The Answer to California's Drought Problem Might Just Exist in Mendocino

“What is that thing?” I ask Tim Thornhill half jokingly as we’re sitting in his 15-year old Ford F-250 in the middle of his vineyard in Mendocino. “It’s a tape player” he answers. “I don’t like to throw anything away. Someone gave me a CD of songs so I put them on this tape." I wonder aloud about the camera with super 400mm zoom lens sitting on the floor the cabin. He tells me he’s had it since 1983. It seems Tim doesn’t only talk about recycling, reducing and reusing at his winery, he actually lives it.

We’re driving around Parducci’s estate vineyards talking about water conservation. In California, you can’t go 24 hours without hearing about the drought or how bad it is on the nightly news. What Tim has accomplished here in since buying Parducci in 2004 will change the way wineries manage water usage in the future—and the whole state is paying attention. “I’ve been getting invited to speak at a number of conferences this year,” he says nonchalantly realizing his creation's possible impact on solving California's water crisis.

In his past, life Thornill reached a high level of success by planting a majority of landscapes around Disney World and other major theme parks in Florida as well as around the country. He knows how to see the big picture when it comes to brining harmony to an ecosystem.

California’s drought isn’t just a matter of not getting much rain for the past three winters. The problem is a compounding problem over three years that starts to impact the soil deep below the surface. We need compounding rainy seasons to get back to normal—one rainy season isn’t going to do it. If you have a credit card, you know what compounding interest is. It doesn’t matter if you make the minimum payment, the balance is still due.

Looking around the state at who the biggest offenders are of water use gets dicey as just about all corners of the state are planted to some sort of agriculture. Is it the residents wasting water on lawns and car washes? Is the pot growers in Northern California using all the water? Is it the almond tree farmers who have sights set on higher profits? Somewhere in the deck is the wine industry. If California were a country, it would be the 4th largest wine producing country in the world. With over 427,000 acres planted to vine in the state, there’s a significant chunk of farming that can learn from the water saving practices in place at Parducci.

 

Clean Water, Less Water

Take a look at the water reduction chart below. If there’s one thing to take away from this entire article, it’s this.

When Thornhill took over the winery in 2004, Parducci was using about 18 acre feet of water. That translates to roughly 300,000 gallons. Today, Parducci has dipped below 8 acre feet—a reduction of more than half in just a few vintages. A seemingly impossible goal to achieve, but for a wine industry newcomer with enough naiveté who asks enough questions it happened. Thornhill didn't know any better.

photo courtesy of Tim Thornhill

photo courtesy of Tim Thornhill

But to use less water, there must be a compromise somewhere else—maybe in water quality. Not so fast. Not only is Parducci using less. The water is actually cleaner and they're using less electricity to achieve it. Water is used inside the winery for cleaning tanks, cleaning barrels, cleaning gear and cleaning the winery. All that dirty water goes somewhere and in this case, the water came out of the winery with a purple hue. Excuse me, it was purple. And it the stench was so bad drivers on highway 101 could smell it as they drove by.

photo courtesy of Tim Thornhill

photo courtesy of Tim Thornhill

 

The Blueprint in Action

There's two ideas in action. First, to conserve water Thornhill came up with a brilliant solution—a broom and dust pan. "We walked around the winery and saw how much water was wasted cleaning the winery floors. I saw one guy using a broom handle to jam solid waste down the drain rather than use the broom to sweep the floor". Thornhill installed 22 water monitors around the winery to measure how much water was being used and where. "We uncovered a leak on one faucet that must've been have been leaking for twenty years." 

What the water monitors achieved was a friendly rivalry between winery workers to see who could use the least amount of water in their respective area whether they were cleaning tanks, cleaning barrels or cleaning the floors. "Many people are afraid of change, but I actually embrace it as long as it can be measured," Thornhill points out. "one of our employees developed a new way to clean barrels using repurposed water. We can measure that reduction".

Thornhill credits this simple thinking to his dramatic reduction in water usage and points out how many wineries can follow suit starting with this harvest.

In the vineyard, Thornhill installed a double drip line. Although it might seem counterintuitive to add an additional drip line to reduce water consumption but the results are impressive. "The first drip line waters all the vines the same way any vineyard manager would. The second drip line only waters a handful of vines that need a bit extra from time to time," Thronhill points out. Depending on where a few keys vines sit on the contours of the hillside, they may require a bit of water because they drain faster than other vines. He adds, "most wineries would just turn on the first line and water all the vines that don't necessarily need it. Why waste that water?"

