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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

PlumpJack Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Yes, this is San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's winery. PlumpJack is a multitentacled lifestyle brand that began with a not-so-simple wine shop in the Marina. The wine shop begat a cafe, which begat a luxury Squaw Valley hotel, which begat even more restaurants, bars and . . . a clothing store? Somewhere along the way, around 1997, Newsom and his buddies (count a Getty among them) decided to open a winery of their own in Napa.

Not content to produce any old wine, they purchased one of the valley's premiere Cabernet Sauvignon producers and hired the best winemakers they could find, including Nils Venge, who had received a coveted 100-point rating from Robert Parker some years before.

Unlike many of its neighbors, PlumpJack eschews the massive chateaux and iron gates for an almost impossible-to-find entrance and a tiny, funky tasting room nestled among the vines.

Mouth value: If you're here, you're here for the Cab. The 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) is a powerhouse loaded with a spice rack of flavors including cardamom, vanilla and rosemary. The dark fruit is rich and luscious, though the tannins can be a little hard this early on. This is one to put away for a few years. The 2002 Syrah ($34) has lots of black licorice and cherry with a terrific mouth feel. The lighter tannins make it approachable to food right away. The 2001 Merlot ($46) is less impressive than the other two with a strangely medicinal first taste, though the tasting notes suggest leather and camphor in the nose. You be the judge on that.

What's in a name: Haven't read your Shakespeare lately, eh? The PlumpJack comes from the Bard's favored fatso, John Falstaff, the debauched knight appearing in Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Five-second snob: The winery had a bit of a head start, piggybacking off the success of its previous owner, Villa Mt. Eden Winery. Known for its powerhouse Cabernet Sauvignons, the vineyards have been producing some of the best Cabs in Napa since the '70s. But its history goes even further than that The winery itself was built in the late 1800s, and the estate has been growing grapes for just as long.

Spot: PlumpJack Winery, 20 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville. Open daily, 10am-4pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.945.1220.

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From the August 25-31, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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