A visit to Chalk Hill Estate

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Chalk-Hill-Estate-WineryCritic-Mindy-Joyce

A bottle of Chalk Hill always brings back special memories for my boyfriend and I. On one of our first dates he brought a bottle of (no longer produced) Merlot to dinner, which we loved. He will rarely join me on winery visits, but coming to Chalk Hill on the Culinary Lunch Tour was an easy twist of the arm.

With a glass of Viognier in hand we jumped in the convertible Hummer and headed off on our tour with Tim as our guide. We took a quick look at the construction across the road at Roth Estate; a sister winery, and the newest project for the ever-growing group of wineries known as Foley Family Wines. Our first stop was to see the California Mission-style chapel that original owner Fred Furth built for his daughter Megan. We learned that Megan was an Olympic horse rider who died at the young age of 31. This is an absolute treasure and certainly a special place. The garden and views were spectacular. And, yes the chapel is available for small weddings.

Our second stop was at the organic garden. We got a warm welcome from Brad the gardener, and were treated to a flower and vegetable tasting, followed by a quick garden tour. We must have tasted at least 10 flowers of all colors. I never knew there were so many edible flowers! Chalk Hill chefs use the garden produce for the Healdsburg restaurant Chalk Board, for events, and culinary lunches like we were experiencing today.

Finally, it was time for lunch.   By this time it was about 3pm and we were both beyond famished. (I recommend you have a snack around lunchtime as the culinary lunch happens about an hour into the tour). The Hummer ventured up the hill to the equestrian pavilion. You won’t find many wineries (I can’t think of any) that have this kind of facility. The equestrian pavilion is an indoor arena about the size of an aircraft hangar. Tim explained that the wood had in fact come to Furth’s estate as a gift from the State of Alaska. The massive long planks of Alaskan white cedar were shipped into San Francisco and trucked up to Healdsburg.

Attached to the impressive horse facility is an entertainment complex, a sort of hotel style common room, which was our dining area for lunch. Complete with fountains, and incredible views, our small group was treated to a three-course pairing lunch led by a sommelier. The facility would be ideal for a wedding or large group.  For our small group of 12 the huge room towered over us and I have to say added to the formality of the occasion. It took a while for everyone to start chatting, but as usual with these wine-paired lunches, you tend to make friends quickly.

The sommelier chatted away and explained each of the courses. Tim stayed with us the whole time and was great at keeping the conversation flowing. We started with a salad course, followed by a halibut curry and finally a roasted squab – each paired with different wines.

Chalk Hill Culinary Tour Menu

Prepared by Ryan Freebern, Executive Sous Chef

  • Grilled Vegetable Salad with grilled fennel, asparagus, goat cheese, piquillo pepper and olive vinaigrette – Paired with the 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc
  • Alaskan Halibut with goan curry, baby bok choy – Paired with the 2009 Estate Syrah
  • Roasted Squab with primeurs, parsnip puree and Mexican chocolate jus – Paired with the 2010 Chairman’s Club Malbec

I really appreciated the innovative menu and daring pairings. My favorite was certainly the halibut with curry. Unlike many food and wine pairing experiences I’ve experienced, this was definitely enough for lunch. I did miss the dessert, although it was promised at the tasting room, it wasn’t what I expected (a small pear tart).  Perhaps I have been spoiled by other food and wine experiences. However, the botrytised Sémillon, certainly made up for it. One of our favorites!

Beyond getting introduced to Chalk Hill for the first time on a special date, this afternoon experience will certainly be a lasting memory for us. The food, the wine, the people, and the variety of highlights we saw around the estate made the Culinary Lunch Tour well worthwhile, and a happy day we will think about every time we open up a bottle.

Expert tips:

  • The culinary lunch tour does not start until 2pm (lunch is served around 3pm) so I recommend you have a light snack prior to visiting.
  • Bring a hat as the garden tour, although fabulous, is very sunny and can be awfully hot.
  • Make yourself known to the tasting room when you arrive, as there is no host as such at Chalk Hill and it is not clear where to go for the tour.
  • All the wines you’ll taste are Estate only, and are not available in retail so it is a good idea to purchase here or join the wine club. The Foley Food & Wine Society is a points-based club where you can accrue and use points for purchases at any of the Foley Wines properties.

By the way…

In the industry, Chalk Hill is a winery that stays top of mind – not only for its solid reputation for premium wines, but it is the most well-known in the group of wineries known as Foley Family Wines. Owner Bill Foley made his money as the chairman of two mortgage title insurance firms, Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Services. Today, the Foley Family Wines group is made up of 15 different wineries and vineyards, from Sonoma and Napa, to New Zealand, and most recently, Oregon.

Foley purchased Chalk Hill Estate Winery from Fred Furth in 2010. Furth who made his fortune as a highly successful anti-trust and class action attorney, purchased the Chalk Hill land in the early 70s. After being told that it was too hilly to be a vineyard, he implemented what he’d seen in Germany and planted vines in rows going uphill, proving quality wine grapes in America could be grown this way. Furth’s original residence, a palatial home, is also located on the estate and was sold to Foley in a separate deal.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

8/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

8/10 Other experiences: Several tasting experiences, custom wine and food experiences

9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

9/10 Friendliness of staff

9/10 Signage & ease of access

9/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required:  Appointments are required for the Culinary Lunch Tour.

Address:  

10300 Chalk Hill Road
, Healdsburg, CA 95448

(707) 657-4837

www.chalkhill.com

Tasting fees & experiences:

Tasting room hours: 10:00am – 4:00pm

  • $15 per person – Estate Tasting
  • $25 per person – Reserve Tasting
  • $30 per person – Estate Tour (daily at 11:00am)
  • $100 per person – Chalk Hill Culinary Lunch Tour (Available by appointment Wednesday through Saturday at 2:00pm. Reservations required)
  • $50 per person – Chairman’s Reserve Tasting (Available by appointment Tuesday through Friday at 1:00pm from April through October).
  • $175 per person – Estate Luncheons (private group experience, minimum group size is 4 guests) Available by appointment Monday through Friday.

Good for: Foodies, gardeners, horse lovers, architecture fans, small groups, weddings, events

Wines produced: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Zinfandel, Botrytised Sémillon, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Malbec, Red Blend.

What’s nearby:  Healdsburg Plaza (featuring many other tasting rooms), Lancaster Estate, Roth Estate (coming soon).

District/Appellation: Chalk Hill, Sonoma County

Contact for appointments:  707-657-4837 or concierge@chalkhill.com

Date of visit: April 12, 2014

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com