Ram's Gate is in the southern end of the Carneros wine growing region. Why the name Ram's Gate? Carneros means ram in Spanish; the winery is at the gateway to the wine country. A local landmark is the Infineon Raceway, which you can see from the winery.
This is a winery that takes design seriously but not too seriously. It's not over the top; it's fashionable and on trend without being tacky or gaudy. Ram's Gate has set the style. Wait and see, I predict others will follow.
The winery occupies the ranch that was once home to Roche Vineyards. The new owners razed the existing structures to make way for Howard Backen's concept of two barns connected by a courtyard and covered gallery. No matter where you stand in the winery, you have a clear line of site to the opposite end, beyond which are eye-catching views of the Carneros vineyards and countryside. Simply breathtaking.
First Winery for Interior Designer
Orlando Diaz-Azcuy had never designed a winery until Ram's Gate. "I accepted the commission because the description fit very well with my thinking of simplicity," Orlando says. He's known for doing the interiors of Masa's restaurant and the Levi Strauss headquarters, both in San Francisco.
"The image of the American farm barn has been a symbol of nostalgia, romance, purity and simplicity in architecture." He says, "I considered that the end goal should be sophisticated, restrained luxury." Above all, Orlando wanted "to avoid style clichés." He absolutely achieved this. While his design brings the outdoors in, it's done in a new way and feels fresh.
"With 30-foot high ceilings, you need something for the viewer to look up to in order to realize and enjoy the interior height," says Orlando. "Rather than a chandelier, a simple fixture that emulates the light of candles was appropriate. The eight-foot high lanterns are made with a resin that imitates seeded glass, with a steel frame corrugated finish."
This is one of my favorite features, and turns out that Orlando came up with the idea. The bottles are all empty (darn). This wall separates the main tasting bar from the kitchen, but it's easy to see what the chefs are up to thanks to a big cutout window. Orlando says, "this wine wall is conceived as a free standing minimal sculpture."
The Landing Strip
Ok so there's not an actual airplane landing strip in the winery. Chef Jason Rose says they call the long white Carrara marble island in the kitchen "the landing strip." So much counter space! I want this kitchen.
This is a demonstration and teaching kitchen. In fact, if the chefs are at work while you are visiting, feel free to go sit in the kitchen and watch -- or even lend a helping hand.
Sometimes when you see a brand new shiny winery, you have to wonder, is this fancy window dressing or are the wines any good? Winemaker Jeff Gaffner does his new digs proud. Jeff's also the winemaker at Saxon Brown and Xtant, and was on the team at Chateau St. Jean that made Cinq Cepages. Here he's got a portfolio that includes some sparkling wine and Moscato, but the main focus is on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a little bit of Syrah. I am not the biggest Chardonnay fan, but loved the single vineyard wines from Durrell Vineyard and Ulises Valdez Vineyard. The Durrell Vineyard Pinot Noir is smooth and elegant.
Visiting Ram's Gate
Ram's Gate is now open to the public, and you can drop in for a tasting, with prices starting at $8 for one glass. Reserve ahead of time and you can also choose a wide range of wine and food pairings, from a tasting to a picnic by the pond.
Howard Backen hopes you'll find a sense of surprise and excitement at Ram's Gate. "We want visitors to explore and experience every part of the building and the site around the winery, and leave with a strong memory of the place."
Follow Mary Orlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WineFashionista