My Favorite Tasting Room Series – Testarossa Winery

Testarossa Winery

Testarossa Winery

(By Guest Author Nicholas Giampaoli)  Growing up in the city of San Jose, I was not very familiar with wineries. I always figured that wine came from Sonoma and Napa County. After coming to Sonoma State and becoming more familiar with wine country, when I visited home I wanted to check out some local wineries. I had no idea they even existed in the south bay until I did a web search.

During my web search I came across Testarossa Winery. It turned out that the winery is very historic and is considered the fourth oldest California winery still in operation. Before the winery was called Testarossa, it was Novitate founded in 1888 in Los Gatos. I love anything with historic significance, so I decided to check it out.  It may be a coincidence being my favorite and most memorable tasting room experience but also my very first winery tasting room experience.

Nestled up against the Santa Cruz Mountains, the property was beautiful with California nature surrounding the winery.  Testarossa had somewhat newer buildings in place for the winey, but also left one of the original buildings from when it was first built. They used the building to store the tanks for the fermentation process.

The tasting room was located in a small cave. This was what I found to be awesome. I absolutely love the idea of being inside the mountain with dim lighting. I don’t know why but I think that is really cool. The tasting room representative was really nice and informative. But what I think sold me was the environment of the winery. If I am ever back in the area I would visit Testarossa again.  (

NOTE:  This post is part of the Favorite Winery Tasting Room Series, in which Millennial wine business students describe one of their favorite tasting room experiences.

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My Favorite Tasting Room Series – Pride Vineyards in Napa and Sonoma

Tasting at Pride Vineyards

Tasting at Pride Vineyards

(By Guest Author Daniel Walsh)  It was the middle of January in 2012 with open skies and a beautiful coastal breeze in the air.  Two coworkers and myself had made an appointment a month prior to visit Pride Vineyards and Winery on Spring Mountain.  The tasting room was located on the estate, sitting atop the mountain, which is split between the Sonoma/Napa county lines.  Upon arrival, we entered the tasting room and were greeted with a glass of their estate viognier and the Hospitality Manager, Mike Campbell, who lead us on a tour of the estate and through their wine caves.

Upon entering the wine caves, Mike gave us a brief history of the winery as well as the different viticulture practices used around the estate.  At every corner throughout the wine cave, we tasted barrel samples from different vineyard blocks. To my surprise, no vineyard block tasted the same, and every Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah showed different characteristics unique to its location on the estate.  Never before had I experienced such a difference in varietal characteristics that were all grown on the same estate.

As we turned a corner in the wine cave, we came into a door that lead us into a beautiful lounge area with couches, appetizers and the estates current release of wines for a sit down tasting.  Mike introduced every wine individually and explained the technical aspects from varietal blend, amount of oak used, and the type of meal each wine could be paired with.  My favorite food pairing recommendation was for the Syrah, paired with a pork chop in a fig balsamic reduction with roasted potatoes tossed in garlic/mustard aioli.  I remember it so clearly because I bought a bottle of the Syrah and paired it with the meal a few weeks later.

As we returned to the tasting room, we finished up our tour with their dessert wine; grappa distilled from viognier must and blended with fresh viognier juice.  To this day, that is the best dessert wine I’ve ever had in my life.  Pride Vineyards and Winery is located in one of the most beautiful areas of both Sonoma and Napa Counties and produces some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  However, the best part of this experience was the hospitality of Mike Campbell.  Mike was the most educational and professional tour guide I’ve ever had the privilege of accompanying and showed coworkers and myself great hospitality when he sent us home with a bottle of dessert wine, on the house.

NOTE:  This post is part of the Favorite Winery Tasting Room Series, in which Millennial wine business students describe one of their favorite tasting room experiences.

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SSU Students Love Turley and Miraflores Zinfandels at ZAP Tasting

Rebecca Robinson of Zap with Ray Johnson

Rebecca Robinson of Zap with Ray Johnson

The SSU WineSense Club was thrilled to have Rebecca Robinson, Executive Director of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), conduct the most recent tasting.  Rebecca regaled the students with the history of ZAP and shared fascinating information about the Zinfandel grape.

Fun Facts About Zinfandel

  • The grape is originally from Croatia where it is called Crljenak Kaštelanski
  • Also quite famous in the Puglia region of Italy where it is known as Primativo
  • Brought to America in the 1800’s
  • Zinfandel Grapes

    Zinfandel Grapes

    Planted throughout the Sierra Foothills, Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles, and many other regions

  • Today more than 50,000 acres of zinfandel in the United States
  • A well loved grape because of its ripe jammy berry flavors and spicy peppery notes
  • Can be made into red zinfandel, white zinfandel (pink wine), zinfandel port, and sparkling zinfandel

A Tasting of Six Zinfandels

The group tasted six different Zinfandels.  They were from Dry Creek Valley, Amador County, and El Dorado County AVAs plus a bonus wine from the Heritage Vineyard which was a collection of different clone tests.  At the end of the tasting Rebecca quizzed the students to see who was listening the best.  Three lucky students each received a bottle of wine for being so zin savvy.

