Season 2, Episode 3
Sonoma County is not only the birthplace of the California wine industry, it's one of the most diverse wine regions in the entire USA! From the coast to the mountains, Sonoma County's wines are as varied as its terrain. In addition to it's incredible wines, it's agricultural roots provide the perfect backdrop for a wine and food scavenger hunt. Get lost in laid back wine country on this episode of V is for Vino.
filmed August, 2019 | runtime 43 minutes
or scroll to the bottom to watch the episode by chapters in the "EPISODE BREAKDOWN"
- Welcome to Sonoma County. Sonoma County has a laid back vibe that allows you to get lost drinking, well, a whole bunch of different grapes. It has a diversity that other wine regions can't even touch: valleys, coastline, forests, plains, mountains, and hills. Out here, you're reminded that wine is a crop, and the wineries are farms first and luxury tasting rooms second. Though they have those too. Welcome to V for is Vino. Let's watch, learn, and drink. Sonoma County is located just north of San Francisco, right next to Napa County. Our journey starts in the south of the county in the city of Sonoma, not to be confused with Sonoma County though it is for the city that the county got its name. ♪ In these boots of mine ♪ ♪ I walk in love ♪
- This is the Sonoma Plaza, the largest town plaza in California today and the site of the Bear Flag Revolt that took place in 1846. Back then, a group of American settler's revolted against the Mexican government who owned California at the time. The Americans prevailed and declared this land, the independent Republic of California. They made a makeshift flag from some fabric and painted a red grizzly bear on it, along with the words "California Republic," creating the iconic symbol we've all come to know and love. Soon, California would become the 31st state to enter the union which was the goal all along, and the independent Republic of California was dissolved. But the red grizzly bear flag would live on as the state flag. Sonoma County is known as the birthplace of the California wine industry. It has both the oldest commercial and oldest family run winery. Unfortunately, it was also one of the regions hit hardest by Prohibition in 1920. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, wineries here were reduced from 256 to less than 50. But Sonoma County stayed persistent. People made so much homemade wine during Prohibition that grape acreage barely declined and most vines survived. Wineries were even shipping bricks of dried grapes with instructions on it, "Warning. "Do not place this brick in a one gallon crock, "add sugar, water, cover, "and let stand for seven days, "or else an illegal alcoholic beverage will result." And who would want that? Post-Prohibition, World War II prevented French wines from being imported which helped to boost the popularity of Sonoma County wines, and in the 1960s, when America really developed a taste for fine wine, Sonoma was there and ready to fill the demand. Cut to today, and there are over 400 wineries thriving in this region. ♪ Back to you ♪ To talk a bit more about Sonoma County's community and what it makes it so special, I head north to trendy downtown Healdsburg to meet with my friend, and the first female president of Sonoma County wine growers, Karissa Kruse.
- [Vince] Sonoma has such a different vibe to me than a lot of other wine regions I go to.
- [Karissa] Yeah, what makes Sonoma so special and that vibe you're feeling, it's really 'cause we're an agricultural community. We became a wine region by being farmers first. You know, we used to grow prunes. We had dairies, and you're gonna meet some of those folks still doing that type of work. Then they evolved and said, "In order to keep our farms, "we need a high value crop." That's how we got our really our wine start here was wanting to preserve local agriculture. When you go to the stores, when you go to the restaurants, you're meeting the chef. You're meeting the winemaker, when you're at a tasting room.
- [Vince] Yeah, and the other thing I think that's special about Sonoma compared to a lot of other places is how large it is and how diverse it is. You know, you have literally everything you could want.
- [Karissa] Everything. The whole county is about a million acres. We have world-class Pinot Noir, world-class cabernet, chardonnay, all these different grapes because we have all these microclimates, you know, and all these different soils.
- [Vince] We went to the coast and it was freezing.
- Yes, yes, yes.
- And then we come in here, and we had 90 plus degree days. We're moving towards 100% sustainable?
- [Karissa] We are so close. Yeah, thank you. So we made this big commitment back in 2014, that we said we wanted to be 100% certified sustainable in our vineyards. The important thing I think for folks who love wine and love Sonoma County wine is that they know that all the farming that goes into it is done from these men and women farmers who are stewards of the land. Every year they're improving and trying to find softer ways to treat the land. Family owned and operated, about 85% of our vineyards are family owned, and then the last piece is really that social sustainability. Taking care of our employees.
- [Vince] Yeah, I mean that says a lot about them, and it says a lot about you that you can get everybody on the same page to commit to that.
- [Karissa] They might have thought I was a little crazy in the beginning, no doubt. It's really great now. There's actually a label you can find on some of the wines in Sonoma County, that actually say, you know, made with sustainable grapes.
- [Vince] Thank you for taking some time and explaining.
- [Karissa] Yeah, enjoy Sonoma County.
