Dinner in the Vineyard has always been a magical evening. This year was the first time that Mike was not able to join us. We drank a toast to him during dinner with his favorite wine, Tres.
I learned something very important that evening. I tried not to say much about Mike’s situation because it’s a festive occasion and who wants to hear about life’s trials and tribulations? And in fact, after a difficult day, sharing another amazing dinner among the vines with our guests lifted my spirits.
But I learned something more. I was touched when Jerry, a long-time club member, who makes the trip from Rhode Island each year, took the time during the vineyard walk to quietly ask, "How is Mike?" He genuinely wanted to know and didn’t seem to want just a cavalier “he’ll be fine” response.
Later in the evening, his wife Janie told me that they like to know about us and how we’re doing. She said that they feel more a part of the Amista family when they know what’s going on behind the scenes. During the fires, they appreciated our messages describing what was happening and they were relieved to learn we were not in the path of the fire.
So, for those who want to go behind the scenes, I will share more of the details of what our year has been like. Mike is currently in a rehab facility in Santa Rosa awaiting the replacement of his artificial knee. It’s been a rough year for him – a fall in mid-December where he wounded his knee, which led to a stay in the hospital over the holidays followed by two months of recovery at home with a 24/7 caregiver who moved in with us. It was necessary and needed but difficult for two introverts to share our small home with a stranger.
Just when Mike was able to get around on his own again, the wound on the knee became infected and he returned to the hospital at the end of March. He had surgery at Healdsburg Hospital where it was confirmed that the infection had gone to the bone and the artificial knee joint.
The artificial knee was removed and replaced with something called a spacer (basically cement) at UCSF, after which he spent 8 days in ICU to manage the sepsis infection. He was delirious for a few days and over a glass of wine I can tell you some hilarious stories! He returned to Healdsburg Hospital to complete six weeks of IV antibiotics and then transferred to a care facility in Santa Rosa. He is unable to walk because he cannot put any weight on the leg with the spacer.
The process has been much longer and more difficult than either of us imagined. The good news is that he finally has surgery scheduled on September 6 to get a new knee. He continues to get physical therapy while he awaits surgery, but it is limited since he cannot put any weight on the leg. He will return to the care facility for rehab, which will take longer than a typical knee replacement given his loss of muscle strength after spending so many months in bed.
Meanwhile, I have taken over full responsibility for our business – both the winery and vineyard – and our household, plus managing Mike’s healthcare (everyone needs an advocate to navigate the healthcare system) and driving to Santa Rosa to spend time with Mike each day. A bright light is that the dogs can visit him now that Torin has recovered from surgery and Dylan is improving after an injury to his leg during a frisbee run.
I am grateful that we have an incredible team led by Brian and an amazing winemaker and vineyard manager in Ashley and wonderful girlfriends who are there whenever I need something fun to do or a shoulder to cry on. And now I realize that there is a bigger community of Amista friends who are cheering us on. I’ll keep you posted.
With deepest gratitude,
Why care about Grenache, you might ask? Grenache has gained significant popularity and recognition in the world of wine. Its flavor profile appeals to a wide range of wine lovers and its medium body and medium tannins enable it to pair with a vast array of dishes and cuisines.
I have fallen in love with Grenache since we first added some to our estate vineyards in 2011. But what prompted me to write this post was a recent quote from a wine writer who attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the Dry Creek Valley AVA. Wine writer Mike Dunne proclaimed, “Forty years after federal authorities designated Dry Creek Valley an American Viticultural Area, the appellation’s signature wine has emerged – Grenache!”
That was music to my ears! We added our first Grenache vines despite the widely held opinion that Zinfandel was considered the signature grape in Dry Creek. I didn’t know much about Grenache then, but I knew I loved its medium body and that it was a great match for Mediterranean dishes, such as grilled meats, roasted vegetables, tapas, and even spicy foods – all the foods I love.
Garnacha and Grenache are the same grape variety, known by different names in different regions. "Garnacha" is the Spanish name for the grape, while "Grenache" is the French name. The grape is believed to have originated in the region of Aragon in northeastern Spain.
