Driving into Bennett Valley, with rows of perfectly manicured vines with leaves changing from orange to red, I gazed my eyes upon the hillsides at the top of the valley. Burnt, charred and effectively scared for years to come, I breathed a sigh of relief. Matanzas Creek was spared. But only by a few hundred feet at best. The behemoth that was the fires of 2017 for Sonoma crept onto Matanzas’ doorstep. Thankfully though mother nature and a handful of first responders didn’t let it creep through the door. Welcome to Bennett Valley and Matanzas Creek Winery.
Matanzas Creek is a destination winery unto itself within Sonoma. Though only a 15 minute or so drive from the freeway, it feels like you’re in another zip code. Unlike the other valley to the east, with vineyards every 15 feet apart, Matanzas is alone, a freestanding (thankfully) winey that you have to want to go to. Stumbling upon it by happenstance doesn’t just occur naturally.
Driving up the long, sloping driveway, you’re presented by vineyards on both sides of the driveway. In the fall and early winter, it is simply beautiful. With the leaves a combination of yellow, orange and a bit of red. Just don’t wait too long for the first winter storm to blow the remaining foliage off.
At the parking lot, you have two options: walk down to the bocce ball court/ lavender fields, or walk up to the tasting room. We will get to the lavender in a bit. First and foremost, I came for the wine.
It’s been years since I’d made the trek to the vineyard. I remembered they had Chardonnay and Merlot. I know, two grapes that don’t hang out too much together in France. Chardonnay is happiest in Burgundy and Champagne while Merlot is one of the noble grapes of Bordeaux. Yes, in the new world Chardonnay seems to grow wherever there is free space available, but still. I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, Bennett Valley.
Continuing to rise in elevation, walking up a slight incline, you’re presented with a few adirondack chairs and a sign directing you to the various other wine regions, including **** Valley (located at the bottom of the sign I might add). This could easily be someone’s backyard, complete with a very large, paved parking area for 20 of your closest friends.
If you can steer yourself away from the chairs and decide to forgo following the signpost, head upstairs onto the deck of Matanzas Creek. From there, you can gaze for miles across the vineyard and surrounding valley.
If you can stop instagramming for a few seconds (and making your friends jealous 1) because you’re at a winery and 2) because of the view), turn right into the tasting room.
Did I mention that there are lavender fields below? If you came like I did during the off season while the lavender isn’t blooming, the tasting room has large, panoramic prints of the gardens in all of their glory. It’s a beautiful accompaniment to the tasting room. But I’m here for the wine.
I was excited for the Chardonnay. Bring it on. To which the tasting room staff started me off with a Sauvignon Blanc. It turns out that Sauvignon Blanc is the new gem in the jewelry box at Matanzas. Bright, acidic and begging for a plate of oysters, this one is a stunner.
Moving along from the Sauvignon Blanc was the wine I was looking for—Chardonnay. Chardonnay has a storied history dating back to the inception of Matanzas Creek. Founding winemaker, Merry Edwards, (now at Merry Edwards winery) took Chardonnay to a new level, at one point breaking through the glass ceiling and pricing the Chardonnay above the $100 mark. The famed Chardonnay, Journey, has come back to the ionosphere and is now retailing for $75. Is it worth it? Yes. It’s a testament to the grandeur and respect for a grape that can also retail for $2.99 at Safeway.
Moving through a few Chardonnays, I found myself sampling a Pinot Noir. Is there anything this valley can’t grow? A surprise, along with the Sauvignon Blanc. It turns out certain hillsides stay cool enough for the Pinot grape to thrive on.
And then it was time for the Merlot. At the times of tasting, there were two merlots available. One from just Bennett Valley and another from the greater Sonoma County area. Of course a merlot on its own is just a Merlot. But with a little help from its friends, it becomes Journey Red. A Bordeaux style wine with the Merlot in the lead. Sorry Cabernet, but you’ll have to settle for 2nd fiddle.
The tasting fee is $15 and is waived with a purchase of a bottle or if you join the wine club, or if you join the wine club and buy a bottle. For Chardonnay-ophiles (is that a word; if not, I’m officially claiming it is), this winery is for you. There’s even a specific clone of Chardonnay that came out of the property, courtesy of the famed Merry Edwards. Week Geek alert. The clones of Chardonnay are FPS 27 and 28.
The winery also has other extended tasting options including tours of the property, a food pairing and an outside, seated tasting. Reservations are required on the aforementioned options, and of course weather permitting.
If you can’t make it during the lavender bloom, it’s still worth wandering through the fields. It’s quiet, and a perfect romantic spot to take a bottle down from the tasting room and sip a glass with your sweetheart. Again, weather permitting.