American Winery Guide
Cline Cellars Review
For years, when friends who were vacationing in California asked me what wineries they should visit, I would send them to Cline Cellars. My experiences at Cline have been consistently positive ones. Despite always being busy, crowded with eager guests, the staff there always found the time to treat each visitor in a friendly, generous, and relaxed manner.
A few weeks ago I had a chance to see if the folks at Cline were still on their A-game. An old college friend was visiting and wanted to tour some good wineries. My first thought was, “Let’s go to Cline.”
Founded in 1982 by Fred Cline with an inheritance he received from his maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, of pump and spa fame, the winery was moved in 1991 from its original home in Oakley, CA, to Sonoma. Cline Cellars now rests at the southern end of the Sonoma Valley in the Los Carneros AVA, just north of San Pablo Bay. The winery’s grounds comprise land that was once home to the community that would establish the final and northernmost mission in California’s fabled chain, Mission San Francisco Solano. The historic compound was eventually constructed near what is now Sonoma Plaza.
Cline’s main tasting room and gift shop take up most of an 1850 farmhouse that sits in the center of the winery’s property. The expansive, picturesque grounds, splashed with countless colorful rose plants, are surrounded by vineyards, and dotted with ponds, reflecting pools, and spacious picnic areas.
While Cline Cellars produce white, rosé, and red wines, they are best known for their Rhonish varietals and blends, as well as zinfandels, many of which come from the ancient vines in Oakley that Fred Cline restored and reinvigorated in the early ‘80s. These wines are all regarded as well crafted and showing great typicity. The entire Cline portfolio is priced to sell, which only adds to the popularity of these wines. In terms of Quality-Price Ratio (QPR), Cline Cellars is tough to beat.
The day of our tasting, Cline was, per usual, very busy; the parking lot crowded, with the expected number of tour buses, limos, and shuttle vans sprinkled here and there. Despite the presence of so many visitors we found a spot at the tasting bar almost immediately. Unlike most Sonoma wineries, Cline allows guests to enjoy complimentary tastings, charging a minimal fee only if they opt for the menu of reserve, single vineyard labels.
My friend and I split both menus, looking to enjoy as many Cline wines as possible. On the complimentary tasting, we enjoyed the pinot gris and the rosé of mourvedre, both of them crisp, clean, and filled with mouth-watering acid. We found the Cashmere, a blend of mourvedre, syrah, and grenache to be silky smooth, almost indulgent. But we were especially impressed with their ancient vine mourvedre and ancient vine zinfandel. With each pour, our host took the time to explain the wine’s terroir, offering helpful bits of knowledge about the various growing areas of Northern California from which Cline sources fruit, as well as the winery itself.
In our reserve tasting, we selected the 2011 Sonoma Zinfandel, the 2011 Live Oak Zinfandel, and the 2010 Los Carneros Syrah. Each wine was rich,full-bodied, with complex flavor profiles and excellent structure and balance. And, with prices ranging from $28 to $32, very tough to pass up.
My only quibble with what had been a wonderful visit came as a result of listening to various staff members speak to other guests. While they are enthusiastic ambassadors of all things Cline, the wine knowledge of some of the staff peters out when they stray past their own label. The fellow pouring next to us, when asked a question about AVA (American Viticultural Areas) designations, gave a response that contained too many partial truths and unsettling omissions. This is a phenomenon that occurs far too often at wineries big and small. While there is little real harm that comes from such errors, in the end it does the winery’s brand no good. People will go home and share what they’ve learned, telling their friends they learned it at Name The Winery. There’s no upside to that. For anyone.
Happily, we finished up our visit by chatting with other guests, browsing the gift shop, and enjoying a stroll of the well-maintained grounds. The next time I get asked by friends who want to visit wine country where they should go, will I still recommend Cline Cellars? Of course. Are they still on their A-game? Absolutely.