Almost shocking to hear, but not unexpected these days, the Lancaster Estate winery, a family-owned winery, has been sold to a large wine conglomerate. In this instance the buyer is Bill Foley, whose Foley Family Wines owns several wineries including the neighboring Chalk Hill Winery and Chateau Felice, as well as the Sebastiani Family winery located in the town of Sonoma.
This sale happened earlier this month just before we were scheduled to visit the winery for a tour and cave dinner, an event sponsored by the Wine Tourism Conference held in Santa Rosa. Despite the sale, the event took place as planned and we were certainly impressed with the beauty of the winery and its setting in the Chalk Hill area of Sonoma County.
Getting to the winery is one of the treats of visiting. The backroads leading to the winery from either the town of Healdsburg or Santa Rosa are stunning, winding through many beautiful orchards and vineyards. Every turn in the road is a treat.
We arrived and took a quick tour of the caves. We were to eat dinner in the caves but, alas, the fruit flies had arrived in great numbers, drawn by the wonderful smell of fermenting grape juice. So, instead, we had a bigger treat in store; we ate dinner at the home of Lancaster founders Ted and Nicole Simpkins. The home is a modern and luxurious, multi-million-dollar home. Wow! I wonder if this was part of the deal when Foley purchased the winery from the Simpkins family. Ted and Nicole actually do not live in this house. After having twin daughters, they moved a few miles away and now rent out the Lancaster home for what we were told was $2000 per night.
The dinner was delicious and each course was paired with a different Lancaster wine. All the wines were wonderful and quite delicious. We loved them all but, unfortunately, most were well out of our price bracket. The Lancaster Samantha Sauvignon Blanc is $30, the Lancaster Sophia Hillside Cuvee sells for $40, and the Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $80. We did buy a couple of bottles at a special discounted price offered to the dinner attendees.
Should you want to tour and taste at the Lancaster winery, you will need to make an appointment. The tour lasts 70 minutes and includes a tasting of four wines. The fee is $20 per person. There is also a pairing of wine and cheese along with a tour for $35 a person. If you do decide to visit, we suggest you take the Healdsburg entrance, because there are many wonderful small wineries to visit along the way to Chalk Hill Road. These wineries are on the Alexander Valley Road Wine Trail and each winery has something different to offer the wine country traveler.
We can certainly say that at the moment, the Lancaster winery is a first class operation in every aspect. We hope it stays that way once Bill Foley takes control of the estate.