Perched at the top of the hill at the intersection of Napa Road and CA-Highway 121 Nicholson Ranch Winery is uniquely positioned to offer Napa –Sonoma wine lovers access to several of California’s most distinguished AVA’s- Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, Napa Valley and Los Carneros. The 160 acre Estate property was purchased by the Nicholson family in 1962, and its rolling hills served as a playground and muse for Ramona Nicholson as she grew up there as an only child. After heading off to Princeton College, she never lost her connection with the family ranch and returned to the Bay Area, where she met and married fellow wine lover, Deepak Gulrajani, an IT executive out of Silicon Valley. They both decided they wanted to get more involved in leveraging the property to grow grapes and shared a passion to someday produce their own label. She studied viticulture and rootstocks, and he studied winemaking. In 1995 they planted 31 acres of mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and he started to make wine from the garage. Eventually they built the winery and 10,000 sq. ft. underground caves which they use to harvest, produce their artisan wines. They released their first vintage of Nicholson Ranch wine in 2000. The winery and visitor center are built from salvaged wood and variegated slate and stucco giving the building an Old World exterior which juxtaposes the state of the art production facility where wines are produced using a gravity-flow, unfiltered process designed to preserve the natural integrity of their wines.
Tasting experiences at the winery are open to the public through a grand entrance with crested gates and once inside, the facility is well-staffed to welcome guests. Visitors may choose to hang out at the inside tasting bar which boasts 40’ ceilings and a wall size picture window showcasing spectacular views of the property or have a seat in the cozy sofa areas in the courtyard of the winery building. The best seats are the parlor tables situated around the pond on the side of the courtyard, functionally designed to manage irrigation from the property hillside. The tasting experience options range in price from $20 for a sampling of four wines to $40 which includes a cave tour. Wine selections represent current and prior Estate vintages of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot from the surrounding AVA’s.
The staff are welcoming and attentive, even on busy days, and the staggered seating areas offer something for everyone—a busy gathering spot to meet fellow wine lovers or a quiet table away from the action. The hosts did a great job telling the story of the Nicholson’s journey and the nuances of the property, which contain some colorful history, including the historic Mission chapel built into the hillside, and the winery’s close call during the Napa Fires in October 2017. They were well versed on all the wines and very flexible to accommodate special requests or deviate from the menu. The tasting experiences were not rushed and guests are given ample time to sample not only the wines, but to experience the property. Its’ elevation offers a beautiful vantage point to view the surrounding area of vineyards and undulating hills.
The tasting menu was very clearly described with prices and options, as was the list of wines available for purchase. Descriptions of wines and older vintage bottles were available for those interested, as were many of the medals the wines had been awarded in prior vintages.
The hosts were personable, making introductions by name and took the initiative to engage in relationship building rapport, asking open ended questions about where visitors were from, how they heard about the winery, and where they had been before.
All of the Nicholson Ranch wines sampled are only available at the winery, which would have been a perfect reason to present the wine club, but unfortunately no details were readily visible nor did it come up during open points in the conversation.
Efforts were made to ask after interests in purchasing wine, which our tasters did, as well as providing contact information to stay in touch.
Overall Nicholson Ranch Winery was a memorable place to visit. The wines were approachable from any palate preference, as were the prices. The staff did a great job making guests feel welcome and offering relevant story points on the history of the winery and backgrounds of each vintage. The ambiance was relaxed, and the experiences varied depending on each visitors’ preference or mood of the day. They scored well across all categories, with the exception of positioning the wine club, however, based on the connections the hosts made with their guests, the opportunity to do so should surely come up on a subsequent visit.
4200 Napa Road
Sonoma, CA 95476
WHAT THEY DID WELL:Walk-ins welcomed, knowledgeable staff, thorough presentation, flexible to adapt to unique visitor preferences.
DTC BEST PRACTICES EXAMPLES:
STORYTELLING: Detailed interesting historical presentation of the property.
CONNECTING WITH HOST: Welcoming hosts, flexible to accommodate experience preferences, engaging in open –ended relationship building dialog
- Product Knowledge
- Knowledge of AVA’s associated with the property and wines
- Non-imposing close- asking for the sale