The only thing better than spending an entire day touring Sonoma vineyards… is doing it twice in a row.
Thursday dawned, and we were awake (again) to see it. Although I think we slept in til seven this time. By the time DJ, our driver, had backed the Suburban up the long, windy driveway we were ready and waiting for our second day of tours to start.
Breakfast of Champions
We started off at Benzinger, which included a tram tour. Personally, I had a bit of a rough day – criss-crossing the rough terrain of northern California in the back of an SUV left me car sick for the first time in my entire life! When we pulled up to Benzinger, the only thing I wanted to drink was a Sprite out of the vending machine. Unfortunately, the car sickness stuck with me through the next 3 places so I can’t tell you much about the wine, just about the vineyards.
Benzinger was awesome, and definitely a place to go if you ever go out to Sonoma. The tram tour was educational without being boring. We got a tour of the grounds, and they explained their biodynamic garden philosophies which were really incredible – it’s obvious they’ve put a lot effort and money into making their vineyards a sustainable place and I think their success speaks to the idea that you reap what you sow And they sow some yummy grapes. While I didn’t try any that day, fortunately I found a bottle of Benzinger Chardonnay at my local Total Wine when I got back and it was every bit as yummy as my friends had promised.
I’ve always bought wines based on the label (and the price), but understanding where wine comes from and how it grows, and how things like soil, or climate or lifespan affect the grape and thus the wine appeals to me in the same way that understanding where food comes from and how it grows. I don’t fancy myself ever becoming a wine snob (although I do catch myself swirling and sniffing on a regular basis now….) but I like understanding things, and knowing why I like what I like and why I don’t what I don’t. I like understanding what maloactic fermentation is, and that a peachy fume blanc doesn’t really have peach in it.
After Benzinger, we went on to Chateau St Jean which was one of my least favorites of the day – it was more your typical chateau-y looking vineyard. Then our driver asked us if we would be okay going to a really unique place that was a reds only… and I was ready to take a breather (since I’m not a reds only kinda gal), so we went on to Kaz. Kaz was an experience. According to the red drinkers, it was not the best wine they had all week, but the experience was totally unique, in that the wine came straight out of a barrel into your glass or bottle.
After Kaz, we went on to a place called Family Vineyards. Pam and I had actually taken this off our list, because it looked like it was just a house on the road that represented five or six vineyards – and no actual vineyards there. I ended up being very glad our driver had put it back on the list. First of all, our pourer Stephanie was hilarious… she entertained us to no end. I had made a spontaneous recovery from my car sickness and was ready to taste again. Lucky me, because Family Vineyards ended up being home of the Sparkling. I love me some sparkly stuff, ya’ll. Since we were the only ones there, Stephanie tailored the tasting to us – mixing and matching from what she had on hand, diverting from the actual tasting menu – I had three white sand three sparkling, while some of the other girls had more reds, roses and just a few sparklings. I had two sparklings there I had never had – a raspberry flavored Framboise and an almond flavored Almonide. I bought them both to bring home, they were that good . Stephanie also had us do a few “experiments” – drinking a Zin, eating a piece of dark chocolate and trying the Zin again to see how it tasted, and then repeating that with a Late Harvest. Listen, any place that’s going to combine chocolate in its tasting experience gets two pinkies up from this girl.
After Stephanie declared that she was all out of experiments, we headed down the street to Kunde. I liked Kunde, but like Chateau St Jean, it felt more commercialized and our pourer gave us the hard sell on the wine club. This was the first place out of anywhere we went to where we felt like were being “sold” to (and consequently, we didn’t end up buying anything…)
All of us at Kunde
After Kunde, our driver sat in the parking lot deliberating something… then pulled out his cell phone and made a quick call. “Ok, we’re in” he said, explaining that the next place we were visiting was rather picky about large groups and often turned down drivers with groups. When we got to VJB Cellars, I couldn’t help but feeling like The Godfather himself had waved us into his home. VJB was owned by a sweet little Italian gentleman who regaled us with stories of Italy, wine and “the familia.” Even though I’m not a huge fan of reds, I drank every single taste he poured… I’m not sure if it was out of respect or fear! I ended up buying his Primitivo to bring home to Matt. We stayed there until the sun set and until our lovely host, Vittorio, had run out of stories.
Dinner on Thursday night was shrimp and salmon on the grill by Emily, fried goat cheese salad by me and molten lava cakes by Jenny. We did not hurt for calories that evening, let’s just say that. We had a bottle of Prosecco from VJB Cellars to go along with our dinner.
We sat around the table, reminiscing about stories from the ten years we’ve known each other, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing in anticipation as someone would begin rehashing a story we had heard before. There’s no better way to end a day than laughing so hard your stomach hurts and Prosecco nearly comes out your nose (ow) with your best friends.
Thank you, Sonoma, for another beautiful day.