Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't blink, you'll miss the sign!

Thirty plus years of wedding photography, and 345 weddings later, Frasinetti Winery is still one of my favorite locations to work in. Why you ask? To begin with, Howard Frasinetti!

Cool guy, indeed. Always helpful, always gracious, not afraid to get his hands dirty! (I have a fixation about people who are willing to get down and dirty...we'll talk about this later) Anyhoo, Howard is one half of he and brother Gary's secret little place in the middle of nowhere, U.S.A!

 It really isn't that bad of a location. Deborah Lynn told us about some of the people who come there on blind dates and wonder if they have found the correct location!

Seriously though, while driving down Florin Rd. in Sacramento county, if you blink, or cross the railroad tracks, you will miss this little piece of old world Italian charm!

To get to Frasinetti, drive east on Florin Rd. until you get to the town of, "Florin." Yes, Sacramentan's, there is a town called "Florin," and it is not too far away from the town of "Sheldon," which is located nearby the town of "Wilton" not too far from Elk Grove. Hard to believe that there was once a bustling community of agriculture and cattle ranching in this area. Remnants of old farms where the precarious skeleton of a tractor lay untouched for decades dot the landscape of Florin Rd. I have often wondered why these derelict artifacts are left to rust in open view. Perhaps the cost to remove them is too high or maybe absentee landowners do not know that they exist. No problem, I have just found my next photo project.

Forgive the digressions please. The poster child for A.D.D is always looking for new subjects to photograph. Uh, where was I? Oh yes, Getting to Frasinetti.

The winery is located on, you guessed it, Frasinetti Road. I wasn't joking about the railroad tracks nearly running through the facility. Having photographed 25 or more weddings here, I have witnessed more than one toast to the bride and groom being drowned out by the roar of an oncoming train. At a few weddings, the thunderous vibrations of an approaching freight train have unsettled a few glasses of champagne.

All accurate and honest descriptions aside, this is only one of the unique characteristics of this winery. The others involve the history and the people who today make this place a must visit on your bucket list.

When you get to the end of the road...

Drive south on Frasinetti Road, and where the road dead ends...no pun intended, you have arrived! At one time, the Frasinetti family grew more than 400 acres of grapes in the area. Patriarch James Frasinetti had a vision for producing wines that were reminiscent of his "old world"italian lineage.  The winery was built in 1897, and is now one of the oldest still family owned wineries in California. 


Come on in, the wine is fine...

When I visit a winery, my biggest expectation is to be treated well...or at least treated like I exist. I cannot accept bad customer service on any level. Dismissive attitudes, blatantly ignoring my presence and speaking to me as if I do not know that the Puligny-Montrachet region of France produces some of the finest burgundies this side of the Mason Dixon line will get you in deep doo-doo with me. In short, treat me like the Baroness de Rotchild...or your favorite cousin from the bayou.

And this is exactly how my cousin Sojo and I  were treated...like family.

We entered the small, warmly lit tasting room/gift shop and were greeted as if we were two cousins from down south by Deborah Lynn. No pretentious, sterile "welcome to Frasinetti" from this lady. Our greeting was more like a "HOWDY" ala Minnie Pearl from Hee-Haw, and  "How are you ladies this afternoon?" On a closer observation, Deborah Lynn looked as if she was "fixin'" us a taste as she beckoned us to the counter. 

Feeling like we were at home, Deborah Lynn proceeded to pour on the charm and the wine. Beginning with a white blend...I usually never drink white wine, but I'm open to trying most anything, we were introduced to Cerasolo.

This Italian blend was awesome! Kind of pinky and full, this would be a perfect summer wine to compliment anything from barbecue to salami sandwiches. Not a fan of pink wine either, but who cares, it was very good.

Deborah Lynn then proceeded to advise us on what to taste next. Her enthusiasm for her job was infectious, and I was impressed at how well she multi-tasked with us and with other customers. She never stopped smiling, and she was full of good natured information about the history of the winery and her preference for certain wines.

"I put them in my martini's!"
                         Deborah Lynn

Because I have worked  in the tasting room of more than one winery, people skills are more important than wine knowledge. Wine knowledge can be gleaned from a book. People skills is an art. I look for characteristics in Vinista's and Vinisto's, (No, these titles are made up, I know, I made them up), that remind me of...me. One of my claim to fames was an ability to blend wines at the tasting room counter. (I know, this is not an acceptable practice, but hey, serve them, and they will return...and in some cases buy each of the wines you mixed together.) I would limit my "blending" expertise to the sparkling wines and usually something sweet like a muscat or a port. (Think Champortini!)

