Sonoma Valley and Lasseter Family Winery

I was in Monterey for breakfast and I began balling again. I am home sick in the worst way. So we changed plans. I am going home quicker than first expected.

I googled Lasseter Family Winery and discovered you need to book an appointment for Wine Tasting and Tour. Every other Vineyard I had been to was just pull up, saddle up to the bar, purchase wine tasting, buy a bottle and go home.

Yeah…. not this place. Lasseter Family Winery was an EXPERIENCE.

IMG_0583We pulled up to the locked gate and had to buzz in. My instinct is to not do it. Run and not bother them, but the hubs pressed the intercom, we were told we were WAY early but we could come in anyways.

We drove through fields of grapes that led to the smallest vineyard parking lot I had ever seen.

IMG_0562The gardens in the front were beautiful with a fountain and sweet smelling flora.

IMG_0563As we approached the building, the doors were locked. It was like visiting someone’s home and I was rude because I tried to just walk in. I knew I was early so I attempted to sit on the porch in rocking chairs made from wine barrels when the door open. A very friendly and kind man opened the door and said, “Please come in from the heat! Would you like to freshen up or sip on some ice water?” As we entered the foyer I glanced around a saw the lavatory, the Wine Room, the Barrel Room and the Office, all off the central entrance. It really did have a family home feel to it. Beautiful knotted carpets on the floor, lovely original wine label art, padded benches and pillows for lounging.

Byron, our host, asked us to make ourselves comfortable while we waited for the other group to arrive. He gave us literature about the vineyard history while we waited. Me being a HUGE Lasseter fan of animation and story telling, drank everything up.IMG_0566 IMG_0565 IMG_0567 Soon 4 more guests arrived and Byron asked if we would like to walk out to the vineyard? Everyone complained about the heat. I said, “Yes please, I am up for anything! Besides, I am Canadian and there was snow in my neck of the woods a week ago so no one gets to complain about weather.” Byron smiled and led some of us out to the vines.

He explained about this Winery being certified organic and sustainable. The vines rarely get watered, even in this drought because of the deep water tables. The vines fine the water they need and take just enough to thrive. He explained about the various habitat houses used for pest control, bat houses, blue jay houses, owl houses, all used to keep bugs, rats, moles and gophers away. Natural vine canopies are used to keep the grapes from burning in the hot sun. No man-made pesticides or other products are used in the vineyard, the compost their own materials and and practice seasonal planting to keep nutrients in the soil. They raise bees to sustain their farm, be ecologically friendly and – well – bees are natures pollinators, they keep the earth growing and make delicious honey!

IMG_0569 IMG_0570 IMG_0571Water drip lines are installed for ‘just in case’ but so far they hadn’t been needed. Byron then let us taste the grapes growing on the vine. I was surprised at the sweetness. They aren’t all ready for harvest yet, the Zindenfel grapes were harvested last week at night to protect the fruit from bruising. They are less delicate in the cool of the night.

Once the fruit is picked it moves into a de-stemer and the fruit is moved to the masher where the juice is separated from the skins – unless the skins are required for colour. Everything but the juice is then mashed and composted on site for future use.

The juice is then poured into fermentation tanks where the wine master adds yeast to begin the process. Heat is applied to speed the process but monitored very carefully.

IMG_0575Unlike other wineries, Lasseter doesn’t use cooling bands, their vats are are thematically controlled.

Once the juice becomes fermented, it is time to pour into barrels. Each Barrel is made by a Cooper out of white oak and is toasted to different levels. Toasting is part of what gives the wine vanilla notes or chocolate notes. The barrel is flamed or heated until it reaches the desired toasted level. The winery purchase various toasted barrels to the tune of $3000 a piece. The Wine Master uses these barrels to create the master piece all based on the Lasseter’s pallet. When they want a spicier wine, a different barrel is used. Wine sits in the barrels between 18-36 months for the proper amount of aging. A barrel has a life span of about 6 years then they are sold off mostly to whiskey or furniture companies.

IMG_0572 IMG_0573 IMG_0574All Lasseter wines are blends based on Nancy Lasseter’s love of Bordeaux. We were given a sample of Enjoue.

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A lovely dry rosé wine, chilled to perfection. We sipped on it as we toured the barrel room. You’ll notice the etched logo on the glass. That is the Lasseter Family Crest that John Lasseter desinged on a flight from Ireland while visiting Nancy’s family. He thought they should have a crest. Nancy is the Rose, He is the Bee – an omage to his first animation short in 1985. The 5 grapes are their sons. He then told Nancy that this crest was going to be the logo for the Winery that was going to be their ‘one day’ dream. He had been making wines and bottling it at Tommy Smother’s place down the road. Then this vineyard came up for sale and boom…The Lasseter Family was in the Wine business. Except, they only make it for fun and what they like. Therefor a boutique winery yielding 3800 cases a year. Not nearly enough to sell in stores. These are exclusive only to the Winery members, visitors and to 1 restaurant in Walt Disney World and one restaurant in Disneyland. Their Enjoue won a top 10 placement the first year it was produced and they family hasn’t looked back since.

We then moved into the Wine Tasting Room where the table was set for 6.

IMG_0568 IMG_0579Each wine was paired with a local cheese, fruit, jam, nuts and chocolate. It felt like an intimate dinner party for 6 with Byron sharing stories about the wine’s origin and complexities. Discussions were held about Lasseter. The guests were unsure of who he really was in the Disney scheme of things, luckily for them, I knew the origins of Pixar from its beginnings at Skywalker Studios for Computer Animation, to Steve Jobs entering the picture and How Lasseter was fired from Disney. Byron was impressed, he only knew the winery history. Well…I am an animation fan and a huge Lasseter fan. I was a kid in the candy store.

After the tasting ended, Bryon gave some of us (me) another pour. And then I requested 6 bottles – one of each of the exclusive wines plus an extra Enjoue because its extra yummy and will be delightful on my deck on a hot summer evening.

I then told Byron what an amazing experience I just had and I attributed to him and his ability to make us feel like family. His easy going manner made this wine stop the best one yet. Therefore it was time to stop because everything will pale in comparison. He was floored and hugged me. He invited me back and to me to call him personally so I could get in. But really, he was just the nicest guy, the kind of man I would love to have dinner with and just chat about about stuff. The kind you would consider having as a friend.

IMG_0580I will do this again, and next time bring more friends who will like Bryon as much as I did.

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One thought on “Sonoma Valley and Lasseter Family Winery

  1. What a lovely blog. I have been enjoying reading all your blogs with regards to your amazing summer adventure this year. You made me feel like I was there sampling the wines. What a very cool place!!

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