While the grape variety itself is the same, there can be stylistic differences in the wines produced from Grenache depending on the terroir and winemaking techniques used in different regions. For example, Garnacha wines from Spain, particularly from regions like Priorat and Rioja, often exhibit a ripe, fruit-forward character with a touch of spiciness. Grenache wines from France, particularly from the southern Rhône Valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, can be more complex, showcasing a range of flavors including red and dark fruits, herbs, and floral notes.
Although not as widely planted as Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache/Garnacha is the 7th most planted grape in the world. Here are the top ten as of 2020 according to OIV (International Organisation of Vine and Wine).
Top grape varieties by planted hectares
1. Cabernet Sauvignon, 840,000 acres (340,000 hectares)
2. Merlot, 657,300 acres (266,000 hectares)
3. Tempranillo, 570,800 acres (231,000 hectares)
4. Airén, 538 700 acres (218 000 hectares)
5. Chardonnay, 518,900 acres (211,000 hectares)
6. Syrah, 470 000 acres (190,000 hectares)
7. Grenache Noir, 402,780 acres (163,000 hectares)
8. Sauvignon Blanc, 299 000 acres (121,000 hectares)
9. Pinot Noir, 285,000 acres (115,000 hectares)
10. Trebbiano Toscano / Ugni Blanc, 274,300 acres (111,000 hectares)
Grenache is one of the stars in the production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines and GSM blends. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a renowned wine appellation located in the southern Rhône region of France. It is known for producing rich, complex, and full-bodied red wines that are highly sought after by wine enthusiasts around the world.
In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache is the dominant grape variety and is often the star of the blends. It thrives in the region's warm and sunny climate, where it can fully ripen and develop its characteristic flavors and aromas. It is accompanied by other varieties to create a harmonious and balanced wine. The most common blend, known as a GSM blend, consists of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Each variety brings its own unique characteristics to the blend, resulting in a wine with layers of flavors and a complex profile. The combination showcases a balance between fruitiness, spiciness, and structure. The wines are often full-bodied, with a silky texture, well-integrated tannins, and a long, lingering finish.
The origins of the Garnacha grape variety, also known as Grenache, have been the subject of some controversy and debate among wine experts and historians. While it is widely accepted that the Garnacha grape has Mediterranean roots, the specific location of its origin is still uncertain.
There are several theories regarding the origin of Garnacha. One theory suggests that Garnacha originated in the region of Aragon in northeastern Spain, where it has thrived for centuries, and it is home to some of the oldest Garnacha vineyards.
Another theory suggests that the grape may have originated in the region of Sardinia, Italy. Proponents of this theory point to genetic similarities between Sardinian grapes and Garnacha, as well as historical records that indicate the presence of Garnacha in Sardinia before it became widely established in Spain.
Grapevine cultivation and trade have taken place across the Mediterranean for thousands of years, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of many grape varieties. Genetic studies have shed some light on the relationships between different grape varieties, but they have not definitively settled the debate about Garnacha's precise origin.
Ironically today Grenache is known as a Rhône variety. This is due to its historical and significant cultivation in the Rhône Valley of southern France. The Rhône Valley is renowned for its production of red wines, and Grenache has been growing there for centuries. I wonder if it also due to the fame of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which has no such rival in either Spain or Italy.
If you want to learn more about Grenache, here is a curated list of resources.
Did you know that National Wine Day is coming up this month on May 25? It is the perfect occasion to raise a glass to celebrate the exquisite flavors and aromas of wine. At Amista – which roughly translated means “making friends” in Spanish – we think the best way to celebrate is with friends. If you're looking for novel ways to commemorate this special day, here are three parties designed to explore the rich tapestry of wine with your special group of wine-loving friends.
Gather your wine loving friends, family, or colleagues to celebrate National Wine Day by hosting a wine tasting party. But let’s kick it up a notch and ask each guest to bring an unusual wine they’ve discovered and come to love. It could be an obscure variety, an unusual style or from an unexpected part of the world. Each guest takes a turn telling the story of how they discovered their special wine and why they love it. Then everyone has a taste.
Such a party needs some equally interesting nibbles. Of course, there is the usual cheese and charcuterie spread, which is always welcome. But a “You Aren’t Going to Believe This Great Wine I Found Party” demands a twist. At Amista, we serve freshly popped popcorn. It’s so popular that when our popcorn machine broke one day, our guests went on strike.
