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!

December 9

Meadowcroft Wines – Each Wine Is a Story!

I had the opportunity recently to spend a fabulous afternoon with Tom Meadowcroft, the founder and winemaker for Meadowcroft Wines. It was one of the most enjoyable hours I have shared with someone in a long time! His passion for his craft was palpable and invigorating.

Making notes in between sips of wine!

Tom and his family moved to Switzerland when he was just 4 years old. He grew up in Geneva playing, skiing and thanks to his Dad who ran a travel agency, traveling throughout Europe and the U.S. His journey in winemaking began in Bordeaux in the late 70s and led him to wineries in Washington state and Napa. Tom attended UC Davis and the Napa Valley College to hone his winemaking skills before managing a winery that focused on sustainable farming and environmental advocacy. The dozens of properties he managed in Napa and Sonoma taught him not only the principles of winemaking but helped define his vision for his own wines.

A cozy corner for wine tasting and relaxing.

Meadowcroft Wines’ tasting room is located at CornerStone Sonoma – this gallery is a beautiful mix of walk-through gardens that change with the seasons, shops, a restaurant and seminars on landscape architecture and design. I had heard wonderful things about the nine-acre gardens and art from friends. It was inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-sur-Loire in France and its goal is to create a cultural and creative haven by celebrating the connection between art, architecture and nature. It was certainly a lovely surprise finding this quiet little haven tucked away in the most unexpected location.

tasting room exterior
Comfy, casual outdoor seating.

The Meadowcroft tasting room is open and welcoming and is reminiscent of a tin barn. There is plenty of outside seating so you can enjoy the atmosphere CornerStone has to offer. Inside is an eclectic mix of charm, rotating between the look of a French country kitchen, antique furniture and contemporary high top tables with bar stools. Being a lover of nature, I chose a quiet table outside. Hearing the birds sing and the breeze blowing, makes every experience just a little bit better!

white wine pour
Chardonnay…what a lovely way to begin!

As I listened to Tom speak about each wine having a story “with many colors and weaves”, I began to really see his love for winemaking. My tasting started with a bright, aromatic Chardonnay that’s finish was smooth and fruity. Next was an exotic and spicy Pinot Noir that’s grapes had come from an abandoned vineyard. I took a couple of bottles of that home with me! The Syrah was an approachable blend of Syrah and Malbec and we followed up with a beefy Zinfandel. And when I didn’t think it could get any better…we finished with a pairing of Port and cabernet chocolate. What an amazing combination! The wines were a perfect combination of European-style winemaking with a splash of California so they really resonate on the palate! Through the tasting it was clear that Tom loves to play with different grapes and is right at home in the “big sandbox of creativity”!

three close up
Me and my husband Steve hanging out with winemaker Tom Meadowcroft.

Since Tom does not fine the finished product, all of his wines are vegan-friendly. The Meadowcroft hallmark “honeybee” on the label is a symbol of the hard work, the journey of mastering the winemaking discipline and the process of transforming grapes into an outstanding wine. And Tom’s family name means “fertile field on the meadow”! It is clear that he has found his calling. Come to Meadowcroft Wines and taste Tom’s interpretation of the varietals narrative; it is a story that should not be missed!bottle of Pinot


Meadowcroft Wines is located in the CornerStone Sonoma gardens at 23574 Arnold Dr./Hwy. 121 in Sonoma. Elaine and Darby offer tastings every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Enjoy the wonderful wine, the gorgeous gardens and relaxing atmosphere and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!