Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: First Day at the Wineries

Day one of our Sonoma Wine Country Weekend we spent in the Russian River Valley and Healdsburg visiting Iron Horse Vineyards, Pellegrini Family Vineyards and Seghesio Family Vineyards.

Iron Horse Vineyards

Our first stop was at this gorgeous hill top winery…as you approach on a dirt road you see the palm tree lined entrance in the distance. As Iron Horse is known for their sparkling wines I thought this was a perfect start for Saturday. Their rustic outdoor tasting room looks out over the Green Valley AVA, a sub-appelation of the Russian River Valley, giving you spectacular views while you sip.

Owned and operated by the Sterling Family, they officially opened in 1979 and their sparkling wines are often called some of the best in California. They were put on the map internationally in November 1985 when the White House asked them to produce a specially Russian Cuvée for the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit Meeting, a sweet style brut that they still produce today.

The Iron Horse name comes from a train that stopped at Ross Station at the turn of the 20th Century. The logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane, came from an actual weathervane that was unearthed when they were leveling the ground to build the winery. The winery produces 20,000 cases per year, so a mid-size winery, from their 320 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Half their production is sparkling and half still.

We enjoyed a sunny hour at the tasting bar under the heat lamps chatting with Mike Simpson as he tasted us through the Sparkling Flight (5 wines…’06 Ocean Reserve, ’07 Wedding Cuvée, ’06 Classic Vintage Brut, ’06 Russian Cuvée, ’06 Brut Rosé), ’09 Estate Chardonnay and ’10 Estate Pinot Noir. My favorites…

2006 Ocean Reserve

This limited cuvée is a joint effort with National Geographic to help preserve and restore the world’s oceans.

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Taste: Tiny bubbles of green apple, almond, vanilla
  • Price: $40 ($4 goes to National Geographic’s Mission Blue)
  • My thoughts: This was my favorite sparkling of the flight…nice and easy, not overly dry, would be great with food and its for a good cause.

2009 Estate Chardonnay

For us, malo-lactic fermentation is simply an acid balancing tool – not a stylistic component, and we feel very strongly about keeping the oak beautifully integrated in the wine.”

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Aroma: Pear, pineapple, peaches
  • Taste: Soft peach and pineapple with light round buttery mouthfeel
  • Price: $27
  • My thoughts: I wanted to try their still varietals so picked the 2 classics. My first comment upon tasting…”this makes me rethink California Chardonnay.” Mike told us that was exactly winemaker David Munksgard’s goal as you can see in the website quote above.

2010 Estate Pinot Noir

  • Grape Variety: 100% Pinot Noir
  • Aroma: Pomegranate, sweet raspberry
  • Taste: Same as aroma plus a burnt sugar / creme brûlée taste!
  • Price: $50
  • My thoughts: Wow! Was our first comment when we smelled the wine and even more once tasted. We bought a bottle of this one to take home.

Tasting room is open seven days a week 10am to 4:30pm with $10 tasting fee (waived with purchase of a bottle). They also offer tours Monday through Friday at 10am by appointment, $20 per person includes a reserve wine tasting. Friday tours are conducted by winemaker David Munksgard (except during harvest).

Pellegrini Family Vineyards

Our second stop was down the road in the Russian River Valley at Pellegrini Family’s tasting room on their sixty-five-acre Olivet Lane Vineyards and working winery. We showed up as they were hosting a wine club member party so the tasting room, which is also the barrel room with floor to ceiling barrels of aging wine, was decorated and festive for Christmas!

Pellegrini Family Vineyards dates back to the early 1900’s when brothers Nello and Gino Pellegrini came to New York City from their native Tuscany. After working their way west in 1925, they became wine merchants. Nello’s son Vincent took over in the early 1950s then he and his wife bought a 70-acre apple and plum orchard in 1973 and planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, what is today’s Olivet Lane Vineyards. They were one of the first Pinot Noir Estates in the Russian River Valley. Today run by Vincent’s three children, they also have the Cloverdale Ranch in Alexander Valley and Eight Cousins Vineyard next door to Olivet, and produce 25,000-30,000 cases.