Deborah Lynn was equally talented in this genre by "mixing" some of this and that into our sparkling wines to customize our taste preference. (They provide two different sparkling wines from Lodi) She made me proud; whatever she mixed with the almond sparkler worked. (I should have asked what she mixed...guess you'll have to visit to find out.) We rebels ROCK! However, not to be outdone, she introduced us to Kendra...Mulling Wine Extraordinaire.

Kendra was as friendly and professional as Deborah Lynn. I appreciated her dry sense of humor and her knowledge of people. She made us feel like first cousins! Having never seen a "mulling" wine kit, Kendra excitedly explained the process to us.

This is what I'm talking about! Teach me something new, and I will be your student for life! Break a few rules in the process, and we will get along just fine. 

After our lesson in "mulling," Sojo and I took a stroll around the gift shop...all 700 square feet of it. Packed to the corners with really cool items, we both said that we needed to return on another day to shop.
Something for everyone!

I cannot say enough good things about Frasinetti Winery. Is it an upscale, pretentious winery with over priced, palate challenging wines, no, and I do not believe that the winery was ever meant to be this way. What Sojo and I both agree on is that customer service is tantamount to whether we visit a winery again or decide not to. We have both been to wineries where the wines were stellar, but the service sucked! We know from firsthand experience that treating a customer well, even if the wines are not that great...and yes, the Frasinetti Chianti, Cerasolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and...wait for it...Merlot, yes, I said it, Merlot, were good, the customer is more than likely to come back or refer others to the winery. In short, the likelihood of bad press is minimized.

To sum up the visit to Frasinetti Winery, I give it two slaps upside the head, (that's a good thing) and a big thank you to Howard and Gary Frasinetti for keeping the passion of their grandfather alive. As for Deborah Lynn and Kendra, you were both awesome! Keep doing you.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Rare Gem in Santa Rosa!

One of my good friends, Liz, was always saying to me, "Wherever you go, may the wind always be at your back." I carry these words on an old chinese new years envelope with two dollars neatly tucked inside that Liz presented to me one year. I  like to think that the wind has always been at my back...at least when I'm looking for a new out of the way winery to research.

I found such a winery in Santa Rosa, California. Sunce Winery, Olivet Rdwww.suncewinery.com

This quaint little Mom and Pop winery is tucked away in a rural, sub-divided, "Leave it to Beaver," kind of  "Bonanza" neighborhood of small family owned vineyards and wineries. 

Driving down Olivet Rd., it is easy to imagine seeing a lemonade stand next to a driveway. The road is dotted with overgrown vineyards that look as if no one cares about them. The truth is, this is how vineyards may look when the winery owner is the winemaker, farmer, vineyard manager, CEO, bookkeeper, marketing guru,  husband, dad, and all things to all people who drink his wine. However, winemaker Frane' and his wife Jannae are more than good winery owners, they are good roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty people!

Size doesn't matter!

Pulling into their driveway, I expected to see a bustling operation of cellar rats running around waving their hands wildly as Frane barked out unrealistic commands. Instead, June Cleaver sans the high heels and perfect helmet head hairdo, greeted me in the office, living room,  kitchen, not quite sure what exactly they do in this space. I introduced myself and said that Jannae and I had met on Facebook. 
Allow me to digress.
Jannae and I had a mutual Facebook friend...I'll use that term loosely, who mutually pissed us off! End of story, beginning of friendship. 

The best way to describe Jannae, is "super mom!" Her little mini-me's are the most adorable spawn a mother could ask for. Talented is an understatement; good home training, easily detected!

Her children are her world! In between talent searches, (they sing better than birds!),  school functions and working at the winery, Jannae makes her overloaded role look easy with her gentle demeanor and infectious generosity. There is a bit of "sistah girl" in her. Built like a warrior, she embraces you with a hug that lingers for several minutes. June Cleaver could only wish to be this genuine! Best of all, she treats everyone as if she has known you forever!  

A few months back, I had a childhood friend visit from Florida. Rae had never been wine tasting and had never walked through a vineyard. Jannae rolled out the red carpet and treated her as if she had known her forever. Rae was treated to a private barrel tasting, wine education, a stroll through their Pinot Noir vineyard, and a new T-shirt emblazoned with the Sunce logo. For good measure, Jannae gave her a big "only Jannae can hug like that hug," before we left. Rae said that she could not wait to use some of her new knowledge in her next sermon. (I forgot to mention, Rae is an evangelist...hey, even Jesus drank wine!)

Meanwhile, back to size...

