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10 Favorite Napa Valley Wineries to Visit by Igor Sill

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By Igor Sill

What are the best Napa Valley wineries to visit? This isn’t an easy question to answer because there are so many truly amazing Napa wineries. Some people prefer the small boutique “micro” wineries, some want a winery that focuses on their favorite wine style or varietal, while others want a lively venue with many amenities like restaurants, shops and art galleries.  This list is meant as a starting point on your exploration of this globally revered wine region.

No other wine region on the planet draws as much attention as Napa Valley.  It’s incomparable beauty pairs seamlessly with generations of winemaker passion to craft some of the world’s truly exquisite wines, as a result, it’s visited by well over three million people every year; making it one of California’s top tourist destinations (Disneyland ranks #1).  Perfect for a day or weekend trip from San Francisco, Napa Valley awards one with beautiful scenery, exceptional wineries, world-renowned wines and, of course, an unforgettably memorable experience.

Napa Valley contains well over 400 wineries, with most welcoming guests with winery tours, wine education and tasting rooms.  While enticing, the sheer number of winery options can be overwhelming.  This article was originally published back in February of 2016 based on reviews from visitors compiled via yelp.com.  In this updated version, I researched both yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com to uncover those wineries that recent visitors felt offered excellent wines, a substantial, service-oriented winery experience, rich history, as well as an informative and entertaining adventure.  Seems a lot has changed since then, both from visitor reviews and the winery programs themselves.

Both of these websites are free and provide consumers an open platform to voice their experiences about the quality of products, services and experiences so that anyone can instantly acquire information from countless other consumers about their personal experiences ranging from restaurants to movies to physicians and, wineries!  After compiling the most positive ratings, I visited these top 10 wineries unannounced to confirm the reviews.

The recommendations listed are supported by analyzing well over 3,000 yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com shared reviews, for the best, a few hidden gems, as well as my own first-hand experience of their hospitality, quality of wines, ambiance, history, the overall wine tasting experience and the memories that linger long after the visit is over. Yelp has always been a dependable community review site with full user profiles helping others determine if they might agree with a particular reviewer’s taste.  Yelp encourages users to post real photos and their real first name and last initial. I believe both Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews are reliable, trustworthy and fairly representative by visitors.

Excellent wines are certainly treasured; however, the experience a winery and its staff provide determines its guest’s assessment and the desire to return.  Wineries achieve first class status when their staff enjoys greeting people, are extraordinary experts in their fields and capable of conveying their knowledge in a friendly, fun and understandable fashion.  Life is way too short for lousy wine and a mediocre time.  And so, with the help of yelp.com and TripAdvisor.com shared reviews, here are 10 of my favorite wineries with tastings and tours that are open to the public.

Of course, this list only scratches the surface. Napa has dozens of other wineries worth noting, such as Beaulieu, Beringer, Cakebread, Chateau Montelena, Ehlers, Far Niente, Mondavi, Pine Ridge, Shafer, Silver Oak and many more.

The smaller wineries will often receive guests on an appointment only basis, so always call ahead, or visit their website for availability.  Also, note that Napa zoning restrictions preclude picnic eating at all but a couple of Napa estates, so hold off on that picnic basket.

Virtually all wineries will charge a fee for the tour or tasting, but given the amount of information garnered and the quality of wines poured, along with the beautiful and stylish settings; these visits are an incredible bargain.

My list of the best Napa Valley wineries to visit:

1) V.Sattui Winery, St Helena, Napa:  This is the most popular and most visited winery in all of Napa.  Hours are 9-5 in the winter and 9-6 in the summer months with no appointment required, 7 days a week.  V.Sattui continues to evolve and upgrade their guest experiences, recently adding a Concierge Service designed to custom tailor visits based on guest preferences.  It’s a top favorite because they offer old world Italian charm, more than 60 different wines, champagne and ports, vast picnic grounds, personalized winery and barrel tasting tours, food pairings, a legendary deli with fresh foods, cheeses and a friendly, knowledgeable, well trained staff.   It’s one of the few wineries that consistently receives top awards for their wines crafted by noted Winemaker, Brooks Painter who joined V.Sattui in 2005 from Robert Mondavi Winery.  The main tasting room is as close to a party as you’ll get in the often seriously elitest Napa.  For those who want to learn and talk about terroir while indulging in aficionado conversations about serious wines should visit their Vittorio tasting room (Tower) where wine expert, Marc Golic, can be found.  There’s always a party going on at this winery because it’s always packed with visitors, frequent summer BBQs, special events, entertainment and weddings year round.  This winery has a full time wedding and special events Michelin Star Chef, Stefano Masanti, insuring exceptional cuisine matches glamorous events.  Culinary Director, Joe Schneider, combines award winning wines with weekly food pairing tasting events.  It’s also a great spot to relax with their wines while enjoying a family lunch on their picnic grounds.  The terrace grounds behind Vittorio Tower is like walking through olive tree lined lavender fields in Italy. V. Sattui is a family, dog friendly winery where you’ll see children having a great time as well.  This is truly a wonderful and gorgeous place to spend your day. V.Sattui believes in doing very little advertising, relying mostly on word-of-mouth from loyal Wine Club members, which seems to be working very well for them. Highly recommended for fun-loving novice wine buffs as well as the accomplished wine aficionado.

