Ram’s Gate: Gateway to high design and fine wine
Where Sonoma meets Napa resides Ram’s Gate, a stunning mix of architecture and fine wine.
To say that I visit a lot of wineries is an understatement. I have visited as few as 1-2 and as many as 9-10 wineries on the weekly basis. Rarely does a week go by when I’m not in a winery’s cellar or tasting room in order to avoid a painful condition known as “wine country withdrawal.” It is an “achy-breaky” disease, which consumes the soul and the palate and for which there is only one known cure: visit the wine country as often as possible.
A few months ago, I finally got a chance to spend time at a property I had heard lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ about, Ram’s Gate. Given its curious locale, right where Sonoma meets Napa, I felt a tad skeptical. How can such as open space with expansive, yet rather monochromatic views, be all that interesting? Having just passed the lush green vineyards and pastures of Sonoma, it was an interesting contrast.
Having visited hundreds of wineries, I am rarely surprised. I have seen lots of gravity flow, state of the art facilities with the latest and greatest equipment. I’ve seen a myriad of picturesque, postcard-worthy worthy vistas. At some wineries I have been greeted by adorable cats, friendly winery-dogs, peacocks and even an alpaca! However, when I arrived at Ram’s Gate, I wasn’t merely surprised, I was stunned.
Ram’s Gate is the brain child of a group of friends: third generation vintner Jeff O’Neill, Michael John, Peter Mullin and Paul Violich, who found the property at the gateway to Sonoma and Napa entirely irresistible. What they did next was to set out to create the most hospitable, upscale, yet relaxed environment a guest could wish for. They achieved this goal via stunning architecture, a glorious wine cellar, an in-house Chef, and of, course, world-class fine wines.
With the ultimate wine experience for their guests in mind they hired Jeff Gaffner, a heralded and highly sought after winemaker who had worked with a number of renowned brands such as his very own Saxon-Brown, Xtant, Black Kite, Hestan, and Chateau St. Jean. (Gaffner had a hand in 1996 Cinq Cepages, named Wine of the Year by the Wine Spectator.) His wines are as authentic as it gets and embrace the essence of the vineyard. I have followed Jeff’s projects closely over a number of years, and can’t say enough of my fondness for them.
Designed by the renowned architect, Howard Bracken, the Ram’s Gate facility is a study in contemporary design that integrates well with the surrounding landscape. Clean, crisp, sleek lines, constructed with traditional materials and modern finishes create a stunning visual effect. The modern barn boasts grandeur and spectacular views, yet somehow retains an acute sense of warmth and intimacy. The decor is simple, yet impacts, an eclectic mix of old and new, high drama and soothing calm. One of the most interesting aspects of the design is the unique lighting, with its soft, dreamy, intimate shapes. Finishing touches such as ultra modern, artsy, floral arrangements are just stunning.
By sheer coincidence, during my visit a falconer was at the winery. After loosing part of the harvest to starlings, Ram’s Gate vineyard managers turned to falcons to ward-off these vineyard pests. Tactical Avian Predators brings a team of falcons to patrol agricultural fields and other businesses in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington that suffer from avian annoyances. Proprietor Jim Tigan was on hand with his cast of falcons, which scare the starlings away from the vines. It was a magical experience, watching the lightning bolt of a bird slice the sky in swift, elegant motions.
On the wine side, to facilitate Gaffner’s formidable talent in the cellar, Ram’s Gate sources fruit from the list of growers that reads like who’s who list of the wine world: Steve Hill (Parmelee-Hill), Bill Price (Durell), Larry Hyde, Lee Hudson, Sangiacomo Family, Ulises Valdez…in one word, wow.
I absolutely loved their Pinots and Chardonnays, especially the sublime UV and Durell offerings. Additionally, my palate has become downright obsessed with their 2009 Estate Brut Rosé. It offers fine, delicate bubbles, aromas of stone fruit and fresh red berries, with touches of vanilla cream. Its stunningly pure acidity and alluring minerality made this one of the most exciting domestic bubblys that I have had this year. Impeccable in its youth, it is likely a great candidate for the cellar as well.
Nestled next to the vineyard is an adorable pond that oozes beauty and bliss. I wonder if it was by that very pond where the four friends got together, wine in hand, and decided to combine everything one needs for a satisfying experience. They clearly executed on their vision to provide fabulous wine, great food, gracious hospitality, an attractive, relaxing environment. Every time I drive by Ram’s Gate, my heart skips a beat. I miss it just as much as my green, as-far-as-the-eye-could-see vineyards. May be even a little more.