Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Napa and Sonoma trip: Hanzell Vineyards

In 1948, James D. Zellerbach, a former US Ambassador to Italy, acquired 200 acres on the Mayacamas slopes above the town of Sonoma and founded Hanzell Vineyards, Hanzell as a contraction of Mrs. Hana Zellerbach's name. Five years later, the Zellerbachs planted 6 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — now the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard in the new world — and in 1957, they created their first vintage.

We met with Estate Educator Ben Sessions at the historic winery building that the Zellerbachs built in 1956 and modeled after the 12th century press house at Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy. Ben Sessions is the son of Bob Sessions, who was winemaker and general manager of Hanzell Vineyards from the 1973 harvest until his retirement in 2001. After a tour of the original Zellerbach vineyard and after admiring the wonderful view overlooking the Sonoma Valley, we visited the old winemaking facility in the historic winery and finally sat with winemaker Michael McNeill to taste a sample of the Hanzell Vineyards production.

The historic winery building

Hanzell's former winemaking facility, now a tasting room

The original Zellerbach vineyard at Hanzell Vineyards

There were two glasses of Estate Chardonnay from the 2006 and 2007 vintages and a glass of 2006 Estate Pinot Noir. The 2006 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay had a bright golden color and a nose of ripe pear and spiced apple aromas. On the palate, it was boldly creamy and nutty with a ripe, fruity finish. In comparison, the 2007 Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay was young and big but not as polished and slightly more unbalanced.

The 2006 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir had a medium garnet color and a sweet black cherry nose. The palate was full-bodied, rather oaky with tannins and an earthy finish. More powerful than elegant, it was not my prefered style of Pinot Noir, but maybe the wine was simply too young.

After admiring one more time the sunset over Sonoma Valley, we were driven to one of the guest houses hidden in the vineyard where we would spend the night, a well deserved rest as we had more scheduled visits the day after.

Related post:
•  Napa and Sonoma trip: visit of Quintessa

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