Ames had previously worked in the Peace Corps with the locals of Guatemala learning their traditional farming methods. This experience nurtured a strong belief that modern intensive farming was a poor replacement for a diversified agricultural model that offers a more balanced and sustainable approach to growing crops. This awakening, along with a lifelong fascination with wine, inspired Ames to partner up with his best friend, Chris James, to set out on their wine adventure back in 1996.
With a keen eye for sustainability and after an intensive search for a vineyard site, they identified an abandoned sheep ranch atop Bell Mountain in Sonoma County as the ideal location to develop an organic vineyard and build an eco-sound winery. Ames took on the winemaking duties and Chris began managing the financial aspects of the operation. Today, they organically farm their 340-acre ranch, with 55 acres of vineyard, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc using progressive methods firmly rooted in a holistic approach, and with ultra-premium quality acting as an ever-present guiding force.
As you head out into the valley past their neighbors at Silver Oak, Verité, Lancaster, and Chalk Hill Winery, you’ll arrive at Bell Mountain Ranch. Royal, the assistant tour guide and Ames’ Irish Terrier, will greet you as soon as you step out of the car, and enthusiastically guide you to the tasting room…in exchange for a few cuddles of course!
Once in the tasting room, a human tour guide will welcome you with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc as you begin your walking tour of the property. The day we visited, our guide explained that the thousands of wildflowers that fill the vineyard with a rainbow of colors are plowed back into the soil adding beneficial nutrients for the vines. In addition to their all-natural winemaking methods, they collect winter rain water in the pond for irrigation during the summer, use beneficial bugs and owls to regulate the vermin, and opt for solar array panels to power the facility.
Along with their organic vines, they also cultivate seven acres of olive trees to produce an estate olive oil and maintain a thriving, 100% organic garden– filled with various fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Our tour guide called it their “organic grocery store.” The delicious jams and chutneys created from the lush garden and fragrant citrus trees are available for tasting and purchase during your visit.
Our tour continued with a visit to the Cellar Room for an in-depth explanation of their winemaking techniques, followed by a taste of Cabernet Sauvignon straight from the blending keg! After a 30-minute stroll of the grounds, we headed back to the tasting room for a wine tasting on the patio. A perfect view of the gorgeous vineyards, along with four incredible wines and a platter of local cheeses and seasonal bites from the garden awaited us.
Here are the wine and food pairings we enjoyed:
● 2014 Lower Slope Chardonnay: the creamy-textured wine was balanced by a crisp minerality and paired perfectly with a fresh, local goat cheese.
● 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon: an intense wine with deep, spicy notes and dark blueberry fruit was paired with Point Reyes Toma cheese for a truly palate-pleasing combination.
● 2013 Snakepit Red: a Merlot-based red blend, this wine is laden with notes of wild plum on the palate and owns its name from the rattlesnakes inhabiting this vineyard (Not to worry, the tour won’t take you to that area!) The peppery Mezzo Secco cheese highlighted the baking spice aromatics in the wine, and the silky tannins enhanced its long finish.
● 2013 Kate’s and B’s: named after the wives of both owners and only opened on special occasions, the flavors of rhubarb, cinnamon, hazelnut and blueberry dominate this exceptional wine hailing from their top vineyard blocks.
After the expertly paired wine and food bites, we sampled a heavenly citrus marmalade, a sweet tomato chutney and the wonderful estate olive oil. We couldn’t resist bringing home a jar of each, along with a bottle (or two!) of their organic and sustainably-farmed wines.
Medlock Ames strives to create a memorable connection between their vineyards and their wines for each guest that visits. Based on our stellar experience and the top-notch wines tasted, we’d have to say mission accomplished!
Ranch Tour at Medlock Ames – Bell Mountain Ranch in Healdsburg, CA
1hr 30min | $40/person | Party size: 1 – 4 persons
Louise Veron – firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at VinoVisit.com
Originally from Bordeaux (France), I moved to the Napa Valley to work for VinoVisit.com in 2015. I just finished my trilingual Master’s degree in Wine Tourism and International Marketing and graduated with honors. As a real food and wine lover, I’m enjoying exploring the area and relating my discoveries from a very French point of view.