Simply put, our new favorite winery in Sonoma County is Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate. The wines are luxe, the grounds are lush, the entire estate is organic, the tours are educational, their events are incredibly fun, and the people are gracious. In fact, winery president Judd Wallenbrock calls the winery staff ”Human Terroir.”
Located in Wine Creek, on the western edge of Dry Creek Valley northwest of Healdsburg, the grapes grown at Michel-Schlumberger are crafted into elegant wines. While known for masterful Cabernet Sauvignon, smooth Merlot and other Bordeaux-style wines, people also flock to the estate for some of the best Zinfandel we have ever tasted. More about that in a minute.
Thanks to Jim Morris, the VP of marketing and an ambassador on Twitter for Michel-Schlumberger, we were fortunate to be guests at the estate for two nights. What an experience. Our beautiful room in the Spanish-style house was large, yet cozy, and only steps away from a spacious garden courtyard with a reflecting pool at the center.
Surrounding the courtyard, French doors everywhere lead to the tasting salon. You can also taste wine in the courtyard itself, or in the French country kitchen, the elegant living room, or on the back terrace (wine club members only).
When we were there a couple of weeks ago, the vines were resplendent in autumn colors–rich reds, bright oranges and blazing yellows.
If you go – and we highly recommend that you do – take comfortable shoes suitable for a tour of the grounds and vineyard. This scenic guided stroll is also educational with interesting tidbits about the organic garden, monarch butterflies, the wildlife, creek restoration and sustainable farming.
Specifically, the vineyard is on 100 acres and organically certified. To maintain the organic farming, sheep come in for the initial growth stage; goats provide weeding and fertilizer for a few months a year; and ladybugs, brought into the vineyard years ago, now form a large resident population that prevents some of the mite problems of neighboring vineyards. In addition, natural predators such hawks and owls help keep the gophers to a minimum. There’s even a stream with cohoe salmon and a lake with large-mouth bass.
We were lucky to be there during the “When Pigs Fly – Wild Pig Party” — an annual event on the estate grounds for wine club members. Michel-Schlumberger is so popular that 2,700 people belong to their wine club! Not all of them turned out for the party, but the event was still a resounding success.
As the story was told, Zinfandel was always grown at Michel-Schlumberger, but only used for blending. Owner Jacques Schlumberger described his estate as “a Bordeaux house in a sea of Zinfandel” because Dry Creek is known for Zinfandel. And he always said he’d make a stand-alone Zinfandel “when pigs fly.”
Four years ago, there were some barrels of Zinfandel left over after blending, and that’s when a single varietal was first crafted and ”pigs really did fly” — on the wine label of “Cochons Sauvages” (Wild Pigs in French) Zinfandel and at the amazing party held each autumn.
Every year now, Michel-Schlumberger winemaker Mike Brunson makes Zinfandel, which is first offered to wine club members; it sells out almost immediately. Wine club members also have first dibs on Zin futures, which, ironically, fly out of the winery very quickly!
We understand why. The 2008 Cochons Sauvages Zinfandel is big, fruity and bright, and without a doubt, the best I’ve ever tasted. The 2009 futures won’t be released until April, but the wine is already showing more structure than the ’08.
This year’s “Wild Pig Party” celebrated that popular Zinfandel, along with other varieties of wine and amazing food. There also were pig decorations and costumes everywhere.
Staff members and volunteers all wore Flying Pig hats, as modeled in this photo by Jim Morris. When you pull the chin strings, the pig’s wings move up and down. Many dedicated wine club members bought the hats to take home – for their children, of course. Ha!
There also was a pig toss – cute little pink stuffed animals to throw into a game board. As you can see from the photo, of course, Dave and I had to join in the fun in our own unique way.
Although we didn’t bring home a pig hat, we purchased some of the last of the wonderful ’08 Cochons Sauvages Zinfandel, the very popular Coteaux Sauvages (Wild Hills Estate Red) – a Rhone blend of Syrah co-fermented with Viognier- and some library wine (2001 Cabernet Sauvignon).
A wonderful time was had by all at the party. Indeed, our entire visit at Michel-Schlumberger was an experience to be remembered for a long, long time.
Thanks again, Jim, Judd and the owners of Michel-Schlumberger for your hospitality – and a special thanks to our tasting room hostess, Samantha, too!