Sonoma: When it Comes to Wine, Fred MacMurray May Know Best

In his eponymous vineyard in California, Arlene Stacey discovers the richness of Sonoma wines.

With her curly red hair a halo around her head, Kate MacMurray agrees that her dad, Fred MacMurray, was indeed the greatest dad ever. Not just for the 12 years from 1960 to 1972 when he played widower Steve Douglas on My Three Sons but in reality.

Standing in the kitchen at Twin Valley Ranch in California’s Russian River Valley wearing the belt he made (MacMurray was not only the epitome of fatherhood but also inspired the DC character Captain Marvel and was an expert leather craftsman), Kate points out the oak counter that he crafted. The home looks about the same as when the MacMurrays lived on the 1,700-acre working ranch which the once highest-paid Hollywood actor bought back in 1941 and where he retreated to spend most of his time raising cattle.

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Five years after MacMurray’s death in 1991, the family sold the ranch to the Gallo brothers of wine fame, who planted about 500 acres of grape vines – Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in the lower valley; Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel in the more rugged upper valley – but the successful vintners never underestimated the strength of the MacMurray name.

Daughter Kate was enlisted as the creative consultant for the line of superpremium MacMurray Ranch wines. Instead of the family home, Kate, 60, stays in the cabin built by her father where John Wayne, who introduced her dad to her mom, actress Jane Haver, slept when “Duke” and her dad fly-fished the Russian River.

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The MacMurray Ranch wines join the upper ranks of Sonoma County wines, a sophisticated and varied offering from 17 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs, or appellations defining geographical regions with distinctive characteristics).

Sonoma vintners bottle rich Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown in the warmth of the Sonoma Valley, juicy Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the vineyards in the cool, foggy Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley.

There’s a wine to suit every palate – mature wines that warrant cellar attention or dinner this weekend. With 50,000 acres under viticulture and more than 400 wineries beginning less than an hour’s drive north from San Francisco, Sonoma has made a New World believer out of me.

NEXT: Taste at Home

Image 3TASTE AT HOME

Enjoy the taste of Sonoma at home with this sampling of cool Californians. But if you want to experience Fred MacMurray’s Twin Valley Ranch, head to the coast for the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. That Saturday is the only day of the year the MacMurray Estate Vineyards are open to the public for the Taste of Sonoma, one of the premier events of the weekend, featuring more than 200 area wineries and food from the region’s best chefs.

Here, in no particular order:

Buena Vista Winery Chardonnay 2013 A full-bodied complex wine from California’s first premium winery founded in 1857 just outside the town of Sonoma. $24 (www.buenavistawinery.com)

Francis Ford Coppola Archimedes Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 A firm, full-bodied cab from the director’s vineyard in the Alexander Valley. $78 (www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com)

Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 A firm, full-bodied, balanced cab from the Sonoma Coast. $23 (www.rodneystrong.com)

MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir 2013 Fruity medium-bodied freshness in a glass from the Russian River Valley. $27 (www.macmurrayestatevineyards.com)

Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Aromatic and flavourful from one of California’s first woman winemakers. $59 (www.merryedwards.com)

Clouds Rest Try any Pinot Noir from Clouds Rest if you can get your hands on one. Grown in volcanic soil in an intensely planted hillside vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA and completely farmed by hand. (www.cloudsrest.com)

 

If You Go: Check out the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, a charity event held on the Labour Day weekend in September. For more information, go to sonomawinecountryweekend.com.