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Get to know Laurel Glen Vineyard

This is the comeback story of a winery that never went away. It’s often said that Laurel Glen made one of Sonoma County’s first so-called “cult” Cabernet Sauvignon wines, back in the 1980s, when the wines were lauded by critics and coveted by collectors. Today, the wines are so off-the-radar, they are like a new discovery.

Recently, new owners have expanded their tasting room in Glen Ellen, offering an opportunity to sample these wines from a very special Sonoma Mountain vineyard.

Sonoma Mountain Story

“The older generation has a lot of Laurel Glen in their cellars,” owner Bettina Sichel tells me. “But the younger generation hasn’t heard of it.” Sichel purchased Laurel Glen in 2011 from founder Patrick Campbell, with the help of a group of family-and-friends “investors,” although Sichel says that they’re mainly wine lovers who aren’t expecting a huge return, but just want to be involved in the brand’s revival.

The lure was more than a portfolio of labels or a sales spreadsheet—it was the vineyard itself. “The style that this vineyard produces is the type of wine I want to make,” says Sichel.

Laurel Glen Vineyard was named by previous owner Carmen Taylor, who planted a few acres of the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1968. But she was not the first to plant wine grapes here: German immigrants planted a field blend of red varieties in the 1880s. Just one row of this 130-year-old vineyard survives, and contributes to Laurel Glen’s refreshing 2015 Crazy Old Vine Rosé ($30).

The Cabernet, then made as a single vineyard wine by Chateau St. Jean, attracted the attention of Patrick Campbell, who bought the vineyard in 1977 and released his own estate Cabernet in 1981. After garnering acclaim for Laurel Glen, Campbell turned his attention to other wine projects in California and Chile.

Laurel Glen may be the only Cabernet vineyard in California that is planted entirely with its own “Laurel Glen” clone, which was recognized as distinct by UC Davis.

Sit Down and Sip

It’s fair to say that the Laurel Glen tasting room is “tucked away” on a side street of the village of Glen Ellen, which rambles along the banks of Sonoma Creek. Wines are made at a Santa Rosa custom crush winery, while the vineyard and the old winery are not open to the public.

Formerly sharing the space with an architect’s studio, the winery is spreading out into this contemporary space, which is walled with corrugated metal and furnished with Persian rugs. There is a small counter, but visitors are invited to sit down, take their time, and learn about the Laurel Glen story.

The 2012 Laurel Glen Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) shows only a light toasting of graham cracker-like oak notes, while a rich aroma of chocolate cordial and plum sauce dominate the nose. Complex yet silky and soft, this is a classic Cab that doesn’t overpower with tannin or fruit. Made to enjoy early, the 2013 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) includes some grapes from neighbors. Tastings also include a sample of a library vintage.

The LG Connection

Winemaker Randall Watkins is uniquely suited to the job. A long time before he worked for Sonoma County legends like Buena Vista and Carmenet, the Sonoma County native walked the Laurel Glen Vineyard with his father and winery founder Patrick Campbell, who was a family friend. Campbell wrote down detailed instructions for making “white vino” and “red vino,” which Watkins still has framed in the winery’s Glen Ellen office.

Hit the Road

With its restaurants, inns and wine tasting, it’s fair to say that Glen Ellen is oriented to tourism—but “touristy,” it ain’t. The Garden Court Café & Bakery is an unpretentious locals’ favorite for brunch and lunch, while the Glen Ellen Village Market is your go-to for picnic fixings. Picnic tables are just a short hike from the parking lot at historic Jack London State Park, with longer hikes leading to the author’s favorite swimming hole and on to the top of Sonoma Mountain. 

969 Carquinez Avenue, Glen Ellen, 95442. Daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $20. 707.933.9877.

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