The rugged splendor of the Sonoma Coast and the ebb and flow of warm days and cool, foggy nights is the inspiration behind Marine Layer Wines. The possibility of bringing the soul of the coast to a lineup of small production wines was a longtime dream of Baron Ziegler. And over the years of working with his friend and winemaker, Rob Fischer, at Banshee Wines, Ziegler knew he was the perfect partner to make his dream a reality. Today, capturing the spirit of the coast in a bottle is a passion project for Ziegler and Fischer, who are at the helm of Marine Layer Wines, leading the way, along with a tight-knit team of free-spirited colleagues.
The name Marine Layer is a nod to the blanket of fog that flows in from the Pacific. Tending vineyards along the coast comes with inherent risks—cooler temperatures and extreme conditions—but some of the county’s most celebrated wines are sourced from fruit grown there. “The coast is rugged, remote and has an energy,” says Fischer. “We built Marine Layer with an intimate knowledge of this region. Our wines are a pure expression of the land, history and soul of the Sonoma Coast.”
Located in downtown Healdsburg along the square, the winery opened in September last year. On a warm spring day, the tasting room is humming with business. Fischer and Milly Cozza, creative director and direct-to-consumer manager, are on hand to join me for a tasting.
We begin with a welcome wine—a splash of the 2021 Carina Rosé of Pinot Noir, which has a beautiful rose-gold hue and is contained in a distinctive bottle sourced from Italy. Fresh and bright, the Carina offers a lovely aroma of hibiscus and watermelon on the nose, and on the palate, it tastes like summer and has a lush mouthfeel. “This is a handcrafted, small-lot wine sourced from Hummingbird Hill in Petaluma Gap,” says Fischer. The site is located 500 feet in elevation and receives a strong marine influence from the Pacific. The wind and fog reign the mornings and evenings, allowing the fruit to slowly ripen and retain great acidity.
Next, we taste the 2019 Aries Chardonnay. Light straw in color with notes of honeycomb, lemon peel, green apple and a touch of hazelnut, this is an elegant sipping wine and definitely one to try for those who love Chardonnay. “It doesn’t have a big oak presence, and there’s tension between the texture and acid,” says Fischer. “You can feel it sweeping across the palate.” The majority of the blend is sourced from the Petaluma Gap AVA—the gateway to the coast. Morning and evening fog and strong afternoon winds are distinct characteristics of the area. The wine is aged for 12 months and then bottled unfiltered.
Tastings at Marine Layer offer an experience where visitors can relax and sink into the modern space with a low-key coastal vibe, featuring layered textures, warm earth tones and rich blues. Tastings include a platter of bites to nosh on that complement each of the wines, courtesy of Little Saint, the new plant-based restaurant in Healdsburg, owned by the proprietors of Single Thread. The platter changes daily, and on this day it includes cashew cheese, pickled beets, fresh fennel, hummus and fafda crackers made with chickpeas.
Next, we turn to the reds, a collection of Pinot Noirs. We begin with a splash of the 2019 Lyra Pinot Noir, sourced with fruit from three sub-AVAs, along the coast (Sonoma Mountain, Green Valley, Annapolis and Sebastapol Hills). Deep garnet in color, this is an elegant wine with notes of cranberry and strawberry, wrapped in a cloak of toasty sandalwood and tangerine.
This is followed with the 2019 Grand Vent Vineyard Pinot Noir. In French, grand vent means “big wind.” The fruit is sourced from the vineyard located at the mouth of the break in the coastal mountains, which funnels marine air into the Petaluma Gap. This wine offers lovely aromatics of ripe cranberry, pomegranate, black tea and forest floor, followed with flavors of blood orange, cherry and Asian spice. Bold on the palate with a lingering finish, this is a beautiful wine. “This is the summation of all we do,” says Fischer. “And it’s great for everyday drinking.”
Finally, we end the tasting with the 2019 Gravenstein Vineyard Pinot Noir. “The fruit is sourced from a great site just northwest of Sebastopol where there is a consistent layer of fog in the summer mornings to buffer the warmth we see in other areas,” says Fischer. A distinctive wine with notes of black cherry, orange peel and cinnamon, this is the perfect bottle to uncork for a celebration.
Next time you’re planning a day trip to Healdsburg, make a reservation for a tasting at Marine Layer Wines and experience the distinct nuance of these lovely coastal wines offered at an approachable price ($30-$80/per bottle). If you don’t have time for a tasting, have a seat at the bar and enjoy a glass of vino that reflects the spirit of the coast.
Marine Layer Wines
Address: 308 B Center Street, Healdsburg, Calif. 95448
Phone: (707) 395-0830
Hours: Open Daily; 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tasting Fee: $35/per person (Waived with membership.)
Wines Available: 2019 Aries Chardonnay, 2019 Marine Layer Vineyard Chardonnay, 2019 Lyra Pinot Noir, 2019 Grand Vent Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2019 Gravenstein Vineyard Pinot Noir
Reservations: Highly recommended.
Did You Know? The team at Marine Layer Wines is driven by discovery, precision and creativity. Sustainable farming, heritage clones and an obsession for quality guide their path. “There is a science and chemistry to winemaking, and it starts with the soil,” says Winemaker Rob Fischer. “The science is undeniable. We seek out those exceptional places, but we also walk the vineyards and taste the fruit. That’s an art form.”
[Gretchen Gause Photography]