Did You Know? Founded in 1991, Joan and Walt Flowers pioneered the growing of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the rugged coastal ridges of the Sonoma Coast to capture its spirit and wild beauty. Known as the “wilderness winemakers,” Flowers Vineyards & Winery began as a Chardonnay House. Over the years, it developed a reputation for its Pinot Noirs, but for winemaker Chantal Forthun, reintroducing their Chardonnays to guests is a passion project. “Chardonnay is a blank canvas,” says Forthun. “It lends itself to maximum transparency of the site where it’s grown.”
Westside Road, located in the Russian River Valley, is slow and winding, offering a quintessential Sonoma County winetasting route. It’s known among locals as the “Miracle Mile” and is now home to Flowers Vineyards & Winery. Though the winery has been producing wine for nearly 30 years, it opened its hospitality house—known as House of Flowers—in July.
A path through a small grove of redwood trees leads to the entrance of House of Flowers, where guests are welcomed with a splash of wine. On this mild summer day, it’s a 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir, which is lush and structured with bright acidic notes and a touch of minerality. While some Rosés are produced from byproduct, Flowers’ Rosé is produced assemblage. “An intentional Rosé,” says wine educator Pedro Morales.
Though Joan and Walt Flowers founded the winery, today it’s owned by Huneeus Vintners. House of Flowers offers a modern space, designed with organic materials. “Every detail was specifically thought out and executed,” says Morales. The art in the entrance, for example, depicts a coastal vineyard. Upstairs, a black walnut objet d’art, designed by a Marin artist, is magnificent to study, but also serves as a bench for guests. There’s an explicit Japanese influence at House of Flowers with a tranquil, indoor-outdoor feel, where you can sink into the experience and relax.
House of Flowers offers an elevated tasting experience so guests can explore the wines, and the fine art of wine-and-food pairings, led by celebrated chef Jamil Peden. We’re seated on the terrace, which offers an expansive view of Mount St. Helena, and begin with the 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. “The Sonoma Coast is an amazing growing region,” says winemaker Chantal Forthun. An elegant wine with vibrant notes of honeysuckle and citrus, this wine is simple, yet complex and pairs beautifully with an Estero gold gougere with lemon zest and wild fennel pollen, a small bite that’s big on flavor.
Next, we taste the 2016 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay. The fruit is sourced from a historical property, which is also the first vineyard planted by the original owners. This is a lush wine with bright notes of lemon and apricot. The Sonoma Coast vineyard is a high elevation, two miles from the ocean with rocky, nutrient-rich soil. “Typically, when it is warm inland, the coast is foggy and wet. As you travel up the coast and gain elevation, you break through the fog and into the sunshine. We farm Camp Meeting Ridge and Sea View Ridge organically to let the grapes show their true selves. We want these wines to speak of place.” This Chardonnay pairs well with a chilled corn soup with sea beans, and is topped with fried quinoa.
Chef Peden starts with the wine when creating inventive small plates, then looks for local inspiration, and prefers to keep his pairings minimalistic and honest. “I want the food to bring forward and play with the flavors of the wine. The evolution of the wine is like the evolution of the coast,” he says. “I just ride that.”
Next we move to the reds, beginning with the 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which offers floral expressions of lilac and roses with notes of plum and cranberry. A silky, balanced wine, this pairs with a maitake mushroom crostini, which has a spectacular woodsy, herbaceous flavor. Finally, we end with the 2016 Sea View Ridge Pinot Noir, a fruit-driven wine with a dark ruby hue and notes of bay leaf and sweet oak spices. The fruit is sourced from 44 acres of Pinot Noir, where there’s a fair amount of iron in the soil, says Forthun, and the fruit has a cranberry-cherry fleshy texture. “This wine wreaks of the Pacific Ocean and has a complex coastal ‘crunch’ with minerality.” This is served with a nori cracker with fig, eggplant and shiso.
If you’re looking for a distinctive Wine Country adventure, make a reservation at the House of Flowers to explore their wines and the inventive culinary creations of Peden. Flowers’ wines showcase the spirit of the rugged Sonoma Coast, which are surprisingly lush, elegant and balanced. Be sure to join the wine club because this is a winery where you’ll want to return again and again.
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