- Rating: 97 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $35 or Free with 3-Bottle Purchase
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Sonoma, CA 95476
Auteur Wines is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Sonoma. In fact, as of this writing, I think there are only 10 reviews on Google. Many of the places that I rave about in reviews already have a strong reputation, but this is one of those wineries where the members hope that it remains in stealth-mode forever so that they don’t have to share allocations with anyone else. And I understand their feelings - the wine coming out of Auteur is almost too good to be true, but there is never enough of it. If you want to beat others to the punch on some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot coming out of Sonoma, hurry there for a tasting and sign up for one of the last membership slots. The only thing you may regret is that you can only get one allocation per household and that might not be enough…
Like many wineries in Sonoma, they do not have a gaudy, larger-than-life tasting room on acres of prime real estate. If you park in the main square of the town of Sonoma, you should be able to walk to the house is under 3 minutes. And like the house where they conduct tastings, the total production is not very big. Auteur currently produces only 2000 cases total per year and while they are ramping up production these next couple of years, they are looking at a max capacity of 2500 cases. Between the allocation to members and the wines they sell to restaurants (their form of advertisement), most of the 2000 cases are already spoken for. I know they are closing membership allocation soon, but don’t know exactly when, so don’t miss your chance!
If you know me, then you know that I love great winemakers’ personal projects/labels. Like many others, Auteur got its start while the owner/winemaker (Kenneth Juhasz) was working for another winery. In 2003, Ken made his first 75 cases of Auteur in the Donum Cellar (where he is still the winemaker today) and gradually grew it over 15 years to what it is today. Many people reading this article will recognize Donum as the estate that creates great Chardonnays/Pinot Noirs while simultaneously being an amazing outdoor museum. Once I heard the Auteur was Ken’s project after visiting Donum, I need I had to swing by and I am so glad I did.
Regarding Ken’s style, he employs non-interventional winemaking. Essentially, he tries to limit the number of times he interacts with the wine during the fermentation and aging process. This is not because he is lazy; it’s because he believes that interacting with the wine too much will do more harm than good to the final product. This is a common ethos with many old-world style winemakers. Like Burgundians, he also likes to source several small parcels from all over the place so that each of his wines are differentiated by their sense of place rather than by his winemaking choices (e.g. one with new French Oak and one with used American Oak). Most of the AVAs he sources from are characterized by their rocky hillside soils and unique expression of fruit.
One other thing I appreciate about Ken’s winemaking is that he is homogenous across the different parcels he receives fruit from. Each of the wines are picked at the same brix level (22), go through the same fermentation methods and the same barrel program, so the only difference between the wines is truly the terroir from which the grapes grow. The winemaker has essentially removed himself from that equation. The one thing people may not be a fan of is that most of the wines peak at the 4-6 year mark, meaning that while most of the wines are lovely when they are bottled, some time is required to experience them at their best.
NOTE: Regarding my tasting notes below, I happened to be tasting while a member was entertaining a group at another table. Because of that, I had the chance to taste 3 extra wines that normally would not be available to non-members. But at $35 a person, a 3-bottle waived fee policy, and free shipping on 6-bottles for members, I don’t think people will have any problem with the experience (that’s still 6 high quality wines!). See my tasting flight below:
- 2018 Pinot Noir Rose ($25)
- 3/4 of the fruit comes from a vineyard near Patz and Hall. Fresh, clean, and crisp. Acts as a good starter, but not so much character that you dwell on it. There is more yellow fruit than red fruit in the profile and there is even a little salinity that gets the mouth watering. Well integrated and serves its purpose well.
- 2016 Auteur Hyde Vineyard, Carneros ($55)
- This Chardonnay has bright, ripe citrus fruit and some stonefruit (melon) on the nose with a touch of candied ginger integrated into the profile. The salinity, high acid, and ripe lemon on the palate are high intensity and really pleasant in a classic Chablis style. A fresh but structured chardonnay that begs to be paired with food. Very Burgundian in style and surprising that the palate is as “lemon-focused” as it is when the nose hinted at a portfolio of other fruits.
