Sonoma has roughly the same number of wineries as Napa, yet it is spread over twice the distance. Sonoma certainly has more diversity in terms or regional terroir and climate. It also boasts 17 American Vinicultural Areas (AVAs), which are the US’ version of French AOC, the different AVAs representing different styles and varying grape varieties. Napa has 16 AVAs. There is a much more varied terroir and climatic conditions found in Sonoma and it remains undiscovered when compared to Napa, with wine gems still to be found and enjoyed. Sonoma is often certainly better value for money. In many ways, Sonoma wine country is like Napa 30 years ago, before international fame. The incredible terroir and aspect that Sonoma boasts has always been well-known, with grapes planted as far back as 1812. After the repeal of prohibition only 50 wineries survived and even by the 1960s little had changed. However, in the last 20 years Sonoma has come out of its cocoon and now has over 1,100 growers. Today, Sonoma is one of the most exciting and prominent wine regions in the world. Moreover, in the wake of the recent fires, we are delighted to present one of Sonoma’s finest producers and a vineyard that felt the full fury of the disaster.

Today marks our first official release of the extraordinary Donelan wines, which until now we could only sell in tiny parcels, so boutique is their production. Robert Parker considers Donelan to be ‘one of the most impressive Rhone Ranger winemaking estates in California.’ He has awarded their wines a plethora of 100 and 99 point scores, which are backed up with superb scores from Antonio Galloni and Jeb Dunnuck. Today Joe Donelan and his family are responsible for some of the finest wines coming out of California, not just Sonoma. Foremost among these is their Estate owned, remarkable flagship wine Obsidian Vineyard. In 2014, this has been awarded 97 points from Jeb Dunnuck until recently of the Wine Advocate, 96 from Antonio Galloni and 95 from Lisa Perrotti-Brown of the Wine Advocate, remaining yet untasted by Robert Parker. In addition to this, we are releasing their finest white wine, the Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay, which Parker thinks is so outstanding he likens it to Grand Cru Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet.

Donelan Obsidian is the best £80 per bottle wine available in California. Today we are very pleased to offer cases of six and 12 bottles for £480 and £960 respectively, the same as their private mailing list price in the US. Moreover, as mentioned in our California report, the Obsidian vineyard will likely need complete replanting next year, requiring several years before it can produce great wine again, although the terroir here is so special, it will recover. In 2014, a poultry 569 cases were made, although this is above the average production of 350 cases. From 2018 onwards for a few years no new Obsidian will be made and as such, the tiny production will not be able to fulfil demand over the coming years.

The Obsidian vineyard is truly special and the pride and joy of the Donelan family. The soil here is incredibly complex, some of the most special anywhere in the world. The vineyard is blessed with pieces of volcanic obsidian rock, this obsidian has archaeological interest, as it was once dug up and used in tomahawks and arrows of the Native Americans. Obsidian soils are very special and speak of unique terroir. The benefits of obsidian soils are excellent drainage and added light refraction from the marble type rocks. Vine roots struggle due to the solid bedrock found only six to 18 inches below the top soil, ensuring very low vigour and canopy growth, limiting yields and creating very small intense berries. Quality is further enhanced as the proprietor is willing to think beyond commercial gain and harness the low yields, focusing on making a stunning wine, Obsidian creates something very special. Donelan’s Obsidian vineyard yielded 1.8 tonnes per acre in 2014, which is less than Domaine Romanée Conti’s reported 2 tonnes per acre, which is considered the lowest sensible low watermark for a great winery. It is commercially possible when DRC can command £6,000 a bottle on release. For Donelan Family Wines, their goal is to make one of the best wines in the world, they are less concerned with making a buck.

The six and a half-acre Obsidian vineyard is sited in Knights Valley AVA. Knights Valley AVA actually borders Napa and is the most remote of Sonoma Country’s appellation, snuggling against Calistoga. As you might imagine, given its proximity to Napa Valley, it is famed for Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the Obsidian is 100% Syrah, taking on all of the regality of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon plots in Napa itself, yet bent toward Syrah. A combination of the terroir and passion for truly exceptional wines, results in Syrah berries as small and concentrated as can be achieved at any estate. The vines are handpicked, then fermented with native yeast, they then spend 22 months in 40% new oak. The vines were 25-30 years old, before fire damaged the vineyard. Obsidian is a remarkable wine, which provides beautiful spice, floral notes, graphite, tobacco and superb minerality. It can compete with any of the Napa cult wines for power and it retains finesse. The palate is extremely full bodied, with notes of charcuterie, smoked meats and cassis. It is rich, intense and very age worthy. The finish is weighty and long.

