September 25

Schug Carneros Estate Winery- Vegan Wines in Sonoma Valley!

Schug Carneros Estate logo reflects their German history!

I wanted to add a quick update to my experiences with Schug Carneros Estate Winery. As you’ll see once you read my blog post, the winery has a gorgeous view; offers incredible vegan wines and really knows how to throw a party. I was invited back recently by Crista Johnson, Schug’s Marketing Coordinator, to celebrate Oktoberfest. She assured me that Chef Kristine even had some vegan German cuisine just for Steve and me. So on another gorgeous day I headed over to beautiful Sonoma to spend the afternoon with my new friends at Schug. The Biergarten (or more accurately, Weingarten) was perfectly set with polka band Polkageist West, a buffet of German cuisine, never ending Federweisser and all the pretzels and mustard I could eat! Just as Crista promised, Chef made sure I was very well fed. Vegan wurst, German potato salad, cabbage salad, warm pretzels and the best artisan whole grain mustards I’d ever had! If you are looking for a new wine club membership I highly suggest that you give Schug Carneros Estate Winery a try. They have gone far above most local wineries to ensure that their vegan guests have as much food, wine and fun as their omnivorous guests!

I never dreamed that I’d come home from a wine tasting sunburned, sweaty and covered in dirt from my shins down and consider it one of my favorite wine tasting experiences!  I recently joined Schug Estate winemaker Mike Cox and his team at their Pinot N Pickin party and picnic. This was my first grape picking party and I have to admit that it brought out a bit of my competitive side!

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is located in Sonoma County’s beautiful Carneros region just 20 minutes from downtown Napa. This family owned winery has an enduring history in wine making. Founders Walter and Gertrud followed in the footsteps of their fathers who were both wine estate managers in Germany. Their true love endeavored over the next six years while Walter trained at various wineries in Germany, England and California and continued to complete his Viticulture & Enology degree. Finally, spring of 1961, they married and within a month were on a ship heading to New York City. From there, they loaded up all of their possessions into their Volkswagen Beetle and made the cross-country journey to California to join the burgeoning wine industry. In 1966, Walter was hired by E&J Gallo which led to a long relationship making wines for Joseph Phelps Vineyards before he struck out on his own. Having more demand than their leased winery could produce, Walter & Gertrud purchased 50 acres in Sonoma’s Carneros Appellation. As their family business grew, their three children, Andrea, Claudia and Axel, contributed their expertise to the business. And Axel’s wife Kristine explores her passion for food and wine pairing as the Winery Chef. Though Walter and Gertrud have now both passed on, their passion for wine endures through their children!

The morning of the grape picking dawned cool and sunny. It was the beginning of a perfect day. Surrounded by many of the wine club members, I was treated to a quick tour of their cellar before the hard work began. I always enjoy seeing the inner workings of the winery. And contributing to the harvest of the grapes helped me appreciate the amount of work that goes into the finished bottle. The entire team was working hard and bustling around getting it done! Next, was the picking of the teams! Intern Michele from Italy and Lena from Germany were in charge of the competition. As soon as I heard Lena was from Germany, I made sure I got on her team. I even got to practice a bit of my new language skills! But this was no time for play. My team needed to defeat Team Italy. After a quick demonstration on how to use sharp cutting instruments, the picking began. We all started out a little slow but the chatting died down as we became more comfortable harvesting the grapes. It wasn’t long before jackets and sweaters came off and sun hats went on. As the bins began to fill with grapes, the energy turned from friendly to friendly but competitive. It was amazing how quickly an hour and a half flew by! Then the waiting began. Each bin of grapes were driven up to the scales. Tension filled the air and everyone held their breath. And then it was announced…Team Germany defeated Team Italy by 200 pounds! Ja! Fantastich!

