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May 2016

  • Alaska Airlines Magazine

    Wine Appreciation: Tasting and touring during the 40th anniversary of Wine Road Northern Sonoma County

    by Carey Sweet
    May 2016

    MacRostie Winery & Vineyards, and Estate House
    “Winery owner Steve MacRostie is a legend in Sonoma County, having founded his winery in 1987; he released his first Carneros Chardonnay that same year with grapes from land where the San Francisco Bay meets southern Napa Valley and Sonoma County. But for a long time he was a man without a real tasting room, operating a small winery out of a bare-bones industrial warehouse just southeast of the town of Sonoma.

    Samples were tasted at a picnic table on asphalt, yet the wines were outstanding, eventually featuring grapes from his own 58-acre Wildcat Mountain Vineyard – planted in 1998 in the Carneros AVA – and from legendary Sonoma County winegrowing families such as the Duttons and Sangiacomos.

    As I walk to the front door of his new estate winery and tasting room on Westside Road in the Russian River Valley AVA, I’m impressed. Designed by noted architect Doug Thornley, the modern wood-and-glass building is gorgeous, nestled into a hillside in the Healdsburg region. Opened early last year, it’s finally the fitting tribute to MacRostie’s art, and is surrounded by his own 13-acre Thale’s Pinot Noir vineyard, named in honor of his wife.

    Before I can take it all in, a ‘wine ambassador’ greets me in the parking lot with a glass of 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a blend drawing from MacRostie’s partnership with 30 area Chardonnay vineyards. Every guest gets such a welcome, the host explains, so as to savor the delicate floral aromas, and notes of lemon, peach stone, pie-crust spice and candied orange peel as we walk past the entry gardens.

    The interior of the building also brings a taste of luxury to Sonoma County, from the polished concrete floor to the leather chairs, chandeliers with glass globes, landscape abstracts on the walls and gleaming oak tables.

    I’m here for the Elevated experience, which includes vineyard, barrel-room and fermenting-room tours, and a seated tasting of five wines, with a lavish charcuterie board featuring regionally sourced delights such as blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. and olive oil-sel gris (sea salt) flatbread from Rustic Bakery, alongside prosciutto and Spanish marcona almonds.

    I take a seat on the tasting room balcony, basking in the sun with a 2013 Wildcat Mountain Chardonnay, a weighty but unusual jewel boasting crushed-gravel notes kissed with lemon and honey.

    The winery’s ambassadors are equipped with presentation boards to show the various vineyards and climates of Sonoma County and highlight the vineyards MacRostie relies on. It’s marvelous to taste the 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – exploring its distinctive black cherry, blackberry, tobacco and bergamot spice nuances – while learning that the wine features an array of fruit from Thale’s Vineyard, the neighboring Flax Vineyard on Westside Road, and two vineyards in nearby Green Valley.

    The ambiance is upscale yet pastoral. Cows and sheep graze on hillsides in the distance; guests relax on couches with their dogs at their feet; and at one point, winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen pops in with her 6-month-old niece to greet everyone.

    Steve MacRostie, onsite as he usually is, makes the rounds, too. ‘I’ve always been a wine hobo,’ he says with a laugh, clearly admiring his new palace. ‘It’s good to finally have a home.'”

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