, you probably don’t picture the Sonoma County town of Forestville.

It’s less than half an hour west of bustling Santa Rosa and the same distance south of upscale Healdsburg, but Forestville feels a world apart. Its downtown main street is only about three blocks long, hosting a handful of casual restaurants, a strip mall with a coffee shop and a laundromat, a county park with a friendly cat, a hardware store, a pharmacy, and a gas station.

Forestville Cat
Forestville cat welcoming me to town

There are also a few tasting rooms on Forestville’s main drag, but RYME Cellars is not one of them.

In this installment of Hidden Wine Country, I venture off the main street to a simple tasting room at the terminus of a dead-end road. I step inside what used to be RYME’s production facility (scroll down for a photo) and discover surprising wines made by a husband and wife team who aren’t afraid to go beyond the usual grape suspects.

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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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Walla Walla Wanderings: Beyond Downtown

Note: It is customary for wineries to waive tasting fees and host complimentary events for wine writers. Some wineries mentioned in this post extended that courtesy.

Last week, we toured tasting rooms in charming downtown Walla Walla, Washington. Turns out, there’s much more to this hub of Washington State winemaking than just the downtown core.

I was in the area last month to attend the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, and while I didn’t have much time to explore beyond downtown, I did venture out to a few special spots.

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Walla Walla Wanderings: Downtown

Note: It is common practice for wineries to waive tasting fees for wine writers. Some of the tasting rooms reviewed in this post extended that courtesy.

Washington’s wine regions sprawl widely across this diverse and beautiful state, but when it comes to wineries and tasting rooms, there are a few main centers of gravity.

Walla Walla is one of the biggest.

I just returned from my first trip to this small-town-turned-major-wine-destination. I was there to attend the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, but I spent some time checking out a few of the area’s 120 wineries too.

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England’s Camel Valley Vineyards Pulling Back from US Market

On a stone terrace in the county of Cornwall, overlooking rolling hills blanketed with vines and fields, Camel Valley Vineyards founder Bob Lindo beams with pride as he shows off award after award to visitors sipping on the tasty fruits of his labor.

This winery is one of England’s most decorated, at the forefront of the country’s surging wine business. Producers here are winning plenty of awards, particularly for their bubbly, which has come out ahead of Champagne on enough occasions to make a Frenchman blush.

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Founder Bob Lindo welcomes guests on the terrace at Camel Valley Vineyards in Cornwall.

In 2016, the UK wine industry made a collective commitment to a tenfold increase in exports over five years, and American wine lovers are starting to reap the benefits. Just under two years ago, Camel Valley wines were part of the first full shipping container of English wine ever sent to a foreign shore; they were bound for the US.

Here in Orlando, though, you still have to look hard to find British bubbly. Wine Bar George serves a brut from producer Digby Fine English; Tim’s Wine Market Orlando has Ridgeview in stock.

But Camel Valley is not available in Florida, and sadly, that’s not likely to change. Bob Lindo says he’s pulling back from the US market.

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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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Talk of Terroir in California Wine Country

“I think people make too much fuss over winemakers,” said Christophe Paubert, standing in front of an elegant fireplace at Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery on a recent fall evening.

Some might find his words counterintuitive, given his vocation. Paubert is Stags’ Leap’s winemaker.

He’s not the only one of his kind who advocated for minimalist techniques during a recent visit to Napa and Sonoma. It was a refreshing refrain in a region where heavy-handedness was once the name of the game.

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