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  • 4401 Slusser Road
    Windsor, CA 95492
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Life By The Glass

Carefully Curated. Completely Engaging.

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Holidays at Sonoma-Cutrer

Every family has their beloved holiday traditions, and the Sonoma-Cutrer family is no exception. Here in the heart of the Russian River Valley, the holidays are a time to gather and give thanks.

The season officially kicks off with a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition as everyone gathers to eat delicious food and celebrate the year’s biggest accomplishments. This year, the Sonoma-Cutrer family toasted the launch of Founder’s Reserve Legacy, the second offering in the limited-release Winemaker’s Series.

It’s a time for camaraderie and conversation, as colleagues sip Sonoma-Cutrer wine and share favorite recipes. In addition to the chef-prepared turkey and dressing, employees bring a family favorite side dish to share — and leaving a bit overstuffed is to be expected.

Come December, it’s time to trim the holiday tree. During the annual event, employees gather to share holiday cheer and help put the finishing touches on the tree — often with handcrafted ornaments that feature a Sonoma-Cutrer theme. It’s also the season for another tradition at the winery: the annual holiday open house.

The fireplace glows as traditionally dressed carolers fill the air with holiday songs and guests enjoy sips of soup, savory bites and sweets paired with Sonoma-Cutrer wines. While this year’s open house was on hiatus due to renovations at the winery, new traditions will join longstanding ones next December as the brand new tasting room will be open for special holiday tastings.

The season of giving thanks is also a time to give back at Sonoma-Cutrer. Community outreach efforts include food and clothing drives for local shelters, and many employees volunteer to serve holiday dinners at shelters throughout the season. Sonoma-Cutrer sponsors a tree in Windsor’s Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove to benefit the Windsor Educational Foundation.

With the holiday season well underway, the Sonoma-Cutrer family has had a chance to reflect on the many blessings of the previous year. The approaching New Year offers a chance to toast the good times, reflect on the challenges and look forward to another amazing year with a winery family that shares a passion and dedication to crafting the finest wine.

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Why Pinot?

Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to get right. Thin-skinned and temperamental, it’s among the most delicate varieties, and the conditions must be near perfect to produce exceptional fruit. So why would a winery known for its award-winning Chardonnay even bother with such an intractable addition?

It’s a fair question, and one that’s been asked on more than a few occasions. The original inspiration had a lot to do with the vision of former Director of Winemaking, Terry Adams. It took some convincing to get the team on board. Rumor has it, a covert late-night planting session was required to produce evidence that Pinot Noir is, in fact, an ideal fit for Sonoma-Cutrer’s terroir.

Producing Pinot is a natural evolution for a winery grounded in Burgundian winemaking traditions. The two major grape varietals grown in Burgundy, France happen to be Chardonnay and – you guessed it – Pinot Noir.

It doesn’t hurt that the Russian River Valley boasts near ideal conditions for growing Pinot Noir grapes. Recently, Wine Enthusiast© magazine even named the winery’s home turf one of the top six areas for growing exceptional Pinot Noir.

The goal of Sonoma-Cutrer has always been to craft wines that reflect their unique terroir, and Pinot Noir is no exception. The grapes come from The Cutrer, Vine Hill, Owsley and Les Pierres vineyards. The unique terroir of each vineyard, from Owsley’s dramatic temperature fluctuations to Vine Hill’s 400-foot elevation change, is directly responsible for producing fruit with concentrated, complex flavors.

The meticulous craft and attention to detail required to produce extraordinary Pinot is a natural fit for Sonoma-Cutrer – even when it means processing by hand and building an entirely separate production facility known as “The Pinot Barn.”

It’s been more than a decade since the winery’s first foray into Pinot Noir production, and today four distinctive varieties are among Sonoma-Cutrer’s offerings. Among a well-decorated group, the popular Russian River Valley Pinot Noir has been awarded a gold medal from some of the most prestigious wine competitions every year since 2009.

Twelve years into the “experiment,” Pinot Noir is no longer the new kid on the block, and has proven to be a worthy companion to Sonoma-Cutrer’s fine Chardonnays.

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Calling The Pick

This year’s annual harvest kicked off the last week of August, and the buzz of anticipation will linger until the last grape has been removed from its vine, around six to eight weeks later.

During the harvest, nothing is more important than picking the grapes at their peak, but getting the timing exactly right involves a lot more than looking at a calendar. “Calling the pick” is a painstaking process that involves a little bit of chemistry and a whole lot of skill.

It all starts with veraison, the ripening of the grapes that causes them to change color. The process began in July, and the fruit was closely monitored well into August, when Chardonnay grapes turned from green to a rich straw color, and Pinot Noir transformed from green to red and finally to a deep burgundy.

When the colors are right, it’s time to start testing.

Throughout harvest, a sampling crew goes out to collect a selection of 100 grapes from several different blocks among Sonoma-Cutrer’s six vineyards. Back in the lab, the grapes are tested for sweetness (Brix), acidity (Titratable Acid) and pH. The right balance signifies ripeness – but the numbers are only half the story.

Once ripe, the fruit needs sufficient hang time to mature and develop the precise taste profile the winemakers are looking for. The ultimate goal is to harvest the grapes when they achieve the perfect balance of sweetness, flavor and texture.

Daily “sugar meetings” are held every afternoon to determine which blocks should be picked the following day. The ongoing process moves from block to block throughout harvest until each vine hits its peak.

Ensuring that the grapes reach their full flavor potential is a team effort, from the vineyard crew that meticulously maintains the vines throughout the growing season to the winemakers, who must rely on their finely tuned craft to “call the pick.”

