Monthly Archives: May 2018

Hoopes Vineyard, Shadybrooke Estate & Steven Kent Winery Review

You Don’t Have to Jump Thru Hoopes to Enjoy This Good Wine!

In 1983 Spencer Hoopes planted 10 acres in the Oakville region of Napa. They have primarily been doing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is their Inaugural release of this whie varietal.

This wine possesses a light straw coloring upon pouring. Once in the glass, the bouquet of honey suckle, honey melon and floral notes wakes ones senses immediately. Upon the first sip, those flavors come through, as well as a soft citrus on the palate. This Sauvignon Blanc is a soft and mellow with just a tad nip of Mandarin oranges as the finishing flavor. A short lived citrus hangs on the back of mouth but quickly fades.

This wine is an extremely acceptable mid-afternoon with a cheese plate of cheddar, Gouda, Swiss or Monterey Jack. Also, in a warm climate this holds enough weight to sip by itself. What I enjoyed about this Sauvignon Blanc is the soft or almost hidden citrus notes.

The price is $35 for this hidden gem with Coombsville grapes from the Napa Valley. You can order on line and they are in the midst of opening a new tasting room mid-2018.

An Exquisite Wine from one of Napa Valley’s newer AVA’s – Coombsville

Shadybrook Estate Winery on 84 planted hillside acres, offers diverse and uniquely diverse production from the same vines planted within earshot of each of other. Rudy Zuidema, the winemaker, prides himself in blending the various Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on property to produce this premier 100% 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon.

This wine is big, rich and vibrant. In the glass a dark red/purple hue radiates from the glass. The first aromas to the nose are of black cherry and a sweet tobacco. On the palate, it combines as Rudy states, “juicy plum, blackberry, mocha, chocolate and maple notes”. The finish is long lasting and drenches the palate completely.

This is a wine to be paired with a BBQ Rib Eye or a thinly sliced Tri-Tip. It still will be stronger than most Cabernet Sauvignon’s to a good cut of beef. I like this wine for its mouthful finish and mid-heavy viscosity—this is how an exquisite wine should taste from glass, nose, mouth and finish! This is a serious wine for collectors and wine aficionados.

The price is moderate given its pedigree of $125. You can order on line and a wine club does exist.

Coming Home to Flavor – Steven Kent Winery

On a recent stop at Steven Kent Winery in Livermore, they had on the monthly offering the 2013 Steven Kent Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. I had previously purchased and enjoy for years their unique and tasty Home Ranch vintages.  Tasting it this time, brought back memories of almost 20 years tasting this wine near our home.

The wine shows dark fruit in the glass (picture). On the nose, besides the dark cherry and blackberry, you get a local earthy dust. The acid and tannins allow a long and full mouthful of wine. This allows the wine to be aged and continue evolving over the next 10-15 years.

We have consistently paired this from hamburgers to steaks to spaghetti and simply enjoying in the evening.

This is a great intermediate wine, somewhere between the GenX and serious wine collector. The price is mid-level for Steven Kent’s portfolio at $65. Club discounts can range from 15-20% upon volume.


Slainte, Michael

Heathen Estates Winery Review

Heathen Estate

9400 NE 134th St.

Vancouver, WA 98662



Price & Availability

  • Tasting fee:  $8 + tax for 5 wines
  • Bottle prices:  $20-$30
  • Hours:  4-7 Friday; 12-7 Saturday; 1-6 Sunday
  • Reservations not necessary
  • Outside food allowed

Atmosphere Located in a beautiful bed and breakfast, Heathen Estate brings a sinister touch to the wine world.  Owner Sunny Parsons, a renowned local brewer, bought the former Village Vineyards in 2016 with plans to expand his brewery on the winery land.  Legalities restrict Sunny’s beers from being produced on site, but those legalities don’t stop the beers from being available to guests!  If you’re lucky, you may be able to taste the beers along with the wines.

How’s the Wine? A wide variety of wines are produced by the winery, with Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay being grown on-site.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Syrah are sourced from Eastern Washington and Southern Oregon.

Experiences You can rent out the estate!  You can also join their wine club which gives you perks such as a free glass or bottle of wine (dependent upon your club level) on your birthday and VIP access to winery events.


A Taste of Mendocino – Part Two: Hidden in Plain Sight

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was able to attend Taste of Mendocino as a media guest and greatly enjoyed drinking old favorites and discovering new ones. A friend and fellow blogger, Thea Dwelle had recommended Waits-Mast Family Cellars to me and I’m glad she did.

They are an award winning small producer of primarily Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc in Mendocino. They also produce a Pinot Noir Rosé. Being a small producer, the case lots for their wines vary between 20 and 125. Although they do not currently have a tasting room you can buy their wines directly from their website.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc

This wine was perfectly crisp with a nose of various stone fruits, but especially nectarines. The taste had the same crisp balance of stone fruits the nose did. I think this wine is made for rosemary lamb chops, not a traditional pairing but I think they’d complement the wine well. At $25 this wine is an absolute steal and total case production is 65.

2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir

This is a dry rosé wine that has a rich mouthfeel. It had a floral nose with a light citrus taste. I’d recommend pairing it with a fresh spring salad and balsamic dressing. There’s only 20 cases of it, so I’d order it sooner than later if you want to try it. At $25 it is competitively priced for its quality.

2015 Mendocino Vineyard Blend Pinot Noir

This wine is entirely Pinot Noir, but it is sourced from their Mariah and Oppenlander vineyards. It had a nose of blackberry with a taste of deep plum. To me, the best pairing would be with blackened salmon. It has a case production of 75 and retails for $35.

2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir

Of the four wines I tried, this was my absolute favorite. The nose was bright red fruit but the taste was of a deep dark berry. It was lighter and brighter than your average Pinot Noir. I’d pair this with roast duck. This wine retails for $45 and has a case production of 125.

A Taste of Mendocino – Part One

Earlier this month I had the honor of attending Taste of Mendocino as a media guest. This sold out event had over 30 wineries from Mendocino tasting and selling their wine to both trade and the public. While there I was able to taste wines from several different wineries that I will profile over the coming months on Wine Trail Adventures. I’ll be starting out with Navarro Vineyards and Winery. Mike was kind enough to guide me through some of their current offerings.

2015 Navarro Première Reserve Chardonnay

This Chardonnay has a nose filled with crisp apples and honey, although the taste is more of a buttered apple flavor without the notes of honey. People who like typical California Chardonnay, but want a little less butter and oak should try this wine. I’d recommend pairing it with a simple roast chicken that allows the flavor of the wine to shine. This wine retails for $27 and is only available from the winery, either in the tasting room or on their website.

2016 Navarro Dry Gewürztraminer

Most people immediately think “sweet” when they hear gewürztraminer. Navarro does make a sweet version, but this dry version smells of fresh cut grass with light floral notes. On the tongue it has a rich pear taste that is screaming for some spicy food like Kung Pao Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala. This wine retails for $22 and is available at the winery and from select retailers.

2014 Méthode à l’Ancienne Pinot Noir

This free flow Pinot Noir is carefully balanced. The nose has a slight hint of citrus but is primarily dark berry. On the tongue it is reminiscent of cranberry which makes it the perfect mate for Roast Turkey and Mashed Potatoes. Navarro offers several Pinot Noir’s so look for this one specifically. It retails for $32 only available from the winery, either in the tasting room or on their website.

2014 Old Vine Zinfandel

This wine was my favorite of the four I tasted because of its rich and deep flavor. The nose is bursting with raspberry but the taste is more like that of a darker berry. The best pairing for this wine would be anything that has been grilled, especially burgers. At $22 it is a steal and is only available from the winery, either in the tasting room or on their website.

Saarloos & Sons Winery Review

In the snow globe that is the tiny town of Los Olivos, Saarloos & Sons Tasting Room should be your first stop coming off of Highway 154.  With the historical stagecoach stop Mattei’s Tavern just around the corner, the building still retains much of the 1887 construction, including the original fireplace and wood flooring.

