Sonoma County vintners featured in 2022 ‘Slow Wine Guide USA’
Up a winding road on Sonoma Mountain sits a high-altitude vineyard, a hilltop ribbed with rows of pinot noir.
The Panther Ridge label, produced from this organic vineyard, is one of the brands listed in the “Slow Wine Guide USA,” an eco-curated guide to American wineries. The 2022 edition was just released this month. To make the cut, wineries like Panther Ridge have to pass a site visit and a farming audit.
“Our defining criterion is no use of synthetic herbicides on the estate vineyards or (on) any wines that we list in the guide,” said Deborah Parker Wong, the U.S. national editor for the book.
“The guide is designed to help consumers navigate the increasingly opaque landscape of claims around sustainability,” she said. “It’s almost impossible for a consumer to ask the right people the right questions to confirm a winery’s farming practices.”
Being transparent was easy for Suzanne Farver of Panther Ridge. The vintner said she tracks her vineyard activity meticulously and feels a kinship with others featured in the guide who are committed to farming without synthetic herbicides.
“I promised myself I would never put poison on my soil,” she said. “I grew up in Pella, Iowa, a town of 15,000 people. I remember the family farms where there were cows and chickens and people living on smaller acreages of land. It was traditional farming, but then I watched these farms being converted to factory farms with genetically modified seeds and pesticides.”
Offering a snapshot of people like Farver, the guide helps consumers make conscious choices, Parker Wong said.
“Navigating the landscape of sustainability has become intimidating for wine consumers,” she said. “The guide serves as a road map, celebrating transparent farming and advocating for wineries that uphold (Slow Wine’s) good, clean and fair ethos.”
Slow Wine, Parker Wong explained, is an offshoot of Slow Food, a movement that began in 1986 in Italy. A group of Italians gathered in Rome to protest a McDonald’s opening at the base of the iconic Spanish Steps. According to the Slow Food website, the protesters made and shared their penne pasta with the crowd, chanting “We don’t want fast food; we want slow food!”
The first “Slow Wine Guide Italy” was published in 2010 and, beginning in 2018, American wineries were included in it. But in 2021, U.S. wineries reached a tipping point, with 285 of them worthy of chronicling in a stand-alone guide.
Parker Wong said she expects the 2022 edition to get more traction with climate change altering both our landscape and our consciousness. It features 275 wineries across California, New York, Oregon and Washington. (Published by Goff, it’s now available at slowfoodusa.org/product/slow-wine-guide-usa-2022.)
“Our target audience,” Parker Wong said, “are wine consumers who want to effect change by voting with their dollars when buying wine.”
Before you cast your vote, we introduce you to three Sonoma County labels featured in the guide — Panther Ridge, Côte des Cailloux and Donum Estate — and the people behind them making Slow Wine.
Suzanne Farver of Panther Ridge
In 2012, Farver found a house she loved, with an old hayfield, on Sonoma Mountain. She envisioned a vineyard, and before long she replaced the hayfield with 7 acres of vines atop a rolling ridge at 1,000 feet.
On a recent day, the vintner, who said she’s “67 years young,” was clad in a tweed jacket over black tights and tennis shoes. Her blue eyes lit up when she pointed out her small vineyard, what she calls her “piece of heaven” on her 43-acre property.
“It’s ideal for growing pinot noir,” she said. “It’s in the Petaluma Gap AVA, and it’s just a mile from the renowned vineyard of Gap’s Crown.”
“Slow Wine Guide USA” features Farver’s Panther Ridge, 2019 Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir, $60.
Farver’s winemaker is Adrian Manspeaker of Joseph Jewell Wines. He produces about 250 cases with 25% of her grapes.
“The remaining 75% I sell to boutique wineries like Lynmar Estate,” she said.
Farver earned a master’s degree in environmental management from Harvard University Extension School and farmed organically from the outset. That was after working as a lawyer and shifting gears to return to school in her 50s.
“Part of my studies included learning about the terrible water pollution from nitrate fertilizers in the Midwest,” she said. “Most of the farm wells have gone bad, and farmers have been forced to get piped water from nearby cities and towns.”
Offering vineyard tours, Farver shares her connection to the land and even talks about some of the concoctions she makes to pamper her vines. The vintner also gives visitors a glimpse of her art collection. Farver was the director of the Aspen Art Museum in the 1990s, and her property is an exhibit of sorts.