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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Quivira Vineyards

By Heather Irwin

Low-down: It's hard to get all snobby about tasting wine when you've got oyster juice dripping down your chin. Then again, it's not a huge problem when the guy next to you is wearing a bib. Nestled deep in the heart of the Dry Creek Valley, the tasting room at Quivira Vineyards oozes a kind of bookish, Sunday-morning charm that makes eating with your fingers seem civilized. At the winery's annual Hog Island Oyster Tasting on a recent rainy weekend--shells and lemon flying across the communal picnic tables--you could enlist the oyster eaters seated next to you for help with the crossword.

Owner Henry Wendt, a former history professor and founder of the über-pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham, is the grandfatherly patriarch who fosters that kind of smart, communal atmosphere. In addition to his winemaking, he also happens to be a fanatical map collector (the Sonoma County Museum currently hosts his and his wife's private collection of historical maps) and fervent salmon conservationist who's restocked his own creek. Safe to say, he's a man on a quest. Or two.

Which is pretty appropriate considering the winery is named for a mythical golden city the Spanish spent years searching for and never found. Turns out maybe they just didn't know what to look for.

Vibe: The tasting room features plenty of handcrafted Zins, Quivira's hallmark, though the winery is at the forefront of the fast-moving Rhone bandwagon with several Syrahs and a soon-to-be released vintage blend with Grenache, Mourvedre Syrah and Zinfandel (2002 Steelhead Red).

Warm and woody--check out the redwood ceiling and huge windows--the winery's public space is consciously enviro-modern with enough hominess (the winery is run by a total staff of 12) to pull off "family-operated" without seeming hokey. Though a bit rehearsed in their dialogue at times, the tasting room staff is approachable, casual and informative without being overly effusive. The large S-curved bar features a knowledgeable, educational, yet not overly effusive, staff. Kind of like your old college professor.

Mouth value: 2002 Sauvignon Blanc, Fig Tree Vineyard; 1998 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.

Don't miss: Stop off for a quick sandwich at the Dry Creek General Store (3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707.433.4171). Sunday is prosciutto di parma day, featuring a hearty roll, stuffed with salty ham, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and tomatoes ($7.50).

Five-second snob: The Dry Creek appellation is known for its old-vine Zinfandel grapes, many brought over by European immigrants to create familiar table wines. Unlike other grape varietals, you'll see plenty of freestanding vines with a waterfall effect, rather than the carefully manicured and trained vines you'll see elsewhere.

Spot: Quivira Vineyards, 4900 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 11am to 5pm. Tastings free; picnicking available. 1.800.292.8339.

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From the February 25-March 3, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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