sonoma valley 2011 (From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA)
There are, by inexact count, 75 wineries inside the semi-official boundaries of Sonoma Valley, although several don’t have public tasting rooms. Whether you’re a jaded local or a bedazzled visitor, you’re simply not going to visit them all. Not any time soon.
But hey, you can try.
So where to begin? We like to start you off at the geographical bottom and work north. That will put you on Highway 121, with the bay at your back and a Tuscan villa perched on a hilltop as you drop into the throat of the Sonoma Valley or, as the romantics among us like to say, the Valley of the Moon.
The winery on the hill is Viansa, a perfect gateway stop, with views across the Sonoma wetlands Sam Sebastiani helped expand and preserve, and a winter refuge for as many as 10,000 waterfowl in a single day. The winery has an Italian Marketplace with gourmet foods and outstanding wines. Tasting tip: Try the 2008 cabernet franc merlot, a gold medal/best of class winner. 25200 Arnold Drive, 800.995.4740, or viansa.com.
A quarter-mile up the road is Cline Cellars, where Fred and Nancy Cline have created an organic oasis, employing “Green String” farming techniques with no agricultural chemicals. The Cline estate features a California mission museum with a complete set of model missions created for the 1939 World’s Fair. Tasting tip: The 2008 Sonoma zinfandel is a treat. 24737 Arnold Drive, 707.940.4000.
On the other side of the highway is Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, named for Fred Cline’s maternal grandfather who invented the bathtub pump that changed our relationship with water. The winery is modeled after the ancestral home in Italy and is paired with The Olive Press, which makes gourmet olive oil. Winetasting is free and the grounds are gorgeous. Tasting tip: The 2009 barbera won Best of Class at the 2011 S.F. Chronicle Wine Competition. 24724 Arnold Drive, 707.931.7575, or jacuzziwines.com.
Next up is Gloria Ferrer, part of a Spanish sparkling-wine dynasty, with an elegant visitor’s center up against the rolling hills of Sonoma Mountain, founded by the Ferrer family, owners of the Freixenet label. Tasting tip: For $50, the 1999, half-pinot Carneros Cuvée is worth every dime. 23555 Arnold Drive, 707.996.7256, or Gloria ferrer.com.
Directly across Highway 121 is the entrance to CornerStone, an amalgam of art, gardens, tasting rooms, intriguing stores and host to Meadowcroft Family of Wines, Larson Family Wineries, an evolving variety of other labels and enough things to see and do to burn through an afternoon. Tasting tip: Try the 2007 Meadowcroft Syrah. 23570 Arnold Drive, 707.934.4090, or meadowcroftfamilyofwines.com.
A half mile north, at the intersection of Highways 121 and 12, is the site of a combination gas station, towing service, repair shop, deli and wine bar. This is Bonneau’s, a family enterprise where you can fill your gas tank, your tummy and your wine glass all with one stop. Tasting tip: The 2008 Los Carneros Chardonnay got 91 points from Wine & Spirits. 75 Bonneau Rd., 707.996.0420, or bonneauwine.com.
Just across Bonneau Road is Anaba Winery, named for the cooling winds that sweep across Carneros. Anaba’s first vintage won five awards–including two golds. Tasting Tip:The 2007 J MCK Vineyard, Carneros pinot noir got 92 points from Wine Enthusiast. 60 Bonneau Rd., 707.996.4188, or anabawines.com.
A little further down Bonneau Road is Schug Carneros Estate, where Walter Schug brought his pinot dreams from Germany. Tasting tip: The 2008 Pinot Noir Carneros won gold/Best of Class at the Miami Food & Wine Festival. 602 Bonneau Rd., 707.939.9363, or schugwinery.com.
Five minutes north is the Robledo Family Winery, a celebrated Mexican-American success story founded by an immigrant fieldworker named Reynaldo Robledo Sr., who this year dined with President Obama in the White House. Tasting tip: The 2006 Los Carneros Pinot is a double gold medal winner. Tastings by appointment. 21901 Bonness Rd., 707.939.6903, or robledofamilywinery.com.
Heading back to 121, you turn down bumpy little Millerick Road to Larson Family Winery, where Tom and Becky make great wine at a famous rodeo site on the edge of the Sonoma Slough. Tasting Tip: The 2008 Late Harvest Carneros Gewürtztraminer won gold in the 2011 SF Chronicle Wine Competition. 23355 Millerick Rd., 707.938.3031, or larsonfamilywinery.com.
