Driving past the vineyards and climbing the steps of the herb garden, there was little to signal that the winery we were approaching was anything but Belvedere Vineyards. Stepping into the tasting room, though, it became overwhelmingly apparent that this was not the same winery where I worked in 2004. Gone were the white walls that broke the sunny, countrified space into offices and merchandise areas, and limited the bar to a corner against the window. Here we found a spacious, dark-toned room with a marble countered tasting corral that commanded attention to the wine. This was C. Donatiello and we were instantly drawn in.
As we perused the wine menu, our server suffered my probing questions about the winery’s changes. Yes, the place is brand new, opened the previous March. No, the staff is not the same, only the winemaker remains. Yes, he’d worked in a tasting room before. Now, which flight did we want to taste?
What a difference new ownership makes. Belvedere used to make a vast range of wines that represented every region in Europe, plus zinfandel. Lacking the many vineyards that Belvedere once owned, Chris Donatiello has decided to focus instead on the varietals that made Russian River famous: chardonnay and pinot noir, with a little sauvignon blanc thrown in for fun. Where once 125,000 cases were produced, they’re now making just under seven thousand cases.
Also unlike Belvedere, Donatiello charges for tasting.
$5 for the all whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Chardonnay and the Orsi Chardonnay.
$7 for the overview flight: Russian River Chardonnay, Russian River Pinot Noir, and Maddie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
$10 for Pinot Noir only: Russian River, Maddie’s Vineyard and Floodgate Vineyard.
We opted to share the all white and all pinot flights. When I tried the Russian River Chardonnay I felt like I’d stepped back into 2004, with a pour of the Healdsburg Ranches-designated Chardonnay in my hand. It had that same forward fruit – a mix of apple, pineapple and mango – with the slightest hint of oak to give it a nice round mouthfeel. Just then, Chris Donatiello, who had been talking to the other staffers, stepped over and introduced himself. When I asked him why this chard tasted so similar to it’s previous incarnation, even though it was made from different grapes, he reminded me that Troy McEnery is still the winemaker. “It’s all in the style,” he said.
While it’s unfortunate that Belvedere is no more – although the name lives on with the vodka maker – it is gratifying to see the winery transformed into a dedicated producer of Burgundian-style wines. I was amazed at how well their cherry bowl of a Russian River Pinot paired with Memphis soul.