Founded by Larry Saarloos, this is very much a family business, with son Keith the face of day-to-day operations and a very poetic and philosophical Instagram account (@saarloosandsons).  Other family members take an active role, even the kids can be found learning the ropes in this winery dedicated to their creed “We Live to Honor those that have come before us, and to prepare the way for those yet to come.”

Honoring past generations comes in the form of naming their wines after them.  Combining interesting grape varietals such as Grenache, Mourvedre, and Grenache Blanc with the standards yields unusual blends that are popular with their many followers.  Each bottle tells a story, and their blends are quite smooth and often sell out quickly.  A large chalkboard at one end of the tasting room lets visitors know what is available on any given day.

Visiting the Saarloos & Sons Tasting Room is the preferred way to spend a warm afternoon in Los Olivos.  For $15 you can order a tasting flight of 6 wines and can enjoy them at the funky bar built out of old dressers, or take your glass outside to relax in one of the oversized Adirondack chairs.

And don’t forget the cupcakes.  The only winery I’ve visited that offers a flight of extraordinary mini-cupcakes to pair with your tasting.

A large backyard area is available to wine club members, and available to rent for special occasions.  Once a year, Saarloos holds Vineyard Day, an early morning event in the middle of their Windmill Ridge vineyard.  With a hearty breakfast, vineyard tours, and exclusive tastings of their not-yet-released wines in hand-labeled bottles, this event is so popular that it sold out in 6 hours after registration opened in 2017.  I have been one of the fortunate to have attended 4 of the last 5 years and look forward to putting it on my calendar again in 2018.

Lincourt Vineyards Winery Review

The yellow house sits halfway up the hill, white painted fences contrasting against the green lawns and vineyards surrounding it.  The first winery in what later becomes Bill Foley’s varied collection, Lincourt was named after his two daughters, Lindsay and Courtney.  But the distinctive yellow house sat on that hill many years before it took on the persona that now fits it so perfectly.

As the railroads pushed west in the early 1900’s, they carried unassembled kit homes from Sears Roebuck out to eager new landowners.  One of those, a 1926 Sears Craftsman kit, was unloaded from the now gone railroad tracks, built as a farmhouse around a dairy.  A visit to this historic tasting room reveals wonderful craftsman style detailing, with bright and energetic spaces that make for a unique winery experience.  The views off the porch of the Alamo Pintado Vineyard are relaxing and contemplative.  A great place to sit with a glass of wine and take in the classic California landscape nestled between Solvang and Los Olivos.

As with many of the grapes grown in the Santa Rita Hills, the cool weather allows Lincourt to produce some crisp whites and complex Pinots.  As a member of the Foley Wine Society, I’ve made Lincourt a regular stop when visiting the area, and my preference is for their whites over the reds.  The 2015 Carol Ann Chardonnay (named after Foley’s wife) is one of my favorites.  The wine selection is mostly all Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the lack of variety allows winemaker Lorna Kreutz to focus on exploring creatively within those boundaries.

Lincourt is open to the public and features lovely picnic grounds, making it a perfect midday stop.  The expansive grounds are family friendly, with an outdoor tasting pavilion that is staffed on busy days, and private events can be planned – weddings are especially popular here.

As part of Foley Family Wines, Lincourt’s Cellar Club provides benefits both locally at the winery, and reciprocally at most other Foley locations.

“Without History There Is No Future” – A Visit to Mauritson Family Winery


I heard a quote that came to life during my visit to the Mauritson Family Winery — “without history there is no future” – author, unknown.

The Mauritson family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and has been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.  First a little background on the winery and the family.  S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and most of the family’s original ranch is now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Mauritson has 310 vineyards across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Rockpile AVAs (to be classified as Rockpile, the fruit has to be grown over 800 feet above sea level).

I’ve had the chance to go on two private tours with Carrie Mauritson, who heads up sales and marketing, where I first four-wheeled through the Rockpile vineyard (which she summed up perfectly, ”If it wasn’t for love, there would be no Rockpile AVA”.   What I loved about that visit (other than the amazing Zins) were the stories.  The vineyards had interesting stories behind their names from Buck’s Pasture where deer liked to congregate to Jack’s Cabin (a tree girdler with a colorful history and a love of the drink lived there many decades ago) to Independence (the grandfather killed four pigs there on July 4th), the sense of history and fun of this family shone through.  My second time was in the library where I tasted current release and library wines.

