Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
Iron Horse Vineyards and Winery
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: When a friend told me that there wasn't much more to Iron Horse Winery's tasting room than two barrels and a plank, I figured he was lying, drunk or both. No, I said, I'm talking about Iron Horse Winery. Kings and presidents drink this stuff. I'm sure there's a chateau, a throne, some red carpet--something regal and prestigious to welcome visitors, right?
OK, he assented, there's a tarp over the planks during the summer. And furthermore, if you choose to spit, you do so directly onto God's green earth. Er, gravel. In any case, there's no need for any high-falutin' spit buckets. And that's just the way they like it.
Unlike the agri-chic mystique cultivated elsewhere, the neighborly charm and wine-from-a-cooler thing at Iron Horse is the real deal. Far off the beaten path, down dirt roads and over wooden-planked bridges, past a sign that says "By Appointment Only," visitors are welcome (no appointment actually necessary) to come and taste some of the premier sparkling wine In America. Just don't expect a red carpet. Or a chateau.
Mouth value: Sparkling wines are what you've come for. The 1999 Classic Vintage Brut ($28) is nice--bright and fruity with a light, crisp style. Even better is the 2000 Wedding Cuvée ($29), with its drier, more refined taste. The best of the bunch is the '96 Brut LD ($50), which seems to hover and float on the palate before whispering gently away. The '98 Brut Rose ($30) is a personal favorite, with a lovely orange-pink hue left by the skins and puckery tannins.
The winery is making its mark with a number of killer still wines, as well. The 2003 Cuvée R ($19) is a gorgeous blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier that has already received high marks and tastes like the tropics, with lots of coconut and banana. The Chardonnays--there are three--are unique in their minerally, slightly sulphur nose while retaining a light, generally pleasing oakiness. The 2001 Estate Pinot Noir ($30) is one of the lightest pinots I've found, with lots of oak and earthy spice that doesn't overwhelm the palate.
Don't miss: Head up the road a piece to the family-owned Kozlowski Farms (5566 Gravenstein Hwy., Forestville, 707.887.1587) for berry jams, marinades and marmalades. The historic farm is a local institution known for its homemade condiments and fresh produce.
Five-second snob: The winery claims that its Russian Cuvée actually stopped the Cold War. Well, sort of. In the mid-'80s, Ronald Reagan commissioned Iron Horse to create 14 cases of a sweeter, Russian-style sparkling wine for his historic summit meetings with Gorbachev. After a few bottles of bubbly, Misha and Ronnie were saying nyet to antagonism, and the walls came tumbling down. Today, the Russian Cuvée has been toned down a bit, and is only slightly sweeter than the classic Brut--about 1.5 percent residual sugar.
Spot: Iron Horse Vineyards and Winery, 209786 Ross Station Road, Sebastopol. Open daily, 10am-3:30pm. Tasting fee, $5. 707.887.1507.
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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.