By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Although it seems that more and more of the wine business is consolidating under large conglomerates, many independent family operations continue to thrive and some even maintain a national sales presence. “Family owned” still appears on many winery labels and conveys a readily identifiable “buck stops here” and “we made this with pride” mentality that appeals to many wine consumers.
We have tasted wines from Landmark Vineyards over the years and consistently reported positive reviews. This producer of chardonnay and pinot noir is located in Kenwood, Sonoma County. In addition to modestly priced Overlook Chardonnay and Overlook Pinot Noir, Landmark produces a plethora of reserve and single vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs. Landmark sources grapes from three of the cooler California counties: Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara.
Landmark was founded in 1974 by Damaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of farm implement maker John Deere.
We recently tasted some widely available Landmark wines and following are our impressions:
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County 2020 ($27). This is an appealing chardonnay offering a toasty oak nose and peach, pear citrus notes in the mouth. Well balanced. A great match with chicken and fish dishes.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir California 2019 ($27). A delicious blend of mostly Monterey County and Sonoma County fruit, aged in a mix of old and new French oak. Gamey, spicy, ripe cherry elements dominate in a very lovely drinkable pinot noir.
Another family-owned Sonoma Valley winery that we recently experienced was Hamel Family Vineyards. The wines are characterized by the etching of a badger on their label which honors the founder’s family alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Although on the higher end of the price spectrum, Hamel Family single-vineyard wines offer those who can afford them a very interesting tasting experience — either now or up to at least 10 years. These wines are available on Lanmark’s web site.
Hamel Family Vineyards Hamel Family Ranch Sonoma Valley 2018. Crafted from 87 percent cabernet sauvignon and 13 percent cabernet franc, this wine is aged in a mix of new and old French oak. Plum and cherry notes dominate in a subtle oak frame with an underlying minerality and soft tannins. This wine needs 3-5 years to begin to blossom.
Hamel Family Vineyard Nuns Canyon Vineyard Moon Mountain District 2018. A mix of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon and 26 percent cabernet franc, the wine is also aged in a mix of new and old oak barrels. This offering presents bright cherry notes, with delicate spice and mineral elements along with more aggressive tannins. A candidate for extended aging.
Ponga Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2021 ($15). We’ve enjoyed this New Zealand wine in the past and the current vintage is no exception. Refreshing notes of herbs and freshly cut grass blend with mouth-watering grapefruit flavors and scents to create and great package.
VDR Very Dark Red Proprietary Red Blend Monterey County 2020 ($25). This is a non-standard, delicious blend of petite verdot and petite sirah. Oodles of berry fruits, black cherry and a hint of mocha and cedar. Bold but smooth without overpowering. Fantastic!
Chalk Hill Chardonnay Estate 2020 ($45). A top shelf chardonnay sporting an elegant lemony toasty oak nose with lemony baked apple flavors in a lovely oak frame. Mouth coating viscosity for a long finish.
Game Box Pinot Grigio California 2020 ($25/ 3-liter box). Don’t look now, but box wines are rapidly climbing in quality and popularity. We drank this bargain wine over a two-week period and enjoyed every sip. The blend is 77 percent pinot grigio and 23 percent french colombard
La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca Somontano DO 2020 ($16). A terrific bargain for this excellent white grenache from Spain. Apple and white plum notes create a very grapey refreshing wine with good balancing acidity.
Chateau Mourgues Du Gres Galets Rosés Costiere de Nimes 2021 ($17). An artful blend of syrah and grenache with a dollop of mourvedre, this very fresh tasting rosé features fresh strawberry and cherry notes that are sure to please any rosé aficionado.
Veramonte Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($12). Here’s a great deal from the Casablanca Valley region in Chile. Expressive lime, grapefruit and tangerine notes with crisp acidity.
Dutcher Crossing Hidden Hill Vineyard Syrah 2016 ($45). It’s a good thing the producer let this bottle sit for a couple of years before releasing it. It’s a monster that could age another decade. The grapes come from an Alexander Vineyard about 900 feet in elevation. The syrah is dark in color, generous in ripe dark fruit aromas, rich in cassis, plum and black cherry flavors. Big tannins and hints of chocolate and herbs.
Corvezzo Organic and Vegan Pinot Grigio 2020 ($13). It may be hard to grasp that a product that comes from grapes has animal byproducts. But egg whites, bone marrow and other byproducts are used at the end of vinification to fine sediments, cloudiness, yeast and other impurities. For vegans determined to avoid these, there are more vegan wines available. This one is a decent quaff with peach notes. The producer from the Veneto region of Italy also makes vegan prosecco.
Smith-Madrone Napa Valley Chardonnay 2018 ($45). This full-throttle chardonnay from the Spring Mountain District has a lot going on. Gold in color portends good things to come – and they do. Youthful stone-fruit, lemon and tropical fruit notes with crisp acidity and supple finish.
Emeritus Vineyards La Combette Pinot Noir 2018 ($110). Hardly your simple California pinot noir, this blockbuster from Hallberg Rance in the Russian River Valley draws grapes from a single clone. Winemaker David Lattin has crafted a complex and layered wine that still retains a Burgundian elegance. Earthy, forest-floor and savory spice add intrigue to the black cherry and blueberry notes.