A few months ago, I received an invitation to join 19 other wine professionals from around the country for the first edition of the West Sonoma Coast Farm Camp hosted by a group called the West Sonoma Coast Vintners.
The outing consisted of a few days exploring the extreme side of Sonoma, which sits closer to the ocean. The group of vintners is spearheaded by Ted Lemon, the mind behind Littorai Wines, located in the Sebastopol hills and a major force in applying biodynamic practices into winemaking.
Other members of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners include Nick and Andy Peay from Peay Vineyards, which sits far north in the town of Annapolis; Cleo Pahlmeyer who oversees Wayferer Vineyard, the brainchild of Jayson Pahlmeyer in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA; Senses Wines, a project by three childhood friends that include Chris Strieter, Max Thieriot and Myles Lawrence-Briggs; Ernst Vineyards, founded by Todd Gottula and Erin Brooks; Red Car wines; Martinelli Winery; Joseph Phelps and Hirsch Vineyards, among others.
The group came together in an effort to create a more defined boundary within the Sonoma Coast AVA, the West Sonoma Coast AVA. The reason behind it is geographically simple to understand and further explains the drastic differences in soil, climate and altitude from which these wineries benefit.
“This is the extreme West; conditions are adverse to planting vineyards,” said John Raytek, winemaker and co-owner of Ceritas, as we hiked through some of the planted steep hills. “Yields are low, winds are fierce and vines struggle to ripe but the quality is far superior.”
The experience began at Freeman winery where hosts Ken and Akiko Freeman opened their caves for a gathering, showcasing the local bounty, including Liberty ducks, oysters from the bay and countless bottlings from the participating wine partners.
“Our intention is to make this an event that includes not only the local wine but all the culinary bounty that the West Sonoma Coast offers,” Ken Freeman said. The wine highlights included ‘08 syrah from Peay Vineyards out of a magnum and a series of Littorai offerings orchestrated by Rachel Dixon from Littorai.
On the following days, we ventured into the vineyards, experiencing firsthand the conditions, from Flowers Vineyards’ high altitude and impressive steep plantings to Baker Lane Vineyards’ small valley, which has a microclimate of its own, with early fog rolling in creating a natural refrigerator effect preserving the fruit.
Also as part of the program, there was a series of well-thought out seminars and tastings that included the diversity of soil types. What better way to explain this than with a chardonnay tasting from Chamboule’s crisp approach to Wayferer’s rich and generous interpretation?
There was also an intriguing geology seminar conducted atop Camp Ridge Vineyard and an educational visit to the coast with a local historian and marine experts. There is no doubt that this diverse region differentiates substantially from the rest of Sonoma Coast AVA.
Cheers to a successful revision and subsequent West Sonoma Coast AVA to this tremendous group of talented stewards of the land.