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Wine Country Personality — Marimar Torres
A Marvelous Spanish Legacy Flourishes in Green Valley, Sonoma County
In western Sonoma County, a unique sub-appellation lies inside the Russian River Viticultural Area known as Green Valley. In this valley, a remarkable woman bridges epicurian cultures at an idyllic location, growing and making wine. Marimar Torres has brought European style and her family legacy together with this perfect California terroir, forging Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines that are distinctive and truly delicious. Since the winery’s opening in 1993, Marimar, author of Spanish and Catalan cookbooks, and her estate have been increasingly recognized for California hospitality, Spanish flavors and perfect enological outcomes.
Born in Barcelona, Marimar comes from a renowned Spanish wine family. The House of Torres began growing wine grapes in the 1870’s, and is today the largest independent producer in Spain. Marimar mastered the wine business while promoting their wines in North America, resulting in tremendous sales growth. Many of us cut our collective wine teeth on the popular Sangre del Toro—a blend of Rhone varietals Carignane, Grenache and Syrah still enjoyed widely here in America.
Marimar was often confronted with the notion that the wine business was no place for a woman. She rose to the challenge, becoming the best known ambassador of Spanish wines in America. Working out of San Francisco in the 1970’s, she familiarized herself with its surrounding wine areas, and started to dream of opening her own winery. Escaping traditional patriarchic values from her culture, she boldly founded Marimar Torres Estate, focused on producing exceptional Chardonnay in an ideal terroir.
Her winery and first estate vineyard are located in Green Valley. Marimar chose a property a friend encouraged her to see; she says it was love at first sight. It is located 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean where the grapes ripen gently, never early. Misty mornings, warm sunny days and cool moist nights dominate the climate.
She soon discovered that the area also offered perfect growing conditions for Pinot Noir as well. Thus, Marimar was a pioneer in an area where heavy planting of this varietal has proliferated during the last five years, in the midst of an industry down cycle. A second vineyard was planted in nearby Freestone. Just slightly to the west, it lies in the Sonoma Coast Appellation, with an even more intimate climatic connection to the Pacific Ocean.
While this terroir is important, Marimar’s planting methods are iconoclastic by California standards. Both vineyards are planted in an extremely dense, European style. The density at 2000 vines per acre is over four times the norm in California. While studying at UC Davis learning the idiosyncrasies of California soils and viticulture (in Green Valley for instance, redwood trees for thousands of years pumped an overabundance of nitrogen into the soils, which nowadays can result in overaggressive vine growth), Marimar was specifically told “you will pull up every other vine”. That has not happened. The increased vine density promotes low yields, developing fruit with more refined aromas, greater elegance and superb concentration.
The vines are also trained unusually low to the ground, below the knee, which is a lot of extra work. In this way, the grapes receive added warmth from the ground and more protection from the sun. They ripen better, so it’s worth it. The visual contrast to neighboring vineyards is fascinating if a little severe.
Signs of intense care and passion abound. Every varietal clone planted was carefully selected, and each is vinified separately for quality and flavor control. Rows of vines run east-west to assure that there is maximum sun on the leaves, and minimum sun on the sensitive Pinot Noir fruit. More recently, the Torres Estate started using all organic farming methods, revitalizing the soil with cover crops and offering habitat for beneficial insects. Stables on the Freestone property provide essential manure and straw for composting, while recycled sawdust from the nearby Osmosis Enzyme Bath & Spa completes the mixture of nutrients infusing the “growing” of the wines.
Although production is just 15,000 cases, the word about Marimar’s wonderful wines is still spreading. The temptation to enjoy them again and again is irresistible. Her 2001 Chardonnay is made in select French oak barrels. Exceptionally rich and creamy, with good complexity of flavors and a little spice, it is a real crowd pleaser. The 2002 Chardonnay “Dobles Lías” is held sur lees a second year in stainless steel barrels, softening its creaminess and bringing a wonderful herbaceous quality forward. The 2001 Pinot Noir has an uncommon, astonishing intensity and weight which is matched with rich complex flavors.
We wanted to know more about the Catalan food and wine connection, in particular, which foods Marimar celebrates in conjunction with the remarkably non-Spanish Pinot Noir varietal. She answered “any wine is better with food, and any food better with wine”. In any case, Marimar’s cooking is a signature trademark of events at the winery. Her Chicken and Shellfish Paella, served in front of the warm winery hearth, is legendary at special events…a reason in itself to consider joining Club Marimar.The Marimar Torres Estate Winery is open 7 days a week “by appointment”, but don’t let that keep you away. If you didn’t call in advance, simply try buzzing at the gate. A limited selection of the Spanish Torres wines is also offered. There typically will be a friendly person available to show you around the colorful winery (full tours are held weekends at 10am) and lead you through a tasting of the legacy of this amazing, gracious and pleasant wine country woman.
Editor's Pick — Figgy Indulgence ~ Black Mission Fig Syrup
Tradition Blended with Quality for Ritual and Pleasure
Does the word fine strike you as incongruous to Kosher Wine? Certainly supermarket Kosher Wines, typically made from the ignoble Concord grape or fruit, have suggested this contradiction. However, with the surprising Gan Eden wines, Winemaker Craig Winchell is ready to entertain your palate and change your mind.
Quality fruit and solid winemaking are in focus at Gan Eden. The wines are made with fruit sourced carefully around Northern California, reflecting the immense quality and value to be found outside of the Napa and Sonoma areas. Craig also enjoys the challenge of working with different fruit from year to year, matching winemaking style to fruit that has captivated his attention, and resulting in a diverse set of offerings.
What makes a wine kosher anyway, and does it matter to you?
It does to Craig, who admits indiscretions of youth while being more obscure about the path he followed to integrate religion with winemaking. A chemistry major in college, he later got the winemaking bug, and a Hunter S. Thompson-ish journey brought him to California. Ultimately, he enrolled in the UC Davis Enology program, while in his personal life he started to change his lifestyle.
In Orthodox Jewish practice, who picks the grapes is not of concern. But once crush, the intentional separation of the juice from the grapes and must, starts, only Sabbath-observant Jews may handle the wine. Strictly extending even to manipulations like turning valves, the kosher process does not end until the cork is put in the bottle. Some wines are mevushal, “cooked” or heated to 185-190 degrees Fahrenheit…Gan Eden uses a process originally developed at UC Davis to prevent late harvest wines from turning brown. These wines can be poured by non-practitioners and remain kosher. Otherwise, the person who pours the wine is important too.
During the Passover holiday, for the faithful there will be four blessings, over a glass of wine each time. For the rest of us, we can simply enjoy the quality resulting from a different yet nonetheless pure logic that the kosher approach brings to these wines. For Craig, his spiritually-directed process is joined to methodical artisan winemaking, a mysticism that informs the wine’s quality.
Gan Eden’s offerings are diverse, and its wines defy expectations. The 2000 Chardonnay is rich in color, with good acid and wonderful rich fruit from El Dorado County. The 2000 Syrah, currently Craig’s favorite offering, is a robust, full-bodied red made from vibrant fruit from Lodi. Full-bodied and lavishly though not excessively oaked, it is best served at cooler temperatures so its massive flavors are not overwhelmed by vapors from its high alcohol.
Gan Eden also continues to make sweet, late harvest wines of distinction — Craig tried to stop making them once, but his customers protested. The 2000 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, with 9% residual sugar artfully balanced to acidity, is far from cloyingly sweet or overly tart. Its Monterey fruit allows high sugar levels at harvest, resulting in rich flavor and fullness. It would be very tasty with pâté at the start of a meal, or with fruit at its end. The 1998 Black Muscat, another late harvest wine, is refreshingly non-fortified, with only 8% residual sugar and 10.5% alcohol. A slight oxidation attenuates its perfume, while the wine offers an intriguing nuttiness and great overall complexity. Try this one with berries and chocolate. Both of these wines have a long record of success in competition, reflecting Craig’s thoughtful approach to these styles.
Gan Eden wines are not widely distributed (New York and New Jersey are notable exceptions). However, the good news is that there are often specials offered when you purchase direct from the winery and Gan Eden is quick to pass the savings of selling direct on to you. Enjoy these wines for their quality, the warmth of Craig’s life experience, and involve them in your observance of a great holiday no matter which traditions belong to you. The wines of Gan Eden are ready to satisfy on all counts!
Wine Country Featured Destination
Traveling with My Best Friend — Pet-Friendly Accommodations and Cab-Bone-Nay Too!
If you are dog lover, then you surely know a dog who loves a travel adventure. Those of us sightseeing with our canine and other friends from the animal kingdom used to do so as second class citizens, but not any more! Today, nearly two-thirds of California accommodations allow pets, so you and your friend don’t have to accept the run of the mill. Many spectacular accommodations throughout Wine Country are ready to welcome you, often with special services and treats for your four-legged friend.
While there are typically nominal fees for the four extra legs, they are usually comparable to biped rates. As with humans, these accommodations welcome only “well-behaved” animals, and many require leashes.
So next time, grab the leash and go! Here are some suggestions for special places to enjoy wherever you and your pooch may wander in California’s Wine Country.
With consummate Napa hospitality, the Napa River Inn takes the cake, or the bone as the case may be, offering the Very Important Pet (VIP) program. This unique pet package assures that you, your family and your pet will enjoy your vacation time together. A custom-designed pet blanket, logo place mat, and Napa Valley-based Cab-Bone-Nay dog biscuits (made with wine of course) will help everyone enjoy their stay. Your pet also receives a welcome letter from the hotel General Manager with a list of pet support services, including dog walkers, an on-call veterinarian and souvenirs.
For a more casual Napa destination, the Napa Valley Redwood Inn is a modest, very pet friendly motel, offering treats at the front desk for your dog. They allow all pets, though horses must be confined to their trailers.
