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January 31-February 6, 2007

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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Kastania Vineyards

By James Knight

Have you tasted a land down under? Google the locally quirky name "Petaluma" with "winery," and most hits will be for the esteemed old Petaluma Winery in the Adelaide Hills of Australia. How a Coast Miwok term for something like "rolling hills" ended up on the kangaroo continent will have to remain a mystery for now, considering time and budget constraints. As it turns out, Sonoma County has a "down under" all of its own.

Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? It's just the freeway below Kastania Vineyards. Next to a gas station between Petaluma and Marin County, the little vineyard on a hillock has marked the southernmost evidence of wine country viewable from Highway 101 for a decade. One a recent day, a small sign announced "Winery Open," so we peeled off the freeway and bumped down a narrow country lane. The faded sign on the door read "Tasting by appointment," but owner Hoot Smith appeared from the side of the little winery to greet us. Although he was in the middle of racking new wine, Smith amiably set us up with five bottles on the patio overlooking the Petaluma River, since the new tasting room bar had a new coat of overpowering varnish just at that moment.

Smith's Pinot grapes have been vinted to acclaim, usually bought by Landmark Vineyards in Kenwood, and 2004 is Kastania's first self-made vintage. I found the estate Pinot Noir ($35) richly colored with a clean cranberry character and gentle tannins. The Reserve Pinot ($45), is similar but with slightly smokier, meatier Pinot quality. They also put out a few cases of Proprietor's Blend ($25) of Cab and Cab Franc, which manages to taste "green" in a good way, all fresh mint with chocolate undertones that carry it through. And just because, Smith says, you can't get away without offering at least one white, Kastania also makes a smart Chardonnay that's all ripe apples, no malolactic, with a little toastiness that belies a life spent in stainless, not oak.

Who knew that here on the border of Marin we'd find one of the most hospitable, no-nonsense family winery experience in the county!

Drive safe, and don't chunder.

Kastania Vineyards, 4415 Kastania Road, Petaluma. 707.763.6348. Tasting by appointment.

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