Yet, there’s really no question who plays the ultimate role in determining the quality of the fruit: Mother Nature. And this year, Sonoma-Cutrer has been blessed once again.

Expectations are high for this year’s harvest, as moderate weather has provided the fruit sufficient hang time to develop its full flavor potential. With harvest well under way, the yield looks good and the quality appears to be exceptional.

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Ask Your Sommelier

Recipes

Most of us know the feeling of staring blankly at an extensive wine list, lost somewhere between Chardonnay and Cabernet. Paralysis by analysis – what seems to be an easy decision can quickly turn into a daunting task. Will this wine overpower the entrée? Should I have ordered red instead of white? What if I don’t like the wine I order? Enter the sommelier, master of the vine, fluent in everything wine.

If you think you know a lot about wine, sommeliers know more. The sole purpose of these dedicated professionals is to help you discover and enjoy wine as much as they do, finding the perfect complement to your meal. Yet sommeliers go largely untapped by many of us, who either forget that sommeliers are even an option or assume that our wine needs are not demanding enough or our knowledge extensive enough to justify calling in such an expert. While Master Sommelier and wine consultant, Scott Harper, concedes that sometimes people may have a level of insecurity in utilizing Sommelier services while out dining, it’s important to remember that sommeliers are there because they love helping people with wine.

Most sommeliers train for years, perfecting their craft as they explore wine culture. Master Sommeliers (there are 135 of them in North America) are even able to identify a glass of wine down to the vineyard and vintage. In a restaurant, the sommelier is in charge of wine procurement, storage, cellar rotation and, most importantly, providing expert service to wine customers.

Their main goal is to make you feel comfortable with any and all wine inquiries, not to show off their knowledge, which, rest assured, is immense. So go ahead, ask your sommelier to describe what “dry” actually means. Ask what flavors you’re tasting, which aromas you’re smelling. Ask why California Chardonnays taste different than other Chardonnays. You might just find out that the sommelier is the best-kept secret you forgot you knew.

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A Few Tips for Hosting Your Own Wine Tasting

Recipes

Having a wine tasting in your home can be fun and enjoyable way to spend the evening. Here are a few tips and thought-starters to make the night a bit easier and more entertaining.

Glassware

Except for choosing delectable wines, good wine glasses are the most important part of your tasting. It is easy to go crazy with glasses made to go with specific grapes and, granted, I have many! But, filling your cabinet with a dozen different glasses for a dozen different wines and trying to figure out which wine goes with each isn’t exactly the same as hitting the easy button. So, I suggest having one or two quality wine glasses for starters.

The size of the glass is probably the single most important factor. Glasses should hold at least 12 ounces. Personally, I prefer upwards to 20 ounces, especially for reds, which are typically served in larger glasses then whites. Pour the glasses about a fifth of the way to allow room for swirling and –to develop the aromas.

Quantity

A standard bottle of wine holds 25.4 ounces. With the intent on everyone trying each wine, one bottle of wine should serve eight guests or a 3-ounce taste. Divide the number of guests you have by eight and round up. This will tell you how many bottles you will need for the tasting. Remember to add more bottles if you are also serving a meal.

Temperature

Most Americans drink white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Overly chilled whites or too warm reds mask the aromas and flavors plus, alter the wines structure. Try serving whites around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and reds around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This may seem too cool for red wines and not cool enough for whites but give it a go. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, wine is all about pleasure. So, if you end up preferring your wines cooler or warmer, enjoy them as such.

Wine Order

Normally wines are served from lightest to fullest, whites before reds and, of course, dessert wines last. Our palates usually taste better when we progress in this order. To do it inversely would be like eating a steak and then a light seafood dish.. If you are tasting Sonoma-Cutrer wines, I suggest you try this order: Chardonnay- Russian River Ranches, Sonoma Coast, Les Pierres and The Cutrer; Pinot Noir- Russian River Valley; Sweet – Late Harvest Chardonnay.

Scott Harper, MS
A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.

 

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Malo what…?

Recipes

While tasting another delicious bottle of Chardonnay you noticed a flavor, a flavor you haven’t really picked up on before. You aren’t sure how to describe it. It is not quite popcorn, maybe it is cream…then all of a sudden someone says butter. The flavor is butter! This flavor is not present in all wines. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Grigio, just wouldn’t taste right with it, but in Chardonnay it is a flavor nuance made in heaven.

So where does this flavor come from? It is a natural or induced process called malolactic fermentation or secondary fermentation. This is sometime listed on the back of wine bottle labels but, rarely explained. In reality, it is quite simple. The process changes the harder Malic acid, which is an acid found in apples, especially green apples, into the softer rounder lactic acid, which is the acid found in milk. A by-product of this process is Diacetyl. Diacetyl has an intense buttery flavor. -This helps create a wine with a creamy, softer texture.

The key to success in this process is that the buttery flavor does not dominate. Any wine that goes through malolactic fermentation will have a component of this tasty flavor, but the key is that it is in balance with the other flavors like the fruit and oak. Using malolactic fermentation is a brilliant way to enhance the complexity of balanced, flavorful Chardonnay.

The next time you taste your favorite Chardonnay see if you detect the nuance of malolactic fermentation.

About The Author

Scott Harper, MS is a Certified Wine Educator, and is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier

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We are thrilled to announce that we will begin welcoming our friends back to Sonoma-Cutrer again on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting this Friday, February 12th.

The health and safety of our guests and team members is our primary concern and we appreciate your understanding that your guest experience may look a bit different as we navigate through this together. We have implemented new health and safety measures and developed a new Visitor Policy that we ask all guests to abide by.

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Curbside pickup is still available during this time. Learn more>>

If you have questions, please contact our tasting room at (707) 237-3489 or [email protected].

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