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Moving Forward (in Spite of it All)

Posted on May 14, 2020 by Admin

It’s not a stretch to say that what we are all experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic is something none of us have ever seen before, expected or even imagined. I will be 73 next month and can certainly vouch that this is a first. The Corona virus has put a spotlight on the horror of a global sickness, something most of us never thought much about. Like 9/11, we are being confronted by things none of us ever wanted to contemplate and like 9/11 what we are discovering is that we have been caught asleep at the wheel.

Almost as bad as the virus itself is the generalized feeling that we should have been better prepared, “someone” should have known better (perhaps our government) and that this never should have happened in the first place. But similar to 9/11, it seems there must always be a first time and one cannot be prepared for everything, despite our best intentions. Like terrorism, the viral pandemic doesn’t care about a level playing field or being fair or the assumed sanctity of borders. And it makes even the most mundane things, like an errand to the grocery store, an undertaking fraught with risk and inconvenience as we head out armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and the awkward and unnatural maintenance of a 6-foot social distance. Indeed, we have never seen anything like this before, young or old.

As the daily news continually reminds us of what not to do, the question remains: What is left to do and what is best to do? For me, I have found that maintaining my own personal sanity and a positive attitude is at the top of the list and possibly one of the biggest challenges—and the biggest accomplishments. Despite the fact that “normal” has left the building, life still must go on.

To celebrate that intention, my wife Connie I and headed out to Stinson Beach for a long hike on Mother’s Day.* It was a perfect day for a long, hard hike due to a cold front that had blown in the night before, changing temperatures from the mid-90s to the mid-70s. Both of us having spent an idyllic childhood in Mill Valley, we were up to speed on where to park in Stinson in order to access the trails by foot. We were rewarded by a perfect day full of panoramic ocean views, spring wildflowers, old growth redwoods, and the feeling that we are truly blessed: out and about and enjoying all the beauty inherent in our glorious North Bay lifestyle……almost like normal.

As they say, we will get through this. And there are some things, like our beautiful corner of the world we know as “the North Bay area” that will endure and continue to offer up all its wonders to those who choose to live in this magical place we call home.

 

–Mark Stevens

May 2020

*Note: There were numerous courteous groups on the trail and when passing, we all applied our masks.

(More about the trail: The Steep Ravine Trail takes you to the Pan Toll Station, and from Stinson Beach to the Pan Toll station it is about a 1500 foot elevation climb)

A historic harvest and a changing market: Napa’s growers navigate grape glut

Posted on November 25, 2019 by Admin

Article courtesy of Napa Valley Register by Sarah Klearman

They’re the classic drivers of any market: supply and demand. Experts say that unfavorable conditions in both have presented the region’s wine industry with a grape glut — a challenge in the form of oversupply.

It’s not that this year’s harvest was particularly large, according to Jon Ruel, CEO for Trefethen Family Vineyards, but rather that last year’s harvest is on the mind — and in the tanks — of many wineries.

“When we talk oversupply, it’s the hangover from 2018,” Ruel said, noting that 2018 gave way to a harvest of historic proportion. “For wineries, it’s not hard to remember just how big 2018 was, because a lot of (the wine) is still in the pipeline.”

On the demand side, according to Glenn Proctor, partner of the wine brokerage firm Ciatti Company, the market for wine experienced a “pullback” beginning in 2017. The majority of 2018’s harvest was contracted — meaning grapes were spoken for — but the size of the crop itself, the largest picked to date in California, “exacerbated” the glut situation the industry finds itself in today, Proctor said.

In 2018, wineries crushed a staggering 612,833 tons of grapes, up more than 20% from 2017. Harvest was especially flush in Napa and Sonoma counties; growers harvested a crop that was about a third larger than usual, according to Proctor. He said spot market prices for uncontracted fruit this year hit a steep decline, with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes—a relative market strength—selling for less than half of what it sold for in 2018.

“2019 has been a year where it’s tough to sell grapes and bulk wine, because most of the buyers — wineries — already had sizable inventories because of 2018,” he added.

John Hughes, owner of H&H Wine Brokerage in Napa, said he’d seen notable price deflation in the market this year. Earlier this season, he brokered a deal that saw Napa Valley Cabernet go for $12 a gallon — about a third of its regular price. Even starker, he said, was the price at which some Napa Valley grapes were selling: his firm saw “quite a bit of movement” at $1,500 per ton. That’s just a fourth of what grapes — at around $6,000 or more per ton — normally sell for.

“The market just won’t sustain that anymore,” Hughes added. “(Distributors) aren’t picking up wine at previous prices, so we’re marketing to a different group of folks.”