We are also extremely excited to be offering Donelan Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay from the 2016 vintage. We are big fans of Californian Chardonnay and Donelan’s offering is remarkable. Of the 2013, Parker commented ‘This is a stunner that comes across like a great Corton-Charlemagne from Burgundy.’ In 2014 Parker stated, ‘somewhat grand cru Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet’, awarding it 96 points. In 2015 Lisa Perrotti-Brown awarded it 97 points and Jeb Dunnuck 98 who says it is ‘Tasting like a Grand Cru Montrachet (seriously, it’s that good)’. As the notes suggest this is stylistically Burgundian, akin to Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet, which costs upwards of £350 per bottle. The Donelan Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay 2016 is yet untasted, but the vintage is excellent for white wines and another very high score is expected. We can offer a limited amount today for £320 per case of six or £640 per case of 12 bottles, which is incredible value. If you love white burgundy or Napa Chardonnay this is a must, only 196 cases were and as you can see from the table below, demand drives the prices up very quickly.

Donelan Genevieve’s BlockWAAGJDPrice 12×75


Donelan Family Wines began in 2000, originally known as Pax Wine Cellars. It was founded by Joe Donelan, who left his job as a vice president of A.T. Clayton, after several years of becoming impassioned about great wine via an inspired sommelier at Toppers Restaurant on Nantucket. Joe’s vision was to create terroir driven Syrah and Rhone-varietals. Added to this is an incredible philosophy of finding vineyards and sourcing fruit. They tirelessly look for plots which stand out with natural potential. Generally, these are relatively cool-climate, high elevation plots. Sonoma, as mentioned, remains capable of new gems as potential great vineyards still remain hidden. For example, the vineyard manager of Devoto Vineyard, where the Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay is sourced from, wanted to pull up the vineyard and replant it fully with Pinot Noir before Joe convinced him that is was perfect for Chardonnay. The resulting wines immediately obtained some of the highest Parker scores of any white Californian wine. The Devoto Vineyard benefits from a west-facing slope and Goldridge Loam soil. It is only two acres in size of which only one produces Chardonnay.

Donelan Obsidian Syrah 2014, 12×75 – £960 IB  6×75 – £480 IB

97 points, Jeb Dunnuck
The 2014 Syrah Obsidian Vineyard checks in behind the blockbuster 2013 (and what a wine…) but is still a sensational effort. Made with a touch of stems and brought up in 40% new barrels, it offers Côte Rôtie-like notes of black raspberries, violets, pepper, bacon fat and tons of rocky minerality. I love its tannin quality, and while it’s a full-bodied Syrah, it just glides across the palate with ultra-fine tannin, integrated acidity and thrilling purity, focus and precision. Decant if drinking anytime soon.

96 points, Antonio Galloni
The 2014 Syrah Obsidian Vineyard is a fabulous example of Knights Valley terroir. Graphite, smoke, cured meat, licorice and incense give the 2014 its dark, brooding personality. Virile and imposing, with a real sense of vertical structure, the 2014 possesses stunning depth and intensity. There is a palpable sense of intensity and ripeness to the fruit that extends the finish effortlessly. Readers should expect an intense, full-throttle Syrah.

95 points, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate
Produced using 20% whole cluster and aged for 22 months in French oak, 40% new, the 2014 Obsidian Vineyard Syrah has a deep garnet-purple color and opulently scented nose of violets, roses and cinnamon stick over a core of blueberry pie, plum preserves and mulberries with a waft of licorice. The medium to full-bodied palate is ripe, rich and highly structured, with a firm backbone of rounded tannins and a long, spicy finish. 569 cases were made. 

Donelan Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay 201612×75 – £640 IB  6×75 – £320 IB

To buy this wine, click here