Tucked into foothills of Mayacamas Mountains, on the outskirts of the town of Sonoma, Ravenswood is an understated winery (compared to a few of its other siblings), with a cozy tasting room, nice patio overlooking the vineyard, and a small team. Of course, knowing that the winery is owned by Constellation Brands, had set my expectations for a large corporate experience. I am pleased to say it is not.
Looking more like a cowboy than a wine educator, my guide Peter was quite a character, with no-nonsense and unpretentious approach to wine. “No Wimpy Wines” is their famous slogan, this I found is true not only for wines, the attitude here is also bold and unapologetic.
On today’s visit I was doing the Zinfandel blending experience. Peter took me out to the vineyard to explain the nuts and bolts of the business. Zinfandel is the life blood here, and everyone’s passion. The other passion here is about founder, winemaker and wine legend, Joel Peterson, affectionately known as the “Godfather of California Zinfandel”.
There are several Zins you’ll taste from different regions, and all have the big, bold, gutsy style that is expected for a Ravenswood wine. The winery produces 18 Zins and more than 40 wines in total.
I was surprised to learn that most Zinfandel you’ll taste is really a blend of Zin with other grape varieties. To be labeled Zinfandel it of course must make up 75% of the blend, but aside from that you may find, as I did in my blending experience, Petite Sirah and Cariganne.
You don’t need to be a mathematician to blend wine, but knowing percentage breakdowns is important. After making two blends I got to choose my favorite and Peter made me up a 375ml bottle to take home. This was a really fun experience and I learned to really appreciate Zinfandel (being a fan of lighter-style wines, Zin is not normally on my go-to list).
It wasn’t until I was inside the tasting room looking at a wall near the bathroom that I realized the power of the Ravenswood brand. Here you’ll find a wall of photos of people with the logo tattooed on their bodies. Talk about a cult following!
One of their goals, Peter said, is converting Cab lovers to Zin. After tasting the range of Zins, I’d expect their conversion rates to be pretty high. A lover of Zin or not, you’ll appreciate getting a sense for the personality and experience behind the raven logo. I would definitely bring friends and come back.
- On a nice day plan to spend some time on the patio and enjoy the view of the vineyard. I am told they do have a few engagements here and there is even a souvenir t-shirt you can pick up in the gift shop.
- Blending experience is good for those that are already Zin lovers, and those red drinkers that are curious. Warning, you will be converted to Zin!
8/10 Overall visitor experience
9/10 Knowledge of guide
8/10 Architecture and design, landscaping
8/10 Other experiences: Barrel tasting
9/10 Friendliness of staff
8/10 Signage & ease of access
9/10 Quality of the wines poured
Appointment required: Yes, for the blending experience
Address: 18701 Gehricke Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476
Tasting fees & experiences:
Open daily 10:00 am – 4:30 pm
- $15 per person – Single varietal tasting (Cabernets)
- $15 per person – Vineyard Designate tasting (Zinfandels)
- $20 per person – Tour & barrel tasting
- $50 per person – Blend your own “No Wimpy Wine”
- $15 – Artisan cheese plate
Good for: Zinfandel lovers, Small groups, Corporate events,
Wines produced: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, Petite Sirah.
What’s nearby: Sebastiani Vineyards, Buena Vista Winery, Schug Winery, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Sonoma Plaza
District/Appellation: Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County
Contact for appointments: (888) 669-4679
Date of visit: December 12, 2013