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Go Wine Tasting at Landmark Vineyards

With a name like Landmark, a winery had better make a bold statement. Yet this Sonoma Valley winery presents a somewhat modest facade to the passing motorist, tucked away as it is within a small estate vineyard. And the grapes grown here do not even include Chardonnay, the varietal that put this winery on the map. Should Landmark be on your map? On a recent visit, I discovered that even while Landmark changes and evolves, the wines made here and the consistency of vision among the people who make them do, indeed, make a statement—an elegant, subtle statement. This landmark reveals itself.

Pinot Wonderful

Landmark started life in 1974 across the county in Windsor, at that time a rural area in the Russian River Valley. In 1989, investor Damaris Deere Ford assumed full ownership and built a California mission-style winery in Kenwood in the scenic heart of Sonoma Valley, prevailing on her son Mike Colhoun and his wife Mary to come out west and help run the place. Proprietary wine names reference the family’s agricultural heritage, Damaris being the great-great-granddaughter of that John Deere, inventor of the steel plow (green tractors came later).

In a hallway by the lab, there’s a portrait of Helen Turley on the wall—a reminder that her work as consulting enologist there in 1993, with winemaker emeritus Eric Stern, led to the creation of Landmark’s signature Overlook Chardonnay. In 2011 the Colhouns sold modest, 20,000-case winery to the owners of Roll Global, an international ag heavy whose products include such successful value-added liquids as Fiji Water and Pom Wonderful.

One benefit of the new ownership, says winemaker Greg Stach, is that they know farming—and they’re making welcome investments in the property. Having worked with Stern for a decade before taking the reins, Stach is dedicated to the continuity of the Landmark style—even though some factors, like natural yeasts, he says, help to do that on their own—while developing new classics, like the first Overlook Pinot Noir (after 20 years of Chardonnay!).

The tasting room is capacious, if a little gloomy, but the estate becomes more appealing the further one ventures inside. Tables in a courtyard garden look out to a fountain plaza, with vineyards backdropped by Sugarloaf and Hood Mountain. Consider signing up for an estate tour or varietal seminar, or just spend a while in the courtyard with a boxed picnic lunch (they’re pretty good—sandwich, fruit salad, and yes, pasta salad). Best yet, Belgian draft horse carriage tours around the vineyard are free on Saturdays from May 4 through October 12, noon to 3pm.

A Distinctive House Style

Whether it was because of a single tasting experience years ago, or just the fact that Landmark’s Chardonnay garnered attention in the butterball-loving 1990s, I seem to have had a mistaken notion about the house style here. Tasting through new wines from the barrel with winemaker Greg Stach, from top vineyards like Lorenzo, Heintz and Rodgers Creek, it’s clear that the style is lean, elegant Chardonnay going forward—whether accented with apples and ice cream, in some cases, or sizzling white grapefruit. The finished products show their oak with an appealing, waxy perfume, without overpowering woody or toasted aromas.

New releases include the 2012 Kiser Chardonnay ($40), a waxed pear in puff pastry detailed in peach and apricot; the good value 2012 Overlook Chardonnay ($22.50) has a dried herb edge to the long, lightly butterscotch finish. New this year, the 2012 Overlook Pinot Noir ($25) is a puff of cherry perfume, plush but playful on the palate; the more brooding, smoky 2012 Grand Detour Pinot Noir ($35) is a step up on the way to Landmark’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs. While looking for Landmark wines, note that they bear a daring new wine label design—all script and no logo.

Geek Out on Grapes

Despite the focus on Chardonnay, Landmark’s previous owners Mike and Mary Colhoun had to admit that the varietal just wasn’t suited to their Kenwoode estate. So when it was time to replant in 2006, after several trips to France they chose the classic varietals of the Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape for their 11-acre, organically-farmed “Esprit du Rhone” vineyard: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Viognier. Some say that this is the future of this area of the Sonoma Valley; so far, anyway, the vigorous Grenache seems to be loving it, and the Viognier is a real hit.

Hit the Trail

Take your wine and boxed lunch and continue on Adobe Canyon Road to Sugarloaf State Park, which has picnic areas and hiking trails both easy and steep. Or find quiet, leafy Kenwood Plaza Park—practically a local secret. Down the street, train buffs might want to peek in the Kenwood Depot. (LINK: http://www.sonomacounty.com/meeting-venue/kenwood-depot) Local dining options include the newly relaunced Kenwood Restaurant, as well as Italian roadhouse Cafe Citti. Looking for a place to stay the night? Inquire right where you started (in advance) about Landmark’s guest house in the vineyards.

101 Adobe Canyon Rd., Kenwood, CA 95452. Open daily, 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $15. 707.833.0053.

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