The year was 1998 when Katarina Bonde harvested her first own grapes in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California. Today, 19 years later, Katarina and her husband Bengt Åkerlind are running their own beautiful French inspired winery and vineyards West Wines surrounded by this romantic atmosphere.
Katarina worked for a company in Seattle at the time when she visited Dry Creek Valley for the first time. The company had a board meeting in the Bay Area when she was introduced to the beautiful wine district. “It felt like the time had been standing still here, and it felt like travelling back in the old times with old vineyards. I got a very romantic impression of it,” she said. Later on, the whole family went to the area a couple of times after for shorter vacations and just to enjoy the lovely nature. They got to know the people in the area and they all slowly fell in love with the incredibly beautiful place.
“Suddenly by chance, there was land for sale, and quite spontaneously we bought it. Sometimes you do things without really planning it in detail – and this was one of those situations. Since then we have been taking one year at a time and let everything grow in its own pace. It has turned out very well!”
Katarina and her husband had developed an interest for wine ever since they met. When they still lived in Sweden, the couple mostly focused on European wines where they both enjoyed travelling around Europe, finding inspiration and getting to try different wines. France became a favorite place and later when they moved to the United States, they started to explore American wines as well. They dreamed about making their own wine after they started farming grapes and that has grown slowly but surely, one type of wine at a time. A winemaker was hired, and Katarina got a Winemaker Certificate at UC Davis where she gained expertise to slowly take over the winemaking process.
“One of the best things of being in the middle of this thriving, prosperous wine district is that there are so many other people around us that are doing the same thing. We collaborate with each other and share resources. It is like Silicon Valley – people sometimes change jobs but they are still working in the same industry. If you grow grapes everyone is dependent on the same weather and we need to collaborate. This is really entangled.”
There are a lot benefits being here in California. First, it’s all about the climate — every season is different but it is comparatively even, and it never gets so bad that we loose the whole harvest. Compared to the large vineyards in France where there are large disturbances due to the unpredictability nature of weather. Hailstorms that destroy the grapes in the Champagne districts, or the abnormal cold and unusual rainy falls that make the grapes not ripening properly in the Bordeaux districts etc.
Katarina explains that people are coming to the area to visit and actually explore the whole “wine country” and not just one single winery. “We are around five to ten winemakers that work closely together, and we always recommend each other. For example, when people are coming to our tasting room we always recommend the others and we know they would do the same. This collaboration comes from that we have the same kind of customers, looking for smaller high end family owned wineries with distinct products.”
West Wines has a large selection, and the red wines are inspired by the traditional Bordeaux style, and West Wines have the typical Bordeaux varieties, for example Cabernet Sauvignon. They grow their grapes to more tannins, which is essential in creating red wines meant to age well and improve over the years. Tannins initially add bitterness and astringency, which soften during barrel aging and give the wine complexity.
The point of storing wine is that you want to bring out more flavors and enhance the taste experience. ”I make different blends every year, so every year is unique and special depending on what feels best at the time. Also, the wine gets more specific and more and more interesting for every year it is stored. All our red wines have been aged in French oak barrels for two years and after the bottling we continue to bottle-store between two to sometimes even five years.”
The white wines that West Wines produces are made crisper and drier than typical California whites. “Our three wines Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier are all basically dry and a bit crispy, but expresses the fruitiness of the grapes”
Two and a half year ago, West Wine started to produce sparkling wine as well. ”This is a process that takes a while and for that reason, we just released our first sparkling wine and right now we are going to have a new vintage every second year from now on.” This sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champagne method where the wine gets a second fermentation the in the bottle. It is made from their own Chardonnay grapes, something called Blanc de Blancs in France, thus completely made from Chardonnay grapes.
The future looks bright, and Katarina is looking forward to continue trying new interesting wines. “I have released a new type of wine every second or third year and this is something I will continue doing. In the future I am sure I will have other projects as well and I have great expectations for the coming years. We will also develop and customize our events more for people interested in how we grow the vines and and make the wines. We have a lot of ideas for the future!”
SACC looks forward to the inspiring upcoming events, new interesting ideas and products in the future. And we wish Katarina the very best of luck for many years to come!