Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Star Shines Over Sonoma

Sonoma set for Labor Day vineyard fireworks with Wine Country Weekend

Labor Day Weekend, there’ll be fireworks, in the figurative sense, over the Sonoma Valley as the 2nd Annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend unfolds September 4-6. Tickets are already on sale for the event, which combines the Taste of Sonoma wine tasting event on the fabulous Healdsburg estate of the MacMurray Ranch, Winemaker lunches and ‘Varietal’ Dinners, all culminating with the 17th Annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction on the grounds of Cline vineyard in Sonoma, which is the Grand Finale and the Year’s Biggest Party. Billed as “200 Wineries and Chefs; One Unforgettable Sonoma Wine Country.” The event, presented by Visa Signature, will raise $8 million for local charities.

In a conversation at San Francisco International Airport, following the flight from an exhausting, but ‘champagne and caviar’-filled weekend at the Aspen Wine Classic, Kate MacMurray, ambassador and spokeswoman of the spectacular MacMurray Ranch, spoke like a gushing school girl anticipating prom night, when she spoke of the upcoming event.

“We’ll once again be hosting the Showcase: Taste of Sonoma at our Healdsburg Estate,” she told me proudly as we waited in the cue near the baggage carousel at San Francisco International Airport. It’s really an opportunity for people to experience the full range of everything the Sonoma Valley has to offer in a setting that is indicative of what this region is all about.”

The fabulous rolling hills and lush vineyards of the MacMurray Ranch is the legacy of her father, actor Fred MacMurray (TVs My Three Sons, 1960-1972, Disney’s The Absent-Minded Professor, 1961. “When my father bought this ranch in 1941, it was dedicated to Black Angus cattle, “ Kate reminisced during a visit to the Ranch last summer. “It wasn’t until Gallo became interested in the property in 1996, that it became a winery.

“John Wayne and my father were huge friends and John Wayne came here often to go fly fishing in that river,” she said, motioning to the Russian River that runs through the rolling meadows below the hills, lined with pinot noir grapes. “The house where he stayed was later dubbed ‘the John Wayne house.’ It is now what Kate calls home.

Grapes produced on the 900 acres of pristine Sonoma land are now responsible for some of the most delicious wines in the valley. MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir boats a 92 point rating with a concentrated nose of ‘bramble’ fruit and a lingering back beat of soft, fertile earth. Russian River Valley Pinot Gris is rich with aromas of cashew butter and herbs with high notes of floral citrus.

Those are just two of the wines that participants will indulge their palettes in during the 2009 Sonoma Wine Country weekend. For schedule, tickets and information, visit

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pretty wine from a pretty winemaker

Jennifer Wall is probably the prettiest winemaker you'll ever meet. She's also one of the most awarded. "I'm the most awarded female winemaker in the country," she told me proudly ofver a glass of her spectacular 2007 J. Lynne Single Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay during a recent visit to the Vine Tastings wine bar in downtown Windsor, California. "I'm also the most awarded winery in the under $15 dollar range!"

Jennifer is no neophyte in the winemaking business. Even though barely into her 40s,she's been the winemaker at Barefoot Cellars since 1995 and, with her husband Mike, who doubles as a fire chief for the Sonoma Fire Department, conceptualized the idea for her own label of J. Lynne Wines in 2001. The winery is planning for the upcoming harvest while at the same time tending to the 2008 vintage wines. While at Vine Tastings, we sampled a barrel tasting of the 2008 Single Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay, which had just been pulled out of the barrel with a wine thief. "You'll notice that the wine is very cloudy. That's the way Chardonnay is before its been refined. But you can still discern its rich varietal character and see that the wine has a lot of promise. We'' be bottling this over the next month or so. We'll only make about 600 cases of this wine and its already been sold out!"

Even in its young state, tne wine showed a lot of potential. It had a sweet, rounded mouth feel and displayed a great deal of fruit on the nose. A citrus nose gave way to hints of rosemary and a touch of nutmeg. This is wine that begs for accompaniment with food. Thai and Indian cuisine or a bit of Sushi with Brazilian spice would do the trick. "I use oak, but its only there to lift the wine, not change its delineation. I think people want to taste the true varietal character. They want to know what they're drinking, not have it taste like something else!"

The most exciting thing about J. Lynne wines,is the price to value ratio. Each of the wines sells in the $15 to $22 range and can stand side-by-side with wines costing two to three times as much.The 2007 Two vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is one of the best Ive ever tasted.

"People like to drink wines that are varietally correct. So when I make a Pinot Noir, I don't blend it with anything! In fact, when you go through the vineyards and taste the grapes and you put them into seperate barrels for aging. Its amazing what you come up with. You'll taste the wines and realize how completely different they are. When I make the final blend, its truly amazing." After a deep sniff and a healthy gulp from the glass, Jennifer declares. "This wine is really pretty!" No other word could describe it. J. Lynne Wines are available in limited released in fine restaurants and wine shops. They can also be ordered online. For more information on J. Lynne Wines visit