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Talisman Wine 

What does it take to make wine? A lot of beer, chuckle the home winemakers. More realistically, a lot of money, while for industry veterans like Scott and Marta Rich of Talisman, it takes years of experience and well-cultivated relationships with growers and mentors. But all can agree on one thing: it takes a lot of water.

When considering the whole process through bottling, wine lags just behind coffee as a water-hog, as any winery intern can attest to, having been instructed to wash a few errant grapes off the crush pad with a never-ending jet of water. So when Sonoma's Eighth Street Wineries gathered to discuss adding a social-benefit factor to their biannual open house, water came to the top of the list.

"Wine is the polar opposite of water," says organizer Amy Tsaykel of Tin Barn Vineyards. "Wine is a luxury, while water is a necessity for life." (Perhaps some would disagree with the severity of that dichotomy.) An intern at Tin Barn happened to have spent the past two years in the Peace Corps and helped direct them to a reputable water charity, Water.org. While the funds that the nine wineries raise from 10 percent of online ticket sales might not go far locally, in areas where some 900 million people lack access to safe water, it will go a lot further.

Talisman occupies one efficiently organized space in this warehouse complex, specifically built with winery needs in mind. Scott Rich made his first 200 cases in 1993 while working his first job out of graduate school. Along the way, he was mentored by winemakers Merry Edwards and Tony Soter, but Pinot Noir had made an impression on him since growing up with his father's Burgundy collection. Now Rich technically qualifies as a flying winemaker—during harvest, anyway, he flies to L.A. to consult a new winery—but he and Marta, who is sales manager for Calera, operate their 1,500-case brand out of a passion for Pinot. (Yeah, that phrase is nominally on my no-fly list, but when it fits, it fits.)

The 2008 Gunsalus Vineyard, Green Valley Pinot Noir ($40) has lovely aromas of potpourri, fresh-baked ginger snap, bright red berries and finely textured tannins, while the 2008 Wildcat Vineyard, Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($45) has dark, feral, smoky aromas, and a fleshy palate of black cherry and leather.

Don't miss the taste test between the 2007 Red Dog Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noirs: the brooding Pommard Clone ($46) and the brighter Dijon Clones ($46).

Eighth Street Wineries Open House, Saturday, Feb. 25, 11am–4pm. Includes food pairings. $30 online; $35 door. www.eighthstreetwineries.com. Talisman Wine, 21684 Eighth St., Sonoma. Limited tasting availability, by appointment. 707.996.9050.

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