Part 1: Little Guys

A kind of “Prince and the Pauper” duality exists nearly everywhere you look in wine country, where many of today’s top names were nobody special when they started.

Price tag and label are not always good indicators of value and quality, but a good name does count for something in this business.

The following wineries haven’t hit “big name” status yet, but they’re making good wines that stand out in a crowd.

Vinifiy Showcase

Vinify is a custom crush facility where winemakers who may not have their own equipment nor grow their own grapes can make their wine in a professional setting.

Commercial-grade winemaking equipment can be shared and there’s also a warehouse for storing wine barrels plus a new tasting room where the public can drop by to try new samples.

The showcase last Saturday (June 11) was a typical set-up.

Vinify is located in a Santa Rosa business park that boasts two other wineries (Carol Shelton and Inspiration Vineyards) plus assorted unrelated businesses.

There were 18 participating wineries pouring more than 60 different wines. The winemakers (plus friends, family and supporters) were poised inside behind a folding table with bottles of reds, whites and roses ready for tasting.

Quality, across the board, was good. A few wines really stood out for me.

Cool Pinot

The wine I liked most was a 2009 pinot noir ($39) from Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery in Bennett Valley. The winemaker is Brett Raven.

Brett Raven, Frostwatch Winemaker

The color was light red with a light dusting of cinnamon on the nose. It felt good in my mouth with a delicate mix of rhubarb and strawberry flavors that tasted seriously good together.


Another really good pinot noir poured at Vinify was from Lattanzio Winery.

The 2008, from the W.E. Bottoms Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, is a big mouthful of dark red juice ($38/bottle) stuffed with racy raspberry fruit. There’s an aroma of forest floor that’s nice, too.


One more Bennett Valley pinot noir caught my eye, the 2009 Zara’s Block from Barbed Oak Vineyard.

The quality was amazing for the winery’s first-ever shot at making pinot from the estate vineyard.

I liked the flavor of macerated cherries on the palate and it had a nice bouquet of sweet loam. Let’s hope the price stays at $29.

Sojourn Cellars

I didn’t read the reviews beforehand, but I agree with the accolades that have been given to Sojourn Cellars for its 2009 Rodgers Creek Vineyard pinot noir.

This Sonoma Coast wine — made from a vineyard that sits in the Petaluma Gap of Sonoma County — swirled dark red in the glass and provided a marvelous nose of  ripe cherries.

The ripe cherry theme continued with the fruit forward taste of black cherry. I liked the hint of mushroom on the nose and the weight of this wine in the mouth.

This $40+ bottle got a 92 rating from cult critic Robert Parker, plus similar scores from other professional admirers.


The Gracianna 2010 Suzanne’s Blend chardonnay ($34) stood out for its tangerine fruit — which struck a nice balance between sweet and tart — and for a de-emphasis on oakiness despite the use of 100 percent French oak barrels. This was a well-balanced and sophisticated effort made from Russian River Valley fruit.

Part Two: Princely Approach

You’ve just read about the “pauper” side of this two-part tale. Tune in again tomorrow when this blog continues with a focus on the “prince” — an elite winery with a stable of fine wines produced at a luxurious Sonoma County estate.


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