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Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg

The origin story that Alan Baker tells about his fledgling wine brand goes like this: He was drifting in a canoe on a North Woods lake, perhaps reflecting on his career as a sound engineer for Minnesota Public Radio and what the future held, when he popped the cork on a bottle of Alsace Riesling that he happened to have brought along.

The haunting aromas, the austere flavors mingled with his imagination, and he had an “aha moment” that lead him to Sonoma County. Here’s the aha moment I get out of this: Holy cow, you can start a winery on a public radio budget?

Miracles happen, folks. Pop that cork.

Dot on a map
You’ll find Cartograph at Latitude 38.62° N, Longitude -122.86° W. It’s a brand new space in downtown Healdsburg designed by owners Baker and Serena Lourie, who met up while working at a custom winemaking startup in San Francisco.

They’ve hired on a tasting room manager to help out, but the principals are often behind the bar. If you want to geek out on wine, they’re game — while the floor space is generous and porcelain-tiled, the furnishings modish (the sofa set liberated from San Francisco club scenes past), these folks run a pretty easygoing, accessible outfit.

Wines on tap
Matter of fact, it’s a regular kegger at Cartograph: Two wines are available on tap, kept fresh by a pressurized keg system that saves two cases of packaging material. Coming soon — a refillable growler program.

First up, a light and bright 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($21) that’s as faintly perfumed as pink rose petals, but as fun as bubblegum. The 2012 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($24) is classic Gewürz, with a piney note, lychee fruit, and a nice, dry finish.

Alas, Baker wasn’t able to make a Riesling, his “aha” varietal, until he found the right grapes in the harvest of 2013 (I’m looking forward to tasting this in 2014).

But the 2011 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40), with spice and cool black cherry ice cream aromas, and the chewy, cherry and rhubarb flavored 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35) display a certain freshness and transparency of flavors that brings to mind Gary Farrell’s Alysian Wines.

Indeed, Baker tells me, he and Farrell run into each other out in Floodgate before each harvest, when the rest of the winemakers haven’t even started checking their sugars. Aha.

Ask about their educational “juice to wine” comparison tastings, using frozen juice samples from the last harvest and barrel samples of the fermented product. I haven’t tried it, but I like the idea.

Plot a course
Stepping outside of the tasting room, you needn’t wander far for an afternoon perk-up at Flying Goat Coffee, just down the street, or claim your table at Zin restaurant, next door.

Or grab a bottle and rent a canoe across town at River’s Edge, and have your own epiphany while floating lazily down the quieter stretches of the Russian River.

Cartograph Wines, 340 Center St., Healdsburg, CA 95448. Daily noon–6:30pm. Tasting fee, $10. 707-433-8270

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