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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Ramsgate: Sonoma's best wine destination migh be closer than you think.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Ram’s Gate Winery gets its name from “Carneros” - Spanish for "Ram", and is also the gateway to Sonoma’s wine country- just 40 minutes away from San Francisco.  While speed-obsessed Infineon Racetrack is within view, the mission of the winery’s founders, is “ In a world obsessed with making things faster, where speed is valued above all else, Ram’s Gate is our way of pressing pause. It began with a dream to create a different kind of place, where the things we love most are savored and enjoyed.”  This stunning winery estate captures the essence of California Wine Country at it’s best. The Howard Backen and Orlando Diaz-Azcuy designed winery is a stunning blend of luxury, modern sophistication, and rustic farmstead design.  Ram’s Gate also provides unprecedented hospitality, starting with the concierge waiting at the open-air entrance for your arrival who greets you by name and welcomes you into the elegant yet relaxed environment.  Various tasting rooms are scattered throughout the property - try the open-air courtyard with multiple fireplaces where even your dog is welcome, the double sided marble tasting bar where the gracious winery owners often pop by to serve guests, the spaces surrounding the patio, with 30-foot tall ceilings and enclosed by floor to ceiling glass. Inside spaces provide an eclectic mix of country chic and high style with a neutral palette, luxe seating (think creamy ostrich leather chairs imported from France) and dramatic lighting from custom designed 12-foot tall chandeliers.  

Ram’s Gate offers a full experience complete with food offerings that can be enjoyed in many forms - from a group experience at the chef’s table overlooking the exhibition kitchen, to a freshly packed picnic basket complete with two wine glasses, a bottle of Ram’s Gate wine and a picnic blanket all of which you can carry down to the pond on the property to enjoy.  The untraditional credo behind the food program that Chef Taylr Behnam creates is that menus are created around the wine. Chef utilizes fresh ingredients from the on-property organic garden and lets the wine take center stage. While wine is the priority here, food clearly serves as an important accompaniment to complete the experience at Ram's Gate. On a tour of the winery, the genial director of hospitality, Marc Hartenfels, paused in front of a vintage meat slicer, calling it “the Ferrari of meat slicers”.    We later sampled the charcuterie and pickles plate and were impressed with the array of delectable cured meats - from duck terrine and paper thin prosciutto to pork salumi with roasted pistachios and golden raisins - a perfect pairing with the Ramsgate portfoilio of wines.  

The philosophy behind Ram’s Gate wine is to create the finest possible wines that only Sonoma climate and terroir can produce.  Jeff O’Neill, a third generation vintner, developed the vision for Ram’s Gate alongside good friends, Michael John, Peter Mullin and Paul Violich when they found the enchanting property right at the gateway to Sonoma and Napa wine country. They knew they’d found the perfect location to develop special wines and experiences and made it their mission to build a place for people to come and enjoy them in a special environment accompanied by friendly hosts and delicious, locally sourced foods.  Their passion for food, wine, design and hospitality shines at this well-thought out property and experience that will delight any demographic.  

Membership at Ram’s Gate doesn’t include discounts on wine, but rather adds luxury such as complimentary concierge service, and free access to any of the member’s only spaces, including the library, the cave dining room, and a private terrace with it's own outdoor fireplace.  “Members will often come up from San Francisco, bring their laptop and work a few hours in the library, then enjoy a wine tasting and food pairing in this office away from home” says
Hartenfels.  The Winery offers numerous experiences such as “match making” food and wine pairings with Chef Taylr, “up close and personal” hands-on barrel tasting experience with wine maker Jesse Fox, and even partners with Infineon Racetrack for events - the property's design ensures a full size car can fit through any of the doorways. Ram's Gate feels like a home away from home, filled with friendly people, fantastic food and fabulous views. Whether you are looking for a leisurely afternoon just across the Golden Gate, or a breathtaking venue for a special celebration, Ram's Gate Winery is both passionate and playful, and it is truly, a little slice of heaven.  

It’s hard to believe that a place this beautiful and close to San Francisco could also deliver top-notch wine, but the wine making efforts are top notch, already earning high ratings from Wine Spectator.  Tasting notes of my favorites below:

NV Sonoma County Sparkling Brut - $30 per bottle
This refreshingly, crisp brut dazzles with notes of fresh honeysuckle, green apple and toasted brioche.  It gives a strong introduction of bright crisp citrus – like an ice cold lemon that develops into a creamy meringue tart. It cleanses your mouth with a brush of well balanced acidity and minerality.

2008 Sonoma County Red Label Chardonnay - $30 per bottle
This wine smells like tropical coconut with lightly floral character, mineral notes, and a complexity of ripe stone fruit and pineapple upside down cake. Fulfilling the promise of sun-bright fruit, this wine is alive, delicious and captivating. The elegant acidity and subtle oak toastiness makes this Chardonnay hard to resist.

2009 Durell Vineyard White Label Chardonnay - $74 per bottle
This wine is a great food-pairing wine with a salinity reminiscent of oysters, fresh citrus notes and a lovely wet-stone minerality. Made in 100% oak barrels and it has some hints of toast and slightly amplified lemon curd, pot de creme character.

2010 Red Label Pinot Noir - $40 per bottle - 93 points Wine Spectator
A textbook example of Pinot Noir laden with ripe cherry, sarsaparilla & juicy raspberry fruit flavors with subtle stony earth, forest floor and musk characters. The wines mouth-feel is driven by an abundance of velour-like tannins and richness of alcohol.  Backed by forest floor, mushrooms, cedar and earth

2009 Cabernet - $72 per bottle
Deep and intense, this Bordeaux style Cab delivers a medley of deep, complex and subtle spices balanced by rosemary and cedar. Big, powerful and complete, with lovely flavors of blackcurrant, dark chocolate, cocoa powder and lush tannins.

2008 Parmelee-Hill Vineyards Syrah - $64 per bottle
The color is a deep, rich majestic purple and the wine has uscious notes of dried fig, fresh tobacco and aged tanned leather are ready to jump right out of the glass. This elegant style of Syrah has soft tannins delivering a silky transition into a full, lasting finish with flavors of white pepper, cured meat, tobacco and cola.

2009 Sonoma Valley Late Harvest Zinfandel - $34 per bottle
This Zinfandel is born from rich, structured fruit, thick skinned from the signature wind that pulsates through its vines daily. It’s an explosion of berry ripe fruit – rich currant jam supported by spicy rose pedals and light honey. Inky, purple in color, it is spicy caramelized peppercorn, blackberry marmalade and a smidge of sandlewood.

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