A visit to Iron Horse Vineyards

Iron Horse Tasting Room Russian River Valley Sonoma

Iron Horse Joy Sterling Mindy Joyce

Iron Horse Tasting Room

Iron Horse Tasting Room

Iron Horse Vineyard Tour

Iron Horse Vineyards Bottles

Iron Horse Presidential Wall

Iron Horse Vineyards Gyropalettes Russian River Sonoma

I really didn’t know if I’d come to the right place. Driving up the windy, unsealed road was making me a bit nervous. Putting my faith in my GPS I ventured up the small hilly driveway and, sure enough, arrived at Iron Horse Vineyards. Located in Green Valley, part of Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, the winery is off the beaten path, away from the usual winery crowds, but the owners like it that way.

The quaint and low-key outdoor tasting room is full of character, and like CEO, Joy Sterling, exudes a warm and relaxed welcome. It’s a barn-like shed looks out across Sonoma County to Mt. St. Helena. It is simple and rustic with no frills. But I can’t say that for the wines. They far exceeded my expectations.

Best known for their Wedding Cuvée, Iron Horse Vineyards has been producing wine since 1978. Their first wine was a still Chardonnay. Today, half of their production is sparkling wine, and all are vintages. The rising star at Iron Horse is the 2012 Pinot Noir. With a small production of 25,000 cases, many of their wines are only available to taste and purchase at the winery.

One of three generations living on the property, Joy is very involved in the winemaking process. She is passionate about sustainability and the unique terroir her family farms here in Green Valley. As she pulled bottles and checked them for yeast sediment, she explained that there is no difference in taste between hand riddling and using gyropalettes (used by most large producers), however they still like to do it. At Iron Horse they disgorge their vintage wines to order, another rarity.

But what comes as even more of a surprise is Joy’s wall of honor. Presidents and First Ladies have selected Iron Horse sparkling wines for State dinners during at least five consecutive administrations. The office wall is literally covered with framed letters of appreciation, many marking significant events in history, including President Reagan’s toast to peace during his first summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

“You do what you can,” Joy said when I asked about the National Geographic labels on the Blanc de Blancs. Joy’s passion for giving back, and especially for environmental causes, can be seen through their National Geographic partnership and a special labeling on the 2008 Blanc de Blancs. “I feel strongly about the broader umbrella of sustainability,” she said. “We picked the ocean because it is critical to our unique microclimate.

” Every bottle of Blanc de Blancs contributes to saving the ocean, and does a nice job of reminding us all of how important the sea is as an influence to grape growing in this region.

Joy describes Iron Horse Vineyards as a “destination”. “It’s our home,” she said. “We want to create an authentic experience and serve the highest quality wines in a welcoming and relaxed setting.”

Expert tip:

Visit Iron Horse on Sundays in July and August between noon and 4pm and you may just meet the “Oyster girls”. The girls will be serving raw and grilled Petit Miyagi oysters, which pair wonderfully with the sparkling wines. $3 per oyster.

Soon, (according to Joy, in Sept 2013) the vineyard will offer a vegetable garden tour which I’m sure will be another great experience.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

9/10 Knowledge of guide

7/10 Location

7/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

9/10 Other experiences: Winery tours & winemaker tour, special events

9/10 Knowledge of tasting room staff

10/10 Friendliness of staff

7/10 Signage & ease of access

10/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required: No

Address: 9786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol, CA 95472

www.ironhorsevineyards.com

Tasting room hours: 10:00am – 4:30pm daily

Tasting fee: $15-$20 refundable with a bottle purchase

Tours are by appointment Monday through Friday at 10am. $20 per person, refunded with bottle purchase.

On Fridays at 10am, winemaker, David Munksgard, gives a personal tour. $25 per person, $20 refunded with bottle purchase.

Good for: Couples, small groups, sparkling wine fans. Wines produced: Blanc de Blancs, Brut Rosé, Classic Vintage Brut, Wedding Cuvée, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay.

What’s nearby: Merry Edwards Winery, Dutton-Goldfield Winery

Appellation/District: Green Valley in Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

Contact for appointments: To arrange a tour, please contact Tasting Room Manager Lisa Macek: lisam@ironhorsevineyards.com

Date of visit: July 19, 2013

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com