1111 White Lane
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-7774

2) Darioush Winery, Oak Knoll, Napa, CA: I made reservations for 4 at Darioush Winery for a flight of 5 wines hosted tasting on a busy Saturday afternoon @ $150 per person. We arrived a bit early and drove up that beautiful long driveway at the base of Atlas Peak off of Silverado Trail. We were graciously greeted as we approached the entry by Mark, a very friendly concierge who checked us in with a smile and served us a wonderful Russian River Chardonnay. Mark quickly guided us inside to a waiting living room setting in front of a massive fireplace graced by Persian columns. Mark then introduced us to our host, Derek, who engaged us with a bit of history behind Darioush’s founder, Darioush Khaledi, who achieved the American dream by immigrating to the US from Iran following the Islamic revolution and started what turned out to become the largest family-owned grocery business in Los Angeles. He then founded Darioush in 1997 to bring the opulent architecture, rich culture, arts and wines of the famed royal city of Persepolis to Napa. And, that he has done. The winery is amazingly impressive, with Persepolis columns framing the entrance with a royal palace setting inside. Our 5 wines were served paired perfectly with artisan cheeses and nuts. We tasted 2 Syrahs, a Merlot, a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon and lastly, the Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. All were luscious and superbly outstanding. Darioush himself walked over, introduced himself and welcomed us to his winery with a genuine and gracious hospitality, making us feel like royalty. Derek then invited us downstairs where we toured Darioush’s personal wine collection cellar, filled with first growth Bordeaux wines, in the style of Haut-Brion, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux (one of my personal favorites), Chateau Lafite and Mouton Rothschild, including a bottle of 1942 Chateau Lafite Rothschild–reportedly one of only 2 left in the world. Derek then pulled out a wine thief and proceeded to extract tastings for each of us from a cellar French oak barrel of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, yet to be bottled or released. It was truly outstanding and, though a bit young, will clearly be brilliant in a few years. Overall, we tasted some 7 lovely wines and were graced with an unforgettable wine tasting experience in one of Napa’s absolutely finest wineries.  Without question, an exceptional and unforgettably memorable experience, worthy of 6 Yelp stars (5 is the max)! Appointments required.

4240 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 257-2345

3) Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga, Napa, Ca: Castello di Amorosa knows how to make a huge first impression.  Set on a Calistoga knoll, this authentically styled, 13th Century Tuscan castle winery is unlike any other you’ll visit.  It took some 15 years for owner Dario Sattui (founder of V.Sattui Winery) to construct it and has all the elements you’d expect from an authentic Italian castle, such as a moat with drawbridge, high stone walls, gargoyles, a church and fully equipped torture chamber.  The castle winery produces hand-crafted Italian-styled wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Primitivo and Sangiovese.  A number of guided tours and tastings are available. The castle hits all the marks: delicious wines that you can only get from here, unforgettably gorgeous grounds, delectable foods and cheeses, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff.  Busy and crowded.  $25 gets you into the castle along with 5 tastings.

4045 St. Helena Highway (Hwy 29)
(707) 967-6272

4) Spottswoode, St Helena, Napa: Spottswoode is a true family owned historic winery on the west side of St Helena in the Napa Valley.  Established in 1882 by George Schonewald, the estate is distinguished by the historic Victorian home portrayed on their wine labels.  Founder, Mary Novak was a vital part of the fabric of Napa Valley and its wine community since 1972. Her intelligence, sense of humor, humility, and vivacious personality continues to inspire all at Spottswoode. Today, the winery is managed by her daughters Beth Novak Milliken, its President & CEO and Lindy Novak, who runs the winery’s wholesale marketing program.  The family produces a small portfolio of 4 delicious varietals, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a miniscule amount of Syrah and Albarino.  Their hospitality and tasting room is in a quaint Victorian farmhouse nestled amongst the vines. Tours are available on Monday through Fridays at 10AM with no more than 10 people allowed, so call in advance as this is a popular site.  Spottswoode is consistently rated one of the very best (5 stars) at Yelp.

Phone (707) 963-0134
email tours@spottswoode.com to make a reservation.

5) Inglenook Winery, Rutherford, Napa:  As one of the original Napa wineries, the elegant, ivy-covered Inglenook was founded by Finnish sea captain and Wine Connoisseur, Gustave Niebaum in 1879.  Gustave was passionate about making fine wines in small quantities.  Many Hollywood legends were drawn to this Napa treasure in the 1930’s and 40’s including Carole Lombard, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow to name just a few.  In 1975, Francis Ford Coppola acquired the notorious winery from the Niebaum family and spent considerable time, money and energy restoring it back to its magnificent original splendor.  It has since been known by several names, ala Niebaum-Coppola, Coppola and Rubicon until 2011, when Francis Ford Coppola acquired the Inglenook trademark, paying more, he said, than he had paid for the entire estate.  He has since, restored the historic name Inglenook to the estate so that it remains a true crown jewel of Napa Valley.  Tours are by appointment and definitely worthwhile so that you can appreciate these amazing grounds.

