Donelan Family Wines—a Delicious Journey

We are really excited to introduce (or reintroduce) you to Donelan Family Wines, a family owned and operated winery out of Santa Rosa, California, whose mission to create distinct wines—Rhône varietals in particular—has been unwavering since its founding in 2009. The Donelans embrace what in our minds matters most to true wine lovers: great care in finding and nurturing unique and exceptional vineyard sites, and an intense respect for the fruit from these individual vineyards lots in making stand-out wines. Just thinking about these wines and their unique flavors makes us want to run and open a bottle!

Hopefully by now we’ve had the chance to talk with you about the Donelans a little bit. Below is a full profile on the winery. We look forward to speaking more with you about the Donelan family’s journey in wine with you soon.

Donelan Family Wines—a Delicious Journey

(Santa Rosa, CA—May 30, 2017)—Since its first vintage in 2009, Donelan Family Wines has produced the highest quality Rhône and Burgundian varietal wines from exceptional small-parcel vineyards in Sonoma County. Only the most attentive care goes into each and every wine that Donelan produces, from vineyard selection to small yields, gentle handling, attentive sorting and meticulous blending that captures the distinctive characteristics in each bottle. These highly sought-after wines are a definitive reflection of founder Joe Donelan’s uncompromising pursuit of excellence, and his deep respect for his end consumer.

Donelan works specifically with cooler-climate vineyard sites located throughout Sonoma County, including the Knights Valley, Green Valley, and Russian River Valley. In 2015, the Donelan family acquired their first estate vineyard, the Obsidian Vineyard located in Knights Valley, a vineyard from which they had previously sourced fruit for several years. “This is one of the most unique Syrah vineyards in California. It is in a bit of no-man’s land nearly straddling the Napa border, but it’s our most memorable Syrah, and we’re thrilled to have it as our bellwether vineyard,” says Joe Donelan.

The Donelan family is extremely selective in their choice of partners, and each vineyard owner must exhibit the commitment to high quality that is the hallmark of the Donelan family philosophy. Ever an optimist, Joe Donelan is the kind of guy who wears bright colors and who is sure that “maybe” means “yes.” Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he has been able to develop long-term and often exclusive lease agreements with some of the most unique vineyard sites in Sonoma County—Kobler, Richards, DeVoto and more. As a true wine lover who has traveled the world in search of memorable wines, Joe Donelan is not interested in working with popular and/or acclaimed vineyards from which every other wine producer sources. “It is like real-estate: if you have a great location, then you should be in good shape. We believe that the best wines are not made, they are discovered. Site really trumps all variables,” says Joe.

The winery and by-appointment tasting room is located in an unassuming building, nestled within an urban winemaking area of Santa Rosa. “What matters to our family most are our relationships with the vineyard owners and our clients. It is about what is in the bottle, and it has to be great. I’d opt to invest in another special vineyard site versus an ego winery any day,” Joe comments.

Stylistically, Donelan seeks great site expression and revels in vineyards that allow for great hang-time, while also preserving freshness and acid, which comes as a result of sites in the fringe areas. At the winery, winemaker Joe Nielsen engages in extensive blending trials, only selecting the best barrels—no matter the cost—for the single-vineyard bottlings.

Joe Donelan believes one builds a business based on trust. Donelan sells 80% of its wine to its mailing list. Whether a customer buys a bottle or several cases, he or she can count on receiving a handwritten note from him after each purchase. Tripp Donelan oversees all sales for the winery, and Cushing Donelan oversees marketing and is the host for a plethora of intimate wine dinners throughout the country.

Guests who visit the Donelan tasting room find that there is much more than meets the eye. More often than not, a family member or winemaker Joe Nielsen is present for part of the tasting, and guests are encouraged to engage and learn about the wines, the vineyard sources, and better than anything, absorb the collective passion that is woven in the fabric of Donelan Family Wines. “Our business lives and dies by word-of-mouth,” says Joe. “We ensure that if one of our guests tells a friend that they had a special experience with us, well, that friend will receive the same gratifying and engaging experience.”

