The annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a weekend wine extravaganza. And it’s coming up Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28. Wineries go all out for Passport Weekend, now in its 30th year. If you love wine, you need to know about this favorite wine event.
Passport Weekend 101
This casual, upscale weekend is about immersing yourself in the good life of Sonoma Wine Country. There are hundreds of world-class wines to taste, including newly released and limited edition wines. But the party just starts there!
Each winery creates its own unique theme for the day, from Americana to baseball to French market. And the wineries celebrate with food, music, and entertainment. Passport Weekend guests get to savor inspired creations prepared by Sonoma County chefs, and enjoy food and wine pairings, and even sit-down meals. Lots of wineries have live bands, playing Mariachi, bluegrass, blues, Beatles hits — there’s something for everyone. It’s a good idea to do your homework about this year’s wines and themesso you’ll know which wineries you want to be sure to visit.
How it works
Purchase your ticket for the entire weekend or Sunday only. Decide which winery will be your first stop because that’s where you’ll collect your wine glass, Passport booklet, and wristband for the event. From there, explore any of the 40+ participating wineries sprinkled throughout Dry Creek Valley in Cloverdale, Geyserville, Healdsburg, and in between.
Beyond wine tasting
In addition to the revelry, $25 will reserve you an enlightening grape-to-glass experience in the vineyards. Learn about vineyard basics, grape varieties, and sustainability from the wine experts themselves — legendary winemakers and owners. Expand your understanding of winemaking as you sample the different personalities and styles of wines made from the vines just within your reach.
Ways to extend your weekend
If you want to visit Wine Country a day or two early, check out the Vintage Soiree on Friday night at the Ranch at Lake Sonoma. Top-rated wines join with Michelin-starred cuisine, spectacular views, live music, and dancing. Or, if you act soon, you may get a spot at the table for an intimate winemaker lunch hosted at one of the wineries.
For a deeper dive into Wine Country, reserve one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals. We can help you plan your itinerary for Passport Weekend and set you up with your own, private driver so you can focus on fun. We curate bespoke adventures just the way you want it. Contact us if you want some more ideas for an unforgettable vacation in and around Healdsburg and Calistoga.
Saturday, April 27, 11:00am to 4:30pm
Sunday, April 28, 11:00am to 4:30pm
2-Day Passport: $150 (plus sales tax & ticketing fees)
What are the best food and wine pairings for the holiday season? Whether you’re planning on visiting friends and family or nestling in at home this winter — here are a few rules of thumb and classic pairings to make sure your dinners don’t disappoint.
1. In cold weather, go for the bold wines in your cellar.
Cold weather calls for a hearty meal — a creamy soup, a rich stew, or something roasted on the grill. It also makes warmer (that is, higher in alcohol) wines much more pleasant to drink. With typically intense, jammy, and spicy flavors that can stand up to flavorful fare — and alcohol levels topping 15% — Sonoma Zinfandels can be perfect picks for winter warmth. Try them with a pepper-crusted ribeye steak.
2. Traditional pairings are usually traditional for a reason.
Holiday dishes are often associated with specific wines — such as turkey and Pinot Noir, or roasted duck and Merlot. In these common pairings, the intensity or expressiveness of the food’s natural flavors matches the typical intensity of the wine.
Further, the more fat content there is in a meat, the more tannin can be tolerated on the palate. Turkey is among the leanest meats, while Pinot Noir is among the least tannic wines. But most important of all: the specific aromas, flavors, and textures of these foods simply fit with those of the wines. These are combinations resulting from centuries of dinnertime experimentation.
Why not take advantage of what our ancestors have learned and simply enjoy the results? To prove the principle to yourself, try a cool-weather Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir with roasted turkey breast.
3. When experimenting for yourself, match fundamentals — sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol — before aromas.
A pairing novice might assume a cherry pie would go nicely with a wine featuring prominent cherry aromas. While it would be right to find complements among the dominant aromas in foods and wines, doing so would be overlooking more fundamental factors in a successful pairing. In this case, the terrible clash between a dry (that is, non-sweet) wine and a very sweet food.
Pairing is about matching sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol levels properly before it is about matching aromas. Sweet wines go with sweet foods. To see what we mean, try that cherry pie with a nice Port-style dessert wine.
One last tip: This holiday season, remember not only to match your wines with your foods, but also to match your wines with the occasion. Holidays are special occasions for creating memories with the people you care about most. Spend a little extra if needed to make sure the wines show well.
Next time you’re heading to Sonoma Wine Country, enjoy the good life in one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals. We can arrange for our in-house sommelier to prepare a wine tour or wine tasting just for you!
You can’t get too far in Sonoma Wine Country or Napa Valley without hearing about a wine’s nose and legs. And, people in the know like to throw around the word terroir. The rest of us may avoid it, not knowing exactly what it means, or even how to pronounce it (say “tare war” like you have a mouth full of marbles). What is terroir, anyway?
Well that, it turns out, is not a simple question.
There’s no doubt among us that wines are distinct.
One bottle of Pinot is not the same as another bottle of Pinot. Although the grape stock may be the same, flavor is distinct. A wine’s unique—je ne sais quoi—quality, stems from terroir.
Terroir encompasses the habitat in which the grape is grown.
Factors like climate, soil, and terrain add up differently. Whether the average temperatures are warm or cool affect flavor. Warmer climates lend to higher sugar levels, and higher alcohol content, and influence taste. And, although it isn’t understood exactly how different soils affect a wine’s flavor, there’s no argument that rock and mineral deposits, soil texture, and soil chemistry do affect the end result. Not only the soil but also the environment in which the grapes are grown matters. Nearby animal and plant life, whether the vines are in a valley or by the sea, the elevation of the land—all these affect flavor.
Winemaking traditions also contribute to terroir.
How winemakers work together with the land is included in the elusive concept of terroir. After generations of cultivating a certain area, a person gets to know and understand their vines. Tending your grapes is a relationship—an intimate knowing.
In the world of wine, science and art are at odds.
Not surprisingly, it turns out that a lot of what we call terroir is invisible to the naked eye. The science of winemaking is pushing aside the art of the craft with new ability to detect and measure the effects of microbial life in the vineyard. Bacteria and fungi play a big role in terroir as well. The microbes live in the grape and, ultimately, the wine. Researchers at UC Davis explain that “‘microbial terroir’ is a determining factor in the regional variations in wine.”
Terroir is not the same thing as appellation.
Wikipedia notes, “The influence of terroir means that wines from a particular region are unique, incapable of being reproduced outside that area, even if the grape variety and winemaking techniques are painstakingly duplicated.” The idea of terroir led to the formation of grape-growing regions into distinct appellations.
An appellation is a clearly defined region on a map—an AVA (American Viticultural Area). Napa Valley was the first designated Californian appellation, which today includes many sub-appellations. Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley are two familiar AVAs of the 17 in Sonoma Wine Country that produce world-famous and highly distinct wines.
Terroir arouses a sense of place and belonging.
Ask any wine buff, though, and they’ll likely tell you that the definition of terroir means more than the region where the grapes are grown. The concept evokes the romantic, old-world art of fine winemaking. Yes, more and more we see the word used by other food producers. Terroir sells because it appeals to people’s senses, conjuring mystery, art, and magic. Perhaps the very allure of terroir is in its unmeasurable sense of place and belonging.
What is it about Pinot that makes it so popular? Even those of us who are white wine devotees will welcome a glass of the alluring red. People are passionate about their Pinot.
It’s French, of course
Pinot Noir — “black pine” in French — hales from the Burgundy region of France, where it’s aptly named Burgundy. These Pinots are considered the top of the line for this varietal. The Côte d’Or is home to some of the oldest Pinot Noir-producing vineyards in the world. These cone-shaped clusters of grapes are artfully crafted in to heady flavors reminiscent of autumn and distinctive to their terroir.
Thought to be more than 2,000 years old, Pinot Noir is the root stock of many grape varieties commonly grown today. It is also a key grape in Champagne. Today the globe is dotted with regions known for their Pinot Noir wine. France and the US are the main producers, with Germany coming in third.
And it’s fussy
Pinot Noir is one of the hardest grapes to grow — perhaps making it all the more enticing. The thin-skinned, tightly bunched grapes are vulnerable to a variety of diseases. While it’s true the grapes and vines are sensitive to wind, rain, and frost, Pinot does need a cooler climate to develop.
But it loves Sonoma County
It’s no surprise that Sonoma County is the leading producer of Pinot Noir in California, with our first vines planted in the 1880s. Sonoma County Pinot Noir has earned a reputation with wine lovers around the world. Our Pinots are dry but known for their more fruit-forward flavor and voluptuous “personality.”
Of course, the actual flavor of a Pinot depends on its vintage and where it’s grown. Sonoma County is home to several cool-climate appellations ideal for the temperamental Pinot Noir grape.
This region extends south from Healdsburg and includes numerous wineries recognized for their Pinots. In fact, The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier has designed a tasting tour around boutique wineries here that feature Pinot Noir (but more about that later). There are least five microclimates within the Russian River Valley, each with its own distinct flavor profile.
Vineyards here are planted just a few miles in from the Pacific Coast, inside this cool and often foggy microclimate. The Sonoma Coast appellation is the largest licensed American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the US, comprising over 500,000 acres.
This AVA is located in the southernmost parts of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. The nearby San Pablo Bay blows in cool breezes and fog, which affect the region’s terroir and unique Pinot Noir wine.
Our sommelier is passionate about Pinot
Find out more about noteworthy Sonoma County Pinots from The Wine Stay’s in-house sommelier. You see, at The Wine Stay we’re not only about cool vacation properties; we want to elevate the Wine Country vacation experience of our guests. And that includes having our own wine expert! Our sommelier has designed a special wine tasting tour specifically around Pinot Noir. If you’re planning a visit to Healdsburg area, you may want to check out some of our other guest services curated for wine lovers:
- wine tasting tours led by our sommelier and filled with insider information
- personal wine tastings with our sommelier at your Wine Stay vacation home
- wine and food pairings by our sommelier and a 5-star chef prepared for you at your Wine Stay vacation home
The lovers of Pinot abound in Sonoma County, with scores of savvy winemakers dedicated to this sensitive and evocative varietal. Versatile and easy to enjoy with beef, poultry, fish, veggies — Pinot loves food. It’s the ideal wine to choose for a group of people with diverse tastes. Give us heads-up, and we’ll have some waiting for you on your next visit with The Wine Stay.
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