New wineries open their doors every season here in Sonoma, the bucolic wine country crisscrossed with rolling hills and streams about 60 minutes north of San Francisco. But every so often, a place debuts that causes a stir by offering a stunning combination of fine labels, beautiful surroundings and unique experiences. Hamel Family Wines, which opened in June, is that kind of winery. Though they’ve been creating wines off-site since 2006, the Hamels just inaugurated their home winery with a series of glittering dinners headed by chef Gary Danko, of the eponymous Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant, and design guru Ken Fulk, who is responsible for curating these dinner experiences and other happenings such as movie screenings in the caves and campfire concerts. Here are five other things we think oenophiles will want to know about this new vino gem:
It’s truly a family affair
Five members of the Hamel family are involved in running the winery. Things are led by George Hamel Jr. and his wife, Pam. Their son, George Hamel III, oversees the business operations with support from his older sister, Casey, while brother, John Hamel II, heads winemaking. As you’d probably expect, family stories are woven into the property tour: They’re proud to share memories of George’s grandfather who ran a general store/post office in Worcester, Massachusetts. Be sure to ask why their mascot is a badger, too (Hint: It has more to do with a stuffed animal than a certain university in Madison, Wisconsin).
They’re open by appointment only
If you’d like to visit Hamel Family Wines, you’ll want to secure a guided tasting appointment. “We’re trying to deconstruct the wine tasting experience,” says George Hamel Jr. The appointments allow the wine educators to take time with each guest, answering questions and talking about their winemaking philosophy.
Hamel Family Wines offers three signature tasting experiences
The private tasting appointments are offered daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. and reservations can be booked through the Hamel Family Wines website. All the experiences are lead by a winery ambassador and include tastings of at least four wines. The Premier Experience includes a tour of the estate house, the 12,000-square-foot caves and vineyards. The exclusive two-hour Reserve tasting also comes with four Estate Series wines paired with cheese and charcuterie and barrel samples, if they’re available.
Hamel Family concentrates on Bordeaux varietals
John Hamel II and consulting winemaker Martha McClellan, who has worked with Harlan Estate and Merryvale, are building the winery’s portfolio around deeply nuanced cabernet sauvignons and bright, tropical sauvignon blancs. But as a nod to their American heritage, and the winery’s location in “Valley of the Moon,” they also create zinfandel wines and a refreshing Provençal-inspired rosé of grenache, syrah and Mourvèdre.
It’s a great place for lovers of design
Nestled in the hillside next to manzanita and oaks, the building has an earthy midcentury vibe that recalls the work of noted California designer Cliff May thanks to the angular front façade clad in glass and wood. The winery, created by Gould Evans, features rammed earth walls, and is sited to perfectly show off the best of the surroundings. The interiors by Angela Free are equally stunning, as they’re laden with gorgeous expanses of wood, stone and metal punctuated by nature-inspired details. The LEED-certified structure also features an herb garden and living roof. Tasting wines in the library, it’s hard to know whether you should look up to admire the wagon wheel chandeliers with their jagged crowns of natural quartz crystals or gaze out at the waterfall on the patio and the Mayacamas Mountains in the distance. We suggest a little of both.