Wednesday, October 7, 2020


(As appeared in Wine Country This Week-10/06/20) 

 Zaca Mesa Winery


Sip, Savor, Taste, Escape, Decompress

A wine tasting outing to Zaca Mesa Winery is an exquisite, relaxing sensual experience. Surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills, sunflowers peeking at you, a canopy of old California oaks overhead, you will unwind, escaping the pressures of today’s world. Over a dozen picnic tables and high-top tables, well-spaced apart, allows Zaca Mesa to offer tastings of their award-winning wines, in a safe, inviting setting ... you won’t want to leave.

Currently Zaca Mesa offers two different tasting menus:  The Mixed Flight (including an elegant Chardonnay with grapes sourced from Zotovich Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills), and their 2016 Estate Recusant, an Amphora aged Grenache/Mourvedre blend. If you prefer a strictly Red Flight, you will be treated to their 2016 Clydesdale (100% Estate Syrah, 94 points from Wine Enthusiast) in addition to several other reds, reflective of the terroir.  Either selection will tease and entice your palate.  You will always find something new and exciting crafted by winemaker Kristin Bryden and her team.
Zaca Mesa is also completing a new event space (for the future) and Club Member Lounge.  The lounge will be available for club members within the next month, to sit out on the front patio, and be mesmerized by the vineyards and serene setting stretching before you.  There is also an outdoor wedding venue, among the vines, that will eventually accommodate 150 guests.
Visit their website to reserve your table on weekends.  Walk-ins will be seated during the week, as space allows, but advance reservations are suggested.  Bring a picnic lunch or snacks to accompany your wine, as you sit, sip, savor, relax and exhale; experience Shangri-La among the vines.


(Virtual tastings with Garrett Black, brand ambassador and certified sommelier are also available. See website for details).


Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine country lifestyle and culture-from the Central Coast up through the Napa Valley.  He can be reached at:

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

 In the Coronavirus world.......there is still a world of tasting and visiting you can do, and from the comfort of your own living room!   So, order up some wine, make an appointment, put on your favorite most comfortable "at home" attire....and get ready to have a virtual tasting experience!  Learn, laugh, have fun, and be introduced to new wines and experiences!

Please click on the link below (my introduction to Wine Tasting 101.....on P. 6).....and get ready for tasting California's Wine Country!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

One on One with Zaca Mesa Winery’s

Garrett Black

Tasting Room Manager|Brand Ambassador|Wine Educator/Certified Sommelier

Family owned Zaca Mesa Winery has been a pioneer in Santa Barbara’s wine country since 1973.  After originally planting Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals, it didn’t take long to realize that the geology and terroir was best suited to Rhone varietals.  At the start of the 90’s Zaca Mesa transitioned to growing almost 100% Rhone varietals (planting the first Syrah in the Central Coast in 1978).  The last non Rhone Varietal, Chardonnay, was pulled at the end of the 2013 harvest.

Following in the footsteps of Zaca Mesa’s many trend setting winemakers, Kristin Bryden, Zaca’s current innovative winemaker, began a very special project to pay tribute to the original Zaca Mesa varietals: The Homage Collection.  Grapes are sourced from the area’s finest vineyards to produce hand crafted wines that were originally grown on the Zaca Mesa Estate.  I had the pleasure of doing a virtual tasting with Garrett Black on the newest addition to the Homage series, a 2018 Chardonnay, sourced from Zotovich Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills.


The Chardonnay was exquisite.  As we were sipping, we first chatted about the characteristics of the wine, which had a fresh, aromatic nose, with scents of stone fruit and an enticing earthiness.  The flavors were seductive (and especially refreshing, sipping it outside in 90 degree heat), with layers that were intertwined, giving an earthy, lemon zest lingering finish.   Aged 9 months in neutral oak, the wine is an expression of this cooler climate special terroir.  Garrett explained that with the Homage series, there is no set formula.  Wines are tasted and aged as necessary, and released when “they are right.”  This particular wine was released just this past February.  Kristin wants to “keep things interesting” with the Homage series, and is always looking at different vineyards to source these “original” varietals from.