- Believe it or not, Sonoma County is double the size of Napa County at over a million acres of land. What this means is that there's a huge variety of climates, terrain, and altitudes, and consequently, it isn't known for just one or two grapes, like some wine regions. It's known for a whole wide variety of grapes. Because of this, Sonoma County is a place where the national regulatory system called AVA works really well. But what's an AVA? Well, it stands for American Viticultural Area, sometimes called an appellation, and Sonoma County has 18 of 'em. In it's simplest form, an AVA is a geographical area, that you can produce wine in. If you wanna produce wine that has the name of an AVA on the label, say Sonoma Coast for instance, you have to follow the 85% rule. 85% of the grapes in the wine must come from the Sonoma Coast AVA. It's kind of like brand protection for consumers. I can't just make bathtub wine from grocery store grapes in my Los Angeles apartment, slap the words Sonoma on it, and try to sell it as Sonoma County wine. Most wine-making countries have some form of this. France has AOC. Italy has DOC. Spain has DO, but it's important to note that the European designations have quality controls in place as well. AVAs are simply geographical. We don't regulate how you make the wine, only where the wine comes from. You've probably already heard of a few Sonoma County AVAs. Russian River Valley. Carneros. Sonoma Coast. Each of these AVAs specialize in their own varietals, and they also provide Sonoma County winemakers with the option to source unique grapes from neighboring AVAs. Just because your winery's located in an AVA that specializes in one grape varietal, doesn't mean you can't grab some grapes of another varietal from a neighboring AVA to produce a different wine. At the end of the day, the label will say where the grapes come from, regardless of where the wine production occurred because it's where the grapes come from that determines the true character of the wine. The best way to experience all the wine diversity and agriculture that Sonoma County has to offer is to try it all. So today we're gonna hit up as many AVAs as we can: picking up wine, produce, and goods everywhere we go. A Sonoma County scavenger hunt if you will. Our first stop is in the Russian River Valley, an AVA that isn't protected from the ocean breezes by mountains, which means the fog rolls through the Petaluma Gap and keeps the grapes nice and cool. This extends the growing season which as you may know by now, is loved by chardonnay and pinot noir. But this family winery produces more than just wine. Bucher Winery is also a 700 cow organic dairy farm, so before tasting, I spoke with John Bucher about his respect for ethical and responsible farming.
- [John] So we've been here a little over 60 years. Over the years, we've evolved to where we've converted our dairy to organic, and so we produce organic fluid milk for our local processor, Clover Sonoma. We have a total of 700 cows that we milk twice a day. We were one of the first dairy companies that was certified by the American Humane Association on the humane treatment of animals. And that's on every carton of Clover Sonoma milk.
- [Vince] You know, it's amazing to see them out here, treated the way they're supposed to be treated. Yeah, and you know we vote with our dollars as consumers and supporting these animals treated like this will eventually force everybody to maintain these same standards.
- [John] They're gentle giants that, you know, they really are, neat to hang around with. You know cows are really cool in the fact that they can utilize a lot of feeds that humans can't. It's a byproduct that would go to waste, and cows can eat that, give us something high-quality, high in nutrition product in return. So this is how we start the calves. We call this our nursery area. Their most critical time healthwise, is the first three to four weeks of their lives. Think about a nursery in a hospital. By individually caring for the animals, we know what goes in, what goes out. We can monitor the temperature and ensure that they're gonna be healthy and really have a great start to life. It's really important for the calves to get the colostrum milk. That's how they get their immune system built up is through the colostrum. So, not only do they need high-quality colostrum, but they need it within a few hours. With organic dairy farming, we're not allowed to use antibiotics, so we really rely on ultra-high management and care for the animals, and these individual nursery hutches are what help us do that. Once they're eating hay, they're growing, they get moved into a smaller group pins, about eight to 10, and then they get socialized there, and then from there on they're always with their herdmates. And then once they're at least six months of age, then they're out into the pastures. Here are we in July, which is one of the warmest months of the year for us here in Northern California, so trying to keep the animals in a shaded area is really important. They have access to the pastures. They just don't like the heat.
- If it's really hot, we're looking for a shady spot. I mean animals are no different.
- [Vince] They're free to kind of do what they want.
- [John] They are waiting or being milked for no more than an hour to hour and a half in the morning and maybe about the same, about an hour and half a day. So, if you think about three to four hours a day is really--
- [Vince] I'll take a three hour work day.
- [Vince] We already kinda talked. We saw the dairy portion of it, but then obviously there's the vines as well.
- [John] We've worked over the last couple years to get our California Certified Sustainable certification. I can thank my parents for choosing the Russian River Valley. What's really captivating and interesting with the climate here is that the cool down happens from the actual river. Pretty dramatic temperature fluctuations from nighttime temps versus daytime.
- [Diane] It's a kind of a Burgundian climate, like Burgundy, France, and so you do see quite a bit. Most of what we can see behind us here on the valley floor is gonna be either pinot or chardonnay. This is our Rio Oro Chardonnay. Aged in a mostly neutral french oak, older french oak barrels for about nine months and then about 15% new. Has some bright acidity. We try to keep the acidity up in all of our wines. Keep 'em food friendly.
