- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $95 or Free with 3 Pinot Purchase
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Sonoma, CA 95476
When you visit wineries for tastings, you may notice that a majority have a theme to them, likely due to past influences, and the owners will try to enhance that theme by incorporating art and/or architectural design (e.g. Round Pond and Tuscany, Cliff Lede and Rock-and-Roll, etc.). I have never before visited a winery like Donum Estate where the Art experience matches or even exceeds the tasting experience. And while the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs (especially the Pinot) are well-regarded and rated, I think a good portion of the tasting fee ($95) goes towards your museum ticket to tour the sculptor garden. And even though the tasting fee may seem pricey, Donum is always fully booked at least a month ahead of time. So if you decide that you want to visit, be sure to book your reservation far in advance as there’s no guarantee they will have space for your group!
When planning my first trip to Sonoma, I asked friends and colleagues in the wine world what were the must-see places. Most came back with two names: Hudson and Donum. While Hudson Ranch specializes in Chardonnay, Donum focuses on their small-but-quality Pinot Noir production. And they are highly-regarded to the point where they are considered a Pinot powerhouse, similar to the status Kosta Browne and only a few others enjoy. I personally prefer the Donum winemaker’s personal production (more on Auteur Wines in another article), but I understand where their reputation comes from, having tasted the wines. I was very lucky to secure a reservation 2 months out from our trip to Sonoma as I found it’s difficult, even for members, to secure reservations as the estate is always busy thanks to its new construction and beautiful art collection.
One sentence on Donum’s website really resonates with me for how I feel about the winery: “The interplay between our wine production and art collection expresses beauty through a singular sense of place.” It is true that Donum feels like a singular place disconnected from the rest of the world when you are enjoying the wine and touring the gardens. It’s been a journey for them though and this sanctuary wasn’t built overnight. Setting out to craft Burgundian Grand-Cru level Pinot Noirs in 2001, each year they’ve increased production (modestly), price, and the scores only seem to be going up. With the profits, they’ve been able to acquire addition land in the Russian River and Anderson Valleys, producing more site-specific, singular Pinots from around Sonoma. There is no machine use in any of their vineyards (all work done by hand) and they currently produce around 5000 cases annually, which is mostly consumed by their 1800 wine club members.
As you drive up to the winery, please don’t crash your car while staring at the giant head sculpture near their gated entrance. Once inside, you’ll be able to take in the architecture of the building before being greeted by your wine ambassador and led to your private tasting room. Here, you will enjoy the wine, the conversation, the views, and even the weather as one of the walls is actually a giant sliding door that opens, allowing you to enjoy your tasting looking at the vineyards and feeling the cool Carneros breeze hit you while tasting the cool Chardonnays.
As you finish your tastings, making your purchases, and signing up for the wine club (if you so choose), you’ll be taken on a guided tour of the sculpture garden behind the winery. It’s hard to do the experience justice with words, so I’ll let the pictures give you a sneak peek at what to expect, but if you are familiar with artists Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, and Louise Bourgeois, let’s just say you’ll be very entertained. Because the tour component is longer than at most wineries, expect to spend a full 2 hours at Donum Estate and make your schedule accordingly.
Now, to the part of the experience that I cared for the most!
- 2017 Russian River Chardonnay ($60)
- The Chardonnays are tank fermented and then aged in 50% new French Oak. No MLF that contributes to the lean, elegant, and crisp style. Medium intensity on the nose of lemon, lime and other citrus fruits with some crisp yellow apple. They want the acid to shine first and foremost, so no lees aging either. High acid, medium body, with pronounced intensity of lemon, lime, citrus, yellow fruit, and some lighter stonefruit. Very fruit driven but there is a zesty spiciness, white pepper, and a slight chalkiness on the finish.
- 2016 Russian River Chardonnay ($60)
- Medium(+) intensity of cream, stonefruit (peach, apricot), and some yellow fruit (pear/apple) at the tail end. On the palate, the medium(+) body has more weight than the 2017. The fruit is riper and the acid is better integrated into the body and alcohol as well. There is a little less concentration than traditional RRV Chardonnays, but it has a purity, brightness, elegance, and Chablis-like finish. I don’t know how long this can age, but it will be great for at least 3-5 years.
- 2016 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir ($80)
- Medium(+) intensity aromas of cherry, cola, vanilla, cream, plum, ripe strawberry, and a light white pepper. There is a complexity and depth to this Pinot, even though tertiary character doesn’t play a large part in the aromas. Medium body, medium(+) but integrated acidity, high alcohol (but you can’t feel it until the finish), same flavors on the palate with medium(+) intensity. The wine isn’t super fruity or candied but it is solid with great concentration and integration already. The Carneros gets more gamey/meaty over time, so it’ll be exciting to age and see!
- 2016 Russian River Estate Pinot Noir ($80)
- The nose is a bit brighter, fleshier (more plum) and higher pitched (the alcohol/acidity/white-pepper integrate to pique the nose more). The palate is slightly higher intensity with the alcohol showing itself more. The flavors don’t quite show the vanilla and cream of the Carneros and the body is less rounded. This likely has the greater aging potential of the two, but is a bit more raw right now. This wine becomes more floral with dried fruit character over time.
- 2016 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($80)
- Elegant, medium(+) intensity on the nose with softer red fruit, and some savoury aspects (but not too much). The balance on the palate is impeccable. There is a ton of personality from floral notes, cherry, cream, white spice that combines with the acidity. It’s already showing some savory character in its youth and will only continue to develop. It’s harder to find this bottle on the market (of the three Pinots) so I walked away with a couple bottles of this.
If you want something more than just wine and views of nature with your tasting, this is the place to visit. Just be ready to devote the time and money that comes with the wine and the experience! Cheers!!
Rating: 96 out of 100