2017 Wine Country Guide: NorCal

It’s official!! I’ve finally finished my 2017 NorCal Wine Country Guide. Take a look at some of my favorite wineries, restaurants, and things to do in Suisun Valley, Napa, and Sonoma. Cheers wine lovers!

Download the Printable Version Here –> threadsandvino wine country guide 2017

2016 Rkatsitelli Wine Spotlight from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Still can’t wrap my head around how awesome this wine grape variety is! The Rkatsitelli grape was widely planted in Eastern Europe and is considered one of the oldest known grape varieties in the world. Planted in the country of Georgia in 300 B.C. The name means “red horn” in Georgian. This wine from Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is super delicious! The vines were planted in the 60’s, the wine was fermented in stainless steel, with partial MLF. It was very bright with complex acidity, crisp mouth feel, and pleasant minerality. If you are ever in the finger lakes or see this in the package store, seriously suggest picking it up! #sorryformywinenerdrant #ithadtobedone

A Little History About the Winery:

4th generation owned, Meaghan Frank is taking over her family’s winery. Wooohoo for more ladies in wine! The Winery was established in 1962 by Dr. Konstantin Frank – a refugee from Ukrain who came to NY during World War II. His father was from Germany and managed a small winery in Ukrain, so he grew up working in the wine industry. When he came to America he spoke 9 languages but no English. However, he was eventually able to learn enough English to communicate his wine desires. He planted his first grape vines in 1958 on Keuka Lake and never looked back!

Why Are The Wines so great?

Well there are 11 total lakes in the Finger Lakes Region and they have many different soil types due to the glacial impact of the last Ice Age. For example the Shale Acidic Soil creates a good mineralogy in a Dry Rieslings and lends itself to the cool climate hearty grape varieties. This is a big reason why Riesling really excels in the region. Then they have Limestone where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are often planted. These grapes truly excel there, especially with the lake effect combination. The lakes cool the region and in winter and warm it up in the summer which allows them to produce top quality Vinifera.

Visiting The Winery:

At Dr. Konstantin Frank they always offer free tastings for their guests. This is because they are off the beaten path on Cayuga Lake and think that since you’ve journeyed that far, you deserve some free wine 🙂 They have an International Winemaking Team
consisting of winemakers from South Africa, Australia, Germany, and California. This gives them the ability to create 30 wines for their portfolio including a line of sparkling wines. When you visit, sit back, relax, and enjoy your wine with a side of awesome East Coast history.

Location:  9749 Middle Rd, Hammondsport, NY 14840

Schedule A Tasting: Advance Reservations and booking payment are required for all groups of 12 or more. Groups of 12 or more will be charged with a non-refundable fee of $5 per person and will get to keep their Dr. Frank logo glass. Please call 800-320-0735 for a reservation. Cancellations must be made up to a week in advance otherwise reservations are non refundable.

Make sure you make the trip to the Finger Lakes and Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery!

Winemaker Interview: Arielle Fabiano of Balderdash Cellars talks about how one glass of Brunello can change your life….

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Arielle talks about how one glass of Brunello can change your life….

Winemaker: Arielle Fabiano of Bladerdash Cellars (Visit)

Location: 502 East Street (rear of the building) Pittsfield, MA 01201

Tasting Hours: Saturdays 1-5pm, please call to set up private/group tastings (info)

Tasting Options:  Tastings are $8/person and refundable with purchase of $50/person.

Why did you become a winemaker?


I became fascinated with winemaking while studying biochemistry in college. After a trip to Italy and a few life-changing glasses of Brunello, I discover that not only was I in love with the idea of winemaking, but also the science of it. It is the perfect symphony of so many things I am passionate about: biochemistry, agriculture, hard work and dirt under my fingernails, and above all, how a truly spectacular glass of wine can take your breath away.