How is the Wine:

Six generations of growing grapes and making wine shines through here.  The family takes care with the entire process – from grape to bottle.  Here are a few tasting notes from the wines I tried:

2016 Mauritson Chardonnay, Alexander Valley – notes of citrus, almond, pear, flowers and a nice minerality.  Definitely an Old-World style of chardonnay that is my style.

2014 Mauritson Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley – blackberry, raspberry, jammy notes and chocolate along with Asian spice in this complex Zinfandel.  A great Zinfandel and all proceeds benefit Sonoma Country Resilience Fund supporting recovery from the wildfires.

2015 Rockpile Zinfandel, Cemetery Vineyards – rich blackberry pie, Fig Newton’s, Espresso, Maple Syrup and Chocolate make this happiness in a glass.

2012 Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyards (library selection) – After our wonderful lunch with Carrie the last visit, this is a special place for me and this wine did not disappoint.  The age gave this wine some time to evolve and you could taste the minerality, the mellowed fruit and the elegant nature of the wine.

2014 Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Red Wine – black and red fruit, chocolate, mocha, earth, tobacco and herbs.

2009 Suther Cabernet Sauvignon (library selection) – I learned on this trip that Mauritson was doing a single soil 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon program in its LOAM series.  There are four – Suther, Loam, Positas and Clough.  We tried Suther, which was weathered from sedimentary and extrusive igneous rock.  Suther soil is a gravelly loam found on broad ridge tops and side slopes of mountains, with elevations ranging from 800-4,000 ft.  I tasted black fruit, dark cherry, chocolate, minerality, some oak, some herbs and some spice. Divine and the ultimate time for a wine geek to well … geek…


This is a family affair and that attitude extends to the tasting room.  You will find yourself welcomed from the moment you walk in and most likely will meet a family member.  This is a friendly place, but they make some great wines.  Sit back, listen to the stories and drink some great wines.

Price and Availability:

The tasting room is open to the public or private tastings are available by appointment.  Vineyard tours and tastings are available to wine club members.

General Tasting
$30 per person – a customized flight of limited production releases.  No appointment necessary for less than six people.  Appointments required for six or more people.

Cellar Private Tours and Tastings
$40 per person
​Limited to 8 guests

Rockpile Wine Club:

2 shipments per year
6 bottles minimum per shipment
Average price per shipment, excluding applicable shipping and taxes is $300
Access limited Mauritson and Rockpile wines upon release
Guaranteed case allocation per year, with opportunity to add to allocations when available
Exclusive access to library wines & large format bottles
Ability to customize allocations
Two allocation release dates:  April & October
Preferred shipping rates – cost split on full or more case orders
Wish list available for sought-after wines

Rockpile Tour and Tasting for up to six people, once a year, weather permitting
Private, customized Wine Library tastings
Invitations to regional winemaker dinners and tastings
Concierge services – restaurant recommendations and accommodation referrals
Complimentary tastings when visiting Tasting Room
Invitations to new release tastings and other special events

We’re Going “All In” A Sonoma Decision: Arista Winery

Arista Winery was founded in 2002 by Janis and Al McWilliams.  This Texas-based family, who always had an affinity for food and wine, took the plunge in the early 1990’s with the purchase of land in Sonoma.  It was an “all in” decision.  But, in hindsight, it wasn’t too far of a stretch.  Janis spent time in Paris and became a fabulous chef.  Their children, Mark and Ben, grew up experiencing different tastes, flavors and smells.

The family had vacationed in Sonoma for a few decades and one day called the kids into a room for “the talk”.  The kids were dumbfounded to hear that they were not only buying land in Sonoma, but they were relocating the family because Al and Janis wanted to follow their passion for wine.  They partnered with a vineyard management company and other experts to put together a team.  The family sold to their grapes to wineries, some very established ones, for about ten years.

