Shimmering Gems from Willamette Valley’s Bells Up Winery

Tasting Notes

It was back in 2019 (prior to the onset of the Covid shelter-in place edict) that I first met with Sara and Dave Specter at their Willamette Valley property in Newberg, Oregon.  My visit was most enjoyable, and at the end of my visit I planned to get back to their charming property to taste newly released wines in 2020.  Although the pandemic got in the way of traveling, Sara and Dave shipped samples of their latest releases for me to taste. And I am glad they did; the wines are very well crafted. Here’s a preview:

Bells Up Winery 2020 Estate Prelude Rosé of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR  ($24):  This bright, electric-pink hued Rosé broadcasts a mouthwatering aroma.  Cherries and red berries on the nose lead to a refreshing mouthful of crisp watermelon, Sweetheart cherries, fresh squeezed Valencia orange juice, strawberry roll-ups, and fresh red raspberries. The juicy fruit wraps around a lively core of acidity, keeping the wine balanced from start to sunny finish.  

Bells Up Winery 2018 Estate Titan Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR ($40):   A brilliant shade of ruby sets the stage for the alluring aroma of forest floor and fresh berries, putting you squarely in Pinot Noir land.  It is bright and elegant on the palate with layers of raspberry sauce, black cherries, allspice, a hint of flat-leaf parsley, strawberry rhubarb pie, and cherry cola.  Elegant and well balanced, it floats seamlessly across the palate, and the spice-accented finish lingers forever.

Bells Up Winery 2019 Firebird Syrah, Summit View Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, WA ($48):   An enticing black fruit and spice aroma wafts from the glass as this velvety smooth Syrah approaches the nose.  Well-structured with deep layers of blackberry, earthiness, cassis, grilled meat, plum, and savory elements entwining.  It displays complexity, good balancing acidity, and a backbone of chalky tannins, and melted chocolate notes add dimension to the long-lasting finish, leaving you wanting more.

Dave and Sara look forward to welcoming new and repeat customers to their scenic property, where you will be provided a delightful, tasty experience.  Springtime is a lovely time to visit! To schedule your appointment, simply give them a call at 503 537 1328.  The tasting fee is $30 per person (waived with a $75 wine purchase for each individual). For further information about Bells Up Winery, check out their website at

Russian River Valley’s Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Tasting Notes

Russian River Valley has been one of my favorite regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ever since I developed a passion for wine. Recently I had the opportunity to taste several Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery’s vintage 2017 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines (they also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel), and I am impressed. Talented Theresa Heredia has been the winemaker here for almost a decade, and the vineyard designate, small lot wines she crafts are outstanding. The wines show purity, varietal correctness, beautiful balance, depth, and fine expression of Russian River Valley terroir.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay ($60):  Tropical fruit and hints of oak on the nose segue to a luscious mouthcoating elixir gratifying the palate.  Layers of fresh cut pineapple, spice-tinged peach and nectarine compote, butterscotch, lemon curd, and toasty barrel nuances interlace with bright balancing acidity.  This nicely weighted wine remains vivacious through the finish, which seems to go on forever.

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay ($45):   The honeysuckle, citrus-kissed nectarine fragrance is mouthwatering, you can hardly wait for the wine to meet your lips.  The stone fruit theme continues as fresh summer peaches and honey-drizzled apricots entwine with lemongrass, Bartlett pears, subtle spice, and finely managed oak. Refreshing acidity keeps it brilliantly balanced through the tantalizing finish.

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay ($65):  Wow, the expressive stone fruit aroma is irresistible. It drives you into the glass, where you will find a complex, polished wine.  Fresh summer peaches, nectarines, crisp Gala apples, roasted almonds, and a thread of minerality sashay deliciously across the palate, while well-managed oak sits ideally in the background.  The compelling finale peaks with a vitalizing note of lemon zest. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70):  The dusty earth and wild berry aroma of this sophisticated Pinot Noir is seductive.  On the smoothly textured palate, flavors of black cherries, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, earthiness, raspberry hard candy, black licorice, underlying oak, and fresh crushed herbs are supported by lively acidity and refined tannins.  Complex and beautifully structured, and the finish of this gem is heavenly.

