Sonoma's Landmark Vineyards 

Oh, Deer: At Landmark, John Deere descendant makes superlative wines.

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On a rain-soaked afternoon, I pulled into Sonoma’s Landmark Vineyards for a wine tasting, tour and overnight stay. Happily, the warm hospitality at Landmark and vibrant wines were quick to wash away any dark clouds the weather had brought.

A bit of history is in order: Michael Deere Colhoun, owner of Landmark Vineyards, is the great-great-great-grandson of John Deere, inventor of the steel plow and founder of the tractor company. In 1993, Michael and his wife, Mary, moved from the East Coast to take over the winery, which had been in the Windsor area of Sonoma County since 1974 and was relocated to the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in 1989. His first smart move was to hire world-class winemaker Helen Turley to consult with Landmark’s winemaker Eric Stern. With guidance from Turley, under Stern’s direction, Landmark wines have made Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list seven times since ’97. And, being a John Deere descendent, it’s not surprising that Mike himself knows a thing or two about terroir.

Now, you might think with all that John Deere green, Michael Deere Colhoun would be a bit uppity. He’s not. In fact, he’s one of the nicest, funniest and genuinely warm people I’ve ever met. I was lucky that he happened to be around the day I visited Landmark, and he and his sidekick—Landmark VP Bob Cooley—treated me and my wife to a rollicking barrel tasting before settling in at Monti’s Rotisserie & Bar in Santa Rosa to sample Landmark’s current releases. We were accompanied, at times, by the Colhouns’ ever-present canine companion, Finnegan.

Without going into a lot of detail, since you can’t buy the stuff presently, tasting wines straight from the barrels at Landmark was a real eye-opener. For starters, some of the wine is already so good, I commented to Mike and Bob that I’d be tempted to bottle and sell it immediately. But, it’ll get even better. And tasting wines on their way to being great, but not yet quite there, is fascinating. One is really able to zero in on the complexities and processes of wine production.

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The focus at Landmark is on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and, to a lesser extent, Syrah. Landmark Overlook Chardonnay ($27.49) is the winery’s meat-and-potatoes wine, although not a wine you’d really want to drink with meat and potatoes. Save Landmark’s Steel Plow Syrah ($30) for that meal. The 2007 Overlook Chardonnay is a big, full-bodied wine, with serious oak from French Burgundy barrels, but well-balanced with minerality and crispness so the oak isn’t overpowering. All of which makes it a killer, food-friendly Chardonnay, especially well-suited to creamy and cheesy sauces. The beautiful, long finish makes me think this is a wine you’ll be able to keep around for a few years, although it’s awfully tempting right now.

At Monti’s, I couldn’t resist the Liberty Farms duck confit, which turned out to be a spot-on food pairing for Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir 2008 ($37.99). This classic Sonoma Coast Pinot is nothing if not elegant. Soft, ripe tannins underlie black cherry and plum fruit flavors, reminiscent of Cote de Nuits. Subtle oak notes and a silky texture should be enough to seduce you into making a grand detour to the wine store for some Grand Detour.

It’s a crime that Landmark Steel Plow Syrah isn’t in our stores here, although you can always place a special order. It’s a bombastic, but seamless, uber-focused, complex-as-all-hell Syrah that’s among Landmark’s biggest triumphs.

Mike loves to ski the Utah powder and to trumpet his Landmark wines; he’s justifiably proud of them. So, look for a Landmark wine dinner at a restaurant near you this coming ski season. 


Ted Scheffler:

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