Those ‘folks’ are largely the millennial crowd — a group with a taste for “a different bottle of wine” than has been traditionally marketed by Napa, Hughes said, and a weak point for the wine industry. Proctor also cited competition from beer, spirits and new additions to the alcoholic beverage market, like increasingly popular spiked seltzers and even hard kombucha.

“It may not be focused at (all) age groups, but it is really interesting,” Proctor said, of the drinks. “We’ll see how the consumer chooses, which is good: the wine industry has to remain competitive and produce a high quality product.”

Ruel believes that won’t be difficult: though 2018 was notable for the quantity of the crop it produced, he says the quality of the fruit was notable, too.

“Napa’s wineries are in a position of having more wine than they need, so they’ll get to be especially choosy (with their fruit),” Ruel added. “That makes this a great time to be a consumer.”

There are a variety of ways with the oversupply, Ruel added. He’s spoken to vineyard owners strategically replanting some acreage this year, delaying future fruit production to correspond with market rebound. Wineries, on the other hand, could be purposeful with moving inventory, creating tank space for grapes.

That’s been the tactic at hand for Cliff Lede Winery, according to COO Remi Cohen. Lede Family Wines grows all of its own grapes and saw a large 2018 harvest, in line with industry trends, Cohen said. It helps, she added, that the harvest in 2017 was under average — globally, it was the lowest level of production in 16 years.

Cliff Lede Winery has a tank for each of its vineyard blocks, Cohen added, meaning it isn’t strapped for space. Still, though, the winery plans to push the release and thus the sale of its 2017 vintage up earlier than originally planned.

“Then we’ll be able to release 2018 early, and have more time to sell that — that’s our main strategy,” Cohen said, of moving inventory, adding that the excess is “a good problem” to have.

“We could have had two other problems: not enough fruit, or too much mediocre fruit. This is an opportunity,” Cohen said.

Proctor noted that in speaking with clients, he’s observed “adjusting on the supply side.”

“No one was making a whole bunch of wine, hoping there would be a buyer. People were cautious,” he said.

Hughes said much would depend on the size of the harvest in 2020. A smaller harvest could correct the oversupply — though Ruel noted that growers, as farmers, “never hope” for a small growing year. And Proctor pointed to the ever-cyclical nature of agriculture, which has long been at the mercy of supply and demand.

“Growers aren’t overjoyed, but they see a path forward,” Proctor said. “They’ve been through this before.”

No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

Posted on November 13, 2019 by Admin

Photo Courtesy of A. Rafanelli Winery

A. Rafanelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley is among Sonoma’s many wineries hoping to welcome travelers after the Kincade Fire. “We’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting,” says winemaker Shelley Rafanelli.

Article courtesy of AFAR.com by Matt Villano


No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

This past Monday was a glorious afternoon on the plaza in downtown Healdsburg. Not a cloud in the sky. Brisk, fresh air to inhale. Over by the fountain, a toddler busily placed leaf after leaf on the surface of the water and watched his “boats” float away. Under the gazebo, a gaggle of teenagers strummed guitars. Across Healdsburg Avenue, inside Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, servers were buzzing around the dining room preparing for the dinner crowd. Through the windows at nearby stores, you could see shoppers buying shoes, clothes, and locally made art and knickknacks as souvenirs to bring back home.

Yes, this is the same Healdsburg that was threatened by the raging Kincade Fire last month. And, yes, that same fire destroyed more than 140 homes and most of a historic winery as it churned through nearly 78,000 acres of a largely unpopulated area in the northeast corner of the county. There’s no question that the fire harmed Sonoma County; days of forced power and gas shutdowns from the regional utility affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Cal Fire declared the Kincade Fire 100 percent contained on November 6. A few days before that, this part of wine country was back to being as beautiful and vibrant as ever.

In Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor, the three communities closest to the fire, small businesses run by local artisans are open for business. Restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall taco stands to the Michelin-starred Single Thread, are cranking out delicious meals. Heck, even Soda Rock Winery, which lost nearly all its modern production and visitor-oriented facilities in the blaze, is back to hosting weekend tastings in a 100-year-old barn that survived.

“People have a tendency to see images of burning houses or hear, ‘Natural disaster!’ and think the worst,” says Dave Hagele, Healdsburg’s mayor and a long-time resident. “The truth is that while this fire did a number on a whole bunch of wild land to the north and east, the part of wine country that people know and love is carrying on with business as usual.”

Understanding “the burn zone”

Perhaps the best way to explain the situation in Sonoma County is with simple math. There are 1,131,520 acres of land in Sonoma County, and about 78,000 of those were burned. That means less than 7 percent of the land in Sonoma County was affected by the Kincade Fire. Which means that more than 93 percent of the county was unharmed and today looks exactly as it did on October 22, the day before the fire started.