 

The second idea in action is cleaning the water coming out of the winery so it doesn't end up in the "purple pond". Water coming out of the winery begins its journey at the highest point on the property at Trickle Tower 1. Thornhill found a bunch of old barrel racks that he stacked together to make a tower. He then wraps wood staves in fabric and inserts them between the racks. Dirty winery water is pumped to the top and trickles down through the tower. "Where there's food, there's life," and in this case sugars from grapes in the water attract a healthy grayish fungus called Filamentous Fungi that feeds on organic materials in the water. The more organic material, the more fungus shows up to feed.

Trickle Tower 2 overlooking vineyards and marshland (Trickle Tower 3 not visible downhill)

Trickle Tower 2 overlooking vineyards and marshland (Trickle Tower 3 not visible downhill)

Trickle towers allow the dirty water to de-gas, or release some of its dirty smell into the air as it trickles down. Because the first trickle tower sits on the highest part of the property, gravity takes it to Trickle Tower 2 where the process is repeated. Then on to Trickle Tower 3 where again the water airs out and grows Filamentous Fungi naturally. By the time the water reaches the pond, the water is clean enough to meet California standards for water quality (parts per million). So far, only one pump has been used to get the water to the top of the hill. From there gravity and fungus has done the rest of the work.

But the water in the pond doesn't have enough oxygen. Thornhill installed one single 5 horsepower pump at the pond that brings clean water up where it is diverted to either one of the aerators (modeled after rivers in the Colorado Rockies) or through the wetlands (modeled after swamps in Florida). Again, gravity takes the water through one of the two back to the pond where oxygen levels far exceed anything the state of California sets as a goal for wineries.

Aerators are essentially small water falls built out of repurposed materials. One aerator pictured above is made from an old cement truck mixer that was cut in half. When water flows through the aerator oxygen is introduced along the way.

The marshland is a labyrinth of twists and turns where water gently flows through before re-entering the pond. Thornhill removed treated posts from the vineyards to keep his organic practices in place, but instead of discarding the posts, he laid them horizontally underneath a layer of rubber in a maze-like pattern. The rubber keeps water from seeping into the ground, and is the only material Thornhill added reluctantly. Along the water's edge are hundreds of rocks that allow small organisms to feed on any remaining dirty organic materials in the water. 


Measuring Change

Of the accolades and awards Thornhill has received, his biggest reward is looking out his window and seeing all the wildlife that calls Parducci home. Two large Osprey nests fashioned out of used palettes are home to a family of Osprey who raise babies each year. Migratory birds fly from Argentina to Alaska each year, and now stop at Parducci's pond along the way for a bite to eat.

California's Audubon society has awarded Thornhill an environmental award for the work on his property. Birds nobody has seen before now call the pond home either as permanent residents or as a stop along the way somewhere else.

California's wine industry can directly impact the severity of future drought problems starting now. A man with no prior wine industry experience motivated by leaving something to his children might just have the solution we've all been hoping for.


BY THE NUMBERS:

PARDUCCI IS OPERATING AT 20% OF THE POWER USAGE ORIGINALLY RECCOMENDED BY CONSULTANTS.

THE WATER QUALITY AT THE WINERY IS 2-3 TIMES BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL BENCHMARK.

ALL THE INNOVATIONS WERE BUILT FOR 30% OF WHAT CONSULTANTS SUGGESTED.

THE WINERY LOWERED WATER CONSUMPTION BY 50% WHILE INCREASING PRODUCTION.

PARDUCCI USED TO HIRE PEOPLE TO HAUL DIRTY WATER OFFSITE.

Food & Drink at Cavallo Point Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge

Cavallo Point
Fort Baker photo courtesy of National Parks Service - base of yet-to-be-built Golden Gate bridge on the left of the photo

A Rich History at Cavallo Point

At the base of the Golden Gate bridge on the Marin side of the bay sits a prime piece of California Parks and Recreation land known as Fort Baker (pictured above pre-Golden Gate bridge). With views overlooking the city of San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge and the bay, Fort Baker has a long history going back to the Civil War. The fort was an Army post originally built in 1850 for coastal defense and now sits on the National Register of Historic Places. Various bunkers and military structures pepper the Marin Headlands in and around the hills where the Golden Gate bridge connects with land on the north side.

During World War II Fort Baker served as a military base of operations guarding the mouth of the bay and much of Northern California. In January 2005 an agreement was struck between the National Park Services and a group of developers who renovated many of the historic buildings at Fort Baker and reopened in 2008 as Cavallo Point with 142 rooms, 15,000 square feet of indoor space and a 100-seat Michilen-star restaurant called Murray Circle.

