A Midsummer Knight’s Dream ~ Field Trip to Napa | Sonoma 🚗💨🍷

The winery with the dungeon was one I had to see.
On this weekend winery getaway to Napa and Sonoma, HubbyDoug and I had only two days to visit and sample. So rather than a meandering trip, we became precise and and streamlined about what we wanted to see.

We’ve enjoyed Gundlach Bundschu wines since Doug’s last trip to see them a few years ago so they were a top choice.  But friends told us about Castello Di Amorosa, a winery fashioned after a thirteenth century Italian castle, complete with dungeon … and torture chamber. Um… more about that in a bit.

Peace and quiet

There are times when visiting a winery is like visiting an old friend. The feeling of ease and relaxation wraps around you like a warm hug. We made our way to the bottle bar to grab a glass and then walk the vineyard. I typically enjoy so many of their reds but because of the heat, I chose a flavorful, chilled and beautifully floral Gerwürtztraminer, while Doug had his favorite, Pinot Noir.

The relaxed vibe of the staff invites you to take your glass and explore pretty much anywhere on the property. There were no limits, and no restrictions except perhaps your footwear, and how long you needed until you wanted to refill your glass.

We got our shoes dusty as we made our way through the vineyards, stopping to taste a couple of Pinot Noir grapes off the vine. There was nothing like it. The flavor was so bright and sweet; almost like a sunburst on the tongue.

Small enclosures at various points along the walk were available with coolers of water and comfortable seating. It was unbelievable how quiet it could be out in the vineyards with nothing but the sun, a light breeze blowing, breathtaking scenery and your wine to savor. We felt any tension melting away as we sipped and walked.
It was how I imagine heaven might be.

While we could’ve stayed all day, we wanted to get to the next destination before nightfall, those winding roads can get pretty tricky.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Dungeons and dragons
Driving on approximately forty minutes, we arrived at the castle. A labor of love for Dario Sattui and 20+ years from concept to completion (15 years of construction), Castello Di Amorosa is an authentic replica of a 13th century Medieval Tuscan-style castle. Fashioned with hand squared stone, tile and ancient brickwork brought over from Europe, it features spectacular upper and lower courtyards, 5 defensive towers with battlements, a chapel, great hall, royal apartment, dungeon and torture chamber (no castle was complete without them), as well as a fully functioning winery. This architectural marvel is 136,000 sq. ft. including castle and winery. There are 8 levels — 4 levels above and 4 underground. It is truly a feast for the eyes.

We made our way through the drawbridge to travel back in time to a world where romance swirled, women swooned and if you stepped out of line, it was the rack (or the iron maiden). I made sure HubbyDoug was on his best behavior. The chill from the deepest cellar crept up my spine with a slither and it made it difficult to remember the heat from the sun just beyond our reach. It kind of freaked me out when we walked through the labyrinth before getting to our final destination: the tasting room. I bet Halloween here is a scream!

Taking in the opulence and authenticity of detail was awesome and then to see the modern winemaking equipment was a real juxtaposition. And it wasn’t lost on us that we were taken to our wine tasting right after visiting the dungeon and torture chamber. Hmmmmm…. Needless to say, many of us bought several bottles. My pick: the 2015 Dolcino Gerwürztraminer a nice, slightly sweet chiller.

In the next post: Day 2 of our excellent wine adventure at Alexander Valley Vineyards, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and Jordan.

©TheWineStudent, 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dream a Little Dream

Red, robust, and resplendent. I kept these words in the back of my mind when I was searching for an enjoyable wine to serve with dinner. And it’s a nice surprise when you find it. 

We’d enjoyed the Dreaming Tree‘s Crush Red Blend a couple of weeks ago while on vacation in Muskoka, and really enjoyed its rich flavors. So when I happened across their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, into my shopping cart it went. 

Dreaming Tree Wines is the California based collaboration of Dave Matthews (yes, that Dave Matthews) and Kiwi winemaker Sean McKenzie.

 A widely sustainable winery, Dreaming Tree is part of a solar initiative including four wineries that are collectively powered by  17,000 solar panels; the largest solar footprint in the U.S. wine industry. The bottles are made of a lighter-weight glass, and labels are recycled kraft brown paper. 

I’m not one to be swayed by the fact that a wine is affiliated with a big name; if I like the wine, it’s because I enjoy what’s inside. But this wine, paired with our grilled tenderloin, buttery mashed potatoes, steamed seasoned green beans and spinach salad was a good match. The dark bouquet had hints of black cherry and swirled flavors of rich raspberry compote, and a whisper of chocolate and oak that tasted like… more. 

Moderately priced (around $14.99) ~ it was a tasty, easy drinking wine that paired well with a relaxed dinner on the patio. 


Red, white and… not blue :D

On this particularly beautiful Independence Day weekend, HubbyDoug and I decided to try something new. It’s a chill weekend, which we purposely decided to keep relaxed; no superbig plans, just a come-what-may vibe.

To celebrate, we found a 2013 Ghost Pines Red Winemaker’s Blend. Combining Zinfandel, Cab Sauv, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Syrah, and Primitivo, this wine was so complex and flavorful, even from the first  waft of the bouquet. Hints of lush blackberry jam on the nose, with rich blueberry compote and a cinnamon finish on the palate made this wine one of the most intriguing sips I’ve experienced in a very long time.