David Homewood’s Homewood Winery is pretty close to a one-man operation, making small batches of luscious of reds and whites. The Redder the Better Lounge and adjoining picnic table is open daily or by appointment. Tasting tip: Try the 2008 Sonoma County Flying Wizzbanger. 23120 Burndale Rd., 707.996.6353, or homewoodwinery.com.
From Homewood, you’ll want to backtrack to Eighth Street East and enter into the heart of warehouse winemaking, where corrugated metal roofing defines the architecture and some astoundingly good boutique wines are made, many of them as part of the Eighth Street Wineries collective. That includes Tin Barn Vineyards, Enkidu, Ty Caton, Kamen Estate, MacRostie, Three Sticks, Stone Edge Farm, Parmelee-Hill and Talisman. We’ll visit some of these wineries at their tasting rooms elsewhere, but for those exclusive to Eighth Street the following will be of value:
Tin Barn Winery makes some spectacular wines. Tasting tip: Try the gold-medal 2009 sauvignon blanc Sonoma County, Hi Vista Vineyard. 21692 8th St. East, 707.938.5430, or tinbarnvineyards.com.
Steve MacRostie is one of the wizards of California winemaking and helped pioneer the production of Carneros fruit and wine. His tasting room is open Saturdays on Eighth Street. Tasting Tip: The 2008 Sonoma Coast chardonnay got 92 points from Wine Spectator. 21481 8th St. East, 707.996.4480, or macrostiewinery.com.
Talisman is linked to winemaker Scott Rich’s native American mother. The symbol is traditional and denotes a very good wine. Tasting Tip: Try the 2007 Hawk Hill Vineyard Russian River pinot noir. 21684 8th St. East, 707.996.9050, or talismanwine.com.
Parmelee Hill Vineyards is one of Sonoma Valley’s premier vineyard properties and winemaker/vineyard manager Steve Hill is a legend. Occasional open house tastings. Tasting tip: The 2008 Parmelee-Hill “Block B” syrah. P.O. Box 432, Sonoma 95476, 707.933.8905, or sonomasyrah.com.
Stone Edge Farm is sustainably managed on the edge of Sonoma Mountain, producing superb cabernet and Bordeaux blends called Surround. Tasting Tip: Try the 2007 Surround cabernet. Tastings by appointment. P.O. Box 487, Sonoma 95476, 707.935.6250, or stoneedgefarm.com.
Dunstan Wines/Durell Vineyard is one half of an amicably divided winemaking family that launched the Dunstan label this year, sourcing from the iconic Durell Vineyard. Tasting tip: The 2008 Dunstan pinot noir is an incredibly rich, dark complex Burgundian treasure. P.O. Box 1676, Sonoma, 707.933.3839, or dunstanwines.com.
There are three things to know about Three Sticks: Durell Vineyards, winemaker Don Van Staaveren and owner Bill Price, the other half of the Durell Vineyard patronage. They’re all legends and the wine they produce is exemplary. All of it is hard to find, unless you’re on the allocation list. Tasting Tip: The 2007 Durell pinot that got 91 points from Wine Spectator. P.O. Box 1869, Sonoma 95476, 707.996.3328, or threestickswine.com.
Kamen Estate Wines are the product of screenwriter Robert Kamen who used his Karate Kid income to buy 280 acres of rocks on the side of the Mayacamas Mountains. With organic guru Phil Coturri leading the way, Kamen created a chemical-free, nationally recognized cabernet vineyard. Tasting tip: If you can get it–the 2007 Kashmir Cuveé Cabernet is worth the search. 21692 8th St. East, 707.933.1700, or kamenwines.com.
If you can’t say Gundlach Bundschu, just say Gun Bun. It’s the oldest family-owned winery in California, famous for history, highjinx and really good wine. Tasting tip: The 2006 Vintage Reserve cab is fabulous. 2000 Denmark St., 707.938.5277, or gunbun.com.
Down Denmark and left on Napa Road brings you to Nicholson Ranch, a place of many attractions, including a lovely lake, the Overlook Gallery showcase for local artists, and a lot of award-winning wine. Tasting tip: The 2007 estate pinot noir won double gold and Best of Show at the National Women’s Wine Competition. 4200 Napa Rd., 707.938.8822, or nicholsonranch.com.
The Donum Estate is the creation of Anne Moller-Racke, longtime manager of Buena Vista Carneros and a petite giant in the world of pinot noir. Her wines, available online and through the wine club, are spectacular. Tasting tip: The 2007 Donum Carneros pinot noir estate grown got 93 points from Wine Spectator. 24520 Ramal Rd., 707.939.2290, or thedonumestate.com.
