I live in Napa and so tend to do most of my wine tasting in Napa Valley. Well, and there is the fact that my blog is called Napa Valley Vegan! But this is not to say that there aren’t wonderful wines in Sonoma Valley and surrounding areas. But with over 450 wineries to choose from in Napa Valley alone, it just comes down to time! Some days I wish I could just sip wine fulltime but most days I have to live in the real world! That being said, I did have an amazing opportunity recently to do some wine tasting in beautiful Sonoma Valley. Tin Barn Vineyards is truly a hidden treasure that offers single vineyard artisan wines. How hidden do you ask? Well, I travelled down Highway 12 between Napa Valley’s Carneros Region into Sonoma Valley’s Carneros Region and everything looked just as I expected. Rolling hills terraced and covered with symmetrical rows of grapevines, sun and beauty! From there I came to East Eighth Street in Sonoma. It is hard to miss – just look for the dozens of empty train cars! Following Eighth Street, I was surrounded by vineyards, rock quarries, body shops and solar panels! What?! I was beginning to think that my typical lack of direction had taken over and I was lost yet again. The next thing that really had me convinced I had taken a wrong turn, was Siri telling me to pull into the Wine Country Industrial Park and Sonoma Sky Park Airport. Really?! Yep, really! There it was…a big red tent sign announcing Tin Barn Vineyards. I followed several more directional signs through large warehouses and a food truck or two and came to my destination – Tin Barn Vineyards!
There is a Tin Barn Vineyards sign that hangs above their tasting room entrance and when I entered the warehouse I was also able to see the cellars where they produce their artisan wines. What really stood out for me was being greeted by Amy, the Assistant Director of Operations and Steve, the part-time Winery Ambassador. They were both so welcoming and it did not take long to see their passion for the wine. Amy shared not only an amazing tasting experience with us but a lot of great information about the grapes and the winemaking process. I enjoyed each of the wines that I tasted but fell in love with their Joon – Rose of Syrah. And the story that Amy shared was equally as lovely. Legend has it that the original Syrah grape came from the Persian city of Shiraz. So they used the Persian term for “dear” to name their debut wine. While I was purchasing my wine from Brett Hamner, another of their Winery Ambassadors, we discussed the wines and if they were vegan-friendly. He was about 98% sure that they were but to be sure he texted Michael to confirm. And to my delight, Michael confirmed that since he does not fine any of his wines they are all vegan-friendly! Yay!!
Michael Lancaster is the Co-Owner and Winemaker for Tin Barn Vineyards. His passion for winemaking and vineyards that are off the beaten path began while he was a part of the corporate world. He took a year off and while on two wheels cycled through some of the world’s most esteemed wine regions. Upon returning to his native Toronto, he hung up his suit and tie for good! He headed to the University of California, Davis to study the enology program. From there, his first job took him to Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. And then to Quail Ridge Cellars where he was promoted to winemaker. Finally, in 2000 with the partnership of friends, Michael launched Tin Barn Vineyards.
Michael has forged long-term relationships with many local grape growers which has helped to ensure the consistency and quality of the grapes he uses for his wines. Coryelle Fields Vineyard is a remote plot of Syrah vines just off Tin Barn Road 1000 feet above the tiny coastal town of Jenner. With a population of just 136, Jenner is located in Sonoma County on the Pacific coast near the mouth of the Russian River. Thanks to the 6-acres planted by Carolyn Coryelle in 1995, the grapes are in the direct path of the strong coastal breezes and slowly ripen amid the persistent coastal fog. This micro-climate gives the grapes a distinctly earthy quality with hints of smoky (vegan) bacon. Michael has not only sourced his Syrah grapes from Carolyn’s vineyard ever since but it is also his inspiration for the name of his winery. In 2012 he debuted my favorite wine – Rose of Syrah – from the Coryelle Fields.
Desnudos Vineyard translates to “naked” vineyard and has a very colorful history as an early twentieth-century nudist colony. Sadly, you won’t find any naked folks wandering around anymore but you will find the Merlot grapes dappled with sunlight and bathed in gentle breezes. The southwest-facing vines yield uncommonly complex and intensely flavored fruit.
For the last 35 years Dan & Mary Hountalas have divided their time between life in the city and life in the country – overseeing the historic Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco and tending to the beautiful Hi Vista Vineyards in Sonoma’s stunning Carneros region. Hi Vista’s location provides a cool growing season that produces grapes with refreshing citrus and melon aromas.
As many of you wine lovers may already know, the Carneros appellation grows more Pinot Noir than any varietal anywhere in the world! WORLD! Yeah, it blew my mind too! So it does make a lot of sense that since Tin Barn Vineyards is based in the Carneros area that they make Pinot Noir. Their grapes come from the Ricci Vineyard which is a family estate located just a few miles from Tin Barn Vineyards. The fruit sprawls across 200 sloping acres and benefits from gentle breezes from the San Pablo Bay and steady, warm Sonoma County sunshine. Little has changed since the first farming began here in the early 1900s!
Michael’s relationship with Gilsson Vineyard has spanned more than a decade as he continues to source his award winning and bestselling Russian River Zinfandel from them. Gilsson is located just east of Windsor in Sonoma County and planted their Zinfandel vines nearly 40 years ago. The vines are raised on stakes so the fruiting area is elevated off the ground which allow for excellent air circulation and more even ripening of the grape.
And last but not least is the 42-acres of sustainably planted Zinfandel at Los Chamizal. The Zinfandel vines are amid the mountain terroir and reflect varied micro-climates from sandy clay loams at the bottom to fractured basalt at the top elevations. Tin Barn Vineyards takes multiple blocks of grapes from this very unique location.
Tin Barn Vineyards is located at 21692 Eighth Street, East, Suite #340 in Sonoma. They open their tasting room Friday through Monday from Noon to 5 p.m. and will occasionally accommodate a mid-week appointment. Contact them at 707.938.5430 to ask! They do request that you make reservations if your party is 6 or larger. The tasting fee is a very reasonable $12 per person and is waived for purchases of $50 or more. If you call ahead, they will add a cheese pairing to your tasting for $5. Ask if they would be willing to add vegan cheese pairings to their tastings. If enough of us ask, it might motivate them to offer it! Whenever it is possible, they will also lead you on an impromptu tour of their cellars for no additional fee!
I am so glad that I get to share this little surprise vegan gem with all of you. So if you love good wine, friendly and knowledgeable wine experts, and a winemaker who is passionate about his work, you will enjoy the experience just as much as I did! You are not going to find a stately overdone façade or a gift shop full of overpriced knick-knacks so nothing will distract you from enjoying the wine and the entire experience!
Thanks for reading my blog and letting me share all of these amazing experiences with you. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!