Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Passport to Sonoma an invitation to wine paradise

by Dwight Casimere

There is no more supremely sublime experience than driving through the Sonoma Valley on a sun-drenched afternoon. The vineyards and arbors of gnarled tree branches seem to envelop you as you see the names of the hallowed wine estates roll past; Kunde Estate, Adler Fels, Kenwood, Chateau St. Jean, Landmark. The facades are as varied as the wines served in the tasting rooms, from regal French chateaus to rustic country cottages that harken back to the region’s origins as the nation’s oldest winemaking region, dating back to 1824, when Franciscan monks planted the first gnarled vines in Sonoma’s rich, volcanic soil. Along every mile, signposts, old vines and whispering hills emit echoes of its storied past.

Wine lovers have a unique opportunity to take a behind the scenes look and experience first hand all of the glories that the Sonoma Valley has to offer. Passport to Sonoma Valley, May 15 & 16 lays the vast panorama of this extraordinary region at their feet. For two glorious days, 50 wineries open their tasting rooms and cellars to present over 300 wines paired with a mouth-watering array of culinary delicacies along the Sonoma Valley’s lush 18-mile stretch. Each “passport” entitles the holder to an experience reserved for only the most discriminating connoisseur. A commemorative glass is the ‘open sesame’ key to unlimited tastings, special discounts on wine purchases and exclusive entrée to the valley’s hidden treasures.

I have experienced the unparalleled pleasures of experiencing Sonoma Valley ‘behind the scenes’ at the annual Wine Country Weekend held each fall in the midst of the Harvest crush. A succession of wine tastings in the private tasting rooms, dinners in the wine cellar and the vineyard and moonlit excursions to the vineyards during the exciting night harvest made for a once in a lifetime experience.

Among the participating wineries in the Passport Weekend, there are some exceptional wines to be had. The Wine Doctor has been fortunate to preview some of the selections that will be offered.

Arrowood Wines is a stellar example of the rich heritage of Sonoma Valley because of the exceptional wines created by Winemaster and Owner Richard Arrowood.

His resume speaks volumes. Prior to founding his own winery, he was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first Winemaster and eventual Executive Vice President. The awards and accolades are too numerous to recount here but suffice to say Arrowood was the architect of Chateau St. Jean’s stellar worldwide reputation.

After 16 years with Chateau St. Jean, Arrowood decided to move on and devote himself to creating reserve quality Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. His creative drive also led him branch out into less familiar varietals to California such as Viognier, Malbec and Pinot Blanc. The results of his creative extrapolations are phenomenal.

I have waxed eloquently about the superlative palate-pleasing qualities of his award-winning 2005 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, a steal at $50. Grapes for this essentially Bordeaux blend of 94% Cabernet, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot are culled from organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards along the benches, hillsides and mountains set in the dewy morning shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains. The resultant wine has all of the harmonic insight of a virtuoso. Elegant notes of coffee, rich dark chocolate and hints of tobacco belie its husbanding for 24 months in French and American oak. Total production of this extraordinary wine was only slightly over 7 thousand cases, making this one of the most prized wines to be discovered during the Passport excursion.

The same family has operated Kunde Family Estate for five generations. Located in the heart of Sonoma’s picturesque Valley of the Moon, the centerpiece is the Kunde Estate Tasting Room, constructed as a replica of the Kinneybrook Ranch cattle barn, which stood on the land for more than a century. Another focal point on the vast estate are the stone ruins of the Dunfillan Winery, set in a secluded five-acre meadow surrounded by vineyards and mountain views. Built by winemaking pioneer John Drummond in the late 1800’s, Dunfillan Winery is the site where California’s first varietally labeled Cabernet Sauvignon was vinified and bottled.

The Estates three elevation levels and seven distinct microclimates along with a mix of soil depths and types make for uniquely complex and sophisticated wines. A unique flavor portrait is created for each of the wines by this diverse pallet. Kennybrook Chardonnay, Shaw Century Vines Zinfandel, C.S. Ridge Chardonnay, Wildwood Chardonnay, Drummond Cabernet and Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc are just a few of the distinctively crafted wines created by the winemaking team. The winery also produces specific vineyard block designated wines exclusively for Kunde Family Estate Wine Club members. If you mention that Dwight The Wine Doctor recommended a sip, you just might have an opportunity to taste one of these limited edition wines. That alone should be an enticement to join the Passport Weekend experience.

Weekend Passports and daily tickets and Designated Driver ticket information is available at

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