It’s hard to drive north of San Francisco and not drink wine, whether or not you’re in Napa or Sonoma. North of both and tucked away is Healdsburg, CA, a special little town that has a ton of food, art, shopping & wine surprises. On a recent trip, I sampled wines from two of the local wine shops in the center of town: Williamson and Portalupi.
Williamson Wines: 134 Matheson Street, Healdsburg, CA.
I decided to stick to ‘reds’ although after a conversation about Chardonnays, particularly buttery over oaked ones from the vineyards to their south, they made sure I didn’t leave without tasting their Amoureette” Chardonnay, which was incredibly well-balanced, something I could easily drink with salads or fish or a number of cheese samples. Their Burgundy style reds included a Pinot Noir Rose and a Rapture Pinot Noir, both 2010.
I love the fact that they have wines with “Amour” in their name for both their Merlots and how’s this for added fun? A “Sultry” Cabernet Franc and an “Allure” Meritage. Others on the list include “Clarissa” Vin Route, and “Ravish” Melange, all of which I did not taste. I did dive into the Cuvee and the Malbec and they had bite sized pairings to go along with them including chocolate and curried almonds.
Being a Cabernet gal, I was happy to see: “Indulge”, “Seduce” and “Inspire” on the menu, all from 2008. All of their wines were well balanced…only wish I had more time and was able to taste them with a full meal.
The backbone behind Williamson Wine is a husband wine team from Australia: Bill and Dawn. Their vision was to live the wine country lifestyle while still retaining a circle of friends larger than “local”. They developed the idea to produce limited lots of iconic wines which would become recognized for their flavor, quality and consistency and thereafter to share with a group of friends who would over time become their wine club, which btw, is the bulk of their sales and for the most part, their revenue model for distribution.
I asked them what they felt was special about their wine vis a vis others.
They said, “the inspiration for each wine is found in the history of the variety. By understanding where and how each variety has persevered and developed through the past six millennia we have a clear vision of our target. By taking personal control of every step in the process from clone selection, soil chemistry, vineyards and terroir all the way through wine making and managing each step in the process with stringent protocols and controls we have developed superior, award-winning wines with quality and consistency. In the end the wines are made to our palate and so we focus their presentation and use around the foods we eat.”
Their model is unique in that the wine club is the way they get the word (and their wine) out there….no distributor rep, sommelier or wine shop clerk. They decided to adopt a solitary direct-to-consumer via-wine-club approach because they wanted a personal touch.
Their wines range in price from $40 to $500 per bottle and they sell out each year. When I asked Dawn what her favorite wine was, she said, “Failing that test, whatever wine is in my glass at the moment is my favorite at the moment.”
Also, each month they design a six-course dinner in collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen Chef Dustin Valette. They’ll be having a Vineyard Pig Roast called “Pork in the Vines” which will be held on Saturday, August 11, 2012 at the Home Ranch Vineyard with a white tablecloth dining experience of spit-roasted pork in the vineyards. On September 16, 2012, they’ll be hosting a Vineyard Lobster Feast.
Portalupi Wine by contrast hails from a long established Italian heritage. Details:
Portalupi Wine: 107 North Street, Healdsburg, CA.
I spent some time with the husband and wife team — Jane and Tim — learning about their wines, and of course tasting them. It is Jane’s family Portalupi that came from the ‘land of Barbera’ in northern Italy (photo of them to the left, which is posted up on the wall in their tasting room).
When Jane’s grandparents moved to California, her grandmother ran an Italian grocer and was a big boot legger. She apparently used to bottle wine in old milk jugs and in honor of that tradition, Jane and Tim bottle their Vaso Di Marina (her grandmother’s name) in milk bottles. How cool is that?
The interesting human story to this is that they both knew each other as children but didn’t reunite until the 1990s and started their own business together ten years ago. Jane came from a retail marketing background and Tim has been in the wine industry for decades, having been a wine maker since his 20s. (he’s now 59).
They’re small and only do about 3,000 cases a year but Tim’s pride lies in his ‘fruit sources’ which he talked about extensively.
His ‘fruit sources’ are his cream of the crop so to speak, all based on old established relationships. He says that this is his 35th year harvesting wine and brought out an award that he took home in 2008 for his Barbera, which won the top Barbera in the world at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Bravo!!! (it was their 2006 vintage).
On their current menu is a 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir which was very light but also quite balanced, and a 2008 Russell Family Ranch, Paso Robles Pinot Noir which has a 91 Score from Wine Spectator.
The Vaso Di Marina wasn’t available to taste that day, so I’ll have to save that one for a future trip: it’s a 60% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet Franc and 20% Petite Sirah blend.
Definitely worth trying are my favorites on the list: the 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel (think cranberry, rasberry, spicey with white pepper) and their 2009 Mendocino County Barbera (think plum, cinnamon and fruit with earth tones throughout).
Did I mention that they have an olive oil line as well?
Next time, I’ll have to drink both with a meal so I can enjoy them over a long evening.
Disclosure: I was hosted by the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce to visit a handful of restaurants, wine tastings, and hotels however all opinions expressed here are my own and honestly reported.