6) Artesa Vineyards and Winery – Out of all these wineries, Artesa offers the very best overall Napa views.  The family-owned winery is set into the highest hill of its 350-acre estate. A terrace offers beautifully expansive vistas of the surrounding countryside, and on clear days, a view of the San Francisco skyline.

Artesa’s architecture reflects a series of Spanish Mediterranean themes. Originally named Codorniu Napa, the name was changed to Artesa in 1997, which translates to “handcrafted” in catalan. Today Artesa wines are crafted from the varietals for which Carneros and Napa Valley are best known: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tastings are $35, $45 and $55 per person dependent on exclusivity of the wines served.  There are some truly amazing picturesque views to absorb as you enjoy some truly great wines.

1345 Henry Road
Napa, CA
(707) 224 1668

7) Domaine Carneros, Napa, CA: Founded by the noble French family behind Champagne Taittinger, this majestically grand château is a splendid way to enjoy the Carneros Appellation of Napa. This stunning, fairy-tale château was modeled after an 18th-century French mansion owned by Taittinger. Carved into the hillside below the winery are exceptional sparkling wines reminiscent of those crafted by Taittinger, using estate grown Los Carneros grapes.  The estate is located in the southern part of Napa Valley near the cooler climate of San Pablo Bay.  There are 3 terraces from which you can enjoy breathtaking views while sipping extraordinary Sparkling and Pinot Noir wines. If you elect to take a tour, you’ll experience behind-the-scenes look at how sparkling wines are produced, from the vineyards through to the bottling process and culminates with a sampling of wines paired with an array of artisan cheeses, gourmet caviar, smoked salmon and charcuterie while seated in the Louis XV–inspired salon or on the terrace overlooking the vineyards. Reservations are required. 1240 Duhig Road. Napa, CA 94559. (707) 257-0101, email:

1240 Duhig Road
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 257-0101
email: tours@domainecarneros.com
Tasting Hours: 10:00AM-5:30PM

8) Luna Vineyards, Napa, CA: Co-founders Michael Moone and George Vare launched Luna Vineyards in 1995.  Wonderful, magically modern and an absolutely amazing small estate vineyard close by to downtown Napa and a short distance from Silverado Resort.  You can leave your car parked at your Napa B&B and easily get there via bike.  Luna, located on Silverado Trail is the largest producer of Pinot Grigio in Napa. They offer a sunny patio area with ample comfy chairs to relax in while tasting their wines.  Luna is more like a wine bar than a working winery, with music playing and a relaxed comfortable setting.  You can also catch the beautiful scenic views of the historic Silverado Trail overlooking the vineyards from their rooftop tower.  They specialize in Atlas Peak mountain varietals which include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese.  Reservations are recommended.

2921 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
Open Daily: 10:30AM – 6PM
(707) 255-5862

9) Opus One, Oakville, Napa. This winery originated as the joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe Rothschild who teamed up to create this magnificent winery focused on producing a single Bordeaux styled blend based on Napa Valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon.  Opus One Winery delivers a luxurious, though somewhat formal wine experience. The estate is impressive, especially when driving down the center driveway to the winery entrance.  Looking out across Opus One’s vineyards from the upstairs terrace, you immediately sense the beauty of Napa Valley.  This is a winery to just sit back, relax and absorb a wonderful glass of wine with the company of good friends.  It doesn’t get any more luxuriously sophisticated than this, so take plenty of pictures while there.  Constellation Brands acquired Robert Mondavi winery in 2004 and entered into a management agreement with Baron Rothschild to manage Opus One.  The Winery tours are by appointment only, so call in advance to secure your reservation, and if possible, note that their very best and most knowledgeable tour Docents are Sandy, Nancy, Vicki, Hank and Japanese-speaking, Kaede.  Opus One produces only one wine, a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend, so be prepared for tasting one lovely red wine in a bit pretentious and pricey setting.  Opus One is worth the visit.

