Celebrate: Gilroy’s Sarah’s Vineyard turns 40

Perhaps you’ve heard of, or have even tried, the wines from Sarah’s Vineyard, a boutique winery in California’s Santa Clara Valley. If not, you are missing out IMHO. These wines, made in Silicon Valley – once referred to as the Valley of the Heart’s Delight because of the many fruit orchards and vineyards, and the birthplace of California’s commercial wine industry – are totally worth seeking out.

My first visit to Sarah’s was in spring 1994. I had been reading about the Chardonnay produced from this estate, whose 1982 vintage caught the attention of important wine critics. Marilyn “Sarah” Otterman founded the winery in 1978 in Gilroy. Then, Gilroy was better known for garlic than for wine.

Impressively, Sarah’s Chardonnay was served at the 1993 Masters of Food & Wine. The 1982 graced the White House table on Ronald Regan’s 75th birthday in 1986. Served with the 1979 Jordan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and 1979 Schramsberg Cremant Demi Sec, Sarah’s was in very good company. Wine Spectator rated the 1993 Pinot Noir 92 points. That bottle cost $50; today the estate Pinot is $45.

Those of us who met or know Otteman describe her as eccentric. She referred to all of her wines as women, and named them for musical movements. The estate Chardonnay was bottled in a heavy, fancy embossed bottle with a gold label, emblazoned with an ornate cursive logo. But the wine inside was vibrant, alive, rich and decadent. It wasn’t overly buttery or oaky; it was more like what I would later come to know as Corton Charlemagne, one of my favorite white Burgundies.

I left Sarah’s with a case of wine and box of wine-infused chocolate on their way to my then home in Atlanta. I shared each bottle with friends – taking it on girls trips or opening it for a meal with my future husband. The wine left an imprint, a memory, an experience that I didn’t get from other wine.

Now I live 20 miles from Sarah’s Vineyard. It wasn’t planned, but is serendipitous. On my first visit to the winery after many years, sipping the estate Chardonnay brought memories flooding back and tears to my eyes. The wine still does that today. Perhaps this is why we fall in love with wine, its ability to evoke emotion and a snapshot in time.

Sarah’s is now owned by grower and winemaker Tim Slater, who  expanding production into Rhone varietals (including an excellent Roussanne, Viognier and Syrah). 

I was fortunate to be invited to the kickoff celebration of Sarah’s Vineyard 40th anniversary and release of the 2016 Estate Chardonnay ($36). That rich and creamy Chardonnay, with apple and pear aromas and flavors, still brings back all those wonderful memories. 

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