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    La Crema Winery Top Vine Tour Experience in Sonoma

    For those wine enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and supporters of sustainability, the La Crema Winery presents an engaging Best of The Vine Estate Tour that offers a fresh perspective on one of the prominent wine producers in Sonoma County.

    Upon arrival at the Estate Vineyard, visitors are greeted by a plethora of blossoms as they drive along a lengthy paved pathway leading to a historic barn. This barn serves as the hub for tastings and educational sessions at La Crema. Vibrant red umbrellas provide shade on sunny days, allowing guests to choose from various tasting options available onsite.

    Originally a livestock barn back in the 1880s, it was transformed into a luxurious four-story wine country residence a century later by the former owners, Saralee and Richard Kunde.

    Guiding the guests is the Lead Estate Host Katie Hughes, who starts off the tour by offering a glass of 2022 Saralee Rose’ before leading them through the opulent barn-style home.

    The multi-level tasting area offers a glimpse into Saralee’s Salon and custom kitchen located upstairs. During the tour, Hughes mentions, ‘Given Saralee’s height of six feet, the kitchen counters are designed higher than usual kitchen counters.’

    An array of artworks throughout the estate reflects Saralee’s passion for the land, agriculture, and cattle. Hughes explains, ‘The Kunde family has deep agricultural roots in this region. Richard hails from the multi-generational Kunde Family Winery in Sonoma Valley, while Saralee’s family were dairy farmers in Two Rock. Upon acquiring this property in 1988, they commenced grape planting in 1989.’

    Saralee and Richard would wake up each day to the sight of their vineyard. Adjacent to their main bedroom stands a marble master bathroom constructed by them. Visitors will note the spacious walk-in shower equipped with multiple shower heads.

    Pausing to admire a mural, one will observe that the winery is now owned by The Jackson Family. Barbara R. Banke, a notable figure in the wine industry as Chairman and Proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, co-founded it with her late spouse, Jess Jackson.

    ‘When Saralee fell ill with cancer, she and Richard gave the Jackson family the first opportunity to acquire La Crema winery,’ Hughes explains. ‘Saralee recognized that Barbara and her daughter Katie Jackson shared a similar approach to cultivating the vineyard and would carry forward their legacy.’

    The La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard is vast. Visitors embark on a tour around the estate in a sturdy golf cart, glass of wine in hand, learning about the sustainability efforts by the Jackson Family. Since the purchase of the 200-acre estate from Saralee and Richard Kunde in 2012, they have played a pivotal role in establishing the winery as one of the most distinguished in Sonoma County.

    Aside from nurturing the land of this iconic vineyard, they continue to foster a sense of community in Sonoma County through their expansive Richard’s Grove grassy event space.

    In addition to community gatherings, they organize the ‘Picnic at the Grove’ during the summer. On specific Saturdays, the public can secure a ticket for an afternoon session from 3 to 6 p.m. La Crema offers wine tastings, sets up lawn games, and presents live music. Food is prepared in one of the train cars converted into a kitchen, available for purchase to pair with La Crema wines.

    Among the notable features in the vineyard are several towering cement cisterns. Water from two picturesque rainwater lakes is pumped, filtered, and channeled into these cisterns.

    These scenic ponds teem with tadpoles, blue herons, and vibrant water lilies. Hughes emphasizes, ‘The synergy and biodiversity for regenerative farming play a crucial role in maintaining the overall ecosystem health at the vineyard.’

    Driving between rows of Pinot Noir grapes, a stop is made amidst two rows to discuss a five-year UC Davis soil trial study at the vineyard. These studies explore five different methodologies that aid in supporting vine growth and safeguarding the vineyards.

    ‘We are introducing sweet peas and clover in-between the vine rows,’ shares Hughes. ‘Moreover, we have South African drafter sheep, which are petite and can feed on the dried clover, while being unable to reach the grapes and their protective foliage.’

    Some rows are plowed to enhance soil aeration and facilitate moisture and air penetration, while other rows are left in their natural state. This investigation is vital in determining the optimal maintenance practices for the soil and grapevines. ‘This study will ascertain the most effective toolkit and methods to utilize in the future,’ Hughes states.

