By James Knight
Nobody's comparing apples to oranges. Around here, we compare apples to grapes. And because it's the local custom to mourn apple trees toppling for the sake of vine rows, naturally the demise of Ace-in-the-Hole Cider Pub, former tenant of this site, was roundly rued. Never mind that everyone there drank beer, and Ace's apples fall from faraway trees. Oh great, it was grumbled, all we need is another winetasting room.
Growing up in a longtime West County farming family, Steve Dutton might know a thing or two about the economics of apple vs. grape. He partnered with friend and winemaker Dan Goldfield, who had previously passed the days at some little bodega called La Crema. Their former tasting room shared digs over at Balletto on Occidental Road (Swirl, 10.24.07), where production remains.
I wish I could assure mourning pub fans that they haven't created the quintessence of the generic, a "Wine Country Tasting Room Lite," but wishing don't make things so. Walls are white, tiles terra cotta and there's still no kitchen (although food pairings created by local chef Christopher Greenwald will be featured at July 10th's grand opening). It's clean and bright, with a surfeit of real estate recently enlivened by what appeared to be a bachelorette party but which turned out to be the comely waitstaff from a local bar and bistro, to whom winemaker Goldfield was relating all kinds of fun, engaging stories.
Otherwise, there's not much to recommend it—except, of course, for a stellar lineup of finely crafted, fruit-forward and focused wines. Last year's edition of Shop Block Pinot Blanc ($25) is as subtle, dry and yet round and full as ever with light pear fruit and a nose tipped in a white rose. A grownup's Gewürz, the 2009 Green Valley Gewürztraminer ($25) is balanced and dry, spicy with allspice, fruity in the tropical way. Bright cherry fruit with a tart, maraschino edge head up soft, red plum fruit in the 2007 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir ($38), while tea-leaf herbal notes lend the 2007 Freestone Ranch Pinot Noir ($58) more complexity.
Plump with plum fruit and hinting of cigar, the 2007 Cherry Ridge Vineyard Syrah ($35) is broody yet fresh and pretty, dressed in purple velvet. The 2008 Stoetz Vineyard Zinfandel ($40) is sure to pull Pinot migrants back into the Zin camp. Goldfield teases out the brightest red cherry fruit here, with raspberry-vanilla. The finish is soft, focused and firm, like cinching shoelaces into a satisfying knot. I've heard that among some types, comparing fruit-forward with taut table wines is a matter of apples and oranges. But anyone with complaints about wines like these can stick it in their apple pie-hole.
3100 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. Open 10am to 4:30pm daily. $10 tasting fee. Grand opening reception, Saturday, July 10, from 11am to 4pm. 707.827.3600.
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