After that trip, I tailored my biochemistry degree to winemaking as much as possible and threw myself into the wine world at full force. A harvest in Napa Valley as a lab tech served as a necessary reality check that squashed out many of the romanticized ideals I had about winemaking and gave me some perspective on just how much hard work goes into a great bottle of wine. When I graduated from Northeastern in May of 2015, I reconnected with Christian, owner/winemaker of Balderdash Cellars, and offered to give him a hand at the winery for the summer. As it turned out, he needed a new assistant winemaker and I needed a full-time job. The rest is history and we make a dynamic team. I couldn’t ask for a better boss or mentor.

How were you introduced to winemaking in Massachusetts?

One of my very first memories of a Massachusetts wine actually goes back to childhood! There is an apple orchard not far from my childhood house that also produces wine, and my parents would occasionally get a bottle and let me have a little taste. I remember enjoying the white zinfandel, which of course, makes me hang my head in shame as a winemaker today. Once I was of legal drinking age, my first trip to a Massachusetts winery was actually to Balderdash Cellars!

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker in Massachusetts?

For most Massachusetts wineries, arguably the biggest challenge is growing high quality grapes in a climate and geography that is not suited to it. Certainly, great strides have been made in the cold-hardy varietals thanks to research coming out of Cornell and the University of Minnesota, but it remains a challenge, and I think some of the softer nuances of the more traditional varietals are lost in the cold-hardies.

Another challenge is being taken seriously as a winery and a winemaker. People tend to scoff when they are confronted with New England-produced wine, but nine times out of ten, people leave Balderdash pleasantly surprised, and with several bottles in hand. A few have even commented that our wines are as good as wines they’ve had from California.

What makes Massachusetts wine so great? What makes MA wine so different?


One of the coolest things about making wine in New England is that it forces you to innovate. There are inherent challenges relating to the terroir, but these challenges also expand into accessibility as well, whether that means access to equipment and products, the accessibility of the market here, etc. All of these challenges give you no choice but to come up with creative solutions and it’s that creativity and innovation that allows us to stand out and differentiate ourselves.

Tell us about your harvest process

Our harvest process is a bit more unconventional than most. We source our fruit from vineyards in the Paso Robles area in California, and actually ship our fruit out to Massachusetts frozen, after it has been destemmed and crushed at our custom crush facility in Paso. We fly out once or twice over the course of the harvest to taste our fruit and make sure it is picked at the ripeness we want. We also receive Brix and pH reports from the vineyards. Once our fruit has made it to Massachusetts, we will start fermenting whatever we have room for at the winery and the rest goes to our freezer facility. We thaw the fruit out, which usually takes about 5 days, and put it right into our stainless steel fermentation tanks. From there, our winemaking process proceeds in a traditional way.

How does your wine making approach differ from other winemakers? What is your general winemaking philosophy?

I haven’t quite found my voice or my style as a winemaker yet, but I am definitely more science-minded than I think a lot of winemakers are. One of my favorite parts of my job is when I am able to delve into a scientific journal article to troubleshoot a problem we are having or figure out how we can improve our wine based on relevant research. I am fascinated by the influence of yeast strains and how they can impact the organoleptic qualities of a wine and I enjoy picking yeast strains to try to achieve a certain quality in a particular wine.

Like many winemakers out there, I am a BIG believer in the concept of terroir and ultimately, I want to let the quality of the fruit speak for itself and allow that to shape the wine. One of my favorite sayings is that you can make bad wine out of good grapes but you can’t make good wine out of bad grapes. If you are doing what you should be doing in the vineyard, the winemaking should simply serve to showcase the fruit. Sometimes Mother Nature throws you a doozy of a vintage, however, (i.e. Napa 2011) and then the winemaking needs to intervene and get a little more creative to get as much as possible out of lower quality fruit.

How do you know you’ve got a good vintage?

I don’t have all that much experience in the vineyard, ironically enough given my winemaking philosophies, but usually I can tell from the look and smell and taste of the fruit. The depth of color of the skins, the aromatics coming off the juice when it’s first in tank, the taste of the skins and seeds all serve as indicators of what the conditions of the vintage were.

Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?

Oh boy, the list could go on and on! I’d love to explore native fermentations coupled with PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which basically allows you to find out what specific native yeast strains you have. If I had an unlimited winery budget and unlimited time, I’d also love to do some work with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to correlate yeast strain with specific flavor and aroma compounds. I’m a huge wine chemistry nerd.

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?

It’s a toss-up between Tuscany and Napa Valley. My experiences in both places have shaped my palate and my winemaking philosophies hugely. One of the most rewarding aspects of being out in Napa, other than the experience of the work, was the opportunity to taste really good, really expensive wine that I wouldn’t have been able to taste otherwise. It allowed my palate to develop and to get a handle on the nuances of tasting.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

People would definitely be surprised by how physically demanding my job is and how little of my time is actually spent drinking wine! Winemaking sounds like such a romantic, wonderful job but the reality is that the majority of the time I am wet, dirty, smelly, covered is grape/wine goo and I am cleaning equipment. I spend probably 60-70% of my time scrubbing equipment. And you don’t even want to know the places I’ve found grapes when showering after a day of pressing.

What do you like best about your job?

Definitely one of the best parts of it is the Hanson family! I am so lucky to have the privilege of working with and learning from them. Beyond that it is getting to do what I LOVE: drinking wine and applying biochemistry to make excellent wine.

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?


Probably our 2015 Til Death Do Us Part Viognier. The Viognier was the first time either Christian or I had worked with that varietal but I had a very clear sense from the get go about the wine I wanted to make, and the finished wine really achieved that. It is bright and beautifully shows off the aromatics of the varietal, while also balancing acidity and mouthfeel.

Who are your favorite winemakers and why? OR What is your favorite wine and why?

I would have to say my favorite wine is Brunello di Montalcino. I have had exposure to so many wonderful wines and varietals but Brunello is one I always come back to and it is my benchmark. It is the first wine I had that put me on the path to where I am now and has been wildly influential in my career. One of the first times I was really able to taste the significance of terroir was at a tasting at Altesino in 2013. We tasted two Brunellos from the same vineyard, one made with grapes from the top of the vineyard, one with grapes from the bottom of the slope. They were two entirely different wines and they were grown maybe 500ft apart. As I said earlier, life-changing.

Is beer ever better than wine?

The only time I really drink beer is if I’m out at a sporting event or bar, or at a restaurant with an underwhelming wine list. I’d definitely rather drink a good craft beer than very bad wine. A lot of my winemaking friends joke that it takes a lot of beer to make wine!

I want to give a big Thank You to Arielle Fabiano from Bladerdash Cellars for giving us a peak into the life of a Massachusets Winemaker. Make sure to stop by Balderdash Cellars in Pittsfield, MA for some delicious wines made from a very passionate Winemaker! #GirlsMakeWineToo

Winemaker Interview: Southern Connecticut Wine Company (#SoConnWineCo)

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Amanda talks about how she created Connecticut’s 1st Micro Winery and her love of winemaking.

Winemaker: Amanda Brackett of Southern Connecticut Wine Company (Visit)

Location: 65 S. Colony Street in Wallingford, Connecticut 06492

Tasting Hours: Thursday – Sunday, Thursday – Friday from 3:00-8:00PM, Saturday Noon-6:00PM,  Sunday – Noon-4:00PM

Tasting Options: Enjoy the Casual Elegance of SoConn

Why did you become a winemaker?

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I had no idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up and never thought that someone would actually pay me to make wine. I’ve always had a love for the art behind wine, but my background is in business. When my husband and I moved to Connecticut, he encouraged me to find a job that was going to make me happy. I knew I didn’t want to suit up and punch a clock. Wine made me happy. It sounds simple, but I enjoy every aspect of wine. Making it keeps me creative, correcting faults keeps me learning and innovative, drinking it keeps me social and selling it keeps my husband happy.

