April in Carneros

I just had the most fantastic weekend. It was April in Carneros, the first of two weekends each year when the wineries in Carneros feature a food and wine event that raises money for a college scholarship fund. The second event, in November, is called Holiday in Carneros. Typically 15-20 of the members of Hospitality de los Carneros participate. The $40 fee includes two days of wine and food parings. Many of the wineries are offering special pricing for the weekend and lots of bargains.

If you aren't familiar, Carneros is a crescent shaped area that runs along the south edges of Napa and Sonoma counties where they meet the northern edge of the San Pablo Bay. This region gets more fog and wind than Napa or Sonoma proper, and has a different soil. These conditions make it perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Many of the member wineries feature these varietals along with other varietals they source from vineyards in other Northern California appellations. We tasted wines from the Sonoma coast, Lake County, the Sierra foothills, and Napa to name a few.

It seemed like there were more wineries participating this year and certainly more than you could reasonably visit in two days, so we had to pick and choose (unfortunately.) Like everyone, we had a few favorites, but also tried to make it to some new wineries.

Morning wine tasting needs a full stomach in my opinion and we started Saturday slowly with a good breakfast. We decided our first tasting would be with Roche, the winery furthest to the southwest. Nothing here thrilled us this time, but we've had some great wines there in the past. Our friends were taken by a late harvest Merlot they were offering that paired beautifully with chocolate dipped strawberries.

Next stop on the map was Cline. They always have a nice spread, and were pouring seven Rhone influenced wines along two barrel tastings of two of the seven. I always think you get good value for your money with Cline and they have beautiful grounds to visit. I particularly liked the 2008 Marsanne Roussane blend and Mourvedre Rose they were pouring, while M thought a GSM blend called Cashmere featured in the bottle and in the barrel was as voluptuous as it's name. We also bought a bottle of Ancient Vine Mourvedre, a tasty wine we've had before. Could have spent the whole afternoon by their pond, enjoying the shade and the atmosphere, but there was more to do.

We motored down the road to Cornerstone Place which now features 4 tasting rooms in addition to the home and garden boutiques and rotating outdoor sculpture installations. This was our first visit to Cornerstone. I'm always intrigued by the landmark tree covered with blue ping pong balls that you see from the highway but we've never taken the time to stop and check things out. While we didn't take the time to visit the sculpture garden which is a separate area, we weren't disappointed. The buildings all have a modern artsy vibe that was enhanced by the surreal snowfall of fluff that swirled around outdoors. I thought it was part of an art installation, but came to find out it was coming from a (cottonwood?) tree nearby. Cool nonetheless.

Cornerstone has four new tasting rooms. A shared space features Artesa and Larson Family Winery. Two separate spaces serve Roshambo and Grange/Mantra. Larson Family was offering great deals and we particularly liked one of the Pinots and the Merlot. My favorite wine at this stop was from Roshambo. Their new tasting room is designed to reflect the irreverent, and fun label with a dark interior and a classic Pac-Man game table but I noticed our friends found it uncomfortable. It kind of reminded me of a bar in Cabo. My assumption was that they are aiming for the millennial crowd, although everyone was on good behavior (unlike Cabo.) Kind of a shame, because it was fantastic wine and I'm sorry our friends missed tasting it. I asked our friends later and they admitted it wasn't comfortable for them. Surprisingly, they also weren't crazy about the sleek, post modern retro space that was pouring the Mantra label either. I liked the space but wasn't knocked out by the wine.

We moved on from Cornerstone with a visit to Shug, an old Carneros favorite, and finished up with Homewood Winery. Homewood during April in Carneros feels more like a party than wine tasting- in a good way. They set up their event in between the crush pad and tanks. It's always breezy at that spot in Carneros which was a good thing this year with the heat.

The Homewood folks are really welcoming and the wine is dynamite. They usually offer about a dozen wines to taste and have a food paring for all of them. It's always on our list of places we have to go. Last year, M got a great bargain on a Zinfandel and some Pinots. This year I was knocked over by a newly released 2007 Mendocino Petite Verdot - velvet, floral, chocolate, mwah! delicious, a Dry Creek Zin, and a Knights Valley Cabernet.

At this point we all needed a rest and we headed back to the vivaELvino casa for ice water and chat in the backyard shade. We finished up the day with dinner at Uva in downtown Napa accompanied by a Shug Pinot and a bottle of the Homewood Knights Valley Cab.

Next up- Sunday wine lineup.