Kunde redefines wine tasting with a view

Kunde redefines wine tasting with a view

Kunde’s mountaintop tasting is worthy of a special occasion. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Climbing mountains and drinking wine are two of my favorite activities. It’s not often I enjoy them at the same time. But birthdays can have a way of making the unexpected come true.

As an early gift to myself I splurged ($80 plus tax) on the mountain top tasting at Kunde Family Winery earlier this month. What views, what good wines. I have to admit, though, the climbing part of the outing was not human powered.

A van shuttled eight of us to 1,400 feet above the Sonoma Valley floor where we were greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding area. With Kunde comprising 1,850 acres, the immediate landscape was owned by the winery. Even with a tinge of smoke on the far corners of the sky, it was still a sight to behold.

Louis Kunde bought the first 600 acres in 1904 for $40,000. When the fourth generation came along in the 1980s they said it was time to make their own wine instead of selling all of the grapes to others; grapes that were being turned into award winning wines. The first vintage with a Kunde label was in 1990.

Today, Kunde uses 30 percent of the grapes grown on the land for its wine. This equates to 65,000 cases. The rest is sold to wineries like Duckhorn, Sebastiani and others.

While 19 varietals grow on the Kunde estate, Pinot Noir is not one of them. This grape is too fragile for the climate in Kenwood. Those are the only grapes the winery buys.

The caves at Kunde (entrance on left) are below the vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What makes an outing like this special is the intimacy and exclusivity. At check in we were handed a glass of rosé bubbly—a great way to start any occasion. This is the first vintage of sparkling wine from Kunde.

The three parties (a group of four, and two groups of two) first assembled in a private room where Mara poured us the 2019 Chardonnay-Wildwood. It paled in comparison to the 2018 Reserve Chardonnay that we sipped on the mountaintop. She said the 2018 is the staff’s favorite; calling it not buttery, but silky on the palate. (All wines we tasted are only available at the winery, thus adding to the uniqueness.)

With only eight in our group, we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted, and linger seemingly forever. The experience lasts two hours, which was plenty of time to not feel hurried along.

Before taking a van up to the mountain we had a quick tour of one of Kunde’s wine caves. The one we were in was finished in 1990, is one-half mile long, 30 feet underground and can hold 6,000 barrels.

Our tour was brief, but tastings can be booked in the caves as well.

Row upon row of wine barrels in the Kunde caves wait to be bottled. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Throughout the tour Mara dispensed interesting facts and tidbits. For instance, 60 percent of the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed at Kunde. The boxing ring is still there, but will be removed soon. The TV show “Falcon’s Crest” was also shot at the winery.

The 2017 fires in the Wine Country saw flames on the ridges at Kunde, but most of the harvest was finished. Last year, though, was a different story. Because of the smoke taint, Mara said, there won’t be any Viogner from Kunde for a few years.

Our tasting continued with the 2018 Pinot Noir, Russian River. Then it was onto my favorite, the 2018 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.

On our ride to the top we passed some of the Zin grapes that were planted in 1883. Their roots can be 30 feet below the soil where they tap into the aquifer, thus not needing any irrigation. The vines are not manicured in any way, which means they produce 1 to 1½ tons of grapes per acre.

Guests enjoy tasting wines at the top of the Kunde estate in Kenwood. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This compares to the grapes on the other side of the road that are neat and kept tidy along a trellis. Those vineyards can produce 5 to 9 tons. This is because they are getting more consistent sun, moisture and humidity.

A cheese plate was shared by two people at a table, which helped absorb some of the alcohol, but also complemented the wines.

We finished our mountaintop tasting with the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon-Drummond and Red Dirt Red. One last pour back in our private room was the Moon Mountain Blend.

It was a great experience. And while I didn’t leave with any bottles, I will keep buying Kunde in the grocery store—where I can afford it.

Granite, Hidden lakes in Carson Pass area a delight

Granite, Hidden lakes in Carson Pass area a delight

Granite Lake is a good spot to cool off in the summer heat. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

 While much of California is parched, lakes in higher elevations offer plenty of enjoyment.

Such was the case hiking to Granite and Hidden lakes in the Eldorado National Forest in Amador County. This is actually the third Granite Lake in the greater Lake Tahoe area that I have hiked to. (One is in Desolation Wilderness and the other in Mokelumne Wilderness near Blue Lakes.)

This was the most dramatic wildflower viewing in mid-June on this trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With granite being the dominate rock in the Sierra, it would seem like even more bodies of water could have this name.

Surprisingly, though, there were some volcanic formations closer to Silver Lake.

An island at Granite Lake enticed a few people to swim to it despite the chilly water. This was definitely the prettier of our two destination lakes on this day. It was more inviting to get in with its clearer water.

Plenty of green surrounds areas of Hidden Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Silver Lake was the starting point, it was not the focal point. That was a good thing because it can be crowded in summer.

A few no-name lakes are in the area, providing plenty of water for four-leggeds. In the spring, or when there is an actual spring runoff, some of the creek crossings could be dicey for those with balance issues. Reportedly at the bridge crossing a nice waterfall flows. Not in a drought year, though.

In mid-June several downed trees still crossed the dirt path. Some required climbing over, while ducking was necessary at times. In some places a path had been created to skirt around the horizontal timber.

Otherwise, this would be a fairly easy hike for most people who can handle this elevation. No poles were needed. It felt like a pretty flat trail most of the way—and in both directions.

A dragon fly finds a spot to rest near one of the lakes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The only thing that might be a challenge is following the trail. In the granite sections be sure to look for the cairns.

A few wildflowers decorated the landscape, which added to the abundance of natural beauty.

Stopping near water the mosquitoes came out, but they were not much of a bother while actually hiking.

Becky and I opted to have lunch out of view from Hidden Lake, which meant we didn’t become lunch for any mosquitoes. Hard to beat the tranquility of the high country for refueling.

It’s possible to make this a loop. From Hidden Lake the trail goes to Plasse’s campground area on the other side of Silver Lake and then winds back to the starting point. However, the trail is not always well marked or easy to find. That’s why we opted to make this an out and back.

One of the bodies of water without a name along the route. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Directions: From South Lake Tahoe go west on Highway 50. In Meyers, take Highway 89 toward Hope Valley. In Hope Valley at the T go right on Highway 88. Go past Carson Pass and Kirkwood. Turn left at Kit Carson Lodge. There will be a small Y in the road; go left. (You will be on a narrow road, bypassing lots of cabins and side roads.) At the next “intersection” go straight and not toward Silver Lake. At the next “intersection” go right, following the sign to Granite Lake. Minkalo Trail sign will be on the left. If parking is full, continue a bit farther for many more spots.
  • Minimum elevation was 7,361 feet and maximum was 7,778 feet, with an elevation gain of 528 feet.
  • Distance was 7.21 miles.
  • Dogs allowed.

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