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Donum Estate exterior.

The Donum Estate in Sonoma

By Published On: February 27th, 2024

Sip, Savor, and Soak In Stunning Visuals.

Experience the harmonious blend of exquisite wines, sustainable farming practices, and world-class art at The Donum Estate. Located in the picturesque Carneros wine region of Sonoma, California, this estate has gained global recognition. We interview Dan Fishman, Vice President of Vineyards & Winemaking and Winemaker to learn more.

What type of wine do you specialize in? 

Dan Fishman, Vice President of Vineyards & Winemaking and Winemaker at The Donum Estate: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All our wines are from estate vineyards which we own and farm ourselves. All our vineyards are certified Organic and Regenerative Organic, and the wines are made with minimal intervention, using native yeast. For red wines we use only free run juice, no press wine, and each wine is barrel selected to include only the best barrels. All our wines are aged for 16 months before bottling.

Donum Estate Pinot Noir wine.
Pinot Noir.

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: Donum is fortunate to have an outstanding chef on staff, who pairs each wine in the tasting flight with a perfect bite. Much of the produce for the tasting menu is grown on-site in our garden.

A Discover Experience hosted in the Donum Home’s picturesque Mikado Room.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: How much of the work is done by hand. Each vine is touched by human hands a minimum of five times during the growing season, and every fermentation is managed using punchdowns done by hand. 

Monumental open-air art sculptures, including Keith Haring’s ‘King and Queen (featured in the background),’ adorn various locations throughout their 200-acre property.

We’d also like visitors to know about our organic farming practices. I believe our wines have a sense of “energy” that can be felt on the palate. I think that is only achievable with grapes grown in healthy, living soils within a robust ecosystem.

To preserve this soil biome, it is critical to avoid herbicides and pesticides which kill off beneficial fungi and bacteria. The symbiotic relationship between the vine and the soil mycorrhizae is often overlooked but crucial for wine.

The Donum Estate is located in the acclaimed wine region of Carneros, nestled between Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Tell us about The Donum Art Collection.

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: Founded in 2011, The Donum Collection boasts a vast private sculpture collection with over 50 monumental works, many of which are site-specific commissions.

As part of their regenerative organic farming practices, sheep play a vital role in weeding, mowing and fertilizing their vineyards.

Set on a sprawling 200-acre estate, these sculptures interact with nature and imagination, creating a unique experience. Representing artists from 18 nations across six continents, The Donum Collection is a global hub for art enthusiasts. This fusion of wine, land, and art has transformed Donum into an acclaimed international destination.

Donum Estate Ai Weiwei Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads.
‘Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads’ (2011), Ai Weiwei

Share details about your newest bespoke architectural experience.

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: The Vertical Panorama Pavilion is a beautiful and innovative space inspired by history of circular calendars. Guests can step into the captivating conical canopy featuring 832 vibrant glass panels that illustrate yearly averages of the four meteorological parameters at the Estate – solar radiance, wind intensity, temperature, and humidity.

The structure was designed by Berlin-based design firm Studio Other Spaces, founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann.

Donum Estate Vertical Panorama Pavilion.
Vertical Panorama Pavilion’ (2022), Studio Other Spaces.

How did you get started in the wine industry?

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: I became interested in wine after taking a wine appreciation class in college. I started my career as a harvest intern and was fortunate to work on Donum wines that very first year. After working in wine retail and a harvest in New Zealand I made my way back to Sonoma, where I worked as assistant to Donum’s consulting winemaker Kenneth Juhasz.

I was able to take over winemaking in 2012, and assume responsibility for the vineyards in 2019, which allowed me to spearhead Donum’s transition to Organic farming.

Dan Fishman, Vice President of Vineyards & Winemaking and Winemaker at The Donum Estate.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process? 

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: Patience and restraint. Pinot Noir is known for being difficult to work with, but I find that generally problems will sort themselves out through the fermentation and aging process. Of course, sometimes intervention is necessary, but often the best solution is simply to wait and give the wine a chance to come around on its own.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: It was during my wine appreciation class, the first time we tasted an aged wine. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I believe it was a Bordeaux around 30 years old. I remember being amazed that something could not only last so long, but also improve and develop such complexity.

Describe your winemaking approach.  

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: My philosophy is that the vineyard should speak loudly and clearly in the wine. I never want winemaking technique to dictate the flavor profile, rather we try to grow the best fruit that we can and then stay out of the way. Because Pinot and Chardonnay are so sensitive to minor variations in soil and climate, this means we have many different bottlings, even from within one ranch, to let each parcel show itself. That said, I also believe that every wine in our portfolio needs to be unique, so we only bottle single parcels if they truly offer an expression that is different from the larger estate blend.

2021 Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery? 

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: I wouldn’t say favorite but operating in 2017 in Santa Rosa after the devasting fires was certainly memorable. We were without power for several days and had to walk about a mile to get to the winery because the roads were closed. We had to be creative including using the forklift and a bin to use gravity to “pump over” the fermenting juice.

What do you love about winemaking?  

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: I like the seasonality. I tend to get bored easily, but in winemaking just as one thing is starting to get tedious the season changes and it’s time to work on something else. I also appreciate the cyclical nature, because it means every year we come back to the same tasks and have a chance to improve on the previous year.

Do you have any winery traditions with your team? 

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: We open a bottle of champagne on the first day fruit is harvested, and on the last day.

How does your team help you as a winemaker?  

VP & Winemaker Dan Fishman: So much of our work is done by hand, it would be impossible to do without a great team. We have worked together a long time, and some of our vineyard team has been with Donum for its entire history, since the early 2000s. 

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