A Visit to Sonoma’s Belden Barns
Winery visits are fun and all, but they tend to follow a predictable routine. Walk around the vines. See the barrels in the cellar. Eat some cheese. Taste some wine. Lots of talking but often in the service of a familiar story.
Belden Barns is something else.
I’ve been following Belden Barns since first encountering them at Pinot Days in 2014, and I’ve tried to taste their wines whenever I can. The operation, run by husband-wife team Nate and Lauren Belden, is the very definition of a labor of love. Urban dwellers with no formal winemaking experience, Nate drew on his agricultural upbringing and passion for the earth to finally take the plunge into winemaking. From the start the goal has been to create a winery that is a true representation of the land upon which it sits. Perched up on Sonoma Mountain, the Beldens acquired an existing 20-acre operation, ultimately ripping out all but 1.5 acres of it and replanting from scratch. While this is pinot noir country, you’ll find a wide range of grapes growing here, including grenache, syrah, and the only gruner veltliner in Sonoma County.
The Beldens invited a group of media guests to tour the property, enjoy lunch catered by Glen Ellen Star, and learn about what makes Belden Barns tick. That includes an onsite vegetable farming operation (complete with a resident farming couple), plans for an onsite dairy, and a regular procession of special events that are built not for wine snobs but for families. If you go (by appointment only), don’t miss the wishing tree, which is said to truly grant said wishes (blank wishing cards are provided by Lauren) if they are tied to one of its limbs.
Over the course of an afternoon we tasted a number of Belden Barns’ current releases, all of which are made by Justin Harmon, next door neighbor and also the winemaker at nearby Pfendler. Thoughts on all wines sampled follow.
NV Belden Barns Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine – 100% pinot noir. Spends 24 months in bottle prior to a dosage of 9 grams/liter. Toasty and lush, lots of fruit, not at all yeasty. A real delight on a hot day. A / $38
2016 Belden Barns Estate Gruner Veltliner – Boldly fruity, slightly nutty. Ample acidity is complemented by notes of lime and cucumber. Fun stuff. B+ / $28
2015 Belden Barns Estate Chardonnay – Modest oak followed by crisp notes of lemon and lime, with the expected vanilla edge bringing up the rear. B+ / $36
2016 Belden Barns Serendipity Block Pinot Noir – This is a baffling wine that is made from 9 clones of pinot noir, all growing together in a single block on Belden’s estate — and all picked simultaneously, even though the clones ripen at different rates. Somehow this works, producing an expressive, floral wine showcasing violets, followed by tons of blackberry and blueberry fruit. The finish is spicy and dense, though the wine never feels over-extracted or heavy. A unique wine that both wine nerds and the general public can enjoy. A / $48
2016 Belden Barns Estate Pinot Noir – A more traditional pinot bottling, big and a bit barnyardy, with notes of eucalyptus, mushroom, licorice, and some dried fruits. Designed to be Burgundian in style, it couldn’t be more different from the Serendipity Block wine. B / $38
NV Belden Barns Estate Late Harvest Viognier – Massive apricot notes and some pineapple dominate this dessert wine, which is sweet but not at all cloying. Floral and seductively rich on the finish, it’s a real gem. A- / $28