As we enjoyed this elegant wine together online, Garrett spoke of how making wine education enjoyable was one of his and Zaca Mesa’s goals.  He has found social media a useful tool to introduce, and educate wine lovers to the many aspects of wine. 

The website is kept current, detailing free online sessions that are being offered.  Garrett conducts these INSTAGRAM sessions twice weekly at 5:00pm:  WEDNESDAYS are more wine specific, focusing on a particular varietal.  SATURDAYS have more of a concentration on education, and may include vineyard and winery tours.  Live tastings are also held on YouTube following the original broadcast.  To enhance your live on-line experience, wines may be ordered from the winery, so you can sip along while enjoying the live, virtual event.

You will find Garrett to be a welcoming host, sipping in the comfort of your yard or home, joining Garret in the vineyard, winery or his own backyard.  Check the website for updated events and tastings.  Cheers.


Thursday, April 2, 2020

April 2, 2020

Good Day Wine, Food and Travel lovers!  In these challenging times, I want to share with you the latest edition of  VERY NAPA VALLEY magazine...….this is a good time to sip back, relax, fantasize and plan your next trip to Napa Valley.....and start making a bucket list of where to go, what to see, where to sip, where to eat, and where to explore....such as:

Grand Cru Vineyards of Napa Valley

Fairy Tale Wedding Venues

Winery Gardens to Stroll Amongst and Visit

plus several other articles of interest that will capture your imagination....INCLUDING:

FACES OF HOSPITALITY!  On Pages 12-28 meet and greet some of the faces that make YOUR Napa Valley Experience extra special.  I was honored to meet, sip, eat and visit with these amazing people.....Sommeliers, Chefs, Winemakers, Restaurant workers.....such as
 Bob Bolann, Bremer Family Winery

 Alan Arnopole, Peju's Yodelmeister
 My lovely wife Lynn, enjoying a fabulous meal at LaToque
 Chef Valentina and Fabiola at Ca'Momi
And, a little tease of wonderful Napa Valley Creativeness

So please, check the website:

and enjoy planning to celebrate life in Napa Valley..
We all need food, wine, romance and beautiful places in our future
Don Sonderling
writing about California's Wine Country Culture

Friday, November 22, 2019


DAY #5

The Beginning and the End:  Perfect Bookmarks

Checking out of the Lithia Springs Resort on Thursday, our 5th and final day, we proceeded back to the center of Ashland, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival venue, where we were to be given a backstage tour of the festival venue.  What a perfectly fitting bookend to our five days in Oregon.  Starting out with lunch and a tour, followed by the performance of Hairspray on our first day….and ending with a tour of the OSF Theatre.

The tour started with a presentation and history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935 by Angus Bowmer.  Today, there are upwards of 800+ performances during the March-October season, and next year is sure to be extra special, as the festival celebrates its 80th anniversary!

Following the presentation, we were split into groups, and wouldn’t you know it, but OUR guide was one of the lead actress from Hairspray!  We were toured throughout the theatre complex.  The intricacies of running a production---stage set up and tear down-getting ready for the evening performance-behind the scenes-the cues that are given-costume changes (and sterilizing…did you know that costumes are sprayed with vodka to keep them sterile!  And only dry cleaned 3 times a season).  It is mind boggling what goes into the successful production of a play……..and we, the audience, are privileged to see the final product!

The tour ended with us, on-stage, at the Elizabethan Theatre.  What better ending, on a perfect Fall day…looking out at the seats as the actors and actresses do every night……bringing laughter and tears to all those who are fortunate enough to attend one or more of the performances during the season.

 We are all actors in a play

But wait!  That’s not quite all!  One more meal to go, just around the corner from The OSF, at Sesame Asian Kitchen:  Lunch Time!

Small and unpretentious, their menu “is inspired by the various cultures of the Far East, representing a fusion of cuisines from the South China Seas.  We incorporate fresh Asian vegetables, free-range meats, and house-blended spices with other specialty ingredients to create seasonal menus.”  To compliment the flavors of the food, Sesame Asian Kitchen also features hand crafted cocktails.  So, as a salute to Ashland, I simply had to have the lemongrass margarita---and oh, was it GOOD!  I shared shrimp tacos with Robin who ordered Vietnamese Fish & Chips....and as good and fresh as the fish was…the chips, along with the dipping sauce, was amazing.  Everyone had a good meal and a good time…..and try as we did to stretch things out…..the bewitching hour came to leave for the airport!

