Love Rhone Varietals? Check out the Rhone Rangers!

Disclosure: I attended the San Francisco Rhone Rangers Event in San Francisco on Saturday, June 10th.  This was my experience.

The Rhone Rangers is my type of wine event.  It truly is.  Let me explain why:  Since I discovered my love of wine, I’ve been fixated on sharing and finding US Made Wines.  This is where my love truly began, and lets be honest: there’s some incredible wine making happening across the US.  Not just in California (although that’s where a lot of my discovery is happening since I reside there!) But in other places such as Virginia, New York, Missouri, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho too!


  Held in the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club (walking along the Presidio is where this was shot)

So, why is the Rhone Rangers such a great fit?  The Rhone Rangers focus on Rhone Varietals (obviously! but think of varietals such as Viognier, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.) But, they go beyond that: they also are focusing on what US Winemakers and Growers are doing with Rhone Varietals across the US.  It’s actually a really fun time to be following this group of winemakers because they’re still experimenting with Rhone Varietals, and discovering what they truly can do within the US.  Even some Rhone Varietals are beginning to make their own appearances on US soil for the first time, and varietals that aren’t as well known are beginning to show up (pay attention y’all!).  Also, more on that in a little bit.

In the last year I have fallen in love with Rhone Varietals, and in particular, what winemakers across California are doing with them.  After seeing Rhones throughout Lodi, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and Santa Barbara Counties, I knew I was ready to experience the Rhone Rangers, and I’m so glad I did.


The Rhone Rangers came to San Francisco on Saturday, June 10th, offering a well diverse group of Rhone Wines in one space for one afternoon.  They also offered 2 seminars:

The First, which I attended, focused on unique varietals of Rhones that people may not know as well.  This seminar showcased 4 different wines from 4 different winemakers: Jeremy Weintraub from Adelaida Vineyards with Picpoul Blanc, Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines with Marsanne, Ben Cane from Westwood Wines with Counoise, and Neil Collins with the first US grown Terret Noir.


What is Terret Noir?  Truthfully, an entire room of people are still trying to figure it out.  As each of us listened to Neil Collins explain what it was, he even admitted, “he wasn’t quite sure himself,” and honestly, he really didn’t know that much about it.” Terret Noir was brought over from the Rhone Valley because it was one of the 13 Approved Rhone Grapes approved by Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was a mission for Tablas Creek Vineyard to have all 13 of the Approved Grape Varietals.  In 2003, they brought the clone over from France, where it sat in Quarantine for 10 years before Tablas Creek Vineyard could even begin planting it (if you didn’t know, Tablas Creek also did this in the 1970’s with some of the more well known Rhone Varietals, and now look it Paso Robles!)  The 2015 Vintage is now their 3rd Vintage of the grape, and the first time it’s being released to the public. One thing we have figured out?  Everyone thinks this will be a GREAT blending grape.  They will be producing a syrah/grenache blend for their 2016 vintage. It’s a Red Wine, where I can honestly say, I have yet to taste anything like it before.  I instantly picked up floral notes from the wine, but the true fun, was trying to distinguish, “what was it exactly?”  It will be fun to watch to see what happens with this grape, and what it will become. There’s a great article on The Tablas Creek Blog about this Grape.

The second focused on the Pioneers of Rhone Rangers which brought in the early beginnings of the Rhone Grape Growers and Winemakers to discuss the early beginnings, and how the landscape has changed within the past 20 years.


Sondra Bernstein receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rhone Rangers San Francisco Event.

There was also a luncheon and Auction, where they honored Sondra Bernstein of The Girl and the Fig as their 2017 Lifetime Achievement Honoree, and to celebrate her past 20 years running The Girl and the Fig, where she only serves Rhone Style Wines at her restaurant.  She has been an avid supporter of Rhone Wines throughout the years, and it was truly felt when they honored her that afternoon.

And then, in the afternoon, a full grand tasting where 69 wineries were present to pour their wines:


The Grand Tasting in Action

What I loved about the Grand Tasting were seeing my favorite wine regions of California come together in one room to celebrate the Rhone Varietals of Wine:  Some recommendations from the grand tasting include:


Acquiesce Winery: Sue Tipton focuses on White Only Rhone Varietal Wines.  And on a hot, summer day in Lodi, it is the perfect place to stop into.  Sue does a GREAT job showcasing the White Rhone Varietals, but also Lodi’s ability to truly excel in making white wines.

Field Family Wines: Cinsault is a varietal that is popping up around Lodi, and Field Family Wines does a great job of showcasing this varietal, and I was so happy to see they were pouring it during the grand tasting.


Santa Barbara County:

Qupe: If you want to see how Santa Barbara County wineries are doing, definitely stop into Qupe, one of the pioneers of Rhone Varietals throughout California.


Tercero Wines:  Larry Schaffer told us his story of how he fell in love with the Marsanne Varietal during one tasting event, and the complexity of it, comparing it to a Red Wine, yes, a white wine that drinks like a red wine.