7900 St. Helena Highway (Hwy 29)
Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 944-9442
Tasting Hours: 10:00AM-4:00PM

10) Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars: Founded in 1970 by Warren Winiarski, this winery brought international acclaim to Napa Valley winemaking when their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting.  A bottle of 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon was inducted into the Smithsonian National Museum in 1996 as a result of being awarded first in this competition and to reflect the impact that the achievement had on Napa’s wine industry.  The winery’s newly remodeled facility provides floor-to-ceiling views of its vineyards as its centerpiece.  The winery’s cave “is the moral center of the universe” according to founder Warren Winiarski.  He installed an amazing floor-to-ceiling Foucault pendulum at the center of the vaulted caves. It’s an awesome sight to behold as it swings methodically.  The winery was sold to a joint venture by Chateau Ste Michelle and Marchesi Antinori in the summer of 2007. Reservations are accepted Monday through Friday from 10AM to 4:30PM

Email: tours@cask23.com
5766 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 261-6410

After an enjoyable and fun-filled day of wine tasting, you may want to continue your romantic adventure by exploring a few of Napa Valley’s finest restaurants.  Paring those exceptional wines is a very real part of the wine country lifestyle. Chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, located in Yountville is a three Michelin stars, though getting a reservation is challenging and, if successful, costly, however, the intimacy of the dining experience make it well worth your while.  Another favorite is Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, offering superb dining with a magnificent valley view.  A bit further north in St. Helena, is one of my favorites, Market, on Main Street in downtown St Helena.  Not far away, is PRESS Restaurant which boasts exquisite steaks and one of the valley’s best all-Napa wine lists. On Silverado Trail is Chef Christopher Kostow’s The Restaurant at Meadowood, another 3 star Michelin restaurant.  Further north in Calistoga is another of my favorites, Solage’s Solbar which offers a relaxing and beautiful setting, local and seasonal ingredients as well as an extensive wine list. So, pack your bags and increase your expectations. You won’t be disappointed.

About the author:
The author Igor Sill farms a 24-acre mountain vineyard in Atlas Peak and a terraced cabernet sauvignon vineyard in St Helena, Napa, California.  He’s a passionate winemaker; vintner; wine lover; writer; Court of Master Sommeliers; attended UC Davis’ winemaking program; Member, Napa Valley Wine Technical Group; Judge, International Wine Challenge, London UK and holds his Masters from Oxford University.

All Things Pig and Pinot at Silver Trident Winery – Ralph Lauren Tasting Home, Yountville, Napa Valley June 2016

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If you in Napa Valley  this weekend, and would like to attend this “All Things Pig and Pinot” at Silver Trident Winery – Ralph Lauren Tasting Home, Yountville, Napa Valley.  To mark the release of their 2014 Benevolent Dictator Revelry included. It’s complimentary and delightful for their Flagship members.

Tickets are still available here – Contact: Brian Woolery 707.945.0311,  or email: brian@silvertridentwinery.com.

silver-trident

Some of the most magical moments in the Napa Valley are when friends open up their hearts and homes to share wine in a relaxed and welcoming setting. That’s exactly the experience we’d like to provide when you visit them.

Imagine walking into a Tuscan-style stone building in the heart of the charming town of Yountville, within walking distance of the celebrated French Laundry and other Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s intimate and inviting, with a warm and beautifully appointed living room, dining room and library. There’s no tasting bar, no rush, no standing on your feet.

SilverTrident_Family_29718You’re in the private home of a small family winery, and you’re greeted by a friendly, knowledgeable host, who invites you to make yourself comfortable and settle in for a relaxed tasting of outstanding wines.

Now imagine this: Just about everything you’re admiring all around you—from the art and decorative accents to the furniture and floor Silver Trident Ralph Lauren 1coverings, from the serving trays to the crystal wine goblets—has been curated in association with Ralph Lauren Home. And, just like their wines, it’s all available to add to your collection.

Welcome to the Silver Trident Winery Tasting Home. A whole new approach to wine tasting that pairs great wines with world-class home décor. A whole new experience of luxury and comfort.

Follow them on:

Website: SilverTridentWinery.com
Twitter: Twitter.com/silvertridents

Silver Trident Ralph Lauren 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Manda Bear

California’s Artisan Cheese Festival March 18-20, 2016 Petaluma, California

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Three days of cheese, cheese and MORE cheese awaits at the 10th Annual Artisan Cheese Festival. Take a farm tour, sign up for a class to learn from our experts how to taste, buy, serve and enjoy distinctive artisan cheeses with wine, beer, cider, and even sake.

Meet the cheesemongers and vote on their Best Bites! Sample cheese-inspired dishes from more than two dozen restaurants at California Cheesin’ – We Do it Our Whey! With wines, beers, and ciders to complement.

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Visit the Bubbles Brunch or go to the Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace where you can taste and buy cheeses from over two dozen artisan cheesemakers and artisan food producers; sample artisan wines, craft brews, and much more. Celebrity chefs, world class cheese, wine, beer, cider and more all in one fun filled weekend!

Sheep bucket credit Derrick StoryThe 2016 schedule features the following events:

 Friday, March 18

Cheesemongers’ Duel – The Best Bite

Friday night under the Big Top is where cheesemongers will take center stage in a light-hearted yet energetic competition to see who can create the best bite using California artisan cheese. Guests are encouraged to vote for their favorite bite while enjoying plenty of artisan wine, cider and beer. A “Fantasy Cheese Table” will be center stage, so guests may taste the wide variety of local and rare cheeses at this not-to-be-missed party to kick off the weekend.  Tickets $50; The Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m.

