The Sonoma County Gazette: Community News Magazine
Sonoma County Gazette
| more

Photo Gallery

WINE BANTER by John Haggard - January 2015


WINE BANTER by John Haggard - January 2015

by John Haggard

It’s at the turn of a year, a reflective time that I’d like to express gratitude to those who made it possible for me to be where I am today, with the good fortune of working in Food and Wine in Sonoma County. There were so many along the way who gave me opportunities or answered my endless questions – I had the good fortune of some wonderful mentors.

My knowledge of wine prior to my actually learning was “Blue Nun”. When I arrived in Santa Rosa, I began working at the Sheraton Round Barn Inn. There were two persons I worked with at the Sheraton who really made all of the difference: our restaurant manager at the time was John Moldinado and he was the first person to give me an opportunity to work in the front of the house, even though I’d been hired to work as a dish-washer. My captain in the restaurant was Larry Van Olst, equally inspirational.  John Moldinado understood that the more knowledge we had, the finer experience our guests would receive and arranged for us to visit wineries and experience food pairings.

The first of these many caravan trips was the one that lit the spark in me. We went to Anderson Valley to visit Roederer Winery. After a tour in the vineyards, we were provided with a luncheon where the food and wine were paired together. We took one sip of the wine and one taste of the bread, one taste of water and then one taste from the course; then the course and the wine together. And that’s when I began to understand there’s something far more to food and wine than just exquisite wine and exquisite food, they are compatible and each has the ability to elevate the experience of the other when you understand the nuances and characteristic of every ingredient in the food and the clonal varietal and intent of the winemaker. Take for instance a varietal like Syrah, heavily influenced by iron; it is one of the few berries that absorbs iron into the fruit, therefore making it incompatible with seafood, shellfish, white fish and salmon. The iron itself produces a fishier characteristic, however, when paired with venison loin or rack of lamb, or your choice of beef, the iron contained in those meats actually produce a well-companioned wine.

I was introduced to some of the finest wines being produced at the time: Lou Preston Cabernet Sauvignon as well as an incomparable Gewurztraminer from Navarro Winery. It seemed every step led to another. I moved from Sonoma County to San Francisco and spent ten years in San Francisco working in Silks Restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which made it possible for me to come into contact with even more remarkable chefs, Michelle Sansom, David Kench, Ming Tsai, Ken Oranger. Their knowledge of food inspired me to study more about the possibilities of food and wine pairing. And here I am today, having moved back to Sonoma County in 2002 to where I had found my passion and this time to start my own business in the food and wine industry where I was determined to provide an opportunity for all of my guests to have food and wine experiences somewhat like my own in a place of abundant quality fresh produce, foods and wines.

23rd Annual Winter WINEland, January 17 - 18, 2015, 11am - 4pm each day

A great opportunity to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, new releases or library wines with more than 140 wineries taking part.  All wineries will have something on SALE for the weekend! Some wineries will offer food pairings and others will have tours. Ticket price includes wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the weekend.  For more information, visit  Make a weekend of it: check out, there are some great hotel rates in January.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).