To celebrate our harvest, the sipping of wine began! The 2016 Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc was bright, well balanced, and offered a lovely grapefruit finish. A much better way to cool down than drinking water! This wine paired really well with my picnic lunch of fresh greens and a grilled veggie & portobello sandwich on sourdough. It was really delicious; another reminder that some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten are made with simple & healthy whole foods. The 2015 Estate grown Chardonnay was another wonderful surprise. Grown in the cool climate at the Estate vineyard with minimal new oak, it was refreshing with an elegant finish. This Chardonnay pairs very nicely with food. Next, they introduced the 2015 Estate grown Pinot Noir. It will do nothing but improve with a couple more years of cellaring but I really enjoyed the flavor of strawberry and the silky finish! Finally, I finished my picnic with the 2013 Late Harvest Riesling. The 2013 Riesling is not vegan but the next vintage release will be! Walter Schug was a true pioneer of late harvest Rieslings with almost 60 years of winemaking experience here in the U.S. and Germany. Its high sugar content made this the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon! Who needs dessert when we can sip the wonderful outcome of noble rot!

Winemaker Mike Cox grew up in Sonoma and learned much about the winemaking process in his hometown. Being a local, he had a big jump start over many other young winemakers who don’t grow up in such an extraordinary area. While he started college studying to become a chemical engineer, it wasn’t long before he transferred to U.C. Davis and completed his Enology degree. His summers where spent working at Sonoma wineries, learning and building experience in the industry. He enjoys working closely with growers and prefers small production vineyards for the unique qualities they contribute to his blends. This really does show through in his wines. He prefers using the newer technologies available to winemakers today which include not only the hydraulic punch-down fermenters but also moving away from using animal product to fine his wines. Beginning with his 2014 to current vintages, his whites are all vegan-friendly. Any reds beginning in 2005 to current vintages are vegan as are the Roses and Rouge de Noirs.

Intern Lena with Team Germany celebrating our win!

If you are planning on exploring Sonoma Valley, Schug Carneros Estate is a wonderful place to start. The drive up Bonneau Road takes you through the vineyards to the hillside tasting room. The families’ German history is reflected in their cozy post and beam tasting room and their German flag. And from the upper patio you will enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view that includes Mount Diablo. Hang out with friends at the picnic tables and order wine by the glass or take a self-guided tour wandering through the vineyards. No appointment is needed; just stop by the tasting room for a detailed guide with the points of interest marked along your route. Reservations for a tasting are only required if your party is 6 or more. If you do prefer a private tasting, CLICK HERE to schedule your visit. Make a day of it, enjoy beautiful Sonoma Valley and as always; eat, drink…and be vegan!

November 3

Cliff Lede Vineyards – A Blend of Wine, Conservation, Poetry and…Rock n Roll!

Logo

Living here in Napa Valley, I am surrounded by breathtaking beauty. There is so much beauty that there is no reason to choose one favorite location. But I do have a soft spot for Silverado Trail. One of the most picturesque drives in Napa is the drive north on Silverado Trail from Trancas Road in Napa to Calistoga. For the last three years, I have been driving grapevines & hillup Silverado Trail once a week to feed orphaned songbirds at the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County’s Songbird Clinic. Enjoying the views and then helping give our wildlife another shot at a happy and healthy life makes that area a very special place for me. So I was especially excited when I received the invitation to visit Cliff Lede Vineyards located off Yountville Cross Road right on the edge of the stunning Stags Leap District.

 

Though Cliff Lede (pronounced lady) grew up involved in his family’s construction business in Canada, it was his Mother, Florence, who sparked his interest in winemaking and sustainability. Two of her hobbies were making “basement” wine and gardening! And while on a business retreat in the 1990s, Cliff was introduced to beautiful Napa Valley. As an avid long-distance runner, he explored many of Napa’s back roads and began to fall in love! Being a collector of Bordeaux wines since his late 20s, he felt an almost instant connection to all that Napa Valley has to offer. He was soon returning often and before long he began the search for the perfect location to start his own winery. The Stags Leap District is the region that spoke to him due to its complex and age-worthy wines. With time and patience, he was able to found Cliff Lede Vineyards on stunning Yountville Cross Road. The following year Cliff also acquired the rare hillside property above Silverado Trail and Poetry Vineyard was born.

Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.
Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.

