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The Curated Wine-Tasting Experience


Life & Style

In February, a group of 35 top Coldwell Banker Previews International® Property Specialists—who represent over $3 billion in luxury home sales—attended a VIP dinner in the private wine caves of Hamel Family Wines in the heart of Sonoma Valley. The special event was curated by the Hamel family and team—twenty-somethings George F. Hamel III (also known as “GIII”) and John B. Hamel II, their parents, Pam and George Hamel, and director of hospitality Dawn Agnew—who all sought to highlight the “three-dimensional” wine experience through the five senses. The evening captured the spirit of the curated wine-tasting experience, a growing trend in the luxury space. We caught up with the young Hamel brothers long after our wine glasses were emptied and plates were cleaned, to ask them about the future of California winemaking and catering to a socially minded generation of wine drinkers.


Previews Inside Out Describe your family’s philosophy on winemaking.

John B. Hamel II  Our belief is that the single most determining factor in a wine’s distinction and quality is what happens in the vineyard.

George F. Hamel III We are obsessive about the individuality or the terroir of each of our vineyard sites. We only farm using biodynamic and organic agronomic methods to help our vineyards come to life and produce the highest quality grapes they can, which in turn make expressive wines. Once in the winery, we don’t stick our hands deep into the wines, because it’s essential that they reflect a sense of place, purpose, the vintage year and the fun we had in making them.

Previews Inside Out How do you define luxury? And, do you think it differs from, say, your parents’ or grandparents’ generation?

John B. Hamel II Luxury that I value has more depth to it than it might have had in the past. For me, meaningful luxury carries a story and a history to it, and that narrative sets it apart from everything else. When you experience it, you feel like you are a part of that story and history.

Previews Inside Out John, you’re the winemaker in the family. In your bio, you noted that you were always interested in wine and the slow food movement. How have you applied your passions to your family’s business?

John B. Hamel II We have converted all our farming practices in the vineyards and on our properties to organic. Last year, we began experimenting with facets of biodynamic farming and are expanding upon those initiatives this year, with our goal of being Demeter certified in the not-too-distant future. Our ultimate goal is to create a permacultural farming system that is self-sustaining and naturally healthy. This in turn precipitates a sustainable, distinctive terroir that reverberates throughout our wines.

Previews Inside Out GIII, you were on the other side of the spectrum. You began your career at Wells Fargo Advisors in New York. What ultimately led you to leave Wall Street for wine country?

George F. Hamel III  I was invited by my parents and brother John to join them in Telluride, Colorado, to attend the Telluride Wine Festival in the summer of 2011. I thought the invite was extended because of how much they loved me and wanted to spend more time with me because I am so interesting, funny and hard not to be around. But upon arriving, my dad and John sat me down and began to outline their plans for Hamel Family Wines and asked me to come back to work on the business and financial operations and sales side of this new project. Leaving the investment business for Hamel Family Wines was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make, because I was thriving and loving the Private Wealth Management team I was part of, from my colleagues and clients to the investment opportunities we sourced and researched. Ultimately, I knew I would one day join Hamel Family Wines and would feel much better about myself and my role if my blood, sweat and tears helped build the foundation from the beginning instead of jumping on a fast-moving train years down the line. In addition, after living in New York for eight and half years, being back on the West Coast with my family sounded like an amazing idea.

Photo by Bruce Damonte

Photo by Bruce Damonte

Previews Inside Out So far, where do you both see your life and career trajectories fitting into the millennial narrative?

George F. Hamel III Well, I don’t think I fit into the millennial narrative personally. But at Hamel Family Wines, our aspirations are simple, yet lofty. We want to rewrite the playbook to include Sonoma Valley as the birthplace for some of the best wines in the world. We believe we’ve got all the ingredients to make world-class wine—historic vineyard sites, superior terroir, committed and hardworking family and staff, and the best consultants.

John B. Hamel II A college graduate with a degree in journalism rarely seriously considers a career in winemaking. So in that sense, I am a millennial who doesn’t prescribe to the notion that your work background or education can funnel or determine the narrative of your life.


Photo by Bruce Damonte


Previews Inside Out In our marketplace, we talk a lot about affluent millennials’ focus on authentic experiences. Your partnership with designer and bon vivant Ken Fulk strikes me as a perfect example. Can you tell us a little more about how you curate once-in-a-lifetime experiences for your guests?

John B. Hamel II As a winemaker, I would like to think that great wine is an experience unto itself. But in reality, there are many fantastic wineries out there making great wine. We try to create an experience that shows our guests the three-dimensional aspect of wine that is outside of the glass. 

George F. Hamel III We wanted to curate an experience that was on par with our wine. That’s why we decided to host our guests to by-appointment-only tastings and tours where one of our brilliant Wine Ambassadors meets their party at the car and stays with the guests throughout the tour and tasting, and drops them back at their vehicle. Our director of hospitality (who opened up Restaurant Gary Danko with Chef Gary Danko and was responsible for the front of house) has designed an experience that is unlike any other in our valley. But if guests want to stay on our property, we welcome them with open arms.

