By Kelly J. Hayes By Kelly J. Hayes | October 14, 2021 | Food & Drink Feature
Joe Nielsen, the young director of winemaking at Ram's Gate, is helping redefine organic wines and how to create exceptional vintages from multiple vineyards.
Joe Nielsen is the director of winemaking.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the promontory that’s home to Ram’s Gate Winery, it’s a mere 30-minute drive. Overlooking 28 acres of estate vineyards below, visitors get an invigorating kiss from the Pacific breeze. These winds cool both the vines and those who have come to taste the wines produced by Joe Nielsen, the director of winemaking at Ram’s Gate, and enjoy the refined culinary experiences on offer. “Because we’re so close to the city, we often have guests who are only visiting one winery or perhaps have never even been to wine country,” Nielsen says of the clientele. “We want to provide a thoughtful experience and offer excellent wines of character and place.” That is wines that speak of Sonoma.
Ram’s Gate features a five-course food-and-wine pairing.
Founded in 2011, Ram’s Gate has been lauded as one of the most desirable winery destinations in a region known for providing premier wine experiences. A tasting room, designed by Howard Backen, the Frank Lloyd Wright of winery architects, features an expansive open-air, contemporary barnstyle ambiance that frames spectacular views across San Pablo Bay toward San Francisco.
A welcoming fireplace at Ram’s Gate is part of the tasting-room experience.
Before the 2018 vintage, Ram’s Gate engaged the precocious Nielsen (he’s still only 36 years old) to create a wine program that mirrors the luxury aesthetic of the estate. Nielsen was given carte blanche to reinvigorate the offerings, and he has taken the task to heart. In addition to initiating the process of transitioning the estate vineyards to organic status (“we haven’t sprayed an herbicide here since 2018,” says Nielsen), he has overseen the production of an eclectic collection of Sonoma wines hailing from many of the most esteemed sites in the AVA.
The tasting hall at Ram’s Gate Winery
Nielsen notes that Ram’s Gate sources from 24 sites, including its own vineyards, to make wines from seven different grape varieties. Nielsen and his team produce four tiers of wines, ranging from the Ram’s Gate Estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay to singlevineyard wines from Sonoma classics. The latter include Hyde Vineyards, Gap’s Crown and Durell Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast and the Valdez Family’s Silver Eagle Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.
“Terroir is a blessing,” Nielsen says about the bounty of the vineyards. “The challenge of these great sites is defining what makes them special, what nuances they offer and what the vintage and the terroir have given us,” he says. “With terroir, we need to be students—the terroir is the professor, and it dictates the style, not us.”
Nielsen’s goal is not just to provide instant gratification but to also build a legacy. “I’m motivated to have pride in this brand. I think about how these wines made in the 2020s will hold up and be thought of 20 or even 30 years down the road.”
Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY DAWN HEUMANN; PHOTO COURTESY OF RAM’S GATE WINERY; PHOTO BY ROCCO CESELIN; PHOTO BY DAWN HEUMANN;