Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beauty And Grace In Sonoma Valley...

On the last day of my latest venture to wine country, I was treated to a grand surprise! Such a beautiful and peaceful experience that it will be forever etched in my mind! Tucked away in a remote corner of Sonoma Valley is the most amazing place you will ever encounter! Rich with beauty and grace, The Hanzell Vineyards experience will leave you breathless and wanting more!

I had thought about this place many times over the years, never having tried any of their wines. When a friend of mine mentioned the possibility of visiting them and would I be interested, I immediately said yes! I had no idea where it was.  As we drove closer and closer, we went past a gate and began climbing up the five hundred or so feet to the top where the winery is located, stopping along the way to take photos of the breathtaking views! As we approached the winery buildings, I knew I was in for a special treat!

   The history of Hanzell Vineyards is fascinating! Founded in the early fifties by James David Zellerbach, a gentleman who was appointed Ambassador to Italy by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this winery is famous for being the first winery to do many things:

   They were the first to create and use custom-designed temperature-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks such as the one below (now housed in a museum-type area of the winery).

                                 They were the first to use inert gas at bottling to prevent oxidation.

                              They were the first to use only French oak barrels for aging their wines.

     And a very important point, they were the first to isolate and cultivate the bacterium responsible for malolactic fermentation.

     Hanzell Vineyards now owns six estate vineyards where they have forty acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted. I was able to see two of the six, the Ambassador Vineyard (Pinot Noir) and the Ramon Vineyard (Chardonnay). They have the most amazing quality control. Everything is near perfect and pristine to the eye. And it is just this attention to detail and quality that shines in the wines when you taste them for the first time. The vineyards were absolutely beautiful. I could have stayed there all day long!

After the ambassador's death in the early sixies, the winery was sold to Douglas and Mary May. During their ten years there, they expanded the winery. When Mary passed away, the winery was once again put up for sale. In 1974, the Countess Barbara De Brye, purchased the winery sight unseen. Upon her unexpected passing in 1991, her young son Alexander became and is now the current proprietor. Although he lives in England, he and his family are on-site often and oversee the day to day operations of the winery. Hanzell Vineyards has had five winemakers since its inception, including their current winemaker, Michael McNeill. The wines are impeccable!

After visiting the wine library, where vintages of their wines go all the way back to the sixties, we were led to a small office where a private tasting was held for us by the winery's wine educator, Gary Saperstein. He was wonderful and I have to say, he made my experience so relaxed and comfortable! He is definitely an asset to the Hanzell Vineyards team!!

The tasting included three current releases, one of which I was the very first guest to try! That was so special!  The three wines included in my tasting were: 2011 Hanzell Vineyards "Sebella" Chardonnay ($36), 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay ($75) and the brand new 2010 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir ($95)


The 2011 "Sebella" Chardonnay was a breath of fresh air! Stainless steel fermented then barrel aged for six months in 1-4 year old French oak barrels, it was citrusy, with green apple and tangerine tones and a clean, crisp finish. It reminded me a lot of a Sauvignon Blanc (which is my favorite white varietal) so I enjoyed it very much!

The 2010 Chardonnay was exceptional! Creamy with a long finish and beautiful notes of honey, lemon and nectarine. Well-balanced with good minerality. They recommend decanting this one. (I guess I would have to learn to be patient!)

The 2010 Pinot Noir was a nice surprise! I don't usually drink Pinot Noirs very young but this one was full-flavored with vibrant cherry notes, anise and cinnamon spice. Just a tiny bit of earthiness. I would love to taste this vintage again in a few years to see how it fares. Absolutely delicious!

     I have decided to make Hanzell Vineyards a part of my new life in wine country and hope to join one of their wine clubs when I move out there soon. I feel like I would be part of something very special when I do. They are off the beaten path and definitely worth making an appointment to visit. Words cannot describe how I was feeling upon my departure of this beautiful place. It's something you have to experience for yourselves. And I hope you do!!

     I would like to thank Gary Saperstein and the team at Hanzell Vineyards for making my visit so special. I would also like to thank my friend, Chef Carlo Cavallo of Meritage Oyster Bar & Grill in Sonoma for setting up my wonderful appointment. For more information on how you can visit Hanzell Vineyards, please visit their website at

     "You Saw It Here First!" This post was written solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman, CSW. Cellarmistress is an Italian-born, American-bred wine writer, wine lover and wine educator with a passion for wine and all that it encompasses..."