Buena Vista Carneros is the oldest winery in California, founded by Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, and the birthplace of the California wine industry. Tasting Tip: The 2006 Ramal Vineyard pinot noir, Dijon Clones got 92 points from The Wine News. 18000 Old Winery Rd., 800.926.1266, or buenavistacarneros.com.
Bartholomew Park, founded by journalist and UPI president Frank Bartholomew on the site of Agoston Haraszthy’s original vineyard. Another Phil Coturri-managed organic vineyard with hiking trails and picnic grounds. Tasting Tip: The 2007 zinfandel, estatevineyard estate syrah. 1000 Vineyard Lane, 707.935.9511, or bartpark.com.
He’s been called the godfather of zin. Even though Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson has sold the keys to the winery he still guards the door, making sure no wimpy wines get in. Tasting Tip: The 2007 Old Hill Zinfandel is what zinfandel is all about. 18701 Gehricke Rd., 707.938.1960, or ravenswoodwinery.com.
Even though the Foley Group now owns Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery, it still symbolizes the City of Sonoma like no other label. The hand-carved tasting room barrels are worth the visit. Tasting Tip: The 2007 Sonoma County Secolo got 92 points from Wine Spectator. 389 Fourth St. East, 707.933.3230 or sebastiani.com.
Any winery that can score 90 points or better on all 12 of its 2011 releases has to be doing more than a little bit right. That’s Sojourn, an upstart teaching the old guard how to do it, with a heavy focus on pinot noir. Every single bottling is great. Tasting Tip: The 2009 Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast pinot noir got 94 points from Wine Spectator. Tasting salon by appointment, 141 East Napa St., 707.938.7212 or sojourncellars.com.
Bill Brinton is one of two Sonoma Valley winemakers related to tractor entrepreneur John Deere. His Charles Creek Winery has a tasting room on the Sonoma Plaza. Tasting Tip: The 2005 La Vista Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon got 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. Tasting room 483 First St., West, 707.935.3848, or charlescreek.com.
Eric K James is Jim Walker and Eric K. Glunt, who run the Napa-Sonoma Vineyard Group, and have their own Carneros vineyard with a tasting room in The Mercado, just off the Sonoma Plaza. Tasting Tip: The 2007 Carneros pinot noir is a $24 steal. 452 First St. East, 707.996.1364, or growine.com.
Roche Carneros Winery has moved from its Carneros hilltop while awaiting completion of a new facility across the highway . A tasting room is located just off the Plaza at 122 West Spain Street. Tasting Tip: The 2008 Carneros Chardonnay–American Oak received a double gold metal. 122 West Spain Street, 707.935.7115, or rochewinery.com.
Roessler Cellars, a partnership between Roger and Richard Roessler, winemaker Scott Shipley and partner Kevin McNeely, has racked up an enviable list of awards. Tasting Tip: 2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast pinot noir. Tasting room, 380 First St., West, 707.933.4440, or roesslercellars.com.
Highway 12 wines reflects the passion of winemaker Michael Sebastiani and the fruit from vineyards like Serres Ranch, Sangiacomo and La Prenda . Tasting Tip: The reliable, $7.25 bottle of the Old Sonoma Red, Mission Hardware, and a bottle of the yummy 2007 Reserve Syrah. Tasting room, 498 First St., East, 707.938.8091, or highway12winery.com.
Doug Offenbacher used to market Sebastiani wines. Now he’s partnered with Michael Sebastiani and Paul Giusto in Highway 12 Winery and has released his own label, Slonoma. Tasting Tip: His Life is Slow Merlot is available at Sonoma Market and at Highway 12 tasting room.
Madrone Ridge releases less than 250 cases each of a single-vineyard zin and a Bordeaux blend. The wines are lush, affordable and can be tasted inside Enoteca on the Plaza. In Enoteca, 35 East Napa St., 707.935.1200, or madroneridgewinescom.
Westwood Winery is producing some outstanding pinot noir under the guidance of John Kelly. The Plaza tasting room offers samples by appointment. Tasting Tip: Try the 2007 estate vineyard, Sonoma Valley pinot noir. 11 East Napa St., 707.294.8278 or 707.480.2251, or westwoodwine.com.
The next stop is near the top of Cavedale Road at the profoundly Italian Petroni Vineyards where San Francisco restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni has a mountainside vineyard and villa that produces an incomparable Sangiovese hybrid, Brunello di Sonoma. Tasting Tip: You’ve got to try the Brunello. By appointment, 990 Cavedale Rd., 707.935.8311 or petronivineyards.com.
