Michel-Schlumberger Has It All!

Michel-SchlumbergerSimply put, our new favorite winery in Sonoma County is Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate. The wines are luxe, the grounds are lush, the entire estate is organic, the tours are educational, their events are incredibly fun, and the people are gracious. In fact, winery president Judd Wallenbrock calls the winery staff “Human Terroir.”

Located in Wine Creek, on the western edge of Dry Creek Valley northwest of Healdsburg, the grapes grown at Michel-Schlumberger are crafted into elegant wines. While known for masterful Cabernet Sauvignon, smooth Merlot and other Bordeaux-style wines, people also flock to the estate for some of the best Zinfandel we have ever tasted. More about that in a minute.

Thanks to Jim Morris, the VP of marketing and an ambassador on Twitter for Michel-Schlumberger, we were fortunate to be guests at the estate for two nights. What an experience. Our beautiful room in the Spanish-style house was large, yet cozy, and only steps away from a spacious garden courtyard with a reflecting pool at the center.  

Surrounding the courtyard, French doors everywhere lead to the tasting salon. You can also taste wine in the courtyard itself, or in the French country kitchen, the elegant living room, or on the back terrace (wine club members only).

Autum VinesWhen we were there a couple of weeks ago, the vines were resplendent in autumn colors–rich reds, bright oranges and blazing yellows.

If you go – and we highly recommend that you do – take comfortable shoes suitable for a tour of the grounds and vineyard. This scenic guided stroll is also educational with interesting tidbits about the organic garden, monarch butterflies, the wildlife, creek restoration and sustainable farming.

Specifically, the vineyard is on 100 acres and organically certified. To maintain the organic farming, sheep come in for the initial growth stage; goats provide weeding and fertilizer for a few months a year; and ladybugs, brought into the vineyard years ago, now form a large resident population that prevents some of the mite problems of neighboring vineyards. In addition, natural predators such hawks and owls help keep the gophers to a minimum. There’s even a stream with cohoe salmon and a lake with large-mouth bass.

We were lucky to be there during the “When Pigs Fly – Wild Pig Party” — an annual event on the estate grounds for wine club members. Michel-Schlumberger is so popular that 2,700 people belong to their wine club! Not all of them turned out for the party, but the event was still a resounding success.

As the story was told, Zinfandel was always grown at Michel-Schlumberger, but only used for blending. Owner Jacques Schlumberger described his estate as “a Bordeaux house in a sea of Zinfandel” because Dry Creek is known for Zinfandel. And he always said he’d make a stand-alone Zinfandel “when pigs fly.”

Four years ago, there were some barrels of Zinfandel left over after blending, and that’s when a single varietal was first crafted and “pigs really did fly” — on the wine label of “Cochons Sauvages” (Wild Pigs in French) Zinfandel and at the amazing party held each autumn.

Every year now, Michel-Schlumberger winemaker Mike Brunson makes Zinfandel, which is first offered to wine club members; it sells out almost immediately. Wine club members also have first dibs on Zin futures, which, ironically, fly out of the winery very quickly! 

We understand why. The 2008 Cochons Sauvages Zinfandel is big, fruity and bright, and without a doubt, the best I’ve ever tasted. The 2009 futures won’t be released until April, but the wine is already showing more structure than the ’08.

Jim MorrisThis year’s “Wild Pig Party” celebrated that popular Zinfandel, along with other varieties of wine and amazing food. There also were pig decorations and costumes everywhere. 

Staff members and volunteers all wore Flying Pig hats, as modeled in this photo by Jim Morris. When you pull the chin strings, the pig’s wings move up and down. Many dedicated wine club members bought the hats to take home – for their children, of course. Ha!

When Pigs Fly There also was a pig toss – cute little pink stuffed animals to throw into a game board. As you can see from the photo, of course, Dave and I had to join in the fun in our own unique way.  

Although we didn’t bring home a pig hat, we purchased some of the last of the wonderful ’08 Cochons Sauvages Zinfandel, the very popular Coteaux Sauvages (Wild Hills Estate Red) – a Rhone blend of Syrah co-fermented with Viognier- and some library wine (2001 Cabernet Sauvignon).

A wonderful time was had by all at the party. Indeed, our entire visit at Michel-Schlumberger was an experience to be remembered for a long, long time.

Thanks again, Jim, Judd and the owners of Michel-Schlumberger for your hospitality – and a special thanks to our tasting room hostess, Samantha, too!


Whirlwind Wine Adventures in Napa and Sonoma

We just got back from a whirlwind visit to Napa Valley and Sonoma, where we visited old friends, met new ones and tasted some noteworthy Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) and Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley). I plan on writing several blog posts about our adventures, but in th meantime, here are some quick notes.

