Wine and Forgivable Luxury


I was at a the new Flowers Winery unveiling in Russian River not long ago. It was a soft opening and as part of the seated tasting they served a very nice 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Underneath the wine title on the tasting sheet it said, “Estero Gold gougére with lemon zest + wild fennel pollen.” Having been party to many exotic and far-fetched wine descriptors over the years I asked the wine host “What’s the Estero Gold in the wine descriptor?” Much to the rest of my companion’s amusement the host pointed out that it wasn’t a wine descriptor. It was the shortly to arrive pairing, that went with the wine.

A few days later the same winery came up in discussion with a Bay Area gentleman who is an executive at Mandarin Hotels and his partner who was an architect. We were talking about the Napa and Sonoma winery aesthetic and where each valley is on its journey. He observed, as many do, that they enjoy Sonoma as “You can spread out, there’s less traffic, and it feels more real and authentic.” I work on both sides of the hill and the phrase “Sonoma is what Napa used to be” is used quite a lot by visitors. Whether this is really true or not is not the point. Perceptions are reality.

We talked about how many of the early luxury brand wineries of Napa were about dominating the landscape. They existed to make the customer feel like they were entering a place to worship, part hallowed ground and part entering an impressive old bank to get a loan.

This new winery is an interesting teasing out of the folds of wine, luxury, and experience in an evolving Sonoma. We are now firmly in the era of ‘farm to table’ and our ‘woke’ customers are increasingly sensitive to the impact of their luxe desires on the world around them. What this winery appears to have done cleverly is walk that fine line between offering luxury while not being ostentatiously assertive about it. It does this in two simple ways. The winery and its outdoor seating areas are impressive but consciously set into the landscape rather than above it. You feel enveloped by the earth. The second is the use of soft tones and natural colors throughout. The accumulating natural textures and build materials used throughout give a feeling of environmental vigor. I put my bright red Moleskin notebook down on the tasting table for memorializing my impressions. As soon as I did, it felt so jarringly out of place that I hid it down the side of my chair. Some people are going to look horrendous in this new wine world. I suspect they will have to ban many customers in the more lurid Tommy Bahama shirts. I was glad to have randomly picked out a green linen shirt that morning. It’s always such an added bonus when you go to a place and sit down feeling on brand.

They will work out a few identity kinks as they progress. Once you have created this kind of endearing aesthetic, name badges take it in a heartbeat from being sensitive and environmentally empathetic, to expensive spa resort.

The exemplary visit felt like a watershed winery moment for Sonoma. Like a new evolved form of Napa is germinating in the valley next door. I suspect that they will do very well. There are some savvy people in charge, and you sense that the winery is at the right point on the cultural wave. Many visitors are looking for a counterpoint to the brash and gaudy conspicuous celebration of consumption in the highest offices of the land. This winery deftly makes our desire for luxury forgivable.

VINFABULA – Consulting for wineries. Creatively aligning narrative with operations.