120th Anniversary of the Vintage Festival

By: Maria Dontas

The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival is celebrating 120 years of festivities! While world-class wine has been an obvious driver of success, the Festival owes its longevity to the philanthropic mission unifying the community and greater Sonoma area. A plentiful harvest after a parasite outbreak sparked the launch of the first celebration in 1897. The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival takes place every year during the last weekend in September, and up to 100% of the proceeds are donated to charity, which is a fantastic reason to celebrate! Today, locals and tourists alike celebrate the Valley’s deep roots, raising a glass to the grape bounty and supporting local nonprofit organizations.

The Vintage Festival takes place right in the heart of town at the historic Sonoma Plaza. There’s a ton of free parking available, and the plaza is within walking distance of several great bed and breakfasts including the Inn at Sonoma and the Hidden Oak Inn. Other lodging options include:

Historically, the Festival has opened with a gala wine-tasting. This year, too, Friday launches with the much-anticipated gala featuring a silent auction, live music, over 50 wineries pouring, and food tastings by local restaurants, specialty shops and caterers. The theme this year is ‘Honoring our Heritage” so gala-goers are encouraged to dress in the style of their favorite decade. Prizes for best costume will be awarded.

Live music and art continues into Saturday and Sunday with the event’s Main Stage located behind Sonoma City Hall. Grab a blanket, a glass of wine or a beer from the Beer Garden, set up for a picnic and enjoy performances all day. Saturday evening features the family favorite “Get Your Glow On” night parade and whether you’re entering a float or watching from the sidelines, you’re in for a treat. Saturday and Sunday also feature family and corporate grape stomps that benefit charities of your choice! Back by popular demand, and the support of Destination Races, the 12k, 5k and Tiny Tots races kick off the final day of the festival.

Whether your traveling with friends, family or you’re on your own, you’re sure to find something to suit everyone’s tastes at the Vintage Festival. For more information, to buy tickets or to get involved, visit valleyofthemoonvintagefestival.com.

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Don’t Forget the Dessert!

By: Kristie Sheppard

We all know wines pair well with food such as fish, beef, poultry, but we often overlook the opportunity to pair wines with other desserts. Yes, there are chocolate and wine pairings, but we shouldn’t forget treats like pies, donuts and cakes.

Kendyl Bilenkij, New Jersey native and private chef (you may recall the article from February featuring her winter vegetable recipe) is married to an Aussie, Andrew Bilenkij, who moved here almost a decade ago and is VP of Winemaking at Ledson Winery. Summer time desserts are a unique part of summer, usually light, cool and refreshing, so we decided now is the perfect time to discuss dessert and wine pairings for the summer with Andrew and Kendyl.

We asked Chef Kendyl to make us a summer time dessert that pairs well with wine. She chose an Australian (or New Zealand depending on who you ask) classic – pavlova. Both countries take credit for the dessert. Pavlova is a light and refreshing dessert made with meringue, cream and fruits. The meringue is made with sugar, cream, egg whites vanilla, cornstarch and a touch of vinegar then baked in the oven at a very low temperature for about an hour. Once cooled, top it with homemade whipped cream and seasonal fruits. Traditionally the cake is topped with kiwi, strawberries and passionfruit. Chef Kendyl used blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and passionfruit although she said any fresh and in-season fruit would be delicious.

Pairing wines with desserts can be challenging, especially when the dessert isn’t chocolate, but the expert had some great recommendations. Andrew says, “aromatic whites or sparkling wines pair well with desserts like pavlova.” Some of his top picks include:

Ledson Winery Russian River Sauvignon Blanc
Kieran Robinson Wines Viognier
Iron Horse Vineyards Brut Rosé

With summer in full swing here in the States, there’s no better time to serve up some pavlova or your favorite summer time dessert after a meal with family and friends. Pair dessert with one of the wines mentioned above and enjoy.


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Seafood in the Summer: A Sonoma Specialty

By Kevin Hess

We’ve reached the midway point of the summer, which serves as a reminder that fresh seafood production in Sonoma is at its peak.  There are plenty of coastal California favorites that you don’t want to miss out on. Whether you are adventurous and want to catch your own meal or prefer to have someone else do the preparations, our suggestions will have you dining like a mariner in a galley in no time!  

