Credit Hamel Estate

Winery of the Week: Hamel Family Wines

Whenever I watch Big 10 college football; I think about Sonoma’s Hamel Family Wines.

Whenever I have a perfect wine pairing dinner; I think about Hamel Family Wines.

Whenever a view takes my breath away; I think about Hamel Family Wines.

Allow me to explain.

I think about Sonoma Valley AVA gem Hamel during Big 10 football because the star of the brand’s label is none other than a badger, as in the Wisconsin Badgers. (More on that story in a moment.)

I think about Hamel when enjoying a perfect wine pairing dinner because their winery has one of the most talented kitchens in the country, churning out a full-on culinary journey to accompany their exceptionally made varietals. (More on that tasting in a moment.)

I think about Hamel when I see a view that takes my breath away because both the view of the winery and from the winery are so magical that they could serve as a muse for an artist or poet. (Okay, let’s start there.)

The Winery

The drive up to the family-owned and -operated Hamel Family Wines is littered with what feels like a million acres of vineyards and dozens of mature olive trees. Once at the winery itself, you will see no expense was spared in constructing a sleek and expansive indoor-outdoor space that blends natural elements with chic, modern design. From the water features to the floor-to-ceiling glass to the private experience rooms with floating ceilings and custom furniture, it is no wonder the space has been profiled in the likes of Architect Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. The view from the winery – offering 280-degrees of the Sonoma Valley, rolling mountainsides and miles of grapes – feels like it goes on forever, so completely enveloping you in the moment that the only time you will glance at your phone is to find the camera function for pictures.

The History

You are still thinking about the badgers, aren’t you? Let’s explain it in a bit more depth, shall we?

First, it should be noted that three generations of Hamels have graduated from the University of Wisconsin, so they are technically winemaking badgers themselves.

Second, when developing brand concept after brand concept for the winery only to have their ideas shot down by each other or already taken by other concepts, the family’s patriarch, George Hamel, Jr., happened across a story that detailed how badgers were native to Sonoma. He would come across a second story about badgers in a paper while at a wine festival out of state that helped seal the deal as well (because who happens across two stories about badgers so randomly, right? Had to be fate!).

Third, as if the above was not enough inspiration, at the time they were debating imagery, the “honey badger don’t care” YouTube videos went viral, and the family even had a collection of stuffed badgers, to boot.

So, after months of discussion and disagreements, the Hamel family embraced all the signs, and the rest is history.

The Wines

If you love big, bold red wines whose aromatics burst from the bottle and dance across your nose and then whose layers of flavors come in waves on your palate…then Hamel is for you. Each bottle feels both like a luxury and a lark. You can tell the team making this wine likes to have fun and while they clearly take winemaking seriously, they don’t take themselves this way. Both entire lines of estate and reserve wines are worth a taste, but there are three that I cannot live without (yes, I am a wine member, and, yes, these three bottles are always in my shipment): 

Hamel Family Wines 2018 Zinfandel

Hello, ruby! The color of this wine is so vibrant and deep that it looks as if it is glowing when poured into a glass. Expect red and black fruits on the nose with a hint of forest floor and rose petal. To the taste, get ready for dark fruit to enter a hypnotic dance with savory spices. $64

Hamel Family Wines 2018 Isthmus

An actual isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two larger land masses despite the best attempts of the sea on both sides to divide them. Celebrate your success in forging a similarly strong tie that binds with this ruby red blend bursting with juicy black fruit, clove and hint of cedar. $90

Hamel Family Wines 2017 Nuns Canyon

Like with Zinfandel, the stark gemstone color as this luscious varietal is poured will catch your eyes first. Supple and silky to the taste, there is a symphony of flavors – blackberry, cassis, lavender, sage, graphite, tea leaf, soy and crushed rocks – that explode from the glass. They give way to a structured minerality on the finish. I buy this one for Thanksgiving and Christmas each year to treat my family. My mom has now requested it for her Mother’s Day gift as well. $160

The Tastings

Yep, saved the best part of this tasty little spotlight for last. There are three tastings from which to choose at the winery. First, the Estate Tasting ($75) offers a cave tour, house-made ricotta with crackers and pours of the Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and Isthmus, a Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a library Cabernet Sauvignon. Then, there is the Collector’s Experience ($100), which boasts a tour then private tasting inside the wine cave. The tasting – which explores the nuances in Hamel’s allocated Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon blends from its valley floor and mountain estate vineyards – is accompanied by a seasonal plate from Executive Chef Clinton Huntsman.

And then there is the big dog: the reserve experience ($150 and worth every penny). Here, Huntsman – a veteran of Calistoga Ranch, Bouchon Bistro and The Red Door Inn – really flexes his culinary muscles. After a winery tour and barrel tasting, this personalized wine and food journey goes into overdrive, pairing the winery’s four epic Reserve Series Cabernet Sauvignon Blends with a four-course meal for the ages. Think French Laundry-level sophistication and plating that enhances every sip, and vice versa.

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