Be #SonomaStrong: Drink Wine! Here’s Why and 5 to Try #WinePW

In this before fire photo by George Rose, Paradise Ridge shows Sonoma LOVE with this sculpture from Burning Man. Check out George’s new book “VINEYARD Sonoma County,”

The fallout from the devastating 2017 fires in California will be long lasting. Here in Ventura County, the Thomas Fire is FINALLY 100% contained at 281,893 acres. We now sift through the rubble; I spent most of Friday morning with a friend at her house which was destroyed. It was the first time she had been there in daylight.

And now we must also dig out from the latest tragedy related to the fires: intense rains that triggered more evacuations to protect people from dangerous mudslides that still killed 17 people in Santa Barbara county as 1/12/18. And that’s just the fallout from the first storm of the season, albeit an unusually strong and powerful one that has left soil soft enough that trees prone to falling increase the risk of losing power even when the sun is out.

While there are many ways that you can help, the best is with your wallet. As you can imagine, the economies of these counties have been hard hit. Many jobs depend on tourism dollars but who wants to visit a fire stricken, ashy, stinky area that may suddenly be hit with a flash flood?

In addition to contributing the way you see fit, you can help by buying — and drinking! — wine. Yes, wine.

Last month, we focused on wine from Napa: Ehlers, Silverado, Flora Springs, and Jon Nathanial. This month, the Wine Pairing Weekend crew brings our attention to wines from Sonoma.

Why drink wine to help fire stricken areas?

According to a 2014 report, in 2012 “the combined economic impact of the wine business on the Sonoma County economy was $13.4 billion” or “nearly two-thirds of the county gross product” and up 76% since the previous study in 2005, the last such study. Commissioned by Sonoma County Winegrowers and Sonoma County Vintners, the Stonebridge Research Group found that

in 2012 “the wine industry, directly and indirectly, provided 54,297 full-time-equivalent jobs in Sonoma County paying $3.2 billion in wages” and “generated nearly $1.4 billion annually in local, state and federal taxes.” Wine tourism generated more than $1.25 billion in 2012.

You may not feel like visiting Wine Country right away, but now is the time to plan your spring trips. Make your reservations now. Commit. Wine is a key experience for 54 million visitors to California. Most wine related businesses are small; in Sonoma county, it’s 90%.


Sue and I both had several wines from Sonoma in our cellars plus we received a number of samples. We decided we wanted to showcase as many wineries as possible as well as a variety of wines from Sonoma.  We also chose to focus on wines that most people can find easily at their neighborhood grocery store or wine shop. We tasted the wines in the following order, first on their own, then with food.

  • J brut rose 12.5% alcohol – $35 SRP – Ventura Wine Cave
  • 2016 – Geyser Peak – Russian River Valley – Sauvignon Blanc – 13.5% alcohol – SRP $22 – Sample
  • 2014 – Chalk Hill Chardonnay – 14.8% alcohol – SRP $33 – Vons
  • 2015 – Balletto Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley – 14% alcohol – SRP $30 sample
  • 2009 – Ferrari Carano – Tresor – 14.4% alcohol – SRP $50 Vons


Sonoma county goat cheeses: plain, summer fig, and truffle; pate, sliced coppa (cured meat), olives, sundried tomatoes.
Seafood appetizers 
sea urchin, ahi tuna rolls (from the Ventura Wine Cave), lobster cakes, oysters
Main course
pork tenderloin with sauted shallots and apples topped with a calvados cream sauce
with sides of roasted fingerling potatoes and brussel sprouts
from The Ventura Wine Cave: strawberry baklava, champagne cupcakes with fresh and organic berries

Sue found this recipe a while ago and we thought it would go well with a variety of wines from Sonoma AND pay tribute to Sonoma’s heritage as an apple growing region. We roasted the tenderloin on the BBQ thanks to Marshall’s expertise and Sue found the cream sauce easy to make.

