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Tasting at Dutton Estate Winery

Dutton Estate Winery is filled with all sorts of souvenirs. 

Dropping by the tasting room at Dutton Estate Winery is almost like a visit, over the Russian River and through the redwoods, to grandma’s house—especially when the chef is in the kitchen.

Family Style

Open the door to this vintage stucco bungalow, which is no fancier than many a grandma’s tidy little house, and warm aromas of baking fill the air, setting the mood before the first wine is swirled and sniffed.

Having got into the grape-growing business in the 1960s, the Duttons now own over 1,000 acres of vineyard land in Sonoma County and sell grapes to dozens of other wineries. At the tasting room, they’ll be happy to show you a list of clients, many of whom produce vineyard-designate Dutton Ranch wines.

The estate winery was started in the 1990s by Dutton Ranch co-owner Joe Dutton and wife Tracy Dutton, partly with the aim of helping their three daughters to grow up with a family business, as they had. (Tracy grew up in the berry-growing Kozlowski family). It’s located at the intersection of Gravenstein Highway and Green Valley Road, which leads to the home ranch in truly verdant Green Valley, several miles to the west.

Apples to Grapes and Back

Dutton Estate is also, in a way, located at the intersection of Gravenstein and Pinot Noir. This part of Sonoma County was once famous for its apple orchards and apple processing industry, and some residents mourned the old orchards that were cleared and replanted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in recent years.

The Dutton family, being practical and forward-thinking farmers, got in the grape business early but has retained 250 acres of apples, as well. In fact, they just released their first hard apple cider—a new trend in former apple country, believe it or not—with the 2015 vintage.

The tasting room interior has been remodeled since my last visit, and now sports a curvy bar made from recycled wood. The main room gleams with hardwood flooring, while the group tasting room, with its brick hearth, floral curtains and burgundy carpeting, is strictly grandma’s house style.

Wines range from $24 to $60 and include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, all cool-climate specialties that the Duttons grow in the Russian River Valley region.

Recently I enjoyed Dutton Estate’s 2013 My Father’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Syrah ($42), an agreeably grapey sipper posing as a smoky, meaty powerhouse, and the truly smoldering and “animale” scented Cherry Ridge Syrah ($60), which is available to wine club members. Get the picnic-friendly “split” bottles of rosé of Pinot Noir ($12.95) while they last!

Apple of My Grape

When tasters find a note of green apple or (grandma’s) baked apple pie in a Chardonnay, it’s more than just a fanciful notion. Malic acid, the type of acid found in apples, is also present in Chardonnay and other grapes. Other compounds may also play a role, including hexanol and ethyl butyrate—and they do sound mouthwatering—but it’s malic acid, once again, that’s responsible for Chardonnay’s much-discussed “malolactic fermentation.” That’s when aromas of fresh Granny Smith apples are converted to notes of apple pie with a topping of ice cream—malic acid is converted into lactic acid, the kind found in milk and ice cream.

What’s Nearby

To get the full family experience, head up the highway to Kozlowski Farms, where you’ll find a wealth of apple butter, jam, preserves, mustards, vinegars, barbecue sauces and gift baskets.

Details: 8757 Green Valley Rd, Sebastopol. Daily, 10am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $15-$20.

Find more great wineries to visit in Sonoma County. 

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