Giving thanks for family wines at vineyards and local tables

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)
Gratitude is the heart’s memory, according to a French proverb.

As I write about wines for Thanksgiving, my heart brims with gratitude. For me, wine and family are inseparable. I grew up on a small ranch in Sonoma County. In 1998, my parents planted 30 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. By 2001, we were selling those grapes. We named the vineyard Teac Mor, which means “Big House” in Gaelic, an homage to our father’s childhood home in Ireland, which was the only two-story structure in his small village of Leitra, Galway.

I live locally now, but the vineyard remains a central part of my life and Thanksgiving celebration. We express our love for the land, for nature and one another by sharing an abundant meal and drinking the wines we make.

Our 2012 Teac Mor Chardonnay goes well with everything from sheep cheese to light political conversation and laughter. The Chardonnay’s bright acidity, with flavors of crisp apple, lemon, honey and pineapple, provides a wonderful accent to the meal and day. And our 2011 Teac Mor Pinot Noir is the perfect companion to our vast array of side dishes, going equally well with talk of future harvest and pumpkin chiffon pie.

Both of our wines are available locally at Draeger's Los Altos.


While my family has a physical harvest to be thankful for each year, every family has reason to rest, give thanks and toast one another. Local wine experts shared with me wines that go wonderfully with the food and the meaning of the holiday.

“The Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving is one of the most exciting in downtown Los Altos,” said Rod Newman, founder of the bar Honcho on First Street.

Honcho will be ready to welcome local residents and their visiting friends and family that evening and through the weekend but will be closed on Thanksgiving.

“Year-round, I feel grateful for my family and friends and for our community,” Newman said. “Thanksgiving is for me a day to rest, but also a day to reach out to folks I haven’t spoken to in a while and toast those not with us due to distance or otherwise.”

Honcho’s menu features unique wines and beers. Newman highlighted a few from his menu because they are family-made, making them the perfect glass to lift in toast of loved ones.

The gentle bubbles and crisp flavor of South City Ciderworks’ Hard Apple Cider is autumn in a glass. Founded and run by a group of friends in San Bruno, the gluten-free cider is all the more enjoyable knowing that South City Ciderworks has a strong focus on giving back to their community -- they donate a portion of sales to local non-profits.

For a sparkling wine option, Duval-Leroy’s champagne is light and festive. Adding to champagne’s appeal, the winery is run by a mom and her adult children -– unusual for a French champagne house to have a female at the helm.

“It’s all about family for me,” said Los Altos Golf & Country Club’s Randall Bertao, general manager and master sommelier.

Bertao begins his family’s festivities with something sparkling and recommends Iron Horse’s 2012 Classic Vintage Brut. The California sparkling wine is made in the traditional method (think champagne), and Bertao described it as dry but flavorful and a real crowd-pleaser.

“For the main event featuring turkey or any game bird, I love Rhone varietals,” he said.

For those, he suggests Big Basin Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a small artisanal winery – the 2012 Grizzly is a favorite.

“Only 240 cases of 2012 Grizzly were produced,” Bertao said. “The wine is a blend consisting of 65 percent Grenache and 35 percent Syrah, and is ideal for Thanksgiving. The red cherry cola notes of the Grenache will make your cranberry sauce sing, and the savory flavors of the Syrah will accent any bird.”

photo from Iron Horse Vineyards


Jeff Cochran, wine steward at Zanotto’s Family Markets in Sunnyvale, spent childhood Thanksgivings at his grandparents’ farm in northwestern New Jersey. It was not uncommon for the majority of the food served at those feasts to have been grown on the property.

“Long before I was old enough to drink wine, I understood that Thanksgiving was a day for being together with family,” he said. “The food was wonderful, but it was the family that always took center stage at our celebrations.”

When customers ask for his wine recommendations at Thanksgiving, Cochran offers options that support the meal rather than insist on stealing the attention.

His first recommendation is Penner-Ash’s 2013 Willamette Pinot Noir.

“This Oregon Pinot Noir has a lovely perfume of red berries and fresh-cut plum – focused, vibrant fruit, with hints of blood orange, red currant and plum. Fine finish, long and clean,” he said.

For a white option, Cochran suggests a Henry Natter 2014 Sancerre. He described this pick as a “classic Sancerre,” with a mineral-tinged grapefruit and floral nose and a palate revealing kiwi and gooseberry flavors and a touch of citrus.


The Thanksgiving playlist at our house this year, includes a heavy sprinkling of cover songs. The new versions of classics from my childhood fit perfectly into the family-focused, memory laden day. And thanks to my hipper-than-I’ll-ever-be, brother-in-law, there are some current songs for the younger dinner guests. 

James Vincent McMorrow: “Higher Love” 
Sophie Hunger: “I Put a Spell on You”
Gretchen Parlato: “Holding Back the Years” 
Aretha Franklin: “Rock Steady”
George Ezra: “Barcelona” 
Christine and the Queens: “Tilted” 
Aurouze: “Precious Time”
Empire of the Sun: “Walking on a Dream” 
Talking Heads: “This Must Be The Place”
Sondar: “Ready” 
Ray Charles: “Georgia on My Mind”
Steve Ward Moore: “The Owl”
Kygo: “Here for You”
Kings of Leon: “Walls”
Nils Langdren: “We Don’t Need Another Hero” 
Jeff Buckley: “Hallelujah”
Laura Mvula: “Little Girl Blue”
Lady Gaga, Florence Welch: “Hey Girl”


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