Do grapes with a view taste better? Wine-label readers may be swayed by the neatly mimetic claims that are made for mountain grapes. It would seem the higher you go, the better it gets. Call it the Von Trap Family school of viticulture—plant every mountain. It's said that quality thrives above the fog line, in the free, clear sunlight. But don't they also say—er, isn't it the cooling fog that gives North Coast wine its balance? Maybe it's because the poor, gravelly soils are like the great vineyards of France where half a foot of French rainfall showers the vines during the French summer (versus an average third of an inch for Glen Ellen).
At Audelssa, we are told, part of the vineyard was potted in holes that had to be jackhammered into the rock high above Sonoma Valley. It just reminded me of a quip someone made that a top-of-the-mountain vineyard, watered by deep wells, was basically being grown hydroponically. But Audelssa's wines are indeed as dramatic, dry and rugged as the location suggests.
And there's no argument about those views. On a clear day, the rooftops of San Francisco are visible from Audelssa. Estate visits can be arranged, but Audelssa's tasting room is actually down in Glen Ellen, in the remodeled former Navillus-Birney space next to the Garden Court cafe, making it a natural choice for a post-brunch tasting jaunt. It's decorated Spanish-style with columns and heavy wooden chairs, and includes a dining area that is perfect for a restaurant or tapas bar.
In fact, a tempting little menu is printed on the back of the Audelssa business cards: prime sirloin of Midwestern beef on a potato gaufrette with arugula horseradish cream with their Summit Bordeaux blend for $12 per person? Alas, this program is on hold and due to start up again soon, if at least for groups with a reservation. Something to look forward to pairing with the high-toned, chocolatey, slightly oxidized 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), with notes of dried herb. The 2005 Audelssa Summit Estate ($50) has big and chewy plum fruit, with smooth finishing-paper tannins. Too bad we only got a drop from the bottom of the bottle of the just-released 2005 Estate Syrah ($48); it tasted like the apex of Hermitage-style Syrah.
Audelssa Estate Winery, 13647 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. Tasting room open Friday–Sunday 11am–5pm; Monday–Thursday and vineyard estate visits, by appointment. 707.933.8514.