Iron Horse Blog

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
Joy Sterling
June 17, 2018 | Joy Sterling

A New Feather In Our Cap

Dear Friends and Family, The world is coming to San Francisco for a global environmental summit convened by Jerry Brown in September and Iron Horse will be the toasting wine for 600 dignitaries at the opening night dinner prepared by Alice Waters.

The ambition is to pick up the momentum set by the Paris Agreement and launch greater worldwide commitments. I couldn’t be more proud of our Governor and our state for taking the lead.

A propos the Governor, I thought you’d get a kick out of this selfie from last week in Sacramento:












I am also very happy to report that we have set in the vineyards and it looks very good this year.

Set is when the grapes form behind the blossoms after the flowers blow away, determining crop yield.  Now we are training the vine shoots upwards through the wires, pulling off lateral growth and excess leaves, and suckering the unwanted shoots at the base of the trunk - all by hand.

This is when the vineyard crew really shines. I was very happy to see Dora Arreola supervising the work on our Thomas Road Vineyard, pictured here with our foreman Victor Arreola (no relation).

The goal is to direct all of the vines’ energy to the grapes, creating a canopy to protect the fruit from the sun and provide for good air flow.

Our Winemaker David Munksgard walks the vineyards every morning.  He says being immersed in the sheer beauty of the place is kind of a spiritual experience that inspires his winemaking.  Plus, he says, the vines like to have visitors.  And I love knowing we have a special guardian keeping watch.

You can’t help but feel protective of the baby clusters and want to cheer them on to size up beautifully and develop all the deliciousness they can achieve.

In the winery, we have laid down the bubblies for 2017, including the Wedding Cuvee which we will enjoy in three plus years … and magnums of Joy! to be disgorged in 2030.

And, it is so gratifying to see Iron Horse listed as the top two of the “Best Summer Sparklings” in the current issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine.

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Father’s Day. Of course, around here, every day is Father’s Day and Mother’s Day!

Sending all best wishes,

as always,

Time Posted: Jun 17, 2018 at 8:38 AM
Joy Sterling
May 10, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Love Is In The Air

Sometimes the best tasting notes are just one word - simple, declarative and easy to grasp, like “Wowzah!”, which is how our Winemaker David Munksgard describes our just released 2010 Brut LD. This is our first release of an LD in four years.

LD stands for Late Disgorged, aged longer on the yeast in the bottle and our designation for tête de cuvee or top of the line bubbly. It’s a play on Bollinger’s RD or Récemment Dégorgée (recently disgorged), which is trademarked.

This is our first LD in four years, freshly disgorged just this month, after lavishly aging for seven years en tirage. Only about 500 cases were produced.

The longer the wine is aged on the yeast in the bottle, the smaller the bubbles, so the mouthfeel is soft, elegant, rich and creamy – like drinking a cloud. You will taste and feel the quality with the first sip. It should just effervesce away in your mouth.

From clouds to rainbows, we are also celebrating the release of our 2014 Rainbow Cuvee, just in time for Pride Month.

This year, the Rainbow is a vibrant and exciting Blanc de Blancs - 100% Chardonnay, vintage 2014.  This is our toast to diversity.  Total production 300 cases.

We are getting our first crops of strawberries.

And I am closing in on my ambition to fill every vase in my house with roses.

I am especially happy to report that Joy! has been awarded 93 points in Wine Advocate and 94 in Wine & Spirits Magazine, to appear in their Best Summer Sparklers issue.

Our 2015 Home Block Pinot Noir received a 92-point rating in Wine Enthusiast. In this case, the wine description is much more poetic: “Sublime in mint and forest floor tones, this is a seductively robust wine that’s rich and rewarding on the palate but never loses its sense of balance and place." We call this "Home Block" because it is adjacent to my parents' home. It is most sheltered of our vineyard sites. And, this is where my niece Justine is getting married next month.

As you can imagine, my father is working very hard to get the garden in “leaf perfect” condition for her. We all love the groom and really can’t wait to have a big, beautiful party.

Cheers to love!

Time Posted: May 10, 2018 at 9:06 AM
Joy Sterling
April 11, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Talk About Stormy

There is nothing quite like spring at Iron Horse. Even five inches of rain in a 30-hour continuous downpour couldn't put a damper on it.

