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Amelia Ceja (center) with our Texas team

California Wine Experience: Day One is here.

It’s 8:00 a.m., and the team is on the bus and headed for wine country!  First stop is Ceja Vineyards, located in the Carneros region of Sonoma. For those that are not familiar with Carneros it’s actually called Los Carneros, or “the Rams” and is an AVA (American Viticultural Area) that straddles both Napa and Sonoma. Owner and co-founder Amelia Ceja was the first to greet us – and let me tell you, this is one of the most passionate wine personalities I’ve ever met!  The family has an incredible story; the Cejas were originally harvest workers that made it to the big show – producing some of the best examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. My favorite of the visit was their Pinot Noir, full of mouth-watering acidity and gorgeous fruit flavors, all about finesse and elegance. Sadly, we had to keep to our schedule which if it was up to Amelia; she would have had us for the entire day to herself.

Jeff Kunde

Jeff Kunde speaks to our team

Next up,  Kunde Family Estate.

Running just a tad behind we turned into the Kunde estate where we were greeted by Owner, Jeff Kunde and his winemaker, Zach Long. With no time to spare they each jumped onto a bus and we headed up the mountain to get a better view of the property. The Kundes have been growing grapes and making wine for over 100 years and are the largest land owners of planted vines in Sonoma Valley. They also make our Kinneybrook line, which is actually where the Kunde Winery is located. The Kinneybrook Ranch … and of course there was a brook running through the property – so hence the name Kinneybrook. Kunde WineryAll the grapes for those wines come from that piece of the property. There are amazing views from the Kinneybrook vista point, not to mention outstanding wines. We tasted through the entire lineup of Kinneybrook for the upcoming releases with not a bad wine in the lineup!  Lunch was served in the shade of trees and then we headed back on the bus to Green Valley for a visit to River Road Winery, one of our best winery direct partners.

Winemaker Joe Freeman

Winemaker Joe Freeman

Welcoming us with a glass of rosé, the team of River Road was all there to say hello. Boy, did they pull out the all the stops!  Owner Ron Rubin, winemaker Joe Freeman, assistant winemaker Ed Morris and several vineyard owners were in attendance including the Boschetti and Hopkins families – names you may know from River Road’s single vineyard Pinots and Chardonnays. In the winery they had tables set up for us to go through the most recent vintages of their wines. Winemaker Joe Freeman led the tasting, with support from his assistant Ed, who used to work for a cooperage and has extensive knowledge of how barrels are made and the effects they can have on wine. The group this year was really inquisitive; Joe had his hands full answering all of their questions. Because we had so many questions, we ran a little behind, sacrificing some dinner minutes to take advantage of the time we had with Joe and Ed. It’s not like they let us leave hungry though, the Hog Island oysters on the half shell and crab cakes they provided were delicious!

Sojourn and Team

(center) Craig Haserot, proprietor of Soujourn Cellars

Peter Paul

Peter Paul, proprietor (left) with winemaker Daniel Moore (center) and our team

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we went back to the hotel where we had a meet and greet scheduled with 25 more producers. What an amazing tasting; each year this event keeps getting better and better. Each team member interviewed one producer and will be sharing their findings on the bus to their teammate in between winery visits over the next few days. Of course, once the interviews were over, we had the chance to walk the room and taste all the wines which came from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Amador County and the central coast. It was really hard to pick favorites, but a few of the highlights for me were the Peter Paul Wines, Sojourn Cellars Pinots, Black Cordon Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and of course, ROY Estate.

Ah, it’s a lot to ponder, especially with my palate fatigue (this is tough work!). Time for me to put the glass down. More tomorrow!

Yours in wine,