Had the most loverly day yesterday in Sonoma County. It’s been many years since I’ve been wine-tasting in Sonoma, and even then, we had always opted for the smaller valleys and the back-country routes. Then, around 1994 or so, Retrogrouch and I fell in love with Anderson Valley, and moved our wine-tasting northeastward to Mendocino County.
Well, I had the good fortune to see some in-laws visiting from France, and we decided to take the leisurely drive up Highway 12 to sightsee and visit with their family friend François, the winemaker at Matanzas Creek Winery.
We had lunch in Sonoma and stopped at a couple of wineries along the way. Because I’m feeling more and more grumpy about merchants passing off overmarketed, mediocre products with bells and whistles that command a high price, I feel duty-bound to report that we were particularly disappointed with Kunde Estate in Kenwood, which was as horribly commercial as the most commercial winery in Napa County. They charge 10 bucks for a regular tasting, 20 bucks for a “premium” tasting where you’re allowed to sit down and scarf down some snacks, too. They’ve diversified their name into a line of mustards and all kinds of crap. Is the wine good? Who knows? I’m not going to try it, and I’m willing to encourage other people to complain about this kind of over-merchandising and treating visitors like potential marks that can be soaked for as much money as possible. It’s distasteful, and I hope others speak out about it, too.
But we were pretty thrilled with the northern end of the trip, when we hit Bennett Valley and drove around in the meadows and farms (and even an errant redwood grove (!)). We were warmly welcomed at the winery. François arrived after we had had a chance to stroll around the lavender garden. The landscaping was really beautiful. It’s so nice to see mature plants, and the six gardeners at Matanzas have really done an excellent job keeping the grounds in top shape.
We got to tour the facility, starting out in the chemistry area with fancy machinery, geegaws and beekers. François then took us down to the cold vat room, where Chardonnays were a-brewin’, and we got to taste some raw wines. Although I was excited by the idea of a new reserve line being debuted and the whole meticulous process, I was particularly enthralled by the ice on the vats, which would shiver and crack every so often. He talked to us about some filtration and blending magic, then we saw the other areas of production. Afterward, we had a chance to spend a little time with his wife, too. It was such a good trip.
If you’re going to Sonoma or find yourself in Santa Rosa, it is well worth it to visit Matanzas. Their wines are excellent and the lavender garden yields both culinary and apothecarial lavender, the latter of which is turned into pure, fresh soaps and lotions for men and women, lavender wands, and the like. The lavender seemed much more fitting and appropriate as a companion product, and it wasn’t cheesy like Kunde’s clutter of cheeses, apparel, oils, vinegars, chocolates, etc., etc. And it smelled good, too. François seemed less happy about it, though. I guess when your job is nosing wine, a lavender jamboree in the room next door is not as wonderful as it seems. Ah well.