In the heart of Sonoma’s Carneros region, there’s a special place where broncos once bucked off cowboys and steamboats used to deliver passengers from San Francisco. Today, it’s home to the Larson Family Winery.
The 5,000-case winery sits at the end of bumpy, tree-lined Millerick Road, right off Highway 121. I knew where I was going and still missed the turn off, so be careful and watch for the Larson Family Winery sign.
I parked in front of the red barn that serves as a tasting room and immediately heard the Larson’s pet sheep, Marshmallow, give out a loud bleat. I learned later she was lonely. The Larson kids had taken the sheep’s buddies — pygmy goats named Blondie, Mission and Tiffany — to exhibit at the county fair.
History in the Shadows
Owner Tom Larson is proud of the historical connection his family has to the land alongside Sonoma Creek that his great grandfather, Michael Millerick, acquired in 1899. In the second half of the 19th century, steamboats navigated from San Francisco to deposit passengers and freight for the overland journey to nearby Sonoma and points farther north.
Later, the Sonoma Rodeo grounds were located here and crowds by the thousands watched the action, which included a prize-winning roping performance one year by August Sebastiani, past patriarch of a proud winemaking family that is still very active in today’s wine trade.
Tom and his father planted his first chardonnay vines here in 1977. On a recent hot afternoon visit, I watched as the shifting bay breezes carved patterns in the 70 acres of leafy vineyards around the tasting room.
Lazy Dog Day Afternoon
Sunny, Pete and Bubba — the winery dogs — lay in a sliver of shade under a tractor as I walked inside to meet Molly Biss, the tasting room manager, and Lee Sweeney, her assistant.
If this isn’t the friendliest place to taste wine, it’s pretty darn close. It’s kid-friendly, too, with the barnyard animals, a big grassy area next to the barbecue grill and shaded picnic tables plus a bocce court for bigger kids and adults.
For the more adventurous, horseback rides through the vineyards can be arranged through Vineyard Rides.
Back in the tasting room, Molly was busy tidying up the place while Lee poured samples of the 10-12 wines that were open.
I enjoyed the simple Sonoma Red (non-vintage, $20/liter), imagining how good it would be at a summer cook-out. They were out of the Sonoma White, a “summertime in a bottle” type of wine made from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and gewurtraminer, but a new batch has been bottled and it should be available for sampling this weekend.
Larson makes some seriously good wines, too. The 2006 late harvest chardonnay ($35/half bottle) was a delightful surprise. This is a sweet, sauterne style wine. It’s made from shriveled grapes harvested in November after being infected with a virus called botrytis cinerea.
Some wines, like my favorite of the tasting — a violet-scented cabernet franc ($24.99) — are made in such small amounts that they are only available to wine club members. The wine club at Larson offers some of the biggest discounts I’ve seen — 50% off for some wines — along with invitations to special events (Santa visits during the holidays) and special rates for the winery’s rental property, a four-bedroom, two-bath 1890s farmhouse with all the modern amenities.
Coming Up This Weekend: Eighth Street Wineries Open House
Just a few minutes drive from Larson Family Winery will take you to Sonoma where a group of eight small wineries will open their doors for a special tasting this Saturday (August 8). The cost is $20/person to taste wines from Anaba Wines, Enkidu, MacRostie Winery, Parmelee-Hill Wines and Vineyards, Talisman Wines, Three Sticks, Tin Barn Vineyards and Ty Caton Vineyards. Most of these boutique properties are not generally open to the public. Tickets are on sale at MacRostie, a top-rated winery whose pinot noir and chardonnay I have enjoyed for years.
Tags: anaba wines, botrytis, cabernet franc, chardonnay, eighth street wineries, enkidu, larson family winery, macrostie winery, parmelee-hill wines, pinot noir, Sonoma, sonoma wine, talisman wines, three sticks, tin barn vineyards, ty caton vineyards