2014 was the fourth year of WOW. The group hosts two tastings per year. They were in Chicago the first part of this year and held their California tasting at the amazing new facility in Sebastapol, The Barlow. The Barlow is a redeveloped area that opened last year and is home to wineries, tasting rooms, breweries, cafes, restaurants, etc. and is helping revitalize downtown Sebastapol.
14 somms from across the country, Hawaii to North Carolina were invited to fly to Sonoma to help work for the weekend. The event was three days of non-stop activity. We kicked everything off by each somming a dinner at different restaurants on Friday night with a host winery.
I fortunately got to work with one of the driving forces behind WOW, Andy Peay. Andy’s conviction and dedication to the west Sonoma coast is so serious it can be intimidating at times. He’s also very tall. The dinner was hosted at the Zazu Kitchen & Farm, an iconic restaurant founded in rural Santa Rosa in 2001 that relocated to the Barlow in Sebsatopl last year. The husband and wife team are the undisputed champions of all things pork. Andy hosted a group of his loyal wine club members and treated them to a delicious meal.
For this event I was paired with a very talented somm, Christian Varras. One of the most beneficial aspects of working events like WOW is meeting somms from other cities. It’s fun to network and find out about their programs and wine trends from certain parts of the country. Christian has an impressive resume working and is currently the wine director at River Oaks Country Club, in Houston, Texas.
Day two was a day of seminars. The first seminar, The evolution of California Cuisine and Wine, was a panel of some of the top SF restaurants, and how their food interacts with wine. The restaurants were Bar Tartine, Rich Table, State Bird Provisions.
Following that was a seminar on Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. A very fitting seminar as the Heintz family pioneered the true Sonoma coast over 100 years ago. The vineyards were originally planted to zinfandel and eventually replanted with apples during prohibition. Apples thrived in the area up until the early 80’s when the chardonnay vineyard was planted. Heintz sells fruit to several wineries, to name just a few: Peay, Littorai, Realm, Ceritas, DuMol, Zepaltas and Flowers.
The focus was a comparative of picking range times in the Heintz vineyard. Ceritas, Zepaltas, Littorai and DuMol were all represented. In addition to picking there were several other decisions made by the winery that effected the wine, traditional or organic farming, stainless or barrel, what size barrel? Each wine was expressive in their own right. The wines that were showcased in this seminar showed the impressive range of styles possible in the vineyard . This was no surprise as Heintz is a big vineyard. It sits about 900 ft above sea level and is around 100 acres large, 50 planted to vine. It’s only a few miles form the coast, situated on the second ridge from the sea.
The underlying theme was high acidity however the weight varied greatly throughout the wines. Ceritas was the leanest and most angular of the bunch and ended up being my favorite. They are adamant about farming organically. The most eye opening was the DuMol. Admittedly I feel like I pre judged this more than any other chardonnay in the group. Andy lets the wine sit on the lees for two winters and ages in hogsheads barrel. He believes that this helps connect the wine to the vineyards. This was the most round and powerful of the bunch but still displayed the Heintz freshness. The oak did not interfere much on the aromatics.
Two months removed I can’t stop thinking about the determination of this group, banned together to promote what they consider to be the best growing area of Sonoma. There was zero competitiveness amongst the group of wineries. Peay believes that promoting their region and each other’s wines will help increase every wineries visibility. Hopefully restaurants will increase their selections from West Sonoma and somms can share the bright fruit it produces. In the end it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this place so special. I’d like to think it’s a combination of the climactic conditions that make it difficult to ripen fruit and the group of adventurous personalities shaping the future West Sonoma might be not the easiest wine region to farm for pinot noir but it’s certainly the most rewarding.