Long before starting Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile sloughed his way four years of undergraduate studies at a quaint little college in Hanover, New Hampshire. Admittedly, the Websafe equivalent of its eponymous Pantone color that I selected for our logo is a tip of the proverbial hat to my alma mater, but I cannot muster the same fervent feelings nor sense of nostalgia many of my fellow alumni hold. And so I forwent the latest quintennial gathering and instead attended the North Coast Food & Wine Festival in Santa Rosa last month.
This event, sponsored by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, has long outshone other newspaper-sponsored wine competitions in the region, awarding a scant 82 Gold Medal winners for an array of wineries from the 5-county region. And while it was easier to wine Best of Solano County than say, Napa or Sonoma, there was nary a wine on hand that did not live up to its heralding.
As happens these days, I encountered only a handful of wineries I had not previously catalogued, such as Serres Ranch, which medaled for their 2018 Buchanan, a distinctive Sonoma Valley Merlot. Unassuming yet splendid, Naidu Wines from Sebastopol delivered both a beautiful 2021 Grenache Blanc Russian River Valley and a Champenois-style Brut Sparkling Wine, produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. I was surprised to learn that ROWEN Wine Company was a label from Rodney Strong, but their 2018 Red Blend, a meritage farmed from Strong’s 20,000-acre Cooley Ranch Vineyard, most certainly upheld their storied reputation.
Similarly, Head High Wines extended Three Sticks’ mastery of Pinot with their select 2019 Sonoma County Pinot Noir. But my most serendipitous discovery of the afternoon was the truly marvelous Ehret Winery, a Knights Valley entrant that exemplified why this AVA excels with Bordeaux varietals; to say I was vastly impressed with all three of their Gold Medal selections: the 2018 Bella’s Cabernet Sauvignon, the lush 2018 Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and their Meritage—the 2018 Hillside Reserve Red Wine would be an understatement.
My post-COVID efforts to reintegrate with the wine industry and to reorient Sostevinobile with the still-perplexing new landscape has been less about adding new wine produces to the roster of 5,000+ labels I have already catalogued and more about rekindling relationships that I have developed over the past dozen years. And it has been those relationships that drove me to attend this tasting in Sonoma County, rather than trek cross-country to reunite with folks I briefly shared a part of my life that feels quite remote at this stage. I may not bleed green, as many of my classmates still do, and I am indebted for having developed the intellectual tools that have allowed me to prosper in the wine realm, along with my sundry other endeavors. But here among the vintners and growers and industry professionals is where I find my people and have opened my eyes to a wider appreciation of what life can offer than any classroom could.