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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Hanzell - Sonoma


 I am going to begin a small series on wineries I have visited. I thought I would start with one of my most memorable ones. Hanzell.

Hanzell was started in 1957 by Ambassador Zellerbach. The ambassador was a key figure in the development of the Marshall plan and was asked by President Truman to travel to Europe and execute it. During that time he was living in Rome. This allowed him opportunity to explore Burgundy’s Domains in great depth. During his time in Europe he purchased land in the Mayacamas Range overlooking the town of Sonoma and began to plan out his vision at home;

Ambassador Zellerbach told people his goal was “to make California wine as good as the best of Europe.”

Hanzell’s first release was in 1961 and has since then only produced top quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When I say top quality, I am (personal bias) talking about the worlds finest.

We were in Sonoma last fall and I was so excited to have the opportunity to visit this winery. To get to the winery you have to pass the world famous gates and drive above Sonoma to the top of the range. We had rented a convertible mustang and we certainly scraped the bottom of the car on the way there. Don’t tell the rental company!! Ha

We pulled up to the winery and met with our ‘Ambassador’ Zack and he gave us a tour of the vineyards. We climbed into his car and drove up the hill even higher to the top of the range. The view was amazing. They even had picnic tables set up to enjoy the view from.  He showed us individual plots of land and you could see the clone number and names tagged on the end of each row.

The next stop on our tour was the wine cave. We drove back to the main building area and began to walk down a flight of stairs into the side of the mountain. The addition of this cave barrel cellar was a more modern one but still carried the feel of the whole place. “Quality” The tunnel was impressive and bright. The barrels neatly stacked along the sides of the wall.

As we emerged out of the tunnel we ended up in the open air crushpad. There was a de-stemmer, sorting table and below was rows of temperature controlled fermenters.  Just as ambassador Zellerbach was a leader and visionary, this spirit remains. The fermentation tanks are an amazing marvel. They are not only temperature controlled but the temperature is constantly recorded and sent to the winemakers mobile phone so that 24hrs a day the wine is being monitored to ensure the correct temperatures can be maintained.

Next stop- Wine Library. Wow, I could have spent hours in this room. They have bottles of every single vintage they have ever made, catalogued and organized. Good thing they didn’t leave me alone in this room. J  

Moving upstairs in the old winery building you could see that back in 1957 this was a gravity fed winery. They were green before it was even cool to be green. You can still see the old fermenting tanks and the bottle filling invention that was the first of its kind. Hanzell was the first winery to use inert gas to fill the bottles before filling them with wine. This is to minimize the amount of oxygen that can get at the wine at all times. This is now common practice world wide and we can certainly thank Hanzell for this.

The last stop on our tour is to the tasting room which was the old lab for the winery. The room is filled with momentos of the past. Photos, documents, maps, and laboratory equipment are all well documented.  We tasted the Sebella Chardonnay and the current release of the Hanzell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Though it is unfair to judge these wines so young as they are not intended to be opened so early you could still enjoy the quality and care that is evident. In some words you can taste how the wine will develop over time.   

Notes on the wines:

2009 Sebella Chardonnay – Bright clean citrus with a bold minerality are balanced by a rich creamy texture. Acidy is vibrant (medium plus) with notes in the mouth of lemon peel and crisp apple. This balanced wine would rival a Cru Chablis.


2009 Hanzell Chardonnay – Brilliant Gold in color with glints of green make this wine look electric in the glass.  The nose comes across as more floral in character and then transitions into the lemon zest and melon.  Youthful and tightly wound the bold minerality is backed by lemon, pears and tropical fruits. Hints of coconut remain. What captured my heart was the texture. Rich and full. This is a wine that if given enough time to develop will be a show stopper.  Decanting two to three hours before serving is recommended.


2008 Hanzell Pinot Noir - Red fruit aromas of cherry and pomegranate are enhanced by scents of pipe tobacco, woodsy forest floor. With time, the wine unfolds to reveal orange peel and cardamom. Surprising tannins and balanced acidity sustain the persistent fruit through a long finish. The concentration of the characters show the time needed to fully integrate the wine as a whole.  From the first sip to the last the wine had developed into a new entity. This wine will require 5-10 years to fully be appreciated.  Decanting one to two hours (or the night before) is recommended.