But, for me, it was his Mourvedre Rose that did me in.

Jaffurs Wines:  After tasting over at Tercero, Larry recommended I stop by Jaffurs Wine, and I’m so glad I did.  I fell in love with his Petite Syrah and Grenache Blanc, but was so happy to see one of my favorite Santa Barbara Vineyards was showcased in his wines with the Bien Nacido vineyard.


Westwood Wines:  I really enjoyed hearing about Westwood Wines story during Seminar 1, and since they reside in Sonoma County, and along the Petaluma Gap, this winery has me intrigued.  I will be visiting in the future.

Unti Vineyards:

This winery has been on my list to try for awhile now.  So I had to stop by their booth at the Grand Tasting.  And yes, I’d highly recommend.


Crux Winery: They have a GSM Blend Rose.  But, others have recommended that I try Crux in the past so when I saw them at the event, I had to stop by to try them for myself.  And I was very pleased.


Paso Robles:

Tablas Creek Vineyard: They have been such a front runner in helping develop Rhone Wines across California that you must stop by to try their wines at a Rhone event.

Adelaida Vineyards:  Try their Picpoul Blanc.  It is definitely a favorite summer drinking wine for me.

Kukkula Winery:


I wrote about Kukkula Winery previously.  And I love what Kevin Jussila is doing, and he makes some GREAT wines.  Check HIM out.

Ledge Vineyards:


When a winemaker suggests you stop by a booth, you do it.  I talked with Mark Adams for awhile.  One thing I love about his style of winemaking is that he really lets the wine become its own, and the tastes really come out when you taste his wines. 

Shale Oak Winery:


I’m not a huge fan of Viognier, however, when I tasted Shale Oak’s, I fell in love with it.  Another instance where you can’t say you don’t like a certain varietal of wine because truly, it comes down to finding the right wine for you in that varietal.


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Pinoli Cucina Rustica: New Restaurant Opens in Guerneville!

Disclosure: I was invited out for a food preview of Pinoli Cucina Rustica.  This was my experience.

If anyone’s been paying attention, Guerneville is an area of Sonoma County that is booming with some incredible restaurants.  As more and more chefs are finding the beauty in this sleepy, little Russian River, wine country town. And as a traveler, it’s a destination that should be on your map.


One such Chef is Christian Darcoli, owner of Pinoli Ristorante in San Juan, Puerto Rico and now, the owner of Pinoli Cucina Rustica Restaurant at the beautiful and historic Applewood Inn.  The restaurant just opened this past May and will feature fresh, farm to table, Italian Rustica dishes with a bit of Mediterranean flair.


As you walk in, you may notice something a little bit different about this restaurant, and that’s that the Chefs, are the ones greeting you, and hosting you as you enter the restaurant.  Here, they will be running the back of the house along with the front of house. “I feel that it is very important for our chefs to have the opportunity to interact directly with our guests.  Allowing them to run the front-of-house as well as the back, gives them the opportunity to welcome our guests into the restaurant, share their love for and knowledge about the food that we create, and ensures that they earn a decent wage that allows them to live comfortably.  I look forward to the staff working together cohesively to make and serve incredible food, and experiencing first hand exactly how much their guests enjoy the meals that they prepare.” said Christian Darcoli.


Chef Darcoli, truly believes in the farm to table movement, and feels wine country, is a great place to bring this to life with farms minute from his restaurant, to the fresh fish caught daily off the Bodega Bay.  At the Applewood Inn, they have a garden right on sight where they pull fresh ingredients from daily to create some of his recipes.


Chef Darcoli also brings in some of his favorite things from his past, including his homemade bread, made fresh daily, and inspired by his Italian Roots, he was born in the Gastronomic Mecca of San Remo, along the Mediterranean North Coast of Italy.


And also, bringing in some of his family favorites too, such as his homemade dessert Frittole-Italian Fritters, which was his grandmother’s recipe.

By the end of your meal, you will be truly satisfied by everything you just enjoyed.  Details are put into every dish from Salads to Appetizers to Entrees to Dessert.  Just see some of the beautiful creations below:


Endive with Lemon, Orange, Taggiasca Olives, and Bottarga


One of the Salad Offerings


Lamb Loin with Eggplant and a Smoked Pepper Sauce


Strawberries with Mascarpone, Black Pepper and Balsamic Reduction

Needless to say, you will be delighted by the meal provided.

Pinoli Cucina Rustica will serve farm to table lunches throughout the summer, and will be open for dinner daily from 5pm – 9pm.


About the Applewood Inn: Opened in 1985.  This upscale, bed and breakfast, is host to just 19 rooms, offering the perfect quaint little getaway in wine country.

The Belden House, the original structure of this premier Sonoma Wine Country Inn, was built in 1922 in the Mission Revival architectural style.  Transformed into a luxury bed and breakfast in 1985 it has been declared a Sonoma County Historic Landmark.
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An Inside Look: Niven Family Wine Estates

A stop into Edna Valley AVA isn’t complete without a visit to the tasting room of Baileyana and Tangent Wines.  Their tasting room is housed in an old, one room schoolhouse built in 1909, where some Wine Club Members within the area even went to school here, at one point. The tasting room sits across the street from their historic Paragon Vineyard that was planted by Jack Niven in 1973.