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65):  This full bodied, richly flavored Pinot Noir opens with an earthy, dark cherry aroma that clearly shouts out Pinot Noir. The entry is lush and vivid with notes of Bing cherries, black raspberries, shades of earth, spice box notes, licorice drops, and huckleberries, framed by silky tannins and a fine structure.  It’s immaculately balanced and vivacious through the long finish.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55):  Exotic spices wafting from the glass draw you right in, and this provocative wine keeps the senses engaged from start to close.  Damp forest floor, wild mushrooms, olallieberries, a dash of nutmeg, black raspberry jam, and piquant olive tapenade flavors wrap around a beautiful spine of acidity that keeps the wine ideally balanced.  Sophisticated with refined tannins, and the finish is persistent. 

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65):  A fresh floral aroma leaps from the glass with this compelling Pinot Noir. The entry shines with red fruit and forest floor notes, and flavors broaden on the palate as raspberries, spicy accents, fresh truffles, strawberry rhubarb pie, and anise entwine.  Elegant, silky in texture, and well balanced with refined tannins, and the savory finish keeps on delivering long after the last sip.

The winery, located at 10701 Westside Road in Healdsburg, is open for tastings by appointment. Schedule time for a visit and tasting at Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery via their website, or call the winery at 707 473 2909.

2021 McMinnville Wine Classic Competition

Oregon, Tasting Notes

The 2021 McMinnville Wine Classic was executed beautifully. Kudos to Wine Competition Manager Rolland Toevs, Carl Giavanti (PR & Media Relations Consultant) and their competent and efficient backroom staff. It flowed very smoothly with Covid-19 protocols in place, and the judges found it to be a delicious and enjoyable experience. Wines from wineries throughout the state of Oregon were entered this year.

Wines I found extraordinary on my judging panel (earning Gold or Double Gold medals) included:

40:31 Wines 2017 Blanc de Noir ($40), Willamette Valley: This engaging sparkling wine (crafted in the traditional method) delivers an aroma of stone fruit and fresh baked bread. Tantalizing the palate are layers of nectarines, lemon sorbet, peaches and cream, Honeycrisp apples, and brioche. It is brilliantly balance and full of personality, with an active tiny bead escorting the wine to a vibrant finish. (GG)

Lady Hill Winery 2019 Chardonnay ($28), Columbia Gorge: Highly aromatic, you will want to linger over a glass of this captivating wine a while before sipping; the aroma will have you salivating. Juicy Red Delicious apples, a touch of ginger, crisp Bartlett pears, honeysuckle, citrusy elements, and a pinch of herbs flood the palate. Nicely textured and balanced from the first swallow through the lively finish. (G)

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2018 Tempranillo ($29), Umpqua Valley: This irresistible Tempranillo broadcasts dark berries and mocha notes on the nose. Shades of black cherry, semi-sweet chocolate, plum preserves, hints of fresh turned earth, roasted marshmallow, and spice box elements coat the palate. It is velvety in texture with refined tannins, and the lengthy finish is memorable. (GG)

Parrett Mountain Cellars 2018 Barbera ($44), Willamette Valley: Violets on the nose draw you right into this deep, dense, delectable Barbera. Black Splendor plums, melted chocolate, ripe boysenberries, baking spices, and toasty notes fill every nook and cranny in the mouth. It is rich and jammy while maintaining fine balance, with hints of vanilla on the persistent finish. (GG)

Utopia Vineyards 2017 Estate Pinot Noir ($48), Ribbon Ridge: This highly expressive Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley’s tiniest AVA is oh so elegant. Aromas of fragrant flowers, and flavors of Sweetheart cherries, forest floor, fresh raspberries, pomegranate seeds, underlying barrel spice, and a touch of anise meld seamlessly. Stylish and complex, and the wine shows off great length, too. (G)

Youngberg Hill 2017 Cuvee Pinot Noir ($35), Willamette Valley: This finely structured Pinot Noir opens with juicy red fruits on the nose. Broadening on the palate are layers of Montmorency cherries, cranberry sauce, cherry-cola, a touch of cinnamon stick, hints of earth, and oak nuances sitting nicely in the background. It is pure and captivating through the lively final sip. (G)

Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2018 Bench Lands Pinot Noir ($24), Umpqua Valley: Aromas of spice and cherries rise from the glass with this polished Pinot Noir. Santa Rosa plums, black cherries, and tayberries intermingle with exotic spice, sandalwood, and earthiness, creating a brilliant medley of flavors on the palate. Elegant and deeply flavored with a finish that is long and mouthwatering. (GG)

Résolu Cellars 2017 Cabernet Franc ($38), Columbia Valley: From this boutique winery in Beaverton, Oregon comes a dynamite Cab Franc. Perfumed aromas waft from the glass. Classic notes of roasted bell peppers, plum chutney, black licorice drops, cassis, fresh ground peppercorns and a drop of vanilla extract weave a colorful tapestry through the lingering finish. (G)

And finally, the Best of Show wine:

South Stage Cellars 2019 Romeo & Juliet ($30), Rogue Valley: This magical white blend is crafted of 51% Roussanne, 44% Marsanne and 5% Viognier. The gorgeous floral nose is heavenly. It’s scintillating as it traverses the palate, where star fruit, lemon-lime, juicy summer peaches, a trace of earthiness, and a thread of minerality intertwine. Simply stunning through the never-ending finale. (GG/BOS)

Click on the link below for further details and a full list of results from this year’s McMinnville Wine Classic. And CONGRATULATIONS to all the award-winning grapegrowers, winemakers and vintners!

 McMinnville Wine Classic Competition

Engaging Sips from Idaho

Tasting Notes

Exploring wine regions in Idaho continues to be enlightening. There are noteworthy wines produced in all three AVA’s in Idaho–Snake River Valley, Eagle Foothills, and Lewis-Clark Valley. Passionate grapegrowers, winemakers, and vintners have made great strides over the past ten years in farming, vineyard management and winemaking practices, and the quality of wines produced there today deserves recognition on the global stage.

To whet your appetite, here are a few I highly recommend:

Ste. Chapelle Winery Gewurztraminer ($20), Snake River Valley: The engaging fragrance of a delicate floral bouquet is heavenly. Decorating the palate are classic layers of lychee, juicy guava, hints of spice, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Precisely balanced with a vivid personality that stays bright and focused as it heads to a lingering close.

Ste. Chapelle Winery 2019 Open Air Muscat Blanc ($20), Snake River Valley: This exhilarating Muscat Blanc from Skyline Vineyard shines brightly with its white fruit and floral aroma. A sunny burst of lemon-splashed white peaches interlaces with honeysuckle, mandarin orange, and delicate herbs stimulating the taste buds. Graceful and mouthfilling, and the brisk level of balancing acidity persists through the zesty finish.

Huston Vineyards 2019 Private Reserve Chardonnay ($29), Snake River Valley: Here’s a melding of new-world and old-world style Chardonnay with its forward fruit harmonizing with underlying earthy elements. Aromas and flavors of crunchy apples, Bosc pears, tropical fruit, vanilla bean, earthiness and minerality entwine. Spicy oak elements from 30% new French and American oak aging add depth and dimension.

Huston Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah ($45), Snake River Valley: Intense and firmly structured, these two powerhouse varieties interlace exquisitely on the palate with precise balance and gracefulness. Firm tannins frame Bing cherries, black currants, spiced plum preserves, leather and shades of oak flowing seamlessly across the palate. It is approachable now, while promising years of life ahead.

Fujishin Family Cellars 2018 Tempranillo ($25.95), Snake River Valley: This bold and well-defined Tempranillo offers up deep, dark fruit and a touch of earth on the nose. Flavors of boysenberries, black plums, earthiness, licorice and a dusting of herbs interlace in harmony. It is complex and full bodied, while also displaying elegance and freshness. There is an ethereal quality through the long-lasting finish.

Fujishin Family Cellars 2017 Petit Verdot ($25.95), Snake River Valley: The gorgeous, perfumed aroma of violets and forest berries sends you into the glass. On the palate it is rich and complex with dark plums, wild blackberries, black currants, crushed herbs, and fresh turned earth, supported by a firm backbone of tannins. The finish is intense, smooth and persistent. It is among the best single variety Petit Verdot bottlings I have tasted.

Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Dry Moscato ($20), Snake River Valley: Here is a striking, floral-fragranced wine crafted of fruit from Hat Ranch Winery’s estate Muscat Ottonel vineyard. Brimming with juicy pineapple, dried mango, mandarin orange fruit, and a touch of savoriness, it boasts an expansive mouthfeel, impressive depth, and immaculate balance. This stylish bone-dry white wine delivers a hint of sage flowers extending through the long finish.

Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Private Reserve Wild Poppy Malbec ($34), Snake River Valley: This enlivening Malbec opens with an aroma of fresh summer black and red berries. Dense and concentrated in the mouth, it unveils blackberries, marionberries, huckleberries, and earthiness linking with accents of subtle oak and a sprinkling of spice. This deeply flavored and well-balanced wine delivers a finish that extends beyond the final sip.

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2016 Single Vineyard Syrah ($40); Eagle Foothills: This treasure unleashes an alluring dark fruit aroma; a theme that carries all the way through the dramatic finish. Layers of blackberries, black cherries, savory herbs, cassis, saddle leather, purple plums, and spice-encrusted roast beef coat the palate. It is elegant and well balanced with velvety tannins, and the finale is long and memorable.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Coco’s Reserve Selway ($45): The winery and estate vineyard are within Idaho’s Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. Fruit is also sourced from nearby Washington, as is the case with this delectable blend (45% Carmenere, 28% Petite Sirah,16% Malbec, 6% Cab Sauv, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Merlot). Complex and multilayered with ripe blackberries, black currants, and juicy plum fruit accented by savory spice and sweet oak nuances. Impressively balanced with well-integrated tannins, and the lingering finish seems endless.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Umiker Vineyard Merlot ($28), Lewis-Clark Valley: This extraordinary estate Merlot showcases an expressive nose of forest berries and spice. Well defined and pure with blueberries, Satsuma plums, boysenberry jam, vanilla bean, red currants, pipe tobacco, and well-integrated oak flowing across the palate. Smooth, lush and well-structured, it maintains pristine balance through the engaging, persistent finish.

Now is the time to venture out to the gem state of Idaho, and uncover your favorite liquid gems.

BARRA of Mendocino in the Spotlight

Mendocino, Tasting Notes

The Barra Family has deep roots in Mendocino County, and they continue to be a respected and valued contributor to the wine world there today.  From the first time I was introduced to Martha and (the late) Charlie Barra and tasted their wines a decade ago, I knew they were onto something special, and I have been impressed ever since.  

Charlie has often been noted as the godfather of Mendocino grape growing. He was born to Italian immigrants in 1926 in Capella (Mendocino County), California.   From the time he was a young boy, he worked side by side with his grandfather and father, gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience in the deep red soils of the Mendocino County’s Redwood Valley (which later, in 1997, became a designated appellation).    

Charlie passed away a year and a half ago at age 92, months after he completed his 73rd harvest.   Today, his wife Martha, her daughter Shelley, and son Shawn carry on Charlie’s legacy at their Redwood Valley winery, which has been family owned and farmed since 1955.  Their Barra of Mendocino brand was founded in 1997, and the Girasole Vineyards label followed in 2003.  Total production annually is 25,000 cases.  All their wines are crafted from estate fruit, and their vineyards are organic certified. 

Another one of my memorable experiences with Charlie and Martha happened back in 2012, when I participated in the SOMM Journal’s Terroir Experience.  It was an enlightening trip for our group of sommeliers, who gathered to explore the Mendocino County wine country.  I was completely enthralled with their 2006 Sangiovese; elegant, precise, impeccably balanced, and true to variety.  It was among the top new world Sangiovese wines I had ever tasted.  Here is what I wrote about that wine:  Barra of Mendocino 2006 Sangiovese is a beautiful wine crafted from the estate grown, organic-certified vineyards of Charlie and Martha Barra.  The expressive floral and earthy aromas clearly identify the variety.  On the palate, focused cherry and raspberry fruit marries nicely with earthiness, nutmeg and clove spices.  Well-structured and balanced with perfect offsetting acidity, and a long finish. 

