By Appointment Only. Make one. You owe it to yourself to come here at least once in your lifetime.
Hanzell Vineyards is special for so many reasons. For the connoisseur of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it’s a bit of Burgundy in California. For seekers of spectacular views, it’s the vistas of the Sonoma Valley from atop the Mayacamas Mountain range. For those who appreciate an intimate winery experience without the crowds, it’s the private tasting. For history buffs, it’s a story that started in 1948 when J. D. Zellerbach, was chosen to administer the Marshall Plan in Italy.
For everyone, it’s accessible.
Let’s start with the views. From the moment the gate swings open the views begin to unfold as you drive this one lane, mile long road. Leaving the valley floor each turn reveals another photo opportunity. 46 acres of vineyards are before you, bordered by 148 acres of oak woodland. The result is breathtaking.
Arriving at the top of the mountain the winery building completes the picture. It looks charming and historic. Indeed it is both. When J.D Zellerbach was Ambassador to Italy, he and his wife, Hana toured Burgundy, France and fell in love with the wines. Prior to leaving San Francisco they had purchased 14 acres on a mountain hillside in Sonoma Valley. Over the years they continued to purchase adjoining acreage, and in 1957, Hanzell Vineyards was established, fulfilling the dream to produce the wines they had tasted in Burgundy. The winery was designed to reflect Clos de Vougeot, a 12th century press building. Charming and historic.
Just beyond the winery you see it, a handicap parking space. History has been updated. We parked, I hopped on the scooter and headed down the ramp to the winery. Or so I thought! Don’t do a repeat of that first photo. It looks like a ramp but it’s not, and the winery is not the first stop. Instead we were invited into the Hospitality Room to sign the guest book, up that gentle ramp right in front of the car.
Alaina Murphy was to be our Wine Educator, and she guided us from the Hospitality Room to where else, the view! A short stroll and we had another spectacular view to savor. The entire property has walkways and roadways that are paved, so I didn’t have to deal with loose gravel or obstacles at any point.
Beautiful vineyards, beautiful views. But these are not typical vineyards or typical vines. The Ambassadors 1953 Vineyard is the original planting, and continues to produce, making it the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard and the oldest continuously producing Chardonnay vineyard in North America.
Today Chip and I were accompanied by Steve and Anastatia Chiruco and their son, Nils Waterfield. When I told Anastatia about incredibleACCESSIBLE she volunteered Nils to take photos, and he agreed. If Nils isn’t in the photo, he’s behind the camera.
Now on to some serious business as Alaina continues the tour. Hanzell was the first winery in the world to use temperature-controlled stainless steel fermenters and the first to use inert gas to prevent oxidation. Alaina explains the process in one of the most interesting and informative winery tours I have been on.
There is some distance covered on the walking tour including slight inclines. Come prepared with the right mobility equipment so that you don’t get exhausted. My electric scooter did the trick for me.
Naturally chilled caves require no air conditioning to keep the wines at the perfect temperatures for aging. If you have a tendency to get chilly, bring a jacket! The chandelier is made from a wine barrel.
Private tastings can be reserved for 12, but today we were just 4. My first thought, “elegant”. Fresh bouquets adorned the length of the table, and we were surrounded by rare vintage library wines. If you haven’t been to many wine tastings, know that fresh flowers, individual place settings at a table rather than a bar, each with its own silver spit bucket, and peaceful privacy are rarities.
The tasting table was as elegant as the setting, hand crafted of walnut and steel by a local artist. I had been looking forward to seeing this table all day because we know the artist, and you’ve been introduced. Steve and Anastatia are the owners of Steel Geisha, in the town of Sonoma, and this table is Steve’s craftmanship.
The table design makes the experience accessible. There are no corner posts to intrude, and you will be comfortable sitting on a padded chair, or remaining in a wheelchair or scooter. There is ample room to move, and ample room for any mobility equipment.
We tasted three wines, Hanzell “Sebella Chardonnay”, Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay, and Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir. Each was exquisite. I won’t attempt to describe the wines as that is beyond my expertise. Chip and I live in Sonoma and in our 14 years here we have tasted and consumed a lot of wines. These are among the best.
The flagship wines are Hanzell Vineyards Chardonnay and Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir, with the average vine being over 30 years old. Hanzell does not pull the vines out every few years to increase production quantity as many wineries do, quality is far more important to them. At harvest they hand sort the grapes and every barrel lot tasted. It’s an expensive process, but achieves the mission, “to produce wine equal to the finest in the world”.
Sebella is made with grapes from the younger vineyards, serving as the companion label to the flagship wines. As the Sebella vineyards mature they will be incorporated into the flagship wines. In the meantime, the younger grapes produce a Chardonnay with a freshness, with stainless steel fermentation and more neutral oak.
I’m transitioning you out with a beautiful shot of those wonderful Chardonnay grapes, because the next photo is a little jarring after the tranquility of the Hanzell experience.
Remembering it later, it occurred to me that this was a wonderful example of “inclusive design”. I never felt like I was handicapped. I never felt like anyone had to go out of their way to accommodate me, a disabled person. I was simply a person with my husband and friends, experiencing a beautiful day in a beautiful place.