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 Saturday, March 19

 Farm Tours & Lunch

New this year, the popular and coveted Friday farm tours have been expanded to Saturday! Guests will be guided on walking tours of various local farms and creameries to meet the cheesemakers and farmers, learn how the cheeses are made and taste the fruits of their labor. Tours on Saturday will feature an educational component such as a discussion or tasting led by an industry expert on a variety of topics. Tours allow guests to observe behind-the-scenes aspects of cheesemaking and interact with the animals in their natural environment. Each tour includes round-trip transportation from the Sheraton Sonoma County, as well as cheese tastings and lunch. Cheese is available for purchase on most of the farm tours.  Tickets and specific details about the farm tours to be available January 1, 2016; $135; 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

 Seminars + Tasting and Pairing Demonstrations

In addition to the educational components that are included on the farm tours, there are also a handful of seminars offered a la carte on Saturday at the Sheraton Sonoma County and at Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma. Led by industry experts on a variety of topics, the seminars will range from pairing cheese with sake to the similarities of making cheese and chocolate. Confirmed instructors include Peggy Smith and Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery; renowned cheese writer and author Janet Fletcher; author and cheese expert Laura Werlin; cheese expert and founding president of the California Artisan Cheese Guild Lynne Devereux; and cheese and wine author Kristin Jackson. During the lunch break and after the afternoon seminars authors will be available for book signings. Books will be available for purchase by Copperfield’s Books. Tickets $75; Sheraton Sonoma County and Cowgirl Creamery Warehouse. 10 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 3 p.m.

California Cheesin’ We Do It Our Whey!

In celebration of a decade of California’s Artisan Cheese Festival,

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guests are invited to taste their way around this evening celebration of California cheese, sampling dishes from some of the Bay Area’s best chefs and caterers. Each chef will incorporate their favorite locally made cheese into an impressive dish for attendees who will then cast their vote for their favorite dish. The winner will be announced on-site during this lively and festive competition and there will also be a special tribute to some of the icons of California’s artisan cheese industry. Artisan wines, beers and ciders will be on hand to complement each dish, and live music and a photo booth will add to the jovial atmosphere. Tickets $75; The Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m.

 Sunday, March 20

Sunday Bubbles and Brunch with Visionary Chef John Ash

Considered the Father of Wine Country cuisine, chef John Ash will be dishing up a special Sunday brunch celebrating California cheese at every course. Chef Ash will provide a live cooking demonstration and sparkling wine will be provided by Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. Tickets to brunch also include coveted early entry into the Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace at 11 a.m., before it opens to the public at 12 p.m.  Tickets $115; Sheraton Sonoma County Ballroom,
9:30 – 11 a.m.

Artisan Cheese Tasting & Marketplace

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The grand finale of the Festival, the Marketplace brings together more than 90 artisan cheesemakers, winemakers, brewers, chefs and producers to sample and sell their products directly to attendees in this feast for the senses. Guests can discover the next wave of local, hand-crafted cheeses, boutique wines and artisan-brewed beers as well as interesting cheese products, books and recipes.  Each ticket includes entry to the Marketplace, an insulated cheese tote bag and a signature wine glass. Tickets $45 for adults; $20 for children 12 and under; The Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 12 – 4 p.m.

Complimentary Cooking and Entertaining Demonstrations

In between tasting and buying cheeses at the Marketplace, guests are invited to watch live cooking and entertaining demonstrations conducted by local chefs and cheese experts, including a demonstration of how to create the perfect party cheese platter.  Free with a Marketplace ticket; Sheraton Sonoma County Ballroom, 12 – 4 p.m.

You can purchase tickets at www.artisancheesefestival.com.

Follow them on Twitter for current update.

Sheraton Sonoma County
745 Baywood Drive
Petaluma, CA 94954
Friday, March 18, 2016 at 8:30 AM Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Generous sponsors of the Artisan Cheese Festival include All American Printing, American AgCredit, Beehive Cheese Company, Bellwether Farms, John Boos Boards, Central Coast Creamery, Cheese Connoisseur,  Chevoo, Cowgirl Creamery, Culture Magazine, Cypress Grove Chevre, Donald & Maureen Green Foundation, Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese Co., KWMR Community Radio, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Laura Chenel Chevre, Marin French Cheese Co., Mike Hudson Distributing, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, Nugget Markets, Oakland Packaging, Oliver’s Markets, Pennyroyal Farm, Petaluma Market, Petaluma Post, Pisenti & Brinker LLP, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Pure Luxury Transportation, Real California Milk, Redwood Hill Farms & Creamery, Rustic Bakery, Sheraton Sonoma County, Valley Fig Growers, Valley Ford Cheese Company, Willapa Hills Cheese and Yelp.

