I have always loved California wines. They were my first (and will probably be my last), and though I now enjoy wine from all corners of the world, I will always come back to California. I have had the pleasure of visiting wine regions all over the state, from tiny Julian in the mountains east of San Diego, to Paso Robles, to the North Coast with stops all along the way. The one constant when visiting Golden State wineries has always been the warmth and appreciation heaped upon me. One of the very first winery visits after making this my profession, was with tiny Keenan Family winery at the very top of Spring Mountain, where Michael Keenan himself grilled us a whole beef tenderloin for lunch. A few years back we found our way up to Kongsgaard, which is literally a tool shed, a 3 car dirt parking lot, and a cave. But in that cave, arguably the greatest Napa Chardonnays are made, and the assistant winemaker (after tasting us on countless barrel samples) started popping corks on old bottles of The Judge! This is probably the most heavily awarded and in demand Chardonnay in California, and he was pulling corks on back vintages for no reason other than to watch us enjoy them. Priceless memories.
Below are a selection of wines from wineries that I have specific memories attached to. Not necessarily the highest rated wines, not always even what the winery is known for, but simply wines that I have enjoyed from wineries that had an impact on my life and my career.
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Hartford Court Chardonnay Far Coast Vineyard 2018
One of the most idyllic wineries along the Russian River, a must see.
Tyler Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2021
A relative newcomer to Santa Barbara, with a pretty impressive “win” rate.
Proud Pour Sauvignon Blanc Save The Ocean 2020
Proud Pour has been donating proceeds from all of their wines to great causes, like ocean cleanup, and saving the honey bee populations.
Martinelli Chardonnay Bella Vigna 2018
Iconic RRV winery approaching 150 years making benchmark Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir… and if you can find it, maybe the best Sonoma Zin, the Jackass Hill.
Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2019
A stunning, ivy covered castle in Calistoga that has a gorgeous footbridge over a pond that I once near fell into like a fool.
Leo Steen Chenin Blanc Jurassic Vineyard ‘The Steen’ 2019
Another relative newcomer that is making fascinating wines from often overlooked grapes.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Angela’s Table 2021
Probably the most trustworthy Zinfandel maker in Sonoma, they may not score the highest, but you can always count on quality and value.
B.R. Cohn Red Blend Silver Label 2016
Must-visit tasting room. They make their own range of olive oils from trees grown on site, and have a stupendous EVOO and bread tasting. And great wines for the price… also that.
Blackbird Arise 2018
Aaron Pott is one of my favorite “under the radar” winemakers that simply turns out polished wines year in and year out.
Failla Gamay Bjornson Vineyard 2019
After cutting his teeth at Turley, Ehren Jordan moved well north to the sleepy Sonoma Coast and simply turned his Zinfandel success into immediate Pinot Noir success. This is a much more playful Gamay with excellent pedigree.
Turley Zinfandel Old Vine 2020
The first Zinfandel that made me think there was more to the grape than “jam”. Turley has been the leader in single vineyard Zinfandels for a dog’s age.
Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River 2019
I am on record as an unabashed Merry Edwards fan, with her Sauvignon Blanc being my favorite. But Pinot Noir is her calling, and this one never disappoints.