A Review - Mounts Family Winery, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma

The Mounts line of wines is something special, just as much for their small batch craft as for the exquisite earthiness and the unpretentious taste on the palate. They are real and genuine much like their maker, who are wine growers first and vintners by passion.

The Mounts line of wines is something special, just as much for their small batch craft as for the exquisite earthiness and the unpretentious taste on the palate. They are real and genuine much like their maker, who are wine growers first and vintners by passion.

Last year, I visited the wine region of California for the first time in Sonoma. Actually, it was the first time I was visiting any agricultural region, in the world. For all my squawking about sustainability and conscious food choices, I am rather ashamed to admit that. My excuse is that I still do not have a driving license. Still, there I was spending two weeks in the state and a solid 4 days in the viticultural region of Sonoma County.

For one who has only mused about the Napa/Sonoma debate in passivity before, this trip made all the nuances in those regions suddenly meaningful and deliberate. It is no contest that there exists a contest. It was only a question of finding the motive and I decided that would be my mission and even further, to find if there was a middle ground.

This post is about one particular winery, Mounts Family Winery, in a really tiny viticultural region that by geography produces some of THE best wines in the country. Throw a stone in any direction and you will find yourself sipping some of the very best the region has to offer distilled conveniently into a long stemmed wide bellied glass. So, why then did I choose this particular one to showcase?

To answer that question, I need to draw some background story on that debate, the culture and history of Sonoma and how it all ties together with that viscous delicious liquid in my glass that sipped when overlooking the vast fields of grapes left me a believer and then again reinforced that same faith when I repeated it in the cool recesses of my home nearly a year later. 

Let's start with the ground basics. Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley both offer some amazing wines today. Yet, while Napa is exclusively a wine growing region and has been historically, Sonoma in contrast was primarily an agrarian region where grapes were the latest import. They still have numerous apple orchards including the unique Gravenstein apples. 

The biggest difference between the two regions is that the heart of Sonoma today is still agrarian. Most of the wine grown here is by wine farmers who sell to wine makers . Unlike Napa, where the opposite is true with most wines and grapes grown to wine label owners. Today 95% of the cultivation in the Sonoma region is grapes and nearly 70% of all vineyards are farmer owned. They grow the grapes and then sell them in bulk to a wine maker who typically have ~100 acres of grapes planted themselves but also do a lot more volume of wine than can be made from their own vineyards. The most well known names like Robert Mondavi, Jackson Family etc. are regional blends and estate wines are few and not typically available outside the vineyard. There are a few others that are more small scale and market themselves as bio-dynamic (so there are chicken running around and about 1% of the acreage set aside for wild flowers and such. Questionable, but there it is)

The view overlooking the 'sipping' bench of the Mount's family wines. There was nothing prepared or orchestrated about it. You simply sit on top of a hill and look at the wine farm below. Not a fancy garden but just a farm. 

The view overlooking the 'sipping' bench of the Mount's family wines. There was nothing prepared or orchestrated about it. You simply sit on top of a hill and look at the wine farm below. Not a fancy garden but just a farm. 

Within that context, there are a smattering of wine farmers who have developed a passion to bottle their estate grapes. One of them is the Mounts Family Winery. Hailing from a multi-generation line of wine farmers they are first of the Earth and only later of the trend. After a long line of wineries, that were spinning out the marketing spiel of on-trend buzz words - organic, biodynamic, polyculture, etc. while toadying to a corporate structure headed by silicon valley gazillionaires who barely visited the farm, it was refreshing to sit at a genuinely old table outside a fairly shabby shed and overlook nothing fancier than fields of grapes.

It is easy to get lost on your way there, and we did. Their lands adjoin those owned by the #3 or #4 person in Google and a Schlumberger's on the other side. And, there isn't a big sign announcing their presence. Logistically, not well planned and can be annoying when you are trying to find your way in 100F Sonoma mid day. But, as I was to find out, it was worth it.

Landing in their unpretentious backyard (because it really looks like one), I was not sure what to expect. We were welcomed by the couple who own the winery. A third generation farmer, David came to the family business of wine growing after undergrad studies (where he met his wife)) and has over the years, developed a passion for making wines. When I spoke with them, the one thing that stood out in comparison to any other vineyard experience I have had (in CA or Long Island) was that, there was no sugar. It was a genuine, down-to-earth, no-frills conversation about growing grapes, how Sonoma has changed and why they do what they do. The simple answer to that was that it was what the family did and how farming should be done and nothing at all about how fads, trends or anything. 

Then we settled on rustic bench to try some wines.  I will caveat by saying that this solitary bench was beneath a wonderfully shady tree, adjoining shed that was probably from his grandfather's times (not trussed up or renovated at all!) that some how was cool enough to be a natural cellar. Anyway, I found all this rather appealing and no doubt the difference in the experience influenced how I felt about the wines. Obviously, I liked them when I tasted them there.

Yet, the reason I am writing this review today is not in memory of that experience a year ago, but in respect of the one from a week ago, when we opened a bottle of 2010 Malbec that we had purchased from the vineyard. It was divine. Let me lay the basics. The bottle costs $40. {That is fairly steep if you are a casual wine drinker. It should, however, be taken in context that anytime you buy wine in a vineyard it has atleast a 25% mark up over the retail price, thanks to the obfuscated distribution system in the US.}

Then again, by price it may not be a casual drinking wine but is one that can appreciated by all, even the newest palate. It is robust, silky, deep with dark cherry and black berry notes, uniquely mineral (Dry Creek Valley has fantastic soil and drainage and hence some of the best wines in the country). I could taste the terrior and I am not being pretentious about it. The experience to me was akin to tasting the sun in Italian tomatoes or the earth in Irish potatoes. It is an uniquely visceral experience and one that I so cherish for it's infrequency. This wine bought back that oxytocin rush in a beautiful and elegant sip.

Mounts winery runs a "Club" program, as does every other wine maker in the region. It is really a subscription mail order program for getting access to estate wines. It is very similar to a CSA program where you buy in to a stake of the outputs from the farm/winery. They are all priced in the same range. And, if I had to pick one, then it would be Mounts for not just the fact that they are genuinely small batch (not backed by a VC or someone who struck it rich looking to diversify their investment) and their passion. But, really because, they taste fantastic and, yet the flavor nuances can be completely different the next year because the climate, the weather, the terror changed.

David is not a master blender and so he does not balance for consistency but rather plays to flavor profiles. And therein lies the fun of it all. The wines will be good because the region is blessed for grapes. The joy is in the anticipation, because you may get the familiar notes but the taste could be oh-so-fascinatingly different. And, for that, I would rate the experience always high and one that takes you back to their wine fields every time you sip a glass of their wine.

 

Mounts Family Winery

www.mountswinery.com

3901 Wine Creek Road, 
Healdsburg, CA 95448  
707.292.8148 
info@mountswinery.com

 

Disclaimer: I was in no way compensated for this review. I write about them because we had a genuine amazing time talking with them but importantly thoroughly enjoyed their wine at the tasting table as well as at home. We also bought the wine we tasted.