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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WINE BANTER: Guerneville to Healdsburg Tour

Taste wines along Sonoma County's Westside Road from Guerneville to Healdsburg

GUEST COLUMNIST - John Haggard of Sophies Cellars, Monte Rio, CA

WINE BANTER columist Dick Starr can be reached at

Joining Guerneville’s River Road to Healdsburg is the picturesque meandering Westside Road. Starting from Guerneville, just a few miles along Westside road, as you find yourself somewhere between California and Tuscany, is Moshin Winery.

Traditional European winemaking is done without the use of pumps which may influence temperature and quality. There are those who dispute this, but Rick Moshin, “The Fruit Purest”, inspired by his extensive travels to Burgundy was determined that Moshin Vineyards would be a “gravity-flow” winery.

An important component of producing pinot noir in our Russian River Valley is a soil known as “goldridge”. Goldridge soils are a sandy loam with a high concentration of iron. This “terroir” or “soil composition” provides a great part of the distinct qualities of the now highly sort after Russian River pinot noirs. Warm sunny days and cool nights, exactly what we enjoy in our Russian River appellation, happen to be essential for the thin skinned pinot noir grape to flourish.

Rick Moshin built his winery from 2001-2004 on a plot of land with just the right grade of slope for his “Gravity Feed Winery”, terroir and, this perfect Russian River Valley climate. Perhaps the most important ingredient for producing pinot noir is one Rick already owned, his own winemaking talent. Elegance and finesse abound whether you taste the Moshin 2006 Molinari Vineyard Pinot Noir retailing at $26 or the Family Reserve Pinot noir at $45 (when available). Rick also produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot, syrah, zinfandel as well as limited production wines available to his wine club members and sold through the tasting room.

The family owned and run winery is open seven days a week, tours by appointment. Many Sonoma artisan winemakers have used Rick’s facility for producing their wines including Merry Edwards (prior to opening her new winery on the Gravenstein Highway in Sebastopol), David Noyes, John and Chris Mason of Emtu Wines, George Levkoff of “George Wine Company”, and Kenny Litkitprakong of Banyan and Hobo wines, to name a few.

So, I have a few biases when it comes to varietals and clones. Chardonnay is one where a “wente” clone rules, in my book, as a quintessential food wine. UC Davis geneticists have identified hundreds if not thousands of clonal varietals within each species of grape displaying similar characteristics. When it comes to the Chardonnay grape, the wente clone, which is several varieties of chardonnay, produces, more often than not, an orange rind citrus nose in the glass, racey acidities and minerality, if not over-oaked or over malolactic (the secondary fermentation that produces the lactic acid or “buttery quality”).

This leads me to my June discovery – Bohème. Kurt Beitler, owner and winemaker, has produced an exceptional example of “whole cluster pressed direct to barrel” wente clone chardonnay from the Taylor Ridge Vineyards near Occidental (Bohème Chardonnay Taylor Ridge 2006 $44). He’s making the wine at his family’s facility (Caymus, in Rutherford, Napa Valley) and it’s a perfect pairing for seafood dishes such as seared scallops over an arugula salad.

From Bohème’s collection of pinot noirs, my choice is the Bohème Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 (Retail $50-$60), particularly exciting about this find is the fact that it is 100% Dijon clone 115 (pinot noir). I find that this clonal varietal, properly cellared, has a unique ability to age gracefully and is a superb food wine. The flavors displayed by the Bohème Pinot Noir show exceedingly well paired with a multitude of dishes – a delicious pairing for beet salad, or roast duck breast in cherry sauce. You’ll find Bohème wines at several local Sonoma wine stores including Wine Tasting of Sonoma, Sonoma Fine Wine, Gourmet Au Bay and, of course, my store, Sophie’s Cellars! A few fine local restaurants carry their wines including Bistro des Copains, River’s End, Rocker Oysterfeller, Underwood and K & L Bistro.

John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, The Sonoma Wine & Cheese Market in Monte Rio, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open 11am – 7pm, closed only on Wednesdays.