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Sonoma, the Desination for Pinot Noir

Sonoma, the Desination for Pinot Noir

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In some ways, California is an odd place when it comes to wine. Regions tend to become associated with a particular variety: Napa with Cabernet, Santa Barbara with Pinot Noir, Lodi with Zinfandel. It's not that these regions can't do anything else well, it's just that they really excel with these particular varieties.

Sonoma, on the other hand, seems to be able to do quite well, though the appellations within the County are indeed best known for specific wines. For example, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel or Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon just seem to fit together naturally. But when it comes down to it the grape that just might be most associated with Sonoma County turns out to be Pinot Noir.

I'm not saying Sonoma is best suited to Pinot Noir (though there are regions where the grape really excels), but given the relative popularity of Pinot Noir, and the myriad locations within Sonoma County where the grape thrives, I'm also not surprised Sonoma is becoming known as “Pinot Country.”

Changing Expressions

It doesn’t hurt that one last piece of the puzzle seems to be falling into place: winemaking. There are still plenty of outsized, effusively fruity Pinots coming out of Sonoma, but the move has decidedly been away from exaggeration and towards restrained expressions of terroir. There are probably a lot of factors that play into this, from improved farming practices to a detailed understanding of the effects root stock and clones have in specific soils, but ultimately the marketplace is deciding that it likes what it sees.

Of course, many critics still fawn over wines that are powerful and packed with fruit. But there’s also been a resurgence of interest in wines that offer complexity even if that means vegetal and herbal elements are present in the wines. At the same time, many people are realizing that a wine needn't be 12% alcohol, nor 15% alcohol, to show well. Rather it needs to be ripe, and in many cases in California that means 14% plus alcohol, even if you might never know it simply from tasting the wine.

In short we, both consumers and producers, are beginning to accept Pinot Noir for what it is rather than trying to mold it into what we would like it to be. That's why when you look to Sonoma, you think of Pinot Noir so often. Winemakers in the Russian River Valley started the movement, or rather gained the earliest recognition for the region as Pinot Noir Country.

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time recently with Walter Schug. If you really want to better understand the story of Pinot Noir in California, it's worth listening to some of my interview with Walter. While we’re all pretty familiar with the pioneers of Cabernet in California (keeping in mind that as the first winemaker at Joseph Phelps, Walter certainly has to be included in that esteemed group), Walter has somehow remained a bit under the radar, despite his instrumental work in developing Pinot Noir in California, and in recognizing Carneros as one the key terroirs for Pinot Noir in the state. I also spend a few minutes discussing Carneros terroir with Schug winemaker Michael Cox, who filled me in on some of the details of the appellation, though one fundamental influence, the wind, made itself entirely apparent!

Click here to learn more about pinot noirs from Sonoma.

Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth

What’s Cooking in Sonoma (At Scribe Winery, a Lot, as It Turns Out)

In a rare quiet season at Scribe Winery, the Mariani family gathers to toast new babies, new wine, and new beginnings.

Blue sky peeks through the morning fog in Carneros and the kids are getting their hands dirty in the very best way. Una, age 4, and her cousin Oliver, age 2, pick radishes and strawberries from the culinary garden at Scribe, the Sonoma winery that has made a name for itself as the standard bearer of next-wave wine country vibes. Those vegetables plucked from the same soil that produces crisp Sylvaner and earthy Pinot Noir will play supporting roles in a languorous lunch in the vineyard—that is, if the kids don’t eat them first.

Over the years the children’s fathers, Andrew and Adam, the vintners, along with aunt Kelly, the chef, have transformed a neglected turkey farm into a thriving winery that’s now a must-stop for southern Sonoma daytrippers looking for a vinous respite from city. With its winding palm-lined drive, tumbling gardens designed by red-hot Los Angeles landscape design firm Terremoto, and a 1920s hacienda restored just so, Scribe is the sort of place begging to be socialized by young visitors. It also helps that the wine is exceedingly quaffable: that crisp Sylvaner, earthy Pinot Noir, and other single-vineyard bottlings draw folks to freewheeling tastings, inevitably capped off by a hang session on the lawn to watch the sun dip below the vines. It was the perfect spot to while away the day in wine country. Or at least it was before the pandemic.

Photo by Thomas J. Story floral design by Eugenia Ballvé

Not to be deterred, the Mariani family have taken advantage of the dormant days of the shifting lockdown to build new outdoor spaces and make new wines that embody the lawn parties put on hold: an effervescent pink pét-nat available in magnum, a white Pinot Noir, and a zippy and fresh rosé that has the nose of a Provençal classic. Today the family is making the most of their quarantine pod with a family lunch on a deck originally designed to accommodate Covid-safe outdoor dining. The latest lockdown prevented them from ever using it, so they removed the tent, and voilà, a perfect alfresco dining room for the family to gather on this late spring day and toast their blessings.

