Sonoma’s Wine Road Barrel Tasting Weekend was reveling in its 43rd year of success in 2020 when the state ordered wineries to close because of the pandemic. COVID-19 also put a bung in Barrel Tasting Weekend 2021, depriving event guests of the opportunity to sample infant wines a year or so before they are released and buy tomorrow’s wines at today’s prices.
Undeterred, Wine Road, an organization that represents wineries and lodgings in the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys, flipped the script this year, urging member wineries to dig into their wine libraries and pour older wines March 6 and 7, along with their current releases. Some 20 producers will participate, each offering yesterday’s wines to try and buy today.
Healdsburg is home to the Sonoma County Wine Library, a treasure trove of books, magazines, research papers, photos, videos and ephemera on the world of wine. At wineries, “libraries” are cellar spaces filled with bottles stored under ideal temperature and humidity conditions, so that the wines — mostly reds — mature slowly over time, develop secondary complex characteristics and show more evolved, smoother tannins.
Aging wine is a topic addressed in myriad Ph.D. dissertations and involves much debate: Are older wines better than younger wines? Or vice versa? It depends on personal taste. In the simplest of comparisons, some love young red wine’s rich, primary aromas and flavors, such as cherry, blackberry and plum, and its palate freshness. Others appreciate the secondary notes of spice, tea, leather and earthiness that can show themselves in wines five to 10 (or more) years old, thanks to the slow ingress of oxygen through the cork.
The beauty of trying older wines at Wine Road wineries is in meeting the winemakers, hearing their often vivid stories of the challenges and rewards of each vintage and tasting the impact that time can have on wine. It’s a rare opportunity to compare older Sonoma wines with newer ones, to gauge when wines in a home cellar will be at the optimum drinking point for one’s personal taste or to buy wines that have already improved with cellaring so buyers don’t have to do the work themselves.
Some producers will pour their library wines from magnum bottles. Magnums hold twice as much wine as 750-mL bottles, but the wine is exposed to the same amount of oxygen as a standard bottle. As a result, the wine ages more slowly and likely will last longer.
The library-wine weekend is not a formal event; no tickets are sold, though guests must, in adherence with COVID-19 safety protocols, make reservations, just as they would any other visit. All tastings are conducted outdoors, with physical distancing and small groups only, and masks must be worn before and after guests are seated. Wineries’ regular tasting fees will be in place and vary by options chosen.
If conditions allow, Wine Road organizers hope to conduct a scaled-down, full-week version of Barrel Tasting May 24‒30, 2021. Follow along at wineroad.com
Here are snapshots of some of the wineries serving library wines March 6 and 7:
By day, Matt Michael is the winemaker for Robert Young Estate Wines in Alexander Valley. His nights and weekends go to his family’s Baldassari brand of chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot noir rosé, syrah and Malbec from vineyards on the Sonoma Coast and in the Russian River, Alexander and Bennett valleys. Matt’s father, Dom Michael, handles everything else in this two-person business, named for Matt’s grandfather, Vincenzo Baldassari, who came to the U.S. from Italy and made wine in his basement. For library weekend, father and son will pour from magnums of 2015 and 2016 syrah and pinot noir at their Windsor tasting lounge, in addition to current releases.
9058 Windsor Road, Windsor, 707-837-5327
In addition to tastings of its broad array of Russian River Valley-grown, current-release wines, this Santa Rosa winery will offer a four-bottle library set, comprised of the 2013 Sparkling Brut Rosé, 2013 BCD Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and 2018 Cider Ridge Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Balletto, a longtime grape grower in the region, has renovated its covered patio tasting area in time for library-wine weekend and oncoming spring weather. Anthony Beckman is the winemaker, and a talented one at that. There are many excellent values to be found here.
5700 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, 707-568-2455
Peter and Diana Merriam’s winery and vineyard are located at the eastern edge of Russian River Valley in a warm part of a cool-climate appellation. There, they can fully ripen red Bordeaux grape varieties such as merlot and cabernet franc, yet the conditions are also suited to growing chardonnay and pinot noir, which enjoy growing in cool, morning-fog conditions. Merriam’s library offerings are the 2014 Windacre Vineyard Merlot from the Merriam estate and 2013 Gloeckner-Turner Ranch Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon from a subregion of Dry Creek Valley. Current releases include sauvignon blanc, semillon, pinot noir, petit verdot and a blanc de noirs sparkler.