When the voting took place at the end of the session, the two top favorite wines of the evening were the Turley Zinfandel from Amador County and the Miraflores Zinfandel from El Dorado County.

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Schug Winery Kicks Off SSU Wine Sense Club Tasting for Fall 2013

Harrison from Schug Winery

Harrison from Schug Winery

By Guest Author Dominique Levenberg.  There was excitement in the room for the first Sonoma State University Wine Sense Club meeting of the Fall 2013 semester. Harrison from Schug Carneros Estate Winery was a hit with the 38 students who enjoyed tasting five different wines paired with cheese, meats, and crackers.

Favorite Schug Wines

The line-up included Schug’s sparkling Pinot, a Chardonnay, two different Pinots from the Sonoma Coast and Carneros appellations, and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  At the end of the tasting, everyone voted for their two favorite.  The winners were the 2012 Schug Chardonnay from Carneros AVA and the 2010 Schug Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley AVA.

Fall 2013 Tasting Schedule

The fall 2013 tasting schedule for the SSU Wine Sense Club was developed by the Board, and it appears to be a knock-out, with the following wineries scheduled to come to campus.

9/12- SCHUG Winery

9/26- Zin Tasting with ZAP

10/10- La Playa Vineyards

10/24- Wine of Greece

11/14- Kokomo Winery

12/5- End of the Semester Party with Rock and Vine!

In order to attend SSU Wine Sense Meetings, you must be a SSU student aged 21 or over.  ID’s are required at the door, along with a $5 fee to cover the cost of food.

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What are the Major Cool and Warm Climate Grape Varietals?

Cool climate Riesling grapes

Cool climate Riesling grapes

By Guest Author, Sumun Rahim – Any wine lover who has studied the French concept of “terroir” knows that the same grape varietal can produce vastly different wine depending on what type of soil and in what climate it’s grown. Some wines do best in cool, even cold, climates; others are better-suited to warm, sunny weather. Knowing which wines thrive in which climates can help you enjoy local wine more fully when you travel as well as be a guide to help you choose from the selection available at the average wine store.  Below is a look at the different wines that thrive in cool and warm climates.

Cooler Climate Wines

  • Riesling — Riesling is a classic, cold-weather grape and its flavor and character profile changes significantly if it’s planted in different environments. The best Riesling wines come from the Alsace region of France and Germany’s Rhine River valley.
  • Pinot Noir – This cold weather favorite is very particular about its soil and thrives in dry, cool climates. The world’s best Pinot Noirs hail from France’s Burgundy region and the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
  • Chardonnay —  Chardonnays does well in the cooler climate of Burgundy France, as well as the foggy coast of California near the Russian River.  Cooler regions of New Zealand and Australia are also famous for exquisite Chardonnays
  • Ice-wine — The quintessential cold weather wine, Ice-wine is crafted naturally by allowing the grapes to freeze on the vine, which concentrates the natural sugars in the fruit. Arguably, the best Ice-wines come from Germany, the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada where temperatures fall way below freezing.   Riesling and Vidal Blanc are common grape varieties used for Ice Wine.

Warmer Climates Wines

  • Warmer climate cabernet sauvignon grapes

    Warmer climate cabernet sauvignon grapes

    Cabernet Sauvignon—Cab usually thrives better in a warmer climate, such as sunny Napa Valley or the continental climate of Bordeaux.  Excellent cabernets can also be found in the warmer valleys of Chile, Argentina and Australia.

  • Zinfandel — This red grape with dark blackberry and slight black pepper overtones is a California favorite. It thrives in the hot, dry Lodi Valley of central California as well as the Sierra Foothills.  Zinfandel is also grown in Southern Italy and Croatia.
  • Sangiovese -- The grape that makes Chianti so wonderful and complex loves a warm, Mediterranean climate, particularly that of the Tuscany region of Italy.
  • Syrah– Syrah can actually adapt itself to cool and warmer climates, but has a tendency to exhibit more fruit-forward flavors when it is grown in a warm location such as the Barossa valley of Australia or the Paso Robles region of California.  At the same time, the cooler region of France’s northern Rhone Valley is the home of Syrah, where the climate often imparts a slightly smoky taste with floral accents.

Climate and growing conditions are just some of the factors that help to create a delicious wine. Knowing what wines thrive in which climates can help you get the most enjoyment from your wine tasting.

This guest post was written by a content editor for Personal Wine. To learn more about Personal Wine, check out our site –>

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Two of the “Grand Cru” Wineries of Sonoma County Pour at SSU

IMG_6217Though Sonoma County doesn’t technically have any “grand cru” wineries, it does have some very well established wine estates with stellar reputations for producing award winning cabernet sauvignons from Alexander Valley.  At the last SSU Winesense Club tasting of the year, we were graced by two such wineries — Jordan and Silver Oak, both established in 1972.  Indeed, these two legendary wineries have so much brand power, that students waited in line to get into the tasting, and some were turned away when the room maxed out at 50 people.


