What Makes Wine Country Wine Country

Recently we traveled over to the west side of Washington State to see some winemakers. We also did some wine tasting and picked up some bottles as well. Those we visited had tasting rooms in Woodinville, and there was even one full-blown winery facility in a residential neighborhood in Marysville. While it was great to spend time with old friends and new ones, it left us wondering about all the intangible things that make wine country wine country.

A big part of what set Mary and I on our passion-filled journey with wine was a move from Southern California to Northern California in 1997. We were still working in our first careers and the move was precipitated by business. Living in the San Francisco Bay area at the time, a home in the city was out of our budget so we purchased a house in the Sonoma Valley, which was far more affordable. The house we purchased was a small ranch-style home that had been built in 1960 and had not been touched since. What made it though, and what started our passion for wine and entertaining, was the setting. The house was on a small country road called Egg Farm Road that bordered the estate vineyard land of Chateau St. Jean Winery, which to this day remains one of the most beautiful wineries in the area.

We moved into that home on the Fourth of July weekend that year and were drawn in by wine country. Sitting on the valley floor the house looked up at another vineyard on the hillside above. We would frequently walk through the St. Jean Vineyard to go and taste in their tasting room. The seasons, and there definitely were seasons, would each inspire us with their own beauty. Spring would be bud break and the flowering of the vines, summer would bring long, warm days and fog-cooled nights, and the vines showing the first color in the grapes during verasion. Fall was electric with the color of the changing vines and the scenes of harvest from those picking the grapes to the trucks traveling on highway 12 loaded with purple fruit. Even winter had its beauty with the drenching rainstorms, and cold, star-filled nights in between the storms.

After we left our first careers, Mary and I went to work in wineries to learn even more about what would ultimately lead to the opening of our shop here in Coeur d’Alene. Mary worked at Chateau St. Jean and me at Balletto Vineyards. Now working in wineries we got to see much of the winemaking process, harvest, and all the work in the vineyard during the growing season. More importantly, though, we were able to witness those who visited wine country on the weekends and for vacation. We were able to see firsthand the affect of the beauty, of the area, and the wonder with which folks watched the harvest and crush. During tours of vineyards and winery production facilities, you could watch as folks took it all in and learned their first tidbits of the whole industry. Those who had been multiple times asked ever more probing questions as they improved their depth of wine knowledge.

To us, this is what makes wine country wine country.

Consumers who taste at tasting rooms only still gain the exposure to the always-knowledgeable staffs that work there. They still, too, get the chance to try many wines and explore them in depth to ultimately purchase the ones they really like. Yet they miss all of the knowledge and beauty of visiting wine country where it all really happens.

We are blessed here in North Idaho and Eastern Washington to have Walla Walla and the wineries of the Columbia Valley that are less than four hours away. Go a little farther and you are a two-hour plane ride from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys of Northern California, or extend your drive time to seven hours and you are in Pinot Noir country in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Ask us, or your favorite wine professional, about setting up tours and tastings in your destination. Chances are we know many of the winemakers and a phone call can help make the experience even better.

For all of us as wine enthusiasts and wine consumers, the experience of being in the true wine country among the vines, witnessing the yearlong saga of each vintage of production will develop knowledge and appreciation that is most times out of reach at a tasting room. For those of us with passion for wine and the wine culture, it is not only a different but also a much bigger experience that to us is irreplaceable and what will always keep wine country wine country.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com[1] or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo, and is the wine editor for Coeur d’Alene magazine www.cdamagazine.com[2] you can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com[3]. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/[4]#!/dinnerpartyshop.


  1. ^ George@thedinnerpartyshop.com (www.cdapress.com)
  2. ^ www.cdamagazine.com (www.cdamagazine.com)
  3. ^ www.thedinnerpartyshop.com (www.thedinnerpartyshop.com)
  4. ^ http://www.facebook.com/ (www.facebook.com)

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10 thoughts on “What Makes Wine Country Wine Country

  1. The most important thing is to stock wines you enjoy. This might be self evident, but when I started with wines, I spent too much money on wines that I found I didn’t like.

