Monday, October 17, 2011


A couple of weeks ago we got two emails from our wine clubs - pick up your wine or it will be shipped. We're generally okay with our wine being shipped but it's been awhile since we've been up to the Dry Creek & Alexander Valleys, so we decided instead to make a day of it with a visit to Peterson's Farm in Petaluma on the way home for some pumpkin fun.

The first thing we do with any wine tasting trip is stock up on dim sum from Oakland's Chinatown for the car ride up. All that grease does magical things to boost your tolerance. I haven't had dim sum since I came to the realization that grains and complex carbs exacerbate my GERD, so this was going to be quite the test to see what my tolerance was. At least it would taste great going down!

Tao Yen Pastry - Oakland Chinatown

Our first stop of the day was a new-to-us winery called Amista in the Dry Creek Valley, right near the general store. It has a really great location with tasting room barn overlooking estate-grown chardonnay and syrah grapes. I'm not sure how long they've been open, but my impression is that they've decided to go with a more Napa-like tasting experience than you find at surrounding wineries. First off, every tasting is $8/person. At this price, that gives you access to a chardonnay, rose, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet, and a port. The wines were decent; in fact, we liked the syrah quite a bit. 

Unfortunately, throughout the entire tasting experience they push the wine club really hard. They keep telling you all the things you're not tasting and that you could be tasting if you just signed up for the club. They talk to you about wine club events more than they talk to you about the wine. I know more about their wine club members and their dogs than I do about the way the wines are made. I had to ask where Francesca's Terrace was because there's no indication of it any other way. 

We decided to purchase two bottles of wine, expecting that the tasting fee would be waived given the purchase. That's pretty standard for this area. Nope. $16 + tax on top of the $60 we were already spending on the two bottles. And the second we said we weren't interested in the wine club, the smiles were put away and it became "get 'em out of here" mode. It was generally very off-putting and just so not in keeping with the other wineries in the area. We've been coming to Dry Creek Valley & Alexander Valley since 2002 and never once that I can remember have we paid a tasting fee after also buying wine. 

Our next stop was our long-time wine club, Manzanita Creek, in Healdsburg. This place, as I've mentioned before, is low on ambiance and high on service. It's located in a warehouse in the industrial part of town and unless you're looking for it, you might not find it. We had 1.5 cases of futures to pick up, plus our November shipment of six bottles, PLUS they were having a 50% off sale on 2007 varietals for wine club members so we picked up another case. The wine maker, Jack, is getting ready to have his two newest wines judged in the coming weeks so he gave us two additional bottles to taste and let him know what we think. 
I love Jack. I love the wine club. The experience we get when we go to Manzanita Creek - personalized service - is really what we're looking for in a wine club environment. Not some sales pitch repeated over and over again until we capitulate just so you'll stop talking about your wine club.

After Manzanita Creek we went to our other wine club, Hawkes Wine in Alexander Valley. We chatted for a bit with Alex about various wines we'd all been tasting, tasted a bit of wine from Hawkes (hello 2002 Cabernet!), upgraded our wine club membership to start getting some merlot, picked a fig from their GIANT fig tree (it makes ours look like a sapling), and then heading out of the valley to Peterson's Farm in Petaluma.

We were worried about finding this place. Our directions were okay, but we're not very familiar with the area. If it's not the outlets, we never really visit Petaluma. Well, we shouldn't have been worried. Peterson Farm, for those who are interested in going, is just down the road from the outlets. Seriously. It's like you're on the highway and then in seconds you're in farm country. Strange how that happens.

Straight away I can tell you that Peterson's Farm is adorable. This is not a once-a-year pumpkin patch with hay rides and corn mazes (that's further up the highway - you can't miss it because all the cars drop down to 20 mph while they take a peek). This is a working farm, complete with a menagerie of animals and a real field of squash of all varieties. And the cows. Oh the adorable cows.

We got home from the farm at about 5:30 p.m. All in all it was an incredibly lovely day and it really put me in the mood for Halloween this year. I'm definitely going to be decorating our front porch, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, I leave you with our haul.

Why yes, that IS three cases of wine. For two people.

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