About California’s Artisan Cheese Festival
A 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, California’s Artisan Cheese Festival strives to increase cheese appreciation, educate consumers about artisan cheeses, support the cheesemaking community and its sustainability and celebrate the creations of California’s many farmers and cheesemakers. The festival began in March 2007 as the first-ever, weekend-long celebration and exploration of handcrafted cheeses, foods, wines and beers from California and beyond.  In keeping with its dedication to the community, the Artisan Cheese Festival donates 10% of all ticket proceeds to Sonoma Land Trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Petaluma Future Farmers of America, California Artisan Cheese Guild and Redwood Empire Food Bank. To date the Artisan Cheese Festival has contributed more than $80,000 to these non-profit organizations that work to support the artisan cheesemaking community and its infrastructure in California.  For more information, visit www.artisancheesefestival.com.

Wente Vineyards, The Country’s Oldest Family-Owned Winery, Livermore, California

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Wines & Winery Reviews

They have about 3,000 acres of sustainability farmed Estate wente vineyardsvineyards, and they are certified sustainable. Wente Vineyards is about 45 minutes drive from San Francisco and 40 minutes drive from San Jose, in the historic Livermore Valley. They offer wine tastings, a fine dining restaurant with the newly acclaimed chef Mike Ward (formerly at Tyler Florence’s El Paseo in Mill Valley), and championship golf.

wente garden3  I got lucky to check our the one acre garden in the back. It was amazing to see everything they grow here fresh and organic. Master Gardener Diane Dovholuk has been with Wente Vineyards for almost 20 years. You can see their garden tips on their website here: Wente Vineyards Garden

wente garden5  They offer Estate & Vineyards tasting; here you can try some of the wines that only offer at the vineyards.  Price range from $10-$25, very reasonable.

We got to try at about eight wines, and these are our favorites:

– 2012 Small Lot Serenity – Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, and Graciano blend

– 2013 Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay

wente tasting 4– 2012 Small Lot GSM – The Syrah was harvested from the Hayes Ranch at our estate vineyard in the Livermore Valley. The Grenache was harvested from the Marina Ranch The Mourvedre was harvested from the Raboli Ranch.

– 2010 Small Lot Duetto – 50% of this blend comes from our Cabernet Sauvignon block in the Napa Valley, and 50% was grown in our Smith block in the Livermore Valley.

We also got lucky to meet the handsomely tall 5th generation
Karl Wente 4winemaker Karl Wente. He’s such a charming character. I personally have met other winemakers before Brad Buehler and Claude Bubba as well as vineyards manager Julio  Covarrubias. Everyone was kind, shared their stories, and truly love what they do here and have been working for Wente for decades.

Did you know Wente Vineyards was the first family brought the Chardonnay grape to the U.S.? Their clone is now widely planted in California by other wineries.

They also planted just about every single varietal out there such as
wenteCabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Counoise, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Viognier, Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo,  Riesling, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli, and a few more. I have not tried some of this varietal before. However, that gives them the ability to blend the wines and be creative of what they do.

Another interesting point is that the winemaker Karl Wente doesn’t use just one type of oak barrel. He used French, American, Hungarian, and sometimes Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland too.

The staff was knowledgeable and excellent. Wente Vineyards is a must stop if you plan to visit Livermore Wine Country. The wines are good, reasonable price point, and plenty of choices for you to choose.

Wente Vineyards
Wente Vineyards Tasting Room

5050 Arroyo Road
Livermore, CA 94550
1.925.456.2405

Estate Winery & Tasting Room
5565 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA 94550
1.925.456.2305

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by Manda Bear 

5 favorite Vietnamese Noodle Soup and they are not Pho, in Silicon Valley, Cheap Eat

Banh Canh Cua – Udon-like Crab & Pork Noodle Soup

Truong Thanh Restaurant 
680 Barber Ln
Milpitas, CA 95035
Phone: (408) 383-0886

When I crave for Banh Canh Cua, and my mother too busy to cook, I come here for it. One of my childhood memories that I vividly remember how my grandma cooked this delicious bowl of Banh Canh Cua, each time I got a cold. It’s a dish originated from Northern Vietnam where my grandma from. Forget about Pho Ga (Chicken Pho noodle soup), I want a bowl Banh Canh Cua. Banh Canh Cua came to my rescue as a perfect hangover noodle soup, this slippery udon-like noodles, I can just slurp it till the last drop of the thicken savory broth.

banh canh       Banh Canh is literally translated to Soup Cake. Banh Canh Cua is  #1 on their menu, they use a thick Vietnamese noodle, similar to Japanese udon, that can be made from tapioca flour or a mixture of rice and tapioca flour, serve in thick broth of pork and bone, serves in the big bowl of noodle soup with crab meat, pork, topping with spring onion, scallion, cilantro; serves on the side of bean sprout, lime, and chili. When Dungeness crab is in season, they serve the whole crab legs for you. My mouth is watering just think about it now. Truong Thanh Restaurant serves it best in the Bay Area. Don’t tell my mother, that I prefer this place, it’s as good as my grandma used to make for me.