Linda welcomed us up to the old oak bar for a tasting of the eleven wines she was pouring…’10 Pellegrini Sauvignon Blanc, ’09 Pellegrini Chardonnay (nice unoaked), ’09 Pellegrini Eight Cousins Vineyard Zinfandel, ’06 and ’07 Pellegrini Milestone (blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc), ’08 Olivet Lane Chardonnay, ’07 Olivet Lane Estate Reserve Cuvée Chardonnay, ’06 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir, ’07 Cloverdale Ranch Merlot, ’09 Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and ’08 Pellegrini Brothers Elevazione. We chatted about the wines and the family history as black and white photos of them hung beside us. My favorites wines…

Pellegrini Brothers Elevazione 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sourced exclusively from the volcanic, high altitude vineyards of the Mayacama Mountains of Sonoma.

  • Grape Variety: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Aroma: Cassis, berry
  • Taste: Chocolate covered blueberries
  • Price: $31
  • My thoughts: This tasted like my favorite Starbucks Coffee, Ethiopia Yergecheffe…just like chocolate covered blueberries. We had to bring home a bottle!

2007 Olivet Lane Estate Reserve Cuvée Chardonnay

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Aroma:  Bright fruit and toast
  • Taste: Caramel creme brûlée, burnt sugar
  • Price: $24.50
  • My thoughts: As a non-oaked Chardonnay fan, I was surprised by this one. Fermented and aged in French oak barrels, I expected more heavy oak but what I got was buttery caramel and burnt sugar! Brought home a bottle of this too.

Winery tour and tasting room are open Thursday-Sunday by appointment 10am-4:30pm. Our hotel suggested we pop by and as it was early December they were able to take us in. Many wineries that say appointment only do that to control during busy season and they are licensed as appointment only. Call 800.891.0244 or email debbie@pellegrinisonoma.com. And if you don’t get a chance in advance, don’t be afraid to call once in Sonoma to check.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Saturday’s last stop was just north of downtown Healdsburg at Seghesio’s tasting room on their winery property, Caliornia’s 56th bonded winery. Seghesio is a fourth generation Italian winery founded in 1902 by Edoardo Seghesio who came to Northern Sonoma in 1886 from his family vineyards in Piedmont, Italy. In 1895 he bought 56 acres in northern Alexander Valley, the Home Ranch, and planted it with Zinfandel. In 1910 he acquired 10 more acres and planted the Chianti Field Blend of Sangiovese, Canielao Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia. This vineyard is now North America’s oldest planting of Sangiovese.

Seghesio produces 30,000 cases per year and in 2011 merged with Crimson Wine Group. Their 2009 Home Ranch Zinfandel was just named one of the Top 100 Wines of 2011 by Wine Spectator.

It was a busy Saturday but we found our way up to the tasting bar and tasted seven of their wines. While everyone was friendly we didn’t get the care and attention we’d seen the rest of the day. We sampled through ’10 Pinot Grigio, ’09 1942 Block Grenache (planted in 1942), ’08 Cortina Zinfandel, ’09 Rockpile Zinfandel, ’08 Venom, ’08 Omaggio, ’07 Home Ranch Petite Sirah in the high ceiling tasting room overlooking their barrels of aging wine.  My favorite wine of the tasting…

2008 Omaggio

  • Grape Variety: 40% Sangiovese (planted by Edoardo), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (planted by 2nd generation Seghesio family)
  • Aroma & Taste: Berry with a caramelly sweetness
  • Price: $60
  • My thoughts: It was fun to try this combination of grapes grown in Sonoma. I really enjoyed it for its history… first made in ’95 to celebrate the family’s 100 years in the wine business, the label has Edoardo’s immigration papers on it.

We brought home a bottle of 2008 Chianti Station from the Chianti Field Blend above which I look forward to trying. Their tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

Next I’ll take you on day two at the wineries…Martinelli Winery, VJB Vineyards & Cellars and Muscardini Cellars.

Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.