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Swirl n' Spit

Camellia Cellars

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: Even the river looks lazy as it meanders from one pebbly bank to another on an impossibly hot summer Sunday in Healdsburg. Kids scamper toward the water with popsicle-stained lips and well-worn swimsuits, carrying armfuls of inflatable toys. At the top of the bank, just across the street and within easy earshot of the squeals and whoops down below, Chris Lewand spends a quiet Sunday pouring wine and chatting as the occasional friend stops by Lewand's just-off-the-beaten-path tasting room.

Archie, Lewand's golden retriever and constant companion, lies on the cool floor inside, his tail thumping, about all the enthusiasm he can muster after some heavy-duty puppy chasing.

It's the perfect kind of afternoon for relaxed winetasting. And Camellia is just the kind of winery I'm looking for. Lewand is both co-owner and tasting-room attendant. She's a local gal who'll give you tips on the best place to eat in town, where to stay and even her opinion on local goings-on if you ask. Though she's probably told the same story of how she and her father started the winery in the basement of the family's B&B a thousand or more times, she still punctuates it with energy and a few laughs. You get the impression that Lewand would never get pushy about selling you six cases of wine--though you may want to anyway, because, like her, the wine is just so darned approachable and easy-going.

Mouth value: Though the family has been making wine for over 20 years, their wines are often charmingly idiosyncratic. Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon are most consistently strong, with the '02 Merlo Vineyards Sangiovese ($24) winning numerous awards and showing lush character and body. The '00 Lencioni Vineyard Cabernet ($35) also drinks beautifully now, but will benefit from a few years of aging. A favorite, however, is the '01 Diamo Grazie ($42), a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, some Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah that is thoughtful, deep and just big enough to be seriously reckoned with.

Five-second snob: When Camellia first started, Lewand used "second pick" grapes (late-ripening grapes left on the vines after the harvest). Though these are tremendously low-yield, sometimes just two or three grapes per bunch, Lewand says she could often get the grapes from big-name wineries for very little (or nothing), as they were left on the vine to rot after harvest. "Second pick" is a popular way for novice winemakers to get started in the business.

Spot: Camellia Cellars, 57 Front St., Healdsburg. Tasting room open daily, 11am to 6pm. 888.404.9463.

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From the August 31-September 6, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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