I took a bit of an off-season holiday this February. I managed to sneak in six days in California between teaching some wine courses and the opening of the tasting room for the season. There never seem to be enough days in a holiday, and this was no different, particularly as I was exploring a new-to-me wine region for part of that time – Sonoma. Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly drank Sonoma wines before, but I had never explored the region in person. I started my time in California in and around San Francisco, getting a bit of city time in and visiting family. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny – something that I certainly did not complain about. I managed a bus tour of San Francisco sitting on the open top deck of the bus, in a sleeveless top, and only needing a sweater when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Not bad for the end of February!
For my scant two days and two nights in the Sonoma wine region, my friend and fellow wine blogger, Thea of Luscious Lushes opened her home to me, guided me to several of her favourite local wineries and shared bottles of other favourites. In any wine region, it’s always so helpful to have a local’s perspective as many of the guidebooks don’t have decent maps and don’t tend to focus on the types of wineries that I enjoy visiting. I arrived at Thea’s only to be whisked off to The Barlow in Sebastopol – a fabulous former apple cannery that is now home to wineries, restaurants, a distillery, a brewery, food markets, artists, etc. This is something that I would so dearly love to see in the Okanagan, but sadly would require changes to current liquor laws. MacPhail Family Wines was hosting an evening of wine and goat cheese pairings with Redwood Hill Farm. I very much enjoyed sampling the MacPhail Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs with the delicious array of goat cheeses, and learning all about the different types of cheese.
The next day I decided to venture out and get a better idea of the sense of scale of Sonoma. It’s one thing to look at a map and distances, but there’s no way of knowing how long it actually takes to drive from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg for example. As it turns out, it doesn’t take very long to get anywhere, as long as traffic is cooperative, and with the help of the Wine Road Map, I found my way around easily. I started out my day in central Healdsburg, where there are close to 30 wineries’ tasting rooms all within walking distance (approximately 6 block radius of the main plaza).
Many of these wineries are small to medium sized producers who either make their wines at custom crush facilities, or have a primary winery and tasting room located out of town and this is a second tasting room for them. I figured this would be a great way to visit several wineries in a reasonably short time.
My first stop, after getting some coffee and breakfast into me, was to Banshee Wines. I loved the relaxed vintage vibe as soon as I stepped into the tasting room. Amy greeted me and told me to choose a seat – there are many comfortable chairs and sofas throughout the space.
The first wine poured was the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir, from fruit sourced in Mendocino County. It is a pale salmon colour with cherry, strawberry, red currant and floral notes on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of Meyer lemon, raspberry, and cranberry with a medium-plus finish – very tasty. The 2014 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is pale lemon in colour with lemon cream on the nose. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, spice. It has a nice amount of oak to it, without losing the fruit, and is quite elegant. The 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cherry, pepper and raspberry jam. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cranberry, sour cherry, earthy notes and spice with a long finish. The 2013 Tina Marie Vineyard Pinot Noir is from Green Valley in Sebastopol. It is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue and a rich ripe nose of cherry with a hint of spice. It is dry with medium acidity, tannins and body, and flavours of cherry, red currant, cranberry with some earthiness and spice with a long finish. My favourite of the reds was the 2013 Mordecai Red, which is a blend of 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 24% Zinfandel, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot & 3% Barbera. The fruit was sourced from various sites in Dry Creek Valley AVA, Russian River Valley AVA, Alexander Valley AVA and Napa. It is medium ruby in colour with flavours of blackberry, plus, cassis, black cherry and blueberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, dusty ripe tannins and medium body. It is elegant, with flavours of blackberry, plum, earthy notes and cocoa with a super long finish – delicious! I think I need to replenish my supply. The final wine to taste was the 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain AVA. It is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc. It is medium-plus ruby-purple with a rich nose of cassis, plum and blackberry. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of plum, coffee, dark berries, some cassis and spice with a long finish.
Next stop was at Cartograph, right across the street from Banshee. I was curious about the place names with longitudes and latitudes on the wall behind the tasting bar. It turns out that this makes up the story behind the label, about the places that great wines can take you, about the story of the winery owners, where they’ve been and how they’ve gotten to where they are.
