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2010 Best Wine Tasting Room: Kunde Family Estate

Author: Virginie Boone
May, 2010 Issue

The Kunde family has been growing winegrapes in the Sonoma Valley since 1904, when German immigrant Louis Kunde first saw potential in the area’s iron-rich volcanic soils and acquired the Wildwood Vineyards Ranch, which was already planted with imported cuttings from France’s Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild.

The 1960s and ’70s were a time of significant expansion, with the Kundes adding the neighboring, 850-acre Kinneybrook Ranch, where today the tasting room, a replica of the original Kinneybrook cattle barn, stands. Over the years, the family’s collected land holdings have grown to 1,850 contiguous acres, with 700 acres planted to 20 different wine varietals.

In all, Kunde stretches along two miles of scenic Highway 12 and reaches 1,400 feet up from the valley floor into the Mayacamas mountain range. It practices sustainable winegrowing, which, says Marcia Kunde Mickelson, “is an ever-evolving commitment to improve environmental practices and conservation throughout all winery operations.” In 2008, Kunde was awarded the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), the state’s highest environmental honor. Earlier this year, Kunde earned one of the first “Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing” designations in the state. Kunde has also reached the highest level of certification for sustainability practices from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

But more than anything, Kunde has had time to perfect its tasting room experience. A long, welcoming bar lets tasters take their time working through the winery’s range of estate-grown varietals, and there’s a shaded picnic area for longer lingers. Among Kunde’s standouts are a Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as their “destination tier” wines, which are only available in the tasting room and on the website. These include their Barbera, vineyard designate Chardonnay, Meritage reds and the newest blend, Red Dirt Red.

Serious tasters may want to sign on for a more intimate experience in the Kinneybrook Room, which focuses on Kunde’s Grand Estate Series wines, which include a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Century Vines Zinfandel (made from massive, head-trained vines planted in 1882), or sign on for a guided tour of the caves Friday, Saturday or Sunday throughout the day at no charge and without appointment.

Kunde also uses its expansive vineyards to host many unique visitor experiences. Among the most popular are the Kunde Estate’s Eco-Tour Dog Hikes, which take place roughly every other month. Winegrower Jeff Kunde leads a moderately strenuous, three-mile hike through his family’s 1,850-acre winegrowing estate. Beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting four hours, the day concludes after climbing up 1,400 feet into the Mayacamas Mountain Range at Boot Hill overlooking the Sonoma Valley, where walkers enjoy wine tasting and a box lunch, and dogs get water and treats. A portion of the $45 per person ticket goes to Canine Companions for Independence and the Sonoma County Humane Society.

There are also regular Hike and Taste in the Vineyards tours on select Saturdays, a chance to join Sonoma Valley docent and popular hike leader Bill Myers for an up-close look at the Kunde vineyards. A portion of the $25 per person ticket goes to the Sonoma Ecology Center.

Kunde’s newest offering is the Mountaintop tasting, which again takes estate visitors 1,400 feet up the Mayacamas Mountain range. This adventure begins May 15 and will be available Friday through Sunday for $25 per person.

The Kunde tasting room (9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood) is open daily 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tastings are $10; $20 in the Kinneybrook Room.



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