A little piece of Tuscany in my own backyard.
Well, geographically speaking, perhaps more akin to a neighbor a few blocks over as the beautiful & tranquil Saracina Vineyards is located in Hopland (the southern end of Mendocino County), a scenic 45-minute drive straight up the freeway from where I live in Sonoma County. I’ve driven past this winery dozens of times and have never been able to stop in. So last week, whilst I was doing some work up in the area, I finally popped in for a much over-due visit. Picture a long, Cyprus tree-lined drive with lush vineyards on either side. As you turn towards the sloping mountain where the winery has been dug out of the hillside, there, proudly stands, a small grove of ancient olive trees that make up the over 500-tree collection on site–some close to 110-years old. Surrounding the property are majestic willow trees that casually drape over the buildings and frame the view to the large pond out the back. The vineyards behind the tasting room rise from the ground level up several terraces, seemly stretching up the benchland soils into infinity. Upon arrival, the property immediately gives you a feeling of serenity, as if you’ve been transported to a secluded estate in the hills of the Italian countryside.
Saracina is owned and operated by the legendary John Fetzer (of the Fetzer family) and his wife Patty Rock. The ranch is named after a centuries-old farmhouse and vineyards in Tuscany where they spent their honeymoon. Together, John and Patty have dedicated serious time and effort over the years into manifesting their vision of farming the land with a hands-on approach and in the greenest method possible. All with the intention to preserve the land & grapes which have been a part of the family’s heritage for decades. They practice traditional organic techniques on their head-trained vines (although their wines are not classified as ‘organic’) such as tilling under the vine rows to eliminate weeds and other vegetation instead of relying on harmful chemicals, planting cover crops to add natural nutrients back into the vines and composting to create a diverse ecosystem for the soils. Modern practices are also employed to create a healthy biosphere for the ‘beneficials’ (the good bugs that eat the bad bugs) such as cultivating olive and pomegranate orchards, sunflowers fields, and heritage grains. They also have over 3 million bees in 69 hives on the property. Their goats roam the hillsides to eat all the invasive weeds and owl boxes have been installed to control any rodent populations.
The architecture is modern, with a clean lines and lots of natural light in the tasting room –welcoming visitors in a warm and relaxed style. Our ultra-hospitable hostess Bernadette (we had so much fun with her) walked us through an *amazing* selection of wines from the Saracina label (varietal wines) along with a few from the Atrea range (proprietary name for their blended wines). Seriously everyone, I loved EVERY wine I tasted. Yes, you heard right. And for those who know me well, you can attest that never happens. Kind of sound like a wine snob don’t I? But really I’m not–pinky swear! Being in the wine biz for so long, I’ve just been fortunate to have tasted a lot of wines. So by now, I know exactly what I like. And this is a rare opportunity for me to give a shout-out & well-deserved kudos for solid winemaking across an entire portfolio; well done ! What I liked most about their wines was their varietal-correctness, simplicity, and superb quality for the price. Honestly, if you blind-tasted these, you’d peg them easily $10-15 higher per bottle than they are. The winery isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here with some crazy winemaking. They simply allow the expression of vineyard coupled with varietal’s characteristics to, in the immortal words of Jackie from RHOMelbourne, “shine, shine shine”. Highlights of what we tasted coming in just a minute. We also sampled their wonderful estate grown olive oil (traditional Tuscan blend of Leccino, Pendolino, Frantoio and Maurino olives) and the delicious wildflower honey that comes from the estate’s thriving bee colonies.
Okay, now the best part— the wines!
I’d typically say “here are my standouts”, but in this case, all were fantastic!
2014 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County $23.00
Everything you want an SB to be, but only very few can achieve. Elegance throughout; subtly with notes of citrus, grapefruit, minerality and Jalapeño pepper. Long, limey-lemon finish with the right amount of austerity. Fabulous!
2014 Saracina Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino County $18.00
I confess; I’m not really a Chardy fan. You all know that. But this one was really good. Clean, with citrus and apple up front, and soft, round on the palate—even with just the SS fermentation. Purity of fruit with an even, lingering finish. This could possibly make me a Chardonnay drinker (ssshhh, don’t tell anyone!)
2012 Atrea The Choir, Mendocino County $13.00 (no, that price is not a typo). And does this wine sing! An ode to Rhône-style wines indeed. 61% Viognier and 39% Roussanne. Talk about a summer-sipper. Heck, a spring, winter or fall drop too. Lively acidity, bright, clean, and fruit-forward with just enough floral and mineral notes to keep it all in balance. Amazing quality for value.
2014 Atrea Skid Rosé, Mendocino County $20.00
Think sweet strawberries, citrus rind and rose petals. The balance of fruit to acidity is spot on. And what’s unusual about this wine is its blend: 94% Malbec, 6% Grenache. The “greener” aspects of Malbec are no where insight…just the lushness of the varietal and the Grenache lends a wonderful aromatic component. Perfect sipping from Spring through to late Fall.
2012 Saracina Skid Row Vineyard Malbec, Mendocino County $28.00
(this link is for the 2011 but my notes are for the 2012 that was poured). Okay, no question….the BEST Malbec I’ve ever tasted. And I used to work for two wineries that made Malbec, (sorry!). The typical vegeatle notes were so well integrated, they didn’t over-power. Deep aromas of black fruits like black raspberry and plum partnered with soft vanilla & savory herb notes. And the finish was incredibly soft and long. There were tannins present, yet so well balanced. Divine!
2012 Saracina Klindt Vineyard Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley $38.00
(Again, vintage change over- link above to 2011, but notes on 2012 that was poured). Amazing price for this Pinot, would expect to pay $15-20 more. Just the kind of Pinot I like: dark fruits up front with earthy aromatics. On the palate, firm and rich tannins that are in perfect sync with flavors of black cherry, tart fruits and black currants. Strong finish and just the right amount of oak to keep it all in balance. A winner for sure.
Note: although you’d think this was a sponsored post (due to my prolific gushing about this winery) it was however not. In fact, I owe them money. Joined their wine club for shipments starting this fall you see. Yep, the wines are THAT good! :>)