Hamel Family Wines making a mark on Sonoma

The new kid on the block, Hamel Family Wines, is the talk of Sonoma Valley.|

The new kid on the block, Hamel Family Wines, is the talk of Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma winery opened in June and continues to be a curiosity. The construction on Highway 12 near Madrone Road practically obscures the winery’s entrance, and it’s hard for people to find.

The upside is that once Caltrans completes the construction work, the winery will be impossible to miss. The new four-way stoplight will feed one lane into its permanent entrance. Right now, the entrance, at 15401 Sonoma Highway, is just south of that intersection.

The sleek, ultramodern winery is a seamless part of the landscape in tones of tan and beige. Its colossal, 18-foot windows reveal a stunning view of Sonoma Mountain in the Sonoma Valley. Tastings and tours are by appointment, and range in price from $40 to $100.

The 5,700-square-foot hospitality area has an indoor tasting room and bar that extend to an outdoor deck. An outside fountain looks like a miniature infinity pool and sounds like a waterfall. It gives the outdoor space a piece of serenity that’s both refreshing and tranquil.

“We want people to enjoy the beautiful valley and our wines, and not hear a cement truck on Highway 12 honking its horn,” said co-vintner George Hamel Jr.

Although he and his family originally wanted to build a chateau, Hamel said his architect convinced them a modern winery was more in keeping with their objectives.

“The notion was not to be intrusive, but to be part of the landscape,” Hamel explained.

Just behind the hospitality area, the 124-acre property, purchased in 2010, features a 7,000-square-foot winery, as well as a 12,000-square-foot cave. The hidden gem in the cave is an upscale private dining area and tasting room. The cave has a luxurious feel rather than a rustic one. It’s an elegant spot to entertain, as well as age barrels.

“We hope to have this property in our family for hundreds of years,” Hamel said.

The boutique winery produces a range of bottlings, including cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux varietal blends, zinfandel, grenache, sauvignon blanc and late-harvest sauvignon blanc.

The family operation gives pivotal responsibilities to the sons of Hamel, 27-year-old John B. Hamel II, and 30-year-old George Hamel III. Hamel II is the winemaker, while Hamel III is the managing director. Others on the team include consulting winemaker Martha McClellan and viticulture consultant Phil Coturri.

It all began with an incidental acre of cabernet sauvignon vines.

In 2006, George Hamel Jr. and his wife, Pamela, simply wanted to find a home in Wine Country to escape the summers in San Francisco. Hamel Jr. is a founding partner and COO of ValueAct Capital. The company, with an office in San Francisco, manages about $15 billion for investors worldwide.

The couple found a property in Kenwood that just happened to come with an acre of vines. They eventually bought six adjacent acres, whetting their appetite for the burgeoning wine enterprise.

The family founded Hamel Family Wines in 2006. They initially produced 290 cases, and expanded to 4,500 this year. The Hamels’ land is certified organic, and they expect to get their biodynamic certificate in three to five years.

“We don’t farm this way because it’s fashionable or because it’s less expensive, because it’s not,” Hamel Jr. said. “We want to be great stewards of the land.”

Since the winery’s grand opening this year, the family has been in the limelight on more than one occasion. In September, the Hamels participated in the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction for the first time and they turned heads with their generous $360,000 contribution. The family joined forces with others in donating $100,000 for Fund-the-Future, an auction lot to raise money for childhood literacy in Sonoma County. In addition, Hamel Family Wines raised $260,000 by crafting its own auction lot. The lot was one of the most popular of the evening, and it was snapped up because it offers a unique adventure for food and wine lovers.

The family reeled in five James Beard award-winning chefs, all of whom agreed to donate their time to host a dinner at the winery for 26 couples in April 2015. Each couple paid $10,000 for the lot.

“Building a new business from scratch, here was an opportunity to make a splash,” Hamel Jr. explained.

The Hamels also were a hit in September as a sponsor of the inaugural St. Regis Polo Cup in Sonoma Valley. The family hosted a VIP dinner at its Kenwood winery following the main event at the Wine Country Polo Club in Santa Rosa.

The Hamels said they intend to be active in local goodwill. In the meantime, they’ll continue to put the finishing touches on their winery, as well as work with Caltrans to complete the four-way stop.

Despite the loose ends, the vintner said he feels fortunate. Hamel Jr. never expected to create a family winery, and he continues to see that one acre of vines as his inspiration.

“From my perspective, I think what could be more fun than building a family business and getting to see my sons every day?” he said.

Staff writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or peg.melnik@gmail.com.

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