Having visited St. Francis Winery & Vineyards only once, I was intrigued to have the opportunity to do so again – only this time, it was virtual. Hosting were Katie Madigan and Chris Louton, Winemakers for pivotal parts of the portfolio, and Executive Chef Peter Janiak who enticed viewers with his culinary acumen and insights about the food and wine program at St. Francis. We sipped St. Francis wines as we explored the many expressions of Sonoma County through wine, food, and conversation.

St. Francis Winery & Vineyards

Founded in 1971 by businessman Joe Martin and his wife, Emma, the 100-acre vineyard known as Behler Ranch located in Kenwood in Sonoma Valley was purchased. Fruit from the vineyard was sold to local wineries until 1979 when the winery was built to produce estate-bottled wine. The Martins named the winery St. Francis as an homage to St. Francis of Assisi, “patron saint of animals and protector of the natural world.”

St. Francis vineyardsNow, St. Francis owns 415 acres of Sonoma County Estate Vineyards in Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley. The winery has also fostered long-term relationships with growers throughout the County’s wine growing areas. By sourcing grapes from Carneros, Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile, and Alexander Valley, the team at St. Francis has access to premium fruit.

There were only a few wineries in Sonoma when St. Francis Winery began bottling their estate wines. In 1983, Winemaker Tom Mackey helped “pioneer a Sonoma Valley style” and determine the grape varieties well suited to the soils. The winery was the first in the region to plant and bottle Merlot and soon thereafter, added Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel to the portfolio.

With a commitment to sustainability, the winery is certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and in 2017, St. Francis received a Green Medal award from the California Wine Institute thanks to their community involvement.

St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay 2019

Katie Madigan is Winemaker for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Old Vines Zinfandel, and Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards. Unofficially known as the “Burgundy” winemaker, she assumed the Winemaker role in 2012, having been a member of the team for a total of 19 years. Katie explained that she wants Chardonnay to be a light “on the best of Sonoma County.” She knows that sites, soils, and growing conditions in the area – from the Russian River Valley to the Sonoma Coast to Carneros and to the Alexander Valley – are different, and shared that “fruit characteristics in the Chardonnay are the most important element.”

Katie Madigan and St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay wine bottle

The wine we enjoyed was superb: 100% Chardonnay are from St. Francis’ estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley, along with those from growers in Carneros and Alexander Valley. On the vibrant nose and palate, this elegant, refreshing wine burst with notes of pear, tropical fruit, green apple, lemon zest, and the slightest hint of baking spices. Creamy and light with moderate acidity on the palate, the mineral-driven finish was lush and lingering. A classic California Chardonnay, the wine was aged for 7 months in 100% French oak. We can find the Chardonnay in 375 ml and 750 ml bottles as well as in kegs.

St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2018

If Katie Madigan is the “Burgundy” winemaker, then Chris Louton’s role is the “Bordeaux” winemaker. Since 2013, he’s been responsible for supervising the production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc in the St. Francis portfolio as well as the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Sonoma Valley Merlot within the St. Francis Reserve Portfolio. In his words, “I want to make wines you want to revisit again and again.”

Chris Louton and St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle

From St. Francis estate vineyards in Sonoma and Russian River Valleys, 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc was rich, full-bodied and expressive. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, lively, lush aromas of cocoa, black cherries, and ripe berries led to robust flavors of black olives, dried herbs, baking spice, anise, coffee, and spice. On a solid foundation of soft tannins and moderate acidity, find this wine in 375 ml and 750 ml bottles as well as in kegs (like the Chardonnay).

Executive Chef Peter Janiak Pairs St. Francis Chardonnay with Dungeness Crab Salad

Chef Peter Janiak stepped in with a mouthwatering recipe for Dungeness Crab, Summer Tomato & Sweet Corn Salad to complement every sip of the Sonoma County Chardonnay. Peter has been with St. Francis for only a year, during which time he successfully manages the winery’s culinary programs and oversees its 2-acre organic vegetable and herb gardens. From what I experienced (virtually), I’m ready to visit St. Francis for its Winemaker Dinners, seasonal Estate Pairings, and multi-course Wine & Food Pairing, all supported by the organic foods grown at the estate.

St. Francis' Chef Janiak in the garden


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