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Coastal Discovery: Boheme Wines and Rancho Bodega

There are plenty of great vineyards in western Sonoma County (known as “West County” to locals), the area of the Sonoma Coast appellation that some call the “true Sonoma Coast.”

Names like Kistler, Hirsch, Williams Selyem, Flowers, Peay, and Marcassin haunt these hills — wineries that make some of California’s most celebrated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But their vineyards are hidden in the ridges and the fog, wineries are few and far between, and tasting rooms are in even shorter supply.

Here’s one winemaker, relatively new on the scene, who had the temerity to hang a shingle in the town of Occidental. Go west, fans of elegant Sonoma Coast wine, and discover.

Living “La Vie Bohème”

Winemaker Kurt Beitler makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for his label, Bohème Wines, and Syrah for his brother’s Rancho Bodega. After Beitler graduated from Santa Clara University, where he raced on the cycling team, his uncle invited him to switch gears and manage some West County vineyards for the Belle Glos brand (a Pinot Noir spinoff of Caymus Vineyards).

Now, working full time on his own project, he recently moved to an historic winery building in Forestville that’s been home to other cool-climate iconoclasts like Arnot Roberts. Bohème takes its name from this Bohemian Highway area, but is also from the inspired spirit it takes to make wine here.

“It’s on the edge of what’s possible,” Beitler said. “You’ve got to really love it and engross yourself in it.”

Take a sip

The tasting room shares floor space with a wine shop, and features a cozy spot to lounge and look out the window — in summer, a nice place to take a break during the Occidental Farmers Market.

The Chardonnay style here is understated, fermented in mostly neutral barrels, so that oak is not dominant. Instead, the 2010 Taylor Ridge Chardonnay ($39) has a pleasantly nutty aroma over crisp, Bartlett pear, and lychee fruit flavors, and a delicate finish.

The typically herbal 2010 English Hill Pinot Noir ($49) may remind you of Red Zinger tea, orange zest, and maybe even Meyer lemon, but the palate is awash in sweet strawberry.

All Swan clone Pinot Noir, the 2010 Taylor Ridge Pinot Noir ($55) shows less zip, more cherry and cola, finishing on a note of cherry licorice.

Hints of potpourri and cherry, blueberry and vanilla highlight the 2010 Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir’s ($49) overall savory top note; cranberry-cherry fruit flavors the fine, dry finish.

Geek out

The Swan clone is named for Joseph Swan, a retired airline pilot who, in the late 1960s, followed his interest in Pinot Noir to the Russian River Valley, where he was encouraged to plant Pinot Noir by the late, famed wine guru André Tchelistcheff.

Originating from an unnamed clos in Burgundy, the Swan clone is thought by some to exhibit rich, savory flavors, while winemakers are quick to point out that vineyard “terroir” is often more important.

Hit the road

Nestled in the redwood forest, Occidental is a manifestly quaint, western town founded in the homesteading and logging days. Breakfast at Howard’s Station Café is the local way to start the day.

Lunch or dine the bohemian way at Barley & Hops Tavern. Continue south to Freestone and Bodega Bay, or head north through on Bohemian Highway to Guerneville and the Russian River.

Boheme & Bodega Rancho Cellar Door, 3625 Main St., Occidental, CA 95465. Open 3-6 p.m. on Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; or by appointment. No tasting fee. 707-874-3218.

Find more info about things to do, wineries, hotels & lodging in Sonoma County.

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