Salmon & Rockfish – Known for its versatility, salmon preparation possibilities are endless and allow for all to enjoy. Bake it, grill it or poach it.  Smear on some BBQ sauce, use teriyaki for an Asian flair or use butter and herbs for a classic style.

Rockfish has a sweet flavor and slightly firm texture, making it an ideal vessel for baking, sautéing or broiling.

Sonoma offers fishing excursions so you can catch your own and feel like a pro. North Bay Charters in Bodega Bay offers ocean fishing along the Sonoma Coast and in Bodega Bay, giving those eager for an adrenaline rush a chance to test their skill.  

Abalone – A polarizing mollusk, abalone has a reputation for having both loyal backers and steadfast opposition. Those loyalists point to abalone’s chewy and somewhat crunchy consistency as a way to enjoy its salty flavor. Some say abalone is best grilled, though it can also be eaten raw. In this aspect, abalone is reminiscent of a clam.

Sonoma Coast Divers provides a great opportunity for adventurers to find abalone firsthand with its diving classes and experienced guides.


Dungeness Crab and Oysters – Plenty of Sonoma restaurants have these favorites on the menu and we’ve done the work for you and found our top selections. Rocker Oysterfellers in Valley Ford features a Dungeness crab and artichoke cake you must try, while finding fresh oysters from Tomales Bay.

In you’re in Santa Rosa, stop by Santa Rosa Seafood Raw Bar & Grill and try the BBQ oysters or the Cajun fried oyster tacos for dinner. If you’re part of the lunch crowd, the oyster Po’boy is a fresh take on a southern classic.

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Old-world grape varietals are leading to a wine renaissance

By Shawn Nesaw

For centuries grapes have grown in California. Indians harvested native grapes and Catholic monks grew grapes to make sacramental wine. Grape growing today is much different than these early uses and has blossomed into a thriving, competitive and distinguished industry where these little fruit orbs take center stage.

Facts to note:

  • California accounts for nearly 90 percent of the wine sold in America.
  • California’s wine region is predominantly located between the Pacific Coast and the Central Valley.
  • California has over 427,000 acres of planted vines
  • Over 107 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the renowned Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Rutherford and Sonoma Valley AVAs.
  • The Central Valley is California’s largest wine region stretching for 300 miles and produces 75 percent of all California wine grapes.

Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a glass of wine and bothered to look at the label or been to a wine tasting, is to some extent, aware of the types of grapes used to make most wine you can purchase at your local winery or liquor store. The majority of the grape varietals produced in California include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

These varietals are extremely popular and well known. They thrive in the California climate and soils. But these are not the only grape varietals grown in California. Wine connoisseurs, sommeliers and winemakers are intrigued by the possibilities of different varietals growing in this region. They are interested in something new and different to excite their palette.

Of the grapes with which you are familiar, there are an equal number of varietals you’ve probably rarely, or never, heard. These grapes are grown at a much smaller scale and producers only have limited releases of these wines. Think of these as “small batch” wines. They have unfamiliar names, interesting tasting notes and challenge both the winemaker and the wine drinker.

Lesser known grape varietals include:

  • Picpoul – Mostly used for blending due to its pale coloring, Picpoul produces wines with bright acidity and luscious aromas.
  • Grenache Blanc – Often used as a blending grape, Grenache Blanc is very aromatic and light.
  • Mourvedre – This old-world grape varietal yields red, tannic wines with gamey, earthy notes.
  • Albariño – A white wine grape that produces an unusually light wine with high acidity
  • Barbera – Produces a rich red wine, known for deep color, low tannins and high levels of acid
  • Dolcetto – Wines produced with Dolcetto grapes are nearly always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate or low levels of acidity.
  • Alicante Bouchet – Rooted in American history, this grape varietal was used to produce much of the red wine during Prohibition. Dry with a rich red color, this wine lacks aroma and flavor early on but aging helps to draw more complex flavors out.
  • Trousseau Gris – Previously known as Gray Riesling and grown predominantly in California, this grape varietal fell out of favor with winemakers in the 1980’s. Today Trousseau Gris is only grown in a specific ten acres of the Russian River Valley.
  • Trousseau Noir – Produces a wine with deep cherry coloring, high alcohol and high, sour acidity but with flavors of red berry fruits. A select group of California winemakers are working to make table wines with the grape.

