Old Friends: Sonoma-Cutrer and Winemaker Mick Schroeter

By Glen Frederiksen

For thirty years, I have followed my wine muse. She has taken me to wine education classes, to wineries all over the world, to numerous wine clubs and tasting groups, to dozens of wine dinners, and many wine tasting events.

I began my own wine education group and held monthly tasting seminars. I organized wine dinners, led tours to the wine country, published a monthly wine newsletter, became a wine judge, and was director of an international wine competition.

Those thirty years have left me with many memories, nearly all of them good. Unlike most industries, the wine community is one rife with sharing and camaraderie. I have belonged to many special interest groups over the years, and the world of wine is uniquely friendly and positive. Maybe it is because all wineries share the same struggle with Mother Nature to bring in the harvest each year. Perhaps it is the free flow of information that occurs because winery personnel move around so often.

Or maybe drinking wine on a regular basis just makes everyone happy and mellow.

An email from my favorite Las Vegas wine shop/restaurant, Marche Bacchus, indicated that they would have a free tasting event on Tuesday, November 11. The featured winery was Sonoma-Cutrer and would be attended by winemaker Mick Schroeter.

Sonoma-Cutrer and Mick Schroeter. Two old friends.

The Sonoma-Cutrer Winery should be familiar to any casual wine drinker, diner, or bon vivant. For the past 25 years, the Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay has been declared the most ordered Chardonnay in fine restaurants across the USA. I first tasted their wines in the late 1980s, and loved their clean, fruity, spicy take on the Chardonnay grape.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery was established in 1973 in the heart of the Russian River Valley, bringing its initial vintage of Chardonnay to the marketplace in 1981. True to the terroir of the Russian River Valley where the estate resides, Sonoma-Cutrer specializes in only two varietals – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Helping to maintain its trademark expression of these two Burgundian varietals, the winery has employed only three winemakers over the more than three decades of vintages. The first was William Bonetti. Second was Terry Adams. And, beginning in 2010, Michael ‘Mick’ Schroeter took over the reins.

I’ve known Mick for some 15 years now. We first met when he was working at Geyser Peak Winery with Daryl Groom. These two Aussie transplants had originally worked together in the Barossa Valley at Penfolds Winery. When Groom came to California to take over the winemaking operation at Geyser Peak, Schroeter followed shortly thereafter. They took a winery better known for everyday table wine and crafted a brand that produced dozens of different bottlings, from everyday “fighting varietals” to reserve level reds and whites that could hold their own with the best in the state. Their everyday Sauvignon Blanc, all stainless steel fermented and on the shelf just months after harvest, became an industry standard for the varietal, garnering gold medals and Best of Class awards in nearly every vintage.

Interestingly, neither Penfolds in Australia nor Geyser Peak in the Alexander Valley of California produced a Pinot Noir, and their Chardonnays were solid but not exceptional. I asked Schroeter why he took on the role of winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, a Burgundian varietal specialist. The best sense I could make of his response was the desire for a new challenge at an established, world-renowned facility. It was this wanderlust, the desire to “do it all” in the wine world, that had brought Schroeter to California in the first place, after making wine in Australia and Chile.

From the wines I tasted at Marche Bacchus that evening, Schroeter is doing a magnificent job overseeing the winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. The current releases are among the best I have tasted from the winery. And the 2012 Founder’s Chardonnay, only the second such designated bottling from the winery, is the best Chardonnay I have had this year.

After years of not being open to the public, Sonoma-Cutrer now welcomes visitors to the estate property for tastings and tours. For more information, check out their website, drop them an email, or give them a call.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery
4401 Slusser Road
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 237-3489
http://www.sonomacutrer.com

Below, please find my on-the fly assessment notes of the Sonoma-Cutrer wines tasted at Marche Bacchus, with winery pricing:

2013 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
This is their flagship wine, found only in fine restaurants and at the winery. This vintage is bursting with honeyed, spiced, apple fruit that screams Russian River Valley. An opulent style of Chardonnay, but with impeccable balance. This is one of the best RRV bottlings ever produced by the winery.
MSRP: $28 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
True to its name, wet stone minerality interplays with perfumed white flowers, notes of honey, toasted nuts, baking spices, apple fruit, and citrus notes. Complex and well-knit. This should gain complexity and drink well over the next decade. The 2011 harvest in the North Coast was a difficult one, but you wouldn’t know it from this bottling. Superb!
MSRP: $42 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Founder’s Chardonnay
Only the second rendition of this bottling, a selection blended from the best five barrels of the vintage. Enticing aromas of exotic flowers, hazelnut, lemon chiffon, light apple, stone fruit, and crème brulee. This is decidedly feminine and seductive – not your typical California oak-and-fruit monster. Exquisite.
MSRP: $65 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94+

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Wood notes of cinnamon spice frame a potpourri of red and black fruits (strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry). Notes of orange rind. In the mouth, it is sleek and supple, with flavors mirroring the nose. There is a moderate, youthful, tannic grip at the back. This is a great wine to enjoy now, but it will continue to provide pleasure over the next six to eight years.
MSRP: $34 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

More fun! Following the tasting at Marche Bacchus, Mick and the winery reps put on a special tasting for the Sommeliers of Las Vegas at Ferraro’s restaurant just off the Strip. I was allowed to tag along. It was a vertical tasting of the iconic Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay, noted for its Burgundian style and longevity. The vineyard, which derives its name from its rocky soil reminiscent of Burgundy, is located just outside the town of Sonoma. Here are my impressions:

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Crisp minerality. Lightly perfumed, showing white flowers and apple fruit with a whiff of smoky oak. Notes of roasted nuts. Hint of herbs. Unevolved, but showing great promise for the future. Mouth filling, with a long finish.
Wine Lines rating: 92

2009 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Ample fruit punctuated by nuts, wet stones, and clarified butter. It is medium-full in the mouth, with a long, lip-smacking finish.
Wine Lines rating: 91

2004 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
At first whiff, a note of petroleum, which gave way to butter-kissed lemon curd fruit and distinct minerality. The nose is piquant, but it is silky smooth in the mouth.
Wine Lines rating: 89

1999 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Wow! Perfumed, with pretty clove woodspice and apple fruit. Still seems young and vibrant, with a perfectly smooth feel in the mouth. Beautiful and compelling, with a long life ahead.
Wine Lines rating: 93

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