Valley of the Moon Winery is nestled in a scenic vineyard along the banks of Sonoma Creek. The facility goes back to 1863, and the winery keeps collecting ribbons. Tasting Tip: The 2008 version of the Cuvée De La Luna is a Bordeaux-like blend that has won two bronze ribbons in 2011. 777 Madrone Rd., Glen Ellen, 707.939.4510 or valleyofthemoonwinery.com.
Small but mighty, Little Vineyards Family Winery offers a musically enhanced winetasting experience. If you’re lucky, Rich Little will be there, playing his Chapman stick. (There’s a recording studio in back.) Tasting Tip: The 2009, Sonoma Valley cabernet won double gold and best of region at the California State Fair. 15188 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen. 707.935.1544 or littlevineyards.com.
Bruce Cohn is part of any conversation about music and wine. The Doobie Brothers manager is proprietor of B.R. Cohn Winery, located on Olive Hill beside Highway 12 where estate olive oil is also produced. The Indian summer charity concerts have raised millions. So has the wine. Tasting tip: Try the bargain-priced 2008 Doobie Red blend. 15000 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen. 800.330.4064 or brcphn.com.
Arrowood Winery is home base for winemaking pioneer Richard Arrowood,who has been making great wine for more than 40 years. The name on the label almost guarantees a good bottle. Tasting Tip: The 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Sonoma Valley got 90 points from Robert Parker. 14347 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen, 707.935.2600,or arrowoodwinery.com.
Imagery Estate wines are worth buying for the labels alone–all original art. The tasting room is a gallery with some very good, very different wine for sale, including Muscato de Canelli, Cinsault, Lagrein, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo. Tasting Tip: Try the 2007 Imagery Barbera.14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen, 707.935.4504, or imagerywinery.com.
Eric Ross Winery is the product of photographer/winemaker Eric Luce, who sources his grapes mainly from Saralee’s Vineyard in the Russian River valley. Tasting Tip: The 2009 Saralee’s Vineyard pinot noire is pure pinot. 14300 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707.939.8525, or ericross.com.
Benziger Family Winery–which also owns Imagery–is the state’s first certified biodynamic vineyard, a pioneer in sustainability and producer of spectacular wines. Tasting Tip: Try the 2006 Tribute, a Bordeaux blend with 93 points from Wine & Spirits. 1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 888.490.2739, or benziger.com.
At Mayo Family Winery, chef J. Clayton Lewis leads Reserve Room visitors through a seven-course wine-food pairing experience with the winery’s single-vineyard wines. It’s a $35 bargain. There’s also a tasting room in Glen Ellen and at The Lodge in Sonoma. Tasting Tip: The 2006 Sonoma County, “Elspeth’s Block” cabernet sauvignon. 13101 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707.938.9401, or mayofamilywinery.com.
Beltane Ranch is a slice of heaven on earth where Alexa Woods is sandwiched in the middle of three generations whose values and vision are infused in the soul of their Beltane ranch Winery wine. The ranch, which won a North Bay Sustainability Award, is worth a weekend visit. Tasting Tip: The 2010 sauvignon blanc is a jewel. 11775 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen. 707.996.1103, or email@example.com.
Wellington Vineyards makes no-nonsense good wine. Founded by father and son, John and Peter Wellington, the winery is more functional than fancy. Wellington is green certified, solar powered, partially dry-farmed, and the wines are exceptional. Tasting Tip: The 2004 cabernet sauvignon, Karren Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain won gold in the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. 11600 Dunbar Rd., Glen Ellen, 707.939.0708, or wellingtonvineyards.com.
Deerfield Ranch winemaker Robert Rex isn’t awed by single-vineyard wines; he’s been blending for more than 30 years. The Deerfield facility in Kenwood has its tasting room in a cave and an eclectic variety of blended wines to sample. Tasting Tip: The 2004 Los Chamizal Vineyards cabernet sauvignon is beautiful. 10200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.5215, or deerfieldranch.com.
Kunde Family Estate is a powerhouse among family operations. With 700 acres planted to grapes, the Kundes have vineyards going back more than 100 years. Wine caves, eco-tours and a lavish visitor center/tasting room are other features. TastingTip: The 2007 Reserve, Century Vines, Sonoma Valley zinfandel is a delicious bargain. 9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.5501, or kunde.com.