“We’ve spent the past year making wine and having babies,” says Andrew, the oldest of the siblings. He and his wife, singer-songwriter Lia Ices, welcomed a new baby in the pandemic, 4-month-old Alice, while Adam and his wife, Kezia, have 4-week-old Innes in tow as well as Oliver. The growing families are here to eat a feast prepared by Kelly, a former cook at Chez Panisse. On the menu today: trout poetically wrapped in pickled grape leaves, sesame flatbread, salad from the garden, eggs from their chickens, and lamb ribs roasted in the wood-burning oven. Or, as Kelly puts it: “So. Much. Food.”

The vegetables that show up across the dishes come from the on-site farm, overseen by Stephen Carter whose gorgeous chicories, tender greens, fresh strawberries, and more are the foundation for the garden snacks served to guests when lockdown isn’t in effect. Today music is on the menu, too. Lia has just released Family Album, her fourth record. It’s an exploration of motherhood, connecting with nature, and family bonds. They’ve dusted off the piano they use for events and rolled it out onto a deck up the hill should the mood strike.

The kids head into the chicken coop with their dads and gather eggs while Kelly gets to work in the winery’s new low-slung outdoor kitchen. It’s nestled into the hillside, all poured concrete, stacked stone, with an Argentine grill fueled by oak trees felled on the property. The same wood crackles and blazes in the outdoor pizza oven. Oliver drops an egg he pulled from the chicken coop and accidentally cracks it, but his quick-thinking dad pours it straight onto the oven’s hot stone floor and cooks it through, sprinkles it with flaky salt, and serves it to Oliver straight off the pizza peel. Kelly wraps the trout in grape leaves, stuffs them with herbs, and cooks them until they pick up the char of the leaves and the perfume of the herbs. In the wood oven, the lamb ribs sizzle and brown and the white beans simmer in cast-iron pans. Adam takes a tray of dough balls and cooks them one by one in the 800-degree oven.

And, of course, there’s wine. “We decided to put the pét-nat in magnums,” says Andrew. “It was our first time bottling in large format. Even if people can’t visit us they can bring the Scribe party home.” Until the guests can come back, the family keeps that party going, albeit in a more mellow fashion than in days past. “When we first started, we’d look at our guests and didn’t realize we were seeing ourselves,” says Andrew. “First it was young couples, then it was couples with dogs, and then it was couples with kids.”

Photo by Thomas J. Story floral design by Eugenia Ballvé

Lia plays and the Mariani family dances

As evening arrives, everybody heads up the hill to dance as the sun sets while Lia plays the title track from her new record, which pretty much sums up the day. “It’s immediate how immediate fades away,” the song goes. “Oh, there we are, wherever we are, family album.”

Four Winery Encounters Leave Prince Relishing His Good Fortune

I have to admit. Drinking great Pinot Noir is one of life&rsquos most endearing pleasures and I unapologetic that I get to do it practically every day. Even more special, I get to meet extraordinary people who are involved in the production and sale of Pinot Noir and whose unwavering passion never bores me. I recently traveled to three wineries in the Russian River Valley, two of which I had never visited, and one in Carneros, and came away reveling in my good fortune. Each winery offered a lineup of incredible wines, the quality of which is so high, it is practically impossible to make critical distinctions as to desirability (scores in some critics&rsquo parlance). So, I won&rsquot bother, other to give you a feel for the wines and encourage you to explore them on your own. There is always the danger of &ldquocellar palate&rdquo when visiting a winery where you can easily be seduced by the romance of winemaking and the charm of the people presenting the wines. After many years of visiting wineries, I believe I can distance myself from extraneous attractions and concentrate on the wines. I have absolutely no hesitancy in recommending the wines from these three producers.

Since the wines reviewed below were tasted rather briefly, I have chosen to give my general impressions and rate them on a scale of good to very good. Many of the wines would undoubtedly be worthy of my highest Pinot Geek award if tasted and evaluated over time in my usual fashion at home.

Halleck Vineyard

Ross Halleck invited me to visit his home and adjacent vineyard located at 900 feet elevation in the eastern Sebastopol hills, part of the Sonoma Coast region of Sonoma County. I was received and treated to the same tour and tasting that he offers to those who chose to visit and sample his wines. Appropriate food was matched with the wines as the midday affair progressed from a picturesque setting next to the vineyard to a deck in the back of the house overlooking the Russian River Valley. It was a very gentile way of familiarizing myself with Halleck Vineyard&rsquos latest releases. I had reviewed several vintages of Halleck Vineyard Pinot Noirs beginning in 2003, but had not tried the current 2008 vintage releases.

