Sonoma and Napa in May

Tamara and I had some unexpected free time to visit wine country in May while we were in California. We visited some great wineries in Sonoma and Napa.

I wanted to spend more time in Sonoma this time as I had previously spent more time in Napa. Plus, we have been on a long-standing Pinot Noir bender so it was a natural choice. Our first stop was Martinelli Winery in the Russian River sub AVA of Sonoma. We had made an appointment for a tasting and got to try a much larger range of wine than I had expected. For those that know Martinelli’s style, these tend express the Russian River character very well. One of the reoccurring themes for me was that although this region feels like it has only recently gained the prominence, several families have been growing grapes in this area for generations. The Martinelli family has been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since the 1880’s. There is a lot of history at Martinelli. You could really feel that these people were in essence farmers. I was amazed at how old the vines were on their estate. Their Jackass Hill vineyard is the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma. Of the 2014’s, the stand out to me was the Bondi Family Home Ranch Pinot Noir. Of course, it is hard to go wrong here.


This is a very old vine from Martinelli’s estate vineyard behind the winery.


The following morning we visited Littorai Winery in the Sonoma Coast AVA. We were fortunate enough to get an appointment on short notice. Some really cold and cloudy weather moved into the area so that helped us. I think they only do three appointments per day. This place is situated in a residential area. We loved this visit, as we were really able to get a feel for the land. There is something special about bio-dynamic vineyards. The land really speaks to you. The Pivot Vineyard is their estate vineyard. We were able to check out all the cool herbal preperations they use. These wines have always been my style. They are lower in alcohol than much of what you see these days but without lean or angular. The owner/winemaker Ted Lemon cut his chops at some of the most esteemed Domaines of Burgundy. The only problem I have with Littorai is that they won’t sell our store most of the wines. The store is currently only allowed to purchase the non single vineyard wine. Because I am such a fan I can’t help but feel spurned. Doesn’t Ted Lemon know that, I’m like, really cool!? Oh, well. If you want to try these wines, I carry the “Les Larmes” from Anderson Valley. It is really good and a little less expensive than the others. On the day I visited I was allowed to purchase some wine for my own personal consumption which was nice considering that they are limited. All the wines are on point. We ended up leaving with some rosè, Chardonnay, and Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir.

This is Littorai’s estate Pivot Vineyard.

Herbal Compost Preparation

Beautiful compost pile at Littorai. Quality wine begins in the dirt here.

We had the privelage of tasting through a delicious line up of wines.












Our next appointment was back to the Russian River to Rochioli Winery. This place was swank and modern for some old school farmers. This place looks like success. Rochioli has obviously benefitted from consumers interest in top grade pinot noir. If you are hoping to show up here and buy some single lot Pinot Noir you might as well save your breath. You have better chances adding your name to the waiting list to get on to the mailing list. That being said, they did have the basic Pinot Noir available which is still really good. Surprisingly, we ended up purchasing some Sauvignon Blanc. Their Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc comes from some of the oldest vines on their property. They also had some good schwag here. They have a great seating area outside to bring your own lunch and enjoy with Rochioli wines. It is a stunning scene for a picnic.

Rochioli had a very polished tasting room and grounds for enjoying a lunchtime picnic


The following day we headed over to Napa. Our first appointment was at Jarvis. If you have heard about the cave system at Jarvis being really cool, allow me to add my voice to that list. The wines are spectacular. I sell these at the store and although they are not inexpensive, I think they are a value compared to many of the other “cult cabs”. To me, these are some of the most Bordeaux like wines in Napa. And, I mean that as a compliment. The visit and tour is worth the money folks. You may want to save this one for last, as it will be hard to beat the experience.

Part of the extensive underground cave system of Jarvis Winery.


Where do you think I went next? Was it an impossible to get into winery reserved for only the richest and most cool among us? We visited the Markham winery. These are some of the best-priced Napa wines that you can buy and you don’t have to be a VIP to get your hands on it. It was really cool to see how a winery of that size operates. The history of Markham is fascinating. Markham represents the true “old school” of Napa wineries. Personally, the Merlot is my top pick from this winery. The tasting room was friendly and well appointed. The combination of modern and preserved older elements of the winery was really neat. I’m not sure who my supplier told them I was. Maybe they confused me with the other Daniel Braun? David Flanary, President of Markham gave us a personal tour and spent about an hour talking to us about the winery. I highly recommend Markham for an excellent Napa Valley value.

Markham has a beautiful winery. Of course, I am snapping pictures of what I find interesting in the back. This is a holding tank used during harvest.


I hope you enjoyed this post. I will leave you with a behind the scenes picture I took at Markham. I emphasize that this is not part of their tour. It is just a joke that they posted in the winemaking lab for each other. Apparently one of them bares a striking resemblance to a certain actor.

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