Moon Mountain Road is a dead-end one-laner that climbs the hills north of Sonoma through stunted oaks and chaparral. Raptors glide between branches and perch on poles, unfazed by passing cars as they track jackrabbits. Across two cattle grates, the driveway to Moon Mountain Vineyard clings to the sides of a volcanic bowl framed by ancient lava flows and craggy peaks. Even as I approach the winery, a wild, feline form stalks out of the undergrowth.
If this seems like one of those last-frontier, blue-sky wine follies just recently grafted onto impractically remote hills by people with money to burn, it isn't. Not exactly. But let's start with the cat.
Stella, a domestic cat merely on her rounds, came bundled with the winery—as did Frankie, whom we find napping in the lab—after being sold by its most recent corporate owner. The charismatic facility was built into a dynamited hillside in 1981 for Chalone's Carmenet project; grapes had already been grown on these steep slopes, uphill from famed Monte Rosso, since the 19th century.
Repris is a new effort to bring visitors back to this dramatic site, led by a group of friends including winemaker Erich Bradley and tech VC Christian Borcher. They've retained some of the veteran human staff, too, and seem to have fostered—as Borcher's upbeat manner would seem to suggest—a friendly, easygoing vibe. Or maybe it's the view.
The tour starts with a welcome glass of Chardonnay and swings through the cool network of caves bored out of solid volcanic rock, where a cheesemaking operation is slated to join the sleeping wines. Next we hop on an all-terrain vehicle, taking in the smell of bay leaf in the air as the Polaris dips into a wooded ravine along a seasonal creek. We gain altitude past 60-year-old Zinfandel vines bordered by sunflowers and fruit trees, a haven for beneficial insects and birds. The air warms only a little, although we're in brilliant sunlight at 1,800 feet, San Francisco and the bridges poking out of the fog on the horizon.
Tasted fresh from the barrel, the 2011 Bizmark Vineyard Chardonnay ($58 when bottled) comes from just over the hill. Full malo but neutral oak, it's refreshingly lively with lean pineapple and lychee fruit over light caramel flavor. Last year's Cabernet Franc, this vineyard's starring varietal wine, fills the palate with concentrated black fruit and cocoa, and the 2010 Left Bank Blend ($125) is a credible Bordeaux-styled red dominated by graphite notes over black fruit. Borcher says that thin soils make such wines—that, and the cool mountain air. Or maybe it's the view.
Repris, 1700 Moon Mountain Road, Sonoma. Tours and tastings three times daily, by advance reservation only. $40–$60. 707.933.8514.