Once you visit Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, you understand the significance of the phrase ‘cool climate’ with regard to winegrowing and winemaking. It is indeed quite chilly in the mornings, with moderating breezes throughout the day. I must confess that if I were not living in the Napa Valley, I would love to call Sebastapol and the Russian River Valley home. *CLICK HERE TO READ*
After traveling in a tour bus along curvy Spring Mountain Road, which changes to Saint Helena Road at the Napa and Sonoma County line and leads to the far-removed estate, I knew I had discovered a remarkable location for grape growing and winemaking.
Six months later, I finally found myself in the tasting lounge with winemaker and Scotsman, Steve Law. He said to me, “Did you know you have an accent?” My reply, “No, you have an accent.” The ice was broken and from that point on, I was enamored with the wines and story of MacLaren.
Variable climate and weather greatly influence vintage characteristics, for better or for worse, but an exemplary vineyard management and winemaking team are capable of turning a “bad” vintage into beautiful wines by the choices they make during the growing season, harvest, and production.
The day of the event could not have been more beautiful, sunny and breezy. We began at Tin Barn Vineyards, which is one of Sonoma’s Eighth Street wineries. We were greeted by winemaker and co-owner, Michael Lancaster, and the director of communications and operations, Amy Bess Cook, whom I had met five years ago at the 2011 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. Tin Barn Vineyards wines were part of our swag bag that year.
Michael then led us into their barrel room for a tasting of their Coryelle Fields Syrah in different barrel types, to show everyone the difference a barrel can make with regard to aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel. Returning to the tasting room, we tasted additional vintages of the syrah – 2005, 2011, and 2012 – paired with mini quiche Lorraine with bacon. They had me at bacon and I really didn’t want to leave. And in fact, we didn’t leave immediately, as they poured us tastes of more of their wines such as their Desnudos Merlot and Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Mind you, this was all before noon. What a start!
Our next stop was Stone Edge Farm Winery and Vineyards with a tour led by sales and marketing director, Dorothe Cicchetti. I didn’t know this until the day of the event, but the farm and part of their estate vineyards are located on the owners’ private property. Leslie and Mac McQuown purchased this land in 1995 and in 2004, along with winemaker, Jeff Baker, and organic viticulturist, Phil Coturri, created the organically-farmed Stone Edge Farm. The farm produces wine, fruits, vegetables, olives, herbs, chicken, and even beehives. I must admit I felt both strange and special roaming around someone’s private property. I knew that this was a visit that not many people have the opportunity to experience.
After our farm tour, we traveled to Edge in downtown Sonoma, which is the culinary home of Stone Edge Farm, to enjoy a three-course, farm-to-table lunch prepared by culinary director and chef John McReynolds, who was there to not only cook for us, but walk us through each of the courses, while Dorothe told us about the three accompanying wines. What made this meal exceptional (besides the chef!) was enjoying the produce we saw growing on the farm. Lunch was nothing short of fantastic and included:
A spring salad of lettuces, asparagus, leeks, radishes, and burrata (cheese) paired with the 2014 Stone Edge Farm Sauvignon Blanc
Sonoma lamb with potato rosti and ember-cooked vegetables, roasted morel mushrooms with red wine and green garlic butter, paired with the 2012 Stone Edge Farm Surround (Bordeaux-style red blend) and the 2011 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon
The salad was the best I’ve ever had, quite frankly. The Sonoma lamb course paired perfectly with both wines, although my favorite was Surround, which sees less time in a smaller percentage of new French oak, allowing the wine to demonstrate intensity of red and black fruits with a softer mouthfeel and approachable tannin structure. For a brief time, we did indeed live life deliciously in the company of Stone Edge Farm.
After our amazing lunch, we traveled a short distance to The Donum Estate in the Carneros AVA of Sonoma, where we were joined by two more group members and our host for the visit, Laura Micciche. The Donum Estate, led by president and winegrower Anne Moller-Racke since 2001, is a producer of one Estate Carneros Chardonnay and multiple, single-vineyard pinot noirs from 70 acres of vines at the estate in Carneros, the 16-acre Winside Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, and Angel Camp Vineyard in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County.
Laura poured for us a glass of the Carneros Chardonnay and led us on a brief tour of the property, which includes magnificent art curated and brought to the winery by its investors. The tour ended at the barn, which, by the way, opens to a splendid view of Carneros vineyards. We sat at a long table tasting the menu of the day, which included four of their premium pinot noirs. As we tasted each, it seemed as if each one were better than the next, although all of them were beautiful expressions of their single-vineyard sources.
The day concluded with a focus group meeting, this being the first Sonoma Day Camp. During the discussion, I discovered that at least four of the participants did not consider themselves to be very knowledgable about wine, but enjoyed immensely the day that they described as immersive, a breath of fresh air, a conversation about wine, and like being at a friend’s house. I told them that analyzing wine doesn’t mean anything, really. What is most important is did you like it, not the why or what you tasted (or didn’t taste). I hoped I was able to reassure them that at the end of the day, it is the experience, the happy feeling, the enjoyment of a day spent with new friends, that ultimately matters. Life is too short to not savor the sweet life. Viva la dolce vita!
*For more information about DolceVita Safari and its off-the-beaten path excursion options, please visit their website! *
The choice for my latest Snooth contribution was automatic and without hesitation: the 2012 MacLaren Atoosa’s Vineyard Syrah, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. I fell in love with this syrah a couple of years ago. After publishing this, winemaker Steve Law confessed that he made this syrah for himself and it’s his “wine geek” syrah. That’s why it’s right up my alley. Enjoy reading about this syrah and the rest of list of suggestions from my wine writing peers. Oh, and stay tuned for an upcoming review of MacLaren Tasting Lounge on AmericanWineryGuide.com.
Many of you know that I am a big fan of Flora Springs. While Flora Springs is one of Napa Valley’s largest family owned and operated wineries, the staff there always make me feel welcomed, whether I visit the tasting room or the estate. In the wholesale market, you might know Flora Springs because of their iconic Trilogy red blend, as well as their readily-available Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, and sauvignon blanc.
However, there is more to Flora Springs than meets the store shelf eye. If you delve into their winery-only wines, you will discover some hidden treasures. One of these surprises is the 2013 Poggio del Papa. The other night, I was in the mood for pizza and wine and decided to open this, purchased at the tasting room for $40. The Poggio del Papa is a crazy-cool, Napa Valley version of a super Tuscan-style red blend consisting of 76% sangiovese from Cypress Ranch Vineyard in Pope Valley, along with small percentages of other varieties like 10% malbec, 10% syrah, and 4% petit verdot from vineyards in Oakville and Rutherford. The resulting wine is red fruit dominant, yet with underlying layers of black fruit, cocoa, mint, and spice. Dusty, soft tannins coupled with juicy acidity seal the deal. Only 667 cases were produced, so this wine won’t last long. I recommend buying a few bottles to taste across the next decade.
Can you keep a secret? In my opinion, the 2013 Poggio del Papa is the one of the best, lesser-known wines that Flora Springs crafts. Therefore, because of its uniqueness, food friendliness, and age worthiness – all at an affordable price point – I’ve selected the 2013 Flora Springs Poggio del Papa as a Beth’s Smart Sip.