After Mark experienced growing season in the vineyard and harvest season in the cellar at other wineries, he convinced his family it was time to make wine and the McWilliams brand was launched in 2002.  McWilliams was quickly changed to Arista, the Greek word for excellence, after a cease and desist letter was sent from another McWilliams winery.  The first vintage was a couple hundred cases of three Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.  In 2004, the family purchased 36 acres of estate vineyards in Sonoma that were last planted in the 1850’s by Reuben Harper, who is buried on the property and memorialized in Arista’s Harper’s Rest, a great wine.

The family found four different soil types on the property, which they divided into four different vineyards.  This is the tenth vintage and Arista makes 14 pinot noirs, a limited production of two chardonnays, one gewürztraminer and one zinfandel that are about 50 percent estate grown.  The family also purchased the historic 74-acre Martinelli Road Vineyard, adding to their 36 acres of estate vineyard ownership at the home winery with zinfandel planted in 1880, chardonnay planted over 30 years ago and pinot noir planted 22 years ago.  Also notable are the well-regarded neighbors – Williams Selyem Estate and the Allen Ranch.

Today, Mark and his brother Ben run the day-to-day operations of the winery.  I’ve had the chance over the years to sit down with Mark and hear about his story and philosophy.

I asked Mark what he is trying to accomplish in his wines – he said, “I want them to stop you and get your attention.  I want to make wines that take people on a continuum of what they first drank and the evolution of their palate.”  He also mentioned how food and wine continue to be mainstays at Arista where they offer several sensory experiences including food/wine experiences where guests pick food from their garden which they later eat during dinner to gardening to glass classes where people make pizzas with ingredients fresh from the garden.

How Is the Wine

The wine is delicious, but scarce.  In fact, 95% of their wine is direct-to-consumer and only 5% to restaurants and there is a wait list.   Here was our line-up:

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Chardonnay – this is an Old-World style that was elegant with notes of lemon custard, herbs, tropical, passion fruit, pear, apple and an almost saline characteristic that I adored.

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – this was an earthy blend with cherry cola, plum, licorice, all spice, earthy and cloves.

2015 Arista Perli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – bursting with cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, herbs, Asian spice and minerality.

2015 Mononi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – these three acres of grapes are farmed exclusively by Paul Mononi.  I tasted notes of black tea, flowers, red fruit, herbs and spice.

2015 Banfield Vineyard Russian River Zinfandel – these vines were planted in 1880, the year that Edison applied for a patent on the light bulb.  It was a nuanced and balanced zinfandel with black and red fruit, but done in more of a Pinot Noir style.


In the spirit of full disclosure, I tasted at The Pavilion, Arista’s new tasting room that presents breathtaking views of the Russian River Valley.  This is where the winery rolls out the red carpet with farm to table “small bites” prepared by Executive Chef, Tim Kaulfers, while we were hosted by Michael Kanbergs, the Estate Sommelier.

Pricing and Availability

Appellation Experience – $35 per person (up to 8 guests)

Arista’s Appellation Experience is a seated, tasting that delves into the Arista experience from the history to the winemaking philosophy to the family’s outlook on sustainable farming to tasting the specific regions.  This experience is available 7 days a week from 10 am to 4 pm by appointment only.

“Taste of Terroir” Experience – $65 per person

Arista’s Taste of Terroir Experience is a private, seated and Sommelier-led tasting meant to show-case the variety in their wines and focuses on the family’s site-driven winemaking philosophy as well as the differences in terroir, climate, and weather that leave impressions on the wine.  This is paired with food highlighting the seasonal produce of Arista’s Estate Chef ’s culinary garden. This experience is currently offered Tuesday – Saturday (appointment required) and is based on availability.

“East Meets West” Experience

$160 per person member pricing or $200 per person non-member pricing

The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County are renowned for producing stunning Pinot Noirs and expressive cool-climate Chardonnays.  Copain, Gary Farrell and Arista have teamed up to provide a “terroir tour” showcasing the distinctive flavors and characteristics that exist between the two regions as well as vineyard to vineyard within the same region.

