Posts Tagged ‘Geyserville’

Geyserville Wine Scene

September 11, 2009

geyservilleSignChange is coming in Geyserville, California.  You may not see it yet, but you can feel it.  The town’s excitement – and anxiety – about the very near future is tangible.  The tiny community of about 1,600 wine-loving souls is on the verge of significant changes.  Geyserville’s burgeoning wine industry has produced star-quality product for decades.  Now, at a time when wine has taken a much higher profile in our society, Geyserville is on the precipice of cashing in.

The citizens of Geyserville have a palpable attitude of hope – hope that change is coming, and hope that the change will be good.  They are a small town – downtown is not much more than a wide spot in the road.  But the change these people are hoping for is a change that will widen that road, and populate it with more and more businesses to serve the tourism that the change will bring.  It would be easy to read a little desperation into all that hope, but that’s not how it comes across.  These people know what they have – a collection of extremely good wineries and vineyards which are responsible for wines of a very high quality.  But they know that is not enough.  What they need now is for people to notice.  And people are noticing.

Coppola tasting roomThe former Chateau Souverain was purchased by the Francis Ford Coppola wine empire, and the change has already started there.  Coppola is moving his public profile in the wine biz from his Rutherford property to the Geyserville facility, which makes a huge statement all on its own.  His Oscars are already there, and his expansion – more on that in a bit – is set for completion by the summer of 2010.  Nearby River Rock Casino has expansion plans of its own.  Although their hotel plans have been put on the back burner due to the economy, they are at least still on the stove.  Just a small economic upturn could be the spark that relights the fire.  This sort of change will bring more people to the area, and a higher profile to a wine region that richly deserves a little more notice.

Geyserville has the good fortune to sit in one of the most amazing grape-growing regions in the world.  The Alexander Valley of northeastern Sonoma County is blessed with great soil and several diverse microclimates that rival the most prominent wine locales in France and Italy.  The wineries in Geyserville produce wines of a consistently high quality, easily able to stand alongside the bottlings of any other California appellation.  The grape growers and winemakers of Geyserville and the surrounding area are just as smart and just as passionate as their brethern from other locales, and probably a lot more down to earth.  Aside from a few big names situated here, most of the wine producers in Geyserville are small boutique wineries with limited production.  Big name or small, some pretty fantastic wines are being produced around Geyserville.

As I wandered about the community I couldn’t help but notice how friendly and open everyone was.  Each winery I visited seemed to be one of the nicest places in the state in which to hang out.  I could ask anybody any question and get an answer that was thoughtful and insightful.  Everywhere I went, “laid-back” was the prevailing attitude.  There wasn’t an Italian sportscar in sight the whole time I was there.  In fact, it would have been no surprise at all to see a horse tied to a hitchin’ post.

Wineries To Watch

 

 Geyserville is home to several of the bigger names in winemaking.  The old Chateau Souverain now bears the impressive name of Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco.  It sounds like it should be spoken with a fanfare accompanying it.  Coppola is known as an idea man.  His ideas are being made into reality at Rosso & Bianco, and when he’s done, he will have changed the face of Geyserville dramatically.  His plans – which are frequently emended as the work progresses – call for the winery to be made into a wine resort, with dining, swimming, lounging and even activities and a play area for the kids.  Coppola’s changes will attract more people to Geyserville and, with a hotel not included in his plans, will push eager tourism dollars out into the community.

One of the many boutique wineries that populate Geyserville, Trione Vineyards and Winery, has developed such a reputation with the wine alone that they can place a tasting menu on the counter which features nothing but award-winning wines.  Only one of them was produced in a quantity greater than 600 cases, and two of them were made in lots of less than 500 cases.  The tropical Sauvignon Blanc, the apple pie Chardonnay, the earthy Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon which spent 24 months in French oak barrels are big highlights on a roster that has only winners.

J Rickards jimJim Rickards of J Rickards Winery would probably bristle at the mention of the word “boutique” in connection with his operation, but that’s the cattleman in him talking.  His interests turned from bovine to old vine when he bought his vineyard in the 1970s and began selling grapes to other area winemakers – Silver Oak, Geyser Peak and Dry Creek Vineyards to name a few.  His plants date back to 1908 and he has augmented the originals with newly planted clones of old vines.  He and his wife Eliza began producing extremely small batches of handmade wines in the early ’90s for friends. The reception was enthusiastic enough that they finally decided to start bottling on their own with the 2004 vintage.  That move made them a lot more friends.

The Pedroncelli family runs the oldest winery in the Alexander Valley, and is one of a handful of Italian-American families in the wine business there.  The Pedroncellis were around when the Dry Creek Valley floor was all prune trees.  They’ve done quite well with the grapevines, though.

