The Washington wine industry is all about small, family wineries, and one winery that puts a particular emphasis on this point is Sonoris Wines.
Sonoris winemaker Hillary Sjolund started out as a premedical student at U.C. Davis. One of the prerequisites was to take a class in the agricultural division. Sjolund’s choice? Introduction to Winemaking. It would be a fateful decision.
“From the first or second class I was like, ‘Wait. You can get a degree in this?’” Sjolund says. “’Drink wine, eat food, travel and still do science? Sign me up for this!’” From that moment, Sjolund dove in head first, ultimately graduating with a degree in fermentation sciences, which included brewing and distillation (“I loved distillation!” she says enthusiastically).
While still in school, at the tender age of twenty, she went to a job fair and was hired by Pine Ridge to work as a harvest hand and lab technician. “That’s all I wanted to do was be at that winery,” she says after that. “By the time I graduated from Davis, I was in my third harvest at Pine Ridge.”
Upon graduation, without a full time position available at Pine Ridge, Sjolund headed down to Chile to work in the wine industry there. One of the people she met was famed consultant Pascal Mardy. When Mardy was subsequently hired to consult at Pine Ridge and had an assistant winemaker position to fill, he asked Sjolund to join.
In 2006, she was recruited from Pine Ridge to work at Distefano Winery in Woodinville, where she remained until the end of 2010. Sjolund says of her decision to start her own winery at that point, “It was a now or never kind of moment.”
Sjolund decided to name the winery Sonoris after the word ‘sonor’ – to resonate. The focus of the winery’s branding is family. “I didn’t get here by myself,” Sjolund says. “My family has had a lot to do with my success. I figured, why not honor the people who got you where you are?”
The winery’s logo contains four squares that represent the family logo. “Each square represents a person – mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa,” Sjolund says. The label images each have vintage pictures of her family.
There are two whites, both fermented in stainless steel. The ‘Verna Mae’ Viognier is named after Sjolund’s grandmother, who passed away in 1994 (Erratum: Verna Mae is alive and well!), with the label showing her high school picture. The ‘Pure Grace’ Sauvignon Blanc label shows a picture of Sjolund’s mother in 1972 when she was getting ready to go out on a date, standing in front of the skin of a moose she shot up in Alaska.
For the reds, ‘Burney’s Blend’ is named for Sjolund’s grandfather and has a picture of him row cropping peas in 1935. He is now 97 years old, and Sjolund says she receives a phone call from him weekly asking how she is doing and how much wine she has sold.
‘The Source’ meanwhile has a picture of Sjolund’s father taken in 1965 in front of the family grocery store in California. “My dad is the source of everything,” Sjolund says simply of the name. “I talk to my dad every day. He’s been a big sounding board. He’s been a great source of strength and consistency.”
To help pay the bills while she gets the winery started – and also reflecting her love of science - Sjolund started EnoMama in June of 2011. The company does everything from vineyard sampling through quality control. It currently services approximately 20 different winery clients. Sjolund runs the operation out of Richland where her production facility is located.
While much of the focus of Sjolund’s new winery is on her family, she does have one wine not named after her ancestors - ‘Mia Corsa.’ “My course, my journey,” Sjolund explains. A blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot, she says, “This wine is something I have been on a quest to make for quite some time. This is my wine that I’m doing for me.”
Sonoris Wines produces approximately 1,000 cases annually.
Picture courtesy of Cheese Louise.
Sonoris Pure Grace Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2011 $18
(Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine full of citrus peel, lime, and light lees notes. The palate is medium-plus bodied, very clean, pure, drawn out with tart, white grapefruit flavors and a lingering finish. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Gamache Vineyard. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 14.1% alcohol. Approximately 130 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Sonoris Verna Mae Viognier Columbia Valley 2011 $22
(Good/Excellent) An aromatic wine with peach, honeysuckle, melon, and floral notes. The palate is medium-plus bodied with a rich, clean feel. 78% Viognier, 22% Roussanne. 13.3% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Sonoris The Source Merlot Columbia Valley 2009 $30
(Good) An aromatically intriguing wine with carob, red and black fruit, toast, and very light, high toned herbal tones. The palate has surprisingly restrained fruit and chocolate flavors along with grainy tannins leading to a vanilla-filled finish. 75% Merlot (Red Heaven, Scooteney Flats) and 25 Cabernet Franc (Champoux). Aged in French oak (60% new). 15.0% alcohol. 94 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Sonoris Burney’s Blend Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $40
(Good/Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with high toned dried herbs, pencil lead, and cherry. The palate has a mixture of boldness and restraint with the tannins just a touch dry. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon (Blue Mountain), 3% Merlot (Weinbau), and 1% Petit Verdot (Dionysus). Aged in French oak (30% new). 14.8% alcohol. 198 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Sonoris Mia Corsa Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $40
(Excellent) An aromatically restrained wine with freshly tilled soil, floral notes, cherry cola, vanilla, and pencil lead. The palate is full flavored with restrained fruit and firm but well integrated tannins and a vanilla filled finish. 63% Petit Verdot (Blue Mountain) and 37% Merlot (Weinbau). Sample provided by winery.
Sonoris Red Wine Red Mountain 2010 $40 (500ml)
(Excellent) An aromatic wine with exotic spices and blueberry. The palate is deliciously rich and sweet with chalky tannins. 33% Touriga Nacional, 34% Souza, 33% Tinta Cao. 18% alcohol. 6% Residual Sugar.