For generations of tour and wine country guides, the county seat of Sonoma has been snubbed, breezily dismissed or barely sniffed at. From Idwal Jones' 1930s and '40s survey of post-Prohibition California to more recent slights, Santa Rosa is mentioned, if at all, more for its "commuter community" and "industrial center" than for its "vines in the sun." Such spittle rolls unnoticed off the uncomprehending visage of a city that historically puts its square shoulder to the wheel, busily transforming itself into a parking lot. Squirming tourists bake in the sun as traffic inches the last few miles through this suburban spoiler toward the charming green acres of wine country funland.
But, wait. The romance is in the glass, not the nouveau castle. And wouldn't it be refreshing, in a way, to find one of the most passionate producers of that most winsome varietal, Pinot Noir, here among the most unromantic locales in wine country?
In Jones' classic book, he does relate a 1930s visit to Santa Rosa's venerable Fountaingrove Winery, which looms forgotten above the nondescript warehouse park on Airway Drive. It's down here that Siduri Winery produces a manic variety of Pinots that showcase single vineyards from Oregon to Santa Barbara.
For Adam Lee, the terroir that matters is where the vines sink their roots, not where the cellar floor is rebarred. Lee and his wife, Dianna, are native Texans who fell in love first with Pinot, then each other. They got so nutted up over Pinot, in fact, that after meeting at an Austin wine shop they pulled up roots and moved to California. They release around 25 wines from each vintage, not including their Novy Family Wines, founded to make other wines, notably Syrah.
Lee, a self-described wine geek who looks a little like a younger version of computerdom's most famous geek, says that his tasting room's low-key setting reflects who they are, and their priorities.
The winery is only open for tasting by appointment, but that shouldn't be as intimidating as it sounds. During the recent Winter Wineland event, classic rock played in the background, and a large temporary staff of down-to-earth friends and vineyard owners was assembled to pour.
I'd suggest tactfully skipping the Four-Mile Creek Red, blended from odds and ends that demonstrates the, uh, problematic nature of the beast that is Pinot Noir. A whiff, however, of the 2005 Willamette Valley Pinot conjures an oddly pleasant pairing of strawberries and bacon, with light color and not too greenish a taste compared to a similarly styled Argyle Pinot from that same valley, which had no flavor--off or otherwise; a nice job! But expecting to root for the home team, I was scandalized to find I preferred the 2005 Clos Pepe Vineyard Santa Barbara, with its richer color and silky berry fruit, to the Sonoma County versions. Same deal with the Napa Syrah over the Sonoma, a quick blackberry fruit rush that fills the palate and disappears like smoke.
After a 20-wine tour of two states and even more regions, we emerged giddy and blinking in the sun--and still in Santa Rosa! Such a savings in gas. And the bonus was that we were only two blocks from the Bottle Barn and able to beat the drooling crowds at the end of another Winter Wineland weekend.
Siduri Winery, 980 Airway Court, Ste. C, Santa Rosa. Tasting by appointment, Monday-Saturday, 10am to 3pm. 707.578.3882. Bottle Barn, 3331-A Industrial Drive, Santa Rosa. Open daily. 707.528.1161.