One of our first happy experiences in a tasting room was at Korbel Champagne Cellars many, many years ago. Every decade or so we make a return visit, kicking ourselves for waiting so long to return. Another decade or so had passed since our last visit, so it was time for us to return again. And again, we couldn’t believe that we had been away for so long!
No surprise, the winery has changed a lot in a dozen years. Somewhat less rustic, a bit more Disneyland, but the Korbel charm survived. A greater emphasis on guided tours with less random walking around. We skipped the tours and made our way to the tasting room. The tasting bar was a lot longer, the gift area now a major focus, and there was now a special room just for making purchases. Although much had changed, the warm and inviting atmosphere and high energy wine guides took us back to our very first visit.
The tasting room was abuzz with happy visitors, so we were helped by two wine guides (twice the fun). Charlotte and Nancy had different approaches to describing each wine as they presented it, but they shared an enthusiasm for every pour. Some of Korbel’s products are widely available through distribution, so we focused on the wines that we couldn’t taste anywhere else. Well, there was one other way to taste these, but we’ll get to that later.
One immediate favorite in the sparkling category was their 2012 Masters Reserve Blanc de Noirs. We appreciated the dry, fruit-centered flavor, less sweet than the brut that is widely available. As soon as we tasted this amazing California Champagne, we knew that we needed to take some home with us (are you picking up any foreshadowing yet?). In the still wine category, we also loved the 2013 Pinot Noir, with fun layers of fruit, yet without the sharp edges that sometimes accompany a 100% Pinot Noir wine. The 2012 Zinfandel was pronounced “zin-a-licious” after the first sip. Honorable mention went to their Port, which was flavorful without being too jammy.
So we then faced a dilemma that typifies our wine tasting experience. We were driving the convertible to maximize our enjoyment of the redwoods and the beautiful summer day, but that meant that our trunk capacity was about one cubic yard. We had an overnight bag in the trunk, so our capacity was cut in half already. But that Masters Reserve Blanc de Noirs was not to be denied. We knew that waiting another ten years to taste it again was not going to work. Decisions, decisions!
So we decided to go all in. Decades ago, we were members of the wine club. We dropped out when it became too hard to have an adult home to sign for the shipment from UPS. Life has changed as all the kids flew the nest, so having a good excuse to come up to Korbel country twice a year was not a bad thing. So (you guessed it) we re-joined the wine club.
The wine club has changed a lot over the years. Now there are six different clubs, called Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Sapphire and Jade. The different clubs involve different mixes of still and sparkling wines as well as varying frequency of wine releases. After some study, we chose the Diamond club because the wine selection matched our interests and coming up to Korbel twice a year seemed very doable.
Joining the Diamond club meant that we left with the spring release pack: four Chardonnay California Champagnes, four Blanc de Noirs Reserve and four Brut Organics. To make the car-packing situation even more interesting, we took advantage of the additional discount on “sign up” day to add a dozen bottles of the Masters Reserve Blanc de Noirs. So our first wine tasting stop of our two day adventure had us breaking our mutual agreement to buy no more than one bottle per winery (the wine rack remains almost full) and filling the back seat with cases of wine. Oh, the best intentions!
We were then introduced to another improvement over the decades: trunk-side delivery. We walked to our car and were met by a nice young man in a golf cart, loaded with our wine purchases! What a civilized way to buy wine. No more lugging wine cases down the stairs to the parking lot!
We wrestled the wine cases into the back seat (someone at Lexus is laughing just thinking about that) and set off for lunch.
Speaking of lunch, if you are in the mood for some great lunch food in a pool hall environment, check out the Russian River Pub. It is just down the street from Korbel, along the river. We loved the food and the vibe! After we tried the tri-tip sandwich and a burger (and shared some great onion rings), we set off toward our next tasting room.
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?
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