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A sneak preview of Sunday’s SF Gate Travel Section…….

10/24/2014- in Press
Published 5:32 pm, Thursday, October 23, 2014

A look at a new winery such as Hamel Family Wines, opened this June in Sonoma, might explain why. Modern wineries usually aren’t modest affairs, and something has got to help pay for the spectacular settings, where architects, interior designers and landscape artists enjoy nearly the same marquee billing as the winemakers.

But there’s more. As my tasting host explained with impressive sincerity, the Hamel experience isn’t just about sampling the four wines offered — it’s about embracing an entire, coveted lifestyle. For my $40, I was getting a glimpse into Wine Country glamour.

The vibe: Yes, please. I’d love my everyday life to include relaxing on a padded wood lounge chair on the hillside terrace overlooking Sonoma Valley vineyards, a grove of 100-year-old olive trees and Sonoma Mountain, with a host bringing me wine. The Gould Evans architecture is stunning, with sloped ceilings supported by expansive glass wings, a rammed-earth wall, and rich finishes of black walnut, travertine and basalt stone. There are also lots of badgers (more on that later).

The experience: For $100, I could have gotten the Reserve Experience, which features a tasting in the Library, enhanced with barrel samples, a cheese-charcuterie board, plus a tour of the 6,875-square-foot estate house (tasting room), the 7,500-square-foot winery, 12,000 square feet of caves, and vineyards.

For $60, I could have gotten the standard tasting upgraded with a tour. Yet, with such an open, welcoming layout to the place, it’s easy to do a self-tour, and my host let me take a peek inside the labyrinthine caves after I asked.

The $40 tasting is guided and lasts about a generous hour in a leisurely, friendly chat. This is when you learn about the badger theme, on display as the bottle labels, art pieces in the bar lounge and as a stuffed critter on a shelf. The short answer is that the Hamel family has three generations of alums from the University of Wisconsin. Plus, badgers are native to Sonoma County, and need extra love because their habitat is increasingly threatened by development.

The team: It’s family, indeed. The owners are George and Pam Hamel Jr., the managing director is George Hamel III, and the winemaker is John B. Hamel II, working with consulting winemaker Martha McClellan. The 124-acre property had been in the Hamel clan for nearly 100 years; the Hamel brand has been made off-site since 2006.

The wines: Tastings focus on current releases, covering the 2013 Rosé ($28), 2013 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($40), 2012 Estate Zinfandel ($45), and 2011 Isthmus, a Bordeaux-inspired red wine blend ($80).

The extras: My host wasn’t kidding about creating lifestyle. The Hamels hired branding expert Ken Fulk to pull his connections and put together upcoming experiences such as dinners in the vineyards with chef Gary Danko, luxury campfire concerts and outdoor movies.

If you go: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, by appointment. 15401 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma Valley, (707) 996-5800. www.hamelfamilywines.com.

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