Hu Tieu Ba Nam Sa Dec Meat & Seafood Noodle Soup

Vung Tau Restaurant
535 E Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Phone: (408) 288-9055
Website: www.vungtaurestaurant.com

VUNG TAU Restaurant is the most consistent Vietnamese restaurant in the Silicon Valley. After so many years, this is still the most successful family runs Vietnamese restaurant around town. Every time we have relatives visiting from out of town, my mom would take them here.

Hu Tieu            The majority of the dishes here at VUNG TAU Restaurant are on point in flavor, taste, and authenticity. Dinner serve in family style to share but I love to take some of my non-Vietnamese clients here to showcase the food I grow up with. And one of my favorite dishes here for lunch, is “Hu Tieu Ba Nam Sa Dec”, a dish originated from Sa Dec City, Dong Thap Province, Mekong Delta of Southern Vietnam; Ba Nam literally means Mrs. #5, it’s a common for the Southern families to call their children by the birth order, rather than their names. This glass noodle (Mung Bean) with pork bone broth serves on the side (dry style); the glass noodle is topping off with jumbo prawn, crab claw, ground pork in tomato sauce & a crispy fritter shrimp cake. Serves with a side of beans sprout, lime, and chili, mix everything together, you have a bowl of Southern Vietnamese goodness.

Bun Moc Pork & Ham Noodle Soup

Pho Ga Hung 
1818 Tully Road, # 120
San Jose, CA 95122
Phone: (408) 238-2543

Inconveniently located inside the Lion Plaza Food Court in East San Jose, CA, It can be tough to find a table here at lunch time and sometimes or weekend. However, Pho Ga Hung offers better Pho Ga chicken noodle soup than most Pho places around Silicon Valley. But don’t let the restaurant name fools you, PHO GA HUNG offers a whole lot more Northern Vietnamese dishes than just Pho.

1 of the dishes that I love to eat on a raining day, the kind of comfort food, noodle soup that I can only get at home in my mom’s kitchen. I find it here at Pho Ga Hung, their special noodle soup Bun Moc. This underrated light noodle soup is very popular in Ha Noi, Vietnam, while most of us are familiar with PHO, and maybe BUN BO HUE; this noodle soup is hearty and much lighter than other ever popular Vietnamese noodle soups.

bun moc        This rice stick noodle soup made from a pork bone, pork base, and dried shiitake mushroom broth. The meats are mainly Vietnamese ham/pork sausage – “Cha” (similar to spam), the steamed one wrapped in banana leaves & broiled, the fried ham, and the cinnamon ham, and raw pork sausage mixed with dried shiitake mushroom, serves as meat balls in the broth; serves with a side plate of fresh herbs, and shredded water spinach (Ong Choy), when it’s in season, fresh chili, and lime. This noodle soup is so delicious and somehow, it’s forgotten in most of Vietnamese restaurants in Silicon Valley. If you are dare to venture out of your comfort zone, try this noodle soup and I’m sure you will fall in love.

Canh Bun Crab & Shrimp Noodle Soup

Com Tam Thanh 
1150 Story Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
Phone: (408) 278-1888

Another popular Vietnamese in East San Jose, CA, COM TAM THANH restaurant is specialized in “Broken Rice dishes,” but they also offer many authentic dishes from Northern Vietnam. This family runs has been here for almost 2 decades. I love seeing the owner, in her late 60s, she’s always at the cashier, beautifully make up, and has a biggest smile greeting you in Vietnamese. She’s one of the hardest working women and she makes killer dishes like this Canh Bun soup here, that there is no competitors can come close.

Canh Bun       Canh Bun is quite similar to Bun Rieu, a Northern Vietnamese rice noodle soup with tomato based but serves with thicker rice noodle, almost like the noodle in Bun Bo Hue. The broth are from pork, shrimp, and crab based, accompaniments with fried tofu, congealed pork blood, shrimp paste, and steamed water spinach (Ong-Choy), chive, chili and lime. The crab meat smashed in with shrimp paste then combines with eggs, it becomes fluffy, and it melts in your mouth when you eat it. If you love seafood, tangy, and hearty flavor, try this special dish.

Bun Bo Hue Spicy Beef & Pork Noodle Soup

Bun Bo Hue An Nam 
740 Story Road, Ste 3
San Jose, CA 95122
Phone: (408) 993-1755

            The restaurant name says it all: BUN BO HUE AN NAM. Unlike bun bo hueany other Vietnamese Restaurants in San Jose, Bun Bo Hue An Nam only serves this 1 dish, and they serve it real well, even the infamous chef Andrew Zimmern from the TV show “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” had praised his visit here. Hue city is famous for all the spicy & tasty dishes in central Vietnam and Bun Bo Hue is a very popular dish here for foodies in Silicon Valley.

My best friend Coco’s family is from Hue City. She cooks Bun Bo Hue for me once or twice a year, if I get lucky, and she cooks with a lot of love. This dish reminds me of her, colorful, beautiful, spicy and full of flavor, just like her. She taught me how to make it, but it would take me a whole day to make it. So Bun Bo Hue An Nam is my best bet in the Bay Area. This spicy Hue noodle soup serves with pork leg, pork, beef, congealed pork blood, in spicy lemongrass and shrimp paste tasty broth, that has been shimmering for half a day with beef bones, beef shank, oxtail, pork knuckles; then pour this broth over the tick rice noodle, topping it off with Hue ham,  coriander, green onion, and onion. Serves with banana blossom, mint, basil, bean sprouts, lime, and add a little sate chili to the broth, bring out the best flavor in all. If you love spicy, this is a must try for you.

