At this historic moment, as we transition from an era of opacity to one of transparency, my thoughts turn to cheese. Specifically, the time-honored if not proud tradition of grazing the sample bins at the Sonoma Cheese Factory whenever passing through town. Although the individually wrapped toothpicks can become as tedious as the jostling tourists similarly armed with small, pointed sticks, I never tire of it. What's missing is the big window that once provided a panoramic view of real-time cheesemaking, back when the cheese factory actually made cheese. A front-row seat on casein precipitation may be only slightly more dramatic than watching wine age, but it always drew a crowd.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards similarly lifts the veil, if only to reveal the drama of a tank room in January. That's all right, because all that gleaming stainless steel, framed by wood and stonework and brewpub-style chalkboard menus above the "concession stand," imbues the space with a sense of energetic immediacy. On the outside, the handsome building architecturally references the area's 19th-century wineries. Inside, it's as dimly lit as a theater, as solid as a ski lodge, and in the lofty, barnlike hall, the visitor takes center stage.
Staff are busy but attentive. When we demurred by the merchandise, we were swiftly hailed over to take a freshly vacated spot at the bar. Our tastes arrived punctually, paired with savory munchables prepared in the gourmet demonstration kitchen. We chose the menu's "Gluttonous Flight," which seemed quite a moderate choice in the absence of any ascetic alternative.
The 2005 Vandal Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($40) met with Gouda and house-made plum jam, while the 2005 Late Harvest Pinot Gris ($24) went down with mini lemon verbena shortbread. A passing question about the Cabernet Sauvignon prompted an impromptu comparison with the 1998 version—none less cleanly herbaceous than the current release. A friendly Napa Bordeaux-style blend, the 2005 Napa Valley P.O.V. ($38) is steeped in oak vanillin and full of red currant and raspberry fruit. It's bottled with three different labels, each depicting a "point of view" in the vineyard: a stout little sheep, a contemplative vineyard worker and a tractor. We're told that the sheep is the clear favorite.
The 2006 Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($38) was the kind of well-made, finely tannined, tart cherry-cranberry humdrum Pinot that we take for granted around here, but a pleasure together with pillow-soft Gruyère cheese puffs. I would have liked to sample more of Sinskey's biodynamically-farmed single-vineyard Pinots, but don't you worry 'bout me: the visit was so sufficiently gluttonous that I forgot all about my customary cheese raid on the road home.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards, 6320 Silverado Trail, Napa. Open 10am–4:30pm daily. Gluttonous flights, $20. 707.944.9090.