By Sarah Doyle, Guest Blogger
Discovering that Ronald McDonald is a winemaker was the last thing I expected when I signed up for the “All Access” winery tour as part of Sonoma Valley Reserve weekend. Before the tour commenced, we were promised entrance to exclusive winery properties in the Sonoma area, many of which are rarely open to the public or accessible by appointment only—unless you know the “secret knock” or arrive bearing freshly baked cookies, that is.
As a recent transplant from Paso Robles, I was eager to dip my toes into the pool of Sonoma County’s limited access wineries and introduce my palate to an entirely new terroir. Amapola Creek Vineyards & Winery was the first stop on our tour route, and we couldn’t have asked for a more dynamic welcome. While there was no confetti or balloons per se, we were treated to the beaming smiles and bursting enthusiasm of co-proprietor, Alis Arrowood and her step-daughter, Kerry. Soon, esteemed winemaker Richard Arrowood joined the scene to dish out exuberant barrel samples of their stellar 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Richard, who was the premier winemaker at Chateau St. Jean, founded Arrowood Winery in 1986 before devoting himself completely to Amapola in 2010. Amapola is known for their organically farmed, estate grown fruit, that goes into the production of only 2,500 cases of small lot Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Richard, who has participated in 47 harvests, informed us that 2012 has been the best, if not one of the top two, vintages he’s ever seen. Excited? Me, too.
From there, we traveled to the historic Annadel Estate Winery, which is believed to be one of the oldest winery properties in Sonoma County. Built in the 1880s, the original stone building sits crumbling yet resilient with its absent roof now replaced by a canopy of lofty oaks. Entering into the still, ivy-trellised space, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a secret garden; it’s no wonder they hold weddings here. Of course, we weren’t there to get married; we were there for the wine! Soon we were ushered into the 1920s era barn to sample their excellent lightly oaked 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay. The wine was delicious, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit distracted by the scrumptious, buttercup yellow 1955 Chevy pickup that sat grinning at us from the middle of the room. Annadel’s proprietor and winemaker, Dean Bordijion, founded Golden Gate Harley-Davidson in Marin County before he purchased the Annadel property in 2003. Today, he produces small lots of Monte Rosso Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends and the occasional Rhone varietal. The Bordigioni 2009 Monte Rosso Zinfandel was by far my favorite, with its rush of blackberry compote, burnished leather and black peppercorns on the palate.
Before we arrived at our next winery destination, GlenLyon, I was informed that the original Ronald McDonald and his esteemed dancer wife would be our hosts. (Huh?) When we arrived at the winery, my eyes instantly caught sight of them—Squire and Suzy Fridell—a highly dynamic duo decked out in matching kilts. During our tour of the wine production facility, we stopped in the barrel room where we were cheerfully informed that we could die from CO2 exposure if we didn’t leave in less than five minutes. Affected by a sudden bout of claustrophobia, I was the first one out the door.
The Fridells live on the property and graciously welcomed us into their house to sample their wines. My first glimpse into their home was the elaborately bedecked foyer, which held homage to the couple’s theatrical career. Hundreds of photos interspersed with Broadway memorabilia covered nearly every inch of the walls, which rose at least 15 feet above the ground. Squire had appeared in nearly 3,400 commercials, which included 33 years-worth at Toyota, and of course his most famous role as the original Ronald McDonald from 1984-1991. As someone who grew up in the late 1970s and 80s, I was admittedly tickled by fact that “Ronald” would soon be pouring me wine.
The backyard would serve as our tasting room, and soon we were gathered on a hilltop overlooking rolling waves of emerald vines hung heavy with ripe fruit. Squire began making wine 26 years ago, and today he and his wife, Suzy, are 100% hands-on at GlenLyon, including the pruning of all 4,641 grapevines. Our first taste was their punchy Blush O’ the Boar Syrah Rosé, which was wonderfully dry with hints of strawberry that endured on the finish. From there we sampled the Hog Wilde Chardonnay, Squire’s Toast (a Cabernet/Syrah blend), and finished with the Estate Syrah Port, an ultra-decadent dessert wine with loads of blackberry jam. New fans of GlenLyon have to be put on a waitlist in order to purchase their wine, which shows just how stellar their products are.
Before we got back on the bus, I was speechless to discover the “Ronald McDonald bathroom,” which was bedecked in Ronald memorabilia from head to toe: Pez dispensers, a host of clocks, erasers, a Frisbee, watches, lapel pins, a backpack, Ronald photos, a toothbrush, figurines, Happy Meal toys, greeting cards, mugs, a Ronald mask, plush, sunglasses, a Beanie Baby—you get the idea. While I stood there, mouth agape, my friend began banging on the door and informing me that the bus was leaving.
What continues to strike me as fascinating about the wine industry is that anyone can be bitten by the wine bug. It does not discriminate against actors, lawyers, IT professionals, interior designers, plumbers or Tae Kwan Do instructors. I can’t think of anything else that has such a profound effect on so many people. The Sonoma Valley Reserve was a perfect chance to experience my new home in a different way, and learn more about the wonderful boutique and exclusive wineries of Sonoma. I will surely choose a new tour for next years Sonoma Valley Reserve to experience a different side of Sonoma. Now excuse me while I go punch down some Syrah grapes.
Amapola Creek Vineyards
Annadel Estate Winery
Post by Sarah Doyle: journalist focusing on food, wine, whisky and travel. Her writing can be seen on her website, The Epicurean Scribe (www.epicureanscribe.com). She can be followed on Twitter @Fudryter.