Celebrating Sonoma! - Part 2

The Tucker car at Coppola Winery
Sonoma’s Hollywood Connection
With wineries in both Napa and Sonoma, Oscar winning film director Francis Ford Coppola turned to winemaking after filmmaking. His Sonoma property located in Kenwood, just up the road from Healdsburg, is a palatial estate. In addition to an on site restaurant and tasting room, Coppola has a mini-museum with props from some of his well-known (and not so well known) films including Apocalypse Now, Dracula, Tucker; The Man and His Dreams, and his iconic American gangster film, The Godfather. Surfboards used in Apocalypse Now hang from the ceiling.
I may not be The Godfather, but the desk is from the film
The Tucker car gleams in the center of a room flanked by circular staircases. The iconic Godfather desk and chair used in the first two films sits atop a staircase lit by amber lamps and there’s also a collection of Coppola’s five Academy Awards, not to mention other awards for his directing skills. Yes, it’s more museum than anything else, a little kitschy and over-the-top, but with an on-site Italian-themed restaurant, plenty of wine and more than enough visuals, you can spend a lot of time here, undoubtedly that was the point.

The wine and food pairing at Lasseter Family Winery
As for Rhone-style wines you’ll see these reflected in Lasseter Family Winery. John Lasseter was the man behind some of the most successful animated films ever including Toy Story, Cars, and A Bug’s Life. For Lasseter making wine is similar in its process to making an animated film. “Just like looking at a rough sketch and four years down the line we know it will be a memorable character in a movie, wine takes time as well,” Lasseter tells Exploracation. Lasseter moved to the Glen Ellen region of Sonoma and his sophisticated tasting room is more about the wine than his illustrious past. “At Pixar we make movies we love to watch, and it’s the same thing with our winery, we make wines we love to drink,” he says. The wine tasting is always pared with food and takes about an hour.

Jamie Kutch focuses on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Of course Sonoma is not all celebrity driven. Jamie Kutch is creating distinctly different, hard-to-classify Pinot Noir from the most exciting region for Pinot - the Sonoma Coast. Kutch believes in whole cluster pressing his fruit, gravity feeding it, and using one-ton stainless steel fermenters which enable him to “crush, and sub crush” different lots and vineyard blocks. He picks his fruit earlier than most therefore his wines lack the traditional bright cherry and raspberry flavors, are lower in alcohol, and retain a pragmatic acidity. He firmly desires to produce “true coastal Pinot from Sonoma,” and Kutch believes that the cooler and rougher coastal vineyards are where the future of Sonoma Pinot Noir lay. Sitting down with Kutch during harvest in 2013 and sampling wines in bottle and barrel, his coastal Pinot Noirs are different animals altogether, a near mythical beast that lumbers through the backwoods, both surprising and intriguing you with its elusive characteristics. His Pinot Noirs are not fine-tuned elegant expressions; they are burly, but balanced, aggressive but informal, all about rich, intense and viscous fruit.

The remains of Jack London's Wolf House
Calling the Wild
Though he died in 1916, author Jack London (White Fang, The Call of the Wild), was one of the foremost celebrities of his day, authoring over 24 novels and dozens of short stories. He built for himself a 15,000 square foot, four-story stone and wood home he called Wolf House, deep in the forests of Glen Ellen. Just weeks before he was to move in his massive residence mysteriously caught fire and was destroyed, only the stone and brick chimneys standing like mute sentinels as witnesses to history. To this day no one knows who started the fire; was it an accident, did his wife set the blaze, were locals intolerant of this unsightly celebrity structure in their backyard, did London himself set the fire to cash in on the insurance money? These are all viable theories, but the truth is still as elusive as the smoke that rose from the ashes and disappeared nearly a hundred years ago. You can visit Jack London State Historic Park and visit the burned out shell of the home, now clearly a metaphor for what happened to London and his short-lived career, since he took his own life at age 40. A half-mile walk on along a dirt path takes you into a clearing where the moss-covered stone walls surrounded by pine trees is at once eerie and calming. There’s a surreal nature to the stark immutable stone, which still stands, punctuated by the occasional laughs of intolerant youngsters who may never have a clue to who Jack London was. The nearby museum is worth a visit as well and it holds information about London and his life and times. And, ironically, as Jack London’s legacy fades, the formidable outer structure of his valiant home still perseveres.
A winning bid at the Sonoma Wine Country Auction

The Sonoma wine experience is unique and needs to be explored, apart from a visit to Napa. Sure there is competition between the two (the Sonoma Valley Wine Auction always seeks to best the Napa Valley Wine Auction in terms of money raised for charity and both are star-studded, flamboyant experiences worth your time). Though it’s only open to the public once a year during the monumental Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, MacMurray Ranch was once the apple of actor Fred MacMurray’s eye. MacMurray whose notable films included the classic film noir Double Indemnity, and the comedy The Absent Minded Professor, as well as TV’s My Three Sons, started raising and showing shorthorn cattle (actually competing against my great uncle, affectionately known as John O). But MacMurray had visions of turning his ranch into a working winery - something that eluded him before his death. However his daughter, Kate, eventually accomplished this in honor of him. The Gallo Family purchased his property and still works with Kate MacMurray to turn out exceptional wine including MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. If you attend Sonoma Wine Country Weekend in September during the grand tasting at the ranch you’ll notice two redwood trees planted by hand by MacMurray himself back in 1941 at the entrance to the original 1840s barn.
Winemaker Chris Munsell of MacMurray Ranch above the Russian River

Ultimately Sonoma is a different world imbued with an expansive array of wine, food and culture all its own, a slice of quintessential California and a place of relaxation, regardless of whose name is on the bottle. So come for a few days, a week, or longer and enjoy California at its best.
Take a VIDEO TOUR I shot while in Sonoma!   Click here for Part 1 of this story.


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