3232 Dry Creek Rd.
Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Farmstay Experience Fees: $20 per person, per stay.
Wines Offered: 2017 Carignane, 2017 Chardonnay, 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, two 2017 Zinfandels, 2018 Rose of Zinfandel and 2018 Viognier.
Reservations: Required. A maximum of eight can reserve the estate.
Picnics: Yes, based on availability and weather.
Pets: Yes, on a leash.
Did You Know? The word “Zo” is Japanese for elephant. Owner and Winemaker David Eckert, who spent most of his career in Asia in the finance industry, met his wife, a Japanese woman, in Tokyo. The two married in Japan and share a love of elephants. The ZO Wines’ logo is made up of a single line that creates the elephant image. “Elephants are interconnected to sustainability and the entire world,” Eckert says. And in this sense, ZO Wines wants to be the elephant in the room. The winery allocates 1 percent of net sales for elephant preservation and requires that 1 percent of all employees’ time be donated to working with local charity outreach.
[Photos courtesy of Zo Wines]
For many wineries in present-day Wine Country, the business model encourages visitors to sip, linger, purchase and continue to another tasting room. At Healdsburg’s ZO Wines, the business model encourages guests to stay, taste, learn and explore. ZO Wines, one of only two farmstays in Sonoma County, is an agricultural and educational-based experience showcasing the local flavor of historic Dry Creek Valley. It’s the valley’s history that drew David Eckert, owner and winemaker, back to the region, purchasing the property in 2016, then a bed-and-breakfast called The Irish Rose Inn.
Eckert recalls visiting Wine Country from San Francisco in the ‘80s and falling in love with the area; he says the “bucolic environment” spoke to him. “Back then it wasn’t belly-up to the bar and be rushed through like it is now,” he says. Eckert admires the winemaking techniques of the ‘70s and ‘80s; when it was a “family-owned, boutique style, off-the-beaten-path” industry. These hallmarks from a largely bygone era are exemplified at ZO Wines, as the small estate captures the essence of Sonoma County tranquility.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Eckert was influenced by rural farming communities and the local ingredients they produced. “Hosting guests at our farmstay allows us to introduce them to the area’s producers. We partner with local caterers and food purveyors to provide food recommendations for guests,” he says. Guests at the farmhouse can pick fresh fruits and vegetables grown directly on the property, and stroll among the vines. Eckert started ZO Wines with 11 acres in 2012, and the three varietals currently growing in the vineyard should become 15 by the spring. The quaint, four-bedroom, three-bath farmstay is more than 100 years old, with each room accommodating two guests at varying rates—equal parts rustic Airbnb and boutique winery.
A relative newcomer to Sonoma County’s wine scene, ZO’s lineup is already distinguished. The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2019 Wine Competition awarded ZO’s 2017 Carignane North America’s ‘Best Of Class’ and its 2017 Chardonnay and 2017 Zinfandel received gold medals. The wines are currently only available at the farmstay tasting room, or on their website. ZO hopes to begin limited distribution sometime this year. Winetasting at ZO is more of a “sensory workshop,” changing with the seasons. Guests are provided an “aroma color wheel” displaying various scents to help identify the wines’ tasting notes. “We’re not selling wine, we’re selling a relationship and experience,” Eckert says. “We want to help people understand what varietals they like and why.” ZO’s philosophy is old-world, French-style, focused on producing approachable and moderate in alcohol by volume barrel-fermented wines.
The tasting lounge offers a panoramic view of the estate’s backyard vineyard tucked up against the Valley hills. We begin with the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. I’m handed a vile of essential oil. The lychee aroma reveals the wine’s subtle, fruity notes. Next, the 2018 Sonoma County Harvest Fair‘ Best Of Class’ 2017 Chardonnay; the wine is Burgundian and French in flavor and carries significant floral notes. I’m handed a vile of fresh honey oil, accentuating the wine’s sweetness.
ZO’s reds feature the rare Carignane. The varietal, originating from the village of Cariñena in Spain, is traditionally used for blending. ZO’s 2017 Carignane originates from vines planted in the 1890s. This food-friendly wine is reminiscent of an approachable Pinot and smoother than a bold Cabernet. The unconventional barrel-fermenting techniques and wine varietals enhance ZO Wines’ unique, farmstay approach. To appreciate the full experience at ZO Wines’ farmstay one must: stay, taste, learn and explore.
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