John B. Hamel II Our tasting room is set above our vineyards with a view of Sonoma Valley, framing where these wines come from and highlighting the geologic factors that contextualize this place. Our tasting experience often includes a tour of our winery and caves to walk people through and understand the lifespans of our wines. The amount of attention and intention that is involved in our grape growing and winemaking needs to be reflected on the hospitality side of our business—otherwise, our wines would be like the idiom of whether or not a falling tree makes a sound in a forest if no one is around to hear it.

George F. Hamel III We want our ranch to feel like it’s our guests’ ranch as well. We invite our guests to explore the vineyards, see our animals, buy a bottle of wine, and sit and enjoy each other’s company under our 135-year-old olive trees. Our farming and winemaking practices are old school, and we want each guest to know and experience what those are.


Photo by Bruce Damonte


Previews Inside Out What have been some of your most memorable curated experiences so far?

George F. Hamel III Two immediately come to mind. We hosted two dinners designed by Ken Fulk and his team with a menu created and executed by Chef Gary Danko for 75 taste makers in our winery to assist in building the excitement for our brand. The second was Camp Hamel, which was our grand opening celebration. We have been taking traditional wine country experiences, parties and dinners and trying to take a fresh perspective on each, so we don’t blend in with the other happenings here in wine country.

Previews Inside Out Why do you believe this is an important part of the wine experience?

George F. Hamel III  We operate in this horribly crowded marketplace with so many wonderful wineries out there making some amazing wines. As a new business and brand, we have to find ways to distinguish Hamel Family Wines from our peers in order to drive guests to our property. We aren’t trying to recreate the industry but are looking to create unique and different experiences. But at the end of the day, we don’t take ourselves too seriously and hope that comes through, too!

John B. Hamel II Wine is a part of a story, of the weather that year, of the place it comes from, of the people who made it. We want the wine to tell this story, but we also want to give people an experience that allows them to take part in it. 


Photo by Bruce Damonte


Previews Inside Out Are other wineries starting to do this—to cater to a new generation of wine drinkers?

George F. Hamel III Absolutely. To stay relevant in the wine business, a winery needs to be dynamic and flexible to change with the times. That being said, at Hamel Family Wines, we don’t change our hospitality experience or the wines depending on whether a millennial or a baby boomer comes in. We like to think of our wines, ranch, estate house, winery and wine caves as a place that all wine drinkers can enjoy.  

Previews Inside Out That brings us to the design of the property—and more specifically, your tasting room, which is modern. Why was the decision made to go with a minimalist look as opposed to a more traditional look?

George F. Hamel III Our talented architects at Gould Evans listened to the features we wanted in the design and came up with what we eventually built. I am absolutely in love with using the beautiful views of Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley as the “art” and what the estate house is designed around. I don’t think that they could have done a better job putting the view on display, and we have so many horizontal lines throughout the space that force our guests’ view outwards. Though I’m admittedly biased, it’s not a bad spot from which to taste wines and enjoy this part of the country! Additionally, as our winemaking philosophy is about displaying the terroir of our vineyards, I truly believe that the new facility is designed with the same philosophy in mind. It feels part of the landscape and terroir of our ranch.

Previews Inside Out Did your family see this as a way of “breaking the rules” a little bit?

George F. Hamel III  As my family contemplated the modern design of our estate house, winery and wine caves, “breaking the rules” didn’t make its way into the conversation. But after giving the architects’ vision some time to sink in, we thought it would be a strategic way to distinguish our business by adopting an architectural design that differed from those of our neighbors in the valley. 


Photo by Bruce Damonte

Previews Inside Out What’s next on the horizon for Hamel Family Vineyards?

John B. Hamel II We are expanding our biodynamic farming practices this year. Part of this expansion includes acquiring two Scottish Highland calves this spring to graze the grass and chaparral at Hamel Family Ranch and to supplement our compost program that we reincorporate into our vineyards. Beyond that, we are developing and planting 20 acres of vineyards of Bordeaux varietals this year in the new Moon Mountain District appellation in the Mayacamas Mountains above Sonoma Valley. We also will be releasing our first wine from the Moon Mountain District AVA next year, so we are excited to be a part of that new winemaking region in Sonoma.

George F. Hamel III  2015 is going to be quite the year for Hamel Family Wines. After opening our tasting room in early August, we now are very confident with our hospitality program and look forward to sharing our wines and ranch with our guests. In addition, we are so excited to release some really wonderful vintages this year. On April 25, we hosted a dinner for 26 couples that featured six James Beard award-winning chefs, each crafting a hors d’oeuvre and entrée, and creating a culinary experience that has never happened before and will never happen again. Then, in early June, we will be hosting our annual Camp Hamel party for our Wine Club members. And don’t worry, we are working on a couple of surprises that we can’t wait to make public!

Previews Inside Out That sounds wonderful. May we join you?  


Hamel Family Wines specializes in primarily Bordeaux varietals in the Sonoma Valley. Connect with them via its website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  



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