Sam Bilbro, owner and winemaker at Idlewild Wines, was frustrated with some of the negative press the region was getting after the fire, so he created an Instagram post that tells this story with a picture. The image depicts a map of the county with the burn zone delineated in red. Compared to the rest of the map, the red part is minuscule.

“You look at this map and you realize the fire was a really small part of Sonoma County,” he says. “Our cities, our forests in West County, our coastline, and the Sonoma Valley are as they’ve always been.”

News This Week: Coastal Getaway and 2019 Garden Goals

Posted on December 28, 2018 by Mark Stevens

DISCOVER THIS WEEKS  EXCITING LOCAL NEWS AND TOP REAL ESTATE STORIES

1) Sonoma and Mendocino Coast Weekend

Locals know that winter is one of the best times to enjoy the our coastline. This guide will give you the perfect itinerary for a weekend enjoying a few highlights that the Sonoma and Mendocino coast has to offer.READ MORE

2) Habitat for Humanity Plans Local Factory

Habitat for Humanity is planning to open a facility that will build components for prefab homes. The space will help the nonprofit to reach their goal of constructing 600 new homes in Sonoma County in the next eight years. READ MORE

3) Be The Best Gardener You Can in 2019

This list of ten garden goals for 2019 will get you inspired to get back outside. From going non-toxic to teaching kiddos to love to garden, these are some resolutions that we can get behind. READ MORE

4) Your Chance to Own an Amazing Treehouse.

o2 Treehouse, based in Oakland, built an amazing pinecone shaped getaway that could be yours for $150,000. With 64 windows in the 102 sq. ft. space, you will truly feel like a part of the forest. READ MORE

 

Ultimate Guide: Wine Caves

Posted on December 10, 2018 by Admin

Visiting wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties is a bucket list experience that draws wine enthusiasts from all around the world, but wine tasting is really just the tip of the iceberg. Top your visit off with a visit to a wine cave for a truly memorable—even magical—experience.

The cave is where perfect temperature and humidity allow wines to age gracefully and transform from goodto award-winning. Caves provide the ideal storage environment for wine. The temperature remains constant—usually around 58℉ in California—and the humidity is relatively high. This, in turn, minimizes evaporation of the wines as they age.

The Soul of the Wine

There may be something intangible that caves add to wine as well—this is where the magic comes in. Martha McClellan, the winemaker at Sloan Estate, suggests the caves add to the soul of the wine. In her own words… “The cave’s purpose is to provide a tranquil, peace-filled atmosphere for the wine to rest and age for two or more years. In the end, this beauty contributes tothe soul of the wine, nurtured from vine, to tank, to barrel and ultimately to bottle.’”

Benefits of Caves

The constant temperature and humidity is not only good for the wines, it is good for the wineries and our world at large. By utilizing the stable cave climate there is no need to use expensive and energy intensive equipment to store wine. And by building underground, wineries leave the valuable real estate above ground available for planting.

Then to Now: The Evolution of Gourmet Caves

Caves were constructed in Sonoma and Napa Counties beginning in the 1870’s, but the caves that are built today are a far cry from their predecessors. Today’s caves are used for much more than just storage—they are designed to play a vital role in the hospitality of the wineries. Caves are used for tasting rooms, retail shops, office space, special events, private dinners, and even music venues.

This diversity of functions is great news for visitors, because the magic of being in a wine cave is an experience that you will not want to miss!

Go Deeper

Check out this fabulous guide to caves in Northern California that you can visit today!

Want a cave of your own? We are offering a well established winery off the iconic Silverado Trail with a 4500± sq. ft. cave of its own. LEARN MORE

 

*Quote from Martha McClellan courtesy of californiabountiful.com

*Featured image courtesy of Far Niente Winery

 

 

News This Week: New Michelin Guide and Holiday Gifts

Posted on November 30, 2018 by Mark Stevens

DISCOVER THIS WEEKS  EXCITING LOCAL NEWS AND TOP REAL ESTATE STORIES

1) Three Stars for Single Thread

Michelin just announced their rankings for bay area restaurants, and Healdsburg’s Single Thread continued its success by gaining its third star. The Michelin Guide’s Bay Area list has eight restaurants with three stars, six restaurants with two stars and 43 with one star. READ MORE

 

2) Burying Electrical Lines May Prevent Wildfires

PG&E is installing power lines underground in West Sonoma County to better understand the costs and benefits of burying power lines for wildfire prevention. READ MORE

 

3) Sonoma County’s Natural Resources Are Worth Billions

A new report assigns a dollar value to the “nature” resource of Sonoma County that is approximately $6.6 billion per year. READ MORE

 

4) Guide for Local Holiday Gifts

#Buy Local and discover one-of-a-kind gifts for anyone on your list this year. READ MORE