Ross founded a very successful marketing agency based in Palo Alto, but bitten by the wine bug, he acquired a relatively isolated property in Sebastopol, and by 1991 had moved his former spouse, Jennifer, and their three sons to the home on the site. Buoyed by Jennifer&rsquos experience working in the wine industry and their shared passion for wine, they planted a 1-acre vineyard surrounding their home. Ross admits that he was very fortunate, dumb luck if you will, that the site turned out to be so perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777 were planted in 1992 and 1993 by the Dutton family and first harvested in 1999. The aim was to set aside profits from sale of the wine from this estate vineyard to pay for their three sons&rsquo college educations. This has proven unrealistic as the small vineyard has not always offered a significant commercial crop because of the challenges of growing Pinot Noir there. The Hallecks expanded their Pinot Noir offerings by sourcing fruit from other nearby premium growers. They now produce a Pinot Noir blend from two vineyards called the Three Sons Cuvée, an Estate Pinot Noir, a Hillside Cuvée Pinot Noir from neighboring vineyards, and two vineyard designated Pinot Noirs, Hallberg and the Farm. A dry Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer from Saralee&rsquos Vineyard is also offered.

The winemaker is Rick Davis who currently crafts wines for several other labels including Londer Vineyards, La Czar Vineyards and Calstar. Ross and Rick&rsquos aim is to produce Pinot Noirs that are earthy and savory rather than simply fruity. The winemaking regimen is as follows. Grapes are 100% de-stemmed, whole berry fermented, cold soaked for 5 days, fermented in open top bins, and aged 9-10 months in about 30% new French oak barrels.

Production is about 1,500 cases annually and the wines are sold primarily through a mailing list (visit A list of retailers and restaurant placements is included on the website. Inquire by e-mail for an appointment to visit and taste.

14.9% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.614, 800 cases, $40. Sixth vintage. Sourced from the Farm and Hallberg vineyards. · Moderately light reddishpurple color in the glass. Relatively modest in intensity but flavorful featuring a core of well-spiced, dark red cherries and complimentary oak. An easy drinking and versatile wine. Good.

14.9% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.589, 282 cases, $60. A vineyard off Highway 116 near downtown Sebastopol owned by Brice Jones at the site of the former Hallberg Apple Orchard. Dijon clones 777 and 115. · Alluring aromatic profile featuring scents of fresh berries, cherries, forest floor and spice. Flavors of dark cherries, ripe strawberries, peppery spice and sandalwood. Seamless and long on the finish. Very good.

14.3% alc., pH 3.36, TA 0.607, 247 cases, $45. · Aromas of savory dark fruits and forest floor. Bright and crisp flavors of deep red cherries and berries with hints of spice, cranberry and acid-driven minerality. Good.

14.6% alc., pH 3.26, TA 0.626, 231 cases, $60. Vineyard planted in 1999. Dijon clone 777. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Fresh, ripe wild berries are featured on the nose and palate. The most intense, dense and earthy of the Halleck offerings, yet balanced beautifully by vibrant acidity. Well-managed oak and nicely proportioned tannic bones. Very good.

14.1% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.595, 36 cases, $75. Yields of 1 to 1.5 tons per acre. Vineyard is picked by family and friends. · This is a virtuoso wine that offers a complex array of aromas and flavors that defy adequate description. A chameleon in the glass that changes constantly over time. The middleweight core of dark red and black berries is quite exotic, seemingly coating every nook and cranny in the mouth, and finishing with an intense and lasting flourish. Ross says this wine makes him &ldquotear up,&rdquo and I can understand why. Very good ++.

Hartford Family Winery

Jackson Family Farms bought the former Laurier Winery out of bankruptcy in 1992 and the first commercial crush was in 1994, consisting of two Pinot Noirs and one old vine Zinfandel. Don and spouse Jenny, Jess Jackson's daughter, are now the sole owners of Hartford Family Winery.

The most recent winemaker was Jeff Mangahas who left in 2011 for a position at Williams Selyem and was replaced by veteran winemaker Jeff Stewart, formerly of Buena Vista Carneros. Jeff was a young assistant to Merry Edwards in 1989 when the winery was known as Laurier Winery, so his winemaking career has come full circle. I tasted through many of the 2010 Hartford Court Chardonnays and 2009 Hartford Court Pinot Noirs with Jeff recently. Although I have been a fan of Hartford Family Winery wines for a number of years, I had never visited the winery and saw my chance when Jeff came on board. The 2011 wines will be Jeff&rsquos first full vintage. I tasted a few from barrel and they appear to be very promising.

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are bottled under the Hartford Court label and Zinfandel carries the Hartford label designation. Pinot Noir is sourced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Anderson Valley. A Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are offered as excellent entry-level wines, with the remainder of the lineup being vineyard designated or special block bottlings from single vineyards.

Hartford Family Winery wines are sold through the winery&rsquos online store at, the winery&rsquos Wine Club and through limited retail distribution. Various tasting options are offered in the tasting room that is open daily. A seated private library food and wine pairing experience is coming soon.

$28. A solid entry level wine sourced from several estate and non-estate vineyards. Many of vineyards are 15 to 20 years old. Inaugural vintage for this bottling. · Very light straw color in the glass. Fresh aromas of green apples and spice. Light on the palate with appealing flavors of baked apple and roasted nuts. An easy drinker and great value. Good.

