Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chateau St. Jean Vineyards and Winery – Sonoma Valley

After visiting Kenwood Vineyards on Saturday October 22nd, I headed further north on the historic Valley of the Moon Trail (Highway 12) and stopped at one of the most beautiful wineries I have ever seen - Chateau St. Jean – located near Kenwood, California.

As you enter the driveway to the winery you travel through an ocean of vineyards along a very drive to the foot of Sugarloaf Ridge where you arrive at the elegant Chateau which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. A statue of St. Jean, the winery’s namesake, stands in the main courtyard garden by the decorative fountain.

In 1920, the Chateau was built as a summer home for Ernest and Maude Goff, and their children. The family, originally from Saginaw, Michigan, made its fortune in iron mines in their home town and then in the lumber business in the Pacific Northwest. The 250 acres of land which are now Chateau St. Jean vineyards were initially planted with grapes which was stifled during the Prohibition when the family transitioned to growing prunes and walnuts. 

When Chateau St. Jean Winery was established in 1973, the decision was made to preserve the Goff legacy and the Chateau was fully restored and opened to the public. It has since been listed in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Since then Chateau St. Jean has long been recognized as a leader in Vineyard Designated wines. The St. Jean Estate Vineyard that surrounds the winery consists of 270 acres with 90 planted acres of premium varieties including Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. In select years, Chateau St. Jean produces a single vineyard Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Viognier while the Bordeaux varieties contribute to the winery’s flagship wine – Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren uses her 30 years of vineyard and winemaking expertise with Chateau St. Jean to highlight the best of each vineyard in the wines. Chateau St. Jean also offers vineyard-designated Chardonnays from the acclaimed Robert Young, Belle Terre and Durell Vineyards as well as a Pinot Noir from Durell Vineyard and Fumé Blanc from the La Petite étoile (“The Little Star”) Vineyard and Lyon Vineyard.

In 1999, Chateau St. Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the prestigious “Wine of the Year” award from the Wine Spectator Magazine for its 1996 Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon, that harmonizes all five Bordeaux varietals. The winery received high acclaim again when it received the “#2 Wine of the Year” for its 1999 Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chateau St. Jean has two tasting rooms. As you pass through the garden and pass by the fountain, if you turn to the right you enter the Visitor Center (main tasting Room) which offers five tastes for $10 as well as other souvenir items. If you turn to the left you enter the Vineyard Room (Chateau) where they serve Reserve and limited release wines, five tastes for $20.

I chose to sample the Reserve and limited release wines (they also allowed me to sample two others that were not on the menu for the day) which were as follows:

My first wine was the 2010 Pinot Gris. A very refreshing wine that has a beautiful nose of canned pears, pineapple, melon, peaches which is delivered again on the palate along with really nice minerality. They only produce 300 cases of this wine and yet it sells for only $22 a bottle. If this were the beginning of Summer rather than Autumn, I would have purchased several bottles.

My next taste was the 2007 Reserve Sonoma County Chardonnay, made by Margo Van Staaveren. It is a blend of grapes from several vineyards including Robert Young Vineyard, Belle Terre Vineyard, Durell Vineyard, and Cold Creek Ranch. This wine has a classic California Chardonnay profile - a big rich full bodied wine that is layered with baked apple, dried pineapple, ginger, and creamy butter that has an extremely long finish with a nutty return. This wine retails for $45 a bottle.

My third wine was the 2009 Viognier (not on the day’s tasting menu) form the estate vineyard of which they only produce 200 cases. A very floral nose with bananas, dried peaches, orange peel and a really long finish. This varietal is my favorite white wine so when I find one I really like I usually pick one up. This wine retails for $30 a bottle and I purchased one to open for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

My first red in the line-up was the 2009 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir from Carneros. A HUGE nose that is a bowl full of fresh berries, violets, plum, root beer, cinnamon and spice. This wine sells for $50 a bottle and although I’m off of this Summer’s Pinot Noir hunt, I picked one up to lay down for a few years.

My second red wine was the 2007 Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon (not on the tasting menu). A really complex wine layers of herbs, black currants, cherries, red plum and cigar box cedar that is then delivered with full bodied mouth feel and an extremely long finish. This wine is drinking great now, but could probably use a few more years. A superb wine to add to anyone who can afford it at $60 a bottle.

My third red wine was the newly released 2008 Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is still very young and it has quite a different profile than the previous vintage. This wine is darker, earthier and has more black fruits, dark chocolate and more spice with teeth gripping tannins. I’d give this wine at least another 5 years before opening it. This wine sells for $65 a bottle so if you can afford the ’07 I’d buy that one instead – a better vintage and $5 cheaper.

My final wine was the 2006 Reserve Sonoma County Merlot. I’m not the biggest merlot fan in the world, but I really liked this one. I picked up chocolate covered cherries, black berries, cassis, violets and a hint of java.  This wine is really soft on the attack and mid palate but bold on the back end. If I were in the market for buying a Merlot, at $25 a bottle I’d pick one up.

To see more pictures of the Chateau St. Jean, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Chateau St. Jean Winery and Vineyards

8555 Sonoma Highway,

Kenwood, CA 95452

Phone: 1-707-833-4134