There are so many amazing wineries in Sonoma County, generally, and within a couple miles of the Sonoma Plaza, more specifically. Of particular note are the very historic Buena Vista Winery, the mid-century Hanzell Vineyards and the most youthful Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards and Winery. A recent series of visits to each of these over the past several weeks served to highlight both the history, lineage and direction of these very different but very high quality purveyors of wine, wine country experiences and wine grape growing. Read on!
The oldest of the three, and the first premium winery in California is Buena Vista Winery which was established in 1857 by the self-proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” Hungarian Agoston Haraszthy whose family had owned famed vineyards in Hungary for centuries.
The winery and vineyards are now part of the Boisset Family Estates, a producer and importer of wines from France, California, Italy and Canada. The family owned La Famille des Grands Vins is, reportedly, France’s third largest wine group, and Burgundy’s largest wine producer. Boisset Family Estates is currently one of the Top 25 wine producers in the United States. Boisset Family Estates is led by Jean-Charles Boisset, a charming master marketeer, who is also President of Boisset, La Famille des Grands Vins. To make the situation even more ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’, Jean-Charles is married to Gina Gallo, granddaughter of Julio Gallo of E & J Gallo Winery, America’s largest winery. It is this backdrop of old world and new world wine history that makes the marriage of Buena Vista Winery and Jean-Charles a match made in wine heaven.
It is evident from the twinkle in his eyes, as he personally conducts a tour and tasting, that Boisset is truly in love with this property. When Boisset acquired the winery in 2011 it was in grave need of some loving attention and investment in upgrades, like earthquake retro-fitting of century old buildings, modernizing plant and equipment, a new winemaker and a focus on bringing visitors to this historic site just a couple miles off the Sonoma Plaza. The grounds, tasting rooms, barrel rooms, production facilities, museum and caves have all been restored with the addition of Jean-Charles personal style in some unique and special touches. He has accomplished all of this with a sincere desire to maintain and restore a California wine treasure that he first visited over 30 years ago with his grandparents when he was just 11 years old.
The wines poured during our tour were a very high quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Charbono and a Cabernet/Malbec blend. Check the slide show for more about the wines. Even better, schedule a visit for a tasting and tour! The tasting room is open daily from 10am – 5pm. They are also having a Holiday Open House on December 6th which should be delightful.
Hanzell Vineyards is located high above the Sonoma Plaza overlooking the phenomenal Sonoma Valley. The vineyards and winery were established 100 years after Buena Vista Winery in 1957 by J.D. Zellerbach, a native born San Franciscan and former U.S. Ambassador to Italy who was appointed by President Truman to execute the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II.
Zellerbach earned his wealth through the widely known Crown-Zellerbach paper and forestry conglomerate which was incorporated in San Francisco in 1928. Zellerbach learned to enjoy quality wines and the quintessence of wine country living during his many years and visits to great European chateaux in France and Italy.
The vineyards and winery have been owned by the De Brye family since 1975 and Alexander de Brye has been at the helm since 1992. He has striven to maintain the vision of Ambassador Zellerbach to “produce wines equal to the best in the world”. Ben Sessions, son of the late winemaker emeritus, Bob Sessions (1931-2014), grew up on the property and guided the tour of the vineyards, cellars, winery and his Dad’s office which is used for special tastings and as a sort of mini-museum. The vineyards were spectacular as were the views.
Director of winemaking since 2008, Michael McNeill, has continued the house style established by the late Mr. Sessions while bringing his extensive background in Burgundy, Oregon and other California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialty houses like Chalone to the winery.
The wines poured (they produce only estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) were a 2013 Hanzell ‘Sebella’ Chardonnay, a 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay, and a 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir. Each of these were elegant and full bodies representations of the respective variety. Especially enjoyable was the Sebella Chardonnay which was crisp and bright reflecting its 100% stainless steel fermentation and 6 months on a combination of 1-5 year old French Oak barrels. Visits and tastings are by appointment only at 707-996-3860. Very worthwhile.
The third winery in this tale of three wineries is Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards and Winery situated high in the Mayacamas mountains separating Sonoma from Napa County and overlooking the Sonoma Valley. Like the previous two wineries, Stone Edge Farm has a well seasoned crew of owners, partners, winemakers and viticulturists.
Mac McQuown, one of the founding partners, earned his chops in 1970 when he co-founded the Chalone Wine Group where he served on the board for 25 years. In 1980, McQuown, a former naval officer, co-founded Carmenet Winery where he built a close and long term business relationship with winemaker and partner Jeff Baker, now Stone Edge Farm’s winemaker. Together with Mac’s wife Leslie, they co-founded Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards & Winery in 2004. Renowned viticulturist Phil Coturri (Enterprise Vineyard Management) rounds out the Stone Edge Farm team.
This tasting was conducted in conjunction with Sonoma Wine Country Weekend as a winemakers lunch at Stone Edge Farm’s private lounge and tasting room (Edge) just off the Plaza on Napa Street. A group of about 30 lucky people were greeted with sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres in the small courtyard and were welcomed by winemaker Jeff Baker and the hospitality team. The group was ushered into the tasting room/dining room which was set meticulously for a three course wine and food pairing. Estate Culinary Director, John McReynolds greeted his guests and described the menu. The organic produce used in all the culinary treats were grown on the terraced gardens of the estate. Then winemaker Baker described each of the wines we would be tasting.
The 2013 Stone Edge Farm Sauvignon Blanc was delightfully crisp and clean and matched well with the Heirloom Tomato with pickled melon and burrata. The Sauv Blanc was followed by two reds, 2011 Stone Edge Farm, Surround, (a Bordeaux blend) and the 2010 Stone Edge Farm, Cabernet Sauvignon, the flagship wine. These full bodied and beautifully structured reds were matched with Bistecca alla Fiorentina with ricotta gnocchi and braised short rib ragu. The sweet ending was pears poached in spiced red wine with creme fraiche ice cream. Fabulous flavor combinations in this casually elegant setting. Visits to the winery are by appointment only Monday through Saturday (closed Sunday). Call Kim Bandel at 707-935-6520 Ext. 1 or email Kim@StoneEdgeFarm.com. Private tastings can be arranged at Edge by contacting Larry Nadeau, Director of Dining & Private Events at email@example.com. This wine country experience is well worth the time and expense.
So this tale comes to a close but hope the reader has gained a renewed appreciation for the broad spectrum of wonderful wine experiences, whether they be historic or new, right in your own Sonoma back yard.