POSTSCRIPT:  Afternoon of departure!  Such a perfect trip, (with only a flat tire), ended with quite a laugh!  My suitcase decided NOT to make it from Medford Airport (with all of 6 gates) to Los Angeles-at least not right away.  When I finally got my suitcase 3 days later….it had gone from Medford to Seattle, to San Francisco to Indianapolis…..and then back again… Dallas, to San Francisco FINALLY arriving safe and sound in Los Angeles!  Wish I had gotten frequent flyer miles!

A special thank you to Cori Solomon of the LA Wine Writers, and Katharine Cato of Travel Ashland for putting this amazing trip together.  And to the winemakers, chefs, restaurant owners, vintners and everyone who made this so fun, educational, enjoyable and tasty!  And of course, to my other travel companions:  Danielle, Tamara, Robin, Andrew, Patricia, and Barbara!  “Happy trails to you…..until we meet again.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Five Days in Ashland---Day #4

Continuing to Wine, Dine & Discover The Rogue River Valley

We were able to have a leisurely morning, meeting at 10:30am (a reasonable and humane hour given all our sipping and dining the pre-ceding day and evening) at Ruby’s of Ashland for brunch.  Located in the historic district, Ruby’s is a local hangout specializing in HUGEEEEEE (like we needed more of that), delicious, creative, menu items, for a tasty breakfast or lunch.  A great place to eat and hang out, Ruby’s describes their menu and philosophy as follows:  Our menu is globally inspired and locally sourced. Our vegetables are bought farm direct from Blue Fox (Applegate), Antonio’s Farm (Talent), the Pennington’s (Applegate), and Eagle Mill (Ashland). Our sliced sandwich bread, pretzels, ciabatta, and hamburger buns are from Sunstone Organic Bakery. We make all our baked goods in-house, from scratch. Everything on the menu is made to order.”  Offering a selection of creative and yummy burritos, sandwiches and salads, plus an assortment of vegetarian, vegan and gluten free items….Ruby’s was a great place to start the day!  The breakfast burrito was more than I could finish…but the food certainly fueled us all up for the day’s upcoming wine-venture!

After a bit of wandering in the historic district (and a little glitch when one of our cars suffered a flat tire), we proceeded to our early afternoon appointment at Weisinger Family Winery.  Another picture perfect day in the Rogue River Valley-again driving through and overlooking vineyards (the view never gets old)..  


We were greeted in the tasting room by Felipe Romero…and then the fun began!

Warmly welcomed by Felipe, we were given a history of Weisinger Family Winery.  John, the original founder, planted the first vines in 1978-Gewurztraminer.  This was the first winery in Southern Oregon, and today is run by second generation Eric Weisinger, John’s son.  Due to the many micro-climates that abound in the area, there are estate wines produced, and locally sourced fruit, affords Weisinger the opportunity to produce Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundian wines.  However, as Eric told us, one wine  they will always produce will be an Estate Gewurztraminer-as an homage to his father-a true pioneer of the Rogue River Valley wine country.

What could be better....award winning wines...a tasty charcuterie plate....and Felipe!

Following an extensive tasting with Felipe (who can only be described as knowledgeable with personality plus), we then met Eric who toured us through the winery, barrel tasting many, (many) samples! Eric explained more of the family history, and his winemaking philosophy (when barrel tasting, he looks for wines that don’t suck!), and that his philosophy is based on an old school tradition of making wine that drinks well with food….and Weisinger’s certainly do!!!  Being taken down to the cellar was a treat-as this was the first underground cellar in Southern Oregon.  As Eric (and so many winemakers say), “wine is a lifestyle.”  Visiting Eric, meeting Felipe, experiencing the inviting, family friendly tasting room and pleasing wines, watching how other visitors were treated, it can only be concluded that Eric’s father handed down a wonderful lifestyle and friendliness that Eric perpetuates every day---sharing and passing that onto all who come in contact with him and his wines.

