Sonoma County is quite a large and diverse wine region - also bigger than Napa Valley - comprising of various topographies, microclimates, and soil types. Almost 60,000 acres are planted with grapes, with the majority planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon - the 3 grapes I was most looking forward to tasting on this trip.
Stonestreet Estate Vineyards is known for their premium, high-quality Mountain Vineyard wines. I tasted a few of their wines over the years back home in Toronto and was thoroughly impressed, thus increasing my desire to the visit the winery. It was founded by Jess Stonestreet Jackson (of Jackson Family Wines) and Barbara Banke in 1995 and has since been passed on to their son Christopher Jackson and his wife Ariel. As we tasted through the lineup, we were told that the grapes for the wines came from the mountain seen in the far distance between the two mountains in the fore (pictured above/left). There is a very cool digital mountain map on their website that shows where each of their vineyards are located on the mountain. It would have been very cool to go to the vineyards to get a closer look - perhaps on my next visit? Nevertheless, the wines here are excellent!
Holdredge Wines - a small, family winery located within the town of Healdsburg. It was chosen based on a recommendation from a friend of a friend, and also on the fact that these wines aren't available in Ontario. The winery exists in a red barn that dates back to the late 1800s and has a long, rich history of continuous use, including during prohibition! The husband and wife team of John and Carri Holdredge (unfortunately didn't get to meet either of them) formed the winery back in 2001 with the intention of making what they knew best - Zinfandel and Syrah. However, that same year, renowned grower Saralee Kunde offered to sell some Pinot Noir to John and the wine took off. Today, Holdredge Wines now works with 14 different Pinot Vineyards all over Sonoma County - and no Zinfandel or Syrah. The wines are produced in a minimal interventionist style and I managed to taste through 6 Pinots - each sourced from a different vineyard - and there wasn't a bad wine in the group. I enjoyed all of them and am somewhat regretting the fact that I didn't pick up a bottle or two to bring to home as they offered relatively good value.
Inman Family Wines. The same fellow that recommended Holdredge Wines also recommended this small, family winery. The Inman story begins in the year 2000, when the Inman Family planted seven+ acres of Pinot Noir, and a patch of Pinot Gris on their ten-acre Olivet Grange property on Olivet Road. Winemaker Kathleen Inman's love for gardening began as a child and continues to this day, and in our brief conversation showed a lot passion and enthusiasm for her wines. The winery is committed to employing environmentally responsible, sustainable farming practices and using natural winemaking techniques. The organic fertilizers used in the vineyard are nutrient-rich and named "Four-Course Compost" because it is derived from the table scraps of high-end San Francisco restaurants. Production is small, with only 5,000 cases produced, and every wine is capped under Stelvin screw cap. We sat outside on the patio and tasted through quite a few wines, with reviews of my favourites - all single vineyard Pinot Noir - provided below. Unfortunately, these quality wines are also not available in Ontario.
La Crema Winery. The winery was founded in 1979, but in June 2016 they opened up their new estate at Saralee's Vineyard. The centrepiece is the visitor experience centre sits in an historic barn that dates back to 1900 and sits on a knoll overlooking the storied Saralee's Vineyard. It was a bit chilly and windy outdoors, so we opted for only a tour of the building. Originally a hop barn, it later became the family home of Richard and Saralee Kunde, and thus felt very warm, cozy and inviting. This is a place where you can come visit, lose sense of time, and easily spend a whole afternoon tasting the many different wines on offer. We ended up spending the most time here as there were many delicious wines to taste, but also because we got quite comfortable and found it difficult to leave. Reviews of some of my favourite La Crema wines are posted below.
Overall, I was very pleased with my first ever visit to Sonoma County. Quite often we'll see single vineyard bottles, but never get to the see the vineyard itself because it's somewhere off-property that's relatively inaccessible. One thing I really appreciated as we drove along was that there were signs at every vineyard indicating the name of that vineyard, some names which I actually recognized. To see a vineyard name on a bottle, and then be able to see the vineyard with your own eyes was quite satisfying and visualized the sense of place.
I would've preferred to visit a couple of more wineries, but the 425+ wineries in Sonoma County are widely scattered across this large region. As such, it is somewhat difficult to cover many wineries in a single day. Another trip (or five) to this region is most definitely required to fully appreciate the wines from this area, including visiting the many small, family-run houses whose wines aren't available in Ontario.
And lastly, I was very satisfied with the quality of the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir I tasted on this visit. I was especially impressed with the Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, as well as the mountain vineyard Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. If you wish to acquire any of these wines, please contact the agent in Ontario (B&W Wines) for availability and ordering of Stonestreet and La Crema wines. To order Holdredge and Inman Family wines, please contact the winery directly, or better yet - go visit them in Sonoma County in person!
