MacPhail Wine Lounge & The Barlow: A Sebastopol Terroirist Destination

We were in Northern California a few weeks ago and decided to try to break away from the strong gravitational pull of Napa Valley to explore the terroir away from the Highway 29 corridor. We were looking for wines that could capture a sense of place — and we found them — but we also stumbled on an exciting wine-food-tourism cluster called The Barlow hidden in plain sight in Sebastopol, just off Highway 12 west of Santa Rosa. Lots of interesting wine economics on display! Here is a rambling report of our trip.

A Terroirst Tour

Our terroirist tour took us first to Pride Mountain, a fascinating winery located high on Spring Mountain (Pride is the family name of the owners). Some of the vineyards are on the Napa side of the AVA border and some are on the Sonoma side — the labels tell you the percentages of each. Interestingly, to meet certain fiscal rules, there are actually two wineries — one in Napa and the other in Sonoma with a line in the concrete crush pad to separate them. The wines are  blended only after they’ve first been accounted for in their home AVA. Wonderful tour, very interesting wines, beautiful location and bizarre regulations!

Once across the mountains in Sonoma we headed for DeLoach and Gary Farrell, where we tasted a number of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs. Both these wineries have changed ownership in the course of their existence — brands change hands frequently these days — and both seem to be in good hands now. Boisset has converted the DeLoach estate vineyard to biodynamic viticulture. Gary Farrell has no vineyards of its own, but sources grapes from a number of excellent growers.

We had one more stop on our list: MacPhail wines, another terroirist Pinot producer. The wines were wonderful, but they weren’t all that we discovered.

MacPhail Family Wines

MacPhail Family Wines has a roundabout history. It started when the people at Hess Family Wineries decided they wanted to develop a brand to highlight single vineyard California Pinot Noir. Hess President Tom Selfridge asked grower Jim Pratt to handle the vineyard side of things and to recommend a winemaker, who turned out to be James MacPhail. For a while the Hess wines, produced under the Sequana brand, and MacPhail’s own wines were made in MacPhail’s Healdsburg facility.

Eventually it became clear that the two projects — MacPhail’s own and his wines for Hess — were going in the same direction, so Hess put its backing into the MacPhail label. The wines, mainly from the Green Valley and Russian River Valley areas (with one wine sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands down south) had a real sense of time and place.  Our favorite was the 2012 Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. Delicious!

Based on what we learned at MacPhail on this trip and our stop at Glen Carlou in South Africa in January, I’d say that Hess does an exceptional job of using the resources of a large company to unleash terroirist potential on a smaller scale. Hess makes wine on four continents — soon to be just three when they complete the sale of Peter Lehmann to the Casella family of Yellow Tail fame.

The Barlow Project

Hess and MacPhail were looking for a site for a tasting room facility when they learned of The Barlow  project in nearby Sebastopol. Located at a crossroads on the site of an old apple processing facility (Sonoma is almost as famous for apples as for wine in some circles), The Barlow was conceived as a wine-food-arts cluster in a series of cannery-style buildings.  It’s a farm-to-fork and grape-to-glass kind of vibe rendered even more authentic by the agricultural heritage of the place.

Cult Pinot maker Kosta Browne (now owned by the same people who operate Gary Farrell, The Vincraft Group) was one of the anchor tenants of the project, with the winery spread over three buildings. La Follette’s tasting room is located here as well as the MacPhail Tasting Lounge.  The Barlow project also includes a craft brewery and a distillery (now they need a cider maker, don’t you think?). There are shops, a market, street fairs and a number of eateries.

We were particularly impressed by Zazu Kitchen + Farm, which is a sort of temple to pork products and local wines, featuring products from Black Pig Meat Company. Do pork and Pinot make a good pair? Oh, yes!

An Economic Development Model

How do you use wine to revitalize a run down area? How do you use wine tourism as a tool of economic development? These are questions that I am asked fairly frequently. The Barlow shows one approach that, while not easily replicated everywhere can still provide lessons.

