Review: Wine Tasting at Woodenhead
To say that Sonoma County’s Woodenhead Vintners is a Pinot Noir and Zinfandel specialist is only half the story. Woodenhead specializes in a style.
Lush with flavors of ripe grapes from the Russian River Valley and points north, their wines put the fruit at the center, but without the heat or over-extraction that puts out the anti-“big flavor” brigade. If that sounds enticing, you’ll want to head on in.
Despite its perch right above River Road, a main route into the Russian River recreation area, Woodenhead is something of a back roads discovery. Most of the visitors here, I’m told at the tasting room, already know something about the winery.
It’s a boutique outfit with bona fides: Fans of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir may have heard of a little label called Williams Selyem. Winemaker Nikolai Stez was cellar master there for 20 years before going solo. First, he rented punch-down space at Russian River Vineyards (the former Topolos). Now, he’s doing the magic up the road.
The tasting room is also a rented space, a remodeled house that’s got a comfortable, homey vibe and a dog-friendly deck overlooking the Russian River Valley’s Laguna de Santa Rosa area. A long bar allows several groups to share the experience without crowding.
A small team runs the show here — our host said she remembered me from my last visit, which was years ago.
I’m glad I finally made it back.
Wooden You Like to Try the Wine
This is a house of reds, but there are a few light treats to rev up your palate. Stez discovered an old French Colombard vineyard down the road, across from Martinelli Winery.
Hey, don’t rip that out, he said — French Colombard is considered an old-fashioned variety, and vineyard operators are usually eager to replace it with more fashionable Chardonnay. Dry and fresh, with a hint of apple, the 2013 Russian River Valley French Colombard ($22) is the perfect wine to get started with.
You can guess by the label that the 2011 “Wet Kiss” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($52) is a plush Pinot, but it’s certainly not over the top. It may be the vintage, but the 2011 Leras Ranches Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($30) is surprisingly Pinot-like and light-bodied, as well.
Woodenhead fans new and old have one last opportunity to sip the elegant 2010 Braccialini Vineyard Alexander Valley Zinfandel ($34) — sadly, the old vineyard has since been replanted with Cabernet.
Likewise, the 2008 Martinelli Road Zinfandel ($45) is the last of its kind for the winery. Made from 100 percent Zin, no blending grapes, this is all chocolate cookie and brandy, yes, but rich, dry plum-cherry fruit.
Woodenhead also specializes in Zinfandel from our neighbors up north in Mendocino County, and there’s even a rare Pinot Noir from the hinterland of Humboldt County.
Celebrate your newfound favorite tasting room with 2010 Methode Champenoise “Naturale” Russian River Valley Sparkling Wine ($42). Belying its humble French Colombard base wine, this roiling bubbly is all about the Fuji apple, plus quality notes of pie crust and a dry, lemony finish.
The heads, you’re looking at the heads. No, I’m not riffing on the film memorabilia up at Francis Coppola Winery again. Woodenhead is a sort of nickname given the long-haired, former Deadhead winemaker and, over the years, they’ve collected or received gifts of various wooden masks and totems, which decorate the tasting room along with art and sculpture for sale by local artists.
For the real back roads experience — and a safer turn if you’re arriving or leaving in an easterly direction—take the little section of old Trenton Road to Woodenhead. You’ll pass Pinot Noir history at Joseph Swan Vineyards.
Some of wine country’s finest dining options are a short drive east on River Road, at Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant and John Ash & Co. You can also be in Guerneville in 20 minutes if you’re aim is to just picnic on the beach and watch the river go by.
5700 River Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Tasting fee, $10. 707-887-2703.
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