Summer

 

 

A family fun 4th of July!

A family fun 4th of July!

I truly love summer, especially a Seattle summer. Hot sun, long nights, BBQ’s with friends and a slower pace life. However, with this love comes some headaches.. known as school summer vacation. My kids are home, all day long. I have put out more arguments then I can count. I am continually finding new activities to entertain the little darlings. Begging my friends for play dates. Constantly looking at the clock wondering if it’s an acceptable time to crack open a bottle of wine (if that already hasn’t happened during a play date)

I am really not complaining though. Summer is my favorite time of the year. I just find it exhausting entertaining (or finding things to entertain) my children all day long. But the perks do outweigh the negatives.. by far. And wine tastes so much better, sitting out on my deck in the sun, watching dad play with the kids so I can unwind.

Summer wines can vary for me. I do tend to drink more whites and rosé’s. However, with the long summer nights, we tend to open some amazing reds we have been saving for special occasions. But for the sake of this blog, I am going to give you my top 5 summer wine varietals. This is a fun list to explore. Head into your local wine merchant and ask about this list. They should be able to point out some stellar wines for you (or check out http://www.vinwineseattle.com if you want someone to come and pour a tasting of these varietals for you).

5. Vinho Verde – an inexpensive, Portuguese, high acid, light bodied slightly effervescent white wine. There are many reasons why I love a Vinho Verde. First of all, it’s a low alcohol wine, which is nice for those evenings where you want a glass of something, but don’t want to feel all wobbly. Also because of the low alcohol, it pairs very nicely with loads of summer friendly foods. I personally love a Vinho Verde with Mexican foods, seafood, Asian foods, and anything spicy. The slight bubbles help tone the spiciness down. Check out the Espiral from Trader Joes, only $4.99 and surprisingly delightful!

4. Sauvignon Blanc– this is a staple summer wine. Again, pairs deliciously with summer foods. A Sauv Blanc can be light – medium bodied, acidic and depending on the country of origin, it may be grassy, citrusy, or even slightly oaky. I prefer either a more citrus or slight oak Sauv Blanc, especially to pair with food. I have many go to Sauv Blancs between France, WA and CA, but my all time favorite is Salvestrin Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($24.00) out of CA. The problem with this wine is that you cannot find it in WA. But if you take a Napa Valley trip, make sure you stop by! Check out their website though. http://www.salvestrinwinery.com

3. Chardonnay – a medium to full bodied white wine, produced in many parts of the world. I know this wine can often get a bad rep. But this summer I have fallen (hard) for this delicious, rich, white wine. Give me a smooth Chard and I am one happy gal. I do prefer the crisp, mineral, slightly oaky Chardonnays (Chablis) from the Burgundy region of France. I find them slightly complex and enough minerality to keep my attention. However, I have discovered many WA Chardonnays (and a few Chilean)  that also keep me interested. My two favorites WA chards at the moment are Revelry Vintners (around $15.99) and Baer Winery’s “Shard” ($24.00).  Both are stainless steel, crisp and heavenly.

2. Petite Verdot- This varietal has long been a blending varietal into Bordeaux wines from France. But in recent years, it’s been standing beautifully on it’s own. It has stout tannins and can have a violet, dark fruit and vanilla flavor on the palate. It is a particular grape, so it can be a hit or miss. With food, you need weight, protein and fat.. so basically cheeses and heartier meat dishes. The Petite Verdot I am in love with this summer is the Blue Print Petite Verdot from El Corazon ($34.99)

1. Rosé – really, a no brainer this summer. This light to medium bodied wine is perfect for a long summer evening. Almost every region makes a rosé (Rosado in Spain, Rosato in Italy). A rosé goes perfectly with summer meals as well. Charcuterie, grilled fish, pork, salads, shrimp, egg dishes, pretty much anything you would eat in summer. I am a big fan of Provençal rosé’s and Spanish Rosado’s. The AIX rosé from Provence ($14.99) is a standard in our home. I also have fallen in love with Espelt Rosado ($12.99) and the 2013 Red Car rosé from CA ($19.99 and Pinot Noir grapes, delicious).

There you have it! A must try wine list to survive the summer heat (or your children). Enjoy exploring this list… and let me know what you try!

Cheers!

A successful summer play date!

A successful summer play date!

Check out your local wine merchants rosé selection!

Check out your local wine merchants rosé selection!

 

California wine country and children

Sonoma Square

Sonoma Square

Wine country and children? When you think of visiting California wine country, you think of a weekend away from children, work, life. Taking your children to wine country is not a thought most people would consider. My friends it can be done! And it can be an amazing family vacation spot as well.

