Hamel Family Wines – The Estate Experience

Hamel Family Wines was founded in 2006 by George Hamel Jr and his wife Pam. After retiring from corporate life in San Francisco, the pair decided to purchase property in Sonoma and start a small winemaking operation. Other members of their family were eventually drawn into the business, allowing them to expand the winery by purchasing other vineyard plots and increasing production. The badger that graces their wine labels is a homage to the family’s three generations of alums from the University of Wisconsin. 

Hamel’s tasting room is located between the towns of Sonoma and Glen Ellen off Highway 12. The Hamel family also owns multiple vineyards in Sonoma Valley and the Moon Mountain District, where they grow a number of varietals including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Hamel’s wines are certified organic and made using biodynamic techniques. All of their grapes are handpicked and hand-sorted and their wine is produced with minimal additives or intervention. They strive to recycle and reuse every waste product that their operation produces, creating a closed cycle between the vineyard, tasting room and winemaking facilities that is highly sustainable. Farm animals are used for fertilization and weed management and wastewater is recycled to water the vines. Their state-of-the-art tasting room is also LEED certified.  

You can read more about natural and biodynamic wines here.

Planning Your Visit

Reservations are required to visit Hamel Family Wines. The tasting room is open every day of the week with seatings at 10am, 1pm and 3pm. You can call (707) 996-5800 or book through Cellarpass to make a reservation. There are three tiers of tasting “experiences” you can book, all of which include a tasting and tour of the winery and can include food pairings. You can read more about the different tiers of wine tasting experiences here.

For our visit, we booked the lowest tier “Estate Experience” which is priced at $75 per person. We knew we were in for a very special experience and decided to book our visit to celebrate our 3-year anniversary. 

Hamel is currently open for tastings with increased safety precautions to minimize the risk of spreading the Coronavirus. We felt very safe during our visit, and it was apparent that the winery staff were taking reopening precautions very seriously. This included wearing masks at all times when not seated for your tasting, sanitizing surfaces frequently and enforcing social distancing. We even were offered Hamel-branded hand sanitizer from a local distillery. 

Winery Tour

After driving up Hamel’s beautiful olive-tree-lined entrance road, we were awestruck by their beautiful modern tasting room extending from the hillside. Our host greeted us at our car and escorted us briefly inside, then back outside to the winemaking facility to begin our tour. Hamel’s facility is quite modern and was built recently, even as they use very traditional winemaking methods without much mechanization. The winemaking space was filled with stainless steel and concrete tanks standing by for the upcoming harvest.

Hamel’s tasting room

Next, we headed over to the cellars, which offered cool relief from the afternoon heat outside. The cellar was beautifully constructed, with sloping sandstone walls filled with barrels and large concrete eggs reminiscent of space ships. If you are interested in spending extra time in the cellar, you can book the Reserve Experience, where you get to sample wine directly from the barrels and taste more wine in a library room looking into the cellar. 

The entrance to Hamel’s cellars
Concrete eggs used in winemaking

Hamel Wines

After our tour of the property, we enjoyed a seated tasting outside on Hamel’s outdoor patio, which is centered around a black granite fountain with views of the Estate Vineyard and Sonoma Mountains. Depending on which tier experience you book, the wines included in your tasting may be different. The wines we sampled represented the core offerings of the winery, including their most popular “Isthmus”. Our tasting also included one library wine, which was one of the most expensive and impressive wines we have had the pleasure of drinking. To pair with our tasting, our server brought us some delicious house-made ricotta and crackers.

Here are the five wines we sampled:

  1. 2019 Sauvignon Blanc – $48. Aromas of lemon, pear, and pineapple. Citrus and floral notes dominate the palate with light saline and mineral elements. Vibrant and refreshing. 
  2. 2017 Zinfandel – $58. A rich and full-bodied expression of Zinfandel with earthy and herbal aromas. Dark fruit elements emerge on the palate along with floral and spice tones. Well-structured tannins with a savory, long finish. 
  3. 2016 Isthmus – $85. Blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot. Plum, cherry and blackberry on the nose with subtle aromas of vanilla and spice. Jammy fruit notes on the palate with light tannins. 
  4. 2014 Hamel Family Ranch – $175. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Bright red fruits on the nose with subtle notes of violet and smoke. Rich and juicy palate with medium tannin and a lengthy finish.
  5. 2018 Rosé – $30. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 2% Grenache, 1% Zinfandel. Aromas of peach, citrus and rose. Bright and acidic on the palate with flavors of unripe cherry and stone fruit with slight minerality. 
Fountain and view from the patio
2019 Sauvignon Blanc
2014 Hamel Family Ranch
House-made ricotta and crackers
Personalized menu for our anniversary

After savoring each sip, our visit to Hamel sadly came to a close and we departed with a bottle of rosé and a few other complementary gifts, including special printed menus for our anniversary.

Final Tips

Hamel offers three tiers of membership in their wine club, where a selection of current release wines are shipped to your doorstep twice yearly. Since Hamel produces very limited quantities of wines, becoming a member is the best way to ensure access to their most sought-after wines. Hamel also hosts multiple wine-club-only events throughout the year, including dinners and live music. 

If you aren’t able to visit Hamel in person, you can purchase their wines from their website.

Some of our other favorite wineries in the area are Mayo Family Wines, VJB Vineyards & Cellars and Abbots Passage Winery and Mercantile.

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