Appointment necessary: Reservations always required for groups of eight or more, but recommended for all on weekends and holidays.
Picnics: Call ahead to have a picnic basket prepared.
Pets: Yes, on a leash.
Did You Know?
The eight-foot chandeliers in the tasting bar are dwarfed by 32-foot ceilings.
Ram’s Gate is perfectly situated as either a relaxed introduction or a lingering farewell to Wine Country. Day trippers coming from San Francisco and vacationers driving to or from SFO stop in to enjoy the welcoming, homey atmosphere, sweeping vistas and, of course, the delectable wines. Then again, Ram’s Gate is also the perfect destination for Wine Country residents looking for something a little out of the way (but not too far).
Ram’s Gate opened to the public in September 2011. Prior to that, the team (led by winemaker Jeff Gaffner and assistant winemaker Jesse Fox) had been making the wine at two specialty locations, one for sparkling and one for still wines. “The first harvest came in right after we opened—the last tanks were hooked up hours before the first fruit arrived,” remembers General Manager David Oliver.
Located almost directly across Arnold Drive from Sonoma Raceway (formerly Infineon, formerly Sears Point), Ram’s Gate was, from the beginning, conceived as a destination. As soon as you walk through the oversized entry, “It’s about being in a relaxing, comfortable space that’s still a little edgy, design-wise,” says Oliver. “We want people to have fun in a cool spot. That’s why we married great wine, really distinctive architecture and personalized service.”
Conceived by architect Howard Backen and designer Orlando Diaz Azcuy as “rustic yet refined,” the tasting room—rooms, really—have the feel of a vacation cabin, where large common areas are designed for socializing. Choose from overstuffed couches and chairs, more formal table seating or pony up to the tasting bar. On the unseasonably overcast day we visited, each room was warmed by a roaring fireplace. Still, we ventured outside to check out the grounds and the sweeping views.
Multiple spaces, both indoor and out, mean patrons can mix and mingle or separate themselves away. “We have people who come here and start at the counter, but when the wine educator turns around and can’t find them, they’ll be out by the garden, down by the lake or in one of the other rooms,” Oliver laughs. “People can come here, spend a few hours and meander.”
Clearly, this place is meant to savor.
Sips and tastes
Ram’s Gate produces wine in two tiers, Red label and White label. Oliver explains, “Our Red label wines are early enjoying; they’re appellation designates and easier access from a price point. The White label wines are single vineyard designates. The premise behind our whole winemaking philosophy is to develop relationships with Sonoma and Carneros’ most dedicated and passionate growers, and let the characteristics of that exceptional fruit carry all the way through to the glass.
Depending on your preferences and your schedule (you did clear the whole day, didn’t you?), you can experience Ram’s Gate hospitality in a number of ways. “When you arrive, you’re greeted. We identify whether you’ve dropped in for a quick tasting, have an appointment for a food and wine pairing or if you’re just coming to hang out,” says Oliver. “Although there aren’t many physical walls to separate the three tiers of experience, what happens at the tasting bar is a bit different from what happens in the seated areas or in the demonstration kitchen.”
If you have the time, I highly recommend the wine and food pairings. You can choose a single wine or a flight, and enjoy some amazing fare created by winery chef Taylr Behnam and sommelier Marc Hartenfels. Standouts from our visit included the 2010 Pinot Noir Red Label Sonoma County matched with confit pork belly (the wine was earthy with a cherry pop, wrapping around the flavors of tangy goat cheese and cherries that accompanied the meat), and the 2008 White Label Parmelee Hill Sonoma Coast Syrah with Sonoma lamb sausage served with Canellini beans, fig and citrus (the wine was bursting ripe and perfectly complimented the lamb’s gamey nature).
The white wines were just as enjoyable. On arrival, we were greeted with Brut NV Sonoma County (crisp, medium bodied) and later tried the 2009 Red Label Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (creamy, green apple, toasty on the nose) and a barrel sample of 2011 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay—the very first wine that ever came into the winery facility—which had tropical fruit elements and balanced acidity. The Hyde will be bottled and available soon (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are Ram’s Gates “signature” wines, according to Oliver).
“Our feeling is that these wines, red or white, should be nicely balanced, because those are the wines that work best with food. We want people to bring it home and enjoy it with family and friends.”
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