I just tasted a few more recent releases of Barra of Mendocino wines, and highly recommend them:

Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Blanc:  This delicious rendition of Pinot Blanc opens with delicate white flowers on the nose.  Blossoming on the palate are layers of honeysuckle, fresh cut Honeydew melon, crisp Pink Lady apples, waves of minerality, and hints of pineapple.   It is smoothly textured with beautiful balancing acidity, and a nice tinge of spice adds depth to the lingering final sip.   SRP:  $14

Girasole Vineyards 2019 Pinot Noir:  Forest floor and cherry aromas shout out Pinot Noir, and this example is silky and ethereal.  Red Sweetheart cherries, exotic spice, pomegranate seeds, wild mushrooms, orange zest, gentle oak notes, and savory berry compote flow vibrantly across the palate.  Purity abounds, the wine is nicely balanced and elegant with a divine finish, and what an incredible value, too.   SRP:  $16

Barra of Mendocino 2017 Petite Sirah:  Wow, intensely built with berries and fresh ground black pepper on the nose.   Huckleberries, juicy blackberries, hints of earthiness, vanilla bean, strawberry rhubarb notes, and chocolate covered cherries swirl deliciously on the palate.  Rich and mouthfilling, with a velvety texture.   Approachable now if you can’t wait to pop the cork, however the chalky tannins, deep fruit, and precise balance promise years of enjoyment ahead.  SRP:  $22

I look forward to visiting and tasting their additional wine offerings, including current releases of Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Muscat Canelli, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and CORO of Mendocino red blend (composed of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon). 

The winery is located at 7051 N. State Street, Redwood Valley, California.  You, too, can schedule a reservation for a minimal contact, outdoor tasting experience at their picturesque property, by calling the winery at (707) 485-0322.  The tasting cost of $10 per person is refunded with a wine purchase, and I feel confident you will find wines to please any palate during your visit.   For additional info, visit their website,

Spit Take: Breaking the Tie

Tasting Notes

“Gold, Gold, Silver, Silver—let’s discuss!”  This is a typical around-the-table call out on a panel of four professional judges at a wine competition. The tie must be broken. What happens next can change the fortunes of an unheralded winemaker, or end a hot streak for a top-end winery. Wines awarded Gold or Double Gold (unanimous Gold from all judges on that panel), not only gain kudos and shiny medals to display, but can provide vintners a direct route to increased exposure, publicity, and sales.

A good judge will have given each wine thoughtful consideration—each wine on its own merits, regardless of the judge’s personal variety or style preference.   A good judge, who may taste 50-125 wines that day, will have been spitting—the first step to maintaining a clear head and palate—and being invited back to judge. And a good judge will be ready to explain and debate their case when ties occur. Communication is key. The most important element of the tie breaker is about to begin: it’s time to lobby. Each judge presents a case for his or her rating.  The judges who called out Gold hope to talk up one, or both of the judges who ranked it Silver, to a Gold rating.  A consensus must be reached before the panel moves on to the next flight of wines.

I appreciate wine competition directors who, when assigning flights of wines, take into consideration judges’ expertise with certain varieties.  It allows judges with particular expertise to share knowledge about lesser known varieties during the discussion portion of the judging.  This gives those who may not have much (if any) experience judging that variety a better idea of what to expect.  Take for example, Gruner Veltliner, a wine I understand very well. In a recent competition, I provided in-depth information to judges who lacked experience with that variety and who under-rated the wine on its true varietal merits. After further discussion and retasting the wine, a Silver medal was elevated to Gold.  

Breaking the tie is one of the most exciting parts of any competition. It presents a fun opportunity to share perspectives and knowledge, and become a better judge and co-panelist by understanding what other judges experience in the wines. As I often say, every palate is unique. The discussion that follows—during which passions can show—is part of what has energized my interest in wine, and judging over the past 19 years across vastly different competitions. There is always more to learn…and plenty of wine and conversation to fuel a passionate judge on the way to deciding which wines deserve “Gold!”

Noteworthy Wines from Napa Valley’s Battuello Vineyards

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Napa, Tasting Notes

Matteo Battuello and his wife Serafina founded Battuello Vineyards in 1909, after immigrating to the United States from the Piedmont region of Italy. They initially farmed grapes, plums and walnuts on the land they purchased.  While raising their sons Dominic and Joseph, they enhanced the property with additional plantings of wine grapes, and the vineyards continue to thrive. From one generation to the next, the Battuellos proudly carry on the family tradition of farming in St. Helena.

