Driving down Bell Mountain from the Medlock Ames winery and ranch in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, I found myself thinking about a class that I took on utopias at my particularly liberal liberal-arts college. The class resulted in many bizarre final projects, the most memorable of which was a rock opera concerning leprechauns forced to defend their planet against fascist unicorns.
Clearly, there are no leprechauns (or fascists, for that matter) to be found at Medlock Ames, but the place is a near definition of utopia. The gorgeous property, all 335 acres of it, sits at the end of a long dirt road at the top of the mountain. Only 56 acres are planted with grapevines; the rest are devoted to gardens and animal pasture or left wild, home to madrone and manzanita trees, mountain lions and porcini mushrooms. Every living thing—from the vineyard foreman to the sheep grazing on cover crops between the rows of grapes—seems noticeably happy. The place is buzzing.
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Medlock Ames also offers quite possibly the most holistic interpretation of winemaking I’ve ever encountered. Not only are the grapes certified organic, but the property is self-sufficient, too, with five ponds for collecting rainwater, solar-power arrays and a huge vegetable garden that produces many staff lunches. The winery building is essentially self-sustaining, with thick stone walls to maintain a cool cellar temperature and lots of windows to let in natural light. The structure is built on several levels, which permits the winemaker to move juice using gravity rather than pumps, a gentle method that prevents bitter flavors from developing.