With a bottle this nice, we didn’t need fireworks.

I hope you all have a safe and happy July 4th!


Wine on the Waterfront 

To celebrate that summer is actually here in the Cleve, my friend Shelly and I checked out the 5th Annual Waterfront Wine Festival in Avon Lake, OH.

In support of the Smiles for Sophie Forever Foundation confronting pediatric brain cancer, this event featured several local Ohio wineries including Matus, Paper Moon, Firelands, Humble Bee and Vermillion Valley.

My pick for the day: Vermillion Valley Cabernet Franc. Served slightly chilled, it had a light, flavorful vibe of blueberry, raspberry and hint of dark cherry that was enjoyable but not heavy. It definitely took the edge off the heat from the sun.

With the beautiful breeze off Lake Erie, and plenty of sunshine, it was a great event that drew fantastic crowds and helped to support a great cause.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

©TheWineStudent, 2016


Breaking Bud

For the most part, this past winter was not one of discontent. Unless, perhaps if you’re a winemaker. It’s a balancing act when it comes to managing freeze-thaw cycles in a vineyard. Most vines are resilient enough to withstand the below freezing temperatures for a time only to rise and bloom when it’s safe to wake up. This winter and spring were a little different, though.

While bud break  in March is not unheard of, it usually it begins when the danger of frost has safely passed. Winter bud damage can occur at temperatures below -25 C; vine damage can occur between -28 and -30C. The level of damage also depends on the grape: Vidal and Cab Franc being heartier varietals can withstand extremes, but the more delicate Pinot Noir, and Gerwurtztraminer suffer the most when they are exposed to temps of below -10C.

But like anything in nature, adaptability is everything. According to an article in the University of Maryland Extension, buds acclimate in two ways:

  • Dehydration ~ where water contained inside the bud and vine move into intercellular spaces. Shrinkage, if you will.
  • Cryoprotection ~ sugar and protein complexes that bind water work as cryoprotectants which lower the freezing point of water allowing contents of the cell to ‘supercool’ without the generation of dangerous ice crystals.

The difficulty facing winemakers here in the Ohio River Valley is that spring came on early and strong with record mild temps, potentially causing grape buds to emerge earlier than usual. Bud break occurs approximately around late April through mid May. While early bud break allows for the potential of a longer growing season and riper fruit, it also increases the vulnerability to a late spring frost. If shoots are lost, the crop size decreases, yet the quality of the resulting wine can increase.

Matt Meineke, owner and vineyard manager of M Cellars in Geneva, Ohio says [via e-mail] , “with the mild winter early bud break was a concern but we do feel things should be in the clear at this point. Many growers use fans and we actually use a potassium/ calcium spray, and a little luck, to get by on our estate vineyards. On the vineyards we manage we use fans and of course luck!”

Temperatures in North East Ohio for March ranged from 28F on March 2 to a crazy high of 75F on March 8, with variations on that theme throughout the month, ending with a high on the 31st of 70F. It’s no wonder the buds were confused — I was. As temperatures began to decrease again, the frost, snow and ice could likely encroach upon the tender new vines, and damage could then take hold. Just how much damage remains to be seen. As Meineke explains, “ any extreme temperature fluctuation will cause the plants to deactivate from winter hardiness which is always a concern regardless of the variety. Some varieties are more tender, especially the vinifera wine grapes we grow such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, etc.”

So what happens if frost bites the young vines? Having a plan B is essential to a successful season. According to Meineke, “if we have an early frost that causes damage, we would be using our secondary buds for production. This would cause production to be down and typically ripening may be delayed as well. That said, we would probably not be in a good position to make premium red wines, we should be considering premium rose wines as that is what nature has told us to do.”

As for any changes the consumer might see in terms of pricing, Meineke explains, “as far as pricing goes I don’t think we have a lot of room for an increase to the end consumer. We find local wines hard enough to sell on the open market and this would simply be one more reason for the end user to look elsewhere for their wine purchase.”

Even with this season’s fluctuations in temperatures, by the looks of things, the vines are all right. And so will be this year’s vintages.


©TheWineStudent, 2016

Happy Easter! 

Much love to you all on this Easter Sunday!

We are starting the day off with beautiful Bellini cocktails. I wish I could say that made them myself, but I decided to make things a little easier with a pre-made concoction from Canella. It is heavenly with our homemade waffles, dijon devilled eggs, hot cross buns, and fresh fruit salad.

Holidays like this allow for time to take stock of the blessings (no matter how small) at play in life.                                Some blessings today: a stellar day in the Cleve 🌞,  healthy and happy family, and wonderful friends on both sides of the border.

I wish you all day rich in joy and chocolate. And a nice bellini cocktail is a great way to start it off. 😄


House of Cards Binge Watch Weekend!

Deception! Backstabbing! Lies! What better way to spend a cold weekend in the Cleve than bingeing on season four of Netflix series House of Cards.

To appropriately enjoy the delicious unfolding of events, we needed an appropriately delicious wine. We chose a 2011 Kiona Vineyards Red Mountain Syrah. It’s rich, dark and full of flavors that reveal themselves slowly and stealthily. Much like Frank and Claire’s unraveling machinations.

Did I mention that this wine is from Washington? The state, that is.😉