Katarina Bonde and Bengt Åkerlind moved from Sweden to Seattle in 1992 to work in the IT industry. Little did they know, that they ten years later would own a 60-acre vineyard in Sonoma and produce wine under their own label. Or that their wine, as the first American wine ever, would be served at the Nobel Awards Banquet in 2010.
The name, West Wines, comes from the fact that Katarina Bonde’s and Bengt Åkerlind’s vineyard is located on the western slope of Dry Creek Valley, in the western part of Sonoma County, which is one of the westernmost wine-producing areas in the world. The long and narrow Dry Creek Valley offers various micro climates which creates ideal conditions for growing different kinds of grapes. West Wines have chosen to grow classic French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier.
Being from Sweden, we grew up drinking French wines. Our winemaking combines the best of traditional Old World-winemaking and New World modern techniques, Katarina Bonde said.
The result is typically European style wines; elegant, crisp white wines with high acidity and red wines aged in well-seasoned French oak barrels. West Wine’s wines generally get excellent reviews but one wine in particular has received massive attention; their 2005 West Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. It was the first American wine ever to be served at the Nobel Awards Banquet, and was selected in a blind tasting.
Our Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on west facing slopes 300 feet above the valley floor where the fog rarely reaches. The grapes get long, warm and sunny days and mature with full and complex flavors. 2005 was an exceptionally good year with early bud break, high soil moisture, and excellent ripening weather in the late fall, Katarina Bonde explained.
That great accolade is not the only thing that sets West Wines apart. Most notable is their ambitious sustainability work. West Wines is certified “California Sustainable” which is a program that takes the whole environment, as well as every step in the winemaking process, into account. One example of this is that they grow nitrogen-rich plants between the rows of grapes. When mowed into the soil, they work as a natural fertilizer. This is better for the environment than using chemicals or ever organic animal manure.
We are next to Dry Creek and we would soil the water if we used cow manure. Salmon go up that river to spawn. Organic growing often means using animal fertilization, but we think about the bigger picture which also takes the creek and water life into account, Bengt Åkerlind said.
The couple also uses plants as a substitute to pesticides. By growing certain plants, they attract benevolent insects which make it their habitat. These insects attack bugs spreading viruses to the vines. With good bugs hunting the bad ones, it’s biological warfare rather than chemical. When it comes to the winemaking, sustainable methods are used throughout the process. For example, they do not use any enzymes to alter the wines, and all bottles are sealed with natural cork from cork oaks which grow for 200 years and can be harvested 15 times. With energy from solar cells and water from their own wells, West Wines is a very self-sufficient establishment.
Sadly, West Wine’s own efforts to reduce climate change does not make them immune to it. The past years, they have seen an increase in wild fires and in both 2019 and 2020, they had to be evacuated. Katarina Bonde remembered the close call this fall.
We saw the fires closing in as we were packing our car. Luckily, it did not reach our land this year but it is always a big scare.
Apart from having to worry about their own safety and their life’s work, the smoke impacts the grapes. Unfortunately, it is not until after fermentation, when the grape juice is taken to a lab, that they will know if the wine contains the compounds to create smoke flavors. For wines that are meant to age it is also hard to know whether those flavors will increase or decrease with aging. The wine industry is still learning about this.
If you have been to SACC events in recent years, you might have already had the opportunity to try West Wine’s wines. Otherwise, we strongly recommend a visit to their tasting room. When you go, let Bengt and Katarina know that you are SACC members and they promise to give you special attention. Also, all SACC members who join their wine club, the Compass Club, will receive an extra welcome bottle. On www.westwines.com you will find more information about their wines, the Compass Club, wine tasting tours, and even recipes and wine pairings.
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