Niven Family Wine Estates: 

5828 Orcutt Road


Their Tasting Room which is housed in an old 1909 Schoolhouse!

You may not recognize the name of Niven Family Wine Estates, but they have been around since the 1970’s, and were part of the planting of the well known Paragon Vineyard within the Edna Valley AVA.  Jack Niven was the one who petitioned for the Edna Valley to become their own AVA, back in 1982. Needless to say, a visit to Edna Valley isn’t complete until a visit to their tasting room.

But, you may know the wines of Niven Family Wine Estates as Baileyana, Tangent, True Myth and Zocker Wines.  Ring a bell, now? At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the brands and labels of wines available, but by the end of my tasting, I completely understood why they did it, and it made perfect sense to me.

So, lets break it down for you: They grow 11 Different Varietals of Wine out of their Estate Grown Paragon Vineyards.



The Baileyana Wines were created to showcase the beauty of Edna Valley, in particular with their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals.  You will find very classic style wines in these labels, that really showcase the area.

Wines include:

Baileyana Firepeak Chardonnay

Baileyana Firepeak Pinot Noir

Baileyana Rose of Pinot Noir

Tangent Wines:

Tangent was created to have an area that truly showcased their more crisp white wines.  For fans, like myself, who enjoy a nice, crisp wine, you will truly fall in love with the Tangent Wine Brand. These are also great wines to try if you’re looking to taste something other than Chardonnay or Pinot Noir off the Edna Valley Wine Trail.

And, these crisp, white wines, are just the wines you’ll be looking for this summer.

Wines include:

Sauvignon Blanc



Pinot Gris


Grenache Blanc

I was pretty excited to try the Albarino, the day was beginning to heat up a little, so that Albarino came out at the perfect time, and the crispness was what I got right off the bat.  It made me excited about the Tangent brand.  I’m also pretty excited to see they have a Grenache Blanc available, if you  have yet to try a Grenache Blanc, I’d recommend the Tangent Brand as a good starting point. These wines stay true to the reason they created them: their crispness.

True Myth Wines:

Every time I see a bottle of True Myth Wines, I am fascinated by their Wine Label, but after visiting their site, I am fascinated by their story:


Opening lines: “In our location on California’s Central Coast, we are eternally awestruck by the magic of her omnipresent influence; from the dry heat of the vineyards in Paso Robles, to the coastal influence on our vineyards in Edna Valley, our grapes are grown just a few miles from one of her greatest creations, the deep, blue Pacific Ocean. We respect Mother Nature for the enigma that she is, and honor her by creating wines of quality and flavor that mirror her splendor. Join us as we continue on this journey. Taste and Believe.”

True Myth is a new take on the legacy that was built by Jack Niven. The family is now striving to create a fresh new vision for the longstanding quality of the region (Edna Valley).

Wines include:

Chardonnay: Another classic Chardonnay out of their Estate Grown Paragon Vineyard. Retail Value: 18.00

Cabernet Sauvignon: This Caberenet actually comes out of Paso Robles, a region which is becoming well known for their distinct Cabernet Sauvignons.  The retail on this will BLOW you away: 24.00

Zocker Wines:

The Zocker was the first label that caught my attention when I walked into the tasting room, because it was unique.  The Niven Family knew it was their riskiest venture yet, but that didn’t stop them:

“German for “Gambler,” Zocker began as the Niven Family’s riskiest venture yet. Our rare but extremely food-friendly Grüner Veltliner and our unique approach to Riesling are the essence of unconventional. The risk paid off: Zocker, all estate grown at our Paragon Vineyard, has been highly praised and recognized in worldwide wine competitions.”

I just had to try their Gruner Veltliner to start off my day:


The Zocker Brand also has a Riesling available.


I truly enjoyed my visit at Niven Family Wine Estates, and I think you will too.  The next time you take a visit to Pismo Beach or San Luis Obispo, be sure to plan an afternoon of wine tasting in Edna Valley, and make a visit here a must on your list.

Paragon Vineyard

A brief glimpse at the historic Paragon Vineyard Across from the Tasting Room!

About Edna Valley AVA:

The Edna Valley AVA is located just south of the town of San Luis Obispo and North of the town of Arroyo Grande, and about 5.2 miles East of Pismo Beach, California.  Because of the close proximity to the ocean, these breezes help cool the climate down, making the area a great growing region for cool climate wines, exactly why Chardonnay and Pinot Noir excel so well in this region.  The region was originally planted in the early 19th century by Spanish Missionaries, but saw its revival in the 1970’s with the plantings of the Paragon and Chamiscal Vineyards.  The region became it’s own AVA in 1982, formed by the proprietors at Edna Valley Vineyard (The Niven Family.)

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