WTOP's Scott Greenberg explores the wine's of California's western Sonoma region.
WASHINGTON — There are road shows and then there are road shows. This week, the West Sonoma Coast Vintners Association is on the road, bringing its wine wares to Washington as part of an educational tasting tour for consumers and those in the industry.
The West Sonoma Coast Vintners is an organization of wineries and growers who are passionate about farming along the mountainous coastline of western Sonoma County. Members create wines that evoke the complexity of the region and wines that are expressive of their unique community.
The West Sonoma Coast, part of Sonoma County, has distinguished itself as one of the world’s leading regions for top-quality pinot noir and chardonnay. The sometimes rugged region contains many distinct growing areas, including Annapolis, Fort Ross/Seaview, Occidental, Freestone, Green Valley and the Sebastopol Hills.
This association is dedicated to preserving and protecting the history, landscape and culture of the West Sonoma Coast, and to promoting its wines to the media, trade and public. They also enjoy the benefit of sharing information and collaboration with each other, providing a forum for its members to discuss topics that include farming practices, pest and disease control, winemaking techniques and more.
But at its core, the association is first and foremost a community of farmers.
Winery members include 32 Winds Wine, Alma Fria, Banshee, Ceritas, Chamboule, Crossbarn Winery by Paul Hobbs, DuMOL, Emeritus, Ernest Vineyards, Failla Wines, Flowers Vineyards & Winery, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Gros Ventre Cellars, Hirsch Vineyards, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Littorai Wines, MacPhail Wines, Occidental, Peay Vineyards, R A E N winery, Red Car Wine, Senses Wines, Small Vines Wines, and Wayfarer. As they are fond of saying, “This is our home, not just our livelihood, and we are proud of it.”
Here are a few of my favorite wines from the tasting that I think are worth hunting down and trying.
While best known for their opulent red wines, the Joseph Phelps Vineyards was no stranger to making pinot noir and chardonnay. It had a long history with both varieties, including a Napa Valley pinot noir and chardonnays from Napa Valley and Carneros. But the brand continued to search for vineyards in a cooler climate area, and finally found one in 1999 in the town of Freestone on the Sonoma Coast. At the time, this foggy, cool-climate region was relatively untested for wine grapes. Today, the area is one of the most renowned locations for growing chardonnay and pinot noir. The 2016 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Chardonnay is a perfect example of why wines from this region are now in demand. Beautiful scents of peaches, orange blossoms and baked apples dominate the nose. In the mouth, this wine has beautifully delineated flavors of white peach, green apple and notes of lemon and lime. They get a boost from wet stone minerality. It finishes with just a touch of ripe peach and hints of pineapple. $48
From sommelier to vineyard owner and winemaker, Paul Sloan has always been captivated by wine. Following a stint as a wine buyer and sommelier for a famous restaurant in Sonoma, Sloan decided to follow his passion and enrolled in college to get his viticulture degree, and simultaneously work for one of the most respected winegrowers in the county, Warren Dutton of Dutton Ranches. Dutton encouraged Sloan to follow his pioneering spirit and start planting vineyards his own way. Together with his wife Kathryn, they launched Small Vines, planting and farming vineyards themselves. You can taste their passion in their 2014 Small Vines Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wisps of toasted brioche and roasted pears dance on the nose. Beautifully integrated flavors of apple, pear and roasted almonds fill out the palate seamlessly. Hints of crushed stone and bright acidity keep the finish floating on the tongue for a long, long time. $55
Lying adjacent to the San Andreas Fault on the extreme western Sonoma Coast, Hirsch Vineyards comprises 72 acres, divided into 67 individual farming blocks. Due to the site’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the San Andreas Fault, the vineyard has a wide range of soils, elevations and microclimates, which allows for small blocks of fruit to be harvested and vinified separately. For example, the fruit for the 2014 Hirsch “San Andreas Fault” Pinot Noir comes from 32 distinct farming blocks. The resulting wine has intense aromas of bramble and dark cherries on the nose. They are joined in by bright red raspberries, dark strawberries and red cherries in the mouth. The elegant finish is lengthy and captivating. $60
The Peay Vineyards is definitely a family affair. Husband and wife, Nick Peay and Vanessa Wong, grow and make the wine, while brother Andy Peay sells the wines and runs the business. Located in the far northwestern corner of Sonoma County, approximately four miles from the Pacific Ocean near Sea Ranch, Peay Vineyards sits on a hilltop that is not too far up in the air, but just at the top of the fog level, the perfect combination of cool nights and warm days. While not “certified,” the Peays have framed their vineyard organically for the last eight years. Their 2016 Peay Vineyards Pomarium Estate pinot noir is a reflection of their hard work and dedication. The bouquet features earthy scents of spicy red fruit. Rich flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum are framed by soft tannins and beautiful acidity. Warm flavors of cherry cola and black raspberries glide in on the elegant finish. $60
Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.