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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Roshambo Winery

By Heather Irwin

Vibe: Tour a few wineries and you get pretty used to the usual tasting-room small talk. Chatty, soulless banter of the "You from around here?" variety that makes your ears bleed after a while. So when the guy with the skin art started to pour and the woman behind the white rubber bar asked us, "You from around here?" we were a little disappointed. That was, until she finished with "Because we're trying to find a cool local band for our party next month."

Right. And that would be the "Prince"'80s dress-up tank party? Nope. They already have a celebrity impersonator for that. It turns out they need a band for the party two weeks after that.

Throw mama from the wine train, baby. At Roshambo, the kids are kickin' it like it's 1999--a vintage year after, all.

At the helm: All steel, concrete and glass, this two-year-old newcomer is the upstart of the valley, swinging a wine glass between its bejeweled toes and refusing to be ignored. Located at the southern end of the Russian River Valley, its young owner Naomi Johnson Brilliant is carving a niche in spicy, saucy Zins, most notably with the 2000 and 2001 Dry Creek and Olson Vineyards releases.

Though Brilliant has neither a background in wineries nor winemaking (she studied art), it's a decided advantage. Because after years of trying and failing to get friends to drink wine, she decided maybe it wasn't the wine that was the problem but wine's image. Her goal became to make wine and winetasting more approachable to the beer-and-cocktail set: unstuffy, unpretentious, and of course, really, really cool.

Certainly, some critics say too much time is spent on the T-shirts and the art gallery funk-factor of the tasting room and not enough on the quality of the wine. But everyone's a critic and the proof is in the bottle. Roshambo's Zins are quietly winning awards after just two years of production and are, we hear, being matched at a number of posh eateries around town. The whites, especially the Chardonnay, still have a little maturing to do. But honestly, who doesn't?

Mouth value: 2001 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel; 2002 R.P.S. Dry Creek Valley Syrah Rose. Try the 2001 Roshambo Chardonnay and see what you think.

Party on: The winery will host a celebrity tank event that's oh-so-Prince on Saturday, March 6, 7-11pm. $15, reservations required. The next gallery opening is Saturday, March 13, 5-8pm with photographer Steven Starfas and installation artist Bianca Partee. The winery's two-year anniversary party with the Lemon Lime Lights takes place Saturday, March 20.

Five-second snob: So, what's with the name? Roshambo is the rock- paper-scissors game--you know, the one where you crush your brother's hand and scream, "Rock beats scissors, sucka!" Naomi loved the game as a child growing up in Japan (where it is called jan ken pon), and as a tribute to her mixed Californian-Japanese heritage and her skill at the shake, the name just stuck.

Spot: Roshambo Winery, 3000 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10:30am-4:30pm. Tastings free; picnicking available. 707.431.2051 or 1.888.525.VINE.

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From the March 3-10, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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