The big bold wines of Sonoma

In my last column, we opened the wine book on the big, stately and beautiful wine country of Sonoma and stretched our legs at Jordan Winery, the 1,200 acre Bordeaux style winery and vineyard just north of Healdsburg. This week we’ll make a few more stops.

I stood and soaked in the scene in the middle of the Town Plaza of Healdsburg, a small village of wine bars, tasting rooms and restaurants that presented the epitome of farm-to-table dining from the nearby countryside. From my vantage point I counted 22 such establishments within just a few blocks. The newest and most fascinating was PARTAKE by KJ, an exploration of wine and food at the table, with signature Kendall- Jackson wine selections, matched up with signature plates from their local farms.

Diners are treated to an introductory “blind tasting” in a black glass and asked to identify the mystery varietal. The debate rages on as clues come to the rescue from the wait help.

The basis of PARTAKE is the extraordinary four-season garden just outside the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, some 10 miles south of Healdsburg, off the 101. Founder Jess Jackson was a farmer in the midwest and always considered his vineyards as farmland. This garden is now a kind of sensory laboratory as well as provider of fresh vegetables and fruits. Guests that experience wine tasting can match up what they taste to what they smell and taste in the garden. From heirloom tomatoes to a wide range of herbs and fruits, plantings come from all over the world.

Jim Cutcher is the Certified Wine Educator at Kendall-Jackson and loves to take guests through the gardens and KJ model vines that have sample varietals from each of the major wines of the world.

“We have 13,000 acres under vine on 37,000 total acres, in 28 different appellations, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara,” he said. “We believe in wines that can be enjoyed right away. We have been making Kendall-Jackson wines since 1982 along the coastal areas. Our number one seller is Vintners Reserve Chardonnay. It’s also the number one Chardonnay seller nationwide,” he declared.

“We don’t orchestrate our Chardonnay. It’s all barreled in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, for a simple natural wine flavor,” he added.

North on the 101, past Healdsburg and just before Geyserville, is the festive, colorful Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Purchased by the movie director in 2006, Coppola liked it for its wine production facilities and its full-service restaurant. He would bottle his premium wines from Napa Valley, and his budget wines from Sonoma. He converted the restaurant into RUSTIC, a family style Italian restaurant full of his family’s favorite recipes. Then, the big idea came. He would take out the fountains and grassy entrance and place a day-time resort, with a huge pool, cabanas, kids play area and bocce ball courts, to add to the wine sales, movie memorabilia and tasting rooms. The day I visited, the reserved areas and cabanas were sold out for the season. The Coppola “Diamond Collection” is his biggest seller, with 80 percent of sales. If you enjoy Italian food, try the Rigatoni and Meatballs with Spinach. It’s “just like mama made.”

Other Sonoma wineries I would recommend are: Ferrari-Carano, Pedroncelli, Stonestreet, La Crema, Murphy-Goode, Silver Oak, Carol Shelton, Chateau St. Jean and St. Francis. For more on Sonoma and its 370 wineries, visit

Wine Bytes

Several new wine bars and restaurants have now opened at San Diego Airport’s Lindbergh Field. When completed it will have some 87 restaurants and other retail shops.

Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is having a “Napa vs. Sonoma” wine tasting July 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. More info is at (760) 479-2500.

The University of San Diego is producing a Vintners Dinner July 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. Cost is $150 for the four-course dinner with wine pairings. Seminars on winemaking, includes Charles Krug, Whitehall Lane and St. Supery. Call (619) 260-4819.

Tastings on the Terrace at Addison the Grand Del Mar include July 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., when Italian wines will be poured. Flight of three for $25. At Amaya, a Mouton Noir Wine Dinner is being presented during the same night at 5:30pm. Meet the winemaker. $78. RSVP at (858) 314-1996.

A benefit for the Emilio Nares Foundation is happening July 21 at the Indigo Salon and Spa in Hillcrest, from 2 to 5 p.m. Enjoy great wines and bites and silent auction. Donations of any amount to enter; details at (877) 507-7788.




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