When Dominic and his wife Ellen inherited the property they expanded the vineyards, while raising their children Craig, Lois, and Elaine.  Craig is the current proprietor, running and operating the property with his son Dave (vineyard manager) and Dave’s wife Torey (heading up marketing and sales). Dave and Torey’s children Case and Alessa (fifth generation), are being raised on the property today. 

Their sustainably farmed 82-acre site in the St. Helena AVA is planted to 65 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, four acres of Petit Verdot, and smaller parcels of Sauvignon Blanc and Valdiguié (a grape more widely grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, and once dubbed Napa Gamay in California).  All their wines are crafted from estate fruit.

I highly recommend their current releases, which are showing beautifully: 

2019 Valdiguié Rosé ($28):  The brilliant peachy-pink hue simply glows.  Rising from the glass are scents of lemon blossom, and a strawberry field brimming with ripe fruit.  On the palate, the berry theme continues with red raspberries and strawberries accented by citrus, subtle black pepper, and minerality.  Beautifully balanced and refreshing with a zesty finish. 

2018 Valdiguié ($45):  Fragrant floral notes capture your attention at first whiff of this medium-bodied, fully flavored, dry red wine.  Wild raspberries, Sweetheart cherries, huckleberries, a kiss of oak, strawberry-rhubarb sauce, and a hint of crushed thyme coat the palate, and will have you reaching for more. Smooth and nicely balanced with well-integrated tannins and lively acidity that carries the wine to a satisfying close.

2018 Petit Verdot ($70):  A deep purple hue catches the eye, and the concentrated berry and violet aroma captures the senses.  Voluptuous on the palate, as flavors of purple plums, black currant, tobacco, wild blackberries, and oak spice nuances unfold harmoniously.  The texture is velvety, the tannins are supple, and lush fruit lingers well beyond the last sip.  Approachable now, while promising to age gracefully for years.

2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($90): The alluring nose is chock full of heady dark fruit, and the entry offers up mulberry and black currant notes.   Broad, complex, and precisely balanced through the palate where Bing cherry, blackberry, cassis, pipe tobacco, savory spice, subtle oak, and underlying earthiness interlace.  The pure core of fruit, firm backbone of tannins, and balancing acidity speak to this wine’s cellar worthiness, and the finish is everlasting.

Battuello Vineyards welcomes visitors for tastings by appointment.  You can reach Torey via email at, or via phone at 707 888-1320.  For further details and/or to order wine, visit their website at

Stimulate your senses at RRV’s Bricoleur Vineyards

Tasting Notes

Earlier this year while judging the 2020 American Fine Wine Competition, Bricoleur Vineyards hit my radar screen. I was fortunate that their Viognier was among wines I evaluated, and I deemed it Gold worthy. In fact, I noted it to be the best Viognier I had ever tasted, brilliantly crafted.

Shortly after the competition, the Covid-19 pandemic descended upon America, and the shelter-in edict kept me from visiting the property for several months. Thankfully, with mask on and social distancing protocols being strictly adhered to, I had the pleasure of meeting with the Bricoleur team this month at their stunning winery in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The impressive estate, people, vineyards, cuisine and wines are now clearly dialed in! Kudos to owners Mark and Elizabeth Hanson and daughter Sarah Hanson Citron, Winemaker Cary Gott, Sales & Hospitality Director Chris Richard, Executive Chef Shane McAnelly, and the entire team.

It is a real treat for the senses to visit Bricoleur Vineyards. Take in the beauty of the vineyards and lakes (one adorned with a pair of gliding black swans) and delightful seating areas outdoors, smell the roses and other floral delights in their well-manicured gardens, feel the gently blowing fall breezes, and taste the incredible cuisine and wines.

Here is a preview of wines:

North Coast “Flying by the Seat of our Pants” Brut Sparkling ($45): This Double Gold/Best of Class winning wine opens with citrus-splashed fresh-picked apples and delicate white flowers on the nose. Bright and lively on the palate with stone fruit joining Granny Smith apples, hints of honeysuckle, and lemon-lime accents. Brisk acidity keeps it well balanced and the tiny bubbles are endless.

2018 Kick Ranch Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($30): From the Fountaingrove District AVA at the eastern hills of Sonoma County comes this classy Sauv Blanc, crafted from Musqué and 317 clones. Fragrant scents keep you lingering over the glass, and the palate is equally entrancing. Lemon verbena, honeydew melon and a lime twist interlace harmoniously. The texture is round and smooth as the wine makes its way to a lifted finale.