The winery itself is located in an old barn on the back of the property. If you drive by too fast, you cannot see it from the road..remember those overgrown vineyards...yeah, they sort of block the view. Th property consists of ten acres of Pinot Noir vines, the barn, their home, a storage barn and an awesome deck enclosing a bocce ball court. This is definitely a favorite activity at the winery. Guests can amble up to a window located just behind the tasting bar and enjoy a glass of wine as they play bocce ball. There are also outdoor heaters to warm you as the cool breeze from the ocean, which is less than 40 miles away comes in to settle on the vines. Overall, the entire operation could fit in a typical suburban home. What is really awesome is that during any given vintage, Frane makes up to 29 different wines! Yes, this is not a misprint. He does some in as little as two barrels, and others by the hundreds of cases. (Ok, now you want to go visit, huh?) 

Not being a Pinot lover, I like his Pinot's! In fact,  I like everything he does! My favorite...right now as I type, Cab Franc! Yesterday, Cab Shiraz, tomorrow, Sangiovese, next week, Petite Syrah, when I publish this blog, Alacante Bouchet, while you read this blog, Barbera, and just because, Cabernet Sauvignon!  Do you get what I'm saying, he makes wine! 

To give you an idea of how much we enjoyed the visit, here is a little presentation that I put together.

Please be patient as it loads..

For a treat that is sure to surprise you, visit Sunce Winery Olivet Rd. Tell them Karen sent you!

Copyright, Karen Burleson 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vino Noceto

Six weeks before graduation, I could not resist an invitation to visit Amador County. The journey began with an urgent message from the Road Dawg on Facebook. "Vino Noceto is pruning Sangiovese!" I did not wait to get approval from the winery before showering, dressing, eating a quick bite, and flying out the door to see if I could possibly snatch a few canes before they hit the ground! I was determined to get my beloved Sangiovese...even if it meant trespassing! I called as I entered my car. It was well before opening time, and they warmly invited me to come up and take a few canes.

After struggling to close the trunk and both of the back doors on the car, (they did say, "help yourself") I was invited to come and taste. Oh my, do I love Sangiovese! The tart, tangy, spice of this grape is "orgasmic!" This wine screams for food pairing. Pass the pasta and the tomato's, it's time to get my grub on! And that is exactly what we did..

As the sign above says, we began the day with a warm greeting and an abundance of hospitality.

For $15.00, we were given a wine glass, a $5.00 coupon toward a bottle of wine...not that their wines are overly priced, and all of some of the freshest, most delectable food you could eat!

Salad, Wine, Focaccia bread, Wine, Risotto, Wine, Pasta, Wine, Asian Chicken Salad, Wine, Crab Salad, Wine, Caesar Salad, Wine, and then saving the best for last...

OMG...the caramel was to die for! The people from 3D's Candies (916) 317- 4038 www.3DCandies.com  delighted us with some of the most unusual flavors of caramel. Jalapeno, Lemon Thyme, and other flavors paired very well with the wines. I had trouble avoiding the "Yellow Belle" caramel. For some reason, the creaminess followed by the somewhat fruity, nutty, spicy characteristic was too difficult to avoid.

What I most enjoyed was how generous the portions were, and how each caramel literally melted in your mouth. Yes, it was a difficult task to come up with the right words to describe these exotic wares. It took several samples of each flavor and a few repeats to come up with the single most descriptive word, "Orgasmic!"

On to the vineyards...

Vino Noceto is known for it's Sangiovese. Owners Jim and Suzy Gullett are passionate about this Noble Italian Varietal.

Vineyard tours were also offered on this day. Because I was so involved in caramel research, I missed the tour, but Jim was kind enough to grant me an interview afterwards and was generous in sharing his knowledge with me. Because I have canes from their vineyards, I was eager to learn as much as possible about how to care for the vines.

New growth
Grapevines are very interesting. For anyone who is gardening challenged, I
would recommend that you hone your green thumb by planting a row of vines.

Unlike other perennials, grapes grow with little care after the initial root stock has been established. Jim explained that water is vital in the first year of growing and understanding that too much water is never a good thing once the roots have been established. He also described pruning methods which are necessary to not only control the yield of grapes, but to also encourage the vines to grow along a trellis for support. I could have sat at his feet all day!

Jim greeting guests before the tour

Vineyards are peaceful. I could walk through them all day!

On to the wine...

Located in the Shenandoah Valley in Plymouth, California, the winery produces several Italian varietals. Founded in 1987, the winery produces about 9,000 cases annually of Sangiovese from the estate and nearby small vineyards. Jim grows 24 acres of Sangiovese and one acre of Syrah.

Specializing in Sangiovese, the winery offers an everyday favorite red wine blend known to fans as "Nutz!" This blend consists of Sangiovese, Sangioves Rose', Barbera and a small amount of Alicante Bouschet.

Brian talks "Barbera!"

One of our pourers, Brian was ever so gracious with his vast knowledge of wine and his sense of humor. He could talk "wine" talk without going over our heads. We appreciated his candor and of course his more than generous pours!

