Toast to Max and a new Syrah at St. Francis Winery

By Celia Strong
We’re off to Sonoma County in California this week.  And, actually, to a winery we’ve looked at a long time ago.  But, it’s a new wine and it is yum yum.
The winery is St. Francis. For more than 35 years, St. Francis has produced wines in Sonoma from mountain and valley vineyards that are bold flavored and fruit forward and represent the soils and climates that they come from.  St. Francis began it journey in 1971, in the Sonoma town of Kenwood.  A San Franciscan businessman, Joe Martin, and his wife, Emma, bought 100 acres known as the Behler Ranch. In 1979, after growing and selling their grapes to local wineries, they decided, along with a partner Lloyd Canton, to build their own winery. St. Francis Winery was established and christened after St. Francis of Assisi, in recognition of the saint’s role as a protector of the natural world and in acknowledgment of the Franciscan order, thought to have been responsible for the beginning of European grape growing in the New World.  In 1999, St. Francis built and moved into a new facility about one mile from their original winery.
Then, in 2001, their Visitors Center was finished and the next step of their vision was complete.  The Visitors Center looks out over Wild Oak Vineyard (one of their best land holdings) and offers three separate tasting bars, a beautiful slate patio with panoramic views of many surrounding vineyards, gardens full of lavender and other herbs and plants and vistas of Sonoma Valley behind all of this. If you’ve never visited St. Francis, this is why they built the Visitors Center and it is one of two reasons you should go. (The other reason is their wines, duh.)
Like many other wineries, in this country and around the world, “going green” is a coming trend for health, quality and environmental reasons.  As the President of St. Francis says, “We continue to enjoy tremendous success by focusing on Sonoma County where we grow 100% of our grapes. With success comes responsibility to future generations who will live and work here as well.  Engaging in green practices is the right thing to do, which makes it the right way to run a business.”
All that sounds good but I, at least, found this list of what that means at St. Francis very interesting.  I hope you do too: in 2004, St. Francis installed a 457 kilowatt solar electrical system on their roof in order to conserve the equivalent of 32,000 barrels of oil, 14.5 million pounds of coal or 190 million cubic feet of Natural Gas; also in 2004 they retrofitted the lighting in the winery switching to energy efficient T5 fixtures with 221 motion sensors and saved 55% in energy usage; maintenance crews use electric carts on the property; night air is “trapped” among the stored cases and barrels to keep them cool; winery water is cleaned naturally to irrigate the 120 acres of vineyards on the Wild Oak site; all winery refuse goes to the county transfer station where it is sorted for Single Stream Recycling; all paper waste is picked up by local businesses, shredded on site and recycled locally;  glass bottles are 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality; St. Francis is committed to using a minimum of 50% recycled material; the 2009 Farm Plan was established to move towards practicing sustainability to enhance vineyards and make the wines better; the slate used on the walls of the winery and the Visitors Center, and the slate used for drainage areas, was naturally sourced from the Wild Oak vineyard;  the metal roof structures for the Winery and storage buildings were built with 70% recycled steel.  And, that’s not the whole list, but it does show their level of commitment.  (In 2009, St. Francis Winery received the “Best Practices Award” from the Sonoma County Business Environmental Alliance.)  And, if they’re that committed to their green policies, just think how that moves over to their wine making.
One more second, though, before we go to the wine.  There is another award that St. Francis Winery has won recently — the 2011 Winery Dog of the Year,  For any of us who have visited wineries in California, and Sonoma especially, a dog or two is almost expected as part of your greeting when you arrive.  Max, at St. Francis, is a 7-year-old Goldendoodle. (That means cream colored, soft, curly, couple-inch long hair and a great disposition for all the petting and attention he gets.)  Congratulations, Max!
Finally, now, our wine. Get your glass ready because this one is new and wonderful. It’s the St.. Francis Syrah.  Holy cow! This wine is such a treat.  All of St.. Francis’ wines are smooth and juicy textured in your mouth.  This one is so juicy it makes my mouth water.  Plus the juicy texture lingers on you tongue and holds the flavors there so it never leaves you.  You may realize by now how I like to sip my way through a couple of glasses and see how the wine does — how it lingers, how it changes, how I change with it, the whole show.  The more I ooh and ah going through the couple of glasses the more I like the wine.  First glass of this wine I run though flavors of chocolate and baking spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, second glass I pick up more fruit flavors like blackberries, intense dark strawberries and then white pepper and cocoa.  Yum, yum. This wine would be lovely with grilled salmon and tuna, roasted chicken, Wednesday night meatloaf, a bath on Saturday night, you get the idea. St.. Francis Winery this month recommends sauteed mushrooms over herbed goat cheese polenta, or grits to us. Yum. Let’s not forget to talk about the price also. This wine is somewhere between $19 and $22 retail.  Unless, of course, you shop well, then it’s $13.99.  (Yep, another one of our deals.)  So, for $13,99, we can all enjoy another great wine. And, don’t forget to toast Max. Enjoy!

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