The “Donelan Portfolio Tour & Tasting” lasts 60-minutes and includes a private tour of the production facility, as well as a flight of four current release wines that explore the breadth of Donelan’s portfolio of site-specific Burgundian and Rhône varietal wines. The 75-minute “Road Less Traveled Tour & Tasting” also includes an in-depth tour of the winery, as well as a comprehensive tasting of five of Donelan’s highly-allocated Rhône wines, including its limited-production, single-vineyard Syrah bottlings.

Tasting experiences are offered seven days a week between 10am and 4pm, by appointment only. The “Donelan Portfolio Tour & Tasting” is priced at $35 per person, and the “Road Less Traveled Tour & Tasting” is priced at $60 per person. Reservations may be made by e-mailing or calling 707-591-0782, and advanced notice is requested.

The Journey

Joe Donelan’s journey with wine began in earnest the 1980s. A lover of people, travel, wine and food, Joe was a successful executive at paper broker A.T. Clayton and was able to leverage his life passions into his work as a salesman. He would often entertain his clients, which he enjoyed immensely. A regular at Toppers Restaurant in Nantucket, he befriended the restaurant’s sommelier, Michael Fahey and gradually began to cultivate his passion for wine. He traveled to California and France, and fell in love with wines from all over the world, and in particular the Rhône Valley. He was at the top of his game in the paper business “but I think everyone wants to lead a couple of different lives.”

Opportunities arose, and in 2000, Joe founded Pax Wine Cellars with Pax Mahle. The two focused on producing single-vineyard Syrahs from Sonoma County and soon found their business was booming, but eventually their creative alignment and shared business philosophies waned.

In 2009, Joe rebranded and founded Donelan Family Wines along with his sons Tripp and Cushing, who both shared a passion for entrepreneurship and wine. Engaging his young sons to come into the wine business, along with promoting Joe Nielsen to winemaker in 2013, was second nature for Joe Donelan, given his consistent record of entrusting young talented people to do great work. With a thirst and excitement for all possibilities, he has a keen sensibility to smell passion from a mile away, and believes it is the driving force of success. And while he may describe himself as a demanding leader, he is one who hones an atmosphere which breeds a thoughtful, meticulous and an always curious team. The Donelan family and team’s commitment and continued pursuit to make beautiful and unique wines is steadfast. And anyone who finds Donelan wines on this journey is fortunate.

About Donelan Family Wines:

Donelan Family Wines was founded by Joe Donelan in 2009 with a focus on the production of Rhône and Burgundian varietal wines from small, cooler-climate vineyard sites located throughout Sonoma County, including the Knights Valley, Green Valley, and Russian River Valley. In 2015, the Donelan family acquired its first estate vineyard, the Obsidian Vineyard, located in Sonoma County’s Knights Valley. In addition, they have been able to develop long-term relationships with some of the most unique vineyard sites in Sonoma County. The Donelan’s are extremely selective in their choice of partners, and each vineyard owner must exhibit commitment to high quality that is the hallmark of the family philosophy. Winemaker Joe Nielsen has been with Donelan Family Wines since its inception, and became head winemaker in 2013. Donelan wines that are available for purchase in select high-end wine retailers and restaurants include: Nancie Chardonnay ($48), Venus Roussanne/Viognier ($48), Cuvée Christine Syrah ($48), Cuvée Moriah GSM ($50), Two Brothers Pinot Noir ($55) and Walker Vine Hill Vineyard Syrah ($75). The Rosé ($25), Kobler Family Vineyard Syrah ($60), Genevieve’s Block Chardonnay ($70), Kobler Family Vineyard Viognier ($78), Tripp’s Block Pinot Noir ($78), Cushing’s Block Pinot Noir ($78), Cuvée Keltie Syrah ($90), Obsidian Vineyard Syrah ($105) and Richards Family Vineyard Syrah ($150) are available by visiting

Follow on Social Media:
Hashtag: #DonelanWines
Twitter: @DonelanWine

For more information please contact Sivan Salem at