West Coast Wednesdays: MacPhail Family Wines

This first week in our West Coast Wednesday series takes us to MacPhail Family Wines out of Sebastopol, California.  Learn about the winemaker, the unique tasting lounge and of course, their amazing wines!


The Winemaker.

James MacPhailWinemaker James MacPhail didn’t grow up in the wine industry.  Raised just north of San Francisco, members of his father’s family have been pillars of the local business community since the 1880’s.  James’ mother was raised on a dairy farm in western Sonoma County.  Together, James’ parents raised him with an extreme passion for business accompanied with a love and appreciation of the land; two qualities that are sure to make a fabulous winemaker.

Throughout childhood James was immersed in the family business (appliances, natural gas and building materials), quickly learning the value of handwork and quality of service.  These values rewarded him with family trips to uncommon

James MacPhail Sampliing Grapes Near Harvest
Winemaker James MacPhail examining grape quality during harvest

destinations across the world–sailing the Black Sea or visiting Warsaw, providing James with unique experiences and opening his eyes to the beauty and artistic qualities found across the world. These experiences sparked an intrigue in both business and hospitality, but one to forge his own path, James designed his own work/study program to pursue what fascinated him most: wine!

For James, the wine business satisfies his interest in the world of business, his love of the land and his penchant for the artistic.
 After years spent working with wineries and growers in Sonoma County, focusing on the craft of winemaking and Pinot Noir in particular, James launched MacPhail Family Wines in 2002.  Following six years of renting space to produce his wine, James decided to construct his own small production facility in the backyard of his home, creating natural, small batches of craft wines by hand.

The Tasting Lounge.

MacPhail Tasting Lounge@The Barlow exterior lower res

While the wine is still produced in Healdsburg, a tasting lounge was the natural next step for James. MacPhail Family Wines joined forces with other winemakers, aWagon Sculpture lo resrtisans and chefs with the creation of The Barlow, a unique one-stop shop in downtown Sebastopol (a foodie and wino paradise!).  MacPhail Tasting Lounge @ The Barlow offers a few tiers of tasting options (ranging from $20 to $40), wines by the glass, local cheeses and a variety of events throughout the year, including participating in The Barlow’s weekly street fair throughout the summer.  Although we haven’t visited, if you’re in the Sebastopol area, we’d recommend stopping in as this tasting lounge seems like the perfect place to spend an afternoon.  In addition to the unique wine tasting opportunities (the single vineyard and terroir tasting options sounds great), the beautifully constructed indoor/outdoor and dog-friendly space also displays an amazing 40 foot long red wagon, symbolizing the simple joy and sense of a loving family, a value that guides MacPhail along his journey (you’ll notice the red wagon logo included on each bottle and cork).

The Wines.

MacPhail Bottle Beauty

As previously mentioned, MacPhail Family Wines focuses on making small batch, high-quality Pinot Noir’s by hand.  Producing several varietals of Pinot Noir each year, as well as a Chardonnay and Rosé, MacPhail sources their fruit from growers across multiple wine regions in California who share their commitment to sustainable farming and terroir-based, singular quality wine.  Many agree (including ourselves) that MacPhail’s wines are of the highest care and quality.  In 2014, Robert Parker described MacPhail’s wines as having “impeccable craftsmanship” and each of MacPhail’s wines has received top scores from most major reviewers in the industry, scoring well over 90 points.  We love James’ unique approach to winemaking, truly showcasing each vineyard’s terroir and his ability to develop complex flavors with each vintage.  MacPhail Family Wines was kind enough to send us a few samples of their Pinot Noir, including the 2013 Pratt Vineyard Pinot (Sonoma Coast), the 2013 Dutton Ranch Pinot (Green Valley in RRV), and the 2013 Sundown Ridge Pinot (Green Valley in RRV). Tasting the wines was quite an experience with each wine featuring different flavors and aromas, yet still exuding classic Pinot Noir qualities.

  • 2013 Pratt Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
    • Harvested Sept. 11 & 20, 2013
    • Grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted twice and 100% de-stemmed
    • Aged 11 months in French oak; 35% new
    • Battonage (stirring of the deposits of dead yeast) weekly for three months
    • Described by the winemaker as having “aromas of Cardamom, dark fruits and dusty soils giving way to flavors of black cherry accented with Asian Five Spice and an earthy elegance that suggest a bright morning walk through a coastal forest.”
    • Winos notes:
      • We loved this deep red/deep magenta colored Pinot.  We immediately picked up the black cherry and wet-forest floor aromas.  The wine had a nice minerality and complex, earthy, somewhat tannic flavors.  The dark fruit characteristics stole the show for us.
      • Where would we want to drink it?  The 2013 Pratt Pinot is perfect for a cool evening around the fire pit with friends.
      • Recommended food pairing?  Keeping in theme of an evening around a fire pit, try this with an old fashioned s’more!
  • 2013 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir (Green Valley of the RRV)
    • Harvested Sept. 16, 2013
    • Grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted twice and 100% de-stemmed
    • Aged 11 months in French oak; 35% new
    • Battonage (stirring of the deposits of dead yeast) weekly for three months
    • Described by the winemaker as “lush, layered and elegant.  The color, deep ruby, purple in hue.  Black fruits and graphite, with hints of oak space on the nose.  Silky and supple, with fleshy red fruit and a touch of bacon fat.”
    • Winos notes:
      • This well-balanced, medium bodied Pinot was quite smooth.  We decanted this for about 45 minutes before drinking, lending to the silky and smooth quality.  Picked up dark cherry and chocolate covered cherry on the taste with a slight hint of cocoa.
      • Where would you want to drink it?  The 2013 Dutton Ranch Pinot would be the perfect rainy day wine.  Pair this with a Sunday afternoon, curled up with a good book listening to the rain fall outside.
      • Recommended food pairing? The natural fit here is a nice piece of dark chocolate with almonds and a touch of sea salt.
  • 2013 Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir (Green Valley of RRV)
    • Harvested Sept. 2 and 9, 2013
    • Grapes hand-picked, hand-sorted twice and 100% de-stemmed
    • Aged 16 months in French oak; 35% new
    • Battonage (stirring of the deposits of dead yeast) weekly for three months
    • Described by the winemaker as “earthy, rich and dark, with spicy notes.  Pomegranate leads the flavor explosion, backed by wild cherry.  Toasty oak spice trends exotic, but doesn’t overpower the dominant red fruit.  Bigger, richer, more opulent than most, it takes a bit longer to evolve and show itself, but it’s always worth the wait.”
    • Winos notes:
      • This medium to full-bodied Pinot drinks exactly as described by the winemaker.  Loved the pomegranate and wild cherry flavors.  Picked up some very light tannins within the fruit flavors.  The long aging process leaves this wine smooth, easy to drink, and bigger and bolder than your typical Pinot Noir.
      • Where would you want to drink it?  The 2013 Sundown Ridge Pinot would pair perfectly with a Friday evening in watching Somm (again) and slowly sipping this wine while discovery new flavors with each taste.
      • Recommended food pairing?  Try this with a simple gorgonzola cheese– the wine cuts the saltiness and tanginess perfectly.

Although we can’t speak for all of the MacPhail wines, we’re quite certain that almost anything produced by this label will be enjoyable to the senses.  Interested in trying some of these amazing wines for yourself?  Check out where MacPhail ships direct!


Sundawg Ridge Vineyard crop

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