The first key is the cluster approach used here. Not one winery but three, building some critical mass The second is that it’s not just wine, but wine, food, art and so forth. The third is that while these experiences can be designed and created, they should not be manufactured — an element of authenticity is surely needed. Each of The Barlow’s tenants– including MacPhail and Zazu — has the quality to stand on its own, but like a good wine blend the whole of the community that has been created is greater than the sum of its parts.

As you can tell, our Napa-Sonoma visit was a success. We found the terroirist wines we were looking for and we found something more in The Barlow.

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Thanks to the people at Pride Mountain, Gary Farrell, DeLoach and MacPhail for their hospitality. Thanks as well to my former student Grant who welcomed us at the Adobe Road winery tasting room on Sonoma square. We loved their distinctive wines, including especially the Kemp Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Viognier. Special thanks to Lowell, Dorothy, Allan, PJ and Holden for their assistance.

9 responses

  1. Mike – this looks great. We are headed up to Sebastopol after Christmas, hopefully we can stop in. See you Saturday.

  2. Mike-
    Great piece and congratulations on the Pride discovery–great people who’ve been making terrific wines for years. Had you ventured just 1/10th of a mile further you would have come across another spectacular mountain property, Schweiger Family, also performing some magic on Spring Mountain.

    From an economic standpoint I find it ironic Napa is spending so much time/energy/resources focused on China when what they should worry about is Sonoma. Including The Barlow there are several “destinations” where the customer experience is exceptional. And if you look closely Healdsburg just might be the new Yountville–quaint high end hotels, boutique hotels like Hotel Two Thirty Five, 7-10 great restaurants, charming town square and a terrific starting/ending town for a day of wine tasting.

    I’ll be heading to Sonoma on 12/4 for some meetings and to check out The Barlow–cannot wait. Wine hacking access to great wines waits for no one!

    Have picked up Wine Wars and am excited to dig in over the Thanksgiving holiday. Warm fire, full stomach, glass of wine and Mike Veseth book–now that’s a good weekend. Thanks for the terrific review and best wishes to you for a sensational holiday season.

    Cheers,
    Martin

    Martin A. Cody
    President
    Cellar Angels, LLC
    http://bit.ly/WineHack

  3. Hi Mike,
    So glad you discovered The Barlow and its delights. There are actually FOUR wineries located there. The fourth is Wind Gap. It’s right next to Taylor Maid Coffee. Be sure to check it out next time you’re in the area.

  4. Great post. Interesting invocation of interrelated concepts. I’m most interested in the idea of authenticity, which pervades the Barlow experience. Exactly when is an experience authentic and when it is manufactured?

    • Your authenticity question is a good one and I suppose that to a certain extent it is one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” things. In the case of the Barlow (and my column on Venissa a few weeks ago), I found authenticity in the attempt to honor history, although I understand that others might say that’s not enough. Both projects were planned to be sure, but built on a real foundation. Thanks for your comment!

      • As a Sonoman, brand strategist and huge fan of the Barlow development, I would explain the authenticity one experiences as two fold; 1. the occupants are locally owned, home grown, complimentary businesses 2. The location is synergistic to the community and is well integrated both aesthetically and geographically. Downtown Sebastopol was always a little sleepy although the surrounding economic activity derived from the farming of apples, making of wine, dairy and food products has been robust. The Barlow created a modern, accessible pedestrian friendly business district that was adjacent to the town center – Sebastopol did not lose their identity, they enhanced it. Moreover, it provides a destination where the community can naturally gather, tourists can visit, and business can convene – there is an ample coffee roasting facility and a spirits distillery manufacturing products that are then sold at their respective storefronts. If this project had impacted the character of the town by taking down historic structures to build strip malls and then leased space to national chain stores – I doubt the experience would feel as authentic. Knowing the residents of Sebastopol, I doubt if that could have happened without intense resistance. Love your posts Mike! Will ask Santa for your book. Cheers!

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