Sneak Peek Sonoma

The Little Big Wines’ first formal visit to Sonoma introduced us to two winemakers, alike in some ways but very very different in others. They’re both small, estates are less than ten acres, both in ideal wine-making locations, both family owned and operated and both decades old. One, though, is remote and requires dedication and perseverance to find. The other you can see from the freeway. Both are a delight.

Our journey begins …

Have you seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”? If you have, you’re familiar with a quaint little village, by the Pacific Ocean, called Bodega Bay. It is small but bursting with activity year-round, mostly to do with fishing and bird watching. It is pretty but there are no vineyards there. Not quite … our first wine maker is “up the road” from there, in the “boonies”.

We drove north on a road that is not fit for the carsick, nor for recreational vehicles, nor for party limousines. Our first winery, “Wild Hog”, is perched somewhere in the Fort Ross Appellation, a fairly new American Viticulture Appellation within the Sonoma County. Going to Wild Hog was a journey! It was one tortuous road after another, going up and down. Sometimes but rarely, the road was flat. Mist, lichen-covered trees, fog-shrouded sun, all made the trip to Daniel very special. At one point we thought we were lost, but then emerged a convenient sign which read “Wild Hog this way (pointing right) or that way (pointing left)!!! We looked at each other and decided to go this way, which turned out to be the right way.

Daniel has been making wine in the boonies (as he calls it) for around 40 years. He’s done it all from scratch: learning, planting, growing, harvesting, perfecting and bottling. And he does it all with one eye on his pager. The pager links him to his other job, volunteer fire, search and rescue. He’s always on call and warned us that he might have to leave at any time. Fortunately for us, no calls came while we were there.

Daniel bought the propriety in 1970, not knowing exactly what he would do with it. He just wanted to own his own place. Making wine was not his principal aim. He sort of fell into it, and we are glad it did. Daniel’s story is one of common sense and love for a region, love for a community, love for growing grapes and love for making wine. His story is one that we cannot wait to place in our book.

With our thoughts still in Daniel’s kitchen, sampling his excellent wine and hearing his story, we set off the next day to meet winemaker number two: Hoot.

Kastania menuKastania Vineyards sits just off highway 101, south of Petaluma. Nestled among rolling hills, it makes an inviting stop for anyone traveling north or south, to or from San Francisco. Hoot, the owner and winemaker, has had this land for a long time. In fact, his brother is still in possession of a document signed by Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States, granting the land to a great great grandfather.

The land, as you can imagine, has evolved over time. It hasn’t always been a vineyard. Its seen its share of animals and plants, beginning as a ranch and eventually becoming a farm. In 1994, Hoot and his wife, Linda, decided to plant vines and become vignerons. Describing the epiphany, Hoot told us they figured making wine would be good for two things: their enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. They also hoped it would provide a living.

We visited on a rainy day, too cold and wet to walk the grounds. So we sat in the tasting room, listening to rain on the windows and hearing stories about the past, present and future. On the wall, Hoot has a framed menu from November, 2000, at the White House’s 200th anniversary. His ’97 Pinot Noir was one of three wines served. We tasted a more recent version and can understand why it made the grade. Hoot makes very good wine indeed.

The wine business has changed over the years and Daniel and Hoot have had to adapt to survive. Their success is the fruit of hard work, dedication and a love of what they do. The fact that they continue making great wine, over so many years, is testament to their skill. We loved meeting them and we will love sharing more of their stories as The Little Big Wines gathers steam.