St. Francis Winery & Vineyard
100 Pythian Road
Santa Rosa, Calif. 95409
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tasting Fees: $15 per person (Receive one complimentary tasting with a two-bottle purchase.)
Wines Offered: 2015 Chardonnay, 2014 Cabernet Franc, 2014 Merlot, 2014 Meritage and 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel
Reservations: Required for groups of 10 or more. Call (888) 675-9463.
Did You Know? St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is committed to the three pillars of sustainable business practices—environment, equity and economics. In 2013, St. Francis earned its Certified California Sustainable Winegrower designation from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. And in 2014, the winery hired Jake Terrell, vineyard managers and a nationally-recognized leader in green viticulture techniques. The winery farms more than 380 acres of certified sustainable estate vineyards.
On a mild afternoon in the heart of Sonoma Valley, the first signs of spring are starting to show in the Wild Oak Vineyard, just outside the tasting room door at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. The hills are lush and green, and the vines are starting to bloom again. “We call it the ‘bud break’ on the vines—the birth of a new vintage,” says Katie Madigan, winemaker.
The winery was named in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, canonized by Pope Gregory IX in Italy in 1228 and associated with the patronage of animals and the natural environment. Long ago, it was customary in Catholic and Anglican churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on Feast Day, October 4, and the winery carries on the Saint Francis tradition every year. Guests arrive on the lawn outside the tasting room with their dogs, cats, turtles, hamsters and parrots, but you may encounter more unusual creatures such as a camel or snake.
A week before the October 2017 firestorm, the winery held its annual blessing on the first Sunday of the month. The following week, the staff was evacuated for three days. “The fire was on the hills, and we were in mid-harvest,” recalls Madigan. Once they were able to return to work, other wineries offered support. “They took us in and crushed our grapes,” she adds. “It’s been nice to see the community come together.”
The St. Francis story began in 1971 when founder Joe Martin planted 22 acres of Chardonnay and the first 60 acres of Merlot in Sonoma Valley. Once established as a grower, he opened his own winery in 1979 with a business partner, Lloyd Canton. In 1983, Tom Mackey, the joined the team as winemaker, elevating the quality of the winery’s stand-alone, ultra-premium varietal, Merlot. During his tenure, he cultivated an in-depth understanding of every Sonoma appellation, enabling the winery to acquire and develop new vineyards and expand its wine portfolio.
Today, a new generation of winemakers—Katie Madigan and Chris Louton—continue the St. Francis winemaking-style, producing luscious, fruit-driven wines from Sonoma County grapes. “Chris and I are obsessed with color and aromatics,” admits Madigan with a smile. Located on Pythian Road, the mission-style tasting room offers a tranquil place—indoors or out—to experience St. Francis wines. We begin with the 2015 Chardonnay, which is refreshing, but offers a nice depth. The fruit is sourced from the Wild Oak Vineyard just beyond the tasting room doors and aged in French oak for seven months. “It has an oak presence, but complements the fruit,” says Madigan, who was named Best Woman Winemaker by the International Women’s Wine Competition in 2015.
Next, we taste the 2014 Cabernet Franc, made with fruit sourced from the back vineyard on the property. Though it’s mostly made with Cabernet Franc, this wine is also 10 percent Malbec and 3 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives it a gorgeous color. This wine has lovely aromas of violets and lilacs with dark berry flavors, and the tannins are velvety. “It’s a great restaurant wine, and pairs well with pasta, chicken and lamb,” says Megan Frazier, hospitality representative.
While it’s not so common to find Merlot on tasting room menus these days, the winery built its reputation on Merlot, and continues to embrace it. In fact, it won a gold medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The St. Francis Merlot is luscious, juicy and soft—an easy wine to drink and nice on its own. “The Merlot is a staff favorite and guests who try it, love it,” says Frazier.
Next we try The 2014 Meritage Anthem, which earned 93 points in The Wine Advocate. “This is one of our first flagship wines,” says Madigan. Like the anthem, the Meritage is lyrical and moving, mostly sourced from Cabernet, but also includes Malbec, which gives it a rich sultry flavor. This is the perfect date night or special occasion wine.
Finally, we finish with the 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel from the Bacchi Vineyard, one of Madigan’s favorites. The fruit is sourced from a 120-year-old vineyard, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, in the Russian River Valley. “We make eight artisan Zins, and my passion is in the “head-trained” vineyards,” says Madigan. “We call them the ‘bush wines.’” The bouquet is floral with herbal notes and licorice.” This is a club member favorite, and with each sip, it’s easy to see why.
Since the October firestorm, business seems to be doing well, according to tasting room staff. Business has been surprisingly good,” says Madigan. As for the 2017 vintage, Madigan has high hopes. “It will be stunning—2017 will be a vintage of texture and will surprise everyone.”
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