TV legend Raymond Burr didn’t really want his vineyards to bear his name.  But when Burr passed away his longtime partner Robert Benevides decided it was only right.  Today, a very limited amount of top-notch wine is still made with care.  One look at the view from the tasting room door and you’ll know why Burr didn’t mind that long drive up the hill.

Stryker Sonoma‘s showcase tasting room literally puts the vineyard on display, with ceiling-to-floor glass for walls. Murphy-Goode Winery is in Geyserville, although their tasting room is located in Healdsburg.  Clos du Bois and Geyser Peak both have names that are familiar to California supermarket shoppers.

 ***

Now, Geyserville is presently about as big as a street corner – at least the downtown business district is.  But it’s nice to know that you can get plenty of tastes without wandering too far from your accommodations.

Locals tasting room was one of my favorite spots.  There you can sample from 75 different wines by 11 local producers like Dark Horse, Eric Ross, Atrea and Hawley, just to name a few.  They like to pour a “varietal comparison flight,” several tastes of one kind of grape from different producers.  It’s a great way to experience the differences and similarities of various wineries side-by-side.  Of course, they also pour what ever you’d like to try, so skip around the extensive two-page tasting menu all you like.  Everything you taste is for sale by the bottle in the store.  The shop is funded by a collective of the wineries, and the staff knows what they’re pouring, so any questions you may have about what you’re tasting will be answered.

Terroirs Artisan Wines handles only four local wines, Godwin Family Wines, Hughes Family Vineyards, Palmeri and Pena Ridge.  I tasted both the Godwin and the Hughes while I was there, and they both impressed me.

You should also try and get into Route 128 Vineyards and Winery tasting room.  Pete and Lorna Opatz opened a tasting room in what was once the parts department of one of the first Ford dealerships in the country.  Their 60 combined years of experience with grapes pays off well in their boutique wines.  They produce less than 500 cases per year, the standouts being a crisp and lovely Viognier, a lively Zinfandel and an award-winning Syrah which mixes chocolate and blueberry flavors in a delightful way.  In the tiny room, you may find art from local Twyla Gettert or even a pairing event with nephew and culinary artist Rian Rinn.  Route 128 is a definite “must taste” in Geyserville.

***

Some people consider “wine futures” to be a good investment.  I think the time is ripe for some enterprising entrepreneurs to buy futures in Geyserville.  Services are needed now, and the need will grow exponentially when the Coppola project and the casino hotel are reality.  The town lacks a true grocery market and needs a bakery and a coffee shop that open early.  Although Diavalo and the Hoffman House are hard to beat, a couple of extra dining choices would be nice and more lodging will be needed, too.  Oh, and that little downtown area could use some sprucing up.  Geyserville has great wine.  Now it just needs to get dressed up a bit before the company comes over.  Keep an eye on the Alexander Valley, and Geyserville in particular.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

Tasting Room Notes: Locals Tasting Room

July 6, 2009

The Sonoma County town of Geyserville has more good wine being produced in and near it than most folks would think possible. There are so many wineries in the Alexander Valley that it works out to about one winery for every ten people who live in Geyserville. Visiting a winery’s tasting room is great, if the winery has one. Many of the wine producers in the Geyserville area are such small boutiques that they don’t have tasting rooms. That’s where Locals comes in.

Locals Tasting Room represents a collective of eleven Geyserville area wineries, and offers tastes of 75 different wines produced by them. Most of the wines on the tasting menu are sourced from Alexander Valley grapes.

The room is nice and large, with plenty of elbow room at the tasting bar. The staff is quite friendly and they know their stuff, too. Any questions I had about the wines or the wineries were answered right away.

Choosing a reasonable number of wines to taste is the hard part. To guide you in the right direction, Locals likes to pour varietal flights. When you line up six or seven Zinfandels, or a handful of Chardonnays, you can get a good idea of how each wine differs from the others. Or just jump around the menu and find specific wines that appeal to you. That’s what I did. With so many reds on the menu, I went with seven of the most likely looking candidates for my taste.

Atrea Old Soul Red 2005 – A Rhone-style blend of 46% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah and 9% Malbec, this rocks. A complex wine, there’s plenty of juicy fruit but there’s also pepper, and some sort of sweet notes that peek from around the corner.

Eris Ross Carignane 2006 – An old vine red from Lodi, this was medium-bodied and quite smooth.

Ramazotti Raffinto 2005 – A Super Tuscan style of 60% Sangiovese, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc – whew! – which shows lavender on the nose and plum on the palate. They say it has won a number of awards.

Laurel Glen ZaZin 2007 – Old Vine Lodi with currant and blackberry on the nose, currant and plums on the taste buds.

Dark Horse Treborce 2007 – This Zinfandel had an odd nose, with nice texture and flavors of plums and leather, a very earthy taste.

