(Me in the tasting room on Memorial Day weekend, 2014)
In April I had the opportunity to start working in a tasting room pouring wine. My experience with wine went as far as, “I drink wine”. That’s it. Growing up in the Central Valley of California, the only vineyards I saw were used for drying out raisins in the summer because it gets extremely hot there. I checked the weather for my hometown today and it is supposed to be 108 degrees!! If you know me, you know that I am a seeker. I am always seeking something… whether it be knowledge, or travel, or new clothes I am never stationary and rarely satisfied. Working in the tasting room is my chance to gain knowledge about the wine industry and about wine itself. In an earlier post, I talked about Sonoma County and the art and culture behind wine and the way of living there. Who knows if I will settle in Sonoma County so I hope to learn as much as I can while I am here.
In my interview with the wine owners, I embarrassingly confessed that before moving to Sonoma County, I thought Zinfandel was a white wine. Of course, through going wine tasting and exploring our area I have tried wines I’ve never heard of and have educated myself more about wine and wine etiquette. I was able to redeem myself with my small amount of wine knowledge and my eagerness to learn more. Thankfully, they accepted me into their wine family and have really shown me the ropes!!
My first weekend pouring, I was literally thrown right in. It was a busy weekend and I was running around like a crazy person. I had studied the history of the family, which is extensive and amazing to say the least, and was fascinated with everything I learned. It made it so easy for me to memorize the facts: like how they’ve been growing grapes since 1956, how the third generation is taking over and work in the tasting room every week, or how 40% of their chardonnay grapes were sold to Chateau Montelena, who made a chardonnay that went on to win the Judgement of Paris in 1976, and put Sonoma and Napa Counties on the map as reputable wine countries. Knowing the history of the winery is one thing but I still needed to learn more about the wine. Lucky for me, our vineyard only grows four varietals and doesn’t blend any wine which means I didn’t need to learn about 20+ different wines like some other tasting rooms. The more I spoke to people and listened to the experience pourers speak about the wine, the more I realized how lucky I am to have stumbled upon this particular family and their vineyard. Everyone is not only incredibly well versed on wine and the process of making wine, but seriously the nicest people you will ever meet.
I am still a major rookie after two months in the tasting room but each time I work, I feel more confident and learn something new. It’s okay that sometimes the customers that come in teach me more than I knew before. It’s okay that sometimes I say our zinfandel is less jammy due to our cooler climate appalachian only to hear a woman turn to her husband and tell him how jammy the zin is. I enjoy chatting to people both tourist and local and watching their faces light up when they taste our amazing wine. I can’t wait to continue my wine journey and become more involved in the industry by attending events and tasting around Sonoma County with my newfound knowledge and palette to guide me!
My husband and I moved to Sonoma County in July of 2012 from the Central Valley after I graduated with my master’s degree in school psychology. After interviewing all over the state of California (because why on Earth would I want to be anywhere else?!) I was fortunate enough to be offered three positions, all in northern California, in the same week! After careful consideration of each area, my husband and I felt that we would be happiest in beautiful Sonoma County!
To be honest, prior to coming to Sonoma County, I thought zinfandel was white and puckered at any beer other than Blue Moon. Embarrassing I know! If you’ve never been to Sonoma County, it is a paradise for foodies, wine connoisseurs, and craft brew experts. I had a lot to learn. Since my husband and I didn’t know anyone north of San Francisco, we took the first year of living here to really explore and get to know the area. We were pleased to discover the multitude of opportunities for the avid outdoorsman/woman. We hiked, canoed, explored the coastline, and best of all experience the wine, beer, and food.
When I say experienced the wine, beer, and food I truly mean that. In Sonoma County, those three things are so much more than items to consume. It is a culture.
Wine tasting to some might be something fun to do for a bachelorette party, but up here it is a lifestyle. When you walk into a tasting room you are visiting someone’s family, rich with history and stories about where the grapes came from, how people put their heart and soul into farming them, and the process of actually making the wine. With every varietal you can taste what happened in the vineyard that year, whether it was a warm season or a rainy one, the wine tells a story. Sonoma County has multiple valleys with varying temperatures which makes growing grapes and making wine here so unique and diverse. There are coastal regions, warmer inland valleys, and even higher elevated volcanic rock. No two wineries are the same and everyone is so friendly that many wineries sell grapes to each other in order to get that perfect blend.
Sonoma County is not only a place to taste wine but is also a mecca for people who enjoy craft breweries. For being a less populated county in comparison with other counties in the state, we have three award winning breweries. Lagunitas, Russian River, and Bear Republic have some of the top ranked IPAs in the nation and are all within a 30 minute drive of one another. A few months after living here, I had my first sour beer at Russian River. I can’t even find another one to compare them to, they are that good. Even the less well known breweries in the area, and we are spoiled to have quite a few, are outstanding. I haven’t had a Blue Moon since I moved here, because what is the point?
With celebrity chefs abundant in Sonoma County and locally grown organic agriculture, it is no wonder that the food here is so amazing! I remember googling best happy hour in Santa Rosa when we had been here for about a week, and the restaurant that came up was Stark’s Steakhouse in Railroad Square. My husband and I were in awe of the cuisine. We had expected typical bar food and hot wings and were surprised to discover bahn mi, oysters on the half shell, and truffle fries for next to nothing cost wise. We are constantly trying new places in the area and when we have guests it is hard to choose which place we want to show off first.
After living here for almost two years, I feel that I still have so much more to uncover and can’t wait to do so. Leading up to my original intention for writing this post, I decided to get a part time position at a winery! Working in education, I am blessed with two months off during the summer and decided that this summer (and beyond) I want to experience wine country from the other side of the tasting counter. Remember when I said earlier that before moving here I thought zinfandel was white? Let’s just say I’ve come a long way in two years and can’t wait to become a bonafide wine snob!