The economy being what it is around here, we've got a lot of over-the-hill workers. Take it easy, I'm not talking about those unfortunates who've postponed the gold watch until said watch is damned near impossible to wind up with our gnarled, shaking hands. I'm talking about our wine economy, which sends nascent cellar rats and sommeliers alike from job to job or day to day over the mountains betwixt Sonoma and Napa.
Sure is nice to look forward to a glass of good dead grape at the end of that long and winding road. But as Todd and Joy Miller discovered when they moved into the area, many local winemakers cannot afford even their own product. So they opened a wine shop in a defunct filling station, with the maxim: No wines over $25.
In the sweet spot between $13 and $25, the selection is not huge, but well chosen from the Napa Valley and beyond. Spying a Rhône blend from Sonoma's Westwood and a Carneros Pinot from Lutea (both $16.99) tells me they've got an eye for good deals on great, small-production wines. Besides grab-and-go sales, their wine club affords the thirsty an opportunity to refuel with our fine local product at fine, below-suggested retail prices. A newsletter, in the anecdote-laden, folksy and meandering tradition, keeps customers informed of new stock. But that's not all. In the back of the shop a tasting bar features up to 10 samples of Wine Garage's house hooch.
Fill 'er up! Spigots designed like gas-station nozzles dispense half-gallon jug wines for $29.99, a light and lively Bordeaux Blend and a Rhône Blend in the style of a hearty California jug wine, with Syrah, Zinfandel and more lending saturated black cherry fruit to a big and smoky, heavy-toasted jug bomb with cocoa powder accents. On the lighter side, Joy Ride white blend ($19.99) has crisp white peach, kiwi and floral aromas with a hint of new box of crayons. (Their limited refrigeration capacity is not generally advertised, so don't say I told you they might have a cold one in the back if you ask.)
The 2007 Shade Tree North Coast blend ($30), with 5 percent Charbono, has a seductive scent of wild grape bloom, fine dusty tannins and a silky finish. Forgoing the rules, Wine Garage's Hillside Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon costs $45, but its Pinot-like brown baking spice and juicy, silky body is ready to go. Currently, all of the Wine Garage's house-brand 750ml bottles are for sale at a 20 percent discount. Now that's what I call full-service.
The Wine Garage, 1020-C Foothill Blvd., Calistoga. Monday–Saturday 11am to 6:30pm; Sunday to 4:30pm. Tasting fees, $5–$10. 707.942.5332.