This is a small production winery with a big reputation among wine geeks and aficionados because of it’s quality wines done in subtler, less ripe style. This evokes a more French sensibility and is contrary to the typical California winemaking style, making it unique and worth seeking out. Because of the locale and by-appointment-only policy, it is like “seeking out.” The only things as good, if not even better, than Copain’s wines is the location and presentation. The property is perched a top a hill overlooking the lovely and tranquil Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, and just a few miles from the upscale small but bustling town of Healdsburg.
The exterior of the winery and tasting room is simple, charming and rustic, with white barn-like structures. The tasting room interior is small, yet roomy, mostly modern, with rustic touches. There are two large wood communal tables for going through a tasting inside and a long sleek wood bar, for signing in and starting with a splash of something. Most of the tastings take place outside of the tasting room where several private tables varying in size and adorned with a cozy arrangement of bright flowers. Each are situated to overlook Copain’s garden and the Russian River Valley. The staff are knowledgable and personable, without a hint of snobbery and sales pressure free as they go through several select wines complimented with small bites.
Where Rustic Meets Elegance
Sparkling wine as the “breakfast of champions” doesn’t get any better than at this property in Sebastopol/Green Valley AVA of Sonoma. With only an outdoor tasting bar, Iron Horse takes full advantage of their dramatic sweeping views and the lovely moderate year round weather. Couple that with a line up of fantastically impressive wines, you’ve got a gem of a way to start the day off. To get there you come along a long, windy, rustic road that will remind of hidden roads of Burgundy, France and seems as if it leads to nowhere. Indeed it leads to a beautiful, unpretentious property overlooking equally gorgeous Green Valley views. Because there is only an outdoor tasting bar area (with an awning) and limited space at it, one can think of the rest of the property, including covered seating in the back and rocks along the picturesque hillside, and some 350 acres of vineyards, as part of the tasting area. In fact, there are no spit buckets and the hosts encourage guests to sip and linger away, or pour out the remaining wine in the nearby vines.
This independent, family-owned winery is a casual, rustic and fun feel and laid back friendly service at its best. These wines that range from rustically charming to elegant and soft, have been featured at White House dinner and a staple at weddings. Anyone would be hard pressed not to include in a personal portfolio.
“First impressions are lasting” is an expression definitely befitting Ram’s Gate Winery. As the inaugural winery along highway 121, gateway to Northern California’s wine country, Ram’s Gate is not only conveniently located (about 30 minutes from Golden Gate Bridge), but also an impressive example of what the area has to offer. After tasting wines and relaxing on the property, you will either be well satisfied and content to call it a day, or it will entice to see what lies beyond down the road, or even over hills and into another valley.
Walking through the entranceway of Ram’s Gate you cannot but be struck by the stunning landscape that is Sonoma and serves as their immediate surroundings. It’s rolling hills, with cattle and sheep sharing the terrain along side vineyards. The design of the winery is such that whether you are relaxing and tasting indoors or at their outside seating, you have nearly 360 views of the lush Carneros landscape. It’s hard to believe you are just minutes from the city, and you are engulfed in stunning countryside vistas. Inside, the visitor center is elegant, yet comfortable, with a design motif that deftly combines traditional, rustic and modern. You have a choice of tasting at a large bar area, or with a reservation you can sample the wines at a nearby private table. Just outside the tasting room is a generous covered patio area, complete with large, cushioned Restoration Hardware-esque chairs and sofas and a duel sided fireplace. If you feel like stretching your legs, guests are welcomed to walk parts of the property.
The Ram’s Gate wine list is made up of lovely selection of several types of wine including Sauvignon Blanc, NV Sparkling Brut, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Late Harvest Zinfandel. Guests can enjoy either wines by the glass, bottle and the choice of two flight menus with food pairings. Being the first winery along the way, is probably a blessing or a curse for Ram’s Gate. For some visitors short on time or eager to get their wine tasting started, they may stop in without a second thought, but for those unfamiliar with the relatively new winery and determined to get to the more popular establishments along highway 29 in Napa Valley, will more than likely sail right passed. Whether you’re going as far as Napa Valley or as close as Sonoma, Ram’s Gate Winery deserves more than a drive by. Go in and enjoy the views and wines.
A big part of what makes this tasting experience so special is getting there. If you think the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley is beautiful and a great alternative to what can be a heavy trafficed highway 29, wait til you cruise along Sage Canyon Road to get to Brown Estate Winery. Some of the trek to the vineyard is along a tranquil lake, and the remainder is via windy, quiet mountain roads. After you get buzzed in at the front gate (this is an appointment only establishment), you’re ushered into a lush, unspoiled property with hillside vineyards within a few feet to one side, and a big, handsomely converted barn as tasting room, to the other side. Before you make it past the parking lot, you’re greeted by Sky, a tall, lean furry welcoming committee who also serves as the Brown family pet.
Right on Sky’s heels is the equally friendly Jona, the tasting room host. After introductions are made and crisp, lean and flavorful Chardonnay (some oak) is distributed, Jona launches the tour. With glass in hand, you walk outside for a bit while given fascinating information about the history of the property and the proprietors, Dr. Brown, originally from Jamaica, and Mrs. Brown, originally from Panama. The East Rutherford estate was acquired by the Browns in 1980 and they are proud to have only developed 50 acres of the 450 acreage total to vines. The rest, as they say, “is roughneck wilderness that they strive to tend, not to tame.”
Across from the quaint and modest personal home on the property is a big, curved wooden door imbedded in the stone wall. To visitors’ surprise and delight, the door opens to a root cellar that houses the barrels. A brief tour of the cellar leads to an arched doorway and the tasting room, which is an extension of the cellar. The tasting room is dark, romantic and elegant, with seating for eight at the bar. Jona begins the next part of the experience with a small food portions for pairings with the wines; four of the five wines are paired with cheeses, and one with chocolate. All are delicious and perfectly compliments each wine.
Varietals: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel