Iron Horse Blog

Joy Sterling
March 21, 2020 | Joy Sterling

Thinking of You

Dear Friends and Family,

Thank you for the outpouring of concern, for my parents and for the entire Iron Horse family. Thankfully, we are all fine and pulling together as kith and kin. We are so very lucky and appreciative to have so much love around us

... even at a six foot distance

Right now, we are thinking of you and yours and hope you are all OK. We know so many of you, personally, from the wonderful times spent in our Tasting Room … and feel especially close to you right now … as the on-line orders are fluttering in. Your thoughtfulness is like a rainbow – appropriately on this first day of spring.

Like so many, we’re doing our best so we can continue to be part of all your moments - big and small - for years to come. We are very lucky that wine is considered essential, as an agricultural product. As Thomas Jefferson said: “Wine is a necessity.”

I hope you’ll consider sending Iron Horse as a gift when you want to be “there”, but you can’t physically be there. And, stock up for yourselves. We are offering $1 shipping on six bottles or more. The shipping discount will show up at check out.

Thank you for your great, ongoing support and, most importantly, your closeness to us in heart.

Time Posted: Mar 21, 2020 at 11:01 AM
Joy Sterling
March 18, 2020 | Joy Sterling

Corona Virus Update

Dear Friends and Family, This is a time for optimism, a steady hand and doing everything we can to help protect the community.  

Here at Iron Horse, we have changed our protocol to clinking glasses instead of shaking hands.

Following the Governor's announcement, we have closed our Tasting Room. Our wines are still available for purchase and pick up here at the winery from 8a to 4p; we are just not offering tastings. The best, easiest, safest and most helpful option available 24/7 is to order online. We are offering $1 shipping on six bottles or more.  Please clicke here

We know not everyone can stay home, and we owe a big debt of gratitude to our doctors, nurses, and caregivers, first responders, everyone in essential services, the unbelievably great people working in the grocery stores and pharmacies. Thank you!

I also want to share the view from the winery with you. It will still be here when this is over.

Wishing you and yours all our very best during this crazy, unprecedented time. 

Time Posted: Mar 18, 2020 at 11:48 AM
Joy Sterling
February 25, 2020 | Joy Sterling

Hallelujah! The Forecast Says Drizzle March 1

Dear Friends and Family,

This has been an amazing month. Not one drop of rain, which is of course concerning, but at the same time wondrously beautiful.

Winery flowers in bloom

If we stay on this path, it will be the first time of no rain for the entire month of February since 1864. 
We are starting to see a hint of budbreak in the vineyard – about a month early, which is alittle weird. But, as our Winemaker David Munksgard reminds us, weird is not bad; it’s just different. Moreover, this is farming – always unpredictable

Commanders Place and flowersFortunately, the forecast says drizzle on March 1, which even if it just pats down the roads will be most welcome.  

In the meantime, tomorrow is Mardi Gras. I hope you will join us in a toast with our 2014 Commander’s Palace Cuvée - the very delicious, vintage Rosé that we make exclusively for the legendary Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Come celebrate and score some “parade beads” made from recycled magazines. We only have a limited amount and they are sure to go fast. 

The tradition of throwing prizes to parade goers in New Orleans goes back to the 19thcentury. They were originally made of glass. Then came plastic. The ones we are giving out come from Atlas Handmade Beadsand are eco-friendly. 
One thought for Lent is to give up plastic.
There’s no real significance to Mardi Gras beads except fun. The colors do have meaning, purple represents justice, green symbolizes faith and gold exemplifies power.
As they say in New Orleans, “laisez les bon temps roulez” and believe that the splendor of an early spring will extend into an equally glorious vintage.

Finally, I am sure I am preaching to the choir, but please vote – all the way down the ballot.



With all my very best,

Time Posted: Feb 25, 2020 at 8:39 PM
Joy Sterling
January 31, 2020 | Joy Sterling

Happy Lunar New Year

Dear Friends and Family,
Happy Chinese New Year, celebrating the “Year of the Rat”.

The Rat is the first sign in the 12-animal cycle of Chinese Astrology, a portent of new beginnings. Rats are said to be clever and wise, symbols of wealth and abundance. Rat years include 1924, 1936, 1948 , 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020, making this is the perfect gift for anyone expecting a baby (Us! My eldest niece Justine is due this summer) … and for those celebrating a milestone birthday, like turning 60 (namely, our brilliant, handsome label designer Mark Berry). 

Here is a line up of our Chinese New Year labels of the past five years.

The endearing creature on this year's label, a Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana), is sadly endangered. Fewer than 250 adults are left in the wild. This “studio portrait” is part of National Geographic’s Photo Ark, created by photographer Joel Sartore ( Click here for more information), a biblical effort to document 12,000 species before they disappear and to get people to care, even about a little rat, while there’s still time. We are very proud that licensing the photo for our label helps the cause. 

Yesterday, one of our wonderful Wine Club members told us the origin story of the Chinese Zodiac that he learned as a child. It’s a story of a great race, deciding which animals made it into the 12 year cycle, and in what order. The animals had to cross a river, so the Ox had the advantage, but the clever rat jumped on the Ox’s back and once across, jumped ahead to be the first. The Ox is second. 

We are pouring "Rat" in our tasting room. Please make a reservation (or order online).

Wishing you great prosperity and double happiness!

Time Posted: Jan 31, 2020 at 3:39 PM
Joy Sterling
December 21, 2019 | Joy Sterling

Cheers To The Twenty-Twenties

Dear Friends and Family, The year is quickly coming to a close, ushering in a new decade. The Twenty-Twenties! This deserves a toast. Many toasts. And some thought. 

I hope the 2020s live up to the Roaring ‘20s in exuberance and progress, but without the bad ending and certainly sans Prohibition.

Here are my recommendations for celebration and contemplation:

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, I vote for Joy! as the most uplifting and energizing of our bubblies. This is a special occasion wine, made for Blanc de Blancs lovers. It is “grower-producer”, vintage 2005, 100% Estate Grown Chardonnay, and aged 13 years en tirage, which takes it to an entirely new and exciting level.

For a wine with meaning, I suggest 2014 Gratitude. It has a fuller, more ample profile as the blend is predominantly Pinot Noir. $5 of every bottle sold goes to the Redwood Empire Food Bank, providing food to those in need from Sonoma to the Oregon border. This is our third vintage of making Gratitude. The contribution comes to about $20,000 a year.

For sheer fun, 2011 Brut LD Rosé has the best bubble action ever and is the most likely to make you jump out of your chair and do the Charleston. 

For seasonal and festive, 2013 Winter’s Cuvée is made in a rich, expressive, glamorous style.

And, you can’t go wrong with 2015 Classic Vintage Brut. This is the flagship of our bubblies as it expresses everything we are striving for, sending off memory bells that say champagne because of its finesse and elegance, but with fruit that is unmistakably California, Sonoma County, Russian River, Green Valley and most specifically Iron Horse. This my mother’s favorite of our Sparklings. What more need I say?

My go to Chardonnay is a new release – our 2016 Heart of the Vineyard Chardonnay, which traces its California lineage to a clone originally planted by the Wente family during prohibition.

Not to be missed, 2017 Gold Ridge Pinot Noir is our hat tip to terroir. This is Calvin Coolidge; whose 1924 presidential campaign slogan was “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge”. Gold Ridge is our special soil type in cool, foggy Green Valley, considered one of the most desirable especially for Pinot Noir.

We are pouring these wines in our tasting room. Please make a reservation (or order online) and tell ‘em Joy sent you. 

Time Posted: Dec 21, 2019 at 8:15 AM
Joy Sterling
November 11, 2019 | Joy Sterling



Dear Friends and Family,  I sat in on one of the best meetings last Friday, conducted by my brother, laying the groundwork, literally, for a great vintage in 2020. 

The wines of 2019 are basically all settled. We are ecstatic about the quality, particularly the bubblies. The vines are on the verge of going dormant. It’s time to review – what went right, what went wrong and how to continue a trajectory we have been pursuing for many years.
I love that just days after our fermentations are done, we are planning what we can do better with the next vintage, which, hard to believe, is coming up very quickly. (Yes! A friendly reminder: the 20’s are just 50 days away.)

Our work plan is essentially to put even more precision into our precision farming and go all “in” on climate smart agriculture.


