Perched upon the rolling hills that define the landscape of Sonoma County’s Carneros AVA, Ram’s Gate Winery holds court as the southern gateway to the region for which it is named. As it nears the end of its first decade, the winery has upped its game with a new logo, fresh packaging, and a website redesign—branding efforts that better reflect the refinement of the winery’s portfolio. “When it comes to the wines I love to create, it’s about the nuances and verve—effortless elegance,” says Joe Nielsen, director of winemaking. “I believe our new branding encompasses this and is precise and absolute. Like the wine, there is power in the subtlety and sophistication.”
A Michigan native, Nielsen relocated to California in 2008 for an internship at Napa Valley’s Merryvale Vineyards before joining Santa Rosa’s Donelan Family Wines, where he quickly rose to head winemaker. Nielsen joined Ram’s Gate in 2018, and spent his first year focused on digging into what makes the Ram’s Gate estate special. “Coming to Ram’s Gate, I feel like I’ve been given a pile of gold and silver and they’re asking me to make jewelry,” says
Nielsen, who practices thoughtful land management and holistic farming. He plans to take Ram’s Gate to 100 percent organic within the next five years. “Here, I have everything I need to make great wines that are complete, complex, and compelling.”
Nielsen produces 25 labels within four distinct series: the Sonoma Coast Series, the Cellar Note Series, the Single-Vineyard series, and the Estate Series, sampled here and consisting of Estate Carneros Pinot Blanc ($38), Estate Carneros Sauvignon Blanc ($38), Estate Carneros Chardonnay ($76), and Estate Carneros Pinot Noir ($80). Our notes:
2019 Pinot Blanc
Made from Bien Nacido, Etude, and Beringer clones and aged 5 months in 85% neutral barrels, and 15% stainless, this is a gorgeous, 12.9% alcohol wine with an inherent richness that plays with acidity. The three clones meld characteristics of citrus and stone fruit. This is a young wine that Nielsen says will gain in complexity with age. He plans to store a few bottles for himself for up to ten years.
2019 Sauvignon Blanc
The clone selection for this luscious wine includes the delicious duo of 64% of the floral-note clone 1, and 36% citrusy Musqué. Aged 5 months in 10% new French oak, 20% stainless steel, and 70% neutral barrels, Nielsen credits this cooper combination with the wine’s added layers of texture and fullness. The wine features naturally occurring minerality with whispers of flint and spice on the nose.
This weighty yet refreshing wine features complex though delicate aromatics, aided by its 11-month barreling in 1/3 new French oak. Orange blossom, roasted almond, and raw vanilla bean unfold in the glass. The wine is sophisticated in its youth, yet Nielsen predicts a strong showing in years to come.
2018 Pinot Noir
Nielsen says to give this layered, compelling beauty a little time. “It’s dense and complicated and deserves patience,” he says. For this wine, extreme care was taken in dividing up the Estate’s numerous Pinot plantings; fermentation was based on vine age, position on the south-facing slope, soil type, and vine vigor. The resulting wine highlights the unique location of Ram’s Gate’s Estate property.