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2011 Napa Valley Grape Harvest

With the 2011 Napa Valley harvest season winding down, one has to really wonder how this vintage will turn out. Napa Valley experienced a cold and wet spring with late flowering and flowers dropping off of the grape clusters which is known as grape shatter. The cool wet conditions had many vineyards on the lookout for botrytis rot and mildew.  Cooler summer temperatures have many vineyards delaying harvest by weeks. And no doubt grape crop yields will be down also. In fact weather throughout North America for 2011 was rather extreme with unseasonably cool temperatures in Oregon, heavy early frost in central California, heat waves and drought in Texas, unusual amounts of rain, Hurricane Irene and the recent Noreaster that hit much of New Jersey, New York and New England on the east coast. That makes me wonder how the 2011 vintages hroughout the entire US will turnout. On a positive note many grape growers employ proactive and innovative techniques to combat extreme weather conditions. While yields may be lower they could also be higher in quality and late season warm temperatures have helped many vineyards extending hang time. Only time will tell how we will judge the 2011 wines, and as I do with every new vintage I will patiently wait to taste them and search out those special gems that always tend to come out of a tough year.

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Venge Vineyards Visit 2010

Our day began as usual here at the Wine Country Inn, with a great breakfast that really helps when you plan a day of tasting. It was then off to the Sunshine Market to pick up lunch, water and a cooler. Our first appointment of the day was a favorite; Venge Vinyards. Heading up the driveway we were surprised to see the new winery building and crush pad up and functional. venge6

Having last visited in March we were aware they would be doing construction, never did we think that just seven short months later the building would be up and pretty much operational. In fact they were sorting Cabernet grapes as quick as they were harvested.





Lin; our gracious host gave us a tour of the new facility and I must say it was very impressive. The place was abuzz with harvest activity including owner/winemaker Kirk Venge moving grape tubs with a fork lift; quite inspiring.











I have already raved about the Venge wine list so I won’t repeat myself. There are two new Cabernets that do deserve mention though. The 2008 Silencieux (The Silent One), tasting notes describe the wine as opening with scents of blackberries, cassis, licorice and coffee that lead to a concentrated, viscous wine that showcases great length on the palate. Approachable upon release and cellar worthy in proper aging conditions, fans of our Scout’s Honor and our Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon will love this wine for its fruit concentration and excellent structure. A young wine that could certainly sit for years to come we still found the wine very approachable after a bit of aeration. There is an allocation on the wine and I am sure it will sell out quickly. Bone Ash Cabernet 2008 is the other new one we tasted; a limited production bottling of 250 cases. Tasting notes describe the wine as rich, intense, and concentrated with copious quantities of black currant liqueur, cedar and smoky cigar tobacco. Full bodied and soundly structured with superior aging potential in proper cellaring conditions. A very bold Cabernet, that is rather young and a bit tannic at first but again very approachable with some aeration. Needless to say we will be sending home a good quantity of both wines for resting in our cellar. Our history with Venge wine began when we were the last visitors at the previous Venge location; the Rossini Ranch. We watched as an emotional Lin closed the cave doors for the last time so it was fitting that we arrived to see the first harvest in the new location. We have visited every year since they opened, watched their progress, enjoyed the excellent wine, talked with Lin about family and ongoing Venge news, and in a way feel like part of the family.  We are sure Kirk Venge’s new location is destined to become one of the premier Napa Valley stops.

Tastings are by appointment only for more information visit their website at

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Napa Valley Day One

Arrived in Napa around 2:00pm yesterday, and could not be happier with the way the day went! A big thank you to Continental Airlines, once again they had us on the ground in San Francisco almost a half hour early. The trip through the airport was quick and easy Hertz Rental also gets big thanks for quick service and a nice car. We drove into San Francisco and had a nice lunch at the Blue Mermaid which is down at Fisherman’s Wharf. The New England clam chowder was fantastic. Then it was off for the hour drive up to the valley. Our first stop which has become tradition was Regusci Winery. They have become a favorite of ours and the wine never disappoints. We tasted six wines, the 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Estate Zinfandel, 2007 Merlot, 2007 Estate Cabernet, Regusci Patriarch, and Angelo’s Cabernet. As usual all were very good however, I did come away with a new favorite, the 2007 Zinfandel was great! Tasting notes describe it as having crisp notes of blueberry, raspberry, light blackberry and luscious plum. The wine ‘zings’ the palate with tingly acidity that simply reverberates around the mouth, leaving a hint of blackcurrant finish. Needless to say the first case of wine was ordered before we were in the valley for an hour. We then headed over to another favorite Silver Oak. We tried the recently released 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet and the 2005 Napa Cabernet. As an added bonus they were pouring a 2002 Alexander Valley Cab that had aged very well and I am happy about that as we have several bottles aging in our cellar. It was then off to the Wine Country Inn for the daily afternoon tasting and appetizers. We ended our first day at the Silverado Brew Pub with a nice dinner and watching the San Francisco Giants beat Philadelphia. What a great first day!

