Sonoma County has the richest winemaking history in California, I've always thought. It's where the state's commercial wine industry got its start and there are 150 years of great stories and plot twists, fascinating characters and delicious wines.
There was all sorts of history in one room this past Thursday as part of Sonoma County Barrel Auction's Icons Library Tasting at Williams Selyem winery near Healdsburg.
I'm not sure what was more of a treat: tasting some wonderful old wines or chatting with many of Sonoma's living legends. "The only reason you're called an icon is because you're still alive," the always dry-witted winemaker Ted Seghesio quipped, as dad Ed Seghesio poured wine nearby.
Seghesio was just one of many icons honored that day. There were pioneering winemakers like Zelma Long and Merry Edwards. Zinfandel champion Joel Peterson came with his customary cowboy hat and vintner Jean-Charles Boisset was dressed to the nines.
Top growers John Balletto, Lee Martinelli, Steve and Joe Dutton mingled with winemakers Paul Hobbs, David Ramey and Tom Dehlinger. The dean of Russian River growers Joe Rochioli chatted about this year's early bloom and drank Pinot Noir with old friend and winemaker Burt Williams.
Dry Creek Vineyard founder Dave Stare sidled up to Angelo Sangiacomo, whose family has been farming in Sonoma Valley for generations. "You're looking good, young man," Stare said to Sangiacomo.
Then there were the wines. A few of the highlights included the nearly 17 years old Hanzell Chardonnay Sonoma Valley 1998 from magnum, which was still vibrant and delicious. Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Rochioli Riverblock 1996 had matured beautifully and was still supple and rich.
Peterson poured his Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Old Hill Vineyard 1994 from magnum and it was remarkably young and gutsy. The biggest surprise was a 1983 Dry Creek Vineyard Bordeaux-style blend that was nearly 50 percent Merlot. Mature and ethereal, it was still pretty and interesting to drink more than three decades later.
It was a day of wonderful wines and classic Sonoma characters.