There are wineries, there are tasting rooms, there are restaurants, and then there is Ram’s Gate. I must give the disclaimer that while I generally gush about this place to anyone who will listen, I hesitated to write about it, for fear of giving away the best kept secret, my own little sanctuary. Alas, I would be depriving you of a little slice of Heaven on Earth, and that is just a burden I am unable to bear.
Ram’s Gate is no ordinary winery. It’s not the place you stop at on a party bus on your way through wine country on your mission to inebriation. Upon my first visit, our initial intention was merely to stop by to see the widely talked about design and space (by famed architect Howard Backen and acclaimed interior designer Orlando Diaz-Azcuy). Within minutes of arriving, we didn’t want to leave. And three hours later, we had not only tasted every wine available, but we had tried more than a handful of dishes on the wine-focused menu created by Executive Chef Jason Rose, taken a property tour, and befriended just about everyone we met that afternoon. Ram’s Gate became our first and only stop that day. In a refreshing twist, that was their plan all along.
Ironically located directly across from the Infineon Raceway where speed means survival, life noticeably slows down the second you set foot in the Ram’s Gate parking lot. Set atop a small hill on the Carneros Highway in Sonoma – and just 40 quick minutes from San Francisco – the rustic and completely unassuming barn overlooks both the wetlands and the valley. True to the casual and inviting atmosphere, there is no front door, rather guests are greeted by a large courtyard complete with olive trees and an oversized stone fireplace. As if your arrival was expected, the concierge meets you on the walkway setting a spa-meets-home vibe , with a refreshing calm permeating through a smiling face and a warm welcome.
Around every corner lies jaw-dropping design complimented by a spectacular view of the rolling vineyards. Various tasting rooms are scattered throughout the property, from the over-sized marble tasting bar, to the fireside creamy leather club chairs, the indoor/outdoor dining room, or the luxurious members only library. Then there is of course, the terrace which overlooks the estate vines and the pond just beyond a well-manicured lawn.
But you can’t eat the view now, can you? (Though if you could, I bet this one would be delicious; the foie gras of views, if you will.)
Chef Jason Rose (Delfina Restaurant Group) and the culinary team at Ram’s Gate are changing the way the food world thinks about food and wine pairings. Traditionally, food is the first thought, and wine is paired accordingly. But, being your not-so-typical winery, the opposite happens here; utilizing the on-site “Four Farmer’s Garden”, Rose creates his menus around the wine, letting the wine itself take center stage. At least that’s the intention, but I find it impossible to ignore the talent and tastes that come out of his kitchen. Crispy pork belly with cranberry beans and brussels sprouts, Sonoma foie gras with braised grapes and parmesan crostini, truffled artichoke soup with seared dayboat scallops, braised oxtail pappardelle, Nieman Ranch hangar steak with duck fat fingerling potatoes…the menu is truly poetic, punctuated with approachable prices. Each dish is sinfully rich yet seductively simple, mirroring the paradoxical casual-glamor design at Ram’s Gate.
A testament to the culinary creative, Rose works from the open test kitchen in the main tasting room. Another long white marble counter with a concise station behind, the pristine white subway tiles and copper pots are of museum quality. You can often spot Jason and his team preparing for a cooking class, or collaborating with Sommelier, Ian Burrows, for an intimate “matchmaking” demonstration and tasting.
Of course you can’t spend hours at a winery and not enjoy a bit of vino. Further setting Ram’s Gate apart from the plethora of been-there-done-that wineries nearby, Ram’s Gate has two wine labels: the red label, which is available to anyone, anytime, and the white label, which is available to wine club members only. A tasting flight will take you from the crisp, citrus Sparkling Brut to the velvety Winemaker’s Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon. But the pleasantly buttery and oaky Sonoma County Chardonnay and jammy Estate Pinot shine brightest.
It’s easy to feel like Ram’s Gate is a home away from home, filled with friends, familiar faces, fantastic food and fabulous views. Whether you are looking for a leisurely afternoon just across the Golden Gate, or a breathtaking venue for a special celebration, Ram’s Gate Winery is both passionate and playful, and it is truly, a little slice of Heaven.
Photo Credit: Rocco Ceselin Photography