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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Field Stone Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: I remember being dragged to picnics at Field Stone winery as a surly and uninterested teenager, the table set with a loaf of crusty French bread and of course a bottle of wine or two. Aaaah, isn't this wonderful, the adults would say, as I rolled my eyes and huffed off with my Duran Duran tape. A quiet, peaceful place without pretense or pomp, Field Stone hides among 85 acres of vines in the sun-kissed Alexander Valley, a welcome respite of vine-covered tranquility and natural beauty sure to drive any teenager mad with boredom. Call it parental justice.

Vibe: The winery is actually built into the hill, carved out in the late 1970s as one of the first modern underground wineries. Walking into the barrel rooms is a little disconcerting, as you wind around into the cool, stone tasting room. You'll likely brush past folks in bicycle pants and hiking gear--the picnic grounds are a favorite among travelers stopping for a quick bottle of wine and lunch. Tasting is a casual affair, with vintners and staff passing through to say hello, and a tasting staff eager to answer questions and explain the history and wines.

Mouth value: After years of experimentation with different varietals, reds have come to rule at Field Stone. The lightest is the summery 2003 Rose of Sangiovese ($12). Served cold, it's a bright, fruity light wine that's perfect for picnics. Vintner John Staten loves Rhone wines (and who doesn't these days?) and has released his first Syrah (2002, $22) this year, an earthy wine that is hard-pressed to live up to its red brethren--Field Stone's Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2000, $24) or the very mellow and matured "Staten Family Reserve" Estate Bottled Cab ($42). The one to buy, however, is the 2000 "Staten Family Reserve" Petite Syrah ($30) made from vines planted in 1894. This is an expansive, velvety wine with plenty of dark fruit and intrigue. The winery does produce some whites, though nearly all are produced from grapes grown elsewhere. The 2002 Chardonnay, from Russian River Valley grapes, is fruity with peach and apricot and not overly oaky. This is the last year for the winery's dry Gewürztraminer, a favorite for years, and Staten is now working with new Viognier clones just reaching maturity.

Don't miss: En route from Healdsburg, you'll inevitably zoom past the old red pickup truck that marks the Jimtown Store (6706 State Hwy. 128, Healdsburg, 707.433.1212). Back up and turn around--the time warp experience of this retro country store is worth a quick stop. The sandwich boards feature the usual turkey and ham, but skip the white bread and try a prosciutto, blue-cheese and fig-olive spread sandwich on a baguette ($7) or a steaming bowl of chili ($4.50). There's plenty to entertain you while you wait: old-fashioned candy, antiques and a stellar collection of quirky toys. We especially love the Rat Race--a tiny box with little plastic rats running in circles. Make sure to eat outside, under the vines.

Five-second snob: Are you a Rhone Ranger? Many California vintners are nearly fanatical about Rhone-style wines and are planting acres and acres of grapes typically found in the Rhone valley of France. Among the most popular red grapes are Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre and Viognier--a white grape. Although Viognier is a feisty and notoriously difficult grape to grow, it's gaining popularity with lightning speed, producing a wine that ranges somewhere between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with lots of apricot and tropical fruit flavors. Yum.

Spot: Field Stone Winery, 10075 Hwy. 128, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.7266.

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From the June 2-8, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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