Tasting Notes:STONESTREET COUGAR RIDGE VINEYARD CHARDONNAY 2013 - Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (D) - $55
From south-facing vineyards at an elevation of 850 feet. The nose is a bit shy, but has hints of apple, golden pear, butter, sweet vanilla and hints of pineapple. It's fairly light-weighted with fresh, crisp, balanced and very nice, ripe-fruited aroma replays showing a touch of sweetness. Nicely balanced, with hints of butterscotch, toffee, and caramel on the long finish. Score: 90 pts
STONESTREET UPPER BARN CHARDONNAY 2013 - Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (#253542) (XD) - $90
From vines planted in 1973 at an elevation between 1,600 - 1,800 feet, this also initially had a closed that hinted at light green apple, minerals, vanilla, and butter. It really started to open up with time in the glass. Medium-bodied with balanced acids and flavours of pineapple, pear, and subtle oak spice. A delicate and elegant wine with touches of butter and vanilla notes on the long finish. Score: 92 pts
STONESTREET BEAR POINT VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (XD) - $60
Sourced from vines at an elevation between 1,000 - 1,200 feet, this has a very lifted fruit-forward nose of dark cherry, blackberry and sweet cedar oak spices adding complexity. It's full-bodied with appealing currant, cassis, blackberry, black cherry, and sweet oak spice flavours. Acids are fresh, while the ripe, refined tannins provide support, handling the 14.5% abv well. There's very good depth of fruit. Excellent length on the finish with a fine mineral streak. Score: 91 pts
STONESTREET ROCKFALL VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (#249367) (XD) - $100
From vines at 2,200 feet above sea level and above the fog line, this warmer site has produced a Cab that's highly aromatic that's earthy and terroir-driven profile, backed by black cherry, blackberry, and dark currant notes. It's full-bodied with firm tannins and nicely balanced, complex aroma replays. Acids are mouth-watering, while the finish length is excellent and offers currant and hints of mint and cassis flavours. Still a bit tight and should be better in 2-3 and enjoy over the next decade or two. Score: 93 pts
HOLDREDGE "SHAKEN NOT STIRRED" PINOT NOIR 2013 - Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (XD) - $45
Made from only the Martini clone from Saralee's Vineyard, this offers a lovely complex bouquet of cherry, cola, black tea, black cherry and some earthy aromas of medium-to-high intensity. It's light-weighted with refined tannins with appealing fruit-forward aroma replays along with some earthy spice notes. Acids are bright and refreshing, while the finish length is excellent. Score: 91 pts
HOLDREDGE "THE TRUE" PINOT NOIR 2014 - Sonoma Coast, California, USA (XD) - $50
The grapes for this wine are from a single-vineyard in Annapolis, in northern Sonoma. Highly aromatic with lovely floral, black tea, cherry and mineral nose. It's medium-bodied with very nice aroma replays on the palate supported by good tannic structure and crisp, fresh acids. Excellent finish length. Drinking well now, but will improve in 3-4 years. Score: 91+ pts
HOLDREDGE "JUDGMENT TREE" PINOT NOIR 2013 - Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (XD) - $70
From the Rochioli Vineyard, 5 miles south of the winery, this has clean, well-balanced and complex aromas of black tea, cherry, earth and sweet spice aromas. It is medium-bodied on the palate with racy acids, fine tannic structure, and very nice aroma replays. Harmonious and showing plenty of finesse, while also having juicy acids and a long-lasting finish. Highly drinkable now, but should improve further over the coming 5 years. Score: 92 pts
INMAN FAMILY SEXTON ROAD RANCH PINOT NOIR 2013 - Sonoma Coast, California, USA (XD) - $68
The nose is medium-to-high intensity and features lovely ripe fruited cherry, earth and spice aromas. It's medium-bodied with integrated, crunchy tannins and a flavour profile that continues from the aromas, joined by compelling incense flavours. It has juicy acids and finishes long with exotic spice notes. Score: 90 pts
INMAN FAMILY THORN RIDGE RANCH PINOT NOIR 2012 - Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (XD) - $68
Medium-high intensity nose offers lovely black tea, earth, dark cherry, and blackberry aromas. The palate is medium-bodied with very nice, well-balanced aroma replays, and tannins that are a touch chalky. Nicely spiced mid-palate. The finish is a touch on the sweet side, showing some mature dried fruit/floral characters. Lovely stuff. Score: 90+ pts
INMAN FAMILY OGV ESTATE PINOT NOIR 2013 - Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California, USA (XD) - $73
The medium-high intensity nose has appealing aromas of cherry, sweet spice, and some dried cherry and floral aromas. It's medium-bodied with refined tannins providing an elegantly structured mouthfeel and very pleasing aroma replays. Balanced acids. Nice wood spice notes linger on the long finish. Drinkable now or age at least 3 years and drink to 2024. Score: 92 pts
LA CREMA SARALEE'S VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2013 - Russian River Valley, California, USA (XD) - $50
Aged in a mix of new and used French oak for 9 months, this has complex medium-high intensity aromas of bing cherry, earth, cola, white pepper and mushroom. The palate is medium-bodied with gritty tannins, fresh acids and nice earthy aroma replays along with hints of dark cherry. Fine finish length. Score: 89 pts
LA CREMA FOG VEIL PINOT NOIR 2013 - Russian River Valley, California, USA (XD) - $50
Sourced from a vineyard located in the Santa Rosa Plains, this has medium-high intensity aromas of tea leaves, red cherry and plum. On the light-to-medium bodied palate, it has flavours of dark berry, cherry, black plum and subtle oak spice. It has balanced acids, refined tannins, and a long, spiced finish. Score: 89 pts
LA CREMA CHEHALEM MOUNTAINS PINOT NOIR 2012 - Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA (XD) - $45
Medium-high aromatics offer pretty hibiscus flower, tea leaves, red cherry and more exotic floral notes. It's light-weighted with lovely floral aroma replays. Acids are balanced and crunchy tannins are well-integrated. The finish is long with hints of dried fruit. Score: 90 pts
All prices in this post are the local price in Sonoma in USD.