14.6% alc., pH 3.52, TA 0.55, $60. Named for the dance performed by the Pacific fog that drifts through the vineyards and back again to sea each day. Planted in 1998 to Dijon Chardonnay clones 95, 96 and 809. Aged 15 months in 20% new French oak barrels. Inaugural vintage of this bottling. · Light straw color in the glass. Aromas of green apple, pear, lemon curd and petrichor. Flavors of baked pear, lemon, apple and brown butter. Rich, yet refined and crisp. Very good (+).

14.5% alc. pH 3.59, TA 0.60, 450 cases, $65. A 6-acre site west of the town of Occidental planted in the late 1980s. The vineyard borders the well-known Coastlands Vineyard. Extremely cold site that is often harvested in November. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak barrels. Unfined, unfiltered. · Medium straw color in the glass. Striking minerality, even salinity on the nose. Citrus-driven flavor, crisp and clean with a slightly viscous mouth feel. Very good (+).

3,000 cases. An entry level wine but a solid one. · Very aromatic, displaying scents of fresh berries and sappy cherries. Soft and gentle on the palate with lighter weight flavors of red cherries and berries with a good cut of citrus-driven acidity on the finish. Good (+).

14.5% alc., pH 3.74, TA 0.56, 250 cases, $60. The vineyard is located south of Fort Ross adjacent the well-known Coastlands Vineyard. Dijon clones 777, 114 and 115 with some 2A. Yields are only about 1 ton per acre. Native yeast fermentations. Aged 15 months in 45% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Well-spiced black raspberry and black cherry fruit with hints of spice, vanilla and peat. A very soft and elegant wine with gossamer tannins that is irresistible. Very good.

14.3% alc., pH 3.75, TA 0.53, 300 cases, $60. From an estate vineyard near Saintsbury&rsquos Brown Ranch and Shafer&rsquos Red Shoulder Ranch. Primarily Dijon clones 667 and 777. Native and cultured yeast fermentations. Aged 15 months in 60% new French oak barrels. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep, darkly fruited nose with complimentary notes of spice and oak. Earthy and tannic, reflecting the heavy clay soils of this vineyard. Rich black cherry and dark red berry flavors with a velvety mouth feel. Good.

$60. The vineyard is located in the deep end of the Anderson Valley and one of the last vineyards to be harvested. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely spiced dark red fruits on the nose. Impressive mid palate intensity and staying power on the finish. Delicious red and blue fruits wrapped in ripe, firm tannins. Laser-like in its focus and purpose. Very good (+).

$60. Named after Don and Jennifer Hartford&rsquos daughter Hailey. From a block of Arrendell Vineyard planted to Dijon 114 and 777 clones. · Aromas of red cherries and raspberries, baking spice including allspice and floral garden. Moderately intense dark red fruit flavor accented by spice. Soft tannins and reasonably good length on a finish that has a very soft landing. Good (+).

15.4% alc., ph 3.59, TA 0.55, 1,637 cases, $45. Unreleased. Primarily from the estate Far Coast Vineyard. Native yeast fermentations. Aged 15 months in 45% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Array of dark stone and berry fruits on the nose with nuances of petrichor and forest floor. Full-bodied and rugged with a core of purple fruit compressed by firm tannins which linger on the dry finish. Young and tight. Good.

14.7% alc., ph 3.46, TA 0.61, 300 cases, $85. Planted by Dutton in 1975 with Martini heirloom selections. More recently, Dijon clones have been added. Struggles to ripen less than 1 ton per acre by Halloween. The winery&rsquos flagship wine. · Layers of aromatic interest offering scents of black cherries, kirsch, spice and oak. Soft and luscious on the palate with mouth coating flavors of black raspberries lingering on a well-endowed, memorable Grand Cru finish. Relatively soft tannins create a sleekness but keep the fruit in line, while a bright cut of acidity adds vibrancy. A very special wine of character. Very good (++).

14.5 alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.56, 350 cases, $60. From an organically farmed estate vineyard planted in Goldridge fine sandy loam with primarily Dijon clones 667 and 777. Aged 15 months in 40% new French oak barrels. Unfined and unfiltered. · Dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile with scents of exotic berries, citrus peel and forest floor. Very different tasting from other wines in the lineup. Dark red and purple fruits are vivid and brightened by perceived heightened acidity (minerality) and caressed by soft tannins. Impressive aromatic intensity and length on the finish. Very good (+).


