Frei and MacMurray

At the top of MacMurray Ranch

At the top of MacMurray Ranch

Back at last year’s Wine Blogger Conference, I met Kelly from Gallo Family Estates.  She sat next to me at the speed dating/live blogging/whatever you want to call it first event where we were introduced rapidly to about 14 wines. At the time, I think she was a little bemused by the flurry of activity, everyone being on twitter, and all that was going on.  But she must have liked what she saw as she will be attending again this year! We exchanged cards, and that was that.  Several months later, she sent me an email and wanted to know when my next trip to the Sonoma area was going to be. She happened to be the first person to contact me, so my schedule was wide open and we settled on a day, she wanted to take me to see two of the wineries owned by Gallo.

Trying out my camera skillz

Trying out my camera skillz

Usually I would write up winery visit separately, but we visited both Frei Brothers and MacMurray Ranch, and the whole experience was completely intertwined–tasting Frei Brothers while at MacMurray, asking questions and learning about the Gallos at both, so I’ve decided to write up the visit as one big post.  We headed first to MacMurray Ranch where we met up with Sally, a hospitality host. Sally promptly handed us a glass of the 2007 Frei Brothers Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc and got down to talking about all the vineyards the Gallos own in California and then focused her presentation to MacMurray Ranch, giving us a bit of the history of the vineyard.

Among the vines

Among the vines

2007 Frei Brothers Sauvignon Blanc: Melon, lemon, has that nice acidity you can smell on the nose, tropical fruits, lime, grapefruit, stone fruit, crisp and dry.

MacMurray Ranch is 1600 acres, with only 465 acres planted to vine.  The Gallos purchased the property in 1996 from the MacMurray family and started the MacMurray label in 2001.  The property is extremely cool…the old ranch where the MacMurray family lived is on the property and has been fully restored, including many of the original furnishing and memorabilia from the MacMurray family–Fred MacMurray was a famous actor and his daughter is very much involved in the brand and the winery.  She helped with the restoration of the ranch and added the family touches to the decorations.



Kelly arrived shortly thereafter and accompanied us around the house.  After touring the house and the immediate property, we headed to the porch for a leisurely lunch, where the chef had outdone herself! Cheese trays, brisket, fruit platters, macaroni salads, quite the spread for the 4 of us.  We enjoyed several wines over lunch.

2007 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris: Lemon grass, vanilla, spice, oak, green apple, lemon, grass/hay, stonefruit, crisp, clean, very lemony.

2007 MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: Smoke, leather, earth, cherry, chocolate, raspberry, floral, nice red fruit, brown sugar, caramel, tart.

Lots o vines

Lots 'o vines

We headed from lunch up to the top of the valley to have a look at the MacMurray vineyards and the beautiful view as well as enjoy some of the wine amongst the vines from which is was made.  I learned a lot of the Gallo family on this trip. Overall, the portfolio consists of 60+ brands and 18 members of the Gallo family still work for this entirely privately held corporation.  I also had no idea, but the corporation follows a 50/50 giveback plan whereby of all the land they own, they leave 50% of it untouched, undeveloped, and wild.  So at MacMurray Ranch, while the whole property is 1600 acres only 465 acres are developed.  At Frei Ranch, the property is 1500 acres with 700 developed.

More poppies

More poppies

From MacMurray, Matt and I hopped in our red Ford Mustang rental car (somewhere I have a picture of this…when we picked it up it had 6 miles on it!!) and followed Sally and Kelly over to Frei Ranch, where a blending seminar was going on! Looked like lots of fun.  Both Ranches were bursting with activity the day we toured…MacMurray had a bbq going on that smelled delightful!  At Frei, we started on the porch by tasting some Barefoot Bubbly Chardonnay. Now, I will admit, I’m pretty skeptical of the Barefoot brand, but the Bubbly is $7 a bottle and shows yeast, lemon, nuts, sweet peach, and apple.  It’s easy to drink, and for $7…well, you can’t really beat that price for a fun bottle of bubbly that would go great with a day at the beach.

After the porch, we headed on a tour of the property.  First, we stopped at a pretty lake out by some of the vineyards.  I took some pictures of the poppies in bloom and we tried some more wine!

2005 Frei Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon: Vanilla, cream, cedar, strawberry jam, spice, pepper, deep red fruit, some black cherry, nice structure with some tannins.

