Located on the southwest corner of the Sonoma Plaza, the Charles Creek Vineyards Tasting Room and Gallery is the public access point to William Wiman Brinton's burgeoning wine enterprise. Raised in the midwest, Brinton, now a Sonoman, is a direct descendent of tractor maven John Deere, though there's no trace of agribusiness' best friend in the joint, unless one count's the presence of Ms. Moo-Lot, a life-sized cow sculpture dominating the floor, as a sort of ersatz nod to the ancestor.
The bovine is festooned with hundreds of corks, each individually applied by hand like some tripartite paean to beef, wine and obsessive compulsive disorder. One can only imagine the artist trying to complete his work, downing bottle after bottle of wine, staggering toward his bottle-stopping monstrosity, glue-gun and cork in hand. It's like eating Cracker Jacks for the prize. And it's, like, weird.
The wines, however, dazzle. The 2003 Las Patolitas Chardonnay (the name is Spanish for "little ducks") is a bright, no-nonsense wine with hues of coconut-scented sun block, crab grass and lemon pancakes, and probably best paired with an FM oldies station and the staccato clicks of a lawn chair in mid-adjustment. For a variation on the same theme, try the 2004 La Sorpresa Chardonnay, which isn't so much a surprise as its name might suggest, but mellower and yellower, with added notes of vanilla bean.
The 2004 Las Abuelas, also a Chardonnay, is apparently an ode to "grandmothers" in a bottle. The wine is toasty, lightly oaked with a slight minerality and a hovering hint of butterscotch.
The amount of abstraction in the wines' names is in direct proportion to their complexity and savor. To wit, the 2002 Miradero Merlot, otherwise known as the "view from on high," is an aerial shot of a cigar shop replete with overstuffed leather chairs and the gleam of male pattern baldness. Imagine levitating above the cedar boxes and smoke rings, taking in their earthy aromas; now imagine that as a fruit-forward, dancing bear of a wine. This resinous, blackberry gem inspires phrases like "gentlemen's wager" and "my other mistress is a Portia."
The 2001 La Sonrisa del Tecolote Cabernet Sauvignon (brace yourself--the name translates as "the smile of the owl") is by far Charles Creek's finest creation to date. A berry-driven wonder with strawberries and cassis making distinguished cameos, the wine boasts the dreamy acridity of wet asphalt, romantic rain-soaked streets that, in the midst of this summer swelter, make for a fine mental stroll.
Charles Creek Vineyard, 484 First St. W., Sonoma. Open daily, 11am to 6pm. $5 tasting fee waived with purchase. 707.935.3848.