Few agricultural products are as sensitive to climate as wine grapes. Part of what makes wine so marvelous is its capacity to express the nuances of the vintage, the vineyard – all the inestimable, interlocking attributes that come together as terroir. On a very personal level, we ourselves were essentially climate refugees when we had to evacuate from the wildfires.

This is our welcome back to the Tasting Room photo the first day we were able to get to work.

As farmers, we are excited to have the opportunity to be part of a world solution. Through our farming practices, vineyards can help sequester carbon in the soil. We are going to prune in a whole new way for vintage 2020, with training to begin in December, to broaden out the growing season and give ourselves a chance of keeping up with the pruning, training, tying, suckering, leaf pulling and dropping green fruit, to get even just two days of breathing room, before we start harvest. Everything we can do to do better at these essential tasks can directly result in higher quality.
We’re going to reconfigure the irrigation system in our favorite Chardonnay blocks, step up our monitoring of soil moisture, and reevaluate our cover crop mix and how high to till so it has a chance to reseed without exacerbating the potential for frost problems.
I am very excited about setting up more owl barns and adding perches for other raptors as the best solution for gophers, and I am so pleased we are converting to “Weed Slayer”, an organic herbicide based on clove oil. 

I hope we are going to get a pause around Thanksgiving. It is my mother’s favorite holiday and a real treat because she pulls out all the stops. She sets a magnificent table and has already started planning for this year. It’s always different and stunning; with many, many wine glasses. She says she already has an image in her mind for this year.

Here’s the table from vintage 2016,

Thanksgiving 2017,

and, Hospitality Manager Dixie Bohlke with my father at the table last year.

I am very excited that we have released two new wines: 2005 Joy! Blanc de Blancs, aged 13 and a half years en tirage, produced exclusively in magnums. This is for Blanc de Blancs lovers. And, for red wine drinkers, 2017 Gold Ridge Pinot Noir, a complex and elegant blend, named for our special soil type, Gold Ridge soil, among the most coveted, especially for Pinot Noir. 
Our 2011 Brut Rose LD has been awarded an outstanding 93-point rating in the current issue of Wine Spectator, described as “… distinctive, with a touch of age … hardly a typical bubbly blush…” And, 2014 Wedding Cuvee is #28 in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines of the Year.
We, as a family, feel especially thankful this year. We wish you and yours all our very best. 
With heartfelt gratitude,

Time Posted: Nov 11, 2019 at 9:14 AM
Joy Sterling
October 15, 2019 | Joy Sterling

Powered by Love

Time Posted: Oct 15, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Joy Sterling
April 21, 2019 | Joy Sterling

A Special Place in Time

After a very long, cold, very wet winter, I have decided to start chronicling the gardens again ... and wines releases, starting today. I firmly believe the beauty of our place is integral to our terroire. The vineyards are the gardens. The gardens are the vineyards. They are of one piece.

Sunday April 21, 2019

This is an absolutely perfect time of year at Iron Horse, especially this year, after all the rain. Just driving here on the Gravenstein Highway (aka Hwy 116) with the apples in bloom is a pleasure.

My father planted this cherry in front of the winery our first spring, 1976 – before the winery was even built. It is a favorite Instagram backdrop, but with a very limited window of opportunity.

This was yesterday (Saturday) afternoon behind my parents’ home. The profusion of calla lilies has been amazing. And, the roses are about to burst.

One of my greatest pleasures is walking in this garden with my father and watching it evolve.

I picked these shots because they convey a very special space in time and tell the story behind our wines in this shipment. I am firmly convinced that the beauty of the place is part and parcel of our terroir for the grapes and all the beauty that grows here. The grapes know they are in a perfect spot and they are not going to disappoint.

We are featuring three beautiful wines in our May Wine Club Shipment:

2015 Rainbow Cuvee - Our toast to diversity. We are relasing the new vintage May 9, so you can have it on hand Pride Month. 400 cases.

2016 Native Yeast Chardonnay - The grapes for this wine come from the furthest knoll behind the bottle in this photo. 220 cases

2016 Home Block Pinot Noir - Small production, from this beautifully sheltered, three-acre site, behind the iris bed, planted to the Calera Clone. 250 cases.