In 2005, he opened the secluded luxury boutique hotel Poetry Inn. The Inn perches high above the Valley and offers stunning views of his winery and vineyards. Then in 2009, he expanded to Anderson Valley which allows him to offer cooler-climate varietals. And as a tribute to his Mother, Florence Elsie Lede, and her winemaking hobby, his Anderson Valley winery became FEL Wines. The FEL label is an illustration of an opening tulip. Like many of us who grew up in Northern climates, the sprouting of a tulip signified the end of a long, dark winter and promised the freshness and joy of warmer days ahead. And in honor of his Mother’s love for gardening the tulip was added to the FEL label. And just this year, Cliff Lede Vineyards achieved both Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery certification. Though the details to achieve Napa Green Land are unique to each owner’s property, they include restoration of wildlife habitat, healthy riparian environments and much more in concert with sustainable agriculture practices. And the Napa Green Winery certification requirements include water conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and solid waste reduction elements and requires vintners to perform a comprehensive analysis of their operations. And yet another way to pay homage to his Mother’s love and appreciation for gardening and our planet!

Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!
Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!

My tour was led by Kim, the Director of Marketing for Lede Family Wines. We started in their light, bright craftsman-style tasting room and then headed out to explore. Along the back of the tasting room is a sun-drenched veranda with members onlyspectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding Palisades mountain range. The gorgeous permanent display of artist Jim Dine’s Twin 6’ Hearts divides the veranda and the shaded Members Only courtyard. The courtyard is full of comfortable lounge chairs and a peaceful fountain that provides the club members with Front Row views of the vines. From there we wandered through the Backstage Reserve Lounge. This cool and comfortable lounge offers a backstage pass to the Cliff Lede limited production wines. The Lounge features rotating art exhibits and classic rock music. During my visit, the exhibit was wall to wall Grateful Dead!

The Backstage Lounge
The Backstage Lounge

Very groovy! The guided tour then took us along the olive groves and through the Cliff Lede Vineyards “Rock Blocks”. I was definitely beginning to see a pattern. Instead of numbers on each block of vines, each were named after a rock n roll song!  From The Who’s “My Generation” to Pink Floyd’s “Dark

A Rock Block!

Side of the Moon” and the service road throughout the vines was even called Abbey Road!  We took Abbey Road up to their spectacular state-of-the-art winery. Most of the harvest had been completed so I missed out on seeing their optical sorter in action but I did get to see a huge portrait of

Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.
Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.

Grace Kelly overlooking the high tech winery floor full of stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs and French oak barrels. Random and beautiful all at the same time! The winery is surrounded by more large dramatic sculptures – my favorite was of two large rabbits dancing. bunnies dancingThat’s my interpretation anyway! By the time we headed back to the tasting room, I had experienced so much that I almost forgot I was there to taste wine too.

Back on the Veranda, listening to classic rock and hanging out with Cesar the winery cat, I got to enjoy the vegan wines Cliff Lede and FEL have to offer. The 2014 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is made by winemaker Chris Tynan and is composed of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert. Wine tasting experts would say it is an opulent color of yellow diamonds with citrus & peach aromas and floral notes of orange blossom and honeysuckle. It coats the palate with layers of lemon curd and crème brulee and finishes with kumquat, marzipan and citrus marmalade. Me, I would say it was wonderful! The FEL Wines are made by winemaker Ryan Hodgins from vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. All of the FEL wines are vegan-friendly and include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the 2014 Pinot Gris with its green apple aromas and flavors of grapefruit. The 2013 Pinot Noir has an intense aroma of black cherry while hints of blackberry and mint add to the complexity. Cherry and spices offer a rich palate and the robust tannins and acidity will ensure great age-ability.  I am definitely looking forward to opening the bottle I brought home!

I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!
I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!

The tasting room is located at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville. The tasting room is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers tastings for $30 per person with no appointment necessary. With advanced reservations, you can enjoy tastings on the veranda for $40 or reserve the Backstage Lounge for $50 per person. For a real adventure, schedule the Estate Tour and Tasting which includes wine and food pairings of seasonal canapes for $75 per person. Poetry Inn is perfect if you are looking for an adults only get-away. This elegant five-room boutique hotel is perched high above the Valley floor and is the only hotel in the Stags Leap District. It is ultra-private and offers the ultimate in tranquility and romance. You will have to mention that you are vegan when you book your room to ensure a three course vegan-friendly breakfast is offered.

The setting is peaceful, the views tremendous, the wine lovely and in addition to that you get to listen to some 70s rock and enjoy their rotating art exhibits. Make your appointment today, and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

Always running into friends...old and new.
Always running into friends…old and new.