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Posts Tagged ‘#winewednesday’

Gainey Vineyard

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2007 Gainey Riesling Limited Selection Santa Ynez Valley

Gainey Vineyards Riesling

Gainey Vineyards Riesling

I love Thai food and eat it more often of late since I developed a gluten intolerance. Riesling and Thai , as well as other Asian cuisines pair admirably with one another. Although, I was curious about this pairing, an off-dry Riesling eaten with spicy Asian food.

Riesling are wonderful wines and a favorite of many a sommelier. However, I do not enjoy drinking sweet Rieslings without food. As soon as I take my last bite, I’m done with the bottle, regardless if it’s empty or not. But an off-dry is another situation altogether. That’s what made this bottle so alluring.


Gainey's Vineyards

Gainey’s Vineyards

Gainey Vineyards, one of my favorite Santa Barbara County wineries makes an awesome expression of a Riesling. The wine was very aromatic, giving off citrus and honeysuckle scents. It had a lovely honey color a rich, buttery taste. The taste was the kind that lingers on your palette long after the sip is finished. I also got grapefruit and a slight perception of sweetness that presented as honey.

Riesling on the VineI purchased this wine in July of 2009 on my annual Santa Barbara glamping trip. I’ve visited the Gainey winery on three separate occasions. The tasting room is well adorned and there are ample opportunities to purchase wine-related souvenirs. The tasting room staff were friendly, knowledgeable and even offered a free bottle water to our Designated Driver, which of course wasn’t me.

I’m impressed this Riesling aged as nicely as it did. I think that speaks to the care Gainey takes the vineyard, as well as  to the stellar wine-making techniques.

Gainey Vineyard is located near the intersection of highways 246 & 154 so it can be your first or second stop on a tour of the Santa Ynez Valley. The tasting fee is very reasonable at $10, which includes a free souvenir glass.



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Rieslings – They Aren’t ALL Sweet

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Try Dry Riesling

Riesling Grapes

Ripening Riesling Grapes

Within the last five years, I have become a big-time Riesling fan. I’ve found them to be excellent dining companions, as well as satisfying sipping wines. But, I’m as lonesome as the Maytag repairman.  It’s hard to find like-minded drinking buddies.  What many people don’t realize is Rieslings are some of the most esteemed wines in the world.  However, it seems Riesling are like a professional athlete involved in a sex scandal.  They have an image problem and need a major PR blitz.

Most wine drinkers started with a simple, white wine such as white zinfandel or Chardonnay. However, once their palettes delivered, they moved on to red wine.  We were all told that what “real” wine drinkers drink right? And after trying reds, some people never go back; shunning all white wines for their lack of sophistication.

But most red wine drinkers will, on occasion drink a white; but typically they’ll stick to the tried-and-true choices of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. I’d like to convince more wine lovers to try Riesling. And before you say it, “I don’t like sweet wines.” I’d like to tell you that not all Rieslings are sweet. They are produced in sweet, semi-sweet, off dry and dry styles.


Rieslings are Exceptional Wines

Riesling is like an impressionable teenager. It is easily swayed by its environment.   Rieslings will follow along blindly, easily adapting to its soil and growing surroundings, taking on the characteristics of the terroir.  But in this case, it’s a good thing.

Summertime Fruit Flavors

Summertime Fruit Flavors

Some of the best attributes of Riesling terroir include:

o   Blue slate – Gives it more minerality on the taste, as well as crisp, green apple.

o   Volcanic soil – Produces tropical flavors such as mango and guava

o   Sand loam – Creates a mix of tropical pineapple and peppery spice

o   Red Slate – Provides summertime flavors like peach and pear


Premier Riesling Regions

The best Rieslings hail from cool climates. Several countries throughout the wine-making world make Rieslings; but the top Riesling producing appellations include:

  • Mosel, Germany – Wines from this popular region lean toward off dry and have a medium level of acidity. (You may also see  this spelled Mozel – but most US imports will have the “s” labeling as a nod to the British)
    Mosel Riesling

    Mosel Vineyard Riesling


o   Top producers include Dr. Loosen & Selbach-Oster

  • Alsace, France – Majority of wines are dry and full bodied. Although bordering Germany, Alsatian wines are higher in alcohol, due to the warmer climate and have a decent amount of acidity, which improves age ability.

o   Top producers include Schlossberg and Zind Humbrecht

  • Columbia Valley, Washington – The US leader in Riesling production, leaning toward off-dry wines with peach and pear flavors.