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Author: Manda Bear
https://instagram.com/1mandabear
https://twitter.com/1mandabear
Manda Bear has a passion for food and wine as a very young age. She’s currently with Dep Lifestyle Magazine San Francisco Bay Area, as a co-publisher and contributor @DepLifestyleMag @DiningOutVegas @FabMediaSF. She was a contributor for Viet Press USA, Studio 14 Magazine, DiningOut Magazine in the San Francisco Bay Area.

She’s a certified level II Sommelier @VintageWineSR at www.VintageWineMerchants.com on Santana Row in Silicon Valley and you can find her on YouTube for her “Wine Not” Ruou Cho Nguoi Viet by Dep Lifestyle Magazine

She’s also a PR/brand ambassador for hospitality, food, and wine industry, as well as a Social Media consultant for high tech companies in Silicon Valley. She’s also a former restaurant owner and has traveled to dine at over hundred of Michelin Star/James Beard Award winning restaurants around the world.

Regale Winery & Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, Silicon Valley, California

I can’t believe that living in the Bay Area for this long and I P1030332
haven’t been here to Regale Winery and Vineyards at all. Even the winery is in Los Gatos, but it’s actually deep inside the Santa Cruz Mountains, just a short drive of 10 minutes from downtown Los Gatos and 20 minutes from downtown San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley.

The Tasting Room Open to the Public Saturday and Sunday from Noon-5 PM by appointment only, but Regale Winery and Vineyards are strictly for  members only and during the week, they often rent out for corporate events and weddings.

Regale Winery and Vineyards is so beautiful with gorgeous Italian IMG_2832inspired landscape, garden, water fountain, and a breathtaking view of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the vineyards. It’s peaceful, tranquil, and romantic. I can see why it’s such a great place for a wedding.  A spiral herb garden, outdoor fireplaces, a bocce ball court, and a traditional wood-fired oven. Three varieties of olive trees line the property from which they hand-pick and press the olives to produce their Estate Olive Oil. Wait till Summer, when they harvest their tomatoes, it’s so much fun to be here.

We were lucky enough to get to meet the winemaker Larry Schaadt and his brother, the men behind this operation. He makes wines with a passion, besides their vineyards, the winemaker sources the grapes from all over Sonoma to Napa Valley to make his wines and bottling it here at the winery.

The winemaker is such a charmer, with a warm personality, and IMG_2827beautiful blue eyes. (OK, so that got nothing to do with wines, but you know what I mean.) He and his brother were so gracious chatting up with us and sharing with us their story behind the winery.

Instead of tasting a selection of 5 wines limited productions, we got to try a few more rare wines, never before seen; from Pinot Noir from different appellation to Cabernet Sauvignon, to sparkling wine. Everything was delicious.

On our third visit, we got to try the new release 2013 Regale regale-cabRussian River Valley Pinot Noir which was quite nice and the Super Tuscan.  You can do tasting flights here or you can order a bottle of wine on the menu to share with your group. They focus on Pinot Noir and Cabernet, but they also feature limited-production Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Barbera as well as their popular Chardonnay.  It’s a perfect way to spend a beautiful weekend afternoon with your friends and loved ones.

My friends and I enjoyed our visit and the hospitality of the staff there from beginning to finish.

They also offer the wine club members with a lot of benefits you can find more details on their website:

P1030367Wine Benefits
* Bi-Monthly shipments of 2 or 4 bottles
* Generous discounts on wine purchases
* Access to limited production member-only wines
* Free tasting for you and your guest(s)
* Membership privileges at their new Regale Wine Bar which is Rendezvous in Campbell, CA opened in late 2014.

Event Benefits
* Private member-only events for you and your guests
* Generous discounts on special events
* Special discounts on private events at Regale Winery and Wine Bar

IMG_2828Exclusive Estate Privileges
* Members-only wine tasting lounge
* Priority reserved seating
* Priority access to bocce, patios and terrace areas

Spa Privileges
* 15% Off spa services at The Spa ~ Los Gatos, Monday – Friday

I love the space and the gorgeous garden they offer, from the balcony of the second floor, you can enjoy the peaceful but breathtaking view of the mountains.  The wines are good and also very reasonable in price. Regale Winery and Vineyards is such a great place to throw a party, wedding, or corporate events.

Follow them on Twitter: http://twitter.com/regalewinery

Regale Winery and Vineyards
http://regalewine.com
24040 Summit Road
Los Gatos, CA 95033
events@regalewine.com
wineclub@regalewine.com
Phone: (408) 353-2500

by Manda Bear – @1MandaBear