Murray Circle at Cavallo Point
Murray Circle restaurant

Mrs. B and I recently spent the night at Cavallo Point and stayed for the following evening with author, chef and television cooking show host Lidia Bastianich who was holding a book signing at the restaurant. We had stopped in for drinks in the past when Mrs. B worked in Sausalito, but we hadn't eaten there before.

2005 Matrot Mersault-Perrieres

What piqued my interest in Murray Circle at Cavallo Point is Master Sommelier, Gillian Ballance who is one of eighteen female Master Sommeliers. When she passed the M.S. exam in 2012, it made me want to come in and dine with her at Cavallo Point where she manages the wine program.

Gillian Ballance
Gillian Ballance, MS (photo courtesy of the grindstone.com)

What I loved about Cavallo Point was the sense of rich history it has. Every building is meticulously maintained as if time stood still for over a century. Bay area-based Restoration Hardware surely draws inspiration from the building interiors at Cavallo Point as each room looks like it could be a Restoration Hardware showroom.

Murray Circle at Cavallo Point
perfect start to the day

If there is a perfect way to start each day, it might just be breakfast overlooking the Golden Gate bridge along with the city and bay in the background. A warm cup of fresh brewed coffee and eggs benedict with the morning paper just felt right as if that same exact meal had been enjoyed hundreds of times in that same spot over the years.

coffee at Cavallo Point

Cavallo Point breakfast

But that wasn’t the “perfect” part—sitting in the wooden rocking chairs on the deck of our unit listening to the peaceful sounds of the bay and surrounding birds was what did it for me.  Finding a little corner of the world that’s so peaceful and quiet, yet so close to the city is hard to do. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. I had to force myself not to pull out my phone or laptop and just relax, but it was worth it.

View from Cavallo Point
perfect start to the day with the city of San Francisco in the distance

Office Oasis

Mrs. B had to go offsite for some meetings in Mountain View so I set up what might be the best office setting one could hope for. On Murray Circle's front porch (still overlooking the Golden Gate) are long wooden tables. If the weather is warm enough, like it was on this day, the wifi and stellar view is all that's needed to get to work.

the "office" complete with wifi

Lunch time seems to come on the heels of breakfast without any indication 3 hours have already passed. I could get used to this. The true test of a good restaurant is how they do the basics, so I tested the theory and ordered their version of the all-American cheeseburger. Afterall, I was sitting on a former Army base, so there was something patriotic about my choice.

cheese burger

An Evening with Lidia Bastianich

For many foodies, television host Lidia Bastianich is like a second mom. Part of the reason we wanted to stay at Cavallo Point was to attend Lidia's book signing and dinner. Murray Circle's Executive Chef Justin Everett was tasked with creating a menu for Lidia and her guests interpreting some of Lidia's recipes. "We're seasonal focused" Everett said, "it was fun delving into her recipes to see her take on dishes."

Part of Lidia's Italian heritage and cooking style favors simplicity, but using higher quality ingredients. Sounds easy enough, but restraint isn't an easy feat, which is what makes great chefs great. Chef Everett's challenge was adopting Lidia's approach to using seasonal ingredients, especially because seasonal ingredients in Lidia's world are completely different than seasonal local ingredients in Chef Everett's world.

When I asked Lidia about how she thought the chef did she was pleased saying, "it's fun watching a chef interpret the recipes and express the flavors using what they have available. I'm pleased with how the dishes turned out."

Course 1 - Seafood & Heirloom Bean Minestra with 2010 Bastianich Malvasia Adriatico from Croatia

House made sausage, croutons and fresh tender seafood paired with 2010 Bastianich Malvasia Adriatico from grapes grown over the Italian border in Croatia. 100% Malvasia grapes loaded with orchard fruits (white peach, nectarine, apricot) and some non-fruits of white flowers and fennel with moderate acidity made specifically for seafood fare near the Adriatic Sea.Bastianich Malvasia Adriatico

 

Course 2 - Porcini Tagliatelle and Soft Farm Egg with 2010 Bastianich Vespa Bianco from Venizia Giulia

A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Picolit make up the Vespa Bianco blend sourced from vineyards in the Friuli region of Italy.  Chef Everett complimented fresh pasta with forest mushrooms, house made pancetta, a warm egg and some black truffle shavings.