    At the subsequent tour stop, Hughes replenishes wine glasses with a serving of 2021 Saralee’s Chardonnay. Aromas of almond and floral scents are detected on the nose before savoring the essence of brioche, vanilla, and butterscotch on the palate.

    Exploring the vineyard’s compost field, Hughes takes a handful of rich soil while discussing the benefits of spreading compost throughout the vineyard. ‘We have ample compost to cover the entire vineyard,’ she confirms.

    La Crema is dedicated to shaping a brighter future. As a founding member of International Wineries for Climate Action, La Creme is committed to aiding in the decarbonization of the global wine industry.

    Through collaborations with various third-party agencies, they assess the soil’s nitrogen and carbon content to enhance the vineyards. Once grapes are crushed, the pulpy pomace is integrated into compost piles to enrich the soil. ‘We also compost the old vines and leaves, rather than discarding them,’ Hughes mentions. Composting helps minimize the inflow of organic matter into landfills. Mulching improves soil health and augments water absorption for retention. They also gather food scraps and manure from neighboring farms to divert nearly 99% of organic waste from landfills.

    Steeping compost water yields ‘Compost Tea,’ packed with valuable nutrients and beneficial organisms. Farmers spray this nutrient-rich tea on the vineyards and incorporate it into the irrigation system.

    During the autumn season, mustard flowers bloom in rows. Not only do they enhance the visual appeal, but they aid in curbing weed growth and thwarting soil erosion. They also help regulate moisture levels and attract pollinators such as butterflies and honeybees.

    Observing the array of flowers, it emerges that Richard Kunde proposed to Saralee at Butchart Gardens in British Columbia. His aim was to infuse a touch of botanical charm into their Estate Vineyard.

    Five zones within the vineyards feature nesting boxes for raptors, owls, and falcons. These safe havens for birds of prey to rear their offspring also assist in rodent control.

    Besides sheep, the vineyard is home to chickens that graze on unwanted weeds and provide natural fertilization. The chickens also help regulate the insect population, especially grubs and beetles. By clawing the soil, they enhance aeration as well.

    Seated on the barn’s terrace, guests relish four distinct Pinot Noirs paired with a selection of cheese and charcuterie. The board includes Triple Cream French Brie from Marin French Cheese, Fiscalini Cheddar Cheese from Modesto, and a chunk of Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese. Additionally, there are slices of meats, a bowl of olives, assorted fruits with nuts, and a variety of crackers.

    The initial pour features the 2020 Los Carneros AVA, crafted from grapes cultivated along the Napa and Sonoma border. This region is renowned for its ideal conditions for Pinot growth, benefiting from the cool breezes of the Petaluma Gap. ‘Pinot Noir is indeed a temperamental grape,’ remarks Hughes. ‘This wine spent 9 months aging in 30% new French Oak.’ Apart from the alluring scents of succulent blackberries and cherries, subtle notes of pomegranate and tobacco are discernible on the palate. The enduring finish leaves a delightful trace of cocoa nibs.

    Guided by Hughes, the group proceeds to the covered pool section and shaded brick patio for the final tastings. The 2021 Saralee’s Vineyard Pinot Noir is a blend of assorted Pinot grapes. ‘They undergo a minimum of 10 months of barrel aging,’ she adds. A delightful blend of floral and berry fragrances accompanies the pleasant flavors of black cherry, cranberry, and a hint of coffee with every sip.

    The tour culminates with a tasting of the 2021 Skycrest Vineyard Pinot Noir. This smooth and highly palatable wine, produced from grapes near Boonville in the Anderson Valley, undergoes an extended period of barrel aging to impart vibrant notes of blueberry, ripe plum, subtle black tea, and exotic spices on the palate.

    When in the Sonoma Valley next, ensure to reserve a spot to discover the winemaking excellence at La Crema. From grapes nurtured at Saralee’s Estate to vineyards located in Arroyo Seco, Monterey, Los Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Anderson Valley, and extending to Oregon’s diverse Willamette Valley, the sustainable practices, eco-centric management, and fertile terroir yield exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.

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