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Napa Valley Beckons

The wait is finally over; on the plane tomorrow at 7:00 AM and off we go to Napa Valley! Have some great stops already planned. Dinner reservations at Cook, Tra Vigne, and will try to do a walk in at Rutherford Grill. Of course, we always kick back on our first night after a long travel day at the Silverado Brew Pub, which is within walking distance from the Wine Country Inn. Please Continental…arrive on time and Hertz Rental don’t hold me up in the airport! I am ready! The valley of the gods awaits me! web ready

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Napa Valley Fall Trip

IMG_0179Only ten more days and off to Napa Valley we go and as all plans do ours have changed already. We have pretty much decided to not make any plan and just go with the flow when we arrive. Now maybe that statement is not all true. I did make an appointment with Elyse Winery; a friend who is a cousin of the owners suggested trying them. After checking out their web site and trying some wine I can’t imagine how we missed them in our last seven visits. Elyse is located on Hoffman Lane just south of Yountville heading down valley from St Helena. In 1987 Ray and Nancy Coursen started Elyse with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard. For a decade they made their wines at various custom crush facilities before buying their Hoffman Lane location in 1997. Ray honed his skills in winemaking with a nine year stint at Whitehall Lane Winery where he started as a cellar worker and moved up to head winemaker. We have tasted their 2007 A.K.A Zinfandel and 2005 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet, both of which were excellent wines. Can’t wait for this stop, we also made an appointment with one of our favorites; Venge Vineyards. Venge is in the process of building new winery facilities and actually pressed their first fruit there this year. We are excited to see the progress! So with no other plans at this time I am thinking about that first day, arriving in the valley and making our first stop at Regusci Winery a visit that has become tradition. Ah, back home in the valley!

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Napa Valley Beckons

Today I am taking advantage of a cool summer night to catch up on some Napa news. We have had fantastic weather here in New Jersey so far this summer. Except for a couple of weeks when temperatures were more like midsummer Napa Valley temps with over 100 degree days on two occasions, we even broke a long standing record. Anyway, back to the point of my writing. We are in the early stages of planning for an October return to the valley. I guess you could say we are getting a little greedy, returning within a seven month period. I am sure I have mentioned before that I would be living in Napa year round if possible so returning so soon is not surprising.  We are looking at the third week in October when harvest season should be winding down and the valley will be less busy. Our last trip in March included our usual trip partners and four good friends. We had a fantastic time visiting some of the more known tasting rooms in the valley, several of which are every year favorites. This trip it will just be the wife and I, the plan is to return to some less well known, smaller, off the beaten path boutique wineries we have yet to visit. These next few weeks will require some researching to put together a good itinerary of locations to visit as well as leaving room for impromptu stops. Of course we will be staying at our favorite place, The Wine Country Inn in St Helena. This will be our first visit in early fall so that will be kind of exciting, we have visited in spring and summer, but never fall.  It will be great to visit and experience the valley after harvest.  I don’t think we will ever plan a winter trip as they say it is always rainy, but you never know….rain doesn’t make the wine taste bad!  I can assure you one of our stops will be my favorite Silver Oak.

Silver Oak

Stay tuned for upcoming plans for the trip.

wine country

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Napa Valley on St Patrick’s Day


Only ten days left until we are on the plane to Napa Valley! All of our plans are completed and the tasting reservations made, all there is to do now is pack and wait. Judging by the comments on facebook and in Emails I would say our entire crew of eight is more than ready for this trip! Weather in the Valley appears to be improving so we hope for a good week. After a quick photo op at the Golden Gate Bridge for the first timers, it will be off to the valley with a first stop at an old favorite Regucci Winery on the Silverado Trail. Regusci has been our first stop in the valley for many trips and I am sure the new group will be impressed with their wine. Our first day in Napa just happens to be St Patrick’s Day and of course we will celebrate, with a reservation at the Silverado Brew Pub. Oh yes, this trip is going to be a good one! Stop back for some more updates.