How long have you been making wine for?

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Professionally, five years. I’ve been playing around with fermentation for as long as I can remember. I remember being little in my grandmother’s kitchen. Her sister’s had come to visit from Canada and they pulled all of the grapes off of the vines that my grandmother had growing in the yard. They crushed them and then used cheese cloth to separate the juice from the skins. Not a huge yield, but they made a rose with Concord grapes. I remember lining up the 7-Up bottles and holding the funnel while they filled each ¾ of the way. Then, tightening the caps and moving them to the pantry. A couple days later all of the bottles exploded. The caps had been tightened too much and the gasses had no way of escaping… Fermentation lesson #1.

How were you introduced to winemaking in Connecticut?

I actually answered a Craigslist ad when I moved to CT for a bookkeeper position for a construction company. The owner said that he was going to start a small winery and I didn’t give him a choice in hiring me. I’m a terrible bookkeeper so thank God I could make wine.

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker in Connecticut?

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For me, it was the law. Connecticut currently only has a license for Farm Wineries. Since I don’t grow grapes, they had a difficult time classifying what I do. It took a while to get to this point, but The Southern Connecticut Wine Company is Connecticut’s first and only micro-winery.

Tell us about your harvest process..

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It starts with a trip to the grocery store where I purchase all of the El Monte microwave breakfast burritos in the freezer section. I stock up on coffee, waffles, hot sauce and vodka. I don’t grow so my pre harvest prep is making sure that I’ve ordered grapes (Christina, I’ll get that to you today, I promise), make sure I have all of the yeasts, nutrients and other products that I need for each blend on hand. Then I start power washing EVERYTHING. Harvest is a magical time where I become a maniac who has zero interest in anything else unless it’s fermenting. It’s a systematic, controlled chaos. This harvest I’m gearing up to make 23 different types of wines in the 2000 square feet of wine production space. Red’s ferment in the main production area while whites and roses are moved into a back office so the temperature can be dropped. Fermentation tubs, barrels, tanks, finished wine.. Everything is constantly being moved around. Harvest is a by any means necessary attitude with all hands on deck.

How does your wine making approach differ from other winemakers?

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I love blending. Creating big red blends has become my niche. Throughout the year I’ll experiment with new combinations and use friends and family as guinea pigs. By the time harvest rolls around, I’ll have a game plan for at least one new blend. I’m not limited by region or growing my own product, so really, the sky is the limit as far as sourcing. I enjoy creating something crazy and different. If someone says “you shouldn’t do that”, I’m going to at least try it.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Make good wine and make wine that I would want to drink.

How do you know you’ve got a good vintage?

Repeat customers are a sure sign of a good vintage.

Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?

I would really like to try barrel fermentation. I’ve never been able to do that because of space constraints. I would also like to make an orange wine, but my husband won’t let me bury clay fermentation vessels in our backyard. I really have a laundry list of things that I want to try… carbonic maceration, sparkling, kegging wine.. just to list a few. It would also be pretty awesome to learn how to recoop barrels. We all need an activity in the down months.

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?

I’m partial to the Central Coast (California). I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and that’s where I was first exposed to the wine industry. I grew up tagging along with my mom to all of the local vineyards in the Carmel Valley AVA.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

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I love it when someone asks what I do when I’m not crushing. The amount of time that goes into nurturing and working the wine surprises people. It’s not just a “set it and forget it” product. It’s very easy to make bad wine if you’re not paying attention. But, by that token, most faulted wine is able to be corrected…and if it’s too far gone, just throw some fruit in and make sangria.

Another aspect that surprises people is the comradely that the winemakers in the state have. Making good wine is easy if you have a network of people with different expertise. It’s more of a cooperative effort rather than a competitive environment. We support each other.

What do you like best about your job?

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I love creating something so unique and personal to share. I love getting messy. I love learning. There is always a new product, a new technique. I especially love being able to share this with my family. My son has been coming to the winery with me since he’s been a week old. One day I hope that he and I will be making wine, side by side.

