Great winemaking begins with great farming, according to Chantal Forthun, the winemaker at Flowers Vineyards & Winery. That must have been the thinking when, 30 years ago, the winery’s founders Joan and Walt Flowers first bought some land on the westernmost ridge of the Sonoma Coast. The couple had learned about the unique parcel through a three-line classified ad in a wine publication—long before the region became one of California’s most sought-after appellations—and they thought there might be a special alchemy in the soaring elevation and sea breezes. The Flowers went on to be pioneers in the word of cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and present-day winemaker Chantal is a firm believer that the extreme conditions of vineyard sites should be embraced, not controlled. “Each wine should be a unique representation of place and time,” she says.
Until recently, you had to use your imagination to conjure up images of the “place and time” behind a glass of Flowers wine, but this past July, Flowers unveiled its new destination tasting room, a 15.5-acre estate located near the winery. It includes a hospitality house, a winemaking facility, sprawling gardens, a wood-fired oven, an educational culinary pairing program, and exclusive areas for mailing list members.
On a sunny Saturday in September, I drove north for an afternoon at the newly opened property. The House of Flowers—as it’s called—is located less than 10 minutes from Healdsburg, but it feels a thousand miles away from the usual hubbub of tasting rooms and wine-crawls. You are immediately greeted with a cold glass of Pinot Noir rosé, before a Flowers staff member guides you through a grove of majestic Redwoods and up into the hospitality house. Mike McCabe, principal for Walker Warner Architects, who designed the tasting room in partnership with Maca Huneeus Design, wanted this experience to be one that reveals itself slowly. “Each step is choreographed and builds upon the preceding movement to emphasize contrasts and connections.”
But while the structures are stunning, the focus remains on the shared social experience over amazing food and wine. “We wanted to make people feel comfortable, as if they were visiting a friend’s home in the countryside,” says interior designer Maca Huneeus. “Hence our decision to include a library, a fireplace area, a terrace, a living room, etc. We also kept the materials elemental to give it an authentic country vibe; you’ll see a lot of wood, linens, wool, ceramics.”
As for that sprawling garden, divided into intimate sections by rammed-earth walls, the landscape architect Thomas Wolz, of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, wanted to immerse the visitor in distinct California ecologies. “We decided to include a Redwood Forest, an Oak Woodland, and a Chaparral landscape, with the vineyards and distant ridges of the Mayacamas Mountains on the horizon,” Wolz explains.
To further show off this special estate and its Sonoma Coast wines, Flowers Vineyards & Winery brought on celebrated chef Jamil Peden to lead the educational culinary pairing program. He’s put together a thoughtful menu of locally sourced, hand-crafted food pairings like Estero Gold gougère with lemon zest and wild fennel pollen, to go with the 2017 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, and Nori cracker with fig, eggplant, and shiso, alongside the 2016 Sea View Ridge Pinot Noir. Chef Peden plans to change the food in response to seasonal ingredients and new wine releases, and finds his inspiration from the surrounding landscape: “I spend a good amount of time running outside on the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, and I’m constantly being inspired,” he says. “To see the abundance of wild fennel, with blackberries growing next to it, and little quail running around, might just be the starting point for a perfect pairing with Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.”
Ah, yes, the Flowers Pinot Noirs. The real reason the tasting room is here. The real reason I’m here. The 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir—which I enjoyed during my tasting—is a vibrant, medium-bodied wine with floral notes of lilac and fresh roses, and flavors of red fruit like Santa Rosa plum and ripe strawberry. The Burgundian varieties really do thrive out here on the blustery Pacific coast, and Flowers wines are always perfectly balanced and easy to recognize. In fact, the winery recently learned that there’s a common strain of yeast throughout all of its wines that is 100% unique to Flowers, meaning there is no genetic relationship to any commercial yeast on the market. “Although using native yeast is uncommon,” says Chantal, “I think that it’s necessary to showcase the purity of our fruit and the power of our vineyards.”
The entire House of Flowers tasting experience acts as a kind of showcase, a testament to the land and the people who farm it. From the hospitality house, gently tucked into a forested hill, to the portfolio of wines, all farmed using a blend of organic and sustainable practices, to the delicious nibbles of food, thought up during afternoon runs in the wild, there’s an earthy, accessible sensibility to this place. Great winemaking may begin with great farming, but it ends with a sunny afternoon at House of Flowers.
Flowers’ new destination guests experience, located at 4035 Westside Road, four miles away from Healdsburg Square, will be open for tastings seven days a week from 10AM to 5PM. Advance appointments are encouraged as each party will have a dedicated host to guide them through their tasting. Flowers can be reached by calling 707-847-3661 or visiting www.flowerswinery.com
No Need to Hop on a Plane; There Are Plenty of Extraordinary Sights and Outdoor Action Just a Drive Away Here in the Golden State
California …even better than the real thing.