Arista has the A-List wine club.  Currently there is a 12-18 month wait list to be added to the A-List.



Jason Stephens Winery

Gilroy is for Garlic. It starts with a G and has a Garlic festival after all…

However, Gilroy California is for wine too. If you haven’t found this region, you should. One of the wineries that really showcases and promotes this region is Jason Stephens Winery.

Jason and Janu Goelz are the husband and wife team behind Jason Stephens, bring a fun approach to their limited releases of traditional Bordeaux varietals and their Silicon Valley Wine Company “Tech Series” labels. You may have seen their catchy “tech nerd label”, my term, for their Ones and Zeros wine. This wine has some commercial distribution in at least a few states and is available via theirs and other websites.

Jason Stephens Winery, founded in 2008, has the feel of an urban winery, which I love. They moved their tasting room from a vineyard into an area they are calling the “Stomping Ground”. The Stomping Ground, located at 6500 Brem Lane in Gilroy California, is a wine production, cellaring, storage, tasting and fulfillment facility. Plans also call for, food vendors and entertainment and there are already a couple of additional winery tasting rooms located here. While you won’t find yourself in a vineyard setting, you will find the vineyard in your glass.

Jason Stephens Winery provides several relaxing courtyards and a cool tasting room for your wine tasting enjoyment. One of their courtyards allows dogs and children, leashes required. They didn’t specify if that was a requirement for both, but if you aren’t sure if your children need one or not, they might. They are open daily from 11am-6pm. Closed major holidays (New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas).

The tasting menu changes as their wines are released. Wine tastings are $10 and include at least one white wine a several of their reds. The Tasting flight I had included a 2015 Pixelated Rosé ($18), a 2014 Persing Cabernet Franc ($36), 2014 Persing Meritage ($38), 2014 DeWitt Petit Verdot ($36), and a 2014 Malbec ($30).

Jason Stephens Winery offers 2 wine club programs. The Sipper’s Tasting program provides 3 wines 2 times a year. Additional benefits include 15% off all purchases and up to 2 complimentary tastings per month. The Connoisseur’s Tasting Program (limited to 1000 members) provides 3 wines 4 times a year. Additional benefits include 20% off all purchases and up to 4 complimentary tastings per month plus invitations to exclusive member events.

Donelan Wines: Quality Not Quantity


The motto at Donelan Wines is: Wine Is A Journey Not a Destination. And that couldn’t be more true! How I made my way to Donelan Wines up in Santa Rosa was certainly a journey.   A couple of years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a harvest at this artisan winery in Sonoma County. I was gifted this experience from a family member for my birthday. They gave me a birthday card and a bottle of Donelan 2013 Chardonnay and said “give Cush Donelan a call”! Anyone named Cush is bound to be a good time, right?!?! I made the call, and two weeks later I was on a plane with him up to Santa Rosa to spend a couple days in the vineyard and at the winery.

Donelan Wines is a small-ish boutique, premium winery. They own a vineyard (the Obsidian Vineyard in Knight’s Valley) and also purchase grapes from about a dozen other Sonoma growers, plus one in Mendocino. The winery is in an unassuming industrial park in Santa Rosa with a total case production of 6,000-8,000 cases annually.

Joe Donelan got into the wine business as a second career right around the year 2000 with a business partner. In 2008 he started his own label, Donelan Wines. Joe’s son Tripp, in addition to being the Director of Sales, handles shipping and operations, whereas Cushing has more of a marketing focus on building brand awareness, business development and wholesale relationships. How did Joe get into wine? In his 30’s he spent some time in Europe and was exposed to great wines and the European sensibility with wine that every day is a celebration, and that every day calls for wine. A day with loved ones is a day to celebrate.

He believes in living life to its fullest daily, and not just waiting for Fri/Sat/Sun. Joe says he has no plans for immediate retirement, because he’s having too much fun. He loves people and a sense of adventure the wine business provides him.  As mentioned earlier, about 75-80% of their wines are sold DTC (direct to consumer).  Joe doesn’t want to change that. He likes to meet these people and help them in their growth and journey to learn about wine.

