Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery
Sonoma County region
Vines were first planted in the Highway 12 corridor in 1825
It's a roadway that is every bit as legendary as Napa Valley's esteemed Highway 29. Beginning in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, 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 Vine 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 rapidly growing 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 the well-respected Viansa Winery.
"To us, it sort of seemed quite simple," noted Giusto, 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.
Production started out slowly and over the past few years really started to pick up, topping out at 45,000 cases for this vintage, a level that Giusto feels is comfortable for the operation. "We wanted to run a lean business for the first few years," confided Giusto.
"We will eventually reach somewhere between 55,000 and 65,000 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."
They have welcomed the chance to work with many of the same growers Sebastiani 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. Giusto and Sebastiani now consider these vineyards the true foundation of Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery and are dedicated to establishing their mark with this new entity.
Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery has also come full bore with the opening of its incredible tasting room, just a few years old and situated 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 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 par with many of the other fine 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 growing winery and its diverse programs of wine innovation.
Map of the area
About the Vineyard
The Highway 12 corridor is home to dozens of world class vineyards, and from the best of those come the grapes for Highway 12's wines. This month's selection, the 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, was produced from the Sangiacomo Family Vineyards in the Sonoma/Carneros wine region.
Sangiacomo Family Vineyards has been farming land for four generations, since 1927, and is one of California's most prestigious and respected grower families. According to the Sangiacomo family, Pinot Noir is the premier red grape with everything going for it - bold cherry and berry flavors with an exuberant spark that sends taste buds soaring. It is for this reason that the family is most attentive when growing this varietal. Their superior Pinot Noir fruit is in consistently high demand by top wine producers.
The Sonoma/Carneros AVA is a cool climate appellation situated on the northern edge of San Pablo Bay and is known for its windy, foggy weather. It is a prime growing area for cool-loving varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
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.