Bastianich Vespa

 

Course 3 - Herb Basted Beef Filet with 2007 La Mozza Aragone

Perhaps my favorite wine pairing. The 2007 Bastianich Aragone La Mozza  is a "Super Tuscan" made with Sangiovese, Alicante and Syrah from a good vintage. Chef Everett did it up with rice, crispy chestnuts and wild nettle flan. The filet was served at the table with a warm jus or reduction sauce.

La Mozza Aragone

 

Course 4 - Pecorino Pepato with 2008 Bastianich Calabrone from Venezia Giulia

Calabrone is more of an Amarone-inspired wine from Venezia Giulia made from Refosco, Schippettino, Pignolo and Merlot using the Appassimento style that concentrates flavors. Chef Everett served it as an after dinner cheese course with date bread, honeycomb and black fruit jam.

Bastianich Calabrone

There's a pretty good chance we'll be back at Cavallo point for the relaxing vibes, delicious food or stellar wine list. Even if none of those things existed, it would still be a historically rewarding place to spend an afternoon.

A Night with Penfolds and Michael Mina

photos provided courtesy of Vasna Wilson unless noted otherwise On May 1st of every year, Australian winery Penfolds releases their new vintage of luxury wines, including the legendary Grange. Coordinated tastings and dinners take place around the country so wine lovers have a chance to taste the new releases. Last year's release party included a dinner in San Francisco featuring the culinary creations of celebrity chef Curtis Stone.

This year's celebration took place at Michael Mina in downtown San Francisco. Once again Penfolds' brand ambassador Matt Lane narrated the evening of food and drink with colorful anecdotes and descriptions of each wine throughout the meal

Penfolds offers a full range of wines at all price points, but when it comes to their luxury wine selections, Penfolds knows how to roll out the carpet and do it right. May 1st isn't just about Grange, but all of the luxury wines in Penfolds' arsenal, including the RWT Shiraz, Yattarna Chardonnay, St. Henri Shiraz and Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon — all collectors items.

I started to feel all geeky about the night. Being a wine professional affords a lifestyle of fun experiences, but nights like this are what make it worth it. Wineries like Penfolds offer a reminder of why it's fun to be a sommelier.

getting geeky and excited for the night in Somm gear

As guests arrive, anticipation builds. To add a tongue-in-cheek reminder that wine isn't supposed to be pretentious, appetizers start coming out. The grilled cheese WITH CRUSTS CUT OFF are enough to put a smile on anyone's face. It's not enough to make grilled cheese in the first place, they do one better and serve it to guests just like Mom used to.

Kraft singles were nowhere to found — this is Michael Mina after all. The sandwich's were made with high quality frommage fit for the Yattarna Chardonnay in our glass.

I also like the....no wait, LOVED the cream of cauliflower soup with a tinge of saffron. This might have been the best dish of the night. I secretly stole 2 more of these little gems and didn't share with anyone.

White Burgundy may be the measure from which all Chardonnays are measured, but Penfolds Yattarna belongs in the conversation. Technically, I think we were supposed to wait to get into the Yattarna, but this is Mrs B's favorite Chardonnay so we jumped the gun ahead of the official pairings.

As guests started to settle in, the kitchen staff was hard at work preparing multiple courses to go with the wines. Michael Mina himself was there overseeing the line watching to make everything was executed perfectly. They were nice enough to let us come back and take photos of the food while it was being plated. Matt Lane tapped spoon to glass to officially start the evening's featured pairings:

Pairing No. 1 — Smoked Salmon Terrine with 2009 Penfolds Yattarna

Made with grapes in some of Australia's coldest growing conditions, Yattarna is more like Chablis than it is like Montrachet. Vineyards high up in Tasmania provide the Penfolds' wine making team with fresh, vibrant fruit high in acidity.

Bravo to the chef for slicing fresh smoke salmon, and adding layers of cream-based creation kissed with a hint of dill to offset Yattarna's fresh fennel notes. If Yattarna is known for anything, it's razor-sharp acidity — the kind that cuts through fatty salmon and cream filling like a light saber.

Yattarna is in line with the "new" style of Chardonnay with less oak, less malolactic ferment, more tropical fruit and crisp notes. In a word, elegant.

[button color=green url=http://1000corks.com/search?st=penfolds+yattarna&x=0&y=0] Find Penfolds Yattarna with the mobile-friendly wine finder [/button]

 

Pairing No. 2 — Rabbit Porchetta Foie Gras Ballotine, Mache with 2008 Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz

Like a ying to the yang of Grange, St. Henri is the under appreciated Shiraz in the Penfolds luxury wine lineup. Very little or no oak influence allows a younger, fresher style of Shiraz. This is the wine you drink while you're waiting for Grange to age in the cellar.

