Ever wanted to explore a deep, dark cave? How about doing it without investing in all that spelunking equipment or worrying about bugs and bats? And what if wine was waiting at the end of the tunnel? Hello, Sonoma’s Roth Estate!
This love letter to both full-flavored Bordeaux and cool-climate varietals alike is located in the heart of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley AVA (though it has some vineyards in select other AVAs as well). Today it is a member of the Foley family of wines that also includes Chalk Hill, but was founded in the early 2000’s by the now-retired Ted Simpkins (who also notably helmed Lancaster Estate for years). Why is it not named Simkins Estate then? Simpkins chose the name “Roth” to honor his mother, Rose Roth, who grew up in a Swiss village before bravely relocating to the United States about a year before World War II began. Her indomitable spirit kept her family afloat, so the name is homage to her and to the family’s rich, bold heritage.
Winemaker Michael Beaulac is the perfect steward of the special land. He joined the Roth team in 2021 after working for the who’s who of vineyards including Murphy-Goode, Markham Vineyards, St. Supéry Vineyards and Pine Ridge Vineyards. His philosophy when it comes to his craft is “be proactive in the vineyards. Let the fruit find its balance. Do not force the wine to be anything it’s not. Let it express its typicity. Once in the winery, the wine should be touched as little as possible. In a perfect vintage, we really shouldn’t have to do anything.”
So, is the fruit balanced? Goodness, yes! The big, deep, rich flavors in each of the Roth Estate varietals are mind bending. The only competition to the sublime notes in each sip? The ways in which one may enjoy them while visiting the massive property.
There are seven primary experiences available at Roth Estate, three of which should be on the leap list of any oenophile.
First, there is the Picnic and Play Experience, which is for groups as small as two and as large as 20. This reservation showcases the playful side of the property and includes a two-hour reservation on one of Roth’s beautiful bocce courts for $75 per person, inclusive of a picnic lunch. Then, rather than attempting to do a wine tasting while playing, guests may choose their own adventure, opting to purchase wines by the glass or bottle to pair with a provided sustenance.
Next, there is the Roth’s Ultimate BBQ Lunch, which is available for groups of two to six at a rate of $110 per couple. For this experience, Roth’s culinary team offers each guest a bevy of barbecue favorites including smoked short rib, estate-grown potato salad, pickled garden zucchini and grilled garlic sourdough bread. The meal is paired with one bottle of Roth wine per couple, so if a group, there is a great chance to mix and match varietals to create a custom tasting based on the group’s favorite notes and each person’s palate.
And then there is Foley Food and Wine Society Cave Tasting. (Finally, she is talking about this promised cave, right?).
Though guests with reservations for other experiences may request a guided tour of the wine cave, only those with specialty dining reservations may call the dimly lit, ultra-Instagram-friendly space their home for a full tasting, and this one is the best.
New this year and available for groups of two to 10 for $90 per person, the journey starts in the tasting room for a splash of white wine while the group’s host gives some history on the property, pointing out areas of interest while walking toward an ivy-covered free-standing tunnel on the side of the property. Hidden beneath the vines tightly hugging the façade is the entrance to the cave. Upon entering, journey down a dark tunnel with wine barrels on all sides. Once about 50 yards inside, a glimmering light appears ahead, courtesy of stunning chandeliers hung from two wine cave rooms and a third near a full bar at the very back of the cave. Room one is a sitting area with Roth-logoed glassware, blankets and an impressive art installation of the family crest. Room two is a more formal dining room. Guests are invited to explore its nooks before being seated for the main event. During the nearly two-hour experience, indulge in a seasonal lineup of the luxury wines from Roth and across the full Foley portfolio, with each sip paired with a selection of small culinary bites.
Given all this, an in-person visit is a must. But, while making plans, there are a wealth of varietals perfect for drinking right now. A few favorites:
2019 Roth Heritage Red, Sonoma County: Among the sneaky best wine country buys for those who love blueberry pie, chocolate, raspberry and just a touch of spice. It lingers, but in a silky way that begs for another sip. $35
2019 Roth Reserve Merlot, Alexander Valley: Plum is the star of the show here but allows for glimmers of vanilla and spice followed by black cherry as it envelops the mouth. Like the Heritage, it is phenomenally smooth on the finish. $58
2018 Roth Reserve Malbec, Sonoma County: Big in every way, expect notes of blackberry, raspberry and toasted spice on the nose before black cherry, black tea, leather and even cedar (but in a good way) join in on the fun. $62