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Highway 12 Wines - Sonoma County


With an exceptional legacy and ambitious beginning, Highway 12’s wines are driven for success.

Beginning in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, Highway 12 winds and bends its way westward through the vineyards and marvelous landscapes of the Foothills Region, through Lodi and its venerable growths of old Zinfandel and then further west down through Napa and Sonoma’s famed Carneros Region. After its transverse of the entirety of Sonoma Valley, Highway 12 winds up at the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean and the rapidly emerging appellation that covers the Sonoma Coast. Actually, wine was first planted in the present Highway 12 corridor in 1825 by the Franciscan padres of the Sonoma Mission, the northernmost mission in the series of missions that transgressed California in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Commercial vineyards first began appearing in the mid-1800's almost simultaneously all along the current route as far east as the legendary '49er Gold Country.

It took Paul Giusto and Michael Sebastiani, co-founders of the relatively new Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery, to embrace this wonderful stretch of highway by naming their fledgling winery after its legendary stretch of roadway. Giusto is a Sonoma State communications and marketing graduate who formerly worked with Sebastiani during his tenure at well-respected Viansa Winery. “To us it sort of seemed quite simple,” noted Giusto, 36, and a San Francisco native. “Sometimes, the most opportune facets of a business are those you find right under your nose. All the great wineries that are located on or just off Highway 12 are what have helped make this area so wine famous. We just decided to dedicate our place to it and show just how wonderful wines made from Highway 12 fruit can be.” Giusto banded together with Michael Sebastiani of the noteworthy Sonoma family to start Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery back in 2003. With Sebastiani as the winemaker and Giusto as the sales and marketing figure, they first produced a smallish 650 cases of their first release to the general public. This year, production will top out at just over 3500 cases, a level that Giusto feels is quite comfortable for the three-man operation. The third winery principle is former Ohioan and Marine Corps veteran Doug Offenbacher, 62, who serves as a partner in the venture and also handles the design and development aspects of the new winery. Together, the three principles provide the expertise and most of the daily effort for Highway 12.

“We want to run a lean business for the first few years,” confided Giusto. “We will eventually reach somewhere around 10,000 cases, but the exact date is yet to be established. It is entirely up to our ongoing sales and the confidence the general public has in our wines.” Judging from Highway 12’s initial successes, their wines are already held in extremely high regard by the trade press and in the opinion of wine competition judges who have awarded a number of Gold Medals to the winery’s first few years of entries.

“It sort of helps that we utilize just about every varietal that is grown in Sonoma,” added Giusto. “So many different varietals give us a great deal of flexibility and allow us to do things other wineries that are more restricted regarding their fruit simply cannot do.” Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery has also come full bore with the opening of its incredible new tasting room on the southeast corner of Sonoma’s famous plaza. Considered the last piece of the puzzle, the tasting room offers visitors to the historic area a glance inside the real character of the winery.

“Our new tasting room allows us to be competitive with the other more established wineries,” Giusto concluded. It took us a while to complete, but we think it is on a par with many of the other finer wineries. It is the showcase we have been waiting for.”
Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery is atypical of other area wineries in that it makes use of a number of different growing appellations to present its portfolio of wines. Its wines offer insight into these various growing areas while maintaining a unique style that sets it apart from other wineries.

We congratulate this exciting new winery and its diverse programs of wine innovation on its impending success. Would that more wineries emulate this kind of unique wine originality.



Michael Sebastiani - Winemaker

Like many of the other modern winemakers, Michael Sebastiani graduated from nearby UC Davis with a degree in winemaking. However, Sebastiani explained that while the degree most certainly covers the technical side of winemaking, he feels that the subtleties gleaned from years of family winemaking and the close associations he has had with other winemakers have helped mold the skills that make him a leader in his field.

Michael Sebastiani has performed nearly all jobs related to the wine industry.

At the ripe old age of 35, Michael Sebastiani has performed nearly all jobs related to the wine industry. As the fourth generation of his iconic family, he has worked in the vineyards since he was nine and has been a noted winemaker for more than a decade. Michael is a product of the Sebastiani/Viansa winery progression that has chosen to go out on his own with the formation of Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery. Even though he left Viansa a few years ago, he waited until the right situation came along to try a new venture.

‘Everything in the wine business works extremely slowly,” Michael recently pointed out. ‘I took a long time to look around and see what might ultimately work.” Even though Michael and co-founder Paul Giusto had worked before at Viansa, it wasn’t until years after leaving the winery that Giusto and Sebastiani’s paths crossed again.

