Thursday, October 18, 2012

Donum Harvest Draws to a Close

The 2012 harvest at Donum Estate has come to a close. This season has been a gift. A sunny yet mild summer allowed for long hangtimes, and nice, fog-covered mornings here in the growing season's final days have allowed us to bring in cool fruit to the winery. It's an exciting vintage, and we wanted to share a small piece of our harvest with you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Donum Estate's Summer Event Line Up

How did it turn into August already? That's the question we've been asking - somewhat frantically - here at the Donum Ranch. Veraison has spread across our vineyard, we're about two to three weeks ahead of last year, and the vintage is shaping up nicely.
Change has been the theme of the summer, both inside and  outside of our vineyard. For some details about the exciting additions to the Donum team and the Donum vineyards, we invite you to check out our Summer Newsletter here.
In addition to the ongoing changes, there has been an event explosion on our calendars. August and September are shaping up to be some of our busiest months, with our grand Pre-Release Open House and Sonoma County Vintners' Taste of Sonoma as the headliners. Because we don't want you to miss out on anything coming to your area, below is a highlight of the key  Donum events:

Donum Pre-Release Event
The Donum Estate, Sonoma, CA

August 25, 2012 - Saturday, one-day only
We'll be opening some of our 2010 Donum Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay, including a Special limited edition 10th Anniversary Pinot Noir. This casual, walk-around tasting is the in-house favorite for the Donum team. We have the pleasure of connecting one-on-one with our club and mailing list members, and they have the pleasure of accesssing special  pre-release, allocation only vintages. We'll have passed and buffet-style small bites from Ramekins Culinary in Sonoma, all designed to complement our Donum portfolio of wines. Email me at for more details.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Into the East Slope

Mid-July. The precipice of veraison. Green thinning completed. It's an exciting time in the vineyards here at the Donum Ranch. We hope you'll take a moment to step into our East Slope block with Anne.

To see our complete archive of videos, which takes you through a series of Donum seasons and vintages, click on our You Tube Link.

To learn more about Donum Estate and our portfolio of single vineyard, estate grown Pinot Noir, visit our website or email me at  


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer with Donum Estate

I don't know how it happened. I looked down at the  calendar today and realized we're already in the thick of summer. Berry set started in our Donum vineyard in early June, and cluster set and size look great. The season is developing a little more slowly in our new Anderson Valley vineyard (more on that later), but we're excited by the progress there as well. Slow and steady wins the race, as they say.

The video below gives you a quick close up of June in the Donum vineyard. Three weeks have passed since it was shot, but Anne and winemaker Dan Fishman give you a nice overview of the developing summer season for the 2012 vintage. The ultimate takeaway is that everything - cluster set, berry size and canopy covers look healthy. As the summer progresses, Anne and the Donum vineyard team's goal will be to maintain that health and see fruit ripen evenly across all three of our vineyard properties. Each year offers its own unique challenges. I think it's important to note, however, that in pursuit of that goal, every vine in every one of our vineyards will receive the touch of a human hand at least eight to 12 times.

If you're interested in viewing additional videos, please visit our You Tube page for a complete archive. Anne offers refreshingly candid snapshots of growing seasons past and present.
For more information about our current portfolio of wines, please visit our website or email me at I always enjoy hearing from our Donum friends and family.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Clam Pot & Pinot: 2008 Donum Carneros Estate and a Father's Day Menu from Wild Goat Bistro

A few weeks ago Nancy DeLorenzo and a few friends came by the Donum Ranch for a private tasting of our new vintages.  The proprietor of the Wild Goat Bistro, Nancy creates innovative salads, artisan pizzas and sharable small plates – piled high with local ingredients – at her charming European-style bistro in the historic Great Petaluma Mill. And she pairs them alongside selections from her “carefully curated” wine list comprised of small production producers like Donum Estate. If you ever get the chance to pull up a seat at the reclaimed copper bar the looks out into the open kitchen, you won’t regret it.
As so often happens, Nancy’s brief stopover turned into a wonderful late morning visit, complete with Pinot Noir and some nutty, not too “sheepy” sheep’s milk cheeses. By the end of the morning, Nancy had picked up a few bottles, including our 2008 Donum Carneros Estate Pinot Noir.
A few weeks passed and then this incredible Father’s Day menu showed up in our inbox, complete with pairing notes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grill Power: Donum Estate & The Bounty Hunter Talk Pinot and Pork

Let me start by saying, as a Southerner, I’m a touch obsessed with barbecue, be it North Carolina, sweet Texas or Memphis style. When I was first introduced to downtown Napa’s Bounty Hunter BBQ, which is run by Tiburon native Will Wright (pictured below, with his grilling tongs), you can imagine my wariness. A California boy – and a former investment banker – who knows his way around a smoker? 