    I’m not sure how many wines you are looking to store, but here’s a few must haves.
    Wines for aging.
    1) Red Bordeaux. Sky’s the limit on price, but I suggest have a vertical (multiple years from the same producer) of one of your favorites that’s in your price range. This is perfect for a celebration.
    2) Red or White Burgundies. These are my favorites and both age astonishingly well. Be very careful about vintages though as Burgundy is one of the most varied regions in quality from year to year. Perfect for you wine snob guests.
    3) California Cabs. Again, stay in your price range and find your favorites. Great anyone who looks big reds.
    4) Barolo or Barberesco. Keep these awhile and bring out for very good friends.
    5) Australian Shiraz. Shows you appreciate wines from all over the world.
    Other wines to consider for aging: Washington Merlots, Cotes du Rhones, high end German Rieslings, Vintage ports.

    Wines for everday:
    Whites: I always have one rich white and one crisp white on hand, depending on my guests. A nice Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Griggio for food and a decent California Chardonay (I don’t like, but find many people do.) It’s always nice to keep a decent rose and/or sparkling wine on hand as well.
    Reds: Food friendly wines should always be on hand. Big wines like California Zinfandels go well with grilled food, while lighter, more acidic wines like Oregon Pinot Noir or Chiantis are very food friendly and match across the spectrum.

    And don’t forget about desert wines. Find one you like and stock up.

    Most importantly, have fun.

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  2. What Are A Couple Of Good, Not Too Pretentious Wines? I don’t know anything about wine, but we are entertaining someone who does and want to serve a good red and white wine that will show that we care, but not come across as pretentious? There’s no meal, just wine and light snacks like cheese, bread, etc. Any suggestions?

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  3. How Much Alcohol Should We Buy, Supplying A 21st Birthday Party? Hey there everyone – helping a friend organise her approaching 21st, and a little confused how much alcohol we should buy (nothing worse than running out, but we don’t want to go overboard on the $’s!). So, we are thinking of making a big container/bin of punch, having some light and heavy beers, red and white wine, and some bubbly. We are Aussie’s, so talking in terms of slabs (24 beers). Not sure of the final invite list, but could you help me out in how much you would buy for say, 100 people? They will be mixed in age and lifestyle, some older family and family friends, and plenty of school, uni, and college friends (who can all drink alot!). Please help? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!!!! thanks again!

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  4. Make it easy on yourself and stick to 2 (maybe 3) categories… either wine and beer, or beer and hard liquor, or punch and beer. having too many combinations not only complicates the organizers of the party, but you’re more likely to have a greater instances of people mixing too many varieties which = yak.

    if you’re going to be entertaining older guests, i’d stay away from the jungle juice/punch and keep it strictly cocktails and beer (and maybe wine). if its an all out back yard frat style party, then bring the jungle juice and a few kegs, don’t forget the ice and the tap, and do a few keg stands for me.

    also, consider your budget as booze ain’t cheep. if its going to be a nite of mindless boozing and your guest aren’t picky, stick to the generic brands and get as much as you can afford. alcohol doesn’t go bad, and you’ll probably drink it b4 it gets even close to expiring.

    if your guest don’t want to drink wine in boxes and down 40’s of malt liquor, get Heinekens and Coronas (w/ some light beer for the ladies), and hit Costco for the XL sized bottles of decent hard liquors. make sure you also stock some good mixers (coke, sprite, cranberry juice, rockstar, tonic, lime wedges) and plenty of ice. one way to keep it simple and make it fun is to offer two or three premixed cocktails, like 3 variations of vodka drinks (apple martini, rockstar n’ vodka, cranberry n’ vodka) and serve them all nite.

    as for quantity, i say calculate about 4-6 drinks per person and do the math. a keg of decent beer will run you less than $100, and you’ll get more out of that than 4 cases (or slabs) of beer for the same $$. make sure you get it early and let it sit for a few hours on ice or else you’ll be pouring foam all nite.

    hope this helps!

