Every once in a while we all run into a local business or find a particular product that we want to spread the word about. For me, my favorite product is wine, and my favorite kinds of businesses to support are (of course) wineries, and I love discovering new wines that you don’t see in your average wine shop.
Years ago, when I first started going on weekend excursions to the many Northern California wine regions, the wineries that would stick out the most were the smaller family run places, not the huge castles where you feel more like you are on a ride at Disneyland than at a winery. More often than not I found myself avoiding the huge production places and headed towards the smaller, off the beaten path, wineries instead. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t discriminate when it comes to the wines I actually drink (whether they come from a large production facility or a garage winery), but when I visit wine country there is something special and unique about discovering a new place and getting to know the people who actually make the wine, the people who started up the business, who work 7+ days a week, and visiting places where you can’t easily find the wine outside of that region, let alone their tasting room, and then bringing it home to share something new with your family and friends.
This next winery is one of those!
Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery, Sonoma, CA
I first met Highway 12 winemaker, Michael Sebastiani, when I was working at Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, OR, where he is also the consulting winemaker for their wines. In 2003, around the same time he began consulting for Cathedral Ridge, he also started up his own winery in Sonoma, CA, where he also lives. His winery is small and run by about 3 people who do everything from the marketing, sales, cellar management, to winemaking, and everything else associated with running a small business. Until recently, they didn’t even have a formal tasting room you could visit, but that changed at the end of 2008 when they opened up one on the busy Sonoma Plaza… and on my recent road trip through Sonoma I was finally able to visit it and taste through all of their current releases.
The tasting room is small and shared with a gift shop. No fancy castles or fountains, but it’s the perfect place to visit if you are making a stop at the Plaza, and how many of you have done a trip to Sonoma and NOT made a stop at the Plaza?! This is one stop you shouldn’t miss!
Now, although I’ve had some of their wines before, I still find you get a whole new experience when you taste through all the wines in a flight, in the wineries tasting room, described by those who made them. Of all their wines the Chardonnays have always been among my favorite and this visit confirmed that for me. The reds are great as well, but I believe Michael has a special talent for making outstanding Chardonnays. Their current tasting room lineup has about 8 red wines, but it was their smaller lineup of white wines that impressed me the most on this trip.
*2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Valley
Now, in all honestly I’ve never been a huge fan of Sauvignon Blancs in general. They can tend to be too grassy, grapefruity, and acidic for me. Of course that isn’t always the case for some of the more minerally and mild Loire Valley Sauv Blancs. But at the end of the day, I just honestly don’t crave Sauv Blanc all that much. This one, however, could change things for me. It didn’t have any of that harsh grassiness or strong pink grapefruit often associated with the New Zealand style. It had subtle citrus flavors, with more fruit components of apple and pear, and less harsh acidity than I was expecting. Good enough for me to buy some to share with my neighbors for the 4th of July! And that I did, and it was indeed a hit! $14.50
*2007 Carneros Chardonnay, Clasica
Referring to the classic style of Chardonnay (pre-buttery oaky fad) this wine is balanced with fruit, body, and slight touches of neutral oak. Beautifully balanced and the kind of wine I would gladly drink every day! Seconds please ☺ $18.00
*2007 Carneros Chardonnay, Nueva
Yes, I do love the more fruit forward, minerally Chardonnays, but there is also something so intriguing to me about those that linger with butterscotch and caramel throughout. This wine provided that and more. More of a “new world” style Chard, this wine fits into the style that undergoes full malolactic fermentation and new oak barrel aging sur lees for the full-bodied rich style. Yes, I am a fan of both! $18.00
I loved this wine when I first tried it. It created the perfect balance between the Clasica and Nueva, but stepped up quite a few notches (the best of both worlds so to speak). The wine started with sweet caramel, caramel corn, and oak the nose, along with some lovely pineapple and apple notes. I keep focusing on that caramel because there was even more caramel apple on the mouth followed by a slight spice component (and we all know that I love that caramel and butterscotch on my Chards… or at least you’d know if you actually followed this blog consistently). The wine finished with a lingering spice and a buttery roundness. The oak on this wine is there but by no means overpowering. Instead it contributes a sweet caramel and vanilla undertone that really gives this wine its structure. This is the kind of wine that could easily convert those people who “think” they don’t like Chardonnay (you know who you are).
(not available in the tasting room yet so not sure of the retail $)
2007 Merlot, Carneros
100% Merlot bottling from the cooler Carneros region is not very common, but when Michael was explaining this wine to us he described how it was a “surprise” that they were not expecting to have evolved so nicely. As the wine aged in barrel for 16 months it developed smooth and deep fruit flavors typical of a true Merlot and they then decided to bottle it 100% Carneros Merlot instead of using it as a blending wine. It was a very balanced and medium bodied Merlot that would easily stand up to rich bold red meats, or even on its own. Seriously $18 bucks… come on!
*2007 La Piaz
za (blend of 55% Sangiovese, 27% Primitivo, 18% Zinfandel)
Jammy, fruit forward, deep black cherry, black raspberry, and stewed tomato lead into a medium bodied wine. The nose is bigger than the mouth, which was pleasing and somewhat lighter then you would have expected. This will be a great summertime wine for BBQ’s or tomato based pasta dishes! $32
2006 Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma Valley
Almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This wine I have had in the past, and I think it is consistently one of my favorite reds produced by Highway 12. It has always come across with a rich and velvety texture. Deep dark berry fruit with slight vanilla undertones on the finish, this is a full-bodied, rich and delicious wine and for $24 (for Sonoma), it’s pretty much a steal!
More to come (I bought a couple more wines that I want to specifically pair with food… so stay tuned for more from Highway 12)
All in all these are good people making great wines at fantastic prices! They represent the kind of good hardworking people you truly want to support and watch as their wines continue to get better and better. So give them a visit the next time you’re in Sonoma. Believe me, they are the kind of wines you’ll want to tell your friends about! For more information about Highway 12 wines check out their website.
(*Denotes wines I ended up purchasing from their Tasting Room)