It turns out that Will, once the chef and now the GM at the Bounty Hunter, has done stints in some of California’s finest kitchens, including the French Laundry. Will once told me that he’s always loved to grill, but he’s really been able to perfect his craft at the Bounty Hunter. Since his promotion to GM, Will doesn’t get his hands dirty in the kitchen as often as he’d like, but the tradeoff is that he now spends more time finessing the incredible 400-plus selection of wines they offer their guests. 

Over the years, Will has become intimately acquainted with some of these wines, including the lineup of Donum Estate Pinot Noirs. With grilling season kicking into high gear, we thought it was about time for the California Culinary Academy grad to take break from his grill and two Kamado smokers to talk Pinot and pork pairings with Donum Estate.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

La Difference: Donum Estate and a Diversity of Tastes

A few weeks ago, Cath Henderson, the editor of Classic Wine, graciously sent us a wonderful article by writer Norman McFarlane. McFarlane and Anne, Donum's founder, had met several months prior, and the article, titled "A Wandering Palate for Pinot Noir," touches upon their introduction and McFarlane's impression of the Donum portfolio of wines. We wanted to post it here for two reasons. First, Classic Wine is one of South Africa's most elegant wine publications, and we genuinely enjoyed McFarlane's thorough description of Donum's genesis and wines. Second, McFarlane's article isn't solely focused on the Pinot Noirs of Donum Estate; the broader subject is the American palate, which is always a hot button topic among winemakers, critics and collectors.

During one of our  monthly team meetings, I brought up this article and its exploration of the evolving American palate and how it is influenced. The conversation that ensued was lively and opinonated, and it inspired us to invite Anne to offer her take on the subject. We hope you'll check back in for that Q&A.

In the meantime, we hope you'll enjoy the following article. Although we can't say we agree with every element touched upon in the following pages, we can agree that the wine world would be much less rich if it weren't for the diversity of palates out there. As McFarlane says at the end of the "A Wandering Palate," Vive la difference!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's Day Menu with Donum Estate and Chef Greg Cole

When we first dreamed up the idea of doing something fun and special for Mother’s Day here at Donum, we knew world class food and wine would have to play a role. Which is why we decided to reach out to Chef Greg Cole, the executive chef and owner of Celadon and Cole’s Chop House in downtown Napa. We have been longtime fans of these two restaurant gems on the riverfront, and Cole has been a loyal supporter and advocate for Donum Estate as well.

Greg’s been turning out fresh, fusion dishes for over 15 years at Celadon, his award-winning restaurant tucked inside a converted 19th century warehouse and surrounded by a lush green garden. When we asked him to come up with a Mother’s Day menu appropriate for brunch of supper, complimentary to our 2009 Carneros Estate Chardonnay, and approachable for the home chef, he didn’t bat an eyelash. A few days later, Cole offered us this recipe for an oven-braised chicken sauté with linguine and Castelvetrano olives:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother’s Day With Donum Estate: Two Daughters. The Same Five Questions.

We mentioned yesterday that, as a special Mother’s Day surprise, we asked the daughters of Donum founder and winegrower AnneMoller-Racke  to sound off on what it was like growing up in the vineyards of Carneros and Sonoma, their shared, yet different, passion for the California landscape, and, of course, their mother's influence in their lives.

Dorothe Moller Racke traveled from Germany’s Middle Rhine to Carneros when she was just 12-months old. Today, the 32-year old wine industry veteran runs the sales and marketing program for a unique winery and organic estate known as Stone Edge Farm. Hannah Gropman, now a teenager, was born and is still being raised in California wine country.  Although she’s never been into the “down and dirty” side of growing and making wine, she has a maturity, both in her palate and in her actions, that belies her 15-year age. Their personalities are as vast as the age gap that sets them apart, but they do share a passion for the science and art of the wine industry, thanks in large part to their mother, winegrower Anne Moller Racke.
What follows are the girls’ unique answers to the same five questions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day Special with Donum Estate

Out here on our Carneros ranch, when we think of Donum founder Anne Moller-Racke, we tend to focus on her 30-year dedication to farming the vineyards of Carneros and Sonoma. We celebrate her skill for world class Pinot Noir. On occasion, we forget that she has responsibilities outside of refining her Grand Cru model for Donum.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Update from Anne: Donum Estate in Spring

After more than a few inquiries about Carneros' unusually dry winter as well as the late March and early April rains, Donum's winegrower and founder, Anne, decided to take us into our Donum Ranch vineyard to answer those questions. She also gave us a quick peek at the spring buds in our famous East Slope portion of blocks. Check out the video for a first-hand update.

The late rains have replenished the soils and reservoirs, and we're seeing even growth - what we strive for year after year - across the vineyard. The season has turned beautifully spring-y, with only the occasional spot of rain interrupting the warm, blue skies. In fact, those short bursts have kept our landscape remarkably fresh and green.

