The C. Donatiello Winery, which just celebrated its one year anniversary in March 2009, is a beautifully re-incarnated building occupying the land at 4035 Westside Rd. where the now-defunct Belvedere Winery used to reside.
We had the privilege of being given a quick, but personal tour of the new winery’s facilities by my fiancee’s old friend from high school in San Diego, Robert Conard. Robert is the Hospitality Director at the winery, but today and probably on many other days, he wears many hats. Today he was mainly the ambassador to the winery’s many local guests stopping by to soak up the sun and the complimentary live music on the estate’s beautifully manicured garden and lawn.
The winery is a partnership between the winery’s namesake Chris Donatiello and San Francisco investment banking legend Bill Hambrecht. The winery’s focus is on the production of small-lot pinot noir and chardonnay sourced from premium vineyard sites in the Russian River Valley. I can’t remember, but I think farming is done either organically, or in a very responsible and sustainable manner. Most, if not all of the vineyards they source fruit from are owned by the winery.
While Donatiello’s production facilities and processes are mostly modern and new-world, but also combine a few old-world traditional elements. One of them is the use of gravity flow throughout the movement of wine from point to point. Hand sorting of individual grapes is another labor intensive old-world-esque approach to the winemaking. For the most part though, they’re a winery that focuses on employing the use of modern, fan-dangled equipment of sorts that I’ve attached pictures of. The production goals of the winery are a far cry from the Belvedere days, where production facilities were set up to produce up to 125,000 cases of wine. The winery’s current production targets are closer to around 7,500 cases; obviously emphasizing quality over quantity.
The wines were a very accurate representation of what I would describe as California sunshine in a bottle. Their chardonnays and pinot noir are ripe, full-bodied and full of flavor. In a San Francisco Business Times article published in January of 2008, Owner and partner Chris Donatiello describes the types of wines they’re trying to create at the estate – “We’re trying to create a wine that’s fairly strong and muscular, and representative of the Russian River Valley AVA.” My conclusion after tasting them? Shy and demure they’re not….strong and muscular they are. As Robert stated, “As long as you have good quality fruit that can handle what you throw at it, then you should still be able to produce a balanced wine.” I couldn’t agree more. Working with less than stellar fruit is where you run into problems; especially when trying to manipulate it too much during the winemaking process to make up for the shortcomings in quality raw materials.
The winery tasting room is well-designed and has an inviting, open layout where the tasting bar is an island situated in the middle of the room. It’s nice because it allows patrons to casually mill around the room and enjoy the facilities like the fireplace lounge, the beautiful gardens and patio or the deck that gives patrons a birds-eye view of one of the rooms of the production facilities. The staff is extremely friendly, warm and attentive. Donatiello’s intent was to create an atmosphere that didn’t exude the traditional feelings of snobbery and pretense that sometimes becomes an element of the wine world. He has done so successfully and you should definitely pay a visit to the winery’s tasting room to sample their wines and meet their welcoming staff. To read more about what other people are saying about Donatiello, click here.
Here’s what we tasted that day in the tasting room:
2008 Sauvignon Blanc – I think only available at the winery. Grassy, gooseberry, clean and citrus driven.
2007 Christie’s Vineyard Chardonnay – Probably the best wine in the lineup; in my opinion of course; alive, electric and well-made.
2006 Russian River Chardonnay – Some apple, but more spice, oak and mineral driven, than fruit-driven. Solid.
2006 Maddie’s Vineyard Chardonnay – Wine was on the shy side. Quality was there, just wished it was a little more expressive today.
2006 Russian River Pinot Noir – Lots of dark cherry fruit. Juicy, chewy and very appealing.
2007 Maddie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir – More high toned in fruit flavor than the Russian River Pinot. Sour wood and sour dark cherry.
2007 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir – The most expressive of the pinots. Sweet dark cherries, berries, cinnamon, mocha and velvet.
2007 Hervey Vineyard Pinot Noir – Only available in Magnums – 1.5L — A nice blend of expressive fruit and age-worthy, firm tannins. We liked this one a lot.