2018 Kick Ranch Vineyard Viognier ($30): Also from the cool climate Fountaingrove District AVA, the expressive floral aromatic of this supple, Gold Medal winning Viognier is heavenly. Stone fruit, Golden Delicious apples, spicy elements, and a splash of Meyer lemon burst with vibrancy, captivating the palate through the invigorating finish. The lush texture and balancing acidity top off the extraordinary package.

2018 Unoaked Chardonnay ($30): Reminiscent of a French Chablis, this finely tuned Russian River Valley Chardonnay displays a pleasing citrus blossom aroma. On the palate it blasts a fireworks display of lemon and lime, green plums, crunchy green apples and minerality, with a subtle accent of crushed herbs. Well balanced and enlivening from start to zesty finish.

2018 Estate Chardonnay ($35): This exotic Chardonnay is composed of Wente and Musqué clones rooted in their estate Russian River Valley vineyard. The appealing tree fruit and butterscotch aroma shouts out Chardonnay. Broadening on the palate are layers of poached pears, Sweetie apples, orange zest, baking spices, and pleasing oak notes from aging in 40% new and 60% neutral French oak for ten months. Deeply flavored and complex, with a lingering finish.

2019 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé ($30): A heady perfumed nose is the perfect intro for this snappy and dry Pinot Noir Rosé. Rainier cherries and raspberries at the core are accented by fresh clementines and a touch of spice. Bracing acidity complements the juicy fruit, and keeps the wine ever so lively on the palate. Elegant and refreshing, ideal for an afternoon pick-me-up, or pre-dinner sipper, yet will also pair very well with fresh salads and delicate fish entrees.

2017 Estate Pinot Noir ($45) This Double Gold winning Pinot Noir (GG honors are bestowed upon a wine in which every member of the panel scores it a Gold Medal) is exquisite. Tantalizing aromas of cherries and spice lead to a silky smooth mouthful of Bing cherries, pomegranate seeds, vanilla, fresh red raspberries, and exotic spice. Well defined and precise in balance with refined tannins and a dazzling finish.

2018 Alexander Valley Estate Zinfandel ($42): Here’s a rich and spicy Zinfandel that is chock full of berry goodness. Fresh blackberries, sweet and slightly tart mulberries, and boysenberry jam join freshly ground multi-colored peppercorns, and well-integrated spicy oak (from 18 months of 90% neutral French oak barrel aging). Full bodied, stylish and simply delicious.

If you have not had the delightful opportunity to visit Bricoleur, now’s the time. They are open Thursday through Monday 10 am to 5 pm by appointment for tastings. There are also evening events planned regularly, including family friendly wine and pizza nights, and first class wine pairing dinners. For further information call the winery at 707 857-5700 visit their website,

Palate Pleasing Gems <$20

Gems in MY Glass . . ., Great Values, Tasting Notes

Looking for an affordable, easy to quaff wine? Give these a try! You can find them, and other wines to tickle your taste buds, online at

Three Wine Men 2017 Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($14.99):  Ripe dark berry aromatics clearly speak Zinfandel.  Flavors of sweet plums, raspberry-filled hard candy, boysenberry preserves, subtle spice, and fresh squeezed Sunkist oranges meld, smoothly coating the mouth.  Jammy while being well balanced, it finishes fresh and clean.

Monarch Glen 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, California ($13.99):  This snappy Sauvignon Blanc, broadcasting Granny Smith apples on the nose, brims with vibrancy. On the palate, flavors of white grapefruit, kiwi, lime soda, and a suggestion of herbs join complementary acidity.  The finish is bright and uplifting.

Hayton Family 2018 Reserve Syrah, California ($15.99):  The concentrated fruity aroma of this medium bodied Syrah is inviting.  Ripe blackberries, spice-infused plum jam, and cherry-vanilla pudding cake meld on the palate. Backed by gentle tannins and a smooth texture, flavors linger through the succulent close. 

Lone Vine 2019 Winemaker’s Selection Pinot Grigio, California ($14.99):   Fresh lemon-lime scents waft from the glass.  Lemon splashed Golden Delicious apples, pear sorbet, honeycomb, and a touch of salinity unfold onto the palate. Crisp and refreshing through the lime-accented finish.