11650 Los Amigos Road, Healdsburg 707-433-4032
For more than 40 years, the water wheel at Mill Creek has been a visual icon for those traveling from Healdsburg and turning south onto Westside Road or north onto West Dry Creek Road. The Kreck family planted their vineyards here in 1965 and established the winery in 1974; the location is within the Dry Creek Valley yet just a stone’s throw from Russian River Valley. Jeremy Kreck, son of founders Yvonne and Bill Kreck, produces excellent sauvignon blancs and zinfandels from the Dry Creek Valley vineyard and cabernet sauvignon from the family home ranch in Alexander Valley. For library weekend, Mill Creek will pour the 2000 Kreck Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley and 2007 Reflections Alexander Valley Meritage red blend. The winery has two picnic areas for visitors who want to bring their own lunches.
1401 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-2121
Rick Moshin, who founded his winery in 1989, produces several varietals, yet pinot noir – which made Healdsburg’s Westside Road famous in the wine world – is the one that is closest to his heart. For library tasting weekend, he and his wife, Amber Moshin, will pour their 2013 Rosalina Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, from their estate, and a red Bordeaux-style blend, the 2012 Dry Creek Valley Perpetual Moshin. Instead of fermenting the cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec separately and then blending the wines, Moshin fermented the grapes together, giving them an early start on integrating seamlessly.
10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-5499
This venerable Geyserville winery, established before Prohibition and still family-owned, is known for its honest, good-value wines across multiple varietals. Yet zinfandel is predominant in its DNA, and for library-wine weekend, Pedroncelli will pour its 2009 Mother Clone Zinfandel and 2009 Bench Vineyards Merlot side by side with the 2018 vintages of these wines. A splash of Pedroncelli port and a bite of chocolate is served to each guest.
1220 Canyon Road, Geyserville, 707-857-3531
Jane Portalupi and her winemaking husband, Tom Borges, not only fell in love with each other, they also shared a fondness for wines produced from Italian grape varieties and set out to make them in 2002. Barbera is their No. 1 wine, with vermentino, arneis, charbono and an unusual méthode champenoise sparkling barbera also among their California-Italian offerings. Pinot noir, zinfandel and petite sirah complete the lineup. Portalupi’s downtown Healdsburg parklet is the place to taste a barbera flight that includes current vintages and, from the library, a 2013 Sierra Foothills Barbera.
107 North St., Healdsburg, 707-395-0960
Proprietor/winemaker Frane Franicevic has a long and colorful history, which, in Cliff Notes version, took him from Croatia to New Orleans, where he worked in restaurants and as a shrimper. He found his way to California and opened One World Winery in 1991 in Santa Rosa. Frane married Janae in 1994 and together they built the Sunce winery and vineyard after buying property on Olivet Road. The Franicevics will hit their wine cellar with gusto for library weekend, pouring from magnums their 2013 Meritage Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Estate Zora’s Vineyard Clone 667 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2014 Estate Zora’s Vineyard Clone 777 Russian River Valley, 2013 Cousins Ranch Reserve Merlot Russian River Valley and 2013 Trois Amis SuperT Russian River Valley Reserve. Kids and pets are welcome and tacos will be served.
1839 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707-526-9463
A producer of single-vineyard, small-lot wines, Viszlay grows 13 grape varieties on its 10 vineyard acres in the Russian River Valley, south of Healdsburg. Owner/winemaker John Viszlay and his team will pour from the library a 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir, 2010 Petite Sirah and 2011 Reserve Malbec, along with other estate wines. Typical annual production is just 2,200 cases, and reserve wines are usually available only to wine club members and those who stay at the vineyard guesthouse. Library weekend is an opportune time for those new to the winery to sample its finest bottlings.
851 Limerick Lane, Healdsburg, 707-481-1514
Winemaker/owner Katarina Bonde, with her husband, Bengt Akerlind, will pour their 2006 and 2008 West Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, along with the 2016 West Seafoam and Blanc de Blancs bubblies, made in traditional Champagne style. The 2014 Tuscan Cuvee, a cabernet and sangiovese blend, is also on the menu along with current releases. The sparkling wine will be paired with a Brie cheese, the Tuscan Cuvee with an aged Gouda and the library cabernet sauvignons with chocolate.
1000 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-2066
Other participating wineries include:
Char Vale Winery, Sebastopol
Dutton Estate Winery, Sebastopol
Ektimo Wines, Sebastopol
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Geyserville
G&C Lurton‒Trinité Estate, Healdsburg
Iron Horse Vineyards, Sebastopol
Locals Tasting Room, Geyserville
Paradise Ridge Winery, Santa Rosa
Russian River Vineyards, Forestville
Super Sonoman/Taddei Wines, Windsor
By: Linda Murphy