Located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, Deerfield Ranch Winery is nestled amidst 14 acres of Kenwood Wetlands and offers a striking view of the Mayacamas Mountains. Owned by PJ and Robert Rex, there’s a sense of tranquil timelessness at Deerfield Ranch, and perhaps that’s why the Pomo Indians once settled there, and why the endangered Kenwood Marsh Checkerbloom plant is now thriving, along with a 400-year-old oak tree at the husband-wife team’s hilltop retreat. “Deerfield Ranch is truly a piece of heaven. It’s magical,” says PJ. Deerfield Ranch is an award-winning boutique winery known for CleanWine, which is low in sulfites and histamines.
The winemaking process at Deerfield winery begins with grapes from organic, biodynamic and sustainable vineyards. Deerfield triple hand-sorts their grapes to remove damaged grapes, which contain high levels of bacteria. Next, by reducing bacteria in the fermenter, Deerfield reduces the source of unwanted histamines. Histamines are the primary cause of red wine headaches, says PJ. (A histamine is a chemical the immune system uses to help protect the body’s cells against infection, but can cause an allergic reaction in some people.) Sulfites (inorganic salts that have antioxidant and preservative properties) can also cause an allergic reaction. Elevated levels of sulfites can cause breathing problems, red flush of face, and puffiness. Since PJ is highly sensitive to the histamines and sulfites commonly found in wine, she is Robert’s muse for creating Deerfield CleanWine.
“Clean wine is the upcoming focus,” says PJ. “Fifty percent of our wine club members are members because of that.”
The couple met in the ’70s at University of California, Berkeley. Robert was studying chemistry; PJ was a marketing major and drove a 1972 Alfa Romeo Spider. They two became friends and Robert tinkered with her car to keep it humming, but wouldn’t accept payment from her. One day, PJ gave him a winemaking kit as a thank you, and Robert put his chemistry skills to work. His first wine—a Zinfandel—was made in his Berkeley garage in 1972 and won best of show at the California State Fair. In 1982, they moved to Sonoma Valley, purchased a ranch in Kenwood, married and set about launching Deerfield Ranch Winery.
The tasting room is located in a 23,000-square-foot cave, and offers a unique experience for sampling Deerfield wine, or you can schedule an estate tasting with Robert and PJ.
Deerfield Ranch wines are fruit forward, well balanced and low in tannins. We begin with the 2012 Malbec, which is full of blackberry flavor and a touch spice and earned a Best of Class Gold Medal from the San Francisco Wine Society. Malbec is usually associated with Argentina, and this wine is the inspiration of Deerfield’s associate winemaker, Cecilia Valdivia, who is from Mendoza, Argentina.
Next we try the 2012 Red Rex, a unique blend of Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, Malbec, Cabernet Saugvignon, Cabernet France, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel, and a Gold Medal winner in the American Fine Wine Competition. Red Rox is rich and full-bodied, floral in the front and has a long finish. Each sip offers a smooth rush of flavors to the palette “It’s our biggest seller,” says PJ.
But it’s not all science. Robert’s philosophy is also part art, part gourmet cooking. Their flagship winethe 2006 DRXis a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Lush and rich, the DRX is aged to perfection. DRX wines are barrel-aged four to five years. “We age our wines longer than any other California winery,” says PJ. “If you have patience and time, you can make better wine.”
As you experience Deerfield wine, you forget all about clean and organic, and simply luxuriate in each sip. “Robert is a master blender,” says Bill Klein, tasting room manager. “Each grape varietal touches a certain part of the palette. His goal is to touch each part of the palette. By blending several varietals together, you get that effect.”
If you love port, take the time to try the Deerfield Tawny, made from their estate, organic Syrah, cave aged for six years in American Oak Barrels, paired with Robert’s handmade truffles, made with dark chocolate ganache and port. Each sip, paired with a bite of truffle, is a mouthful of perfection and bliss.
At Deerfield Winery, you come to understand there is science behind wines, and Winemaker Robert Rex is a master at it. But there’s a touch of magic, too. As PJ and I leave the wine cave, the sun breaks through the clouds, lighting up the Mayacamas Mountains. If paradise exists, no doubt it’s here at Deerfield Ranch Winery.
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