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WINE BANTER - December 2015


WINE BANTER - December 2015

by John Haggard

No matter what El Niño may bring, and we hope for a good batch of rain, in scattered bursts that keep our people and property safe in Sonoma County - but with no promise of rain to fill our reservoirs and the inability to replace ground water within a single season, dry farming is still our future.

Dry Farming

In many parts of the European Union, including the dry Mediterranean climate of southern France, it’s illegal to irrigate because of the compromised quality of wines of irrigated vineyards. When there is a shortage of rain, there is a shortage of wine. The smaller quantity, though, can often produce a greater quality, allowing growers to make up some of the shortage experienced with a smaller crop. The South of France experiences a similar climate to Sonoma County - we can learn from them… Emeritus Vineyards of Sebastopol does just that, dry-farming its vineyards. They have received many accolades including top 100 wineries of 2015 from Wine & Spirits, and their 2013 Pinot Hill Pinot Noir received 93 points from Wine Spectator. So dry-farming is not necessarily a compromise in successful wine-growing.  For more information on Emeritus, visit

Holiday Toasts

With the holidays approaching, a lovely way to start any holiday meal is with a toast. In the past, I’ve often picked many sparkling wines from California. This year, after the terrible tragedies throughout the world, most recently for the people of Paris, Beirut and Russia, how about showing solidarity with a wine selection from the country of France, beacon of art, beauty and democracy, and, of course, wonderful wines, and make a toast of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” for the world.  When doing so, there are so many wonderful French champagnes from which to choose. One of my favorites is Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV (non-vintage) champagne. It has nice easy flavors of cracked wheat, baked apple - an elegant edition to any dinner, birthday, and upcoming holidays. The other is the incomparable Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Rosé. If your love affair is Sparkling Champagne and oysters here’s a pairing I find to be among the best I’ve ever found: buttery Malpac oysters in the half shell and the elegant subtle red fruit and racy elegant acid of the Billecart-Salmon. If you’re unable to locate Malpac at your local seafood purveyor, look for Kumamoto oysters or Dungeness Bay.

Holiday Wine Picks

Hook & Ladder Pinot Noir 2013 Russian River Valley (ret $27-$32). Beautiful red fruit on the front of the palate, well-integrated oak combine with subtle spicy red-cherry flavors as well as raspberry. The finish is filled with dark berry flavors, earth, and forest floor, lending itself to be slightly “Burgundian”. A perfect Holiday wine to pair with turkey, ham or goose. Enjoy now through 2017, no decanting necessary.

Hook & Ladder Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (ret. $20), barrel-fermented which allows the high acidities of the fruit to be rounded out on the palate. While still crisp, this Sauvignon Blanc makes for an exceptional sipping wine and makes a great pairing for seafood, salads and poultry. Enjoy now through 2016.

While not specifically dry farmers, Hook & Ladder has included some 118 acres of their vineyard property in the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and incorporate many environmental practices such as integrated pest management and water preservation.  The Hook & Ladder Winery Tasting Room is on Olivet Road and open daily from 10am to 4:30pm. For more information on Hook & Ladder, visit 

Upcoming Events:

Celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas in Duncans Mills on Saturday, November 28th, from 2 to 5pm. Santa and Mrs Claus arrive by Fire Truck at 2pm and there’s a Tree Lighting and Caroling at 4:30pm. For those of you without persons under 21 years-old, we hope you’ll stop by Sophie’s Cellars for wine tasting paired with cheeses, 11am – 5pm.

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).