I must admit, I’ve never seen a production of this scale before.  We checked out the tanks….there were so many! And so many different kinds.  I couldn’t believe it.  And then the barrel room! I believe they said it holds 50,000 barrels.  50,000 barrels??!!??!  Holy cow.

This isnt even the beginning

This isn't even the beginning

I’m really glad I took Kelly up on the offer to come on this tour.  I learned so much about the Gallo family and what they do, plus, I’ve just never seen anything like this.  The two properties we toured were gorgeous, though I favored MacMurray Ranch…with the house and all the old barns, it just seemed so homey.  I leave you with a string of pictures of the most barrels I’ve ever seen!



More Barrels

More Barrels

And More

And More

And a tower

And a tower


Up A Hill

Last week I wrote about part one of our visit to Judd’s Hill.  I still owe you a post on the most kick-ass bbq fun ever but that will have to wait for a day when it’s not so nice out and I’m more motivated to sit on my couch and type up a report.  It’s BEAUTIFUL here today, mid-70s, sunny, couldn’t ask for nicer weather.  These days are few and far between in our neck of the woods, so I’m taking advantage while I can.  We’re actually hosting a BBQ and Rosé tasting ourselves tonight!  But today I want to tell you a little bit more about one of the wines that came home with us from Judd’s Hill.  Now, as I mentioned before, the Sauvignon Blanc was bottled the day we were at Judd’s Hill.  I tried to buy some, but Judd said the bottling day special was “buy none, get two free” and wouldn’t take my money for them. (Don’t worry, I bought lots of other wines…I think we ended up with almost a full case of wine from Judd’s Hill!)  So we decided to pop the (plastic) cork on the 2008 Judd’s Hill Sauvignon Blanc, clocking in at 13.5% alcohol by volume and normally retailing for $22.

Grapefruit, grapefruit, grapefruit! The grapefruity citrus just jumps out of the glass, in fact, I wrote in my notes “grapefruity to the max!”  I also got lemon, peach, grass, orange blossoms, flowers, and some other miscellaneous citrus.  In the mouth I found ruby grapefruit, pineapple, lime, white peach, tropical notes, and an overall citrus sense.

I served this wine with parmesan baked tilapia, fresh sweet corn, and rice.  It made a great match with the tilapia (my favorite way to cook tilapia) and we also really enjoyed it after dinner.  While the wine had crisp elements, it was also well-rounded and easy to drink.  A definite bet for this summer!

Wine Blog Spotlight On: Luscious Lushes

Today I continue my series spotlighting some of my favorite wine blogs .  I read a lot of wine blogs. Somewhere in the vicinity of 400-500 a day (if they post that often). I subscribe to almost every wine blog out there because I want to see what’s going on with everyone across the board.  Some haven’t posted in months, some post every day, and others in between.  Thank god for Google Reader!  Out of all those wine blogs, today I want to tell you about my friend Thea who writes Luscious Lushes

Thea comes under my spotlight today for several reasons, but in particular, I want to call her out today and give her the credit she deserves for her work on the Wine Blogger Conference Scholarship.  Not only does Thea write an amazingly funny wine blog, but she’s been the driving force behind the Wine Blogger Conference Scholarship.  Without her, it wouldn’t exist, and a bunch of really worthy wine bloggers would not be getting the chance to attend the conference this summer.

Beyond her tireless work recently on this effort, Thea is a cheerleader for all things wine, bloggers, and social media.  She’s been my partner in crime for several memorable days of terrorizing Napa and Sonoma, writes a fabulous blog, and she loves Pinot Noir.  Luscious Lushes chronicles only a small fraction of Thea’s adventures.  To get the full picture, you need to read her blog and follow her on Twitter where she may just be the most prolific wine twitterer out there.  If there’s a wine event within a few hours of San Francisco, you can pretty much guarantee that Thea will be in attendance.  If you can’t see her, you can still probably hear her infectious laughter from a mile away.

Thea is a laugh a minute and her true love and passion for wine come through in all her interactions with the wine community.  Not to mention, Thea knows everyone.  If you are interested in wine, and you don’t know Thea, you should really seek her out and get a glimpse into her wine-soaked world.  Add her to your feed reader, and you won’t be disappointed!

Time is Running Out!

