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Walt Wines

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2015 Issue

Walt Wines
380 First St. West
Sonoma, CA 95476
(707) 933-4440
Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last seated tasting at 5:30 p.m.)
Tasting fees: $20 (one tasting fee waived per bottle purchased)
Wines offered: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Reservations: For groups of six or more
Picnics: Yes
Dog friendly: Yes
 
Did you know?
The Walt tasting room, built in the 1950s, is owned by a branch of the Sebastiani family and was a private home until 1998.
 
 
The quaint, intimate tasting room for Walt Wines is in sharp contrast to its Napa Valley big sister, Hall Wines. Instead of opulence and artistry, there’s a “guest in our house” feeling to the small, converted home just off the square in the town of Sonoma. What the two share, however, is more important than what distinguishes them: great wines.
 
Just as Hall concentrates on Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, Walt focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Using select coastal vineyards in California and Oregon, the winemaking team (working at Hall’s St. Helena facility) crafts both blended and single-vineyard wines that reflect their place of origin with distinct flavor profiles. The winery will soon begin producing both a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from a newly acquired vineyard in the Russian River AVA.
 
At the tasting room, you’ll sample two Chardonnays and five Pinot Noirs. The 2013 La Brisa Chardonnay (a blend of three Sonoma County vineyards) is a classic California take on the varietal—round and elegant, with crème brulee and a hint of nuttiness—while the 2013 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay is more fruit forward and less buttery with a long, lovely finish.
 
As we sip, our host, Terry Cush, tells us the Walt story: Five years ago, Kathryn Walt Hall and her husband, Craig, wanted to add Pinot Noir to their production. Rather than starting from scratch, they sought out a partner with impeccable fruit sources and experience with the varietal. That partner has since retired (it was part of the plan from the beginning), leaving the Halls with contracts in place and an opportunity to expand. They produced the first Walt Wines, named for Kathryn’s parents, in 2010.
 
The Sonoma tasting room, opened in 2012, is a cozy, welcoming destination with a homey feel, local art on the walls (it’s for sale, and the artists change every three months) and a serene, shaded backyard. The facility is available for a limited number of private events annually and also hosts wine club parties throughout the year. “People who aren’t from here are really impressed by our backyard redwood,” says tasting room manager Thrace Bromberg. “They think it’s giant. I usually don’t tell them it’s actually a small one—probably only a teenager in redwood terms.”
 
For the Pinot Noirs, the bended 2013 La Brisa (five Sonoma County vineyards) has ripe berries and a lush mouthfeel, while the 2012 Blue Jay (from Anderson Valley) is more earthy and rich. The 2012 Gap’s Crown, a vineyard in the soon-to-be Petaluma Gap AVA, had a great nose, cocoa, smoke and long finish (“Perfect” say my notes), while the 2012 Clos Pepe (Santa Rita Hills) was softer and more feminine with nutty tannins.
 
Winemaker Megan Gunderson, who crafts all Walt offerings, works closely with Hall winemaker Steve Levesque. The result, says Cush, is “Pinot Noir for Cab lovers. Her wines have a calm, extracted style.” The best example of this we tried was the 2013 Rita’s Crown, which had a beefy/meaty nose and full body that Cush described as “Syrah bigness.” It’s my husband’s new favorite.
 
In addition to what’s available at the tasting room, Walt produces 200 cases annually of Pinpoint Extreme, an experimental Pinot program that changes year to year. “In 2011, we roasted the stems and put them back into the wine for fermentation. They gave the wine a nutty, smoky quality. In 2012, we used European détente, which subjected the fruit to a flash of high pressure and heat. That gave the wine a light, strawberry essence,” says Cush. “The 2013 experiment dusted Russian River fruit with soil from Santa Rita Hills—I can’t wait to taste that one.”
 
Ditto.

 

 

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