After sleeping off our wine of the day before, we woke up to a rainy Sonoma morning. Instead of running we did a weights-free workout inspired by the routine that The SHOP put together for me back when I was house-sitting in Switzerland. This included lots of push-ups, plyometrics, and other “grass-roots” exercises. During a break in the rain we went outside and I did walks up the hill while carrying Katie across my back. During one set of these a police officer actually rolled up to make sure that everything was OK!
After workout and recovery nutrition we once again set out to taste some wine! Instead of driving ourselves around for small tastings at several wineries, we took a different tack this day. We hired Magnum Wine Tours to drive us around to just two very small wineries where we spent a lot of time doing in-depth tastings with the owners.
Our first stop was Forth Vineyards, a tiny little Dry Creek Valley estate just outside of Healdsburg. The property is absolutely charming with a great deal of variety even for that tiny lot. Rolling hills ensure that some parcels have much greater sun exposure while others get more wind coming through the valley. Near the house and winery is the most amazing olive tree I’ve ever seen. It was probably 12m high and spread out so far as to create an imposing presence on the deck. I’m used to short, bushy olive trees but this was the godfather of them all.
We sat down in the wine cellar, where Jann Forth walked us through their five wines: an ’09 sauvignon blanc, a ’10 rose’, an ’09 ALL BOYS cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from each of their vineyards named after their boys), an ’09 Rebecca cabernet sauvignon (with grapes from the one vineyard named after their girl), and an ’09 syrah. The Rebecca cab was very nice but the real winner was the rose’. As we sat around the cellar’s tasting table, munching on homemade spicy cheese bread between wines, we learned a lot about the winemakers, their philosophy, and the unique characteristics of their offerings.
What really set this winery apart, though, was their canine “staff!” A golden retriever accompanied us everywhere and there were two huge great pyranees (170 lbs and 130 lbs) in the vineyards protecting the sheep that keep the grass low and organically fertilize. After playing with the dogs a bit we hopped back in our car for the next destination.
Garden Creek Winery in Alexander Valley was up next. As we crossed the eponymous creek to enter the estate, I was surprised by how this looked more like a farm than a winery: a big barn at the entrance, chickens off to the left, an old well in the center. And sure enough, that’s how this land began when the current proprietors’ father bought it back in the ’60s.Today, though, the barn is a winery and almost all the land is planted with vines. While most of their grapes are sold to other wineries, they hold enough back to produce a few hundred cases of their own chardonnay and Bordeaux blend.
We were met at the estate by Justin Miller, who owns and runs the operation alongside his wife. We stayed outside to taste their 2009 chardonnay, which was minerally and crisp – really nice and not at all what I’d expect from a California chard. Then we went into the barn for a candlelight vertical tasting of the red (called “Tesserae”). The 2005 of this cab sauv/merlot/cab franc blend was nice, but the 2003 was really coming into its own – great balance between the fruit and oak-derivative properties. Interestingly, they are the only winery I have known in the US to use carbonic maceration.
After plowing through several bottles at Garden Creek, we really needed some food! So our last stop of the tour was at nearby Diavola Pizzeria. I’m not sure if this helped or hurt our sobriety because we had plenty more wine there while feasting on handmade brick oven pizzas!
Opting for a day of wine tour instead of just driving ourselves around was a great idea. Not only did we have a designated driver, we found some wonderful tiny wineries that we never would have heard of otherwise. In both cases, we could have tasted these wines anonymously but the real pleasure was spending a couple of hours with the owners and really getting a feel for what makes them – and their wines – tick.
Day 2: another success!