- [Vince] You guys really luck out in that regard. I always tell people when they are studying for their sommelier exam or something like that, I say, "If you got have a good chardonnay, "and a good pinot noir in your head, "you can pair almost anything on the planet." So, I love the nose on this already.
- [Diane] I get a lot of kind of pineapple in this, some tropical fruits, but almost even some citrus notes, maybe a little lemon oil with a light oak addition. It gives it a little bit of a sweetness, a little bit of the whatever you'd get from the toasted barrel, the crème brûlée.
- [Vince] Yeah, but not so much that it would overwhelm the fruit character, which I love. So now we have the pinot noir as well.
- [Diane] We do, this is our 2016 Bucher Vineyard designate. We make three pinot noirs. This is our largest bottling, which by most standards it's not really very large. It's about 500 cases.
- On the nose, this is so quintessential Russian River. You get this lushness of fruit from Russian River pinots that it's so hard to duplicate almost anywhere else. A little smokiness on the palate which is great.
- [Diane] Mm-hmm. A little smoked meat. Little smoked meats. Exactly. It has a little bit of earthiness to it but not really, not overpowering.
- [Vince] Beautiful red fruits but like really developed red fruit where it's super ripe when you take a sip, and the tannin structure is present, which I like. A little girth to stand up to some hardier dishes. Well, thank you guys so much. These are incredible wines. Cheers guys.
- It's been a fun day.
- Cheers. You can come back. Come back whenever you want.
- [Vince] I grabbed my Bucher cheese and wine, and we were on our way to our next AVA that has been producing the quintessential American grape, zinfandel, for over a hundred years. But before we head there, let's talk about zin. For much of California's history, zinfandel was the most planted red grape, until cabernet took over in the 90's. It has a spiced, wild berry character: strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, bramble, and some pepper, clove, and anise, to make a rich, bold, assertive, easy-to-love wine. Think if Pavarotti were a wine. Because its fruit character is through the roof, but the tannins are not, you'll hear zinfandel often described as jammy, rich, ripe fruits that don't also dry your mouth out. Think biting into an overripe blackberry or raspberry jam, but the best examples are balanced between that strong fruit character and the other elements to create a powerful but balanced wine. Zin thrives in the heat. It doesn't mind 90 degree days, but it also doesn't mind cooler temperatures. This means the wines can range from black fruit and high alcohol to red fruits and lower alcohol, depending on where it's grown. A note about white zinfandel, you know, your old college friend that came in a bag and a box and oversized bottles. Here's how that got started. The owner of a Napa winery was making a good old-fashion batch of red zinfandel. He took some run-off juice and put it in a separate tank to ferment. Lots of winemakers do this. It leaves the original juice more concentrated because of more juice to skin contact, and he would just bottle and sell the run-off juice as a dry rosé. But one of these rosé batches had what's called a stuck fermentation. The yeast died before it ate all the sugar, and all that leftover sugar produced an overly sweet rosé wine. He decided to just bottle and sell it anyway, and to his surprise, it sold like wildfire. The cultural effect that resulted was so strong that most people today still think that all rosé is sweet, and it's still so popular that 85% of zinfandel grapes produced are used specifically for white zin. White zinfandel gets a bad rap, but let me say this, is it transcendent wine? Usually not. But white zin does introduce many Americans who are used to chilled sugary drinks into wine in the first place. And frankly, who am I to hate on anything that gets people into wine. More importantly, the popularity of white zin actually saved a ton of old zinfandel vines that would have been ripped out and planted with more popular varietals. Now, we have a bunch of old vines zinfandels that wouldn't have been around otherwise. Speaking of old vine, just how old is old? Typically, it's accepted that vines over 50 years old fall in this category. Old vines are said to produce better wine as they produce less grapes which means more concentrated fruit. But there's no regulation to this. Anybody can slap "old vine" on their label, so if you're looking to specifically try some old vine zinfandel, your best bet is to check online and verify the vine's age on the winemaker's website. If it's truly old vine, they'll most likely be bragging about it. Ready to try some zinfandel for myself, we head to one of the largest Sonoma County AVAs, Sonoma Valley. Because of its size and diversity of climates, Sonoma Valley is a diverse AVA within a diverse wine region, and a perfect example of how much agriculture can thrive here. Welcome to the magical little oasis that is Beltane Ranch. ♪ Nobody left unscared ♪ ♪ And nobody here is talking ♪ ♪ That's just the way things are ♪
- This place is borderline magical. I'm for real. This is one of the coolest places I've ever been to as far as wineries go.
- [Lauren] Yeah, so Beltane Ranch has been in my family for six generations. Brother and I to put our mark on, our generation's mark on the business, started to produce our wines. 100% certified sustainable, both in our farming and in the winery and our wine-making.
- Oh, both.
- We grow wine grapes, but we also organically grow eight varietals of olives and make olive oil. We have a couple acre produce garden, an heirloom fruit tree orchard, raspberries, and we have a farm stay inn. So the inn is a historic landmark. It was built in 1892 by an incredible woman. She's known alternatively as the mother of civil rights in California, but also as a voodoo queen.