The Family Wineries Tasting Room in Kenwood (with another in Healdsburg) is an amalgam of boutique wineries from all over producing low-volume, premium-quality wine offered under one roof. The selections include: Cass Winery; Collier Falls Vineyards; Macrae Family Winery; SL Cellars; Tres Hermanas; and Wine Tree Farm.
Also under the family wineries umbrella is David Noyes Winery. Noyes is a true Sonoma Valley winemaker worthy of additional mention. He makes his wine at Wellington Vineyards and sources grapes from Crane Vineyard, Pagani Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley and elsewhere. He produces small, noteworthy lots of pinot, zin, chardonnay and tocai friulano. Tasting Tip: Try the 2007 Sonoma Valley zinfandel. 707.935.7741, or davidnoyeswines.com.
If you’ve read The Epic of Gilgamesh you know all about Enkidu. But do you know about Enkidu wines? This year they won two golds and two silvers at the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Tasting Tip: The 2007, Diener Ranch petit sirah got gold. Tasting room at 8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.939.3930, or enkiduwines.com.
Muscardini Cellars is also in Kenwood and is on a roll. Judged best red wine in the state in the Micro Winery category at the 2009 California State Fair, for its Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese, Muscardini is partial to Italian varietals. Tasting Tip: The 2008 Tesoro, a proprietary red blend, is still stunning. Tasting room, 8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.0526, or muscardinicellars.com.
Ty Caton Vineyards shares the Kenwood tasting room with Muscardini Cellars, and produces exclusively estate-grown grapes planted, picked, pressed, and patiently prepared by Ty Caton himself. The syrahs and cabernets are especially noteworthy. Tasting Tip: The TyTanium, a cab, syrah, petite syrah, merlot blend is stunning. 8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.0526, or tycaton.com.
VJB Vineyards & Cellars is a true Italian family operation, soon to occupy a major marketplace facility in Kenwood. Focused on Italian varietals, but with some excellent cabernet and syrahs. Tasting Tip: The 2008 estate Montepulciano may be their best wine to date. 9077 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.2300, or vjbcellars.com.
Santa Rosa’s Paradise Ridge winery, complete with an exceptional sculpture garden, has a tasting room/art gallery in Kenwood. Tasting Tip: The 2007 Russian River Valley pinot noir won sweepstakes red/double gold at the 2009 West Coast Wine Competition. 8860 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.282.9020, or prwinery.com.
Kenwood Vineyards is a venerable Valley institution, dating back to the founding of Pagani Brothers Winery in 1906. The original buildings are still in use, updated and restored. Tasting Tip: The 2009 Jack London zinfandel is outstanding. 9592 Sonoma Highway, 707.833.5891, or kenwoodvineyards.com.
Chateau St. Jean, one of the Sonoma Valley’s most elegant estates, still makes great wine and winemaker Margo Van Staaveren is widely celebrated. Tasting Tip: If you have the means ($75) the 2007 Bordeaux blend Cinq Cépages is worth the price of admission. Parker gave it 90 points. 8555 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.4134, or chateaustjean.com.
Landmark Vineyards is the other valley winery with Midwest roots and tractor connections. Until recently owned by another John Deere descendent, Michael Deere Colhoun and his wife, Mary, Landmark crafts outstanding whites and reds, and has a gorgeous garden. Tasting Tip: Wine Spectator gave the 2009 Spring Hill pinot 92 points. 101 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, 707.833.0053, or landmarkwine.com.
Tucked away behind Landmark is what Richard Kasmier claims is the smallest Valley winery with a tasting room selling to the public. It’s called Kaz, after its craftily crazy founder, and Kaz is big on big organic reds. Tasting Tip: The 2009 Dirty Does Zin is memorable. 233 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, 707.833.2536, or kazwinery.com.
Closest to the top of the Valley is the impressively grand castle known as Ledson Winery & Vineyards, the cornerstone of millionaire builder, philanthropist and winemaker Steve Ledson who sells some of his wine to help kids. Tasting Tip: The 2006 Sonoma Valley Legend, is a meritage blend of zin and merlot.
Dean Bordigioni went from Harley Davidson dealer to winemaker in a grand, circuitous loop. Now his Annadel Estate Winery produces some unique and wonderful wines on a lavishly beautiful, flower-festooned site at the top of the Valley of the Moon. Tasting Tip: The 2009 Bordigioni Monte Rosso zinfandel is a mouth-filling explosion of fruit. 6687 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, 707.537.8007, or annadelestatewinery.com.
From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA