Don’t miss Wine Road’s 2019 Barrel Tasting event in Sonoma County. This is your chance to sample wines from the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. But this isn’t like your typical wine tasting experience.
Barrel tasting happens only once a year
Each spring, the grapes that were harvested the prior year, usually late summer through fall, are ready for sampling. Winemakers regularly taste test their barrels during the wine’s maturation, checking for levels of fruit, acidity, and tannins. This essential step in the winemaking process helps winemakers determine the best time to bottle the wine. Sampling also ensures the wine hasn’t gone bad or can help to decide whether the wine may be best used in a blend.
Although wine is sometimes aged in stainless steel, it is the oak barrel that really contributes to distinctive characteristics. Oak “breathes,” and the oxygen affects the wine.
A different wine tasting experience
During Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting in March, wine lovers get to experience young wines just like the winemakers do. Of course, barrel samples don’t taste like the finished wines you’re used to. These wines are still evolving, so you have to look for underlying, less obvious characteristics — hints of a soon-to-be a fine wine.
Ilona Thompson, of PalateExposure, puts it well in her in-depth article: “Barrel tasting [is] a great palate exercise. Discerning what the wine may taste like when the oak resolves itself and recognizing its subtler flavors makes you feel like a wine Jedi.” And it’s the sleuthing that makes barrel tasting so fun. There’s a gamble, and you get to wager on the winners!
Chance to bet on futures
When you find a wine you think has promise, you can buy it in advance at a discount, sometimes a deep discount. You can invest in futures. And for small-batch wines, futures may be your only chance to purchase. The risk comes when you pick up your finished, bottled wine 12 to 18 months later. Did it evolve like you thought it would?
Fortunately, you don’t have to make the decision in a vacuum. Barrel tasting isn’t just a lot of fun, it’s an educational experience. At the wineries, you will have the unique opportunity to talk to the winemakers. Here’s a chance to learn about the winemaking process and find out from the experts how they think a particular wine will evolve.
Discover new wineries
If this sounds like a fun wine tasting adventure, buy your tickets and plan out your route. You can design your tour around wineries that you know you like, but this is also a great opportunity to check out ones you’ve heard good things about. The best approach is be flexible and keep it easy. Figure on about a handful of wineries per day. Each winery offers at least three samples, while some offer twice that many. Each one-ounce sample is measured into your glass using a “wine thief,” the device that draws wine from the barrel.
You can buy your tickets at any participating winery on any day of the event, but if you want to save, pre-purchase your wine tasting pass. Advance ticket sales end February 25.
And if you want to read more about barrel tasting, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.
Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting 2019
Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 – 3 and March 8 – 10
11am – 4 pm
Tickets on sale now
Wine Country — a foodie’s paradise
Did you know that foodies are everywhere? A foodie is a crossbreed. You can be a jock, an artist, or a go-getter and, at the same time, appreciate good food and drink. Almost everyone likes to sample and compare culinary experiences. In fact, that’s exactly what entices so many to visit Sonoma and Napa Wine Country.
Culinary tourism is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences. And the experiences are always changing — new recipes, new vintages, new flavors, new seasonal ingredients. And with so many restaurants, food events, and ways to immerse yourself in the food scene, people keep people coming back.
More and more travelers are choosing their destination because of specific restaurants they want to visit. Shopping and culture are secondary. And unlike museums or architectural sites, which are more or less always the same, sort of a “been there, done that” sort of thing, food and drink offer a new sensory experience every time. And foodies love to share.
Food tourism is about experiencing local gastronomy with friends — farm to table eateries, breweries, wineries, cheese shops, markets, harvest dinners, and wine tastings, as well as learning about food and interesting food and wine pairings. And we’re not just talking about gourmet food. Foodies are keen to taste their way through a new city’s street vendors and food carts. The emphasis is local.
Wine Country offers up lots of ways to immerse yourself into its foodie paradise. So make yourself at home at a Wine Stay luxury vacation rental. Use it as your home base to explore local food and drink. Here are three ways to deep dive into the local food experience: tasting tours, cooking classes, farmer’s markets.
Guided Food & Wine Tasting Tours
One way to experience the flavor of Sonoma and Napa Wine Country is to join a walking tour. You’ll find several options to choose from online. Although each tour has its own spin, the common thread is sharing delicious food and drink with others. This is a fun way to find out what a local foodie is up to and enjoy fresh, seasonal food and local beer and wine. Plus, because the itinerary is planned out, it’s easy. Here are a couple of tours we recommend:
Wine Country Walking Tours — Healdsburg
Stroll around downtown Healdsburg and satisfy your taste buds on this easygoing, guided wine and food pairing walking tour. Perfect for a real foodie!
