Visiting Cast Wines in Geyserville

James Knight

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I didn't know just how welcome I'd be to Cast Wines until I showed up on my bicycle. Ironically, Cast Wines was founded by two friends who happened upon it during a bike ride through Sonoma County wine country. 

On the Pixie-Dusty Trail

The two buddies, one of whom is the more avid cyclist and keeps a bike at the ready in Dry Creek Valley (they're both from out of state), paused at Zichichi Family Winery, across the valley, and got to talking — as people do, when drinking Sonoma County wine and kicking back in wine country. Wouldn't it be great to own a little winery here?

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The winemaker overheard them and suggested a property that the owners, who had developed a winery in 2003, were keen to sell. When they saw it, they said, it 'cast a spell' on them. Hence the name, and the pixie motif on the logo representing one who casts such a spell.

The next step was talking to their wives back home about the venture, of course, but they also managed to convince some 30 co-investors to enthusiastically pool together and fund the winery, according to Cast Wines operations manager John Stewart.

Despite the absentee ownership, this little winery doesn't have a corporate feel, thanks in part to Stewart and his wife, Kim, who run the show on the ground here. The winemaker is Mike Gulyash, formerly winemaker at Zichichi, after making wine at both Jordan and B.R. Cohn.

Right now, visitors are welcomed to the intimate little tasting room with a glass of their own sparkling wine, and invited to a seated tasted on the terrace overlooking Dry Creek Valley to the west. Now under construction, an additional hospitality area will be set into the hillside underneath, adjacent new barrel storage. The winery produces just 3,600 cases a year.

Would-be hill-crusher alert: it's just a short, steep incline up the driveway to the winery. Save your energy, take a shot of power gel, and you can do it!

The Wines

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This is Dry Creek Valley, where Zinfandel is king of the realm, and Cast has stayed faithful to the varietal, having great material to work with. They're finding their footing with other varietals — with some surprises.

The Cast 2014 Grey Palm Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($32) is a vibrant, light ruby-red wine that takes Zin in a spicy but cool direction, with vanilla chocolate aromas over a cool-toned strawberry fruit palate. Tannins are easy to take, but there's stuffing in the middle that fills out the wine without veering too much on the sweet side. Sonoma County vineyard manager extraordinaire Ulises Valdez planted this estate with a Zinfandel selection from the famous St. Peter's Church vineyard in Cloverdale. Fine Zin.

I'm not sure that I agree with the designation of the 2013 Watson Vineyard 'Old Vine' Zinfandel ($42), as the head-trained vines from which this wine is sourced, gnarled as they are, and visible in a neighbor's vineyard just across the fence from the estate, are merely in their late forties. I mean — that's hardly vines of a certain age, am I right?

Anyway, this is classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, teasing the tongue with a finely knit mix of red berry jam and astringent tannins, luring the nose with liquid fruitcake aromas, and even hinting at Vegemite on graham cracker, ending up thick, like a reduction of boysenberry with no added sugar. I like it.

The Cast 2014 Grey Palm Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah ($50) stands in for Cabernet in this lineup. Intense, with linear aromas of purple pigment, and strangely palate staining, yet easily drinkable, this wine demonstrates why Petite Sirah is becoming a valley favorite, according to Cast's John Stewart.

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From a famous name in Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, located a few miles to the south of Dry Creek Valley, the 2014 Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($50) shows its stewed fruits and jam shyly, under a layer of road gravel dust and grass clippings. Enjoyment depends on one's Pinot Noir style preference.

But little stays the same in wine country: the 2015 Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($45) is the last vintage available due to the vineyard's sale. This is a Chablis-lover's Chardonnay, or anyway, a wine that melds the best aspects of the varietal when barrel-fermented and transformed from mere bright, apple-crisp fruit into a harmony of oak and malolactic-fermented wine, without really suggesting more typical aromas of either 'oak' or 'butter.' Some Burgundy hounds might complain it's not acidic enough, but this is a gem and won't be around for long.

I like the 2016 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($25), because I like casky, nutty, Old World Jura wines from Savagnin (different grape), but it's a little atypical for this region's Sauv Blanc. This was fermented dry — I got a sneak preview of the 2017, which is wildly different, with light lychee fruit and almost off-dry, lilting pear notes.

Hit the Road

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Dry Creek Valley runs roughly northwest to southeast, with Lake Sonoma at the top and the Healdsburg area to the south. Cast Wines is perched on a hillside on the northern end, across the valley from Bella Vineyard's hillside Zinfandel, and just above Dutcher Crossing.

Avid cyclists can continue to Cloverdale on Dutcher Creek Road, and then maybe tackle the challenging Geysers Road route. Yeah, well as for me, I'll just hug the shoulder back down Dry Creek Road to Lytton Springs Road for an easy uphill, and then back to Healdsburg after turning right on Chiquita Road at Zinfandel specialists Ridge Vineyards.

Thirsty for more 'coffee notes'? Hit up Flying Goat Coffee on Center Street.

8500 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, 707-431-1225. Open daily 10am–5pm. Tasting fee, $15–$25.