Located on 20 acres in Up-Valley Napa, your dog will have plenty of space to enjoy and exercise at the Meadowlark Inn. Well-behaved dogs are welcomed in any of the rooms with prior approval. Many rooms have French doors opening to private decks or flagstone terraces that are convenient for the dogs to be outside. There is also usually someone in nearby Calistoga who is available to come to Meadowlark to dogsit.
Of course, vacation rentals are an obvious choice for canine comfort. For the ultimate long-term stay in Napa, try a fabulous, high-end Wine Country estate — worthy of a movie star like Benji! Linda at Ritchie-Hallanan Real Estate is ready to help you and your pooch with a property fit for a champion!
Is your doggie going wine tasting with you? The Dutch Henry Winery in Calistoga has been entertaining dogs for many years, while the wines and estate olive oils are sure to delight you. Only the Tasting Room is off-limits, and a leash is required, but the Airedale terriers here will probably welcome you as enthusiastically as the Winemaker does.
In Sonoma County, the California Welcome Center in Railroad Square Santa Rosa is ready to greet you and your pet too! They offer a bowl of water and dog biscuits to canine visitors, record their names, and will even take a digital photo. You might also want to go check out the Christo Wrapped Snoopy House on permanent display at the nearby Charles M. Schulz Museum.
To the west along the awesome Russian River, at Fife’s Guest Ranch you and your pup can frolic amongst 15 idyllic acres of mown grassy meadows, towering redwoods and direct river access from the private beach. Fife’s offers a sense of history, quaintness and like the area, caters to a diverse clientele. And while the town of Guerneville is known as “the wild side of wine country”, you can enjoy it at any speed you like— all by foot. While weekends at the resort can be rather busy in the summer, spring and fall travelers may enjoy a glorious retreat to perfect quietude and weather. The full-service restaurant, bar and selection of quality local wines assure a fine experience on the property as well.
Follow the Surfer — Your Best Whine Travel Experience
Woof, that’s no typo! In this newsletter, we recommend many accommodations throughout California’s Wine Country that offer you and your pet exceptional comfort, service and amenities. We also want to hear about superb experiences that you and your best friend have enjoyed, and where. Whether lodging, restaurant, winery or other, we want to help everyone get the dogs out to play! We look forward to hearing from you soon at ENewsletter@winecountry.com. We will send a token of appreciation if we use your recommendation. And look for your picks here soon!
Follow the Surfer Bonus: Here's your
chance to win an official WineCountry.com T-shirt. Simply answer the
following question: in the article Traveling
with My Best Friend, what is the name of the restaurant mentioned
where your dog can enjoy a Quarter Hounder? Send your answer
to ENewsletter@winecountry.com. Four
winners will be chosen at random from the list of correct answers
received by April 10, 2005. The winners of this Drawing will be
announced on The Winner's
April 15, 2005.
Latitude Grill — Crab Cakes
Dine at Latitude Grill in Santa Rosa and taste the flavors of Pacific Rim and French Cuisine with a California touch. Or, live the Wine Country lifestyle in the comfort of your kitchen and make these delicious crab cakes!
Chop onions, celery, parsley, garlic, jalapeno and sauté together in olive oil and 1 Tbsp of butter. Set aside and let cool. Once cool, add Dungeness crab, eggs, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, and milk and mix together thoroughly. Form cakes approx 3-4 inches in diameter and sprinkle & coat with Panko. Sauté cakes with corn oil until golden brown. Serves 8 – 10.
Serve warm with avocado aioli, mango salsa, or fresh summer tomato salsa.
Wine Country Featured Event
June 4th & 5th , 2005 – Taste of the Valley Gala Weekend
The Taste of the Valley event is held each year on the first weekend of June. June 4th and 5th, 2005. During this two day gala event enjoy themes from around the world. You will receive gracious hospitality at wineries across the Alexander Valley. Visitors are invited to indulge in tantalizing food, barrel-making demonstrations, tours of vineyards, caves and cellars, live music, discounts on purchases, and much more! Ticket information and participating wineries are available at: www.alexandervalley.org or phone.
Fee: $45.00 each both days, $30.00 Designated Driver
Editor's Pick — Wellington Vineyards Roussanne
Enter to be the lucky winner of two $30 certificates good for dining at the elegant Bayleaf Restaurant in Napa. Offering a number of distinctive, themed indoor dining areas, along with several charming outdoor venues, the diverse world-class cuisine offered here is sure to be a hit. Estate vegetables and herbs enliven the offerings.
The Winner of this Drawing will be announced
on The Winner's Page after
April 15, 2005.
(*some restrictions apply)
*** No purchase necessary. Must be at least 21 years old to enter. Only one entry per person permitted. Winner will be selected April 11, 2005 by random drawing. Winner will be notified by email. Employees of Freerun Technologies are ineligible. Void where prohibited by law.