Dear fellow bloggers, winery folks, social media people, and PR firms-

We still need help to meet the last bit of demand for the Wine Blogger Conference Scholarships.  It would be absolutely fabulous if we could meet the need of all the wonderful bloggers who have applied for assistance, but we need you to dig deep to help us do that.  Any amount will move us to the goal, really, send us $10 if you can!  wbc1

The Flamingo Resort needs us to pay them in full for the wonderfully discounted rooms they have so kindly offered in support of the scholarship by June 1, so we haven’t got much time.

If you can spare a dime, please head on over to the scholarship donation page and help us out.  We will (if you want) feature your information as a donor on the main scholarship blog, and starting after the recipients are announced, I will be featuring each donor in a post here. We are so close, and every dollar counts at this point!

Many thanks to all who choose to donate!


Lip-smacking Good

I have a fondness for Sauvignon Blanc. I especially like the ones that are crisp, refreshing, and mouth-watering good.  I don’t often find Sauvignon Blanc compelling though. It’s a great drink for the hot summer days, in my humble opinion, but not something to really ponder and dwell on.  However, this one made me sit up and take notice.  It’s the good.  I wish I had a never-ending supply to get me through the summer, but alas I only have one bottle left.

This wine is all around fabulous. I picked it up on our last CA trip on our day with Jo and her family.  The wine is the 2008 Robert Biale Pollo Bianco Sauvignon Blanc. It retails for $27 though I paid something less than that with a discount, it had a screw cap closure, and clocked in at 13.5% alcohol by volume.

On first sniff, all I could think about was how delicious the wine smelled.  I found aromas of white flowers, grass, tropical fruit, kiwi, peach, ruby grapefruit, star fruit, and really inviting citrus…mostly lime and grapefruit.  In the mouth I got flavors of lemon, tropical fruit, peach, pink grapefruit, citrus, melon and star fruit.  Overall, I found the wine to be crisp and refreshing with great acidity.  Definitely a must have for the summer.

Math Lesson

*Disclaimer: I received this wine as a sample from Humanitas Wines.

While out visiting in Sonoma last month, we sadly crossed wires with Judd of Michel Schlumberger and weren’t able to visit at the winery.  However, Judd had a bottle of wine he wanted me to try so he ran by Zin where we were dining with Russ and dropped off a bottle for me.  The guys had already ordered flights of Zin and I was doing a tasting menu, otherwise, we would have opened it right then.  Alas, it deserves its own examination, so I took it home to give it a proper tasting.  The wine is the 2006 Humanitas Signum, a red wine blend…each bottle is numbered, as only around 160 were produced.  I have (had) bottle 1740.  It had a plastic cork closure and clocked in at 14.8% alcohol by volume.

On the nose I found plum, berries, spice, black currants, sage, black cherries, black fruit, nutmeg, chocolate, and brown sugar.  An absolutely yummy nose, but it needed time to open up, this wine is a baby!  In the mouth I got blackberries, black currants, black fruit, anise, spice, pepper, black cherry, plum, brown sugar, and some slight red berries peeking through on the edges.

Overall, I know this has the potential to be a fabulous wine, but right now it’s young.  I got to try this at the Wine Blogger Conference last year (and even snuck the remnants onto the bus in my purse) and on night two, just being stored under cork, this was knock your socks off good.  Judd kindly passed the leftovers to me last year, and I didn’t want to share! I’d say give this one around 5  years and then taste it again.  Definitely one for cellaring.

Visiting Biale Vineyards

For our final stop of the day with Jo and her family, we visited Robert Biale Vineyards.  We must have happened by at the right time as we were lucky enough to meet family patriarch Aldo Biale.  Pictured above, Aldo, Jo, me, and Dave Pramuk.  We enjoyed a leisurely tasting on the back patio with Dave, who told us all about the vineyards.  The Biales are long time grape farmers in Napa, planting Zinfandel back in the 1930s when they emigrated from Italy.  In the last 20 years, the family teamed up with Dave and a few others to form a partnership to expand the winery.  They now make about 10,000 cases a year on much of the same land the Biales farmed when they first settled in Napa.

Jo takes copious notes as Dave tells us about Biale

Jo takes copious notes as Dave tells us about Biale

2008 Sauvignon Blanc Pollo Bianco: $27. Gooseberry, grapefruit, pepper, white flowers, acidic, grass, hay, lemon, crisp, melon, lime.  We took home two.

2007 Black Chicken Zinfandel: $42. Cherry, strawberry, pepper, spice, baking spice, cranberry, great fruit, black cherry, so smooth, nice pepper on the finish, pretty red fruit.