Pork Tenderloin with calvados cream sauce (recipe)


  • 1 C apple juice
  • 1/2 C Calvados liqueur
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 Granny Smith Apples
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 1/2 C chicken stock
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1 roasted tenderloin


  • Reduce 1 cup apple juice by half, add 1/2 cup calvados liquor, and reduce by half again.
  • Finely chop 1 shallot in 1T butter and saute for about 10 minutes at low heat until golden and caramel color.
  • Add apples and sautĂ© until warm.
  • Remove from pan to make a roux of 1T butter and 1T flour.
  • When golden brown, add 1/2 cup chicken stock and apple juice reduction; keep warm.
  • Before serving, add 1/2 cup heavy cream.
  • Plate apples next to tenderloin and drizzle with calvados cream sauce.

J brut rose 12.5% alcohol – $35 SRP

color – very pretty pale pink

nose – delicate nose, floral notes, carnation spice subtly on the nose, cloves, cinnamon

palate – very foamy, big bubbles, almost like drinking a beer when it first comes out of the bottle, when it settles down it is much more enjoyable. The creamy yumminess of the uni went so nicely with this wine. There is a wonderful creamy dynamic between the uni and the bubbles. Goes nicely with the lobster cakes as well. The fig goat cheese was a really nice pair with this wine. Let the bubbles settle on this wine, once the bubbles settle, there is so much more to appreciate in this wine.

2016 – Geyser Peak – Russian River Valley – Sauvignon Blanc – 13.5% alcohol – $22 – Sample

This is a very bright and lively Sauv Blanc.

Color – Silvery pale pale yellow

Nose – lots of gooseberry, grass, citrus, ocean air, cat pee, kiwi

Palate – This is a wine that wakes up your palate, it is very lively and has quite a bit of pleasant zing. Citrus, grass, zippy loveliness, it went quite nicely with a fig infused goat cheese.

This is an intense Sauvignon Blanc: sometimes this grape can be kind of bland, but this wine has a lot of character.

Cool climate Sauvignon Blanc tends to offer intense acidity and aromatics. River Ranches Sauvignon Blanc pursues this style with fruit that grows beside the river and under fog.

This is going to be a lovely wine with a goat cheese flatbread pizza, or light seafood. This would be a nice wine to bring to a party. Easy to open up with the screw top cap, as well as being very easy to drink with a number of appetizers, salads, and seafood. If you like a New Zealand Sauv Blanc this will be in your wheel house. Beneath the cat pee, there is pine and peach. Sue felt that it was really nice with the lobster cake. The richness of the food mellows out the piney cat pee and brings out the peach or apricot notes in the wine. While I may not seek this wine out in the store because it is a bit intense for me, if I were to have this served to me, I would enjoy it.

Founded in 1880 by Augustus Quitzow, Geyser Peak is one of California’s oldest and most renowned wineries. A pioneer in Alexander Valley winemaking,  Quitzow chose the original winery site in Geyserville for its views of the famed Geysers Geothermal area which billow white steam along the mountain slopes. Today, Geyser Peak winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley Appellation.

2014 – Chalk Hill Chardonnay – 14.8% alcohol – SRP $33 – Vons 

color – yellow, buttercup yellow

nose – vanilla, caramel, oak, this smells of a typical oaked Chardonnay. Not a lot of fruit, maybe a little pear, bartlett pear.

palate – buttery, has a fair amount of acidity, very rich, long lingering butterscotch finish.

This Chardonnay longs for the rich creaminess that food has to offer. Triple cream brie and pate are its friend. Lovely with a roast chicken, or any pasta with a cream sauce.

If you crave a rich, oaky, buttery, chardonnay, this one’s got your number!

We also sampled the Balletto Chardonnay (SRP $28) which is so in line with my palate — fresh fruit and minerals. A knockout for this Friday meal!

And speaking of Balletto…


2015 – Balletto Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley – 14% alcohol – SRP $29 sample

In press materials, Balletto suggests keeping their pinot noir and chardonnay on hand as your “house” wine and we see why: both are easy going house guest that will get along with a lot of flavors yet have distinct varietal characteristics.

This is not a Pinot that is trying to be a Cab or any other grape. it retains its nice bright fresh fruit flavor. It is in the middle without being generic.

Color – not too light, but not particularly dense, it is so bright and cherry, you want to wear this on a ring!