As for who uses these grape varietals to produce wine, they are few and far between but these winemakers cherish the old-world feel of winemaking and strive to bring back something that has been lost in New World winemaking in the past 50 years or so. Some of the wineries in Sonoma County producing these grapes include:

If you are interested in experiencing some of these old-world wines, your best bet is to visit their tasting rooms or order some from each individual winery’s website.

There’s a truly romantic feel surrounding these wines, as if a wine renaissance is upon us.  What the future holds for these old-world varietals and the winemakers who love them is yet to be seen but the hope is that they find success in bringing back some of these amazing wine varietals.

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Sonoma Named Best Small Town in America

U.S. News & World Report recently named Sonoma the best small town in America. With rustic charm, vineyards as far as the eye can see and a bustling town plaza, Sonoma is the perfect slice of heaven. Read the full article here.

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Fast Times and Great Wine

By: Kevin Hess

The Sonoma Raceway takes center-stage of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series June 23-25 as drivers practice and qualify for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday June 25.

Spectators unfamiliar with the raceway should take note of the track’s distinct 1.99-mile road course layout. Sonoma Raceway is one of only two road courses on the NASCAR circuit, joining Watkins Glen (New York).

For fans unfamiliar with the sport, this road courses feature a lower average speed of the car (around 90 miles an hour), but a higher level of chaos with the track’s nine turns. Die-hard fans may even say the track’s layout is a higher indicator of a true NASCAR driver’s skill, given the unpredictability of its winding terrain.

The California track, however, is also to be commended not just for its difficulty, but for as part of budding culture shift among some of racing’s most legendary influencers.

NASCAR has seen an audience shift because of an unlikely source. And, as luck would have it, the source is produced right here in Sonoma County.

No, you aren’t going crazy; some of the most recognizable names in racing have gravitated toward winemaking—right in our own backyard. Some of our favorites include:

Jeff Gordon Cellars
One of the most recognizable names in auto-racing, Gordon ‘s decorated NASCAR career includes four NASCAR Cup Series championships. Gordon’s passion for wine developed in the mid-1990s, and he sources both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma county AVAs.

Foyt Family Wines
A legend of open-wheel racing, AJ Foyt became the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 with his victory in 1977, adding to victories in ’61, ’64 and ’67. He’s the only man in history to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 and Foyt boasts a record seven Indy Car championships.

So, it’s no surprise Foyt Family Wines is headquartered in Speedway, Indiana, with brother Larry assisting operations as Chief Financial Officer.

The Foyts’ ties to California are vast, as the sourcing of wine spans much of Sonoma. Foyt Family Wines’ portfolio includes Foyt #60 Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley), Foyt #61,Pinot Noir (Los Carneros), Foyt #64 Zinfandel (Knights Valley), Foyt #67 Chardonnay (Los Carneros) and Foyt #72 Meritage (Sonoma County).

Adobe Road Winery
Located right in Petaluma, Adobe Road was founded and owned by Kevin Buckler, an ex-racer who since founded his own race team, The Racers Group (TRG). Buckler boasts wins on various racing circuits, including earning the Porsche World Cup Champion in 2002.

Buckler’s passion for winemaking is extensive and Adobe Road’s wines are made from Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties. Adobe Road is known for its high quality and wide selection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

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Jam Out at the Top Summer Music Festivals

By: Katie Bouloubassis

Some of the nation’s most unique music is coming to Sonoma County this summer. We compiled a list of some of the best music festivals to keep you rocking all summer long.

19th Annual Healdsburg Jazz Festival
June 2-11
Come out and listen to a plethora of jazz groups varying from traditional, Latin, mainstream and modern jazz. The goal of the festival is to entertain and excite young children and adults while promoting awareness of the cultural importance of jazz. Some acts this year include, Heath Brothers, Bobby Hutcherson The Django All-Stars and the Kenny Garrett Quintet.

Huichica 8th Annual Music Festival
June 9 & 10
Wine, good eats and live music with a view! Huichica’s 8th Annual Music Festival is setting up four stages with new up and coming acts throughout the historic Gundlach Bundschu Winery Estate wines and the North Bay’s finest foods will be served here while you are enjoying the tunes and view. After the event be sure to add their Spotify playlist titled Huichica 2017! 

Country Summer
June 16-18
“Nor Cal’s largest country music festival” this is a not-to-miss concert featuring some of the hottest acts in Country music including Thomas Rhett, Darius Rucker, Randy Houser, Justin Moore and Clare Dunn just to name a few. Held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in the center of Santa Rosa, the concert is conveniently located near many hotels and restaurants, and just a short drive to local wineries. 

