Wine Blogger’s Conference Returns to Sonoma

Pre-Conference Excursion to Napa Valley


I had been anticipating the 2017 Wine Blogger’s Conference with various emotions – excited to visit Sonoma and Napa, thrilled that my daughter, Hilary, was joining me, but also with some trepidation over what we would see as a result of the Wine Country fires.


Hilary and I arrived at the tiny Santa Rosa airport late in the evening and found our way to the charming West Sonoma Inn and Spa where we spent the night. The inn is cozy, quiet, and conveniently located for winery visits – we wished we had more time there and would recommend it.

The next day, we began our WBC adventures with a pre-conference excursion that took us to the Napa Valley for visits to Stags’ Leap Winery  and Etude.  The day was chilly and overcast, with some fog drifting across the landscape. Our knowledgeable hosts for the day were Tamara and Rob from Treasury Wine Estates, a company that represents a number of wineries and growers. As is always the case, geography and topography exert an enormous influence on the grapes and the wines produced. As we drove, Rob told us about the two mountain ranges that border Napa Valley, the Vaca and the Mayacamas. The Vaca separate the land from the scorching heat of the Central Valley and the Mayacamas provide a barrier from the cooler air coming off the Pacific Ocean. Because of this geography, Napa is most famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but many other varietals thrive.

Our group arrived at Stags’ Leap and was greeted with the 2016 Viognier, a gorgeous wine with floral notes and stone fruit flavors. While we enjoyed our wine, Javier recounted some of the long and colorful history of Stags’ Leap. It is one of the earliest wine estates in Napa, first planted in 1893. During the early 1900’s, the property functioned as both a working ranch and a high-end resort with what is believed to have been the first in-ground fresh water swimming pool in Northern California.  During Prohibition, the owner hid all external evidence of wine and wine making, but housed a speakeasy on the lower level that was accessible through a trap door!

Following our tour of the manor house and grounds, we were seated in the elegant formal dining room for a tasting led by winemaker Christophe Paubert. Christophe, who grew up and studied in Bordeaux, believes that wine should showcase the fruit and the terroir, not the winemaker’s hand. We sampled Chardonnay, Merlot, two red blends that are predominantly Petit Sirah, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which were beautiful expressions of the grapes and of Christophe’s skill.

All too soon, it was time to move on to Etude, located in the Carneros region of Napa and renowned for its exceptional Pinot Noirs. We were greeted with their 2016 Pinot Blanc that was like biting into a ripe peach. Etude’s winemaker, John Priest, escorted us on a lantern-lighted stroll to their new barrel room, where he provided some insights into Etude wines and his wine making style.

Returning to the tasting room, we were seated for a wonderful, three course autumn dinner. The entree was smoked duck breast, paired with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both 2015 Grace Benoist Ranch. The grand finale was flourless chocolate cake and peanut butter mousse with two Pinot Noirs, 2015 North Canyon Vineyard Santa Maria Valley and 2015 Heirloom Estate. The North Canyon was a wonderful match for dessert with its dark fruit, spice, and long finish.

Our gracious hosts had provided us with an extraordinary day that included education, world class wines, delicious food, and the  opportunity to interact with winery experts. Our bus was quiet on the drive back to the hotel, each of us reflecting on the special day we had shared.

Please stay tuned for more posts over the coming days, including information about the fires and the recovery.

Cheers to Napa and Sonoma!



Written by Catherine

Catherine developed a passion for travel, food, and wine early in life. She owned and operated a gourmet catering business and small restaurant for twenty years, earning a number of awards. Eventually she chose to leave the food and beverage industry, but continues to enjoy cooking and furthering her knowledge of wines.

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