Silver Oak Rocks

IMG_6208Silver Oak winery was represented by Romana Behrens and Veronica Jauregui (an SSU grad!) who poured the 2008 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon to rave reviews (one of the top favorites of the evening), as well as two wines from Twomey – the pre-release of 2012 Twomey Sauvignon Blanc (they sold out of it last year immediately) and the 2010 Twomey Merlot.  The merlot was nice, but the floral sauvignon blanc with hints of grass, grapefruit and honey stole the affections of the crowd, and was voted in at number one wine of the evening.

Jordan Sings

IMG_6209Jordan Winery was represented by Sean Brosnihan and Joseph Lozinto Jr (an SSU Wine MBA grad!).  They poured the 2010 Jordan Chardonnay, which reminded me of how incredibly good Sonoma County chardonnay can be.  This wine was exquisitely crafted with a touch of creamy ML and toasted oak, and loads of crisp apple notes, minerality, and a refreshing acidity.  They compared it to a Meursault, and I would have to agree.  Yum!  The 2009 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon reminded me of a Pessac Leognan with plush tannins, complex cassis and earth notes, and classic elegance.  It wasn’t your typical powerful and tannic Alexander Valley, but a much more approachable version, that I believe spoke to the 2009 weather conditions.  It was also one of the top favorites of the evening.

Cheers to the SSU Winesense Board

The complete SSU Winesense Board of Directors showed up in full force this evening, lead by president, Chelsa Robinson.  In celebration of the last tasting of the semester, they provided free wine glasses filled with candies, as well as next semester’s tasting dates.  Free T-shirts were handed out, and two lucky students were awarded prizes for answering questions about Silver Oak and Jordan correctly.  The tasting was supplemented by wonderful food treats of cheeses, salami, crackers, and desserts.  A very nice way to end the Spring semester of 2013.

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Golf and the Joy of Surprise Wine by the Glass Lists

Light HouseOne of the items on my husband’s bucket list is to play golf on Hilton Head Island, so when I was able to get a good deal on a weekly condo rental there recently, we jetted off to the South Carolina island covered with long white sandy beaches, swaying palms, pink azaleas, and oak trees dripping with lacy moss.

He was happy because he was finally able to play Harbour Town golf course with the famous red and white lighthouse on the 18th hole.  He also enjoyed the challenge of Sea Pines Ocean course, Palmetto Dunes and Shipyard.  I was pleasantly pleased because I stumbled across some wine by the glass lists with unique wine choices, while also managing to get in a little golf and take an excellent short game clinic with Doug Weaver at Palmetto Dunes.

The Ennui of Wine by the Glass Selections – or Not? 

In general, I find many wine by the glass lists rather boring in that they carry the same major brands, although I do recognize that many consumers are seeking the comfort of a familiar wine, and that restaurants want the reassurance of solid cash flow.  Therefore I was quite surprised to find buried within the KJ Chardonnays, Beringer White Zins, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blancs, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, and Apothic Red Blends, a few unique gems.

The first surprise was at the Topside Waterfront Restaurant where we found a Picpoul (white grape from the South of France with a zippy lemony edge) and a Chapoutier Grenache Blanc and Clairette blend on the extensive wine by the glass list – both for under $10.  When I asked to see the complete wine list by the bottle, I found it was the same as the by the glass list, but with the prices inflated by four.  Therefore it made no sense to buy a bottle, so instead we opted for 4 different glasses.

Pink HouseThe next day in Savannah when dining at the famous Old Pink House, we were quite surprised to find a Godello on the wine by the glass list.  This is a white wine from Spain that is rarely found in the US.  It was crisp with sharp acid, grapefruit notes, and a mineral edge.   They also carried a Lioco unoaked chardonnay, which is a tiny artistic winery in Sonoma that most people have never heard of – including me, and I’m from Sonoma!

Probably one of the best culinary experiences we had was at a restaurant that I didn’t want to enter because it looked like a nightclub with a dark interior, red lights, and bar stools at high tables.  However, we had been told that Daniel’s at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head featured a creative chef with artistic large tapa plates like the angry lobster, lamb lollipops, and tableside hummus preparation.  The wine by the glass list was equally innovative with several flights served in a tiered candelabra presentation (see photo), as well as Naked “natural” wine from Snoqualmie Washington and two unique styled malbecs from Argentina.  Equally intriguing about Daniel’s were their homemade liquors, such as vodka with Skittles, peach and bacon soaked bourbon, and many other unusual concoctions.

Extensive Wine by the Glass Selections – But Had to Request Wine List

Glass flightOne interesting observation at all three of these higher-end restaurants is that none of them brought the complete wine list with bottle prices to the table with the menus.  Instead they featured extensive wine by the glass lists inside the food menu.  Perhaps this is a custom in this part of the country.  I’m not sure what the explanation is, but I did notice that a lot of people were drinking wine in Georgia and South Carolina – a good sign for American culture because as Thomas Jefferson said, “No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage. It is, in truth, the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.”

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