Barrel tasting with Eric in the cave....learning about his passion
his family and his love of wine and food and people

Returning to our lodging in the late afternoon, we had several hours to relax before leaving for dinner.  There was the spa to take advantage of, bathing in the oversized Jacuzzi tub, or just sitting around sipping a glass of wine in the guest areas or one of the many outdoor alcoves, on such a beautiful fall day. 

Then, it was time for dinner:  One more night…and one more winemaker’s extravaganza at PEERLESS RESTANRNT & BAR.  Arriving at this upscale yet casually elegant, lively and energetic restaurant-we were led to our table and introduced to Nate Winters, certified sommelier and National Sales Manager for TROON Vineyard.  Nate was our wine host during the evening’s dinner.  During our three hour meal, Nate kept us engaged and entertained by his explanation of Troon Vineyard and their commitment to sustainability, biodynamic and organic farming.  Committed to responsible farming, Nate told us that this year Troon received their CCOF Organic certification and also became DEMETER Certified Biodynamic®.

Nate went on to explain the farming practices, benefits of chickens, aviaries and bee keeping.  Originally planted in 1972-the changes being implemented today, some almost 50 years later, are trendsetting-and environmentally responsible, looking towards the future, as are all practices related to farming and winemaking.  Nate’s sense of humor, and personal stories added to the evening’s fun, laughter and enjoyment………….and then, there WAS the wine and the food!!!  We talked, ate, laughed and thoroughly relished our adventure through this 5 course tasting menu-featuring the best of Oregon’s bounty, prepared artistically and tastefully by Chef Harlan Brooks and his staff.    And, so our last night in this extraordinary area began:

*Course #1:  Lemon-lime scallop crudo.  With curried green apple, celery, sumac, castelvetrano brine aioli and fleur du sel.  Accompanied with Troon’s 2016 Granito Estate Vermentino. 

After some more light and friendly banter, and hearing of Nates transformation from Airborne Ranger (thank you for your service Nate), to sommelier and wine guy……another edible piece of edible art was placed before us:

*Course #2:  Endive & Whipped Crème Fraiche.  With salted Tokyo turnip, crimson star pear, banana, finger lime vinaigrette and almond.  Almost (almost being the operative word) too beautiful to eat, this was accompanied by Troon’s 2018 Cotes du Kubli Blanc (a blend of Viognier, Marrsanne and Rousanne)

Time for some R and R while we were introduced to Chef Harlan Brooks, and our server, Collin.  

Colin and Chef
 And then, our happy group along with Nate Winters

And it was onto the next course!

*Course #3:  Braised Oregon Matsutake, with mushroom bordelaise, duck pastrami lardons, fermented winter carrot, puree and Brussels.  Sipped and savored during this course was a 2018 Grenache.

As the evening continued, we took some time to look around the restaurant, and feel the overall vibe-thoroughly enjoying ourselves

 then the “main” course was served:

*Course #4:  Bison Short Rib with beet & sour cherry XO glaze, jasmine rice grits, enoki, shiso, fermented mushroom powder.  Nate chose the perfect accompaniment in a 2018 Cotes du Kubli Rouge, a Syrah/Grenache blend.

 ……….as our dinner was winding down, a perfect ending to a perfect trip (oh, there still was a half day left)…..a light, creative and again, artistic “finish” was placed before us:

*Course 5:  Rogue Creamery “smokey blue” & dried fig nduha.  Nutmeg & cultured butter-toasted olive loaf, mission figs, and local bee pollen, accompanied by a 2016 Cuvee Pyrenees, a blend of Tannat and Malbec.

Needless to say....the entire evening was very-very:  Yummy

(Writer’s confession:  No, I certainly did not and do not understand many of the food descriptors used----but I copy menus well). 

