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Through Rain & Fog: Team West Sonoma Coast reports from the 2017 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt
posted on January 2, 2017

This past December, David Sawyer (recently of Lilia, Brooklyn); Jack Mason, MS (Pappas Bros. Steakhouses, Houston) and Cappie Peete (Neighborhood Dining Group, Charleston, SC) headed to the western Sonoma Coast as part of our annual Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Sawyer reports on their quest to track down the region’s six most expressive pinot noirs.

Team WSC at Doc’s Ranch Team WSC at Doc’s Ranch

Day 1

We started out with a 36-bottle blind tasting of west Sonoma Coast pinot noirs from a wide selection of producers. After a couple of hours, we had whittled it down to 12 highlights, and we took those bottles with us to re-taste the next day.

Later, we met up with Ken Freeman (Freeman Winery) and Chaney Claypool (Claypool Cellars) for dinner at Zazu, in the Barlow area of downtown Sebastopol. Our conversation was accompanied by Duskie Estes and John Stewart’s delicious food. Pork and truffles anyone? Yes, please! And some first-rate west Sonoma Coast wines.

Day 2

The following morning, winemaker and raconteur Carroll Kemp of Red Car Wine took us on a tour of vineyards located down two important ridge-top roads—Taylor and Fitzpatrick—in the Freestone/Occidental area, on the southern end of the Sonoma Coast. We hit B.A. Thieriot, Occidental, Doc’s Ranch and a few others before descending on Coastlands Vineyard, where Ross Cobb gave us a fascinating tour and tasting. He turned out to have a wealth of in-depth information.

The Cobb family's Coastlands Vineyard The Cobb family's Coastlands Vineyard

We then headed north along the coast. Our ultimate destination was the Peay estate in the Annapolis area. But first it was down and up and up and down many, many long and winding roads. We stopped at Flowers Vineyards & Winery for a tour and tasting with Joseph Ryan. Growing between the vine rows, we noticed a white-flowered cover crop called “sweet alyssum.” I picked it, smelled it and gave it to Cappie and Jack, and we were all like: Wow, what a delicious, fresh-honey-smelling little flower! Maybe there’s a correlation to the sweet honey notes we keep getting in the west Sonoma wines?

Sweet alyssum blooming at Flowers' Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard Sweet alyssum blooming at Flowers' Camp Meeting Ridge Vineyard

We finally arrived at Peay a little before dusk. We set up our 12 top blind-tasting wines on the back gate of Carroll’s pick-up truck and re-tasted, and all of us quickly agreed on the definitive six bottlings. The hard work over for the day, we were treated to some of the legendary Andy Peay hospitality.

A cool-climate fence at the Peay estate A cool-climate fence at the Peay estate

Day 3

The next day, our last, we left for Hirsch Vineyards in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. It’s 15 miles from Peay as the crow flies, but one hour and 45 minutes by car. Jasmine Hirsch, one of the nicest, most welcoming people we know, then took us all around that expansive property. We stopped and tasted the wines from each specific vineyard section as we went. It was raining quite heavily, and a small gale was blowing, but hey, we’re “Team Extreme West Sonoma Coast,” and we all had the best time.

Pinot noir vines at Hirsch Pinot noir vines at Hirsch

We left with Jasmine waving to us in our rear view, taking along an awesome care package (beef jerky, Stumptown cold brew, Fernet Francisco, some local chocolate, etc.) that she’d packed for us (thank you) to fuel us as we travelled south along a few more long and winding roads, finally arriving at the Littorai estate back near Occidental by mid-afternoon. It was still raining and blowing hard, but Rachel Dixon (Littorai’s national sales rep) took us on an abbreviated tour of this biodynamic estate and farm—very impressive—followed by a superb tasting of the Littorai lineup.

Visiting the Littorai estate Visiting the Littorai estate

Our scavenger hunt now complete, we headed to Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, where we merrily downed some pints of Pliny the Elder.

The team’s six wines will be announced when they compete at the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Taste-Off on January 16 at City Winery in NYC.

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