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Eric K. James Vineyards 

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Who goes grumpily into a winetasting, pressed for time? It's well-known that, like barometric pressure, one's mood, the price of the bottle—and for some, the alignment of planets—affects taste, so no one should. No one, that is, but the wine reviewer with a deadline and a case of the grumpies, which driving down the reliably scenic Highway 12 only helped by half. I had targeted a tasting bar that was found to be busy, brightly lit, and elbow-to-elbow with lollygaggers administered to by an understandably weary-eyed staff. Wedging oneself between half-sloshed tourists and canoodling honeymooners does not an inspired "wine is sunlight" moment make, thus might've made a peevish report more spit than swirl had not providence pulled me off on a tangent.An amalgam of the names of business partners Erik K. Glunt and Jim Walker, Eric K. James is a grower's collective for the several Carneros-area vineyards that Walker farms. Open since June, the tasting room is a cavernous, low-lit space furnished with antiques and so sequestered that the staff has to flyer passersby in the Plaza and lead them back, Pied Piper–style. I stumbled in solo, having veered from my program on a whim, and found the reason for my ramble by a burbling fountain in a quiet, green arcade. Timorous nose-pokers who make it this far for an unfamiliar brand may be few and far between, and that's just fine; refuge from the weekending crowd plus a diverting confab on the subjects of wine and nothing in particular, is for some of us a considerable day-brightener. The fairly priced wines hits the spot, too.

Steeped in dark cherry, black licorice with a liqueur trend, EKJ's ripe but lively 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir ($24) is reputed to pair well with goat cheese. Worried with aromas of wet hay, Fieldsa's medium-bodied, juicy 2004 Sonoma Valley Syrah ($22) has redeeming red-berry fruit; while I had to agree it's bested by the EKJ 2004 Carneros Syrah ($24), a bold brew of black cherry, anise and chocolate liqueur that inspires thoughts of pepper-crusted teriyaki beef, finishing with tight, tarry plum-skin. EKJ's 2008 Sonoma Valley Rosé ($18) is a deep fuchsia-hued rosé with full flavors of strawberry and grape—big, crisp and dry. Unofficially recommended food pairing: graze the habañero jack samples at the Sonoma Cheese Company on the way home. Ah, once again, old Sonoma is good for simple pleasures and unexpected charms, able to clear up the darkest of grumps.

Eric K. James Vineyards, 452 First St. E., Sonoma. Open Friday, noon–8pm; Saturday–Sunday, noon–5:30pm. No fee. 707.996.1364.

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