They've made an impressive entrance for having been in the neighborhood a while. No presto-château is this, but a cellar door adjacent to the modest little winery leads to the finest wine caves this side of, well, this side of State Route 12. Unlike neighboring cave dwellers Kunde Estate, however, Deerfield's new tasting room is in the very center of the 20,000-square-foot underground lair—perfect for keeping wine and wine tasters cool on a summer's day. It'll take a while to walk the barrel-lined tunnel to get to there, so let's talk giraffes.
Tall, rusted giraffe sculptures add a touch of whimsy to the drive up; smaller versions available for purchase help to fund restoration of the historic Kenwood Marsh. The estate contains part of this wetland that once saturated the area for much of the year. How about all those fences? Critters of the real, live variety roam freely past each vineyard block, from the woods to the wetlands, thanks to this organic estate vineyard's thoughtful fencing scheme.
Formerly located in a family co-op tasting room down the road, Deerfield has built up the slow and steady way. Owner Robert Rex first made wine in his Berkeley garage, before trading in a singular career in flavored pipe tobacco innovation for the clean air of the Sonoma Valley.
The inner sanctum is a series of rooms hollowed out in the center of the cave, furnished with a small bar but plentiful sofas, chairs and tables for relaxed, sit-down tasting. Rex says that, having observed a fair number of tasting rooms, he didn't want his guests to have to wade into an elbow forest.
The 2007 Windsor Oaks Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($18) has a crisp golden honeyed palate, with aromas of dried apricot and pineapple. Reds dominate the list. One touted feature is that Deerfield wines are purportedly less likely to cause headaches, due to special treatment of fermentations, and may not affect those who suffer from sulfite sensitivity—such as Robert's wife PJ Rex, who swears by it. The 2002 Cohn Vineyard Pinot Noir ($75), a guest release from vintage past, is more floral than fruit-forward, with dried fruit potpourri, and a silky finish that's time's reward.
The 2006 Organic Estate Syrah ($28) shows lavender, spice and fresh raspberry aromas over a dry finish. All five Bordeaux grapes have a healthy dose of Petite Verdot, the 2003 Meritage ($75) being fruity in blueberry, licorice and assorted dark berries, accented with sage and coriander on the finish.
Ah, but is there a chateau in Deerfield's long-range plan after all? In a corner, the next phase is illustrated in architectural pastels: a grand winery above the cave, modeled partly on Jack London's Wolf House. Coming sometime soon. Just not presto.
Deerfield Ranch Winery, 10200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. Open daily 10:30am to 4:30pm. Tasting fee, $10-$15. 707.833.2270.