Raymond Burr Vineyards
By James Knight
Is that a rainbow flag I spy at the top of the drive? Alas, it's only the red and green Portuguese flag flying over Raymond Burr Vineyards. That's OK and similar to wineries everywhere that parade their owner's heritage and past professions. Here, a key difference in this winery's story does get play in passing.
Perhaps it's befitting its namesake, the late actor legendary as television lawyer Perry Mason. Matter of fact, Burr didn't wish to fly his own name across the label. While artist Hans Erni's burly Bacchus that appears on the label is only Burr-like, winery owner Robert Benevides decided after much reflection that it was best to name the winery in tribute to his longtime partner. Incredibly, after Burr's death in 1993, the celebrity press pretended to discover his "secret life." Sure, he'd only been with the same man for 35 years, with whom he raised coconut and cattle on a 4,000-acre ranch in Fiji before moving to the Dry Creek ranch. Yeah, big shocker. Here's news to me: a much younger Burr actually played the wife-chopper Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
The tasting room is unpretentious, funky and fun. There are plenty of picnic tables for warmer weather, and the interior is like a '70s office-den, with wood-paneled walls and shelves housing memorabilia, Emmy awards and miscellany that Burr picked up in his travels. In fact, Benevides (who stops by the tasting room most afternoons for a social drink or two) decided he didn't need some of that stuff, so there's sort of an ongoing garage sale featuring carved teak from Fiji and pewter tea service from England.
The wines are all estate-grown, but produced off-site. The Chardonnays show barrel fermentation more than fruit, but the 2007 Chardonnay ($28) is somewhat reminiscent of a fat pat of butter—or foie gras—on a crisp slice of apple, with hints of cinnamon apple fritter. The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) leads with black licorice and cassis, lacquers the palate and finishes long and dry with fine, astringent tannins, while immediately enjoyable juicy black cherry and blueberry make the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($38) the take-home choice. Chardonnay and Cab not exotic enough? Be sure to make an appointment for greenhouse tours, held at 11am on weekends. Long before the grapes, Burr and Benevides cultivated orchids—commercially, for more than 20 years—producing hundreds of new hybrids of the hothouse flower in all the colors of the rainbow.
Raymond Burr Vineyards, 8339 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily 11am to 5pm. No fee. 707.433.4365.
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