St. Henri is a sneaky good wine that creeps up and surprises even the most discerning of palates. An aromatic, complex and silky choreography of tension between elements rewards the palate unfolding into layers of blackberry, black currant, stewed plum and holiday fruit cake wrapped in a blanket of mineral earth.

Delicate, yet complex notes in the wine gave way to delicate, yet complex flavors in the Rabbit Porchetta. This might have been the best pairing of the evening with a sense of discovery and experimentation. Beef eaters would agree this rabbit dish reinforces how good rabbit can be.

Grange is deserving of its reputation, but St. Henri deserves to be right there alongside Grange in every cellar.

[button color=green url=http://1000corks.com/search?st=penfolds+st.+henri&x=0&y=0&this_search=penfolds+yattarna&restrict_to=&sort=relevance&custom_location=94901&dist_number=50] Find Penfolds St. Hentri with with mobile-friendly wine finder [/button]

 

Pairing No. 3 — Braised Pork Belly with 2009 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon

This was not the right pairing for the Bin 707. Generally speaking, I wouldn't put Cabernet Sauvignon with succulent braised pork belly. Especially considering this pork belly was braised for five days! Suffice to say, the pork belly was insanely tender and juicy from all the rendered fat in the meat. Of course the delicious reduction sauce and sweet local pea pods didn't hurt.

I'm a big fan of the Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon. It's made with grapes from some of the oldest Cabernet grape vines on earth. Every once in a while when the conditions are just right, Penfolds pulls some of those old Cab grapes aside and makes something called Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. If you can find it, it's like a leprechaun — catch it and you'll feel like you found the pot at the end of the rainbow.

My avatar on a few social media sites is a photo holding said bottle of Block 42. To this date, it's one of the best Cabernet Sauvignons I've ever had and I've had some good ones. Winemaker Peter Gago opened a bottle when I visited with him last year at Magill Estate. It took plastic surgeons 2 hours to get the smile off my face after drinking that one.

That aside, Bin 707 is the beneficiary of the Block 42 grapes when they don't make it into their own bottling so it's pretty darn good.

[button color=green url=http://1000corks.com/search?st=penfolds+bin+707&x=0&y=0&this_search=penfolds+st.+henri&restrict_to=&sort=relevance&custom_location=94901&dist_number=50] Find Penfolds Bin 707 with with mobile-friendly wine finder [/button]

 

Pairing No. 4 — Vacca Rosso Risotto with 1999 and 2009 Penfolds RWT Shiraz

I must've been busy talking or tasting because the photos didn't turn out well enough to post. But what was cool was the presentation. The wait staff brought out plates of risotto, then served a copper kettle on the side with a savory stew of sorts. They poured it over the risotto to make an intoxicating combination of savory and richness.

RWT Shiraz couldn't ask for a better companion on the dinner table. Rich and savory met rich and savory in the glass. RWT Shiraz, aka "Red Winemaking Trial" offers class and elegance without the price tag of Grange. Voluptuous and seductive plum and blueberry feel like a round ball of ripe juicy textured juice on the palate, but with enough acid to cut through the rich risotto.

Penfolds opened the kimono a little bit and showed us the 1999 vintage along side the new 2009 vintage. Talk about consistency! The wine was exactly what you'd expect...it was like Marty McFly going back to the future. Nothing changed from one vintage to next, except one vintage was just a little more mellow, and the wood just a little more integrated into the wine.

[button color=green url=http://1000corks.com/search?st=penfolds+rwt+shiraz&x=0&y=0&this_search=penfolds+bin+707&restrict_to=&sort=relevance&custom_location=94901&dist_number=50] Find Penfolds RWT Shiraz with this mobile-friendly wine finder [/button]

 

Pairing No. 5 — Milbrook Farms Spice Crusted Venison wit 1997 and 2007 Grange Shiraz

This is it. This is what people show up for — Penfolds Grange. One of the most desired and collected wines in the world. But if you were paying attention, you would've already seen the Penfolds pedigree and heritage in previous wines. For me personally, I like the Grange because it's everything it's cracked up to be. However, it costs a lot whereas a wine like say, the St. Henri is a deal. I'd almost rather drink St. Henri than wait 20 years for Grange to come around.

