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NorCal Wine Blog

Impressions from the 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma

The 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma took place on the first two weekends of March. More than 140 wineries participated, opening both their doors and their barrels to the public. One fee of $40 per person gave wine lovers a glass and a wristband for tasting access to all of the wineries for a given weekend. I tasted on March 10 and 11.

I visited these wineries:

  • Saturday - Freestone Vineyards, Red Car, Siduri
  • Sunday - Stonestreet, Soda Rock, Kendall-Jackson (downtown Healdsburg), Joseph Swan

About the Experience

I enjoyed the weekend thoroughly. On the whole, the wines — in barrel and in bottle — were good. The tasting rooms I visited were well-equipped for the volume of people I saw there. The staff were largely helpful and friendly. I felt welcome and unhurried. Altogether, I sampled 75 wines, 20 of them barrel samples. I’ll only detail the barrel samples within this article.

There has been talk about rowdy behavior and intoxication on the part of some attendees. I have no doubt that it occurred, but I saw none. Attendees at my stops were cheerful but sober and responsible. I know though that the crowds were much bigger at places like Stonestreet and downtown Healdsburg on Saturday than on Sunday when I was there.

The Red Car tasting room has a hip vibe and was the most festive of the tasting rooms I visited.

About the Barrel Samples

Freestone Vineyards poured two barrel samples. Both were components of what will be their 2011 Pinot Noir. They will age another 11 months in barrel before blending. The Pastorale Vineyard component is from 777 and Calera clones with 11% whole cluster. It’s nose was sweet and fetching: baking spice, red cherry and vanilla with a hint of earthiness. The palate is medium-bodied with fresh acidity. The Quarter Moon Vineyard barrel is based on clone 459 with a whopping 100% whole cluster. That leads to a fuschia color with tart raspberry and strawberry flavors complemented by brown spice. The acidity is generous but so are the drying tannins. It will be a useful partner with the fleshier Pastorale, but isn’t endearing on its own.

Red Car offered a “barrel sample” of rosé which was light and fresh with an almost orange hue. There was also a barrel of 2011 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s medium-minus in color with flavors of raspberry, sweet tart and some resin from partial whole cluster fermentation (usually about 10% at Red Car). There are additional aromas of vanilla and spice. The acidity is brisk. It’s a promising sample and one can see its developmental arc resulting in something quite similar to the delightful 2010 Dreamland Pinot Noir.

Red Car proprietor and winemaker Carroll Kemp also poured reserving wines, inlcuding his 2010 Dreamland and 2007 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noirs.

Siduri offered up a grand assortment of wines. With their broad selection and revealing representations of terroir, the tasting was like a stroll through a gallery of vineyards. Siduri showed just one wine in barrel to the public though, the 2011 Siduri Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir. Sexton is a new vineyard for Siduri. It is on Sexton Rd. off of Bodega Highway. The wine is focused with raspberry flavors and a hint of wood framed by very moderate, light-grained tannins and acidity approaching medium-plus. The finish is generous. Very nice.

After the light-footed Pinot Noir and silky Syrah which made up most of my Saturday tasting, Sunday morning at Stonestreet Winery gave my tongue some new sensations. The Bordeaux-varietals and blends from their estate vineyards on Alexander Mountain are excellent but built for lengthy cellaring.

The 2010 Stonestreet Legacy is a multi-vineyard blend consisting of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. Focused aromas of black currant and currant leaf announce the Cabernet Sauvignon while a background of dark chocolate and smoke make reference to the French oak barrels. The body is medium-plus with notable acidity and prominent, chalky tannins that coat the mouth but aren’t drying. Pure flavors of black currant, blackberry and currant leaf persist for nearly a minute. This is a very good wine and will be accessible upon release but will improve for at least a decade in the cellar. It will be released in September, 2013.

The 2010 Stonestreet Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in December, 2013. It’s the company’s flagship wine and 300 cases will be bottled. It is a single-vineyard wine coming from the highest of all the Stonestreet estate blocks at 2,400 feet. In the glass, the wine is dark ruby with deep aromas of black currant, currant leaf, black cherry, mocha and redwood. The wine is medium-plus in body with flavors that echo the bouquet until silenced by strongly drying, chalky tannins. This wine will want cellaring for several years after release, but will reward the wait.

From Stonestreet I headed down Hwy 128 a short distance to Soda Rock Winery, having never been there before. Re-opened in January 2011 by it’s new owners, Ken and Diane Wilson, it is still under-going restoration and renovation. However, it’s already an airy and attractive place with an old-timey feel. It appears to be geared for events and was a popular stop for carloads of attractive 20-somethings.

Soda Rock offered four barrels of it’s own wine and two from Pezzi King. [Pezzi King had just been purchased by Ken Wilson.I found the 2010 Soda Rock Primitivo the most attractive of the Soda Rock sips with purple berry and vanilla flavors carried by moderate tannins with very fine texture. The 2010 Pezzi King Harris Kratka Vineyard Zinfandel was also fun with bright blueberry and blackberry fruit.

After Soda Rock, I made a stop at the Jimtown Store for lunch. I had a good time looking through the mix of food items, knickknacks and antiques in the general store while waiting for my Flying Goat Coffee espresso and a reuben sandwich. Once fortified, I drove into Healdsburg and quickly found a parking spot on the square. A short walk took me to Kendall-Jackson.

Kendall-Jackson had one barrel to taste, the 2010 Highland Estates Hawkeye Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard, on Alexander Mountain, provides Cabernet Sauvignon purity reminiscent of the Stonestreet wines, proud flavors of black currant, black cherry, redwood, spice and cocoa. However, the Highland Estate tannins, while still chalky, are gentler and promise earlier accessibility. The wine is also more fruit driven, lacking the currant leaf aspect. It’s a very good wine that also has crowd-pleasing potential.

On the way home, I stopped in at Joseph Swan Vineyards (no relation). Their setup was the most fun. They had six barrels open, each providing samples via a shiny glass wine thief. Spitting and dumping was accommodated by large wood, sawdust-filled boxes on the floor. There was no place for me to sit my glass down, so I couldn’t take notes.

I do remember my favorite from among their wines though. It was the 2010 Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Syrah. It is dark and medium-plus in body, supple with deliciously earthy and leathery dark fruit flavors. Another standout was the 2010 Tannat Matthew’s Station Vineyard. Tannat is best-known as an inky, astringent and often rustic wine from southern France. I sipped the darkly-tinted barrel sample suspiciously. The flavors were also dark but they and the texture were polite, even urbane. “Hey, that’s pretty good,” I said to myself. If you’d like to aopdt a fully-housebroken Tannat, give this one a try.

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This article is original to Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.