Cultivating Wine Consumers In Sonoma: Flowers And Bricoleur

Food & Drink

If you’re managing a winery in California, what is the best way to sell your wines? Quite simply, you need to bring attention your way, and if you’re fortunate enough to receive a 90-point plus score in a major wine publication, that’s a big help. But if you live by reviews, you die by reviews, so positive comments from the media are usually only a temporary fix.

More to the point is your hospitality, especially your facility. Given that so much of California wine country is beautiful, more and more wineries have invested a lot of time and effort into creating something special to welcome visitors. The thinking here is a lot like a showroom – if someone comes in, chances are they’ll make a purchase. So it’s getting them in that brings about business not just at that moment, but down the road, as consumers will tell their friends about the great experience they enjoyed at a particular winery.

Two wineries that I recently visited in Sonoma County share this concept, one a producer that’s been receiving great press for more than a decade, the other a relatively new estate. Both take advantage of ideal siting that is enhanced by notable landscaping, with the overall effect being one that soothes the visitor, making wine tasting that much more relaxing and enjoyable.

Flowers Winery has been in existence for more than 20 years, and was one of the trailblazers in what is known as the “true Sonoma Coast,” an area near the small towns of Cazadero and Annapolis in western Sonoma County, north of Santa Rosa, only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Walt and Joan Flowers planted vineyards at a ranch known as Camp Meeting Ridge in 1991; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were the chosen varieties, with vines sitting between 1150 to 1450 feet elevation, so as to be above the fog line.

This is a spectacular site, but one that is remote, to say the least, and one that is difficult to find; it certainly is not a place many tourists would seek out. Thus the recent decision from the owners at Flowers to build a hospitality center just a few minutes away from downtown Healdsburg, a gathering point for thousands of visitors to Sonoma Wine Country.

There are numerous tasting settings at the winery, both inside and outside (see top photo), and it’s a well-thought out locale with fittingly plenty of native flowers that abound. The architecture of the inside tasting rooms is in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright with its minimalism, while allowing nature and plenty of sunshine inside.

There is even a winery chef at Flowers; his name is Jamil Peden, and I was treated to a brief assortment of his expertise, as I samples four small foodstuffs with four different wines; two Chardonnays and two different Pinot Noirs. The Sonoma Coast Chardonnay was served with a gougère (cheese puff) with lemon zest and wild fennel pollen, while the richer Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay was paired with a chilled corn soup (my favorite pairing that day). For the Pinot Noirs, a mushroom crostini with thyme and shallots was paired, while a chocolate truffle with dried strawberries was paired with the Sea View Ridge Pinot Noir; a luscious treat!

The combination of the quality of the wines combined with the lovely setting make a visit to Flowers quite special. The winery has only been open less than two weeks as of this writing, and I recommend a stop here quite highly (there is also a Rosé of Pinot Noir for those looking for a rosé, as well). More information can be found on the winery’s website (click here).

At Bricoleur Vineyards, situated on Starr Road on the outskirts of Windsor in the Russian River Valley, Mark Hanson and his family have embraced hospitality as their road to publicizing their wines. There is a handsome vineyard house that can sleep eight, that includes a wrap-around deck and a large chef’s kitchen, or if you really want to splurge for a minimum of three nights, there is a 9000 square foot estate villa with four bedrooms and eight bathrooms that is sumptuous to say the least. It’s a spectacular way to enjoy your stay in Russian River Valley, and chances are good that you’ll see a hot air balloon floating above the estate vineyards early in the morning (click here for information on booking your stay at Bricoleur).

But even if you don’t plan on staying at Bricoleur, it’s worth a visit simply to taste the wines outside in a lovely pastoral setting. There are beautiful flowers near the pond outside the barn, which is being transformed into a hospitality center (one where special dinners will be served), and there is also a bocce court. The wines are quite good, and there are several types, ranging from two rosés (one made from Grenache, the other from Pinot Noir; these are affectionately referred to as their “daytime” and “night time” rosés by vice president of marketing Sarah Hanson Citron), to a delightful unoaked Chardonnay, a beautifully balanced Sauvignon Blanc with tangy acidity (think goat cheese for pairing) and a classy Pinot Noir from their own estate vineyards.

2017 was the first harvest at Bricoleur, and the owners are on the right track, combining well made wines that will only improve with time, with gracious and even luxurious hospitality. In a setting such as this, the sensory experience of tasting wine matters a lot more than a numerical score. Having been to Bricoleur and tasted the wines with the Hansons, I can recommend a visit that will be a highlight of your Sonoma journeys. (Here is a link to their website.)

The word bricoleur means “one who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while flying by the seat of one’s pants.” I love that the Hansons have adopted this belief (indeed, their Grenache Rosé is named “Flying by the Seat of our Pants”). It’s a sign that they’re out to have fun with this project, and given the vast amount of critical diatribes about viticulture, isn’t it nice to have a little fun with wine sometimes?

Notes on a few of these wines:

Flowers Chardonnay “Camp Meeting Ridge” 2016 – Displaying gorgeous aromas of golden apple, vanilla, crocus and clove, this is a rich, slightly lush Chardonnay with lovely complexity. Outstanding

Flowers Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2017 – Expressive aromas of wild cherry, carnation and a hint of soy. Medium-full with superb varietal character, medium-weight tannins and impressive persistence. Outstanding

Bricoleur Sauvignon Blanc “Kick Ranch” 2018 – Beautiful varietal aromas with subtle notes of green pepper and fresh cut grass. Medium-bodied, very good persistence, and tangy acidity. Excellent

Bricoleur Estate Pinot Noir 2017 – Maraschino cherry and bing cherry aromas. Medium-full with elegant tannins, good acidity and complexity. Ripe, forward and very appealing. Excellent

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