- What does that mean?
- Her name was Mary Ellen Pleasant. She had one blue eye and one brown eye and was thought to have a mysterious power over people. But most importantly, a very astute business woman. You can see her New Orleans roots in the architecture.
- [Vince] Yeah, yeah, very much so.
- Came out to San Francisco. Amassed an incredible fortune with boarding houses, quick silver mines, restaurants, brothels, all kinds of hospitality if you will.
- So now you guys run it as an inn.
- Yeah, we're still in the hospitality business, but longer stays.
- Yeah, yeah.
- [Lauren] We are in Sonoma Valley AVA which is the birthplace of California wine. Wines have been growing here since the 1850's, but what's interesting I think about Sonoma Valley is that the topography is so diverse. We kind of specialize in a lot of different varietals in different parts of the valley. So in one day, you can visit us up in the kind of north in the valley where it's a little warmer, and we're growing the zinfandels, sauvignon blanc. You could go up on the Moon Mountain part of Sonoma Valley and have these incredible dry-farmed cabernets. You can go down to the south end, the Carneros, and get these great chardonnay and pinots. And then there's the Sonoma Mountain, so the topography's really diverse. So here we have the Heins Block Estate Zinfandel. A super tiny block. We only make 20 barrels of this wine. My brother farms it. He's meticulous in the vineyard. We're seeing a very low yield from these vines. We don't do any kind of blending, so it's a true field blend and that it is a block designated specific wine. We're aiming for something that is maybe a little more restrained, but also has that full bodied kind of fruit forward style.
- [Vince] Sure, that you look for.
- [Lauren] Yeah, that we're looking for with a good earthy kind of mineral and a little pepper, but not an overwhelming wine.
- [Vince] A nice bright, red fruit in the nose.
- [Vince] Oh yeah. A good amount of spice which I love.
- [Vince] You sometimes hear the "J" word with zinfandel a lot, you know?
- [Vince] And I don't get this overly jammy. I get this really nice balance-- Between the spice character and the fruit character. A nice acidity where it's still very bright.
- And poppy. But like that, ripeness from the fruit.
- Vin, that was like the best description I've could have possibly imagine.
- [Vince] Okay, I'll take it.
- That's exactly what we're going for.
- [Vince] Yeah, yeah. Definitely. This is exactly that. So tell me about the, you guys, it's not only wine, but you have a garden here as well.
- [Lauren] Absolutely. So we have a couple acre produce garden, an heirloom fruit tree orchard where we're farming as much of the food, vegetables, herbs, fruit that we can to supply our kitchen for breakfast, for winemaker dinners, for food and wine experiences.
- Do you have any coming up?
- You have one tonight?
- Can we come?
- We'd love to have you.
- All right, let's do it. Awesome. ♪ Brother, lost soul ♪ ♪ I need you ♪ ♪ Sister, lost soul ♪ ♪ Brother, lost soul ♪ ♪ I need you ♪ ♪ Sister, lost soul ♪ ♪ Brother, lost soul ♪ ♪ I need you ♪ ♪ Sister, lost soul ♪ ♪ Brother, lost soul ♪
- I packed up my Beltane zinfandel and fresh produce and head to our final wine stop. In addition to growing fantastic Zinfandel Cabernet and Italian varietals the Dry Creek Valley has the ability to source grapes from neighboring AVAs, which provides winemakers with a huge metaphorical spice cabinet to craft their wines. Oh yeah, and Ferrari-Carano's Estate, not too shabby. ♪ The penthouse with no bills to pay ♪ ♪ Life on the drag ain't always sunny ♪
- [Sarah] So we started in 1985, and it was a passion for Don and Rhonda. They owned casinos and hotels in Reno, Nevada, and they came down to Sonoma County to go wine tasting. And fell in love with Sonoma County. And it kind of reminded them of Italy, and Genoa is where Don's family is from.
- [Vince] And how did you get started in wine?
- [Sarah] I started, I was a biology major out of Sonoma State, and I worked at the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, but I'd have to cut fish all day. So, I would come home crying, finding scales in my hair, and smelling like fish, and I couldn't do it another day. So I quit. I didn't know what I was gonna do, but I opened the newspaper, and I saw Ferrari-Carano was hiring. But I realized wine is really biology. It's the yeast converting sugar to alcohol, and it's the bacteria converting malic to lactic. I've never looked back. It's been 24 years that I've been doing this.
- [Vince] We're here in Dry Creek.
- [Vince] But, you guys have some property here, and you also have some other property in some other AVAs, right?
- [Sarah] So we have 24 ranches. We have Russian River, Dry Creek, Alexander Valley is the core of our vineyard sites.
- [Vince] So this one says, "Sonoma County" on it, so this one has a source of grapes from a couple of different places within the county.
- Yeah, this is our fumé blanc. It's mainly Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, and Russian River.
- [Vince] Yeah, so let's try some.