We use a lemon-herb salt which showcases our sparkling Blanc de Blanc. To make it work for your party, assemble an assortment of at least a half dozen spice blends that can be sprinkled on the popcorn – a kind of popcorn bar. Choose a variety of blends that go with different wine flavor profiles. It’s novel, it’s easy and it’s fun to see what herbs and spices pair with each of the wines.
If I were going to the party, I would bring our Amista Sparkling Syrah. This wine never ceases to amaze people. Its cranberry color fools them into thinking it’s going to be sickly sweet and yet it’s quite dry – always Extra Brut (6 grams of sugar per liter or less). Also surprising is that it goes so well with diverse foods from Thanksgiving dinner to sushi to Peking duck. It even works with panna cotta and raspberry coulis! And the interesting tidbit is that we would never have made it if it weren’t for a class project at our local junior college.
If you want to create a delightful ambiance to celebrate National Wine Day, throwing a “You Aren’t Going to Believe This Great Wine I Found Party” will do the trick. The wines, the personal stories and the popcorn bar will provide a rich backdrop for exploring new wines, flavor combinations and conversations among friends.
The invitation list for this party requires that your guests have a favorite winery they have visited in person. If you don’t have any friends who have visited a winery in person, I would say you need to make some new friends! But if you’re reading this blog post, you undoubtedly have friends who have gone wine tasting, so I’m assume you’re good to go. Invite them to celebrate National Wine Day with you by bringing any bottle of wine from their favorite winery.
Have each guest describe the wine they picked and why this is their favorite winery. Then everyone gets a chance to taste the wine. I suggest you start with the guests who brought sparkling wines, then whites, followed by rosés and then reds, from lighter to heavier in body, and ending with dessert wines.
It’s always good to have snacks when you’re tasting a lot of wine. It can be something very simple but tasty like bowls of kettle chips, popcorn, pretzels and nuts. You can also add a selection of cheeses, charcuterie and dried fruits.
If I was invited to such a party, I would proudly bring an Amista wine and it would have to be my go-to bubbly, our Amista Blanc de Blanc. This is the wine that marks the end of my workday and the beginning of my evening. It frequently continues as the wine that accompanies our dinner since we often have a fish dish or light pasta, which makes an amazing combination.
Hosting a “My Favorite Winery Party” allows your friends to share (and re-live) the wines and experiences they have savored on their wine journey. Celebrating wine is more than the wine itself. It’s the stories; it’s the experiences; it’s the landscapes; it’s the people that we remember when we visit a winery. Very often those moments are experienced with friends and create a lasting memory of shared happiness and joy.
National Wine Day presents an excellent opportunity to elevate your culinary experiences by pairing wines with delicious dishes. Whether your friends are seasoned chefs, enthusiastic home cooks, or discerning takeout experts, the versatility of wines allows for exciting pairings. Ask each guest to bring a dish and a wine that exemplifies their perfect pairing. You can assign hors d'oeuvres, first courses, entrees, sides and desserts. Or if you feel especially adventurous, you can leave it all to your guests and be prepared for a surprise!
Much like a winemaker dinner, have each guest describe their dish and the wine they chose for the perfect pairing before the dish is served. Hopefully there will be enough food and wine to try some of the dishes with different wines. Who knows, perhaps an even more perfect pairing will be discovered!
My perfect pairing would be a classic French cassoulet with our Amista Syrah. I adore beans – go figure - but when you combine them with chicken, duck confit and sausage and cook them slowly for hours with a crust of crispy breadcrumbs, well, I’m in heaven. And while I often describe our Syrah as a crowd pleaser, the perfect wine to take to a dinner party because it works with so many dishes, the cassoulet elevates it to a whole new level and vice versa.
The “Bring Your Own Best Pairings (BYOP) Dinner Party” is a unique variation on a classic winemaker dinner. It’s a way for everyone to channel their inner winemaker and inner chef and experience the varied tastes of a whole group of friends. What better way to celebrate the spirit of National Wine Day.
National Wine Day provides an excellent opportunity to appreciate the artistry of winemaking and the distinctive flavors of wines from around the world. Although seriously, there's no need to wait for a special day. You can choose any day to raise your glass and toast to the pleasures of fine wine, good food and dear friends. Cheers!
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