    Riesling Vineyards Rheingau

    Riesling Vineyards Rheingau

o   Well-known producers include Hogue Cellars, Chateau St. Michelle, 14 Hands

  • Finger Lakes, New York – A perfect cool-climate region for light-bodied dry and off dry wines, as well as sweet Rieslings, including delicious ice wine.

o   Well-known producers include Dr. Konstantin & Hermann J. Wiemer

  • Rheingau, Germany – Wines from here are dry, full-bodied and have great acidity. These wines can be aged for decades, if you are more into owning wines than drinking them.

    o   Try wines from Schloss Johannisberg

  • Clare Valley, Australia – A mostly cool-climate region making citrus and marmalade tasting, high minerality wines with a honeyed finish and ageworthiness.

o   Seek out these top producers Grosset & Knappstein, which you may buy from retailer Wine Access 


With summer just around the corner, pick up a few Riesling wines and see if I can make you a Rieslings convert.

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14 Hands Vineyard

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(2011) 14 Hands Vineyard Hot to Trot Red Blend – Columbia Valley

14 Hands Hot to Trot

14 Hands Hot to Trot

I can’t recall the last time I drank 14 Hands wine, but it has been years. But recently, a friend brought it to a weekend dinner we both attended.  I poured myself a glass and immediately thought that I needed to pick up a bottle or two of this to have around the house.  It’s a casual-drinking wine you can buy for around $11; but one that tastes like a bottle that costs twice as much.

For an everyday wine, it has a lot of depth.  The auburn color and the plum nose prepare your taste buds for some wonderful sipping.  The juicy, dark fruit flavor is rich without tasting like Concord grapes. The finish was as smooth and clean as a New Zealand glacier-fed lake.  The winemaker has taken a page from southern Rhone, using several grape varieties in this blend including Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and a handful of others.  The results are perfection in a glass.


Winery Name

Washington State Mt Rainier

Washington State Vistas

The winery’s unusual name, 14 Hands comes from the wild horses that used to run free on the present-day vineyard located in Washington state’s Columbia Valley AVA.  The horses were a mere 14 hands high, a measurement equal to 4 inches per unit.  I hate to disappoint you but the label Hot to Trot refers to these horses.  So get your get mind out of the gutter. It’s not a sexual reference.  Although, that shouldn’t stop you from pouring it at a “Do-Tell-All Girls Night”.


Banks of the Columbia River

Banks of the Columbia River

14 Hands Vineyard practices sustainable farming in Horse Heaven Hills (HHH). They recently opened a new facility. The HHH appellation is home to approximately 30 vineyards, but only five have tasting rooms open to the public.  The wines produced in this region benefit from south-sloping, bench-work vineyards, situated along the Columbia River.

14 Hands Winery is a solid example of a Washington-state producer making well-structured, terroir-driven wines. If you are a white wine drinker, then try the Hot to Trot White Blend.


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Why Drink Champagne?

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Champagne, the Perfect Mate

A Glass of Rose Champagne

Drink Champagne – Often

Ah, Champagne. For me, there is nothing quite like it.  And nothing better.  I could drink champagne every single day of my life and never tire of it.  And if not for my budget and my liver, I probably would do so.  So instead, I preach the gospel of champagne to anyone who will listen. And my message is clear; drink champagne all year.

The summer wedding season is about to begin.  There will also be a host of graduation ceremonies over the next two months.  So get ready to hear that wonderful, sweet, distinctive sound of champagne corks popping.   I don’t think champagne deserves to be labeled worthy of opening only for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day or reserved for only the most special of occasions. I doubt the champagne house sales rep gush as much about champagne as I do.

Champagne at a Special Occasion

Champagne typically Relegated to Celebrations

So why should you drink champagne? And why do I love it so much?  It’s simple. Champagne is the perfect date/mate.  You can bring it to a party and won’t have to worry about it not fitting in since it matches flawlessly with any food or occasion.  Also, due to champagne’s varying styles, it is like a well-rounded date who can hold her/his own during a conversation on any number of topics.

You won’t have to stress about champagne engaging in inappropriate behavior at the company party.  Champagne knows how to mingle and hold its own.  So you can return to work on Monday morning without fear of reprisal from your boss or HR.

Serve Champagne throughout Dinner

Champagne Pairs Beautifully with All Foods


In addition, champagne is produced in varying levels of sweetness, which helps to support my claim that it’s a perfect date, I mean drink. This allows for some wonderful pairings with a wide variety of foods.

Start your meal with an appetizer, move on to a soup, then savor your main course.  Next comes the dessert; and if you are really having an over-the-top, decadent meal then finish with a cheese course.  With each of these courses, champagne is a faithful companion, adding food-pleasing elements such as acidity, balance, crispness, body and of course off-the-hook flavor.

