By James Knight
Seems like we've been down this road before and under these leaky gray clouds, peering over the bridge at the rushings of a swollen, cappuccino-colored Dry Creek. At a bend in the road, Lambert Bridge Winery looms like some old fishing lodge over this lake of mist. Inside, the warm glow of redwood and chandeliers makes rustic grace out of the barnlike vault, and hours' worth of real firewood crackles away in the fireplace. Normally, we're told, a big yellow lab would be reposed on the hearth, but on this rainy day, even the dog is out sick.
The reward to locals who venture out on days like this is what we find here: no crowds and a more personalized, relaxed tasting. Even then, I try to avoid rainy days, because for whatever reason—humidity, barometric pressure, bad traffic—red wine just tastes like spoiled grape juice. Lucky thing, then, for that big crackling fire. Founded in 1975, Lambert Bridge worked up to a production of 40,000 cases before paring down to 8,000 and refocusing on limited production releases, a familiar trend for many local wineries since the overheated wine market at the turn of the century. The winery's not followed the trend of quietly trimmed pricing, but its labor and time-intensive practices, like double-sorting both clusters and berries, pay off in results some degrees beyond the usual.
With racy, floral and tropical aromas, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Bevill Vineyard ($28) is alive with lychee, Asian pear and pear juice flavors. The sparkly bright acidity is softened by barrel aging, lending a hint of roasted cashew nut; this is an SB that softens in the glass but never lets up the excitement. With a flavor of apple fritter, the 2007 Sonoma County Chardonnay's ($35) mild lumber and dairy notes stay demure, our host explains, because they special-order water-bent barrels in place of the twice-fired kind.
The 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, Forchini Vineyards ($50), reminds me of sunnier days, but the clean red plum and cherry-jelly aromas and bright fruit with vanilla spice remind me not of Dry Creek at all—if anything, maybe of a certain punctilious Russian River Valley Zin house 10 miles to the south. The grapes are twice-sorted, ensuring no green berries or raisins heat up the mix.
Even the 2006 Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah ($45) falls on the friendly side of often inky purple aromas. This one's warmed up with spicy Christmas cake, allspice and chocolate, with leather and blueberry-vanilla. With Lambert Bridge's Bordeaux varietals, style and structure overcome the more obvious spokes of the flavor wheel. Vanilla, cherry, tea cake, dry chocolate and herbs might characterize the 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Franc ($63), but are deferential to close-grained claret balance. Soaking up 100 percent new French Oak with ease, the 2006 Crane Creek Cuvée ($95) is bright with tart red berries, celery seed, anise and more tea cake seamlessly knit together. Ah, at well past closing in the gloaming of the day, and at the end of the wine list, it's our feet, not our palates, that become hot and dry.
Lambert Bridge Winery, 4085 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am–4:30pm. Tasting fee $10. On Feb. 13, the winery hosts a one-of-a-kind 14-year vertical tasting of the winery's signature cuvée, paired with a six-course meal. Yes, it's $350. 707.431.9600.
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