‘One day we were sitting down together discussing some ideas and the same thought came to each of us at about an identical time. The prospect of building a winery around a series of vineyards along Highway 12 was both engrossing and challenging to us.” Sebastiani and his partners used a small town family-style approach toward developing their winery style.

‘To me, winemaking is much like cooking. A good cook prepares food he knows his guests will enjoy. It is much the same for me as a winemaker. I want our customers to really enjoy our wines as much as possible. I also consider wine a living entity, one that somehow always seems to figure itself out. My partners agreed with me that we should let our wines express themselves in their own manner,” he further related. Michael Sebastiani has also welcomed the chance to work again with many of the growers he first knew through his family’s wineries. He has worked with these farmers since his youth and appreciated the work that went into producing world-class fruit suitable for making great wines. He considers these vineyards the true foundation of Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery and is dedicated to establishing his mark with his new entity.

‘I am aware of the fact that the general consumer wants a certain type of wine,” Sebastiani confessed. ‘These same consumers are forcing wineries to make their wines a certain way if they want to be successful. I am of the hope and belief that we can return to some of the original approaches to winemaking that were in use when I first started in the business when I was a youth.” To make his point, he points out the different types of Chardonnay being made. ‘Basically, there are two styles of Chardonnay I really prefer. One is the cleaner style made back in the 1980’s and second is the newer style that combines butter and oak to produce a specific mouth feel. I believe we can make both of these wines side-by-side and make both into incredible wines.” While Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery is still in its infancy, Michael Sebastiani feels the large number of wines still unreleased by the winery will bode well for the near future. He singles out grapes originating from Serres Vineyards and Sangiacomo Family Vineyards as the ultra quality fruit he has to work with. Both have sold their grapes to the highest-level wineries in the past with incredible awards and respect from around the wine world.

‘I have been lucky to work with these growers in the past,” he added. ‘They are among the best possible suppliers and I want to make them proud and add to their list of awards. I really want to put Highway 12 on the map (no pun intended).” Michael Sebastiani seems to have found a comfortable niche for his remarkable winemaking talent, a talent he knows can lead his new company in practically any direction.

‘Our future is wide open,” he finalized. ‘We are on a course that could take us anywhere.”
Make that Highway 12 and Michael Sebastiani could be quite correct.

About The Region

True to the name on the bottle, all fruit that goes into Highway 12 wines must come from what the owner’s term, ‘a stone’s throw from the actual Highway 12,” that curves its way through Carneros and Sonoma Valley. While it might seem to some potentially confining, Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery has lined up some of the finest vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and connecting appellations from which to draw its fruit, a move that basically guarantees quality and name recognition. Such an arrangement also offers a degree of micro-climatization that allows a unique insight into fruit that can change its character with the curve of the road.

‘It is part of our tribute to the great growing prowess of the area that we choose specific vineyards that possess certain characteristics,” offered co-founder Paul Giusto. ‘In our role as vintners, it is our job to bring together this myriad of fruit in a style that is specifically Hwy12’s, and no one else’s.”


Sonoma’s Special Barbecued Tri-Tip With Yellow Tomato & Mushroom Salsa


Ingredients

Serves Six

For Tri-Tip:
1 Beef tri-tip (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 Large yellow onion, sliced (1/4 inch rings)
8 Onces of your favorite BBQ marinade
1/4 cup Rubbing Herbs

For Yellow Tomato and Mushroom Salsa:
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 Ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
Salt and pepper
2 Large yellow tomatoes
3/4 Cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 Small red onion, sliced (thin strips)
1 Small red bell pepper, diced, 1/2-inch
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram


Instructions

For Tri-tip:
Place tri-tip roast and onion in a shallow container and cover completely with marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight, turning occasionally. To cook, preheat grill to medium-high. Transfer the tri-tip and onion slices to a platter and rub with Rubbing Herbs, coating completely. Grill the tri-tip for 15 minutes on each side, turning as needed, or until cooked to desired temperature. Remove from grill and place on a clean carving board, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing. Reduce heat under the grill to medium and cook the onion slices for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side, until they are tender. Slice the tri-tip into ¼-inch thick slices and top with grilled onions. Serve with Yellow Tomato and Mushroom Salsa.

For Yellow Tomato Salsa:
Heat olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add mushrooms and saute over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until cooked and lightly browned. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and cool. Cut out the stem end from the tomatoes and slice in them in half. Squeeze out the seeds and dice the tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine the diced tomatoes with the cooled mushrooms, gorgonzola, red onion, bell pepper, vinegar, olive oil and marjoram. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chips or alongside Sonoma Tri-Tip.



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