Peterson Sangiovese 2006 – This Dry Creek Valley entry is 100% Sangiovese. I found the nose and taste to be a bit lightweight, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Should make for a nice pasta wine.

RH Wines Rowdy Red – This is a non-vintge blend that’s got a really nice toasty vanilla nose and spicy notes on the palate. It’s from Windsor, a little south of Geyservlle. A lively red that will pair well with a lot.

Tasting Room Notes: Bennett Lane Winery

July 5, 2009


On the way from Napa Valley to Geyserville via Highway 128, there’s a driveway I’m glad I drove. That was the one which led to Calistoga’s Bennett Lane Winery. A pretty arbor in front of a smallish building provides a fitting entry into the tasting room. Small inside, too, there isn’t a lot of room available at the tasting bar. Find a way to elbow in, though. Some very good wine awaits you.

White Maximus 2007 – A floral nose – honeysuckle – is enhanced with citrus aromas. The palate is clean and crisp. Good minerals, good acidity.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 – This was billed as a new release, but I think the tasting sheet was printed late last year. The blurb promises Fuji apple, baked pear and toasted hazelnut, but it was all tropical to my nose. A little unexpected, but quite pleasant. This is a full-figure Chardonnay, heavily oaked with the buttery, creamy notes you would expect.

Maximus 2005 – Plenty of oak in this big red. I get lots of cedar, vanilla and spices both in the nose and on the tongue. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah, the fruit is lush and lasts a good long while. It was my favorite.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – This 100% Cabernet is a blend of Bennett Lane’s estate Cab and that sourced from other Napa Valley growers. A big cherry nose greets you and the taste is driven by flavors of dark plums and leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – The Cab is augmented by 4% Petit Verdot. It’s a very rich wine that, to me, is chocolatey enough to be dessert. But no, they have that covered even better.

Dessert Wine – This beauty is a non-vintage port-style wine of which less than a hundred cases were produced. I don’t know the percentages, but it’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas, even though I had been off the hot, dusty trail for only a few minutes.

Tasting Room Notes: Robert Mondavi Winery

June 23, 2009


I visited Northern California’s wine country for a trip that began on Monday. I had plans to stay in Geyserville I could not resist the temptation of hitting Napa Valley on the way in. It’s not really on the way, of course. The drive up Highway 29, onto Highway 128, through Calistoga and on to Geyserville took at least an hour longer than a direct approach up the 101 would have taken. But how could I pass up the opportunity to visit again California’s Prime Wine Country?

The drive along Highway 29 took me past winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard. It’s quite a spectacle to see just how much land is devoted to the growing of grapes there. The vineyards go on for acres, miles. As I drove, it came as a surprise whenever I passed a plot of land which, for some strange reason, had no grapes planted on it.

I had planned a visit to a number of wineries in Napa Valley which held some sort of fascination to me, but the place I seemed drawn to was a winery which produces wine that I rarely think about buying or even ordering in a restaurant. Robert Mondavi Winery.

Why do I rarely purchase Mondavi wines? Because there always seems to be something a little more desirable, a little sexier, a little hipper right next to it on the grocer’s shelf. There’s no doubt Mondavi makes good wines. But there isn’t a lot of “insider cachet” to them. Mondavi wines are what your parents bought. How hip is that?

I was drawn to the Mondavi Winery not to try the wines but to pay homage to one of the men who helped build what is now the world-renowned California wine industry. Whether you like Robert Mondavi’s wines or not, you have to admit that your favorite California wine might not exist today if not for him.

I was saddened that in the Mondavi tasting room in Oakville didn’t seem to be a pioneering spirit at work. The pourers were barely interested enough to lift the next bottle. They were certainly not interested enough to offer any type of explanation of what they were pouring. My pourer was more interested in his computer screen than in me. Was that due to an attitude decrying, “This is Mondavi – what more do you need to know?” or was it, “This is Mondavi – who cares?” I can’t tell you.

I can tell you what I tasted. Three wines for $15 is the regular tasting fee. It’s $20 for their reserve wines. The complimentary logo glass is included. I actually got four wines by standing at the bar for a bit after I had finished my third taste and taking advantage of an inattentive pourer’s lapse in memory.

Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc, 2007 – There was a slightly floral, very grassy nose on this wine. Tastes like white peaches. Good minerality, although in a creamy fashion. Quite unexpected.

Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay – The nose was somewhat floral and a bit oaky. It tasted rather like an apple candy without the sweetness.

Mondavi Carneros Pinot Noir 2007 – A very peppery nose with big berry aromas and lots of spices make for a very inviting introduction. The taste was a bit overoaked for me, but there were plenty of cherry and black pepper flavors to make me forget.

Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot 2005 – A big, bright nose jumped right out of the glass while the explosive palate featured plum notes in a very spicy setting. Very smooth tannins.