Lambert Bridge Winery in Dry Creek Valley
The best time to visit Lambert Bridge is on the worst of days, when what appears to be a rustic fishing lodge appears out of the rain and mist, a thick curl of smoke wafting from the stone chimney a welcome sign of warmth and comfort within. Bonded in 1975, Lambert Bridge is an old-timer among the post-Prohibition set in Dry Creek Valley. Long known for Zinfandel, the winery applies some of the valley’s most exacting standard to their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, and offers a wine tasting experience that is anything but rustic.
Warm your Cabernet by the fire
Inside, the aroma of woodsmoke warms my heart before the hearth warms my hands—happily, it looks unchanged since my last visit here, four years ago. But change it has, says Summer Jeffus, Director of Hospitality and one of the winery’s two certified sommeliers, directing my attention to the bistro tables with gleaming place settings beneath the chandeliers of the redwood-walled barrel room.
In 2012, Jeffus and Bruce Riezenman, owner and chef at Park Avenue Catering, designed a new food pairing program.
Meanwhile, winemaker Jill Davis has been named VP and General Manager, and has been joined by Jennifer Higgins, formerly winemaker at Lancaster Estate.
It’s a work day, and the barrel room “café” is on their way to the winery’s lab, so Davis and Higgins stop by to chat and have a laugh with visitors.
Lambert Bridge has been owned by the Chambers family since 1993. Philanthropists, they’ve helped fight malaria in the developing world—and help the winemaking team to make top-notch wine by giving them whatever tools they need.
Instead of expanding production from a high of 25,000 cases at the turn of the century, they pared down to 8,000 in order to focus on a core group of wines.
Take a sip, have a bite, take a sip
The 2011 Chambers Vineyard Chardonnay ($70) is accompanied by a demitasse of the most delicious butternut squash soup with créme fraiche. This wine gets the full oak and malolactic treatment, but the barrels are custom-made with staves bent with water, instead of being toasted over fire. An alluring, rich Chardonnay showing Meyer lemon and a fine, waxed-oak element, finishing on lemon-caramel custard.
(The Bevill Vineyard Viognier will be the only white available until the Sonoma County Chardonnay is released on March 14th, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc in early June.)
Think you know Dry Creek Zinfandel? The 2011 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel ($60) shows off the complicated “shaker table” and sorting system that Davis insisted on. It’s aromatic and soft, the essence of Zin distilled in one wispy, pomegranate-cherry sip that practically floats on the tongue. Bravo to the chef, for eschewing something like the all-to-common pork belly, in favor of salt and pepper pork with pomegranate poivrade reduction.
The 2007 Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($95) reminds me that when people complain that California Cabs don’t have balance and charm, it’s unlikely they’ve tasted at a top Sonoma County producer like this.
And little wonder—Lambert Bridge does not advertise or chase point scores, they just lavish attention on their wines.
No cigar wrapper, no gobs of blackberry jam, but dark, dense aromas of wild forest berries, blueberry and vanilla, tied together with an elegant ribbon of a finish.
Nicely paired with slow-roasted tri-tip with sautéed mushrooms and leeks—the wine inspired the smoky, spicy flavors to linger appealingly.
Does the 2009 Sonoma County Petit Verdot ($68) seems brawnier than the Cab? This varietal can be the “Darth Vader of wine,” winemaker Jen Higgins jokes. “It sucks all the light out.” In traditional Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Petit Verdot usually comprises only a tiny fraction—if any. But this wine, with dark cocoa aromas and brooding blueberry flavor, both commands attention and is enjoyable on its own.
Hit the road
Have a picnic on the generous lawn in front of the winery; for Michelin-starred dining, continue south on West Dry Creek Road to Madrona Manor Inn & Restaurant. Turn right on Westside Road for a scenic back roads drive. Winding first through vineyards, the road takes a turn into the redwood forest; then, just when it seems that you might be lost, it brings you to River Road near the resort town of Guerneville’s inns and restaurants along the Russian River.