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Larson Family Winery, Sonoma

Where They Bottle Dreams

Carolyn Craig, Winemaker for Larson Family WinesPhoto: Carolyn Craig, Winemaker at Larson Family Winery.

Women of the Wine Country

If I was asked to tell you what's in Carolyn Craig's wines, I would have to say, "her dreams."

But I couldn't just say, "her dreams," There would have to be California history also.

I would have to tell about what it's like to taste wines at a small, winery operating on land that's been in the same family for a hundred and fifteen years.

The Larson Family has owned the 100-plus acres their winery is on since 1898 when it was the landing for the Sonoma Steamer, a steam ship operating from the Embarcadero to Sonoma Creek.

Beginning in 1920, the property was known as Millerick Ranch and hosted the Sonoma Rodeo.

In 1977, Tom and his father Bob Larson, added 40 acres of Chardonnay vineyards. The Carneros region is renowned for some of the best Chardonnay grapes.

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The winery has no distribution (you have to buy the nectar there) so Bob and Tom's success has been built on the quality of their wines rather than advertising and ease of purchase. With the foundation of their business based on quality rather than availability, they had to produce a better product. And they do.

Since 2008, much of that responsibility has fallen on Carolyn. The stars were in alignment for both Carolyn and the Larson Family when she went to work in the tasting room in 2002.

She brought with her a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business and Management from Cal Poly and her dreams. After four years of working for the family, she was asked to be their winemaker.

Larson Family Winery already had a great reputation. Their 2003 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon won Best Cab of California at the California State Fair (Carolyn helped with this one but gives all the credit to her boss, Tom Larson).

But a series of successes following this one put her in the top echelons of worldwide winemakers. In 2013, she extended Larson Family's collection of kudos with a gold medal at the California State Fair for her Chardonnay.

Because Carolyn is as much famous for her modesty as she is for her genius when it comes to producing great-tasting wines, Erin Bush, Larson Family's Marketing Director, joined us on a hot afternoon in August for a wine tasting.

And here's where my dark confession comes into play. I was lured to come and do a tasting by Erin who promised their Pinot Noir would bring me out of my cave of confusion.

You see, I didn't like Pinot Noir. There. I've said it. This is a capital offense when you live in Sebastopol so I've long kept it a secret that I feel Pinot's should only be poured out of a box.

I won't go into the gory details but I've always been a Zin and Cab freak. The third crushing of the stems was good enough for me if the wine was dark enough and was rich in tannins.

So I arrived at noon with lunch and the three of us went to the lovely picnic area outside the tasting room After a brief conversation and some pretty good tri-tip, Erin brought out an armful of wines.

I was immediately staggered by a Pinot Griggio and dropped to my knees with a Gewurz. But I rallied.

What followed was a series of attempted knock-out punches but I was determined to flog on, inspired by the delicate selections of a Chard of fruit-forward elegance, and a late-harvest Gerwurz.

Then I was attacked with a Cab combining a slight element of old style oak and the new wave taste of fresh fruit, Zin so good I almost went down again, and, after that, their Sonoma Red (a blend containing 50 percent Cab). It's hard to not wax hyperbolic here.

Afterwards, they tag-teamed me with a brut sparkling wine as good as it gets in the 30 dollar range. I was weary and worn but I was soothed by a complexity I've rarely found in a bubbly.

At this point, Erin, with an evil laugh, asked if I was ready for their Pinot Noir. I was weary and worn but this was, after all, what I came for so I mustered all my resources and said, "Yes."

So out it came. It was an innocent color as is all Pinot but after poured and swirled, it was, well, colorful.

I think my ability to detect a nose had long since vanished at this point but when I took a sip, it splashed on my palate and danced back and forth across my tongue. It wasn't me doing it. There was magic in the glass.

Finally I got it. Pinot could actually be delicious. I asked for more and found the same sensations when I polished it off. I also realized what Carolyn has been doing for the past seven years. She has been bottling her dreams of what wine should taste like.

My experience at Larson Family Winery was, well, it was an experience. I bought four bottles of wine including, yes, a bottle of Pinot Noir. It was the first bottle of Pinot I had ever purchased.

As mentioned above, Larson Family Winery does no distribution so you have to come to their lovely tasting room. The good news is, wine tastings are only five dollars. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the beauty of outdoors Sonoma County.

The other good news is the winery and tasting room are close to the City so it's a great place to pop in for your first tasting of the day.
Take it from me, it might be your last tasting of the day. With almost every variety available in the Wine Country, why would you go anyplace else?


Larson Family Winery - Wine Tastings $5

Tel: 707-938-3031
23355 Millerick Road
Sonoma, CA 95476


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