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Sonoma County-An Old Friend and Some New "Finds"

by Sara & Monty Preiser

Landmark Vineyards -- As Good As Ever

Sometimes writers just “overlook” something, no matter how much that “something” deserves to be featured. In this case, it is a winery that has not only been one of our favorites for more than 10 years, but uniformly receives high accolades from every person we know that has tasted the wines. Yes, we have often showcased their products here, but have never written a more encompassing piece. It is long past time.

Landmark Vineyards, owned by Michael and Mary Colhoun, whom we consider to be two of the California wine industry’s premier ambassadors, sits at the foot of Sugarloaf Mountain just south of Santa Rosa on some of the most beautiful property in Sonoma County. The winery was founded in 1974 by Damaris Deere Ethridge, a descendant of the inventor of the steel plow, John Deere, and, since the promotion of Eric Stern to winemaker in 1993, has taken its place as one of the unquestioned top wineries in the country. At present, Landmark produces three Chardonnays, two Pinot Noirs, and a relatively newly crafted Syrah. We write about four of them, not having tasted the just released 2004 Grand Detour Pinot Noir or the new Steel Plow Syrah.

2003 Overlook Chardonnay ($25): One of the Landmark’s most widely distributed wines, this one is also in our top 10 for consistently outstanding Chardonnays at a very reasonable price. Grapes this year are from 19 vineyards, mostly in Sonoma, but also from Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. Aged 10 months in French oak using indigenous yeasts, and undergoing complete malo-lactic fermentation, one is pleasingly overwhelmed by the tropical fruit and toasty nose which integrate into a seamless, creamy wine with some peach, pear, and pineapple on the palate, and just the right touch of butter at the finish.

2003 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay ($30): Also available nationwide, but with far less production than the Overlook, this year the wine is from two vineyards, both in Sonoma. Not too surprisingly, these quality grapes came from very cool sites for this very hot vintage. Petersen Vineyard is in the Sonoma Coast appellation, while Frostwatch is in the newly created Bennett Valley appellation. Both areas typically experience late bud-break, and often have a difficult time with spring frost. Given the wet, cold April in 2003, these two vineyards had particularly low yields. The Damaris boasts pear and pineapple flavors layered with crème brulee, while its solid acid base provides a balance of power and structure. Yum.

2003 Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay ($45): The lush Lorenzo comes from some of the winery’s oldest vineyards, which, along with the use of the intensely flavored Wente clone planted in an area of high clay percentage, produce a concentrated Chardonnay with a touch of minerality, a wisp of smoke, and the distinctive flavors of pear and orange. Interestingly, Landmark only used 30% new oak for this vintage, proving that sometimes subtlety is best. Allow this Chard a little time to open in the glass for ultimate enjoyment.

2003 Kastania Pinot Noir ($45): We actually first tasted this wine in a Florida tasting rather than at the winery, and immediately fell in love. Black cherry on the nose is easily recognizable and enticing, while the smooth body reflects clove, leather, and a variety of spices. The deep ruby color is not bad to look at, either. Ultimately, this is a wine with structure, complexity, and taste – a real winner.

www.landmarkwine.com 707-833-0053 or 707-833-0218

Audelssa Estate Winery – Man, What Fruit

We were not yet familiar with Audelssa when we accepted owner Dan Schaefer’s invitation to attend their pre release tasting and celebration introducing their new label at the utterly stunning Kenwood Inn and Spa on Rt. 12 in Sonoma County. It wasn’t long before it became obvious that it wasn’t the historic building that was being shown off that day, but an array of wines that could hold there own with most.

The 2003 vintage, crafted by winemaker Erich Bradley, is Audelssa’s first from their estate winery. The wines come from Sonoma Valley vines that are 1800 feet high. From the vineyards on a clear day (we visited after the party) you can actually see the San Pablo Bay and the silhouette of San Francisco’s distinctive architecture. At that height, the vines are stressed by the wind (note below the names given to some of the wines), and also have to fight to keep alive in the rugged clay soil. These factors help produce juice of uncommon depth and fruit flavors. We enjoyed tasting the following:

-2003 Zephyr ($35): A delightfully chewy mouthful of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

-2003 Tempest ($45): A 100% Syrah with many layers - tar and velvet rose petals on the nose, a fruity middle, and a finish of spice and coffee.

-2003 Summit ($50): Audelssa’s entry into the Bordeaux market (the big 4 varietals are here – just missing the Petite Verdot), it can best be described by saying this is what the French wish they could produce, but they no longer (if they ever did) get the fruit for it.

-2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($90)
: Again, lots if fruit, but it is perhaps not quite ready. At this price we think it needs some time in bottle to recommend it.We were privileged to be offered barrel samples of various varietals for 2004 and 2005, and were impressed. This winery should be a household name in not too long.

www.audelssa.com 707-996-1790

Navillus Birney Winery & Vineyards – A Touch of Glen Ellen

As with any area of the world, towns and villages change. Sometimes it’s for the good, and sometimes for the bad. Well, if you haven’t recently been in the little burg of Glenn Ellen, a few miles west of Rt. 12 in the Sonoma Valley of the Moon, you are missing a charming experience. The town has wonderful inns, such as the Glenn Ellen Inn and the Gage House; fine dining in places like the Wolf House and aforementioned Glenn Ellen Inn; a super winery in Benziger; and a tasting room for a relatively unknown, but pretty darn good winery – Navillus Birney.Hosted by professionals Al Kaintz (tasting room manager) and Jaye Hays, we worked our way through two Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs. We very much enjoyed the buttery nose and full mid palate of butterscotch in the 2003 Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay ($30), as well as the huge, mouth filling 2004 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($35). Also on our plus list was the 2003 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir ($35), which exhibited a rose and plum nose, with good spices to finish up. We were not enamored with the 2003 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($30), which was too tart for us.

We think this winery has an excellent future, especially when we note that their winemaker is Rolando Herrara, who is better known for his wonderful wines - Mi Sueno.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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