Slowly, as plates were cleared, and “thank yous” were said, it was time to end our last dinner in the Rogue River Valley in Ashland, Southern Oregon.  We had been treated to four days of food, wine and travel wonders and hospitality that went far above and beyond.  We had met amazing people, seen beautiful sights, been hypnotized by Fall Colors in the vineyards and mountains, laughed, poked fun at each other, and learned something about this little slice of heaven in Southern Oregon:  It’s wine, food, culture, and people.  

(And, not to end the evening too fast, once we arrived back, there was an impromptu “after party.”  And more wine, fun, laughter.  After this day, we really did have to wine down before bedtime).

 Joining some happy ladies for the after party
Finally, dined and wined out.....we only
had one more wake up-and an appropriate day #5 ending
before returning home

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Five Days in the Southern Rogue Valley
Day #3......afternoon & Evening

Following a full day at the crafters market, touring historic Jacksonville and extended visits at DANCIN Vineyards and Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, it was good to check into our hotel for the next two nights......

Lithia Springs Resort & Wine Garden is an inviting and comfortable wine country lodging.  The beautiful grounds are conducive to wandering and relaxing.  Take advantage of the spa, pool or Jacuzzi, or just choose to sit with a glass of wine by the koi pond, in one of the tucked away alcoves or in the privacy of your bungalow.
The comfortable mini-suites contained large Jacuzzi soaking tubs, and the pastoral grounds were inviting…..the late afternoon was perfect just to kick back before getting ready to leave for dinner.

                            Wandering the serene grounds of Lithia Springs Resort & Wine Garden

                 An Evening at Alchemy Restaurant and Bar with the Wines of Quady North

What do you do after an exquisite day of wandering and wine experiencing?  Dinner of course!  With wine.  

The New York Times has described the Winchester Inn as “Ashland's premier historic inn,” and the award winning Alchemy Restaurant and Bar is located on Winchester’s main floor.  Being greeted by Drew Gibbs (owner) and Brian Gruber (winemaker for Quady North) we were first given a tour of the historic property, guest rooms and bar.  Then, being escourted into the dining room, we were treated to another culinary food and wine experience.  

The table was elegantly set, and winemaker Brian Gruber spoke about Quady North, their history, philosophy and how owner Herb Quady found his way from California to Southern Oregon.  Primarily producing Rhone varietals, all of Quady North’s wines are small lot, and reflective of this special Southern Oregon micro-climate.

And so……for the next few hours, we ate, drank, laughed and learned more about Oregon’s Southern Rhone (ooops, I did mean Rogue) River Valley……and the farm to table bounty that, combined with the wines……made for another memorable evening of food and wine perfection:

2017 Quady North Ox Block Viognier accompanied our salad of:
Brown butter squash, pickled pear, mixed greens, spinach, herbed feta cheese with a champagne vinaigrette.

Relishing the beginning, we then began our second course with a 2017 Grenache Blanc, perfectly paired with a clam linguine, with lemon buerre blanc and wild mushrooms.

Now that the “lighter” courses had been served, we were treated to a 2015 Quady North Serenade Vineyard Syrah-which highlighted the seared duck breast, pickled cherry, parsnip puree and charred carrots.

And why stop there?  Finally, being poured to accompany our fourth (but not last) course of braised beef short rib (that simply fell off the bone), with blue cheese, polenta, black currant demi, Brussel sprouts and candied hazelnuts was a 2014 Quady North Cabernet Franc.

I don’t know about the rest of our group and their upbringing, but I was glad that I heeded the advice my mother always gave me:  “Save room for dessert.”  Because being placed before us was an elegant cheese plate, consisting of:
*La Fromager d’affinois*Camembert de Normandie*Deer Creek Blue Jay juniper berry blue cheese* and OH! Yes! Let's NOT forget the black currant brandied truffle, and a mixed berry jam compote to enhance the cheeses.  And, dessert would not have been complete without Quady North’s signature 2017 Elysium Black Muscat.

                                          OH! The Truffle!

After over three hours of enjoying Brian’s company, learning of his, and Quady North’s history and wines…being able to taste a representative sampling of the wines with an expertly paired menu to highlight each wine with each course……I think all of us were ready for bed.  

We would all have happily settled in then and there had we been provided a cot.


And that concluded the first three days of our adventure, with two more being eagerly looked forward to.