Founded in 1998 by talented winemaker Dan Goldfield and noted Sonoma County viticulturist Steve Dutton, this partnership has thrived because of Dan&rsquos exceptional Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Syrahs and Zinfandels (and a few other small production varietals including a Riesling for 2011) and Steve&rsquos superb vineyards and viticulture expertise in the Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast. Dutton-Goldfield owns 80 acres. Of the annual production of 7,000 cases, 95% comes from Steve&rsquos vineyards, primarily those in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation. Steve is the son of famed Russian River Valley winegrower, Warren Dutton, and heads up the Dutton Ranch with his brother Joe. It was Warren that initially suggested Steve and Dan form a partnership.

Dan is an energetic, high-spirited and talkative winemaker who as a young man intended to enter medical school. A wine epiphany at a tasting with winemaker Larry Brooks (Acacia, Campion) led him to pursue a master&rsquos degree in enology from University of California at Davis. He still retained a medical connection, his surgeon spouse. Dan is an avid cyclist and some of his vineyard sources have been discovered on his frequent bike rides in the region. Most of the Pinot Noir vineyards are in very cool sites located in the Green Valley with a special bottling from Mark Pasternak&rsquos Devil Gulch Vineyard in Marin County.

Dutton-Goldfield opened a tasting room and storage facility at the western corner of Gravenstein Highway and Occidental Road in Sebastopol which is open daily. Dutton-Goldfield wines are sold primarily through the tasting room, a mailing list, a Wine Club, and website online store ( The tasting room staff is particularly warm and well-informed and I would encourage you to visit. A very informative e-newswletter is published frequently.

Winemaking is straightforward using de-stemmed grapes, 5-day cold soaks, open top bin fermentations, and aging in 45% to 60% new French oak barrels. Different clones are vinified separately. Dan&rsquos wines are always beautifully balanced with modest alcohols (often less than 14%), hi-tone acidity and juiciness, and perfectly integrated oak.

I recently tasted through a number of new and recent releases at Dutton-Goldfield with Valerie Wathen, a spokesperson and long time member of the Dutton-Goldfield sales and marketing staff. A few of the wines have not been released and since they are in limited production, are offered first to mailing list and Wine Club members. However, she agreed to provide a link to an order form for these and other wines for PinotFile readers: You can also phone her personally at 707-823-3887. Wine Club members enjoy significant discounts and access to all limited production releases and magnums.

13.5% alc., pH 3.49, TA 0.66, 2,336 cases, $35. Released March 2012. Sourced from five Dutton Ranch vineyards with 40% from Mill Station Vineyard. 100% barrel fermented. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Attractive aromas of fresh pears, lemon and roasted nuts. Flavors of baked pears, green apple, and citrus in a crisp, bright style with some length on the refreshing lemon-driven finish. A terrific food wine. Very good.

13.5% alc., pH 3.47, TA 0.58, 356 cases, $58. Released November 2011 but still available. From a new vineyard source previously used for Orogeny wines, planted by Dan and Steve in 2002 and located near Occidental. Clones 667, 777 and 115. Highest natural acidity of all the Pinot Noirs. Aged 17 months in 50% new French oak barrels. · Very aromatic with hi-spirited scents of fresh berry mash, blueberry pie and spice. Moderately intense on the mid palate with flavors of raspberries, cherries and a hint of oak, all wrapped in dusty tannins. Notable for a lively cut of acid on the juicy finish. Very good.

13.5% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.58, 2,598 cases, $38. Released February 2012. The winery&rsquos flagship bottling composed of five vineyard sources including Emerald Ridge and Freestone Hill. Aged 10 months in 40% new French oak barrels. · Fresh and aromatic featuring black cherry, blackberry and boysenberry fruit making an impression on the mid palate and finishing softly with mild fine-grain tannins. Spice and complimentary oak add interest. A solid everyday table wine. Good (+).

13.8% alc., pH 3.53, TA 0.62, 251 cases, $58. Planted by Steve Dutton in 1991 to an array of clones. Pommard, 2A, and Dijon 667 are included in this wine. Aged 12 months in 55% new French oak barrels. · Relatively closed, needing time and swirling to reveal the aromas of blackberry jam, black cherries and cardamom spice. Forceful and assertive in the mouth (the most full-bodied of the wines tasted), yet without weight, offering delicious flavors of fresh blackberries, black cherries and baking spices. Round and polished with a Grand Cru finish. Still showing some oak which will integrate with maturation in the bottle. An outstanding wine that is liquid nobility. Very good (++).

83 cases, $58. Limited release to Wine Club. First Anderson Valley Pinot Noir for Dutton-Goldfield. · Perfume and flavors of dark red and black stone fruits with a complimentary note of savory herbs and oak. Discreetly concentrated with fine-grain tannins, zippy acidity and good finishing length. Very good.

30-40 cases, $58. From a vineyard farmed by Mark Pasternak on Hicks Valley Road near Corda Family and Stubbs vineyards. Mark planted this 18-acre vineyard in 2006 with Dijon 115, 667, 777, 828, Swan and 2A clones. DeLoach, Hartford Court and Woodenhead are also in line for fruit in the future. Inaugural bottling from this very cool site. · Open and generous nose with aromas of fresh pie berries, spice and loamy earth. Delicate, yet flavorful core of dark red stone fruits and berries caressed by well-ripened, mildly firm tannins, and infused by bright acidity. A winegasm. Very good (++).