It was a crazy storm - a "pineapple express", thankfully not that intense, but unrelenting, turning us into Island Iron Horse.

Cazadero got seven inches. San Francisco recorded the biggest one day of rain since the Gold Rush. Yosemite flooded and closed.

Undaunted, our Winemaker David Munksgard and I sat down to taste our about to be released 2014 Rainbow Cuvee, which is a Blanc de Blancs this year, and our 2010 Brut LD, our first LD in four years. We had a great conversation about the future and what better thing to do, even if the creek is rising. Both bubblies are being disgorged and labeled and will make their debut in our May Wine Club shipment.


We were flooded at the main entrance all weekend, but it was a great relief to see that the iris and most importantly the vines had stood up to the storm.

Fortunately, nothing deters our wonderful fans and club members. I am very proud of the intrepid tasters who made the trek around the back way onto the property, especially for our first Oyster Sunday of the season.


This year, The Oyster Girls are offering freshly shucked, raw and barbecued oysters, cooked shrimp and a caviar tasting. The dates are every Sunday through October from 12 noon to 4 pm (or until they run out). Please, please, please make advance reservations for tasting.


Sometimes it can be an adventure coming to Iron Horse, but always worth it. I firmly believe the beauty of the place is part of our special terroir. The grapes know they are growing in a gorgeous spot and are not to make anything less than the most delicious, memorable and pleasurable wines.


All of us in the Iron Horse family hope you will come visit and drink in the view.

Photo: Rob Akins


With all my very best, 

Time Posted: Apr 11, 2018 at 9:54 AM
Joy Sterling
March 11, 2018 | Joy Sterling

Spring Forward

Dear Friends and Family, Happy daylight saving!  By some accounts,  the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, while living in Paris, the idea was to turn forward the clocks to take advantage of the extra hour of sunlight to save energy, which in those days meant candle wax. Since then, it has gone through many enactments, adjustments, and repeals.  Today is the 100th anniversary of the current practice, observed in about 70 countries, including the US except for Hawaii, parts of Arizona and now possibly Florida. It marks the unofficial start of spring and the equally unofficial release of the new vintage of Iron Horse Spring Rose.


The official debut of Spring Rose is March 21, but patience is not our strong suit. It is in our wine club shipment going out this week.

I am happy to report we are very close to bud break and finishing up pruning. We’ve tested the frost protection system and have a good amount of water (knock on wood).     We’ve been lucky to have a cold spell, which has thank fully slowed things down a bit.  If you look closely, you can see a dusting of snow on Mt. St. Helena.



Here you can see a drop of sap at a fresh cut point, where the new growth will be.



Everything crossed for a great vintage.


ICYMI, I want to share with you a very nice story about an environmental restoration effort to re-oak wine country in the wake of the fires.  It’s a volunteer operation, spearheaded by the California Native Plant Society, with more than 1,000 neighbors who collected acorns. So many people signed up to gather, box, and mail in acorns from the North Bay that it briefly crashed the Plant Society’s server. (Source: Sonoma County Gazette Now those acorns are sprouting.  Once they grow into oak seedlings, they can be planted in the ground and will be given out to residents and landowners to replace an estimated at 50 square miles of oaks.

We pride ourselves on our oaks here at Iron Horse. They are as much a part of the Sonoma landscape as the vineyards.

Finally, we have a new Joy! It has become our pattern to release a different Joy! every six months. This bottling is a blend -  68% Pinot Noir 32% Chardonnay, whereas last fall’s Joy! was a Blanc de Blancs.  Both are vintage 2004. This new, spring Joy! is aged six months longer and disgorged last week, after 13 years en tirage. A total of 360 bottles produced, exclusively magnums. Delicious! If I do say so myself.


I hope we will have the pleasure of welcoming you here at Iron Horse this spring. Remember, the Oyster Girls are back for our weekly Oyster Sundays beginning April 8 through October. Please make reservations to partake.

One benefit to daylight saving time is that wine o’clock comes an hour early today.  So, I say, cheers to that!

With all my very best, 



Time Posted: Mar 11, 2018 at 8:30 AM