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A Snow Day and Napa Valley

Here in my New Jersey home on an unexpected day off, I am watching the snow build up outside as we are hit with what will probably go down as the blizzard of 2010 for our area of the state. You see until now we have been very lucky with the past two major snow storms staying in the southern portion of our state, which is rather unusual. As I have lived in the area all my life I knew it was only a matter of time before at least one good winter snow storm hit us this season, and today is “the big one”.  Aside from clearing the snow, a job I hate, I don’t mind a day off. It allows me a chance to catch up on many things, including the web site which is something I have been a ways behind on. I can also day dream and do a little planning for that upcoming Napa Valley trip.  We have made it an annual pilgrimage starting with our first visit in 2005 for my 50th birthday, a gift from my wife and I am returning the favor for her 40th as I have previously mentioned.  This will be the first time we have ventured out so early in the year so I am a bit nervous. March weather in Napa can be a gamble with early spring rain a big possibility. We chose March over January hoping to catch a nice week as January almost certainly guarantees rain. The trip will also be different in that we will travel as a group of eight instead of the usual four of us (our Brother and Sister in law wine travel partners) that normally make the annual visit. Four very good friends that have never been to Napa are being added this time, and that makes this special trip even more exciting to be able to share some of the great places we have already been to, so I have been working hard on setting up an itinerary with some great stops. I know I was in awe of the Valley on my first visit and would expect they will feel the same. With 34 more days to go I sit here, watch the snow and think about another visit to my favorite place (which by the way is expected to see sun and temperatures in the low 60’s today). Please don’t let it snow on March 17th so I can make it on the plane!

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A New Year 2010

A new year as well as a new decade has arrived, 2010 is already 21 days old and I am looking forward to a far better year than last. There are signs the economy is on the way back, the stock market has improved, and I am back to working full time after a furlough in 2009. I was never one who was overly excited about the changing of years, after all it is just another day, but I do have a good feeling about this one. I am already filled with great excitement to an event planned for March. My wife turned 40 on January 12th and part of her present was a trip to Napa Valley. I thought it fitting as she gave me the same gift when I turned 50 five years ago which began our love of Napa Valley and annual return trips ever since. Not wanting to brave the rainy season to be in the valley on her actual birthday we decided to wait until the middle of March when the weather begins to improve some. The trip includes our annual Napa Valley vacation partners that have been along for the ride since the 50th birthday trip; our sister and brother–in–law, but another exciting twist to this trip is four friends along for my wife’s birthday trip that have never visited the valley. One friend has even said it is a trip that she has on her bucket list….how exciting is that to be a part of someone’s wish list of things they want to do in life! This will certainly be a wine country experience they never forget and that will have them looking forward to future visits as it has for me.  I will say a big part of my desire to return is the Wine Country Inn. I have my favorite wineries and restaurants, but the Inn really goes the extra mile and I feel as though I can’t wait to return.  Check back for details as the trip plans evolve…I can tell you dinner at the Martini House is already on the list!

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Saddleback Cellars

Our last stop of day four was another return visit and by chance turned out that we got to meet one of our favorite winemakers; Nils Venge. Back down Silverado Trail we headed to Saddleback Cellars located in the heart of Oakville. Saddleback is owned by Nils Venge; a name we had run into on numerous occasions during our trip, including finding out at our earlier tasting with Fortress Vineyards that Nil’s is a consulting winemaker for them.

While we love Saddleback wines, and we were so excited to meet Nils, this was simply a bad choice for us as a last stop. The taste buds were burnt out from a long day of tasting and we should have known better. Next time we will visit Saddleback early in the day so as to appreciate the fantastic wines that Nils makes. We did walk away with two bottles of the 25th Anniversary 2006 Special Barrel Selection Cabernet. One bottle was to drink at dinner that evening and the other is resting comfortably in our cellar waiting for an occasion worthy enough to open a special wine such as the Anniversary Cabernet is.