Nose – pepper and raspberry, pomegranate, strawberry rhubarb pie.  It is not overly oaked which is nice. With our cured meat, this wine was wonderful.

Palate – give the wine a chance to open up to where it is easily enjoyed; tart, cranberry, rhubarb, pomegranate. Love it with the truffle cheese and pate.

Grapes come from a range of sites from warmer hills to steep, cold hillsides which provides depth, structure and complexity.

“Balance and elegance are the two qualities we aim for in our wines. This usually translates into wines that are lower in alcohol, higher in natural acidity and have varied and subtle flavors. Wines where new oak barrels are used sparingly to enhance the wine, not dominate it,” states the Balletto website.

We couldn’t agree more!

One of the few 100% estate wineries in Russian River Valley, Balletto Vineyards is owned and operated by John and Terri Balletto, and their two daughters Jacqueline and Caterina. A farmer first,  John started out in the family farm growing vegetables in the late 1970s. When his dad died early, John passed on his college athletic scholarships to stay home and help his mom run the farm. Starting with only five acres and $200 in the bank, by the late 1980s, their over 700 acre vegetable farm was one of the largest in Northern California. Concerned about the impact of drought and water shortages on the vegetable business, with the encouragement of neighbor William Dutton, in 1995, John and his wife Terri started growing grapes in the Russian River Valley which they sold to renowned Russian River Valley wine producers until 2001 when they created the first vintage of Balletto Vineyards estate wine. Today they make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the best 10% of the fruit they grow on their 650+ acres of estate vineyards. The two wines I’ve tasted in two vintages are very solid wines at an excellent price point that you can find in your neighborhood store —  and I’ve heard they make a stunning sparkling wine!


2009 – Ferrari-Carano – Tresor – 14.4% alcohol – SRP $50 on sale at Vons

Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc.

Sue: “I started sipping this wine while we were having our planning session, and didn’t want to stop! This is a very lovely wine!”

This wine proves that a red wine blend from Sonoma can be as good as a red wine blend from Napa — without quite as hefty a price tag!

color – rich, dense, deep, red, like red velvet theatrical curtains.

nose – bramble fruit, cherries, fresh raspberry and present fruit.

palate – This is a very intense, big, bold wine. cherry, and bramble berry on the front of the palate. licorice or anise on the finish. There is nothing sweet about this wine, so it is not licorice candy. licorice root or anise. this went wonderfully with the cured meat on our cheese plate. The richer foods bring out a tartness in this wine. There long lingering mineral characteristics that come out after the cured meats.

I’d bought this one on sale a number of years ago, and was waiting for the right occasion. Yum!

Who else LOVES Sonoma wines and wants to be #SonomaStrong? Join us on twitter on Saturday Jan. 13 at 8am PST to find out what others were eating and drinking. 

Check out these posts from other members of the #WinePW group;


If we’ve got you curious about Sonoma Wine, and you can get to Sonoma, check out Wineland this weekend! At the Door Ticket Prices are $60 for both January 13 and 14 or $50 for Sunday Only; $10 Designated Driver. 

From 11am – 4pm each day, travel the Wine Road in Northern Sonoma County and celebrate the 26th Annual Winter WINEland. Taste current vintages, multiple varietals grown in Sonoma County, and even try a few verticals in this great opportunity to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, new releases or library wines. All participating wineries will highlight a Vintage, Varietal or Vertical tasting for the weekend. Ticket price includes wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the weekend.


my family and I at Burning Man with LOVE

13 thoughts on “Be #SonomaStrong: Drink Wine! Here’s Why and 5 to Try #WinePW

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  5. Astonishing numbers > in 2012 “the wine industry, directly and indirectly, provided 54,297 full-time-equivalent jobs in Sonoma County paying $3.2 billion in wages” and “generated nearly $1.4 billion annually in local, state and federal taxes.” Wine tourism generated more than $1.25 billion in 2012.

    Thanks for providing such useful details. Gorgeous spread as always- I love the range shown here!


  6. Pingback: #WinePW Shows We Are #SonomaStrong • Dracaena Wines

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