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An Inside Look at Comstock Wines

Comstock Wines Wine Bar

Comstock Wines only sprouted along Dry Creek Road in the past year, and already they have 400 wine club members. With so many wineries already in Sonoma County, how does anyone choose a new one?

As I found at Comstock Wines, it’s the same as in the more established wineries: it all comes down to people and grapes.

Hobby Gone Wild

The grapes have been around for a while, it turns out: the Zinfandel vines in front of the winery were planted around 100 years ago, and owners Bob and Sandy Comstock have maintained a 22-acre vineyard up the road in Dry Creek Valley for the past 15 years.

At first, the Comstocks sold their grapes to other wineries, as they continue to sell some today. But as the presence of an oversize old basket press suggests, their winemaking “hobby” soon outgrew itself. “Maybe we should start a small family winery,” they said, at first. But the Comstocks, who own the Manhattan Beach-based construction company Comstock Homes, don’t do things small.

The winery building has a simple, barn-style appearance, with hospitality on one side, and across a breezeway, the production facility. When I visited in early August, winemaker Chris Russi was gearing up for harvest in his brand-new cellar, which he’s furnished with puncheons, eclectic cooperage such as American oak barrels made in Australia, and concrete eggs. For red wine fermentations, Russi prefers closed-top tanks.

Russi himself is another reason that Comstock has already attracted some wine club members, I’m told at the tasting room: people have been following the young winemaker’s career through his years at Christopher Creek and Thomas George Estates.

It’s clear that Russi pays attention to the details, when he describes his efforts to plant a small, new Grenache block behind the winery. While the owners want to get it in the ground so they can have rosé in a few years, Russi’s still weighing the options of clone and rootstock. “I’ve got to do the research!” he says.

Take a Sip

Swirled and sampled in the spacious tasting room, with a view of the Merlot vineyard out back, a pour of the winery’s 2014 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28) leans to the citrusy side of the varietal—grapefruit pith and zest. From four vineyards, the 2013 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($42) floods the palate with plush, but not overripe boysenberry fruit, and hints at Russi’s tannin management style.

More firm-finishing, yet perfumed with pollen and fresh raspberry, the 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel ($55) is a small 168-case release from those old estate vines.

Smokier, reminding me of a natural-process Kona coffee I recently sampled in Healdsburg, the plushly fruited 2013 Rockpile Zinfandel ($55) may appear to Cab and Petite Sirah lovers, as well.

Yoga and Wine Together Again

A number of tasting and wine and cheese pairing options are also available, including “Yoga in the Vines” on the first Saturday of each month. Yes, there’s wine, and a breakfast. “It was kind of a selfish thing on my part,” jests Kelly Comstock Ferris, daughter of Bob and Sandy, and the winery general manager who runs the show now. “I don’t get to do yoga as much as I want to!”

Hit the Road

Comstock Wines, no relation to the historical silver lode, is located a short drive from Healdsburg. Continue down the road for more Dry Creek Valley wineries, ending at Lake Sonoma and the Lake Sonoma Visitor Center & Fish Hatchery, which has picnic grounds and a visitor center.

Details: Comstock Wines, 1290 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg
Open Daily 10am–5pm. Tasting fee $15.

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