By James Knight
Once upon a time, there was a little half-timbered winery perched by Eagle Rock that made a fine, sweet Gewürztraminer. Once upon a time, there was also a Scottish-themed restaurant in the same bonny hills east of Santa Rosa. The good news for Adler Fels is that, since 1979, Gewürztraminer has faired slightly better than Scottish cuisine and all things Tudor. Yet how does this romantic idyll persist, when the rare consumer will pay more than $15 for its flagship varietals: light, elegant Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer? This fair damsel is backed up by a big bottom line.
Alder Fels had already begun diversifying its portfolio with critter labels and custom wine brands when a Southern California wine group purchased the winery in 2004. So it challenged its marketing department to come up with something utterly obnoxious: Big Ass Wine is California's answer to France's Fat Bastard, an attention-getting value brand with broad appeal; each label features an artist's colorful and frank rendering of folks having an outsized good time. And because the négociant wine is such a moneymaker on the East Coast, Adler Fels can keep its premium wines at everyday price points; thus, fans of the Gewürtz benefit from the largesse.
The tasting room is down in the valley, the old Wine Room outpost on Highway 12. Adler Fels just finished putting on a fresh coat of paint, but it's a bit spartan as yet. Dogs are welcome—but look out for Fifi, a toy poodle that sleeps so soundly in a little bed near the door that it's tempting to give it a poke, just to make sure it's real. When I saw it was breathing, I backed off, fooled by the power of C batteries. Folks have got to maintain an offbeat reputation in the Valley of the Moon; after all, their landlord is Tommy Smothers.
For better or worse, the fairy-tale castle is gone from Adler Fels' new, rationalized label. The 2007 Russian River Valley Gewürztraminer ($15) is lightly sweet, with the juicy crispness of Asian pear and lychee, lending it the refreshing uplift of good mineral water. Adler Fels 2006 Eagle Rock Red ($25) is a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah, a big cherry bomb.
The Leaping Lizard 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($13) is dry and fruity, solid and to the point, no more but no less for the price. And what would one expect from Big Ass than a 2007 Napa Chardonnay ($15) that is sweet, fat and wide. That's not knocking it: this is the kind of Chard that makes the wine-drinkin' world go 'round.
Adler Fels, 9575 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. Open Monday–Thursday, 11am–4pm; Friday–Sunday, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee $10. 707.833.6131.
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