I hope you are planning to come visit. Our Under the Palms Tastings are now underway. This is a new experience for you to enjoy Wednesdays through Fridays - a private, seated tasting, twice daily, for two to four guests, at a “ringside” table, under the palms, facing our gorgeous view, where you can see the individual vineyard blocks while tasting the corresponding wines, with cheese. And, yes. You get to sit down!

Please make reservations here.

Brace yourself. Memorial Day is coming.

With all my very best,

Time Posted: Apr 21, 2019 at 6:04 PM
Joy Sterling
September 22, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Harvest Postcards

I am so happy to send you some beautiful postcards from Harvest 2018.

We have been going at a lovely, steady pace since August 15, driven by nice, “normal” weather – no heat spikes, cool nights, foggy mornings and the sun peeking out on cue.

Our yield is up 29% over last year and the flavors even more delicious. We should be done by the end of the week.

I was thrilled to be a delegate at the Global Climate Summit hosted by Jerry Brown last week in San Francisco. It was a who’s who of the environmental world and included an adjunct Ag event here in Sonoma, which got down to the nitty gritty of “climate-smart farming”.

We had two days of panel discussions, networking and vineyard, dairy and ranch visits to share best practices for rebuilding carbon in the soil lost over decades of tillage. Discussions also focused on increasing water holding capacity and enhancing yields to feed 9 billion people by 2050. The big takeaway was the growing global recognition that carbon sequestration in natural and working lands is necessary (if largely unknown and untapped) to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross announced the Global Soil Health Challenge in partnership with France (and the Netherlands now joining in), calling on the world’s leaders to promote the development of healthy soils within their own geographies and report on their progress a year from now at the 2019 UN Climate Summit in New York.

It was a special honor that Iron Horse 2014 Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs was the toasting wine at the Summit Dinner prepared by Alice Waters.

All of the food and the wines came from within a three hour radius of San Francisco. The food compost from the event went to regenerative farms.  

It takes a village.

Back home, we are introducing a new, elevated tasting experience here at Iron Horse this week, called “Under the Palms”.  This is a private, seated tasting for two to four guests (Yes. You get to sit down!) at a beautifully set table under the palms, facing our gorgeous view , where you can see the individual vineyard blocks while tasting the corresponding wines.

The private tasting includes tête de cuveée bubblies, like LD and Joy! served in a special flute, older vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, rare gems we don’t pour in the Tasting Room and a delicious cheese plate curated by Doralice Handal, whose selections are renown though out Sonoma County. Please click here for more information and to make reservations.

And, we have just released the 2014 vintage of Harvest Moon, a beautiful vintage rose, perfectly timed for the autumn equinox on September 22, included in our September Wine Club shipments.

I hope you will join my family and me in a special toast to vintage 2018.

With all our very best wishes,

Time Posted: Sep 22, 2018 at 10:06 AM
Joy Sterling
August 7, 2018 | Joy Sterling


Dear Friends and Family, These are the Dog Days,

which at Iron Horse means we have verasion in the vineyards.

Verasion is the onset of ripening, when the grapes turn color. My brother says verasion is like popcorn. It starts with just one … then several … and then the color is popping out all over.

Veraison is often a bit faster in young blocks. Also note that shoots are becoming "woody". Just 1-2 weeks ago that shoot was green. The vines are signaling that harvest is near.

With Chardonnay, the skins become translucent, so that a backlit berry will reveal the seeds within.

Other indicators include a delicious crop of wild blackberries

Naked Ladies starting to appear

We are extraordinary wealthy in squash blossoms

And Queen Anne’s Lace

I am extremely proud to report our 2010 Brut LDreceived an outstanding 94 point review from Wine Spectator: "Sleek and luxurious, with floral, brioche and baked apple aromas that open to rich and complex Asian pear, spiced nut, ginger and cinnamon flavors that linger on the long finish. Drink now through 2021." Thank you Tim Fish!

Try it with berries, ricotta cheese and candlelight. 

Our hearts are with our neighbors to the North. We can see a shifting, thin layer of smoke on the horizon - a constant reminder of how very lucky we are. Thank you firefighters!

With all my very best, 

Time Posted: Aug 7, 2018 at 12:41 PM