Sonoma Mountain Music Festival
July 8
This event is held in a beautiful restored redwood barn atop the hills of Petaluma. Enjoy local and award-winning acts such as Nomad and Ismay. Funds collected from this music festival will be donated to Point Blue Conservation Science. Children of all ages are welcome to come support a great cause geared to protecting our environment! This event will showcase the live music, food, and location on the working ranch with live animals.

Petaluma Music Festival
August 5
Jam out with 14 bands on four stages at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Scott Law & Ross James’ Cosmic Twang and Poor Man’s Whiskey are just a few of the acts entertaining concert-goers throughout the day. All of the day’s proceeds are going to benefit the music education programs of surrounding Petaluma public schools. Also, children under the age of 12 get in for free! There are many activities throughout the day such as, a silent auction, artist meet and greets and raffles. Specialty foods and beers of Lagunitas Brewing Company will be served along with featuring other local businesses.

Cotati Accordion Festival
August 19 & 20
Come listen to a unique concert performed with a one-of-a-kind instrument. Each artist performing at this festival has their own personal twist on their music bringing you a variety of great sounds. Festival proceeds benefit youth groups in the community. Great array of food, drinks and historical merchandise can be found here as well.

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Not Your Parents’ Wine

By: Shawn Nesaw

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jordan Kivelstadt – businessman, winemaker, father – to discuss the his numerous business ventures, winemaking and the future of wine.  

Jordan might be best known for his winery and tasting room, Kivelstadt Cellars in Glen Ellen, California but as you’re about to hear, he’s aiming to make an even bigger mark on the wine industry.

Jordan stumbled into wine, as he puts it. After graduating college and landing his first job as a management consultant, Jordan decided consulting wasn’t what he wanted to do forever. He moved back to California in 2006 and started working at a vineyard doing manual labor. It was during this job when his interest in wine really began growing. Soon he found himself traveling to Australia to help with harvest. His plan was to participate in as many harvests as possible, so for the next several years he bounced back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres, harvesting, working and learning. Besides Australia, he’s worked in Chile and Argentina but always made his way back to NorCal. Eventually, Jordan started making his own wine that would later develop into the brand you know (or will know) today, Kivelstadt Cellars.

Kivelstadt Cellars (KC) brings the fun to wine. Made to be approachable, affordable and awesome, the eclectic family of wines at KC are wine the way Jordan wants. From the grapes, to the minimalist process he takes to create his wines, to the label art and the choice to have wine on tap, KC is “not your parents’ wine,” says Kivelstadt, “and that’s the point.”

On a recent Colorado radio show, Jordan’s Wayward Son “Orange” wine was reviewed. On the show, they classified the Kivelstadt wine portfolio as “natural.” “Our wines aren’t true natural wines, more like minimalist. I aggressively try to do nothing to the wines, I use native yeast and do very little to manipulate the wine in any way. However, I will not release a bad wine so I’ll do what’s within reason.” said Jordan.

Most recently, Jordan has been developing a new line of small batch, experimental wines called KC Labs. Their first release was a partially carbonic zinfandel that should be served chilled, unlike traditional Zinfandel. “KC Labs allows us to experiment and offer customers some really interesting choices of wine, ones they might not be able to get anywhere else. People want to see the weird and KC Labs allows us to do that, create fun, playful wines to allow people an opportunity to explore California wines more.” said Jordan. KC Labs Zinfandel was a huge success this year. People absolutely loved it so the future of KC Labs looks promising. Jordan shared the KC Labs release schedule with me so if you’re reading this, you’re getting a real sneak peek here!

First on the list is a KC Labs, carbonic Syrah followed up with an earthy, almost iron-ore tasting Mourvèdre. The Syrah comes out this August. Keep an eye on their Instagram for more details.

Jordan is quite the businessman and entrepreneur. Besides creating Kivelstadt Cellars, he has two other companies: Free Flow Wines, a packaging and logistics company, and Essentially Geared, a canned wine company.