Gourmet Food and Wine Tours — Sonoma / Yountville
Here are a couple fun tours nearby Calistoga. There’s an interesting guided tour that couples wine or beer tasting with the history of the town of Sonoma. And they offer a guided food and wine tour in Yountville, the foodie heart of Napa Wine Country, which highlights Michelin-guide restaurants.
Cooking Classes and Demonstrations
To immerse yourself in the “foodism” of Wine Country, why not check out a cooking class or demonstration? There’s nothing like getting hands-on with local produce to fully experience the bounty of this rich agricultural wine land. There are plenty of opportunities where you’re welcome to play with your food. The ones below are within easy reach of your Wine Stay vacation home.
Relish Culinary — Healdsburg
Located in the center of Healdsburg, this is where you can learn about food and wine at cooking classes taught by local chefs or attend culinary events that will inspire your cooking!
Close by Calistoga is the renowned Napa culinary arts school, which also offers a full calendar of food demos and hand-on classes at Copia food and wine center in the town of Napa — a delightful way to explore wine and food.
If you’re inspired to whip up your own meal in the privacy and comfort of your vacation rental, shopping local markets is the way to go. Just about every town in Wine Country hosts a farmer’s market. Products are always farm fresh and seasonally ripe, and often organic. Some markets include handcrafts from local artisans, as well as entertainment. The markets below are held Tuesdays and Saturdays. Pick out your favorite ingredients and get cooking!
Farmer’s Market — Healdsburg
Shop for fresh-from-the-farm produce, meats, cheeses, honey, and much more. Snack on food to-go, enjoy entertainment — a true foodie’s paradise.
See our blog post for more about the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market.
Farmer’s Market — Napa
Frequented by locals and tourists alike, this market often hosts food demos, offers gardening info, specialty foods, in-season produce, and handmade items and homemade goodies.
Sonoma and Napa valleys have long been known for world-renown wines. Touring through the vine-studded countryside, stopping at wineries to sample exquisite vintages, and chatting with local wine aficionados always makes for an enjoyable experience. But if you want a change of pace, Wine Country is home to dozens of microbreweries. Sometimes funky, always cool, local craft beer breweries offer a refreshing alternative.
Craft Breweries, the alternative
Over the past couple decades, there’s been a craft beer explosion. Like the boutique winemakers, the local breweries are run by artisans who specialize in producing beer through traditional methods for the modern, evolved palate. People’s tastes have driven the movement away from big brands like Bud and Coors, with their predictable, ho-hum flavor. Much bolder IPAs (India Pale Ales) and stouts constitute a large share of the craft-beer market.
The microbrew, or craft beer, trend began in the 1970s in the U.K., according to Wikipedia. And it continues to spread in the States like wildfire. “Between 2008 and 2016, the number of brewery establishments expanded by a factor of six … and this has happened during a time when U.S. beer consumption declined,” reports The Atlantic. What’s more, 2017 was even a better year for microbreweries, with average beer prices doubling while the major, standard beer brands declined considerably. High-quality, small-batch beer is rocking the beer industry.
What are Craft Breweries?
According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewery is defined by being small, independent, and traditional. And, as of 2017, California came in biggest nationwide with 764 craft breweries. The locally owned breweries rely on regional ingredients and have a community-centric approach. They’re a part of Wine Country living that harkens back to the public-house tradition. Craft beer is about quality, and flavor, and community.
With so many microbreweries throughout Wine Country, it’s easy to hop from one to the other, making for a fun beer-tasting adventure. Your HB Experience vacation home will provide the ideal starting point for tasting your way through Sonoma/Napa. Grab a bottle of water, throw your sweatshirt in the car (it cools down in West County once the sun starts to set), and take it easy. Below are some of our favorite brewpubs for you to choose among. Most of them also serve food and have outdoor patios — casual, relaxed and kid and pet-friendly.
Bear Republic Brewing, Healdsburg
Cool place to chill in downtown Healdsburg. Beer with a “friendly personality” and hop-forward approach. Try their Racer 5 IPA.
Old Redwood Brewing Company, Windsor
Nice venue with everything from light and smooth to hoppy and dark brews.
Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa
This central Santa Rosa location is always busy. Iconic brews include Pliny the Elder, which has gained cult-like popularity.
Situated in an old and charming, stone building, this is a great hangout spot. Large patio and there’s often live music.
Crooked Goat, Sebastopol
The Barlow Market area of Sebastopol houses a couple brew houses. The Goat is known for 16 taps of unique flavors with a distinctive West County flair.
A popular spot, they often have entertainment on the large, covered patio. If you haven’t already, try Little Sumpin.
Sonoma Springs Brewing Company, Sonoma
New taproom — German beer hall with Wine Country style. Over 20 taps to choose from.
Fieldwork Brewing Company, Napa
Located in the groovy Oxbow Market, comfortable tasting room with lagers, IPAs, and ales.
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