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Wine County Experiences: Day 5

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

There are two different counties here where I am: Napa County and Sonoma County. Healdsburg is in Sonoma County, and it is about an hour from the touristy Napa area. Given the COVID situation, we chose to stay away from the popular Napa spots. Honestly, we don't regret this one bit.

That said, we wanted to explore the Napa area so we made our second trip to Napa yesterday. We drove via Calistoga to check out the Old Faithful. I had never really seen a geyser before, so I thought this was a cool experience.

What is a geyser?

It is basically a spring that periodically but forcefully ejects jets of water and steam into the air. It is pretty rare phenomenon that you see in few parts of the world. It is said that the Old Faithful Geyser of California is a good predictor of earthquakes.

According to its website: "When the geyser’s regular eruptions are delayed or diminished, an earthquake is likely within the next couple of weeks in the 500 miles surrounding the geyser."

There were a bunch of goats in this area (Anya got to feed them!) and I got to see my favorite animal, the lama - so life was SO good.

Our next stop was The Model Bakery in St. Helena's.

On our last trip a few days, we couldn't make it to the store on time, but we were lucky yesterday. The Model Bakery has been around for a long long time and is known for its ever-popular English Muffins. Several celebrities including Oprah Winfrey speak highly of their muffins so we tried one - and it was fantastic!!

You can order them online and they will deliver them to you - a dozen for $40 :) They have an Oprah special going on right now, so you can get them for $28!

These muffins are made from foccacia dough, shaped by hand, proofed and then pan-cooked with butter on both sides. They just melt in your mouth - they are fluffy and light and unbelievable.

St. Helena is home also to a winery called Corison.

I had heard a lot about the owner, Cathy Corizon, and about her old-world grape growing techniques and about how amazing the wines were. I felt incredibility lucky to get an appointment to taste her wines.

I was even more excited to meet her in person - so humble and down-to-earth!

Here is my very precious photo with Cathy Corison, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year in 2011 and a James Beard semi-finalist for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional in 2018. Bummed about having our masks on but that was the right thing to do!

Just in awe of this inspiring role model, her story, her modesty, and her dedication to wine-making!

Cathy Corison is all about making good wine. Many of the vines in her organic Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard are really quite old and produce few but quality grapes. Her vines are phylloxera-resistant St. George rootstock (the cab is planted on top of this stock, very interesting to see and learn about!). The grapes were super food-friendly, powerfully balanced and elegant.

Here is a video about what I learned:

While Cathy could easily make this a big business, she has chosen to stick to her techniques and to focus on small-batch superior wine production.

You may see her wine in a Michelin Star restaurant, you may see a sommelier talk about her wines but you would never see her wines in a grocery store. The sales are direct-to-consumer, member-only. And oh, she has like 30 vintages!

Here is another video!

We tried four wines at the vineyard.

The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon was our favorite one and most memorable - we got flavors of blueberry, darker plums and blackberry. It was complex with floral rose notes - really quite tasty.

The Sun Basket Vineyard Helios 2017 Syrah was flavorful but easy to drink - We could taste black raspberry, cherry and smokiness from the oak barrels.

The Sun Basket Vineyard Helios 2017 Cabernet Franc was new to us! You could smell dried flower, some raspberry and cherry. Great wine.

Finally, the Corazon Cabernet Sauvignon Rose 2019 was just superb~ I have never had anything so smooth before. It was not sweet, and it looked just so elegant. It felt rich but bright and light with flavors that reminded us of cherry, currant and plum.

The seating area was simple and unpretentious. We were the only ones there - and we got a personalized tour of the vineyard. Our visit was definitely educational.

We learned a lot about the vineyard:

  • Vines are perennial (some are 40-50 years old!)

  • The roots of a vine go down quite a bit, so many vineyards do not actually water the vines frequently. If you have heard the term ' Dry Vineyard', that's what it means. Corison is definitely one of those vineyards

  • Every year, beans and mustard is grown between the vine rows. This provides nitrogen to the soil - very clever idea!

  • The cabernet grapes start green and then around July-August, they start to turn red, and almost black. Most vineyards pick their grapes between September and November.

  • Cathy picks them early - this differentiates her and her wines from so many others. Picking grapes early is a decision by the winemaker - The decision is based on how much sugar and acidity you want in your wine

  • Grafting your cab on top of an American rootstock - Saw it for the first time, interesting!

  • This vineyard only produces 2500-cases every year, and all of the barrels are stored in one huge temperature-controlled area. And yes, we got to see it!

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a blend of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc

  • Sulfites do not necessarily cause headaches - it is the sugar and alcohol content that some of us can't handle. A low alcohol level of under 13.5 is the way to go

After the wine-tasting, we made our way to Sonoma. This little town is really quite charming. Although many businesses were closed, we found a homemade ice-cream place that was open. The store was right across a huge park, so we sat on one of the benches at the park.

Before heading back to Healdsburg, we stopped briefly at 'The Oil Changers' in Sonoma, then in Petaluma to check out a Lavender Farm and store which was unfortunately closed due to COVID until the end of the year and then in Santa Rosa to pick up water at Whole Foods .

It was a good day.

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