A “Cartograph” is a visual marking of ideas, either over time or place. The cartograph on our labels is a visual depiction of the journey that brought us to winemaking and the ideas that have propelled that journey. – Alan Baker & Serena Lourie, Owners, Cartograph Wines
The first wine I tasted here was the 2014 Greenwood Ridge Riesling. It is pale lemon in colour with peach and citrus on the nose. It is dry with high acidity, medium body and flavours of lemon, lime and green apple with a medium finish. The 2014 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer, from the Russian River Valley AVA, is pale lemon in colour with apple, honeysuckle, lemon and spice on the nose. It is dry with medium acidity and body, with flavours of grapefruit and lychee with a medium finish. We then went into the Pinot Noir portfolio – with four different Pinot Noirs. The 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of cola, strawberry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cola, cranberry, strawberry and spice with a medium finish. The 2013 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley) is pale ruby in colour and has very light aromas. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-minus tannins and body, with flavours of cherry, cranberry, cocoa and earthy notes. The 2013 Choate Vineyard Pinot Noir (Green Valley AVA) is pale ruby in colour with an earthy nose with aromas of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry and chocolate. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium-minus body with flavours of cherry and chocolate. The 2013 Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mendocino Ridge AVA) is pale ruby in colour with aromas of plum and some earthy notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and body with flavours of plum, pepper, cranberry and orange zest with a long finish.
Gustafson Family Vineyards is located perched in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma, however they have recently opened a tasting room in central Healdsburg and this is where I was able to experience their wines.
The 2014 Rosé of Syrah was fermented in neutral oak barrels. It has a juicy clean nose of red fruit and watermelon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus body and flavours of cherry and strawberry with a lovely creamy texture. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc contains 20% Sauvignon Musqué. It has peach and pear aromas, is dry with a round mouthfeel and flavours of lemon, peach and floral notes – quite pleasant. The 2013 Riesling, from the Heritage Tree Vineyard, has aromas of green apple, petrol and lemon. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and medium body with flavours of lemon, lime and some stone fruit. The 2012 Estate Mountain Cuvée Zinfandel is 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and 5% Syrah. It has aromas of chocolate, spice and dark fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body with flavours of dried dark fruit, spice and cocoa. The 2011 Estate Heritage Tree Zinfandel is 90% Zinfandel and 10% Petite Sirah. It has a rich ripe nose with aromas of dried dark fruit and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body and medium-plus-plus tannins. It has intense flavours of cocoa, black cherry, plum, dark berry with a long finish. The 2011 Estate Syrah has aromas of pepper and dark fruit with a hint of vanilla. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus-plus body and tannins with flavours of ripe fruit, pepper, blueberry and blackberry with some nice minerality. The 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. It has aromas of blackberry, cherry and chocolate. It is dry with medium acidity, medium-plus tannins and body with flavours of ripe dark fruit and spice. The 2012 Estate Petite Sirah is the flagship wine with a juicy nose of chocolate, dark fruit and some floral notes. It is dry with medium acidity, ripe tannins and medium-plus body. It is fresh on the palate with flavours of ripe blueberry, black berry, cassis, plum, lavender and liquorice.
I took a bit of a longer stroll through a Healdsburg neighbourhood to get to Davis Family Vineyards, located along the banks of the Russian River. There is a great garden area surrounding a covered patio that I imagine must be popular in the summer months. I began my tasting with a sparkling wine – the 2013 Rosé de Noir, made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Dutton Ranch Vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, nice mousse and flavours of cranberry, strawberry and citrus. The 2014 Cuvée Luke, from Saralee’s Vineyard in Russian River Valley AVA, is a blend of 48% Roussanne, 35% Marsanne and 17% Viognier. It has a lovely apricot nose, is dry with medium acidity and body, with a rich creamy mouthfeel and flavours of stone fruit and a bit of citrus with a deliciously long finish. The 2014 Estate Chardonnay (Russian River Valley) is a mix of 70% barrel-fermented with full malo and 30% stainless steel fermented fruit. It has aromas of citrus, spice, apple and peach. It is dry with medium acidity and body with flavours of citrus, golden delicious apple and has some nice salinity/minerality. It is an elegant wine with a long finish. The 2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir is pale ruby in colour with aromas of spice, raspberry, cherry and orange zest. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and body with flavours of cherry, raspberry and vanilla. The 2012 Starr Ridge Pinot Noir is pale ruby with a fuchsia hue. It has a clean nose with aromas of plums. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium-minus tannins and light body with flavours of plum, currants and liquorice. The 2012 Throne is the first vintage of a blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 12$ Mourvèdre. It has aromas of blackberry, plum and spice. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, tannins and body, with flavours of ripe plum, dark berry and spice. The 2011 Syrah was cofermented with 3% Viognier. It is a medium ruby-fuchsia in colour with aromas of blackberry, cherry, spice and floral notes. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and body, medium-plus-plus tannins and flavours of dried cherry, dark chocolate, dark berries and spice.
I couldn’t spend a day in and around Healdsburg without eating at KINsmoke, The United State of BBQ. The aromas wafting from the building were enough to pull me in. In honour of the Okanagan Burger Tour crew I opted for the KIN Burger with sides of sautéed kale and frickles. Definitely delicious, albeit filling, and on my next trip to Healdsburg (and there will be another trip – it’s too awesome an area to not explore further) I will have to pay more attention to their Pit menu.
To hear more about my other winery finds in Sonoma and Napa, please stay tuned to my next blog posts.