Sonoma County region
An elite producer of North Coast, cool-climate wines with an incredible reputation
Landmark Vineyards may have been founded in the Windsor area of Sonoma County in 1974, but its roots stretch back as early as 1838 to America’s heartland. It was in Grand Detour, Illinois of that year that John Deere invented the steel plow – an event that virtually revolutionized the business of agriculture. Deere’s descendents have since carried on the agricultural heritage with an iconic winery in northern California.
John Deere’s great-great granddaughter, Damaris Deere Ford was one of the original partners in Landmark Vineyards and in 1989 relocated the winery from Windsor, a town that was slowly being smothered by urban sprawl, to a spectacular piece of land at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in the Sonoma Valley. Damaris believed that Landmark could be a small jewel of a winery and built a stunning Spanish mission-style estate on the new 20-acre site. Damaris called on her son, Michael Deere Colhoun, a real estate executive in Stanford, Connecticut, to help her reestablish the new winery and vineyard.
“My mom had bought out her Landmark partners and wanted help getting the new winery going,” Mike Colhoun recently recalled. “She wanted my wife Mary and I to move out to California, and after a couple years she had us convinced and we decided to go for it.” The Colhouns moved to California in 1992 and set in motion a plan that would truly make the winery a landmark in the developing wine country. In 1993, they hired world-renowned consulting enologist Helen Turley at the request of their winemaker, Eric Stern. Turley had founded her own Chardonnay label, Marcassin, and was quickly building a reputation as a woman with extraordinary drive and talent. Her arrival truly marked the beginning of a huge turnaround for the winery.
“She brought to us credibility in helping our winemaking team develop style and methodology,” Colhoun explained. The collaboration between Stern and Turley led to some excellent winemaking and suddenly Landmark Vineyards had catapulted from a little-known winery to world-class prominence. Largely a Chardonnay-based winery, Landmark’s “Overlook” Chardonnay, the wine they have become most known for, has been called “one of the best Chardonnay values in the marketplace” by Robert Parker in addition to gracing Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list a whopping 6 times since 1997. The Overlook is named after a bluff in Moline, Illinois where the Deere family built a home, in addition to the headquarters of their business, John Deere Plow Works. Overlook served as home to four generations of Deere descendents and it’s only natural that the name became of sentimental importance over time.
In 2004, Colhoun was seeking a new challenge and added two Pinot Noir programs to Landmark’s portfolio. For the Grand Detour Pinot Noir (named after the Illinois city where John Deere invented the steel plow), Colhoun decided to source from five to six premium vineyards along the Sonoma Coast, each planted by Landmark’s consulting viticulturalist Eric Neil. When that first vintage garnered 93 Points from the Pinot Report, the team knew they were doing something right. Overall, Landmark Vineyards sources from twenty-eight different vineyard sites throughout the state of California, most within the Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley appellations, but also a couple as far south as Monterey County and Bien Nacido in Santa Barbara County. Mike Colhoun feels fortunate to have developed close relationships with these talented growers, most recognized among the state’s leading suppliers.
“It’s important to maintain quality and consistency with above average fruit from vintage to vintage,” Colhoun recently stated. Twenty-eight vineyards may sound like a lot, but for Landmark, it gives great flexibility in choosing the best grapes each harvest. If one vineyard has a bad year for weather reasons, it only represents a small percentage of the overall crush. Landmark has also added a small production Syrah to the portfolio, which they coined ‘Steel Plow’ as another reference to the John Deere legacy. Like the Chardonnay and Pinot programs, it too shows incredible consistency each release and is often rated with 90+ points from top periodicals.
Mike Colhoun is now co-proprietor of Landmark, sharing the title with wife Mary who oversees the winery’s hospitality program and all public relations and press events. Reliably turning out a bevy of Burgundian-styled Pinot Noirs and chart-topping Chardonnays, Landmark has certainly climbed the charts among the state’s leading producers and truly epitomizes the grace, harmony and excitement that is Sonoma County.
About the Vineyard
Sonoma County is one of California’s best regions for the production of Pinot Noir. In fact, the county’s planted acres of this varietal are approximately forty percent of the state’s total of nearly twenty-four thousand acres. While the traditional plantings of Pinot tended to be concentrated in the Carneros and Russian River, today’s focus has been in the cooler Sonoma Coast appellation, where newer clonal material and denser spacing has led to a renaissance for this varietal in Sonoma County.
The 2007 Landmark Grand Detour Pinot Noir is a blend of five Sonoma Coast vineyards: Kanzler, Keller Estate, Flocchini, Gap’s Crown and Armagh. The cool, dry growing season helped promote small berries with concentrated flavors of raspberry and strawberry, and the result is a wonderfully expressive wine with excellent balance and incredible complexity.
Eric Stern - Winemaker
A native of New York, Eric Stern’s undergraduate studies included music, anthropology and geology. Following graduation, he worked for ten years as an administrator for chamber of music ensembles in New Hampshire and Michigan. His decision to pursue a career in wine began in Boston where he worked concurrently as a wine shop manager, sommelier and salesman for an importer/wholesale dListributor of fine wine.
In 1983, he relocated to California and enrolled in California State at Fresno to get a second undergraduate degree in enology. After apprenticing at Acacia and Carmenet wineries, he joined Landmark in 1989 as Assistant Winemaker. Stern was promoted to Winemaker in 1993. He continues to pursue his passion for the craft and art of wine and produces balanced, full- favored Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in the traditional Burgundian style. Stern lives in Sonoma with his wife Carol and enjoys listening to music, reading, swimming and gourmet cooking in his free time.