Sonoma County vintners are bringing &ldquoSonoma in the City&rdquo to Los Angeles with the &ldquoTaste of Sonoma: On Tour grand tasting will be held April 24, 2012, at The London West Hollywood and will feature over 100 wines from 15 distinctive regions. Dan Goldfield will be participating, offering a unique tasting of the past, present and future of one of his wines (a past vintage, current vintage, and barrel sample). Trade tasting in the afternoon followed by consumer tasting in the evening. Special advance tickets are $40. For information visit

Scribe Winery

This is a unique, relatively new project launched in 2007 by proprietors Andrew Mariani, Andrew Avellar and Kristof Anderson, who acquired 256 acres three miles east of the Sonoma Town Square in Carneros. The property dates to 1858 when Emil Dresel and his brother Julius planted vineyards here, possibly the first Riesling and Silvaner vines in the United States. Most recently, the property was a run-down turkey farm.

The trio is revitalizing the property and planted 35 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay Riesling and Sylvaner beginning in 2008. Considerable work was expended to clear the property of debris, derelict sheds, invasive plants and acres of poison oak. An on site winery is planned that will be built to preserve the turkey shed and honor the history of the property.

A historic Mission Revival style Hacienda, once home to the Dresel family, will possibly be restored as well, currently the site of impromptu events hosted by the owners and featuring Bay Area chefs (visit the website for upcoming dinners). The restoration will prove challenging as there is no electricity and plumbing so the interior will need a complete update. The trick is doing this while preserving the aged exterior of this majestic home.

Currently the winery&rsquos wines are produced from sourced grapes and include a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines have already found a following and the 2010 Pinot Noir is already sold out. Join the mailing list to obtain future offerings. Visit the stylish and informative website at

Tasting is offered in an underground bunker-like room below the winery&rsquos offices that is quaint and charming, yet very cold on the day I visited. The staff are young and enthusiastic, still new to the game, and enjoyably unpretentious. The 2009 Scribe Carneros Pinot Noir was previously reviewed favorably in The PinotFile ( The 2010 vintage was sampled and although similar in flavor profile to the 2009 vintage, it was from a cooler vintage and is lighter in weight with more acidity and brightness.

13.4% alc., 350 cases, $42. Martini and Pommard clones. 17-year-old vineyard. Harvested at 22º Brix, native yeast fermentation, aged 5 months in neutral French oak barrels, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Bright, unadorned and pleasing cherry aromas and flavors picking up liveliness and interest over time in the glass as the wine warmed. This style of Pinot Noir has become popular for its easy upfront drink ability and refreshing fruity qualities. Very good.


Buttery or not, chardonnay continues to be number one when it comes to white wine from Sonoma. Also born in France, specifically the Burgundy region, this grape is the most planted around the globe with its reach spreading from the Pacific Northwest down to New Zealand. The diversity in growing regions allows the fruit to produce some dramatically different flavors ranging from creamy to more citrusy versions.

Full-bodied and golden in color, chardonnay from California is typically oaked and boasts notes of vanilla, coconut, or butterscotch, but more and more producers are going for a cleaner style using neutral oak or stainless steel to let the fruit shine. Chardonnay is great to sip on its own, but it’s a natural match with chicken and turkey dishes, shellfish, and creamy pastas.

Wine to Try: Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Pinot Noir in Sonoma County

Bacigalupi Vineyards

The wine pioneers of nineteenth century Sonoma County were energetic experimenters, constantly importing cuttings from the famous vineyards of Europe to try them out in sunny California. A San Francisco newspaper reported in 1883 that John H. Drummond was growing Pinot Noir in his vineyard, now part of the Kunde Family Winery property. Pinot was grown at the legendary Fountaingrove Winery from the 1880s through the 1940s. It was even available at the one-time tourist destination, Italian Swiss Colony.

But most of the wine labeled "California Burgundy" was made from Zinfandel and other hearty grapes, and contained no Pinot Noir at all. Pinot had acquired a notorious reputation as a difficult grape and a capricious wine. "God made Cabernet Sauvignon," the great enologist André Tchelistcheff allegedly pronounced, "whereas the devil made Pinot Noir."

It's true that even well-made Pinot Noir, from the best of vineyard sites, can be changeable and vexing in the cellar or in the bottle. But most of the reasons for its former, poor reputation are fairly straightforward: For one, Pinot requires a cooler climate to properly develop its coloring and aromatic compounds than some other grapes. That's why you don't see prize-winning Pinot coming out of California's hot Central Valley.

It also benefits from a long, cool run-up to fermentation — a technique of "cold soaking" that modern winemakers use, which mimics the naturally cold conditions in a traditional Burgundian cellar in the fall. Such conditions could not be guaranteed in California before the advent of stainless steel tanks and cooling systems.

