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Monday, June 27, 2011

Wine Banter - July 2011

Spotlight: Arista Winery
I would like to thank the McWilliams family and Mark McWilliams in particular for sharing so enthusiastically his depth of knowledge and the entire Arista team for having treated my numerous guests to a truly complete Sonoma wine country experience with gracious service and exquisite wines served at their stunning estate property.

We started our tour on the eastern edge of this thirty-six acre estate in one of four vineyards dotting the Arista estate: Harpers Rest Vineyard,   atop a rolling knoll. Rubin Harper settled in Sonoma in the mid eighteen hundreds and resides beneath a large California bay surrounded by a three foot stone wall. The first thing brought to our attention were the differing shapes of stones - some rounded by centuries of river waters, other stones jagged and sharp. Prior to selecting root stock, soil samples were taken to a depth of eight feet, twenty samples per acre. This process was repeated in each of the four vineyards. The root stock selected for Harpers Rest is 101-14. The bud wood was grafted two types of Pommard clone selected from surrounding vineyards –  so that the bud wood would have already acclimatized over decades to the weather patterns in this region of the Russian River AVA. One area of note in the vineyard marked by yellow tape is a patch of vines which show high vigor - the canes are much longer, the leaves bigger with a darker green color. This small patch will be managed as a separate block with the hopes of bringing the vines into balance.  

Two Birds Vineyard runs west of the tasting room. Large jagged rocks between vines and a soil surface color differing from Harpers Rest led to a clone selection of Swan, Pommard and Calera. The orientation of the rows also differ running north and south as they are planted on a gentle down slope.

Bee Tree Vineyard  begins where Two Birds ends and is planted to Pommard clone. This is also where we find Al’s pole barn. Thankfully Al’s wife Janis McWilliams looked at  this location with a vision of her own and thus the food pavilion was born set above the honey bee tree. You can watch from the pavilion while honey bees stream from a hole in a large grand oak just above raised garden beds filled with water cress,  swiss chard as well as a herb garden with beds of tarragon and thyme. Several types of lavender each flowering at a different time of season provide food for the bees hives just over the hill from the pavilion. Bee Tree’s visitors may participate in harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs that the chef will prepare. Being a sustainable farm, and caring for the land, both goat and sheep help control weeds and the manure is used for fertilizer to limit the use of tractors in the vineyards.

Seven Stories Vineyard, the smallest vineyard, about one acre, is a bold endeavor,  planted to seven heritage clones from the early plantings in the Russian River Valley – Suitcase, Swan, and Martini to name a few. The buds were mixed and are randomly  being  grafted onto root stock. The fruit will co-ferment - meaning each cluster of fruit will show varying degrees of ripeness. I hope in just a few years time I am able to pick from Seven Stories vineyard and share my own story  about this intriguing little vineyard.

A must try is the newly released 2009 Toboni Vineyard Pinot Noir (ret $60) – easily as good if not better than the 2005 vintage. The Mark David, a musqué of Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley is a true unfined wine. When the cork is removed from the bottle, the sediment plug releases falling to the bottom of the bottle and the flavors of this wine are tremendous: creamy, lime, lychee fruit. All of Arista’s current releases are exceptional – from their Pinot Noirs to the Gewurztraminer. For more information about arranging a food and wine pairing at Arista’s new food pavilion, or to visit the tasting room which is open daily, visit

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.