So whenever you are unsure of what you should serve with a meal, reach for a bottle of good ol’ champagne or at the very least a bottle of Cava or sparkling wine.  When you drink champagne, the world magically becomes better.  So, don’t be surprised if you fall madly in love (with champagne).  And don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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Kapalua Wine & Food Festival

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Indulgent Wine & Food Festival

Kapalua Wine & Food Festival

Kapalua Wine & Food

Head to Maui between June 12 – 15, 2014 for the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival.  There are myriad wine regions represented, so you’ll definitely be able to “get your drink on”.

You’ll enjoy pours from Central Otago, North Canterbury and Marlborough.   Michael Jordan, a Master Sommelier will lead the tasting with wines from these amazing New Zealand regions.

Talbot Audrey Chardonnay

Talbot Audrey Chardonnay

Top winemakers from Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) will host a seminar and tasting for wine enthusiasts.  You’ll be in luck when you attend a Friday the 13th tasting at the Ritz-Carlton.  One of my favorite SLH wineries, Talbott will be pouring bottles of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

You’ll hit a wine and culinary home run attending this event. This festival is a foodie and wine lover’s paradise.  Fresh produce, locally and humanely caught seafood, as well as top-notch wine from all your favorite regions.  You may also discover some new favorites.

Epicurean treats from Kapalua-based restaurants including The Plantation House, Sansei Seafood & Sushi Bar and Montage Kapalua Bay will

Locally Fresh Caught Fish

Locally Fresh Caught Fish

be served. Tantalizing cuisine by local chefs provides a platform to savor locally grown food and sample various culinary styles.

Of course, if you need air, a car or accommodations, (shameless plug) give me a call at 619-944-5202 so I can work my magic for for you.  Rooms are booking quickly for this fun-filled, wine and food extravaganza.

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Re-examining Food and Wine Pairings

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Addressing tried and true Wine Pairing Rules

Grilled Fish with Tomato Relish

Grilled Fish with Tomato Relish

This is part of 2 of my 3-part series on taking a hard look at common food and wine pairings.

You may read Part 1 – 5 Food and Wine Pairing Tips – Are They Still Relevant?

3. The wine and food must come from the same geographic region.

  • Wrong!  It may seem likely that an Albariño from Spain would make an excellent dining companion to a seafood dish.   But nowadays, it’s important to understand a wine region’s strengths or tendencies more than automatically assuming all foods of the region are suitable for pairing with its wine.  Spain and Italy have started making more wines using international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. And, they do them well.

    Exotic Herbs and Spices

    Exotic Herbs and Spices

  • With the rise in popularity of household-name chef superstars, these top chefs are constantly looking for ways to keep fans tuning in.  There are a host of new and  unusual cooking styles and techniques like molecular gastronomy.
  • A common meal like meat and potatoes has been turned into a complex culinary creation with an array of flavors that includes multi-ingredient sauces and rubs with exotic herbs.  But a chicken dish with a crimini and chantrelle mushroom sauce could stand up to a Gamay (red) wine because it too, is light in weight.

    Earthy Mushrooms

    Earthy Mushrooms & Gamay

4. You should not try to pair difficult foods such as artichokes, asparagus, quiche and eggs or vinegar

  • Wrong! Today’s chefs take ingredient mixing to a new level.  Try focusing on weight. Not yours, the food’s. If you are having a salad starter, then a Pinot Blanc will typically stand up nicely to a vinegar-based dressing.  The acidity of this crisp white can handle the tartness of the vinegar.
Grilled Corn with Compound Butter

Grilled Corn with Compound Butter

  • The number of vegetarians in society has increased dramatically.  In addition, many people try to incorporate a vegetarian lifestyle into their weekly or monthly meal planning.  An ear of corn can be a complex pairing if it has been grilled and then slathered with a chive and rosemary compound butter.

In the last part of this series on examining food and wine pairing adages, I’ll discuss food complements. Yes, you like me. You really, really like me.  Apologies to Sally Field and Mrs. Dice, my 7th grade English teacher.

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5 NEW Food & Wine Pairing Tips

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Classic Food & Wine Pairings Tips – Are They Still Relevant?

Today's Myriad of Foods

Today’s Myriad of Foods

Ten or fifteen years ago it was quite easy to pair food and wine.  We learned to pair chicken and fish with a white wine; and beef and pork with a red.

Today, food has become more complex with a mix of unusual ingredients.  There are numerous combinations of sauces and exotic proteins served together.  Fish may be topped with a tomato and caper relish, served on a bed of red lentils or miso-glazed pork may accompany shitake mushrooms, drizzled with port.

