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Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Paradise Ridge Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Every potential bride from here to San Jose has likely mooned over the possibility of hosting her wedding at the breathtakingly scenic Paradise Ridge Winery. However, this is no reason for the unengaged to miss this Santa Rosa gem, tucked away in the midst of Fountain Grove's suburban sprawl.

Once home to a utopian commune headed by Thomas Lake Harris at the turn of the century, the Fountain Grove ranch has for years captivated the imagination of visionaries of one sort or another. Though the commune was abandoned, its Japanese winemaker, Kanaye Nagasawa, continued on, building Fountain Grove Winery, one of the county's most prolific wineries, and producing some 90 percent of all of Sonoma County vintages. Now known as Paradise Ridge, the winery is owned by art collectors and vintners Walter and Marijke Byck.

Mouth value: When visiting the tasting room, don't get too distracted by the vista outside, because there's plenty to enjoy on the counter. The 2003 Grandview Vineyard Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95) is a bit yeasty on the nose but has a refined sense of fruit, rather than the Chiquita banana quality found elsewhere. The 2002 Nagasawa Vineyard Estate Chardonnay ($21.95) differentiates itself with a soft, oaky quality and a scent of caramelized sugar that's so yummy it begs to be dabbed behind the ears. Also great is the 2001 Merlot ($25.95), which drinks amazingly well for a new release, with a wonderful nose and lots of dark fruit and vanilla.

The winery's two Cabernets, the 2000 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($25.95) and the Elevation Rockpile Cab ($33), are both lighter, brighter wines that don't overwhelm the palate. Harvested from grapes that kiss the clouds (or at least the low-lying fog) at 2,000 feet above sea level, the Rockpile is a very drinkable (but equally cellarable) Cab with a noticeable infusion of Merlot. You'll be asking for a second, third and fourth glass.

Don't miss: The winery is home to a landscape of immensely proportioned outdoor sculptures tucked into the vineyards and hillsides. Each Wednesday evening from April through October, you can park yourself for a picnic among the art and vegetation, and watch the sunset--a creatively cheap date. Paradise Ridge's Sculpture Grove offers contemporary work that changes each year.

Five-second snob: Kanaye Nagasawa, who arrived in the States around 1860, was one of eight Japanese men who smuggled themselves out of that country--then sealed to the rest of the world--in order to learn the ways of the West. A member of the samurai class, Nagasawa was the only one of the group not to return to Japan. Perhaps life in Santa Rosa, along with elaborate parties in Fountaingrove's now-dilapidated round barn, were enough of an incentive to stay.

Spot: Paradise Ridge Vineyards and Winery, 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa. Open daily, 11am to 5:30pm. No tasting fee. 707.528.9463.

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From the January 5-11, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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