Story By: Layne Randolph

Sonoma County’s Sense of Place

Like the wine she crafts, Lake Sonoma Winery’s winemaker, Jaime “JJ” Dowell, has found her sense of place in Sonoma County.

Famous for its 18 diverse appellations, Sonoma County terroir enables more than 60 grape varietals to be grown. And JJ crafts AVA-specific, premium-quality wine that expresses each block’s singular identity.

“Sonoma County is a region that’s still farm-driven, with respect for the land. It has a patchwork quilt of weather and soil patterns that grow unique little squares. It’s a dream come true for me.”

JJ joined Lake Sonoma Winery in 2021 and picked up where the previous winemaker left off. “It’s a funny thing with winemakers; when you take over, there is a handshake between the last one and the new. In this case, there was a lot of wine still in the barrel. The previous winemaker made the decisions on harvest and fermentation, and my job was primarily blending the bottled wine. That’s where I was able to put my spin on things, and blending is where a lot of the identity comes forth.”

Her unique way of blending is JJ’s wine-making signature—creating a balance of texture and complexity that’s simultaneously fruit-driven and alluring. “I like a pop of acid; it brings youthfulness and fullness to wine. I blend in a way that piques interest, makes you think, and keeps you wanting more. My goal is to pull back and allow personality and a sense of place to come through,” JJ explained.

After spending time in New Zealand managing the production of a high-end Pinot Noir at Villa Maria Estate in Blenheim, the native Californian worked as an Associate Winemaker alongside the highly regarded Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega Winery in Napa Valley’s Rutherford AVA. Jean’s five-year mentorship helped shape and ready JJ to take the helm of winemaking at Round Pond Estate before moving to Lake Sonoma Winery on the other side of the Mayacamas, where she feels right at home.

“I have a deep connection to Sonoma County. There’s a real soul to the valley’s corners,” JJ explained.

The wines in her first release include the 2019 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a rich and full style from the cooler Sonoma County region; 2020 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir from a small, 30-year-old organic and dry-farmed vineyard; and 2019 Lazy Dog Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (with a touch of Malbec) from Sonoma Valley that shows beautifully lifted aromatics and a lushness on the palate.

Lake Sonoma Winery owner, Tony Stewart, could not be happier with JJ’s contributions. “She is creative, determined, and dedicated to her craft, and a fantastic partner in creating phenomenal wine while growing and managing our wine portfolio.”

The entire portfolio can be enjoyed at Sonoma’s best-kept secret, the Lake Sonoma Winery tasting room, and the gorgeous, wrap-around outdoor patio on the Sonoma Plaza Square.