By James Knight
The last time we visited Windsor Vineyards, the fact that it was located neither in a vineyard nor in Windsor gave pause to our reviewer. This time, we find it's entirely off the map—the wine map. But this is no recent development. Below the creaking, wood tasting-room floor, founder and North Bay wine titan Rodney Strong crafted his first batches here some 50 years ago while living upstairs with his family. His concept for mail-order wine sales grew into Windsor Vineyards, which holds the record as the largest such operation, and was once owned by Guinness.
While it and the late vintner's namesake winery have passed into new ownership, the one-time "Tiburon Vintners" soldier on, a quaint outpost in a tony township whose mainstays in the old days were railroading, shipyarding and naval coal-stoking. These days, Tiburon is a natural springboard for Angel Island weekend adventures or San Francisco shopping jaunts via the Blue and Gold ferry line; a nexus of cycling shorts and German sedans that has quality dining and exploring options all its own. An especially nice find for tourists with no plans to venture farther north, Windsor Vineyards also inspires those in need of personalized labeling services, whether for wedding wines, business gifts or the perennially favorite vanity inscription that goes something like "From the cellar of Joe Bottlahooch."
The secret to the firm's long run, however, is that these are no cookie-cutter California wines. Mainly from Sonoma County appellations, wines regularly rack up the state and county fair golds, which the staff are happy to list. A recent State Fair double gold winner, the 2009 California Pinot Grigio ($16) must've stood out for its atypically pungent aroma of sliced pear, or the way the full, round pear flavor lolls around the tongue. Bright with red cherry and raspberry fruit, spiced with vanilla, the supple 2008 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County Reserve ($22) holds its own and more for this style and price range.
Cab lovers have two distinct choices: the 2008 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), with a bitter chocolate, black-cherry cordial character; and the Windsor Sonoma (a related brand) 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), with brighter red fruit, toasted cashew accents, a warming finish and fine tannin. Tasting is free, the daily list is over a dozen selections long and clearance deals abound, so there's really no reason not to leave with a bottle, say, of 2001 Late Disgorged North Coast Brut ($15). A riot of vigorous, fine bubbles, high-toned, lemon meringue and apple zip—I'm saving it for New Year's. If it has that long a run.
Windsor Vineyards, 72 Main St., Tiburon. Open Sunday–Thursday, 10am to 6pm; Friday–Saturday to 7pm. No fee. 415.435.3113.
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