If you're interested in videos from seasons and vintages past, browse through our YouTube archive here. Anne has that unique ability to outline our farming practices in a manner that appeals to both the layman and the expert. Fresh, approachable, honest and in depth.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The New Tasting Room: Donum Estate Celebrates the Art of Wine with Kelley anne Dove at Vin Couture

Tucked above the Harris Gallery overlooking the square in downtown Healdsburg is a chic, private tasting lounge called Vin Couture.  Except for a small sign just outside the door, there’s little decoration on the street advertising its location. And, as you step up the worn, narrow staircase you’d never guess that you were about to enter a gorgeously appointed, open and airy tasting room. Silvery blue couches. Polished glass nesting tables. Rich, old wood farm tables, and a constantly rotating collection of art on the walls. It’s a quiet room, a soft backdrop to highlight, rather than detract from, the collection of wines being showcased there. Technically, you could call Vin Couture a winery collective, a co-op of sorts, where seven or eight different wineries are represented under one roof. Vin Couture, however, is a collective like no other.

When we made the decision to partner with Vin Couture, we loved the high touch, personal experience they offered their clientele. We loved that the Vin Couture team treats every guest with the same genuine, thoughtful attitude. We appreciated the meticulous care Kelley anne takes in selecting each winery she represents on the floor. And we were struck by her passion for even the smallest details. Appointments at Vin Couture are private, although, when possible, the staff welcomes curious guests who wander in (or up) from the street and invites them to enjoy a glass. Or two.

A few weeks ago, we took a moment to talk with Kelley anne on her warm way with people, her slightly obsessive compulsive aesthetic tendencies and how her professional life took shape before Vin Couture…in other words, all the ideals that first inspired us to showcase Donum Estate wines at her Healdsburg lounge. Below are the highlights from what started as a brief interview, but turned into one of those wonderfully epic conversations fueled by coffee and green tea.

First and foremost, how do you select the wineries represented in the Vin Couture portfolio? I select the wineries based on a few criteria. They have to fit in the definition of couture, as we have defined it for the wine industry. Couture means low production, high quality. That’s number one. In addition, for each varietal represented on our menu, I want a handful of wineries producing the same varietal but representing different regions, terroir and winemaking styles. The idea is to offer guests diversity within the portfolio.

With Donum, I was introduced to Anne by the original owner of Flowers, Tom  Hinde. Anne came up to Vin Couture for an initial meeting, and I was struck by her warmth as well as her winegrowing style and her great passion for the vineyard work she does. I call her a vineyard expressionist;  I was blown away by her deep knowledge of her craft. And the one of a kind Pinot Noirs she makes represent that knowledge. They’re incredibly layered, with a lot going on under the surface. I also loved that they were each unique to their vineyard, that she really let each site speak through the wine.

That sounds like a detailed process. How did this detail-oriented persona develop? You have a strong entrepreneurial background. Can you share a bit of your history? The first company I owned was called Details. At that time there wasn’t a label for what I did, although essentially I orchestrated large corporate events. It went beyond event coordinating to encompass large scale productions. Over time it evolved into a more intimate personal event coordinating program, focused on high end social events and large budget weddings.  It was a natural progression.

And this business took place in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton region, if I’m not mistaken? Yes, then I moved to Healdsburg eight years ago. I spent two years working in a few winery cellars before moving to the tasting room, where I helped small wineries develop their VIP programs.  At the time, the premise was based upon the large winery model of selling to the masses through distribution programs. The idea of a Direct-to-Consumer refocus, of selling more wine to a smaller audience, and of increasing quality and building consumer loyalty was a new concept for many small properties. This contract work inspired me to open Sips. I essentially married my events and wine backgrounds and built very high end wine country itineraries for private buyers.

How high end are we talking? Very. If a client wanted to dine in a private cellar and then have a helicopter drop them in a private vineyard, I made it happen. Until I started VinCouture, this was my absolute favorite career move. My job was to please customers by designing one-of-a-kind experiences, and I just loved it.

And then came the crash of 2008. It definitely caught me by surprise. The bubble burst, and within a few weeks, I learned that the Sips business model was no longer relevant for the travel and leisure consumer.

Shortly thereafter, you realized that you had been selling large volumes of wine for these wineries (without taking a cut, by the way), and while making these sales, you had also been qualifying their customers, discovering their needs, wants and tastes. Instead of a traditional tasting bar, you were offering them an experience. Wineries began to call you to teach them what you knew. Your expertise became a hot commodity, and you began developing wine immersion programs that brought wines to consumers during private events, country club settings, etc. They became so successful that you decided to “give them a roof,” as I’ve heard you say. And Vin Couture Lounge was born. Is that a pretty accurate picture? You got it.