We have spent the past three summers taking our children (8 and 3 1/2) to Sonoma, CA. We make this vacation the best of both worlds. My girls adore visiting Sonoma and look forward to this tradition. Many people are shocked that I bring my children to Napa/Sonoma (“don’t they get bored?”). I always think, why not? In Europe families go everywhere together, even through wine villages/vineyards. Why, as American’s, shouldn’t we have the same laid back mentality? I love spending time with them. Why not make it a family holiday doing things we all enjoy?

In Sonoma Valley alone, there are more than 370 wineries. Of course, even without children, it would a challenge to visit every winery. We make decisions to visit Sonoma and Napa wineries carefully when traveling with our children. Below is a list of kid-friendly wineries, restaurants and places to visit with your kids. I am sure there are MANY more, but these are tried from yours truly.

Places to stay:

There are loads of hotels in the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions, many which offer amenities for little ones. However with our children, we rent a house. For the past three years, we have rented the same home outside Sonoma Valley. It comes with a pool, bocce ball court, Ping-Pong table, trampoline and loads of bikes and other kid-friendly gadgets. The home is not fancy by any means, but it suits us perfectly. We spend many hours in the pool and playing games.

Another plus with renting a home, is that you can make your own meals. Taking a family of 4 out to dinner in Sonoma or Napa is very expensive. With a home, you can make a lunch/dinner, drink a bottle of wine, let the kids run around and everyone is happy!

Loma Vista and swimming

Loma Vista and swimming

Being silly on Vacation

Being silly on Vacation

The website that I recommend is VRBO.com. Check out homes in the areas of Sonoma, Healdsburg, Calistoga, and Napa (including St. Helena, Yountville, Oakville). Santa Rosa isn’t that far either and would have good deals.

* On a personal side note: The nice thing about staying in Sonoma, is the family feel of the town. They have a Plaza with many shops, restaurants, Tuesday farmers market, a huge play area for kids, a Whole Foods, toy shops, Train Town, etc. And on the plus side, within the plaza square (where the park is), you are allowed to have beer and wine. How perfect!

Kid Friendly Wineries

This is where I have to admit, I am biased. A few are my most favorite wineries ( I have blogged about in the past).. but what I love about them, besides amazing wines, is they are accommodating with children. I know there are wineries where you don’t bring kids, period (i.e. Napa wineries-  Opus One, Silver Oak and Cakebread are a few that come to mind). I totally respect those that would prefer to keep the riff-raff of children out (and visit them when I am kid-less).

Here is a small list of wineries we have explored which welcome children.

Sonoma Valley region:

Ledsonhttp://www.ledson.com/

Talk about a little girls dream. This winery has a Cinderella-looking castle atmosphere (if Cinderella drank good wine). They have a little deli/picnic area and patience for the little ones. Wines are pretty remarkable as well! My husband enjoys their oaked Chardonnay! I prefer the Bellisimo.

Larson Family Winery: http://www.larsonfamilywinery.com/

Now, the complete opposite feel from Ledson, but extremely family oriented (hence family in the name). Larson winery is on a farm, with plenty of animals. And what kid doesn’t like animals? They also have games and a few bikes for kids to ride as well. This winery has the family-feeling thing down pat, pretty smart. Their wine isn’t my favorite, but a very enjoyable experience (try the Three-Lab Cab… it’s pretty delicious).

Bump: http://www.bumpwine.com/

Bump Winery

Bump Winery

Although it’s a brand new winery and tasting room, the wine maker has been around for ages – making wines at some big known wineries in Sonoma. His tasting room isn’t made for little kids (lots of homemade pottery around), but he has small children himself.. so he is very friendly with those that want to stop by with kids. His wines are simple, but balanced eloquently. A couple of his wines could be on my top 10 favorite Sonoma wines list! Try the Fortune (a white Rhone blend) and Zinfandel when you pop in. Both are divine!

Domaine Carneros (outside Sonoma): http://www.domainecarneros.com/

I have talked about this winery in the past – one of my favorites. They make outstanding bubbles. They have a breathtaking facility and sparkling wines to match. They may not look “kid-friendly” but are very patient with kids (they have kid, non alcoholic wine). This is a place where it’s ok to bring out the IPad/IPhone for the kids. There isn’t much running around for the kids to do. But, totally worth the stop (with or without the rug-rats).

*you will meet other families with kids there, which made my girls very happy this time around. They played contently with the others, so this time there was no need for the IPhone!*

Napa Valley region:

Salvestrin Winery: http://www.salvestrinwinery.com/

Salvestrin Winery

Noelle enjoying Salvestrin Winery

My favorite in California wine country. Not because they make the best wines (but, they are pretty stellar) or because they have the biggest Chateau.. but because of who they are. A very unpretentious, small, family vineyard – competing some very big players in the Napa wine world (Mondovi is a few wineries away). Right off highway 29,  you drive up to their 100 year old home (which they still live in), and are welcomed as though you are family. We have been going to this winery for years now, and it really does feel like home. My girls love running through the vineyard’s, playing with the Salvestrin grandkids if they are around, or just hanging out with us on the patio set up against the vineyard. It’s a place of tranquility and amazing wines. They are appointment only, but I would HIGHLY recommend going if you are in St. Helena/Napa Valley area.

