For people who live in a wine growing region, my husband and I do embarrassingly little wine tasting of late. (Chasing a toddler around a winery tends to undermine the urbane experience.) We acknowledge this shortcoming and have resolved to get out and imbibe in more of the local wine culture in 2011; not mention more time with just the two of us. When one of my daily Groupons announced an opportunity for a “Private VIP Reserve Wine Tasting and Small Bites for Two at Chateau St. Jean” I clicked “Buy!” and our date was on!

It was pouring rain on the day we drove up to Kenwood but looking at the wet green landscape my husband remarked “It IS beautiful up here.” It truly is beautiful up here. We know it and often comment on it but sometimes it hits home in a way that makes you recognize it on a whole new level (or maybe the absence of our backseat copilot gave us more time to really notice). Even the wipers whipping back and forth across the windshield didn’t detract from the rich rolling scenery; it was just so lush and perfectly gorgeous.

A long vineyard flanked driveway greeted us as we approached Chateau St. Jean; the stately winery is nestled at the base of a mountain proudly looking out over its 250 acres of wine growing terrain. The property’s original chateau has been eclipsed in sized by the winery operations that rise up behind it but the distinguished building still dominates the property with its classic style. An inviting Mediterranean garden leads the way from the parking lot to the main tasting room where we checked-in for our VIP experience. While we waited for two more tasters to join our group we wandered the garden, perused the gift shop, and lingered longingly at the delectable charcuterie.

Our tasting took place in the chateau, just steps from the bustling tasting room but with a very different atmosphere. Built in 1920 as a vacation home, the chateau is classy in a way that can only be earned through time; it has a gently worn elegance and a long forgotten attention to detail that creates an understated grandeur. The “chateau” in Chateau St. Jean refers to this building. The warm wood paneled parlor hosted a smaller wine tasting room and was alive with people but the rest of the house sat quiet. We took a peek around as our guide lead us upstairs to one of the small VIP tasting rooms.

Our tasting room was probably a bedroom at one time but we arrived to find a table neatly set out with four tasting stations, each with a small plate of cheeses, olives, and bread to go with our wines. Our tasting guide sat at the head of the table where five reserve and limited production wines waited for our sampling. Walking through each wine with a knowledgeable wine person made for a much more rewarding wine tasting experience. I was able to better understand the different qualities associated with the winery’s various vineyards, spread out across the Sonoma County wine growing region (Sonoma, Russian River, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Coast), and more astutely appreciate the skill that goes into selecting and blending the grapes. We concluded with a tasting of their Cinq Cepages 2007, a wine that is noteworthy in its selection and blending; each year the winemaker selects a blend of five Bordeaux varietals to create this wine and each year it is an entirely different creation. It earned Chateau St. Jean the Wine Spectator Magazine “Wine of the Year” award back in 1999, making it the first Sonoma winery to receive this honor. Cinq Cepages was just the right finish our VIP tasting.

Leaving the chateau I felt a slight stagger in my step, just enough to feel light and bouncy, the weight of life momentarily lifted by the mighty grape elixir. It had been an experience worth remembering and Chateau St. Jean is definitely a winery worth revisiting. As we hurried through the pouring rain to our car we were already planning about our next visit; hopefully a drier one, in terms of the weather anyway.

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