Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heading West for Fine Wine and Dining

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Heading West for Fine Wine and Dining

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Macdonald, Times-Union food editor

SONOMA, Calif. -- As soon as the sun and humidity in Jacksonville begin to get to that uncomfortable range, we seek to prolong spring by heading west.

California wine country, with its golden hills and endless rows of grape vines, is a perfect vacation spot for my wife, Judy, and me. While our interest in wine is what first drew us to California, the area's relaxed atmosphere and reputation as a restaurant mecca lure us back year after year.

Since our visit last year, it seems that the slumping economy has hit the wine region. Where free wine samples were once abundant, now they are hard to find -- nearly every winery is now charging at least $5 for a tasting.

That is actually a good thing; it worked as a governor to cut consumption in half. Judy and I would often share a tasting (which is an accepted practice).

Wine highlights included:

-- While the individual wineries are beautiful to behold, don't skip places like The Wine Room and Family Wineries of Sonoma Valley, both in Kenwood. There, smaller wineries that can't afford their own tasting rooms have formed co-ops. We found several nice wines. A real steal was the 2000 Leaping Lizard Cabernet Sauvignon, which cost just $12. The problem is that, because they are such small wineries, none of the product ever gets out of California.

-- Sawyer Cellars, owned by Jacksonville's Charlie Sawyer, consistently produces award-winning wines. That trend looks to continue. Not only were the 2000s all very rewarding, but we were able to barrel taste some young wines that showed plenty of promise as well.

-- Gloria Ferrer is known for its champagne, but in recent years has branched out to develop some of its land for some reserve Pinot Noir. Two of our favorites from the trip were the 2000 vintage Gravel Knob Vineyard and Rust Rock Terrace. …

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