The conversation about wine in a restaurant links people to the winery. Several wineries that I’ve connected with recently offer exceptional hospitality and wine due to wine-obsessed personnel who tell the stories of their property with verve and creativity.
In Alexander Valley near Healdsburg, Jordan Winery takes their wine and their tasting options seriously. Winemaker Rob Davis, a protégé of André Tchelistcheff, has crafted every Jordan vintage since 1976. The big news at the winery is the upcoming May launch of Jordan Cuvée Champagne made by grower-producer AR Lenoble.
Owner John Jordan believes that Davis’ wine also makes a terrific blend with food and fun. The winery’s reputation for fine hospitality is linked to his team’s passion for wine, food, and creativity. Director of Marketing Lisa Mattson, Chef Todd Knoll, and his wife Nitsa Knoll, who leads the hospitality team, set out themed events with much of the food sourced from the chef’s garden or local purveyors. There are many over-the-top events, especially Halloween. The winery has added more vineyard hikes from April through November. New al fresco dinners on the winery terrace will include a Bounty of Sonoma County farm-focused dinner.
Driving up the winding road to the winery intensifies the anticipation of their reservation-only wine experiences. My favorite option is the Estate Tour. This guided wine tour in a comfortable van meanders among Jordan’s 1,200 acres of vineyards, lakes, apiary, and scenic vistas. The tour includes several stops including the chef’s garden and two picnic stops, one by the lake and the other at the Pavillion overlooking the vineyards.
I have always found Jordan cabernet sauvignon to be a consistently smooth and pleasing whether at home or dining out. But it tasted better at the Vista Point lookout and open air tasting room on the crest of a hill overlooking the vineyards. The 2011 cabernet that I tasted along with locally raised smoked pork and Sebastopol mushrooms with Calif. cheeses for dessert was better than I remembered.
Another Sonoma winery in the Russian River area, Dutton-Goldfield makes it easy to speak to sense of place. The partnership of viticulturist Steve Dutton and winemaker Dan Goldfield brings connections to source from excellent vineyards including the Devils’ Gulch Vineyard in southern Marin County for their pinot noir.
Beyond the cozy “living room” apart from the tasting room and patio, a secret ingredient for encouraging visits to Dutton-Goldfield is Nicole Kosta, direct sales and hospitality director. Formerly the wine director at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco, Kosta is a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and wine connoisseur.
Unlike many emails that I receive from wine industry folks, when Kosta writes, I read and listen. She recently hosted a Valentine’s event at the winery for Valentine’s Day focused on wine pairing with aphrodisiac tasting of food from chef-author Amy Reiley, who wrote Fork Me, Spoon Me: the sensual cookbook. Fortunately, Kosta did not oversell the aphrodisiac aspect of the event.
But she reminded me about the generous and delicious Dutton-Goldfield Rued Vineyard Chardonnay. Kosta’s favorite pairing was the Afternoon Delight Crab Salad. Her words: “The fresh, delicate Dungeness crab, is gorgeous with our Rued chardonnay. Planted in 1969, the vines are mostly the chardonnay musqué clone. This results in gorgeous aromatics with bright citrus notes.”
She is clearly an advocate of the musqué clone, and the wine does speak to the beauty of Russian River chardonnay as are the owners who built the acclaimed brand in the Russian River.
Moving on to Napa, Groth also presents a special winery experience.
In California Mission style, Groth Vineyards is a haven off sleepy Oakville Cross Road. It’s old news that 1985 Groth cabernet sauvignon was the first California wine to receive 100 points from Robert Parker. But then again, millennials and those new to wine may not have heard this important piece of Groth history. After acquiring this accolade from his second vintage at Groth, winemaker Michael Weiss, now emeritus, risked to replant the vineyards to better position the vines. The newer vintages under the watchful care of Cameron Parry show the same careful blending and blending Weiss established in the mid-1980s.
Another-not-so-well-known fact about Groth is the artistic talent of the owner and founders’ daughter, Suzanne Groth. The connection between art and wine has been strong throughout the millennia, and Groth’s sunny personality is perhaps reflected in the bright colors or her art displayed in the tasting room with art posters that are also available online. The art pictured is the "Gianelli Perspective" poster.
Reserve tastings and special tours of the vineyard are available at reasonable prices compared to other Napa wineries.
I recently opened a bottle of 2014 Groth Hillview Chardonnay and served it to friends with cheese and sushi to much acclaim. The appeals to those enjoying a full chardonnay without the buttery impact so many Calif. wines hold. Fruit and complexity are a gentle balance to achieve, and Groth consistently delivers.
Add Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Oakville to your wine and travel daydreams.