Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Part III 4 min read

There are many fantastic things to be discovered in Sonoma County. I urge you to go after as many as you can, from having a picnic at the picturesque Rochioli to tasting some phenomenal wines in the hidden West Sonoma Coast… your bucket list will thank you.


I have met & experienced many wonderful wineries & vintners who set the bar high for their peers & honor the consumer in a manner that is both impactful & value-driven.


I had the privilege of meeting & spending time with many during the intense Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. Notable mentions go out to Michael Browne (whose new label titled Cirq), Pinot Noir lovers are well advised to sign up for the mailing list.


Many of you, fans of Kosta Browne wines don’t realize that Michael Browne used to perform in a youth circus, performing fire-breathing & bike on a trapeze acts, in a little known town of Wentachee, WA.  Cirq is a nod to his childhood when he first discovered the virtues of work ethic & the risks/rewards that come with high stakes acts. Not dissimilarly, winemaking carries much of the same characteristics of a deft balancing act. The first release, entitled “Treehouse” will debut with 2011, to be tentatively offered to consumers next spring.


Jeff Gaffner, a well heralded and highly sought after winemaker at Saxon-Brown (named after heroine of Jack London’s Valley of the Moon), Xtant, Black Kite (one of my favorite Anderson Valley wines of all time) and Ram’s Gate (more on them coming soon) whose career began at Chateau St. Jean (Jeff had a hand in 1996 Cinq Cepages, named 1999 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator). Jeff’s wines are as authentic as they are refined, I can’t say enough of my fondness for them as I have followed them closely over the years.


And speaking of authenticity there is the legendary Ed Sbragia whose career at Beringer is the stuff of winemaking legends. Having worked side by side with many vintners and culinary legends (Gary Danko’s was a rising star at Beringer) his defining wine became 1968 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard offered to him to taste by Joe Heitz, father of David Heitz, his schoolmate.


His favorite CA vintages: 1978, 1987 & 1991, more recent ones are 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009.



Ed Sbragia

Ed’s warm, generous and unassuming demeanor is so compelling, I found myself fighting the urge to give him a giant hug and linger awhile in his magical, elegantly simple winery with stunning sweeping views of Dry Creek Valley.


His winemaking career at Beringer spans 30 years with every accolade & critical praise  imaginable bestowed upon him and his team. Yet he left the glory and the coveted winemaking position in order to take care of his late father’s vineyard.


Ed’s story is a love affair with his craft, the land, its people, most notably the people in his life, his family, his wife, children & grandchildren. The winery is a family affair in a truest sense of the word, with his sons and daughter engaged in every aspect . In fact his son Adam is making wine alongside Dad.


It’s a story of a son’s love for his father who was a fourth generation Dry Creek Valley resident who came to US from Tuscany in 1904 and started a restaurant.


Ed’s approach to winemaking is simple (not to be confused with simplistic), juice to bottle. The formula – great soil, solid viticultural techniques, intelligent work in the cellar. He is a poster child for minimal intervention and maintaining maximum integrity in the winemaking process. Unsurprisingly he doesn’t subscribe to the populist philosophy of lower alcohol at any cost. He doesn’t believe in chaptalization. His goal are balanced wines of integrity that deliver a “goodie mouth” (love that term, Ed!) He is an evolutionist, meaning that he believes that wine’s evolution continues long past barrel aging, it just slows down n a bottle. For those reasons his take on maturity gates are highly subjective and personalized to the taster.


Ed’s barbeque skills are legendary and if you become a member of Ed’s club you may just be invited to experience his grillmaster prowess, along with his impeccable, profound, stunning wines.


I left Sbragia Family vineyards feeling the full measure of love that was so generously shared, filled with blissful notion that real magic of human connections is alive and well.


Experience Ed and his wines here.


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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