Frogs Leap: http://www.frogsleap.com

How can you not take your kids to a winery whose motto is “Times fun when you are catching flies!” This is another winery with impeccable grounds. And they want you to explore them! My girls love finding the chickens, petting the fat cat and playing outdoor games. They even give kids crayons and a frog coloring book. They also recommend making reservations. But another must-see when you are traveling with your kiddos.

Oh, and the wine is delicious too!!! Check out their Zinfandel and Cab’s! The sauv blanc is also very refreshing on a hot day.

Flora Springs: http://www.florasprings.com/

Flora Springs is a little more popular and on the touristy side. But, it is a great place to take a break, get some lunch from Dean and Deluca next door and try some wines. They have a nice patio out back (I wouldn’t recommend having your kids in the tasting room area) where you can enjoy the sun and your lunch. If you are able to taste their Sangiovese… do it! it’s pretty delicious.

Sterling Vineyard: http://sterlingvineyards.com/

This is one of those big, huge places that I often don’t promote. However, if you want a fun experience for your kids.. go visit them! To reach their winery, you have to take a Gondola ride. It’s fun (except for those who may be nervous of heights). Wines are ok… you can find them in about any grocery store throughout the country.

Healdsburg Region:

J Vineyards: http://www.jwine.com/

Bottle of J Vineyards bubbles

Bottle of J Vineyards Cuvee

Another fantastic bubbles place that is kid friendly and on beautiful grounds. They may not have activities for them or places to run around. What they offer though is patience and kindness to little ones (and animal crackers and juice). You will also need to make an appointment to visit them as well. Their rose bubbles (sold out) are killer!

Field Stone Winery: http://www.fieldstonewinery.com/

Another biased winery. My daughter Ava goes to school with the granddaughter of the winemaker. Which means they are used to having their grandchildren come by, along with other children. They are very pleasant and welcoming to kids (it’s a plus they have a horse at the winery). When you visit, you must try their Merlot!

Places to eat with your kids:

(a quick, simple list)

Sonoma:

1. The Girl and the Fig

2. Sunflower Café

3. Chocolate Cow (for dessert)

4. Tuesday Farmers Market in Sonoma Square

5. Olive and Vine – in Glen Ellen

Napa Valley Region:

1. Picnic at V. Sattui Winery

2. Rutherford Grill

3. Dean and Deluca (not a sit down, pick up for a picnic)

4. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

5. Gotts Roadside (rated best burgers in Food and Wine Magazine)

6. Pizzeria Tre Vigne

Kids Activities:

To make this a whole family vacation, there are loads of family activities and adventures:

1. Train Town in Sonoma – great for the little engineers in your family

2. Rent bikes in Sonoma/Napa Valley and ride through the vineyards

3. Playgrounds in Sonoma Square

4. Check out some cute shops (and toy shops) in Healdsburg

5. Safari West – outside Santa Rosa – a hit for our family vacation this year. Pricey and takes most of the day but well worth it. And you can drink wine while on the 2 hour jeep safari ride.

6. Sonoma Farmers Market

7. Stay at your rental home and swim

8. Loads of parks all over wine country

9. The Sonoma Overlook Trail (probably best for kids over 10).

10. Calistoga Hot Springs

11. Ride horses at Bodega Bay (and pick up some salt water taffy).

It’s very possible to make California Wine Country the most perfect family vacation. Its about spending time together (and having good wine). Just keep in mind that 1 or 2 wineries with small children is about all they can handle ( I have pushed it to three though). If they still take naps, visit one before and one after. Let them also have a say in what they want to do for the day. There is nothing worse then dragging cranky, tired, crying children to a winery. You will be miserable and not enjoy the wines.

If you rent a house, I would highly recommend one with a pool. It will make your vacation so much more pleasurable, especially in the summer heat. Also, plan on making a few dinners in the house, so you can enjoy the meal, wine and your family – without having to rush out of a restaurant with overly tired children.

And above all, it’s ok to  let them play on the phone/Ipad/Ipod, etc. while you are enjoying a winery. It’s not bad parenting, it’s letting yourself enjoy a little peace and quiet while focusing on the wine you are tasting. It will not rot their brains. Trust me, you will have a lot of family time and activities together. Remember this is about you, them and wine….

Cheers to you and your family!

*feel free to leave anymore family-friendly wineries/restaurants you know of in the Napa Valley/Sonoma area. This was just a small list!

Lunch in Petaluma

Lunch in Petaluma

Treats at Chocolate Chow in Sonoma

Treats at Chocolate Chow in Sonoma

Mom's are also good to bring on Vacations

Mom’s are also good to bring on Vacations

Ava on a Safari Jeep ride!

Ava on a Safari Jeep ride!

Sometimes you need a night out.. without the kids

Sometimes you need a night out.. without the kids

Washington vs. California wineries part 2

I am absolutely thrilled to be heading to Napa Valley in two weeks. This is a much-needed, mini-vacation with my mom (my wine inspiration). Although a bittersweet trip as well, since I will be saying goodbye to a dear friend from the bay area, who is packing up and moving to London. Talk about going out with a bang though, a final Napa Valley wine trip.

As I said in the last blog, I am a fan of local businesses and proud to support Washington wineries.  But, how can I resist a wine trip to California? The birthplace of US wines.  Visit almost any country and no doubt you can easily obtain a California wine. And they make damn good wines too. You must look past Gallo, Mondovi and Sutter Homes (I’m not putting them down, they have their place) and search for smaller (using the term lightly)wineries. There are so many wineries in California; it will take me years to get through them all, if that is even possible. There are over 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s) in California, which include, Napa, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and Rutherford.

California wines really made their mark in the world (even though before that, many people in the were travelling to California to fill their empty wine bottles right from the barrels) in 1976 when they beat France in a famous wine competition. A huge blow to the French ego’s. Check out the movie Bottle Shock… it will tell you all about that!

 That was a beyond brief history lesson. Now, here are some of my recommendations for wineries to visit. To be honest, I have only been through Napa (about a half-dozen times). So, my recommendations are limited to that region. And if you hadn’t noticed, I am visiting again in 2 weeks, so I may discover some new favorites to tell you about.

Here we go! Take notes my friends: my top 5 favorite wineries in Napa.

1.) Plumpjack Winery, Oakville

620 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville CA 94562

www.plumpjack.com

Fun and hip. Those are the first word that pop i to my mind when I think of Plumpjack. They cater to parties and are off the beaten path. They make a killer Cab that you will want to hold on too, for probably 10 years or so. Very much worth the trip.

2.) Peju Province, Rutherford

8466 St Helena Highway, Rutherford CA 94573

www.peju.com

Who doesn’t love wine and chocolate? This is place to visit if you want beautiful scenery and grounds (fresh flowers everywhere), fabulous wine and chocolate. I don’t know what I love more, their Cabs or the chocolate sauce they make. To top this visit off, it is family owned, intimate and very friendly to visitors (even those visitors who are wine novices). Peju is a very easy stop; right off Highway 29.

3.) Cakebread Cellars, Rutherford

8300 St. Helena Highway Rutherford, CA 94573

www.cakebread.com

I heard about Cakebread through my Arizona girlfriend who is also a wine fan. She raved about them, so on my last trip to Napa, I made an appointment to taste (they are appointment only). Cakebread wines are expensive, but they make you feel like a million bucks when you visit. They tour you through their facility, which is breathtaking. It has a modern feel, but the building is a barn. I can see why they have such a loyal backing. They are known for their Cabs and Sauvignon Blanc, but to be honest I loved their Syrah. But, I am not complaining about their other wines (well, maybe their Pinot Noir, I am not a fan of that)- very impressive. They are also another family owned winery right off of Highway 29.

4.) Andersons Conn Valley, St Helena

680 Rossi Road St Helena, CA 94574

www.connvalleyvineyards.com

Now this is a winery off the beaten path, by about 15 minutes. The best thing about this winery is the location. You taste the wines in wine caves! With wine barrels surrounding you. It is pretty cool, to say the least. The wine is alright. Not my favorite Napa wine, but for the tour and tasting, the trip is totally worth it. The Anderson’s are down to earth and not pretentious. They are by appointment only as well.

5.) Salvestrin Winery, St Helena

397 Main Street St Helena, CA 94574

http://www.salvestrinwinery.com

Again, I save the best for last. And again, I may be a bit biased. My husband  and I stayed at their Inn the last time we visited Napa. Wow is all I have to say. We met the family, sat on their patio, tasted their wines (some from right out of the barrel), and woke up at 4:30 am to watch them harvest the grapes. And to top that off, their wine is truly outstanding. Sadly though, you will not be able to Salvestrin in stores. It is only available through their winery (they can ship though!). My two favorite is their Sauvignon Blanc and Retaggio (a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cab and Cab Franc – it will knock your socks off). They are also appointment only, but if you pop by without one, they will not turn you away. As a side note, if you want to throw a party, they have an amazing facility you can rent. A patio within the vineyards!!! And for a true experience, stay at their Inn for the weekend.

Happy wine trails in California and don’t forget your designated driver and wallet (you will need loads if cash in Napa).

Cheers!