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  5. At An Informal Party, Do You Serve Your Best Bottle Of Wine First Or Last? You have only a few bottles: several medium quality and one very fine vintage bottle. At a small party with friends, do you serve the finest wine first or last.

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  6. Hi uytreddgg! i love entertaining, and a fine bottle with friends is fantastic! u should start with the nice bottle. howevr, if ur serving dinner that calls for the nice bottle, consider serving cocktails first, and saving the nice bottle for dinner.

    another idea is to do a wine tasting if u have a few bottles – slip the bottles into numbered brown bags and see if ur guests can guess which is the nice one!

    have fun!

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  7. What Do I Need To Set Up A Good Bar At Home? I have an amazing bar built in at my apartment and I want to use it as a proper bar. What should I get to start off my bar, I already have wine and vodka? It is a proper bar with the taps and everything and it’s pretty large too.
    It’s for private entertaining and my house is party central, I’m known for throwing parties that last all weekend. So a well stocked bar is important.

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  8. All the essentials:


    Here is another good site:

    Without a doubt, people are back to enjoying cocktails! After several years of taking a “backseat” to beer and wine,it is apparent that the trend is moving towrd mixed alcoholic drinks. Because of this trend, it is now more important than ever for home bar owners to keep a well stocked bar. This article will focus on the essentials of stocking your home bar.

    We’ll start with some common sense selections. You’ll want 750 ml bottles of rum,bourbon,gin,vodka, a Canadian blended whiskey, scotch, and tequila. Unless you frequently entertain serious martini drinkers, the gin and vodka don’t have to be “top-shelf” brands. Ditto for the bourbon and rum. However, you might want to consider a 100% agave tequila and a single malt scotch, as these types are obviously better tasting. For your Canadian blended whiskey, add one that is 12 years old for guests that like their whiskey on the rocks.

    With regard to other alcohols, you’ll want both a sweet and dry vermouth. Brandy and cognac are important, too. However, watch yourself when purchasing cognac and brandy. You can spend a fortune and you don’t have to. Go for the lower end brands, unless expensive brands are your personal preference. Definitely keep 750 ml bottles of a red wine and a white wine. Good general choices would be a Cabernet for the red, and a Chardonnay for the white.

    Beware when selecting liqueurs, as they are pricey. Try to select the liqueurs that accompany popular drinks. For example, Triple Sec for Margaritas, Kahlua for Black Russians, Creme De Cacao for Brandy Alexanders, Blue Curacao for almost any blue drink etc. etc.

    Non alcoholic beverages are also a must. These would include drinks such as Coke and 7-up in 12 oz cans. Mixers such as tonic water and club soda in individual serving containers should be added. Don’t forget the fruit juices! Large 64 oz containers of orange, cranberry and grapefruit should do the trick. Finally, bottled waters and Bloody Mary Mix should round things off.

    Your bar wouldn’t be well stocked without garnishes and other additives. Purchase maraschino cherries, cocktail olives, and onions, all in 10 oz jars. Go ahead and get some Angostura Bitters(4 oz jar), Rose’s Lime Juice(12 oz), coarse salt, and superfine sugar.

    Wow! I think you’re done for the present. You can add miscellaneous items as needed. This basic list should put you in a great light the next time you entertain, Oh yeah, I almost forgot, ALWAYS drink sensibly.

    Michael Hutchins is a noted author and speaker on subjects related to entertaining at home. A self proclaimed “party animal”, Michael is noted for his wit and creativity. Hecreated his online store, http://www.home-bars-and-more.com to be fun, “one-stop”shopping for all your home bar needs. It’s a fabulous place to browse around! Check it out now! For delicious drink recipes, visit Michael Hutchins’s blog: http://drinkrecipesandmore.blogspot.com

    Have FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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