A Visit to The Donum Estate

A Visit to The Donum Estate

Apparently The Donum Estate has been hiding in plain sight from me for more than two decades. This winery, established in 2001, is located just behind Domaine Carneros, a famed winery just a half hour from my former home and a place where I’ve visited innumerable times. Had I traveled a bit further down the road from Domaine Carneros, I couldn’t have possibly missed it. Pull up to the front gate and an enormous sculpture of a giant, stretched-out head — crafted by Jaume Plensa — is visible from the road.

The Donum Estate is home to more than 50 large-scale artworks like this from artists based around the globe. A tour of the winery grounds takes you into close contact with works from names like Ai Weiwei and Keith Haring — and a host of artists who I didn’t know before, but whom now I can’t get enough of.

But while Donum is home to an amazing (and continually growing) art collection, it’s also a world-class wine operation. During a recent visit we tasted through a number of the winery’s chardonnay and pinot noir releases — 23 wines are in current production by winemaker Dan Fishman, utilizing grapes farmed from about 250 acres of vineyards located throughout northern California. Our first four wines were paired with small bites from Fiorella Butron, all designed to showcase seasonal and local offerings (of course).

The art you’ll have to appreciate for yourself. Meanwhile, console yourself with these tasting notes from all the wines we encountered during our visit.

2018 Donum Chardonnay Carneros – Almonds, pastry dough, and guava in a light lemon swirl. Toasty bites of oak on the finish. Well-balanced. A- / $90

2018 Donum Chardonnay Russian River Valley  A near-perfect wine. Much more floral than the Carneros, with brighter acidity and fresher fruit. Vanilla, citrus, and tropical notes mix beautifully, giving the finish a refreshing kick. Hard to put down; my favorite wine of the day. A+ / $85

2020 Donum Pinot Noir Three Hills – A barrel selection of the Pinot Noir Carneros (q.v.), made from the same vineyards. Licorice, anise, cherry, and a pinch of allspice are wrapped up in a blanket of raspberry coulis. A light touch of beef broth emerges with time in glass. A- / $100

2020 Donum Pinot Noir Carneros – A bit darker and more elegant, drier than the Three Hills, with a more present chocolate character. Delicious with a boudin blanc paired with mustard and huckleberry. A / $100

2022 Donum Pinot Noir Observer Anderson Valley – Graham crackers and burnt sugar make for an evocative and lightly sweet introduction to this rich and immersive wine, made from whole cluster fruit. Notes of rhubarb provide an unusual but intriguing conclusion. B+ / $115

2022 Donum Pinot Noir White Barn Carneros – Strawberry melded with a touch of beef jerky, again an unusual and inviting combination. Elegant with edges of purple flowers, making for a seasonally appropriate sip. A- / $125

2021 Donum Pinot Noir West Slope Carneros –  Considerably bolder, with notes of currants and darker chocolate becoming evident. A heavy herbal note pours on late-game notes of thyme and sage. Quite evocative. A- / $140

2020 Donum Pinot Noir Anderson Valley – Same wine as the Observer above, but made without whole cluster fruit. There’s a touch of smoky wood here, with some lingering anise and an herbal kick. For my money, this is more inviting and balanced than Observer. A / $210 (magnum)

If you go…

The Donum Estate is open 7 days a week but is visitable only with a reservation. A wide range of experiences ranging from one-hour walking tours to 2 1/2-hour communal lunches are available — with ample wine of course included. My recommendation is to book whatever lets you stay as long as you possibly can.

24500 Ramal Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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