The pairing was fine. It wasn't mind blowing, but it was good. You could serve Grange with roadkill and it would be good because, hey, it's frickin' Grange. The venison was an hommage to jump steak, or kangaroo cuts I suppose but Grange deserved the best pairing.

After rich and savory risotto, perhaps a leaner cut of protein with a sprinkle of salt was the way to go but I would've given Grange a bit more credit than that.

In the past, Grange was made to age in the cellar for years before drinking but recent vintages show a shift in methodology making Grange more accessible at a younger age. It's still Grange, but it's Grange 2.0 for a new generation of wine drinkers.

We had the benefit of looking at the 1997 vintage along side the newly released 2007. Like RWT Shiraz, there was impeccable consistency between the vintages.

[button color=green url=http://1000corks.com/search?st=penfolds+grange&x=0&y=0&this_search=penfolds+rwt+shiraz&restrict_to=&sort=relevance&custom_location=94901&dist_number=50] Find Grange with this mobile-friendly wine finder [/button]

 

As we ate and drank our way into the night. Table guests became friends and contact information was exchanged. At the heart of the experience, wine and food did what they were supposed to do — bring people together. Mrs. B and I joined the Penfolds wine club last year after the release dinner because we were so impressed with the caliber of wines. We have kept in contact with people we met at both dinners last year and this year.

Penfolds continues to raise the bar through consistency and innovation. Winemaker, Peter Gago keeps finding new ways to surprise and delight wine consumers while staying true to the Penfolds lineage. Penfolds might be the biggest small winery in the world, but no matter what wine or price point ends up in your shopping cart, this brand will deliver the goods.

Mountain Top Tasting at Kunde Estate

A little over 2 years ago, Sonoma's Kunde Estate decided to open up their mountain top to public wine tastings. Good idea. As if visiting Sonoma wineries wasn't a memorable experience enough, now wine lovers can ascend to one of the highest spots in the valley to taste estate grown wine while overlooking lush rolling hills of greenery. Kunde's property is impressive. With over 1800-acres and a rich history going back over 150 years (say that out loud — 150 years!), the winery complimented their already popular cave visits with a sweeping 1400-foot elevation tasting experience. By scheduling in advance, visitors are greeted at the winery tasting room and taken in a passenger van up the hill through historic vineyards, past the boxing ring used in the movie, Bottle Shock. The experience starts with Kunde's 2010 Sauvignon Blanc in the tasting room. Key word here is "experience". This isn't the kind of thing where you step with pep into the tasting room and get a few free tastes. You're treated to a personal level of service, which is an expectation in today's world of social media relationships.

As visitors get into the tasting experience, it becomes obvious Kunde has worked hard at maintaining reasonably priced estate grown wines. When you can stand on top of a mountain and drink a $20-wine while looking at the vines that wine came from, it's a win for visiting wine lovers.

After Sauvignon Blanc, mountain top visitors will next be treated to one or two of Kunde's estate Chardonnays. The 2010 Kunde Sonoma Chardonnay for $13 will scratch that buttery Chardonnay itch. The word that comes to mind is, "value". Next comes the Kinneybrook Vineyard Chardonnay with lively passion fruit, butterscotch and fortune cookie. Fortune cookie? yeah, fortune cookie...in a good way. And this wine is a "high end" wine that's only $24 bucks.

As we move onto the red wines, mountain-top tasters are reminded of Sonoma Zinfandel. The 2008 Century Vines Zin was a Wine & Spirits "Year's Best Zinfandel & Best Buy" that received 91 points. The cool thing about this wine is it's made from vines planted on the property in 1882. Talk about old vine Zin!

After Zin, we moved onto one of my favorites — the 2008 Kunde Meritage made with traditional Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Think of the average price for a bottle of Bordeaux, then taste this wine and think of the value you're getting for $30 bucks. It's a smooth operator that just about anybody (especially people on top of the mountain) can get into.

When you're standing on top of a mountain overlooking Sonoma, time goes by pretty fast. Before you know it, your Kunde host is pouring Cabernet Sauvignon into your glass. This is when you want to freeze time. First up is the 2009 Kunde Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. For $22 it's not hard to enjoy generous ripe flavors of RC cola, dried thyme and black chocolate covered cherries in a glass. At this point of the tasting, it should be apparent the Kunde family is rich in history, and by owning this ridiculous piece of property they've been able to keep their prices reasonable. For me personally, I wish they'd lay off the oak a little but overall the range of wines for the price was impressive.

See the impressive views for yourself by visiting Kunde on Twitter or visiting their website.