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6 August, 2019

Sonoma County Small-Lot Wineries with Big-Time Backgrounds

Posted in : Bars and Tasting Rooms, Other Red Blends, Other Sparkling Wine Types, Other White Blends, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Sparkling Wine, Tasting Rooms in Sonoma - CA, Travel Guide for Sonoma - CA, Travel Sponsored Stays and Tours, White Wine, Wine on by : becca

Last fall, via a press trip sponsored and hosted by the Wine Road of northern Sonoma County, I was introduced to some absolutely wonderful Sonoma wineries that are well worth your visit. Obligatory disclaimer: Being on a press trip means that these visits and tastings were free to me.

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Harvest-dyed hands at Frick Winery.

Each of the wineries I’m profiling here gave me a taste of what beauty can come from small-lot production. I mean a literal taste, of course, but also figuratively, as their owners exemplified dedication to and passion for this way of life. You’ll notice that yourself, when you meet them in the tasting room, as I hope this blog inspires you to do. And for each of these wineries, meeting the winemaker-owners in that tasting room is a likely occurrence.

1. Frick Winery

23072 Walling Road, Geyserville
Tasting room: Fridays–Sundays, 1–4

Frick Winery is where you’ll find Bill Frick, his 7.77 acres of grapes, and his extensive line of wines that are mostly only available out of the winery’s tasting room. Frick’s a natural in the vineyard, blending in seamlessly with his crop.

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Bill Frick in his vineyards.

Bill started Frick Winery with his late wife, Judith, and her presence is felt everywhere on the property. Her artwork hangs in the barn and the tasting room, the latter of which features portraits of Lucia, a treasured family pet who has also passed on.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, frick winery, wine, tasting room, bill frick

Bill Frick with a portrait of Lucia.

Lucia also makes an appearance as the dot of the i on Frick’s “Lucia” blend, one of 15+ wines that Bill produces.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, frick winery, wine, tasting room, luciaFrick Winery “Lucia” is a Rhône-style blend. The 2015 vintage, currently available, transported me to an old-timey gentleman’s dispute, with a crowd assembled on a Sunday to watch the fallout. Rose and lilac perfume hid a spicy glass of wine. It tasted of Jolly Rancher cherry and strawberry with a pat of guava paste. Would go great with steaks or a creamy pasta.

Bill is a great host in person, sharing beloved memorabilia in the tasting room. But he’s also a great host on the winery’s Facebook page, where a 2:00 pm Saturday photograph of whomever is present is always posted, as well as images from life in the vineyard.

My personal favorite of Bill’s wines, which you can try up to six of for free when you come to visit, is the Frick Winery “Côtes de Frick” Blanc 2016.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, frick winery, wine, tasting room, cotes de frick, blancOn that label, you can see the paint splash that typically fills in for the i‘s dot, which of course is drawn from Judith’s artistic side. The wine offers great spice with honeysuckle and graham cracker notes, and apricot and grapefruit acidity. A delicious glass all-around. Here’s hoping the next vintage will be released by your visit.

2. Inspiration Vineyards

3360 Coffey Lane, Suite E, Santa Rosa
Tasting Room: Fridays–Sundays, 11–4:30, or by appointment.

wine road, inspiration vineyards, tasting room, sonoma county, santa rosaInspiration Vineyard’s tasting room is located inside a warehouse in urban Santa Rosa. The space is devoted to winemaking. Though “warehouse” may not be the most romantic image that comes to mind when thinking of wine tasting, visiting one is a genuinely interesting experience for wine enthusiasts, especially during harvest. Why? Because many small winemakers don’t have the facilities to crush their grapes or store their fermenting wines themselves, so custom crush facilities, like the one Inspiration Vineyard runs, become hotbeds of harvest-time activities.

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Activities like Jon Phillips punching grapes.