2006 Stage Coach Zinfandel: $44. Flowers, blackberry, black cherry, pepper, spice, herbs, chocolate, almost raisins, tart fruit, raspberry, pepper.  We took one home.

2006 Zappa Proprietary Red: $55. Flowers, perfume, cedar chest, boysenberry, violets, roses, herbs (maybe tarragon), smooth, dark, blackberries, black cherry.

2006 Thomman Station Petite Sirah: $50. Chocolat, coffee beans, espresso, cedar, dark fruit, black fruit, blueberry, nice smooth fruit, brown sugar, and caramel.  We bought one.

2006 Royal Punishers Petite Sirah: $44. Bluebrry, raspberry, spice, fruity, oak, tart red berries, long finish.

2005 EBA Petite Sirah: $75. Floral, raspberry, bright fruit, spice, dark, tannic, cranberry, some funk, pencil lead, raisins, red fruit.

2005 EBA Hill Climber Syrah: $75. Berry, earth, oak, meat, milk chocolate, dark, blackberry pie, cream, red undertones, cherry.

2008 Petite Sirah Port: (Barrel sample) Blueberry, raspberry, sweet, dark, chocolate, blueberry syrup, chocolate, nice structure.

All in all, a great line up and an excellent visit.  Nothing beats tasting wine while sitting amongst the vineyards where it’s grown.  We had an excellent end to a lovely day touring the vineyards with Jo.

That’s Amore!

We had bratwurst for dinner last night and I thought sausage=fairly light red wine.  So I pulled a bottle of the 2005 Camellia Cellars Sangiovese from the basement.  I probably should have had a beer…it seems like a more natural match with bratwurst, but a you know by now, wine is my thing, so wine it was.  I purchased the wine at Camellia Cellars on one of last year’s CA trips but I can’t remember what I paid, it had a real cork closure, and clocked in at 13.3% alcohol by volume.

On the nose I found strawberries, red cherries, raspberries, spice, milk chocolate, pencil lead, and flowers.  In the mouth I got bright red fruit, strawberries, red cherries, spice, and red berries.  Overall, I found the wine to be bright and juicy with great acidity.  I think this would make an excellent pizza wine and I will be serving my second bottle with one of my homemade pizzas.

Rosé You Say?

It hasn’t taken us long to jump into the wines we purchased on our most recent CA trip.  I’ll attribute this at least partially to the fact that prior to the trip I had maybe 4 bottles of Rosé and 10 bottles of white wine left in the basement.  We brought home about a case of whites and Rosés and I was just too excited about new options to stop myself from diving right in.  The few we brought home will be dealt with in very short order, I’m afraid!  Tonight I chose the 2008 Mounts Family Winery Two Creeks Rosé.  It clocked in 14.1% alcohol by volume, had a plastic cork closure, and I believe cost us around $16.

On the nose I found watermelon, strawberries and cream, strawberry, cranberry, red fruit, blueberry, spice, white pepper, and flowers.  In the mouth I got strawberry, raspberry jello, cranberry, lime on the edges, and watermelon.  This is a completely bone dry Rosé, as crisp as could be with nice acidity and clean crisp fruit.  I could drink this wine all day on the porch on a hot summer day!

Chardonnay In My Glass

I have been listening to the call of white wine, despite unusually cold spring temperatures here.  No idea what’s going on with the weather this year, but if we jump from cold to hellishly hot muggy swamp without a nice spring period, I think I’ll cry.  Big crocodile tears.  We usually only get maybe 2 months of really nice weather in the spring in DC, but so far this year it’s been more like 2 days and we are fast approaching the point of no return where summer comes.  Regardless of the weather, I’m in a white wine mood.  Tonight I chose the 2004 Bonneau Chardonnay.  I purchased this wine from WineQ for $27.99, it had a real cork closure, and clocked in at 14.9% alcohol by volume.

On the nose I found lemon grass butter. Yep, all one thing. I also got pear, apple, spice, and peach.  In the mouth I found flavors of pear, green apple, peaches, lemon, grass, hay, nice spice, and some tropical notes as it warmed it.  I think the wine must have been very lightly oaked…I didn’t find any vanilla or toasty notes, but it had nice structure that seemed oak influenced.

The only concern I have here is the price point. $28 is more than I spend on an average red bottle, let alone a white bottle.  While this was a very nice wine, I’m not sure I would pay that much again.