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Wine Tasting Room of the Week

Carol Shelton Wines

By James Knight

Every wine has a story, from the farmer who stubbornly planted vines on a rocky hilltop in days past to the flamboyant schemes of a 19th-century Hungarian "count" to the targeted spin of a brand manager's Power Point presentation. Carol Shelton likes to tell a story with each of her wines, and their unique and lively themes transcend conventions. The first funky and refreshing detail is the tasting room, a comfortable little front office in an industrial park. In north Santa Rosa's growing "warehouse appellation," the wine-wise are finding that a book can't be judged by its cover.

But Shelton's best-known story is that she studied with a few of the eno-greats of the '70s before leading Windsor Vineyards' wine program for 19 years and becoming what her website proclaims is "America's most awarded winemaker." The mail-order business successfully combined holiday gift packs and vanity labels with high-quality Sonoma County wines, pioneering a field now choked with Internet competitors. Meanwhile, Shelton continues on with a new volume.

Carol Shelton Wine labels depicts her alter-ego, the vineyard dreamer. Under a sky of puffy clouds, perched on a hill, a flowing-haired blonde in earth-toned yoga pants looks out wistfully over a pretty vineyard landscape. Although the label art is incomparably feminine, there's a trickster twist as it belies her passion for rustic, masculine Zins that are full of smoke and brambles.

But first there's the pink wine. The 2007 Rendezvous Rosť ($15) opens with a strawberry explosion according to my tasting cohort, who purchased a bottle to take home for a closer reading. It's just off-dry, 100 percent Carignane and damn good (and if a rosť can be called "damn good," that's all you need to know). From the other side of the glassy-winged curtain, Shelton's 2005 Monga Zin ($28) is made from miserly old vines that are dry-farmed in a semi-desert off of I-5. Because the grapes are subject to an agricultural quarantine for the disease-carrying sharpshooter, Shelton has to midwife the fermentation in Cucamonga before shipping the new wine north in a truck.

The 2005 Wild Thing Zin ($28) finds Shelton's dreamer facing the other direction, symbolizing reflection on her years with Windsor where she first made this Mendocino County Zin on wild yeasts. It's a wild thing indeed, rich with smoked bacon and blackberries rioting in American oak. Shelton's good deeds are repaid in grapes for the tie-dyed 2005 Karma Zin ($33), while she sources the 2005 Exhale Syrah ($20) from the weekend escape vineyard of a big-city career couple. What's the story with the 2006 Black Magic Late Harvest Zinfandel ($20)? Tasty, and of course, harvested on Halloween.

Carol Shelton Wines, 3354-B Coffey Lane, Santa Rosa. By appointment only, 10am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. 707.575.3441.

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