Our Russian River excursion was off and running. After our tasting at the Korbel Champagne Cellars and an fantastic lunch, we powered onward to our next tasting. The tree-covered road leading to the winery and the beautifully manicured driveway put us in the mood for a bucolic and refined experience. The Hartford Family Winery delivered all of that and more.
The Hartford Family Winery is owned by (wait for it) the Hartford family. Owners Don and Jennifer Hartford have created a small-lot winery that forms an interesting counterpoint to the winery Jennifer’s father started, Kendall-Jackson.
The facility itself looks like an updated version of a fine French mansion, with sweeping balconies and dozens of windows to take in the gorgeous scenery all around. Outside was a spacious gazebo with plenty of room for wine, cheese and snacks. Once inside, the tasting room is bright and airy, decorated with beautiful woodworking on the walls and ceiling. The good taste was apparent before we even held a wine glass.
We were greeted by Tasha, who turned out to be the tasting room supervisor. As she poured their 2013 Four Hearts Vineyards Chardonnay, she gave us more background on the winery. We learned that the Hartfords and wine maker Jeff Stewart strive to produce “high personality” wines. This quest results in two dozen wines made from three main varietals. Each wine represents the specific attributes of the source vineyard. There is no inoculation of “factory” yeast during the fermentation process. The yeast that naturally occurs on the grapes in the vineyard is the only source for fermentation. The wine maker gives up some degree of control, but the unique wines produced this way are worth the risk.
The Hartford wines are hand crafted, often single vineyard, and always limited production (typically 200-400 cases per vineyard). Standards are so high that in some years, a given varietal doesn’t quite make the grade, so the Hartfords sell the grapes to other wineries, meaning that there is no Hartford varietal for that vintage. Happily, this is a rare occasion, so there was plenty of wine for us to taste.
Of the six Chardonnays, our favorite was their 2012 Stone Côte Vineyard Chardonnay. Made from Carneros area grapes, we loved the crisp stone fruit and citrus highlights, over a mineral base. Perfect for sipping but assertive enough to pair with a nice veal piccata.
We moved on to the Pinot Noirs. The Hartford Family Winery makes a dozen! Our favorite was named after the Hartford’s son, MacLean. We bought a bottle of the 2011 MacLean’s Block Pinot Noir because of the velvety layers of fruit and hints of old redwoods lurking in the background.
The third leg of the Harford’s three-legged stool was a collection of six Zinfandels. Our favorite was their 2011 Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Zinfandel. Made from old (75-125 years) vines, this was a Zin with real personality. A far cry from the high alcohol, slap-your-face Zins from other areas, this Zin was complex and balanced, with a light pepper layered over cherries and figs.
We completed our tasting flight with some 2010 Zinfandel Port, with low (for a Port) residual sugar which revealed a lot more complexity than the average Port. If we weren’t trying to get back on our “don’t buy cases of wine at every winery” promise, this would have ended up in our trunk, too.
It was time to press on to our next winery, so we purchased our wine (we kept it to only two bottles!) and said our thanks and goodbyes to Tasha. What a great introduction to high personality wines!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?