Along Highway 12 between the towns of Sonoma and Santa Rosa, there are multiple wineries nestled in the west-facing slopes of the Maycamas Mountains. Because we are usually on our way to or from another destination, we had not, until last weekend, stopped at any of them. One winery in particular – Kunde Family – had repeatedly caught our eye with its sign promoting a “mountain top tasting.” We decided this past weekend that we would make the trip to Kunde and enjoy their unique tasting experience on top of the mountain overlooking the magnificent Sonoma Valley. Along with two of our close friends, we made a reservation for the mountain top tasting, which, based on the $50 per person price tag, we expected would be a special experience.
The tasting started at sea level – at the main winery tasting room adjacent to the parking lot. Our host, Wade, served us a glass of the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc so that we would have something to enjoy as we started the tour. Glass in hand, we made our way out of the main winery building and into the heart of the production facility behind the winery. Wade gave us a helpful overview of the various Kunde wine offerings, of which there are many. According to our guide, Kunde grows over 20 different grape varietals, some of which are sold to high-quality wine producers in the area, and others retained for Kunde to make wines for its own label.
For over 100 years, the Kunde family has farmed on this property in Eastern Sonoma County, gradually supplementing Louis Kunde’s original purchase with adjacent properties to create a very sizable agricultural estate. Today, the Kunde property is spread out over 1,850 acres, about 700 of which is comprised of vineyards. A wine estate this large is very unusual in Sonoma and Napa – the Kunde property takes up nearly 2 contiguous miles of the historic Sonoma Highway (a.k.a. Highway 12). Most wineries in Sonoma have a single vineyard location – many are on the Valley floor, others are planted on hillsides, others on mountain top plots. Because of its sprawling layout, Kunde has vines planted in all three locations. Passing by on the Sonoma Highway, Kunde’s valley floor vines are visible. On the tour, we were able to work our way from sea level to well over 1,000 feet in elevation to see the hillside as well as the mountain top vineyards. As we learned on the tour, there are 7 distinct micro-climates on the 1,850 acre Kunde estate, which means 7 locations that can cater to the needs of different varietals.
For those that like to visit a winery, taste wine quickly, and then move on to the next one, the Kunde mountain top tour is definitely not designed for you. From start to finish, the tour lasts nearly two hours. After explaining the production tanks to us and how different wines are made, Wade took us into the impressing wine caves, built literally into the hillside, which Kunde uses to age its wines. Several wineries in Napa and Sonoma have caves, but we have not visited any whose caves are as large as those we saw at Kunde. In total, the caves occupy over 32,000 square feet of space and there are nearly half a mile of tunnels.
From the caves, we boarded a mini-bus and Wade started our driving journey from the Valley floor to the top of the mountain. Along the way, he stopped and let us walk among the vines, pouring the appropriate wine for the vineyard we were in at the time. It is always inspiring to be out in the vineyards, but we were especially captivated with the stop in the Zinfandel vineyard, where there are vines over 100 years old. Even non-experts in viticulture like our group could tell the difference between newer vines and the century old vines. While new vines might have as many as 20 or more clusters on them, these old vines had much fewer, some of them looking downright scraggly with just a handful of clusters on them.
Finally we made it to the top of the mountain for our special tasting where a beautiful, shaded seating area had been arranged at the edge of the hill overlooking the entire Sonoma Valley. At over 1,400 feet and vistas spread over 180-degrees, the view was simply spectacular.
To complement the view, there was more wine to be tasted.
Lounging comfortably at the top of the mountain, taking in the breathtaking views up and down the Sonoma Valley, we leisurely enjoyed the Kunde offerings. All of the wines shared a clear winemaking philosophy of restraint and respect for the land, or terroir, that they were grown in. Although there are many soil types on the Kunde estate, the majority of the vines are planted on a band of volcanic “Red Hill” soil that is, indeed, rust red in color. Apparently, the color derives from lava flows millions of years ago. In any case, we enjoyed both of the white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay) and had a strong affinity for the Zinfandel and the Drummond Cabernet Sauvignon. None of the Kunde wines feel “overdone” – they have modest alcohol levels and they use oak judiciously in both their white and red wines. Just as important, for wines that are clearly “premium” wines, the price points are very attractive compared to other Napa and Sonoma wines. The Sauvignon Blanc (Estate Series) is only $17.00, the Chardonnay only a dollar more, and the Merlot and Zin both just $22.00. Even their Reserve Series, which boasts the best fruit from the best blocks and vines, includes a $45.00 Chardonnay, a $50.00 Zin and a $60.00 Cab. Several bottles of Kunde left the winery with us and are waiting to be enjoyed.
John & Irene Ingersoll
September 14, 2016