I discovered Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estates by accident. I was driving along Westside Road (my 2nd favorite road in Sonoma, a close second to Chalk Hill), going from Korbel up to Dry Creek. Between those two wineries, there is really only one road—Westside. It’s quite beautiful, with various wineries and vineyards on either side of the road. It’s secluded but yet still populated enough for wineries to be located along the long road.

I had been to Hop Kiln in the past and was cruising right past the stone hop kiln building when my tasting partner exclaimed, “Hey, I know Landmark. Let’s go there!”

I glanced and sure enough, the scripted type of Landmark was shining brightly in the sunlight on the sign right next to the entrance. I’m game, and made a u-turn.

What might trip you up, word-wise is the winery is Landmark, but the property is a Hop Kiln. In fact, the building is on the national register of historic places, described as, “The most significant surviving example of a stone hop kiln in the North Coast region.” The Hop Kiln was used to dry hops, or oats, for brewing. Apparently, this region is thirsty for alcohol, in whatever shape they can get it. If you got all excited with the words hops & brewing, this is still a winery. Sorry, but no beer here. Ok where was I? Oh yes, Landmark.

Since Landmark has their original location over in Sonoma Valley (about a 45 minute drive away), this location became Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estates. If you Google the place, note the location is accurate but the website still links up to the old HKG site. Now that we’ve established the name, let’s go inside and check out what we came here for—the wine.

If the outside of the Kiln doesn’t impress you, the inside surely will. Stone walls with cross beams cover most sides, included fairly point-blankly that you’re in an old building. For it being lined with stone, the inside is inherently warm, a different feel than some tasting rooms where you feel the chill (I’m looking at you Nalle). Despite it being quite chilly the day we arrived, it was refreshingly warm inside. Yes, yes, the wine. Oh look, a pond.

If you’re tasting at the long, long tasting counter, you’ll immediately notice the pond and table and chairs just outside the large window built into the building. The property also has one of the coolest spots to bring a picnic on a warm spring day. Just note that you’re still in the Russian River. Even in late June, that fog can linger longer than you anticipated. As with any bay area weather, bring layers, especially if you plan on lingering outside with a glass of wine. Speaking of wine.

You’re in the Russian River, which means you’re in Chardonnay & Pinot country. And at Landmark, that’s what they’re serving up. And it’s also where it gets fun. The Chardonnays, while grown in similar regions in Sonoma differ from not touching any oak to literally soaking in it for years.

Full-bodied Chardonnay.

At Landmark, you get Chardonnay that goes in one direction or the other—oak (French Oak) or no oak (stainless steel). My tasting partner is a big fan of all things French Oak, while I generally prefer neutral oak or stainless steel fermentation. Neutral Oak is basically a used oak barrel, once removed from that new French Oak smell. The Chardonnays will satisfy almost everyone’s palate, unless they aren’t a fan of Chardonnay, in general. Which in that case, why the heck are you in the Russian River Valley at all? Oh, um, you’re still reading this. Just kidding. But if you’re not a fan of Chardonnay, that’s totally cool. Dry Creek to the north is Sauvignon Blanc country. But we’re in the Russian River. So let’s get back on track.

Beautiful tasting counter overlooking the pond and picnic tables.

When we were there, they also happened to have a Pinot Gris available to taste. The Pinot Gris grape comes from the same region as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—Burgundy in France. It was a great refresher to start the tasting before we jumped into the Chards.

Following the Chardonnays, I was presented with a slew of Pinot Noirs. From the Russian River valley and beyond: Sonoma Coast, Napa-Carneros (almost touching the San Pablo Bay) and the Sta. Rita Hills, my favorite spelling of any AVA.

Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.

The Santa Rita Hills AVA is an area just north of Santa Barbara, which is towards the southern end of the Central Coast. Whomever created the shortened name: Sta. Rita Hills, is my hero. If you’re not sure just where Santa Barbara is, Landmark has you covered. They have a map displaying where all of their grapes come from.

This is a great opportunity to see how the taste of Pinot Noir differs, from region to region. While the Sonoma Coast Pinot displays bright berries and strawberries, the Napa-Carneros Pinot will have elements classic to that region: cherries and cola (note, not Cherry Cola).

They pick from nearly every Pinot-growing region of California, including the Monterey area, which is blended into their California Pinot.

I was so happy about their entire line up of Chardonnays and Pinots that I bought a Grenache. No, this isn’t a joke. I actually did buy a Grenache there. However, as much as I loved how those other grapes tasted, I’m obsessed with Grenache. It’s an outlier in the tasting list, hailing from the Rhone region of France and Spain (translation, not Burgandy) and wasn’t even available to taste while I was there. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice and go with the unknown. Or I could have tasted it prior when I was at their Sonoma Valley location last. Just like MI6 missions, the exact details are confidential.

Landmark has a wide reaching selection of both Chardonnay & Pinot. You’ll find them on all sides of the new-world wine spectrum—bright and beautiful. Just take it easy out there on Westside Road. It’s windy path to the historical tasting building, from whichever direction you’re coming from. But you can’t miss it. And you don’t want to do what I almost did—drive past it. You’ll miss great wine and a mini-tour of the Pinot-producing regions of California.

Happy Tasting!

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