- It's fumé blanc, but it's 100% sauvignon blanc. I know there's the, people get confused if it's two different varietals. We tend to make a sauvignon blanc that is more of a tropical style. We want the passion fruit. We want the guava. We want the, you know, peaches.
- [Vince] Oh yeah, beautiful nose, and you definitely get like a little of that smokiness you're talking about.
- I get more of like sometimes a vanilla, like a creaminess.
- A roundness on the palette.
- Very lush. Just what you said.
- Pineapple and peaches.
- [Sarah] It's like a gateway in between a sauvignon blanc and a chardonnay.
- [Vince] All right, now we have the cab.
- The fruit sourcing for this wine comes from two mountain ranches in Alexander Valley, and the barrel program on the cabernet is about 40% new French oak, and we do have caves, so it goes in the caves and we barrel age it for about 16 months.
- Yeah, I love that.
- Love that. And beautiful dark fruit character that doesn't come off as overly jammy or fruity. It's really just ripe. It feels like ripe fruit.
- Pomegranate and some plum character.
- There's that--
- Yeah, plummy for sure.
- [Vince] I mean the oak presence is really nice too. A little bit of that spice box thing going on.
- Thank you so much. This is a treat. These are all incredible.
- Thank you.
- I think we're gonna go out now and look at some olive oil and check out the trees.
- It sounds great.
- All right, thank you for having us.
- Yeah, of course.
- [Vince] What is your official title? 'Cause I just keep calling you olive oil lady, and that's not right.
- [Dana] My official title is grower relations manager. Generally speaking, what I do is I help the winery source grapes for our wines, because I knew something about growing olive trees, when I got here in 2012, the olive oil--
- There you go.
- Yeah, they said, "You know how to grow trees. "Here, you go." And for Ferrari-Carano, we have 800 trees.
- Are olives a fruit?
- They are a fruit.
- The pits are in the center.
- So, if I try this now, it's just gonna be gross, right?
- All right, I know I'm not supposed to eat, but I have to try it.
- You gotta try it. I promise you. Oh, you're really trying it.
- It is so bitter.
- It is so bitter .
- [Vince] It is so bitter. It may be the most bitter thing I've ever tasted.
- Yes, exactly.
- But what is it gonna taste like when it's developed? Like just a--
- Still totally gross.
- Still totally gross? Totally gross .
- [Vince] So how do I get the olives that I can eat. You have to cure them.
- [Dana] You can salt-cure them. The old way of doing it is curing them in lye, or you can make oil out of them.
- So we have now these very bitter, inedible olives.
- Correct, we truck them up to a mill that we've been using a long time in Hopland. So, the olives get there. They get dumped into a little hopper. They go up a little conveyor, and they're washed.
- So, the olives are crushed, either on the stone mill or they're crushed through the hammer blade mill and they make a paste.
- Pits and all?
- Pits and all. Everything is together. It goes into a machine called the malaxer and what that means is it's mixing. And what you're waiting for is you're waiting to see a sheen on it, and that's when the oil has separated from the paste. Then you put it into centrifuge, and then the centrifuge spins it, and then it goes into a drum, where you let your oil settle. Then you're good to go. We are tasting in official tasting glasses.
- Look at these.
- They are colored blue, and it's tradition because you don't ever judge an olive oil based on its color. You hold it in the palm of your hand, and while you're doing this is you're trying to get the oil to warm up a little bit. And you'll swirl it around. Put your hand on top of it, and you swirl it around a little bit because you're releasing the volatiles.
- I like this ritual.
- [Dana] Yeah, you're releasing the volatiles.
- This is very much like wine.
- And then you'll put your nose in, kind of get an idea of if it's grassier or if it's tropical or if it's got more ripe fruit character, green apple. Put a little bit in your mouth. You're gonna hold it in your mouth, and then you're gonna breathe air over the top of your tongue. And what that's gonna do is it's gonna tell you how bitter the oil is. So, you're looking for a couple of things. You're looking for fruitiness. You're looking for that to be balanced with bitterness, and balanced with pungency. Pungency is what makes you cough.
- Okay, so it starts soft, and then you start to get a little of that bitter.
- And then, yeah. You get that spicy as it goes down.
- Right. Are you feeling the need to clear your throat at all? Generally speaking, if you speak to old Italians who have done this for centuries, you need a three cough oil. A three cough oil is a really good oil.
- Oh, so coughing's a good thing?
- Coughing's a good thing.
- Ah, thank you so much.
- Yeah, no problem.
- [Vince] We threw our olive oil and wine in our bag and went back to Healdsburg. It was time to eat. If you'd like the wines from this episode and more, head to v is for vino and join the V is for Vino wine club. We'll ship these wines right to your door, so you can drink right along with us. Welcome to the V is for Vino Nerd Lab. Where we take complicated wine topics and make 'em simple. Today we're talking about alcohol.