The grape's thin skins are susceptible to disease and rot, a real problem until addressed by modern fungicides. On the other hand, the modern pumping and vatting procedures of scientific, twentieth century winemaking were a real problem for Pinot Noir wine quality - until a new breed of winemakers reintroduced low-tech, traditional techniques.

Pinot Noir was a marginal varietal wine, indeed, when farmers like Joe Rochioli and Burgundy-besotted enthusiasts like Joseph Swan took a chance on Pinot Noir in the 1960s and 1970s. The cult grew through the 1980s and 1990s, and after the turn of the twentieth century, it really took off. (The 2004 movie, Sideways, is popularly credited with helping to raise the wine-drinking public's awareness of Pinot Noir — but poor Miles, if he had only traveled another five hours north, he might have found true Pinot Noir happiness.)

Patz & Hall

The Patz and Hall families joined forces in 1988 with the mission of producing the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Sonoma Valley, and the exclusive focus on those two varieties still holds. Although you will need a reservation, it’s easy to visit this winery--the tasting room, which looks like someone’s fabulous living room--is in downtown Sonoma. You can visit briefly for tastes at the bar, or book an hour-long Salon Experience, which includes samples of up to 6 wines and artisanal snacks. Or consider the Appellation Series. You sample fewer wines, but intimate seatings are limited to 8 or fewer guests. 21200 8th Street East, Sonoma 877/265-6700.

Mining for Good Pinot Noir in the Value-Priced Bin

14.1% alc., $17 (retail $28). Double Gold Medal 2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Bright aromas of black cherries, black plums and blackberries, veering to the ripe side. Wood-kissed darker fruits on the palate with a citrus peel note in the background that lingers on the finish. Lacks conviction and a little too oaky, but pleasant. Decent.

14.1% alc., 350 cases, $35 (retail $40). Gold Medal 2011 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of very ripe dark berries and plums with hints of prune and oak. Middleweight very ripe fruit flavors with notes of Hoison sauce and rhubarb. A bit linear and bogged down with oak. Soft tannins make for easy drinking. Disappoints for a medal winner, but may find fans among those who prefer very ripe flavored Pinot Noir. Good.

12.3% alc., $6.99 (but often discounted). The most awarded California wine brand under $15 in United States wine competitions. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of dark red berries, cherry snow cone and sweet pipe smoke. Mid-weight flavors of cherry cola and sassafras with a slight confected quality. Most certainly includes other red varieties besides Pinot Noir. Reasonable good structure, but a bit shallow fruited. Soft, easy drink ability. Throw in a few ice cubes in the summer, and this will make for a refreshing drink. All things said, a great value. Widely distributed. Decent (+).

14.1% alc., $26.99. · Darkly colored in the glass. A varied array of aromas including very ripe, roasted dark berries, black currants, oak and bell pepper. Very ripe fruited with flavors of black raspberries, boysenberries and plums with a vegetal undertone. Rich, sultry and earthy with some length on the finish. Considerable better the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Good.

13.5% alc., $12.99, screw cap. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of red berry pie, black cherries and complimentary oak. Medium weight flavors of dark cherries and a hint of oak spice, finishing with a cherry and raspberry laden hi note. A silky textured wine that goes down easy. Good (+).

13.8% alc., pH 3.82, TA 0.53, $25. From very cool vineyard sites in a cool vintage with delayed harvest. 100% de-stemmed, 5-day cold soak, open top tank fermentation, gentle punch downs three times a day, aged 6.5 months in 23% new French oak. Lots kept separate throughout the winemaking process and blended at the end. A broad pallet of clones including 115, 667, 777, 828, Pommard, Martini, Calera, Mt. Eden, Swan, 2A and 23. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Nicely perfumed with aromas of fresh strawberries, cherries and oak spice, fading some over time in the glass. Crisp and juicy in the mouth with a lighter weight array of dark red cherry and ollaliberry flavors with complimentary oak-driven notes of spice and chocolate. Lacks a bit of finishing length, but overall a fine, reliable daily drinker. Easy to find as it is ubiquitous on grocery store top shelves. Good (+).

13.8% alc., pH 3.77, TA 0.54, $17.99. From Bronco Wine Company in Hopland. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Some reduction upon opening, eventually revealing aromas of red cherries and smoke. A lighter, nimble style with a cherry core back by a smoky oak flavor that diminishes over time. Decent.

12.5% alc., $6, screw cap. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Marked reduction upon opening with aromas and flavors of burnt matchstick. Left in a glass all day, the reduction resolved, revealing aromas and flavors of black cherries with spice and oak char in the background. Light in weight with silky tannins and easy approachability. A quaffable wine that is not up to the quality of previous vintages. Decent.

