DuNah Vineyards & Winery
Sonoma County region
One of the leading Pinot Noir entities in Sonoma
Perched on a stunning Sonoma hilltop with spectacularly expansive views is DuNah Vineyards and Winery, easily one of the most desirable Sonoma County properties for growing and producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. From their sustainable growing practices and award-winning winemaker, to their limited production wines and traditional winemaking techniques, DuNah has all the right pieces in place and continues to climb the ranks among the region’s top producers.
Founders and owners Rick and Diane DuNah purchased their 44 acre estate in 1992 after retiring from the electronic component manufacturing business in which they produced backlit liquid crystal displays for pagers. They were extremely successful in the business, but after twenty five years, decided the time had come to retire and move to the country where they could relax and enjoy a simpler life. What the DuNahs didn’t count on was the intriguing lure of the wine grape growing industry, and landing on a piece of property that would garner attention from the nearby, highly coveted, Flowers Winery.
“We had no previous experience with grape growing,” Rick DuNah admitted. “But we thought that it sounded like an interesting thing to do. Nobody had grown grapes here before, so it was an exciting idea. We got advice from Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines and John Ferrington, whose family had sold grapes to Williams Selyem for many years, and we started considering it.”
It didn’t take long to consider the possibilities. Rick and Diane decided to make a go for it, and found their way back to school, enrolling at the Santa Rosa Junior College in 1996. They studied under the prestigious Viticulture and Enology program and also made some valuable friends in the process.
In 1998, the DuNahs planted seven acres of Pinot Noir and one acre to Chardonnay on their hilltop estate. The slopes, which wrap around the knoll facing west, south, and east, are steep, adding considerable stress to the vines. For winegrapes, this is actually a good thing though, because stressful environments promote smaller grape size with more highly concentrated flavors. The DuNah Estate Vineyard proved to produce exceptional fruit right from the start, and neighboring wineries were catching wind of it.
“We were approached by Flowers Winery who wanted exclusive rights to our Pinot,” Rick explained, “and in exchange, they offered to help make a Chardonnay from our estate grapes for our own label. We soon realized we had landed ourselves in the wine business with a white wine, and no red, so we went after some of the Pinot grapes being produced at the Sangiacomo Vineyards eight miles to the east of us.” The inaugural vintage for DuNah wines came in 2001: a vineyard designated wine from the Sangiacomo family’s Roberts Road Vineyard on the west side of Sonoma Mountain, and a Chardonnay from their own estate vineyard named ‘DeDee’s Vineyard’ - after Diane. The following year, the DuNahs produced two Pinots: a second vintage of Sangiacomo, and a unique vintage from Keefer Ranch. 2003 saw the first release of DuNah’s estate Pinot, and a continuation of the Sangiacomo - both of which have been made in each vintage since. By 2005, the DuNahs had reclaimed all of their estate Pinot for the DuNah label, doubling overall production to about 550 cases. Even with such a small output, the wines continued to garner an impressively large following.
“When getting into the viticulture business, I took with me a philosophy that I had lived by in my previous career - ‘Do it right the first time’ - and I think our wines hold true to that,” Rick stated. He’s certainly doing something right because his estate Pinots and Chardonnays are now among the most desirable in the entire Sonoma County region. Production at DuNah picked up in the last few years and now includes a portfolio of six wines (two Pinots, two Chardonnays, a Syrah blend, and a Gewurtztraminer), rounding out at 2,500 cases annually. “We’ll stay at this level,” Rick assured. “I’m 74 years old and I’m happy with what we’re doing - we’re producing good wine and selling it to a good market.”
Rick and Diane DuNah couldn’t be happier with their Sonoma County winery, and with their gorgeous hilltop property, a heap of award-winning wines, and a constantly growing fan base, it is quite easy to see why!
Map of the area
The 10-acre forest rimmed DuNah Vineyard was planted in 1998 and is located on 44 acres south of the town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Initially the site fell into the Sonoma Coast Appellation, but changes to the southern boundary of the Russian River Valley Appellation in 2005 gave DuNah the right to either appellation - a rather unique situation!
Regardless of what the appropriate appellation name should be, the DuNah Vineyard has excellent conditions for producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay: morning fog, temperate days, afternoon coastal breezes, and cool evenings, that each play a vital role in promoting a long growing season to develop ripe, complex flavored fruit. DuNah chooses to also source Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast’s Sangiacomo Vineyard, planted in 1999 and managed by one of California’s top wine growing families.
Greg La Follete - Winemaker
Greg La Follete, growing up in Europe with an old-world view that wine is "raised” rather than "made.” He believes winemaking should be a partnership with the land, and coming from someone who's produced wines rated among the best in the world, it's safe to say he knows what he's talking about. La Follette studied ancient Burgundian techniques at UC Davis and continued with on-the-job studies at Beaulieu Vineyard with wine master, Andre Tchelistcheff. From BV, La Follette went on to Kendall-Jackson and Flowers Winery, where he launched one of the most successful small Pinot labels to date. The winery he built at Flowers is still considered one of the very best gravity-flow, gas-assist green wineries in the world. La Follette has overseen the DuNah winemaking processes since day one, and consistently strives to produce some of the finest Pinots and Chardonnays being made... anywhere. His newest adventure is launching the La Follette label, which he is due to release his first wines this September of 2010.