To say that this was a rough day for wine tasting and fun is an understatement. However, the Coup de Gras for the day involved a treat that only a true wine lover can appreciate to its fullest. We were invited to do a 'blind" blend.

Beginning with a dark base of an unknown red wine, we were given  three beakers of additional red wine, a stir stick, three glasses and a measuring vial. By initially tasting the wines independently, we came up with several different concoctions. The first attempt, not bad. The second went terribly wrong. The third even worse, but we were not to lose hope as we were introduced to flavor essences that could completely change the character of the wine with just a few drops.

This made all the difference in the world! After adding as little as two drops of this enhancer, our blending was drinkable! I have to admit, it would take some time to come to a consensus on what everyone liked in their wine. However, we were all amazed that the base of our wine was Zinfandel, and that the other blenders were Syrah and Alacante Bouschet! I got the Alacante correct as it is an unusually dark colored grape due to its' having red skin as well as red meat. 

Overall, the blending experience was my favorite part of the day...except that wine has a tendency to make you hungry. Next stop...more food!

At no time did the winery run out of food...at least while we were there.  We gorged our way through the food line once more and decided that white wine was needed to cleanse our palates.

Pinot Grigio is also available at the winery. Light, crispy and not too fruity, this wine was perfect for the third round of eats! Feeling a nap coming on, we decided to sit and enjoy the band for the day that belted out rock and roll one minute and blues the next. 
Guests were dancing, more wine was being poured and the day could not have ended on a happier note. Vino Noceto really knows how to throw a party. The $15.00 fee provided my out of town guests with an experience they will never forget...and they got to keep the glass! 

Visit Vino Noceto soon, and check their website often for upcoming events!

11011 Shenandoah Rd. Plymouth, Ca. 95669

Monday, May 21, 2012

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

Everyone should have someone special in their lives who uplifts them, prays for them, and provides a never ending opportunity to share their wine with. I am blessed to have such a person as this in my life. Meet Bill,  Christian Wino Extraordinaire!

A few weeks ago, Bill, myself and another Wino named Theresa had the pleasure of joining a few UC Davis alumni winemakers at the anniversary party for the alumni center on campus. Had we known what we were about to indulge in, we may have brought along some ziplock bags and a few "to go" cups.

Entering the reception area, we were immediately pounced upon by some very eager to please servers. Empty glasses and plates were not allowed! A huge spread of artisan breads, spreads and cheeses awaited us as we swooned to each beckoning winemaker. "Come hither could be read from their lips. Never one to be rude, I followed the bread crumb trail to every table and accepted the more than four ounce taste with abandon. 


One particular winemaker cast his bait directly in front of my nose. His name, Adam Comartin. His game, a stellar Grenache and a huge beefy blend called appropriately, "The Porterhouse."

Adam was a gem! His humility was infectious, and his passion for winemaking was refreshing. Contact him at (408) 267-6735.

Another equally infectious team of wine experts came from a little known gem in Winters California. Permit to digress for a moment..."Dang these wines are the bomb!" As I was saying, greeted by Megan Foley who happens to be a Sac State alumni like myself recently...Go Hornets!, we were treated to some exceptional Petite Syrah.

Da Bomb!

"I must say, this wine was awesome! Inky dark, silky smooth with just the right balance of fruit and spice! Unlike many Petite Syrah wines, there was very little smokey character. This allowed the taster to really get the familiar with the flavor of the grape. A real rare gem of a Petite Syrah!"

I had to agree. As a Petite Syrah lover who is accustomed
to the smokiness that is often a characteristic of this wine, it
was a welcome change to try something different. I became
intrigued and was forced to make a visit to the winery.

When I think of Winters, California, I see a small town on the back road leading to Lake Berryessa. My only attachment to this out of the way hovel is a few small stores and a gas station that has some of the best coffee a weary fisherwoman could ask for. Having traveled this road many times, it never occurred to me that lurking nearby was a wine lovers paradise!

The tasting room was undergoing a renovation. The owners have put a substantial amount of thought into designing a warm and inviting atmosphere. It almost feels as if you are in your own living room. The staff (I hate that word) was more than attentive...just like your family (I hope) would be! On this visit, I sampled their Tempranillo, (Yum) Grenache, (YUMMY) Barbera, (Yum Yum) and the Coup de Gras...Durif, (AWW LAWD!!!!, take me now Jesus!) Yes, it was "that" good!

Prying myself away from the tasting counter, my friend Mr. Tobey entered the tasting room and liberated me from making promises I could not keep just to get some of this wine! Give them a call (530) 795-3201


Never underestimate small towns like Winters. There are at least five more tasting rooms within feet of one another. Now that I have finished school...for now, (Grad school is still a reality), I plan to visit again and share more of my research with all of you! Until then...Salute'.