Head to Sonoma this fall as leaves turn jewel colors and the vineyards abound with ripe fruit. Autumn isn’t just for serious leafers, it’s for foodies, outdoor enthusiasts and history lovers as well So grab your keys, turn on the GPS and head out into the glory colors of fall.
In the Sonoma Valley, Highway 12 is an incredible route for fall foliage, California-style. The road between the town of Sonoma and Kenwood winds through vineyards and picturesque hamlets. In fall, the rows of vineyards come alive in stunning shades of crimson, orange and gold.
Visitors can take in the scenery from the car before stopping at the area’s tasting rooms and restaurants such as Glen Ellen Star where the culinary team is led by Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser.
In Glen Ellen, Jack London State Historic Park offers 29 miles of backcountry trails that go through mixed forest, oak woodlands and grassy meadows. You’ll also pass the London’s charming cottage and burned-out castle ruins.
Nearby at Benzinger Winery, guests can enjoy a tasting outside among the oak trees and take the Biodynamic Tram Tour of the property to learn about their winemaking process. Tuscan-style Viansa Winery affords a stunning valley view that takes in the autumnal palette across the valley. Or at Kunde Family Winery, you – and your pup – can take in a vineyard hike pre or post tasting.
No matter what you choose, it’ll be a colorful confetti road trip.
Galileo Galilei once said, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” In the San Juan Islands, local winemakers Marti McConnell and Chris Lawler have taken that sentiment to heart with their new label, new vintages, and new winery in Friday Harbor.
Their joint venture began with a small stainless-steel tank that held their first vintage, Sparkling Siegerrebe, hand-harvested at Lopez Island Vineyards. It was a rock star beginning as their sparkling wine was selected as one of the top 5 white wines in Washington by Compass Wines in Anacortes and was on the menu at The Willows on Lummi Island in 2019. The few bottles that are reserved in the archives are quite ethereal.
The 2020 COVID shutdown offered Chris and Marti time to dream big and launch a distribution brand in cooperation with Orcas Island Winery. AO Wines, a new label, was born in the spring of 2020. AO is the superhero of the Washington wines they love and can be found in the Islands and the greater Seattle area.
Specializing in Sparkling Wines
Now in their fourth vintage together, that one little tank is still in use, but it is no longer alone. The new facility is an opportunity to expand and improve production. Archipelago purchases fruit from local sources whenever possible and travels as far as the Columbia Gorge for fruit that suits the Salish Sea food and beverage culture.
They specialize in sparkling wines made in the petillant-naturel style, with minimal intervention. The wines are lovingly hand-crafted: hand-picked, fermented and fed, bottled, and they apply their self-designed labels one by one. Their winemaking style lies somewhere between natural and international style wine, which they call analog wine. Much like a live music performance, their winemaking is a passionate expression—authentic, raw, not over-produced.
Unique Wine Experiences
Rather than conventional tastings, Chris and Marti create customized wine experiences.
“We’re inspired to make wine more approachable, more every-day, more casually enjoyable,: she says. “Appointments suggest some level of exclusivity…but this isn’t exclusive at all. It shocks people. It works. People come to a wine encounter expecting pompous wine makers and stuffy rules about wine and food, maybe even 4 forks at the place setting, and then we pull out the BBQ potato chips. Each encounter is about this place, this moment, these people, these memories we build with our guests.”
HALL Wines, one of the world’s most notable Cabernet Sauvignon producers, is hosting a Virtual Cabernet Cookoff: Home Edition, on Saturday, May 30. A virtual version of the winery’s annual Cabernet Cookoff that was cancelled due to the Covid-19 shelter in place orders, the creative Home Edition allows chefs to participate remotely.
To compete in the online food and wine pairing competition, contestants simply submit a recipe that pairs best with HALL’s 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The recipes are then reviewed by HALL’s judging committee, consisting of HALL’s senior staffing with backgrounds in culinary arts. The top three dishes will be created by a guest chef and shared live for viewers on Saturday, May 30 at 4:00p.m. PT on Facebook Live. The event will be hosted by Vintner Kathryn Hall.
“It is more important now than ever to support each other,” says Hall. “The ravages of Covid-19 continue to devastate our families and communities. Holding a virtual Cabernet Cookoff this year means we and our friends can continue to support deserving charitable organizations across our nation. On May 30, let’s get creative in the kitchen, drink some fabulous wine, and have fun while we are at it.”
Kathryn Walt Hall, the proprietor of both HALL Wines and WALT Wines, has long been involved in the California wine industry starting when her family first purchased a vineyard in the 1970’s. Besides being vintner, her impressive resume lists a career as an attorney, United States Ambassador to Austrai and community activitist.
The 2019 HALL Cabernet Cookoff drew more than 800 attendees for a sold-out crowd and raised $106,000 for local charities. Since inception in 2010, the HALL Cabernet Cookoff has raised $1.2 million dollars for Napa Valley non-profit organizations.
Participants are asked to fill out an Interest Form to submit their recipe and select a non-profit organization (501c3) of their choice to compete for a donation to that organization. The competition is open to everyone. In total, the event will select three winners with prize donations for First Place: $5,000; Second Place: $2,500; and Third Place: $1,500. The donations will be paid directly to the non-profit organizations connected to the top three winning chef teams.
The wine selection for the event, HALL’s 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($65.00 retail), offers effusive aromas of blackberry, black cherry, freshly turned earth and subtly warm toasty oak notes. The palate is dense and richly concentrated with fine grained tannin and good length. Flavors of dark chocolate, dark berry compote, and hints of dried thyme and leather are abundant, making this wine both versatile and expressive when looking to pair with diverse culinary dishes. During the contest period this wine will offered at a 10% discount as part of HALL’s virtual campaign.