My Favorite Tasting Room Series: Stephen & Walker’s, Healdsburg, CA

Stephen and Walker Tasting Room

Stephen and Walker Tasting Room

(By Guest Author Emily Mobley) As soon as I walked into Stephen & Walker’s Wine Tasting Room located in Healdsburg, I knew I was going to have a good time. Enticed with excitement and enjoying the atmosphere of summer, I could not wait to have my first sip of “real” wine. I had recently turned 21, and wine was still a mystery to me. What was so special about it? “Real” wine was everything I didn’t know and was looking forward to experiencing.

It was August and my neighbors invited me to go wine tasting with them in Healdsburg. Because I felt awkward and a bit embarrassed, I invited my best friend Scott to come along. While he tried to be enthusiastic about tasting wine, I knew his wine etiquette was nothing compared to his envious beer attitude. However, I felt relieved that he was tagging along, and excited about what I was going to learn.

As we entered Stephen & Walkers (, I was delighted with the smell of wine, the sound of laughter, and the sight of long wooden countertops. The lighting in the tasting room was majestic and highlighted the wine glasses hanging above the wine bar.  The windows were filled with beautiful plants, and barrels of wooden tubs overflowed with sample selections of wines to come.

A tall gray-haired man smiled at us as we approached the bar, and asked how we were doing. We said we were here to taste the specialty wines they had to offer. He laughed and then began to describe the background of the winery, giving credit to Nancy Walker, the winemaker. He was charming, sweet, and hilarious with his stories of how the Stephen & Walker business was established, and how hard they worked to put love and passion into their wine.  We then proceeded to taste through several special wines.

Looking back on the visit, I realize what an exceptional moment it was for me, because I witnessed how people who work in wine want to share with others and make them feel special.  Instead of the uptight and pushy wine server I expected, we encountered a sweet and friendly person who changed my world.

It was then that I realized this was a world I wanted to enter, because I knew that I would never get bored with wine because of all the stories, networking, and connections I could make. It was a career that would challenge me and place me on a path of perseverance and wonderful friends to come, all while enjoying wine and the people who are attracted to it.

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 – Del Dotto Vineyards

Tasting in the Caves of Del Dotto Winery

Tasting in the Caves of Del Dotto Winery

(By Guest Author Lauryn Mitrovich) My favorite tasting experience occurred in Napa Valley.  It was my boyfriend’s birthday, and his parents rented us a fabulous limo to drive to several wineries. The one that really stood out to all of us was Del Dotto Vineyards.

We arrived at the cave and barrel tasting location for Del Dotto and were greeted by our guide Brandon. Brandon had taken the parents on a tour before and they had an amazing time so they specifically asked for him again. Obviously, something stuck out to me about him as well because even a year later, I can still remember his name. Brandon was lively, passionate, excited, informative, funny, and friendly. Maybe he always has that much energy or maybe he was just responding to how the group energy was, but whatever it was, it worked. Everyone had an amazing time as he lead us through the caves tasting who knows how many wines straight out of the barrels.

Brandon may have been amazing, but I think the ambiance of the location really helped as well. I had never been in a cave quite like that before and it felt really special to be able to try the wines straight from the barrels.

Everyone there really seems to love what they do and love the wine that they are making. I know that we all thought the wine was delicious, but the fact that the people there were so passionate about it as well definitely helped. Also, I think the fact that each tour is personalized to the group of people that are there and the fact that the tour guides decide what to give people to taste as they go along is really something special.

I really haven’t been wine tasting that many times, but I feel like this experience will always stick out to me. Ultimately, the caves, the wine, Brandon, it all worked and its experiences like this that just make me more excited to go out and try new wines and meet new people at other wineries.

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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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