And Inspiration Vineyards, regardless of the locale, offers some of the most romantic wines I’ve tasted in Sonoma. Owner Jon Phillips is currently chairman of the board for the Family Winemakers of California, so there’s no question that he’s dedicated to the cause. That dedication comes through in the glass. I adored his 2015 Inspiration Vineyards Estate Chardonnay.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, inspiration vineyards, wine, tasting room, chardonnayA nose of lemon and marshmallow continued into the glass, where flinty granite and pear notes also appeared. Brown sugar and cinnamon came next, with peach to finish it off. It’s rare that I gush about chardonnay, but this one is worth seeking out. Sadly, you may not have the option to, as the Olivet Road chardonnay vines that produced it have since been pulled out, so there will be no more bottles produced.

Producing any bottle of wine is an adventure, especially for micro-producers like Jon. For his Inspiration Vineyards 2016 Pinot Noir, he sourced the grapes from a backyard vineyard.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, inspiration vineyards, wine, tasting room, pinot noirAnd wow, is that a blessed backyard. Red raspberry gumdrops, licorice, and herbal eucalyptus were all in the nose of this pinot. It’s light-bodied with gentle white chocolate notes enveloping strawberries. Delightful tannins reminded me of wet fall leaves. It’s not a fragile wine, but one made of filigree, held strong by fine threads.

Jon is not the only winemaker making use of the Coffey Lane wine warehouse in Santa Rosa. You can make a day of visiting tasting rooms in those or nearby facilities, including Donelan Family Wines, Carol Shelton Wines, West of Temperance Winery and more, all in walking distance.

3. Lauterbach Cellars

3420 Woolsey Road, Windsor
Tasting Room: By appointment only.

Last on this list, but certainly not least, is Lauterbach Cellars. Theirs is a story of survival and resilience, and not just because owners Stew Lauterbach and Barbara Swary lost their home in the 2017 wine country fires, from which they barely escaped themselves. It’s also because Stew has been saving lives for over thirty years as an ER physician, and Barbara served as a nurse for many of those before pursuing law and ultimately becoming legal director of Sonoma County’s Council on Aging.

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Stew and Barb among their grapevines.

Only in retirement have they given themselves fully to winemaking. They’ve owned 15 acres of vineyards since 1992, when they began learning how to make the purple stuff. All the work is done by hand by the owners themselves, except when additional help is needed—same modus operandi as Bill Frick, I should mention.

When we met, Barb and Stew were living in their vineyard as they contemplated next steps for a home. As Stew said during our visit, “In every adversity, there’s opportunity.” What a lovely place to find some!

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Can you spot the rabbit between those vines?

Stew and Barb are just as lovely as their property and came across as unafraid of what the future brings. In winemaking, the future has often been whatever Barb has a hankering for. Why do they make Port-style syrah? Because Barb asked Stew one day, “I’m buying too much Port. Why don’t you make a Port?” And thus the Lauterbach Syrah Dessert Wine came to be, as Port can’t legally be made outside of Portugal. Only Port-style dessert wines.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, lauterbach cellars, wine, tasting room, syrah dessertThe 2013 Lauterbach Cellars Syrah Dessert Wine possessed the pure luxury of a rich chocolate cake with steaming fruit at its center. Simply delicious.

Don’t be shy, try the 2015 Lauterbach Cellars Dry Sparkling Pinot Noir, too, another experiment in winemaking.

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, lauterbach cellars, wine, tasting room, sparkling pinot noirDry sparkling pinot noir?! As you can tell, Barb and Stew’s adventuresome spirit is limitless. I found this particular experiment a bit flat in flavor at first, but the soft bubbles and soft hand in winemaking make the fruit come alive.

Which is a great way to describe Lauterbach Cellars and the spirit Stew and Barb display for their guests: Alive!

wine road, sonoma, sonoma county, lauterbach cellars, wine, tasting room, grapevines

Stew illustrating his sense of humor.

Do give them a call or email to arrange a visit – the $15 tasting fee will give you a lot more than wine to sample. It’ll give you a taste of two souls thriving after years of helping others survive.

Thanks to the Wine Road and its director, Beth Costa, for once again showing me how many wonderful winemakers, large and small, and winemaking stories there are to learn in northern Sonoma County. I hope, dear readers, that you’ll share some of your own with me in the comments.

I visited these tasting rooms over October 17-18, 2018.

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