New Ram’s Gate Winery Makes a Dramatic Entrance

The tasting room

It can be a bit difficult to impress the locals anymore with the opening of a new winery. Living in the Napa/Sonoma area, we’re surrounded by opulence and luxury, and plenty of bells and whistles.

Yet the recent opening of Ram’s Gate Winery garnered a lot of attention even from plenty of people who’ve been-there-done-that. The grand opening party the other week was a VIP gathering of who’s who and most of them had a solid opinion: wow.

Ram’s Gate takes over the old Roche Winery site on Hwy. 121 across from Infineon Raceway in Carneros/Sonoma, and the massive project on the eastern hillside has quite the pedigree.

The vineyards

First, there is the ownership. One of the partners is Jeff O’Neill, who also owns O’Neill Vintners & Distillers and Xtant Wines plus is a former Chair of the California Wine Institute.

Then, there is the consulting winemaker, Jeff Gaffner, who also works with Saxon Brown, Xtant, Stephanie, and Black Kite Cellars.

Next, there’s the architect for the 22,000-square-foot/30-acre project. He is Howard Backen, who has done top restaurants including Press, Go Fish, Screaming Eagle, Meadowood Resort, plus wineries like Ovid. The interior designer is Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, known for his dramatic work at Masa’s.

The result of their efforts is a stunning barn style building boasting 30 foot tall ceilings, exposed beams, walls made of reclaimed snow fence, recycled French granite paver-stones, and massive floor-to-ceiling glass walls that open to sweeping vineyard and bay views.

The opulent, elegant winery even has its own executive chef. He is Jason Rose, who has worked as the culinary project manager at the Delfina Restaurant Group, the culinary director for The Tyler Florence Group, and as a chef with La Cocina in San Francisco and The Carneros Inn.

While Rose is not running an actual restaurant, his farm-to-table dishes are showcased as elaborate small plate pairings for wine tastings held in an underground dining cellar next to the barrel room.

Some of his ingredients come from an on-site culinary garden, and he uses the winery’s open kitchen for interactive cooking demonstrations. Guests can reserve lakeside picnic lunches, fireside lounge soirees and private wine dinners, too, in special event space.
A recent small sampling included temptations like pea arancini, zesty heirloom tomato gazpacho, and moist, tender lamb meatballs in spicy mole sauce. Depending on wines – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sparkling wines of Brut, Blanc de Noirs, and Rose – the chef customizes the selection.

Finally, there is the hospitality manager. He is Marc Hartenfels, who was the opening general manager of Benu, and before that worked with Yountville’s Bardessono and Bouchon.

Cheers, indeed.

Details: Ram’s Gate Winery & Estate Vineyards, 28700 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, 707-721-8700,

Tip: A visit to a luxury winery deserves a luxury ride. Reserve your Pure Luxury Transportation limousine and you’ve got a designated driver, too.

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