- It's the best part about wine, right? And believe it or not, alcohol is the most important when it comes to the characteristics of a wine. It's all about the sugar content of the grapes or ripeness when they're picked. How is alcohol made? Simple. Yeast plus grape sugar equals alcohol. The riper the grapes, the more sugar in the grapes. The more sugar in the grapes means more yeast food to eat and turn into alcohol. So if you think about it, hotter climates produce riper grapes, and thus wines with higher alcohol. This also means wines with fuller body and less acidity. Let's say you're comparing two of the same types of wines, say two chardonnays, and one has a higher alcohol content than the other. You can bet that that one will have a riper, more lush fruit character, whereas the lower alcohol chardonnay may have underriped fruits and be more mineral driven. Most wines range from about 10 to 16% alcohol. To compare, beer is about 4 to 7%, and hard liquor is about 40%. Wine is right in the middle. Wine's that aren't allowed to fully ferment and have a little bit of residual sugar, like off dry rieslings and Moscato d'Asti, will typically be under 10% alcohol. Cool climate white wines like gruner, pinot grigio, and prosecco are about 10 to 12%. Most of these wines come from "Old World" countries, like France and Italy, where it's generally colder. Fuller bodied whites and lighter bodied reds tend to be 12 to 13.5% Once again, these are mostly from the "Old World," things like red and white Burgundy, Champagne, red and white Bordeaux, Chianti, and some light "New World" whites, like Washington Riesling or California Sauvignon Blanc. 13.5 to 15% are your bigger wines. Typically, "New World" stuff: California chardonnay and cabernet, Australian shiraz, South American malbec, but some full-bodied "Old World" wines sneak in there too: Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and Chāteauneuf-du-Pape. Finally, above 15% we're talking huge. Wines like ripe zinfandel, petite sirah, California GSM, and Amarone. Wines max out around 16% because that's the most alcohol yeast can handle before it dies off. Any wine that's higher than that, like a 20% port or sherry, has been fortified by spirits, like a neutral brandy. Higher alcohol means nothing when it comes to wine quality. The key is balance. The grapes need to be ripe enough for the flavors and the tannin to develop, but not so ripe that the wine would lose acidity and have too much alcohol. Too much alcohol in the wine can taste hot. That means the alcohol burns the back of your throat. Think about that birthday shot you took last year. Oh . If you ever noticed or seen somebody looking at the legs of a wine and commenting on them, as if they are walking down a runway, know this, legs mean nothing in terms of quality. They refer only the alcohol content because alcohol and water evaporate at different rates, legs are simply thicker and slower in a wine where the alcohol content is higher. I hope you enjoyed today's Nerd Lab on alcohol, and as always keep geeking out.
- So I'm here, 600 feet underground in a secret Russian medical facility, and this man has taken me hostage. So explain to people at home who don't know why we're in this gear. I look like I'm going into surgery. Tell me about this process.
- [Pete] We have to treat making craft artisanal product like surgery. You have to be in the ultimate clean environment, and so this is a clean room for meat production.
- [Vince] Tell me about the concept of both butcher shop, and I guess I would call it, would you call it a butcher shop? A deli? A restaurant?
- Butcher shop. Cafe tasting room. I just thought it was a neat thing to be able to taste wine, talk to people about meat, be able to cook up a steak for them. It's a very simple menu, but we hope it's good.
- [Vince] Well, the people I've spoken to have told me, "The only thing I've seen like it has been in Italy." The fact that, you know, you could go in there and just grab and go for your picnic lunch, or you can stay and have a tasting menu and taste the wines or you can have a full meal if you want. I'll flatter you a little bit and say that your family is wine royalty up here in Sonoma. How did this all come about from that? I had the opportunity in 2012 to go to Italy to meet Dario Cecchini. We had lunch at his restaurant. Dario is so magical and so energetic. I just asked him at the end of a long lunch, after many glasses of Chianti, I asked him if I could come intern. I learned to cut the Italian way, break down beef the Italian way. He taught me the importance of utilizing the whole animal. He instilled in me that we have to make recipes from our area, so the sausages in the shop, most of those are local recipes. Half of the salumi we make are from recipes from this region.
- [Vince] For a layman, like me, who doesn't understand the process of making salumi, it sounds very similar to wine making. It has fermentation involved. It's all about the quality of the ingredients and the agriculture and the product you're putting in, so give me the step by step.
- You stole my lines, Vince. You stole my lines. It's just like wine making and that it's about quality of ingredients. It's about creating a spectrum or layers of flavor and palette weight. We cut our meat. We cut our fat. We mix. We mix our spices. We add in the bacterium, and we add a small amount of sugar. The sugar feeds the bacteria that causes the fermentation. We're among the lowest in the country in what we ferment at, so when you have a slow fermentation, you get small pores, so it's gonna age slower.
- [Vince] More time. More love in the fermentation process and the aging process just means a more developed character to the salumi.
- More, just more layered, more nuttiness, more butteriness. It's like a chardonnay that you ferment. Stainless steel with no solids, compared to a barrel fermentation with all the lees. With a slower fermentation of meat, it's five days in fermentation, and then another 30 days here in the aging room.
