Changing Hands in Sonoma County

There is a sad, empty feeling that we get when a favorite bar, restaurant or shop changes hands and the new ownership changes it into something else.  Our favorite local tavern was once the best place for an honest burger and a beer; now it tries to attract a hipper crowd.  There’s a line of twenty-somethings waiting to get in to order designer beers and avocado toast.  And an old-fashioned family grocery store that featured locally made products was bought by a French couple that made it an outlet for French imports.  It went out of business.  Ah, well.

The same thing happens to wineries and in-town tasting rooms.  In a previous issue, we wrote about “lost wineries” that simply closed to visitors or were sold out.  There are a number of others in Sonoma County that we remember fondly.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery.  Photo courtesy of Tripsavvy.

Chateau Souverain has had a Sonoma County presence for more than 80 years.  We weren’t around for its early days, when the legendary Mike Grgich (sadly, recently deceased) was given his first American job.  But we did visit their second home in Alexander Valley.  It was quiet, a bit out of the way and rustic in appearance.  In 2006, the location was bought by Francis Ford Coppola who turned it into a swimming pool with wine (and Coppola tributes).  Yes, Chateau Souverain can still be bought.  They in turn took over an existing winery and are now not open for visitors there.

There is a tasting room on the northeast corner of the Healdsburg Town Square that is today the tasting room of Ernest Vineyards.  It was previously the place to taste DeLoach wines, principally their Pinot Noirs as we remember it, when they were acquired by the Boisset family from France.  It was more convenient to taste there than in the western part of the Russian River valley, where they still operate.  Before that, the space was occupied by Gallo Sonoma, when the well-known mass producer made a foray into fine wines. There may have been some intermediary tenants there, but these are the ones we can recall.

Chateau St. Jean

It’s not all sad stories of demise.  Sometimes new owners inject money to improve a vineyard’s wines without changing their overall style nor the experience of visiting.  For example, Chateau St. Jean was long a favorite of ours in Sonoma Valley.  Treasury Wine Cellars took it over and then in 2021 it was sold to Foley Family Wines.  As far as we can tell, the quality of the wines has remained consistent.  More important for Power Tasting, which is about the experience of wine tasting, the architecture, gardens, palm trees and statuary have all been preserved.

Elsewhere in this issue you can read about the former Pezzi King vineyards that have been replaced by Passalacqua Winery.  In the old days, if you wanted to try a heavy, highly alcoholic Zinfandel, Pezzi King was the place for you. Thankfully, the wines are very different now. 

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