So tell me about the VinCouture experienceA guest walks in, notices the elegant but inviting décor and is greeted by a warm, engaged staff member. This place should feel alive, and the experience should be customized to each person that walks in the door. Once they’re seated, my staff is to make the guest understand that it is all about them. Even the POS system I designed and invested in is made to translate the needs and wants of each guest in a group directly to the kitchen.  The experience is a back and forth, not just a teaching session.

So, tell me about Vin Couture’s other program, Swirl after 6? Ok. So, here you are in town with three girlfriends. Or, you’re on a date with your husband. You’ve finished dinner, and want to head to a great lounge environment, with live music. You can order dessert or a cheese plate and enjoy a glass of wine…and, when you decide you love it, you can actually take two bottles or a case of it home with you, and it’s priced at normal retail rather than a restaurant mark up. That’s Swirl after 6. It’s a unique, engaging spin on the traditional taste-to-purchase model, and it has become big with our local crowd.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve hurdled in these opening months? Opening in December. That was not the original plan. I got tied up with the ABC, and because I didn’t want the wineries to pay for the down time while I worked out the details with the ABC, our opening was significantly delayed.

What’s the best part of your day? My time with the customer. I get antsy when I’m tied up behind the scenes. I love directly connecting to the people who come in our doors. The wineries come in close second. I really enjoy building relationships with the winemakers and winery owners.

On a personal note, what is your own wine style?  I had dinner with Anne, and I slipped and told her that sparkling wine was my absolute favorite. (she laughs) Sorry! In all honesty, I am a lover of all varietals, although certainly not all wines.

Ultimate food and wine pairing? I’m a mood-based, sensation-driven wine drinker, so it changes from day to day. That said, Cyrus has a magnificent mushroom truffle risotto. That and a glass of Pinot…

And, if it’s not wine, it's…? Either a Coors Light or a Gin and Tonic. Non-alcoholic? Hands down, it’s milk.

Right now, Vin Couture showcases four Donum Estate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays: the 2008 Donum Carneros Estate Pinot Noir, the 2008 Donum Russian River Estate Pinot Noir, the 2009 Donum West Slope Pinot Noir and the 2009 Donum Carneros Estate Chardonnay. To learn more about these estategrown, vineyard-designated wines, click here.

Curious about setting up your own private Vin Couture tasting? Or, just plain curious about Vin Couture? Click here for appointmentsand inquiries.

For any questions regarding private tastings here at our Carneros ranch or at Vin Couture, please email me (Brooke) at I always enjoy hearing from you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Donum Estate Friends and Family,

When founder and winegrower Anne Moller Racke started Donum Estate in 2001, her vision was to make very limited quantities of estate grown, vineyard-designated Pinot Noir. When she started her Ultimate Pinot Blog, alongside winemaker Kenneth Juhasz, her plan was to share frank discussions on the daily ins and outs of growing and making Pinot Noir. They began writing in 2006. Their stories were vineyard and cellar driven – accounts of seasonal changes and the challenges involved in “driving” all the elements and sub-elements of “terroir” – soil, climate, topography…and rainfall, wind patterns, fog, elevation, and exposure – to completion vintage after vintage.  They offered intimate access to their philosophies and practices.
In the last year, the blog has taken a back seat to the demands of running a true vineyard estate, which expands far beyond the daily care and nurturing of our vines. Life unfolds, you know? Then it twists, turns and stretches you in a dozen opposing directions.  A few months ago, however, I suggested the time had come to revive the blog. Perhaps we could touch upon all the facets of Donum Estate, all while celebrating the Carneros and wine country community at large? I half-stated, half-asked.  Anne looked at me, smiled that wide, white smile of hers, and said, That’s a great idea. Why don’t you run with it?
Oh boy.  Where would I start?
The Donum Estate narrative is rich with seasons of growth, both in and out of the vineyard. We don’t do what we do here alone. On any given day we collaborate with artisans, sommeliers, chefs, serious collectors, and wine neophytes to achieve our ultimate goal, which is not just to craft the best Pinot Noir we can from fruit we’ve farmed ourselves, but to bring it to your table as well. 
It’s a serious undertaking, full of passion and romantic ideals, sure, but founded on hard work and honest farming. Even those of us who don’t spend our days among the vines have earned our fair share of callouses, albeit some are more figurative than literal.
I look forward to sharing these stories. Our stories. Their stories.  And yours. At the end of the day, we want this blog to be about the people whose paths intersect with Donum Estate. Of course, our blog, much like our Facebook Page (if you’re not a fan you can click here now and change your status) will also serve as an excellent platform to stay abreast of upcoming events, discover the stories behind our special wines and read about news from the wine world at large.

Stay tuned for news and notes!
Now, as I so often say in my emails and letters to you all…Cheers and warmest regards,
Brooke Cheshier Gadke
Director of Hospitality