- Compared to what?
- A lot of the industry can make a chub like that in 12 days.
- I can't wait to try these. Thank you so much.
- Thank you Vince.
- With our scavenger hunt complete, it was time to culminate our day, by taking all of our ingredients and creating a true Sonoma County meal with Chef Adam.
- [Adam] So we're gonna start with a very simple pizza: zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil. You brought some aged cheddar for us to use as well, so I was thinking that would be a nice little accompaniment to that.
- All right, beautiful.
- Less is more with pizza in my opinion.
- So we got some zucchini over here. We have zucchini. We're gonna do a little chiffonade of basil.
- Chiffonade. And chiffonade just means roll it up. You get that, and you get those little strands.
- [Adam] Little strands, exactly. Take some cherry tomatoes, and we're going to just season with a little bit of this Ferrari-Carano olive oil again. A little salt. A little pepper. And we're gonna roll out a dough.
- [Vince] So give me the quick lowdown of the dough. We have some dough here ready, but how do you make it otherwise?
- Flour, olive oil, little bit of yeast, and it takes about 48 hours for this dough to become ready.
- So we're gonna do a little base of our cheeses. So we're gonna add some zucchini, and at this point, anything in season that you have, cherry tomatoes.
- Yeah, especially with the white pizza, I think you have a lot of flexibility. Any fresh produce could go right on there.
- So now, we are ready to put this into our oven. Our oven's roughly about 700 degrees.
- [Vince] Uh, you can do it in your home oven, right? And it just put it on, what? As high it goes?
- Absolutely. They sell stones and stuff like that stones you can put into your oven as well. Yeah, you can see. It's got a good spring to it.
- [Vince] Yeah, yeah. This is gonna be quick. Beautiful, look at that. This is perfect. Absolutely perfect. So, we have a couple wines to do with this, and I think they both work for different reasons. So this is the fumé blanc that I love it going with some of the acid, cutting through the fat of the cheese, and I love it going with some of the green character we have going with the basil and the fresh zucchini. And if you're going with the chardonnay, I like that because that's more of a match. That's more like, "Let's take a rich chardonnay, "and some of that riper fruit character, "and let's put it with some rich cheese "and kind of match the flavor profile." You got all that right? The acid of the sauvignon blanc cuts through the fat of the cheese and goes great with the floral basil and acts as a palette cleanser. While the more heavy, buttery chardonnay can stand up to the rich, creamy flavors in weight of the sharp cheddar and the mozzarella. So the question is this, do you want light or heavy? What are we doing next? We're gonna make salumi.
- Salumi. I love it. So what's first?
- [Adam] All right, so we're gonna get started with the peaches and 'nduja, and we're going to then heat this up in the oven, but before we do that, we're gonna wrap some figs with a little bit of our brown sugar black pepper bacon.
- [Vince] You guys do your own bacon?
- [Adam] We absolutely do. They're gonna go into our brick oven.
- And these are our Beltane Ranch fava beans.
- [Adam] Fava beans, yup. Just kind of mash it up, and then some of this nice olive oil. We're gonna do a little mint. I think we're ready to slice some lomo.
- [Vince] Cool, this is what?
- This is a cured loin. So a nutmeg, clover, and all-spice, you can kinda see it on the outside. Put a nice piece of lomo right on top. And these guys are cooking pretty good.
- [Vince] And that's great 'cause we get that salt with that sweet from the fig.
- Exactly, and I think we're ready to start assembling a salumi platter.
- So what's your key to a good salumi platter?
- You need a little bit of diversity in it. We have a, one of our salumi's called El Pio which is named after Pete's father.
- Some guys get a street named after him, some get a salumi .
- Yeah basically. Exactly. We have one that's parmesan and porcini. We have finocchiona which is gonna be part of our club release right now. We have a salumi club.
- [Vince] A salumi club.
- [Adam] Absolutely.
- [Vince] That's a cool club. I know wine clubs.
- We will send you salumi in the mail. Definitely a whole muscle, fattoria is gonna be a Sicilian style kind of with fennel and orange in it. Calabrian is gonna have a Aleppo pepper, a little bit of oregano and zinfandel. Chorizo is a fun one because it's in the Spanish style of chorizo but we add tequila into it.
- [Vince] Okay, there you go.
- Yeah, Sonoma Mill makes boards that we use. These guys are recommissioned--
- I like this, the branding.
- The wine barrels, so--
- [Vince] Oh, these are wine barrels.
- [Adam] Yeah, I'm pretty sure they're using old wine barrels on these guys. So then we just try to make it look nice for people.
- I gave you a challenge 'cause not only did I give you a whole bunch of fresh produce to incorporate into dishes, but we had a lot of wines to pair. And I think this is perfect because a salumi board's so varied, right? Just what you said, like you have a lot of diversity, and so you need a lot of diversity in the wines to go with it, and then I gotta dig in on this crostini. Oh yeah, that's perfect with the bright, fresh fava bean and the fresh Meyer lemon that's really, really great. And I'm going for the bacon too.
