Taste of Sonoma History at Three Sticks Wines
Who was Don Juan Casteñeda? There are moments in history when all a guy had to do was show up to have his name remembered for perpetuity. Show up at the historic Vallejo-Casteñada adobe on West Spain Street, and you may enjoy one of the most memorable wine tastings in the town of Sonoma.
Mud Brick, High Style
When the Vallejo-Casteñada adobe was built of mud and straw bricks circa 1842, Sonoma was a northern outpost of Mexico. The adobe got the first half of its name from Salvador Vallejo, brother of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the Californio comandante who ran the town.
Salvador gave the adobe to a certain Don Juan Casteñada, variously described as his officer or a guy who worked for him. Don Juan banged around Alta California for a few years, and then disappeared from history.
Today, he’s remembered at least, for occupying one of California’s few remaining buildings from the Mexican Period, and the oldest occupied residence in the town of Sonoma. It was used as a blacksmith’s shop at one time, and fell into some disrepair, but it had already been restored once — as a private residence, in the 1940s — when current owner Bill Price submitted plans for an expensive retrofit.
Price, a major private equity player who is also chairman of Gary Farrell Winery, worked with Sonoma’s city historian George McKale, as well as architectural and historical consultants Kara Brunzell and Arthur Dawson, to restore the 170-year-old building’s historical integrity while making it more earthquake safe.
With a nod to history and more than a bit of flair, the interior was designed by San Francisco decorator Ken Fulk. The whimsically shaped, winged leather chairs in the Storehouse, for example, are actually a modern interpretation of so-called cockfighting chairs that were popular in Salvador Vallejo’s day.
The Storehouse itself is a new construction, but a difficulty encountered in constructing it highlights the fact that adobe is more than just a heap of mud, it’s a technology of a kind: The first craftsman contracted to build the bricks tragically passed away before the project was completed, and no one in his family knew how to do it, so a second contractor had to be located in Arizona.
Take a Sip
We’re seated at a long table set with elegant Zalto stemware for a tasting of Three Sticks wines. Winemaker emeritus Don Van Staaveren, formerly of Chateau St. Jean, made these wines from the Durell Vineyard and others that Bill Price owns. (Former Williams Selyem vintner Bob Cabral takes over in 2015.) Located southwest of the town of Sonoma, Durell is planted to 80 percent Chardonnay, and is contracted to 26 other wine producers.
The 2012 Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($48) suggests a bit of butter cookie on the aroma, rolls over the tongue like a lemon drop, and is held together with a good dose of quality oak. Ripe and fruity, the 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($60) is a favorite at this tasting; the 2012 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir ($65) is sleeker.
While we tour the grounds and view a mural by El Salvador-born artist Rafael Arana, everybody totes a glass of 2012 Casteñeda Red ($48), a fruity blend from the Durell Vineyard’s Rhône varieties.
What’s in a Name
There is no eponymous “Bill Price Winery,” but this is it, in a way. When William S. Price III was growing up in Hawaii’s surfing culture, the locals weren’t impressed by the Waspish accessory to his name, so they called him “Billy Three Sticks.” High-five to “Three Sticks” for keeping a sense of humor in the sometimes ego-driven world of fine wine, and for preserving the historical significance of the Vallejo-Casteñada adobe.
Hike into History
More of Sonoma’s 19th century historical sites are just steps away, including the Barracks and Mission San Francisco Solano, founded in 1823. The Sonoma Plaza is the site of the 1846 Bear Flag revolt, and the shady, grassy grounds are a favorite place to picnic — you can bring a bottle of wine.
Three Sticks Winery, 143 West Spain Street, Sonoma. Monday–Saturday, by appointment only. Tasting fee, $35; library tasting, $70. 707-996-3328.
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