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?

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My favorite wine is the wine that I made for my husband. We call it the Bawstin Blend, on account of his thick Boston accent. When he and I first started dating, he pretended that he was really into wine.. Low and behold, he used every wine app available on his phone and googled while we were at restaurants so that he could keep the conversation going about whatever he ordered, and he was ordering some fantastic wines!

He “confessed” that he didn’t like wine like five or six years after we started dating. He said he just couldn’t keep up the charade anymore. It was pretty awesome that he went through so much trouble to impress me in the early years, so we deconstructed a bunch of wines and figured out what characteristics he didn’t like in a wine. Then we constructed a crazy California red blend for him that isn’t too tannic or heavily oaked.

Who are your favorite winemakers and why?

There are so many! I think Isabelle Simi was positively badass. She took over her father’s vineyard and winery when she was 18, found prohibition loopholes and navigated the success of Simi through the Great Depression. Brandon Allen of SLO Down Wines is amazing. His wine, Sexual Chocolate, is one of my go-tos. Brandon was one of my favorite beer pong partners in college when we all use to drink Natty Ice and hang out in my garage. John Saunders of Boëté in Carmel Valley, CA produces one of my favorite Cab Francs, hands down. It’s a family owned and operated vineyard that produces small batch Cab and Cab Franc. He’s a super detail oriented winemaker and it definitely shows in the product.

Is beer ever better than wine?

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There comes a point in the season when anything is better than wine… even water. Usually during harvest you’ll find me drinking beer.. Unless something has broken. In that case, I drink vodka. Lot’s of vodka.

 

Also, check out Cru Podcast’s most recent interview of Amanda – Finding Your Happy with Amanda Brackett. In this episode Amanda and Chappy of Cru converse about her passion for winemaking and how she became a winemaker in Connecticut to how she is working to teach more and more people about wine. She also shares the challenges she has had to overcome not only with government regulation, but the simple fact of her being a female business owner and winemaker. A great listen!

Until next time. Cheers Wine Lovers!

#ThrowBackThursday – Suisun Valley Sauv Blanc

As harvest comes to an end I find myself missing the vineyards. Harvest is fast and furious with crazy ups and downs. I wouldn’t miss a minute of it no matter how grueling or stressful, but I do enjoy some chill vibes. We had our last delivery of Suisun Valley grapes to Hartford, CT and I can’t help but think about the great times at Wooden Valley Winery in Suisun Valley. Suisun Valley is a fantastic up and coming wine region just outside of Napa. They are well known for their interesting wine varieties such as Petite Sirah and Cabernet Clone 169.

A few months back my friends and I had a little down time and were able to enjoy some Sauvignon Blanc at Wooden Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc was incredible. Delicious notes of guava, tangerine, and lemon. The wine was easy to drink and had a balanced finish. An easy and tasty drinker no matter what time of year.

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img_7156      Purchase HERE {only $16.00!!}

Wooden Valley – Known for their Sweet Whites, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Enjoy a tasting of 5 wines of your choosing. The friendly tasting room staff is happy to help you pair the wines to your palate preferences. Enjoy a glass or bottle of wine out on the patio or visit for one of our Food Truck Fridays. {walk ins welcome}

Tasting Room Hours: 11:00AM – 5:00PM Everyday (closed for specific holidays)

Tastings: Walk Ins Welcome

Tasting Fee: $10.00 to taste 5 wines, the fee is refundable if you purchase a bottle of wine

Tours: By Appointment

Location: 4756 Suisun Valley Rd, Suisun Valley, CA 94534

After a few glasses of SB we decided to take few pictures out in the vineyard. It was such a beautiful day we couldn’t resist!

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Wearing:

Top: Tobi 

Necklace: BlogShop SF gift bag

Skirt: JCrew Outlet

Shoes: Justfab.com

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Cheers!