- You gotta go for the bacon.
- That may be one of the best bacon pieces of bacon I've ever had. Oh my gosh. That is delicious. I gotta try this guy too. The spice on this is pretty intense, but that peach is so sweet. I'm glad to have a lot of pairing options for this board. Anything spicy can't pair with high alcohol or high tannin because it'll enhance the alcohol flavor, so we'll drink the fruit forward pinot noir with the spicy salumi. The medium-bodied zinfandel is good for the medium-fatty salumi, and the spiced wine is also perfect with the peppered-bacon wrapped figs. And the high-fat salumi and hard cheese is a great match with the tannic cabernet. Cheers man.
- [Vince] We had one last stop to make. There was no way I was missing Beltane Ranch's party this evening, so we head back to the Sonoma Valley. For as large and diverse as it is, Sonoma County feels like a small town, where everyone takes off early on Fridays to enjoy life, love, family, and friends. To pull up a blanket, watch the sun set over the farm, and remember the reason they make all this wine in the first place. I was just happy I got to share a piece of that, even if it was just for a few days. I hope you enjoyed Sonoma County, and we'll see you next time on V is for Vino. ♪ La, da, da, da, da, da ♪ ♪ La, da, da, da, da, da ♪ ♪ July, you're a woman ♪ ♪ More than anyone I've ever known ♪ ♪ And I cannot see ♪ ♪ The white lines out before me ♪ ♪ When you're sitting there ♪ ♪ With your hand down my collar ♪ ♪ Talking in my ear ♪ ♪ And I have been around ♪ ♪ With a gypsy girl named Shannon ♪
- [Vince] Hey there, Vince here. Do you want more V is for Vino? I have a bunch of exclusive behind the scenes content on my Instagram @visforvino. I interact with you and have new posts all the time, so go right now and give a quick follow so we can stay in touch. Cheers.
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SONOMA COUNTY EPISODE BREAKDOWN
Sonoma County has a ton of interesting history! It is the birthplace of the California wine industry, has it has the oldest wine production facilities in the county, and is also where California got its state flag! Sonoma County has a laid back, down to earth vibe that you won’t find other places. I discuss this, as well as the County’s commitment to sustainability, with Sonoma County Winegrower’s President, Karissa Kruse!
While there were a whole lot of options for our featured Sonoma County grape, I landed on Zinfandel. Zinfandel gave California it’s claim to wine fame, and was the most popular grape planted in California until Cabernet took over in the 90s. Zinfandel is easy to love; it’s fruity, spicy, bold and assertive, and easy to drink! It also is the same grape as the infamous White Zinfandel, and although it’s defiantly not my favorite wine, we’ll break down why White Zinfandel may have actually saved red Zinfandel!
Since Sonoma County is so diverse, it was hard to pick just one winery: so I picked 3! Each one is not only a winery but has an agricultural competent to it as well, which is fitting because Sonoma County is a farm community at heart.
Bucher Farm and Winery
I met John Bucher bright and early in the morning, as he had cows to feed. 700 of them to be precise. John is a 2nd generation dairy farmer and is the kind of farmer all farmers should strive to be. He takes tremendous care of his animals and makes sure each of them is maintained, cared for, and treated with respect. He puts the same amount of love into his wine grapes. And since Bucher is located in the Russian River Valley, his climate is perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay!
I’ve been to some pretty amazing wineries, but Beltane Ranch may be the most inherently magical place yet! The property has a winery, a farm, and a New Orleans style house that is run as an Inn by the brother and sister team Lauren and Alex. And their Zinfandel is something special!
Just because Sonoma County is a farm community doesn’t mean they don’t like luxury. The Ferrari-Carno estate is one you may know: the owner’s Italian heritage shines through in this beautiful villa in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley. I not only taste the wines but also get to learn how they make olive oil with my friend Dana!
Journeyman Meat Co.
What better restaurant to visit in Sonoma County than one that’s owned a run by a former winemaker itself? Pete Seghesio is wine royalty in Sonoma County, from his time making world-class Zinfandels at Seghesio Vineyards, but after he left the company, he was looking for his next challenge. He decided to accelerate into the back half of life, and start Journeyman Meat Co.; part butcher shop, part tasting room, part salumeria, part restaurant, this place is truly unique. And the salumi he makes is no joke.
Sonoma County is one of the most diverse wine regions in the world! Because of how large it is (at over 1M acres of land), it has a huge variety of terrain, elevation, and temperature. This means that as opposed to specializing in one grape, Sonoma County has a wide variety of grapes that it produces well. Because of this, the national regulatory system called AVA, or American Viticultural Area, works very well here. In this segment, we’ll break down everything you need to know about AVAs.
It’s the Nerd Lab you’ve all been waiting for! Alcohol is one of the most telling parts about a wine before you taste it! It can tell you what style the wine is, if it may have sugar in it, how hot or cold the climate was, what the acidity level will be like, and more! Get to know everyone’s favorite part of wine in today’s Nerd Lab.