  • If you go to Healdsburg, we highly recommend that you visit Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate. This winery is everything we look for – amazing wine, friendly people, and great events. In addition, the grounds are breathtaking and thanks to Jim Morris, we stayed in one of the winery’s beautiful guest suites. We also attended a “When Pigs Fly” party and purchased several bottles of their fabulous Zinfandel and popular Bordeaux blend. Stay tuned for photos and details about our time at Michel-Schlumberger.
  • In Napa Valley, we recommend Goosecross Cellars and Titus Vineyards. Goosecross was hopping, which is a beautiful sight in this economy. We stocked up on robust Goosecross Cab Franc and the winery’s big, beautiful Howell Mt. Cab; we also had a lovely lunch at Cantinetta Piero in Hotel Luca with Goosecross owners and friends, Colleen and David Topper. Then we caught up with Christophe Smith at Titus, tasted full-bodied Cab Franc and Cab, and also enjoyed some time with Wine Soiree’s Andrew Lazorchak. Stay tuned for a blog post on Andrew’s product, a wine decanter and aerator called Wine Soiree.
  • I am fortunate to have met many wine industry people through Twitter, including David Topper, Christophe Smith, Andrew Lazorchak and Jim Morris. On this trip, I also met William Allen, Frank Gutierrez and Hardy Wallace in person. Find out more about these knowledgeable and fun wine guys in a later post, too.
  • We also discovered that our palates prefer Washington state Syrahs to California Syrahs.

Indeed, Washington wine did come into play on this trip – on the plane, I finally started reading Paul Gregutt’s fascinating and educational book, Washington Wines & Wineries. Paul offers so many insights, that I’m counting on a couple of blog posts about his book. If you are remotely interested in the fine wines of Washington state, don’t wait for my blog posts – just go out and buy it.

In summary, please come back and visit this blog often, because we have lots to tell you.


Tweeting this weekend from Napa and Sonoma

I’ll be in Napa Valley and Sonoma for a long weekend to visit friends, taste wine and speak at the Innovation Summit in Healdsburg. It will be the first time my two worlds – social media measurement and wine blogging —  collide. In a good way, of course.

I’ll be speaking about social media metrics and ROI in the afternoon, and participating in a fireside chat about wine blogging in the evening. I’m joining an awesome lineup of speakers, and honored to be asked to participate. I’m also really looking forward to finally meeting Paul Mabray, Jim Morris and Hardy Wallace; they’ve been very engaging on Twitter for a couple of years, but I’ve never met them in person.

On this trip, I’m only visiting a few wineries. In Napa Valley, I’m looking forward to seeing Colleen and David Topper from Goosecross Cellars and Christophe Smith from Titus Vineyards, along with Wine Soiree‘s Andrew Lazorchak, whom I just met in person in Woodinville last weekend.

In Sonoma, Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate will be my main focus. Michel-Schlumberger has an excellent reputation for its Bordeaux varieties, so I’m very excited to taste their wines and experience their beautiful estate.

In addition, a visit to Seghesio Winery is on the agenda of the Innovation Summit. At the fireside chat, Caymus wine will be poured.

I plan on tweeting throughout the trip, so don’t wait for the blog posts later. Follow me on Twitter @writeforwine


Best of the Northwest

tnFusion-Silver---0072673 The holidays are mere weeks away, and if you’re looking for some Northwest gift ideas, stop by the Best of the Northwest Show this weekend. This arts and fine crafts show features more than 200 regional artist who create everything from designer fashions and jewelry to wood and metalwork.

In addition to feasting your eyes on unique gifts such as the necklace pictured, you can taste a selection of wines from 25 Washington boutique wineries. Visit the wine garden, watch performing artists and listen to live  music ranging from jazz to zydeco.

Tickets are only $6 for general admission, if you buy them online; $8 at the door; and kids under 12 are free. The fun takes place at Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, Pier 91, next to the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle, Nov. 12-14.

In addition, a portion of the proceeds will go to Seattle Children’s uncompensated care fund.

Here are the wineries featured:
• Eaton Hill Winery
• Davenport Cellars
• Elevage Wine Co.
• DiStefano Winery
• Gecko Wine Co.
• Gilbert Cellars
• Ginkgo Forest Winery
• Goose Ridge Estate Winery
• Lodmell Cellars
• Masset Winery
• Michael Florentino Cellars
• Milbrandt Vineyards
• NHV – Naches Heights Vineyard
• Northwest Cellars
• Olsen Estates
• Ott & Murphy Wines/Swede Hill Cellars
• Palouse Winery
• Plaza Winery
• St. Laurent Estate Winery
• Skylite Cellars
• Sky River Meadery
• Smasne Cellars
• Whitman Cellars
• Wilridge Winery
• Windy Point Winery