General Info

In order to taste at Donelan you need to make an appointment, as the tasting room does not keep regular hours. A Donelan Portfolio tasting is $30 and a more extensive “Road Less Traveled” Reserve tasting runs $50.  There are no hurried pours here and no pourer who barely knows the wines he/she is serving. Every wine will be poured with care and stories behind the wines (and the vines) will be shared. Bottle prices range from $25 for their rosé up to $150 for their single vineyard offerings.


When you visit Donelan Wines at the industrial park in Santa Rosa, you may not know what you are in for. There are no romantic vineyard views and no Tuscan-style estate on the property. You drive into the park and see a series of white stucco buildings, one of which has a “Donelan Wines” placard. The tasting room is minimalist, yet comfortable.  Note that the tasting room and the winery are one in the same. Both are at this same location.

The winery is clean. And I mean spotless! One reason for the extreme cleanliness is that Donelan does not use any commercial inoculations in their fermentation. They use only native fermentations. What this means is that they rely on the ambient yeast in the environment and in the winery to jump start the fermentation. There is a native flora that exists in the winery that needs to be maintained. A lot of the “cleaning” done in the winery is with water plus an organic, nontoxic, biodegradable detergent. Countless hours of scrubbing down every piece of equipment and surface, plus a water rinse, ensure the winery stay spotless.

How’s the Wine

Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir are their bread and butter. About half of their wines are even named after Donelan family members. Their focus is on cool climate varietals on great sites, according to Joe. The quality of Donelan Wines is second to none. Robert Parker agrees, as he has personally visited the winery and given some impressive scores to various Donelan wines.

Unique Experiences

What I love about Donelan Wines are the personal touches. Within 48 hours of anyone adding themselves to the email list, they get a personal call from Joe Donelan, the founder of Donelan Wines, welcoming them to the Donelan family. Cush also stays in touch with many of the Donelan clients. “We value customer service over everything and want that to be synonymous with Donelan. It strengthens our commitment to quality and reassures people that a family is behind it on all levels.” According to Cush. About ¾ of their annual production is sold direct to consumer (either online or in their tasting room).

Speaking of unique experiences, during my visit to Donelan I had the opportunity to participate in an overnight harvest. Harvest is quite a sight to see anytime of day….and a middle of the night harvest is no exception! Flood lights are set up to pour a bath of light onto the vineyard. The grapes were being manually harvested, and a large truck drove with the harvest team down the rows of vines. The truck had lights on it to shine directly on the vines, and also carried the large bins that the grapes were emptied into. For 2am, there’s a lot going on. A couple dozen people scurrying between the vines, a LARGE and LOUD truck making its way through the vines, a heavy (and wet!) mist coming over the vines, and not to mention the vines themselves! By 5am I was back home, moist from mist, and covered in dirt and bramble from the vines.

The following morning our bounty (close to 4 tons of grapes) arrived at the winery for processing. The whole cluster grapes arrived on flatbed trucks and were immediately weighed. Some samples are pulled for the winemaker to do testing (pH, TA, and Brix levels). The grapes are first put through a mechanical shaker, which helps to release the MOG (matter other than grape), such as: leaves, stems, bugs, rotten grapes, etc. Immediately after the grapes are shaken, they go on the conveyer belt sorter and we all manually sort through the grapes and pull out more MOG. It’s a fast process and you really need to concentrate and focus, because it’s easy to zone out and almost forget what you’re doing.

After the grapes are sorted, they go into a destemming machine that magically (really, it feels like magic) de-stems the grapes. The grapes are cold-soaked for a couple days, then a nutrient add, then the beginnings of fermentation. Some of the grapes needed to be stomped (I Love Lucy stomped!). They only needed one person to do it, and that lucky person was me!

What’s next for Donelan? According to Cush: We have experienced tremendous growth in the last 3 years: great vintages, an estate property, expanded the portfolio, a new winemaker and new territories. We are continuing to strive for the highest quality while maintaining a great customer experience. In the future we would like to acquire more property and ultimately a stand-alone winery to call our own.