La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard
3575 Slusser Rd.
Windsor, CA 95492
Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tasting fees: $15-$65 depending on tasting experience chosen
Wines offered: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Rosé, late harvest Gewurztraminer
Reservations: Required for VIP experiences, including vineyard tour, picnic lunches and cheese-and-wine pairings; walk-ins welcome for signature wine flights
La Crema has been producing award-winning wines from cool-climate, coastal AVAs since 1979, and the boutique winery (now part of Jackson Family Wines) recently established its new home at a venerable Sonoma County site. From 1988 to 2012, the more than 200-acre property in Russian River Valley was home to Richard and Saralee Kunde, known across the county (and beyond) as tireless promoters of the North Bay’s agricultural heritage.
A large barn, which the Kundes had converted to their private home, now houses the tasting room. Elements of the couple’s home life remain, welcoming visitors with surprising personal touches, like an elevator that announces different floors with animal sounds (the second floor moos, the third floor neighs). “There are so many idiosyncracies in the building,” says Jenna Hudson, senior communications manager for JFW. “They were very quirky—especially Saralee.”
Guests can choose from a number of tasting options, from simple wine flights (all Chardonnay, all Pinot Noir or a combination of both) to more in-depth experiences by appointment. We took the vineyard tour, which is so much more than it sounds. Wine Educator Ben Fine, ferries us, via golf cart, across the estate’s many microclimates and landscapes (approximately 200 acres are planted to vine, but that’s not all). We drive between vineyard rows, sampling grapes from the vines, traverse unpaved roads dotted with fruit trees (some unusual, like jujube and pluot) and visit “the bayou,” a manmade lake at the far end of the property that’s used to supply irrigation for the vineyard. Another large lake, closer in, is supplied by natural well water.
We stop by Richard’s Grove, a large open lawn and event center, and learn more about this amazing couple. “They began doing farm-to-table, chef dinners [here] in the early 1990s—you should see some of the old menus,” says Fine. “They were able to teach people about agriculture, and with the help of thousands, they raised millions of dollars that they recycled back into the community. It’s amazing to me how early on they were promoting sustainability, keeping it local, having chefs and wineries working together. We’re just trying to maintain and promote that.”
The more I learn about the Kundes (sadly, Saralee passed away in 2014), the more I see a connection between the couple and the La Crema and JFW mindset; there’s a reason that these Sonoma County powerhouses are now together.
“[Saralee’s] background was in livestock. She ran the 4H Foundation and worked with people at the Sonoma County fairgrounds to educate youth about farming,” says Fine. “Richard came from the Kunde winery family. They both had a love of things that grew—of life. Inspired by British Columbia’s spectacular Butchart Gardens, Richard planted rhododendrons and hydrangeas, carved out paths among the stately oaks and cleared a meadow in the center [Richard’s Grove], carpeted with wildflowers and shade at its edges.”
As we travel, Fine stops at key points to talk about the (sometimes) rare and (often) surprising plantings that make up the Kunde’s Butchart homage, JFW’s sustainability measures or to simply survey the vistas. We sip estate wine as we stand in the vineyards from which they came. It’s a delicious, boots-on-the-ground lesson in terroir.
The 2015 Saralee’s Pinot Noir rosé is a lovely beginning on a hot Indian summer day: perfectly chilled, dry with fresh strawberries and bright fruit. The 2013 Saralee’s Chardonnay is round and beautifully balanced, with stone fruit and vanilla. The 2013 Saralee’s Pinot Noir has floral, licorice and earth on the nose, flavors of berry, cocoa and cloves and a lush texture.
La Crema also produces a late harvest “Sweet As” Gewurztraminer from vineyards on the property. In all, there are 11 different grapes varieties planted, including many La Crema doesn’t produce. “We’re honoring the contracts that Richard and Saralee had with other wineries,” says Fine. “La Crema had contracts with [the Kundes] as well, and when Richard and Saralee decided it was time to sell, they chose JFW out of all the suitors, because they felt confident the Jackson family would carry their legacy forward. We’re so thankful they chose us.”
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