This is the fifth post in the “An Unforgettable Anniversary Weekend In Sonoma” series highlighting Sonoma Valley and surrounding areas. Other posts in this series include Addendum, El Dorado Kitchen, Basque Boulangerie. and A Cycling Wine Tour Through Sonoma Valley
Bryan and I got married on Labor Day weekend twelve years ago. That basically means any anniversary trip we ever take will fall on one of the craziest travel weekends of the year.
There are most certainly pluses and minuses in coming to an area during a peak weekend. One the one hand, there are tons of cool activities going on. Wineries are hosting special events, Sonoma County has its annual wine festival, and everything is open.
On the other hand, there's more traffic, all the tasting rooms are super crowded, and it seems impossible to book any good wine tours.
On Friday afternoon, after enjoying a scrumptious fried chicken lunch at Thomas Keller's Addendum in Yountville, we had an afternoon free before our dinner in Sonoma Valley. Sitting on the picnic benches in front of Addendum, I spontaneously started calling some of the wineries we had visited in the past to see if we could visit.
It looked grim. Everyone was booked.
And then I hit the jackpot. There was a cancellation at Pride Mountain Vineyards, for 3PM. Could we make it?
It was 2:15PM.
We had to drive up a mountain.
We barely, barely made it. Though the distance is not far, driving in wine country is much slower than you might expect. Something about those single-lane winding mountain roads I guess.
But we made it!
During the first part of the tour, we learned lots of fun facts about the vineyard. For example, their wines have been served at the White House over 25 times in the last four administrations. One that's most often served is the Viognier, which we tried (and loved). It tastes fantastic on its own (bright, crisp, floral but not too sweet), but I could also see it pairing really well with lighter dishes such as seafood.
One really unusual thing about Pride is that it's in both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. A brick stoneway county line separates the vineyard into its two parts. Here I am, one foot in Napa Valley and one foot in Sonoma Valley.
Their winery is actually set up so that certain parts of their operations are duplicated on each side. This is because grapes from each county are taxed separately (and may even command different retail values), so they need to keep operations separate, at least until they go into barrels, at which point they all enter the single wine cave (entrance is right behind me in the photo).
The wine cave sits halfway in each county as well.
It's amazing how consistent the temperature inside the cave is. Even though it was near sweltering hot outside, the inside was a steady 50+ degrees. And it stays that way - all year long - which is why it's perfect for barrel aging wines.
We learned a lot of fascinating facts about barrels. Barrels vary a lot depending on the type of oak used, the age of the barrels, and the level to which they are toasted.
The level to which a barrel is toasted can affect the wine's tannin levels as well as the amount and type of oak flavor imparted to the wine. A few years ago some of the barrel companies started naming the "toastiness" level using trade names ("Fruite, etc") instead of the generic toasting degrees (e.g., "heavy, medium plus, medium, light), making it harder for other companies to compete, even though they might make a similarly "toasted" barrel.
All throughout the cave they have random barrels which have been set up with a keg apparatus, allowing one to frequently do barrel tastings without causing too much oxidation in the wine.
Even though many of the kegs were oddly not working that day (our poor tour guide had to try three of them before finding a working tap, splashing himself in the process), we finally had a chance to do a barrel tasting, which was fun.
After the tour, you can wander and explore the beautiful grounds at your leisure. There's a fun volcanic rock at the end of a path that you can visit.
Relax, walk around, and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
For fun, we did a mini Domo photo-shoot.
I would definitely recommend this tour. It's got the perfect balance of good wines, pretty views, and a fun, well-organized tour. It's also reasonably priced, at only $10 for the tour, waived if you purchase (I think) three bottles of wine.
We walked away from that tour deciding that we wanted to pick up as case of the Viognier. It's attractive to buy at the winery because shipping is free and the cost of the tour is waived. Unfortunately, they don't ship to Massachusetts. However, our tour guide did give us information about a few shipping companies in the Valley who can ship wine to Massachusetts. We will most certainly look into that option, though we wanted to wait until the weather got cooler (like maybe now!) to ship our wines.
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