Americans’ wine tastes have also broadened.  No longer are wine drinkers sticking to the tried-and-true choices such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and White Zinfandel.  Wines from New World regions such as Chile, New Zealand and South Africa are frequently listed on wine lists and are readily available in stores.

Ostrich Salad

Pairing Ostrich Salad with Wine

Sommeliers have added wines from Greece, Croatia or Israel to their wine lists.  Bison, ostrich, kangaroo and other unique proteins have become commonplace on fine dining menus.  This gives the diner a multitude of options for pairing with meals. And the choices can be daunting.

Given the shift in the food and wine scene of today, let’s examine if the old wine pairing adages of the past are still relevant.

1. The color of the wine must match the color of the food

  • Yes. When in doubt, you can still use this old axiom.  Serving white wine with chicken and red with beef can hold true; but it’s not very exciting.
  • But there are certainly exceptions to this long-quoted rule.  For instance, a Viognier or Chardonnay can pair nicely with veal.  The acidity in these wines cuts through the slight fattiness of the beef, creating a beautiful pairing.

    Crisp vs. Oak-aged White Wines

    Unoaked vs. Oak-aged White Wines

2. The weight of food and wine must match (This means heavy vs. light.)

  • Yes, this is certainly true.  Foods that match each other in weight will typically balance each other, eliminating the battle of one overpowering the other.  Think Brad and Angelina, two mega stars, coexisting.
  • Here are some examples of food weights ranging from lowest to highest – Salad, Starchy foods, Seafood, Poultry, Pork and Beef. So you’d match a wine with the “weightiness” of the meat dish.
  • Now check out a few wine weights ranging from lowest to highest – Sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Many Factors to Consider when Pairing Food & Wine

    The dilemma-Light White, Bold Red or Light Red Wine

  • But it can get tricky. A lot will depend on viticulture methods.  For example, an oaky California Chardonnay will be heavier in weight than an unoaked Australian Chardonnay.
  • Consider a traditional méthode champenoise made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It’ll be bursting with hearty sur lees aging, making it  weightier than a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc crémant.  This particular sparkling is produced using Sauvignon Blanc only.  Crémant is the name given to sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region.

In Part 2 of 3 in this Food & Wine Pairing Tips series, I’ll address the role of geography in pairing, as well as matching vegetables with the proper wine.  See you next #WineWednesday.

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A Delicous Spring Wine

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2009 Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc Reserve – Alsace

Refreshing Spring Wine

Crisp White Wine for Spring

To me, Spring weather is a perfect excuse to open an awesome crisp white wine like Pinot Blanc. I tried this Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc more than a year ago but didn’t blog about it.  Since that time, the winery has been purchased and the quality has improved dramatically.  The wines had a reputation for being hit and miss so I thought that maybe I’d just gotten lucky with my bottle.  In my tasting notes, I wrote “Loved It!”

What makes this Pinot Blanc such a wonderful Spring wine?  With every sip, I get a different tropical fruit flavor.  I can just see the delicious, sun-ripened fruit hanging from the tree, waiting to be picked.

Alsace, France

Alsace, France



The Alsace region has a cool-weather climate but it gets more days of sunshine a year than Napa Valley.  Those warmer days and cooler nights do amazing things to the grape berries.  Tropical flavors are the prime example.

The aromatics on this wine were wicked good.  They were just like Spring blossoms. I sniffed pineapple, peach and lemon.  Those same wonderful fruit flavors came through on the taste, in addition to apricot.  And with a 12% ABV, it would be acceptable to drink a Pinot Blanc early afternoon.  Don’t worry. You won’t need a nap later.

Dry White Wine

Germanic Wines Can be Dry or Off-dry

It’s not labeled as such but this is a dry wine.  Americans have been trained to think that all Germanic wines are sweet.  During various wars, Alsace ownership was tossed back and forth between Germany and France.

This wine is dry although with all of the tropical aromas and flavors, the initial perception is one of sweetness.  Hopefully, this Pierre Sparr wine will change your mind that all Alsace (Germanic) wines are cloyingly sweet.

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Beckmen Vineyards

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2009 Beckmen Vineyards Cuvee Le Bec – Santa Ynez Valley

Tasting Room Beckman Vineyards

Beckman Vineyards Tasting Room

Two years ago on one of my annual wine pilgrimages to Santa Barbara Wine Country, we stopped at Beckman Vineyards.  Just because I’m a wine educator, I don’t always want to pick the wineries that my group visits.  So, my friend Beverly chose Beckman and I’ve been a fan ever since.

I purchased (too) many wines on this trip, which is fairly typical.   I’m still working my way through some of those bottles.  But that’s the best part about visiting a wine region.   Instead of simply buying bottles off of retail shelves, you really get to know the wine.  You get the opportunity to taste it before you buy it. You see where and how it’s grown; and meet the people who make it, including the winemaker, if you are lucky.

Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

I opened my bottle of ’09 Cuvee Le Bec and enjoyed it with a take-out order of ribs from Phil’s BBQ in San Diego.   Like many wineries in this sub-appellation of Santa Barbara, the Rhone grape varieties are well represented.  This Cuvee Le Bec had 45% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 34% Mourvèdre and 7% Counoise.

If this wine was giving an acceptance speech at an award’s ceremony, it might thank Syrah for its deep-purple color, tannins and spice. And give a “Hats Off” to Grenache for the wonderful fruit.

I was a little worried when I saw I still had this bottle in my wine captain I use as my aging cellar.  But, it was not past its prime.  For that, Mourvèdre deserves the coo-does. Counoise is lesser known but a common grape used in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which blend up to 13 different varieties. It’s this Counoise that brings the necessary acidity to the blend.

As far as the taste, Loved It!  On the nose, it gives black pepper, raspberry and cherry.  These flavors were a magical pairing with the barbequed ribs and baked beans.  The dark cherry fruit wasn’t jammy, which I believe takes away from a wine’s complexity.

Grounds at Beckmen Vineyards

The Grounds at Beckmen Vineyards

The tasting room is small; and it can get crowded on weekends.  It’s become a lot more popular after word got out that President Obama served it at The White House for a function.  The grounds are lovely though.  My wife and I managed to grab two seats out by the pond.  It was a peaceful place to enjoy our tastings.




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Santa Barbara Wine Country

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2006 Blackjack Ranch Allusion, Santa Barbara County

Solvang, near heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country

Solvang, near heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country

For the past six years, I’ve taken a trip with friends up to Santa Barbara Wine Country. It’s a very peaceful wine vacation. I enjoy other wine regions, including the ones north of San Francisco. Sonoma County has a laid-back atmosphere and the crowds aren’t out of control. Napa, on the other hand is so popular that the Silverado Trail is so crowded during the summer that you’d be better off walking from winery to winery. Santa Barbara is still so chill, similar to other beach towns that dot the Southern California coastline.

We visited Blackjack Ranch Vineyards & Winery during the Summer of 2012.  Blackjack is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, north of the town of Solvang.  It was one of the wineries featured in the movie, Sideways. I hated that movie so much that I almost didn’t agree to go there with my group of travel companions. But, I’m glad I kept an open mind. Not only is the wine awesome, the winery grounds are beautiful.

Blackjack Ranch Winery in Santa Barbara Wine Country

Blackjack Ranch Winery in Santa Barbara Wine Country

The tasting room is constructed of recycled materials that were salvaged from a building that previously stood on the land. It’s rustic but certainly not a dump. I spent a lot of time wandering the grounds, which were less rustic, more HGTV.  The vineyards range from flat to Billy-goat accessible hillsides.

Blackjack's Billy Goat Vineyard

Blackjack’s Billy Goat Vineyard

The server insisted we try Allusion.  Again, by being agreeable I scored a taste of the most richly flavored wine of the day.  It’s a Bordeaux-blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I paid $30 for this 2006.  Currently, later vintages are running about $35.

I opened my bottle last night. When I sniffed, the herbal nose excitesmy olfactory senses, readying you for the greatness to come.  With that first sip, I get sweet tobacco.  This wine is velvety with not too much fruit.  The fruit tastes of mellow blueberry but without being  jammy.  As I go back for one more sip and another, that’s when I taste the depth of this wine.  Then, the bell pepper from the Cab Franc comes out to play with your taste buds.  It’s special.


Map Santa Barbara Topograpghy

Santa Barbara Wine Country Benefits from Ocean Breezes

The winery is located in the Central Coast AVA begins just south of San Francisco Bay down to Santa Barbara, then extends east to the Central Valley.  If you look at a map of California, you’ll notice a swath of land mass jutting west, just north of Los Angeles. Also, you’ll see a mountain range that runs east/west.  As a result of this zig-zag orientation, the vineyards of Santa Barbara County are blessed with breezes off the Pacific Ocean.

The Blackjack Ranch name was devised by owner Roger Wisted.  Roger invented a card game called California Blackjack.  Since gaming was illegal, he had a work around the law by changing the game up a bit.  In his version,  players used two aces, called a “Natural”.  So, technically that made the game “22”, not “21”.  Six years later, Roger took part of this gaming fortune and poured it into the ranch.  In 1997, the winery’s first vintage was produced.

Blackjack Ranch Winery Grounds

Blackjack Ranch Winery Grounds




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