Story by Lee Daley. Photos by John Sundsmo and Lee Daley
Sonoma County is known for its excellent Chardonnay wines and those produced at Sonoma Cutrer Winery are no exception. Tucked away on a lush hillside in Windsor, Sonoma Cutrer may be one of the few places in Sonoma where you can play croquet and indulge in a picnic on beautifully manicured tree-shaded grounds all in the same day. My spouse and I went for the wines and the picnic but took a slice at swinging the croquet mallet for good measure.
“We embrace Burgundian traditions but do it on Sonoma soil. I like to say we make wines that embody the beauty and authenticity of both places,” Wine Director Mick Shroeter told us. “I have two superb wine makers, Zidanelia, who is a Pinot Noir expert and Cara, our Chardonnay genius. Together, we collaborate and most of the time, we agree!” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
The challenge for Sonoma Cutrer is the three very different terroirs in their vineyards. Marrying these vastly different fermentations requires ingenuity and artistry. With a taste of the 2015 Pinot, we were convinced of their wine making skills. The Pinot’s pleasing body and subtle fruit flavors showed just enough acidity to be palate cleansing while definitely being distinct in taste.
A nice way to taste the Chardonnays would be to order a flight so you can compare and contrast them side by side and make note while tasting as to which you prefer. We found the Chardonnays all had wonderful aromas and depth of color with the typical slight buttery taste that smoothly evolved into a hint of pleasing acidity and then ending with a complex body of earthy flavors. All would enhance a summer repast of grilled halibut or sautéed scallops. We especially enjoyed a 2015 Late Harvest Chardonnay, which would make a wonderful sweet enriching close to a fine dinner.
One of the many unique and authentic features of the maturation process of the Sonoma Cutrer wines is found in the Chardonnay barrel room. A 20,000 square foot facility dug into a hillside, it is designed to replicate a French cave – complete with a bare earth floor. Temperature-controlled water flows through 24 miles of piping to create the consistent temperature and humidity needed for a slow, controlled maturation process, reminiscent of the Old World philosophy.
Mick introduced us to the winery’s very limited special 1994 Founder’s Reserve Chardonnay which, contrary to popular expectations, now 24 years old, has aged like a real pro, still full of youthful exuberance in its after-taste but with a fully mature attitude and well-defined body. (Available for purchase as a wine club member at the Sonoma Cutrer Winery website.)
Besides the Chardonnays, we tasted the 2015 Vine Hill and 2016 Owsley Pinot Noirs, each showing slight hints of berries. Either of these would nicely complement a main dish of Duck Breast garnished with a blackberry reduction sauce.Finally, we were struck by the uniquely different California soil conditions and grape harvests in this small region of the Sonoma valley and particularly impressed by the artistry effectively used by Sonoma Cutrer winemakers. On a recent trip back East, we found the Sonoma Cutrer Russian River table wine on the menu and couldn’t resist. Even after the long road trip, it was full of life, no flabbiness as with some Chardonnays. A simple wine paired with a burger that we will look out for time and again.
More about the Croquet:: Home of the world famous North American Open Tournament, Sonoma Cutrer hosts two championship level croquet lawns. One of the best places on site to enjoy a wine tasting might well be a comfy seat on the wide terrace overlooking the croquet lawns while watching almost daily croquet players kitted out in the traditional whites as they practice or play. The friendly ambience invites participation and spontaneous inclusion. Plan on at least one or two hours to enjoy the experience.
Sonoma Cutrer Winery is a bit off the beaten path but the tasting room ambience, lawn croquet with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Owsley Ranch Chardonnay with warm, sunny views of the vineyards all combine to make the drive well worthwhile.
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Look for this Recipe for Quick Marinated Salmon by John Ash found on the Sonoma Cutrer Website.