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Imagery Estate Winery

Imagery Estate Winery Tasting Room

I’ve heard this story several times from Sonoma County winemakers and tasting room staffers, usually accompanied by eyes rolling heavenward: “So, at what point do you put the blueberries in the wine?” the blessedly naive wine novices ask.

The poor dears, they’ve been led astray by all this talk about berries, cherries, and oil of Bergamot; they wonder if those are actual ingredients! Well, at Imagery Estate, you can take your knowing winks and snickers, and toss ’em in the spit bucket. Yes, they do put the blueberries in the wine.

Let me paint you a picture of it:

Imagery Estate is tucked into a hilly, garden-like setting where Sonoma Valley seems to narrow to a stone’s throw across. Built as a brewery in the late 1990s, the facility reverted to a winery when winemaker Joe Benziger moved his increasingly successful side project out of Benziger Winery across the valley.

Grapes are farmed Biodynamically, as is a vegetable garden shared with the girl & the fig restaurant.

It all started back in 1984, when Joe Benziger ran into Sonoma County artist Bob Nugent. “We met breaking up a fight at a wine tasting,” explains Benziger, who even now retains a bit of an accent from his family’s New York origins.

A fight at a wine tasting? “It was a polo match … slash wine tasting,” he clarifies.

Each varietal of each vintage of Imagery Estate is labeled a unique work of art commissioned from artists of international renown. The only stipulation is that the Benziger “Parthenon” appear somewhere in the work, making a stroll through the gallery — which represents only a fraction of the total works — a diverting “spot the Parthenon” entertainment. Nugent curates the label art; Benziger makes the contents.

Take a sip

Actually, Benziger says, one time he let Nugent make the Syrah, while he painted the label. Mixing things up and experimenting is what this roster is all about: 24 or so varietal wines and blends, just 100 to 1,000 cases each, including rare varietals like 2009 Lagrein ($45) and 2012 Aleatico Rosé ($27).

“What I like to do more than anything,” Joe Benziger says of his winemaking style, “is preserve the fruit. I want people to taste what the varieties taste like.”

The 2011 Imagery Code Blue ($39) is, indeed, 72 percent Syrah from grower John Sears, who also grows blueberries in Covelo. Added frozen, that’s the remaining 28 percent. And it’s delicious, and healthful — an anti-oxident party in a glass.

The fresh, racy 2012 Imagery WOW Oui ($27) is one of the biggest hits around here; the new 2012 Pine Mountain/Cloverdale Peak Riesling ($24) is off-dry, and crystal-clear, like a distillate of pear juice. Sipping the 2007 Imagery Petite Sirah Port ($36) feels almost illicit, by way of a glass pipe called a “port slipper.”

Nerd out

Take a discovery walk under the shade of an arbor to learn more about the grape varieties on offer here.

Hit the road

Imagery’s a fine place to picnic — and they’ve got a pizza oven — but just a ways down the road, Sonoma Valley Regional Park has hiking and a dog park, too. On select days in spring and fall, you may be able to join a docent-led exploration of Bouverie Preserve.

The local way to start your morning is with brunch at the Garden Court Café.

Imagery Estate Winery, 14335 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturday through Sunday, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Tasting fee, $10. 707-935-4515.

Find more info on wineries & wine in Sonoma County.

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