- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $45 or $65, depending on Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Sonoma, CA 95476
Hanzell Vineyards is the most comprehensive farming tour I have ever received from any vineyard. And I am very grateful for that experience. Every single detail about the vineyard and wines have layers upon layers of thought to them. Almost as if a team were given a crazy engineering problem and they iterated with many different tools to get the balance of everything just right. It’s one thing to discuss the philosophy of Organic farming. It’s another to implement it meticulously and be able to explain all of your decisions. If all you want is a wine tasting, you certainly get that too, but if you come with a thirst for knowledge, you will significantly enjoy all that Hanzell has to offer. High class wine that comes with an even better experience.
Hanzell was first started in the 1950s and the original designs have remained in place to balance both the land and the desired agriculture. In fact, if you walk over to the business offices onsite, you can see the plans for the estate framed on the walls. It’s tough to argue that you should spend anytime indoors though because the view is absolutely stunning. I 100% endorse making Hanzell the first wine tasting of your day in Sonoma so that you can see the fogline first hand as illustrated by my picture above. When they talk in wine classes about the fog helping to preserve the acidity in grapes with its cool temperatures, you’ll be able to attest to this in person. And yeah, it is a bit chilly up there so bring a jacket.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Hanzell places a lot of effort and emphasis on its farming methodology and techniques. But I would say it’s unfair to label them with Organic or Biodynamic because Hanzell aims to do what they think is correct, not just adhere to some regulations for a certification. In fact, I think they are stricter with themselves than what the certifications specify… They have multiple animals onsite that together produce the right balance of acidity, nitrogen and other products in the vineyard (they fence off 6 rows at a time and let them wander together). They plant root vegetables for the nitrogen and because the pigs will dig them up, turning over the land to oxygenate it as well. And all of the food the animals are fed with are grown onsite to keep the microbiology of their gut consistent with what is in the vineyard. Everything is ridiculously detailed and their reputation is fantastic within the wine community.
You have Advanced Sommeliers that beg to work here because of the attention to detail and the amount you learn about wine farming from the best experts in the land. I would love to take people on a tour and tasting at Hanzell. In fact, I added it to an itinerary I am planning for a group in the near future because they’ve expressed the desire to go a bit deeper into the winemaking and philosophy, not just drink amazing wines. The quality of the land and people are top-notch and it’s a no-brainer why their wines are very good as well. I hope that you get the opportunity to discuss all of their practices and taste that effort in your glass. It means that much more knowing the story.
As you can see in my last picture above, when I got around to tasting the wines, I was disadvantaged to say the least. Staring out into the Sonoma Valley while tasting excellent terroir-driven wines and having my lap was warmed by a very friendly cat. I arrived a half-hour early and left a half hour late… But it was totally worth it and I hope you would agree (if you don’t have cat allergies). Below is a sneak peek of what you have to look forward to.
- 2017 Hanzell Farm Chardonnay, Vintners Selection Sebolla Vineyard ($36)
- From grapes harvested in the front-site of their vineyard. Ripe green and yellow fruit of medium intensity with acidity that tingles your cheeks, even before you taste the wine. The acidity feels medium(+) on the palate and spices up the flavors profile. The lemon and lime feel soft but linger on the finish. Very well balanced, integrated, fresh, but not underripe in its flavors. Given the minerality present too, I’d say this is Hanzell’s greatest QPR wine.
- 2017 Hanzell Farm Chardonnay, Ramos Selection ($68)
- Bright, fresh, ripe green apple, yellow apple, pear, and apricot open on the nose, but does feel a bit candied compared to the other chardonnays in the lineup. Medium(+) intensity with the alcohol peeking out a bit as the flavors thin out on the finish. Very bright, acidic (the minerality contributes to this) palate that makes you think of Sonoma Coast and the saltiness of those wines, but with more ripe lemon and alcohol. A very good chardonnay, but feels a little imbalanced compared to the Sebolla and Flagship. With age, I hope this wine evolves towards Chablis in style. If you don’t want to wait, this could pair with some stronger flavored meals – an interesting option to consider.
- 2017 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay ($78)
- Their flagship Chardonnay. It takes three years and 2 aging cycles (one in tank, one for 6 months in neutral oak) to produce this wine. The difference between this and the Ramos is staggering. The acidity feels high, but only tickles your cheeks with its nose. The aromas are more yellow apple and stonefruit rather than lemon with cream and brioche thanks to lees aging (no MLF). On the palate, this wine is just harmony. The calm yellow fruit hits you first, then the weight of the cream/brioche, and then ends with the crisp lemon, acid and minerality that has your mouth watering for more. Although both the Ramos and this have high acid and are bright, the acid in this wine is not seering in nature. Balance, balance, balance.
- 2016 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir ($98)
- Their flagship Pinott displays aromas of riper cranberry, strawberry, some cherry and that medicinal candied red plum that is typical of Pinot Noirs. On the palate, the fruit hits at medium intensity, the acid is medium(+) and keeps the wine bright without interfering, and the medium(+) alcohol gives it weight, texture and a little heat on the finish in a good way. The medium tannins are soft but definitely present and the red fruit flavors are a bit more brooding and spicy than the nose. There is even some savory notes on the palate that pave the path from the fruit to the finish. Like Burgundians, they use whole cluster fermentation without perceptible unripe flavors because the stalks ripen to a sweeter level in the vineyard. If you are a fan of Burgundian Pinot, you owe it to yourself to try this wine.
- 2016 Hanzell Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($125)
- The nose is so pretty. Bright red and black fruit that integrate very well and give off the perception of mountain fruit. There is a depth to the candied black fruit on the nose that pulls you in and begs for a taste. The palate turns all of those preconceived notions on their head a bit. The high acidity turns everything up a notch and surpasses the medium(+) powdered, chewy tannins on the palate. The flavors orient to blended fresh and cooked red fruit with baking spices, but the story here is the palate structure. Give this wine 5 years to integrate and you’ll have a great wine for those that prefer lighter Cabernets to the very ripe and long aging types. This wine is made from only four rows of Cabernet vines in the vineyard as well as Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc grown on the grounds. As the 4 rows of Cabernet form 75% of the blend, the math tells you that there aren’t many bottles made each year.
- 2012 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay ($100)
- I had the chance to sample the flagship Chardonnay after 7 years of aging to observe its development. The nose is medium(-) intensity of mellow yellow fruit, brioche, and straw, inviting you to dig your nose in deeper. The palate’s structure is medium(+) acid with a soft but larger body and a finish that keeps going for 20 seconds. Soft yellow apple, pear, apricot, and a little peach with cream, straw, and a flinty, white spice minerality saturate your palate. The texture, mouthfeel and flavors make you want to continously sip the wine until the bottle is empty. This is one of those rare wines that can connect the wine drinkers that love smooth and delicious with the wine enthusiasts that like to analyze.
I highly recommend a visit to Hanzell and again strongly suggest that you make this the first stop of your day in Sonoma. You’ll be glad you took that day-long break from Napa and may even find that you prefer Sonoma Chardonnays over those from Napa! Regardless of which way you lean, it’s hard to pass up good Pinot when you can find it. And make sure to bring a notebook to document all of the knowledge your wine ambassador will drop on you, haha. Cheers!!
Rating: 96 out of 100