Month: September 2016

Ledson Winery or “The Castle”

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When in Sonoma Valley, more specifically Kenwood, a stop at the Ledson Winery or “The Castle” is a must for numerous reasons!


Upon entering the winery, one is taken by the majestic 16,000 square foot French Normandy “castle” (originally designed as their home) which is the winery. This building is on their 17 acre estate and opened in 1999 to the public. This serves as their public tasting area and upstairs for their private tasting events. They also have a gourmet delicatessen with artisan cheeses and meats. The grounds are beautiful and serve for both picnicking and weddings.


That stated, the key reason for a visit are their wines. Personally I have been both a member and continuing supporter of Ledson wines since 2002. Steve Ledson and Jerry Padilla have been turning out exquisite red and white varietals for years. They make some 70 different and unique small lot wines. A partial listing of red wines include: Pinot Noir, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and some of their award winning blends like Cépage and more. Similarly, their key white wines are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Awards to both their red and white wine offerings is far too extensive to begin to list, suffice it to say, they are prolific in their achieving both excellent  and consistently high ratings (around mid-90’s) and gold medals in competition/events.

The wines also come from some of the 20 AVA’s around state including: Alexander Valley, Russian River, Dry Creek, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Knights Valley, Lodi, Anderson Valley, Madera County, Monterey, Lake County and Contra Costa. I often refer my out of state friends who want to experience Pinot’s, Zin’s and Chardonnay from Sonoma & Napa Valley’s to first visit Ledson Winery as there they can experience all of California in one stop!


While in the past I have drank and collected their Chardonnay Reserve, Cabernet’s, Zin’s and Cépage wines, I was “blown away” on my recent visit. Jerry Padilla, Assistant Winemaker and VP of Sales, who I have known since his start at Ledson winery and now a trusted friend, hosted a few out of state guests. He introduced us to the 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This was such a delight to taste this wine from smell to palate to the lingering finish – fruity (passion fruit & mango’s) yet with strong hints of lemon & hay. The aroma’s fill the nose with expectations which are delivered in abundance on the palate. On a personal note, having tasted some 1600+ wines a year, this one tied for my best wines tasted this year! The other one was a $225 Napa Valley Cabernet held for years. At $34 this is the deal of the decade if you enjoy a mouthful and vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.


Lastly I have to mention Steve Ledson who was there as we concluded this two hour plus session. Steve’s family history, challenges and success in so many endeavors is astonishing to say the least. Worth reading the family history to appreciate the man, his vision and family on their website.


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The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards

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Invest a little to gain a lot should be the motif at The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards in Livermore.

Essentially they have several different “classes” or experiences to choose from and participate in at The Winemakers Studio. Sunset Magazine called it the number one wine tasting experience in California!


During a recent Wine Bloggers Conference we were given a quick overview of four of the various experiences. The ones that we participated in were both utterly fascinating and educational. The four were: The Wine Aroma Discovery; Wine and Cheese Pairing; Size and Shape Matters; and Black Glass Blind Tasting. Each were unique and a different experience.


The first class was the Wine Aroma Discovery (see picture). In the room were three “control scents” unknown to the class. You would then lift the “empty cup” and sniff to determine the “aromas”. Then go about the table trying to identify that specific aroma by smelling various cups (with removing the covers on them). For example, there were peach slices, various nuts, raspberries, cinnamon, etc. In all there were some thirty-three plus foods with lids on them. The object was to get a scent of the control and then match that with “real aromas” by various foods. Doing this with a group of friends and sharing was a bonus part of the experience. Smelling a scent and then pairing it up with tangible foods was at times easy and other times frustrating, getting your mind to focus. Very educational. This is an absolute must do!


The second class was the Wine and Cheese Pairing. This was a bit more straightforward as most folks have done wine and cheese pairings. They did a bit of a twist with some crab thrown in which was excellent! The key is understand the cheeses and impact on the various wines. What is fun however is finding what you think would be “an oddball” pairing turns out to be mouthwatering sensation!


The third class was Size and Shape Matters! If you have had a chance to do a Riedel glassware class, this is similar in that it allows you to get a wine’s aroma from the shape of the glass. Thus a glass for Chardonnay is significantly different than a Pinot Noir glass and yet different than a Cabernet Sauvignon glass.  Each glass brings out the fruit and passion of the varietal. If you have ever wondered about which glass to use, wonder no more after this event. For example you will smell a Chardonnay in four different cup shapes – all are different but one is exceptional!


The fourth was Black Glass Blind Tasting. While many wine followers have done blind tastings ad nauseam few have the opportunity to do it in a black glass wine goblet. When you walk into a room with black goblets on your place setting, you do not know if it is a red or white or rose! So you need to rely on your sense of smell in order to pick out first the color and secondly the varietal with the benefit of sight. Again a fascinating experience for sure.

The Winemakers Studio offers several other classes (some are seasonal) but all of them are worthwhile and an enjoyable experience.  You will be catapulted to new levels of self-understanding as well as in your knowledge of wines.


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