Friday, July 24, 2009

Chouinard Winery - a gem in the country, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay area

Chouinard Winery is located on Palomares Road between I580 and Hwy 84. It is hard to believe that this jewel of an area is in the heart of San Francisco Bay, surrounded by millions of people. It feels more like the foothills of the Sierra rather than a few miles from major freeways and cities of the bay area.

The Chouinard family found this property in 1977 and planted their first grapes. By 1985 they were producing their first wines. Since the lower slopes were used as loading pens for sheep and cattle for many years, the rich native loam soil helped the vines flourish. At 1000 foot elevation, the vineyards are cooler than much of the surrounding area. Later, owner and architect George Chouinard, cut terraces into the steep 35 degree sloped hillside to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. The well-drained soils and high sun exposure is great for the Cabs. They now have 2.5 acres of Chardonnay and 2.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon.

George also remodeled the 85 year old barn into his winery with the tasting room on the upper level. As you enter the tasting room you immediately notice the walls covered with the blue ribbons their wines have won over the years. The deck off the back gives you a view of the vineyards and the outdoor area where they hold events including weddings and their ‘Music in the Vineyards’ series Sundays during the summer with sounds from cajun, swing, reggae, jazz and blues groups.

Co-owner Caroline Chouinard greeted us at the tasting room to guide us through a sampling of their wines. Their California Champagne presents fresh pair aromas and yeasty lees and toast. It is a balanced wine with tart acidity and green apples on the palate.

The award winning 2006 Chenin Blanc from Monterey County is stainless steel fermented and has the aromas and flavors of pear, peach and bit of flintiness. On the palate it has tart acidity and full body textures.

A very interesting wine is the Granny Smith Apple Wine. Made from 100% Granny Smith apples, the wine is fresh and delightful brimming with the flavor of Granny Smith apples. It has a slight sweetness and would be an excellent summer wine especially with pork chops.

The 2006 Alicante Bouchet was very refreshing with a pleasant dark color (Alicante Bouchet is one of the few grapes with dark juice), with rich fruit flavors of blackberry and boysenberry and a touch of spice on the back palate. The tannins are round and pleasant.

Chouinard’s dessert wines were a particular joy. The 2006 Viognier Ice Wine from Lodi is a product of the modified ice wine method. The peach and honey flavors burst in this very sweet balanced wine. It has 24.5% residual sugar. This Ice Wine has won many awards for Chouinard.

The 2002 Old Vine Late Harvest Zinfandel Port is a fine ruby port with ripe flavors of plum, raspberry and dark cherry with a very pleasant long finish.

Winemaker and son Damian Chouinard is particularly proud of the 1999 Orange Muscat from Paso Robles. This is their third vintage of this wine. Damian states, “in order to get the high sugar I wanted in these grapes, we had to let them raisin a great deal.” This wine has predominant orange blossom aromas and a beautiful sweet flavor that would pair exquisitely with Crème Brule in an orange cup.

Visit Chouinard Winery for a pleasant tasting experience. They are located at 33853 Palomares Road between I580 and Hwy 84. You will enjoy the drive to the winery and meeting the Chouinard family and sharing their wines. Purchase a bottle and step outside to their arbor covered tables and relax among the vines.

For more info: Chouinard Winery at

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