George Phillips 2017 Reserve Selection Merlot, California ($17.99): A perfumed nose of forest berries and savory spice opens the door to this fruit forward Merlot.  Round, mouth filling and nicely balanced, it shows off notes of juicy blueberries, Bing cherries, vanilla, a dash of spice, and hints of cherry red vines on the satisfying finish. 

Captivating Wines and Mesmerizing Views at Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyards

Tasting Notes

Perched within the Chalk Hill and Russian River Valley AVAs in California’s Sonoma County is the spellbinding 710-acre domain of Notre Vue Estate Winery and Vineyards.  Founders/Owners Bob and Renée Stein established Notre Vue in 1992. The 710 acre estate encompasses 350 acres of protected open space land, majestic oak and cypress trees dotting the hillsides, and 250 acres planted to wine grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Petite Sirah. Their estate vineyards, which are spread across diverse micro-climates, are sustainably farmed. 

Talented winemaker Alex Holman has had his hands in the soil of every AVA within Sonoma County, and believe me, Alex knows his craft.  His minimal intervention style results in wines of remarkable aromatics, precision, and character.  A tasting of his recently released wines gives credence to what this unpretentious, down-to-earth winemaker accomplished during his first vintage crafting wines under the Notre Vue and Balverne labels.

Alex combines his knowledge gained through his winemaking stints across Sonoma County, a B.S. degree in chemistry followed by viticultural program studies at California State University Fresno (under the tutelage of renowned Dr. Barry Gump), and his straight-forward, “clean, native fermentation“ approach to winemaking.  Here is a snapshot of impressive wines crafted by Alex: 

Balverne 2019 Sauvignon Blanc ($27), Chalk Hill:  Opening with fragrant aromas of fresh summer grasses, this energizing Sauv Blanc is bright and lively with pristine balance and a silky texture.  Thirst-quenching flavors of honeydew melon, lemongrass, and vine-ripened kiwi invigorate the palate, and lead to a lingering finish.

Notre Vue 2019 GSM Rosé ($29), Chalk Hill:  This zesty rendition of dry rosé composed of equal parts Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre is extraordinary.  A fireworks-like display of flavors burst in the mouth!  Layers of Opal plums, red raspberries, a trace of anise, orange zest, and ground nutmeg intertwine, and the finish is mouthwateringly delicious.

Balverne 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, CA:   A shimmering pale pink hue and floral, fresh berry aromas welcome you into the glass.  There you will find a delicate, well-balanced dry Rosé with dynamic flavors of strawberries, Rainier cherries, and an underlying wave of spice. A graceful and thirst-quenching afternoon sipper. 

Notre Vue 2019 Chardonnay Musqué ($36) Russian River Valley:  Here is a distinctive Chardonnay (made from Chardonnay Musqué clone 809) that leads off with an enticing nose of pear sorbet and citrus blossom.  Flavors of green apple, lime zest, and subtle spice entwine. Stirring of the lees (bâtonnage) in neutral French oak barrels gives the wine a creamy texture and added complexity through the memorable finish.

Balverne 2018 Reserve Pinot Noir ($45), Russian River Valley:  Gorgeous red and black fruit aromatics make way for layers of black cherry, fresh strawberry, a touch of earth, black raspberry, underlying oak, and exotic spices.  Beautiful depth and purity of fruit all the way through.  Satin smooth and elegant with perfect balancing acidity, and a finish that persists long after the last sip.

2017 Notre Vue Proprietor’s Red Blend ($59), Sonoma County:  Cab Sauv and Bordeaux blend wine lovers take note!  Here is a rich, deeply flavored wine crafted of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec.   Hints of violets on the nose lead to well-defined flavors of black currants, tobacco, Black Beauty plums, Herbes de Provence, and a touch of mocha melding in harmony.  Well-structured and intense through the long-lasting finish.   

To schedule an appointment to taste the well-crafted wines on one of their Lakeside Pavilions or Block 23 Terrace, absorb the beauty and serenity of the stunning views, and explore their Wine Club Membership and shipping options, visit, or give them a call at 707 433-4050.  Wines can also be ordered online for curbside pickup, or curbside delivery for locals; enjoy!

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