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Wine Tasting at Medlock Ames

It’s not a bad view from the deck of the Medlock Ames tasting room in the heart of Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley.

Seen through a blue-gray grove of solemn olive trees, the surrounding vineyards seem to blaze with bright green. Bees buzz around flowering plants in the garden, and the remodeled interior of the Alexander Valley Store & Bar tasting room is an airy, rustic-modern space to sample the winery’s organically grown estate wines.

Lovely place to spend an hour, but there’s so much more. Now, Medlock Ames is offering the public more opportunities to visit their secluded winery estate up on Bell Mountain Road, a tour and tasting experience with a slice of Sonoma County ranch life on the side.

Up on Bell Mountain

The estate is reached by a one-lane winding road where Alexander Valley meets the mountains. The first greeting I get is of the tail-wagging type — a friendly dog on parking lot duty. The second greeting comes with a glass of 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($27). Tropical, grassy, and creamy all at once, it’s among the best of a string of successful Savvies from this outfit.

The winery was founded in 1998 by Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison, college buddies who discovered wine together in New Orleans. After college, Morison joined the Peace Corps, while James went into finance and amassed the funds it takes to build a stylish, modern, and solar-powered winery.

Inside, Morison’s assistant winemaker pours the group fresh, delicious 2013 Chardonnay right out of stainless steel tank, and a 2013 Merlot that is so bursting with berry goodness, everyone seems to want to fill up a bottle now, before it goes away into a blend. Wines age in an underground barrel room, which is naturally cool.

It’s too bad that the flock of sheep prominent in the winery’s own series of photographs by artist Douglas Gayeton, who works with Slow Food and sustainability themes, were absent this day — they’re brought in seasonally. And the tour could have delved a little deeper into the organic farming — at the least, compost heap deep — that’s central to the theme here.

But the scene is pastoral enough: In decades past, when this property was a working sheep ranch, a series of ponds were constructed that now water both vineyards and garden plots that feed staff and produce lots of vegetables for the tasting room’s cache of pickle jars.

Sit down for a sip

The tour concludes with a seated tasting on the porch of the modest “ranch house.” This type of presentation, with five wines poured in five respective glasses, allows you the leisure to go back to revisit and discuss each wine at your own pace.

A Chardonnay ($27), rosé ($23), and three reds are paired with a platter of salumi and very enticing local cheeses, including Valley Ford Estero Gold. The Merlot and Cabernet blends, aside from that crazy beautiful 2013 Merlot we sampled in the tank room, are fine, mature claret-style wines, but for me the estate’s whites really shine.

A question about the Chardonnay brings another bottle to the table, the small-lot Lower Slope Chardonnay ($40), and the winery’s president, who’s also curious to check in on the wine! Subtle oaking and toned-down creamy butterscotch flavor make this an elegant Chard. The tasting wraps up with a spicy surprise, the estate’s own olive oil ($25), redolent of freshly pressed wheat grass, with a warm, peppery kick.

Word of the wise

Did you know that barn owls always fly to their right after they leave their nesting box? Just one of the potential cocktail conversation items you may pick up when taking the time to visit and learn about this 338-acre estate, which is bordered by a nature preserve. And speaking of cocktails …

After hours

When one door closes, another opens. Medlock Ames didn’t just gentrify the old Alexander Valley Store & Bar into a wine tasting room — the bar’s still there. Dark and stylish with stamped-tin ceilings and tobacco colored walls, the revamped Alexander Valley Bar opens at 5 p.m., when the adjacent tasting room closes.

There’s no signage and it’s not advertised, so there’s an “in-the-know” quality (despite, you know, thousands of references on the web) to enjoying house recipe Verdant Virtue cocktails with freshly picked herbs and citrus from the garden on the deck as the sun sets over the vineyards. In the corner, there’s a photo booth for your keepsake pics.

Details: Medlock Ames, 3487 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg. Tour and tasting by appointment, $35 per person. Tasting room open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily; tasting fee $15. 707-431-8845.

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