13.5% alc., $14. · Medium reddish-purple hue in the glass. Shy aromas of dark fruits, forest floor and oak. Lighter weight flavors of dark raspberries and blackberries with a subtle smoky, oak char undertone that dissipates over time in the glass. Velvety soft in the mouth. This wine could use more time in bottle. Decant if you pop a cork now. Good (+).

13.5% alc., $9.99. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Slightly confected aromas of strawberries and red cherries with hints of spice and pine forest. Soft in the mouth with a moderately intense core of dark red cherry and raspberry fruit with a floral and pine needle sidecar. Soft in the mouth with a short finish. A pretty good Pinot for the money, but the pine forest adjunct (still present the following day from a previously opened bottle) was not pleasing to me. Decent.

14.8% alc., pH 3.66, TA 0.68, 650 cases, $22.50. Winemaker Anthony Craig. Aged 20 months in 37% new Hungarian oak barrels. · Vibrant aromas of dark cherries and berries with notes of oak and hickory. Delicious essence of black raspberries with striking mid palate presence and some persistence on the finish. Notes of plum reduction sauce, spice and sassafras add interest. Still fine two days later from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Full retail is $45 and it is hard to find (not sold on the website: try Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA. or Total Wine) Very good.

The 9th Annual Carnivale du Vin and 3rd Annual Boudin, Bourbon & Beer Draw Thousands of Patrons in Support of Children&rsquos Causes

NEW ORLEANS (November 19, 2013) &ndash It was a culinary celebration of massive proportions in New Orleans as the Emeril Lagasse Foundation (ELF) hosted its annual fundraising weekend which raised $2.25 million. Festivities kicked off with the casual indoor/outdoor food festival, Emeril Lagasse Foundation&rsquos Boudin, Bourbon & Beer on November 8th. The honorees for the evening were Allison and Dan Kosta with Kosta Browne vineyard.

13th Nov 2013 | 1 note


Sonoma Valley is the perfect wine country destination for wine enthusiasts, both novice and seasoned alike. With 100+ wineries – from striking castles and garden chateaus to modern lounges and Mediterranean-style villas – Sonoma Valley offers a unique wine tasting experience for everyone and is the birthplace of California wine. Sonoma Valley’s rolling vineyards are nestled between two mountain ranges offering exquisite and peaceful beauty. Sip award-winning wines while learning about the history of California wine alongside a winemaker, tour a production facility or wine cave, take a tractor tour through the vineyards, peruse the tasting rooms on the historic Sonoma Plaza or enjoy a mountaintop wine tasting.

Looking for world-class breweries and craft distilleries? You just found them. Sonoma Valley and Sonoma County&aposs reputation as centers of innovation and craft are well-deserved.

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Courtesy of Facebook: Visit Santa Rosa

Centrally located in the heart of the county, Santa Rosa is Sonoma’s largest and most diverse city, offering a mix of culture, arts, restaurants, and nightlife, including world class performances at Luther Burbank Center For the Arts.

Into retro? Check in at the Sandman Hotel, a beautifully renovated motor-lodge with a throw-back feel, or the new Astro Motel, a playfully restored, mid-century motor lodge effortlessly blends kitchy detail, modern design, and Sonoma hospitality. The Astro’s owners run the popular restaurant The Spinster Sisters a few blocks away, where guests enjoy farm-fresh “Sonoma County Cuisine” from breakfast through dinner.

Often referred to as “beer city,” Santa Rosa is also home to world-famous Russian River Brewing Company, along with a growing community of smaller craft beer producers in and around Santa Rosa.

Just about seven miles west of town in Sebastopol, artists, farmers and hippies have created an eclectic and innovative hub of local food and drink culture beyond beer and wine.

Sample probiotic elixirs at The Kefiry, artisan gin at Spirit Works Distillery inside The Barlow community marketplace and sustainably caught fish at the new locals hangout, Handline. If you find yourself at The Barlow, circle back to wine tasting at the MacPhail Tasting Lounge.

For another taste of this diverse region, visit Petaluma. Located seventeen miles south of Santa Rosa and surrounded by historic farms, Petaluma’s downtown district is filled with blocks of stunning Victorian homes, antique shops and delicious fare from the surrounding land and sea. Tucked inside the beautifully restored Hotel Petaluma, enjoy oysters and very local wines from “less than 30 miles away” at The Shuckery and don’t skip town without a visit to Della Fattoria for salt-studded loaf of their Meyer-Lemon Rosemary bread.

Cover image courtesy of Facebook: Experience Sonoma Valley




Susan Williams

Susan Williams is a baker, writer and entrepreneur based in Sonoma, California. When she’s not busy in the kitchen assembling tiers for her garden-inspired wedding cake business, Cake Bloom, she's usually at the farmers market looking for something new to inspire her next creation. Follow her in the kitchen @cakebloom and in the vineyards @sonoma_williams.

Watch the video: 48 HOURS IN: Sonoma Wine Country. Sonoma Travel Guide (August 2022).