Right on the heels of my Napa trip, the Sonoma in the City gang came to town with a week chockful of events that put a spotlight on the region.  These guys rolled out the carpet with a series of lunches, happy hours, tastings and dinners that demonstrated the diversity of the region by showcasing the grape growers, wine makers and tourism executives that believe Sonoma is the “real” wine country in California.

Melissa and Kathryn

My experience started with a meeting with two powerhouse women from J Vineyards & Winery, Kathryn Lindstrom, chief operating officer, and Melissa Stackhouse, vice president of winemaking, at Abacus Restaurant.  Since I had just stayed at Jordan Winery the week prior, I knew that Judy Jordan founded J Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg in 1986 with a concentration on J sparkling wines as well as J varietal wines including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.  The grapes are grown using sustainable farming techniques and J is considered a “green winery” by the San Francisco Bay Area Green Business Program as well as a “sustainable winery” through the California Winegrowers Alliance.

Kathryn talked about her transition from the finance industry to luxury wine and how she made the decision at 45 to make a big change into an industry that she loved.  Melissa talked about the collaboration that happens in her wine making team of three with a focus on the integrity of the grapes and bringing the fruit into the glass.  She views her team’s role to “allow the wines to find their own happy place” and interfering minimally.

We tried several wines in our tasting line up:

–          2011 Pinot Gris – this was a refreshing and tropical wine that will be available in May of 2012.  It will be joining my collection.

–          2011 Pinot Noir – lots of black cherry, elegance, herb and black pepper.  Delicious.

–          2010 Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – this wine is named for Judy Jordan’s daughter and had notes of plum, licorice, cherry and vanilla.

–          2011 Pinot Meunier – notes of cassis, cherry, mocha and floral.  I love off the beaten path wines and this one did not disappoint.  This is made with the remainder of the Pinot Meunier that is not used in the sparkling wines.

–           NV Cuvee 20 Brut – hints of toast, yeastiness, apricot, citrus and nuttiness.  This was a great sparkling wine.

As a female executive in another industry, I love to meet women that have risen to the top and defied the odds in a male dominated space.  My hat is off to the ladies at J Vineyards who are doing the right thing by the grapes, the vineyard and the environment.

I left the J Vineyards event and heading to Charlie Palmer Restaurant for a dinner sponsored by Dry Creek Valley, which featured Tim Bell, winemaker for Dry Creek Vineyard, and Mauritson Wines owner/winemaker Clay Mauritson, and his brother, Cameron, who grows the grapes.

  Bill Smart, director of marketing for Dry Creek Vineyards, and Clay from Mauritson

Dry Creek is known for its Zinfandel, Bordeaux and Rhone-style wines and is located right outside of Healdsburg.  What was evident is that this is a place of family, with some vineyards dating back more than 100 years.

The Mauritson family has the longest history of any current grape growers in Rockpile, a cornerstone appellation of Sonoma County.  Clay Mauritson’s great-great-great-grandfather S.P. Hall, planted grapes in the Rockpile region in 1884, shipping his wine back to Sweden where his family lived.  Much of this original estate was taken by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1960s and is now Lake Sonoma.

Clay, a sixth-generation member of the family, is making wines again from Rockpile grapes, which are grown by his brother.  Rockpile is a very unique appellation located at the Northwest edge of Dry Creek Valley where two appellations overlap and the Healdsburg-Rogers Creek Fault, a dominant earthquake fault, runs through the middle of the horseshoe shaped base.  Picture steep slopes and rocky terrain above Lake Sonoma that are elevated between 800-2000 feet.

I also had the chance to talk to Tim Bell, the winemaker for Dry Creek Vineyards, which is a 40 year old grape grower and winemaking business.  Founder David Stare started the business with the goal of creating great wines at a reasonable price.  That vision hasn’t changed.   Tim, also worked at Freemark Abbey Winery, Bosché and Kunde Family Estate, where he became an expert in using different grape varieties and working in various climates.  When he was called to interview at Dry Creek, he had never traveled that far north.  But when he talked to Kim and Don Wallace, president and partner respectively, he realized he wanted to realize their vision for what the winery could be and knew he’d be entering a new level of collaboration he had never experienced.  Today, he continues in his quest to showcase the grapes and terrior in Dry Creek Vineyards wine.

Barely Cooked Scottish Salmon, Grilled Octopus, Lobster Corn Dog & Striped Bass Crudo

Roasted Duck Breast with Chipolte Glaze, Creamed Nettles, Compressed Persimmon

We had an amazing array of great food pairings created by Chef Michael Sindoni who matched with wines from Dry Creek and Mauritson as well as some other Sonoma producers.

Some of my personal favorites were:

–          2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc – bursting with melon, tropical fruit and citrus with a minerality that made this a great food pairing wine.

–          2011 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc – full of grapefruit and peach with a balanced minerality that was more austere in nature.  Another great food wine.

–          2009 Dry Creek Vineyard “The Mariner” – a meritage blend that had lots of black cherry fruit, herbs, blackberry, vanilla and mocha.

–          2010 Rockpile Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – Rockpile grows more cabernet sauvignon than any other regions and is full of concentrated fruit with notes of tobacco, blackberry, cassis and cedar.

–          2008 Forchini Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon –notes of chocolate, cherry, Asian spice and mocha.  This made the dry aged NY strip with bone marrow breadcrumbs sing!

–          2010 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel – this was one of my favorites with lots of black pepper, cherry, blackberry, herbs and floral notes.

–          2011 Mauritson Zinfandel – juicy raspberry, vanilla and notes of spice made this a very well balanced, almost feminine wine.

–          2007 Dry Creek Vineyard Soleil – apricot, honey, citrus and vanilla.  This was the quintessential dessert wine.  Delightful!

–          2010 Rockpile Winery Independence Red – a port like wine with big fruit, nutmeg and notes of tobacco.  Perfect match with the cheese plate served for dessert.

I asked about why Dry Creek Valley was doing this tour and it’s all about awareness.  Clay said, “when you are off the beaten path, you have to convince consumers that this is a destination point that is a little less Disneyland and a little more about the wine experience.  Even within Sonoma, Dry Creek Valley has 70 family owned and operated wineries.”

Tim added, “It’s all about a small production, hand crafted agricultural community with lots of pride, blood, sweat and tears to bring these great wines to the consumer.”