- 2017 Green Acres Vineyard, Carneros ($55)
- The nose on this Chardonnay appears muted compared to the Hyde and has medium(-) hints of white flowers, apple blossom and lemon/lime zest. The palate shows off stonefruit flavors with citrus fruit and a zesty acidity that carries through on the 10 second finish. The minerality marries the nose and palate together and makes this Chardonnay very enjoyable. Likely the most complex of the whites as it shows the many aspects of Chardonnay.
- 2016 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast ($55)
- Grown in volcanic soil and pressed with its skins a bit to provide more structure to the wine, this Chardonnay is deeper in color and a nose of ripe tangerine, crushed rocks and a bit of cheese rind. The body has more alcohol than the others, which mutes the flavors a bit, but is still big and sprawling with its stonefruit. The minerality is there too, but lacks the expressiveness of the Green Acres, though I imagine this wine will age the best of the three. At this point in time, it just seems “simpler” than for what it’s destined.
- 2013 Shea Vineyard, Willamette Valley ($75)
- They dug this wine out of the library since they’ve stopped producing wines from Willamette and are drawing down the inventory. I think this is wine is perfectly aged. The blood orange, cranberry, sweet spice and even a little funk fill the nose beautifully. Predominantly the same notes on the palate with some herbal spice notes as well. The ripeness level of the red fruit is clearly indicative of Oregon, but the wine is still wonderfully balanced in flavor and structure. Just a really well put together wine…
- 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50)
- The bottle most likely to be distributed on the east coast. A larger production (for them) at 170 cases. Strawberry, roses, lilacs, and sweet cinnamon come through on the nose with very good integration. Less complexity than the Shea Vineyard, but very smooth and riper red fruit that will be pleasing to a wider audience. Medium, soft tannin and medium(+) acidity make this a very easy-to-drink wine that doesn’t feel flat or heavy. It makes sense to distribute this wine widely because of its style and pricepoint.
- 2017 Gaps Crown Vineyard, Sonoma Coast ($75)
- The deepest colored and likely most structured Pinot Noir in the portfolio. The rich, ripe, red raspberry and cranberry, violets, and leather hit you with high intensity. The red fruit, baking spices and savory notes also present with high intensity on the palate. This wine is big, brooding, and has alcohol heat that will be perfect for the winter months. The tannins are higher than the other wines, but still very smooth and the acidity keeps the wine fresh, structured, and your mouth watering.
- 2017 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75)
- From the north end of the Anderson Valley where the vines experience high diurnal temperature swings. The nose is lighter than the other Pinots, but also prettier and more floral driven. On the palate, this wine is just as light and ethereal as the nose. The flavors are predominantly pretty red fruit with some underlying savory notes that prevent an overly fruity feel, but let the fruit drive the train. Very easy drinking but better body and structure than the Sonoma Coast Pinot.
- 2017 Manchester Ridge Pinot Noir ($75)
- The vineyard is 2 miles from the ocean, but highly elevated above the fog line. The nose is slightly more intense and even prettier than the Savoy with white flowers and violets present with the red fruit. The palate also has that level of complexity evident but still very easy drinking like the Savoy if you don’t want to dwell too much on the wines. Although the production across the vineyards is mostly even, I would likely classify the Manchester Ridge as Auteur’s flagship wine.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that in addition to the single vineyard wines, they also produce Sonoma Coast labels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the Pinot is included in the tasting notes above). This means that they blend grapes from multiple AVAs to create these less specific AVA wines. While non-members can pick these up the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at $50 and $40 respectively, there have been deals in the past where members get 30% off for a limited time, making them $35 and $28 respectively. At those prices and with free shipping, they might be the best QPR wines that I own in my cellar. Meaning, I never need an excuse to break one out from the cellar on a Tuesday night. Just saying…
If you are ever in the town of Sonoma, I highly recommend that you secure a tasting reservation (one is required) with Auteur and taste around their portfolio of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. I promise that the only way you will be disappointed is if they are fully booked on your desired date or if they’ve reached membership capacity. Cheers!!
Rating: 97 out of 100