Free Flow Wines provides kegs of wine to restaurants, bars and tasting rooms across the U.S. Just after starting KC, Jordan saw a need for kegged wine. The need was two fold, “Glass wine bottles create a lot of waste and once opened, don’t prevent oxidation of the wine,” says Jordan. “My goal was to create a cost effective, environmentally friendly way to ensure wine drinkers were always drinking the best possible version of the wines they love.” At the time, there was a lot of room to grow the category. Not surprisingly, Kivelstadt Cellars tasting room provides wine on tap and is one of the few wineries in the area to do so. “The wine on tap feature certainly sets us apart from other wineries. It provides a unique tasting experience for customers who step into our rustic tasting room in downtown Glen Ellen.”

His latest endeavor is canned wine. Now before you stop reading because you think wine in a can is straight blasphemy, hear the man out. On the whole, most people think of canned wine right up there with boxed wine, cheap in price but also in quality. In recent days, that’s becoming further and further from the truth. Essentially Geared, provides quality wine in a can. “While it might not be the next big thing, canned wine will be significant in the coming years.” says Jordan. Essentially Geared uses California grapes to produce a Chardonnay, a red wine blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir and a rosé of Pinot Noir.

To finish up our conversation I figured I’d ask Jordan some quick-fire questions.

We’d like to thank Jordan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.

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A Sonoma-style Revolution

By: Ben Ford

The Bear Flag Revolt led to California’s independence from Mexico, but it began on the morning of June 14, 1846, as a very Sonoma-centric revolution.

With a motley crew of revolutionaries, sometimes mistaken for pirates, a makeshift flag with a hand-drawn bear and a retired Mexican general inviting his captors inside for drinks, where else could the Bear Flag Revolt have begun but Sonoma?

The 55th annual Bear Flag Celebration will begin 11 a.m., Saturday, June 10, at Sonoma Plaza at the Bear Flag Monument. Click here for details.

Stories vary from account to account, but most agree on the basic details of the Bear Flag Revolt.

A small group of Americans, worried Mexico would push them out of the then-Mexican territory of California, decided to take action after meeting with U.S. Army Brevet Capt. John C. Fremont with a 62-man exploration expedition.

On the morning of June 14, 1846, 33 Americans, many of them roughly dressed mountain men, arrived in Sonoma, home of an abandoned Mexican military outpost. The men surrounded the home of retired Mexican Gen. Mariano Vallejo, who invited a group of the men inside and servants served drinks.

Negotiations went on at length, and Vallejo, who favored annexation of California by the United States, told the men he supported their cause. However, the men believed they were under orders from Fremont to take him captive.

An early leader of the California revolt, William Ide, urged the small group of men in Sonoma to start the Republic of California. A makeshift flag with a red stripe at the bottom made from the donated section of a petticoat, and with a badly drawn bear that looked more like a hog, flew over the outpost. But the Bear Flag rallied about 100 Californians from across the region, and when Mexico attempted to retake Sonoma on June 24, 1846, the revolutionaries won, suffering two dead to Mexico’s five or six casualties.

Less than a month later, on July 9, the U.S. military occupied the Sonoma outpost, and the Republic of California ended. The U.S. military marched throughout California planting the flag, with more fighting occurring between officers than with the Mexicans, according to many accounts.

The Bear Flag Revolt moved California one step closer to becoming the 31st state in the Union on September 9, 1850.

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Muscat Love

By: Kevin Hess

Break out the party hats and the fancy wine stoppers because May 9 is a day many wine lovers can appreciate – National Moscato Day.

A quick trip in history, Moscato is an Italian wine born in the Piedmont region. Made from the muscat grape, the wine has distinct floral smells and overall sweeter taste.

Typically, Moscato has a low alcohol content with a moderate acidity level. Interestingly, Moscato comes in both a red and white form and has flavor notes of orange, peach and apricot. A versatile wine, Moscato comes in three styles: Moscato d’Asti, a slightly bubbly wine; still moscato; and dessert moscato.

With its sweet taste and light texture, Moscato pairs beautifully with spicy cuisines, particularly Asian food. However, it also complements chicken, turkey, duck and some seafood. If meat isn’t for you, try it with carrots, mango, green onion and even tofu.

Below, we’ve listed a few of Sonoma’s Moscato producers:

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
24724 Arnold Drive (Hwy 12)
Sonoma, CA, 95476

Robledo Family Winery
21901 Bonness Road
Sonoma, CA, 95476

Favero Vineyards and Winery
3939 Lovall Valley Road
Sonoma, CA, 95476

Ravenswood Winery
18701 Gehricke Road
Sonoma, California

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