When I decided to visit Sonoma County, the first “winery” I knew I wanted to visit was Flambeaux. If you followed along on my “30 Wineries in 30 Days” journey earlier this year, you may have read about my visit to Flambeaux. During my first tasting, I told Art about my 30 Days “thing”. He seemed genuinely interested. I’d mentioned to a lot of the folks I visited on that trip. But, I don’t think anyone was as dedicated to following the journey as Art. Well, maybe my friends.
Over the past 10 months, I’ve followed Flambeaux on Insta. Like so many wineries during the pandemic they were doing live events. I enjoyed getting to know him and his family through their posts. And he continued to follow and like my posts. So when I made a really quick “stock up” trip to Sonoma County in July, Art commented that he was bummed I hadn’t scheduled a visit to the vineyards.
Well, when I got the wild idea to come to Sonoma this month, I immediately reached out to Art first. The original trip was supposed to be similar to my July trip – drive out on Friday, visit a couple of wineries on Saturday, and drive home on Sunday. Just a quick escape out of the house. You see, I definitely err on the side of caution during this pandemic. I’ve embraced grocery delivery. I now have a stand to hold my phone or tablet while I FaceTime with friends for hours. I haven’t hugged a friend in MONTHS. I haven’t dined inside of a restaurant. I’ve done a few patio dinners. But even those seem risky to me. I prefer to support my favorite restaurants with curbside pickup. My point is – a trip to Sonoma is really outside of my comfort zone during a pandemic.
I decided to take the trip on October 11th. I left home on October 16th. During those five days I canceled and rebooked the trip four times. Was a trip like this responsible? I am 99% sure I don’t have Covid. I rarely leave the house. I don’t interact with people. I drive around with disinfecting wipes in my car. I wear a mask everywhere I go – including the drive through window at McDonald’s. But, will the people I interact with in California see me as a risk? Am I putting their health in danger? And, on the flip side, am I putting myself at risk?
My cautious friends and family encouraged me to go. They all said as long as I take the same precautions while traveling as I do at home, I should be fine. It took me 30 minutes to disinfect my hotel room. My fingers were literally pruning because they’d been using wet disinfecting wipes for so long. I know that hotels are being very careful. But do they disinfect the hangers or the wall behind my pillows? I wasn’t taking any chances!
So here I am. And you’re probably now wondering – I thought this post was about Flambeaux. It is. Here we go. My first stop (after refueling and finding a restroom) was Art Murray’s home and the Flambeaux estate vineyards on the west side of Dry Creek Valley.
The vineyards are located up a narrow lane off of Dry Creek Road. And I just giggled when I pulled up to a locked gate. If you remember my previous trip, I struggled with winery gates and the sequence to get them to open. Do I call? Is there a code? Do I just pull up far enough?
Once through the gate, I drove up the pretty steep driveway and was greeted by Art and Stella. Stella is their huge, fluffy dog who is making quite the name for herself. She’s the cover model on the 4th edition of Wine Dogs California book. Stella seemed more excited to see my Jeep than me. Art quickly exclaimed they have a friend who owns a Jeep and brings along a four-legged friend for Stella. Sorry, girl! You’re stuck with just me.
We headed up to the family’s amazing deck that overlooks the valley with sweeping views of the Mayacamas. The view is breathtaking. The family purchased the property back in 2012 and has worked hard over the past eight years to create a gorgeous, welcoming home. You can’t visit wine country without discussing the recent fires. The Walbridge fire came uncomfortably close to their back door. Art described the phone calls with the fire department and the harrowing night when they weren’t sure if their house would be standing in the morning. But it was. The fire came to the top of the ridgeline behind their property. But the firefighters were able to hold the flames from coming down the hill.
I’m 790 words into this post and I haven’t even talked about wine! We did drink wine, too! But, as Art has observed through my Instagram and blog posts, I don’t get into the details of the wine. There are plenty of places out there for you to get wine reviews and tasting notes. I write about the experience. My website is really just my personal journal. And I hope – if you’re still reading – that my experiences promote these wineries – and the people – that I’ve come to love.
We started off with his 2019 Rose. I really liked the 2018 and picked up a couple of bottles of it in January which I quickly finished. Sadly, I made the decision to leave the Cab and Zins that I purchased in my wine locker so I hadn’t tasted them since my tasting in January. And I was anxious to revisit. After the yummy rose (some of which came home with me), we dove into the 2017 Estate Zin. OMG. It was better than I remembered. Food & Wine Magazine recently called out their 2017 Dry Creek Zin as one of the “21 Amazing Zinfandels to Buy Right Now“. That’s pretty impressive for this little winery that produces about 1500 cases each year. I’m stinkin’ excited to have a handful of these in my collection. Funny enough, I just realized I tried another wine that made the list on my next stop! More on that tomorrow!
I remember being shocked at the price-point on Flambeaux wine. It’s incredibly reasonable for the quality. I’m sitting here asking myself – why didn’t I buy more of that 2017 Zin???? It’s only $40 and I’m now a proud member of the “Founder’s Club” and get a discount on top of that! WHAT!?!?!
Art poured a sneak peek taste of the 2018 Dry Creek Zinfandel for me as well. And you better believe I’ll be getting some of those upon their release. I think that may have been my favorite of the day!
We then moved onto Cab. And I enjoy his Cabernet Sauvignons. Most people don’t think Cab when they think Dry Creek Valley. But, I know from personal experience that some amazing Cabernet Sauvignon is produced out of that region. And the price-point is must easier on the wallet than the stuff produced over in Napa. We had what I thought was a really interesting conversation about grape costs between the two areas. I apparently geek out on the economics of wine production.
Flambeaux has quickly become one of my favorite wineries for quite a few reasons. First: Art Murray. I could sit and chat with that man all day. He’s kind and personable and a wonderful host. He immediately grabbed his phone to connect me with a new-to-me winery for later on this trip. I knew there was a reason I hadn’t booked anything for Tuesday!
Second: the wine. I’ve already mentioned how it’s an amazing value. I remember thinking that on my first visit. I picked up a half a case without knowing the price. And was pleasantly surprised at how affordable it was. It’s delicious and getting some great reviews and press.
Third: Ryan Prichard. Ryan is their wine maker. You may have heard the name before. He’s also the winemaker over at Three Sticks and was recently awarded the highest wine industry honor by LuxeSF and San Francisco Magazine, the 2020 Rising Star: Winemaker of the Year award. My first tasting was brief and I remember regretting asking Art how he chose his winemaker. And it was a question I knew I wanted to ask on this visit and did. Apparently Ryan is the friend of their real estate agent or something like that? It’s definitely some random – and lucky – connection! I’m excited to see follow along on their journey!