Part Three – Wineries – Sonoma County

June 20

I shared a wonderful breakfast at the Creekside Restaurant and Bar in the Inn with an elderly woman who had just moved to Sonoma from Arizona. She had owned three restaurants in her life time and suggested some wineries to stop at. Unfortunately all the wineries but one were by appointment only.

B.R Cohn Winery

Bruce Cohn was originally from Chicago and had moved to Sonoma Valley with his parents as a young adult. Bruce was the manager of the famous rock band The Doobie Brothers and the winery had a room full of rock memorabilia and collectibles. The winery was also an olive tree estate as well with over 450 Picholine olive trees dating back to the mid 1800’s.

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My tasting here consisted of 5 wines, starting with a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and concluded on a Cabernet Sauvignon. I also took part in an olive oil and vinegar tasting here which was also amazing and left leaving the winery with a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon I tried and as well as a bottle of basil and garlic infused olive oil and a raspberry champagne vinegar.

  • 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, AVA of Sonoma County as the grapes were sourced from other wineries in the region. The wine was aged in new American oak which produced toasted notes in the wine on top of the grapefruit skin smell, with notes of honey dew melon and slight green and Asian pear. Light bodied, slight minerality and crisp acidity gave it a quick finish with a salivating mouth feeling.
  • 2014 Cabernet Franc, AVA of Sonoma Valley as this wine was sourced from grapes grown on the winery’s Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. It was aged in old French oak that must have been charred, as it smelt of charred meat, tobacco and an herbaceous under tone to the fruit characteristics. The fruit was blueberry, and plums. All of these aromas related in the palate with a long finish from the smokiness and ripe plums. It was wonderfully balanced, very enjoyable. This was the only Cabernet Franc I had on the trip and there was no other wine that tasted anything like this one did with the smokiness and fruit coming together to make a wonderful wine.
  • 2015 Pinot Noir, AVA Russian River Valley. Light ruby in colour from the thin skins with aromas of strawberries, black cherries and slight cranberry for fruit. It was aged in old French oak which gave the wine notes of vanilla and slight hints of caramel. The vanilla and caramel came through in the flavours on the palate with slight notes of fruit behind them. It was an enjoyable light-bodied wine.
  • 2014 Zinfandel, sourced from grapes from other vineyards within Sonoma County. This wine was aged in carefully selected French and American oak for 18 months giving the wine some complexity behind its fruit characteristics. The fruit was of red fruit being red berries and cherries, but hints of clove and a spice to it including characteristics of vanilla from the oak gave the wine a long and smooth finish and making it a very dry zinfandel.
  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, estate grown. Full bodied, heavy tannins and flavours of cassis and espresso were present in this bodacious wine. Warm caramel notes and a long finish made this a wonderful pairing wine for any to enjoy with a piece of barbequed beef.
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Kunde Family Winery

This winery is an 1850-acre estate operated by the 5th generation of the original family. This was the only winery in my stops that had old vine zinfandel – planted in 1882  The winery offered tastings of different levels and prices from standing at a bar, to an outdoor lounge, a private seated room all the way to the top of the mountain for a mountain top tasting. The mountain top was where I wanted to go, but due to high levels of production within the winery that day they were unavailable. So to the bar within the winery I went and started my tasting.

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Kunde winery was modern with a very large winery/tasting building. The décor including old vines. The lady who served me found out that I was Canadian and it turned out that she too was Canadian. She served me more wines than what should have been included in my tasting. I tasted a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, zinfandel (both new and old vines), and a dessert Cuvee which was very similar to a late bottle vintage port.

  • Zinfandel, new vine, 2014. I learned that was the third year in a row of drought in the region. The wine was fragrant with aromas of blackberries and a barrel toasting. It didn’t taste sweet, but there was definitely ripe and cooked fruit used. After the tasting I was told that small amounts of Malbec were added to this wine to sustain the taste profile that they were after with their zinfandel.
  • Zinfandel, old vine, same vintage 2014. The wine makers treated the wine in a similar way to the new fine zin but did not blend it with Malbec. A blend of old French and new American oak were used to age the wine. All the flavours and aromas were very similar, but more concentrated, and a longer finish on the palate allowing the flavours to sink into your mind. These flavours were blackberries, slight pepper notes and a feeling like dark chocolate was just in your mouth. Absolutely wonderful and I recommend to any one in Sonoma Valley to stop here and compare for yourself.
  • Cuvee was wonderful! Sweetness balanced with fruit flavours and just enough acidity to allow some freshness and crispness. It reminded me of a ruby port, and they gave me some salted dark chocolate to enjoy with it. What a pairing.

Chateau St. Jean

The winery is a rather well known one with wines being more mass produced than the other wineries I visited that day. The original owners bought 300 acres of land already planted with grape varieties in 1916. Prohibition occurred during that time they owned the property. A family took over the property in 1970 and by 1973 Chateau St. Jean was founded with the inaugural vintage being 1974. The first vintage when the grapes and wine were all produced on the estate was 1975.

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There are two tasting rooms – the first a grand room with a very long and large bar for tastings – the second smaller and dedicated to reserve tasting. I tried a reserve Chardonnay, two Pinot Noirs, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blended wine they called Cinq Cepages. I was also lucky enough to persuade a tasting from a very special bottle, a 1992 reserve Merlot.

The pinot noirs varied from a bottling containing grapes from the hillside vines and another only the grapes harvested from the flat land. The ripeness of the fruit differed and the subtle nuances of mushroom and forest floor came from the hillside vines.

The Cinq Cepages was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Syrah. It was a hot and boozy wine, with gripping tannins but yet wonderful red and dark berry characteristics.

The 1992 Merlot stole the show. This was special to me as, 1992 is my birth year, and this would be, officially, the oldest wine I have tried to date. Tasting a bottle this old isn’t always going to be a good experience as you never know if the wine was stored properly, but being served by the winery, I had confidence that care had been taken in the storage of the wine. It was the colour of an old red brick wall, orange or pale garnet. It was not overly aromatic, the notes were subdued and hidden. On the palate everything was so rounded, balanced. Layers of flavor that felt like one entity. The price discouraged purchase but I settled for the hillside Pinot Noir and thanked the gentleman profusely for the wonderful wine tasting.

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