I picked up some friends at the airport and off we went - driving up to my motherland..Our first stop- Rams Gate Winery.  This new winery opened 6 weeks earlier and I will say a jaw dropper.  Its denoted as the first winery you can get to right out of San Francisco (just a 35 minute drive- 25 with good traffic)  www.ramsgatewinery.com
it. was. gorgeous.  
Outside fireplaces, covered ceilings but open on the sides....then you walk inside to this beautiful cement bar with stone fireplaces and a huge wine wall.  Everyone looked happy and relaxed.  Then outside to sit in the sun, surrounded by vines and a completely amazing view of San Pablo bay in the distance and mountains. WOW.  They did nothing cheap here...copper everything and the tiniest details were awesome - even blankets with their logo for people sitting outside in the shade.  Then you open the menu - about 6 wines - a couple of them estate grown - and the FOOD....wow! small plates like braised shortribs and crackling duck.  Cheese plates and just the most delicious looking food Ive seen! We had a bottle of estate pinot (we could see the vines the wine came from - awesome)  The wine wasnt as stunning as the place, vibe and food but thats ok - I will go back again - probably everytime.
Then off to the Doobie Brothers Managers winery - BR cohn.  Cool, artsy place.  We had a great tour guide,Justin, and he showed us around to blooming persimom trees, round red pomegranites, ripened olives ready to get pressed and some fun wines.  We also did an olive oil and balsalmic vinegar tasting.  www.brcohn.com
Then we checked into the luxurious Hotel Healdsburg www.hotelhealdsburg.com where I had one of the best beds if not THE best bed of my life.  That of course was after a 6 course tasting menu at Charlie Palmers Dry Creek Kitchen www.charliepalmer.com   .  We had rare tuna, a velvety corn soup with bacon, cheese courses, and many other treats. WIne we had Simi Landslide Cabernet, Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc, J Brut Rose, Armida Zinfandel... Back to my beautiful room with a super huge Tub and the magic heaven bed.  I didnt want to get out of it in the morning but the tub was calling me...
A long day ahead we stopped at Oakville Grocer in Healdsburg for some snacks and off to Frei Bros Ranch in Dry Creek.  Ashley was an amazing host and we toured the vineyards, spouted some history and drank some great sauvignon blanc and chilly zinfandel.  www.freibrothers.com Off to Mac Murray Ranch in Russian River. www.macmurrayranch.com    The drive is windy and the locals take it fast and furious.  The Ranch is Quaint and lovely.  Reminds me of my gram and gramps old farm.  We drank some round and ripe mac murray pinot gris, talked about Wisconsin ties with Fred macmurray and his show "my three sons".  We had a tasty rustic lunch in the old house in the front of the fireplace and under the fir trees.  This ranch feels magical, almost surreal.  Its one of the most lovely places in Sonoma in my book.  I feel good there.
We made the drive over the river and through the redwoods to Calistoga (start of Napa Valley) and pulled up to the Fransican winery where we were going to be staying over and having dinner. www.franciscan.com  Nolan was our main man - we toured the winery - had some tasty sauv blanc and then an unbelievable dinner and drank a 3 liter of 04 mt veeder cabernet (my fav)  The wine was a stand out right now.  So powerful yet so soft and teasing. 
We woke up to FROST in the napa valley floor..If I hadnt mentioned 90% of grapes were already harvested but some late comers were still picking right till the end...A tough year in Cali and oregon wine country.  It never got fully hot out (that means inthe triple digits there) and then they had rain during flowering and harvest.  Botrytis (a humidity (water) driven fungus that gets inthe middle of the bunches of grapes and starts to rot, was  a problem after the late rain.  Tough year.  We heard anywhere from 30 - 60% loss.  not a pleasant thought coming from 2010 which was tough too with not a lot of heat (which means grapes dont get ripe or produce sugar) and then a crazy spike in heat that gave 30-50% of grapes sunburn (the grapes actually turn to raisans essentially)
We went to Cab heaven - Louis Martini where we enjoyed a cabernet seminar with Claire and tasted some great cabs. www.louismartini.com  Then off to William HIll to figure out chardonnay, check out the refractometer and sugar levels and some cellar stories.  Then the best lunch I may have ever had.  They brought out course after course....curried crab salad, fresh fig salad, braised beef, smoked shrimp with fennel salad, goat cheese smashed potatoes, Cheese course and charcuterie platter and AHHH stop!  We were uncomfortably full and If I was wearing a buttoned pair of pants someone would have lost an eye for sure. www.williamhillestate.com
A quick stop at silver oak and then to Duckhorn to taste these delicious well balanced wines.  Luke was great and after Goldeneye, duckhorn, paraduxx, migration and decoy we were buzzed, happy and smiling..
we made a quick pit stop to Castello di Amarosa - a castle and winery that took 14 years to build and just opened up last year.  Its completely stunning and just please drive in to look at it.  A remarkable love of wine and history because there is NO way this guy can ever make enough money in wine to cover the costs.  the details are truly one of a kind.
Checked into the Eurospa INn www.eurospa.com in Calistoga and off to see a dear friend of mine for dinner - John.  We met at the Market in St Helena - I totally recommend.  I had a great beet and goat cheese salad and John and I shared some tuna tartar.  Then a crab cake and We shared a brownie sundae.  He owns Buehler Vineyards and WInery.  We drank his Russian River chardonnay and his Estate cabernet (OMG STUNNING) classy and elegant as his wines - he is rustic, handsome and opinionated perfection! what a great night!  And his cabernet is featured inthis months Wine Spectator. www.buehlervineyards.com
A great trip - I know when my pants are tight and my lips are dehydrated from the wine.  Another success! The rolling hills of color from green to gold and red, Wine country is sure a stellar sight in November.  The weather was great, the food and wines amazing.  Go there and feel the sun on your face and smell fermentation in the air!

bittersweet and green on the vine

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