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Wine Tasting at Alexander Valley Vineyards

You’ve heard wine writers wax on about wines that have a “sense of place,” have you not? If you’ve got common sense, you’ll notice also that these wines with a “sense of place” often cost you a bit extra. Not at Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley Vineyards, where a sense of place includes extra helpings of a sense of history, a sense of family, a sense of humor and — hey, cave tours!

A man, a plan, a valley: Cyrus

This is a special property in the Alexander Valley appellation, mainly because it’s where valley namesake Cyrus Alexander chose to establish his estate. Rolling into the valley a century and some twenty years later, in 1962, the Wetzel family restored Alexander’s abobe and family home, was among the first to plant premium winegrapes in the post-Prohibition era, and built their winery in 1975.

Current winemaker Kevin Hall has traveled and made wine around the world, while since 2004, assistant winemaker Harry Wetzel IV continues the family tradition. This winery isn’t family run in the sense of some wineries, where they’re sitting in a board room somewhere.

In the tasting room, you’re likely to meet Harry or other family members — in fact, if you do see him, ask him what that woman said while he was standing next to a life-sized point-of-purchase display of himself in a Texas supermarket during the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition (at which their Bordeaux-styled red blend Cyrus was named Grand Champion three times), because I forgot the end of that story.

Take a sip

I would have added, “a sense of humility,” but indeed, Alexander Valley Vineyards would like to remind us that their Cyrus is known as “The First Growth of Sonoma.”

The tasting room is a comfortable little place, with a hearth, historical photos, t-shirts, a saddle, and a free wine tasting tier. The Wetzels did splurge on a wine cave dug into the hill next to the winery, which visitors may tour for free, two times a day — barrel taste included.

Recently, I enjoyed the 2012 Estate Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($18), a balanced little number with zippy, Eureka lemon acidity softened by muted caramel flavor. The 2010 Cyrus ($60), a Bordeaux-style blend that’s just 51 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with 26 percent Merlot, 18 percent Cabernet Franc, 3 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Malbec, is a lively claret that’s eminently approachable, maintaining a sense of dignity despite its juiciness.

The winery’s ever-popular 2011 Sin Zin Alexander Valley Zinfandel ($20) recently took top honors at the California Zinfandel Championship 2013, according to a panel of judges including BevMo’s Wilfred Wong. AVV’s beloved trifecta of Zinfandels includes Sin Zin, Temptation, and Redemption Zin.

Wine geek out

You won’t see many Pinot Noirs from the Alexander Valley appellation, as everybody knows that the Russian River Valley is the place to grow quality Pinot. So where is AVV’s 2012 Estate Pinot Noir ($28) grown? On the banks of the Russian River. That’s because the river also flows right through Alexander Valley.

Since 1978, way before the “Sideways effect,” AVV has made a Pinot Noir, using trellising techniques like the Smart Dyson system and a favorable location to get their best expression from the Burgundian grape.

Hit the road

Provision yourself with sandwiches and peruse the quirky toy collection at Jimtown Store. Continue on Highway 128 to tour the beautiful (but amenity-scarce) Knights Valley appellation, then backtrack to Geyserville for lunch or dinner at Diavola and Catelli’s, or cowboy hat shopping (about the only kind of shopping besides wine shopping here!) at Bosworth & Son.

8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg. Open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Complimentary tasting; reserve wines, $10. Free cave tours, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Vineyard hikes May through August, by reservation; $50 per person. 707-433-7209.

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